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The Battle of the Mils and the Degrees

On the eve of the First World War, the German Army, like most armies of the day, had two separate artillery branches.  The Feldartillerie, or Field Artillery, controlled the 77 mm light field guns and 105mm light field howitzers in divisional artillery, while the Fussartillerie, or Foot Artillery, controlled all heavier guns, including heavy howitzers at corps level, siege cannon assigned to armies, and coast defense guns.

Relations between the two branches were quite poor, and they rarely seem to have attempted to work together.  For example, they could not even come to a common agreement on calibrating angular measurement for aiming calculations.  Field artillerymen used mils, with 6,400 to the circle, while foot artillerymen based their calculations on 16ths of a degree, which came to 5,760 to the circle.

Although this caused some confusion, and possibly unnecessary losses, neither branch proved willing to accept the other’s standard for much of World War I.  It was not until Christmas Day of 1916, after 28 months of war and much bureaucratic in-fighting, that the Imperial Army was able to force the Fussartillerie to switch to mils.

BookNote: The best recent look at the German Army during World War I is The German 1918 Offensives: A Case Study in The Operational Level of War (Strategy and History) , by retired Maj. Gen. David T. Zabecki.

 

The Great D-Day Security Breach

For nearly a century now, it’s been customary that, in the normal course of their business, military organizations, government institutions, and private organizations working on sensitive defense matters are required to maintain secrecy.  An elaborate security system has evolved.  People working on sensitive materials and projects are carefully vetted (well, usually).  The use of specific documents, which are classified on an hierarchical scale according to the sensitivity of their contents, must be carefully logged, and detailed procedures are in place to safeguard these documents when in use, and when not in use careful arrangements are made to secure them, including safes.  And it long ago became a requirement that organizations working with sensitive materials maintain a SCIF (“Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility”), a sort-of “security HQ,” overseen by specialists in the management of classified materials.

Now to insure that military, political, and civilian agencies working with sensitive materials maintain the tightest possible security, Uncle Sam from time to time dispatches teams of “security specialists” to check their security procedures.  This includes popping in on people’s offices when they’re not around.

It was in the course of one such surprise visit, that a team of security specialists came upon what appeared to be the mother lode of security breaches.  Casually lying on a shelf in an unlocked office were a number of documents with cover pages reading "Normandy Invasion (Most Secret)”.  It seemed that someone had carelessly left unsecured the Allied plans to invade France.  Acting with due diligence, the security officials gathered up the documents and reported the gross breach of security to the SCIF.  

Naturally, they probably thought they would be in for commendations or similar rewards, but things didn’t quite work out that way.

The director of the SCIF immediately noticed a few problems with the documents.  While they did have titles like "Normandy Invasion (Most Secret),” the classification “Most Secret” hadn’t been used in ages.  In addition, the documents bore stamps indicating they were from the National Archives.  Moreover, at the top of every page was a stamp indicating that they had been de-classified in 1972.  And, by the way, had the “Junior G-Men” never heard of the Normandy Invasion?

This happened about a decade ago.  It seems that a certain historian – let’s call him “Dr. Giovane” – was preparing a study of some hitherto neglected aspects of Allied planning for the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.  The project naturally required extensive research in original documents, and he had secured copies of many of these from the National Archives.

Dr. Giovane’s “day job” was with a certain federally funded research institute, and he found it convenient to keep his materials in his office, where he could work on them in his spare time, on weekends, holidays, and such.  Having largely completed his work, he had left the documents on the shelf and not noticed when they were taken away (without, by the way, a receipt, itself a breach of security).

Now the director of the SCIF was quite embarrassed.  She personally returned the materials to Dr. Giovne.  When she came into his office holding a batch of documents, he suddenly realized what they were, and what had happened.  Before he could speak, seeing the look on his face, she said rather sheepishly, "Yes . . . yes.  You've got it right!" 

 


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