Friday, February 14, 2014

A British Monuments Man Killed in Action: Ronald Balfour

English: Kenneth Strong, Assistant Chief of St...
English: Kenneth Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff (G-2) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is the eleventh in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men. Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See related posts on Sir Charles Leonard WoolleyWalter J. HuchthausenSeymour J. PomrenzeMason HammondEdith StandenKarol Estreicher, S. Lane Faison, Sir Hilary JenkinsonWalter Horn and Douglas Cooper.
The newly released movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Beginning in December 2013, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. I enlisted my colleague Dr. Sylvia Naylor to write some of them.
This post focuses on British Major Ronald Edmund Balfour and is the 11th in the series of posts on the Monuments Men.
Ronald Edmond Balfour was born in England into a wealthy military family in 1904.  He excelled at Eton and won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a “double first” in history and theology.  He became a lecturer in history and a Fellow at King’s College, where he began amassing one of the largest personal collections of books in Great Britain, some 8,000 by the time war broke out in 1939.  That year, the unmarried, bespectacled and mustached academic joined the French desk at the Ministry of Information. Less than a year later he enlisted in the British Army, passed through the Officer Cadet Training Unit and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1940. He was promoted to captain in 1941 and joined the Recruiting Branch of the War Office.
In 1944, after Geoffrey Webb, Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, was appointed to head the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) organization, Balfour was recruited to become one of the Monuments Men.  By April 1 he was on Webb’s staff helping to make plans for MFA&A operations after the landings in France in June.  In the early planning for the invasion of the Continent, Webb thought that United States Capt. L. Bancel LaFarge and Balfour should be with the first group, as he believed they would make a good impression on all sorts and conditions of soldiers. He wrote on April 26 that although they may have missed the practical training and final polish they could have received at the Eastbourne training center, he thought LaFarge’s experience in Sicily and Balfour’s service in the army “and more important, their native mother wit and savvy will in some degree compensate for this.”
By the end of May Balfour had been assigned as a Monuments Man with the 21st Army Group, command by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, and initially composed of by the First U.S. Army and the British Second Army.  Webb’s recommendation for officer personnel for the Normandy landings resulted in LaFarge, Balfour, and British Maj. Lord Methuen reporting with the British forces under the 21st Army Group; and the assignment of Lt. George L. Stout, USNR, Squadron Leader J. E. Dixon-Spain (RAF) and American Capt. Robert Posey with the United States Forces under the 21st Army Group.   After the Normandy landings on June 6, and when sufficient American forces had landed, their own 12th Army Group was activated on September 1, under General Omar Bradley, and the 21st Army Group was left with the British Second Army and the newly activated First Canadian Army.
Balfour arrived in France in August.  Before heading off to combat Balfour made the compelling case for the importance of the task confronting the Monuments Men in a speech he planned to deliver to his men. He said: “No age lives entirely alone; every civilisation is formed not merely by its own achievements but by what it has inherited from the past. If these things are destroyed, we have lost a part of our past, and we shall be the poorer for it.”
His detachment on August 30, as a major, to the First Canadian Army, to be its MFA&A Officer, was delayed by crowded roads, poor transport and destroyed bridges. He arrived in Rouen on September 9 and made his first report, carefully recording the city’s damage from the German air bombardment in 1940, the Allied bombardment in 1944 and the retreating Germans.  From Rouen, Balfour moved on to join up with the First Canadian Army in Belgium.
He arrived in Bruges, just days too late to have hoped to prevent the evacuating Nazis from stealing Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and 11 artworks from the Church of Notre Dame.  He did, however, manage to persuade the Allies to avoid bombing the Church of St. Katharina in Hoogstraeten, a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp.
At the end of September, Balfour reported to Webb that “For the past five weeks movement has been entirely dependent on hitch-hiking or the chance of a vehicle going in the right direction. This is necessarily uncertain and time-wasting.”  He noted that he was supposed to get a vehicle in October and he did indeed get a truck, on October 2, but it developed mechanical problems, and in mid-October Balfour reported the truck was out of commission most of the time.
On November 29, four days after advancing into Holland, Balfour fractured his ankle in a traffic accident.  He was driving back to his headquarters from a visit to Dixon-Spain, at the Second British Army, when the accident happened.  He was taken to a hospital in Eindhoven where he dexterously outmaneuvered the doctor by refusing to be shipped home.  Instead they flew him to Brussels for medical treatment. On November 30, Balfour wrote LaFarge a brief note from Eindhoven about the accident.  After receiving the note on December 4, LaFarge rushed to 21st Army Group to tell them the news, which they had not heard.  He then called on British Major Paul Baillie Reynolds, who told him that he had got the news from Balfour himself two days previously, that he had unsuccessfully sought to telephone LaFarge, and that Ronald was in the General Hospital in Brussels. LaFarge then rushed to Brussels and found Balfour in a very good mood. He told LaFarge that he thought he may be about again in a few weeks and that he believed that he might be able to do work at Army headquarters in a month or so, during which time he would be preparing his chief for the German venture,  which was “still a long way off as concerns his own formation.”  He remained hospitalized during the Battle of the Bulge and did not return to duty for two months.
In February 1945, Balfour was back in action as the 21st Army Group attacked the Siegfried Line.  During combat operations that month, Balfour, in several German cities, helped to recover and protect archival collections.  At Goch he successfully persuaded Canadian commanders not to destroy the 14th century stone entrance gate as they attempted to enter the town.  While in Goch he also found the abandoned archives from the Collegiate Church of Cleve, which he transferred to a monastery in Spyck for safekeeping.
His last report, filed March 3, 1945, described his work in the church in Cleve: “Fragments of two large 16th century retables of carved and painted wood have been collected and removed to safety. Parish archives found in a blasted safe and strewn over the floor of the wrecked sacristy have also been removed for safekeeping.”
In his last letter, to Webb, dated March 3, he wrote:
It was a splendid week for my job – certainly the best since I came over. On the one hand there is the tragedy of real destruction, much of it completely unnecessary; on the other the comforting feeling of having done something solid myself.
There are no civilian officials to annoy one; the cares of quick decisions are left to oneself. Added to that, is the excitement of being right in the firing line. I met a battalion of my Regiment one day and ate my sandwiches with them at RHQ less than a mile from the front and I was actually sitting in a building when it was hit by a shell.
The plundering is awful. Not only every house is forced open and searched but also every safe and every cupboard. All that I can do is to try and rescue as much as possible and put up signs of warning. We did that in Kalkar but I do not know whether they actually had any effect.
In the meantime I’ve spent several days arranging the staff I’ve collected. What I did with the Goch archives would make the archivists’ hair stand on end, but I saved them from complete destruction.
And my storage place in Cleves [Cleve] wouldn’t be exactly approved of by Washington as it’s an attic in a building occupied by troops and refugees. The house is without proper protection and shells fall ceaselessly in the neighbourhood but it’s the only building in the town that still has a roof, doors and windows. There’s a local monk there (the only civilian who’s allowed to move freely round the town) in whose charge I can leave the things when I go.
If all goes well, I hope to be back at my headquarters next week as I’ve got a good deal of long-term work to do there. I’ve also got most of my luggage in Holland. I’m afraid I’ll never see it again. Yours very sincerely Ronald.
He did not live to see his luggage again.  Balfour was killed by a shell burst in Cleve on March 10 while he and some other men were attempting to rescue pieces of a medieval altarpiece to safety.   He was buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, near Cleve.
Paying tribute to him, Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Woolley, Adviser to the War Office on Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, said:
It is a great and unexpected blow. He was so cheerfully delighted at being at the front and was killed when actually engaged in saving some of those works of art, which he loved so much.
He had done wonderfully good work, as those who knew him knew he would do. He leaves a gap in our service, which no one will be able to fill so well. The whole field of art history has suffered a tragic loss.
Balfour left his papers and library to King’s College.  To honor his feats and passion to culture, that college named an archive room after him.  In the mid-1950s, Goch dedicated an archive room in his honor.  And on the 50th anniversary of the reconstruction of the 105-metre tower of the Church of St. Katharina in Hoogstraeten, the municipality held an exhibition in “grateful commemoration of Major Ronald Edmond Balfour.”
For information about Balfour’s activities see File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 3, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165; Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; and, General Records, 1938-1948, Records of Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”) OMGUS Headquarters Relating to the Central Collecting Points, Property Division, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 15 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1941).
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Leadership: India Seeks A Few Good Ship Captains

Sailing boat with United States Navy battleshi...
Sailing boat with United States Navy battleship behind in Sydney Harbour, 1925 (Photo credit: Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons)
February 13, 2014:  The Indian Navy has recently dismissed two captains because of sloppiness which led to accidents. In 2013 the frigate Talwar collided with a fishing trawler at night while another frigate, the Betwa ran aground. The captains of those two frigates were punished. In August 2013 a Kilo class submarine caught fire in port and was destroyed, killing 18 of the sailors on board at the time. Since then there were seven more, less destructive accidents throughout the fleet and more scrutiny is being paid to the captains of those vessels. The senior navy commanders believe this increase in accidents is partly because ships are spending more time at sea. But training deficiencies and poor selection of ship captains appears to be a problem as well. China has been having similar problems, but has not publicized the issue.
The Indians and the Chinese are not the only ones with this problem. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S. Navy has been experiencing a larger number of warship captains and other senior naval commanders getting relieved. It's currently over five percent a year. At the end of the Cold War, in the late 1980s, the rate was about 3-4 percent a year. In 2011 a record 35 senior commanders were relieved. Worse yet, 27 of them were commanding or executive officers on ships. This was higher than the previous record year, 2003, when 23 were relieved. So why has the rate gone up? And why hasn't the navy been able to do anything to reverse this two decade long trend? A lot of it has to do with changing attitudes about what is permissible behavior for a naval officer. The Indians and Chinese, in contrast, are largely concerned with job performance and keeping the ships intact and operational.
The U.S. Navy has come up with several solution to its problem with ship captains. One solution was to standardize how commanders are selected and incorporate the opinions of subordinates and peers when assessing command capability. These are all techniques long used successfully by business organizations. Actually, in the past the navy did consult senior NCOs (Chief Petty Officers) about officer leadership potential, but that practice fell out of favor some time before commander failures began to increase.
There appears to be a number of reasons for the problems ship captains are having, some of them new and unique, often having to do with the growth of political correctness. But most of the reliefs appear traceable to the performance rating system (where commanders evaluate their subordinates each year). Obviously, too many unqualified officers are getting promoted to commands they cannot handle. This is what the navy is trying to deal with via the changes in the assessment system.
These changes will address the damage done by a major assessment modification, in the 1990s, in which written comments on many aspects of an officer evaluation were changed to a 1-5 ranking system. That new method also forced raters to rank all their subordinates against each other. This was unfair to a bunch of high performing officers who happened to be serving together and being rated by the same commander.
The navy also wants to overcome the fact that only a small percentage of reliefs have to do with professional failings (a collision or serious accident, failing a major inspection, or just continued poor performance). Most reliefs were, and still are, for adultery, drunkenness, or theft. Or, in one case, it was telling jokes that sailors enjoyed but some politicians and journalists didn't. The hope is that comments from peers, subordinates and chiefs will reveal character flaws before they turn into commanders getting relieved.
With more women aboard warships there have been more reliefs for, as sailors like to put it, "zipper failure", especially if it includes adultery. Typically these reliefs include phrases pointing out that the disgraced officer, "acted in an unprofessional manner toward several crew members that was inappropriate, improper, and unduly familiar." Such "familiarity" usually includes sex with subordinates and a captain who is having zipper control problems often has other shortcomings as well. Senior commanders traditionally act prudently and relieve a ship commander who demonstrates a pattern of minor problems and who they "lack confidence in".
Most naval officers see the problem not of too many captains being relieved but of too many unqualified officers getting command of ships in the first place. Not every naval officer qualified for ship command gets one. The competition for ship commands is pretty intense, despite the fact that officers know that whatever goes wrong on the ship, the captain is responsible.
It's a hard slog for a new ensign (officer rank O-1) to make it to a ship command. For every hundred American ensigns entering service, only 11 of those ensigns will make it to O-6 (captain) and get a major seagoing command (cruiser, destroyer, squadron). Officers who do well commanding a ship will often get to do it two or three times before they retire after about 30 years of service.
So with all the screening and competition why are more unqualified officers getting to command ships and then getting relieved because they can't hack it? Some point to the growing popularity of "mentoring" by senior officers (that smaller percentage that makes it to admiral). While the navy uses a board of officers to decide which officers get ship commands, the enthusiastic recommendation of one or more admirals does count. Perhaps it counts too much. While the navy is still quick to relieve any ship commander that screws up (one naval "tradition" that should never be tampered with), up until that point it is prudent not to offend any admirals by implying that their judgment of "up and coming talent" is faulty.
In the aftermath of these reliefs it often becomes known that the relieved captain had a long record of problems. But because he was "blessed" by one or more admirals these infractions were overlooked. The golden boys tend to be very personable and, well, look good. The navy promotion system is organized to rise above such superficial characteristics but apparently the power, and misuse of mentoring has increasingly corrupted the process. The new assessment is supposed to make obvious issues that have, in the past, been hidden from sight (of the promotion boards).
And then there is the problem with not consulting the chief petty officers and the growing reverence towards zero tolerance. Asking the chiefs (Chief Petty Officers, the senior NCOs who supervise the sailors) might provide some illumination about officer potential. Unfortunately, over the last decade officers have been less inclined to ask their chiefs much. The "zero tolerance" atmosphere that has permeated the navy since the end of the Cold War has led officers to take direct control of supervisory duties the chiefs used to handle. The chiefs have lost a lot of their influence, responsibility, and power. They are getting some of it back as officers tire to trying to cover all the responsibilities demanded by political correctness and zero tolerance.
The problem is that, with "zero tolerance", one mistake can destroy a career. This was not the case in the past. Many of the outstanding admirals of World War II would have never survived in today's navy. For example, Bill "Bull" Halsey ran his destroyer aground during World War I, but his career survived the incident. That is no longer the case. It's also well to remember that, once World War II began, there was a massive removal of peacetime commanders from ships. The peacetime evaluation system selected officers who were well qualified to command ships in peacetime but not in wartime. There was a similar pattern with admirals.
Another problem is that officers don't spend as much time at sea, or in command, as in the past. A lot of time is spent going to school and away from the chiefs and sailors. For example, while the navy had more ships in the 1930s, than it does today, there were fewer people in the navy. That's because back then 80 percent of navy personnel were assigned to a ship and had plenty of time to learn how to keep it clean and operational. With that much less practical experience it's understandable that more captains would prove unable to do the job.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Protection of Cultural Property

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower.
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The movie The Monuments Men has generated great interest in the subject of the protection of cultural property during World War II and raised the issue of how far commanders should go in protecting cultural property in instances of risk to the lives of their troops.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, first as the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces Headquarters, in 1943, and then as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944, weighed in on the subject in orders that were issued under his name.
From early November to late December 1943, the American forces fought to overcome the German defenses of the Bernhardt/Reinhard Line.  During that time, the Fifth U.S. Army sustained 16,000 casualties, and the Italian town of San Pietro was completely destroyed.  By late December the Fifth Army paused to regroup before it took on the formidable Gustav Line defenses.  It was at this time Eisenhower issued his letter order (below) regarding the protection of cultural property.
Eisenhower_December 1943
Letter, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief, AFH to All Commanders, Subject: Historic Monuments, December 29, 1943, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 2, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165.
Then Eisenhower left the Theater to go to England to command the Overlord operations, namely, the landings on the French coast.  By the end of May 1944 most of the planning for D-Day had been accomplished.  Before the landings took place, however, Eisenhower issued another instruction regarding the protection of cultural property on May 26, 1944:
Eisenhower-May 1944
Memorandum, Dwight D. Eisenhower, General, U.S. Army to G.O.C. in Chief, 21 Army Group; Commanding General, 1st U.S. Army Group; Allied Naval Commander, Expeditionary Force; and Air C-in-C, Allied Expeditionary Force, Subject: Preservation of Historical Monuments, May 26, 1944, File: 751,Numeric File Aug 1943-July 1945, Records of the Secretariat, Records of the G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.
In this document Eisenhower referenced Cassino.  This was the German position on the Gustav Line at Monte Cassino, topped by a medieval abbey. In January 1944 the U.S. Fifth Army attacked this position and was thrown back. Convinced that the German were using the abbey as an observation point, in February the Allies sent 200 bombers to destroy the abbey.  Indian troops then unsuccessfully attacked the German position. So British General Harold Alexander in March had some 500 bombers lay waste to Cassino itself. A follow-up attack failed.  It was not until May that a massive Allied ground attack was able to break through the Gustav Line.  Polish forces on May 18 reached the summit of Monte Cassino and seized what was left of the abbey.
On both documents, General Eisenhower stresses the importance of the cultural heritage to the entire civilization.  The historical buildings and monuments symbolize the growth and development of our civilization.  They are not more important than human life; however, they are something worth fighting to protect.
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Maritime Monday for February 10th, 2014: More Nautical Philately

stamp flash
Centennial of the Opening of Japan by Matthew Perry (991 × 640 pixels)
Steamboats were carrying mail as early as November, 1808.  Initially letters were carried either unofficially by crew and passengers – bypassing local Post Offices – or under the existing provisions for ship letters, whereby postmasters at ports of call gave ship captains two cents for each letter and then charged letter recipients six cents postage.
Although popularly associated with New Orleans and the Mississippi River, steamboats were first used commercially on the Hudson River in New York, connecting New York City with the state’s capital, Albany.   In 1813 Congress authorized the Postmaster General to contract for the carriage of mail by steamboat, provided it was no more expensive than if transported by land.
To help limit revenue losses, in 1823 Congress declared waterways upon which steamboats regularly traveled to be post roads, making it illegal for private express companies to carry mail on them. By the early 1830s contracted service began on the Ohio River from present-day Huntington, West Virginia, via Cincinnati, as far west as Louisville, Kentucky.
rt: The Mayflower, 1855 (Currier & Ives print, 1855 – In December 1855, less than a year after entering service between St. Louis and New Orleans – the Mayflower was destroyed by fire.  The average lifespan of an antebellum steamboat on the Mississippi River was five to six years.  Daily hazards included explosions, fires, collisions and the submerged, hull-piercing deadwood called “snags.”

Contracted steamboat service west of Louisville, to New Orleans, began in November 1837. By the mid-1800s, the Post Office Department had greatly expanded its use of steamboats to carry mail.  Between 1845 and 1855 the distance that mail was transported by steamboat had nearly doubled, from 7,625 to 14,619 miles.
In November 1848, Postmaster General Cave Johnson dispatched a special agent to establish Post Offices in the newly-acquired territory of California.  By Christmas, steamships under contract with the Navy Department were carrying U.S. Mail from New York to California via the Isthmus of Panama. When the ships reached Panama, the mail was taken off and transported in canoes or on pack animals – and later by railroad – about 50 miles to the Pacific coast.
Another steamship collected the mail on the Pacific side and headed north.  The aim was to get a letter from the East Coast to California in three to four weeks.  Although that goal was often missed, steamships remained a vital link between East and West until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.
Congress authorized the Secretary of the Navy to enter into contracts with private companies for the construction and operation of mail-carrying steamships.  The plan was for the steamships to be convertible to warships if the need arose.  Congress’ intent was to simultaneously upgrade the U.S. naval fleet, provide mail service to California, and subsidize American steamship companies so they could better compete with England’s successful Cunard line.
USPS; About Steamboats

A chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the western Pacific Ocean that are recognised as part of the Micronesia subregion of Oceania.
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a British protectorate from 1892 and colony from 1916 until 1 January 1976, when the islands were divided into two colonies which became independent nations shortly after. By consequence of a referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony ceased to exist on 1 January 1976 and the separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu came into existence.
The Gilbert Islands were named in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Johann von Krusenstern after a British captain, Thomas Gilbert, who crossed the archipelago in 1788. Funafuti atoll was named Ellice’s Island after Edward Ellice, a British politician and merchant, by Captain Arent de Peyster, who sighted the islands in 1819. +
ketch w/ split dried cod

Bark Skumvaer w/ knot and Viking long ship w/ crossed swords
Skomvær was a steel-hulled barque built in 1890 for J. C. & G. Knudsen in Porsgrunn, Telemark, Norway.  The ship struggled to compete in the 20th century with the advent of the steamship, and in 1924 she was decommissioned and sold for scrap. more
Stålbark Skomvær
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