August 23, 2019

Move fast and break things: the Raid on Tatsinskaya

This post relies heavily on an outstanding booklet by defense analyst Robert Forczyk entitled Red Christmas:  The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid, 1942.  (link)


About 35 kilometers east of Belaya Kalitva, Rostov Oblast, Russia, there is a monument commemorating the raid on Tatsinskaya Airfield by Vasily Badanov's 24th Tank Corps on Christmas Eve, 1942.  A column of tanks charge through a gap and up into the sky, leaving a slew of wrecked aircraft in their wake.

It's not wrong.



The Plan
The Germans are bottled up in Stalingrad, only a miracle can save them.  But they've got an airlift going, and it's just keeping Sixth Army alive.  That buys time - Erich von Manstein, the greatest panzer general in the history of the universe - has a counteroffensive underway, and the Germans are rushing in more units to assist with the relief effort.

If the Russians can take out the airfields, the airlift collapses, Sixth Army can't hold out, and the Battle of Stalingrad ends quickly.  But those airfields are 150 miles beyond the front lines, and you'd need to bring heavy weapons to destroy them.  A mechanized operation that deep into enemy territory has never been attempted in modern warfare.

Call it a stretch goal


It is very possible the operation will fail.  On the other hand, this is the Eastern Front in 1942, and if you have to burn a tank corps, maybe you burn a tank corps.


Transit
The Russians launch Operation Little Saturn, a coordinated assault through the Italian sector that threatens to cut off Manstein's Panzers as they drive toward Stalingrad.  The fighting is insane and heroic, and leaves a huge gap in the Axis lines.  Through that gap goes Badanov's 24th Tank Corps, heading straight for Tatsinskaya.
At 0200hrs on 18 December, Badanov’s corps conducted a forward passage of lines through the 4th Guards Rifle Corps and advanced southward into the snow-filled void.       - Forczyk



This is not a little commando raid.  This is 5,000 men, 140 tanks, 300 trucks, and some armored cars, going for a motor-tour of Rostov Oblast, a region not noted for its rest stops.  They have enough fuel to get there, but - unless they find some along the way - probably not enough to get back.
The column was immense – initially about 5km (3 miles) long and 1.5–2km (0.9–1.2 miles) wide – but there were few Germans or Italians in the area to see it.  - Forczyk

Even with no enemy around, serious problems crop up:
  • They can only drive during daylight, and there's only eight hours of it this time of year.
  • There aren't enough trained drivers, and after a couple of days the ones they have are exhausted and keep falling asleep at the wheel.  
  • The T-34 tanks are awesome and built for this sort of thing, but the light T-70s - a wartime kludge design - have trouble keeping up.
  • The T-34s have heaters, but the other vehicles don't, so they have to stop periodically so everyone can get out and warm up.
  • Overloaded trucks start to go by the wayside, their suspensions shot.  The men in the trucks, not wishing to be left alone in a frozen desert deep in enemy territory, hop on other overloaded trucks, or onto the tanks.
  • The Corps soon outdistances its air cover, so Badanov has to disperse the force into smaller groups to limit the damage from possible Luftwaffe attacks.
The column spreads out and slows down, sometimes making only 15 miles per day.  But they do move, and on December 23rd they have tanks with riders - but not much else - within striking distance of the target.


The Decision
Badanov was now only 27km (17 miles) from Tatsinskaya and he knew that it was decision time. The 24th Tank Corps was now badly spread out...  Refuelling would take hours and cost him any remaining surprise. On the other hand, his scouts informed him that the two German Kampfgruppen were lingering nearby...  - Forczyk

George Patton once said:  "a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."  Of course his raid failed, but as a general principle it seems sound.

There is a line from the movie Torpedo Run, when a U.S. submarine has an enemy carrier in its sights, but firing will expose it to certain counterattack and probable destruction.
  • Glenn Ford:  What would you do?
  • Borgnine:  I'd stay up and shoot.  That's what we're here for.

Hey...come to think of it...!?




Badanov's low on fuel.  His men are cold and tired.
Safe in Berlin, Göring ordered that his Luftwaffe men would ‘stand fast’ at Tatsinskaya and that evacuation was not authorized unless Soviet tanks were firing on the runway.  - Forczyk

Mayhem
The next morning Soviet tanks are firing on the runway.
[Base Commander] Fiebig was awoken from two hours’ sleep by the sound of rockets exploding nearby, which contributed to his deteriorating state of mind. He was hurriedly driven to the airfield, arriving around 0815hrs. Meanwhile, at the train station, Soviet tankers discovered a train with flatcars loaded with 50 damaged aircraft, intended for shipment back to repair depots in Germany, as well as a train loaded with aviation fuel. These trains, as well as the loading docks at the railyard, were soon set ablaze. - Forczyk



Badanov's tanks, approaching from three directions, hit the airfield during normal flight operations.  Chaos ensues as dozens of German planes try to take off at once, some colliding with one another as the Russians fire 75mm shells into them and spray the area with machine gun fire.  Refueling trucks - easy targets of opportunity and hard for the Germans to replace - explode all over the base.
In the later stages of the raid, some of Nechayev’s T-34 tanks had apparently exhausted their main gun ammunition and they began ramming the tail sections of Ju-52 transports on the flight line, in order to prevent their take-off. - Forczyk

A majority of the German planes manage to take off, including one, according to reports, piloted by a signal officer who had never flown a plane before. Nevertheless, the attack knocks out about 10% of the transport capacity of the Luftwaffe.  The base commander jumps on the last plane out, leaving hundreds of his troops to their fate.

The Russians mop up efficiently, utterly wrecking the base.


Exfiltration
At this point it may be useful to reflect on a problem with raids.  Raids are fun, at first.  You plan creatively, you get to surprise the enemy, and maybe take out a big strategic target.  But, like Game of Thrones, it's hard to work out a good ending.

Most raids are planned like this:
  • 24 Tank Corps: [Achieves surprise, seizes airfield in enemy rear areas and destroys it.]
  • Germans:  OMG WTF aughghgh!
  • 24 Tank Corps: Heh heh heh [Escapes in the confusion]

But most raids go like this:
  • 24 Tank Corps: [Achieves surprise, seizes airfield in enemy rear areas and destroys it.]
  • Germans:  Vector in Luftwaffe scouts, fighter-bombers and dive-bombing units.  Re-direct 11 and 6 Panzer to the affected area.  Re-direct nearby battle groups to blocking positions and support.  Destroy raiding force, take no prisoners.
  • 24 Tank Corps: Ah.

11th Panzer, retreating from the east, is heading straight for the base with orders from Hitler to kill everyone in sight.  Very quickly, Team Badanov is surrounded by well-supplied superior forces.  His tanks, mostly out of fuel (their diesels can't burn the 300 tons of benzene they've captured), are sitting ducks.

Badanov knows it won't go well and gets ready to try and escape.  But there's a problem:  Stalin has a new plan:
At 2200hrs, Badanov was able to get through to Vatutin and reported: ‘Situation critical. No tanks. Large losses of personnel. Have lost half my officers. Cannot keep Tatsinskaya. I ask permission to withdraw from the area. Enemy transport aircraft on the airfield are destroyed.’ Amazingly, Badanov’s request to evacuate Tatsinskaya was refused. Even though the operation was conceived as a raid, Stalin no longer wanted to give up the airfield since he recognized that holding it had great propaganda value. 
- Forczyk
Evacuate?  In our moment of triumph?

Badanov reviews his options:
a) die for nothing on a wrecked airfield, or 
b) MacGyver a breakout and try to talk his way out of the firing squad when he gets back.
He selects b).

This being the Eastern Front in 1942, he escapes by the simple expedient of ordering 300 "volunteers" to attack the Germans in one direction, while he and a thousand men and a few crippled tanks sneak through a gap on the other side of the perimeter.  The 300 are never heard from again.

The remnants, as per Soviet doctrine, manage to return and link up with the advancing main force.


Aftermath
On December 23, 1942, the Germans had a fully stocked and functional transport hub to move supplies into Stalingrad.  On December 28th, they had a junkyard with burned buildings and a thousand or so corpses.  And Sixth Army, already starving, had lost its only lifeline.


[A]ttempts to restart the airlift after the raid from safer airfields such as Ssalsk, greatly increased the distance to Stalingrad and caused the already meagre airlift effort to collapse. The loss of Tatsinskaya and Morozovskaya airfields, as well as the threat to Heeresgruppe Don’s main lines of communication between Rostov and Tormosin, were the final straws that demolished any hope of saving [Sixth Army].  - Forczyk

Despite pissing off Stalin and getting wounded in 1944, Badanov survived the war and subsequent purges, and among other decorations received the Distinguished Service Cross from the United States.  He died in Moscow in 1971.

August 22, 2019

Robert Caro, a great comedic foil for Conan

Short but good, a few good stories from the estimable Caro, author of The Power Broker, and The Years of Lyndon Johnsonan acclaimed biography that is four volumes and counting:

Robert and Conan discuss his biographical works on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, getting into the shoes of his subjects, his new book “Working,” searching for the man who helped steal a Senate election, and the parallels we can draw to today’s events. Plus, Conan responds to a listener voicemail about the size of his skull.

(link)


See also the prequel:


Conan O’Brien’s Unrequited Fanboy Love for Robert Caro

“The Lyndon Johnson books by Caro, it’s our Harry Potter,” Mr. O’Brien said. “If there were over-large ears and fake gallbladder scars that we could wear instead of wizard hats while waiting in line to get the book, we would do it.”

(link)

August 21, 2019

Podcast pioneer makes it big

Emerging podcast pioneer Conan O'Brian is, based on the two podcasts I've listened to, good:
  • Patton Oswalt (link)
  • Bob Newhart (link)

These are both sublime, but Newhart....man.  Dude turns 90 this year.  Here is a transcription of a story Newhart tells about Jack Benny, rendered in verse.

I'll tell you...
I'll tell you a 
story about 
Jack Benny,
how brave he was.

He was the bravest comedian 
I have ever...
You know, it's a...
people have said 
my timing is 
similar to his.

But I don't think 
you can teach timing.

I think you either hear it,
or you don't hear it.

But he was 
the bravest comedian,
and Dick Martin 
told me a story:

And he said that Jack was, 
I think, at the Sahara,
in...in Las Vegas.

And they had the Will Mastin Trio 
starring Sammy Davis Junior
as his opening act.

Left to right: Sammy Davis Sr., Sammy Davis Jr., Will Mastin
And, of course it comes out...
Sammy destroys the audience.
They're pounding, 
and standing on the tables.

And they leave,
and then Jack comes out.

And he said:

You know, in the afternoon,
sometimes around four,
four-thirty...
I like to get some tea.
And sometimes four 
forty five...
rarely five...
I'll have this tea.

And I ran into this actor
I had worked with
and his name was
I'm trying to think...

And he said, I don't know what's wrong with me today, 
I promised that Sammy Davis 
could do another number.
Would you like Sammy 
and the Will Matsin Trio?

And you know, 
screaming.

So he comes out:
"Birth of the Blues" -
Destroys the room,
Pounding on the tables.

And Jack watches him waltz off
and he says:
"Clive..."


Here are two variations on the interruption gag:





August 18, 2019

My favorite of his


(link)

Flawless victory


(link)

August 17, 2019

This one goes out to Big V in Parnassus Heights...



Poverty and homelessness virtually unknown, our public schools the envy of the world...

(Bloomberg) -- California’s general-obligation bond rating was raised by Fitch Ratings to AA, third-highest investment grade and a step above Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

Fitch’s one-notch upgrade on $72 billion of debt “reflects the improved fiscal management that has become institutionalized across administrations,” the company said in a release Friday.

The state’s use of temporary tax increases, reserves and limiting growth in spending will help it better withstand economic downturns, Fitch said. The ratings outlook is stable.  

California’s recovery from the Great Recession has beenstrong. The state has gained more than 3.2 million jobs since the economic expansion began in February 2010, and its unemployment rate is at a record low 4.1%. California was last ranked AA by Fitch in the two years that ended December 2002,
when it fell to A, according to the state treasurer’s office.

“A double A rating is appropriate,” said John Ceffalio, municipal-credit analyst for New York-based AllianceBernstein LP. “They’ve really done a fantastic job building reserves and that’s lasted through two governors.”

(Bloomberg)





No scan, no pay

Attendance was not mandatory for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant north of Pittsburgh, but they had to forfeit pay for the day if they skipped, according to attendance and comportment information obtained by the newspaper.

“No scan, no pay,” workers were warned.


(link)

August 12, 2019

Dude's a wizard


August 11, 2019

Blowing it

Coming up - after I read the book - a series of thoughtful and reasoned pieces on Prussia, its rise, its remarkable innovations that are embedded in modern civilization, and its decline and fall, fueled by a propensity to fight wars against the world.  

Norm MacDonald's proposal - that Germany be told "you don't get to be a country no more, on account of you keep attacking...the world" - is what actually happened to Prussia.
It is not often that a great power vanishes into thin air overnight, but that is exactly what happened to Prussia. With the stroke of a pen, a state that had stood at the center of European politics for centuries was abruptly ordered off the stage of history, dismissed as “a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany” by Law No. 46 of the Allied Control Council, signed on Feb. 25, 1947.  - NYT

There is something enchanting about what could have been, about lost opportunities.  So often we don't realize until later that what we took for granted, what we undervalued, was rare treasure.  

L-R: MVP, MVP (somewhere else), MVP and 2x Champion (somewhere else)

So it is with Empire.  Let's say you're setting up to play a game of Civilization, but in real life.  You want to lead your people to world domination happiness and prosperity.  What do you need?  A few prerequisites:

- A secure base
- Abundant natural resources
- A well-developed industrial base
- Strong trade connections
- Brilliant elites
- A culture focused on duty

So, submitted for your approval, the German (Prussian, really) Empire, ca. 1900:



I don't know if you guys are history buffs at all, but this was a pretty nifty operation.  They had everything on the checklist and more.  You could cross the border at Schaffhausen and ride the train a thousand miles, all the way up to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) on the Baltic.  And it's good land out there on the North European Plain, flat and green.


But those central hills and mountains also offered a strong central base, a defensible core, if your leadership wasn't stupid enough to sit like a sitting duck in Berlin when a heavy attack came rolling in from the east.  In the latter stages of World War II, Eisenhower saw that such a relocation could prolong the war, and made preventing it a top priority.

Impressive.  But not quite an empire is it?  Yes, it was big, but so was France.  So was Austria-Hungary...and yes, they'd all fit into Russia:



Whatever the Prussians had, somehow it wasn't enough, and in reaching for more they blew it, blew it in a hundred different ways.  There was confusion in the war plans.  Britannica states that
German plans of conquest [in WW I]... moved to the west and for a simple reason: Germany had become the greatest industrial power. The plans for extending German territory in the Baltic—the only plans with which the Prussian Junkers sympathized—were plans for the benefit of landowners. The plans for controlling southeastern Europe, also of long standing, were the plans of German traders. Both were eclipsed by the ambition of the German magnates of the Ruhr to control the industrial resources of Belgium and of northeastern France.

So...let's just attack all of them.  Possibly a mistake.

Just to mention two other issues:

1) A tendency to underestimate the enemy.  In 1914, says Britannica,
The crisis caught the German statesmen unawares. They had now to answer the question which Bismarck had evaded: Were they to abandon Austria-Hungary, or must they fight for its sake a war against the other great powers? The rulers of Germany determined to stand by Austria-Hungary, but they did not at first appreciate that this was a decision for war. They supposed that a firm line would lead the other powers to give way.

Narrator:  they didn't.

2). The elites' quasi-religious belief in historical determinism.  The Wikipedia entry on von Moltke the Younger, who - as every schoolchild knows - commanded German forces at the outbreak of the First World War, concludes with this fine bit, which is as good an epitaph as any for a country that mistook itself for an empire:
Moltke was a follower of theosophy, which taught that humanity was an endless, unchanging cycle of civilizations rising and falling...  Like many of his colleagues on the German General Staff, he was heavily influenced by Social Darwinism. His view of international relations as merely a struggle for survival led him to believe that the longer the start of the war was delayed the worse things would be for Germany.

And that lovely Prussian palace at Koblenz, reconstructed, sits silent and beautiful overlooking the Rhine, presiding with quiet dignity over an empire that never was.



Links:

- "The Dynasty That Never Was" (link)
- "Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947" (link)

A few connections


  • Don Sheldon - B-17 tailgunner, 26 missions, Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Jay Hammond - fighter pilot Black Sheep Squadron
  • Lowell Thomas Jr. - flight instructor due to health issues, friend of Dalai Lama

Also - "B-17 Retardent Bombers at Fairbanks" date unclear (link)


August 08, 2019

I heartily endorse this podcast

99% Invisible is very good, available wherever podcasts are sold.  Some favorites:
  • "He's Still Neutral" - (link)
  • "Life and Death in Singapore" - (link)
  • "From Bombay With Love" - (link)
  • "The Many Deaths of a Painting" - (link)
  • "The Secret Lives of Color" - (link)
 

 That last one is about the 2017 book of the same name, which is winging its way to my mailbox as we speak.

August 07, 2019

Too cool to live, too young to die


I got this book from Loussac Library, and you bet I read it cover to cover.  As far as it was concerned, the B-70 Valkyrie was the baddest thing that every flew, and no two ways about it.  It could fly up to space at Mach 3 and blow up whatever needed blowing up, fly away before enemy radar could vector in interceptors.

Eisenhower didn't want it because missiles were cheaper, probably more effective.  Kennedy campaigned for it, saying Eisenhower was soft on defense.  But,
On 28 March 1961, after $800 million (equivalent to $6.7 billion today) had been spent on the B-70 program, Kennedy canceled the project as "unnecessary and economically unjustifiable" because it "stood little chance of penetrating enemy defenses successfully."  Instead, Kennedy recommended "the B-70 program be carried forward essentially to explore the problem of flying at three times the speed of sound with an airframe potentially useful as a bomber."

They built a couple, undoubtedly the most epic anything that ever stood on a runway.  It was at Mach 3 before they pulled the chocks away.


It did fly, riding its own shockwave:



Landing was basically controlled crashing:


Actual emergencies were even better:

Stop.  My penis can only get so erect.

One eventually did crash, the other's in a museum now.

The contrast with the B-17 strikes me as significant.  Where the B-17 was mass-produced, these were a special edition, two copies only.  Where the B-17 attacked in a huge interdependent cloud, these were the aviation equivalent of special forces - hit-and-run specialists with maybe a couple of escorts.  The B-17 was beautiful "in its way," the B-70 was a show piece with a spiffy pointy nose and cool black windshield.  Obsolete when designed, they built it anyway - possibly for political benefit, possibly as a bargaining chip, possibly in the hopes that some of the technology developed would be useful for something else.

But in my world of car radios with cheap plastic buttons, ugly household appliances, and wood-grain vinyl shelf liners, this thing was The Truth, a pure white instrument for going 2,200 miles per hour for no good reason.  There was never anything better.
  • Wikipedia: North American XB-70 Valkyrie / The "missile problem" - (link)

August 06, 2019

"So much love went into that movie." - #1 son


(link)

August 05, 2019

Choosing our new leaders

Public trust of scientists is growing. It's on a par with our trust of the military and far above trust of clergy, politicians and journalists.

The survey by the Pew Research Center finds 86% of those surveyed say they have a fair amount or a great deal of faith that scientists act in our best interests. And that's been trending higher — it was 76% in 2016.

(link)


The problem I have with this is...which field of science to choose as our ultimate leaders?  The competition is intense...


(link)

July 28, 2019

I have a few myself


July 27, 2019

Club 8+

In the second episode of the fourth series of The IT Crowd, a man known only as Prime confronts Morris Moss after his success on the British game show Countdown, and gives him a card:



This allows Moss entry to Club 8+, where the Octochamps meet, and when things get ugly, engage in unregulated sessions of "Street Countdown" that are pretty much like regular Countdown.

I have two observations:

  • This is a nearly perfect episode of this television show
  • I kind of like the graphics on that card



Some enterprising soul has put that logo on a t-shirt, which is available here.  You can also get it on a poster or lucite block for your desk, but that seems a bit extreme.


"The Final Countdown" - (link)

July 26, 2019

I don't wish to alarm you, but...

The San Francisco Giants, a forgotten team that spent two months of this season in last place, have perked up since the All-Star break.  And by perked up, I mean they have played seventeen games and lost just three, in the process becoming the hottest team in baseball and leaping into playoff contention.

They are doing this in their usual way, with pitching, defense, and even a base hit now and then.  They specialize in one run games and extra inning affairs, including six of their last ten - all of which they won.  This is...unusual.




It feels like magic, but the sober-minded analyst understands that these things even out.  You can't play .700 baseball in one run games over a whole season...but so far they have.  You can't consistently dominate in extra innings over a whole season...but so far they have.

Throw out the analytics: for this stuff you need astrologers, mystics, interpretive dancers.  Logic has left the building.

They were in San Diego tonight, score 1-1 in the 11th.  Pablo Sandoval, old and washed up, batting from his weak right side, drilled a home run...



...which was caught by a man in a Willie Mays jersey holding a baby...


...and the Giants won again. 

There is one thing we say to the gods of analytics:  "not today."


Giants fan catches Pablo Sandoval's game-winning homer while holding a baby - (link)

July 23, 2019

Koblenz is an interesting place



Founded by Drusus, ruled by Elvis...

(link)

July 22, 2019

I have no questions

July 20, 2019

Bill Mauldin Post War Cartoons of Terrible Relevance

Willie and Joe at home.

Looking for St. Johan (2): Stedelijk to Olympisch Stadion

Sunday morning I had no interest in Johan Cruyff, or walking, so I went down to Museumplein looking for trouble, and breakfast.  Breakfast first:

Hello Rijksmuseum my old friend

Clambering a few rungs up Maslow's ladder, it occurred to me that I could go look at some modern art.  Across the way there's the Stedelijk, the museum for which the term "wildly uneven" was invented.  The exhibits were, as usual, very interesting.  There was Walid Raad, a brilliant Lebanese-American artist who (among many other things) picked up bullets in Beirut for decades and made art from them.

Roughly contemporary with our group (b. 1965) he's worth studying up.  A good start is here.

Impact was here, and here, and here...and here...colors denote country of bullet manufacture

There was Jacqueline De Jong's little pinball machine workshop, and some drawings they said they found in the basement on the back of other pieces, attributed to the late Marwan Kassab-Bachi but they're not 100% certain, all very mysterious:



And then, a brief, brutal encounter with Maria Lassnig.

Maria.
Fucking.
Lassnig.

Maria Lassnig was interested in many things, but generally quite consistent in her presentation:  she punches you in the face, and then while you are blurting out a request that she explain herself she punches you again, then punches you again as a courtesy.  My usual reaction to all things Lassnig is going into what I like to call "The Full Baxter":



Long ago I read something about a guy at the Whitney rejecting something because it wasn't "tough enough."  Well, Mister Whitney guy, IS THIS TOUGH ENOUGH FOR YOU?

Could we go back and look at "The Night Watch" again?  NO.

If you're bored and looking for something to do this evening, give me 1,500 words on the viewer's confrontation with the staring nude woman in art.  Please include Manet's Olympia in your answer.

I want to make something clear.  I make fun of stuff, but I am not making fun of Lassnig (who passed in 2014).  The work is legit, and I know it is legit.  I am making fun of my own confused response to it, because making fun of my own confused response is basically my go-to algorithm.  For a good discussion of her work, see The Guardian's "Maria Lassnig: Under the skin" (link).

So, I thought...maybe that's enough Maria for today.  Maybe I should go lie down.  But, inexplicably, I lingered a little, and found myself in yet another confrontation.  There is another figure nearby, nude except for socks and cleats, looking you in the eye - bouncing a soccer ball off her chest.



"I'm sorry to interrupt."
"I'm kind of busy here."
"I came here to quit thinking about soccer, maybe think about something important instead."
"Maybe you should have a look at the information card."
"Thank you, maybe I will."

Oh.

Johan Cruyff said: "it’s like everything in football – and life. You need to look, you need to think, you need to move, you need to find space, you need to help others. It’s very simple in the end."

And then he added, "maybe it's time you got your ass down to Olympic Stadium."

Yeah...

Outside, on the grass at Museumplein, an age and racially diverse, but - yes - male dominated, football game.


We go left here.


We're in central Amsterdam, so there's basically a canal and a postcard view every block or so:


More beautiful, intimate neighborhoods, personable and lived in.  After the war the Modernists could hardly wait to kill this off, and with half of Europe in ruins they had their chance.  The Bijlmermeer was the purest large-scale expression of Modernist orthodoxy, and the slow and painful failure of the master plan reinforced in many Netherlanders the sense that this is how one should live.


Even the die-hards - the "Bijlmermeer Believers" as they came to be called - generally came to acknowledge the arrogance of the Modernists, the idea that if we could just rid of of all of these constraints and start with a clean sheet of paper, we could build a paradise in steel and concrete.  Most importantly, everyone began to understand a little better that the city is not a machine.

In 1928 the Olympics came to Amsterdam, and the city opened its arms, knocked down some old buildings, and put up lasting monuments to the event:


As you approach the stadium the neighborhood changes and falls into a larger scale and more modern but (I think) pre-WW2 vernacular.




At the edge of this you reach a couple of 80s and 90s office buildings and malls, and then:  the brick  early Modern edifice that is Olympisch Stadion, restored in 1996 to its original glory (Wikipedia article here):

Shot by someone else on a nicer day
It's Sunday, so no, you can't go in.


But the grounds are interesting.  There are the Nazi oak trees:


A nearby plaque explains that gold medalists at the 1936 Berlin Olympics got oak trees - a symbol of National Socialism.  These two, won by Dutch swimmers, were planted here, and have thrived.

I wondered about the discussion of these trees at the Planning Association meeting.
  • "They are Nazi trees!"
  • "They're oak trees, and the Nazis are gone.  It's not the trees' fault the Nazis liked them."
  • "They're our trees, we won them fair and square.  Should we melt down the medals too?"
  • "Well maybe we should put up a plaque..."
Continuing, on our left, one of the many Cruyff courts that dot Amsterdam and other parts of the world.  Cruyff's foundation continues to build these and has its offices near here.


Translation of Cruyff's 14 rules is here.  Some are stereotypical, not much different from, say, John Wooden's Pyramid of Success.  But I find one particularly noteworthy:  

Initiative - Dare to Try Something New

"Think for yourself and ask me lots of questions" said no NFL coach ever.  Where their competitors say "do as I say," Cruyff's coaching disciples encourage players to ask why, and to figure things out themselves.  They have permission.  

I'm not saying Dutch soccer is a commune - this clearly varies significantly depending on your coach.  Coaches in the tradition of Van Gaal - winner of a Dutch 2017 Lifetime Achievement award - are probably a little less interested in players that talk back than Cruyff would have been.  David Winner explains:
Cruyff and Van Gaal both loved the spatially sophisticated attacking football on which [Ajax’s] reputation rests but there were crucial differences... Van Gaal put his faith more in systems and rigid application of tactics. Cruyff believed in giving the most talented players freedom within a looser tactical structure.

That is Cruyff's brand, it's who he was, and my last stop is a monument to that individualism.  It has been at Olympic Stadium since 1978:


That's Cruyff and Berti Vogts, the brilliant German defender, in the World Cup Final, 1974.  Early in the match - which the Dutch went on to lose - Cruyff burst into the German defense on an amazing solo run, and got fouled in the penalty area (here, at 0:15).  Neeskins converted the penalty kick, and the Dutch went ahead 1-0.

That moment was the high point of...something.  But it's hard to say exactly what:
  • It was not the end of Dutch soccer, since they went to the World Cup Final again in 1978 and 2010 (losing each time).  
  • It was not the end of Totaalvoetbal since Barcelona went on to employ the system with great success.  
  • It was not the end of Cruyff the player, since he hadn't even gotten to Barcelona yet.

Perhaps it would be fair to say it was the high point of the Dutch football aesthetic.  Dutch football would continue to be successful, but it would never be this beautiful, nor its success seem so assured.  And if we must pick a career peak for Cruyff the player, this moment is as good as any.

I have mentioned this before, but a young child named Emilio Butragueño watched this run intently.  Interviewed in a documentary he said:
It was so magical...he slows and speeds up twice within 45 meters, enough to completely disorient his opponent...  This play is permanently etched in my mind.  It's not that it changed my life, but with this Cruyff gave me insight into what soccer really was...  Football is an expression of what you have in you.  You go out onto the field to show who you are, to display your personality.  And in some way or other...art is able to uplift the viewer's soul.

A few steps away, across a little bridge there is the Olympic Hotel.  It is reasonably priced and has a restaurant with coffee, snacks, and a pleasant view.


I thought of something from David Winner's 2010 book that feels more true with each passing year:
Did you ever see the beautiful little haiku-like poem Xander van der Drift wrote...? He wrote it in 1999, and I agree with it very much. He meant Cruyff is our giant, and it will hit us one day. It goes: 
“Question of the 21st Century: where were you when Johan Cruyff died?"

Further reading:
  • "Game Changer - The Hidden History of Johan Cruijff’s Amsterdam" (link)
  • Brilliant Orange:  The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (link)