Monday, April 23, 2018

The Pickens Plot

When the Pacific phase of World War Two began in December of 1941, Great Britain’s main bastion of power in Southeast Asia was its eighty-five thousand man army behind the fortifications at Singapore, the so-called Gibraltar of the Pacific. The problem was, however, that all the island’s massive protective firepower faced the Straits of Singapore rather than the Malay Peninsula through which General Yamashita’s thirty-six thousand Japanese troops were rapidly advancing toward the island fortress. Within a week, the Japanese Army poured through Singapore’s unprotected rear and captured or killed the entire garrison.

Eight decades prior to that, a similar scene was being enacted at Charleston, South Carolina, just before that State’s secession from the Union on December 20, 1860. In that instance, the guns of the only fortification occupied in any strength by Federal troops, Fort Moultrie, were facing Charleston Harbor rather than the city. To compound the tactical problem, a row of private homes had been built within a stones throw of the open rear of the aging fort and anyone or anything, including livestock, were able to gain easy entry into the facility. The garrison’s commanding officer, Major Robert Anderson, of course realized that his position was indefensible and that he and his seventy-five troops would soon have to move to the unfinished and unoccupied, but far more defendable, Fort Sumter in the middle of the harbor. There was, however, one obstacle to such an action . . . one that was political rather than military.

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