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How Allied Fliers Used Monopoly to Escape From German POW Camps (warhistoryonline.com)
84 points by aaronbrethorst on Dec 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Great use and clever idea. However I'm not too sure I'm keen on the idea of using humanitarian groups to smuggle stuff to prisoners. It's important that independent groups have access to prisoners, and this is a sure fire way to get access limited. Not all wars have such clear good/bad camps.

Its important to realize that we're looking at this retrospectively. Imagine if the headline was about Nazi POWs escaping custody with the help of rigged board games. I don't think its fair to sort combatants into 'good/bad camps'.

I totally agree about not militarizing groups like this. If you try to turn POWs into combatants, do they still have any protections? Its like having a brilliant scheme to dress a whole bunch of marines as field medics; at best it's unethical, at worst it puts real non-combatants at risk.

It's the duty of a POW to use every opportunity to escape.

Also, it turns out the medic thing goes the other way around--medics are frequently armed so you can't distinguish them from ordinary troops, because fairly frequently the medics are singled out to be shot at first.

"...medics are frequently armed so you can't distinguish them from ordinary troops, because fairly frequently the medics are singled out to be shot at first."

Medics are armed for their own defense, and generally wear clear insignia so they won't be targeted. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medics#Geneva_convention_prote...

I'm not talking about the Geneva Convention; I'm talking about what medics actually do, at least the ones I've personally heard from about the subject. It would be nice if we only got into wars with people who follow the Geneva Conventions, but we tend to get into wars with the type of people who specifically try to target medics.

There is a fairly huge debate going on (and has been, for the past couple years) over whether US Army medevac helicopters should be painted with distinctive GC insignia (red crosses) and armed.

In 2003-2004, in Iraq, I flew on some medevac helicopters (I was helping the air ambulance guys set up satellite communications at their remote locations, so we used a medevac helicopter to fly to the locations...was pretty awesome). They had...M9 9mm pistols. Something is wrong when the civilian has a better weapon than you do in a war zone. Later in 2004, they got M4s as well.

USMC and USAF don't mount GC insignia, and have .50bmg machine guns, miniguns, etc. on their aircraft. i.e. a USMC or USAF medevac aircraft is better armed than regular USA blackhawks (which just have a couple 7.62mm machineguns on the side).

As a result of not being armed, medevacs became great targets. They were also no longer allowed to fly single-ship missions, increasing the risk (with one helicopter, flying 50-300' AGL, you're pretty much out of range by the time anyone notices you and is set up to fire. With two, the guy in back is doomed.)

The stopgap was to require an Apache gunship escort for every unarmed blackhawk mission into a dangerous pickup. It turns out a lot of the time when someone is shot and seriously wounded on the battlefield, the area is dangerous. The medevac guys could be in the air in 5-15 minutes, but it often took a lot longer for the Apaches to be ready (since they weren't dedicated, and might actually be busy fighting a war, plus they're less reliable aircraft). Pretty much the only luck was when there was an Apache already in the air for another purpose, which would often be willing to divert to help save someone (often, enemy or civilians -- plenty of times when little kids in car accidents technically not even US responsibility would get medevaced back to a US base for top-tier medical care, and in a few cases, months of free burn/etc. rehab due to a cooking fire or car accident)

Essentially, the faster you get someone from injury to surgery, the greater the chances for both immediate survival and long-term good outcomes (not losing eyesight, limbs, etc.). The "standard" is one hour, but obviously 30 minutes is better than 59 minutes, and 59 minutes isn't much different from 1h01m.

By requiring an Apache escort for most combat medevacs, they extended the time needed to pick up patients. This statistically cost lives, limbs, and eyesight, but can be fairly clearly tied to some specific deaths as well, where a blackhawk was able to get there in 15 min, but was held due to lack of an Apache for another 45 minutes.

There are arguments from the US Army medical side that arming helicopters is illegal (but, removing the crosses and arming them is fine). The best theory for why they resist is institutional inertia and fear that if they start arming medevac blackhawks like regular troop transports, they'll lose operational control of the aircraft eventually (because, hey, it's another helicopter available...). IMO there's no chance this would affect their 2-3 aircraft on rotation for active medevac calls, but would potentially remove their extra aircraft for moving their own personnel (and commanders) around.

Also, some of the medics I knew were pretty badass soldiers (especially on the SF side). In Army SF, it seemed pretty clear that the medical/communications guys were generally smarter than the weapons/demo guys, and that all of them met a very high standard for regular combat skills. 160th SOAR (the special operations aviation unit) recruits pilots pretty heavily from medevac, too, since the medevac pilots would be willing to fly in the worst weather, the most difficult landing areas, etc. The Air Force's version of medevac medics, pararescuemen, are one of the major parts of their special operations capability, basically like SEALs or Delta but also happen to be paramedics.

The protection though only extends to medics who are not armed with a weapon which 'can be used offensively'.

While this is what the Wikipedia article states, it does not make very much sense.

Furthermore, it is not upheld by the actual text of the Geneva Conventions (which is the source of the article section I previously linked to). See Articles 21 and 22:



> I don't think its fair to sort combatants into 'good/bad camps'.

What's fair got to do with it? If there was ever a good/bad distinction between combatants, World War II was it.

The Axis powers were evil, don't doubt it.

History is written by the winners. The Nazis as an organization committed atrocities, yes, and their leadership was responsible for that. To the millions of boots on the ground - in battles, not the relatively small number implicated in concentration camps - there wasn't good/evil. There were people we should shoot, and people we shouldn't. Blurring that line with tricks like those described puts non-combatants at risk, which is pretty evil.

Dropping a nuclear bomb on a civilian population is also pretty evil.

Exactly, and tee blurring or lines is easier to spot when you leave te US and UK out of it (despite their frequent abuses of human rights). What about French Vichy actions? Russian? And countless other more minor countries. Don't get me wrong, the worst side lost, but that didn't come without controversial and wrong behavior. Thhe non political NGO aid organizations chose to be independent, and involving them causes the potential for far reaching harm, without their consent.

> History is written by the winners.

Overused cliche line that doesn't mean anything and isn't true. The Soviets won World War 2, they won it more than the USA won World War 2 and more than the British or anybody else won World War 2 but we re-wrote their history as evil scumbags who committed atrocities during the war.

> we re-wrote their history as evil scumbags who committed atrocities during the war.

Re-writing was not needed. Stalin was an evil thug, just as bad in minor ways as Hitler.

News of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn in 1940[0] by the Soviet Union was hushed up by the Western Allies during the various 3-body conferences. It only came out after the war and when Cold War tension rose[1]

Contrast this to when Dachau was liberated, where the western media were given an official tour and relayed pictures, stories and the news only days later.

Eisenhower sent out a press release when Dachau was liberated[2], but kept quiet about Soviet atrocities.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/katyn-massacre-hush...

[2] http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/camps/dachau/dachau-01.html

don't forget internment camps

I don't know about that. The nazi leadership was evil, sure, but that doesn't automatically spread to their political allies.

This is a genuine question not a troll - which allies of Germany behaved in a generally ok manner. Maybe using the western allies as a benchmark. I struggle to think of any who didn't participate in the holocaust or similar such atrocities.

Finland had to ally in the Continuation War with German since Soviet Union was a bigger threat and obviously Allied forces / UN were not there to help. Although in the end, German wasn't that much help either.

However Finland didn't participate in any anti-Jewish or other Nazi regimen requests and didn't sign the Tripartite Pact which all the other Axis countries did.

When there are two sides, you need to choose the least worst but it doesn't mean you're like your allies.

Thanks for that - I thought long and hard and missed Finland. That was a fascinating little bit of politics that went on there - and now I'm off to read more on it.

The list is rather short for Germany's allies, with Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

Aside from Finland already mentioned, there is Thailand, Iraq and San Marino, who allied with Germany, but did not sign the Tripartite Pact. San Marino declared war on the Allies in 1940, but the Allies didn't declare back. These four were generally not considered that bad in terms of atrocities.

There were other countries aligned with Germany, though that was the result of being puppet-states.

Ignoring Italy - the slow little brother of the Axis Powers - the Japanese were fully as evil as the Nazis.

Italy under the fascists still did a pretty good job of shipping Jews off to concentration camps.

Interestingly in Hungary the 'Arrow cross' party was the local fascist party in power and they were pretty horrible as well - the history about how the arrow cross higher-ups switched straight across from fascism to communism after the war is very interesting and well worth a read for anyone into history.. To a certain extent it was the same organisation in different clothing

I'll have to catch up on modern asian history.

True, reminiscent of the CIA's trick of co-opting a vaccination program in Pakistan to gather DNA in the search for OBL: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/health/cia-vaccine-ruse-in...

It's amazing what we can do when we don't have to consider the consequences.

And one of those consequences is that the Taliban are using the fake CIA vaccination programme as justification for murdering UN polio vaccination aid workers.

Good job CIA!

Way to blame the victims instead of the group actually responsible: the Taliban.

He blamed the CIA, who are definitely not "the victims".

You also don't have to blame either the CIA or the Taliban, you can blame both. This was a pretty foreseeable consequence of their actions, and acting like they bear absolutely no responsibility for the consequences is, at best, strange.

If we had defeated the Taliban with indiscriminate use of fuel-air explosives or WMDs that destroyed entire villages full of noncombatants, would you still be riding your high horse?

In this case it's even worse because I'm sure they did consider the consequences and went ahead anyway.

They had pretty high levels of proof without the DNA. The DNA was political ass-covering. Personally, I think they would have been better off going in, attacking a compound which had high assessment of being UBL's, potentially killing a couple of people if they were armed security and resisting (but, if it wasn't UBL, it's unlikely), and accepting the political fallout, vs. subverting the independence of the vaccine program.

Killing Osama is great, but eradicating polio may ultimately be more important long-term.

The article mentions that fake charities were set up specifically for this purpose.

Can we trust that? If a long-standing group like the Red Cross were involved they'd hardly be shouting about it.

Considering that Argo effectively did the same thing (set up a fake production company to make press and answer a phone line), I see a pattern in setting up fronts that seems entirely plausible.

This is a controversial action. It's still in use. Osama Bin. Laden was partially tracked down by a charity giving free vaccinations.

I wonder why they destroyed the remaining games after the war. What was there to hide?

From the movie "The Great Escape": "Ex-POWs asked filmmakers to exclude details about the help they received from their home countries, such as maps, papers, and tools hidden in gift packages, lest it jeopardize future POW escapes. The filmmakers complied." src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Escape_%28film%29#Ada...

Presumably the maps were made from confidential info with the help of Germans in their .mil and .gov... and if like clockwork we had to fight WWIII in the 1970s it would have helped to not blow the cover of those agents. Even more excitingly, in the short term, about 1/4 of those agents probably were allied with the USSR .mil and .gov by 1950, quite handy human intelligence.

Also having been in .mil, troops always have crazy stories that are blown off, but a large cache of rigged board games means POWs would probably never be able to play a board game again, which is a shame, so its vaguely humanitarian, although they must have realized the truth would eventually come out (like now). Its too bad, board games are nice for POWs, and now they can't have them...

"and now they can't have them..."

Actually they can. Print the board games on silk, and package the game in the board/silk.

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