by Daniel Long, Nottingham Trent University

On the afternoon of May 3, 1945, a squadron of RAF Typhoons began their descent to attack Axis shipping in Neustadt Bay, Germany. Below them, the former luxury liner SS Cap Arcona was laden with over 4,500 concentration camp prisoners who had been “evacuated” to the coast – and at around 3pm, the Typhoons from the Second Tactical Air Force, launched their assault.

The result was one of the world’s worst maritime disasters, leaving the prisoners and the ship’s crew struggling for survival in the icy Baltic waters. An estimated 4,000 prisoners perished. More than 70 years on from the tragic sinking, crucial questions remain regarding the role of British forces in the final days of the Second World War.

The disaster has long been sensationalised by the print media. Headlines such as “Friendly fires of hell” have been the norm – thanks, in part, to a surprising lack of scholarly attention.

The Cap Arcona in 1927. Wikipedia

The Cap Arcona in 1927. Wikipedia

In turn, this has led to a number of conspiracy theories about the sinking. One such rumour claimed that important British records related to the incident had been sealed until 2045. In fact, all of the records were publicly released in 1972 after the Public Records Act 1967 reduced the amount of time they were to be kept secret – and I have spent a great deal of time researching them.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Britain’s focus was on attempting to prosecute Nazi war criminals, and investigations into British misadventures were sidelined. And shortly after that, attentions shifted east, as the Cold War gathered pace.

Nevertheless, it is now possible to reconstruct what really happened – including Britain’s role in the tragedy – with a closer examination of archival files.

Endgame

“No concentration camp prisoner must fall alive into enemy hands.”

That was Himmler’s last order concerning the fate of Germany’s remaining camp prisoners. But as the Nazi camp system continued to contract in March 1945, it would be wrong to assume that it was the real driving force behind the evacuation of Neuengamme camp.

Neuengamme, near Hamburg, was largely unique within the Nazi camp system. Local politicians, in particular Nazi Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann, had developed close business links with local industrialists and supplying slave labour from the camp to nearby businesses became a profitable enterprise.

But by early 1945, the Allied advance placed increasing pressure on local politicians – and complicit businesses – to eradicate any evidence of slave labour from within Hamburg city limits. The “problem” had to be moved elsewhere.

Karl Kaufmann. Bundesarchiv Bild via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Karl Kaufmann. Bundesarchiv Bild via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

In the absence of another option, Kaufmann made arrangements in March 1945 to requisition a passenger liner to act as a “temporary” holding camp for Neuengamme’s prisoners. Any long-term planning was simply nonexistent. Indeed, once the camp was emptied in mid-April, the local politicians no longer concerned themselves with the fate of the prisoners now held in squalor aboard the Cap Arcona in nearby Neustadt Bay.

Nevertheless, the “prisoner hierarchy” continued on board the ship. The prisoners remained segregated according to nationality and religion. In addition, SS troops stayed on board to supervise the prisoners. This indicated that the Arcona was intended as a temporary extension of the original Neuengamme, albeit one that was largely out of sight and out of mind.

Liberation or destruction

Following the Allied Yalta Conference of February 1945, British military policy was geared towards a swift advance to the Baltic coast.

There were two reasons for this. First, Britain wished to halt the Soviet advance as it swept ever further west. To achieve this, Lübeck on the Baltic coast was considered the strategic goal.

Second, by halting the Soviets here, British forces would be able to liberate Denmark and restore the Danish monarchy. With the monarchy restored, Britain would gain a valuable ally in the months ahead.

But the speed of the Soviet advance meant that the normal protocols and procedures that had been well established throughout the war fell to the wayside as British troops raced for their objective. To make matters worse, communication lines became strained, and intelligence was not always processed in a thorough and timely manner.

Casualties of the tragedy. Imperial War Museum Image Collection

Casualties of the tragedy. Imperial War Museum Image Collection

On the afternoon of May 2 and the morning of May 3, two pieces of intelligence were handed to British commanders. The first was handed to the liberating forces of Lübeck, the 11th Armoured Division, by an International Committee Red Cross delegate (ICRC). The second was presented to British forces by a Swedish Red Cross (SRC) delegate.

Both informed the British that camp prisoners were being held aboard ships in Neustadt Bay. But the warning arrived too late.

As the German Reich contracted, British forces remained heavily engaged in an important battle to reach their objective on Germany’s north coast. But while the German retreat was often marked by disorder, Britain’s military campaign also became frantic and chaotic, particularly in the final weeks. A breakdown of efficient communication and intelligence sharing meant that frontline forces were often ill-prepared for the actual situation ahead of them.

Cap Arcona Memorial, Neustadt. Author provided

Cap Arcona Memorial, Neustadt. Author provided

In this case, the latest intelligence on the ships in Neustadt Bay never reached the pilots who attacked them. As they made their final descent, the airmen likely believed they were attacking bona fide hostile targets.

The ConversationUltimately, the fate of the Cap Arcona and its passengers was a tragic consequence of the fog of war.

Daniel Long, PhD Candidate, School of Art and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


by M. Berk Talay, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Ford has doubled down on its best-selling pickup trucks. In April, Ford announced that it will be phasing out nearly all of its passenger cars in the United States.

If all goes according to plan, 90 percent of Ford’s portfolio in North America will be trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles. Its F-150 – the most popular vehicle in America – is now poised to build on its stunning success.

The model’s ascent is really part of a larger, decades-long trend of Americans’ eschewing sedans for trucks and SUVs.

But why do Americans flock to the F-150 over the Tacoma or the Silverado?

I study how innovation drives success in competitive markets, and Ford’s emphasis on original design – together with its frequent upgrades – have allowed the F-Series to gain an edge over its peers.

A post-war truck boom

By the end of World War II, the car market in the United States, was, by and large, a seller’s market.

From February 1942 to October 1945, the War Production Board froze automobile production for civilian use, which created pent-up demand for 5 to 9 million new cars by the time the war ended.

In a race to cash in, U.S. automotive manufacturers capitalized on the expertise they had gained from manufacturing military trucks during the war and introduced trucks – in addition to cars – into the market.

In the past, trucks had been marketed to farmers and business owners. These newer trucks, advertised as a more comfortable ride with larger cabins, were designed to also appeal to suburban buyers.

In 1947 Chevrolet launched its Advance-Design trucks, while the now-defunct International Harvester launched its KB Series. The following year, Dodge released its B Series, and Ford introduced its F-Series.

With its ‘Million Dollar Cab,’ Ford sought to gain an edge over its competitors. Ford Truck Enthusiasts

With its ‘Million Dollar Cab,’ Ford sought to gain an edge over its competitors. Ford Truck Enthusiasts

With design offerings that could appeal to a range of customers, the F-Series was an instant success. The F-Series line-up included eight models with varying sizes and cargo capacities, from the F-1, a light-truck with half-ton capacity, to the F-8, a 3-ton, heavy-duty truck.

To appeal to a wider range of buyers, Ford designed a considerably more spacious and comfortable cabin. Dubbed the “Million Dollar Cab” to underscore the one million dollars the company spent on its design, this cab was wider, quieter and featured luxuries like a full interior trim, sun visors, an ashtray, and easy-to-read instrument panel.

Staying ahead of the competition

Since the earliest days of the U.S. auto industry, innovation has been a critical element for sustained success. To keep up with the evolution of consumer demands and emergence of new technologies, automakers have to invest heavily on research and development. In 2017 alone, they spent more than $100 billion globally. Companies that fall behind in this innovation “arms race” tend to either go out of business or are acquired.

Now in its 13th generation, the F-Series has been through more frequent upgrades and redesigns than its competitors, and its innovation is a big reason for the line’s enduring popularity.

We saw it in the early 1950s, when Ford updated its Million Dollar Cab by designing a “Five Star Extra Cab,” which came with foam seat padding, twin horns, and improved sound proofing. We saw it in 1987, when the F-Series became the first pickup truck to introduce rear anti-lock brakes as a standard feature. And we saw this in 2014, when Ford invested US$3 billion to replace the truck’s steel body with an aluminum one, which shed, on average, 700 pounds and drastically improved the vehicle’s fuel economy.

A 1987 print ad for the F-150 highlights the truck’s new anti-lock brakes. JOHN LLOYD, CC BY

A 1987 print ad for the F-150 highlights the truck’s new anti-lock brakes. JOHN LLOYD, CC BY

For these cutting-edge upgrades, the company has been handsomely rewarded. In 2017, F-150 was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. – a title it has held for the last 36 years. More than 40 million F-Series trucks have been sold since 1948, making it one of the best-selling vehicles in history.

The bigger the car, the bigger the profit

Just how important is the F-Series to Ford’s bottom line?

FILE – In this Nov. 2, 2005, file photo, Ford pickup trucks are seen outside the Dearborn, Mich., Truck Plant. On Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, Ford reveals its new 2015 Ford F-150 pickup. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

While Ford doesn’t disclose model-level profit data, it is estimated that each F-150 earns the company an operating profit of around $10,000 and generates around 90 percent of Ford’s global profits. In fact, the line of trucks is thought to be worth more than the entire company.

In general, pickup trucks, and their less-rugged siblings, SUVs, generate more profit per unit than passenger cars. According to Bloomberg, the average price of a full-size pickup truck is around $45,000, with a profit margin of roughly 25 percent; the average price of a mid-size sedan, on the other hand, is around $22,000 with a 10 percent profit margin.

This might explain why other car companies are also getting cold feet about their passenger cars. Fiat Chrysler has phased out the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 and announced that it will retool its factories in Michigan and Ohio in order to build a new pickup truck and two new SUVs. General Motors also reportedly plans to cut production of some of its passenger cars.

Car sales as a percentage of total light vehicles sales has been in steady decline since the early 1980s. In May 2018, car sales made up only 32.1 percent of all light vehicles sales in the U.S., down from a 40-year high of 83.2 percent in October 1980. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, people are switching to SUVs and pickups because these vehicles offer greater general utility and better on-road 4×4 capabilities and are safer.

Meanwhile, low gas prices, increasing wages, ongoing economic expansion and soaring consumer confidence could mean more Americans are willing to shell out extra cash for a truck or SUV.

Together, these trends indicate that the F-150’s reign as king of trucks won’t end anytime soon.

M. Berk Talay, Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The Conversation


A couple weeks ago, COURG crew member T. Dorman mentioned to me he recently lost his dad, who served in World War 2. I thought it was fitting to hear more about his dad’s life and service with an opportunity to pause on Memorial Day to remember those who served and also began the difficult work of healing and reconciliation after the storms of war.

by T. Dorman

For many, including myself, WW2 is a history lesson, often portrayed in movies, but left out is the gravitas of the bravery, courage and humanity of those who served and later identified as the greatest generation.

My Father served in WWII, so the COURG watch is wonderful reminder of an important time in our history and a great man. Continue reading