Let’s talk Turkey
Sitting around the dinner table, it is unlikely that most of us discuss what might happen in Kosovo or Serbia or Turkey this year. Yet those are countries where important news will most likely be made. The geographical proximity of Kosovo and Serbia to a Russia more than willing to light a match to the Balkan tinderbox left smoldering by the Clinton Administration bodes ill for Europe. Turkey, occupying the key terrain that connects Europe to Asia, will likely be a major player with regard to what happens in Iraq and Iran.
But, for now, “let’s talk turkey” about Turkey. That phrase, by the way, is alleged to have been born of a dispute between an American Colonist and a Native American over how to divide the spoils of a turkey hunt. The Politically Correct version is that the Colonist tried to cheat the Native American; however, it could have been the other way around. It means to speak plainly about a difficult or awkward subject.
Today’s Turkey faces a number of difficult challenges and awkward opportunities. Turkey has the opportunity to host the gas and oil pipelines connecting Central Asia to Europe and to do the same for the transmission of oil and gas out of northern Iraq to Europe. But to make a success of the oil and gas pipeline business, Turkey faces the challenges posed by the independence-yearning Kurds who comprise one-fifth of its population. Moreover, Turkey borders the hostile, Iraqi Kurds who also dream of an independent Kurdistan.
In order to keep its oil and gas pipelines from being blown up by the Kurds, Turkey will have to make some accommodation with its own Kurds and with the Iraqi Kurds. That’s the only way for Turkey to have a stable income from the oil and gas pipeline business.
The geographical importance of Turkey is illustrated by an incident that took place in the early 1960s in West Germany. Then, Turkey was considered the weak flank of the NATO alliance against Soviet aggression. At the time, the Soviets had the world’s best battle tanks. Without proper anti-tank weapons the Turks would be smashed.
Fortunately, the U.S. had the relatively inexpensive, jeep-mounted, 106-millimeter recoilless rifle. The 106 could penetrate the armor of even the heaviest Soviet tank. To get the Turks to purchase the 106 system, a demonstration for the top Turkish general officers and for NATO brass from all 14 NATO nations was set for the Hohenfels Combat Maneuver Training Area north of Munich, West Germany.
Company B, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, was selected to demonstrate the value of the jeep-mounted 106-millimeter recoilless rifle to those assembled in a reviewing stand overlooking the same rolling terrain that German General Erwin “the Desert Fox” Rommel had used to train his Afrika Corps. Standing on the hilltop objective of the simulated attack was a Rommel Tower, a tall masonry structure Rommel liked to mount so he could look down from high above and observe his Panzer formations in training.
It was “suggested” to the officer commanding B Company that B Company’s 106-millimeter recoilless rifles “had better” score direct hits on that Rommel Tower. Unfortunately, the Rommel Tower was about 20 feet square at the bottom and weighed several tons. It would absorb a 106 shell like a catcher’s mitt absorbing a fast ball.
So, the B Company Commander threw a curve on steroids. The base of the Rommel Tower was packed with enough TNT to launch it into orbit. During the demonstration-maneuver, two 106-mounted jeeps stopped rolling forward just long enough to fire from already bore-sighted firing positions. Simultaneously, as both 106 teams scored direct hits on the base of the Rommel Tower, a hidden plunger was pressed. The Rommel Tower separated from its base and toppled over on one side.
In the grandstand, the NATO generals and admirals high-fived each other. Turkey ordered and deployed several hundred, jeep-mounted, 106-millimeter recoilless rifles, making what had been NATO’s weak flank a solid bulwark against Soviet tanks.
In the early 1960s, syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, commanded B Company, 1/19th Infantry. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2008. William Hamilton.