Oct 292008
 

MAC’s eye for mystery was caught by a recent report in the Observer retailing claims that the CIA was responsible for a collision of two vessels on the Thames in 1964. Real sea mysteries are fascinating, one of these days we’ll nose around the tale of the Mary Celeste, non-mysteries like the fraudulent ‘Bermuda Triangle’ we don’t have time for. Are tales of the CIA sinking ships in the Thames evidence of a plot, or the tales by a clot?

To set the scene for younger readers, 1964 was the height of the Cold War between capitalism, led by the US, and Communism, led by countries mainly belonging to the Soviet Bloc. Five years earlier, the corrupt Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in a revolt lead by Fidel Castro, not a communist at the time, who appealed to the US for help rebuilding his country, was turned down and who turned to the Soviets for h only announcing two years after the revolution that Cuba was to be developed as a Soviet-style state. Subsequently, US President John Kennedy authorised an invasion of Cuba, a fiasco now know as the Bay Of Pigs, for which the Cubans have never been forgiven. The Cuban missile crisis didn’t improve their temper either.

It was a time of paranoid dottiness in which almost any skullduggery by one side or the other seemed rational.

Motor manufacturer British Leyland secured a contract to supply Leyland Olympic buses to Havana. To get around some thorny US restrictions, which threatened to blacklist any shipowner foolhardy enough to transport anything to Cuba, the company went to an East German carrier to transport the vehicles. Washington was livid. Says the observer report “Rab Butler (British Foreign Secretary) was called to see Johnson. ‘His reward was a tongue-lashing,’ wrote Anthony Howard in the Spectator, ‘during which the great, glowering figure behind the desk reached in his pocket to produce a wad of dollar bills which he flourished as he instructed Her Majesty’s Britannic Foreign Secretary to come to him in future if his country wanted a cash handout rather than go selling buses to Cuba.’

Britain’s Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home stood his ground and in October 1964 the first shipment of 42 buses was loaded onto the decks of the 10,700 tonne East German general cargo ship Magdeburg, one of 15 type IV ships under the East German flag.

She set sail just after midnight, 27thOctober, with 1,900 tonnes of cargo in her hold with a Thames pilot, Gordon Greenfield, onboard.

Coming from Antwerp by way of Liverpool, was a Japanese freighter, Yamashiro Maru, in ballast. From Antwerp, the vessel had been guided by pilot Hugh Ferguson who recalls: “the nearer we got to

Gravesend the thicker the fog became. However, we arrived Gravesend and I handed over to the river pilot.” As he relaxed at the Clarendon Hotel he listened “ to the cacophony of sounds of fog signals and anchors being let go in a hurry-I was glad to be out of it.”

As Magdeburg approached the sharp bend of Broadness Point at about 1.50am Captain Greenfield could clearly see the Yamashiro Maru, proceeding at 10 knots, apparently going to the south of the middle channel. He heard a signal from the approaching vessel which he took to mean that she intended to alter course to starboard to pass port-to-port.

Greenfield saw no risk of collision but, shortly afterwards, Yamashiro ploughed into Magdeburg midships, holing her. Magdeburg started to take on water and listed, continuing to float and almost hitting several other vessels, including HMS Worcester, formerly HMS Exmouth, finally coming to rest near Tilbury Point.

Yamashiro Maru sustained damage to her bow and was drydocked at the King George V and later resumed her passage. Magdeburg was not so lucky. Two lifting cranes, Magnus I and Magnus II were brought in from East Germany along with aa pair of tugs, Eisvogel and Peene. She was patched up, with HM Customs on hand to keep an eye on the rest of her cargo, and sold to Greece as scrap for around $150,000 but sank, finally and irretrievably, 20 miles of the coast of Brest.

Given the times it’s not surprising that rumours of a CIA involvement spread quickly but they did not gain much traction until 11 years later. In 1975 two Washington Post reporters, Jack Anderson and Les Whitten claimed to have information from the CIA that British intelligence was tapping the telephones of the Cuban Embassy in London ad passing the ship’s movements to the CIA, suggesting that British intelligence, MI5 connived with the CIA to sink the ship.

Says Ferguson, on a ship enthusiast’s website “The report by Jack Anderson in the Washington Post was utter balderdash. I read it with total disbelief: it was the kind of journalism that brings the whole profession into disrepute.”

It seems unlikely that MI5 would have received the go signal from the upper echelons of British government, which fully supported the Leyland contract with Cuba. It is also unlikely that they would have taken such action unilaterally, it was not long since the head of MI5 was fired for sending diver Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb to snoop on a Russian cruiser in Portsmouth. Crabb’s subsequent disappearance and death led the government to tighten the reins on its domestic intelligence agency.

As for the CIA, the Observer cites Les Whitten, the survivor of the two journalists who broke the story: “Jack’s contacts were in the CIA and my contacts were in the National Security Agency. I don’t remember a lot but I do know our sources were pretty good, the best really.’”

Tracking the movements of Magdeburg at the time and passing the information to the Americans wouold have been de rigueur. It was widely assumed, and not without justification, tht ships of Soviet client states doubled as intelligence gatherers. To leap from that to a CIA plot is a big step.

Says the Observer: “Now a historian has found documents that add weight to the suspicions of academics that the ship was rammed at the behest of the CIA – as part of an effort to sabotage anyone breaking the US embargo on Fidel Castro’s Cuba…. McGarry believes a crime was committed. ‘I felt that the question of CIA involvement might be resolved by an examination of the pilots’ logs which were supposed to be stored at Trinity House and in the Port of London Archives. They cannot be found. The East German papers show Greenfield was deceived by someone on the Yamashiro Maru who sounded a single siren blast before the collision, an intention to pass port to port,’ he said.”

One is entitled to wonder how much research McGarry actually did. Trinity House records ofg that era are actually stored at the Guildhall Library.

Greenfield himself discounts the CIA conspiracy theory, according to the Observer:: “Given the atmosphere of the day, I suppose it’s not surprising people read something into what happened but there’s no truth in it, there was no blame attached.“

On the other hand. Greenfield was not on the bridge of Yamashiro Maru so he may not be in a position to know what really happened and currently, no information is available from the master or pilot of Yamashiro Maru, a not unusual situation even today in maritime accidents with which neither the CIA nor any other intelligence organisation can have the remotest connection.

Accidents do happen and numerous similar incidents happened before the Magdeburg/Yamashiro collision and have happened since. Conspiracy clots, of course, will simply say that only goes to prove it was a CIA plot.

What would the CIA have required in order to carry out the plot? First an amenable Captain aboard the Yamashiro Maru willing to risk his ship, its crew and his own life in a hazardous adventure with an uncertain outcome. Since the vessel was navigating “under pilots advice, to master’s orders” they would have needed a suitably compliant Thames River pilot, also an experienced master himself, willing to damage his own reputation, and to put his job and life at risk. Both would also have to willing to ram another ship and potentially injure or kill its seafarers.

Perhaps McGarry hasn’t spent much time with seafarers. If he had, he wouldn’t have made his allegations nearly so casually.

Further, the CIA would have had to be sure that ‘their’ pilot was aboard the Yamashiro Maru well in advance, something almost impossible to do without the help of someone in the pilotage authority.

Now the plot is getting messy. To carry it out successfully would have taken spilt second timing. The fact is that the Yamashiro Maru should have arrived in the Thames long before the Magdeburg left Dagenham. Unknown, apparently, to McGarry is that she was held up in Liverpool for several days due to bad weather. To get her to meet Magdeburg where she did would also have taken the added complicity of Hugh Ferguson..

On just about every level McGarry’s thesis falls apart. The documents he descrtibes do not implicate the CIA, nor, really, do Anderson and Whitten. Giving a fairly unimpressive performance during the Cold War, or course, it’s possible that a CIA contact might want to claim credit for an accident, especially after so many plans to assassinate Castro fell apart.

McGarry’s statement: “Greenfield was deceived by someone on the Yamashiro Maru”implies deliberate intent, for which he presents no evidence at all. He evidentally believes mistakes are never made.

So what really did happen? The answer may actually lay in colregs and the Greenfield statement McGarry found in East German records. Sadly, we don’t know the provenance of those records, such as whether they came from actual East German interviews or from papers given to the East Germans by British authorities.

It may well be that rather than sending signals that contravened colregs, Yamashiro Maru send the right signal but it was misinterpreted on the Magdeburg.

Colregs Rule 34 (a) says: “When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel underway, when manoeuvring as authorized or required by these Rules, shall indicate …- one short blast to mean “I am altering my course to starboard”.

Now take a look at Rule 34 (e) “A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall sound one prolonged blast.”

Yamashiro Maru was approaching a bend. It is possible that she gave the appropriate sound signal, which was misinterpreted as the signal described in Rule 34 (a).

At the same time there were other sound signals being made in the vicinity – one at no more than two second intervals for fog.

In MAC’s view, like most conspiracy clots, McGarry needs to do his homework before he starts impuning the integrity of Thames pilots.

Read the pilot’s analysis in Part Two

See also:

Magdeburg vs Yamashiro Maru – Plot and Clots – Part 2

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  1. It is unfair to suggest that the historian who discovered the missing report on the Magdeburg collision had not ‘spent much time with seafarers’.
    I worked with E. John McGarry on the recent Observer story about the collision and wish to defend his research.
    He served at sea with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company of Liverpool and is the author of a political history of that great company.
    Mcgarry told me, ‘I felt that the recurring question of whether there was any CIA involvement might be resolved by an examination of the pilots’ logs which were supposed to be stored at Trinity House and in the Port of London Archives. They cannot be found.’
    Be assured that McGarry looked for records at the Guildhall Library. The librarians told him the records had been removed. They said the committee that dealt with accidents involving pilots left no record of ever having discussed the loss of the Magdeburg.
    The report by Captain Gordon Greenfield, pilot of the Magdeburg, which was recently found in Germany, is reliable. It was dictated in London on the instructions of Trinity House, translated into German and sent to the East German Seekammer court examining the conduct of Captain Artur Maul of the Magdeburg, who was nearly killed when the Yamashiro Maru demolished his wheelhouse.
    Captain Greenfield strove valiantly to avoid a collision that night before managing to beach the stricken Magdeburg without loss of life and without blocking the vital Thames waterway.
    Although he told The Observer recently that he does not think Magdeburg was sunk by American piracy, he stands by his report to the Seekammer and states again that there was no fog at the time of the collision.
    In view of Bob Couttie’s interesting suggestion that ‘a mistake’ was the likely cause of the collision, I offer below an excerpt from an English translation of Gordon Greenfield’s report.
    ‘The Magdeburg slowly started turning to starboard in order to sail round Broadness. I passed about 1.5 cable lengths (about 282 metres) in front of the Broadness lights. I could not pass any closer due to the 22 feet draught of the Magdeburg’s stern and the level of flood tide and flat water fronting Broadness.
    ‘Shortly after giving the order to steer 10 degrees starboard, I heard the Yamashiro Maru blow a short whistle, which I immediately answered with a short whistle blow. I ordered starboard 20 degrees, that is, an increase of ten degrees to my original order. The Yamashiro Maru was approximately 5 cable lengths away (approx 935 metres) and lying about 4 points of my starboard bow. There was an interval of 10 to 15 seconds between the exchange of the whistle signals and the issue of my order to steer starboard 20 degrees.

    ‘The Yamashiro Maru appeared to sail towards the south of the middle channel, but I interpreted her exchange of signals to mean that she was about to turn to starboard in order to pass me on her port side. At this time there seemed to be no danger of a collision and we continued to round Broadness under starboard rudder at full speed ahead.

    ‘Using starboard rudder, the Magdeburg turned to starboard in order to round Broadness Point but despite her response of one short whistle blow, I was unable to observe the Yamashiro Maru turn to starboard. Since she was too far south [of the middle channel], I ordered starboard 30 degrees in order that the two vessels would pass each other port side on. I then started to worry that the vessels might not come clear of each other. In order to speed-up the Magdeburg’s turn to starboard, I continued to make full speed ahead with all four engines.

    ‘Very shortly after I had ordered 30 degrees starboard [hard to starboard] I realised the danger of a collision and when the two vessels were approximately 2 cable lengths apart (approx 374 metres), I ordered stop and full speed astern and rudder amidships. When I gave these orders, the Yamashiro Maru was lying about 2 points on our starboard bow and I expected to hit her on her port bow.

    ‘Actually, the collision occurred with the Yamashiro Maru’s bow impacting on the end of the Magdeburg’s bridge and about 2 points off her starboard side.

    ‘I estimated the speed of the Magdeburg at the time of the collision at about 10 knots while the Yamashiro Maru was going faster than the Magdeburg. Immediately before the collision I heard the Yamashiro Maru blow three short whistles.’

    The Yamashiro Maru sounded a misleading signal. She broke the River Thames byelaws and she rammed Magdeburg amidships on her wrong side at more than10 knots. That was not necessarily arranged by American JM/WAVE agents, spending their annual 500 million dollar anti-Castro sabotage budget on dirty tricks in Europe, but it was certainly more than a ‘mistake’.

    Take a look at the satellite view of Broadness Point on Google Earth, just north of the reference for and you will see a ship taking the Magdeburg’s course.

    Imagine having to explain how the inward bound Yamashiro Maru contrived to ram that ship on its starboard side in a strictly regulated fairway used by a thousand vessels a week, carrying one third by value of Britain’s overseas trade.

    I thank Bob for his careful examination of the available information and offer some further corrections and explanations.

    The first shipment of 16 Leyland buses left Britain in July 1964 on board the DSR reefer ship Heinrich Heine.

    Just before Magdeburg arrived in the London river on October 26, 1964, to load a second batch of 42 buses, the Yamashiro Maru steamed from Liverpool to Antwerp [not the other way round].

    Trinity House pilot Hugh Ferguson then piloted her from Antwerp to Gravesend, even though Lloyd’s List reported her as bound from Antwerp to Yokohama. At Gravesend she took on the Thames pilot, Captain Gerald Johnson, personally requested by the Japanese ship owners.

    Captain Johnson always refused to be interviewed about the collision. A retired Trinity House pilot said he was ‘a stiff upper-lipped wartime Royal Navy man who still played a round of golf in his nineties.’ He commanded a British fighting ship during the war.

    I support E. John McGarry’s criticism of Johnson: ‘The statement submitted to the Seekammer by the Trinity House pilot instructing the Yamashiro Maru was sparse. His refusal to be interviewed was unhelpful and incomprehensible when he had been given an opportunity to vindicate himself, especially when it was known that the Seekammer had decided the Yamashiro Maru gave misleading signals.’

    The Japanese line refused to communicate with insurers and Britain had to pay all the bills for the collision. The East Germans settled out of court for a payment in hard currency from Lloyd’s, who in turn paid for the lost cargo, the damage to the Yamashiro Maru and the huge cost of the West [not East] German salvage operation.

    At a 2008 sailors reunion in the woods of Saxony, Kurt-Werner Langer, a former DSR line marine engineer told me, ‘The Magdeburg crew were pretty sure it was criminal. We were good seamen. Our ships covered the whole world in difficult times, from Vietnam to Cuba.

    ‘We knew that agents of the American superpower saw us as the enemy. Our ships Frieden and Halberstadt were rocketed by American planes in Haiphong during the Vietnam War.

    ‘I spoke to a survivor of the Magdeburg recently. He had been sent to prison for stepping out of line in the DDR. He later came back from West Germany to live in Leipzig, but he still sees no reason to stick his neck out by talking about what happened to his old ship.’

    The seafarers who nearly died in the collision suspected piracy, but there was no British investigation.

    Perhaps you can understand why British ‘conspiracy clots’ want an investigation. Please remember George Santayana’s old warning that ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’.

    In 1964 Leyland Motors were the biggest heavy vehicle exporters in the world. They failed to make up for the lost buses and failed to cope with further sabotage attacks, later admitted by CIA deputy director Ray Cline. He told Harpers Magazine: ‘We were sending agents to Europe to get in touch with shippers to discourage them from going to Cuba. There were some actions to sabotage cargoes, to contaminate them, things like that.’

    Another CIA officer told Harpers: ‘It is true that we were sabotaging the Leyland buses going to Cuba from England and that was pretty sensitive business.’
    From Andrew Rosthorn, England.
    ros@poptel.org

  2. The reference for the Google Earth satellite view of Broadness Point got left out. If it can be re-inserted, it can be found at ‘Manor Way, Northfleet, Gravesend, UK’.

  3. Thank you for some clarification and for providing further information of the alleged ‘evidence’ against the Yamashiro Maru pilot.

    McGarry’s accusations against the Thames River pilot conning the Magdeburg are especially grave: that, at the behest of the CIA, he rammed a vessel, itself being conned by a colleague, risking the life of a fellow river pilot and all those onboard the Magdeburg, knowing, too, the hazards this would present to all other river traffic.

    Such assertions should not be casually accepted according to one’s political preferences but demand a quality of evidence which Mr. McGarry simply does not present. Extraordinary claims, such as this, require extraordinary proof.

    Captain Greenfield’s account is undoubtedly as accurate as his perceptions and memory could make them, but they are a long way from being the smoking gun of the Yamashiro Maru pilot’s complicity with the CIA. In fact they are nothing of the sort.

    Accidents and close calls involving vessels giving incorrect, misunderstood or wrong signals, or none at at all, in highly regulated waterways, under pilotage, in good visibility are hardly unusual. It is not unusual for indicated course changes not to be made, for course changes to be made without signals, for course changes to be signalled but subsequent attempts made to change course be unsuccessful.

    A responsible researcher/analyst would certainly examine these factors, as opposed to conspiracy theorists who work backwards and simply ignore all other factors.

    That the pilot of the Yamashiro Maru was reluctant to speak afterwards in conditions that could have resulted in him being found liable for any error or errors he made is hardly surprising, as your comment makes clear (“when it was known that the Seekammer had decided the Yamashiro Maru gave misleading signals”, he had already been adjudged guilty by the Seekammer”), and certainly not evidential regarding his alleged complicity with the CIA. The same applies to the Japanese shipowner.

    What Mr. McGarry, and the further information now supplied, fails to show is that the pilot aboard Yamashiro Maru deliberately rammed Magdeburg, let alone that he did so at the behest of the CIA.

    In order to justify the extraordinary claim, then it is necessary to examine the more ordinary causes of such accidents. That is something neither Mr. McGarry, nor Mr. Rosthorn have done.

  4. To clarify the reference to the delay in Liverpool, Ferguson, the sea pilot, was supposed to board Yamashiro Maru in Antwerp on 23rd October. When he got there the vessel was still in Liverpool, having been delayed due to bad weather. She arrived on the evening of the 25th October and departed on the afternoon of 26th October, at least two days late. Remember, in order to carry out its potential suicide mission, Yamashiro Maru had to hit a window no bigger than two minutes, a feat of navigation that would have any master or pilot doffing their caps.

    As with most conspiracy theorists, McGarry and Rosthorn ignore the logistics of actually carrying out the operation.

  5. McGarry does not say that the pilot Gerald Johnson deliberately rammed the Magdeburg. We only know he was specially chosen to pilot the ship and that he boarded her at Gravesend. He was obviously not the person who gave the whistle signal that deceived the Magdeburg. Neither would his hands have been on the helm when Yamashiro Maru hit the wrong side of the Magdeburg at over 10 knots. The problem is that Gerald Johnson refused to say what happened on the bridge of the Japanese ship, even in 1975, when The Washington Post stated that CIA and NSA sources claimed they arranged the collision with help from British Intelligence. John McGarry is trying to test those claims. In Germany he discovered new facts about the collision, especially the high speed of the Yamashiro Maru and the fact that there was no fog. The Observer recently interviewed Les Whitten, the surviving Washington Post reporter. He says the 1975 CIA and NSA sources ‘were pretty good, the best really’. Bob Couttie asks us to disbelieve the Washington Post and ignore the suspicions of East German sailors who knew it was the unusual speed and direction of the Yamashiro Maru that doomed the Magdeburg – speed that pushed their ship 300 yards sideways – direction so acutely angled that Yamashiro Maru’s unusual bulbous bow holed the Magdeburg amidships. We know the CIA had a 500 million dollar annual anti-Cuban sabotage budget. We know President Johnson was so angry about these bus shipments that he refused ever again to speak to the British prime-minister. There was a motive for a crime. There was a possible method and in the Thames Estuary that night there was an opportunity. Furthermore, the window of that opportunity was bigger than ‘two minutes’. If the ships were on the same tide they were bound to pass somewhere in the same thirty mile ship channel. Until we can find out what happened on the bridge of the Yamashiro Maru there is a case to answer. In Britain, one of the most secretive democracies in the world, we need to remind ourselves that it took 82 years to prove that our intelligence services faked the Zinoviev Letter, on which the 1924 general election was lost, and 34 years to reveal the Ultra code-breaking secret that was known to 10,000 citizens and on which a war was won.

  6. McGarry does not say that the pilot Gerald Johnson deliberately rammed the Magdeburg. We only know he was specially chosen to pilot the ship and that he boarded her at Gravesend. He was obviously not the person who gave the whistle signal that deceived the Magdeburg. Neither would his hands have been on the helm when Yamashiro Maru hit the wrong side of the Magdeburg at over 10 knots.

    The pilot had conduct of the vessel. The manouevre could not have been carried out without his knowledge and acquiescence, it is therefore implicit in the McGarry/Rosthorn claim that the pilot was responsible, along with the master, for the deliberate ramming of the Magdeburg. While the official stance is “to pilot’s advice and master’s orders”, therefore the order to sound the whistle would have been given on the advice of the pilot. While 10 knots is at the high end for those conditions it was not particularly excessive, note John Clandillon-Baker’s analysis here. She was around half ahead since her full ahead speed was 20 knots.

    “specially chosen” means only that he was the pilot of choice for the shipping operating the Yamashiro Maru when its vessels entered the Thames. It has no evidential significance.

    The problem is that Gerald Johnson refused to say what happened on the bridge of the Japanese ship, even in 1975, when The Washington Post stated that CIA and NSA sources claimed they arranged the collision with help from British
    Intelligence.

    There are folk who feel it beneath their dignity to defend themselves against silly accusations. I, too, was once accused of working for CIA, which caused some social problems, but since the allegation was patently false I did not consider it worthwhile defending myself against them. Rosthorn is ignoring the possibility that Captain Johnson may, indeed, have made errors of judgement and decisions that he would prefer not to have in the public press since they would call into question his competency and professionalism. Since it is in the nature of conspiracy theorists to use evidence against their theories as evidence in favour all that a denial by Captain Johnson, or the master, would have achieved is a supposition by the conspiracy theorist that he was working for the CIA, since if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have to deny it, so any denial would be regarded as of no evidential value.

    John McGarry is trying to test those claims.

    One does not test a claim by looking for confirmation of the claim but looking for facts that would challenge the claim. McGarry and Rosthorn are indulging in confirmation bias, something that must be avoided by any responsible investigator. He is not trying to test the claim, he is trying to prove it. If he was testing the theory he would examine the prevalence of other similar accidents, which he does not.

    How rare are such accidents? The International Group of P&I clubs conducted a study of maritime accidents involving vessels under pilotage between February 1999 and February 2004. The study only included those incidents in which insurance claims exceeded $100,000, so the actual numbers are higher. Given that limitation, there were and average of 52 such incidents each year, with an average claim of $850,000. Some 8 incidents occurred in the UK. Of the total, about 24 per cent were collisions.

    A proper investigation would also consider the pilot/seafarer culture of the time,the opening hours of the Clarendon Hotel, now passed into history, the nature of its customers, and its location relevant to the Gravesend pilot boarding station.

    In Germany he discovered new facts about the collision, especially the high speed of the Yamashiro Maru and the fact that there was no fog.

    The speed of the Yamashiro Maru,as estimated by Captain Greenfield, was no especially excessive, it is therefore not evidential one way or the other. She was, in fact, travelling at about half ahead – her speed over ground when full ahead was at least 20 knots.

    The Observer recently interviewed Les Whitten, the surviving Washington Post reporter. He says the 1975 CIA and NSA sources ‘were pretty good, the best really’.

    What the Observer actually says is that the information presented by Whitten et al related only to tracking the movement of the Magdeburg, not to a conspiracy to sink it.

    It is interesting to note in this context that a version of the Observer article has appeared on several Cuban and Latin-American websites. The text misrepresents pro-conspiracy views as those of the Observer and censors out the fact that four out of six intelligence experts interviewed by the Observer pooh-hooed the story while the remaining to persons who promote the conspiracy tale, whose views were expressed as those of the Observer, were none other that McGarry and Rosthorn.

    One is entitled to speculate as to who issued a deliberately deceptive version of the Observer story to friendly websites, and why that person were so careful to expunge all mention of the fact that the predominant view expressed in the article was negative regarding the conspiracy theory. Clearly they felt that by misrepresenting the Observer story their own views gained a credence they have to earn legitimately.

    Bob Couttie asks us to disbelieve the Washington Post and ignore the suspicions of East German sailors who knew it was the unusual speed and direction of the
    Yamashiro Maru that doomed the Magdeburg – speed that pushed their ship 300
    yards sideways – direction so acutely angled that Yamashiro Maru’s unusual
    bulbous bow holed the Magdeburg amidships.

    We are asked, by Mr. Rosthorn, to ignore the preponderance of opinions, expressed in the Observer article, of those who have studied CIA operations of the period that the organisation did not have the competence to successfully carry out such an operation.

    Mr. Rosthorn asks us to ignore the opinion of the pilot aboard Magdeburg that it was not deliberate ramming, and the opinion of experienced Thames River pilots that it would have been next to impossible to deliberately arrange such an incident.

    He also asks us to set aside an important principle when considering eyewitness testimony – an eyewitness can only assessed by what he or she has directly observed for themselves. Since the crew of the Magdeburg were not on the bridge of the Yamashiro their suspicions have no value since, short of telepathy, they cannot know the intent of those on the bridge of that vessel.

    The force with which the Yamashiro struck Magdeburg was high enough to threaten the survival of the Yamashiro itself and all those on board. That militants against a deliberate act of ramming, short of a willingness by the pilot and master of Yamashiro to kill themselves in order to sink a few buses. Notably, the Yamashiro was in ballast, bringing the bulbous bow closer to the surface and reducing the chance of Magdeburg being sufficiently damaged as to sink her.

    We know the CIA had a 500 million dollar annual anti-Cuban sabotage budget. We know President Johnson was so angry about these bus shipments that he refused ever again to speak to the British prime-minister. There was a motive for a crime.

    We are to accept, in the face of the dispute between the British and US governments that the British security services sided with the US to bring about the sinking of Magdeburg.

    It is claimed that a former CIA officer was involved in sabotaging Leyland buses, presumably with some success. It was, therefore, little reason to attack the Magdeburg, an operation of dubious success even if both vessels were trying to collide.

    There was a possible method and in the Thames Estuary that night there was an opportunity. Furthermore, the window of that opportunity was bigger than ‘two minutes’. If the ships were on the same tide they were bound to pass somewhere in the same thirty mile ship channel.

    Yamashiro Maru was not even supposed to be on the Thames, she was delayed in Liverpool for several days. Did the CIA organise the weather, too?

    Until we can find out what happened on the bridge of the Yamashiro Maru there is a case to answer.

    As is typical of conspiracy theorists, here innocence has to be proven and the setup is such that it is impossible to do so. Who would know what happened on the bridge of Yamashiro Maru? The pilot and the bridge team. Since these persons are assumed to be in the pay of the CIA, any statements made by them would be dismissed by the conspiracy theorists.

    When a ‘case’ is supported by little more than gossip and conjecture, it isn’t a case.

    McGarry and Rosthorn commit most of the classic errors of intelligence analysis, from confirmation bias, dismissal of alternative hypotheses, lack of questioning of one’s own assumptions, data ‘fitting’ to support a pre-conceived notion.

    One of the best online resources on the subject is in the domain of their enemy – the Central Intelligence Agency, http://www.cia.org. Richards J. Heuer’s The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, available from https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis/PsychofIntelNew.pdf , is an excellent backgrounder against which to measure the validity, or rather invalidity, of McGarry and Rosthorn’s methods of analysis and is well worth the read for anyone whose business is to make sense of information.

    This publication and others on the site, should be required reading for anyone believing, as McGarry and Rosthorn do, in an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent CIA – one which confidentially predicted that the Soviet Union would not put nuclear weapons on Cuba, a prediction supported by the legendary analyst Sherman Kent, as well as ‘missing’ the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Iran revolution which overthrew the Shah, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, among many others.

    Most of those lapses in what the intelligence community refers to as ‘tradecraft’ were based on similar analytical methodologies as those used by McGarry and Rosthorn.

    Having also a historian’s hat, which includes, among others, contributing to Scribner’s Dictionary of American History and a book, Hang The Dogs: The True Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre (New Day), I am well aware of the challenges of dealing with situations which are poorly documented, the unreliability of eye-witness testimony and the even greater unreliability of third person accounts, manipulation of the popular media for political agendas and personal promotion, the danger of imposing one’s own agenda on the data one has. I have to say that McGarry and Rothorn’s treatment of their data leaves much to be desired. They are too uncritical of data they wish to believe in.

    I doubt very much whether the data or the conclusions as presented would pass peer review in a recognised journal of history. Mt McGarry’s book, to which Mr. Rosthorn refers, was self-published buy Authorhouse and therefore not subject to peer review.

    While the Yamashiro Maru-Magdeburg incident is, in itself fascinating given the times and the unknowns, in the same way that the Mary Celeste still fascinates us, the issue raised by the McGarry/Rosthorn claims are relevant to maritime casualty analysis and the pitfalls for the unwary – adoption of an assumption at an early stage and seeking to confirm that assumption and defending it against all odds, an outright refusal to challenge their own assumptions vbigorously, not examining alternative hypotheses adequately, reliance on witness statements about things of which they had no direct knowledge. They did not examine the history of incidents at Broadness or of this class of incident or the prevalence of incidents involving vessel under the conduct of a pilot or of incidents in which ships do not adequately follow colision regulations, they do not take into account common pilotage practices and culture nor the relationship between pilot and bridge team, or common errors of judgement and perception.

  7. Please let me add a word about light-headed claims that the CIA ‘did not have the competence to successfully carry out such an operation’.

    The CIA has blundered many times in its short history, but one cannot rightly accuse it of complete incompetence.
    In its first 26 years it removed and replaced hostile governments in Iran, Guatamala and Chile, tapped Soviet telephones under the streets of East Berlin, developed the Lockheed U-2 spy plane and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, still the world’s fastest and highest flying airplane [New York to London in one hour 55 minutes].
    Surely, our task is to work out whether Jack Anderson was likely to be telling the truth when he reported that his CIA contacts claimed they arranged the Magdeburg collision.
    Anderson was a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who had interviewed world leaders from Winston Churchill to Colonel Gaddafi and every American president from Roosevelt to Clinton. Was he lying or was he misled?
    To test the reliability of Jack Anderson and to gauge the ability and determination of the anti-Castro agents who worked for the CIA I offer evidence below and invite readers to decide whether there is a case to answer.
    1960 Seventy-five people were killed and 200 injured when 76 tonnes of Belgian ordnance exploded in the port area of Havana as the French freighter La Coubre was being unloaded. The cargo had possibly been booby-trapped when loaded in Antwerp.
    1962 the Cuban exile group Alpha 66, funded by the CIA, claimed responsibility for sending a 40-foot launch into a Cuban sugar port and firing over 60 machine-gun rounds into the British freighter Newlane.
    1962 CIA agents poisoned 14,135 bags of Cuban sugar bound for the Soviet Union aboard the British ship Streatham Hill. The attack was discovered when children in Puerto Rico fell ill after tasting pilfered sugar that had been temporarily stored in a US customs warehouse. President Kennedy, fearing the consequences of adulterated sugar reaching Russian consumers, prevented the cargo leaving Puerto Rico.
    1964 Magdeburg, loaded with British buses for Cuba, was sunk in collision with Yamashiro Maru, inaccurately described in newspapers and on television as ‘an accident in thick fog’. Lloyd’s List reported: ‘Fifty-six East Germans including three girls were picked up after the motor vessel Magdeburg was badly holed in a collision in thick fog off Broadness Point early today’.
    1965 Nine months after the collision, NYK Line had still failed to answer any letters from the insurers of the Magdeburg. Representing the British pilots, Trinity House could not say whether they would ever hold an investigation into the collision.
    1967 Jack Anderson revealed that Robert Kennedy had been linked to plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.
    1968 Jack Anderson revealed secret CIA files showing they had plotted with gangster Johnny Rosselli to kill Castro. Anderson said he was given ‘two memos from the CIA’s most sensitive files, which summarize the whole operation’. One of his sources was named as William Harvey, a CIA officer who had spied on the Soviet Union from Berlin and was later sacked as commander of the ZR/RIFLE group for sending three commando groups into Cuba despite the Kennedy promise to Khruschev that there would be no US invasion of Cuba.
    1968 Dr Orlando Bosch of the CIA-supported MIRR movement was sentenced to 10 years jail by a US federal court for attacking a Polish freighter in the Port of Miami with an anti-tank M18 57 mm recoilless rifle. MIRR was also accused by Cuba of placing a bomb on the British freighter Greenwood.
    1972 Jack Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting after revealing President Nixon’s secret support for Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
    1975 Jack Anderson, quoting contacts in the CIA, and Les Whitten, quoting contacts in the National Security Agency, reported in the Washington Post that the CIA arranged the 1964 collision between the Yamashiro Maru and the Magdeburg, with help from British Intelligence. They said information came through ‘a British intelligence liaison officer in the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. Details about the buses were relayed by Telex to the CIA’.
    1993, the British television reporter Simon Neave interviewed the British pilot of the Magdeburg who revealed for the first time in Britain that there had been no fog at the time of the collision. The pilot of the Yamashiro Maru refused to speak to him.
    2001 David Osler of Lloyd’s List reported: ‘The only present NYK employee in Britain who was working for the company in 1964 declined to comment on the matter, referring queries to Tokyo.
    2008 Captain Toshio Nozaki, Deputy Director of the NYK Maritime Museum in Yokohama, said certain NYK Line records of the collision are held at the museum subject to ‘secret handling’.

    2008 East German Seekammer marine court files on the collision were found at the University of Greifswald. The Seekammer had concluded that that Yamashiro Maru sounded a misleading whistle signal before the collision.
    The court had taken written evidence from radar observers on the West German ship Spreestein and the Royal Mail vessel Paraguay and from the two pilots. The court concluded: ‘The command of Yamashiro Maru had, by using the wrong side of the waterway, infringed Article 25 KVR/60 of the River Thames shipping regulations. The vessel was sailing on the wrong side of the river for inward bound ships and was giving the command of Magdeburg the wrong impression by signalling intentions to change course which were then not carried out.’
    NYK refused to communicate. When the Seekammer files were opened, their pilot Captain Gerald Johnson was found to have limited his description of the collision to the following inaccurate sentence: ‘The YAMASHIRO MARU was entering port on the high tide. Near Broadness the outward bound MAGDEBURG was crossing the bow of YAMASHIRO MARU from the left when the latter collided amidships on its starboard side.’

    2008 Les Whitten. the surviving Washington Post reporter, told The Observer in London that: ‘Jack’s contacts were in the CIA and my contacts were in the National Security Agency. I don’t remember a lot but I do know our sources were pretty good, the best really.’

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