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/ Published June 09, 2020
Two Centuries of US Military Operations in Liberia: Challenges of Resistance and Compliance by Niels Hahn. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2020.
As a young intelligence officer in 2003, I deployed with the 398th Air Expeditionary Group to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in preparation for a possible noncombatant evacuation of US citizens from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. At the time, Liberia was in the midst of a lengthy civil war. Two separate rebel factions were bearing down on the capitol, and the country’s president, Charles Taylor, had recently been indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone. I had been warned that the situation in Liberia was complicated, understood only in the context of the myriad factors affecting West Africa in general and Liberia in particular. In Two Centuries of US Military Operations in Liberia: Challenges of Resistance and Compliance, Niels Hahn provides an in-depth analysis of the factors that shaped Liberia from its founding to the present day and the inextricable part US involvement has played in that history.
Utilizing a wealth of primary sources, particularly personal interviews, as well as established historical reviews, Hahn proceeds chronologically through Liberia’s history from the early nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. As Hahn rightly points out in the first chapter, the motivations involved in Liberia’s founding were more complex than popularly conceived. While establishing a homeland for freed slaves in the United States was a motivation, fear of slave revolts, concern for the growing dependency on slave labor, and colonial ambitions also were important factors. This exploration of Liberia’s founding was also significant in that it marked the beginning of long-term US military involvement in West Africa. Military involvement was necessary not only to secure the land from the local population but also because of Liberia’s strategic location and the access to a deepwater port in West Africa. Military involvement becomes a theme of the book, as Hahn sets out to establish that US military, as well as intelligence agency, involvement was, and continues to be, a primary influence shaping the Liberian state. Another key factor in US involvement in Liberia at the time was the great-power rivalry among Great Britain, France, and the United States. Regional involvement by these states, with the eventual inclusion of China and the Soviet Union, is another theme that runs through the narrative.
Chapters 2 and 3 see the introduction of additional major factors in Liberia’s development: economic involvement by foreign companies and the related early growth of the Pan-African and socialist movements. Firestone was the first major Western company to enter into Liberia for the purpose of developing rubber plantations, although other companies would eventually enter as well. The massive scale of the rubber plantations required huge amounts of labor. The resulting system of forced labor was seen by many in Africa as something akin to slavery. The inequalities inherent in this system caused many Liberians to look for answers in the nascent Pan-African movement as well as early communist movements. However, Liberia’s ruling class benefited greatly from the involvement of US companies, which led to a largely pro-US stance by government leaders. This tie was furthered during World War II and the Cold War, as the US government invested heavily in Liberia for strategic purposes, including the development of sea and air ports, a powerful Voice of America transmitter, the OMEGA navigation system, and a large CIA contingent. One of Hahn’s strengths throughout the book is his ability to weave together these competing factors to explain political developments and US involvement in Liberia. Hahn also mixes in interesting anecdotes, such as the story behind the Liberian president’s traditional “swearing-in” suit, the result of a rapid ceremony given fears of an imminent coup.
Chapters 4 and 5 chart the end of the first Liberian Republic and rise of the second following the 1980 assassination of Pres. William Tolbert. Ethnic rivalries and an unstable government led to the suspension of the 1846 Liberian Constitution, and in 1984 a new document was drafted and approved. An election followed the approval of the new constitution, placing Samuel Doe in the presidency. However, a failed coup against President Doe led to the exile of many popular leaders and germinated the seeds of rebel movements that would plague Liberia from that time forward. Doe’s would also chart the beginning of a deteriorating relationship between the United States and Liberia. Doe began to approach socialist countries for development aid and investment, causing a rift with the United States. This prompted Washington to explore options of placing other individuals in power, including the eventual Pres. Charles Taylor. The growing power and influence of rebel groups, 1990 assassination of President Doe, rise and fall of Taylor (indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone), and widespread instability in West Africa would all lead to the continued military involvement of the United States and the United Nations in Liberia, covered in the final chapter.
Chapter 6, the book’s final chapter, is Hahn’s strongest, as he brings together all the book’s themes to analyze the Liberian Civil War, the UN Mission in Liberia, and US involvement in resolving the conflict. He charts the dizzying array of internal factions, international organizations, foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, and others who would play a role in shaping the conflict and its resolution. Hahn also neatly explains how all this led to the growing Chinese influence over Liberian affairs. Hahn notes how the long-term involvement by the United States in Liberia resulted in Washington being viewed as neocolonial, attempting to dictate outcomes as opposed to supporting a struggling country. Hahn notes that the United States was also suffering from “Somalia Syndrome” following Operation Restore Hope and the “Blackhawk Down” incident, leading to a reluctance to commit US forces in resolving internal African disputes. This chapter draws on detailed accounts of internal deliberations, international negotiations, and US military records of involvement at the time to provide a balanced narrative of the resolution of the conflict in Liberia.
Overall, Hahn provides a clear and concise narrative of Liberian history and US involvement. The book’s strength is the identification and weaving together of the historical, economic, military, and social factors driving that history. Hahn provides a balanced account of US involvement, frequently criticizing shortsighted and selfish decisions taken by the US government and companies as well as their roles in resolving internal conflicts. If there is one criticism, it is that the account of US military activities in Liberia is underdeveloped. Although not vital to the overall analysis, Hahn proposes in his introduction that his book “demonstrates how US military power has been the primary influence shaping the Liberian state.” Whether this is true or not, further description and analysis of those military operations would be necessary to support that thesis. Despite this possible shortcoming, Hahn’s book is invaluable for anyone seeking to understand Liberian history and the role of the United States in that story.
United States Air Force Academy
The Royal Air Force: The First One Hundred Years by John Buckley and Paul Beaver. Oxford University Press, 2018, 251 pp. Hardcover $24.95, ISBN 978-0198798033.
With the rapid advent of the United States Space Force, the rise of remotely piloted aircraft, and the development of a potentially crippling pilot shortage, the impact of airpower has become a critical topic as nations prepare to face advancing threats. As such, reflection is warranted; there is an opportunity to learn from airpower’s history the ways in which nations overcame arguably worse setbacks and disadvantages than currently presented. Furthermore, broadening the understanding of how pilots have been trained throughout history could provide invaluable insight as companies and militaries continue to search for faster, more comprehensive methods of training. Perhaps more importantly, in returning to the inception of airpower there exists the potential for some much-needed inspiration for the next generation of aviators.
Such reflection is attempted by Buckley and Beaver as they research the place of airpower in the defense of the United Kingdom and its allies, specifically through a review of the Royal Air Force (RAF) from inception to present. The authors identify the themes of the history as technology, finance, strategy, and personnel, which they assert to be the most important aspect of the RAF’s success, and ultimately use these themes to establish the RAF as having a critical role in military aviation’s past and future. To prove the RAF’s vital contributions, its history is presented chronologically, identifying the major events and individuals impacting the employment and development of the branch, starting from its creation during World War I. The fiscal and political battles fought by the fledgling branch are supported by limited statistics on the manufacturing outputs and asset availabilities, as well as some comparative costs for policy deals made early in the development of the RAF. The formative policies and national strategies are compared to demonstrate the limitations that initially and ultimately continue to counteract the desired rapid technological advancement and tactical employment of the RAF. Despite these constraints, the history demonstrates repeatedly how the RAF was still able to create meaningful impact throughout the ensuing battles, from World War I through the present conflicts in the Middle East. Ultimately, Buckley and Beaver conclude that the RAF has been transformative for not only the United Kingdom’s national defense strategy but for the rest of the world’s strategy development as well.
While the chronology of events and major players provides a relatively comprehensive view of the RAF’s history, it fails to engage with the key element that the authors identify as driving public interest in the topic: the romanticism, heroism, and individualism of military flying. The foreword provides a promising start, if the reader overlooks the initial statement that inherently disregards half of the potential readership: “All small boys have dreams.” Despite the divisive start, the foreword highlights the passion and sense of adventure associated with flight, and the introduction provides some examples of the RAF’s transformative effects on gender and racial equality throughout its development, but outside of the introduction, the evidence of societal impact is limited. The book presents a policy history that is supported by its listed sources: primarily strategic articles and other similarly impersonal histories. While well-researched on events and politics, there are very few personal accounts from members of the RAF, and rarer still are sources directly from RAF aviators. Throughout the entire book there is a resounding lack of any meaningful recount of aerial engagements. The only other references to the personnel that the authors state to be the key to understanding the RAF’s history are those at the highest levels of strategy or the comments on the general public’s possible psychological response to associated aerial events. If the authors had illuminated on some of the social history of the RAF, the book would have more clearly exemplified their assertion that it is the heroism of the personnel that has been the bedrock of the British aerial military branch. The top-down history presented in the book ultimately fails to capture the spirit and character of the RAF.
With regards to the psychological analysis, the book is plagued by assertions at times so vague or biased that it dangerously flirts with inaccuracy. From the first major revelation that the RAF was the world’s first aerial military branch, the authors become unreliable as they simultaneously make a note clarifying that the RAF was in fact the second aerial military branch to be created. The authors further frustrate readers with the book’s inconsistent assumptions on the knowledge base of the reader and the convoluted historical tangents. In the discussion of the RAF’s role in World War II, the authors greatly misconstrue the weaknesses of the German Luftwaffe, especially in the comparison of what they refer to as the Luftwaffe’s “more obsolete” aircraft, which does a great injustice to the comparison of the Spitfire and Focke-Wulf FW 190. In fact, this would have presented an opportunity to discuss comparative energy–maneuverability diagrams of the aircraft as a demonstration of technology’s impact on the developing branch and provide data corresponding to the role of the aircrew versus the advancements of their equipment. Many of the conclusions discussed as to the RAF’s role in battles lack concrete data regarding actual impact and instead seem more glossed opinion than factual recounting. This is furthered by the use of policy decisions to explain the RAF’s constraints, as these policies often lack any discussion of the underpinning concerns or misinformation such that the reader is left no option but to agree with the authors due to lack of broader context. The limited scope of data provided is a lost opportunity, whether in regards to the comparison of the decline of imperialism to the advancing technologies, or how the RAF’s training matched against their enemies or allies. In the last chapter, the authors discuss the present state of the RAF and the expected development, but they leave out one of the most significant changes that has just now begun in full effect: not only is the RAF working more closely with its NATO allies, it is outsourcing its claimed superior training by sending pilot trainees and instructors to the European NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program in the United States.
Buckley and Beaver provide an overview of the major historical points of significance in the history of the Royal Air Force, and audiences looking for a broad (albeit biased) understanding of the RAF’s last 100 years may be satisfied. However, even for the most passionate aviation aficionados, the dry, murky presentation is a struggle and does not engage with the most enamoring or significant aspects of the RAF’s history or military aviation.
LT Kristyna N. Smith, USA
Candidate for Master of Liberal Arts in International Relations
Harvard University, Extension School
Tiger Tracks—The Classic Panzer Memoir by Wolfgang Faust. This book was published in English in 2016 by Bayern Classic Publications. The present review is of a translation of the book into Russian by V. D. Kaidalov (Moscow: ZAO Tsentropoligraf, 2017).
This review is devoted to the critical analysis of the notes of the German tankman Wolfgang Faust, the driver of a Tiger tank in battles on the Eastern Front in the autumn of 1944. The author of this review clearly concludes that these pseudo-memoirs are a fictional literary work, which in principle cannot be used as a historical source.
Although the history of World War II is not one of my priority scientific topics, interest in it has remained since school, and in my bookcase, there are several dozen books on military subjects. Many of them belong to the series “Behind the Front Line. Memoirs,” which has been published since 2003 in the publishing house Tsentrpoligraf and currently has more than a hundred titles. The books in this series are mainly devoted to the memories of German soldiers on the Eastern Front. Among them are the memoirs of well-known historical figures such as Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the famous ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel, general of the tank forces Heinz Guderian, and others. However, most of the publications in the series are notes and memoirs of ordinary participants in the battles, and among them are relatively recently published front-line notes of the driver of a Tiger tank, Wolfgang Faust. They were originally published in German in 1948 under the title Panzerdammerung (Tank Twilight). These notes were then published in English in 2015 (Faust, 2015) and are now widely sold on the Internet. In 2016, a Russian version appeared under the title Sledy “Tigra.” Frontovye zapiski nemetskogo tankista. 1944 (‘Tiger’ Tracks. The Frontline Notes of a German Tankman. 1944), and in 2017 the book was reissued. Let’s get to know it.
Wolfgang Faust’s notes begin with a brief preface, in which the author refers to the atrocities of the past war, which he witnessed. Already in the preface, Faust allows a rather free interpretation of the facts: according to him, of the 20 million German soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht between 1939 and 1945, 17 million fought on the Eastern Front. This is a clear exaggeration, as stated in the editor’s note, since according to a fairly authoritative source, only 17,893,200 people were conscripted into Hitler’s army (including the SS) during the war (p. 5).
Further, the editor again had to make a footnote in the author’s text, since according to Faust, the events described by him relate to October 1943 in western Russia. The editor is forced to explain that in fact these events could only have occurred in the late autumn of 1944 in western Lithuania, where the Red Army was already able to use the latest T-34-85 and IS-2 tanks that are mentioned in Faust’s notes (in 1943 these tanks had not yet entered service).
Faust’s memoirs themselves begin with a detailed description of the attack of 20 Tigers on Soviet positions with the support of German aviation. The author points out that before the attack six dive bombers, accompanied by three Focke-Wulf Fw190 fighters, passed over them in the direction of the enemy (p. 9). But the fact is that the German fighters did not fly in threes, but rather in pairs: the leader and the wingman, when one attacked, the other covered him. At the beginning of the war, Soviet fighter pilots fought as part of triples, but abandoned this tactical form, borrowing from the Germans the more effective pair in air combat.
Faust writes that in a tank battle his company was led by the regiment commander himself, a major general who had commanded the regiment from the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, that is, from 1941 when Germany, together with its allies, attacked the Soviet Union (p.13). But Faust does not give his last name (nor the numbers of his regiment, battalion, and tank), and therefore it is impossible to identify the general who died in this battle. On the other hand, it is not clear why the major general led the attack of the company and not the entire regiment, and in fact, it would be much more logical if he controlled the battle from a rear position in accordance with his status as highest commander. No less mysterious is the person of Faust’s immediate commander, Colonel Helman, who, according to Faust, had received the Knight’s Cross (an award approximately equivalent to the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union). A total of more than 7,360 awards of the Knight’s Cross were made during the war, and verification shows that among them there was no tankman Helman, but only his namesakes pilot Lieutenant Erich Hellmann and naval Captain Paul Hellmann, who received their awards in 1944.1 However, in the book by Franz Kurowski, Tank Aces II, a tank commander Hellmann of the 29th Regiment of the Tank Corps is mentioned, who was rushed on 22 June 1941, to the East against the Soviet Union,2 but, again, he does not appear among the recipients of the Knight’s Cross. All these facts immediately make us doubt the reliability of the analyzed notes as a historical source.
But let’s return to the story of Faust, who writes that a wave of new Soviet T-34-85s rushed toward their company, and Faust’s tank received a shell directly in the 100-mm frontal armor, but the shell could not penetrate it (p. 19). One could believe this if the Tigers were attacked by the old T-34-76, but the shell of the 85-mm long-barreled gun of the newly modified thirty-four could confidently pierce the Tiger’s armor from a distance of less than 1,000 m.3 On the other hand, Faust points out that the shell of his Tiger in turn could not penetrate the armor plate of the T-34 (p. 21). However, the 45-mm armor of the T-34 did not present a serious obstacle for the powerful 88-mm projectile of the Tiger’s gun, and in a real battle, the Soviet tank would have been destroyed by a direct hit. Then, after a Russian tank attack, according to Faust, a certain mythical Soviet antitank infantry appears on the scene (the editor had no choice but to simply mark in a footnote: “Thus, in the text”). Faust adds that during the battle two more 85-mm shells hit his tank from a nearby T-34 but never pierced his armor (some kind of enchanted tank, nothing else!).
Faust’s notes go on to set forth quite unimaginable facts that make it doubtful that he ever drove a Tiger at all or was familiar with its technical characteristics. Thus, Faust writes that his friend Kurt was the radio operator and the machine-gunner, and, therefore, he sat to his right in the tank (p. 10, 19, 58). During the battle, tank commander Helman shouted to Kurt during the attack of the Russian infantry: “Turret gunner! Where are your eyes, boy? The Reds are right in front of us!” (p. 22). However, the turret gunner (he is also a loader) is not a radio operator or a machine gunner (see the layout of the crew of the Tiger tank in fig. 1). Describing the further vicissitudes of the battle, Faust mentions that he turned his tank with the left and right levers. However, this was how the Soviet T-34 tanks were operated; the Tiger had a steering wheel, which was a wheel without a lower third part (see the layout of the Tiger tank in fig. 2). Finally, the tank commander, in order to force Faust to execute a risky command, resorted to an unconventional method: “I felt the kick of Helman’s boot, which fell between my shoulder blades, because I had hesitated” (p. 30). It is not clear how the colonel could have reached the driver’s back with his foot from his position in the rear of the tower at a distance of at least 2.5 m, bypassing the tank gunner (see fig. 1). Nevertheless, in the course of the narrative, Helman, according to Faust, resorted to such nontraditional pedagogical influence a couple of times (see pp. 42, 57).
No less fantastic details are contained in Faust’s description of the battle for Russian positions:
I saw the hatch on the front plate of the T-34’s armor leaning back; a pale, bloodless face appeared in the hole. The Russian driver-mechanic was peering at me through his hatch and blinking his eyes, clearly trying to come to his senses, unable to believe what he had witnessed! I continued to push his tank with my machine, with the recovered mechanic in it, who looked directly into my eyes from a distance of four meters (p. 31).
In fact, Faust “forgot” that he wrote earlier that a Tiger shell had hit the observation slot of that tank (p. 21). After such a hit, there would have been little left of the driver’s body.
Tiger tank arrangement
Tiger tank arrangement
Photo By: Dr. Ernest Rockwell
Figure 1. Tiger tank arrangement
Tiger tank layout
Tiger tank layout
Photo By: Dr. Ernest Rockwell
Figure 2. Tiger tank layout
After capturing the Russian positions, the Germans had to leave them soon and start a retreat to avoid being surrounded. On the way, the 15 remaining Tigers of Faust’s company and 10 Hanomag armored personnel carriers with motorized infantry had a battle with the latest Soviet IS-2 tanks (the abbreviation “IS” referring to Iosif (Joseph) Stalin). But based on Faust’s descriptions, they were IS-3s (pp. 52, 55, 57), which were produced by the Soviet industry only in May 1945. There are details in Faust’s notes about the course of the battle that in reality simply could not be. Thus, the crew of one of the Soviet tanks allegedly survived, although the tank itself received two direct hits at point-blank range from the Tiger’s gun (for destruction of an enemy tank, one would have been sufficient). Three similar hits to the tower of another IS tank ended for some reason with a ricochet, the probability of which approaches zero. At the same time, a shell from a Russian tank, after hitting the 88-mm Tiger gun in the mask, tore it off, dropping it onto the front armor plate (it is impossible to imagine such a picture—see fig. 2). Moreover, during this fictional battle, the crews of Russian tanks, noticing the German armored personnel carriers, contrary to elementary logic, for some reason transferred their fire to them, although they did not pose any threat to the heavy Soviet tanks, unlike the Tigers, which continued to fire. Faust’s tank fired three projectiles at one of the IS from a distance of only about 100 m, but two of them ricocheted off (this is from a hundred meters?!). In turn, the body of the Tiger, which was controlled by Faust, received at point-blank range a shell from a powerful 122-mm IS gun, which should have immediately done away with its crew (and above all with Faust himself), as well as cause irreparable damage to the German machine, but nothing like this happened: the author of “memoirs” escaped with only a slight concussion and cracked bulletproof glass covering his viewing slot. Another shell that hit the lower part of the Tiger’s armor plate also failed to penetrate it; nor did the next shell and another that hit the turret (it only resulted in the death of the loader from a splinter of broken armor). Then tank commander Helman ordered Faust to ram an enemy machine: “We covered the hundred meters that separated our Tiger from the Russian ‘Stalin’ in a few seconds, moving so fast that the Russian gunner didn’t have time to point his gun at us and two shells passed, missing us, flashing with their tracers and driving into the frozen ground” (p. 58). This last Faust could not observe, for the shells had fallen far astern of the Tiger, and from the driver’s seat he could see only a relatively limited sector immediately in front of the leading edge of the tank. However, it is completely incomprehensible how a Russian gunner could twice miss a huge Tiger from a distance of less than 100 m, since he did not need to specifically aim his gun, because, contrary to Faust’s assurances, he had already fired at Faust’s tank. Finally, the Russian tankman was unlikely to be able to fire two shots at Faust’s Tiger in a few seconds, since the IS-2 gun had a separate loading system, and therefore was not distinguished by a high rate of fire.
It is probably worth interrupting the analysis of Faust’s notes now and making the unambiguous conclusion that this is not a memoir of a real tankman, a participant in the war, but rather a somewhat cobbled-together story in the style of a military adventure that does not have any factual basis. Therefore, consideration of Faust’s pseudo-memoirs can be continued only from the position of criticism of its shortcomings as a purely literary work, but this is beyond the scope of my analysis. And yet I cannot but note that despite the fact that this military prose is written quite vividly and sometimes entertainingly, the thoughtful reader will be disturbed by periodic interspersions of the author’s fantasies, which are at odds not only with historical realities but also sometimes even with common sense and the laws of mathematics. Thus, during a retreat to the river through the forest, a column of six Tigers (Faust was in one of them), four armored personnel carriers, and a self-propelled antiaircraft gun was suddenly attacked by a relatively small detachment of partisans. This is almost impossible to believe, since only those with a suicidal bent would decide to do this; the attackers did not even have a single small-caliber gun against heavy German tanks. But to dispel any doubts the reader might have about the mental capacity and sanity of the partisans, Faust (or whoever hides behind this name) arms them with a flamethrower (pp. 83–85). But where could the flamethrower of the partisans have come from? I have never read about the use of such weapon by Soviet partisans. Nevertheless, as a result of the partisan raid, two Tigers and an armored personnel carrier were lost (p. 92). Then the retreating Germans were attacked by Soviet IL-2 attack aircraft, and, as a result, they lose three more tanks and two armored personnel carriers (p. 99). A simple calculation suggests that there should have been only one Faust tank left in the ranks. But no, the author has an interesting kind of arithmetic, since on the next page he writes: “In our column now remained a Hanomag, four Tigers, and the self-propelled anti-aircraft installation” (p. 100). When the convoy finally reaches the river and takes up a defense in front of the bridge, a battle begins with the heavy self-propelled Soviet guns and tanks approaching amid snowdrifts as tall as a man and more (and this is in October!). In the course of the battle, various other miracles occur, and in his description, Faust gives particulars and details that he simply would not have been able to observe through the very limited sector of the viewing slit of his Tiger. Therefore, it seems that instead of armor, his tank had transparent glass through which the author of the pseudo-memoirs could see everything for 360 degrees. This remark fully applies to all previous episodes.
The overall result is disappointing: the Tsentrpoligraf Publishing House did not show due diligence, and instead of genuine notes by a real German tankman, like the memoirs of the tank ace Otto Carius,4 published outright literary rubbish, providing it with editorial notes. And naturally, these pseudo-memoirs cannot in principle be used as a serious historical source. Their direct harm lies in the formation in an inexperienced reader of a distorted picture of the fighting on the Soviet–German front in World War II.
Andrei V. Grinëv
Doctor of Historical Sciences
Professor in the Department of History
Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University
St. Petersburg, Russia
Dr. Richard L. Bland, translator
Museum of Natural & Cultural History
University of Oregon
Walther-Peer Fellgiebel, Elite of the Third Reich. The Recipients of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 (Solihull, England: Helion, 2003), 183.
2 Franz Kurowski, Panzer Aces II: Battle Stories of German Tank Commanders of WWII (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004), 129–30.
3 Mikhail Baryatinskii, “Srednii Tank T-34-85” [Medium tank T-34-85], Bronekollektsiya 4, no. 25 (1999), 3.
4 Otto Carius, Tigers in the Mud: The Combat Career of German Panzer Commander Otto Carius, Stackpole Military History Series, trans. Robert J. Edwards (Auburn, WA: Thriftbooks. 2003).
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