Though I always wanted to do so, I never did a Deck Log Entry on "The Losers" because the time of the series falls outside of my parameters for the Silver Age. Now, I'm glad that I never did so---because there's no way I could have done a better job at describing the series than you did above, Cap. Despite the fact that "The Losers" was my favourite DC WWII-based series, I agree completely with your criticisms of it.
A day or two ago, I posted a response to Randy Jackson's review of Showcase Presents: the Losers; in it, I echoed some of your comments and provided commentary on some of the specific issues you raised---the ad hoc nature of the the Losers, the improbability of an elite squad formed from four men of three different branches who washed out of their respective original assignments, the lack of a specific chain-of-command, and the inclusion of Ona Tomsen, a Norweigan civilian.
You raised some other military matters in your review which I might be able to put more into perspective. It won't necessarily make more sense out of the Losers, but it might make the series a bit more palatable.
First, let's start with who is the field commander of the Losers. Obviously, the team reported to a HQ commanding officer, whom---as you pointed out---changed, in terms of branch, nationality, and individual identity with every issue. But the leader of the group in the field was obviously the highest-ranking member.
Usually, the individual members of the Losers weren't shown to adhere very closely to military courtesies and protocols. This, actually, isn't too far afield of how genuine elite military squads---SEALs, Rangers, and so forth---act in the field. Don't get me wrong; the command structure remains in place and orders are orders, but the personal interaction between the men usually is more informal. So "The Losers" was fairly realistic in the way Gunner and Sarge and Cloud and Storm interacted with each other casually. But because of that, it was very difficult to determine which of the four was actually the man in command in the field.
Because it will simplify things---especially later, when I discuss Storm's captaincy---let me break down the individual ranks of the Losers by paygrade. Military paygrades are uniform, regardless of the name of the rank a given service attaches to that paygrade. Enlisted men are designated by paygrades beginning with "E"; officers, by "O".
Gunner, a Marine private, was an E-1.
Sarge, a Marine sergeant, was an E-3.
Cloud, a captain in the Army-Air Forces, was an O-3.
Storm, a lieutenant in the Navy, was an O-3.
Clearly, as officers, the man in charge of the Losers was either Cloud or Storm. They're both O-3's, but in real life, seniority between members of the same paygrade is determined by date-of-rank; the one who attained the rank first is deemed senior. A few years back, I did a painstaking study of both Storm and Cloud's individual series, to see if there was something which would definitively establish which one of the two attained O-3 first. Nothing conclusive resulted from this, although the fact that at the start of Cloud's series, he was a first lieutenant (O-2) and wasn't promoted to captain (O-3) until the story "Suicide Mission", from The Brave and the Bold # 52 (Feb.-Mar., 1964), hinted that he might have made O-3 after Storm. But that was in no way certain.
As it turned out, all my research was for nothing, because in a review of the "Losers" tales in Our Fighting Forces, I discovered the matter had been determined.
In "Diamonds Are For Never", from O.F.F. # 143 (Jun.-Jul., 1973), the usual "one of us has to stay behind to hold off the Germans while the rest of us go on to accomplish the mission" situation arises. The five Losers (for this is when Ona was part of the team) argue over which one of them will stay behind.
Finally, Storm barks, "I'm staying . . . I outrank you all!"
So, at last, the question of who was the highest ranking Loser was settled, and that leads us into the matter of Storm's rank.
The difference between the Army/Marine/Air Force rank of "captain" and the Navy/Coast Guard rank of "captain", combined with the Navy/Coast Guard's title of "captain" has always been a matter of confusion for people with no association with the military (and, not infrequently, for those actually in the military). The confusion also extends to the rank of "lieutenant". This is where my use of paygrades above will help to make things clearer.
In the Army/Marines/AF, the lowest commissioned-officer rank, O-1, is called "second lieutenant".
In the Navy/CG, an O-1 is an "ensign".
In the Army'Marines/AF, an O-2 is a "first lieutenant".
In the Navy/CG, an O-2 is a "lieutenant junior grade".
In the Army/Marines/AF, an O-3 is a "captain".
In the Navy/CG, an O-3 is a "lieutenant".
These are all junior officers. Now, we'll skip a few paygrades, up to the senior-officer ranks . . . .
In the Army/Marines/AF, an O-6 is a "colonel".
In the Navy/CG, an O-6 is a "captain",
So, as Cap pointed out, in terms of rank, there is a world of difference between an Army captain and a Navy captain.
But, of course, with the military, nothing is so confusing that it can't make it more so. You see, the Navy (and the Coast Guard) also has the title of "captain". Per Navy regs, any officer who is the commanding officer of a ship is addressed by his crew as "captain", regardless of the officer's actual rank. That means that "Commander Nelson" or "Lieutenant Nelson" or even "Ensign Nelson", if he is the C.O. of his ship, is addressed as "Captain Nelson".
Now, the title of "captain" is imposed only on the crew of the officer's particular ship. By regs, Commander Nelson, who commands a ship, is properly addressed as "Commander Nelson" by everyone else. However, as a matter of courtesy, most Naval personnel would address Commander Nelson as "Captain Nelson", anyway.
That was one thing that Bob Kanigher got right, with regards to Captain Storm.
In his debut, in Captain Storm # 1 (May-Jun., 1964), he was established as being Lieutenant William Storm, USN, and only got referred to as "Captain Storm" when the story showed him getting command of his first PT-Boat.
Moreover, in all of his appearances (except for the Jack Kirby period on "The Losers"; the less said about, the better), no matter what magazine, Storm was consistently depicted wearing the proper insignia of rank---that of a Navy lieutenant---whether in a working uniform or his dress uniform. (Unlike the case of Marvel's Captain Savage---who held the actual rank of a Navy captain---in which the artists often depicted him wearing the wrong captain's insignia.)
As I said, Bob Kanigher was aware of the distinctions between the rank and the title of captain; on a couple of occasions---such as in the letter column of O.F.F. # 138 (Jul.-Aug., 1972)---he correctly put the matter straight for fans who wrote in, confused by the same thing. To that, he added that the other Losers continued to call him "Captain" Storm out of military courtesy.
And all of that blather leads us to your commentary, Cap, on "The Glory Road", from O.F.F. # 147 (Feb.-Mar., 1974), and the character of the crazy British Army Major Cavandish.
As I've now established, Major Cavandish did, indeed, outrank both Storm and Cloud. Per the paygrade ratings in effect at the time (and is still true), a British Army major was an O-4, while Storm and Cloud were both O-3's. (Cap was right in pointing out that, then or now, I--as an O-5--would outrank Major Cavandish; unfortunately, I wasn't along on that mission. Heh.)
Under the Allied Forces agreement in place at the time, operationally, paygrade seniority prevailed, regardless of the actual nationality of service. In other words, a serviceman in the military of any Allied nation was subject to the orders of a higher-ranking member in the military of any Allied nation. Succinctly, an O-3 is an O-3 is an O-3, regardless of the nationality.
So, yes, under the SOP of military protocol, the Losers had to take orders from Major Cavandish. (There are certain exceptions---e.g., if the Losers were under orders from higher authority---but I'm talking about basic situations here.)
Now, as to the matter that Major Cavandish was guano-crazy, you were dead on the nose about that, Cap. Yeah, the Losers were free to disregard the orders of a senior totally off his nut---but they had better be prepared to justify it in the court-martial that followed. And they better be able to prove fourteen ways from Sunday that Cavandish was 100% whacky, because the military has a strong inclination toward maintaining the integrity of chain-of-command. In a case involving disobedience of orders or outright mutiny, the military authorities in review are going to lean heavily in favour of the senior officer---unless it can proved conclusively---and I mean "absolutely, positively, no possible doubt"---that the senior's faculties were impaired.
That said, there is one other thing to consider---Cavandish's actions and the Losers' reactions would have occurred in the heat of battle. What that means is, what exactly took place is blurred by the urgency of the encompassing events. It's what Clausewitz termed "the fog of war".
To use a simple illustration, you're a sergeant in the middle of repelling a massive German assault, and while you're fighting for your life, you see Private Hogbristle running away from the enemy. You only have a few seconds to see it because the German soldier who's about to stick his bayonet in you has the higher priority.
Later, after it's all over, you report Private Hogbristle to your company C.O., charging Hogbristle with cowardice under fire. Private Johnson also saw Hogbristle running away and supports your charge. But Corporal Smith says that some German troops had flanked us and were coming up from behind. Corporal Johnson says that he saw Private Hogbristle firing at those German flankers. Nobody else saw the German flankers, but when Hogbristle was found at the rear, there were some dead German soldiers not too far away from him.
Now, it's not so clear that Private Hogbristle was abandoning the fight. Did Hogbristle see the German flankers and take it upon himself to run back and fight them, which would actually be an action of bravery?
It's not so clear that Private Hogbristle wasn't running away out of fear, either. Maybe he was abandoning his post by running away and happened to run into the flanking German soldiers and killed them to save his own life.
This is what is meant by the fog of war; the urgent and inchoate nature of battle throws a gauze over events, making them difficult to perceive clearly. And as to how this applies to the situation of the Losers and crazy Major Cavendish is, nothing any of them did under the circumstances would be clear---and that tosses a spanner wrench into the reduction gear. Depending on a great many things, what official action would be taken against the Losers is difficult to determine.
And that also applies to Gunner's desertion, which occurred in "The Real Losers", from O.F.F. # 134 (Nov.-Dec., 1973). Yes, indeed, Gunner's walking out on his outfit was a court-martial offence. Sarge, who followed Gunner to try to talk him out of it, even pointed it out when they encountered a G.I. patrol headed toward the front:
"It's a good thing they ain't M.P.'s---or they'd take you in for walkin' . . . in the wrong direction."
I can give this one a pass, though. In order for charges to have brought against Gunner for desertion, they would have to filed by his field C.O.---that would be Captain Storm---to headquarters (whomever that was, in the Losers' non-specified chain-of-command). If Storm didn't run Gunner up on charges, there'd be no official action taken.
I can easily see Storm as viewing Gunner's actions as being the result of a bout of combat weariness---men in combat can take only so much before they need to escape, at least, temporarily. That's why, instead of ordering Sarge to take Gunner into custody the instant Gunner walked off, he let Sarge go along to talk Gunner out of it.
It's a command decision thing, and one with which I would have agreed. If Sarge could help Gunner steady himself and remind him of his duty, then Gunner---a valuable member of the team---would return. Most likely, if Gunner had refused to return and actually had departed on the transport at the embarkation point, the Storm, indeed, would have filed charges against Gunner.
Rather than permanently lose a vital member of the squad, Storm gave Gunner some "breathing space".
And, lord, yes, Cap, everything you said about John Severin's art on "The Losers" is spot-on. His art made up for so many scriptual flaws. Not only was his art a pure treat for the eyes, it was 100% accurate---the uniforms, the weaponry, the equipment. Everything looked exactly like it did in real life. (That's always been one of my pet peeves about comic-book artists---whenever they draw someone in a military uniform, most of them wing it and draw a uniform that never existed in any U.S. service anywhere, at any time.)
I could go on about Severin's work, but you said it all, Cap.
Hope something I said here helps.
It does, and I'm firmly with you on Captain Storm -- I had always assumed him a lieutenant, or maybe you pointed it out to me somewhere, so when some story in this collection established, to my surprise, that Storm was an actual captain. With that, fireworks went off in my brain and I had to lie down in a dark room until I could breathe normally again. I'd look it up to see what it was, but as you say above and have said before, everything about Storm is consistent with him being a lieutenant who was called a captain out of courtesy, including his rank insignia. (I had forgotten about that and, yes, upon checking, he is indeed wearing lieutenant's bars.) So I'm going to assume that A) I misinterpreted what I read, or B) it was a one-off error by Kanigher.
Storm as a lieutenant obviates some of my complaints, so that's good. And your other remarks -- about familiarity in the field, giving Gunner "breathing room," and so forth -- do help to mitigate some of the groaners, and I want them to not be awful.
Because I will return to this volume again and again for Severin's art. Have you ever seen anyone else draw a military web belt that actually looked line one? I just can't use the word "amazing" enough.
John Severin is what makes "The Losers" work, despite having more "oh, come on!" moments than Sgt. Fury. The accuracy of Severin's art, both in the renditions of the people and in his attention-to-detail in uniforms, equipment, etc., lends the reality to the stories that the actual format lacks.
This is the contribution of artists that many folks miss. Such as how the beautifully pristine art of Curt Swan and George Klein made an otherwise absurd Jimmy Olsen story seem palatable. If you want to see for yourself the difference an artist can make, take a look at the goofball Olsen tales drawn by anyone else other than Swan and Klein. Immediately, the inanity of the plots jumps out. Swan and Klein, on the other hand, leant enough legitimacy to the stories that it was easier to let the nonsense go by.
Severin is a talent that doesn't get bandied about as often as some of the other Silver-Age greats, and that's a pity. He delivered absolutely top-notch work every time.
Severin is also an EC veteran. Something in the water there, I guess.
But, yes, the reason we are all comic-book fans and not novel fans is that we appreciate something that is not words. We like the comfort of reading -- moreso than movies or TV, which we also mostly like -- but there is something about the pictures and the words together that resonates with us. So, obviously, the artist is important -- often, paramount. I don't know why that needs to be said, but yes, yes, yes. The artist is important, often more important than the writer.
And what you said about Curt Swan makes this ring so true to me, Commander. I loved Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen when Curt Swan was drawing it. When Pete Constanza took over, and the art was cartoon-like, I realized how cartoon-like Jimmy Olsen was. The stories stopped being cool and fun, and became juvenile and embarrasing. It was still Leo Dorfman and Otto Binder writing the stories; that hadn't changed. But without Swan's soft and persuasive pencils, I wasn't sold on the front end. And without that, Jimmy Olsen looked stupid. I guess it always had been, but Curt Swan and George Klein had sold it to me. Pete Costanza and Shelly Moldoff couldn't. And I stopped reading Jimmy Olsen.
Curt Swan wasn't just an artist; he was a salesman, a front man, a recognizable commodity. He sold the Super-world that Mort Weisinger was building, and he couldn't have done it without Swan. The same is true of Archie; that line didn't become a recognizable, salable commodity until Dan DeCarlo sold it to us. And who among us doubts that Marvel would have worked in the early '60s would have worked without Jack Kirby?
John Severin was a true draftsman and his art was wonderful. It's why I bought those Rawhide Kid minis and Dark Horse's Witchfinder. His Sgt. Fury work was amazing. Did he ever do any super-hero titles? I can't think of any that would suit his talents unless it's a "mystery man" type. Though I keep thinking about the Sub-Mariner....
Totally agree with the Good Captain and the Good Commander about Curt Swan. He made every Superman, Superboy, Legion, World's Finest, Jimmy and Lois story so much better. Usually when DC Silver Age Artist Greats are mentioned, he's left out which is a shame.
It's makes me wonder if Ol' Zha-Vam would have been a contender had Swan drew him, not Wayne Boring. His Annihilator was another also-ran unlike Swan's Parasite.
Commander, I was reading your comments on the Losers regarding pay grades.
In WWII the Army, Marine, and Army Air Force enlisted pay grades were E-1 thru E-7, with E-1 being the HIGHEST.
Currently the Army, Marine, and Air Force enlisted pay grades are E-1 thru E-9, with E-1 being the LOWEST.
Apparently this "flipped" in 1951. I'm not sure if this also applied in the Officer/Warrant Officer ranks, but I suspect it did.
This site shows the enlisted rank insignia and pay grades for the Army in WWII, including the Technician ranks and insignia.
This site shows the Marine Corps equivalent:
This site shows the pay grades and insignia in use in the Army in "my time" (1968-69), including the Specialist ranks.
There were Specialist ranks (similar to the old Technician ranks) from E-4 to E-9. I never saw one above SP6. I was an SP4 in an SP5 job (company clerk). Today only the E-4 Specialist rank exists, and the pay-equivalent Corporal rank is unusual. In my time the Corporal rank and the Specialist 4 rank were both used in the Infantry, Artillery, and Armor Military Occupational Specialties (MOS's). The Corporal rank was not used in the support MOS's.
We were an Army unit on a Marine Forward Operating Base. I remember the confusion when a Navy psychiatrist evaluated someone in our unit. My fellow personnel specialists were confused that he was "wearing Captain's bars but he's only a Lieutenant". I explained to them that he was an O-3 and that only the terminology was different.
Thank you for your input to the discussion. You are correct, of course. I was aware, generally, of the "flip-flopping" of the pay grades around this time, but didn't address it specifically because (1) I didn't want to take the time to research the details; and more important, (2) it would have required further unraveling of an already confused issue. Just to keep things simple, I adhered to the more familiar E-1/O-1 structure.
However, I got intrigued by your post---it's a novel pleasure to have a discussion with someone else on this board who understands the arcane systems of the U.S. military---so I did the research I blew off before.
Until 1902, the enlisted ranks of both the Army and the Navy (as you know, there was no separate Air Force at this time, and the Marine Corps fell under the DON) were listed from lowest to highest as "1st pay grade", "2d pay grade", and so forth, up to "7th pay grade". (The enlisted pay grades of E-8 and E-9 weren't created until 1958.)
In 1902, for whatever obtuse administrative reason, the hierarchy of the "pay grade" nomenclature was reversed. Now, the lowest enlisted rank was the "7th pay grade", all the way up to the highest enlisted rank being the "1st pay grade". This is the condition that existed during World War II, as you accurately pointed out, and it applied to both the Army and the Navy.
Then, in 1948---no doubt some other pencil-pusher decided he needed to justify his job---the pay-grade order flipped back to the way it had been before '02. Once again, the lowest enlisted rank was "1st pay grade", all the way up to the highest enlisted rank, now "7th pay grade", again.
I had to pour through some musty old Bureau of the Navy documents to see if this pay-grade flipping applied to commissioned officers, also. I discovered that, during the period I've discussed, officers were not sorted by any sort of "pay grade" distinction.
That did not occur until three years later, in 1951. In 1951, all ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces were categorised according to pay-grade designations. Part of the reason for this was the confusion caused by the Navy (of course), in the fact that, except for a handful of commodores (a WWII-created rank), the Navy did not have a one-star rank. In the Navy, at that time, an officer progressed from "captain", wearing eagles, to "rear admiral", wearing two stars. However, to keep parity with the other services---in which a colonel wearing eagles advanced to brigadier general, wearing one star---it was necessary to place two pay grades within the Naval rank of rear admiral.
In other words, to keep the pay equal across the services, when a Navy captain was promoted to rear admiral, he initially received the pay of a brigadier general. After sufficient time---at about the time his other-service brethren would be promoted to major general (two stars)---the rear admiral's pay would be boosted to the equivalent of a major general.
Over in the G.A.O., to prevent the civilian bean-counters' heads from exploding over all of this, it was decided to specify pay-grade nomenclature for the officer community, as well. This lead to the now-familiar prefixes of "E" and "O" in front of the pay grades. The lowest enlisted rank, for any branch, was categorised as "E-1", and the highest enlisted rank was "E-7". For all of the services, the lowest commissioned-officer rank was categorised as "O-1" and went all the way up to "O-10". ("O-11" was reserved for the nine men who had achieved five-star rank; there would be no more promoted to five stars after them.)
As I said, this occurred in 1951. In 1958, two more enlisted pay grades were created---"E-8" and E-9".
In 1981, for a number of reasons, but one of which was pressure from the other branches, the Navy finally adopted a permanent one-star rank, which resolved one of the problems which led to the creation of the "O" pay grades. But, by then, the "E"/"O" pay grade system was so entrenched that it didn't drop the officer pay grade listings.
And I suppose, Mr. Willis, that all of that has been interesting to only you and me. Heh.