Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for September 9, 2014

Bertrand Russell’s Message to the Future; ca. 1959.

“…in this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like.”

Man, this guy was just starting to see how information was being sent more quickly and at higher quality and said something so incredibly forward-thinking. That’s amazing.

Can you imagine showing this dude the fact that we can send cat-videos instantly? This would blow his mind.

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An English girl comforts her doll in the rubble of her bomb-damaged home; ca. 1940

This photo and other fantastic images can also be found in Anthony Beevor's Second World War. A great read that gives a fantastic overview of the whole war from Europe to Africa to the Pacific.

These reminders are important for future generations (like us) to not take peace for granted, and to remember that it’s easy to clamor for war if it’s someone else’s house and nation that’s about to get bombed, but when the tables are turned and the bomb whizz over your head, this mechanized mass murder, or whatever watered down PC name war-hungry politicians may give it, is a whole ‘nother beast.


The rarely seen back of the Hoover Dam before it filled with water; ca. 1936.

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And here’s the view from the other side:

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There were 112 deaths associated with the construction of the dam. Included in that total was J. G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned on December 20, 1922, while looking for an ideal spot for the dam. He is generally counted as the first man to die in the construction of Hoover Dam. His son, Patrick W. Tierney, was the last man to die working on the dam’s construction, 13 years to the day later.

*Here’s an actual aerial photo from 1950:

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Captain John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage.

 

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The loss of Franklin and his men was a huge mystery, how could so many men and two state of the art ships just disappear? Search parties scoured the arctic (and in the process charted most of the up til then unexplored regions of the arctic archipeligo, and McClure even technically made it through the passage in his “search” for Franklin) for more than a decade before any real traces of the expedition turned up. Many other expeditions suffered and lost men in the same era of arctic exploration, but none disappeared completely! To this day, there’s a lot we don’t know about how such a well equipped and large expedition could fail so completely and quickly.

Here’s what we’ve found and what we know at this point: The ships spent their first winter at Beechey Island, and all seemed well. The next summer, they travelled south, and were frozen in near King William Island that Fall. They wintered here, and the next summer the ice failed to melt, trapping them for a second winter on King William Island. This alone is not out of the ordinary for arctic expeditions, many ships were frozen in for several years without a great loss of life.

In the summer between the first and second winters at King William Island, in 1847, the crew leave a note in a cairn on King William Island saying “all is well”. After the second winter stuck in the ice, the note is dug up and in the margins someone writes that 24 men have died, including Franklin, and that the crew is abandoning their ships and marching south towards the mainland of North America. It’s important to point out this second note contained several errors, but we’ll get to that.

The crew’s march is a death march, the local eskimo later report seeing dozens of white men dying in their tracks. Some men may have made it all the way to the mainland, but none survive. By the early 1850s it’s likely that all or almost all of the expedition is dead.

McClintock in 1859 finds the note in the cairn on King William Island, a single skeleton, and finally a life boat with two skeletons in it. The contents of the lifeboat add to the mystery- “a large amount of abandoned equipment, including boots, silk handkerchiefs, scented soap, sponges, slippers, hair combs, and many books, among them a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield.” The lifeboat was being man-hauled, but was pointing north, not south. A decade later Hall finds more graves and campsites, all on the King William Island. This is pretty much the extent of the evidence known up until contemporary scientific expeditions.

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So, the mysteries- Scurvy, starvation, and cold had killed men on previous and subsequent expeditions, but many expeditions had survived much longer than Franklin’s without anything so catastrophic. In all, the Franklin’s men had spent only three winters in the arctic before abandoning their ships. They were equipped for five.

The mysterious contents of the lifeboat and the inconsistencies in the note point to a deteriorating mental situation. Why would dying men man-haul heavy books and silverware? Why was the boat facing north, were the men trying to return to the abandoned ships?

So, what could the ships tell us?

When scientific autopsies were conducted on the bodies on King William’s Island, it was found that lead poisoning contributed to the deaths of those men. It’s believed the solder on the tins of food was the source, but there are other theories- perhaps the ship’s water system was the source. The men also were suffering from TB and Pneumonia.

Finding the ships could finally help resolve the issue, for instance if there are more bodies on or near the ships then we know some men may have turned around from their march and made it back. Plus finding more bodies would inevitably help our understanding of what killed the men. We could also get more insight into why the men were carrying such strange items in their lifeboat, by seeing the things they chose not to take. And obviously examining more of the food tins, as well as the ship’s water system, might better explain the presence of lead.

More than anything, we don’t know exactly what the ships might tell us, but there’s so little we know as it is, it’d be amazing to find any new bits of evidence.

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[*History got a little breaking news this morning that one of the ships of the lost Franklin Expedition has been discovered in the Canadian arctic.]

British ship found


Haircut in the French trenches, WWI in color; ca. 1915.

Ha, look at the stout little guy to the right.

Ha, look at the stout little guy to the right.

*The trenches varied from country to country, and during an attack, a trench could devolve into a scant 18″ deep in places, due to artillery tearing them up, and the soldiers having no extra time to repair them. A fully dug trench could be 5 to 8 feet deep, and generally wide enough that at least three men could walk abreast. A soldiers life in the trench was constant work, as officers kept the men at task, in order to keep them occupied. Concerning dugouts, they varied depending on the country digging them, the soldiers digging them, how far back from the line they were, and so on. As the war progressed, dugouts became less and less protected. Germany’s dugouts were considered better because Germany dug them deeper and the men felt better protected from shelling. Britain’s dugouts were more shallow because the British thought that if their holes were too deep the soldiers would not want to come back again. Concerning trench layout, “the front” wasn’t a single trench with artillery behind it, but rather a complex maze of trenches, reserve trenches, and perpendicular trenches meant to aid the flow of traffic back and forth. (Though this seldom was as efficient as possible, with people trying to go both ways.)


Elephant mounted with a M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun, WWI; ca. 1914-18.

"I gotta be honest fellas. This seemed like a much better idea on paper..."

The least they could have done was give the elephant some giant ear plugs.

A corporal aims a Colt M1895 atop a Sri Lankan Elephant.  The M1895 was developed by John Browning during the 1890s, it was a belt-fed, air cooled, gas operated machine gun.   As the weapon was air cooled it did not require the water cooling system used by the Maxim Gun, as a result it was much lighter weighing just 35 lbs.

The M1895 was lever actuated which meant that the gun was cocked by retracting the lever and once the first round was fired the propellant gas was tapped from a gas port several inches from the muzzle this gas pushed the lever down and swung it back towards the receiver to cock the gun for the next round.   If the gun’s tripod was set too low, or impeded by cover, then the lever would catch any obstruction, as a result it quickly became known as the ‘potato digger’ by troops.  There looks to be more than enough clearance on top of the elephant.

While there is historical precedent for the use of elephants in warfare for over 1000 years, used by the Persians, Alexander the Great, Indian Sultans, Siamese warriors who mounted Jingals (small guns often mounted on walls) on elephants well into the 1880s, and later by the British Army in India as pack animals capable of carrying mountain guns and supplies over difficult terrain.  Why the corporal is atop the elephant is a mystery but it was never a weapons platform adopted by the US Army.

(Source)


France in World War Two.

The French planned to meet and fight the Germans in Belgium, defeat them there and then continue into Germany once the best and brightest of the German army had been ground down.

The French based their plan on their experiences in WWI. In that war, not only had the Germans occupied large swaths of northern France and the coal and iron mines and related metal industry (vital to the war effort), the defensive had proven much stronger than the offensive due to the ease of moving reinforcements by rail to any threatened part of the front, while the attacked had to move by foot and horse through the former front line to exploit a breakthrough.

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The German had built the Siegfried line along the border, a decent set of fortifications and defensive structures, which the French, with experience from WWI, thought too expensive to try to force their way through.

The French plan 1939 was as follows:

  1. The Poles are to resist as long as possible. If they are successful, the French army will launch an offensive against the Germans 14 days after the declaration of war. If not, the Poles are to retreat to the southeastern part of the country and will be supplied by the French through Romania, which was friendly towards both countries. Like the Serbian army and the Salonika bridgehead in WWI, the Polish army will keep being a threat to the Germans, and will be ready to break out once the main German force has been destroyed.
  2. France and Britain was negotiating with the Soviets right up to the start of the war for an alliance. Stalin strung them along and kept demanding their support for demands on Poland and Romania, which the allies did not want to grant. In reality, they had already signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with its secret protocols. The Poles were in the process of retreating what was left of their army to the Romanian bridgehead when the Soviets declared war and invaded on the 17th of September 1939. This cut the Poles off from the intended bridgehead. Combined with the devastating defeat of the Bzura counterattack and the destruction in that battle of the Poznan and Pomorze armies, the Poles were pretty much done. The French then cancelled their probing attack into the Saar region and their intended offensive, as it would do them no good. They then revised their plan.

Part of the Maginot Line

As opposed to the common misconception, the French did not rely on the Maginot line, nor did it cost them that much. The basic idea of the Maginot line was to dissuade the Germans from attacking Alsace-Lorraine and instead funneling them through Belgium – a job it did quite well. The intention was also to save manpower, as France had only about half the population of Germany – far fewer men was needed to man the fortifications than would be needed to man the border as regular infantry units. The whole line cost about 5 billion francs 1930-1939 – about 2% of the French military budget at that time.

As Poland fell, the French revised their plans. Now, they wanted to fight in Belgium. There’s several reasons for them waiting. Attacking the Siegfried line on their own (the British BEF was nowhere near ready in Autumn 1939) without the Germans distracted by the Poles or the Soviets seemed folly. Belgium had withdrawn from the allies in 1934 to declare itself neutral, and the French wanted to have the Belgian 650 000 man on its side rather than the opposite – it meant waiting on the Germans to attack Belgium. Also, by Summer 1940, the British would have their BEF fully ready, including an armored division.

So the French dug in, preparing for a long war where resources and industry would count. They ramped up tank production, ensured their supply lines to their colonies and set their society up for war production.

The new plan was:

  1. Wait until the British have their army in order before doing anything offensive. The Royal Navy will strangle the Germans out of vital supplies, such as food, tungsten (needed for metalworking), chrome (needed for armor), copper and oil. Trying to get Sweden to stop exporting iron ore and Finland to stop exporting nickel was also on the table. The whole affair in Norway and the threats of an expeditionary force to help Finland was more about strangling those exports to Germany than any other issue. The Germans simply got to Norway first. The Germans had been re-arming at neck breaking speed (and were close to bankruptcy several times, only bailed out by seizing the Austrian and Czechoslovak gold reserves and foreign assets) and the French were only beginning to catch up when the war started.
  2. If the Germans attack, it will be through Belgium. The best of the French army will then rush north together with the BEF and link up with the Belgian army. Together they will grind down the German offensive on Belgian soil, either through vicious attrition or a decisive battle. This keeps northern France, with a lot of population and industry, not even mentioning coal and iron mines, safe and free from occupation. Once the best parts of the German army have been destroyed in Belgium, the French will lead the offensive from Belgium that will flank the Siegfried line and punch into Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial and coal producing area. After defeating the German army there, France would have crippled the German ability to conduct war and thus won, with minimal casualties and devastation to France itself.

The French were reinforced in their belief that their plans were correct in the Mechelen incident in which a German liaison plane carrying the full plan for the invasion of France crashed in Belgium on the 10th of January 1940. The event caused the Germans to scrap their plan and go with von Manstein’s daring attack through the Ardennes instead.

The French considered the Ardennes impassable for large mechanized forces – their cavalry was screening the forest (5 divisions and 3 colonial cavalry brigades, however, most of their attention was to the north, towards the Belgian part of the forest) with a force of infantry behind them at Sedan (2 infantry divisions). The Germans managed, despite massive traffic jams, to get a force of 3 Panzer divisions with 771 tanks through. They brushed the cavalry aside and crashed through the French infantry. The rest is history.

The French prepared for a long war – they were right in that, it is just that it turned out to not be very long for them. For example, the French limited their air force to 1-2 combat missions per day, intending to keep them fresh and ready for continued combat for a long time, while the Germans managed to get 4-6 combat missions per plane and day, resulting in much more effective combat usage, but crews exhausted and prone to mistakes and accidents reducing their strength. By June, the Luftwaffe was almost completely worn out and needed more than a month of rest and refit before they could launch the Battle of Britain. The French also retreated parts of their air force out of range of German fighters in order to protect them from attacks on their airfields, to allow them to rest and repair planes in peace – which meant that a large part of the French air force was in the process of moving bases and unavailable at the decisive moment.

The French knew that the Germans would come through Belgium and rushed their best forces north to link up with the Belgians once they did – however, the Germans punched a large armored force through the Ardennes forest, between the Maginot line and the Franco-Belgian positions in Belgium.

The Belgians had build fortifications in eastern Belgium, but they were not coordinated with the Maginot line, and since Belgium had withdrawn from its alliance with France 1934 to become neutral, the French could not cooperate with the Belgians on defense and fortified lines.

The Belgian fortified line pretty much fell apart when one of the key elements of it, Fort Eben-Emael was seized by a handful of German paratroopers in a daring operation.

^The Ardennes forest anchor both the Maginot line and the Belgian fortress system and the key part Eben-Emael plays in the easternmost angle of the Belgian fortress system

See this map:


Before Pearl Harbor, Japan’s Emperor Cautioned Against War With U.S., Documents Show

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“Before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Emperor Hirohito criticized plans to go to war with the United States as ‘self-destructive,’ and opposed an alliance with Nazi Germany, though he did little to try to stop the war that Japan waged in his name, according to the long-awaited official history of his reign released on Tuesday.” (Source)

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Well, I can imagine that there are some things doctored, but there is definitely some truth behind this. For years, there has been information coming out how the Emperor was hesitant about the war, as well as wanting to surrender well before Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It isn’t out of the question for Emperors/Kings to be ‘taken’ advantage of in times of war. Look at the bombings of England in WWI by Germany, the Kaiser was some-what left out of the loop there.

I am more interested if these texts talk about the war crimes that Japan committed and on what level was the emperor aware of these atrocities, not so much the whole US/Japanese relations. Japan terrorized and murdered millions of people, and that is often forgotten in the western world. And this is a sensitive subject for Japan and countries in its close proximity, mostly because Japan does not admit these things actually happened.

The Emperor was not held accountable what-so-ever for the crimes that were committed in his name; (imagine if Hitler didn’t shoot himself, surrendered, and then set free. That’s how some countries feel about this). In the western world, the German people were held personally responsible for WWII (I’m not saying this was right or wrong, just that it happened), while Japan was more or less ‘forgiven’ after having some higher-ups executed.

To this day, countries still HATE one another because of what happened in this time in history. While in Europe (Western Europe anyways), countries have made great progress in improving the relations between one another.