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

Archive for September, 2014

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.


Long-exposure photograph of artillery shelling in WWI; ca.1917.

This would be beautiful if the context wasn't so horrible.

This is Trench Warfare.

There’s a lack of appreciation, I think, for why WWI was so traumatic for soldiers.

There’s an ebb and flow over military history between the offense and the defense having the upper hand. In the last major European war before WWI, the Franco-Prussian War, the offense had the edge; Germany won via its decisive and swift march onto Paris, disabling France before it could really even get in the fight. Decades later, however, by the time WWI began, technology had changed; advances in artillery, machine gun, railway systems, fortifications, etc., and even the adaptation of some low-tech stuff like barbed wire, made the defense much more powerful than the offensive technology that existed at the time.

But the mindset that everyone was operating under was still based on that last major war. This was the rationale behind Germany’s invasion of France through Belgium- it believed it had to move quickly to disable France, or it would lose a two-sided war against France and Russia. Likewise, the cult of the offensive dominated French thinking; there was a strikingly testosterone-driven belief that a fervent charge of bayonets was enough to overcome any machine gun fire. And let’s not even get started on cavalry. This was the first war in history where cavalry was finally and completely rendered obsolete, and the generals did not adapt well, they were still sending cavalry out to be massacred by machine gun fire even by the time the war ended.

The point is, you have this dynamic where the technology of the time says, “Sit and defend,” and the generals say, “Go out and charge!” And the shocking thing is how long it takes the military leadership, especially of the Entente, to adapt; and how frequently they relapse. Really why the war dragged as long as it did; the Germans were better, although by no means perfect, at learning not to bleed themselves dry (culminating ultimately in the intentionally flexible Hindenburg line, while the French were still ordering their men to never yield an inch of ground.) So there’s this cycle of long squalid tedium, guys sitting in mud holes getting eaten alive by bugs and fungi and their own bodies, eaten cold food out of tins, interrupted by the occasional pointless but massive bloodletting as whoever’s in charge this month initiates another stupid offensive that he sells back home as being decisive and sure to break the stalemate, but maybe, at best, gains a few square miles of territory- as often as not lost again six months later.

And meanwhile the artillery. WWI has lots of poison gas, although it’s not very effective in the final tally, and snipers and machine guns, and sappers that explode a line from underneath you; but all together none of them take near the toll that the artillery does. WWI was the war for artillery, dominated by the big guns, with tanks and functioning bombers still in the future. The industrial countries blow through millions of tons of artillery shells, cratering and re-cratering the landscape, first indiscriminately and then in creeping waves as they learn how to use them; the entire peace-time reservoirs of shells are expended in months at the start of the war, and they churn out more, the later battles often using in a matter of days as many shells as even existed in the world in 1912. Being on the frontlines usually meant being surrounded by the constant shock and roar of the big guns, always meant living in fear that you could be snuffed out in an instant by them; and besides the pure psychological terror, meant exposure to literal shockwaves that were constantly fucking with your brain in ways we’re just coming to grips with today as we deal with combat veterans who’ve been exposed to IEDs.

So to recap; if you’re a soldier in WWI, you’re spending your time in a squalid trench- German trenches were constructed better but made up for it with the severe shortages of pretty much everything caused by the British naval blockade, so that almost everything you ate or wore was a poor substitute made from something else; paper shoes and acorn coffee. Most of the time is a constant tedium undergirded by the fear that at any second a massive offensive could be launched, or even just a random burst of artillery fire, that reduces you to powder without your ever hearing or seeing a warning of it. This is the best case scenario. Worst case scenario you’re in an offensive and your general is sending you out to get ground up against the enemy’s defenses, with deserters getting shot or hung, trying to crawl through shell-blasted mud and barbed wire into a nest of machine gunners. Slightly luckier and you’re on the defense, which is great as long as you don’t get gassed or an artillery shell doesn’t land on you, or sappers don’t blow up the entire ridge you’re sitting on, or snipers don’t see your head sticking up, or just caught at the hammer point of an all-out offensive that might peter out a few miles forward but is going to sweep you aside through sheer mass of numbers.

And this just goes on. And on. That’s what drives people mad. All this thunder and blood and mud and nothing changes. Some of the battles themselves drag on for months of near-constant murder. Maybe if you have a good general you get rotated through so you’re not constantly living under the guillotine, but more likely your commander has you or a bunch of your buddies killed for a few worthless square miles you have to give up again when he realizes he can’t defend them effectively.

The “Stabbed in the Back” myth that Hitler would use later to help rise to power held that the German army was never defeated in the field, that it lost to politicians at home. The first part is actually kind of true though. Even on the run at the end, the Germans inflicted about as many casualties as they took. The thing is they were never really victorious in the field, because battles during WWI just weren’t winnable, really. To either side. The technology meant that both sides were just slowly, painfully bleeding each other until someone gave up. To the soldiers this meant there was no hope of victory- but also no hope even of defeat. Just sitting there, waiting to die.

And all war is barbaric, but it’s not hard to see why WWI was so unusually tormenting to the mental well-being of those who fought it.

(A French lieutenant at Verdun who was later killed by a shell, wrote in his diary on 23 May 1916:

“Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!”)


The Battle of Verdun; ca. 1916.

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From ‘The First World War in Colour’ by Peter Walther.


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A British Mark series tank, Péronne, France; ca. 1917.

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Portrait of strongman Eugen Sandow; ca.1889.

Looks like a modern MMA fighter.

Amazing to think that he accomplished that without any modern supplements and an archaic training regime.
But then again, “lifting heavy things up and putting them back down again” is an ancient training method, I suppose. Maybe not that much had changed since then?

Eugen Sandow (April 2, 1867 – October 14, 1925), born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, was a German pioneering bodybuilder known as the “father of modern bodybuilding”.


The Helsinki white guard after the “Battle of Helsinki” in 1918.

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This was during the Finnish civil war between the conservative “whites” and the socialist “reds.” The picture was probably taken after the whites, with the support of German troops, won the battle for Helsinki. (This picture might be from the parade that was held in celebration of the victory.)


Aftermath of Houston, Texas’s worst disaster the Gulf Hotel fire; Sept. 7, 1943.

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The Gulf Hotel fire claimed 55 lives in the early-morning hours of September 7, 1943 in downtownHouston, Texas. This fire remains the cause of the worst loss of life in a fire in the city’s history.

The hotel was located on the northwest corner of Louisiana and Preston Streets and occupied the upper two floors of a three-story brick building, with a variety of businesses occupying the first floor. It was an inexpensive hotel near the city’s bus depot, and reportedly had 87 beds, most divided from one another by thin wooden partitions, and 50 cots available for half the price of a bed. That night the guest log showed 133 names registered.

Shortly after midnight, the desk clerk was alerted to a smoldering mattress in a room on the second floor. The clerk and a few guests thought they had extinguished the burning mattress and moved it to a closet in the second floor hall. Moments later, the mattress erupted in flames. The fire spread quickly through the second floor and headed toward the third. There were two exits from the hotel, both on the Preston side, one an interior staircase, the other an exterior fire escape.

The fire department’s central station was located only a few blocks away at Preston and Caroline Streets. The alarm was received at 12:50 a.m. Deputy Chief Grover Cleveland Adams was the first to arrive at the burning hotel where he summoned a general alarm as he witnessed flames shooting from windows and the roof.

Ted Felds of Harris County’s Emergency Corps arrived at about the same time and noticed many men on the fire escape, including a few on crutches, who were slowing the progress of others behind them still trying to escape.

Two men died at the scene after jumping from the hotel’s windows. There were 15 other fatalities in area hospitals. Firefighters recovered 38 bodies from the burned out building. In all, 55 people died in the fire and more than 30 were injured. A mass funeral was held for 23 victims of the fire who were never identified and they were buried at the South Park Cemetery in Houston.

(Source)


SA (Sturm Abteilung or “Brownshirts”) call for the boycott of Jewish shops in Friedrichstraße, Berlin; April 1, 1933.

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The sign says: “Germans, Attention! This shop is owned by Jews. Jews damage the German economy and pay their German employees starvation wages. The main owner is the Jew Nathan Schmidt.”


57,000 German POWs are marched through Moscow to display the Red Army’s dominance; July 17, 1944.

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In June 1944, the Red Army captured the German Army Group Center. This was called Operation Bagration. 185 Soviet divisions with 2.3 million soldiers surrounded and captured or killed the 800,000 members of Army Group Center.

A month later some of the German POWs were transported to Moscow to display to the Soviet people.

Here is a Soviet film of the parade:

The parade was followed by trucks ceremoniously washing the German filth from the streets. The POWs were then transported off to work camps.


Photo of sentencing from the Nuremburg trials. The name of the offender and their punishment next to them, Hess is hidden because Goering was standing up, he received life imprisonment; Oct 1st 1946.

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Pretty much all of them served their sentences, and a couple were apparently repentant.

Sentenced to hang:

  • Hermann Goering: Committed suicide on the 15/10/46, the day before his execution. (He took a potassium cyanide pill the night before his execution was to take place. He had requested a firing squad like a soldier would receive instead of hanging like a commoner and was denied.)
  • Fritz Sauckel: Hanged on the 16/10/46.
  • Alfred Jodl: Hanged on the 16/10/46. (One of the three French judges later declared that Jodl should not have been found guilty and hanged. In 1953, the denazification courts in Germany reversed the verdict and returned all of his confiscated property to his widow.)
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Hanged on the 16/10/46. (Interesting point, his reaction to the sentence was “Death by hanging… well, in view of the whole situation, I never expected anything different. It’s all right.” He was the last to be hanged and remarked: “I hope that this execution is the last act of the tragedy of the Second World War and that the lesson taken from this world war will be that peace and understanding should exist between peoples. I believe in Germany.”)
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop: Hanged on the 16/10/46.
  • Wilhelm Keitel: Hanged on the 16/10/46. (Last words “I call on God Almighty to have mercy on the German people. More than 2 million German soldiers went to their death for the fatherland before me. I follow now my sons – all for Germany.”)
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Hanged on 16/10/46.
  • Alfred Rosenberg: Hanged on 16/10/46. (He was asked if he had any last words and replied “No”.)
  • Hans Frank: Hanged on 16/10/46. (He was reportedly very calm and quiet, viewed his sentence as atonement for his sins and gave the last words: “I am thankful for the kind treatment during my captivity and I ask God to accept me with mercy.”)
  • Wilhelm Frick: Hanged on 16/10/46. (He was the most afraid and unsteady, and his last words were “Long live eternal Germany”)
  • Julius Streicher: Hanged on 16/10/46. (He was entirely unrepentant, and gave 4 last statements: “Heil Hitler” at the foot of the gallows, a mocking reference to the Jewish festival Purim as the noose was secured, “The Bolsheviks will hang you one day!” as the bag was put on his head and “Adele, meine liebe Frau!” as he was dropped.)

Sentenced to life

  • Erich Raeder: Freed on 26/9/55 after nearly 9 years due to ill health. Died 6/11/60.
  • Rudolf Hess: Committed suicide by hanging on 17/08/87, aged 93. (He spent his last 41 years in prison, presumably well. He lived a long time, after all. And then one day, after four decades of confinement, he finally just said, “Whelp, this is it,” and did himself in at 93.)
  • Walther Funk: Freed 16/5/57 after 10 years due to ill health. (Died of diabetes three years later.)

Sentenced to 10-20 years

  • Karl Doenitz: Served his 10 year sentence, (and died 24 years later.)
  • Baldur von Schirach: Served his 20 year sentence, (retired alone due to his wife divorcing him in prison, and died 8 years later.)
  • Albert Speer: Served his 20 year sentence. (He chose not to return to architecture, but instead became an author. He personally accepted responsibility for the Nazis crimes, and anonymously donated most of his book royalties to Jewish charities (Up to 80%). Died of a stroke in 1981 while visiting London to appear on the BBC. *He is quite an interesting character. He’s known by some as “The Nazi Who Said Sorry” because he seemed to genuinely regret being involved with the whole thing. His testimony at the Nuremberg Trials is a fascinating read, if you’ve got the time.)
  • Konstantin von Neurath: Released 7 years early from his 15 year sentence due to ill health. (He returned to his family home and died of a heart attack 2 years later.)

Child in a British concentration camp during the Second Boer War (1899–1902).

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For those of you that don’t know, here is a brief lead up to the Boer wars:

In 1795 the British took over the Cape Colony for the Dutch during the French Revolutionary Wars. The colony was restored to Dutch rule in 1804 by the Treaty of Amiens and retaken by the British in 1806. This colony was important to protect trade routes to Britain from the east, especially India. The Dutch settlers in the Cape were known as the Boers. The Boers ignored the new governors and moved away from administrative centers, remaining as independent as possible.

Hostilities started to develop in 1823 as the British changed English to the official language. These escalated further in 1833 when the British passed equality laws, making slavery illegal. This was deeply unpopular will the Boers whose economic stability relied on farming using slaves. Although promised compensation for the Brits they soon learnt that it could only be picked up from London.

In the following years thousands of Boers left British territory to continue farming using slaves. Two new states were formed the Republic of Transvaal and a couple years later the Orange Free State.

The British continued to expand their territory, fighting small wars and skirmishes with the Boers and other Africans.

In 1867 diamonds were discovered near the Vaal River, 550 miles northeast from Cape Town. Tens of thousand of people from around the world flocked to the area.

In 1875, Lord Carnarvon attempted to organize a federation between the Brits and Boers (similar to the Brits and French in Canada). The idea was rejected by the Boers.

In 1877 the British annexed Transvaal non violently, they accepted this because the Boers were near war with the Zulus and couldn’t risk fighting a war on two fronts. This raised Anglo-Boer tensions once again.

The Zulus, who had gathered a sizable army of around 40,000 and now had firearms, were seen as a threat to British and given an ultimatum to disband their army. They failed to do this and reluctantly in 1879 7,000 British with 7,000 Black African levies fought a short war effectively ending the Zulu kingdom.

Now the Boers enemies had all been defeated by the British the Boers resentment grew further for the British and they wanted their independence back.

In November 1880 a Boer man refused to pay a tax and his wagon was seized. When his wagon was to be sold a group of armed Boer took the wagon back and assaulted the sheriff. British troops sent after them but were fired upon.

In December 1880 Transvaal declared independence and began besieging British garrisons in the region and so the First Boer War began.

The Boers being farmers were excellent hunters and riders. They fought using camouflage and stealth to snipe at British red coats.

*Fun Fact: The Boers fought in guerrilla groups called kommandos. Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers and out of respect for their skill he later named British special forces ‘commandos’.


Who won the War of 1812?

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Officially, the US went to war due to the British not respecting US citizenship when pressing sailors into service in the Royal Navy. The British claimed that any British subject was eligible for impressment (ie forced conscription) and that any man born a British subject continued to be a British subject. This included a sizable portion of the US population of the time, as many had been born before the peace treaty of 1782 and thus theoretically had been born as British subjects. Emigres were also subject to this treatment, and there were occasions where Royal Navy officers did not give a damn and just impressed American citizens who had never been British subjects.

Unofficially, the war hawks wanted to see an annexation of British North America (Canada). [The subject was openly debated in the US before the war. Jefferson claimed the conquest of Quebec was “a mere matter of marching” while Clay openly said that militiamen from Kentucky on their own could capture Upper Canada. Major General Brock certainly knew the war was coming, prepared accordingly and knew the US would invade Canada. In fact, his intelligence was so good that he got news of the war before the US troops across the border, something which he used for a surprise attack.]

The US invasions of Canada failed, the British hunted down or blockaded the US navy (a few frigates managed to slip out and the USS Constitution had some spectacular victories) and blockaded the US East Coast, preventing trade and causing widespread discontent, especially in the maritime-dependent New England states, who seriously started to discuss secession from the US.

The peace treaty at Ghent 1814 did not include any gains for the US – at least not officially. The treaty included no provision that the Royal Navy was to respect US citizenship, however, the end of the Napoleonic War had led the British to stop impressment from foreign vessels anyway, so the goal was achieved, king of.

British North America remained in British hands, and eventually became Canada, independent from the US.

The British war goals were to get the US to stop fighting them, without giving anything away, as they had bigger problems back home with Napoleon running rampant all over Europe, in which they succeeded.

The US war goals, to force the British to accept US citizenship as immunity to impressment was achieved, although not officially, while Canada remained unconquered.

While the US did not lose territory, I’d say they lost the war as they were unable to achieve the goals they went to war over. The British, while not gaining anything, did achieve their war goal.

So, it is either a draw (neither side lost anything) or a British victory (as they achieved their war goals and the US did not).


Napoleon’s Exile.

Painting : Napoleon at Fontainbleau

The first abdication was originally conditional. Tsar Alexander had then proposed that Napoleon be exiled to Elba. Even after the unconditional abdication, the marquis de Caulaincourt convinced Alexander to keep the proposition open. Napoleon wasn’t seen as a criminal, an upstart perhaps, but his rule was legitimate and the wars were often declared by the Coalition.

There wasn’t widespread support for Elba, and most diplomats and politicians had their own ideas on where to send him. The United States, Corsica, Sardinia, and the British fort of St. George on Beauly Firth were other possibilities. Alexander insisted on Elba as it would put him at an advantage to Austrian interests, and the other nations went along with it due to the other choices not being entirely pleasing — along with some threats from Alexander that were Napoleon not sent to Elba he would rescind his support for the Bourbons.

When Napoleon escaped, he was declared as much as an enemy of humanity and that he would banished from Europe if captured. He could, in theory, be executed. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Prussians stated that he would be executed if captured by them. For personal reasons, Napoleon refused to surrender to the Austrians and Russians — though they were unlikely to execute him. Napoleon made his way to Rochefort where he planned on embarking to the United States, though he delayed in doing so and the British blockaded the port in the meantime. Napoleon sent his aides to the captain of the HMS Bellerophon to see what terms he might get for surrendering to them. Captain Maitland suggested that asylum in England may be possible, but would have to clear it.

After some deliberation, Napoleon decided to surrender himself to the Bellerophon. When it arrived at Torbay, Napoleon was kept on board — an amusement for sight seers to come and see. The British government debated what to do with him. The three main figures (being the Prince Regent, Prime Minister, and Secretary of War) all hated him and previously instructed the Bourbons that they should execute him. They declared Napoleon a prisoner of war, which put Bonaparte in a grey area of legality. He couldn’t technically be a prisoner of war since Britain and France were no longer at war. Napoleon was no longer considered to even be a citizen of France. The possibility of him being tried and executed as an outlaw or pirate was raised, but then he couldn’t have been detained as a prisoner of war.

The government’s response to this scenario was to exile Napoleon to St. Helena as a retired general on half pay. Napoleon’s response to this was bewilderment and confusion, stating that if his coming aboard the Bellerophon was simply a trick to make him a prisoner, Britain had shamed itself. One of his remarks was, “They may as well call me Archbishop, for I was head of the Church as well as the army.” The Allies approved of the action, though the British Parliament later admitted that the government had no legal basis for Napoleon’s exile.

So, specifically as for why Napoleon wasn’t executed basically comes down to the unique position he was in. The concept of war criminals wasn’t yet around, and Napoleon was neither a figure that could simply be executed nor given asylum. If Napoleon had been given a *writ of habeus corpus, he could have been put on trial. However, the British government didn’t want the possibility for Napoleon to be let off, so they quickly decided to exile him. Even that was outside of their legal jurisdiction, but it caused a lot less fallout than an execution would have.

[*Napoleon technically had received a writ of habeus corpus. A sympathetic former judge came up with an excuse (an admiral failing to perform his duties) to have Napoleon appear as a witness in a trial. The writ was obtained, but Napoleon was whisked away before he could set foot on land.]

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Finland: The Swedish Period.

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The earliest period of Swedish colonization of Finland proper (in the area around the city of Turku) occurred at the end of the 12th century, and could be considered a part of the religious and political movement known as the Northern Crusade. The Swedish monarchs and nobles would have had numerous reasons for the effort including

•suppression of piracy in the Gulf of Finland and Aaland archipelago.
•conversion of Finnic tribes to Catholic Christianity.
•creation of markets, establishment of feifs, and access to raw materials.
•to check the influence of Novgorod, and counter the spread of the “heretical” Orthodox creed.

Indeed, the spread of Swedish language and construction of fortresses goes hand in hand with the construction of Catholic churches and cathedrals in the early period.

Skipping ahead from the 1200s up to the 1400s, Sweden joined Denmark and Norway in a union of the skandinavian kingdoms called the Union of Kalmar, which was dominated by Denmark. Under Gustav Erikson, later King Gustav I Vasa, Sweden (and Finland) left the Kalmar Union in 1523. Gustav Vasa profoundly changed the Swedish monarchy, weakening the power of the nobility and church to enhance his own power. Following a dispute with the Pope about the appointment of Bishops, Gustav allowed the spread of the Lutheran church in his kingdom. This period also saw the administration of the provinces in Finland come under the supervision of royally appointed bailiffs, rather than being administered by local Bishoprics and noble families (who tended to be Germans appointed by pre-Kalmar kings).

Following Gustav I, his sons Eric XIV and John III ruled. John originally ruled as Duke of Finland during his brother’s reign, and used his power base in Finland to depose his mentally unstable brother. John had strong catholic sympathies, and under his reign and that of his son Sigismund, Sweden would see the reintroduction of many Catholic ceremonies and the drift back towards Catholicism being the state religion.

Sigismund was troubled in that his Catholicism as well as his duties as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth put him at odds with his Swedish nobles, and he was deposed in turn in favor of Gustav I’s youngest son Charles IX. During this conflict in Sweden proper, the provinces of Finland saw what has been called the Cudgel War, where peasants rebelled against burdensome and exploitative nobles and military garrisons. Charles IX expressed support for the peasantry, but his forces were engaged fighting Sigismund in Sweden.

The period of Charles IX reign would see the lessening of the old rivalry with the Russian principalities (Muscovy was descending into the Time of Troubles) and a heightening of rivalry with Poland-Lithuania ruled by the disgruntled Sigismund who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Sweden. In fact, this period would see Russia as the playground for Polish and Swedish invasions and puppet Czars (something never mentioned in discussions of Charles XII/Napoleon/Hitler).

Charles IX was succeeded by his illustrious son Gustav Adolph, also known by his latinized name Gustavus Adolphus. Gustav Adolph’s reign saw the conquest of Skane from the Danes by the young monarch, an extended war against his cousin, Sigismund, in Prussia, and eventually Swedish intervention in the 40 years war. During this long period of war, Finnish cavalry regiments known as Hakkapeliitas made a name for themselves for their endurance and savagery. Actually, Jean Sibelius wrote a concerto about them known as the Hakkapeliita March.

At the end of Gustav Adolph’s reign, Sweden could be considered one of the “great powers” of Europe to come out of the 40 years war, along with France.

However, Swedish strength would ebb away with the reforms of Peter the Great of Russia. King Christian XII fought the Russian Czar to a standstill in the early phases of the Great Northern War in 1700, but the Swedish monarch made the drastic mistake of engaging in a long and inconclusive war with Poland while the Russians recouped their strength. The result was Russia took over the territory of Estonia, gained access to the Gulf of Finland including the site on which St Petersburg was constructed, as well as the loss of Viipuri/Vyborg, the lynchpin of the eastern defenses of Finland.

Finally, Sweden would lose the entirety of Finland in the 1808-09 Finnish War.


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The Yalta Conference, Crimea; February 1945.

This is photograph TR 2828 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums]


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Color autochrome photograph of French soldiers in a trench manning a St. Étienne Mle 1907 machine gun; ca. 1917.

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Successful landing of the Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey airfield in May 1936, roughly a year before the disaster of 1937.

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Sami people between 1900 -1920.

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American intervention in the Russian Civil War:

DDD0918489TAmerican involvement in Russia was part of an Allied Intervention into Russia rather than an actual invasion. President Wilson authorized limited military force in Russia but no formal declaration of war was ever authorized by the American Congress. Wilson ordered 5,000 men to occupy Arkhangelsk and around 8,000 to Vladivostok, a port city on the far eastern reaches of Russia. The American “expeditionary” forces were not part of a concerted American war effort but rather an American commitment made out of the emerging European debates that followed the First World War. Wilson was also known to use limited occupational forces to achieve political goals. One example is his 1914 occupation of the Mexican port city Veracruz to influence the success of a U.S. friendly Mexican government, obviously Veracruz is a different story but it demonstrates that Wilson used Executive power to authorize military occupations that were not necessarily outright invasions or declarations of war.

Importantly the number of around 13,000 thousand American soldiers was considerably less than the commitments of Czechoslovakia’s (50,000), France’s (12,000) and Britain’s (40,000). Moreover the strategic importance of the areas occupied by America were also minor in comparison to other zones of conflict and the role of America was manifestly less significant than the contributions of her Allies. General Graves who commanded the American contingent present in Siberia (American Expeditionary Force Siberia) had the aim of protecting American military equipment and American capital investment that was still in Russia after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Graves’ other objectives included safe guarding the exit of the Czech legion from Russian territory and to assist the reorganization of the new Russian government.

You have to take into account that Russia in 1918 was vastly different from the Communist state that we understand it to have been throughout the twentieth century. In 1918 it was not clear that the Bolsheviks would emerge as victors, the Red Army faced opponents on four fronts to control a comparatively small area compared to the huge country we know Russia is today. The map I’ve linked at the bottom shows the extent of Bolshevik control in 1919, Archangelsk is just at the top, Vladivostok where most of the Americans were stationed is located thousands of kilometers to the east and Americans stationed there engaged in a limited role against Russian Cossacks, a group separate to the Revolutionary Bolsheviks.

Wilson’s motivations for sending American troops were numerous but stemmed from his willingness to see through his own vision for a post war peace process. He was pressured by allies to commit to Russian intervention and he likely did so in a diplomatic measure to ensure he had some leverage in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Undoubtedly Wilson was more concerned with fostering a democratic environment in Europe (and protecting physical American interests in Russia) rather than in participating in a huge mobilization against Russia after the toll of the First World War. The intervention was certainly no secret, Congressmen, Newspapers and Citizens were alert to the experiences of American soldiers stationed in the frozen port cities and campaigned for the men to be returned. Generally Americans opposed intervention and largely felt that their commitment in the First World War had been sufficient enough in aiding allied European nations. Additionally many Americans did not share the international spirit that Wilson pushed in the post-war peace conferences. President Warren Harding who followed Wilson’s administration condemned the intervention as a complete mistake.

Here are a couple of good sources if you want to develop some of the ideas that I’ve written here:

(It wasn’t an invasion, it was an intervention authorized by the President and not Congress and the American people knew about it.)

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*Maybe the best quick read to get the bet settled that isn’t a wikipedia article.

*The introduction here will help you get a better idea on some of the context surrounding the intervention.