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Chemical Warfare in World War One

Most historians of the war argue that poison gas on the battlefield was a failure and usually measure its effectiveness based on its lethality. But Tim Cook argues in No Place to Run that this may be true in that gas was not a “war-winning weapon,” but historians should remember that gas was a much more “complicated and nuanced weapon.” It was far more effective at removing men from combat and leaving fear and unrest among its survivors. One soldier wrote that “it is a terrible and hateful sensation to be choked and suffocated and unable to get breath: a casualty from gun fire may be dying from his wounds, but they don’t give him the sensation that his life is being strangled out of him.” Thus, gas was effective for many reasons other than its lethality.

One, it was a weapon of fear. There was no escape from gas on the battlefield, there was no way to tell if you were actually out of range of the gas cloud, or it would be trapped in the buried earth of an artillery shell blast, or even spending a night in a respirator because a sentry mistook fog for a phosgene gas cloud. As Cook’s title notes, there was “no place to run.”

Two, gas was primarily a casualty-causing agent rather than a killer. Cook notes that in 1918 when the Germans were using mustard gas, British gas casualties rose to from 7.2% in 1917 to 15% of total casualties. Yet, at the same fatality rates from gas dropped from 3.4% in 1917 to 2.4% in 1918. Gas wounded soldiers required their comrades to bring them off the battlefield, clogging up supply lines, aid stations and weakening the manpower available to actually continue an offensive. Or, imagine heading to the frontlines while passing the lines of gurgling, choking men who would never die from their wounds but would never recover either. The fear of gas was a far more important weapon than the casualties inflicted.

Even gas casualties statistics are misleading. The British army reports somewhere between 1.1 and 1.3 million gas casualties in the war, of which 91,000 died. This is not as large a number as you might think. Mostly it looks as if gas warfare was ineffective. For example, if the Germans released 600 canisters of chlorine gas and only caused 50 British casualties, this would be seen as a failure. Yet that attack would force the entire line of British soldiers to wear respirators for the duration of the battle – drastically changing the nature of the engagement even without the statistics to prove success.

Both armies on the Western Front (dont know much about other theatres) quickly adapted to the reality of gas warfare. Soldiers were trained to put on masks and protective gear quickly and without thinking – even a few seconds could save you from decades of agony or death. Intensive gas training was increasingly a part of an effective unit’s ability to fight on the battlefields of the Western Front, as there was always the fear of gas in any battle by the last years of the war. Soldiers had to act without thinking – the second the whistle blew that gas was spotted, or when a gas shell landed 5 metres in front of you, you had to immediately adjust your gear or put on your mask, and then keep fighting. Any hesitation could be lethal. Total gas warfare, when both sides began using choking gas, tear gas, and gas that burned any skin it came in contact with, meant that armies had to be trained at many levels. Small things like Doctors removing contaminated fabric from the wounded to avoid gas burns had to be “learned” in medical services dealing with gas casualties. Still, total preparation did not stop gas casualties. Hiding gas shells in the midst of a high explosive artillery barrage could catch soldiers unaware, or gas stuck in shell holes, or gas mixing with the mud and water of the trenches. Days after an attack, a soldier might be discovered dead after digging a hole to rest in during the night, or severely burned as water shifted in the muddy landscape onto a soldier as he slept.

Cook’s work on gas warfare stands out as one of the few historical studies that belie the established narrative in the Canadian literature on the war. I am not sure how other nations’ historians have treated it. Unlike other Canadian historians of the First World War, such as Duguid and Nicholson, Cook’s writing on gas warfare provides depth to the history of the weapon as more than simply an immoral tool of war. He argued that the “gas environment” where a soldier had to fear a gas attack at any moment, or endure fighting within the gas cloud, had had dramatic consequences for all the soldiers of the war. Cooks attempts to re-imagine the entire soldier experience of the trenches as one equally marked by toxic gas as by artillery shells and machine gun bullets. The image of the war he describes presents an important but subtle difference from what other historians have written. It is an atrocious world where the brief moments of courage do little to overcome the unending horrors of gas warfare. It was “like water rotting wood,” Cook writes, “not often immediately deadly, but … constant, insidious, and demoralizing.” His picture has little in common with the image of the successful, deadly, and honourable Canadian soldier. By the end of the war during the Hundred Days, Cook argues that “the Canadian way of war was steeped in poison gas.” Consider that 1 in 4 American casualties were from gas warfare, which demonstrates how the lack of proper gas protocols in the unbloodied American army severely affected their fighting capability. Gas warfare was a reality of the Western Front, one to which armies had to adapt or perish. So while most historians, and popular memory, acknowledge the pervasiveness of gas warfare in the First World War, few address its totality and its effects on tactics and operations.

Gas warfare wasn’t technically banned until the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and even still chemical agents have been used since the First World War. The Italians used it against the Abyssinians in the 30s, Japan used it against the Chinese, there are unconfirmed reports that Egypt used it against Yemen in the 60s, the United States’ use of napalm in Vietnam, allegations of Soviet use in Afghanistan in the 80s, and of course Iraq using it against Iran also in the 80s. One of the biggest fears of the American Army as it entered Iraq in the First Gulf War was being confronted with chemical warfare.

What did a naval blockade look like in the age of sail?

There were two major roles for a blockading fleet during the Age of Sail (and even into later conflicts):

1) to keep enemy ships of war bottled up in a port

2) to prevent trade from flowing to or from a port, or a whole nation

The first of those examples is what many people think of when they think of a blockade, and it’s the most obvious job of a squadron, but the second is arguably as important for wars that stretch out over a long period of time.

If we were to imagine a modal blockade, we might want to look at the blockade of Brest starting in the Seven Years War, and specifically at the events of 1759, because that was a major French port that the British had to blockade in that war and in the wars of the French revolution and Napoleonic era.

A blockading fleet had to accomplish two goals: it had to watch the entries into a port to prevent ships from leaving (or entering) it, and it had to present enough of a threat to pose a credible threat to the ships that the enemy fleet could amass if it tried to break out of a port. The blockading fleet then had to be comprised of ships that were heavy enough to stand in the line of battle (in the British context, ships of 74 guns or larger) as well as smaller ships that were nimble enough to work in near the port but that could flee any credible threats the enemy could mount to attempt to beat them off (usually frigates). In most cases, then, the fleet would be divided between an inshore and an offshore squadron, with ships in between (frigates or smaller ships) to relay signals between the two fleets.

Because these ships were, after all, sailing ships, the duty of the fleet becomes more difficult because of the winds and current conditions that could be experienced in a particular area. Broadly speaking, winds that would allow for ships to leave a port would tend to blow the blockading fleet offshore, while winds that kept ships in a port would blow the blockading fleet onshore (which is one reason why clumsier ships would be kept offshore, so as not to be wrecked). Obviously, close attention to the weather and watching out for storms was a major responsibility of ships on the blockading fleet. Additionally, blockading fleets still used up the same amounts of victuals (food, water, etc.) and naval stores (sails, spars, cordage, tar, gunpowder and shot for practice, etc.) as a fleet under sail would, so plans for supplying the fleet were crucial. Most admirals attempted to keep enough ships on station so that one or two could always be rotating back to a friendly port to re-provision and bring out mail and news.

Looking specifically at Brest, the dangers and opportunities of blockade become clear. In the 1750s, the dockyards of Breast were on the Penfield river, which issues into a large, enclosed harbor. The harbor reaches the sea through a narrow channel, the Goulet, which runs nearly directly east and west through high ground. There are two anchorages outside the Goulet, Berthaume Bay and Camaret Bay, which are both further protected from the Atlantic with reefs, rocks and islands, and there are three passages to the ocean from those anchorages. The Iroise is to the west, and is scattered with rocks; the Four passage to the north leads to the Channel but it is narrow and beset with a very fast tide-race, and to the south is the Raz de Sein, a very narrow passage through a set of reefs with a rock right in the middle of the northern end of the passage.

The tides flow through those passages at varying rates: the Goulet at 3 knots (nautical miles per hour), the Four at 4.5 knots and the Raz du Sein at 7 knots. The distance from the Goulet to the Raz is 25 miles, so unless a fleet had very exact timing it is nearly impossible to make the trip from the ocean into the harbor or vice versa except with exact timing, which means that ships had to anchor in one of the bays (Berthaume or Camaret) to wait for a tidal change.

This both complicated and simplified the task for the British. There was no one point in the sea from which to watch all three passages except for close in to the Goulet, but there was also no high ground at the western end of the Goulet for watchers to see a blockade fleet further offshore. The winds in the region generally blow from the southwest, which means that it was possible for the French to enter the Goulet most of the year, but leaving required an easterly or northerly wind, which meant the French usually used the Raz de Sein more than the other channels both for entering and leaving.

The French also used the Raz because, in the days before latitude was easy to find, ships usually approached a port by finding a landfall at a line of longitude (an east-west parallel) then “running down” that line until they saw a landmark. For the French, the simplest landfall was to Belle Isle (southwest of the Goulet) and then bearing up on the port tack to Brest or the starboard tack to Rochefort or Bordeaux.

An armchair admiral, then, would assume the best place to put a blockading fleet was to the southwest of Brest, near Belle Isle. The problem with that, though, is that any westerly gale would give the British a lee shore to the east which they would have to escape by heading to the southeast, into the Bay of Biscay and away from home. The British fleet in fact had to be kept to the west or northwest of Ushant, so that in case of westerlies they could seek refuge in one of the Channel ports (usually Torbay in Devon). The unfortunate fact of that is that a fleet in that spot can’t keep track of the Raz, so the offshore fleet would have to be stationed there with an inshore squadron able to pass messages to the offshore fleet and sound an alarm if the French tried to break out.

This is exactly what British admiral Sir Edward Hawke did in 1759: the bulk of his fleet lay off the northwest of Ushant, with two small ships of the line under Augustus Hervey anchored off the Black Rocks at the Iroise watching the Goulet. His ships were often blown off station, but a westerly wind usually meant that the French were bottled up in port even as the British ships were blown off blockade.

The reason for keeping the French fleet in port was that the French, growing desperate at their losses in the Americas, had decided in 1758 upon an invasion of Britain. The invasion fleet was assembling in Vannes, in the southwest of France, while the battle fleet was at Brest (at the time, there were only sketchy land communications with Brest — it relied on coastal shipping for nearly everything, and an army couldn’t assemble there). The fleet would have to break out of Brest, sail to Vannes to pick up the transports, and then evade the British fleet to land troops somewhere in Britain, which was a tall order.

The French were increasingly desperate to break out of port as 1759 drew to a close, and when a westerly gale blew Hawke off station in November, the French acted. The same day that the storm died down and Hawke left Torbay, the French left Brest. They were blown far to the west before they could come about and head for Vannes, and had trouble with the fleet because many of its men were inexperienced at sea after being bottled up in port. They sailed for Quiberon Bay, where the transports waited, with the British fleet on their heels, and made it almost there before sighting the British fleet. The French gambled that the British would not follow them into Quiberon Bay, because the British lacked charts of the area, but Hawke attacked at once and the French fleet fled. The British caught up with the tail end of the French fleet just as the van was entering the bay, and at that point the wind backed and headed the French, as well as kicking up an extremely rough sea.

The battle was a disaster for the French; the Thesee sank attempting to open its lower gunports (the ship flooded) and the Superbe sank after two broadsides from Hawke’s flagship. One French ship was captured; three were trapped in the Vilaine river with their guns thrown overboard to lighten ship; and six were wrecked or sunk. Two British ships were also driven ashore and wrecked, but their crews were rescued.

Quiberon Bay is one of the more dramatic and unusual battles of the Age of Sail, but the British fleet would again blockade Brest during the Napoleonic period. The blockade, in fact, became so routine that the British would often fish inshore of the Goulet, or anchor in one of the bays to dry sails or practice shifting topsails or lowering boats, to the infinite annoyance of the French.

In one of my favorite stories, Sir Sidney Smith even sailed his frigate into the Goulet by night, “hailing French ships in his faultless French to ask for news, and returning without detection with the latest information.” (Rodger, Command of the Ocean pp. 433). Granted, that was in 1795 and not during a period of close blockade, but it does emphasize the Royal Navy’s attitude toward the French.

Why is Germany always portrayed as the prime evil in the war?

Why does Germany bear war guilt and given the title of the aggressor?

Let’s wheel the clock back to 1871 and get an overview from the beginning. Bismark, after cleverly tricking the French into declaring war would unite the German states with Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Saxony leading the charge into a single Germanic State. They would in the process of peace negotiations seize the French territories of Alsace-Lorraine and as the result of the war Napoleon III would be ousted and the Third Republic would be declared.

After this war and the 1866 war with Austria to seize other German lands, Germany would be declared and they would overnight rise into being a world power. By 1880 they would be the leading industrial power in Europe…and they would be completely surrounded by “great powers” — Britain in the seas to the North, France to the West, Austria-Hungary to the South, and Russia to the East. This is where we briefly mention Bismarkian politics or what is more aptly referenced as the “3/5th’s rule”. That is, Germany must always have alliance 3 out of the 5 “great powers” as to secure the risk from total encirclement. In 1879 they would create a defense treaty with Austria-Hungary w.r.t. the mutual threat of the Russian Empire. In 1887 Bismark would also secure a non-aggression treaty with said Russian Empire which would state both parties would remain neutral in each others respective conflicts unless the other was the aggressor.

This was precisely what Bismark wanted — he had completely secured his Southern and Easterly borders. With the addition of Italy to the group Germany would only have to worry about her French enemies to the West and a potential British threat in the North Sea. When Willhelm II ascended his fathers throne in 1888 he had big shoes to fill and felt the need to do it on his own with his own new troupe of advisers, thus sacking Bismark to retirement and taking up the reigns of diplomacy himself. When in 1890 Russia (rather persistently) tried to renew the treaty for a more permanent, more alliance sounding one Willhelm II would just as persistently refuse. The Russian Tsar, Alexander II, would (rightfully so) feel exposed and without any friends. The British hated Russia and vice versa because of the Crimean War and Central Asian colonial ambitions, Austria-Hungary was a natural enemy to them because of conflict in the Balkans, Germany was supporting Austria-Hungary and was giving him the cold shoulder, but France remained. And boy, France would take Russia in with open arms creating a formal alliance in 1892.

Now we can start discussing aggression. This is the formal state of affairs going into the 20th century: Germany and Austria-Hungary have a defensive pact with regards to Russia. France and Russia have a mutual defense treaty against Germany. The United Kingdom is allied to nobody formally but is unfriendly to the Russian Empire, neutral with the French Republic, and neutral with a leaning of cordial with the Germans.

Kaiser Willhelm and frankly the German people as a whole were incredibly insecure about their status in the world. They were less than 50 years old at this point and were bordered by nations which had been around for almost a thousand and at times can trace their history back even further. They had no great national history or prestige to work off of as a unified Germany. They also came into the game in 1871 — well after the 16th and 17th century colonial rushes. They had no colonies. Germany is a notably isolated region and as the industrial leader relied on foreign imports to keep its factories churning out goods but perhaps equally important is the concept of prestige.Wilhelm II embarked on a policy of “Weltmahct,” or world power. A common turn of phrase in Germany was “Weltmacht oder Niedergang,” world power or downfall. They legitimately believed, the Kaiser, the government, and the people themselves, that it was Germany’s time to be the world power. That the German people, through social darwinism, were the superior and they were to seize prestige, colony, and resources through aggression. Don’t conflate this with Nazism, it wasn’t by any means. However, the concept of social darwinism was a popular one in this time and would last well into the 20th century.

To get colonies and to secure colonies though, you need a navy. So Germany would start a rapid buildup of said navy. This had a twofold purpose — one of creating a colonial fleet to secure shipping lanes and seize lands through war and to secure an alliance with the British. By performing a rapid naval buildup and flexing German muscle, combined with a shared cultural heritage, he had hoped that Britain would see Germany as too strong too culturally similar to be an enemy and would fall right into Germany’s arms with an alliance. Does any of that make sense? No, because it doesn’t and it failed horrendously. Britain told Germany to stop building up such a massive navy (which was being created for the express intent of contesting British naval hegemony) and Germany repeatedly refused.

As the Germans continued to contest British naval hegemony into the 20th century, we get to our first major date! In 1904 the French and the British, already uneasy with the German buildup, would begin to create some of the first legitimate and lasting bonds of friendship in their entire history. It actually wasn’t initially made with any regard toward Germany but rather a mutual understanding between the two powers. France would recognize the U.K.’s control over Egypt and likewise the U.K. would recognize French hegemony of basically the rest of North Africa Westward from there, Algiers and Morocco namely. In a few years Britain would also begin to make nice with Russia by diplomatically solving the the disputes in central asia (ie: Persia primarily) permanently.

The French and Spanish would divvy up Morocco between them (with the French getting the majority, obviously) and Germany would respond in its second act of aggression — the May 1905 Moroccan Crisis. Kaiser Willhelm II would sail to Morocco just as these deals were being finalized and gave a keynote speech with the Sultan in front of a large crowd crying out for Moroccan independence from “foreign oppressors” and that Morocco should remain independent and free from influence. This was an attempt to undermine French legitimacy and drive a wedge between the British and French relationships by giving the Entente Cordiale a strenuous test w.r.t. the legitimacy of their agreement. It would have the exact opposite effect as you might already imagine. The French and British, already uneasy by the German build up, would be pressed closer than they would at any point in history. While it would be nothing formal, Britain began seriously considering Germany a threat at this point and would, more as an act of informal policy and general thinking than anything else, lean toward supporting France in a theoretical European conflict.

The third major event would be the coming of the famous Dreadnought — with one pictured here. The coming of the Dreadnought shook the naval world, so much so that every battleship in recent memory before it became known as “pre-Dreadnoughts.” They would completely and utterly outclass anything any other nation was fielding. Their range and their firepower and their new engines and armor was like a fencing sword facing up against a claymore. and it would “reset” the naval arms race between Britain, Germany, and the world as a whole. You see Britain’s policy was called the Two-Power Standard — that is, having as many ships as the next two highest powers combined. They were a naval nation and they had naval hegemony. This gave Germany its first real shot, as both were starting from a blank slate essentially, to create a fleet that could legitimately contest the British in the North Sea region. It should be noted that Dreadnought’s were not exactly long range fighters, which made them useless for colonial protections. They had one use, attacking the British fleet in the North and Baltic Seas. The Germans would begin an unprecedented buildup buildings dozens upon dozens of these ships and constantly making orders for more.

All these tensions would finally culminate in 1911 — the Second Moroccan Crisis. Oh those Germans were back for a vengeance and it would totally work this time. Right guys? The Moroccans would rebel against French rule and the French were going to send troops to protect its interests. Kaiser Willhelm, always the opportunist, would seize the situation by the proverbial horns and send a gunboat — the SMS Panther — to be backed up by the SMS Berlin shortly after to go “protect German trade interests.” Let’s call a spade a spade however, Germany sent war ships to go intervene in a conflict between France and a country which had, in the very conference Germany called for in 1905was determined to remain under French influence. Germany would also demand territorial concessions in sub-Saharan Africa from the French along with pulling out of Morocco entirely. Not only would Britain back up France again driving them closer, Austria-Hungary wouldn’t even give Germany diplomatic support — let alone military backing.

Germany had at this point completely abandoned Bismark’s strategy of balance: Constantly giving conciliatory gifts or speeches or letters to rival powers to calm their nerves and keep everyone friendly. Remaining content as not only a land power, but the land power of Europe. Not getting greedy about the idea of the superior German and German prestige. Germany was in a precarious position in the world and Willhelm II did everything in his power to do the worst possible options. France and Britain, who were formerly neutral at best were driven into the strongest friendship they’ve had in their 1000 year history. Britain, who in 1887 had no intent of getting involved in continental conflicts and was now drawing up plans for direct land intervention in Europe to assist the two powers and had an agreement with France to provide it naval support in the event of war with Germany. Even more astoundingly was how it drove Britain and Russia together. These were two nations who for all purposes wanted nothing to do with each other. Britain, fearing German control over the Baltic Sea (that one to the right of Sweden and bordering Russia and Germany) and a reciprocated fear from Russia would begin to fix former grievances. Britain and Russia would go from hating each other in 1900 to informal military support and friendship in 1912 because of Germany’s actions.

The last peg in Germany’s coffin of war guilt was their actions in between June 28th and July 28th 1914 — the July Crisis. This post is dragging on and this doesn’t require the most analysis so it goes like this: Austria-Hungary used the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand as a justification and premise for their long standing objective of annexing Serbia. They knew however this would definitively mean war with Russia, which means they need German permission before doing this. Germany would give them the infamous Blank Cheque — essentially telling the Austro-Hungarians to do whatever they want with Serbia and tacitly accepting war. Austria-Hungary would send Serbia, who to this day has absolutely no hard link to the assassins and by all accounts cut ties with the Black Hand well before the killing, an ultimatum. A list of concessions Serbia would have to agree to which amounted to essentially Serbia becoming a puppet state. Serbia would obviously decline. Russia would begin to mobilize, Germany would declare war.

Not only would Germany declare war, it was their strategic plan that sealed the deal of them being perceived as the aggressors. Fearing their ‘encirclement’ they wanted to strike at France with everything they had and knock them out immediately. Infamously it would be given 950 hours — 40 days, no more. To do this they couldn’t just go through the border and push the French back, they would need to crush the French with total encirclement. This meant attacking through neutral Belgium. This is a topic that goes into the “evil” discussion that I’ll talk about briefly but needless to say, Belgium had absolutely no ties to the French or Russians or Germans or anyone for that matter. They were sitting there by themselves and Germany saw them as a convenient stepping stone to knock the French out faster so they invaded this completely uninvolved power without provocation. This would be the primary accusation as to the claim of German aggression — someone who is merely defending against two fronts would not declare war and then immediately perform a massive offensive through an uninvolved neutral country for the express intent of encirclement and annihilation of the enemy army. That is aggression full stop.

The Zeppelin airship “Graf Zeppelin” flying over the Reichstag building in Berlin; October 1928


In 1928 the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin became the first commercial passenger transatlantic flight service in the world.

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsches Luftschiff Zeppelin #127; Registration: D-LZ 127) was a German-built and -operated, passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Count in the German nobility.

The ‘Graf Zeppelin’ is considered the finest airship ever built. It flew more miles than any airship had done to that time or would in the future. Its first flight was on September 18, 1928. In August 1929, it circled the globe. Its flight began with a trip from Friedrichshaften, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, allowing William Randolph Hearst, who had financed the trip in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, to claim that the voyage began from American soil.

Piloted by Eckener, the craft stopped only at Tokyo, Japan, Los Angeles, California, and Lakehurst. The trip took 12 days—less time than the ocean trip from Tokyo to San Francisco.

During the 10 years the Graf Zeppelin flew, it made 590 flights including 144 ocean crossings. It flew more than one million miles (1,609,344 kilometers), visited the United States, the Arctic, the Middle East, and South America, and carried 13,110 passengers.



Dagen H -Sweden switches from left to right-hand traffic; Sept 3rd, 1967


Dagen H (H day), today usually called “Högertrafikomläggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”), was the day on 3 September 1967, in which the traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The “H” stands for “Högertrafik”, the Swedish word for “right traffic”. It was by far the largest logistical event in Sweden’s history.

There were various major arguments for the change:

  • All of Sweden’s neighbours (including Norway and Finland, with which Sweden has land borders) drove on the right, with 5 million vehicles crossing those borders annually.
  • Approximately 90 percent of Swedes drove left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles. This led to many head-on collisions when passing on narrow two-lane highways, which were common in Sweden due to the fact that the country’s low population density and traffic levels made road-building expensive in per capita terms. City buses were among the very few vehicles that conformed to the normal opposite-steering wheel rule, being left-hand drive.

However, the change was widely unpopular; in a 1955 referendum, 83 percent voted to keep driving on the left. Nevertheless, on May 10, 1963, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) approved the Prime Minister Tage Erlander‘s government proposal of an introduction of right hand traffic in 1967, as the number of cars on the road tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, and was expected to reach 2.8 million by 1975. A body known as Statens Högertrafikkommission (HTK) (“the state right-hand traffic commission”) was established to oversee the changeover. It also began implementing a four-year education programme, with the advice of psychologists.

The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons and underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was “Håll dig till höger, Svensson” (‘Keep to the right, Svensson‘) written by Expressen journalist by Peter Himmelstrand and performed by The Telstars.

As Dagen H neared, every intersection was equipped with an extra set of poles and traffic signals wrapped in black plastic. Workers roamed the streets early in the morning on Dagen H to remove the plastic. Similarly, a parallel set of lines were painted on the roads with white paint, then covered with black tape. Before Dagen H, Swedish roads had used yellow lines.

On Dagen H, Sunday, 3 September, all non-essential traffic was banned from the roads from 01:00 to 06:00. Any vehicles on the roads during that time had to follow special rules. All vehicles had to come to a complete stop at 04:50, then carefully change to the right-hand side of the road and stop again (to give others time to switch sides of the road and avoid a head on collision) before being allowed to proceed at 05:00. In Stockholm and Malmö, however, the ban was longer — from 10:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday — to allow work crews to reconfigure intersections. Certain other towns also saw an extended ban, from 15:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday.  


The relatively smooth changeover saw a reduction in the number of accidents. On the day of the change, only 157 minor accidents were reported, of which only 32 involved personal injuries, with only a handful serious. On the Monday following Dagen H, there were 125 reported traffic accidents, compared to a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays, none of them fatal. Experts suggested that changing to driving on the right reduced accidents while overtaking, as people already drove left-hand drive vehicles, thereby having a better view of the road ahead; additionally, the change made a marked surge in perceived risk that exceeded the target level and thus was followed by very cautious behaviour that caused a major decrease in road fatalities. Indeed, fatal car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian accidents dropped sharply as a result, and the number of motor insurance claims went down by 40%.

These initial improvements did not last, however. The number of motor insurance claims returned to ‘normal’ over the next six weeks and, by 1969, the accident rates were back to the levels seen before the change.

(From: Wikipedia)

Unpacking Mona Lisa after the end of World War II; ca.1945


In 3 days, 200 people packed 3600+ pieces of art, sculpture, and other valuables and transported them into the Loire Valley, where they were kept until the end of the war. (Source)



Titanic collapsible lifeboat D approaching the rescue ship RMS Carpathia; April 15th 1912


By the time Collapsible Boat D was launched at 2:05 a.m., there were still 1,500 people on board Titanic and only 47 seats in the lifeboat. Crew members formed a circle around the boat to ensure that only women and children could board. Two small boys were brought through the cordon by a man calling himself “Louis Hoffman”. His real name was Michel Navratil; he was a Slovak tailor who had kidnapped his sons from his estranged wife and was taking them to the United States. He did not board the lifeboat and died when the ship sank. The identity of the children, who became known as the “Titanic Orphans”, was a mystery for some time after the sinking and was only resolved when Navratil’s wife recognised them from photographs that had been circulated around the world. The older of the two boys, Michel Marcel Navratil, was the last living male survivor of the disaster. First Class passenger Edith Evans gave up her place in the lifeboat to Caroline Brown, who became the last passenger to enter a lifeboat from the davits. Evans became one of only four First Class women to perish in the disaster.

In the end, about 25 people were on board when it left the deck under the command of Quartermaster Arthur Bright. Two first class passengers, Hugh Woolner and Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson, jumped from A-Deck (which had started to flood) into the boat as it was being lowered, with Björnström-Stefansson landing upside down in the boat’s bow and Woolner landing half-out, before being pulled aboard by the occupants. Another first class passenger, Frederick Maxfield Hoyt, who had previously put his wife in the boat, jumped in the water immediately after, and was hauled aboard by Woolner and Björnström-Steffansson. The number of people on board later increased when about 10–12 survivors were transferred to collapsible D from another boat. Carpathia picked up those aboard collapsible D at 7:15 a.m.


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Four-year-old Michael Finder of East Germany is tossed by his father into a net held by firemen across the border in West Berlin. The apartments were in East Berlin while their windows opened into West Berlin; October 7th, 1961


Public execution of Roman Catholic Priests and other Polish Civilians in Bydgoszcz’s Old Market Square; September 9th, 1939


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Soviet tank rams into a building – Warsaw Pact invasion in Czechoslovakia; ca. 1968


Colored photo of the cascades of Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, a landscape park in Kassel, Germany, and a future UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cascades are created from the 92,000 gallons of water flowing through the then 200-year-old hydro-pneumatic devices; ca. 1890 – 1905


A woman and her dog both wear masks in London’s deadly smog; December 1952


Inflating cow skins to use as boats for crossing the swift Himalayan River Sutlej, northern India; ca. 1903

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Stereoscopic photograph of inflated bullock skin boat, or dreas, at the side of the river Sutlej, in Himachal Pradesh, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903, from The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India. This image is described by Ricalton in ‘India Through the Stereoscope’ (1907): “I have crossed the river several times on these inflated bullock-skins…The drea-man, after inflating the skin as you see them doing here, places it on the water and places himself on his stomach athwart the skin with his feet in the water; he holds a short paddle in his hands. The intending passenger sits erect, astride the drea-man…You have observed how the skin for this purpose is taken from the animal in one piece and how all openings in the skin are closed except in one leg which is kept open for inflation…These drea-wallahs can drive the skins across the river during high floods when the best swimmer would be helpless in the powerful current.” One of a series of 100 photographs that were supposed to be viewed through a special binocular viewer, producing a 3D effect. The series was sold together with a book of descriptions and a map with precise locations to enable the ‘traveller’ to imagine that he was really ‘touring’ around India. Stereoscopic cameras, those with two lenses and the ability to take two photographs at the same time, were introduced in the mid 19th century and revolutionised photography. They cut down exposure time and thus allowed for some movement in the image without blurring as subjects were not required to sit for long periods to produce sharp results.

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The V-1 “Buzz Bomb” plunging toward central London; ca. 1945

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B-17G ‘Wee Willie’ shot down in a sortie over a marshalling yard in Stendal, Germany. Of the crew of 9 only the pilot survived; ca. April 8th, 1945

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Wee Willie was shot down just 31 days before the end of the Second World a in Europe, and was the second to last B-17 lost by the 91st Bomb Group before the end of the war. The crash was described as follows by an eyewitnesses:

“We were flying over the target at 20,500 feet [6,248 meters] altitude when I observed aircraft B-17G, 42-31333 to receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb bay and #2 engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet [914.4 meters] from the ground it exploded and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew member leave the aircraft or parachutes open.”

The pilot managed to escape and spend the rest of the war as POW.


The wreck of the 1908 Wright Flyer that seriously injured Orville Wright and killed Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, the first person to die as the result of an airplane accident; September 17th, 1908

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During flight trials to win a contract from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, pilot Orville Wright and passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge crash in a Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia. Wright is injured, and Selfridge becomes the first passenger to die in an airplane accident.

After Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic first-ever airplane flight Dec. 17, 1903, they spent the next few years largely in seclusion developing their new invention. By the end of 1905 their interest in aviation had changed from curiosity and the challenge of flying, to the business of how to turn aviation into an industry: They were looking for a business model.

Unfortunately their first attempts to attract the United States government to the idea of using airplanes were turned down. The military just didn’t see how the airplane could be used in any practical way.

For two-and-a-half years the Wright brothers did not fly. They continued to work on their airplane, but put more and more time into building the business. Eventually they were able to attract interest from both the French and British governments, but by 1907 they still did not have any firm contracts.

But the Wright brothers were awarded two contracts in 1908: one from the U.S. Army and the other from a French business. The Army contract was for a bid to fly a two-man “heavier-than-air” flying machine that would have to complete a series of trials over a measured course. In addition to the $25,000 (about $600,000 in today’s buying power) bid, the brothers would receive a $2,500 bonus for every mile per hour of speed faster than 40 mph. No supersonic stealth fighters just yet.

Because they had not flown since October 1905, the brothers returned to Kitty Hawk to test their new controls to be used on the Wright Flyer in the Army flight trials. Despite some difficulty getting used to the new controls, both brothers managed to get some practice flying in during the stay in North Carolina.

Wilbur was in France during the summer of 1908 demonstrating the new Wright Flyer to Europeans (video). Orville remained in the United States and on Sept. 3 made his first flight at Fort Myer, where the Army trials were set to begin.

The flight tests set out by the Army required the airplane to carry two people for a set duration, distance and speed. There was a committee of five officers to evaluate the Wright Flyer’s performance, including the 26-year-old Selfridge.

Selfridge was a member of the Aerial Experiment Association and had designed the group’s first powered airplane. The Red Wing first flew on March 12, 1908, but crashed and was destroyed on its second flight a few days later.

During the first two weeks of September Orville made 15 flights at Fort Myer. He set three world records Sept. 9, including a 62-minute flight and the first public passenger flight. By Sept. 12 Orville had flown more than 74 minutes in a single flight and carried Maj. George Squier for more than 9 minutes in one flight.

On Sept. 17 Orville was flying Selfridge on another of the test flights. Three or four minutes into the flight, a blade on one of the two wooden propellers split and caused the engine to shake violently. Orville shut down the engine but was unable to control the airplane.

The propeller had hit a bracing wire and pulled a rear rudder from the vertical position to a horizontal position. This caused the airplane to pitch nose-down, and it could not be countered by the pilot.

The Wright Flyer hit the ground hard, and both men were injured. Orville suffered a fractured leg and several broken ribs. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull and died in the hospital a few hours later.

Despite the crash, and the first passenger death in an airplane, the Army was significantly impressed with the Wright Flyer and allowed the brothers to complete the trials the following year. They were awarded the contract. Along with success in France, the Wright brothers were well on their way to establishing what would become one of the most successful aviation companies during the early days of flying.

Because of the crash, the first Army pilots were required to wear helmets similar to early football helmets in order to minimize the chance of a head injury like the one that killed Selfridge.

Though the early days of aviation continued to be full of danger, airplane travel today is statistically one of the safest modes of transportation based on passenger miles traveled. Between 1995 and 2000 there were about 3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles flown.


The Solvay Conference – perhaps the most intelligent picture ever taken; ca. 1927

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Back to front, left to right:

Back: Auguste Piccard, Émile Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, Édouard Herzen, Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrödinger, JE Verschaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Ralph Fowler, Léon Brillouin.

Middle: Peter Debye, Martin Knudsen, William Lawrence Bragg, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, Paul Dirac, Arthur Compton, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr.

Front: Irving Langmuir, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin, Charles-Eugène Guye, CTR Wilson, Owen Richardson.

The scientists on the picture:

• Auguste Piccard designed ships to explore the upper stratosphere and the deep seas (bathyscaphe, 1948).

• Emile Henriot detected the natural radioactivity of potassium and rubidium. He made ultracentrifuges possible and pioneered the electron microscope.

• Paul Ehrenfest remarked (in 1909) that Special Relativity makes the rim of a spinning disk shrink but not its diameter. This contradiction with Euclidean geometry inspired Einstein’s General Relativity. Ehrenfest was a great teacher and a pioneer of quantum theory.

• Edouard Herzen is one of only 7 people who participated in the two Solvay conferences of 1911 and 1927. He played a leading role in the development of physics and chemistry during the twentieth century.

• Théophile de Donder defined chemical affinity in terms of the change in the free enthalpy. He founded the thermodynamics of irreversible processes, which led his student Ilya Prigogine (1917-2006) to a Nobel prize.

• Erwin Schrödinger matched observed quantum behavior with the properties of a continuous nonrelativistic wave obeying the Schrödinger Equation. In 1935, he challenged the Copenhagen Interpretation, with the famous tale of Schrödinger’s cat. He shared the nobel prize with Dirac.

• Jules Emile Verschaffelt, the Flemish physicist, got his doctorate under Kamerlingh Onnes in 1899.

• Wolfgang Pauli formulated the exclusion principle which explains the entire table of elements. Pauli’s sharp tongue was legendary; he once said about a bad paper: “This isn’t right; this isn’t even wrong.”

• Werner Heisenberg replaced Bohr’s semi-classical orbits by a new quantum logic which became known as matrix mechanics (with the help of Born and Jordan). The relevant noncommutativity entails Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

• Sir Ralph Howard Fowler supervised 15 FRS and 3 Nobel laureates. In 1923, he introduced Dirac to quantum theory.

• Léon Nicolas Brillouin practically invented solid state physics (Brillouin zones) and helped develop the technology that became the computers we use today.

• Peter Debye pioneered the use of dipole moments for asymmetrical molecules and extended Einstein’s theory of specific heat to low temperatures by including low-energy phonons.

• Martin Knudsen revived Maxwell’s kinetic theory of gases, especially at low pressure: Knudsen flow, Knudsen number etc.

• William Lawrence Bragg was awarded the Nobel prize for physics jointly with his father Sir William Henry Bragg for their work on the analysis of the structure of crystals using X-ray diffraction.

• Hendrik Kramers was the first foreign scholar to seek out Niels Bohr. He became his assistant and helped develop what became known as Bohr’s Institute, where he worked on dispersion theory.

• Paul Dirac came up with the formalism on which quantum mechanics is now based. In 1928, he discovered a relativistic wave function for the electron which predicted the existence of antimatter, before it was actually observed.

• Arthur Holly Compton figured that X-rays collide with electrons as if they were relativistic particles, so their frequency shifts according to the angle of deflection (Compton scattering).

• Louis de Broglie discovered that any particle has wavelike properties, with a wavelength inversely proportional to its momentum (this helps justify Schrödinger’s equation).

• Max Born’s probabilistic interpretation of Schrödinger’s wave function ended determinism in physics but provided a firm ground for quantum theory.

• Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article “The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules”.

• Max Planck originated quantum theory, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. He proposed that exchanges of energy only occur in discrete lumps, which he dubbed quanta.

• Niels Bohr started the quantum revolution with a model where the orbital angular momentum of an electron only has discrete values. He spearheaded the Copenhagen Interpretation which holds that quantum phenomena are inherently probabilistic.

• Marie Curie was the first woman to earn a Nobel prize and the first person to earn two. In 1898, she isolated two new elements (polonium and radium) by tracking their ionizing radiation, using the electrometer of Jacques and Pierre Curie.

• Hendrik Lorentz discovered and gave theoretical explanation of the Zeeman effect. He also derived the transformation equations subsequently used by Albert Einstein to describe space and time.

• Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics).He is best known in popular culture for his mass–energy equivalence formula (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”.

• Paul Langevin developed Langevin dynamics and the Langevin equation. He had a love affair with Marie Curie.

• Charles-Eugène Guye was a professor of Physics at the University of Geneva. For Guye, any phenomenon could only exist at certain observation scales.

• Charles Thomson Rees Wilson reproduced cloud formation in a box. Ultimately, in 1911, supersaturated dust-free ion-free air was seen to condense along the tracks of ionizing particles. The Wilson cloud chamber detector was born.

• Sir Owen Willans Richardson won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1928 for his work on thermionic emission, which led to Richardson’s Law.

Soldiers after the Battle of Dybbøl; ca. 1864

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The Battle of Dybbøl was the key battle of the Second Schleswig War and occurred on the morning of 18 April 1864 following a siege starting on 7 April.

On the morning of 18 April 1864 at Dybbøl, the Prussians moved into their positions at 2.00. At 10.00 the Prussian artillery bombardment stopped and the Prussians charged through shelling from the Rolf Krake which did not prove enough to halt them. Thirteen minutes after the charge, the Prussian infantry had already seized control of the first line of defence of the redoubts.

A total massacre of the retreating troops was avoided and the Prussian advance halted by a counter-attack by the 8th Brigade, until a Prussian attack threw them back; that attack advanced about 1 km and reached Dybbøl Mill. In that counter-attack the 8th Brigade lost about half their men, dead or wounded or captured. This let the remnants of 1st and 3rd Brigades escape to the pier opposite Sønderborg. At 13.30 the last resistance collapsed at the bridgehead in front of Sønderborg. After that there was an artillery duel across the Alssund.

During the battle around 3,600 Danes and 1,200 Prussians were either killed, wounded or disappeared. A Danish official army casualty list at the time said: 671 dead; 987 wounded, of whom 473 were captured; 3,131 unwounded captured and/or deserters; total casualties 4,789. The 2nd and 22nd Regiments lost the most. Also, the crew of the Danish naval ship Rolf Krake suffered one dead, 10 wounded.

The Battle of Dybbøl was the first battle monitored by delegates of the Red Cross: Louis Appia and Charles van de Velde. Following the battle, the Prussians used the fort area as a starting point to attack Als in June 1864.

While the battle of Dybbøl was a defeat for the Danes the activities of the Rolf Krake along with other Danish naval actions during the conflict served to highlight the naval weakness of Prussia. In an attempt to remedy this the Austro-Prussians dispatched a naval squadron to the Baltic which was intercepted by the Danish Navy at the Battle of Helgoland. A peace treaty was signed on 30 October 1864 that essentially turned the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein into an “Austro-Prussian condominium, under the joint sovereignty of the two states.” The German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, had taken one of the first steps toward launching the German Empire that would dominate Europe until World War I.


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French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne triggers the expression of ‘terror’ on a subject through electrical stimulation the mimetic muscles; ca. 1862

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Henri Giffard’s grand balloon before ascent, Tuileries, Paris; ca. 1878

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Superheater Tubes and Boiler Flues, C&O T-1 #3020 Boiler Explosion; May 12th, 1948

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Another angle:
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“Two crewmen died of burns when this Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad engine exploded at Chillicothe, Ohio, on May 12th. The explosion turned the flue pipes of the engine’s superheater unit in this twisted mass. A third crewman was injured.”


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“Spectators watching a Wall of Death performance featuring a lion in a sidecar”, Revere Beach, MA; ca. 1929

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Mr. “Fearless” Egbert taking his five year-old lion for a ride on the Wall of Death at Mitcham fair.


Fridtjof Nansen

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Fridtjof Nansen (10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his youth he was a champion skier and ice skater. He led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, traversing the island on cross-country skis. He won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.

Nansen studied zoology at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925), and later worked as a curator at the Bergen Museum where his research on the central nervous system of lower marine creatures earned him a doctorate and helped establish modern theories of neurology. After 1896 his main scientific interest switched to oceanography; in the course of his research he made many scientific cruises, mainly in the North Atlantic, and contributed to the development of modern oceanographic equipment. As one of his country’s leading citizens, in 1905 Nansen spoke out for the ending of Norway’s union with Sweden, and was instrumental in persuading Prince Carl of Denmark to accept the throne of the newly independent Norway. Between 1906 and 1908 he served as the Norwegian representative in London, where he helped negotiate the Integrity Treaty that guaranteed Norway’s independent status.

In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the “Nansen passport” for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.

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Russian trenches in the forests of Sarikamish, WWI; ca. 1914-15

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The Battle of Sarikamish was an engagement between the Russian and Ottoman empires during World War I. It took place from December 22, 1914 to January 17, 1915 as part of the Caucasus Campaign.

The outcome was a Russian victory. The Ottomans employed a strategy which demanded that their troops be highly mobile and to arrive at specified objectives at precise times. This approach was based both on German and Napoleonic tactics. The Ottoman troops, ill-prepared for winter conditions, suffered major casualties in the Allahuekber Mountains.

Afterward, Ottoman leader Enver Pasha publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians and the battle served as a prelude to the Armenian Genocide.