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

European History

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

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Allied soldiers mock Hitler atop his balcony at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin; July 6th, 1945

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With the final victory over Nazi Germany achieved, soldiers and allies of the British, American and Russian armies mimic and mock Adolf Hitler and his ideas on Hitler’s famous balcony at the Chancellery in conquered Berlin. The photo is taken on 6th July, 1945 (1945 (about 2 months after Germany’s surrender, 1 month before Hiroshima and the day after the Phillipines were liberated). Corporal Russell M. Ochwad, of Chicago, plays the part of Hitler on the famous balcony of the Chancellery, in Berlin, from which the former Nazi leader had proclaimed his 1,000-year empire. A British and Russian soldier stand on each side of Cpl. Ochwad, while American and Russian soldiers cheer at the little get-together.


French Cuirassiers only a year before WWI would begin, looking much the same as they did under Napoleon; ca. 1913

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And for most of that first year of fighting in WWI, they continued to look like this. French soldiers were massacred because of these dated outfits.


At the outbreak of war the French Army retained the colourful traditional uniforms of the nineteenth century for active service wear. These included conspicuous features such as blue coats and red trousers for the infantry and cavalry. The French cuirassiers wore plumed helmets and breastplates almost unchanged from the Napoleonic period. From 1903 on several attempts had been made to introduce a more practical field dress but these had been opposed by conservative opinion both within the army and amongst the public at large. In particular, the red trousers worn by the infantry became a political debating point. Adolphe Messimy who was briefly Minister of War in 1911-1912 stated that “This stupid blind attachment to the most visible of colours will have cruel consequences”; however, in the following year, one of his successors, Eugène Étienne, declared “Abolish red trousers? Never!”

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Dead soldier beneath crucifix WWI; ca. 1917

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British soldier with experimental body armor meeting with his medieval counterpart; ca. October 1917

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Before the First World War, no military used true protective helmets; Pith helmets and Pickelhaubes technically are helmets, but offer very little protection against bullet fragments and shell splinters. Similarly, any armor used previously to the First World War would be of medieval-inspired designs, for instance in the armor found on heavy cavalry. Even the French helmet from that conflict was designed with medieval aesthetics in mind.

In the First World War context, modern body armor would have primarily been used for machine gunners and others in static positions exposed to heavy small arms fire. This, though, is the most modern in appearance and design that I’ve seen – the groin protector is surprisingly sophisticated.

The First World War was the true introduction of so much modern military equipment on a vast scale: helmets and body armor designed for modern threats, gas masks, tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft, light machine guns, submachine guns, semi-automatic battle rifles, and more. The Second World War, with the exception of the nuclear bomb, offered more incremental improvements than revolutionary ones.


The preserved body of Royal Navy stoker John Torrington who died in 1846 during Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in the Canadian Arctic; ca. 1984

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Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington (1825 — 1 January 1846) was an explorer and Royal Navy stoker. He was part of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, but died early in the trip and was buried on Beechey Island.

Torrington was a part of Sir John Franklin’s final expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route to Asia, via the northern edge of North America. They set off from Greenhithe, England in two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, on 19 May 1845. The trip was expected to last about three years, so the ships were packed with provisions which included more than 136,000 pounds of flour, 3,684 gallons of high-proof alcohol and 33,000 pounds of tinned meat, soup and vegetables. However, after late July no one heard from or saw the crew again.

Since Torrington was one of the earlier of Franklin’s crew members to perish during the arctic expedition, he was buried in a tomb beneath approximately five feet of permafrost by his fellow men.

As a result of the subzero arctic temperatures, Torrington was preserved remarkably well with identifiable features including bright, pale blue eyes and skin that was still intact despite bruising and yellowing. A fellow crew member who had died around the same time and was buried next to Torrington also showed minimal signs of decomposition.

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A full, four-hour autopsy was performed on Torrington’s body in 1984 with the permission of living descendants. The procedure was performed out in the open arctic air; it consisted of dissecting and sampling each of the body’s organs,bone examination, and extraction of hair, and nail samples for analysis. The autopsy team then re-dressed and re-buried the body in its arctic tomb.

Torrington had developed a fatal case of pneumonia prior to the disappearance of Franklin’s expedition. Bone tissue samples taken from the body in 1984 also revealed that Torrington had lead poisoning; a common condition of arctic explorers of the time due to early canned foods as a primary food source. Additionally, inspection of the lungs also indicated that Torrington was likely a cigarette smoker, a plausible theory as he came from an industrial region of Britain. The lead poisoning and history of smoking would have worsened the symptoms and severity of pneumonia thereby leading to Torrington’s demise around 1846.


Torrington’s body was bound with strips of cotton to hold the limbs together during preparation for burial:

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The tinned wrought iron plaque nailed to the lid of John Torrington’s coffin. The inscription reads: ‘John Torrington dies January 1st 1846 aged 20 years’:

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The coffin containing John Torrington. The arrow points true north:

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The Moulin Rouge nightclub at Montmarte, Paris; ca. 1914

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The original house, which burned down in 1915, was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia. Close to Montmartre in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement, it is marked by the red windmill on its roof. The closest métro station is Blanche.

Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.

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Prefire:

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Rebuilt:

MERIAN Paris Jasmine


Wesel, Germany shows the effects of carpet bombing by the Allies; ca. 1945

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97% of the city was destroyed.


Wesel became a target of the Allies, particularly in its strategic position as a depot with bridges on the Rhine. On the 16, 17, 18 and 19 February 1945, the town was attacked by the Royal Air Force with impact and air-burst weapons and almost entirely destroyed.

On 23 March, Wesel came under the fire of over 3,000 guns when it was bombarded anew, in preparation for Operation Plunder. That day 80 Lancasters from No. 3 Group RAF attacked Wesel Then that night of 23/24 March, 195 Lancasters and 23 Mosquitos of RAF Bomber Command No. 5 Group aided in the softening up of the German defenders. 97% of the town was destroyed before it was finally taken by Allied troops and the population had fallen from almost 25,000 in 1939 to 1,900 in May 1945.

The town was taken quickly with 36 civilian casualties. Field-Marshal Montgomery said “the bombing of Wesel was a masterpiece, and was a decisive factor in making possible our entry into the town before midnight.”

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Body of French boy blown into a tree by German shellfire at Avocourt Wood (Battle of Verdun); ca. 1916

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