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
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.
Soldiers after the Battle of Dybbøl; ca. 1864
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.
Russian trenches in the forests of Sarikamish, WWI; ca. 1914-15
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.
French Cuirassiers only a year before WWI would begin, looking much the same as they did under Napoleon; ca. 1913
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!”
British soldier with experimental body armor meeting with his medieval counterpart; ca. October 1917
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.
German infiltrators lined up for execution by firing squad after conviction by a military court for wearing U.S. uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge; ca. 1944
These men were part of Operation Greif (Griffin). From left to right are Schmidt, Billing, and Pernass.
“Perhaps the largest panic was created when a German commando team was captured near Aywaille on 17 December. Comprising Unteroffizier Manfred Pernass, Oberfähnrich Günther Billing, and Gefreiter Wilhelm Schmidt, they were captured when they failed to give the correct password. It was Schmidt who gave credence to a rumor that Skorzeny intended to capture General Dwight Eisenhower and his staff….Pernass, Billing, and Schmidt were given a military trial at Henri-Chapelle on 21 December and were sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on 23 December.”
The soldiers in the picture were executed after a military trial pursuant to the Hague Convention of 1907. The commander of the operation, Otto Skorzeny, was actually tried after the war – along with a significant number of concentration camp officials and guards, in the Dachau tribunals. Interestingly, Skorzeny and the other surviving officers involved in Operation Greif were acquitted based on the argument that the German soldiers in American uniforms were not technically ordered to fight (just to spread deception). However, it has generally been accepted that wearing an enemy’s uniform and infiltrating his lines is a great way to get yourself shot as a spy.
Plenty of concentration camp guards and officials were executed. There was also an extrajudicial massacre of concentration camp guards at Dachau, carried out by the troops who liberated the camp.
Soviet Soldiers performing the Cossack dance after the defeat of Berlin, Germany; ca. May 1945
Wesel, Germany shows the effects of carpet bombing by the Allies; ca. 1945
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.”
21 year-old bombardier Lt. Joseph Heller (future author of ‘Catch-22’) in the nose of a B-25; ca. 1944
“Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.”
Fireball of Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the United States of America. The picture was taken from about 40,000 feet, Bikini Atoll; ca. 1954
A Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryu Maru, came in direct contact with the fallout. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcinated Bikini Island coral, had absorbed highly radioactive fission products, and fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash). The crew members, suffering from nausea, headaches, burns, pain in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms, were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals. Seven months after the test on September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”
This resulted in an international uproar and reignited Japanese concerns about radiation, especially in regard that Japanese citizens were once more adversely affected by U.S. nuclear weapons.
The Japanese and U.S. governments quickly reached a political settlement and paid out US$2 million to the surviving victims, each receiving about ¥ 2 million each ($5,550 in 1954, $47,400 in 2013). It was also agreed that the victims would not be given Hibakusha status.
“The Mine Test” – Wehrmacht Soldiers Force a Soviet Civilian to Test the Waters, Soviet Union; ca.1942
According to historian Christian Ingrao this technique was first used in Belarussia in 1943 by the infamous 36th SS division “Dirlewanger”, a penal SS unit composed of common law criminals, disgraced SS soldiers, poachers, feeble minded, sociopaths and pedophiles recruited among the inmates of concentration camps and used to hunt partisans in the East.
After they began losing men to mined roads, they took the habit of rounding up local villagers and make them march before them in staggered rows. The tactic was deemed very effective by SS Gruppenfuhrer for Central Russia Curt Von Gottberg who wrote a report on the practice in 1943 saying “The mines set on most road and paths necessitated the use of mine detectors, as per order. The mine detector developped by the Dirlewanger battalion successfully passed the test”. Soon after various non-penal units began using it too. Believe it or not it is far from the worst thing these guys did.
The archives of the 36th SS division stated that this practiced caused the death of about 3000 Belarussian civilians for year 1943 alone.
Original title from the back of the photograph is Die Minenprobe:
German soldiers on outpost duty near Antwerp, sharing their food with Belgian orphans, published in 1915.
The basic Pickelhaube, as seen in the photo, was made of hardened (boiled) leather, given a glossy-black finish, and reinforced with a metal trim. Starting in 1892, a light brown cloth helmet cover, the M1892 Überzug, was issued for use during manoeuvres and active service. The Überzug was intended to protect the helmet from dirt and reduce its combat visibility, as the metallic fittings were highly reflective. As you mentioned regimental numbers were then sewn or stencilled onto the front of the cover.
This photo was most likely staged to generate evidence that countered Great Britain’s aggressive propaganda campaign against the German occupation of Belgium. Given this assumption there would be little reason for these men to don their Überzug.
As the war progressed, and Britain’s blockade limited Germanys leather supply, the economic factors you mentioned drove the government to produce Pickelhauben from thin sheet steel. However by 1915, as demand rapidly outpaced supply, pressurized felt and even paper was used to construct pickelhauben
By 1916, the Pickelhaube was slowly replaced the the new Stahlhelm (steel helmet) which offered greater over-all head protection.
At the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, Union and Confederate veterans shake hands; ca. 1913
The 1913 Gettysburg reunion was a Gettysburg Battlefield encampment of American Civil War veterans for the Battle of Gettysburg’s 50th anniversary. The June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans (~8,750 Confederate) was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and “never before in the world’s history [had] so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions” (Chief Surgeon). All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended (cf. Nevada).Despite concerns “that there might be unpleasant differences, at least, between the blue and gray” (as after England’s War of the Roses and the French Revolution), the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.
President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
German SS guards, exhausted from their forced labor clearing the bodies of the dead, are allowed a brief rest by British soldiers but are forced to take it by lying face down in one of the empty mass graves; ca. 1945
Taken during the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
There’s a famous quote from BBC journalist Richard Dimbleby, who was present at the liberation of this very camp.
Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.
This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life
Participants in the “Miss Besieged Sarajevo 1993” beauty pageant line up on stage in front of a packed audience in Sarajevo. The 13 contenders held a banner reading: “Don’t Let Them Kill Us”; May 29, 1993
Follow up article about the contest and winner.
U2 wrote a song about this and performed it with Luciano Pavarotti:
Today in 1918, Manfred von Richtofen, World War I’s greatest flying ace, was shot down in his Red Fokker Triplane by a single bullet through his heart. Here is the Red Baron in a sweater in happier times; ca. 1917
He landed in enemy territory, and the RAF gave him a funeral with full military honors, befitting a legendary military aviator such as himself. It’s strange how a sense of professional respect can transcend the hatred of enemies, especially in the case of an enemy who had personally killed so many RAF pilots.
He was a dangerous enemy, but he was truly admired.
Rudolph Hoss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, trying to avoid the noose, before being hanged on the grounds of Auschwitz; April 16, 1947
Höss introduced pesticide Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide to the killing process, thereby allowing soldiers at Auschwitz to murder 2,000 people every hour. He created the largest installation for the continuous annihilation of human beings ever known.
Allied soldiers mock Hitler atop his balcony at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin; July 6th, 1945
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.