Quotulatiousness

April 23, 2015

Kicking Neville Chamberlain while he’s dead

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Poor old Neville … he’s become such a byword for failure that they’re even comparing Barack Obama to Chamberlain. This is hardly fair to either party:

One of the hardest things to do in history is to read history in context, shutting out our foreknowledge of what is going to happen — knowledge the players at the time did not have.

Apparently Neville Chamberlain is back in the public discourse, again raised from the dead as the boogeyman to scare us away from any insufficiently militaristic approach to international affairs.

There is no doubt that Neville Chamberlain sold out the Czechs at Munich, and the Munich agreement was shown to be a fraud on Hitler’s part when he invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia just months later. In retrospect, we can weep at the lost opportunity as we now know, but no one knew then, that Hitler’s generals planned a coup against him that was undermined by the Munich agreement.

But all that being said, let’s not forget the historic context. World War I was a cataclysm for England and Europe. It was probably the worst thing to happen to Europe since the black death. And many learned folks at the time felt that this disaster had been avoidable (and many historians today might agree). They felt that there had been too much rush to war, and too little diplomacy. If someone like Britain had been more aggressive in dragging all the parties to the bargaining table in 1914, perhaps a European-wide war could have been avoided or at least contained to the Balkans.

If you’ve read my Origins of WW1 posts, you’ll probably agree that Britain alone could not have averted the First World War, although they could have stayed out of the war (which would probably have guaranteed a German victory by 1916). Unlike the attitudes in 1914, few Europeans wanted any kind of war in the late 1930s, having learned too well what the casualties of modern war could be. The idea that Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier could somehow have deterred Hitler requires an amazing lack of awareness of the political realities in Britain and France at the time … and of the state of the respective armed forces of the two nations. Neither politician could have survived the reaction if they’d forced Hitler’s hand … which might well have served Hitler’s purposes just as well as the “scrap of paper” did in the end.

In a postscript, Warren also points out that FDR could just as easily take the place of Neville Chamberlain for his own “sell out” of Poland and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact “allies”:

Years ago in my youth I used to excoriate FDR for caving into Stalin at Yalta, specifically in giving away most of Eastern Europe. I still wish he hadn’t given his moral authority and approval to the move, but even if we stood on the table and screamed at Stalin in opposition, what were we going to do? Was there any appetite for extending the war? Zero. That is what folks who oppose the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan get wrong in suggesting there were alternatives. All those alternatives involved a longer war and more American deaths which no one wanted.

April 20, 2015

Twice-nuked aircraft carrier sunk 80 km from San Francisco

Filed under: History,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If you’d ever wondered what happened to the ships that were used in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, here’s one that might surprise you:

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

April 16, 2015

An alliance of monsters – Hitler and Stalin, 1939-1941

Filed under: Europe,History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The New York Review of Books, John Lukacs reviews a new book from Roger Moorhouse documenting the brief alliance between the Nazi and Soviet regimes:

In the vast literature about Stalin and Hitler during World War II, little is said about their being allies for twenty-two months. That is more than an odd chapter in the history of that war, and its meaning deserves more attention than it has received.

Two factors were involved in this neglect. One was that after Hitler chose to conquer Russia he did not succeed; Stalin emerged as one of the supreme victors of World War II. The other was the Western Powers’ relative lack of interest in Eastern Europe. Yet the war broke out in 1939 because of Eastern Europe, as a result of the British (and French) decision to oppose the German conquest of Poland. The political earthquake of the Nazi–Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, nine days before the outbreak of war on September 1, did not deter Britain and France from declaring war on Germany upon its invasion of Poland. This is one of the few—very few—decisions in their favor at the time. That they were reluctant in the months that followed to wage war seriously against Germany is another story.

Three quarters of a century have now passed since 1939. A fair amount has been written about the Nazi–Soviet Pact since then, mostly by Eastern European writers and historians. The Devil’s Alliance is a good account by the British historian Roger Moorhouse of what the pact meant for Hitler and Stalin—and, worse, for its victims. Perhaps the book’s most valuable part deals with the immediate consequences of the pact in 1939. Before then, obviously and stridently, Nazism and communism were outright enemies. From the very beginning of his political rise Hitler described Judaism and communism as his principal enemies. Stalin, by that time, was less of an ideologue. Like Hitler, he was a nationalist; he had little interest in international communism.

April 15, 2015

Operation Sealion, wargamed by some of the original commanders

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page has a great summary of the German plan to invade Britain and the most likely outcome if the invasion had ever been attempted:

Operation Sealion, or, in the original German Unternehmen Seelöwe, is one of the most famous “what ifs” of the Twentieth Century.

On July 16, 1940, following the collapse of France, the Dunkerque evacuation, and the rejection of his peace overtures, Adolf Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 16, which initiated preparations for an invasion of Britain. At the time, it seemed to many that if Hitler had tried an offensive across the English Channel a defenseless Britain would inevitably fall. But was it so? What were Hitler’s chances?

In 1973 historian Paddy Griffith, just beginning his career as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, decided to evaluate the chances of a successful German invasion of Britain by using a wargame.

Organization. Griffith’s wargame was much more than a board with a set of counters, a rule booklet, and some dice. It was a massive multiplayer game, which Griffith later wrote about in Sprawling Wargames. Based on traditional kriegsspiel methodology, the game involved several dozen players and umpires, all isolated from each other except by means of simulated signaling. Many of the players and umpires were veterans of the war from both sides. Among them were former wartime senior German officers such as Luftwaffe fighter Generalleutnant Adolf Galland and Kriegsmarine Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as several men from both sides who had been lower ranking offices and later risen higher, including Christopher Foxley-Norris, who had commanded a fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain and rose to air chief marshal, Sir Edward Gueritz, a junior naval officer at the time who became a rear admiral, Heinz Trettner, who had served on the staff of the German airborne forces in 1940, rose to command a parachute division by war’s end, and later served as Inspector General of the post-war German air force, and Glyn Gilbert, a junior officer in one of the defending infantry battalions in 1941, who later rose to major general.

Each side was given the same forces, operational plans, and intelligence as it had in 1940. The game was based on the assumption that the Luftwaffe had still not won the battle for air supremacy over the Channel and southern England by the time the landings were scheduled to take place, in early September, which was in fact the case. The intelligence picture greatly favored the British, who had proven much better at securing information about the enemy’s plans and force than the Germans had on their own.

There’s even a mention of the (significant) Canadian contribution to the defence of Britain after Dunkirk:

The defending forces included the 1st Canadian Division (the most well-prepared division available, full strength and fully equipped, though without combat experience), plus the less-well prepared 2nd Canadian division and partial divisions from Australia and New Zealand.

Although I haven’t read Griffith’s book, my other readings on the subject align with the eventual outcome of the wargame:

Following the game the participants took part in a general analysis. Some interesting observations and conclusions were made. The British GHQ mobile reserve had not been engaged at all. In addition, casualties to the Royal Navy had been serious, but hardly devastating; of about 90 destroyers on hand, only five had been sunk and six seriously damaged, and only three of the three dozen cruisers had been lost, and three more heavily damaged.

Compare that to the actual Royal Navy losses during the evacuation of Crete — with little to no air support from the RAF, due to extreme distance from friendly airbases:

Attacks by German planes, mainly Ju-87s and Ju-88s, destroyed three British cruisers (HMS Gloucester, Fiji, and Calcutta) and three destroyers (HMS Kelly, Greyhound and Kashmir) between 22 May and 1 June. Italian bombers from 41 Gruppo sank one destroyer (Juno on 21 May and damaged another destroyer (Imperial) on 28 May beyond repair. The British were also forced to scuttle another destroyer (Hereward) on 29 May, that had been seriously damaged by German aircraft, and abandoned when Italian motor torpedo boats approached to deliver the coup de grâce.

Damage to the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, the battleships HMS Warspite and Barham, the cruisers HMS Ajax, Dido, Orion, and HMAS Perth, the submarine HMS Rover, the destroyers HMS Kelvin and Nubian, kept these ships out of action for months. While at anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, the heavy cruiser HMS York was badly damaged by Italian explosive motor boats and beached on 26 March 1941. She was later wrecked by demolition charges and abandoned when Crete was evacuated in May. By 1 June the effective eastern Mediterranean strength of the Royal Navy had been reduced to two battleships and three cruisers to oppose the four battleships and eleven cruisers of the Italian Navy

And back to the Operation Sealion summary from Strategy Page:

All participants, German as well as British, agreed that the outcome was an accurate assessment of the probable result of an actual invasion.

Oddly, the Sandhurst wargame was designed on the basis of inaccurate information. Some time after the game, additional hitherto secret documents came to light, which revealed that the Germans probably had even less chance of success than they did in game. At the time the game was designed, the true extent of British “stay behind” forces, intended to conduct guerrilla operations in the rear of the invasion forces, and the sheer scale of defensive installations that had been erected across southern England in anticipation of an invasion were still classified; there were some 28,000 pill boxes, coastal batteries, strong points, blockhouses, anti-aircraft sites, and some other installations.

So assuming Hitler had for a time been serious about invading England, his decision to call it off was probably wise.

April 13, 2015

RCAF CF-18 Hornet repainted in “Battle of Britain” theme

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Aircraft is unveiled at a ceremony held at 3 Wing Bagotville in Saguenay, Québec on 27 March 2015. Image: LS Alex Roy, Atelier d'imagerie Bagotville. BN01-2015-0186-005 (click to see full-sized image)

The 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Aircraft is unveiled at a ceremony held at 3 Wing Bagotville in Saguenay, Québec on 27 March 2015.
Image: LS Alex Roy, Atelier d’imagerie Bagotville.
BN01-2015-0186-005 (click to see full-sized image)

From the RCAF CF-18 Demo Team page:

The CF-18 Demonstration Team will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain — and the courageous airmen that Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed the “few” — during its 2015 show season.

The special design of the demo Hornet, reflecting this theme, will be unveiled at a later date.

The summer of 1940 was a dark time for the Allies. With shocking rapidity, Adolf Hitler’s forces had overrun most of Europe. By mid-June, Allied forces had been pushed off the continent and Nazi forces were at the English Channel, preparing to invade England.

“The Battle of France is over,” said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

Hitler directed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) — including Canadians and members of other Commonwealth air forces fighting with or as part of the RAF — be eliminated to allow the invasion to take place. The air battle began on July 10, with Nazi attacks on British convoys, ports and coastal radar stations. One of the most savage days was August 13. A few days later Churchill praised the brave airmen in words that have echoed through the decades: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

On September 15, the Germans launched a massive attack but, although the fighting was fierce, the RAF, using new tactics, was victorious. Two days later, Hitler postponed the invasion; he never again considered it seriously.

By the end of September, the Battle of Britain was over. It was the first military confrontation won by air power and Germany’s first defeat of the Second World War. More than 2,300 pilots and aircrew from Great Britain and nearly 600 from other nations participated in the Battle.

Of these, 544 lost their lives, including 23 Canadians. More than 100 Canadians flew in the battle, principally as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) No. 1 Squadron (later renamed 401 Squadron) and the RAF’s 242 “All Canadian” Squadron. An estimated 300 Canadians served as groundcrew.

It is a great honour for the RCAF and the 2015 CF-18 Demonstration Team to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of those brave Canadian aircrew and groundcrew who stood up to tyranny and left their mark on history.

February 16, 2015

Operation CRABSTICK

Filed under: Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Think Defence looks back at an anti-invasion project to deny airfields to German forces along the southeast coast of England after the Dunkirk evacuation and onset of the Battle of Britain:

A method was also sought to deny the runway to enemy gliders and transport aircraft and so the Canadian Pipe Mine was devised by the 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company. 50-70mm steel pipes were inserted into the ground using hydraulic pipe pushing equipment and laid in a criss cross pattern about 6ft under the surface. They were subsequently filled with explosives, usually a blasting gelignite called ‘Polar Blasting Gelignite’ which was very powerful.

They were also called McNaughton Tubes after the GOC of 1 Canadian Division who according to his biographer got the idea for using hydraulic rams from bootleggers who used the method for creating an offsite distribution point for their whiskey!

Only 9 airfields were identified for mining initially but this rose to include other locations, by the end of 1942, after the threat of invasion had receded, 30 locations were mined, not all of them airfields. It is estimated that over 40,000ft of pipe mines were installed.

During the war some of the pipe mines were made safe and removed because of the deterioration of the explosive filler but most were left in situ. After the war Canadian engineers were tasked with removal but it seems from reading different sources that records were incomplete and some doubt exists whether the clearance activity was completed. Additional clearance efforts were made, one that resulted in the death of a Ukrainian worker at one of the locations.

WW2 Canadian pipe mine

February 13, 2015

QotD: The Nazi leadership, Aleister Crowley and the occult

Filed under: History,Media,Quotations,Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

During the past four centuries, we have seen the world in semi-Epicurean terms as a great and internally consistent machine. To understand it, we observe, we question, we form hypotheses, we test, we measure, we record, we think again. The results have long since been plain. In every generation, we have added vast provinces to the empire of science. We do not yet perfectly understand the world. But the understanding we have has given us a growing dominion over the world; and there is no reason to think the growth of our understanding and dominion will not continue indefinitely.

We reject supernatural explanations partly because we have no need of them. The world is a machine. Nothing that happens appears to be an intervention into the chains of natural cause and effect. We know that things once ascribed to the direct influence of God, or the workings of less powerful invisible beings have natural causes. Where a natural cause cannot be found, we assume, on the grounds of our experience so far, that one will eventually be found. In part, however, we reject the supernatural because there is no good evidence that it exists.

[…] It seems that Hitler was a convinced believer in the occult. He took many of his decisions on astrological advice. It did him no visible good. He misjudged the British response to his invasion of Poland. He was unable to conquer Britain or to make peace. His invasion of Russia, while still fighting Britain, turned his eastern frontier from a net contributor of resources to a catastrophic drain on them. He then mishandled his relations with America. So far as he was guided by the astrologers, I hope, before he shot himself, that he thought of asking for a refund. It was the same with Himmler. Despite his trust in witchcraft, he only escaped trial and execution by crunching on a cyanide capsule made by the German pharmaceutical industry.

Turning to practitioners of the occult, I see no evidence of special success. They do not live longer than the rest of us. However they begin, they do not stay better looking. Any success they have with money, or in bed, is better explained by the gullibility of their followers than by their own magical powers.

So it was with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) — the “Great Beast 666,” or “the wickedest man alive.” He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer. Whether his claims were simply a fraud on others, or a fraud on himself as well, I see no essential difference between him and the beggar woman who cursed me in the street. He had advantages over her of birth and education. But he was still a parasite on the credulity of others.

Sean Gabb, “[Review of] Crowley: Thoughts and Perspectives, Volume Two“, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-05-18.

February 12, 2015

World War II Relics: Juno Beach

Filed under: Cancon,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Feb 2015

National Geographic television series The Sea Hunters Relics exploring the history of World War II Juno Beach.

February 8, 2015

Refuting the “Golden Age of Television” meme

Filed under: History,Humour,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A few years back, Livejournal user Squid314 took issue with the idea that we’re somehow enjoying a great era of TV programming lately:

As I mentioned in my last entry, I’ve been watching Babylon 5 lately. It’s not a perfect show, but it has one big advantage: it’s consistent and believable.

Contrast this with Doctor Who. Doctor Who is fun to watch, but if you think about it for more than two seconds you notice it’s full of plot holes and contradictions. Things that cause time travel paradoxes that threaten to destroy the universe one episode go without a hitch the next. And the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and the Doctor’s biology gain completely different powers no one’s ever alluded to depending on the situation. The aliens are hysterically unlikely, often without motives or believable science, the characters will do any old insane thing when it makes the plot slightly more interesting, and everything has either a self-destruct button or an easily findable secret weakness that it takes no efforts to defend against.

[…]

So Doctor Who is not a complete loss. But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called “World War II”.

Let’s start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn’t look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn’t get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn’t even mind the lack of originality if they weren’t so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren’t that evil. And that’s not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he’s not only Prime Minister, he’s not only a brilliant military commander, he’s not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he’s also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he’s supposed to be the hero, but it’s not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

[…]

…and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin’ unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you’re starting to wonder if any of the show’s writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.

I’m not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named “Enigma”, because the writers couldn’t spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means “Man of Steel” in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman “Man of Steel” and the Frenchman “de Gaulle”, whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).

So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don’t even try to make their stuff believable.

December 27, 2014

Who should have been the allied commanders on D-Day?

Filed under: Cancon,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

Nigel Davies ventures into alternatives again, this time looking at who were the best allied generals for the D-Day invasion (for the record, he’s quite right about the best Canadian corps commander):

The truth is that any successful high command should maximise the chances of success of any campaign by choosing the ‘best fit’ for the job.

But that is not how generals were chosen for D Day.

(I would love to start with divisional commanders, but there are way too many, so for space I will start with Corps and Army commanders, and work up to the top).

Lieutenant General Guy Simonds, commander of the 2nd Canadian Corps.

Lieutenant General Guy Simonds, commander of the 2nd Canadian Corps.

The outstanding Canadian of the campaign for instance was Guy Simonds. Described by many as the best Allied Corps commander in France, and credited with re-invigorating the Canadian Army HQ when he filled in while his less successful superior Harry Crerar was sick, Simonds was undoubtedly the standout Canadian officer in both Italy and France.

He was however, the youngest Canadian division, corps or army commander, and the speed of his promotions pushed him past many superiors. He was also described as ‘cold and uninspiring’ even by those who called him ‘innovative and hard driving’. It can be taken as a two edged sword that Montgomery thought he was excellent (presumably implying Montgomery like qualities?) But his promotions seemed more related to ability than cronyism, and his achievements were undoubted.

Should he have been the Canadian Army commander instead of Crerar? Yes. Arguments against were mainly his lack of seniority, and lack of experience. but no Canadian had more experience, and lack of seniority was no bar in most of the other Allied armies.

It comes down to the simple fact that the Allied cause would have been better served by having Simonds in charge of Canadian forces than Crerar.

Simonds was a brilliant corps commander and (at least) a very good army commander, but he had one fatal flaw: he was no politician. Harry Crerar was a very “political” general, and played the political game with far greater talent than any other Canadian general. That got him into his role as army commander and his political skills kept him there despite the better “military” options available.

(more…)

December 18, 2014

Admiral Grace Hopper

Filed under: History,Military,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

The US Naval Institute posted an article about the one and only Admiral Grace Hopper earlier this month to mark her birthday:

The typical career arc of a naval officer may run from 25-30 years. Most, however, don’t start at age 35. Yet when it comes to Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, well, the word “typical” just doesn’t apply.

Feisty. Eccentric. Maverick. Brilliant. Precise. Grace Hopper embodied all of those descriptions and more, but perhaps what defined her as much as anything else was the pride she had in wearing the Navy uniform for 43 years. Ironically, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper — “Amazing Grace” as she was known — had to fight to get into the Navy.

Grace Brewster Murray was born into a well-off family in New York on Dec. 9, 1906. She could have followed what many of her peers did during those times: attending college for a year or two, getting married then devoting their lives to their families and volunteer work.

Instead, Grace’s path would be less traveled. Encouraged to explore her innate curiosity on how things worked, a 7-year-old Grace dismantled all of the family’s alarm clocks trying to put them back together again. Rather than banishment from the practice, she was allowed one to practice on.

[…]

When she joined the WAVES in December 1943, Lt. j.g. Grace Hopper was 37 years old. Williams noted that after graduating at the top of her class of 800 officer candidates in June 1944, Hopper paid homage to Alexander Wilson Russell, her great-grandfather, the admiral who apparently took a “dim view of women and cats” in the Navy and laid flowers on his grave to “comfort and reassure him.”

Hopper was sent to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University under the guidance of Howard Aiken. The Harvard physics and applied mathematics professor helped create the first Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), better known as Mark I. He ran a lab where design, testing, modification and analysis of weapons were calculated. Most were specially trained women called computers. “So the first ‘computers’ were women who did the calculating on desk calculators,” Williams said. And the time it took for the computers to calculate was called “girl hours.”

What happened next put Hopper on a new path that would define the rest of her life, according to a passage in the book Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists in the U.S. Navy during World War II also by Williams.

On July 2, 1944, Hopper reported to duty and met Aiken.

“That’s a computing engine,” Aiken snapped at Hopper, pointing to the Mark I. “I would be delighted to have the coefficients for the interpolation of the arc tangent by next Thursday.”

Hopper was a mathematician, but what she wasn’t was a computer programmer. Aiken gave her a codebook, and as Hopper put it, a week to learn “how to program the beast and get a program running.”

Hopper overcame her lack of programming skills the same way she always tackled other obstacles; by being persistent and stopping at nothing to solve problems. She eventually would become well-versed in how the machine operated, all 750,000 parts, 530 miles of wire and 3 million wire connections crammed in a machine that was 8-feet tall and 50-feet wide.

December 17, 2014

Carrying The Load – London Midland & Scottish Railway Documentary

Filed under: Britain,History,Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Published on 20 Apr 2012

London Midland & Scottish Railway educational film that explains the role played by the railways during World War Two.

December 11, 2014

London’s Transport System During World War Two – 1941

Filed under: Britain,History,Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Published on 31 Mar 2013

Filmed after the start of the Blitz, ‘City Bound’ is an exploration of the daily commute into London from the suburbs in 1941.

‘Between half past five and ten o’clock each morning five million people are moved from home to work by London’s transport system. Before this can be done, underground and overground transport must be cleaned and refuelled. Then from the outer ring of London, past green fields and suburban gardens, the move into London begins. Trains, motor omnibuses, and electric trams bring hundreds of thousands into the centre of the city, to work in the shops, offices, and factories of the largest city in the world.’
(Films of Britain – British Council Film Department Catalogue – 1941)

December 10, 2014

Orwell at the BBC

Filed under: Britain,History,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The most recent issue of Intelligent Life looks at the brief interlude of George Orwell’s career while he was working at the BBC during the Second World War:

Orwell spent a mere two years (1941-43) at the BBC, which he joined as a talks assistant in the Indian section of the Eastern Service. No recording survives of him giving a talk, which is perhaps fitting; for what is most striking about his essays and journalism is the tart, compelling timbre of his voice. The critic Cyril Connolly, an exact contemporary, thought that only D.H. Lawrence rivalled Orwell in the degree to which his personality “shines out in everything he said or wrote”. Any reader of Orwell’s non-fiction will pick up on the brisk, buttonholing manner (“two things are immediately obvious”), the ear-catching assertions (“the Great War…could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented”) and the squashing epithets: “miry”, “odious”, “squalid”, “hideous”, “mealy-mouthed”, “beastly”, “boneless”, “fetid” and — a term he could have applied to himself — “frowsy”.

Orwell might well have damned this new honour too. In his studio on the edge of the Blenheim estate in Oxfordshire, Martin Jennings, the sculptor working on the eight-foot likeness, told me that Orwell had made some disobliging remarks about public statues, thinking that they got in the way of perfectly good views. The bronze Orwell will look down on the comings and goings of BBC staff who, returning his gaze, can read some chiselled wisdom from his works on the wall behind him. The Financial Times recently called Orwell “the true patron saint of our profession”, another tribute he would probably resist. “Saints”, he warned, “should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.”

Why Orwell? His time at the BBC was ambivalent at best. As students of 1984 soon discover, the novel’s dreary, wartime ambience and the prominence of propaganda owe much to his BBC experiences; Room 101, where Winston Smith confronts his worst nightmares, was named after an airless BBC conference room. “Its atmosphere is something halfway between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum,” Orwell wrote in his diary on March 14th 1942, “and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless.”

One answer to “why Orwell?” is because of his posthumous career. Five years before his death in 1950, he was, in the words of one of his biographers, D.J. Taylor, “still a faintly marginal figure”. He had published seven books, four of them novels, none of which put him in the front rank of novelists, two of which he had refused to have reprinted. He was acknowledged as a superb political essayist and bold literary critic, but his contemporary and friend Malcolm Muggeridge, first choice as his biographer, frankly considered him “no good as a novelist”. It was only with his last two books, Animal Farm and 1984 (published in 1945 and 1949), that Orwell transformed his reputation as a writer. These two books would change the way we think about our lives.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

December 8, 2014

The Luftwaffe attack at Bari in 1943

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Patrick K. O’Donnell discusses one of the Luftwaffe‘s most deadly attacks and why most people have never heard of it:

Americans remember December 7 as Pearl Harbor Day, but most Americans have never even heard of the “Little Pearl Harbor,” which occurred in Bari Harbor, Italy, on December 2, 1943. More than 100 Luftwaffe bombers mounted a surprise attack on Allied ships moored in the harbor. Their bombs sank or rendered inoperable 28 of these ships. Nearly a thousand Allied troops were killed or wounded. along with hundreds of civilians.

Unbeknownst to those in the port, one of the ships carried liquid death in its belly. The American freighter John Harvey was secretly carrying mustard agent, in violation of international agreements that banned its use. President Franklin Roosevelt had covertly ordered the shipment of 100 tons of mustard agent to Italy for retaliation in the event that the Germans used chemical warfare against the Allied troops. The incident was covered up and remained a secret for decades.

When the German bombs hit the John Harvey, the ship’s hold immediately exploded with devastating violence, killing all those who knew about the mustard [gas]. Deadly liquid and gas flew high into the air and then slowly settled back down into the harbor, coating everything and everyone in the vicinity. Casualties would mount over the coming days and weeks as the agent slowly and painfully claimed the lives of many who had survived the initial attack.

Mustard gas was one of the nastiest relics of the attempts to break the trench lines during the First World War. Wikipedia says:

The sulfur mustards, or sulphur mustards, commonly known as mustard gas, are a class of related cytotoxic and vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form large blisters on the exposed skin and in the lungs. Pure sulfur mustards are colorless, viscous liquids at room temperature. When used in impure form, such as warfare agents, they are usually yellow-brown in color and have an odor resembling mustard plants, garlic, or horseradish, hence the name. Mustard gas was originally assigned the name LOST, after the scientists Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf, who developed a method for the large-scale production of mustard gas for the Imperial German Army in 1916.

Mustard agents are regulated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Three classes of chemicals are monitored under this Convention, with sulfur and nitrogen mustard grouped in Schedule 1, as substances with no use other than in chemical warfare. Mustard agents could be deployed on the battlefield by means of artillery shells, aerial bombs, rockets, or by spraying from warplanes.

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