Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

THROUGH THICK AND THIN

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66447493_10157413177964722_6022236441885540352_nAnother week gone, give or take. I guess technically Sunday is the first day of the week Saturday the last. So the week starts with a day of rest? That makes no sense, another one of those things that shorts out the human to alien translators. Still, maybe it’s good that our freaking race is nuts, protects us the way walking in the road talking to yourself is a good way to get through a bad neighborhood. “We’re not going to invade Earth, those creatures are nuts.” Fermi Paradox solved, isn’t logic grand?

It would be if more people used it. Came across an interesting article: Did Black People Own Slaves? The answer is pretty obvious, of course they did. Slavery was practised in the Americas from the beginning, and there have been free blacks since the beginning. In the Confederacy though, the focus of the article, the number of black slave owners was miniscule. And at least a good proportion of them owned a slave or two to protect a relative or friend. It wasn’t unusual for blacks to buy women slaves to marry them. I thought that was interesting because that was a common way for female slaves to achieve their freedom in Roman times.

Alas, because humans are humans, some blacks owned slaves for purely selfish reasons. It’s always easy to find humans exploiting other fellow humans. Especially if it’s legal and encouraged and everyone else is doing it. Like Japan before WW2, they saw European countries benefiting from colonizing and exploiting nations, why shouldn’t Japan have a colonial empire of their own? It was a valid point, then and now generally ignored or quietly mumbled away by western apologists. Yes, what Japan did in China was horrible. Of course what the Dutch, French and others were doing in East Asia was equally horrible, but that tends to get overlooked.

Yes, I’m on a roll here. People are messed up. And it shouldn’t have to be said, but it does after reading comments left on the article where posted on Facebook, a few blacks owning blacks is not in any way, shape, or form a defense of slavery. Granted apologists for slavery have done so, but that doesn’t make discussion of the topic in and of itself a defense of slavery.  In fact the whole idea that blacks owning blacks somehow justifies slavery is both racist and logically fallacious. Just cause Timmy jumped in the lake doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Or the falls I suppose.

No, they don’t hate us for our freedoms. I mean, if they did, wouldn’t they be hating us a lot less now? I am referring to Muslims, terrorism, and US foreign policy. They hate us because of our endless wars in the Middle East. This article is a nice review of the sad situation, to semi-quote the article, an America where since 9/11 Muslims have been so demonized and the military so fetishised that endless war in the Middle East is now completely normalized. Bears reviewing once and awhile to keep one’s head clear. I wonder what young people think of it all, growing up in the post 9/11 world. OK, that was kind of rhetorical, since I actually know some young people and what they think.

In Trump news, brace yourself, Trump remains not giving a damn about UFOs. That’s the title of the article. Best for one’s sanity not to read it though. Basically the UFO populists thought Trump would be the one to reveal all, instead he’s been rather dismissive of the subject. He didn’t even joke about UFOs like his predecessors, though the article helpfully points out that Trump’s humor is never intentional. Basically the UFO people think some relatively recent release of military “UFO” films is some sort of slam dunk proof of their existence. Um no, it isn’t. If anyone really wants to know why, I’ll blog on it, but I’m kind of reaching my limit explaining why nonsense is nonsense. At least when it comes to things like UFOs. So, I guess it’s a good thing that Trump doesn’t believe in little green men.

The American people are done with denials though, thousands of them are planning on storming Area 51 to get to the truth about aliens. OK then. Basically America jumped the shark a generation or two ago, and it’s just going to get crazier from here on. I’ll blog about it as long as I’m able. This blog is written both for contemporaries and future people.

And speaking of getting crazier and being able to blog, soon ads will be appearing. Or reappearing. But, one sec. Anyone catch that? A double segue? Not sure I’ve ever done that before. Or a 2 into 1 segue? Has anyone ever classified segues? Some institutionalized grammarist? Is my obsession with segues healthy? <takes breath> OK, yes, in an effort to earn some little monies to support my writing, I will be running some ads soon. Discrete, inoffensive, not-causing-problems, ads. I find intrusive ads very annoying when I cruise the interwebs, so want to spare my gentle readers that.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Meme found on Facebook for Star Trek fans.  Credit: Unknown. Used without permission. Happy to properly attribute if information so provided.)

Written by unitedcats

July 12, 2019 at 3:54 am

Posted in History, Terrorism, Trump, UFO

THE BATTLE OF WOODY POINT

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Tonquin_(1807)

I came across a horrific story while looking up what happened on June 16 in history. June 16 1811, Vancouver Island in what is now Canada. A US trading ship, the Tonquin, was deliberately blown up, killing scores of Tla-o-qui-aht natives and one US crewman. How the hell did this happen? Well, not a happy story, but one that is interesting from a number of perspectives. Sources though, only one, Wikipedia. Every link I could find was just a clone of the information in Wikipedia. Still, there was one western survivor, so we have contemporary written source material. The basic facts seem pretty straightforward.

OK, the Tonquin, a fur trading ship. A bark to be precise. What’s a bark, or barque, or barc? Children of the early 19th century could answer easily, me, not so much. Let’s just say a small sailing ship with three or more masts. The Tonquin was a smaller example of same, with 11 cannons and a crew of 23 at the time of the unpleasantness. It was tasked with setting up trading posts on the west coast of America, buying furs, then sailing to China and selling them for a tidy profit. It founded Fort Astoria on the mouth of the Columbia River, the first American settlement on the West Coast. Then the ship sailed on to Vancouver Island and its date with destiny.

Ship arrives off Vancouver Island. Tla-o-qui-aht natives come aboard to trade. The captain of the Tonquin, one Lieutenant Jonathan Thorn, doesn’t like the price of an otter pelt. He either waves it around in anger, or throws it at a native elder. Who is insulted. That night a native women warns the captain that an attack is planned. He dismisses her concerns. The next morning, 15 June 1811, a lot of native fighters are on the beach. Captain Thorn is unconcerned, the Tla-o-qui-aht are peaceful, right? Two canoes of 20 Tla-o-qui-aht each ask to come aboard and sell otter pelts. Against standing orders about allowing so many natives aboard, Thorn lets them board. The astute reader can guess where this is going.

At first Thorn is thrilled, the natives are selling pelts at great prices. Finally Thorn realizes it’s too good to be true, and orders the ship to set sail. Too late, the elder gives the signal, and the 40 warriors pull out concealed clubs and knives. (By some accounts they used knives they had just received in trade for pelts.) Thorn and most of the crew are unarmed, and are quickly slain. Five guys below decks get to the ship’s guns and are able to hold out, but one is badly wounded. The natives leave for the night. The five guys confer, they realize they are too few to sail the ship. Four of them take the ship’s skiff and head for Fort Astoria. The wounded guy, well, God only knows what was going through his mind.

The next morning hundreds of Tla-o-qui-aht show up to claim the ship. The wounded fellow, possibly the ship’s armourer named Weeks, surrenders. As natives are swarming the ship, he set off the ship’s powder store. The ensuing explosion destroys the ship and kills 60 to 200+ natives. The four guys who escaped, their skiff was blown ashore and they were captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe. Another Vancouver island tribe, on good terms with the Tla-o-qui-aht tribe. It ended badly for them, out of the frying pan into the fire. Patrick Swayze would have been perfect as the leader of the four.

I digress, though this would make a great movie if well done. Attn: Kevin Kostner. So, that’s the basics of what transpired. Wait, how do we know this? Well, the Tonquin had taken on a half native guide and interpreter,  Joseachal. And when the massacre began, he had the presence of mind to implore a native woman to take him as a slave. She agreed, and some years later French Canadian explorer Gabriel Franchère bought his freedom.

OK, lessons I see in this story. First pass, yeah, 200 plus people killed over a disputed otter pelt. Prequel to John Wick. Sadly human mass deaths over stupid stuff are all too common, another reason the aliens don’t want to buy our otter pelts. Second and self evident lesson, anyone can commit an atrocity. Yes, the European conquest of the Americas was a terrible genocide, but native Americans sometimes did bad things too. We’re all human, and all subject to fail states.

The decisions of Captain Thorn are certainly in retrospect suspect. Sounds like he had a low opinion on native Americans all around. He overestimated his own position, and underestimated the natives. It’s hard not to conclude that racism and a sense of superiority clouded his judgement. The insulted elder’s decisions are also questionable. I mean really, you’re gonna have a few dozen people killed over a public insult? Wasn’t there another way to resolve the issue without resorting to mass murder?

Which leads us to what to me is a most curious perspective. At least some natives were like, really, isn’t this a bit extreme? I’m assuming that from what we know at least. A native woman warned Captain Thorn. And another woman was actually at the massacre in order to take the one prisoner. Impressive on both counts. Though I am curious what native oral history says about this event. I’m guessing the elder was a hothead and he had enough young male hotheads to do the deed. I’ve read about enough massacres to know that it’s not unusual for one hothead to set them off.

All told a typically human event. The fact that huge numbers of natives descended on the ship to loot it reminds me of the terrible third world disasters where crowds of people gathering gasoline from a punctured pipeline or truck are incinerated when someone accidentally creates a spark. Most people have no problem looting when the opportunity presents itself. Sad all around, all the dead had family and friends who mourned (mourn?) their loss no doubt. God rest their souls.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The Tonquin under attack. Credit: Edmund Fanning – Voyages to the South Seas, Indian and Pacific Oceans, China Sea, North-West Coast, 1837. Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

July 10, 2019 at 4:03 am

TEN FAMOUS DISAPPEARANCES

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PrincesToday, ten famous disappearances. A fun post, fun to write, hopefully fun to read. Countless people have vanished throughout history, it’s not that hard to do. I’ve tried to select ones that may be a bit lesser known, and more importantly, there’s something interesting about their disappearance. Without further ado:

~700BC. Romulus. Romulus was the founder of Rome, and the first king of Rome. Many of Rome’s institutions were started by him. After ruling for 37 years, he was reviewing troops when he vanished into a sudden intense whirlwind. Contemporary theories were that he was torn to pieces by jealous senators, or was ascended into the heavens by Mars, god of war. Modern historians are pretty sure Romulus was an entirely mythical figure.

1483. The Princes in the Tower. They were brothers, 12 and 9, placed in protection in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard. The eldest was heir to the throne, so of course they needed to be protected, what else could Richard do? Then somehow they mysteriously vanished, and Richard III was reluctantly forced to become king himself. The astute reader can no doubt guess what their fate was. I mean, just look at Richard’s picture. Would you let him babysit your kids?

1900. Three schoolgirls and their teacher. They vanished during a day trip to Hanging Rock, Victoria. It is a rugged wombat infested place, dozens of people vanish there every year. Their disappearance was made famous by a book and novel in the late 20th century, bringing renewed interest to the case. As of today it has never been solved.

December, 1900. The Flannan Isle Lighthouse keepers. On 26 December 1900 a supply vessel discovered the 3 men manning the lighthouse, in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, were missing. No sign of them, they’d been gone about a week, nothing particularly amiss about their lodgings. It’s still a big mystery. They were washed away trying to secure gear during a gale is the best guess. Modern theories include rogue waves and UFOs.

1913 Ambrose Bierce. A Civil War veteran, famous author and journalist, and pioneer of the modern short story. In his old age, over 70, he decided to visit revolutionary Mexico. Last rumored to be travelling with rebel troops, he vanished. His disappearance has never been solved satisfactorily. Hell, it’s never even been conclusively proven he went to Mexico. He did exist though, unlike the Moon Landings, his existence was well documented.

1930. Judge Crater. When I was a kid Judge Crater was synonymous with “person who mysteriously disappeared.” Everyone had heard of him, even if they knew nothing about him. Before Wikipedia people often knew nothing about stuff that was common knowledge, it was weird, I know. Famous judge, on a trip to New York was last seen having dinner with a few friends. Case was complicated by the fact that since he was on a road trip, he wasn’t reported  missing right away. Despite massive publicity and a huge search, his whereabouts were never determined. He may not have wanted to be found.

1937. Amelia Earhart and Frank Noonan. They got lost trying to circumnavigate the globe, ditched their plane in the middle of the Pacific, and shortly thereafter drowned. If they even survived the water landing. Their plane and bodies were never found. While for pop historians and the National Inquirer crowd their fate is still a huge mystery, and people to this day are milking it for money, there’s no real doubt about their fate.

November 17, 1961. Michael Rockefeller. Son of Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York and future Vice President. Eaten by cannibals. Yes, being the scion of the rich and famous only goes so far. OK, maybe eaten by cannibals. Exploring New Guinea with a Dutch anthropologist, their 40 foot dugout canoe swamped and overturned about three miles from the coast. Their two native guides swam to get help. Some hours later despairing of rescue, Michael also struck out for shore. The anthropologist was rescued the next morning, Michael was never seen again. While he most likely drowned, headhunting and cannibalism weren’t unknown at the time in the region, and rumours that he suffered that fate persist.

26 January 1966. The Beaumont Children. A sad one, though granted these are all sad in their way. Jane, Anna, and Grant, 9, 7, and 4, went to a public beach in Australia and were never seen again. Huge deal at time, never really went away in Australia. In 2018 the South Australian government put up an A$1,000,000 reward for information about their fate, so still an active cold case. It changed how Australians raised their children, destroying the illusion of their safety in public. The children were almost certainly kidnapped and murdered, one can only hope the case will one day be solved.

Oscar Zeta Acosta. 1974. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A book I remember fondly from my youth, and the recent movie wasn’t too bad either. The Samoan Lawyer in the book was based on a friend of Hunter S Thompson’s, one Oscar Zeta Acosta. Very much a famous Chicano activist, he also sometimes travelled with a rough crowd. Last known to be boarding a “snow covered” yacht in Mexico, he was never seen again. As his son said: “The body was never found, but we surmise that probably, knowing the people he was involved with, he ended up mouthing off, getting into a fight, and getting killed.”

RIP Mr Acosta. And all the rest. Some of these cases will eventually be solved as forensic technology evolves. DNA sniffers are going to one day make it almost impossible for a body, alive or dead, to vanish. At the very least they will be able to trace its last location, as humans shed DNA all the time. If people like this post, this list was just the tip of the iceberg. Let me know in the comments and more will follow.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Painting, The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878.)

Written by unitedcats

June 3, 2019 at 7:43 am

Posted in History

THE GULF OF TONKIN INCIDENT

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TonkingunboatsThe Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 2 August 1964. I thought I’d write about it because it is one of the formative incidents that led to our current national situation. Or more accurately, the incident led to Congress passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which basically gave the US government a blank check to go to war without congressional approval. Presidents Johnson and Nixon used the resolution to wage the Vietnam War against three nations.

Getting ahead of myself though. The incident in question, the destroyer USS Maddox was cruising up the coast of North Vietnam hugging the 12 mile limit, sometimes crossing it. This is where we have the first problem. This was not a routine cruise, this was a spying cruise and a deliberate act of provocation. Especially since it was not unusual for these cruises to be followed by South Vietnamese gunboat raids on the North Vietnamese coast. In other words, the USS Maddox was not peacefully minding its own business in international waters.

On the day in question, three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats set out to confront the Maddox. (Image above.) We have no idea what their intentions were, but they were the ones defending their territorial waters. The Maddox fled, the patrol boats pursued, the Maddox opened fire. Ostensibly to fire “warning shots,” but there’s no such thing as warning shots under international law. The motor torpedo boats started firing in response, though at the time the Johnson administration neglected to mention the warning shots, and simply claimed the North Vietnamese had fired first. The patrol boats did launch torpedos, but none hit their target. The Maddox was hit by one 14mm machine gun bullet. Navy planes arrived, and the patrol boats were destroyed or driven off.

Two days later, the Maddox and another destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, started another “patrol.” During the night they were apparently attacked again. The attack consisted of both ships making sporadic radar contact with unknown bogies, opening fire on them, and making evasive maneuvers for four hours. Some visual contacts were claimed, and the ships claimed two torpedo boats were sunk. No wreckage was found, and even at the time there was a strong suspicion that no attack had occurred, it was just jumpy sailors shooting at ghosts. And since then all evidence has confirmed no actual second attack took place.

Didn’t stop Johnson. He promptly interrupted US television to give a speech claiming the US had been attacked in international waters. And asking Congress for authority to defend the US against Ho Chi Minh and his communist aggression. The speech was a masterpiece of omission and deception, and sadly the American mainstream media wildly exaggerated the attacks. Many politicians were already calling for war, and the incident gave them and Johnson all the excuse they needed to pass The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This gave the president the authority to wage war without Congress actually declaring war as the constitution stipulates.

And the Vietnam War was off. Ultimately hundreds of thousands of US troops deployed, three countries in ruins, worst chemical weapons atrocity in history, and more bombs dropped than were dropped by all of the participants in all of World War Two. Plus the US played an instrumental role in dragging Cambodia into the war, leading to the rise of Pol Pot and the eventual Killing Fields genocide, one of the worst in history. And nearly 60,000 dead Americans and as many as a million or more dead Vietnamese. All to prop up a wildly corrupt and unpopular rump state in South Vietnam for a few decades before the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.

Three points I think are good takeaways from this. The first is that even if the attacks had been unsullied North Vietnamese attacks on innocent Americans, this was not Pearl Harbor or anything like it. It was a border incident or border clash at worst, not some all out North Vietnamese attack on the US. And our response to it was disproportionate at best. One kid shoves another on the playground doesn’t give the hit kid justification to start bashing the first kid in the head with a rock.

The second more grotesque point is that the US portrayed itself as the victim and the defender in the whole mess, and indeed the whole war was characterised as defence against global communism. Even at the time people pointed out that this was nonsense. All the Vietnamese wanted after World War Two was independence, the fact that the independence fighters in Vietnam were “communist” was not part of some global plot. In fact after World War Two the Vietnamese were shocked that the US sided with French efforts to recolonise Vietnam instead of supporting their desire for independence.

Which brings us to the third point. Vietnam is another great example of how America has betrayed its founding principles, and instead uses them as window dressing for what is simply colonialism and imperialism in any real sense of the words. America is all about self determination and democracy, so long as the country in question chooses our chosen government.  I’d say more, but still don’t really know how to explain to people that the US is not really a force for freedom in the world. Maybe a list of all the times America has thwarted the will of the people of foreign lands? Future post I guess.

Yes, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was roundly criticised and pushback mounted until it was repealed in 1973 and replaced with the War Powers Resolution. Which basically just said the president can wage any war they want, as long as they send Congress a memo or two. It still is basically giving up Congress’s Constitutional mandate to decide with who the US goes to war with.

On the plus side, Senator Wayne Morse did his best to raise awareness of the deceptions the Johnson Administration was using to rush the Tonkin Gulf Resolution through Congress. There’s always a few people standing up for what is right. Came across a wonderful story along those lines the other day. Next post.

Comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The three motor torpedo boats in the first incident. Credit: Official U.S. Navy photo NH 95611 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage. Some of the people in this image did not live out the day.)

Written by unitedcats

May 29, 2019 at 7:24 am

Posted in History, Propaganda, Vietnam, War

“IT WAS SOMETHING HE HAD TO DO.”

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Wrisberg, John

Another Memorial Day. Today is the day America remembers its war dead. The holiday more or less started during the Civil War, though exactly how and where isn’t settled. And may never be,  historians are still arguing about it. Doesn’t matter though, it’s an official holiday now, and unofficial start of summer. Picnic, beer, family, and friends.

And memories. There’s a fair number of war dead in Clear Lake. The Civil War, the World Wars, they have their graves and monuments. Lots of flags in the Clear Lake cemetery today. And aside from the cemetery, there is a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Flagpole just a few blocks from where I am living. Only one Clear Lake boy died in Vietnam, he is remembered on the Flagpole. John H Wrisberg III. I only say boy because he died before he was 21, just to emphasize the tragedy of a man dying so young.

I was just a kid during most of the Vietnam War. Certainly in 1968 when Mr Wrisberg fell. Most of the people who remember him were also children at the time. The Vietnam War was over half a century ago, like the wars before, it is rapidly fading into history and out of memory. Some remember John still though. Turns out he lived just a few houses away from where I live now. These posts are always hard to write, but discovering that floored me. As I sit here typing I look out on the neighborhood he grew up in.

I did solicit my fellow Clear Lakers for memories. I shared them below. One fellow remembers as a little kid getting piggyback rides from John as a kid. Another remembers getting in the way of John and a friend playing pool, so John placed her sitting on a shelf that was five feet from the ground. Others remember him and his family. His younger brother died a few years later in a motorcycle accident. His father was an Air Force pilot, died in a crash in 1960. A lot of tragedy for one family.

John was a real person. With hopes and dreams and and fears and plans. A good person whose life was cut short in a war on the other side of the planet. “It was something he had to do.” I honor his sacrifice, I am glad his memory lives on in those who knew him. As long our departed live on in our memories, they are still with us.

This is a shorter post than usual. I said what I had to say. God bless all who died in the service of our nation. God grant peace to their their surviving friends and loved ones. God give us the wisdom to value peace more than war. When I was a young man peace was considered a laudable national goal. I miss that.

Have a good Memorial Day everyone.

“He was my next door neighbor, he lived at 200 N Shore Dr, I was just a little one back then still remember him giving me piggy back rides, and the sad part….first time I ever went to a funeral home and seem someone in a casket, I still remember that vision, so sad … “

— Todd V Humberg

“John was a year ahead of me in high school, remember him well. I look up his name on the wall in DC when I visit . RIP” 

— Ed Kotz

“His little brother, Mike, who I remember from Clear Lake High School, died three years after John in a motorcycle accident. His father, also named John, was a captain in the Air Force who died in 1960 in a plane crash during a routine mission as a test pilot. Lots of tragedy struck this family.”

— Peggy Ward Kerr

“Rest in Peace, sir.”

— Linda Reid

“I lived across the street. I was good friends with Mike and remember the shock. So sad.”

— Terri Masteller

“He was my oldest brother’s best friend. I was probably 5 y.o. and they were shooting pool in our basement. Apparently I was in the way, he picked me up and sat me on a shelf that was 5ft off the floor.”

— Sheila Sherman

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image copyright unknown. Claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

May 27, 2019 at 7:20 am

Posted in History, Peace, War, World

78 YEARS AGO TODAY, THE BATTLE OF THE DENMARK STRAIT

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hood

24 May 1941. Big event today in history, so I will write about it instead of ranting about nonsense in the news. On this day in 1941 was The Battle of the Denmark Strait. This was the only daytime engagement between battleships during World War Two. Shows just how important and deadly air power had become even early in the war. And how modern war is global, this took place between Greenland and Iceland, about as remote as it gets.

So, the battle. This was in the first year of World War Two in Europe. Germany had already conquered Poland, Denmark, and Norway. And the German blitzkrieg was rapidly advancing through France and the low countries. In the North Atlantic the British were having a hard time of it, German submarines were sinking British ships left and right. And Britain had already lost two aircraft carriers. The Courageous, the first British warship sunk during World War Two, was sunk by a U-boat in the first few weeks of the war. After being torpedoed twice, she capsized and sank in 20 minutes, with the loss of over 500 crewmen and her captain. The Germans were elated and the crew of the U-boat were all decorated. And the British stopped using their fleet aircraft carriers in anti-submarine duties.

The second aircraft carrier loss was even uglier, the HMS Glorious was sunk in the North Sea by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Wait, how did two German battlecruisers get close enough to an aircraft carrier to sink it? Where was the rest of the mighty British fleet? Good question. Short version, the captain of the Glorious was unbelievably incompetent, sailing in the North Sea with only two destroyers as escorts, he had no scout planes launched, no planes ready to launch, and no one even on watch in the carrier’s crow’s nest! So when the two German battlecruisers appeared on the horizon, the Glorious was essentially helpless. She and her two escorts were quickly sunk with the loss of over 1500 lives, for unknown reasons they didn’t get an SOS out. So the British didn’t even know the Glorious had been sunk until it was announced on German radio news!

So as above, this early in the war the Germans were still risking surface warships in an attempt to destroy British shipping. And in our battle the German battleship Bismarck along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were trying to sneak into the North Atlantic, where they could have devastated British convoys. The Swedes spotted them though, and the British intercepted Swedish communications, so they knew they were coming. A pair of British cruisers spotted them trying to slip past Iceland. The cruisers shadowed them, and in the morning a British fleet consisting of two battleships and six destroyers intercepted them. The two battleships were the Hood and the Prince of Wales. Vs the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

The historically astute reader already knows how this ends. A little bit of background. The Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck were both modern warships built in the 1930s. The prince of Wales was also brand new, so new that construction crews were still aboard her during the battle. Then there was the Hood. The pride of the British fleet, and for much of her career the largest battleship in the world. The Hood however had been built during World War One. And as such was primarily armored  against shells fired directly towards it. What the Hood was not armored against was plunging fire, as such wasn’t yet a thing in World War One. This is long range fire that goes very high and then plunges downward hitting its target on the deck. The Hood only had very minor armor on her deck, just enough to stop shrapnel and shell splinters. There were plans to upgrade her deck armor, but she was rushed into service in the desperate early part of the war.

The plan was when the British spotted the Germans, they would head straight towards them until they were close enough that plunging fire wouldn’t be an issue. It meant they could only use their forward guns initially, but once they got close enough they would turn and be able to use their forward and aft guns. It wasn’t the best of plans, but the British had to work with what they had. And it almost worked. They had closed to about half a mile and were beginning their turn when a salvo from the Bismarck’s 15 inch guns bracketed the Hood. One of them must of hit dead center, because a huge column of explosive flame like a blowtorch shot up from the Hood. Moments later there was a huge explosion that basically destroyed the ship. It broke in half and sank in minutes, there were exactly 3 survivors.

At this, the captain of the Prince of Wales decided that cowardice was the better part of discretion, and he turned and fled. Some criticized his decision, but it was likely the right move. The Prince of Wales had already been hit twice by 15 inch shells from the Bismarck, but as luck would have it neither had detonated. So the Prince of Wales lived to fight another day. In fact lived for less than a year, and went on to be the second battleship to be sunk in the open sea by enemy aircraft. The Repulse being first, sunk less than an hour earlier by the waves of Japanese bombers that sank both ships.

The loss of the Hood was a huge blow to the British. And they wasted no time mustering every available ship and plane to hunt down the Bismarck. The Bismarck didn’t get to bask in glory long, three days later the British exacted their revenge and sank the Bismarck. The Prinz Eugen however made it to Brest in occupied France. Then in 1942, in the infamous Channel Dash, the Prinz Eugen and two German battleships fled occupied France through the English Channel right in front of the British and made it to safe waters in the Baltic Sea. Where the Prinz Eugen served until the end of the war, and was one of only two German heavy warships to survive the war. She was turned over to the Americans, who ingloriously used her as a target in atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.

78 years ago today. God rest the souls of those who died that day. The only other lesson here is that it’s been a long time since westerners had to cope with death tolls like this during wars. With over 5,000 crew on some modern ships, another good reason not to get into wars lightly. Video of the Bismarck firing can be seen here, one of those flashes killed over 1,500 British sailors. Ain’t technology grand? Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The last known picture of the Hood before she blew up, taken from the Prince of Wales. Credit: IWM, which I am guessing means Imperial War Museum. It was from Wikipedia, so is being used legally.)

Written by unitedcats

May 24, 2019 at 7:53 am

Posted in History, War, World War Two

GAME OF THRONES AND THE LIKE

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castle

I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. My favorite show since Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead is up there too. Future psychiatrists can make of that what they will. Today however the topic is Game of Thrones and feudalism. Game of Thrones does appear to be roughly based on a western model of late middle ages feudalism. While there were (and are) feudal societies all over the world, they definitely varied in the particulars.

So, feudalism. A very class stratified society. There’s royalty, from the king/queen down to the knights. Maybe 1.5% of the population (7% in feudal Japan though, but it was an outlier.) Mostly sworn to a lord above them, so all ultimately in service of the ruler at the top. Next, freemen. Or free people I guess. They could own property, travel, and engage in business. They paid taxes and were obligated serve in the military if so called for. They could also appeal all the way to the ruler in disputes with other freemen and royalty.

At the bottom, the serfs. They were agricultural laborers attached to a Lord’s estate. They couldn’t leave without their lord’s permission, and worked in their lord’s fields. On the plus side, they didn’t pay taxes and were not required to serve in the military. And thus the wealthy often believed serfs made out like bandits, and all had gold and silver buried in their hovels. Just like privileged people today believe in the myth of the welfare queen. The sad truth is that poor people now and throughout history have mostly lived brutal lives of hardship and want.  And let’s not forget slaves and Jews, they were at the bottom, and worse off than serfs in almost every respect.

Since feudalism spread over the globe, like insects colonies, it was a viable strategy for the preservation of large human populations and cultures. And while there was little social mobility in feudal cultures, one generally lived and died as the class they were born in, at least one knew their place. So if times were good, everyone did OK.  Except pretenders to the throne. In the Game of Thrones show/books, if one tries to get a throne, the game is win or die. Worked pretty much that way in feudal societies. Hell, maybe most societies. People that tried to claim a throne often died trying. And people that even just had a claim to a throne, even little babies, often were killed “just in case.”

Of course when humans got more civilized, they moved on to more civilized forms of government. The Magna Carta, Age of Enlightenment, etc. Snort. No, feudalism was pretty much destroyed around the globe by one thing, gunpowder. Feudalism depended on ruling the land with essentially invulnerable armored knights. Peasant with pitchfork vs knight, no contest. Peasant with gun vs knight, lots of dead knights. Also gunpowder made castles less and less tenable. Granted that’s a little simplistic, but the gist of it is correct. Not terribly surprising that gunpowder had a huge impact on human societies.

And while we are on the topic, for fun, let’s clear up a misapprehensions about the Middle Ages. No, during castle sieges the defenders didn’t pour boiling oil on enemies trying to scale the walls. Oil was an incredibly valuable commodity in the Middle Ages, even if one did have the oil to use in such a fashion, it wouldn’t be cost effective to use a king’s ransom worth of oil to scald a few foot soldiers. They used boiling water, often with sand in it. Why sand? Because if a suit of armor got a bunch of sand in it, it would require laborious cleaning in an era without even running water, let alone pressure washers. And while boiling water probably won’t kill anyone, the defenders weren’t trying to kill the attackers, wounding them was preferred. A wounded soldier fights less effectively if at all, and still requires food and shelter.

In any event the last episode of Game of Thrones was Sunday. The end of an era. It started in 2011, I was a young and naive man back then. GoT was a great series from the start, especially since none of the main characters were sacred. They could, and did, get knocked off unexpectedly. And there were other fabulous scenes, Hodor, etc. Alas, I tend to be with the critics, the last two seasons were kind of rushed. And didn’t do justice to some of the characters. Still, as one wag put it, how do you wrap up 1500 separate plot lines in six episodes? Speaking of The Beaverton, this made me laugh too, but it’s pretty much directed at fans only.

The news yesterday was so bizarre I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Some stuff about Iran, and the Trump impeachment saga in congress. Both situations are divorced from reality, but fortunately Washington lives in its own little Oz. And yet most Americans go on about their lives as if this was perfectly natural, an empire run by besuited hucksters for their own gain. Consequences, American or global, be damned. And this morning the big headline on the BBC is “She Giants Urge Trump to End Trade War.”  No wonder someone came up with Lizard people trying to make sense of it all. I rest my case.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A castle. Image credit: LalouBLue. Public Domain according to Snappygoat.)

Written by unitedcats

May 22, 2019 at 11:07 am

Posted in History