So you've certainly noticed by now that I haven't posted anything in nearly a year. That's probably because I've completely forgotten about these blogs.
I should have posted a note like this
earlier, but I kept putting it off. I'm no longer updating the blogs. I
won't be even in the foreseeable future.
I will however
leave the blogs as they are. The links all still work and the
navigation bar on the right side still links between the blogs. It'll be
open for however long Blogger keeps it up, and available for you all to
I may come back to it. I may not. I did enjoy
doing it for a while, but then it started to feel like a second job and
drained the fun out of it.
Enjoy yourselves and thanks for reading.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Pavlov's House became the name of a fortified apartment building during the Battle of Stalingrad from September 27, 1942 to February 2, 1943. It gained its popular name from Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, who commanded the platoon that seized the building and defended it during the long battle.
The house was a four-story building in the center of Stalingrad, built parallel to the embankment of the river Volga and overseeing the "9th January Square", a large square named for Bloody Sunday. In September 1942, the house was attacked by German soldiers, and a platoon of the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division was ordered to seize and defend it. The platoon was led by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, a low-level noncommissioned officer serving as acting platoon commander since the unit's lieutenant and senior sergeants had all been wounded or killed. The attack on the building was successful, although the fighting was brutal, with only four men in the 30-man platoon surviving the assault.
The strategic benefit of the house was its position on a cross-street giving the defenders a 1 km line of sight to the north, south and west. After several days, reinforcements and resupply arrived for Pavlov's men, bringing the unit up to a 25-man understrength platoon and equipping the defenders with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, and mortars. In keeping with Stalin's Order No. 227 - "not one step back", Sgt. Pavlov was ordered to fortify the building and defend it to the last bullet and the last man. Taking this advice to heart, Pavlov ordered the building to be surrounded with four layers of barbed wire and minefields, and set up machine-gun posts in every available window facing the square. In the early stages of the defense, Pavlov discovered that a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle he had mounted on the roof was particularly effective when used to ambush unsuspecting German tanks; once the tanks had approached to within 25 meters of the building, their thin turret-roof armor became exposed to AT rifle fire from above, but they were unable to elevate their weapons enough to retaliate. Pavlov had reportedly destroyed nearly a dozen tanks personally using this tactic.
For better internal communication, they breached the walls in the basement and upper floors, and dug a communications trench to Soviet positions outside. Supplies were brought in via the trench or by boats crossing the river, defying German air raids and shelling. Nevertheless, food and especially water was in short supply. Lacking beds, the soldiers tried to sleep on insulation wool torn off pipes, yet usually the Germans kept shooting at the house with deafening machine-gun fire day and night.
Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square and to close in on the house, Pavlov's men laid down a withering barrage of machine gun and AT rifle fire from the basement, the windows and from the roof top, devastating the German attackers and forcing them to retreat. By mid-November, Pavlov's men reportedly had to use lulls in the fighting to run out and kick over the heaped piles of German corpses so they could not be used as cover for the next round of attackers.
Eventually the defenders, as well as the Soviet civilians who kept living in the basement all that time, held out during intensive fighting from September 23 until November 25, 1942, when they were relieved by the counter-attacking Soviet forces.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Jasper Maskelyne (1902–1973) was a British stage magician in the 1930s and 1940s. He was one of an established family of stage magicians, the son of Nevil Maskelyne and a grandson of John Nevil Maskelyne. He could also trace his ancestry to the royal astronomer Nevil Maskelyne. He is most remembered, however, for the accounts of his work for British military intelligence during the Second World War, creating large-scale ruses, deception, and camouflage. Before the Second World War Maskelyne was a "blaster" in the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers, a charitable parody of the Freemasons that operated from 1926-31. His lodge (called a Vat) ran from Maskelyne's Theatre.
Maskelyne joined the Royal Engineers when the Second World War broke out, thinking that his skills could be used in camouflage. He convinced skeptical officers by creating the illusion of a German warship on the Thames using mirrors and a model. The military eventually deployed him to the North African theatre in the Western Desert, although he spent most of his time entertaining the troops.
In January 1941, General Archibald Wavell created A Force for subterfuge and counterintelligence. Maskelyne was assigned to serve in it and gathered a group of 14 assistants, including an architect, art restorer, carpenter, chemist, electrical engineer, electrician, painter, and stage-set builder. It was nicknamed the Magic Gang.
The Magic Gang built a number of illusions. They used painted canvas and plywood to make jeeps look like tanks — with fake tank tracks — and tanks look like trucks. They created illusions of armies and battleships.
His largest illusion was to conceal Alexandria and the Suez Canal to misdirect German bombers. He built a mockup of the night-lights of Alexandria in a bay three miles away with fake buildings, lighthouse, and anti-aircraft batteries. To mask the Suez Canal he built a revolving cone of mirrors that created a wheel of spinning light nine miles wide, meant to dazzle and disorient enemy pilots so that their bombs would fall off-target.
In 1942 he worked in Operation Bertram, before the battle of El Alamein. His task was to make German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel think that the attack was coming from the south when British General Bernard Montgomery planned to attack from the north. In the north, 1,000 tanks were disguised as trucks. On the south, the Magic Gang created 2,000 fake tanks with convincing pyrotechnics. There was a fake railway line, fake radio conversations, and fake sounds of construction. They also built a fake water pipeline and made it look as if it would never be ready before attack.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Tsar Tank (Russian: Царь-танк), also known as the Netopyr' (Нетопырь) which stands for pipistrellus (a bat, Летучая мышь) or Lebedenko Tank (танк Лебеденко), was an unusual Russian armored vehicle developed in 1916–1917 by Nikolai Lebedenko (Николай Лебеденко), Nikolai Zhukovsky (Николай Жуковский), Boris Stechkin (Борис Стечкин), and Alexander Mikulin (Александер Микулин). The project was scrapped after initial tests deemed the vehicle to be underpowered and vulnerable to artillery fire.
It differed from modern tanks in that it did not use caterpillar tracks—rather, it used a tricycle design. The two front spoked wheels were nearly 9 metres (27 feet) in diameter; the back wheel was smaller, only 1.5 metres (5 feet) high, triple wheel, to ensure maneuverability. The upper cannon turret reached nearly 8 metres high. The hull was 12 meters wide with two more cannons in the sponsons. Additional weapons were also planned under the belly. Each wheel was powered by a 250 hp (190 kW) Sunbeam engine.
The vehicle received its nickname because its model, when carried by the back wheel, resembled a bat hanging asleep.
The huge wheels were intended to cross significant obstacles. However, due to miscalculations of the weight, the back wheel was prone to be stuck in soft ground and ditches, and the front wheels were sometimes insufficient to pull it out. This led to a fiasco of tests before the high commission in August 1915. The tank remained in the location where it was tested, some 60 kilometres from Moscow until 1923 when it was finally taken apart for scrap.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Sacred Band of Thebes
The Sacred Band of Thebes was a troop of picked soldiers, consisting of 150 pederastic (age-structured) male couples which formed the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BC. It was organised by the Theban commander Gorgidas in 378 BC and played a crucial role in the Battle of Leuctra. It was annihilated by Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.
Plutarch records that the Sacred Band was made up of male couples, the rationale being that lovers could fight more fiercely and cohesively than strangers with no ardent bonds. According to Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas, the inspiration for the Band's formation came from Plato's Symposium, wherein the character Phaedrus remarks,
And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?
The Sacred Band originally was formed of hand-picked men who were couples, each lover and beloved selected from the ranks of the existing Theban citizen-army. The pairs consisted of the older "heníochoi", or charioteers, and the younger "parabátai", or companions, all housed and trained at the city's expense in order to fight as hoplites. During their early engagements, they were dispersed by Gorgidas throughout the front ranks of the Theban army in an attempt to bolster morale.