History
Melissa

The Nazis designed a crazy, one-man, spherical tank

During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or "wonder weapons" (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning "spherical tank"). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.

What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.

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History
Rebecca McTear

'The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor'

"The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor." This statement about the start and the end of the U.S. Civil War was spoken by Wilmer McLean and is surprisingly almost perfectly true.

Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814, in Alexandria, Virginia, one of fourteen children. When his parents passed away at an early age, McLean was raised by various family members. At 39, McLean married a widow by the name of Virginia Mason, who had two daughters from a previous marriage. Mason also inherited her family's 1,200 acre Yorkshire plantation located in Bull Run, Virginia.

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History
Melissa

Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are safe, but Chernobyl isn't

On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, U.S. airmen dropped the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On April 26, 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine exploded.

Today, over 1.6 million people live and seem to be thriving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 30 square kilometer area surrounding the plant, remains relatively uninhabited. Here's why.

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History
Melissa

The war that forced Paris to eat its zoo

For four months from Sept. 19, 1870 to Jan. 28, 1871, the Prussian Army laid siege to the city of Paris, as part of the Franco-Prussian War. Prior to having all supply lines cut off, the French Ministry of Agriculture furiously worked to gather as much food and fuel as it could, and at the beginning, "livestock blanket[ed] the Bois de Boulogne park on the edge of Paris."

Apparently insufficient, within less than a month, the Parisians began butchering the horses, with the meat used as you would expect and even the blood collected "for the purposes of making puddings." By the end of the siege, approximately 65,000 horses were killed and eaten.

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History
Karl Smallwood

The ships with guns that weighed more than entire battleships

Prior to WW2, knowing that they couldn't compete with the numbers of the US navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy quietly authorized the construction of the two largest battleships by weight ever seen in warfare — the Musashi and her sister ship, the Yamato.

The origins of these two behemoths can be traced back to Japan's 1934 withdrawal from the League of Nations. Amongst other things, doing this allowed Japan to ignore rules set by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930, both of which aimed to limit the size of battleships as well as the right of participating nations to construct them.

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History
Daven Hiskey

That time the Air Force lost four nuclear bombs in a single crash

This Day In History: January 17, 1966

On this day in history, 1966, at around 10:30 a.m. a B-52G Bomber collided with a KC-135 Stratotanker, accidentally scattering its payload of four nuclear bombs, 70-kilotons each. Three of the bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares, Spain, and the fourth landed in the Mediterranean Sea, taking a full 80 days to locate and recover.

The B-52G had been attempting to refuel from the KC-135, but came in too fast. Normally, if a collision might appear to be imminent, the boom operator on the refueling tanker is supposed to notify the other plane to break away immediately, which they will then do. However, in this case, for whatever reason, the boom operator said nothing, which ended up costing himself and the rest of the Stratotanker crew their lives as the B-52G collided with the refueling boom. This resulted in the KC-135's fuel payload exploding and the B-52G breaking apart shortly thereafter. It also resulted in three of the seven aboard the B-52 bomber dying, with the other four managing to parachute to safety. One of them managed to make it to land, but three of them landed in the sea and were later picked up by fishing boats at sea.

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Here's why nuclear explosions are often shaped like mushrooms

Susan K. asks: Why do nuclear bombs make mushroom clouds?

This phenomenon all comes down to a little something called the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, and by extension, convection. I'll begin with the somewhat longer, but less geeky explanation before descending once again into extreme nerdery.

It all starts with an explosion that creates a Pyrocumulus Cloud. This ball of burning hot gases is accelerated outwardly in all directions. Since the burning ball of accelerated gases is hotter, and therefore less dense, than the surrounding air, it will begin to rise — in the case of nuclear explosions, extremely rapidly. This ultimately forms the mushroom cap.

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History
Karl Smallwood

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of "perpetual neutrality" since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Why did they do this?

The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.

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History
Karl Smallwood

These invincible Russian tanks rolled through Nazi artillery

The KV-1 and KV-2 are recognized as being amongst the most heavily armoured tanks deployed during WW2. At least initially largely impervious to anything less than a direct, point-blank hit from a dedicated anti-tank weapon, the KV series was so formidable that the first time the Wehrmacht encountered them, Soviet soldiers destroyed dozens of anti-tank guns by simply driving towards them in a straight line and running them over.

Introduced in 1939 and named for famed Soviet officer Kliment Voroshilov — a man who once personally tried to attack a German tank division with a pistol — the KV series was designed to replace the T-35 heavy tank, which was somewhat mechanically unreliable and costly to produce. The extremely heavily armoured KV series was first deployed during the Soviet Union's 1939 war with the Finnish and then subsequently used throughout WW2.

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