These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Allied sailors braved one of the world’s most dangerous oceans while dodging German U-boats and Luftwaffe attacks to keep the Soviet military supplied throughout World War II.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Convoy PQ-17 groups up on Apr. 30, 1942, before sailing on its way to Russia. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. C. J. Ware)

When Germany attacked Russia in June of 1941, the Allied Powers gained a new and powerful member. The massive Soviet Union had a significant industrial capacity and a large population that suddenly found itself joined with the British and French.

But Hitler’s gamble wasn’t entirely crazy. He had real reason to believe that an invasion of Russia could succeed, giving the Third Reich all of the Soviets’ great treasure. To win the war, the Allied Powers had to make sure that Russia didn’t fall.

This meant that the Soviet Union would have to be supplied with massive amounts of planes, tanks, oil, barbed wire, soap, and a thousand other necessities. The British concentrated their outbound logistics on two major routes, the Meditteranean which allowed supplies to reach Malta and the Arctic route which gave access to the U.S.S.R.

The Arctic convoys had the more dangerous route, and approximately 3,000 sailors died while sailing it during World War II.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
A sailor works an ice-encrusted 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield during an Arctic convoy to Russia on Nov 30, 1941. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. R. G. G. Coote)

German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe forces maintained bases on the northern edges of Norway, allowing them to conduct constant patrols against Allies in the Arctic. Frequent storms caused ice to collect on ships, especially in the winter.

The summer brought its own danger as the Arctic Circle experiences periods where the sun doesn’t set. In some of the northernmost parts of Norway and Finland that the convoys had to pass, the sun doesn’t set for up to three months. During those portions of the year, the convoys were susceptible to being spotted and attacked during every hour of every day for the entirety of the approximately 10 to 15-day trip each direction.

Robert Carse, a sailor on one of the convoys, described what it was like to suffer a combined Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attack in the North Atlantic:

That was hell. There is no other word I know for it. Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.

Carse and the convoy beat off multiple Messerschmitt attacks until one was able to drop a bomb that headed directly for the TNT-loaded ship. Miraculously, a last-second wind gust blew the bomb off to the side of the ship. The resulting concussion damaged the ship but failed to detonate the explosives the ship was carrying. Carse and the convoy continued along their route.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Royal Navy Able Seaman Thomas B. Day stands near a frozen turret on the HMS Belfast in November 1943. (Photo: Royal Navy)

The Arctic deliveries continued until May 1945, just after Germany signed the articles of surrender ending World War II. In the tense build-up to the Cold War, Russian Premier Joseph Stalin denied the importance of the deliveries to keeping the Soviet Union in the war. But, Russian Consul General in Scotland Andrey A. Pritsepov recognized the merchant marine and Navy veterans in an August 2016 ceremony.

“Russia is indebted to the brave Scottish men who risked their lives in dangerous conditions to deliver vital aid and equipment to the eastern front,” he said. “It was a journey against all odds. Many have never returned. Their sacrifice and heroism comprise a proud chapter in our shared history.”

Author’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the United Kingdom maintained two sea supply routes into Russia, the Meditteranean and the Arctic. In fact, the Mediterranean route did not give access to Russia, but to Malta.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in history: the polio vaccine was invented

The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.


The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.

Public Health Image Library

The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.

The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.

It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.

Public Health Image Library

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.

It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”

A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.

Articles

Why the food in Guam is as funky and awesome as anywhere on the mainland

In a U.S. territory half a world removed from the continental United States, what does it mean to be American? To find out, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl shipped off to the far reaches of Pacific Micronesia, to Guam.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
A sea of American flags in the heart of the Pacific. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Guam is a tiny island with a full dance card of seemingly competing cultural histories. Its indigenous people, the Chamorro, called it home for 4000 years, but after the island was “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it experienced several centuries of European colonization, capture, and rule that heaped Spanish, Catholic, American, and Japanese cultural influence atop the foundations of its identity.

But where other territories with similar fraught histories stumble through the modern era in crisis and without a firm sense of collective “self,” Guamanians wove themselves into the fabric of democratic and multicultural America. They celebrate their 21st century hybridity with exuberance, with fervent patriotism and military service, and with a food culture so funky and delicious, people travel from all over the globe to get in on it.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Imagine this, but in a taco. With crab. And star fruit. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Why choose? (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

In Guam, you find patriotism in its purest form, animated by gratitude for life. Guamanians have earned a deep understanding of how precarious human existence can be, whether it’s an island in the middle of the ocean or an oasis in the heart of the desert or a small, blue planet in the void of space.

Guamanians don’t just feel gratitude, they act on its behalf. As a people, they serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than any of the 50 states.

When the Americans came and liberated us, they became family. That patriotism from our ancestors or those even living today, it continues on. And that’s an honor to be part of a nation that gives freedom, to be part of something greater than this tiny island…that’s what makes us American. —Sgt. Joleen Castro, U.S. Air Force

Their service reflects their dedication to the American ideal, yes, but it’s also an expression of inafa’maolek, or interdependence, the core value of the Chamorro people. Guamanians, at the deepest level of their tradition, celebrate collective prosperity, unity and togetherness. They celebrate the good.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Unsurprisingly, they throw incredible parties. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

Articles

This Medal of Honor recipient led an attack with grenades, bayonets, and an E-tool

Then-Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Wilson was a veteran of World War II and a former officer when he led Company I of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, in an attack on a numerically superior group of enemy soldiers on June 5, 1951, during the Korean War.


When his men struggled to take the terrain, he rescued the lead element under hostile fire with grenades, led a bayonet charge that killed 27, and then protected his men from the enemy counterattack using his rifle and an entrenching tool.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
(Photo: Public Domain)

Yeah, he fought off a counterattack by killing four enemy soldiers with a foldable shovel.

Company I’s attack on June 5 first faltered when dug-in enemy forces pinned down the advancing Americans using submachine guns and other weapons, according to Wilson’s Medal of Honor citation. That was the first time Wilson leapt into action to save his men.

He charged forward, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. His bold attack wiped out four enemy soldiers firing submachine guns, allowing Company I to continue the advance. The assault platoon moved up and established a base of fire.

So Wilson got a group of men together to press the attack with a bayonet assault. Wilson and the rest of the group killed 27 enemy soldiers and Company I began consolidating the gains it had so far. That was when the Koreans launched a counterattack.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Bet the unit wished they had a recoilless rifle handy at that point. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Americans were under severe pressure by the Korean assault, so Wilson again leaped into action. He initiated a one-man assault that killed seven and wounded two, shutting down the enemy’s drive.

When the Americans attempted another assault, it was decisively stopped by enemy fire. Wilson gave the order for the lead platoon to withdraw. But the withdrawal quickly went sideways with the commanding officer, platoon leader, and even Wilson suffering serious wounds.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Korea sucked, is what we’re saying. (Portrait: Public Domain)

That was when Wilson made his rifle/E-tool attack. He managed to kill three enemies with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands. That’s when he grabbed the E-tool and killed four more of the enemies.

His actions delayed the final Korean counterattack and allowed Wilson to evacuate the unit, but he suffered a second wound during that action.

Over three years later, on Sept. 23, 1954, then-1st Lt.Wilson received the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How these Greeks built Nazi armored cars from scratch

If you can’t own or buy it, you make it. And that’s exactly what Zacharias Ourgantzidis from Thessaloniki, Greece did. He decided to build a replica of the Panzerspähwagen Sd.Kfz. 222, a light four-wheel drive armored car, used by the German armored forces during World War II. The production ran from 1937 until 1943 and a total of ca. 990 were produced.


At the beginning of the war, the Sonderkraftfahrzeug 222 was armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon and a 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. Later, both of the guns were upgraded to a 2 cm KwK 38 and MG34. It had a crew of 3 and saw action on the Eastern Front, North Africa and Europe. Even China purchased a lot in 1937.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
German tanks pass a knocked-out German Sdkfz 222 armoured car.

Less than a handful of authentic Sdkfz 222 survived and reside in private collections and museums around the world. So, Zacharias Ourgantzidis, decided to recreate an original scale replica of the Sdkfz 222. Costing approximately 10.000 euro.

“My vehicle is a replica and I built it step by step, based on all available documentation”, said Mr. Ourgantzidis to WW2Wrecks. Adding, “I already own 2 Willy’s jeeps, 3 motorcycles, a BSA, a BMW and a Mustang, as well as a variety of other period vehicles and I wanted to add an armored vehicle in my collection.”

“I researched for almost a year and the actual implementation of the plan, from the drawing board to reality lasted 19 months, at a cost of approximately 10,000 euro.”, Mr. Ourgantzidis explained.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
The SdKfz 222 in a private collection.

The chassis is based on a modified ISUZU Trooper SUV, the engine is a 2600cc and all other parts are custom made, based on the specifications and measurements of the original vehicle. There are several original parts used too, mostly coming from Russia and Germany, such as the lights, gun muzzle and other elements which add a period touch to the vehicle.

“I painted the SdKfz 222 with RAL7021, since color used by the Wehrmacht during Operation Marita, the campaign to conquer Greece in 1941, as my vehicle is participating in reenactment events, parades and World War II shows.”, said Mr. Ourgantzidis.

You can enjoy the photographic journey of this painstaking step by step 19-month production to build this Sdkfz 222 replica:

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out this tracked, vintage 1950s six-shooter

When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.


The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,

(US Army)

The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.

This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.

(USMC)

The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.

Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KImM4zesVlo

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way subs used to communicate

In the early 1900s the navies of the world were quickly expanding their submarine fleets and with them the technology that they used to fight.


One problem submarines faced as they matured was how to communicate underwater. Radio communication was only a couple decades old and radio waves barely transmit underwater. To allow submarines to communicate with naval forts, each other, and surface vessels, the U.S. Navy tested an improvised “violin” for submarines that allowed communication at ranges of up to five miles.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ferrer Dalmau

The violins had a single string stretched between two large, metal rods connected to the hull of the submarine. A wheel with a rough edges spun in close proximity to the string. A Morse-code operator could tap a button that pressed the spinning wheel to the string, sending a vibration through the string, the rods, and then the submarine hull itself. This vibration would continue through the water to underwater microphones on ships and coastal installations. The tests began in 1913 with three violins being installed on three ships. There’s no sign that these violins were ever used in combat.

Today, submarines and sub killers hunt using sonar, so sound-emitting devices like the submarine violin would be too dangerous to use. Instead, modern subs use specialized antennas and very low frequency radio waves to communicate.

NOW: Here’s what life is like aboard the largest US Navy submarine

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This is why Fallujah is one of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles

On Nov. 10, 1775, a man named Samuel Nicholas went to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Penn. There he began a recruitment process to put sharpshooters on Naval vessels to protect them. He also wanted to create a landing force for some of the most intense battles in the Revolutionary War.


Those that signed became the very first United States Marines. Over the centuries, Marines gained status as their very own military branch and earned a reputation as one of the most hardened, violent, and distinguished fighting forces in military history.

Related video:

From here, it would be easy to go into the long and honorable history of the Marine Corps. Instead, it’s important to focus on a more recent Marine Corps birthday, one of which took place during The Battle of Fallujah. Though the Marine Corps’ birthday has landed on many the days of battles over time, Fallujah is the most recent and was called, “the biggest urban battle since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam.”

The Battle of Fallujah was the biggest battle of the Iraq War yet many don’t know about the battle itself, let alone a significant day in this battle. It marked some of the fiercest fighting the U.S. military had seen in some thirty years.

The city had been a stronghold for insurgent forces since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Different coalition forces tried to secure the city and bring order — to no avail; coalition troops backed out of the city and it quickly grew into a bastion for all enemy fighters in the area.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Marines were sent to start taking over the city in early 2004, but many political problems arose and the advance was stopped. They made quite a big push, but were quickly told to pull out. November then came, and the Marines were sent in again to liberate the city and eliminate the enemy from of every inch of it.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

The 10th of November was three days into the second battle. By this time, the enemy inside began to mount a major defense – a complex, formidable one. I started the battle with an entire machine gun squad, until mortars rained down on a street where were pulling security. Once the smoke started to clear, only two of us were what remained of a seven-man machine gun squad.

Many Marines of 3rd battalion 1st Marines engaged in grueling house-to-house fighting. Our platoon crashed through a door of a house and engaged in one firefight after another. It seemed as if everyone was wounded from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire, like RPGs and mortars. Still, we all continued the fight, clearing houses of multiple enemy occupants. Some houses were even leveled to take out any enemy defenses and personnel who might have been hiding within. Why send in men when a single good Bangalore can do the job?

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

But this day felt different from any other day of the battle. That’s when many of us suddenly realized was it was the Marine Corps Birthday, “OUR” birthday. Instead of getting drunk and eating lobster and steak, we were doing the one thing every Marine trains for, thinks about, and begs to do.

We were celebrating our birthday in the heat of battle.

While Marines celebrate our birthday every year with exuberance and tradition, some of us remember Fallujah, the birthday that exemplified what it means to be a United States Marine.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

www.youtube.com

Articles

You can see the most notorious German artillery piece be fired

Nazi Germany may have been one of the most evil regimes in history, but that regime also had some very good equipment. The Tiger tank, the Bf 109 and FW 190 fighters, the U-boat, and the MG42 machine gun were all very good.


Perhaps the most notorious weapon they had was called the “88.” Technically, it was called the 8.8 centimeter Flak 18, 36, 37, or 41, but most folks just described it with the number that referred to the gun’s bore diameter in millimeters. That was a measure of how notorious the gun was.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
The seven-man crew of an 88 manhandles their gun somewhere on the Russian front. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first 88s were intended as anti-aircraft guns to kill bombers. They were very good at that – as many allied bomber crews found out to their sorrow. But the gun very quickly proved it was more than just an anti-aircraft gun, starting with its “tryout” in the Spanish Civil War. The gun also proved it could kill tanks.

According to MilitaryFactory.com, it could kill tanks from a mile away. When the Germans discovered that, they began to churn out 88mm guns as quickly as they could. As many as 20,700 were built, and they found themselves used on everything from Tiger tanks to naval vessels. Even after the war, the gun hung around, and during the war, it was something that allied forces quickly tried to neutralize. The 88 was even pressed into service with some Seventh Army units due to an ammo shortage.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
FLAK 36 88mm multipurpose gun on display in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The gun had a crew of seven, and weighed nine tons. The gun could be fired at targets as far as nine miles away. Very few of these guns are around now, but in World War II, many Allied troops wondered if the Germans would ever run out.

You can see video of one of the few surviving “88s” being fired below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington’s egg nog recipe will destroy you

The father of our country was famous for his moderation but when he did imbibe, he made sure his drink packed the punch of a Brown Bess. Not only did Washington keep a healthy supply of imported Madeira, he also distilled his own distinctive rye whiskey and the Commander-In-Chief always made sure his troops were well-lubricated when on the march. The most powerful weapon in his cellar came only once a year, however, the General’s egg nog made its presence felt.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

“I cannot tell a lie, I’m totally wrecked. Merry Christmas to all, including the Mahometans.”

In the years since historians have rifle through all of our first president’s personal papers and diaries, a number of interesting recipes have been found, including Washington’s small beer recipe. Though his personal egg nog recipe has never been found written in his own hand, it is at least a good representation of what such a recipe in the days of yore would have been like – at least for a wealthy man such as General Washington. It is, unlike most recipes found online nowadays, remarkably blunt. No intros, just straight to the business of catching a buzz.

Maybe colonials weren’t the biggest fans of family get-togethers.

“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

“Taste frequently” being the operative command from the first Commander-In-Chief. Be careful, this drink packs a wallop.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

William Henry Harrison was a wuss.

While even the Farmer’s Almanac lists the recipe as General Washington’s, there is no evidence he ever wrote it, made it, or drank it. The earliest mention found of the recipe was in a 1948 book called Christmas With The Washingtons by Olive Bailey. While this recipe can’t really be found in earlier papers or other works, the book is in the catalogue at the Mount Vernon Archives and there is definitive proof that George and Martha Washington entertained Christmas guests with some kind of egg nog.

So why not this one?

The egg nog is a strong but delicious concoction that takes some work, like separating eggs and beating the whites until fluffy, then folding the whites into the mixture, but it is well worth the effort. Take heed, though: General Washington would not care much for soldiers in his army in a constant state of inebriation.

That is well-documented.

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Watch a 20mm Lahti anti-tank rifle rip through steel plates

The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.


According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t laugh. According to the 25th Infantry Division Association’s website, American personnel used the Browning Automatic Rifle — or BAR — against the Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.

A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle used during World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.

via GIPHY

For a real in-depth look at this awesome gun — and the way they set up this firepower demonstration — look at the whole video below:

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MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how a physicist lit his cigarette with a nuclear-bomb explosion

There are all kinds of strange ways to light up a cigarette, from blowtorches to magnifying glasses. But few people on Earth have ever used as bizarre or overkill a method as devised by a Cold War physicist: the explosion of a nuclear bomb.

On Aug. 18, 2019, a thread from Reddit’s popular “r/TodayILearned” community mentioned the story of how the theoretical physicist Ted Taylor used the blinding flash of an atomic explosion to light a cigarette in 1952.

Records of “atomic cigarette lighter” events aren’t exactly robust, but it appears Taylor was the first to come up with the idea. That’s according to the author Richard L. Miller, whose 1986 book “Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing” chronicled the event in detail.


Taylor apparently lit his cigarette during Operation Tumbler-Snapper, which was a series of test blasts orchestrated by the US military at the Nevada Test Site. The operation happened in the throes of the Korean War — a conflict in which President Harry S. Truman considered dropping the bomb (again).

Operation Tumbler Snapper (1952)

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Government officials code-named the test explosion or shot in question “George” because it was the seventh in a series (and “G” is the seventh letter of the alphabet). Its purpose wasn’t to light up a smoke, of course: Military researchers placed a roughly 3,000-pound nuclear-bomb design, known as the Mark 5, atop a 300-foot-tall tower in part to try out a new blast-triggering technology, according to the Nuclear Weapons Archive.

The day before the test shot, Taylor apparently found a spare parabolic (cup-shaped) mirror, according to Miller’s book, and set it up in a control building ahead of time. Taylor knew exactly where to place the mirror so that it’d gather light from the test explosion, which would release gobs of thermal energy, and focus it on a particular spot.

Next, Taylor hung a Pall Mall cigarette on a wire so that its tip would float directly in front of the focused light beam. The arrangement wasn’t too different in principle from holding out a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight on a piece of paper and light it on fire.

On June 1, 1952, Taylor and other weapons experts huddled into the bunkerlike control building near Area 3 of the Yucca Flats weapons test basin in Nevada. Then they set off the bomb.

“In a second or so the concentrated, focused light from the weapon ignited the tip of the cigarette. He had made the world’s first atomic cigarette lighter,” Miller wrote of Taylor’s setup.

‘It is a form of patting the bomb’

Taylor’s nuclear-age antics likely did not stop with him.

Martin Pfeiffer, an anthropologist who researches humanity’s relationship with nuclear weapons (and who frequently forces the release of documents related to the bomb), tweeted that a 1955 Department of Defense film appears to show the concept in action.

About 19 minutes into the half-hour movie, titled “Operation Teapot Military Effects Studies,” a narrator describes how parabolic mirrors were used to concentrate the light-based energy from nuclear explosions on samples of ceramics.

In the clip, a person’s hand holds the tip of a cigarette in a beam of focused light, causing it to smoke and ignite:

gfycat.com

Although this looks like another cigarette being lit by a nuclear weapon, that’s unlikely.

There’s no blinding flash — a telltale effect of a nuclear explosion — and the length of time the light beam stays on-screen is far too long as well. The person being filmed probably just held out his cigarette for the videographer so as to demonstrate the concept of a parabolic mirror focusing would-be bomb energy.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine the story of Taylor’s feat spreading among his colleagues over many years and hundreds of above-ground US nuclear test shots. A few others probably tried it themselves.

In any case, Pfeiffer isn’t enamored by such stunts.

“Lighting a cigarette with a nuclear weapon … is at least in part an effort of domestication of nuclear weapons through a performance articulating it to a most quotidian act of cigarette lighting,” he tweeted. “It is a form of patting the bomb.”

That is to say: The act risks trivializing nuclear weapons, which can and have inflicted mass death and destruction. The 1945 US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, for example, led to approximately 150,000 casualties, and decades of suffering for many who survived the attacks.

Today, above-ground nuclear testing is mostly banned worldwide, since it can spread radioactive fallout, mess with electronics, be mistaken for an act of war, and more. But US-Russia relations have deteriorated to the point that each nation is racing to develop and test new nuclear armaments.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, or CTBT, endeavors to ban nuclear explosions “by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground.” Russia has signed and ratified the treaty, but eight other nations have yet to complete both steps and bring it into effect.

The US signed on to the CTBT in 1996, but Congress has yet to ratify the nation’s participation in the agreement. There are also nearly15,000 nuclear weapons in existence today, which means the atomic-cigarette-lighter trick could, almost certainly for worse, be tried again.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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