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Sold 99 years ago today: One pogy boat, slightly used (license not included)

Here we see the 96-foot long section patrol craft USS Vester (SP-686), photographed circa 1917-1919 during The Great War, probably in a Delaware Bay-area port.

According to DANFS, “the ship appears to have spent most of her active duty alongside a pier with her engines out of commission.” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 42437

Note the two 1-pounder 37mm guns mounted amidships and the sign on the building in the left background, advertising “The Best $3.30 Shoe.”

Adjusted for inflation, that is about $65 in today’s dollars.

Built in 1876 as a wooden-hulled menhaden fishing boat, Vester was taken over by the Navy on 24 May 1917 from her owners (the Delaware Fish Oil Co.) and placed in commission on 2 June. She was decommissioned on 15 May 1919 after almost two years in the Navy and sold on 15 January 1920– 99 years ago today.

The company she was sold to, Hayes & Anderson of NYC, a fishing operation, was subsequently fined for using unlicensed boats to harvest menhaden. Vester‘s trail goes cold shortly after.

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

Here we see the hardy Soviet steel screw steamer/icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with a homemade sail rig somewhere in the frozen Northern Sea Route in 1932. Built as a Canadian sealer, she sailed into maritime history when it came to polar exploration and met her end at the hands of a bruiser who was many times her match.

Ordered from the Scottish shipbuilding firm of D & W Henderson & Co., Glasgow as the SS Bellaventure by the Bellaventure S.S. Co. Ltd. of St. John’s Newfoundland in 1908, she was not very large (1132 grt / 471 nrt, 241-feet overall) but was designed to withstand the rigors of the polar seal trade. Completed the next year, she made seven trips searching for the lucrative marine mammals. Steam heated and electric-lighted, she could steam at 10 knots, burning through 13 tons of coal per day until her 292-ton bunker was bare. With accommodations for a 15-man crew, she could also accommodate 10 passengers in five staterooms that had access to a separate saloon that was “handsomely fitted up.”

“SS Bonaventure. First arrival from the seal fishery, March 28, 1911, with 26,289 old and young seals” via Newfoundland Quarterly”

Image from page 24 of “Newfoundland Quarterly 1909-11” (1909) https://archive.org/stream/nfldquart190911uoft/nfldquart190911uoft#page/n24/mode/1up

The S.S. Bellaventure, 467 tons, was engaged in the Canadian seal fishery for seven springs, 1909-1915. Her record year was 1910, 35,816 seals; her total was 112,135. Source: http://bonavistanorth.blogspot.com/2007/08/ss-bellaventure.html

When the Great War erupted, the Tsar was soon looking for ice-protected ships as the Ottoman Turks’ entry into the conflict shut off the Black Sea and, with the Baltic barred by the Germans, Russia was a proverbial boarded-up house that could only be entered by the chimney– the frozen Barents Sea harbor of Murmansk (then just a hamlet with primitive facilities) and the White Sea port of Arkhangelsk.

Purchased by Russia in 1916, she was renamed Alexander Sibiryakov in honor of a gold mine magnate who financed a number of improvements in Siberia as well as various scientific expeditions and historical research projects. As a shooting war was on, she was given a high-angle 76mm gun, largely for appearance sake as German U-boats and surface raiders were scarce in the Barents during WWI.

Note her gun tub forward. She would pick up a 45mm gun on the stern in 1942 as well as a couple of machine guns

Briefly used by the White Russians of Lt. Gen. Eugen Ludwig Müller (also often seen as “EK Miller” in the West) during his control of the Kola Peninsula where he had declared himself Governor-General of Northern Russia in the resulting power vacuum that followed in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Sibiryakov was operated for a time commercially by the British Ellerman’s Wilson Line concern (the British were propping up the Whites) and helped evacuate Muller and his bunch to Norway when the Bolsheviks captured his former fiefdom in 1920.

Sibiryakov was returned to the Reds who, from 1921 onward, sent her into the White Sea to support the Russian the hunting industry, and provide the various Soviet polar stations wintering of the Arctic Ocean with food, equipment, and fuel.

Academian and Hero of the Soviet Union Otto Schmidt, somewhere in the icepack, more about him below

The icebreaker managed to become the first ship in history to complete the 2,500-mile Northern Sea Route in one season when it was traveled by Otto Yulievich Schmidt’s expedition in 1932. The expedition left Arkhangelsk on July 28 commanded by CPT. Vladimir Voronin who, along with Schmidt and his deputy, Prof. Vladimir Wiese, rounded the North Land archipelago from the north and reached the Chukchi Sea in August. From there they had to power through solid ice, repair the hull in several places, free the prop (breaking her shaft) and finally sail the final leg out into the Bearing Strait at about the speed of flotsam on homemade sails made from tarps, old blankets and sheets after total engineering casualties, reaching Yokohama from there with the assistance of a tow from a Soviet fishing trawler in the Northern Pacific on 1 October.

When WWII came to Russia in 1941, courtesy of Barbarossa, Sibiryakov was taken up from academic and commercial service and placed in the Red Navy for the duration of the Great Patriotic War or her destruction, whichever came first.

Speaking of which, her still armed only with some machine guns and her 1915-vintage Tarnovsky-Lender 76mm popgun, she bumped into the Deutschland-class heavy cruiser (Panzerschiffe= armored ship, but commonly just termed “pocket battleship”) Admiral Scheer one day while out among the ice.

German Pocket Battleship DEUTSCHLAND Drawing of 1941 rig. Inset ADMIRAL SCHEER. German – CA (DEUTSCHLAND Class) 1941 NH 110853

The big German, at 15,000-tons, carried a half-dozen 28 cm/52 (11″) SK C/28 naval guns and knew how to use them.

Stern 28 cm/52 Turret on Admiral Scheer in mid-1939. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 80897.

Sailing as part of Operation Wunderland with three destroyers and a number of U-boats, Scheer aimed to penetrate the Kara Sea where they knew Soviets shipping tended to congregate as it was somewhat of a Russian lake, akin to the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S.– only a lot colder.

Encountering Scheer off Belukha Island near Middendorff Bay, the 13-knot icebreaker could not run and, rather than strike their flag, engaged the cruiser on 24 August. It was a short fight as Scheer‘s belt was 3.1-inches of armor while Sibiryakov‘s was – zero – in addition to the gross imbalance in armaments. It was all over within an hour.

Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV Afire and sinking in the Barents Sea North of Murmansk after being attacked by the German cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER in August 1942 survivors on the raft at right. NH 71384

Of the icebreaker’s 100~ man crew, only her skipper, 32-year-old Senior Lt. Anatoly Alekseevich Kacharava, and 18 crew members were pulled from the water by the Scheer while one man, a stoker by the name of Vavilov, was able to make it to shore on a leaky liferaft where he survived for a month among the polar bears on Belukha Island before he was finally rescued by a passing seaplane.

NH 71385 Sinking Of The Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV as seen from Scheer, note rescued Soviet sailors on deck. The men would spend the next decade in German and Soviet camps.

Many of the Soviet mariners captured never made it home from German POW camps.

Worse, those who survived long enough to be repatriated after the war were sent to the gulag (thanks, Uncle Joe!) for several years as were many returning Soviet POWs. In 1961, Kacharava, along with the other survivor, was declared “rehabilitated” and awarded the Order of the Red Banner nearly two decades after their pitched battle. He returned to the merchant service, skippering ships along the Northern Sea Route, and headed the Georgian Shipping Company in the 1970s, retiring to Batumi.

Kacharava (1910-1982)

He died in 1982.

However, the act of trying to fight it out with a beast of a cruiser landed the humble Sibiryakov a solid spot in Russian naval lore and relics of the ship are venerated today in the country while she has been repeatedly portrayed in Soviet maritime art.

The battle of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with the cruiser Admiral Scheer by PP Pavlinov, 1945.

The last fight of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov 25 August 1942. By Michael Uspensky

As for Scheer, she was sunk by British bombers in 1945 and partially salvaged, with her remains currently buried beneath a quay in Kiel.

Specs:


Displacement: 1132 grt / 471 nrt (as designed)
Length: 241-feet
Beam: 35.8-feet
Draft: 16.9-feet
Engines: T3cyl (22.5, 37, 61 x 42in), 347nhp, 1-screw
Speed: 13 knots
Crew (1942) 100
Armament: 1 x 76mm Tarnovsky-Lender M1914/15 8-K gun, 1x45mm gun (added 1942), machine guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 (of 448)

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448

Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189

Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.

In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.

Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port

Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.

View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355

Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.

3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131

Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978

For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.

As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:

“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”

When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”

C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC

C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side

“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460

Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.

From Sims:

The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”

This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at subchaser.org. https://www.subchaser.org/battle-formation via NHHC

The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.

110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks

110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111

Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.

She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.

Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.

U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449

Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687

Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.

The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.

Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.

Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland

Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622

In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742

Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714

The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.

However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.

As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:

The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.

In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.

Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat

Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.

Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166

SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.

S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996

Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096

Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.

USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.

Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.

SC-330 out of the water for maintenance, from an article in the Marengo-Union Times relating a 1940s interaction with the vessel at St. Louis, MO http://marengo-uniontimes.com/news/1567-what-did-you-do-in-the-war-daddy

Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.

SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).

While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.

For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.

Specs:


Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
Armament:
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

That Rainbow hike to ‘Valley Forge,’ 101 years ago

( Photos: New York State Military Museum)

In these photos from the book “Official Pictures of the World War” National Guard Soldiers of the 42nd Division make their way through the snowy French countryside during December 1917 in what became known as the “Valley Forge Hike”. The troops marched 100 kilometers in the snow from the Vaucouleurs to Rolampont France from 27-29 December.

Missouri National Guard Soldiers of the 117th Field Signal Battalion, 42nd INF

The 42nd Division was activated in August 1917, four months after the American entry into World War I, drawing men from 26 states and the District of Columbia and was dubbed the “Rainbow” division after that fact, at the suggestion of then-Maj. Douglas MacArthur, at the time on the division’s staff.

The “Buckeyes” of Ohio’s 166th Infantry Regiment of the 4nd. They are still in the Ohio National Guard today, though merged with the older (c.1846) 148th Infantry Rgt as part of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat team today

 

Filmed on location on the Western Front

I was able to get into one of the scarce (sold out) showings of “They Shall Not Grow Old” yesterday and just absolutely loved it. Peter Jackson– who it turns out is a big WWI nerd and has access to Great War-era artillery pieces (“as one does”) was given access to 100 hours of WWI footage in the Imperial War Museum’s archives, 600 hours of oral history interviews with 120 Commonwealth military veterans from the Western Front done in the 1950s and 60s, and took four years of coming through them all to compile the feature documentary.

The twist is, he balanced and corrected the film (some were too dark, some overexposed, and due to the nature of hand-cranked field cameras of the era was wildly either too fast or too slow) then correctly colorized the selected scenes and made them 3D. While the bulk of the voices you hear are from the Tommies themselves– all now speaking from beyond the grave– others are regional dialect-correct actors dubbing in dialog discerned by professional lip readers from the silent pictures.

It really was amazing, making you both laugh and cry alternatively. I left the theatre humming “Mademoiselle from Armentieres.”

It was a top-notch film, as much military art as history, and if you get a chance to see it, please make the effort. If it were up to me, all high school students, especially in the UK, would have to watch it.

For those Dunsterforce fans out there…

Digging out a Dunsterforce armored car after a river crossing, 1918 (National Army Museum)

In 1918, the Brits sent a crackerjack force consisting of a few troopers, some White Russian Cossack allies, and a couple of armored cars under one Maj. Gen. Lionel Dunsterville from their fighting against the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia into northern Persia (now Iran) and the Caucasus. Their goal was to meld the various anti-Bolshevik and anti-Turkish groups there into some sort of actual military unit. This is their story…

A 154-page (free) PDF just released by the Army University Press

Frohe Weihnachten!

With the holidays coming up and the loss of my mother who hailed from the Harz Mountains this year, it fell to me to make the standard-issue Pfeffernüsse to the old family recipe just as it fell to her some 30 years ago on the passing of my oma. To keep it as throw-back as possible, I made sure to drink a nice Doppel Bock out of my grandfather’s stein while wearing a surplus Einheitsmütze (the Pickelhaube is too heavy!) as my GSDs watched from afar.

I’m digging it. All they needed after this was the powdered sugar before they were packed up for my two adult kids and my brother in Pittsburgh. Made with black pepper (hence the name) anise, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg, they are spicy and really do smell and taste like no other cookie. They have always meant Christmas to me.

With all this being said, here are two 101-year-old German Red Cross posters from WWI. The first, drawn by Walter Püttner, shows a Christmas angel (Christkind) pulling a sleigh loaded with bundles and delivering one to a German soldier.

Text: Christmas collection by the Bavarian Red Cross for the armed forces. Rehse Archiv für Zeitgeschichte und Publizistik. Via the Library of Congress

The second, by Adolf Franz Theodor Münzer, has a Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) decorated with candles in front of a red cross.

Text: Christmas in the field! 1917. Contribute money and gift packages for our warriors! Via LOC

Sorry, though, no Pfeffernüsse left to share.

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