Currently viewing the category: "Militaria"

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In all that I have seen relating to the mammoth planning and logistical operations concerning teh invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces on 6 June 1944 I don't think I'ev ever seen such incredibly detailed relief map models such as the one below. The original image resides at the Library of Congress and its catalog information describes it on a scale of 1:5,000 and a vertical scale of 1:2,500, with the model being two sections of 120cm squared (so 120x240cm (or about 3×6 feet). THE map "shows the tide lines, slope of the beach, buildings beyond the beach, and the location of hedgehogs" and the placement of anti-aircreaft weapons. The image is very expandable.

Utah Beach Model Part 1

And a detail:

Utah Beach Model Part 1 det

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For some reason this particular defensive utility of the binocular/rangefinder/"scherenfernohr" hadn't occurred to me before seeing this photograph (in the September 1915 issue of Himmel und Erde). Of course with the many billions of rounds of ammo that flew across open fields during the war, if it was your job to sight for artillery or what have you it would be better to do that from a trench (as this instrument was also known as a "trench periscope", as varieties of the binoculars could have vertical tubes) and behind cover, or if in the field to be able to find a defensive position for your work. I hadn't thought about standing behind a tree with the scope's optics wide enough to operate beyond the diameter of the trunk–seeing the picture made me think, "of course". On the other hand, this posture assumes that there's very little flank to that field…


JF Ptak Science Books Post 1964

I've unearthed another rare and exceptional document from the "collection" (read "heap") here, a 38-page mimeographed document that is a logical and reasonable response of the Japanese-American community in Seattle to their impending removal and impundment of via Executive Order 9066 (1942):

Report submitted to Tolan Congressional Committee on National Defense Migration Emergency Defense Council Seattle Chapter Japanese American Citizens League.


“….there must be a point beyond which there may be no abridgement of civil liberties and we feel that whatever the emergency, that persons must be judged, so long as we have a Bill of Rights, because of what they do as persons We feel that treating persons, because they are members of a race, constitutes illegal discrimination, which is forbidden by the fourteenth amendment whether we are at war or peace.”– A. L. Wirin, Counsel for the Southern California Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on the internment of Japanese-Americans, 1942

" We make these statements, not because we fear evacuation, but because we believe, to the bottom of our hearts, that the best interests of the United States, our nation are to be served by being permitted to stay, work, fight, and die for our country if necessary here where we belong."–Response by the Japanese American Citizens League to Internment Camps, 1942

This excruciating, heart-rending 1942 document was submitted by the Japanese American Citizens League (of Seattle, Washington) to the Tolan Congressional Committee with recommendations, proposals and requests in the event of the removal of Japanese citizens from “sensitive” areas in western America. It is an exceptional report, a well-reasoned response to the developing and calamitous American fear of Japanese fellow-citizens; a fear which was swiftly leading itself to xenophobic actions the result of which was the internment of 120,000 American citizens in non-lethal concentration camps.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I wanted to take a moment and post something from the bookselling section of this blog, something that's pretty interesting and scarce in its own right. It is a work produced at the Harvard University Department of Psychology by Henry A. Murray (1893-1988), the Worksheets on Morale. Seminar in Psychological Problems of Morale which was published in 1942 and contains a section which turns out to be the first psychological profile of Adolf Hitler–this copy was formerly in the library of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor and incubator of the CIA.



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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1926

From the looks of it, this image from an 8 April 1933 issue of the Illustrated London News is not quite a "verbal bomb" as we might think of such a thing today. The cutaway drawing (by the sensational G.H. Davies, who produced hundreds of these images for the magazine over four decades)shows an acoustic device housed in a Vickers Victoria aircraft. As described in the descriptive text to the image, Sir Philip Sassoon ("speaking in the House of Commons on the Air Estimates last month") mentioned in May 1933 an attempt to induce forces hostile to the U.K. in Northern Kurdistan by flying over rebel strongholds and threatening an air attack if no surrender was forthcoming.

Verbal bombs877

Evidently a translator would address the town at 2-4,000' elevation through an audio system that amplified the voice"1,600,000 times". An address was made to the leaders of the tribesmnen to surrender their position, else an air attack would occur after three days. Even though described in the title of the image as a "verbal bomb", it isn't anything like the directed energy/sonic/acoustic/infrasonics/pulse weapon performance degraders that are currently available. What was happening here was simply (or not so) an attempt to get an enemy to relieve their position via tangible threat, sort of an acoustic leaflet bombing prior to the real thing. Of course this was backed up by actual bombing, which was still a relatively new weapon for armies–several nations which possessed this newish facility of war practiced bombing civilian/military targets alike in extra-territorial possessions. (There was a hot debate over what constituted fair use of aerial bombs beginning in earnest in the 1920's, but much of that soon devolved into debates on what constituted "civilian populations", and there the definitions were wide and sloppy.) In any event, the loudspeakers did not emit high-powered sound that would disturb/puncture eardrums or cause dizziness or problems with eyesight by making the eyeballs vibrate–they were just loud conveyers of Bad Things to Come.

Verbal bombs det 2879
Verbal bombs det878

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This stark issue of LIFE magazine listed the names, photographs and ages of 242 American soldiers killed in Vietnam in one week in June, 1969. There were no statistics; this was a picture story of tragedy, an out-of-the-ordinary event for the popular image magaine. I did go through the numbers to get a sense of the ages of those very young-looking faces: of the 242 killed, 23% were teenagers; 73% were 21 and under, and 81% were 22 and under. As our 9 year old said when she asked me and then got her answer about what I was working with on the calculator, "that's very young to be dead".

I went through the issue and tabulated all of the ages of the dead young men. The average age of the soldiers killed during this week was 21.06.

Age 18: 17 killed. Age 19: 40 Age 20: 79 Age 21: 41. Age 22: 20. Age 23: 11. Age 24: 7. Age 25: 8. Age 26: 6. Age 27: 2. After that, from age 28 onwards, there is one dead per each age (28, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 37, 40, 45). These 242 deaths were .004% of all American soldiers killed during the war.

I was 13 in 1969 and wanted the war to end in a hurry.

There was no telling the average age of Vietnamese soldiers North or South, just that there were more of them dead than American soldiers. At one point in time this was the way in which the winning side in Vietnam could be judged by political types in the U.S.–the smaller piles of dead bodies indicated the winning side. 58,800 American soldiers were killed there. According to American sources, between 1 and 2 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed, North and South; Vietnamese sources say that the figure is closer to 3 million (for a country with a total population of about 38 million, or about 10%).

By August 1969, the Gallup Poll showed that 68% of Americans thought it was a mistake for the U.S. to be fighting in Vietnam (source here, though some other polls show the figure at 58%). In the year 2000, about 70% thought it was a mistake to send in the troops. I don't know about that other 30%.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Although electric lamps/searchlights have been militarily used on land and sea since the 1880's (at least), it is still unusual to see light itself displayed as a weapon in a poster. This is especially true when the light is airborne and in real, in-potential-use applications. An earlier image appears in the Illustrated London News of a giant airship illuminating a battlefield, but it is a rather futuristic view of the employment of light as a weapon, and didn't quite come about as an effective tool. (As much as the airship would illuminate of the opponent's night-time position, it also made itself extraordinarily vulnerable–lighting up your enemy's position just didn't make for a practical idea, especially when the notions of bombing and night bombing came into being.)

In this first image below, there is a strong beam emanating from an aircraft in 1917–how it is generating such light, and whether it was conceivable to have it light enough to be on the aircraft, I don't know.

MAssive american posters 1910-1920

Conversely, the searchlight coming from the military (battle-)ship could certainly have supported the machinery to produce any number of effort, though it seems again to be counter-productive, establishing itself as a not particularly fast-moving target to anything on the sea or above (or below) it.

MAssive american posrts seacchlight ship
On the other hand, this Swedish movie poster seems to have put the idea to good use (source, here):

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Barbed wire was one of the most successful and horrifying defensive weapons of World War I. In 1915 it was made more effective yet by adding high-voltage electricity to the emplacements. In general the electrical barbed wire fence was employed as only a tiny fraction of all wire fences during the war–as the non-electrified fence was already extremely effective, very cheap to produce and very easily installed–but the possibility of finding an electrified wire somewhere along the lengthy rat's nests of miles and miles of this thing must've had some sort of very major weight in most soldiers' minds.

The following image (and details) from The Illustrated London News for 9 October 1915:

WWI--e---electric fenc dete extra647

WWI--e---electric fenc dete646

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And the places where the barbed wire was made and packaged, again from The Illustrated London News for 16 October 1915.

WWI--e--barbed wire making648

It looks as though the wire was stretched across 3.5 foot poles, with the barbed wire added diagonally, and then rolled up in long sections for easy transport and deployment.

WWI--e--barbed wire making649

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1868 [Part of a long series on the History of Atomic and Nuclear Weapons, here.]

The fate of failed Japan was being decided in the hands of the United States in the middle of July, 1945. The Imperial Navy and Air Force was basically finished, leaving the sea and sky open for complete domination, and the Imperial Army was still fit to fight, if not well supplied. That said, there was still the issue of possible invasion, and of fighting on a mountainous battlefield against a dedicated indigenous population that could still field millions of more fighters if not soldiers.

As Secretary of War Henry Stimson outlined in his Top Secret memo to President Truman on 2 July 1945, “Proposed Program for Japan”, there was little left to fight:

Japan has no allies.

Her navy is nearly destroyed and she is vulnerable to a surface and underwater blockade which can deprive her of sufficient food and supplies for her population.

She is terribly vulnerable to our concentrated air attack upon her crowded cities, industrial and food resources

She has against her not only the Anglo-American forces but the rising forces of China and the ominous threat of Russia.

We have inexhaustible and untouched industrial resources to bring to bear against her diminishing potential.

We have great moral superiority through being the victim of her first sneak attack.

Source: The Nuclear Files, here.

Little left, of course, save for the millions of defenders fighting on their own soil for their own soil. Which, in the end, turns out to be almost everything insofar as the use of the atomic bomb is concerned.

This is of course a very complex and long story on the decision to use the bomb, and I don’t pretend to even begin such a thing here. But what I would like to just point out, that in the middle of all of the discussion, the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, was not in favor of using the bomb. Eisenhower was with Stimson when the Secretary of War received the coded telegram giving him the positive results of the atomic test in the Jornada del Muerto, the Trinity test, at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Eisenhower wrote of the experience:

“The cable was in code, you know the way they do it. “The lamb is born”: or some damn thing like that. So then he (meaning Stimson) told me they were going to drop it on the Japanese. Well, I listened, and I didn’t volunteer anything because, after all, my war was over in Europe and it wasn’t up to me. But I was getting more and more depressed just thinking about it. Then he asked for my opinion, so I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon. Well … the old gentleman got furious. And I can see how he would. After all, it had been his responsibility to push for all the huge expenditure to develop the bomb, which of course he had a right to do, and was right to do. Still, it was an awful problem1.”–Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb (Touchstone Books, 1986), page 688 (though not an expert in this collection of areas when he started, and not an historian of science, Rhodes has written perhaps the definitive history of the Project).

It wasn’t entirely clear that the Japanese were ready to surrender at this point as Eisenhower said, not really. And it also wasn’t necessarily the case that the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war in the Pacific would have resulted in an easier time in fighting on the ground. And General LeMay–who strategized that he could destroy the Japanese capacity for war from the air by bombing 30-60 cities over the June-August period–had actually carried out his plan, striking 58 cities and nearly destroying half of Tokyo, but still the Japanese fought on.

But it is interesting that after all of this time, and dozens of millions dead, that Eisenhower would be so circumspect in using the atomic bomb to finally force the hand of the Japanese in resignation.

The fact remains though that it still took several days after the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki for the Japanese to accept what were essentially the same pre-bomb terms of surrender.


1. I should point out that Stimson’s liability in the decision to build the bomb (if such a thing existed) was relieved when the bomb was tested successfully–its actual employment was beyond the judgment of his actions. (Stimson himself said that he was relieved of the responsibility of having spent “two billions of dollars” on the bomb and that he no longer would have to fear spending years in prison for a failed effort.