Category Archives: History

Hindenburg Disaster Ends Airship Travel

Airship Hindenburg crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937
Photo originally taken by Murray Becker, AP
Public Domain

Due to being busy on other projects, some important events in history were missed recently.  On 6 May 1937 the German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while trying to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst near Lakehurst, NJ. Of the 97 passengers and crew, 35 perished and one worker was killed on the ground.

Airships were a popular and comfortable way to fly back then. They were comfortable and often afforded their passengers the ability to see things that passengers of airplanes would not often see. The Germans had perfected the use of airships while the United States suffered humiliating crashes that confounded designers. The German Zeppelins used hydrogen for many years without any major incident until what happened at Lakehurst, NJ in 1937

The event was caught on newsreel and on radio. Herbert Morrision’s radio coverage is classic and you can listen to at History.com. You can also listen to this one on YouTube which points out that Morrison’s voice was much higher than normal due to the tape recording speed (he was known for his deep voice). His actual audio report sounds different when you hear it as it ought to have been. A British Pathe newsreel of the disaster be viewed here.

While sabotage was suspected, neither the American or German inquiries concluded that was the cause. The American report concludes:

The cause of the accident was the ignition of a mixture of free hydrogen and air. Based upon the evidence, a leak at or in the vicinity of cell 4 and 5 caused a combustible mixture of hydrogen and air to form in the upper stern part of the ship in considerable quantity; the first appearance of an open flame was on the top of the ship and a relatively short distance forward of the upper vertical fin. The theory that a brush discharge ignited such mixture appears most probable.

The many theories that continue to persist are:

  • Sabotage
  • Lightning
  • Static Spark
  • Engine Failure
  • Incendiary Paint
  • Hydrogen Leak
  • Fuel Leak

Mythbusters examined the incendiary paint hypothesis and concluded it did not cause the catastrophe. You can view that here. Many believe the most likely reason for the explosion is that a tiny tear in the fabric or an exposed piece of metal was the entry point for static electricity to ignite the hydrogen. Hydrogen would never be used again for airships after this.

Airships faded from use though the famous Goodyear blimps over sports and other events are used to film the events below. And with the desire to conserve our environment these days, helium filled airships may yet return as a means of travel.

Titanic News: Fur Coat Sold for £150,000 and other news

Sorry to not post in a while. It was due to both work and the tax season. Now for the news.

Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912.
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

1. Titanic stewardess’ fur coat fetches £150,000 at auction (Independent, 23 April 2017)
Fur coats used to be a stylish thing to wear but these days they are despised. Back in 1912 though, they were an important status symbol.In this case it was neither style nor class but the need to keep warm. Mabel Bennett, a first-class stewardess aboard Titanic, threw it on to keep herself warm. She kept it one while on Carpathia and for the rest of her life. After her death, it was sold to Henry Aldridge and Son who loaned it to a museum in the U.S. It was auctioned off on Saturday far above the estimated price of £50,000-£80,000 and sold for a staggering £150,000 ($191,767USD). The buyers name was not announced but surely one of the highest prices paid for a collectible mink coat.

2. Lost Titanic letter expected to fetch big money at auction (New York Post, 20 April 2017)
A “Wish You Were Here” letter written aboard the Titanic could fetch thousands of dollars at auction this weekend. Four days before the ship sank, Swiss banker Alfons Simonius-Blumer penned the missive to his wife and daughter — in which he expressed regret they were not aboard the ship.Simonius-Blumer was sailing to New York on business with a colleague, Max Staehelin, but without his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Ella. He wrote the letter the morning of April 11, 1912, while the supposed unsinkable pride of the White Star Line steamed between Cherbourg in France and Queenstown, Ireland, its last stop before the fateful Atlantic crossing. Simonius-Blumer also described visiting the ship’s gym, enjoying the Turkish baths and lighting up in the smoking room. As a first-class passenger, he was able to get on a lifeboat after the Titanic struck an iceberg late at night on April 14 and was rescued by the RMS Carpathia the following morning.
The letter was also auctioned off on Saturday at Henry Aldridge for £32,500 ($41,543USD)

3. Titanic relatives mark 105th anniversary in Belfast (BBC, 14 April 2017)
The event was organised by the great-grandson of the man who was at the helm when the ship struck an iceberg. Simon Medhurst, a long-time collector of Titanic memorabilia, said he only found out that he was related to Robert Hichens, one of the ship’s quartermasters, after meeting his birth father in 2012. “It was a complete turnaround for my life, really, from collecting to suddenly being somebody who is connected to the Titanic,” he said. Simon explained that Friday’s event had taken two years to organise. “I wasn’t sure if it would just be our family that turned up, but actually it’s been phenomenal to see relatives and enthusiasts. People just love the story of the Titanic. “I think the importance of this type of gathering is in that it is easy to forget that there were those who lost their lives.”

4. Full-size Titanic replica built in China (Jakarta Post,19 April 2017)
The project was first announced in 2014 and will cost an estimated 1 billion yuan (US$145.4 million). The model will measure out at 269-meters long and 28-meters wide, complete with a ballroom, theater, swimming pool, first-class cabins, and even Wi-Fi, according to Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group deputy general manager Wang Weiling as reported by AFP. The design of the ship is based on the original British passenger liner, and both British and American designers and technicians will assist in the project. And just in case visitors have worries of a second sinking, the boat will be permanently docked on a reservoir in a rural area of Sichuan province, according to Xinhua. No word from Clive Palmer about whether his Titanic replica will ever get funded.


St. Patrick’s Day (17 March)

St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland. Photo:Andreas F. Borchert
St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland.
Photo:Andreas F. Borchert

The Feast of St. Patrick is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, the U.S.Episcopal Church, as a commemoration by the Evangelical Lutherans, and venerated in Orthodox Church. It is a public holiday in Ireland. The shamrock was used by St.Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity. In Ireland it is celebrated by families getting together for a meal. If the day falls on a Friday during Lent, observant Catholics receive dispensation to eat meat. If the feast day falls during Holy Week (and it does occasionally), the feast day is moved to avoid conflicting with the Holy Week calendar. A more recent occurrence are public festivals in Ireland and use of the day to promote Irish culture.

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Here is an old tune from the Emerald Isle, known as The Minstrel Boy. The full lyrics can be found here.The tune was quite popular (and still is) and the opening is often heard more than the full song:

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Though all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

The first is a wonderful rendition using Irish traditional musical instruments. And the second is from a more modern source (and set in the future) from Star Trek:The Next Generation episode The Wounded where the song has an important role. Chief O’Brien uses the tune to remind his old captain of his duty and what he has done.

A Fateful Day:The Ides of March(44 BC)

The Death of Julius Caesar,Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844). Public Domain
The Death of Julius Caesar,Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844).
Public Domain

Today is 15 March and on the old Roman calendar was a day of religious observance to the Roman god Jupiter and other lesser deities. But it is most famous as the date in 44 BC when Julius Caesar was assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate. 60 conspirators were involved but the leaders were Brutus and Cassius. Caesar was forewarned of his death by a seer according to Plutarch. And in his famous work Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has the soothsayer say “beware the ides of March” which Caesar ignores and if course he ends up stabbed to death uttering the famous line before death:

Et tu Brute!

The assassination was a turning point for Rome. It brought about a civil war and ended the Roman Republic. Octavian (later Augustus) would become emperor and the Roman Empire would come to dominate the entire Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Britain. In Julius Caesar Mark Antony gives perhaps the most remembered funeral oration ever done. Most people recall the famous opening line:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.

The oration is masterful in that it cleverly turns the people against Brutus and Cassius by showing they were ambitious and not Caesar. By the end the plebeians call them traitors and murderers.

In real life, it was much the same. Antony played them by seemingly supporting amnesty but turning people against them both. Brutus was forced to leave and ended up on Crete, Cassius went east to gather support amongst the governors and to amass an army. Antony and Octavian would clash militarily causing divisions in Rome. This allowed the forces of Brutus and Cassius to march on Rome. However Octavian made peace with Antony upon this news so both forces joined to stop Brutus and Cassius. They met at Philippi on 3 Oct 42 BC. The first battle resulted in Brutus defeating Octavian but Antony defeating Cassius. Not knowing that Brutus had defeated Octavian, Cassius took his own life. At the second battle of Philippi on 23 October, Brutus was defeated and forced to flee into the hills where he committed suicide. Antony treated his body with great respect by having it wrapped his most expensive purple mantle. His body was cremated and remains sent to his mother.

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TItanic Replica Mania: Linens

Photo: Vision Support Services

Titanic themed products are popular which is why textiles giant Vision Support Services decided to go all in with their replica Titanic linens they recently unveiled in their Liddell product range. This range is based upon the patterns used by William Ewart & Son Ltd that supplied Oceanic Steam Navigation Company with linens for all their ships which included RMS Titanic. The company merged later with rival William Liddell and Co. to become Ewart Liddell & Co. Vision went to great effort to authenticate the linens by researching records and working with historian and author Tom McCluskie. McCluskie, according to one news report, was thrilled Vision went all out to faithfully reproduce the linens using the same pattern back then. “This strict attention to authentic and historical detail presents the purchaser with a window into time of a bygone age of elegance and luxury,” notes McCluskie. The linens are only available a short time.
Source: Brand creates replicas of linens used on RMS Titanic (Bainbridge Leader, 6 Feb 2017)


St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).

Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.

Today is Epiphany/Three Kings Day(Observed)

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domain

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.

In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.


Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day-“A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their governments official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.

The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the navy and army air corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewel of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda,who helped in the planning,argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)

Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-c0mbatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.

Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 14:30 (2:30 p.m.) just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the U.S. so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well. For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.

For more information:
Home of Heroes
Pearl Harbor Remembered
The History Place
Pearl Harbor Attack(Naval Heritage & History Command)
Battleship USS Arizona History


Today is Veterans Day (US)

veteransday2016

Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor military personnel who have served in peace and war. The day originally began as Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I. It was first officially celebrated on 11 November 1919 and was originally the celebrate veterans who served in that war. In 1954 after many Americans served in both World War II and Korea, veterans organizations petitioned the name be changed from Armistice to Veterans Day to celebrate all who served in the military. Congress approved this change on 1 June 1954 and has been known as Veterans Day since then. In 1968 as a result of the Uniforms Holiday Bill, Veterans Day was shifted to the third Monday in October. Since this law allowed more three day weekends for federal workers (and states that followed the federal holiday calendar) and would allow more people to travel and spend money, this was thought good. The writers of the law never bothered to check and see if people wanted Veterans Day on the third Monday in October. And they were surprised when many states refused to honor the new date and stuck with November 11 for Veterans Day.

The reason is not hard to understand. This patriotic holiday had been celebrated since 1919 and many generations had grown up with with it. In 1975 President Gerald Ford signed into law specifying that Veterans Day would always be celebrated on November 11 no matter what day of the week it falls on. Currently most federal holidays, if they fall on a non-working day (Saturday or Sunday), the nearest working day is the holiday. Meaning if it falls on a Saturday like Veterans Day in 2017, Friday is a federal holiday. If the holiday falls on a Sunday like Christmas does this year, the official holiday is Monday. And if it falls into the middle of the week, Monday is when it is observed. Not so for Veterans and for another important holiday Thanksgiving.

The day is marked with important ceremonies such as the national ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. It starts at precisely 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is followed by a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and then speeches and remarks from important dignitaries. Almost always the sitting president will attend though on occasion the Vice President will act in his place should he not be in attendance.