All posts by Mark Taylor

Remembering History: The Hindenburg Disaster (6 May 1937)

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

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, New Jersey. Of the 97 passengers and crew, 35 perished and one worker was killed on the ground.

Airships were a popular way to travel. 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 1937.

Hindenburg over New York hours prior to the disaster. (Public domain)

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. 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.

Remembering History: Hitler Commits Suicide;War in Europe Nearly Over

U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler’s death
2 May 1945
Original source: U.S. Army
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler–the leader and founder of the 1,000 Reich–committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun in the underground bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. It would lead to the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945 when Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied powers.

Since the defeat of German forces in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, it had become increasingly apparent that Allied forces had turned the tide. Germany had been pushed out of North Africa at this point, faced Allied armies in Italy, and of course on 6 June 1944 the Allied invasion of Europe had occurred. An attempt on his life was unsuccessful in July 1944 (he was saved when the briefcase with the explosive was pushed under a heavy table) but resulted in imprisonment and executions for many who were involved. Field Marshal Rommel was forced to commit suicide rather than a public court martial.

Hitler had become more erratic, and many were concerned with his mental state. After withdrawing to the underground bunker in January 1945, he met with Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels. By 22 April 1945 though he realized the war had been lost with Soviet troops now in Berlin. On 23 April, Goering seeing that Hitler was encircled in Berlin, tried to take over as his presumed successor. Hitler stripped him of his powers and orders his arrest (this was futile since Goering surrendered himself to American forces). Himmler also had hopes of succeeding Hitler. In April, he was negotiating through a Swedish diplomat and with the Americans. When Hitler learned of this, he was stripped of his powers and his arrest ordered. Himmler tried to escape posing as an ordinary soldier but was caught and arrested. He committed suicide by taking poison.

By the end of April most of his aides and lieutenants (with some exceptions such as General Krebs) had deserted him with only Goebbels and Martin Bormann staying along. Albert Speer had declined to carry out Hitler’s orders to carry out a scorched earth policy in Berlin. Believing Germany had been unworthy of his genius and allowed themselves to be defeated, he decided to commit suicide. He married his long-time mistress Eva Braun in the early hours of 29 April 1945. He then dictated his last will and political testament that justified what he had done.  The will itself is quite short while the separate political testament that laid out a defense of his life and work, as well as appointing those who would lead the German government after his death.

In the afternoon of 30 April 1945, Hitler pointed a gun to his head (though he may have taken poison as well) and committed suicide while Eva took poison. Their bodies were burned, in accordance with his instructions, in the Chancellery garden. Goebbels transmitted a message to Admiral Karl Doenitz that Hitler had died and appointed him Reich President. Six hours later Goebbels and his wife committed suicide after poisoning their six children with cyanide.

Hitler’s death was broadcast on 1 May 1945 by Hamburg Radio. On 2 May 1945, German troops in Italy surrendered (it was signed on 29 April 1945) and Berlin surrendered to Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov. More surrenders of German forces would follow. German forces in Denmark, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany surrendered to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on 4 April 1945 (effective the next day). The German Ninth and Twelve armies surrendered to U.S. forces.

Sources:

Books

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

Internet

Britannica.com
History.com
World War II Database


Welcome to May

May, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416)
Limbourg brothers (fl. 1402–1416)
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

May is the fifth month on the current Gregorian and the old Julian calendar. It is named for the Greek goddess Maia. On the old Roman calendar, this was the third month. May has 31 days. The full moon in May is sometimes called the Flower Moon since many flowers bloom during this month.

May is commonly associated with spring in the Northern Hemisphere but autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Usually, it is also the time that plants begin to grow. It is a time for many festivals and celebrations as well. The ancient Romans had several of them during May and many Europeans today have events during the month. Late May is often considered the beginnings of the summer season in many places.

The May symbols are the emerald (birthstone), along with Lilly of the Valley and Hawthorn as the birth flowers.

Find Gifts for Mother’s Day. Shop Amazon for Mothers Day Gifts.

Titanic News: Wilhelm Gustloff disaster,RNLI Needs Funds, Bruce Ismay after Titanic

 

Wilhelm Gustloff in Danzig, September 1939.
Photo: German Federal Archives (Bild 183-H27992 )

Largest Maritime Disaster Neither Lusitania, Nor Titanic
Montana Standard, 2 May 2021

Neither the Lusitania nor the Titanic was the largest maritime disaster, not by a long shot. Yet somehow, their fateful journeys remain a source of intrigue for both researchers and curiosity seekers. The largest loss of lives occurred during World War II in the frigid Baltic Sea. On Jan. 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine sunk Germany’s Wilhelm Gustloff. On board the transport ship were thousands of German civilians. It is estimated that 6,000 to 9,000 people perished.

RNLI Launches Mayday Call For Funds As Rescue Figures Highlight Crew’s Lifesaving Work In Pandemic
Belfast Live, 30 April 2021

Funds are needed to ensure the lifesaving service is able to keep everyone safe and the RNLI is asking people to come down to the Maritime Mile and take part in the wonderful experience and complete their very own mile and donate to help raise those vital funds. RNLI lifeboats in Northern Ireland launched 234 times last year and their volunteer lifeboat crews brought 253 people to safety. Eighty-nine of those launches were carried out in the hours of darkness. The charity’s lifeguards responded to 225 incidents last summer on beaches, helping 285 people and saving the lives of six people.

Titanic-Linked Train Carriages Discovered In Yard
BBC, 30 April 2021

Members of the British Titanic Society think the wooden carriages, found in a yard in South Wales, formed part of a train that carried passengers from London to Southampton on 10 April 1912. Five days later the Southampton-based liner sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is hoped the carriages, which are due to be scrapped, can be restored.

J. Bruce Ismay, president of the White Star Line, in 1912
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

After The Titanic Sank, The Ship’s Owner Hid Away In Ireland
Irish Central, 29 April 2021

Ismay fully co-operated with the congressional inquiry, but nothing could stop the jeering on the streets in both the US and the UK. London society would have nothing more to do with him and he resigned from all his company positions, hoping to disappear, as the media continued to label him as the biggest coward in history.

With his wife Julia, Ismay was to find comfort in Costello Lodge, however, and among the local people who looked upon the pair as a solid source of employment, although the locals referred to Ismay in Irish as “Brú síos mé” (‘lower me down’ i.e. into a lifeboat ). He was said by the locals to be a kind, warm-hearted man, even inquiring of the fisherman he’d fish with on a Sunday if they had had time to go to Mass. Casla Lodge was burned down by the IRA in 1922, but the home was rebuilt on an even grander scale. Ismay remained a Connemara resident for 25 years before moving back to England after he was diagnosed with diabetes. He died in London in 1937, aged 74.

How DNA Testing Helped Solve One Of The Titanic’s Lingering Mysteries
Irish Central, 26 April 2021

One of the last great mysteries of the Titanic was solved in 2013 thanks to a DNA test which proved a woman who claimed she was a child survivor of the tragic Titanic sinking was a fraud. Two-year-old Loraine Allison is believed to have been the only child from first or second class who died during the sinking of the Titanic. However, in 1940, Helen Loraine Kramer, now styling herself Loraine Kramer, claimed to be the missing child. She told a radio show that she had been saved at the last moment when her father placed her in a lifeboat with a man whom she had always thought was her father.Kramer launched a legal bid to be considered part of the wealthy Allison family and entitled to part of their fortune. Before her death in 1992, she contended that she was entitled to the vast majority of the Allison family’s wealth in Canada. The dispute led to the founding of The Loraine Allison Identification Project by Tracy Oost, a forensic scientist at Laurentian University, Ontario, and Titanic expert. While Woods declined to participate, Oost obtained DNA samples from Deanne Jennings, Woods’ half-sister, and Sally Kirkelie, the great-niece of Bess Allison, Loraine Allison’s mother. No genetic link was found between descendants from both sides of the dispute. The results proved that Helen Loraine Kramer was not the little girl who was lost on the Titanic.

 

Titanic Memorial Lighthouse,South Street Seaport Museum, New York (2008)
Image: Andy C (Wikipedia)

Effort Continues To Restore New York’s Titanic Memorial Lighthouse To Its Original 1913 Condition
6sqft.com, 26 April 2021

The campaign to landmark and restore the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, a monument in New York City built in 1913 to honor those who died aboard the Titanic, continues. Designed by Warren and Wetmore, the architecture firm behind Grand Central Terminal, the 60-foot-tall lighthouse originally sat atop the roof of the Seamen’s Church Institute and featured a working time ball that dropped down the pole each day, along with a green light. Preservationists are now raising funds that would help restore the lighthouse, currently located at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, to its original condition.

 


Remembering History: US Army Liberates Dachau

Young and old survivors in Dachau cheer approaching U.S. troops.
29 April 1945
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photograph #45075
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1933, 10 miles northwest of Munich on the outskirts of a town called Dachau, this concentration camp would initially house 5,000 political prisoners. The number of those opposed to the Nazi regime would increase from the original Communists it held. Soon it would include Roma (Gypsies), religious dissenters (Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.) repeat criminals and homosexuals. In 1938, Jews began becoming a large number of those sent to this camp.

Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers for German armaments production and was used as a training facility for SS concentration camp guards. Prisoners were also used in hideous medical experiments resulting in many dying or being crippled for life. While many thousands died at Dachau, many were sent to the extermination center near Linz, Austria until a gas chamber and crematorium were added in 1942. Satellite camps supplemented the main camp and were set up near armaments factories. Collectively all these camps were administered by Dachau and part of it.

The situation by April 1945 was dire for Germany with Allied forces closing in.. Many prisoners were sent from camps nearer the front to Dachau resulting in epidemics and overcrowding. Over 7,000 mostly Jewish prisoners were forced to March from Dachau to Tegernsee in the south. Most of the camp guards left Dachau and only light resistance was given to the U.S. Army troops that arrived on 29 April 1945. Near the camp, they found 30 railroad cars full of corpses. More bodies were found at the camp but there were 30,000 survivors, many who were emaciated. The scene was appalling to the American troops. Many would write or talk about it later as one of the most horrific things they had ever seen. 30 captured SS guards were killed by American soldiers over what they saw (others claim it is was a lot more). German citizens of Dachau were later forced to bury the 9,000 dead inmates found at the camp.

(Here is a video on the liberation, but you will need to view it on YouTube.)

Sources:

Books

Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust-A History of The Jews of Europe During The Second World War, Henry Holt & Company, New York 1985

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

United State Holocaust Memorial Museum: Historical Atlas of The Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing USA, New York 1996

Internet

History.com
Holocaust Encyclopedia
Jewish Virtual Library

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Remembering History: Mussolini Caught Fleeing Italy and Executed

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Attempting to flee Italy into Austria dressed in a Luftwaffe coat and hat, the deposed dictator of Italy–Il Duce–Benito Mussolini was caught by partisans along with his mistress Clara Petacci. The partisans executed him and Petacci, transported their bodies to Milan, and hung them upside down so that everyone (especially his supporters) could see he was dead. He ruled Italy from 1925-1943, when he was deposed and subsequently imprisoned. He was rescued by Hitler’s forces and made the puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. With German troops in retreat, he hoped to avoid being captured by either British or American forces. Pictures of his body being hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan would be spread to prove that Il Duce was no more.

Sources:
History.com

Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However, the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly, other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Titanic Chronology: Olympic Departure Delayed Over Lifeboats (24 April 1912)

RMS Olympic Arrives In New York on Maiden Voyage, 21 June 1911
Source: U.S. Library of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

In the wake of the Titanic sinking, all passenger ships were equipped with lifeboats for everyone aboard. Olympic, like her sister ship, did not have enough lifeboats but they were quickly added for her upcoming departure from Southampton on 24 April 1912. 40 collapsible lifeboats (all second-hand) had come from troopships. However, there was concern amongst the crew that these lifeboats were not seaworthy.  A request sent by crewman that they should be replaced by wooden lifeboats was declined by White Star which said that it was impossible to do that and they had passed as seaworthy by the Board of Trade inspector.

Not convinced of this, 284 firemen went on strike delaying the departure. Non-union crew were hired from Southampton and from Liverpool to make up the difference. On 25 April 1912, representatives of the strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. One was found unseaworthy. The representatives said they would recommend the strikers return to work as a result. A separate objection about the non-union workers who were hired came up as an issue. White Star refused to fire them. This resulted in 54 crewmembers leaving the ship in protest causing the cancellation of the sailing. Later they would be charged and convicted of mutiny, but no punishment was awarded due to the circumstances. White Star Line hired them back in end fearing a public backlash in support of the strikers. Olympic would sail for New York on 15 May 1912.

 

Sources:

Encyclopedia Titanica
Ocean Liners Magazine
RMS Olympic (Wikipedia)

 

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Remembering History: Hitler Learns War Is Lost

By April 1945, victories by Allied and Russian forces had reduced the once formidable German state to a shadow of its former self. Due to increased Allied air attacks on Berlin, Hitler had relocated his headquarters from the Reich Chancellery to the Fuhrerbunker, an underground complex that would serve as the command center for the remnants of the Third Reich earlier in the year. 19th April saw the Soviet Army mobilize its troops to encircle Berlin. Hitler had gone above on 20 April 1945, his 56th birthday, to award the Iron Cross to boys from the Hitler Youth.

It was on 22 April 1945 that Hitler, in an afternoon meeting, learned that Soviets were entering the northern suburbs of Berlin meeting no resistance. It enraged Hitler, who denounced the Army, and made him realize the war was lost. Hitler decided to stay in Berlin rather than flee south.

Sources:

Britannica.com
HeritageDaily.com
History.com

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