World War 2

The Brooklyn Plague

This is a fascinating story of how the bubonic plague nearly hit New York’s harbours at the height of the second world war. Almost as fascinating as the original “Wyoming incident” is the run around the writer went through to find out about it.

This is the story — kept secret at the time, still largely unreported today — of how the most infamous disease in history broke into New York City in the midst of World War II. This is the story of the ominously-named “Wyoming matter,” and how it took me months to track down evidence it ever happened.

Source: The Secret Story Of How Bubonic Plague Nearly Broke Out In New York City

Nazi gold!

One of my guilty pleasures is the works of Clive Cussler, full of lost treasures and astounding discoveries. This story could be part of one of his Dirk Pitt novels.

Two people in Poland say they may have found a Nazi train rumoured to be full of gold, gems and guns that disappeared at the end of World War Two, Polish media say.

Source: Nazi gold train ‘found in Poland’ – BBC News

Nazi-era gold hoard found in northern Germany

World War 2 still has secrets to give up, even seventy years on.

The collection of more than 200 coins discovered under a tree in Lueneburg were likely stolen from the Deutsche Reichbank’s gold reserves, archaeologists says.

Source: Nazi-era gold hoard found in northern Germany – Jewish World News – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The heroic WWII mission to capture a deadly Tiger Tank from the Germans, is revealed for the first time – Mirror Online

He loaded his cargo on to the Empire Candida cargo ship for the first leg of the journey to the Tunisian port of Bizerte with the Germans in hot pursuit. When the ship came under fire from a U-boat, Douglas had an idea.“I think our Tiger is going to go hunting,” he said as he climbed into his tank and turned its guns on the submarine.

Pure Boys’ Own adventuring. Of course, if they made a film of it, the major would somehow become an American

Source: The heroic WWII mission to capture a deadly Tiger Tank from the Germans, is revealed for the first time – Mirror Online

The Cruel Sea (Classics of War)


The Cruel Sea

author: Nicholas Monsarrat

The classic novel of the Battle of the Atlantic, Cruel Sea follows the crew- primarily the officers- of the Compass Rose from commissioning the Corvette in 1939 to the final day of the war. The book concentrates on the everyday hardships of escorting convoys and the horror of losing so many ships to U-Boats. There’s little action, even the rare times the crew get to chase down submarines are depicted as drawn out and tense rather than gung-ho. Mostly, the crew are fighting the sea itself, and their constant fear of attack and sinking, rather than the enemy.

The strength of the book lies in the fact that it doesn’t glorify the action at sea but focuses on the prolonged campaigns slow grind- punctuated by moments of terror and horror- of the sailors involved.

From:: Garth Owen Goodreads reviews

Unleash the incendiary cats!

A recently scanned book on artillery from the Middle Ages provided some bizarre images which appeared to show cats and pigeons with black powder rockets strapped to their backs. The truth is a little more mundane, if still quite, quite mad.

According to Fraas’s translation, Helm explained how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices: “Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.”

The article says there is no evidence of feline fire bombs ever being deployed, but the idea of flaming animals as weapons has been raised in other eras. The Romans thought of doing a similar trick with tar-coated pigs. In the Second World War, the US considered dropping thousands of bats, each with a little firebomb strapped to it, over Japan. The intention was for them to rest in the eaves of the wooden houses and start lots of small fires. In a variation on the burning cat routine, the Soviets trained ‘dog mines‘ which were supposed to dive under advancing German tanks and destroy them, though the program was mostly a failure, with dogs diving under familiar Russian tanks and running back to their masters to explode.

via Fur flies over 16th century 'rocket cats' warfare manual | World news |

Missing WW2 mega-submarine found off Hawaii – Telegraph

Scientists have solved the longstanding mystery of a Japanese submarine missing since 1946 after stumbling across it in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.

The Sen-Toku I-400 submarine – one of the largest pre-nuclear underwater vessels ever built – was discovered lying 2,300 feet beneath the surface of the ocean off the southwest coast of Oahu.

via Missing WW2 mega-submarine found off Hawaii – Telegraph.

BBC News – Nazi looted art ‘found in Munich’ – German media

A collection of 1,500 artworks confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s has been found in the German city of Munich, media reports say.

The trove is believed to include works by Matisse, Picasso and Chagall, the news magazine Focus reports.

I started a story a while back that was going to have looted art as a plot point, but then shelved it thinking it wasn’t relevant any more. Perhaps not.

via BBC News – Nazi looted art 'found in Munich' – German media.

BORE, King of the Northpole

BORE, King of the Northpole, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

This document was issued to Warrant Officer W Papworth on November 5th 1945. The full text of the document reads-


We BORE, King of the Northpole and
The Land of the Midnight Sun – Do hereby declare that:

Warrant Officer Papworth. W.

did in this year 1945 with Our permission cross the Souther Boundary of Our
Realm – THE ARCTIC CIRCLE – in latitude 66° – 33 N for the purpose of
visiting Us and Our Queen Aurora Borealis and to chase the wicked Huns from
Our Lands.

By virtue whereof, We Bore, call upon all our subjects – Laps, Eskimoes,
Polar Bears, Blondes, Reindeer, Sea Lions, Whales and other Creatures of the
Frigid North, to show him due deference and respect.

Disobey under pain of Our Royal displeasure.
Signed This Day 5th Nov 1945
on Our Royal Iceberg.


[There’s a signature which has sadly faded]
Comd. of the Royal
Arctic Frontier Guard.”

The certificate has been framed to be displayed (the hook is actually and old ring pull araldited to the back) and must have hung in some proud veteran’s home for many years before I found it in amongst an auction lot along with copies of The Arctic Times- the most Northerly English language newspaper in the world. It’s not a grand official document of the war, but tells us something about the humour of ordinary soldiers sent to serve in far flung corners of the world.

This and other cool stuff can be found in the Spinneyworld shop.

Blitz Spirit

It’s the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. I’ve been following the Battle of Britain Day By Day blog since last month, today it stepped up a gear with a long post about the first day of concentrated bombing on London.

By coincidence, I’m also reading First Blitz, an account of the German bombing campaign against London and the south of England during the First World War. After Zeppelins were no longer effective, the England Squadron flew Gotha and Giant bombers at first in daylight and then, as England’s air defence improved, on night raids. The numbers of aircraft and tonnage of bombs were significantly lower than in the next war, but this was one of- if not the- first time large raids were mounted against an enemy city.

I’m halfway through the book right now. It’s a simple chronological recounting of raids, developments and countermeasures, but told in such a way as to remain interesting and based upon accounts from the attackers and defenders for balance. My only quibble is in its use of the word Blitz. It was my understanding that Blitz came from blitzkrieg and was first used to describe the bombing campaign of 70 years ago. It feels to me like the WW1 campaign has been retroactively renamed as a Blitz, either by the book’s writer or earlier historians, and contemporary writers would have called it something else. That aside, the book is proving an interesting read on early air warfare.

Nothing to see here, move on

Nothing to see here, move on, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

Police horses are cool. This one, and several others, is on Market Street waiting for the fascists to show themselves.

The comic adventures of one of Britain’s great heroes- translated from French

I just read Biggles Vol.1: Spitfire Parade, a comic adaptation of one of W.E. Johns’ tales of his pilot hero, adapted and drawn by a leading proponent of aviation comics.

This is the first of Cinebook’s reprints of Bergèse’s Biggles comics. Their next release will be 666 Fighter Squadron, but there are also some copies still available on Amazon of earlier Red Fox translations- Biggles and the Battle of Britain and Biggles: Flying Detective. Biggles and the Pirates of the South Pole is currently unavailable as are Biggles: Le cygne jaune, Biggles: Le dernier Zeppelin and Biggles De Vlucht Van De Wallenstein. This page gives a list of some of the other comic book incarnations of James Bigglesworth. None of which I knew of before now.

The comic is large format and printed on quality paper with highly detailed ligne claire artwork complemented by fine colouring. I did find, as you can with this style, the figures occasionally lack animation- appearing to be holding uncomfortable “running” poses rather than expressing the motion- but there is no such problem with the machinery. It helps that Biggles and his squadron are flying one of the most beautiful machines ever built, but it’s not just the Spitfires that swoop around the panels.

Thankfully the translation is good, or Cinebook went back to the original novel for the dialogue. Either way, this comic is lacking the poor English that afflicts some other translated strips. It still reads as slightly stiff, but in the way you’d expect lines from a different era to.

I want to dig out my old Biggles books (handed down from my father), but I think I may have finally said goodbye to them a couple of years ago and sent them off to a charity shop. I want to read the Red Fox editions of the comics, but I also know that Cinebook should be supported in bringing them back to market so I should wait for their version. Blimey, I’m just a little frustrated chaps.

Maunsell Towers

From the Steam Geek archives-

The Maunsell Towers were set up to provide anti aircraft defence in the Thames Estuary during World War Two. Each “fort” comprised of one Bofors tower, a control tower, four gun towers and a searchlight tower. Three forts were built Nore Army Fort, the Red Sands Army Fort and the Shivering Sands Army Fort, of which the latter two still stand, more or less.

Wikipedia on Maunsell Forts.

Project Red Sands.

Sealand, most famous of the offshore forts, with plans

via BoingBoing

La Resistance

From the Steam Geek archives-

Not about technology, but interesting. The Covert Side of Reconstructing History.

This work will allow the novice re-enactor of Resistance and Special Operations Executive agents to select clothing and accoutrements appropriately — with historical accuracy. The portrayal of civilians — whether clandestine operatives or real civilians — in World War II reenactment circles has been the topic of hot debate, as some reenactors in the past have been, shall we say, less than exemplary in their chosen impression. We intend to change that. The organisation which sponsors this work reveres historical accuracy. The best way to achieve accuracy is through thorough and often cumbersome research, from which conclusions are drawn and standards adopted. Since this method has been followed, therefore, all the following conclusions may be considered accurate. By no means does this imply that the following are dogma, never to be gainsaid. If new information and research is brought to our attention, we shall at once join the queue to peruse it. If we, after the normal course of debate, find our earlier conclusions to be faulty, we will change them. We (especially Bob, who can barely read) do not pretend to be PhD-level experts on WWII-era fashion, textiles, and such; we just follow the pictures.

In a similar vein- the Churnet Valley Railway 1940s weekend.

Stalingrad 1942 diorama

Stalingrad 1942, originally uploaded by sspz101.

Check out the pictures from an incredibly detailed diorama depicting combat during the siege of Stalingrad.