Christopher Nolan's next film is a WWII action/thriller about the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France in 1940. The film comes out in July 2017 and if that last scene in the teaser trailer is any indication of the overall film, I will be there.
kottke.org posts about World War II
The historical accuracy of Saving Private Ryan Jul 14 2016
Saving Private Ryan has been praised for its graphic and intense depiction of World War II, particularly the Normandy landing scene. History Buffs recently analyzed the film for its historical accuracy. How well does the film reflect the events of the actual D-Day landing and aftermath?
The video takes a bit to get going but is really good when it does. For instance, did you know that the Allies used inflatable tanks and Jeeps to make Germany believe Allied forces had strongholds in places they did not? Look at them inflating the tanks and bouncing Jeeps around:
In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn't let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards' guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.
Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, "Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination," writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. "Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly."
The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.
Less ashamed at what they'd done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange's photos until 1972.
If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.
So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.
The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.
Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends -- he printed Migrant Mother for her -- and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:
In 1961, Lange said about Adams's taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: "It was shameful. That's Ansel. He doesn't have much sense about these things."
John Hersey's Hiroshima Aug 06 2015
In August of 1946, the New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a piece called Hiroshima by John Hersey. As an introduction, the editors wrote:
TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors.
For the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the New Yorker has digitized Hersey's piece. The piece is quite long (30,000 words) so it can also be found in book form if that's easier to read. Here's the opening paragraph to get you going:
At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order's three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition -- a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next -- that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.
The piece made quite an impression upon its release, which you can read about on Wikipedia.
The Fallen of World War II Jun 08 2015
This is an amazing video visualization of military and civilian deaths in World War II. It's 18 minutes long, but well worth your time.
Berlin in 1945 May 04 2015
Seven minutes of color film footage of Berlin in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Lots of bombed out buildings, soldiers, bicycles, rebuilding, and people going about their daily business.
Be sure to watch all the way to the end...there's an incredible aerial shot of the Brandenburg Gate and the Unter den Linden that shows the scale of damage done to the city's buildings. More of that aerial footage here. (via devour)
1940 Nazi tourist map of Paris Mar 04 2015
In 1940, Germany published a tourist map of occupied Paris intended for use by German soldiers on leave.
After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.
After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:
Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.
In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.
Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)
Kids, the Holocaust, and "inappropriate" play Jan 08 2015
On a strong recommendation from Meg, I have been reading Peter Gray's Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. Gray is a developmental psychologist and in Free to Learn he argues that 1) children learn primarily through self-directed play (by themselves and with other children), and 2) our current teacher-driven educational system is stifling this instinct in our kids, big-time.
I have a lot to say about Free to Learn (it's fascinating), but I wanted to share one of the most surprising and unsettling passages in the book. In a chapter on the role of play in social and emotional development, Gray discusses play that might be considered inappropriate, dangerous, or forbidden by adults: fighting, violent video games, climbing "too high", etc. As part of the discussion, he shares some of what George Eisen uncovered while writing his book, Children and Play in the Holocaust.
In the ghettos, the first stage in concentration before prisoners were sent off to labor and extermination camps, parents tried desperately to divert their children's attention from the horrors around them and to preserve some semblance of the innocent play the children had known before. They created makeshift playgrounds and tried to lead the children in traditional games. The adults themselves played in ways aimed at psychological escape from their grim situation, if they played at all. For example, one man traded a crust of bread for a chessboard, because by playing chess he could forget his hunger. But the children would have none of that. They played games designed to confront, not avoid, the horrors. They played games of war, of "blowing up bunkers," of "slaughtering," of "seizing the clothes of the dead," and games of resistance. At Vilna, Jewish children played "Jews and Gestapomen," in which the Jews would overpower their tormenters and beat them with their own rifles (sticks).
Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called "tickling the corpse." At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played "gas chamber," a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying. One game of their own devising was modeled after the camp's daily roll call and was called klepsi-klepsi, a common term for stealing. One playmate was blindfolded; then one of the others would step forward and hit him hard on the face; and then, with blindfold removed, the one who had been hit had to guess, from facial expressions or other evidence, who had hit him. To survive at Auschwitz, one had to be an expert at bluffing -- for example, about stealing bread or about knowing of someone's escape or resistance plans. Klepsi-klepsi may have been practice for that skill.
Gray goes on to explain why this sort of play is so important:
In play, whether it is the idyllic play we most like to envision or the play described by Eisen, children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. Violence in the adult world leads children, quite properly, to play at violence. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? It is wrong to think that somehow we can reform the world for the future by controlling children's play and controlling what they learn. If we want to reform the world, we have to reform the world; children will follow suit. The children must, and will, prepare themselves for the real world to which they must adapt to survive.
Like I said, fascinating.
World War II, the story of the 20th century Sep 01 2014
World War II began 75 years ago today with Germany's invasion of Poland. A few years back, Alan Taylor did a 20-part photographic retrospective of the war for In Focus, which is well worth the time to scroll through.
These images still give us glimpses into the experiences of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, moments that shaped the world as it is today.
The Imitation Game Jul 21 2014
The Imitation Game is a historical drama about Alan Turing, focusing on his efforts in breaking the Enigma code during WWII. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing. Here's a trailer:
Currahee May 02 2014
I watched the first episode of Band of Brothers last night to see if it held up (it does). The episode centers on the training and deployment to England of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, led by Lt. Herbert Sobel. In the miniseries, Sobel is played by David Schwimmer and is depicted as a real hardass who earns the hatred of his men while pushing them to be the best company in the entire regiment.
In real life, Sobel rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, fought in the Korean War, was awarded the Bronze Star, married and had three children. The part of Sobel's Wikipedia entry about his later years is among the saddest things I have ever read:
In the late 1960s, Sobel shot himself in the head with a small-caliber pistol. The bullet entered his left temple, passed behind his eyes, and exited out the other side of his head. This severed his optic nerves and left him blind. He was later moved to a VA assisted living facility in Waukegan, Illinois. Sobel resided there for his last seventeen years until his death due to malnutrition on September 30, 1987. No services were held for Sobel after his death.
Rest in peace, Lieutenant Colonel Sobel.
Did the Nazis steal the Mona Lisa? Nov 19 2013
Among the many enduring mysteries of this period is the fate of the world's most famous painting. It seems that Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was among the paintings found in the Altaussee salt mine in the Austrian alps, which was converted by the Nazis into their secret stolen-art warehouse.
The painting only "seems" to have been found there because contradictory information has come down through history, and the Mona Lisa is not mentioned in any wartime document, Nazi or allied, as having been in the mine. Whether it may have been at Altaussee was a question only raised when scholars examined the postwar Special Operations Executive report on the activities of Austrian double agents working for the allies to secure the mine. This report states that the team "saved such priceless objects as the Louvre's Mona Lisa". A second document, from an Austrian museum near Altaussee dated 12 December 1945, states that "the Mona Lisa from Paris" was among "80 wagons of art and cultural objects from across Europe" taken into the mine.
The Mona Lisa was actually stolen in 1911, in one of the cleverest art heists ever pulled.
The most honored photograph Oct 30 2013
Jay Zeamer and a group of fellow misfits collectively called the Eager Beavers were an American photoreconnaissance team in the Pacific theater during WWII. They flew their beat-up B-17 bomber into enemy territory to collection reconnaissance photographs. Roger Cicala shares the engaging story of their most noteworthy photo.
The only crew that volunteered, of course, was Jay Zeamer and the Eager Beavers. One of the crew, bombardier Joseph Sarnovski, had absolutely no reason to volunteer. He'd already been in combat for 18 months and was scheduled to go home in 3 days. Being a photo mission, there was no need for a bombardier. But if his friends were going, he wanted to go, and one of the bombardier's battle stations was to man the forward machine guns. They might need him, so he went.
They suspected the airstrip at Buka had been expanded and reinforced, but weren't sure until they got close. As soon as the airfield came in sight, they saw numerous fighters taking off and heading their way. The logical thing to do would have been to turn right and head for home. They would be able to tell the intelligence officers about the increased number of planes at Buka even if they didn't get photos.
But Zeamer and photographer William Kendrick knew that photos would be invaluable for subsequent planes attacking the base, and for Marines who were planning to invade the island later. Zeamer held the plane level (tilting the wings even one degree at that altitude could put the photograph half a mile off target) and Kendrick took his photos, which gave plenty of time for over 20 enemy fighters to get up to the altitude Old 666 was flying at.
World War II in 7 minutes Oct 07 2013
A 7-minute time lapse video of the European front line changes during World War II, from the invasion of Poland to (spoilers!) the surrender of Germany.
Surprising to me how much of the war involves no shifting front lines...the map view really emphasizes this in a way that other WWII narratives do not. (via open culture)
The mysterious briefcase of Martin Joyce Sep 12 2013
Kevin Delaney, the head of Wayland High School's history department, gave his 11th grade students an interesting challenge: find out everything you can about the person who owned a dusty briefcase full of papers that Delaney had found in the storage room. The man, Martin Joyce, turned out to have a life that spanned many significant events in history and his story provided the students with a personal lens into history.
Inside were the assorted papers -- letters, military records, photos -- left behind by a man named Martin W. Joyce, a long-since deceased West Roxbury resident who began his military career as an infantryman in World War I and ended it as commanding officer of the liberated Dachau concentration camp. Delaney could have contacted a university or a librarian and handed the trove of primary sources over to a researcher skilled in sorting through this kind of thing. Instead, he applied for a grant, and asked an archivist to come teach his students how to handle fragile historical materials. Then, for the next two years, he and his 11th grade American history students read through the documents, organized and uploaded them to the web, and wrote the biography of a man whom history nearly forgot, but who nonetheless witnessed a great deal of it.
"Joyce became the thread that went through our general studies," Delaney says. "When we were studying World War I, we did the traditional World War I lessons and readings. And then stopped the clocks and thought, 'What's going on with Joyce in this period?'"
As the class repeatedly asked and answered that question, they slowly uncovered the life of a man who not only oversaw the liberated Dachau but also found himself a participant in an uncommon number of consequential events throughout Massachusetts and U.S. history. In a way Delaney couldn't have imagined when he first popped open the suitcase that day, Joyce would turn out to be something akin to Boston's own Forrest Gump -- a perfect set of eyes through which to visit America's past.
Fantastic, what a great story. My favorite tidbit is that after all the wars and stuff, he and his wife were on the Andrea Doria when it was struck by the Stockholm and sunk. Part of the students' project was building a web site pertaining to Joyce's life and includes scans of all the papers they discovered...it's well worth looking through. (via @SlateVault)
Incredible footage from a WWII prison camp Aug 07 2013
An incredibly brave and cunning group of French prisoners of war were able to construct a camera inside the Nazi prison camp they were being held at and film their conditions.
Their rarely seen footage is called Sous Le Manteau (Clandestinely). So professional is it that on first viewing you would be forgiven for thinking it is a post-war reconstruction.
Prisoners filmed the camp secretly with a camera inside a hollowed-out dictionary. It is in fact a 30-minute documentary, shot in secret by the prisoners themselves. Risking death, they recorded it on a secret camera built from parts that were smuggled into the camp in sausages.
The prisoners had discovered that German soldiers would only check food sent in by cutting it down the middle. The parts were hidden in the ends.
The camera they built was concealed in a hollowed-out dictionary from the camp library. The spine of the book opened like a shutter. The 8mm reels on which the film was stored were then nailed into the heels of their makeshift shoes.
It gives an incredible insight into living conditions within the camp. The scant food they were given, the searches conducted without warning by the German soldiers. They filmed it all, even the searches, right under the noses of their guards.
Color photos of Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939-1940 Oct 19 2012
German photographer Hugo Jaeger traveled around Poland after the Nazi invasion and documented daily life there. Life has a selection of Jaeger's color photos from that time.
Why would Hugo Jaeger, a photographer dedicated to lionizing Adolf Hitler and the "triumphs" of the Third Reich, choose to immortalize conquered Jews in Warsaw and Kutno (a small town in central Poland) in such an uncharacteristic, intimate manner? Most German photographers working in the same era as Jaeger usually focused on the Wehrmacht; on Nazi leaders; and on the military victories the Reich was so routinely enjoying in the earliest days of the Second World War. Those pictures frequently document brutal acts of humiliation, even as they glorify German troops.
The photographs that Jaeger made in the German ghettos in occupied Poland, on the other hand, convey almost nothing of the triumphalism seen in so many of his other photographs. Here, in fact, there is virtually no German military presence at all. We see the devastation in the landscape of the German invasion of Poland, but very little of the "master race" itself.
It is, of course, impossible to fully recreate exactly what Jaeger had in mind, but from the reactions of the people portrayed in these images in Warsaw and Kutno, there appears to be surprising little hostility between the photographer and his subjects. Most of the people in these pictures, Poles and Jews, are smiling at the camera. They trust Jaeger, and are as curious about this man with a camera as he is about them. In this curiosity, there is no sense of hatred. The men, women and children on the other side of the lens and Jaeger look upon one another without the aggression and tension characteristic of the relationship between perpetrator and victim.
It's still amazing the extent to which early color photography can transport us back to the past in a way that black & white photography or even video cannot.
Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld Jul 02 2012
This obituary of Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld has 4 or 5 paragraphs similar to the one below.
En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo's headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.
Scientific secrets? May 25 2012
Soon after the US dropped two nuclear bomb on Japan in 1945, a group of physicists at the University of Pennsylvania decided to investigate for themselves how nuclear fission and the bomb might work using non-classified materials. In doing so, they ventured into classified territory and raised questions about the nature of science and secrecy.
To what degree would nuclear research become shackled by the requirements of national security? Would the open circulation of new scientific knowledge cease if that knowledge was relevant to nuclear fission? Those questions were hardly idle speculation: From the fall of 1945 through the summer of 1946, the US Congress was crafting new, unprecedented legislation that would legally define the bounds of open scientific research and even free speech. The idea of restricting open scientific communication "may seem drastic and far-reaching," President Harry S. Truman argued in an October 1945 statement exhorting Congress to rapid action. But, he said, the atomic bomb "involves forces of nature too dangerous to fit into any of our usual concepts."
The former Manhattan Project scientists who founded what would eventually become the Federation of American Scientists were adamantly opposed to keeping nuclear technology a closed field. From early on they argued that there was, as they put it, "no secret to be kept." Attempting to control the spread of nuclear weapons by controlling scientific information would be fruitless: Soviet scientists were just as capable as US scientists when it came to discovering the truths of the physical world. The best that secrecy could hope to do would be to slightly impede the work of another nuclear power. Whatever time was bought by such impediment, they argued, would come at a steep price in US scientific productivity, because science required open lines of communication to flourish.
At the University of Pennsylvania were nine scientists sympathetic to that message. All had been involved with wartime work, but in the area of radar, not the bomb. Because they had not been part of the Manhattan Project in any way, they were under no legal obligation to maintain secrecy; they were simply informed private citizens. In the fall of 1945, they tried to figure out the technical details behind the bomb.
World War II, tweeted in realtime Nov 11 2011
Germany has announced (again) that it will respect the neutrality of Belgium & Holland; "No German troops will enter the Low Countries"
Meanwhile back in 1668, Samuel Pepys is having trouble with his wife because he had a dalliance with the maid.
To dinner. The girle with us, but my wife troubled thereat to see her, and do tell me so, which troubles me, for I love the girle.
If the Nazis conquered America Nov 04 2011
Matthew Porter's photo composite Empire on the Platte is arresting.
Pairs nicely with Melissa Gould's Neu-York, "an obsessively detailed alternate-history map, imagining how Manhattan might have looked had the Nazis conquered it in World War II".
In 1942, Life magazine speculated about what an Axis invasion of North America might look like.
Triangular war letters Oct 14 2011
The standard form of Soviet war correspondence during WWII were letters folded into a triangular shape.
During the war, the mails were brought for free from the front to home. It could not have been differently, because probably the postage stamps would have been the last item the halting logistic support would have delivered to the front. Even so, postcards and envelopes were shortages. The soldiers' genius has thus created, right in the first months of the war, the format that was a letter and its own envelope in one. The folding process is very similar to how we, in our childhood, folded our soldier's shako, knowing nothing about the triangular soldier's letters.
Color photos of the London Blitz Jul 25 2011
These color photos taken of London during WWII's Battle of Britain are great.
Focus on WWII Jun 20 2011
As part of his new-ish gig as editor of In Focus at The Atlantic, Alan Taylor is running a 20-week series of photo essays on World War II. The first essay, Before the War, has been posted and is excellent.
The years leading up to the declaration of war between the Axis and Allied powers in 1939 were tumultuous times for people across the globe. The Great Depression had started a decade before, leaving much of the world unemployed and desperate. Nationalism was sweeping through Germany, and it chafed against the punitive measures of the Versailles Treaty that had ended World War I. China and the Empire of Japan had been at war since Japanese troops invaded Manchuria in 1931. Germany, Italy, and Japan were testing the newly founded League of Nations with multiple invasions and occupations of nearby countries, and felt emboldened when they encountered no meaningful consequences. The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, becoming a rehearsal of sorts for the upcoming World War -- Germany and Italy supported the nationalist rebels led by General Francisco Franco, and some 40,000 foreign nationals traveled to Spain to fight in what they saw as the larger war against fascism.
Be unbeatable Aug 26 2010
Kamikaze pilot Masanobu Kuno wrote a farewell letter to his young son and daughter the day before he flew to his death in the Battle of Okinawa. From the translation:
Your father will become a god and watch you two closely. Both of you, study hard and help out your mother with work. I can't be your horse to ride, but you two be good friends.
I should have a "crying at work" tag for posts like this.
Operation Mincemeat May 05 2010
Malcolm Gladwell tells us about Operation Mincemeat, a caper undertaken by British intelligence to fool the Hitler and the Nazis into thinking the Allied invasion of mainland Europe would come from through Greece and not Sicily.
It did not take long for word of the downed officer to make its way to German intelligence agents in the region. Spain was a neutral country, but much of its military was pro-German, and the Nazis found an officer in the Spanish general staff who was willing to help. A thin metal rod was inserted into the envelope; the documents were then wound around it and slid out through a gap, without disturbing the envelope's seals. What the officer discovered was astounding. Major Martin was a courier, carrying a personal letter from Lieutenant General Archibald Nye, the vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, to General Harold Alexander, the senior British officer under Eisenhower in Tunisia. Nye's letter spelled out what Allied intentions were in southern Europe. American and British forces planned to cross the Mediterranean from their positions in North Africa, and launch an attack on German-held Greece and Sardinia. Hitler transferred a Panzer division from France to the Peloponnese, in Greece, and the German military command sent an urgent message to the head of its forces in the region: "The measures to be taken in Sardinia and the Peloponnese have priority over any others."
Interactive map of the Nazi invasion of the USSR Jan 12 2010
An amazingly extensive Flash presentation of the eastern front in Europe during World War II. It takes a while for the Flash to load because of all the resources but well worth the wait if you're at all interested in WWII. (thx, reis)
Sand animation of Germany invading Ukraine Oct 19 2009
Kseniya Simonova won Ukraine's Got Talent 2009 competition with her dramatization of Germany's invasion of Ukraine during WWII, performed with sand on a giant lightbox. Sounds like the cheesiest thing, but this performance is amazing.
Watch until at least 1:06...that's when my mouth dropped open a bit. The entire audience was in tears by the end. (via @jessicadeva)
I was in Hitler's suicide bunker Sep 03 2009
Rochus Misch, now 92, recollects that he was in Adolf Hitler's bunker when the German dictator committed suicide.
"Then Bormann ordered Hitler's door to be opened. I saw Hitler slumped with his head on the table. Eva Braun was lying on the sofa, with her head towards him. Her knees were drawn tightly up to her chest. She was wearing a dark blue dress with white frills. I will never forget it.
Hiroshima, 64 years ago Aug 06 2009
In remembrance of the mass destruction of life and property due to the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima 64 years ago today, The Big Picture presents a typically excellent selection of photos.
Update: From Design Observer about a year ago, Hiroshima, The Lost Photographs.
First trailer for HBO's The Pacific Jun 23 2009
As a follow-up to the excellent Band of Brothers, HBO, Steven Speilberg, and Tom Hanks have teamed up to make The Pacific, a 10-part miniseries about the fighting in the Pacific during WWII from the perspective of a group of US Marines. The first trailer for the series has been released:
Update: So of course HBO made YouTube remove the video of the trailer. But they put up a smaller crappier version on their own site so it's all ok, right? (Why do media companies not like people spreading their advertising around? That's the fucking goal, yes?) Anyway, in the meantime I changed the link to the video above with a new one that hasn't been removed yet. And if that one gets removed, you can probably find the newest ones here. (thx, greg)
Atomic bombs, easy to make? Dec 10 2008
Dueling book reviews! (Sort of.) First, a pair of books suggest, contrary to Robert Oppenheimer's post-war views, that the US is the only nation to have developed atomic weaponry and that all the other nuclear nations have gotten their information from the US program.
All paths stem from the United States, directly or indirectly. One began with Russian spies that deeply penetrated the Manhattan Project. Stalin was so enamored of the intelligence haul, Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman note, that his first atom bomb was an exact replica of the weapon the United States had dropped on Nagasaki.
Moscow freely shared its atomic thefts with Mao Zedong, China's leader. The book says that Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project who was eventually caught and, in 1959, released from jail, did likewise. Upon gaining his freedom, the authors say, Fuchs gave the mastermind of Mao's weapons program a detailed tutorial on the Nagasaki bomb. A half-decade later, China surprised the world with its first blast.
The book, in a main disclosure, discusses how China in 1982 made a policy decision to flood the developing world with atomic know-how. Its identified clients include Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea.
This week's New Yorker contains an article about a third book that's the culmination of more than a decade of research on the workings of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan (subscribers only). From the abstract:
Coster-Mullen's book includes more than a hundred pages of declassified photographs from half a dozen government archives. Coster-Mullen, who is a truck driver by profession, sees his project as a diverting mental challenge. "This is nuclear archeology," he says.
Coster-Mullen goes on to add that "the secret of the atomic bomb is how easy they are to make". His hand-bound book, Atom Bombs, is available from Amazon.
The blockade diet Nov 28 2008
Harper's has a translated excerpt from a 1942 letter detailing a list of recipes used by the residents of Leningrad during the city's blockage by the Nazis in WWII (subscribers only). In addition to mustard cakes and leather-belt soup, here's this:
Soup from pets and domesticated animals
Meat is ranked by taste in the following order: dog, guinea pig, cat, rat. Gut the carcass, wash well and place in cold water. Add salt. Cook for one to three hours. For aroma: bay leaf, pepper, any sort of herbs, and, if available, grain.
Lost photographs of the bombing of Hiroshima Nov 10 2008
A month after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the US government imposed a code of censorship in Japan, which means that photos of the effects of the nuclear device are somewhat difficult to come by. Enter diner owner Don Levy of Watertown, MA.
One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor's house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.
He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges -- snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.
The photographs were taken by the US Strategic Bombing Survey immediately after the war and are now in the possession of the International Center of Photography. A copy of a report made by the US Strategic Bombing Survey is available online at the Truman Library.
Color photos of occupied Paris Jul 10 2008
André Zucca's color photographs of Paris during the German occupation of WWII have provoked controversy because Zucca worked for a German propaganda magazine. But Richard Brody argues that Zucca's photographs are true to the Paris of the time and don't just show the "cheerful ease" of the city's residents.
Certainly, Zucca couldn't get the whole story: he photographed Jews wearing the star but couldn't show the roundups or the deportation to Auschwitz; he could show German soldiers but couldn't show the arrest, torture, and execution of resisters. He couldn't, but nobody could; the problem wasn't that he worked for a propaganda rag: photographers who actively worked for the Resistance couldn't do it either. But what he did do was to capture the paradoxes of the Occupation, where horror and pleasure coexisted in shockingly close proximity, where the active resistance to Nazi occupation was in fact far less prevalent than the feigned daily oblivion of those who kept their heads down and tried to cope.
POW camp economics Jul 09 2008
How a rough system of barter developed into a more complex system of trade in WWII POW camps. This is fascinating stuff.
We reached a transit camp in Italy about a fortnight after capture and received 1/4 of a Red Cross food parcel each a week later. At once exchanges, already established, multiplied in volume. Starting with simple direct barter, such as a non-smoker giving a smoker friend his cigarette issue in exchange for a chocolate ration, more complex exchanges soon became an accepted custom. Stories circulated of a padre who started off round the camp with a tin of cheese and five cigarettes and returned to his bed with a complete parcel in addition to his original cheese and cigarettes; the market was not yet perfect. Within a week or two, as the volume of trade grew, rough scales of exchange values came into existence. Sikhs, who had at first exchanged tinned beef for practically any other foodstuff, began to insist on jam and margarine. It was realized that a tin of jam was worth 1/2 lb. of margarine plus something else; that a cigarette issue was worth several chocolates issues, and a tin of diced carrots was worth practically nothing.
The cigarette soon became the coin of the realm and at camps with stable populations, there were shops operated by the senior British officer with cigarettes as the currency people used to buy and sell goods to/from the store.
One trader in food and cigarettes, operating in a period of dearth, enjoyed a high reputation. His capital, carefully saved, was originally about 50 cigarettes, with which he bought rations on issue days and held them until the price rose just before the next issue. He also picked up a little by arbitrage; several times a day he visited every Exchange or Mart notice board and took advantage of every discrepancy between prices of goods offered and wanted. His knowledge of prices, markets and names of those who had received cigarette parcels was phenomenal. By these means he kept himself smoking steadily - his profits - while his capital remained intact.
The article also discusses deflation, the shifting availability of currency, credit, price movements, futures markets, paper currency, and price fixing. (via migurski)
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds Jun 20 2008
Quentin Tarantino's next movie: Inglourious Basterds. Here's le plot:
A band of U.S. soldiers facing death by firing squad for their misdeeds are given a chance to redeem themselves by heading into the perilous no-man's lands of Nazi-occupied France on a suicide mission for the Allies.
A German fighter ace has just learned Mar 18 2008
A German fighter ace has just learned that one of his 28 wartime 'kills' was his favourite author. Messerschmidt pilot Horst Rippert, 88, said he would have held his fire if he had known the man flying the Lightning fighter was renowned French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
In a map of the Republik van Feb 11 2008
In a map of the Republik van Nieuw Nederland, Paul Burgess imagines that the Dutch never gave up their New World possessions and a republic formed centered around New Amsterdam.
New Amsterdam never gave way to New York. The Dutch kept the whole of their North American colony out of the hands of the perfidious English, in fact. New Netherland today constitutes a thriving Republic stretching from the Atlantic coast to Quebec, dividing New England from the rest of the United States.
See also Melissa Gould's map of Neu York, which imagines Manhattan as a post-WWII Nazi possession.
The Überschwerer Kampfschreitpanzer is an awesome but little-known walking tank that was used in the German invasion of Russia during WWII.
As the war progressed, the Überschwerer Kampfschreitpanzers became less of an asset and more of a liability. Their height made it nearly impossible to hide them, and at least one was totally destroyed and another wrecked beyond repair by a concentrated rocket attack from the so-called "Stalin's Organs." Several others were damaged from artillery barrages, Russian dive bombers claimed another, and if reports are correct, one of the last Fortresses was taken by several P-38 Lightning pilots, who brought it down with wing-mounted rockets.
Where was this in my high school history book?
Project Orcon was a WWII-era effort to Oct 29 2007
Project Orcon was a WWII-era effort to find a non-jammable guidance system for missiles; pigeons were one of the things they tried. Loaded into a missile, the pigeons were to tap on the image of the target to correct the missile's trajectory.
Trainee pigeons were started out in the primary trainer pecking at slowly moving targets. They were rewarded with corn for each hit and quickly learned that good pecking meant more food. Eventually pigeons were able to track a target jumping back and forth at five inches per second for 80 seconds, without a break. Peck frequency turned out to be four per second, and more than 80 percent of the pecks were within a quarter inch of the target. The training conditions simulated missile-flight speeds of about 400 miles per hour.
More information at Wikipedia, including some interesting see alsos: bat bomb and anti-tank dog. (thx, dan)
No place for children Oct 04 2007
We're running a bit behind in watching The War; we stopped the other night right before D-Day. The series is quite good so far, even with all its flaws. The last section we watched dealt with the Battle of Monte Cassino and the related Battle of Anzio in Italy. With the Germans holding the high ground, these battles were some of toughest of the war for the Allies. During one particularly difficult moment, an American soldier yelled out a prayer (I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Oh God, where are you? We really could use your help down here. And don't send Jesus, come down here yourself. This ain't no place for children."
The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin pans Ken Sep 17 2007
They’ve taken a subject that is inexhaustible and made it merely exhausting. Scene by scene, interview by interview, the series doesn’t bore, if you are of the school that believes that everyone’s experiences are at least somewhat interesting, and that the experiences of those who went through the Second World War are more interesting than most.
As those of you who love slow Sep 06 2007
As those of you who love slow pans over black and white photography are already aware, Ken Burns has a new documentary coming out on PBS on Sept 23. The War "explores the history and horror of World War II from an American perspective by following the fortunes of so-called ordinary men and women who became caught up in one of the greatest cataclysms in human history" in 7 episodes spanning over 15 hours. A 26-minute video preview is available on the PBS site and the DVD is already available for pre-order on Amazon.
Gunter Grass: How I Spent the War, Jun 04 2007
Gunter Grass: How I Spent the War, a first-person account of an SS recruit during WWII.
Photographs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, after the atomic bombs were dropped. Some of these are pretty intense, so go easy if you're bothered by that sort of thing.
Update: More photos here.
A new book, Heil Hitler, The Pig Sep 18 2006
A new book, Heil Hitler, The Pig is Dead, deals with humor during Hitler's reign in Germany. "From an early stage, Germans were well aware of their government's brutality. And the country wasn't possessed by 'evil spirits' nor was it hypnotised by the Nazis' brilliant propaganda, he says. Hypnotized people don't crack jokes."
A Pocket Guide to China, distributed to Sep 15 2006
A Pocket Guide to China, distributed to US troops during WWII, included a helpful cartoon called How to Spot a Jap, useful for telling enemy soldiers apart from "our Oriental allies", the Chinese. See also All Look Same. (thx, tabs)
Using the sequential serial numbers of captured Jul 21 2006
The life and times of "broadcast pioneer" Jan 31 2006
The life and times of "broadcast pioneer" Edward R. Murrow. "During the war, Murrow never had to play the role of the dispassionate reporter. He was an important player in the Allied war effort, and, under the circumstances, that did not conflict with his journalistic role."
The memoirs of Winston Churchill's bodyguard have been recently discovered. "Why, Thompson, did they allow the president [FDR], almost dying on his feet, to be there? All Europe will suffer from the decisions made at Yalta."
The group of Comanche Indians from the Lawton area were selected for special duty in the U.S. Army to provide the Allies with a language that the Germans could not decipher.
Los Alamos From Below: Reminiscences 1943-1945, by Richard Feynman. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test which bomb Feynman helped build.
"A cameraman at Yalta tells what it Jun 21 2005
George Weller was the first foreign reporter Jun 21 2005
George Weller was the first foreign reporter to visit Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped. For the first time, these are his reports from there, which at the time were censored by the US military.