A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
People were of two minds when it came to rat hunting at the Front in 1916, or so it would seem: rats seem to have been fair game in the trenches, given the tough conditions and close quarters; on the other hand, rats in the open, along the roads, were let to live by many who thought that killing in battle was enough, and that a respect for other life--even rats-- was an acknowledged necessity. In the scene below we see British soldiers going about the business of eradicating rats from the trenches--with bayonets. A terrier is let loose on one, while the soldier in the background displays his trophy above the fire line for the Germans across the killing fields to see, as no doubt the enemy had the same problem, and there was at least in this brief moment a common human contact.
[Source: the Illustrated London News, April 1, 1916.]
There are a number of posts on this blog that have no real category, though they are joined by one simple principle--they look "straight" onto something, like straight up, straight down, and straight through. It isn't necessarily obvious, but these points of view are really pretty scarce in the history of antique prints. (Since there is no category you can search "straight" int he Google search box at left for other poss.) In this case, above, we have the gunner's eye view of the working of a machine gun, a great image published by The Illustrated London News in 1916.
The machine gun type isn't stated but I figured that it must be a water-cooled Vickers .303--from this vantage point your face wouldn't be more than a foot from the sight; the curved bits at front are hand grips, and the "trigger" (an oval button that you press in to activate the gun) would be between those two curved elements and just below--I think that you could've seen the trigger if it was drawn in, though for whatever reason it is not there. In any event those hand grips are less than 9 inches apart, so you can tell now that the view of the machine gun is from very close proximity.
Here's an unexpected find: a video of shooting a Vickers (without sighting mechanism) at nearly this exact perspective, found on youtube:
This striking photo shows the shell casings for one day's worth of bombardment by the U.K., at a position somewhere in France, 1916. I reckon that there are 3,000 105mm shell casings in this photo, which for one day's work is a lot. Throughout the course of the war it has been estimated that there were about 1.75 billion artillery shells fired, which makes this pile about .0000001% of the total; another way of looking at this number is that it would take about 580,000 of these piles to equal the 1.75 billion figure. It is a vast number, and vast numbers are hard to understand in a daily language.
This image comes from an uncommon and somewhat surprising work, Der Weltkrieg in Seiner Rauhen Wirklichkeit1, by Hermann Rex ("Kriegsphotographen"), which was published in Oberammergau in 1926, eight years after the end of the war. Mr. Rex really put the "krieg" in "kreigsphotographen"--unlike the more commonly seen very tightly controlled photographs made by the news photo service participants on the Allied side, the images in this book can be very gritty, bloody, damaging, and were hardly the stuff made for contemporary publishing--they represent a "more real" "Wirklichkeit"/(reality) than that most usually seen.
I am not sure how Mr. Rex came to make the photograph below of German POWs in a British "collection" station as it would have worked out very nicely for Allied propaganda purposes, displaying all of these thousands of German prisoners:
There were more than 8 million POWs during the course of the war, making about 5,550 POWs every day for four years.
1. There are more than 600 photographs in this book, a massive effort. Rex was "Operateur des Kriegs-Bild- und Filmamtes im Dienste der Obersten Heeresleitung von 1914-1918".
I was cataloging some WWI material today and came across this book--again. I thought I had placed it in with the early mimeograph/reprographic materials but then there it was, with the WWI pamphlets. But then it struck me that I had seen it in that mimeo collection--and so I decided to check out my associative memory and, oh weird joy of weirdness, there was another copy of the work. Generally this would be rather uncommon with my stock since so much of it is really fairly obscure and scarce, but this one is exceptionally odd because it seems already to be near-unique. They also seem to be the copyright deposit copies. So.
The book is History of the Second Division (Regular) AEF. Text. -AND- History of the Second Division (Regular) AEF, Notes., and reads "Copyright 1936, The Second Division Historical Committee, Major General Preston Brown, Chairman". The work stands in two tall (13.5x8") volumes, a chunky 282+156pp; each page contains about 550 words, giving the work a length of about 250,000 words.
This is evidently an earlier version of a work that would be popularly published in 1937 as the The Second Division, American Expeditionary Force in France, 1917-1919, by J.W. Wright (text) and Oliver L. Spaulding (Notes), as the work above and this share the same copyright number. The authors are not identified in this work, and for its year of publication there are no copies located in the OCLC/Worldcat.
These are the Copyright Deposit copies which were purchased from the Library of Congress. Both volumes were issued with stiffer, larger paper wrappers, but these are now detached and chipped. The text however is in excellent condition.
This work is available for sale in the blog bookstore, here.
In nearly the very middle of WWI, on August 24, 1916, there appeared this remarkable ad in the pages of the decidedly this-is-what-left-wing-magazines-look-like NYC-published magazine, The Nation:
It is interesting to think of the "middle" of this war with the "middle" of other wars, because, well, this doesn't look like the middle of anything except for the post facto chronometer of fighting. In the U.S. Civil War, the almost-perfect middle turns out to be Gettsyburg, and that looked considerably past the middle so far as the Confederacy was concerned. (And as a matter of fact, the section on Gettysburg in Shelby Foote's great classic (The Civil War, a Narrative) comes in the near-exact middle of the middle volume of the three-volume work...the "capstone" of the book, as he referred to the battle.) With WWII, the chronological middle, which is right around New Year's 1943, doesn't look like anywhere in the middle if you were there, though with the involvement of the U.S. and its enormous industrial/production capacity spelled the eventual end of the Axis; in January 1943, it still looked like a very hard road ahead.
It is highly probable that teh nature of being in the middle of anything is apparent only in hindsight.
Anyway, the ad shown above was an appeal for financial support, to help fight a war that was enormously expensive, and soliciting from overseas sources one one approach.
The U.K. had been consumed by the war since August, 1914, and would wind up with enormous losses totaling more than 10% of the entire soldiers-in-unfirom for the war, with more than 800,000 soldiers killed (and more than 1.6 million wounded)--the fatalities being roughly twice the number of people buried in Arlington Cemetery.
As a matter of fact, the U.K lost more soldiers in WWI than the U.S. lost in the Revolutionary War (25,000), War of 1812 (15,000), Mexican American War (13,000), Spanish American/Philippine American Wars (6,000), WWI (116,000), World War II (405,000), Korea (36,000), Vietnam (58,000), Iraq (3,600) and Afghanistan (1,800) combined, and then some. The U.S. Civil War, though, is another thing entirely, so far as these numbers go. (That said, and speaking of "another thing entirely, there was the Taipei Rebellion of 1850-1864, ending just before the U.S. war, claimed the lives of an unbelievable 20 million.)
Other nations fared even worse: Austria-Hungary suffered 1.2 million soldiers dead, France 1.4 million, and Russia and Germany each with about 2 million dead.
I'm not sure how I got here in this short post--all of the above generated by this advertisement for financial help to fight the war and to keep a country solvent. Now that I've had a quick look through the full years for 1916 and 1917 this seems to be the only appearance of the ad, and it is also I think the only full-page ad in The Nation for that time. I have no idea what happened to the U.S. appeal--perhaps they were reaching out to the wrong audience, because in spite of the time and the spirit of the magazine, prior to U.S. involvement in the war for 1916 and 1917 there wasn't much war coverage beyond the first page or two of general war news. Interesting.
Another interesting portrait within a photograph--this is one in a long series of images from the blog's WWI News Photo Service Photography section, which can be found here and which will explain the purpose of pool photography during the War. This image (explained in the original paper caption below) was made somewhere along the front at the intersection of French and Belgian lines. The soldiers are gathered around a sentry post, enjoying some light time.
This image is available for purchase via the blog's bookstore, here.
I really enjoy looking at old photos with a magnifying glass, finding the pictures within the picture, until it is micro-images all the way down. It is odd "coming out" of them, sometimes, and then looking at the full image, and in some sense feeling utterly at a loss to try and find where you had just been in great detail.
Here's an example with this great photo of the French Blue Devils on parade at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. These soldiers were and are elite mountain infantry, the Chassons Alpins, "Alpine Hunters", and nicknamed "the Blue Devils", and who saw their fair share of combat during WWI. They made a tour of the U.S.at the beginning of the War in a fund raising drive, and evidently did so again, at least in this instance, showing up in New York in May 1918.
This is a news photo service photograph (see here for the story) and is accompanied by this text which was supposed to be used along with the image when purchased for publication in a newspaper or magazine.
The original photo is available for sale at the blog bookstore, here.
See the WWI Photography section for more images and for an explanation of the source of the photographs.
This is a photograph of an aid station somewhere along the Western Front, 1917. Given the amount of digging going on throughout the course of the war, with the construction of hundreds of thousands of miles of trenches, and then the sapper war to tunnel underneath the tunnels and so on, it is quite possible that this underground shelter was dug out by hand. This is also an insight to the duration of some of those battles--to construct such a station impervious to possibly semi-continuous bombardment meant that the lines of battle were static, with many of the major engagements of hundreds of thousands of soldiers lasting for months, and in some cases, years.
The expressions here are difficult, and difficult to actually recognize as anything that isn't exhaustion. There is a lot of "blankness" in the faces, a deep weariness.
This scene is a detail from the larger and full image (which is also for sale at the blog's bookstore, here):
I have made perhaps 100 posts on the images from a collection of WWI news photo service images that I have, and for quite some time this image (below) has been one of he most captivating of the thousand or so that were in that collection. Generally the images were accompanied by a suggested text that could appear alongside the picture when it was published (see here for the ins and outs of publishing photographs during WWI), but this one had no description at all, save for the copyright on the back belonging to Underwood and Underwood.
I thought that this photo was from 1918, as 1000 of its companions were, but I was corrected by on twitter about the Mona Lisa's true name--Jennie Fletcher, (1890-1968), and the picture was at the 1912 Olympics. It is nice to be able to put a name to the face. (See the BBC for a good story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/7554196.stm)
The camera has caught her at an awkward time, especially given the sensitivities of showing skin in bathing attire.
What is she conveying? What is she saying with the attitude of her head and the look in her eyes?
There have been Classic Attitudes among the photographs (like the Venus of the Tars, for example), and in all of these examples, she is the only Mona Lisa.
There are few people I think who can recall the names of any U.S. secretaries of agriculture--the notable exception being Earl Butz, who during his tenure from 1971-1976 was known for being vulgar and profane, a quality which led to his forced resignation. Another notable but less-remembered quote had to do with the thing he was secretary of: food. He remarked that "food is a weapon", and although considering the source, the quote was not intended as offensive ordnance. He explained that the best method of fighting the Cold War was to provide food and the means of producing it to countries that might fall under the influence of Communism to secure the birthright for their people. (He perhaps was building on President Eisenhower's Food for Peace Program that began in 1954.)
The Starvation of Germany was a piece of British propaganda, an explanation of the blockade being used against Germany to bring it to negotiations to bring an end to the World War. It is not the end of World War II as I first thought--but the end of World War I. There were blockades in both, and each being very detrimental to the population of Germany--killings thousands of German citizens--though not enough to convince the Germans to sue for peace.
One thing that the 1915 pamphlet couldn't yet mention--that by the end of 1918 between 400,000-725,000 Germans had died of starvation or diseases related to lack of food.
At first glance this detailed and dense map looks foreboding and somehow off-putting--at least for me, and that was before I understood what the numbers represented.
The blue numbers on this section of a larger map refer to soldiers killed on the battlefield of the 1916 Somme battlefield. It is the work of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Messer (Assistant Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries in France), who undertook to record the crosses of the Fallen on the battlefield and register their location, and then to re-inter the bodies together in larger cemeteries.
[Source: John Hughes-Wilson, The First World War in 100 Objects, Firefly Books, 2014.]
What we are seeing here are pieces of four 6x6 grids (one complete and three partial) numbered (in red) 1-36, each one of these squares further subdivided into four section. Each larger square composed of 36 squares is 1000x1000 yards total, meaning that each one of the 36 subdivisions is about 166x166 yards, and each of the four segments of one smaller square is 83 yards. The blue numbers indicate a soldier killed on that field of battle which means that in the large 36-square "M" subdivision #18 that there were 210+29+372+17 fatalities, or 628 on a 166x166 yard field, or in one case 372 killed on a 83x83 yard plain. The deaths were even more intense on other areas of the field--in Square S #11 there were 749+207+234+126, or 1,416 deaths in that 166x166 yard field, and 749 on the 83x83 yard field. It is hard to visualize such loss. I picture a U.S. football field--there are 22 players on the field during play, and that seems to populate the area pretty well--casualties of 749 soldiers on a similar area would be nearly 35 times that, meaning that placed equidistantly and with a few feet on the sides they would cover the field. There are, what, 75 people on a football team? That means at the beginning of the game when all of the players and coaches and staff and cheerleaders and member of the band run out onto the field to take their places, they would all be dead--and then some. That is a lot of death.
According to the Imperial War Museum, temporary markers for fallen soldiers looked like this:
After the war the Imperial War Graves Commission replaced the wooden crosses with stone markers.
The wooden markers would then returned to the family.
Shells as far as the eye can see, at the National Filling factory at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. Even though I enjoy calculating estimates at vast quantities of things (like all of the life that has existed on Earth, from multi-cellular onwards, how many Legos it would take to build a Dyson sphere around our Solar System, what distance the Enterprise has covered under the command of Capt Picard, that sort) I really can't get a comfortable picture of the vastness of this factory to estimate the number of pounds of explosives under that roof.
Given that the factory produced about 19 million shells during WWI, I think it would be a safe guess that some 1 billion pounds of explosives were processed through the factory--and perhaps several billion. But it is difficult to say what we are looking at in these photos, except to say that the number is "big".
[Source" John Hughes-Wilson, The First World War in 100 Objects, Firefly Books, 2014.
["Female munitions workers guide 6 inch howitzer shells being lowered to the floor at the Chilwell ammunition factory in Nottinghamshire, U.K."--Source: "British official photographer : Nicholls, Horace - This is photograph Q 30040 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums."]
I was looking through the 1918 volume of Popular Mechanics for an particle on an uphill walking machine that was supposed to look very much like an early bird-shaped flying machine when to my high happiness found the following picture of a WWI bond drive. Earlier in this blog I posted an image of this event without knowing what the image actually depicted, and now with the accompanying text in the Popular Mechanics volume I now now its story.
First, the photograph from Popular Mechanics
(The image quality is not high in this half-tone (the original is 2" x 3") but it serves nicely.)
And the text with the explanation of the ball:
"One of the features of the recent Liberty Loan drive was the liberty ball a seven foot red white and blue sphere that was rolled from Buffalo to New York by two sons of Uncle Sam dressed in traditional attire The ball started on its long trip the first day of the bond campaign and reached Gotham on the closing one Keep the ball rolling was the slogan that helped to sell many bonds."
And so now I can correct the original writeup:
Like its more-famous WWII counterpart, scrap drives during The Great War were also frequently conducted. This is an original photograph showing just such a thing, depicting two Uncle Sams surrounded by Boy Scouts pulling a large hollow metal sphere. The sphere was rolled from Buffalo NY to New York City in an effort to raise awareness for the purchase of Liberty Bonds. By the time the ball reached NYC, it showed definite signs of wear and tear.
And of course this is a great photo.
The original is available at our blog's bookstore, here.
The February 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics presents an unusual graphic display of quantitative data--what the $18,000,000,000.00 that the just-ended session of Congress for war expenditure would look like if rendered in different forms, and also what it would buy. The author of "Visualizing the $18,000,000,000 War Fund for for 1918", Leslie Klug, was trying to put that enormous sum into perspective for the popular reader--the results though may have been a little more mystifying than the sum. For example, he stated that $18bn in $5 gold pieces placed face-to-tail would stretch 3,000 miles; if that amount was rendered in pennies, it would form seven lines of coins from the Earth to the Moon. That penny pile would also be thicker and about twice as high as one of the world's tallest skyscrapers, the Woolworth Building.
It is doubtful that this would help the Average Person understand $18bn, mainly because there isn't much to compare a penny skyscraper with.
The author seems to have replaced one semi-incomprehensible number with its representation in something even more removed from daily life, re-equating the one big sum of $18bn into smaller but more numerous chunks of the same figure.
Klug moves on to a more successful visualization--thinking of what that money would buy in planes and tanks.
Of course the allocated war money was allocated to fund the entire war effort, including, well, everything, and not to be spent on one thing, like planes. But Klug does create at least two visual images that hadn't occurred to me before--super-massive numbers of planes and tanks.
"Massive amounts" of tanks in my head has always been represented by the Battle of Kursk, fought in the summer of 1943, where the tide of the war was changed and the German offensive in the East broken. It was also the largest tank battle ever fought. It was an enormous victory for the Soviet Army, and the beginning of the end for the Nazis. 4,000,000 people were involved in the battle (with some 200,000 residents of the city of Kursk killed in the process), along with 70,000 artillery pieces, 14,000 aircraft, and 23,000 tanks. Klug informs the reader that $18bn would buy 2 million tanks--he can imagine the "havoc" it would cost the Germans, but really doesn't even try to imagine what 2 million tanks would look like, unlike the penny cables to the Moon And the illustration really doesn't do any sort of job in displaying the idea of massive tank production, just a little touch of fear. The 2 million tanks bit comes a little bit into focus if there was something to compare it with--the Kursk--even though trying to imagine that battle of tanks time 100 its accessibility really just begins to dissolve.
When I try to think of 2 million tanks in terms of a single advancing army the impossible numbers become slightly more grounded, but not much. A tightly-packed square mile of tanks numbers about, say, 90,000. That means that you could have a 22-mile long mobile front of tanks that was also one mile deep. Ouch.
Planes didn't do the trick of conveying massiveness, either, though the illustration was a little more evocative of fantastic air power, though Klug doesn't say how many planes the money would buy. The author does state that such an air power could destroy "every dwelling and planting field" in Germany. (My guess is there could be 4-6 million aircraft purchased with $18bn.)
Perhaps what seems what would be the most accessible of the visualizations comes with the navy, which would receive 360,000 "sub chasers" for the $18bn, a force which (Klug says) would be capable of covering every square foot of ocean from North America to Europe and beyond--except that the numbers don't work out.
The North Atlantic is a big place, something on the order of 41 million square miles, which means that each of the sub chaser would have to cover 118 square miles to cover the ocean, which I think is impossible to do in pre-SONAR days of sub detection, when basically there was optical observation looking for a pipe sticking up out of the water. I don't know what the observational power is of a ship looking for a periscope in the ocean, but I know it can't be the size of D.C. or anywhere near that. How many ships would it take for this job would be an interesting tea-time question for someone who knows this stuff--but for me, it seems that Klug's visualization on the naval aspect of $18bn is wrong. On the other hand that doesn't matter at all if you're doing a little propaganda write-up, like this one.
In any event that isn't the way war expenses are handled, though it is a nice exercise in thinking about big numbers.