A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 3.9 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... 4,000+ total posts
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.
April, 1918, Givenchy Road, France--this is an official war photograph of captured German soldiers. There are hundreds of smaller photographs composing the larger full photo of this mass scene of fear, relief, exhaustion, and boredom. Everywhere a portrait, and each portrait with a different story to tell.
See this blog's continuing series on WWI photographs, here.
Also see an earlier post on this site, a similar photograph, the original of which is offered for sale on the blog's bookstore, here.
Here we are at the beginning of a new baseball season, everyone daisy-fresh and dazzlingly shiny, so I thought I'd share this fine image from my collection of World War I news service photographs. In 1918 all was for fun and charity of the British Blue Cross, and Ms. Phyllis Broughton joined the festivities, though whether see is entirely reluctant or determined, we'll never know. Perhaps both--whatever the case, she did what she was asked to do for a good cause, with a stiff upper lip.
(The typed description on the coarse paper was intended for the newspaper ro journal that published the photograph to use for the caption.)
This photograph is available for purchase on the blog's bookstore, here.
(It seems that this Phyllis Broughton is Ms. Phylis Broughton, star of stage and, well, stage. Read about her here.)
These two photographs of the streets of Berlin come from the 19 May 1919 issue of Illustrirte Zeitung. Evidently there are lots of people carrying placards and advertisement vehicles, and--as we see in the lead photo--some people wearing costumes of the advertised product. Between the two images, it seems that a good percentage of the crowds are actually advertising media.
I don't know why this is the case. Germany certainly was in a bad place seven months after the end of WWI, (recovering from food shortages, experiencing money shortages, numerous political parties fighting among themselves and everyone fighting with Communists), and just three months before the adoption of the Weimar constitution, and two months after what would be the disastrous Versailles Treaty was signed. Maybe there was a shortage of newsprint, or a shortage of money for people to buy magazines and/or newspapers, which mean people weren't seeing advertisements and which means that perhaps retailers were being hurt even further, and so an army of placard-holders was let loose on the streets of Berlin and other cities to get out the consumption-reminders.. Or maybe not. In any event, the photographs are stunning.
About two months after the Germans used the first poison gas in WWI (on April 22, 1915 against French Colonial troops at he Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium) the Scientific American published (on June 12, 1915) an account of some very early responses to the new lethal threat. This was a more caustic and dangerous form of a warfare that existed for at least 2200 years, going back to the Peloponnesian wars, with pitch- and sulphur-saturated wood that was set alight and buried under siege walls, the noxious smoke incapacity the soldiers within the walls. As the SA article also points out, bellows were used to propel the nasty and noxious smoke produced in a cauldron of burning charcoal, pitch and sulphur, blown hopefully over the walls and lines of the enemy--this at about the same time as the Athenians and Spartans were having it out.
There's also indications that plague/disease-ridden animal carcasses were catapulted across enemy lines, armies going at one another using rockets of diseased meat. And so on.
But the 150 tons of chlorine gas that the Germans sent over the French lines on that day was something entirely different--and far more lethal than any other gas previously used. (There was an earlier attempt to use gas in battle, employing an even nastier gas--xylyl bromide. It was dispatched January 15, 1915 against the Russians on the Eastern Front, but due to extreme cold most of the gas froze--it still however was potent enough to kill a thousand soldiers.)
The early response to protection from gas warfare was inadequate, with masks being sometimes little more than string and cotton gauze. This response was better than no response, because in the end it at least gave some millions of soldiers comfort to know that they were being taken care of, that something was being done to address the gas problem. Of course this would last only so long as they didn't have to actually employ the mask.
As the war progressed, the gas mask response improved, though so did the lethal varities of gases that were employed. Even the best of the masks were incapable of defending much against phosgene and diphosgene--and then there was no protection at all from mustard gas, which was another beast entirely.
It was the illustrations that stopped me in the Scientific American article--first for the flannel muzzle mask (above), which made my heart half-break; and then, just beneath that picture, a portrait of a group of British soldiers wearing cloth masks, who were "prepared to weather a gas attack". They were told that adding a little water to the mask would help stop the gas, a lot of which was hopeful expectation and wishful thinking.
An earlier post appears here, "Gas Masks and Poison Gas, World War I, 1915", on early (November/December 1915) masks.
The searchlight had been used in military operations for several decades before this cover appeared in the Scientific American for June 15, 1915. Just a few years earlier an idea for using a powerful illuminating source in a dirigible for night time bombing appeared in the Illustrated London News--it was pretty powerful, showing the dark airship against a dark sky, the searchlight piercing its way down to the surface to reveal fleeing African tribesmen. (Why the target was Africa and tribesmen with spears I can only guess at, but each answer I come up with is not pretty.) The present image seems like a fine idea at first for the defensive position, illuminating an advancing line in a night time attack. That said, the spotlight seems like a pretty big target, the 5'-wide glowing glass an easy mark from a few hundred feet. One thing I could say for sure is that I would not want to be the guy up there operating the spot, which right now looks more like a light tube to fill bullets with more than anything else.