On the 1st July 1916 the British Army attacked the German Army along the line of the Somme. The aim was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun. The result was the greatest disaster in British military history. At the end of the day the British had suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead.
The losses were particularly heavy along the northern part of the line. The Newfoundland Regiment was wiped out before Beaumont-Hamel. It suffered the worst losses of the day. “A great many fell before they even crossed the British line. Many more were hit as they picked their way through the gaps in the British wire. With exemplary courage, the survivors picked up their assault formations as best they could and “with chins tucked down as if walking into a blizzard” continued toward the German line about 400 metres further on”.
Several Pals battalions from the north of England suffered very heavy losses attacking the fortified hamlet of Serre.
The Pals battalions suffered particularly heavy losses all along the Somme. These volunteer units had been raised with the promise that recruits could serve alongside men from their own town [e.g. the Accrington Pals], the same school [The "Grimsby Chums" was formed by former schoolboys of Wintringham Secondary School in Grimsby] and the same organisation [Glasgow Trams]. There was even a Stockbrokers’ Battalion.
Operation Starvation was a WW2 American campaign to starve Japan into surrender by dropping 12,000 mines from B-29s into the narrow entrances to the Inland Sea and off Japanese ports. The idea was to deprive industry of coal, oil and raw materials and civilians of food. [see Lessons from an Ariel Mining Campaign. Project RAND. 1974. and
Operation Starvation. G A Mason. 2002.]
It is one of those historical events which I have never seen portrayed in book, documentary or movie. Yet it was extremely effective. The mines sank or damaged 670 ships totalling more than 1,250,000 tons for the loss of only fifteen B-29s. Even more shipping capacity was lost because ships were held in port waiting for mines to be cleared.
Operation Starvation was part of one of three strategic options for ending the war against Japan. Continue reading
Four thousand pound bombs. Each Lancaster carried at least one.
The nine Windows Openers aircraft were the first to arrive over the darkened city. The Mosquitos had been marking the route from the coast for the Main Force bombers, now they began illuminating the target area with bombs and flares. They also dropped Window [aluminised-paper strips] to confuse enemy radar and provided information on weather conditions, particularly wind speed and cloud cover.
Soon after 24 Blind Marker-Illuminators and 62 Supporters arrived. The Blind Marker-Illuminator [aka fire starters] Lancasters were flown by elite crews and carried radar. Their task was to mark the target area for the 800 aircraft of the Main Force; to set out a box in which, if all went according to plan, tens of thousands of people would die. Continue reading
Before the welfare state Britain had the workhouses. These were places were the indigent could be taken off the streets and provided with food and shelter.
This is the workhouse in Ripon in Yorkshire. It was built in 1854. Part of it is a museum and the rest is used as accommodation for Ripon’s Social Services Departments.
Life in a workhouse was intended to be harsh, to deter the able-bodied poor and to ensure that only the truly desperate destitute would apply. Poverty was seen as the fault of the poor and deserving of punishment. A philosophy that would seem familiar to some US Republicans and UK Conservatives.
Demand for accommodation often exceeded its supply so supply was rationed by making the workhouses unpleasant. Sometimes very unpleasant.
Lynching was employed as a means of social control in the South of the United States. Approximately 3,500 blacks and 1,300 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968, most of them from 1882 to 1920. [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law].
This post is about Nazi Germany’s murder of millions of Russian Prisoners of War. A holocaust that few remember.
In Summer 1941 Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. In the following months they won a series of battles of encirclement. Few in the West have heard of these but they were military victories on a scale that the world had not seen before and has not seen since. They were only possible between such unmatched foes and in the vast steppes of Russia.
These victories produced huge numbers of prisoners of war.
Vyazma and Bryansk 512,000
During the war in Russia German forces captured 5,700,000 Russian POWs. About 3.3 million of the POWs died in German camps, 2.8 million of them in the short period between the start of Barbarossa and the Spring of 1942.
About half a million escaped from the camps or were liberated by the advancing Red Army. About a million were taken as forced labour when manpower shortages started to hit the German economy. Finally, some 930,000 more were found alive in the camps after the war.
Some were shot or gassed. In Gross-Rosen concentration camp the SS killed more than 65,000 Soviet POWs by starvation. In Flossenbürg, they burned Soviet POWs alive. In Majdanek, they shot them in trenches.
However, the vast majority were killed in Dulags [POW transit camps] and Stalags [POW camps] by starvation, desease and exposure. The Germans set up a number of camps, usually by doing nothing more than stringing up some barbed wire. Prisoners were herded inside and then left in the open with little or no food, sanitation or shelter. Starvation, exposure and epidemics (especially typhoid and dysentery) did the rest.
In the late 1600s the men of Naples and Palermo were afraid of their women. A woman called Toffana sold a compound called Acqua Toffana. It contained arsenic and her customers used it to poison husbands and fathers, or any unwanted man. Toffana must have had many customers because it has been estimated that over 600 men were killed, including two Popes. She operated undetected for several decades. A substantial number of women must have known of her existence and passed her name and address amongst themselves. The men eventually realized what was happening, but what could they do? Which loving smile might conceal a murderous heart? Which gentle hand might prepare a fatal cup? Should they fear their wife, a daughter or a female servant?
Arsenic could be administered to kill swiftly, or provide a lingering death that could easily pass for an illness. It was difficult to detect. How could they protect themselves?
After those Northern spoilsports made slavery illegal some ingenious good ol’ boys came up with a way of enslaving black people that was entirely legal. The system was called convict leasing. It began in 1865 and lasted until 1928.
The idea was simple. Convicts were leased out to plantations etc. to replace the slaves that had been emancipated. If normal criminality did not provide sufficient recruits then people could be arrested on trumped up charges. Plantation owners could hire rather than buy and their capital outlays were less than when they had to buy their slaves. Also, since they did not own their labour force they had no particular incentive to look after their leased convicts.
Convicts did not only work on plantations. Alabama kept the system from 1875 to 1928 and most of the state’s convicts worked in the coal mines around Birmingham.
Often just convicted of minor offences, the leased convicts served long periods of hard labor. They lived in filth, were poorly fed, suffered torture and cruel punishments, and had no protection whatsoever from the labor contractors who hired them. Mine owners often faked “bad conduct” reports on prisoners to prolong their sentences and thus keep experienced men in the mine longer. A blind eye was turned to whippings and other forms of abuse. Mines had high death rates. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately 10 times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.
“Convicts were whipped, a man standing at the head and another at the feet, while a third applied the lash with both hands. Men who failed to perform their task of mining from two to four tons of coal per day were fastened to planks by the feet, then bent over a barrel and fastened by the hands on the other side, stripped and beaten with a strap. Out of the fifty convicts worked in the mines from one to eight were whipped per day in this manner. There was scarcely a day, according to the testimony of the witness, James Frazier, in which one or more were not flogged in this manner. In many cases convicts were forced to work in water six inches deep for weeks at a time getting out coal with one-fourth of the air necessary for a healthy man to live in, forced to drink water from stagnant pools and the reports of the prison officials showing large numbers killed in ‘attempting to escape’.”
States made a lot of money from convicts leasing. In 1883, about 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. No doubt corrupt officials also made a lot of money.
Whilst everybody knows about the practice of lynching in the South I doubt if many people are familiar with convict leasing, yet it probably claimed more lives and was equally a method of social control. Any black person who became ‘uppity’ could easily be arrested on a false charge and sent off to the convict leasing system for ten or twenty years.
Two trains from Hungary have arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp and selection is taking place. Sometimes those capable of working are separated and sent to one of the many satellite work camps. The rest, most women, the old and children, are sent for immediate gassing. At other times everybody on a train is gassed.
Walking to the gas chamber
Clearing up afterwards. A crematorium chimney is visible in the background.
What a happy group.
Auschwitz guards at a rest centre.
Stutthof concentration camp was located in the north of Poland, near Danzig. Some 85,ooo prisoners died in the camp. The Russians and Poles held four trials of former guards and kapos , charging them with crimes against humanity. The first trial was held against 30 ex-officials and kapos. Eleven of them, including five female guards, were sentenced to death. The executions were carried out at Biskupia Górka on the 4th July 1946.
Both Steinhoff and Barkmann were reported as being involved in the selection of women and children for gassing.
The above Stutthof guard photographs are from this page.
Albert Pierrepoint, the British executioner, hung a total of 202 German war criminals between 1945 and 1949, including Irma Grese for crimes at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and Auschwitz (aged 22), Elisabeth Volkenrath (Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz), and Juana Bormann (Auschwitz). The execution of Grese and some other war criminals was portrayed in the 2006 film Pierrepoint.