Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Chernobyl Disaster | Biggest Nuclear Meltdown In History | Documentary

The danger presented by the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown was bad enough, but it could have been much worse.  Two men died in the initial explosion.  Three more men, gave their lives.  There was a pool of water in the reactor form the fire fighting efforts.  Had this water met the heat from the reaction, there would have been a steam explosion with a steam cloud that would have distributed radioactivity for miles around, reaching much of Europe and up into the Baltic countries.  Many people would have died.  The three men know where the release valves were located to drain the water.  They had to swim through radioactive water to reach them.  They did and were able to release the water.  However they all three died shortly after of radioactive poison.  There was an attempt made to lower the heat by pump in liquid nitrogen.  It is unclear if this was accomplished, but 10,000 men did encase the reactor in concrete, now known as the sarcophagus.  Many of these have had long term effects form radiation.  It is thought 800,000 people risked their lives trying to clean up the radiation.  26 people died shortly after the clean up effort.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Documentary: Nazi Mega Weapons: Kamikaze

Kamikaze for the most part was a weapon employed by the Japanese, however the Nazis also toyed with the idea.  The Nazi idea was to add a man to pilot the V-1 rockets, however the idea was quickly discarded.  However the Japanese used Kamikaze, suicidal attacks, to good effect.  This started with pilots flying their planes, which were loaded with bombs, into the Allied ships as early as 1944.  However the practice became prominent in the battle for the Philippines and Leyte Bay.  Also the battle for Okinawa was also contested by Kamikaze pilots.  A drawback of the tactic was that the crashing planes usually did not destroy the boats they were striking.  It is true some sank, but for the most part there just wasn't enough explosive fire power to cause the destruction needed.  The Japanese perfected a piggy back manned rocket.  This planes were stripped of everything except explosives and a rocket engine.  They did prove effective if they were able to complete a mission.  The rocket engines allowed them to go very fast just before striking a vessel.  The draw back here is that the vessels were piggy backed on slow planes, which were often blown out of the sky before the rockets could be released.  Another tactic employed was the use of Kamikaze torpedoes.  These torpedoes had a man in them who could manipulate the direction of the torpedo to increase accuracy.  These torpedoes were launched by submarine.  However ocean conditions often limited heir employment and sometimes it appears the man in the torpedo would drown before being able to complete his mission.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Documentary Review: An American Experience PBS: Bonnie and Clyde

I have fantasized this story since seeing the movie as a teen.  Bonnie and Clyde were a couple of depression era gangsters out of Dallas, Texas.  The documentary puts the story in a different light than the movie.  However, Bonnie and Clyde did make the most wanted list, are were the only romantically in love couple on the list.  I guess that is the stuff legend and myth are made of.  In reality, they were on the run for a long time, and being on the run is a very stressful lifestyle.  The myth was increased by a roll of film they had taken, with the two in different poses with guns.  During the early days, Barrow was able to out run and out shoot the police.  He preferred the Browning Automatic Rifle, a more powerful weapon than the police.
The Federals and Police were out to kill Clyde Barrow because he he and his gang had murdered policemen.  Bonnie Parker was along for the ride come what may.  The FBI armed their G-Men with machine guns.  Towards the end they even master minded a prison break out as they were short men.  Clyde's brother had been killed, and his sister-in-law imprisoned.  It was the family of one of those new gang members who did Bonnie and Clyde in.  They were making arrangements for leniency for their son, and provided information about a visit Barrow was going to make with the family on a particular date.  This allowed for an ambush.
The ambush was successful, and Barrow was killed with the first two sniper shots, having been struck in the head.  However, the police and G-Men unloaded at least 150 rounds into the care after those first two shots.  There was no hope for either.
They were not buried together, but there was a line of viewers for both.   This was mostly out of curiosity, everyone wanted to see the couple gangsters..

Book Review: Grandpa's Stories: Rick Steber: Tales of the Wild West Vol. 10

Rick Steber is a story collector.  In this book, he tells the stories of old timers.  This is not just his grandfather, but many grandfathers telling the grandkids the stories of their youth.  Steber's stories tend to the northwest, as that is where he lived.  However they do spread farther, into California, and in this book he tells the story of Old Ephraim from Cache County, Utah.  His stories are always one page only, so sometimes he has to fit lots into just a few word.  I think this is because he wrote them for a radio program, where things had to be kept short.
We have stories about rattle snakes, and stories about stage coaching and wagoneering, farming. pirating, and conning.  There is a story about an intelligent mule, and several about native American traditions and the Nez Perce Indians in particular.
I personally enjoyed this book, and plan to read some more of this series.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Documentary Review: Nazi Mega Weapons: The Siegfried Line

This Nazi weapon represents the Western Front for the Germans, or at least the western front early in the war. It was a significant defensive line along the western border of Germany. It was so formidable, as intended by Adolf Hitler, to discourage any attack from the west, France or England.  In doing so it freed Hitler to expand the German empire to the east.  The Siegfried Line was completed in just a few months in 1938, and was directly responsible for the annexation of Czechoslovakia into Germany.  The Allied powers were not willing to oppose Germany with such a strong defense.  This allowed for further expansion to the east, Poland and countries of the Baltic.  However, as the expansion moved west, with the conquest of France, the Siegfried Line was left behind.  It was stripped of much of its metal hardware which now went to the Atlantic Wall.  However the Atlantic Wall was over run in just a day on D-day.  The Germans pulled back to this defensive line, which was formidable indeed.  It was a layered defense.  Even though stripped of hardware, it was still formidable.  There were concrete anti-tank berms called dragon's teeth,  which were very effective, mines and concrete pill boxes.  There were also forests to contend with, which limited the effectiveness of air superiority.   The Allies would be battling through this defense for over six months with a great loss of men.  However, eventually the lack of defenders, and the dwindling supply of ammo proved too much to bear.  There was also a time that the German commander, General Field Marshall Walter Model ordered a counter move.  However the big counter move was The Battle of the Bulge, which caught the Allies by surprise, but petered itself out in three weeks and the counter offensive of the U.S. drove the Germans back past the Siegfried line and on towards Moscow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Documentary Review: Nazi's Mega Weapons: Hitler's Battleships

   Although Hitler had planned to build bigger and bigger Battleships, he actually only finished two large Battleships; the Bismarck, completed in 1940 and its sister, Tirpitz, finished the following year 1941.  Too Adolf Hitler these Battleships were propaganda pieces.  To the commander of the Navy, Admiral Erich Raeder, these Battleships afforded an opportunity to disrupt the British line of supply.  On the maiden voyage for the Bismarck, the British were determined to sink her.  The British feet set out to track her down, and finally did so, and engaged her in battle.  The British lost HMS Hood a battle cruiser, and a Battleship, HMS Wales was badly damaged.  The British continued to press, this time attacking with biplane torpedo planes, which were flying off an improvised aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal.  One of the torpedoes scored a hit at the aft of the Bismarck, flooding the steering house and causing the rudder to lock in place, and forcing the Bismarck into a tight circle.  The boat should have been able to correct for this using the propellers, however a design flaw had the propellers too close together so this was not possible.  After this the Bismarck was a sitting duck.  Two British ships came in for the kill, and the Bismarck was sunk 27 May, 1941.
Of course Hitler was furious.  His propaganda weapon was destroyed.  He would not let the other ship, Tirpitz, to engage in similar combat, and he scrubbed future Battleship projects, moving the material and men to construction of submarines.
The Tirpitz was sent North to Norway, where it was anchored in a fjord surrounded by high mountains and in deep water.  Defensive placements where scattered among the hills, along with fog making canisters.  They idea was if the ship could not be seen, it could not be sunk.  Antiaircraft placement in the tops of the mountains were not hampered by the smoke being made below them.  The Tirpitz itself also had antiaircraft guns.  Torpedo netting was placed around the ship, thwarting any effort by submarines or torpedo planes.  The British attacked with planes flying from Russia carrying Tall Boy bombs.  These bombs could penetrate a ship's deck.  The British attacked, and did score a successful strike with one of these bombs.  However, the Tirpitz was not sunk.  However it was no longer sea worth because of the damage.  It was taken a short distance away, where it became the northern anchor of the Atlantic Wall which ran from Norway to Spain.  The ship was propped up with sandbags.
Still the large ship was a tempting target for the British, and although no threat, the British did not know this.  Having moved closer to England, the ship could be reached with long range bombers.  Again it was attacked with Tall Boy bombs.  This time 5-6 of the bombs struck the vessel and it was sunk.  The sand bags did not help as the vessel rolled the opposite way.  Of the 2000 men on board, two thirds were lost.  Some were rescued from inside the vessel when the thick hull was finally welded away.
Thus was the end of Adolf Hitler's large Battleships.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Documentary: Nazi Mega Weapons: The SS

Heinrich Himmler
This is perhaps the most terrifying movie of this series.  Here we have the essence of the Nazi Party.  Heinrich Himmler and a few men started out as Hitler's body guards.  This was a true evil sect.  SS stands for Schultstaffel, or Protection Squadron.  They were given charge of establishing the concentration camps.  The first camp in Dachau would become a model for many to follow.  It was a training camp.  Here members of the SS were trained in torture and in control.  This camp mostly housed political prisoners.  This camp did not have a gas chamber, but a firing range where many were shot.
In the early days of Nazi power there was a larger rival group to the SS.  However Himmler was against this group, and eventually convinced Hitler eye were rivals to his power.  The leaders of this group were shot and executed.  The SS was entwined with the police.
With free reign the SS became more deadly and dangerous.  The had their own cathedral for planning and religious rites.  They had their own ideas in which the German people were to be worshipped instead of God.  Himmler took over a castle, Wewelsberg, where his concepts of racial purity could be taught.  This would include elimination of "sub humans."  They believed in sterilization and execution of those unfit, and polygamy to propagate the race.  One goal was to eliminate Christianity.  
The SS recruited elite soldiers. Requirements including no glasses and be five feet eleven.  SS units were some of they best.  They were also involved in spying, local affairs, concentration camps, removal and relocation of people, including Jews, homosexuals and other undesirables.
A strange aspect of SS was a construction project.  Project Reise or Giant was seven underground structures connected by tunnels.  Their exact purpose is not known, but likely underground factories.  They were not finished.  However they have many self defense features, such as a grenade chute and gun windows.
In the end Himmler was captured, and killed himself while being interrogated.  Many other SS members were tried and executed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Documentary: Nazi Mega Weapons Season 2: The Wolf's Lair

This is the continuing PBS series which looks at some of the Nazi mega weapons.  This episode deals with Hitler's shelters.  It also looks at the attack on Hitler in his lair.  Hitler fancied himself a military leader, and wanted to be close to the action.  This served him well inFrance as he made a shelter close to the front, and was able to monitor and direct.  The success of the Germans convinced Hitler this was good strategy.  He even went so far as to make bomb shelters for his trains, covered man made tunnels, which were rarely used.  They were rounded so bombs would bounce off.  Mussolini and Hitler held a meeting in one such structure, it's only use.  This were a waste of manpower and resources.  Hitler's Lair was as far to the west in Germany (Prussia) as Hitler could get. From this location Hitler was to monitor the invasion of Russia.  However he was hampered by distance.  The Nazis were on the verge of taking Moscow.  However Hitler order the troops to take Leningrad first, which proved to be a costly mistake.  He also ordered attacks and other strategies, without having enough information.
Claus von Stauffenberg
Tremendous amounts of concrete were used to build the lair, where Hitler Had a large personal complex, but it was mostly cement and buffer.  The living space was very small.  These enclosed rooms were a hazard,and disgruntled Germans used them to attack Hitler.  In an enclosed space, a small bomb could do great damage as the force would be concentrated.  Colonel Claus von Straffenberg attempted such a move, however the meeting to which he was invited was not held in a bunker, but an outlying building, which was not made of concrete.  However the detonator had already been triggered.  The bomb did not kill Hitler as the force of the blast was not contained.   Several other officers were killed.  For his roll Stauffenberg was executed without trial.  
Hitler's Lair was abandoned when the Russians advanced taking over the area.
Hitler's last bunker was the one in Berlin.  Again this was a massive undertaking.  The bunker was built underground in the center of the city.  In the end the Russians did not have to attack it as Hitler suicided.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Nazi Mega Weapons Season 2: About V-1 Hitler's Vengeance Missle

The Nazi's developed the first cruise missile during WWII.  This is called the vengeance weapon as Hitler wanted to retaliate for heavy Allied bombing over Germany. This weapon gave him the opportunity to strike back.
  It is also known as the flying bomb.  They were next to impossible to stop after they had been launched.  However they also could not hit targets with any accuracy, but would hit general areas.  The Vengeance Rocket required a track for launching, and this provided a place for counterattack.  However, the tracks were eventually built in densely forested areas, and were kept as secret as possible.  Some of the concrete pillars which supported the tracks are still standing in France.  The track became progressively higher until the rocket took off.  These are the rockets that have a funny shape with the rocket above the bomb.  They were able to travel from France to England, and caused heavy damage in the battle of London.  In the end, when the Allies attack the German territory, and moved towards Berlin, they were able to overtake these sites, tor the sites were abandoned.  This weapon was before its time, with the cruise missile to follow in its wake.  However it was too little too late to effect the outcome of the war.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Documentary Review: Nazi Mega Weapons: Fortress Berlin

This talks about the fortress that Berlin was turned into in the final days of the war.  There were different rings of fortifications.  Outside the city, tank traps were developed.  these would allow the tank to go down into a trench, and then it would be too difficult for the tank to get up the other side.  When the tanks were immobile the Germans would try to knock them out with hand held rocket launchers.  This defensive structure was very effective, 2000 tanks were destroyed.  However the overwhelming number of Russian tanks and men, 1,000,000, would not be denied.  The next ring war the river and canal around Berlin.  The Russians were able to take a bridge, and then they could gain access.  There were three large antiaircraft installations, with huge interiors, where 15,000 people could be accommodated.  People fled, in great numbers to these edifices, which had very thick impenetrable concrete.  IN the end the Russians left these buildings and went past them.  The anti-air guns made effective weapons against tanks as well, but these were neutralized.  Chaos was the rule during this time.  The German government insisted everyone fight.  The SS would rome the streets enforcing this edict.  They executed many people as examples so as to use fear to get others to fight.  This included soldiers and civilians.  The inner defenses were Hitlers bunker.  However Hitler had other plans with his own suicide rather than face the Russians.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Documentary Review: Nazi Mega Weapons: Jet Fighter Me262

The Nazis developed the first jet airplanes during WWII.  They were hoping they would change the tide of the war, but they were used incorrectly, and they were too few too late.  Hitler wanted explosive bombs to be attached to them so they could bomb the oncoming onslaught by the Allies.  The air force saw them more as a way to equalize the air war, as they were faster than any other plane flying at the time.  Allied bombers and even their fighter planes were no match for these planes.  Fortunately Hitler's lack of focus, and the lateness in development left these planes subject to Allied occupation.  The lateness in development was partially due to Allied air attack to the runways and the facilities where the planes were being built.  The Nazis moved their development into caves.  With this change came great misery for many of those in concentration camps.  They would be used as forced labor, and beaten if they could not perform their task, even though they were never given proper nourishment and were unskilled laborers at best.  The bat caves where the planes were to be built were never completed.

Biographical Movie: Mark Twain by Ken Burns (2001)

Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemons, was a very interesting and complex character.  This PBS presentation tries to lay this man out for us.  He had worked in newspapers, but really had not done anything with his life until after age 30.  In fact at age 30 he was so despondent he contemplated suicide.  Twain was subject to fits of depression and anger through out his life.  However, he did have a good wife who stood by him, and he had an environment to write.  His literary jumping off point was the article about the frog jumping contest of Calaveras County, Angels Camp.  Twain drew his characters from people he had met along the river.  And his two most famous books come from that environment, "Tom Sawyer," who is based on characters from Hannibal, Missouri where he grew up, and Huckleberry Finn.  Huckleberry Finn is a remarkable book because it looks slavery and racism in the eye, and he is able to make his own comments about the subject.  The most important is when Huckleberry realizes Jim, his escaped slave traveling companion, is a human, with feelings and family just like every other human.  Admitting that Black people are human was a big thing for that day, because you can't treat another human like an animal and not offend God.
However interspersed with Twain's literary success, was also success on the lecture circuit.  Twain could always make people laugh, and he could fill an auditorium of people to listen to him.
The other side of this story is Twain's poor financial dealings.  He often invested in shady inventions or other business projects and would loss money.  At one point he had to declare bankruptcy, and went on an international lecture circuit to make money to pay back his creditors.  He made the money, but while he was gone, his youngest daughter passed away.  When Twain returned, they couldn't bear to live anymore in the family home.  He first lived in New York, but then in a different home in Hanford, Connecticut where he and his wife lived.  His wife, and another daughter preceded him in death.  They also had a son who died as an infant.  Mark Twain truly came in with haley's Comet, and went out with it as well.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nazi Mega-Weapons: Super Tank

The Nazis blitzkrieg of Europe was so successful because of it fast tanks.  The Panzer I was incredibly successful as it was better than anything else out there.  Each successive generation became larger, Panzer II, Panzer III and then the Tiger.  The Porsche Company lost the bid to build this huge tank, with a mounted anti aircraft gun which could penetrate the armor of other tanks, particularly the Russian T-34.  This tank had stopped the German invasion or Russia, so the Nazis wanted something that could take care of this weapon.   The Tiger proved very effective, and could shoot much farther than other tanks.  It could destroy enemy tanks before they were even in range to fire back.  However their size created complexity in the motor, and many of them broke down, to be destroyed by the drivers so they would not fall into enemy hands.  The Russians overwhelmed them in the Battle of Kursk with the number of tanks they had built.  Although they were smaller, the were more maneuverable, and by shear numbers helped hold the line at Kursk, the last nazi push into Russia.  The Germans had initial success, but could not carry the day.
Hitler had an even brighter idea.  To build a super tank.  This tank would be the height of four men.  It would be able to act as a fortified wall if any of the Nazi wall were breached.  Again the Porsche company was called in to build this monstrosity.  A wood prototype was built.  However the war was turning too fast to allow production of this tank.  Again it was hampered by engineering difficulty, and lack of mobility due to its massive size.  The Super Tank never played a roll in the outcome of the war.