Fist Of History

May, 2014Archive for

The Rise of Tyranny – Bureaucratic Party Times!

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014


One of the more depressing aspects of Nazi history is how the Nazi’s finally seized absolute control of Germany, it is depressing both because of what came after but also because of the dull, listless, bureaucratic methods used to consolidate power, crush civil liberties, and eventually dominate an entire nation.  Hitler’s gaining of “mastery over Germany” is less an epic tale of insidious evil skulking into power, or a violent leader crushing those who oppose them, and reads more as a CEO undertaking a series of organizational restructures, policy updates, and operational modifications until high levels of control are focused mainly in the hands of that executive and his trusted inner cadre.  Hitler’s rise to absolute control over Germany rested upon two specific initial bits of legal manipulation, the Reichstag Fire Decree 0f 1933 and the Enabling Act of 1933.


With the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, Germany’s parliament building, Hitler pressed the German President at the time, Hindenburg, to declare a state of emergency to control what Hitler claimed might be the start of a Communist insurrection which threatened the safety of the German state.  Hindenburg obliged and the following declaration was issued:

Order of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State

On the basis of Article 48 paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the German Reich, the following is ordered in defense against Communist state-endangering acts of violence:

Articles 114, 115, 117, 188, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice.  It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights of personal freedom [habeas corpus], freedom of (opinion) expression, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications.  Warrants for House searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

Paul v. Hindenburg

That’s the first part right there, a proclamation issued on 28 February 1933, all perfectly legal and all within the actual powers of Reich President Hindenburg.  With it the Nazi’s went into overdrive, arresting Communists and Social Democrats as quickly as they could, including elected members of the German parliament.  Communist party headquarters buildings were raided and those within arrested, Communist newspapers were shut down, and the Communist party in Germany as a political force was suppressed.  This all took place just before a general election that had previously been scheduled for 5 March 1933.  The Nazi’s did well, with their major competing political party shattered and unable to run candidates for office, but Hitler needed additional support in the Reichstag to pass his other piece of key law.  He got that support from the German National People’s Party, who assisted in the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933.

Rede Adolf Hitlers zum Ermächtigungsgesetz

Using the Kroll Opera House as its new meeting hall the Reichstag, newly assembled after the 5 March 1933 elections, heard a speech by Chancellor Adolph Hitler who demanded that the following act be passed:

Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article 1

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, the laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich.  This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the Constitution.

Article 2

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat.  The rights of the President remain undisturbed.

Article 3

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette.  They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date.  Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government.

Article 4

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the Reichstag.  The Reich government shall adopt the necessary legislation to implement these agreements.

The Social Democrats planned to try to block the law by not attending the meeting, and putting the Reichstag below the two-thirds quorum needed to pass law, but the Nazi’s, led by Reichstag President Herman Goring, changed the rules of procedure for the Reichstag meeting to declare any member who was “absent without excuse” would be counted as present.  The Social Democrats then did attend, and voted against it, but the law passed.

With that, ended German democracy.  The Reichstag still met regularly throughout the Nazi government’s rule of Germany but, oddly, Hitler declined to present any legislation to them, preferring to allow the Reich (Nazi) government to directly pass legislation.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933 and the Enabling Act of 1933

Memorial Day – Task Force Faith

Monday, May 26th, 2014


The Korean War (1950-1953) is one of the more complex wars that the United States fought in and one of the more punishing wars in United States history, in particular because it was a war filled with U.S. advances and setbacks, and a real chance of many servicemen dying during a disastrous attack upon U.S. forces in 1950 due to the intervention in the war by forces of the People’s Republic of China.  Possibly the most brutal battle in this war took place in the Chosin Reservoir, where major U.S. military forces were surrounded by infiltrating Chinese forces and had to beat a hasty retreat, in some of the harshest winter conditions, and scramble back to defensible positions under heavy fire and heavy losses.  U.S. forces did not retreat in an orderly fashion, command and control was strained, and the battle did not represent one of the finest moments in U.S. military history.  To my eye though that is what makes it such a powerful thing to commemorate the bravery and service of members of the U.S. military, because it shows the strength and nature of their tenacity and dedication when things were going terribly, not just their abilities and skills when things are going well.  In particular, the case of Task Force Faith, ad hoc military unit assembled of pieces taken from the 7th Infantry Division and established to take part in a final major assault to clean up the U.S. offensive into North Korea.  (It’s official designation was Regimental Combat Team 31.)


Unfortunately Task Force Faith found itself instead in the unfortunate position of being surrounded by Chinese military units and, do to an error by higher command, was ordered to undertake an offensive against superior Chinese forces surrounding them.  This was to provide support to the 1st Marine Division which was supposed to be undertaking a major offensive of its own, the attack failed and Task Force Faith’s advance ground to a halt with heavy causalities and high officer losses.  It was determined by its officers, and higher command, it would have to attempt a breakout to rejoin other U.S. forces to the south.  With heavy air support Task Force Faith attempted to move south and continued to take high causalities.  The Chinese military units would take captured American soldiers, often disarm them, and release them to flee southwards on foot.  On the night of 1 December 1950 the situation reached its climax, with heavy attacks by Chinese forces and the collapse of Task Force Faith entirely.  (A situation not helped by an earlier failed air attack to support them that instead ending up spraying the leading units of Task Force Faith with napalm.)


It did not cave in lightly, the Task Force kept fighting until it’s ammunition was almost exhausted, its officers were all killed, and it was badly reduced in strength due to wounds and fatalities.  Individual soldiers in the Task Force began to abandon their positions and flee independently to U.S. military lines further south.  Others, captured, disarmed, and then released made their own way back to rejoin their fellow soldiers.  Of approximately 3,000 soldiers who began the battle in this unit, 1,500 made it back to U.S. lines.  Of that 1,500, only 385 were considered able-bodied enough to rejoin the U.S. military in active service, the rest were evacuated to hospitals in Japan to recover from wounds or frostbite.

Due to the large numbers of soldiers who returned to U.S. lines disarmed for fifty years officially Task Force Faith was considered to be a cowardly unit, having deserted under enemy attack, its soldiers dropping their weapons and fleeing in the face of the enemy.  It was considered a disgrace to the U.S. flag and the traditions of the U.S. army.  However in 2001, thanks to the release of Chinese historical documents and careful research, the story of Task Force Faith was re-evaluated and the unit granted an award for its bravery in combat.

As a military historian something that has always struck me is how most battles, and most wars, are simply horrifying events that leave a stamp pressed into the memories of those who fought in them.  On Memorial Day I usually cast my mind back to the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, in particular the men of Task Force Faith, who fought and died alone, terrified, cold, surrounded by overwhelming forces but who kept fighting until they had nothing left to fight with, and then attempted to rejoin their fellow soldiers rather than just surrender and lay down entirely.

To my eye that is the sort of story to remember on Memorial Day, the brave men and women of the U.S. military who stood up, and kept standing, when it was terrible.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Task Force Faith, Army article on Task Force Faith

Douglas MacArthur and the Bonus Army

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014


In the last entry I wrote about Japan and its problems controlling its army in Manchuria in the 1930s, and I alluded to the fact that other nations had similar issues, specifically the United States and its handling of the Bonus Army in 1932.  I also tossed up the picture above of General Douglas MacArthur, a pivotal figure in the events of 1932 and the use of United States soldiers to disrupt a camping protest group of U.S. World War I veterans in and around Washington D.C.  But before I go into more detail it is critical to first admit something and then elaborate a bit on General D. MacArthur.  My admission – for a variety of reasons as both a person, and a historian, I really dislike General D. MacArthur.  I strongly feel that many of his actions in the 1930s, in World War II, and in the Korean War are questionable at best and downright villainous at worst.  As well most agree that General D. MacArthur is a complex figure and his actions need to be seen in that light – he is a figure that you either love or hate once you get to know him, or at best you are left puzzled about how you feel about him.


The events of the 1932 Bonus Army march on Washington are fairly straightforward, a large protest march made up of World War I veterans and their families in 1932 arrived in Washington to petition the government, (and protest by their presence), for an early payment of a one-time bonus they had been promised in the 1940s for their World War I service.  The argument made was the out-of-work men and their families needed the money in 1932 and not down the road.  They set up a camp outside of Washington D.C. and also began to camp out in empty spaces in various federal buildings within the city itself.  Initially the Bonus Army was tolerated in the city, the police chief of Washington D.C. instructed his officers to bee cooperative, the government did not force them out of the spaces they were filling, and MacArthur initially dispatched camping supplies and mobile kitchens for the camping Bonus Army marchers to use.  (When Congress complained the kitchens were withdrawn.)  The House of Representatives passed a resolution approving partial payment of the bonus and things were looking up for the Bonus Army marchers, until the Senate rejected the bill and then went into recess, effectively ending any chance of the bonus being paid.  Many in the Bonus Army left at that point, but some stayed, and this is where things start to get complicated.


Someone in the federal government decided that the Bonus Army should be evicted from the federal buildings, most likely that choice was made by Herbert Hoover, but the record is unclear on who else had a hand in it.  Hoover’s motives are also unclear, we simply don’t know if he was worried about an uprising, reacting to events in the city, or tired of the protest.  After a shooting incident between police and Bonus Army when some squatters were being cleared out of a federal building, tensions got even worse and Hoover decided to deploy the U.S. Army, working with the Washington D.C. police, to clear out the all the individuals camping out within the city of Washington D.C. itself.  The army moved in to clear out the squatters, using mounted cavalry with sabers drawn, tear gas, and clubs to move people out of the federal buildings.  MacArthur was “present” and was possibly directing the soldiers but was not officially “in command” of the military action, however he played a key role, possibly, in the events to come.  The soldiers were successful in pushing all Bonus Army protestors out of the city proper and over bridges to their larger encampment outside the city.

MacArthur may have given them a few hours or as little as twenty minutes, sources are unclear, they are also unclear if MacArthur gave the order to proceed, advised whomever was in command to proceed, or sat back and watched what happened next.


Someone, probably MacArthur, disobeyed a series of orders given by the Secretary for War, on behalf of the President, to allow the protestors to escape to their larger camp outside the city and not pursue them.  U.S. soldiers crossed into the larger camp which was cleared with violence and set on fire.  Several individuals died in the confrontation and the Bonus Army camp burned into the night.  Why was this done?  No one really knows.  Some think MacArthur was concerned about a possible “Communist Threat” represented by the Bonus Army or that the protest was an effort to overturn the U.S. federal government.  Others that MacArthur wanted to simply get the job done in one clean sweep and not leave stragglers who might try to re-enter the city.  Some argue that we shouldn’t even look at MacArthur as he wasn’t really in command of what happened, he was merely there as Army Chief of Staff “observing” these terrible events.

Bluntly put, we’ll probably never know the truth, if such a thing exists, for who ordered what and at what time.  All we do know is people died and a camp was burned on someone’s orders and it wasn’t those in charge of the military.  Hoover and the Secretary of War tried several times by direct orders to stop what was happening but instead were presented with an action by the military and were effectively told:  “Choices were made, things happened, and there is nothing to be done about it.”  On a smaller scale but I’d argue very similar to what the Japanese Army in Manchuria said to its civilian leadership.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Bonus Army and Douglas MacArthur, PBS the American Experience on the Bonus Army and Douglas MacArthur, and NPR article on the Bonus Army to the GI Bill

Mukden Incident – how an army acting on its own paves the way to a war

Monday, May 19th, 2014


Japan in the 1930s politically and socially was a nation heavily affected by “complex problems” – in this case mainly a political culture riven by various nationalist groups, right-wing groups, secret conspiracies, and secret societies all battling in a weak democratic government for control over the nations fate.  One particularly complex part of this issue was the role of the South Manchurian Railway and the Japanese military units stationed in the region to, officially, protect the leased South Manchurian Railway from Chinese sabotage and banditry.  In reality the army was there as part of Japan’s unwritten policy of gradually expanding its national influence in Northern China and Manchuria so it could dominate the region economically and turn it into a virtual colonial outpost for Japan.  But you may ask why was the policy unwritten?  Was it so Japan could have plausible deniability in the international diplomatic scene?  To conceal their intentions to avoid Chinese backlash against increased Japanese control in China?  Perhaps an action by the military to conceal its policies from opposing factions in the Japanese government?

Sadly the answer is actually none of the above – the reason for this being an unwritten policy is because the Japanese government was unsure what it really wanted to do with Manchuria and the troops it stationed there because by golly that railroad and the region would be protected until Japan decided what to do came up with their own policy.  Repeatedly.  The reason for this was because Japan was a hotbed of military conspiracies in the 1930s to undermine the government, for various reasons, through coups or assassinations of key government leaders, and one of the nicest ways to get rid of dangerous officers and potentially rebellious troops was to ship them to Manchuria were they would at least not stir up trouble in Japan itself.  The result of this was on 18 September 1931 these headstrong troops undertook their own activity and set off a small explosive charge on the South Manchurian Railway and claimed that Chinese “rebels” had set it off.

The army then, completely on its own authority, invaded all of Manchuria and seized it in the name of Japan, installed their own puppet leader, and then sat back to see what the Japanese government would do with this sudden new satellite state of Manchukuo.  (The puppet leader was, by the way, the last former Emperor of China, the newly minted Japanese Manchurian Army didn’t go for half measures.)


The Japanese government was furious and attempted, quietly, to contain the incident and have the rebellious Japanese Manchurian Army/South Manchurian Railway military forces roll back to the territory that Japan had been clearly granted by its lease.  Senior military leaders were sent to Manchuria to attempt to convince the local military leaders to retreat, in most cases these senior officers arrived and refused to give any such orders, reporting the situation was “impossible” or quietly approving what had happened and politely telling the civilian Japanese government to “deal with it.”  Now, the Japanese government had a problem, either it admitted to the rest of the world “Hey, sorry, one of my armies got all crazy and took over Manchuria and now it won’t retreat back when I tell it to, sorry” – an admission that would embarrass Japan and raise questions of its own control of its armed forces – or pretend to the rest of the world that seizing Manchuria had been the Japanese intention the entire time.  The Japanese government took a compromise position and said that it had seized Manchuria but it was to suppress banditry and unrest and that the Chinese had always wanted their Emperor restored and what happened was totally cool.

When the League of Nations investigated the seizure and found Japan had instigated the takeover, although the report blamed both Japan and China equally, the Japanese government withdrew from the League of Nations, again in part to maintain the illusion this entire situation was under the orders of the Japanese government and also due to pressures at home from nationalists who took the League’s demand that Japan withdraw as insulting to the Japanese nation and empire.  This seizure of Manchuria, by the way, to many historians is the start of a long slow fuse that burned its way to World War II breaking out in 1939.

(By the way in 1931 and 1932 there were at least three major attempts to undermine the Japanese government by its own troops – the March Incident, the October Incident, and the May 15 Incident.  Note the carefully used language – “incident” instead of “bloody coup attempt.)

However people should not look negatively on the Japanese government for being unable to control its own armed forces in the 1930s, nations around the world had problems with ambitious military commanders and unreliable military units exceeding their authority and going on adventures, even the United States.


(Yes I am looking at you General Douglas MacArthur)

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Mukden Incident, Showa Period, May 15 Incident, March Incident, October Incident, and the February 26 Incident, Department of State Historian’s page on the Mukden Incident

Friday – Cartoons and Ads

Friday, May 16th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896

It still amazes me just how controversial bloomers were in the 1890s and 1900s


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900

Another fun poke by the U.S. at its British cousins troubles in South Africa


Source:  Life Magazine, 1883


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

We need more puns in advertising today


Source:  Life Magazine, 1891


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

I really want to know how much $1.00 got you in cocaine


Pinkerton Detectives – American Thugs with Badges

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014


So in my last entry I argued against using “Brown Shirts” as a term to discredit American (or other nation’s) police forces using excessive violence, intimidation, or other violent tactics due to the historic role of the SA/Brown Shirts in Nazi German history.  However it struck me that in doing so I didn’t provide the other side of the coin, so what is a good pejorative name for American police forces, or other badge carrying law enforcement, using unacceptable tactics of intimidation, excessive violence, and be beholden to corporate interests, and a ready made historical entity immediately came to mind:  the Pinkertons.

Now this is not to say that the Pinkerton Detective Agency has no good works to its credit, it does, including helping capture one of the first American serial killers, H.H. Holmes, and in hunting down outlaws in the Western United States.  But the bread and butter of their business from the 1870s through the 1930s was anti-union activities, specifically strikebreaking, and in strikebreaking I mean it in the literal sense – breaking the heads of striking workers to restore order.


The Pinkerton’s were founded in 1855 by Allan Pinkerton to work with private business owners as detectives to keep an eye on the corporate employers employees.  The Pinkerton’s were also hired by the federal government for enforcement work until they were prohibited by law in 1893, mainly because the U.S. federal government realized using private detectives to enforce federal law, detectives who might also be working for a corporation that law enforcement was aimed at, was a potential conflict of interest.  (That and also the widespread negative public reaction to the Pinkerton’s being used as brute force enhancement for anti-union efforts.)  The Pinkerton’s took part in several highly violent actions from the 1870s through the 1930s, including a great deal of involvement in anti-union violence in West Virginia to suppress striking miners as well as regular appearances in Western state mining strikes, again to break up union activities and protect corporate property.  Pinkerton’s as private detectives often faced possible legal complications in enforcing the law or using force on strikers, however quite often this problem was solved by the local sheriff simply swearing them in as “special deputies” – a tactic also used by municipal police forces to provide them a veil of legality before they were sent in to use violent policing techniques.

The Pinkerton’s were also a key coordinating feature in the infamous Coal and Iron Police, a state authorized private police force in Pennsylvania that worked to protect coal mines and corporate property from labor agitation between 1865 to 1905, police paid for by their corporate employers and also known for their “vigorous enthusiasm” in beating up agitating workers.


The above image is from one of the Pinkerton’s more infamous activities, their landing to attempt to break up the Homestead Strike in 1892 where 300 armed Pinkerton detectives landed and attempted to storm the beach where striking workers were camped out.  The ensuing gun battle ended in the Pinkerton’s being driven out, resulting in governor of Pennsylvania sending in the militia to restore order.

So we have a group of individuals who often had an actual legal badge, worked with excessive force and intimidation to break up community activism, and directly worked for corporate employers while also being hat-in-hand with the organs of the state.  I believe, if you have a negative view of a police department or police officers in the United States, this might the be term to go with.

It works well too – “damn cops are as bad as Pinkertons” or “I see we are back to Pinkertons.”  Of course being humans like easy phrases we can also use the insult striking workers had for them at the time:  Pinks.   Which does work well with “Pigs.”   Maybe combine them into “Pink Piggies”?

Source:  Wikipedia entry on Pinkerton Government Services and Coal and Iron Police, PBS American Experience on the Strike at Homestead Mill

The Real Brownshirts

Monday, May 12th, 2014


One of the fun things to bump into online is the widespread use of Nazi (or Totalitarian) imagery to attempt to make a visceral point about an emotional or upsetting current topic – one commonly invoked image when discussing police brutality, police powers, or police activities in communities is the image of the Brown Shirts, otherwise known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.  The SA formed in 1920 as a physical enforcement, or meeting security force, for various Nazi party meetings, public speeches, and other public events.  Their main focus was to use truncheons on anyone who attempted to disrupt the meeting, heckle Hitler or other Nazi speakers, or otherwise disrupt the meeting.  They were an informal security arm for the Nazi party that only got a more formal structure in the late 1920s.  The SA were actually a necessity for the Nazi party during this period as part of the broader “street politics” required of 1920s and early 1930s German politics, mainly running street battles between Nazi groups and Communist groups in which both sides tried to disrupt each others meetings through violence.


This is not to attempt to paint the SA in any light other than that of violent, extra-legal strongmen for a political party steeped in a culture of violence and terror, the SA was a manifestation of this outlook and an attempt to recruit a steady base of supporters for the Nazi party would would be paid a small amount of money, get to stomp around in a brown uniform, and brawl with people who they were aimed at.  The SA was also used by the Nazi leadership as a “general focus” source of terror, being sent to beat up individuals randomly in areas in which it was felt a bit of terror would either intimidate the vote or motivate those who liked to see violence in favor of right wing ideology.  In 1938 the SA was used by the Nazi party to create a series of spontaneous “demonstrations” throughout Germany to smash Jewish synagogues and businesses and arrest Jewish males for holding in either improvised temporary prisoners/torture chambers or the newly forming concentration camps.  Yet the SA also reflects the early legal and financial problems the Nazi party faced in its early years up through the mid-1920s, its members wore brown shirts because the German government at the end of World War I was selling large numbers of brown outfits at deep discount – formally intended as military uniforms for German Colonial troops now the uniforms were simply cheap military surplus the Nazis were able to snap up.  As well at one point the SA was officially described as a “Gymnastic and Sports Division” to avoid being shut down by the Weimar Republic.  Even at a few points the SA would parade in snappy white shirts, black ties, and dress slacks (also black) to avoid restrictions on parading in “military type uniforms.”


The key thing to remember about the SA, besides their being violent brutes, is that they also never really held any sort of legal authority within the German state, either pre-Nazi takeover or post-Nazi takeover.  The Brownshirts/SA were never police officers, never held police power, and never enforced any German laws in an official capacity, they were street gangs in matching uniforms backed by a political party.  Honestly within the United States there really doesn’t exist an equivalent organization and yet the term “Brownshirts” is tossed around to slander any group with a vocal or activist political outlook or to insult law enforcement on several levels of enforcement/organization.  It is similar to misusing the term “Gestapo” which specifically touches on a secret investigative detective force or the term “SS” which refers to a weird parallel military/police organization that existed in Germany (plus also handled Hitler’s personal security.)  None of these are really accurate to the link people often seem to be drawing, which instead is to a perceived “ultra-violent out-of-control” law enforcement entity.  Did such organizations exist and do they exist now?  Certainly, but the Brownshirts were not that organization.


The SA, by the way, fell from power when the Nazi’s got into office in 1933.  The SA was lead by Ernest Rohm, pictured above, and continued to agitate for expanded power within the German state, including Rohm’s vision of absorbing the German military into the SA and making the SA the new defense force for Germany.  For a wide array of reasons this was an unacceptable outcome for Hitler so, in a deal with the German military, in exchange for their loyalty Hitler arranged for a “special operation” to deal with the SA, namely killing their leadership and breaking their influence in Germany.  Known as the “Night of the Long Knives” the breaking of the SA was rolled into a general action against several “enemies” of the new regime.  Oh and Rohm?  Executed after being arrested in his cell.

Source:  Wikipedia on the Sturmabteilung

Old Cartoons and Ads Friday

Friday, May 9th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

On a personal note, I find this product scary in how it is supposed to work


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Political sensitivity was not as much of a concept in the 1890s


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1883

The “Flying Flapjack” – the Vought V-173 and Vought XF5U

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014


As readers of this blog have probably come to learn, World War II was an exciting time for technological development and exploring new design ideas for old concepts, mainly because both the Allied and Axis powers were spending heavily and open to exploring a wide range of wacky ideas in an on-going effort to eek out some edge over their rival faction of nations.  For the Axis powers (mainly Germany) they began with an overall technological edge due to research investments in the mid and late 1930s while the Allies raced to catch up with crash-research programs in the 1940s, but had far more resources to bring to bear upon the problems (mainly the United States.)  A gross simplification to be sure but a functional one for the moment.


In particular in the area of aeronautics both sides were open to exploring new ideas, from asymmetrical airplanes to jet aircraft to the beauty above, the Vought V-173, otherwise known as the “Flying Flapjack”.  The brainchild of Charles H. Zimmer (pictured above) the “Flying Flapjack” was based on the idea of creating an airplane that was capable of extremely short take-off and landings, with an eye towards deployment on Navy ships to allow a rapid response aircraft to submarine and aircraft threats.  Zimmer approached the problem by basically extending the idea of making the “wing” portion of the aircraft huge as part of its overall weight, which in turn would make the take-off and landing take less space.  The propellers on the ends of the plane were a design consideration to deal with drag issues, basically the shorter the wing, the greater the drag at the edges of the wing compared to air moving under the wing.  The propellers on the ends made it so that the air was pushed over the wing tips overcoming the performance problem.  The test model had issues, a complex gearbox to get power from the engine to the propellers and vibration issues, but through 1943 it proved a workable concept.  This lead to the Navy approving funding for a larger, more powerful test model, the Vought XF5U


The Vought XF5U was an all-metal, larger engined, more bad ass version of the V-173, although unarmed as a prototype it was designed with carrying cannon and bombs in mind.  It was tested through 1945 but was not able to overcome vibration issues that made it unusable in time for the war.  By 1946 a prototype model was able to start making test flights but had not yet reached a point of successful operations and the United States Navy by then was switching fully over to jet fighters, an engine that this aircraft would not be able to compete with successfully.  The Navy abandoned the project and gave one of the prototype planes to the Smithsonian Museum.  The other was smashed, however it was so well constructed that the Navy had to use a wrecking ball to break it apart.

Zimmer went on to other innovative designs in vertical take-off and landing planes as well as other radical designs, including a particularly unique project, the Hiller VZ-1 Pawnee (pictured below.)  But that is a project for another entry.


Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Vought V-173, the Vought XF5U, Charles H. Zimmer, and the Hiller VZ-1 PawneeAir & Space Magazine article “Vought V-173, Why there will never be another Flying Pancake” by Tim Wright.

Aaron Burr – Politician, Rebel, and Mac Daddy

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014


One of the fascinating aspects of history is as you study famous individuals in a well-written and well-researched history you are continually reminded of just how human individuals are, regardless of their historical prominence as either a great villain or a great hero.  One example of the former is Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United States, a leading Senator prior to that office, and generally considered in the late 18th century/early 19th century one of the more brilliant members of the Founding Fathers generation.  Aaron Burr had fought in the Revolutionary War and ended up an officer – during the war he had also found time to study the law and gotten admitted to the bar in New York by 1782.  His service in the Senate was considered excellent and he was thought a solid candidate for the Presidency of the United States, until the nasty confrontation in the 1800 election between him and Jefferson.  In that election Burr and Jefferson tied in electoral college votes for the Presidency, a situation that kicked the election to the House of Representatives to decide – Burr had publicly proclaimed he didn’t want the office but also said that if it was offered to him he’d take the office of President.  Burr meant it as a means of not downplaying his abilities politically, Jefferson took it personally and worked to crush Burr’s conventional campaign.


Then there was the nasty duel where Burr ended up shooting Alexander Hamilton and Burr’s political enemies took it as a chance to nail him in court.  Burr ended up no longer able to practice law, without political prospects, and in need of a new career path.  He selected “Traitor/Rebel” and began a series of activities to try to create – something – but what specifically he was looking to create is unsure.  He approached the British and the Spanish governments seeking support for audacious plans to possibly capture Spanish territory/protect Spanish territory for ambitious American interests/slice off part of the newly purchased Louisiana Territory to make a new nation/capture New Orleans/go to war in Texas/go to war in Mexico.  Burr also traveled throughout the Louisiana Territory seeking to drum up support for his plan and get volunteers willing to serve as soldiers – a bit challenging as Burr deliberately stayed vague as to the precise nature of his actual plans of action.


He also worked closely with General James Wilkinson, who was discussed earlier in this same blog, it was Wilkinson’s involvement in these plots that ended up getting Burr slapped around by Jefferson and the courts.  Wilkinson decided at a key moment in the planning that his better solution was turning Burr over to the government as a traitor and working hard to remove his own involvement, rather than the original plan – Wilkinson taking the U.S. troops under his command and using them to either seize New Orleans illegally or go to war with Spain illegally, having linked up with Burr’s independent armed force.  (There was also a crazy plan to raid Washington and seize Jefferson and hold him ransom, but historians don’t know if that was just a random Burr crazy idea or an actual planned out event.)


What makes Burr particularly fascinating though on a human level was his powerful attraction towards, affection towards, and interest in, and apparent irresistible sexiness to the ladies of his age.  Pictured above is his daughter, Theodosia, who Burr doted upon intensely for his entire life.  Burr was a feminist and he took Theodosia’s education as a “proof of concept” – ensuring she was well trained in riding, the classics, mathematics, literature, and Burr encouraged her to lead an active life that was physically demanding and intellectually demanding.  Burr throughout his life held to the view that women were the equal of men and that every effort by society should be extended to equalizing their position to that of men.

Burr though also really enjoyed dating the ladies, his entire life was dominated by a series of on-going affairs with ladies from all walks of life who lived around him.  Burr was known for his handsome features and “piercing intense eyes” – attributes he was able to use to great advantage.  His letters to his daughter often mentioned not only his politics, setbacks, and triumphs professionally but also his on-going love affairs with women, who he often gave code names.  During his time in the United States and later when in exile abroad Burr continued to have dalliances, he kept a diary of his time in Europe and included within that diary was a log of the many prostitutes he paid for regular sex.  In fact prostitutes were enough of a problem that Burr, always strapped for cash, often scolded himself for blowing useful cash on getting laid.

Scroll up again and take a look at his picture – whatever else you may think of Burr remember this – he was incredibly popular with the ladies and remained a sex machine up to his death at age seventy-seven, his last romance was a brief marriage to an infamous and gorgeous widow named Eliza Jumel who was nineteen years his junior.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Aaron Burr, Wikipedia entry on Theodosia Burr, Urban Dictionary definition of Mac Daddy, American Emperor:  Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America by David O. Stewart