The Grable shot of Operation Upshot-Knothole - the first and only nuclear artillery shell ever fired as part of the United States’ nuclear weapons testing program. Its yield was just under that of the Little Boy atomic bomb. May 1953
Posts tagged military.
February 2, 1943: The Battle of Stalingrad ends.
The decisive and bloody five month-long battle at Stalingrad, widely considered the turning point in the European Theatre of the Second World War, ended seventy years ago in a crushing defeat for German forces and marked sort of a beginning of the end for the Third Reich. The battle began in August of 1942, when a massive bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe reduced the entire city to rubble; Stalingrad soon became a conflict of both practical (the city was an industrial center) and symbolic importance. The Battle of Stalingrad was characterized by massive casualties on both sides: an estimated 850,000 Germans were killed, wounded, or declared missing, and a further 100,000 died in captivity; over 400,000 people on the Soviet side - including 40,000 civilians - were killed. It was also characterized by heavy, brutal urban warfare (see: Pavlov’s House), a method known to the Germans as Rattenkrieg - “Rat War”, and also the prevalence of snipers on both sides, most famously Vasily Zaitsev.
Despite the failure of the Luftwaffe to adequately supply German troops, Adolf Hitler insisted that his trapped and cornered armies stay resolute and reject surrender at any cost. Out of both basic victuals and ammunition, the commander of the Sixth Army Friedrich Paulus requested permission from his Führer to surrender in late January. Instead, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, reminding him that no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered and dared him to become the first. Paulus acquiesced, disregarding Hitler’s less-than-subtle suggestion that he commit suicide, and allegedly said:
I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.
Out of the 107,000 German soldiers who made up the remainder of Paulus’ forces, 6,000 survived captivity - the Sixth Army had been completely obliterated, the first time such a thing happened to a German field army. And for the first time, the Nazi government acknowledged a major setback in its war effort. In his famous Sportpalast speech, Joseph Goebbels emphasized the looming threat of ”Bolshevism from the East”, and he declared that such an imminent threat meant that the German people would have to make sacrifices and meet this threat with “total war”.
An American sergeant is served a birthday cake topped with “the tools of his trade”, May 1942.
President Eisenhower warns Americans of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address - January 17, 1961.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
January 9, 1806: Horatio Nelson’s state funeral takes place.
Admiral Lord Nelson, regarded as one of Britain’s greatest heroes both during life and even more so after death, lost his arm and sight in one eye in combat while leading forces of the Royal Navy against the Spanish and French navies at the onset of the Napoleonic Wars. He eventually lost his life as well, during his most famous battle and victory at Trafalgar, during which he was gravely wounded. According to Sir Thomas Hardy, the mortally wounded and Nelson said to him:
Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through.
Nelson was taken below deck and died approximately three hours after being shot, and when news of his death (as well as the Royal Navy’s victory at Trafalgar) reached his country, it seemed almost as though they were unsure how to react. King George III remarked that “We have lost more than we have gained”, and The Times commented that the navy’s “splendid and decisive Victory” had been “dearly purchased” with the life of one of the nation’s most celebrated heroes. Nelson’s funeral procession was grand and befitting someone so highly-regarded by his people; it consisted of thirty-two admirals and 10,000 soldiers, who accompanied Nelson’s coffin to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he was interred in a sarcophagus originally intended to carry a cardinal. London’s Trafalgar Square was named in commemoration of the 1805 battle, and at its center stands the 169-foot tall monument commemorating Nelson himself - Nelson’s Column.
September 15, 1916: The tank makes its debut at the Battle of the Somme.
In an attempt to counter the dragging, senseless brutality of trench warfare, the British began developing armored vehicles they called “land ships” barely a year into the war. On September 15, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (a part of the Somme Offensive), a primitive but functioning combat vehicle called the Mark I made its debut on the battlefield. One British officer describes seeing a tank in action for the first time:
We heard strange throbbing noises, and lumbering slowly towards us came three huge mechanical monsters such as we had never seen before.
Only around fifty tanks were dispatched at Flers-Courcelette, and their debut was largely an experiment. While their sudden appearance did come as a surprise to the German forces, they did not give the British a very substantial advantage. They were slow (with a top speed of 3 km/hour), unreliable (many broke down to mechanical failures), and unwieldy (others were unable to maneuver the terrain). They did not, as British propaganda suggested they might, put an end to trench warfare and the war instantly (it lasted two more years). But they were new.
It was not until World War II that tanks became an essential part of warfare, and even then, it was not the British but the the Germans who used them to the greatest effect.