Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kalinin K-7 Soviet Bomber

Kalinin K-7

The Kalinin K-7 Giant Transport/Bomber (USRR 1933) was conceptualized by World War I aviator Konstantin Kalinin. It was a huge aircraft which has passed into aviation legend as an otherworldly concept.

Kalinin K-7

Kalinin joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, so he was in good with the Soviets early on. He was both a pilot and a repair shop boss. Eventually, he began designing aircraft in 1925, and headed up his own design shop in Kharkov in 1926. He became a member of the CPSU in 1927. After working up some mundane designs little different than other transport planes of the era, he had a sudden flash of inspiration with the K-7.

There were practical types in the Soviet bureaucracy who saw the plane as what it was, a humongous white elephant just waiting to be built. The idea lay dormant until 1929, when others saw the possibility of a propaganda coup. The Soviets were feeling a bit disrespected at the time, so Kalinin sweetened the deal by proposing it as the world's largest bomber.

Kalinin K-7

The design was accepted, and work began in 1931 at Kalinin's design bureau plant in Kharkov. The entire Soviet airplane design staff was called in to help, primarily the Tupolev organization, and the first one was completed in 1933.


The wingspan was 174 feet, which was equal to that of two DC-3s, which were still on the drawing board. Her length was 92 feet long, and she had the largest elliptical wing of all time. Most noticeable to the casual observer was that she had six engines pulling on the wing leading edge and one pushing at the rear - necessary because the engines were under-powered. It also had whole-metal welded construction with 3-spar wing, making it somewhat similar to a flying ship. Essentially, it became a flying wing, with minimal additional framework.

Politics was at work throughout the project. Originally, BMW engines were planned, but these were switched to less-powerful Soviet engines. Pravda announced the aircraft by emphasizing that it had been completely made with Russian steel.

Kalinin K-7

Apparently, two were completed, though I have difficulty pinning that down in the sources. One flew ten test flights of short duration, for a total of five flight hours. First flight was 21 August 1935, and the pilots noticed problems but got it up and down anyway. On 21 November 1935, the eleventh test flight was conducted as a time trial over the Kharkov airfield. As the plane approached the field, it suddenly dived at full speed and hit the runway at about a 40 degree angle. The plane hit the ground hard once, knocking off the landing gear, bounced, and came back down. It then caught on fire, and that was that. Fifteen of the twenty crew were killed, and the project, after much to-and-froing, eventually was shelved. But this wasn't the only colossal Soviet bomber of the decade, it was an era of thinking big - too big for the technology and aircraft design knowledge available at the time.

Kalinin K-7

Cause of the crash was vibrations that began in the booms. It was a known problem caused by the seventh "pusher" engine, but the previous test pilots had been able to correct for it by tuning the engines just right. It is a common problem with configurations involving engines facing in different directions, but it was the dawn of large-scale aviation and this was a, as they put it, "learning experience." Several innovations worked, such as the twin-boom tail, and became staples of future successful planes. Other innovations, though, didn't - and you can have 100 successful innovations in a design and only one failure, and the plane will still crash.

Kalinin K-7
A photo showing how crew could walk through the wings to service the engines. This was important, because - especially if the plane was carrying cargo - all of the under-powered engines were necessary. There was little margin for error, so if one engine went out, you better grab your toolbox. Reportedly, there was a full-scale wooden mock-up of the plane outside the factory, I'm not sure if this is it or not.

Kalinin was condemned to be executed as an "enemy of the state" in 1938 during one of Stalin's purges. Sentence reportedly was carried out in 1940. He didn't win any friends at the top with this disaster.

Crew: minimum 11, as many as 20
Capacity: 120 passengers in civilian configuration
Length: 28 m (91 ft 10 in)
Wingspan: 53 m (173 ft 11 in)
Wing area: 454 m² (4,886.8 ft²)
Empty weight: 24,400 kg (53,793 lb)
Loaded weight: 38,000 kg (83,776 lb)
Defensive armament: 12 gunner positions (8 20mm cannons and 8 7.62mm machine guns)
Bomb load: varied, 9,900kg to 16,600kg (25,550 - 42,840lb)
Powerplant: 7× Mikulin AM-34F V-12 piston engines, 560 kW (750 hp) each
Military cargo: 112 fully equipped paratroopers, potentially one 8.4 ton (light) tank.

Max speed: 140 mph
Service ceiling: 13,123 ft
Wing loading: 17 lb/ft²
Power/mass: 0.06 hp/lb
range: with external fuel tanks, 2,400km flight with 6,000kg bombs.

There are a lot of phony images of the Kalinin K-7 floating about on the Internet. They usually are models, which can be seen by their clarity. Authentic shots are much rarer, but available.

Kalinin K-7


Friday, October 23, 2015

Tales From the Dutch Resistance, Part III

This is a continuation of my series profiling one "Hans." He is an old man now, but once upon a time he was a young miner in Holland. He was tough, and still is, but not how you probably think of "tough." But, I don't want to explain. I want to show.

Is it true? Or just a tall tale. You decide.

We pick up where we left off.

Chapter III: Refuge, and Return

The train ride to Eindhoven passed in a blur. In the course of less than 24 hours, Hans had committed an unthinkable act, spent a sleepless night, and then left home perhaps forever. The trees and houses sped by, but Hans just looked straight ahead.

At the station, he stood near the back of the crowd getting off the train. As he turned toward the station, he heard the dreaded word from behind him: "Papiere."

It was a normal question from a train conductor during normal times. However, these were not normal times. An SS man stood on the other side of the train exit, looking for all the world as if he had been waiting for him. A few feet away stood another man in the typical blue-green uniform, holding a leashed doberman.

Neither was smiling.

Hans briefly considered making a run for it, but instantly he knew he wouldn't get far. The man's eyes bored into him, emotionless but not indifferent.

Reaching his hand into first one pocket, then another, Hans fumbled until he found the packet of papers the doctor had given him. He held it out to the SS man.

"Open it," the man said. It wasn't said harshly, or quickly, or curiously. It was just said.

Hans fumbled with the folded paper, almost dropping it. He hadn't even looked at it since leaving Beesel, his mind had been in that field by the tree, looking at the man bending his head down to look at the food in the basket.....

Finally he got it open and held it out to the uniformed man. The guard glanced at it, then looked deep into Hans' eyes. It was the stare of death. Then he looked back down, then looked away.


Hans hesitated for a second, then forced a wide grin to appear. He withdrew the paper and headed for the stairs.

His girlfriend's building was several blocks around. There were spies all around. He hadn't mentioned to Pieter or the doctor that his girlfriend did indeed live in the suburb of Eindhoven - in the suburb next to the airfield. She lived within two blocks of the barbed wire that surrounded it.

After a brisk walk, he got to the entrance. There was another guard at the door. Unlike the previous guard, he was alone, but he also had a rifle strapped across his paper.

He didn't say anything, he just held out his hand contemptuously. This time, Hans was prepared. He quickly handed over the documents.

The guard spent a few moments reading it. Then he looked up.

"It says here you are sick. You don't look sick, filthy pig."

"I am sick. It's in my blood. You can't see it. The doctor sent me here."

"I should send you away just for looking stupid, Arschloch. You Ungeziefer will make us all sick. Why they let you live is something none of us can understand. Get along now, schmutzigen Tier, before I vomit all over you."

Hans reached out and snatched back the paper from the glowering guard.

The man kicked at him. "Move along!"

Hans quickly went inside. The Germans didn't care what anyone thought of them, as far as they were concerned, anyone not wearing a uniform was subhuman.

Fortunately, his girlfriend's mother was home. After he quickly explained that there had been an "incident" and he had to stay with them for a while, she thankfully nodded her head. People being rousted from their homes wasn't at all unusual under the Germans, they were always taking over peoples' homes to quarter soldiers. When his girlfriend came home from her shop work later, she also was sympathetic. Her father was "missing." Nobody even knew what that meant, but they could take a good guess.

There wasn't much to do in town, and Hans dared not go outside. He didn't even like looking out the window, from which he could see between buildings to the airfield. The roar of planes taking off and landing was his only distraction aside from the daily paper and a few old books, mostly religious works like psalms.

Strangely, the planes took off and landed at night, too, often more so then than during the day. They made his nights even more restless.

Every day was the same, and he quickly settled into a routine; he would awaken and have breakfast, then his girlfriend would leave for the day. Her mother sometimes sat by the window reading or did housework, and sometimes she went out. It was all the same, regardless, because there was nothing for him to do whether she was there or not. Everyone was quite nice, but that didn't make the endless days any easier.

Finally, a couple of months after he had left home, a note arrived for him in the mail. It was from the doctor. Hans quickly opened it. Scanning it quickly, he saw that it only contained one sentence, written by a typewriter:

"Are you ready to come back yet? - Doctor Schmidt."

Hans could hardly contain his excitement. He quickly gathered his things, wished his girlfriend and her mother good luck, and headed back for the station. This time, nobody stopped him, and again the trip seemed to pass by in a haze of nerves and uncertainty.

His return home was joyful, but restrained. He quickly learned that the SS had searched all the nearby homes for the culprit, but had found nothing. Since the man hadn't been a soldier, but only a native German, it hadn't led to mass reprisals. After a period of random searches, gradually the investigation had wound down. Now, it was but a distant memory.

A few days later, Hans returned to his job at the mine as if nothing had happened. Nobody even noticed him, and the SS men at the mine entrance searched him and let him through as if he hadn't missed a day.

On his second day, a note was waiting for him. It said to report to the head office after his shift. Hans spent the entire shift in a sweat, wondering what might happen now.

At the appointed time, he went up to the office, which was just outside the mine shaft. The door was open, so he walked in.

Pieter was sitting behind a desk. It looked as if he had been waiting for him.

"Welcome back."

"Thank you," Hans replied. He didn't know if he was supposed to know what was going on, but in any event, he didn't. However, Pieter got down to business quickly.

"Hans, we're glad that you made it through. You wouldn't have escaped without our help."

"I know, sir. Thank you."

"Look, Hans, now that we've done something for you, it is time for you to do something for us."

"Me? What can I do?"

"We have a need for your help."

"My help? I can't do anything. I'm just a worker. I'm not a guerrilla."

"Oh, you can help us. In fact, you're the only one who can. Will you do it?"

"Do what? I told you I can't do anything."

"Just tell me you will help us."

Hans hesitated for only a second. "Sure, I will help."

Pieter smiled and sat back. "Uitstekend. Come back after your shift tomorrow. I will tell you then."

Once again, Hans got that feeling that things were about to change for him forever.

And he was proven right.

Part IV is here.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hitler and Geli

Hitler & Geli: The Doomed Love Affair Behind World War II?

Geli Raubal
Geli Raubal.

Geli Raubal was Hitler's cute half-niece (daughter of his half-sister Angela) and, some speculate, his lover. They lived together before his election as Chancellor in Munich, where he kept an apartment - an apartment, incidentally, that he retained until his death despite moving to Berlin. They began dating when she was 17, and continued until her death at 23.

Geli Raubal
Adolf Hitler’s beloved niece Geli, photographed in the late '20s by Heinrich Hoffmann - or perhaps herself.

After an odd argument on 18 September 1931, Geli reportedly shot herself. There are some theories that it was murder, though not by Hitler's own hand; it is undisputed that he left for a business appointment not long before, and that she yelled at him from a window as he left. All the servants saw it. Hitler only heard about her death later.

Geli Raubal
Geli Raubal in August, 1930. Perhaps taken by Hitler himself.

There has been speculation that Geli found a letter from Eva - who Hitler had been seeing for two years at the time - in his coat pocket earlier that day. She then confronted Hitler and demanded that he stop seeing Eva. The servants heard Hitler say an emphatic "No!" to Geli just before he left. That is just conjecture.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal

Exactly what happened to Geli - and just as importantly why - has confounded historians ever since. Rumors flew after Geli was found dead. Hitler quickly left and holed up with close friends while the investigation was conducted quickly and discreetly. How it was handled mattered greatly because he still was only leader of a fringe political party.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal

Public opinion mattered. An election the following year - 1932 - was the key to everything that followed. Absolute power was still years away, and could have been denied him if the incident soured voters on his movement. He certainly could not afford another prison stay.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal

Apparently, not long before her death, Geli had been having an affair with Hitler's chauffeur, Emil Maurice. That is the rumor, anyway. Maurice and Hitler bore a very vague resemblance.

Emil Maurice
Emil Maurice (Federal Archive).

Hitler of course fired the driver as soon as he found out, though he only ordered him transferred rather than shot or otherwise harmed. (The story of Maurice, a (partial) Jew who was permitted to remain in the SS as an "honorary Aryan," is fascinating in its own right.)

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal
This picture appears to have been taken in Berchtesgaden long before Hitler bought his house there. He began renting Haus Wachenfeld in 1928, and bought it much later after becoming Chancellor with royalties from Mein Kampf. It is generally considered to have become "The Berghof" only after remodelling in 1936, and this obviously is long before then.

Geli's mother later claimed that Geli had wanted to marry someone from their home town of Linz - not Hitler - but Hitler forbade it. Whatever the disagreement was about, they had a blazing row in which Hitler refused to give her permission to do whatever it was. Hitler then left peremptorily on business. Geli later shot herself. That is the story.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal
Adolf Hitler with his two quite fetching half-nieces: Angela "Geli" Raubal and Elfriede Raubal. Notice how unusually relaxed he appears, and the somewhat evil look on his niece's face. One imagines he looked back on this particular day at the seashore with fondness.

So, there has always been speculation about the extent of Hitler's relationship with Geli. It is know that he liked to practice his artist skills by sketching Geli in the nude. Some pictures also make one wonder about his relationship with Elfriede.... In the picture above, for example, Hitler has a youthful, relaxed, mischievous look, as if it's been quite a lark spending time with the two girls. One can detect a bit of a smirk. The girls are dressed to kill and also have quite knowing looks. Not only are they standing together, they are touching in an almost intimate way. Everything speaks to complete acceptance.

Maria Reiter
Hitler with Maria Reiter. He ultimately dumped her because she was underage, or at least that is the general consensus - there is no proof that it was anything but companionship. She married others later, but claimed to have had a night of passion with Hitler when she was around 20. That, however, is uncertain.

It is fairly well accepted that Hitler liked young girls such as Maria Reiter, a local Berchtesgaden girl who was born in 1911 and who was "friends" with Hitler in the 1920s. So, dalliances may have been part of Hitler's character. However, he invariably put the Party first. Where, exactly, Geli fit into this remains undetermined. It is easy to always believe the worst about Hitler due to subsequent events.

Geli Raubal Adolf Hitler

However, whether he actually had affairs with these girls is a matter of conjecture. And, you know, he may not have had sex with them - according to Bill Clinton's definitions. He is said to have liked innocent girls who didn't question him, who laughed at his jokes, and who made him look good to the boys in the Party. It really may have been nothing more than that. Or, it may have been more. Geli certainly made a good hostess. We simply don't know what happened beyond that.

Geli Raubal Adolf Hitler Josef Goebbels
Geli was a huge asset to Hitler, as she brought a feminine presence to otherwise all-male gatherings of Party bosses.

There was a lot of murkiness about the precise nature of Geli's affections. It really may have been purely Platonic with Hitler, though hardly anyone believes that. He may have just been an over-protective uncle. Ian Kershaw wrote in "Hitler 1889-1936" (1998):
"When Hitler found out about Geli's liaison with Emil Maurice, his bodyguard and chauffeur, there was such a scene that Maurice feared Hitler was going to shoot him." On 24th December, 1927 Geli wrote to Maurice: "The postman has already brought me three letters from you, but never have I been so happy as I was over the last. Perhaps that's the reason we've had such bad experiences over the last few days. Uncle Adolf is insisting that we should wait two years. Think of it, Emil, two whole years of only being able to kiss each other now and then and always having Uncle Adolf in charge. I can only give you my love and be unconditionally faithful to you. I love you so infinitely much. Uncle Adolf insists that I should go on with my studies."

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal
Adolf Hitler with his older half-sister, Angela Raubal, Geli's mother, on the same day as the shot above. Notice the distance between them, as opposed to the one with Geli where they are touching. Hands in his pocket, Hitler is obviously stressed, and she isn't happy, either. She knew him before... everything, and had no illusions about him like everyone else did. She no doubt was along as a sort of chaperone. Eventually, they fell out long after Geli's death.

Hitler was profoundly changed as a result of Geli's death and often stated she was the only woman he had ever loved, which again is an odd thing to say about your relation. One also could argue that his closest confidantes for the rest of his life were those who also had known Geli, though that may be coincidence. Others, though, have commented on the fact that Hitler "didn't like to see new faces in his entourage." It bears noting that not long after Geli's death, Hitler began the streak of extreme viciousness highlighted by the June 1934 Night of the Long Knives. Before her death, he was more a figure of ridicule in Berlin society, a nuisance who held no real power and whose Brown Shirts made pointless, silly parades through town. Afterwards, he became a tyrant.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal

There is reason to speculate that Hitler came close to a nervous breakdown after Geli's death. His close friends kept a close watch on Adolf in the weeks afterwards, fearing he might also attempt to kill himself. He later had some of those friends shot, by the way. One could read some historical significance into this episode in the sense that it may have given Hitler - or at least enhanced in him - a fatalistic and even nihilistic attitude. Of such tiny things are history made.

Adolf Hitler Geli Raubal
Hitler and Goebbels flank Geli Raubal, Hitler's niece and lover. Geli was very important to the Party's social circles, serving as a sort of matron of honor and helping Hitler to look cool to friends.

It is notable that at moments of crisis during the war, Hitler would suddenly bring up her death out of the blue and discuss it at length. This is little noted by historians, but quite telling. He often compared his Generals' poor decisions unfavorably to her "courage." As Paulus was surrendering at Stalingrad in 1943, Hitler went into one of his rants that intimates called "table talk." He expounded at length about Geli's "strength" to commit suicide when Paulus was too "weak" to do so. That was an odd topic to bring up at the turning point of the war.

Geli Raubal

The odd part about that incident, of course, was that Hitler wasn't making plans to avenge the defeat, he wasn't worried about consequences, the lost lives weren't really the issue - he was sitting there moaning about his lost love from a dozen years before in front of everybody. It was a very emotional rant, of a sort that Hitler did not engage in too often no matter who died on the battlefield. Geli was the only person who ever seemed to get to Hitler emotionally in any real way, other than Hitler venting momentary spiteful anger (Hitler did that a lot after her death). Geli's death was the real turning point in Hitler's life, everything turned sour in the years that followed to the detriment of a Continent and the world.

Geli Raubal


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tales From the Dutch Resistance, Part II

Nazi Train

This is Part II of my series "Tales From the Dutch Resistance." We are following the story of one man, whom we shall call Hans. Hans is a young miner of the age of 23 in the town of Beesel, which sits between the Meuse and the German border.

Is it true? Or just a tall tale. You decide.

We pick up where we left off.

Chapter II: Pieter

Hans did not sleep well that night. The incident with the foreigner by the tree kept coming into his head. Somebody must have seen and run away before he noticed. Surely the man had an accomplice who observed the whole thing - nobody would be that bold without some backup.

Hans finally got up and went down to get some frühstück, as everyone called breakfast. Using German words was quite common, being as how they were only two streets away from the border. When he turned from the stairs into the kitchen, however, he saw that his father was already up. He was sitting at the table, the morning newspaper lying before him.

"Hans, have you seen this?" he asked in a strained voice. His face was pale and stood out uncharacteristically in the morning gloom.

Hans understood immediately that his father knew. The body had been found only a few hundred yards away, shortly after Hans had returned home. Perhaps the man did have an accomplice, who had wandered off before the incident, then returned shortly after. Anything was possible.

Hans remained silent. He always told his father everything, there were no secrets in their household. Finally, he had the courage to speak.

"I did it."

His father leaned back and gave a big sigh.

"He's dead. They're going to come and turn everything upside down until they find you."

Hans didn't say anything. He sat at the table, not even looking at the paper. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that there was a picture of the dead man on the front page, exactly as he had left him.

His father shook his head. He seemed to be thinking about something, and started to speak several times, but then stopped. He looked worried, but more than that, he looked sad.

"You have to go. You can't stay here. They'll figure it out and send you away. You'll never lie well enough to convince them."

Hans nodded. He had been thinking the same thing, but couldn't bear to leave his family without a reason.

"I know someone who I think can help. You have to go see him right now. Pieter, your boss at the mines, is someone who can help. You must go see him right now, and don't let anyone see you."

Random members of the Dutch Resistance

Hans nodded. He still couldn't speak. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know Pieter very well, he was in the big office and didn't mingle much with the men.

"Hurry. Go now. Get some things and leave. We're all in danger until you get to safety. They burn down entire towns over things like this. We'll wind up in a camp. Get going!"

Hans always did what his father said, there wasn't even question about it. He ran back up to his room and threw a few things in his old school bag. Then, he ran back down the stairs. His father was holding open the door.

He didn't look back, and his father didn't say a word. There was a shortcut through the fields to Pieter's house, which was near the mine. Though he had taken that route hundreds of times, he got there in record time.

Pieter answered the door after a few knocks. He was holding the paper.

"Have you seen this? The guy who did it is going to need a lot of help."

Hans paused for only a second.

"Yes, I do."

Pieter's jaw dropped. "It's you?"

Hans nodded. Pieter was his only hope. If he couldn't trust him, it was hopeless anyway.

Pieter ushered him inside, but only far enough so that he could close the door.

"You need to go away. I can help you. Do you have someone that you can stay with?"

Hans didn't hesitate.

"Yes. My girlfriend lives in Eindhoven. I can go stay with her."

"You can't go to Eindhoven! There's a big Luftwaffe base there! They'll find you in an instant!"

"She doesn't live in town, but in the suburbs. She is in Berkt. They won't bother me there."

Pieter thought about it.

"That will have to do then. But you will need papers to travel. I will get them for you. But you must stay there until we send for you. You understand?"

Hans nodded. It was all going so fast, like a dream.

"Wait here. I need to get something."

Pieter disappeared into the recesses of the house. It sounded like Pieter went down some steps and then came up. It was only a few minutes, but seemed longer.

When he returned, Pieter was holding his coat. He walked right past Hans as he put it on, opening the front door.

"Come with me. We have to see the doctor."

Hans was confused. He was fine, and didn't see how it was useful to waste time going with Pieter for some appointment. However, Pieter didn't stop, but continued out into the street. After a moment, Hans followed, quietly shutting the door behind him.

The doctor's office conveniently was across the street from the mine, which sent him a lot of business. Hans had been before the doctor a few times, but didn't know him that well. The doctor was just an ordinary fellow, no more socially significant than, say, a plumber. He did his job as quickly as possible, then shushed you out the door.

Even though it was still early, the waiting room already was crowded with patients. Hans saw an empty chair in a corner and walked over. A man had his things on it, and grudgingly put them on the floor so that Hans could sit. Hans was grateful for the chair, as from the crowd it looked as though it would be a long wait.

Rather than find a chair, though, Pieter walked over to a cupboard. He opened a draw and pulled something out. Then he walked over to Hans.

"Here, give me your hand."

Hans stuck out his left hand uncomprehendingly. Pieter fiddled with it for a second. Then he released it.

"Just do what the doctor orders." He grinned, then turned and left.

Hans still didn't know what was going on. He looked down and saw that Pieter had tied a yellow twist around his pinkie. It felt strange. Nobody else seemed to notice. He had no idea what to tell the doctor. He didn't want to tell anyone what had happened, much less someone he barely knew.

After a few minutes, the doctor came out. He glanced around the room, looking at everyone. When he saw Hans, he immediately motioned to him.

"You, come in. You are next."

Hans thought he must be talking to the man next to him and glanced over at him. The man was sitting back with his eyes closed. The doctor motioned again. Hans finally got up and walked into his office. The doctor quickly shut the door behind them.

"I can help you. However, you must do what I say, exactly as I tell you. Will you do that?"

Hans nodded. The doctor walked over to his desk and took something out of the bottom drawer.

"Here. You will use these. Try to avoid being noticeable. You're sick. Do you understand? It's in your blood, so it can't be seen. Repeat that!"

"I'm sick. It's in my blood."

"That's right. You've been sent away to recover. You're going to stay in Eindhoven until you get better. Can you remember that?"


"All right. There is a train in an hour. Don't miss it."

Hans nodded.

"We'll send for you when it is clear. Don't come back until then no matter what happens. Stay inside as much as possible."

Hans nodded again. He wondered how long that might be.

The doctor handed him some papers. Hans recognized them as medical travel documents.

"Show those to anyone who asks. Make sure they don't keep them! All right, off with you. We'll get the address from your father. Don't miss the train!"

Hans nodded. As he turned to go, the doctor held out his hand.

"You did us a great service. That man sent six of our people to the camps. Now he won't send anyone else."

Hans grinned stiffly and took the proffered hand. Maybe it would be all right after all.

Part III is here.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Tales from the Dutch Resistance, Part I

Dutch Resistance
Random members of the Dutch resistance.

Holland is not something that you will hear mentioned very often when the subject of World War II comes up. After it surrendered in May 1940, pretty much the only time anyone mentions it is during the Battle for Arnhem, or as the launch site for V-2 rockets late in the war, or perhaps regarding the last winter of the war when everyone was starving. However, there was a lot going on in Holland throughout the war.

This will begin a series of posts describing one man's wartime experiences in Holland. Whether or not it interests anybody, who can say. But I want to get it all down somewhere.


I have this friend. We'll call him Hans. He's getting on, and needs oxygen. However, he still has his wits about him and uses his computer with some difficulty. He's a tough old bird. That's how you survive.

We'll call this an "as told to" version of history. I may get some details wrong, because I am going from memory, however recent. I'll correct errors as I catch them. Hans likes to tell the same stories over and over, but nobody usually does more than half-listen and mutter disinterestedly how interesting they are.

Is this all true, or just a story? You can decide. But hopefully you will agree that these tales capture the small change of war in a personal way. Oh, and by the way: you won't see these anywhere else.

Tales from the Dutch Resistance, Part I.

It was 1943, and people were starving in Beesel. Work in the coal mines was exhausting, but it was better than a lot of alternatives. Hans was a star there, having gotten his mining license at 22 instead of the usual 23, but that didn't give him any special pull with the Germans. Even if you made a decent wage, there wasn't a lot of food, and food was all that mattered. The Germans needed it, and they didn't ask nicely. There was nothing else to buy anyway.

However, the villagers knew that some people had plenty of food. Farmers knew how to keep enough for themselves, and then some. The Germans would of course come and take whatever they could, but there are a lot of hiding places on a farm.

Hans' father was friends with a farmer, and did some favors for him. The farmer offered some of his food stash in gratitude, but there was a condition: he wouldn't under any circumstances bring it over. If the Germans found anyone with food that wasn't accounted for properly, they would confiscate it and impose some form of discipline. What form that discipline would take wasn't knowable in advance, because there were no rules. At the very least, the food would be taken and a beating would be administered. In addition, the concentration camps weren't that far away, and people from Beesel made that trip for offenses large and small.

Hans' family needed the food, and they were going to get it. Since the farmer wouldn't bring the food over, Hans' father asked Hans to go get it. Of course, there were no cars, and even if you had a car, there was no petrol. Since the farmer lived two towns away and it would be a long walk, Hans decided to ride his bike. To carry the food, he tied a large basket to the back of the bike, one with a big lid that opened on one side.

Riding with a basket could only invite trouble. Hans knew that if the Germans or the collaborators saw it, they would immediately order Hans to stop and examine the basket out of curiosity. There was an alternate way to go that wandered through the fields along a path and led to his house, but that route took longer and required more effort riding on the dirt. Hans decide there was no danger riding with an empty basked, so he rode blithely through the center of town with the basket obvious to all.

It didn't take too long to get to the farm - towns were close together, at least near the German border - and they filled the basket with all sorts of scarce dairy items. Soon, Hans was on his way back. This time, though, he decided that he wouldn't go anywhere near town on the main road. Instead, he would take the alternate route that he had avoided earlier, along the path through the fields that bypassed town.

Hans was passing by a large tree that was kind of a local landmark, only a few minutes from home. He hadn't seen anyone.

Suddenly, someone jumped out from behind the tree and yelled "Halt!" Hans immediately stopped.

It was a rotund man holding a rifle. He had been hiding behind the tree, waiting for someone like Hans to come along on this "hidden" route.

Hans recognized the man. He was a German refugee who openly collaborated with the authorities in a sort of adjunct police force. Many Germans had fled the Saar years earlier when the French took it over as reparation for World War I, and the man was one of their leaders. For some reason, they had settled in Holland along the border with Germany in towns such as Beesel. Why they didn't just go back to other parts of Germany was unclear to Hans, and these weren't people to make idle conversation with. Hans just knew that there were a lot of them around, and they all were dangerous.

Hans dismounted, put down the kickstand in the back, turned and took a step forward next to the man near the tree. The bike's typical stand in the back made it stand up straight.

"What do you have in the basket, boy?" the man asked in Dutch.

"Nothing, just some clothes," Hans lied.

"Show me the clothes."

Hans stepped back. "No, if you want to see them, you need to open it yourself."

The man shrugged. He leaned his rifle against the tree and walked around the bike. He went to the basket and carefully lifted the lid. Instantly, he saw the food. He looked up at Hans over the lid and grinned. "Nothing, huh?" Licking his lips, the man leaned back down to examine what he had found for himself.

Hans watched  the man's head disappear below the lid of the basket as he poked through the cheese and milk. He felt a deep sense of resentment. His family was hungry, like everyone else's, and it was his family's food, not this oafish foreigner's. In addition, Hans knew that he would get in a huge amount of trouble when the man inevitably turned him over to the authorities, probably losing his job at the mine.

The anger built up in him. He reached over unobserved and grabbed the rifle that the man foolishly had leaned against the tree. Biggest mistake the man would ever make, he thought grimly.

Turning and raising the rifle high over his head, Hans swiftly brought the butt of the rifle down as hard as he could on the man's head. There wasn't a lot of thought about it. He just did it.

The man, engrossed in his fabulous find of scarce food, never noticed. He collapsed instantly and lay where he fell.

Hans looked around. He didn't see anyone.

With all of his might, he threw the rifle as hard as he could into the pasture. It disappeared into the hay.

Leaving the man where he lay, Hans secured the basket again and got back on his bike. The ride home was uneventful, and he was home within minutes. The food tasted great, but Hans didn't feel well and went to bed early without talking to anyone.


I mentioned to Hans, who was well known in Beesel, that his "victim" probably saw Hans riding blithely through town on his bike that day with the basket, but didn't stop him on purpose. The man likely figured that Hans would be returning later with something in the basket, and whatever the basket contained would serve nicely in the man's own home. The man also probably figured that nobody would be so obvious with a full basket of contraband, so the basket as Hans pedalled through town undoubtedly would be empty and there was no point in stopping him.

However, when the basket was full of something, the man also would have figured that nobody would be foolish enough to expose it to view by riding through the center of town. And, there was only one route in that direction that bypassed Beesel - the path with the large tree. The man probably just set up a blind and waited patiently until Hans rode into the trap. A basket full of food would be well worth the wait. There was nothing else to do anyway.

Hans said he had never considered it.

Part II is here.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk in the Sahara

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
P-40 in the Sahara.

Okay, let's look at the famous Kittyhawk P-40 in the Sahara. This is a fairly recent find, and most readers are probably familiar with it. I figured I'd put up a page about it anyway, for those interested in World War II wrecks. I've learned a bit about it that you may find interesting.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

A perfectly preserved Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk was found in Sahara Desert in May 2012, when Polish oil worker Jakub Perka found it while on expedition in Al Wadi al Jadidi. The Kittyhawk, built in Buffalo, New York, was untouched from the day it crashed during World War II. There is no evidence anyone else laid eyes on it throughout that time.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
Flight Sergeant Denis Copping in his RAF uniform aged 24, shortly before he went missing in the desert.

It is widely believed that it was the plane of 24-year-old Flt. Sgt. Dennis Copping of RAF No. 260 Squadron. He was from Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
Copping's flight path. German General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps would have been standing on the coast directly to the north when the plane went down - marked by the "X." 

On June 28, 1942, Copping was tasked by 260 Squadron to ferry the damaged aircraft from one RAF base in Egypt to another for repairs. He wound up flying to the southwest, away from coast and Nile, into the middle of nothingness. Perhaps needless to say, that was not the direction of his intended destination, and it is of course a mystery why he went that way. Getting lost in the featureless desert is a common hazard, especially if your compass or other directional gear stops working.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

There would have been no landmarks, just sand and featureless ridges. Copping was far off course, perhaps disoriented, perhaps chased by the Luftwaffe (the switch for his guns was in the "On" position) - there is no way to know. A fellow pilot is said to have tried to get his attention as to his wrong course with hand signals, to no avail. Likely, his radio wasn't working - as noted, the plane was due for repair, so could have had any number of defects. Ultimately, Copping and his aircraft disappeared into the endless desert.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
The gunsight is that large black protruding thing at the top.

It is assumed that Copping lost his way, perhaps ran low on fuel, and decided that crash-landing relatively intact was better than waiting until he had to bail out. Again, everything but the wreck is guesswork. He chose a rocky ridge with a thin covering of sand above the floor of the desert, perhaps because it would be easier to spot his plane from the air there (but more difficult from the floor of the desert, perhaps accounting for how long it took to find). Copping made a good landing, wheels up (contrary to initial reports - pictures of the crashed plane show the landing gear switch in the "retract" position). The landing gear, even though retracted, sheared off as the plane landed, it must have been tough to judge the rocky terrain from the air. It also must have been quite a bumpy landing as the radiator and propeller came off as well. Copping survived the crash and got out in good shape, that much we do know. There he stood, alone, surrounded by sand and rocks and wind.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
A parachute in the sand. Where else in the world would you find something like that.

Next, Copping used his silk parachute to shield himself from the sun and perhaps attract attention. One can imagine that he spent some time with the aircraft, hoping that someone would come looking for him and knowing it was wiser to stay with the relatively visible plane (just as it is safer to stay with a capsized boat, the desert and the ocean have a lot of similarities). Ferry pilots did not carry much in the way of water or rations, though there would have been a bit of both stored in the plane for such emergencies. The odds of being spotted from the air - assuming anyone was looking for him, not a certainty in the middle of a war - were greatly lessened by the fact that the plane's desert camouflage made it blend into the surroundings.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

Copping took the radio out. Perhaps it didn't work, or maybe he was out of range, or perhaps he had no battery power to run it. Eventually, Copping left it and the plane behind and started walking. What else could he do? To stay was certain death. Of course, walking aimlessly without any way of knowing which way to go also wasn't exactly promising - but what can you do? What can you do?

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

The nearest settlement, it turns out (Copping wouldn't have known this) was 180 miles away to the North. Even if Copping had a full pack of water and rations and a camel, it still would have been a miracle to find it in the featureless desert. The Nile was even further away to the East. Still further north, the British Army was fully occupied with containing German General Erwin Rommel, who was preparing to launch another offensive. If the Germans spotted him, either from the air or ground, they might have just shot him. So, the odds weren't exactly in Copping's favor.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
Worth another look: incredibly, 70 years later, Copping's parachute remains intact exactly where he left it to walk off to his death in the desert.

The British Army did not make much of a search, but that is understandable given the situation. Where to start? He could have been anywhere. Even a full-scale effort would probably have been fruitless, especially given the plane's desert camouflage. There was a war on, men died every day, and aircraft got shot down or crashed on their own. Flt. Lt. Copping was not a top priority, in fact, he was not a priority at all. He did get a grave marker, Column 249 at the Alamein Memorial, with date of death listed as that of his disappearance.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

So, seventy years passed before the plane was found, which gives some idea of how likely it would have been for anyone to find it in 1942. While the American-built Kittyhawk was in amazing condition considering the passage of time, the remains of Flt. Sgt. Copping were nowhere to be found. All that could be said was that he wasn't at the plane.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
If you look closely, you will notice that the camouflage paint is gone from the front of the plane, with original US Army olive green undercoating exposed, but not the rear. Copping went by the book and landed into the wind. The prevailing winds in the desert seldom change, so, over 70 years, the wind scoured the front of the Kittyhawk clean but left the rear intact.

Later, though, a search team (ARIDO) found a pile of human bones, a parachute, metal buttons dated from 1939 and some other items a scant few miles from the crash site. They were in an alcove of a large rocky formation - whoever it was sought shelter from the wind and sun. The remains were identified by the finders as those of Flt. Lt. Copping, but that is only a tentative identification and, according to the British Ministry of Defence, they were not those of Copping at all. If it was Copping, he didn't get very far - contrary to how it may seem from pictures, walking a mile in the sand isn't easy at all, especially in flight gear with no water and no... nothing. Plus, Copping probably was near death when he started out anyway, having waited by the plane for as long as he could stand, trying to get his radio working. Not knowing where he was, he perhaps figured to give it a shot with a walk at night - maybe there was a town right across the next ridge, or a camel train, or anything. There wasn't.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
 The very powerful Packard V-1650 Merlin engine. Get a good mechanic with hoses, fuel and plugs and so forth, vacuum out the sand, and that baby would start right up.

The bones that were found nearby and believed to be Copping's are now said to be in a box in Cairo (everything about this is murky, with conflicting statements), but nobody has put forth the effort to identify them via DNA or any other means aside from the few surviving items beside them. Meanwhile, the RAF Museum at Hendon got the Ministry of Defence - it is still British property - to deed it to it. However, the Kittyhawk is understood to be in the possession of Egyptian authorities in a storage crate at El Alemain. Everything is said to be inaccessible due to politics, but it sounds to some as if the real problem is that pilot Copping once again is not a priority.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
The guns and ammo remained in the plane - the Egyptian Army since has seized them because - 70 years later - they could still be used.

The plot thickens a bit when you get into the weeds. The Hendon RAF Museum promised one of its rare Supermarine Spitfires (only 110 are left in Great Britain) to the Essex-based Kennet salvage team as “payment” for the Kittyhawk salvage job, and accordingly the museum transferred title of the Spitfire to the private firm. However, the unrest in Egypt has prevented consummation of the deal, though the plane wound up in a storage container.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
Salvaging the remains of the Kittyhawk.

The P-40 may never make its way to England, while the Spitfire also is lost to the public for the duration. The whole affair remains "up in the air." It inevitably will work itself out, but for now, the swap remains a bungled situation. If it ever works out, the Kittyhawk may wind up restored at the RAF Museum in North London.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

There isn't much further news about this incident that I could find. News items like this tend to have their 15 minutes in the international media - National Geographic was all over this with its usual brilliant photographs - and then disappear into local media, if that. Hopefully, the plane will find its way to the Hendon museum, and Flight Sergeant Copping - if that is who it is - will find a proper burial. The restoration would be straightforward, as the plane is in good condition. That isn't the real issue, though - there are plenty of P-40s left. Returning this honored treasure to England just is the right thing to do.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara

Update: Word is that the plane has been somewhat restored and is on display at the El Alamein museum.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Sahara
I do not have confirmation, but supposedly this is the plane, "restored."

However, I don't have confirmation that it is the same plane, and, if it is, there is no word on why it hasn't been sent to the museum in London. Obviously, if the plane pictured above is Copping's plane, that is a travesty.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Last Order of World War II

Hirō Onoda

Imperial Japanese troops had a fanatical dedication to duty. Combine that with the fact that they often served in very remote locations with no connection to anyone, much less headquarters, and you got some very interesting results.

Hirō Onoda

Hirō Onoda was a fairly ordinary Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer, Second Lieutenant, serving in the Philippines during World War II. Onoda was born on March 19, 1922, in Kamekawa Village, Kaisō District, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. He came from a long line of soldiers, including Samurai.

Hirō Onoda

On December 26, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders were to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. Onoda's orders specified that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life. The Americans invaded on 28 February 1945, and Onoda, now a full Lieutenant, took to the hills with a few other soldiers. His little group wasn't the only one, either, and they always expected to be sought out by Imperial forces. The Japanese Imperial Army had a code not unlike the US Marines - they didn't leave anyone behind. So, Onoda escaped capture and waited for the army to come for him.

Hirō Onoda
Greeting Ferdinand Marcos.

Out of communication with headquarters because they had no radio, and suspicious of any printed material as a trick, Onoda and his little group remained in the hills. One soldier "deserted" in 1949 and gave himself up the following year, but the rest kept at it. Another was shot twice, first in 1953 (in the leg), then again the following year (fatal). This left only Onoda and one companion, Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka. They continued their guerilla activities such as setting fires and stealing things from the locals.

Hirō Onoda
Onoda with his ceremonial sword, with which he would have committed ritual suicide like so many of his compatriots in the 1940s.

The 1940s turned into the 1950s, which turned into the 1960s, which turned into the 1970s. Onoda and his fellow soldier continued to do their duty to Imperial Japan. They raided locals and had shootouts with the cops. No doubt the locals knew enough to stay out of the hills with "those maniacs up there." People knew who they were due to the defector in 1950, but nobody actually went to find them. Finally, on 16 October 1972, Private Kozuka was shot and killed during a raid. Onoda was alone.

Hirō Onoda

It was the hippie era. Japan had returned to being an economic powerhouse, Richard Nixon - also a World War II soldier - was US President. People think the 1960s were the height of the hippies, but in fact it was the early '70s. A hippie named Suzuki decided he had nothing better to do than go to the Philippines and track down Onoda, who by this time was a sort of mysterious bogeyman of the mountains. Suzuki, with the fearlessness of youth, stumbled upon Onoda after four days - Onoda wasn't difficult to find, but nobody else had had the courage to face the maniac with the guns in the mountains. Suzuki asked Onoda to surrender, but Onoda refused without orders from a superior officer.

Hirō Onoda

Suzuki went back to Japan with photos and convinced the skeptical Japanese army - now a "defense force" - that it had a problem to solve. The defense force tracked down Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had been Onoda's superior officer in 1945. They gave him authority to carry out a special mission and flew him to the island. Guided by Suzuki, Taniguchi tracked down Onoda.

There are two aspects to a military order: it must be issued by a qualified officer to a military subordinate, and it must be presented to the subordinate to be either followed or wilfully disregarded by that subordinate. Major Taniguchi gave his subordinate Lt. Onoda a direct written order:
In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity. 
In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff's Headquarters is relieved of all military duties. 
Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
This was a valid order issued by the Japanese military through Major Taniguchi. Presented with this order from his superior officer, Onoda obeyed and dutifully surrendered on 9 March 1974.

Hirō Onoda

Onoda returned to Japan to a gracious reception. He died peacefully at home in January 2014.