A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences
This Week in History
National Science Fiction Day, Pope Leo lights the fire of the Reformation, and two MiGs get splashed.
Your Lost Battalion Dispatch
The Lost Battalion Dispatch #27 for the Week of January 1, 2023
US Soldier Trudges Through Korean Winter
Elements of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army breached and destroyed the Republic of Korea’s defensive positions along the 38th Parallel on January 1, 1951. General Matthew Ridgeway, who had taken command of the US Eighth Army just eight days earlier, predicted the Chinese New Year’s Offensive and warned ROK Army Headquarters. ROK forces were ordered to full alert, but many Korean soldiers had either abandoned their posts due to the extreme cold or were drunk from New Year’s celebrations. When the Chinese attacked on New Year’s Eve, the ROK 1st Infantry Division was completely decimated. The Chinese also aimed to destroy the ROK’s 6th Infantry Division, but many Chinese units ran afoul of the US 19th Infantry Regiment instead, allowing the ROK troops to escape. The escape soon turned into a rout, however. Ridgeway was faced with hordes of weaponless, fleeing Korean troops when he attempted to inspect the front lines on New Year’s Day. He was unable to stem the rout.
Worried that Eighth Army would be surrounded by the Chinese after the collapse of the Korean defensive line, Ridgeway ordered the evacuation of Seoul on January 3. US, ROK, and UK forces reformed on “Line D” along the Han River just south of Seoul. The Chinese offensive continued to make progress until January 25 when Ridgeway surprised them with the Operation Thunderbolt counter-offensive.
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Isaac Asimov celebrated his birthday January 2. He was born sometime between October 4, 1919, and January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, a small town about 50 miles south of Smolensk, Russia. Because Asimov celebrated on January 2nd, it is unofficially regarded as National Science Fiction Day in the United States.
Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation series wherein he invented the fictional science of Psychohistory, a means of predicting the actions of large populations on a meta scale. Protagonist Hari Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire using this science and then creates a plan to shorten the “Dark Ages” before the resurgence of human civilization via his Foundation. Interestingly, the fictional key to humanity’s survival is atomic energy technology. The people of France, who get 70% of their power from nuclear reactors and have plans to build even more of them in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, might find this not entirely fictional.
Asimov’s Jewish parents came to America in 1923, he was fluent in Yiddish but never learned Russian. He taught himself to read by age five and his mother got him into the first grade that year by claiming he was born on September 7, 1919. As a third grader, he discovered the “error” and had his official birthdate changed to January 2nd. He became a US citizen at the age of eight in 1928.
After graduating from high school at age 15, he completed a BS in Chemistry at the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University in 1939. He was initially rejected from Columbia’s graduate school but later accepted on a probationary basis. He completed a Master’s degree in 1941 and worked as a civilian chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s Naval Air Experimental Station during the war. He was drafted into the army in September 1945. A clerical error resulted in his being discharged before the task force to which he was assigned participated in the Bikini Atoll nuclear weapon tests. He completed a Doctoral degree in 1948 and taught biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine until 1958 when he was dismissed because he had stopped doing research.
Asimov’s first science fiction story was published in 1939. “Marooned on Vesta” earned him $64 at one cent per word. That would amount to roughly $1200 today. He sold two more stories in 1939 and seven in 1940. The earnings were enough to pay for his education, but not enough to become a full-time writer. In 1942, he stopped writing for a year, expecting to earn a living as a chemist since his yearly salary of $2600 from the Navy Yard exceeded the sum he had earned by selling 28 stories over the previous four years. He might have quit writing forever if Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp had not been his co-workers at the Navy Yard as well as science fiction authors who continued to get published.
During Asimov’s writing hiatus, previously sold stories continued to appear in magazines, including the first of the Foundation stories. Those stories were collected in a trilogy of books published between 1951 and 1953. His “positronic” robot stories had already been collected and published as I, Robot in 1950. These stories were perhaps more influential than the more famous Foundation because the Three Laws of Robotics and other ideas about artificial life and intelligence contained in them have profoundly affected the thinking of both writers and scientists ever since. 1n 1966, Asimov’s novels beat out J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom novels for the Hugo Award’s Best Series of All-Time.
Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books, including a Guide to the Bible and numerous non-fiction science books. He contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion in 1983 and died from heart and kidney failure related to the disease in 1992.
Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic Church on January 3, 1521. The German priest had been on a collision course with the Papacy since his complaints against certain teachings and practices, the 95 Theses, had been translated into German and widely distributed by his friends using the new technology of the printing press. Luther had been given the opportunity to recant beliefs the Church considered heretical but declined. The most fundamental of these, that a person is justified (saved) by faith alone, sola fide in Latin, became the foundational belief of the Protestant Reformation.
The religious conflict between Luther and Leo would quickly become a political conflict between Protestant and Roman Catholic rulers across Europe. Numerous wars, most notably the Thirty Year’s War, would result. While the Reformation and Counter-Reformation caused millions of deaths, there were positive outcomes as well. Literacy rates increased as did industrialization. James Madison credits Luther’s doctrine of the “two kingdoms” as the beginning of the modern concept of the separation of church and state authority. Ideas associated with Luther and other Reformers were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Gypsy 202 Displaying a MiG Kill Silhouette
Eight years after losing two Su-22s over the Gulf of Sidra, the Libyan Air Force challenged the US Navy in the area again on January 4, 1989. The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and her battlegroup were sailing toward a port call in Haifa, Israel, and not operating within the Gulf when two MiG-23 fighters aggressively engaged F-14s from Kennedy’s Combat Air Patrol.
US eavesdropping assets listened in as ground controllers vectored the MiGs toward the F-14s. The crews of Gypsy 207 and Gypsy 202 maneuvered away from the Libyan aircraft five times, but the MiGs continued attempting to intercept them. After the second maneuver, the air warfare commander aboard Kennedy gave the F-14s authority to fire. The Radar Intercept Officer of Gypsy 207, the lead F-14, ordered the arming of AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles when the MiGs turned toward the F-14s for the fifth time.
When the MiGs were 12 nautical miles away, Commander Leo Enwright in Gypsy 207 fired an AIM-7 at one of the MiGs. It failed to track its target. He fired again at 10 nautical miles, but the Sparrow again failed to hit. Despite this, the MiGs continued to approach. The F-14s performed a defensive split and both MiGs turned to pursue Gypsy 202. While Gypsy 207 maneuvered to get behind the MiGs, Lt. Commander Steven Collins in Gypsy 202 fired an AIM-7 from five nautical miles and downed one of the enemy aircraft. Seconds later Gypsy 207 downed the remaining MiG with an AIM-9 Sidewinder. From the firing of the first Sparrow to the downing of the second MiG, the engagement lasted one minute and sixteen seconds.
Gyspy 207’s camera footage of the entire incident can be viewed here.
VT Fuse Diagram
On January 5, 1943, the light cruiserUSS Helena used proximity-fused anti-aircraft shells to shoot down a Japanese aircraft. Helena was returning to Guadalcanal with four other ships after bombarding the Japanese airfield at Munda when the formation was targeted by a Japanese airstrike. She had recently been equipped with 5-inch VT fused shells designed to automatically detonate near a target. The initials VT stood for Variable Time, a misnomer designed to disguise the real purpose of the fuse from potential espionage.
The first version of the fuse used by the Navy was the Mark 32. It was manufactured by Crosley Corporation, a builder of automobiles and radios owned by Powel Crosley, Jr. Crosley also owned the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. The main entrance to the Great American Ball Park, the current home of the team, is named Crosley Terrace in his honor.
The key components of the VT fuse were vacuum tubes similar to those used in the radios of the time. The tube assembly is labeled Amplifier, Thyratron, and WSF in the diagram above. The miniature radio transmitter and receiver in the fuse sent out a signal which became stronger as the shell neared a target. When the signal reached a threshold frequency, the shell exploded. The Mark 32 fuse would trigger the explosion within fifty feet of a target.
On January 5th, Lt. “Red” Cochrane was in command of the aft 5″ battery aboard Helena. The second of three salvos fired from the battery shot down a Val dive-bomber. This was the first of many aircraft shot down by VT-fused shells. In 1943, half of all Japanese aircraft shot down in the Pacific by Navy anti-aircraft gun were victims of proximity-fused shells.
The development of the VT fuse was one of the three great secret projects that contributed to the Allied victory in World War II. The others were improved radar and the atomic bomb.
On January 6, 1449, Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last Roman emperor, was crowned. He reigned until his death in battle on May 29, 1453, during the final assault of the Ottomans at the siege of Constantinople. His last words as he charged the Ottomans who were rampaging through the city after breaching the walls with huge cannons, were reported to be, “The city is fallen, and I am still alive.” His death and the fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
The Byzantine Empire lasted 1119 years from the time Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved his capital to Constantinople in 330 AD. The Roman Empire itself stood for 1480 years after Augustus Ceasar proclaimed himself emperor of Rome, ending the Roman Republic, in 31 BC. At its peak in the early 2nd century, during the reign of Trajan, the empire controlled over three million square miles of territory and ruled about 60 million people. Roughly 20% of the world’s population was ruled by Rome, but only about 6% of those subjects could claim, Civis romanus sum–I am a Roman citizen. Rome itself was the world’s largest city with one million residents until around 450 AD. Constantinople never had more than half the population of Rome.
The capture of Constantinople had been the dream of Muslim rulers since the 8th century. The Ottoman Empire made the city its capital renaming it Istanbul which was the Turkish pronunciation of the Greek phrase meaning “to the city.” The Ottomans would go on to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean region once ruled by the Byzantines until 1922.
Silver Stavraton Coin of Constantine XI
Andre Maginot died on January 7, 1932. A veteran of World War I, decorated for heroism after being wounded at Verdun, Maginot served in several French government offices, including as Minister of Defense. It was through his influence that the line of defenses along the Franco-German border that bore his name was built.
The Maginot Line was a complex series of strong points, fortifications, and facilities with a depth of 12 to 16 miles. Its main weapons were 135mm, 81mm, and 75mm artillery guns, 37mm and 45mm anti-tank guns, 50mm mortars, and machine guns housed in armored bunkers and retractable turrets. Underground railroads supplied the defenders. The Line was effectively invulnerable to air and artillery attack. It is often assumed that this sense of invulnerability led to the French depending on static defenses in an age of mobile warfare. However, the French High Command never expected the Maginot Line to completely stop a German attack. Rather they saw it as a deterrence and a delaying tactic that would allow France to fully mobilize and counterattack.
The effectiveness of the fortification might be best judged by the fact that the Germans did not attack them directly. The biggest mistake made by the French General Staff was not believing that the Line was invulnerable but that the terrain in the Ardennes region was impenetrable by armored formations and therefore not extending the Line into the area. In the hands of the Germans, the Maginot fortifications around Metz proved their worth in their intended capacity. They held up Patton’s Third Army for three months and inflicted heavy casualties on it.
It has been suggested that the funds spent on the Line would have been better allocated to tanks and aircraft as favored by Charles de Gaulle and others at the time. After their successful circumvention of the Line by driving tanks through the Ardennes, German commanders admitted that the French had more and better tanks than they did. The problem was that the French had not developed a sound doctrine for their armor, dispersing it instead of concentrating it as did the Germans. So, more tanks employed ineffectively might not have made much of a difference.
The Maginot Line has unjustly become a metaphor for backward thinking and stupidity and justly as one for something that can be avoided simply by going around it.
Retractable Turret Housing 75mm Guns on the Maginot Line
Mort Künstler at the Easel in 1994
National Science Fiction Day Promo Code
To celebrate Nation Science Fiction Day, you can get a 15% discount this week on Traveller Ascension, Gangsterville, or Cryptid Clash by entering Promo Code SCIFIDAY during checkout at the Daring Play store.
About the Lost Battalion Dispatch
This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne Forest during World War One.
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