A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

This Week in History: A battleship is attacked, sabers are rattled, and a statue is discovered.

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The Lost Battalion Dispatch #40 for the Week of April 2, 2023
Unexploded Bomb from 1916 Edinburgh Raid
Just before midnight on April 2nd, 1916, Scotland came under air attack for the first time in its history. L14, one of four German zeppelins dispatched to attack the railway bridge over the Firth of Forth and the English fleet docks at Rosyth instead dropped its bombs on urban Edinburgh. There may have been another zeppelin over the city as well. There are conflicting reports.

The city was warned of the attack by British codebreakers who had intercepted messages between the zeppelins and their base. But there was little Edinburgh could do other than order a blackout in the city as there were no air defenses. The nearest airbase was 20 miles away, and the squadron there was equipped only with obsolete Avro 504s, a pre-war design. Nevertheless, Flight Sub-Lieutenant George Cox took to the air and attempted to find the zeppelins. Unfortunately, he failed and was injured when he crashed while trying to land in the dark.

Thirteen people were killed, and the zeppelin’s bombs injured twenty-four. They struck a tenement building, a hotel, George Watson’s College, a whisky warehouse, and a nursing home. The German press reported, “In Edinburgh and Leith, the damage is very great. Barracks, munitions depots, ironworks, and other factories lie in ruins.” Despite the failure of the raid to hit its assigned targets German Navy was encouraged by the results and began planning another raid.

In Scotland, the public outcry for establishing some air defense resulted in two Home Defence squadrons being assigned to the city. One had no aircraft, and the other, equipped with Avro 504s, proved unable to intercept a second raid on May 2nd, 1916. It didn’t matter. L14 dropped its bombs on a farm, killing a cow. L20 scattered its munitions harmless into a forest near Inverness and then crashed in neutral Norway while attempting to return to base. There were no further zeppelin attacks on Scotland.

The April 2nd, 1916, zeppelin raid was Edinburgh’s deadliest aerial attack ever.

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Optimistic Armourer Aboard HMS Furious
Two Royal Navy fleet aircraft carriers and four escort carriers conducted Operation Tungsten on April 3, 1944. The plan was to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz at her base in Kaafjord, Norway. She had been heavily damaged by a British midget submarine attack on September 23, 1943, and the British wanted to prevent her from reentering service and threatening supply convoys bound for Russia. After Royal Airforce Bomber Command declined to undertake the raid due to the extreme range of the target in far northern Norway, the Royal Navy took charge.

The main attack on the battleship was conducted by two waves of 21 Fairley Barracuda dive bombers from HMS Furious and Victorious, escorted by 40 fighters each. Additional aircraft from the escort carriers were tasked with protecting the strike force from German aircraft and U-boats. The dive bombers were equipped with a mix of weapons. Some carried a single 1,600-pound armor-penetrating bomb. Others had three 500-pound bombs semi-armor piercing weapons. A few in the first wave were armed with high explosive bombs intended to cripple the battleship’s anti-aircraft guns before the planes with the bigger bombs attacked and anti-submarine bombs designed to damage the ship if they exploded in the water nearby.

The first wave skimmed in at just 50 feet over the sea to avoid detection by radar and soared over the hills south of the Kaafjord to attack at 5:30 AM. The Germans were caught by surprise. They lit off smoke generators along the shoreline designed to hide Tirpitz from air attack too late. Anti-aircraft gunners were not in position. Water-tight bulkheads had not been sealed. Ten bombs struck the battleship within 60 seconds, but none penetrated the armor. They had been dropped from too low of an altitude. The crews had been instructed to drop their bombs from above 3000 feet, but they dropped them closer to 2000 feet in their zealousness to ensure a hit.

The second wave attacked about an hour later. The German smoke screen may have affected their targeting, but it also wholly obscured the attack aircraft from German gunners. Despite being alerted to the attack, only one Barracuda was shot down. Five bombs from the second wave hit Tirpitz with similar results to the first wave’s. In all, four aircraft were lost due to damage or accidents. Early bomb damage photography led the British commander to believe Tirpitz was heavily damaged and out of action. As a result, he decided not to launch additional attacks.

In fact, little serious damage was done to the ship’s guns or machinery. Two anti-submarine bombs that exploded in the water did open holes in the hull. Repairs were completed within two months. The Tirpitz, however, was no threat to convoys. The German High Command did not dare send her out of Kaafjord because they could not provide air cover. The Kriegsmarine repaired her and increased the defenses at Kaafjord, only to cause the Allies to commit forces to the area. Five more carrier raids were launched in 1944. None caused significant damage.

RAF Bomber Command was put back on the job in September. Refueling bases in Northern Russia now made heavy bomber raids practical. On the 15th, Avro Lancasters from the No, 617 “Dambusters” squadron did irreparable damage to the ship. She was towed to Tromso and propped on a sandbar as a floating battery. Another raid by the Dambusters on November 12 exploded her magazines and destroyed her.

The Aldermaston March began on April 4, 1958. It was the first sizeable anti-nuclear protest in the West. Several thousand people gathered in Trafalgar Square, London, and marched to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire. The march was supported by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which the most prominent member was British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. The symbol of the CND became universally recognized as the “peace sign.”

Marching to Aldermaston became the highlight of the CND’s annual calendar until 1963, when British communist Peter Cadogan’s unauthorized participation resulted in a 100,000-strong anarchist-led riot in Trafalgar Square after the march. As a result, the march to Aldermaston was effectively discontinued. An attempted revival in 1972 attracted less than 600 protestors.

Marchers Carrying CND Symbol in 1958
16th Century Illuminated Chronicle Depicting the Battle on the Ice
The Battle on the Ice took place on April 5, 1242. Fought on the frozen surface of Lake Peipus between the Novgorodian Rus under Prince Alexander Nevsky and knights of the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order, the battle essentially decided whether Western Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy would be the dominant religion of Eastern Europe.

Beginning in the 12th century, Western Catholics had been pushing into Prussia and the Baltic States in what has been called the Northern Crusades, converting the population through missionary activity and, when that did not avail, naked aggression. The weakening of the Novgorodian city-states due to the Mongol invasions presented these crusaders with an opportunity to end the hegemony of their “heretical” Christian brothers from the East. In the autumn of 1240, they captured several Novgorodian cities, prompting the citizens of Novgorod to recall the banished Prince Alexander to defend them. Nevsky kept the crusaders out of Novgorod and recaptured some of the lost towns in 1241.

When the campaign was renewed in 1242, Nevsky planned a fighting retreat to lure the overconfident crusaders onto ground of his own choosing. About 1000 knights with another 1500 supporting troops followed the Rus onto Lake Peipus. Prince Alexander and his brother Andrei had mounted bodyguards totaling around 1000 men supported by 4000 militia, native tribesmen, and some Turkish horse archers.

The charge of the knights was absorbed by the militia, who stood their ground for nearly two hours of close-quarter fighting while Nevsky awaited the right moment to unleash his cavalry on the flanks of the crusaders. The knights were exhausted from fighting on the slippery ice when he did. They were already giving ground in retreat and panicked when the fresh Novgorodian cavalry attacked. Stories about the ice later breaking under the weight of the knights and their horses are almost undoubtedly mythical. Contemporary sources mention the knights being surrounded and slaughtered but say nothing about any of them drowning in the lake. Propagandist Russian filmmaker Sergei Einstein enshrined this popular but inaccurate, version of the battle in the 1930s.

The Final Sabre Duel at the 1896 Olympic Games
The Opening Ceremony of the first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens, Greece on April 6, 1896. Amateur athletes from 14 nations competed over the next eight days in 12 athletic (track and field) events, six cycling events, eight gymnastics events, four swimming events, five shooting events, three fencing events, singles and doubles tennis, two weight-lifting events, and Greco-Roman wrestling. All the competitors were men.

The first modern Olympic championship was awarded to American James Connolly, Silver medalist in the Triple Jump. Alexandre Tuffere of France took the Copper. There were no gold medals awarded at the first Games and no prize at all for third place.

Greeks dominated the Marathon. Spiridon Louis won with a time of 2:58:50. His fellow countryman Carilaos Vaskilakos came in second a little over seven minutes later. The Greeks considered themselves unbeatable in the Discus event, a competition that had never been held internationally, but American Robert Garrett bested them. Garret also narrowly beat out a Greek contender in the Shot Put. Other than the already mentioned Marathon, Americans won all the athletic events except the 800-meter and 1500-meter races which were taken by Australian Edwin Flack.

Paul Masson of France dominated the Cycling, winning three events. A fourth went to his teammate, while an Austrian won the 12-hour race and Greek the Road race.

The Germans excelled in Gymnastics, giving up only the Rope Climbing and Rings events to the Greeks and the Pommel Horse to the Swiss.

Hungary took two swimming championships to Austria’s one. The fourth swimming event, the Sailor’s 100-meter freestyle, was only open to members of the Greek Royal Navy.

Greeks won three shooting events to the American’s two.

John Boland of Great Britain won the singles tennis tournament and teamed up with German Friedrich Traun to win the doubles.

Launceston Elliot of Great Britain won the one-hand lift, with Denmark’s Viggo Jensen coming second. They swapped finishing order in the two-hand lift.

Carl Schuhmann of Germany beat two Greeks, a Brit, and a Hungarian to win the Greco-Roman wrestling championship.

One of the three fencing events, Master’s Foil, was the only event open to professional athletes at the Games. Leonidas Pyrgos of Greece won it. Eugene-Henri Gravelotte of France won the amateur version. Finally, two Greeks battled it out in front of Greek king George I for the Sabre championship, with Ioannis Georgiadis getting the first three touches to win.

Albert Fall
On April 7, 1922, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall secretly granted oil drilling rights to Mammoth Oil Company for the federally owned Teapot Dome Oil Field in Wyoming. In return, Fall received no-interest loans and gifts over $500,000 (almost $8 million in today’s money). A Wyoming oil operator complained to his senator, and an investigation was launched. Fall was able to cover his tracks by making key records disappear for almost two years until Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana finally uncovered evidence of the no-interest loan. This broke the Teapot Dome scandal, which was, at the time, considered the most egregious example of government corruption ever. Fall served a year in prison after being convicted of bribery and conspiracy. He was the first cabinet official to serve time due to malfeasance while in office.
On April 8, 1820, a Greek farmer discovered a statue in the ruins of an ancient city on the island of Milos. Commonly known as the Venus de Milo, the statue was created sometime between 150 and 125 B.C. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of Greek sculpture and has been displayed in the Louvre since shortly after its discovery. However, some argue that it should be known as the Aphrodite de Milos as it is inappropriate to name a Greek statue after a Roman goddess.
Aphrodite de Milos
A Spirited Game of Sergeants at Adepticon 2023

Big things have come out of our trip to the convention! Look for announcements about new products and other great stuff in the coming months!

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