Posts Tagged ‘World War II’
It was the summer of 1941 and a British astrologer named Louis de Wohl was becoming wildly popular among Americans with his increasingly accurate predictions in his stargazer column, “Stars Foretell.” As de Wohl’s reader numbers escalated to meteoric heights, real world consequences ensued. In August 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifted its long-standing ban against astrologers and aired an exclusive interview with the man being heralded as “The Modern Nostradamus.” Just a few weeks later, for the first time in U.S. history, an astrologer was filmed for a U.S. newsreel, the TV news of the day. “Pathé News released the newsreels’ seminal plunge into prophecy with a nation-wide audience of 39,000,000 sitting as judge jury and witness,” declared a press release issued by de Wohl’s manager. Except it was a facade; it was all fake news.
De Wohl’s newspaper column was part of an elaborate black propaganda campaign to organize American public opinion in favor of Britain, and to ultimately get the U.S. to enter the war. In reality, de Wohl worked for British Intelligence (MI5). His so-called manager was none other than the legendary spymaster Sir William Stephenson, a man whom Winston Churchill famously called Intrepid. The average American had no idea…
The story of a man, born in Berlin, who went on, after the war, to become a fabulously-successful Catholic novelist (16 of his books were made into films): “Louis de Wohl: The Astrologer Who Helped Foil Hitler.”
[Image above, from here]
* Winston Churchill, who practiced what he preached
As we look to the stars, we might send a cheery greeting to David Hume, the Scottish Positivist philosopher; he was born on this date in 1711. Bishop Berkeley may have wondered if, when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, it makes a sound. For Hume, the question was whether the tree was beautiful (“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them. “)
But then, it’s also the birthday of the (somewhat more “practical”) Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius, born on this date in 121. “Why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements?” Why indeed?
With his collaborator John Morrison, Harold Burdekin photographed the streets of the city of London in the dark for his book London Night, published in 1934. In a time before stricter air pollution controls, the pair chose foggy nights to make their images, giving the light in the photos a sense of weighty presence.
The book was printed a year after the much more famous photographer Brassaï published his influential project Paris de nuit (Paris at Night). Unlike Brassaï and the British photographer Bill Brandt, who published a book of nighttime photos of London in 1938, Burdekin and Morrison chose to record only scenes with no people in them. The resulting images are forebodingly empty…
More (photos and background) at “Spooky, Beautiful 1930s Photos of London Streets at Night.”
* Rudyard Kipling,
As we penetrate the pea soup, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940, during the Battle of Britain, that the German Luftwaffe launched a massive attack on London as night fell. For nearly 24 hours, the Luftwaffe rained tons of bombs over the city, causing the first serious damage to the House of Commons and Tower of London.
One year later, on this date in 1941, the day after the air attack on Pearl Harbor, Great Britain joined the United States in declaring war on the Empire of Japan.
Between 1943 and 1945, with the help of Warner Bros.’ finest animators, the U.S. Army produced a series of 27 propaganda cartoons depicting the calamitous adventures of Private Snafu.
Read the extraordinary story (replete with a cameo by Bugs Bunny) and learn how one of the cartoons inadvertently let slip one of the war’s greatest secrets– “Ignorant Armies: Private Snafu Goes to War.”
And watch the Private Snafu films here.
* Upton Sinclair
As we stand to attention, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that Stan Musial tied Ty Cobb’s record for the most five-hit games in a season (four)– and he did it in style, hitting successfully on the first pitches from five different pitchers.
“How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”
— Vin Scully
In 1913, when he was 20, Clayton Hudson wrote Harry Houdini, daring him to escape from a special crate that Hudson had designed. Houdini warmed to Hudson, choosing his challenge from the myriad he received, and with £100 at stake, found a way out. 26 years later, Hudson put his expensive lesson to work– using Monopoly sets to help World War II prisoners of war escape…
At around the time that Monopoly was starting to make a name for itself – and to achieve the kind of fame that would make it such a central part of prison life in Stalag XXB – Clayton Hutton was beginning to worry about the fate of Europe. As the 1930s drew to a close, a war was clearly looming, and he wanted to get involved.
Despite service as a pilot during the First World War, Clayton Hutton was not a career military man. Instead, he had left the service to work in journalism here and there and as a publicity director for the movie business. He had also become increasingly eccentric – a fact that, along with his age, may explain why he was swiftly turned down when in 1939 he applied to join the Royal Air Force.
Luckily, British military intelligence was currently looking for “a showman with an interest in escapology” – the kind of man, perhaps, who had once been publicly humiliated by the greatest magician that ever lived.
These were busy times for the intelligence services. MI9 had been newly formed under Brigadier Norman Crockatt; its objective was to facilitate the escape of any allied soldiers captured by the enemy during the coming war, and return them safely to the UK. This sort of thing required some pretty unusual thinking – and some pretty unusual thinkers. Following a short interview with Crockatt – in which the story of the Houdini challenge played a crucial role – Clayton Hutton was employed by MI9 as a technical officer…
Read the whole extraordinary story– and see photos of Hudson’s handiwork– at “Inside Monopoly’s secret war against the Third Reich.”
* Mae West
As we bake a hacksaw into a cake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that Helen Duncan became the last person to be charged under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. In the event, her real offense was a form of espionage, a violation of the Official Secrets Act: she’d held public seances purportedly with victims of the torpedoed of HMS Barham, the loss of which was classified. (It was demonstrated at her trial that she’d had the opportunity to learn of the ship’s loss from crew members’ families.) Rather than amplify the leak, the authorities prosecuted her under the Witchcraft statute, which made falsely claiming to procure spirits a crime. She served nine months in prison, and was barred from further “practice”… though she was caught in the act and arrested again in 1956 (this time under the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which replaced the Witchcraft Act).
“He was a secret agent, and still alive thanks to his exact attention to the detail of his profession”*…
The Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, used by British spies sent to the Continent to track Nazi movements and aid resistance fighters during World War II, has been recently reprinted by the Imperial War Museum. These pages from the back of the two-volume catalogue, which was published in 1944 and 1945, show a few of the ways that the Special Operations Executive (the name for the secret British agency charged with training and deploying these agents) managed to sneak arms and ammunition to its operatives.
As historian-author Sinclair McKay writes in the introduction to the new volume, the Special Operations Executive trained many volunteers and recruits with no previous experience in the field. The recruits underwent crash courses, with SOE personnel bringing them quickly up to speed on the use of weapons and explosives, the maintenance of communications equipment, and the cultures of the places they were to infiltrate.
The two volumes of the manual are packed full of explanations of the many devices SOE operatives might encounter, or choose to use, in their operations…
More in the remarkable Rebecca Onion’s “Nifty Methods for Smuggling Contraband, From a Manual for WWII-Era British Spies.”
* Ian Fleming, Casino Royale
As we dawdle at the dead drop, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the “Infamy Speech”–the name deriving from the first line of the speech, in which Roosevelt describes the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy”– to a Joint Session of Congress.
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”*…
In January of 1942, as the U.S was entering World War II, a Pennsylvania dentist (and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt) named Lytle Adams submitted the design of a new weapon to the White House, suggesting that it could be effective against the Japanese. Adams’ creation was a bomb that would drop over 800 hibernating bats– to each of which was attached a small incendiary device… as the bomb descended from a high-altitude drop, the bats would awaken, disperse, and nest in structures– which in Japan at the time were largely made of bamboo, paper, and other highly-flammable material. Later in the day the incendiaries would go off, starting fires across a wide area. Adams estimated that 100 bombs might start as many a 1,000,000 fires.
The U.S. military developed the “Bat Bomb”; and while the yields were never quite what Adams predicted, they were impressive enough to drive investment of an estimated $2 million. The project was abandoned only when it became clear that the Manhattan Project would finish before the Bat Bomb was ready.
Read more about the Bat Bomb here.
[TotH to Quora answerer Tal Reichert]
* Albert Einstein
As we try to find the ploughshare, we might recall that it was on this date in 1849 that Lewis Phectic Haslett was granted the first patent for a gas mask. In fact, Haslett was building on a long tradition: the ancient Greeks used sponges as make-shift gas masks, and the Banu Musa brothers in Baghdad described a rudimentary gas mask (for protecting workers in polluted wells) in their wonder-full 9th century Book of Ingenious Devices. Still, Haslett’s creation was the forerunner of the modern gas mask.
From it’s roots in phyllobolia (the ancient Greek custom of throwing branches, leaves, garlands, or other plant matter –sometimes barley, flowers, or fruit– over, onto, or before a person, generally in celebratory reverence); through its modern formation during Carnevale in Italy in the 19th Century; to its current role as “tinsel meth of the masses”– everything one could possibly want to know about confetti.
* Tom Waits, “Tango ’til They’re Sore”
As we bob and weave, we might recall that this date is the holiday, first celebrated in 1945, known as Victory in Europe Day, marking the end of World War II in the European Theater. Observances, especially in the years immediately following the war, frequently involved parades, which frequently involved confetti (and other forms of phyllobolia).