One distinctive part of trench warfare, made possible by its static nature, was the night raid. These sorties across no-man’s-land to capture enemy soldiers or map out their positions required efficient and silent weapons, prompting the production of many variants of these rather medieval tools behind the frontline by craftsmen or regular soldiers, limited only by the materials available to them. The simpler designs were barely more than lead-weighted clubs, but there were commonly outfitted with boots’ hobnails, barbed wire, heavy metal cogs, and all sorts of salvaged parts to make them more deadly. Some examples came to resemble flails, either with springs for a main shaft or the usual chains that wouldn’t have been an odd sight five centuries earlier.
It’s a shame that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst superhero films ever made, because it also contains one of the best superhero films never made: right there during the opening credits.
In the first couple minutes of Origins, we’re treated to a montage of Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting alongside one another through a series of battles plucked straight out of your 10th grade history class. They survive an infantry charge during the American Civil War, a nighttime raid on German trenches during WWI, Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion, and even their own execution during the Vietnam War.
Screw a two-hour movie – that’s an amazing TV series. Wolverine and Sabretooth, surly, stubbled, almost literally grizzly immortal soldiers bantering their way through every war in history – and also claw-mauling Nazis. Plus, for long-term drama: Comic book readers know these literal brothers in arms eventually become bitter enemies – imagine experiencing that heartbreak firsthand, after binge-watching several seasons of manly super-bonding. Instead, we got the worst possible version of Deadpool: One literally without a mouth. Whose brilliant idea was that? And how fucking fired are they? We hope it’s “a lot.”
In the autumn of 1916 the Germans began to equip with the Gotha twin engined bomber. Of a pusher layout, these aircraft could fly at 15,000 feet, above contemporary fighter’s maximum height. With a range of 800 km (500 miles) and a bomb load of up to 500 kg (1,100 lb), the Gotha’s were designed to carry out attacks across the channel against Britain.
A group of four squadrons was established in Belgium, and they carried out their first bombing raid towards the end of May, 1917. This 22 plane sortie, against the town of Folkestone, caused 95 deaths. In mid June a force of 18 Gothas attacked London in broad daylight. They were met by over 90 British fighters, but not one Gotha was brought down. This bombing raid caused 162 deaths.
On the 7th of July 1917 over a hundred defensive sorties were flown against a 22 plane Gotha raid. In this case one Gotha was shot down, and three were damaged, at the cost of two fighters shot down by the Gotha’s defensive gunners. It was only when the RFC began to equip their home defences with Sopwith Camels that the Gothas began to suffer serious losses and were forced to switch to night attacks
Londoners sleeping in the Underground during a German bombing raid, 1940. Bombs were dropped on London nightly from August 1940 - May 1941. One million London houses were destroyed and more than 40,000 civilians were killed.
February 23, 1917 - Royal Flying Corps Forms First Night Bomber Squadron
Pictured - A modern restoration of the FE2.B in flight. The machine was a pusher-plane, meaning that the propeller was in the back. A gunner/observer stood at the front of the cupola, manning two Lewis guns that covered 360 degrees around the plane.
Flying at night in First World War aircraft, with their primitive instruments, was an exceedingly hard task. But it also could confer an advantage for that exact reason, making it easy to sneak up on enemy positions without being seen - and if the pilot cut the engine, he could also fly in complete silence. The Royal Flying Corps thus formed the first night bomber squadron in February 1917. The pilots flew two-seater FE2.b fighters, a pusher-plane with an observer in the front. The FE2 was a capable fighter, but by 1917 it was beginning to be outclassed by nimbler one-man German scout planes.
In its new role as a night fighter and bomber, however, the FE served handsomely. No. 100 Squadron’s first mission was in April, when it raided a German aerodrome at Douai. Manfred von Richthofen, the famous Red Baron, was stationed there, and believed that the impact of night bombers was mostly on morale.
“The telephone bell rang, and we were informed the British were on the way… Then certainly did we hear the sound of engines, at first quite soft but nevertheless unmistakable… We fetched our rifles and began to fire at the Englishman… It wasn’t long before the first dropped, and then there came a rain of small bombs. It was a fine display of fireworks, and might have impressed a rabbit.”
The English CO reported in his journal a more positive look at events: “All bombs were dropped on and around hangers. Some very good shooting done. 4 sheds seen burning when last machine left.”
The aftermath of the shelling in the house where John Hobday (aged 61) was killed.
April 26 1917, Ramsgate–While the German submarines were the primary naval threat to Great Britain, the other arms of the German Navy were not entirely quiescent. In late April, German destroyers made multiple raids in the northern stretches of the Straits of Dover. On the night of April 24th, they shelled Dunkirk and sank a French destroyer with all hands off the coast. On the night of April 26, they shelled the town of Ramsgate in Kent. The attack killed two civilians on shore and wounded several others.
These aircraft could fly at 15,000 feet, above contemporary fighter’s maximum height. With a range of 800 km (500 miles) and a bomb load of up to 500 kg (1,100 lb), the Gothas were designed to carry out attacks across the channel against Britain.
The planes were slow, ungainly, and notoriously difficult to take off and land in. English home front artillery was largely ineffective and british fighter planes had trouble reaching the altitude where the Gotha flew.
The Germans hoped to cause widespread panic and even uprising with these raids. In this they failed, but the raids tied down a large number of aircraft, anti-aircraft guns and personnel that otherwise could have been used directly on the Western Front. The need for a coordinated air defence was one of the major reasons for the formation of the RAF in April of 1918.
One of the conditions of the armistice was that the German would hand over all their night bombers. When the British saw how few of these aircraft there actually were they initially suspected the Germans of hiding some of them.
The seeming invincibility of the bombers, especially in 1917, had a great influence on British military thinking well into the Second World War, for it was here that the British concept that “The heavy bomber will always get through” was born.
The night sky over Moscow silhouettes the Kremlin during a German air raid, as the Russians fire anti-aircraft tracer rounds to aim in the dark and the Nazis drop parachute flares to provide light for their bombers, while flak explosions take the place of stars.
Studio portrait of four Jewish children in Chechersk, Belarus.
Pictured are Maria, Leva, Fanya and Ester Gerchikova.
Maria Maymina (born Maria Minya Gerchikova) is the daughter of Zorach and Dvera Gerchikova. She was born November 15, 1925 in Chechersk, Belarus, where her father worked as a tailor, but also raised livestock and had an orchard and vegetable garden. Maria had five siblings: Ester (Phira), Feiga-Riva (Fanya), Sonia, Eshka (Asya) and Leva. Her paternal grandmother Roch-Leya lived with them, and many relatives lived nearby. The family led a traditional Jewish life, and when the Soviets outlawed religious practice in 1938, they continued to observe many religious rituals secretly, including praying in private homes and baking matzahs for Passover. Maria attended a Yiddish language school for several years, until she was required to attend a Russian school. During a German bombing raid on the town at the beginning of the June 1941 invasion, Maria was wounded and her home was destroyed. By this time, her father and uncles had been drafted into the Soviet army, and the rest of the family now fled to a neighboring village. Maria and her family returned to Chechersk in August and lived in a bomb shelter that belonged to a relative. As German troops approached their town, the family (including many extended family members) fled once again. At first they were able to travel in a horse-drawn wagon, but eventually had to go on foot when the horse could no longer pull everyone. Along the way, German soldiers encircled a group of refugee wagons and shot all those inside. Among those killed was Maria’s five-year-old cousin Klara. At first Maria and her family traveled primarily on paved roads, but as German troops got closer they continued their trek at night through the forests. At times, retreating Russian troops gave them provisions. Otherwise, they foraged in the woods or begged food from villagers. After about a month, they arrived in Kursk. They stayed in a refugee shelter for a week, before boarding a freight train to Uzbekistan. Not permitted to settle in a large town, they went to live on a collective farm, called Pachtacor, outside of Penza. Though the Uzbeki farm workers were paid in groceries, the Jewish refugees were given only one flatcake a day. Maria’s grandmother and two of her sisters soon died of malnutrition. Eventually, the family was granted permission to move to the town of Fergana, where Maria got work in a textile factory spinning yarn. Some time in 1942, they learned that Maria’s father, Zorach, had been killed in action near Kiev. After receiving permission to learn accounting, Maria became the factory bookkeeper and later, the director’s personal secretary. The family’s living conditions slowly improved. They were allowed to live in a room at the factory and received more food and clothing. In 1944 they learned that Chechersk had been liberated, and they decided to return home. During the trip home, all of their belongings were stolen. Since their own home in Chechersk had been destroyed, they stayed in the ruins of their aunt’s house. At that time, they learned that the Jews who had remained in Chechersk had been shot shortly after the Gerchikovas had fled. Maria and her mother eventually found work. They also received a cow from the government as compensation for fact that Zorach had been killed in action. In January 1946, Maria married Gregory Isaakovich Maymin and moved to Bobruisk. She returned to school in 1952 and eventually became a math teacher. In 1992 she immigrated to the United States.
During one of the German air raids, photographer Yevgeny Khaldei took the reindeer shot, but it wasn’t as dramatic as he assumed, so he later superimposed British Hawker Hurricanes, flown by RAF pilots to relieve Murmansk, and an exploding bomb to form a composite image.
Gather ‘round gather 'round! Today I’m going to tell you about Nancy Wake, aka the “White Mouse” aka the H.B.I.C.
She was a British agent in the later part of World War II, was a leading figure in the French Resistance, and was the Gestapo’s most wanted person. If you’re looking for a bitchin’ WWII female role model, look no further.
Party don’t start till Nancy Wake walks in
Nancy was born in 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, and ran away from home at the age of 16 to become a nurse. With nothing more than £200 in her pocket, she travelled to New York then to London, where she began her career in professional badassery.
In 1937 she met a wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca and they were living in Marsailles, France when the Germans invaded. Realizing that she needed to step up to the fuckin’ plate in order to get the France she loved back, she joined the French Resistance in 1940 and began her reputation as H.B.I.C.
She worked as a courier and became so well-known for her ability to escape capture, the Gestapo called her the “White Mouse”, and they worked around the clock to try and get her - they intercepted her mail, tapped her phone conversations, and constantly tried to set up stings. The Resistance had to work EXTRA hard to keep her out of harm’s way.
By 1943 she was the Gestapo’s most wanted person with a 5-million franc price on her head. When she found that out she probably responded with something like, “That’s it?”
“Only 5 mil? Cheap bastards. I’m worth more than that.”
Her network was betrayed in 1943 and she had to flee to Britain. Her husband was captured, tortured for information on her, and when he relent, he was killed.
On 29 April 1944, she was parachuted into Auvergne province in France, got tangled in a tree, and after getting down worked as a liasion between London and the local marquis group.
From 1944 to the liberation of France, her 7,000 marquisards took on 22,000 SS soldiers, caused 1,400 casualties, and only suffered 100 themselves. Damn girl. You get 'em.
MORE FUN SHIT TO KNOW:
When it was found out that her men were protecting a girl who happened to be a German spy. Nobody had the heart to kill her - except Wake, who shot her right in he head and had no regrets about it.
She rode for more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) ON BICYCLE to replace wires that had been destroyed in a German raid - and passed several German checkpoints along the way. Without being caught!
After the war, the world collectively bowed to her feats and gave her just about every single medal that could be won in France, New Zealand, United States, and Australia.
She learned about what happened to her husband only after the war, and always blamed herself for it. She remarried in 1957, relocated to London and worked for the Intelligence Department. She finally died in 2011 at the age of 98 in London.
The keys to her success? A charismatic personality, quick shot, fast thinker, and, in her own words: “A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?’ God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was.”
From 1941 onward all unmarried British women aged 20 to 30 were required to join one of the Auxiliary services, which included the ATS. One of the most dangerous and exciting ATS roles was to be selected for ‘Ack Ack’ duty, manning the Anti-Aircraft guns known for their distinctive ack-ack sound as they fired. The idea to use women in gun crews was first proposed by British engineer Caroline Haslett and was eagerly approved by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill’s own daughter, Mary Soames, was one of the first Ack Ack volunteers and served at a gun site in London’s Hyde Park.
As a royal proclamation forbade women from operating deadly weapons, Ack Ack Girls worked as part of mixed-gender squads where men would load and fire the weapons with the women’s support. The three main roles of the women were Spotters who used binoculars to find enemy planes, Range-Finding teams who calculated the distance a gun shell would have to travel to hit the target, and Predictor teams who worked out the length of the fuse necessary to make sure the shell exploded at the right height.
Women were subject to the same intensive training as men and had to undergo rigorous testing in terms of fitness, hearing, eyesight and nerves in order to be accepted. This was essential for enduring the hard conditions at the gun emplacements and to keep on task while bombs fell all around them. When the Germans deployed V1 flying bombs against Britain, 369 Ack Ack Girls were killed in just 3 months. Their sacrifice and dedication proved invaluable to the war effort, as well as providing a boost to civilian morale, the sound of the Ack Ack guns becoming a well-recognised symbol of British resistance.
Read a personal account of Ack Ack Girl, Vee Robinson, here.