Saturday Snippet: The Old Navy

Rear Admiral Daniel P. Mannix III served in the US Navy from the 1890’s until the 1920’s.  He recorded an amusing, absorbing account of his service in his private journals, letters, etc.  Later, his son, well-known author Daniel P. Mannix IV, took those documents and used them to write “The Old Navy”, a record of his father’s life and naval career. The paper edition is long out of print, although used copies are available.  Fortunately, there’s also an inexpensive Kindle edition, which makes the e-book version available to a new generation of readers. Here’s a selection of excerpts from Admiral Mannix’s early years

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Fascinating background information on the Bin Laden attack in 2011

The “flight lead” of the helicopters on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, recently retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas Englen, has provided more information about that mission, with encouragement from his superior officers. It was just 30 seconds into the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011 when special operations Chinook pilot Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas Englen heard the call of “Black Hawk down” come over his radio. Black Hawk 2′s pilot alerted Englen — the pilot in charge of the air operation that night — that Black Hawk-1 had just crashed inside the 9/11 mastermind’s

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“Such high temperatures would completely melt an automobile in less than a minute”

That statement is from a report analyzing the destruction of Abu Hureyra, an early agricultural settlement in Syria, some 12,800 years ago. Abu Hureyra, it turns out, has another story to tell. Found among the cereals and grains and splashed on early building material and animal bones was meltglass, some features of which suggest it was formed at extremely high temperatures—far higher than what humans could achieve at the time—or that could be attributed to fire, lighting or volcanism. “To help with perspective, such high temperatures would completely melt an automobile in less than a minute,” said James Kennett, a UC Santa Barbara

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Shangani Patrol – the movie

Last Saturday I put up a snippet from Frederick Russell Burnham‘s book, “Scouting on Two Continents“. The excerpt concerned the famous Shangani Patrol, that was wiped out in a legendary “last stand” fight against the Matabele tribe in 1893.  In colonial Rhodesia the incident was regarded in the same light as the last stand at the Alamo in Texas, or that of the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. In 1970 a feature film was made on location about the incident, called simply “Shangani Patrol“.  I remember it as being a bit too unquestioningly patriotic for my taste (given that at the time, white

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Sunday morning music

One of the advantages of the so-called “digital age” is that it allows us to recreate sounds and sound effects that had long been lost to history.  One can electronically alter what one hears so that it resembles sounds that were made long ago, but which can’t be accurately reproduced today for any number of reasons. One of those sounds is the Orthodox liturgical chant used in the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople, later a Moslem mosque following the fall of that city in 1453, and today a museum.  The acoustics of the Hagia Sophia were legendary, and added greatly to the impact of the liturgical

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Saturday Snippet: An American with the Shangani Patrol

The so-called Shangani Patrol was a legendary encounter in 1893 between colonial forces and the Matabele tribe of Lobengula in what is today Zimbabwe.  The entire patrol was annihilated, after having killed more than ten times its own number in an epic fight through the bush.  In colonial Rhodesia, it was regarded in the same light as the fall of the Alamo in Texas, or the doomed fight of the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. In this excerpt from his book “Scouting on Two Continents“, the world-famous American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, a legend in his own lifetime, describes some of his experiences

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Saturday Snippet: Cossack patriotic overkill

In 1835, Nikolai Gogol published his famous work Taras Bulba. It’s an over-the-top patriotic panegyric to the Cossack people and culture of the time, wildly exaggerated, but very popular ever since.  Wikipedia says of it: The main character is based on several historical personalities, and other characters are not as exaggerated or grotesque as was common in Gogol’s later fiction. The story can be understood in the context of the Romantic nationalism movement in literature, which developed around a historical ethnic culture which meets the Romantic ideal. Initially published in 1835 as part of a collection of stories, it was much more abridged and evinced some

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OK, warbird fans, you can geek out now

A treasure trove of World War II-era aviation blueprints have been saved for posterity.  Warbird Digest reports: AirCorps Aviation of Bemidji, Minnesota has just announced that they have acquired a massive trove of original manufacturing drawings for North American Aviation (NAA) covering types such as the P-51, T-6, B-25 and P-82. Ken Jungeberg was the head of the Master Dimensions department at Columbus in 1988 when the factory closed its doors. When he heard that North American was planning to burn all the WWII era drawings in their archive, he knew he had to do something. He began writing letters and making calls to his superiors, advocating to save

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Saturday Snippet: Between silk and cyanide

One of the most remarkable autobiographies to come out of World War II was that of Leo Marks, who became the code specialist for Special Operations Executive (SOE), the clandestine operations department set up by Winston Churchill with the directive to “set Europe ablaze”.  SOE supplied arms, money and operators to resistance movements all over occupied Europe and throughout the Far East.  It made many mistakes and experienced many failures, but grew into a massive organization that made a measurable contribution to victory. Many years after the war, Marks wrote about his SOE experiences.  He battled for almost a decade to get

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A lovely toy for well-heeled shooters

I’ve always liked double-barreled side-by-side shotguns.  I recently came across this early-19th-century muzzle-loading example at Down East Trading Co. in Canada.  (Click the images for a larger view.) It comes in a lovely baize-lined case, complete with all original accessories. The shotgun is made of Damascus steel.  These close-ups show part of the patterning.  (Of course, it’s only safe to use with blackpowder loads.)   The company describes the shotgun as follows: We are pleased to offer an exceptional example of the work of Durs Egg who was one of the most famous London gunmakers of the early nineteenth century.  The piece is a

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