You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)

This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.


Entries in Non-EOD interesting stuff (21)


The Nazis and Copernicus

One of the nice things about this blog is that I don't have to stick rigourously to its stated subject.  In the previous post I examined some of the explosive devices used by the Polish Resistance in Warsaw.  During that research I came across this story which is simply worth retelling.

The Polish resistance was not without its sense of humour, and the occupying German forces... well lets just say they were German and not renowned for the perspective humour offers.   In the heart of Warsaw stood a large statue of the astronomer Copernicus. Copernicus lived when the Kingdom of Poland was part of Prussia so both the Poles and the Germans had claims to him.  At the base of the monument was a plaque with the inscription " To Copernicus, from his countrymen".  The German authorities, on occupying Warsaw, removed the plaque and replaced it with another that read "To the Great German Astronomer".  The statue was in a square right outside a German police station.

One day a group of workmen, seemingly from the city council, arrived and began to work on the base of the statue, unnoticed. They removed the German plaque. It was actualy a group led by Polish resistance fighter Maciej Aleksy Dawidowski.   It was 10 days before the authorities noticed their plaque had gone missing. The German commander, Governor Fischer was outraged.  This is his picture - he looks pretty much like the proto-typical nazi war criminal that he was doesn't he?

Fischer issued a proclamation below:

A translation is something like this:

"On 11th or 12th February 1942 criminal elements removed the tablet from the Copernicus Monument for political reasons. As a reprisal, I order the removal of the Kilinski monument. At the same time I give full warning that should similar acts be perpetrated I shall order the suspension of all food rations for the Polish population of Warsaw for the term of one week"

Now, Jan Kilinski was another popular historical figure in Warsaw, a shoemaker who led the fight against the Russians in a seige of Warsaw in 1794.  His statue was indeed removed by the Nazis and stored in the vaults of the National Museum.   By the following morning someone had painted in very large letters on the side of the Museum


"People of Warsaw, I am in here! Signed Jan Kilinski"

A week later, all of Fischer's proclamations were over pasted with another announcement, printed in the same style. This proclamation read:

"Recently criminal elements removed the Kilinski monument for political reasons. As a reprisal, I order the prolongation of winter on the Eastern Front front for the term of two months.  

Signed Nicholas Copernicus"

Now as it happend the winter of 1942 was indeed long and hard for the Germans on the Eastern Front.   Fischer was tried for war crimes and hung in 1947. Dawidowski died very bravely in 1943 in an attempt to rescue fellow partisans from jail.




The Death of Tommy Atkins

There's been discussion on the letters pages of "The Times" about the origins of the "Tommy Atkins" reference - the standard typcial British soldier with all the phlegmatic character so well described by Kipling. Well, it turns out that Kipling didn't "invent" the name out of the blue, and the history of Tommy Atkins as a real person is moving, dramatic and a little older.

In 1843, The Duke of Wellington, a national hero, former Prime Minister and Victor of Waterloo was a "Minister without Portfolio". He was an elderly man of 73 and the Grand Old Man of the British establishment. The previous year he had been re-appointed as Commander in Chief of the Army.

The Duke of Wellington, aged 74

Officers on the Army Staff came to show him a new piece of bureaucracy - a form that soldiers had to sign to claim their allowances. They wanted to create a "typical entry" as a guide for soldiers entering their details. The discussion turned to the name that the guide should use as its example, and they asked the old General his opinion.

Wellington sat back and thought. He recalled one of his earlier campaigns, in the Low Countries in 1793. After a battle he had come across a gravely wounded solider, lying on the ground. That soldier had served in the Grenadiers for 20 years, could neither read nor write, but was the "best Man-at-Arms in the Regiment". His name was Thomas Atkins.  Atkins was severely wounded, and had begged the stretcher bearers to leave him be, so that he could die in peace.  Looking up and seeing the Duke's concern, the man uttered his last words. "It's all right, Sir. It's all in a day's work."

Wellington still remembered that experience, 50 years later, and so the name on the form and for every British soldier since became "Thomas Atkins".


Sausage Cohen - Four Wars and a lifetime of Crowded Hours

Sos Cohen is another of those men from history and whichever way you look at it his story is pretty remarkable.  “Sos” is an abbreviation of his nickname “Sausage”.   Lionel Frederick William Cohen was born in 1875 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  At the age of about 14 he ran away from home and joined the Royal Marines Light Infantry. (That was his first military engagement.)  Eventually he was tracked down by his horrified family who insisted on buying him out and bringing him home.

His family then sent him to work as a clerk for an uncle in Johannesburg. He was bored by that, ran off, and at the age of 17 became a guard for a mining company.  Seeking adventure he then joined as a volunteer in the campaign against the Matabele, (his first war) with the now historical figures of Selous and Jamieson.  He took part in the Battle of the Shangani River in 1893 where he fought with fixed bayonets.   After other adventures in Africa he then became involved in the Boer War  in 1899 (War Number 2), where he worked as a undercover special force commander in Mozambique preventing arms being delivered to the Boers, reporting via the Mozambique authorities to his British controllers.

When that war ended he returned to civilian life and had more adventures.   When World War 1 (his third war) began he joined the 1st South African Horse as a 2nd Lieutenant.   He fought in German East Africa. At one point he and a single troop captured 430 of the enemy.  After this, now promoted to a “special service” Captain he took his troop behind enemy lines on intelligence missions. In 1916 he was attached to the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) as an airborne observer. He was involved in several skirmishes and crashes. In 1917 he formally joined the British Field Intelligence Force, again working behind enemy lines.  He ended the war as a major, with an MC and a DSO  and was mentioned in despatches three times.

By 1937 he was living in England and played a key role in setting up the RAF Volunteer reserve. He was commissioned into the RAF as a Pilot officer in 1939, aged 64. WW2 being his fourth war and at least his fourth service.  He served was a liaison officer from RAF costal command with the Royal Navy.  In this role he flew 70 operational missions as an observer or air gunner.  He reached the rank of Wing Commander and took part in bombing action against the Scharnhorst over the port of Brest in 1941, and other missions that sunk U-boats.  As a senior officer on liaison he was not meant to fly , but insisted on it. He received the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) in 1944, his 70th year.  He was mentioned in despatches twice more.  He died in 1960 aged 85.

I have omitted a lot of his adventures outside of the services, which are equally extraordinary. You can read about them in his biography “Crowded hours






The joy of Col AD Wintle MC

Some people ask me why I intersperse my blog with odd tales of military eccentrics.  At this link is a reason why. I posted an article some time ago about one of these characters, Col AD “Freddie” Wintle MC.  This audio archive is 16 minutes of utter, complete joy, full of the most outrageous quotes.  Enjoy it.  

Wintle is recorded in 1962 as a guest on Desert Island Disks. He's asked "Have you ever been on a remote desert island?" and he answers "Not if you don't count Ireland".

He's asked what luxury he'd like to take to the Desert Island , and he says he'd like to take a dog whip, "In case any Germans landed".  You will laugh too about the end of his hunger strike.




Eccentric Military Umbrellas. Part 2.

A few months ago I wrote a post about eccentric military umbrellas, here.

Here's another proponent of the umbrella and one of the most remarkable men in WW2.  Mad Jack Churchill was an officer in the Manchester Regiment and subsequently the Commandos. Read his wiki entry here, it's worth it, but this link has more heart and humour than wikipedia.

Here's a quick summary: 

  • Served in the Manchester Regiment in Burma in the late 1920's early 1930's.
  • Left the army in 1936 after a "spotty" career to be come a newspaper editor.
  • Rejoined in 1939.
  • Initiated an ambush during the BEF retreat to Dunkirk by shooting the lead German in a patrol with his longbow. No kidding.
  • Joined the Commandos. Led a raid ashore in Norway while playing the bagpipes and throwing grenades.  (He's English, by the way)
  • Won an MC at Dunkirk, a bar to it in Norway, a DSO in the Salerno landings, again playing the bagpipes as he led the assault on the beaches, with an ancient Scottish sword around his waist. Later got a bar to his DSO too.
  • Led a unit of Commandos working with the Partisan's in Yugoslavia (bagpipes again). Last man standing of 1500 men assualting Brac when captured.
  • He tried to set fire to the plane taking him to Berlin.
  • Sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Escaped. Recaptured.
  • After the war qualified as a parachutist and served in Palestine with the Seaforth Highlnaders who perhaps appreciated bagpipes a little more. Significantly he led the attempted rescue of a Hadassah medical convoy besieged by hundreds of Arabs, in full dress unirom including kilt and spats.
  • Served on exchange in Australia and took up surfing.
  • And the umbrella bit - as a young officer during his first stint in the Army: He appeared on parade carrying an umbrella, a mortal sin. When asked by the battalion adjutant what he meant by such outlandish behavior, Churchill replied “because it’s raining, sir,” an answer not calculated to endear him to the frozen soul of any battalion adjutant. 
  • Quotes:
    •  “In my opinion, sir, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
    •  "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years." 
    •  About a remarkable incident near Salerno where he and one other captured 42 Germans: “I always bring my prisoners back with their weapons; it weighs them down. I just took their rifle bolts out and put them in a sack, which one of the prisoners carried. [They] also carried the mortar and all the bombs they could carry and also pulled a farm cart with five wounded in it….I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry ‘jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the … situation. That’s why they make such marvelous soldiers...”
    • "You have treated us well," he wrote to the German commander at Brac after only 48 hours in captivity. "If, after the war, you are ever in England and Scotland, come and have dinner with my wife and myself"
    • From Hong Kong after the war had finished: “As the Nips have double-crossed me by packing up, I’m about to join the team v the Indonesians,”