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Entries in war (132)


insects and flowers

HMS Grasshopper: built by Yarrow Shipbuilders, Glasgow in 1939, operated in a gunboat squadron in Shanghai securing Chinese rivers until the Japanese invaded China when Grasshopper and Dragonfly were sent to Batavia when they were bombed on 14 February 1942.

Locust-class gunboats were shallow-draught river gunboats, deployed on rivers in China during WWII.  Judy's ship, HMS Grasshopper and sister ship HMS Dragonfly were both bombed in 1942  south of Singapore and are used now as dive sites.  
HMS Gnat was built in 1915, used on the Euphrates during WWI and then transferred to China in the 1920s where it remained until 1940 before going to the Mediterranean and being torpedoed in 1941.  Towed to Alexandria, Gnat was used as a fixed anti-aircraft platform and was scrapped in 1945.

Why these boats were named after insects is difficult to find out.  However there is a class of delightfully named Royal Navy ships — the Flower-class corvettes, such as HMS Buttercup, HMS Larkspur, Peony and Crocus, used in WWII as anti-submarine convoy escorts in the north Atlantic.  They were relatively slow, armed for anti-submarine operations and some had anti-aircraft weapons.  There were 225 of them, 80 of which were in the Royal Canadian Navy and not named after flowers but after Canadian towns and cities, such as HMCS Timmins, HMCS Quesnel, Calgary, Chilliwack and Orillia.  

HMS Chrysanthemum, built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast in 1940 Transferred on 26 January 1942 to the Free French Navy as Commandant Drogou. Returned to the RN in May 1947. Sold on 7 August 1947. Resold in 1948 as mercantile Terje 10. Resold in 23 May 1959 to Portugal as hydrographic survey vessel NRP Caravalho Araujo (A524) until 3 September 1975 when she was transfer to Angola's Navy.
Ships have inevitably desperate biographies: if not sunk during a war, they are traded away for more pedestrian and workaday lives: HMCS Battleford, built in 1940, was sold in 1946 to Venezuela and renamed the Libertad; HMCS New Westminster, built in 1941 in Victoria was sold in 1950 as mercantile Elisa, resold in 1952 as mercantile Portoviejo, resold again in 1954 as mercantile Azura and scrapped in 1966 in Tampa.  HMCS Nanaimo, built in Esquimalt in 1940, was sold in 1952 to the Netherlands where it became the whale catcher René W Vinke. In fact a lot of them, both from the RCN and the RN seem to have become whale catchers.  How horrible.



Frank Williams and Judy with her Dickin medal, May 1946

Judy, a pointer and mascot on HMS Gnat, transferred to HMS Grasshopper which was sunk in 1942 along with HMS Dragonfly in China.  Judy and the crew sailed to Sumatra in a junk, hiked across the island and were captured by the Japanese.  Judy spent the next two years in Medan Camp, generally looking after the POWs, alerting them to the approach of camp guards, snakes and abuse and living off shared rations, which could not have been very much at all.  

In 1944 Judy and the crew were rescued from the camp and sent to Singapore; the ship they were on was torpedoed and Judy rescued several men by bringing them flotsam to hold onto.  Recaptured, Frank Williams, her handler – although clearly their relationship was much greater than this, found Judy, or Judy found him, in a new camp; they were sent back to Sumatra where the POWs were used to lay railway lines.  Judy lived nearby in the jungle to avoid the not-sympathetic guards at this camp.  Eventually when the Pacific war had ended she was smuggled back to England and given her Dickin medal.

Williams and Judy went to work in East Africa in 1948 and she died in 1950.


concrete occupation


This is from TopFoto's '50 years ago' from December 4, 1962. The note that accompanies the image reads: "David's Curse Lifted"  Mizpeh Gilboa, Israel.  Two of the new settlers at Mizpeh Gilboa are pictured mixing cement and sand for their new houses.  So far six permanent buildings have been erected in the settlement plan according to the settler's choice.  Water is still brought up by tankers from Nurit, but a pipeline [from] Beisan Wells is planned.  UPI Photo 1962

The headline indicates something of the myth of terra nullius that was prevalent at the time of the 1967 War: that no one lived in this new land, and if they did, they weren't taking advantage of it.  

It also shows how concrete allows relatively unskilled fabrication: two farmers, sand, rock and tankered-in water. And yet the results are so permanent that they take on the inevitability of geology.  It is that re-mineralisation that cement goes through that so distorts the legitimacy of construction.


concrete bombs

Soviet WWII 25kg concrete Avia bomb

I'm not sure that this isn't some elaborate hoax, but there seems to be enough history from different eras that it must be true. 

Concrete bombs were made between November 1941 and August 1942 in Novorossiisk, USSR, until the German Army approached and the concrete plants were moved away from the front to Georgia.  Concrete casings were made for bombs up to five tons, stuffed with either explosives or chemicals.
Slate mines, also Soviet WWII weapons, cast asbestos concrete into slabs (or slates) which then were assembled into boxes and stuffed with explosives.  Only the fuses were metal, so escaped mine-detectors. Slate mines were very inexpensive, but quite fragile.

Solid low-collateral damage small-dimension concrete bombs were used by the US Army in the late 1990s and again in the Iraq War, laser-guided for direct hits on specific targets. In theory, there is less collateral damage in civilian areas because there isn't the wide spread of shrapnel.  Some concrete bombs are loaded with explosives; many are concrete alone, relying on speed and weight to knock out a narrow target.

A 300kg concrete bomb was dropped by a French Mirage on a Libyan tank in 2010.

Iran's ultra-high performance concrete, UHPC, is made of sand, cement, powdered quartz and, variously, polypropylene fibres, long steel fibres, plus various metal-oxide nanoparticles. The stronger the concrete bunkers, and UHPC is seven times stronger, the larger and more penetrating must the missiles be.  The larger the missiles and bombs, the larger and more reinforced the bombers must be.  Right now, according to this 2012 piece in the Economist, 'Smart concrete', there are 'bombs which can tunnel through hundred of metres of rock and concrete'.  

On one hand we have great chunks of concrete dropping from the sky onto tanks, on the other we have nanotechnology escalating bombing and bunkering to a scale unimaginable to civilians.  The US Air Force has acquired the Guided Bomb Unit-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator which weighs 15 tons and can penetrate 200' of hardened concrete.  There is more semi-technical stuff here.

Someone on one of the military forums, which one is inevitably drawn into when tracking down anything at all to do with war things, commented, 'it is the 1st century meets the 21st', by which I think he meant laser-GPS-guided boulders.



New World Design LLC, the Future Project – T-Wall Housing Proposal, Al Querna, Iraq

T-walls are the concrete units devised for the West Bank barrier wall in Israel.  Different versions are used throughout Iraq and Afghanistan by the US Army: the 1.1m Texas, the 3.7m Bremer, the 6m Alaska.  The 1m traffic barrier, Jersey, has sloped edges at the base and is used on highways seemingly everywhere.

New World Design, Jeffrey Olinger, Heather Boesch, Darby Foreman and Cliona McKenna, have developed a housing project based on T-walls for Al Querna, Iraq.  The T-wall unit is at once concrete wall and foundation: the units are deployed in a morse code grid, and houses are developed from and between them.  A basic L-shaped house unit multiplies to make alleys and courtyards in a number of configurations.  

The project is simple and subversive.  It is useful and uses the defences of war.  It is culturally cognisant and based on imperialist debris.  How much more interesting can this be?

Despite that the term, T-Wall, is a registered trademark of the Neel Company in Virginia for precast retaining walls, t-wall is the common name for the barrier units.  The Arab Land Group, established in 2003 and headquartered in the UAE to work with the US Army, manufactures the barriers.  

Clearly the shape of a pre-cast reinforced concrete slab with a footing cannot be proprietal, any more than can be a gable roof.  What New World Design has done is to appropriate a form that divides and obstructs, and to de-nature its malevolence as a form by embedding it in the construction of housing.


Dennis McHarrie: Luck

A tough corrective to the increasing sentimentality that surrounds Remembrance Day memorial discussions, including the parroting of such things as 'they died for our freedom'.  

On the death of his friend, whose defective plane crashed:


I suppose they'll say his last thoughts were of simple things,
Of April back at home, and the late sun on his wings;
Or that he murmured someone else's name
As earth reclaimed him sheathed in flame.
Oh God! Let's have no more of empty words,
Lip service ornamenting death!
The worms don't spare the hero;
Nor can children feed upon resounding praises of his deed.
'He died who loved to live,' they'll say,
'Unselfishly so we might have today!'
Like hell! He fought because he had to fight;
He died that's all. It was his unlucky night.

found in Victor Selwyn's The Voice of War, Poems of the Second World War.  The Salamander Oasis Trust, 1995

There was a knot of anger in many of the WWII veterans that many of us grew up with.  They felt that no one quite got it, but they couldn't explain how the war had changed them.  They went off after grade 11, the lucky ones came back at 22, shocked and not allowed to show it, so they just got on with things.  But this is what they knew:

Crashed Mosquito, Belgium 1944


Herbert Corby: Reprisal

Imperial War Museum, WO201-2023 Middle East - dummy vehicles filling up with fuel, 1942


They worked all night with cardboard and with wood
to make those dummy planes to hoodwink the foe,
and in the chilly morning solitude
wheeled out the dummies to places they should go
on the dispersal fields, and went away;
the hours passed uneventfully, and even
no reconnaissance planes were overhead that day.
They evacuated in the twilight, just after seven
and when they'd gone the Germans flew above the drome
and by each plane they dropped a wooden bomb.

Corby was an RAF Armourer in a bomber squadron.  The poem is part of the operations leading up to the Battle of el Alamein, 1942.  Did it happen?  This is a poem.  Like the fabled Christmas Truce in the First World War, often written about in poem and song, this is the Second World War's registration of some sort of common humanity that renders the act of battle so much more inexplicable.


Lebbeus Woods: May 31, 1940 – October 30, 2012

No one as influential to my generation as Lebbeus Woods.  He did not build, he drew, he thought, he continually shifted, like light and shadow, through the space of architecture. 

Lebbeus Woods, an imagined wall that would protect Bosnia where others failed.

'The wall would be built very high, with a vast labyrinth of interlocking interior spaces, creating a structurally indeterminate system that would be extremely difficult to bring down by demolition charges or artillery fire. Tanks and mobile artillery could not be brought through the wall. Foot soldiers could not climb over the wall in large numbers, but would have to go through it. Once inside, they would become lost. Many would not be able to escape. They would either die, or, as it were, move in, inhabiting the spaces, even forming communities. Local farmers from the Bosnian side, could arrange to supply food and water, on a sale or barter basis. In time, they would move in, too, to be close to their market. Families would be living together. The wall would become a city.'

War and Architecture


the violent sound of remembering violence

link sent to us by Chloé Roubert

Extremism and zealotry beget generations of extremism and zealotry.  It isn't over yet.


weak systems

Massound Hassani. Mine Kafon, 2011

This is Massoud Hassani's Eindhoven graduation project, Mine Kafon, a lightweight bamboo and plastic large dandelion puff that is blown by the wind over mined fields, detonating the mine and destroying itself in the process.

It is interesting, that the detonater was not conceived of as a large, mechanical force of technology that rolls over mines, survives them, and rolls on to the next land mine.  Like children who mostly detonate land mines, this is a lightweight, expendable, one-time use detonator.  Each unit contains a GPS that maps where it has been, showing areas that are safe.
It was tested by the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands, and a second version is being developed that moves less randomly and is not so reliant on the wind.  It is likely to be used to indicate a mined area, rather than clearing the area.  Thus in the development process it becomes more controllable, probably heavier.  

Hassani is from Kabul, smuggled out at 14, ending up in the Netherlands in 1998.  On his website he talks about flying kites as a child and making other small things that caught the wind, the genesis of this project.  The project has won a slew of awards so far, in its original bamboo form.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is cautious: 'What the ICBL and our members, many of whom are humanitarian mine clearance organisations, are focused on is not the financial cost of clearing landmines but the humanitarian and socio-economic cost of not clearing them.'  I'm not sure what that means. 



Hans Hildenbrand. German trenches, Alsace, 1915.

It was often said that when a German trench was captured the British were struck by how well they were constructed.  Hans Hildenbrand was a photographer from Stuttgart who had been experimenting with colour film since 1911, and had been sent to record the progress at the front, mostly in Alsace and Champagne.  We don't often see the other side, but there is a new book out, Endzeit Europa, colour photographs of WWI, and a selection of images is on der Spiegel online.

Just in this small cross section of one trench there is order and hierarchy, massive protection compared to the sandbags at Vimy: enough infrastructure to remove the sense of being caught in a hole dug in the ground.  One of the Airborne Regiment, after it had disbanded, told me how much time he had spent in Somalia, lying in a very shallow depression in the dust beside the highway leading to Belet Uen, covered only by his tarp.

How much 'building' does it take to protect, without giving a false sense of protection.  These German troops seem very confident, but these are posed photographs, not taken in the heat of battle.  They too left their trenches for that darkling plain that was the no-man's land. 


higher ground

Rebuilt trenches at Vimy RidgeNot sure where I found this image, it has been on my desktop for months.  It presents the structure of the trenches, no long shots or avenues, the depth, the configuration, all of which take on, today, the appearance of a land art installation.  However, like yesterday's map of the Gallipoli Peninsula, there is high ground, full of threat, and there are valleys, where one is. 

It is, I suppose, psychogeography 101, that being visual beings, we like being high up in the landscape so that we can see what is below us.  Why else would new subdivisions have names such as Aspen Heights, and, in west Calgary, the confusing Valley Ridge? which is on the side of a valley, but clearly has aspirations.

JB Jackson's essay, 'Landscape Seen by the Military' compared the fields of war in Europe during WWII where he was a military intelligence officer, with peacetime land use: ordered, hierarchical, topographical.  He seemed to imply that war was just another social aspect of how we use land. I'm not sure about this relatively limp thesis, that we have pushed and shaped the land to map our sense of what is right and proper, and that the land has let us.  Well, we have pushed it around, but the land resists.  The trenches in farm fields in northern France were full of water for one thing: a high water table (which is what made them so fertile) and, in 1916, unusually bad weather.  The suicidal Gallipoli situation – the land was not the ANZAC's ally, nor was it for D-Day – again, men scrambling up beaches while batteries of guns at the top of the cliffs (whose erosion makes the beaches) fired down at them. 

Vitruvius has a whole section on the advantages of height: it is safer there.



Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, 1915, sent to capture Gallipoli to secure a sea route to the Black Sea.  Gallipoli was in what was still the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.  The Gallipoli campaign lasted eight months, 44,000 British, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops died.  It is clear, even from this little map, that the terrain is a rocky spine on one side of the gap, and more mountains on the other, a terrible military disadvantage for anyone landing on the shoreline. 

Gallipoli is to Australia as Vimy is to Canada: the alleged formation of a national consciousness separate from Britain.  In both the casualties were enormous, and to only minor military advantage in the whole war.  It was, I suppose, the moment of postcolonial consciousness, subsequently more fierce in Australia than Canada.

Is it fair, through the longer lens of subsequent history and analysis, to think it was such a waste?  Here, we are lectured that to question anything military means we are not supporting our troops, or our countries – does this divide have anything to do with national consciousness?  Protest defines a people, complicity rarely does – the Arab Spring has taught us that much. 

The phrase 'Never again' comes around every November, and must be reverberating though Australia and New Zealand today. What is it we are remembering on November 11th, or 25th of April, or July 1st, the day of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel which annhilated the Newfoundland Regiment?  There is always more war, more matériel, more lost generations.


the southeast corner of the Parthenon, 1803

Giovanni Battista Lusieri. The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens, 1803. watercolour, 64 x 83cm. The National Galleries of Scotland, Lady Ruthven bequest, 1885.

When Lord Elgin was removing the sculptures from the Parthenon, the ones held in the British Museum as the Elgin Marbles and the subject of a long and intense campaign by Greece for their repatriation, he had Giovanni Battista Lusieri record the removal process.  

Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803.  Clearly the Ottoman Empire, which had reigned from 1299 to 1923 – the remains are today's Turkey – didn't much care for Greece, indeed relations between Greece and Turkey simmer and seethe still.  Why were Canadian UN Peacekeepers in Cyprus for so long, for example?  Greece, Greek history, the Parthenon, the Phidian sculptures would have seemed archaeological, not particularly essential to a centrally located but culturally marginal part of a vast empire which occupied the Middle East, North Africa, the northeast Mediterranean and surrounded the Red Sea, the Black Sea and touched the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Greece was lost to the Ottoman Empire in 1821, but by then the archaeological looting was complete.  Britain purchased the marbles, already in their possession, in 1816. The legality of the removal was questioned immediately after it happened; even Byron protested the removal, so it is not just a recent 20th century controversy. During the Greek War of Independence of 1821-1833, the Ottomans used the Erechtheum as a munitions store, confirming a basic disinterest in the spatiality of history in occupied territory.  

It was the beginning of the era of the Grand Tour however, and a British love of things Greek: language, architecture, philosophy.  It was felt that the marbles of the Parthenon were safer in England than in a place with a growing independence movement which predictably ended in a 12-year war.  

The moral justification for looting during a war often rests on salvation and protection.  At the end of the 20th century, the Elgin Marbles remained in the British Museum because Athens is considered too polluted – had they been left on the Parthenon, they would have dissolved away.  Now, I suppose Greece is considered to financially unstable to look after them. 


Linda Kitson: Sir Galahad

Linda Kitson, Sir Galahad moored at Fitzroy. She continued to burn until she was towed out to sea and sunk as a War Grave. 16 June 1982. Imperial War Museum 15400

In this year of anniversaries of death by sea, here is a drawing by Linda Kitson who was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in 1982, as a war artist, to go with the British troops to the Falklands. The Sir Galahad was a supply ship, hit by Angentinian planes on June 8th.  It was carrying explosives, and 200 men were killed, or injured, many of whom were Welsh Guards, a dreadful irony given the Welsh history in Patagonia in southern Argentina. 


Emel Mathiouthi: bin el wediane

A different kind of avalanche.


Beaton at war

Cecil Beaton. 'Fashion is indestructible' — Digby Morton suit, in the ruined Middle Temple, 1941. British Vogue.

For Cecil Beaton architecture was an indisputable player in all his photographs, often much more complex than the subject.  It offered a narrative that transports the sitter, or the garments – it is all mise en scène. 

He was an official photographer in the North African campaign in WWII, and did a lot of work showing Britain's wartime manufacturing industries – shipyards, mineworkers, the effects of the Blitz, all a far cry from the fey pre-war portraits of society ladies in extravagantly romantic 18th century rooms where he was never against painting more frippery on the walls if it made the setting even complex, more fantastic.  I suppose the true complexity and brutality of war knocks some of that fantasy out of one.
These two iconic images are found in every book on Beaton there is.  It was startling, in 1941, for Vogue readers to be plunged into the shattered environment in which they were living: fashion magazines were and are for escape.  And the 1945 photograph of the Balmain coat and pants could come off the Sartorialist site today – that love of tragic urban street walls, so dark and layered, and the indomitable spirit of the women who can carry their own against them.

Cecil Beaton. Pierre Balmain Chinese Brown Woolen Coat and Trousers. 1945. British Vogue


another kind of memorial

French armoured cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau Off Constantinople, Turkey, on 16 December 1922, photographed from USS Bainbridge (DD-246). On that day, survivors of the French transport Vinh-Long, which had burned in the sea of Marmora that morning, were transferred from the Bainbridge to the Waldeck Rousseau. Donation of Frank A. Downey, 1973. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
The  armoured cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau fought submarines and airplanes during WWI, remained in the service of the French Navy until it was decommissioned in 1932 and sent to Indochina.  During WWII it was used as a decoy in the Solomon Islands, and sank in 1943 in the Battle of Kolombangara.  

Jean Chretien once said that a politician's career always ends in defeat; fighting ships go on and on, in war after war, engagement after engagement, and then they sink.

We are a long way from Jean Jacques Rousseau on Monday.


tents, non-military

Tent City, Coronado, California, 1909

Coronado Tent City, California 1900-1939, started out as tents on the beach, from this 1909 postcard.  Then the tents were given thatched roofs, then by the 1920s half walls, a trolley, a fire department and a police force.  There was a fun fair, concerts, a promenade and a pavilion; the tents had beds and chairs, there were cooking tents, one could rent a palm tent in 1919 for $1 a day, $15 a month.  The half-walled tents were called cottages, they were $23 a week.

Tent City, Coronado, California, n.d.Tents are portable, temporary, lightweight buildings, yes, but they are also vulnerable: to weather, to light and dark, to tearing, to wind.  This community of holiday tents is so different from a campground where one's tent is pitched between RVs with flat screens and the 24-hour hum of AC units.  And so different from a motel, those maximum security cells with permanently locked windows.

Of course there was crime in America in the 1910s and 20s, there were gangs, there were drugs, gambling, prostitution, murders and all the rest, but somehow, like the shift in warfare from entirely military casualties to now mostly civilian collateral damage, Tent City must have been somehow protected by its innocence.  It was not part of an equation of drugs and gang violence which took place in some other battlefield where no one was playing on the beach in their bathing suits.  

It seems civilised, this partition between civilians and violence, both in war and everyday life.  Not sure it exists anymore. 

Tent City, Coronado, California, 1906


not a dogfight, a seek and destroy mission

The above image was on Vintage Everyday last week: they post images without much explanation, but a lot of their material seems to come from Life magazine files, and this image was in a set with what appeared to be US WWII pictures.  So, what are these planes?  A Messerschmidt and a Spitfire? not quite, according to various aircraft spotting posters.  So, while I think the rounded wings could be a Spitfire, the other stick-like plane resembles nothing I can find in either German, British, American or Japanese aircraft recognition manuals. It has a strange tail.

However, on the way to discovering that I know nothing about aircraft, I found a wonderful site: Collect Air, Friend or Foe? Museum, vast and detailed with everything one would want to know about aircraft recognition models, manuals, diagrams, board games, playing cards, cartoons, kits.  For example, below, pocket recognition models at 1:432.  How did they pick that scale?

1:432 plastic "pocket" recognition models, manufactured by Cruver, 1943 to around 1993.Nonetheless I still haven't been able to find the plane that looks like it is constructed out of steel strap.  But, life is short; must move on.


22.02.2012: Tim Atherton has identified the stick insect as a V1 flying bomb.  See his comment to this post.