A Few Answers To Historical Questions You Always Wondered About

July 18, 2017 | 1 Comment » | Topics: Interesting, Answers

On D-day, why didn’t the Allies just bomb the beach from the sea with ships before storming with people?

 If you haven’t read D-Day, by Stephen E Ambrose, I’d really recommend it if you’re interested. All quotations are from Chapter 14 of the book.

They bombarded the crap out of the beaches. Several veteran soldiers have said the opening naval barrage on D day was one of the loudest things they had ever heard. One of the Allied airborne troopers tells it this way. “The Barrage coming in was quite terrific. You could feel the whole ground shaking toward the coast. Soon they lifted the barrage farther inland. They sounded so big, and being poor bloody infantry, we had never been under naval fire before and these damn great shells came sailing over, such a size that you automatically ducked, even in the pillbox, as one went over, and my radio operator was standing next to me, very perturbed about his, and finally he said, ‘blimey, sir, they’re firing jeeps’”

A total of 68 destroyers participated in the bombardment of the 5 beaches. Ambrose summarizes the reason why the success didn’t work in the following way. “In short, a tremendous tonnage of shells hit the beaches and batteries. The results, for the most part, were terribly disappointing. As anyone who has visited the normandy beaches will attest, this was not because of inaccurate fire, but rather the result of German skill in fortification building… They [the batteries] took many direct hits, dozens in some cases, but even the 14-inch shells failed to penetrate. The shells made pock marks, the knocked away some concrete, they exposed the steel reinforcing rods, but they did not penetrate.” However “Many of the German gunners inside were rendered deaf or knocked out by concussion” from being inside a concrete bunker.




What was the scariest thing for a German soldier to see during WW2?

This isn’t a regular tank. It’s a Churchill Crocodile outfitted with a super-powered flamethrower.

Many Germans in WWII were incinerated alive shortly after seeing this view. Actually, the view they saw was a bit further away as the flamethrower wouldn’t usually be trying to shoot you at point blank range, but I digress.

Here’s an excerpt of a first-hand account from a German who went up against a Churchill Crocodile.

Cornelius Tauber, German First Lieutenant, (mid-sentence telling his d-day experience … he’s posted up in a defensive compound/bunker trying to hold off the allied invasion).

“Then another tank came around the corner to attack us. This new tank that emerged was a different model, I recognized it as a Churchill series, with heavily armored covers and a squared-off turret.

Our Turret fired, but the shell bounced off the Churchill’s front plate and tumbled away into the dunes. It fired again, but again the round richocheted off, and this worried me, because this Churchill was advancing on us quite quickly.

The churchill then fired high-explosive shells which blew up one of our machine gun emplacements at the corner. The crew of the machine gun were thrown out of their trench, and they lay badly injured on the barbed wire in front of us. They were moving and crying out for help, but of course there was nothing we could do for them in the situation.

Our French gun kept firing, but I think the gunner was panicking by this point, because he missed twice. The Churchill fired once again and this round exploded directly onto the French turret. It knocked the whole turret off its concrete base, and this thing went rolling away to one side. The gunner remained in the open concrete ring, with his whole body emitting smoke and flames.

At this point, looking from this poor man to the British tank, I became aware that this Churchill was different in some way from the photographs we had seen in our training sessions, in which we were taught about the strengths and weaknesses of the different Allied tanks. The training lectures had made no mention at all of what I saw next.

As the tank halted, there was a burst of flame from a point in the tank’s hull plate at the front.

Interviewer – So you were facing the type of tank known as the Churchill Crocodile?

“After the war, I learned that “Crocodile’ was the official name for the thing. We came to know it as a Flammenpanzer (flame tank), and it had a hugely demoralising effect on our troops.”

What form did its attack take in this situation?

“The initial burst of flame from its front hull was only a few metres long, and it set fire to the ground in front of it. The range by now was about two hundred metres from us. One of the troops in the slit trenches fired a Panzerfaust (German rocket propelled grenade) but it fell short and failed to explode.

Now, after that initial burst of flame, the Flammenpanzer began to fire at full power – and the effect was completely horrific.

It produced a jet of fire, which was a burning liquid of orange-yellow color. This roared out towards us at a very high speed, climbing perhaps ten metres in the air. The front of this flame jet spread out to the left and right, so that it produced an absolute curtain, or a solid wall, of flames. We all watched, stricken dumb by this apparition. The flamethrowers I had seen before were hand-held devices, such as the one at the beach bunkers, and they were bad enough!

This machine was a hundred times more powerful. This huge wall of flames collapsed down onto the ground in front of our position, so that it fell onto the two wounded machine gun men who were stranded on the barbed wire. They were swallowed up in this inferno of flames.

The heat burned our skin and hair, and the smell of the gasoline fuel was sickening. The flames poured all over the front of our position, and they went gushing into the slit trench there.

There was quite a row of men in that trench, with their rifles at the ready, and this all happened so rapidly and in such an unexpected way that they had no time to escape. I think there were a dozen men in there, and they were set alight at once. I saw that the whole trench was filled with this burning liquid, and the men in there were incinerated where they stood.

The heat was so intense that I couldn’t breathe properly, as the flames were about twenty metres away from me.”

How did the other men at the resistance Point react to this?

There was a panic, which seized us all, including myself and the other officer. We saw the spout of flame die down, as the Churchill ceased firing, but I was gripped by a terror of what would happen if it fired its flames again. We would all be swallowed up in that orange-yellow fireball. I leaped from my trench, as did all the other men around me, with no thought for rank of discipline. Some of these men were cut down by machine gun fire from the Churchill, and they tumbled around us as we, the surviving men, either threw our hands in the air in surrender or ran to the back of the point away from the tank.

I was among the latter group, which was about half a dozen men, and we ran to the Eastern side, getting away from the Flammenpanzer. I still had my MP40, but some men had dropped their guns and were simply running like civilians – no weapon, helmet just fleeing the wall of fire. Two of us were hit by machine gun fire from the Churchill, and in the end it was only myself and three men who managed to jump down into a sunken track and run along that, intending to reach the nearest German line to the rear. At one point, I looked back and saw a huge column of smoke rising from the area of the Resistance Point, which I assumed was now burned completely.




What happened to the hundreds of people left in the American Embassy after the last helicopter out of Saigon?

There was a significant timegap between the ‘last helicopter out of Saigon’ and the final PAVN (People’s Army Of Vietnam) push to capture the city. Ambassador Martins was flown out at 0500 Saigon Time on April 30, with the last helicopter (carrying the last few Marine guards) left at around 0700 to 0800.

CBS News’ Ed Bradley was one of those evacuated at the embassy, and described:

“Once inside the compound, for the Americans and those Vietnamese who managed to get in with legal documents and the many who managed entrance without, the rest was easy. It was just a matter of waiting your turn for a helicopter to take you to one of the ships on station off the Vietnamese coast.”

With Martins having ordered that only Americans be evacuated earlier that dawn, we can deduce that likely no Vietnamese were granted access to the last round of helicopter flights out to sea.

As PAVN troops were assaulting downtown Saigon at the same time, and with South Vietnam unconditionally surrendering at 10:24, we can deduce that few South Vietnamese decided to stick around at the embassy for the three hours after the last helicopter left.

The following days, PAVN forces consolidated their control in Ho Chi Minh City, with the Embassy and other government buildings being raided.

Afterwards, as stated in the Texas Tech Vietnam Oral History Interview of Phong Xuan Nguyen (a former South Vietnamese government official who was imprisoned for five years in a reeducation canp):

It was decreed that all the high ranking officials of the former Saigon regime would have to report for re-education for a period of thirty days…

Nguyen describes that his reeducation was later extended as he had been a very high ranked official. He describes his conditons at Tu Doc prison in the South:

Oh, it was very primitive. It was completely empty, the orphanage was completely empty, no furniture whatsoever and there were buildings with aluminum sheet roofing and it was just tiles, very primitive tiles as the floor. We slept on the floor and the food was provided twice a day, lunch and dinner by the administration, very primitive too but we had rice.

Nguyen interestingly mentions that although familial visits were not allowed, the guards were actually South Vietnamese, who treated the prisoners very courteously.

Nguyen was later moved to a prison camp in North Vietnam, where all prisoners were directed to write a ‘self-confession’. Nguyen was later put to work alongside other prisoners; he, specifically, became a mason and designed decorative ceramics. Other prisoners might be assigned to work in the fields or in other craftsmen roles. He was paid a small allowance as well.

All in all, I doubt that any Vietnamese were arrested at the Embassy, but if they were high ranking officials, they likely were imprisoned in reeducation camps for anywhere between thirty days and five years.




Who were the Khmer Rouge and what did they do?

The Khmer Rouge was a communist revolutionary government in Cambodia in the mid/late 70’s. It was founded by a group of largely western-educated Cambodians who entirely rejected concepts of the free market and individual liberties. Instead, they attempted to construct an entirely self-sustaining nation through a rigid regime of top-down social engineering. This included the abolishment of banking, finance, currency, and some religions. People living in urban areas were (often forcibly) moved to the rural areas of the country to work in agriculture (again, often against their will). It was a bold and frankly inhuman stab at what could conceivably be called a “classless” society. It is estimated that between 1.7 and 2 million Cambodians died during the 4 year reign of the Khmer Rouge

The genocide came in a number of forms, which included but were not limited to:

In short, it was an attempt to reboot civilization (sans capitalism) and establish a society without wealth or class. As explained above, the Khmer Rouge did not tolerate non-believers well.




In early times, where brothels and prostitutes were a part of everyday life, how did the prostitutes avoid getting pregnant?

So, as far as contraception goes, evidence is pretty sketchy but it seems like prostitutes did make an effort to avoid getting pregnant by various means. One of them was to physically extract semen from themselves after they’d seen one or more clients by wrapping fabric around their fingers and then inserting it into themselves to basically scrape it out. This probably wasn’t all that effective for obvious reasons 

Most other methods were probably based around using herbal mixtures to make the women less likely to conceive, or even make them sterile – people do actually seem to have had pretty good knowledge of herbs and plants which can help prevent pregnancy. John Riddle has written a book on this called Eve’s Herbs if anybody’s interested.

Prostitutes might also take emmenagogues (menstrual stimulants) which had the effect of an early-term abortion if the woman in question were pregnant. In the case I looked at, this is what happened, and it’s pretty clear that some brothel-keepers knew how to do this, and that prostitutes were also familiar with the ingredients needed. In this case, the mixture was made up of cloves, Queen Anne’s Lace, periwinkle, and strong wine. The prostitute who took it was 20 weeks pregnant, so she aborted a pretty well-developed foetus :/

Prostitutes were only supposed to have sex in the missionary position, so it would have been pretty hard to avoid getting pregnant, but I guess it might have been possible sometimes to persuade customers not to ejaculate inside them. I found another case in which a guy was burned at the stake for having buttsex with a prostitute in a brothel, so I don’t think non-vanilla sex was too common. Having said that, there is a really cool case from London from 1395 involving a male transvestite prostitute who was found working the streets alongside regular female prostitutes – it seems like he may have had anal sex with male clients (maybe that’s what they were after…), so anal sex with prostitutes may not have been that unusual.

I hope that was helpful – like I said the evidence is really sketchy, but what we do know suggests that herbal contraceptive lore might have been quite well-developed and part of an experienced prostitute’s business know-how. In the area I looked at (southern Germany and Switzerland) pregnant prostitutes were supposed to be put out of brothels, though in practice this risked losing money for brothel-keepers so it was not always enforced. Kids were born in brothels and some even lived there for short periods with their mothers. Interestingly, it was also theorised in the Middle Ages by the French scholastic philosopher William of Conches that prostitutes couldn’t get pregnant because their wombs were so filled with dirt from all the bonin’.


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