27 September 2007

Liberty Ship in Combat

Trivia question: What was the first US ship to sink a German surface combatant in WWII? OK, I'll make it easier, what class of ship was it?

The surprising answer in the SS Stephen Hopkins, a Liberty Ship! The crew of this mass-produced, under-powered freighter found themselves in foggy conditions on their maiden voyage and stumbled into the German merchant raider Stier. When the more heavily armed German ship ordered the Hopkins to surrender, the crew refused. Volunteers replaced members of the 4-inch gun-crew as they were wounded in the ensuing fire-fight. The merchant marine crew managed to fatally damage the raider, though their own ship was lost as well.
Fifteen members of the crew of the Hopkins survived the ensuing 31-day trip in open life-boats to the coast of Brazil. For his part, captain Horst Gerlach of the Stier wrote in his report back to Germany that he had lost his ship to a "heavily armed cruiser."
Not bad for a ship designed to be built in 42 days!

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18 September 2007

Ken Burns Documentary to start this weekend

Ken Burns' documentary "The War" is set to be broadcast starting this Sunday (9/23) and run throughOctober 2nd. At 14 hours, this documentary is shorter that than his earlier "Jazz" or "Baseball". Even so, the focus is distinctly limited to American involvement, focusing on the residents of four towns, Luverne, Minnesota; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; and Sacramento, California.

Having grown up just outside of Waterbury, I'm interested to see how this local focus will work in the larger framework. Burns is a talented artist, but it is not as if we haven't all seen our share of WWII documentaries. Early reviews are positive, but the film has also already had one controversy over the lack of Latino and Native American representation.

The real question for me is 'will my TiVo have enough memory space?"


06 September 2007

Titanic II -- This Time the Iceberg IS the Ship


A funny-sounding name for a funny idea. At the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the British were willing to listen to any new idea that promised to make their convoys safe. Enter Geoffrey Pyke, with his idea to build a massive ship out of ice. The full design was to be a 2,000 feet long, 300 feet wide, and 2 million ton aircraft carrier with a hull 40 feet thick. The hull itself was a mixture of ice and sawdust, dubbed 'Pykrete' after its creator.

Alas for the future of Britania's iceberg-navy, the demand for so much sawdust would have been a drain on wartime paper production and the idea was shelved. The farthest it got was a 30 X 60 foot test bed floating in Patrica Lake in Alberta, Canada.

"Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5)

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