Tag Archives: germany

195. Wait and Sea, the Tale of Poon Lim

1942, World War II was raging across the land and the oceans too. At this time Britain sent out a call for help, and many Chinese responded. One of these brave or foolish souls was Poon Lim. He was working as second mess steward on board the SS Benlomond and became quickly accustomed to life on board.

The SS Benlomond was a merchant steamer, unremarkable, and equally unarmed. German U-Boats scoured the seas for their metallic prey. Ready to shoot on sight. On November 23 1942 a German U-Boat sighted the SS Benlomond and contact was made. Contact in the form of two explosive torpedoes. That did not go down well.

SS Benlomond

2 hours after the sinking, Poon Lim happened upon a life raft and flailed in its general direction. I say ‘flailed‘ because during World War II, an ability to swim was not required to be in the Navy. This led to a surprisingly large amount of drownings among Navy staff throughout the war, even when rescue was swift on arrival. Eventually, after much uncoordinated splashing, he reached the side of the raft and hauled his soaking self on board.

Once he had recovered from the physical exertion he examined the raft. It was a ‘Carley Float Life Raft‘ and fairly well stocked. Among the supplies were some biscuit tins (complete with biscuits), a 10 gallon jug of water, flares, an electric torch and a bag of sugar lumps. More than enough for a short trip. Many things could be said about Poon Lim’s ensuing journey, ‘short’ is not one of them. In fact Poon Lim spent 133 days in the Pacific Ocean, a record of epic proportions.

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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Articles


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173. The Great Rolling Hotel and the Sahara

Subsaharan Africa is an inhospitable place at best, life maintains a tenuous grasp on that hot and arid landscape. It has long presented a great challenge to travelers, expeditionaries and nomads alike. Crossing  the Sahara even today is quite an undertaking. In 1969 humanity first set its footprints into the lunar dust, in the Shara another frontier was being broken. Overshadowed by the moon landing but still deserving of its own plaudits. For in 1969, humanity also first crossed the Sahara, in a bus. Well I say bus, really it is more than that. Not so technically advanced as the space shuttle but something equally as novel. It was ROTEL.

ROTEL is a simple concept from Germany, a hotel on wheels. Check in, tour the world then check out. To this day ROTEL still runs, operating tens of buses visiting over 150 countries. Touring from Baghdad, Bali, Scandinavia, the Arctic circle to just about any other country. For over 40 years ROTEL has provided the lazy explorer with the world. All in relative comfort, not decadence but at least from a position most unique. Where else after all, does the room itself take you to your destination?

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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166. ‘Clever Hans’ the Mathematical Horse

In the early twentieth century there was a spectacle, a horse called ‘Clever Hans,’ whom the owner claimed could add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, tell time, keep track of the calendar, differentiate musical tones, and read, spell, and understand German. Truly a spectacle, bolstered by the sudden interest in animal intelligence thanks to the then fairly recent publication of Darwin’s, ‘On The Origin Of Species.’

Propelled by this interest ‘Clever Hans’ quickly gained repute and fame for both himself and his trainer, Wilhelm Van Osten, a mathematics teacher and an amateur, but in this case successful, horse trainer. Van Osten held spectacles for which he never charged entry, he would gather a crowd, ask Hans a question and Hans would tap the answer out until the right number was reached. For example he would ask,’If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?’ The Hans would tap his hoof the requisite number of times(in this case 11).

Question could be submitted either verbally or in written form. The success of the spectacle allowed ‘Hans’ and van Osten to travel widely across Germany and in fact the whole event was featured at one point on page six of the New York Times. Then came queries, exactly how did the horse do it? Due tot he popularity and wide speculation the German board of education put together a committee of 13 people in order to test the scientific claims being made. They were known as the Hans committee. Read the rest of this entry »


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135. Operation Mincemeat

During World War II there was a man, with important documents. Major William Martin he was; also he was dead. April 30, 1943 his body was found well decomposed in the waters off of Huelva in southwest Spain. He was clothed in a black trench coat, uniform and boots. Then there was a most important item indeed, a black attaché case chained to his waist, its contents unknown.

The Spanish fisherman who found his body reported it to the authorities, and so began a most complex series of events. The black attaché case you see, contained secrets which would greatly affect the outcome of that global conflict. Firstly the authorities scanned his wallet, finding that he was indeed the deceased Briton, Major William Martin. In his pockets they found odds and ends such as a picture of his fiancé and the bill for the diamond ring. Also he had what was reported to be high quality woolen underwear as was afforded to those of high rank – high quality underwear being in short supply during times of rationing.

A pathologist investigated the body and confirmed that he had died of a combination of hypothermia and drowning. Then the British got involved. The British vice-consul was a Francis Haselden. In his presence the case was opened revealing the contents to be military envelopes of great importance with the necessary seals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 4, 2011 in Articles


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117. The Bielefeld Conspiracy

This never happened, it's all an illusion.

For the past 16 years there has been a rumour within the German USENET community. It is a running joke but one with much greater longevity than almost anything on the internet. It involves the city of Bielefeld, population 330,000, in the German province of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Simply put, on May 16, 1994 a rumour was released, saying that it simply doesn’t exist. Instead it is propagated by an entity only known as SIE(THEM, in English) which has links with the authorities established in such a way as to create the illusion that the city of Bielefeld actually existing. Read the rest of this entry »


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109. The Exploding Soviet Dogs of War

Release the Dogs of War!

Anti-tank dogs were one of the odd products of the Soviet Union. In 1924 the Revolutionary Military Council permitted the use of dogs within the military. To assist with this a special military dog training school was founded in the Moscow Oblast. The Soviets then realised that they actually had no dog trainers so they hired a motley crew of those with experience, ranging from hunters to the circus. Leading animal scientists produced a wide-scale training program for the dogs. For a while it was the normal stuff, rescue, delivery of first aid, biting enemies and carrying messages.

Then came the 1930s and an idea. Why not make the dogs… blow up. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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43. Razzle Dazzle Navy

FACT: Military Vessels around the world are grey. Or black, or white, regardless the problem is that they are boring and plain, but it was not always this way. As the image shows the seas used to be better, brighter. Navy vessels were covered in these bright and contrasting series of shapes and interrupting lines, like seafaring cubism artworks. This was called ‘Dazzle camouflage’ by the British and the much more impressive title of ‘Razzle Dazzle‘ by the American. But now there is a question, why were ships painted so brightly?

The answer is oddly enough – camouflage. However counter-intuitive, this bright covering of lines was camouflage used in World War I by every naval vessel in the British, French and American Navies. The reason was that no camouflage was effective at hiding ships in all weathers so U-boats and submarines kept sinking ships. However they depended on people in the U-boats looking through telescopes and periscopes and guessing how far away and quickly traveling the ships were, so the bright lines on ships distracted their eyes making them miss the ships.

The British concluded that the camouflage was ineffective as their ships kept being sunk, however they kept the paint because it boosted the morale of the naval officers on board and it boosted the morale of everyone who saw the ships together, as the sight of hundreds of brightly coloured floating hulls of art was a sight that had never been seen before. Also, unfortunately, due to advances in range-finding technology after World War I, it was a sight that was never seen again. Slowly ships were sunk or repainted in their drab grey skins again and voyages became monochromatic excursions of tedium. The sea used to be so much better and brighter, but this is consigned to the past now.

The only place you can see the Razzle Dazzle now is on Austrian speed traps, which are painted so distractingly that motorists cannot tell how far away they are, meaning that they slow down much earlier. Clever Austrians.


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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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