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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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178. Bat Bombs

–This Article comes courtesy of my good friend Jack Evans.–

In 1942,  American dental surgeon Lytle S. Adams was contemplating bats. As World War II raged on around him he looked into bats as a possible weapon, some kind of animal attack that could no doubt be harnessed in the fight, specifically the Empire of Japan. Four potentially useful biological features of bats were noted, each of which was essential to producing one of the least known, yet most deadly products of the war.

Firstly, they could be found in huge numbers in Texas. This would mean they could easily be ‘mass produced’ as a weapon. Secondly, they could carry more than their own weight in-flight – females can even fly whilst carrying twins. Thirdly, bats can hibernate and during this do not need food or indeed any kind of sustenance or maintenance. If this could be harnessed, they could be made dormant and stored for large lengths of time, then awakened and unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy. Lastly, they fly in darkness and seek out buildings in the day time, meaning that they are both a stealth weapon and would home in on vulnerable buildings. Along with this, bats held other natural advantages. They could defy conventional detection systems. They were difficult to destroy using existing air defences and could easily navigate the confines of cities. With these advantages, he came up with the perfect way to weaponise bats; and so he created the bat-bomb.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Articles

 

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142. Sealand, The Unofficial Prinicipality

The Principality of Sealand is an odd case, it is an old World War II floating fort 10km off the coast of Suffolk, England. In 1956 the fort was abandoned, then in 1967 Major Paddy Roy Bates, along with his family and some associates occupied the fort, claiming it to be a new and separate principality. The Principality Of Sealand. Originally it was set up for the British Mr Bates to broadcast his pirate radio station. However it soon became more.

He crowned himself king. In 1968 some British workmen came to service a navigational buoy nearby. Paddy Bates claimed the waters to be part of his territory and his son Michal Bates, shot a rifle to scare them off. Then they went to court on firearms charges. The case could not proceed. A that time anything within 5km of the shore was part of the United Kingdom, and the fort fell just outside of that jurisdiction. It was in international waters and exempt from the rules. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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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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130. The White Death

The White Death

3 months after the start of World War II a smaller war began in Eastern Finland, the Winter War. Finland’s opponent, the Soviet Union. Finland’s champion, Simo Häyhä, soon to be nicknamed the White Death, he was a formidable sniper. His farmhouse reportedly filled with all of the trophies from marksmanship tournaments he had won. His skill was unmatched. With his modified Mosin-Nagant he did kill a confirmed 505 Soviet soldiers. The record which still stands for the highest number of confirmed sniper kills in any major war. The remarkable thing is that he did it, in under 100 days.

It all happened in the forests, the White Death endured the -40 to -20 degree winter in a white hooded jacket and a white mask. From his position he would take down any enemy soldiers who passed by, using only the iron sights on his rifle, shunning the preferred telescopic sights. In addition with his submachine gun he killed a further 200 soldiers, bringing his total to 705 kills, a macabre high score in the theater of war.

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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Articles

 

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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 »

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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102. Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City, surrounded by a fast developing China

Lost Lawless City

Kowloon Walled City was not always a city, it started life as a military fort with sturdy walls so as to keep an eye on the British in China. When Hong Kong was handed to the British it was kept separate, just outside but separate. At least until it was stormed whilst a Sir Henry Blake was in search of resistance soldiers in 1899. They found very little, instead they just claimed dominion over it, then left it alone. A little British box surrounded by China.

In the intervening time it grew old and dilapidated, collecting dust and squatters before having great swathes of it demolished so the stone could be used to extend an airport.

Then came World War II, at the end after Japan’s surrender China stated that it wanted to reclaim rights to the Walled City which prompted a huge rush of refugees fleeing to the place for Chinese protection, by 1947 there were 2,000 of them. In 1948 the British tried to drive them out but to no avail, afterwards the British adopted a ‘Hands-Off’ approach and left the Walled City in peace. A piece in which it thrived. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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