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April 16, 2005

Topic sentences. Defense Tech wins the prize for best opening lines of a blog post:
Like me, you’ve probably stayed awake countless nights wondering, “Did the Brits ever make plans for a nuclear landmine, powered by chickens?”

Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that the answer is yes.

Read the whole thing. (As if you could stop now.) [06:33 PM]
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Comments on Topic sentences.:

Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 07:05 PM:

Who speaks for the chickens?

Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 08:04 PM:

If memory serves, the best part is that this story (at least, the detail about the chickens) was originally declassified and released on April 1, 2004. The National Archives had to repeatedly explain that, no, this was just a coincidence, they weren't making up a wildly implausible story... and if they were, it'd make more sense than this...

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 08:29 PM:

I'm really surprised it hasn't already turned up in something by Ken Macleod or Charlie Stross.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 10:57 PM:

There were, of course, the dogs that the Russians, demonstrating their famous understanding of psychology, trained to run under tracked vehicles. Not hard, if you always put their food under one. Now you take the doggie to the battlefield, callously strap an antitank mine on it, and wait for the Germans.

One little hitch. The doomed pooches had been trained to run under Russian tanks. Poetic justice, really.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 12:30 AM:

Dave, that doesn't ring true -- I mean the part about the dogs distinguishing between Russian and German tanks. I think a tank would be a tank to a dog, unless they exclusively ran under the exact same tank (not the same model) they had been trained on. Just extrapolating from the generalizations and extrapolations my own dog demonstrates . . .

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 02:30 AM:

How it was explained to me was that Russian tanks had diesel engines, and German tanks had petrol (gasolene) engines, and hence smelt different.

Skinner proposed to the US government a guidance system for missiles that used trained pigeons to compare ground features to a map. Don't know how far that got.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 04:52 AM:

Pigeons would be great if you want a missile that always comes back to where it was stationed. Or if you wanted to attack statues.

Let us be thankful these were only experiments. I can't imagine a more disturbing abomination than an attacking horde of bird/dog pecksniffs.

Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 11:51 AM:

There was also the bat bomb in WWII.

--Mary Aileen

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 04:32 PM:

As weird as the bat bombs were, somebody in the US Department of Finding Obscure Ways to Win The War discovered a Japanese folk legend that, if you saw a glowing fox, it was an omen of death, and . . .

Foxes. Luminous paint. Submarine delivery. Do the math.

It's not that we try to get animals to fight for us (war dogs go way back), it's that we try to get militarized animals to do bizarre things.

Mark Fischer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 08:45 PM:

During the first world war, as an antisubmarine measure, the British attempted to train seagulls to defecate on periscopes. Bless the creative English soul.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 10:23 PM:

A little further down the page is an article on the use of blimps by the Marines in Iraq.

Was it here or over on Making Light that someone observed that blimps are the invariable result of changing history?

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2005, 10:35 PM:

Delightfully reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Arthur: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain to me again how sheeps' bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes...

sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 12:15 AM:

Giant African pouched rats, also called Gambian pouched rats, are being used to sniff out landmines. Previously dogs were used; the rationale is presumably that rats are more expendable than dogs, and are less likely to attract the attention of Humane Societies. Rats also breed more rapidly and are cheaper, since regions infested with landmines tend to be in the world's poorer countries.

giant pouched rats
linked to at
giant pouched rats

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 03:22 AM:

Actually, zeppelins are the key to alternate history, or at least identifying such books by their covers. (With certain *cough* exceptions.)

Blimps -- nonrigid airships (a zepp has a rigid internal frame, while a blimp is a soft gasbag with a gondola) -- have quite a good military record. During WW2, the Navy used them as naval escorts, and to the best of my knowledge, no ship with a blimp escort was ever lost in combat.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 01:09 PM:

JMF - to the best of my knowledge, no ship with a blimp escort was ever lost in combat.

Nope, they just disapeared into the Bermuda Triangle.

Frankly, this may be true, but I just don't get it. Blimps are slow and fairly visible. Sure, they serve as great spotting platforms, but wouldn't a blimp just scream out "There's a ship here! Come and sink it!" I guess the guys on the blimp could try to drop things on the u-boat as they got a birds-eye view of their comrades being sent to Davy Jones' Locker.

What am I missing here?

fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 01:48 PM:

If I recall correctly, the blimps were able to travel at convoy speed, and were expected to send a radio message for bomber support if they spotted a sub. The bomber would then release depth charges, and go back to its base. This system was supposed to reduce wear and tear on the bomber escorts--they could turn up as needed, rather than flying in gigantical circles over the convoy area, wearing out both pilot and machine.

alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Skinner's pigeon-guided bombs (not missiles) were intended as antiship weapons, as a dark ship on a light background gave a nice high-contrast target picture. The birds were trained to peck at a dark spot on a light background. The actual device used a lens to project the image onto a screen in front of the bird. When the bird's pecking moved off-center, it would active the bomb's guidance fins, steering it back on target.

I don't believe the project made it out of the lab, but my only clear recollection is of a photograph of Skinner standing next to his prototype guidance system, complete with pigeon.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2005, 04:32 PM:

Alex - I guess that would be a Skinner Boom Box, then.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2005, 02:09 AM:

One of the more famous odd things dreamt up by the Brits in WWII was the exploding rat . Here are a few links to the now-notorious SOE ( bbc.net.uk/history/war/wwtwo/soe_gallery.shtml ). Those of you in, near, or heading for Hampshire (UK) might be lucky enough to go along to the "Secret Army" exhibition , on now.

The Special Operations Executive was created by Winston Churchill in July, 1940, to organise and carry out acts of sabotage in occupied Europe.

Documents just released [In 1999] by the Public Records Office detail the secret weapons which inspired those produced by Q, James Bond's weapon-master.

Wartime school for spies revealed
Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 11:07 GMT
An exploding rat from a wartime finishing school for secret agents will be one of the many devices on display at an exhibition opening on Tuesday, 15th March 2005. The Secret Army exhibition at Beaulieu in Hampshire focuses on the members of the Special Operations Executive...

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2005, 02:37 PM:

The dog story probably has more to do with the dogs being trained to go for nearby tanks, and the Russians smelling different than it does the tanks.

On the off chance the Russians (assuming the story to be true) chose to use American tanks, because they would look different, the Lend/Lease tanks we sent were gasoline powered.

But the only country to use gasoline tanks was the US, to the best of my knowledge.


Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2005, 04:43 PM:

The glory of the exploding rat turned out not to be that the occasional train got blown up by having one thrown into the firebox.

It was that the Germans spent some time calling out bomb-disposal teams whenever they found a dead rat in a railyard.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2005, 03:08 AM:

Regrettably, no. Not counting the enormous numbers of M3s and M4s (many, many variants) used by the British army, most British tanks were petrol engined, including the Churchill, Cromwell and Comet and the earlier "cruiser" tanks, most of which were a waste of good tinfoil. The Matilda II I can't find.

The German Panzers were all petrol-engined - I, II, III, IV, Tiger I, and Panther, with all their variants. The Tiger II used an electric drive unit, which was powered by a petrol engine. (Sorry, for the US and Canada read "gasoline" for "petrol" throughout.)

Russian tanks were diesel-powered, at least all I can research.

Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2005, 11:41 AM:

No clue if its true, but the one I heard was how the russians in WW2 didn't have enough silk for parachutes so instructed their paratroopers to "aim for snow".

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2005, 02:47 PM:

aim for snow


JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Actually, the Germans created a synthetic fuel to power the war machine. They used the Fischer Tropsch method for converted the countryís abundant coal resources into fuel and lubricants. Apparently, their neighbors were growing increasingly reluctant to sell them fuel, though I canít imagine why. They used fractional distillation to break the product into several different octane levels. They could even produce fuel that was light enough to power their air force.

Here is a link for more information: http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/

It is really a quite fascinating history. This process is the foundation that my company (Syntroleum) was built on. Though we primarily use Natural gas rather than coal for the conversion process, we still use a variant of the FT reactor to make synthetic fuels. We are on the brink of providing the world an alternative to the gouging of the oil companies.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 04:14 AM:

The Russians produced a couple of interesting aircraft preWW2 that used ground-effect lift to allow extreme low-speed low-altitude passes. If there was any sort of a headwind - say, 10 knots - they were capable of very slow groundspeeds indeed - on the order of 10 mph. This almost made them helicopters, which have the advantage for air-insertion operations of delivering the troops concentrated on a specific point rather than scattering them more or less at the whim of the wind. Yet the aircraft could perform as fixed-wing, with the advantages of greater range and payload with robust flying characteristics.

That is to say, the plane flew low and slow into the wind over flat ground, and the troops, some in vehicles, er, jumped out. Without parachutes.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 02:44 PM:

D-Backs enjoying resurgence
"... Kendrick should also be given an honorary doctorate in hardballology for putting together the front office that in short order and somewhat unexpectedly has resurrected a baseball team that was in serious financial and artistic decline."

This refers back to an earlier thread about the GOP playing hardball, in a version that involves cutting people's hearts out. I know I should have studied harder for my hardballology final exam.