Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (25)
By Kathy Martin…
Written July 2014
Obviously the “First” World War wasn’t called the “first” until the “second” happened between 1939 and 1945, but I wondered how many other “firsts” there actually were during World War One.
Tethered hot-air balloons had been used as artillery spotting and battlefield observation points during other wars, such as the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870’s. However, the First World War was the first time that air power, using heavier than air flying machines, literally flexed its wings!
When the First World War broke out, aircraft were generally the playthings of the rich nobility. They were in effect overgrown box kites with engines that would be used to go out for an invigorating “spin” on a sunny pre-war afternoon!
Indeed, as it was only the nobility who knew how to fly a plane, they were the first war pilots after they volunteered themselves and their aircraft for military service.
As these aircraft were unarmed, they could only be used as “spotters”, although they probably swooped low to scare the cavalry horses!
However, the war wasn’t very old before one pilot drew his service revolver and took a pot-shot shot at an “enemy” pilot! After this rather un-gentlemanly act, the race was on to build fighter planes (as well as bombers)!
At first, the introduction of weaponry such as a machine gun required the presence of a gunner. This was a very cumbersome arrangement. The gunner couldn’t (well, certainly shouldn’t) destroy the wings, tail plane etc of his own aircraft, he had to communicate (shout or gesticulate) to his pilot as to what he could see and hope that there would be a rapid enough reaction to ensure a “kill”!
However, in 1915, the German Air Force had introduced a synchronised gearing (or interrupter gear) to allow forward facing machine guns to be fitted to the fuselage that would only fire when the bullet and propeller wouldn’t be on a destructive collision course! This device meant that all the pilot had to do was point himself at an enemy aircraft and fire. The German kill rate went up, but as this gearing was soon copied by other Air Forces and the kill rate evened out.
Air power, as in fixed wing, heavier that air machines, can be regarded as a “first” in warfare.
Tanks were first introduced during World War One, which along with aircraft, were probably the most innovative devices of that period.
Tanks are called “tanks” because, when they were first being brought to the front, in an attempt to fool enemy spies and spotter planes, the allies disseminated information that they were water storage “tanks”.
The tanks moved only at night, and to mask the rumble of their engines, aircraft flew overhead and, also, in front to prevent enemy spotter planes from taking a closer look!
Defensive armour or a “full metal jacket” such as a tank to be used in military operations was not a 20th century idea or invention. The rank and file of the “ancient” Roman soldiers would form up in “testudos”, literally “tortoise shells”. In this the front rank would hold their shields in front of themselves; the two outer files would hold their shields on the left or right hand side (as appropriate!) while the ranks in the centre would hold their shields overhead. This formation presented the enemy with a body of soldiers that were almost impervious to attack by spears, arrows or, indeed, close combat!
In view of the above, and bearing in mind the technology available during the time of the Roman Empire, were tanks really the “first” armoured and armed assault “vehicles” used in warfare?
A great deal of publicity has been given to the German U-boat (submarine) campaign during the First World War. Admittedly the implementation of a plan to sink all (or most) merchant ships heading for British ports almost succeeded in starving the British public.
However, little mention is given of the fact that the navies of the allies were blockading German ports, and as a result many German civilians, especially the poor, were starving to death!
Incidentally, submarines aren’t a 20th century invention. As long ago as 1775, during the American War of Independence, an American student at Yale University, David Bushnell, designed and built a successful “submarine”.
Laden with gunpowder, “The Turtle” was lowered surreptitiously into the water near to an enemy ship, in this case HMS Eagle. Due to ballast, it hung vertically and was just submerged in the water. The sole operator then manually operated propellers that took the submarine to its target.
Once at the target, a large screw, rather like a massive auger, would be bored into the wooden hull of the ship, thereby attaching itself. The operator would then open the watertight compartment, where the gunpowder was stored, light the fuse, re-seal the compartment then open a door and swim away as fast as he could!
Unfortunately for the Turtle, HMS Eagle was a “copper-bottomed” ship. Wooden hulled ships were subject to destruction because some species of sea worm and other marine creatures would eat into and, in time, destroy the wood that was constantly immersed in seawater. Periodic inspections and repairs, as necessary, in dry docks were time consuming and expensive. One solution was to cover the “wet” part of the hull in a copper sheath. While this was expensive in the short term, it made economic sense in the long term. The Royal Navy was one of the first organisations to adopt this practice.
During a trial, the screw on the “Turtle” had proved adequate on wood, but it wasn’t “man enough” to penetrate the copper sheath. As such “The Turtle” failed in achieving its objective but it was, nonetheless, a practical submersible device in view of the technology available at the time.
Therefore World War One cannot be regarded as the “first” war in which submarines were used in marine warfare.
Most of the “firsts” were experienced by Britain and British civilians. After all, most countries and civilians in mainland Europe had, over comparatively recent years and even centuries experienced occupation by armies whether they were intent on territorial gain or restoring the status quo. Although Britain was a major “player” in the Napoleonic Wars, British civilians were largely unaffected by events in continental Europe.
However, in 1914 Britain (at that time it included Southern Ireland), faced its first major threat of invasion, since the ill-fated Spanish Armada in 1588! Imagine, if a slight hiccup in history had occurred, Angela Merkel might be sitting in the Palace of Westminster!
For a considerable time (years) we have been donating money to “Tulips”, one of the local cancer trusts. We do this by sending a blank text (apparently SMS message in posh-computer speak!) to a Turkcell number, 4171. Each text adds 5TL to the phone bill, which is passed to Tulips. We have always adjusted the number of texts in accordance with our income/expenditure budget.
Last week we calculated that we could afford 20TL, so my wife and I each sent two blank texts. A few seconds later, back came the automated replies that (for each text, we had donated 17.50TL! Fortunately, my UK pension is paid in Sterling and with the UK Pound/Turkish Lira exchange rate currently at 3.5 (ish) our budget adjustment has not been over taxing.
However, if this had happened a few years ago when the exchange rate was (at best) 2.3, we would have certainly had a problem!
In (not quite) panic mode we contacted Tulips, who had no immediate explanation, but promised to investigate.
The following day they told us that the charity donation organisation had unilaterally, without informing Tulips, decided to bring all charitable donations into line with the Muslim “penance” level during Ramadan period.
Apparently, should a Muslim living in Kibris be unable to fast during Ramadan, but still wants to remain in grace, a donation of 17.50TL will absolve him or her from fasting. As our contact said, if Tulips had been informed, an advert or information could have been published in the local press or media.