Friday, August 3, 2018
GERMAN V2 BOMB HISTORIC SITES
I recently gave a talk based on the book, Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France, written by my son-in-law Stephen Bourque. The war with Germany was a disaster for France. They surrendered in seven weeks to Germany's blitzkrieg techniques. Britain lost much of its armaments but rescued most of its troops from Dunkerque. France became a base of operations for the Germans, and 40% of French manufacturing turned to producing war materials and weapons for Germany.
Something that is seldom talked about was the rain of bombs this brought upon the French population. Because the Germans were making so much use of French facilities, the Allies attacks on them caused must damage to non-military structures and civilian populations.
Day light bombing turned out to be inaccurate and the Germans could shoot down more planes, so Britain took to bombing at night doing carpet bombing in hopes it would destroy valuable factories making military equipment. That insured even more collateral death and damage.
The allies bombed 1,570 French cities and towns killing 68,778 men, women and children over the course of World War II. This was greater than the damage done to Britain by the German bombings and attacks with rockets. More than 100,000 French were injured, and 432,000 houses were completely destroyed.
During Allied attacks on Normandy during landings we bombed railroads, bridges and armored sites killing more French citizens, 10,000, than German soldiers, 7000.
Germany's V1 flying bomb was a "Vengeance Weapon" Hitler used against the British
Many of the bombing raids were against the V1 flying bomb an early cruise missile that Hitler intended as a "Vengeance weapon" against the British. He hoped to create terror in London as revenge for the bombing they were doing in Germany. From French bases 9,521 were launched, but with the use of antiaircraft, balloons on cables and fighter planes the Allies learned to shoot many of them down. Debra and Steve were able to visit a V1 missile site at Val Ygot near Ardouval.
For my talk Steve had sent me pictures of areas bombed and one large cement structure seemed especially important, "the blockhaus at Eperlecques." This is a massive cement structure built by the Germans with slave labor to house rockets V1 and V2. The blockhaus was practically imperious to bombs, even bombs developed specifically to destroy it. They did take a heavy toll on slave labor that was being used to construct it.
To avoid detection the V2 was shot off mobile launchers that could be moved around the northern part of France. The Allies spent much time and energy trying to find these sites and destroy them, but they could be set up so quickly that it was almost impossible to stop them.
The V2 rocket sites hurled bombs carrying a warhead of 2,200 pounds at 3,500 miles an hour at London. The V2 were so fast victims heard them incoming only after they had hit since they were faster than the speed of sound. When it exploded it could create a crater 30-40 yards wide and 15 yards deep.
The consequences of the V2 becoming successful had implications for its danger to targets as far away as the United States. Wernher von Braun was the German aerospace engineer developing this rocket technology. The German hope was that with a little more time they could develop rockets that would reach the United States. At the end of the war von Braun and his team escaped from Russia territory to surrender to the U.S. Army. Braun and his team went on to advance space science in America and help us reach the moon.
The V2 rocket did tremendous damage and given time may have reached the United States
My daughter Debra Anderson made a number of these research trips to France with Steve. They spent a lot of time in Northern France where many of these sites are located. She recommends visiting the blockhaus at Eperlecques, which has been converted into a museum. It's an impressive structure with descriptions written in English and French. On their trip, they flew into Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris and drove two and a half hours north. You could also drive south 30 minutes from Calais on the English Channel. The museum has a website and you should find the location on the map before venturing out.
There are also missile sites at Siracourt, which is an hour south of Eperlecques and Val Ygot at Ardouval, another hour and a half west. The coastal towns in the area include Calais, Bologne-Rouen, and Dieppe, all of which are pleasant. Debra and Steve particularly enjoy visiting Rouen, which is rich in history. Claude Monet made numerous paintings of the cathedral there, and it has a plaza commemorating Joan of Arc. Getting off the beaten path can make for an enjoyable, and often surprising, adventure.
The Blockhouse where V1 and V2 rockets were kept was bomb resistant
A V2 rocket inside the Blockhouse
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
THE MUSEUM OF TRANSPORTATION: ST. LOUIS
In the last 150 years we have made unbelievable gains in how we move ourselves and our stuff around. These advances in transportation are on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis County. The Smithsonian Institution recognizes this museum as, "one of the oldest and best collections of transportation vehicles in the world."
A railway car pulled by a mule, 5 cents a ride.
It's more than transportation that we learned about on our visit. For example, we saw a small railway car from 1870 which was pulled by a mule. The fare was a nickel, the driver was paid nine and a half cents an hour and three cents was spent each day in the winter to put straw on the floor to help keep the riders warm. In the interests of its welfare the mule only worked six hours a day.
Next to the railway car was a large produce truck that sold fruit and vegetables as it moved around St. Louis streets. This was a productive way of life until 1950 when supermarkets came into being and the peddlers went out of business. Different kinds of buggies and sledges were the older forms of getting around.
A horse drawn hearse
A collection of travel outfits of the old days along with travel equipment are on display. We were most impressed with the heavy fur coat that protected drivers against the winter winds given the openness to the air of old forms of travel.
We moved up the hill, past the Miniature Train Station where rides are available to the Lindburg Automobile Center. Having personally owned cars manufactured as far back as 1929, I always find these sections especially interesting.
A beautiful white 1923 Stanley Steamer was on display next to a old Pierce-Arrow motorcycle. The Steamer had a large water tank or boiler for an engine. It claimed it could run on anything that burned, was quiet, had few parts and didn't require gears. In the early 1900 they were more popular than gas engines. Companies stopped making them after 1924.
A 1920's Pevely Milk Wagon was a look back into my past. In the 1930's few people had refrigerators and glass bottled milk was delivered daily. One horse pulled the wagon and that horse knew the way. That is, the driver would take a batch of bottles and deliver to a number of houses and the horse would walk around the corner and know where to meet him.
An 1890's horse-drawn hearse had glass sides so the coffin could be viewed by the mourners as it was towed down the street to the graveyard. Since the coffin was to be on view, people would often put more expensive adornments on it than they could afford.
Further up the hill was the Roberts Pavilion with more than 70 locomotives and many train cars. According to the museum brochure this is the most complete collection of American rail power in the world. Frankly it was too much to see and understand. After walking through several old passenger cars and looking in some others, we moved on.
Special attention is paid to Owney, the traveling dog in a contest where you hunt for Owney posters throughout the museum and you win small prizes such as a museum coloring book or a free bag of popcorn. Owney was a mutt who wandered into an Albany, New York post office in 1888, and he ended up riding trains carrying mail. In nine years he traveled 140,000 miles around the United States. Later his friends at the post office arranged for him to travel around the world on a steamship. In July, 2011, Owney was honored on a U.S. first class Forever Stamp.
The museum is very interested in providing educational experiences for all grade levels. Classes can be arranged for school groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Produce trucks took the place of today's supermarkets.
A Stanley Steamer, note the large water tank in the front.