Nazi Secret Weapons: The Rocket U-Boat?

Throughout World War II, Nazis scientists sought secret weapons to launch offensive attacks on American soil. What was the mysterious Rocket U-Boat? And how close did it come to destroying New York City?

What was the Rocket U-Boat Secret Weapon?

What was the Rocket U-Boat Secret Weapon?
Description: Launch of a V2 Rocket (Summer 1943)
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880 / CC-BY-SA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nazi Secret Weapons: The Rocket U-Boat?

Throughout World War II, the Nazis sought to build long-range, secret weapons (such as the Amerika-Bomber and the Sun Gun). In 1941, this desire led Nazi scientists to research the Rocket U-Boat. They hoped such a U-boat could travel across the globe, targeting cities on distant continents. In 1942, scientists developed and tested the first Rocket U-Boat. It was relatively simple, just a few rocket launchers mounted on the U-511′s deck. The test was a mixed bag. On one hand, the missiles fired just fine at depths of up to 12 meters. However, the lack of a guidance system rendered the missiles useless.

In 1943, Nazi scientists developed another secret weapon known as the V-1 flying bomb, an early predecessor to the cruise missile. It had a range of 160 miles. Paired with a U-Boat, it would be capable of long-distance strikes on any city in the world. However, the Nazi Luftwaffe showed little interest in helping to create the Rocket U-Boat, probably due to inter-service rivalry.

That same year, Nazi scientists developed another secret weapon known as the V-2 rocket. The V-2 was the world’s first long-range combat ballistic missile as well as the first rocket to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight. It had a range of 200 miles. Again, this seemed like the perfect fit for a Rocket U-Boat. And in late 1944, resources were finally allocated to it under Project Prufstand XII. The target of the Rocket U-Boat?

New York.

The Race to build a Rocket U-Boat?

The V-2 was much larger than the V-1 flying bomb. In fact, it was too large for any existing Nazi U-boat. Undeterred, Nazi scientists developed a 500-ton specially-constructed container for the V-2. The plan was to have a U-boat tow it across the Atlantic Ocean. Then sailors would flood the ballast tanks, causing the rocket to shift into a vertical position. Afterward, the sailors would fuel the rocket, prepare the guidance system, and aim it at New York.

The Nazis ordered three of these containers. At least one was actually built. It is unknown if this container was ever tested in any fashion.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Americans were well-aware of Nazi attempts to build a Rocket U-Boat secret weapon and prepared a contingency plan known as Operation Teardrop. In March 1945, six Nazi U-boats approached America. The U.S. launched Operation Teardrop and ended up destroying the four of the boats. It was later determined that none of these were Rocket U-Boats.

But that doesn’t mean the Rocket U-Boat was never launched. In February 1945, the U-1053 was carrying out diving trials off the coast of Norway. With all sides closing in on Nazi Germany, this seems like an odd time to worry about diving trials. Some historians think the U-1053 may have had an ulterior purpose, perhaps to test out a Rocket U-Boat system. The U-1053 shipwreck was located in March 2010. To my knowledge, it has yet to be fully explored.

The Nazi Sun Gun: Death from Above?

Nazi Germany created many unusual, horrific weapons during World War II. One incredible weapon, however, failed to materialize. What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?
Description: “Hermann Oberth presents the Hermann Oberth award to Dr. Wernher von Braun at a banquet hosted by the Alabama Section of the American Rocket Society (October 19, 1961).”
Attribution: NASA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Birth of the Nazi Sun Gun?

In 1929, a German physicist named Hermann Oberth wrote Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Translation: Ways to Spaceflight). The book described Oberth’s vision of a manned orbital space station created from prefabricated parts. He also described a way to create electricity using a 100-meter wide concave mirror. The idea was to concentrate sunlight onto a single area and use steam turbines to convert the heat energy.

While Oberth’s mirror was designed to create useful energy, Nazi scientists saw another use for it. Namely, an orbital weapon called Sonnengewehr…or Sun Gun.

Launching the Sun Gun into Space

Plans for the Sun Gun were worked out by Nazi scientists at Hillersleben. They proposed creating a giant three-kilometer square mirror out of metallic sodium. Then they wanted to break it apart and launch the individual pieces into an orbit of 8,200 kilometers. In order to do this, the Nazi scientists hoped to use the Aggregate A11.

The A11 was a multistage rocket intended to deliver people and/or small payloads into low Earth orbit. At the time, it was being designed by Wernher von Braun (who later became chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle via Operation Paperclip, which helped land Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon).

Oberth’s original plan was to send an unmanned rocket into space, containing six long cables. These cables would then unreel themselves, eventually covering a vast area. Nazi astronauts would then fly into space and attach pieces of the giant movable mirror to the cables.

How did the Sun Gun Work?

According to Life, Nazi astronauts would live inside the rocket, using large greenhouses to maintain fresh oxygen. They would remain in space, waiting for orders from radio or wireless telegraph. Upon receiving orders to attack, they would use rocket thrusters to move the mirror into position. The mirror would focus the sunlight, causing incredible devastation in the process.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Fortunately, the Sun Gun never went past the theoretical stage. In fact, newspaper articles from 1945 say it would’ve taken 50 to 100 years to harness the sun’s energy in this fashion. However, Oberth disagreed, claiming it would take just 10 to 15 years. Oberth admitted the original mirror’s design might not have worked. However, he came to believe that a larger mirror would’ve done the trick.

“If the mirror were double the size mentioned, however, the irradiation would be four times as strong, and so on. The temperature on the surface irradiated by the double-sized mirror would be 200° C (392° F).” – Hermann Oberth, Man into Space (1957)

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So, 392 degrees would’ve been plenty hot…perhaps hot enough to change the course of the war itself.

Did the U.S. Government kill Big Bands?

Did the U.S. Government kill off Big Bands?

Did the U.S. Government kill off Big Bands?
Description: Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, predecessors to the Big Band era (1921)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1935, Benny Goodman launched the Big Band era with a famous performance in Los Angeles. By 1946, the Big Band era was dead. Despite high popularity, it was replaced by the far less dance-friendly (and far less popular) BeBop era. What happened to the Big Band era?

The U.S. government holds a substantial part of the blame. In 1944, the U.S. government imposed the so-called “Cabaret Tax,” partly to raise funds for World War II. Essentially, it placed a 30% tax rate on all establishments that “contained dance floors, served alcohol and other refreshments, and/or provided musical entertainment.” The tax, like so many others, was supposed to be temporary. But when it was reinstated, dance halls closed across the nation. Thanks to the extra cost of doing business, few places could afford to hire big bands. Thus, many big bands were forced to break apart. Musicians formed smaller bands and started playing non-danceable music. Thus, the era of Bebop began. Here’s more on the government’s war on Big Bands by Eric Felten at The Wall Street Journal (paywall protected):

These are strange days, when we are told both that tax incentives can transform technologies yet higher taxes will not drag down the economy. So which is it? Do taxes change behavior or not? Of course they do, but often in ways that policy hands never anticipate, let alone intend. Consider, for example, how federal taxes hobbled Swing music and gave birth to bebop.

With millions of young men coming home from World War II—eager to trade their combat boots for dancing shoes—the postwar years should have been a boom time for the big bands that had been so wildly popular since the 1930s. Yet by 1946 many of the top orchestras—including those of Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey—had disbanded. Some big names found ways to get going again, but the journeyman bands weren’t so lucky. By 1949, the hotel dine-and-dance-room trade was a third of what it had been three years earlier. The Swing Era was over.

Dramatic shifts in popular culture are usually assumed to result from naturally occurring forces such as changing tastes (did people get sick of hearing “In the Mood”?) or demographics (were all those new parents of the postwar baby boom at home with junior instead of out on a dance floor?). But the big bands didn’t just stumble and fall behind the times. They were pushed…

(See the rest at The Wall Street Journal)

Stanley Steamer: Fastest Steam Car in History?

The demolished Stanley Steamer Steam Car

The demolished Stanley Steamer Steam Car
Attribution: Richard H. LeSesne (1907)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1906, an automobile traveling 50 mph was considered extremely fast. Then Fred Marriott and the Stanley Steamer came along. The Stanley Steamer was a steam car, created by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. In 1906, an early race car driver by the name of Fred Marriott used it to become the fastest driver in the world, topping out at 127.659 mph. He attempted to break the record in 1907 used an improved version of the steam car. Unfortunately, he hit a rut while traveling 140-150 mph. The steam car gained flight and when it hit ground, broke in half (see picture). Fred Marriott survived the crash but chose not to pursue another record.

Fred Marriott’s milestone was broken in 1910 when a Blitzen Benz, armed with a gasoline engine, reached 141.7 mph. However, he held the steam car land speed record for more than a century, until it was finally eclipsed by Charles Burnett III in 2009 with a mark of 139.843 mph. Here’s more from Daniel Vaughan at ConceptCarz.com.

The Stanley Brothers built their first steam-powered car in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1897. Within a decade, they created the ‘Fastest Car in the World,’ the Stanley Rocket. F.E. Stanley fathered the project, completing the design, build and test work in 1905. The Rocket made its public debut on Ormond Beach in January 1906.

The Stanley’s chose Fred Marriott, a daredevil racer, to pilot their car. The first day on the sand the car won the Dewar Trophy and set a record in the one-mile steam championship. The next day he set a record in a five-mile open race. On January 26th, Marriott set a one-kilometer record at 121.6 mph, the first person to traverse two miles in less than a minute. Two hours later, he upped it to 127.7, a record which lasted until 1910…

(See the rest at ConceptCarz.com)

Why did the Poker Bubble Burst?

Why did the Poker Bubble Burst?

Why did the Poker Bubble Burst?
Description: “A Waterloo” (Dogs playing poker)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In late 2003, the American poker industry exploded. New players flooded the game. Tournaments flourished. Poker games became a fixture on television. By 2008, the bubble had burst. People left the game in droves. Tournaments got smaller. Television programs ended up on the chopping block. So, why did this happen? What caused the poker industry to boom and bust? Curiously enough, the answer lies in money, or at least the Federal Reserve’s control over it. Here’s more from Peter C. Earle at the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

Nearly a decade ago, poker exploded in popularity. Between television programming, media coverage, and pop culture references to it—in particular, the Texas Hold ‘Em variant—the game became virtually unavoidable. The American Gaming Association estimates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans played poker in 2004, up 50 percent from 2003; also, that nearly 20 percent of those new players had begun to play within the previous two years.

The creation myth associated with the poker boom credits the improbable victory of a prophetically-named Tennessee accountant, Chris Moneymaker, in the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP). Other accounts source James McManus’s 2003 book Positively Fifth Street and the 1998 poker film Rounders. Still other, more mystical explanations refer to the game’s sudden “cultural resonance.”

But fads and surges of popularity come and go; these explanations hardly account for why, in a short amount of time, tens of millions of people suddenly flooded into a familiar—indeed, 150 year old—American card game, frenetically expending tens of billions of dollars on it. Nor do they explain why between 2007 and 2008 poker television programs were suddenly cancelled, tournaments saw a drop in participation, and many poker-related businesses scaled back or failed.

Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) can, however, explain the origins and outcome of the poker bubble as well as its simultaneity with the housing boom, which, as will be demonstrated, are by no means coincidental…

(Read the rest at the Ludwig von Mises Institute)

Who was America’s Greatest President?

Was John Tyler the Greatest President in U.S. History?

Was John Tyler the Greatest President in U.S. History?
Source: Wikimedia Commons

So, today is President’s Day, the day when Americans honor the institution of the presidency and ask that time honored question: “Who is America’s greatest President?” Really? What a waste of time. It reminds me of the classic kid/parent argument:

Kid: “Why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but not a Kid’s Day?”

Mom & Dad: “Because everyday is Kid’s Day.”

Do we really need to give high-ranking politicians their own holiday? Good lord, no. I prefer to celebrate a different type of president today, namely entrepreneurs like Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs.

But since the rest of the country is debating the likes of Lincoln and Washington, we might as well add our two cents to the issue. So, who is America’s greatest president? Regardless of political affiliation, scholars almost always rank Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as America’s three greatest presidents in no particular order.

That means they’re the greatest right? It depends on how you define “great.” Here’s a different view from Lew Rockwell at LewRockwell.com.

There have been four huge surveys taken of historians’ views on the presidents: in 1948, in 1962, in 1970, and in 1983. Historians were asked to rank presidents as Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, and Failure. In every case, number one is Lincoln, the mass murderer and military dictator who is the real father of the present nation. His term was a model of every despot’s dream: spending money without Congressional approval, declaring martial law, arbitrarily arresting thousands and holding them without trial, suppressing free speech and the free press, handing out lucrative war contracts to his cronies, raising taxes, inflating the currency, and killing hundreds of thousands for the crime of desiring self-government. These are just the sort of actions historians love…

Most historians value power accumulation when ranking the greatest presidents. Charisma and crisis confrontation are also considered important. Practically no one values minimal government or the ability to avoid crises. And yet some presidents did fairly well in these areas. These libertarian-type presidents were usually dull and didn’t spend years fighting wars or recessions. Instead, their terms were marked by peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties. Their ranks include Grover Cleveland as well as Rutherford B. Hayes. Using this definition of greatness (peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties), the greatest president of all time just might be the little-known John Tyler:

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

(See the rest right here at Guerrilla Explorer)

Mean Valentines: Telling Someone You Don’t Care?

An example of Vinegar Valentines (aka Mean Valentines)

An example of Vinegar Valentines (aka Mean Valentines)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Valentine’s Day is over, but there’s still a chance to tell others you DON’T care. Valentine’s Day cards weren’t always about love. Vinegar valentines (aka mean valentines) were popular in the mid 19th century. They seem to have died off around the 1940s to 1950s.

Mean Valentines were sometimes used to reject would-be lovers. Other times they were sent anonymously to annoying people. Don’t like that stuck-up clerk? Send her a card. Don’t care much for the bald guy down the block? Send him a mean Valentine. Think women need to get out of the voting booth? Tell her via anonymous card. The best part was that prior to 1840, the receiver paid postage for mail. So, early recipients of mean Valentines probably paid for someone to insult them. Here’s more on mean valentines from Lisa Hix at Collectors Weekly:

With all the hand-wringing over anonymous commenters and social-media trolls, you’d think the Internet is to blame for all the woes of humanity. After all, what could people do with their ugly, mean thoughts before they had Yelp, Reddit, or Tumblr to help broadcast them? But as far back as the 1840s until the 1940s, they could send them in a Vinegar Valentine. Yes, that’s right. For almost as long as Valentine’s Day has been an insufferably sappy day celebrating romantic love, it’s also been a day for telling everyone else exactly how much you don’t love them—with an anonymous poem sent via post.

At first, it’s easy to demonize the senders as the worst sorts of trolls or bullies. I mean, some of the most horrifying Vinegar Valentines actually suggest the recepient kill him or herself. But then, if you look at the more light-hearted Valentines, some of them start to seem like a good idea. Have you ever had a haughty saleslady scoff at you for being poor? Have you ever had to listen to a pompous windbag carry on when he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about? So many people are blithely unaware of their obnoxious behavior. Wouldn’t it feel great to tell them off, consequence-free?

 

(See the rest at Collectors Weekly)

Nine Men’s Morris – A Game for the Blizzard?

Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men’s Morris
Attribution: Elembis
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The snow is falling fast in New England and could reach two feet in depth by tomorrow. Power outages are a near certainty. For those of you looking for a way to pass the time, why not try your hand at an old board game, namely Nine Men’s Morris? Nine Men’s Morris is a strategy game that dates back to the Roman Empire. It became popular in England and eventually made its way over to the New World. It remained popular in America through the Civil War.

The Rules for Nine Men’s Morris

You need pencil and paper to draw the board (see image). For playing pieces, use checkers (9 for each side). The goal of Nine Men’s Morris is to leave your opponent with just two pieces or block him from being able to make a legal move. The game has three phases: 1) Place checkers in open positions; 2) Move checkers to adjacent positions; and 3) Move checkers to any vacant position (this is only done when a player is down to just three pieces). Here are some more specific rules from Wikipedia:

Phase one: placing pieces

The game begins with an empty board. The players determine who plays first, then take turns placing their men one per play on empty points. If a player is able to place three of his pieces in a straight line, vertically or horizontally, he has formed a mill and may remove one of his opponent’s pieces from the board and the game. Any piece can be chosen for the removal, but a piece not in an opponent’s mill must be selected, if possible. Once all pieces have been placed, phase two begins.

Phase two: moving pieces

Players continue to alternate moves, this time moving a man to an adjacent point. A piece may not “jump” another piece. Players continue to try and form mills, and remove their opponent’s pieces in the same manner as in phase one. A player may “break” a mill by moving one of his pieces out of an existing mill, then moving the piece back to form the same mill a second time, or any number of times; and each time removing one of his opponent’s men. The act of removing an opponent’s man is sometimes called “pounding” the opponent. When one player has been reduced to three men, phase three begins.

Phase three: “flying”

When a player is reduced to three pieces, there is no longer a limitation of moving to only adjacent points: The player’s men may “fly”, “hop”, or “jump” from any point to any vacant point…

For more on Nine Men’s Morris, check out Wikipedia. Good luck to everyone in the path of the storm!

Blizzard of 1888: The Worst Blizzard of all Time?

New York City during the Great Blizzard of 1888

New York City during the Great Blizzard of 1888
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Snow is starting to fall in northern New England as the region braces for an epic blizzard. Snowfall is expected to reach 2 to 3 feet when all is said and done. *Yawn* Unless things change dramatically, the Blizzard of 2013 will be nothing compared to the Great Blizzard of 1888. 125 years ago, 40 to 50 inches fell in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut over a four day period. Saratoga Springs received almost 6 feet!

The Blizzard of 1888 snowdrifts were epic. In Keene, New Hampshire, “drifts of hard packed snow from 12-15 feet deep were piled across the roads, and half way to the top of the second story windows.” And that was on the low end. Whopping 30 to 40 foot snowdrifts were common with the highest drift topping out at 52 feet (not the best day for residents of Gravesend, New York). Here’s more on the Great Blizzard of 1888 from Forgotten New England:

During New England‘s Blizzard of 1888, also known as the Great White Hurricane, over four feet of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  The storm dumped as much as 40 inches of snow in New York and New Jersey.  In a world before road salt and snowblowers, the Great White Hurricane suspended communication and travel in the U.S. Northeast for nearly a week in March 1888.  History most remembers the particularly horrific conditions in New York City.  There, the New York World reported that almost two feet of snow had fallen amidst biting 50 mph winds and sub-zero temperatures.  However, the storm also wrought havoc in smaller northern cities along the US East Coast…

(See the rest at Forgotten New England)

 

How much is the Oldest Baseball Card Worth?

A "baseball card" from 1865 showing the members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.

A “baseball card” from 1865 showing the members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.
Attribution: Hotographic print by Charles H. Williamson (1865)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’m amazed this only went for $92,000. It’s not a real baseball card, at least in the traditional sense. It’s more like a team photograph. But since it was handed out by the team, its often considered a predecessor to later cards like the Old Judge sets. Here’s more from Daniel Lovering at Yahoo News:

A rare 1865 photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics baseball team, discovered at a Maine yard sale and considered one of the first baseball cards ever, sold for $92,000 at an auction on Wednesday.

A Massachusetts man offered the winning sum in cash after a brief round of bidding at Saco River Auction Co., said Troy Thibodeau, manager and auctioneer at the company in Biddeford, Maine.Thibodeau declined to name the buyer.

The photograph mounted on a card, known as a carte de viste, is the only one of its kind known to exist, though the Library of Congress has a similar image made from a different negative, Thibodeau said before the auction.

(See the rest at Yahoo News)