Today I thought I’d share a bit about an explosive topic. My daytime job involves sourcing all kinds of film and photographs for use in television documentaries. One of my current projects recently gave me an excuse to re-visit a fantastic archive – the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Testing Archive in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out their list of films here or check out their YouTube channel.
I was looking for footage of a specific test and the good folks in Nevada have coverage of most of them. That is, most American tests. You’ll have to look elsewhere if you want footage of nuclear tests from the U.K., France, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, North Korea (good luck) and whoever may or may not have nuked fish in the South Atlantic.
Resurrecting the humour of yesteryear is a favourite pastime of mine – so today I thought I’d share a charming hundred year old postcard from my maritime collection. As usual, it also comes with an interesting back story.
Regular ephemeral broadcasts will presume shortly, but after the relatively heavy topic of armoured warfare in third-world countries I feel that History Geek needs to take a brief swing into the realm of the slightly less serious. So here is some history laced satire….
My last post started telling the story of the T-34, a Soviet designed tank that gave the Germans a hell of a fright on the Eastern Front. Arguably one of the most influential tanks of the Second World War, it then went on to fight in Korea, Vietnam and many other Cold War conflicts.
Plenty of Soviet military technology such as the AK-47 has stood the test of time, but what about the T-34? When did it last see action? Could it really be possible that it is still being used for its original purpose? My quest was to answer those questions. Researching this story took me on a hell of a ride! So brace yourself for the story of the last of the T-34’s.
This snapshot from my personal collection shows a knocked out tank somewhere on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. Unfortunately the context of this image has been lost and I don’t know exactly where it was taken, who took it or when. What I do know though is that is shows one of the most influential tanks of the twentieth century. A tank that was made in Russia – the T-34.
As a Westerner having grown up in the hangover of the Cold War means it’s sometimes difficult to not be biased against Russian technology. When I was a teenager in the 1990’s I had a good friend who’s family car was on the receiving end of a lot of ridicule. It performed well for them, didn’t seem to have any more problems than other vehicles of similar vintage and economically it was a brilliant choice. What was wrong with it then? It was a Lada.
The Lada Classic was a highly successful vehicle. Internationally only two other automobile platforms have sold in greater numbers – the Model T Ford and the VW Beetle. The Lada was affordable, easily produced in large numbers, cheap to fix and had a long life. Just last week I read the announcement that production of the Lada is finally coming to an end.
The Russians seem to have a knack for designing simple cheap machines that get the job done. This is even truer on the battlefield. The Russian designed AK-47 is arguably the most prolific weapon of the last fifty years – there are even rumors of some American forces favouring them over their own weapons in Vietnam. Even in the 21st century the AK-47 is often the weapon of choice for soldiers, criminals and terrorists. Its use is so widespread that it has jokingly been referred to as the Windows Operating System of guns – only much more reliable!
So to get back on track, why was the tank in the snapshot above so influential? I’m not very mechanically minded so would struggle to discuss the technical strengths and weaknesses of the T-34 compared to its adversaries. What I do know though is that the T-34 played a pivotal role during the Second World War. Continue reading →
I’m interrupting the usual ephemeral broadcasts to share some breaking news. Talented Dunedin musician and all round good sort Bill Morris has released a music video for his upcoming album “Mud”.
Bill has a healthy grounding in the real, the raw and the rugged – and that earthy presence comes through in his music. He is also an experienced storyteller and a number of his works are inspired by New Zealand’s past.
Among my favourite tunes from his upcoming album is ‘Mud’, the story of the labourers that forged the world we know today. Bill has pulled together a fantastic selection of black and white photographs from the Alexander Turnbull Library to illustrate their story.
I hope you all have the good fortune of seeing Bill play live, but in the meantime you can enjoy his new video on YouTube.
I spotted an auction on eBay that got me thinking. The auction is for two letters from an American whaler writing back home about his experiences in the South Pacific.
“I am in the ship Beaver of Hudson, cruising on the coast off New Zealand. Our luck has been poor. 200 barrels sperm [whale oil]…. Ships are crowding in from every quarter of the globe….”
Early 19th century whalers played a key role in New Zealand’s early history. The first towns were built to service their needs in both the South and North Islands, they were some of the first Europeans to settle here and they were some of the first to form relationships with local Māori. Continue reading →
Those of you who know me might be surprised that I’ve managed half a dozen posts before posting a photo of a machine gun. (The picture above is an original World War One postcard printed by the Daily Mail and shows two British machine gunners on the Western Front). My interest in military history presents me with a personal conundrum; it is a loaded subject that I’m still conflicted about.
My problem is this. I look down on any country or person that resorts to violence as the primary method of solving a dispute. Yet many of my historical interests and collections focus on war. Why is this? Continue reading →
This snapshot of history is an original photograph of a ship called the SS Kumara. Its story includes hundreds of thousands of carcasses, an insight into the beginnings of an invaluable industry and a debate over how comfortable life would be in a floating freezer.
The birth of the frozen meat export industry had an almost unparalleled impact on New Zealand’s economy. Lord of the Rings doesn’t even come close.
It started in 1881 when a passenger ship called the Dunedin was fitted with freezers, insulated chambers, boilers and other vital equipment and in 1882 it made the world’s first successful frozen meat-conveying voyage. The meat sold in England for nearly twice the price the sellers were used to and a lucrative new industry was born. It was great for farmers but there was one group of people that might have given the new freezer ships a chilly reception. Continue reading →
If you are the owner of a child that is obsessed with dinosaurs then you probably already know just how many complex names and facts a child can learn and recite. Perhaps you have wondered If only there was a way to expand that self propelled learning potential to cover more than just paleontological pursuits. Well I have a time tested technique that I’m sure will get your stamp of approval…. Continue reading →