Tag Archives: military history

The Christmas Truce part 5

The Christmas Truce part 4

The Christmas Truce part 3

The Christmas Truce part 2

The Christmas Truce part 1

In what is becoming an unintended tradition here at TwShiloh, the Christmas season during times of war keeping reminding me of the Christmas Truce of WWI.  While wars are terrible things, sometimes they can provide a striking contrast to moments of real humanity.

The spontaneous actions of men of both sides to who decided to just stop fighting is an event that does not receive the attention it is due.  Of course, since it was an action by individuals to reject the demands of the state, one shouldn’t be surprised that our state run educational systems don’t talk about it much (Yeah, like they cover other areas of history so completely…eds).

So, in keeping with my annual tradition of mentioning the truce every holiday season I’ll be posting a five part series this week comprising a documentary cut and posted on YouTube by dickensxmas2010.

Photos of Russia at war (reenacted)

EnglishRussia has a couple of photo shoots of war reenactors and there’s some really interesting shots.

Cavalry vs. vehicle mounted machine gun


Finnish Fridays

Ever hear of the Aviation Museum of Central Finland?  Sounds like a bore, right?  Well, it also serves as the Finnish Air Force museum and they’ve got some pretty cool panorama displays of their collection.

Those long, dark winters encourage the Finns to invent some pretty strange hobbies.  Take wife carrying, for example.  Not willing to let the men folk monopolize the reputation for being tough, there’s also husband carrying.

And now, for something completely different.  Wolverines to the smooth sound of new age guitar playing.

Finnish Fridays

I recently finished Mannerheim: President, Soldier, Spy by Jonathan Clements a recent biography of the father or modern Finland.

Mannerheim is one of those people they just don’t seem to make anymore.  A man who not only found himself in a number of key events during the early 20th century but was able to shape many of those events.

The book focuses primarily on Mannerheim’s life up to the establishment of the Finnish state around 1920.  It spends a little bit of time on the last 20 years of his life, but that time is probably the most well known and the easiest to find information on.

And what a life it was.  Concerned his military career was going nowhere he volunteered for service in the Far East for the Russo-Japanese war.  While the war didn’t go well for the Russians it proved very fortuitous for Mannerheim.  After the war he was sent on an extended spying mission throughout China to assess the threat it posed to Russia.  He then cooled his heels for a couple of years and served in the Russian army during the First World War and when the Bolsheviks took over made a hair raising escape to Finland where he oversaw Finlands secession from the Russian Empire and  resistance to it’s own red revolution.

Then, at the age of 70 (!) he became Finland’s Commander in Chief as the Soviet Union invaded Finland and he spent the next five years fighting alternately Soviets and then the Germans.

Clements description of the Winter War has a different tone than the rest of the book, and it’s clear there’s a bit of hero worship here.  Still, the Winter War was one of those historical events that generates amazingly impressive stories of determination and heroism.  In the homeland of sisu, those crazy Finns kicked it up to 11.  Indulge me for a moment with some quotes.

Upon hearing that the Soviets had invaded Finland, one Finn said:

We are so few, and they are so many…Where will we find the room to bury them all?

And later:

In one infamous incident, a lone Finn was seen calmly standing in the path of a lumbering tank, carefully sighting a pistol in between the viewing-slits on the front of the tank.

According to the footnote:

Lieutenant Virkki is the only man in history to have defeated a tank with a pistol…

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why you never mess with the Finns.

Mannerheim’s story is really an incredible one that would really be at home in a Bernard Cornwell novel.  Check it out and you won’t  be disappointed.


Music Monday (Veterans Day edition)

Tom Ricks asked around for people’s combat soundtracks a couple of days ago.  I consider myself lucky that for all my time outside the wire I never found myself in a firefight and I’m too much of a stuffed shirt to have allowed music on a mission as I’d be concerned it was distracting soldiers from paying attention to what was going on around them but…music certainly can play a role in getting one mentally prepared for potential missions.

In Afghanistan I tended to use music to relax rather than heighten my emotions and so I have to admit no particular songs leap to mind (other than the fact that my hatred for Dire Straits reached maniacal levels) as particularly connected with my time in country.  Commenters on Ricks’ blog point to a number of old standbys (from Drowning Pool, Rammstein,  or Metallica) and they’re ok but I’d like to submit a few songs that I’d have ready in my queue if I were deployed again.

Disturbed – Indestructible (really cool video)

Lost Prophets -DSTRYR/DSTRYR

And let’s not forget that before it was Veterans Day, November 11th was Armistice Day and memorialized the end of the First World War.  One of my favorite war-themed songs is about that war and by the band Magnum.  For some reason it chokes me up every time as, in my humble opinion, it really captures the tragedy of the whole endeavor of warfare…(this video has about 45 seconds of an intro to the song by the band’s guitarist but stick with it).

Magnum – Les Morts Dansant

Cannons roared in the valley they thundered
While the guns lit up the night
Then it rained and both sides wondered
Who is wrong and who is right

On the wire like a ragged old scarecrow
Bloody hands and broken back
When they fire see him pirouette solo
Jump in time to the rat a tat

What a night though it’s one of seven
What a night for the dancing dead
What a night to be called to heaven
What a picture to fill your head

By the wall in a silouette standing
Through a flash of sudden light
Cigarette from his mouth just hanging
Paper square to his heart pinned tight

Gather round reluctant marksmen
One of them to take his life
With a smile he gives them pardon
Leaves the dark and takes the light


They dispatch their precious cargo
Knock him back right off his feet
And they pray may no one follow
Better still to face the beast

When the field has become a garden
And the wall has stood the test
Children play and the dogs run barking
Who would think or who would guess

SGT. Christopher P. Geiger - 9 July 2003 - Bagram, Afghanistan


The evacuation of Tallinn

Helsingin Sanomat has a really great article about the Soviet evacuation of Tallinn and the resulting 64 or so ships that sunk as they hazarded the airstrikes, minefields, torpedo boats, and coastal artillery.  It interviews one of the last survivors of the incident a then cadet in the Soviet navy.

The first explosion was heard at 17:08, when the 1,500-tonne Estonian freighter Ella struck a mine and sank.  The Luftwaffe, based in airfields in Estonia, harried the ships from the air, with Stuka dive-bombers and Junkers Ju-88s sent into action.
…The greatest losses came from the meticulously-placed mines.  After the sinking of the merchantman Ella, the blasts followed with sickening regularity until late into the night.

The flotilla got jammed up in the darkness in two groups in the midst of the minefield.  Ships collided with one another and exploded in flames. Floating mines kicked up by the efforts of the minesweepers were frantically pushed aside with oars and poles.
The captain of the destroyer Skoryi shot himself on the bridge of his ship as the vessel was going down after hitting a mine, following an incorrect order to the helmsman.

The total death toll of this three day ordeal was more than 12,000 dead.  It’s hard imagine those numbers when, after all, we’re talking about an evacuation, not a battle.

Check out the times that ships were sunk (at the bottom of the page).  At points during the night of the 28th, ships were being hit every 10 minutes or so.  The panic and dread amongst the passengers must have been staggering.

Here’s a German map of the area…

As I understand it, those boxes are minefields…and the fleet sailed right through them.

Here’s a link to the Daily Telegraph’s reporting of the East Front’s war news of that day.

Now I find all this very interesting because my mother-in-law is sending me copies of letters her father wrote her mother while he was a soldier in the Finnish army from 1939-1942.  Translation is difficult since she’s writing in Finnish and I’ve been relying on Google Translate to put it into English but once I can make piece a bit of a narrative together I might post it here.