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Heroes of WWI

#13: The Bersaglieri – The Marksmen of Italy

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The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia could not afford large amounts of cavalry. Inspired by the French “Chasseurs à Pied” the Kingdom formed a corps of quick-moving light infantry called “Bersaglieri” (engl.: “marksmen”). Soldiers joining this unit were trained to a high physical standard and enjoyed remarkable benefits: Direct command and control was not part of the Bersaglieri’s training. The distinctive mark of the Bersaglieri is the combat helmet, decorated with black capercaillie feathers.

In 1836 the Bersaglieri took part in a military parade in Turin and with the high-stepping pace of 180 paces per minute, they quickly impressed King Charles Albert and were integrated as a part of the regular army. Although the Bersaglieri were used as skirmishers and mountain troops during most of the 19th century, they acted as shock troops as well. With the formation of the Alpini Corps rivalry between the elite corps grew strong.

During World War I more than 210.000 members of the Bersaglieri saw action. 32.000 were killed and 50.000 wounded. In 1917 a battalion of Bersaglieri took part in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign under the command of General Edmund Allenby. After World War I the remaining Bersaglieri were transformed into bicycle troops.

On the 26th of October in 2008, the last World War I veteran of Italy died. Delfino Borroni served in the 6th Bersagleiri Bologna.
April 30, 2014

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WIN GOLDMARK – Find out my name

Mugshots from History #24: Newfoundland

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When my platoon got caught in the deadly cross fire, I knew I had to do something. Armed with a Lewis gun and accompanied by my Section Commander I planned to break through the flank of the frontline. We were horrified when we noticed, that we ran out of ammunition and were ourselves target of the enemy. So I sprinted back to my platoon, gathered the last bit of ammunition left and returned to my position. And in the end we managed to drive the enemy back, captured eight of them and also took their machine guns. Oh, this later brought me the Victoria Cross. WHO AM I? Reward: 50.000 GM.

Send my FULL NAME to competition@bytro.com, subject: MUGSHOT NEWFOUNDLAND, deadline Mon, May 5th 2014, 12:00 (CEST).

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A reward of 50,000 GM goes to a lucky winner drawn from all correct entries received by Monday, May 5th 2014, 12:00 (CEST). Mention in your email your ingame name to win the GM reward and make sure to use the right subject-line. The winner will be published on Facebook with the start of the next mugshot competition.
April 28, 2014

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Heroes of WWI

#11 – The “Football Battalion”

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“The young Britons prefer to exercise their long limbs on the football ground, rather than to expose them to any sort of risk in the service of their country.” This sentence from the Frankfurter Zeitung described what many British citizens thought during World War I. However, the clubs for professional football continued playing in order to keep the spirits up.

Their opinion was not widely agreed and the suggestion was made that Kind George V. should cease as the patron of The Football Association. On the 12th of December in 1914, the politician William Joynson-Hicks formed a battalion at Fulham town as a part of the Pals battalion scheme. The first to join was England international Frank Buckley and 29 other followed his lead. Until March 1915, 122 out of 1080 professional football players signed up for war. The whole team of Heart of Midlothian signed up, as well as the team of Clapton Orient.

The Football Battalion fought in the Battle of Delville Wood, the Battle of Guillemont, the Battle of Somme and the Battle of Arras. More than 1.000 men lost their lives, countless were heavily injured. Many famous sportsmen were a part of the Football Battalion, e.g. Vivian Woodward, the captain of Britain’s gold-medal-team of the Olympics in 1908 and 1912, Freed Keenor, captain of 1927 FA Cup winner Cardiff City, and Frank Buckley, the English international.
April 27, 2014

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The most devastating battles of World War I

Part III: The Battle of the Somme (July 1st - November 18th 1916)

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“Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.” - Friedrich Steinbrecher

The Battle of the Somme started in July and lasted until November. For many people, the battle represents the woe and horror of the trench warfare. French soldiers had been taking severe losses at Verdun, thus the British Ministry of War sent reinforcement to relieve the pressure on French soldiers and to distract the German advance.

However, several high ranked members of both armies were skeptical about the British advance. Yet, on the 24tht of June 1916 the Battle of the Somme started: For nearly a week the German front line was bombarded with artillery fire. Over 1.7 million shells were fired, but losses on the German side were low due to deep dugouts in the trenches. When the artillery fire stopped, the soldiers manned their guns and awaited the advancing French and British troops. On the first day alone 20.000 British soldiers lost their lives.

After July 1st, a long and bloody stalemate settled in. Despite several small advances the Battle of the Somme was nearly static. A second big push from the British army took place on September 15th. The soldiers were supported by a relatively new device: The tank. Heavy rain and muddy battlefields stopped the advance and winter began. The slow advance finally died on November 18th.

By the end of the battle in November 1916, over one million soldiers had been injured or died. Germany suffered severe losses with nearly half a million casualties. However, the Allied forces had advanced along a thirty mile strip up to a maximum of seven miles. This equals nearly 88.000 dead or injured soldiers per mile of advance.
April 26, 2014

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Weapons of WWI

#21: The Burstyn-Tank: The prototype that was ahead of its time

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The Burstyn-Tank or “Burstyn-Motorgeschütz” was an early prototype of a tank, designed by Lieutenant Günther Burstyn. In 1903 Burstyn was on duty when he had the idea to design an armored land vehicle similar to the fast torpedo boats used by the Austrian army: Fast and easy to maneuver while carrying a machine gun. However, due to his position in the Austrian-Hungarian army he abandoned his idea.

In 1904 the first Holt tractor was equipped with the ground-breaking continuous tracks, which were later used in WWI. Only one year later, Günther Burstyn saw an armored car built by Daimler, recognizing that the wheels were not capable of rough terrain. He realized that by combing the continuous tracks of Holt and the armored vehicle by Daimler, he could build a movable gun.

The first technical drawings of the Burstyn-Motorgeschütz can be tracked back to 1911, when Günther Burstyn presented his idea of the first modern tank to the Austrian Ministry of War. However, the authorities refused to build a prototype. The German Ministry of War wasn’t impressed by the small scale prototype Burstyn built either.

Although the Burstyn-Motorgeschütz never made it to the battlegrounds of World War I, historians are impressed by the modern design of this tank: Continuous tracks instead of wheels, lowerable wheels, a rotatable machine gun tower and the armored body made the Burstyn-Motorgeschütz a very progressive concept. A model of the concept can be seen at the Museum of Military History in Vienna.
April 25, 2014

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History on the eve of WWI:

#23 – The Tampico-Affair #2: The occupation of Vera Cruz

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Shortly after the initial Tampico Incident, the arrest of eight U.S. sailors, the President of Mexico General Huerta, refused to apologize to US authorities with a 21-gun salute. As a reaction U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asked the American Congress for permission for an armed invasion of the Vera Cruz area.

On April 21th, Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher received his orders. With two battleships and the transport USS Prairie carrying 350 Marines in total, Fletcher informed the local Mexican Commander Gustavo Maass, that the landing parties would be taking control of the Veracruz waterfront. However, under the order not to surrender at any circumstance, Maass mobilized 600 soldiers of the Mexican army and started to arm civilian volunteers at well.

At around 11:00 AM 500 Marines and 300 sailors under the command of Captain William R. Rush went ashore, eager to take the city of Veracruz. They faced no resistance whatsoever. The sailors took the post and telegraph office, as well as the customs house. Meanwhile, the marines captured the rail yard, the cable office and the local power plant. Captain Rush established his headquarters in a hotel and with the help of a semaphore unit he started to communicate with Rear Admiral Fletcher.

Commander Maass, eager to fortify the city, started his advance to the waterfront and fighting began when a local policeman fired on the American soldiers. The policeman was killed in the return fire and a widespread and disorganized fight broke out. In the belief of facing a large army, the USS Utah sent reinforcement.
During the following night, Fletcher ordered his troops to stay defensive. Additional warships arrived bringing reinforcements. Rear Admiral Fletcher recognized the importance of taking the whole city of Vera Cruz and with additional marines Rush resumed his advance, supported by gunfire support from the battleships.

During the short, but intense fight, 19 American soldiers were killed and 72 wounded. Mexican losses can only be guessed, ranging from 150 to 170 deaths and over 200 wounded. Snipers were active on both sides until April 24th and on the 30th of April the American army took complete control of the city.
April 22, 2014

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Heroes of WWI

#10: Cher Ami – The pigeon who saved a battalion.

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“Cher Ami” (French for “dear friend”) was a very unusual hero of World War I. Given to the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France, this homing pigeon helped the 77th Division during the Battle of the Argonne and was later awarded with the Croix de Guerre medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster.

Major Charles Whittlesey and his battalion were trapped in a hopeless situation behind enemy lines on the 3rd of October 1918: Surrounded by German soldiers, left without food and ammunition and receiving friendly fire from their allies. The majority of the battalion was killed during the first day of the Battle of the Argonne, so three little pigeons were the last hope for the men. While two pigeons were shot down, Cher Ami managed to deliver her message: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake, stop it“.

On her way back the pigeon was shot numerous times but, managed to reunite with the 77th Division. Army medics gave all they had to save the little hero. In the end, Cher Ami survived, despite being shot in the breast, losing one leg and blinded in one eye. The gratitude of the soldiers knew no bounds and they carved an artificial limb for Cher Ami. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal after returning to the United States. Cher Ami died on the 13th of June 1919 due to the wounds she received during the Battle of Argonne. In 1931, she was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame.
April 17, 2014

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Weapons of WWI

#20: The MP18.1 – The first practical submachine gun of WWI

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The Bergmann MP18 is the first practical submachine gun used in a war. Since 1915 German engineers around Hugo Schmeisser and Theodor Bergmann were looking for a weapon to clear trenches. The result was a weapon with a firing rate of nearly 500 rounds per minute and a weight just over four kilograms: The “Machinenpistole 18/I”.

Although the MP18 is technically not the first submachine gun, it is for sure the first with an impact on war. During the final stages of World War I and especially in the Kaiserschlacht offensive German soldiers heavily relied on the MP18, making it one of the most dangerous weapons in the trenches. However, the doubled barreled Villar-Perosa aircraft submachine gun was introduced in 1915. In contrast to the MP18 the Villar-Perosa consisted of two independent weapons.

Based on serial numbers, at least 5.000 MP18 were built during the war. However, it is possible that another 5.000 were built in secret. Since production was outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I no more than 35.000 MP18 were built in total.

Bergmann sold the license of the MP18.1 to SIG Switzerland. The company quickly introduced a slightly modified weapon under the name “SIG Model 1920”. Experts see the MP18.1 as a milestone of weapon engineering which opened the way for a whole new class of weapons.
April 15, 2014

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Heroes of WWI

#9: The Jewish Legion

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The Jewish Legion was part of the British army and recruited only volunteers to participate in British efforts to liberate Palestine. Although the idea of a corps was initially refused by British commander General Maxwell, the British Army formed the “Zion Mule Corps”, a “mule corps” which served on the Turkish Front. All in all, 650 volunteers formed the Zion Mule Corps; 562 were sent to the Gallipoli front, showing extraordinary courage during heavy shelling and machine-gun fire.

Although the Zion Mule Corps was dissolved soon after the Gallipoli Front, the formation of a Jewish regiment was announced in 1917. To a large distinct the regiment consisted of former Zion Mule Corps soldiers and Russian Jews. Later, the Jewish Legion was consolidated with the 39th Battalion, made up by American and Canadian Jews. Thousands of Palestinian Jews applied to join the Jewish Legion and nearly 100 Ottoman Jews, who were captured at the Gallipoli front were also allowed to enlist, forming the 40th Battalion. In August 1917 the Jewish Legion was officially announced and it came to action in 1918 in the Jordan Valley.

More than twenty soldiers were killed, injured or captured during the battle in the Jordan Valley, however, the rest of the 38th Battalion was infected with malaria and thirty members of the Jewish Legion later died. The Jewish Legion also participated in the Battle of Megiddo, one of the last decisive victories of the Ottoman front. After the end of World War I most of the soldiers were discharged, with one exception: One single battalion was established out of the Jewish Legion, the “First Judeans”.
April 13, 2014

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The most devastating battles of World War I

Part II: The Brusilov Offensive (June 4th - September 6th 1916)

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The Brusilov Offensive, named after General Aleksei Brusilov, is one of the most lethal battles in history. In four months an estimated number of 1.6 million soldiers was injured or killed on the battlefields in what is today Ukraine. Although General Alexei Evert, commander of the Russian Western Army Group and a strong supporter of Tsar Nicholas II., preferred a defensive strategy, the Tsar approved Brusilov’s plan, eager to conquer Kovel and Lviv.

Although the Russian Stavka did approve Brusilov’s plan, they did not accept his request for support by neighboring fronts. Thus, Brusilov amassed four armies with 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions. He initially faced 39 Austrian infantry divisions and ten cavalry divisions. However, Germany later sent reinforcements to the front line. General Brusilov knew that he would not receive significant reinforcement at all and sent his reserve up to the front. Additionally, he used his soldiers to dig entrenchments about 300m long, enabling him to creep as close as 75 yards to the Austrian front line.

On the 4th of June 1916 a massive but brief artillery barrage opened the offensive and broke Austrian-Hungarian lines. Following the artillery, three of Brusilov’s armies were able to advance during the Battle of Kostiuchnówka. On the 8th of June Russian troops took Lutsk, nearly taking Archduke Josef Ferdinand hostage. Until this point, Russian soldiers had taken more than 200.000 prisoners and the Austrian army was in full retreat. However, since Brusilov’s soldiers were now overextended, the success of the operation depended on Alexei Evert.

After two poorly prepared offensives led by Aleksei Evert, Brusilov continued his own strike and reached the Carpathian Mountains by September 20th, when his attack finally died down: Russian troops were transferred to Romania, which was being overrun by Austria-Hungary at this time.

In less than five months, the Brusilov offensive broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian army and forced Germany to halt its attack on Verdun. After this offensive, the Austro-Hungarian army never charged a successful attack alone. For the Imperial Russian Army, the Brusilov Offensive was the high point of the Russian effort during World War I. General Brusilov used new tactics and smaller and highly specialized unites to attack weak points of the front line; troops which later became known as “storm troopers” or “shock troops”. However, with more than 1.6 recorded casualties, the Brusilov Offensive is one of the most lethal battles in world history.
April 10, 2014

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History on the eve of WWI:

#22 – The Tampico-Affair

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Although the Tampico-Affair is not directly related to World War I it did have a significant impact on the relation between Germany and the United States. By spring 1914, the diplomatic relationships between U.S. and Mexico were stalled, since President Woodrow Wilson refused to accept the status of Victoriano Huerta as Mexican General. On April 9th in 1914 eight U.S. sailors at Tampico were arrested.

On the 9th of April in 1914 the American gunboat Dolphin arranged a pickup of oil near an important defensive position at Iturbide Bridge. Mexican soldiers mistook the pickup for an attack, arresting nine U.S. soldiers on a whaleboat under American flag. As a response to the imprisonment the commander of U.S. naval forces, Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, demanded a formal apology, the release of the sailors and a 21-gun salute. Although the sailors were released within 24 hours and General Huerta did apologize, he refused to raise the U.S. flag on Mexican soil, thus refusing the gun salute.

As a result, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for permission for an armed invasion of the Tampico area. Although his request was granted two days later, the occupation of Veracruz had begun with the ordering of several battleships and submarines to Tampico. On April 22 with a German ship loaded with ammunition for Huerta’s troops advancing the port, Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher notified Mexican authorities they were taking control of the Veracruz waterfront. Meanwhile more than 800 soldiers took control over Tampico’s most important buildings.

The occupation of Veracruz lasted until November 1914 and was only ended after the resignation of General Huerta due to a lack of supply for the southern armies. The sense of Mexican grievance was used by Arthur Zimmermann and other German authorities in January 1917, when he sent the now legendary Zimmermann Telegram: Germany promised Mexico territorial gains from the U.S. The interception of Britain and its passing to the U.S. government resulted in the declaration of war against Germany in late 1917.
April 9, 2014

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Weapons of WWI

#19 – The “Paris Gun”

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The “Paris Gun” or “Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz” was one of the largest siege guns used during World War I. When it was first employed to attack Paris, the inhabitants thought to be attacked by a high-altitude Zeppelin. However, with a range of 81 miles the gun did not need to be anywhere near its target.

The Paris gun was capable of firing shells with a weight of 106-kilograms to a range of 81 miles and an altitude of 42 kilometers. To build this massive gun, German engineers used worn-out “Langer Max”-barrels that were fitted with an internal tube and a 12-meter long attachment bringing the total barrel-length to 112 ft. while weighting 256 tons in total.

80 Imperial Navy soldiers manned the Paris gun and were surrounded by several batteries of normal artillery to distract French and British spotters with the sound. Shells of the gun were the first men-made object to reach the atmosphere.

First fired on 21th of March in 1918, the Paris gun fired 320 to 367 shells in total, at a maximum rate of around 20 per day. At a range of 120 km the Coriolis effect was a factor to be included in calculations, otherwise causing the shells to miss their target. For a wonder, only 250 people lost their lives due to the gun.

As a weapon, the Paris Gun was a mediocre success: The barrels had to be replaced often, the payload was marginal and the gun was only accurate enough to hit city-sized targets. The gun was brought back to Germany in 1918 when the Allies advanced. And, although a spare mounting was captured by American troops, the rest of the gun was never found. Neither was the construction plan.
April 8, 2014

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WIN GOLDMARK – Find out my name!

Mugshots from History #23: Portugal

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Born as a farmer, I came to France in 1917. During the last year of battle my Division faced heavy assault by German forces. Within hours nearly 2.000 brave men died. Armed with a single Lewis gun I covered our retreat, leaving hundreds of enemy dead. I was awarded the highest honor of my country. In the end, I died a poor man in the town once named after me. WHO AM I? Reward: 35.000 GM.

Send my FULL NAME to competition@bytro.com, subject: MUGSHOT PORTUGAL, deadline Mon, April 14th, 2014, 12:00 (CEST).

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A reward of 35,000 GM goes to a lucky winner drawn from all correct entries received by Monday, April 14th 2014, 12:00 (CEST). Mention in your email your ingame name to win the GM reward and make sure to use the right subject-line. The winner will be published on Facebook with the start of the next mugshot competition.

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April 7, 2014

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The most devastating battles of World War I

Part I: Second Battle of Ypres (April 21st – May 25th of 1915)

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The Second Battle of Ypres marked a new era during World War I: Poison gas had been used by German forces and surprised the Allies. Nearly 7.000 casualties were admitted and more than 350 British deaths were recorded from gas poisoning. In total, German casualties nearly reached 35.000, whereas France, the United Kingdom and Canada recorded over 70.000 injuries or deaths combined. In addition to gas, another new weapon was put to action a third time by German soldiers, the flamethrower.

Although it is widely believed that the first use of poison gas took place during the Second Battle of Ypres, the German Ninth Army unsuccessfully fired up to 18.000 shells filled with Xylyl Bromide. But due to the iciness the tear gas froze, rendering it ineffective. During the Battle of Gravenstafel in April 1915, German troops carried large gas cylinders with a weight up to 90 pounds. They were opened by hand and the gas was carried towards the enemy lines solely by wind. French troops in the path of the gas suffered up to 6.000 casualties, many of the soldiers died within minutes from asphyxiation and tissue damages in the lungs. However, Canadian troops were able to secure the gap in the front line: By urinating into cloths and using them as a primitive gas mask, they were able to counter the effect of the gas. Although the Canadian troops cleared a former oak plantation of Germans, they lost nearly 75% of their soldiers.

During the Battle of St. Julien German troops released another cloud of chlorine towards the Canadian line, conquering the village of St. Julien. However, word has spread, that handkerchiefs or cloths soaked in urine could be used against the gas. The arriving French army though did not know of chlorine use yet and was taken by surprise. During the Battle of Bellewaarde in May 1915, British troops were able to defend against a German gas attack, but in the end they had to retreat as well.

During the Battle of Hooge the German “Flammenwerfer” or flamethrower was put to action. It was first used during the Battle of Verdun and although few men died from actual burns, the flamethrower had a great demoralizing effect. Two British battalions were forced to retreat in contemplation of six German flamethrowers. However, flamethrowers were difficult to use and thin-skinned against bullets, thus, leaving the soldier in permanent danger.

All in all, German casualties were recorded as nearly 35.000 during the Second Battle of Ypres, whereas France, Great Britain and Canada counted of 75.000 casualties in total. This battle marked the beginning of poison gas, which reached new dimensions afterwards. It is supposed that one out of three grenades in 1918 was filled with some sort of poison gas. Until the end of World War I, nearly 90.000 soldiers left their live due to chemical weapons.
April 6, 2014

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Heroes in WWI

#8: Airdale Jack

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The story of „Airedale Jack“, an Airedale terrier in the trenches of World War I, is representative for the fate of many dogs during the war. Although Jack was used to carry messages between different battalions, other terriers were used by the Red Cross to locate wounded soldiers on the battleground. In fact, the military use of Airedale Terriers made them the most popular breed in Great Britain after the war.

Jack was rescued from a dog home in London and was directly sent to the trenches in France. Every day, he had to deliver messages and cross the no-man’s-land between battalions, despite furious battles around him. Jack soon proofed his bravery and efficiency.

As his battalion was overrun by German soldiers and left without ammunition one day, the lives of the soldiers depended on the shoulders of the little Airedale Terrier. But even for Jack the task ahead of him seemed futile: More than half a mile of battleground isolated his battalion from the next one. Though it was inescapable that Jack would be injured, he still managed to deliver his final message. His battalion was saved in the end, but at hefty costs: Jack suffered severe injuries to his legs and skull and died only minutes after his heroic act. Posthumously the Airedale Terrier was awarded the Victoria Cross.
April 4, 2014

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Weapons of WWI

#18: The R-Planes - The largest aircrafts of WWI

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The R-planes were the largest aircraft used in World War I. Although most of them were only built in small lines, the R-planes caused heavy damages during their missions. And those models used to bombard London were actually larger than those used for the same task in World War II.

Virtually all of the legendary R-planes were built as a unique aircraft with unique frames. The sole exception to this is the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI. This was actually the first R-plane produced by the German company located in Gotha. Powered by four Maybach or Mercedes engines up to 13 R.VI were in service during the war. The bomber was armed with four Parabellum MG14-guns and equipped with up to 4.409 lb of bombs. In February 1918 one R.VI dropped the first 1.000 kg bomb on England, hitting the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

While most of the R-planes built by Zeppelin-Staaken had a wingspan of 138 ft. and 5.5 in. (42,2 m), the Siemens-Schuckert R.VIII had a wingspan of an enormous 157 ft. 6 in (48m). Two of the giants were planned, but only one, the R23/16, was completed.
However, with a wingspan of 165 ft. 24 in. the legendary Mannesmann Poll-Giant would have been the largest plane of World War I and the first transatlantic-plane: With a range of over 10.000 km, experts believe that the Poll-Giant was supposed to attack New York either with bombs or pamphlets to demonstrate Germany’s power and dominance.

However, the Mannesmann-Poll-Dreidecker was never finished and plans and parts were found after World War I was settled. Only one part of the giant aircraft is conserved and can be seen in the Imperial War Museum Duxford.
April 3, 2014

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