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Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Weapons on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
The boy waded through the endless swamps, lagoons and sand banks which stretched on and on to the mainland of Europe. He was slightly made, deft-fingered and agile, and his slim brown body was naked save for a deer-skin cape and necklace of carved bone beads.
He was looking for oysters and mussels as he had done every day during winter. Soon he had collected a large pile, which he placed in a basket made of willow. Then he returned to the cave where he and his family had sheltered ever since the rains and winds of autumn had driven them down from the hills.
When the warm weather came the family returned to their old hunting grounds, where hares abounded and wild boar, oxen, stags, red deer, wild horses and cattle roamed.
It took them several days to reach the clearing in birch woods on the low hills which stretch south-eastwards from what are now the Essex borders to the Chilterns, where they had camped the previous summer. The hearth they had built and the remains of their huts were still there. The men found a fresh supply of flint, from which they made new weapons and tools, fashioning tiny arrow heads, darts and flint teeth for saws with delicate precision.
Each day men and boys went hunting with dogs, while the women collected berries, hazel nuts and roots, cleaned skins and made clothes from them. So they lived throughout the long, hot summer till autumn drove them down to lower ground again.
The family belonged to the Tardenoisian people, who lived in Britain nine or ten thousand years ago, when the great mass of ice which had covered much of Europe had at last melted and all the face of the Continent was changing.
In some places land had risen when the weight of ice was lifted from it. Elsewhere, lands were submerged as vast streams of melting ice raised the level of the sea.
Thus it was that, through long years, the North Sea, Baltic Sea and English Channel slowly formed. The Mediterranean came into existence too, and in Africa and Asia lands which had been fertile became drier and ultimately changed into desert.
As North Africa yielded to the Sahara desert, its inhabitants moved farther afield in search of new grounds. Among these were the Tardenoisians, who crossed to Spain and Northern Europe, some of them roaming over marshy wastes which were to become the North Sea, and reaching Britain.
The Magdalenians, who had flourished in Europe’s cold steppes and tundras 50,000 years earlier had fared badly when the thaw came. Their world suffered a slow but fundamental change. Mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and reindeer died out or retreated to the arctic north. The great Magdalenian hunts could no longer be held. By the time the Tardenoisians arrived there were probably only two or three hundred Magdalenians left in Britain.
We know little about the Tardenoisians themselves. Their numbers were few, and their lives hard and primitive. They left few records except tiny flints and burial mounds, and evidence that they had tamed the dog, but they were very probably the ancestors of people who live today round the shores of the Mediterranean.
Posted in Animals, Anthropology, Art, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Weapons on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
The cave was dark and bitterly cold as the hunters tramped in silence for nearly a mile through its shadowy, damp gloom.
At last there was light ahead, from the glow of a dozen small stone lamps. The cave ended in a circular chamber, and at the far end was a stone bench on which sat the hunters’ chief.
The chief was wearing a great head-dress of reindeer horns, a heavy fur cloak, necklaces and armlets. Beside him stood a musician, blowing a final summons on his carved bone pipe.
The walls of the chamber were covered with paintings of animals. A huge bison, on a curving piece of rock, was startlingly rounded, shining and lifelike. Scattered on the floor were fragments of stone on which the artists had made trial sketches, horns in which they kept pieces of red and brown ochre and manganese for paint, and stone palettes.
The chief exhorted the hunters to be brave and tireless. Then he rose, picked up a superbly carved spear of mammoth ivory, stepped forward and pointed his spear at each of the paintings in turn. As he did so he incanted a magic spell, so that each of the depicted animals should quickly succumb to the hunters’ weapons.
The hunters set forth across cold, windswept tundra. After many hours they reached a wide plain. Spring was giving way to summer and it was along this plain that the herds of reindeer moved on their way northwards to new pastures. The hunters pitched their camp on the side of a tributary valley.
They did not have many days to wait. Within a week one of them spotted the leaders of the reindeer herds only a mile away, coming up the main valley from the south. As they drew close, some of the hunters drove them into the side valley, where the others awaited them. Soon the valley was crowded with hundreds of jostling, terrified animals and the entrance was barred . . .
The slaughter of reindeer went on all day and, as the sun set, the tribe rejoiced at their spoils, for they had acquired enough food, skins, horns and bones to keep them well fed, warm and busy for months.
These people, like the Aurignacians, were members of the Cro-Magnon race. They were Magdalenians, the last of the Old Stone Age people of Europe, and they are thought to have lived from about 70,000 to 50,000 years ago.
The Ice Age was drawing to a close, but during the 20,000 years that the Magdalenians were flourishing, the climate was still extremely cold.
The Magdalenians were skilled at making flint and stone implements, though these were never so fine as those of the Solutreans, a race of people who came into Europe in late Aurignacian times and may have been descended from the lost Neanderthals. The Magdalenians preferred weapons and tools of bone and ivory and, like the Aurignacians, they were brilliant artists.
The Solutreans disappeared from Europe with the period of cold which came at the end of the Ice Age, but the Magdalenians lived through it, and it was when Europe at last began to grow as warm as today, and the arctic animals retreated northwards, that the Magdalenians, unable to adapt themselves to changing conditions, gradually faded out of existence.
Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Crecy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 241 published on 27 August 1966.
When the battle of Crecy began on the morning of 26th August, 1346, the French were confident that victory would be theirs. They outnumbered the English by four to one and were certain that their masses of cavalry would make short work of the lightly-armed English infantry. But in a few desperate hours Edward III’s archers annihilated 60,000 French troops, to win one of the most resounding victories in the Hundred Years’ War.
For centuries the mounted knight in heavy armour had been invincible on the battlefield. Few soldiers fighting on foot could withstand a cavalry charge. Then came the long-bow, and in the hands of the English archer it proved to be the most deadly of weapons. After Crecy, it made the English infantryman supreme on scores of battlefields.
The English long-bow was made of yew and got its name from its length of six feet, which was about two feet longer than any previous bows. The bowstring was of heavy cord and, when stretched to its full extent of 30 inches, shot a three-foot arrow for a distance of more than 200 yards. A good archer could aim and shoot 20 arrows a minute.
Instead of allowing his archers to shoot as they pleased on the battlefield, Edward III placed them in several rows. While half were aiming and shooting, the others were positioning arrows in their bows. In that way, a continuous rain of arrows was poured by the archers at Crecy into the charging mass of French knights. The horsemen’s heavy armour was no protection against these deadly volleys.
Posted in Aviation, Espionage, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Thursday, 18 April 2013
This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 228 published on 28 May 1966.
Flying bombs over Britain during the Second World War
It was a common sound to Londoners in the summer of 1944 – the nagging drone of the Flying Bombs which the Germans sent over in their thousands from launching sites in northern France.
But even worse than the noise of the jet-propelled engines was the silence that came when they ended their flight and nose-dived on to busy streets, schools, factories and blacked-out houses.
In eighty days, between June and August, 1944, 2,300 of the sinister missiles reached their target. They destroyed some 24,000 of the capital’s houses, damaged 800,000 more, and caused the deaths of hundreds of men, women and children.
The Flying Bombs, small, cylindrical, and with speeds of up to 400 m.p.h., were hard to destroy. Patrolling pilots had the utmost difficulty in spotting the fast-moving objects thousands of feet below them, and it was left mainly to the anti-aircraft guns to blast the pilotless machines out of the sky.
The British Government knew as early as April, 1943, that the Germans were developing long-range bombardment weapons; and that launching ramps were being built all along the French coast, from Calais to Cherbourg, as well as at sites inland.
It was essential that these bases be put out of action. If their exact locations were known, they could be bombed by the R.A.F. Someone must provide this information and it must be a man already living in France, who knew the coast intimately, and had inside knowledge of all German movements in that area.
Miraculously, that someone existed. He was a middle-aged French engineer called Michel Hollard; a man of great courage and determination, who hated the German invaders, and who had sworn to do all he could to disrupt their war plans.
Michel had already fought against the Germans in the first World War, when he was a youth of seventeen.
In 1939, when the second World War broke out, he was forty-one – too old this time to enlist, so he used his engineering experience to get a position as Paris representative for a firm making car engines that ran on charcoal.
Michel believed he could use this job as a cover for his intended sabotage work. He hoped to make direct contact with the British and offer them his services in any capacity, no matter how dangerous.
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Posted in America, Famous Inventors, Inventions, Weapons on Tuesday, 16 April 2013
This edited article about guns originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 226 published on 14 May 1966.
Colt revolver and automatic
Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, mass production of firearms was unknown. One could take a thousand muskets made by one firm and be extremely fortunate in finding two parts that were interchangeable.
The credit for introducing mass production cannot be given to Samuel Colt alone, but his use of gauges and machine tools helped to lay the foundation stone for industrial progress in firearm manufacture.
Samuel Colt was born on July 19, 1814, in a farmhouse near Hartford, Connecticut, in the U.S.A. His father was a fairly prosperous pioneer of the silk worm industry in America.
While still a schoolboy, Sam felt an urge to go to sea and with the help of his step-mother he secured a midshipman’s berth on the Brig Corvo. During his spare time on the voyage, Sam set to work carving a wooden model of a repeating pistol, the system for which had been forming in his mind over a long period of time.
The idea of a multi-chambered cylinder weapon was not original, but Colt’s method of rotating the cylinder certainly was.
During the voyage, Sam must have observed the ship’s capstan operating, with its ratchet bed and pawls around the base to prevent it from turning the other way when pressure was eased on the bars. It was then, perhaps, that the answer to his problem must have suddenly dawned on him: put the ratchet bed on the rear of the cylinder and a pawl on the hammer, bearing on the ratchet bed and forced up when the hammer is pivoted back – that was it! So simple!
On his return to Hartford, Sam asked a local gunsmith named Chase if he would make a pistol and rifle, using his wooden pistol as a model. Chase agreed, but trouble arose over money and Chase never finished the job. Colt later engaged John Pearson, a Baltimore gunsmith, to complete the guns he needed for a final patent.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 1 on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 219 published on 26 March 1966.
British artillery firing a heavy howitzer in France, World War I, which had a much shorter range than ‘Big Bertha’
At 7.20 on the morning of Saturday, March 23, 1918, the paving stones outside No. 6 Quai de Seine, Paris, erupted with a loud bang. It was the last winter of the first World War, and people dived for cover, thinking the explosion was the beginning of a German air raid. But there had been no alert, and not a single aircraft could be seen in the clear blue sky.
During the next eight hours there were twenty-three more explosions in different parts of Paris, but no signs of German bombers. The military authorities, making a careful examination of the craters, found a number of steel splinters and pieces of grooved copper ring, which they identified as the remains of artillery shells. Yet Paris was sixty-seven miles from the German front-line – three times the range of any gun known to the Allies.
Within a few days the mystery was solved by the French secret service. The Germans had developed a super-gun which was shelling Paris from a place behind the German lines called Laon.
The super-gun had an enormously long barrel and fired a 9.1 in. shell weighing 228 pounds. The shell left the barrel at a speed of one mile a second and travelled upwards in a great curve to a height of twenty-one miles. After that gravity brought it sweeping down on a curving path until it hit its target at a speed of 3,000 feet per second, 176 seconds after it had been fired.
Germany’s long-range gun was called Big Bertha after Bertha Krupp, head of the armament firm of that name, which had manufactured the gun. Altogether, the Germans built half-a-dozen Big Berthas.
Posted in Aviation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Thursday, 4 April 2013
This edited article about the Spitfire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 218 published on 19 March 1966.
It was October, 1939. With the throaty roar of their Merlin engines echoing across the sky, the Royal Air Force Spitfires were patrolling the wide expanse of the Firth of Forth. They were flying in loose patrol formation ready for instant action, the pilots turning their helmeted heads ceaselessly as they searched the sky for enemy planes.
Enemy aircraft were reported in the area – and suddenly there they were below, dirty olive green against the grey water; fat glass-nosed Heinkel He 111 shipping raiders. The Spitfire leader rapped out an order and the sleek fighters peeled off, their beautifully shaped wings silhouetted against the sky.
In the wings of each Spitfire were eight .303 calibre Browning machine guns, so adjusted that the eight streams of bullets coverged into one devastating blast of metal at about four hundred yards’ range.
The Heinkel rear gunners saw the slim curving wings and knew what they were about to face. Too late, they shouted the warning to their comrades: “Achtung, Spitfeuer!”
Streaking in, the Spitfires’ wings spurted orange flame as the pilots took aim and pressed the gun buttons. And, almost instantly, two of the Heinkels fell out of the sky, belching flame and oily smoke. . . .
On October 16, 1939, the pilots of Nos. 602 and 603 Squadrons were the first to fire the guns of the Spitfire in anger, destroying the first enemy aircraft to be shot down over the British Isles in the Second World War.
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Posted in America, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Weapons on Tuesday, 2 April 2013
This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 217 published on 12 March 1966.
An expectant hush fell over the crowd gathered at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, as the big hangar doors rumbled smoothly open. From the gloom inside came the whine of a diesel tractor moving forward. The moment had come for the roll-out ceremony of the mighty North American XB-70A Valkyrie.
Out into the sunlight of that May day in 1964 came a needle-sharp, black-topped snout and cockpit, then the jutting foreplane on a long, gleaming white fuselage sixteen feet above the ground. The fuselage drooped a full eighty feet ahead of the towing tractor linked to the nose-wheels.
Even though technical drawings and artists’ impressions had been available for some time, the towering XB-70A was stunning in its sheer size and streamlined, white beauty. The tubular fuselage blended into a sharply-swept delta wing sprouting two rudders. Beneath the wing was the great box housing the six engines and the undercarriage, the engine air-intakes gaping deep and wide.
In design and technology the XB-70A was and still is as far ahead of today’s aircraft as they are ahead of those of the second World War! The XB-70A flies at 2,000 m.p.h. at 70,000 feet, and is designed so that at this speed it rides the supersonic – triplesonic shock-wave it creates like a speedboat riding its foaming bow-wave.
The aircraft made its first flight on September 21, 1964, in the hands of North American Aviation’s pilot Al White and the United States Air Force project test pilot, Colonel Joseph Cotton. Flanked by supersonic T-38 jet-trainer chase planes, the Valkyrie blasted into the air on its six monster engines. The main feature of the flight was to be acceleration through the sound barrier – a mere nibble at the aircraft’s speed capability.
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Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Technology, Weapons on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.
The young Royal Air Force pilot sat motionless in the cockpit of the big silver Lightning fighter. At “cockpit readiness” – strapped into his ejection seat and ready to go, he waited for orders from the master controller who is at the centre of our air defence system. If the order to “scramble” comes through then Mission 61 will be off the ground and climbing like a rocket into the sky within thirty seconds. The order will come through the telebrief lead, a cable link that snakes across the runway and is plugged into the side of the Lightning.
Suddenly the telebrief crackles into life, bringing the voice of the controller into the cockpit, “Mission 61, stand by for pre-brief.” Then seconds later, “Aircraft is now at one hundred miles, we are checking all scheduled movements.”
The pilot of Mission 61 brings his aircraft to life with quick, practised hands.
“Mission 61, are you ready for pre-brief?”
“Mission 61 to identify one target present position Oscar November two zero two nine at flight level 430, heading 210, estimated speed point eight two. Climb on vector 030 and make flight level 390. Call Control on 989 decimal six.”
The pilot writes the brief down on the plastic knee pad of his immersion suit and repeats the instructions back to the controller. There must be no mistake, for the target may be a peaceful airliner, or it may not.
“Mission 61, as pre-briefed – scramble.”
On hearing this the pilot’s gloved hand presses the starter buttons and the two mighty Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines burst into life. The brakes are released and as the throttles are thrust open the Lightning rumbles forward and turns on to the runway. Gathering speed, the pilot pushes the throttle levers right forward into the reheat position and as the afterburners light up, giving additional thrust, the seventeen-ton fighter lunges down the black tarmac runway.
A bare two minutes later the aircraft is at flight level 390 – 39,000 ft. The master controller directs the pilot towards the target until the aircraft’s own radar is within range and able to take over. There’s the target – a small green blip on the cockpit radar screen.
The radar scanner, or aerial “locks” itself on to the quarry and the computer behind it quickly gives the pilot the precise information for intercepting the target.
Looking out of the cockpit window he sees the aircraft with its thick white vapour trails streaming out from behind, and opening the throttles a little wider, the pilot draws closer to examine it – a Boeing 707 of Pan-World Airlines. He reports back to the controller who, in turn, contacts London Heathrow civil airport on a direct line to confirm that it is a genuine airline flight.
Confirmation is received and the controller reports back to the pilot, “Mission 61, you are cleared to return to base, pigeons 280, base weather fine.”
The Lightning turns away and sinks back into the gathering dusk, its mission completed. The sinister missiles mounted on its sides have not been fired, but if they had, they would have destroyed the target. Whatever the weather conditions, whatever violent evasive action it tried to take, the target would not escape, for the fierce heat given off by its engines would act as a magnet for the infra-red heat-seeking devices built into the nose of each missile.
This is how R.A.F. Fighter Command guards the skies over Britain, day and night, in any weather. The Lightning, first introduced to R.A.F. fighter squadron service in 1960, was the first R.A.F. fighter to fly at supersonic speeds in level flight. It is still the fastest climbing interceptor in the world and one of the finest defence weapon systems. The term “weapon system” embraces many things; the aircraft itself is only a link in the chain that embodies ground guidance radar and communications, the aircraft, its own radar and missiles, and that vital link, the pilot.
The test pilot who first flew the Lightning, then known as the P.1, was World War Two Typhoon fighter ace, Roland Beamont. He took the P.1 into the air on August 4, 1954, and also led the group of British Aircraft Corporation and R.A.F. test pilots who turned it into a supreme interception weapon.
Posted in America, Aviation, Communism, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 26 March 2013
This edited article about the Korean War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 210 published on 22 January 1966.
The North American F-86 Sabres in action in Korea by Wilf Hardy
At twenty thousand feet the high-tailed silver Russian-built MiG-15 darted away in a climbing turn then panicked, and flicking over, dived for the safety of the forbidden territory beyond the Yalu River. Three hundred yards behind the nose of the pursuing American Lockheed F-80 was suddenly lit up with the flashes from its machine guns. It was a strike! The MiG’s engine poured out a sheet of flame a second before the whole aircraft disappeared into a ball of smoking wreckage.
The F-80 pilot rejoined his formation and they turned for home and landed, but there was no jubilation at the victory. The place was Korea, the date, November 8, 1950, and the first all-jet air battle in history had been fought and won. But the newly-arrived MiG-15′s, the word MiG is derived from the aircraft’s two Russian designers, Mikoyan and Gurevich, had shown speed and climbing power that had made the F-80s of the United Nations force seem slow and outdated. Only the superior training and experience of the U.N. pilots had brought victory.
The MiGs became a serious threat as they disrupted the high-level precision bombing of the American aircraft. Things were going badly for the U.N. and they knew that to win they must regain the air superiority that would allow their bombers to destroy the enemies’ supply lines.
The United States Air Force quickly moved units flying the F-86 Sabre to Korea, their pilots trained to a high degree of fighting skill by eighteen months of intensive training.
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