Big Bertha

Big Bertha
Circa 1940, on the streets of Rochester New York, Bertha does her work.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Mad Scientist


After bringing up Gen. Robert Frederick (previous post) it occurred to me to mention how he got the job.
Quite simply, the Colonel initially chosen, after one meeting with the man pictured, Geoffrey Pyke, was so creeped out that he bailed.
Frederick, who was on Eisenhower's staff at the time, got the job by default.
Old Geoff was quite a character, not given to hygiene in any giant way, prone to hissy fits and nit-picking. But he was also brilliant.
The First Special Service Force was initially formed for "Operation Plough".
Pyke's idea was that, since so much of Europe was covered by snow for significant portions of the year, an ability to operate in deep snow would, in effect, give the Allied forces another entire season in which to maneuver.
The plan was to put together an elite force of men used to hard work in cold climates, train them to travel on skis - and in demolition - to provide them with a lightweight vehicle, capable of being airdropped and of moving easily over snow.
They would be dropped into occupied Norway where they would then wreak havoc on hydroelectric plants and "heavy water" facilities.
Operation Plough was ultimately canceled so the FSSF was left without a mission.
They were sent to invade Kiska in the Aleutians but got to the party two weeks too late as the Japanese had already abandoned the island.
Then they were sent to North Africa, Italy and, finally Southern France where the Force was disbanded.

Another of Pyke's brainwaves was "Project Habakkuk", a giant ship made of ice.
The proposed vessel would contain the refrigeration equipment necessary to maintain its frozen state and would be large enough for hundreds of planes, including heavy bombers.
It wasn't just ordinary ice though.
"Pykrete" was the stuff.
A complex mixture of ice and wood pulp, it proved to be, pound for pound, as strong as concrete. Additionally, as the ice thawed, the pulp formed an insulating layer slowing any further melting.
Lord Mountbatten, who became Pykes de facto "keeper" was extremely impressed with pykrete's properties.
Two, possibly apocryphal, stories tell of Mountbatten dropping a chunk into Churchill's bath - with Winnie in the tub - and later firing his service revolver into a block while at a conference. The bullet ricocheted, grazing the leg of Admiral Ernest King.
The prototype seen in the video, made of plain old ice, remained afloat in Lake Patricia through a hot summer - even after its cooling equipment had been shut off.
Later the project was done in by the D Day landings. No one needed a giant aircraft carrier when the European continent became available.
Time for another flick;

Pyke was an interesting guy. His Wiki entry covers his other exploits as a spy during the First War and prior to the second. He's definitely worth reading about.
The longest remaining evidence of his genius was in use up until the Viet Nam conflict where, to no one's surprise, it proved equally able in traversing mud.
Geoff didn't design the machine but it sprang from his idea.
That machine being the M29 Weasel.

1 comment:

culpeper said...

OSS Film on the Weasel.

http://www.realmilitaryflix.com/public/441.cfm

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