Friday, February 22, 2013

World War II’s Killer Tank

When this Churchill tank came ashore at Sword Beach in June, 1944, no one could have known how dangerous it really was - and not to the Germans.

The tank was called “experimental” because it was built with a new type of turret designed to give better protection to its crew. It was sent to a forward squadron which had suffered heavy crew losses over a period of several days. Its hastily assembled crew named their new tank “Alice” in honor of the wife of its oldest crewman.

On July 1, 1944, Alice went on her first patrol. As she entered a village believed to be free of German troops, a lone German antitank crew opened fire on her, shattering the turret. The three- man turret crew died instantly., another was killed by debris and a fifty died in a hail of bullets.  The tank skidded off the road into a dyke, losing a track in the process. A Crocodile following Alice saw the antitank gun and destroyed it with its flamethrower.

After burying its crew, the tank was recovered from the dyke and hauled back to Sword Beach.  Engineers at the plant where the turret had been built wanted to study the damage, so she was sent back to Yorkshire, England. As she was being unloaded in the factory yard, Alice slipped sideways off the concrete ramp, pinning the yard foreman and a worker against the ramp and killing both men instantly.

The experimental turret was determined to be unsuccessful and she was refitted and sent to a training regiment. Alice now was assigned to a three-man training crew and two instructors.  After a night of heavy rain, the two instructors went back to their base at Catterick, leaving the young trainees alone with the tank. The boys decided to seek shelter under the tank. At first light, the camp guards discovered that the tank had sunk into the mud, crushing the three young trainees.

The Royal Army told the families of the three trainees that the young men had died in a training accident. Alice was moved to the RAC Gunnery School in Dorset where she was used in training tank gunners and fitters.

All went well for awhile, but in October 1946, a trainee gunner had a misfire. The procedure in that case was to wait two minutes, then move the tank downrange for safety. The crew then left the tank and the breech was opened to eject the shell and place it safely on the ground. But this time the Range Control officer violated the protocol. He took the place of the tank’s driver and drove the tank onto the range. Then he climbed into the turret and opened the breech. The hot shell exploded into the turret and killed the Range Control Officer. Eleven people were now dead.

Alice was stripped of all usable parts and left on Bindon Hill as a target to be shot at by any tank needing some practice. Over the years, she gradually broke down into a rusty pile of scrap metal. But the old tank wasn’t finished.

In August 2004 a German student was walking near Bindon Hill when it began to rain. He decided to take shelter in Alice’s rusting remains. The torrential rain continued, along with thunder and lightning. Suddenly there was an explosion and the tank was thrown into the air, along with the student. The cause of the explosion was never determined.

Alice never killed again. But she had been involved in eleven deaths during her long, deadly lifetime. And she had never killed a single enemy soldier.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Sudarium of Ovieto

 Most of the Christian world is aware of the famous, although controversial, Shroud of Turin. Fewer are aware of an equally impressive bit of cloth that may hold clues to the origins and authenticity of the Shroud. And it has a better documented history than the Shroud of Turin.  This mysterious cloth is known as the Sudarium (“sweat cloth”) of Ovieto. It is believed by some to be the cloth placed over Jesus’ face after his crucifixion.

The bloodstained cloth, measuring about 84 x 53 centimeters, bears no image of a face. But there are some intriguing similarities to the Shroud of Turin. First, blood stains on both cloths are Type AB, common among Middle Eastern peoples, but relatively rare among Europeans. A comparison of the location of the blood stains on both the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin show that there is an exact fit of many of the stains on both cloths, indicating that one was laid over the other on the dead man’s face.

A study by Dr. Alan Whanger compared the stains on the Sudarium with those on the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Whanger made use of the Polarized Image Overlay Technique and showed that there were seventy points of coincidence on the front parts of each cloth, and fifty on the back. For many, this is conclusive evidence that both cloths were used to cover the same face, believed to be that of Jesus.

According to documents written by Pelagius, 12th-century Bishop of Oviedo, the Sudarium remained in Palestine until about 614 AD, when Jerusalem was conquered by Persian King Chosroes II. It was rescued and sent first to Alexandria, but moved again when Chosroes II invaded Alexandria in 616. It was then taken to Cartagena, Spain, and sent to Seville, where it remained for some years.

St. Isidore took the chest containing the Sudarium to Toledo when he became bishop there, but was taken north in 718 to protect it from the invading Muslims. It remained in a cave known as Monsacro until King Alfonso II completed the special chapel, where it remains to this day. In March of 1075, the chest was officially opened in the presence of King Alfonso VI, his sister and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (“El Cid). An inventory was made of the relics of the chest, including the Sudarium.

The Sudarium, along with other relics, is kept in a silver-covered reliquary box in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The chapel was built by King Alfonso II of Asturias in 840 AD especially to house the cloth. The Sudarium is publicly displayed only three times each year.

Does the Sudarium of Ovieto help to prove that the Shroud of Turin is real? Its provenance is certainly better documented, adding weight to the argument that the Shroud is much older than many people believe it is. Unfortunately, the tests that could help establish the authenticity of both cloths may never be made. It may be that non-destructive tests allowed at some future date can help to prove or disprove the authenticity of both cloths. Only time will tell.

For a more technical analysis of the Sudarium and its possible relationship to the Shroud of Turin, visit here

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Day the Mississippi River Ran Backwards

 The ground had been shaking for months beginning on December 16, 1011. The New Madrid Fault had suddenly become active. The first two powerful quakes shook the city of New Madrid, knocking people off their feet, opening fissures and snapping large trees. The second of the two quakes has been estimated to have registered 8.6 on the Richter Scale. This quake caused landslides that destroyed several communities. It was said that the tremor woke First Lady Dolley Madison thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

On February 7, 1812, the strongest of the earthquakes struck. Estimated at 8.8 magnitude, this one was arguably the strongest quake ever to strike the continental United States. It caused church bells to ring in Boston, Massachusetts and brick walls to fall in Cincinnati.

The Mississippi River turned brown and whirlpools suddenly developed as the riverbed bucked. Thirty boats were thrown over waterfalls created by the heaving of the riverbed. Small islands in the middle of the river disappeared. New Lakes, including Reedfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border were created in depressions caused by land subsidence. And finally, a phenomenon known as a fluvial tsunami caused the mighty Mississippi River to flow backwards for several hours.

No one will ever know for certain how many people actually died in the series of earthquakes by the time they ended in March 1812. The area was sparsely populated at the time, but at least 1,000 people likely lost their lives, and many more suffered physical and property damage.

Experts today continue to worry about the possibility that the New Madrid Fault will become active again. If the 19th century swarm of massive earthquakes were to happen today, the result would be absolutely disastrous over a wide area east of the Mississippi River.

For more information on the New Madrid Fault, visit this site

Friday, February 1, 2013

The 1859 Carrington Event

 On September 1, 1859, amateur astronomer Richard Carrington was working in his private observatory sketching a cluster of enormous dark spots on the surface of the Sun. Suddenly two patches of bright, white light erupted from the sunspots, vanishing about five minutes later. Later that night the world began to experience the devastating effects of what became known as the 1859 Carrington Event.

The Carrington Event was caused by a gigantic solar flare, and the resulting geomagnetic storm that affected our planet is believed to be the largest ever to hit the earth. It actually consisted of two separate storms and caused confusion and chaos around the world.

Brilliant, colorful auroras appeared all over the planet as electrified gas and subatomic particles entered Earth’s atmosphere. The skies glowed so brightly that confused birds began to chirp and workmen arose to start work. People living in the southern parts of the United States, Jamaica and Cuba, and even in Australia were startled when they saw northern lights, which rarely appear so far south.

Skies on the eastern coast of the United States appeared to be blood red. Some observers wondered if neighboring areas had somehow caught fire. Others thought they were looking at an especially brilliant sunrise, though daybreak was still hours away. In Boston, Massachusetts, people found that they could read their newspapers under the bright sky. Some thought the world was coming to an end.

The most devastating effect of the phenomena was that the event interrupted telegraph service around the world. Telegraph lines across North America went out of service. Currents flowing through telegraph wires were so powerful that circuits caught fire. Telegraph paper caught fire as the chemicals used in the paper reacted to the electromagnetic effects of the storm and operators did not dare touch their keys.

On September 2, the chaos continued after the arrival of a second storm. Telegraph operators working at the American Telegraph Company’s office in Boston found that they could neither transmit nor receive telegrams. Then they figured out the atmosphere was so charged that they could disconnect their batteries and actually use the power produced by the magnetic storm to transmit messages to Portland, Maine. Later that morning, they were able to reconnect their batteries and transmit, although there were sporadic problems throughout much of the day.

If an event the size of the 1859 Carrington Event were to occur today, the result would be absolute chaos. Our modern world is absolutely dependent on electronic devices such as computers, power grids, satellite communications, GPS, and so forth. A large event such as the Carrington Event would potentially cause massive shutdowns of anything that relied on electronic devices. Airplanes could fall from the skies, most cars would stop in their tracks, power grids would fail. The result would be absolutely catastrophic.

Solar flare activity is now known to operate in an 11-year cycle of high and low activity.  Is it possible that another Carrington Event could erupt during a period of high activity? Yes, it is.

There’s more detail on the 1859 Carrington Event here.