Archive for March 5th, 2008

I was poking around the Internet today and came upon another “today-in-history” event that I had totally missed.  It involved aircraft, and I LOVE aircraft.  More than that, it concerned military aircraft, and I REALLY LOVE military aircraft.  Even more than that, it was about WWII military aircraft and, well, you get the picture…

The Supermarine Spitfire was born in the mid-1920’s in the era of seaplane racing.  In fact, as the name implies, Supermarine was best known as a seaplane company, and was attracted to the Schneider Trophy, which was essentially a drag-race for seaplanes.  Supermarine won the Trophy in 1927 with the famous S.5 (the first real ancestor of the Spitfire), and again in 1929 and 1931 with the S.6 and S.6b, respectively.

The British Air Ministry recognized the need for an upgrade from the bi-planes it was using and on March 5, 1936, a Spitfire prototype made its first flight (lasting about eight minutes) through the air over Southampton, England.  Subsequent flights so impressed the Air Ministry that, within months, the first orders were placed.

And the orders kept coming…and coming.  And war threatened and the orders came.  And war broke and the orders continued.  And the war expanded, and still more were produced.  More than 20,000 Spitfires rolled off assembly lines in variants too numerous to mention. They flew in Africa. They flew in Europe.  The flew in the Mediterranean.  They flew in Scandanavia.  They flew in Australia.  They flew off aircraft carriers as Supermarine Seafires.  But they gained their legendary fame right at home, fighting (and winning) the Battle of Britain (Spring-Autumn 1940).

The Spitfire was quick, powerful, maneuverable, easy-to-handle, and very forgiving.  It’s only real knock was its lack of range (particularly in the early models), but when the plane was most needed (in the skies over England and the English Channel), it fought at home, so range wasn’t an issue.

Spitfires were flown in RAF service into the 1950’s, and in numerous countries longer than that.  And it all began with just eight minutes on this day in March…

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Voter intimidation.  Voting irregularities.  Dirty politics.  Bumping off the opposition.  Whispered calls to the press, saying, “We just thought you’d want to know…”.  Deals done in the smoked-filled rooms.  Temporary alliances of convenience.  These are the less savory fuels that sometimes power the wheels of government.  And nowhere were these propellants in greater supply than they were in Germany in the days leading up to March 5, 1933, as the Weimar Republic was being catapulted at break-neck speed into the concrete wall of National Socialism.

But let’s step back to the elections in November of 1932.  Many bankers and heads of industry had become fearful of the gains the Communist party had made in the elections, and threw their support behind the Nazi party, which had actually lost seats.  December saw a maze of political games (far too complex to describe in brief), which led to a change in Germany’s Chancellor.  The pace of intrigue and negotiations increased, and leaders having no interest in giving Adolf Hitler power actually supported his cause.  Finally, on January 30th, President Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.  The President (along with many others) saw Hitler as a threat, but felt that, in the Chancellor’s role, the government could keep a leash on him.  Oh, how wrong they were!

One of Hitler’s first acts was to dissolve the newly formed Reichstag and call for elections to be held March 5, 1933.  He then lined up support from some of Germany’s industrial giants and starting clamping down on Communism.  The famous Reichstag fire of February 27th was likely started by National Socialists (with the help of a Communist patsy) and, combined with effective anti-Communist propaganda, propelled the Nazi party more.

And after all this, Germany still rejected Hitler, whose party only managed 44% of the total vote.  But because of a coalition with the Nationalist party, Hitler held a slim, sixteen-seat majority in the Reichstag.  It wasn’t enough to give him total control, but the edge had been crossed, the Weimar Republic was smashed, and the slide down slope to dictatorship would be rapid and violent.

Recommended Reading: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – A History of Nazi Germany – One of the best accounts of Hitler’s rise to power.  William Shirer’s ability to sift through the machinations of Hitler’s ascent is unrivaled.  Pure gold.

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On March 5, 1770, British troops stationed in Boston to maintain order fired into a mob and killed 5 civilians.   This event immediately served as propaganda for the American colonists – even as questions arose as to who was really responsible for the outbreak of violence.

Who rung the fire alarm bells that turned a small angry group of would-be brawlers in a verifiable mob of close to 400?  Who was the mysterious figure at the waterfront, dressed in a wig and red cloak, who ran around encouraging the off-duty workers to go downtown in search of fights?

Eight soldiers and their captain, Thomas Preston, were put on trial several months later – once the passions died down a bit.  And who was the lawyer who represented these accused killers?  None other than our 1st VP and 2nd President, John Adams.  Though he was extremely senstive to public criticism, he set aside his (enormous) ego because of his sense of duty to the law.  Preston was acquitted, and in a separate trial, only 2 of the 8 soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.  Adams’ reputation was hurt in the short-term, but once the War was over and the job of building a country began, his defense of the hated British in the face of such adversity was eventually seen as a remarkable character trait.

For an ongoing discussion of the Boston Massacre, see the esteemed Boston 1775 blog.

And of course, YouTube is the perfect place to go for historical reenactments.

Recommended reading: John Adams and A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

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