Tiger I Tank

Produced from 1942 to 1944, Germany’s Tiger I Heavy Tank saw service in both Europe and Africa. The Tiger’s initial design began in 1937, but little progress was made. However, the German Army’s need for heavily armed and thicker armored tank couldn’t be ignored after the June 1941 invasion of the USSR. Both the Soviet T-34 medium tank and the KV-1 heavy tank were far superior to the Wehrmacht’s Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks.

The Tiger I first saw action in Russia on September 23, 1942. One of the four engaged Tigers became stuck in the mud and was abandoned. The tank was later recovered and studied by the Soviets. Despite this initial setback, the Tiger I saw extensive action in Russia after the fall of Stalingrad in 1942, participating in several defensive engagements.

Despite a solid design and good reputation, the Tiger I suffered one serious design flaw. It was over engineered. A combination of low fuel efficiency, expensive materials, and labor intensive production demands, made the tank difficult to field in large numbers. The Tiger I was also difficult to operate in mud, ice, and snow.  Those conditions defined fighting on the Eastern Front.



Originally designed to punch holes into enemy lines , the changing fortunes of the German Army forced the Tiger I into primarily defensive roles. The Tiger I was used for anti-tank and infantry support. When employed in numbers, the Tiger I was used to counter armored enemy advanced.  These reactionary roles, which could be filled by cheaper and lower maintenance  StuG IIIs and Panzer IVs.

Only 1,300 Tiger I tanks were produced during World War II. The Tigers that were destroyed during the war were scrapped afterwards. Only six Tiger I tanks exist in museums as static displays. Tiger 131, the only remaining operational Tiger I tank, is operated by the Bovington Tank Museum located in Dorset, England.

Book Review: At Dawn We Slept

Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept must be considered one of the definitive works regarding the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite being 36 years old, this book details all the major contributors and factors that led America into war with Japan.

While acting as Chief Historian in General Douglas MacArthur’s staff, Doctor Prange interviewed Japanese military officers, enlisted men, and civilians. These interviews allowed him to reconstruct the Pearl Harbor attack from the planning stages to execution.

Bu fusing the first hand Japanese accounts with American source material, Dr. Prange clearly illustrates how and why American military and civilian leaders ignored information collected by our own intelligence sources. What we see is that events don’t just happen – they are the results of either action or, in this case, inaction motivated by wishful thinking.



I first read At Dawn We Slept as an undergraduate student back in the late 1980s. Since then, I’ve reread it several times and have actually used excepts while teaching middle school history. When middle school students can access and enjoy a “college” book, you know it has merit.

An enjoyable read for both the academic and armchair historian.

Book Review: The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City intertwines the events leading to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with the actions of Dr. H. H. Holmes, a con man and serial killer who exploited the fair to access victims.

Mr. Larson does an incredible job contrasting Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer posing as a successful doctor and businessman. Both men are ruthlessly driven products of their time. Their single minded pursuit of success leads them to use/sacrifice others to achieve their goals. And although their methods are the same, it is only how society views the end result that differ.



I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but feel most readers are caught up in the Holmes story. And to be sure, Mr. Holmes ruthlessly pursued murder and profit. However, Daniel Burnham’s singular focus to, at least for a brief moment, make Chicago the focal point of the world, is nothing short of amazing.

A great read for both the historian and armchair detective

The Copper Scroll

The Copper Scroll is part of a collection of 1st Century religious documents collectively known as Dead Sea Scrolls. These religious manuscripts, recovered in excavations between 1947 to 1956, are among the oldest Old Testament manuscripts discovered to date. Archeologists believe the scrolls were really a library belonging to a Jewish sect. The library was concealed during The First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70).

Unlike the other Dead Sea scrolls that are religious in nature, the Copper Scroll is a treasure map. The only scroll made of metal, this scroll lists sixty-four underground caches. The contents of all but one contain gold, silver, and precious stones. These treasure deposits, believed to be worth in excess of 2 billion dollars, may date from the Second Temple. Some archaeologists believe the treasures were deposited prior to the Romans sacking the temple.







Despite several searches, no treasure listed on the Copper Scroll has yet been recovered. The problem is that the scroll gives only a vague set of instructions lacking tangible starting points. The instructions start with a general geographic location or a building as the starting point. From there the instructions lead to the cache.

“In the stubble field of the Shaveh, facing southwest, in an underground passage looking north, buried at twenty-four cubits: 67 talents.

In the salt pit that is under the steps: forty-one talents of silver. In the cave of the old washer’s chamber, on the third terrace: sixty-five ingots of gold.

In the Great Cistern which is in the Court of Peristyle, in the spout in its floor, concealed in a hole in front of the upper opening: nine hundred talents.

Which stubble field? What salt pit? Are the steps still there? And even if the location is known, is the Peristyle (a continuous porch formed by a row of columns surrounding the perimeter of building or a courtyard) still standing?

There isn’t a solid starting point to launch a search. In addition, how do you locate a 2000 year old salt pit? Are the stairs still there? And more importantly, did the Romans (or anyone else) already recover the treasures? These obstacles haven’t deterred would-be treasure hunters.

In 1962, John Allegro, a member of the scroll editing team, led an extensive search for some of the scroll’s treasures. Using information from the scroll combined with a best guess approach, Allegro located and searched several possible treasure sites. Despite his efforts, Mr. Allegro failed to recover any treasure.

Were the treasures listed on the Copper Scroll recovered by the Romans? Perhaps historians like Robert H. Eisenman are correct, and the treasure caches were recovered by Knights Templar during the First Crusade. It could be that over the last two millennia the caches have been discovered piecemeal.

Or maybe the caches still rest under the shifting sands of the Holy Land waiting to be recovered.

Who really knows.

The Antikythera Mechanism

Discovered by sponge divers in 1901, the Antikythera mechanism is the world’s oldest analog computer. The mechanism was found aboard the Antikythera wreck, a Roman Period shipwreck resting at a depth of 180 feet. Archeologist have dated the wreck to the 1st century BC. In addition to the Antikythera mechanism, wrecked ship has yielded a trove of glassware, coins, and marble statues.

It is believed ancient mariners used the Antikythera mechanism as a navigational instrument to predict astronomical positions. The mechanism shows signs it was fixed in Antiquity, which indicates it was used often. Archeologists believe the mechanism is Greek in origin, and have dated it from anywhere between 205 BC to 100 BC.





The mechanism, which consists of 30 bronze gears, was housed in a 13 by 7 inch wooden box. Archeologist think the mechanism was operated by a hand-turned shaft, which turned the gears. Each complete revolution of the main gear is believed to equal a year. The Antikythera mechanism remains the most complex geared piece of machinery dating from the ancient world.

The Antikythera mechanism, along with other artifacts recovered from the wrecked ship, are located in the National Archaeological Museum located in Athens.

The Spatha

The spatha, a three foot (30 and 39 in) long sword, was used throughout the Roman Empire between the First and Sixth Centuries AD. The spatha was introduced by Celtic cavalry auxiliaries serving the Empire. By the Third Century, it had replaced the gladius as Rome’s standard infantry weapon.




The spatha later evolved into the Viking sword, which was used in Western Europe from 793 AD to 1066 AD. This design then influenced the European long sword, which was used by European knights during the 12th Century. It is also the weapon of choice in most Hollywood fantasy films.

Lost Mines

In the world of treasure hunting, lost mines hold a special place in my heart. Most usually start out the same. A grizzled prospector leading his overly burdened mule into the desert looking for riches. Months later, when the prospector returns sick or injured from his adventures, he makes a deathbed confession to finding a rich deposit of gold or silver. For proof, he offers a tattered map to the mine. In some cases, rich ore specimens are found in his possession.

Pushing aside literary and Hollywood imagery, there are several reasons why these mines, which are basically rich mineral deposits, are lost. The majority of lost mines were really just diggings. These are basically excavation sites worked with hand held equipment such as shovels and picks. These mines were not tunnels dug in the side of a mountain with little railroad tracks and ore cars. In some cases, such as the Lost Gunsight Mine of the Mojave Desert, the “mine” was loose rocks broken off an outcropping. Even with a map, finding a hole in a very large desert is almost impossible.

Also, these mines were deliberately concealed. If you had a secret gold mine, would you want everyone knowing about it? Prospectors working secret claims were careful about being followed when traveling to and from their diggings. Jacob Waltz of the Lost Dutchman fame is said to have changed his route when visiting his mine. Not only did miners not want others working their claims, they had to be alert to not getting waylaid for their valuable ore. These mines were intentionally concealed and, after even a relatively short period of inactivity, would soon completely blend with the landscape.

And finally, several lost mines are located in what was then inhospitable or dangerous areas. Indigenous peoples, bandits, and Indian Wars were constant threats to prospectors and miners. Three brothers evading hostile Indians found a limestone ledge covered with gold nuggets. The brothers took ore samples then headed across the desert. Only one survived, and he was unable to locate the limestone ledge, so the Whitman “Cement” Mine remains lost. Hundreds of lost mine stories played out like that across the American West.

The Miner’s Guide; A Ready Handbook for the Prospector and Miner, by Horace J. West (Los Angeles: Second Edition – 1925





Lake Toplitz’s Nazi Gold

High in the Austrian Alps, Lake Toplitz looks like a perfect setting for The Sound of Music. A high altitude deep water lake (338 ft) located sixty-one miles from Salzburg, Lake Toplitz is surrounded by cliffs and thick forests. At a depth of sixty feet, the lake water contains no oxygen. However, the lake bottom may hold Nazi treasure.

In May of 1945, 21-year-old Ida Weisenbacher helped S.S. soldiers dispose of the boxes. “It was five o’clock in the morning, we were still in bed when we heard the knock on the door,” says Weisenbacher. “Get up immediately. Hitch up the horse wagon, we need you.”

The truck carrying the boxes couldn’t reach the lake’s shore, so the S.S. used a wagon belonging to the Weisenbacher family. “A commander was there. He told us to bring these boxes as fast as possible to Lake Toplitz,” says Weisenbacher.

Three wagon loads of boxes were taken to the lake and dumped. Each was labeled and numbered. “When I brought the last load, I saw how they went on to the lake and dropped the boxes into the water. The S.S. kept shoving me away, but I saw the boxes were sunk into the lake.”





Since the end of World War II, several attempts have been made to locate those mysterious wooden boxes. In 1959, divers discovered boxes filled with counterfeit British currency. These banknotes, a mix of five, ten, and fifty pound notes, had a combined face value of seven hundred million pounds.

The counterfeit notes were part of Operation Bernhard, a German plan to flood world markets with forged British banknotes and destroy the British economy. The forged notes were produced at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by Jewish prisoners.

Several searches have been conducted at Lake Toplitz, including an extensive mapping survey in 2000. This expedition used a deep water submersible. Several more boxes tied to Operation Bernhard were discovered and mapped on the lake bed. The expedition recovered some boxes, and preserved the contents.

Aside from the counterfeit British notes and normal wartime debris (bombs, artillery shells, guns), Lake Toplitz has yielded no gold. Maybe there is no Nazi gold for the lake to surrender. Maybe die hard Nazis or unknown treasure hunters secretly recovered the treasure. Or maybe the treasure still remains in Lake Toplitz, waiting to be found.

Who really knows?

T-26 Light Tank

The Soviet T-26 tank is the signature light tank of the interwar period. Originally a British design, the T-26 proved versatile, and in some countries, remained in service until 1961. The Red Army developed 53 variants, including flame-throwing tanks and self-propelled guns. From when it entered service in 1932 until when production ceased in 1941, around 11,000 T-26 tanks had been built.

The T-26 was exported to the Spanish Republican government, and saw extensive service during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). There, the T-26 proved superior to the German Panzer I and the Italian CV-33 tankette. Russia also exported T-26s to China and Turkey. Captured T-26s were repaired and used against the Russians. For example, Finland captured and re-purposed seventy T-26 tanks.




When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, the T-26 made up 39 percent of the Soviet Union’s total tank strength. The T-26 was comparable to early German light tanks, such as the Panzer I and Panzer II, but was seriously outclassed by the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Despite disadvantages in armor, mobility, and gun caliber, T-26 units participated in nearly every major Soviet tank engagement throughout the war. The T-26 last saw action in Manchuria against Japanese forces in August 1945.

Type 94 Nambu Pistol

The Nambu pistol was a sidearm used by Imperial Japanese forces. Variations of the 8mm semi-automatic handgun saw service in every Japanese conflict from the Russo-Japanese War up until the conclusion of World War II. Westerners are most familiar with the Type 94 Nambu, which was used extensively by Japanese forces in the Pacific.

Designed in 1925, the Type 94 Nambu was adopted by the Japanese Army in 1927. A release button on the pistol’s left side allowed for quick magazine extraction. The magazine held eight 8mm rounds. The 8mm cartridge is one of the Nambu’s major drawbacks. When compared to cartridges such as the American .45 ACP or the British .455 Webley, the Nambu lacks stopping power.

Another problem with the Type 94 is an exposed sear. The sear which is basically a bar that rests in a notch of the hammer. This bar holds back the hammer, which keeps the weapon from firing. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slides out of a notch in the hammer. The released hammer strikes the round, allowing the weapon to fire. This creates a situation where pressing or striking the side of the weapon can cause an unintentional discharge.

Considered inferior during its production run, the Nambu Type 94 remains an interesting piece of Japanese military history.