Category: history

Iconic Corpse: 93 years of Vladimir Lenin

Iconic Corpse: 93 years of Vladimir Lenin

from Ask a Mortician

Ivory, gold, and silver decorated dagger from …

Ivory, gold, and silver decorated dagger from Naples, early 19th century.

from Czerny’s International Auction House

The Gras Rifle Part III — The Greek Gras…

The Gras Rifle Part III — The Greek Gras 

In Case you missed Part I, Part II

In the previous post I detailed the conversion of the Chasspot needlefire rifle into the metallic cartridge Gras rifle. It wasn’t long after adoption of the Gras by the French Army that foreign powers became interested in the design. One nation was Greece, which became interested in the Gras rifle as part of its modernization of the military. 

Greece was a relatively new nation, just becoming independent from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820-1830′s. Many violent clashes with the Ottomans still occurred, mostly to reclaim Greek speaking lands and fend off Turkish incursions. Greece wanted a modern army and the Gras rifle was ideal in that is was sturdy, reliable, and most importantly economical. However, the French were unable to supply the rifles, being barely able to produce enough for themselves. Thus, France granted a contract to the Austrian company Steyr to manufacture export models of the Gras. 

The Gras rifle used by the Greeks was no different the standard French service rifle, the Mle 1874, with the exception of Steyr markings  stamped on the receiver, with a Greek cartouche on the buttstock.  Around 60,000 rifles were purchased by the Greek Army, with models being purchased on the civilian market as well. 

The rifle was commonly used in many of Greece’s conflicts with the Ottoman Empire up to the Balkans War. By World War I it has largely been replaced by the Greek Mannlicher, however it was used as a reserve arm and more popularly used by civilian militia units. France would sent tens of thousands more Gras rifles, both in 11mm Gras and 8mm Lebel, along with more modern weapons such as the Lebel and Berthier. By World War II the Gras rifle had become seriously dated and obsolete but was still used as a reserve arm of the Greek Army, with some being used against the Germans at the battle of Crete.  However, like during World War I, the Gras was more popular with civilian militias and resistance fighters. Seemingly every Greek home had one hanging on the wall, and the rifle even developed a folk status with songs and poems composed in it’s name. Despite using an obsolete cartridge that was no longer manufactured, there seemed to be an endless supply of ammunition that poured out of the Greek hills as the Greeks made their own cartridges from scrap brass, hand casted lead bullets, and home made gunpowder. 

Engraved Marriette pepperbox revolver, mid 19t…

Engraved Marriette pepperbox revolver, mid 19th century.

from Czerny’s International Auction House

Getting Wasted on Torpedo Fuel During World Wa…

Getting Wasted on Torpedo Fuel During World War II,

During World War I the United States Navy first instituted a rule decreeing that no alcoholic beverages were permitted on ship. This didn’t mean that drinking stopped entirely on US Naval vessels, crafty sailors still found ways to smuggle alcohol on board or produce their own.  During World War II many sailors resorted to drinking the fuel from the Mark 14 torpedo. The Mark 14 was the standard torpedo used by the US Navy in early World War II which could be dropped from the air, used by surface ships, and used by submarines. To power the torpedo the Mark 14′s engine burned 180 proof (90%) ethyl alcohol. For those who don’t know, ethyl alcohol is the potable type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.  Sailors would mix the torpedo fuel with juice, preferably pineapple juice but also whatever they could get their hands on. The drink was commonly known as “torpedo juice”.

In response to an outbreak of sailors boozing on torpedo fuel, the US Navy began denaturing the fuel, which means they would add a 5-10% mixture of methyl alcohol to the fuel. Whereas ethyl alcohol is potable, methyl alcohol is poisonous, causing blindness or death when consumed. Denaturing was a process created during the Prohibition Era to prevent people from drinking non-beverage sources of alcohol such as fuel, cleaners, and sterilizing agents. The idea is that if you mixed it with  poison people would be smart enough not to drink it. In reality, people drank it anyway causing thousands of deaths. 

To this day denaturing is still done and taken for granted without a thought despite many thousands of people being poisoned to death, not just desperate boozers looking for a cheap drink but accidental poisonings of children. Regardless, the Federal Government and most other governments have yet to change their policies on denaturing. I guess it’s worth it to keep people from getting drunk on rubbing alcohol. However, the US Navy did modify it’s policy regarding fuel alcohol. Like denaturing in the civilian world, denaturing of torpedo fuel only led to hundreds of deaths of sailors by methanol poisoning. Sailors would try various methods of filtering out the methyl alcohol, some as harebrained as running it through a loaf of bread. Most methods failed resulting in illness and death. Thus, the US Navy ceased denaturing of torpedo fuel but substituted methanol with croton oil, which is a potent laxative. The Navy figured that if they weren’t going to poison sailors who broke the rules by drinking torpedo fuel, they could at least give them a really bad case of the runs. Unlike methyl alcohol however, croton oil can be successfully removed from alcohol, in particular through distillation. All over the Navy sailors constructed crude stills to distill the alcohol from the croton oil. 

So then the Navy found itself back to square one, with it’s hands full of unruly sailors drunk on torpedo fuel. The problem was mostly resolved however with the invention of the Mark 18 torpedo. The Mark 14 torpedo had several problems; it often failed to detonate or detonated too early, it would run too deep, it would run in circles, and of course sailors were getting smashed on it’s fuel. Thus in late 1943 the US Navy adopted the Mark 18 torpedo, which was much more reliable, more economical, and utilized an electric engine. Thus no need for alcohol fuel.  At that point, much of the supply of underground booze in the US Navy dried up.

If you want to “relive” World War II history and make torpedo juice for yourself, it’s relatively simple. Just mix one part 190 proof grain alcohol such as Everclear (found at any liquor store) with three parts pineapple juice. Please don’t use methyl alcohol or denatured alcohol. Don’t eat Tide pods either you dumb shits.

Close helmet from Northern Italy, circa 1560.

Close helmet from Northern Italy, circa 1560.

from The Philadelphia Museum of Art



How the Military Waged a Graphic-Design War on Venereal Disease

Burgonet with falling buff, Austria or Souther…

Burgonet with falling buff, Austria or Southern Germany, dated 1543.

from The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sex and Suffering: The Tragic Life of the Cour…

Sex and Suffering: The Tragic Life of the Courtesan in Japan’s Floating World

Miquelet musket oringating from the Balkans, 1…

Miquelet musket oringating from the Balkans, 19th century.

from Czerny’s International Auction House