Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – In Honor of Her Birthday: December 9, 1906

Grace Hopper (Amazing Grace) has to be one of my favorite people of the 20th Century. Shamelessly stolen from myself. It was originally posted in 2006, and amazingly, all the links still seem to work.


Grace HopperNot very many women were getting degrees in mathematics in 1928. (Not many are doing so today.) Grace Hopper got her MA in 1930 and a PhD. in 1934. She joined the Naval Reserve in 1943. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was a pioneer. She was one of the founders of modern computing.

Grace Hopper was the one who said, “It’s always easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” (This is one of my favorite quotes.)

Grace Murray Hopper often presented a piece of wire about a foot long, and explained that it represented a nanosecond, since it was the maximum distance electricity could travel in wire in one-billionth of a second. She often contrasted this nanosecond with a microsecond – a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long – as she encouraged programmers not to waste even a microsecond.

First Computer BugHave you ever wondered where the term “computer bug” comes from? The Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator stopped working in September 1945. Lieutenant Junior Grade Hopper (who was always good with gadgets) was one of those who took it apart piece by piece until a moth was found stuck between the contacts of relay number 70. The log entry says “First actual case of bug being found,” and the word went out that the machine had been “debugged.” [click on the image for a large view of the log and the bug.]

Lt. HopperAlthough programmers the world over love-to-hate COBOL (the COmmon Business Oriented Language), it was one of the first compiled languages.

Perhaps [Grace Hopper’s] best-known contribution to computing was the invention of the compiler, the intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer.

Her compiler lead directly to the development of COBOL; a major step into the modern world of computing we know today. And there is still a VERY good chance that COBOL wrote your last pay check, printed your last bank statement, tracks your car insurance, …

Amazing Grace even has US Naval vessel named in her honor. The USS Hopper (DDG-70) is a 500 ft. long AEGIS Class Guided Missile Destroyer, generates 100,000 shaft horsepower and was commissioned on 6 September 1997. The ship’s motto is “AUDE ET EFFICE” which translates to “Dare and Do,” a favorite phrase of Rear Admiral Hopper’s when giving advice.

Grace Murray Hopper died in 1992 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, having become the first woman to hold the rank of rear admiral. Grace Hopper’s military awards and decorations include:

  • Defense Distinguished Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit
  • Meritorious Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal with two Hourglass Devices
  • Naval Reserve Medal

The Navy, fittingly, has named its Data Automation Center in San Diego after her.

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

December 7th, 1941. The Japanese, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in order to convince the USA to let them do as they wanted to in the Pacific. Epic Fail.

Pearl Harbor is a U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, that was the scene of a devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Just before 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, where they managed to destroy or damage nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and another 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

After Pearl Harbor came Midway. After Midway came Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And after that came unconditional surrender. So like I said. Epic. Fail.

November 9, 1989: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall and Death Zone, 1977An important historic event happened 30 years ago tomorrow. The Berlin Wall stood from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989.

The image at the right is a portion of the wall, and the Death Zone on the East German Side. It includes a guard tower and a row of Czech hedgehogs. Click for an enlarged view. Photo by George Garrigues. (For more info on the photo and the author see this link, or the author’s link.)

I was surprised (when I started thinking about this post in August) to find out that there was media coverage of the Berlin Wall recently. True, most of it was German and European, but it seems people mark the anniversary of the building of the wall, or at least they did this year on August 13th.

The Berlin Wall has now been torn down longer than it was in place. The Cold War is a distant memory. So much so, that when Hawaii decided to scare everyone a few years back with a fake missile-attack warning, people were guessing that it would take DAYS for a missile from North Korea to reach Hawaii. (Maximum travel time for an intercontinental ballistic missile from anywhere to anywhere is on the order of 35 minutes from launch. Longer or shorter depending on the exact locations of launch and target.) My guess is that anyone born after 1995 or so won’t know (without access to a web search) what Checkpoint Charlie was, or who the Stazi were. Does anyone remember why people thought Kennedy told the people of Berlin that he was a “jelly doughnut?” Or what it was like to wonder about imminent death from thermonuclear war?

There is too much history to include much in a post like this. The East German border guard who jumped the barrier when it was just a 3-foot high coil of barbed wire, the 2 brothers who escaped separately and then flew back to get their kid brother, and the more than 100 people who were killed by their own government for trying to leave. [Insert reference to recent events in Venezuela here.]

Since I feel the need to include at least one reference. A collection of photos seems best at this juncture. The story of Berlin Wall in pictures, 1961-1989. You can find other accounts in other places. Even the Wiki does a fair job.

A Female Warrior From the Viking Era

Female warriors were a thing for the Vikings. The Viking warrior WOMEN: Scientists reconstruct the face of 1,000-year-old female with a ‘battle wound’ on her skull who was buried with a hoard of weapons in Norway.

Scientists have re-created the face of a female Viking warrior who lived more than 1,000 years ago.

The woman is based on a skeleton found in a Viking graveyard in Solør, Norway, and is now preserved in Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History.

She was buried with a sword, a spear, an ax, and arrows.

This of course reminds me of Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings.

The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain.

Hat tip to Never Yet Melted – Face of Viking Shieldmaiden Reconstructed.

First Login to ARPANET – Oct. 29, 1969

50 years ago today, the Internet was born. Sort of. I think that says it all.

On October 29, 1969, at 10:30pm Pacific Time, the first two letters were transmitted over ARPANET. And then it crashed. About an hour later, after some debugging, the first actual remote connection between two computers was established over what would someday evolve into the modern Internet.

Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (the predecessor of DARPA), ARPANET was built to explore technologies related to building a military command and control network that could survive a nuclear attack

October 25, 1854: The Charge of the Light Brigade

On October 25th, 1854, during the Crimean War, a British light cavalry brigade was ordered to make a disastrous charge. The Charge of the Light Brigade, 160 165 Years Ago.

Czar Nicholas I of Russia basically Went to war with the Ottoman Empire. France and England were disturbed at his territorial goals, which apparently included Constantinople. This would give the Russian Fleet access to the Mediterranean Sea. Fighting broke out in 1853, and Britain and France declared war in March of 1854.

As for the battle in question. Egos got in the way of communication. Orders were poorly understood, and not communicated correctly. A lot of people died as a result of idiocy on the part of officers. Which was apparently not that uncommon in the 19th Century.

In the end, of the roughly 670 Light Brigade soldiers, about 110 were killed and 160 were wounded, a 40 percent casualty rate. They also lost approximately 375 horses.

The Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem, “The Charge Of The Light Brigade”, was written to immortalize the bravery of the men involved. The most famous couplet from that poem is probably, “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do & die.” The poem begins as follows.

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Mary Edwards Walker – the Only Woman to Receive the Congressional Medal of Honor

Coffee or Die has the story. The True Story of Mary Edwards Walker, the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient.

When the American Civil War began, she went to Washington and attempted to join the Union Army as a medical officer. She was denied at first, but her feisty determination secured her role as an assistant physician. As a volunteer, she had the freedom to take assignments up and down the East Coast without the nagging oversight of the U.S. government.

She was a POW, and received the Medal of Honor with the recommendations of Major Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Thomas. Her award was rescinded in 1917, but restored by Jimmy Carter. Anyway, as they say, go read the whole thing.

The New Midway Movie Actually Might Be Good

Given that they seem to actually be concentrating on the history. ‘Midway’ movie takes war in the Pacific seriously – We Are The Mighty – Americas Tactical Military Entertainment Brand.

When I first heard of this movie, I was sure it was going to be a joke. The director of Independence Day and Godzilla (the 1998 version, not the new version). Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz. These two things didn’t sound like a winning combination to me. But then I saw the Bonnie and Clyde movie that Harrelson was in, and I thought he might actually have promise.

And Roland Emmerich did direct the 2000, Mel Gibson movie The Patriot. And now they seem to be trying to get the history right. They’ve spent a fair amount of time visiting the actual places, and talking to navy personnel to understand what it must have been like.

Once the Department of Defense approved a production support agreement with the movie’s producers, the writers got busy working to get the script as accurate as practicable. Multiple script drafts were provided to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). Those same historians viewed the rough and final movie productions.

At the same time, I’m sure that the special effects (mostly digital) will be over the top, as you can see in the trailer.

I think when all is said and done, I will still prefer the Charlton Heston version.

“5 Best…” Applied to the History of Warfare

There is always some disagreement with these lists. Or at least I usually disagree about something. (Does that make me disagreeable?) You’re Dead: Meet the 5 Best Bombers, Submarines, and Aircraft Carriers. Even though National Interest doesn’t limit themselves to US weapons systems, I think they miss some things.

Take bombers for example. Some historical examples dating back to WWI, through the B-52, but not the B-2 or the F-117 Nighthawk.

And it wouldn’t be a history lesson, if we didn’t learn something. In this case about battleships, and in particular, the battleship Yamato.

As noted at the outset, Yamato was an imposing craft by any standard. She displaced more than any battleship in history, as much as an early supercarrier, and bore the heaviest armament. Her mammoth 18-inch guns could sling 3,200-lb. projectiles some 25 nautical miles. Armor was over two feet thick in places.

And I also learned something about the subject of bombers; the De Havilland Mosquito was new to me.

Relatively lightly armed and constructed entirely of wood, the Mosquito was quite unlike the rest of the RAF bomber fleet. Barely escaping design committee, the Mosquito was regarded as easy to fly, and featured a pressurized cockpit with a high service ceiling. Most of all, however, the Mosquito was fast. With advanced Merlin engines, a Mosquito could outpace the German Bf109 and most other Axis fighters.

What are some of the other things they missed? Under submarines, they don’t include Kockums Gotland (or any other class) even though they fit the Stirling Air-independent Propulsion system, which makes them potentially quieter than nuclear subs. Under battleships, they don’t include HMS Dreadnought, which set the stage for 3 of the 5 battleships they name. (HMS Victory, from the age of sail, and the Japanese Mikasa, Tōgō Heihachirō’s flagship are the other 2.)

Last Flight of the Blackbird

The SR-71 last flew on 9 October 1999. It is still the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft ever built.

Maximum speed of Mach 3.3 at 80,000 feet, and a ceiling of 85,000 feet.

There are some great documentaries on The Blackbird, but they are longer than I like to include here. This one is good, and it is only 8 minutes long.

If you have time, and the interest, look up some of the longer documentaries. This plane is an engineering marvel. There is a surprising amount of information available. The engines which (sort of transitioned) from regular turbo jet to ramjet are simply amazing.

I wonder what we can do, or what we are doing, with the technology available today.

Try to Remember – A September 11th Musical Interlude

The Fantasticks was a wildly successful off-Broadway musical. It ran for 42 years. It was forced to interrupt performances due to the September 11th attacks, and when they tried to reopen, in 2002, they couldn’t get past this number. Though in recent years, I think we’ve forgotten about September 11th.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

This is “Try to Remember” performed by Josh Groban. It was originally written for the musical, The Fantasticks, which opened in 1960.

Battleships: A History Lesson

Courtesy of Sarge from Chant du Départ. That’s Old AF (Air Force) Sarge. You thought “AF” stood for something else, didn’t you. So why is an AF Sarge teaching us about naval history? Because he loves his history, that’s why. Now pay attention… class is about to begin.

Sarge, What Is a Battleship? (Part One) Battleships thru the ages. (And a nice photo of USS Iowa BB-61 underway.)

Battleships, Part Two – The Pre-Dreadnoughts Late 19th Century Mostly.

I’m (Not) Batman An interlude. (Because “that Guinness is not going to drink itself.”) With a video of “Mighty Mo”  (USS Missouri  BB-63) firing her main guns.

The End of an Era (Battleships, Part Three) Early 20th Century thru WWII. (HMS Dreadnought was laid down in 1905, and entered service it 1906. It made every prior battleship obsolete.) With some info on Battlecruisers thrown in.

August 25th – 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Paris

I hate it when I miss important anniversaries. This one is August 25, 1944. Paris celebrates its liberation from Nazis, 75 years on.

Paris celebrated the American soldiers, French Resistance fighters and others who liberated the City of Light from Nazi occupation exactly 75 years ago on Sunday, unleashing an eruption of kissing, dancing, tears and gratitude.

Firefighters unfurled a huge French flag from the Eiffel Tower, recreating the moment when a French tricolor stitched together from sheets was hoisted atop the monument 75 years ago to replace the swastika flag that had flown for four years.

The White Rose of Stalingrad

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (Лидия Владимировна Литвяк) 18 August 1921 – 1 August 1943. She was known to everyone as Lilya. ‘The White Rose of Stalingrad’ was a female pilot who terrorized the Nazis.

Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.

In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.

She flew a number of missions in an all-women fighter regiment, but was later transferred to a mixed gender regiment over Stalingrad.

The Wiki says she was the first female pilot to shoot down an enemy fighter in combat, and she was the 2nd woman pilot to achieve the title “Ace.”

Back to “We Are the Mighty.” On August 1st, 1943:

“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.

The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.

Badass of the Week’s story on Litvyak is fairly colorful, and worth a look as well.

For the next year, the White Rose of Stalingrad ignited enemy fuselages up and down the Eastern Front. She was transferred to a Guards Regiment, the elite of the Soviet military, and flew as a Junior Lieutenant and Flight Commander in the recently-established all-female 586th Fighter Air Regiment. She flew bomber escorts, attack missions, and was so ridiculously awesome that she was given a James Bond license to kill at will – she was assigned “Free Hunter” status, meaning that she was free to go balls-out into enemy airspace without orders to do so. Over that year she flew 66 combat missions, sometimes four or five a day, including one attack when she busted through a gauntlet of AA guns and fighters to shoot down an observation balloon that was fucking with the Red Army and helping Nazi artillery range their shells on Russian positions outside Stalingrad. So fuck those guys. She notched twelve solo kills – the most of any woman ever – and had four or five more assisted kills. Basically, she kicked some Fascist ass.

Lilya Litvak was one of only 2 female fight-pilot, aces in history. The other was her wingman Katya Budanova.

This video is 10 minutes, longer than I like for something like this, but interesting enough to be worth your time. It isn’t perfect, but there you go. YouTube will choke on the privacy settings in your browser; use the link when that happens. (You do have privacy cranked up to 11, don’t you?) And no, the video isn’t perfect, but then what it?

A NOTE: Several people have asked me, “Why all this Soviet history?” Well, I love WWII history, and I’ve studied a lot of the American and British involvement, but the Russian side of things I hadn’t studied until just recently. I also love stories about strong women, and given that the Russians were the only country who deployed women in combat in WWII, it seemed natural to look into it.

It is sad really that the some of the same people who will defend studying Lee’s Army of Virginia and what they managed to do during The Civil War will give you grief, if you apply the same standards elsewhere. The Soviet Union was a horrible country, but some of the things its citizens and soldiers did were amazing.

It is also nice to throw some sand on the people who say women have no place in combat, by pointing out the pilots and snipers who did amazing things. History can teach you a lot, if you bother to look.

“Ministry of Truth” Marches on College Campuses

The erasure of history proceeds. And I’m not saying you have to like every monument. But if we remove everything that “offends someone” then there will be nothing left.

Are we surprised that Yale is at the top of the list? Yale’s controversial stone carving remains censored.

In August 2017, Yale University announced its decision to move a controversial stone carving from its library entrance and pledged at the time to make it “available for viewing and studying” elsewhere.

Two years later, the stone carving remains covered up at the entrance to Sterling Memorial Library

And removing evidence of Revolutionary War. (And what came after.) University of Virginia considers removing statue of Revolutionary War officer.

David Swanson is petitioning the public university to remove a nearly 100-year-old statue that depicts an American revolutionary on horseback clashing with Native Americans in combat.

God forbid that anyone should have to reflect on the complex nature of history.

And if you don’t think that this country is starting to look like Nineteen Eighty-four, you aren’t paying attention.

Bonus Musical Interlude (And History Lesson)

Courtesy of OldAFSarge – Chant du Départ: Bismarck.

I didn’t think I’d like Sabaton at first, but they are growing on me, I mean, a metal band who loves history? What could be bad about that?

Enjoy.

He has some info about the Bismark, and the Fairey Swordfish torpedo plane that was pivotal in stopping it. And the video for “Bismark” by Sabaton.

Enjoy, indeed.

(I may have to revisit Sabaton. I hadn’t heard many songs by them, and a few I didn’t like. But this one has possibilities.)

The Evolution of the Destroyer

And the evolution of the torpedo, and how the one brought about the other. So Sarge, what exactly is a destroyer?

The Whitehead torpedo, which could be launched at a distance, revolutionized naval warfare. Now a small, rather inexpensive boat could carry a weapon which could sink a much larger (expensive) warship. (I’m sure the Royal Navy pronounced this as barbaric and unsporting.)

Nice piece of artwork that depicts US destroyers from the Clemson-Class (1918) through Zumwalt-Class (2016). And a couple of photos that are of interest. One of an early torpedo boat, and an early destroyer.

Sarge also has a post on the Honda Point disaster, where seven Clemson-class destroyers of DesRon 11 were destroyed, and 5 were damaged.