The St Petersburg Artillery Museum

St Petersburg Artillery Museum


By Fred Lane


(This article was first published in NOCN 82, 1 September, 2010.)


“May you live in interesting times,” is a curse attributed by many to the ancient Chinese. Regardless of the curse’s origin, St Petersburg has experienced more than its fair share of “interesting times” in its short life. Founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, as Leningrad it experienced one of the longest and most destructive sieges of all time, an 872-day siege by no less than 26 German Divisions of their Army Group North.


Many museums

It was also in St Petersburg that the cruiser Aurora fired the blank shot that was the signal for a decisive October 1917 attack on the Winter Palace, the seat of the then Provisional Government. It is in St Petersburg, despite these “interesting times”, or perhaps because of them, that we also find priceless art, architecture, theatre and museums. One of those remarkable museums is the Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signals.


Many of the weapons preserved there have a history of their own. They include personal arms, medals and gifts received by Russian royalty and include trophy arms captured from Swedish, Turkish and French forces. Some other weapons have almost miraculously survived that white hot crucible of war, defending St Petersburg itself. We are reminded of naval guns and gunners, disembarked and fighting ashore with distinction during the WW II siege.


Started 1703

The collection dates back to 1703 and the the Kronverk Arsenal started housing the Artillery Museum in 1869. The museum is just down the road from the pre-Dreadnought Aurora, afloat in the Neva River, and adjacent to the island that is distinguished by the skinny spire of the Sts Peter and Paul cathedral/fortress.


Row upon row

Just inside the Kronverk Arsenal’s gates, the Artillery Museum greets you with row upon row of medieval and modern light and heavy artillery. Exhibits range from big muzzle-loaders and mortars to nasty-looking vehicle-mounted radar-directed multiple cannon and Surface to Air missiles (SAMs).



The Artillery Museum, from just inside the main gates


Chokhov’s cannon

One of the largest seige artillery pieces in the world, Andrei Chokhov’s colossal 7134 kg Unicorn, cast in 1577, is there in the museum. Another of Chokhov’s monsters, the 39,312 kg 35-inch (890 mm) calibre Tsar cannon, cast in 1586, may be seen in the Kremlin, Moscow.



One of the museum’s exhibits is the comparatively inexpensive Katyusha rocket system that was developed in Leningrad (St Petersburg) from about 1938. The early 132 mm version was mounted on a number of light truck chassis, including the 1933-vintage ZiS-5. With a  22 kg (49 lbs) warhead, the rocket had a maximum range of about 5.4 km (3.4 miles).


Not accurate, but…

It was not as accurate as artillery and took much longer to reload, but a battery of four trucks could deliver a lethal rain of air-burst shrapnel over a four hectares (10 acres) area, all within a few seconds. Then the trucks could scuttle clear before the enemy responded with effective counter-battery fire.


The rocket collection is worth a day’s investigation alone. Unfortunately, all the signs are in Russian, but there is no disguising, for instance, the two or three deadly SA-2 Guideline versions or the heavyweight mobile ICBMs.


The Lavochkin OKB S-75 (SA-2 Guideline, SAM-2) was a nasty shock when one shot down a U-2 piloted by Gary Powers, 1 May 1960, over a SAM-2 testing range near Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). Powers was on an intelligence-gathering mission at 70,000 feet when one of eight SAM-2s hit his aircraft. (The U-2 wreckage is displayed in the Moscow Central Army Museum; Newsletter No.75 December 2008 p. 20 refers.)


One important result of this shoot-down was the accelerated development of the big Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and counter-measures that in turn generated an interesting counter-counter- measures race.


The USN chose the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile that homed on SAM site radar emissions. The USAF chose powerful jamming systems that, theoretically, blinded enemy early warning radar. Later developments included specialist jamming pods and Shrike missiles fitted to, for instance, the USN’s EA-6B Prowler, A-6B SEAD and the USAF’s F-III Wild Weasel.


..and in the super-heavyweight division is this mobile nuclear-capable SS-25 RT2PM Topol ICBM

Enemy response

Not to be outdone, enemy forces in Vietnam and other areas quickly adapted to these threats by upgrading the SAM’s radar to make it harder to detect and lock on. They also developed a missile that homed onto a jammer’s emissions. Another tactic, after detecting a Shrike launch, was to drift the contact radar to one side, then turn it off. The Shrike would follow this beam, then go harmlessly ballistic. Finally, Shrike-equipped aircraft might be detected by employing one radar site in a “false launch” mode. If there was no Shrike response, all nearby SAM sites might then use their radar with relative impunity.


The outside gunpark displays a variety of weapons

The museum is open Wednesdays to Sundays,  1100 to 1800, and there is no entry charge. It is strongly recommended as a highly rewarding visit.




Letecke Museum

Letecke Museum

There is a little-known gem of an aviation museum less than 40 minutes by public transport from Prague. The Letecke Museum was founded in 1968 on historic Kbely, Czechoslovakia’s first air base after the country’s formation in 1918.

To get to the museum from Prague, buy a 100-krona (about $5 Aus) excursion ticket that provides same day open travel on all the city-area train, tram and bus lines. The metro is clean, fast and frequent. Catch a Red Line metro train to its northern terminus, Letnany, then find, say, a Number 375 bus for a 10-minute ride to the museum.


MiG Alley: There are rows upon rows of battle weary-looking Russian-origin fighters.

Other options

There are other travel options, including leaving the Red Line train earlier, or even catching a Yellow Line train. The museum comes up on the right hand side of the bus and it is easily distinguished by the MiG-21 sitting on a pole by the gate. The bus stop is maybe five metres past the MiG-21.

The museum is housed in large hangars and open air displays in a corner of the old airfield.  There is no entry charge and it is open from May to October, every day except Mondays, from 0900 to 1800. Cameras are permitted and there seems to be no staff to discourage really close-up aircraft inspections.


Ah! If only we had hangar control officers  who could stack aircraft like this, we would have trebled our carrier aircraft potential.

Jammed hangars

Nearly all the precious museum-quality pre-WW II aircraft, including all the gliders and sectioned engines, are housed in protective hangars. However, more than half the 270-odd aircraft, including all the Russian-source helicopters, seem to be simply dumped in the open, exposed to sun, rain and snow. It is also clear that even though the hangars seem to be packed with everything that could be possibly squeezed in, there is a very large and valuable outdoors collection and perhaps an even larger “spare aircraft” jumble not on direct display but evidently awaiting attention.


The musuem also displays a number of pilot-unfriendly guns and missiles, including this SAM-2 S-75 Guideline.

Unlike Russian museums, nearly all the exhibits, indoors and outdoors, have descriptive plaques written in both Czech and English.

The museum’s emphasis, naturally, is on Czech-built and Czech-flown aircraft. With a population of  only 13 to 15 million, this small land-locked country has a remarkable aviation history, including the design, manufacture and development of  many revolutionary aircraft. In its latter years, its Air Force and national airline, CSA, flew mainly Russian types and this is reflected in the large number of post-WW II Russian-origin fighters, bombers, transports and helicopters at the museum.


A pleasant surprise was this immaculate ex-RAAF 3 Squadron Australian-built Rolls Royce Avon-engined Sabre Mk32, A94-923. Its increased thrust, from 6,100 pounds to 7,500 pounds, plus re-arming from six 0.5 inch to two 30 mm guns and AIM-9 Sidewinders, together with other improvements, made this version the “best Sabre of all,” according to its unbiased pilots.


The cleanest of all the outdoors aircraft is a spotless ex-RAAF Avon-Sabre. In contrast, many of the Russian types, including those flown by the Czech Air Force, look as though they just returned from a busy grinding war deployment.


One of the original Tupolev 104A airliners that helped to make the national airline the first all-jet passenger service in the world.

Not forgotten, in both inside and outside displays, are commercial aircraft flown by CSA and its predecessors. These include an 81-passenger Tupolev TU 104A, an aircraft that contributed to CSA becoming the first airline in the world flying regularly scheduled all-jet passenger transports.

Broome Pearl Luggers

Pearling Luggers Museum, Broome

A visit to the Pearling Luggers Museum in Dampier Terrace, Broome is illuminating. Timing our visit to coincide with a guided tour, we learn that the West Australian pearling industry started in the 1850s in Shark Bay, then built up quickly, exploiting indigenous, Japanese, Chinese and other nationality divers. By 1910, a substantial fleet of some 400 vessels and 3500 people harvested the valuable lustrous giant pearl shell, making Broome the biggest site in the industry. However,  the work was as hard as it was hazardous.


An original typical hard-working gaff-rigged ketch Broome pearling lugger.

Pearl shell, main prize

Pearl shell was the main prize. Changing fashions dictated fluctuating demand but generally there was world-wide interest in the shell as a raw material for buttons, combs and other articles. Pearls were a valuable by-product, but they were never a primary target. Between 1860 and 1880, slave-master-employers conscripted indigenous divers, including indigenous women, and forced them to work down to 12 metres as skindivers. Exposed to life-threatening risks that included sharks, bad weather and even their own bosses, they had a high death rate. By 1880, most of the shallow-water shell had been harvested. Hard-hat divers followed, with the obvious additional risk of the bends.

Pearl Masters-1870s

The Pearl Masters arrived in the 1870s and organised the work force. They began diving in Roebuck Bay and quickly established Broome as the pearl shell capital of the world.They sought the biggest pearl shell of them all, the prized Pinctada maxima, or oyster of the South Seas pearl. This huge bivalve, known to the aborigines for centuries, was discovered by Europeans in 1861 and found in abundance in shallow water in the Kimberley area. The industry advanced by fits and starts but gradually expanded until about 1914. After three devastating cyclones, in 1908, 1910 and especially 1912, the industry later collapsed as fit men went off to fight in the war. There was a slow and erratic post-WW I recovery, then the Pacific War brought the industry to a complete stop.


The traditional wooden-hulled pearl shell lugger (above, in the WA Maritime Museum) might have one hard-hat diver each side, with air supplied by hand-operated air pumps.

Fibreglass-hulled trawlers (below) have replaced the traditional lugger and engine-driven air pumps supply maybe four wet-suit divers each side.


Luggers commandeered

The Australian Government noticed that during their conquest of Malaya in December 1941 and January 1942, the Japanese appropriated local craft to transport their troops in a series of generally unopposed amphibious landings. The RAN therefore commandeered all the better Broome luggers in January 1942, sailed them to Fremantle and burned the rest. Nearly all of the better divers were lost about the same time when the government interned everyone suspected of Japanese ethnicity.

The Pacific War had a profound effect on Broome. Less than three months after Pearl Harbor, on 3 March 1942, nine Japanese A6M2 Zero aircraft from Timor (a 964 nm round trip), led by LEUT Zenjiro Miyano, swept in low,  strafing the harbour and airfield. This remarkably successful raid by a handful of naval fighters killed between 70 and 100 people and destroyed 24 aircraft for the loss of two Zeroes. One Zero was claimed shot down, but the wreckage was never located. The other ditched due to lack of fuel, but the pilot was recovered.

Flying boats destroyed

A plaque in Broome’s main street commemorates this action. Five Dornier Do-24, eight PBY Catalinas and two Short Empire flying boats were sunk in the harbour. Other aircraft, including two B-17 Flying Fortresses, one B-24 Liberator, two Lockheed Hudsons, one Lockheed Lodestar and one KLM DC-3 were left burning on the airfield. As a bonus, a B-24 and another DC-3 were shot down during the same raid.

Most of the civilian casualties were Dutch refugees from the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) still in their flying boats after landing there earlier that morning. Many sat in the harbour, awaiting painfully slow refuelling operations. Others died awaiting delayed departure clearances.


A Japanese air raid plaque in Broome’s main street.

“No warning” attacks

Some Australian reports, even in recent years, echo the mantra that the Broome and Darwin raids were conducted against chiefly “civilian targets without warning”. This propaganda deflects criticism from those who should have defended, dispersed or camouflaged valuable and highly vulnerable targets. In Broome, on 3 March 1942, everything the Japanese attacked was a legitimate target of war and diligent research will prove that short of an impractical leaflet drop, considerable warning had been given.

Pearl Harbor

The 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor might well have been  a “no notice” act of undeclared war, but that act itself should have served sufficient warning that Broome’s turn might not be long coming. The Darwin raid, just a fortnight before the Broome attack, should also have been another warning sign. The evacuation of hospital patients and some civilians from Broome a week before the raid was accelerated, but little else seems to have been planned to resist an air threat.

Finally, a Japanese Kawanishi H6K4 (Mavis) flying boat had been sighted the day before overflying Broome. It is difficult to understand how much more warning could have been given.

Industry revival

The pearl shell industry resumed slowly once more after WWII, but Broome found it hard to compete with the new-found plastics industry, even after introducing wet suits and hookah breathing apparatus. In recent years, the one or two surviving sailing luggers harvest tourists or a very few oysters for the cultured pearl farms.

These sturdy gaff-rigged ketch luggers were first introduced in 1879. A Broome boat building industry flourished for a while, using local jarrah and paperbark timber, but nowadays the working luggers are fibreglass, motorised and built elsewhere.


Lustrous pearls were once just a by-product of the pearlshell industry.

Cultured pearls

Cultured pearls are another story. Those interested in the cultured pearl industry might choose to visit a pearl farm at nearby Willie Creek, about 32 km by road north of Broome. Despite early contrary misinformation, cultured pearls are almost invariably superior to those found in their natural state, say the traders.

Boeing Aircraft Museum

Boeing aircraft factory and museum

Psst! Wanna see the biggest American airliners being constructed in the biggest shed in the world? Go North, young man, from San Francisco to Seattle, the traditional home of the Boeing Aircraft Company.

Boeing web site

Visitor information is on Boeing charges US$10 for a booked tour or US$5 on a “space available” basis for one of the six regular tours each day. The Boeing factory welcomes about 140,000 visitors a year so it is wise to prebook for the one-hour guided factory tour before leaving Australia. There is a minimum height consideration, 127 cm (four feet two inches) and a flight of stairs to negotiate. There are also Seattle-based commercial groups that run combined three and a half-hour hotel-to-hotel transport and factory tours for US$40 or so.

A brand new-looking Qantas Boeing 747 on the Seattle flight line.

 Drive or fly?

One option for most Australian visitors is to fly the 600 nautical miles directly from San Francisco to Seattle, but that means missing the breathtaking redwood giants on the way up and maybe beautiful Crater Lake on the way back. Instead, pick a snow-free season and consider hiring a car, setting off from San Francisco early one morning and finding the 101 North. The American Automobile Association (AAA, affiliated with NRMA) says it takes 16-odd hours to travel by road between the two cities, so it’s probably best to break the journey with an overnight stop somewhere. Once on the 101, put the pedal to the metal, set the cruise control to 70 and lock in 89 decimal 3 on the radio (or bring your own CDs).

Then, all you have to do is to weave through the ever-present lines of recreation vehicles (RVs) and feed, water and refuel regularly. In no time at all you will be turning off towards the US-1, say from Cloverdale, along Highway 128 past Boonville, through very winding roads and uniquely beautiful giant redwoods.

Note: In this area, when the warning signs say 10 mph is recommended for a curve, they mean it. An extra five mph over that speed is very likely to put a car off the road and either up a tree or down a cliff. Anyone other than Superman would agree that a car with power steering and automatic clutch is highly advisable. Finally, allow only an average 20 mph to cruise through redwood territory on the 128 and the northeast section of the US-1 beyond Rockport.

sugarbread house
There are some fascinating old homes on the North-West Pacific Coast, like this one in Eureka.

Habitation is pretty sparse after leaving the 101, but there are a number of towns with simple accommodation on the US-1 coast road. Think of spending the rest of the afternoon and overnight maybe somewhere between Fort Bragg and Rockport. Consider a Valley of the Giants side trip through one of the forests.

Look forward to another early start and an even tougher drive along US-1 as it cuts across country through even more redwoods to get back on 101 North. Once on the big multilane 101, it’s cruise control time again and all systems go for Eureka and Crescent City. Cut right there on the US-199 for Grants Pass and the even bigger I-5 North. You will soon be travelling through interesting cities like Portland that will tempt some DDG sailors to stay awhile. In good weather you will see the snow-capped Mount St Helens volcano and other mountain grandeur to the east.

The big Boeing airliner factory lies about 30 minutes north of Seattle, just west of the I-5 near Everett. From the I-5, take Exit 189 to State Highway 526 West and look for prominent Boeing Tour Center signs in little over three miles.

Highly organised

Boeing visits are highly organised. There is an introductory 12-minute film and a bus ride to and from the huge factory, a walk through a factory gallery and a final flight line bus tour. You will learn that Bill Boeing, a Seattle timberman, and Conrad Westerfield, a USN officer, formed the Pacific Aero Products Company in 1916. That partnership, of a serving USN officer and a local civilian, grew into the Boeing Aircraft Company of today.

The big Everett factory “shed” covers 40 hectares (98 acres) under the one roof and is claimed to be the largest by volume in the world. It is 35 metres (114 feet) tall. There are 26 overhead cranes that travel on 50 kilometres (31 miles) of track. The 747 cranes can lift 34 tons but those serving the 777 line are rated to 40 tons. Work on the factory commenced in 1966 and the first 747 started building a year later.

Typically, there are four or five wide-bodied 747, 767 or 777 airliners on each production assembly line, with huge component assemblies shipped in from all over the world, by rail, road and air. A 747 might take nine months to assemble. Often, a brand new gleaming Qantas 747, destined for Australia, will be in the number one flight line spot.

Boeing Museum of Flight

While in the Seattle area, it probably does no harm to consider a visit to the excellent Boeing Museum of Flight, about six miles south of Seattle, again on the I-5. Take Exit 158 West to the first traffic light, then turn right on to East Marginal Way. Look for the museum on the right after about a half a mile. Alternatively, take the Metro bus 174 that travels between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. Its route passes the museum.

Blackbird, F-18Main Hall
The museum has SR-3 Blackbird (left) and F-18 cockpit simulators inviting public participation. There are also
famous aircraft such as a Spitfire, Corsair, Sabre and Mig-21 on display (right photo).

The museum is open from 1000 until 1700 each day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day and admission is US$9.50 with discounts for seniors and children. It stays open until 2100 every first Thursday of the month. Wheelchairs are available for the disabled and lifts serve all floors. There is a museum shop and restaurant on the premises.

The Museum of Flight traces its roots back to a volunteer group called the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation. This was formed to recover and restore a unique 1929 Boeing 80A-1 airliner, found in an Alaskan landfill. That project started in 1964 and took 16 years. That aircraft is now a centrepiece in the museum’s Great Gallery. The “Museum of Flight”, as such, opened in rented space in the Seattle Centre in 1968, but found a permanent home in 1983, incorporating the “Red Barn”, the original Boeing factory.

This building, now on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest aircraft manufacturing plant in the country, was moved a couple of miles up river from its original site to create a home for the museum in a corner of the Boeing Field/King County International Airport.

A very rare Caproni Ca20, clearly in “original condition”.

In the Museum’s Great Gallery and other extensions to the Red Barn, there are more than 50 aircraft, many of them Boeing bombers or transports, but also distinguished fighters such as a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, a Goodyear Super Corsair F2G-1, a Douglas Skyhawk A-4F and a MiG-21. A very rare and delicate Caproni Ca20, arguably the world’s first purpose-built fighter, dating from 1914, stands proudly in the WW I Gallery on the second floor. By contrast, visitors of all ages climb in, out and all over a pair of F-18 Hornet and SR-71 Blackbird cockpit simulators on the floor below.

Modern simulators

There are also three sets of flying simulators open to the general public. One rare twin-seat model has 360-degree pitch and roll freedom. In the outer space Pete Conrad Gallery, three more simulators encourage visitors to try their hands docking a fuel-limited spacecraft on the Hubble Telescope.

Inside the museum is a control tower display that encourages visitors to listen to actual air traffic control conversations. Separate booths broadcast activity at the museum’s busy home aerodrome and in a number of cities around the USA. A jargon decrypter is at hand for those not familiar with the verbal aerial shorthand and visitors are welcome to initiate and respond to simulated radio traffic.

The general public may elect to take no-charge docent-led tours throughout the day. The museum also houses an extensive aeronautical library and archival holdings, available by appointment. It has a comprehensive on-site and outreach educational program. There are also a large number of the museum’s aircraft and spacecraft either on display or undergoing restoration at a number of other sites, one as far away as Mesa, Arizona.

Outside the museum are a number of aircraft, including an F-18 (left) and an A-6 (right).

Outside the museum’s main building is another series of aircraft, ranging from the first presidential jet, Eisenhower’s 1959 Boeing VC-137B “Air Force One”, to a dummy-bomb-laden Grumman A-6 Intruder and rare types such as a piston-engined Boeing B-29 Superfortress and a Boeing WB-47E Stratojet.

Pike Place Market

No Seattle visit would be complete, of course, without a stroll through Pike Place Market and sampling the delicious waterfront restaurant salmon. There is also the Space Needle to climb, the monorail to travel on and dozens of other attractions for those not hooked on aircraft history.

Contrary to scuttlebutt, it does not rain all the time in Seattle. In mid-September 2002, during a 10-day holiday period, the weather was sunny and there was no significant daytime rain at all.

Crater Lake on return trip?

Options for the return journey to San Francisco include a straight run back on the I-5 or a slight diversion east to explore some of the wonderful National Parks, especially Crater Lake. If timing’s around early September, consider a visit to the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno. Crater Lake is on the way from Seattle to Reno and then it’s only a half day’s easy drive from Reno to San Francisco. On the other hand, some Australian visitors might consider reversing the route, to do a Tailhook Reunion in Reno and visit nearby Lake Tahoe first, then drive to Crater Lake and Seattle.

Crater LakeThe Lodge
Crater Lake (left) is worth a visit. The Lodge (right) is redolent with atmo$phere.

There are many ways to get to Crater Lake by road and depending on the season there might be overnight bookings available in expensive places such as Crater Lake Lodge, or in more reasonably priced cabins at nearby Mazama Village. In any event, book accommodation before leaving Australia and plan to visit during a snow-free period, between early July and late September, to permit circumnavigation of the lake by car along Rim Drive. Take a camera. It is almost impossible to take a bad photograph of Crater Lake. The deep blue lake is especially beautiful on clear days around dawn and sunset.

Crater Lake was formed by the collapse of a volcanic caldera about 7700 years ago, leaving a deep basin more than six kilometres wide that gradually filled with water. No stream runs into or out of the lake, but snow and rain seepage and evaporation balance to form one of the world’s purest and deepest bodies of fresh water. The lake surface is about 1882 metres (6173 feet) above sea level. Its maximum depth is 593 metres (1843 feet); claimed to be the seventh deepest in the world. Around the lake are sheer grey cliffs that rise 240 to 600 metres (800 to 2000 feet) above the lake’s surface.

A boat takes passengers on a 1 hour 45 minutes tour of the lake, but that involves clambering down a steep 243 metres (800 feet) cliff via a zig-zag track to get to the boat. Going down is not so bad. It takes about 30 or 40 minutes. Climbing back is daunting. Even the youngest and fittest take more than an hour at that high altitude.

Visitor information centres and gift shops in the Crater Lake area are well-stocked with everything ranging from soft toys and postcards to substantial books about the lake, its myths and origins. The Lodge runs an excellent restaurant (it’s expensive and bookings are strongly suggested) but there are other options nearby such as a cafeteria and take-away food in Rim Village.

Yellowstone Park?

Locals enthuse about volcanic features such as “lava runs” some tens of kilometres from the lake, but only those very few with a dedicated interest in shallow caves should contemplate such a visit. On the other hand, there are plenty of side visits possible from Reno itself. These include Tailhook-sponsored visits to NAS Fallon and Lake Tahoe and private car drives to places such as Incline Village and historic Carson City. Braver souls might even gird up for another 700-odd miles journey east to take in famous Yellowstone Park.

Antietam Battle: 1862


The Battle of Antietam Museum


More American soldiers  (617,528) died during the 1861-65 American Civil War than in any other conflict involving Americans. The next worse loss of life was in WW II when 407,316 were killed (Morison and Commager 1950, p. 653). These figures cannot compare to the millions of Russian, German and other European deaths recorded in WW II (Beevor 2002), but from a then total American population of only 31.4 million (1860 census figure) the large number of deaths together with the privations reported by prisoners of war on both sides had a profound effect on the country. The Battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862 was a seminal event in American history and a major turning point of the Civil War.

Oddly, this conflict is rarely called “Civil War” in the South, even to this present day. Preferred titles there are “The War between the Sates” or, even in Charleston, where the first cannon was fired by the South into Union-held Fort Sumter, “The War of Northern Aggression.” Exactly how the static Fort Sumter, surrounded by sea, was “aggressing” is not clear to the casual observer. Similarly, the North’s “Battle of Antietam”  is known in most Southern States as the “Battle of Sharpsburg”.
Antietam was the first major Civil War battle fought outside the Confederacy and it marked the end of a dramatic northern push by Confederate General Robert E. Lee in 1862. Union forces were able to engage the enemy only after an appalling security breach by Confederate forces, a stroke of sheer luck in discovering and reporting secret orders and an uncharacteristically nimble response by the Union commander, General George B. McClennan. Antietam also preceded Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, five days later. This broadened the base of the war and made it more difficult for European nations, such as England and France, to support the Confederate States that still countenanced slavery.
More Americans fell that day at Antietam than in any other battle in history. The casualty toll (22,720 killed, wounded and captured) was nine times that of American casualties during D-Day (2,510). No fewer than six generals were killed and 12 sustained wounds.


The Battle of Antietam is amazingly well-documented. The battlefield itself is preserved today as an historic monument, close to its original state, and its numerous historic sites are clearly but discretely signposted with monuments and other reminders. One major factor contributing to the battlefield’s present day authenticity was Alexander Gardner’s photography. Arriving within a couple of days of the action, Gardner took 70 photographs of the battlefield, before they buried the dead. This was the first time a major armed conflict had been recorded in this manner. Instead of the “death or glory” cavalry charge, beloved of the painters and artists, here was the grim reality of war: thousands of dead bodies lying grotesquely as they fell.

 Bloody Lane 1862 Bloody Lane 2002
 Bloody Lane after the battle (left, Alexander Gardner photo) and now (Jim Strongon photo).

To put Antietam into context, the overt cause of the “War between the States” was the threat of Abraham Lincoln declaring freedom for all American slaves. This aroused considerable political and judicial muscle flexing but there were wider issues contributing to the long-threatened secession resolutions of the Confederate State parliaments in 1860-1. Chief among these was a perceived constitutional “States versus Federal” right to determine policy.

The election of Abraham Lincoln as Federal President and his universal anti-slavery platform was anathema to Southern “State rights”, despite Lincoln’s repeated statements that at that time “slavery was not an issue”. If Lincoln ever enacted his highly forecast anti-slavery legislation, the slave owners argued, he would pauperise the South. What would stop the more numerous Northern States banding together to tax or otherwise skim the profits from lucrative Southern exports such as cotton and tobacco? The Confederates fired the first gun on 12 April 1861, towards Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina, ostensibly to beat off a Union attempt to resupply the garrison to which they were laying siege.

Naval strategy

The North’s naval strategy was obvious and played a decisive part in the struggle. After a slow start due to shortages of ships and men, the Union had four squadrons in place by July 1861 to blockade the seven or eight Southern ports that had been loading more than 6,000 ships a year. Never perfect, about 800 cargo ships ran the blockade in its first year and small ships could also sail along the intricate inland North Carolina waterways, then slip through any of dozens of outlets once the horizon looked clear. The South wanted England or France to relieve the blockade to facilitate their cotton exports, but Europe held substantial reserve stocks and the major powers were in no hurry to intervene.
Union forces captured a small number of bases along the South’s coast, chiefly to service the blockading ships. This strategy also pinned down Southern troops, but no major effort was made either to mount an offensive from these bases or to recapture them.

Inland, Brigadier Ulysses S. Grant chalked up notable Union successes on the Mississippi in early 1862. He was supported by freshwater gunboats moving downstream and a saltwater fleet commanded by Captain (Damn the torpedoes …) Farragut sailing up river from the Gulf of Mexico. However, Grant was surprised by a counterattack from Fort Donelson, Shiloh, on 6 April 1862 that cost 13,000 of his 63,000 Union troops engaged. Confederate losses were listed as 11,000 out of 40,000 (Morison and Commager 1950 p. 677). Higher authority then enforced a much more pedestrian tempo in that theatre, but it was Grant who finally accepted the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and all his Confederate forces three years later at Appomatox, 9 April, 1865.

Major General McClellan, commanding Union troops in the Washington theatre in 1862, followed a similar pedestrian strategy. He was a great logistics manager, but he consistently overestimated his opposition and lacked the initiative and flexibility of the South’s Generals Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson in battle. After an aborted mid-1862 approach aiming to capture Richmond with a numerically superior, better-equipped and better-trained army, the South stalemated or beat McClellan piecemeal. He retreated back to Washington, supported by Union naval forces, including the revolutionary ironclad Monitor, that kept him supplied and provided Naval Gunfire Support for his troops.

Manassas mauling 

On 29-30 August 1862, Lee and Jackson badly mauled the Union Army of the Potomac at Manassas. With Virginia now clear of Union forces, they commenced an invasion of then-neutral Maryland on 4 September, aiming to march through Maryland to capture a railway bridge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This thrust would nearly cut the Union in two. Lee expected the rich countryside to provide food for his hungry army and he hoped the invasion would press Maryland to join the Southern cause. Wider afield, such signal success might also swing a European nation or two behind the Confederacy.

 Abraham Lincoln (centre, in top hat) with some of his Generals.

Lee expected McClellan to take weeks to reorganise, but Private Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indianas, discovered Lee’s Scheme of March, Special Order 191, dated 9 September, in an abandoned Confederate campsite on 12 September. “Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home,” McClellan is reported to have said later that day. He rapidly deployed his 85,000 men to counter the South’s bold thrust.
Lee detected McClellan’s approach and, unable to manoeuvre, quickly set up defensive perimeters with his available troops. On 17 September, a series of desperate uncoordinated attacks and counter-attacks ensued. These became known as the Battle of Antietam. There were three major battle phases, morning, midday and afternoon, at five well-documented major sites: Cornfield, West Woods, Bloody Lane, Burnside Bridge and Final Attack. These exhausted Lee’s army, but failed to destroy it.

The Cornfield Battle raged for most of the forenoon as the generals threw division after division into the fray. At Burnside Bridge, a few hundred Confederate riflemen held off General Burnside’s entire Corps for most of the day. This vital delay allowed a relief force to march up from Harpers Ferry, 27 kilometres away, and block Burnside’s late afternoon thrust towards the Confederate Army’s headquarters and main line of retreat. McClellan failed to follow up the next day, allowing most of Lee’s survivors to escape.

Day trip from Washington, Antietam is eminently placed for a day trip excursion from Washington, DC, only 114 kilometres away. Consider visiting Antietam by car and wandering around the exhibits in your own time, guidebook in hand, or booking any of a number of battlefield guided tours. Visit the National Parks Service website below for more information.


Beevor, A. Berlin: The downfall 1945. Penguin Books: London, 2003.
Morison S.E. and H.S. Commager. The growth of the American Republic, Vol 1, 4th Ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 1950.
National Parks Services:

Army Museum, W.A.

Army Museum, WA

A little gem of a museum lies quietly in a Fremantle back street, on Cantonment Hill, near the old Stirling Highway/Canning Highway intersection. Look out for khaki museum signs that point to the old Artillery Barracks in Burt St. They house time-themed galleries, while outside there is an interesting collection of “better-than-new” restored armoured vehicles, together with a sprinkling of artillery. A recent acquisition is an M113A1 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC/LRV 134175), repaired after an altercation with a mine in Vietnam.

Heritage buildingsThe buildings themselves have a significant history. Built in 1910, they were the first major Commonwealth-funded defence works in Western Australia. Currently, the museum shares the barracks with the WA University Regiment, but that force is expected to move out shortly. The collection started towards the end of WW II and public galleries were opened in 1977 in East Perth. Relocation to the present site occurred in 1995.

105 Packhow
105 mm Pack Howitzer

Two of the many interesting external exhibits are the 105 mm Pack Howitzer, and the General Lee medium tank. The howitzer is an Italian designed L5 version, and it proved a most versatile weapon in Vietnam, firing the same ammunition as the American M-101 and M-102 out to 11,500 yards. Importantly, it could be underslung on a medium-lift helicopter. The Australian General Lee tank (aka General Grant to the British) weighs 23.9 tonnes and carries six or seven crew. This version mounted one 75 mm gun and 46 rounds, one 37 mm gun with 178 rounds and a .3 Browning machine gun. Its 340-400 hp Wright Continental engine drove it at 49 kmh (road) and 26 kmh off road.

A WW II-era General Lee tank.

Apart from the “outside” displays, which range from a WW II Bren gun carrier to a Vietnam-era 105 mm howitzer, the five major galleries display memorabilia, maps, and weaponry from the pre-1914 era, the Great War, WW II, the Cold War and more recent times.

Australia’s commitment to the Boer War and other eras is discussed in accurate detail by eager volunteers, including at least one ex-RAN sailor.

The extensive WW II and POW galleries vividly display the victories and hard times experienced by Australian servicemen. These range from the brilliant successes in the Western Desert to the debilitating Prisoner of War camps. Naval sacrifices are not forgotten. In the Crete evacuation display we are reminded of the loss of no less than 2000 sailors, three cruisers, five destroyers and damage to larger units when evacuating 11,976 valuable soldiers between 28 May and 1 June 1941.

If you are in the Fremantle area and have time over after visiting the Maritime Museums, you will not regret a visit to the Army Museum of WA at the “other end” of Fremantle. Admission costs $5 and the museum is open 1100 to 1600 Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Check for details.

Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver

 Museum of Anthropology, UBC

The Museum of Anthropology in the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada has by far the best collection of original totem poles and other carvings by the Northwest First Nations people. The exhibits are not only more numerous but are in better condition that those found, for instance, in totem pole dedicated areas, such as Thunderbird Park in Victoria, BC, and even the National Historic Park in Sitka, Alaska.

Detailed knowledge

As a bonus, the university lecturer, who guided the afternoon tour during a recent visit, had an amazingly detailed fund of both local and academic knowledge. His discussions linked the totemic sculptures to important scientific studies. A systematic study of them and their associated culture contributed to Franz Boas constructing the scientific underpinnings for what became known as the science of anthropology in the late 19th century. At a time when theories of inferior/superior race, culture and art pervaded both academia and politics, it was Boas and his Columbia University colleagues, like Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malenowsky, who turned those poisonous positions on their collective heads.

Great Hall
One corner of the Great Hall.

Instead of cephalic indexes, phrenology, language complexity, written records, skin colour and other so-called immutable measures of race “purity” and “superiority”, Boas extended Darwin’s work on evolution. He was well ahead of later DNA research that found all human beings sharing very much the same genetic make-up and therefore intuitive behaviour. The Boas group claimed furthermore that there were only comparatively minor behavioural variations that were probably as great within “racial groups” as between “racial groups”.

Therefore it was the environment (nurture), and not genetics (nature), that shaped the most important aspects of human behaviour. At great personal risk from fascist thugs and contrary to Nazi ideology, Boas, debunked the great Aryan race superiority myth using, in no small part, hard observational data collected from his original Northwest Indians studies.

Eugenics irrelevancies

Basically, Boas and his colleagues quietly but convincingly proved that despite cosmetic irrelevancies such as skin colour or eye shape, all human beings belonged to one “race”. Moreover, despite strong claims to the contrary, there was no such thing as “good art” or “bad art” or other popular measure that would allow one culture to claim superiority over another. They convincingly argued that all science could do was to describe the cultural and environmental contexts of various people groups.

The Northwest Indians used the sea for everything from fishing to warfare. Their boat and canoe construction reflected an understanding of sophisticated hydrodynamics as well as highly skilled woodworking.

Good science might well breed a marginally faster racehorse but, apart from its abhorrent moral overtones, the so-called science of eugenics will never produce important change or guarantee the “purity” of a “race” of human beings. The popular milestones of culture, like written language and scientific advancement, were largely irrelevant in environments that did not support such culture. Boas demonstrated that instead of written texts, the Northwest Indians recorded all their important cultural history in other ways, such as complex songs, poems and sculpture.

Religious zealots

Within that context, the UBC’s totem poles are important and highly valuable cultural descriptive measures that were very nearly destroyed. Their complexity and the creation stories they described were almost lost when government-sponsored Christian missionaries imposed their own creation theories, chiefly in the 19th century. Christian zealots routinely denigrated and destroyed their priest-shamans, totem poles and other religious artefacts. 

Paradoxically, other material was destroyed by the native people themselves during the potlatch ceremonies that the missionaries and government worked so hard to suppress. These interventions, together with introduced diseases, led to a massive identity crisis within the culture that persists today. Similar cultural conflicts may be seen in Australian Aborigines.

Raven creation myth
Raven creation myth: this huge laminated cedar wood statue represents the trickster Raven of the Haida creation myth encouraging young men to emerge from their clam shell shortly after the creation flood.

The few totem poles and other artefacts that remain today are precious because they help to preserve the cultural remnants of a once-great group of nations. Those at UBC range from ancient weather-beaten fragments to modern replicas. One striking modern carving is Bill Reid’s sculpture of The Raven and the First Men.

Trickster Raven

Bill Reid was a newsreader for the Canadian Broadcasting Commission when he retired in 1958 to become a full time artist and sculptor. Reid carved the Museum’s striking raven statue from a single massive block of 106 laminated yellow cedar pieces. It represents the Haida creation myth about a huge raven finding this large clam shell after the creation flood. There were baby men inside who were reluctant to come out until persuaded by the trickster Raven. The men went on to find other clam shells, from which they released women. Thus, the human race started. Reid also contributed a large number of other important works to the museum. There are about 6000 local-area Indian artefacts within a total of about 13,000 objects on display in the museum. These include jewellery, baskets and other woven craft, as well as a small number of dugout canoes.
These boats, between three and 20 metres long, are interesting. They were typically carved from a single cedar log, but to establish their final form they might be filled with water into which hot rocks would be loaded until the wood became pliable enough for it to be shaped. Then the larger canoes might be intricately decorated with totemic and other markings. Most of these fine boats were used for fishing and local transport, but some ocean-going vessels were fitted with woven sails and used for long distance trading and raiding 500 miles or more away.

Vancouver map
It’s a 20-minute bus ride from Vancouver to the museum.


The museum is at 6393 NW Marine Dr, a $1.50 (seniors), 20-minute bus ride from downtown Vancouver. One option then is to walk 10 or 15 minutes from a turn-off before reaching the terminus (ask the driver). Museum entry costs $7.00 (seniors) and further detailed information, particularly opening times, may be found at It is a rare cultural gem well worth visiting. Many will agree that the Trickster Raven statue alone might well be worth the trip.