Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playing Tourist Part I

Last week my parents came to visit.  It was great to see them and it was really fun to do all the London and Oxford touristy things that one never does if one lives here.

For some of the visit my parents stayed in Oxford at my house (which, as mentioned here and here, I actually cleaned.)   For some of their visit, however, they stayed in London -- at a rather appropriate place  --- see the picture on the right --- I've always said that my family is a bit nutty!

One morning last week we went to the Imperial War Museum, which is a terrific collection of the history of  the UK during war.    They have a great (albeit depressing, as expected) exhibition on the holocaust.   They also have a terrific (and more upbeat) exhibition on MI5 and MI6 (James Bond stuff), and lots of interesting stories about soldiers.    Perhaps most interesting though is the huge collection of artifacts from the wars.

On the left here is a V2 rocket.  These things landed on London during WWII carrying thousands of pounds of explosives.   In some respects the Brits managed to outfox the Nazi's at every turn during the war -- but the V2 was one case where Hitler really had the upper hand --- there was just no defense against this thing.  It came in fast and silently and caused tons of damage.

 During the final years of the war, thousands of these things landed in England -- and thousands of people were killed by them.   Made by slave labor, interestingly enough, roughly one person was killed in the production of these devices for each person who was killed by them exploding on their targets.

Technologically, however, these things were a marvel.  Built by the young and brilliant Wernher von Braun, the V2 was the direct predecessor of almost every rocket ever built thereafter.  After the war, von Braun's Nazi history was secretly expunged and with false papers he was recruited to work for the US defense and space program.  His greatest achievement was the Saturn V rocket that put men on the moon.  He may be the only person who was both a hero to Nazi Germany and then many years later a hero to the US.

On the lighter side, here is a photo of a Sopwith Camel -- a combat airplane from the first world war.  Although I'm sure there were many bloody dogfights with this type of early aircraft, the Sopwith Camel is perhaps most famous now as being the airplane that Snoopy supposedly flew in combat against the Red Baron.

Here he is in action

Er... ok, maybe there is some similarity.... 

More on playing tourist later...

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