It’s likely that all of us, at some point in our lives, aspire to be the best at something. When one is young, it sometimes doesn’t matter what that “something” is; the goal is simply to be No. 1.
Vasili Blokhin achieved such prominence, even if many don’t recognize his name.
He was Joseph Stalin’s executioner for decades and personally killed tens of thousands of individuals between the 1920s and early 1950s. Today, he is recognized as the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history.
Blokhin, who served in the Russian army in World War I, joined the Cheka, the notorious security arm of the Bolsheviks, in 1921. He quickly gained the notice of Stalin and before long was heading up the department that handled clandestine torture and executions.
In 1926, Stalin personally chose Blokhin as chief executioner for the Soviet secret police.
During Stalin’s tenure, this arm of government, which later became known as the NKVD, is conservatively estimated to have executed more than 800,000 individuals.
Blokhin not only oversaw mass executions, but personally pulled the trigger on every high-profile execution.
The blood-splattered garment, once white but now stained a dark brown, is being exhibited in a glass display case at the Austrian Military Museum.
The shirt was in the possession of the Jesuit religious order until 2004 when it was found in their archives and passed to the Austrian Military Museum on permanent loan.
Because of its delicate condition it is only rarely put on public display, according to the publication.
This time it will be viewable through the middle of next week in a dimly lit room.
Ravenel came from Sumter County and is buried in a historic churchyard in a small, withering community. Given that he died nearly 95 years ago, it unlikely that anyone who knew and remembers Ravenel is alive today.
That makes his story just one of many million that is all but forgotten today, but which represents the real, genuine sacrifice that Memorial Day is meant to honor.
Ravenel hailed from a noted family and was known throughout the state, according to a newspaper article written about him by The State following his death. In addition, he was acknowledged as Sumter County’s first volunteer following President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war in 1917.
Commissioned as a lieutenant, Ravenel was stationed at what was then Camp Jackson near Columbia, SC, before being sent overseas as a member of the 316th Machine Gun Battalion of the American Expeditionary Force.
News accounts of Ravenel’s death describe him as a “brave soldier” and noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.” He was promoted to captain during his service on the Western Front.
An indication of his bravery may be the fact that he was killed on Nov. 10, 1918, the final full day of the war. Rumors were rampant by this point that an armistice was imminent and many soldiers were understandably content to essentially hang back and keep out of harm’s way.
There were plenty of hazardous postings during World War I, but serving as bait to lure German U-boats to the surface certainly ranked among the most perilous.
The British navy is believed to have produced between 200 and 300 so-called “Q-ships” during the conflict, vessels specially adapted as decoys and armed with concealed guns. Their goal was to lure enemy submarines to the surface and then attempt to destroy them.
This little-known aspect of the Allied war effort came to the fore last weekend, when researchers announced that they believe they have found the Q-ship HMS Stock Force, sunk in July 1918.
A team of divers spent about four years searching for the Stock Force and discovered the vessel about eight miles from where charts had indicated, at a depth of 200 feet, 14 miles from Plymouth, (England), according to the blog Remembering 1914.
The Stock Force was a former collier which retained the appearance of a merchant vessel and was manned by a Royal Navy crew disguised as merchant sailors.
On July 30, 1918, it was attacked by a U-boat, believed to be the UB 80, off the coast of Devon, and suffered a torpedo strike. However, the British ship then turned the tables on its assailant.
Military censorship has been part and parcel of war reporting worldwide for at least a century.
Nearly half the French divisions on the Western Front mutinied to one degree or another in 1917, their will weakened by three years of devastating losses and no prospects of success as World War I dragged on. However, revelations on the extent and intensity of the mutinies, which included the execution of several dozen French soldiers, weren’t disclosed until 1967, and some information has still not been made available even after 96 years.
The British, in the same conflict, often didn’t even disclose to family members that their loved ones had been executed, choosing to bury men convicted and executed for crimes such as desertion in the same area as other soldiers killed in action and awarding the families pensions.
And as recently as 2004, the US military did its best to lay down a smokescreen surrounding the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.
The thought being, more often than not, that the morale of troops and/or folks at home would be damaged by the truth.
That apparently wasn’t a concern in the South during the War Between the States.
South Carolina’s Edgefield Advertiser ran a story on May 11, 1864, which detailed the execution of Pvt. Henry Jerome of the 17th South Carolina Infantry regiment in Charleston.
MILITARY EXECUTION – About half-past ten o’clock yesterday morning, the Race Course was the scene of a military execution. Private Henry Jerome, of Company A, 17th Regiment, S.C.V., who twice had been guilty of the crime of deserting his colors, paid the penalty with his life. The execution took place in the presence of Major Blanding’s command of the 1st S.C. Artillery and an infantry regiment – the firing squads being detached from the ranks of the Regulars. The condemned, a man of mature years, short in stature, and of quiet demeanor, was brought to the ground in an ambulance, attended by Rev. Mr. Aldrich, Chaplain of the 1st S.C. Artillery. After the last prayer had been said, the culprit refusing to have his eyes bandaged, knelt beside his coffin. At the first fire, he fell insensible, having received several mortal wounds in the chest, and within two minutes all signs of animation had disappeared. Private Jerome was, we understand, a native of Chester District, and leaves a wife and three children.
Let’s face it: you’ve got to be a pretty crappy person to have your name become synonymous with the word “traitor” throughout much of the world.
But that’s what Vidkun Quisling managed to accomplish in a rather short space of time.
Quisling headed the Nazi puppet state in Norway during a good part of World War II and in the process became the poster boy for collaboration.
Not surprisingly given his relationship with the occupying Germans and the fact he played a key role in sending a significant percentage of Norway’s Jewish population to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps, Quisling was executed shortly after the end of war in October 1945.
But were one to begin by examining the first 40-plus years of Quisling’s life, it would have been impossible to predict how things turned out.
The Jumping Polar Bear Blog took time recently to recount the good and bad concerning Quisling, and there was a great deal more good than one might suspect for someone who gained ultimate infamy as a Nazi sympathizer.
One, the RMS Olympic, enjoyed a long and fruitful career, from 1911 to 1935, before being scrapped.
The other, the RMS Britannic, had a decidedly shorter stint above the waves, sinking on this date in 1916. The Britannic, completed in 1915, never made a single passenger voyage, thanks to the Great War.
Instead, she was pressed into service in late 1915 as a hospital ship, ferrying nurses and other medical staff to the east, and bringing wounded back from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
The Britannic was on her sixth voyage into the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 21, 1916, when, while steaming at full speed off the Greek island of Kea, she either struck a mine or was hit by a German torpedo. To this day, it’s still unclear what prompted the Britannic’s sinking.
The ship’s captain, White Star veteran Charles Bartlett, reacted quickly and coolly, ordering the watertight doors closed and directing that a distress call be sent out immediately. He also ordered the crew to uncover the boats and that the ship’s siren sound the general alarm.
He didn’t exactly have a regal name, didn’t come from a royal background and was displaced by a fascist occupying power, but King Ahmet Zog I still holds a special place in the hearts of many Albanians.
Zog, who became the first president of the Albanian Republic in 1925, made himself king in 1928. He ruled until 1939, when Mussolini’s thugs invaded and the royal family fled. Zog eventually settled in France, where he died in 1961. He was buried in Paris.
This past weekend, the king’s remains were reburied in the Albanian capital of Tirana with state honors. Around 3,000 Albanians turned out Saturday to pay their respects to the late monarch, according to Agence France-Presse.
Albanian television stations broadcast the burial ceremony live, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“King Zog is an illustrious figure who laid the foundations of the Albanian state,” said Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha as the coffin – draped with the Albanian flag – lay in state in the former royal palace.
The king was interred in a newly built mausoleum for the royal family.
Already there is considerable discussion about how the 100th anniversary of World War I will be commemorated. Given that, in the eyes of many historians, the 1914-18 conflict is the pivotal event of the 20th century, it’s hardly surprising.
But, as is often the case when celebrating famous events, it’s apparent that a circumscribed look at the events that led to the Great War isn’t part of the equation.
Few seem to realize that 100 years ago today war was raging in Europe in the form of the First Balkan War. Beginning in the autumn of 1912, the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria) joined forces to drive the Ottoman Turks out of the latter’s remaining possessions in Europe.
Bulgaria, however, was dissatisfied with the division of spoils in Macedonia following the conflict, and went to war against the Serbs and the Greeks in the Second Balkan War in June 1913. The Romanians also joined in, and the Ottomans managed to get some of their lost territory back. Ultimately, Bulgaria lost most of the territories it had gained in the First Balkan War.
Minor conflicts? Hardly, writes The Economist.
“The wars cost perhaps 200,000 lives and reshaped the map of south-eastern Europe. They ushered in an era of ethnic cleansing and population exchanges, which saw millions lose their homes and ancient communities uprooted and dispersed. The two Balkan wars were also the overture of the First World War. The final spark that set the powder keg alight was the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.”
Every November 11, the poem In Flanders Fields is read throughout Canada, a tribute to the 67,000 men of the Great White North who gave their lives in World War I.
The verse was written by John McCrae, a Canadian physician and poet of some note from Guelph, Ontario.
Although he was 41 years old at the outbreak of World War I and could have joined the medical corps because of his training and age, McCrae opted to volunteer for the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery as a gunner and medical officer.
He was on hand with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the second battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium in early 1915, a month-long struggle that resulted in more than 100,000 casualties.
It was during this bloody battle that the Germans launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war. They hit the Canadian position with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915, but were unable to break through the Canadian line, which held for over two weeks.
McCrae described the battle as a nightmare in a letter to his mother: