Assassin's Creed Unity scene

Airships of War

In the real world, airships weren’t successful weapons of war. Zeppelins were terrifying but inaccurate. Navigation, target selection and bomb aiming were difficult under the best of circumstances. In darkness, at high altitude and amid the English clouds, accuracy was too much to ask for.

British propaganda poster
1916 British propaganda poster depicts a German zeppelin being shot down

German zeppelins were initially immune to attack by aeroplane and anti-aircraft guns. As the pressure in their envelopes was only just higher than ambient, holes had little effect. But once incendiary bullets were developed and used against them, their flammable hydrogen lifting gas made them vulnerable at low altitudes. Several zeppelins were shot down in flames by British defenders. Others crashed on the way to England. The Germans started flying higher and higher, but this only made their airships even less effective.

The zeppelin campaign proved to be a disaster in terms of morale, men and material. Many pioneers of the German airship service were lost.

But why let such facts stand in the way of a good story?

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The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle, Season 1

We’re written about Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle here at Never Was, but we never reviewed the series. Now that it’s in its fourth and final season, it’s worth taking a look back on this dieselpunk drama.

Season 1 follows Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, on which the TV show is based, pretty closely. The Axis have won have the war and North America is divided in two. The Germans control the Western Hemisphere, including Africa and the bulk of the former United States. The Japanese hold the East, including Alaska and the former states of Washington, Oregon and California. An unruly Neutral Zone in the Rocky Mountains separates the two empires.

The main character is Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), a resident of the Japanese Pacific States who is gradually immersed in an American Resistance movement led by Hawthorne Abendsen (Stephen Root), the eponymous “man in the high castle”. In the book, he is the author of an alternate-history novel in which the Allies won the Second World War. In the series, he produces films.

Their nemeses are American SS chief John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his counterpart in the Pacific States, Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido (Joel de la Fuente). Both want to get their hands on the films and the man in the high castle himself.

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1942 African Front map

Mapping the Second World War in Africa

Following the Nazi conquest of Europe, the focus of the Second World War in the West shifted to Africa. Commonwealth forces joined with the Free French under Charles de Gaulle to drive the Italians out of East Africa and Cyrenaica. The war went so poorly for the Italians that Adolf Hitler had to send in Erwin Rommel, who managed to push the British halfway into Egypt before he was stopped.

The front switched back and forth several times, and for a while it seemed that the Axis might reach the Suez Canal, which would have put the British Empire’s supply lines in serious jeopardy. A decisive victory for the British at the Second Battle of El Alamein and American reinforcements in 1942 turned things around. The Axis powers were cornered in Tunisia, which would serve as a springboard for the Allied invasion of Italy.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri, or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, is a beautifully done anime, set in a post-apocalyptic Japan.

At the time of industrialization, a mysterious plague broke out, turning corpses into kabane, a kind of blood-drinking zombie that is extremely hard to kill. Get bitten and you turn into one. Die and you turn into a kabane. Or, if you’re lucky, a kabaneri, a halfbreed of man and kabane. Survivors live in stations along the route of heavily armored trains, known as iron fortresses.

It is in these stations and on these trains that we find the characters of this story.

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1942 Europe map

The Nazi Conquest of Europe in Maps

World War II started in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war. But the Nazi conquest of Europe started years earlier.

In 1935, the coal-rich Saarland rejoined the Reich. The following year, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Austria and what is now the Czech Republic were annexed in 1938.

At the height of his power, Hitler ruled an empire stretching from the Franco-Spanish border in the southwest to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) in the north to the Caucasus in the east. Here is a short history of how it happened — with maps!

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Project Habakkuk artwork

Unsinkable British Aircraft Carrier — On Ice!

In 1942, the War in the Atlantic was not going well for the Allies. German submarines, operating in “wolf packs” just out of aircraft range, wrecked havoc on Allied supply lines. In the first half of the year, the Allies managed to sink just one U-boat for every forty merchant ships lost. At that rate, Britain would soon run out of matériel to sustain the war.

Atlantic Ocean map
Map of the military situation in the Atlantic in mid-1941, from Life magazine (July 21, 1941)

Lord Louis Mountbatten, as chief of Combined Operations, was responsible for coming up with a solution. He encouraged his department to explore every possibility, no matter how outlandish. One of the ideas, which originated with the inventor Geoffrey Pyke, was to built an aircraft carrier out of ice, which would allow the Allies to attack German U-boats no matter how far they sailed from the coast. The reason Pyke settled on ice was that aluminum and steel were in such short supply.

Mountbatten and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were enthusiastic.

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