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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Story of Pavlov's House

















Pavlov's house was a four-story building in the center of Stalingrad, built parallel to the embankment of the river Volga and overseeing the "9th January Square", a large square named for Bloody Sunday. In September 1942, the house was attacked by Nazi Germans, and a platoon of the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division was ordered to seize and defend it. The platoon was led by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, a low-level non commissioned officer serving as acting platoon commander since the unit's lieutenant and senior sergeants had all been wounded or killed. The attack on the building was successful, although the fighting was brutal, with only four men in the 30-man platoon surviving the assault.

The strategic benefit of the house was its position on a cross-street giving the defenders a 1km line of sight to the north, south and west. After several days, reinforcements and supplies arrived for Pavlov's men, bringing the unit up to a 25-man understrength platoon and equipping the defenders with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, and mortars. In keeping with Stalin's order of "not one step back", Sgt. Pavlov was ordered to fortify the building and defend it to the last bullet and the last man. Taking these orders to heart, Pavlov ordered the building to be surrounded with four layers of barbed wire and minefields, and set up machine-gun posts in every available window facing the square. In the early stages of the defense, Pavlov discovered that a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle he had mounted on the roof was particularly effective when used to ambush unsuspecting German tanks; once the tanks had approached to within 25 meters of the building, their thin turret-roof armor became exposed to AT rifle fire from above, but they were unable to elevate their weapons enough to retaliate. Pavlov reportedly personally destroyed nearly a dozen tanks using this tactic.

For better internal communication, they breached the walls in the basement and upper floors, and dug a communications trench to Soviet positions outside. Supplies were brought in via the trench or by boats crossing the river, defying German air raids and shelling. Nevertheless, food and especially water was in short supply. Lacking beds, the soldiers tried to sleep on insulation wool torn off pipes, yet usually the Germans kept shooting at the house with deafening machine-gun fire day and night.

The Germans attacked the building several times a day. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square and to close in on the house, Pavlov's men laid down a withering barrage of machine gun and AT rifle fire from the basement, the windows and from the roof top, devastating the German attackers and forcing them to retreat. By mid-November, Pavlov's men reportedly had to use lulls in the fighting to run out and kick over the heaped piles of German corpses so they could not be used as cover for the next round of attackers.

Eventually the defenders, as well as the Soviet civilians who kept living in the basement all that time, held out during intensive fighting from 23 September until 25 November 1942, when they were relieved by the counter-attacking Soviet forces.

Thanks to Wikipedia.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Pie" in the Sky - South African Pilot Flies all over Africa



















Those who know Amy "Pie" Shaw are not sure what she enjoys more, flying aircraft or jumping out of flying aircraft. Or off perfectly stable bridges for that matter. It seems she absolutely loves to scare the bejesus out of the rest of us mortals.

This almost two-meter tall long-legged bundle of energy was born in Port Elizabeth and as if two meters was not far enough off the ground she increased that to horse height and took part in, and this is a little complicated, a lot of horse riding stuff. What I know for sure is that she was the Eastern Province champion for eventing, showjumping and equitation in 2003 and was the reserve champion for dressage that year. Fact is she could ride horses very well and even rode other people's horses so well they gave her another trophy for that. They however did not give her a trophy for jumping her horse over a "bakkie" (pick-up truck for the Americans) that same year. Unfortunately the rest of the horse trophy stuff list is so long I am going to have to skip that.

It seems however that Amy preferred sky-diving and flying and used her skills at horse riding to train other horses and people to make money to pay for her pilot training. Today she is a pilot flying for Air-Tec who, fortunately for Amy, sends her off five weeks at a time to fly planes for organisations who specialise in operating in places where there is no effective road infrastructure. Currently she happens to find herself flying for the World Food Programme in Chad. She assures me she cannot recall ever noticing anybody shooting at her, but has been stoned once by some of those lovely Chadian men when she mounted a horse in the market and realised the hard way that for a woman to ride astride a horse in Chad is a big no-no.

Amy also assures me the companies she flies for prefer to keep them out of hot situations where the rebels have began to shoot at, well, whatever rebels shoot at. This however did not prevent them from once landing at Goz Beida airfield where one group were preparing to execute another group in some kind of "Desperado" stand-off. In the end it seems like nobody was executed. Amy says what really scared her once was when a Marabou Stork, probably the ugliest bird in Africa, decided it wanted to occupy the same space as their aircraft at the same time in flight. The bird missed their windshield by a very narrow margin, which is fortunate because the momentum which that bird had would have created a mini disaster. Instead it dented the roof panel, killed their electronics, ripped off the HF antenna and dented the vertical stabiliser. Rumour has it that the bird did not make it.

Last I saw Amy had visited Alaska to learn how to fly float planes and as the photo suggests they forgot to tell her to stay in the cockpit. I am seriously jealous as I always wanted to go to Alaska to take photos. To make it worse she insists that it was picture perfect. Not to mention that the reason her nickname is "Pie" is because she loves pie so much and apparently there is a whole lotta pie in America. I for one hopes she gets all the pie she wants. Good luck over there, Amy, and I would have told you to enjoy it, but I suspect I would be wasting my breath.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Athena, the Greek Goddess of War
























This sounds more like war should be practiced if needed. Funny enough the God Ares loves war, but always loses to Athena who does not love war. I agree that the love of war leaves one weak, but in the end to be prepared is the better and wiser option.

Athena invented the flute, the trumpet, the earthenware pot, the plough, the rake, the ox-yoke, the horse-bridle, the chariot and the ship. She first taught the science of numbers, and all women’s arts, such as cooking, weaving and spinning. Although a goddess of war, she gets no pleasure from battle, as Ares and Eris do, but rather from settling disputes, and upholding the law by pacific means. She bears no arms in time of peace, if ever she needs any, will usually borrow a set from Zeus. Her mercy is great: when the judges votes are equal in a criminal trial at the Areiopagus, she always gives a casting vote to liberate the accused. Yet, once engaged in battle, she never loses the day, even against Ares himself, being better grounded in strategy and tactics than he; wise captains always approach her for advice.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

JCSD Course

















I am currently on the JCSD (Junior Command Staff Duties) Course at the South African Army College in Pretoria. During the world cup this is not exactly where I would have liked to be, but hey, I am thankful to be on the course.

The Loser Delusion



















There are no losers in this world. The whole idea of "survival of the fittest" or "dog eats dog" or whatever other term you have to justify to step on other people just so that you can get high enough to lick the next butt, is one of the biggest reasons for the problems we have in the world today. Having a competitive spirit is short hand for "I need to beat others so that I can feel good about myself" and is akin to acting like royalty who think they have some kind of right to rule over their "minions".

The thing is all people are the same. Some are just better trained or better taught than others. The gene thing where some claim to have better genes than others is being proven incorrect by the new scientific field of epigenetics. Epigenetics proves that there is something higher than our genes that is the deciding factor. Yes, some may say the world is like a pool you have been thrown into and you have to learn to swim or drown, but all people survive no matter if they are "losers" or "winners". If we all had to learn to survive and only the winners made it why then are there so many to compete against?

Truth be told winning places undue strain on the competitor and in the end the only part that wins is the ego and the only thing the ego serves is the ego. Once you have won everything else feels unacceptable and that, my friend, is like being addicted to a drug. You will do everything for the next fix and the next time it may feel less good and so it will continue until you are old and cannot compete at which stage you will start to wonder what it was all about.

I have been a "winner" on various occasions in my life and have simply suffered from an inflated ego. I did not become happier by getting there and on the one occasion where I was on my way to being first and ended up being second it bothered me for days and I realised that if it had not mattered I may actually have enjoyed those days of feeling depressed, angry, unhappy and all the other negative emotions that went with it.

Winning gives you nothing substantial and it may even rob you of happier carefree times. Yes, by all means play the game of life, but do not believe your ego. One day it may leave you with nothing.