11 Old War Photographs You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped

War is hell, but as we've demonstrated previously (twice, even), it's also often bizarre to look at. When you start sifting through rare photos of secret projects and behind-the-scenes shenanigans that didn't make into the history books, you get lots of pictures that just look downright fake. Like ...

#11. Dazzle Ships


Before the invention of radar, naval battles were like a hardcore version of Marco Polo: Each side blindly lobbed shots at the other in hopes of connecting with something (yes, the board game Battleship was actually a fairly realistic representation). So ships of the early 20th century tried to make it even harder for their opponents by blending into the water with light-colored paint schemes. That is, until the British decided to try something a little ... different.

"Now you too can experience the joys of sea sickness without having to set foot on a boat!"

Called "dazzle" camouflage, the idea was to cover the ships in psychedelic designs that made it damn nigh impossible for an enemy spotter to determine speed, distance, and type of craft when spying the ships from afar. Try to stare hard at one of these -- your brain will start to hurt:


Getty via economist.com
It's like nautical Magic Eye.

The camouflage saw widespread use during World War I and (to a lesser degree) World War II, but it ultimately died out when the introduction of LSD allowed enemy spotters to operate on the same plane of consciousness as those creating the designs.

#10. Heil America!


This is not a still from some old "What if the Nazis win the war?" propaganda film. That is a real, undoctored photo of an American classroom.

You see, Hitler ruined several perfectly good things forever -- tiny mustaches, the swastika as a good luck charm, and all hand signals that look anything like the "Heil Hitler" salute. But Hitler didn't invent any of them.

For instance, in 1892, Francis Bellamy decided that your average American just wasn't pissing quite enough red, white, and blue. To counter this, he came up with the Pledge of Allegiance, along with a nifty little hand gesture to do while taking the pledge.

... one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

That's right: For decades, children across America happily heiled the Stars 'n' Stripes in what was then known as the Bellamy salute. Then along came this big, bald bag of dicks:

His beret is actually covering up foreskin and giant pee hole.

That's Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. When he came to power, he resurrected the so-called Roman salute, and Hitler thought that shit looked so badass that he later adopted it as his own Nazi salute. This caused an obvious conflict when America entered World War II -- we couldn't very well have born-and-bred American kids doing the same salute as the Hitler Youth, and Nazis were notoriously ignorant of the concept of dibs. So during the war, Roosevelt signed off on a new salute proposed by Congress, and placing the right hand over the heart narrowly beat out flying the double bird in Germany's general direction.

#9. They Stayed in Formation, Right Until They Crashed


As much as that looks like the aftermath of the most cartoonish disaster in military history, it is actually just the product of space-saving efficiency and horrific waste.

Back in the days when countries would actually disarm once the war was over, fighter planes (which were basically useless in peacetime and couldn't be resold for civilian purposes) would just be scrapped. So these Curtiss P-40 Warhawks ($44,892 each to build in 1944 -- that's $590,000 in today's dollars) were scrapped and melted down. To save space as they awaited their fate, the planes were arranged like they'd taken a mass nosedive in perfect formation and somehow stuck neatly in the mud instead of exploding.

Walnut Ridge

Walnut Ridge
Plane yoga never took off.

This is just a single site: Walnut Ridge airfield in Arkansas. All over the world, there were thousands of planes lined up like this, just begging for some smartass to happen by and play him some warplane dominoes.

#8. Boardwalk Empire?


HBO's Boardwalk Empire features a character named Richard Harrow, a former World War I sniper whose face was horribly disfigured when he got face-sniped by an enemy marksman. In what seems like a purely Hollywood touch to make him look more terrifying, Harrow covers his brutalized face with a lifelike mask that attaches to his head via eyeglasses:

"Things I dislike: The Kaiser, feds, soup ..."

But it turns out that Harrow's plight is based on similarly wounded vets of the early 20th century. Decades before things like facial surgery and skin grafts were commonplace, disfigured vets covered their horrible wounds with facial plates just like the one featured on the show. There are more examples out there, but we wouldn't recommend looking at them if you happen to be reading this article while eating or before bed.

And don't worry, it wasn't just faces that got state-of-the-art protection from concerned scientists of the day. Wartime inventiveness also gave us ...

#7. Industrial Breast Protectors

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

When the men moved to the front during World War II, the women entered a new environment as well: the factory floor. As the Rosie Riveters and Wendy Welders were performing jobs they had never done before, men became very concerned about their safety. Well, the safety of particular parts of them, at least. So Acme developed the industrial plastic boulder holder that this young gal is so kindly demonstrating.

After all, if we endanger the boobies, what do our boys overseas have left to come home to?

#6. American Pyramid of Skulls ... Er, Helmets



Even after World War I was over, the American government decided that it needed one more bond drive to raise enough cash to tie up any loose ends. Dubbed the Victory Liberty Loan parade, the party visited New York City in May of 1919 and set up a huge display of American guns and various pillars and pyramids smack in the middle of Madison Avenue. Pyramids made of the helmets of (presumably dead) German soldiers.

Yes, harking back to the days of the victory pyramids that the Mongols decorated Asia with, America decided that we needed some victory pyramids of our very own. In case you're not familiar with the pyramids we're referring to, we mean those constructed of skulls that the men of the horde lovingly cleaned and polished after having severed them from their previous owners. That's right: Someone had the bright idea that reminding American citizens that each and every one of those helmets represented a dead or captured German soldier would inspire them to donate to the post-war drive.

Oh, and it totally worked. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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