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 ...
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
Industrial Breast Protectors
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?
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!
OK, now that's just ridiculous. Look at them! Carrying cameras around like little feathered tourists.
But those are in fact military surveillance pigeons, and yes, they really existed. It was kind of a good idea, if you think about it -- aerial photos of enemy trench lines were highly sought after, but newfangled surveillance planes were just starting to be introduced (prior to World War I, if you wanted aerial surveillance, you did it using vulnerable hot air balloons and kites). Then along came Dr. Julius Neubronner with his patented miniature pigeon camera.
The word "miniature" had a loose definition in the early 1900s.
Neubronner's specially trained pigeons could be carried into battle in a customized mobile dovecote and then strapped into camera vests like the one seen above. When released, they were able to take a series of highly detailed photographs of the layout of enemy lines before returning to their roost and dropping off their film to be developed for HQ.
"Sir, is there a reason half our missions are near that all-girls college?"
"Never question my orders."
These avian reconnoiterers saw some decent action alongside German forces during the war, judging by all the cartoonishly exploded pigeons found behind Allied lines. Sadly, though, when he inquired about further developing the technology after the war, the War Ministry told Neubronner to "fuck off with that pigeon bullshit" (loosely translated from the original German).
And just as depressing as that sentence ...
Doggy Gas Masks
Throughout the history of warfare, opposing forces have sprayed some particularly nasty shit all over each other. So gas masks have long been a universal piece of equipment for our human soldiers, but what about their best friends? Don't worry, Fido, because we thought of you, too! Pre-Geneva Protocol pooches had nothing to fear once their human companions forced them to strap one of these babies onto their little doggie craniums. Except for, you know, all the bullets and explosions and stuff.
Just when you thought German shepherds couldn't look any more badass.
Special Forces Mini-Bikes
Ha! Look at that guy riding his tiny little clown bike back there! How could you even bring yourself to shoot that guy?
During World War II, the British Special Operations Executive was always looking for ways to pull a James Bond on their SS rivals. One thing that added difficulty to their espionaging was providing their soldiers with mobility once they dropped them behind enemy lines to get their spy on -- the logistics of dropping everything out of airplanes meant that there were severe size and weight restraints. So engineers worked hand-in-hand with Barnum & Bailey to develop these adorable wittle motorcycles.
The Welbike featured a single-cylinder engine and a collapsible design that allowed it to be packed into an airdrop container and chucked out over enemy territory for retrieval by special forces operatives, with just enough space left over to cram the size 28 shoes and giant red Afro wig in there.
Note the tiny little engineers at the bottom. That's not a model airplane up there.
Before computers, the only way to make sure that a new fighter plane didn't fall apart right as you were dogfighting over a cactus patch was to hang it up and expose it to the wind. Sure, you could build a model and put it in a tiny wind tunnel, but damn it, nothing beats going full scale.
That's a German facility above, but the Americans were also in the big wind game with this facility at Langley Field near Hampton, Virginia, that tested everything from World War II fighters to space capsules:
Are you picturing them reversing the fan and sucking that guy into it?
Nazis Just Wanna Have Fun
The Nazis made for such perfect villains that we tend to forget that their military was largely made up of kids who were conscripted to serve their country, just like the armies that were fighting them. And like all soldiers, they liked to occasionally take time out and make a big sign with their butts.
Unfortunately, the context of many of the photos we're about to show you has been lost to time, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then these photos are a veritable word goldmine. Because they paint a picture of Nazi soldiers as a bunch of tiny horse ridin' ...
... alcohol swillin' ...
... uh, crossdressers?
It seems that, no matter the surrounding circumstances, when you stir together a group of fraternity-age males, stick them in a confined space, and let them simmer for a while, you've just concocted the recipe for an instant kegger. Maybe you'll end up with a fake-mustache party ...
Play this for full effect.
... or even a "totally not gay even though we're all in our underwear and some of us are totally kissing" party ...
This squad was already on double secret probation.
... but you'll always end up with a party. Seeing these photos almost makes us think that Nazi military life was equal parts fun, beer, and homoeroticism -- but then again, if you look just a little closer, this party bus does a power slide onto Disturbing Avenue:
Yeah, OK, never mind. Turns out that, even at a drunken Nazi frat party, Evil's still right there, lurking in the background and hogging up all the good booze.
For more old photos that are clearly fake (but totally aren't), check out 18 Old-Timey Photos You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped and 16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Terrible Stadiums You Won't Believe Were Actually Built.
And stop by LinkSTORM where you can continue to practice screaming FAKE.
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