Monday 30 September 2013

Chemical weapons

So the UN inspectors now have the taks of destroying 1,000 tonnes of Syrian chemical weapons. Such weapons were first banned by the Hague convention of 1899.

This relatively new rule book, though, was not enough to stop them being used during World War One, first by Germany, and then the Allies. They killed at least 90,000 soldiers.

During the 1930’s they were deployed by the Italians in Ethiopia and the Japanese in China. In the later stages of World War Two, President Roosevelt was advised by some to use them on the Japanese stubbornly defending Iwo Jima from caves and tunnels, where they would have been particularly vulnerable. He rejected the idea.

In the post-war era, Saddam Hussein employed chemical weapons against Iran and against the Kurds and other minorities in Iraq, while in 1995, a terrorist used a home-made nerve gas to attack commuters on the Tokyo subway system.

Thursday 26 September 2013

(Once) Britain's deadliest air crash

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to Croydon Women’s Institute about the disaster history of their area. One incident that I mentioned was the air crash of 9 December, 1936, which was, at the time the deadliest in British history.

That day, Croydon Airport was shrouded by fog, with visibility down to about 50 yards, as a KLM DC-2 took off for Amsterdam.  Because of the fog, the pilot was having to follow a while line on the grass of the airfield to get the right line – a common procedure at UK airports at the time, and one that had been successfully used for a number of departures that day.

This time, the DC-2 veered off the line and, instead of heading west as it should have done, started to go south towards higher ground. After clearing the airport it struck the chimney of a house, and crashed into another, fortunately empty, home on the other side of the street.

Fire broke out, and the aircraft and two houses were destroyed. Of the 17 passengers and crew on board, only two survived. Among the dead was Arvid Lindman, a former Swedish Prime Minister.