Tuesday, March 01, 2005

On this day in military history....in 1896 and 1954

On this day in military history….in 1896. Ethiopian troops defeat the Italian forces at the Battle of Adowa and bring an end to the First Italo-Abyssinian War. By the end of the 1800’s, almost all of Africa had been divided up by the European powers except for Liberia and Ethiopia. Having started late in the European Great African Land Grab, Italy was stuck with only two territories on the Horn of Africa, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland (now Somalia). Since Ethiopia was between these two territories and it was not currently claimed by any European power, Italy decided to invade Ethiopia to unite its two territories. Instead of quickly conquering the country, the campaign degenerated into a stalemate at the border town of Tigray between Eritrea and Ethiopia. With his supplies running low, the Italian government ordered the Italian commander to stop wasting time and to attack. On the night of 29 February, the Italian forces moved out, but were quickly divided into small groups by the rough terrain. The Ethiopian commander, Ras Makonnen (the father of Haile Selassie), saw this and ordered his forces to counterattack. The Italian forces (which numbered less than 15,000) were heavily outnumbered by the Ethiopian army (which numbered upwards around 120,000) and were quickly surrounded and defeated. The Italians lost 10,000 men to the Ethiopian losses of 11,000. Soon after, the Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa which recognized Ethiopia as an independent state. It was one of the few instances where an African country defeated a European power. The defeat was a great embarrassment to the Italians that was later exploited by Benito Mussolini as an excuse to invade Ethiopia again in 1935 during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

On this day in military history….in 1954. The United States explodes the largest hydrogen weapon ever tested at Bikini Atoll. In 1954, the US conducted a series of hydrogen weapon tests code named Operation Castle. Most notable was the Bravo test which due to a miscalculation generated 2.5 times more energy that was designed (15 megatons to 6 megatons). Oops! Pesky Slide Rules! It also created the worst radiological disaster in US history as the mushroom cloud reached a height of 130,000 ft and 100 miles in diameter in less than 10 minutes. It blasted a crater 6,500 ft in diameter and 150 feet in depth. The unfavorable weather conditions spread the fallout across the atolls of Rongelap and Rongerik where inhabitants have suffered birth defects ever since. A Japanese fishing boat was also blanketed with fallout and one of the crew members eventually died.

The culprit for the extra blast energy was lithium-7. Hydrogen bombs use a small fission reaction to start a larger, more powerful, tritium-deuterium fusion reaction, which depending on the bomb, starts another fission reaction to get that cool, fallout effect. The bomb was designed to get the tritium for the fusion reaction from the bomb’s uranium tamper and the deuterium would come from the lithium-6 deuteride which was in cased in the uranium tamper. However, included in the enriched lithium-6 was an isotope of lithium, lithium-7. Lithium-7 is inert by itself, but when bombarded with neutrons it splits into tritium and helium. Since tritium is a fantastic fusion fuel, the addition of the extra tritium contributed to the fusion reaction and greatly increased the weapon’s yield. Nothing like accidentally throwing gas on a fire. Oops!


At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Kehaar said...

I am readin a book now called "The Sign and the Seal". It's by Graham Hancock, a British researcher who claims that he's found the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. The Ethiopians suggest that the Ark was used in the Battle of Adowa and gave them victory over the French. I think the research in the book is highly flawed, but pretty interesting.


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