Moments in History

Rubberneckers Unwelcome


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I came across this photo the other day, and I was struck by how even in an active war zone, sightseers and rubberneckers are a constant problem. The picture was taken on April 4, 1945 in front of Cologne cathedral, and shows a corporal from the 82nd Airborne Division reading a warning sign. He’s probably wondering what kind of idiots would be wandering around, taking in the sights, while anti-sniper operations were going on. I’m sure that there were plenty of them.

What actually caught my eye was that I recognized Cologne cathedral in the photo, which surprised me as the nearest I’ve been to the edifice is a paper scale model of the thing that I made umpteen years ago. It never ceases to amaze me at how obscure bits of knowledge pop out of memory at times, triggered by a photo in this case, or by sounds or especially smells. Haven’t you ever walked into an old, dusty storeroom and had the smell bring up a startlingly clear memory of your grandparent’s house? If someone could figure out how to control this method of memory retrieval, he could probably write a self-help book about it, sell it on an infomercial and become fabulously wealthy in 90 days or your money back.

Considering the pounding that Cologne and its cathedral took during WWII, it’s amazing that either place still exists. Cologne was bombed 262 separate times, including the first 1,000 bomber raid by the Allies on May 30th and 31rst, 1942. The cathedral was hit at least 70 times by aerial bombs, but remained standing, which is more than can be said about the rest of Cologne.

Here are two aerial photos of Cologne from 1945:


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Construction of the cathedral started in 1248, but it wasn’t completed until 1880, 632 years later. Financing the construction of these huge, complex buildings has always been one of the main reasons that they took so long to build, and Cologne was no different. Repairing the damage from WWII was pretty much completed by 1956, with the rebuilding of an emergency repair done during WWII being done in 2005, and the installation of a stained glass window in the south transept in 2007. The window had been blown out during the war and had been replaced with plain glass at the time.

I’m sure that there were gawkers underfoot for the entire time.


Cologne Cathedral Wiki

Bombing of Cologne Wiki

Dierk ‘s Photo Album – Cologne at war

  • Number_Six

    That's really interesting. So I guess non-combat personnel were a real pain in the ass and mustn't have been too embarrassed about spectating instead of participating…

  • skitter

    Great essay.
    No snappy comeback.
    War is hell.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Did you remember to cite William Tecumseh Sherman? No, thus you failed you essay… and got booted from your institution of learning due to plagiarism because you didn't cite.

      This quote originates from his address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (19 June 1879); but slightly varying accounts of this speech have been published:

      "I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!"

      ~William Tecumseh Sherman as quoted from accounts by Dr. Charles O. Brown in the Battle Creek Enquirer and News (18 November 1933) From thw wikiquote page on Sherman.

      Variants of said phrase from the wikiquote page on Sherman:
      There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell.
      Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all Hell!

      More from the ever dazzling mind of Sherman:

      I just finished a paper on the Hampton Roads Conference of Feb 03 1865 so I still have the Civil War going on in my head.

      • gearz1

        I had the same thought,just not that eloquent.Good one.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        "It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations." – Winston Churchill

  • I had the pleasure of spending 6 weeks in Cologne for work. Awesome city, and by far the most fun city in Germany.

    The Allies tried very hard to not hit the Dom. They were mostly successful, considering how many bombs they dropped on Cologne. To say it's impressive is an understatement. It was the tallest structure in Europe until the Eiffel Tower was built.

    Right next door to it is the Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln. Cologne was a Roman outpost and there are lots of artifacts in the area. The Germans, knowing the Allies were trying to avoid the Dom, started digging for a bomb shelter right next to it and wound up uncovering a Roman house and some incredible mosaics. It's a really cool museum.

  • Recurveman

    Sightseeing is actually quite common in war zones unfortunately. Ironically its actual people in the military that are doing it. That sign is more then likely not meant for civilians, rather reminding rear echelon soldiers that there is still a war going on. When you never see the front lines, you can become very removed from the fact that there is a war taking place a mile away. It is the same in Afghanistan now. My unit conducted route clearance patrols every day to remove the bombs from the road and in doing such came under direct/indirect fire quite often. Because of this, higher ranking officers would come along with us on "CAB Rides"

    CAB is referring to the Combat Action Badge. This badge is worn on the uniform and shows that a solder has seen combat. However this "combat" ranged from as little as being up to 50 meters from an explosion to seeing nothing on mission, getting back to base and finding a pock mark on the outside of the truck where someone took a pop shot from 1000 meters away.

    These military tourists would go on these rides just to get a CAB and show everyone that they have been in combat. (This is also worth promotion points and looks really good on a military resume)

    • gearz1

      The more I learn,the more I realize how little I know.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Also, I suppose it is worth mentioning that they are in Germany and the sign is in English and not German… So that should tell you that warning civilians to stay away was not the signs purpose.

    • The Professor

      I suspected that the warning was for military personnel, but I had a hard time believing that soldiers that had seen the carnage across Europe up to that point could be that stupid. Your explanation makes the situation clear. There are idiots everywhere and in every time period. Thanks for enlightening us.
      Also, thanks for your service in Afghanistan. I hope that you made it through with your mind and body whole.

      • I second the Professor's closing sentiment.

        *raises glass*

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Minds always go first… Which brings us back to the sign. Next to a tank. In the middle of a warzone.

        I also second the Professor's closing sentiment.

        *shoves case of beer with foot, across the floor and his raises glass*

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Anyone know the model of the Panther tank? Or is, as I think, there just not enough info from the picture to figure it out…

    At least its from before Sep 1944 is likely but not guaranteed.

    From September 1944 steel road wheels introduced.
    From September 1944, a slightly redesigned mantlet with a flattened and much thicker lower "chin" design started to be fitted to Panther Ausf G models, the chin being intended to prevent such deflections. Conversion to the "chin" design was gradual, and Panthers continued to be produced to the end of the war with the rounded gun mantlet.

    Anyone else want to take a crack at it?

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