Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chapter 9 - At The Disposal Of The Minister Of War: Part 1 - Introduction

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

In the winter of 1914–1915, Russian forces had some apparent success. They seemed about to capture Kracow and had reached the mountain passes of the Carpathians, which led down into the Austrian heartland. But the Austrians, with help from the Germans, pushed them back. By April, Warsaw was under threat. In addition to their losses, the shortages of shells, ammunition, rifles, clothing, and food further demoralized Russian troops.

From April to September of 1915, the Germans and Austrians relentlessly pushed forward. In the initial stages of the German-Austrian advance, Korzybski seemed to accelerate his efforts, traveling from one front to another gathering intelligence, not just for Stavka and the Second Army, but for the other Russian armies as well. But by the end of June it become clear that Russian forces would have to retreat from most, if not all, of Poland in order to just survive. The war was changing from one of mobility to one of positions and entrenchment. There would be no more need for Terechoff’s highly mobile cavalry intelligence group. It was disbanded on June 20. Korzybski helped organize the breakup of the office in Warsaw, including the disposal of equipment and the dispersal of men to other units. Where would he go?
Eastern Battle Front - 1915 
He had been thinking about an invention—a bomb. To work on it, he was sent to the Artillery Department Laboratory of the Headquarters of the Second Army. Korzybski’s invention, an incendiary device, seemed extremely simple but nasty. He manufactured some samples for a demonstration at General Staff Headquarters. His bomb consisted of a 12 by 4 inch wooden box that could easily break apart when dropped from a plane. The box was stuffed with tar and kerosene-soaked rags wrapped around a center portion containing smokeless powder. The powder in turn surrounded a thin metal capsule holding some phosphorous in a liquid solution. Since phosphorous burns when exposed to air, the bomb was set off by first breaking the capsule with an icepick. The surrounding fluid would evaporate, the phosphorous would start to burn, ignite the powder and then, in 5 to 10 minutes, the rags and then the box would begin to burn as well. At this point, the box could be dropped to do its work on a field or a roof of straw or wood.

After one successful demonstration in front of the General Staff, Korzybski was asked to do another one before Grand Duke Nicholas, who had missed it. The Grand Duke wanted to see an actual aerial demonstration, with Korzybski dropping his incendiary-box bombs from a plane onto a target field. Alfred did not relish going up in an airplane. He had not enjoyed his last plane ride—to say the least.

"Nieuport 10" (colorized) - French 2-Seater Airplane Used By Russian Imperial Forces

On the front, he had become friendly with a French flyer glad to have someone to speak with in his native language. One day the flying ace invited him to come along for a flight over the German trenches. Alfred described the ride:
I was not tied up. I had no safety belt. Not tied up and he wanted to give me the thrill which he assumed would be the thrill of my life, he began to make the loop over the German trenches and of course, the Germans did not appreciate the joke and they riddled us with machine guns. Well, I had very little to say about that because that son of a gun was doing the driving. We were in the meantime riddled with bullets on one side and on the other side, retaliating to the Germans, out of the window I was vomiting like hell on them. It was one of my first rides. How much I got to them I don't know. Their bullets got to us all right. The rest of my reaction was probably lost in the winds. But anyway I did it. Naturally when we came back home, [so to] speak home, naturally I gave him  ‘a piece of my mind’, so to say in quotation marks, no more airplanes for me. Well I did not calculate properly. Grand Duke Nicholas wanted to see....(1) 
The Grand Duke insisted and Alfred considered it his duty not to refuse:
I took my incendiary bombs with me and then we began to fly....What was I doing putting the ice pick into the phosphorus—oh, I don’t want to make a monkey out of myself...and I don’t know I dropped a half dozen of them, or a dozen, it doesn’t matter because they were small things and the question was just to make fire for five, ten minutes. They were timed deliberately for a short exposure, so to say, for air. They all collapse and they start burning, and in the meantime, I nearly, somehow, I nearly burned down the airplane by mistake and the pilot got nervous and so when we were landing he nearly smashed  the airplane. So, of course, we have an interchange of opinions about his capacity as a  pilot and my capacity as a bombadier. Just an exchange of opinions, that’s all...In the  meantime in front of Grand Duke Nicholas both of us had to keep our opinions in rather polite language. And there were two of my airplane rides. And since then [Alfred was telling this story in 1947], no more airplane rides, thank you. (2) 

Although in later life he realized commercial airline travel had become “not so unpleasant”(3), it seems he never did fly again. As for his incendiary bomb, although the demonstrations impressed the Russian and French officers watching them, his bomb was not used, since, with the diminishing front and the relatively short range of their planes, the Russians were worried about burning up parts of their own territory. The French later used their own version of an incendiary bomb using glass bottles which, in Korzybski’s opinion, didn’t work nearly as well.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. Korzybski 1947, p. 304. 

2. Ibid., pp. 304-305. 

3. Korzybski 1947, p. 304. 

Part 2 >

No comments: