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Bag of Dirt: Rare Photographs of the Second World War

The author of the blog, Bag of Dirt, is collecting the best photographs from the Second World War. Journalist Ivan Siyak reviewed hundreds of publications and selected the 10 most impressive stories.

In April last year, the anonymous author of the blog, Bag of Dirt, published more than 1,700 archived photographs with detailed captions that describe the events of the Second World War on the frontlines and beyond. At the request of Bird in Flight, journalist and war history amateur Ivan Siyak selected the ten most interesting photographs.

Joseph Beyrle


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That kind of a chin is strong-willed and his look — decisive. At this moment, Joseph Beyrle has already confidently decided to flee the Stalag XII-A camp for war prisoners, where he ended up after an unsuccessful landing at Normandy. Six more camps and three escape attempts still lay ahead. In January 1945, he finally reached Soviet armies crossing the front, greeting them with a pack of Lucky Strikes and a highly raised arm with the shout, “Americanskiy tovarishсh!”

The next month, before his severe injury, Joseph will become a triggerman in a tank battalion as the single American soldier to have served in the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. After the war, Beyrle will live 59 years and his son will become the U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

Buchenwald Guard


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On April 8, 1945, Buchenwald prisoners Guidon Damazin and Konstantin Leonov sent a request for help on the airwaves with the help of a makeshift radiostation. The Buchenwald underground asked the American army to hurry in freeing the camp since the SS began to evacuate prisoners. The U.S. headquarters responded and already on April 11, a subdivision of the Third Army entered the camp.

Not all the German guards were able to flee. Some of them were killed by the freed prisoners, while others were protected by the Americans in order to conduct a formal investigation and punishment. The photograph depicts one of the still-living SS guards.

Intrepid Aircraft Carrier


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November 26, 1944. The crew of the American aircraft carrier Intrepid buries its fellow crew members at sea. Six officers and 59 sailors died from the strikes of two Japanese kamikazes. It was the fifth attack from suicidal pilots in the ship’s history and it wasn’t fatal. The aircraft carrier didn’t lose its сourse and the last fire was extinguished after two hours. The Intrepid is currently anchored to a pier in New York as part of the Air and Space Museum.

Parker the Plane Spotter


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In December 1941, the law on national service required all unmarried British women between 20 and 30 years old to join one of the auxiliary corps. One of them was the Auxiliary Territorial Service, in which the future queen, Princess Elizabeth II, served as a truck driver. The photograph depicts a woman by the name of Miss Parker from the Auxiliary Territorial Service in August 1943. She is monitoring the skies to warn the anti-aircraft defense in the event of German planes appearing.

The U-175 Crew


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The crew of the U-175 German submarine didn’t like its commander, Heinrich Bruns. The ship captain was considered to be too ambitious, and therefore inclined towards gaining epaulettes as trophies at an unjustifiable risk. On April 17, 1943, he couldn’t wait for dusk when attacking a convoy off the shores of Ireland. The ships of the shoreline defense spotted the boat and dropped a deep-sea bomb, damaging the U-175 and forcing it to surface. In daylight, the boat wasn’t able to escape from the guards and was sunk amid an exchange of artillery. 13 men died, including Capt. Bruns. 41 German sailors were rescued by Americans.

The French militia


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Freeing Paris with their own forces was an important political goal for the French. The government-in-exile didn’t want to allow a foreign, American administration into its capital. That’s why French units joined the movement of American armies towards Paris, where an uprising occurred. For several days in August in 1944, a balance was established in Paris. A small German garrison was able to maintain only key points, yet poorly armed rebels were unable to drive them out. The city was surrounded by barricades. The Germans awaited aid from the front. The French awaited the soldiers of General Leclerc.

Nieves Fernandez


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November 1944. Nieves Fernandez, a schoolteacher and the single woman among the commanders of the Philippine partisans, shows an American soldier how she slaughtered the Japanese with a long “bolo” knife in the jungles of Leyte Island. it was mainly aborigines from headhunting tribes who fought in Fernandez’s partisan brigade. By the end of the occupation, they accounted for more than 200 slaughtered Japanese.

Franz Ziereis


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Mauthausen was freed by American armies on May 5, 1945, but the concentration camp’s permanent commander Franz Ziereis was found only after 20 days in his hunting retreat in the Alps. The SS Standartenfuhrer was wounded upon his arrest and brought to a camp hospital for treatment. He soon died there, allegedly from the inflicted wound but with the likely involvement of its personnel. Ziereis’s corpse was strung up on Mauthausen’s fence by his former prisoners.

Aldegonda Elisabeth Zeguers-Boere


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Arrested after the liberation of the Netherlands, 33-year-old Aldegonda Elisabeth is transported from jail to a Maastricht court. She was accused of active collaboration with German Special Forces and revealing to them 50-60 members of the Resistance, many of whom were killed afterwards. Zeguers-Boere was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to imprisonment. She died in 2005 after her release.

Seeing off volunteers in Spain


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In order to not involve the formally neutral Spain in the Second World War and not quarrel with the German allies, the head of government Francisco Franco allowed for the creation of a volunteer division to fight on the Eastern Front. Among the 19,000 volunteers were people wanting to avenge the U.S.S.R. for helping Spanish Communists during the Civil War, those seeking a decent livelihood and “leftists” intent on hiding from persecutions and crossing over to the Soviet armies.

On July 13, 1941, the volunteers of the Blue Division, named after the color of their shirts, were dispatched from Madrid to preparations in Germany, and afterwards to surrounded Leningrad. By various estimates, between 5,000 and 6,000 soldiers didn’t return home.

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