6. The Lesser Known Maccabeus Who Met a Bizarre End
Eleazar Maccabeus (died 162 BC) was the younger brother of Judas Maccabeus, who led the 167 – 160 BC Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid King Antiochus IV had banned Jewish religious practices, and ordered that Zeus be worshipped instead. Mattathias ben Johann, the father of Eleazar and Judas, would have none of that. He killed a Hellenized Jew who sacrificed to Greek idols as an apostate, then fled into the wilderness with his five sons. There, they launched a guerrilla campaign that soon flared into a rebellion.
After Mattathias’ death, his son Judah took over the revolt. In 164 BC, he and his followers entered Jerusalem and restored Jewish worship at its temple – an event commemorated in the feast of Hanukah. However, the city’s conquest was incomplete, as a Seleucid garrison retained control of a fortress within its walls, facing the Temple Mount. As to Eleazar, he met a bizarre end at the Battle of Beth Zechariah in 162 BC, two years after his older brother’s capture of Jerusalem.
Judas Maccabeus besieged the Temple Mount fortress, but a Seleucid army of 50,000 men, accompanied by 30 war elephants, marched to its relief. So he lifted the siege and marched out with 20,000 men to intercept the enemy. Unfortunately, Judas abandoned the guerrilla tactics that had won him victories and served him well until then. Instead, he lined up his men to meet the Seleucids in formal battle. It was a mistake. Judas’ forces proved no match for the Seleucid heavy infantry phalanx, professional cavalry, and armored war elephants that especially unnerved the Jewish defenders.
The Jews began to panic and break in fear of the pachyderms, so Eleazar Maccabeus tried to encourage his comrades by demonstrating the elephants’ vulnerability. He charged at the biggest pachyderm he could find, got beneath it, thrust his spear into its unarmored belly, and killed the beast. He did not get to savor his success for long, however: the dying elephant collapsed on top of Eleazar and crushed him to death. His comrades, appalled by his bizarre demise, did not rush in to emulate him, and the courageous demonstration did not keep the Jewish army from breaking soon thereafter.
In 1874, the Imperial Russian Navy commissioned one of history’s most bizarre warships, the monitor ship Novgorod. It featured a circular hull, and gained one of the poorest reputations ever attached to a ship. The idea behind the round hull was to give her as shallow a draft as possible, and allow her to carry a heavier weight of armor and weapons than other ships of a similar size but conventional designs. It turned out to be one of modern history’s worst designed warships. A 2500-ton vessel, it was powered by six steam engines that drove six propeller screws, and was so clumsy that contemporaries compared it to a floating soup dish.
On the plus side, the Novgorod was largely immune to ramming – a common tactic back then. It featured an armored belt that was nine-inches thick, its round shape deflected strikes, and its vital components were well inside the hull. It sported a pair of eleven-inch guns, which were powerful for the era. Its shape and flat bottom also gave it a draft of only twelve feet, which allowed it to operate close to the coastline in shallow waters. That was about it for the ship’s advantages. As seen below, they were greatly outweighed by the disadvantages.
3. This Weird Ship’s Design Defects Were Matched by Terrible Manufacturing Defects
The bizarre circular hull of the Novgorod played havoc with the rudder’s ability to steer the ship or turn it around. In a storm, she was unsteerable, and even in calm weather, it took 45 minutes for the ship to make a full circle. On top of that, in rough seas the wide flat bottom made the vessel susceptible to pitching so severe that the propellers came out of the water. The blunt hull did not slice through water so as to reduce its resistance, but pushed large volumes of water out of the way by sheer brute force.
The preceding made the ship very fuel-inefficient, and caused it to consume coal at a prodigious rate. In addition to design defects, the Novgorod was plagued with sundry manufacturing defects. Low quality materials and poor workmanship led to persistent recurring problems with the ship’s propulsion, from blades to shaft to drive, that lasted for the vessel’s entire career. Additionally, she suffered from poor ventilation that no amount of troubleshooting could fix, even after ventilation cowls were installed on the gun emplacements.
2. Firing Her Guns Made The Novgorod Spin Like a Top
The Novgorod not only looked weird and handled bad, it also sucked at it the core mission of a warship: she was a poor fighting platform. The ship’s pair of eleven-inch had a muzzle velocity of 1290 feet per second, and could punch through eleven inches of armor at 800 yards – respectable for that era. However, the guns had an exceptionally slow rate of fire: it took them ten minutes to let off a shot. The rotating mounts on which the guns were placed were also slow, and took three minutes to traverse 180 degrees.
The problem was exacerbated by weak locks, that caused the gun mounts to rotate on their own from the guns’ recoil. To add to her woes, the guns’ firing caused the ship to rotate uncontrollably, like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Because the flat-bottomed vessel had no stabilizing keel to keep her in line and keep her guns pointed towards the target, the only solution was to moor the Novgorod in a fixed position. That effectively transformed her from a ship to a floating fortress anchored in place, with her guns pointed seaward.
1. The Russians Could Tried to Palm this Bizarre Ship Off on the Bulgarians, but they Were Not Interested
The Novgorod and other round hulls were summarized thus by a naval historian: “they were a dismal failure. They were too slow to stem the current in the Dniepr, and proved very difficult to steer. In practice the discharge of even one gun caused them to turn out of control and even contra-rotating some of six propellers was unable to keep the ship on the correct heading. Nor could they cope with the rough weather which is frequently encountered in the Black Sea. They were prone to rapid rolling and pitching in anything more than a flat calm, and could not aim or load their guns under such circumstances“.
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 1878, the Novgorod was assigned to the defense of Odessa in the Black Sea. It was discovered that her outer engines contributed little to her performance, so they were removed. The modifications brought her already low speed lower down still, to a mere 6 knots (6.9 miles per hour). After the war, she was stationed in Sevastopol, where she deteriorated and gathered rust until she was finally stricken from the Navy list in 1903. The Russians tried to sell her to Bulgaria in 1908, but the Bulgarians were uninterested in the bizarre ship, so it was sold for scrap in 1911.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading