Day of the Dreadnoughts – Jutland

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 237th installment in the series.

May 31-June 1, 1916: Day of the Dreadnoughts – Jutland 

While for many ordinary people the outbreak of war in 1914 came as a shocking “bolt from the blue,” for the sailors of the British and German navies it first seemed like the long awaited consummation of the pre-war naval rivalry between Europe’s two greatest powers – followed by a discouraging anti-climax.

Indeed the First World War was above all a continental struggle whose outcome would ultimately be decided by fights on land, with naval power generally playing a secondary role. Although the navies made important contributions to the war effort – most notably the Royal Navy’s blockade of Germany – it soon became apparent that they were unlikely to take part in a decisive naval battle like Trafalgar. 

Knowing it was outnumbered, the German Admiralty kept its High Seas Fleet close to its home ports on the North Sea, where it fulfilled its role as a “fleet in being” – keeping a large part of the Royal Navy tied down simply by existing. On the other side, despite their numerical superiority the British were reluctant to attack the German ships in port, leery of mines, submarines and land-based defenses.

Despite this strategic stalemate, commanders on both sides believed it was still possible to fight a decisive battle and achieve victory. For the British, this meant luring the German High Seas Fleet into a spot where it could be engaged by the larger Grand Fleet (the main body of the Royal Navy) and destroyed. By contrast, success for the Germans depended on dividing the enemy: an encounter with the entire British Grand Fleet was to be avoided at all costs, but if the High Seas Fleet could lure part of the enemy fleet away and destroy it, it might be able to even the odds for another battle later on, or at least force the British to loosen their blockade. 

This was the strategic background for the biggest naval clash of the war, at the Battle of Jutland. Unfortunately for both sides, things didn’t quite turn out as they’d hoped.

Strange Symmetry

The battle unfolded with strange symmetry, beginning with the opposing sides’ plans. After the end of the North Sea’s rough winter, in the spring 1916 both the British commander, Admiral John Jellicoe, and his German counterpart, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, decided the time had come to coax the enemy fleet into a major battle – hopefully on their own terms. 

Basically, both admirals hoped to trick the other side into rushing into the North Sea by dangling bait in the form of a smaller detachment of ships to lure the enemy force into a trap. Running out to sea, the enemy force would first come under attack by submarines and mines – the German U-boats lying in wait near the British bases in Rosyth and Scapa Flow, the British subs near the Heligoland Bight off northwestern Germany. Then the entire surface fleet would close to destroy the rest of the enemy force (in the British plan this meant the entire German High Seas Fleet, in the German plan a large part of the British Grand Fleet). The symmetry extended even further to the order of battle for both sides, as both Jellicoe and Scheer dispatched smaller “scouting” forces of battle cruisers ahead of their main dreadnought fleets – the British battle cruisers under Admiral David Beatty, the Germans under Admiral Franz von Hipper – to serve as bait, luring the enemy within range of the heavily armed dreadnoughts. 

The scale of the coming clash was mind-boggling: between the battle cruisers, dreadnoughts, submarines, and swarms of light cruisers and destroyers, around 250 ships crewed by roughly 100,000 men would take part in the Battle of Jutland. However the main fight would always be between the heavy battle cruisers and dreadnoughts, and here the British advantage showed, with 28 dreadnoughts versus 16 for the Germans, and nine battle cruisers versus five. 

The outcome depended entirely on local circumstances: if the British were able to bring their whole fleet to bear against the Germans, the latter would be wiped out – but if the Germans could attack and destroy part of the British fleet in isolation, British naval dominance would suffer a body blow. 

First Encounter

With the opposing sides following two very similar plans, it all came down to timing – and here the Germans got the jump on the British (or so they thought). In fact that British had an additional edge in intelligence, as the Allies had cracked the German naval code early on without their knowledge: on May 30, 1916 Jellicoe received word that the German High Seas Fleet was preparing to sail into the North Sea. That evening the British battle cruiser squadron, followed by the super-dreadnoughts of the Fifth Battle Squadron, set forth from their base in Rosyth, Scotland, while the rest of the Grand Fleet headed south from the base in Scapa Flow, about 300 miles to the north; crucially, this meant that the British battle cruisers would meet the Germans before the British dreadnoughts. 

Click to enlarge

The first phase of the German plan quickly proved to be a dud, as not a single British ship was lost to U-boat torpedoes or mines – but Hipper would more than make up for this disappointing start during the second phase of the battle, when he benefited from an unexpected British mistake. When Beatty’s battle cruiser squadron left port the accompanying Fifth Battle Squadron, composed of powerful dreadnoughts meant to cover the battle cruisers, trailed behind by five miles, leaving the battle cruisers exposed to their more heavily armed German peers. Worse still, reports from British ships monitoring German radio traffic indicated (mistakenly) that the German High Sea Fleet hadn’t actually put to sea, meaning Beatty and Jellicoe both assumed they were just facing the German battle cruiser squadron, not the dreadnoughts. They were in for quite a surprise (below, the British fleet).

With these massive forces approaching each other off of the Danish peninsula, known as Jutland, events took an absurd turn with the appearance of a small Danish civilian steamer, which unwittingly sailed between the rival forces, provoking destroyers and cruisers from both sides to hurry over to check it out – of course spotting each other in the process. As they reported sighting the enemy ships via wireless, the ships opened fire on each other at 2:28 p.m. The battle had begun. 

Battle Cruiser Action 

After the initial sighting, the two battle cruiser squadrons made visual contact at around 3:25 p.m., with the British (to the west) heading south and the Germans heading north. Both sides swiftly changed course to close with the enemy, and then turned on to roughly parallel courses, heading southeast, still trying to shorten the distance while bringing their guns to bear on each other. 

This was exactly what Hipper hoped for, as it would lead the British battle cruisers (without their super-dreadnought protectors) directly into Scheer’s rapidly approaching High Seas Fleet, about 50 miles south of Hipper. Even worse, the German gunnery during the battle cruiser phase was clearly superior, as evidenced by the uneven losses suffered by the two sides, and British battle cruisers suffered from an unrecognized flaw in their armor plating around the gun turrets. Following the first German battle cruiser shot at 3:48 p.m., as high explosive 12- and 13.5-inch shells hurtled thousands of yards a couple dozen feet could spell the difference between a harmless fountain of water and a deadly plume of metal and fire. 

For its human participants the battle was characterized by an odd mix of terror and detachment, as recalled by a gun control officer on the British battle cruiser New Zealand:

I had great difficulty in convincing myself that the Huns were in sight at last, it was so like battle exercise the way in which we and the Germans turned up on to more or less parallel courses and waited for the range to close sufficiently before letting fly at each other. It all seemed very cold-blooded and mechanical, no chance here of seeing red, merely a case of cool scientific calculation and deliberate gunfire.

The experience would soon become much more real for crew members aboard the British battle cruiser Indefatigable. At 4:02 p.m. the German battle cruiser Von der Tann scored two direct hits on the Indefatigable, which apparently penetrated one or more of its gun turrets and ignited the cordite charges used to propel the shells, which in turn ignited the ship’s main magazine, resulting in a gigantic explosion. In less than a minute the Indefatigable sank with 1,017 men aboard, leaving just one survivor (below). 

This shocking loss was only the beginning of the British misfortunes. With the super-dreadnoughts of the British Fifth Battle Squadron slowly coming in range, the British battle cruisers were still highly vulnerable to German gunnery, especially concentrated fire from multiple enemy vessels. At 4:21 p.m. disaster struck again, as two German battle cruisers, the Derfflinger, both turned their fire on the Queen Mary – the pride of the British battle cruiser fleet – and again scored lucky shots on the weak battle cruiser turrets (below, the Queen Mary sinks to the right; Lion to the left). 

Commander George von Hase, the first gunnery officer aboard the Derfflinger, recalled the Queen Mary’s fate: 

First of all a vivid red flame shot up from her forepart. Then came an explosion forward which was followed by a much heavier explosion amidships, black debris of the ship flew into the air, and immediately afterwards the whole ship blew up with a terrific explosion. A gigantic cloud of smoke rose, the masts collapsed inwards, the smoke cloud hid everything and rose higher and higher. Finally, nothing but a thick, black cloud of smoke remained where the ship had been.

Petty Officer Ernest Francis, a gunner’s mate aboard the Queen Mary, was one of the few survivors. As the ship was wracked by explosions, eventually splitting in half, Francis recalled swimming desperately to avoid the whirlpool which would follow her sinking: 

I struck away from the ship as hard as I could, and must have covered nearly 50 years, when there was a big smash, and stopping and looking round the air seemed to be full of fragments and flying pieces. A large piece seemed to be right above my head, and acting on an impulse I dipped under to avoid being struck, and stayed under as long as I could, and then came to the top again, when coming behind me I heard a rush of water, which looked very much like a surf breaking on a beach, and I realised it was the suction or back-wash from the ship which had just gone. I heardly had time to fill my lungs with air when it was on me; I felt it was no use struggling against it, so I let myself go for a moment or two, then I struck out… 

By this time the other ships in the British battle cruiser squadron – Lion, Tiger, and Princess Royal – had also sustained damage, and the super-dreadnoughts of the Fifth Battle Squadron arrived not a moment too soon. In fact the Barham, Warspite, Malaya and Valiant got there just in time to greet the approaching German High Seas Fleet, first spotted at 4:30 p.m. and closing fast. The day of the dreadnoughts was at hand.

Dreadnought Battle 

The main phase of the battle, involving the main bodies of both fleets, commenced in late afternoon and continued as the sun went down through nightfall, forming a dramatic image as over 200 ships of all sizes blasted away at each other in the dusk.

As the Germans rejoined forces to the south, at 6:15 p.m. Jellicoe ordered his dreadnought battle fleet, previously cruising south in six rows of four ships, to form a single line for battle heading east to engage the Germans. For their part the Germans were completely taken by surprise by the appearance of the Grand Fleet under Jellicoe, which delivered a blistering barrage as it sailed perpendicularly across the path of the lead German ships – a classic battleship maneuver called “crossing the T.” However German gunnery continued to tell, as the Derfflinger and Lutzow sank the Invincible around 6:30 p.m. (below, the Invincible explodes). 

A crewman from the British destroyer Badger later recalled rescuing the few survivors from the Invincible:

As we neared the wreck we could see the water all round thick with flotsam and jetsam, mainly composed of floating seamen’s kit bags, with a few hammocks scattered amongst them. We also spotted a raft on which were four men, and on the bridge they spotted two other survivors in the water… It was a great shock to us when [the commander] made us understand that… we were picking up the only six survivors from her ship’s company of a thousand men.

Under heavy fire, around 6:33 Scheer ordered his outnumbered fleet to reverse course, heading west, but Jellicoe was determined to engage them before they slipped away, while also avoiding the risk of torpedoes from German destroyers, requiring him to keep a certain distance. At 6:55 Scheer, knowing that nightfall and relative safety wouldn’t come until 8 p.m., decided to pull a surprise move by reversing course again and heading right for the British Grand Fleet – a daring maneuver which caused no little confusion, as intended. Then at 7:15 p.m. Scheer reversed course yet again (this time for good) and made a run for it, leaving behind destroyers and the battle cruisers to lay down a covering fire against the onrushing British. 

Throughout this period the battleships pounded each other at relatively close ranges of as little as four miles, resulting in incredible carnage on both sides. One British sailor, a 16-year-old midshipman aboard the battle cruiser Malaya, recalled the scene below decks around 7:30 p.m.: 

I went down to the battery, where everything was dark chaos. Most of the wounded had been taken away, but several of the killed were still there. The most ghastly part of the whole affair was the smell of burnt human flesh, which remained in the ship for weeks, making everybody have a sickly nauseous feeling the whole time. When the battery was finally lighted by an emergency circuit, it was a scene which cannot be forgotten,– everything burnt black and bare from the fire; the galley, canteen, and drying-room bulkheads blown and twisted into the most grotesque shapes, and the whole deck covered by about 6 inches of water and dreadful debris…

The main phase of the Battle of Jutland was already ending, but fighting would continue through the night of May 31 into the morning of June 1, as the British pursued the retreating Germans with limited success, including a point-blank engagement between British destroyers and some older German battleships in the hours around midnight, while the British cruiser Black Prince was sunk after losing contact with the main British fleet. A British officer aboard the destroyer Southampton recalled the surprising engagement: 

At that moment the Germans switched on their searchlights and we switched on our. Before I was blinded by the lights in my eyes I caught sight of a line of light grey ships. Then the gun behind which I was standing answered my shout of “Fire!”… The range was amazingly close – no two groups of such ships have ever fought so close in the history of this war. There could be no missing. A gun was fired and a hit obtained; the gun was loaded, it flamed, it roared, it lept to the rear, it slid to the front; there was another hit.

Another British officer described the night engagement: 

The sea seemed to be alive with bursting shells and the air with the whistle of passing projectiles… Suddenly a huge explosion took place in the third German ship, and with a deafening noise and shock she seemed first of all to open out, then to close together, then to go. Evidently someone’s torpedo had hit, but as explosions were taking place all round from bursting shells and guns were firing, a torpedo explosion was almost impossible to distinguish until the ship itself blew up. 

In the days following June 1, both sides tallied up the costs of Jutland. The British had clearly suffered more, losing 14 ships and over 6,000 killed, versus 11 ships and 2,500 dead for the Germans. Meanwhile propaganda machines immediately sprang into motion, with both sides claiming Jutland as a victory – but it quickly became clear that it was something closer to a draw, a huge outpouring of blood and treasure which nonetheless left the basic situation unchanged.

The British diarist Vera Brittain summed up the ambiguity:  “I returned to a London seething with bewildered excitement over the Battle of Jutland. Were we celebrating a glorious naval victory or lamenting an ignominious defeat? We hardly knew; and each fresh edition of the newspapers obscured rather than illuminated this really quite important distinction.” 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
iStock
iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

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