Snipers are considered one of the most dangerous warfighters in the battlefield — taking out targets from concealed and undisclosed locations while homing in on prey that has no clue that they’re in the crosshairs.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, the massive damage the city suffered provided insufficient cover for ground troops, but it was perfect for sharpshooters who could hide in the crumbled buildings and wrack up kills.
Out of all the snipers that were most feared, none came close to Soviet Red Army sharpshooter Vasily Zaitsev.
Reportedly within 10 days of fighting in the streets of Stalingrad, Zaitsev’s body count reached about 40 kills. Once the Soviet press learned of the Siberian native’s incredible progress, they promoted it by releasing propaganda to anyone who would read it — even the Germans.
In response, the Germans sent their first-rate sniper, Maj. Erwin Konig into Stalingrad. Konig’s mission was to eliminate the Red Army’s most efficient marksmen and to display the Nazi’s superiority.
Word broke out that Konig was inbound after a German POW bragged to the Russian Army that it was only a matter of days before Zaitsev and the other snipers would be defeated. This news reached Zaitsev nearly immediately.
After a few days, there were no signs of Konig being in the area until three Russian snipers were wiped out within a small section of town. With a hunter’s caution, Zaitsev worked his way into the area where Konig claimed the three Russians lives for an epic duel.
On the second day of Zaitsev’s stalk, a political commissar joined him to report the news of the kill after it had occurred. But the political commissar soon saw something move down the street, and as he stood up to point it out to Zaitsev, Konig killed him with a single well-placed shot.
This kill helped Zaitsev zero in on Konig’s hide. He removed his glove from his hand and placed it on a stick. He then raised the glove up, and Konig accurately shot it — exposing his muzzle flash.
Zaitsev quickly aimed and fired scoring a direct kill shot. The story’s finale isn’t exactly what audiences saw in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the Gates” starring Jude Law.
Check out Gun Crazy 81’s video below to hear how this epic duel between these historic snipers went down.
“I’m not into morbid body counts, but that matters,” he said, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference outside Washington, DC.
“So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific,” he added.
The increase between December and now may be attributable to stepped-up campaigns in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, but body counts are generally considered a dubious metric for a number of reasons.
In the case of ISIS, it’s difficult to first assess just how many fighters the terrorist group has.
According to Military.com, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in 2014 that ISIS had 100,000 militants in Iraq and Syria, while the Pentagon said in summer 2016 that there were just 15,000 to 20,000 fighters left in those two countries.
Complicating matters is the UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon’s estimate of the number of ISIS slain. “More than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed,” Fallon said in December.
Differing assessments of ISIS’ manpower are likely to make it more difficult for the Trump administration and its allies to develop an effective strategy to counter the terrorist group.
Body-count assessments also have a bad reputation as a relic of the Vietnam War, when rosy estimates, often made by officers angling for promotions, earned scorn.
During the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government reversed its policy on body counts more than once.
A body-count figure released by the Obama administration in mid-2015 was undercut several times.
“These are the types of numbers that novices apply,” a US military adviser told The Daily Beast at the time.
Chuck Hagel — who served as US defense secretary prior to Ash Carter — has also recently dismissed the policy of keeping body counts.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in December. “Body counts, I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?”
“References to enemy killed are estimates, not precise figures,” Christopher Sherwood, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told CNN. “While the number of enemy killed is one measure of military success, the coalition does not use this as a measure of effectiveness in the campaign to defeat ISIS.”
The tragic defeat of the brave defenders at Wake Island following a gallant stand in the weeks after Pearl Harbor lives on in Marine Corps lore. The legacy includes VMFA-211, the “Wake Island Avengers,” who currently operate the F-35B Lightning II. It also includes a lesson in how the most innocent can pay the heavy price of war. In this case, we’re talking about a bird.
Wake Island was one of many Japanese-held posts that were passed over in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign. The Japanese garrison there was cut off, stuck in the middle of the Pacific and facing occasional strikes by Navy and Army Air Force assets. With no ability to resupply, the Japanese garrisoned there had to survive somehow.
According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, 1,262 Japanese troops later surrendered to the crew of the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162). The United States’ strategy left them malnourished. They had one primary source of food: the Wake Island rail, a small, flightless bird indigenous to the islands.
The surrender of Japanese troops on Wake Island is signed in September, 1945, too late for the Wake Island rail.
The Wake Island rail was a little over eight and half inches long. It was notable for its ability to survive in an ecosystem with little — near to none — fresh water. What ultimately doomed this species was its inability to fly and an innate curiosity, which meant they weren’t afraid of humans.
While the extinction of the Wake Island rail was tragic, it was not the worst of the Japanese military’s misdeeds on Wake Island — here is a monument to 98 civilian contractors summarily executed.
The Japanese troops took advantage of that curiosity in their struggle to survive — the Wake Island rail was hunted to extinction. A 1946 trip to Wake Island, just a year after the Japanese surrendered, generated no sightings of the bird. Now, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the bird as extinct due to overhunting.
While this extinction is a minor tragedy of war, it is dwarfed by the war crimes Japan committed against civilians on the very same atoll.
In 1947, British officer Yahya Khan offered his colleague 1,000 rupees for his spiffy red motorcycle. His colleague, Sam Manekshaw, agreed. But before Khan could pay, he was off to what was going to become Pakistan. The British split its Indian colony, and things on the subcontinent have been pretty tense ever since. To top it all off, Yahya Khan didn’t pay for the motorbike.
But he would, even if it took almost 25 years.
Manekshaw (middle) whose mustache game was top notch.
The Partition of India was much more than the splitting of the British Raj into two independent states. It was a catastrophic split that tore apart the country and created millions of refugees, cost millions of lives, and split the armed forces of the country in two, all based on religion. Violence erupted almost immediately between the two groups on such a large scale that much of it has never been forgotten or forgiven. Animosity continued between both sides for decades, and the two have fought war after war because of the myriad issues left unaddressed.
By 1970, Sam Manekshaw was a Field Marshal, the Chief of Staff of India’s Army, and war hero known to the people as “Sam the Brave.” Yahya Khan was a General who fought for Pakistan against India in 1947 and again in 1965. Now he was the president of Pakistan who had taken power using the Pakistani military. East Pakistani refugees were flooding into India because Yahya would not accept the most recent elections, and India’s President, Indira Gandhi, told Manekshaw she wanted Pakistan split into two by force, creating the new country of Bangladesh. Gandhi gave him free rein to do it however he could.
Khan would be deposed and die under house arrest after being stripped of his honors during the rest of the decade.
In Pakistan, the ever-present tensions with India were ready to boil over once again. But the Pakistanis didn’t send the Army to India; they sent it into East Pakistan – where the Pakistanis immediately began slaughtering Bengalis in East Pakistan. By 1971 Bengalis in Pakistan declared independence from Pakistan in response. India immediately supported the new country, first vocally, then though training the Bangladeshis, and next with air support. Finally, in 1971, Manekshaw was ready. He had spent much of the year readying and positioning Indian armor, infantry, and air units. On Dec. 3, 1971, he struck.
The Pakistani Navy’s fuel reserves were destroyed. The Indian Air Force hit Pakistan with almost 6,000 sorties in the next two weeks, destroying much of Pakistan’s Air Force on the ground as the Indian Army advanced, capturing some 15,000 square kilometers. Within two weeks, Pakistan folded like a card table. All Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to India, the genocide ended, and Bangladesh was born.
After the surrender agreement was signed, Manekshaw was said to have remarked:
“Yahya never paid me the 1,000 rupees for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”
Power — even political power — doesn’t fall too far from the family tree when it comes to the U.S. presidency … then again, sometimes it comes several branches over. At least, that’s the case for many former U.S. presidents, including those that are as far as 10th cousins, twice removed, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Is your head spinning?!)
Take a look at this list of U.S. presidents and their relations to other former presidents for a new way to look at our leaders who have served as Commander in Chief.
George W. and George H.W. Bush were father and son, respectively. No surprise there. They served as the 31st and 43rd presidents of the U.S.
Another father and son duo came in John Adams and John Quincey Adams who served as the second and sixth presidents, respectively.
William Henry Harrison, ninth president, was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president.
Meanwhile, James Madison, fourth president, was second cousins with Zachary Taylor, the 12th president.
FDR is related to 11 presidents
Next comes Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president, who was related to 11 — yes ELEVEN — other presidents. Five of them through blood and the remaining six by marriage. This was determined by a study done by multiple genealogists. (There is even controversy that he’s related to a 12th former president.)
Martin Van Buren, third cousins, four-times removed
He was also reportedly related to Winston Churchill and Robert E. Lee. Woah!
Distantly related cousins
The search for distant relatives becomes deep when it comes to former U.S. presidents, practically unending. With generations between them and blood and marriage bonding many in office, the list of distant cousin only continues to grow.
James Madison and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt, third cousins three-times removed
John Adams and Calvin Coolidge, third cousins, five-times removed
James Madison and Barack Obama, third cousins, nine-times removed
John Tyler and William Henry Harrison, fourth cousins, once removed
Ulysses Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, once removed
John Adams and Millard Fillmore, fourth cousins, three-times removed
John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, three-times removed
Zachary Taylor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth half-cousins, three-times removed
James Garfield and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, three-times removed
Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, fourth cousins, three times removed
John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
Franklin Pierce and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
James Garfield and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, four-times removed
John Adams and William Howard Taft, fourth cousins, five-times removed
Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, fourth cousins, five-times removed
Millard Fillmore and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, five-times removed
Millard Fillmore and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, six-times removed
And on on on and on, all the way up to 10th cousins, four-times removed. Are they still even related at that point??
This is an interesting look into the genealogy of the American president and how families long ago are even distantly related to modern U.S. presidents.
Featured photo: Presidential portraits taken from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain
As the weather turns cooler and you look for yet another thing to help keep you sane while you’re stuck indoors, might we suggest you return to the originals and re-watch any one of these classic Vietnam War movies.
(Metro Goldwyn Mayer)
We’re listing this one first to get it right out there in the open. Yes, we’re talking about Rambo here, but in our humble opinion, First Blood is one of the best Vietnam War movies of all time. Don’t believe us? Well, consider this.
The majority of Vietnam Veterans weren’t given any kind of preferential treatment on their return to America. Discounts? Forget about them. Being thanked for their service? Not in a million years. That’s one of the reasons why First Blood is such a standout Vietnam War movie – it shows a part of our country’s history that many have forgotten forever. It helped educate the general public about the challenges of Vietnam Veterans, both in the field and once back at home, too.
This gritty war movie focuses on 14 soldiers from the 101st B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiments during a 12-day battle that occurred in the northern part of South Vietnam near the A Shau Valley.
Debuting in 1987, the film showcases what it was like for the Screaming Eagles as they endured an uphill battle against a well-entrenched enemy under awful conditions.
The real battle of Hamburger Hill claimed the lives of 39 soldiers from the 187th and left almost 300 wounded. This film absolutely holds up to any other film that attempts to explore the sacrifices made by infantrymen.
(Metro Goldwyn Mayer)
Platoon won the “Best Film” of 1986 and for a good reason. This movie manages to explore combat from the ground level, and does what many war movies can’t do – it shows the combat experience for exactly what it is: scary, full of dread and lots of worries. The reason this film manages to be successful where others aren’t might be due in part to the fact that Oliver Stone, who wrote and directed it, was a Vietnam Veteran. In interviews, Stone said that he was just trying to make a film for himself and for those like him, to remember the war for exactly what it was.
(American International Pictures)
This one might not be on your radar, in part because it’s a low-budget movie that never won any awards. It was written by the same person who wrote Raging Bull and Taxi Driver and an unknown director. The result is a film that’s part war rage and part revenge fantasy and is probably relatable for most Vietnam Veterans returning from war.
Two POWs get a hero’s welcome upon returning to Texas, but things fall apart immediately after and only go from bad to worse. The movie traces these two characters’ lives as they come to terms with understanding their new normal.
This is the kind of movie that will completely captivate you and tap into the frustration that many Vietnam war movies try to illustrate.
The Deer Hunter
The cast of The Deer Hunter elevates it into the cinematic hall of fame status. Starring Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, the cast is as impressive as the storyline. What further sets this film apart is the fact that John Cazale (Fredo from The Godfather) makes his last appearance before his death from bone cancer.
The harrowing POW sequences in this film are dark, gritty and utterly memorable. The Deer Hunter is one of those movies that will remain with you long after you’ve watched it.
Bowe Bergdahl was Pfc. Bergdahl when he walked off his post in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was captured by the Taliban. Five years later, however, when the White House exchanged five Taliban detainees for his release, he was Sgt. Bergdahl.
According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries. They must be considered for promotion to the next highest grade when they become eligible.
For enlisted, it is based on time in grade and time in service. The eligibility for officers is based on the date of rank in their current grade.
A notable story is of then-Cmdr. James Stockdale. When he was captured and sent to the Hanoi Hilton, he was the most senior POW and so was the ranking officer among the prisoners there. When Lt. Col. ‘Robbie’ Risner was also captured, he outranked Stockdale by time in grade.
Later, a newly captured naval pilot informed Stockdale of his promotion to captain, he assumed command again.
This continues for prisoners of war but stops for those on missing status when they are presumed dead under Title 37 of the U.S. Code, section 555.
This happened with 1st Lt. John Leslie Ryder. His aircraft, nicknamed “Bird Dog,” went missing during a visual reconnaissance flight during the Vietnam War on June 9, 1970.
During the flight, the crew failed to report in by radio and calls were not answered. The search could not be mounted until the next day. The search continued until the 19th to no avail. A year to the day later, Lt. Ryder was promoted to captain.
Payment is also changed from regular enlistments. Instead of being involved in DFAS, the payment is authorized by Congress and made directly through the Secretary of the Treasury, tax-free. Any earnings, leave and money, are still given to the individual at their appropriate rank and are held until return.
There is also no limit on leave accrual, meaning it is well deserved for the returning service member to take all of the leave at two and-a-half days per month.
Today’s artillery can really reach out and touch someone. The M777 lightweight 155mm howitzer, for instance, can hit targets over 18.5 miles away. That howitzer has a crew of seven, and the rounds it fires vary widely from high-explosive rounds to smoke, and some of these rounds can be guided by either a laser seeker or GPS. There was even a shell called the W48, a nuke that delivered the equivalent of 72 tons of TNT onto a target!
Such stuff would be incomprehensible to soldiers firing the most common cannon of the Civil War, the 12-pounder Model 1857 Napoleon. This cannon had a crew of seven (although this could be adjusted), and it could reach out to about a mile. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?
Still, in some ways, the crews’ duties haven’t changed over the years. Some people have to load the cannon, others have to prep it for firing. This 2011 Marine Corps story describes the nine-step process of firing the M777.
The process for firing a Model 1857 Napoleon is not much different. According to a National Park Service publication outlining the process for demonstrations, the selected round is loaded, and the crews prep the gun for firing. The big difference is the fact that the Civil War cannon usually needs to be swabbed, largely because it is muzzle-loaded. This was to prevent a spark from prematurely igniting the cannon’s powder charge.
By fall of 1918, the Allies were pushing back the Germans all along the Western Front. In September, the Allies launched the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final offensive of World War I. But the Germans were not yet beaten and were still fighting to bring a satisfactory end to the war, as the men of the 77th Division were soon to find out.
The 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division’s 154th Infantry Brigade were assigned to take a mill as well as vital road and rail ways that would deny Germans in other sectors the ability to resupply. All along the line a no retreat order was in effect. Major General Alexander, commander of the 77th Division, was particularly adamant, insisting that anyone calling out to fall back should be shot.
Maj. Charles Whittlesey, commanding 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry, took this to heart. Whittlesey, a Harvard educated lawyer, would lead his men from the front. When the 308th‘s attack began at 7 am on October 2, 1918, American forces all along the front advanced towards their objectives. Whittlesey was leading a force consisting of six companies (A, B, C, E, G, H) from the 308th, K company from 307th, as well as C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion. By the night of October 2nd, Whittlesey’s force reached and secured their objective, Hill 198, when disaster struck on their flanks.
Just as Whittlesey received word that his men captured Hill 198, he was disturbed by just how quiet it was around his position. When he realized he could not hear action from where the 307th was supposed to be, he remarked later “either they had broken through the line as well and reached their objective over there, or they had been licked and fallen back. The former would be good news for the 308th … The latter, however, was unthinkable; orders forbade it.” Also unknown to the men of the 308th was that a strong German counterattack had driven back French and American forces securing the 77th‘s flanks, leaving Whittlesey’s command isolated behind German lines.
The men began digging in a position that came to be known as ‘the pocket’ on top of Hill 198. Though it was defensible, the Germans held a nearby hill that overlooked the pocket, as well as a position in a ravine that cut off the path of retreat. The next day Whittlesey sent out numerous runners in an attempt to reestablish contact with friendly forces but not a single one returned. Whittlesey also sent carrier pigeons but they were shot out of the sky by the Germans. The Americans were completely cut-off and surrounded. An attempt by a single company to break out failed with heavy casualties.
On October 4th the situation worsened for the isolated men. Besides German attacks they were also subjected to friendly fire. History is unclear how exactly it happened but what is known is that the men of the Lost Battalion came under fire from their own artillery. Virtually out of options, Maj. Whittlesey wrote a note and sent out his final carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, to stop the shelling of his own troops.
“We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
The bird flew off through the artillery barrage and was then targeted by the Germans. Whittlesey watched as the bird took fire and fluttered to the ground. As his heart sank, he saw Cher Ami regain flight and fly past the Germans on its way to headquarters. When Cher Ami arrived at the 77th Division headquarters it was found that the pigeon had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and the leg holding the message was hanging on by a tendon but Whittlesey’s message had arrived ending the friendly fire.
Even though the artillery fire stopped, the Americans still did not know exactly where the Lost Battalion was. To make matters worse, the Germans continued attempting to annihilate the Americans and attempts to resupply the force by air were unsuccessful. Their supplies dwindling. The only water source required crawling under fire to a creek. Bandages were being removed from the dead to be used on the wounded. The Lost Battalion held out for nearly a week before they were finally relieved by forces from the U.S. 82nd Division. Of the 554 men who were originally encircled, only 194 were able to walk out on their own after the battle, the rest had all been killed, wounded, or captured.
The Lost Battalion received five Medals of Honor, including Maj. Whittlesey’s, along with 28 Distinguished Service Crosses. Whittlesey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel immediately upon returning to American lines. In 1921, he and other Medal of Honor recipients were pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier. Unfortunately, Whittlesey was deeply troubled by his experiences and disappeared from a passenger ship in November 1921 in an apparent suicide.
Cher Ami, the carrier pigeon that saved the men from their own artillery, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with an Oak Leaf Cluster for heroic service at Verdun and in the stopping the artillery barrage in the Argonne Forest. The bird died in 1919 and was stuffed for display at the Smithsonian.
The story of the Lost Battalion was made into a movie in 1919 and again in 2001.
There are bad guard details, horrible guard details, and then guard details where you and the bulk of your regiment are ordered to guard caves filled with bat shit.
Gunpowder is made up mostly of saltpeter, a chemical powder generally mined from deposits on cave walls or extracted from urine and bat guano. When the South found itself under naval blockade early in the war, it had to find a way to make many of its necessities.
Modern ammunition uses cleaner-burning propellants, but the nitrates in guano are still valuable for fertilizers. The descendants of the bats that provided the guano are now famous in Austin. Spectators line up on bridges to watch the bats depart for their nightly feeding.