Zeppelins were surprisingly hard to shoot down in World War II

Zeppelins, as it turns out, are slightly more durable than your average dollar store water balloon. Maybe that's why they were a staple of the U.S. military of the time. The Hindenburg Disaster aside, 20th-Century airships were built to go the distance – and they did.

Keep reading... Show less

4 things you should know about the Tuskegee Airmen

The name rings bells. It's got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I'm sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.

The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can't tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.

Keep reading... Show less

6 standard missions of the Confederate Secret Service

Popular history remembers the Confederate States of America for a lot of things, but having a developed government capable of almost anything the United States could do is seldom one of those things. But it did have all the trappings of a democratic government, including a Treasury Department, an Electoral College, and even coordinated clandestine activities.

Spies. They had spies.

Keep reading... Show less

US troops in Australia got lucky thanks to rationing

While Australian troops were short pay and couldn't access rationed items, the U.S. troops could get more alcohol and romantic presents with their higher pay and their access to post exchanges. That made American troops popular with Australian paramours but decidedly unpopular with Australian troops.

While no one was keeping good track of exactly how often troops got laid in World War II, historians studying tensions between U.S. and Australian soldiers in northern Australia have noted that rationing, combined with differences in pay and uniform design, gave at least the impression that U.S. soldiers were getting a leg up in romance down under.

Keep reading... Show less

These were Britain's 'manned torpedoes' in World War II

After suffering serious damage to four ships from an Italian attack where commandos rode torpedoes into a harbor to plant bombs on their ships, Britain decided to put its own commandos on torpedoes to attack Italian ships. Yup, there was an arms race in World War II that centered on divers steering torpedoes.

You've probably heard about Japan's Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you've even heard about Japan's manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn't the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.

Keep reading... Show less

The 5 native tribes most feared by the US Army

Though they're often overlooked by military historians – not Native historians, mind you – the Plains Wars of the post-Civil War era saw some of the most brutal fighting between the American government and the native tribes fighting for their way of life. Eventually, the U.S. government was determined to move the native people to reservations. Those who did not sell their land were moved by force.

Keep reading... Show less

This battle in North Africa was Germany's Dunkirk miracle

At the port city of Messina, Germany had 100,000 Axis troops where they were quickly becoming encircled by Allied forces. Germany rolled the dice, betting that it could evacuate enough troops and equipment across the straits into mainland Italy to make it worth the efforts. All 100,000 made it across, forcing the Allies to fight them all over again.

When German and Italian forces began to collapse in Sicily in World War II, it became clear that they could either fight to the last man or could evacuate the 100,000 men and gear to Italy to man a series of defensive lines that would cost the Allies years to conquer. They launched a massive evacuation as armored generals George Patton and Bernard Montgomery raced for their blood.

Keep reading... Show less

This submarine was lost with almost all hands. Twice.

The HMS Thetis was tragically lost on a test dive in 1939, but the requirements of World War II saw it raised from the seafloor, overhauled, and sent back to sea as the HMS Thunderbolt. The zombie sub was successful at first, but was later sunk by an Italian warship.

The HMS Thunderbolt was lost in combat on March 14, 1943, after a short but successful World War II career that saw it sink multiple Italian vessels, which might have been surprising to some since the submarine had actually sank three years prior in 1940 with a loss of nearly all hands.

During a dive on June 1, 1939, this resulted in the inner door being opened while the outer door was also open. The crew was able to seal a bulkhead after significant flooding, but the boat was filled with 53 members of the defense industry and public, and air was already in short supply in the flooded sub.

The crew managed to raise themselves back to the surface for a short period, and four crewmembers escaped, but it crashed back to the seafloor, and 99 people were killed.

But the almost-HMS Thetis was in shallow water, and divers were able to salvage the ship which was drained, dried, and repaired. After passing new sea trials, it was commissioned as the HMS Thunderbolt in 1940 and sent to the Atlantic.

<div align="center" id="watmfs_728x90_970x90_300x250_320x50_InArticle2"> <script data-cfasync="false" type="text/javascript"> freestar.queue.push(function () { googletag.display('watmfs_728x90_970x90_300x250_320x50_InArticle2'); }); </script> </div>

(Royal Navy)

​The HMS Thunderbolt in the Mediterranean in 1942.

The HMS Thunderbolt was successful, even though it seemed like it would be cursed. First, sailors don't always like it when a vessel's name is changed, an old superstition. And if any sub could be a ghost ship, the Thunderbolt was a top contender. Worse, Thunderbolt was, itself, an auspicious name for British vessels as two previous HMS Thunderbolts had been lost in crashes.

All of this likely weighed on the crew, especially when they saw the rust line on the walls of the sub from the original sinking. But it destroyed an Italian sub in the Atlantic on Dec. 15, 1940, and helped destroy an Italian light cruiser and a supply ship in early January 1943 in the Mediterranean.

But on March 14, 1943, the Thunderbolt attacked and doomed the transport Esterel, but caught the attention of the Italian cruiser Cicogna in the process. Cicogna was commanded by a former submarine officer, and he knew the adversary's tactics and the local sea.

<!-- Tag ID: watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_1 --> <div align="center" id="watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_1"> <script data-cfasync="false" type="text/javascript"> freestar.queue.push(function () { googletag.display('watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_1'); }); </script> </div>

(Royal Navy J.A. Hampton)

The crew of the HMS Thunderbolt poses with a Jolly Roger flag in 1942.

The Cicogna forced the Thunderbolt under and, when the British crew tried to resurface for air, spotted the boat's periscope and hit it with depth charges, ending the ill-fated sub's career and killing its crew, the second time the submarine was lost with all hands.

Interestingly, the HMS Thetis and Thunderbolt was not the only ship to serve in World War II that had already sank. Just before the Thetis sank, the USS Squalus sank during a test dive just months after it was commissioned. It was later raised and served as the USS Sailfish. And there were seven combat ships sank at Pearl Harbor that later saw service in World War II after salvage and repairs.

<!-- Tag ID: watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_2 --> <div align="center" id="watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_2"> <script data-cfasync="false" type="text/javascript"> freestar.queue.push(function () { googletag.display('watmfs_728x90_468x60_300x250_incontent_2'); }); </script> </div>
Keep reading... Show less

How this Union Army added insult to injury with its battle flag

By the time the Army of the Ohio joined General William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in 1864, it had already repelled Confederate attacks on Ohio and marched South through Tennessee, chasing John Bell Hood through the Battles of Knoxville and Nashville. After burning Atlanta, the Union XXIII Corps, which made up the bulk of the Army of the Ohio, stopped to create a historical wonder: the world's best battle trophy.

Keep reading... Show less