There are a handful of men in military history that could accurately be described as a "one man army." You may never have heard of Lawrence Dominic "Fats" McCarthy, but you'll remember his story after hearing the end of it. An orphan who enlisted to fight World War I for Australian forces, he would leave the war having survived its most intense fighting and wearing the Victoria Cross – the United Kingdom's highest award for valor in combat.
Dominic McCarthy was hard to miss. He was a large man, with a few extra pounds that earned him the nickname "Fats." But that never held him back as a soldier. By the time he arrived to fight the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli, he was already wearing the stripes of a Lance Corporal. Despite falling ill, he would survive Gallipoli as one of the last men of his battalion to depart the fighting.
By the time he arrived at the fighting near France's Madame Wood, he had been promoted to corporal, then sergeant major, then second lieutenant, and now, after recovering from a wound, lieutenant – a lieutenant that was about to go down in military history with "perhaps the most effective feat of individual fighting in the history of the Australian Imperial Forces."
The fighting at Madame Wood may not be as infamous as the fight for Gallipoli or the similarly-named Belleau Wood, but it was just as intense and – at times – treacherous. The hazards in the fighting weren't just in no man's land. The English trenches themselves were muddy and full of twisted metal and refuse. Fats was ready to move his men forward toward the German lines, but the units to his left were being held up by stiff enemy resistance. He decided to do something about it.
He grabbed a sergeant and took off for the German position, moving so fast (especially for a man his size), he was able to deftly avoid the incoming German machine gun bullets. He arrived at the enemy machine gun nest well before his battle buddies, eliminated it, and moved on to the trench before the other Aussies even hit the first position.
He entered the enemy trench with just his service rifle as the sergeant, now wounded, caught up to him. The two men swept through the enemy, picking up their grenades and turning the explosive on them. The two Aussies knocked out three machine gun emplacements while inflicting heavy casualties as they moved. McCarthy then shot two more officers and used his captured grenades against another enemy position, bombing it until the Germans waved a blood-soaked white flag.
McCarthy captured more than 1,500 feet of German trench almost singlehandedly. He also knocked five machine guns out of the war, killed 22 Germans, and captured more than 50 others. The enemy troops were so impressed, the battalion historian recorded that "the prisoners closed in on him from all sides … and patted him on the back!"
For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace. The British press dubbed McCarthy the "Super VC," but the big man demurred when given that moniker, saying he believed there was a VC inside every soldier.
He survived the war, being repatriated to England after coming down with the Spanish Flu that affected millions of others around the world, surviving until the ripe old age of 83.
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