These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The American Civil War was a bloody, brutal time in the history of the United States. It not only pitted “brother against brother,” as the saying goes, it was a fight over the soul of the country for (at least) the next 150 years.


But while most people know the broad brushstrokes of the war’s causes and conflicts, there are some little known facts that for some might cast America’s bloodiest war in a whole new light.

1. The first soldier killed in the war died entirely by accident.

The opening salvos of the Civil War were fired during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. When P.G.T Beauregard accepted the surrender of the fort, there were zero fatalities on either side. When the Union troops lowered the American flag, they gave it a 100-gun salute.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The Battle of Fort Sumter

 

An accidental discharge from a cannon firing that salute killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery.

2. The Civil War began and ended at the same guy’s house.

While the opening shots of the war were in Charleston Harbor, the first major battle was fought nearly three months later at the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as “First Manassas.” General Beauregard used the house of Virginian Wilmer McLean as his headquarters during the fight. McLean moved his family away from the area shortly after to a two-story house at a place called Appomattox Court House.

It was at McLean’s house that Gens. Grant and Lee met to discuss the South’s surrender on April 9th, 1865.

3. Battles have multiple names because the of the backgrounds of their soldiers.

The bulk of the Union troops were city dwellers and townspeople. When they talked about a battle, the notable things they saw were the natural features of the battlefield. Confederates were by and large from rural areas. When they remember a battle, their inclination is to talk about the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
2nd Bull Run (Manassas), by Currier and Ives.

 

For example, both times the two forces met near Manassas Rail Station, the Southerners dubbed the fights First and Second Battle of Manassas, while the Union troops named it after Bull Run, the nearby stream. At least 230 such Civil War combat actions are known to have multiple names.

4. Black soldiers refused their pay in protest for 18 months.

When black soldiers began enlisting in 1863, they were paid $10 while white troops were paid $13 (officers, naturally, earned more). The black troops were also charged a monthly fee for their uniforms. They refused to be paid unequal wages by not accepting their pay at all – but still fought with valor the whole time.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The 4th U.S. Colored Infantry (Library of Congress photo)

 

In 1864, Congress ordered they be paid equal wages, with full pay, retroactive to the start of their enlistment. In a seemingly odd historical contrast, black soldiers fighting for the South were paid equal wages from the start of the war.

5. A disproportionate number of black men and immigrants fought the Civil War.

It may surprise someone new to the history of the American Civil War that black men fought for the Confederacy, but it’s true. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 fought as soldiers while another 100,000 supported the armies of the South as laborers and teamsters (though their motivation is in dispute). By the end of the war, 10 percent of the Union Army and Navy was made up of black men.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Library of Congress photo

 

Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of recruits for the Union army were immigrants. By 1860, 13 percent of Americans were born overseas and 43 percent of the armed forces were either immigrants or the sons of immigrants. Foreigners lined up at U.S. diplomatic legations abroad to join the Union cause — so many that the U.S. minister to Berlin had to put a sign up to tell people his office was not a recruiter, for example.

6. Slavery didn’t end until eight months after the war ended.

President Lincoln outlawed slavery in U.S. territories in 1862. He freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in rebel states. The President worked to eliminate slavery from the U.S. in the most piecemeal fashion he could. There was no formal law abolishing slavery until the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery — except by punishment of a crime.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Slave trader’s business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.

 

The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, but that didn’t end slavery there. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the States – including those in rebellion. When the war ended in April 1865, the amendment needed 27 of the 36 states, but only had 22. Georgia became the 27th when it ratified the 13th amendment on December 6th, 1865. About 45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states (Delaware and Kentucky) 12 days later.

7. Men drafted by the Union during the Civil War could hire a substitute.

The first-ever forced conscription in American history was enacted by the Confederacy. White men between ages 18 and 35 (and later, 45 as the war dragged on) had a three-year mandatory service obligation. The Confederate draft was very unpopular because it was viewed as a government violation of personal rights — the reason the South was fighting the Civil War.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
New York draft riots in 1863.

 

In the North, the Enrollment Act allowed for able-bodied, military-age men to defer their service by paying for a substitute to take their place. The cost was $300 ($8,243.91 adjusted for inflation).

8. Lincoln’s first War Secretary thought Gen. William T. Sherman was insane.

It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that won Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, ending the Democratic Party’s call for peace talks. His March to the Sea and subsequent uncontested sweep through the Carolinas devastated the South and hastened the end of the war.

But in 1861, Sherman wasn’t himself. When then-War Secretary Simon Cameron asked Sherman how many men he needed to defend the North, the general’s request for 260,000 men caused Cameron to remove Sherman from command and send him to Kentucky under the command of a Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers, Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman had a nervous breakdown and was considered unfit for duty.

After Grant’s rise to prominence in the Union Army, Sherman was moved to Grant’s old command and the rest is history. When Congress moved to have Sherman elevated to Grant’s position, Sherman wrote to them:

General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.

9. Neither side could actually afford to fight the war.

The Union, as any high school history class teaches us, was the manufacturing center of the United States in 1861, while the South had a mostly agrarian economy. With this industrial base, the North was able to produce the goods needed to fight the war while the South had to make do with what it could scrape together.

But history shows neither side could really afford the war. The Union’s total income through taxes could only account for 15 percent of its spending. Even with increased tariffs, the first income tax, and other excises taxes, the Federal government only ever made a quarter of what it spent. The Union was forced to take on foreign debt to finance itself – $2.7 billion worth.

The South fared no better, of course. Its tax revenues only earned 11 percent of its fiscal needs. A third of its revenues came from printing money, as opposed to 18 percent in the North. Where the North’s borrowed money would lead to a post-war boom, the interest on Confederate debt being bought in England and the Netherlands began to cost more than the war itself. Tax revenues in the South actually declined as the war continued.

10. The Civil War killed more American troops than any other war, and 2/3 died of disease.

An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A Union field hospital at the Battle of Antietam (National Park Service photo)

 

The number one killer of Civil War troops was disease – the most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots, and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted medical practice.

11. The Rebel Flag isn’t really the Confederate Flag.

The now-controversial and highly recognizable rebel flag, or “Dixie Flag,” wasn’t the official banner of the Confederate States of America. The crossed bar flag was actually just the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

A few states still base their flag on different iterations of the actual, official CSA flag, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. The “Stars and Bars” flag that represented the Southern states features three bars and seven stars. The battle flag was used to make it easier to distinguish it from the North’s flag in combat.

12. The U.S. government is still paying a Civil War pension.

“Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child.” Thus reads the text of Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding the rules for veterans’ benefits to spouses and dependents of former soldiers.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The motto of the VA

 

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal found Irene Triplett, the 86-year-old daughter of Civil War veteran Mose Triplett (a rebel, in case you were curious, who deserted and joined the Union). Mose died in 1938, but his daughter continued receiving the $73.13 owed to her from Department of Veterans Affairs.

She is the last known Civil War beneficiary.

Articles

This is the latest on the sunken World War II graveyards in the Java Sea

The situation surrounding a number of Allied ships sunk in a series of desperate battles around what is now Indonesia 75 years ago is a mixed bag, a new report finds. Late last year, advocates worried that many of the wrecks had been looted by modern-day grave robbers, forever altering important monuments to World War II history.


These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
At Tjilatjap, Java, Feb. 6, 1942, seen from USS Marblehead (CL-12), which was passing close aboard. Houston’s colors are half-masted pending return of her funeral party, ashore for burial of men lost when a bomb hit near her after eight-inch gun turret two days earlier during a Japanese air attack in Banka Strait. (US Navy photo)

According to a report by USNI News, recent sonar surveys show the wreck of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) is still in good shape, while there is inconclusive data on the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth.

Past surveys have revealed that other wrecks, including the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, the British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and the British destroyers HMS Encounter have been stripped by looters.

The British destroyer HMS Electra, also sunk in the battles around Indonesia, has been “picked over,” while the Dutch cruisers HNLMS Java and HNLMS Dr Ruyter have had large portions of their wrecks removed. In one special case, the submarine USS Perch (SS 176), scuttled by her crew, has also been salvaged.

Reports last November claimed that all three Dutch wrecks were completely looted.

According to the United States Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command, only 368 personnel survived the sinking of USS Houston when she sank as a result of gunfire from the Japanese cruisers HIJMS Mogami and HIJMS Mikuma. Of those 368, only 291 survived roughly three and a half years in captivity.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
At Darwin, Australia, probably on 15 or 18 February 1942. The destroyer astern of Houston may be USS Peary (DD-226). Among the ships in the background, to the left, are HMAS Terka and the SS Zealandia. (US Navy)

In a release, the Naval History and Heritage Command noted that the survey, conducted by the Australian National Maritime Museum and the National Research Centre of Archaeology Indonesia was the first survey to provide a full view of USS Houston’s wreckage, thanks to the use of remotely operated vehicles and multi-beam sonar scanning.

Past surveys had focused on sections of the ship, using underwater video cameras and still cameras to assess the status of the wreck.

“We’re grateful to the Australian National Maritime Museum and Indonesia’s National Research Centre of Archaeology for sharing this information with us,” Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox said in the release. “We take very seriously our obligation to remember the service of American and allied Sailors who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.  We’ll do everything we can, and work with everyone we must, to safeguard their final resting places.”

popular

How Teddy Roosevelt’s gun was as awesome as he was

In April 1990, the FBI was called to Teddy Roosevelt’s house. No one would dare steal from TR while he was alive, but since he had been dead for 70-plus years and his house was long ago turned into a museum, the thief was able to rob the place and make off with an important piece of Americana: Teddy Roosevelt’s piece. They stole the pistol he used at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

To this day, no one knows who took it, and only the FBI knows who turned it in, but now it’s back where it belongs. Its history is America’s history, and the history of Teddy Roosevelt’s sidearm matches the legacy of the man who wielded it. It started with a sinking ship.


These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
In 1976, the Navy discovered the USS Maine was actually sunk by a fire that hit its ammunition stores, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage)

 

In 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor, a port owned by Spain at the time. Since anti-Spanish sentiment and pro-Cuban Independence was at a fever pitch among Americans at the time, the incident was blamed on a Spanish mine. Even an official Navy inquiry supported the mine theory. With more than 250 American sailors dead, the United States had to respond, and they did so by declaring war on Spain.

Teddy Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Incensed by the Spanish provocation, it wasn’t enough for TR to just dispatch American warships to distant Spanish colonies. The man felt he had to go kill some Spaniards personally – and he did. He helped raise the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry and deployed to Spain with an insane, ragtag group of cowboys, journalists, and athletes, the likes of which the world will never see again.

Also: 7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Someone should have told Spain that white was a bad choice of uniform color.

 

Roosevelt earned a Medal of Honor for leading what was supposed to be an overmatched support column on a daring charge up the hill that totally routed the defending Spanish, and he did it wielding a Colt Model 1892 Army and Navy double-action, six-shot revolver, one special to Roosevelt for many reasons.

First and foremost (maybe?), it was a gift to him from his brother-in-law, U.S. Navy Capt. William Sheffield Cowles. Where Cowles acquired it makes it really special: the weapon was salvaged from the wreckage of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor just a few months prior to the battle.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
You can’t spell “counterattack” without the letters ‘T’ and ‘R.’

 

The weapon is valued at over $250,000 and has an inscription above the grips: “From the sunken battle ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898. San Juan. Carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.”

The April 1990 theft was actually the second time the pistol had been taken from Sagamore Hill. The first time was in 1936 when it was removed from the case, but the thief panicked and threw the weapon into the woods nearby. Roosevelt’s sidearm and 1st Volunteers uniform are considered the most priceless artifacts on display at the museum.

Articles

Winston Churchill (initially) hated the tank named after him

Having a military ship or tank named after you is usually a pretty big honor. But what happens if the vehicle turns out to be dud (at least, at first)? Such was the case for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A British Mark I tank in 1916 (Imperial War Museum)

In the First World War, Britain pioneered armored warfare with their landship heavy tanks. Rhomboidal in shape and long in length, the British tanks crawled across trenches on their rotating treads and brought about a new age in warfare.

After WWI though, British tank design stagnated. The prevailing thought was that any future wars would simply be repeats of the trench warfare stalemates. As such, British designers focused on long heavy tanks that could cross wide trenches at a walking pace.

However, in Germany, tank design went in a different direction. While armor and armament were certainly design factors, mobility was also heavily considered. German doctrine was built around the concept of mechanized infantry supported by airplanes and armored fighting vehicles. Rather than build their army for the previous war, Germany came up with a new kind of war: blitzkrieg.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A Mk I Churchill (A20) with the pounder gun and hull-mounted howitzer (Imperial War Museum)

The Churchill’s design was specified just before the outbreak of WWII. Designated A20 by the General Staff, it was meant to supplement the smaller Matilda and Valentine infantry tanks. All three tanks were designed with WWI trench warfare in mind and were slow but heavily armored. Still, the Churchill wasn’t equipped to fight toe-to-toe with fast German armor. The A20 sported a hull-mounted 3-inch howitzer for attacking fortified positions and a QF 2-pounder gun in its turret which was limited in its tank-killing ability.

Following the fall of France and the elimination of any ideas of trench warfare in 1940, work began on the Churchill A22 variant. Upgrades to the design were based on combat lessons learned by the Polish and French. However, with fears of an invasion of Britain, priority was placed on production rather than upgrades. In fact, the user handbook from manufacturer Vauxhall included a leaflet which stated, “Fighting vehicles are urgently required, and instructions have been received to proceed with the vehicle as it is rather than hold up production. All those things which we know are not as they should be will be put right.” That must have been comforting to British tankers.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The aftermath of the failed Dieppe Raid (Library and Archives of Canada)

In 1941, production of a new turret began. It was designed to house the larger QF 6-pounder gun, a more capable anti-tank weapon. The next year, the Churchill tank saw its first combat during the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942. Codenamed Operation Jubilee, the raid was an amphibious operation at the port of Dieppe in northern France. The raiding force consisted primarily of Canadian soldiers supported by a regiment of tanks and RAF fighters. A successful raid would boost morale like the Doolittle Raid against Japan did. Moreover, the seizure of the port would validate the feasibility of future amphibious raids and even the D-Day invasion.

The Churchill tanks used at Dieppe were a mixed bunch. Some had 2-pounder turret guns and hull-mounted howitzers while others were armed with the newer 6-pounder turrets. Three were even equipped with flame throwers. However, they became bogged down on the beach and were unable to clear the German shore obstacles. Coupled with withering fire from defensive positions, the tanks and infantry failed to achieve their objectives. Less than six hours after the landing began, the raiders were forced to retreat. The raid lasted just ten hours. Of the 6,086 men who landed, 3,623 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Churchill famously said of the tank bearing his name, “That is the tank they named after me when they found out it was no damn good!”

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A Mk IV Churchill (A22) with the 6-pounder gun (Imperial War Museum)

Still, none of the Churchills at Dieppe were penetrated by German fire while they were manned. Moreover, they covered the retreat of the infantry and most were only captured after they had expended all of their ammunition. The month after the failed Dieppe Raid, Churchills saw action in North Africa at the Second Battle of El Alamein. There, one Churchill reported being hit up to 80 times. Of the eight Churchills, only one was knocked out.

Also in Africa, in 1943, Churchill tanks made one of the greatest contributions to the Allied war effort. On April 21, the Battle of Longstop Hill was fought. During the German armored counter-attack, Churchill 6-pounder guns managed to disable a Tiger tank. One shot disabled the Tiger’s turret taverse, radio and wounded some of its crew. Another shot disabled the gun’s elevation device. Finally, a third shot hit the loader’s hatch and wounded more of the Tiger’s crew. The Germans abandoned their tank which the British later recovered. It would be studied by the Allies who evaluated it for weaknesses that could be exploited by troops who came up against Tigers on the battlefield.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Mk III Churchills (A22) during the Second Battle of El Alamein (Imperial War Museum)

Despite its initial underperformance, the Churchill rebuilt its reputation as a fighting tank. It was vital to the allied success on the western front. During the D-Day landings, Churchill variants like the flame-throwing Crocodile, bunker-busting AVRE, and bridge-laying Armored Ramp Carrier helped the Allies seize the beaches and establish footholds. During the sweep across France, Churchill tanks and their heavy armor supported infantry in clearing towns of German forces. In Germany, the long Churchill tanks were able to traverse the muddy terrain of the Reichswald Forest better than any other Allied tank.

Although it was designed for the previous war and initially hated by its users and namesake, the Churchill tank proved to be a capable and necessary WWII weapon. In fact, Churchill Crocodiles were even used to great effect during the Korean War. The tank remained in British service until 1952.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what those ‘metal things’ were on Normandy beaches

Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?

The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.


Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.

The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.

In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.

The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.

After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Czech hedgehogs.

Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.

As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.

Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.

It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.

So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.

On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.

Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.

Czech Hedgehog (World War II Tech)

www.youtube.com

However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.

Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.

That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.

Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.

The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.

While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.

In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.

Bonus Facts:

  • The beaches of Normandy were shelled so heavily and so thoroughly mined that to this day it’s estimated that 4% of the beach still consists of shrapnel.
  • Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Prince Charles got all his medals without fighting in a war

When decked out in his full royal regalia, the Prince of Wales looks much like what you think a 69-year-old aristocrat might — much like what you think a stereotypical soon-to-be king might. His military uniform is emblazoned with medals, ropes, pins, patches, and other decorations worthy of someone who may soon occupy the biggest seat in the entire United Kingdom.

Which is amazing, considering he hasn’t seen combat once in his life.


Britain itself has not been devoid of conflict, even within Charles’ relatively short lifetime. He was born three years after the end of the Second World War, but broke royal tradition by going straight to university instead of joining the military after his secondary education. When he did join the armed forces in the 1970s, he did stints in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Even though he was late to the game, there was still plenty of action to see.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Armed British soldiers in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

During Charles’ service window, the UK saw a number of shooting conflicts, most notably the Falklands War with Argentina and The Troubles, a military occupation of Northern Ireland. He saw action in neither conflict.

While the Prince of Wales didn’t see combat duty, he still trained vigorously with the members of units to which he was attached. He has trained in undersea warfare and commanded a Royal Navy Destroyer and has learned to fly helicopters and twin-engine jet fighters with the RAF. Charles also successfully completed the parachute regiment’s jump training at an age much older than the average recruit.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Charles, tasked to lead the parachute regiment in 1978, decided he would be unfit to lead them without undergoing the training himself. He was 30 years old.

(Clarence House)

Charles also commands the Welsh Guards, leading the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, marking Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The Prince wears the ceremonial uniform of Colonel of the Welsh Guards during the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.

(Clarence House)

So, this isn’t to say Charles’ medals are somehow unearned. He wears no medals for valor in combat. Instead, he wears the appropriate regalia, given his service, ranks in the Navy and Air Force, and appropriate titles. He wears the Order of Merit, the Order of the Bath, and the Queen’s Service Order, all for service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Other decorations of note include medals related to the Queen herself, including the Queen’s Coronation medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, all awarded for a celebration of his mother ascending to the throne and her continued reign as Queen. He also wears awards from Canada and New Zealand, and wears the Order of the Garter, chosen and awarded by the Queen herself.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry presented Operational Medals to the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

(Buckingham Palace)

It’s a tradition for men in the Royal family to serve in the military. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, served in World War II and his sons, William and Harry, both served. Harry famously deployed to combat duties in Afghanistan in recent years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army veterinarian first took down Ebola in the United States

“From a pathology point of view, it’s a fascinating virus,” says Dr. Nancy Jaax, a veterinarian and Army officer. She’s talking about the Ebola virus, a subject she knows a lot about, having prevented it from maybe spreading to the entire United States. “The opportunity to work with such a unique virus was irresistible to me.”


When Jaax came to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 1979, not much was known about Ebola. They knew it killed 90 percent of those infected, and that was about it. It was a Biosafety Level-4 pathogen: fatal to humans, easily transmittable (maybe even by air), with no effective treatments or vaccines. So when it showed up in a group of monkeys shipped in from the Philippines, it could have been really bad for the Reston, Va. lab where Jaax was working. Luckily, the Army has people like Col. Jaax working for it.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Jaax joined the Army with her husband in the late 70s to pursue her veterinary residency. Right away, her work in veterinary medicine was significant, as she and her team discovered the first diagnosed coronavirus in military working dogs. But dogs getting colds were the least of the Army’s research needs. Jaax wound up at USAMRIID in the veterinary pathology program. A few years into her stint there is when the macaques from the Philippines were found to have Ebola. It was her job to actually look for the virus under the microscope.

When she looked at the tissue sample of the dead monkeys, she actually found they had two highly-lethal contagions: simian hemorrhagic fever, which is not contagious to humans, and Ebola. They had to shut down the facility – except for those exposed to the viruses.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

This was also my gut response. But luckily cooler heads prevailed.

The Reston Ebolavirus spread to all the facilities animals, who had to be put down. Unfortunately, it also infected a number of the USAMRIID workers who worked alongside Jaax. When they went to “depopulate” the facility, just under 50 people were found to have contracted the virus. The only thing was, unlike the other strands of Ebola, none of the Reston workers actually got sick or showed symptoms. In fact, their bodies didn’t respond to the virus at all. It came and went.

No one knows why. What they do know (and the reason we can all sleep soundly at night) is that the Army’s quarantine procedures worked as planned. None of the monkeys escaped into an Outbreak-like scenario. There was no worker with a small symptom who was nervous about it but decided to hide it so he could take the Metro to go to his kids birthday party. The virus stayed put, the monkeys were contained, and no one let the virus out of the facility.

That’s why we have procedures.

You can watch the story of Dr. Nancy Jaax and her experience with Ebola on NatGeo’s new miniseries The Hot Zone, a three-night special premiering Memorial Day, May 27th at 9pm on National Geographic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch a young Chuck Yeager test fly a stolen MiG-15

Brigadier General Chuck Yeager is best-known for being the first man to break the sound barrier. He was also a World War II ace and saw action in Vietnam as commanding officer of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying B-57s. But did you know that this aerial all-star also logged time in the MiG-15?


The MiG-15 in question was flown from North Korea to Seoul by No Kum-sok, a defector who, upon landing, learned that he was fulfilling a $100,000 bounty by delivering the plane into allied hands. The MiG-15 was quickly taken back to the United States and put through its paces.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The last moments of a MiG-15 — many of these planes met their end in MiG Alley.

(US Navy)

Test pilots are known for getting in the cockpit of new, unproven vehicles and using their skills and adaptability to safely maneuver vessels through early flights. They’ve flown the X-15 into space and are responsible for putting the newest fighters, like the F-35, through their paces. But what’s just as important (and half as reported) is role they play in exploring the capabilities of foreign aircraft, like a MiG, Sukhoi, or some other international plane.

This is why the “Akutan Zero,” a Japanese plane that crashed on June 4, 1942 over Alaskan soil, was so important. It gave the US invaluable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy’s asset, informing the design of the F6F Hellcat.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

This is the MiG-15 that was flown to South Korea by a North Korean defector.

(USAF photo)

The MiG-15 of the Korean War wasn’t quite as fearsome as the Zero was in World War II. In fact, the F-86 dominated it over “MiG Alley.” But finding out just how good – or bad – the MiG-15 really was still mattered. After all, American allies, like Taiwan, ended up facing the MiG-15 later in the 1950s (the Taiwanese planes ended up using the AIM-9 Sidewinder to deadly effect).

The MiG-15 still is in service with the North Korean Air Force, meaning Yeager’s half-a-century-old flight still informs us today.

Learn more about Yeager’s time flying the MiG-15 in the video below.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How an addict became a Navy SEAL and a nightmare for the Taliban

The biographies of most Navy SEALs probably don’t include a rap sheet — theft, possession of meth, possession of crack, and so on. But if there’s ever been a story of redemption through continued hard work and perseverance, it belongs to Adam Brown. Facing 11 felony drug and weapons charges after being found in a pool of his own blood, he opted into a drug rehab program — which only worked for a short while.

His best chance at turning his life around came in the form of a SEAL trident.


Brown’s life began like so many other good-ol’ American boys before him. The Arkansas native was a straight-A student and star football player. He was kind, respectful to his elders, and always ready for goodnatured fun. It wasn’t until he met an old flame that his descent into addiction began. She had a drug habit and, though Brown enjoyed a drink, he wasn’t inclined toward anything harder than that. Eventually, his girlfriend wore him down and he was hooked after one hit of crack-cocaine.

From there, he devolved into injecting it into his veins. Then, he began to try other drugs. Eventually, he could only be found on the floors of crack houses. He hit rock bottom when the girl who helped get him hooked eventually left and he began stabbing himself in the neck with a knife. When police found him, he was laying in a pool of his own blood. That’s when they discovered all his outstanding warrants. Facing massive jail time and a family that was done with his addictive behaviors, the judge gave him the choice: rehab or jail.

It was in rehab that Brown gave his life over to Christianity and met his soon-to-be wife, also a fervent believer. The two were happy, but Brown soon regressed. After a short disappearance, his new bride found him in a crack house. Addiction is a viscous and persistent curse, and this same scenario repeated itself until his new love threatened to leave.

By 1998, he knew he had to do something, so he stopped into a recruiter’s office after finding out a friend was joining the Navy as an aviator. The recruiter balked when Brown revealed his drug use and rap sheet, but Brown had a friend in a high place: the highest-ranking recruiting officer in the region. He vouched for Brown, who was almost immediately shipped out to basic training.

He showed up with just the clothes on his back and went straight for SEAL training.

“The training awakened in Adam the psycho who never quit,” Eric Blehm, author of ‘Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown’ told Investors Business Daily. “He also had Kelley [his wife] and his faith, which gave him a refuge and a shield of strength.”
These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Brown and Family, shortly before his last deployment to Afghanistan.

He was sent to SEAL Team Four, where he ended up with a knife in his eye due to a training accident. He covered the wound and continued on, eventually having to have the eye stitched up due to a loss of blood. He later lost his right eye — his dominant eye — during a room-clearing exercise and still he pressed on. He just learned to shoot with his left eye in SEAL sniper school.

Even with a 50-percent washout rate among those with two eyes, Adam Brown succeeded. He decided he wanted to join what he thought was the best of the best: SEAL Team Six. While waiting for the right time to train with SEAL Team Six, he took a deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, where a freak convoy accident left his right hand mangled and missing fingers. Instead of tending to his own wounds, he tended to others and pulled security until the last casualty was evacuated from the site.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

When you can’t shoot with your dominant hand, just use the other hand.

With his dominant eye and his dominant hand both out, Brown did exactly what you’d expect him to do: he simply learned to work with his other hand. For a year, he made history as the only SEAL to ever attempt (let alone pass) the training with only one eye. And he was shooting almost-perfect scores.

By November, 2006, Brown was Chief Petty Officer Brown and the following years saw more hardship and deployments for the SEAL. He bore the pain of arthritis, a bad back, a broken leg, and surgery on both ankles so he could return to combat duty. He deployed to Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley and to the cities and villages all over Iraq, going on nightly raids chasing IED bomb-makers. Brown was only 33.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Navy SEAL Adam Brown personally went out of his way to hand out shoes and socks to Afghan kids in need.

(NavySEALs.com)

His final deployment came in March of 2010. Their mission was to kill or capture a high-value Taliban leader, code-named Objective Lake James. Just like the bomb-makers in Iraq, the target was responsible for the deaths of many American and NATO soldiers. Flying into the mountains of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush via Chinook Helicopter, Brown and the other STS SEALs fast-roped into the area and humped to a nearby village.

As the SEALs approached a stronghold, they managed to silently take out an enemy sentry, but another fired at the SEALs with his AK-47. As the area opened up with small arms fire, the SEAL Team needed to get a grenade in a nearby window. It was close, but not close enough to throw one in. As Brown made his way around with a grenade launcher, shots rang out to his left, riddling the determined SEAL with bullets. He was hit in both legs. Once he was down, other enemy positions poured bullets toward him.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

His fellow SEALs got him out of the line of fire, but it would not be enough to save Adam Brown’s life. He died later that day, back at the base.

Though Brown’s story ends in his tragic death, it’s nonetheless a story about the power of human will in overcoming any challenge. Brown showed us that you can always shape your life in any way you want, and all it takes is the love and support of your family, friends, and the people who will always have your back. Fearless is a fitting name for his story – there was nothing in life that Adam Brown couldn’t overcome to shape his own destiny.

Read about Brown’s struggle against addiction along with all his combat successes and failures in Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown, by Eric Blehm.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron are immortalized in Band of Brothers

Staff Sgt. William “Wild Bill” Guarnere and Pfc. Edward “Babe” Heffron’s stories were immortalized on screen by HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. The 2001 TV show follows the exploits of the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division which both men served in during WWII. Despite growing up just a few blocks from each other in South Philadelphia, Guarnere and Heffron did not meet until WWII and Easy Company brought them together in Europe. Their meeting is depicted in Band of Brothers’ third episode, Carentan.

Following their meeting, Guarnere and Heffron became close friends. They fought together in Holland during Operation Market Garden and in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Guarnere lost his right leg during the latter battle while trying to drag another friend, Staff Sgt. Joe Toye, to safety after he lost his own right leg. Both Guarnere and Heffron survived the war and left the Army in 1945.

Afterwards, Guarnere and Heffron returned to their hometown of South Philly. Despite the loss of his leg, Guarnere worked odd jobs until he secured full disability from the Army. He became an active member of numerous veterans organizations and presided over many of Easy Company’s reunions. Moreover, he was best man at Heffron’s wedding in 1954 and was godfather to Heffron’s daughter. Heffron worked for Publicker Industries and later as a clerk and cargo checker on the Philly waterfront. Both men gave interviews and provided guidance on the making of Band of Brothers. Heffron even has a cameo in the fourth episode, Replacements, as a Dutch man waving a small flag as the troopers enter Eindhoven. Together, they later wrote a book about their experiences with Easy Company in Europe. Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story was published in 2007.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Heffron (center-left) and Guarnere (center-right) on the set of Band of Brothers with the actors that depicted them (HBO)

The two men remained close friends until Heffron’s death on December 1, 2013. A bronze statue called “Babe” was erected in his honor in 2015. The statue stands in front of Herron Playground at the corner of 2nd and Reed in South Philly. A portion of Heffron’s and his wife’s ashes are encased in a bronze heart inside of the statue. Guarnere passed away just a few months after Heffron on March 8, 2014. In 2019, the “Babe” statue was joined by “Wild Bill”, a second bronze statue that depicts Guarnere. The two friends and brothers in arms are reunited and immortalized in bronze in their hometown.

The statues, and Band of Brothers itself, pay tribute to the brave men that they depict and remind people today of their sacrifices. “Generations of Philadelphians will now be able to visit these statues dedicated to war heroes and close friends who bravely served their country,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “They’ll be able to remember and honor Wild Bill and Babe as well as the many active duty and veteran soldiers who have risked their lives to keep all of us safe.”

Band of Brothers characters honored as statues
“Wild Bill” (left) and “Babe” (right) with flags and wreathes for Veterans Day (Miguel Ortiz)
popular

4 stupid fights lost because of racism

Some things are universal. If you’re going to start a war, make sure you’re also the one who finishes it. To be ill-prepared for any reason is dumb and just prolongs a war, yielding pointless loss of life. In the history of the world, wars have been prolonged and lost for many, many stupid reasons.

Things like ignorance, hubris, and incompetence come to mind.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

(Department of Defense)

Racism is all three of those things. Especially when a leader is about to send thousands — or even tens of thousands — of his most loyal troops into a situation they can’t possibly win because that leader thinks victory is assured just because he’s white. Or Chinese. Or Japanese. So, let’s be honest with ourselves: The most spectacular examples of military leadership did not belong to any one race.


As a matter of fact, if there’s any one person who can claim dominance over all other military minds, you don’t have to worry about race for two reasons. First, because he killed nearly everyone. Second, because he had sex with all the survivors and most of us are related to him anyway.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Laughs in Mongol.

When a country goes to war, it needs to come prepared to earn that win. No army, weak or obsolete, is going to just let anyone roll all over them because the invader thinks they’re genetically or racially superior. Yet, in the history of warfare, it happens over and over again.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

“Cor, I think we may be knackered.”

1. Battle of Isandlwana

The British had been in Africa for a long time and were pretty good at subduing natives by 1879. Experience taught them that small groups of European forces with superior technology could outgun native warriors, even if they were outnumbered.

It turns out there was a diminishing rate of return to that theory.

British forces in South Africa prepared to invade Zulu with less than 1800 redcoats and colonial troops, a few field guns, and some rockets. They made zero effort at preparing defensive positions. The British didn’t even bother to scout or recon where the opposing Zulu force was. If they had, they would have known much sooner that their camp was surrounded by 20,000 Zulu Impi.

The Impi slaughtered the British — they just absolutely creamed them. Though the redcoats fought fiercely, 20,000 is a hard number to beat. Despite a British victory later at Roarke’s Drift, their invasion of Zululand fell apart. The worst part is that British High Commissioner for Southern Africa didn’t even have to invade. He just wanted to depose the elected government and federalize South Africa. No one authorized his invasion. He just thought so little of the Zulus that he figured it must be an easy task.

But the British had to finish what they started. The second time the British invaded Zululand (because of course they did), they brought more men and technology to win a decisive victory.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Hint: not well.

2. The Battle of Adwa

Italian forays into colonizing Africa didn’t always go according to plan. When carving up Africa for colonization, the other European powers seemed to leave the most difficult areas to subdue for Italy. The Italian army had to subjugate modern-day Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. How do you think that went?

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Yeah, they died.

In another example of “we’re white so we must be better” thinking, the Italians — who barely got themselves together as country in 1861 — tried to exploit Ethiopia, an already rich, complex, and advanced society. Italy tried to misinterpret a treaty signed with Ethiopia to subdue it as a client state, but Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II wasn’t having any of it. So, the Italians invaded from Italian-controlled Ethiopia.

After a year of fighting, they made it deep into Ethiopian territory. But as both armies began to struggle to feed themselves, the Italian government wanted a break in the stalemate. Instead of an orderly retreat, the Italians decided to attack, considering 17,000 Italians with old guns versus more than 100,000 Ethiopian troops would be less embarrassing than having retreat before Ethiopians.

Well, the Italians mostly died — but they didn’t have to. The Ethiopians not only had significantly more manpower, they weren’t exactly armed with spears either. They also had rifles. And cavalry. And more of everything on their home turf. The Italian invasion was just a bad idea from the start.

The Italians were pretty much annihilated at Adwa, with more than 10,000 killed, captured, or wounded. For Ethiopia, it guaranteed their independence from European meddling or subjugation, forcing Italy to recognize Ethiopia as such – at least, until Mussolini came to call with airplanes and chemical weapons.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Next time, don’t make your hats such big targets.

3. The Russo-Japanese War

At the turn of the 20th Century, Japan and Russia were in direct competition for dominance over Korea and Chinese Manchuria. Russia was expanding the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach its eastern shores, and did so through China, eventually expanding to the city of Port Arthur — which the Japanese thought they’d won in a previous war with China. Both Russia and Japan became convinced a war was coming. Because it was.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

“Wait, wait… I think we want to negotiate now.”

For some reason (racism), the Russians didn’t seem worried. They were far away from any kind of reinforcement and the Japanese had an advantage in manpower and proximity. But the “yellow monkeys,” as they were portrayed in Russian press, gave the Russian military zero pause. The Czar and his advisors were sure Russia would win any war with an Asian country. Japan repeatedly attempted to negotiate with the Russians but to no avail. War was easily averted, but the Czar was sure Japan wouldn’t attack.

Since Russia had advisors with Menelik II in Ethiopia, you’d think they’d be wary of racist overconfidence, but you’d be wrong. Because Japan attacked.

When Japan attacks, they do it in a big way. They attacked the Russian Far East Fleet and bottled it up at Port Arthur, destroying it with land-based artillery. Japan then captured all of Korea in two months. They then moved into Manchuria as the Russians fell back, waiting for land reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Russian Baltic Fleet, which pretty much had to circumnavigate the globe to get to the war.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Russians retreating from Mukden. You’d think they’d be sprinting.

Neither was put to good use. Russia lost 90,000 troops when the Japanese captured the Manchurian capital at Mukden. And the Baltic Sea Fleet (now called the 2nd Pacific Fleet) was annihilated by the Japanese on its way through the Tsushima Strait.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Oh. Right.

4. World War II in the Pacific

Well, just as the Russians proved they learned nothing about racism by watching Menelik trounce the Italians, the Japanese learned nothing about racism from their victory over Russia.

By 1937, the Japanese were coming out of the Great Depression, well before the rest of the world. Coupled with significant military victories against China, Russia, and in World War I, Japan was riding pretty high. But this isn’t the start of the Japanese superiority complex. The country actually tried to have a race equality declaration written into the League of Nations.

But we all know how well the League of Nations turned out.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Oh. Right. Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese became contemptuous of white Americans and Europeans and saw themselves as a superior race. The inferior white races were considered soft and weak in comparison. When Japanese officials were met with racism while visiting foreign countries, it only exacerbated the issue.

They saw whites as overly individualistic, a society that would crumble at the first sign that it needed to unify or die. Japan soon came to believe its divine role was to be the champion of Asians and to liberate the colonies of the Western powers. Their view of themselves as a superior race was so extreme, it would weigh heavily on the Asian peoples they “liberated.”

But before any of that happened…

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

And Yamamoto learned about this thing called the U.S. Army Air Forces.

The fact is that American citizens didn’t really want the U.S. to go to war with Japan. But Japan needed raw materials to continue their campaign in Asia. So, when the United States cut them off of American oil and scrap metal, there was only one way to go about getting it.

Just kidding. There were many ways Japan could maintain its expansion in Asia without bombing Pearl Harbor or going to war with Europe, but it opted to bomb the Americans, who had the only fleet that could stop the Japanese Navy, and then take oil and rubber from the British and Dutch colonies in Asia. The Japanese thought if they destroyed the U.S. fleet, then America would just give up and let them have it.

That’s how weak-willed the Japanese thought Americans were. That line Admiral Yamamoto supposedly said about waking a sleeping giant? He never said that. But Japan found out pretty quickly about these guys called “U.S. Marines.”

Japan’s leadership knew they couldn’t win a long war against the U.S., but it was their racial bias that led them to believe the Americans would just give up after Pearl Harbor. They had led themselves to believe Japan was invincible so much that losing the war came as a shock and surprise to most of the Japanese people.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why American bombers in WWII wore bright colors, stripes and polka dots

It’s difficult to imagine being a bomber pilot in World War II, especially these days, with the technological innovations that are an inherent part of being a U.S. military pilot. In the earliest days of bomber aviation, things like radar and other means of tracking friendly aircraft didn’t exist, and pilots had only their sight and rudimentary instruments to guide them. When flying in huge massed formations of bombers, pulling a single bomber out of the pack was next to impossible.

So Army Air Forces leadership made it easier for them to recognize the formation where they needed to be. They did it by using some very interesting designs for bomber pilots to fall in behind. 

These majestically painted aircraft were called Lead Assembly Ships.

Painted in bright colors, sometimes with equally magnificent designs like zig-zag lines and polka dots, they made an easy find in the sky for fellow bomber pilots. 

lead assembly ship

Lead Assembly Ships would be the first to take off and form up into previously assigned positions. Being easy to spot in the daylight hours, subsequent bomber pilots would be able to find them and fall into formation. 

When a bombing formation of 10-20 planes goes up into the sky it might be easy to find the right position for your flight over enemy territory. This is not the case for some of the larger bombing raids undertaken by the Army Air Force in World War II. 

The bombing runs over Cologne, Germany were sent there to destroy critical Nazi war production infrastucture there, including arms factories and chemical production plants. To accomplish this, defeat the German air raid defenses and ensure the planes hit their targets, the Allies sent up 1,000 bombers to fly over the targets. 

Now imagine being one bomber pilot in a formation of a thousand others who look just like everyone else, and trying to fall in behind a lead plane that also looks just like you. This is why the bright colors and polka dots were so effective. 

The Lead Assembly Ships would fly out only to a certain point to ensure the bombers were in the right place as they took off for enemy territory, then they would fly back to friendly airspace. Being a World War II bomber pilot was dangerous enough without flying over the target in a bright red candy cane striped aircraft. Begging for all the flak you could handle. 

There were other specially painted aircraft used for various purposes. The British used pink-colored fighter aircraft to conduct reconnaissance patrols during daybreak and sundown, so the color of the aircraft would blend into the bright colors of the sky at dusk. 

Other uses for oddly-painted aircraft were for use in combat, when the aircraft colors could help keep fighters and other planes from becoming targets for enemy fighters. All-white colored airframes could blend more easily in a cloudy sky and make it difficult for enemy pilots to see the outline of a plane, for example.

As for the bomber formations, they weren’t all colored with strange designs. Some were still using the subdued green, yellow, and white colors used by other aircraft and would go over the target, but they were still subtly different, making it easier to spot your bomb wing leader to gather for a major bombing run. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Civil War ironclad USS Indianola was rushed into the war, guarding Cincinnati in 1862 before she was even complete. But at the start of 1863, she was cutting through Confederate defenses on the Red River to support Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ campaign there. But when a crisis hit, Union Navy officers had to figure out how to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands.


These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Indianola was part of the Mississippi River Squadron tasked with severing Confederate logistics and defenses on that river and the surrounding waters. But in early 1863, the Confederacy still held 240 miles of water from Vicksburg, Mississippi, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The fiery Rear Adm. David D. Porter sent ships down the Red River to disrupt Confederate shipping at the end of January.

For a few weeks, the Union ships captured Confederate ones and typically seized any supplies and paroled the crews. But the Union vessels took damage in engagement after engagement and were not able to seize as much fuel as they needed to continue operations so, on February 13, Porter sent the Indianola with two coal barges past the Confederate guns at Vicksburg to reinforce and refuel those ships already downriver.

For a few days, the Indianola stayed downriver and chased off Confederate vessels, but it was headed back upriver on February 24 when a group of Confederate rams hunted it down as darkness fell.

The Indianola was already heavy thanks to its armor, and it maneuvered slowly in the river with the two coal barges attached, so the Confederate rams were able to slam into it quickly and then pour fire into its portholes. The Union sailors fired their artillery as quickly as they could, but their fire was largely ineffective in the poor moonlight.

Lt. Cmdr. George Brown exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly in his efforts to save the ship and repel the Confederate attack. He fired his revolver against the Confederate sailors, and he was seen ordering his engineers and defenders even when incoming fire was bouncing around him.

The Union ship quickly began to sink, but the commander and crew worked to destroy the signal books and get the vessel to deep water before surrendering it so the rebels could not recapture it. But, in an effort to save himself and his crew, Brown surrendered the ship a bit too soon, and the Confederates were able to take it in tow.

It sank soon after, but the Confederates were able to tow it to a sandbar before it did so, leaving most of the ship exposed and giving the Confederacy a solid chance to raise it and turn it against the Union forces. Rear Adm. Porter was loathing to risk sending more ships past Vicksburg’s guns to prevent the salvage, but he really didn’t want to face the Indianola in rebel hands.

So, he looked around for some cash, bought up some scrap wood and iron, and quickly constructed a fake ironside warship built on top of an old flatboat. It had smokestacks complete with thick smoke, fake artillery positions with blackened wood cannons, as well as typical structures like the pilothouse. In all, it cost .63, about 0 in 2018 dollars.

As a little cheeky addition, “Deluded People Cave In” was painted on the paddle wheel housings.

On the night of February 25, Porter had the Black Terror, as the ship was dubbed, released into the current with no crew. It was quickly spotted by a Confederate ship that raced downriver ahead of it to warn other rebels of the approach of a Union “ironclad.” When it reached the Indianola, the order was given to scuttle and destroy the ship rather than risk its recapture.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Confederate salvage team spiked the guns and threw them in the river, they burned the hull down to the waterline, and set off all the powder. Almost nothing remained of the Indianola when the Black Terror came down the river. But, of course, the Black Terror just kept drifting, eventually running aground two miles downriver.

The Southerners, already confused by the lack of Union fire, were made even more suspicious when there was no sign of crew activity after the Black Terror ran aground. So, a small team rowed out to the vessel and discovered that they had been tricked.

Despite the fact that the second ironsides attack was a fake and the first was defeated, the bulk of the Confederate fleet still withdrew from the river. The land defenses at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and a few others, held the line until the following year when land offensives captured them, cementing Union control of the river and choking off what remained of Confederate resupply. After the capture of Vicksburg, the Union recovered the wreck of the Indianola.

And a large contributor to the success was an .63 expenditure on scrap wood and iron.

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