4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

The American War of Independence, as the British like to call it, was the the rebels’ war to lose.


With the superior military and economy of Britain, many expected the rebellion in the colonies to be over quickly. So, how did the world’s greatest superpower of the time fail to subdue an insurrection in the small colonies of America?

The truth is there are numerous reasons, but at least four of those happen to be costly mistakes on the part of the British.

1. The Battle of Bunker Hill

 

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Maybe if the Brits had issued sunglasses, things could have been different. (Painting: The Battle of Bunker’s Hill by E. Percy Morgan)

The British had a knack for defeating the Americans at such a high cost that they themselves often had to retreat after the battle.

This began very early in the war with the Battle of Bunker Hill. The British charged the American redoubts on Breed’s Hill repeatedly and although they eventually drove the Americans back, they lost so many experienced officers and men that General Clinton remarked, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”

Due to the British military system, those loses were difficult to replace.

The British attack was a blunder for several reasons.

The preferred British tactics of the time favored bayonet skills over shooting skills. The Americans had defensive works and were crack shots. They were famously told, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

As the British advanced across open ground they were mowed down by American sharpshooters. Their return volleys were ineffectual because of the American defenses. Once the British successfully stormed the redoubt on their third attempt, the Americans simply retreated, as they lacked bayonets with which to fight the redcoats.

Worst of all for the British, they could have simply cut off the neck of the peninsula and left the Americans with nowhere to run.

2. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
A color mezzotint of General Sir William Howe. (From the Anne S.K. Brown Military History Collection at Brown University | PD-US)

Gen. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia was rife with tactical and strategic blunders that likely spelled the beginning of the end of Britain’s hopes of quelling the American Revolution.

Howe’s first major blunder was wanting to take Philadelphia in the first place. Typical Continental strategy of the day said to drive the enemy from the field and take his capital, at which point he will capitulate. However, after taking several American cities and defeating the Americans in multiple battles, this outcome had failed to materialize.

Yet, Howe, the commander-in-chief of British forces in America, failed to realize this and strove to capture Philadelphia.

This action might not have gone down as such an incredible blunder if it hadn’t been for another issue — it left Gen. Burgoyne’s troops without support in the Hudson River Valley.

As most American high school students know, American forces under Gen. Horatio Gates were able to surround and capture the British force at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory brought the much needed support of France and ended British hopes of conquering New England.

Howe would successfully capture Philadelphia but the Continental Congress escaped into the Pennsylvania countryside. In order to secure New York, Howe would have to abandon Philadelphia the next year.

3. The Battle of Cowpens

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse in center).

The Battle of Cowpens was a major turning point towards the end of the war, and another costly blunder for the British.

British forces, led by the young, brash, Col. Banastre Tarleton, were seeking to advance into North Carolina after successfully subduing much of Georgia and South Carolina.

Tarleton’s arrogance and overconfidence were playing right into a trap that the American commander, Daniel Morgan, had set for him. Morgan planned to use his militia as bait, to lure Tarleton into a false sense of victory and then hit him hard with his Continental Regulars.

Tarleton helped Morgan’s cause by driving his force relentlessly in pursuit of the Americans. His men had nearly run out of food and had been roused at two in the morning to continue their pursuit of Morgan. They arrived at the battlefield weak and exhausted.

Once engaged, Morgan’s ruse worked like a charm. The British force suffered over 100 men killed, 200 men wounded, and 500 men and two cannons captured. Combined with a defeat at King’s Mountain prior to the battle, the British position in the South was becoming more precarious.

4. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Painting of the Battle of Guilford Court House (March 15, 1781) from Soldiers of the American Revolution by H. Charles McBarron.

Exasperated by the losses at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, Lord Cornwallis sallied forth against Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s numerically superior force.

Determined to pin down Greene and decisively defeat his army in the south, Cornwallis sought battle at Guilford Courthouse where Greene’s army was camped. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, Cornwallis’ troops engaged.

The battle was the largest of the southern theatre and despite his numerical advantage, Greene was unable to defeat Cornwallis’ veteran troops. After over two hours of intense combat, Greene withdrew his army from the field.

Though Cornwallis had defeated Greene, his victory was pyrrhic, and failed to decisively destroy the Patriot army. Cornwallis had lost nearly a quarter of his force killed or wounded in the battle. Losses that were increasingly difficult to absorb for the British army.

Cornwallis’ fateful decision forced him to withdraw to Yorktown to await reinforcements. At Yorktown, Cornwallis’ tactical blunders would cost the British the war. First, he failed to breakout when he had the chance, then he gave up his outer defenses, hastening his defeat.

With no reinforcements and under siege, Cornwallis surrendered his force to Gen. Washington, effectively ending hostilities in the American Revolution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Just one Canadian tank made it to VE Day

The 14,000 Canadians and 200 tanks that landed at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 fought bitterly to breach Fortress Europe and begin the long march to Berlin. Almost a year later Canada and the rest of the Allied powers celebrated the fall of Nazi Germany.


4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Crewmembers and officers who served on the Bomb pose with it on Jun. 8, 1945 in the Netherlands. Photo: Library Archives of Canada

Only one Canadian tank from those 200 fought every day of the invasion across Western Europe. “Bomb,” a Sherman, travelled 4,000 miles and fired 6,000 rounds while fighting the Nazis. From Juno Beach, Bomb was sent northeast to the Netherlands through Belgium before cutting east towards Berlin.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
A tank from the Bomb’s regiment, possibly the Bomb itself, hunts snipers in Falaise, France in 1944. Photo: Canadian National Archives

Soon after Bomb crossed into Germany near Emden, Bomb was sent to Kleve on the German side of the border with the Netherlands. In the early morning of Feb. 26, 1945 Bomb escorted a column of infantry in armored vehicles forward. German artillery opened up and pinned the column down in thick mud.

The Germans put up a smoke screen and continued their attack. But the Bomb led a counterattack that relieved the pressure. Surrounded by German anti-tank teams and under heavy mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire, Bomb and another Canadian tank held their ground for 20 minutes until infantry was able to reinforce them, stopping the Germans from destroying the Canadian column.

Neill was later awarded the Military Cross for the battle.

As the war wound to a close, the Bomb found itself in continuously heavy combat. On the last day of the European war, the Bomb was under the command of Lt. Ernest Mingo. He and his men faced off against a German officer who kept sending soldiers to try and Allied Forces.

“The land between us was covered with dead German soldiers,” he said, according to a Sunday Daily News article. “He must have known the war was over, but he just kept sending them out, I guess trying to kill Canadians.”

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Photo: Wikipedia/Skaarup.HA CC 4.0

Despite being the only Canadian tank to serve every day of the war in Europe, the Bomb was nearly melted down as scrap in Belgium after the war. It was rescued and went on display in 1947. In 2011 the tank underwent restoration. It is currently at the Sherbrooke Hussars Armoury in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This ‘shotgun’ is the most awesome firearm ever made

At the onset of the industrial revolution, people were looking at ways to mass-produce and commercialize nearly everything. But what about something as manual as duck hunting? Was there any way to mass-hunt ducks with some sort of firearm capable of knocking, say, 50 to 100 ducks out of the air all at once? Yes, in fact, there was. It was called the punt gun.


Back in the first decade of the 19th century, there existed a monster of a shotgun. Each of these guns was custom made for the ambitious hunter that wanted one, but in all cases, the barrels were somewhere between ten and thirteen feet in length. Most were muzzle-loaded while others had false breaches to load the over one pound of ammunition.

The overly-large shotgun weighed over 100 lbs. While many of the existing photos are of hunters jokingly posing like they’re using as a conventional shotgun, realistically, the recoil would’ve likely ripped someone’s arm off.

Instead, the gun was fastened to a punt — a flat-bottomed rowboat. The firer would position the boat towards a large flock of waterfowl and fire. The massive amount shot deployed with a single firing would most certainly take out enough birds to supply the hunter for an entire day. In order to properly mount the gun, the boats themselves needed to be specially-reinforced to account for the immense, destructive force.

 

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Not unlike the A-10 Warthog and its GAU-8 Avenger. (Photo by Sydney Harold Smith)

 

But these guns have nothing on the granddaddy of all punt guns – Irish Tom, the world’s largest. Created in Great Britain in the 1930s by W.W. Greener and the Whitworth Factory of Manchester, this gun weighed over 300 lbs, had a 14′ 1″ barrel, and fired 3lbs 2oz of buckshot. The original owner, Stanley Duncan, claimed his best shot downed 100 ducks.

Just a handful of market hunters equipped with punt guns was enough to nearly drive ducks to extinction, ultimately leading to the gun being outlawed. Original and modern remakes can be scarcely found by collectors.

In the UK, punt guns are also used ceremoniously. Ever since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, 21 punt guns have been fired during every coronation and jubilee in Cowbit Wash, Lincolnshire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is an actual Army guide to creating an entire arsenal

Where should you turn if you want to bring down the man? If you want to destroy the pillars of an oppressive society, one of the best places you could turn is, ironically, the U.S. military. It has a guide on how to make land mines, mortar tubes, and even propellants for rockets right at home. TM 31-210 can help you become a full-on anarchist or, as the government would prefer, a resistance fighter in another country.


4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

Joint special operations teams do lots of cool stuff like this, but they also train guerrilla warriors to build rockets. Which, now that we come to think of it, is also cool.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)

TM 31-120, the Improvised Munitions Handbook, was originally an annex for a Special Forces manual, and it was always aimed at helping resistance fighters fight against leaders that American administrations didn’t like.

Special Forces soldiers and the occasional CIA spook would show up in foreign countries and help train up locals to conduct operations against enemy regimes, and sometimes they could even drop a few hundred crates of weapons and ammunition.

But U.S. logistics and purchases have serious limitations and drawbacks when it comes to guerrilla operations, especially when the U.S. doesn’t want to get caught helping. If American C-130s are constantly flying over the Cuban countryside dropping crates, then the Castros are going to know just who to blame for any uprisings.

As the handbook says:

In Unconventional Warfare operations it may be possible or unwise to use conventional military munitions as tools in the conduct of certain missions. It may be necessary instead to fabricate the required munitions from locally available or unassuming materials.

So Special Forces soldiers left copies of this handbook. Resistance forces could use any weapons and munitions the Americans dropped off, and then they could make their own landmines out of tin cans. Yeah, the Army published a guide, in 1969, that explained how to make IEDs.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

I would say it’s weird that MREs are heated against a “rock or something” while nitric acid instructions specify “rock or can,” but a mistake while making nitric acid could be deadly.

(U.S. Army TM 31-120)

Take the instructions for “PIPE PISTOL FOR 9 MM AMMUNITION”

All you need is a 4-inch length of 1/4-inch steel pipe, a pipe plug, two couplings, a metal strap, two rubber bands, a flat head nail, two wood screws, a piece of wood, a drill, and an 8-inch long rod.

Yup, that’s 14 items. And it only takes 11 steps to modify and assemble them. The pipe becomes a barrel with a little drilling. Slip the nail in as a firing pin, tape the barrel to the wood and cut it into a stock, then use the rubber bands and a nail to turn the metal strap into a cocking hammer.

The guide does caution that you should test the pistol five times with a string from behind a wall before carrying it into a fight.

And many of the schematics and instructions in the book assume that you’ll have some sort of access to actual modern weapons.

For instance, the tin-can landmine is reliant on a fragmentation grenade, same with the shotgun grenade launcher. But the ten recipes for “GELLED FLAME FUELS,” basically a poor man’s napalm, are made almost exclusively from household materials.

The whole handbook is interesting from an engineering, MacGyver, or historical perspective. But, and we shouldn’t have to say this, you should never try any of this at home. First of all, it’s super dangerous. The book is literally a bunch of dangerous chemical experiments complete with explosives. But also, making any of this stuff is a great way to get arrested on suspicion of domestic terrorism.

So don’t make your own shotgun at home.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Seattle’s 6 secrets of surviving atomic attacks

Do you know what to do when the bombs fall? When the Soviet planes fill the skies and create an endless rain of hellfire on the cities of America? If not, the Seattle Municipal Archives have you covered, because they have a pamphlet from 1950 that is here to save your life. Here’s how you can earn your “Atomic Warfare Survival Badge.”


4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Got all that? If you’re having trouble reading this,u00a0don’t worry. We’re going to go through these tips and provide a little commentary on each, below.
(Seattle Municipal Archives)

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

(Library of Congress)

Try to get shielded

If you have time, get down in a basement or subway. Should you unexpectedly be caught out-of-doors, seek shelter alongside a building, or jump in any handy ditch or gutter.

We’ve previously talked about Civil Defense hearings in 1955 where the public found out that ditches along the interstate were the best the government could do for many people in the event of an attack. Yes, basements, subways, and even ditches can effectively cut down on the amount of radiation that hits your skin, and they can drastically reduce the amount of flying debris and other threats you are exposed to.

But, remember, you’re likely going to need to spend a lot of time in your shelter (more on that in number 4), and so “any handy ditch” is unlikely to have the water, food, and sanitation facilities you need to survive.

Drop flat on ground or floor

To keep from being tossed about and to lessen the chances of being struck by falling and flying objects, flatten out at the base of a wall, or at the bottom of a bank.

So, yeah, this is basically the same as the first entry, but it’s telling you to lay flat wherever you hide. Again, not bad advice. This could help protect you from debris and can reduce the chances that you’ll become flying debris. But, again, you’ll be highly exposed to radiation both during the initial blast and from the ensuing fallout.

Bury your face in your arms

When you drop flat, hide your eyes in the crook of your elbow. That will protect your face from flash burns, prevent temporary blindness and keep flying objects out of your eyes.

So, sure, this will reduce damage to your eyes and face, but no, it will not fully protect you. Your arm is likely not capable of fully covering your face. Whatever is left exposed will certainly be burned by the flash. There’s no way around this, but it does help if you quickly pivot away from the flash when you see the bomb go off and you’re dropping to the ground. But you’ll still be burned, probably quite badly, on whatever skin is facing the radiation.

Don’t rush outside right after a bombing

After an air burst, wait a few minutes then go help fight fires. After other kinds of bursts wait at least 1 hour to give lingering radiation some chance to die down.

This is likely the most overly optimistic of the tips here. Yes, radiation will die down over time after a bomb is dropped, but one hour is nowhere near enough time. Someone does have to fight the fires and give medical aid to the wounded, and if you want to do that, thank you for your sacrifice.

And it is a sacrifice, because every moment you spend outside, exposed to all the radiation, is dangerous. Radiation can stay at acutely poisonous levels for hours and can cause harm for days or weeks after the bomb drops. It’s not “lingering radiation” after one hour, it’s lethal radiation.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

(Aarton Durán, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Don’t take chances with food or water in open containers

To prevent radioactive poisoning or disease, select your food and water with care. When there is reason to believe they may be contaminated, stick to canned and bottled things if possible.

Hahahaha, don’t eat anything after a blast. Any food or water that was buried at the time of the blast may still be safe, assuming you don’t get irradiated dust onto it while accessing it. But containers stored in a kitchen or almost anywhere above ground will become contaminated.

But, it’s the container that is almost guaranteed contaminated. If you absolutely have to eat food that was exposed, you can handle it carefully and wash the container before opening and get mostly safe food or water out of it. But cans and bottles do not make the contents safe on their own.

Don’t start rumors

In the confusion that follows a bombing, a single rumor might touch off a panic that could cost your life.

That’s legit. But go ahead and expect that everything you hear from others for a few weeks after the bomb drops is just a rumor. No one knows anything, and you’re all on your own for days, weeks, or even months after the explosions.

Sleep tight!

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US military once successfully used a psychic to locate a lost plane

During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?


In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.

A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.

The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.

President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.

“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”

The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”

Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”

The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Battle of Stony Point shows just how good Baron von Steuben was at training soldiers

Before Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived to train the Continental Army, they were a largely unorganized, untrained group of men who lacked skill, but not the spirit, of professional soldiers. That all changed at Valley Forge. 

Baron von Steuben
A Portrait of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus, Baron von Steuben by Ralph Earl

When Steuben took over responsibilities for training Gen. George Washington’s men in the ways of fighting a war, they may not have turned into pros overnight, but the training sure paid off in a big way. 

General Washington would appoint Baron von Steuben to a Major General’s grade and appoint him Inspector General of the Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Baron had his work cut out for him. 

He had to train the volunteers who enlisted from their previous professions to become trained soldiers fighting the best troops on the planet at the time: the British. Until he arrived, every new recruit was simply handed off to a regiment who trained those men to fight the way their commander believed they should, not according to any organized doctrine.

Von Steuben set up a training regimen that saw a training system where specialized noncommissioned officers would train new recruits from a doctrine prepared by him with translation from Steuben’s native German into English. The training program included European-style marching formations as well as training with the weapons they were issued, especially the bayonet. 

Before Steuben arrived to train the Continental Army, the men used their bayonets primarily as a cooking tool, most often as a kind of skewer. The Continentals didn’t trust the bayonet in combat, despite seeing the British troops use it effectively to break American lines at Bunker Hill.

“The American soldier, never having used this arm, had no faith in it, and never used it but to roast his beefsteak, and indeed often left it at home,” Steuben wrote.

Baron von Steuben drilling troops at Valley Forge. (Wikimedia commons)

The Americans depended on their guns for success in combat, which is probably the reason they hadn’t seen much success in combat up until this point. In Steuben’s mind, the musket was too unreliable when firing in combat and took too long to reload. It was necessary to go into a fight with a loaded rifle, of course, but once the fight devolved into a brawl, the bayonet would decide the victors. 

The bayonet was a solid weapon and he taught the Continental Army to use it. He would know, because he spent much of his life until that point fighting in European wars in the Prussian army. He drilled the Americans constantly, imposing strict discipline on them and forcing them to conform to a regimented way of war. He crafted the Army’s first field manual, “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I.”

In 1779, the Continental Army would get a chance to show off their new skills with the bayonet at the Battle of Stony Point, which they won without firing a shot. They didn’t even have loaded muskets when they went into combat.

Steuben House, Major General Baron von Steuben’s house and “Jersey Estate” 1783-1788. Photo by Deborah Powell.

Washington planned a daring nighttime assault on the fort at Stony Point, 30 miles north of New York City. The Americans moved silently in the dark and infiltrated the defensive positions of the unfinished fort. By the time British sentries noticed Americans approaching Stony Point from the south, Americans under Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne were already inside. 

Americans had climbed the slopes approaching Stony Point so fast that British artillery pieces were not able to correct their positions to actually fire at the approaching rebel troops. The fighting lasted for just 25 minutes and the entire action only took an hour. 

The discipline instilled by Baron von Steuben and the trust he placed in the infantry bayonet were crucial to the success of the battle.  

MIGHTY CULTURE

Learn about the French Foreign Legion from an American enlistee

How many military branches make you surrender your passport, catalog everything you brought to the recruitment center and give you a new identity, all before you sign your enlistment contract?

That’s the French Foreign Legion and that’s exactly how it works… at least according to a Reddit user with the handle FFLGuy, who did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2011. On other responses on Reddit he mentions serving as “a former légionnaire in the Légion étrangère,” as the French saying goes.


For anyone unaware, the French Foreign Legion is a highly-trained, highly capable fighting force fighting for France – but is open to anyone from any nation. What makes serving in the unit unique is that after three years, members can apply for French citizenship. They are also immediately eligible for citizenship if wounded in combat, a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” – or “French by spilled blood.”

Also unique to the Legion is being able to serve under an assumed identity and then retain that identity after serving. While the Legion used to force everyone to use a pseudonym, these days, enlistees have a choice of identities, real or assumed.

For the first week of your enlistment, you sign contracts and wait to find out if Interpol has any outstanding warrants for you. Once selected, you go right to training in Aubagne, in the Cote-d’Azur region of Southern France. You are stripped of everything, as the Legion now provides you with everything you need.

You are now wearing a blue Legion track suit and are working all day long. Cleaning, painting and cooking are the primary preoccupations, but members are taken away for physical and psychological testing. Also, the hazing begins. While that may not fly in America, this is the Legion, and there’s a 80 percent attrition rate. When would-be Legionnaires give up, it’s called “going civil.”

After two weeks of this “rouge” (red) period, you’re whisked away by train to Castelnaudary, where trainees spend the bulk of their basic training time. In total, the training is four months. Three of it will be spent here. It is from here you transition from engagé volontaire (voluntary enlistee), to actual légionnaire. The groups are split up into four groups of 25-45 would-be légionnaires.

Castelnaudary is where the foreign légionnaires learn French, work out, train, ruck, learn to use weapons and basically all the rudimentary things infantrymen do while in the infantry.Once at Castelnaudary, getting out of the Legion is very difficult. They will find a way to make you stay, the author writes: “Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t a wise choice.”

“Hazing at this point is constant,” the author wrote. “There will be many nights without sleep, and many meals missed. You are never alone and are constantly watched for even the tiniest mistakes. The consequences for mistakes are severe and painful; physically, psychologically or both. The environment is initially set up to ensure failure. You are broken down individually – both mentally and physically – slowly being built back up with larger and larger successes as a group.”

Hazing includes food and sleep deprivation, physical abuse and the like. As the author writes, “If you made it through Castelnaudary without being hit at least once, you weren’t there. “

Ten percent of the group who make it to Castelnaudary will go civil before they earn the coveted Kepi Blanc. It’s when your ceremony for earning the Kepi Blanc is when you officially are a Légionnaire. But the training is not complete. For three more months, you go through basic infantry training.

Those that quit or are not chosen to continue their training are given back their possessions, passports, a small amount of money for every day spent working, and a train ticket to the city in which they entered the Legion. They also have to resume their old identity.

With their old identity in hand, they must return to their country of origin.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A French resistance fighter escaped execution with the most impossible prison break

Throughout World War II, the Nazi occupiers of France housed Jews and captured Resistance fighters in the supposedly escape-proof Fort Montluc prison, a nineteenth century fortress in Lyon.


But there was one escape.

Only one.

Leading that escape was Andre Devigny, a former French army lieutenant whose escape made him a legend in the Resistance.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
André Devigny, a real-world Houdini.

Devigny was one of the leaders of the Réseau Gilbert, an intelligence network that helped refugees escape occupied France, gathered intelligence for the Allies, and sabotaged German installations and material as the opportunity arose. He was betrayed by a German infiltrator and arrested Apr. 17, 1943, taken to Lyons, and turned over to Klaus Barbie, chief of the Gestapo there.

Known as the Butcher of Lyons, Barbie is believed to have personally tortured men, women, and children. Some estimates hold him directly responsible for the deaths of up to 14,000 people.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
German SS officer and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie (1913 – 1991) in army NCO uniform, 1944.

Devigny was tortured for two weeks, including use of the baignoire, a World War II form of waterboarding, before being imprisoned in handcuffs in the 10-square-foot cell 107 at Fort Montluc. He was allowed into the courtyard for exercise one hour a day. On Aug. 20, he was again brought before Barbie, who told him he would be executed on Aug. 28.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

By this time, Devigny had learned to remove his handcuffs with a safety pin. He had also been able to remove three wooden slats at the bottom of his cell door using a soup spoon he ground down to a point on the cell’s concrete floor. He got to the point where he could remove or replace the three slats in less than two minutes.

When his death sentence was announced, he knew the time to act had come.

Related: Two POWs made a daring escape from prison just to relieve the boredom

Returning to his cell from meeting with Barbie, however, Devigny discovered he had been given a roommate. Perhaps he was a spy sent to watch him or perhaps he was what he said he was, an 18-year-old deserter from the Vichy-created French militia. In either case, he would have to be included in the escape.

On Aug. 24, a moonless night, the two men removed the cell’s wood slats, slipped out of the cell, and climbed up a heavy, metal rod that operated a roof transom, exiting on to the prison’s flat roof.  Devigny threw a parcel containing a second grappling hook and rope over the parapet, hooked a grappling hook he was carrying — all items he had been able to make in cell 107 — and climbed down the rope to a courtyard. The 18-year-old followed.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Montluc Prison.

Once in the courtyard, the two men could hear a sentry approaching and stepped back into the shadows. As the sentry passed, Devigny grabbed the man around the throat from behind forcing the German to the ground where he used the sentry’s own bayonet to kill him. Devigny and the 18-year-old then crossed to the prison’s inner wall and, using the second grappling hook and rope, climbed up and over the wall on to a covered gallery atop the prison infirmary.  From there, they scaled the building’s sloping roof and were able to see the outside wall and the brightly-lit fifteen-foot roadway between the walls.

The roadway was being patrolled by a sentry on a bicycle.  At 3 a.m., after timing the guard’s rounds several times, Devigny tied an end of his rope to the infirmary chimney, threw the grappling hook out and over the outside wall, and launched himself hand over hand with the 18-year-old following.

The two men made it, jumped down from the outside wall, and were free.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
An aerial view of the prison area.

Devigny and his former cellmate then separated, and Devigny eluded German search parties and dogs by spending five hours hiding in the Rhone River and along its muddy banks. He was finally able to work himself to the home of a doctor friend in the city where he was given clothes and papers and guided to Switzerland.

Devigny returned to the war and was eventually awarded the Cross of the Liberation by then-French President Charles de Gaulle.

The Resistance liberated Fort Montluc in August 1944, almost exactly one year after Devigny’s escape.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why it’s not a good idea to mess with Texas

There’s a lot of uncertainty to life in the 21st century.


But on one point, we can say we have a definite answer.

It was in the tiny village of Gonzales, Tejas, a territory of the newly sovereign Empire of Mexico, that scholars can definitively pinpoint the historical birth of the notion that, though there are many things you might be tempted to mess with, you don’t, if you know what’s good for you, mess with Texas.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Ironically, Texans apply this sentiment liberally.                                                                Photo via Flickr, brionv, CC BY-SA 2.0

In Gonzales, on Oct. 2, 1835, a village militia vigorously resisted disarmament at the hands to Mexico’s newly self-declared dictator, Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, who, for obvious reasons, usually went by Santa Anna.

Santa Anna was the prime mover of 19th century Mexico’s socio-political agenda — the man who would shape its fate as a nation independent of Spain.

Gonzales was just one tiny frontier town in the vast sweep of Mexico’s northern territories, populated largely by settlers from the United States. And the skirmish that occurred there, hardly deserving of even that wimpy designation, was really more of a loud, multi-day argument over possession of Gonzales’ single, miniscule 6-pound cannon in which the Texians were the aggressors and the Mexican army tried quite hard to avoid an actual battle.

Casualties on both sides of the skirmish amounted to two Mexican soldiers killed and one Texian with a bloodied nose.

Doesn’t sound like much of anything, does it?

Indeed, the incident at Gonzales was just one small fracas in a centuries-long stretch of conquest and political rebellion in Mexico. Nevertheless, the battle, such as it was, marked the beginning of the Texas Revolution, which would lead to the establishment of the Republic of Texas and the Mexican Cession of all of its North American land holdings to the United States.

Viewed from our 21st Century vantage, it’s easy to see larger geopolitical forces at work here. The Gonzales brouhaha exemplifies a trend that was sweeping the globe at the time, namely the collapse of monarchy as an acceptable form of government and the concurrent rise of democracy in all of its multivariate shapes, forms and means.

Rebellion at that time was so commonplace as to be unremarkable — witness the American Revolution, the French Revolution, Mexico’s own war for independence from Spain in 1821 and the hundreds of micro uprisings that initiated it. All over the world, kings were getting the boot if they were lucky and the ax if they weren’t.

Santa Anna himself had played an instrumental role in winning Mexico’s Independence and protected the democratic government that replaced it from power grabs by several of its generals in the years that followed. Yet even he was unable to resist the temptation of centralized rule. In 1835, just prior to the Battle of Gonzales, Santa Anna overthrew the Mexican constitution and named himself dictator, putting himself firmly on the wrong side of history.

And when he tried to take one, lone gun away from some Texians in Gonzales, he put himself on the wrong side of the eventual founders of the Lone Star Republic. The flag they raised during the Battle of Gonzales had one star, one cannon and coined a simple message that modern Texans still live by to this day: “Come and Take It.”

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The brazen origins of the 1st Special Service Force

In 1942, the culmination of a crazy idea from a British officer — known as Project Plough — yielded one of the most top-notch fighting forces of World War II.


The project called for a small, highly-trained group to parachute into Norway to conduct guerrilla operations against the Germans there. When the plan came across the desk of Lt. Col. Robert Frederick at the War Department in 1942, he reported to his boss, then-Maj. Gen. Eisenhower, that the plan was unworkable.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Frederick while in command of the 1st Special Service Force, 1944. (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

However, Eisenhower needed to build cohesion between the British and Americans and decided to form the unit anyway. To Eisenhower’s knowledge there was no man more well-versed in Project Plough that it’s biggest detractor, Robert Frederick.

Frederick was an interesting choice to lead this new guerrilla unit. He had graduated middle of his class from West Point and had been commissioned into the Coastal Artillery. He had never made much of an impression on anyone, though he soon would.

Frederick’s new unit, the 1st Special Service Force, was activated July 9, 1942, at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana. The unit would be a joint venture of the Americans and Canadians.

The unit also had a different structure made up of three “regiments” of 800 men each consisting of two battalions. Frederick was in overall command while a Canadian served as his executive officer.

Every member was to be parachute qualified and trained to be adept at cold weather combat. They also trained on a variety of weapons, both American and German, and even developed their own fighting knife, the V-42.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
V-42 Stiletto (Photo courtesy of John Gibson)

In late 1942, the Norway mission that the unit had been training for was scratched. However, the men continued to train and by 1943 a suitable mission presented itself: the battle for the Aleutian Islands.

After further training, the 1st Special Service Force embarked for its first mission along with other American forces to liberate the Aleutian Islands. For the rough and ready men of the force, the campaign was a letdown. Their only action was storming ashore on the abandoned island of Kiska. They left eager for a new mission.

With the Allied invasion of mainland Italy, a new opportunity presented itself. Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, commanding U.S. forces in Italy, requested the unit to help break through the German defenses in the cold and treacherous Italian mountains.

The unit arrived in Italy on Nov. 19, 1943, and began preparations for an assault on the German position at Monte La Difensa.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
1st Special Service Force near Venafro in 1944. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada)

At the beginning of December, the unit began moving into place through freezing rain and bitter cold. Their plan was to climb up a sheer cliff face and to attack the German position from the most unlikely direction. Col. Frederick had personally surveyed the route and planned his units’ first combat action.

On Dec. 4, 1943, with men and equipment in place, they began to climb up the 200-foot cliff face in a freezing rain. Stealthily, they ascended the cliff and crawled into positions so close to the German lines they could hear the men talking and smell their food cooking.

The attack began not with overwhelming force but by surprising German sentries and quietly killing them with their knives. There was to be no shooting until 0600, but a slide of loose rocks alerted the Germans that something was amiss. As German flares and mortars began to rain down, the commandos sprang into action.

The fighting was close and intense but the unit had secured the hilltop. Within just two hours, Frederick’s men accomplished what numerous other units had failed to do.

Still, their work was far from done.

The top of Monte La Difensa was only weakly held by Frederick’s small force. Rather than wait for the inevitable counterattack, Frederick decided to launch an attack of his own. The Special Service Force, perpetually outnumbered by the Germans, fought on taking out position after position and helping to open the path for the Fifth Army.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Personnel of the First Special Service Force being briefed before setting out on a patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy.(Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

In February 1944, after a brief rest, Frederick and his men were moved to the Anzio beachhead to shore up the precarious Allied lines. It was at Anzio that the unit acquired its enduring nickname — the Devil’s Brigade.

Not content to simply hold the line, the unit began launching small patrols to harass the Germans and gather intelligence. The men became quite adept at capturing prisoners and were known to bring back entire formations — platoons and companies — of Germans.

An enterprising lieutenant also declared himself the mayor of an abandoned town behind German lines, renaming it “Gusville” after himself. The unit even began circulating a newspaper (“the Gusville Herald-Tribune”) and reporters in the Anzio area would make the trek to the town — through German fire — in order to file their stories from “Gusville, Italy”.

However, despite their antics, there was also serious combat around the Anzio beachhead. Frederick, now a Brigadier General, would be wounded on numerous occasions leading his men from the front.

When the Allies broke out of the beachhead, the force was a leading element in the drive towards Rome. Who entered Rome first is often disputed but a patrol by the Devil’s Brigade was certainly one of the first to get there.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
1st Special Service Force before an evening patrol near Anzio in 1944. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada)

After the successful capture of Rome, the men were given a reprieve from combat. It was also announced that Frederick was leaving the force to take command of the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force that would be spearheading Operation Dragoon.

Although airborne capable, the unit would not jump with the task force and instead was assigned to assault several small islands near the landing beaches that had been fortified by the Germans. This would be the last major effort undertaken by the unit.

After light action along the French coast, the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded on Dec. 5, 1944, in France. Most of the men, American and Canadian, were sent as replacements to airborne units.

The modern day 1st Special Forces Group traces its lineage to the 1st Special Service Force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the origin of the 21-gun salute

If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.

Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.

This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.

Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.


4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, embarked on Indianapolis, receives a 21-gun salute from Coast Guard Cutter Mojave, during the presidential fleet, 1934.

The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.

It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
Members of the honor guard’s rifle team fire off a salute to remember twelve veterans during a burial at sea ceremony held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Christine Singh)

Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.

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This plane left the SR-71 Blackbird in the dust

The SR-71 Blackbird was the fastest military jet that has ever taken to the skies. But there was a plane that not only went twice as fast, but it also went much higher.


That speedy plane was the North American X-15.

The X-15 was one of the first true spaceplanes, with a number of flights going beyond Earth’s atmosphere, according to a 2005 NASA release. It was capable of going over 4,500 mph, or nearly Mach 6, and it went as high as 354,200 feet – or just over 67 miles – above the Earth.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
North American X-15A. (NASA photo)

The plane didn’t actually take off from the ground. In fact, it needed the help of a B-52 bomber before it could reach those dizzying heights and super-high speeds. NASA used two of the first B-52s, an NB-52A known as the “High and Mighty One,” for some flights before a NB-52B known as “Balls 8” took over the duty.

Once released from the B-52 at an altitude of 45,000 feet and a speed of 500 miles per hour, the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 would activate providing 70,400 pounds of thrust, according to a NASA fact sheet. At most, the plane had two minutes of fuel.

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War
A X-15A with external fuel tanks and a new paint job is dropped from a NB-52 aircraft. (NASA photo)

Among the pilots who were at the controls of this marvel was Neil Armstrong – you’d know him as the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong didn’t get into space with this plane in any of his seven flights, but he did post the 6th-fastest speed among the X-15 sorties, according to an official NASA history.

One of those who achieved the rating of astronaut, Major Michael Adams, received the honor posthumously after he was killed in a crash of his X-15A on Nov. 15, 1967. Adams had broken the 50-mile barrier that the Air Force and NASA used to define entering space on his seventh and final flight, reaching an altitude of 266,000 feet and a top speed of 3,617 mph, according to the NASA history’s list of X-15 flights.

Below, take a look at the video from Curious Droid, which talks about the X-15 – and the awesome career it had.

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