1. The first female enlisted Marine joined in 1918
In 1918, Opha May Johnson was the first known female to enlist in the Marine Corps. After her, 305 brave women decided they to would swear the oath and join the beloved Corps, serving in the Reserves during World War I.
2. FDR was the president who created their Corps
In 1943, Congress allowed President Franklin Roosevelt to ink into law the creation of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
An outstanding achievement.
3. The first female enlisted Marine Reservist joined in 1943
After the Marine Corps’ Women’s Reserve was officially created, Lucille McClarren, from Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, was the first female to join the reserve unit. Before joining, Pvt. McClarren worked as a stenographer for the War Department in Washington, D.C.
4. They served in ancillary combat positions to support the fight
The new female Marines were limited to non-combat related roles and took up occupations in clerical positions. However, many of them worked their way into the fight and earned ancillary combat position like mechanics, radio operators, parachute riggers, and welders — just to name a few.
Today, females have earned their right to work and fight alongside their male counterparts on the frontlines. They’ve displayed extreme dedication to the Marine Corps in various infantry roles and continue to prove that they are capable of much more than history has given them credit for.
Check out the Marines’ video to witness the incredible impact females have had on the Corps’ history for yourself.
The black-hatted redcoats who guard royal residences in London and beyond, including Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, are the Queen’s Guard. While you might think it’s fun to get in their way and try to make them laugh, the reality is these guys will straight up break you if it comes down to it. This all starts with the overly large hat on their head.
The hat – a bearskin – is a symbol of what it takes to be the best.
(Ministry of Defence)
While the Guard date all the way back to 1656, their trademark bearskin shakos date back to the Napoleonic Wars, the end of the Napoleonic Wars. As its name suggests, this is the series of conflicts fought between Imperial France, led by Napoleon and his various allies against the United Kingdom and the Coalitions it formed to counter the rise of the little emperor. The Guards were part of the First Regiment of Foot that finally ended the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. That’s also when their uniforms picked up the now-iconic bearskin hats.
Specifically, the British picked the hats up from the dead bodies of fallen Frenchmen.
Some of Napoleon’s most elite troops and diehard supporters were the French Imperial Guard. These were troops that had been with Napoleon from the very beginning and were with him to retake power when l’empereur returned from exile on Elba. That’s how they ended up at Waterloo in the first place. They were the (arguably) the world’s best soldiers, and definitely some of the most fearsome in the world. The grenade-throwing grenadiers wore large bearskin shakos to make themselves appear taller and more fearsome. They received better pay, rations, quarters, and equipment, and all guardsmen ranked one grade higher than all non-Imperial Guard soldiers.
At Waterloo, the decisive engagement that determined if Napoleon would once again be master of Europe, the emperor committed his Imperial Guard against the First Regiment of Foot. The outcome of that battle would change history, as for Napoleon, it was a huge gamble that, if successful, could totally break the British and win the battle for the French. That’s why he committed his best.
As the First Regiment of Foot stood up to a punishing French artillery barrage and then a charge from the vaunted Imperial Guard, the British tore into the Frenchmen with repeated musket volleys, dropping hundreds of them before Napoleon’s best broke and ran. With the fall of some of Napoleon’s finest Imperial Guards, the outcome of the battle was all but assured.
With their stunning defeat of France’s best in frontline fighting with relatively few casualties, the British 1st Foot adopted the tall bearskins, a trophy to celebrate their stunning victory over the emperor, reminding the world of what it means to be elite. The bearskins have been on their uniform ever since.
In February 1968, two platoons of Marines from a combat base near Khe Sanh went out on a combat patrol. Ronald Ridgeway, just 18-years-old at the time, was one of those Marines. He and 26 of his fellow Marines would not be coming back that night, their patrol would live on, forever known as “The Ghost Patrol.”
A Marine lieutenant lost his way around the area and accidentally led his Marines into a devastating ambush. Ridgeway was shot in the shoulder. Others took much more serious wounds. When the ambush was over, the North Vietnamese walked through the grim melee, popping rounds into Marines to ensure their job was done. Ridgeway was grazed by a bullet that shook his body. The NVA figured he was dead.
So did the Marine Corps.
A 1973 photo of Ronald Ridgeway.
Many of the ambushed Marines were dead, including two of Ridgeway’s closest friends. Through the night, the young man survived an American artillery barrage and excessive bleeding. He woke to an NVA soldier trying to pull off his watch. For six weeks, the remains of those Marines were left. It turns out there were upwards of 20,000 NVA troops moving to assault the Combat Base at Khe Sanh, defended by just 6,000 Marines.
At first, Ridgeway was listed as missing in action, but after the survivors of the ambush made their way back to Khe Sanh and the battlefields couldn’t be cleared, there was little hope for him. The Marines declared him killed in action. His funeral was held Sept. 10, 1968 in St. Louis. His family and friends mourned the loss of their young Marine. By then, Ridgeway had been a POW for seven months.
Ridgeway in 2013.
The NVA soldier taking his watch didn’t kill him, he just put him in leg stocks and marched him to a jungle POW camp. Eventually, the young Ridgeway found himself in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton. He was beaten and starved, but he survived. He sat in a lonesome cell, with just a wooden bed and a bucket that he emptied in a courtyard once a day.
He was there for nearly five long years before the Paris Peace Accords meant he was headed home before the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. When the list of returning troops was released, Ridgeway’s family was shocked to see their son’s name included on that list.
Ridgeway getting a hug from then-First Lady of California Nancy Reagan and California Governor Ronald Reagan upon returning home in 1973.
“I came back in basically one piece,” he told the Washington Post. “I came back able to live my life. . . . We went over with a job to do. We did it to the best of our ability. We were lucky enough to come back.”
Another place he wanted to see his name listed was his own tombstone. He and his wife visited that several months after he returned home: “Ambushed Patrol Died in Vietnam Feb. 25, 1968… Ronald L. Ridgeway.”
Fun fact: Inauguration wasn’t always on January 20. Once upon a time (ha!) it was scheduled for March in order to give everyone time to make the journey to the event, since winter can put a damper on horse/buggy travel. This isn’t the only thing that may make you pause. Throughout our nation’s history of inaugurating presidents, some pretty interesting things have occurred on that new president’s special day. Here are 10 of the most bizarre moments:
Short and sweet
We couldn’t start this countdown without putting our very first president and founding father at the top of the list. When President George Washington raised his hand at his second inauguration on March 4, 1793, he must have been tired. Expected, since he had just spent those years prior fighting and then leading our new nation. When he turned to address the attendees who came to see him sworn in, his speech was only 135 words in length. Another fun fact is that for his first presidency, he reportedly had to borrow money to be able to travel. His first inauguration is also the only time a president has had two swearing-ins.
2. Lucky talismans
According to history, President Theodore Roosevelt was a super fan of President Abraham Lincoln. So much so, that he wore a piece of jewelry to his inauguration that held a lock of his hair. We don’t know whether to applaud his dedication or say something many of us are probably thinking: ew. Reports indicate he may have paid upwards of $100 for hairs to be removed from the president’s head during his autopsy and mounted one in a ring. Now, there are other reports that he simply wore a piece of President Lincoln’s jewelry but we think the hair rumor is better.
President Ulysses S. Grant thought birds would be a nice touch for his inauguration. Sadly, the weather didn’t corporate and it was so cold upwards of 100 of the birds they’d planned to release quite literally froze. Oops.
4. It’s lonely at the top
When President John Adams took the Oath of Office, he did it alone. Well, there were people. But history and several biographies have revealed that none of his family members were able to attend. It would take a long time before spouses of any presidents attended the ceremony. In 1809, Dolly Madison was the first to do so. The spouses themselves didn’t take part in anything either, until Lady Bird Johnson held the Bible that her husband took his oath on in 1965.
5. Whiskey lullaby
Vice President Andrew Johnson was drunk at his swearing in on inauguration day. He slurred his way through the whole thing! To be fair, reports state that he was very ill with typhoid fever and had used the whiskey to numb the pain. Poor guy!
6. Roped in
When President Eisenhower was sworn in, he did a lot of things differently. Like reciting a different prayer after the swearing in instead of kissing the Bible. But what he did after that definitely broke tradition! After getting permission from the Secret Service, he had a trick roper lasso him. Like, literally snag him with rope while on horseback. Interesting times.
7. Putting in the miles
President Jimmy Carter often said he wanted to be the “people’s president”. One way he showed this with action is by walking ahead of his inauguration parade. Not since Thomas Jefferson did it in 1803 had it been done by a president. He would start a trend, with many presidents walking at least part of the way.
8. It’s a party
After the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, he led the celebration back to the White House. Completely terrible idea! The party goers basically trashed the place and rumor has it that the president had to escape everything through a window. Maybe setting up “washtubs” filled with whiskey was a bad idea.
9. Pants party
President John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear pants to his inauguration. Really. To be fair, the tradition prior to this was “knee breeches” or shorts that went to the knee. He broke this and went rouge.
And the final bizarre or weird fact/moment from inaugurations past… drum-roll, please! This may be the very worst of them all, especially for all of you animal lovers! Before Watergate, there was pigeon-gate. No, really! President Nixon didn’t want his inauguration marred by what he reportedly thought were annoying pigeons. He spent around $13,000 to treat the trees with a chemical that would deter the pigeons from perching on the branches. Unfortunately, the inaugural committee didn’t plan on the pigeons eating it. Instead of a few troublesome pigeons, his inauguration was marred by dead and dying ones.
As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.
Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.
Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)
At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.
In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.
Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)
At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.
Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.
Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.
Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.
Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)
By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.
While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.
Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.
Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)
In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.
A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)
Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.
Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.
Germany lacked many of the natural resources necessary to make war in the 20th Century and knew that it had to rack up victories and seize materiel early in World War II to be successful, and that’s why it was so great for its forces when France made its first offensive of World War II — exactly according to German plans.
So, France prepared for a mostly defensive war against Germany, constructing the Maginot Line and securing an alliance with Belgium for mutual defense. In Germany, meanwhile, there were years of heartache followed by a surge in support of leaders who claimed that World War I was lost by politicians, not soldiers. Once Hitler became chancellor, and other pro-war groups made headway, Germany began re-arming as well.
The seeds of World War II had germinated, and everyone tried to get their ducks in a row for the coming fight.
There was one gap between the Belgian lines and the Maginot Line: The Ardennes Forest, a thick, heavily forested and hilly area that was thought too thick and treacherous for most tanks.
Germany’s plan, meanwhile, was predicated upon the French one. Germany knew that the Maginot Line was nearly impenetrable and attacks against it would be suicidal. They also knew that Belgium, a historically neutral country with a young king, was a relatively weak ally. But, best of all for Germany, they knew that their tanks could get through the Ardennes, but it would be slow and challenging.
On France’s Ardennes assumption: It wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Tanks had only been around for about 20 years during the final ramp up to World War II, and most World War I tanks had been useless on steep slopes, truly uneven terrain, and even thick mud.
The idea that tanks could make it across the muddy, uneven ground in the thick forest and hit French positions might have seemed insane.
But America’s Christie tanks were much more mobile than their predecessors, and the company that manufactured them sold designs and patents to Russian firms after the U.S. Army declined to order them. The Russian tanks had served opposite German forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It was clear that engineers could come up with rough terrain designs, and Germany had even got some good looks at successful designs just in time for World War II. Britain tried to warn France of the dangers in the Ardennes gap, but France barely listened.
And so Germany set a trap. First, German forces began breaking tenets of the Treaty of Versailles, including invading and occupying the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia populated primarily by ethnic Germans. France and England, not yet ready for war, signed the Munich Pact that allowed Germany to hold the Sudetenland if they just promised super hard not to invade anyone else.
Belgium’s King Leopold II, worried that his treaties with France and Britain were worthless, re-declared Belgium’s neutrality and re-organized the military for purely defensive purposes.
For France, this was a huge problem. Now, instead of holding joint drills with Belgium and having permission to stage troops in Belgian territory for co-defense, France could only deploy into Belgium after Germany invaded. That would set off a race between France and Germany to take strategic territory quickly if war broke out.
And France was so preoccupied with this race that, when Germany invaded the Low Countries in May, 1940, France sprinted 39 divisions across Belgium. Meanwhile, Germany parked an army group near the Maginot Line to keep France from pulling troops from there.
This meant the Ardennes was guarded only by trees, and Hitler was jubilant. His tanks were tied up in traffic jams throughout the forest, a few good tank battalions or some skilled bombers could’ve stopped the push through the Ardennes cold. Instead, German armored forces were unopposed as France focused its attention north.
The entire Army Group A, with seven armored divisions and another 37 of other types, spilled into Belgium and France well to the rear of where France expected to face any opposition. While French forces fought valiantly across Belgium, they were preoccupied with the massive force that maneuvered its way to Paris.
France had fallen into Germany’s trap, marching their forces into the Belgian plains while Germany’s jaws closed around Paris. On May 14, 1940, just weeks after Germany invaded, French forces withdrew from Paris to save the city from the fighting. French forces began attacking their own oil and weapon stockpiles to limit what Germany would take in victory.
The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.
However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.
His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.
McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.
Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).
Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).
The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.
As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? This is especially true when you’re the underdog. Throughout history, armies have committed to fighting in the face of overwhelming odds. There are many reasons for this. Maybe it was to buy time for a greater force to escape. Or maybe it was because a small army was all that stood between a nation and its ruin.
No matter what the reason, the list of underdog victories is an engaging one, no matter why they chose to fight or why the army was so outnumbered in the first place.
Here are five of the best outnumbered victories in military history.
1. The English at Agincourt
If there is one clear reason why an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 English troops were able to decimate a much larger French force on their home turf, it’s the technological advancement of the longbow. The French Army may have shown up with 15,000 men, but they left with a whole lot fewer.
As Henry V rode into battle with the handful of troops that were using longbows, the English archers rained death on the Frenchmen. The French, wounded and sinking into the mud wearing heavy armor, were easy pickings for the Englishmen. When the archers ran out of arrows, they joined in on the slaughter. The French lost more than 6,000 men and were beaten so badly they had to marry off a princess to Henry to stop the war.
2. The Nazis at Belgrade
Although we are loath to give the Waffen-SS credit for anything besides being grade-A scum, the 1941 capture of Belgrade was probably a special operations coup that would be talked about forever, if only anyone else had won. Belgrade has been destroyed 44 times in its centuries-long history, so perhaps at the very least, this saved some civilian lives.
Using just six men, the SS infiltrated the heavily-defended city and fought its way to the town square, capturing Yugoslavian troops along the way. Once there, they raised the German flag. When the mayor saw the raised flag and the captured troops, the Nazis made a bluff, claiming the city was already overrun. The mayor surrendered the city and its defenders.
3. Napoleon at Jena-Auerstedt
In total, the French Emperor was outnumbered by more than two to one against Prussia and Saxony at Jena. Complicating his situation further was the fact that his army was divided. An entire corps, 27,000 men, was to the north of his main force. Luckily, his opponents were divided as well. If anyone knows how to conquer a divided foe, it’s Napoleon.
Also in Napoleon’s favor was the fact that his corps commander was Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout, one of the finest field marshals in military history. Prussia and Saxony weren’t so lucky. Their commanders were old and slow-moving, which allowed the two brilliant French leaders to take the initiative and occupy Prussia, taking just a fraction of the casualties they inflicted.
4. Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama
Japan’s military history gets overlooked by armchair historians when it’s not about World War II. But anyone interested in military history should take a look at the Shogunates because it’s awesome. Oda Nobunaga was just a local warlord when Imagawa Yoshimoto raised an army of 30,000 men to topple the feudal government based in Kyoto. Despite fielding just 3,000, Oda decided his best strategy was to go on the offensive.
Oda Nobunaga and his men made the appearance of a much larger force using just banners and flags before secretly leaving their camp on the morning of the battle. By afternoon, Imagawa’s troops were busy celebrating their string of wins during a hot day, unaware they were being flanked. They weren’t even dressed for battle. Oda’s men routed the enemy army and Imagawa was killed.
5. The Parthians at Carrhae
Money can’t buy happiness or military glory. When Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, marched 43,000 troops into Parthia (modern-day Iran), he did it without the consent of the Senate or the advice of military allies. He wanted to expand the power of his triumvirate by placing a puppet king on the Parthian throne. After all, there were only 10,000 Parthians in his way.
Crassus learned a lot that day. He learned that overwhelming infantry numbers don’t assure victory, he learned about super heavy cavalry, and he learned that fast-moving horse archers are hard for a legion to fight against. It would have been a good lesson to take forward, if 30,000 Romans hadn’t been killed or captured in the effort. Crassus was one of them.
Did you ever wonder why the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy?
Historically, marines serve as a navy’s ground troops. In fact, the word “marine” is the French word for sea, which may be why the French military historically called English troops — who all had to arrive by sea — “marines.”
Marines Aboard USS Wasp Engage HMS Reindeer. June 1814.
(Copy of painting by Sergeant John Clymer., 1927 – 1981.)
Back in the day, there wasn’t much difference between a sailor and a soldier on a ship. After all, most sea battles ended with the ships tangled together and the crews fighting each other hand to hand. So, if you were on a ship, you had to be able to fight. But you also had to be able to fight once your ship got where it was going.
Italy was the first country to use specially trained sailors as naval infantry. Back in the 1200s, the chief magistrate of Venice put 10 companies of specialized troops on a bunch of ships and sent them off to conquer Byzantium in present-day Greece. That went well for the Italians, so they decided that having marines was a good idea and kept them around, later calling them “sea infantry.”
The idea of marines eventually caught on with other naval powers. The Spanish marine corps was founded in 1537 and is the oldest still-active marine corps in the world, while the Netherlands marine corps, founded in 1665, is the second-oldest. But, even today, marines in most countries are specially trained sailors who are part of the navy.
The British Royal Marines, which is what the U.S. Marine Corps was modeled on, were probably the first naval infantry to not actually be sailors. During the 1600-1700s, marine regiments would be formed by taking soldiers from the British Army, and disbanded when they weren’t needed. This practice continued until 1755, when England’s parliament made the Corps of Royal Marines permanent.
When the Continental Marines were founded in 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required.”
Marine Capt. Brenda Amor helps to prepare an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter assigned to the “Black Knights” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 264 (Reinforced) for flight operations on the flight deck of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), Jan. 30, 2019. Arlington is on a scheduled deployment as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in support of maritime security operations, crisis response and theater security cooperation, while also providing a forward naval presence.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Parker)
So, maritime knowledge has always been a critical part of being a marine, but the U.S. Marine Corps hasn’t always been part of the U.S. Navy.
Until 1834, the Marines were an independent service. President Andrew Jackson wanted to make the Corps part of the Army. However, the Marine Corps commandant at the time, Archibald Henderson, had proven that Marines were important in landing party operations, not just ship-to-ship battles, so Congress decided to put the Navy and Marine Corps into one department, forever linking these two “sister services.”
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the kick that broke down the door to the Philippines and the Japanese home islands during World War II. The American 5th Fleet squared off against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Mobile Fleet in a fight that would help decide the success of the ongoing Marine invasion of the Marianas Islands and determine which side controlled the air surrounding Japan.
This footage from the Smithsonian Channel shows what sailors and pilots actually experienced during the largest ever carrier-to-carrier battle.
It was to be a gamble for the Japanese no matter what, but it’s impossible that Jisaburo knew just how badly the next two days would go for him and the rest of the Japanese forces. The Japanese chose this engagement as the “decisive battle,” and pitted all serviceable ships and planes in range into the fight in order to break the back of the American amphibious forces.
But problems for Japan began before the battle. On June 15, an American sub spotted the Japanese fleet headed toward the islands, allowing the U.S. commanders to favorably redistribute their forces for the massive surface and aerial fight to come.
A plane lands on the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The American fleet had a thick screen of anti-aircraft guns on battleships and heavy cruisers positioned ahead of the escort and fleet carriers. They had almost twice as many carriers and about 20 percent more planes. U.S. pilots and crews were well-trained veterans flying against predominantly green, under-trained pilots that were rushed into place after previous losses, like the Battle of Midway.
These fuses used radar to determine their distance from a plane and then detonated at an optimal range, drastically increasing the chance that shrapnel would kill the pilot or destroy the targeted plane.
The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Fleet tries to maneuver out of harm’s way June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
And then the U.S. planes took to the air. The Americans, with better crews and radar, facing Japanese wings broken up by anti-aircraft fire, were able to absolutely slaughter the enemy. It would later be described as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” The Japanese units suffered so much damage that some lost their way back to ship and were attacked while trying to reach the friendly airfield on Guam.
But of course, a group of naval aviators in a carrier battle don’t want to just take down the enemy planes — they also want a piece of the carriers. Sinking just one of those can set the enemy industry back a few years’ worth of mining, smelting, and ship construction.
American planes failed to find the Japanese fleet on the first day of battle, but U.S. submarines spotted two fleet carriers, the Taiho and Shokaku, and sank them with torpedoes.
A Japanese carrier attempts to outmaneuver American bombs and other ordnance during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Overnight, the two fleets maneuvered around one another and put planes up once again the following morning. Again, the forces clashed and America came away the clear winner. The American planes hunted for the fleet and, this time, spotted it late in the afternoon.
Despite the setting sun, America decided to press it’s luck and a torpedo plane managed to sink a third Japanese fleet carrier, the Hiyo.
All told, America destroyed well over 500 aircraft, sank five ships (including three carriers), and protected the invasion forces at Saipan. The engagement cost the U.S. over 100 sailors and aircraft as well as a battleship, but so weakened the Japanese navy that it was seen as a sort of second Midway, permanently tipping the balance of power even further in America’s direction.
By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.
One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.
The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.
Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.
So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.
Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.
It was one year to the day since the war had started.
The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.
As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.
As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.
But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.
Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.
Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.
The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.
Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas butsince the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.
In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.
By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.
All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.
Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”
Dean Ivan Lamb was many things in his life, but first and foremost, he was an accomplished aviator. Having (more or less) dueled one of his best friends in the world’s first-ever dogfight during the Mexican Revolution, he went on to serve in many more air forces in his time behind the stick.
But his most lasting contribution to the world has a little more kick – the Pisco Sour.
Dogfighting in these would make anyone thirsty.
Lamb had been flying almost as long as men had invented heavier-than-air flying machines, attending an aviation school in 1912, less than a decade after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Before he even graduated, he made his way down to Mexico as an airman for hire, coming into the employ of Mexican General Benjamin G. Hill. He was ordered to take down the opposing pilot, another American mercenary airman named Phil Rader. This was the first-ever dogfight between planes, but the men didn’t really try too hard to kill each other, eventually both made their ways back home. But Lamb continued the aviator-for-hire business, making his way to England in time for World War I.
In the Great War, Lamb allegedly performed wonders for Britain’s Royal Flying Corps, becoming an ace before the war’s end. After the war, he started running letters for the post office by airmail. But postwar life was a little boring for Lamb, as it can be for many veterans, so he went down south. Way down south. To South America.
Dean Lamb traveled around the continent, helping establish the Air Force of Honduras and flying missions in conflicts in Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay in his time there. From Panama to Bolivia, the southern hemisphere knew the name of Dean Ivan Lamb. But his most enduring accomplishment has nothing to do with war or death, unless you have too much. Lamb, it turns out, was an avid drinker.
The pilot enjoyed good ol’ American whiskey and fine French champagne when it was available in mass quantities. He loved rum and cokes at a time when Coke was something entirely new, and he always sampled the local liquors. Ten-year-old tequila was his favorite in Mexico, in Brazil it was cachaça, and in Lima, he drank Pisco. He may not have created the Pisco Sour, but he certainly helped it find an audience in the United States.
Which should include everyone.
When the skies were too overcast to take to the air, Lamb would take to the bar. The bar serving the strongest Pisco Sours in Peru, the honor of which belonged to a place called Morris’ Bar in the Hotel Maury, according to Lamb’s autobiography, The Incurable Filibuster: Adventures of Col. Dean Ivan Lamb. The cocktails at the Hotel Maury – especially the Pisco Sour, where the drink was first created – were allegedly so strong the bartenders weren’t allowed to pour more than one for anybody. When Lamb argued his way to another round, he got so belligerent he had to leave Peru the next day.
“I have hazy recollections of an argument about another one, something of a fight in a Chinese restaurant, police, soldiers, more battles and crowds of people waking in the hotel with a guard of soldiers holding off people with bills for damages,” he wrote.
And with that, Lamb was on his way back to the United States, fueled by a drink that can only get you kicked out of the Peruvian Air Force.
While most of the Confederate Navy in the states was either penned up or quickly defeated during the Civil War, the Confederacy poured resources into blockade runners and commerce raiders that were successful, and few could even touch the CSS Alabama.
The Alabama was built in England, nominally as a merchant ship. British shipyards were allowed to build warships for the Confederacy early in the war as long as the ship buyers said they were for peaceful purposes and as long as no weapons were present when it was shipped.
But it was clear the Alabama was built for a fight. It had plenty of sails, like a warship or a merchant vessel would, but it also had a steam-powered paddle wheel. Merchant vessels had little use for these paddle wheels, but they allowed combatants to maneuver much better in a fight.
The Laird Brothers of Birkenhead launched the Alabama right as British forces cracked down on the illegal trade under threats of war from then President Abraham Lincoln. But as British troops rushed to seize the Alabama, it slipped up the coast in 1862, and the crew took on weapons before heading to the Azores to pick up Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes.
Capt. Raphael Semmes, in the foreground, poses on his ship’s 110-pound rifled gun, its most powerful cannon.
The crew was composed primarily of men from the Southern states and England, but it had members from other European countries and even a few from Northern states. And once it got into the water, it started racking up kills and captures.
It started in the North Atlantic where it attacked Union shipments of agricultural goods headed to Europe, and then it headed south to prey in the West Indies. But then it slipped up to the Gulf of Mexico and directly threatened the Texas coast. When the USS Hatteras came out of Galveston, the Alabama captured the ship and crew.
Over two years of raiding, it sank and captured around 68 ships. But two years of sailing and combat had taken its toll on the ship. While the copper plating helped prevent some corrosion and fouling of the hull, it didn’t prevent all damage. And the engine needed maintenance and the ship needed resupply.
So, on June 11, 1864, the Alabama sailed into Cherbourg, France, for docking and overhaul. But the Union had dispatched ships to hunt it, and other commerce raiders, and the USS Kearsarge got wind that the Alabama was in Cherbourg.
On June 19, when the Alabama sailed out, the Kearsarge was waiting. And the French people came out to watch this little battle of the American Civil War play out on their coasts. In order to ensure French neutrality and safety, that nation’s government sent out an ironclad to make sure the fight stayed in international waters.
A map shows the circular path of the Kearsarge and Alabama during their battle in 1864.
(Robert Knox Sneden via Picryl)
The Alabama fired the first shots, but the Kearsarge had chain armor, and the Alabama’s weapons and powder were degraded from seawater damage. The powder could not propel the shells as hard as it should have, and the shells were basically bouncing off the Kearsarge.
The two ships maneuvered on one another. The Kearsarge waited until the Alabama reached 1,000 yards before firing, and then the ships traded blows while trying to cross each other’s T in order to launch a broadside against the enemy’s bow.
This resulted in the ships basically sailing in a circle shooting at each other. The Alabama fired about 150 shots while the Kearsarge got off only about 100 shells. Still, with better powder and chain armor, the Kearsarge was able to quickly defeat the Confederate raider, sinking it in about an hour with a shot through the hull at the waterline.
The Kearsarge picked up most of the survivors, but Semmes and about 40 other sailors were picked up by a British ship and sat out the rest of the war.