Some of the most consequential actors in past wars weren’t the soldiers storming the ramparts, the generals issuing orders, or even engineers who designed the weapons and armor necessary to win. Sometimes, wars were decided by much smaller combatants: bugs and worms.
Before the rapid increase in medical knowledge around World War II, parasites caused epidemics that claimed entire formations and tipped campaigns forcefully for one side to the other.
From the Revolutionary War to World War I, here are five times that pests defeated an army:
1. Constant fevers spread by mosquitoes crippled British forces in the Revolutionary War
Both British and American forces in the Revolutionary War scheduled offensives in the South around “the sickly season,” the hot summer months where mosquitoes and the diseases they spread were likely to claim hundreds or thousands of lives in an army on the march.
This slowed the progress of the British Army and forced it to fight at times it otherwise would not have. Patriots, who were less affected, capitalized by forcing battles when the British were sick and claiming victory when the British pulled out of diseased areas. By mid-1781, the generals were done fighting mosquitoes in the South and moved most of their forces north to Virginia.
2. Lice and typhus saved Russia from Napoleon
The Russian winter and the burning of Moscow get a lot of credit for destroying Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, but top honors should probably go to the Polish summer and the legions of lice it created in 1812. Lice secrete the typhus germ in their feces, and typhus causes severe fever, vomiting, and death.
When Napoleon and his 680,000 men went on the march into Russia, they had to cross through Poland and its lice epidemic. It was there that his men began to catch typhus which spread through the ranks. The disease and the resulting desertions as soldiers fled the infected camps took away half of Napoleon’s fighting force before he fought any major battles with the Russian Army.
3. Napoleon’s men also got whooped by mosquitoes and yellow fever
Before Napoleon’s Grande Armée fell to lice, a smaller force sent to Haiti – then known as Saint-Domingue – was destroyed by yellow fever carried by mosquitoes. The emperor sent 33,000 men to put down the government of Toussaint Louverture in Haiti and turn the island back into a French slave colony.
Unfortunately, the Haitians they would fight were largely inoculated to yellow fever, but the French were not. France initially gained the upper hand by recruiting support from factions in the Haitian forces. But the French lost 90 percent of their men to mosquitoes and the disease. When their local allies learned about the re-introduction of slavery and turned on the French, Napoleon recalled the survivors.
4. Civil War soldiers in the South were often afflicted with hookworm
Southerners before the Civil War had a reputation for being dimwitted and lazy, something doctors later found out was due to the epidemic levels of hookworm that existed there. Hookworms invade through bare feet or fingernail beds and spread throughout the human body where they can live for five years, causing malnutrition and exhaustion while slowing brain function.
5. Lice and typhus massacred the Russians in World War I
Seriously, body lice are just the worst. In World War I, every army had to deal with constant lice infestations. But most were lucky in that only more mild diseases like trench fever were spread. Typhus struck Serbia in 1914 though, and the disease spread across the Eastern Front.
At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?“
This information in important to the rest of the story.
(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)
Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.
The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.
Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?
(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)
That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.
But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.
On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.
Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.
(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)
You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.
One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.
Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.
Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was meant to be supported by five midget submarines. These submersibles were less than 80 feet long, crewed by two men, and carried just two torpedoes. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki was the commander of midget submarine HA-19. The midget sub, also crewed by Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, piggybacked across the Pacific on the Japanese submarine I-24. However, while none of the midget submarines at Pearl Harbor were successful in the attacks, HA-19 suffered a particularly bad streak of luck.
Before the midget sub even launched, there was an issue. A short distance from Pearl Harbor, the crew discovered that one of the torpedoes had been crushed during the trans-Pacific voyage. Although a replacement torpedo was loaded, the trouble continued. During final checks, Sakamaki found that the sub’s gyro had failed. Despite his best efforts, Inagaki was unable to repair it. This meant that the two men would have to navigate by memory and come up to periscope depth to check their progress intermittently. This would increase their risk of being spotted as they entered the harbor.
When HA-19 finally launched, the sub nosedived and almost ended its journey then and there. After adjusting their ballast, Sakamaki and Inagaki righted their vessel and headed for the harbor…or so they thought. Navigating from memory, they ended up sailing adjacent to the harbor entrance and back out into open water. The nosedive and navigational error cost them hours. When they finally reached the harbor entrance, they found it guarded by a blockade of U.S. destroyers. Sakamaki decided to run the gauntlet and force their way into the harbor.
USS Ward (DD-139) had already sunk one midget sub that had attempted to enter the harbor earlier. Upon sighting HA-19, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges that knocked Sakamaki and Inagaki unconscious. By the time they came to, the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor was underway. HA-19 made a second run for the harbor entrance but ran aground on a coral reef. This time, USS Helm (DD-388) spotted the midget sub and engaged it with her deck gun. Although HA-19 was freed by the shelling, its hull was compromised. Seawater mixed with the sub’s batteries and caused gas to leak from them. Fighting the gas leak and electrical shocks, Sakamaki and Inagaki also had to continuously adjust their ballast to account for the incoming seawater.
The two Japanese sailors then discovered that their torpedo housing was damaged and couldn’t fire. They devised a bold plan to ram the nearest ship, climb on board, and fight to the death on deck. After stripping down to their suicide outfits of their underwear, undershirts, and headbands, the two men sailed for the harbor entrance one last time. They were spotted and hit by more depth charges. This time, the sub’s steering was damaged. Both men were knocked unconscious again and HA-19 drifted at the mercy of the currents.
When Sakamaki and Inagaki awoke, HA-19 was completely disabled and had run aground again. They lit the fuse on the sub’s scuttling charge and swam for shore. Inagaki drowned during his escape and his body was recovered a few days later. Sakamaki, weary and wounded, almost met the same fate as he floundered towards land.
Two soldiers from Bellows Field, Lt. P. C. Plybon and Sgt. D. M. Auki spotted Sakamaki in the water. At first, they thought that the nearly nude Japanese sailor was a sea turtle coming ashore. When they saw his arms flailing though, they knew it was a person and rushed to help. At this point, Sakamaki realized that the scuttling charge had not gone off, but was too exhausted to swim back to the sub. Instead, he continued to the beach. Auki quickly realized that Sakamaki was Japanese and took him prisoner. Sakamaki became Prisoner of War Number 1 for the United States in WWII.
Upon his capture, Sakamaki’s only request was that he be allowed to commit suicide to make up for the shame of not dying in battle. Naturally, this request was denied and he was held for the entirety of the war. HA-19 was recovered and used on a war bond tour before it was placed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX. After the war, Sakamaki was returned to Japan. He got married and worked for Toyota for most of his life. Sakamaki was reunited with HA-19 in 1991 when he accepted an invitation to speak at the National Museum of the Pacific War. He passed away in 1999.
The mysterious plane hijacker known as “D.B. Cooper,” who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal May 17, 2018.
Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca’s best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.
“Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist,” the publisher said in a news release. “The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015.”
The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend,” and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:
Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump
In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.
The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.
In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.
“Never even a second thought,” Reca says.
After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had “family to take care of” before jobs “overseas” came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.
“It was no [big] deal really, it was done,” Reca is heard saying. “It was done, and I lived through it.”
After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.
Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.
Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump — which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker’s clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.
Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.
Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. In early 2018, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.
Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January 2018, his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.
Since January 2018, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert’s team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The USS Philadelphia, a 1,240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate, was built by the residents of Philadelphia who collected $100,000 to fund her construction during one week in June 1798. She was completed in November 1799 and was commissioned under the command of Capt. Stephen Decatur Sr.
Three years later, during the First Barbary War, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. A year after that, Capt. Decatur’s son, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., devised a plan to keep the enemy from using the ship.
He was going to board her and retake her.
British Lord Horatio Nelson, then a vice admiral, would call the raid that followed “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” It would also make Lt. Decatur a national hero in the fledgling United States — its first military hero since the Revolution.
As darkness fell on Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Decatur and eighty volunteers, most of whom were Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ship that had been disguised with short masts and triangular sails. She flew a British flag. On her deck were Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic while the Marines, dressed as Maltese sailors and Arab seamen, huddled below decks. The Intrepid had sailed with the USS Syren, which remained outside the harbor but would supply supporting fire if needed.
To avoid calling attention to the raid, the Marines were told that the use of firearms was prohibited.
As the Intrepid approached the Philadelphia, one of the Arabic-speaking volunteers called out that their ship had lost her anchors. They wanted to use the harbor to rig a replacement but needed a place to tie up for the night. Before her capture in 1803, the Philadelphia’s commander, Commodore William Bainbridge, had jettisoned some of the ship’s guns and three anchors, moved other guns forward, and had had her foremast cut down in an unsuccessful attempt to free her from the reef she was on. He had then tried to scuttle the ship but that, too, failed, and he and his crew became prisoners.
Bainbridge later called his capture “humiliating.”
The Philadelphia had not yet been fully repaired, and her upper yardarms and sails had also been removed.
The guard aboard the Philadelphia gave the disguised Intrepid permission to tie up alongside. When she did, Decatur yelled “Board!” He and his volunteers flooded aboard the captured US vessel armed with pikes and cutlasses.
“Not a man had been seen or heard to breathe a moment before,” the Intrepid’s Surgeon Mate Lewis Heermann later wrote; “at the next, the boarders hung on the ship’s side like cluster bees; and, in another instant, every man was on board the frigate.”
In ten minutes of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US volunteers killed twenty of the Tripolitan crew and captured one. The rest had fled the ship by jumping overboard. One American had been wounded.
Decatur had hoped to sail the Philadelphia out of the harbor after he had taken her but quickly realized that’d be impossible because of her condition. He also realized the smaller Intrepid would not be able to tow the Philadelphia. To keep the ship from being used against American vessels, there was only one alternative and his orders had been clear: If he couldn’t bring her out of the harbor, he was to burn her.
Decatur’s men fired the ship.
As the flames grew, the Americans returned to the Intrepid. Lt. Decatur was the last man to leave the Philadelphia, which he did with a dramatic leap into the Intrepid’s rigging. As the Intrepid pulled away and headed toward the harbor entrance, the flames spread throughout the Philadelphia. The guns still aboard her, which were primed and ready, began firing in the heat, some of the discharges striking the town. The ship also began drifting as her ropes gave way. She finally grounded herself, still burning, on rocks near the entrance to the harbor. By then, the enemy in the town had realized what was happening and began firing on the Intrepid from the shore and preparing to launch small boats.
The American Syren replied with fire from the harbor mouth as Decatur and the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor, the American crew cheering.
A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.
But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.
Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.
The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.
Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.
Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.
In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.
By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.
Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.
“They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.”
Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was Prussian philosopher and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz in On War who said, “the culminating point of victory” is when an army has achieved its maximum possible gains relative to its political aims and the resources available. Everything that comes after that point is unnecessary and runs the risk of incurring a devastating, strategic loss.
It was Chinese philosopher and general Sun Tzu who said the first essential to victory is knowing when to fight and when not to fight. The second essential is knowing what to do when encountering an inferior force.
It was American philosopher and “Gambler” Kenny Rogers who said, “you got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
There have been a lot of amazing upsets in military history, but these losses were especially humiliating because they came at the hands of an ideological or geopolitical rival or just turned the bigger country’s military into a joke.
Arab Allies vs. Israel in the Yom Kippur War (1973)
Israel’s Arab neighbors, taking a page from Israel’s playbook, launched an all-out surprise attack on Israeli positions during the Jewish day of Atonement — the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Since it was also Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, it was the most unlikely time to launch an attack.
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and even freakin’ Cuba sent troops to fight the Israelis, effectively fielding three times as many soldiers and twice as many tanks and artillery pieces, all armed with the latest Soviet weapons. So, naturally, they crushed the IDF — right? Wrong.
Within a goddamn week, Israel’s artillery was shelling parts of Damascus. By the time the UN brokered a ceasefire (19 days later), the IDF was 99km from Cairo.
Soviet Union vs. Finland in The Winter War (1939)
Comrade Stalin was feeling pretty good about his chances of occupying Finland at the end of 1939. All the other dictators were invading smaller neighbors, so why not him? Well, the “why not” is the Finnish Army who really, really hated the Red Army. So, despite being outnumbered and facing down thousands of tanks with their paltry 32, the Finns went to work.
Most importantly, the Finns were ready to fight in waist-deep snow and freezing temperatures while the Russians, surprisingly, were not. Rather than use good equipment with superior tactics, Stalin threw thousands of troops at the Finns – who promptly killed as many as they could. When all was said and done, the Soviets took three times as many casualties as Finland and only “won” the war because they forced territorial concessions.
When World War II broke out, Finland immediately sided with Germany, invaded those concessions and inflicted another 305,000 deaths upon the Red Army.
India vs. Pakistan at the Battle of Longewala (1971)
In 1971, Pakistan also tried to take a page from the Israeli playbook, launching an all-out surprise attack on India. They moved 2,000 troops, a mobile infantry brigade, and 45 tanks to secure an Indian border post at Longewala. Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, there were 120 Indians at Longewala who would have none of it. They had one recoilless rifle and strike aircraft that couldn’t fly at night.
For hours, Pakistani artillery pummeled the Indians as tanks and infantry advanced. But the recoilless rifle was the perfect weapon against the T-59 tanks Pakistan was fielding – it turned the thin armor into Swiss cheese. They made easy targets, too, often getting stuck in the soft sand at the border post.
The advancing infantry got caught up in barbed wire and, thinking they’d walked into a minefield in the dark, flipped out. They waited two hours for minesweepers to clear the field of mines that didn’t exist. By that time, air support was on the way and the Pakistanis were lit up in full retreat.
Han Xin vs. Zhao Armies at the Battle of Jingxing (205 BC)
What happens when you put 30,000 troops against a force of 200,000? It should be a total rout. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
Sun Tzu’s fourth essential for victory is,
“He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.”
In this case, Han Xin prepared himself. The night before the battle, he sent 2,000 men, each carrying a red Han Xin battle flag, to the rear of the Zhao Army’s camp. Their orders were to occupy the camp as soon as the Zhao pressed their attack.
Xin also dug earthworks on the “wrong” side of a river, putting his back up against the natural feature. The position gave his men fortifications, but also left them no retreat. He marched his army out to meet the Zhao forces. When the fighting began, the Han forces feinted back to the earthworks. With no retreat, they fought like madmen.
Seeing that they weren’t going to take those fortifications right away, the Zhao called for a temporary fallback to regroup. When the Zhao Army saw the thousands of battle flags in their camp, they thought they were being flanked from the rear and promptly fell apart. The Han slaughtered 150,000 Zhao soldiers.
Romans vs. Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae (53 BC)
A wealthy, young Roman politician named Crassus allied himself with two of the biggest Roman military leaders — perhaps two of the biggest of all time: Julius Caesar, who needs no introduction, and Pompey the Great, who really earned that title. Not content with being just a political ally, Crassus wanted to make a name for himself militarily as well.
He did. But not how he expected he would.
Crassus, then Governor of Syria (conquered by Pompey), led an army of 43,000 legionnaires against the Parthian Empire, running them with no food or rest in order to surprise a mounted force of Parthians in the middle of Mesopotamia. He ran into 10,000 horse archers and some 1,000 heavily armored horsemen, called cataphracts. To defend his army, he formed them into a hollow square, the best defense against mounted units at the time.
Well, after a few hours of raining arrows on the Romans, the Parthians broke and ran, but it was a feint. As a part of the Roman Army broke off to pursue them, the Parthians (again) shot them with arrows. When the Romans were far enough away from the main force, the cataphracts slaughtered them.
When night fell, Crassus retreated to the nearby town of Carrhae. Parthians killed all the stragglers then cut off Crassus’ head during the next day’s “peace negotiation.”
This loss is particularly humiliating due to the fact that we still reference this battle to this day, with terms like “crass stupidity” and “parting shot.”
Walter Chalaire was an American newspaper reporter turned British pilot during World War I whose life was saved while he was being shot down thanks to the enemy bullet becoming lodged in a round on Chalaire’s cartridge belt.
The lucky pilot was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1895 and went to college in New York. During school, he made money as a reporter while studying law before graduating in 1916. That was just in time to head to Europe and fight the Germans.
Cadet Walter Chalaire, at right, later became a Royal Air Force lieutenant and was saved during a pitched aerial fight when this cartridge belt stopped a German round. (Photo: PhotoBucket/njaviator)
On August 14, 1918, Chalaire was piloting a De Havilland DH-4 on a mission near Ostend, Belgium, and got separated from the other observation plane. Chalaire and his observer, a British sergeant, were alone in contested skies when they spotted two flights of German planes. The first was above them and the second was below and behind.
The Germans turned on the sole English plane and started peppering it with fire. Chalaire and his observer returned fire, downing two of the enemy. But the Allied crew was outgunned and rounds flew through the plane, cutting cables, puncturing the tank, and wounding the observer seven times.
Chalaire was still trying to fight his way east when a German burst hit him. One round went into his shoulder but the other was caught by his cartridge belt, driving its way into one of Chalaire’s unused rounds.
Royal Air Force Lt. Walter Chalaire’s cartridge belt and goggles were photographed after he returned to friendly lines. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)
That was when the American finally bugged out as hard as he could, sending the plane into a steep dive and praying that the damaged plane didn’t collapse as the air rushed over it.
Featured Image: Green Beret in Vietnam (not Gaspard); Photos: SF Association Chapter XXI.
‘A Warrior’s Warrior’ in MACV-SOG
During America’s long war in Vietnam, many of the Green Berets who fought there became legends within the Special Forces Regiment. And among those warriors were the men of MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group); the SOG warriors were among the finest the country has ever produced.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard was one of the most well-known and respected officers from that generation. After serving with the Marine Corps in World War II, Gaspard joined the Army. He was an original, volunteering for the newly formed 10th Special Forces Group and attending Special Forces Class #1. He would run cross border operations in the Korean War but really made his mark during the war in Vietnam, working in Special Forces A-Camps as well as running some of the most secret operations across the border into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Gaspard became a “Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment” in December 2010.
Shortly after I moved to SW Florida I got into contact with Chapter XXI of the SF Association. I was checking out their excellent website, saw a large segment dedicated to LTC Gaspard, and remembered a brief meeting I had with him years ago. More to that soon.
George Wallace Gaspard Jr. was born at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Ala., on August 5, 1926. He was the son of the late George W. Gaspard of MN, and Annie Lou Bamberg of AL.
He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946 and fought in the final battle of World War II on the island of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division. He first entered the U.S. Army on June 11, 1951.
In May 1952, Gaspard was a student in the first all-officer-class at the Ranger course. He then attended a special course at the Air Ground School located at Southern Pines, N.C. Afterward, he volunteered for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which had just been organized at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His first assignment was as a team leader of the 18th SF Operational Detachment. In November 1952, he attended Special Forces Class #1. The fledgling Special Forces unit, much of it comprised of World War II vets from the OSS, was anxious to get involved in the Korean War and conduct missions similar to those conducted in occupied areas of Europe and the Pacific during the war.
The SF troops were put in an active intelligence operation that utilized Tactical Liaison Offices (TLO). Although they were initially manned only by anti-communist Koreans, the TLO would eventually conduct “line-crossing operations” which included using Chinese agents to gather intelligence on the enemy.
However, the Far East Command (FEC), assigned the SF troops as individual replacements rather than as 15-man A-Teams that SF was employing at the time using the OSS WWII Operational Group model.
In March 1953, then 1Lt. Gaspard was assigned to FEC/LD 8240AU FECOM. He commanded four enlisted men and 80 South Korean agents, who were dispatched behind enemy lines to gather intelligence on the North Koreans. Obviously the threat of double agents, something that would later haunt SOG operations in Vietnam, loomed. An excellent piece on this facet of the Korean War, written by former SF Officer and USASOC Historian Eugene Piasecki, “TLO: Line Crossers, Special Forces, and ‘the Forgotten War'” can be found here.
Gaspard was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for actions in combat during June 11-12, 1953.
In October 1954, Gaspard joined the 77th SF Group (A) as a guerrilla warfare instructor with the Psychological Warfare School’s Special Forces Department. He was subsequently transferred to the 187th ARCT and honorably discharged in September 1957.
From 1960 to 1962, he served as a civilian mobilization designee with the Special Warfare department in the Pentagon. In April 1962, he was recalled to active duty and assigned to the 5th SF Group (A) at Fort Bragg, commanding Det A-13. In September, he opened a new Special Forces Camp in Kontum Province at Dak Pek, Vietnam, which remained the longest continuously active SF/ARVN Ranger camp until it was overrun in 1972. That would be the first of seven tours of duty in Vietnam for Gaspard.
During the early days of Vietnam, there was a general lack of accurate reporting by the press on the fighting. However, there were a handful of reporters who were willing to walk in the field and endure combat with the troops. One of those was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter David Halberstam. He was a special correspondent with the New York Times and not a wire reporter, so, he had the time to visit the troops and share a much closer look at what was truly transpiring on the ground.
One of the first people that Halberstam met in Vietnam was Speedy Gaspard. The two developed a friendship and Gaspard became a source of what was really happening in the outlying areas of Vietnam where SF was working by, with, and through the locals. Halberstam was so taken by Gaspard that he modeled the lead character of his war novel “One Very Hot Day” after him.
Captain Gaspard returned to Fort Bragg in 1963 as adjutant and HHC commander of the newly formed 6th SF Group (A). In July 1965, he reported to AID Washington, DC, and subsequently to AID Saigon, where we was assigned as a provincial adviser in Quang Duc Province. He was instrumental in the very tricky negotiations to peacefully transfer FULRO personnel (Front Uni de Lutte des Races Opprimées — United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) to the Army of South Vietnam.
FULRO was comprised of the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards). They were hated by the lowland Vietnamese, both in South and North Vietnam and referred to as “moi” (savages). At the time, Vietnamese books characterized Montagnards as having excessive body hair and long tails. The Vietnamese rarely ventured into Montagnard regions until after the French colonial rule. Then, they built several profitable plantations to grow crops in and extract natural resources from those bountiful areas.
The simple mountain people were excellent hunters and trackers. They immediately bonded with the Green Berets assigned to stop the communist infiltration of South Vietnam and the Green Berets responded in kind. SF set up the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG), which trained and led the Montagnards in Unconventional Warfare against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
But the South Vietnamese government never trusted and hated the CIDG program because it feared the Montagnard people would want independence. (Such was their hatred for the Vietnamese that the Montagnards would continue to fight a guerrilla war against unified Vietnam for 20 years after the war ended. There were reports of genocide against the mountain people and over 200,000 died during the fight.)
Gaspard was promoted to major in 1966, and after completing his tour, reported to 1st SF Group (A), Okinawa. In October 1967, he returned to Vietnam and directed the MACVSOG “STRATA” program until September 1968.
The commanders in Vietnam, especially among the SOG personnel, were never satisfied with the intelligence collection activities conducted in North Vietnam. STRATA was conceived to aid the intelligence situation by focusing on short-term intelligence-gathering operations close to the border. The all-Vietnamese Short Term Roadwatch and Target Acquisition teams would report on activities across the border and then be recovered to be used again. Gaspard and the SOG Commander, Col. Jack Singlaub, briefed Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams on STRATA operations.
Once, a STRATA team became surrounded and required emergency extraction. Gaspard, riding a hydraulic penetrator, twice descended to remove a wounded agent. He was subsequently awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism and the Purple Heart Medal for his actions.
Moles inside South Vietnam’s government and military, even in SOG, were a constant source of leaks to the North, even in SOG. Some of these leaks came to light much later. However, Gaspard would remedy that. As written in a fantastic piece by SOG team member John Stryker Meyer, Gaspard moved the operations jump-off location out of South Vietnam and the intelligence leaks began to dry up.
“The unique aspect of STRATA, which operated under OP34B, the teams launched out of Thailand, flying in Air Force helicopters. The Air Force performed all insertions and extractions without pre-mission reports to Saigon. During Gaspard’s tenure at STRATA 24 teams were inserted into North Vietnam on various intelligence-gathering missions. Only one and a half teams were lost during that period of time that involved inserting and successfully extracting more than 150 STRATA team members during that time.” “Again, a key part to our success was having our separate chain of command and not telling Saigon. We worked with the Air Force on a need-to-know basis.”
It wasn’t until many years later that Gaspard realized the extent of the communist infiltration of the south, right into SOG headquarters. Meyer describes in his piece the horror felt when someone close to the Americans, someone who had been vetted, was in fact a spy for the enemy.
“During a 1996 Hanoi television show, Maj. Gen. George “Speedy” Gaspard, was shocked when he saw an individual he knew as “Francois” receive Hanoi’s highest military honor for his years of service as a spy in SOG. Gaspard, who had several tours of duty in Vietnam and in SOG, knew “Francois” and was “shocked” when he saw the program. Francois had access to highly sensitive information while employed by the U.S. Author and SOG recon man John L. Plaster, has a photo of Gaspard standing with Francois in Saigon when Gaspard had no idea of the spy’s real role for the NVA. That photograph of Gaspard and Francois is on Page 463 of Plaster’s book: SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars, by Paladin Press Book. “There’s no question that he hurt SOG operations,” Gaspard said. “Again, how do you gauge it all? When you look at the success rate of STRATA teams by comparison, you can see why they succeeded. We were disconnected from Saigon and we didn’t have the NVA and Russians working against us.”
Gaspard returned to SOG in 1969 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1971. He reported to 1st SF Group, Okinawa as the group executive officer, and later assumed command of the 1st Battalion. He retired in August 1973 after having served in three wars.
His earned multiple awards and decorations including the Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with V-device and five Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with V-device and three Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman’s Badge with one Battle Star, Master Parachutist Badge, Pacific Theater Service Ribbon with one Campaign Star, Korea Service Ribbon with two campaign Stars, Vietnam Service Campaign Ribbon with 15 campaign Stars, 18 other service and foreign awards including the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Gold, Silver and Bronze stars, U.S. Navy Parachute Wings, Korea Master Parachutist Wings, Vietnamese Master Parachutist Wings, Thailand Master Parachutist Wings, and Cambodia Parachute Wings.
LTC Gaspard was a member of SFA, SOA, VFW, MOAA, American Legion, and the Sons of Confederacy.
From 2004 to 2017 Speedy served as president, vice president, or secretary of the Chapter XXI President of the Special Forces Association. (The Chapter provided a lot of Gaspard’s personal biography listed here.)
In 1985, Colonel Gaspard entered the South Carolina State Guard and in 1987 was appointed Chief of Staff with the rank of Brigadier General. In 1991, he was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the early fall of 1989, when I was a student in the SF Officer’s course at Ft. Bragg, one of our fellow students was a young man named George Gaspard, the son of Speedy. Young George, whom we knew as “Buck” was an outstanding officer and an even better man who was very popular among the officers in the class.
We learned that General Speedy Gaspard was going to address our class. He first showed us an outstanding slideshow of pics he took while conducting some hair-raising missions with SOG. They were better than anything we had seen in any book or magazine. He then addressed the class in his self-effacing style and said: “standing before you is an old, fat man, but in Vietnam, I was an old, fat captain… but I relied on and surrounded myself with outstanding SF NCOs who made me look brilliant.”
He encouraged the future A-Team commanders to trust in their team sergeants and NCOs and they’d never be steered wrong. SF NCOs, he said, were the true leaders of Special Forces and officers need to realize it, work together, and take care of NCOs. Of course, sitting in the rear of the classroom was General David Baratto commander of the Special Warfare Center and School (SWC), who cringed a bit at those pointed comments.
Sitting in the back, my buddy Wade Chapple and I were stealing glances at General Baratto who looked pained… In a typical Chapple bit of sarcasm, he leaned over and said to me, “I think his (Baratto’s) head is about to f***ing explode.”
After the day was over, our entire class, including many of our instructors, joined Speedy Gaspard at the “O-Club” for a cocktail or three. He regaled us with some cool stories about the SF and SOG guys he served with. It was a memorable night. When we left that night, he made everyone feel that we knew him well. It was an honor to have met him.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard passed away on January 30, 2018.
23rd Fighter Group A-10 Thunderbolt IIs featuring the distinctive shark mouth nose art. (Photo by Air Force SSgt Nathan G. Bevier/Released)
Today, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as the “Warthog” or “Hog,” is the premiere close air support aircraft of the United States Air Force. The Warthog is best known for the massive 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon fitted in its nose. Further highlighting this feature, the aircraft’s nose is often painted with a warthog head or shark mouth. Most fans of the Warthog believe the latter nose art to be derived from the famous shark mouthed P-40 fighter planes of the Flying Tigers, and this is partly true. However, the true origin of shark mouth nose art goes all the way back to the genesis of aerial combat.
WWII enthusiasts will be familiar with the American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, better known as the “Flying Tigers”. Their Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes were painted with a distinct shark mouth nose art—partly as a form of psychological warfare, partly as self-expression, and generally as a display of aggression. These motivations are echoed in the Warthog with its own shark mouth nose art, but the Flying Tigers didn’t come up with the idea on their own.
Flying Tiger P-40 Warhawks over China. (Photo by AVG pilot Robert T. Smith/Repository: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Doug Revell of WARBIRDS INTERNATIONAL did some research on this topic and found that the Flying Tigers were actually inspired by 112 Squadron of the British RAF. 112 Squadron was one of the first to receive the P-40 Tomahawk (the British Commonwealth and Soviet name for the P-40B and P-40C variants of the Warhawk). The large air intake on the P-40’s nose lent itself to the aggressive shark mouth feature. The Flying Tigers saw a photograph of 112 Squadron’s shark mouthed Tomahawks operating in North Africa, and adopted the design for themselves. However, while the RAF inspired the Flying Tigers with their shark mouth nose art, they too drew inspiration from another country’s pilots.
A P-40 of 112 Squadron taxis in Tunisia. Note the RAF roundel on the wing. (RAF photo from the Imperial War Museum)
112 Squadron had encountered the Luftwaffe’s Zerstörergeschwader (heavy fighter wing) 76 earlier in the war. ZG 76 flew Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter/fighter-bombers which they decorated with shark mouth nose art, though notably without the inclusion of eyes. Other variations of shark mouth nose art existed on German-made aircraft including shark mouth art on the lower engine cowling of Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf 109s and a shark mouth with round eyes on the nose a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter. However, it was the shark mouths of ZG 76’s Bf 110s that inspired 112 Squadron to adopt the shark mouth with the addition of the teardrop-shaped eyes.
A ZG 76 Bf 110 with shark mouth. Note the lack of eyes. (Photo from Bundesarchiv)
Revell was able to trace ZG 76’s shark mouthed Bf 110s back to a German Air Force reconnaissance plane in the First World War. “The first noted mouth was on a World War I German Roland C.II,” Revell said. “The design fell into disuse in the interwar period but reappeared on the ZG 76 Me 110s (the unofficial but more commonly used name for the Messerschmitt Bf 110) operating from Norway…” The Walfisch (German for whale), as the C.II was called, was often painted with an open shark mouth and beady eyes on its nose. ZG 76 omitted the beady eyes when they adopted the shark mouth for their Bf 110s during WWII.
The shape of the C.II inspired both its nickname and nose art. (Photo from aircorpsart.com)
With the more commonly known history of the Flying Tigers, it’s difficult to imagine that the shark mouth art on the nose of the Warthog can be traced back to a WWII Luftwaffe heavy fighter and a WWI German recon plane. In a way, these historical connections are appropriate, since the Warthog is used to provide forward air controller-airborne support (like the C.II) as the OA-10 and close air support for ground troops (like the Bf 110). Despite the Air Force’s intention to replace the A-10 with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, support for the Warthog from troops on the ground and the pilots that fly it are helping to ensure that the shark mouth tradition lives on in the skies.
During the Civil War, a strange thing happened at night. In the cover of darkness, the silence of hunkering down during war, soldiers’ wounds would glow. Open, bleeding wounds actually appeared to glow a light, subdued greenish-blue. Almost as though they were human chem lights, only decades before they were even invented.
This phenomenon was noted at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, where both sides were met with heavy losses. Taking place in southern Tennessee, wounded soldiers were left in the mud and rain for as long as two days before they were helped by medics. Due to the sheer amount of wounded soldiers, hospitals were overwhelmed and it took days to reach everyone. This perfect storm of disastrous events meant that for two nights, soldiers watched their glowing wounds in the dark Southern background — they named the phenomenon “Angel’s Glow.”
However, the source of the glow was chalked up to a mystery and left as a strange war story that was passed down to new generations. Not to mention the fact soldiers lived in conditions which normally brought on painful infections and death. Therefore, a legend where Angels seemingly saved the wounded was born.
But in 2001, the mystery was finally solved, once and for all.
The source of the glowing wounds
Two high school students decided to take on the tale for themselves. At the time, student Bill Martin was a Civil War enthusiast, having visited the battle site and learning about Angel’s Glow. Bill’s mother, Phyllis, worked as a microbiologist and happened to specialize in Photorhabdus luminescence, a soil bacterium that produced its own light.
Along with his friend, Jonathan Curtis, Bill began researching the war wounds and the origin of their glow. Bill is noted as saying he remembered his mother’s work and wondered if that was the cause. Meanwhile, Phyllis encouraged the high schoolers to research their theory.
Their findings? P. luminescens, as they are often called, make their home within tiny, parasitic worms AKA nematodes in plants and soil. Not only do they glow a pale blue-green color, they make their home in moist, cool environments. Wounded soldiers would have likely had hypothermia.
The worms survive by vomiting up bacteria to kill other microorganisms living in the area — it’s a survival mechanism to fight off anything that could compete for food sources or living space. An example of the amazing intricate of science, the bacteria attracts worms with its glow. The worms then see the light and help regulate the environment by releasing its chemicals that kill off harmful substances.
In other words, by finding this bacteria within their wounds, helped the wounded soldiers to fight off other, more harmful bacteria that could have caused an infection or another illness.
This, of course, was important as soldiers were able to survive for days before receiving medical care, a phenomenon at the time.
The only discrepancy the pair found was how P. luminescens are unable to survive at body temperature, needing cooler temps to thrive. This was accounted for due to damp and colder conditions of the battlefield.
Phylis Martin, Bill’s microbiologist mother, was quoted in support of their findings, particularly pointing out just how slim the odds were for the conditions to be just right.
“These bacteria [that glow] don’t grow at human body temperature. This had to happen at a particular time when it was cold enough that the body temperature would be lowered by hypothermia, but not so cold that the soldiers would freeze to death,” she told HealthDay in an interview.
Modern science in play
The two high school seniors worked alongside ARS Plant Science Institute in Beltsville, Maryland to create their theory for their project, “Civil War Wounds that Glowed.” Their project took first place at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Science Fair in San Jose, California.
Of course, there is no way to prove the findings. The soldiers who experienced Angel’s Glow are long-gone and lab samples were years from being developed during the Battle of Shiloh. However, it’s the best explanation we’ve got. And it’s hard to deny the logic that this glowing bacteria fits the bill.
The World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf, a decisive Allied victory that decimated the Japanese Navy, began on Oct. 23, 1944, 74 years ago.
And it’s considered to be the largest naval battle of all-time.
A few days before the battle began, the Allies (and even General Douglas MacArthur himself) had landed on Leyte island to begin liberating the Phillippines, which the Japanese were intent on stopping.
The result was a horrific three-day battle (which was actually several smaller battles, namely the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Samar, and the Battle of Cape Engaño) that involved several hundred ships.
In the end, the US had lost three aircraft carriers, two destroyers, several hundred aircraft, took about 3,000 casualties. But the Japanese Navy had lost four carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, took about 10,000-12,000 casualties, among other losses.
Check out some of the intense photos from the battle.
The Princeton’s flight deck after getting struck during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea on Oct. 24, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
USS Gambier Bay (CVE 73) and another escort carrier, and two destroyer escorts smoke from battle damage during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.
The USS Gambier Bay billowing smoke after likely getting struck by Japanese cruisers, which are credited with sinking the US escort carrier.
The USS St. Lo (CV 63) burning during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
The US escort carrier USS Kitkun Bay prepares to launch Grumman FM-2 Wildcat fighters during the Battle of Samar on 25 October 1944. In the distance, Japanese shells are splashing near the USS White Plains.
(US Navy photo)
The Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
The Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
US cruisers fire salvoes on Japanese ships during the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
The Fusō under air attack just hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
The Yamashiro or Fusō under air attack by US aircraft hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.
(US Navy photo)
And here’s a view directly on top of either the Fusō or Yamashiro as it’s bombed by US aircraft from above, some of which were launched by the famed aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.