7 amazing missions by Britain's Royal Marines - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Britain is one of America’s closest allies and its service members are pretty impressive. One of its greatest forces is the Royal Marines, now known as commandos, who have fought on behalf of the British Crown since their original formation as the “Duke of York and Albany’s maritime regiment of Foot” in 1664.


Since then, they’ve proven themselves in hundreds of battles and dozens of conflicts everywhere from Massachusetts to Korea to the Falklands. Here are some defining moments from Royal Marine Commando history:

1. The Royal Marines carved out their names during the battle to take and hold the island fortress of Gibraltar.

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
(Painting: The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar by John Copley)

 

In 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession, a combined force of 1,900 English Royal Marines and 400 Dutch marines hit the island fortress of Gibraltar in what was the largest English amphibious assault at that point in history. A large and unexplained explosion set the attackers back but the fortress was taken with relative ease.

Unfortunately, that triggered a nine-month siege, during which the marines fought valiantly. During one close call, French attackers had breached two defensive lines and had 500 men attacking 17 Royal Marines in the Round Tower. The marines held out even after 11 of them fell, leaving only six defenders.

2. Royal Marines slay bodies at Bunker Hill

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
The American dying in the center of this painting is American Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren. The stabber with the bayonet was a Royal Marine. Awkward. (Painting: John Trumbull, Public Domain)

 

One of the Royal Marines’ prouder moments actually came in 1775 while fighting against the U.S. when British army regulars twice attacked during the Battle of Bunker Hill and failed to capture it. As the army melted back, the marine commander yelled, “Make way for the marines, break and let the marines through!”

The third assault, conducted by columns of marines instead of lines of British regulars, was successful and resulted in the British capturing the fortifications. But the losses for the regulars and the marines were high: 1,054 versus American losses of 400.

3. They give up half their strength to take Graspan in the Boer War

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Illustration of the Battle of Graspan where royal Marines fought Boers. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Tensions between the English and the Boers in the late 1800s resulted in two Boer Wars. In 1899, Royal Marines and other troops were sent to attack Graspan in South Africa. Intelligence screw ups led the leadership to believe that the attack would be lightly opposed.

But it wasn’t. Boer riflemen and field artillery fiercely fought off the attackers. Despite heavy losses to include the commander and other officers, the marines and their compatriots rallied for a final attack and charged with their bayonets against the Boer positions, pushing the defenders off though failing to capture the enemy artillery.

4. Marines are instrumental in blocking Zeebrugge

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Royal Marines charge off the HMS Vindictive against the Mole at Zeebrugge, Belgium. (Painting: Imperial War Museums Art)

 

During World War I, the Royal Marines provided the landing parties and some of the gunners for a daring raid against the German U-Boats in Bruges. The plan called for ships to be sunk in the long canal from Bruges to the English Channel, but someone had to fight pitched battles against the German defenders on the coast to make it possible.

Yup, Royal Marines volunteered. They landed on the port’s mole with a specially modified ship, the HMS Vindictive. The marines and sailors landed on April 23, 1918, and wrought absolute havoc with machine guns and rifles, naval artillery, and flamethrowers.

Eight Victoria crosses were awarded to sailors and marines for their actions that night.

5. The commandos capture an entire port as well as bridges and towns on D-Day

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Royal Marine Commandos move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. (Photo: Capt. J.L. Evans, Imperial War Museums)

 

The Royal Marines, by this point known as (RM) Commandos, were obviously a big deal at one of history’s largest amphibious assaults. Five units landed on D-Day where their biggest job was capturing Port-en-Bessin between Gold and Sword beaches, an objective the 47 (RM) Commando completed on July 8.

The four other commando units hit targets at Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches. Two units were deployed against a gap between British and Canadian units, holding back German panzers that might have otherwise counterattacked and thrown off the invading forces.

6. Commandos capture an entire island to open a Belgian port

Walcharen was an island on the coast of Amsterdam in 1944, and Germans occupying it were making logistics challenging for Allies fighting their way to Berlin. So, the Royal Marines teamed up with Canada for Operation Infatuate, a week-long attack against the island.

The air forces breached the walls of Walcharen before the commandos landed, allowing sea water to rush in and flood most of the island. The English and Canadians fought viciously against the artillery and infantry that remained, inflicting heavy casualties while suffering their own losses until the German leadership surrendered on Nov. 8, 1944.

7. Commandos capture Port Said from Egypt

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
British helicopters deliver Royal Commandos to Egypt on Nov. 6, 1956, in history’s first heliborne assault. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

 

Operation Musketeer was an honest-to-God conspiracy between Israel, Britain, and France to ouster Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. Britain’s main goal was to regain control of the Suez Canal, a strategic asset nationalized by Nasser. The plan was for Israel to initiate a conflict with Egypt. France and Britain would mediate unacceptable terms, and then they would invade.

The role of Royal Commandos was to seize Port Said through the first ship-to-shore heliborne assault in history. The two commando units involved were also backed up by a small number of tanks and armored vehicles. Their mission was successful and almost achieved its objective on the first day, but orders from Nasser kept, leading to the commandos capturing the local Egyptian commander and his staff.

Ultimately, the commandos did amazing work but political condemnation for the mission stripped France and England of most of their gains.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 miraculous operations of the Israel Defense Forces

There is a lot to say about Israel and its Defense Forces. Like most armed forces in the world, it has a significant history, even despite its relative youth. And like all armed forces in the world, not all of this history is good (despite what some might say), and not all of it is bad (despite what some might say).


From the get-go, Israel needed a miracle — and it got plenty. They came in the form of WWII veterans, brilliant generals, and a civilian population dedicated to preserving the idea that they belong there.

 

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

And their operation names are freaking cool.

1. Operation Spring of Youth

Spring of Youth was part of a larger operation with a cooler name (Wrath of God. Awesome). It was Israeli Mossad’s (intelligence service) response to the 1972 Munich Massacre. Israeli agents systematically hunted down and assassinated those involved with planning the Olympic massacre.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

I know this is from the movie Munich, but still – anyone who kills a bunch of Israelis shouldn’t look so surprised that they died.

In 1973, Israeli commandos from Sayeret Matkal, Sayeret 13, and Sayeret Tzanhanim – elite special forces squads – came ashore in Lebanon near Beirut. Mossad agents drove them to buildings where senior members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Black September terrorist organizations lived. The commandos were disguised as tourists, some even dressed as women.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

All three Palestinian targets were killed in the raids, along with hundreds of bodyguards, some Lebanese troops and policemen, and an Italian neighbor. One team of paratroopers met heavy resistance attacking the PFLP building, and so ended up destroying the whole building with explosives. The Israelis lost two soldiers in the raid. The commandos were then casually driven back to the beaches for exfiltration.

2. Operation Thunderbolt

When an Air France passenger jet bound for Paris from Tel Aviv was hijacked by the PFLP in 1976, the hijackers ordered the plane to be flown to Idi Amin’s Uganda. When the dictator welcomed them to Entebbe Airport, the PFLP demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and a $5 million ransom, due July 1st, 1976.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

The hostages were separated into Israeli and non-Israeli groups. As the Israeli government negotiated the release of the hostages, the hijackers freed 153 non-Israelis. Amin and the hijackers agreed to extend the deadline for the deal to July 4th., giving Mossad time to debrief the released hostages in Paris and get information on the hijackers’ numbers and weapons. They also got a layout of the building from an Israeli firm – the one who built the airport.

On the day the hostages were to be executed, a 100-man task force took off from the Sinai (then controlled by Israel). Four C-130 Hercules cargo planes, followed by 2 Boeing 747s landed undetected at Entebbe. Then, 29 Israeli commandos from Sayeret Matkal, led by Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu left the cargo planes in a black Mercedes and a squad of Land Rovers, resembling the motorcades used by Amin. Amin later told his son that the ruse was not as clever as the Israelis thought.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

They approached the terminal, killed the Ugandan guards, then assaulted the airport. Three of the hostages were killed in the firefight, along with all the hijackers. Armored personnel carriers took the hostages to the waiting 747s as the commandos battled Ugandan troops and destroyed Chinese-built Ugandan fighter aircraft to prevent their pursuit. Colonel Netanyahu was killed in the firefight and five others were wounded.

In an operation lasting 53 minutes, 102 hostages were rescued, 45 Ugandans were killed, and 11 MiGs were destroyed on the ground.

One more hostage, a 75-year-old woman who had been taken to a hospital in Kampala during the crisis, was killed in her bed by Amin’s troops after the raid. Her body was found buried in a sugar plantation three years later.

3. Operation Opera

In 1981, eight Israeli F-16s and six F-15s flew right into Iraq to destroy the nuclear reactor at Osirak. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was using the site to develop his nuclear weapons program – a potentially huge threat to Israeli security.

The fighters flew 2,000 miles from Israel to Iraq and back without refueling. The U.S. could not help them and Israel wouldn’t have in-flight refueling until 1982, when Iraq’s reactor would be online. Hitting the reactor was not a problem, it was getting back to Israel that presented the difficulty.

To this day, how Israel managed to get all her planes and pilots home is still classified.

Ten years later, Iraq fired a number of Scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War in an effort to break the American-led coalition by inviting Israeli counterattacks. Ironically, a majority of the Scuds landed in either Haifa or the Ramat Gan area of Tel Aviv – home to many Iraqi descendants.

4. Operation Stout-Hearted Men

The Yom Kippur War touched off when Israel was attacked by an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria and consisting of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Algeria. The Arabs wanted to push Israel out of the Sinai and the Golan Height and allow Egypt to re-open the Suez Canal. This war did not go well for the Arabs – both the Golan and the Sinai not only remained in Israeli hands, the Israelis pushed deep into Syria and into Egypt, across the canal.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

How they crossed the Suez is the miracle.

Under cover of darkness, an Israeli paratroop brigade crossed the canal on rubber boats between the 2nd and 3rd Egyptian Armies. Meanwhile, Israeli armor fought to open a corridor in the Sinai through which more units could pass safely to the front – including a series of floating bridges. The bridges allowed two IDF armored brigades to cross into Egypt.

Within a week, the IDF destroyed Egypt’s anti-aircraft umbrella and completely surrounded the Egyptian 3rd Army. This precipitated an end to the war and led to the Camp David Accords, Egypt’s recognition and peace treaty with Israel.

5. Operation Mole Cricket 19

Mole Cricket 19 was one of the largest air battles since World War II and probably one hell of a sight in 1982. To this day, it is the IDF’s most decisive victory, so one-sided it went down in history as the “Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.” But it didn’t seem like such an easy win at the time. Mole Cricket 19 would be the first time a surface-to-air missile battery was defeated without ground troops.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Syria moved a number of SAM batteries into Southern Lebanon as Lebanon was in the grips of a civil war that was then seven years old. Israel had launched a number of incursions into Lebanon in support of Christian militias and against PLO positions. The Syrian SAM batteries were a threat to Israel’s ability to control the airspace near its borders.

Israel soon annexed the Golan Heights, which led Syria to condemn the act as a declaration of war. On June 6, 1982, Israel launched a full invasion of Lebanon. Israeli PM Menachem Begin told the Knesset (and Syria) that if the Syrians kept the cease fire, the IDF would too. The Syrians didn’t. They halted an IDF advance and the Israelis used that to launch Mole Cricket 19.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Within two hours, the Israeli Air Force destroyed 15 of 19 SAM batteries while shooting down 90 enemy aircraft. The Syrian defeat in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot caused alarm among Soviet defense experts. It caused them to question may even have led to the Glasnost ˆ(openness) policy and to the fall of the Soviet Union.

6. Operation Focus

In 1957, Israel declared that any closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping would be considered an act of war. Then the Soviet Union misled Egypt into believing an Israeli pre-emptive strike was imminent. It was when Egypt began to mass its troops at the Egyptian-Israeli border that Israel began to consider a preemptive strike. When Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser closed the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships, Israel began preparing for that strike.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Operation Focus was the Israeli Air Force operation that launched the Six-Day war in 1967. In less than four hours, 450 Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian combat planes were destroyed on the ground. Egypt lost some 18 airfields and was rendered largely ineffective for the rest of the war. Operation Focus used every single attack plane in the IAF and gave Israel complete air superiority on every front.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the North Vietnamese feared South Korean Marines

There’s no army on earth more anti-Communist than that of South Korea. When your closest neighbor and mortal enemy is North Korea, there’s just no other way. South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea, suffered heavily from the surprise invasion from the north that started the three year long Korean War. The south has been willing to fight communism anywhere in the world ever since. 

When the United States intervened in the war in Vietnam, one of the earliest allies to send combat troops was the Republic of Korea. When the ROK 2nd Marine Brigade arrived in October 1965, its commander made sure the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong knew who they were going up against.

“We have only one purpose here — combat,” he said. He went on to say that they would be ready to fight any communist “anywhere, anytime.” And they were. 

south korean marines

A total of 37,000 Korean Marines would find their way to the battlefields of Vietnam and they were able to accomplish what other allies could not. Korea’s 2nd Battalion took over the assault on Ca Tau Mountain in November 1965. It was a heavily fortified position that the North had held for more than 18 years. The French couldn’t take it. The South Vietnamese failed to take it. The South Koreans took it in just nine hours. 

Everywhere South Korean Marines went, they cleared entire areas of communist aggression, securing rice fields, ports and the flanks of U.S. and South Vietnamese allies. In February 1966, the NVA attacked the Korean 3rd Marine Division at Tra Binh Dong. The Koreans held off the advance, despite being outnumbered 5-to-1. 

What they did next would likely embed itself in the minds of communnist forces in Vietnam anytime they considered fighting South Korean Marines.

More than 2,400 North Vietnamese soldiers pressed their attack but were pushed back – until the Marines ran out of ammunition. Once the shooting from the Marines stopped, the communists charged the Korean lines. Where other armies might have broken off or retreated, the Marines stayed put.

When the NVA poured through the Korean defenses, they found a force armed with fixed bayonets, pickaxes, and entrenching tools, which the Koreans used to such devastating effect that that forced the advancing communists back out of their perimeter. 

Upon returning to their lines, the Koreans detonated charges they’d set up around their camp. If the NVA planned an orderly withdrawal, that plan was now out the window. The Marines decided they would box in their enemy with the controlled detonation.

The NVA also quickly found out that the Koreans weren’t completely out of ammunition. A detachment of Marines had left the perimeter and taken out the NVA’s mortar company. The communists tried one last time to charge the perimeter, but by then the detachment had returned and the NVA attacked a line that exploded with machine gun fire, cutting them down.

What should have been an easy victory for the North Vietnamese Army turned into a total disaster, killing a tenth of the attacking force. Half of the communist dead were actually killed in the hand to hand fighting inside the Marines perimeter. The South Koreans lost 15 of their own, but the NVA didn’t try another offensive in the area until after the Korean Marines departed. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a destroyer won a World War II battle with only potatoes

The USS O’Bannon was named for the legendary Marine Corps hero Presley O’Bannon, who famously led a ragtag group of Marines and mercenaries in a daring overland expedition to surprise an enemy in North Africa. The World War II-era destroyer became a ship worthy of its namesake just a year after it was launched, surprising an enemy Japanese submarine – not with cunning or guile, but with potatoes.

Lots of potatoes.


7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

O’Bannon would also serve in the Korean War and in Vietnam.

It’s not as if the O’Bannon didn’t have real armaments. The ship carried 17 anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, depth charges, and .38-caliber deck guns. O’Bannon was a floating death machine. It just so happened that its potato store was all it needed in this one instance.

The ship had been running support missions in the Pacific Theater since it was launched the previous year. After the O’Bannon joined in the shelling of the Solomon Islands in 1943, it was cruising its way back to its home station in the middle of the night. That’s when it came upon the enemy sub known as RO-34.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

RO-34 had no idea the Fletcher-class destroyer, a good-sized ship displacing 2,000 tons and carrying a buttload of weapons at its disposal, was in the vicinity. RO-34 was moving along, on the surface, as its crew dozed silently. O’Bannon had the drop on the enemy boat. And yet, despite the O’Bannon’s buttload of weaponry, the skipper decided to ram the submarine instead.

As the destroyer careened toward the submarine that was half its size, ready to send it to the bottom, someone aboard the U.S. destroyer surmised the sub could be a minelayer and take the O’Bannon to the bottom of the ocean in the resulting explosion. The ship turned rudder in a hurry, only to find itself now alongside its determined enemy. They were too close to use that buttload of weapons – or even their sidearms.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

The Japanese naturally flipped the f*ck out when they realized they were next to an American destroyer. They scrambled, running for the ship’s deck guns, which were the perfect weapon to use on the O’Bannon. The fortunes of the battle just changed 180 degrees. They needed to buy time to keep the enemy away from the deck guns while creating distance enough to use their own weapons – they looked around for anything they could chuck at the Japanese sailors.

Luckily, they had been carrying bins of potatoes on the deck, and the Americans began to throw them at the crew of RO-34, who promptly began to flip the f*ck out once more. The half-asleep Japanese sailors thought they were hand grenades.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

The thud of potatoes thrown at high velocity on a metal hull might have the sound of a grenade hitting a similar surface, but for those in doubt, remember what was happening to the Japanese crew. First, they were just woken from a deep sleep. Second, their alarm clock was a giant enemy ship coming at them at full speed. Third, they were likely confused as to why the Americans decided to come alongside them to throw stuff at them, rather than just shoot them. And finally, who throws potatoes in the middle of World War II instead of trying to kill the enemy? The Japanese had no way of knowing the thuds could be spuds.

The potatoes gave the O’Bannon time to get far enough away to use its real weapons, which it did, hitting RO-34 hard before the sub dove into the dark sea. The destroyer then moved over the submarine’s position and finished it off with depth charges.

The crew was later presented with a plaque to commemorate the potato incident – from the Association of Maine Potato Growers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

He wrote the book ‘Roots’ and authored ‘The Playboy Interviews.’ Did you know he was a veteran?

You might know Alex Haley from his works of historical fiction: Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Maybe you know him as the person who helmed a series of Playboy interviews and later earned a Pulitzer Prize. Or perhaps, you know him as the retired Coast Guard veteran who got his earliest start writing for newspapers in the military. No matter what you know about Haley, we’re sure there’s more for you to learn.


Who was this dynamic man?

Alex Haley was born in 1921 in Ithaca, New York. His father, Simon, was a WWI veteran. At the time of Alex’s birth, his father was a graduate student at Cornell, studying agriculture. His mother, Bertha, was a musician and teacher of both elementary and high school students.

During his early years, Alex, who was called Palmer, lived with his grandparents Will and Cynthia in Henning, Tennessee, so his father could concentrate on finishing his graduate work. However, when his grandfather died, Haley’s parents returned from Ithaca. There, Simon resumed his studies at Lane College.

An early achiever

With two stellar role models, Alex grew up understanding the value of education. He graduated from high school at 15 and enrolled directly at Alcorn AM College in Mississippi. After a year there, he transferred to Elizabeth City State Teacher’s College in North Carolina. His early successes at school did not transfer to collegiate life, and Alex had a difficult time keeping his grades up.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

USCG Alex Haley (Wikimedia Commons)

Writing with the Coast Guard

Three years later, in 1939, Alex quit school and joined the Coast Guard. He enlisted as a seaman, but because of the rife discrimination present in the Coast Guard’s ranks, Alex was forced to work as a mess attendant. To relieve his boredom on ship, Haley brought a typewriter onboard and typed letters for his shipmates. It was at that time Alex also started writing short stories and articles, which he then sent out for publication to magazines and newspapers. As with most writing endeavors, Alex’s attempts at publication were largely met with rejection letters, but a handful did manage to place in reputable journals. This early encouragement reinforced Alex’s passion to continue writing.

By 1949, Haley was permitted to transfer into the field of journalism with the Coast Guard and had achieved the rank of First Class Petty Officer. He was soon promoted to Chief Journalist with the Coast Guard. This is the position he held until his retirement in 1959 after 20 years of service.

During his time in the Coast Guard, Haley received the American Defense Service Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and an honorary degree from the Coast Guard Academy. Later, a Coast Guard cutter was named for him: the USCGS Alex Haley.

After the Coast Guard

After retiring from the Coast Guard, Haley set out to make his way as a freelance writer and journalist. It took three years for Haley to get his break when he interviewed famous trumpet player Miles Davis. The interview was published in Playboy, and the piece was so successful that Playboy commissioned Haley to write a series of pieces that would eventually be known as “The Playboy Interviews.”

This collection of work featured an interview with prominent Black activists, musicians, actors and others. Following an interview with Malcolm X, Haley got the idea to write a book about the famous activist. Two years later, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was released. This seminal book of the Civil Rights Movement helped memorialize the life of Malcolm X, thanks in part to Haley’s efforts.

Roots

The success of The Autobiography of Malcolm X transformed Haley’s role as a writer. He began to receive offers to lecture at universities and write. Instead, he chose to embark on a new project that aimed to trace and retell the story of his ancestors’ journey from Africa to America as slaves.

It took Haley a decade to research the book. During that time, he traveled back and forth to three continents, examining slave ship records at archives in the United States, England and Gambia. Despite his strong journalism experience as a Coast Guard journalist, Haley later said that it would have been impossible for him to completely recapture the true spirit and harrowing experience of those aboard the slave ship. Roots was finally published in 1976 and went on to sell millions of copies.


MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Disabled missiles at Malmstrom AFB?

The year is 1967. The location is Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base. There, Captain Robert Salas was on duty with his Commander 60 feet underground in the missile launch bunker. They were in charge of 10 missiles. Each of these missiles contained an eight-ton nuclear weapon. Salas was in charge of launching the missiles if given the order, so it’s not like he was just clowning around. This was serious, and Cpt. Salas knew it.

UFOs are all fun and games until they happen to you

While his Commander took a nap in the early morning hours, Cpt. Salas stayed awake. That’s when the above-ground security guards contacted him about some strange lights they saw in the sky. At first, Salas thought it was a prank, so he laughed it off. But they rang him again 10 minutes later, and by then they were utterly terrified. 

Men discuss the disabled missiles
To this day, no one knows what happened to the disabled missiles.

The guard screamed at Salas into the phone about an oval-shaped, glowing red object about 40 feet in diameter above the front gate. It was moving in a jerky, strange way that the guard had never seen: quick short spurts, stopping and changing course abruptly, making sharp 90-degree turns, dropping then rising back up, and making no noise at all. 

A strange situation gets even stranger

Salas immediately wakes his Commander and informs him about the odd, frightening UFO situation going on above ground. Not moments later, all 10 missile lights inexplicably turn from green to red, an indication that they have been disabled. That meant the missiles were no longer launch-able, leaving the US compromised in the event of an attack. 

What would be going through your mind if this happened to you? Salas was thinking the same thing, that they were under attack. Desperate, they tried everything to get their missiles functioning again, but to no avail. 

And here’s what makes the whole thing even stranger, if you can believe it. A week earlier, another Malmstrom missile launch crew had reported the exact same thing. They described the same UFO with the same red lights and jerky movements, only to find their entire fleet of nuclear missiles disarmed moments later.

The case of the disabled missiles remains unsolved

The fact that it happened twice didn’t make Salas feel any better. He knew these missiles were the most sophisticated weapons they’d ever had, and now something strange and unknown had been able to disable them, just like that. Both of the UFO occurrences disarmed the weapons for almost 24 hours. 

To this day, no one knows what those UFOs were, how they shut down the missiles, or why they did it. Salas is convinced that the UFOs were extraterrestrial. Once the information was de-classified, he has been on a mission to foil the government cover-ups and help the public see that these events truly happen. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most ‘Murican moments of every presidency, part one

Politics in the United States can be an incredibly divisive topic of conversation, if recent news is any indication. Still, no matter how you feel (or felt) about any Commander-In-Chief, there’s one thing we can agree on for all of them: each loved this country and cared about doing a good job. No one wants to be remembered as the the “worst president of all time” — and no matter whether you hate or love the current president or the last, I can guarantee you that neither will hold that title.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

But even the now-reviled James Buchanan didn’t set out to become the worst President ever. Even the Pierce Administration thought it was doing what was right for the United States. And, in Warren G. Harding’s defense, things were going really well in America during the 1920s. Let’s take a moment to forget party divisions and just remember the good times.


(And if you’re wondering, President Trump isn’t on here because his term isn’t over yet — his most ‘Murica moment might be yet to come)

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

George Washington accepting Lord Cornwallis’ sword at Yorktown in 1781.

George Washington

What was George Washington’s most “‘Murica” moment? Making everything about this country happen. The original Commander-In-Chief trapped the British Army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown with the help of the French Fleet. With nowhere else to go, Cornwallis surrendered, breaking the will of the British to keep fighting in North America.

The United States was born two years later and George Washington set the standard for how every democratically-elected President should act in office. It was his will that set these precedents and allowed the American experiment to continue. We would not have our democratic traditions were it not for how Washington conducted himself during and after his time in office.

He even warned us about political parties. Just saying.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

“The Directory is a stupid name for a ruling body. France is dumb.” — John Adams, probably.

John Adams

In many ways, the way John Adams conduct in office was as important as George Washington’s. Adams’ continuation of precedents set by Washington meant that successive Presidents would do the same. But that wasn’t Adams’ most patriotic moment.

That came when Revolutionary France demanded a bribe from the United States in order to accept diplomatic envoys. Rather than quietly pay up, Adams read the letter to Congress — who promptly printed it. Adams also commissioned ships for the U.S. Navy and raised a provisional army as reports of armed actions from France mounted. Instead of going to war, the French relented when American ships started clearing sea lanes and accepted American diplomats.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

This is a face that says, “I’m sick of your sh*t.”

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s finest American hour came when he launched the nascent United States’ first war on terror. For decades, countries paid the North African Barbary States for the right to not get attacked by pirates in the Mediterranean. Corsairs from Tripoli and Algiers would raid foreign shipping and enslave entire crews, often even if the ransom was paid.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, the Barbary States got no more money from the United States. What they got instead was Stephen Decatur stealing their ships and burning their harbors as United States Marines under Lt. Presley O’Bannon captured their cities from the rear. When they Barbary Pirates tried the same stuff again a few years later, Decatur returned and this time, Algiers paid the U.S. to stop.

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James Madison

James Madison is one of our more overlooked Founding Fathers, and it’s probably because the war his administration oversaw ended in a stalemate — and the burning of Washington, D.C. But what was Madison supposed to do? Sit there and let Britain steal American sailors and tell the United States with whom who it could and couldn’t conduct trade just because they were the world’s dominant power? If your answer is ‘hell no,’ then you know why Madison took America to war, despite having very little to fight with.

It was the first time the United States declared a war against anyone and declared to the world that we were here to stay.

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“Back. The Hell. Up.” – James Monroe (paraphrasing)

James Monroe

For almost the entire lifespan of the United States, our policy in the Western Hemisphere was that any European meddling in the affairs of states in North and South America would be seen as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States” and be dealt with accordingly — this became known as the “Monroe Doctrine.” Recolonization of the Western Hemisphere was not gonna fly.

Basically, he told the world that the West was an American Hemisphere and if you f*ck with free and independent Latin America, you’re f*cking with the United States. And they all listened.

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That is what a game face looks like.

John Quincy Adams

Adams wasn’t just the progeny in the first Father-Son Presidential legacy, he was also the first “America First” President, opting to maintain good relations with Europe but focus any military and economic might right here in the Western Hemisphere. Under John Quincy’s administration, infrastructure projects created a marvelous system of roads and canals across state lines.

Unfortunately, while this was good for the young country’s development in the long term, the short term effect caused Adams to lose after his first administration, being accused of “public plunder” and federal overreach by his detractors.

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“The Era of Good Feelings is over. Daddy’s home.”

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson came into office like a wrecking ball — literally. His inauguration party nearly destroyed the White House. But as Jackson pledged his respect for the right of the states’ self-governance, he also had a deep respect for the law of the land. So, when uppity U.S. states thought they could nullify federal laws they just didn’t like, President Jackson had to remind them that the the Constitution of the United States was in charge.

Even lowering the so-called “Tariff of Abomination” didn’t placate the South. So, Jackson sent the U.S. Navy into Charleston Harbor and threatened to hang anyone who even said the word “nullification.” He considered states defying federal law to be in full rebellion. And secession — another word Jackson hated — was not something he would tolerate either. You might say Andrew Jackson’s fury at Southern intransigence held the Union together for another decade.

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He was also the first President born in the United States.

Martin Van Buren

This one… this one was a tough one. There’s no doubt President Van Buren did what he thought was right, even if it meant disagreeing with his political patron and idol, Andrew Jackson. But Martin Van Buren’s greatest accomplishment seems to be keeping the United States out of wars at a time when it couldn’t really pay the debt a war would cause — and it cost Van Buren the office of President.

It’s not as if there weren’t reasons to go to war. The newly-freed Republic of Texas was clamoring to be annexed by the United States, but it would lead to a war with Mexico. Canadian freedom fighters begged for help from the Van Buren Administration in liberating our northern neighbor from British rule. The British were even close to invading Maine. But after the Panic of 1837, the finances of the U.S. were weak and a war, though good for his approval rating, was not something they could afford.

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He came from a time when a popped collar meant something.

William Henry Harrison

Harrison, the General and hero of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812, was propelled to the Presidency by popular demand. Everything about Harrison was America. Sadly, he famously died in office after 30 days and a long bout with pneumonia. As the oldest President ever elected at that time (only Reagan and Trump were older at their elections), it’s a surprise no one saw that coming.

On a cold, wet day in March, he delivered the longest inaugural address in history and he got there riding a horse without a coat and hat. The guy was practically begging for pneumonia. But the most American thing about Harrison was his dedication to bipartisanship — every time someone tried to force him to do something unethical, he reminded them that William Henry Harrison was the President of the United States and he’ll do what he damn well wants.

A full, four-year Harrison Administration would have been quite the sight.

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If ever there was a face that said, “I didn’t ask for this, leave me alone,” it was John Tyler’s.

John Tyler

Tyler took over for Harrison after his death, assuming office amidst a number of terrible crises for the still-young United States. Tyler’s most American moments just might be weathering all of these crises in line with the Constitution, as he believed the Founders would have intended.

Known as “His Accidency” for being the first unelected President of the United States after Harrison died, Tyler moved into the White House and assumed the duties of President. At the time, Presidential succession was not outlined in the Constitution as it is today. He was the first President to have a veto overridden by Congress, the first President against whom the House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings, and the first President to be expelled from his own party. He took all of it in stride and when the time to step down came, he did.

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The first Presidential Mullet says, “Manifest Destiny, b*tches.”

James K. Polk

After three very lackluster Presidencies, there’s no doubt the people were excited to have a President like Polk. James Polk promised he’d only serve one term and he kept that promise — but not before achieving every single goal he said was a priority for his administration.

James Polk’s most American moment came when he pretty much created or settled the borders of the mainland United States as we know it today. With the exception of a strip of New Mexico and Arizona purchased from Mexico in 1853, Polk annexed Texas for the United States, negotiated with Britain for what is now Oregon and Washington, and sent the Army and Navy to a war with Mexico, securing the Rio Grande as the southern border and acquiring what is today California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona and Colorado — exactly what he said he was going to do in his inauguration address.

The list continues in part two.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Battle at Teutoburg Forest

In the year 9 AD, the Roman Empire suffered a devastating military defeat. In the dark forests of Germania, three entire legions were wiped out in the span of a few days, by an enemy that the Empire didn’t even know existed. This battle changed the very course of Roman history. Here are 8 things you didn’t know about the Battle at Teutoburg Forest.

1. It was a revenge plot

Under Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire had conquered large swaths of Western Europe. One of the Empire’s frontiers was the Rhine River, east of which were the “barbarian” Germanic tribes. This arrangement, however, left the emperor Augustus unsatisfied. He sent his adoptive son Drusus to conquer the barbarian land that the Romans called Germania, and Drusus succeeded in subjugating Germanic tribes east of the Rhine. The Romans thought that these tribes were under their control, but only a few short years later, these tribes would strike back at the Empire in the Teutoburg Forest.

2. It was a betrayal

One of the Germanic tribes conquered by the Romans was the Cherusci, whose chief was forced to send his son Arminius to Rome as a hostage. Despite being a barbarian, Arminius was treated well; he acquired a military education and became a Roman citizen, even earning the command of his own forces. Many of these soldiers were Cherusci tribesmen like himself. Because he was a German, Arminius was stationed in Germania, where he could communicate with the Germanic tribes on Rome’s behalf. However, during those visits to the Germanic chiefs, Arminius was plotting with them to attack the Empire that had raised him.

3. It was a trap

In the autumn of 9 CE, Arminius reported to the Roman commander in Germania, Quinctilius Varus, that a rebellion had broken out in northwest Germania. Varus was persuaded to march his legions into unfamiliar Germania to crush the supposed rebels. Arminius was even given leave to rally support from the Roman-allied Germanic tribes. There was, however, no rebellion. In the previous months, Arminius had created an alliance of Germanic tribes and fabricated a rebellion to lure the Romans into unfamiliar territory and decimate them. 

4. The Romans were unprepared

Before 6 CE, the Romans had eleven legions in Germania. However, just a few years before the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, there was a revolt in the Balkans that forced the Empire to withdraw eight of those legions. This left only three for Varus, who on the way to the “rebellion” marched all of them through the Teutoburg Forest. The legions were formidable, but their fighting style was suited to wide, open plains, not the dark, claustrophobic German forest. On top of that, they were marching through torrential rainfall, on muddy and slick ground, and not in fighting formation. It was the perfect opportunity for an ambush.

5. The Germans used guerrilla tactics

During his time in Rome, Arminius studied Roman military strategies. He knew exactly how to hit the Romans where it hurt the most. The battle began shortly after the Romans entered the Teutoburg Forest, in a line of men that stretched for miles. Germanic warriors stood on high ground, hurling javelins down on the legions and sending out small bands of warriors to pick off isolated groups of soldiers. Many survived the barrage and were able to set up camp for the night, but spent the next day under continuous barrage of German attacks from the trees.

6. Arminius set a second trap

In order to escape, the Romans had to cross a small strip of land between the Kalkriese Hill and a large swamp. What they didn’t know was that the Germans had already constructed walls along this pass to attack the Romans from above. The Romans tried to storm these walls and failed miserably, and when the Germans came pouring down from these walls, military discipline collapsed. One commander deserted with his men, only for them to be caught and killed; Varus and his commanding officers committed suicide, the only honorable way out for a disgraced Roman commander; and the remaining legionaries were entirely slaughtered.

7. The emperor was personally devastated

By the end of the battle, between 15,000 and 20,000 Roman soldiers were dead. Three entire legions were wiped out. When he heard the news, the emperor Augustus was horrified. He was said to have beat his head against the walls, crying out “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!” It was one of the greatest Roman military catastrophes of Augustus’ long rule.

8. It changed European history

The Germanic tribesmen under Arminius succeeded in sweeping their territory clean of Roman soldiers and outposts. The Rhine River became the boundary between the Roman Empire and the free Germanic tribes for hundreds of years. The Romans’ inability to conquer the Germans laid the foundations for the Western Empire’s fall, when Germanic tribes started carving their own kingdoms out of Roman territory. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest occurred nearly half a millennium before the Romans started to fall, but in an interesting way, the Western Empire’s collapse in 476 AD was sealed all the way back in 9 AD.

Articles

The Army bought this tiltrotor aircraft over 30 years before the Osprey flew

When the military adopted the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft in 2007, there were legions of naysayers who thought the military’s first tiltrotor was too unsafe and too expensive to be added to the fleet.


But while the V-22 did have a spotted history during development, it wasn’t the first military tiltrotor aircraft. A few such aircraft were in the early stages of development during World War II, and the U.S. Army bought a tiltrotor aircraft in 1956 — over 30 years before the first V-22 flew in 1989.

Video: YouTube/AIRBOYD

The Doak Model 16 was a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that used ducted tilt-rotors to generate forward thrust and — in the vertical flight mode — lift. Like the V-22, the Model 16 only rotated its rotors when transitioning between flight modes.

The Doak company spent years developing VTOL technologies before it sold a single Model 16 to the Army for further testing and development. For its part, the Army dubbed the Model 16 the VZ-4 and flew it for three years, evaluating its flight characteristics and the potential for full production and deployment.

Cobbled together with parts from other planes and using still experimental tiltrotor technologies, the VZ-4 had fairly impressive stats. It was capable of flying at 229 mph and had a 229-mile range.

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The Doak VZ-4 hovers during flight testing. (Photo: U.S. Army)

But, the plane struggled with some “undesirable characteristics,” especially during the transitions between vertical and horizontal flight. The most problematic was a tendency for the nose of the aircraft to rise in relation to the tail during the switch between flight modes.

Ultimately, the Army passed on purchasing more of the planes and loaned its single Model 16 to NASA for continued tests. When NASA was finished with it, the aircraft was sent to the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Nowadays, the performance of the CV-22 and MV-22 Osprey has left little doubt that there’s a place in the military inventory for tiltrotor aircraft. The Ospreys can fly from patches of dirt or relatively small ships at sea that traditional planes could never operate from. And they can fly for over 1,000 miles without refueling, over twice the range of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

These traits have earned the Ospreys spots in special operations units and Marine air-ground task forces around the world. And for the U.S. military, the road to tiltrotor aircraft all started with a single plane purchased in 1956.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Soviets were the first to put a flag on the moon — not the US

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person in history to dismount a lunar space module and walk on the moon. It was then that he spoke those famous words,

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That epic moment had millions of Americans glued to their television sets, witnessing history in the making.

The moon is positioned 240,000 miles away from Earth and, as far as we knew, Armstrong’s famous moment marked the first time a flag was ever planted into the extraterrestrial surface — a landscape pocked with inactive volcanoes, impact craters, and lava flows.

The only problem is, it wasn’t actually the first time a flag was placed on the moon. We may have beaten the Soviets by putting the first man on the moon, but they get the credit for planting the first flag.

 

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An overhead view of the moon’s surface.

Toward the end of the 1950s, Russia beat the U.S. by firing a satellite called Sputnik into orbit. The thought of Russia beating the United States in the “space race” left many Americans scared sh*tless. They believed that if the Soviets possessed a type of lunar technology, they might be able to fire weapons at the U.S. aimed from space.


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The Soviet satellite, ‘Sputnik’

 

So, when the Russians successfully put an object into orbit, the American government responded by further funding and speeding up their space program. The Soviets took notice and quickly fired a rocket toward moon, which crash-landed on its surface. That rocket, however, was carrying a Russian flag inside. Technically, the Russians had placed a flag on the moon.

It was a slick move, but the American government made sure to tell the Russians that their shady act didn’t give them any territorial rights in space.

Then-Vice President Nixon was incensed by the Soviets’ ballsy move and was sure to remind everybody that it took them four tries to even hit the moon. In 1960, Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy promised Americans that if he were elected, he would win the “space race.”

 

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Kennedy kept that promise on the day Armstrong touched down on Lunar soil.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11

Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.


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Mike Spann during operations in Afghanistan in 2001. (Photo from CIA)

Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.

In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.

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Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.

The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.

In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.

A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.

Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.

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Northern Alliance troops in 2001 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.

After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.

American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.

After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.

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A memorial to Spann, built at Qala-i-Jangi (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.

Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Postal Inspection Service: America’s first and oldest federal law enforcement agency

Before the FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency locked criminals behind bars in the United States, the most important crime fighting squad was the US Postal Inspection Service. From the 18th century to present day, surveyors, special agents, and inspectors investigated the nation’s most newsworthy crimes. They investigated mail train robberies committed by notorious outlaw “Billy the Kid,” were amongst the first federal law enforcement officers to carry the Thompson submachine gun (commonly known as the “Tommy Gun”) to fight 1920s mobsters, and even had an integral role in capturing Ted Kaczynski, sensationalized in the media as the “Unabomber,” bringing an end to one of the most sophisticated criminal manhunts in US history.

The US Postal Inspection Service is the most storied federal law enforcement agency in the country, and since widespread crime is often connected by mail, their jurisdiction to investigate any related crime from anywhere around the world is unrestricted. This freedom began from one of America’s Founding Fathers, and since its establishment, the agency has participated in the largest criminal investigations of each century.


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After the American Civil War, “snake oil salesmen” and “scalp tonic salesmen” used the mail to con unsuspecting victims. Screengrab from YouTube.

In 1737, Benjamin Franklin, the newspaper printer known for historic contributions to the nation, was also appointed by the British Crown as postmaster of Philadelphia. In addition to his day job, he had duties and responsibilities to regulate and survey post offices and post roads. As the first Postmaster General under continental Congress, Franklin abolished the British practice that determined which newspapers traveled freely in the mail and established foundational mandates of the “surveyor” position to ensure the organization could grow beyond a one-man show.

Franklin recognized the task was too much to handle alone and appointed William Goddard as the first surveyor of the new American Postal Service. His first day in office — Aug. 7, 1775 — became known as the birth of the Postal Inspection Service. The surveyors investigated thefts of mail or postal funds committed by writers, innkeepers, and others with access to the mail or post offices. The frequency of mail crimes became such a nuisance, Congress approved the death penalty as a viable punishment to enforce the serious offenses.

At the turn of the 19th century, surveyors became known as special agents, and among the first three was Noah Webster, the man responsible for compiling the dictionary. During the War of 1812, special agents observed and reported activities of the British Fleet along the Potomac River, and during the 1840s and 1850s, their roles magnified to coexist with western expansion in the United States. Special agents were needed across Texas, Oregon, and California to ensure new postal services were completed, as well as to keep order amongst mail carriers on horseback, railroads, or traveling by steamboats or stagecoaches.

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During World War II, 247 US Postal Inspection Service inspectors established a mailing system that is still in use to this day. Photo courtesy of worldwarphotos.info.

Following the American Civil War, Congress imposed two new statutes still in use today. The first was the Mail Fraud Statute of 1872, which enforced a crackdown against swindles including the infamous “snake oil salesman” or the “scalp tonic salesman.” The second was the Postal Obscenity Statute of 1873, which made it illegal for anyone to “to sell, give away, or possess an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, drawing, or advertisement.” Special agents assumed the name of “Post Office Inspectors” in 1880 to differentiate from other special agents privately employed by railroad and stagecoach companies.

During the 20th century is when the US Postal Inspection Service earned its reputation for bringing down the hammer on gangs, mobsters, and armed robbers. The most scandalous criminal outfit was the organized secret society operating in New York City known as the Black Hand. They terrorized the public, the police force, and especially Italian immigrants, all frequent targets of murder, extortion, assassination, child kidnapping, and bombings. The bombing attacks were so frequent that the police referred to the Italian neighborhood as “The Bomb Zone.” Police reports indicated that there were more than 100 bombings in 1913 alone.

The Black Hand wrote menacing letters to their victims. “De Camilli, from one of our secret spies, we have learned that you have informed the police, contrary to our warnings,” Salvatore Lima, the Black Hand’s leader wrote. “Therefore, it is time to die. And on the first occasion, you will feel a bullet in your stomach, coward. You have willed it, and you will die like a dog. The terrible Black Hand.”

History of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service

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Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield tracked 14 members of the Black Hand and nabbed and convicted the vicious and violent gang by targeting their paper trail through the mail. Elmer Irey, one of the great detectives of the 20th century and former post office inspector, used similar methods to nab Chicago Outfit’s Al Capone through tax fraud. Post office inspectors also captured and convicted Charles Ponzi — the mastermind and father behind the infamous pyramid “Ponzi Scheme” — and brought Gerald Chapman — America’s first “Public Enemy Number One” — to justice. After a three-year manhunt, forensic science put away the DeAutremont brothers, a trio who used dynamite to blow open mail train cars to scoop the cash inside.

Inspectors were also instrumental in the delivery and protection of over billion worth of gold transported along the “Yellow Brick Road” from New York City to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to establish the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1937. During World War II, 247 post office inspectors helped create Army Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs). Through their efforts, soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines could communicate with their loved ones back home. This system remains in effect to this day.

Later in the century, as their investigations adapted with the times, they received newer challenges through the security of commercial aircraft and the threats of mail package bombs aboard airplanes. In 1963, Postal Inspector Harry Holmes interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald to investigate the mail-order rifle he used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Only minutes after Oswald left Holmes’ office, he was gunned down — furthering the conspiracy theories of suspected involvement.

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A laboratory technician holds the anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy after safely opening it at the US Army’s Fort Detrick bio-medical research laboratory in November 2001. Photo courtesy of FBI.gov.

The Postal Inspection Service remains just as important today as when it was created, and with the increase in funding in other federal agencies, their prestige has emboldened their legacy as more than what was once perceived as “The Silent Service.” Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Silent Service investigated the Anthrax biohazard letter attack — the worst biological attack in US history — and has since increased their efforts against illegal drug trafficking, suspicious mail, mail and package theft, money laundering, cybercrime, and child exploitation.

In the 1920s, Charles Ponzi scammed his investors out of an estimated million during his time as a conman and swindler — some 90 years later, just as the Postal Inspector Service had before, they nabbed Allen Stanford, a fraudster who convinced investors to buy certificates of deposit from his offshore Stanford International Bank with the promise of high returns. Stanford’s two-decade-long, billion Ponzi scheme was discovered through exhaustive investigations by a task force comprised of the IRS, the FBI, and the Silent Service. Stanford was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to serve 110 years in prison.

As long as there is mail to be delivered, there are inspectors who stand ready to ensure the safety of the American citizens.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


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