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.

Articles

This was Benedict Arnold’s best raid as a British general

Players do their best work when they’re in a system that works for how they play. Sometimes, they fare better with the team that drafted them. Others break out when they get traded.


Sorry for this analogy. Football is back and I’m super stoked about it.

For example, Jim Brown was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1957 and played there his entire career. He might be one of the greatest backs of all time. Then there’s Marshawn Lynch, who did his best work after being traded to Seattle and will definitely be a Hall-of-Famer.

Benedict Arnold was definitely more of a Jim Brown.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Please don’t let Jim Brown read that out of context.

As an American general, Arnold saw massive successes early on in the war. He captured Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, captured Lake Champlain for the nascent nation, led an invasion into Canada, and was instrumental at the Battle of Saratoga.

But that was in the past. Arnold was wearing a new uniform by 1781.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
To this day, you still can’t name your kid Benedict.

In January 1781, the revolution was still anyone’s game. The morale of the Americans was at its lowest and it would be another nine months before Generals Washington and Nathaneal Greene would force British General Cornwallis into Virginia’s Yorktown Peninsula and into a general surrender.

Some 63 miles north of Yorktown, the newly-minted British Brigadier was leading a force of American Loyalists against the capital of Virginia at Richmond. The city was virtually undefended and Thomas Jefferson – Patriot governor of the colony– fled. Arnold easily captured the city, barely firing a shot.

The traitor then wrote to Jefferson that he would spare the city if all of Richmond’s stored goods – especially tobacco – were transferred to British ships. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, refused to deliver “thirty to forty ships worth” to the enemy.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
This is not the face of someone who’s looking to quit smoking.

Arnold ordered the city be looted and burned the next day. They then went to the surrounding areas to wreak havok. Mills and foundries were destroyed, their arms and goods were captured by the British loyalist force. Arnold then took to destroying plantations and family homes, seizing crops and slaves.

The raid lasted a full 18 days.

When Jefferson and Samson Matthews gathered the Virginia militia and caught up to Arnold’s force with about 200 men. and caused the British force so much harm, Arnold had to retreat to Portsmouth and wait for reinforcements.

Governor Jefferson put a reward of 5,000 guineas on Arnold’s head while Virginia militiamen started target practice using a model of the traitor’s head, so they’d know how to identify him in combat.

Benedict Arnold didn’t have much success as a British general. His “American Legion” of loyalists never amounted to much. The Richmond raid and his subsequent burning of New London, Connecticut, ensured he could never be redeemed in the minds of patriots.

When the war ended later that year, Arnold found himself retired on half pay, refusing to believe the war could be over and that he’d chosen the wrong side.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Burn.

Word finally got to George Washington that the traitor was spilling patriot blood in his home state. Washington sent French Marquis de Lafayette to kick Arnold out of Virginia and capture him if possible. Lafayette arrived in time to prevent another attack on Richmond from the newly-reinforced British under General Cornwallis, but he was too late to capture Arnold, who was already sailing for New York.

In the end, Richmond wasn’t prize enough for Cornwallis. He instead moved south, toward Yorktown. And you know how that ended up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why ancient German women yelled at male warriors in combat

At the 58 BC Battle of Vosges, Julius Caesar was surrounded. He had to force the Germanic army under Ariovistus into combat because the German was content to starve the Romans out. Cut off from supplies, Caesar’s legions may not last long enough to attack later. So, outnumbered and surrounded, Caesar struck.

He marched his entire force toward the weakest part of the Germanic army: its camp. When the legions arrived, the Germanic women were in the army’s wagon train, shouting, screaming, and wailing… at the Germanic men.


7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Julius Caesar meets Ariovistus before the Battle of Vosges.

The Gallic Wars were an important moment in the history of Rome. It saw Julius Caesar’s rise in power and prestige as well as an important military and territorial expansion of the Roman Republic. But to the Romans’ well-organized and disciplined fighting force, the wailing Germanic women must have been an altogether strange experience.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Germanic women were forced to defend the wagon trains after many battles against the Romans.

If a tribe was caught up in a fight while migrating or moving for any reason, women would not be left behind. Germanic women would yell at their fighting men, sometimes with their children on hand to witness the fighting. The women encouraged their children to yell and, with bare breasts, shouted reminders at the men that they must be victorious in combat or their families would be captured and enslaved… or worse, slaughtered wholesale.

Their shouts encouraged their men to fight harder, as women were considered holy spirits. Letting them fall into enemy hands was the ultimate failure.

The Roman Senator and historian Tacitus wrote in his work, Germania:

A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.

It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement — a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies.The women were more than just morale builders, though. They provided aid and comfort to their men after the battle was over, of course. And they would bring supplies and food to their male warriors in the middle of the fight.

If the battle didn’t go well, however, Germanic women could take on an entirely new role. They might kill any male members of the tribe who attempted retreat. They could even kill their children and then commit suicide rather than submit to enslavement by another tribe or army.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Women were captured en masse at the Battle of Aquaq Sextiae.

Vosges wasn’t the first time the Roman Republic encountered this phenomenon. At the 102 BC Battle of Aquae Sextiae a Roman army that was outnumbered by Germans 3-to-1 emerged victorious, according to the Roman historian Plutarch. He notes that 300 of the women captured that day killed themselves and their children rather than be taken back to Rome.

For the Germans at the Battle of Vosges, the situation wasn’t as desperate. They were all well-rested and their march from the Rhine River didn’t take a heavy toll on their strength. But the Romans were formidable and, thanks to a sudden moment of quick thinking by one of Caesar’s cavalry officers, they were able to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. When Caesar returned from Rome after the conquest of Gaul, he came back with a million slaves.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Midget submarines have gotten a lot of press in recent years. The 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a North Korean Yono-class midget submarine showed that with today’s modern torpedoes, they can pack a punch.


Midget submarines have arguably had a longer combat career than their bigger cousins. The Turtle, a one-man midget sub, was used in an effort to attack British ships off New York during the Revolutionary War.

The hand-powered midget submarine CSS Hunley successfully sank the sloop USS Housatonic in 1864. Larger coastal and fleet submarines didn’t really achieve a lot of success until World War I.

But the midgets still stuck around.

Nearly all the major powers used them in World War II. The British, Germans, and Japanese all had varying degrees of success with them.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Chief petty officers and chief petty officer selects from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable perform preservation maintenance on Japanese navy submarine HA-51, a World War II Type C three-man midget submarine, at the T. Snell Newman Visitor Center. Cable is undergoing upgrades at Guam Shipyard for a conversion to the Military Sealift Command. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Jennifer L. Walker)

The British X-boats managed to damage the German battleship Tirpitz. Japanese submarines had their high-water mark on May 29, 1942, when they damaged a British battleship and sank a merchant ship at Diego Suarez in Madagascar.

But Germany’s Seehund — or “Seal” — was probably the most successful. Built in 1944, the Seehund displaced 17 tons, carried two torpedoes, and had a crew of two. The vessel could go four knots underwater, and seven knots on the surface.

U-Boat.net notes that 137 of these midget subs were commissioned, which sank eight vessels and damaged three more in four months of operation.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
S 622, a German Seehund later taken into service by the French Navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Below is a video showing how a replica of one of these mini-submarines was made for a museum display. Take a look and see what went into making that replica — and what that display will teach future generations about what life on one of these vessels was like.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first Navy Medal of Honor

The first Navy Medal of Honor recipient was Captain of the Maintop John Williams. He was an enlisted leader sent to reinforce an attack on a Confederate battery at Mathias Point who continued caring for all of his sailors and the flag even as he was wounded and under intense fire in June, 1861.


7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Union warships and Confederate batteries exchange fire at Aquia Creek.

(U.S. Navy sketch by Lt. Cash)

The attack on Mathias Point was part of the constant struggle during the war for control of the waterways in the divided nation. The typical script in the course of the war was of Union troops and boats pushing their way along rivers and coasts to starve Confederate cities of supply, but there were early cases of Confederate troops cutting off river access for U.S. forces.

In May, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia sent troops to seize control of the Potomac, cutting off access to the sea from Washington D.C. Predictably, the Union ordered the Potomac flotilla, a small command consisting of just a few ships, to re-open the waterways.

One focus was Aquia Creek, a waterway that met up with the terminus of the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads at Mathias Point. Obviously, a juncture of major land and sea transportation infrastructure is always a key strategic point.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Union sailors work with a cannon onboard the USS Thomas Freeborn.

(U.S. Navy)

The main ship in the flotilla was a small steamer, USS Thomas Freeborn, that carried only a few, light pieces of artillery, but it attempted multiple attacks on the new Confederate batteries on the Potomac in May and June, 1861. The initial fighting was not only indecisive, it was inconsequential. Neither side was able to inflict a serious injury on a member of the other force, and neither the battery nor the ships suffered real damage.

So, the Navy decided to switch to landing parties that would break up fortifications and prevent the construction of new fortifications and batteries. The first attack was on June 24, but it was during the follow-up attack on June 27 that Captain of the Maintop John Williams distinguished himself and earned the first Navy Medal of Honor.

Captain of the maintop was an enlisted position below that of the chief petty officer.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Union ships and Confederate batteries clash in 1861 as landing parties row to shore..

(U.S. Navy)

Potomac Flotilla Commander James Ward led the attack against a “large Confederate force,” which had not yet built fortifications on a position near Mathias Point. The Union troops managed to drive the Confederate pickets back toward their main force, but Ward was hit with a fatal gunshot wound soon after.

The men were ordered back to the boats, but then a second landing was made under the direction of a lieutenant, and the landing was quickly pushed back.

During this second landing, Williams “told his men, while lying off in the boat, that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. He was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball during the engagement, but retained control of his boat and carried the flag in his hand back to the Freeborn after the staff was destroyed by a musket ball.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Union ships fire on CSA batteries in Virginia in 1861.

(U.S. Navy)

The orders for his medal would not be approved until April 3, 1863.

Since then, Navy personnel have received hundreds of Medals of Honor. Most recently, the medal was awarded to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Britt Slabinski for his initiative under serious fire in Operation Anaconda in 2002. Slabinski rescued multiple wounded service members after the insertion helicopter was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade and led a grueling defense until extracted.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This carrier pigeon saved a battalion in World War I

By fall of 1918, the Allies were pushing back the Germans all along the Western Front. In September, the Allies launched the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final offensive of World War I. But the Germans were not yet beaten and were still fighting to bring a satisfactory end to the war, as the men of the 77th Division were soon to find out.


The 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division’s 154th Infantry Brigade were assigned to take a mill as well as vital road and rail ways that would deny Germans in other sectors the ability to resupply. All along the line a no retreat order was in effect. Major General Alexander, commander of the 77th Division, was particularly adamant, insisting that anyone calling out to fall back should be shot.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Maj. Charles Whittlesey, commanding 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry, took this to heart. Whittlesey, a Harvard educated lawyer, would lead his men from the front. When the 308th‘s attack began at 7 am on October 2, 1918, American forces all along the front advanced towards their objectives. Whittlesey was leading a force consisting of six companies (A, B, C, E, G, H) from the 308th, K company from 307th, as well as C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion. By the night of October 2nd, Whittlesey’s force reached and secured their objective, Hill 198, when disaster struck on their flanks.

Just as Whittlesey received word that his men captured Hill 198, he was disturbed by just how quiet it was around his position. When he realized he could not hear action from where the 307th was supposed to be, he remarked later “either they had broken through the line as well and reached their objective over there, or they had been licked and fallen back. The former would be good news for the 308th … The latter, however, was unthinkable; orders forbade it.” Also unknown to the men of the 308th was that a strong German counterattack had driven back French and American forces securing the 77th‘s flanks, leaving Whittlesey’s command isolated behind German lines.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Maj. Whittlesey

The men began digging in a position that came to be known as ‘the pocket’ on top of Hill 198. Though it was defensible, the Germans held a nearby hill that overlooked the pocket, as well as a position in a ravine that cut off the path of retreat. The next day Whittlesey sent out numerous runners in an attempt to reestablish contact with friendly forces but not a single one returned. Whittlesey also sent carrier pigeons but they were shot out of the sky by the Germans. The Americans were completely cut-off and surrounded. An attempt by a single company to break out failed with heavy casualties.

On October 4th the situation worsened for the isolated men. Besides German attacks they were also subjected to friendly fire. History is unclear how exactly it happened but what is known is that the men of the Lost Battalion came under fire from their own artillery. Virtually out of options, Maj. Whittlesey wrote a note and sent out his final carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, to stop the shelling of his own troops.

“We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

The bird flew off through the artillery barrage and was then targeted by the Germans. Whittlesey watched as the bird took fire and fluttered to the ground. As his heart sank, he saw Cher Ami regain flight and fly past the Germans on its way to headquarters. When Cher Ami arrived at the 77th Division headquarters it was found that the pigeon had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and the leg holding the message was hanging on by a tendon but Whittlesey’s message had arrived ending the friendly fire.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Even though the artillery fire stopped, the Americans still did not know exactly where the Lost Battalion was. To make matters worse, the Germans continued attempting to annihilate the Americans and attempts to resupply the force by air were unsuccessful. Their supplies dwindling. The only water source required crawling under fire to a creek. Bandages were being removed from the dead to be used on the wounded. The Lost Battalion held out for nearly a week before they were finally relieved by forces from the U.S. 82nd Division. Of the 554 men who were originally encircled, only 194 were able to walk out on their own after the battle, the rest had all been killed, wounded, or captured.

The Lost Battalion received five Medals of Honor, including Maj. Whittlesey’s, along with 28 Distinguished Service Crosses. Whittlesey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel immediately upon returning to American lines. In 1921, he and other Medal of Honor recipients were pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier. Unfortunately, Whittlesey was deeply troubled by his experiences and disappeared from a passenger ship in November 1921 in an apparent suicide.

Cher Ami, the carrier pigeon that saved the men from their own artillery, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with an Oak Leaf Cluster for heroic service at Verdun and in the stopping the artillery barrage in the Argonne Forest. The bird died in 1919 and was stuffed for display at the Smithsonian.

The story of the Lost Battalion was made into a movie in 1919 and again in 2001.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the adorable way military working dogs retire

Military working dogs go through lives of intense national service, trained from near birth to mind human commands and either fight bad guys or hunt for dangerous substances and contraband. But they’re still living creatures, and they are allowed to retire and live out their days after their service is done.


And, since this is the military, there’s a ceremony involved. But when you do retirement ceremonies with healthy, eager dogs, it’s actually a pretty adorable experience.

In this video from Fort Benning, the 904th Military Working Dog Police Detachment held a ceremony to retire two of their working dogs. Max is a Belgian Malinois with 10 years of service and Grisha is a Malinois who had spent four years at Fort Benning. Both dogs received Army Commendation Medals and were slated to live out their days in the civilian world.

Military working dogs serve in a variety of roles. The most visible is likely the dogs trained to detect improvised explosive devices and similar threats like mines and suicide vehicles. These animals are employed across the world, especially at forward bases and combat outposts.

But the military also has dogs that detect drugs to aid law enforcement agencies on military installations, as well as cadaver dogs which are unfortunately required to help find bodies after disasters.

But the animals also serve on the front lines or in raids. Special operators like Navy SEALs now take dogs on some missions to help keep curious onlookers back or even to take direct action against enemy fighters, using their teeth to harm foes or just to pin people down so the SEALs can sort hostages and civilians from fighters in relative safety.

One of the newer ways for animals to serve is in emotional support roles, a job which hearkens back to some of the earliest animals in military units. Animal mascots have been common to military units for centuries, and troops have long looked to the mascots for companionship.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The infamous Polish cavalry charge against the Nazis actually worked

On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.


7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

(Laughs in Polish)

The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.

Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.

So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.

On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.

The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.

What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.

Articles

How a new generation of Air Force pilots flew a mission for a fallen WW2 brother

On Dec. 23, 1944, 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson was killed in action when Nazi planes shot down his P-47 Thunderbolt. Carlson would be missing for almost 73 years until he was identified and buried with full honors at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania on Aug. 4, 2017.


When the “missing man” formation was flown, it was done by four F-35s.

The F-35s belonged to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, one of 23 assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, according to the wing’s official webpage. The 56th operates both F-35s and F-16s.

But long before it had the mission to train pilots on the Air Force’s newest multi-role fighter, the 56th Fighter Wing was a combat unit, as was its predecessor, the 56th Fighter Group.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson, who was killed in action when his P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down on Dec. 23, 1944. (USAF photo)

A July 28 release by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency noted that Carlson’s remains had finally been identified. It noted that Carlson’s wingman had believed that the pilot got out, but German officials had claimed his remains had been recovered near the crash site.

The release stated that Carlson would be returned to his family for burial. So, how did the F-35s end up flying the missing man formation?

Back in World War II, the 56th Fighter Group was known as the “Wolfpack,” which included the 62nd Fighter Squadron. Among the pilots who flew with that unit was the legendary Robert S. Johnson, a 27-kill ace who later wrote the book, “Thunderbolt!”

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Four F-35’s participated in a missing man formation fly-over during 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson’s funeral in Pennsylvania more than 70 years after being shot down over Germany in World War II when he was assigned to the 62nd FS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

According to an Air Force News Service report, it was because Carlson had been a member of the 62nd when he was killed in action. Squadron commander Lt. Col. Peter Lee had been browsing Facebook when he noticed the patch for the 62nd Fighter Squadron.

“I clicked on the link and that’s how I found out. It started with something as simple as a Facebook post…and next thing you know we’re flying four airplanes over and talking with the family,” he said.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
F-35 Lightning II fighters fly the missing man formation during the funeral of 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson. (Youtube Screenshot)

The F-35s flew the missing man formation for Carlson, led by Capt. Kyle Babbitt, who said, “If it had been me on the other side, I would really appreciate this for my family. It’s definitely an honor to take on this responsibility.”

You can see a video about this mission by the 62nd Fighter Squadron below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Vietnam-era gun cameras showed another side of the war

For most people, the Vietnam War is best represented by the grunts on the ground. Movies like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, or Full Metal Jacket dominate the public perception of the war and the films focus primarily on infantry. But the Vietnam War saw a lot of air power as well.


7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Animal Mother’s Vietnam War wasn’t the only Vietnam War. (Screenshot from Warner Brothers)

Although helicopters like UH-1 became an icon of the war, fixed-wing planes also saw a lot of action. Some, like the A-1 Skyraider, were legendary for providing close-air support. Others, like the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, went “downtown” to bomb Hanoi or kill MiGs. Then, there’re the B-52s that famously supported Operation Arc Light over Hanoi.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Republic F-105D in flight with full bomb load. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

Uniquely, all of this was caught on film. It gets saved as historical record, but the cameras weren’t just recording for us to watch years later. Their purpose was to help intelligence personnel assess just how badly the strikes launched damaged a target, or if a MiG was destroyed in combat or just merely damaged. It helped to back up the observations of pilots, who were busy trying to get home.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
A MiG-17 is shot down by an F-105D on Jun. 3, 1967 over Vietnam. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

So, what was it like seeing the war through pilots’ eyes? Well, we can see exactly what it was like, thanks to what they call Combat Camera. The Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines all have combat cameramen. It’s not exactly a risk-free job. Stars and Stripes reported that three combat cameramen were killed during the War on Terror, and two others died in a 2015 crash during post-earthquake relief operations in Nepal.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
Spc. Michael D. Carter, a combat cameraman, received the Silver Star for saving several special forces Soldiers during an operation in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley on April 6, 2008. (Photo from U.S. Army Special Operations Command)

Whether it was a strike on an enemy supply convoy or a dogfight with a MiG, much of it was caught on camera. In the video below, you can see what pilots saw during the Vietnam War. Of particular interest are the gun-camera shots showing enemy forces in what is their last few moments before the Air Force brought the firepower on top of them.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2wQ2I3p4kg
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
Articles

This is how you move a World War I railway howitzer to a museum

In World War I, there was a need to hit targets either pretty far off, or which were very hard to destroy.


At the time, aircraft weren’t much of an option – in fact, they really had a hard time carrying big bombs. Often, an aircrewman would drop mortar rounds from a cockpit. So, how does one take out a hard target? They used naval guns mounted on railway cars.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
‘Boche-Buster’, a 250-ton 18-inch railway gun, Catterick, 12 December 1940. The gun later travelled down to Kent to take up position at Bishopsbourne on the Elham to Canterbury Line, taken over by the Army for the duration. (Imperial War Museum photo)

Many of these guns came from obsolete armored cruisers – the most common of the rail guns was the BL 12-inch railway Howitzer. The British pressed 81 of these guns into service, and many lasted into World War II. These guns are obsolete now, rendered useless by the development of better aircraft for tactical strikes, from World War II’s P-47 Thunderbolt to today’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, as well as tactical missile and rocket systems like the ATACMS, Scud, and MGM-52 Lance.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
An ATACMS being launched by a M270. | Wikimedia Commons

The gun the British were moving didn’t actually serve in World War I. According to a release by the British Ministry of Defence, the BL 18-inch howitzer just missed the Great War, but it did serve in World War II as a coastal defense gun – albeit it never fired a shot in anger, since the Nazis never were able to pull off Operation Sea Lion. The gun was used for RD purposes until 1959, when it was retired and sent to the Royal Artillery headquarters.

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines
BL 18 inch Railway Howitzer, seen in Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht in the Netherlands. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In 2013, it was briefly loaded to the Dutch railway museum. Later that year, it went to the Royal Armouries artillery museum. It is one of 12 railway guns that survive. The video below from the Smithsonian channel shows how the British Army – with the help of some contractors – moved this gigantic gun.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the actual footage of George Bush’s WWII sea rescue

During World War II, George H.W. Bush served in the U.S. Navy. A pilot assigned to a torpedo squadron in the Pacific Theater, Bush flew the TBM Avenger, a torpedo bomber capable of taking off from aircraft carriers that would famously see combat during the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

Bush enlisted in the Navy’s flight training program fresh out of high school, becoming one of the Navy’s youngest aviators. He first saw action in May 1944 and would go on to fly 58 combat missions. Then, on Sept. 2, 1944, he was hit by anti-aircraft fire during an attack run on the Japanese-occupied island of Chichi Jima.

“Suddenly there was a jolt,” Bush wrote later, “as if a massive fist had crunched into the belly of the plane. Smoke poured into the cockpit, and I could see flames rippling across the crease of the wing, edging toward the fuel tanks.”

His two crewmembers were killed in the attack, leaving the young pilot to complete his bombing run against a radio facility and bail out alone over the Pacific into jellyfish-infested waters. During the egress, he struck his head, which bled profusely as he swam to a life raft and hoped for rescue.

He was one of the lucky ones. Many aviators struck down during that battle where captured and executed and, according to Bradley James’ bestselling novel Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, their livers even eaten by their captors.

After four hours, the USS Finback, a lifeguard submarine, found him. Now you can watch the video from the moment when the Finback’s crew pulled from the water the man who would go on to become the Director of Central Intelligence and the 41st president of the United States, serving from 1989 to 1993. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during the mission.

President George H.W. Bush died on Nov. 30, 2018, at the age of 94 years old.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The fastest fighter jet in the world is over 50 years old

Fastest jet in the world? That’s easy. Most people know it’s the SR-71, the reconnaissance plane so fast it could outrun missiles. But the fastest fighter jet? Well, the Soviets created a fighter jet to chase down the SR-71 Blackbird, and it was so fast that it’s still the fastest fighter jet ever built. And it’s still in service today.


The MiG-25 Foxbat looks ungainly and boxy next to fourth and fifth-generation fighters. Its younger sibling, the MiG-29, is much sleeker, and the aggressive-looking F-35, F-22, and even the Su-57 make for way better wall posters than the Foxbat.

By comparison, the Foxbat looks almost like a box truck. If you’re feeling generous, you could compare it to something like an old Chrysler LeBaron, instead.

But only if that Chrysler Lebaron could sweep down a drag strip at speeds over 60 percent faster than its rivals.

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A two-seat trainer version of the MiG-25 flies over forested land.

(Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com), GFDL 1.2)

The story of the Foxbat is a fairly simple one. When Russia first understood the SR-71, it realized that the step from a reconnaissance plane that could fly three times the speed of sound to a bomber that could do so was large but hardly insurmountable. They had to plan on U.S. bombers that could outrun ground-launched missiles.

And so they got to work on a fighter that could move on the edge of space with the SR-71 and the planned XB-70 Valkyrie. While they knew it was unlikely they could create a fighter that could fly faster than a reconnaissance plane, there was a decent chance that it could outfly the bomber since the bomber would have to carry more weight.

Lacking the materials science to create light airframes like the SR-71, it did the next best thing and just made the engines so powerful that they could muscle through, carrying the nickel-steel alloy frame to record heights and speed. And the engineers at the Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG is a shortening of that name), were some of the world’s best engine designers.

They came up with a twin-turbojet design that could propel the MiG-25 to Mach 2.8 in operational conditions and 3.2 if the pilots were willing to risk the engines. The plane quickly set world records for speed, time to climb, and top altitudes for a fighter.

And that scared the U.S. and the rest of NATO. Not only was the Foxbat ridiculously fast and powerful, but its design suggested that it was super maneuverable, a design characteristic that the West was moving toward.

But two events would completely change the calculus for the Foxbat. One made it a plane without a mission, and the other took away much of the fear for pilots who might be called to face it.

XB-70 Valkyrie Mid-air collision June 8, 1966

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First, a catastrophic crash killed two pilots and destroyed the 0-million XB-70 Valkyrie test aircraft in a program that was already suffering cost problems. The program was canceled. Suddenly, there was little prospect of a Mach 3 bomber for the Foxbat to chase, meaning the most critical mission for Soviet planners was preventing American air superiority.

And then, a Soviet pilot defected to Japan with his MiG-25 in 1976, and NATO learned that the Foxbat was actually sort of horrible at air superiority.

When they disassembled, studied, re-assembled, and tested the plane, American engineers realized that it would almost always have a speed and altitude advantage against NATO planes, but it couldn’t capitalize on it. The Foxbat didn’t have a look-down, shoot-down radar system.

Without getting too into the technical weeds, the science of getting a radar that can see ahead of a fighter and beneath it without getting confused by ground clutter is actually sort of tough, and the Soviets hadn’t nailed it yet. So Foxbat pilots would be forced to descend to engage other fighters.

And once it was on a relatively even altitude with its adversaries, it would be relatively easy pickings. While it was undeniably fast, it was not actually super maneuverable. It was unlikely that a Foxbat could dodge missiles or win a dogfight. With a few changes to doctrine, planes like the F-4 Phantom could keep the Foxbat on the run or down it entirely.

Still, the Foxbat has continued in service in Post-Soviet Russia, and it’s still the fastest and highest-flying fighter jet in the world, carrying its full combat load so high that the pilot’s tears will boil off their faces. It just doesn’t matter because there’s nothing up there for the Foxbat to fight.

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