Ellsworth Air Force Base just northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota includes a section called the Munitions Storage Area. You’re probably picturing your average weapons depot, right? Turns out, the reality is more explosive than you might think. The Ellsworth Munitions Storage Area has been nicknamed the “Bomb Dump,” and for good reason.
Even bombs need to have a home somewhere
The 28th Munitions Squadron is in charge of every single explosive at the base as well as making sure that B1 launching equipment is always ready to go. That means no accidents can occur here or the whole thing could blow up.
The outside world rarely gets to see this part of Ellsworth, which makes sense. Severely limiting access is necessary because it is such a dangerous place. How dangerous, you ask? Well, there are 678,500 pounds of net explosive weight. That’s why the Munitions Storage Area is far, far away from any populated areas of Ellsworth.
Clumsy folks beware
Strictly speaking, munitions are anything that contain explosives. Small things like bullets, bomb bodies, and grenades are stored at the Ellsworth Munitions Storage Areas. However, so are a five-hundred-pound bomb body, a two-thousand-pound bomb body, and loaded cruise missiles. In other words, if you’re clumsy, this place is probably not for you.
To enter the Munitions Storage Area at Ellsworth, you have to pass through additional security beyond the gate. The Bomb Dump is so exclusive that many of the base’s employees have never even been inside of the 647 acres of the Munitions Storage Area.
Talk about a no-risk area
If you do find yourself in this volatile area, first you’ll have to give up your cell phone, as their signals could accidentally set off sensitive explosives. After all, the risks here are no joke, and they’re not taking any risks.
Inside, you’ll find 86 facilities. They are all neatly in a line and aptly named Long Row. The structures are built beside one another, but they don’t touch. Long Row was specifically designed for extra security, just in case there is a problem. For instance, if a bomb exploded in one of the buildings, the building beside it won’t sympathetically detonate.
One bomb, two bomb, red bomb, blue bomb
The Munitions Storage Area also includes free-standing carts out in the open loaded with non-explosive bombs used for training. They are color-coded blue to indicate that they are trainers.
On the Munitions Storage Area grounds, you’ll also find a bunch of “igloos” covered in earth. They were built in the 1950s with the idea that they would last quite a while. They sure are living up to their goals.
A minimum of 24 inches of soil plus a concrete topper covers each igloo for protection from what’s inside: many different types of explosives. At least one of the igloos serves as munitions inspection, where every single explosive device that enters Ellsworth must pass through.
Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.
Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.
From simple stars to elaborate medallions, here are 12 of the world’s ultimate civilian awards in all of their splendor.
Kazakhstan’s Order of the Golden Eagle
The medal shimmers with gold, diamonds, and rubies.
The award has been given to more than a dozen foreigners, but only two Kazakh citizens have received it: Nursultan Nazarbaev and Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, the only two presidents of Kazakhstan.
Order of the Star of Romania
The medal comes with the unusual reward of a free burial site and a military salute when the recipient dies.
Hero of Ukraine
In 2017, Belarusian Mikhail Zhyzneuski posthumously became the first foreigner awarded the title. Zhyzneuski was shot dead in 2014 during the Euromaidan protests. Many countries’ medals come with miniature versions of the honor (seen here on the right) that can be pinned to clothing.
The United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom
The medal rewards Americans, and occasionally non-Americans, for “exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Hero of the Russian Federation
This award is usually bestowed for “heroic feats of valor.” Two recent recipients were the Ural Airlines pilots who in 2019 guided their seagull-stricken passenger aircraft into a cornfield. There were no fatalities or serious injuries among the 233 people aboard.
Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun
The handmade medal represents a dawn sun made from a polished garnet stone surrounded by a star made of gold and enamel which is suspended from the leaf of a Paulownia tree.
Order of New Zealand
The number of ordinary awardees is limited to 20 living people. After a holder of the medal dies, the badge must be handed in and it is then “passed to another appointee to the order.”
The United Kingdom’s George Cross
Among the hundreds of recipients of this award “for acts of the greatest heroism,” perhaps the most unusual is the island of Malta, which was awarded the cross in 1942 for “heroism and devotion” during the Nazi/Italian siege of the British colony in World War II. The cross was later incorporated into the top left corner of independent Malta’s flag.
Order of Pakistan
This award is usually announced each year on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. The latest recipient of the award was St. Lucian cricketer Darren Sammy for his “invaluable contribution to Pakistani cricket.”
Bulgaria’s Stara Planina
The spiky medal was previously reserved for foreign dignitaries but is now also awarded to Bulgarians who have given “outstanding services” to their country.
Jewel of India
The platinum-rimmed medal is in the shape of a leaf from the Bodhi tree — the same type Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under. The Hindi script says “Bharat Ratna” (Jewel of India). A maximum of three people receive the award each year.
Albania’s Honor of the Nation
This medal is awarded by Albania’s president to Albanians or foreign nationals “as a token of gratitude and recognition for those who by their acts and good name contribute to honoring the Albanian nation.”
The 1950s and 60s were a more fraught time in French history than most Americans realize. It was a time where senior generals deployed their forces against French territory and threatened Paris and the sitting president twice in just three years.
The first coup came in 1958, following years of unrest. The French Fourth Republic, the government formed in 1946, a couple of years after the liberation of France from Nazi control, was never steady. Among other problems, an unpopular and bloody war in Algeria, then a French colony, was a millstone around the nation’s neck.
Members of the French Army operate in Algeria.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Richard M. Hunt via State Archives of North Carolina)
In May, 1958, the government attempted to open negotiations with their major opponent in French Algeria, the Algerian National Liberation Front. If the war was unpopular, capitulating was worse. Rioters in French Algeria occupied an important government building.
The situation continued to degrade until May 24, when the troops got involved.
Military members in French Algeria launched Operation Resurrection, invading Corsica with little bloodshed. Gen. Jacques Massu, one of the senior military officials in French Algeria and the coup forces, agreed with others that the paratroopers could take Villacoublay Airfield, just a few miles from Paris.
Gen. Charles de Gaulle and his men were greeted by huge crowds when Paris was liberated, and he enjoyed enduring popularity for years.
(U.S. Office of War Information photo by Jack Downey)
The French Fourth Republic, facing mounting unrest at home and the growing possibility of an invasion by its own forces, collapsed. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who had avoided politics since 1946 but retained massive support of the protesters and France at large, took power. A new constitution was approved in September and the Fifth French Republic was born.
For the French people, this was a potential return to stability and sensible government. For forces in French Algeria, this was seen as the chance to focus on the business of fighting rebels.
But the French people outside of Algeria were still not fully behind the war — and it only got worse over the following years.
Workers set up communications for the Ministry of Armament and General Liaisons, a part of the resistance during the Algerian War that survived the end of the war and became part of the permanent government there.
By 1960, de Gaulle was working to negotiate peace with the rebels and the morale of troops stationed there plummeted. Mid-career and senior officers began refusing orders as some troops tried to avoid dying in the final days of a lost war while others attempted to achieve some victories that would strengthen the French position and prevent a second Vietnam.
It was against this backdrop that the retired and popular French Gen. Maurice Challe met with senior officers and proposed a second coup, this one against de Gaulle. He was joined in the inner circle by generals Edmond Jouhaud, Andre Zeller, and Raoul Salan, but the group enjoyed the support of other senior officers.
In the final hours of April 21, 1961, French paratroopers took over important buildings and infrastructure in French Algeria, especially the capital, Algiers. Challe took to the radio the next morning to call on all other troops in French Algeria to cease supporting Paris and follow him instead. It had been less than three years since some of those same troops had supported the coup that brought de Gaulle to power.
Challe threatened Paris itself in his radio address, saying he, “reserved the right of extending the action to metropolitan France to reestablish a constitutional and republican order.”
De Gaulle gave his own public address, while wearing his old uniform, where he called on the people of French Algeria and France as a whole to resist the attack on the Fifth Republic.
France, for the most part, followed de Gaulle. Workers staged a symbolic, hour-long strike to show that they could shutdown industry if the coup continued. Citizens rallied and prepared to occupy the airfields around Paris with cars and bodies to prevent any planes from French Algeria landing.
The six-foot, five-inch Charles de Gaulle was popular at home and imposing everywhere he went, but he faced numerous attempts to force him and his government from power by vocal and well-organized opposition, including some generals in French Algeria.
Many pilots and crews flew their planes out of the country and sabotaged their own aircraft to prevent further use. Soldiers refused to leave their barracks or organized their own ruling committees if they thought their officers were loyal to the coup.
Oddly, despite de Gaulle calling for resisting “by all means” and ordering loyal troops to fire on rebel troops, there were no known cases of troops loyal to France attacking or inflicting casualties on rebelling troops. Rebel troops are thought to have killed less than five people, a tragic loss of life, yes, but much less than would be expected in a rebellion with organized battalions on each side.
Saint Marc remained in the barracks and the men were arrested the following morning. Challe was later sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served a little over five before receiving a pardon from de Gaulle. Saint Marc was sentenced to 10 but also received a pardon.
The Fifth Republic, despite its rocky start, endures today. Algeria achieved independence in 1962, ending France’s colonial empire.
The Blackburn Buccaneer was a fast-attack jet of the Royal Navy designed to kill Russian cruisers from just above the waves with conventional and nuclear weapons in engagements lasting only a minute or so. Now, a retired oil company CEO has bought a retired Buccaneer and flies it around South Africa.
The plane was sent to the fleet in 1962 and served for over 30 years. The need for the jet came in 1952 when Russia introduced the Sverdlov-class cruisers. These were a class of cruisers valuable for defending the Russian coasts and attacking British and other carriers at night when the British would be unable to launch planes.
Britain could either build a new fleet of its own to counter Russia’s new fleets and the Sverdlov cruisers or, it could find a way to negate the new Russian assets. The British decided to build a new plane that could launch day or night, and that could quickly attack enemy ships and get away before the ship could retaliate.
This was a tall order against the Sverdlov which had cutting-edge radar and anti-aircraft weapons. British designers got around this by making the Buccaneer capable of flying just over the waves, below the radar of the enemy ships. And when they reached the target, the Buccaneers would launch their weapons in less than a minute and make their escape.
A Blackburn Buccaneer with its wings folded.
(Paul Lucas, CC BY 2.0)
The Buccaneer was supposed to eventually receive a custom-made nuclear air-to-surface missile, but actually spent most of its career carrying conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Despite the failure to create the nuclear air-to-surface missile, the Buccaneer was equipped with nuclear free-fall bombs.
The aircraft performed plenty of training in the Cold War and were used for a number of missions, including extensive duties in Iraq during the Gulf War, but was retired in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
And that was where Ian Pringle came in. A successful oil businessman, Pringle had the money to scoop up a Buccaneer when it went up for sale. He had the plane transported to Thunder City, South Africa, where civilians are allowed to fly nuclear-capable aircraft.
Once there, he took lessons in how to fly the aircraft, a dangerous process. His plane was an operational one, and so it only has controls in the front seat, so his trainer had to sit in the back seat and coach him from there. If Pringle had panicked in flight, there was no way for the instructor to take over.
But Pringle figured it out, and now he races the plane low over the grass of South Africa when he can. The plane was made to allow pilots to fly just above the water, and so he can take it pretty low to the grass.
He’s one of only two civilians ever to fly the plane, though he obviously can’t fly it with missiles or bombs on board.
Over the years, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has graduated thousands of officers who have gone on to do great things with their lives. Two Presidents of the United States and 75 Medal of Honor recipients are West Pointers. But no single class has been quite as successful as the Class of 1915.
The Class of 1915 was comprised some of the most famous names in the history of the U.S. Army, including Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. There were 164 graduates that year and over one third, 59 total, went on to become generals, spawning the nickname ‘The Class the Stars Fell On.”
All told, two of them were named as five-star Generals of the Army, two others became four-star generals, seven made lieutenant general, 24 pinned on two-stars, and 24 made brigadier. To top it all off, Dwight Eisenhower was elected as the 34th President of the United States.
There were a number of factors that affected the outcome for this class. The first was the timing of their graduation. With the Punitive Expedition in 1916 and America’s entry into World War I in 1917, the Class of 1915 found themselves in combat early in their careers.
Second, a career as a military officer was rather nice for the times, compared to other jobs. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, resignations became exceedingly rare, even if promotions were non-existent.
Finally, with the rapid expansion of the armed forces for World War II, this class of officers quickly moved into high level command positions due to their experience and seniority. The first among the class to reach the general officer ranks was also the first Puerto Rican and Hispanic to attend and graduate from West Point, Luis R. Esteves.
The two highest ranking members of the class were Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. Eisenhower quickly gained a reputation for his planning and administrative abilities and in just three years’ time would advance from the rank of brigadier general to General of the Army, a five-star rank, as the commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. During World War II, he planned and led the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. Bradley would enter the war with Eisenhower in North Africa and quickly receive promotions as well. Bradley took charge of the Twelfth Army Group, consisting of four field armies and over one million men, the largest group of American soldiers to ever serve under a single field commander. Bradley would not receive his fifth star until the Korean War, when he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The class also had two four-star generals in Joseph McNarney and James Van Fleet. McNarney was originally commissioned in the infantry but then attended flight school. Under his recommendation, the Army Air Forces became an autonomous component of the Army. He would eventually become the Supreme Commander of the Mediterranean Theatre. James Van Fleet was also commissioned in the infantry and during World War II he commanded both the 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions as well as III Corps. During the Korean War, he commanded the Eighth Army. He was also one of, if not the, most decorated officers of the class, having earned three Distinguished Service Crosses, three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts.
Although a number of the class distinguished themselves in combat in World War I, many members of the class did not, and would not, see combat until World War II, where they would truly distinguish themselves. A total of thirteen men from the class would command divisions during WWII. In Europe, Generals Leland Hobbs led the 30th Infantry Division, earning the nickname ‘Roosevelt’s SS’ from the Germans and were considered by S.L.A. Marshall to be the number one infantry division in theatre.
Lt. Gen. John Leonard, who received a Distinguished Service Cross in WWI, would lead the 9th Armored Division throughout the war and during their daring taking of the Remagen Bridge. In the Pacific, Joseph Swing, who would eventually become a Lieutenant General, commanded the 11th Airborne Division. Swing was instrumental in saving the airborne divisions by chairing the Swing Board and showing their utility in the Knollwood Maneuver.
In the air, Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon would command the Sixth and Thirteenth Air Forces and go on to be the first Superintendent of the Air Force Academy. Another Lieutenant General, George Stratemeyer, would command the air forces in the China-India-Burma Theatre of Operations.
Many of these officers retired shortly after World War II but a few continued to serve. The longest serving member of the class was Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon who retired in 1956 after 41 years of service. The last surviving general of the class was James Van Fleet, who died at the age of 100 in 1992. Although the number of graduates each year at West Point is now significantly greater than it was in 1915 it is highly unlikely that there will ever be another class to achieve such greatness.
If you’ve read the book Saipain: Suicide Island, watched the movie Hell to Eternity, or you’re a World War II buff, then you may have heard of the heroic actions of Corporal Guy Gabaldon.
However, there are many who don’t know about the remarkable, true story of Corporal Gabaldon, a U.S. Marine who earned the Navy Cross after single-handedly capturing around 1,500 Japanese soldiers during the Battles of Saipan and Tinian.
Born in Los Angeles, California to a Mexican family, Gabaldon was one of seven children. At the age of 10, he helped his family by shining shoes and also got involved in a local, multi-cultural gang known as the “Moe Gang.”
At the age of 12, he moved to live with the Nakanos, a Japanese-American family he considered an extension of his own. He couldn’t have known at the time, but the experience of growing up in a Japanese household would later serve him well during his time as a U.S. Marine.
While he lived with the Nakano family, he learned about Japanese language and culture, gaining knowledge that would later give him a unique advantage in war. Unfortunately, the Nakanos were relocated to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming at the outbreak of World War II, forcing Gabaldon to move to Alaska and work in a cannery until his 17th birthday, when he joined the Marine Corps.
In 1943, Gabaldon signed up to fight in the Pacific and was assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division to be a scout and observer and when the United States began their invasion of Saipan. Gabaldon would soon prove that Marines are badasses, even without weapons.
For his actions, he earned the nickname, “The Pied Piper of Saipan.”
On his first night on Saipan, Gabaldon put what he had learned from the Nakono family to use. First, he went out on his own and convinced two Japanese soldiers to surrender and return to camp with him.
Despite capturing two prisoners without firing a shot, he was reprimanded and threatened with court-martial for abandoning his post. That didn’t stop him from going back out that night and doing it again. This time, he found a cave where the Japanese were hiding. Gabaldon killed one of the guards and yelled into the cave (speaking Japanese), convincing the others to surrender peacefully. He returned with 50 prisoners the next morning.
Now, instead of being chewed out by his superiors, they decided to authorize him to capture more soldiers, operating as a “lone wolf.” He then captured two more guards, sending one back to his hiding spot to convince others to surrender as well. Soon enough, a Japanese officer showed up to talk with Gabaldon. They would negotiate for a time before agreeing to terms of surrender, taking more than 800 soldiers and civilians out of the fight against the Americans.
He didn’t stop there.
During the battle for the Tinian Islands, Guy Gabaldon continued to persuade Japanese soldiers to surrender. Eventually, his negotiations resulted in the surrender of approximately 1,500 soldiers and civilians across both Saipan and the Tinian Islands.
For his actions, he was recommended for a Medal of Honor. This request was denied, and he was instead awarded a Silver Star, which was elevated to a Navy Cross in 1960.
In 2005, the Pentagon honored Gabaldon and other Hispanic Americans who fought in World War II. In 2006, he passed after a battle with heart disease.
Currently, the Department of Defense is reviewing his case to see if his Navy Cross is to be upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
The destroyer USS Ward (DD 139/APD 16) is famous for being the first American ship to sink a Japanese vessel, a mini-sub, just hours before the main attack on Pearl Harbor. But less famous is the first American ship to sink a Nazi U-boat. That impact of that ship’s kill, incidentally, would reverberate over six decades later.
USS Roper shortly after she was commissioned in 1919. (US Navy photo)
That vessel was USS Roper (DD 147), a Wickes-class destroyer. Wickes-class destroyers were built during World War I and carried four four-inch guns, a single three-inch gun, and a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes. These vessels were feeling their age as World War II bubbled up on the horizon but were pressed into service to hold the line until newer vessels came into the fleet.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Roper had taken part in a variety of deployments in the peacetime Navy between World Wars. The vessel had been off Cape Cod when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a quick refit, she was escorting convoys. Then came the fateful encounter.
On March 31, 1942, USS Roper rescued 70 survivors, including this mother and child. (US Navy photo)
U-Boat.net reports that on April 14, 1942, the Roper detected U-85 on the surface, about 20 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, two weeks after rescuing 70 survivors from a sunken merchant ship. First, the destroyer opened fire, scoring a number of hits. As the fatally stricken U-boat slipped beneath the surface, the destroyer unleashed a salvo of depth charges to ensure a kill. None of U-85’s crew survived.
After that kill, the Roper still served, doing a number of convoy runs. Then, she was converted to a destroyer transport and re-designated APD 20. In 1945, she was damaged by a kamikaze. Repairs were still underway when Japan surrendered. She was sold for scrap in 1946.
Then-Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Wilson was a veteran of World War II and a former officer when he led Company I of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, in an attack on a numerically superior group of enemy soldiers on June 5, 1951, during the Korean War.
When his men struggled to take the terrain, he rescued the lead element under hostile fire with grenades, led a bayonet charge that killed 27, and then protected his men from the enemy counterattack using his rifle and an entrenching tool.
Yeah, he fought off a counterattack by killing four enemy soldiers with a foldable shovel.
Company I’s attack on June 5 first faltered when dug-in enemy forces pinned down the advancing Americans using submachine guns and other weapons, according to Wilson’s Medal of Honor citation. That was the first time Wilson leapt into action to save his men.
He charged forward, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. His bold attack wiped out four enemy soldiers firing submachine guns, allowing Company I to continue the advance. The assault platoon moved up and established a base of fire.
So Wilson got a group of men together to press the attack with a bayonet assault. Wilson and the rest of the group killed 27 enemy soldiers and Company I began consolidating the gains it had so far. That was when the Koreans launched a counterattack.
The Americans were under severe pressure by the Korean assault, so Wilson again leaped into action. He initiated a one-man assault that killed seven and wounded two, shutting down the enemy’s drive.
When the Americans attempted another assault, it was decisively stopped by enemy fire. Wilson gave the order for the lead platoon to withdraw. But the withdrawal quickly went sideways with the commanding officer, platoon leader, and even Wilson suffering serious wounds.
That was when Wilson made his rifle/E-tool attack. He managed to kill three enemies with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands. That’s when he grabbed the E-tool and killed four more of the enemies.
His actions delayed the final Korean counterattack and allowed Wilson to evacuate the unit, but he suffered a second wound during that action.
In the Kontum Province of Vietnam, near the borders with Laos and Cambodia, there were many reports from U.S. troops on patrols of a strange, not-quite-human but not-quite-ape creature the locals call Nguoi Rung, or “The people of the Forest.” In other words: Bigfoot.
Gary Linderer was on a six-man patrol with the 101st Airborne’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols. While struggle through the underbrush, he ran into “deep set eyes on a prominent brow… five feet tall, with long muscular arms.” The creature “walked upright with broad shoulders and a heavy torso.” His battle buddies told him he just saw a rock ape, but Linderer had seen Rock Apes before. This was no Rock Ape.
Like the Yeti in the Himalayas, and the Sasquatch sightings all over North America, the Nguoi Rung is a oft-told tale in the area, but despite endless the sightings and folklore attached to the semi-mythical creature, no concrete evidence exists. Linderer wasn’t the only witness, either. Army Sgt. Thomas Jenkins reported his platoon was attacked by these apes throwing stones.
Toward the end of the war, Viet Cong and NVA soldiers reported so many sightings of the reddish-brown hair-covered Nguoi Rung the North Vietnamese communist party secretariat ordered scientists to investigate.
Dr. Vo Quy, a respected ornithologist and environmental researcher from Hanoi, discovered a Nguoi Rung footprint on the forest floor and made a cast of it. The cast was wider than a human foot and too big for an ape.
In 1982, another Vietnamese scientist, Tran Hong Viet discovered more footprints, which led zoologist John MacKinnon to investigate the region. MacKinnon called the area a “tiny, pristine corner of the world unknown to modern science.”
In 1969, MacKinnon discovered manlike footprints in Borneo’s jungles, which the locals called Batatut. While much of the evidence surrounding the existence of these apes is anecdotal, MacKinnon, known for his discovery of new mammal species in Vietnam, believes there is a possibility the existence of a previously unknown ape species is real.
An unconventional visionary: Col. Charles “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith
Charlie Beckwith commissioned in the Army in 1952, volunteering for Special Forcers a few years later.
In 1960, he deployed to Laos as part of a covert special-operations program to harass the North Vietnamese. Following that tour, Beckwith was an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service (SAS).
He was given command of an SAS troop (about 15 operators) and deployed to Malaya, where the British were fighting a Communist insurgency. That deployment had a profound impact on “Charlie Blister,” as the British called him.
At the time, the British commandos were pioneering special-operations, unconventional warfare, and counterterrorism doctrine. They had recently adopted an “individualistic” approach to selection and assessment, scrutinizing a soldier’s ability to operate and excel on his own.
Beckwith put lessons from the SAS to good use when he redeployed to Vietnam in the late 1960s, but by the 1970s, international terrorism was becoming prevalent. Beckwith saw the need for a unit with counterterrorism and hostage-rescue capabilities.
After years of cajoling senior officers and navigating military bureaucracy, Beckwith created the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as Delta Force.
The unit was part of the attempt to rescue American hostages in Tehran 1980. The failed operation, and Beckwith’s recommendations afterward, led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Beckwith’s greatest accomplishment was Delta Force. His vision, buttressed by his buzzing energy, achieved what others could not.
“He dug the foundations but also paved the future,” a former Delta Force operator told Insider. “He knew he wouldn’t be there forever, so he had to recruit the best guys — the best noncommissioned officers and officers — who would safeguard his baby. And they did. Look at where the unit’s at today.”
During his career, Beckwith received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor under fire, and two Silver Stars. He retired in 1981 and died in 1994, but in 2001 he received the Bull Simons lifetime achievement award, the highest honor given by Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
One hell of a soldier: Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell
Bargewell enlisted in the Army in 1967 and went straight to the Special Forces, aiming to serve in Vietnam.
He was assigned to Military Assistance Command — Vietnam Studies and Operations Group (MACV-SOG), a secretive special-operations unit that conducted highly classified operations in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.
Bargewell led cross-border missions that recovered valuable intelligence and put him in close contact with the enemy. During one such operation, a North Vietnamese soldier shot Bargewell in the chest as he cleared a NVA camp, but the bullet got stuck on his chest rig.
On another mission a few years later, he was shot in the face but fought on, allowing his team to exfiltrate, and was the last man out before the NVA overwhelmed the perimeter. His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.
“Eldon always strived to learn,” John Stryker “Tilt” Meyer, a Green Beret legend who served alongside Bargewell in SOG and has written about the unit’s daring operations, told Insider.
“He always wanted to the job better, and he was relentless that way. His desire to learn never left him, not even when he made general. He never changed in all his years. He was one hell of a soldier,” Meyer said.
Bargewell commissioned as an officer after Vietnam, and in 1981, he passed Delta’s arduous selection process and became an operator in the new unit. Bargewell went on to command at all levels in Delta.
“He always pushed his men to practice the basics,” Meyer added. “If there was an operational lull, Eldon filled it up with training. He knew it would come handy in the future.”
And it did. In 1989, Bargewell commanded Operation Acid Gambit, the daring rescue of Kurt Muse, a CIA operative held captive by Panamanian forces in a heavily defended prison.
During the extraction, the MH-6 Little Bird carrying Muse and some operators crashed close to prison, wounding several of them. Bargewell, then a lieutenant colonel, exposed himself to enemy fire to provide cover with a machine gun while his troops exited the damaged helicopter.
The operation was one of Delta Force’s first successful hostage rescues and firmly established it as the US military’s top hostage-rescue outfit.
Bargewell went on to command Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and to have key positions in JSOC and SOCOM. When he retired in 2006, after almost 40 years in uniform, he was among the Army’s most decorated soldiers.
Bargewell spent almost his entire career in Army special-operations units, including Special Forces and the Rangers, but he left his mark with Delta Force. In 2010, he received the Bull Simons award. Bargewell died in 2019.
The networker: Gen. Stanley McChrystal
Stanley McChrystal commissioned in the Army in 1976 and served in airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces units during a 34-year career.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, McChrystal was a rising star. He assumed command of JSOC, which includes Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, and went after Iraq’s growing Islamist insurgency.
With the motto “it takes a network to defeat a network,” McChrystal put liaisons everywhere, from the CIA to conventional military units, putting JSOC at the center of a web of units and agencies that shared intelligence like never before and acted fast.
For example, a Delta Force troop would hit a target early one night, gather intelligence, and conduct another raid immediately afterward, sometimes hitting three targets all over Iraq in the same night.
“We really turned it on with him,” a Delta Force operator told Insider. “The op tempo was crazy, but we pulled it off. We’d do two [or] three hits a night for weeks.”
Shrewd and tactful enough to navigate bureaucracy, McChrystal was still a warrior at heart.
At a counterterrorism meeting in an East African country, the CIA station chief present took a cavalier attitude toward McChrystal, who let him finish before saying, “Hey look, if you ever talk to me that way again, I’m going to come around this desk and beat the s— out of you,” according to journalist Sean Naylor.
In 2009, McChrystal assumed command in Afghanistan, where he devised the counterinsurgency strategy. Following Gen. David Petraeus’ example in Iraq, McChrystal argued for a surge of troops to defeat the Taliban. In the end, he persuaded President Barack Obama and the Pentagon despite the political cost of sending tens of thousands of additional troops to what many saw as a forgotten war.
But that command, and McChrystal’s career, ended with a blemish after he and his aides were quoted disparaging the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone article.
McChrystal retired with the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and JSOC’s renovation as his greatest achievements and with “his place secure as one of America’s greatest warriors,” according to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?
A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?
The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…
Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.
To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.
Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.
You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.
Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.
And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.
Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.
It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.
Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.
All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.
In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.
As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).
Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.
Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.
Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.
Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.
If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.
Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.
This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:
In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.
Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.
A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.
Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.
Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
When the U.S. Army quartermaster called on Hershey’s chocolate to create a chocolate bar designed especially for the military, it had very specific specifications. One of these might have seemed at odds with the way most people think about chocolate, but there are a lot of things about military service that defy common expectations.
Called the D-Ration, the chocolate bar was intended to be an emergency source of calories for American soldiers deployed overseas. So it had to be lightweight, high in calories, and able to withstand higher than normal temperatures when carried.
Hershey’s current offering would not pass the temperature test, so the chemists at the corporation got down to business. Using chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, and vanillin, they created a chocolate bar that was roughly the weight of two C batteries but packed 600 calories. To make it less tasty, they used less sugar and more liquor.
The resulting chocolate was so dense it wouldn’t melt enough to be poured, so the company had to use molds to form the bars. Quartermaster Capt. Paul Logan approved, so Hershey went about mass producing what would be known as Field Ration D.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company had to package the bars like any other field ration, protecting them from the effects of poisonous gas. They were stored in sealed cellophane, packaged in cardboard boxes, dipped in wax, and shipped in a wooden case boxed with steel nails.
Producing the chocolate bars for the military might have saved Hershey’s chocolate entirely, as the federal government considered shutting down the entire U.S. candy industry as a nonessential business and rationing sugar and cocoa for the war effort. Milton Hershey was able to show the D-Ration as proof that his business was supplying vital calories for the American troops fighting overseas.
He was definitely making the chocolate, as records show billions of the bars were produced between 1939 and 1945. But the troops weren’t exactly loving them. This was the intent, of course, but having to carry whatever they needed to fight in the field, a disgusting “chocolate” bar wasn’t going to top the list. Most troops would ditch the D-Ration for a decent kind of ration or, better yet, more ammunition.
When they did take the bars with them, they found them almost inedible. Soldiers with poor teeth couldn’t chew them and those with good teeth had to whittle slices off the bar to consume. Those who tried to eat the chocolate bars began calling them “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” because it absolutely wrecked their intestines – a situation today’s U.S. troops often refer to as “bubbleguts.”
It stands to reason that, with flavor being an important sticking point for the Army quartermaster, Capt. Logan did eat some of the bar before approving them for mass production and consumption. Logan may not have had the same bubbly reaction in his gastrointestinal tract later experienced by the troops deployed in World War II.
This is why some soldiers evolved trust issues when it comes to Army food.