When we think of crazy military schemes, we probably think of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. From nuclear-tipped kamikaze pilots to a base on the moon to secret listening cats, the two superpowers came up with a lot of unconventional ideas for fighting World War III.
So no one would blame you if you thought the idea of a silly military scheme from Canada was a little far-fetched. The U.S.’ northern neighbors are very rational, logical, and don’t feel the need to project global military power.
Project Habakkuk was the British effort to make unsinkable, non-melting landing strips made of Pykrete — a slurry of ice and sawdust. Pykrete (named for the inventor, Geoffrey Pyke) floated in water and would help keep the ice from melting during the summer months. Upon hearing about this, one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisors made his way to Churchill’s bath and tossed a piece in.
It floated in the bath water and the wheels of invention began to turn. Churchill long had an idea for protecting British shipping but couldn’t spare the steel. Pykrete was an excellent material for his new endeavor.
British fighters patrolling for U-Boats in the North Atlantic were limited in the time they could loiter in the air above shipping lanes. If the Allies could create unsinkable floating refueling stations throughout the area, the planes could land, refuel, and continue the mission. More shipping would undoubtedly get through to England. The idea was first floated on Canada’s Patricia Lake in 1943.
A 1,000-ton, 1:50 scale model was constructed on the Canadian lake to keep the material frozen while keeping the idea away from Nazi spies and saboteurs. The project was dubbed “Habakkuk,” and would be a ship 2000 feet long and 100 feet thick. The actual ship needed 26 electric motors and a 15-story rudder to support its massive 7,000 mile operational range.
Unfortunately, despite the success of keeping the Pykrete ship frozen throughout the Canadian summer and the material standing the test of being rebuilt, the cost of actually building the size necessary to fit the plan was just too high.
The British abandoned the 60-foot long model, where parts of its construction (the non-ice parts) can be found on the bottom of Patricia Lake to this day.
The battles that marked the period of the Crusades were bloody and brutal. Medieval warfare flat out sucked; not only was it incredibly violent, but medicine was basically nonexistent, there was poor sanitation practices, and really bad tactics.
The weapons used in the fighting were about as hellish as any martial tools could get. Think about it — it’s no surprise the phrase “get Medieval on them” strikes such fear.
The warriors of the Crusades, from the late 1000s to mid-1200s, were a mix of peasants, soldiers, and knights, and their mix of weaponry reflected the means by which each could acquire arms.
Peasants often had simple weapons — mostly tools used for agriculture — since they could not afford such luxuries of destruction. Knights had more expensive swords and armor, while others had bows, arrows, and spears.
So what are the deadliest weapons to encounter during the Crusades?
1. A mace or club
The mace is a type of club with a ball at the end. When it comes to length, the mace varies between two or three feet. The shaft was made of wood while the ball was usually of iron.
The ball may be smooth and round or have flanges. While this is somewhat of an infantry weapon, some horsemen would also carry the mace. However, a cavalryman’s mace was much longer so that the rider could reach down and swipe his opponent.
The purpose of the mace was to crush bone since it is a top-heavy weapon. One blow from a mace could break a man’s bones easily. Many maces also had flanges for extra damage.
While a ball can crush, a mace with flanges can exploit and penetrate the flexible armor in order to crush the bone underneath, possibly causing the victim to bleed to death.
2. The spear
The spear may be simple in design, but it has proven itself to be an effective close combat weapon over the centuries.
The length of the spear is between six to eight feet. The purpose of the spear in combat is to keep your foe at a distance by thrusting at him, or if the infantryman in question has extra spears or a side arm he can rely on, he could throw it at the enemy.
Spears were used not only against infantry but also against cavalry charges — and to great effect.
The purpose of the spear is to pierce, not tickle. A good spear thrust can pierce and shatter bone, killing in one hit.
The arrow delivered by a bow provided a nasty punch to the enemy. Arrows used against the cavalry would have been shaped to pierce armor while arrows used against ill-equipped infantry likely had barbs to make them harder to pull out of skin and bone.
The men who fought at the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097 during the First Crusade found this out when they fought the Seljuk Turks, who fired volley after volley of arrows into their opposition.
Even though the Crusaders won the battle, it was costly and they learned a valuable lesson about their enemy’s tactics.
The purpose of the arrow is simple: to strike an opponent from a distance. However, many Crusaders would soon learn to place padding under their chainmail. In doing so, the arrows are said to have passed through the chainmail only to lodge into the padding without piercing the soldier.
While killing is the objective, many forget that maiming is just a sufficient. However, if an archer cannot kill or maim his opponent, he can also be a nuisance and harass him by showering down arrows upon him.
The trebuchet is a siege engine first developed in China and brought westward by the armies of Islam, where it was introduced to European warfare during the First Crusade, though some historians doubt this timeline.
The trebuchet was a type of catapult and required many men to operate due to its sheer size and weight.
The purpose of the trebuchet was to weaken and bring down fortress walls. Not only could it fire stone projectiles, it also delivered incendiary objects. While stone is meant to crush, objects of a flammable nature were hurled over castle or city walls to set the various buildings on fire.
Of course, if you want to start a plague, just load up the bodies of plague victims and send them over the walls, as the Mongols did at Caffa in 1347.
What made the battle axe a fan favorite of some Crusade-era fighters was that, while being close in size to a sword, it was cheap to use and required limited skill — much like the mace.
The axe was either single or double-headed and the length of the blade was roughly 10 inches from the upper and lower points.
What makes this weapon so destructive is that not only could it crush a man’s bones wearing armor, the right hit was capable of cutting a limb off. In addition to lopping off enemy limbs, it was also used by doctors to provide amputations on medical patients (though with no guarantee of success).
Of all the weapons to inflict a considerable amount of damage to a human body, the sword was the most prestigious.
While many men could afford such a weapon, primarily nobles and those of wealth used it. Of course, over time, many more men, particularly those who were equipped by the states; i.e. the kings, used the sword.
What made the sword so popular was that it was a symbol of authority. While its design suggests power and of great importance, the judgment it could deliver onto a foe was devastating.
The sword was designed to do three different things, crush, pierce, and slice. Of course, this depends on the blade of the sword. In any case, the three functions of the sword gave its user an upper hand.
If he could not crush his opponent with a single hit (knocking him over, or breaking his arm or leg), he could try to slice him in an exposed are not covered by armor. If that failed, he could try knocking him down and aim for the areas that are vulnerable like the armpits, groin, and knee pit to name a few.
While the sword during the Crusades probably did the least amount of killing, it had the greatest impact as in being the symbol of conquest.
Don’t let the pretty little ponies fool you — the lance will mess your sh** up.
I tip my hat to the person who could survive a lance blow from a cavalryman. Yes, all weapons can kill if used properly, but of all the weapons mentioned, they either, crush, lop, slice, or pierce. In many cases, the victim survives or dies shortly after, which could be days.
The lance, which is least considered, won many of the battles during the early crusades. The lance did it all in one big swoop. As the lance made contact with the victim, it immediately crushed his torso and began to pierce through the body.
As it pierced, it began to slice through the vital organs before exiting the back. There are very few cases where the would-be receiver of the lance survived from his torso wound.
As the knights charged in with their lances, the enemy would be impaled immediately.
The length of a lance measured between 9 and 14 feet. Given the length and weight, along with the rider and his horse moving a full speed, it would not be unthinkable to suggest that two or even possibly three men could be impaled to a lance due to a swift cavalry charge into enemy lines.
No one knows more about political drinking than author Mark Will-Weber, whose book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, explores the stories behind each president’s favorite alcoholic beverage.
“Presidents drink for the same reasons we all drink,” Will-Weber recently told Business Insider. “Sometimes because it’s part of the job, sometimes it’s because they’re lonely or depressed — there’s a whole gamut of reasons of why people drink.”
For Will-Weber, knowing what the former presidents like to drink brings a “human side” to those who we “normally hold on a pedestal.”
Ahead, take a look at the presidents’ favorite alcoholic beverages, rounded up from Will-Weber’s book and The New York Post.
Our first president, George Washington, was a whiskey drinker, as were Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson. According to Will-Weber, Johnson was so inebriated when he arrived at the 1865 inauguration as Lincoln’s vice president that he had to be pulled off the stage.
John Adams reportedly started every morning with a hard cider. William Henry Harrison was also a big fan.
According to Will-Weber, Thomas Jefferson purchased so much wine it put him on the brink of financial ruin.
James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Ulysses S. Grant were all champagne lovers. Of these, Polk was the most modest drinker. Will-Weber told us about a small scandal that happened under Monroe, when a whopping 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to the White House.
John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and James Buchanan enjoyed Madeira wine, which gets its flavor by being heated repeatedly.
According to Will-Weber, Franklin Pierce was one of the heaviest drinkers to fill the White House. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 64.
On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln apparently drank the least while in office. Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Calvin Coolidge were also light drinkers.
Beer was the drink of choice for James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.
According to Will-Weber, the temperance movement tried to convince Chester A. Arthur to have a dry White House, but he refused.
The McKinley’s Delight was coined for President William McKinley. It was a strong drink made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, and absinthe.
There’s something romantic about being a knight — and no, we don’t mean sweep-a-fair-lady-off-her-feet kind of romantic. Between the tall tales of heroic deeds and depictions of gleaming, glorious suits of armor, the life of a knight has been made into something grander than it actually was.
The desire to take up sword and shield and live the life of a knight immediately goes out the window once you learn a little more about what that life was actually like. While your the experience of knighthood varied greatly between kingdoms, no matter which banner you bore, they all shared one common quality: life flat-out sucked.
14 years of training and you’re just given a nice pat on the back and maybe a piece of land — not a castle, though, because those are expensive.
Your journey usually began at as young as seven years old
It wasn’t entirely impossible for a peasant-turned-warrior to be recognized for greatness and rise in status, but that was exceedingly rare (for reasons we’ll get into shortly). For the most part, knights were generally are born into the role. If your father was a knight or if you were of noble birth but far from the line of succession, knighthood was for you.
This meant that, for the most part, from the moment of your birth, you’d be expected to become a knight and fight for your lord. The process typically began at age seven. You’d be given off to a noble to learn as much as you could. The quality of this childhood hinged entirely on the whims of said noble. Then, at age 14, you’d become a squire.
Squires were, essentially, interns for proper knights who’d do all of the unpleasant or mundane tasks. Be a knight’s errand boy for seven more years, and you’ll finally earn your knighthood.
At least the jousting would be fun…
You’re do far more than just fighting — and none of it was fun.
Being a knight meant far more than just showing up to do battle whenever summoned by your liege. At times of war, or if their number didn’t get called to go fight in some battle, they were expected to be local leaders among the large peasant society.
So, take all those years of learning to fight and throw ’em out the window, because you’re now the lead farmer until someone decides to raid your village. Occasionally, you’d do police duty and, more often, you’d be the mediator of local disputes, but that’s about it until it’s crusading time.
Still the best break down for how stupid chivalry actually was, read Don Quixote and remember that it was written intentionally to be a satire.
You had to follow a strict code of “chivalry”
The word “chivalry” derives from the Old French word, “chevalerie” which meant “horseman.” Over time, the gallant knights, typically astride horses, took on their own code of ethics. The word “chivalry,” over the years, then became synonymous with “gentlemanly,” but it meant much more than just treating ladies right (and, in this case, “ladies” refers exclusively to women of noble birth).
This code dictated much of your life. How strict was it? Well, knights were almost always godly men. So, if you were to skip church for one day, you may find yourself stripped of your knighthood entirely — but, of course, it’d all depend on if you come from noble status or not.
You could basically rob or kill anyone of a lesser status and no one would blame you. Tough break.
(Photo by Christopher Favero)
Your compatriots were usually always snobby nobles who rarely followed the code
The honorable few that earned their way into knighthood would be held to a much different standard than the knights who got their position from being the king’s second cousin’s kid.
Knights who got their position from a noble birth could do whatever they felt, facing little-to-no consequences. Even if the kingdom was very religious, noble-born knights could attack members of the clergy and get away with it if they had a good-enough excuse. You? The guy who earned it? There’s no way you’d be able to talk yourself out of that.
On the bright side, the more ornate the armor, the more likely it was that the person had no idea how to actually fight.
(Photo by Patrick Lordan)
You had to buy your own gear
The biggest barrier to entry for those warriors-turned-knights was the absurdly high cost of equipment. Remember, this was centuries before governments decided to arm their troops for combat. Since being a knight meant that you were paid in land ownership (or sometimes just the “glory of your lord”), you probably didn’t even get paid actual money.
So, any armor or weapons you needed had to be purchased on the side — with money you were never given. It was no problem for the knights of noble birth, but other knights would have to work the land and sell goods to earn enough just to fight.
Then again, being a knight is so easy that a penguin could do it.
Your title meant little after gunpowder was introduced
From the days of Charlemagne onward, knights were highly respected and highly revered across the lands. Then, this fancy new gadget called the “firearm” showed up and made your skill in battle immediately and entirely pointless.
During the Tudor period, armies learned that firearms and cannons could shred through a knight’s heavy plate armor with ease. All of that hard work, dedication, and money put toward becoming a knight was rendered meaningless by whoever had a bullet handy. As everyone focused on using firearms, the need for a literal knight in shining armor quickly dwindled.
That’s not to say that the title of being a knight is entirely worthless. It’s just more of an honorary title that’s given to great people who bring credit to their homeland — not just skilled fighters.
In our homes, dogs are members of the family. On the battlefield, dogs might save your life. Military working dogs are responsible for all kinds of important jobs. Their acute senses of smell and hearing allow them to detect approaching attackers with ease, even in total darkness. Some dogs specialize in detecting mines or other explosives, while others are used as messengers. Others still sniff out injured soldiers in hard to reach places.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how many human lives have been saved by canine military companions, the number is likely upward of 400,000. Just about every military working dog is loyal, but these 10 incredible pups show what it really means to be man’s best friend.
1. Sallie – Civil War
Sallie, a Staffordshire Terrier, was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. She joined soldiers in countless Civil War battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg. There, she mysteriously disappeared for three full days. When the company finally found her, she was guarding wounded soldiers back on the battlefield. While Sally was tragically killed at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, she wasn’t forgotten. To honor her dedication and sacrifice, soldiers from her regiment raised a statue of Sallie at Gettysburg.
2. Sgt. Stubby – World War I
Despite the goofy name and stout, Boston Terrier build, Sergeant Stubby is one of the most impressive dogs in American military history. He earned his title of sergeant by serving in the trenches in France during WWI, alerting troops of incoming gas attacks and rescuing wounded soldiers. He even captured a German spy all on his own!
The heroic canine is the most decorated war dog of WWI, earning numerous medals and becoming the mascot of Georgetown University. The newspapers loved him, and pretty much everyone knew his name. Even presidents were crazy about him- President Wilson, President Harding, and President Coolidge all jumped to meet him!
3. Chips – World War II
What do you get when you mix a Husky, Collie, and German Shepherd? A next-level war dog, apparently. A mixed-breed mutt named Chips wasn’t always a working dog. He started out as a pet, but his owner gave him to the military as part of the Dogs for Defense program that was launched after Pearl Harbor. It must have been the right call, because he thrived on the battlefield. He served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Germany, Italy, France, and several other locations, and his heroism was well-documented.
On one occasion, Chips charged a pillbox and captured the enemy soldiers inside to save his companions from machinegun fire. Later that night, he notified soldiers of an approaching ambush, saving them twice in one day. Chips heard enemy soldiers approaching for an ambush, then woke and alerted the men.
He won the most medals of any dog during WWII, including a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. Sadly, his medals were later revoked because the military decided dogs were “equipment” rather than service members.
4. Nemo – Vietnam War
One night in Vietnam, a German Shepherd named Nemo was on guard duty with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg. Nemo alerted Throneburg of approaching enemies, and the pair prepared for the fight of their lives. Both were shot by Viet Cong guerillas. Despite his severe wounds, Nemo protected Throneburg until medics arrived. Even when they did, Nemo wasn’t so sure. A veterinarian had to persuade Nemo to stand down to allow doctors to help his companion.
Miraculously, they both survived. While most military dogs spend their entire lives in service, Nemo was offered early retirement back in the States.
5. Lex – Iraq War
United States Marine Corps handler Corporal Dustin J. Lee was with his working dog, Lex, at a Forward Operating Base in Iraq in 2007 when disaster struck. The pair were hit by a 73 mm SPG-9 rocket. Both were severely injured, but Lex wouldn’t leave Lee’s side. Despite attempted treatment, Lee succumbed to his injuries, but Lex survived. He spent twelve weeks in rehab and was left with shrapnel permanently embedded in his spine.
Lex regained full mobility and could have easily returned to active duty, but Lee’s parents requested to adopt him. They had already adopted Lee’s previous canine, and wanted to welcome their son’s other heroic partner in his memory. The appeal was granted, and Lex lived out the rest of his life in comfort. He was also awarded an honorary Purple Heart for his service.
6. Sarbi- Afghanistan
A black lab named Sarbi hails from across the pond. The Australian dog was working as a bomb-sniffing dog in 2008 when Taliban militants attacked. Sarbi’s handler and nine others were wounded, and Sarbi vanished. She was miraculously found a year later at a remote patrol base in northeastern Uruzgan. Her handler was over the moon to see her again, and she was awarded a purple cross by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ in recognition of her bravery.
7. Cairo – Operation Neptune Spear
These days, most military dogs are used to detect explosives. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, is as elite as it gets. Cairo is a Navy SEAL and was the only military dog to participate in the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden in 2011. During the operation, Cairo was responsible for securing the perimeter and finding any enemies who evaded capture.
In another operation, Cairo was searching for enemies during a nighttime raid. He found an infant but moved on to another room to attack an adult man instead, leaving the child unharmed. He hadn’t been taught how to distinguish between babies and adults, but he instinctively knew the baby wasn’t a threat. Cairo’s handler was so stunned by the dog’s built-in sense of right and wrong that he went on to write a book about him.
8. Valdo – Afghanistan
Like many military working dogs, Valdo’s priority was sniffing out bombs. He trained heavily alongside his handler, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Lee, to hone his skills. Valdo had qualities that couldn’t be taught, however. Valdo had character. In 2011, his unit was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade. He shielded four soldiers from the impact, and was critically injured by the shrapnel.
Army Pfc. Ben Bradley believes he wouldn’t have lived to see another day if Valdo hadn’t been there. While Valdo did survive, his injuries brought his military career to an end, Lee adopted him to give him a happy retirement.
9. Lucca – Iraq
A German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix named Lucca completed two tours and over 400 missions as an explosive-detecting expert. In 2012, Lucca found a hidden IED and was searching for more, when one detonated. Lucca took most of the hit, saving several Marines who were nearby. Her injuries were so severe that her leg had to be amputated, but according to her handler, she hasn’t lost any of the pep in her step. She was given an honorary (unofficial) Purple Heart by a fellow Marine in honor of her six years of dedicated service.
10. Conan – Syria
A special operations military working dog named Conan has more grit and guts than most people ever do. Named after comedian Conan O’Brien, the Belgian Malinois works in the US 1st SFOD-D. One of his most famous achievements took place during the Barisha raid in Syria- the one that brought an end to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of ISIS. During the mission, Conan chased Baghdadi into a tunnel, where he detonated his suicide vest.
Conan was injured during the raid, he has since returned to duty. Many soldiers and citizens have petitioned for Conan to be awarded the Purple Heart medal, but so far the ban on military canine awards hasn’t changed.
World War II saw a tremendous amount of killing – and Russians took the full brunt of the Nazi death machine. Even the holocaust, a horribly cold, mathematical, and planned destruction of an entire race, was relatively small potatoes compared to the sheer volume of Russian lives lost fighting to end Nazism in Europe..
The Soviet Union lost some 26 million people fighting for their lives. There was hardly a Soviet family left untouched by what it calls “The Great Patriotic War.” So it makes sense that Russia would want to honor its fallen, wherever they fell. And no one does monuments like Communists.
The Soviet War Memorial in the Hungarian capital sits just across the street from the U.S. Embassy and is ironically flanked by a statue of Ronald Reagan. The statue itself bears the names of the Red Army fighters who assisted in the end of Nazi occupation of Budapest from across the Danube.
The statue is maintained by the local government in Hungary as part of a deal to preserve World War II memorials in both countries. Locals like to joke that when the Soviets left Hungary, they gave the Hungarians a giant middle finger.
Heroes Monument to the Red Army – Vienna, Austria
An incredible 17,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Vienna Offensive of World War II. The fight for Hitler’s hometown was brutal and costly. To commemorate their sacrifice, the Soviet Union built a 3,000-square-foot monument near Schwarzenberg Castle. Vienna still pays to maintain the upkeep on the memorial, centered by a Red Army soldier wearing a golden helmet and carrying a Soviet flag.
Brest Hero Fortress – Brest, Belarus
What was once a Tsarist Russian fortress was used by the Nazis in World War II as a defensive position, the Brest-Litovsk Fortress is now called the Brest Hero-Fortress and pays homage to the Hero City of Brest and its contributions to the Great Patriotic War. During the early days of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the Soviets were almost able to repel tens of thousands of Nazi troops from the walls of the fort. Standing tall among the ruins is a stone giant, called “Courage” which dominates the ruins.
Slavin Memorial Complex – Bratislava, Slovakia
In the capital city of Slovakia, once dominated by the Soviet Union, a memorial still stands honoring the men and women who died to liberate Bratislava from the horrors of Nazi occupation. The Slavin is actually a memorial complex instead of a lone memorial. Some 7,000 Soviet soldiers are buried here, and their names adorn the walls of the complex.
From the top of Slavin Hill, visitors can view the site that honors the men who died there while taking in amazing views of the entire city.
Soviet War Memorial – Treptower Park, Berlin
This massive figure was unveiled in 1949, just after the end of the Berlin Airlift. Built in Berlin’s Treptower Park, the statue memorializes 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the battle for Berlin in 1945. On top of a manicured landscape stands a lone Soviet soldier, standing on what’s left of a broken swastika. The grounds carry the remains of thousands of Soviet soldiers who died fighting in the city.
To this day, the memorials, like the other two honoring the Soviet sacrifice to triumph over Nazi Germany in Berlin, are meticulously maintained by the German government.
On a high plain in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, sits a remote outpost known to many simply as Firebase Shkin. In the early days of the War in Afghanistan, it was a hotspot of insurgent activity. According to Col. Rodney Davis, by 2003 Shkin was known as “the evilest place in Afghanistan.”
The firebase, looking like a cross between an old Wild West fort and the Alamo, sat right on the border in the middle of a major infiltration route for the Taliban from Pakistan. Contact was inevitable. Making matters more difficult was the ambiguous loyalty of the Pakistani Border Guards and armed forces in the area. The remote location meant that help was a long way off if things took a turn for the worse. Finally, the high elevation, 7,700 feet, meant every patrol was grueling.
Patrols wound through wadis and mountain passes on dirt tracks with names like Route Saturn, Chevy, and Camaro. Friendly Afghan Militia Forces inhabited adjoining buildings and ran the dreaded South Camp – a captured insurgent’s worst nightmare.
The base had first housed Special Forces soldiers and Rangers before being handed over to conventional forces from the 82nd Airborne Division, part of Task Force Panther, in 2002. The first casualty from the 82nd in the War on Terror was incurred here on December 20, 2002 when Sgt. Checo, assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), was killed in action. The firebase was often unofficially referred to as Firebase Checo in his honor.
Task Force Panther was relieved by Task Force Devil in January 2003. The elements of Task Force Devil, particularly those operating out of Firebase Shkin, were essential in establishing the tactics and standards of conventional forces operating in low-intensity conflicts. This information would be used to great effect as the war in Afghanistan grew and more troops came into the country. For the soldiers of Task Force Devil—and those that followed—these were lessons learned the hard way.
In April 2003, a contingent centered on elements of B Company 3rd Battalion 504th PIR, supported by gun trucks from D Company as well as artillery and other support, took control of the firebase. Contact began almost immediately. On April 25, a quick reaction force from the firebase was ambushed by Al Qaeda fighters. Using a reverse-slope ambush, a technique taught to them during their war against Russia, the Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) inflicted significant casualties on the firebase’s most recent inhabitants.
Two Americans were killed in the exchange and several others wounded, including the company commander, a platoon sergeant, and a forward observer. One of the soldiers killed was Jerod Dennis from B Company. The airfield at Orgun-e would later be named Dennis Army Airfield in his honor. The site of the battle, Losano Ridge, took its name from an Air Force Tactical Air Controller, Raymond Losano, who was also killed that day. However, the paratroopers gave better than they got sending the Al Qaeda fighters back across the border into Pakistan with heavy casualties.
The fight was further complicated by its proximity to the border and the fact that it happened in plain view of Pakistani outposts there. The response from the Pakistani side was to deliberately block and draw weapons on the American quick reaction force that was attempting to cut off the fleeing ACM fighters.
The soldiers of Firebase Shkin continued to engage the ACM and expand on their doctrine throughout the summer of 2003. As their commander, Capt. Dave Buffaloe, put it, “I was given an opportunity that no other captain in the Army was given: to fight his own combined-arms, coalition, joint, multi-agency fight in his own Area of Operations.” Ambushes were frequent and the operations tempo was demanding, especially as there were only six dismounted infantry squads at the time.
By the end of the summer, Task Force Devil began rotating out of the border firebases and handing over responsibility to the incoming 10th Mountain Division task force. For the soldiers of 1st Battalion 87th Infantry that meant it was their turn at Firebase Shkin.
Though contact had tapered off towards the end of the paratroopers’ tour, the ACM came back hard to test the new unit in the area. On August 31, 2003 the task force lost its first soldiers of the tour in a large scale firefight with Anti-Coalition forces. In September Afghanistan’s most intense combat in 18 months claimed the life of another soldier, Evan O’Neill, in a firefight around Shkin. The attack was more sophisticated than earlier Al Qaeda attempts against the American soldiers. This attack involved mortar rounds and what seemed to be an attempt to down an American helicopter. The whole fight, once again, took place within view of the Pakistani Border Guards, who did nothing to aid America or its allies.
The soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division would continue to battle against insurgents in the lonely reaches of Shkin, Afghanistan before they themselves were relieved. The tenacity of the American soldiers at Firebase Shkin would bring relative quiet to the area. Eventually Firebase Shkin would be overshadowed by places like the Korengal Valley and fighting such as the Battle of Wanat. But those who served there in the early days of the war will always remember the hell that was the evilest place in Afghanistan – Firebase Shkin.
While this rings true for people who own a house, it was even more important for the leader in charge of a kingdom, an empire or even a republic. The reason for this is that the man in the “high castle” had much a stake. So to make sure that the country is strong, a king would build a fortress — or a wall with many fortresses — to project the centralized strength and influence of his nation throughout his realm and beyond.
Understand that a fortress is not just a building with a certain amount of walls and towers, but also can be a wall. Below is a list of the strongest fortresses ever built in the history of the world.
5. Masada, Israel
On a rocky plateau situated on a hill in southern Israel near the edge of the Judean desert, one can find the fortress of Masada. Almost all information on Masada and the siege that took place comes from the first-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus.
The fortress of Masada withstood a year-long siege by Roman Gov. Lucius Flavius Silva. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In 66 AD, the Kingdom of Judea was in upheaval over Rome’s prolonged occupation and revolted. In doing so, a small group of rebels known as the Sicarii captured Masada after slaughtering its Roman garrison. In 72 AD, Lucius Flavius Silva, commander of the Legio X Fretensis, laid siege to Masada.
To reach the top, Lucius gave the order to build a massive ramp that was 375 feet high and 450 feet long. Once the legionaries made it to the top, they rolled the siege engines in and battered Masada’s walls until they fell.
Once inside, the Romans didn’t find an enemy in sight. Rather, they found over 900 dead. Only two women and five children survived.
The Great Wall of Gorgan. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The date of its construction is disputed. Some say it is 1,000 years older than the Great Wall of China. While little is known about the wall, the Parthians (247 BCE – 224 AD) who ruled Iran, are said to have built on the original remains of the wall.
The original height and width is unknown, but when the Sassanid Empire (224–651) overthrew the Parthians they repaired, enlarged, and added fortresses to the wall. The height of the Gorgan wall has yet to be determined. The width of the wall was between 20 to 30 feet wide and featured 30 fortresses.
What made this wall significant was that for many centuries it prevented nomads from the north, like the Dahae, Massagetae, Hephthalites and other various nomadic elements from getting in.
3. Hadrian’s Wall, England/Scotland
Hadrian’s Wall is well known to most casual students of history.
The purpose of the wall is obvious, but as to why it was constructed, remains disputed. The reason for this is that there is no clear evidence that suggests Roman Britain, south of the future wall, was under any real substantial threats — even though there had been some minor rebellions in the province and within the Roman Empire. This was probably the reason why Hadrian built the wall — as a symbol and reminder that it is best to separate one from the barbarians.
Hadrian’s Wall would provide Roman Britain security from the Celtic/Pictish tribes in the north until Rome abandoned Britannia in 410 AD.
To ensure the safety of this second Rome, Constantine issued an order to build of a wall. The Wall of Constantine was laid out in a series of four rows, with the inner two featuring towers 50 feet apart.
While very effective in repelling invaders, the Roman Emperor Theodosius II decided to expand the walls. The Theodosian Walls consisted of two — an inner and outer wall — which consisted of 96 towers. The inner wall was 40 feet high while the outer wall stood at 30 feet high.
The walls of Constantinople paid off for many centuries and were able to throw back 12 sieges from 559-1203 AD. However, the city was captured in 1204 during the fourth crusade, but afterward was able to withstand five more sieges until that fateful day in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks bashed down the walls and captured the city.
1. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China needs no introduction. Many assume that the Great Wall was built and finished during the lifetime of a Chinese emperor. Instead it was constructed by multiple emperors over 1,000 years.
The height, length, and thickness of the wall — or walls — vary, depending on which emperor built it and how much they could afford.
For example, once the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) pushed out the Mongols, they set about to expand and enlarge the Great Wall. The total length of the Great Wall under the Ming was over 5,000 miles long and 25 feet high and 15 – 30 feet thick at the base. If one were to take the wall and line it up, the length would be over 13,000 miles, according to study in 2012.
While the Great Wall looks good, it provided only temporary protection. The problem was that due to its size, it was too cumbersome and too costly to man.
The purpose of the Wall was to keep nomads out from the north. Instead, it kept the people of China isolated within and the wars that came with it.
The Mongols, however, just went around it during their invasion in 1211. The Ming would later enhance the wall, but it didn’t make a difference when the Manchu invaded in 1644.
From that point on, the Great Wall was more of a monument to look upon with amazement.
Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.
On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.
Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.
The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.
Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.
After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.
After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.
In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.
1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.
Immediately after the birth of aviation, there was a race to beat records, improve techniques, and push aerial boundaries. Being the first female to break the sound barrier is just one of the many records that Jacqueline Cochran holds, solidifying her place in history as a pioneer of the Golden Age of flying.
Jacqueline Cochran was born Bessie Lee Pittman on May 11, 1906, in Muscogee, Florida. Growing up in poverty, by just six years old, she started working at her family’s cotton mill in Georgia. Her childhood was rough, but it ingrained in her a will and resolve that catapulted her in achieving personal goals.
A young Jacqueline Cochran on the precipice of her aviation career.
She went on to marry George Cochran at the young age of 14 and changed her name to Jacqueline Cochran. Her marriage didn’t last, but that didn’t stop her from making a name for herself in the business world. In the early 1930s, she decided to venture into becoming a beautician and, eventually, owned her own cosmetics company that lasted well into the 1970s.
Jacqueline Cochran simultaneously ran her successful cosmetic line during her aviation career.
However, it seemed that ordinary life was not suited for Cochran. She wanted to make a difference in the war efforts of the time and felt that flying would offer the hand-hold to do so. In 1932, her ambitions reached into the world of aviation and she began to train and study. After just three short weeks of instruction, she received her pilot’s license and set her sights even higher.
Above, Jacqueline Cochran in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
Cochran obtained many prestigious titles, including being the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy during the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race. She set an international altitude and speed record while becoming the first woman to make a blind landing. She earned the Distinguished Service Medal for leading the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WAFS) and continued to set speed records for 15-, 100-, and 500-km courses after breaking the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre in 1953.
Chuck Yeager championed for Jacqueline Cochran and supplied her with guidance before she broke the sound barrier.
In addition to all these impressive records, she had time to lend a hand to the advancement of female aviators when she gained command over the British Air Transport Auxiliary, consisting of a select group of female pilots. In the U.S., Cochran directed the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1942, which provided more than one thousand pilots to the armed forces.
At the time of her death in 1980, her persistence and drive for excellence attributed to her collection of more speed, distance, and altitude records than anyone in the world, male or female.
“Jackie was an irresistible force… Generous, egotistical, compassionate, sensitive, aggressive — indeed an explosive study in contradictions — Jackie was consistent only in the overflowing energy with which she attacked the challenge of being alive.”
Few geniuses are recognized in their time and for better or for worse, Napoleon Bonaparte was one of those geniuses. “The Little Corporal” was loathed by European royalty as he upended royal houses across the continent, winning victory after stunning victory.
At its height, Napoleon’s French Empire controlled most of Europe, either directly or indirectly, placing his relatives and other rulers on various thrones as client states. This control extended to much of North and South America as well.
To do this, he trounced every army, great power and coalition sent his way, stepping over formerly mighty nations, like Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Spain. To defeat him, the Sixth Coalition formed and decided on the grand strategy of not fighting him.
Napoleon was successful on the battlefields of Europe for many reasons. He didn’t promote officers because of their family lineage, he promoted them because they were good at what they did.
Personally, he was successful for many reasons. First and foremost, he was fast. He could mobilize his well-organized armies much faster than other powers at the time, and once engaged, was able to quickly analyze battlefield situations. When his opponents made mistakes, his organization allowed him to exploit those errors quickly as well. This made him very aggressive on the battlefield, forcing his opponents to be on the defensive.
He also was well-versed in historical fighting, from antiquity to the present. He read the works and histories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gusatvus Adolphus and Frederick the Great. He used these histories and applied their lessons to the warfare of the time.
He did not follow the accepted practices of other powers and generals. Napoleon’s goal was the complete destruction of the enemy’s main force in a short time. He would outmaneuver his opponents to force them into a decisive battle where he had the advantage. Once his enemy was defeated, he would pursue the enemy force and destroy it completely.
There were three main strategies to the emperor’s battlefield successes: the envelopment, the central position, and the frontal assault. Napoleon’s favorite was the envelopment, where his forces attempted to get behind the enemy formation and force them either to retreat or fight while surrounded. The central position was the classic “divide and conquer,” where he would keep a Corps between two enemy formations and defeat each one individually.
If those two formations couldn’t work, he would use a frontal assault. Like the name implies, Napoleon would concentrate on the enemy’s center, with artillery support. When the enemy was weakened, he would send his reserves in to break the enemy line. The last required perfect timing and all could only be done with an army as mobile as Napoleon’s.
There’s a reason Carl Von Clausewitz, who literally wrote the book on war, called Napoleon Bonaparte “The God of War.”
To defeat the military genius, the coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and smaller German nations met at Trachtenberg in 1813, to discuss their strategy. They agreed that no one was willing to risk their armies against Napoleon directly. Instead, they decided on another plan.
SInce he had already handed the Coalition defeats at Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden, Coalition forces would not engage the emperor’s army. They would instead attack the armies led by his Marshals. In the meantime, they would form a numerically superior force that even Napoleon could not beat.
The plan culminated in the Coalition victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. The goal of creating a large force came to fruition at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as Napoleon’s 177,000-strong army faced a Coalition Army of more than 250,000. In the largest battle Europe had ever seen up to that point (and wouldn’t see again until World War I), the Coalition finally handed Napoleon the decisive defeat they needed.
The French were forced out of Germany as a number of German states switched sides against them. The next year, the Coalition invaded France and forced the emperor’s abdication and first exile to the island of Elba.
Throughout World War II, Winston Churchill gave a number of speeches that galvanized the British public in the face of extreme hardship and convinced them to keep fighting that good fight against Adolf and his cronies.
Perhaps the most famous speech Churchill ever gave was the one he spent the longest time agonising over — “This was their finest hour,” where he stated in part,
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
The speech was delivered just a month after Churchill became Prime Minister and at a time when the UK was reeling from the news that France had fallen (effectively leaving the British Empire to fight the Nazi war machine alone, until Hitler turned on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Yanks joined in about six months after that). The speech had to somehow rally the entire country during what Churchill would eventually come to call “The Darkest Hour.” This is a goal the speech is generally accepted as having accomplished and then some, with Churchill’s words deeply resonating with the British public. In particular, Churchill’s sentiments about the British Isles standing strong in the face of what appeared to be impossible odds.
THEIR FINEST HOUR speech by Winston Churchill [BEST SOUND]
The speech, which lasted around 36 minutes, was first given in private to Parliament on June 18, 1940, and later to the British public via radio and it’s noted that Churchill was making revisions to it until quite literally the last possible moment. For example, when the Churchill Archives Centre dug up the very same copy of the speech Churchill used when he addressed Parliament, they found that it was covered in random annotations, some of which appear to have been made leading right up to just before he gave the speech.
Impressively, some of these literal last minutes additions ended up being amongst the most memorable lines from it. For example, the line “All shall be restored” which was noted as inspiring many a Britain to do their bit for the greater good of Europe, was a line Churchill scribbled in the margins of the speech when he sat on a bench in the House of Commons waiting to be called to speak.
It’s also noted that Churchill simply winged it at some points, making up some of the lines in the speech on the fly. This was something that was facilitated by Churchill’s insistence on printing the speech in blank verse format, which some experts believe allowed Churchill to read and visualise the speech as a piece of poetry, allowing him to better improvise and more comfortably find a natural rhythm when speaking.
Of course, no matter how good something is, even in the days before internet comments there’s always someone to criticize and, despite “This was their finest hour” being considered one of the finest oratory performances ever given, Churchill’s own secretary, Sir Jock Colville, was wildly unimpressed. Among other things, he noted in his diary that the speech was too long and that Churchill sounded tired when he read it. Given that the speech is often ranked alongside things like the Gettysburg Address, Sir Colville’s opinion evidently wasn’t one shared by many others, however.
Finally, because we kind of have to mention this, when Churchill delivered the speech to the British public via radio, he reportedly did so while smoking a comically large cigar which he kept burning in his mouth for virtually the entire time he was speaking…
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Art Jackson, who singlehandedly destroyed a dozen enemy pillboxes and killed 50 Japanese soldiers during a fierce battle on the Pacific island of Peleliu. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 92, but his legacy is far from over.
Nine Marines, including Jackson, were presented the Medal of Honor for their roles in the battle.
Art Jackson’s Medal of Honor citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of” Peleliu Island. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Fighting for control of the island lasted for two months, beginning in September 1944. The Japanese, entrenched in caves, killed 1,800 American soldiers and injured 8,000 more.
Decades after his service, Jackson visited military cemeteries and spoke about fallen soldiers as a way to keep their memories alive.
“The First Lady and I are saddened by the loss of a great and iconic American hero, recipient Art Jackson,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wrote on his Facebook page. “As an unforgettable member of the Greatest Generation passes into history, we wish the Jackson family all the comfort that our prayers can provide and all the respect that Art’s life and valor deserve. Well done Marine. Semper Fi.”
Family friend Rocci Johnson, who earlier confirmed Jackson’s death, praised Jackson for his devotion to his country.
“Art Jackson was a true American hero. He was from the Greatest Generation. If it wasn’t for men and women like him, it would be a very different world,” Johnson said. “We owe a lot to his dedication and hope that his legacy will serve as an example for all of those who are currently fighting for freedom.”
The Boise Police Department sent condolences to Jackson’s family. Former Chief Mike Masterson met Jackson during his time as chief and several other officers befriended Jackson and maintained a friendship with his family.
“It is with great sadness that members of the Boise Police Department hear the news that recipient Arthur Jackson recently passed away at the Boise VA,” the department wrote in a statement.
Services, including military honors, are pending. Flags at state offices throughout Idaho will be lowered to half-staff on the day of Jackson’s internment, said Mark Warbis, a spokesman for the governor.
Art Jackson saved his platoon from almost certain destruction. A book about the battle described him as “a one-man Marine Corps.” His citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
Despite a barrage of gunfire, Jackson charged a large pillbox, as the concrete guard posts were known. He threw white phosphorus grenades to provide cover, set off munitions charges that destroyed the pillbox and killed the 35 soldiers inside.
Jackson kept advancing and picked off one enemy position after another.
“His gallant initiative and heroic conduct in the face of extreme peril reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. Jackson and the U.S.Naval Service,” according to the citation.
Jackson, then 19, was wounded on Peleliu and during the Battle of Okinawa and returned to the United States with two Purple Hearts.
President Harry S Truman presented him with the during a ceremony at the White House. He was congratulated by Marine Corps Commandant Alexander Vandegrift, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal; celebrated with aviation legend and fellow recipient Jimmy Doolittle; and rode with celebrity columnist Walter Winchell in a New York City ticker-tape parade.
During the Cold War, Jackson was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, where he killed a suspected Cuban spy who lunged at him and tried to take his sidearm . Instead of reporting the incident, Jackson hid the man’s body. After the body was discovered, Jackson was arrested and forced to leave the Marines. He told his full story of the incident to columnist Tim Woodward in 2013.
Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1924, and moved to Portland, Ore., with his parents in 1939. He graduated from Ulysses S. Grant High School and worked for a naval construction company in Alaska before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in November 1942.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter honored Jackson by declaring Feb. 24, 2016, as Art Jackson Day.
In 2015, when the USS Peleliu assault ship was decommissioned, the ship’s flag was sent to Jackson to commemorate his service on the island.