These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

The Alaska-class cruisers are often seen as a waste of resources. At first glance, it is easy to see why. The United States only completed two out of the six planned vessels. One more was launched, but never finished. All three that managed to reach the water were quickly in reserve and then scrapped. But these ships were quite an achievement – a mini-battleship that gave good service during their brief careers.

Much of the issue was timing. According to data in Volume Fifteen of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Supplement and General Index,” the lead ship, USS Alaska (CB 1) was not commissioned until June 17, 1944, 11 days after the D-Day landings. The second ship, USS Guam (CB 2), was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1944. These ships didn’t have much left to fight by the time they got to the front lines.


Their primary purpose was to kill Japan’s heavy cruisers in a surface action. The Japanese had three classes of heavy cruiser intended for front-line service: The Myoko, Takao, and Mogami classes each packed ten eight-inch guns, and at least 12 610mm torpedo tubes for the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
The large cruiser USS Alaska (CB 1) fighting off a Japanese air attack.
(US Navy photo)

According to Fleets of World War II, the Alaska-class cruisers were armed with nine 12-inch guns and 12 five-inch dual-purpose guns. NavWeaps.com notes that these guns, the 12″/50 Mark 8, had a maximum range of 38,573 yards. By comparison, the Long Lance torpedo had a maximum range of 32,800 yards.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
An Alaska-class large cruiser’s 12-inch guns could fire as many as three salvoes in a minute.
(US Navy photo)

 

That is a difference of three miles in favor of the Alaska-class cruisers. In essence, a Japanese heavy cruiser would be making a run of about three miles under fire before it could get within the maximum range of its torpedoes. In the roughly six minutes they would be making that run, an Alaska-class cruiser could get off anywhere from 15 to 18 salvoes.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
The incomplete large cruiser USS Hawaii (CB 3) being towed to the scrapyard.
(US Navy photo)

 

The Alaska-class cruisers ended up helping to defend the fleet against Japanese planes. Both vessels helped escort the stricken USS Franklin (CV 13) after she suffered horrific damage during the invasion of Okinawa, and later took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the return of American troops home after World War II. These ships were sold for scrap in the early 1960s, never carrying out their primary mission of killing enemy heavy cruisers, but these mini-battleships still did their share during the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an admiral used his own Navy Cross to decorate a hero

Coast Guard Signalman Ray Evans was a legend in World War II who drew machine gun fire from Japanese soldiers while pulling Chesty Puller’s Marines out of a hairy situation on Guadalcanal in 1942. The Navy awarded him a Navy Cross, but Vice Adm. Joseph Stika had no medal to hand to Evans, so he took off his own Navy Cross and pinned it on Evans.


For Stika, the groundwork was laid in 1918 when he was serving near a munitions yard in Morgan, New Jersey. The Gillespie Ammunitions Yard suffered a series of explosions on Oct. 4 that continued for two days.

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Shattered cars sit near the site of the T.A. Gillespie Plant explosion in 1918. (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

 

It was one of the largest ordnance activities in America at the time, handling 10 percent of all artillery shells used by American forces at the Western front. When the first explosions started, they triggered a chain reaction that turned the entire area into a Hellscape, detonating more explosives and spreading unexploded ordnance across the surrounding area.

Stika, then a Coast Guard first lieutenant (which the Coast Guard used to have), led a team of five Coast Guardsmen and two soldiers into the explosions to secure and remove ordnance before it could go off. For two days, they repaired rail lines and drove trains out of the blaze, sometimes while the trains themselves were on fire or within burning areas.

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Soldier feeds orphans created during the T.A. Gillespie Plant explosion in 1918. (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Twelve members of the Coast Guard, including Stika, were awarded Navy Crosses for their actions that October.

Stika rose through the ranks during the interwar period and was serving as a vice admiral in 1942 when Evans and Coast Guard Signalman Douglas Munro were called to service at Guadalcanal. The two enlisted men had joined at the same recruiting station on the same day and been assigned to the same cutter, leading to a deep friendship.

The two were split up for different missions but were reunited at Guadalcanal where their orders intersected. On the island, they were asked by a Marine Corps major to take part in a mission planned by then-Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Coast Guardsmen and sailors unload supplies at Guadalcanal in support of the U.S. Marine Corps. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Marines had been trying to get across the Matanikau River for some time with no success. Puller wanted to try an amphibious assault that would deliver Marines onto a beachhead behind the river. These Marines would then clear the Japanese and allow their compatriots to cross.

Munro and Evans agreed, and the initial landings went well. But as the Coast Guardsmen were headed back to base, they learned that the Marines had been ambushed soon after the boats left, and they desperately needed extraction.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
American troops of the 163rd Infantry Regiment, hit the beach from Higgins boats like those piloted by Chief Signalmen Ray Evans and Douglas Munro at Guadalcanal. (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Puller rushed to Navy ships in the ocean to direct artillery fire in support of his men, and the Coast Guardsmen were sent back to pull out the Marines. Evans and Munro volunteered to stay back from the beach and lay heavy fire on the Japanese, drawing their attention while the rest of the flotilla loaded up the Marines.

The extraction went well and the boats turned to head back to base, but one of the boats became stuck on a nearby beach. Munro and Evans towed the boat off the sand, but a Japanese machine gunner spotted them and opened fire as they did so.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
(Painting: U.S. Coast Guard)

 

Munro was hit in the head. He would die later that day and become the only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor.

Evans was put in for the Navy Cross. He only found out about the award when he made it back to Alameda, California, and was ordered to the ceremony. But when he arrived, something unexpected happened.

The orders for the award had come without a physical medal. So, Stika removed his own Navy Cross, earned more than 20 years before in the munitions explosions, and placed the medal on Evans for his actions on Guadalcanal.

The two men became friends and Evans routinely visited Stika after the older man’s retirement. Evans would go on to be a Coast Guard commander before retiring from the service.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germans tried to assassinate Hitler all the time

Lots of people like to play a mind game that centers around one moral quandary: Would you kill baby Hitler? Yeah, it’s Hitler, but it’s also a baby… Hell, this same question was even jokingly debated during an episode of Superstore, where the crew tries to decide whether you should help a celebrity steal baby Hitler. Apparently, “killing” Hitler was a step too far for NBC.

But it wasn’t for Germans living under the Third Reich, who actually tried to kill adult Hitler multiple times. In fact, if you add in assassination attempts from the Allies, there were at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life, with more planned but never executed. Here are four of the best assassination attempts by German citizens:


These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

The remains of a beer hall in Munich after Johann Georg Elser destroyed a support pillar with a bomb in an attempt to kill Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

1. A random carpenter misses Hitler by 13 minutes

If it weren’t for the rise of Hitler, Johann Georg Elser would’ve been entirely forgettable. He was a skilled laborer, mostly in carpentry, who was once employed in an armaments factory. He combined the explosive knowledge he gained there with his carpentry skills to form a daring plan to kill Hitler during a planned speech.

Hitler gave a speech every year at a beer hall in Munich. Elser started going there late every night in 1939, eating and then hiding so he could emerge after it closed. In the empty beer hall, he clandestinely hollowed out a section of pillar and filled it with explosives. He set the timer for halfway through Hitler’s approximately hour-long speech.

But the attack was set after the invasion of Poland, and Hitler was eager to complete his November speech and get back to Berlin. He delivered his speech an hour early on November 8, 1939. Hitler left the podium 13 minutes before the bomb went off, killing eight and wounding 60. Elser was later captured while attempting to escape the country. He lived through most of the war in a concentration camp before his execution in 1945.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer who attempted a suicide bombing of Adolf Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

2. A weapons expert tried to use two suicide bombs

In 1943, Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff was assigned to give Hitler a tour of captured Soviet weaponry. The tour was supposed to last 10 minutes, so von Gersdoff decided to carry two bombs in his pockets during the tour, set to go off five minutes from when they were set.

But Hitler, again, was impatient and rushed through the tour. Von Gersdorff had planned to embrace Hitler as the bombs ticked down to zero, but was instead forced to rush to a bathroom and defuse his ordnance as Hitler walked away.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow, the mind behind multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

3. A German officer used a dud fuse

German Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow was a career officer quietly serving on the staff of his uncle when Germany invaded Poland. He took part in the invasion and later operations, but was quickly disgusted by the actions of the SS, especially the executions of surrendering or captive Soviet Soldiers.

He decided that the execution of Hitler was the best thing for Germany. To that end, he tried to recruit other senior officers to his plots, but was largely unsuccessful. So, instead, he convinced another officer to carry a package of brandy to friends in Berlin while flying with Hitler in 1943 — but the brandy was actually a bomb.

Unfortunately, the fuse on the bomb was a dud, and von Tresckow was forced to go to Berlin and recover the failed bomb. He didn’t give up, and was eventually able to recruit Col. Claus von Stauffenerg to his plans, leading to the “July Plot.”

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Hitler and Mussolini survey the aftermath of the “July Plot” in 1944.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

4. The “July Plot” is foiled by a thick table leg

The “July Plot” in 1944 is probably the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler. As hinted above, von Tresckow and von Stauffenerg were key to the efforts. The plan was to smuggle a briefcase bomb into the “Wolf’s Lair,” an underground bunker in Germany, and set it off. This would kill Hitler and some of his closest aides and top officers.

The senior leaders involved in the assassination attempt, including the former chief of the army general staff and the chief of staff of the reserve army, would then take control of what levers of government they could while pressuring the remaining powers in Berlin to make peace before it was too late.

And it very nearly worked. This time, Hitler didn’t leave early, the bomb did go off, and Hitler was even injured. So, why didn’t Hitler die? Well, an officer needed to get closer to him to make a point, and he moved the briefcase behind the leg of a thick, oak table. When the bomb went off, the table absorbed and redirected a lot of the blast.

Most of those involved were caught and killed or, in the case of von Tresckow, committed suicide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This unstoppable artillery bombardment doomed Nazi Berlin

In what is sometimes described as the largest artillery bombardment in history, the Soviets opened the road to Berlin in 1945 at the Battle of Seelow Heights with a massive barrage that saw over 9,000 Soviet guns and rockets firing along a front approximately 18.5 miles long. That’s one artillery piece every 11 feet.


 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Like this, but more cannons. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

 

The Seelow Heights defenses were a mere 35 miles from Berlin and were the last truly defendable position before Berlin.

Estimates vary about the exact number of shells and rockets fired in the wee hours of April 16, but some think that as many as 500,000 shells were fired in the first 30 minutes. The German defenders, counting reserves held near Berlin, totaled less than 150,000 men.

For comparison, the massive Allied assault on the Gustav line in Italy in 1944 featured “only” 2,000 guns firing 174,000 shells over 24 hours. The British bombardment at the Battle of the Somme in World War I boasted 1,537 guns which fired 1.5 million shells over 4 days. The Soviet crews at the Seelow Heights could have hit that total in about 90 minutes.

Unfortunately for the Russian soldiers, their generals followed Soviet military doctrine nearly to the letter, and the Germans had grown used to their tactics. Anticipating a Soviet bombardment, the German generals had pulled most of their men back from the first defensive lines and reduced the number of men in the second lines.

“As usual, we stuck to the book and by now the Germans know our methods,” said Colonel General Vasili Kuznetsov, a Russian commander. “They pulled back their troops a good eight kilometers. Our artillery hit everything but the enemy.”

So a Soviet bombardment with three times as many shells as there were defending troops managed to obliterate one line of trenches, damage another, but kill very few of the defending troops. It also left German mortars, machine guns, tanks, and artillery emplacements.

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
A Russian T-34 tank burns during World War II. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

 

The Soviets continued the battle with a rolling barrage that did begin softening the German army positions. But, by that point, Soviet tanks and infantry were struggling to get through the soft ground around the Ober River which had been flooded and turned to marshlands.

The German weapons which had survived the artillery bombardment were able to inflict heavy losses on the attacking Soviet columns.

But the Soviet numbers were simply too much for the German defenders. Over the next few days, the Russians lost approximately 33,000 men while inflicting 12,000 casualties on the Germans. But Russian planes took the skies from the Luftwaffe and the army brought up the artillery, allowing them to force their way forward with tanks and infantry.

Despite the heavy losses, the Red Army took the Seelow Heights on April 19, 1945, and launched its final drive to Berlin. Soviet troops surrounded the city and forced their way in. German leader Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30 and Germany surrendered on May 8.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Jedburghs’ were the best anti-Nazi commandos of WWII

In World War II, months before D-Day, a loudspeaker on military bases played a short recruitment message. The few men who answered it would become heroes after tackling one of the deadliest and most complicated missions of D-Day.


These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Jedburghs train on an obstacle course in World War II.

(Office of Strategic Services)

The loudspeaker message went:

Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.

Men who volunteered had a chance to be selected for a Jedburgh Team. The teams typically featured a mix of Canadian, British, French, and American troops, but they were tiny, typically with two to four members. So, obviously, there was just one man of each nationality in each team.

So, that was one reason that knowledge of European languages was preferred, the other was that these tiny teams would fight directly alongside resistance forces in Nazi-occupied Europe, mostly in France but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their motto summed up the mission well: “Surprise, kill, and vanish.”

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Jedburgh team members in World War II.

(via CIA.gov)

Very few people were selected. A post-war accounting put the number at 276 of which 83 were Americans. There were also 90 British and 103 French troops. The most typical team size was three, but all teams were required to have at least a commander and a radio operator.

The most common third member was an officer from the country in which the team was deployed. So, French members rounded out teams in France, Dutch in the Netherlands, and Belgian in Belgium.

The Jedburghs trained hard and wanted to go into Europe two to six weeks before the D-Day invasion, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower restricted the Jedburgh insertions until June 5, 1944—the night before D-Day—so the sudden presence of international troops wouldn’t clue in the Nazis to the coming invasion.

So, on June 5, the teams began their insertions, and these few hundred men brought lots of extra weapons with them and rallied the resistance fighters of Europe. The Jedburghs and their allies fought far ahead of the invasion forces, in some cases taking and holding key infrastructure that the rest of the Allied forces wouldn’t reach for weeks.

The Jedburghs severed Nazi supply and reinforcement lines, and they protected key infrastructure like bridges that would be needed by the tanks and trucks of the invasion force. As volume two of the OSS War Report says:

Will well-trained, capable radio operators, the Jedburghs represented, wherever they were, a strong radio link between FFI (French Forces of the Interior) leaders and other Allied groups in the field, such as the SAS (Special Air Services) and headquarters in London … Besides the all-important task of making available … arms and supplies to the resistance and preparing landing and dropping fields, they acted as translators and interpreters, assisting in surrender arrangements, helped lead sabotage and ambush operations, provided intelligence on resistance and enemy strength and other information as well, and worked to coordinate separate resistance forces under a unified command.
These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Members of the Jedburgh teams prepare to insert via parachute in World War II.

(US Army Signal Corps via CIA.gov)

And yes, the rest of the Allied forces saw and appreciated these efforts. While the Jedburghs complained after the invasion that they wished they were allowed to insert earlier and do more, Allied commanders were just grateful that so many resistance members were well-armed and organized, breaking up Nazi forces and tying up German units, and that so much infrastructure survived the Wehrmacht’s destruction efforts.

The Jedburghs were broken up, but some special operation units are spiritual successors to the Jedburghs. For instance, the Army’s first operation Special Forces group, the 10th Special Forces Group, was commanded by Col. Aaron Bank, a former Jedburgh. And one of the Special Forces’ primary missions is to deploy overseas, train up and help arm indigenous forces, and then fight alongside them.

But at least ODAs typically have 12 members. Jedburghs were running around in a Three’s Company configuration, slaughtering Nazis with just their closest friends to rely on.

Fun side note: The name Jedburgh was selected because it was the name of a town near where the men trained and where Scots had conducted guerilla operations against England in the 1100s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating origin of a favorite gloating phrase

You’ve just proven yourself to the doubters and in your moment of triumph you turn and ask just one question: “How do you like them apples?” This phrase has been used for decades and has been made popular by films like Good Will Hunting and Rio Bravo, but where does it come from?

While many claim that the origin of this phrase is unknown, others claim that it comes straight from the trenches of World War I.


These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

When developing the first armored fighting vehicles, the British didn’t want everyone to know what they were working on, so they called them ‘water tanks.’

(Imperial War Museums)

World War I was, at the time, the largest international conflict ever. As such, troops came together from all kinds of backgrounds. As they intermingled, they picked up on dialects from other cities, countries, and continents and, as a result, a large number of new phrases were born from adapting elements of these different languages. It was during this same war that the first armored fighting vehicle was dubbed a ‘tank’ and anti-aircraft fire was called an ‘ack-ack.’

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

You can still find these on the internet because why not?

(International Military Antiques)

The origin behind “how do you like them apples” actually has nothing to do with apples and everything to do with mortars. Specifically, we’re talking about the British-made 2-inch medium mortar, better known as the “toffee apple.”

This mortar used a smoothbore muzzle loading (SBML) system that fit a 22-inch shaft with a spherical bomb on the end, which would be exposed from the tube. This mortar, like others, was designed specifically for dropping warheads on foreheads in enfilade, but found use in other areas of the war.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Hopefully, your calculations aren’t too far off.

(The Atlantic)

The spherical shape and low velocity meant that the warhead wouldn’t penetrate the ground prior to detonation, leaving shrapnel to devastate enemy forces. Unfortunately for its operators, the system had a fairly short range. Oftentimes, in order to land an explosion in enemy trenches, this system would need to be used from no man’s land — an extreme risk.

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Oh, Matt Damon.

In addition, to clearing out enemy infantry, these bombs could be used to cut barbed wire fences and destroy enemy machine gun emplacements.

Though some say this term was used during the first World War, many others will tell you it wasn’t used until the 1959 classic, Rio Bravo. In the film, after chucking some explosives, a character remarks, “How do you like them apples?” Since then, it’s appeared in (and was arguably popularized by) Good Will Hunting.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Paul Kennedy: All Hell Broke Loose

Signalman First Class Paul Kennedy joined the Navy Reserve in 1938 and was called to active duty in November 1940. He was assigned to the USS Sacramento based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On Dec. 7, 1945, Kennedy was asleep when the first wave of Japanese planes set the alarms off. He thought it was a drill, but then his friend roused him: “‘Get up and go! We’re under attack—grab your gas mask and helmet,” Kennedy said in a 2016 interview with History.com.

When he got on deck, Kennedy saw a low-flying torpedo plane. “[The pilot] was going low and slow, because he was getting ready to drop that torpedo as soon as he cleared our ship,” Kennedy said. He later learned the pilot was Mitsuo Fuchida, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service credited with leading the first wave of attacks at Pearl Harbor. When Fuchida’s torpedo detonated on the USS Oklahoma, Kennedy went to his station to hoist signal flags, but was prevented by the attempted bombing of the Sacramento. “[The pilot] starts strafing,” he said. “There were bullets landing all around me. I heard them… hitting and hitting, making chips on the deck. But he missed.”


Because the Sacramento was undamaged, Kennedy assisted with running cases of 50-caliber ammunition from the ship to a nearby destroyer, the USS Mugford. “All hell broke loose that morning,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d make it. Period. I didn’t think I’d live through that.” But the night after the attacks on the harbor, the mood changed when Kennedy saw an American flag from the sunken USS West Virginia sticking out of the water. “It gave us inspiration,” he said. “It told us we weren’t done yet.”

After the war

After the attacks, Kennedy was sent to Miami, Florida, to attend submarine chaser school before serving on the Submarine Chaser 713 on the U.S. East Coast for 18 months. He later transferred to the destroyer escort USS Poole, which escorted convoy ships across the North Atlantic. Kennedy served on 28 convoy missions and was wounded only once. In July 1945, he was medically discharged from the Navy. For his service during the war, Kennedy received numerous medals, including the Purple Heart, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

When the war ended, Kennedy struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What helped him recover was talking with other Veterans. He joined the Indianapolis chapter of the American Legion and was an active member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. “We’ve got these young guys coming in now with a monkey on their back,” Kennedy said about American Legion meetings. “I can tell them how to get rid of it. Others can, also.”

Kennedy died in August 2017. He was 96.

We honor his service.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That one time Eisenhower lost a B-17 bomber in a bet

The liberation of Sfax, Tunisia on April 10, 1943 was a joyous occasion for nearly everyone involved. The Allies gained an important Mediterranean port, the Tunisians in the city were liberated, and British Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery won a B-17 bomber from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.


That last one may need some explanation.

Rommel retreats to the Mareth line

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Montgomery had been fighting German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel for months in North Africa. Though the campaign was slowly succeeding, Rommel and his Italian allies were inflicting heavy casualties on the British. Britain wanted to increase forces in North Africa to keep Rommel off-balance. Meanwhile, the other Allied nations wanted to capture North Africa so they could begin invading Italy from the south.

So in late Oct. 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot. British tanks and other forces moved under cover of massive artillery barrages through minefields against dug-in German positions. By November 2, Rommel was in a rapid withdrawal east, sacrificing troops by the hundreds to try and keep his lines of retreat open.

This put the German units in disarray when Operation Torch was launched on Nov. 8. More than 73,000 troops landed along the north coast of Africa in a deliberate attempt to squeeze the Axis east. It worked, but Germany and Italy still held Tunisia and conducted their own surge, landing nearly 250,000 troops in and around the ports at Mareth and Sfax. They would settle into a defense along the Mareth Line.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Photo: German Federal Archives

The bet is made

The battles in North Africa raged back and forth as German reinforcements tried to hold the line. The Allied forces were slowly gaining ground, with Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and Montgomery both attempting to be the first to capture key cities, but Eisenhower wanted them to move faster.

Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Bedell Smith, was visiting Montgomery at his headquarters in the spring of 1943. Exact accounts of the conversation vary, but Montgomery asked about getting a B-17 for his personal use. Smith told Montgomery that if Montgomery captured Sfax by April 15, Eisenhower would give him whatever he wanted.

Smith reportedly meant it as a joke wager, but the notorious gambler Montgomery was serious.

Sfax falls and Montgomery gets his B-17

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
Photo: US Air Force

On April 10 — five days ahead of the deadline — Montgomery captured Sfax and immediately asked for payment. Eisenhower honored the bet and sent Montgomery a B-17 bomber and crew even though the bombers were needed for the war effort.

The event caused a strain between Eisenhower and Montgomery as well as between Eisenhower and Patton. Patton was incensed that a British general had a personal B-17 while he was struggling for rides or moving in convoys. Eisenhower was angry that Montgomery would actually accept a B-17 when they were needed to actually bomb targets.

Eisenhower mentioned it to Montgomery’s boss, Sir Alan Brooke, who berated Montgomery for crass stupidity. The plane was written off after a crash-landing a month later and never replaced.

Articles

This Marine legend earned three Navy Crosses in a single deployment

Colonel William A. “Ironman” Lee — most often remembered for his exploits as a gunnery sergeant — earned three Navy Crosses between 1930 and 1932 during a single deployment to Nicaragua as a Marine tasked with leading that country’s national guard against violent rebels.


These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Lee was a veteran of World War I when he was sent with other American troops to Nicaragua in 1927 to assist the Nicaraguan National Guard in a long-running fight against a leftist rebellion.

The Marines, including Lee, took command of small groups of local soldiers, trained them, and led them in combat.

In 1930, Lee was a gunnery sergeant who led the Nicaraguans against superior enemy forces six times between Mar. 20 and Aug. 19, forcing the enemy to retreat each time. Lee’s men were thought to have killed at least 10 enemy fighters and wounded many more over the span of the ten battles. Lee was awarded his first Navy Cross for his leadership and valor.

In December of the same year, Lee led a 10-day patrol through the jungle and engaged in three heavy fights with the rebels. His men defeated the rebels in each of the firefights, twice while fighting against rebel forces with superior numbers. This action netted Lee his second Navy Cross.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Two years later, Lee was partnered with then-First Lt. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller as the two led a 40-man Nicaraguan element deep into the jungle, nearly 100 miles from the nearest reinforcements. On the seventh day of the patrol, the men were ambushed by an enemy force estimated at over 150 fighters.

Automatic weapons fire rained down on the Marines and Nicaraguans as rebels fired their rifles and threw grenades. Lee was hit in the arm and head almost immediately at the start of the fight. Puller led the Nicaraguans against the enemy to achieve fire superiority without knowing if Lee was alive or dead.

Luckily for them all, Lee was only unconscious and awoke approximately 15 minutes later as the battle continued. Despite his grievous wounds, he clawed his way to the Nicaraguans’ machine gun, moved it to a good firing position, and started raining hell on the rebels. He then returned to the main element and resumed his duties as the second in command on the final attack.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps photo)

The Marines and Nicaraguans then conducting a fighting withdrawal back to their base, engaging the enemy multiple times and defeating more ambushes.

Lee was awarded his third and final Navy Cross for his actions while Chesty Puller was awarded his second.

Lee would go on to fight in China during the lead up to World War II. Soon after the war broke out, he and his men were captured by Japanese forces and taken as prisoners of war and tortured. Lee survived the ordeal and continued serving in the Marine Corps until his retirement in 1950. He died of cancer in 1998.

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You need to see this incredible B-1B Bomber crash landing

In a 1989 incident, the Air Force crew of a B1-B bomber found itself unable to lower the front landing gear during a training flight and was forced to execute an emergency landing in the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.


The four-person crew was executing a routine training flight without nuclear weapons onboard on Oct. 4, 1989, and realized three hours into the flight that the front landing gear was malfunctioning. Over the next nine hours, the crew worked to get the gear down.

 

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships
(GIF: YouTube/airailimages)

 

Investigators later blamed a hydraulic failure, but the crew in the air just knew that they had to reach the ground safely. The Air Force routed the plane to a dry lakebed in California that was often used for landing the space shuttle.

The dust of the Rogers Dry Lake bed is more likely than most surfaces to allow for a safe skid, reducing the risk to the crew and plane. The full landing is visible from a few angles in this video from airailimages:

Feature image: screen capture from YouTube/Airrailimages

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 historical figures still plagued by crazy conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories usually reside in some pretty dark corners of the internet, but every now and then one will become part of the mainstream.

And conspiracy theories have been around for thousands of years — look no further than Jesus Christ himself for speculation about his relationship with Mary Magdalene. Also, ask anyone with a passing interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy about the grassy knoll, and you’ll need to prepare for a torrent of information and conjecture.

Keep scrolling to learn more about these historical figures that have been followed, some for centuries, by wild conspiracy theories.


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1. The most prevalent conspiracy theory about Abraham Lincoln is about his assassination — namely, that John Wilkes Booth didn’t act alone.

The official record states that Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth. Not everyone’s convinced, though.

According to the Ford’s Theatre website, there have been plenty of alleged co-conspirators in the plot to assassinate Lincoln, including Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, the Pope, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

2. Amelia Earhart disappeared and was presumed dead after her plane went missing, but some aren’t so sure that’s how it went down.

Earhart, a prolific pilot, vanished in 1937 during an attempted flight around the world. Earhart and her navigator departed from New Guinea on July 2 and were never heard from again. Two years later, they were officially declared dead.

From then on there have been multiple theories surrounding what happened to her. For example, one theory posits that she was captured by the Japanese, because a photo surfaced in the National Archives of a woman’s back that resembles Earhart. Japan denies this.

Another theory suggests that Earhart crashed, was captured by the Japanese, rescued by the US, and then moved to New Jersey to take up another identity, as per the book “Amelia Earhart Lives.”

Unfortunately, the most likely theory is that navigator Fred Noonan and Earhart’s plane crashed and the two were tragically killed.

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3. John F. Kennedy’s assassination is another event that’s rife with conspiracy theories.

In American history, there may have been nothing more contentious than the death of JFK in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. You might have even heard buzzwords like grassy knoll, umbrella man, and the Zapruder film. Here’s what they actually mean.

First, the Zapruder film: A bystander at the fateful motorcade happened to be recording footage of the president driving by. Conspiracy theorists believe that the film shows that multiple shots were fired, and that at least one was shot from a different angle than the other three, leading us to the grassy knoll.

The grassy knoll refers to a nearby grassy hill that another shooter, besides Lee Harvey Oswald, is theorized to have been lurking at, and that’s where another mysterious shot supposedly came from.

Another theory, the umbrella man, refers to a man holding a suspiciously large black umbrella on a notably sunny day. As The Washington Post reports, some believed that this man was working with the perpetrator[s], and had somehow converted his umbrella into a dart gun meant to paralyze the president.

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

4. Many people believe that William Shakespeare didn’t actually write his own plays and sonnets, and was instead just a figurehead.

Could it be true that Shakespeare, the most influential playwright in history, didn’t actually write anything? Potentially … at least 70 other potential candidates have been put forth over the centuries, but a few have become front-runners.

Sir Francis Bacon was the first alternate Shakespeare to be named by author Delia Bacon (no relation). Bacon, unlike Shakespeare, was well-educated, well-traveled, and an accomplished philosopher. According to Delia, the scholar would’ve sullied his reputation if he had openly written plays like Shakespeare’s.

Two other popular theories are that Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the actual Bard, or that Shakespeare was really Christopher Marlowe. Proponents of this theory, called Marlovians, believe that Marlowe faked his own death in a bar fight, and then began writing in earnest.

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5. At least one book has been written that claims “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll might have moonlit as serial killer Jack the Ripper.

This conspiracy theory began with a book called “Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend,” written by Richard Wallace, a “clinical social worker and part-time Carroll scholar,” according to Mental Floss.

Jack the Ripper was a London-based serial killer who is said to have murdered at least five women in 1888. The culprit was never identified, leaving the case wide open for conspiracy theorists.

Wallace’s theory rests on the idea that Carroll had a mental breakdown while he was away at boarding school, and that he was never able to recover from the trauma. Most of the “evidence” comes from re-arranging the nonsensical passages of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” into more sinister sentences.

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6. A persistent theory about Jesus is that he was actually married to Mary Magdalene. This was popularized by Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

One theory about the crucial Christian figure that has had a resurgence as of late is that Jesus was married to — and had children with — Mary Magdalene.

Magdalene was a companion of Jesus’, according to biblical writings, but there’s nothing to suggest that their bond was romantic in any way — or at least, there wasn’t until the Gnostic Gospels were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940s.

These gospels appeared to confirm that Jesus and Magdalene were more than friends, and mention him kissing her frequently. However, many people disregard the Gnostic Gospels and don’t consider them a reliable source, and the theory died out for a few decades.

It came back to life when “The Da Vinci Code” was published in 2003. The entire plot hinges on the idea that Jesus and Magdalene were married and secretly had children, and that their lineage continued on to this day.

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7. According to some, Nikola Tesla invented what’s been called a “death ray,” and the US government has the plans.

When Tesla died in January 1943, the US government took a bunch of papers from his hotel room, and some claim that these included plans for a “particle-beam weapon,” aka a death ray.

For decades after, nobody knew what the government did with all these documents, making it easy for people to believe that the authorities were allegedly hiding schematics for a death ray.

The FBI eventually released some of these documents, but many are still missing — and it’s anybody’s guess what’s inside.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Where does a museum collection begin? How do curators tell humanity’s most complicated stories? For more than 100 years, the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri has asked and answered these questions about the Great War and its enduring impact.

From the first shots fired in 1914 to the last attempts at peace in 1919, the museum showcases firsthand accounts from the battlefield and the home front. At the museum, the conflict comes alive with more than 300,000 artifacts, objects and documents — one of the world’s largest collections.


Today’s legacy

“The cataclysm that was World War I was the defining moment of the 20th century,” Senior Curator Doran Cart said.

Yet to many Americans, this conflict is a muddled, confusing clash of powers overshadowed by World War II.

For Cart, WWI remains important because it is the start to so many of the important challenges of our modern era. From the conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East, to the present challenges of Russia and Ukraine, to immigration issues and rising isolationist tendencies around the globe the links can be traced to WWI.

“You cannot talk about today’s problems without finding the connections,” he said.

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Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Innovation on and off the battlefield

The lasting ramifications of this conflict continue today as does the innovation discovered in medical and military fields.

Cart shared how medical practices, including advanced techniques in the treatment of head trauma were first developed during this conflict. For the first time, antiseptics were developed to clean wounds, soldiers were taught about hygiene and blood banks were used. In France, vehicles became mobile X-ray units, surgeons were drafted in closer to the frontline and hospital trains evacuated casualties.

“So many of these lessons learned are relevant in war zones today,” Cart said.

In terms of the mechanics of war, this conflict brought about the use of airplanes and tanks in conflict, machine guns and chemical war. All items that are relevant to later conflicts in the 20th century and today.

100 years of collecting

The museum’s latest exhibits, “100 Years of Collecting” and “100 Years of Collecting Art” showcase an exhaustive number of objects and documents that have never been displayed. Highlights including a formal court frock coat and vest worn by Imperial Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s personal household staff and aides, 100+ year-old soldier-issued hardtack (hard bread) and a sign from 1942 indicating the memorial would be closed due to potential threats of WWII-related sabotage.

Another item of interest is the lectern used by President Calvin Coolidge at the Nov. 11, 1926 dedication of what eventually became the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Coolidge spoke before 150,000 people — the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed.

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Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

More stories equal more understanding

The museum has recently acquired a unique and beautifully made Russian woman’s coat.

“Her insignia indicate that she was a machine gun unit commander and the coat is amazing in that it has survived over 100 years with all the turmoil and later history of Russia,” Cart said.

“Women’s history in WWI has been one of the long-overlooked aspects of the war and this piece helps greatly in writing another chapter in history. It also contributes to our future planning needs of acquisitions for the museum in three specific areas: women of all nations involved in the war, minorities and indigenous peoples.”

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Global conflict

“The founders of our museum knew the importance of the global story,” Cart said noting that nearly 20 countries/empires across the world are represented in the exhibition.

Items from the around the globe have been collected, including from the Austro-Hungarian empire, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Countries that were neutral during the conflict — Mexico, Spain and Sweden — are also represented as they supplied items that were used at some point during the conflict.

Visiting the museum

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum has modified their policies to adapt to social distancing and health and safety protocols. The museum is offering limited access timed tickets and recommending social distancing and mask-wearing practices during visits.

“We tell people to maintain the distance of a 1917 Harley Davidson motorcycle, which we happen to have on display, and is nearly six feet in length,” Cart said.

Can’t make it to Kansas City? The museum has made a variety of online resources available for teachers, students and the general public.

Both exhibitions run until March 7, 2021 and are included with general admission to the museum and memorial. More information can be found at https://www.theworldwar.org.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Hitler’s train was a rolling fortress named after America

Hitler, oddly enough, seemed obsessed with America in many ways. He admired Henry Ford and American industrialization. He liked American films and Mickey Mouse cartoons. And, perhaps most oddly for a man of Hitler’s obsession with perception and propaganda, he even named his rolling fortress of a train after the rival country, calling it “Amerika.”


Führersonderzug – Hitler’s Steel Beast (WWII Documentary HD)

www.youtube.com

Hitler had a few iconic pieces of transportation, from a famous Mercedes to the SSS Horst Wessel sailing vessel, but his headquarters train was one of the most famous during the war. Nazi soldiers would march along routes ahead of the train to make sure no one was lying in wait for it, and there were multiple decoy trains that would run up to 30 minutes ahead of or behind Hitler’s train.

And each train was a beast. Hitler had a car for meetings as well as a living car with space for his bath and sink, complete with gold-plated faucets, according to the above documentary about it. There was also a communications car and multiple cars for defense against air and land attacks. It could house up to 200 leaders, staff, and soldiers.

Hitler set an example by rolling out his train, and other Nazi leaders began buying their own top-tier trains complete with command wagons and defenses. They all had individual names, but only Hitler’s was named for a future Allied power. But it wasn’t out of respect for the American nation or people. Hitler had named the train for the destruction of Native Americans by western settlers.

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Hitler holds a meeting in his personal train during World War II.

(YouTube/World at War)

Keeping these trains moving required regularly changing out the engines. After all, Hitler couldn’t be left cooling his heels on a train platform as wood and water was loaded onto the train when it ran low. Instead, the train would pull into a station, and railway workers would quickly swap out the nearly empty engine with fully fueled cars. The Fuhrer could be back on his way in minutes instead of hours.

And these swaps were required multiple times per day. Every 30 miles or so, the train would run low on fuel, partially thanks to the massive weight of all the armor on some of Amerika’s cars.

Of course, the train had to be renamed when America entered the war on the side of the allies. The name changed from Amerika to “Brandenburg,” and Hitler reduced his use of the train for meetings, instead primarily using it as secure transportation. The meetings that were held on the train were held in bunkers instead.

As the Allies started to retake territory from 1942 to 1944, the trains themselves got bunkers. One is still in decent shape in Poland, an enormous concrete bunker surrounded by grass and trees in southeastern Poland. These bunkers were primarily needed for protecting the trains from attack by air.

After all, the Allies developed tools to crack apart sub pens by using bombs that mimicked the effects of earthquakes, cracking the concrete foundations of the structures. Destroying a train is relatively easy, needing just a few lucky bomb hits to destroy even an armored engine or the tracks themselves.

For security reasons, crews were required to destroy much of the paperwork generated in support of the train; everything from supply paperwork to schedules. And the train itself was partially destroyed in May 1945. The surviving components of the train passed into civilian use after the war.

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