That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

A strange story about the Aussies facing off against Stinger missile-wielding kangaroos started circulating around the internet in 1999. The most interesting development was that the story proved to be true. Mostly.


 

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Their great-grandfathers proudly served in WWI.

 

The original story was about the Defence Science and Technology Organization’s Land Operations/Simulations division in Australia developing the realism of their exercise scenarios. As the story tells it, the programmers were supposed to add mobs of kangaroos to the simulation, making sure to program how they might scatter from low-flying helicopters.

Supposedly, the Australian programmers reused object code from a simulated infantry unit on the marsupials. The new kangaroos scattered from the helicopter, as programmed. Then, they reappeared behind a hill, armed to the teeth with Stinger missiles. The programmers apparently forgot to deprogram their infantry training.

 

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Private Joey does not operate with his coffee for the day.

 

Snopes, the website dedicated to investigating internet rumors, picked up this story in 2007. They found that the internet actually had the basic story right.

 

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Unfortunately, the Pop Rocks and Coke myth is still a myth.

 

Dr. Anne-Marie Grisogono, head of the Simulation Land Operations Division at the Australian DSTO, told Snopes that programmers knew what they were doing. Heavily armed kangaroos became part of the simulation, weapons and all.

The Aussies thought it was hilarious, and not at all embarrassing.

“Since we were not at that stage interested in weapons,” Dr. Grisogono told Snopes, “we had not set any weapon or projectile types, so what the kangaroos fired at us was, in fact, the default object for the simulation, which happened to be large multicolored beachballs.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Russians had Women’s ‘Battalions of Death’ in World War I

Saying that World War I was really bad for Russia is like saying Hitler was a somewhat unstable veteran of the Great War. While the Tsar fielded the largest army in the world at the time and should have been able to trounce the Germans, years (maybe decades) of neglecting modernization hampered the Russians. Roads were impossible and railways were inadequate. Casualties were heavy and the conditions were deplorable. Even drafting men for the war was difficult. Life in the Russian Empire was so bad, the Tsar would be toppled and replaced by the Soviet Union.

Before the Tsar was forced to abdicate, the Russian Empire tried a last-ditch effort to fill its ranks: hiring women.


That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Congrats, you’re hired.

When the Great War first began, Russians were only too happy to serve in their country’s military. It was (on paper, at least) one of the most vaunted fighting forces on Earth at the time. But Tsarist Russia’s poor infrastructure, the indecision of the Russian high command, and the lack of adequate food, supplies, and other war resources soon made life miserable. When word got out about the deteriorating conditions on the front, good men suddenly became hard to find. Women, on the other hand, had been trying to join the regular army since day one. These women soon demanded the government form all-women’s military units.

The Tsarist government, facing an increasing manpower shortage, finally gave in. It formed 15 all-women’s battalions in an effort to replace its missing manpower with womanpower. They included communications battalions, a naval unit, and the aptly-named Women’s Battalion of Death. Of the 5,000 women who served in these units, 300 of them would join the Battalion of Death and march to the front in 1914.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Maria Bochkareva was awarded multiple medals after stabbing Germans to death in the trenches.

Led by the peasant fighter-turned military leader Maria Bochkareva, the women were highly-trained and tightly-controlled by Bochkareva. While her harsh (sometimes brutal) leadership kept a majority of potential volunteers from joining, the 300 or so who did stay became some of the most hardcore Russian troops of the First World War. They first saw action in the Kerensky Offensive of 1917. It was a terrible loss for the Russians, who lost 60,000 troops in the fighting. But it was a stunning victory for the Women’s Battalion of Death.

When ordered to go over the top and storm the enemy trenches, the women never hesitated, even when the men at their side did. In one instance, the Russian women made it through three trench systems before the lack of reinforcements necessitated their retreat. Bochkareva, though wounded twice, earned three medals for bravery in combat. With the effectiveness of the women in combat proven on the front, other women were deployed back home.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Back in St. Petersburg, things weren’t going so well for the Tsar and his government. Another women’s battalion had to be deployed to the Winter Palace to defend government ministries and the people who were running them. This is where history could have been made or turned back. When the Bolshevik fighters attempted to take the city, the women weren’t at the Winter Palace, they abandoned the government ministers to their fate and went to guard the supplies. Eventually, they were overcome by the Bolsheviks and forced to surrender. When the Bolsheviks officially took power, these women’s units were disbanded, with varying success.

Women who wanted to fight the Bolsheviks stayed in their units, joining the White Russian forces in the Russian Civil War. Others went home and became Soviet citizens. Many would live long enough to see women conscripted once more when Russia was again threatened from the outside, taking up arms against the Nazis and forming an essential element to the resistance of the Soviet Union – many of whom would go on to earn the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Unlike in other services, sailors are referred to by their actual jobs. An E-5 in the Army could be an infantryman or a food service specialist, but you would still call them Sergeant. You might be able to distinguish an infantryman by a Combat Infantry Badge or Expert Infantry Badge, but they’re still a Sergeant. In the navy, although an E-5 is a Petty Officer 2nd Class, they could be identified as a Yeoman 2nd Class, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, or even Legalman 2nd Class. Of course, as jobs are eliminated and new ones are made, the list of titles based on rates changes. Here are some odd Navy rates that have gone the way of the dodo.

1. Loblolly Boy

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
A surgeon and loblolly boy attend to a patient (Public Domain)

The early days of the American Navy were not pretty. Pay was poor, work conditions were rough, and amputation was prescribed like water, motrin and changing your socks are today. As such, it was the duty of loblolly boys to assist the ship’s surgeon in collecting the amputated limbs. They also hauled the buckets of tar that were used to cauterize the bloody stumps and spread sand to absorb the spilled blood. On top of their gruesome duties, the boys were also responsible for spoon feeding the patients a thick porridge called “loblolly” from which their name was derived. Loblolly boys remained in the Navy’s books until 1861. After going through several name changes and evolutions, loblolly boys are known today as hospital corpsmen.

2. Pigeoneer

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Pigeoneer 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon (U.S. Navy)

Before the radio took off in the 1920s, carrier pigeons were a common communication method in the military. Their natural homing ability, fast speed, and high flying altitude made them a valuable asset when telegraph lines were not or could not be established. It was the job of pigeoneers to develop and care for the birds. Despite the introduction and rapid advancement of radio technology, the Navy retained the carrier pigeon trainer rate until 1961 as a last-ditch form of communication.

3. Aviation Carpenter’s Mate

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Early planes were not tough birds (U.S. Navy)

This one might take a minute to figure out. However, it bears remembering that early airplanes were made of wood and canvas. Modern aircraft take enough of a beating when they land on aircraft carriers, so you can imagine what sort of punishment the Navy’s early kites took when they touched down on the deck. Additionally, storing a wooden aircraft on a ship will inevitably lead to rot. It was the job of aviation carpenter’s mates to skillfully repair and maintain the damaged planes. The rate is one of the shortest-lived, being introduced in 1931 and being disestablished in 1941. The introduction of metal planes gave rise to the aviation metalsmith which evolved into the modern aviation structural mechanic.

4. Steward

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Filipino stewards aboard the USS Seattle during WWII (U.S. Navy)

The distinction between officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted sailors is very distinct in the Navy. The officers’ mess and the chief goat locker are prime examples of this. Stewards were responsible for preparing and serving the officers’ meals, maintaining their quarters, and caring for their uniforms. Due to the nature of the work, the majority of stewards were minorities like African-Americans and Filipinos. It’s worth noting that, until 1971, Filipino sailors were restricted to the steward rating. In 1975, the steward rate merged with the commissaryman rate to create the mess management specialist. This rating lasted until 2004 when it was changed to culinary specialist.

5. International Business Machine Operator

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
All of that just to calculate the interest on a 1939 Ford (U.S. Navy)

This one sounds completely made up until you recall what IBM stands for. During WWII, the Navy saw the need for more precise and expedient calculations for things like gun trajectories, accurate accounting, and formulating logistics. Enter IBM and their calculators. In order to operate the complex machines, the Navy created the international business machine operator rate. Likely the only rate to be named after a private corporation, it only lasted for about a year before it was renamed to punched-card accounting machine operator. The rating has undergone many evolutions, but it is known today as the information systems technician.

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Why the Viet Cong’s tunnels were so effective

The communist forces of Vietnam were largely successful, and for a lot of reasons. They were willing to undergo extreme discomfort and suffer extreme losses for their cause, they were resourceful, and they became more disciplined and well-trained over time. But there was a nightmare infrastructure that they created that also led to success: Those terrifying tunnels.


The fighting in Vietnam dated back to the 1940s when corrupt democratic officials turned the population largely against it. Communist forces preyed upon this, rallying support from the local population and building a guerrilla army, recruiting heavily from farming villages.

The ruling democratic regime patrolled mostly on the large roads and through cities because their heavy vehicles had trouble penetrating the jungles or making it up mountains.

By the time the U.S. deployed troops to directly intervene, regime forces had been overrun in multiple locations and had a firm foothold across large patches of the jungle, hills, and villages.

Viet Cong Tunnels and Traps – Platoon: The True Story

And while U.S. forces were establishing a foothold and then hunting down Viet Cong elements, the Viet Cong were digging literally hundreds of miles of tunnels that they could use to safely store supplies, move across the battlefield in secret, and even stage ambushes against U.S. troops.

The original Viet Cong tunnels were dug just after World War II as Vietnamese fighters attempted to throw off French colonial authority. But the tunnel digging exploded when the U.S. arrived and implemented a heavy campaign of airstrikes, making underground tunnels a much safer way to travel.

And with the increased size of the tunnel network, new amenities were added. Kitchens, living quarters, even weapon factories and hospitals were moved underground. The Viet Cong now had entire underground cities with hidden entrances. When the infantry came knocking, the tunnels were a defender’s dream.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Wikimedia Commons

The tight tunnels limited the use of most American weapons. These things were often dug just tall and wide enough for Viet Cong fighters, generally smaller than the average U.S. infantryman, to crawl through. When corn-fed Nebraskans tried to crawl through it, they were typically limited to pistols and knives.

Even worse for the Americans, the Viet Cong were great at building traps across the battlefield and in the tunnels. Poisoned bamboo shoots, nails, razor blades, and explosives could all greet an attacker moving too brashly through the tunnel networks.

This led to the reluctant rise of the “Tunnel Rats,” American warfighters who specialized in the terrible tasks of moving through the underground bases, collecting intelligence and eliminating resistance. Between the claustrophobia and the physical dangers, this could drive the Tunnel Rats insane.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Wikimedia Commons

Once a tunnel was cleared, it could be eliminated with the use of fire or C4. Collapsing a tunnel did eliminate that problem, and it usually stayed closed.

But, again, there were hundreds of miles of tunnels, and most of them were nearly impossible to find. Meanwhile, many tunnel networks had hidden chambers and pathways within them. So, even if you found a tunnel network and began to destroy it, there was always a chance that you missed a branch or two and the insurgents will keep using the rest of it after you leave.

And the tunnels even existed near some major cities. Attacks on Saigon were launched from the Cu Chi Tunnels complex. When U.S. and South Vietnamese troops went to clear them, they faced all the typical traps as well as boxes of poisonous snakes and scorpions.

And the clearance operation wasn’t successful in finding and eliminating the bulk of the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the ones used as staging points a weapons caches for the Tet Offensive.


Feature image: National Archives

Articles

Here are 4 ways wartime presidents effectively rallied the American people

By the power of the Constitution, American presidents are the ultimate link between the people and the military. As commanders-in-chief, presidents are responsible for committing the nation to war — a very tall order.


Here are 4 presidents that navigated the vagaries of public sentiment better than most:

1. Polk told Americans that Mexico “shed American blood on American soil!”

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
President James K. Polk was almost certainly not a snake that dressed up as a human, despite his appearance. (Portrait: George Peter Alexander Healy)

President James K. Polk was an expansionist and wanted land from Mexico so that the U.S. would stretch from sea to shining sea. There is a dispute among historians on whether Polk wanted a war or was just willing to accept one, but he sent 4,000 troops under general and future president Zachary Taylor to a portion of land claimed by both Texas and Mexico.

Ten months later on May 8, 1846, Mexican troops attacked what they perceived to be American troops on Mexican land.

Polk acted quickly when he got word of the fighting. On May 11 he asked Congress for a declaration of war with the cry that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil!” While a very few anti-expansionist Whigs – including then-Senator Abraham Lincoln – protested the fact that it was technically not “American soil,” the rest of the Whigs and the majority of Congress voted for war.

2. Lincoln rode on the coattails of his generals

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
President Abraham Lincoln’s tactic for keeping public support of the war was to win it. (Photo: Alexander Gardner)

President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular and well-respected leaders in American history, was not always popular in his time. Indeed, during the road to the 1864 election with the war going badly. Even Lincoln expected a crushing defeat in his re-election bid. When the Democrats nominated Gen. George B. McClellan on a platform of peace with the breakaway Confederacy, all seemed lost.

But Lincoln had pushed hard for aggressive generals during the war, and two of them saved him in the final months before the election. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been handpicked by Lincoln for the top job, and Grant’s favored subordinate, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, delivered Atlanta to the president on Sep. 3, 1864.

The victory in Atlanta was soon followed by Grant’s wins in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. With the war suddenly going well, Lincoln was able to rally the North to keep going and win the war.

Lincoln still nearly lost the election. But, despite how closely contested each state was (he won nearly all of them by narrow margins), he achieved an electoral college landslide of 212 to 21. He saved the Union but doomed himself to an assassin’s bullet on Apr. 14, 1865, less than six weeks after his second inauguration.

3. Wilson leaked the “Zimmerman Telegram” to the press

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
President Woodrow Wilson looked like a nerdy professor because he was one, but he still managed to mobilize America in World War I. (Photo: Harris Ewing, Library of Congress)

President Woodrow Wilson was notoriously reluctant to join World War I despite Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare which killed hundreds of Americans and sank prized ships. One of the tipping points for Wilson was when Britain revealed the “Zimmerman Telegram” to him.

The Zimmerman Telegram was a secret proposal from Germany to Mexico. Germany promised Mexico Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if Mexico entered World War I as a German ally against the U.S. Wilson authorized the Navy to begin arming civilian vessels and leaked the telegram to the public. Once the American public was in a fury, he went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war.

4. Roosevelt hid his disability, befriended journalists, and held fireside chats

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew a thing or two about keeping up appearances. Though crippled by polio, he led America through most of World War II primarily by projecting strength. To make sure that reporters didn’t skew his message or show him looking weak, he befriended the journalists who covered him by holding small, intimate meetings with them in the Oval Office.

When he wasn’t glad-handing journalists, he spoke directly to the American public over the radio during his iconic “Fireside Chats” that actually started in the early days of his presidency when the U.S. was more worried about the Great Depression than the wars in Europe and Asia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This intelligence officer was the forgotten hero of Midway

Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.

Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.


He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.

By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Joseph John Rochefort.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.

Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.

Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.

Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.

Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Captain Edwin Layton.

But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.

The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.

Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.

Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.

Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.

After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.

John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.

Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.

Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.

The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.

Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.

This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last battle of the American Revolution was fought in India

Despite what high school textbooks would have us think, the American Revolution didn’t end at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. A 2015 article in the Journal of the American Revolution reminds us that the final peace of Paris was still two years away and there was a lot of fighting left to be done.

american revolution
Troops wearing the Revolutionary War uniforms of the 9th Virginia Regiment, Corps of the Continental Line

The war to shake off Great Britain wasn’t just a North American war. What started out as a means for keeping the unruly colonies in the fold quickly devolved into a global war among major European powers. By the time the Siege at Yorktown was over, there were actually 44 more battles to be fought for American independence. 

Peace talks were ongoing when news of the Franco-American victory reached negotiators in Paris, but that didn’t hurry matters along. A preliminary deal wouldn’t happen until the next year. In the meantime, the Founding Fathers knew that Britain would continue fighting and India would be the last place anyone would learn of a treaty. 

Back on the Indian subcontinent, the British were having trouble with the locals there too. One of them, Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore, had long aligned himself with the French. Mysoreans had been fighting the British for years while the Americans were fighting. But the very capable Hyder Ali died in 1783, leading the British to believe the time was right to end the nuisance once and for all. 

The crown quickly dispatched an army and a fleet of warships to lay siege to the Mysorean city of Cuddalore. In response, the French sent a force of their own. The two sides would meet there in June 1783, three months before the ink on the Treaty of Paris would dry. 

The city was blockaded by the Royal Navy by sea as British and Bengali troops surrounded it by land. Though equally powerful on land, the French fleet was outgunned by the British as they sailed toward Cuddalore. Using reinforcement troops meant for the city as gunners, the French attacked the British for three hours, forcing the British to leave the waters around the city. 

With the Royal Navy on its way out, the French were free to reinforce the defenses of Cuddalore, which they did. But the British Army didn’t relent. For a month, the French attempted to break the siege but were repelled over and over. Disease and thirst soon took over as the major force on the battlefield, but that didn’t matter either.

What finally broke the siege was news from Paris that the American Revolution was over and that a preliminary deal had been signed in November 1782 – the news was just late getting to India. 

In the end, Cuddalore was returned to the British anyway with France receiving its old possession of Pondicherry in the exchange, and the Americans receiving their independence from King George III.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 Holocaust survivors who served with distinction in the US military

The United Nations General Assembly has designated Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day honors the memories of the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of others whose lives were impacted during the Holocaust. International Holocaust Remembrance Day also provides educational programs to prevent future genocides.

Many who survived the atrocities of the Holocaust persevered despite the trauma they endured, and several even served with distinction in the US military. Here are three of their stories.

SIDNEY SHACHNOW, ARMY SPECIAL FORCES

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Sidney Shachnow, front row center, was posthumously honored in 2019 with the Bull Simons Award — given to those who embody “the true spirit, values, and skills of a Special Operations warrior.” Photo courtesy of arsof-history.org.

Sidney Shachnow compartmentalized the horrors he experienced while imprisoned in a Jewish ghetto during World War II. He authored a book in 2004 called Hope and Honor: A Memoir of a Soldier’s Courage and Survival. It was within these pages he broke his code of silence. “I found it painful and I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me,” he wrote in the preface.

Born Schaja Shachnowski in 1934 in Kaunas, Lithuania, Shachnow’s entire family and 40,000 of the Jewish population of Kaunas lived in a fenced-off ghetto called Concentration Camp No. 4, Kovno.

“There was no infrastructure, no water pipes, no sewage system, and no access to running water,” Shachnow wrote. “Not only the brutality of the Gestapo, but the threat of disease was an ever-present terror to the population.” He and his family lived in constant fear for three years before the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania.

He survived the Holocaust and went on to have a historic career in the US Army. “I have been involved or played a part in some of the most significant times in history from the beginning of Special Forces, the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive, to the fall of the Berlin Wall while living in the former home of the Treasurer of the Third Reich as Commander of US Forces,” he wrote. “The irony of circumstance has always been exceptional in my life, from being enemies with the Germans, friends with the Soviets as they rescued me and my family from Kovno, and later enemies of the Russians during the Cold War and protecting West Germany.”

When he became a US citizen in 1958, he changed his name to Sidney Shachnow. He went to Vietnam both as a Green Beret and as an infantry officer and was twice awarded the Silver Star for actions in combat, as well as two Purple Hearts. He later served as the commander of Detachment A, a covert Army Special Forces unit based in Berlin that conducted some of the most sensitive operations of the Cold War from 1956 to 1984. He retired from the US Army as a major general in 1994 with almost 40 years of active-duty military service. Shachnow died in 2018.

JACK TAYLOR, OSS MARITIME UNIT

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Lt. Jack Taylor, right, earned the Navy Cross through his service with the OSS Maritime Unit during World War II. Photo courtesy of The OSS Society.

Lt. Jack Taylor was a US Navy sailor recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II. He served with the OSS Maritime Unit — one of the several predecessors of Navy SEALs — and had 18 months of operational experience in the Balkans. In October 1944 he became the first Allied officer to drop into Austria. After a mission to infiltrate Vienna and set up a resistance network code-named Operation Dupont went sideways, Taylor was captured by the Gestapo.

He was held in a Vienna prison for four months. When the Russians neared Vienna, he was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp — a horrible place in Germany where people were sent to be exterminated. 

The US Army’s 11th Armored Division liberated the camp on May 3, 1945. Taylor later spoke about his experiences in front of a film crew from within the camp. One of the liberators asked how many ways people in the camp were executed, and Taylor answered honestly. “Five or six ways: by gas; by shooting; by beating, beating with clubs; by exposure, that is standing outside naked for 48 hours and having cold water thrown on them in the middle of winter; dogs; and pushing over a 100-foot cliff.”

Taylor’s path differed from the others on this list as he was already serving his country before he was imprisoned. He recovered 13 “death books” kept by prisoners who acted as camp secretaries at Mauthausen. These recorded the “official” deaths, but unbeknownst to their German captors, the records had a secret code to mark deaths by lethal injection and by the gas chamber. This evidence was later presented during the Nuremberg Trials and was called “some of the best war crimes evidence” produced.

In May 1946, Taylor was called as a star witness for the prosecution at the Mauthausen-Gusen Camp Trials held at the Dachau concentration camp. He was later awarded the Navy Cross for his service during World War II and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress in his life as a civilian.

TIBOR RUBIN, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT AND POW

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Tibor Rubin survived the Holocaust only to face more bigotry in the US Army while serving in the Korean War. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor four times and helped save 35 to 40 lives as a prisoner of war. Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Tibor Rubin was only 13 years old when he was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. “When we get into the camp the German commander said right away, ‘You Jews, none of you are going to get out alive,’” Rubin remembered. “It was a terrible life. Their aim was to kill you. Nothing to look forward, just when am I going to be next.”

His turn never came. The US Army liberated the camp. He was separated from his family but alive. Rubin later discovered his parents and sister were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. He vowed to one day become like one of the liberators who saved his life.

“I have a debt to pay,” he said. “So I made a promise. If Lord help me if I ever go to America, I’m gonna become a GI Joe.”

He became more than an average soldier. He joined the US Army and deployed to Korea in 1950. Alone on a hilltop at 4 a.m. Rubin single-handedly repelled a force of more than 100 enemy troops during a 24-hour gun battle. “I figured I was a goner,” Rubin later recalled. “But I ran from one foxhole to the next, throwing hand grenades so the North Koreans would think they were fighting more than one person. I couldn’t think straight — a situation, like that, you become hysterical trying to save your life.”

He was recommended for the Medal of Honor but was denied due to discrimination against his Jewish heritage by senior leadership. One of them, a sergeant, even sent Rubin on one-way suicide missions expecting him not to make it back alive — but he always did.

On the night before Halloween, Rubin’s position was overrun by Chinese forces and he became a prisoner of war. While in the camp he would sneak out at night and steal food from the guards. He made soup for the sick, acted as a doctor for his wounded friends, and was a therapist for those who had given up hope. 

From April 20 to May 3, 1953, the Chinese forces conducted a POW exchange of the sick and wounded. He was personally responsible for saving the lives of 35 to 40 soldiers who otherwise would have succumbed to their injuries. When Rubin returned to the US he devoted 20,000 hours to helping veterans in Long Beach, California. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Rubin the Medal of Honor, which he’d been recommended for on four separate occasions.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is an actual Army report on witches in the Republic of the Congo

Please spare some sympathy for the member of the Special Operations Research Office who, in 1964, was ordered to take a good, hard look at the impact of “witchcraft, sorcery, magic, and other psychological phenomena” during the civil war in the Republic of the Congo.

Yup. This poor soul was actually tasked with investigating the burning question of, “Are we losing because of the witches?

The surprising answer was, to paraphrase, ‘At least partially.’


In fact, the 1964 paper even analyzed the viability of U.S. forces and their allies adopting magic for their own purposes. Oh yeah, if you wanted to be a U.S. Army witch doctor, this was the time to do it.

Except, of course, the U.S. didn’t actually believe magic was affecting the physical world. Instead, it was studying how the belief in magic affected the morale of troops fighting on each side of the conflict, and then it had to decide whether to engage in some play-acting; doing fake magic in order to affect the enemy’s perceptions.

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A Swedish soldier with U.N. forces on duty in Congo during the crisis.

(Pressens Bild, public domain)

This wouldn’t be the Army’s only flirtation with the supernatural at the time. In 1950, a U.S. Army colonel helped fake a vampire attack to terrify communists in the Philippines, and psychological operations soldiers pulled a similar (but less effective) trick in Vietnam when they played ghost sounds over enemy troop concentrations.

The magical beliefs in the Congo revolved around two supposed classes of powers. There was sorcery, a system of magic that relied on rituals that were usually performed while mixing ingredients for a traditional medicine or preparing a charm. And there was witchcraft, a method of doing magic that relied on an innate ability that some people had from birth. These witches could simply wish for certain things to happen and, for some inexplicable reason, they would.

This magical belief was deep-seated in the Congolese. It had survived and even flourished despite nearly 100 years of economic and religious colonization. What missionaries and Belgian representatives sent to the country always found was that when push-came-to-shove, the bulk of the Congolese people would only incorporate European beliefs and power structures into their belief in magic. European beliefs were never able to replace traditional, magical ones.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

A Shona witch doctor in Zimbabwe.

(Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Belgium finally began relaxing its stranglehold in 1957 over what was then the Belgian Congo, this struggle had resulted in a deep rift between the Congolese who embraced European education and methods and those who were more dedicated to tribal beliefs and power structures. But both sides held magical beliefs. The European-influenced évolués, as they were known, simply hid those beliefs.

The Belgian Congo collapsed in 1960 and U.N. forces were eventually sent in to try and keep a tentative peace after repeated fighting and clashes. The stakes there were high. Certain parts of the Congo were quite resource-rich, including one of the breakaway zones. It also had Uranium that would be quite valuable to either the Soviet Union or the U.S., depending on who tied the emerging but troubled Republic of the Congo to their sphere of influence.

Hence U.S. military planners debating on twisting magical beliefs to their own ends. The rebellious forces often had the sorcerers (and the occasional witch) prepare magical defenses that were supposed to stop harm from European weapons.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Swedish soldiers from the U.N. man a fighting position near a road in Niemba.

(Pressens Bild, public domain)

Upon deeper study, though, the 1964 paper recommended against weaponizing these beliefs against the Congolese rebels. There were a couple of major concerns. One was that these évolués were the ones most likely to be Congolese leaders that the U.S. would work with. Since they still believed in magic, they would probably balk at a U.S. mockery of it.

But they would balk even harder if their forces or their Western allies began dabbling in magic. Their entire political brand was built on not being superstitious and backwards like their peers (even though they did believe in the same magic).

Even more troublesome, though, was that while the belief in magic was near universal across the country, the exact details of the belief varied wildly between tribes and, sometimes, even between sub-tribes. As the paper described it, “Literally, one man’s charm might be another man’s potion.”

So, if a psychological operations unit were sent to capitalize on these beliefs, they would have to surreptitiously gather data on every targeted tribe and keep detailed records of it. Then, when crafting their messaging or other plots, they would have to adjust it for each tribe and then take care to keep the messages from sabotaging each other.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

Irish forces on duty in Congo during the Crisis.

(Irish Defence Forces)

But the most awesome concern with the program was the author’s worry that, if the U.S., Western, and government forces began openly engaging in magical operations against tribal leaders and insurgent witch-doctors, and the witch-doctors engaged in open counters, then the one near-guaranteed result would be an increased belief in magic.

In the post-war Congo, that would grant a ton of power to tribal leaders and witch-doctors, potentially necessitating power sharing that the évolués and their Western backers wouldn’t necessarily want. And, while there were government-friendly tribes, nearly all the insurgents were part of traditional tribal structures, so potentially strengthening the belief in magic would be a long-term problem for the West whether they won or lost.

Instead, the paper recommended overturning magical beliefs by showing them to be false. The biggest magical claim that witch-doctors made was that they could make troops invulnerable to Western weapons. So, every enemy soldier killed with a Western weapon weakened belief in magic. As the paper states it:

In the Congo, as elsewhere in black Africa, there is every reason to believe that disciplined troops, proficient in marksmanship, and led by competent officers, can handily dispel most notions of magical invulnerability.

In the end, it appears that no magical campaign was launched. But that hasn’t prevented decades of rebellions, coups, and other violence.

This unrest has unfortunately continued to this day — literally. On the day this article was written, accusations of recent murder by police, election violence by the state, and other human rights abuses were in the news.

Almost makes you wish the magic was real. Would be a perfect time to whip up a few charms to protect the population.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Polish eagle scouts stole a tank and liberated a concentration camp in the middle of WWII

In the summer of 1944, the Red Army was approaching Warsaw and Nazi Germany was preparing to retreat all along the Eastern Front. That’s when the Polish Resistance launched Operation Tempest, an all-out effort to shake off five years of Nazi occupation before the Germans could destroy the city or round up dissidents. 

For 63 days, Poles fought their occupiers in the streets of the Polish capital in the largest European resistance uprising of the war. Although the effort ultimately failed when the Soviets stopped their advance to allow the Nazis to crush the resistance, there were bright spots. 

The brightest being the liberation of the Gęsiówka Prison by the Zoska scouting battalion — essentially a hardcore group of eagle scouts — who kept the Nazis from liquidating the Jewish population there.

Members of the Polish Home Army, the main resistance force in occupied Poland during World War II, started the Warsaw Uprising on Aug. 1, 1944. Almost immediately, members of the Nazi SD, the intelligence arm of the SS, began to liquidate the Warsaw Concentration Camp known as Gęsiówka. 

To prevent them from finishing their dirty work, a group of teenage Polish scouts known as Battalion Zoska, organized an assault on the camp and its guards. The battalion wasn’t exactly what Americans would call Eagle Scouts, but it’s the closest description that fits. They were more than eagle scouts, but not quite a military unit.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Prisoners of Gęsiówka and the Zośka fighters after the liberation of the camp in August 1944

Still, these young scouts had been fighting Nazis as resistance fighters and partisans since 1942, so they had a lot of time to learn. When Operation Tempest was launched, Zoska had 520 soldiers in Warsaw. On the second day of fighting, Battalion Zoska captured a Nazi panzer tank and integrated it into their attack plan for Gęsiówka.

With their new armored platoon, Battalion Zoska began its assault on the concentration camp on Aug. 5. The Nazis were no match for the hardened eagle scout paramilitary force. The full force of Battalion Zoska descended with ferocity on the camp guards. Almost 500 Polish teenagers supported by the main gun of a panzer tank made for a formidable force.

Within 90 minutes, the Germans broke off their defense of the camp. Those who survived the Polish attack (there weren’t many) were scattered into the city or took refuge in a nearby prison still held by the occupiers. The attacking Poles lost only two men in the fight. 

Thousands of Polish Jews died in the days leading up to Battalion Zoska’s attack on Gęsiówka., but there were still 348 Jewish prisoners still alive in the camp after it was liberated. The Zoskas armed them and they joined the rest of Warsaw’s citizens in fighting Nazis to the death. 

The Warsaw Uprising would go on for another nine weeks as the Red Army looked on, hoping the Germans would crush the Polish resistance. Most of the liberated prisoners would die in the fighting, as would most of Battalion Zosk — 70% died in the Warsaw Uprising. 

Those who survived the Nazis were imprisoned in the Gęsiówka camp and other secret prisons by the communist regime in Poland. 

Today, the prison has been replaced by a  museum dedicated to the history of Poland’s Jewish people and a plaque honoring the Polish Jews who died in the camp, along with a memorial to the Polish Home Army and to Battalion Zoska.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 Air Force pararescuemen who risked it all ‘that others may live’

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.


These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”

Here are six of them that epitomized those words.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

(U.S. Air Force)

1. Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger

William Pitsenbarger was the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross, later upgraded to the Medal of Honor, and his sacrifice is still the standard to which modern pararescuemen strive to honor with service. Now, his amazing story is finally reaching the masses when The Last Full Measure hits theatres on January 24, 2020.

Check out the trailer below:

The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions

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William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.

When an Army company stumbled into an ambush, the mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire came so quick and thick that the soldiers were soon unable to defend themselves while evacuating their wounded. Pitsenbarger recognized what was happening and got special permission to join them on the ground and prepare the wounded for evacuation. Pitsenbarger got nine of the wounded out on three flights before it became too dangerous for the helicopters to operate.

Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.

His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

(U.S. Air Force)

2. Chief Master Sgt. Duane Hackney

Duane Hackney is arguably the most decorated airman in U.S. history. We can’t go into all of his heroics here, but he served from Vietnam to Desert Storm and amassed an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals.

His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.

Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.

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(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller

Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.

Miller quickly led the establishment of a hasty defense and then began rendering aid to the wounded. Four of his team were killed almost instantly and five were wounded, but Miller re-distributed ammo to those able to fight and maintained the medical interventions on the wounded for the next 15 hours in bitter cold. He was credited with saving wounded men, allowing the soldiers and airman to keep fighting until rescued, and allowing for the successful recovery of seven sets of U.S. remains.

4. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.

He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)

5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz

On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.

Rather than withdraw to cover, Ruiz laid down heavy fire, killing one insurgent and suppressing the others long enough for him to reach the wounded men. Despite heavy machine gun fire, grenades, and accurate rifle fire, Ruiz stayed exposed until other teammates reached him, then he gave lifesaving care to his buddies under fire.

He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

(U.S. Air Force)

6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper

Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.

As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.

Culpepper later received the Distinguished Service Cross with Valor Device.

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 miraculous operations of the Israel Defense Forces

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


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

 

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

And their operation names are freaking cool.

1. Operation Spring of Youth

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

2. Operation Thunderbolt

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

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

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

3. Operation Opera

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

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

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

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

4. Operation Stout-Hearted Men

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

How they crossed the Suez is the miracle.

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

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

5. Operation Mole Cricket 19

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

6. Operation Focus

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

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Google Maps accidentally sparked a military invasion

Computer programming is a complex, detail-oriented skill that is extremely prone to human error. Oftentimes, those little errors are found and fixed before anyone even notices, but when a tech giant like Google makes even the slightest mistake, there are massive, real-world consequences.


Mapmaking is as painstaking a task as it is a political one. It’s easy when a border follows distinct geographical markings (such as the Rio Grande, which demarcates Texas to the north and Mexico to the south), but when lines are drawn based on nothing but territorial claims, there is almost always conflict. Borders on maps are created after both parties agree on where each side’s land ends. If they don’t agree and maps are created anyways (declaring one region, in part, belongs to another), you get conflicts, like that of Kashmir.

Today, many rely on Google Maps for a fairly accurate representation of the world. Years of research and the collection of billions of bytes of data has helped Google calculate where roads are, figure out which restaurants serve the best grub, and determine where borderlines are drawn. This is rarely an issue but, in October 2010, Nicaraguan troops invaded Costa Rica because Google Maps showed a region, which was indisputably Costa Rican, belonged to Nicaragua.

 

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Eden Pastora, former Sandinista commander turned politician, was in charge of dredging a river along the border. For the safety of the workers, the Nicaraguan military sent 50 troops for protection. The river was created and the armed troops entered the Costa Rican territory of Isla Calero unannounced. When pressed on the issue, Pastora responded that he was only following the map he picked up from Google.

Google apologized, corrected their mistake, and the world laughed — but the troops didn’t leave. In fact, the conflict was very heated.

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos
Costa Rica may not have a standing army, but their police force is serious AF. (Photo by Spc. Jaccob Hearn)

 

Costa Rica disbanded their military in 1948 following a bloody civil war, retaining only a small commando unit. The 50 Nicaraguan soldiers and 70 Costa Rican police officers stared each other down at Isla Calero for well over a month, each ready to fight over the land.

It wasn’t until Nov. 12, when the Organization of American States voted that the land did, in fact, belong to Costa Rica, that Pastora backed down. Five years later, Pastora watched from Nicaragua as the river was filled in with sand.

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