Tensions run high during war. In 1942, the American and Australian soldiers allied to fight the Japanese were as tense as ever. The stakes were high for both nations, but higher for the Aussies. In the early days of the war, an Allied victory was anything but assured and Australia faced the real possibility of a Japanese invasion. No one knows how “The Battle of Brisbane” started, but it sure relieved some of that tension.
At 6:50 p.m. on Nov. 26, 1942, the pubs in Australia’s third-largest city were closed and the streets flooded with allied soldiers. Private James R. Stein of the U.S. Army stopped on the corner of Adelaide and Creek Street to talk to three Australian troops when a U.S. MP stopped Pvt. Stein and asked for his leave pass. Growing more impatient as Stein fumbled through his pockets, the MP demanded he hurry up. Stein’s three Aussie friends told the MP to cool it.
Amidst some shouts and curses, the MP raised his baton, which drew a response of shoving and flying fists. Passing Australians stopped to help their fellow troops as more American MPs ran to the scene. Alarm bells and whistles began to go off, blanketing the shouts and the punches.
Outnumbered, the Americans retreated to a nearby Base Exchange, but were followed by the Aussies, who hurled rocks, sticks, bottles, and even a street sign. The MPs set up a perimeter outside the building and, by the time MP Lt. Lester Duffin arrived on the scene an hour later, 100 Australians were fighting to get through the cordon.
The Australians moved to break into the American Red Cross building adjacent to the opposite corner as the fighting spread to other streets in the area. A little over an hour after Pvt. Stein was fumbling for his leave pass, an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 GIs were in the streets of the city.
American troops were ordered back to their barracks and ships as picket guards stopped an Australian truck in the area carrying some firepower — Owen submachine guns and grenades. But despite everyone’s best effort, an American did get a shotgun into the melee and it quickly went off, killing an Australian and wounding many others on both sides.
Fights raged in canteens around the city throughout the night, but the main fighting was finally quelled by 10 p.m. that evening. There were sporadic confrontations throughout the city in the following days, but none rivaled the size, anger, and violence of the first night of what came to be known as “The Battle of Brisbane.”
News of the brawl never reached the U.S. due to military censorship, but the legend only grew in the following days, as the stories of those involved in the fighting were exaggerated and began to spread. Up to one million Americans served in Australia during World War II and weren’t always appreciated by the locals.
Americans were said to be aggressive with Australian women, and Australian troops were annoyed that American troops were better paid, equipped, and fed — not to mention that U.S. troops had access to cheap cigarettes, liquor, and other luxury items that Aussies couldn’t even get. The whole situation was a powder keg waiting to explode — and it did.
High-ranking officers often have monikers that accompany them for their military prowess in battle or how they conduct themselves. General “Mad Dog” Mattis was given his by the press after his “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” speech. Colonel “Mad Jack” Churchill got his when the British Expeditionary Force moved in on France and he became the only Brit to score a long bow kill in WWII.
Rarely will a moniker be used for more than one military leader, especially within the same time or military. Even more rare is when they two meet on opposite ends of the battlefield. This is exactly what happened when Maj. Gen. “Fighting Dick” Richardson fought Maj. Gen. “Fightin’ Dick” Anderson for the “Bloody Lane” at Antietam during the Civil War.
Israel B. Richardson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fighting Dick” after his last name. He lead the 1st Division of the II Corps into the Battle of Antietam.
And in the other corner, Richard H. Anderson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and was eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fightin’ Dick” after his first name. He lead the appropriately named “Anderson’s Division,” who were tasked with defending the Sunken Road.
On Sept. 17, 1862, 87,000 Union troops met the 38,000 Confederates near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Richardson’s men charged the road to pierce through the Confederate defenses. For nearly four hours, both sides fought until Union troops finally took the hill. However, Union troops were not able to hold the new ground and were forced back. The battle was declared tactically inconclusive but was a strategic victory for Richardson.
Both “Fighting Dicks” were critically wounded in battle; Anderson was wounded in the thigh and Richardson was struck by a shell fragment. Anderson would recover and continue on fighting into Gettysburg and Appomattox, but Richardson’s wound became infected and he passed of pneumonia nearly a month later.
It has been 75 years since upward of 150,000 Allied troops began storming the beaches of Normandy by air, land, and sea. As the June 6 anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in military history approaches, journalist Sarah Rose illuminated several less widely known combat heroes who fought for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe in Operation Overlord: Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac, and Odette Sansom. They are among the 39 female agents who served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secret World War II intelligence agency created in 1940 to “set Europe ablaze.”
“Women are the hidden figures of D-Day,” says Rose, who started researching the history of women in combat and was surprised to learn that their roles dated back to World War II. “People tend to think women were ‘just’ secretarial couriers and messengers. No, there were female special forces agents on the ground and working to keep the Allies from being blown back into the water. They did what men did. They led men.”
In her new book, D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II, Rose chronicles three of these agents’ contributions to the Allied victory in Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe.
1. Andrée Borrel, the first female combat paratrooper, fought for the liberation of France until Nazis executed her a month after D-Day.
Born to a working-class family on the outskirts of Paris after World War I, Borrel left school at 14. She had a job at a Paris bakery counter when World War II broke out.
Once the war began, Borrel left Paris and took a crash course in nursing with the Red Cross.
After a stint treating people wounded by the German Army, she joined a group of French Resistance operatives organizing and operating one of the country’s largest underground escape networks, the Pat O’Leary line. She aided at least 65 Allied evaders (mainly British Royal Air Force airmen shot down over enemy territory) on their journeys out of France to Spain through the Pyrenees.
When she herself got ratted out, she escaped to Lisbon, Portugal. She then moved to London, eager to continue fighting for the liberation of France. In the spring of 1942, the SOE recruited her. She was trained not only to jump behind enemy lines, but also to spy on, sabotage, and kill Axis troops occupying her home country.
Borrel parachuted into France in September of 1942, becoming the first female combat agent to do so. She worked as a courier for the SOE network Physician (nicknamed “Prosper”), which raised bands of Resistance members in the north to carry out guerilla attacks against Nazi troops. Moving between Paris and the countryside, she coordinated aerial supply drops and recruited, armed, and trained Resistance members.
She rose to second in command of the network’s Paris circuit, which was also funneling enemy intelligence back to the Allies in London. She was in the SOE’s first training class for female agents, where she learned skills from hand-to-hand combat to Morse code. When asked, “How might you kill a Nazi using what you have on you?” she is said to have responded: “I would jam a pencil through his brain. And he’d deserve it.”
Her commanding officer described her as “the best of us all.”
The Nazis arrested Borrel in 1943 and sent her to a concentration camp.
Nazis, allegedly leveraging intelligence from a double agent, arrested Borrel and fellow Physician leaders in June 1943. After being interrogated and imprisoned around Paris, she was transferred to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in July 1944 with three other female SOE agents and executed a month after D-Day.
Even from prison, she is said to have continued fighting by inserting coded messages about her captors in several letters to her sister. She was 24.
Honors: Croix de Guerre, Medal of the Resistance, the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct
2. Lise de Baissac parachuted into France twice and became the No. 2 commander of a French Resistance group fighting Nazis during the Battle of Normandy.
Andrée Borrel was the first female SOE agent to parachute into France during World War II, but her jumping partner, 37-year-old Lise de Baissac, was right behind her. The daughter of a wealthy family in British-ruled Mauritius, de Baissac was in France when Hitler’s troops moved into Paris in 1940. She fled to the south and then to London. When the SOE started recruiting multilingual women as agents, she joined the fight.
After parachuting into Central France with Borrel, de Baissac set up an Allied safe house for agents in the town of Poitiers in western France, selecting an apartment near Gestapo headquarters — a hiding-in-plain-sight strategy she felt would arouse less suspicion.
She bicycled around occupied territory as a liaison among different underground networks, often riding 60-70 kilometers a day and carrying contraband. On one occasion, a Nazi stopped her and her clandestine radio operator, patting them down. The officer searched them for guns, which they didn’t have, so he let them go. She’d later report that a radio crystal fell out of her skirt as she was leaving but that she leaned over, grabbed the crystal off the ground, and pedaled on.
In August of 1943, when her network in Poitiers was blown, the SOE airlifted her back to England by Lysander aircraft. She trained new female SOE recruits in Scotland. In April of 1944, after recovering from a broken leg, she jumped back into occupied France. She made her way to Normandy, joining her brother, fellow SOE agent Claude de Baissac, in leading a network of Resistance fighters in Normandy. They carried out attacks to weaken Nazi communication and transporation circuits, strategically cutting phone lines and blowing up roads, railways, and bridges to hinder the movement of German reinforcements Hitler was ordering to the beaches.
De Baissac raced out of Paris to assist the allies when she learned D-Day was imminent.
On June 5, 1944, de Baissac was in Paris recruiting when she learned D-Day was imminent. She biked for three days, speeding through Nazi formations, sleeping in ditches, and reaching her brother and their Resistance circuit headquarters in Normandy.
As the bloody Normandy campaign raged and the Allies struggled to penetrate the Axis front, the de Baissacs continued leading espionage and sabotage operations. They gathered intelligence on enemy positions and transmitted messages back to England, helping lay the groundwork for Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout in which U.S. Army forces came out of the peninsula and pierced Hitler’s front line seven weeks after D-Day.
After the war, she worked for the BBC.
Honors: MBE, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur Croix de Guerre avec Palme
3. Odette Sansom blew up Nazi train lines and, upon being arrested and tortured, told Gestapo officers: “I have nothing to say.”
Odette Sansom was a 28-year-old homemaker in Somerset, England when she answered the British War Office’s call for images of the French coastline, offering photographs she had from her childhood. Born in France as “Odette Brailly” in 1912, she had lost her father in the final months of the World War I. With World War II raging and her English husband already away fighting in the British Army, she didn’t take lightly the decision to leave her three young daughters. But with Hitler already occupying her old home and threatening her new one, she felt compelled to join the fight.
She was tough, determined, and persistent. When a concussion during parachute training left her unable to jump into France, she docked in Gibraltar on a gunrunner disguised as a sardine fishing boat, only to arrive in France’s “free” zone the same week in November 1942 that Hitler’s forces began occupying the region. So began several months working as a courier in SOE agent Capt. Peter Churchill’s network, Spindle. Churchill relied heavily on her to set up clandestine radio networks, coordinate parachute drops, and arm Resistance fighters in the Rhône Alps in preparation for D-Day.
She and Churchill fell in love and continued working together mobilizing Resistance members in southeast France until April 1943, when the Gestapo arrested them. Knowing that they were at risk of being executed as spies, she convinced their captors that her commanding officer was a relative of UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and that she was his wife and only in France at her urging. Peter Churchill was not, in fact, related to Britain’s prime minister, but Sansom figured that if she could trick the Germans into thinking they were VIPs, there would be incentive to keep them alive.
Sansom emerged from the largest, most lethal women’s concentration camp in history with evidence used to convict its leaders of war crimes.
While Sansom was imprisoned around France and then at Ravensbrück concentration camp, enduring solitary confinement and somewhere between 10-14 torture sessions – she survived.
By the time Ravensbrück was evacuated in the spring of 1945, Sansom’s back was broken, and she had been starved and beaten, with her toenails pulled out and her body burned in attempts to get her to reveal information about her fellow agents. She is said to have revealed nothing.
In the years after the war, Sansom’s testimony was later to convict Ravensbrück camp commandant Fritz Suhren, as well as other SS officers, of war crimes. Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 came less than a year after the sweeping invasions that began the Battle of Normandy, now memorialized as “D-Day.”
Honors: George Cross, Member of the Order of the British Empire, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It seems like, every so often, every branch of the military updates its tattoo policy. It’s done for various reasons, but ultimately, it’s to keep an orderly and professional appearance. But ever since the first tattoo parlor opened its doors in 1846, tattoos have had a well-seated place in the hearts (and on the skin) of many troops and veterans.
The art of body-marking and tattooing as a status symbol for warriors dates back well over five thousand years. Everyone from the Ancient Greeks to the Maori tribes of New Zealand marked their warriors as a sign of their strength. Even before tattoos were widespread among the U.S. military, Revolutionary War sailors tattooed personal identifiers on their skin to avoid being illegally conscripted by the British Navy.
During the American Civil War, early tattoo artist Martin Hildebrant traveled the battlefields and decorated the troops with various, patriotic designs. Even Marine Corps legend, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, was said to have an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattooed across his chest
Despite a general disinterest in tattoos among civilians in a post-WWI society, the 1925 book, The History of Tattooing, states that a whopping 90% of U.S. Sailors were tattooed. This was the golden age of sailors using their bodies as secondary service records of their achievements. Sailors would get a shellback turtle for crossing the equator, a golden dragon for crossing the International Date Line, and a golden shellback for crossing both at the same spot. Even rarer is a purple porpoise, which is for making this same crossing during the sacred hour of the spring equinox.
Seeing a tattoo on an older sailor means either they sailed through a very specific spot at a very specific time — or they just really like purple dolphins.
In today’s military, the old traditions still ring true. Sailors will still mark themselves for their Naval achievements. Marines still get the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on their first liberty. Soldiers will still get one or more of the same six tattoos. And airmen will probably get something nice in a spot that doesn’t hurt too much.
World War II was an exciting time for special operations and commandos. The advent of airborne operations gave them a whole new angle of approach, and the sheer scale of the war guaranteed that they’d have plenty of chances to use their skills.
But even accounting for those things, operators on both sides of the war distinguished themselves with daring missions.
Only two of the original five made it to the Bordeaux-Bassens docks. The four men who crewed the canoes placed mines on a few ships, which damaged some commercial vessels. While the material damage was limited, it boosted British morale and forced the Germans to devote more resources to defense in a way similar to the U.S. Army Air Force’s Doolittle Raid.
2. The failed attempt to kill Erwin Rommel
Operation Flipper had the lofty goal of crippling an Italian headquarters and intelligence office as well as killing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. The mission was beset by bad weather and the assault force that hit the German officer’s headquarters was smaller than planned.
Months later, a new stockpile of German heavy water was being transported on a ferry when the Norwegian Resistance attacked once again, sinking the ferry and ending Germany’s last best chance at a nuclear reactor or bomb. One man, Knut Haukelid, participated in both raids.
4. German paratroopers take the world’s strongest fort
They did it in a single morning with 85 paratroopers. The men landed on the fort in gliders and quickly took hold of large sections of it, destroying or capturing the guns aimed at the countryside. When the rest of the German army arrived, the remaining defenders surrendered.
5. Benito Mussolini is rescued from a mountaintop retreat by German paratroopers
In July 1943, Italian defeats turned the country against Benito Mussolini and he was exiled to a series of locations. A German commander was able to track the dictator to Gran Sasso, a mountaintop ski resort accessible only by cable car or glider. At 6,300 feet, it was too high even for an airborne assault.
The insane plan for Operation Biting called for five groups of British paras to land in German-occupied France, capture a German radar station, and then make off with key pieces of the technology. The men landed under cover of darkness and quickly captured the building. They even managed to grab two technicians with intimate knowledge of the advanced German radar.
The British sent a small flotilla of vessels led by the converted HMS Campbeltown. Sixteen were small motorboats, twelve of which were destroyed without reaching shore. But the Campbeltown managed to ram the gates of the dry dock. The Germans captured 215 of the 600 attackers and killed 169 more, but explosives hidden in the Campbeltown exploded the next morning, crippling the facilities.
A bus station in Durham, North Carolina, May 1940 (Retrieved from WarHistoryOnline.com)
Though America didn’t enter WWII until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American draft began earlier in October 1940, with the first men entering military service on November 18 of that year. Men between the ages of 21 and 45 were required to register and were liable to be called up for military service regardless of their skin color (the age range for registration was expanded to 18-65 following Pearl Harbor). Colored men were called up to fight for a country that allowed them to be discriminated against on buses, in restaurants and at water fountains to name a few.
Additionally, African American troops were segregated into colored units like the 1511th Quartermaster Truck Regiment. Part of the Eighth Air Force, the 1511th was sent to the European theater and based at Air Force Station 569 (nicknamed Adam Hall) in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, England. The 1511th was almost entirely African American, while all but one of its officers were white.
Upon their arrival at Bamber Bridge, the men of the 1511th were surprised to find that the town was racially integrated; the townspeople welcomed Black troops and allowed them entry and service in all establishments. This didn’t sit well with the American commanders who demanded the creation of a colored bar to prevent the mixing of white and Black troops. In response, all three pubs in Bamber Bridge posted “Black Troops Only” signs. Racial tensions were further exacerbated by the Detroit race riot that took place from June 20-22, 1943 and resulted in 1,800 arrests, 433 injuries, and 34 deaths.
On the night of June 24, 1943, a group of colored troops were drinking with English locals at Ye Olde Hob Inn in Bamber Bridge. Two white MPs, Cpl. Roy Windsor and Pfc. Ralph Ridgeway entered the pub and attempted to arrest one of the colored soldiers, Pvt. Eugene Nunn, for being improperly dressed (wearing a field jacket rather than a Class A uniform) and not having a pass.
Ye Olde Hob Inn c. 2005 (Photo by Geoff Wilkinson)
An argument broke out in the pub, with the locals siding with Nunn and his comrades. The exact details of what followed are unclear, but the situation at the pub was defused and the MPs left without Nunn. They returned, however, with two more MPs and fighting broke out. One of the MPs drew his sidearm and shot Pvt. Lynn Adams in the neck, dispersing the crowd.
Adams survived his wound and the men of the 1511th returned to their base (the white MPs were posted on the other side of town). Word of the incident soon spread and rumors began to circulate that the MPs were out to shoot Black troops. Lt. Edwin Jones, one of the Black officers, persuaded the men to let the officers investigate the incident and ensure that justice was done. A few soldiers slipped off base, either to run or seek revenge on the MPs, but the majority of them remained on the base.
At midnight, jeeps full of MPs arrived at the base along with an improvised armored vehicle which reportedly mounted a machine gun. Panic and chaos ensued and the colored troops armed themselves in response. Two-thirds of the rifles in the camp armory were reportedly taken. The MPs retreated from the base and the colored troops followed them into the town. A roadblock was set up, which British police officers claim was used to ambush the colored troops.
Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.
Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.
Following the battle, 32 of the colored troops were found guilty of, among other crimes, mutiny, seizing arms, rioting, and firing upon officers and MPs. However, their sentences were all reduced on appeal by the President of the court martial, citing poor leadership, with officers failing to perform their duties properly. The longest sentence served was 13 months; arguably a light sentence given the charge of mutiny during a time of war.
The commander of the Eighth Air Force, General Ira Eaker, placed the majority of the blame on the white officers and MPs. To prevent such an incident from repeating, Gen. Eaker consolidated the Black trucking units into a single, special command, purged the officer corps of inexperienced and racist officers, and racially integrated the MP patrols. As a result, morale amongst colored troops in England greatly improved and the rate of courts-martial fell, though several more minor incidents between white and colored troops occurred in Britain over the course of the war.
The Battle of Bamber Bridge, as it has come to be known, was heavily censored. Fearing that news of the incident would serve to worsen race relations on the homefront and abroad, papers wrote only that violence had occurred in an unnamed town in the North West of England.
Popular interest in the Battle of Bamber Bridge increased after author Anthony Burgess, who lived in the area after the war, wrote about it in the New York Times in 1973. In the late 1980’s, bullet holes from the battle were discovered in the Bamber Bridge NatWest bank by a maintenance worker.
To date, the Battle of Bamber Bridge remains a rather obscure event in history. The explosion of racial tension served as one of the many precursors to the American civil rights movement that would follow the war. Though the U.S. military was desegregated in 1948, it would take decades for the nation to see racial integration as a whole with advancements like Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The recorded circumstances of Pvt. Crossland’s death are DNB – Died Non-Battle. He deserves to be remembered as a victim of racism and a martyr for the advancement of equality.
Without a doubt, the most athletic President had to be Theodore Roosevelt. An avid boxer, wrestler, runner, and lover of all things outdoors, America’s 26th President never seemed to reach his peak performance. One might think his subordinates in the United States Army would have realized this before they complained to the Commander-In-Chief. Lesson learned.
And that lesson is Teddy Roosevelt will embarrass you.
Roosevelt remains – to this day – the pinnacle of red-blooded American manliness. This gravel-chewing stone-cold badass never met a challenge he wasn’t willing to put in a headlock and pummel with the sheer force of his iron will. He wasn’t just comfortable with a sustained level of violence in his daily life, this man thrived on it. And he expected no less from those who served him, especially in the United States military. This is the man who volunteered to serve, raised his own regiment, and then earned the Medal of Honor on his first deployment.
There was pretty much nothing TR couldn’t do. So why on earth would anyone in the U.S. military complain to the athlete-in-chief about how hard their life is? One cavalry officer discovered this bad idea personally.
It seems the officer complained to the President about having to ride 100 miles in three days. President Roosevelt, who instituted mandatory physical training for the United States Armed Forces during his Presidency scoffed at the idea. Soldiers and sailors were, for the first time, required to maintain a baseline level of fitness. Still, the Army officer objected to the level of riding he and his men were forced to endure. In response, the then 51-year-old President saw the complaint as a challenge.
He sought to show the Army that not only was it possible to do in three days, but that three days was more than enough time – and he was going to do it personally. If a 51-year-old man who wasn’t training every day could do it, then surely the U.S. Army who is training could do it.
Not only did Roosevelt ride that 100 miles as President, he did it in a single day. The President rode along with his military aide Archie Butt and his physician to the Virginia town of Warrenton. There, Roosevelt gave a speech at the Warren Green Hotel and shook hands with everyone who came out to listen. He had a quick lunch before he and his riding companions headed back to Washington, where they finished their ride in a snowstorm.
And that’s why you don’t complain to Teddy Roosevelt.
Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.
Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.
In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.
At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.
He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.
The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.
Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.
He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.
One of the most oft-overlooked wars in American history, the War of 1812 is kind of like a bad sequel to a much more exciting movie. In this case, the original film is the American Revolution and the War of 1812 is really AmRev II: the Hubris. Since no one really won and the reasoning for the war was something that could have been avoided.
No one likes a stalemate.
When people refer to interesting things about the War of 1812, they usually mention the Star-Spangled Banner, Dolly Madison saving George Washington’s portrait from the torch, or the fact the Battle of New Orleans was the most New Orleans thing ever, and it happened after the war ended.
We’ll go a little deeper than that.
New England almost seceded from the Union.
Secession from the Union was a concept that had been hanging around long before the South used it to trigger the Civil War. In this case, the New England states were so against the war that they considered seceding from the United States and forming their own country. When President Madison called up the Massachusetts militia, Governor Caleb Strong refused to send the troops, so Madison sent no troops to defend New England. New England even tried to negotiate a separate peace with the British.
Europeans don’t think of it as its own war.
While Canada may revel in the ass-kicking it gave Washington, D.C., and various states around the U.S. may revel in their own victories over the hated British, the actual British don’t call the War of 1812 by its American name. To the Europeans, the War of 1812 is just an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, a new theater in the fight against Imperial France.
The 1812 Overture is not about the War of 1812.
On that note, every July 4th, you can hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture blaring to the explosions of fireworks across the United States as Americans celebrate their independence. It makes for a pretty great spectacle. The only problem is that the legendary musical piece has nothing to do with the U.S. 1812 was the same year Napoleon marched his Grand Armeé on Moscow, and the Russians responded to the impending fall of their capital by burning it before the French arrived. In the overture, you can even hear parts of the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
The British deployed a 1st rate Ship of the Line on the Great Lakes.
Imagine a massive ship with three gun decks and 112 guns, carrying some 700 British sailors just floating around the Great Lakes. That’s what the British Admiralty launched in 1814 in an attempt to wrest control of the lakes away from the Americans. The HMS St. Lawrence was built on Lake Ontario in just a few months. Her presence on the lake was enough to secure dominance on the lake for the British for the rest of the war.
It marked the first surrender of a British Naval squadron.
Despite the eventual British dominance on the Great Lakes, control of the massive bodies of water swung back and forth throughout the war, and was probably the theater where the Americans saw much of their success. Delivering blows to the vaunted Royal Navy was great for U.S. morale and terrible for British morale. American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry constructed a fleet of ships just to challenge British dominance on the lakes. At the Battle of Lake Erie, he forced a British naval squadron to surrender for the first time in history.
His dispatch to Gen. William Henry Harrison contained the legendary line, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
We burned their capital first.
The British did manage to torch Washington, and the city was nearly abandoned after its destruction, but it wasn’t just a random idea the British had – Americans actually burned their center of government first. The capital of Upper Canada was at a place then-called York, but today is known as Toronto. Americans burned the provincial parliament and looted key sites, taking the mace of Canada’s parliament (which President Eisenhower later returned) and a British Imperial Lion (which the U.S. Naval Academy has not).
The U.S. was saved by a giant storm.
Everyone knows British troops marched on Washington and burned the major buildings of America’s young capital city, including the White House. What they may not know is that the fires that should have raged through the night were extinguished relatively quickly by a freak tornado – some thought it was a hurricane – that hit the area just hours after the British advance. The storm even forced a British withdrawal as the storm killed more British troops than the American defenders.
It was the first time Asian-Americans fought for the US.
Asian-Americans may have fought for the United States before the War of 1812, but the defense of New Orleans marked the first time any historian or chronicler mentioned Asians at arms during wartime. When the pirate Jean-Baptiste Lafitte famously came to the aid of Gen. Andrew Jackson and American troops in New Orleans, he enlisted several “Manilamen” – Filipinos – from nearby Saint Malo, Louisiana, the first Filipino community in the United States.
It saw the largest emancipation of slaves until the Civil War.
One of the weaknesses of American society at the time was the institution of slavery, a weakness the British would attempt to exploit at every opportunity. The British Admiralty declared that any resident of the United States who wished to settle in His Majesty’s colonies would be welcome to do so, all they had to do was appear before the British Army or Navy. American slaveholders believed it was an attempt to incite a slave revolt, which it may have been. Nonetheless, the British transported thousands of former slaves back to Africa, the Caribbean, and even Canadian Nova Scotia.
Some even joined the British Colonial Marines, a fighting force of ex-slaves deployed by the British against the Americans.
It also saw the largest slave uprising – against the invader.
While the British were rousing slaves to join the fight against their oppressors, other slaves were joining forces to fight the British for the Americans. One Muslim slave named Bilal Muhammed was the manager of a plantation of 500 slaves on Georgia’s Sapelo Island. When the British attempted to land on Sapelo, Muhammed and 80 other slaves fought them back into the sea.
Maine was almost given to Canada as “New Ireland.”
During the American Revolution, the area we know as Maine was a haven for colonists who wanted to remain loyal to the Crown. Their ambitions were, of course, supported by the British government in Canada, who sent a significant force to defend what was then New Ireland. The British gave up New Ireland after the American Revolution in order to cut the French Canadian provinces off from the coastal areas. By the time the War of 1812 rolled through, it was almost ceded again, but the Treaty of Ghent made no changes to the borders, and the British withdrew
The war brought about an unopposed political party.
Today we have Democrats and Republicans at each other’s throats, constantly fighting to some end. Back then, the parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Federalist opposition to the war, which ended with the view that America had won by not losing the second war for independence, pretty much ended the Federalist party, leaving just the Democratic-Republican Party as the sole party in a new “Era of Good Feelings.” After the election of 1824, that Era was over, and the party was split into two factions, depending on how much they liked Andrew Jackson’s policies.
Many troops take for granted the degree to which our military is funded today. There’s been a defense budget in place since the very early days of our country. Before World War I, this budget was made up of around 3 percent of the country’s GDP. Today, we’re sitting at 3.5 percent, but our total GDP is leagues larger than it was back then.
When the United States entered World War II, however, this defense budget spiked to a massive 41% of the country’s GDP — or $350 billion. Even that much money wasn’t enough to keep America at peak performance on all fronts. It needed more from the people.
That’s where war bonds, or “liberty bonds,” come into play.
And not just because Superman and Batman told them to.
In their most basic form, war bonds could be bought and sold through the Department of the Treasury. These bonds came in various amounts, ranging from 25 cents to for the average civilian and up to between 0 and 00 for the wealthy and for businesses. The overall idea was simple: You’d buy a war bond and return it at a later date for a specified amount.
From a financial perspective, they were a pretty terrible investment. During times of war, the government would print more money to further fund our military, thus causing a spike in inflation. And, just like that, the you spent isn’t worth nearly as much as it was when you bought the the bond.
That didn’t matter to the citizens, though. It was the patriotic thing to do. Throughout the Second World War, over 85 million Americans purchased over 5.7 billion’s worth of securities.
For the people back home, war bonds were a way to feel like they were contributing directly to the war. Everyone from the elderly to children to medically disqualified applicants could give something and feel invested in the American effort overseas. These investments came with a hope that their individual contribution was the little push needed to turn the tide of the war.
Everywhere you looked back then, posters lined the streets, telling people that it was their duty to purchase bonds. Major celebrities of the time starred in pre-movie ads, selling bonds. The .25 cent war bond stamps were heavily advertised in Superman and Batman comics. Even Bing Crosby sang “The Road to Victory,” a performance that wasn’t subtle in its promotion of victory bonds.
Ten percent of every single paycheck wasn’t even an outrageous ask. That was actually the norm.
As odd as it sounds, the most important thing that war bonds did was taking money out of circulation. The Treasury Department needed to pay for the war and printing more money was one of their only options. This isn’t uncommon but, at the rate the government needed to pay for the war, it would’ve crashed the economy if left unchecked.
It’s a basic economic principle: If there’s too much printed currency and not enough value behind it, the freshly printed money is worth less and less. Given that the United States was still reeling from the Great Depression, it’s safe to say the well was pretty dry. Every cent of a war bond was returned to the treasury, so the 5.7 billion’s worth of bonds that citizens purchased, essentially, allowed the government to print that many more dollars — they’d worry about the repercussions later, when there wasn’t a war to fight.
But at the ends of both World War I and World War II, two periods in history during which the United States spent an insane amount of money (in relation to the era’s GDP) on the war effort, bonds were repaid en masse, putting money in civilian pockets and sending the country into its greatest periods of economic growth.
On May 2 and 4, 1972, two SR-71 Blackbirds overflew Hanoi, North Vietnam at noon. The first plane broke the sound barrier, causing an ear-splitting sonic boom over the city. Fifteen seconds later, the other Blackbird did the same thing.
Prisoners at Hoa Lo developed a code-tapping language to communicate with each other. Capt. James Stockdale, who was the senior ranking officer at the prison, taught many incoming POWs this code. It kept the men sane and their spirits up.
Communicating with Washington was trickier. Three months into his captivity, Stockdale was allowed to write to his wife, Sybil. Two months later, he was allowed to write again. When she received the letters, she found them confusing. Nicknames and references to their mutual friends were wrong.
Sybil gave the letters to Naval Intelligence in San Diego who figured out he was using doublespeak – deliberately misleading language –to let his superiors know he was not being treated well in North Vietnam. With her cooperation, the CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence decided to use her correspondence back to her husband as a way to communicate with the prisoners.
Her first letter included a Polaroid of her with a secret message sandwiched between the sheets of photographic paper. It explained the process of using invisible ink to send messages to the CIA. He listed the other POWs with him and detailed the abuses inflicted on American prisoners there.
The new communication policy allowed the prisoners and the CIA to trade a wealth of information, so much so that the prisoners were actually able to assemble a small shortwave radio, which was eventually discovered during an inspection).
In 1969, two prisoners, Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Edwin Atterberry, escaped from the prison at Cu Loc but were recaptured the next day. Massive reprisals from their captors followed, and thus the prisoners’ leadership determined the retribution was too much and escape attempts should only be made with a “high likelihood of success and assurance of outside assistance.” That’s when they came up with the Red River plan.
Members of the escaping POW group sent their plan to the U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird approved the plan in January 1972. By May, everything was in place. The sonic booms were a go.
Despite a few setbacks, members of SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team Eleven used SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV – mini-submarines) and HH-3A helicopters to patrol the coastline throughout May and June looking for escaped POWs. They never found any.
As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale forbid any escape attempts. He judged the plan too risky and the threat of reprisals too harsh. (Prisoners were often killed during these reprisals). The would-be escapees were frustrated by the policy, but they obeyed.
Article III of the Code of Conduct for prisoners does say American POWs should make every effort to escape captivity. Article IV, however, prohibits any action that would cause harm to other captured personnel. So Thunderhead was terminated.
The POWs would communicate with Washington throughout the war. Eventually, another radio was smuggled in, which gave POWs a direct line from the camp to the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanders aboard ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In January 1973, 591 POWs were repatriated back to the United States. For his leadership among the prisoners and work to galvanize the resistance to their captors, Stockdale received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford.
By May 8, 1945, V-E Day, the 9th Armored Division gained a wealth of combat experience in a relatively short amount of time. Though untested, the division would distinguish itself during the Battle of the Bulge, buying precious time for Allied units to regroup and disrupting the precise German timetable. Due to their ability to seemingly show up all along the line of advance and thwart German efforts, the 9th was bestowed the nickname the “Phantom Division.” The 9th then participated in the drive to push the Germans back and through determination and a little bit of luck, managed to open up the first bridgehead across the Rhine. The sheer tenacity of the 9th Armored Division shortened the Allies’ war in the European Theatre.
The Battle of the Bulge
The 9th Armored entered the line shortly before the Battle of the Bulge and conducted patrols in what was deemed a quiet sector. On 16 December 1944, it became one of the units that bore the brunt of the German onslaught. The 9th received their baptism by fire fighting the Germans smashing through the Ardennes Forest. The division’s three combat commands – similar in structure to modern brigades – were spread across the front lines and found themselves defending some of the most important sectors.
There are widely considered to be two crucial fights during the battle that proved to be turning points: the siege of Bastogne in the south and the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge. The 9th Armored’s Combat Command B (CCB) was deployed to St. Vith, Belgium in the vicinity of Elsenborn Ridge, Combat Command Reserve (CCR) was around Bastogne when the Germans attacked while Combat Command A (CCA) was in Luxembourg.
Combat Command A faced off against the Wehrmacht Seventh Army in the vicinity of Echternach, Luxembourg. It was the task of the Seventh Army to secure the southern flank of the entire German operation. However, CCA held their sector of the front against relentless attacks denying the Germans of their goals. During the fighting CCA’s 60th Armored Infantry Battalion had been surrounded, Stars and Stripes reported:
Nobody told the doughs of the 60th Armd. Inf. Bn. to pull out, so they stayed and fought until word finally got through to them. A few days later they showed up in German helmets and with blankets draped over their shoulders, their rifles slung with bayonets fixed. They walked through German lines that way… They kept right on going until they reached the U.S. lines. After that, they fought some more.
After being relieved by elements of the 6th Armored Division, Combat Command A was immediately pressed into the drive to relieve the beleaguered defenders of Bastogne.
Combat Command B was deployed further north near St. Vith, Belgium having planned to support the 2nd Infantry Division in an upcoming offensive action. When the Germans attacked the 2nd Infantry Division alongside the rookie 99th Infantry Division blunted the advance at Elsenborn Ridge while CCB drove south to help secure the vital crossroads at St. Vith with the remnants of the 7th Armored Division, 28th Infantry Division, and the 106th Infantry Division which had lost two-thirds of its fighting strength. With things going poorly to the north further German units poured south to St. Vith but the units of CCB put up a stubborn resistance. Finally, on 23 December, after delaying the Germans for 6 days CCB withdrew from St. Vith. However, during the fighting the BBC had reported that “the brightest spot along the western front is at St. Vith.” To which an American soldier replied “if this is a bright spot what the hell is going everywhere else?” But the actions of the 9th had severely disrupted the German plans.
While the 9th Armored’s other two commands were fighting elsewhere Combat Command Reserve was fighting a delaying action at Bastogne. CCR was tasked with blocking German forces advancing on Bastogne at all costs and did so for nearly 48 hours before falling back onto Bastogne itself. The Reserve Command’s delaying action gave the 101st Airborne Division time to reach Bastogne and establish a defense. Once Bastogne was surrounded the survivors of CCR fell under the command of Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division where they were formed into a provisional “fire brigade” known as Task Force SNAFU. This mobile reserve acted as a rapid response force to threatened areas of the line. As history has shown the battle at Bastogne proved to be pivotal and if it weren’t for 9th Armored’s Reserve Command the battle might not have even taken place. For their actions during the battle, Combat Command Reserve was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Had the Germans been successful in any of the areas in which the 9th Armored Division was operating, the Allies could have incurred significantly more casualties or even prolonged the war. As the units of the 9th were relieved they were pulled off the line and sent to the rear to recuperate and rearm for the upcoming counter-offensive. The American forces pushed the Germans back and drove toward the Rhine and an entrance into the German heartland while the Phantom Division waited for its opportunity to rejoin the fight. That opportunity came on 28 February 1945.
Seizing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen
On that day, the 9th Armored Division began its own attack toward the Rhine making good progress against the German opposition. In the days follow American units reached bridge after bridge on the Rhine just in time to see the Germans blow the bridge they were hoping to capture. As luck would have it, one American unit – the 9th – arrived to find one still intact, the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. The lead elements of CCB reached Remagen to find the Germans retreating. Tanks and infantry were ordered to move quickly but quietly through the town. However, multiple sources reported the bridge was scheduled for demolition at 1600, and when word reached the Commanding Officer of CCB it was already 1515 – they had 45 minutes to take the bridge. He immediately informed the commander of the assault forces and told them to get to the bridge as quickly as possible to which the commander replied: “Sir, I’m already there.”
Though they were at the bridge, it was still in the hands of the Germans who were determined not to let the Americans take it intact. Upon seeing the Americans, German engineers set off an explosion in the roadway hoping to slow the American advance. They also opened up with everything they had from the opposite bank. By the time the Americans were ready it was 1550, they had 10 minutes to save the bridge. The lead elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion began the assault and charge onto the bridge. Just as they did the Germans set of an explosion at the far side of the bridge; a final failed attempt at demolishing the bridge. The blast momentarily stunned the infantrymen but they quickly regained their senses and again set up across the bridge followed closely by combat engineers who climbed under the bridge set about cutting the wires to the explosives. The soldiers pressed on not knowing if the bridge would be blown up underneath them at any moment. They captured the German machine gun positions in the towers overlooking the bridge, then Sgt. Alexander Drabik led his squad in a mad dash for the far side of the bridge, dodging German fire and returning some of their own as they went. Sgt. Drabik and his squad arrived unscathed and were the first Americans across the Rhine – the 9th had grasped the slightest of holds.
As more men arrived they began clearing the Germans defending the far side of the bridge. They stormed the towers and captured the machine gun crew before throwing their guns in the river. They climbed up the cliffs to take out snipers and they endured mortar and artillery barrages but they were holding on. At night fall only a reinforced company, about 120 men, held the far side of the bridge but by midnight the engineers had cleared the armor to begin crossing.
Initially, before reports of the bridges capture had reached higher headquarters, CCB, 9th Armored Division had been order to continue south to link up with other forces. Brigadier General Hoge, CO CCB made the fateful decision to disobey those orders and reinforce his small contingent that had already crossed the bridge. Finally, as word began to spread Gen. Omar Bradley ordered other units diverted to Remagen to cross the bridge and get into Germany. Though the 9th Armored had captured the bridge at Remagen that was not part of the initial plan and in fact there were other plans underway in other areas designed to cross the Rhine. When Eisenhower’s dinner was interrupted by the news he told his guests “that was Brad. He’s got a bridge across the Rhine. And he apologized for it, said it was badly located at Remagen.”
Meanwhile, the American build up continued as units from all around, particularly anti-aircraft battalions, moved to the area to defend the bridgehead. No sooner was this done than the Germans began throwing everything they had at destroying the bridge. Counterattacks were made, air raids were launched, and sappers even attempted an infiltration downstream to blow the bridge but the Americans held and the bridge stood. The men of the 9th even erected a sign saying “Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of the 9th Armored Division.” Finally, on March 17th after continual pounding the bridge collapsed but not before it had allowed 5 divisions to cross the Rhine and gave time for two pontoon bridges to be built nearby.
The actions of the men of the 9th Armored at Remagen contributed immeasurably to shortening the war in Europe. It took the Allies four months to cross the Roer River and the Germans were expecting to be able to rest and refit before putting up a staunch defense of the Rhine. The 9th’s breakthrough caused a lot of confusion and meant the Germans could no longer conduct a prolonged defense. It also allowed Eisenhower to alter his plans for ending the war. He praised the troops for seizing the opportunity, while others, such as General Patton, took the opportunity to gloat that they had beaten Montgomery across the Rhine. If not for the 9th Armored Division’s decisive actions and tenacity during the Battle of the Bulge and in capturing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, it is likely the war in Europe would have continued past May 1945 and cost many more Allied soldiers their lives.
In the first year of the war, President Lincoln shied away from the topic of slavery, and instead concentrated on the reunification of the country. But after the union victory at the Battle of Antietam, he made his first emancipation proclamation, announcing that anyone enslaved in Confederate states would be set free in one hundred days.
On Jan. 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, calling for the abolishment of slavery in rebel states as well as the recruitment of African Americans to the Union military. Nearly 200,000 would serve.
After the proclamation, anti-slavery nations like Great Britain and France could no longer support the Confederacy. Lincoln pushed for an anti-slavery amendment to the Constitution, which would pass after his death, eliminating the legal practice of slavery throughout America for good — its affects, however, would linger for generations.