On Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched a massive surprise offensive into the Ardennes forest in Belgium which became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.” The battle, launched 70 years ago, would become the largest American engagement of the war — and the bloodiest — resulting in nearly 20,000 U.S. troops killed over five weeks.
[Clifford] VanAuken, then a 19-year-old combat medic, was sleeping on the kitchen floor of a farmhouse near Nancy, France, when he was woken up at 2 a.m. to travel to Belgium.
“We thought the war was about over and then the Germans launched this horrendous attack,” he said. “It was a battle that surprised all ally commanders.”
In a must-see documentary about the members of Easy Co., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the survivors talk at length about the battle, the bitter cold, and the intense artillery fire that they had to endure.
“There was on top of this hill there was a ridge, a treeline,” said one veteran, who was there at Bastogne. “We were dug in on that ridge. The Germans knew right where we were, and they really gave us a shellacking.”
The incredible bravery of American troops, with support to come later by Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, ultimately led to an allied victory. But it came at a heavy price, with the U.S. Army suffering over 100,000 casualties, according to The History Channel.
“When a man was wounded, we felt glad for them. We felt happy for them,” Capt. Richard Winters later recounted. “He had a ticket to get out of there, and maybe a ticket to go home. And when we had a man who was killed, we found that he was at peace and he looked so peaceful. And we’re glad that he found peace.”
Watch some of the men who survived the battle tell their stories:
America was built on alcohol. Many of the founding fathers distilled or brewed their own booze because the ingredients needed to make it flourished perfectly in the soil of the newly formed United States. Remember, Samuel Adams isn’t just some fictional mascot made up to publicize a brewing company and Budweiser’s “George Washington recipe” is actually historically accurate.
Also, the terrible road conditions of the time made transporting grains the traditional way, you know, in bread and stuff, a true hardship. It was much easier to just turn whatever you grew into alcohol — which would net an even better profit.
All of this is key to understanding that the founding fathers would more than likely drink any modern military barracks under the table. No single moment best exemplifies this than the time George Washington and his Army buddies celebrated the signing of the Constitution by drinking enough booze to rack up a tab worth roughly $17,253 in today’s currency.
The tavern still exists and there’s still a bar. What could be more American than getting wasted where Washington and his boys drank?
(Photo by Lisa Andres)
It was the night of September 15, 1787, and George Washington had many reasons to celebrate. A few months earlier, in May, he was elected president at the Constitutional Convention. The United States Constitution had just been finalized and debates were finally settling as the momentous document cruised towards its eventual signing, just two days later. This night was also the farewell dinner for Washington before he set off to do bigger and better things.
Washington’s friends in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, along with several other framers of the Constitution, decided to throw a celebration at the City Tavern in Philadelphia.
All in all, a good night (This painting is actually from a different night at the Fraunces Tavern in New York. Celebrating with his troops was kind of his thing).
The party had roughly 55 guests, which included troops, politicians, friends, and family — along with 16 more people who were working that night, including musicians, servers, and hosts. The details of the night are hazy but the receipt for the night was saved in the First Troop Cavalry archives.
By the end of the night, Washington’s party drank: 54 bottle of Madeira wine, 60 bottle of Bordeaux wine, 8 bottles of old stock whiskey, 22 bottles of porter ale, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 jugs of beer, and 7 large bowls of punch. The staff and musicians also drank 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, and seven bowls of punch.
The bill also includes a tab for many broken glasses, which, adjusted for inflation, equals about 0 worth of reimbursements. The final bill came out to £89 and 4 schillings — or roughly ,253 in 2018 dollars.
The impressive part of this story isn’t that they drank it all — or the fact that drinks back then tended to be more potent than their modern counterparts — but the fact that Washington was functional enough just two days later to see the Constitution signed.
So, drink up! Enjoy the Constitution by celebrating its eventual 21st amendment!
H/T to We Are The Mighty reader Eric Carson for his comment that inspired for this article. Thank you very much! You’re awesome.
Standing among the greatest warriors are the troops who go above and beyond the call of duty for their comrades when the odds are at their slimmest. This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au.
Herbert K. Pilila’au was a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of O’ahu. Those who knew him growing up would describe him as a gentle kid who would spend much of his time reading the Bible and listening to classical music.
He was drafted into the Korean War at the age of 22 and attended Basic Training at Fort Shafter. His peers were in awe as they watched the stillest, quietest soldier in their company turn out to be the most physically fit and strong of the recruits. Despite being the most talked-about soldier, he remained humble and continually wrote home.
(Photo courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation – Hawaii)
Very shortly after basic training, he was attached to Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division and entered the fray in Gangwon Province, Korea. He volunteered to be the squad’s automatic rifleman saying, “someone had to do it.”
He first showed his prowess in battle alongside the rest of the 23rd Infantry Regiment as they fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August of 1951. This victory lead United Nations troops to march on what is now known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)
Pilila’au would meet his destiny on September 17th, 1951, when his platoon was tasked with protecting the ridge-line of Hill 931. After suffering a barrage of North Korean artillery strikes on their position, his platoon was forced to retreat. As they started to rejoin the rest of the unit, North Korean infantrymen descended on their position.
Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au volunteered himself to cover the retreat of the rest of his platoon with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He laid fire into every North Korean that came his way until he ran out of bullets. He then switched to throwing every grenade he had with him. When the grenades were gone, he pulled out his trench knife and carved into any attacker he could while punching them with his free hand. It was only after his platoon was safe that he would be surrounded and, finally, fall to an enemy bayonet.
When his platoon retook the position the next day, they discovered the bodies of forty North Koreans around his. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On June 18th, 1952, Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first Native Hawaiian to receive the United States Military’s highest decoration.
Hans Speidel had a long history of service to his country, no matter what that country was called or who happened to be its leader. Speidel was born in the German Empire and fought for the Kaiser in 1914, stayed in uniform during the tumultuous Weimar Republic and rose through the ranks of Nazi Germany.
What Speidel did as a Nazi officer is nothing short of extraordinary – and brave.
For four years, he served as an officer in the German Army, leading troops at the Battle of the Somme as a lieutenant. After World War I, as German politics, economics and government all seemed to spiral out of control, and the Nazis came to power, he stayed in the Army. In 1930 he was appointed to the General Staff.
Speidel soon found himself invading France in 1940 with the German Army and he would become Chief of Staff to many notable Nazi Field Marshals, despite never joining the Nazi Party himself. It was as a Chief of Staff that Speidel was promoted to general, while serving on the Eastern Front.
He was soon sent to the Atlantic Wall to serve as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Chief of Staff. After his time on the Eastern Front, he became convinced that Hitler’s military strategies were a series of blunders that would see his country fall to ruin. He even failed to pass on Hitler’s order to bomb Paris with V1 and V2 rockets as the Nazis were forced to withdraw from France.
With his increasing disappointment in the Nazis, Speidel joined what would become known as the 20 July Plot, an attempt to assassinate the Fuhrer and take control of the armed forces.
The plotters needed someone close to Rommel to recruit the Field Marshal’s support. No one was closer to Rommel than Speidel, who admired Rommel for his years of service. Rommel never officially joined the plot because he was against Hitler’s assassination – he wanted Hitler arrested and put on trial. But when the Fuhrer survived, Rommel and Speidel were both rounded up by the Gestapo.
They, along with almost 7,000 others were arrested for their role in the attempt on Hitler. Rommel was forced to commit suicide. Speidel spent the rest of the war in prison.
After the war, Speidel was one of only two Nazi-era generals who would be allowed to create the new West German Army. His role in the plot to kill Hitler was critical in the newfound trust placed in the Bundeswehr, the new Army of the Federal Republic of German and its integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Speidel worked his way up to a four-star general’s rank in the Bundeswehr, and was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Ground Forces for all of NATO in 1957. He retired in 1963 and died in 1984.
The average life expectancy of a Marine with a flamethrower on any given battlefield is about five minutes, according to Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Herschel “Woody” Williams. Those tanks made tempting targets – and they weren’t bulletproof.
Woody Williams was one such flamethrower. He not only earned his Medal of Honor, he’s the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War.
Williams was on the battlefields of Iwo Jima, an all-out slugfest that took place near the end of the war. But just because the end was nigh, that didn’t mean the Japanese were going to make it easy on the Americans. By the time Woody Williams began torching Japanese pillboxes on the island, the Marines had been fighting for days. Williams had the idea to form a five-man team with him bearing the flamethrower and four Marines providing cover for him as he moved.
The idea was a brilliant success, one he repeated many times over the course of four hours, much longer than the five minutes he would have normally given himself.
He had a lot going against him. The fuel inside a flamethrower weapon will give its user just a few blasts, lasting a couple of seconds at best, so he had to be judicious with his targets; Moreover, the fuel tank weighed roughly 70 pounds, so running with the clunky behemoth would be a challenge. On top of that, he would have to get in close, as the range of the weapon was severely limited. As if that weren’t bad enough, if he wasn’t killed outright and was instead captured by the Japanese, he would be executed as a criminal immediately.
It was not a rosy outlook but time and again Woody crept up on the enemy positions, cooked them very quickly, and returned to base to take up a new, fully loaded flamethrower. To the young Marine, he was just doing his job, even when a bullet ricocheted off his fuel tank. To the Marine Corps, he was a hero.
Woody Williams careful bravery on the battlefields of Iwo Jima allowed the Marines to advance inland after days of being stymied by enemy fortifications and bayonet charges that had begun to take its toll. Within a few weeks, Iwo Jima belonged to the Marines. Corporal Williams would soon receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman himself.
“You go in automatic drive when something like that happens, I think,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “Much of that four hours, I don’t remember. I attribute that to fear. Because to say I wasn’t scared would be the biggest lie that’s ever been told. Because you do experience fear.”
Everyone knew in the closing days of World War II that the Soviet Union was destined to clash with the rest of the Allies. But when it attempted a blockade of West Berlin that amounted to a siege in 1948, it still took the world by surprise and threatened World War III. Luckily, President Harry S. Truman was able to call on Western air forces to resupply Berlin by air for over a year.
Berlin Airlift: The Cold War Begins – Extra History
The Berlin Blockade, as it was known, was in reaction to Western Power attempts to re-stabilize the German economy and currency after World War II. Both the Soviet Union and the West wanted Germany to lean toward them in the post-war world because it would act as a buffer state for whichever side won.
But, beyond that, Russia wanted to ensure that Germany would never again be strong enough to invade the Soviet Union. Remember that the German military under the Kaiser had invaded Russia only 30 years before the Germans under the Fuhrer invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviets didn’t want to suffer that again.
So Soviet Premier Josef Stalin sabotaged the first attempt to overhaul the German economy, and when the Western Powers attempted to introduce the new German Deutsche Mark behind his back, Stalin instituted a total blockade of West Berlin.
Germany had been split up after the war, with America, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union all taking control of one section of the country. But each Allied power also got control of a section of Germany’s capital, Berlin, even though Berlin sat entirely within the Soviet Sector of the country.
So the Soviets could choke off the ability of France, America, and Britain to resupply their troops simply by closing the roads and rails that fed into the city, and they did.
This left those countries with a serious problem and only crappy choices. Do nothing, and the troops are starved. Pull the troops out, and the Soviets take control of the entire capital. Try to resupply them in force, and you’ll trigger a war, for certain.
So the senior advisers to Truman suggested that he simply give in, and pull the troops out. Better to lose the city than fight another war, and allowing the troops to starve to death was no option at all.
A C-54 flies into Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport in 1948 as part of the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force Henry Ries)
But Truman, a veteran of the front lines of World War I, and the man who decided to drop the atom bombs was not one to shy away from a confrontation. He ordered the city held and required his generals to find a way to get supplies in.
Their best plan was an audacious airlift called Operation Vittles. Experts from Britain estimated that it would take 4,000 tons of supplies per day to keep the city going. Carrying that many supplies via plane would be tough in any situation, but the task was made worse by the limited amount of infrastructure in Berlin to receive the supplies.
Berlin only had two major airports capable of receiving sufficiently large transports: Tempelhof Airport and Royal Air Force Station Gatow. These stations would need to receive well over 1,000 flights per day if the mission were to be achieved with the planes immediately available, mostly old C-47s.
But in the early days of the airlift, the air forces would fall well short of 4,000 tons per day. Instead, they would hit more like 70 and 90 tons per day, slowly growing to 1,000 tons per day. But, after a few weeks when it became clear that the airlift would need to continue indefinitely, the U.S. Air Force brought in an airlift expert to increase the throughput.
Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner was a top operations officer for the Military Air Transport Command, and he took over in order to make the operation much more professional and precise. Under Tunner, the military brought in new planes that would max out the reception capability of Tempelhof and Gatow.
The C-54s could carry more supplies, but they also over-stressed the landing surfaces. Workers rushed out between landings to spread sand to soften the damages to the landing surface. And, as winter set on, an entirely new landing strip was constructed at Tempelhof.
Almost 1.8 million tons of supplies were delivered by the time the operation was over.
(U.S. Air Force)
And the miracle worked. Tunner got the daily total to over 4,000 tons, then set record days at 4,500 tons, 5,000 tons, and beyond.
Eventually, the Soviet Union had to admit that the blockade had failed. The German people had rallied around the Western powers, and the West was in a better position after 15 months of airlift than it had been before the start. The western sections of Berlin and Germany became decidedly pro-American and British, and the Soviet Union had to use the force of arms to retain control of the Soviet sections.
This should have been predictable. After all, there are few sights that might make a government more popular than its planes flying overhead, dropping candy and delivering food and fuel, for over a year as you’re barely able to stave off starvation.
The Cold War was on, but Western logistics had achieved the first great victory with no violence. But, approximately 101 fatalities were suffered in the operation.
The Marines will be the first to tell you they have “fought in every clime and place” from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The history of the Corps is steeped in legendary heroism and ferocious battles. From Chapultepec to Belleau Wood to Fallujah, the Marines have made a name for themselves throughout our country’s history.
But there is one battle that stands out.
Ask any Marine about Iwo Jima, and you will see instant reverence in their eyes. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” was the phrase used to describe the spirit of the men that fought that battle.
The landing on Iwo Jima took place 75 years ago today. Located about 750 miles from mainland Japan, Iwo Jima was a volcanic rock that both sides viewed as an important objective of the American’s island-hopping campaign. For the Americans, the airfields there meant both easier and shorter routes to mainland Japan as well as helping clear the air of fighters that would intercept such bombers.
The Japanese simply knew that the capture of Iwo put the Americans one step closer to their homeland.
What followed next was one of the most ferocious battles man has ever waged.
Much has been written about the battle and its effect on history. Here are some of the more interesting things about the battle of Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was first discovered by Spanish explorers.
In 1543, a ship located the island and landed to explore the newly found land. They gave it the name “Sulphur Island.” When translated roughly to Japanese, it was called Io To, or Iwo Jima. The Japanese didn’t arrive at the island until the end of the 16th century.
The Japanese knew they were going to lose the battle.
As historians poured over Japanese war records after the war was over, they found that the Japanese knew the battle was a sure loss. The Japanese Imperial Navy was all but vanquished in the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force was almost obliterated as well. The Japanese had lost quite a few planes and had to keep as many as close to their mainland as possible. Even worse than the lack of planes was a shortage of pilots. The Americans would send experienced pilots back home to train more pilots. The Japanese didn’t do that. They kept their experienced pilots out, and as they suffered heavy losses, there was a shortfall in experience and numbers.
As a result, the Japanese changed the strategy of the defense of the island to be one of attrition. They figured the Americans would win. They just wanted to make them pay dearly for it. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, summoned Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his office and told him to defend Iwo Jima to the last man as a means to buy time. Kuribayashi, who came from a Samurai family, accepted the mission and set off for the island to set up a unique defense that the Americans had not seen yet.
The Japanese wanted to dissuade the Americans from attacking the mainland.
Kuribayashi changed the way the island would be defended. Instead of fighting the Americans on the beaches, he would allow them to land uncontested on the island. He knew the black volcanic sand, which had dunes up to 15 feet tall, could bog down the Americans, so he figured to let them all on before opening fire. He had the beach zeroed in by artillery and mortars to the last inch. On the island’s interior, he set up defensive positions in a new way. The fortifications and tunnels allowed the Japanese soldiers to retake positions that had already been overrun. On an island that was just eight square miles, there were over 11 miles of tunnels the Japanese could use.
The intended effect was to inflict as much damage as possible to the American forces. By dragging out this conflict and inflicting casualties, the Japanese hoped that the carnage would dissuade the U.S. from attacking the Japanese mainland.
The US thought the battle would last only a week.
It’s not that the Americans thought less of the Japanese. It was at this point they thought they knew what they were going to do. After victories through the South Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, the U.S. military thought they had a winning plan. Start with a devastating naval bombardment, get the men on the beach, provide them with close air support, and take the airfields quickly. They did that but realized way too soon that the naval bombardment didn’t do much damage, the Japanese actually wanted the Americans to land, and that they had to fight for every square inch of the island. The initial weeklong projection turned out to be five weeks of some of the worst fighting the Americans had seen to that point.
The beach was hell on earth.
After taking the naval and air bombardment, the Japanese allowed the Marines to congregate on the beach. Many thought that the Japanese were killed in the immense bombardment, but unfortunately, they were wrong. Kuribayashi told his troops to wait one hour before opening fire. When the Marines were massed on the beach and started to move forward slowly through the volcanic ash, they were shocked to learn the hard way that the Japanese had every inch of the beach sighted in and had to race off the beach while under intense artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.
Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group … his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh … Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs … as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: “I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified,” he was later to say.
By the end of the first day, over 30,000 Marines had landed, and the island was cut into two. However, upon seeing the initial casualty lists from the day’s carnage, General Howlin’ Mad Smith remarked, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.”
For the only time in the war, the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese.
The Marines went into Iwo Jima with a 3:1 advantage in terms of troops. At the end of the five-week battle, they would have 26,000 casualties versus 18,000 for the Japanese. One of the men killed on the beach was Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was a hero on Guadalcanal who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions there. As the intense bombardment came down, Basilone was last seen yelling for men to move off the beach. He was among the many killed that day. By the end of the battle, many more would die. While the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese, they had about one third less killed. Of the 18,000 Japanese soldiers who fought on the island, only 221 were captured. Most of the captured were either knocked unconscious or incapacitated.
There were few banzai charges so the Americans improvised.
The Americans factored in banzai or human wave attacks when they did their initial estimate of the length of the battle. In fact, the Japanese general prohibited such attacks as he knew that they didn’t work. He wanted his men to fight to the death, but he wanted to take as many Americans out as they could.
The Americans wouldn’t deal with that. Realizing quickly that firearms and close air support weren’t cutting it, the Marines adapted on the fly as they have throughout their history. They started using flamethrowers, (badass men as well as on modified tanks) to eradicate the Japanese. Once they realized the tunnel system allowed the enemy to reoccupy positions that had been overtaken, they just started flame-throwing everything that they saw… over and over again.
It worked. The Japanese tunnel system ended up becoming the graves of countless Japanese soldiers. Only toward the end, when food and supplies were low, did Kuribayashi allow banzai charges so his men would die “with honor.”
Americans at home thought the battle was over fast.
The iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, which showed Marines hoisting the flag on Mt. Suribachi, was the American people’s first view of the battle. It was taken on February 23, four days after the initial assault. The picture was released by the AP two days later, where it was published by virtually every newspaper in the free world. In an age, before social media, television, and satellite feeds, many assumed the battle was over based on the picture. It wasn’t.
As the battle raged on and the casualties mounted, Americans at home wondered why so many boys had to die for a small piece of rock.
How important was Iwo Jima and the effect of the battle?
Even before the battle’s conclusion, the U.S. military started using the airfields on Iwo Jima for bombing runs on Japan. Planes that were damaged during their runs now had a shorter trip to base, so they had a better chance of surviving. Fighters could now use the base to refuel, and accompany their bombers to Japan. However, people wondered if the same things could have happened had the Americans attacked elsewhere. The Americans also found out that the radar used by the Japanese on Iwo was not really beneficial as the Japanese already had other radar installations that did the same job. The battle’s need was a contentious matter as early as the end of hostilities on Iwo Jima.
One effect the battle did have was on the end of the war. After Iwo Jima, another horrible battle took place on Okinawa. By this point, the Japanese realized that Kuribayashi’s strategy worked. They could inflict major losses on the Americans and turn public opinion against the war. The Americans learned too and proceeded to unleash longer more devastating bombardments on Okinawa in the lead-up and more aggressive use of flamethrowers and incendiary devices on Japanese soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire, to horrific results.
When the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland fell, Americans looked at other ways to end the war and avoid the bloodbath that Iwo Jima and Okinawa wrought.
They found it in recently developed atomic weapons.
Uncommon valor was a common virtue.
Regardless of if Iwo Jima was strategically worth it, the Marines still viewed the battle as a badge of honor. They were not part of the planning or strategy but were told to take the island. They did.
They asked for a 10-day bombardment and got three. They adapted to a terrible situation and came out ahead. They looked death in the face and, as Marines usually do, didn’t even get fazed.
Eighty-two Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines during World War II. Twenty-two of them (28%) were earned on Iwo Jima alone. There is only one awardee alive today, Woody Williams, who earned the medal for using his flamethrower to wipe out numerous enemy emplacements.
On this 75th anniversary, to those who fought in that terrible battle and to the families left behind, We Are the Mighty salutes you.
As far as modern conventional warfare is concerned, the bullet or small explosive device are the standard, go-to weapon. And even today, many units around the world still adapt a bayonet into the unit crest.
But no weapon turns more heads while cracking the most skulls quite like the shovel.
To the uninformed, the shovel seems casual enough. It’s even played up for comic effect in cartoons, usually with a wacky sound effect. There’s even a video game called Shovel Knight that treats the titular character’s weapon as a joke.
Young privates don’t believe the shovel’s history as a weapon because they don’t know military history and only heard it used as a weapon from an salty old Sergeant First Class who has a story about his buddy “getting an e-tool kill.”
This isn’t like those stories about a guy killing three men in a bar with a pencil. The spade had many uses back in the day, especially during the trench warfare of WWI and WWII. It wasn’t the most effective melee combat weapon, but damn was it handy.
But the bayonet has practically lost its importance. It is usually the fashion now to charge with bombs and spades only. The sharpened spade is a more handy and many-sided weapon; not only can it be used for jabbing a man under the chin, but it is much better for striking with because of its greater weight; and if one hits between the neck and shoulder it easily cleaves as far down as the chest. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Much of the fighting was done between opposing trenches and occasionally the unfortunate bastards who found themselves in no-man’s land. But to even take an inch from the enemy, you had to over take their trench.
Raiding parties generally cleared portions of the trenches with hand grenades and shotguns. When it came time to fight the stragglers, the longer rifle and bayonet combo just wasn’t effective in narrow and often swamped trenches. Even the beauty of the trench knife – which included a knife for stabbing, brass knuckles for punching, and a spiked pummel for puncturing the enemy’s head– just didn’t have the range or power needed.
Troops being raided quickly adapted the tool they used to dig those trenches into a deadly weapon to defend those trenches. The sharp edge, originally purposed to cut through roots, found it’s way into the necks of their enemy. The additional weight behind it meant it could also break bones where the bayonet just pierced.
If the bayonet became the successor to a spear with a firearm, the spade was a mix of a battle ax with a club. Of course, troops would carry both into battle. But if one were to get lodged too deep in the enemy, which would make more sense to leave on the battlefield?
Stories about troops using a shovel as a weapon continue well through the Vietnam War. Even the modern E-Tool is designed as a call back to the glory days of it being an unexpectedly deadly weapon.
For more information on and the inspiration for this article, watch the video below.
One of World War II’s legendary figures, Gen. George S. Patton, loomed largely in the narrative of the war for many reasons.
While no one would accuse the great general of being humble or unassuming, his ego and pride are well-deserved — to the betterment of mankind and the Allied cause. Patton, with his ivory-handled revolvers and propensity to quote the Hindu scripture of “The Bhagavad Gita,” was as eccentric in life as he was effective in combat.
No example of this was more telling than his belief in reincarnation and his own numerous past lives.
As a child, Patton believed he fought Turkish armies. As he grew into an adult, he still had visions of his death in past lives, from viking funerals to the Battle of Tyre. In 1991, Karl F. Hollenbach compiled Patton’s account of his past lives in a book called Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles. Though the man himself never completely expressed the entirety of his beliefs in reincarnation, he did describe numerous events in detail.
Maybe there was something to the idea. Patton’s prowess on the battlefields made him the most feared Allied general among the Nazi leadership, according the the German POW Lt. COl. Freiherr Von Wagenheim. General Patton’s own intelligence officer remarked that his sixth sense was often way ahead of the intelligence coming in. Perhaps this truly is a skill set acquired across lifetimes of military experience.
1. With Alexander the Great at the Siege of Tyre.
In a poem called “Through a Glass, Darkly,” which Patton wrote while commanding the Third Army in Europe, he described being a Greek Hoplite fighting the Persians under Darius. He helped smash the Persian navy and then laid siege to Tyre. The walls fell after five months as Patton and his fellow Hoplites stormed the city.
2. Fighting Parthians for Rome.
Patton next talks about slaying Parthians with his Gladius, a sword approximately 25-32 inches long. Since the battle was said to have taken place in the first century B.C., Patton would have been fighting for what was then still the Roman Republic in the Middle East under any number of legendary Roman names: Crassus, Cassius, and Marc Antony to name a few.
In his vision, Patton was wounded and then killed by a number of arrows in his neck.
The general also remembered being stationed in Langres, France — as a Roman legionnaire in Caesar’s X Legion.
3. A Viking on his way to Valhalla.
When Patton was a young adult, he was kicked by a horse, who broke his leg in three places. Close to death from his wounds, Patton had a vision of his death as a Viking raider — where a vision appeared to him on the battlefield, offering to take him to the Viking afterlife.
The afterlife knows no loyalty in the wars of men, apparently. Less than a century later, Patton was back in the Hundred Years’ War, this time on the side of the English. Patton claimed to have fought with King Henry V at Agincourt.
6. A raiding sailor.
Three of Patton’s stanzas describe fighting on ships as he freed captured slaves or prisoners of war, fired into the enemy at point-blank range during a storm, or even was hanged as a pirate or privateer, describing feeling a rope around his neck as the red deck (presumably blood-stained) was set aflame.
7. Fighting for the House of Stuart
Again pitted against the English, though this time his loyalties were less to a nation than to the House of Stuart. Patton was a Scottish Highlander during the third English Civil War, supporting the Stuarts after the death of Charles I.
8. An aide to a Napoleonic Marshal.
Patton describes “riding with Murat” in the poem. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s marshals. Murat was one of the most capable cavalry officers and leaders in service to the French Emperor. He doesn’t specify his role with Murat, but the marshal was pivotal at battles like Jena and the invasion of Russia in 1812.
When the Allies left North Africa to invade Sicily, British General Sir Harold Alexander told Patton that if had been alive in the 19th Century, Napoleon would have made him a marshal — to which Patton replied: “But I did.”
At the end of his epic poem, Patton wrote that he would “battle as of yore, dying to be a fighter, but to die again, once more.”
The officers of the USS Liberty were sunbathing on the decks of their ship on June 8, 1967, just outside of Egypt’s territorial waters. Not too far away, Egypt was in the middle of the Six Day War with the Israelis, who would occupy the Sinai Peninsula by the war’s end.
The peaceful day aboard the intelligence-gathering ship was destroyed when Israeli Mirage and Mystere jets tore through the air – and dropped ordnance that ripped through the Liberty’s hull.
Commander William McGonagle was severely wounded as the Israelis fired rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge, and then strafed his ship. He still managed to call his crew to quarters and take command of the Libertyfrom the bridge. The ship was on fire, men were dead and wounded, and McGonagle himself was burned by napalm and losing blood.
The Liberty was not a warship but a lightly-armed, converted freighter — a holdover from World War II. Her mission was to collect signals intelligence and radio intercepts on the war between the Arabs and Israelis but not to get involved in the fighting or violate Egyptian sovereignty.
With his ship still in range of the U.S. 6th Fleet, Cmdr. McGonagle radioed the USS Saratoga, which sent 12 fighters to assist. Those fighters were recalled on orders from Washington. The Israeli fighters eventually let up and disappeared on their own. But that wasn’t the end of the attack. When they were gone, three Israeli torpedo boats opened up on the American ship and blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull.
The armaments on the USS Liberty were totally outmatched. The ship was carrying only four .50-caliber machine guns, a far cry from the Egyptian ship Israelis claim shelled the coastline that morning. The Liberty was a sitting duck.
With his ship burning and flooded, McGonagle directed the maneuvering of his ship for 17 hours while critically wounded. He refused medical treatment until he was convinced more critically wounded members of his crew were treated. He didn’t give up command until the Liberty encountered a U.S. destroyer.
For his gallantry and determination, McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Israel maintained that its attack on the Liberty was a mistake, that the planes were looking for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. Some find this troublesome, considering the El Quseir was a very different size than the Liberty and had a very different profile. Still, The IDF’s own inquiry says the Israeli Chief of Naval Operation did not know the Liberty was in the area. The captains of the torpedo boats maintained that closer identification was impossible because the Liberty was “enveloped in smoke.”
McGonagle’s official account of the incident corroborates the Israeli account, but the crew of the Liberty aren’t so certain. A 2002 BBC Documentary includes interviews with the Liberty’s crew, Israeli officials, and even Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time.
“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation,” then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said of the Liberty Incident “Their sustained attack to disable and sink Libertyprecluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. … I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
There are numerous conspiracy theory-related sites, some even run by Liberty crewmembers, that call into question some of the actions of the Israeli forces and of the orders from Washington. Some of these theories include:
• The Liberty was attacked to keep the U.S. from knowing about Israel’s upcoming attack on Syria.
• Trying to draw the U.S. into a greater anti-Arab war.
• Hiding Israeli war crimes (alleged massacres of Egyptian POWs).
• Israelis using unmarked aircraft.
• Torpedo boats machine gunning life rafts.
• Jamming radio signals meant that Israel knew the frequency the ships would be on– and thus knew they were American.
Official accounts (including from McGonagle) maintain that the Israeli torpedo ships halted mid-attack and offered assistance once the identity of Liberty was ascertained. The Americans politely declined.
When Christianity was getting its start, the religion didn’t exactly spread like wildfire. In its early days, the world was a tough place to be spreading new ideas. To create converts, Christians had to appeal to many, many different kinds of people for centuries. Selling the “Prince of Peace” to the Germanic-Saxon tribes of Northern Europe was particularly hard, so Christians framed Jesus in a way the locals could better understand.
Saxons were pretty much forced to take on Christianity in the 8th and 9th Centuries after a guy named Charlemagne rolled across Northern Europe with a giant sword he named “Joyous” and forced everyone there to take Communion or take three feet of steel.
But that didn’t mean they were thrilled about it.
“New Rule: Everyone who says anything about Valhalla gets sent there immediately.”
So, to make the idea of accepting the Christian god more amenable to the erstwhile pagan northerners, Jesus was recreated in a Saxon poem called Heliand, an epic poem that incorporated the Christian ideals with the Germanic warrior ethos – and that’s what caught on like wildfire. Not only did the Saxon warriors begin to accept the tenets of the new religion, the mix of cultures became the foundation of Medieval Europe and the culture of knighthood.
From there, the budding religion blossomed in the north and became widespread among the Saxons and beyond.
“Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior?”
But it wasn’t just that the idea of God’s son being a warrior chieftain that appealed to the northerners. It was actually just a really rockin’ good poem for the time. It was so popular, in fact, that multiple copies of Heliand still survive. If we’re being honest with ourselves, no matter what we think of the Christian religion, the stories are pretty good. Of particular interest in the Heliand are the stories of Genesis, the Revolt of the Angels, the story of Cain and Abel, and the Destruction of Sodom.
Imagining the same characters from these Biblical stories in a different setting would changes the way we see Christianity, even today.
All I’m saying is I would read more of the Bible if all the characters were vikings.
Another reason it caught on so fast was that it was written in a way familiar to the Saxons. It’s the largest known work ever written in the Old Saxon language and it was written in the epic poem style that was already popular with those people at the time. Jesus became a chieftain, prayers became runes, and the last supper became “the last mead hall feast with the warrior-companions.”
• The Chieftain of mankind is born in David’s hill-fort. • The three foreign warriors present their gifts to the Ruler’s Child. • John announces Christ’s coming to Middlegard. • Christ the Chieftain is immersed in the Jordan by His loyal thane John. • The Champion of mankind fights off the loathsome enemy. • Christ, the might Chieftain, chooses His first warrior-companions. • The mighty Rescuer calls twelve to be His men.
Now admit that Christmas and Easter just got a whole lot cooler.
While barely any American helicopters served in World War II and few flew in Korea, Vietnam was a proving ground for many airframes — everything from the venerable Huey to Chinooks sporting huge guns.
One of the most dangerous helicopter assignments was a tiny scout helicopter known as the “Loach.” Officially designated the OH-6 Cayuse, these things were made of thin plexiglass and metal but were expected to fly low over the jungles and grass, looking for enemy forces hiding in the foliage.
They were usually joined by Cobra gunships — either in hunter-killer teams where the Loach hunted and the Cobra killed or in air mobile cavalry units where both airframes supported cavalry and infantrymen on the ground.
In the hunter-killer teams, the Loach would fly low over the jungle, drawing fire and then calling for the Cobra to kill the teams on the ground.
In air mobile teams, a pilot would fly low while an observer would scan the ground for signs of the enemy force. Some of them were able to tell how large a force was and how recently it had passed. They would then call in scouts on the ground or infantrymen to hunt for the enemy in the brush while attack helicopters protected everyone.
Queer John was famous not just for crashing, but for keeping the crew safe while it did so. An Army article written after John’s seventh crash credited it with surviving 61 hits from enemy fire and seven crashes without losing a single crew member.
While Loachs were vulnerable to enemy fire, they were famous for surviving crashes like John did. A saying among Army aviators was, “If you have to crash, do it in a Loach.”
In 1941, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, famous aviatrix Marina Raskova lobbied Joseph Stalin to form regiments of women pilots. Out of necessity, Russia became the first country to allow women to fly combat missions and formed three regiments.
The most fearsome of these groups, the 588th Regiment, became known as the Nachthexen or, “Night Witches,” a name the women adopted with pride.
The Night Witches were not treated equally to their male counterparts. The only regiment made up entirely of women — ages 17 to 23 — wore hand-me-downs from male pilots and flew militarized crop-dusters known as Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes.
The planes were made mostly of wood and canvas and, if hit by tracer bullets, would ignite like paper. The pilot and navigator sat in open cockpits, with only small, glass windscreens to protect them from the savage Russian winters. To top it all off, the aircraft carried no radio or machine gun. The Po-2 could carry only two 220-lb. bombs at a maximum speed of 94 mph. Because of the weight of the bombs they carried and the low altitudes at which they flew, they carried no parachutes. They had no radar to help navigate through the night skies — only maps and compasses.
The courageous and smart women that made up the 588th, however, used these trainer planes’ shortcomings to their advantage. Because of the planes’ primitive construction, German radar could hardly see their approach, so they were assigned night harassment. Often operating in a sort-of stealth mode, idling engines as they neared the targets, they would glide their way to the bomb release points.
The Germans became terrified of the “Night Witches” and spread wild rumors that the women were given special injections that gave them feline-perfect night vision. Soldiers often would refuse to go outside and smoke for fear of letting the bombers know where they were. The “Night Witches” were so effective and so elusive that German pilots received the Iron Cross and a cash award of 2,000 Reichsmarks if they shot one of them down.
Dealing with daily sexual harassment on the ground and grueling night runs (sometimes up to 18 per night), the women were hardened and feared very little. However, the all-female aircrew did fear one thing above all else, and that would be what might occur if they were grounded and captured alive by the Germans.
Hint: It would not end well for the pilots, who were both female and Russian — a deadly combo when caught by the SS.
Galina Beltsova, a navigator with the Dive Bombers regiment said,
All of us were provided with one extra bullet and if I could see I was being circled by the enemy, of course, I could take out my pistol and shoot myself — as a last resort.
The female fighter pilots initially struggled, but later earned the respect of their brothers-in-arms. As a regiment, they flew more than 24,000 combat missions and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary bombs. The leader of the 588th Regiment, Irina Sebrova, became one of the most decorated pilots in the Soviet Army and was awarded the distinctions of Hero of Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Sebrova also received 3 Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class, the Order of the Red Star, and various medals.
The “Night Witches” didn’t have great planes, superior bombs, or even very much support for their unit, but they nonetheless became one of the most remarkable fighting forces of World War II.