This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

On November 13, 1942, the USS Juneau went down in the Pacific Ocean after being struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only 10 members of the over 700-man crew survived. Onboard were the five Sullivan brothers. They all perished in the battle.


George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan joined the U.S. Navy out of Waterloo, Iowa in January 1942. George and Francis were prior service enlistees, serving on the USS Hover before the war. During the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the brothers lost five friends in combat.

 

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
The Sullivan brothers pose on the USS Juneau. Photo: US Navy

George and Francis immediately began preparations to rejoin the Navy and convinced their brothers and two friends from a motorcycle club to enlist with them. They wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy asking to be allowed to train and serve together.

The boys went through training together and the Sullivans were later assigned to the USS Juneau, an Atlanta-class light cruiser completed in October 1941. Meanwhile, back home, the Sullivans bonded with each other and the Navy. Albert’s wife and son lived with the Sullivan parents and Alleta Sullivan, their mother, sponsored a ship for the Navy, the USS Tawasa.

As the U.S. Navy tried to halt Japanese advances in the Pacific and began pushing them back, modern cruisers like the Juneau were needed to protect carrier groups from air attack as well as bombard shore positions. The Juneau saw action first in the Atlantic but was sent to the Pacific where it protected the USS Wasp, USS Hornet, and USS Enterprise in fierce combat against the Japanese.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
The USS Juneau in 1942. Photo: US Navy

The Juneau was tasked with protecting reinforcements being ferried ashore to Guadalcanal on November 12, 1942. In the early afternoon, 30 Japanese planes attacked the ships and the Juneau went into action. The gunners picked off six torpedo planes and helped drive off the Japanese attacks.

The American ships prepared for a surface attack. The next day, 18-20 Japanese ships bore down on the small U.S. force. Juneau and the USS Atlanta teamed up and successfully brought down a Japanese ship but the Juneau was struck by an enemy torpedo shortly after. The Juneau withdrew with the damaged USS San Francisco but was engaged again by Japanese torpedoes.

A Japanese sub fired a three-torpedo spread and the Juneau avoided two of them, but the third either passed through the earlier damage into the center of the ship or struck in almost the same spot.

Witnesses described a massive explosion that nearly disintegrated the center of the ship. The two remaining pieces sank in only twenty seconds while the captain and most of the crew, including at least two of the brothers, were killed.

Around 100 sailors made it to the life rafts, including George Sullivan and possibly two other Sullivans. Over the next eight days, sailors died as sharks, exhaustion, and dehydration claimed them. According to a survivor on the same raft as George, he fell into the ocean and was claimed by the sharks.

Only 10 survivors were found and rescued from the USS Juneau and none of the Sullivan brothers were among them. Back home, rumors of the Juneau’s sinking had reached Waterloo and Alleta was desperate to learn whether or not her sons had survived. She wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
National Archives and Records Administration

Only days later, she received a personal letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that expressed his condolences for her sudden loss.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
National Archives and Records Administration

 

The Sullivan Brothers were survived by both of their parents. Albert also left behind a wife, Katherine, and a son, Jim.

Alleta Sullivan continued to be a friend to the Navy after the death of her sons, christening the USS Tawasa as promised but also participating in war bonds drives, encouraging ship builders, and volunteering with the USO to make service members’ lives easier.

 

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
USS The Sullivans fires a Standard Missile-2 during a training exercise. Photo by US Navy Information Specialist 1st Class Steven Martel

The Navy was since named two ships for the Sullivan brothers. USS The Sullivans (DD 537) was a destroyer that now serves as a museum in Buffalo, New York. USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) is an Aegis-class guided missile destroyer that served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it’s like to survive an atomic bomb

On September 2, 1945, World War II was officially over. Many celebrated August 15th as the end of the war when Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Imperial Japan’s surrender, but it took two more weeks before the surrender was formally signed. This is long enough for younger generations to have no memory of the catastrophic war, but there are still people alive today who experienced it firsthand.

On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Just three days later, a second detonated over Nagasaki. In total, more than 200,000 people were killed by the explosions, with thousands more experiencing long-term effects. Those who survived will never forget the experience. So what is it really like to be hit by a nuclear weapon and live? Let’s find out.


It starts out with a flash.

When an atomic bomb detonates, it goes through predictable stages. Nuclear bombs work by setting off a rapid chain reaction. Uranium undergoes the process of fission, which releases an almost incomprehensible amount of energy. About 35% of this energy is released as thermal radiation. Because thermal radiation travels at roughly the speed of light, a bright flash is the first thing one experiences after a nuclear bomb is dropped. We’re talking blinding. The initial flash is so bright, it can cause temporary blindness. Even closing your eyes isn’t complete protection. Larger nuclear weapons, which do exist in present-day, could cause flash blindness in people over 50 miles away.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. View from the top of the Red Cross Hospital looking northwest. Frame buildings recently erected. 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

The blinding light is accompanied by intense heat.

It’s not called thermal radiation for nothing. After the blinding flash, there’s a blast of intense heat. At the direct site of the explosion, the temperature can hit over 300K degrees C, visible as a massive fireball. At this temperature, which is about 300 times hotter than the temperature used for cremation, humans are instantaneously turned from people into basic elements. Just about everything within a 1-mile radius of the city of Hiroshima was completely flattened. The farther you are from the blast, the more likely you are to survive, but you’re unlikely to escape completely unscathed. First-degree burns can occur up to 6.8 miles away. Get just 2 miles closer and you’re at risk for life-threatening third-degree burns.

Wearing white might reduce effects.

Donning a wedding dress won’t save you if you’re in the middle of the blast, but it might help if you’re a few miles away. White clothing reflects some of the thermal energy while dark clothes absorb it, so you may be a little better off if you’re wearing light-colored clothing than if charcoal is your favorite color.

If you’re further away, pressure waves can still get you.

When a nuclear bomb explodes, it releases light and heat energy, but it also pushes air away from the initial explosion site with a tremendous amount of force. This creates a change in air pressure so intense that the wind can collapse buildings and crush most objects in its path. Within a half-mile of the blast, wind speeds can get as high as 470 mph. While you could potentially survive the force itself, the buildings around you most likely would not.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Atomic bombing of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

The world around you will resemble a scene from a horror film.

Shockingly, survival close to ground zero is possible. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped, some people were sheltered by the sturdy walls of banks or basements. The reports of those who did survive paint a very dark picture. Your hair is likely to be literally fried, and your clothes charred to rags. The people who were outside at the time of the blast are either severely burned or dead- with some of the deceased catching fire in the streets. Farther from the explosion, more people will lie injured or dead from glass and other projectiles. Human shadows are marked permanently on the ground and any walls left standing.

If you survive, you may feel the side-effects for the rest of your life.

Radiation poisoning caused a significant number of deaths in the weeks following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The effects of radiation are varied, ranging from milder symptoms like gastrointestinal distress, fever, headaches, and hair loss to death. Because radiation can cause a drop in the number of blood cells produced, wounds heal more slowly than normal. Even after you recover, your risk of cancer and other illnesses usually associated with age will be heightened.

A terrifying image, but an important lesson.

While the end of a war is always a reason to rejoice, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost at the hands of fellow mankind was an atrocity. The survivors have memories darker than most of us can imagine. Disturbingly, we now have the power to create an explosion larger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The largest bomb ever tested was the 50 megaton Tsar bomb, which released the equivalent energy of over 3,300 Hiroshima bombs.

Fortunately, our international agreements should prevent such catastrophic warfare from ever taking place. To learn more about what it was really like to experience a nuclear explosion, Time interviewed survivors who can tell you the real story.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Declassified CIA images revealed a US spy technique against Soviets

According to the National Security Archives, the CIA used to spy on the Soviet Union in broad daylight at the nation’s military parades.

The archives have collected declassified images that were taken at ceremonies marking national holidays like May Day and the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The parades were perfect settings for spies to collect intelligence on the Soviet Union, which was normally much more secretive about displaying its military capabilities.


This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Scrooge missiles pass by an image of Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx.

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Taken in 1960, this image from a May Day parade in Moscow is labeled “400-mm (?) self-propelled guns.”

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Rocket launchers pass by an image of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx.

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

SA-2 Guideline Rockets on transporter trailers, taken by a “Soviet source.”

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The CIA assessed them to be 210-mm rocket launchers.

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The missile, identified as the V-301, had a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, according to the CIA.

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The CIA identified this as the SS-9, a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

According to a CIA memo, the SS-9 premiered during a Moscow parade in 1967.

This photo was labeled, ‘Exempt from automatic downgrading and declassification.’

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The missile system shown here was assessed to be a new anti-ballistic missile capability.

(National Security Archive)

This image from the 49th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution shows typical Soviet propaganda in Red Square.

This photo appears to be mislabeled.

The ABM-1 Galosh was an anti-ballistic missile defense system arranged to protect Moscow.

ABM-X-2 is the nomenclature for project Aurora, an apparently unsuccessful attempt to expand the Galosh system.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

(National Security Archive)

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The SCUD missile identified here was a mobile ballistic missile with a warhead that weighed up to 1,500 pounds.

(National Security Archive)

Although these images were clearly geared towards the weapons systems, it’s just as interesting to see the scenery and propaganda of the era.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The first time the US tested an EMP weapon was a doozy

It was 1962 and only four days after Independence Day, but people living on the islands dotting the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to New Zealand were about to see a light show brighter than any July Fourth fireworks display in history.


More ominously, many of those same people would get a taste of how a single nuclear weapon could wipe out a nation’s electrical grid – and the U.S. military at the time had no clue how damaging the results would be.

Codenamed Starfish Prime, it was part of a series of nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Pentagon. Some of those tests included launches from Johnston Island of the U.S. Air Force’s PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles with live W49 thermonuclear warheads.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
The aurora from a U.S. nuclear test in space, dubbed Starfish Prime, could be seen as far away as Hawaii. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The purpose: rocket the warheads to the edge of space and detonate them to determine whether thermonuclear fireballs could be used to destroy incoming nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union.

Crazy? Perhaps – but keep in mind the events of the age.

In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing and abided by a self-imposed moratorium. Eventually, the United States followed suit. During 1959, neither superpower tested any nukes, but the brief lull in testing did not last. Soon, both nations were back at it.

In 1961, the Soviets detonated the humongous “Tsar Bomba.” Though capable of a 100 megaton yield, scientists decided to dial back Tsar Bomba’s destructive power to reduce the chance of fallout. At about 50 megatons, it still is the most powerful nuclear explosion in history. In fact, Tsar Bomba was so powerful, its heat caused third-degree burns on the exposed flesh of Soviet observers more than 60 miles away.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNYe_UaWZ3U
So, in a twisted, Cold War, Dr. Strangelove kind of way, launching nukes into space made sense.

Starfish Prime was really the third launch attempt for the U.S. – the first missile was destroyed seconds into its flight and the second blew up on the launch pad. Both incidents rained nuclear contamination down on the Johnston Island test facility.

But on July 9, 1962, the third Thor missile performed flawlessly and lifted its payload into space.

The 1.4 megaton warhead detonated about 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean – and then all hell broke loose.

“Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or the electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books,” Lowell Wood, a physicist and expert on EMP at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Congress in 2004. “As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.”

In Hawaii, the effects were almost immediate: streetlights blew out, circuit breakers tripped, telephone service crashed, aircraft radios malfunctioned, burglar alarms sounded, and garage door openers mysteriously activated.

As the flash from the nuclear explosion dimmed, an aurora formed in the sky that could be seen for thousands of miles. One reporter in Hawaii wrote, “For three minutes after the blast, the moon was centered in a sky partly blood-red and partly pink. Clouds appeared as dark silhouettes against the lighted sky.”

The high-energy radiation not only created a massive light show; it temporarily altered the shape of the Van Allen Belt – part of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth that actually protects the planet from solar storms that could destroy life on the world’s surface.

The Van Allen Belt had only been discovered four years earlier by University of Iowa physicist James A. Van Allen. The bands of high-energy particles held in place by strong magnetic fields were first seen as a threat to early space explorers – or a possible weapon to use against the Soviet Union.

In fact, there are historians of the Cold War who argue that there is compelling evidence indicating that both the United States and the Soviet Union contemplated exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions to blow up the Van Allen belt either to permit space travel or destroy their respective enemy.

Fortunately, there is no evidence that either the U.S. or Soviet nuclear testing in space permanently damaged the magnetosphere. As the weeks and months went by, however, there were other casualties from the Starfish Prime blast. At least six satellites – including Telstar, the world’s first telecommunications satellite – were either damaged or destroyed by passing through the lingering radiation belt left by the detonation.

Scientists and the military were stunned by the results of Starfish Prime. They knew about EMP, but the effects of the blast far exceeded their expectations.

Despite the very public detonation of the weapon, the cause of the power failures and satellite malfunctions remained secret for years, as did a new discussion that began: how a single nuclear weapon might be used to cripple a nation in one blow.

It is a discussion that continues to this day as those in the national security community consider how a weapon like Starfish Prime detonated over or near the United States could plunge the country into darkness.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The little cruiser with a battleship’s guns

It first entered Navy service in February, 1895, with some doubters mocking its excessive armament while Americans hoped that its speed, steel, and guns would allow it to survive while outnumbered if under heavy attack. Instead, the small but mighty USS Olympia slaughtered an enemy fleet, bombarded shores, and escorted convoys during its 27-year career.


This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The USS Olympia, a fast cruiser with heavy armament.

(U.S. Navy)

In the late 1800s, the U.S. Navy wrestled with what the service should do and what ships it needed for the 1900s. The battle of the Merrimack and Monitor decisively proved that wooden ships were on their way out, but the rise of steel ships showed that the iron vessels made in earnest during and after the Civil War wouldn’t survive either.

Meanwhile, sails were the efficient and cheap method of propelling a ship, but it was clear that steam gave commanders more flexibility and more options in combat.

And the Navy needed ships to secure American shores even as a constrained budgets made ship-building tough. Some presidents were already looking at using the Navy for power projection as well.

So, the Navy had to decide whether it should have lots of cheap ships, lots of coastal defenses, steam or sail power, all while keeping power projection a feasible option.

USS OLYMPIA “The Ship”

www.youtube.com

The Navy figured out a plan address all the changes and requirements: A new fleet of steel vessels that relied on steam power but still had masts for sails for long voyages when the winds were favorable. Because the U.S. couldn’t spend as much on ship hulls as potential European attackers, each ship would be heavily armed and as fast as possible.

This resulted in cruisers that could hopefully run ahead of enemy fleets, pelting the lead of the enemy ship with shot after shot while staying out of range of the rest of the enemy fleet. (Video game players do this today against powerful enemies and call it, “kiting.”)

A jewel of this new fleet was C-6, an armored cruiser scheduled to first float in 1892 and commission a few years later. This ship would become the USS Olympia, named for the capital of America’s newest state at the time, Washington.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The USS Olympia in front of a column of cruisers circa 1900.

(Francis Christian Muller)

The Olympia fit all the qualifications of the new naval plan. It could steam at over 21 knots while most of its potential enemies topped out at 18. It had four 8-inch guns, two in a single turret forward and two in a turret aft. These big guns were the primary armament, but the ship also had ten 5-inch guns. A few years after launch, it also got Gatling guns and sidearms for potential boarding parties.

Some naval observers around the world critiqued the design, saying that it was either an overarmed cruiser or a too-tiny battleship. But these heavily armed cruisers were designed for their own mission, and they could outrun attackers while picking them off with their larger guns.

The defensive war Olympia was ostensibly designed for never came, though. Instead, it was sent to the Pacific where it became the flagship of Commodore George Dewey before the USS Maine, a larger and even better armed ship, blew up in Havana Harbor. While the explosion was later found to have likely been caused by an ammo handling accident or an overheated bulkhead that touched gunpowder stores, the U.S. blamed it on a Spanish attack at the time.

In response to the Maine’s destruction, Dewey and his squadron were sent to Manila Bay to attack the Spanish fleet there. The hope was that the ships, protected by steel and heavily armed, could rush past the guns of the Spanish coastal defenses and engage the Spanish fleet with the large guns.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The USS Olympia leads the attack against the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila.

(Murat Halstead, 1898)

Dewey sent his fleet towards the bay in two columns steaming behind the USS Olympia. Dewey was holding his fire until sunlight and reconnaissance revealed the enemy fleet, even though this allowed shore gunners to try to spot and hit the American ships in the darkness. A sudden fire on the revenue cutter exposed it, and a cruiser and the cutter were forced to return fire.

But the rest of the fleet held its fire until Dewey saw the fleet, crept in range, and got the angles right. Spanish rounds were raining against the steel hulls of the American ships, and gunners crouched behind the paltry armor and prayed for safety until Dewey, on the Olympia, calmly told the ship’s captain, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley.”

The American fleet opened up and slaughtered the decrepit Spanish fleet, sinking all vessels and capturing the port in mere hours. America now owned the capital of the Philippines and would get the islands in the peace treaty that came later. Nine Americans had been wounded while the fleet had killed 161 Spanish fighters and wounded 210.

The Olympia and Dewey became famous, and the ship went on to serve in World War I as a convoy escort. And, in 1918, Olympia bombarded the shore during an amphibious assault at Murmansk in the Russian Civil War.

But the era of the Dreadnought had come, and in the years following World War I, it became clear that the Olympia was no longer enough ship to compete with enemy combatants. And America, flush with prestige after World War I and possessing overseas colonies from the Spanish-American War, had the money to build a larger, more powerful fleet.

In 1922, Olympia was decommissioned, and the hull was slated for the scrap heap, but activists pushed for the ship to be turned into a museum. It took decades of wrangling before Philadelphia donors got the money to return Olympia to the 1898 configuration and moored the ship in the city’s waterfront in 1958.

Since then, the ship has hosted visitors who wanted to walk the weathered boards of its deck or see the steam engines that made its speed possible. The Flagship Olympia Foundation is trying to raise the money necessary to dry dock and overhaul the ship. It’s already been on the water since 1892, and could have decades more in it after repairs.

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Vastly outnumbered, these Irish troops survived a 5-day siege

In 1961, 158 Irish soldiers with no combat experience came under determined attack from 3,000-5,000 African rebels and European mercenaries, surviving five days of airstrikes, mortar barrages, and frontal assaults while on a U.N. peacekeeping mission that went horribly wrong.


This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
An Irish soldier on duty in the Congo in 1960. (Irish Defence Forces CC BY 2.0)

 

The men of Company A were sent to the Republic of the Congo shortly after the country received independence from Belgium in June 1960. A wave of violence had swept the country in the weeks and months following independence, and a local politician and businessman saw serious potential.

See, Congo is rich in natural resources, but a lot of those resources are concentrated in the Katanga region in the country’s southeast. Moise Tshombe thought he could cobble together a coalition of local forces from Katanga and mercenaries supported by European companies, and so he got Katanga to secede from the DRC.

Suddenly, the country’s racial and political unrest was a full-on civil war, and the young United Nations resolved to keep the peace. Troops were dispatched, and Congolese leaders were so happy with the first wave of troops that they asked for more, leading to the Irish deployment.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Irish soldiers manning a position in the Republic of the Congo in 1960. (Irish Defence Forces CC BY 2.0)

 

Company A was comprised of 158 Irish soldiers equipped largely with leftover weapons from World War II like Vickers machine guns, mortars, and a Bren light machine gun. If this doesn’t sound like enough firepower to take on 3,000 men with air support, trust me, the Irish knew that.

The men weren’t expected to take that heavy of contact, but the political situation in Katanga continued to degrade and local opinion was strongly against the Irishmen. The Irish commander, Commandant Pat Quinlan, saw what was coming and ordered his men to dig deep trenches around the Jadotville compound, an otherwise abandoned group of buildings that the men were stationed within.

On September 13, the attack came. A sergeant finishing up his shave that Sunday morning while most of the unit was at mass looked across the grass outside the compound and saw armed Kantangan rebels and their mercenaries coming towards them. He jumped on the gun and started sending rounds downrange, calling the rest of the men to action.

As the Irish got their major weapons systems into operations, they were surprised by an enemy mortar round that shook the buildings. That was when they knew they were outgunned, and it would quickly become apparent that they were outnumbered. There were between 3,000 and 5,000 men attacking the 158 defenders.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
A Fouga jet, the French two-seat jet trainer that Katanga rebels used to fire on Irish troops. (Philippe DULAC, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Quinlan had ordered his men to stockpile water before the attack, but as the fighting dragged on day after day, it became clear that there wasn’t enough water and ammunition to sustain the defense. And the rebels had taken control of a nearby river crossing, cutting off potential reinforcements or resupply.

One brave helicopter pilot did manage to fly in some water, but it turned out to be contaminated.

So, from Sept. 13-17, the Irish suffered strafing attacks with limited ability to defend themselves, but wreaked havoc on their enemies on the ground, killing 300 of the attackers while suffering zero deaths and only five major injuries.

Yes, outgunned, vastly outnumbered, and under concerted attack, the Irish held their own for five days. But, by Sept. 17, out of water and ammunition, it was clear to Quinlan that the compound was lost. He could order is men to resist with knives as their enemy attacked with machine guns and mortars, or he could surrender.

And so, the Irishmen surrendered and were taken as hostages by the rebels who tried to use them as a bargaining chip with the U.N. in a bid for independence. But the rebels ended up releasing all 158 soldiers just five weeks later.

For decades, the men were treated as cowards and embarrassments, but a 2016 movie named The Siege of Jadotville about the battle treated the men as heroes and has helped cast a light on the men’s heroism. Before the premiere of the movie, the Irish government agreed with lobbying by Quinlan’s son to award a unit citation for Company A and individuals were awarded Jadotville medals until 1917.

MIGHTY TRENDING

4 captains who went down with the ship

“The captain goes down with the ship” is a maritime tradition suggesting that a captain is honor-bound to stay on a sinking ship until all passengers and crew members have been safely evacuated.

In 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia came under fire for allegedly leaving the ship while passengers were still on board when the vessel crashed off the coast of Italy. Thirty-two passengers died, and Schettino was sentenced to sixteen years in prison: ten years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and one year for abandoning his passengers.


The expectation that a ship’s captain would stay on board until everyone had been evacuated developed in the mid-19th Century, but it could be argued that the sentiment has gone too far. What about ship captains that go down with their ship even after they’ve ordered it abandoned?

Here are four notable cases of captains who went down with the ship:

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione

On May 30, 1918, the U-boat UB-49, captained by Kapitänleutnant Hans von Mellenthin, torpedoed the Pietro Maroncelli, an Italian steamer ship off the coast of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione, who was on board as the convoy commodore, ordered all the survivors into the lifeboats, then chose to stay aboard and go down with the ship.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi

On June 27, 1940, an Allied destroyer group spotted the Italian submarine Console Generale Liuzzi while she was on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea. Her captain, Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi, determined that the submarine was unable to flee nor fight the destroyers, so he therefore, ordered his crew to abandon and scuttle the ship. Bezzi, however, decided to go down with the Console Generale Liuzzi, for which he would be posthumously awarded the Gold Medal.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto

On June 5, 1942, U.S. naval forces launched an attack against the Japanese Imperial Navy that would turn the tide of World War II in the Pacific. The Japanese carrier fleet was crippled with multiple losses, including the Akagi and Kaga, and later the Hiryu, but it was the loss of the Soryu — and her beloved captain that would strike at the hearts of the Japanese sailors.

After Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto gave the order to abandon the burning ship, it was discovered that he had remained aboard. When Chief Petty Officer Abe was chosen to retrieve the captain, Abe found Yanagimoto standing on the Soryu’s bridge, sword in hand. Abe reported that the “strength of will and determination of his grim-faced commander stopped him short.” Abe left Captain Yanagimoto, who calmly sang Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.

He watched with the other survivors as the Soryu sank along with the bodies of 718, including her captain.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Commander Howard W. Gilmore

On Feb. 7, 1943, a Japanese gunboat attacked the American submarine USS Growler, captained by Commander Howard W. Gilmore, who gave the order to clear the bridge. Two Americans were shot dead while Gilmore and two others were wounded — and time to save the crippled sub was running short. When the survivors entered the sub, Commander Gilmore gave his final order: “Take her down.”

His executive officer closed the hatch and submerged the USS Growler to safety. Commander Gilmore posthumously received the Medal of Honor:

“For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and anti-submarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates.

“In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machine guns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, ‘Take her down.’ The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time North Korean commandos tried to assassinate the South Korean president at home

North Korea might be a little provocative these days but the 1960’s DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name), was the annoying middle child of international Communism.


The 60’s were an important decade in the Cold War because American activity was increasing in Vietnam, and the U.S. would not be able to respond to North Korean provocations in a timely manner. The North felt it had more room for aggression against its southern neighbor their western allies. Just days before they captured the USS Pueblo in international waters, the North sent a special ops unit, “Unit 124,” south with the sole purpose of assassinating President Park Chung-hee.

 

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Honestly, Park wasn’t exactly the defender of freedom either.

Thirty one of the best men from the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army were handpicked to infiltrate South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The team trained for two years in everything from land navigation and airborne operations to hand-to-hand combat and special weapons. They spent two full weeks practicing the raid in a full-scale reconstruction of South Korea’s Presidential complex, the Blue House.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Stay off the lawn.

When the time came, the commandos crossed the DMZ undetected via the sector controlled by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Seoul was a three-day march away. The death squad moved at night and set up camp before daybreak. The next night, they did the same, this time setting up on Simbong Mountain, where two brothers out collecting firewood stumbled upon the North Korean commando camp.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Kind of, but with North Koreans instead of gingerbread.

Instead of killing or otherwise subduing the two brothers, the commandos tried to turn the two using a speech about the benefits of North Korean Communism, and then let the two go as long as they promised not to tell the the authorities. Which, of course, they immediately did.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) sent three battalions into the mountains to search for the North Koreans. The commandos were still able to enter the South Korean capital that night, where they changed into ROKA uniforms and marched as normal ROKA troops to within 100 meters of the Presidential home. That’s when a police patrol stopped them and a suspicious police chief began to question them.

The Communists immediately shot the police chief, then lit up the checkpoint with grenades. They retreated into the woods near the complex and tried to make their way back to North Korea. The ensuing firefight would kill 29 of the commandos, with one captured and one escaping back north. The South Koreans suffered 26 killed and 66 wounded, 12 of those civilians. Four American troops were killed trying to prevent the communists from recrossing the DMZ.

The last commando was killed on January 23, 1968, the same day the Pueblo was captured. Because the event, now known at the “Blue House Raid,” happened three days before the Pueblo incident and 12 days before the launch of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the raid was largely forgotten by both the U.S. and international media, but was not forgotten by South Korean media. Ever.

If Kim Il-Sung, then the living President of North Korea (now the dead President of North Korea), wanted Park Chung-hee dead, all he had to do was wait 11 years. The head of Park’s own intelligence agency did the job for him, shooting him and three bodyguards at point blank range during a dinner at a safe house. President Park’s daughter, Park Gyun-Hye is the current President of South Korea, which really bothers the North for some reason.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

If you think that troops marched at each other with muskets and rifles in the Civil War because they were too dumb to maneuver, you’re dead wrong. Civil War formations were the pinnacle of strategy at the time, allowing commanders to bring maximum force to bear at a crucial moment as long as they could think far ahead of their enemy.


Infantry Tactics: The Civil War in Four Minutes
www.youtube.com

Infantry in the Civil War typically marched in lines or columns, quite similar to their forebears in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. This technique is sometimes ridiculed since it gives the enemy a long warning that attackers are headed for them. But these massed formations usually worked better for attackers than small groups, like those we use today.

Typically, unless there was particularly valuable terrain or cover nearby, troops that marched in small groups against an enemy were destroyed by the enemy’s concentrated fire.

So, instead, troops marched in large blocks that would be recognizable to George Washington or Andrew Jackson. But warfare and the necessary tactics had changed a lot in the decades between those men leading armies and the Civil War.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
“Let’s get into a straight line and walk slowly forward to attack.” A good idea, surprisingly.
(Thure de Thulstrup, Library of Congress)

The biggest surprise for Washington or Jackson would come when an attacking force drew within 400 yards of their target. That was when defenders would raise their rifles and deliver their first volley at the attacking force, 300 yards further than was typical for earlier soldiers.

Remember the old saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”? That’s a bad adage for the Civil War thanks to the increase in rifled weapons.

Rifling dated back to before 1500, but rifled weapons feature a spiraling groove down the barrel that increases accuracy but greatly increased load time. Most commanders and procurement officers went with cheaper, smoothbore muskets that could be fired much more quickly.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Minie balls feature a small cavity on the bottom that would fill with hot gasses and expand when fired. This allowed the rounds to be small enough to be quickly loaded but then become large enough to grip the barrels of rifles.
(Mike Cumpston, public domain)

But improvements in manufacturing and metallurgy had made it much easier and cheaper to produce quality rifles and, probably even more important, French inventor Claude-Étienne Minié figured out how to create quality ammunition for rifled weapons that could be quickly loaded.

The Minié ball was slightly smaller than the barrel it would be loaded into, allowing it to easily slide down the barrel without getting caught on the grooves. But it had a small opening in its base, not unlike the small opening on the bottoms of most cans and bottles you see today. When the weapon was fired, the hot gasses would push into that little cavity and expand the bottom of the round, making it grip the grooves and spin as it left the barrel.

So, suddenly, infantrymen could fire rifled weapons just as fast as smoothbores while still enjoying the massive improvements in accuracy and range. For troops in defensive positions, this meant that they could launch multiple volleys while attackers were marching up. If there were walls, fences, or ditches in the way, like during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, each obstacle gave a chance for defenders to launch an additional volley.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Reenactors during a rifle firing demonstration.
(National Parks Service)

The only way an attacker could survive these volleys is if they arrived with a large enough force to absorb multiple volleys until they closed the gap, then attacked with the survivors of the charge. When possible, there was a way for attackers to turn the power balance back in their favor: flanking.

Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson made his career partially thanks to his ability to drive his men to conduct quick and sometimes covert marches during battles, like those at Chancellorsville and Second Manassas. These marching skills allowed his men to flank the enemy, attacking them from the sides.

Formations in combat were typically quite wide and could not change their overall direction of fire quickly or easily. If a formation was able to hit its enemy from the side, the flanking force could bring all of its guns to bear while the soldiers who had been flanked could respond with just a few shooters on the edge of the formation.

The best way out of this was a well-organized retreat or, rarely, an advance past the flanking force. Attempting to stand and fight was nearly always a recipe for disaster.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
You don’t want to end up in bayonet range, but you want to be ready if you do.
(Kurz and Allison, Library of Congress)

But of course, with skilled infantrymen firing about 2-4 shots per minute, it was still quite common for competing forces to fire their weapons while in short ranges and then have to defend or attack with no time to load another round. Then, it was time for rifle and bayonet combatives.

The butt of the rifle was a great club, and the bayonet at the front was a slashing and stabbing weapon. If attackers and defenders closed into bayonet range, men would swarm one another and attempt to fight in small teams that would slash their way through enemies.

But there was one technology, deployed in limited numbers during the Civil War, that changed all of this. Repeating rifles could fire anywhere from six to 15 rounds without reloading, allowing them to hit rates of fire of 15 or more per minute. Like rifled muskets, they were typically accurate to 400 yards or more.

When employed, this allowed the men with repeating rifles to inflict severe losses on their enemy even when outnumbered. In some cases, a force with repeating rifles could even ward off a flanking attack since each rifleman at the edge of the formation could fire as fast as 10 musket-wielders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The youngest Special Forces captain in Vietnam was a war hero

The Vietnam war gave us a lot of things: Zippos, M16s and the list goes on. Before it popped off, there hadn’t been a war like it; it was highly televised, deeply protested and involved heavy use of special operations units. From this war came tons of stories of heroism and courage in the face of extreme danger. One such story that stands out from the rest is that of U.S. Army Captain William Albracht.

Albracht graduated from Alleman Catholic High School in Illinois in 1966 and found himself in Vietnam just three years later. He wasn’t just a Green Beret captain, he was the youngest Green Beret captain in the entire country. He took command of a hilltop outpost known as Firebase Kate with a total of 27 American Soldiers and 156 Montagnard militiamen. This is where Captain Albracht earned his place in history and solidified his status as an American badass.

This is the story of the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam:


This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Landing Zone Kate in 1969.
(Storytellers International)

Firebase Kate

Landing Zone Kate, also referred to as Firebase White, was built in 1969 on a hilltop northwest of Quang Dug Province in Southern Vietnam. It was near the Cambodian border. It was also the first command for Captain Albracht, who was just 21 at the time.

The young captain saw the hilltop location as problematic, primarily because the North Vietnamese Army controlled the nearby road and could freely fire from Cambodia. To make matters worse, supplying the base was also a very tricky.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Army Special Forces and Rangers in Vietnam. (U.S. Army)

Supplies & discipline

Since the NVA controlled the road, supplies and personnel for LZ Kate could only be delivered via helicopter. Despite each delivery being protected by a wide range of aircraft, Captain Albracht felt it wasn’t enough support for their location.

On top of that, Sergeant Daniel Pierelli arrived ahead of Captain Albracht to find the troops located there playing volleyball and lounging around instead of preparing to defend the place. He and Captain Albracht made sure to address this before increasing patrols in an effort to gain more intelligence on the NVA. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Army artillerymen in Vietnam.
(Storytellers International)

Siege at LZ Kate

On the morning of October 29th, the NVA launched the first assault on the Firebase, outnumbering the defenders 40 to 1. For the next few days, the men there sustained heavy casualties from small-arms gunfire, mortars, rockets, and artillery.

The wounded included Captain Albracht, who sustained a shrapnel wound in his arm on October 29th while he directed a medevac helicopter. He was given the opportunity to leave, but instead decided to stay at Kate and continue to lead his men.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Members of Mike force on the left and a member of the Montagnard militia on the right.

A great escape

Supplies dwindled fast, and the situation wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, on November 1st, Captain Albracht realized Kate could not be saved and decided they needed to escape. They destroyed their gun tubes, artillery ammo, and anything that could be considered intelligence before slipping away.

He, along with around 150 men, eventually arrived at another Special Forces camp, only losing one American soldier in the jungle. In the early hours of November 2nd, they linked up with SF Mike Force, their closest allies. To do so, Captain Albracht had to cross an open field three times, putting himself at risk of being spotted by the enemy, to ensure the safety of his men.

Due to his heroics, the men safely escaped.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Captain William Albracht in 2016.
(Photo by Kevin E. Schmidt)

Captain William Albracht

For his service and actions during the war, he earned three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and five Bronze Stars. After the war, he continued serving his country in the Secret Service, guarding five presidents during his time. He then went on to manage security for the Ford Motor Company.

He returned home to Illinois in 2005 and, in 2012, he ran for Senator for Illinois’ 36th district. He co-wrote the book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, and his story is featured in a documentary entitled Escape from Firebase Kate.

Captain Albracht is still alive today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment is unique in the annals of airborne history. It was one of only two parachute regiments to fight in the Pacific during World War II and the only one still active today.


 

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

Paratroopers from The Rock Regiment land on Corregidor, 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Throughout the war in the Pacific, the 503rd fought independently, first as a regiment and then as a regimental combat team.

After arriving in the Pacific in December 1942, the 503rd conducted the first combat jump in the Pacific in New Guinea on Sept. 5, 1943. A second jump occurred on the island of Noemfoor in July 1944.

The 503rd then joined in the effort to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese landing on the island of Leyte.

A combat jump onto the island of Mindoro was called off due to inadequate launch-capable airfields. Instead, the 503rd conducted an amphibious assault landing alongside the 19th Infantry Regiment. After two days of fighting, the small island was secured.

The 503rd then moved on to prepare for their next challenge: the assault of the fortress island of Corregidor.

The island of Corregidor, known as “The Rock” to the Americans, posed serious challenges for an assaulting force.

For one, the island had formidable defenses and a strong garrison. While the Americans had intimate knowledge of the layout of the island (they did build it, after all), they knew how difficult it would be to overtake.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Corregidor, a formidable target. (Image from U.S. Army)

Second, the island was rather small and the only suitable area for a parachute drop was on a portion known as “Topside.” This meant that the paratroopers of the 503rd would literally be landing right on top of the Japanese. To make matters worse, any misdrops – a common occurrence among World War II combat jumps – would put the paratroopers right in the ocean.

With all this in mind, the men of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team boarded aircraft early on the morning of Feb. 16, 1945 and headed towards The Rock.

Also heading towards Corregidor was the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment that would conduct a simultaneous, amphibious assault of the island in coordination with the airborne operation.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Paratroopers from the 503rd Regimental Combat Team jump from 317th Troop Carrier Group C-47s during the recapture of Corregidor Island, Philippines. (Photo from USAF)

At 0830, after several hours or naval and aerial bombardment, the first paratroopers exited aircraft over the two drop zones.

Due to the exceedingly small and narrow drop zones, the aircraft were unable to drop a full stick at one time and had to fly in two single-file columns. This meant that the aircraft had to wheel around and make multiple passes in order to successfully put their loads of paratroopers on The Rock.

To make matters worse, high winds over the drop zone blew the descending paratroopers off course and over the cliffs of the island. PT boats patrolling the area would later rescue nine paratroopers stranded on the island’s cliffs.

Eventually, the jumpmasters discovered that only at a height of 400 feet and with a five second delay upon entering the drop zone, could they successfully land the stick on target.

Once they were on target however, their problems had just begun.

Thanks to the bombardment, the Japanese took shelter in the caves and the element of surprise was retained. However, several paratroopers were killed when they landed right on top of Japanese positions.

Further complicating things, the plan called for three lifts to get all of the Regimental Combat Team onto the island. Multiple lifts over such small drop zones meant the second lift was jumping into already crowded areas. Some troopers reported that they were more likely to be hit by a fellow jumper or door bundle coming in than by the Japanese.

Although the landings were relatively unopposed, the action soon picked up, especially around an area known as Wheeler Point.

Shortly after landing in the area, Pvt. Lloyd McCarter conducted the first of three heroic actions on The Rock which would earn him the Medal of Honor.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
Lloyd McCarter, Medal of Honor recipient.

When his unit came under fire from a Japanese machine gun, McCarter single-handedly rushed 30 yards across the bullet-swept area and destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades.

Two days later, he killed six snipers by himself.

On the night of Feb. 18, McCarter was once again in the thick of the action. In what would come to be known as the Battle of Banzai Point, McCarter attacked the Japanese by himself.

With his unit dealing with a full-on frontal assault by a Japanese Special Landing Force, McCarter noticed a force attempting to flank his position. He moved to an exposed position and engaged them. When his Thompson became unserviceable, he returned to friendly lines to retrieve a BAR. When that became too hot, he discarded it for an M1 Garand. He fired that weapon until the operating rod broke.

As dawn broke and the attack was dissipating, McCarter was shot through the chest. His comrades retrieved him and he was evacuated from the island, credited with killing over 30 Japanese during the attack.

The battle for The Rock would last another eight days before the island was declared secure. With the help of the 34th Infantry, the 503rd was able to seal off or expel the Japanese from the complex of caves and tunnels running throughout Corregidor.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II
General MacArthur and members of his staffat a ceremony of the American flag being raised once again on the island of Corregidor. (Photo from National Archives)

The 503rd suffered some 169 men killed in action and another 531 wounded. The 34th suffered 38 killed and 153 wounded. The combined force, known as The Rock Force, inflicted well over 6,000 casualties on the Japanese defenders.

For their daring assault on the island, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and has henceforth been known as “The Rock Regiment.”

General Douglas MacArthur returned to the island on March 7 and ordered the American flag hoisted over the island.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time dozens of Korean service members claimed a UFO made them sick

As a group of American soldiers were preparing to bombard a nearby village about 60 miles north of Seoul, the unit saw a strange vision up in the hills – jack lanterns wafting across the mountain.

Or at least, that’s the story Pvt. First Class Francis P. Wall and the rest of his regiment told. Even more mysterious is what Wall and his buddies say happened after – a pulsing, attacking light that came with lingering and debilitating physical symptoms.


The year was 1951, and the US was 12 months into the Korean War. Stationed near Chorwon, PFC Wall and his buddies were completely unprepared for what happened to them in the Korean hills.

As they watched, an alien craft made its way toward the village. Artillery started to explode. Wall recalls that the object would get right into the center of an artillery airburst but never seemed to show any signs of damage. Later, Wall confirmed that the object could maneuver through sharp turns and seemed to have out of this world navigational capabilities.

Then all of a sudden, the object turned toward Wall and his unit. It changed colors from orange to a pulsating blue-green light, one so bright that it was almost difficult to look at. Wall asked his commander for permission to fire from his M1 rifle, but as the bullets hit the craft, they only made a metallic ding sound before falling to the ground. The object started to shuttle, sprint from side to side and flash its lights on and off.

What happens next is even harder to believe. Wall says he and his unit were attacked by some form of a ray that “emitted in pulses, in waves that you could visually see only when it was aiming directly at you. That is to say, like a searchlight sweeps around and the segments of light … you would see it coming at you.” Walls told this to John P. Timmerman at the Center for UFO Studies during a 1987 interview.

Wall recalled a burning tingling sensation sweep over his entire body. Everyone in his unit rushed into underground bunkers and looked through the windows as the craft hovered above them. Then it shot off at a 45-degree angle. All of a sudden, just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.

Three days later, the entire company was evacuated. When they finally received medical treatment, all were found to have dysentery and a very high white-blood-cell count. To Richard F. Haines, a UFO researcher, and former NASA scientists, the results sounded like symptoms of radiation poisoning.

So what happened to Wall and his buddies?

After the Korean War ended, dozens of service members reported seeing similar unidentified flying objects. The craft often looked like flying saucers. At first, many historians believed the sightings to be Soviet experiments based on German technology and foreign research. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, that theory was debunked, as several years of Soviet sightings were revealed.

From 1952 until 1986, the Air Force ran Project Blue Book, a study into unidentified flying objects and their threat to national security. When the project ended, the Air Force announced they’d discovered nothing unusual. But for Wall and others like him, they aren’t so sure. If the craft had really been Soviet experiments, as so many suggested, then they would have appeared in other conflicts besides the Korean War. And since the sightings recorded by members of the Soviet Union so closely resembled that which Will witnessed, many wonder if it wasn’t something else entirely.

Even though the vast majority of all UFO sightings turn out to be ordinary phenomena like clouds or human crats, there’s still no conclusive evidence about what Wall saw. Without testimony from the others in Wall’s unit, there’s no way to corroborate what he saw, making it even more impossible to determine just what happened that day in the Korean hills.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time that African American troops battled American MPs in Britain during WWII

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.

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

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.


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