Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the Russian and Japanese empires had been engaged in a political struggle over who would dominate northeast Asia. In a decisive naval battle at the Tsushima Strait in 1905, Japan would be the dominant power in Manchuria and Korea until its defeat in World War II and set back Russia’s far eastern ambitions for decades.
Japan had been rapidly modernizing since the Meiji Restoration of 1868 ushered in a generation of reforms, and was more and more exerting its influence as a Pacific power. Russia had been expanding its footprint across central and eastern Asia, and warm water ports in China were vital to this vision. Both desired Korea and Manchuria as colonial buffer zones between the two empires, but defining those zones grew so intractable that war became inevitable.
A key point of the dispute was the strategic Russian-controlled Port Arthur in Manchuria, the only major Russian naval base on the Pacific outside of Vladivostok farther north, and unlike Vladivostok was warm water and could be used year round. When war broke out in 1904, a large Japanese army attacking out of Korea besieged and after suffering terrible casualties seized the port. Most of the Russian Pacific fleet was bottled up at Port Arthur after their defeat in the Battle of the Yellow Sea and was destroyed as well, and Russian forces were forced to retreat northward.
While the battle for Port Arthur was still raging, Tsar Nicholas II had ordered a large force from his Baltic fleet to the Pacific to help break the siege. Designated the Second Pacific Squadron under Admiral Rozhestvensky and composed of 11 battleships and numerous cruisers and destroyers, on paper, it was a formidable force. In reality, many of its ships were older vessels and badly maintained by ill-trained crews. The incredibly long voyage of over 18,000 nautical miles would only add to these problems.
Setting sail on Oct. 15, 1904, the voyage was off to an inauspicious start in the North Sea when rumours of Japanese torpedo boats in the area led to panicky crews firing on British shipping, sparking a diplomatic incident. Denied the use of the Suez Canal by the British, the fleet was forced to sail around the Horn of Africa, and it was not until April 14, 1905, that the fleet reached Cam Rahn Bay in Indochina. Port Arthur, the original target of the expedition had fallen on Jan. 2, and the fleet set sail instead to Vladivostok to refit for a counterattack.
The commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet Admiral Togo was well aware of the approaching fleet, and the Japanese correctly guessed that the Russian fleet would pass through the Tsushima Strait on its way north. Rozhestvensky tried to slip through the strait at night but was spotted by Japanese patrol vessels on the morning of March 27, and Togo’s fleet of four battleships, 27 cruisers, with dozens of destroyers and torpedo boats, set sail from Korea to intercept.
The Japanese fleet was comprised mostly of modern vessels, and its crews were well-trained and disciplined. Despite possessing fewer heavy battleships than the Russians, it had a huge superiority in lighter cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats that would prove decisive. The Russian fleet was suffering from low morale and poor training, and the long voyage had led to chronic maintenance problems and fouled boilers left many of its ships unable to reach anywhere near their top speed or maneuverability.
Spotting the Russian fleet at around 1:40 pm, Togo ordered a line attack across the two approaching Russian columns, and the superior condition, training, and gunnery of the Japanese fleet quickly proved itself. Rozhestvensky was wounded and was forced to transfer to a destroyer after his flagship was sunk, leaving his subordinate Adm. Negobatov to take command, and two more Russian battleships were sunk before nightfall under relentless Japanese gunnery with little damage in return. After dark, a swarm of Japanese destroyers and torpedo boats cut out the heart of the Russian fleet in hit-and-run torpedo attacks, and by the morning of May 28, Negobatov ordered his few remaining ships to surrender. Russian naval power in the Pacific had been practically destroyed in one decisive battle, with 21 ships destroyed and six captured. Nearly 5,000 Russian sailors lost their lives and over 6,000 were captured. Japanese losses amounted to less than 800 casualties.
The battle effectively decided the Russo-Japanese War, with the Russians quickly suing for peace. It shocked the Western world that a European power had been so thoroughly beaten by Japan, who quickly took its place as a dominant force in Asia and setting the stage for its imperial expansionism and its eventual defeat in World War II.
So influential was the battle that Great Britain launched a building program of modern fast dreadnought battleships that led to a naval arms race with Germany, and Russia’s loss of prestige may have played a significant a role in the power politics leading up to World War I. Behind the Battle of Midway in World War II, it was the most decisive naval engagement of the 20th century.
I would write an intro about how, in the end days of World War II, Germany was short on manpower, territory, and resources, but nearly every article about Germany’s failed super weapons starts that way. So, just, you know, remember that Germany was desperate at the end of World War II because Hitler was high on drugs and horrible at planning ahead when he invaded his neighbors.
So, on the list of harebrained schemes that the Nazis turned to in order to stave off their inevitable defeat, the Natter has to be one of the craziest. Basically, because they were low on metal and airstrips and they thought rockets seemed awesome, the Nazis made a single-use, vertically launched, rocket-powered plane that only fired rockets. These were supposed to be “grass snakes” that rose from the forests of Germany and slaughtered Allied bombers.
…because of a special SS initiative, a defensive surface-to-air rocket aircraft is supposed to be forced into production. And they will be propelled by C-Agent as well. That is the height of stupidity, but it’s also fact.
“Eh, needs more rockets.”
(Anagoria, CC BY 3.0)
Oh, and, worst of all, the planes couldn’t land without breaking apart.
Assuming everything didn’t go to hell during that not-at-all-dangerous process, the pilot could then maneuver onto incoming bombers and fire up to 24 rockets at them. Since the Natter flew at over twice the speed of a B-17’s max, the pilots really needed to fire their rockets accurately and quickly before they overshot their target.
Once they were out of ammo, the pilot would release the nose and deploy the parachutes. The nose would fall separately from the rest of the plane and, hopefully, the parts would land safely. The parts and the pilot would be recovered and ready for another round.
“This will save the war.”
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
It, uh, did not work properly. On the second unmanned test flight, the flight components hit the ground with fuel remaining. That fuel blew up, destroying the plane. But because the blast wouldn’t have—necessarily—killed the pilot, they went ahead with a manned flight.
That flight went worse. No offense to the Nazi test pilot. On March 1, 1945, Lothar Sieber took off in a Ba-349, but it immediately started flying inverted and climbed into cloud cover. It emerged from the clouds a few minutes later and crashed into the ground, miles away.
The pilot was dead, either from the shock of takeoff, the canopy flying off in flight, or the crash. The plane was destroyed. And everyone finally gave up on the idea of the Natter.
Not that it would have changed much if it had been controllable. The western Allies crossed into Germany about two weeks later, and a few rocket-powered fighters wouldn’t have stopped the advance. But, hey, “Grass Snake” at least looks cool on a T-shirt.
The soldiers fighting at Little Bighorn in 1876 were facing long odds. The initial attack seemed to favor federal government forces, but they quickly found that the Native forces were much larger and stronger than originally suspected. Scout William Jackson, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, also known as Sikakoan, recalled the fighting in an Army historical document. It’s as dark as you might expect, but also (surprisingly) funny at times.
Let’s take a ride:
Reenactors near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
(Leonard J. DeFrancisci CC BY-SA 3.0)
The story starts with the 7th Cavalry having already engaged the massive force of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under Sitting Bull. Jackson was with Maj. Marcus Reno when they hit the first Native American camp with three companies of soldiers. The men were tasked with driving off ponies belonging to the Sioux, but the men spotted more camps further downriver and realized their assault was doomed.
Reno pulled the men back into a stand of timber and prepared for defensive fighting. They held well for a while, even as the Native forces began receiving reinforcements and eventually reached about 1,500 warriors.
But repeated charges by the Native forces eventually caused Reno to pull the men back, but the orderly retreat turned into a panicked rout as repeated attacks broke up the Federal formations.
Multiple men sacrificed themselves to protect the rest of the force. Bloody Knife, one of the scouts, a half Sioux-Ree, reportedly said, “Boys, try to save your lives. I am going to die in this place.”
Bloody Knife, an Arkira-Sioux Native American who worked with federal troops in the 1870s. He was killed during the battle, and Scout William Jackson claimed that he died protecting the federal withdrawal.
(U.S. National Archives)
Jackson and a few others were able to get away. And here is where we get our first bit of a comedic break. A Native leader walked up to the forces surrounding the Federal troops, and he chastised them for suffering the Federal soldiers for so long. According to Jackson, he:
“…came up and began to scold his people saying that there were only white people in the brush and that they were very easily killed. He urged the rest to follow him and armed only with a sword started to run into the brush, but when reached the edge of it he fell.”
Yeah, dude was talking mad sh*t right up until he got himself shot. But the Federal forces were still in a tough spot. They were outnumbered, surrounded, and out of water and food.
Luckily, the lieutenant had brought a bottle with him into the bush. Unfortunately, it was a bottle of coffee because of course, the LT was riding around with coffee. Probably telling everyone about how this “Go-Juice” had gotten him through junior year, too.
Reenactors near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
(Leonard J. DeFrancisci, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Still, the lieutenant was the hero for sharing his drink with everyone, so he tried to follow this up by making a cigarette with his rolling paper and loose tobacco. That was when one of the enlisted men pointed out that, when hiding from Native warriors in the brush, it’s generally best to not give away your position with smoke.
L-Ts gonna L-T.
As darkness came on, one soldier, Gerard, offered to ride for help, but the lieutenant shot it down. The men could still hear the sounds of the larger battle, and it was clear that it wasn’t going well for the 7th Cavalry, so it was unlikely anyone could help them. And the officer didn’t want to split up his tiny, four-man force on such a longshot.
Lt. De Rudio said, “Fight right here till you die and all stick together.”
About 11 o’clock, by Jackson’s estimate, the Native activity around the men had died down, and they decided to try and escape down the riverbank. They were able to slip past the sentries, but it was a close-run thing. The men did run into a war party, but Jackson could luckily speak Sioux and talked the way through.
The men made their way across a river and into another stand of timber. In these trees, they heard the sound of snorting horses and saw the light as someone raised a lit match to a pipe and the tobacco brighten as someone drew on it.
Gerard got hopeful and called out, “There! Didn’t I tell you the soldiers were in the timber? Hold on, boys, don’t shoot! It’s us; Gerard and De Rudio!”
Unfortunately for him, as well as Jackson; De Rudio; and Tom O’Neill, the other survivor, these weren’t federal troops. They were native warriors.
A painting depicting the Battle of Little Bighorn where famous U.S. Army officer George C. Custer, a brevet major general at the time, was killed.
The warriors gave chase, and the men were forced to split up. Jackson and Gerard got away while De Rudio and O’Neill were unable to. After a few minutes, Jackson and Gerard heard five to six gunshots and realized they would likely never see their friends again.
For the entire next day, the two men tried to get to friendly lines but kept finding themselves cut off by Native warriors maneuvering on the besieged federal troops. It wasn’t until after dark, over 30 hours after they were originally isolated, that Jackson and Gerard were able to return to federal lines.
After telling their story a time or two, they were given some hardtack. They were eating it when they got a pleasant surprise.
A sentry yelled a challenge to two people walking up the camp. When Jackson and Gerard looked for the source of the commotion, they were surprised to see De Rudio and O’Neill. Those men had killed three Natives pursuing them and then escaped into a woodline. They hid in a fallen, rotten tree for an entire day, even as Native warriors searching for them used that very log as a seat and then jumped their horses over it.
The four survivors were happy to learn that the camp they were in belonged to Maj. Reno who had also survived the fighting. Reno asked Jackson to please go get a doctor from Custer’s main camp.
It was during this mission that Jackson learned what had happened to Custer and the bulk of the men under his command. He found a slaughter on the battlefield. The survivors eventually made it out, but Federal forces had taken one of their worst losses in history.
(Scout William Jackson’s full statement is available here. It should be known that some accounts of the battle differ in the details. For instance, other accounts claim that Bloody Knife was killed near Maj. Reno before the retreat, and that Bloody Knife’s death may have been the event that pushed Reno to give the withdrawal order.)
U.S. tanks were inferior to German tanks in WWII and were cut down in swathes, or so people tend to believe. After all, American tankers supposedly nicknamed the Sherman the “Ronson” because it “lights every time.” However, the Ronson Corporation did not start using this slogan to advertise their lighter fluid until the 1950s, and the Sherman was actually a very capable tank on the battlefield.
Thanks to media depictions in film and video games, the Medium Tank, M4 Sherman is remembered today as a tank with weak armor and an even weaker gun. However, this image is taken out of the context of the war in which it fought. Against the early-war Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, the Sherman’s 75mm M3 short-barrel gun was capable of delivering knock-out punches. Moreover, the tank’s sloped frontal armor was adept at bouncing the incoming German fire.
As newer German tanks like the Panther and the Tiger appeared on the battlefield, the Sherman’s combat ability in a tank-on-tank fight was diminished. To counter the new threat, the Sherman was equipped with thicker frontal armor and a new gun. In 1944, the U.S. fielded the 76mm M1 high-velocity long-barrel gun which could actually penetrate a Tiger’s armor from the front. The gun had already seen action with U.S. Tank Destroyer Battalions. Mounted on the lightly-armored M18 Hellcat tank destoyer, the 76mm M1 was undoubtedly a threat to the German tanks.
In 1946, the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Lab conducted a study on the engagements fought by the 3rd and 4rd Armored Divisions during 1944. The study examined 30 armor-on-armor engagements and found that the Sherman had a 3.6-to-1 kill ratio against the German Panther. While part of the Sherman’s success is due to its new armor and gun, other wartime factors must be taken into account.
In 1944, the Germans were largely on the defensive against the allied invasion. Air superiority had all but been achieved by the allied forces. Close air support and strategic bombing severely crippled German industrial power and slowed the supply trains that moved parts, fuel and ammunition to the front. As a result, the Germans could not field a fighting majority of their over-engineered tanks, with many of them down for maintenance or sitting reserve. Moreover, many of Germany’s tank aces from earlier in the war, like Michael Wittmann, had been killed. German tanks were increasingly being crewed by inexperienced soldiers and sent up against allied veterans of Italy and North Africa.
However, despite the effectiveness of the 76mm M1, the preferred gun was still the 75mm M3. Why did troops prefer a gun with a shorter barrel that a Panther or Tiger tank commander would simply laugh at? The answer is the reality of combat in the European theater. Unlike their depiction in media, the majority of allied tank engagements on the western front were against anti-tank guns, infantry, and fortified positions like bunkers.
As previously mentioned, the Germans were less and less able to field their tanks as the war raged on. They also didn’t have that many to begin with. Roughly 9,000 Panther tanks were built between 1943 and 1945 and less than 1,400 Tiger I tanks were built between 1942 and 1945. Factor out the tanks that were destroyed prior to 1944, the ones that were yet to be built, and those unable to be fielded for one reason or another, and the peak of frontline Panther combat strength in 1944 was September at 2,304. However, that same month, Panther losses totaled 692. By comparison, the U.S. fielded an average of 2,000 Sherman tanks per Army Group.
With this in mind, the likelihood of a Sherman engaging in a tank battle with a Panther or Tiger was low. For the majority of their engagements against soft targets, the short-barrel 75mm M3 and 105mm M4 howitzer guns were more effective. While the 105mm howitzer shot a larger round than the 76mm M1, its short barrel propelled the heavy round at a low velocity. While it could fire a high-explosive anti-tank round that was capable of penetrating a Panther’s armor, it had to be shot at a high angle and with great precision in order to lob the slow and heavy round at the target. Rather, the 75mm and 105mm guns were used primarily to shoot high-explosive rounds. In fact, around 80% of rounds fired by all nations during WWII were HE and smoke.
The same BRL study that found the superior Sherman to Panther kill ratio also examined the lethality of American cannons and HE rounds since they were the most commonly used rounds. The study detonated an HE shell from each of the guns fielded during the war in a field and counted the number of casualty-inducing pieces of shrapnel within a 20-foot radius. The 105mm produced around 1,010 pieces of shrapnel and the 75mm produced 950. On the other hand, the late-war 90mm M3 long-barrel gun produced 672 pieces of shrapnel and the 76mm produced just 560. Because the 75mm was a low-velocity gun, it was able to use a longer shell that packed more high-explosive filler than the long guns. For this reason, it was actually more effective at eliminating the majority of targets that it came upon during the war.
While the Sherman did have its flaws like its high profile (which actually gave the crew a more spacious and comfortable fighting compartment), it was actually a very effective tool for the job that it was given. Supplemented by tank destroyers and supported by air cover, American tank columns rolled across Europe and smashed German defenses on their way to Berlin.
Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat the sh*t out of each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena — or until the match ended in a draw.
Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.
What their dental impressions revealed
Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.
After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.
They formed their own trade unions
Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.
Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen’s family as compensation.
Fighting to the death
Contrary to popular belief, gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.
That’s a lot of debt.
They were split up into different sections and types
Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.
Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.
Towards the end of WWII, allied forces gained much-needed ground on diminished German forces while Adolf Hitler was carefully concealing a dark secret from his devoted followers.
Years prior, Hitler was seen in several propaganda films walking tall and strong. As time progressed, detailed media footage was limited as the Führer showed signs of a major debilitating disease.
The German leader tried to hide his declining posture, stumbling walk and hand tremors during his public appearances. Theodore Morell was Hitler’s devoted personal physician for nine years but missed the critical condition — Parkinson’s disease.
In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.
That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.
Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.
In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.
“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”
“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.
(National Archives photo)
In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.
Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?
Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.
Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.
Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.
When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.
With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.
The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.
The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.
Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.
To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.
If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.
Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?
Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.
A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.
One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.
Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.
The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.
Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.
But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.
Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.
They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”
Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?
Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.
(U.S. Navy photo)
That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.
The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.
“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.
This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.
Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?
Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.
We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?
Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.
Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.
It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.
But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.
Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?
Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.
For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”
The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.
That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Parachutes, manufactured and packed en masse during World War II to accompany Allied aviators on missions, had a very important job to do: open.
Lucky for me, my grandfather’s did. He was a 23-year-old US Army Air Corps pilot shot down over France a month before D-Day. He bailed out over central France, after his seven crewmates and moments before their B-24 Liberator exploded in the sky.
They all hit the ground on better terms than their plane, thanks to their parachutes (and, in a longer story, they all survived their respective journeys through occupied France, thanks largely to French patriots and resistants who helped them).
And last May, I traveled to his crash site in Mably, France, for a beautiful 75th anniversary commemoration event. A Frenchman came up to me and explained that he’d been a baby in a village near the crash site during the war, and that his mother recovered one of the airman’s parachutes and made it into a swaddle and carrier for him.
He recalled converting the material into a hammock — a swing he played in even after the war, when shortages and hardship from the devastation of the battles, air raids, and Nazi occupation persisted throughout Europe. This is one of many examples of how people made use of the life-saving silk, canvas, and nylon canopy contraptions falling from the sky during World War II everywhere from France and Yugoslavia to Japan and the Philippines.
Here are more ways parachutes’ function and form extended beyond the time they hit the ground.
Hilda Galloway and Robert Ellsworth Wickham at their wedding on October 14, 1945. Ellsworth Wickham flew 22 missions, including one bail out over France in January 1945. He gave pieces of his parachute to the doctors and nurses who helped him after he jumped.
Albert Williamson was a radio operator/gunner with the 384th BG/545th Bomb Squadron. On December 15, 1945 he married his longtime sweetheart, Ruth Glendinning, who walked down the aisle in this gown her cousin sewed using a parachute Williamson brought home.
So began a wave of wedding wear constructed from chutes brought back from war, including ones that fellow American women and men had sewn on the homefront and that had saved their and their enemies’ lives.
There was the commodity in and of itself, along with the meaning and specialness behind it. Used and surplus World War II parachutes were “a wonderful gift to pass along,” Kiser says.
Check out History’s channel’s list of Korean War facts you probably don’t know.
1. The 38th Parallel
After the Japanese surrendered, the U.S. took control of the southern half of Korea while the Soviets took the north. The two halves were divided by a line called the “38th parallel” that split the peninsula.
As both sides heavily disliked the idea of having the country split in two, the action caused several armed skirmishes to break out along the divided border.
The U.S. was deeply concerned about the spread of communism, which they viewed as a direct threat to American democracy. Former U.S. President Harry Truman wanted to prevent Russia from gaining any more territory and believed if the Soviets managed to take North Korea they would be one step closer to world domination.
Therefore, Truman believed he had no choice but to stop the North Korean invasion.
3. The slog of war
At first, North Korean forces were productive as they pushed American and South Korean forces further back past the 38th Parallel in the fall of 1950. With the help of the United Nations, resupply began to arrive in the allies’ hands, which allowed them to recapture the Korean capital of Seoul.
Although they were managing to combat enemy forces, the bitter cold of winter struck coalition forces — and along with it, disease, frostbite, and malnutrition, causing numerous casualties.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed that total victory in Korea was the only acceptable outcome for the U.S. but Truman disagreed with MacArthur’s tactics and ideology during the general’s time in power — they continuously bumped heads.
Truman eventually relieved MacArthur from his command for his so-called insubordination. While this was happening, North Korean forces drove allied forces back across the infamous 38th parallel once again.
For the next two years, neither side gained any positive ground while pursuing ultimate victory — although intense fighting continued.
In the summer of 1951, peace talks began shortly after the stalemate appeared to be coming to a close. In 1953, Eisenhower took office and was determined to end the skirmish, negotiating for several months before accomplishing his goal.
In the end, approximately 36,000 U.S. troops died, and another 100,000 were wounded. Reportedly, 620,000 soldiers from both North and South Korea were killed, and a staggering 1.6 million civilians perished during the bloody conflict.
Unfortunately, the 38th parallel continues to separate the divided peninsula to this today.
Check out the History channel’s video below to get the full scoop of these Korean War
Ships hunting subs faced a sort of odd challenge when it came to confirming their number of kills. After all, their target was often underwater, there weren’t always a lot of other ships around to confirm the kill, and the destroyed target would sink additional hundreds of feet under the ocean.
“Are you sure you killed the enemy sub?” “Umm, I filled the ocean with explosives. Does that count?” “No, but that sounds awesome.”
But sub hunters came up with a solution. See, most of a sub sinks when it’s destroyed underwater, but some items float. These items include oil, clothes and the personal belongings of submariners, the occasional packet of documents, and, disturbingly enough, human remains.
It’s definitely kind of nasty, but it’s also good for ship commanders who need to prove they actually sank an enemy sub or five. Commanders would take samples of the water or collect pieces of oily debris.
In Britain, it was traditional by World War II to dip a bucket into the water, scoop up the soup of oil, seawater, and debris, and then keep it on the ship, often in the freezer or refrigerator if they had one.
“We took this photo as we dropped bombs on the sub. Good enough?” “I mean, the sub still looks super intact in this photo. Not good enough.”
(U.S. Navy Reserve)
When they returned to port, intelligence officers would take the buckets to confirm the kills and collect what other info they could.
Obviously, a pile of documents or sub gear was preferred, but the bucket would do when necessary.
This physical evidence of the kill was important, and some ship and boat commanders failed to get credit for claimed kills because they brought no evidence.
“This time, we filled the ocean with explosives, and then took a photo of the second, larger explosion that followed.” “Eh, guess that’ll work.”
There were other ways to get kills confirmed. If multiple ships had hydrophone and sonar operators who heard the sub suffer catastrophic danger before losing contact with the sub, their crews could confirm the kill. Or intercepted intelligence where enemy commanders discussed lost subs could be matched up with claimed kills. Photos were great for subs that were sunk near the surface.
But the preferred method was always physical evidence.
It became so well known, however, that some sub commanders would pack a torpedo tube with random debris and then shoot it into the ocean when under attack. The bubbles from air exiting the tube combined with the trash floating to the surface could fool attackers on the surface, giving the sub a chance to escape after the surface ship left.
The Japanese I-26 submarine, a legendary sub presumed sunk in October, 1944.
Eventually, this caused commanders on the surface to prefer the collection of human remains that floated to the surface. Since it was very rare for submarines to carry dead bodies, that was usually a safe proof.
All of this makes it sound like confirming submarine kills was an imprecise science — and that’s because it was. After the war, governments exchanged documents and historians and navy officers tried to piece together which ships killed which other ships and when. Most ship crews saw an increase in their total kill count, since previously suspected kills could now be confirmed.
But some who had previously gotten credit for kills later found out that they were duped by decoy debris — or that they had gotten a confirmed kill for a sub that actually survived and limped home.
The recent grounding incident involving the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) in Tokyo Bay is not the first time a Navy vessel has run aground. But some have been more…notorious than others.
Grounding a ship is not exactly career-enhancing in this day and age (never mind that the Antietam spilled 1,100 gallons of oil in one of Godzilla’s favorite hangout spots). In fact, it usually means the end of one’s advancement in the Navy.
Here are a few notorious groundings over the years to remind the soon-to-be-relieved personnel that it could be worse.
1. USS Guardian (MCM 5)
The mine counter-measures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5) is the first U.S. Navy ship to be lost since USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1968. The vessel ran aground on Jan. 17, 2013 on a reef, and was very thoroughly stuck. So much so that a 2013 Navy release indicated she had to be dismantled on the spot. A sad end to a 23-year career.
2. The Honda Point Disaster
Aerial view of the disaster area, showing all seven destroyers that ran aground on Honda Point during the night of 8 September 1923. Photographed from a plane assigned to USS Aroostook (CM-3). Ships are: USS Nicholas (DD-311), in the upper left; USS S.P. Lee (DD-310), astern of Nicholas; USS Delphy (DD-261), capsized in the left center; USS Young (DD-312), capsized in the center of the view; USS Chauncey (DD-296), upright ahead of Young; USS Woodbury (DD-309) on the rocks in the center; and USS Fuller (DD-297), in the lower center. The Southern Pacific Railway’s Honda Station is in the upper left. (U.S. Navy photo)
Imagine losing seven warships in a day during peacetime. Yes, that actually happened to the United States Navy. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, during the evening of Sept. 8, 1923, a navigational error lead seven destroyers to slam into rocks at Honda Point, California, at a speed of 20 knots. Twenty-three sailors were lost, as were seven Clemson-class destroyers that were about five years old.
3. USS Decatur (DD 5)
This one is notable not for any loss of life but for the career it could have derailed. Accoridng to a 2004 article in Military Review, on July 7, 1908, the destroyer USS Decatur (DD 5) ran aground on a mudbank in the Philippines. It was pulled off the next day. The commanding officer was relieved of command, court-martialed, and found guilty of “neglect of duty.”
However, his career didn’t end. That was a good thing for America because that commanding officer was Chester W. Nimitz, who would command the Pacific Fleet in World War II.
4. USS Port Royal (CG 73)
Now some groundings are just embarrassing. This is one of them. The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) had been on sea trials after about $18 million in repairs. According to a Navy release in 2009, the ship ran aground about a half mile from one of the runways at Honolulu International Airport, providing arriving and departing tourists with an interesting view for a few days.
5. USS Hartford (SSN 768)
On Oct. 25, 2003, the attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) ran aground off the island of Sardinia. According to a 2004 Navy release, fixing the damage required assets from Louisiana to Bahrain. It took 213 dives to repair the vessel enough that she could return to Norfolk at half speed. Six years later, the Hartford would collide with the amphibious transport US New Orleans (LPD 18).
Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.
There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”
These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.
However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.
When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.
The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.
All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.
The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:
At the onset of World War I, the warring powers needed all the help they could get on both land and sea. So, when the British Empire lost two of her ships to mines and torpedoes, they did the only logical thing they could think of: welded the remaining pieces together and sent the ship back into the war.
The World War I Naval equivalent of Motrin and clean socks. (HMS Nubian in Chatham Drydock after being torpedoed in 1916)
The HMS Nubian and the HMS Zulu were both Tribal-class destroyers in the service of the Royal Navy. They were also both launched in 1909. Since their range was much too short to go into the open ocean, they were used primarily for home defense, hunting submarines, and protecting England from any seaborne threats. Unfortunately, they both also met similar fates at the hands of the Kaiser’s navy.
Nubian was part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, charged with defending England’s east coast. By the outbreak of World War I, she was in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla hunting German U-boats and hitting German defenses on the coast of Belgium. She was torpedoed by one such submarine during the 1916 Battle of the Dover Straits. None of her crew were killed until the ship ran aground and broke apart while being towed back to port. The bow of Nubian was completely torn off, and a dozen men were killed.
HMS Zulu lost its stern after hitting a German mine.
HMS Zulu was in the same class as the Nubian. The two ships were even part of the same destroyer flotilla before the war started. By the time World War I did kick off, Zulu was in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla operating outside of Dover, where she joined the Dover Patrol, looking for German submarines to prevent them from accessing the Atlantic through the English Channel. Unfortunately for the Zulu, she struck a mine laid by a German sub. The explosion killed three sailors and ripped off the ship’s stern.
A French destroyer helped it limp back to the port of Calais, where it was towed back to England. Once in England, the Zulu and the Nubian would make history: they would become the HMS Zubian.
The Zubian, with no real difference in length, displacement, or firepower.
The portmanteau of the two ships’ names is as accurate as it is appropriate. The Nubian, having lost her bow and the Zulu, having lost her stern, could not simply be written off as a loss during what was then considered “the War to End All Wars.” The two sister ships were so similar that they could exchange parts or whole pieces – and that’s exactly what happened. Instead of scrapping one or the other, the two parts were just welded together. The resulting ship, the Zubian, set sail for vengeance almost immediately.
In the war’s final two years, Zubian saw service in the 6th Flotilla in the Dover Straits throughout the war. In February 1918, she saw a U-boat attempt to surface with its antenna up. Zubian moved to ram the German U-boat, but it submerged before the British could hit her. Zubian dropped depth charge after depth charge on the sub until oil and metal floated to the surface, revenge for the hurt German U-boats put on her previous two ships (and the crews manning them).