Wars are generally long, bloody, and horrible affairs that everyone is anxious to wrap up so that everyone can go back home.
But for some reason, there have been wars that don’t end on time. Here are four times that the U.S. found itself in a battle after the war it was fighting was technically already over:
1. The Battle of New Orleans propels Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to nationwide fame after the War of 1812
The War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, but Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson repelled an attack on Jan. 8, 1815, by approximately 8,000 British regulars who hadn’t yet heard about the treaty. Jackson’s defense of the city inflicted 2,000 casualties — including three generals and seven colonels — on the British and made Jackson an American hero.
2. American Gen. Sterling Price fought an extra battle in Mexico because he didn’t believe the peace news
American Gen. Sterling Price had orders to hold and defend southern New Mexico near the end of the Mexican-American War — orders that he ignored to attack the city of Chihuahua in early 1848. When he arrived at the city, a group of citizens told him that the garrison had withdrawn from the town to avoid bloodshed as the war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the previous month.
Price basically wrote the treaty off as fake news and just assaulted south anyway, catching up to the Mexican forces at the city of Santa Cruz de Rosales. The Mexican commander attempted to defend the town, repelling attacks from the north and west but falling to a thrust from the south.
3. The Battle of Palmito Ranch may have been a colonel trying to pop his combat cherry before the war ended
While there was no official peace treaty ending the Civil War, everyone had pretty much agreed it was over by May 1865. Lincoln was dead, the Confederate cabinet was scattered, and the War Department was getting ready to release most of the Union Army from the service.
But Union Col. Theodore H. Barrett found himself occupying an island near Confederate forces who were slowly negotiating a surrender with a major general. Rather than let those negotiations play out, Barrett led his regiment against the Confederate forces despite the fact that he had no combat experience and no orders to do so.
The blow-by-blow of the battle is farcical where it isn’t boring, but it basically amounts to a useless Union defeat at the hands of barely interested rebels and some French soldiers who were stationed in Mexico just across the river. Barrett later claimed the defeat was the fault of another colonel, but a court martial supported no charges against the other officer.
4. The last troops to die in the Vietnam War fought weeks after the war ended and two years after America withdrew
While the American involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the actual war drew on for another two years until South Vietnam surrendered to Communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
The operation suffered from a lack of intelligence and the Marines hit the wrong island, one that was being guarded by 150 to 200 dug-in fighters when the Marines expected light resistance. America lost 41 Marines and airmen killed and wounded, but recovered the ship and the crew.
In the years following the American Civil War, Canada was still very much a possession of the British Empire. As such, it had a number of official fortifications and other important areas along its border with the United States. One of those was Fort Erie, directly across the Niagara from the American city of Buffalo, New York. In June 1866, some 850 men crossed the Niagara from Buffalo, intent on capturing the fort.
They were Irishmen, and they were going to conquer Canada to free their home country.
Irish immigrants flowed into the United States in droves following the Acts of Union that saw British domination of Ireland since the early 1800s. The Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s also saw a huge emigration of Irish people to the United States. By 1860, there were more than 1.6 million people of Irish descent who called themselves American – and upwards of 175,000 of them were about to serve in the Union Army.
The Irish made-up 40 percent of foreign-born enlistments in the Civil War, and were 17 percent of the overall Union force. When these battle-hardened veterans returned home after the war, many of them were headed to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. It was there that Irish National leaders were waiting to use the veterans’ new talent for combat.
To be fair, when this plan was hatched, there were upwards of 10,000 Fenians.
Called the Fenian Brotherhood, its original aim was to send money, arms, and supplies to Irish rebels in Ireland via Irish émigrés living in the U.S. Many in the movement were soon convinced that liberating Ireland through a direct uprising was impossible, so they decided to step up their game a bit. If the Irish couldn’t mount an invasion of Ireland, then they would mount an invasion of Canada, the nearest British-held country and trade it for Irish independence.
T.W. Sweeny a former Union general who also served in the Mexican War hatched a three-pronged plan to invade Canada, set up an Irish government-in-exile, and pressure Britain to release Ireland to the Irish. It called for multiple incursions into Ontario in an effort to draw the main British force out of Quebec. With that done, the main Fenian force would invade Quebec, cutting off lines of communication and supply.
Noncommissioned officers of the 10th Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, circa 1870.
On June 1, 1850, a force of Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood landed in Ontario and planted the Irish flag. They tore up railroads and cut the telegraph wires, effectively cutting Fort Erie off from the rest of Canada. Then, 600 Fenians marched westward. At the same time, the commander of British forces in Canada activated upwards of 22,000 troops to put the insurrection down. While the larger force formed up, 850 men under Lt. Col. Alfred Booker were dispatched to pin the Irish down and keep them from wreaking any more havoc.
The two forces met at Ridgeway in Ontario, Canada. It was the first time an all-Canadian force was led by a Canadian commander. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the Fenians were well-armed and skilled fighters, having just braved the battlefields of the American Civil War. The Canadians were soon reinforced, and the superior numbers caused the Fenians to retreat.
No. 5 Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.
The Fenians were repulsed elsewhere along their proposed lines of attack. Having assumed that Irish Canadians would join the uprising, they were surprised at how the Canadians responded to their invasion. By the time British forces mounted a full response, many of the Fenians had retreated back across the river, the United States Navy was stopping Fenian barges from bringing reinforcements, and the U.S. declared total neutrality in Canadian affairs.
There would be more Fenian uprisings in later years, but for the time being, the push to trade Canada for Ireland would not come to pass.
Lots of people like to play a mind game that centers around one moral quandary: Would you kill baby Hitler? Yeah, it’s Hitler, but it’s also a baby… Hell, this same question was even jokingly debated during an episode of Superstore, where the crew tries to decide whether you should help a celebrity steal baby Hitler. Apparently, “killing” Hitler was a step too far for NBC.
But it wasn’t for Germans living under the Third Reich, who actually tried to kill adult Hitler multiple times. In fact, if you add in assassination attempts from the Allies, there were at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life, with more planned but never executed. Here are four of the best assassination attempts by German citizens:
The remains of a beer hall in Munich after Johann Georg Elser destroyed a support pillar with a bomb in an attempt to kill Hitler.
1. A random carpenter misses Hitler by 13 minutes
If it weren’t for the rise of Hitler, Johann Georg Elser would’ve been entirely forgettable. He was a skilled laborer, mostly in carpentry, who was once employed in an armaments factory. He combined the explosive knowledge he gained there with his carpentry skills to form a daring plan to kill Hitler during a planned speech.
Hitler gave a speech every year at a beer hall in Munich. Elser started going there late every night in 1939, eating and then hiding so he could emerge after it closed. In the empty beer hall, he clandestinely hollowed out a section of pillar and filled it with explosives. He set the timer for halfway through Hitler’s approximately hour-long speech.
But the attack was set after the invasion of Poland, and Hitler was eager to complete his November speech and get back to Berlin. He delivered his speech an hour early on November 8, 1939. Hitler left the podium 13 minutes before the bomb went off, killing eight and wounding 60. Elser was later captured while attempting to escape the country. He lived through most of the war in a concentration camp before his execution in 1945.
Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer who attempted a suicide bombing of Adolf Hitler.
2. A weapons expert tried to use two suicide bombs
In 1943, Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff was assigned to give Hitler a tour of captured Soviet weaponry. The tour was supposed to last 10 minutes, so von Gersdoff decided to carry two bombs in his pockets during the tour, set to go off five minutes from when they were set.
But Hitler, again, was impatient and rushed through the tour. Von Gersdorff had planned to embrace Hitler as the bombs ticked down to zero, but was instead forced to rush to a bathroom and defuse his ordnance as Hitler walked away.
Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow, the mind behind multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.
3. A German officer used a dud fuse
German Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow was a career officer quietly serving on the staff of his uncle when Germany invaded Poland. He took part in the invasion and later operations, but was quickly disgusted by the actions of the SS, especially the executions of surrendering or captive Soviet Soldiers.
He decided that the execution of Hitler was the best thing for Germany. To that end, he tried to recruit other senior officers to his plots, but was largely unsuccessful. So, instead, he convinced another officer to carry a package of brandy to friends in Berlin while flying with Hitler in 1943 — but the brandy was actually a bomb.
Unfortunately, the fuse on the bomb was a dud, and von Tresckow was forced to go to Berlin and recover the failed bomb. He didn’t give up, and was eventually able to recruit Col. Claus von Stauffenerg to his plans, leading to the “July Plot.”
Hitler and Mussolini survey the aftermath of the “July Plot” in 1944.
4. The “July Plot” is foiled by a thick table leg
The “July Plot” in 1944 is probably the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler. As hinted above, von Tresckow and von Stauffenerg were key to the efforts. The plan was to smuggle a briefcase bomb into the “Wolf’s Lair,” an underground bunker in Germany, and set it off. This would kill Hitler and some of his closest aides and top officers.
The senior leaders involved in the assassination attempt, including the former chief of the army general staff and the chief of staff of the reserve army, would then take control of what levers of government they could while pressuring the remaining powers in Berlin to make peace before it was too late.
And it very nearly worked. This time, Hitler didn’t leave early, the bomb did go off, and Hitler was even injured. So, why didn’t Hitler die? Well, an officer needed to get closer to him to make a point, and he moved the briefcase behind the leg of a thick, oak table. When the bomb went off, the table absorbed and redirected a lot of the blast.
Most of those involved were caught and killed or, in the case of von Tresckow, committed suicide.
But the motorcyclists may not have had the worst job supporting the fledgling tank corps in World War I. That award probably goes to the salvage corps whose members had to yank tanks from the battlefield.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence has announced the successful testing of a new kit that turns small combat boats into drones that can protect larger warships, warning them of drones, small enemy vessels, and shore defenses, among other threats.
The British Royal Navy attached a kit to the Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat. The resulting Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed was 13 meters, or 43 feet, in length, so it is known as MAST-13. Because Britain likes to name their things simply.
The MAST-13 was demonstrated at the Defence and Security Equipment International Conference on September 10 in London as senior members of the British defense community looked on. The MAST-13 was tasked with protecting the HMS Argyll in the London Docklands. The MAST-13 detected threats on the riverbed and transmitted them back to Argyll.
“MAST-13 is pioneering the future of Unmanned Surface Vehicles for our world-leading navy,” said U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. “The development of unmanned technology is vital for success in modern warfare, going beyond the capability of traditional ships to attack and defend in uncertain environments.
“As more advanced technology and new threats continue to evolve, collaborative technology development ensures we are constantly pushing the boundaries to give our armed forces the best capabilities possible,” he continued.
Britain is investing heavily in protecting large ships as its navy has constructed new carriers that it can ill-afford to lose. This makes force protection a key mission for the Royal Navy moving forward, and the MAST-13 could be perfect for that mission.
In addition, the Royal Navy expects to use the program in anti-piracy and border control operations.
The technological developments necessary for MAST-13 fall under Britain’s NavyX program to develop autonomous vessels. The Programme Director for NavyX, Royal Navy Commander Sean Trevethan, said, “Ultimately this will change the way we fight, through integrated command and control, and lead to the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
He also said, “This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy. What we are doing is the first step of exploiting system architecture in a complex warship to integrate an unmanned system into the ship.”
Vessels like the MAST-13 would be highly valued in the potential, but still unlikely, war with Iran. Iran has historically put pressure on the international community by restricting movement through the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian territory dominates the narrow waterway.
The MAST-13 could help larger ships moving through the strait avoid mines and other threats in the case of open conflict.
This famous logo first came to life during the early 1960s when there was an urgent need to identify the rescue and law enforcement service to other boaters and military craft, air and sea. During WWII, Coast Guard Cutters were painted like other warships but carried the letter “W” in front of their hull number to distinguish from the US Navy. The iconography as we know it was ordered and adopted by President John F. Kennedy, and the service has never looked back.
The icon of the US Coast Guard is emulated by other similar organizations and agencies around the globe in some fashion, especially the diagonal design of the stripes.
There is a profound difference in the color scheme of the two logos, even including the additional wording, “Auxiliary.” Both logos embody the same mindset and core mission values. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is an integral part of operations for the service, providing tremendous benefit to the public in areas of boating safety, inspections, and training.
Where did the Auxiliary get its start? Congress passed a law on June 19, 1941 that restructured the Coast Guard Reserve. From then on, the service was directed to operate two reserve forces. The already-existing civilian reserve organization was renamed the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. The newly structured US Coast Guard Reserve was to function on a military basis, providing an important resource of wartime capabilities, very similar to the duties of the other armed services.
The next time you see one of these dedicated professionals at a boat show, at a marina, on patrol, at a training seminars, or performing safety inspections, please remember: without them, the waterways we enjoy for recreational boating would be much different and complex.
Coupled with the Power Squadron, other boating safety organizations, and license training institutions, they expertly provide essential, and sometimes under-appreciated, assistance. Boating safety is not complete with a one-time educational event, but is a full-time endeavor.
The front line of WWI was a dangerous place. From bullets to bombs to poison gas, the death that could be dealt on the battlefield came from many directions.
Mother nature included.
Excessive rains made mobility difficult as troops were forced to navigate through the mud-choked battlefields, making resupply and transport nearly impossible. With both sides bogged down, tanks were thought to enable a breakthrough, but they too soon succumbed to the clutches of mud.
Known as “Mark 1,” the first tank was constructed with 105hp Daimler engine and carried two Hotchkiss six-pound (57mm) guns. The crew consisted four gunners and three drivers, and the tank maneuvered on caterpillar tracks with separate gearboxes.
Soldiers had to endure intense heat in the crew compartment, extreme noise and would sometimes be trapped for days if the tank got stuck.
After multiple design failures, the British considered canceling their tank program, but supporters kept them in the Empire’s arsenal.
Here’s something you might not know. The Frontier Wars in Maine lasted for almost 100 years. These intermittent wars began in 1675 and were a conflict between Anglo, French, and Native populations. Many people believe the independent spirit and abundant wilderness of Maine exist as a result of these wars.
It didn’t take long for the tension to begin between Anglo settlers in southern New England and the Native Americans. Land disputes often led to violence. Metacom, who the Anglos nicknamed King Phillip, was the leader of Natives in the region. He started a war intended to stop the Anglos from taking over their land: King Phillip’s War.
No Food, No Peace
That war, which began in Massachusetts, eventually spread up to Maine. This was thanks to Massachusetts officials insisting that the Maine Natives be disarmed, even though everything was still peaceful up there at the time. Disarming the Natives left them without a way to hunt and eat. Therefore, going to war against the Anglo colonists was their only option for survival. Their first point of attack was Arrowsic Island, the largest trading post in eastern Maine.
King Phillip’s War lasted from 1675 to 1678, leaving most of Maine in ruins. The Natives who once lived there moved north or east, where the French took them in as refugees. The settlers in Maine also had to leave. They took refuge in Massachusetts. This bloody conflict was a big turning point in history. It sadly destroyed any hope of peace between the English and the Native Americans.
War Is Never Pretty
Five other wars in Maine followed over the next century. So much violence occurred in Maine in particular for one reason: European powers were fighting for as much territory as they could get, and Maine was their bargaining chip.
An especially tragic aspect of the wars had to do with how friendly the Anglo colonists had once been with the Natives. To suddenly watch people you knew well destroying your property was devastating both practically and spiritually. And property wasn’t the only thing taken. Many were brutally killed or taken hostage, including women and children. What a terrible thing to witness.
Why Maine Is What it Is Today
Once the French-Native alliance deteriorated in the early-1700s, the conflict between the English and the Natives mainly turned into ineffective raids. Then in 1759, the British forces defeated the French in Quebec. That ended the English-French rivalry over control of the North American territories. It also ended any support the French could give to the Natives, leaving them without a hope of defeating the British. As a result, Maine was finally a safe place for Anglos to settle by the late 1700s.
While the Frontier Wars were ugly and brutal, Maine was left unsettled for nearly 100 years because of it. All the while, the rest of New England was advancing and growing. If there’s one positive thing to take out of the bloody Frontier Wars, it’s all the pristine wilderness that still remains in Maine today.
When you think of artillery, you’re probably thinking of something like the M777-towed 155mm howitzer or the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled gun. But in the Civil War, artillery was very different.
Back then, a gun wasn’t described by how wide the round was, but how much the round weighed. According to a National Park Service release, one of the most common was the 12-pounder Napoleon, which got that name from firing a 12-pound solid shot. The typical range for the Napoleon was about 2,000 yards. Multiply that by about twenty to have a rough idea how far a M777 can shoot an Excalibur GPS-guided round.
Another round used was the shell, a hollowed-out solid shot that usually had about eight ounces of black powder inserted. This is pretty much what most artillery rounds are today. The typical Civil War shell had a range of about 1,500 yards — or just under a mile.
However, when enemy troops were approaching, the artillery had two options. The first was to use what was called “case” rounds. These were spherical rounds that held musket balls. In the case of the Napoleon, it held 78 balls. Think of it as a giant hand grenade that could reach out as far as a mile and “touch” enemy troops.
When the enemy troops got real close, there was one last round: the canister. In essence, this turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. It would have cast-iron shot packed with sawdust. When enemy troops got very close, they’d use two canister rounds, known as “double canister” (in the 1993 movie, “Gettysburg,” you can hear a Union officer order “double canister” during the depiction of Pickett’s Charge).
To see what a canister round did to enemy troops, watch this video:
Throughout the Cold War, as the nuclear arms race became more frantic, a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union remained a major concern.
With intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-dropped bombs, both countries had several options when it came to nuclear warfare.
But the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II made clear the destructive capability of nuclear arms and the danger of a full-blown nuclear conflict.
As a result, US strategists sought ways to use nuclear weapons without triggering an all-out nuclear war.
The tactical nuclear option
In the 1950s, the US military came up with the tactical nuclear option, using weapons with a lower yield and range than their strategic counterparts.
These weapons would be used on the battlefield or against a military-related target to gain an operational advantage. For example, the Air Force could drop a tactical nuclear bomb on a Soviet division invading Poland to stop its advance without triggering a disproportionate response — such as a nuclear attack on New York City.
There were two types of tactical nuclear munitions: The Medium Atomic Demolition Munition (MADM) had a medium-yield payload and required several troops to carry it. The Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) had a low-yield payload but could be carried by one soldier.
The order to use tactical nuclear weapons would still have to come from both political and military authorities. SADMs were subject to the same command-and-control procedures as other tactical nuclear weapons and meant to be used only if there were no other means of creating the desired effect.
Specially trained Green Berets were assigned to Green Light Teams. Their purpose was to clandestinely deploy in NATO or Warsaw Pact countries and detonate their SADMs in a conflict with the Soviets. The Pentagon later included North Korea and Iran on the target list.
Green Light Teams’ main targets were tunnels, major bridges, mountain passes, dams, canals, ports, major railroad hubs, oil facilities, water-plant factories, and underground storage or operations facilities.
In other words, SADMs were intended to either slow down the enemy by destroying or significantly altering the landscape or target the logistical, communications, and operations hubs that are vital to an army, especially during offensive operations.
Green Light Teams primarily carried the MK-54 SADM. Nicknamed the “Monkey” or “Pig,” the device weighed almost 60 pounds and could fit in a large rucksack.
In each team, there was a chief operator who was primarily responsible for the activation of the SADM. He and other members of the team held the codes required to activate the bomb.
Like every Green Beret team, Green Light teams were trained in various insertion methods, including parachuting — both static line and military free fall — skiing, and combat diving.
Free falling was probably the most realistic insertion method other than ground infiltration, but doing it with the device was tough.
During parachute insertions, the chief operator seldom got to jump with the device because it had a high probability of injury for the jumper, and the chief operator was key to mission success.
An operator would have to strap the SADM between his legs like a rucksack, but the device would work against him as he tried to stabilize in the air before deploying his parachute. Even in static-line parachuting, when the ripcord is hooked to the plane, there would still be issues.
Paratroopers will release their rucksacks or other heavy cargo attached to them via a line moments before landing to prevent injuries. But the SADM tended to get stuck between the jumper’s feet in the crucial seconds before landing, resulting in several sprained ankles and broken legs.
Everything closely associated with Green Light Teams was top secret, and the seriousness of the mission followed Green Light operators outside work. They were instructed to travel only on US airliners and never to fly above a communist country in case the plane had to make an emergency landing, which could lead to them being held by local authorities.
No one is coming for us
A common thread among successive generations of Green Light Teams was their distrust of leadership when it came to their specific mission.
“During training, the instructors had told us we had about 30 minutes to clear the blast radius of the device. We never really believed that,” a retired Special Forces operator who served on a Green Light Team told Insider.
“In every other mission, teams would have an extraction plan. We didn’t. It was all up to us to get the hell out of dodge. But that’s not how the Army works. So that’s why we never really believed that we could get out alive in case we had to use one of those things. It was a one-way mission,” the retired Green Beret added.
There were Green Light teams forward deployed in Europe — even in Berlin — always on standby to launch. Some Green Light Teams even sought to forward deploy inside East Germany to be ready in case the Soviets unleashed their military on Western Europe.
Green Light Teams also deployed to South Korea at different times and were on standby in case tensions with North Korea turned into war.
With the end of the Cold War, the Green Light Teams were deactivated. They were never used in a real-world operation.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.
At first, concentration camp guards during the Nazi regime of World War II were male. However, with the introduction of female guards to Auschwitz and Majdanek, a new era began and German officials soon learned that these incoming women were quite good at their jobs. By the end of the war, more than 3,500 women acted as camp guards, making up almost 7 percent of all Nazi guards employed.
With no special training or particular background, these women either volunteered or were recruited through shrewd marketing techniques. Mostly young women and unmarried, or possibly married to a man who worked in the camp. Many felt they were doing their duty to their country.
1. Maria Mandl
Maria Mandl was one of the head guards at Auschwitz, despite her gender, and was known for her cruelty, which aptly earned her the nickname “The Beast”. It’s supposed that she had her hand in up to half a million deaths. While she was unable to climb the ladder in her field to the very top as a woman, she had absolute control over all the female prisoners and the rest of the female employees. She was only forced to answer to one man. Her tactics vary, but tales of her behavior resonated with prisoners.
Many say she would stand at the entry gate and, if any inmate happened to look over at her, that individual would be taken away, never to be heard from again. She also put together an orchestra at the camp and, after regular work hours were over, the prisoners would be forced to march in time to the music. The orchestra often coincided with executions.
After Auschwitz was liberated, Mandl fled to Bavaria. After her capture, she underwent interrogations, and showed high levels of intelligence. She was turned over to Poland, and was sentenced to death by hanging.
2. Irma Grese
Grese was one of Mandl’s inferiors, who also worked at Auschwitz and served as a warden for female prisoners. Her reign, however, was short and she only made it to the age of 22 before being executed for her war crimes. This was still plenty of time for her to earn her own nickname, just like “The Beast” — her boss. Grese became known as the “Hyena of Auschwitz”.
She managed to earn the second-highest rank available to females, and routinely participated in picking which of the prisoners would go to the gas chamber.
Greece’s actions are immortalized in a memoir that was written by one of the camp prisoners. It says that Grese loved to terrify the women in the camps, and that she specifically picked women who were remotely beautiful, sick, or weak.
During her trial, witnesses said she would allow half-starved dogs to attack prisoners; she also enjoyed shooting prisoners and would beat them to death with a whip. In addition, Grese also had several love affairs at the camp, one of which resulted in a surprise pregnancy; she then entrusted one of the prisoners to give her an abortion. After the war was over, she had hoped to pursue a career in acting.
3. Hermine Braunsteiner
Braunsteines was the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the United States. Working at Majdanek, she was known as the “Stomping Mare”.
Her most infamous actions include lifting children by the hair to throw them onto trucks headed to the gas chambers, hanging young girls, and stomping women to death. She became known for her crazy tantrums and could be expected to lash out with a riding whip at the slightest provocation.
As the Soviets approached, Braunsteiner fled to Vienna, then remained jailed for a year. She was later granted amnesty and lived in Austria, under the radar, until she met an American on vacation. They married, moved to Canada and then later to the United States.
No one knew of her past and she became known as a friendly housewife. A Nazi hunter and a reporter ran across her in Queens and exposed her actions. While her husband said he knew of her work, he did not know exactly to what extent her cruelty ranged.
4. Margot Dreschel
Dreschel headed to Poland in 1942 for the new Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. She headed up all the camp offices and soon became known as a horrific sight for most prisoners. She often disguised herself as a doctor and went to conduct indoor selections within the camp. With a trained dog in tow, she would make all prisoners undress, take their shoes and then make them stand for hours, naked.
She frequently went to and from various camps to help with the selection of women and children for the chambers. She fled the camp after Germany’s surrender, and while in the Russian zone, several former prisoners abducted her and took her to the Russian Military Police. She was executed by hanging within the month.
5. Ilse Koch
Koch worked at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later at Buchenwald. She is mostly known for her participation in an experiment during which she picked out prisoners with tattoos to be murdered and then skinned. The skins would then be used for study, as one of her colleagues was writing a paper on the relation between tattoos and criminality.
She was arrested in 1943 by the Germans for charges of enrichment and embezzlement, then acquitted in 1944; however, she was arrested again by the U.S. in 1945.
The trial process was not easy, though. During her first trial, she announced that she was eight months pregnant, from one of her many affairs. She was given life in prison and then served two years, before her sentence was lessened to four years, due to lack of evidence. However, she was re-arrested and tried again. Witnesses stated they saw her with human-skin lampshades made from the tattooed skin.
She was delusional and thought that her victims were coming back to harm her. Eventually, Koch committed suicide in her jail cell at the age of 60. Her son, who regularly visited her after being born in prison, was shocked by the news. Now, her body rests in an unmarked grave.
The era of the 1980s through the mid-1990s was a great time to be a member of the U.S Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, 7th SFG(A). The unit had barely escaped the ax during the post-Vietnam drawdown. It had also survived the malaise of the Carter years, when Special Operations, and specifically Special Forces, was a four-letter word. (Being an SF officer in those days was the kiss of death for an officer’s career.)
Yet, during that time, a danger was looming: Latin America was close to being lost to communism.
Latin America was a hot spot. Marxists had taken over in Nicaragua. They were looking, like the Cubans, to export their vision of communism to the rest of the hemisphere. El Salvador and Guatemala were embroiled in bloody civil wars, Honduras was going through a “latent and incipient” insurgency, which no one but the Group believed existed. Active civil wars were ongoing with insurgents in Colombia (FARC), Peru (Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso), and to a lesser extent in Bolivia. Compounding the problem, all three countries had issues with narco-terrorists that further destabilized the governments. Other countries, such as Argentina and Paraguay, seemed to have military coups far too frequently.
But all of that began to change in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected President. Reagan was not going to stand for that. Hence, there were plenty of places for the Green Berets of 7th SFG to practice their training, or as my first team sergeant said, “Do Green Beret shit.”
El Salvador was the first area where the President drew a line in the sand. The Salvadorian government was weak and ineffective. The military was backward, characterized by little professionalism, and was committing numerous human rights abuses. In 1980, the country was on the brink of falling. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), an umbrella organization formed in 1980 out of five separate Marxist-Leninist groups, had the government on the precipice.
In 1981, the Salvadorian Army numbered around 11,000. It was a poorly led, poorly equipped, and badly trained army. It was basically a static, defensive force. The FMLN was close to winning the war: Its forces operated freely in much of the country and owned the night.
Slow Beginnings and Limits on Troop Support
The U.S.’s first priority was to give the Salvadorian army updated vehicles and equipment; then improve the forces’ quality through training and better tactics. By 1990, the size of the Salvadorian military had quadrupled to more than 45,000. By the mid-1980s, the training of the troops had progressed to where the army was capable of conducting offensive operations. It, therefore, moved into previously FMLN-held areas and maintained a firm hold on the population centers. While doing so, it whittled the FMLN down to size, from a high of about 13,000 in 1980 to about 7,000 in 1990.
The FMLN resorted to kidnappings and assassinations. Town mayors were a frequent target: in 1989 alone 214 of 262 were threatened with assassinations. Twelve were assassinated and 90 resigned.
The FMLN launched a desperate country-wide offensive in November 1989 in a final attempt to take over by encouraging the citizens to rise up. It failed and lost over 2,000 guerrillas.
Beginning in 1983, following the recommendations of Green Beret trainers, the Salvadorian armed forces adopted better COIN tactics to deny the FMLN from gaining popular support. For example, the Salvadorians started attacking the insurgents’ sanctuaries, movement routes, and supplies. They started to deploy smaller, air-mobile units. And they used small units to patrol more frequently at night when most guerrilla activities occurred. But we have jumped ahead…
When it came to the trainers, the U.S. was in a vastly different place politically than it is today. We had just pulled out of Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. was not going to tolerate another long-drawn-out conflict with massive amounts of troops involved. Beginning in 1981, the first U.S. trainers in El Salvador were an A-Team of 12 Green Berets. They were “permitted” to only carry sidearms for protection.
Congress decided to cap the number of trainers at just 55. Two Americans would be assigned to each Salvadorian brigade. There were very strict rules for the training advisors. A-Teams and other conventional troops would be brought in for just the ridiculously short time span of two weeks. During that time, they had to conduct whatever training could be accomplished before they would be forced to leave.
But the SF community found ways around the Congressional limitations. It started bringing Salvadorian battalions to the United States to be trained by members of the 7th SFG. The first one to be brought to the U.S. was the Atlacatl Battalion. It was brought to Ft. Bragg, NC. The Atlacatl Battalion was a quick reaction, counter-insurgency unit. More battalions were later brought to the U.S.
But a better alternative awaited just over the border with El Salvador’s traditional enemy, Honduras.
The U.S. set up a Regional Training Center in Trujillo, Honduras. Salvadorian units could rotate through there for training. Later the training Honduran troops were trained as well.
The cost was high for a “peacetime” effort. During the war in El Salvador, 22 U.S. troops died defending the country. One SF advisor, Greg Fronius, is the subject of an earlier article.
In another engagement, a “not in combat” SF A-Team, ODA-7 from 3/7th SFG, defended a Salvadorian barracks. The battle was the subject of an excellent piece by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe.
Congress and the Pentagon, in an effort to snow the American public from what exactly the advisors in El Salvador were dealing with, refused to admit that the troops were in a combat situation, even though, combat pay had been authorized in 1981. Thus, Fronius was denied a combat decoration. He was instead given a Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) which is a peacetime award.
Human Rights Record
The Salvadorian Army had a terrible human rights record dating back to 1980. One of the things that the trainers accomplished was to incorporate human rights training in all levels of the military.
This also meant that at times, at peril to the advisors themselves, they’d report abuses by the military to the MILGP in San Salvador. Greg Walker, who was one of the 55 advisors on the ground there detailed one such incident.
“I was the Special Forces advisor who reported being shown a guerrilla’s skull (at the unit’s base in El Salvador) that had been turned into a desk lamp. My report was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador at the time through the proper chain of command.
The vast majority of SF advisors serving in El Salvador did likewise as this was part of the mission statement. For example, there was a senior Special Forces advisor at El Mozote the day/night of the massacre (and only one). He attempted multiple times to dissuade Colonel Domingo Monterosa to spare the victims. When Monterosa ignored him, the advisor departed by foot and made his way, alone, back to San Salvador. There he made a full report to embassy officials of what the unit and Monterosa were doing in El Mozote.”
The subject was a very touchy one. Yet the Green Berets made their reputation known even amongst the FMLN. In Walker’s book, titled “At the Hurricane’s Eye” he recounts when the FMLN asked for the U.S. SF to remain during the initial peace process to ensure that everyone was protected.
“At the conclusion of the war as brokered under a UN peace agreement, it was the guerrillas of the FMLN that requested US “Green Berets” remain with Salvadorian military units during the early stages of the accord. This because the guerrillas had learned of our commitment to human rights, and the sometimes dangerous reporting we made to the US embassy regarding thugs like Monterosa.”
Walker was one of several SF soldiers who led the fight for the men who did their time in El Salvador to finally be recognized for what were essentially combat tours. Everyone who rotated through there is now eligible for an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal while many are authorized CIBs and combat awards. The men of ODA-7 were finally recognized 14 years later. They were awarded CIBs, four Bronze Stars with “V” device, and an ARCOM with “V” device.
The 7th SFG’s record in El Salvador was one of great success. El Salvador was on the brink of falling. And through the combined military and political efforts of many Americans, it was saved. This one was an example of how a small group of dedicated SF soldiers can turn the tide in a brutal civil war.
That’s right, a fire department was the lead military force of an armed revolution.
Of course, Bunau-Varilla didn’t rely solely on firefighters and their axes. He knew that the revolution would enjoy popular support in Panama since the region, which considered itself a sovereign country forced into an ongoing relationship with Columbia, had been agitating for independence for about 80 years. And to ensure success, he cut a couple of deals before sending his firemen into action.
Then Bunau-Varilla went to Washington, D.C. and asked the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt to back the revolution. The administration refused to say outright that they would do so but gave Bunau-Varilla the distinct impression that they would support Panamanian independence.
The White House’s response was a major double-cross of the Columbians. An 1846 treaty obligated America to help put down revolutions and revolts in the Panama region. But Roosevelt wanted a cross-isthmus canal to help the Navy get between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and Columbia had consistently demanded more money every time America offered a treaty to construct it.
Bunau-Varilla, who had been working towards a Panama canal for over 15 years, held significant stock in a French company that owned the rights to a failed, incomplete canal. He would recoup serious amounts of money if the canal was constructed and he knew how desperately Roosevelt wanted to build one.
So, with the firm belief that Washington would back Panama, Bunau-Varilla told his fireman and mercenary army that America was coming.
On Nov. 4, American troops near the city of Colon, Panama, were approached by Columbian forces demanding the use of the railroad that the troops were guarding.
When the Americans refused them access, the Columbians threatened to kill them all. The Marines fell back into a fortified building in range of the Nashville’s guns.
The Columbians had a numbers advantage but would have had to fight under naval bombardment to kill the Marines. They wisely decided not to attack.
With Columbian reinforcements cut off, the firefighters and their mercenary allies were easily able to establish effective control of Panama City. Over the next two days, two American cruisers arrived, the Dixie (AD 1) and the Atlanta, with hundreds of Marines to reinforce the new republic.
The U.S. government officially recognized Panama’s independence on Nov. 6, and Columbia gave in. The revolution succeeded with very little blood spilled. Panama quickly signed a treaty granting the U.S. permission to build a canal across the country. Over the following months, America sent more troops, including Marines under then Maj. John A. Lejeune, to establish control of the Panama Canal Zone ahead of the construction effort.
Panama quickly signed a treaty granting the U.S. permission to build a canal across the country. Over the following months, America sent more troops, including Marines under then Maj. John A. Lejeune, to establish control of the Panama Canal Zone ahead of the construction effort.
Planning and construction of the canal continued until mid-1914 when it was finally completed. America controlled the Panama Canal until it was given to local authorities in 1999 (based on a deal signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977).