5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller wasn’t just a great warfighter, he was an icon of Marine military prowess and culture, embodying and helping shape what it would mean to be a 20th-Century Marine. Here are five times that Puller proved himself to be one of the greatest Marines, from heroics to hard work to partying, this is the warrior your platoon sergeants told you about:


5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Marine Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller in Korea after the Inchon landings.
(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant M. Shutak)

 

His legendary breakout from Chosin Reservoir

It was possibly Puller’s most heroic feat. Puller was temporarily in command of the 1st Marine Division when Chinese forces overwhelmed American and UN troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The entire X Corps was vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of the Chinese, but the top commanders had a workable plan to save the tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines. That plan relied on 1st Marine Division.

The Marines, under Chesty, served at times as both vanguard and rearguard for the “advance in a different direction” that was, effectively, a withdrawal. Puller kept his men’s morale up as they knocked three Chinese divisions out of the fight despite constant supply shortages and the necessity of leapfrogging their artillery. This saved thousands of American lives and helped ensure that the Chinese advance could be halted before South Korea was lost.

Lt. Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

Guadalcanal, from smoking under bombardment to directing naval artillery

Then-Lt. Col. Puller landed on Guadalcanal in September, 1942, as the proud commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the unit with combat experience, and he had to keep his men on the straight and narrow. On their first night, the Marines came under naval bombardment and many had failed to dig their assigned foxholes.

Puller spent the bombardment yelling at the men to keep their heads down and remain behind available cover. When it was over, he walked the lines with a pipe, calmly smoking it and reassuring the Marines while giving them practical advice. As the fight ground on, Puller tried to get his men past the Japanese defenses.

When an amphibious landing failed and Marines were trapped under fire, Coast Guard Signalman Douglas Munro led a fleet of landing craft in to rescue them, and Puller rushed to ships off the coast to personally direct the naval artillery fire to ensure the Marines got off safely.

Marine First Lt. Lewis "Chesty" Puller with Sgt. William "Ironman" Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
Marine First Lt. Lewis “Chesty” Puller with Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

After missing out on World War I, he deployed to Nicaragua and Haiti

Puller grew up listening to his relatives talk about their experiences in the Civil War, and he was eager for combat when World War I rolled around. He volunteered late in the war in order to get to France, but was sent to officer training and missed out on the actual fighting. Instead, the Corps offered him a billet helping allied governments stand up or bolster national guards in South America.

The jungle fighting was fierce, and Puller was in charge of leading jungle raids and patrols against rebels in Haiti and then Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua that he earned his first two Navy Crosses, both awarded for valor under fire. One was for leading five successful raids on an extensive mission, and the other was for leading his platoon back safely after defeating multiple well-prepared ambushes that left Gunnery Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee wounded.

Puller during the Korean War.
Puller during the Korean War.
(U.s. Marine Corps)

 

A dedication to close combat that included mounting bayonets on flamethrowers

Puller was known, at least in part, for his bomb quotes. You know, things like, “don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” But one of his most iconic quotes came when he first saw a flamethrower demonstration.

“Where the Hell do you put the bayonet?” he asked. And like all three of those quotes show, Puller believed in violence of action, in closing with the enemy and killing them before they could kill you. That mentality was part of what made him such an icon in a Marine Corps on the rise, transforming itself from a largely reserve force of the Civil War to one of the dominant fighting forces of World War II, Korea, and today.

Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
(U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

 

A tendency to accrue legends, some based in fact and others in fiction

And, like the Marine Corps itself, Puller had a tendency to accrue legends — some completely true, some plausible, and some over-the-top. The true ones included things like when he led an overnight defense against a mile-long assault by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and the aforementioned victories at Chosin and in Nicaragua.

But his prowess was so great that he also become the subject of all sorts of hyperbole, like a rumor that his nickname was Chesty because so much of his chest had been hacked off in the jungle wars that his rib cage had been remade of literal iron.

It’s no surprise, really. When you’re arguably the most decorated Marine is history, it’s hard for people to keep the details straight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.


A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Hirohito toward the end of his life.

After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.

One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.

Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.

It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.

Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.

(U.S. Army photo)

“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.

“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”

Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.

After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations

A daring raid launched to recover or destroy a captured ship 212 years ago marks the most celebrated episode of the United States first overseas military operations. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and a small group of volunteers composed mostly of U.S. Marines covertly entered the port of Tripoli and successfully burned the captured USS Philadelphia.


 

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Stephen Decatur, American Naval Officer, badass.

 

Corsairs from what were known as the Barbary States, composed of of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, had been ravaging the Mediterranean for centuries, capturing merchant vessels and enslaving or ransoming their crews. Some estimates place the number of Europeans sold into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries by the Barbary pirates at well over a million.

American shipping had traditionally relied on British naval protection, but following the American Revolution the British let the Barbary States know that U.S. vessels were fair game. In 1785 Dey Mohammed of Algiers seized several American vessels and held their crews for ransom. The weak U.S. government at the time could not raise the money or the naval power to get the sailors back.

Though the U.S. managed to successfully conclude a treaty with Morocco, it wasn’t until until 1795 that an agreement to pay exorbitant tribute to Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis bought the captured sailors back. These tributes and later payments eventually began to consume up to 10 percent of the national budget.

Due to the situation with Algiers, Congress had authorized the construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy. When Tripoli declared open season on U.S. ships in 1801 over late payments of tribute, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a small fleet to enforce a blockade of Tripoli and sent envoys to Sicily in order to secure a base to operate from.

After several skirmishes the U.S. Navy was largely able to maintain the blockade, its ships unchallenged at sea. But in October of 1803 the brand-new frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground a reef while patrolling the port of Tripoli. The captain and crew were captured and taken ashore for later ransom, and the Philadelphia was anchored in the harbor.

In order to deny the use of the Philadelphia to Tripoli, Lt. Decatur, commander of the schooner USS Enterprise, came up with an elaborate plan. A small vessel from Tripoli had recently been captured and rechristened as the USS Intrepid. Decatur would disguise the Intrepid as a regular merchant ship, enter the harbor at night, and lead a small force of mostly U.S. Marines to recapture or burn the Philadelphia; a raid. The USS Syren would stand by to offer fire support.

 

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Philadelphia burning in Tripoli harbor.

 

On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the raid plan was a go. Sicilian volunteers who could speak Arabic functioned as pilots for the Intrepid, and they called out in Arabic as the Intrepid entered the harbor to allay the harbormasters suspicions. Decatur and his men were disguised as Maltese seamen and Arabs.

When the Intrepid pulled alongside the Philadelphia, they took the Tripolitan guards completely by surprise with swords and boarding pikes. Without the loss of a single man they recaptured the ship, killing many of the guards and sending the rest overboard, but the Philadelphia was in no condition to return to sea. After the raiders set the Philadelphia on fire, they reboarded the Intrepid and made their escape as the Syren and Tripolitan shore batteries exchanged fire. The operation had been a spectacular success and was widely celebrated back home.

The U.S. ransomed the crew of the Philadelphia back in 1805, and Decatur went on to have a distinguished career through the War of 1812, and as fleet commander led a second operation against the Barbary States in 1815. After defeating the Dey of Algiers, Decatur negotiated a series of treaties that ended the Barbary threat to U.S. ships for good, and marked the end of one the first overseas operations by the United States. Even today, the raid is one of the most memorable in US history.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.


In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.

Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Fun Fact: Many tourists came from Las Vegas to witness the nuclear blasts. Probably not the best idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.

There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous actor was a bomber pilot in WWII

Remember It’s a Wonderful Life? The 1946 movie where an angel visits a man to convince him not to kill himself? The actor who portrayed the man was Jimmy Stewart, and he was pretty fresh from bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe when he played the part. He also remained in the Air Force Reserve until he retired as a brigadier general.


5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix De Guerre with Palm to Col. Jimmy Stewart for exceptional services in the liberation.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart was actually drafted into the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man in March 1941. It should be noted that he was already a prominent actor with a number of movies, mostly romantic comedies, under his belt. As an enlisted man, he took extension courses in order to attain his commission and got his lieutenant bars a month after the Pearl Harbor attacks.

While many people of Stewart’s fame could’ve gotten by on morale tours or some cush duty stateside, Stewart volunteered for flight training, earning him a pilot slot. Piloting aircraft was extremely dangerous in World War II, and Stewart was striving for a job more dangerous than rifleman on the ground.

After nine months as an instructor pilot, Stewart got a billet in a unit training up for deployment to England, the 703rd Bomb Squadron. They flew across the Atlantic in late 1943 in new B-24Hs and began raining Hell down on the Third Reich.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart briefed bomber pilots before missions he wouldn’t fly in, and many of the crews reportedly found it amusing to get their instructions from a famous actor, sort of like if Hugh Grant went through crew drills with you before your convoys.

Stewart flew 20 combat missions with the 703rd as the squadron hit oil, ammunition, and chemical plants as well as German air bases and other military positions. He was promoted up the ranks until, by war’s end, he was chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Wing.

But Stewart didn’t bow out of military service just because the war was over. He remained in the Army Reserve and then the Air Force Reserve when it was formed. In 1959, he was promoted to brigadier general. But he still had one deployment and combat flight left in him.

In 1966, he rode along in a bomber over North Vietnam as an observer. He retired in 1968.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Brig. Gen. James Stewart.

(U.S. Air Force)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Deep below the Ukrainian port city of Odesa lies one of the largest underground labyrinths in the world. The Odesa catacombs date back to the early 1800s when limestone was mined for the city’s grand buildings. Through the years, the vast subterranean maze has served as a Cold War bunker, a World War II refuge for Soviet fighters, and a hideout for smugglers. Today, local explorers are still mapping the vast tunnel system and discovering new insights into the past.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Union Army added insult to injury with its battle flag

By the time the Army of the Ohio joined General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign in 1864, it had already repelled Confederate attacks on Ohio and marched South through Tennessee, chasing John Bell Hood through the Battles of Knoxville and Nashville. After burning Atlanta, the Union XXIII Corps, which made up the bulk of the Army of the Ohio, stopped to create a historical wonder: the world’s best battle trophy.


It turns out that Civil War combat isn’t very kind to the remnants of battle flags, especially those of the losing side. And after years of constant fighting, and a whole lot of winning, the XXIII Corps had a lot of captured Confederate flags.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

I don’t know if you see where this is going.

With all the wear and tear on their own battle flag, the Army of the Ohio decided they required a new flag to fly as they might soon be helping General Sherman March to the Sea. You don’t want to burn Savannah without looking your best. It’s a good thing Confederate battle flags decided to use the exact same colors the XXIII Corps required for its flag.

Using the best pieces of the captured enemy flags they had, the Corps decided to form a new battle flag of their own, made entirely from the shredded, battle-scarred remains of their defeated enemies’ banners. They even happened upon more of the cloth after capturing Macon, Ga. The finished product was actually made for them by the 98th Illinois Regiment.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

The flag itself was recently auctioned off for the low, low price of over ,000. Check it out over at Heritage Auctions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Victoria Cross recipient to survive earning the second medal

The United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat, the Victoria Cross, is notoriously difficult to earn. It is awarded for “conspicuous bravery… pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”

The prestigious Victoria Cross award.

Like the United States’ Medal of Honor, not many survive earning their nation’s highest honor. Even more rare is earning two of such medals. Since the Victoria Cross was introduced in 1857, some 1,358 medals have been awarded. Only three recipients have been awarded two. 

Only one of them survived earning his second. 

Charles Upham during his time of service. He would later go on to earn a Victoria Cross.

Charles Upham enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in 1939 at the age of 30. He was a seasoned soldier, a non-commissioned officer in New Zealand’s home army, then known as the “Territorial Force.” He signed on to the expeditionary army as a private, but his skills as a soldier soon saw him retain his previous rank of sergeant. 

By July 1940, he was headed for Egypt and was placed in an officer’s training unit. The New Zealander’s first action in World War II was to reinforce the Greek Army in the face of an imminent Nazi invasion. That invasion came on Apr. 6, 1941, which forced the Kiwis to withdraw to the island of Crete. 

It was on Crete that Upham earned his first Victoria Cross. The Battle of Crete was unique in the history of warfare in that it was led by a massive force of Nazi paratroopers. The British controlled the seas around Crete, but the Nazi luftwaffe maintained air superiority. The Nazis captured the island’s most important areas and soon they were reinforced by airlifted supplies and weapons. The British and Commonwealth forces would soon have to retreat to Egypt. 

But first, 2nd Lt. Upham and his men were going to make the Nazi pay for evey inch of Crete they could. 

In three separate actions, Upham destroyed four machine gun positions (often at close range), removed wounded men from the battlefield, and led his men to relieve a surrounded allied unit. Over the course of a week, he took out more than 70 enemy troops while wounded, exhausted, and suffering from dysentery. For this, he was awarded his first Victoria Cross. 

He and his men retreated to Egypt, where he recovered and recuperated. He saw combat again in 1942, at Minqar Qaim and at the First Battle of El-Alamein, where he would earn his second Victoria Cross.

Here, the British and Commonwealth forces would fight the Nazis under Erwin Rommel to a draw. Now a Captain, Upham was leading a company of New Zealanders on El Ruweisat Ridge. They were part of the reserve force but soon lost communications with the headquarters. Not knowing what was happening, Upham himself went to assess the situation. 

He found enemy machine gunners, which he was able to evade. Most importantly, he reestablished communications. 

His unit was ordered to take their objectives at dawn on the second day of fighting, but found it was more heavily defended than they’d anticipated. His company was pitted against four machine gun nests and four tanks. Upham led the company in a flanking maneuver against the Nazi strongpoints. 

Upham destroyed one of the enemy tanks on his own, taking a bullet to the arm for his trouble. That bullet broke his arm at the elbow. He then moved forward to cover the retreat of some of his men who had been cut off by an enemy counterattack. As they enemy retook the objective, he fought back as his men reconsolidated. One would think he had already earned a second Victoria Cross, but he wasn’t finished.

After being patched up at an aid post, he rejoined his unit, which again began to take heavy artillery fire, wounding him again. This time his position was overrun and he was captured. Only six men from his unit survived the battle. 

Superior officers in Upham’s chain of command recommended him for another Victoria Cross for not only his actions at El-Alamein, but also his previous engagement at Minqar Qaim. Instead they rolled both events into the same recommendation to present to King George Vi. 

Charles Upham in his later years after earning two Victoria crosses.
Upham in 1984.

The New Zealander recovered from his wounds and spent most of the rest of the war in POW camps, where he became known as an extreme escape risk. He eventually found himself in Colditz Castle, a prison for enemy officers from which escape was notoriously difficult.

Articles

The 5 greatest outnumbered victories in the history of warfare

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? This is especially true when you’re the underdog. Throughout history, armies have committed to fighting in the face of overwhelming odds. There are many reasons for this. Maybe it was to buy time for a greater force to escape. Or maybe it was because a small army was all that stood between a nation and its ruin.

No matter what the reason, the list of underdog victories is an engaging one, no matter why they chose to fight or why the army was so outnumbered in the first place. 

Here are five of the best outnumbered victories in military history. 

1. The English at Agincourt

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Battle of Agincourt, Wikimedia Commons

If there is one clear reason why an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 English troops were able to decimate a much larger French force on their home turf, it’s the technological advancement of the longbow. The French Army may have shown up with 15,000 men, but they left with a whole lot fewer. 

As Henry V rode into battle with the handful of troops that were using longbows, the English archers rained death on the Frenchmen. The French, wounded and sinking into the mud wearing heavy armor, were easy pickings for the Englishmen. When the archers ran out of arrows, they joined in on the slaughter. The French lost more than 6,000 men and were beaten so badly they had to marry off a princess to Henry to stop the war. 

2. The Nazis at Belgrade

Although we are loath to give the Waffen-SS credit for anything besides being grade-A scum, the 1941 capture of Belgrade was probably a special operations coup that would be talked about forever, if only anyone else had won. Belgrade has been destroyed 44 times in its centuries-long history, so perhaps at the very least, this saved some civilian lives.

Using just six men, the SS infiltrated the heavily-defended city and fought its way to the town square, capturing Yugoslavian troops along the way. Once there, they raised the German flag. When the mayor saw the raised flag and the captured troops, the Nazis made a bluff, claiming the city was already overrun. The mayor surrendered the city and its defenders. 

3. Napoleon at Jena-Auerstedt

In total, the French Emperor was outnumbered by more than two to one against Prussia and Saxony at Jena. Complicating his situation further was the fact that his army was divided. An entire corps, 27,000 men, was to the north of his main force. Luckily, his opponents were divided as well. If anyone knows how to conquer a divided foe, it’s Napoleon. 

Also in Napoleon’s favor was the fact that his corps commander was Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout, one of the finest field marshals in military history. Prussia and Saxony weren’t so lucky. Their commanders were old and slow-moving, which allowed the two brilliant French leaders to take the initiative and occupy Prussia, taking just a fraction of the casualties they inflicted. 

4. Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Oda Nobunaga (Wikimedia Commons)

Japan’s military history gets overlooked by armchair historians when it’s not about World War II. But anyone interested in military history should take a look at the Shogunates because it’s awesome. Oda Nobunaga was just a local warlord when Imagawa Yoshimoto raised an army of 30,000 men to topple the feudal government based in Kyoto. Despite fielding just 3,000, Oda decided his best strategy was to go on the offensive. 

Oda Nobunaga and his men made the appearance of a much larger force using just banners and flags before secretly leaving their camp on the morning of the battle. By afternoon, Imagawa’s troops were busy celebrating their string of wins during a hot day, unaware they were being flanked. They weren’t even dressed for battle. Oda’s men routed the enemy army and Imagawa was killed. 

5. The Parthians at Carrhae

Money can’t buy happiness or military glory. When Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, marched 43,000 troops into Parthia (modern-day Iran), he did it without the consent of the Senate or the advice of military allies. He wanted to expand the power of his triumvirate by placing a puppet king on the Parthian throne. After all, there were only 10,000 Parthians in his way. 

Crassus learned a lot that day. He learned that overwhelming infantry numbers don’t assure victory, he learned about super heavy cavalry, and he learned that fast-moving horse archers are hard for a legion to fight against. It would have been a good lesson to take forward, if 30,000 Romans hadn’t been killed or captured in the effort. Crassus was one of them. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the closest brushes with nuclear war was Russia vs China

As they’re now America’s two top rivals, it’s easy to forget that China and Russia aren’t allies and actually have decades of regional rivalry and have been at each other’s throats more than once. In fact, in 1970, the Soviet Union started asking around about whether or not anyone would really care if they launched a preemptive nuclear strike against China.


Ya know, for world security and all that.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

China’s first nuclear test in 1964 set off a series of dominoes that almost convinced Russia to nuke it.

(Public domain)

Russia and China try to smooth over their regional troubles in the common interest of trying to constrain America, even when Russia was the Soviet Union and the year was 1950. Russia and China sent pilots to North Korea to help fight American air power, downing and killing U.S. pilots. It was a real high-point for Soviet-Sino Relations.

But at the time, China was basically to the Soviet Union what North Korea is to China today. The Soviet Union was much larger and stronger, and it was embroiled in a battle of superpowers with the U.S. China was welcome on the playground as long as it was playing by the rules and backing up Soviet interests. But China wanted to become a nuclear power just like its big brother.

And so, in 1964, China detonated its first device, becoming the fifth country to become a nuclear power.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Russian boats try to knock a Chinese man off of his craft in the Wasuli River during the 1969 border clashes between the two countries.

(China Photo Service, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This combined with already simmering tensions over border conflicts and brought the two countries’ relations to a low boil. Their troops fought skirmishes against one another on their shared border while both sides greatly built up their troops and their stockpiles of less-than-nuclear weapons like biological and chemical threats.

In 1969, this grew into the Sino-Soviet border conflict, a seven-month undeclared war between the two sides from March to September of that year. Moscow seemed to hope that internal divisions in China would distract Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, the top leaders of China’s Communist Party at the time.

Instead, China called international attention to the clashes and stared Russia down. And on Zhenbao Island, Chinese and Russian troops drew serious blood with 58 dead on the Russian side and 29 dead from China. So, that summer, highly placed Soviets, including the son-in-law of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, began telling their counterparts in other nations that it might become necessary to take out China’s growing atomic arsenal by force.

In April they said that, hey, maybe the best way to do that was with surgical nuclear strikes. It was the only way to restore the peace, after all.

China and Russia agreed to bilateral talks in 1970 that eventually restored peace, so it’s possible that this was a bluff from the Soviet leaders. Maybe they believed that the threat of nuclear war could end the border clashes with no need to actually send any missiles or bombers up.

But it’s also quite possible that the threat was real. While we in the West like to think of the Cold War as an all-consuming grapple between America and the Soviet Union, the Soviets were actually holding three times as many military exercises focused on their eastern border with China in the 1960s as they spent practicing for war with the U.S. and Europe.

So, yes, the world’s first nuclear war could’ve been a clash between the Soviet Union and China, but that was thankfully averted. Unfortunately, China watched for weaknesses in the Soviet Union and, as the bloc started to crumble in the late 1980s, China made its move. While the Soviets tried to hold themselves together and America was preoccupied with finishing the fight and planning the post-Soviet world, China began an arms buildup.

And, uh, they’ve gotten stronger now. Including the nukes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why artillerymen should bring back their distinctive ‘Redlegs’

Every combat arms branch within the United States Army comes with a long legacy. And with that legacy comes an accompanying piece of flair for their respective dress uniforms. Infantrymen rock a baby blue fourragere on their right shoulder, cavalrymen still wear their spurs and stetsons, and even Army aviators sport their very own badges in accordance with their position in the unit.

But long before the blue cords and spurs, another combat arms branch had their own unique uniform accouterment — one that has since been lost to time. Artillerymen once had scarlet red piping that ran down the side of their pant legs. In fact, these stripes were once so iconic that it gave rise to a nickname for artillerymen: “redlegs.

Due to wartime restrictions, artillerymen stopped wearing the red piping during WWI — and it never made a comeback.


5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

If you ask any young artilleryman at Fort Sill why they’re called “redlegs,” they’ll probably just look at you funny.

(Department of Defense photo by Margo Wright)

This fact is especially tragic because artillerymen wearing red stripes is one of the oldest military traditions of its kind. The blue cord of the infantry can only be traced as far back as the Korean War and cavalry’s stetson wasn’t invented until 1865. Meanwhile, artillerymen were rocking that red piping as far back as the 1830s.

During the 1800s, the role of the artilleryman was much more complex than most other roles in the Army at the time. Not just any bum off the street could walk into a job that required precise calculations to load the proper amount of gunpowder and fire the cannon at the perfect angle to hit the intended target.

While cannons were way too massive to carry into many fights, seeing the arrival of artillerymen meant that the U.S. Army meant business. Just seeing that red piping as artillerymen arrived on the scene during the Civil War was enough to inspire friendly troops and strike fear into enemies. The role of the artillerymen was crucial in the battles of Buena Vista, Bull Run, Palo Alto, and San Juan Hill.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

I guess the only real debate here is if you give it to ADA as well or exclusively to field artillery.

Today, the role of the artilleryman has been reduced greatly. It’s not uncommon for artillerymen who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq to have more stories about their time on dismounted foot patrols with the infantrymen than ones about removing grid squares from the face of the Earth — after all, counter insurgency mostly forbids that level of wanton destruction.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still many artilleryman who’ve conducted fire missions into actual combat, but that number grows smaller and smaller with each passing year.

As field artillery units grow less common, their heritage is put at risk. At the same time, it seems as though the Army is increasingly leaning onto its historic roots for uniform ideas — as seen with the reintroduction of Army Greens.

Bringing back the distinctive red piping for artillerymen’s dress blues wouldn’t be that drastic of a change — or even that expensive — but it would be fitting. Dress blues are meant to honor the legacy of the soldiers of the American Revolution and Union Armies. What better way to do that than with an homage to the classic?

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what the Coast Guard was doing during the Civil War

As it would in nearly every war in U.S. history, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role in the Civil War. During this conflict, the Coast Guard’s ancestor agency of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service performed a variety of naval combat operations.

By 1860, the Revenue Cutter Service’s fleet was spread across the nation, with cutters stationed in every major American seaport. After the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, the nation began splitting apart. During these months, men in the service like their counterparts in the Navy and the Army had to choose between serving the federal government or with the seceding Southern states, so the service lost most of its cutters in the South. For example, the captain of the Mobile-based cutter Lewis Cass turned over his vessel to state authorities, forcing his officers and crew to travel overland through Secessionist territory to reach the North.


Regarding the Southern-leaning captain of cutter Robert McClelland, stationed in New Orleans, Treasury Secretary John Dix telegraphed the executive officer in January of 1861, that “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” The phrase later became the basis for a song popular in the North as shown in this newspaper clipping.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

The commanding officer of the New Orleans-based cutter McClelland refused a direct order from Treasury Secretary John Dix to sail his vessel into Northern waters. Dix next ordered the executive officer to arrest the captain, assume command of the cutter and sail the vessel into Northern waters, indicating that the captain should be considered a mutineer if he interfered with the transfer of command. Dix ended his message by writing, “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot,” a quote that would become famous as a rallying message for Northerners. Unfortunately for Dix, the second-in-command of the McClelland was also a Southern sympathizer and the cutter was turned over to local authorities. In addition to five cutters turned over to Southern authorities, Union forces had to destroy a cutter at the Norfolk Navy Yard before Confederate forces overran the facility.

The war required a major increase in the size of the cutter fleet not only to replace lost cutters, but also to support increased marine safety and law enforcement operations. Six cutters sailed from the Great Lakes for East Coast bases and nine former cutters in the U.S. Coast Survey were transferred back to the Revenue Cutter Service for wartime duty. The service also purchased the steamers Cuyahoga, Miami, Reliance, Northerner and William Seward and built six more steam cutters, which joined the fleet by 1864. These new cutters interdicted rampant smuggling brought on by the war, supplied guardships to Northern ports, and helped enforce the wartime blockade.

Revenue cutters taken by Confederate forces were mainly used in naval operations. Union revenue cutters served in a variety of combat missions. For example, the Harriett Lane, considered the most advanced revenue cutter at the start of the war, fired the Civil War’s first naval shot in April 1861 while attempting to relieve federal forces at Fort Sumter. During the ensuing months, Harriett Lane received orders for escort duty, blockade operations and shore bombardment. In August 1861, the cutter served a central role in the capture of forts at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, and was transferred to the Navy to serve as a command ship for Adm. David Dixon Porter in the Union naval campaign against New Orleans.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane forces the merchant steamer Nashville to show its colors during the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
(Illustration by Coast Guard artist Howard Koslow)

The cutter Miami also served as a kind of command ship during the war. In late April 1862, Lincoln, War Secretary Edwin Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase cruised from Washington, D.C., to Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Soon thereafter, Lincoln ordered the bombardment of Sewell’s Point, near Norfolk, in preparation for an assault on that city. On May 9, Lincoln ordered a reconnaissance party from the cutter to examine the shore near Norfolk in preparation for landing troops. The next day, Miami covered the landing of six Union regiments, which quickly captured Norfolk after Confederate forces evacuated the city and the Norfolk Navy Yard.

The gunboat Naugatuck proved unique cutter in the service’s history. Given to the Revenue Cutter Service by New Jersey inventor Edwin Stevens, the gunboat served with the James River Flotilla. In May 1861, Naugatuck assisted in an effort to draw the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia into a battle in the open waters of Hampton Roads. After the capture of its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia’s crew destroyed their trapped ironclad and Naugatuck steamed up the James River with the USS Monitor and other shallow draft warships to threaten Richmond. Naugatuck’s main armament, 100-pound Parrott gun, burst during the subsequent attack on the earthen fort at Drewry’s Bluff and the cutter withdrew to Hampton Roads with the rest of the Union warships. Naugatuck served the remainder of the war as a guardship in New York Harbor.

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines
This painting depicts the cutter Morris on patrol in July 1861, when its crew boarded the merchant ship Benjamin Adams, while carrying 650 Scottish and Irish immigrants at the time.

As with all wars, the Civil War had a transformative effect on the military services. The war transformed the Revenue Cutter Service from a collection of obsolete sailing vessels to a primarily steam-driven fleet of cutters. The important operations supported by cutters also cemented the role of the service in such missions as convoy duty, blockade operations, port security, coastal patrol and brown-water combat operations. These missions remained core competencies of the Coast Guard in future combat operations. The Civil War operations of the service also reinforced the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service’s reputation as a legitimate branch of the U.S. military.

This article originally appeared on Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information