How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

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


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

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

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

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
“Let’s get into a straight line and walk slowly forward to attack.” A good idea, surprisingly.
(Thure de Thulstrup, Library of Congress)

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

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

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

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Minie balls feature a small cavity on the bottom that would fill with hot gasses and expand when fired. This allowed the rounds to be small enough to be quickly loaded but then become large enough to grip the barrels of rifles.
(Mike Cumpston, public domain)

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

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

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

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Reenactors during a rifle firing demonstration.
(National Parks Service)

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

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

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

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

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
You don’t want to end up in bayonet range, but you want to be ready if you do.
(Kurz and Allison, Library of Congress)

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Godzilla exists thanks to this Japanese prisoner of war

With the new Godzilla movie coming out this Friday (May 31), we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone that we only have the iconic movie monster—or the more than dozen other kaiju of the Godzilla universe—thanks to the survival of a particular Japanese platoon sergeant who was taken prisoner by Chinese forces in World War II.


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While we don’t typically advocate the success of Japanese soldiers in World War II (they were fighting America, after all), I think most of us can agree that Ishiro Honda’s survival was a lucky get. He was an up-and-coming director in Japan in the 1930s who was working for a popular director and film instructor at the time, Kajiro Yamamoto.

But in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army came calling, and Honda was drafted as an infantryman who served multiple tours in his country’s invasion of China, a republic and ally of America in World War II. Most biographies of Honda paint him as a reluctant member of that military, serving only because it was demanded of him, not because he believed in Imperial Japan’s invasions or fascist ideology.

In between combat tours in China, he continued to make movies, predominantly in Tokyo. One movie that he cited as an inspiration during the war was the propaganda film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, which he thought had great special effects.

But the reluctant warrior eventually fell to the realities of the prolonged war. After all, Chinese citizens fighting for their survival didn’t particularly care if the guys firing at them were reluctant or not. And in 1945, Chinese troops were able to capture Honda.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Ishiro Honda holds a Godzilla model while filming his iconic movie.

(Public domain)

He would spend the next six months in confinement, learning of the atomic bombings and the Japanese surrender from a Chinese prison. He returned to Japan in 1946 and traveled through Hiroshima, one of the cities that suffered a direct hit from an atomic bomb.

Over the following years, he worked predominantly in commercials and historical films before getting his big break into directing narrative movies in 1953 with the movie Operation Kamikaze. During this time, Honda would go into the ruins of Japanese cities, including Tokyo, to film scenes in the rubble.

Honda’s success on Operation Kamikaze led to his being tapped for an ambitious new movie named Gojira, the story of a massive monster lizard that attacked Japan. The film looked at the country’s military history and ongoing occupation by the U.S., and Honda helped write the movie as well as direct it.

For anyone who didn’t catch that, Gojira was Godzilla, and Honda’s success creating and directing the movie would change his career. It set a new record for Japanese film budgets at the time, and it was an international hit translated into multiple languages and even re-shot and re-cut in America with a Hollywood star at the time, Raymond Burr.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

A still image from the trailer for Mosura, the Japanese film centered on the giant moth Mothra.

(Public Domain)

The former Japanese soldier did not rest and bask in the praise, though, he catapulted from Godzilla to other large monster movies, helping to create and popularize the kaiju film genre characterized by massive monsters, helping create the movies and characters such as Rodan and Mothra, both of whom will appear in the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters on Friday. He also created King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962.

He directed dozens of movies over his career before his death in 1982. Today, the kaiju he helped to create are still intriguing and entertaining audiences around the world.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII beer run was the greatest of all time

It took sixty five years for one member of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles to learn that his actions during the Battle of Bastogne were legendary, but not for heroism or bravery. It all started with a simple request for a beer – and the greatest beer run the world will ever see.


Vincent Speranza, Vince to all that know him, had joined the Army right after graduating high school in 1943 and was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne as a replacement soldier while the unit recovered from Operation Market-Garden.

Related video:

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Shortly after training, Vince found himself in a foxhole in the middle of Bastogne, Belgium – cold, short on supplies, food, and ammunition. And surrounded by German troops.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
A roadblock is set up with 30 caliber heavy machine gun, and a tank destroyer is ready for action near Bastogne, Belgium, Dec. 10, 1944.

“The first eight days we got pounded” by German artillery, he recalled. “But this was the 101st. They could not get past (us). They never set one foot in Bastogne.”

On the second day, his friend Joe Willis took shrapnel to both legs and was pulled back to a makeshift combat hospital inside a mostly destroyed church. Vince tracked him down and asked if there was anything he could do for his friend.

The answer was simple – Joe wanted a beer.

Also Read: This is how British pilots made beer runs for troops in Normandy

Vince told him it was impossible. The 101st was surrounded by Germans with no supplies coming in, they were taking artillery fire every day, and the town had been bombarded. But Joe wanted a beer.

Moving through the town, Vince, from blown-out tavern to blown-out tavern, went searching until serendipity hit. At the third tavern he hit, Vince pulled on a tap and beer came flowing out. He filled his helmet – the same one used as a makeshift shovel and Porta Potty in the foxhole – with all the beer he could handle and returned to the hospital.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Vincent Speranza with some bottles of Airborne Beer. (Photo from GI Jobs.)

Mission accomplished. Vince poured beer for Joe and some of those around him. When the beer ran out, they asked him to go for more.

As he returned to the hospital, Vince was confronted by a Major who demanded to know what he was doing.

“Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” was the paratrooper’s simple answer.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Airborne Beer in action. (Photo from GI Jobs.)

An ass-chewing about the dangers of giving beer to men with gut and chest wounds lead to Vince putting his helmet back on his head, beer pouring down his uniform, and heading out.

While that could have been the end of it, the story continues 65 years later, when Vince returned to Bastogne for an anniversary celebration and learned that his epic beer run had been turned into Airborne beer, typically drunk out of a ceramic mug in the shape of a helmet.

Hear the story from the Airborne legend himself:

(Erminio Modesti | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

From November 1947 to December 1948, Camp Pine, which would evolve into Fort Drum, hosted the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division for Exercise Snowdrop. The exercise was the largest over-snow airborne maneuver that the Army had undergone at the time and was designed to validate equipment, logistics and tactics for airborne operations in a sub-zero combat environment like the one that the paratroopers would experience if the United States were to go to war with the Soviet Union. Sadly, not all of the soldiers that participated saw the exercise through to its end.

During Snowdrop, building T-2278, a two-story wooden building, served as an officer barracks. The building housed many WWII veterans like Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, Lt. Rudolph Feres and Capt. Francis Turner. Swilley had earned two Purple Hearts during the war, and Feres and Turner each earned three Bronze Stars.

In the early morning hours of December 10, 1947, the officers in building T-2278 were awoken by thick smoke and loud shouts from the second-floor hallway. The shouts came from Turner, who was first alerted to the fire by the smoke at approximately 0230 hrs. “Turner could have escaped at that point, having done his duty to warn his fellow Soldiers, but he did not,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander. “Ignoring his own safety, Capt. Turner chose to remain in the building to ensure each officer heard his alarm and to help the wounded among them to escape. Only after every wounded man was out of the building — which by this time was completely engulfed in flames — did he turn his attention to his own safety.”

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
The burned-out of building T-2278 after the fire (U.S. Army)

Survivor accounts lead Army historians to believe that, after Turner ran through the building to alert his comrades of the danger, he attempted to jump to safety from a second-story window. Tragically, his wedding ring got caught on a nail in the window and Turner was left hanging amidst the searing flames. He was eventually rescued by Pine Camp firefighters, but was left with severe burns; nearly 90 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns.

Thanks to Turner, six officers escaped the flames unharmed. In addition to Turner, four other officers were injured but managed to escape. Capt. Robert Dodge, Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, and Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the building. While the other injured officers were treated and sent home, Turner had been so badly burned that he remained at Pine Camp hospital for treatment. After 18 days, he succumbed to his wounds.

Many factors contributed to the tragedy of the Pine Camp barracks fire. First, the roving fire watchman saw smoke but believed that the fire was in a different building. Second, the fire department took about 45 minutes to arrive on site. Third, two-thirds of the firefighters had less than three months of experience. Fourth, the barracks fire was determined to be a quick and violent “flash-fire” that burned rapidly and with very little notice. It took three hours, three fire engines, and 1,950 feet of water line to extinguish the blaze.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
The death toll would have been much higher if not for Turner (U.S. Army)

The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Duane Quates, an archaeologist with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Branch, speculates that the fire could have been started by a faulty boiler or a careless cigarette. “This fire is the only structural fire on Fort Drum that had fatalities,” Quates said. “Every other structural fire may have had injuries, but they never had fatalities.” He also noted that the fire was a catalyst for modern fire safety measures like self-closing doors, permanent escape ladders, and heat raiser alarms.

On August 19, 1948, the four widows of the Pine Camp barracks fire sued the United States, claiming that their husbands’ deaths were the result of negligence due to a faulty heater. Their cases were dismissed by a Northern New York District Court judge who stated that the government was not liable for injuries that service members sustain while on active duty under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The next year, Lt. Feres’ widow, Bernice Feres, brought her case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the case was dismissed. Feres persisted and, the next year, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The rulings of the previous courts were upheld and her case was dismissed again. This series of cases led to the controversial Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from collecting damages for injuries sustained while on active duty and prohibits family members from filing wrongful death suits in the case of a service member’s death. To this day, service members and their families continue to challenge the Feres Doctrine.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Col. Rosenberg unveils the historic marker with Carolyn Leps and Elizabeth Barbee, Turner’s two surviving daughters (U.S. Army)

On August 27, 2013, Fort Drum dedicated a historic marker to the memory of the men killed in the Pine Camp barracks fire. Still, knowledge of the fire and Turner’s heroic actions are largely unknown. Years of historical research into the event continues today. Joseph “Sepp” Scanlin, the Fort Drum Museum director, says that the museum remains dedicated to its efforts for Turner to receive a military award for his actions during the fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Navy ‘ace of aces’ shut down a 60-plane attack

Navy pilot David S. McCampbell, a commander at the time, set the single mission aerial combat record when he led a two-plane flight against a 60-plane Japanese attack and shot down at least nine of the enemy himself, forcing the Japanese forces back before they could fire on a single American ship.


How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Navy Capt. David McCampbell as a pilot in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

McCampbell was the commander of the Navy’s Air Group Fifteen, often known as the “Fabled Fifteen,” on Oct. 24, 1944, when a large Japanese force was spotted near the USS Essex during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese would have been nearly guaranteed a victory against the Essex since no aircraft were ready to defend the carrier.

Crews rushed to prepare McCampbell’s Hellcat and the commander jumped into his bird before it could even be entirely filled with fuel. McCampbell took off with just one other fighter to face approximately 60 Japanese planes.

In the air, McCampbell proved his reputation as one of the Navy’s fiercest pilots. He was able to engage the Japanese out of range of the carrier and shot down nine of them while disrupting the formations of the rest. The Japanese eventually turned back without firing a single time on the Essex.

The pilot would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. His nine aerial victories that day are believed to have taken place in 95 minutes, meaning he averaged about one enemy plane shot down every 10 minutes.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Navy Capt. David McCampbell’s plane undergoes maintenance on board USS Essex off Saipan on July 30, 1944. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Then, the very next day, McCampbell and the Fabled Fifteen went on the attack. McCampbell acted as the targeting coordinator and piloted one of the planes in a massive assault with planes from three task groups. The American formation destroyed an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and two destroyers while also damaging five other large ships. He later received the Navy Cross for this engagement.

McCampbell’s reputation as a feared pilot was earned well before Oct. 1944, too. In June of that year, he led a flight of U.S. defenders against an 80-plane attack by Japanese forces, disrupting the attack and shooting down seven of the enemy. In September, he led an attack on Japanese ships, shot down four enemy planes, and heavily damaged a merchant ship.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Navy Commander David S. McCampbell’s plane had 34 Japanese flags to represent his victories over that many Japanese planes. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate Second Class Paul T. Erickson)

By the end of the war, McCampbell was credited with 34 victories over enemy planes and went down in history as being the only man to earn a Medal of Honor and a Navy Cross in two days. He was promoted to the rank of captain before his retirement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Russians were all drunk when Trump Tomahawked Syria

When Syrian President Bashar al-Asad used a sarin nerve gas attack on his own citizens during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump was pissed. According to veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, Trump wanted to kill Asad for the attack, using a targeted leadership strike.


But cooler heads prevailed, and then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis convinced the President to hit Syrian airfields with a series of Tomahawk missiles instead.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Sparing them from getting hit by Mattis’ personal Tomahawk.

The Russians came to Syria in September 2015, at a time when things looked pretty bleak for the regime, good for the loose confederation of rebels, and great for the Islamic State. Almost immediately, Russian intervention began to make the difference for the Syrian government forces. By the end of 2017, the government had retaken key cities and areas from both rebel groups and ISIS fighters.

Also the end of 2017, the Russians began to make their presence at air bases in the country permanent. That’s who the United States called in April 2017, delivering a warning that some of America’s finest manufactured products were being forcibly delivered to a Syrian airbase that night.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

There goes id=”listicle-2636430379″.8 million worth of forcible export.

Nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles were fired from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross of the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea that night. The Pentagon ordered the Navy to deliver a warning to Russian troops in the area right before the attack hit at 3:45 in the morning. According to Woodward’s source, the Russian airfield troop who picked up the phone sounded like he was dead drunk.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

“That’s our secret, captain… we’re always drunk.”

The warning worked, and the attack reportedly killed no Russian troops at the Shayrat Air Base, though it did damage and destroy aircraft and missile batteries, on top of killing nine Syrian government troops and seven civilians. The U.S. attack purposely avoided attacking a sarin gas storage facility on the base. The base itself was targeted because it was the source of Asad’s sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.

Warning Russia of the pending attack may have given the Syrian Air Force notice to shelter its planes and prepare for the attack, as it was noted that many of the planes there survived the assault and its airfields were operational again less than 24 hours later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War troops ate so much mutton it went out of style

Imagine trying to feed literally tens of thousands of men. You and a couple of dozen others are in charge of buying all the food necessary fill all those bellies as they march across continents or charge from trench to trench and burned 4,600 calories per day, almost 30 percent more than a farmer would need. You would likely take whatever food was available in large quantities, and you might feed the men so much of it that they never wanted to see it again.


How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

World War 2 propaganda poster shows soldier receiving a massive piece of freshly cooked meat under the slogan “After the fighters, you come first. SHARE THE MEAT.”

(National Archives and Records Administration)

That’s what, allegedly, happened with American troops and mutton in World War II. While troops got some meat from local farms and wild game when they were lucky or had particularly resourceful supply officers in the unit, most of their calories and most of their meat was shipped from the states.

American farmers generated as much food as they could, and it was canned, jarred, concentrated, preserved, and more and sent to the fronts. One of the meats that preserved and canned well and was widely available was mutton, and so it was shipped forward by the ton.

But while canned mutton was stable and safe to eat, it wasn’t exactly desirable. And that’s especially true since military buyers weren’t discerning customers, and so they were often delivered particularly gamy and poor meat. And so American troops ran into the MRE problem of today but on a much greater scale.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Mutton looks so delicious in the wild.

(Pixabay, lfmatac)

Anyone who has had an MRE can tell you it’s not that bad for food that can be safe on a shelf for years. Most of the components taste fine, the nutrition is pretty balanced for someone who is expected to work and sweat all day, and it can be transported easily.

But while an MRE tastes OK the first couple of times or first dozen times you eat one, eating one every day gets repetitive. Eating two a day becomes onerous. It becomes a task that you force yourself through, not a meal, not a welcome morale boost or a respite from the fear and monotony.

Now imagine that, instead of 24 separate meals like the MRE program offers, you had only a few meals, all of them based around meat. And so you would be eating that canned mutton multiple times per week, potentially as much as a couple of days a week. Poor cuts of meat, canned for weeks or months or years, and then delivered to troops that had been eating it repetitively for years.

Oddly enough, when troops got home from war, some of them told their families that they never wanted to see the stuff again.

And some allege that it’s because of this that mutton fell out of favor in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, in Britain, after the war. The British drop off was even more noticeable because the country had been so culturally tied to sheep and the wool industry for centuries before World War II.

But there are some historians who allege that the story is overblown, that the damage to the mutton industry was already in the cards. Wool clothing gave way, increasingly, to cotton and synthetic fibers after the war, and so no one was raising sheep to adulthood for wool. That reduced the sizes of the herds that mutton was harvested from. And lamb, harvested from younger sheep, became more popular.

Here’s hoping the MRE pizza is properly rotated with other meals. We’d hate to have that ruined for an entire generation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 terrifying things US troops faced in Vietnam’s jungles

Anyone who’s ever deployed can tell you there’s more to worry about in the field than just the enemy. While of course the North Vietnamese were the primary concern of American troops in the Vietnam War, just being in the jungle presented an entirely unexpected series of its own challenges – like giant centipedes.


Rumors persisted about things like fragging, rampant drug use, and even the appearance of Bigfoot in Vietnam. But when US troops weren’t earning the Medal of Honor while completely stoned, they were fighting off things that only previously appeared in their nightmares.

Related: This is the story of US troops who think they saw Bigfoot in Vietnam

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Bring on the flamethrower.

Giant insects

As seen in the cover photo of this post, the creepy crawlers of the jungle have the space and the food necessary to grow to an insane level. That guy in the photo is Scolopendra subspinipes, also known as the Vietnamese centipede, Chinese redhead, or Jungle Centipede. It’s extremely aggressive, and its venomous bite hurts like hell, sources say. But the fun doesn’t stop with centipedes, giant scorpions were also known to bother American troops in bivouac.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Weaver ants

Imagine you’re in some kind of tank or armored vehicle, busting down trees in the jungle when suddenly, you bust down the wrong tree, one filled with a nest of red ants. These buggers were reportedly immune to the issued bug spray and, given the choice between NVA small arms fire and dealing with red ants in the tank, tank crews would either bail on the tank or man the vehicle completely naked. They were often referred to as “communist ants” because they were red in color and never seemed to attack the Vietnamese.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Very pretty, but also what the KGB used to kill dissidents.

Debilitating plants

Troops in Vietnam were sometimes lifted right up out of troop carriers and other vehicles by low-hanging vines that seemed innocent at first, but as soon as they were touched, constricted around an unsuspecting driver, grabbing them by the arms or neck. They became known as the “wait-a-minute” vines. But that’s just the beginning.

Vietnam’s most beautiful trees and flowers are also its deadliest. Heartbreak Grass, Flame Lillies, Twisted Cord Flowers, and Bark Cloth Trees are all powerful enough to kill a human or cause blindness upon contact or accidental ingestion, which is more common than one might think.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Bring that flamethrower back over here.

Venomous snakes

You know what kinds of animals love a hot, humid place with lots of shade? Reptiles and amphibians, both of which Vietnam has in droves. Vietnam has so many snakes, American troops were advised to just assume they were all deadly – because most of them are. The country is filled with Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, and more. The snakes that weren’t venomous were all giant constrictors, still very capable of murdering you in your jungle sleep.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Yes, troops were mauled by tigers.

Large wildlife

Since we’re talking about giant jungle snakes, we should discuss the other giant creatures that inhabit the wilds of Vietnam. Southeast Asia is also home to aggressive tiger species, leopards, and bears. Those are just the traditional predators. There are also elephants, water buffaloes, and gaurs, giant cows, who will go on a murder rampage that an M-16 isn’t likely to stop.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Great Falls Nike Fire Control Site W-83 played a critical role in the creation of GPS

During the Cold War’s arms buildup, there were 13 Nike Missile sites erected around the greater Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. Project Nike was a U.S. Army project proposed in 1945 by Bell Laboratories to develop a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The project created America’s first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax. Here’s how the Great Falls Nike Fire Control Site W-83 played a critical role in the creation of GPS.

The first successful Nike test happened in November 1951 when a Nike Ajax intercepted a drone B-17 Flying Fortress. The Army initially ordered 1,000 missiles and 60 sets of equipment. By 1953, the first missile had been deployed to Fort Meade, Maryland. By 162, the DoD had built up an additional 240 launch sites across the country. Most of the missiles replaced radar-guided anti-aircraft guns. 

Each of the 13 launch sites located around Washington D.C. included three parts, separated by about 900 meters. One part contained the Integrated Fire Control radar systems used to detect incoming targets. The second part held one to three underground missile magazines that could service four launch assemblies. This site had a crew of 109 officers who operated 24 hours a day. The third part of the site was an administrative area and contained a battery headquarters, barracks, DFAC, motor pool, and rec area. 

Nike sites were organized in defensive positions and placed near large population centers as well as strategic locations that might come under attack, like long-range bomber bases, nuclear plants, and ICBM sites. 

The Great Falls Nike Fire Control site was built in 1954 after being purchased from a dairy farmer. It was activated just a year later, all in an attempt to ensure that the national capital region could be properly defended against air attacks. The 13 sites included everything the military might need to wage war. Integrated Fire Control Sites were located downrange from launch areas, and the majority of the sites all operated first-generation Nike Ajax missiles.

Ajax missiles are massive and weigh around 2,400 pounds. They’re 34 feet long and have a range of 25 miles. After being fired, they can reach a max speed of Mach 2.3. 

Military fears about defending the metro-DC area quickly faded. By 1962, the Great Falls Nike Missile Launch Site and the Integrated Fire Control Site ceased operations. Then it became a research station for the Army’s Map Services. Research focused on geo-location and navigation developments, and it was at the Great Falls site that the Map Service initiated a satellite tracking program that would eventually become part of the Defense Mapping Agency. 

This tracking system is the foundation of what we now know as GPS. The data that the Mapping Agency collected allowed geospatial scientists to establish geographical reference points on the Earth’s surface. This knowledge allowed the researchers to refine their estimates of the true shape of the planet as well as develop a better understanding of the variations in the gravitational field.

In the years following the deactivation, the launch site’s buildings and other structures were left to rot. Weaponry and other harmful elements were removed, but the government didn’t tear down any of the surrounding buildings. As suburban development reached out of urban D.C. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of the launch building sites were finally torn down. Missile magazine hatches were buried where contractors found them. One of the missile launch sites was overtaken by the Fairfax County Park Authority and transformed into the Great Falls Nike Park, complete with a tennis court and two baseball fields created right on top of the missile magazine hatches. IN 1980, Forestville Elementary School was built on top of the launch site’s barracks.

Between 2000 and 2002, all the remaining structures were finally torn down, with the exception of two radar towers. The southern tower was repurposed as an observatory. In 2010, the dome was replaced with a newer and stronger telescope. Now, there’s a roll-top observatory building located next to the telescope, and both sites are utilized by local schools. Now, all that’s left to mark the spot is a radar dome. 

Nike missile sites might be all gone, but the technology continues to live on. Many of the rocket systems used to develop the Ajax were later reused for many aeronautical functions. The missile’s first-stage solid rocket booster became the basis for several types of rockets, including the Nike Hercules missile and NASA’s Nike Smoke rocket, which has been used for upper atmosphere research. 

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The longest land battle in US history was a huge mistake

The fight for the Hurtgen Forest was one of the most devastating battles of all World War II Europe and one of few the U.S. Army lost after landing at Normandy on D-Day. The relatively quick advance through France gave Allied commanders the drive to race to enter Germany. The pace was so fast, they outran their supply lines and had to take a pause – a pause that would result in the longest land battle in U.S. military history.


Having to wait for the Allied supply lines to catch up to the front gave the beleaguered Nazis the chance to regroup and settle down in one of Europe’s most dense and dark forests. It was a place the Army should never have entered.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
American troops man a machine gun in a captured German position during the 1944 Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

 

To put it mildly, the forest was the ideal place to defend. As the summer was turning to fall, which would soon see winter, the dense wood would see snow and rain that would churn the dirt to mud. Dense forests, deep ravines, and steep hills also gave the German defenders the advantage in the forest. To top it all off, there were also abandoned and overgrown concrete bunkers, part of the old Siegfried Line of defensive fortifications throughout the forest – and that’s exactly what drove the Americans into the bunker.

So after they gave the Germans time to roll out the barbed wire, booby traps, and minefields, the Americans decided to assault the forest head-on in an attempt to be the first to fight and take the vaunted Siegfried Line and thus be the first to enter Germany.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Not my first choice of target, but okay.

 

The forest itself was 70 square miles and was situated between Aachen, a city under siege that would not surrender, and the Ruhr Dam along the Rhine, one the Allies were afraid the Nazis would just destroy in an attempt to flood the Allied advance. The Americans decided they would assault the forest directly, and swiftly neutralize the threat to the dam while ensuring the fall of Aachen. That did not happen.

American tanks and airpower were ineffective while fighting in the forest and the machine gun – which the Wehrmacht had in spades – was the most effective weapon, especially considering the difficulty seeing for any kind of distance, along with the hills and ravines throughout the forest. The Germans zeroed in their mortars before the Americans ever arrived. The Americans should never have engaged the forest at all.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
Even Ernest Hemingway, who feared nothing and no one, opted not to stay at Hurtgen Forest. No joke.

 

The U.S. Army didn’t have to go into the woods. The Siegfried Line was being assaulted all along its perimeter. The debacle at Hurtgen cost anywhere from 30,000-50,000 casualties at a cost of just 28,000 German casualties. To make matters worse, the months slowdown in advancement allowed the Germans to break out in a winter offensive, an advance that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Prince Charles got all his medals without fighting in a war

When decked out in his full royal regalia, the Prince of Wales looks much like what you think a 69-year-old aristocrat might — much like what you think a stereotypical soon-to-be king might. His military uniform is emblazoned with medals, ropes, pins, patches, and other decorations worthy of someone who may soon occupy the biggest seat in the entire United Kingdom.

Which is amazing, considering he hasn’t seen combat once in his life.


Britain itself has not been devoid of conflict, even within Charles’ relatively short lifetime. He was born three years after the end of the Second World War, but broke royal tradition by going straight to university instead of joining the military after his secondary education. When he did join the armed forces in the 1970s, he did stints in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Even though he was late to the game, there was still plenty of action to see.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Armed British soldiers in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

During Charles’ service window, the UK saw a number of shooting conflicts, most notably the Falklands War with Argentina and The Troubles, a military occupation of Northern Ireland. He saw action in neither conflict.

While the Prince of Wales didn’t see combat duty, he still trained vigorously with the members of units to which he was attached. He has trained in undersea warfare and commanded a Royal Navy Destroyer and has learned to fly helicopters and twin-engine jet fighters with the RAF. Charles also successfully completed the parachute regiment’s jump training at an age much older than the average recruit.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Charles, tasked to lead the parachute regiment in 1978, decided he would be unfit to lead them without undergoing the training himself. He was 30 years old.

(Clarence House)

Charles also commands the Welsh Guards, leading the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, marking Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

The Prince wears the ceremonial uniform of Colonel of the Welsh Guards during the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.

(Clarence House)

So, this isn’t to say Charles’ medals are somehow unearned. He wears no medals for valor in combat. Instead, he wears the appropriate regalia, given his service, ranks in the Navy and Air Force, and appropriate titles. He wears the Order of Merit, the Order of the Bath, and the Queen’s Service Order, all for service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Other decorations of note include medals related to the Queen herself, including the Queen’s Coronation medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, all awarded for a celebration of his mother ascending to the throne and her continued reign as Queen. He also wears awards from Canada and New Zealand, and wears the Order of the Garter, chosen and awarded by the Queen herself.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry presented Operational Medals to the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

(Buckingham Palace)

It’s a tradition for men in the Royal family to serve in the military. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, served in World War II and his sons, William and Harry, both served. Harry famously deployed to combat duties in Afghanistan in recent years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US got fighters to the front during WWII

These days, when the United States wants to deploy fighters to an operating theater, the logistics are actually very simple. The fighters take off, they refuel in midair, and then they land at an operating base. They may make some overnight stops, but they fly their way in, thanks to the impressive refueling capabilities of the 414 KC-135s and 59 KC-10s on inventory.


 

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
F-16s and other modern fighters simply fly to their operating theaters, thanks to aerial refueling, but World War II fighters didn’t have that luxury. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John Nimmo Sr.)

But it wasn’t always so simple, especially back during World War II. At that point, mid-air refueling had been done as a stunt, but there were no real practical applications. Most of the Army Air Force’s fighters back then didn’t have the range to regularly make non-stop flights. There were some notable exceptions, however. Bombers and the P-38 Lightning could usually make the flights across the Atlantic, typically via Greenland and Iceland.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
This is how fighters arrived to the front before practical aerial refueling: By ship, in this case, USS Cape Esperance (CVE 88) is hauling F-86 Sabres to Korea. (USAF photo)

Most other fighters, including the P-51, couldn’t make the journey. So, here’s what they did instead. After the planes were built, assembled, and quality checked, the next step was to disassemble them and crate them. The crated planes would then be loaded onto a ship and taken to a port near the front lines. There, the planes were taken to a base, removed from the crates, and re-assembled. After yet another quality check, planes were ready to fly.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another
One of the risks of having a ship carry planes: Here USS Langley (AV 3, ex-CV 1) is being scuttled after she was attacked while ferrying P-40s to the Dutch East Indies. (US Navy photo)

 

Now, this could be a problem. You see, if the ship got attacked, the planes on board could be damaged. Or worse, the ship could be sunk. America’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (AV 3) was sunk after it was used as an aircraft ferry. Luckily, it’s a much smoother operation today. 

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How one of the most iconic flags was made in honor of this woman’s MIA husband

On January 7, 1970, Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff flew his Sidewinder A7A Corsair off the USS Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. After completing a strafing run near the city of Sepone, he came under heavy enemy automatic weapons fire and went down. An observer reported seeing a flash, which may have been the ejection seat leaving the aircraft, but search teams located neither a parachute nor a survivor.

Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff was pronounced MIA that same day, promoted to commander while missing, and, sadly, was declared dead on November 16, 1978. His grieving wife, Mary Hoff, wanted the world to know that he and every other troop captured or declared missing in action would not be forgotten.


How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

Who says randomly cold-calling the right people to get what you want never works?

Soon afterward, Mary Hoff joined the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization founded by two wives of POW/MIA troops, Karen Butler and Sybil Stockdale. The group was quickly gaining traction in Washington, fighting for the U.S. government’s recognition of the importance of returning troops listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action.

As the group grew larger, Mary noticed that they were missing a symbol — something easily identified and immediately understood. She had an idea: a flag. Instead of going through the proper channels, she simply cold-called Annin Flagmakers, the oldest and largest flag-making corporation in the United States.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

As prominent as the flag is in military culture, it only took two revisions from the original to get the version we know today.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

The vice president of sales at Annin, Norm Rivkees, had no clue who the League of Families were at the time. During the phone call, Hoff explained everything, from who they were to what the flag should look like. Rivkees was impressed by her dedication and brought it up to the president of the company who immediately gave the idea the green light.

Rivkees contracted the job of designing the flag to Hayden Advertising who gave the task to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley was an Army Air Corps veteran himself who flew a C-46 twin-engine transport during World War II. He drafted several designs, all in black and white, of a man’s profile with guards behind him.

His son, Jeffery Heisley, was serving in the Marine Corps and had recently returned home on leave. The younger Heisley had unfortunately been struck with hepatitis and was looking very sickly. The elder Heisley turned the misfortune into a positive as his son would make the perfect model for his design. The frail male profile that adorns today’s flag is that of Jeffery Heisley.

Newton, as a pilot, remembered his own fears from his flying days. He added the famous words, “You are not forgotten,” to the flag, to offer the reassurance he wished he had while serving. The design was then ready for approval.

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

That also makes the POW/MIA flag the only non-national flag to ever fly over a nation’s capitol building.

(Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)​

Mary Hoff and the League of Families loved the design and adopted it in 1972. Keep in mind that at this point, the flag was only intended to be used for the organization. Its prominence quickly grew within the military community throughout the 1970s and, by 1982, it was flown over Ronald Reagan’s White House.

The flag became an official national symbol through the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, which requires that the flag be flown outside most major government buildings, all VA medical centers, and all national cemeteries on POW/MIA Recognition Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day.

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