That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The U.S. Coast Guard was officially formed in 1915, but it traces its history to 1790 through the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. Formerly part of the Treasury Department and now under the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is generally the butt of jokes from military branches under the Department of Defense.


Despite the comments about the ‘puddle pirates,’ Coast Guard history is filled with shocking exploits.

1. The Coast Guard conducted a World War II raid nearly three months before Pearl Harbor attack

 

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard cutter USCG Northland was patrolling near Greenland under a defensive treaty between Greenland and the U.S. on Sep. 12, 1941, when it received a tip that a suspicious ship had put ashore a landing party in a nearby fjord. The Northland found the vessel, the Norwegian fishing boat SS Buskoe. The Northland crew boarded the ship and took the ship master to the Northland for questioning. The boarding party continued to search the Buskoe and found two sets of radio equipment, an indicator that the ship was handling communications for Nazi radio stations.

The Coast Guard conducted an interrogation of the ship master and learned the location of the landing party the ship had previously dropped off. Coast Guardsmen landed on the shore and conducted a nighttime raid against a radio station established by the enemy landing party. They captured three Norwegians, at least one acting under German orders. They also found German radio equipment, code words, and military instructions. Since the U.S. and Germany were not yet at war, the Norwegians were arrested as illegal immigrants.

2. Revenue cutters captured 18 ships during a quasi-war with France

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

America owed a significant amount of money to France when the French crown was overthrown during the French Revolution in 1794. The U.S. told the French Republic that they would not be repaying the debt since the money was owed to the crown.

Backlash from France resulted in the Quasi War from 1798-1799. Though neither nation declared war, naval battles became common with the French seizing American merchant ships by the hundreds. The Navy, which had been disbanded after the war of 1812, was re-instituted. While the Navy was standing up, eight Revenue Cutter Service ships were pressed into service against the French Navy.

Twenty-two French navy vessels were captured during the war. Eighteen were captured by Revenue cutters unaided and another two were captured in joint Navy-Revenue Cutter Service operations. One cutter, the USRC Pickering, captured 10 French ships during two cruises of the West Indies. One capture was that of l‍ ’​Egypte Conquise, a French privateer that carried 44 guns, was crewed by 200 men, and was three times the size of the Pickering.

3. A Coast Guard lieutenant commanded an Army company in combat

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Army

In 1855, Revenue Cutter 2nd Lt. James E. Harrison was ordered to accompany a U.S. Army company in the American-Indian Wars. In the Puget Sound area of Washington, the Army camp was ambushed by a group of Native Americans on December 3. The Army commander, Lt. W. A. Slaughter, was killed the next day in the fighting. Harrison assumed command of the company and beat off the attackers in a fierce firefight. He then led the company back to Fort Steilacoom, Washington on December 21.

4. The USRC Hudson rescued a Navy vessel while under heavy fire from Spanish artillery

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US Coast Guard

On May 11, 1898, the USRC Hudson was part of the Navy fleet blockading Cuba during the Spanish-American War. A group of Spanish ships had attacked the blockade the day before and were now in harbor in Cardenas, a fortified port. Navy Cmdr. John Merry ordered the Hudson and the USS Winslow to enter the port and sink the ships.

The Winslow was faster and entered the port first, but was soon damaged due to fierce fire from shore batteries. The Hudson rushed to the defense of the damaged torpedo boat, laying down thick covering fire and attempting to secure a tow cable to the Navy vessel. After more than a half hour, the Winslow crew was finally able to secure the tow cable and the Hudson pulled her out of the port. The vessels sank two Spanish ships during the attack, but the Winslow suffered the deaths of an officer and multiple crewmen.

Three members of the Winslow were awarded the Medal of Honor. Revenue Servicemen were not eligible for military medals, but Congress awarded specially minted medals to the crew at the urging of President William McKinley. The ship captain, Lt. Frank H. Newcomb, was granted the only gold medal of the war. His officers were given silver medals and the crew received bronze.

5. The Surveyor crew bravely fought back against a boarding party over three times its size

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

During the War of 1812, a boarding party of 50 British sailors from the HMS Narcissus used muffled oars to sneak up on the USRC Surveyor. The 15-man crew of the Surveyor saw the British approaching but could not bring the guns to bear due to the angle of approach of the boarding party.

Capt. Samuel Travis ordered his men to take two muskets each and wait quietly for the British to get within pistol range. The British were hampered by the surprise volley but kept coming, so the crew of the surveyor fought across the decks to retain control of the ship. The British were eventually able take the ship, but they suffered three dead and seven wounded to the Americans’ five wounded. The cutter’s defense was so fierce despite the numerical advantage of the British that British Capt. John Crerie returned the American captain’s sword the next morning with the following note.

“Your gallant and desperate attempt to defend your vessel against more than double your number excited such admiration on the part of your opponents as I have seldom witnessed, and induced me to return you the sword you had so ably used, in testimony of mine.

Our poor fellows have severely suffered, occasioned chiefly, if not solely, by the precaution you had taken to prevent surprise. In short, I am at a loss which to admire most-the previous arrangement on board the Surveyor, or the determined manner in which the deck was disputed inch by inch. You have my most sincere wishes for the immediate parole and speedy exchange of yourself and brave crew.”

6. A future commandant of the Coast Guard herded reindeer 1600 miles across Alaskan Arctic

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

Eight whaling ships and 265 people were trapped in the Arctic ice on the north Alaskan coast in 1897 when the ice closed earlier than normal. President William McKinley learned of the men’s plight and tasked the Revenue Cutter Service with getting needed supplies to the whaling ships.

The service accepted volunteers for the mission dubbed “The Overland Expedition” which departed Dec. 16, 1897. The men made their way through the Alaskan wilderness with dog and reindeer teams pulling sleds of supplies and mail. The amount of supplies needed and the scarcity of sleds and dogs meant the men had to run alongside the sleds for most of the 1600-mile trek in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The expedition purchased reindeer and drove them north through the nearly complete darkness of the Alaskan winterThe men arrived at Point Barrow March 29, 1898 with 382 reindeer. Though many of the whalers had become sick or emaciated before the arrival of the rescue party, only three died and the rescue was a success. When the summer thaw completed, four of the ships were able to sail south. Four had been destroyed by the ice and their crews were transported south by the USRC Bear to San Francisco. The second-in-command of the operation, 2nd Lt. Ellsworth Berthoff, would go on to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard when the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service were combined in 1915.

7. A beached crew fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

When the USRC Eagle found itself outmatched by the British HMS Dispatch during the War of 1812, the crew didn’t give up. They intentionally ran the cutter aground on Long Island and dragged some of its guns to a high bluff. From there, they teamed up with local militia and began firing on the British.

By mid-afternoon, they were out of shot. They reportedly began using sheets from their logbook as wadding and fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them. The enemy fire was so fierce, the cutter’s flag was shot off three times. The British eventually captured the Eagle.

8. Coast Guardsman destroyed a major pirate fort

Cape Breton Island in modern day Nova Scotia, Canada was a haven for pirates such as Captain Kidd for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. During operations in 1820, the USRC Alabama and USRC Louisiana attacked the pirate fort at Breton Island. Louisiana went on to capture five pirate vessels as part of a Caribbean task force with the British and U.S. navies.

9. The Coast Guard conducted more than 1,300 search and rescue missions during the Mariel Boatlift

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

On April 22, 1980, Cuban President Fidel Castro opened the Port of Mariel to Cubans who wished to emigrate from Cuba. Within hours, ships were headed from Miami to pick up the refugees. Over the next 45 days, an estimated 5,000 vessels pulled more than 100,000 Cubans from the island. The vessels were usually packed over capacity and had insufficient flotation devices. Over half of the vessels needed some sort of assistance from the Coast Guard.

The Coat Guard shifted many of its active duty assets to the Straits of Florida and called up its reserves. Many vessels began running 24-hour operations just to tow damaged ships or search for lost ones. The call for Coast Guard cutters became so dire that some ships stopped being able to maintain their logs. Still, the Coast Guard logged 1,300 search and rescue missions during the operation with an unknown number not being recorded.

NOW: The Navy’s new way to launch aircraft is a slingshot on steroids

OR: 21 jaw-dropping photos of the US Coast Guard in Alaska

Articles

The ‘Big Red One’ led the fight from WWI to Iraq

The 1st Infantry Division is the oldest continuously active division in the U.S. Army and has served since 1917. During that time, it has often claimed the first honors of different American wars — everything from firing the first American shell against Germany of World War I to breaking through the berm into Iraq in 1991.


In the past 100 years, it has served in almost every American war. The Big Red One was kept in Europe to prevent a Soviet attack during the Korean War, but fought in both world wars, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Balkans, and the Iraq and Afghan Wars.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Soldiers with the 1st Division, U.S. First Army, ride on a tank, during their advance on the town of Schopen, Belgium. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Augustine)

The unit was created in May 1917 when Maj. Gen. John Pershing received orders to take four infantry regiments and an artillery regiment to France. Pershing assumed that this meant he was to take a division, and he organized the force as the First Expeditionary Division which was later changed to the First Division. The unit included an additional artillery regiment.

When it sailed to France, the First Division fulfilled America’s promise to help bring Imperial Germany to its knees. They trained quickly in trench warfare side-by-side with their French counterparts and then took over a sector of the frontlines.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Soldiers of the New York National Guard march through the streets of New York city in 1917. The First Expeditionary Division launched from New York and led the way for U.S. forces headed to France in World War I. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

While in France, the First Division fired the first American shell in the ground war against Germany on Oct. 23, 1917, and suffered the first American casualty of the ground war only two days later.

(The USS Cassin had fired the first shells of the war and suffered the first casualty on Oct. 15, 1917, in battle with the German U-61 submarine.)

The doughboys of the First Division led the first American offensive of the war at Cantigny and fought on through Soissons, the St. Mihiel Salient, and the Meuse-Argonne Forest. In the Argonne, the division fought through eight German divisions despite suffering more than 7,600 casualties.

As World War I drew to a close, the division was authorized its “Big Red One” shoulder patch that it still wears to this day.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Army 1st Infantry Division troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Photo: U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)

For World War II, the division was re-designated the 1st Infantry Division and sent to Africa as part of Operation Torch. America’s first major offensive in the war, Torch helped bring about the Allied victory in North Africa and cut off Axis oil supplies headed into Europe.

Big Red One soldiers pushed on, taking part in Operation Husky on Sicily and Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings at Normandy. That means that the 1st Infantry Division took part in two of the larger amphibious operations of the war, Husky and Torch, and the largest amphibious assault in history, Overlord.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Soldiers with the 1st Infantry Division move up in Germany during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Army Technician 3rd Class Jack Kitzerow)

In the Normandy landings, the Big Red One was assigned to take Omaha Beach where a combination of bad water and worse terrain made the initial invasion plan untenable. Instead of fighting through the five roads leaving the beach, the men were forced to scale 100-ft. tall cliffs and attack German defenses from the rear.

The division fought its way west with the rest of the invasion force, taking Normandy’s hedgerows after weeks of bitter fighting and then making it into Germany just in time for the massive counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. They fought their way back into Germany after the Bulge and liberated two German concentration camps.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
A U.S. Army soldier with the 1st Infantry Division prepares his anti-aircraft gun during World War II. The six swastikas indicate six enemy planes killed. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Augustine)

While the division did not deploy to Korea, it was called on for a number of near misses during the cold War, with units sent to Florida to support the potential invasion of Cuba during the missile crisis and to Berlin to prevent a Soviet invasion of West Berlin.

In July 1965, Big Red One’s second brigade became the first element of any infantry division to arrive in Vietnam. It fought a number of engagements over the next few years, working in early 1966 to capture supplies before an anticipated enemy offensive and capturing a massive weapons stockpile that April, removing 350 firearms and over 300,000 rounds of ammunition from Vietnamese arsenals.

In 1968, the Division helped protect key U.S. positions during the Tet Offensive but tragically lost its commanding general, Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware, when his aircraft was shot down in September.

During Desert Storm, the Big Red One was the spearhead into Iraq. On Feb. 24, 1991, it broke through Iraq’s defensive berm, attacked the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division, and took 2,500 prisoners before allowing other coalition units to pass it. It pressed on and took out a Republican Guard division and other units.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Army 1st Infantry Division soldiers watch for enemy activity in Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Guffey)

It engaged at least 11 enemy divisions and captured more than 11,400 prisoners of war — over twice as many as any other division — before the war ended on Feb. 28.

After serving with other units in the Balkans and Kosovo, the Big Red One was once again sent to full-spectrum combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan where its forces served in task forces across both countries. Their largest contributions came in Iraq were 1st Inf. Div. soldiers helped secure the Sunni Triangle.

Interested in 1st Infantry Division History? A military museum at Cantigny Park, a public space dedicated to education and recreation by a 1st Infantry Division veteran, is looking for a Historic Vehicle Programs Manager who will oversee the First Division Museum’s fleet of tanks, personnel carriers, and other vehicles from American military history.

Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree or higher in history or a related field and a good understanding of U.S. military history as well as experience in the maintenance and operation of historic military vehicles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how the Battle of the Coral Sea would go down today

The Battle of the Coral Sea is notable for being the first naval battle in which ships fought without ever sighting the enemy fleet. This means that all the fighting was done with aircraft — the ships themselves never exchanged fire.

But how would that same carrier battle play out today?


Let’s assume for the sake of this thought experiment that the United States is operating a pair of carriers, like USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), with a pair of Ticonderoga-class cruisers and eight Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Let’s not forget the support from Australia and New Zealand — today, that’d be one Hobart-class destroyer and three Anzac-class frigates (two Australian, one from New Zealand) joining the escort.

The likely opponent? Let’s say the People’s Liberation Army Navy has sent both of their Kuznetsov-class carriers, escorted by four Type 52C destroyers and four Sovremennyy-class destroyers.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
This map shows how the original Battle of the Coral Sea went down.
(U.S. Army)

 

The Chinese carriers would be operating at somewhat of a disadvantage from the get-go. The American-Australian force would have the benefit of land-based maritime patrol planes, like the P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon, as well as radar planes, like the E-3 Sentry and E-2 Hawkeye. These planes would likely find the Chinese carriers and get a position report off. The pilots would be heroes. Unfortunately, a J-15 Flanker would likely shoot them down quickly thereafter.

By this point, though, the Carl Vinson and Gerald R. Ford are going to be launching their alpha strikes on the Chinese carriers. Each of these carriers will be operating 36 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and a dozen F-35C Lightnings. This strike will likely be done in conjunction with some B-1B Lancers operating from Australia or some other land base.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The Liaoning would be at a disadvantage in a present-day Battle of the Coral Sea.
(Japanese Ministry of Defense)
 

The Chinese J-15s will fight valiantly, but the American carrier-based fighters will probably wipe them out – though they’ll suffer some losses in the process. The Chinese force will, however, be hit by a number of AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles. The carriers will be sunk or seriously damaged, left stranded a long way from home. One or both may even be sunk by submarines later (an American submarine tried to attack the damaged Shokaku after the Battle of the Coral Sea, but failed to get in position).

Ultimately, as was the case in the first Battle of the Coral Sea, the United States would win. This time, though, it would be a much more unequivocal victory.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why you can’t climb the arm of the Statue of Liberty anymore

More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.

But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
New York Harbor in 1916.
(National Board of Health)

German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
View of the debris of the Lehigh Valley pier wrecked by an explosion of munitions on Black Tom Island, New Jersey. Five dead and $25,000,000 worth ($500,000,000 in 2018) of property destroyed.
(National Archives)

It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.

The Great War had finally come home in a big way.

This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.

Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The aftermath of the Black Tom explosion.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.

That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jimmy Carter saved Canada from nuclear destruction

In 1952, an accident at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River, Ontario caused a partial meltdown in an experimental nuclear reactor. Hydrogen explosions followed and hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooded the core, heavily damaging the reactor.  When the Canadian government turned to U.S. nuclear experts for help, “Father of the Nuclear Navy” Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover sent his protégé – Lieutenant James Earl “Jimmy” Carter – to lead a team of maintainers into the reactor core to shut it down.


 

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Jimmy Carter in his 1947 class portrait from the U.S. Naval Academy yearbook.

The admiral was famous for the demands he put on the people who worked for him. His unorthodox methods almost kept him from making flag rank, but President Truman intervened on his behalf. It was a good call: the Navy’s 300 nuclear warships have never had a single nuclear incident.

Rickover’s team had access to the latest in nuclear energy technology because they were developing nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy (the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was completed in 1955). The Navy knew the technology the Canadians were using and how best to fix it.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The Chalk River Labs site.

Rickover volunteered Carter to the Canadians to take the failing reactor apart so it could be replaced, a testament to the extraordinary faith and training the U.S. Navy places in its sailors – and to the good judgment of Adm. Rickover. First, the reactor had to be shut down, then it could be disassembled and replaced.

Carter, then 28 years old, had been in the Navy for six years. He was assigned to the Naval Reactors Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Rickover’s demanding perfectionism was as instilled in Carter as it is today’s nuclear sailors.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Rickover (left) served 61 years on active duty and saw Carter get elected President.

In his book “Reflections at Ninety,” Carter recalls preparing for the task. The team built a replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court to practice their next move and track the work they’d already finished. Every pipe, bolt, and nut was rebuilt exactly as it was in the damaged reactor area.

Lieutenant Carter divided himself and his 23 guys into teams of three. Each worked 90-second shifts cleaning and repairing the reactor as per what they practiced on the tennis court. A minute and a half was the maximum time the human body could handle the amount of radiation in the area.

By today’s standards, it was still way too much radiation – Carter and his men were exposed to levels a thousand times higher than what is now considered safe. He and his team absorbed a year’s worth of radiation in that 90 seconds. The basement where they helped replace the reactor was so contaminated, Carter’s urine was radioactive for six months after the incident.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The USS Jimmy Carter (U.S. Navy photo)

It makes sense that the ship named after President Carter would be a Seawolf-class nuclear submarine, as Carter helped develop the nuclear Navy and was the only U.S. President to be qualified for submarine duty. The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in February 2005.

The effects of this exposure eventually caught up to him. Carter developed cancerous tumors on his liver and brain at age 91 but was screened as cancer-free a year later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what the Army’s nasty ’emergency chocolate bars’ tasted like

Who doesn’t love a bit of candy to lighten the mood? Today, troops opening up an MRE might find a bag of Skittles or some sweets in there to help boost morale a little bit. This isn’t anything new; troops have had some kind of candy in rations since WWII.

While the soldiers who were preparing to jump into the fight on D-Day likely had a few of their favorite chocolate bars on them, they had another specialty chocolate bar, one made exclusively made for the troops. It was called the U.S. Army Field Ration D and it tasted about as appetizing as the name suggests — a little bit better than a boiled potato.


That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Still better than the Veggie MRE.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)

The Field Ration D, or “D-Bar,” was the brain child of Col. Paul Logan and the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The idea was to stuff enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients inside of an easy-to-carry chocolate bar so that troops always had an emergency field ration if they needed it. It weighed 4 oz., packed 600 calories, and was mixed with raw oat flour to ensure that it wouldn’t melt easily.

The packaging of Field Ration D was made with aluminum wrapper, cardboard dipped in wax, and cellophane. There was no way that bugs, weather, or gas could reach the bar and contaminate it. There was also a safety measure put in place by Col. Logan to ensure troops didn’t just eat their emergency ration for a sweet fix — he reportedly asked Hershey to not focus on the taste.

The D-Bar was so full of cacao fat and oat flour that it could survive any condition, but it also made the bar extremely bitter. Since it was made to endure nearly any conditions, it was solid as a rock. Not exactly appetizing.

To make matters worse, if any troop didn’t read the tiny warning to eat the bar slowly, over a thirty minute time period, their bowels would suffer. This unfortunate side-effect earned it the nickname, “Hitler’s secret weapon.”

Word of how awful the D-Bar was (and its unofficial moniker) made it back to Hershey. They offered another chocolate bar instead — the Tropical Bar. Apparently, this was even worse and earned the name “Dysentery Bar,” because troops who already had dysentery were the only ones who could tolerate it.

In the end, the top brass at the Pentagon lavished Hershey with numerous awards for their “help” in WWII while the troops exchanged the D-Bars and Tropical Bars to unsuspecting civilians for better food.

To watch the bravest man on YouTube actually eat one of these, check out the video below by Steve1989 at MRE Info.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Writing funny stuff on ammo is over 2000 years old

Do you have that buddy who scratches messages into his M4 rounds? Or maybe you’re the sailor who Sharpies “This one’s for you” onto JDAMs destined for a flight over the Gulf. Regardless, it turns out that you’re part of a tradition that dates back to a few hundred years before Jesus.

Yeah, we’re all comedians.


That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

(Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Nolan)

Writing messages on bombs, missiles, and other munitions is a common and long-standing tradition. After the 9/11 Attacks, messages of solidarity for New York and vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban started popping up on bombs headed for Afghanistan. Hussein and the Ba’ath party were favorite targets for graffiti over Iraq in the early 2000s.

More recently, bombs headed for Iraq and Syria have had messages for ISIS and Baghdadi, and messages supporting Paris were popular after the attacks in 2015.

Obviously, there’s about zero chance in Hell that anyone on the receiving end will actually read the messages. After all, the bomb casings will get obliterated when they go off. But it’s fun for the troops and lets them get a little steam out. Most service members will never fire a weapon, drop a bomb, or throw a grenade in anger.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

(Imperial War Museum)

So it can sometimes be hard for support troops to connect their actions to dismantling ISIS, defeating Saddam, or destroying al Qaeda. It helps the ordnance crews reinforce their part of the mission, and they can imagine their Sharpie-soaked pieces of shrapnel shredding enemy fighters.

But this tradition really dates back. In World War II, British troops designated bombs to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. And these Americans were hoping their bombs would be great party favors for the Third Reich.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

(U.S. Army Signal)

But the British museum has sling shot, the actual projectiles used in slings and slingshots, that have funny little messages carved into them. Messages like “Catch!” But, you know, the messages are written in Ancient Greek because they were carved 300 or so years before Jesus was born.

So if you ever get a chance to write one of these messages, do it. Just think of something pithy and fun, “Catch!” is old news by now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true story behind the recovery of Extortion 17

The following passage is an excerpt from “Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror.” It has been edited for clarity.

On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.

The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.


That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.

They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.

The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.

This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.

As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.

The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.

Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.

Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.

Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.

Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.

After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.

New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.

Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Japan wanted to protect Margaret Thatcher with ‘Karate Ladies’

Few British politicians are as controversial as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it was incumbent upon foreign governments to protect her when she traveled abroad. When preparing to visit Japan for an economic summit, Thatcher received the strangest offer for protection – Japan wanted to protect the Iron Lady with a team of twenty “Karate Ladies.”


It may sound like a silly offer, but at the heart of it, the Japanese were doing their best to accommodate Thatcher on the basis of her gender. In June 1979, the British Prime Minister was due to visit Tokyo for an economic summit and Thatcher had just won the post of Prime Minister – the first woman in the United Kingdom’s history to hold the position. She beat out the male Labour candidate James Callaghan just one month prior. The Japanese public were interested in Maggie Thatcher’s status as Britain’s premier working mother.

Thatcher was not interested in attending the conference as a woman, but rather wanted to attend as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“If other delegation leaders, for example are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out. She has not had in the past, and does not have now, any female Special Branch officers.”
That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Thatcher with Japanese Crown Prince Akihito.

Sir John Hunt, Thatcher’s Cabinet Secretary, raised the issue with his Japanese counterpart when discussing the Prime Minister’s security detail.

“Sir John said that Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as prime minister and not as a woman per se and he was sure that she would not want these ladies; press reaction in particular would be unacceptable.”

The bodyguard force was supposedly made up of 20 or so all-female bodyguards who were trained in unarmed combat, among other skills. Thatcher’s objection wasn’t to the offer of a security detail, but rather the idea of an all-female unit. They wanted to avoid the embarrassment of even getting such an offer, but the offer reached the British press anyway. Thatcher attended the 1979 summit, where no Karate Ladies were present or required.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Paul Allen found the first carrier the US lost in WWII

While the converted collier, USS Langley, was America’s first aircraft carrier, it wasn’t America’s first fleet carrier. That honor goes to the converted battlecruiser, USS Lexington.


Under the terms laid out in the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty, a naval arms control accord, the United States had the right to convert two of six planned battlecruisers into aircraft carriers. The Lexington and her sister ship, USS Saratoga, were selected and effectively saved from the scrapheap for this role. The Lexington was commissioned in 1927 and, over the next 14 years, she served in the peacetime Navy.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
One of the explosions that doomed USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. (US Navy photo)

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington took part in the abortive effort to relieve Wake Island. She then took part in various hit-and-run attacks on Japanese bases in the Marshalls until she went to the South Pacific to ward off a Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington’s planes helped to sink the Japanese carrier Shoho, but on May 8, she came under attack.

The Lexington was struck by two torpedoes at least one bomb. The ship’s crew worked hard to keep the vessel afloat. The ship’s Damage Control Officer, Commander Howard R. Healy, suggested to the captain that if he were to take additional torpedo hits, “it would be as well to take them on the starboard side.” Healy would die in the process of controlling the extensive damage done.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The Lexington’s crew prepares to abandon ship before she was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer USS Phelps

A series of internal explosions would force the United States to scuttle the Lexington, making her the first fleet carrier America lost in WWII. She went down in the Coral Sea in 1942, but not before the Japanese were turned back, suffering a strategic defeat.

Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced on Facebook that he found the Lexington. See this heroic vessel, whose sacrifice saved Port Moresby, in the video below.

 


Articles

This was what it took to fly the world’s first stealth attack jet

The US Air Force’s flight schools have a reputation for churning out some of the best pilots in the world. But not even with that standing, only 558 in the service’s entire history were ever able to earn the title “Bandit” — the name awarded exclusively to pilots assigned to fly the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.


During the first years of the Nighthawk program in the 1980s, candidate pilots were drawn from a pool of fast-jet pilots. Only fighter or attack pilots with minimum of 1,000 hours were considered for the job, though candidates with 2,000 or more hours were preferred, given their extensive piloting experience.

According to Warren Thompson in his book, “Bandits over Baghdad,” stealth program brass struck a careful balance between recruiting pilots with phenomenal service records and pilots who were known to push themselves to the edge of the envelope — constantly demonstrating their prowess in the cockpit of the latest and greatest multimillion dollar fighters in America’s arsenal.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
An F-117 on display at MCAS Miramar, in 2006 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Early Bandits already in the program, having earned their number, were allowed to refer fellow pilots from other units, based on critical evaluations of their skill and abilities as military aviators. The majority of candidates, however, came from fighter squadrons whose commanding officers were vaguely instructed to cherry-pick one or two of their very best pilots, and send them to Arizona to begin training on a new airframe.

Nobody, including the selectees themselves, had much of a clue what they were about to get involved in.

Further adding to the mystery was the fact that this “new” airframe was actually the A-7 Corsair II, an attack jet which had already been in service with the Air Force for a number of years. Nighthawk program evaluators chose the A-7 for its similarity to the F-117 in terms of handling, cockpit layout and flight characteristics. Upon the conclusion of their flight training, candidates would appear for a final series of check rides and tests in Nevada.

The 162d Tactical Fighter Group of the Arizona Air National Guard handled this segment of the selection phase on behalf of the 4450th Tactical Group. The 4450th was the cover for the Nighthawk’s existence, drafted up by the Air Force as a supposed A-7 flight test unit.

The casual observer, and even other military personnel not read into the Nighthawk program, would merely see this outfit as yet another one of the Air Force’s myriad boring units, though in reality, it was anything but that.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
An A-7D Corsair II, similar to the ones prospective Bandits trained on prior to being told what they were actually training to fly (Photo US Air Force)

If the candidates survived the A-7 flight course, passed their final tests in their new jet, and were approved by the selection cadre, they were finally told what they were really there for — to be the next breed of American black operations pilots, flying an aircraft the government habitually denied even existed.

The Nighthawk was developed more as an attack aircraft than a fighter, though it was still granted the “F” designation like other fighters the USAF fields today. Built to evade and avoid radar detection, the F-117 was the deadly ghost America’s enemies didn’t see coming or going, even after it was too late and the bombs had already deployed from the jet’s twin recessed bays.

All prospective Bandits were now introduced in-person to their new aircraft at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly-guarded military facility known to play host to some of the most secretive Air Force projects ever undertaken. After strenuous classroom sessions followed by training missions flown in top-of-the-line simulators, pilots were then taken back to Arizona to Luke Air Force Base, where they would train briefly on the F-15 Eagle, learning to perform a ‘no-flap’ landing, which would simulate the Nighthawk’s handling dynamics during approaches and landings.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
An F-117 in-flight, as seen from the boom operator’s station in a USAF tanker (Photo US Air Force)

After passing muster, the candidates were handed the figurative keys to the F-117 and were allowed to fly for the first time. Upon their first solo in the Nighthawk, each pilot was assigned a number and were officially awarded the title “Bandit.” As no Nighthawk was ever built with a twin cockpit, instructors flew near their candidates in chase planes while maintaining constant radio contact. After further nighttime and daytime training missions which qualified pilots to operate their jets in adverse conditions, a battery of tests and evaluations followed.

By this time, the class was severely depleted in size – the starting quantity of candidates diminished over time either because pilots opted out of the program, or were dropped by evaluators and instructors just because they weren’t good enough to fly this next-level aircraft. If the candidate was successful in his very last round of testing, he would be sent for further training to become combat qualified and would be initiated as a permanent member of the Nighthawk community.

Pilots were then sent to an operational squadron, where they would go on to fly daring missions in extreme secrecy around the world, from Panama to Yugoslavia, and onward to Afghanistan and even Iraq. The Nighthawk has since been retired from service, having been replaced by the F-22 in its role as a stealth attack jet, though the Bandit number has been permanently capped at 558, forever sealing the status of these pilots as some of the most elite military aviators in history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Were iron maidens ever actually used?

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?


As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The Schandmantel.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Denmark-
Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The Madonna in Sorrow.

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

An open iron maiden.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Also read:

  • How Exactly Did One Become an Executioner in Medieval Times?
  • The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz
  • The Curious Practice of Execution By Golden Shower
  • “No”- The Remarkable Story of Lauritz Sand
  • The Twisted Tale of Delphine LaLaurie and Her House of Horrors
  • MIGHTY HISTORY

    This is why Washington wasn’t relentlessly attacked by the Confederates

    The distance between Washington, D.C. and the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Va. is a scant 95 miles. They’re practically neighbors. Early in the Civil War, the Union Army attempted to capture the rebel capital but the forces led by Gen. George McClellan only made it as far as the suburbs before being beaten back. Richmond wouldn’t fall to the Union Army until 1865 – but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

    Meanwhile, the District of Columbia sat precariously perched between rebel Virginia and border slave state Maryland. It was the heart and nerve center of the Union but aside from the threat of an advancing enemy, it wasn’t as constantly attacked as one might think.


    Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did have a plan to threaten the Union capital. Lee’s overall strategy was to take the fight to the Union, rather than fight on Confederate soil. His advances north did threaten Washington, but Lee didn’t attack DC directly. His best chance to hit the Union capital came after his surprising win at the first Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas, for you Southerners). With the Union forces as stunned by their loss as the Confederates were stunned by their victory, the South was too disorganized to follow up. Once Washington realized the war was going to last much longer than anticipated, the District became one of the most fortified cities on Earth.

    To make it more difficult for the Confederates to swing around and even conduct so much as a raid on Washington, Union Generals George G. Meade and Joseph Hooker kept their armies between the Confederates and Washington as Lee’s army advanced north toward Gettysburg in 1863.

    That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

    (American Battlefield Trust)

    As for the city itself, the Potomac acted as a formidable natural barrier but it wasn’t the only barrier. The city had a series of some 68 fortifications, 93 gun positions just waiting for cannon, 20 miles of trenches and 30 miles of military-use roads. It also 87 mounted guns and and 93 mortar positions and untold communications lines. These fortifications ringed the city, even in the Virginia areas. As much as the South would have liked to capture the District, it would have needed and army far beyond its capability. Still, there was one attempt.

    In 1864, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early went north through the Shenandoah Valley while Lee’s army was under siege at Petersburg, Va. Early forces relieved Lee’s supply lines at Lynchburg before swinging north through the valley. He captured and ransomed Fredericksburg then moved on where he was met by a small Union defense force at Monocacy. Had it not been for this delaying action, Early might have taken Washington.

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    But giant cannons are kind of intimidating.

    At this time the city was filled with refugees and troops of varying quality. Most of the battle-hardened Union troops were out in the field fighting the Confederates, so Washington’s defenders weren’t all the best of the best the Union could muster. The Confederate advance sent the city into a panic. Union General Lew Wallace didn’t know if Baltimore or Washington was Early’s target, but the citizens of both cities were freaking out, so Wallace knew he had to at least delay Early until reinforcements could arrive. The Marylanders held Early off for a full day at the cost of more than 1,200 lives. But it was enough to delay the advancing Confederates while inflicting some heavy casualties. Early rode on, though, and came across the northernmost fortification of Washington, Fort Stevens.

    When he arrived, he had a strength roughly equal to that of the District’s defenders. The defenders were mostly raw recruits and untested reservists, but combined with reinforcements, the city had a fighting chance. Going against the Confederate Army was the blazing heat of the July sun and the fact that they’d been on the march and fighting for nearly a month.The further delay allowed for more reinforcements by the Union defenders.

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    “Mr. President, maybe you could duck. Or at least take off your hat.”

    The attack began in the late afternoon on Jul. 11, 1864. Early’s men began skirmishing with the Union fortification to test its defenses. As President Lincoln watched on, it began in earnest at 5 p.m. when veteran Confederate cavalry stormed the Union picket lines and Union artillery opened up on rebel positions across the lines. Over the coming night, more Union reinforcement would arrive and Early realized time was not on his side. Had he immediately attacked Fort Stevens, he might have taken the capital but waiting only allowed for more reinforcements and for the Union troops chasing him to catch up.

    Early used skirmishers to cover his nighttime withdrawal. Fort Stevens and Washington’s fortification had held but President Lincoln was almost hit by a bullet. Early was able to retreat back to the Army of Northern Virginia, where it’s said he told Lee and his own staff officers, “”We didn’t take Washington but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell.”

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