These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Allied sailors braved one of the world’s most dangerous oceans while dodging German U-boats and Luftwaffe attacks to keep the Soviet military supplied throughout World War II.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Convoy PQ-17 groups up on Apr. 30, 1942, before sailing on its way to Russia. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. C. J. Ware)

When Germany attacked Russia in June of 1941, the Allied Powers gained a new and powerful member. The massive Soviet Union had a significant industrial capacity and a large population that suddenly found itself joined with the British and French.

But Hitler’s gamble wasn’t entirely crazy. He had real reason to believe that an invasion of Russia could succeed, giving the Third Reich all of the Soviets’ great treasure. To win the war, the Allied Powers had to make sure that Russia didn’t fall.

This meant that the Soviet Union would have to be supplied with massive amounts of planes, tanks, oil, barbed wire, soap, and a thousand other necessities. The British concentrated their outbound logistics on two major routes, the Meditteranean which allowed supplies to reach Malta and the Arctic route which gave access to the U.S.S.R.

The Arctic convoys had the more dangerous route, and approximately 3,000 sailors died while sailing it during World War II.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
A sailor works an ice-encrusted 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield during an Arctic convoy to Russia on Nov 30, 1941. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. R. G. G. Coote)

German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe forces maintained bases on the northern edges of Norway, allowing them to conduct constant patrols against Allies in the Arctic. Frequent storms caused ice to collect on ships, especially in the winter.

The summer brought its own danger as the Arctic Circle experiences periods where the sun doesn’t set. In some of the northernmost parts of Norway and Finland that the convoys had to pass, the sun doesn’t set for up to three months. During those portions of the year, the convoys were susceptible to being spotted and attacked during every hour of every day for the entirety of the approximately 10 to 15-day trip each direction.

Robert Carse, a sailor on one of the convoys, described what it was like to suffer a combined Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attack in the North Atlantic:

That was hell. There is no other word I know for it. Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.

Carse and the convoy beat off multiple Messerschmitt attacks until one was able to drop a bomb that headed directly for the TNT-loaded ship. Miraculously, a last-second wind gust blew the bomb off to the side of the ship. The resulting concussion damaged the ship but failed to detonate the explosives the ship was carrying. Carse and the convoy continued along their route.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Royal Navy Able Seaman Thomas B. Day stands near a frozen turret on the HMS Belfast in November 1943. (Photo: Royal Navy)

The Arctic deliveries continued until May 1945, just after Germany signed the articles of surrender ending World War II. In the tense build-up to the Cold War, Russian Premier Joseph Stalin denied the importance of the deliveries to keeping the Soviet Union in the war. But, Russian Consul General in Scotland Andrey A. Pritsepov recognized the merchant marine and Navy veterans in an August 2016 ceremony.

“Russia is indebted to the brave Scottish men who risked their lives in dangerous conditions to deliver vital aid and equipment to the eastern front,” he said. “It was a journey against all odds. Many have never returned. Their sacrifice and heroism comprise a proud chapter in our shared history.”

Author’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the United Kingdom maintained two sea supply routes into Russia, the Meditteranean and the Arctic. In fact, the Mediterranean route did not give access to Russia, but to Malta.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Japanese WW2 soldier fled the Allies and hid in the jungle for 27 years

Shoichi Yokoi was 26 when he was drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.

At the time, soldiers were taught that surrender was the worst possible fate for a soldier — so when US forces invaded Japanese-occupied Guam in 1944, Yokoi fled into the jungle.

He dug a cave near a waterfall, covered it with bamboo and reeds, and survived by eating small animals. He had no idea, when he was discovered on Jan. 24, 1972, by two hunters near a river, that the war had ended decades ago.

He attacked the hunters, who were able to overpower the weakened soldier and escorted him to authorities, where he revealed his bizarre story.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Shoichi Yokoi.

Yokoi was treated at a hospital in Guam before heading home to Japan, which he had not seen since 1941.

Yokoi was sent to Guam after being drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.

During the US invasion he and a number of other soldiers made their way into the jungle to avoid being taken as prisoners of war.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

This newspaper photograph was described as Yokoi’s first haircut in 28 years.

Japanese government officials flew to the island to help repatriate the soldier, who had not seen his homeland for nearly 30 years.

During his 27 years in isolation, he survived by eating frogs, rats, and eels as well as fruits and nuts, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

He made his own shelter, using bamboo and reeds to cover a cave he dug himself. In his memoirs, he said he buried at least two of his comrades eight years before he was discovered.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

In this book, Yokoi’s autobiography is supplemented by a biographical account of his later life.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Talofofo Falls Resort Park, where Shoichi Yokoi dug a cave and hid for nearly 28 years after the US invasion of Guam during World War II.

Although he was repatriated to Japan almost immediately, he reportedly flew back to Guam several times throughout the remainder of his life, including for his honeymoon.

According to his obituary, Yokoi had a hard time readjusting to life in Japan.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

The entrance to Yokoi’s cave is in Talofofo Falls Resort Park in Guam.

Yokoi covered his cave with bamboo and reeds.

The soldier was a tailor before the war, skills that helped him make his shelter and clothing, according to Stars Stripes.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

This diagram sketches the cave where Yokoi hid for nearly 28 years.

The cave has reportedly collapsed, but a diagram at the site shows an idea of what it looked like.

Also read: This guy kept fighting World War II for 30 years after Japan surrendered

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the only living African-American from WW2 to earn MoH

After enlisting in the Army in June of 1941, Vernon Baker was assigned to the 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division — the first black unit to head into combat during WWII.


After completing Officer Candidate School, Baker was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Soon after, he landed in Naples, Italy, and had to fight his way north through the enemies’ front to the central portion of the country.

His unit was then ordered to attack a German stronghold in the mountains of Viareggio. Several allied battalions before them were unsuccessful in taking the enemy region, but Baker was up to the task.

The mountain-top consisted of three hills, “X, Y, and Z.” Baker and his troops began taking the heavily fortified area one hill at a time.

Facing fierce opposition, Baker often came in close enemy contact and managed to survive each deadly encounter as it presented itself.

“Somebody was sitting on my shoulder,” Baker says.

Full of adrenaline from taking the first hill, Baker was handed a submachine gun from a superior officer and instructed to proceed on to the next area.

Patroling nearly on his own, Baker spotted a small German firing position built into the side of the mountain. Armed with a few grenades, he chucked one and landed a perfect strike.

After it detonated and the smoke cleared, a German soldier stuck his head to look around. Baker quickly engaged the troop, killing him on the spot.

Also Read: The 7 best military stories from the glory days of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’

Baker continued to maneuver his way around the mountain and spotted two more firing position — tossing grenades inside each one — killing the enemy troops inside.

After learning the company commander was egressing for resupply, Baker knew he was on his own to lead his remaining troops. Carefully moving through the dangerous terrain, Baker and his men managed to secure the area after several intense firefights.

The next morning, Baker and his men moved through the dangerous terrain and secured the area after several hours of allied bombardment.

52-year later, Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage from former President Bill Clinton.

1st Lt. Vernon Baker became the only living African-American serviceman from WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Check out Medal of Honor Book’s video below to listen to Vernon extraordinary story from the legend himself.

(Medal of Honor Book, YouTube)

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That time a guy jumped out of a plane at 18,000 feet with no chute — and survived

On the evening of March 24, 1944, a Royal Air Force airman jumped out of his damaged bomber without a parachute.


Not only did he survive, but he landed with little more than bumps and bruises.

His name was Nicholas Alkemade. Or should we say, the “indestructible” Nicholas Alkemade. Born Dec. 10, 1922, Alkemade was a rear gunner on a four-engine Avro Lancaster its crew had nicknamed “Werewolf.”

In March 1944, the crew was on a bombing mission over Berlin, which went without incident. But on their way back to England, the bomber caught on fire after being razed by machine-gun fire from a German fighter. The order came from the Werewolf’s pilot to abandon the crippled bomber, but Alkemade wasn’t wearing his parachute, since the gunner’s area was too cramped for it to be worn all the time.

When he tried pulling his chute out of storage, it was in flames. The plane was going down and he had few options.

“I had no doubts at all that this was the end of the line,” he told Leicester Mercury years later. “The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry or jump to my death. I decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things. I backed out of the turret and somersaulted away.”

So out he went, headed from 18,000 feet above the Earth to the ground at 120 miles per hour. He lost consciousness during the descent, which would have been the end of this story. Except, three hours later, Alkemade — now safely lying on the ground — opened his eyes.

The RAF Museum picks up the story:

He was lying on snowy ground in a small pine wood. Above him the stars were still visible, only this time they were framed by the edges of the hole he had smashed through the tree canopy. Assessing himself, Alkemade found that he was remarkably intact. In addition to the burns and cuts to the head and thigh, all received in the aircraft, he was suffering only bruising and a twisted knee. Not a single bone had been broken or even fractured. Both of his flying boots had disappeared, probably torn from his feet as he unconsciously struck the tree branches. Being of no further use, Alkemade discarded his parachute harness in the snow.

Though his incredible survival arguably made him the luckiest man in the world, his luck soon changed. He began to blow on his emergency whistle, which got the attention of German civilians nearby. After he was taken to a local infirmary, he was interrogated by the Gestapo the next day.

He told them what happened, and like anyone else would, they basically called bullsh-t.

“You say you fell from a plane, but you have no parachute,” the Gestapo interrogator asked him, according to the Mercury. His interrogators accused him of burying it and being a spy, until he told them to find his discarded harness, along with the crashed aircraft that was nearby, according to the RAF Museum.

The Germans investigated and found he was legit. They even gave him a certificate stating, “It has been investigated and corroborated by the German authorities that the claim of Sergeant Alkemade, No. 1431537, is true in all respects, namely, that he has made a descent from 18,000 feet without a parachute and made a safe landing without injuries, the parachute having been on fire in the aircraft. He landed in deep snow among fir trees.”

Alkemade spent his next 14 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in Poland, and returned to England after the war ended. He died in 1991.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ways Russia remembers its World War II fallen in other countries

World War II saw a tremendous amount of killing – and Russians took the full brunt of the Nazi death machine. Even the holocaust, a horribly cold, mathematical, and planned destruction of an entire race, was relatively small potatoes compared to the sheer volume of Russian lives lost fighting to end Nazism in Europe..


The Soviet Union lost some 26 million people fighting for their lives. There was hardly a Soviet family left untouched by what it calls “The Great Patriotic War.” So it makes sense that Russia would want to honor its fallen, wherever they fell. And no one does monuments like Communists.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Budapest, Hungary

The Soviet War Memorial in the Hungarian capital sits just across the street from the U.S. Embassy and is ironically flanked by a statue of Ronald Reagan. The statue itself bears the names of the Red Army fighters who assisted in the end of Nazi occupation of Budapest from across the Danube.

The statue is maintained by the local government in Hungary as part of a deal to preserve World War II memorials in both countries. Locals like to joke that when the Soviets left Hungary, they gave the Hungarians a giant middle finger.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Heroes Monument to the Red Army – Vienna, Austria

An incredible 17,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Vienna Offensive of World War II. The fight for Hitler’s hometown was brutal and costly. To commemorate their sacrifice, the Soviet Union built a 3,000-square-foot monument near Schwarzenberg Castle. Vienna still pays to maintain the upkeep on the memorial, centered by a Red Army soldier wearing a golden helmet and carrying a Soviet flag.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Brest Hero Fortress – Brest, Belarus

What was once a Tsarist Russian fortress was used by the Nazis in World War II as a defensive position, the Brest-Litovsk Fortress is now called the Brest Hero-Fortress and pays homage to the Hero City of Brest and its contributions to the Great Patriotic War. During the early days of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the Soviets were almost able to repel tens of thousands of Nazi troops from the walls of the fort. Standing tall among the ruins is a stone giant, called “Courage” which dominates the ruins.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Slavin Memorial Complex – Bratislava, Slovakia

In the capital city of Slovakia, once dominated by the Soviet Union, a memorial still stands honoring the men and women who died to liberate Bratislava from the horrors of Nazi occupation. The Slavin is actually a memorial complex instead of a lone memorial. Some 7,000 Soviet soldiers are buried here, and their names adorn the walls of the complex.

From the top of Slavin Hill, visitors can view the site that honors the men who died there while taking in amazing views of the entire city.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Soviet War Memorial – Treptower Park, Berlin

This massive figure was unveiled in 1949, just after the end of the Berlin Airlift. Built in Berlin’s Treptower Park, the statue memorializes 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the battle for Berlin in 1945. On top of a manicured landscape stands a lone Soviet soldier, standing on what’s left of a broken swastika. The grounds carry the remains of thousands of Soviet soldiers who died fighting in the city.

To this day, the memorials, like the other two honoring the Soviet sacrifice to triumph over Nazi Germany in Berlin, are meticulously maintained by the German government.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 everyday items with surprising military applications

Necessity is the mother of invention, but combat forces troops to get creative. When your life is on the line, you do whatever it takes to get the job done. Over the years, troops have found some surprising applications on the battlefield for simple everyday items. Here are some of the best.

1. Super Glue

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Thanks to inventions like helicopters and Super Glue, wounded troops in Vietnam had a better chance of survival than in WWII (U.S. Army photo)

Yes, the stuff that you use to fix broken pottery and then get all over your fingers had a military use. In fact, it was a live saving application. While developing a plastic gunsight and an aircraft canopy in the 1940s and 1950s, Harry Coover invented a new super strong and quick-drying adhesive. Realizing the potential medical application of his new invention, he submitted it to the FDA for approval. Although it was disapproved for use on human tissue because it caused skin irritation, the military sent Super Glue to the Vietnam. Applied with a spray bottle, medics would use Super Glue to close open wounds and stop bleeding in the field. This gave many troops the valuable time needed to be MEDEVACed to a field hospital for proper treatment. Later, Super Glue’s formula was reworked to be used specifically on human tissue.

2. Grease pencil

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Modern MH-6 Little Birds have more advanced targeting systems (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The grease pencil has plenty of uses in the military. Its ability to write on glass make it ideal for air traffic controllers, especially on aircraft carriers. However, the pilots of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment used the grease pencil as a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem. When the OH-6 Cayuse was adapted into the MH-6 Little Bird for Special Operations use, the Army added two M134 7.62x51mm mini-guns and two 2.75-inch rocket pods to the helicopter. However, the pilots had no way of aiming their weapons. To create a reference, they would fly a few practice gun runs to see exactly where their fire was landing in relation to their windscreen. Afterwards, they would mark the spot with a little “X” in grease pencil and use it as a gun sight. Despite its crudity, the grease pencil gun sight worked remarkably well. Sgt. Raleigh Cash, a member of Task Force Ranger during the Battle of Mogadishu remembers the accuracy of the Little Birds. “These guys hit exactly where you told them to,” Cash recalled, “using nothing but a little X on the windscreen.”

3. Cricket

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Lt. Winters (Damian Lewis) uses his cricket to challenge an unknown group of men (HBO)

Thanks to Band of Brothers and Jurassic World, most people are probably familiar with this one. The cricket, or clicker, was originally designed in the 1920s as a timekeeping device for orchestra and band leaders. The simplicity of the clicking metal device meant that it was soon adopted as a children’s toy. However, during Operation Overlord, the cricket served a much more serious role than music or playtime. On D-Day, the 101st Airborne challenge and password was “flash-thunder”. If a paratrooper came across an unknown individual in the dark, they would whisper “flash” just loud enough for the person to hear. If they responded with “thunder”, it was another paratrooper and all was good. Otherwise, it was assumed that they were a German. The Screaming Eagles also used a nonverbal challenge and password. Using their crickets, paratroopers would make one click as a challenge. The appropriate response to identify yourself as a fellow trooper was two clicks with your own cricket. The simple cricket has also been used to train animals and has become iconic thanks to its depiction on screen.

4. Silly String

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Use it for crafts, parties, or room clearing (Wham-O)

A favorite of children and vandals alike, the aerosol plastic string in a can found its way to the battlefield during the war in Iraq. Especially in the early days of the war, U.S. troops were heavily impeded by IEDs. Enemy fighters would rig up crude explosives with simple tripwires that made house-to-house fighting extremely difficult and dangerous. Adapting to this threat, troops discovered that Silly String could be used to identify tripwires that were otherwise invisible to the naked eye. The plastic stream can be shot 10 to 12 feet across a room and is light enough to not set off any potential triggers. If the string falls to the ground, no tripwires. If the string hangs in the air, you know there’s something there. Upon hearing about this application from her son, one Army mom organized a drive to send 80,000 cans of the stuff to Iraq in 2007.

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The day ‘Hell rained down’ on the only firefighters killed by a foreign power on US soil

Dec. 7, 1941, was a day of infamy for the United States, as the Empire of Japan’s naval and air forces savagely attacked American military forces in Hawaii. 

It was a sad day for the entire country, but it also marked a milestone that often goes overlooked by history. That day was the first and only time a foreign power attacked a fire department on American soil. 

Just as they would 60 years later during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American firefighters were out the door and racing to the scene at Hickam Field as death rained down from above. The Honolulu Fire Department’s Kalihi Fire Station was just an 8-mile drive from Hickam Field and shared a mutual aid pact with the base. When Japanese planes started attacking Pearl Harbor and Hickam Army Airfield at 7:55 a.m., the military reached out to local firefighters, asking that they provide assistance as they had done many times before.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, the view looks east, with the supply depot, submarine base, and fuel tank farm in the distance. A torpedo has just hit the USS West Virginia on the island’s far side, center. Battleships moored nearby are, from the left: the Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing), alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side, left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah, and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed; Utah is listing to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center and over the Navy Yard at right. Japanese writing, lower right, says the photo was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. Photo courtesy of the US Naval History and Heritage Command.

Though the morning started off like any other Sunday for the firefighters, the sheer volume of anti-aircraft fire coming from the base gave them a clue that something was up. In the joint training exercises they’d held with the military, the firefighters had seen the white puffs of smoke that signaled the use of training shells. That morning, the puffs of smoke were black — Oahu was under attack.

So when the men at Kalihi Station got Hickam’s call for help at 8:05 that morning, Engine Six of the Honolulu Fire Department prepared for war. Within 12 minutes, the fire department was coming to the rescue. By the time the first Honolulu Fire Department company arrived on the scene, bombs had completely destroyed Hickam’s fire department. The anti-aircraft fire had subsided, but the damage was done. The firemen thought the attack was over, and they went to work.

According to the Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center, the immediate damage included a 4,000-man concrete barracks, bombed out and burning. A gas main was burning in the middle of a nearby road. Parked aircraft were on fire on the tarmac, and hangars containing B-17 Flying Fortresses were ablaze.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
The sun rises over the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the sailors and Marines who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan, courtesy of the US Navy.

Hickam’s own fire department had attempted to respond to the attack, but its main engine was just feet from the bombed fire station. Japanese fighters had strafed the vehicle. The men inside both the building and the engine were all dead or missing. The Honolulu Fire Department was now the main first responder force. 

Soon, two other HFD companies arrived on the scene and found a total disaster. The men joined the fight against a fire in a hangar, attempting to save the aircraft inside. They used whatever source of water they could find. The base’s water systems were damaged, and none of the hydrants were operational. The firemen eventually found water in a bomb crater filled by Hickam’s broken water main.  

Honolulu firefighters were still fighting the hangar fire at 8:50 in the morning when the second wave of Japanese fighters came flooding into the area. Lt. Frederick Kealoha, the on-scene commander, saw the fighters first and shouted to his men to take cover. Men scrambled for the relative safety of destroyed buildings and burning hangars. 

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
US Marines with Crash Fire Rescue engage in simulation training aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Oct. 30, 2014. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Julian Temblador.

“For the next 15 minutes, hell rained down from the skies in the form of whistling bombs and screaming machine gun bullets, seemingly strafing everyone and everything in sight,” firefighter Richard Young said in an interview with author John Bowen years after the incident. 

“That quarter hour seemed like an eternity to us as we tried to make ourselves invisible to the Japanese pilots and machine gunners,” Young recalled. “Finally, the onslaught of shrapnel and bullets dwindled and stopped. The second wave of the attack was over. The question in everyone’s mind was ‘How many more will there be?’ No one dared to even guess about that.”

Hoseman Harry Tuck Lee Pang was the first fireman killed on the scene when a Japanese Zero strafed the area where Pang was working. Two other firemen, Capt. John Carreira and Capt. Thomas Macy, were killed inside a hangar when an enemy bomb hit the roof of the building.

The firefighters’ equipment was also destroyed, either strafed by enemy bullets or hit by bomb fragments. Engines, tires, chemical tanks, and everything else they needed to fight the fires were completely useless by 9:15. 

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Edward Hoeschen salutes the wall of names at the USS Arizona Memorial during the 78th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Remembrance Commemoration, Dec. 7, 2019. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Holly L. Herline, courtesy of the US Navy.

When it appeared the attacks had ended, military personnel and civilian volunteers were finally able to begin the terrible task of collecting the wounded and dead. The firefighters plugged holes in their engines and tanks using brown soap and toilet paper found in the debris of the demolished barracks. Their ability to fight the fires was limited to the proximity of the bombed water main crater, their only source of water. 

Given their limited access to water and equipment, the firefighters could produce less than a tenth of the water needed to fight the fires in front of them. Still, the wounded, exhausted men of the Honolulu Fire Department worked through the day and into the next wherever they could.

Six additional members of the fire department were wounded in the second wave of attacking fighters. To this day, the Honolulu Fire Department is the only fire department on American soil whose members were attacked by a foreign nation. 

In recognition of their assistance to the military, the six wounded men were awarded the Purple Heart shortly after the surprise attack. The firefighters killed that day — Pang, Carreira, and Macy — were awarded the medal posthumously in a 1984 ceremony aboard the USS Arizona Memorial. 

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

Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Julian Temblador.

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This is the Dunkirk hero who deserted then changed his name to rejoin the army

In 1916, nine-year-old Paddy Ryan was caught in a shootout between the Irish Republican Army and British troops. One of the British men pushed Ryan to the ground, taking a bullet for the young boy. It inspired Ryan to join the Army.


Except Paddy Ryan wouldn’t join the British Army until 1930. But Alfonsus Gilligan, as Ryan was known at the time joined as soon as he could. And deserted shortly after.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Deserters in the era of the second world war left for many reasons; few of them were actually for cowardice. Most of them were actually because months and years of endless combat pushed many of the frontline British troops past their breaking point.

The British Empire abolished the death penalty for desertion after World War I. In World War II Europe, deserters ran the black markets of occupied countries like France and the Netherlands. In Africa, deserters were often recruited into special operations forces like the British SAS.

Alfonsus Gilligan deserted because he wanted to avoid a court martial.

The 17-year-old wore his Irish Guards uniform to a public event in County Cork, Ireland — in defiance of British Army rules. The Irish, who just fought a war of independence against Britain, started a riot. Gilligan escaped unharmed, but was brought up on charges. He never returned to his London-based unit.

He spent a few years as an itinerant farmer and day laborer before he rejoined the British Army with a new name: Frank “Paddy” Ryan.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Frank Paddy Ryan in uniform with his wife Molly and son David taken in 1942. (via Birmingham Mail)

He and his fellow Royal Warwickshires deployed to France in 1940. He was part of the rear guard that held back the Nazis at Dunkirk, delaying them long enough for most of the men to make it off the beaches.

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was overrun at Wormhoudt, in northern France, by the German army. They ran out of ammunition and surrendered with the expectation of proper treatment under the Geneva Convention.

Instead, a Nazi Waffen SS division called Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler took many of Ryan’s friends and brothers from the Royal Warwickshires, along with members of the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and a handful of French soldiers, to a barn near Wormhoudt, and then murdered them with grenades and rifle fire.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

This became known as the Wormhoudt Massacre. Paddy Ryan was not among those killed. He fought on along the Ypres-Comines Canal as they made their way to the beach, being evacuated and returning to England on June 1, 1940.

His daughter didn’t discover her father’s first life until after his death in 2000. It inspired her and her husband to explore his life in more detail.

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6 ways the military upgrades your personal style

When young men and women join the military, they soon realize that there’s not a lot of room for personal style — you’re going to end up looking like everybody else.


That’s very true because you have joined a club that wears the same trousers and blouses as the person next to you.

Since you’re now wearing a uniform that you technically didn’t pick out, you may feel that you like your ability to be “you” is gone forever — but that’s not true.

Related: This is why sailors have 13 buttons on their trousers

So check out our list of how the military upgrades your personal style.

1. Physical training

It’s not every service member’s goal to go out and win the Mr. Olympia body building contest — we get it. But since we get physically tested nearly on a daily basis depending on your occupation, we tend to build a little muscle here and there.

Plus, members of the opposite sex tend to like a guy or gal that’s in shape — just saying.

We guess she liked that. (Image via Giphy)

2. Dental

Although the military doesn’t provide service members cosmetic dental work, getting your cavities filled for free is a much better option than walking around with a big a** hole in your #2 mural.

They declare war on cavities. (Image via Giphy)

3. Dress uniform

Since women love a man in uniform, all service members are in luck because you have to wear one practically every single day. Having a dress uniform ready to go in your closet can also save you a bunch of money from having to rent or buy a tux for your upcoming wedding.

See, it’s all in the uniform. (Image via Giphy)

4. Housing

Many of us join the military to escape an unsatisfying life back home. Most of the newbies will end up living in the barracks their first few years in the service until they get married or promoted. In recent years, the government has spent a lot of dinero to improve base housing.

This is a huge step up from when you were sharing a room with your little brother back home.

Base housing in the Air Force. (Image via Giphy)

5. Vision

If you have crappy vision heading into the military, you’re going to end up wearing BCGs at least through boot camp. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can upgrade your spectacles once you graduate and even put in a request to get a Lasik procedure through your chain of command.

Not bad right?

Not that type of vision. (Image via Giphy)

Also Read: This is why ACUs have buttons on their pants and a zipper on the blouse

6. Reliable paychecks

We don’t make millions, but we do get paid on time every 1st and 15th of the month (unless you get in trouble). For many newbies, that on-time payment system is the ultimate upgrade.

No, you shut up. (Image via Giphy)Can you think of any others? Comment below.

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The US plan to survive a Soviet nuke was absolutely bonkers

A sudden flash. A mushroom cloud. A sudden expanding pressure wave. In the event of a thermonuclear attack, seeing these things means its probably too late to survive. So the U.S. developed warning systems to give Americans a heads up before the bombs landed. But that begs the question: What do you do if you have just an hour or so until your city blows up?


Coordinating protection and relief for civilians in war falls to civil defense workers, and America’s civil defense program underwent an overhaul after World War II. Many of the funding and legislative changes were focused on responding to atomic and nuclear threats.

But hearings in 1955 revealed that civil defense was, uh, let’s say, far from robust. How far?

Well, Administrator Val Peterson told Congress that Americans should learn to dig holes in the ground and curl up in them to escape nuclear fallout. But he did also offer that the government could dig trenches next to highways for about .25 per mile and then cover the trenches with boards and soil for additional protection. In some areas, the boards and dirt could be replaced with tar paper.

Even at the time, the public realized a huge shortcoming of this plan: Ditches don’t last. They have to be dug for a specific attack, and the diggers would need at least a few days notice to provide shelter for a significant portion of a city.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
(Seattle Municipal Archives)

 

And people in the 1950s were also familiar with pissing and pooping. These trenches would have no sanitation, water, or food, and people would have to stay in them for days. At the time, it was believed that a few days might be enough time for the radioactivity to fall to safe-ish levels. We now know it’s a year or more for the longer-lasting radioactive isotopes to get anywhere near safe.

But meanwhile, even a few days in trenches is problematic. For the first few hours, radiation is at peak strength, and any dust that makes its way from the surface into the trench is going to have levels of radiation high enough to threaten imminent death. This dust needs to be washed off as quickly as possible, something that can’t happen in a trench surrounded by more radioactive dust with no water.

Oh, and, btw, canned food and bottled water will become irradiated if not shielded when the bomb goes off.

But there was another plan that, um, had many of the same problems. This called for laying long stretches of concrete pipe and then burying it in a few feet of dirt. Same sanitation and supply problems, worst claustrophobia. But at least less irradiated dust would make it into the civilians huddling inside.

Duck And Cover (1951) Bert The Turtle

 

Most of this information was learned by the public in 1955 during those public hearings. Though, obviously, portions of the hearings were classified, and so the public wouldn’t learn about them for decades. One of the items that came out in closed session was that the irradiated zone from a hydrogen bomb would easily stretch for 145 miles with the right winds. A serious problem for the farmers who thought they were safe 40 miles from the city.

Things did get better as the Cold War continued, though. Government agencies, especially the Federal Civil Defense Administration, encouraged the construction of hospitals and other key infrastructure on the perimeters of cities where it would be more likely to survive the blast of a bomb (though it still would have certainly been irradiated if downwind of the epicenter).

Educational videos gave people some idea of what they should do after a bomb drop, though, like digging trenches next to highways, most of the actions an individual could take were marginal at best. Those old “Duck and Cover” cartoons from 1951? Yup, ducking and covering will help, but not enough to save most people at most distances from the bomb.

What you really need to do is find a nice, recently dug trench.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Night Witches: The female pilots who struck fear into the Nazis

With what is arguably one of the most badass names in military history, the story of the female aviators nicknamed Nachthexen, or “Night Witches” by German soldiers, tends to fly under a lot of people’s radar (bad pun intended). Flying no-frills wooden planes with ill-fitting uniforms and no parachutes, these Soviet pilots not only faced off against Nazis, but also judgment, doubt, and mistreatment by many of their male counterparts. 

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, with their aircraft in the background. (U.S. Air Force)

From the start of WWII, Russian women were looking for ways to contribute in both support roles at home and in hands-on roles near the front lines. These women had a seasoned advocate in their corner, in the form of Soviet pilot Colonel Marina Raskova. 

Raskova, known to many as the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” had already made a name for herself as the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force, with an impressive number of long distance flights already recorded. Once Raskova began receiving letters from women asking how they could help, she used her position within the military to open up new opportunities for them. Her success was helped by the fact that Joseph Stalin personally knew and respected Raskova and her efforts, and in October of 1941, he ordered her to create three female-only air squads. While two of them inevitably became mixed-gendered, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment remained exclusively women for the entirety of its existence.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
A stamp portrait of Marina Raskova in uniform with the insignia of a major of the Soviet Air Force. (WikiMedia Commons)

Around 400 women, ranging in age from 17 to 25, were selected and moved to Engels, where they began training at the Engels School of Aviation. In addition to having to learn years worth of training and information in just a few short months, they also had to deal with misogyny from many of the male soldiers within the Soviet ranks.

Since the women of the 588th were seen by many to be less than, or as “little girls,” they weren’t taken seriously or provided proper equipment. The female pilots were given ill-fitting male uniforms and oversized boots, which they would have to stuff with their own torn up bedding to ensure a better fit. With sexual harassment and ridicule a daily occurrence, these women had to learn quickly how to be stronger both in and outside of battle. 

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Night Withes in 1943 (WikiMedia Commons)

They also weren’t able to equip their planes with things like parachutes due to a lack of funds and strict weight limits for the outdated aircraft they were provided. These planes were crop dusters from the 1920s and typically only used for training purposes. Made predominantly of canvas and plywood, the two-person Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were considered by most to be a death wish if used in combat. 

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
(WikiMedia Commons)

Since the plane itself already posed so many of its own safety issues, flying at night was really their only way to ensure any sort of stealth and safety. Most runs would happen with three planes, the first two meant to draw attention and enemy fire, with the third being the one to drop the bomb. What made this so dangerous is the fact that the third plane, to avoid detection, would have to cut their engine and glide over their target as quietly as possible.

Getting the engine back up and running after the drop was always a “fingers crossed” kind of scenario, given the age and ability of the aircraft. One of the only things these planes offered in their favor was the fact that, due to their slower top speed, they were able to maneuver faster than the German planes, making it harder to get a target on them. In terms of defense munitions on board, there was little to none. Many pilots would have only a loaded pistol, typically leaving the last bullet for themselves, as suicide was preferrable to being captured.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Irina Sebrova flew 1,008 sorties in the war, more than any other member of the regiment. (WikiMedia Commons)

The main goal of the 588th was to disorient and sleep deprive the enemy, and soon after beginning their runs, it became clear that they were successful. Not only were the Nazi’s thrown off by the near-nightly attacks, but they were also particularly incensed when they learned that an all-woman regiment was responsible. The name Night Witches was given by the Nazis — due to the noise the planes would make when they would glide, engines cut, overhead. They described it as the sound of “brooms sweeping.”

Despite their clear aptitude and success, the Night Witches, a name they wore with pride, continued to receive criticism and contempt from many of the males in the Soviet military throughout their time in the war. They were arguably never given the complete appreciation and recognition they deserved. That didn’t seem to bother them too much, however, and they went on to fly around 30,000 sorties and have 23 of their pilots awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Group photograph of several members of the Night Witches, all of whom became heroes of the Soviet Union. Left to right: Tanya Makarova, Vera Belik, Polina Gelman, Yekaterina Ryabova, Yevdokiya Nikulina, and Nadezhda Popova. (WikiMedia Commons)

While the roles of women in the military have continued to grow and evolve across the globe, the Night Witches were instrumental in showing that women are just as capable, even with minimal support, respect, equipment, and with all the odds stacked against them. It’s stories like these, the lesser-known tales, that add so much to history. It’s these stories that set the stage for where we are today.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British marksman could have killed George Washington

It’s difficult to imagine how history would have been altered if George Washington had been killed during the Revolutionary War. Without the father of our country leading its fight for freedom, the war might have been lost and America might still be a British colony. In fact, this alternative history might have come true if not for the moral convictions and gentlemanly ethics of a Scottish infantry officer named Patrick Ferguson.


These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)

Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.

Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle

In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.

Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.

Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.

Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)

Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.

While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.

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Medal of Honor recipient and former POW dies at 85

Air Force Col. Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for multiple feats of bravery in an aerial engagement who was later shot down and held as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton for six years, died May 2 at the age of 85.


His death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which did not disclose the cause of death.

Thorsness was deployed to Vietnam as a Wild Weasel, an aircrew that deliberately baited enemy missile and radar sites with their own jets. Once the site gave itself away by tracking the American plane or firing on it, the Weasels or accompanying aircraft would bomb the site.

Thorsness was leading a flight of four F-105s on April 19, 1967, when the dangerous mission went sideways. Thorsness and his electronic warfare operator had taken out two sites when another member of the flight was hit by an enemy missile.

The two-man crew was able to eject, but the pair was descending into hostile territory. Thorsness flew circles so that he could pinpoint where they landed to facilitate a rescue, but spotted an enemy MiG as he maneuvered.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, at left, poses with his electronic warfare operator, Capt. Harold Johnson, next to their F-105 Fighter-Bomber. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Rescue crews were en route and Thorsness quickly attacked and killed the first MiG before flying to the tanker for fuel. Immediately after he refueled, he heard that the helicopter crews attempting the rescue were being threatened by a flight of four MiGs, and Thorsness flew through enemy anti-aircraft fire to reach the fight.

Thorsness and his EWO were on their own when they initiated the attack against the four MiGs. Thorsness quickly downed one and engaged the other three in aerial combat for 50 minutes, outnumbered and low on ammo but flying fiercely enough to drive them off.

Once again low on fuel, Thorsness headed back to the tanker but learned that another plane was lower than his. He gave up his fueling spot to allow the other to dock and so ran out of gas, forcing him to glide his aircraft back to friendly lines.

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, second from left, stands with other Wild Weasels. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Only 11 days later, Thorsness and his EWO were shot down during a mission and became prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Thorsness was kept for years with another famous POW, Arizona Senator John McCain, a Navy pilot at the time.

Thorsness spent six years in the prison, three of them under nearly constant and brutal torture before international pressure relieved the conditions somewhat. His Medal of Honor was approved during that time, but it wasn’t announced until after his 1973 release for fear that the North Vietnamese would torture him worse if they knew about the medal.

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