Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.

In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.

1. Trial by combat

Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat 

2. Trial by the cross

Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.

3. Trial by fire

If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.

4. Trial by hot water

Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.

5. Trial by cold water

It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.

6. Trial by… cheese?

One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.

Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.

The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down recruitment events, delayed testing, and affected daily military life much like it has affected everyone else. It’s a major pain, but there’s a bright side; unlike in previous pandemics, the military has coped about as well as everyone else. Their COVID infection rate is right in line with that of the general population. COVID policies are intensely debated, but all in all, the military’s precautions in 2020 prevented the rampant spread of disease that was incredibly common in the wars of yesteryear. 

World War II was the first US war in which combat killed more soldiers than disease. Before then, getting sick was riskier than being attacked. In the Civil War alone, roughly two thirds of the casualties were caused by illness. Naturally, some diseases were more deadly than others. In the early years of war, these nine diseases were some of the most feared biological opponents.

  1. Scurvy
    If your mom ever pestered you about getting enough vitamin C, she had a point. During the Civil War, there were 30,714 cases of scurvy, also known as vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy was most common in sailors who had little access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are natural sources of the essential vitamin. 

    Symptoms start out mild with fatigue and soreness. The longer you’re missing out on your daily dose of vitamins, the worse it gets. Limbs begin to swell and become weak, wounds take longer to heal, and skin may bruise and bleed easily. Losing teeth and developing jaundice are other common (and less than pleasant) side effects. Left untreated, scurvy is eventually fatal.
  1. Typhoid
    The kind of Salmonella that people get from sneaking a bite of raw cookie dough is no fun, but it’s a breeze compared to one of its cousins. Typhoid fever is caused by a variation of Salmonella that causes symptoms for weeks, or even months, on end. 

    Typhoid symptoms vary in severity, and they don’t come on until up to a month after exposure. They begin with a high fever, followed by abdominal pain, muscle weakness, headaches, and sometimes vomiting. Rashes are also common. It might not sound so bad, but complications like intestinal hemorrhaging, encephalitis, and pneumonia are common and potentially lethal. During the Civil War, typhoid caused 34,833 deaths among Union soldiers.
  1. Malaria
    In WWI, troops on both sides were surprised by a silent adversary: malaria. Malaria is a parasite that is delivered to unsuspecting victims by the bite of an infected mosquito. Within about two weeks, flu-like symptoms begin. If not treated immediately, symptoms progress rapidly. While children are especially at risk, adults are far from safe. Adult victims commonly experience multi-organ failure, respiratory distress, anemia, and other life-threatening symptoms.

    By the time WWI hit, the military was aware of the cause of malaria, but they didn’t realize how common it was throughout parts of Europe. Because of this, wartime preventative measurements were woefully insufficient. About 617,150 cases and 3,865 deaths were reported among the allied troops, while the axis powers suffered 562,096 cases and 23,351 deaths. The difference in fatalities was likely due to better malaria management practices by the Allied Powers.
  2. Pneumonia
    While pneumonia is still common today, we’re much better equipped to deal with it than Civil War soldiers were. If you’ve never experienced it, consider yourself lucky. Pneumonia causes a severe cough, stabbing chest pain, intense fatigue, fever, chills, and shortness of breath. Most cases can be treated by antibiotics, but it can be deadly in at-risk individuals. While advanced age is the most common risk factor, the poor living conditions and nutrition of Civil War troops resulted in 77,335 cases and 19,971 deaths. About one in six of those who acquired the illness died of it, including Stonewall Jackson.
  3. Dysentery
    Of all the diseases during the Civil War, dysentery was one of the worst. Dysentery is an intestinal infection that causes severe, bloody diarrhea. The symptoms are similar to most stomach bugs, with abdominal cramping, nausea, fever, and sometimes vomiting, only worse. The dehydration it often causes can be severe enough to be life-threatening.

    It accounted for upward of 95,000 deaths between both armies, but those numbers may not capture the full extent of the illness’s impact. The discomfort from dysentery left soldiers weak and more prone to being injured in battle. The deaths that followed were often attributed to battle wounds, when dysentery may have dealt the final blow. 

    Dysentery still occurs today, but it’s much less common due to better hygiene practices. Civil War soldiers had little idea of proper sanitation methods, and they often built latrine pits near the same streams they drank from. Oops.
  1. Smallpox
    Smallpox was fairly uncommon during the Civil War, but it was the most infamous of all the wartime diseases. There were over five times as many measles cases than smallpox cases, but more soldiers still died of smallpox. If you got it, you had nearly a 40% chance of dying from it.

    To add to the fear, people were so desperate to guard themselves against the ominous illness that some attempted DIY vaccinations. They injected themselves with material from other people’s sores, but the sores weren’t always caused by smallpox. Some managed to give themselves gangrene or syphilis with their medically-unsound immunity treatments. 
  1. Cholera
    Cholera is acquired in the same way that dysentery is; by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms can be mild, but severe cases can cause life-threatening dehydration. Without treatment, the dehydration can be so severe that kidney failure results, plus shock, coma, and death. Cholera impacted numerous wars, coming in a series of five brutal outbreaks before improvements in sanitation practices were applied. 
  1. Tuberculosis
    Tuberculosis is one of the more mysterious of the afflictions that has affected US soldiers. It’s caused by a mycobacteria that’s transmitted through the air, most commonly spreading to the lungs. It can rest dormant in the body for months or years with no symptoms, but the symptoms are severe when they reemerge. Those infected develop a chronic cough, intermittent fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Untreated, they begin coughing up blood, and the prognosis isn’t great; only about half survive.

    The cramped conditions of Civil War camps contributed to the rapid spread of tuberculosis. 6,497 soldiers from the Union Army officially died from it, but many more were discharged due to the illness and died later.
  1. Influenza
    The flu has been around as long as we can remember, but one flu pandemic was especially destructive. The so-called Spanish Flu infected around a third of the global population, and about 50 million people died; more than twice those killed in WWI. 


While most flu outbreaks hit young children and the elderly harder than healthy adults, something about the Spanish flu was different. Plenty of young adults were killed by the pandemic two, including those serving in the armed forces. Roughly 45,000 American soldiers died of either influenza, or the pneumonia that often followed. 

Thankfully, modern medicine has helped US soldiers to stay as pandemic-safe as they can be. That, and no more drinking from contaminated latrine streams!

MIGHTY HISTORY

A cut-off Japanese garrison wiped out this endangered bird

The tragic defeat of the brave defenders at Wake Island following a gallant stand in the weeks after Pearl Harbor lives on in Marine Corps lore. The legacy includes VMFA-211, the “Wake Island Avengers,” who currently operate the F-35B Lightning II. It also includes a lesson in how the most innocent can pay the heavy price of war. In this case, we’re talking about a bird.

Wake Island was one of many Japanese-held posts that were passed over in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign. The Japanese garrison there was cut off, stuck in the middle of the Pacific and facing occasional strikes by Navy and Army Air Force assets. With no ability to resupply, the Japanese garrisoned there had to survive somehow.


According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, 1,262 Japanese troops later surrendered to the crew of the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162). The United States’ strategy left them malnourished. They had one primary source of food: the Wake Island rail, a small, flightless bird indigenous to the islands.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

The surrender of Japanese troops on Wake Island is signed in September, 1945, too late for the Wake Island rail.

(US Navy)

The Wake Island rail was a little over eight and half inches long. It was notable for its ability to survive in an ecosystem with little — near to none — fresh water. What ultimately doomed this species was its inability to fly and an innate curiosity, which meant they weren’t afraid of humans.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

While the extinction of the Wake Island rail was tragic, it was not the worst of the Japanese military’s misdeeds on Wake Island — here is a monument to 98 civilian contractors summarily executed.

(Prog1)

The Japanese troops took advantage of that curiosity in their struggle to survive — the Wake Island rail was hunted to extinction. A 1946 trip to Wake Island, just a year after the Japanese surrendered, generated no sightings of the bird. Now, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the bird as extinct due to overhunting.

While this extinction is a minor tragedy of war, it is dwarfed by the war crimes Japan committed against civilians on the very same atoll.

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This WWII commander avenged his fallen shipmates

There is nothing like a good revenge story. From Paul Kersey’s vigilante rampage in in “Death Wish” to Eric Cartman’s diabolical payback in the South Park Episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” revenge tales are deeply satisfying.


Here is one from World War II involving the revenge one naval officer took upon Japan for his fallen shipmates.

It started during the earliest days of America’s involvement in World War II. On Dec. 10, 1941, the Sargo-class submarine USS Sealion (SS 195) was hit by Japanese bombs during a strike on the American naval base in Cavite where it sunk pier-side.

Four of her crew — Sterling C. Foster, Melvin D. O’Connell, Ernest E. Ogilvie, and Vallentyne L. Paul — were killed. Eli T. Reich, the submarine’s executive officer, was among those evacuated.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
USS Sealion II (SS 315). (US Navy photo)

According to retired Navy Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood’s book, “Sink `Em All,” when Reich was due for a command of his own, he asked if Lockwood could get him the new USS Sealion (SS 315), a Balao-class vessel. Lockwood, who was the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines, arranged for that assignment – and Reich was soon out, seeking revenge.

Four of the torpedoes USS Sealion II carried were stamped with the names Foster, O’Connell, Ogilvie, and Paul.

On Nov. 21, 1944, while the Sealion was patrolling in the Formosa Strait, Reich then came across a Japanese surface that included the battleship HIJMS Kongo (in reality, a re-built battle cruiser). Reich moved his submarine into position, then fired a spread of six torpedoes from his bow tubes — including the ones with the names of his fallen shipmates.

He then fired a second spread from his stern tubes.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
Two views of HIJMS Kongo as she looked in 1944, the year she was sunk by USS Sealion (SS 315). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Accounts differ as to the exact sequence of events after the two spreads of torpedoes were fired.

According to “Leyte,” the tenth book in Samuel Eliot Morison’s 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the first spread Reich fired was intercepted by a Japanese destroyer that blew up and sank as a result, and the second spread scored one hit that eventually sank the Kongo.

At CombinedFleet.com, Anthony Tully relates a different version, with Kongo taking multiple hits from one of the spreads.

Lockwood claims Reich’s first spread scored three hits.

No matter what version, the Kongo eventually blew up and sank. Reich had avenged his shipmates. He would receive three awards of the Navy Cross, among other decorations, for his service, and died in 1999. His command, USS Sealion, would serve in the Navy until 1970, then was sunk as a target in 1978.

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3 heroes who became POWs twice

There is no easy time to be a prisoner of war.


The United States military’s code of conduct implores captured service members to continue to resist by any means possible. This often means reprisals from one’s captors. Therefore, surviving one stint in a POW camp can be excruciating.

To do it twice is unimaginable — except these three American servicemen did it.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
The United States Code of Conduct is memorized by service members to act as a touchstone and a guide if captured. (Department of Defense)

1. Wendall A. Phillips

Phillips was assigned to the Air Transport Command as a radio operator on C-47 aircraft flying from bases in England.

While in Europe Phillips survived five separate crashes. During the last one, in late 1944, his aircraft was shot down. Though he walked away from the crash, he was unable to evade the Germans and was captured.

He and his fellow crewmembers were taken to a German POW camp in Belgium.

Phillips had no intention of sticking around though. After just 33 days Phillips and two other POW’s made a break for it.

Also read: Bob Hoover stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Phillips simply snuck away while no guards were around. Finding a hole in the electric fence around the camp, Phillips and the other two men made good their escape and quickly found a place to hide.

Phillips travelled for three days before he linked up with the French Underground. The resistance fighters helped Phillips make it back to American lines.

After returning to American forces, Phillips was reassigned to the China-India-Burma Theater flying “the Hump” to bring supplies to forces fighting the Japanese.

Once again, Phillips’ airplane crashed and he was captured by the enemy.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, April 16, 1945. (Imperial War Museum Photo)

According to an article in The Morning Call, Phillips endured torture at the hands of the Japanese — they even forcibly removed his fingernails trying to get information out of him.

Phillips would not escape this time but he would survive his ordeal as a POW; he was released with the Japanese surrender in 1945.

2. Felix J. McCool

When Gen. Wainwright conveyed the American surrender in the Philippines to President Roosevelt, he said, “there is a limit to human endurance, and that limit has long since been passed.” But Gen. Wainwright was certainly not speaking for one Marine sergeant, Felix J. McCool.

McCool was still recovering from wounds he had received earlier in resisting the Japanese when he, the 4th Marine Regiment, and the rest of the defenders of Corregidor were rounded up and shipped off to internment.

Just getting there was bad enough as the captives were crammed into cattle cars so tightly that when men passed out or died they could not even fall down.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
POWs in the Pacific Theater endured horrific conditions. Pictured here are men on the Bataan Death March with their hands bound behind their backs; later this would be labeled as a Japanese War Crime. (U.S. National Archives)

But for McCool, being a Marine meant that he was not out of the fight. He did everything in his power to resist his Japanese captors.

While working as forced labor on an airfield McCool and his fellow prisoners created a tiger trap on the runway — they later watched as a Japanese airplane crashed and burned due to their handiwork.  

McCool also managed to smuggle in medical supplies to help the sick and wounded.

He did this despite the constant threat of beatings and even summary execution. He carried on despite the horrendous conditions in the camp.

But there was worse to come.

McCool next endured a brutal voyage to Japan aboard a Japanese prisoner transport vessel, known as a “hell ship.” McCool survived the hellacious conditions only to be put to work in an underground coal mine. There he continued his resistance by sabotaging the work and keeping the faith with his fellow prisoners.

After thirteen months in the coal mine, McCool was freed by the ending of the war in the Pacific.

He returned to the United States and decided to stay in the Marine Corps. Then in 1950, now a Chief Warrant Officer, he found himself fighting the North Koreans.

McCool became part of the fateful Task Force Drysdale, an ad hoc, mixed-nationality unit that was attempting to fight its way toward the beleaguered Marines fighting at the Chosin Reservoir. When the task force was ambushed and separated along the roadway to Hagaru-ri, McCool was once again taken prisoner.

McCool and his fellow captives were marched far north through brutal cold with no rations. Once in their internment camp, the conditions hardly improved. Besides the brutal treatment, the men were also subjected to communist indoctrination and propaganda.

Related: The day we saved 2,147 prisoners from Los Baños Prison

McCool’s resistance earned him the ire of his captors and they threw him in the Hole — a barely three foot square hole in the ground. But he endured.

McCool was repatriated with many other Americans during Operation Big Switch after the end of hostilities.

According to his award citations, McCool spent over six years as a prisoner of war between his two internments.

He later wrote a book about his experiences and the poetry that he wrote to keep himself going during those terrible times.

3. Richard Keirn

Richard Keirn was a young flight officer on a B-17 when he arrived in England in 1944. On Sept. 11, 1944, he took to the skies in his first mission to bomb Nazi Germany. It would also be his last.

Keirn’s B-17 was shot down that day and he became a POW for the remainder of the war. Released in May 1945 after the defeat of Germany, Keirn returned to the United States and stayed in the military. He became a part of the newly formed U.S. Air Force.

In 1965, Keirn embarked for Vietnam, flying F-4 Phantom II’s.

Then on July 24, 1965, North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles engaged and shot down an American aircraft for the first time. That aircraft was piloted by Capt. Richard Keirn.

Keirn ejected from his stricken aircraft and would spend nearly eight years as a POW in North Vietnam.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Keirn, like many of his fellow POWs, made every effort to resist the North Vietnamese. For his actions as a POW, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Legion of Merit.

Keirn was released from captivity with many other downed airmen as part of Operation Homecoming in 1973.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The unknown deceased who have received the Medal of Honor

In 1921, after World War I, Congress wanted to find a way to reflect the nation’s gratitude to the many unknown dead who fought in the Great War, so they passed a series of acts authorizing Medals of Honor for the unknown casualties of not only the American Expeditionary Forces, but also the unknown casualties of European allies.


Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

The Medal of Honor, Navy version

Oddly enough, the first act of Congress to award Medals of Honor to unknown soldiers was for Great Britain and French soldiers, not American. On March 4, 1921, an act was approved that…

…the President of the United States of America be, and he hereby is, authorized to bestow with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, the Congressional Medal of Honor upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier buried in Westminster Abbey, London, England, and upon the unknown, unidentified French soldier buried in the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France….

The act approving a Medal of Honor for the unknown American followed just a few months later, in August.

By virtue of an act of Congress approved 24 August 1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of highest ideals and virtues is bestowed in the name of the Congress of the United States upon the unknown American, typifying the gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, of our beloved heroes who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War. They died in order that others might live….

An award for the “unknown, unidentified Italian soldier to be buried in the National Monument to Victor Emanual 11, in Rome,” was approved that October. A Medal of Honor for the unknown Belgian soldier was approved in December 1922, and an act was approved for the Romanian unknown soldier in May 1923.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

French Marshall Joseph Joffre inspects Romanian troops during World War I. Romanian forces fought alongside Americans during the war, and Congress approved a Medal of Honor for their unknown deceased in 1923. No award for the unknown deceased of an allied force has been approved since.

The wording for each international award differs slightly — the act for the British and French unknown was “animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which the American forces fought alongside these Allies,” while the Italian act cites the “spirit of friendship,” — but all of the awards to allied unknowns were due to the American “desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by their deeds and to participate in paying tribute to their unknown dead.”

Congress has not approved a new award for the unknown deceased of allied forces since 1923, but it has approved a new award of the Medal of Honor for the unknown Americans interred from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The acts were approved in 1948, 1957, and 1984.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

U.S. Army soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment “Old Guard” march up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a wreath laying ceremony in commemoration of the Army’s 238th Birthday in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., on June 14, 2013.

(DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

Note that while the unknown deceased are interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the acts approving the Medals of Honor are worded to honor the deeds of the “unknown American” and apply to all unknown Americans who died in service to their country in the respective theater of war.

The unknown American selected from the Vietnam War was later identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. When Blassie’s remains were returned to his family, it was decided that the Medal of Honor should remain at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, since the award was approved to honor the deeds of all unknown deceased who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

All four Medals of Honor for American unknowns are on display at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

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This museum sub may find new life as artificial reef

A submarine that just missed serving in World War II may soon find itself making one last dive off the coast of Florida.


Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
USS Clamagore as a GUPPY II. She was later converted into a GUPPY III, and is the last surviving vessel of that type. (US Navy photo)

According to WPTV.com, the Balao-class submarine USS Clamagore (SS 343) could be towed to a point off Palm Beach County and sunk as an artificial reef. The vessel is currently at the Patriot’s Point Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, along with the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 10) and the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724).

According to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Clamagore is the only surviving GUPPY III-class submarine in the world. Nine GUPPY III-class submarines were built. According to a web page serving as a tribute to these diesel-electric submarines, most of the vessels modified under the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program were scrapped, sunk as targets, or sold to foreign countries.

The reason she is going to wind up becoming a reef? The report from WPTV states it is about money.

“The museum up in Charleston is losing money and they would really like to unload this as quickly as possible,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche told the TV station. The alternative to turning the 2,480-ton submarine into an artificial reef is to scrap her.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
USS Clamagore SS-343 at Charleston, South Carolina November 24, 2003. This is the only surviving GUPPY III diesel-electric submarine in the world. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“We wanted to honor the people that served on it, we wanted to honor the submarine service in general,” Valeche said.

Several organizations are trying to save the Clagamore for continued service as a museum. A 2012 FoxNews.com report indicated that at least $3 million was needed to repair the vessel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know these military facts about Alcatraz?

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz or “The Rock” closed its doors forever. Although modern society may know its name because of famous residents like Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulgar, there is a rich history beyond that. Long before the daring escapes of mobsters, it was actually used by the United States Military as a fortified defense. It would also become the Army’s first long-term prison.


Discovered in 1775 and mapped by Spanish explorers, Alcatraz wouldn’t come under the ownership of the United States until after the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Two years later an Army and Navy joint commission recommended that it be a part of a triangle of defense for the bay of San Francisco. It was then that President Fillmore signed an executive order reserving it for public purposes. That purpose was a military prison.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Captain Joseph Stewart and Company H of the U.S. Artillery took command over Alcatraz. It would go on to house Army personnel who had violated rules and regulations. Two years after the Civil War began, a confederate ship was seized and its entire crew imprisoned on Alcatraz. As prisoners continued coming, more prison structures were built.

Prison construction continued, eventually covering up the original coastal fortification that was built in the 19th century. Alcatraz was officially designated as the Pacific Branch military prison in 1907 and was renamed “Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks” in 1915. It was considered the place soldiers would go for punishment and to undergo “retraining.”

Army prisoners would go on to build almost all of the buildings on the island. The last soldiers departed Alcatraz in 1933 when it became the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It would undergo some modernization and improvements before it opened its doors in 1934. A few months later, Al Capone would help make Alcatraz forever infamous.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

The new federal prison became home to America’s criminal population that was deemed too difficult or dangerous to be anywhere else. It would house a total of 1576 men and there were 14 known attempts at escape. Alcatraz officially closed its doors on March 21, 1963, after it was decided it was just too costly to maintain.

Today, over a million tourists visit Alcatraz every year walking the halls and grounds of one of the most infamous prisons in history, many not knowing it was built by soldiers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a now-famous cadet fought in battle and went back for sophomore year

He was one of the top officers in World War II, an expert in submarine and aviation combat, and a veteran of three wars. And Ernest J. King got his start by lobbying for a ship assignment during the Spanish-American War while the rest of his freshmen class at the Naval Academy went on leave. When he returned for his sophomore year, he was wearing two new medals celebrating his work in combat.


Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Naval cadet Ernest J. King, a future fleet admiral.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

It started in 1897. The Ohio-native entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis that year, fulfilling a long-time dream. But in February 1898, the U.S. Navy battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. The naval cadets (now known as midshipmen) continued their studies until that April when the U.S. declared war.

Then, the Navy came calling for the seniors (more properly known as cadets first-class.) Those men were sent to the fleet as midshipmen, not yet commissioned officers but considered ready for service on board. The cadets second-class, basically college juniors, took exams and then, if they passed, were sent to the fleet as midshipmen.

But the underclassmen were sent home on leave. As a cadet fourth-class, the equivalent of a freshman, King was supposed to go home and wait for his classes to resume. But he heard a rumor about a cadet allowed to serve on board a ship. King wanted that chance.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

The USS San Francisco, a cruiser of the U.S. Navy.

(NavSource, Library of Congress)

So he went to Washington with four other classmates and asked for assignment in the fleet. He was granted a spot on the USS San Francisco, an aging cruiser commissioned in 1890 that was assigned to patrolling the coast of Florida and into Cuban waters.

For most of the short war, the San Francisco just guarded port cities and patrolled its designated waters. But, then it was sent to blockade the ports of the north side of the island. At one point, it was sent to the mouth of Havana Harbor to prevent a possible breakout attempt by Spanish ships.

The Spanish shore batteries tried to drive the San Francisco off, and the ship traded blows with the men onshore before withdrawing. It was a short and relatively consequence-free bit of fighting, but it still made King a combat veteran of a war.

The young academy student was awarded two medals, the Spanish Campaign Medal and the Sampson Medal. The first was for all who fought in the Spanish-American War, and the second was for those personnel who fought under Rear Adm. William T. Sampson in the West Indies and Cuba.

It was likely a big surprise for his classmates when he returned to school later that year. Only a handful of the new cadets third-class were able to get into the short war. He graduated from the academy in 1901 and would be commissioned as an ensign two years later with experience on cruisers and battleships.

He served in World War I and then spent time on submarines and earned his aviator wings and commanded the carrier USS Lexington in the interwar years. By the time America was pulled into World War II, he was one of the best and most experienced sailors in American history, and he was one of only four men ever promoted to fleet admiral.

MIGHTY HISTORY

We just missed horse day, so here’s hero Sgt. Reckless

Apparently, December 13 was National Day of the Horse, thanks to the 108th Congress, so we want to take a second to talk about one of the military’s most heroic horses: Marine Corps Korean War hero, Sgt. Reckless.


Reckless began life as Ah Chim Hai, a racehorse owned by a Korean man, but the man sold the horse in order to buy a prosthetic for his sister who had lost a leg to a landmine. The Marines who bought Reckless initially treated her a little like a pet, giving her portions of their food and bringing her into the barracks when she was cold.

But she was destined for service and began running ammunition into combat and wounded Marines out.

And this is where Private Reckless distinguished herself. Most horses are skittish, and it takes a resilient horse to operate under fire in any circumstances, but Reckless could ferry rounds into combat and wounded Marines out.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Then-Pvt. Reckless operating under fire in Korea.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

And she could do it unsupervised.

Once she knew where the supply post was and where her Marines were fighting, she could make trips back and forth quickly, efficiently, and without further guidance. Ask any gunnery sergeant in the Corps, and we guarantee they’ve had at least one Marine that couldn’t be trusted like that.

Reckless’s most significant contribution came during the Battle for Outpost Vega in 1953 when her Marines were manning recoilless rifles under heavy enemy fire. Reckless made her back-and-forth trips, even continuing after an enemy round caused two shrapnel wounds, one of which nearly blinded her.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Marines pose with a statue of Staff Sgt. Reckless during an October 2016 ceremony where the statue was unveiled.

(U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Dylan Overbay)

Despite the enemy fire and potential distractions, Reckless carried 386 rounds of ammunition to the front in a single day. The rounds weighed 24 pounds each, enough to exhaust even a horse.

For her heroics, Reckless was promoted to sergeant, awarded two Purple Hearts, and sent to America a short time later. She went on to give birth to four children and enjoy retirement as a Marine Corps celebrity and staff sergeant.

Camp Pendleton now celebrates her life with a statue erected in her honor. Camp Pendleton even released a graphic for Reckless on National Day of the Horse. It’s available here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These heroes used planes as missiles years before the Kamikazes

The Japanese Kamikaze pilots were known for their suicide attacks against American vessels. These pilots, hell-bent on getting revenge for their lost comrades while fighting a doomed battle against an angry and seemingly unstoppable Navy, would die crashing their planes into Allied ships.

But the Japanese actually weren’t alone in ordering pilots to use their planes as guided missiles. In fact, they weren’t even the first.


Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

A Polish P.11 is readied for takeoff. Lt. Col. Leopold Pamula was flying a P.11 when he conducted the first taran attack of World War II.

Soviet pilots conducted “taran” attacks, using their own planes as battering rams against Nazi craft, on the first day of the German invasion. And Polish pilots used the tactic on the first day of World War II. Kamikaze attacks, meanwhile, began in 1944.

The first-known taran attack in World War II took place on Sept. 1, 1939. Polish pilots resisting the German invasion were shockingly effective despite flying outdated and outnumbered aircraft.

One pilot, Lt. Col. Leopold Pamula, had shot down two German bombers and fired on a third but found himself out of ammo. With the bombers headed towards an important city and the situation growing increasingly desperate, Pamula attempted an aerial ram in his P.11 and brought down the enemy bomber.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

German fighters like this one made life miserable for Allied pilots.

(Photo by Kogo)

But here’s where it breaks from the tradition of Japanese Kamikaze attacks — and it might be why Kamikaze attacks have persisted in the historical consciousness while taran and similar attacks have not. Pamula then bailed out of his plane as the enemy bomber dropped towards the earth.

See, taran attacks followed three broad patterns according to a 1986 analysis by the RAND Corp. First, the pilot could aim for their propeller to strike the enemy control surfaces. Second, the pilot could conduct a very controlled crash of some portion of their plane against the enemy’s control surfaces.

Either of these methods, if everything went well, would doom the enemy aircraft without killing the pilot conducting the attack.

Only the third method, in which the pilot points their nose directly into the body of the enemy aircraft, was certain doom for the attacking pilot performing. In the other two methods, there was a chance that the plane would remain stable enough for the pilot to bail out afterward.

When German forces invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviets quickly adopted the taran just like their old Polish adversaries.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

German bombers fly in formation.

At 4:25 in the morning on June 22, 1941, scant hours into the invasion, Soviet Senior Lt. L. I. Ivanov rammed a German bomber, the first of 270 aerial tarans, according to a 1984 Soviet report. A 1974 report had estimated the total number of Soviet tarans in World War II at 430.

So, why don’t we hear the tales of Soviet and Polish pilots slamming their planes into enemy aircraft? The fact that some pilots to survived, as mentioned above, surely contributed. But there’s one other factor that likely has us remembering the taran as a semi-legitimate tactic while the kamikaze is remembered as a horror weapon.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

A German plane crashes into the carrier USS St. Lo

Kamikaze attacks, while not the best decision militarily, were terrifying largely because a successful one could doom a carrier, a battleship, or a cruiser in one go. A successful taran attack, on the other hand, caused six members of an air crew to attempt to bail. A successful kamikaze attack meant that thousands of sailors had to try to escape a sinking prison as oil ignited on the ocean’s surface around them.

One of those is frightening, perhaps disquieting. The other is the stuff of nightmares.

Articles

2 million declassified documents reveal new details of JFK assassination

Most people know the basic history of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy — that a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, who had briefly defected to the Soviet Union, fired the shots that killed the 35th president using a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that had been purchased from a mail-order catalog.


Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
Photo of Lee Harvey Oswald with rifle, taken in Oswald’s back yard, Neely Street, Dallas Texas, March 1963. (Photo released by the Warren Commission)

But could there be more to the story behind one of the most dramatic events of the 20th Century? With the declassification of over 2 million documents, now the assassin’s activities can be traced in weeks, months, and years before Oswald fired the shots that altered the course of history.

A former CIA agent and a former LAPD detective are now looking into these documents – carrying out an independent investigation spanning the entire world in order to answer the many questions about the assassination of President Kennedy that have divided America for decades: Did Oswald act alone, or did he have help? If so, who helped him, and why?

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
The moment before Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The upcoming HISTORY series “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald” premieres April 25, 2017, and features a bombshell – a document showing that Oswald had met with Soviet officials in Mexico City six weeks before he assassinated John F. Kennedy.

The series features a host of interviews and new revelations, including insight from experts and former special operations soldiers like WATM friend Marty Skovlund. Check out the short trailer from HISTORY below.

Articles

This massive air offensive had an adorable name

As the Allies put their plans into action in 1944 preparing for the eventual D-Day landings, they knew that they needed to break German logistics in Normandy. As part of the process, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and the 8th Air Force targeted the rail networks that crisscrossed France.


But while the landings would be known as Operation Overlord and the evacuation of the Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo, the rail bombings were named Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
The generals had a lot of choices for operation names, and they choo- choo- choosed that one. (GIF: YouTube/Simpsons Channelx)

The operation wasn’t named after the “The Simpsons” episode. That would be ridiculous, reader who apparently doesn’t understand that World War II happened before “The Simpsons.”

No, it was named after a popular song of the day. Glenn Miller had recorded the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 and someone on the staff must have liked it. That would be similar to the missile strikes on Syria having been named after a Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song.

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals
B-17 formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Despite the silly name, the operation was a huge success. The air forces wanted to limit German logistics while obscuring the site of the upcoming landings in Operation Overlord. So they dropped bombs all over occupied France but stipulated that two bombs be dropped at Pas de Calais for every one that hit in Normandy.

Adolph Hitler and his cronies were convinced the landings could come at Calais. The bombs ripped through German railways, marshaling yards, wireless radio stations, and other key infrastructure, softening up Normandy for the invasion.

All thanks to Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.