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MIGHTY HISTORY

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

If you are a regular reader of Coffee or Die Magazine (you are here, after all), then you have likely read countless stories from military history about the misfits who served during World War II. Some of these may be familiar, while others are new additions to your store of knowledge. We’ve covered soldiers who carried peculiar weapons into battle, such as a longbow or an umbrella, and special operations and guerrilla warfare units that thrived with a diverse cast of characters.

Here’s a roundup of 10 misfits of D-Day and World War II who inspired many to follow them into hell and back.

Oldest Soldier on D-Day

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was 56 years old when he stormed Utah Beach. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was the oldest soldier to land as part of the first wave of the invasion force on D-Day. The 56-year-old veteran of World War I and Distinguished Service Cross recipient rallied his men armed with a pistol in one hand and his walking cane in the other to take Utah Beach. One month later, Roosevelt died after suffering a massive heart attack. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry and courage at Utah Beach on D-Day.

The Rice Paddy Navy

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
A C-46 employed by the SACO waits for a bomb crater on the runway to be repaired by Chinese soldiers. Photo by W. Elsworth Smith, courtesy of computersmiths.com.

The Rice Paddy Navy was a scrappy group of river pirates, peasants, coast watchers, and saboteurs who were provided weapons and training by a Chinese secret service general and a team of hand-picked US Navy sailors and Marines. The Rice Paddy Navy, better known as the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) — pronounced “socko” — served mainly as a paramilitary unit. 

They collected intelligence and conducted espionage operations but also launched ambushes, assassinations, and sabotage on key officers and infrastructure. In just three years — between 1942 and 1945 — they rescued 76 aviators shot down behind enemy lines, built a guerrilla army of nearly 97,000 fighters, and had 18 camps organized in China, Burma, Indochina, and parts of India.

Fly-Fishing Commando

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Ernest Hemingway with sons Patrick, Jack “Bumby,” and Gregory “Gigi” at Club de Cazadores del Cerro, Cuba. Photo courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Jack Hemingway, the eldest son of novelist Ernest Hemingway, famously completed his first combat jump with the OSS on a Jedburgh mission over France while towing along his fly-fishing rod. He even almost got caught by a German patrol midstream carrying his rod, reel, and a box of flies. But the Germans just made jokes about the silly fisherman, not realizing he was an American commando caught in the act. 

Prior to Hemingway’s service in Europe, he got into an altercation in a café in Algiers. He and a few other OSS commandos were there for a nightcap when a thief snatched his jump boots and ran down an alley. As the commandos gave chase, the thief linked up with friends around the corner who were wielding knives. The knives were no match for the commandos though — despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS, and they easily disarmed the perpetrators without suffering a scratch.

The Safecracker

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

In 1951, a newspaper reported that a detective from Scotland Yard had instantly pointed the finger at “Gentle Johnny” Ramensky, one of the most well-known safecrackers in the criminal underworld. Ramensky was a repeat offender, in and out of jail, yet he had no equals. In World War II, criminal types weren’t overlooked by special operations units. Crooks were even sought after because of their advanced knowledge in demolitions, skill with hand-to-hand combat, and situational awareness. Ramensky in particular was recruited for lock-picking and safecracking and joined Ian Fleming’s crackshot commando unit known as 30 Assault Unit (30AU). 

For the 30 AU, he conducted sabotage missions against German railroads and bridges carrying Nazi supplies. He also snuck into the North African headquarters of Erwin Rommel and stole top-secret materials. He targeted Hermann Göring’s luxurious Carinhall estate in the Schorfheide and was dropped by parachute into Rome to investigate Germany’s plans for withdrawing from Italy. In one afternoon, he blew open as many as 10 to 14 safes. “How did you do it?” his officers would ask, and he’d reply, “That, gentlemen, is my secret.”

The Ghost Army

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Screenshot from YouTube.

The art of deception is a strategy that must be perfected by military strategists in order to trick the enemy into the belief of authenticity. In the summer of 1944, the US Army had a specialized unit known as the “Ghost Army,” or 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, armed to the teeth with inflatable tanks, phony vehicles, and phantom divisions. The Ghost Army staged more than 20 deception operations across France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  

“Its complement was more theatrical than military,” writes the Ghost Army Legacy Project. “It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits.”

The Gas Pipe Gang

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Capt. Nieves Fernandez shows an American soldier how she used her long knife to silently kill Japanese soldiers during occupation, 1944. Photo courtesy of rarehistoricalphotos.com.

Capt. Nieves Fernandez was a schoolteacher before World War II. She had witnessed violence at the hands of the Japanese against the Filipino populace in Visayas, a group of islands in the Philippines. One day she’d had enough and recruited men in her community, known as Waray guerrillas to American forces in the area, to join her resistance force. They were sometimes called the “Gas Pipe Gang” for their use of improvised weapons such as gas pipes loaded with a combination of gunpowder and nails that acted as makeshift shotguns. 

The guerrilla commander, born circa 1906, led a loyal following of 110 resistance fighters for two and a half years killing as many as 200 Japanese soldiers. She ran through the port city with a bolo knife and set up ambushes in the forest while barefoot. The Gas Pipe Gang violently defied their Japanese occupiers, since it was the only way to protect themselves. 

Motley Crew of Fishermen

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
The Shetland Bus were fishermen to some, and giants to others. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube.

The Shetland Bus was an operation led by a motley crew of volunteer Norwegian fishermen that received support from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). They used the disguise of hiding in plain sight to deliver British commandos and saboteurs into Norway to help Norwegian commandos in their irregular warfare campaigns against the Germans. The Shetland Bus also acted as a highway for Norwegians to escape from Nazi oppression.

Skipper Lief Larsen was the most notorious fisherman of the operation, journeying through the harsh North Sea on 52 trips, sometimes for weeks at a time. By the war’s end, the Shetland Bus had transported 400 tons of weaponry and carried out hundreds of missions to the benefit of those in Norway who would have been cut off from the rest of the world without them.

Bagpiper, Swordsman, Archer

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

“Mad Jack” Churchill, or “Fighting Jack,” was the last British officer to kill an enemy combatant in war with a longbow. This World War II misfit also dressed in a kilt and played the bagpipes during coastal raids to inspire his troops from No. 2 Commando. During Operation Archery, sometimes called the Måløy Raid, he played “March of the Cameron Men” while they were assaulting German positions on the island of Vågsøy, Norway. In Salerno and Sicily, during the Italian amphibious landings, Churchill famously captured 42 German soldiers and an 81 mm mortar team armed with only his sword.

“In my opinion, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed,” he reasoned. After a botched nighttime raid in Yugoslavia, Churchill was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he and a Royal Air Force officer tunneled to freedom. At least that’s what they intended, because they were captured and transferred to a more secure prison camp. Churchill escaped again and was discovered eight days later by an American reconnaissance unit. 

La Dame Qui Boite: “The Lady Who Limps”

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The CIA’s predecessor during World War II was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and one of its most heralded officers to serve in the outfit was a woman known to them as Virginia Hall and to the French Resistance as La Dame Qui Boite, or “The Lady Who Limps.” Hall served more than 20 years with the OSS, the British SOE, and the CIA, gaining notoriety for her actions as well as for her appearance during the war. She named her wooden prosthetic leg “Cuthbert” and famously received a response from an unsuspecting staff officer that added to her legend. From the snow-covered Pyrenees mountain range she sent a message to London: “Cuthbert is giving me trouble, but I can cope.” An unknown staff officer replied, “If Cuthbert is giving you trouble, have him eliminated.”

Hall was the first woman in SOE to establish resistance networks out of Vichy, France, and went on daring undercover missions for the OSS, often adopting disguises and aliases to remain hidden from the Germans who called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” She transmitted coded messages as a wireless operator detailing German troop movements and also coordinated airdrops for the Maquis guerrillas. 

The Limping Lady had earned the respect of the most seasoned paramilitary officers. Hall was a “gung-ho lady left over from the OSS days overseas,” CIA official Angus Thuermer later commented. “Young women in sweater sets and pearls listened raptly to Virginia Hall gas with muscular paramilitary officers who would stop by her desk to tell war stories.” Hall was the only civilian to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross medal during the war.

The Umbrella-Wielder

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Maj. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter was a British officer who worked as a safari guide shooting tigers and hunting wild boars with a spear in India. During World War II, Tatham-Warter joined the Parachute Regiment, famously known as the “Paras,” and trained his men to rely not on the radio but on a musical instrument, the bugle horn, for communications. The unorthodox officer had difficulty remembering passwords, and thus he carried an umbrella to mark himself as friendly.

“It would be quite obvious to anyone that the bloody fool carrying the umbrella could only be an Englishman,” he later said.

His battlefield heroics could be remade into a satirical comedy film, yet they were completely real. Near the German-held Arnhem Bridge, the battalion’s chaplain became pinned down by enemy fire. Tatham-Warter ran to his aid and quipped, “Don’t worry, I’ve got an umbrella!” His craziest endeavor involved him charging a row of panzers and armored cars and thrusting the point of his brolly into the eye of an operator of an armored car to incapacitate him. When the Germans surrounded his battalion, he was captured, yet Tatham-Warter escaped, stole a bicycle in broad daylight, and rode through the streets until he linked up with Dutch resistance forces to reach safety.

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

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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.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
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.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
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.

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The 6 most insane obsessions of the world’s craziest dictators

Most of us will never know for sure, but there must be something about absolute power that drives a person absolutely insane. For some reason, the dictators that capture and hold power for decades start exhibiting strange behaviors that definitely weren’t apparent when they were just a simple goat herder (Moammar Qaddafi), weatherman (Joseph Stalin) or doctor (François Duvalier).

Next: The 9 day jobs of brutal dictators

Those obsessions might have been present while they were nobodies, but they definitely got the chance to bloom once they started living life with a cheat code for unlimited money and power inside their own country. Here are a few of the most bizarre obsessions:

1. Kim Jong-Il – Food

While it may surprise no one that a North Korean is obsessed with food, most of them are obsessed with finding food. Former dictator and dad to current dictator Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il, had no problems finding it, but he was very particular about it. 

Legends say he had a team of female servants who would go through each individual grain of rice destined for his plate to ensure they were all exactly the same size. He also demanded that rice be cooked on a fire made from wood from sacred Mount Paektu – 420 miles from Pyongyang.

When he wanted a taste of international cuisine, he had it flown in… brick by brick. To make the perfect pizza, he flew in a pizzeria from Italy. To make beer, he moved a brewery from Germany. It’s a good thing he wasn’t into wings, because the Pyongyang Hooters would be incredibly depressing. 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Guy Fieri really missed out on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: Pyongyang” (Wikimedia Commons)

2. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier – Black Dogs

The former doctor and Haitian dictator was a longtime diabetic who suffered a heart attack and went into a coma after an insulin overdose. He recovered, but as he convalesced, he left power with an ally, Clement Barbot. Of course, he soon began to accuse Barbot of trying to steal that power and overthrow Papa Doc. It wasn’t true, but Barbot then actually tried it by kidnapping Papa Doc’s family.

The coup failed and a nationwide manhunt soon began for Barbot. When he couldn’t be found, Papa Doc somehow got it in his head that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog. So the dictator, despite being an educated doctor, had all the black dogs in Haiti put to death.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
As if being a cruel despot to humans wasn’t bad enough… (Image by LaurenLiebhaber from Pixabay)

3. Fidel Castro – Ice Cream

Even before he seized power in Cuba, Papa Fidel was known to be obsessed with ice cream. Supporters sent him ice cream cake for his birthday while he was fighting in the jungles. He celebrated seizing power in Havana with a nice milkshake and once ate 18 scoops of ice cream for lunch. 

There’s no insane, over-the-top story about his obsession. He did create one of the world’s best ice cream parlors, Coppelia, for the Cuban people, which the government still subsidizes. The closest the CIA ever got to assassinating the Cuban dictator was poisoning one of his milkshakes. 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Nothing says “party” like state-run ice cream (Wikimedia Commons)

4. Joseph Stalin – Nude Drawings

We aren’t saying Stalin was making nude drawings or forcing people to draw in the nude. His obsession was much more specific. He really liked making rude comments on drawings of nude men. It didn’t matter if it was a classical painting or a doodle on a cocktail napkin, he was going to write something on it. 

The comments sometimes had nothing to do with the drawings. On one nude male figure, the Soviet dictator wrote, “Ginger bastard Radek, if he had not pissed against the wind, if he had not been angry, he would still be alive.” 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Radek was a former Trotsky supporter who disappeared into Stalin gulags. At least the world knows what happened to him.

5. Adolph Hitler – Western Novels

The Fuhrer was obsessed with the writings of German author Karl May. He was more specifically obsessed with the author’s novels set in the Old American West, featuring a fictional Apache war chief named Winnetou and a German called Old Shatterhand. He even mentions May in “Mein Kampf.” 

As World War II dragged on, Hitler still forced his generals, troops and the German people to read the Old West works of Karl May, despite widespread shortages in everything needed to actually make books. He even demanded his generals read it for inspiration in fighting the Red Army. 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Hitler’s generals would draw straws to determine who would interrupt book club (maybe) (Bundesarchiv)

6. Moammar Qaddafi – Condoleezza Rice

The Libyan dictator had an obsession with Condi that she described as “weird and a bit creepy.” Of course, she knew about his obsession with her: he made a video about her called “Black Flower in the White House,” complete with an original score by a Libyan composer. Luckily, she wrote in her memoir, the video was not raunchy. 

When anti-Qaddafi rebels captured his compound, they found a homemade scrapbook of her in his personal quarters, one that was filled with photos and press clippings. They, of course, showed the world immediately to let the public humiliation of Qaddafi begin. 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
If you look up the song online, there are multiple guesses/ interpretations to how it went — no, seriously
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released)
MIGHTY HISTORY

President Hoover still gets fan mail from overseas

It is easy to overlook the significance of Herbert Hoover’s food relief efforts by looking merely at numbers. The precise number of people Hoover saved from starvation remains murky but most scholars agree it is in the hundreds of millions. Ironically, one of the most brutal leaders of modern times, Joseph Stalin, is credited with the following aphorism: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”


Scholars have since discredited the attribution. The quote, whomever said it, aptly applies to post-World War I era Europe. Herbert Hoover, against the wisdom of world leaders, used the American Relief Administration to provide food to Russian people living in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks as well as areas controlled by White Russian forces. Remaining above politics knowing that hunger is apolitical, Hoover provided food to roughly eighteen million Russians. This goodwill was not lost on those who received food as continues to be evident in letters the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff receive from descendants.

It is important to highlight these letters because they focus on individual lives that were prevented from becoming both tragedies and statistics. It places a human face on the food relief efforts and, more importantly, provides some sense of what drove Hoover in his tireless efforts to eradicate hunger. The following account is provided by Natalia Sidorova.

Also read: 13 Presidents who narrowly escaped assassinations

“I am writing you to celebrate the legacy that Herbert Hoover has earned in history by his compassion and care for millions of people in Russia and other countries who were on the brink of death by starvation.

About 97 years ago, my grandmother Zinaida Tiablikova moved to Moscow from her small town Klin, fifty miles to the north. She lived alone while she studied chemistry at Moscow University.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Zinaida Tiablikova

At that time there was a terrible food shortage throughout all of Russia as a result of the chaos following the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war between White and Red Russians. Many poor Russians from the Volga region came to Moscow in desperate hope of finding food in the city.

In 1920 a friend of my grandmother told her that the American Food Administration provided warm meals once a day for needy people, primarily children. Although most of the food centers were in the Volga River region where starvation was an enormous problem, there also were a few food centers in Moscow.

Related: The 17 most bizarre jobs of American presidents

My grandmother Zinaida went to one of these food centers on Miasnitskaya Street in Moscow. Throughout most of 1920 she and many other persons received a delicious hot meal once a day. She remembered on occasion receiving condensed milk and hot chocolate. For the many poor Russians these were special treats because they had never had condensed milk or chocolate before. Certainly these nutritious meals protected her and many other persons from death by starvation or other diseases caused by lack of food.

She told me that there was a photo of Herbert Hoover on display at the food center, even though Mr. Hoover himself did not want such public recognition. The people of the community chose to display his photo as their own spontaneous expression of their gratitude to Mr. Hoover and to the American people.

I now have a daughter named Galina who goes to college here in America. I have told her this story of my grandmother. This story demonstrates to my daughter that the American and Russian people can be great friends to one another in times of need.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Zinaida with two classmates, 1925.

I doubt that Mr. Hoover himself then was supportive to the Bolshevik ideology which in recent years has fallen into disrepute even among conservative Russians. However, Mr. Hoover put aside his own personal beliefs about politics and economics so that he could help other persons.

My grandmother always spoke with great appreciation of the generosity of the American people as expressed through the person of Herbert Hoover. She was always amazed that Mr. Hoover possessed special administrative skills so that he could distribute food to remote regions where the food was in greatest demand. She was delighted for the American people when she learned years later that Mr. Hoover was elected President. She cherished the memory of his photo in the food center and she prayed for him throughout her life.

More: This future President and First Lady fought with US troops in China

My grandmother is not with us any more to express her own gratitude to Mr. Hoover. As her grand-daughter I accept that task with full enthusiasm. As an American citizen who was born in Moscow, I thank Mr. Hoover and I thank all the people of America for their generosity and compassion to millions of poor Russians in one of the darkest hours in our history. The legacy of Mr. Hoover’s goodness and the goodness of the American people is inscribed in the hearts of millions of Russian people.

Mr. Hoover’s legacy is also a beacon of hope for future generations. In a world that continues to be torn apart by conflict of all types, Mr. Hoover’s example reminds us that the best response to a crisis is compassion.”

Articles

How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Korean War forced the U.S. Coast Guard to change

The U.S. Coast Guard has served in every American war since the Revolution, but there was a major shift between World War II and Korea, thanks in part to the critical peacetime role the Coast Guard had assumed in 1946: training and preparing the South Korean Navy and Coast Guard before the war.


The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Commander William Achurch discusses the value of training aids with a Korean naval officer and another U.S. adviser.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

See, in Korea, the Coast Guard ceased to fight as a subordinate of the Navy and started to fight as its own branch, even during war.

During World War II, and nearly every war before that, the Coast Guard was shifted under the Navy during conflict and fought within the Navy ranks. Coast Guardsmen piloted most landing craft in World War II, from Normandy to Guadalcanal, but they did so under Navy command.

Even where Coast Guard officers were holding senior ranks over other Coast Guardsmen, the senior officers were still folded in with their Navy brethren. So, you could be an enlisted Coast Guardsman who was receiving orders from Coast Guard officers and Coast Guard admirals, but that admiral still fell under the fleet admirals and you were all tasked to the Navy Department.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

The destruction at the South Korean capital of Seoul was extensive. The last Coast Guard officers left the city as it fell to the North Korean communists.

(U.S. Army Capt. C.W. Huff)

But in 1947, just after the Army asked the Coast Guard to come to the Korean peninsula and help the democratic forces build a naval arm, the U.S. Navy proposed that the Coast Guard should focus on an expansion of its peacetime duties during times of war instead of trying to assume Navy duties.

So, in 1950, the Communist forces in North Korea invaded South Korea. The initial invasion was wildly successful, and democratic forces were forced to consolidate and withdraw, giving up most of the country before finally holding a tiny toehold on the southern coast.

By 1950, the active duty Coast Guard had been withdrawn from Korea and a few retired officers remained, drawing paychecks from the Army. After the invasion, even these men were withdrawn. One escaped Seoul as the city was destroyed, barely passing one of the key bridges before it blew up.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

A Coast Guard Martin PBM-5G commonly used in search and rescue operations.

(U.S. Coast Guard Bill Larkins)

So, as the war drug on, the Coast Guard was forced to build its own infrastructure to perform its new wartime duties. Two of the most important tasks were to provide weather observations and to conduct search and rescue missions. Both of these tasks required extensive deployment across the Pacific Ocean.

Weather operations rely on observations from a wide area, especially before the advent of satellites. And while search and rescue is typically restricted to a limited area, the Navy and Army needed search and rescue capabilities across their logistics routes from the American west coast to Korea.

So, the Coast Guard was forced to establish stations on islands across the Pacific, placing as many cutters along the routes as they could to act as radio relays and to augment search and rescue stations.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

A Navy P2V-5 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare plane like the one that was downed while spying on China in January 1953.

(U.S. Navy)

And one of those search and rescue missions went horribly for those involved. On January 18, 1953, a Navy P-2V Neptune was shot down while spying on Communist forces. The Coast Guard dispatched a rescue seaplane into the rough, cold seas.

The Coast Guard crew managed to land in the seas and pull the seven Navy survivors aboard, but they still needed to get back out of the sea. The Coast Guardsmen placed jet-assisted take-off devices onto the plane and the pilot attempted to get airborne.

Unfortunately, the rough waves doomed the takeoff attempt, and the plane broke up as it slammed into an oncoming wave.

Five Coast Guardsmen were lost before the remaining survivors of the dual wrecks were rescued. All five were posthumously awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.

Of course, the Coast Guard also had duties back home, guarding ports and conducting investigations to ensure that the people working at docks were loyal to the country to prevent sabotage.

The lifesaving service’s Korea performance would help lead to their role supporting Air Force combat search and rescue in Vietnam. But all of this was a massive departure from World War II where they saw extensive combat but worked almost solely as an entity folded into the U.S. Navy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Israeli pilot took on 11 MiGs and became the top scoring jet ace of all time

The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.


After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.

The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).

Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.

 

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Giora Epstein (USAF artwork)

It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.

Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.

Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.

That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
An Israeli Nesher over the Golan Heights. Giora Epstein scored 11 kills in week using this plane during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.

Yeah, that’s one badass pilot.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Red Army taunted its fleeing Nazi enemies in the race for Berlin

The violence of the final weeks of World War II on Europe’s Eastern Front was matched only by its chaos, as exhausted and outmanned German forces withered under attacks from well-equipped and highly motivated Soviet troops.

The front line became more fluid, with Soviet forces quickly enveloping Nazi units that then made shambolic retreats and launched desperate breakout attempts.


At times, Soviet forces arrived at vacated German positions so quickly that the Russians found opportunities to taunt their reeling enemies.

The Soviet race to Berlin began on April 15 from positions east of the city, and by the morning of April 21, 1945, staff officers at the German army and armed forces joint headquarters at Zossen, south of Berlin, were girding themselves for capture after Hitler denied a request for them to relocate away from the Soviet advance.

But Soviet tanks ran out of gas south of the headquarters, and the delay allowed Hitler’s staff to reconsider, ordering the headquarters to move to Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. The officers at Zossen got the order just in time.

“Late that afternoon, Soviet soldiers entered the concealed camp at Zossen with caution and amazement,” historian Antony Beevor writes in his 2002 book, “The Fall of Berlin 1945.”

Just four German defenders were left. Three surrendered immediately. The fourth was too drunk to do anything.

“It was not the mass of papers blowing about inside the low, zigzag-painted concrete buildings which surprised [the Soviets], but the resident caretaker’s guided tour,” according to Beevor. The tour, he writes, took the Soviet troops down among the two headquarters’ maze of bunkers, filled with generators, maps, and telephones.

“Its chief wonder was the telephone exchange, which had linked the two supreme headquarters with Wehrmacht units,” Beevor writes.

“A telephone suddenly rang. One of the Russian soldiers answered it. The caller was evidently a senior German officer asking what was happening,” Beevor writes. “‘Ivan is here,’ the soldier replied in Russian, and told him to go to hell.”

Soviets troops found other ways to taunt the Germans using their own phone lines.

A few days later, as Russian armies advanced to the outskirts of Berlin, the senior officers in the Fuhrer bunker, which didn’t have proper signaling equipment, were increasingly in the dark about troop movements. In order to supply Hitler with up-to-date information, they had to turn to Berlin’s residents.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Three senior German officials emerge after Germany’s unconditional surrender terms were formally ratified in Berlin, May 9, 1945.
(U.S. Signal Corps photo)

“They rang civilian apartments around the periphery of the city whose numbers they found in the Berlin directory,” Beevor writes.

“If the inhabitants answered, they asked if they had seen any sign of advancing troops. And if a Russian voice replied, usually with a string of exuberant swearwords, then the conclusion was self-evident.”

In the final days of April 1945, Berliners started calling their city the “Reich’s funeral pyre,” and Soviet troops were calling them to rub their looming victory in to their nearly vanquished enemy.

“Red Army soldiers decided to use the telephone network, but for amusement rather than information,” Beevor writes.

“While searching apartments, they would often stop to ring numbers in Berlin at random. Whenever a German voice answered, they would announce their presence in unmistakable Russian tones.”

The calls “surprised the Berliners immensely,” wrote a Soviet political officer.

Amid those taunts, the battle for Berlin and the fighting that preceded it left widespread destruction and death.

The battle began with one of the most powerful artillery barrages in human history, and by the time it was over on May 2, about 100,000 German troops — many of them old men and children — and more than 100,000 German civilians had been killed. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7 and 8.

Soviet forces lost about 70,000 troops in the fight for the city. Many of their deaths were caused by the haste of the Soviet operation, which was driven by commanders’ desire to impress and please Stalin and by Stalin’s own desire to seize Nazi nuclear research.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This reconnaissance unit has flown since before World War I

The young pilot struggled against dust and wind that swirled 10,000 feet above valleys sandwiched between Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. He had only a rudimentary pair of plain glass goggles to protect his face. Yet he was determined to find the trail of the rebel bandit Pancho Villa who had recently led a raid into New Mexico that killed eight U.S. Soldiers and 10 American civilians.

That young pilot, Capt. Benjamin Foulois, was in one of eight Curtis JN-3 “Jenny” biplanes participating in the search. The planes were powered with 90-horsepower engines that had a rough time just staying airborne, but they led a reconnaissance mission to kick off Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico.


It was March 1916, little more than a decade after the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and only seven years after Foulois was taught to fly by Orville Wright himself, becoming the first military aviator. He later became a major general, and in 1931 was appointed Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

That small unit of Jenny biplanes, in search of Villa and his Mexican marauders more than 100 years ago, were members of the 1st Aero Squadron, the first aviation unit to participate directly in a military action, flying 346 hours on 540 flights during Pershing’s expedition. The first mission covered more than 19,300 miles, and included aerial reconnaissance and photography as well as transporting mail and official dispatches.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

The first Curtiss JNÐ2s of 1st Aero Squadron at the Signal Corps Aviation School, North Island, Cali. Sgt. Vernon L. Burge stands under the propeller. In the cockpit is Capt. Benjamin Foulois and second man from the right is Jacob Bollinger.

The squadron was formed March 5, 1913, giving it the distinction of being the oldest flying squadron still in existence.

The unit has alternated between reconnaissance and bombing missions and had its name tweaked 14 times since the provisional 1st Aero Squadron unfurled its colors in Texas City, Texas. Its Airmen have flown 47 different types of aircraft and served in more than 50 locations throughout the world.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

In the year of the 1st Aero Squadron’s formation, Lt. Thomas D. Milling, instructor, and Lt. Fred Seydel, student, are at the controls of a Wright C., SC-16 Trainer on airfield in Texas City, Texas, May 1913. In front of the plane, 8 other soldiers in uniform and a civilian in white shirt and bow tie stand posed facing the camera.

Today, it’s the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, a part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, with the responsibility of training high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2S pilots and sensor operators.

The squadron has a reputation for being a pioneer in establishing ISR capability and establishing a legacy of supplying critical information to combatant commanders across the joint force.

“The legacy of the 1st Recon Squadron is a microcosm of the legacy of the Air Force,” said Richard Rodrigues, former 9th RW historian. “It was the organization that pioneered the first tactical deployment of U.S. military airpower, and it helped create some of our early leaders that had an impact on the Air Service and later the Air Corps.”

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

U.S. Air Force U-2S Dragon Lady Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Aircraft instructor pilots from the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a photo in front of a two seat U-2S Aug. 17, 2012 at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Less people have piloted the U-2 than have earned Super Bowl rings.

A little over a year after its famous recon mission over Mexico, the squadron would enter World War I, traveling from New Mexico to New York, then by ship across the Atlantic to land in Le Havre, France and become the first American squadron to enter the war. The 1st Aero Squadron took on the role as an observation unit, initially flying the French Dorand AR 1 and 2 aircraft, a two-seater recon plane, and later the Salmson 2A2.

According to Rodrigues, the squadron was in constant action throughout the “Great War” supplying divisional commanders vital information as to where the front line elements actually were, where artillery barrages need to be laid down in advance of the infantry and for causing disruption to enemy forces behind lines. Later, as positions became stabilized, photographs were obtained behind enemy lines to learn the dispositions of enemy forces.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

A Salmson 2A2 of the 1st Aero Squadron over France during WWI, 1918.

“The unit aided the stand of the Marines at Chateau-Thierry and prevented the German army from crossing the Marne River. The squadron also fought at Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, all important campaigns for the allies,” said Rodrigues. Those campaign victories represent the four Maltese crosses found on the 9th RW’s unit emblem.

Rodrigues added that although reconnaissance and artillery surveillance were the primary duties of the 1st AS, squadron pilots flying French SPAD fighters scored 13 aerial victories, represented by 13 Maltese crosses on the 1st Recon Squadron’s emblem. A total of 16 officers lost their lives, with three more missing in action.

After the war, the mission and the name of the unit changed to the 1st Observation Squadron, with the unit relocating to Camp Mills, New York. Its base would change names to Mitchel Field, and observation aircraft would be updated to the Douglas O-2, Curtiss O-1 and O-39. The unit would keep its observation role until 1935. They even used Douglass O-35s to deliver the U.S. Mail.

The unit then made a huge overhaul, going from observation unit to bomber squadron: the 1st Bombardment Squadron. The observation planes were replaced with Martin B-10 and Douglas B-18 bombers and the Airmen began learning new tactics at large training sites in Maryland, Florida, California, Michigan, and Virginia.

At the outset of World War II in 1942, the 1st BS moved to the island of Trinidad to strengthen defenses around the Panama Canal and defend against German U-boat attacks in the Caribbean and Atlantic. In October 1942 the squadron set up a tactics and bombing school in Florida.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

A 1st Bombardment Squadron Boeing B-29-50-BW Superfortress tail number 42-24791 nicknamed the “Big Time Operator.” After storage at Naval Air Station, China Lake, Cali, the nose of the bomber was acquired by the Air Force Museum and was grafted onto museum building at Beale AFB, Cali. in 1986.

In February 1945, the squadron began flying B-29s from Tinian Island in the Marianas chain as part of the 20th Air Force. The squadron completed 71 combat missions, including bombing raids over Iwo Jima in preparation for its invasion by U.S. Marines and night incendiary raids on the Japanese home islands, winning two Distinguished Unit citations. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a round-robin of assignments throughout the Pacific kept the squadron fully employed.

While stationed in Guam in 1947, the newly created Department of the Air Force issued orders to deactivate the unit.

However, the Air Force rescinded those orders and instead moved the unit to Topeka, Kansas, where it joined Strategic Air Command and became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron’s unbroken lineage remained intact.

With U.S. and the Soviet Union entering a global standoff known as the Cold War, the squadron returned to its bombing role, armed again with B-29s, including three nuclear-capable B-29MR bombers. It participated in several rotations between Travis AFB, California, and Guam during the Korean War. Then in 1953, it was transferred to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where it flew the B-47 Stratojet bombers.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Crew members in front of a B-47E Stratojet of the 1st Bombardment Squadron, 9th Bombardment Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in 1956.

For the next 12 years, the squadron would play an important part in America’s nuclear deterrent force and began a series of deployments to England, Guam, Okinawa and Alaska. Then the squadron’s mission would dramatically change once again with the secret development of a new plane by Lockheed Aircraft Company.

The SR-71 “Blackbird” was announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson and joined the Air Force inventory in 1966. This new, advanced surveillance aircraft gave the Air Force an intelligence weapon that could fly three times the speed of sound, at altitudes higher than 80,000 feet. The SR-71’s versatility included simple battlefield surveillance, multiple-sensor high-performance interdiction reconnaissance, and strategic surveillance over large areas of the world. It used the most advanced observation equipment in the world, carrying sensors with a 45 degree viewing angle on each side that could survey 100,000 square miles in an hour. It would totally change the future for the Air Force’s oldest flying squadron.

The 1st SRS was now in its heyday, gathering photographic and electronic intelligence products over Southeast Asian nations during the Vietnam War. The unit moved to its current location at Beale AFB in June 1966, and the 1st SRS was on its way to conducting missions that supported national intelligence-gathering requirements.

Retired Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua was one of those early SR-71 pilots at Beale AFB and said what he and other pilots did in the 1960s was no different from Orville Wright or the Global Hawk flights today.

“We made history then, and we continue to make history today,” Bevacqua said.

He and Maj. Jerry Crew were on their first mission over Hanoi, their third over North Vietnam, when a SA-2 missile fired on them, passing just ahead and below their aircraft. It was the first time an SR-71 had ever been fired upon. By the time Bevacqua retired in 1973, he had logged nearly 750 hours in the Blackbird.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

An SR-71B Blackbird sits on the runway after sundown.

After the war, 1st SRS Airmen logged some spectacular accomplishments. Of these the most notable were the SR-71 speed runs from New York to London and from London to Los Angeles. On Sept. 14, 1974, Maj. James Sullivan, pilot and Maj. Noel Widdifield, RSO, flew their SR-71 from New York to London in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 42 seconds for an average speed of 1,817 mph.

The SR-71 crew of Capt. Harold Adams, pilot, and Maj. William Machorek, RSO, established a record for the London to Los Angeles route when they flew the 5,645 mile leg in 3 hours, 48 minutes on Sept. 13.

For budgetary reasons, the SR-71 was retired from the Air Force inventory in 1990. The Blackbird’s final journey was from California to Washington D.C. where it became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. It was an SR-71 flown by the 1st SRS crew, which made the coast-to-coast trip in a record time of 68 minutes, 17 seconds—at a record speed of 2,242.48 mph.

Today, the squadron is the formal initial training unit for the U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The squadron recruits and trains all the U-2 pilots that fly high-altitude reconnaissance flights around the world. After initial interviews, orientation flights, and selection for the program, new pilots undergo approximately six months of extensive training, including 20 sorties in the U-2. The rigorous flying training programs produce 24 U-2S pilots, 48 RQ-4 pilots, and 36 RQ-4 sensor operators annually.

Upon graduation, crewmembers are not only mission-ready in the U-2, but also checked out in the T-38 companion trainer. They then transfer to the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron and prepare for a tour at one of the overseas detachments.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Airmen work on an RQ-4 Global Hawk after it returned to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., as part of a four-ship rotation out of the theater.

The 1st RS also trains mission planners. Mission planners have to know the wing’s mission, the aircraft and sensors capabilities, plus detailed information on target and threat assessment at specific locations. After planners complete training, they deploy to the overseas detachments and design flight tracks that allow pilots to gather the best data with the least personal risk.

According to former squadron commander Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, the 1st RS’s mission isn’t that much different from the one over New Mexico 100 years ago.

“It’s interesting because the first mission with aircraft was to be the eyes for the troops on the ground,” said Rodriguez. “The old mission was an extension of the ground troops, but it’s evolved. We organize, train and equip our squadron members to be leaders in the ISR mission. We are the eyes and ears of the nation and our fighting forces, and we operate over a broad spectrum of conflict.”

The 1st RS aims to increase their level of experience with a new, innovative Aviation Fundamentals Training program funded through the Squadron Innovation Fund.

“We are having our RQ-4 student pilots receive additional training flying with the Beale Aero Club while they are going through the Formal Training Unit,” said Maj. Daniel, 13th Reconnaissance Squadron FTU flight commander. “It is a continuation of the training they receive in Initial Flight Training.”

The FTU partnered with the Beale Aero Club to ensure pilots receive more experience in the local airspace by taking to the cockpit and flying aircraft closer to those flown early in the previous century: Cessna 172s.

“We started it to give the new pilots more experience in the air,” said Daniel. “AFT is designed to essentially improve airmanship, communication and situational awareness. We just wanted to give them more experience for when they show up to their operational Global Hawk units.”

AFT has already shown promising signs, and if it continues to receive funding, it could become an integral part of Global Hawk pilot training.

“I think the more experience we can give a pilot flying in the air will pay dividends years down the road,” said Daniel. “They are going to be better pilots operationally flying the Global Hawk, which is a mission with huge implications. They will also be better pilots when they become instructors themselves.”

For nearly a century, the 1st RS, the Air Force’s oldest squadron, continues to play a vital role in America’s defense.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Crew members of the 1st Aero Squadron next to a Salmson 2A2 painted with the American flag squadron emblem during WWI in France in 1918.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II’s most decorated woman was a housewife-turned-spy

French-born Odette Sansom was a sickly child. She wrestled with a slew of childhood illnesses, including a bout with polio that left her blind for three years. The adversity she overcame as a youth was good preparation for what she would do as an adult: joining the British “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”


Sansom’s accomplishments in World War II earned her the Order of the British Empire, a knighthood of the French Légion d’Honneur, and she was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross for “acts of the greatest heroism.” Her life foreshadowed the fortitude she would require as she was tortured by the Gestapo, to whom she would never give any information.

Her exploits are detailed in an exciting new book by Larry Loftis, Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy. Loftis’ detail of Sansom’s life reads like a spy thriller but with the research of a nonfiction narrative, covering one of the best stories of clandestine heroism during the Second World War.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Sansom after the war.

(Imperial War Museum)

Sansom’s wartime story begins in 1941, as the British Admiralty was looking for native-born recruits they could send to Nazi-occupied France. Odette Sansom was a French-born woman who initially responded to the office’s request for photos of the French coastline — except she accidentally sent her photos to the War Office instead of the Admiralty. Soon, the Special Operations Executive, the department responsible for infiltrating Hitler’s Fortress Europe, would recruit her for much, much more.

After less than a year of training, Sansom found herself on a boat headed to France, landing near Cassis in 1942. She was picked up by a spy ring run out of Cannes, where she would work as a radio operator for her group leader, Peter Churchill, relaying secret information back to London. This was always a very dangerous task as the Gestapo were always looking for outgoing radio signals.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Sansom and Churchill.

(Imperial War Museum)

For more than a year, Lise, Sansom’s code name, kept one step ahead of the Gestapo. Along with her radio work, she acted as a courier for all of Southern France, sending messages between resistance cells and SOE operatives. Her skill and professionalism kept her alive, but accidents happen to even the best of operatives, and for Lise, it would be her undoing.

An agent riding a train fell asleep while carrying a list of 200 SOE agents operating in France in 1943. Eventually, that list fell into the hands of Nazi counterintelligence agents. A German double agent calling himself “Colonel Henri” infiltrated the group and betrayed them all. Colonel Henri was really Hugo Bleicher, the notorious Nazi spy hunter.

Sansom and Churchill were arrested and sent to Frenses Prison near Paris. The two were tortured and sentenced to death – a sentence that would never be carried out. While Churchill had no relations with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his famous name saved both their lives.

Ravensbu

Sansom told the Nazis that Churchill was related to the Prime Minister and that she was the younger Churchill’s wife – and that she was also his boss, and not the other way around. This served the dual purpose of keeping the pressure off of Churchill, even though the Nazis only tortured Sansom even more, while keeping the two alive.

But while Sansom and Churchill survived the torture and execution orders, they spent much of the rest of the war in solitary confinement and suffering cruel, brutal treatment at the hands of her SS captors in the Ravensbrück concentration camp until it was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. But Sansom wasn’t liberated by the Russians. The camp commander drove her to an American position and surrendered himself to the U.S., with a “Churchill” as a bargaining chip.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Ravensbrück was a primary camp for women and political prisoners.

Though she physically came out of the war an emaciated shadow of her former self, the treatment left her with no ill will towards anyone. She would testify against the Nazis who imprisoned and tortured her during the Nuremberg Trials, but her main activities after the war involved helping ease the suffering of those affected by the war.

“How strong the reserves upon which you draw you never realize until you need them, but believe me they do not fail you,” she once said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about the Battle of Belleau Wood

Considered one of the most important battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, the story of Belleau Wood continues to have a significant impact on military culture today. On the evening of June 1, 1918, the German Army breached the western front and came within just 45 miles of Paris.

The Marines weren’t going to let them go any further. They positioned themselves and were ready to strike once the orders were passed down. The ensuing battle would last for weeks and was the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I. U.S. forces suffered over 9,000 casualties — just over 1,800 killed. The German body count is still unknown — but it was high.

Historians have gone on at length about many of the incredible details of the famous battle, but several aspects have gone largely undiscussed — until now.


The misfits of D-Day and World War II

Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC

As the Marines were arriving, the French were retreating

On June 2, 1918, the Marines arrived on the scene under the command of Capt. Lloyd Williams only to see French troops in retreat from the German enemy. The French told the Marines to turn around and head back to from where they came.

Capt. Lloyd Williams replied,

“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

The Marines finally got their orders

On June 6, 1918, Allied powers launched their attack on the Germans who were busying preparing to do the same. Marines maneuvered up Hill 142 to prevent a flanking attack on their French allies.

Although 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were heavily outnumbered, that didn’t stop them from bravely dashing toward the enemy across open wheat field.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

American Marines are depicted fighting German soldiers in the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918.

The Marines saw the enemy before they were spotted

As Capt. George Wallace Hamilton and the 49th Company were getting into position, he noticed that they were surrounded by German machine guns — he had caught them off guard. He and his men stormed the guns with bayonets fixed and secured the guns for friendly forces.

Hamilton was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross for his bad*ssery.

Twelve on one

After enduring the first round of attacks, the Germans rallied and attempted a counterattack on Hill 142. As 12 German soldiers began their advance, they were met by Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, who wasn’t fond of their idea. He alone prevented the dozen Germans from going any further by killing two of them with his bayonet. The others quickly fled.

For his actions, Janson became the first U.S Marine to earn the Medal of Honor during the war.

www.youtube.com

After 6 attacks, the Germans finally threw in the towel.

During the multi-week campaign, the Marines suffered heavy losses, but dealt out ass-kickings in kind. Like much of World War I, the Battle of Belleau Wood was slow-moving and brutal, but the Americans finally claimed victory after attacking six separate times.

On Jun. 26, 1918, the Germans decided the battle was unwinnable and retreated from the blood-soaked arena.

Check out the Marines video below to watch the footage from an immensely important time in military history.

Articles

4 battles where paratroopers could have made a big difference

In the brief period of time since their inception the American paratrooper has seen combat and spearheaded assaults all over the world.


Despite their usefulness, however, there have still been numerous times when paratroopers were not used in which they could have had a significant impact on the battle. These are four of those battles:

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

1. The Battle of Bastogne

In December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes forest that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

As the situation deteriorated, Gen. Eisenhower decided to commit his strategic reserves, primarily the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, in an attempt to blunt the German attack. In the ensuing melee, the 82nd helped hold back the Germans at Elsenborn Ridge while the 101st became encircled holding Bastogne.

The effort to relieve the 101st fell to Patton’s Third Army to drive through the Germans and reach Bastogne.

However, Eisenhower had one remaining airborne division in reserve in England.

On Dec. 23, the same day Pathfinders landed in Bastogne to guide in supply drops, the 17th Airborne Division flew to France in order to join Third Army in its counter-offensive.

A more decisive move would have been to have the paratroopers of the 17th jump into the perimeter of Bastogne in order to shore up the lines and bring much needed relief to the beleaguered paratroopers of the 101st. This tactic had been used to great effect during Operation Avalanche in Sicily in which 82nd paratroopers reinforced the Allied beachhead at Salerno.

This would have then allowed the defenders to affect a breakout towards friendly lines or to go on an offensive of their own to drive the Germans back and break the siege.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
Waves of paratroopers fill the skies during a combat exercise. (U.S. Army)

2. The Landing at Inchon

On Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces as part of Operation Chromite assaulted the beaches and harbor of Inchon — then well behind enemy lines.

In a coordinated effort with the forces encircled at Pusan, the United Nations forces delivered a striking blow against the North Koreans driving them back towards the 38th Parallel and recapturing Seoul.

The attack was a textbook amphibious assault comparable to those undertaken in Europe during World War II in which paratroopers spearheaded an assault followed by seaborne infantry. However, MacArthur had been in command in the Pacific and thus had utilized airborne forces much differently. His assault plan did not include the use of paratroopers.

Though only the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was available, they could have been put to good use.

Their first order of business could have been the seizure of Kimpo Airfield, a task not completed until Sept. 18 by a battalion of Marines. The early capture of the airfield would have allowed American fighters a forward base sooner and would have allowed follow-on forces to be flown in.

Other elements of the 187th could have also been used to cut off the forces retreating from Pusan. Though the UN was able to eliminate nearly half of the 70,000 North Koreans in the South, the other half was able to regroup in North Korea.

Had paratroopers been employed they could have potentially stopped more — if not all — from reaching North Korea, leaving the communists with virtually no military.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
(U.S. Army paratroopers conduct an airborne operation on Oct. 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez)

3. The Siege of Khe Sanh

Just before the launch of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked and laid siege to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Though they held their positions in the hills around the base and the base itself, they were soon cut off from ground support and resupply when Route 9 was closed. The Marines in and around the combat base — mostly the 26th Marine Regiment as well as 1st Battalion, 9th Marines — held out against the North Vietnamese for 11 weeks before finally being relieved by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division as part of Operation Pegasus.

However, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade was alerted and deployed to Vietnam in early February 1968 in order to shore up defenses against the Tet Offensive.

The brigade could have instead been dropped into the Khe Sanh Combat Base in order to strengthen the defenses there and improve the offensive capabilities of the defenders. The paratroopers could have been used to seek out the NVA artillery that continually pounded the base and silenced it. This would also have freed up other units that were instead used to break the siege.

Furthermore, the paratroopers would have brought with them valuable assets such as artillery, engineers, and intelligence that would have improved the fighting ability of the defenders.  

The misfits of D-Day and World War II
A Paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepares to land. In the background, a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

4. Operation Iraqi Freedom

Although there was one large and several smaller airborne operations during the invasion of Iraq the role of paratroopers in the initial assault should have been much greater. Another operation, a likely jump by the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Ranger Battalion onto Saddam International Airport, was scrapped after an overzealous journalist revealed the plan on public television.

However, there were many other targets of opportunity and uses for the available paratroopers. Much like the Rangers’ seizure of H-1 Airbase in Western Iraq, the paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade could have opened an airhead just north of Baghdad with an airborne assault of Balad Air Base.

Reminiscent of WWII operations in Europe, they could have cleared the way for the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division as they made their way toward Baghdad. The seizure of key infrastructure was vital to keep Saddam from repeating his scorched earth retreat from 1991.

This could have been more quickly facilitated if paratroopers had been employed. With air superiority from the beginning, the possibilities for airborne assaults were great though unfortunately under-utilized.

When the paratroopers did enter the fight they proved their mettle when they earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at As Samawah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


The misfits of D-Day and World War II

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

The misfits of D-Day and World War II

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

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“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.

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