4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.


These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:

The Springfield ’03 sniper

 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
A U.S. soldier holds a camouflaged Springfield 1903 sniper rifle during World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army via Imperial War Museum)

 

The Springfield Model 1903 began its career as a standard infantry rifle, but its accuracy and reliability led to the creation of a sniper variant that was basically the same except the iron sites were gone and permanent mountings for telescopic sights were placed instead. The bolt-action weapon used a five-round internal magazine.

The Mauser 98 sniper

The Mauser ’98 sniper rifle was one of the first to use a long-eye relief scope where the optic — usually a 4x magnification but some models had a piddly 1.5x — sits more than five inches from the shooter’s eye. The weapon as a whole had a revolutionary design that was copied by others across the world. German troops carried it in both world wars, but many other countries have used it.

The Lee-Enfield

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 in 1942. (Photo: British War Office Capt. Horton)

 

Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.

Mosin-Nagant

 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
The famous Soviet sniper Roza Shanina poses with her Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Soviet version of the Mosin-Nagant was a 1930 update of an enormously successful 1891 weapon. In 1932, the Soviets began modifying new Mosin-Nagants as sniper weapons by reconfiguring the handles to receive telescopic sights and lighter triggers. While the stocks warped in some weather, its accuracy made it a choice of snipers on both sides of the conflict anyway.

Check out the Weaponology video below to learn more about these weapons. The rifle portion begins at 2:47.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 simple reasons the Union won the Civil War

If zeal could be weaponized in wartime, the Confederacy might have had a chance. Not everyone in the South was very confident about the Confederacy’s chances of winning the Civil War. As Rhett Butler pointed out in Gone With The Wind, there were just some things the South lacked that the North had in massive amounts — and it just so happened that all those things were the things you need to fight a war.

Cotton, slaves, and arrogance just wasn’t going to be enough to overcome everything else the Confederates lacked. Rhett Butler wasn’t far off in listing factories, coal mines, and shipyards as essential materials.


The fictional Rhett Butler only echoed statements made by prominent, prescient (and real) Southerners at the time, like Sam Houston.

“If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country —the young men.”

The Confederacy never had a chance. The Civil War was just the death throes of an outmoded way of life that was incompatible with American ideals and the nail in its coffin was manufactured by Northern factories and foundries.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Manufacturing capacity

When it comes to actually fighting, there are some essentials that an army needs to be backed by — chief among them is the weapons of war. Southern historian Shelby Foote noted that the Industrial Revolution in the United States was in full swing at the time of the Civil War and much of that growing industrial strength was firmly in the North. Meanwhile, the South at the war’s onset was still chiefly an agrarian society which relied on material imported from outside the 11 would-be Confederate states.

It’s not that the Southern economy was poorly planned overall, it was just poorly planned for fighting a war.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Cotton awaiting transport in Arkansas.

Economics

Very closely related to industrial output is what the South could trade for those necessary war goods. When all is well, the South’s cotton-based economy was booming due to worldwide demand for the crop. The trouble was that the population density in the South was so low that much of the wealth of the United States (and the banks that go along with that money) were overwhelmingly located in the North.

When it came time to raise the money needed to fight a war, it was especially difficult for the South. Levying taxes on a small population didn’t raise the money necessary to fund the Confederate Army and, for other countries, investing in a country that may not exist in time for that investment to yield a return is a risky venture. And tariffs on imported goods only work if those goods make it to market, which brings us to…

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Civil War sailors were some of the saltiest.

Naval strength

Although the Confederacy saw some success at sea, the Confederate Navy was largely outgunned by the Union Navy. One of the first things the Union did was implement a naval blockade of Southern ports to keep supplies from getting to the Confederate Army while keeping that valuable Southern cotton from making it to foreign ports. The South’s import-export capacity fell by as much as 80 percent during the war.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Ground transport

Earlier I noted the Southern economy was poorly planned for fighting any war. That situation becomes more and more dire when fighting the war on the South’s home turf. The North’s industrialization required means of transport for manufactured goods and that meant a heavy investment in the fastest means of overland commercial transport available at the time: railroads.

Northern states created significant rail networks to connect manufacturing centers in major cities while the South’s cotton-based economy mainly relied on connecting plantations to major ports for export elsewhere. Railroad development was minimal in the South and large shipments were primarily made from inland areas by river to ports like New Orleans and Charleston – rivers that would get patrolled by the Union Navy.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

The port of Charleston in 1860.

Population

People who live in a country are good for more than just paying taxes to fund a functional government and its armies, they also fuel the strength, reach, and capabilities of those armies. In the early battles of the Civil War, the South inflicted a lot more casualties on the North while keeping their numbers relatively low. But the North could handle those kinds of losses, they had more people to replace the multiple thousands killed on the battlefield.

For the South, time was not on their side. At the beginning of the war, the Union outnumbered the Confederates 2-to-1 and no matter how zealous Southerners were to defend the Confederacy, there simply wasn’t enough of them to be able to handle the kinds of losses the Union Army began to dish out by 1863. At Gettysburg, for example, Robert E. Lee’s army numbered as many as 75,000 men – but Lee lost a third of those men in the fighting. Those were hardened combat troops, not easily replaced.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Jefferson Davis was widely criticized by his own government, being called more of an Adams than a Washington.

Politics

Replacing troops was a contentious issue in the Confederate government. The Confederacy was staunchly a decentralized republic, dedicated to the supremacy of the states over the central government in Richmond. Political infighting hamstrung the Confederate war effort at times, most notably in the area of conscription. The Confederate draft was as unpopular in the South as it was in the North, but Southern governors called conscription the “essence of military despotism.”

In the end, the Confederate central government had to contend with the power of its own states along with the invading Union Army. In 1863, Texas’ governor wouldn’t even send Texan troops east for fears that they would be needed to fight Indians or Union troops invading his home state.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the origin of the 21-gun salute

If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.

Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.

This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.

Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.


4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, embarked on Indianapolis, receives a 21-gun salute from Coast Guard Cutter Mojave, during the presidential fleet, 1934.

The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.

It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Members of the honor guard’s rifle team fire off a salute to remember twelve veterans during a burial at sea ceremony held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Christine Singh)

Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Saddam Hussein buried Iraq’s air force in the desert

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, American troops found a lot of bizarre things – toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood and Saddam’s romance novel. While they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.


4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Saddam was apparently not familiar with what a FOD hazard is (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. T. Collins)

 

One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.

The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
But they were suuuuuuper good at bolting to other countries to escape the enemy.

 

In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.- bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s air power could actually make a difference in the fighting – but that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States was another matter.

Iraqi pilots were ready to go defend their homeland from the U.S.-led invasion, but the Iraqi dictator would have none of it. He knew what American technology could do to his aircraft, especially now that the U.S. was flying the F-22. They would get torn to shreds. He also remembered what his pilots did in the first Gulf War when sent to defend the homeland. They flew their fighters to the relative safety of Iran rather than face annihilation, and Iran never gave them back.

Saddam wanted his air force. So he decided to keep them all safe.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
(US Air Force)

 

At al-Taqqadum and al-Asad air bases, the dictator ordered that his most advanced fighters be stripped and buried in the sand near the airfields. In retrospect, this was probably a good decision for the aircraft. Whatever was left unburied was quickly and forcibly dismantled by the U.S. Air Force on the ground during the invasion. In trying to fight off the Coalition of the Willing, Iraq’s air forces all but disappeared.

Saddam hoped that by saving the aircraft in the sand, he could prevent their destruction and when he was ready (because he assumed he would still be in power after all was said and done), he could unbury them and use their advanced status to terrify his enemies and neighbors.

That, of course, didn’t happen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the Korean War can teach us about the future

While often labeled “the forgotten war,” the Korean War left a distinct stain on the collective memory of the American military community.

The short, but extremely bloody, conflict saw hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians die from combat and non-battle causes—forcing America to reevaluate how it had approached the war. The first war in which the United Nations took part, the Korean War exposed discrepancies between calculated diplomacy, a nation’s moral imperative, military readiness, and the innate complexities of warfare—all issues that T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War examines in detail.


Fehrenbach’s book has been regarded as essential reading by military-minded leaders in America, including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant colonel who served in Afghanistan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. While North and South Korea seem to have found some kind of peace as they recently agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Fehrenbach’s work—as a definitive and cautionary tale about the promises and perils of military action—is still a particularly timely perspective.

Read on for an excerpt from This Kind of War,which offers a blow-by-blow account and analysis of America’s past military action in the Korean Peninsula.

This Kind of War

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II


More than anything else, the Korean War was not a test of power—because neither antagonist used full powers—but of wills. The war showed that the West had misjudged the ambition and intent of the Communist leadership, and clearly revealed that leadership’s intense hostility to the West; it also proved that Communism erred badly in assessing the response its aggression would call forth.

The men who sent their divisions crashing across the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950 hardly dreamed that the world would rally against them, or that the United States — which had repeatedly professed its reluctance to do so—would commit ground forces onto the mainland of Asia.

From the fighting, however inconclusive the end, each side could take home valuable lessons. The Communists would understand that the free world—in particular the United States—had the will to react quickly and practically and without panic in a new situation. The American public, and that of Europe, learned that the postwar world was not the pleasant place they hoped it would be, that it could not be neatly policed by bombers and carrier aircraft and nuclear warheads, and that the Communist menace could be disregarded only at extreme peril.

The war, on either side, brought no one satisfaction. It did, hopefully, teach a general lesson of caution.

The great test placed upon the United States was not whether it had the power to devastate the Soviet Union—this it had—but whether the American leadership had the will to continue to fight for an orderly world rather than to succumb to hysteric violence. Twice in the century uncontrolled violence had swept the world, and after untold bloodshed and destruction nothing was accomplished. Americans had come to hate war, but in 1950 were no nearer to abolishing it than they had been a century before.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with North Korean forces.

But two great bloodlettings, and the advent of the Atomic Age with its capability of fantastic destruction, taught Americans that their traditional attitudes toward war—to regard war as an unholy thing, but once involved, however reluctantly, to strike those who unleashed it with holy wrath—must be altered. In the Korean War, Americans adopted a course not new to the world, but new to them. They accepted limitations on warfare, and accepted controlled violence as the means to an end. Their policy—for the first time in the century—succeeded. The Korean War was not followed by the tragic disillusionment of World War I, or the unbelieving bitterness of 1946 toward the fact that nothing had been settled. But because Americans for the first time lived in a world in which they could not truly win, whatever the effort, and from which they could not withdraw, without disaster, for millions the result was trauma.

During the Korean War, the United States found that it could not enforce international morality and that its people had to live and continue to fight in a basically amoral world. They could oppose that which they regarded as evil, but they could not destroy it without risking their own destruction.

Because the American people have traditionally taken a warlike, but not military, attitude to battle, and because they have always coupled a certain belligerence—no American likes being pushed around—with a complete unwillingness to prepare for combat, the Korean War was difficult, perhaps the most difficult in their history.

In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.

Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or in spirit.

They had not really realized the kind of world they lived in, or the tests of wills they might face, or the disciplines that would be required to win them.

Yet when America committed its ground troops into Korea, the American people committed their entire prestige, and put the failure or success of their foreign policy on the line.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt IV became a Navy SEAL to fight in Vietnam

Like it or not, the United States has political family dynasties that extend across generations. Despite all the focus on the Bush and Clinton dynasties at the end of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, it’s still hard to forget the greatest American family name to ever appear on a ballot: Roosevelt.


Roosevelt is the family that brought us terms like square deal, new deal, and Rough Riders that we use to this day. From Theodore’s then-progressive views on preserving the natural beauty of the United States to Franklin’s cool leadership through our toughest decades since the Civil War, Roosevelts have long stood for everything that is good about America, even if the two most notable members sat on different sides of the political aisle.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

The later generations weren’t as politically active as their presidential ancestors, but their dedication to service never diminished. Roosevelts have served in the Army and Navy, as state legislators, the CIA and its forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services, just to name a few. Roosevelts fought in the trenches of World War I and landed at Normandy during D-Day.

There was even a Roosevelt silently stalking the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam: Theodore Roosevelt IV.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Even as a Frogman, it’s hard to outshine the original TR.

TR-4 (as he’s called by some in the special operations community), graduated from BUD/S class 36 and deployed to Vietnam with UDT 11 as a Navy officer for two years. During his time in Vietnam, SEALs were becoming proficient at kill-or-capture missions against mid-level Viet Cong leaders. The VC were trying to form a shadow government in South Vietnam, in preparation for an eventual U.S. withdrawal and reunification of the country. The SEALs collected intelligence and then traced them to their hideouts among the civilian populations.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

TR-4 today.

In the years following his service in the Navy, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service, serving in Washington, DC, and what is now Burkina Faso. Like his great-grandfather, Theodore Roosevelt IV advocates for conservation issues and works in favor of non-partisan anti-corruption efforts. TR-4 doesn’t seek public office, he’s an investment banker and a member of numerous political and public policy-related groups.

And yes, there is a Theodore Roosevelt V.

Articles

The Night Witches: an all-women crew who dropped bombs at night

In a story just waiting to be made into a big-screen thriller based on real events, comes the Nachthexen — German for “The Night Witches.” Also known as Stalin’s Falcons, the Night Witches made up a regiment of all-women night bombers from the Soviet Air Forces. With a mission of remaining as stealthy as possible, the conditions in which these female flyers traveled– and succeeded in an incredible number of missions — defies the odds.

The 588th Night Bomber Regiment were tasked with flying in the pitch black, during the latest portions of the night. Their planes were made off wood and canvas with bare-bones technology, even for the time. They were provided with no radio or radar machines. This allowed their planes to be as light as possible, and therefore, able to fly extremely low. They did this in order to surprise the enemy in the middle of the night. In addition, the Night Witches’ planes held bombs by wire, which were affixed to the wings of their planes. 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
588th Night Bombardment Regiment, before flying on a mission. (Sergey G on Flickr)

However, it was a tactic that was born out of necessity. The Night Witches were not welcomed by male soldiers and often not given proper supplies. They were given used uniforms and equipment and provided no radios or radars at all. They made due and created their own deadly regiment of highly-skilled fliers. 

The Night Witches would often fly 15-18 missions per night — yes, per night — making them one of the active aviation forces during World War II. They remained undetected by flying in, then idling their engines and gliding to their point of attack. This allowed them to be as silent as possible, and helping them earn their menacing nickname, as the gliding was said to sound like brooms. 

In addition to direct attacks, the Night Witches also performed harassment techniques. By randomly firing at night, their job was to undermine morale and keep the enemy on their toes. This worked by lowering readiness, interrupting sleep, and increasing stress levels. 

Because women were not allowed to fight in Soviet forces during WWII, they had to find a loophole to serve. Major Marina Raskova, the first Soviet woman to become a flight instructor, contacted personal friends and military high-ups in order to form female air units — permission was granted by Joseph Stalin himself. By 1941 there were three such units, consisting of very young volunteers, females in their teens and early 20s. 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
A stamp was released of Major Marina Raskova on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Raskova remained as a commanding officer and was killed in a plane crash in 1943.

Another notable Night Witch was Lieutenant Nadezhda “Nadia” Popova, who enlisted when she was 19. She joined in order to avenge her brother, who had been killed by German forces. In total, Popova flew 852 missions, having been shot down multiple times, forced to find her way back in extreme winter conditions. She met another pilot in 1942 (his plane had also been shot down) who she eventually married. 

Popova said she often returned from missions with a plane that was “riddled with bullets” and considered herself lucky, having watched many of her friends’ planes shot and burning in mid-air.

The Night Witches went on to earn the respect of Soviet forces, as well as gaining worldwide recognition. In addition, 23 of its members were given the title Hero of the Soviet Union, two earned Hero of the Russian Federation, and one was named Hero of Kazakhstan.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what those ‘metal things’ were on Normandy beaches

Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?

The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.


Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.

The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.

In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.

The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.

After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Czech hedgehogs.

Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.

As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.

Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.

It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.

So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.

On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.

Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.

Czech Hedgehog (World War II Tech)

www.youtube.com

However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.

Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.

That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.

Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.

The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.

While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.

In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.

Bonus Facts:

  • The beaches of Normandy were shelled so heavily and so thoroughly mined that to this day it’s estimated that 4% of the beach still consists of shrapnel.
  • Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time infantry captured a Nazi train filled with lingerie

In August 1944, the successes of D-Day were in the rear-view mirror and American troops were engaged in the long slog to Berlin. One group of American soldiers got a surprise when, while chasing German soldiers east, they captured a military train only to find that sections of it were filled with lingerie, perfume, and other treats.


4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

(Chris Tingom, CC BY 2.0)

After Allied troops took the beachheads at D-Day, there were optimistic predictions that they could take Berlin by Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. It took weeks just to fight through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Germany stiffened its resistance everywhere possible.

Free French forces, resistance members, and British and American units maneuvered east, trying to keep as much pressure on German troops as they could.

As the line shifted east, German troops would burn supplies they were abandoning, but tried to keep vehicles, especially tanks, in good working order, so they could use them to kill American and other Allied soldiers. So the attackers quickly learned to seize as much as they could whenever possible.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

German armored troops roll through Denmark in April 1940.

(Danish Ministry of Defence)

As June ground into July and then August, the push east accelerated. Paris was liberated and, on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a parade into the city.

About that time, the 3rd Armored Division was pushing to Soissons, a city 55 miles northeast of Paris. German soldiers pulling back were using railroads to quickly move equipment but, according to a story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers, one unit had overestimated how long it had to load onto the train and get going.

When U.S. troops arrived, they saw a train preparing to roll out with tanks and armored vehicles loaded onto it. Every armored vehicle that escaped would need to be killed in eastern France, Belgium, or Germany. The train had to be stopped.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

U.S. troops fire their machine gun during battle in Aachen, Germany.

(U.S. Army)

U.S. tanks and half-tracks opened fire as machine gunners and mortarmen rushed into position. Most of their rounds were bouncing off the German armor, but the sheer volume of fire was keeping German drivers and crew out of their vehicles, allowing American troops to keep the upper hand.

Most of the Germans who stayed to fight were killed or captured, and those who escaped into the woods were rounded up by the French resistance. The Germans had dallied too long, and now the train belonged to the U.S. troops.

When they began assessing their find, they were surprised to find little ammunition, medical supplies, or food, all materiel that they needed. Instead, the Germans had loaded the train with candy, women’s lingerie, and lipstick.

It appeared that the German soldiers had raided French shops and, when it came time to run, had prioritized gifts for girlfriends and family over packing or destroying their own supplies, getting a faster exit to save the vehicles, or even just absconding with their lives and arms.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

A woman writes a message on a U.S. tank in Belgium

(U.S. Army)

Their mistake was U.S. gain. The 3rd Armored took the vehicles, other U.S. troops seized millions of pounds of beef, grain, flour, coal, and more. Many items were given to the French public to alleviate shortages caused by Nazi occupation, but other items were pressed into the war effort to keep American troops moving.

Ambrose doesn’t reveal what happened to the love train’s more romantic contents, but it’s likely that some of it made it back to the states in reverse care packages, but most of it probably stayed right there in France, consumed by the people lucky enough to get their hands on it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Shia hits the fan: Understanding Iran’s role in the Middle East

The Islamic Republic of Iran was America’s original nemesis in the Middle East before Saddam’s Iraq stole the spotlight from 1990-2003. (Saddam and the Iranians, by the way, fought a bloody 8-year war against each other in the 1980s.) A casual observer might assume that the Islamic Republic of Iran must be best buddies with the infamous Islamic State (ISIS)…but no, they share a mutual hatred of each other.


Yeah, it’s all a bit complicated and messy, so strap in, and we’ll clear things up a bit.

Iran is a theocracy, meaning the country is governed by religious law. Rather than a single strongman dictator, Iran is ruled by a group of religious clerics who control the country’s “elected” leaders like former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (remember him?) Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 after religious fundamentalists overthrew the secular government of Shah Reza Pahlevi.

The Shah was a dictator, albeit one less brutal than the current regime, who came to power in 1954 with the help of the American CIA. It was a bad look for Uncle Sam, and many Iranians never forgot it.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

American hostages in Iran following the Islamist takeover of 1979.

(Source: Associated Press)

The Iranians are not Arabs like their neighbors to the west. Rather, they are Persians. Instead of Arabic, they speak a dialect of Persian called Farsi. The Iranians are predominantly Shia Muslims, whereas most Arabs are Sunni Muslims.

Theologically, Shias and Sunnis are akin to Protestants and Catholics in the Western world. 85-90% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni and, while the world’s Shia are concentrated in Iran, there are Shia minorities throughout the Arab world. Iraq is unique because it has both an Arab majority and a Shia majority, giving Iran a prime opportunity for heavy influence there (check the news…)

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Sunni jihadist groups, whereas Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and many of the large militias in Iraq are Shia.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

(Source: Pew Research Center)

So the Iranians are Persians and not Arabs, and their leaders are fundamentalist Muslims but from the opposite branch of Islam than bin Laden and the Islamic State.

So what’s Iran’s game plan? In a nutshell, Iran wants to preserve and spread its “Islamic revolution” by boxing out the Sunni Arabs and supporting Shia groups across the Middle East (they also work with certain Sunni groups like Hamas.)

To dominate the Middle East, Iran’s leaders want to exploit the “Shia Crescent,” a network of Shia populations stretching from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon. Iran’s message to these Shia populations is “Big Brother Iran is here to save you from the Sunnis, the Israelis, and the Americans.”

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

(Source: Geographic Intelligence Services)

You can think of the fight against ISIS as World War II, with ISIS filling the role of Nazi Germany. During WWII, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union set aside their rivalries to defeat a common threat. The Defeat-ISIS campaign was similar in that Iran’s Shia coalition shared a mutual enemy with the American/Sunni alliance, even though the two sides weren’t officially partners.

But now, like in 1945, the old rivalries are back in play once again. On one side, Iran leads Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and other Shia factions in the region. Opposing them are the Sunni Arab countries aligned with the United States.

Fear and mistrust of Iran runs deep in countries like Saudi Arabia- so deep, in fact, that Saudi Arabia has reportedly made secret arrangements with Israel to counter the Iranian threat (that’s, uh, a plot twist…to put it mildly.) Iraq, with its Shia majority but close and complicated relationship with the United States, remains stuck in a tug-of-war between the rival coalitions.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Alleged secret plan for Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace to strike Iran. Saudi Arabia publicly denies this.

(Source: Rick Francona)

Iran was once the great ancient empire of Persia, and there is more to modern Iran than its leaders’ ambitions. Iran has a population of over 80 million, and resentment toward the regime is widespread. Strict religious tyranny and a weak economy cause frequent protests which the Iranian regime suppresses with ruthless violence. It’s unclear if this unrest will eventually put the regime’s power in serious jeopardy.

Iran’s economic problems are driven in part by economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe. These sanctions, in turn, are imposed partly as a result of Iran’s nuclear program- a program which, the regime insists, is strictly for domestic energy production. Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons is concerning because an atomic Iran could lead its Sunni rivals to pursue their own nuclear weapons.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Iranian protesters in 2009.

(Source: Getty Images)

Further Iranian vs. American bloodshed seems to have been averted in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, but violence between the two countries is nothing new.

The infamous 1983 Beirut bombing, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen, was perpetrated by an Iranian suicide bomber and 1988’s “Operation Praying Mantis” pitted the U.S. Navy against the Iranian Navy in the largest American naval combat operation since WWII. The whole region remains a Game of Thrones-tier snake pit of conflicting loyalties, religious conflict, and political scheming.

Hopefully now, however, you better understand what led to the U.S. government ordering a drone strike on that guy who looked like Sean Connery.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

Iranian Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. drone strike in January 2020.

(Source: Getty Images)

MIGHTY HISTORY

America’s ‘most decorated woman’ fought from the Philippines to Korea

Ruby Bradley was an Army combat nurse on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Bradley survived the attacks, days on the run, years as a prisoner of war, and years as one of the top combat nurses treating and evacuating the wounded from Korea.


She also rose to the rank of colonel and became one of America’s most decorated female veterans before retiring in 1963.

 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Army Col. Ruby Bradley saved hundreds of lives as a prisoner of Japanese forces by stealing surgical tools and using them for 230 major operations. She also delivered 13 babies while in captivity. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hours after the Pearl Harbor attacks began, other Japanese forces began striking U.S. troops and ships across the Pacific, including at bases in the Philippines which was a U.S. commonwealth at the time. Bradley ran a hospital in northern Luzon and treated patients there during the Japanese landings and follow-on attacks.

The 34-year-old evacuated the camp and hospital with other soldiers on Dec. 23 as the Army fell back. Bradley hid in the hills with another nurse and a doctor for five days before a local gave them up to the Japanese.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

 

For the rest of the war, Bradley was a POW. But she refused to stop treating the Americans and allies around her. The POW camp was established at Bradley’s former base, and she broke into the old hospital with a doctor and stole World War I-era morphine and a large number of surgical tools.

Their trip into the hospital had been risky. Japanese forces in World War II were known for treating prisoners harshly and for conducting sudden executions, but it paid off the very next day. Bradley took part in the emergency removal of an appendix the very next day.

 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Surgery in the Pacific in World War II was challenging no matter the circumstances. (Photo: U.S. Army)

In a 1983 interview with the Washington Post, Bradley said of the incident, “The Japanese thought it was wonderful we could do all this without any instruments.”

Bradley assisted in hundreds of operations and the delivery of over a dozen babies during her time in captivity. None of the patients experienced an infection from their surgeries despite the conditions, most likely thanks to the firm attention to detail by the Army and civilian nurses who sterilized the area and tools before each procedure.

But Bradley didn’t just deliver babies, she also helped care for many of the children captured by the Japanese soldiers or born in the camp. Prisoners were allotted only one cup of rice per day. Bradley would save rice from her portions to give to children who were struggling.

The nurses even made birth certificates and stuffed animals for the children from hemp that they gathered from plants in and around the camp.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Then-Cpt. Ruby Bradley is evacuated with other prisoners from a Japanese POW camp after its liberation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

The medical staff established a number of other lifesaving measures in the prison camp — everything from forced hand washing to making sure utensils were covered when not in use to assigning people to swat flies.

When the war ended, Bradley returned to normal service and earned a new degree in nursing. By the time the Korean War broke out, she was a major with experience running nurse teams. She was sent forward with the 171st Evacuation Hospital from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and evacuated troops wounded in combat.

 

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
A U.S. soldier is evacuated by the Air Force 3rd Air Rescue Squadron in Korea. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

Her duties often took her to bases near the front lines. During the evacuation of Pyongyang, she refused to leave while any of her patients were still on the ground. She got the last one onto a plane and was running up the ramp when an artillery shell struck her ambulance.

Bradley later said, “You got to get out in a hurry when you have somebody behind you with a gun.”

The aircraft made it out safely and Bradley remained in the Army. The next year, she was featured on an episode of “This is Your Life,” a TV program that sought to tell the stories of amazing Americans.

She retired in 1963 as possibly the most decorated woman in military history to that point. She died on July 3, 2002, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Articles

How these few Marines held the line at the Chosin Reservoir

Accurate Chinese snipers, the brutal cold, and a lack of food were just some of the rough aspects allied forces faced while occupying the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.


As the grunts moved into the frozen grounds of their defensive positions, every two men received a case of hand grenades, extra ammunition, and an encouraging hand shake from a superior officer as he passed through.

As the Marines dug into their icy fighting holes, they knew they needed to hold the line at all costs.

Related: This special instinct can help troops survive an ambush

Once the Chinese assault commenced, thousands of enemy troops appeared over the top of the hill and dashed down the ravine toward the thin line of armed Marines who began to pull every trigger in their limited arsenal.

“I was standing right there looking at a thousand damn men just going, ‘Oh my God we’re in it,'” one retired Marine recalls. “You knew when you fired your rifle you were killing somebody.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II
Marine units engage their enemy targets at they charge forward. (Source: AHC/YouTube/Screenshot)

Soon after, the outnumbering Chinese Army made their way toward the wall of Marines manning the front lines and an all out hand-to-hand brawl initiated.

The Marines pulled their knives from their sheaths and started to cut down the enemy force.

“I shoved my Ka-Bar straight through, and it came out the back of his neck,” another retired Marine emotionally explains. “He naturally squirted blood all over me, and the blood burned my eyes.”

After the first wave of attack, the Marines cleaned the blood from their faces and eyes with the cold snow that surrounded them. They quickly proceeded to an embankment near a stream to reorganize themselves and form a perimeter, protecting one another.

The injured Marines had expended most of their hand grenades and ammunition, but they still managed to hold the line. No enemy combatant made it through.

Also Read: How this Marine inched his way to knock out a Japanese machine gunner

Check out American Heroes Channel‘s video below to hear the chilling stories from the Marines who held the line at the Chosin Reservoir.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The President is forbidden from going to the top of a major US monument

In 1967, a 77-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower ascended to the top of the famed St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the West. It wasn’t a planned trip, but the former President decided to go visit it anyway. And he wanted to go to the top, something the Secret Service forbids Presidents, past and present, to do. But Ike was the one who signed off on the construction of the Arch in 1954 and besides – who was going to tell the Supreme Allied Commander “no?”


4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

In case you were wondering about the answer to that question, it’s “no one.”

But he was the only one and even Eisenhower, a former President by the time he ascended to the highest peak of the 630-foot archway, had to do some sneaky work to be able to get to the top over the objections of his contingent of bodyguards. Eisenhower’s visit to the Gateway Arch came after hours, so there were no other tourists around, and it wasn’t a scheduled part of his itinerary, so potential assassins wouldn’t ever have known he would be there. He took the famed tramway up the arch over the objections of the Secret Service.

While Ike isn’t the only President to overrule the objections of the those who protect him, he’s the only one who forced his way up the St. Louis Arch. By the time he came to visit the city on the Mississippi River, two more Presidents had occupied the Oval Office after his tenure. It was a pretty safe bet.

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

The view inside the top of the arch.

Getting to the top is actually a pretty cleverly designed tram that is part elevator and part Ferris wheel. But the top of the arch is a very small, cramped space that doesn’t make for a lot of room to maneuver or for a lot of people to spend any significant amount of time. It also keeps people relatively close together, which is a problem for a protective unit trying to keep people out of arms reach of the world’s most powerful person.

Despite the cramped space, some 160 people can fit in the top of the arch, and a complete trip to the top takes about 45 minutes on average. That’s a lot of time, space, and opportunity to give a would-be threat.

But in reality, the Leader of the Free World is actually the one in charge, and they can do whatever they want, but the USSS really doesn’t want the President up in the Arch.

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