9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

On April 24, 1980, America’s best attempted the unthinkable — the rescue of 52 American hostages from inside revolutionary Tehran.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. (Several had been released by the time the rescue was attempted.)

Furious at the US’s decision to not extradite Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the former king of Iran who had been ousted by an Islamic revolution in January and was receiving medical care in America — the Iranian students sought to use American hostages as bargaining chips with the blessing of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s new leader.

A 444-day ordeal for the hostages had just begun.

A complex plan

Repainted RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters aboard USS Nimitz, April 24, 1980. US Defense Department

Less than a month later, the US military began training for a daring rescue. As the military’s premier hostage-rescue unit, the Army’s newly established Delta Force would spearhead the operation’s ground part.

But it was a complicated affair. Surrounded by deserts and mountains, Tehran was challenging to reach in force. The CIA flew out an Air Force commando who surveyed and approved a forward staging location about 50 miles from the Iranian capital. The site was dubbed Desert One.

Moreover, despite some intrepid close-target intelligence gathered by individual commandos inside Tehran, there was inadequate information for the operation — Delta had to rely on Iranian national TV for much of its intelligence.

Task force personnel arriving at Masirah, Oman. Courtesy Photo

The task force couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of all the hostages. Aside from the embassy — a sprawling 26-acre compound that in its prime housed 1,000 Americans — reports suggested the Iranians were holding some hostages at the Foreign Ministry.

The CIA couldn’t provide actionable intelligence since its operations in Iran were limited by President Jimmy Carter in response to the agency’s past actions.

In addition, all four US military branches wanted a piece of the action, leading to a confusing compromise: The Air Force would provide the fixed-wing aircraft (three MC-130E Combat Talons and three EC-130E Hercules) and a Special Tactics team. The Navy would furnish eight RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The Marine Corps would contribute pilots for the helicopters; and finally, the Army would supply the Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces operators responsible for rescuing the hostages.

Operation Eagle Claw, as it was officially known, called for the MC-130E and EC-130E to fly the task force and necessary supplies 1,000 miles from Oman to Desert One. The eight RH-53 would fly 600 miles from USS Nimitz and meet them there.

Army Gen. James B. Vaught, the task force commander, and Col. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and commander of Delta Force, at Masirah, Oman. Courtesy Photo

After refueling, the helicopters would fly the 132 Army commandos to a hideout 50 miles from Tehran. Meanwhile, the transport aircraft would fly back to Oman.

The next night, the Delta operators and Rangers would use vehicles obtained by the Army and CIA to get to their targets.

Once the assault force had freed the hostages, the helicopter would fly them to an abandoned airbase, which a company of Rangers would have captured, 50 miles from Tehran. They would then destroy the helicopters and fly to Saudi Arabia via C-141 Starlifters.

Three AC-130 gunships would destroy any Iranian fighter jets at Tehran airport and provide close air support if the Iranians counterattacked. In all, 44 aircraft would directly or indirectly participate in the mission.

Operation Eagle Claw

Task force personnel praying the day of the mission. Courtesy Photo

From the start, the operation was plagued by misfortune. Upon landing at Desert One, the Delta operators encountered a bus full of Iranian civilians, whom they had to detain, and a fuel truck, which they had to destroy because it didn’t stop. The driver, however, managed to escape in another vehicle.

Meanwhile, two RH-53s had to be abandoned and another had to return to the ship because of mechanical failures and bad weather. The mission had to be aborted, as a minimum of six helicopters was necessary to ferry the commandos.

As the task force was preparing to depart and try again another day, disaster struck. One of the helicopters collided with an EC-130E. In the ensuing inferno, five airmen and three Marines were killed and eight aircraft destroyed.

“Some say we failed,” wrote Army Gen. James Vaught, commander of task force, after Desert One was evacuated.

“Others say it was a fiasco. It was none of that. It was the best effort try by a team of brave volunteers to accomplish a difficult and dangerous mission. Never have I seen more determined Americans try so hard to do the right thing … Those we lost did not die in vain. We will set our people free.”

Outcome

Senior Iranian officials look over burned-out equipment left by US forces after their failed rescue mission, April 27, 1980. AP Photo

As Carter took responsibility for the mission, the military was already trying to prepare for a second operation. The Iranians, however, spread out the hostages to prevent that.

An after-action report by a commission of flag officers found several issues. To begin with, the task force was a hodgepodge of units, which didn’t train together and never conducted a full dress rehearsal.

“We went out and found bits and pieces, people and equipment, brought them together occasionally, and then asked them to perform a highly complex mission. The parts all performed, but they didn’t necessarily perform as a team,” Col. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and commander of Delta Force, said at a Senate hearing.

A serviceman burned in the failed rescue of hostages in Iran arrives for treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, April 26, 1980. AP Photo/Ted Powers

The panel of officers also recommended that the military needed a dedicated counterterrorism joint task force and a special operations command, leading to the creation of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), its subordinate service commands, and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which brought Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 together.

The military also created the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the “Night Stalkers,” to ensure the helicopter issues that occurred during Operation Eagle Claw never happened again.

From the ashes of disaster, America’s current special operations might was born.

A few days after the failed operation, two British airmen delivered a case of beer to their American brethren. Scribbled across the box were the words, “To you all, from us all, for having the guts to try.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the battles mentioned in the Marines’ Hymn

The early days of November bring more than just chilly weather and the beginning of a winter-long food and football hibernation cycle. That’s what Thanksgiving is for.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

Come the 10th and 11th – the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day respectively – military towns and American Legion Halls all over the country begin shaking with the booming voice of Marines past and present, singing the Marines’ Hymn, a song about the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli.

If you’re a Marine, you definitely know what these are. If you’ve served in the military at some point, you’ve probably been able to pick up what they mean. But for a lot of civilians, military culture and tradition can be a black hole of knowledge – unless one of their history teachers was a Marine, there’s no reason for them to know this.

Can you imagine Marine Corps grade school?

The Halls of Montezuma

No, the Marines did not fight Aztec warriors. They were around 300 or so years too late for that.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
I can tell you how well that would go, though.

The reference is to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire…which also happens to be modern-day Mexico City. In 1847, the U.S. and Mexico were engaged in a bit of a war and it wasn’t going well for the Mexicans. The Americans were in the middle of capturing the Mexican capital. But Mexico under dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wasn’t going down easily – neither were its people.

To break the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops while capturing the city itself, Gen. Winfield Scott determined that he would have to capture Chapultepec Castle, a military academy on the heights overlooking the city. The hill leading up to the castle was a 200-foot slope ending in a 12-foot wall, designed to keep enemy troops from doing exactly what the Marines were about to do.

After the Americans made it through volley after volley of artillery and gunfire, the Mexican Army was waiting for them. They engaged in a good old-fashioned fistfight.

They then scaled the castle walls and entered the inside of the castle – known as the Halls of Montezuma. They raised the American flag and by the time Gen. Scott entered the castle, the streets were guarded by U.S. Marines.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
According to the Marines’ Hymn, that must mean Mexico City is heaven now?

The Marines captured the fortress in an hour, with a loss of 90 percent of the Marines’ officer and NCO corps. Legend has it the NCOs and officers added scarlet stripes to their pants to commemorate their lost brothers here. Today these are referred to as “blood stripes” to remember the Marine blood shed in Mexico City.

The Shores of Tripoli

Why do the Marines sing about the Shores of Tripoli when those particular shores have been pretty unfriendly to Americans for much of the time most active Marines have been alive? Because, like Chapultepec, this battle happened early on in Marine Corps history.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t friendly back then either.

The wars with the Barbary pirates were an epic and underreported time in American history. The Marines got one of their first heroes when Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his contingent of Marines accompanied a force of Arab allies under U.S. agent William Eaton marched 500 miles overland to attack the city of Derne.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
One of the earliest sexual exploits of the green weenie. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Henson)

It was after the march that O’Bannon and the Marines, along with Eaton and his Greek and Arab mercenaries, captured the city against a much larger force. The Tripolitans sent reinforcements, but by the time they arrived, the city had already fallen. When that force tried to retake the city, U.S. Navy vessels and captured Tripolitan guns manned by Marines repelled the attack.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
The Hornet, seen here owning the HMS Peacock in the War of 1812, was one of the ships at Derne that day.

The capture of Derne forced the leaders in Tripoli to make peace with the Americans, stop raiding American shipping, and free American slaves. The Marines say Lt. O’Bannon was presented with an elaborate Mamluk-style sword by the Ottoman representative, which is now the model for those carried by Marine Corps officers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Thud dominated the enemy in the air and on land

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief could go fast — it had a top speed of 1,390 miles per hour. But this “fighter” was, in reality, a powerful tactical bomber. But despite being designed to put bombs on land targets, the F-105 proved to be a deadly adversary to those who attacked from the sky — it was a rare bird; it was a bomber that could kill a fighter.


The F-105‘s design process started in 1950 as the intended replacement for the F-84F Thunderstreak, a plane that hadn’t yet made its first flight. The YF-105A prototype first flew in 1955 and was soon followed by the first production version, the F-105B. However, the F-105B was quickly deemed out-dated, as it could only operate in daylight and in good weather.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

A look at the wide variety of weapons the F-105 Thunderchief could carry into battle.

(USAF)

The main weapon of the F-105 was supposed to be a B28 or B43 “special store” — a nuclear bomb. The later B57 and B61 nukes were later made options for the plane as well. Thankfully, these were never used in anger. But what did get use was the F-105’s ability to carry up to 14,000 pounds of ordnance — not to mention AIM-9 Sidewinders and a M61 Vulcan gun with 1,028 rounds of ammo.

With the onset of newer models, specifically the F-105D, the Thunderchief became a lethal plane in any weather condition, day or night. The F-105D was the workhorse during the early days of the Vietnam War. The plane successfully pummeled land targets, like the Paul Doumer bridge, while excelling in air-to-air combat. The F-105 scored 27.5 kills in the skies.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

The F-105G Wild Weasel version of the Thunderchief was used to kill or suppress enemy surface-to-air missile sites.

(USAF)

The F-105F, intended as a combat trainer, instead became the basis for the most notable Wild Weasel of the Vietnam War – the F-105G. One Wild Weasel pilot, Leo Thorsness, would earn the Medal of Honor in the F-105 for taking on North Vietnamese MiGs during an effort to rescue a downed air crew.

The F-105 stayed in service until 1984, marking nearly three decades of service. Learn more about this lethal multirole fighter in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlFgmfrvE-c

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how America prepared for chemical warfare in World War II

One of the biggest threats that never materialized in World War II was the Axis using chemical weapons on the battlefield. This possibility constantly haunted the minds of Allied planners. After all, Germany had widely used chlorine gas, phosgene, and mustard gas on Allied troops in the trench warfare that defined World War I.


As a result, Allied troops were thoroughly trained on what to do in the event of a Nazi gas attacks. However, while the Nazis discovered tabun and sarin, a pair of lethal nerve agents, neither of them were used against Allied troops. The Nazis did make some limited use of chemical weapons in fighting around the Black Sea in 1941, but never used them on a wide scale in combat.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

A number of drums holding chemical weapons are stashed in this shelter. The Allies never used chemical weapons, but did maintain stocks in case they needed to retaliate.

(Imperial War Museum)

One of the big reasons they didn’t use it on a wide scale against the Allies was because there was a good chance that they’d respond in kind. In essence, it was deterrence that prevented poison gas from being used against troops. Instead, it was used against concentration camp prisoners. Adolf Hitler, a World War I veteran who had survived chemical attacks himself, ordered the withdrawal or destruction of chemical weapons after reverses in Italy and the Battle of Stalingrad.

Perhaps the worst damage inflicted on American troops with chemical weapons came when the merchant ship John Harvey, which carried mustard gas for use if the Germans had crossed the chemical threshold, was sunk. The gas was released and caused over 600 casualties, of whom 69 died. Many of the losses were due to the fact that medical personnel weren’t told about the presence of the gas.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

The ruthlessness of the Nazis led the Allies to thoroughly prepare for chemical weapons attacks.

(Imperial War Museum)

Allied troops were also trained in procedures to protect themselves from chemical weapons. The technology you’ll see in the video below isn’t quite up to today’s MOPP suits, but some of the stuff is still informative and, unfortunately, relevant. After all, chlorine gas and sarin have been used in Syria recently.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFvsridvwL8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This one-man army was Britain’s classiest World War II veteran

It says a lot about a Britisher to even be considered for the title of “classiest,” but Maj. Robert Cain should definitely be in the running. He took on six Nazi tanks by himself while holding off the rest of the coming German onslaught. In the end, he was forced to retreat, but only because he ran out of ammunition. Before he did, however, he stopped killing Nazis long enough to take a shave. Only after he was properly clean-shaven did he make his retreat.

That’s class.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

Classier than most of you are, anyway.

Cain was an officer of the British 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden, the World War II Allied invasion of the Netherlands. British and Polish forces were to be dropped near Arnhem to advance on the city over three days. Cain was to lead his men in the first lift over Nazi-occupied territory, but the disastrous operation was flawed from the start, especially for Cain. Because of a technical snafu, he had to wait until the second day. It would prove fortuitous for everyone in his periphery.

When Cain landed, he and his men were sent forward into the city, where they unexpectedly encountered heavy enemy armor. The only thing they had to fight back against these defenses were small anti-tank weapons and mortars. The anti-tanks were not enough to penetrate the armor, and they were soon forced to fall back.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

The small PIAT anti-tank weapon used by the British at Arnhem.

Many British troops were forced to surrender. Others who managed to fall back did so in complete disarray, low on ammunition and unable to take out the approaching armor. Cain and the rest of the British were eventually forced to retreat to nearby Oosterbeek, where they formed a perimeter and tried to protect the howitzers that would be catastrophically destroyed if they fell back further. Cain was in command of forward units, who were digging in a populated area, trying to hold the armor back.

After one of his men was killed by a tracked, armored vehicle with a mounted heavy gun, Cain picked up the anti-tank weapon and poured round after to round into the tank until it was disabled. His PIAT anti-tank weapon eventually exploded from overuse, incapacitating Cain for a half hour. When his vision returned, he went back to work with whatever he could use. When he ran out of anti-tank weapons, he used a two-inch mortar.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

Major Robert Cain was fighting these. By himself.

Cain fought off Tiger tanks, flamethrower tanks, self-propelled guns, and even Nazi infantry in an effort to maintain his position in the village of Oosterbeek. He personally was responsible for destroying six armored vehicles, four of which were Tiger tanks. The Germans were forced to fall back this time, but the British were in no condition to pursue them. They made an orderly retreat across the river but, before they did, Maj. Cain took a moment to shave his face (he had been fighting for a full week by then) for a proper appearance. When he returned to the British Army that day, his commanding general commented on it.

“There’s one officer, at least, who’s shaved,” said Gen. Philip Hicks. To which Cain replied, “I was well brought up, sir.”

The respect of his fellow officers wasn’t the only thing he won that day. Cain was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: The Grueling ‘D-Series’ Exercise That Prepared Elite Ski Troops from the 10th Mountain Division for Winter Warfare

In March 1944, a hardy group of mountaineers, skiers, rock climbers, and outdoorsmen all volunteered for a newly formed winter warfare unit known today as the famed 10th Mountain Division. On the Colorado slopes at Camp Hale was the proving ground where these elite ski troops participated in a grueling, monthlong final exercise known as the “D-Series.” The mock battle against an opposing force was designed to put everything they were taught in training to the test. The soldiers carried 90-pound packs, wore winter warfare clothing to protect their bodies from below-zero temperatures, and marched through 6 feet of snow in skis and snowshoes. 

“I thought they were going to kill us all off,” Lt. Col. Earl Clark told Outside TV in an interview. “Sleeping out in temperatures down to 30 below zero without a tent.” 

They learned to sleep on top of their skis and other little tricks to survive some of the harshest winter environments on the planet. The survival exercise was a critical step before they would travel to see action against the Germans in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.

The 10th Mountain Division had an unusual beginning. Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the founder of the National Ski Patrol, had the task of collecting intelligence on other winter warfare units around the world. The blueprint for success mirrored the formation of Finnish ski troops who courageously fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. Dole didn’t have support at first from the higher echelon and his equipment was outdated, yet there was a need for such a unit. 

“Ten thousand frozen to death — 25,000 dead,” Dole wrote, in reference to a report from the American embassy in Rome describing the debacle of the Italian winter campaign in Albania. He continued, “If a global war is contemplated or envisioned, men must be trained in mountain and winter warfare and time is of the essence as these troops cannot be trained overnight.” The 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division was activated less than one month later — shortly before the attack at Pearl Harbor.

The National Ski Patrol was the first civilian organization to recruit, screen, and approve applicants for military service. “When the Army decided to create a mountain division in WWII to fight in the mountains of Europe, they brought together a cast of Americans that was really quite remarkable — skiers, mountain climbers, trappers, outdoorsmen,” then Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in 2015, when he was commander of the 10th Mountain Division. “The 10th Mountain Division of WWII had the highest ratio of college graduates of any unit in the Army. That’s just an example of the type of people that the 10th Mountain Division attracted.”

The men of the 10th following World War II went on to transform the skiing industry into the winter sports mecca that exists today. In February 2020, some 76 years after the first D-Series military exercise, Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division followed in the footsteps of their predecessors in a challenge that tested their physical and mental toughness, competitive spirit, and marksmanship.

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

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.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One legendary Marine became a butter bar 3 times

One of the Marine Corps’ greatest heroes had to earn his “butter bars” (as the rank of second lieutenant is called because the devices are yellow/gold in color) not once or twice, but three times before it stuck.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
Photo: US Marine Corps

 

Lewis B. Puller dropped out of college in 1918 and joined the Marines in an attempt to get to France before World War I ended, but he was assigned to training new Marines in the states instead. He attended noncommissioned officer training as a corporal and was appointed to the Marine Officers Basic School. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the reserves- butter bar #1. 

Unfortunately, the war had wrapped up and the Marine Corps was downsized only 10 days later. Puller was placed on the inactive list.

Puller re-enlisted as a corporal to join Marines headed to Haiti to serve in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, a police force with predominantly white men serving as officers over rank and file troops recruited from the local Haitian population. Puller began his service in the Gendarmerie as a second lieutenant while keeping his U.S. Marine Corps rank of corporal. Butter bar yet again…but not for long.

While in Haiti, he attempted multiple times to regain his U.S. commission but was denied each time. He also led several successful raids through the jungles of Haiti, but still no butter bar.

 

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

 

When he returned to America in 1924 he was finally commissioned as an officer for keeps. In 1928 he was assigned to the Guardia Nacional, a Nicaraguan military force led by U.S. officers that fought anti-government rebels in that country.

 

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
Photo: US Marine Corps

In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first and second of five Navy Crosses and began climbing the officer ranks. After tours of the Pacific and a period training new Marine officers, he returned to combat in World War II and earned two more Navy Crosses. He also fought at Korea, leading the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from Chosin Reservoir and earning his fifth Navy Cross.

Over this 27-year period, Puller had made it to the rank of major general. He retired amid medical problems in 1955 and was granted a “tombstone promotion” to lieutenant general. These were promotions given selectively to troops with combat citations to confer extra prestige upon leaving the service, but they didn’t entitle the service member to any additional retirement pay. He died in 1971.

Articles

This is what you need to know about the real WWII anti-tank sticky bomb

Remember that awesome scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the paratroopers and Rangers make bombs out of their socks, stick them to tanks, and blow the treads off?


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
GIF: YouTube/SSSFCFILMSTUDIES

Well, the British and Germans actually had devices that did that, and no one had to take his socks off. Americans would have had to improvise to create the same effect, but there’s little sign that they did this regularly since even the best sticky bombs had some serious drawbacks.

The British had one of the first sticky bombs, the Number 74 Mk. 2. It was developed thanks to the efforts of British Maj. Millis Jefferis and a number of civilian collaborators. Their goal was to create a device which would help British infantry fight German tanks after most of the British Army’s anti-tank guns were lost at the evacuation of Dunkirk.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle
Troops line up on the beaches in hopes of rescue at Dunkirk. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

After a few failed prototypes, the British men settled on a design that consisted of a glass sphere filled with flexible explosives and wrapped in a sticky fabric of woven wood fibers. Infantrymen employed the device by throwing it with a handle that contained the fuse or swinging it against the tank.

The glass broke when the bomb hit the tank and deformed against the surface, allowing enough of the sticky fabric to attach for it to stay on the armor. When the handle was released, a five-second fuse would countdown to the detonation.

Obviously, getting within throwing and sticking distance of a tank is dangerous work. And, while the bomb was sent to the infantry in a case that prevented it from sticking to anything, it had to be thrown with the case removed. At times, this resulted in the bomb getting stuck to the thrower, killing them.

The Germans had their own design that used magnets instead of an adhesive, making them safer for the user. It also featured a shaped charge that allowed more of the explosive power to penetrate the armor.

But the German version featured the same major drawback that the British one did, the need for the infantryman to get within sticking distance of the tank.

Javelins and TOW missiles may be heavy, but they’re probably the better choice than running with bombs.

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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…

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

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

You have to hear Muhammed Ali’s take on North Korea

Dennis Rodman wasn’t the first professional athlete to visit North Korea. He probably won’t be the last either. In 1995, Japanese pro wrestler – as in, WWE-level sports entertainment pro wrestler – invited fellow wrestling superstar Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammed Ali to visit the Hermit Kingdom with him on a goodwill tour.

It didn’t take long for “The Louisville Lip” to speak his mind, even in the middle of the most repressive country on Earth.


9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

This is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Muhammed Ali.

Ali was never one to keep his thoughts to himself – and he always accepted the consequences. In 1967, he was stripped of his title, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined ,000 for not obeying his call to be drafted saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

While Ali did not end up going to prison, his stance left him nearly broke and destitute, exiled from boxing for years. The experience didn’t curb his mouth one bit. He has always put his money where his mouth is, even when his voice was ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

But even a debilitating degenerative disease couldn’t stop him from lighting the Olympic torch in 1996.

So when The People’s Champion was invited to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1995, it should have been a surprise to no one that he would still speak his mind. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki invited Ali and fellow wrestler Ric Flair on a goodwill tour of the country in 1995. The group was part of the DPRK’s International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Also coming with the group was Rick and Scott Steiner, Road Warrior Hawk, Scott Norton, Too Cold Scorpio, Sonny Onoo, Eric Bischoff, and Canadian Chris Benoit.

Flair and Inoki would headline two main events from Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium in front of more than 150,000 North Koreans. Muhammed Ali was just a wrestling fan. But when they arrived in the North Korean capital, things immediately got weird for the athletes.

9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

Inoki, Flair, and Ali in Pyongyang 1995.

Their passports were confiscated, and they were assigned a “cultural attache” who followed their every movement and marked their every word. They were not left alone, even for a moment, even as they discussed the show they would put on later that night. One night, the group was sitting at a large table eating dinner with North Korean bigwigs, when one of the officials began some big talk about how North Korea could take out Japan and/or the United States whenever they wanted.

In his biography Ric Flair described Ali speaking up, his voice clear and loud as if his Parkinson’s Disease didn’t exist, saying:

“No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
9 diseases that killed more soldiers than battle

Antonio Inoki and Muhammed Ali in Pyongyang for the 1995 International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace.

When they were ready to go, Ric Flair was asked to say a few words about how great North Korea is and how much the United States paled in comparison. Flair demurred, instead thanking the North Koreans for their hospitality and complimenting them on their capital city.

Muhammed Ali was not asked to say anything before leaving.