Unlike in other services, sailors are referred to by their actual jobs. An E-5 in the Army could be an infantryman or a food service specialist, but you would still call them Sergeant. You might be able to distinguish an infantryman by a Combat Infantry Badge or Expert Infantry Badge, but they’re still a Sergeant. In the navy, although an E-5 is a Petty Officer 2nd Class, they could be identified as a Yeoman 2nd Class, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, or even Legalman 2nd Class. Of course, as jobs are eliminated and new ones are made, the list of titles based on rates changes. Here are some odd Navy rates that have gone the way of the dodo.
1. Loblolly Boy
The early days of the American Navy were not pretty. Pay was poor, work conditions were rough, and amputation was prescribed like water, motrin and changing your socks are today. As such, it was the duty of loblolly boys to assist the ship’s surgeon in collecting the amputated limbs. They also hauled the buckets of tar that were used to cauterize the bloody stumps and spread sand to absorb the spilled blood. On top of their gruesome duties, the boys were also responsible for spoon feeding the patients a thick porridge called “loblolly” from which their name was derived. Loblolly boys remained in the Navy’s books until 1861. After going through several name changes and evolutions, loblolly boys are known today as hospital corpsmen.
Before the radio took off in the 1920s, carrier pigeons were a common communication method in the military. Their natural homing ability, fast speed, and high flying altitude made them a valuable asset when telegraph lines were not or could not be established. It was the job of pigeoneers to develop and care for the birds. Despite the introduction and rapid advancement of radio technology, the Navy retained the carrier pigeon trainer rate until 1961 as a last-ditch form of communication.
3. Aviation Carpenter’s Mate
This one might take a minute to figure out. However, it bears remembering that early airplanes were made of wood and canvas. Modern aircraft take enough of a beating when they land on aircraft carriers, so you can imagine what sort of punishment the Navy’s early kites took when they touched down on the deck. Additionally, storing a wooden aircraft on a ship will inevitably lead to rot. It was the job of aviation carpenter’s mates to skillfully repair and maintain the damaged planes. The rate is one of the shortest-lived, being introduced in 1931 and being disestablished in 1941. The introduction of metal planes gave rise to the aviation metalsmith which evolved into the modern aviation structural mechanic.
The distinction between officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted sailors is very distinct in the Navy. The officers’ mess and the chief goat locker are prime examples of this. Stewards were responsible for preparing and serving the officers’ meals, maintaining their quarters, and caring for their uniforms. Due to the nature of the work, the majority of stewards were minorities like African-Americans and Filipinos. It’s worth noting that, until 1971, Filipino sailors were restricted to the steward rating. In 1975, the steward rate merged with the commissaryman rate to create the mess management specialist. This rating lasted until 2004 when it was changed to culinary specialist.
5. International Business Machine Operator
This one sounds completely made up until you recall what IBM stands for. During WWII, the Navy saw the need for more precise and expedient calculations for things like gun trajectories, accurate accounting, and formulating logistics. Enter IBM and their calculators. In order to operate the complex machines, the Navy created the international business machine operator rate. Likely the only rate to be named after a private corporation, it only lasted for about a year before it was renamed to punched-card accounting machine operator. The rating has undergone many evolutions, but it is known today as the information systems technician.
On Mar. 2, 1965, North Vietnamese guards at an ammunition storage area near Xom Bang heard the telltale sounds of massed aircraft overhead. They then learned why the F-105 Thunderchief earned the nickname “Thud” as 5,000 pounds of bombs from each of the passing planes hit the Earth around them.
The United States Air Force had just launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a bombing campaign over North Vietnam that lasted more than three years. Photographer Cade Martin set out to document and preserve the memories and images of the men who flew those dangerous missions.
Martin was just seven years old when the Vietnam War ended. What he knew about it came from movies and documentaries. Then, one day, he went to a Thud pilot reunion in San Antonio, took their portraits, and listened to their stories — the revelation of the war from their perspective rendered him speechless. Their stories were many and, as one might imagine, incredible.
“We have since learned that our target list was shared through Switzerland with the enemy to ensure no civilians were harmed. Well, that’s no way to win a war. The enemy would move out and set up somewhere else, ready to hit us on our way in and out. And, sometimes… Chiefs of Staff would send us five days in a row.” – John Piowaty, USAF
Rolling Thunder was an effort to break the will and ability of the Communists in the North and bring a negotiated end to the aggression against the non-Communist South. But, like many other aspects of the Vietnam War, it restricted the warfighter for political reasons and failed to achieve its overall strategic goals. Meanwhile, the men flying above North Vietnam were performing acts of valor and heroism without knowing what’s happening in Washington.
“In my junior year of high school, 1952, the Korean War was in full swing. Our fighter pilots were picking up where the aces of WW2 left off. Now in jets engaging in dogfights with the MiGs of North Korea and China. I wanted in. Went directly from high school to flight school. My all-time childhood dream come true.” – Gerald McGauley, USAF
Thoe pilots who flew those missions hit thousands of targets in North Vietnam, dropping more ordnance than was dropped during the bombing campaigns of World War II. The problem was that the classic targets of such a campaign were not as abundant or as vital to the North Vietnamese war effort than they were in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Much of North Vietnam’s weapons and materiel for the war was provided by Communist China and the Soviet Union.
“I finished first in my class, giving me first choice of assignment. I went to “Gun School” at Luke AFB in Phoenix. There, I was in a class of seven. Three years later, only three of us were still alive… and this was before the war had begun.” – John Morrissey, USAF
Even though it was a Rolling Thunder target, the main distribution network for these supplies – the Ho Chi Minh Trail – was not effectively halted, as it was a simple network of roads and trails, hidden under jungle canopy and traversing steep mountain passes. The pilots could not hit what they couldn’t see and the trail remained an effective means of distribution.
“The F-105 – It was the sweetest thing you’d ever want to wrap your hands around. Once you got it airborne the sensation was like flying a Cadillac. 52,000 pounds, 65 feet long, 38-foot wingspan. Couldn’t turn with a MiG but could outrun them. Great airplane.” – Ben Bowthorpe, USAF
A simple cost-benefit analysis of the campaign shows the failure of the strategic initiative. At a cost of 0 million, the US wreaked only 0 million worth of damage to the North. It also forced the Vietcong to increase troop levels in South Vietnam, which further escalated the war. The North came to the negotiating table as President Lyndon B. Johnson called off the campaign — but they were not cowed into a negotiated peace as the U.S. had hoped.
Rolling Thunder ended fifty years ago, on November 2, 1968 — but the war raged on in various forms until 1973.
“My heroes growing up were soldiers and pilots. They played big roles in the movies and stories of the time, making aviation look exciting and romantic. I daydreamed and sketched airplanes through my early childhood. This led to building and flying models until finally in high school I got a chance to take flying lessons.” – Ed “Moose” Skowron, USAF
The Air Force was also hamstrung by leadership in Washington over available targets. While military commanders wanted more decisive action and an unrestricted bombing campaign, political leaders wanted to humble the North Vietnamese with an impressive display of American military might. While the display was made, the North would not concede. After spending the better part of a decade ousting the French from Vietnam, the Communists knew that a war of attrition was their best chance at defeating a power like the United States.
“They had so many different kinds of guns. 37, 57, 85, 100 millimeter guns. 1,700 guns in place circling Hanoi. We had briefing, we knew where the guns were at… but you couldn’t avoid all of them. We had to go in there and take our chances.” – Cecil Prentis, USAF
In the years that followed Vietnam, photographer Cade Martin noted that the men who flew the F-105 mission during Rolling Thunder were silent in the postwar years, sitting back as the world Monday-morning-quarterbacked their performance in the war. The Thud pilots lost some 922 aircraft in the skies over North Vietnam and more than a thousand American service members were killed, captured, or wounded.
“You can’t run a war from the Oval Office. I would have loved to have McNamara or Johnson on one of those flights with me.” – Cal Jewett, USAF
Martin’s project, called Over War, seeks to document and share the history of the Rolling Thunder pilots that they have shared among themselves for the last fifty-plus years. You can check out more of their personal statements, photos, and testimonies at Cade Martin’s Over War website.
John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?
A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?
The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…
Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.
To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.
Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.
You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.
Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.
And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.
Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.
It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.
Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.
All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.
In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.
As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).
Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.
Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.
Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.
Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.
If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.
Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.
This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:
In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.
Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.
A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.
Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.
Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Even Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces need heroes at times — those times when the fighting gets too thick and there are wounded that need attention on the ground. Those heroes are the Air Force’s Pararescue Jumpers; highly-trained airmen who will come retrieve anyone who needs it, almost anywhere, and in nearly any situation.
Just earning the title of what the Air Force affectionately calls a “PJ” is a grueling task. Dubbed “Superman School,” Pararescue training takes two years and has a dropout rate of around 80 percent. And PJs put all of this rigorous training to use in their everyday duties, when it matters the most. It’s not exaggeration to say they are among the most decorated airmen in the Air Force — and none of them are more decorated than Duane Hackney.
Over the course of his career, Hackney stacked on an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four distinguished flying crosses (with combat V), two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals, just to name a few highlights of the more-than-70 decorations he amassed in his life.
His achievements made him the most decorated airman in Air Force history.
Like the rest of his fellow Pararescue Jumpers, he was in the right place at the right time to earn those accolades. Unfortunately, “right place at the right time” for a PJ means “terrible time to be anywhere in the area” for everyone else. Jumping into the dense jungles of North Vietnam to recover downed pilots and special operators was incredibly dangerous work.
With the rest of the allied ground forces in South Vietnam, once lowered into the jungles, PJs were truly on their own down there.
Duane Hackney had no illusions about the dangers he faced when on a mission. The Michigan native joined the Air Force specifically to become a Pararescueman — and the NVA made sure Duane and his fellow PJs had their work cut out for them. The North Vietnamese air defenses were good — very good. Despite the massive air campaigns launched over Vietnam, the U.S. couldn’t always count on complete air superiority. Massive surface-to-air missile complexes and well-trained NVA pilots flying the latest Soviet fighters ensured plenty of work for the Air Force. Whenever a pilot went down, they sent the PJs to find them
Duane Hackney went on more than 200 search-and-rescue missions in just under four years in Vietnam. He lost track of how many times he went into those jungles or how many times the enemy opened up a deadly barrage as he went. It was part of the job, and it was a job Hackney did extremely well.
It wasn’t easy. Just days into his first tour in Vietnam, Hackney took a .30-caliber slug to the leg. He had another PJ remove it and treat the wound rather than allow himself be medically evacuated out of the country. He was in five helicopters as they were shot down over North Vietnam, putting himself and those aircrews in the same risk as the pilots they were sent to rescue — captured troops could look forward to a quick death or a long stay in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
On one mission in February, 1967, Hackney jumped into a dense area of North Vietnam, in the middle of a massed enemy force. He extracted a downed pilot and made it back to his HH-3E Jolly Green Giant Helicopter. As they left, the NVA tore into the helo with 37mm flak fire. Hackney secured his parachute to the downed pilot and he went to grab another parachute. The rest of the people aboard the helicopter would be killed in the explosion that shot Hackney out the side door.
Hackney managed to grab a chute before being fired out the side. He deployed it as he hit the trees below, fell another 80 feet, and landed on a ledge in a crevasse. The NVA troops above him were jumping over the crevasse, looking for him. Hackney managed to make it back to the wreckage of the helicopter to look for survivors. Finding none, he signaled to be picked up himself.
That incident over the Mu Gia Pass earned Hackney the Air Force Cross. At the time, he was the youngest man to receive the award and the only living recipient of it. But Hackney didn’t stop there. Despite that close call, he stayed in Vietnam for another three years — as a volunteer for his entire stay in country.
He stayed in the Air Force until his retirement as Chief Master Sergeant Hackney in 1991.
Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of “turning big rocks into little rocks” at Fort Leavenworth looms large.
Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It’s the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It’s reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military’s death row.
Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.
Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 1986 and 1987, then-Specialist Ronald Gray was a cook stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he committed the series of crimes that landed him on the military’s death row. Gray raped and murdered four women, both on Fort Bragg and in the area around nearby Fayetteville. He was sentenced to death in 1988 and his execution was approved by President George W. Bush in 2008. He has since filed a petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was turned down, meaning Gray might soon be the first prisoner executed by the military in over 50 years.
His first victim was 27-year-old civilian Linda Jean Coats and his second was also a civilian, 18-year-old Tammy Cofer Wilson. He next turned his attention to female soldiers, abducting, raping, and murdering 18-year-old Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay. Vickery-Clay’s body was discovered a block from her home on Fort Bragg. He then raped and attempted to kill 20-year-old Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth, stabbing her in the throat after entering her barracks room, but leaving her alive. She was able to identify him as her attacker when Gray was arrested for another crime.
Just three days later, he raped and murdered another civilian, 23-year-old Kimberly Ann Ruggles. It was this crime that would lead to his capture and conviction. Ruggles was a taxi driver dispatched to pick up a “Ron” at Gray’s address. Her body was discovered later that night near her empty cab. Police identified the gag on Ruggles’ body as one belonging to Gray after holding him for another crime just hours before. Gray’s fingerprints were all over the cab and Ruggles’ prints were on money Gray was holding during his arrest.
Gray was tried and convicted in both civil and military courts in 1988. Civilian courts sentenced Gray to eight consecutive life sentences. His military court martial sentenced him to die. He is currently the longest-serving death-row inmate at Fort Leavenworth.
In March, 2003, just days after U.S. troops initially crossed into Iraq, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was at Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-staging area for the invasion of Iraq, located in Kuwait. In the early morning hours, Akbar lobbed fragmentation and incendiary grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, then assaulted other members of his unit with his issued M-4 rifle. He killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone. and wounded 14 other service members.
Even though his defense team cited repeated attacks and insults on his Muslim faith from fellow soldiers as a primary motivator for the attack, it was later discovered that Akbar decided to plan and execute the attack once he was in Kuwait, writing in a journal on Feb 4, 2003:
“As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.”
Hasan was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps affirmed the death sentence and an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.
In 1985, a mother and two of her children were found murdered in their Fayetteville, N.C. home. Kathryn Eastburn was stabbed to death with two of her three daughters while her husband, an airman, was training in Alabama. The family was getting ready to move away from the country and put an ad in the paper to sell their dog. Timothy Hennis was a Fort Bragg soldier who admitted to police he responded to the ad. An eyewitness identified Hennis as a man who left the Eastburn home in the early morning hours after the killings would have taken place.
Hennis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in North Carolina civilian courts but that verdict was later overturned and Hennis was acquitted in a retrial. As a free man, Hennis returned to the Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2004. But the Army wasn’t done with the Hennis case. Semen samples taken from Kathryn Eastburn’s body were analyzed as DNA evidence that wasn’t available in the original case.
The Army again charged Hennis with the crime, this time framing the evidence to the matching DNA samples. In 2010, A military court finally found Hennis guilty of the crimes, stripped him of rank and pay, and sentenced him to death.
Also known as “The Fort Hood Shooter” Hasan was an Army officer, a psychiatrist stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center, pulled a handgun, and, for 10 minutes, began shooting at the personnel there. He killed 13 people and injured another 30 before being shot himself by Fort Hood’s Army Civilian Police. The gunfight rendered Hasan paralyzed from the waist down.
The Army charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, with the Army announcing early on that Hasan was eligible for the death penalty and that the Army would seek that sentence. Hasan defended himself at the trial and in doing so was found guilty of all charges. He was unanimously sentenced to Fort Leavenworth to await execution.
Please spare some sympathy for the member of the Special Operations Research Office who, in 1964, was ordered to take a good, hard look at the impact of “witchcraft, sorcery, magic, and other psychological phenomena” during the civil war in the Republic of the Congo.
Yup. This poor soul was actually tasked with investigating the burning question of, “Are we losing because of the witches?“
The surprising answer was, to paraphrase, ‘At least partially.’
Except, of course, the U.S. didn’t actually believe magic was affecting the physical world. Instead, it was studying how the belief in magic affected the morale of troops fighting on each side of the conflict, and then it had to decide whether to engage in some play-acting; doing fake magic in order to affect the enemy’s perceptions.
A Swedish soldier with U.N. forces on duty in Congo during the crisis.
(Pressens Bild, public domain)
This wouldn’t be the Army’s only flirtation with the supernatural at the time. In 1950, a U.S. Army colonel helped fake a vampire attack to terrify communists in the Philippines, and psychological operations soldiers pulled a similar (but less effective) trick in Vietnam when they played ghost sounds over enemy troop concentrations.
The magical beliefs in the Congo revolved around two supposed classes of powers. There was sorcery, a system of magic that relied on rituals that were usually performed while mixing ingredients for a traditional medicine or preparing a charm. And there was witchcraft, a method of doing magic that relied on an innate ability that some people had from birth. These witches could simply wish for certain things to happen and, for some inexplicable reason, they would.
This magical belief was deep-seated in the Congolese. It had survived and even flourished despite nearly 100 years of economic and religious colonization. What missionaries and Belgian representatives sent to the country always found was that when push-came-to-shove, the bulk of the Congolese people would only incorporate European beliefs and power structures into their belief in magic. European beliefs were never able to replace traditional, magical ones.
A Shona witch doctor in Zimbabwe.
(Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 3.0)
When Belgium finally began relaxing its stranglehold in 1957 over what was then the Belgian Congo, this struggle had resulted in a deep rift between the Congolese who embraced European education and methods and those who were more dedicated to tribal beliefs and power structures. But both sides held magical beliefs. The European-influenced évolués, as they were known, simply hid those beliefs.
The Belgian Congo collapsed in 1960 and U.N. forces were eventually sent in to try and keep a tentative peace after repeated fighting and clashes. The stakes there were high. Certain parts of the Congo were quite resource-rich, including one of the breakaway zones. It also had Uranium that would be quite valuable to either the Soviet Union or the U.S., depending on who tied the emerging but troubled Republic of the Congo to their sphere of influence.
Hence U.S. military planners debating on twisting magical beliefs to their own ends. The rebellious forces often had the sorcerers (and the occasional witch) prepare magical defenses that were supposed to stop harm from European weapons.
Swedish soldiers from the U.N. man a fighting position near a road in Niemba.
(Pressens Bild, public domain)
Upon deeper study, though, the 1964 paper recommended against weaponizing these beliefs against the Congolese rebels. There were a couple of major concerns. One was that these évolués were the ones most likely to be Congolese leaders that the U.S. would work with. Since they still believed in magic, they would probably balk at a U.S. mockery of it.
But they would balk even harder if their forces or their Western allies began dabbling in magic. Their entire political brand was built on not being superstitious and backwards like their peers (even though they did believe in the same magic).
Even more troublesome, though, was that while the belief in magic was near universal across the country, the exact details of the belief varied wildly between tribes and, sometimes, even between sub-tribes. As the paper described it, “Literally, one man’s charm might be another man’s potion.”
So, if a psychological operations unit were sent to capitalize on these beliefs, they would have to surreptitiously gather data on every targeted tribe and keep detailed records of it. Then, when crafting their messaging or other plots, they would have to adjust it for each tribe and then take care to keep the messages from sabotaging each other.
Irish forces on duty in Congo during the Crisis.
(Irish Defence Forces)
But the most awesome concern with the program was the author’s worry that, if the U.S., Western, and government forces began openly engaging in magical operations against tribal leaders and insurgent witch-doctors, and the witch-doctors engaged in open counters, then the one near-guaranteed result would be an increased belief in magic.
In the post-war Congo, that would grant a ton of power to tribal leaders and witch-doctors, potentially necessitating power sharing that the évolués and their Western backers wouldn’t necessarily want. And, while there were government-friendly tribes, nearly all the insurgents were part of traditional tribal structures, so potentially strengthening the belief in magic would be a long-term problem for the West whether they won or lost.
Instead, the paper recommended overturning magical beliefs by showing them to be false. The biggest magical claim that witch-doctors made was that they could make troops invulnerable to Western weapons. So, every enemy soldier killed with a Western weapon weakened belief in magic. As the paper states it:
In the Congo, as elsewhere in black Africa, there is every reason to believe that disciplined troops, proficient in marksmanship, and led by competent officers, can handily dispel most notions of magical invulnerability.
In the end, it appears that no magical campaign was launched. But that hasn’t prevented decades of rebellions, coups, and other violence.
Hamburger Hill, also known as Hill 937, was a 10-day battle that was considered one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Vietnam war. The battle resulting in over 400 U.S. casualties and sparked controversy back home.
Dubbed Operation Apache Snow, the mission was to disrupt the North Vietnamese from penetrating Laos and cutting them off from access to the key cities of Da Nang and Hue.
General Melvin Zais, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, ordered allied forces to commence an assault on a well-fortified North Vietnamese 29th Regiment on May 10, 1969.
The hill was considered by many not to have any real significant military value.
Both sides took heavy casualties during the fighting in the Ap Bia mountains, which includes heavy airstrikes, massive waves of artillery bombardments, and nearly of a dozen ground assaults. Most of the battle took place during the Vietnamese monsoons.
At one point, reports indicated a friendly-fire incident involving U.S. troops and the gunships that were meant to provide air support.
The battle that took place at Hill 937 was referred by reporters covering the story as “Hamburger Hill.” After the 10 brutal days of fighting, allied forces successfully secured the hill.
Unfortunately, just five days after the U.S. claimed victory on the hill, troops abandoned the remote location, forcing many to wonder why so many died to take a hill that was abandoned shortly after victory.
The bloody attack was recreated and brought to the big screen in 1987’s “Hamburger Hill” directed by John Irvin.
The true conquest of a country is more than just invading its land borders. To truly conquer a country, an invader has to subdue its people and end its will to fight. There are many countries in the world with a lot of experience in this area and there are many more countries who were on the receiving end of their subjugation. At the end of World War II, the age of colonialism was officially ended for most of these conquerors and what grew from that end was a rebirth of those people and their culture, which just went to show that their people were never really subdued in the first place.
And then there were some countries that either never stopped fighting in the first place or have been constantly fighting for their right to exist since they won their independence. Some of them overcame great odds and earned the respect of their neighbors and former enemies rather than allow themselves to be subject to someone just because they didn’t have the latest and greatest in military technologies.
In the last installment, we looked at countries whose people, geography, sheer size, populations, and culture would never allow an invader to conquer them. This time, we look at smaller countries who took on great powers as the underdog and came out on top.
“Khan? Never heard of her.” – General Tran Hung Dao
The Vietnam War wasn’t some historical undercard match, it was actually a heavyweight championship fight – the United States just didn’t realize it at the time. The history of Vietnam’s formidable people and defenses date well before the Vietnam War and even before World War II. Vietnam has historically been thought of as one of the most militaristic countries in the region, and for good reason. Vietnam has been kicking invaders out since the 13th century when Mongol hordes tried to move in from China.
While it wasn’t Genghis Khan at the head of the invading army, it wasn’t too far removed the then-dead leader’s time. Kubali Khan’s Yuan Dynasty tried three times to subdue the Vietnamese. In the last invasion, Khan sent 400 ships and 300,000 men to Vietnam, only to see every ship sunk and the army harassed by the Vietnamese all the way back to China.
Cue the music.
Vietnam maintained its independence from China for 900 years after that. In more modern times, Vietnam was first invaded by the French in force in 1858 and they couldn’t subdue the whole of the country until 1887, 29 years after it first started. It cost thousands of French lives and the French even had to bring in Philippine troops to help. Even then, they won only because of a critical error on the part of Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc, who terribly misjudged how much his people actually cared for his regime.
The Japanese invasion during WWII awakened the Vietnamese resolve toward independence and they immediately started killing Japanese invaders – and not out of love for the French. They famously gave France the boot, invaded Laos to extend their territory, and then invaded South Vietnam. That’s where the Americans come in.
The American-Vietnam War didn’t go so well for either side, but now-Communist Vietnam’s dense jungle and support from China and the Soviet Union gave the North Vietnamese the military power to match their will to keep fighting, a will which seemed never-ending, no matter which side you’re on. North Vietnam was able to wait out the U.S. and reunite Vietnam, an underdog story that no one believed possible.
Vietnam’s resistance to outsiders doesn’t end there. After Vietnam invaded China-backed Cambodia (and won, by the way), Communist China’s seemingly unstoppable People’s Liberation Army with its seemingly unlimited manpower invaded Vietnam in 1979. For three weeks, the war ground Vietnamese border villages in a bloody stalemate until the Chinese retreated back across the border, taking an unexpectedly high death toll.
Bad call, Joe.
Though not much about early Finnish history is known, there are a few Viking sagas that mention areas of Finland and the people who inhabit those areas. Those sagas usually involve Vikings getting murdered or falling in battle. The same goes for Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, and virtually anyone else who had their eyes set on Finland. In the intervening years, Finns allowed themselves to be dominated by Sweden and Russia, but after receiving their autonomy in 1917, Finland wasn’t about to give it up. They eventually became a republic and were happy with that situation until around World War II began.
That’s when the Soviet Union invaded.
Frozen Soviet troops were also left out for display by the Finns, just to let the Russians know what fate awaited them.
The invasion of Finland didn’t go well for the USSR. It lasted all of 105 days and the “Winter War,” as it came to be called, was the site of some of the most brutal fighting the world has ever seen to this day. Finns were ruthless and relentless in defending their territory. For example, the Raatteentie Incident involved a 300-Finn ambush of a 25,000-strong Soviet force – and the Finns destroyed the Russians almost to the last man. The Finnish sniper Simo Hayha killed 505 Russians and never lost a moment’s sleep. When the retreating Finns destroyed anything that might be of use to an invader, it forced Soviet troops to march over frozen lakes.
Lakes that were mined by the Finns and subsequently exploded, downing and freezing thousands of Red Army invaders.
The Winter War is also where Finnish civilians perfected and mass-produced the Molotov Cocktail.
From the British War Office:
The Finns’ policy was to allow the Russian tanks to penetrate their defences, even inducing them to do so by ‘canalising’ them through gaps and concentrating their small arms fire on the infantry following them. The tanks that penetrated were taken on by gun fire in the open and by small parties of men armed with explosive charges and petrol bombs in the forests and villages.
This was the level of resistance from a country of just 3.5 million people. Finns showed up in whatever they were wearing, with whatever weapons they had, men and women alike. In short, Finns are happy to kill any invader and will do it listening to heavy metal music while shouting the battle cry of, “fire at their balls!”
Also, they’re all insanely attractive.
If part of what makes the United States an unconquerable country is every citizen being able to take up arms against an invader, just imagine how effective that makeshift militia force would be if every single citizen was also a trained soldier. That’s Israel, with 1.5 million highly-trained reserve troops.
In all your years, you will never look as cool in uniform as Moshe Dayan and his eyepatch.
Israel has had mandatory military service for all its citizens – men and women – since 1949 and for a good reason. Israel is in a tough neighborhood and most of their neighbors don’t want Israel to exist. This means the Jewish state is constantly fighting for survival in some way, shape, or form and they’re incredibly good at it. In almost 70 years of history, Israel earned a perfect war record. Not bad for any country, let alone one that takes heat for literally anything it does.
Not only will Israel wipe the floor with its enemies, it doesn’t pull punches. That’s why wars against Israel don’t last long, with most lasting less than a year and the shortest lasting just six days. As far as invading Israel goes, the last time an invading Army was in Israel proper, it was during the 1948-49 War of Independence. Since then, the farthest any invader got inside Israel was into areas seized by the Israelis during a previous war.
In fact, when an Arab coalition surprised Israel during Yom Kippur in 1973, the Israelis nearly took Cairo and Damascus in just a couple of weeks.
More than just securing their land borders, Israel keeps a watchful eye on Jewish people worldwide, and doesn’t mind violating another country’s sovereignty to do it. Just ask Uganda, Sudan, Argentina, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, UAE, Tunisia… get the point? If a group of Jewish people are taken hostage or under threat somewhere, the IDF or Mossad will come and get them out.
The Mossad is another story entirely. Chance are good that any country even thinking about invading Israel is probably full of, if not run by, Mossad agents. Israel will get the entire plan of attack in plenty of time to hand an invader their own ass. Just before the 1967 Six Day War, Mossad agent Eli Cohen became a close advisor to Syria Defense Minister. He actually got the Syrians to plant trees in the Golan Heights to help IDF artillery find the range on their targets.
The ultimate in “be careful what you wish for” lessons.
One of the world’s oldest civilizations, Japan was able to keep its culture and history relatively intact over the centuries because mainland Japan has never been invaded by an outside force.
Contrary to popular belief, the “divine wind” typhoons didn’t destroy the Mongol fleets outright. Mongol invaders were able to land on some of the Japanese islands, but after a few victories and a couple of stunning defeats, the Japanese exhausted the Mongols and they were forced to retreat back to their ships. That’s when the first typhoon hit.
Mongols invaded again less than seven years later with a fleet of 4,400 ships and some 140,000 Mongol, Korean, and Chinese troops. Japanese samurai defending Hakata Bay were not going to wait for the enemy to land and actually boarded Chinese ships to slaughter its mariners.
Sleep well tonight, China.
Since then, the Bushido Code only grew in importance and Japan’s main enemies were – wait for it – the Japanese. But once Japan threw off its feudal system and unified, it became a force to be reckoned with. Japan shattered the notion that an Asian army wasn’t able to defeat a Western army in a real war, soundly defeating the Russians both on land and at sea in 1905, setting the stage for World War II.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was not a great idea, the Japanese made sure the Americans knew that any invasion of Japanese territory would cost them dearly – and they made good on the promise, mostly by fighting to the death. The United States got the message, opting to drop nuclear weapons on Japan to force a surrender rather than attempt an invasion. Even though the U.S. got the demanded surrender, Japan was not a conquered country. The United States left Japan after seven years of occupation and the understanding that Communism was worse than petty fighting.
“Bushido” began to take on a different meaning to Japanese people. It wasn’t just one of extreme loyalty to traditions or concepts, or even the state. It morphed throughout Japanese culture until it began to represent a kind of extreme bravery and resistance in the face of adversity. While many in Japan are hesitant to use bushido in relation to the Japanese military, the rise of China is fueling efforts to alter Japan’s pacifist constitution to enable its self-defense forces to take a more aggressive stand in some areas.
Since the end of World War II, Japan has worked not to dominate the region militarily, but economically. Japan’s booming economy has allowed the country to meet the threats raised by Chinese power in the region, boosting military spending by billion and creating the world’s most technologically advanced (and fifth largest) air force, making any approach to the island that much more difficult.
And the Moro fought on.
5. The Philippines
The 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines are not a country that any invader should look forward to subduing. The Philippines have been resisting invaders since Filipinos killed Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. For 300-plus years, people of the Philippines were largely not thrilled to be under Spanish rule, which led to a number of insurrections, mutinies, and outright revolts against the Spanish. As a matter of fact, for the entire duration of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the Moro on Sulu and Mindinao fought their occupiers. That’s a people who won’t be conquered.
By the time the people of the Philippines rose up to throw off the chains of Spanish colonizers, there was already a massive plan in place as well as a secret shadow government ready to take power as soon as the Spanish were gone. This revolution continued until the Spanish-American War when the Americans wrested the island nation away, much to the chagrin (and surprise) of the Philippines.
Fun Fact: She was a schoolteacher before she started collecting heads.
Freedom fighters in the Philippines were so incensed at the American occupation that U.S. troops had to adopt a new sidearm with a larger caliber. Moro fighters shot by the standard-issue Colt .38-caliber M1892 Army-Navy pistol would not stop rushing American troops and the U.S. troops in the Philippines were getting killed by lack of firepower.
Meanwhile, the Philippines created a government anyway and immediately declared war on the United States and, even though it ended with the capture of rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo, American troops would be in the Philippines until 1913, attempting to subdue guerrillas in the jungles and outlying islands. Until, that is, Japan invaded.
If you want to know how well that went for the Japanese, here’s a photo of Filipino freedom fighter Capt. Nieves Fernandez showing a U.S. soldier how she hacks off Japanese heads with her bolo knife.
So, even though the actual Armed Forces of the Philippines might be a little aged and weak, anyone trying to invade and subdue the Philippines can pretty much expect the same level of resistance from the locals. Consider hot climate and dense jungles covering 7,000-plus islands, full of Filipinos who are all going to try to kill you eventually — the Philippines will never stop resisting.
Like the Moros, who are still fighting to this day.
Fighter aces—those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircrafts—are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds”. There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, and many who have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.
That is, none except one…
Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.
When war came he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On November 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.
All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.
It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.
Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter ace, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.
On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan it made no difference. He’d flown, fought and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.
His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables) and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.
Neither would his life.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.
Soon all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.
Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built, this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.
Le Gloan, in severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground the undercarriage collapsed.
The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.
Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.
The MiG-15 was the jet fighter that shook the West out of its delusion of automatic air superiority. Before the MiG-15, B-29 bombers could raid North Korean cities at will — in broad daylight. After the introduction of the MiG-15, the bomber fleet was grounded because the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Stars were too slow to protect them.
It might be hard to believe, but the source of the Russians’ new fighter’s monstrous speed was a Rolls-Royce design, which was pretty much supplied by the British themselves.
It wasn’t very often that anyone pulled the wool over the eyes of the British during the Cold War. The Soviets were a clever bunch, though.
In 1946, the Soviets were invited to a Rolls-Royce factory. The delegation in attendance included Artem Mikoyan (the man who put the ‘Mi’ in ‘MiG’) himself. Mikoyan was then invited to visit the house of a Rolls-Royce executive, where they played billiards.
Artem Mikoyan was great at billiards. In fact, he may have used a textbook shark move, losing the first game and then raising the stakes on the second. Here’s the bet he made: If the Russian wins, Rolls-Royce will have to sell jet engines to the Soviets. Find out who won at around 9:00 in the video below.
If it sounds surprising that the deal was made over a bet or that the British would supply the Russians with Rolls-Royce engines, you’re not alone. Stalin himself was incredulous, reportedly saying, “what idiot would sell us their jet engines?”
The Russians agreed to use the acquired engines for non-military purposes exclusively, which they did… until they were able to make a Russian copy of the Rolls-Royce engines, then called the Klimov RD-45. The engine was fitted into the MiG-15 and was fully operational in time for the Korean War, taking to the skies with weaponry designed to take down B-29 Superfortress bombers.
A B-29 Bomber in the gunsights of a MiG-15.
It was the dominant fighter over Korea until the introduction of the American F-86 Sabre. The Sabre was more than a match for the new MiG, garnering a 10-to-1 combat victory ratio in the war. It was also the plane flown by all 39 United Nations fighter aces.
Sabres and MiG-15s would be at each other’s throats for the duration of the Korean War. The last Sabre was retired from the U.S. military in 1956 whereas the MiG-15 saw service around the world throughout the 1960s. In fact, the plane is still flying with the North Korean People’s Air Force to this day.
What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here.
The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.
After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.
This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.
Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.
You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.
In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV set to quash Judaism among his subjects. Matthias the Kohein and his five sons fled to the hills and assembled a rag tag group of revolutionaries known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought the seemingly endless mercenary army until they reached Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple Mount.
Three years to the day of Antiochus’ rampage against the Jews, the Maccabees held the dedication. The Festival of Lights as we know it came from this celebration and when the tiny jar of oil managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days.
As a fun thought experiment, and because I love AlternateHistoryHub, lets re-imagine and contextualize the Maccabean Revolt with today’s weaponry, training, and armies. To keep the completely fictional and arbitrary scenario fair, Matthias the Kohein and his sons are the Shayetet 13 – the Israeli equivalent to the Navy SEALs. They serve as both instructors and fighters for the rest of the revolt: made up of IDF personnel — because being a “normal” civilian isn’t exactly a thing in modern Israel.
The modern equivalent of the Seleucid Empire is a bit of a gray area. They hired many Syrian mercenaries, but they weren’t exactly modern Syria. Though it spanned across Turkey to India, its culture, customs, and religions were Hellenic. Since Greece and Israel are allies in real life, this seems to help avoid any pitfalls.
As anyone who is aware of Israeli war history knows, Israel has a strong and constantly-tested military. While it has a 176,500 strong standing military, the number of fit military service troops is around 3,00,000. Their current defense budget if $18.6 billion annually and their Merkava main battle tanks are one of the most devastating in the world. All of that on top of a nuclear-triad option.
As for the Hellenic Armed Forces, their peacetime strength is around 113,500 troops with a total 4,000,000 fit for service troops. Their current defense spending budget is around $9.3 billion and they are the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and they have the highest G.D.P percentage towards military spending in the EU.
Just by pure numbers alone, Israel would take the fight. That’s not even including the home-field advantage of an insurgency. Even if the Greeks were to hire entire mercenary companies to fight for them, an average mercenary company only has roughly 10k personnel and would eat most of their already dwarfed budget. In $366 billion dollar industry, the modern equivalent Seleucid Empire would just not have the funds to match the Maccabean Forces.
Just as they did over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees would reach the Temple Mount and rededicate it by lighting the golden menorah.
The United States Military has always prided itself on its legacy. That’s why the historical accomplishments of a unit are almost always passed down from the old-timers to the young bloods. And if a great troop does a heroic deed, you can bet the installation where they were once stationed will have a street named after them.
The history books of the United States Military are extensive and cherished — but you won’t often see mention of the glider regiments. Outside of randomly finding their insignia on “Badges of the United States Army” posters that line the training room, you won’t ever hear anyone sing the tales of the gliders.
That’s mostly because the history of the gliders is a bit… awkward, let’s say.
Still though. There was a need that the gliders filled and they got the job done… some times…
Since their inception, gliders have been at odds with the paratroopers. Instead of having an infantryman jump from an aircraft and float down individually, the gliders would be filled to the brim with infantrymen that could all exit the glider at the same time and location. Gliders could also be filled with heavy equipment or vehicles and moved into the battlefield, remaining fairly silent as it glided to the ground.
And that about does it for the list of benefits to using gliders.
Earlier anti-glider poles had explosives, but the Axis found it a bit of overkill, as the inertia alone did the trick.
The thing is, all of the functions of the glider were better (and more safely) served by the helicopter. But even before helicopters were ready to take on a primary role, the Army had long abandoned gliders.
There were simply too many problems in the operating of gliders. First, gliders had to be towed by a much larger aircraft. When the time came, the glider would release the line and, as the name implies, glide to its intended destination. It didn’t have its own engine or any completely reliable means of piloting it.
Accidents were frequent. After all, there’s a reason they were unaffectionately called “flying coffins.” The glider needed to remain light (despite the heavy load in the back), so it had barely any kind of protection. The glider was literally made of honeycombed plywood and canvas, meaning air pockets or 40-mph winds could start shredding the exterior.
If the glider did manage to hold together throughout its journey, it was most left to its own devices after the departure of the towing plane. There were no brakes and steering was difficult. The only safe bet was to find a clearing, which were difficult to spot, seeing as the gliders cut the line while still miles away from their destination.
It also didn’t help that the Axis knew about the gliders’ biggest weakness: randomly placed ten-foot poles in giant clearings.
Farewell, gliders. You won’t be missed.
(442nd Fighter Wing Archive photo)
Gliders, in the eyes of the public, were doomed from the very beginning. In August, 1943, the gliders were given their first public demonstration in front for 10,000 spectators in St. Louis. A single bolt came undone and the glider fell like a sack of bricks right in front of the grand stand. Everyone onboard, including the mayor of St. Louis, was instantly killed.
The gliders did land properly more often than not and they played an instrumental role in major Allied invasions, but the fact that a staggering eleven percent of all troops who rode in them would die (and thirty percent were wounded upon landing) was something that the military just wanted to forget about.