The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

As members of England’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANYs, during World War II, Odette Sansom, Violette Szabó, and Noor Inayat Khan might have worked in hospitals, driven ambulances, sent coded radio signals, fixed trucks, or even, as one FANY did during the war, taught the future Queen Elizabeth to drive.

But when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed the nation’s clandestine spy agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze,” the three FANYs merged their nursing roles with espionage. The SOE, which carried out audacious sabotage plots across Europe, recruited 2,000 FANY members to the secret service. But only 39 went into the field to conduct commando operations, including Sansom, Szabó, and Khan.

Each brought her unique upbringing to her missions. Sansom (pictured above) and Szabó were both born in France; Sansom to a French man killed in World War I, whereas Szabó’s father had been an English soldier. Khan was a Muslim from India descended from a sultan. But their French fluency and familiarity with military skills like marksmanship caught the eye of England’s spy masters.

The commandos working for SOE in North Africa, the Far East, and particularly across Europe were the No. 1 targets of the Gestapo and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. “From now on, all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man,” read Adolf Hitler’s secret Commando Order (Kommandobefehl) issued on Oct. 18, 1942. If members of the SOE were discovered, man or woman, they’d be hunted, tortured, and executed. 

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Noor Inayat Khan was a Muslim princess who volunteered for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. She became one of the first women awarded the George Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest civilian honor. It was accepted posthumously on her behalf. Photo courtesy of the Soefi Museum.

Sansom, Szabó, and Khan had to be discreet and keep their identities secret. They carried false papers with fake names, home addresses, and occupations. Virginia Hall, famously known as “The Limping Lady,” who served with the SOE early in the war, used a cover as a French American stringer for the New York Post writing under the public persona of Brigitte LeContre. The FANYs received training in weapons handling, fieldcraft, and sabotage, and assumed their own disguises.

Sansom took the code name Lise as a courier for the Spindle spy ring, or “circuit” under the SOE’s F Section (France). Circuits were generally composed of three officers: a circuit leader, a courier, and a radio operator. A wife and mother of three children, Sansom transported messages and money to associates in the French Resistance. After seven months of clandestine fieldwork, she was captured by the Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, a notorious spy catcher who personally arrested more than 100 agents and officers. Sansom was interrogated for hours at Fresnes Prison in Paris, subjected to techniques including the removal of her toenails. 

When she wouldn’t confess, the Nazis sent her to Ravensbrück, the most feared concentration camp for women in Europe. Her cell was in an underground prison infamously known as “The Bunker.” For three months and eight days she lived in solitary confinement next to a furnace, in total darkness, starving. Her hair and teeth fell out. She even lapsed into a mini-coma but ultimately survived the war. Many of her fellow FANYs, however, did not, including Szabó and Khan.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Odette Sansom at the FANY memorial at St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, in 1948. She is holding Tania Szabó, daughter of SOE officer Violette Szabó. Photo courtesy of FANY.

On her second mission in France, Szabó parachuted behind German lines the day after D-Day and established contact with resistance forces in the area. On June 10, 1944, she joined Jacques Dufour in a car to Salon-la-Tour. Along the route the Germans set up a roadblock, and Dufour stopped the vehicle 50 yards away. He instructed Szabó to dash into a field as he provided covering fire. Szabó instead pulled out her Sten submachine gun and joined the fight before the pair fled into the field. She fought until she had fired all her ammunition and was captured. She joined Sansom in Ravensbrück but was executed in January 1945.

Khan’s fate was equally senseless. The Muslim princess was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore state — today, a part of India — who pioneered rockets used as military weapons. Khan worked as a wireless radio operator in Paris. At one point she was the only SOE wireless operator in the city, operating under the code name Madeleine, and was critical in communications with the Prosper resistance network and the outside world. A Frenchwoman betrayed Khan to the Gestapo, and she and three other female SOE officers were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, they were executed.

All three women — Sansom, Szabó, and Khan — were awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor. Among the 39 FANY and SOE commandos who went into the field, 13 died as German prisoners or were killed in action. On May 7, 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, unveiled a plaque at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, dedicated to all 52 FANYs who died during World War II. In attendance was Odette Sansom. In her arms she held Tania, the only daughter of Violette Szabó, who would later accept her mother’s medal and write a book about her famous mother’s life. Khan became the first Indian woman in history to be honored with a memorial and a permanent Blue Plaque awarded by the English Heritage charity. These Blue Plaques honor notable people and organizations connected with particular buildings across London — and Khan’s can seen at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived before joining the SOE.

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

Articles

This is how to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto

We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.


It was the moment of triumph for the plane, which had its own troubled development, and which was further hampered due to a friendly fire incident.

But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.

The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.

The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.

The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr. with Richard I. Bong (Majs. Bong and McGuire were the top two scoring U.S. aces in World War II with 40 and 38 victories, respectively; taken Nov. 15, 1944 in the Philippines). (U.S. Air Force photo)

The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.

Articles

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

USS Langley: The United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier

Recently, the United States Navy celebrated the 98th anniversary of the commissioning of its very first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1).

CV-1 was named after American aeronautics engineer, Astronomer, aviation pioneer, bolometer, and physicist, Samuel Piermont Langley (the same guy whose name is on a NASA research center, an Air Force base, a mountain, three other ships — two of which are USN ships — and a slew of schools, buildings, labs, and a unit of solar radiation measurement). The USS Langley was converted from the Proteus-class collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), which itself was commissioned in April or 1913.


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(WikiMedia Commons)

As the Langley, she had a full-load displacement of 13,900 long tons, a length of 542ft, beam of 65ft 5in, draft of 24ft, and 3 boilers. This was also the United States Navy’s first tubro-electric-powered ship. She was commanded by Commander Kenneth Whiting, upon commissioning.

The USS Langley saw service as both an aircarft carrier and a seaplane tender. In the seaplane tender role, she was commissioned as AV-3 on 11 April 1937. She served as AV-3 until 27 February 1942, when she was struck by Japanese bombers. She now rests on the seafloor near Cilacap Harbor, Java, Indonesia.

The USS Langley was the first step in what would help the Navy — and the United States — project global reach and force. A unique feature of the Langley (among all USN aircraft carriers) was its carrier pigeon house. USN carriers (and signals) have come a long way since then.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

(SDASM Archives Via Flickr)

Since the commissioning of the USS Langley as the first aircraft carrier, the United States Navy has fielded 80 total carriers. There are currently 11 in service. Both of these numbers vastly outcounts every other nation’s number of aircraft carriers. With a current global total of 44 active carriers (some of those are arguable), America owns 25% of those. But the strategic value of those 11 carriers is much more than 25% of that global total.

The first purpose-built aircraft carrier to be commissioned ever, anywhere, was the Japanese Hōshō, which was commissioned two days after Christmas, 1922.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Navy constantly checks on this sunken cruiser

In the early months of World War II, the United States Asiatic Fleet had been given an impossible job — hold the line against the might of the Japanese Navy. The ships and men did their best, but they were ultimately forced to retreat towards Australia. Unfortunately, not all of them made it.


One of those ships that didn’t make it was the Northampton-class heavy cruiser, USS Houston. She was sunk by Japanese forces 76 years ago in the Battle of the Sunda Strait alongside the light cruiser, HMAS Perth. Of the 1,061 men aboard, only 291 survived both the sinking and being held as prisoners of war.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The heavy cruiser USS Houston was assigned to the Asiatic Fleet prior to World War II. (US Navy photo)

In 2014, the wreck of USS Houston, the final resting place of 650 sailors and Marines, including Captain George Rooks (awarded the Medal of Honor), was located. The problem was that the vessel sank in shallow waters, providing easy access for divers.

A 2014 release by the Navy noted that there were signs that the wreck had been disturbed. In 2015, the United States Navy and the Indonesian Navy teamed up to survey the wrecks of Houston and Perth to ascertain their condition.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Navy Divers assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, Mobile Diving Salvage (MDS) 11-7, survey HMAS Perth (D29) during dive operations held in support of search and survey operations of the sunken World War II navy vessels USS Houston (CA 30) and Perth. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

The good news was that the survey showed no signs of recent salvaging. However, the same couldn’t be said for wrecks from battles that took place off the coast of Indonesia, which have been seriously damaged by illegal salvage operators seeking to acquire the pre-1945 steel onboard sunken warships. Some of the vessels, which are considered war graves under international law, have been almost completely stripped for a few Indonesian rupiahs. Each rupiah is worth .0073 cents.

This past September, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) laid a wreath at the Houston‘s location. The ceremony took place during the multi-national CARAT exercises, which have sometimes seen divers survey the wrecks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A communist soldier made a daring escape through the Berlin Wall in an APC

May Day was a big deal in East Germany. As a matter of fact, it was a big deal in all of the Communist Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War era. It was, after all, a day for celebrating workers around the world. Since Communist countries were supposed to be a worker’s paradise, it stands to reason they would take a day off from shooting dissenters and waiting in lines to watch a few parades.

And those parades were lit.

It was because everyone was preparing for May Day that Wolfgang Engels was able to escape from East Germany.


The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

The wall began construction in 1961.

Engels was born in 1943 in Düsseldorf, Germany (what would have been West Germany just a few years later), but his Communist mother took him to East Germany after the end of World War II. As a young man, he was drafted into the Army of the new German Democratic Republic, what we know as East Germany.

The young soldier was a believer in the new ideology as a young man. He called his upbringing “thorough” and “socialist” and noted his mother even worked for the Stasi. It wasn’t until much later in his service that someone managed to convince him that things were not all they were made out to be.

But one of his first assignments as a newly-minted East German was to help build the Berlin Wall.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

A Soviet-built East German BTR-152, like the one Wolfgang Engels drove through the Berlin Wall.

He soon felt terrible about what the wall became. Not just the barrier between the Iron Curtain and Freedom, but a symbol of the ideological struggle of the Cold War — and he was on the wrong side. The GDR was not the Germany he thought he knew.

After two years, the pressure was getting to him. Suddenly, well before his defection, he was accused of trying to cross the border illegally. He and two friends were looking for a concert in a cafe near the border wall. The group was found and unable to explain, to the guards’ satisfaction, what they were doing and so they were manhandled and mistreated. It drove the reality of East Germany home to him.

In reality, the thought of crossing the wall hadn’t occurred to him until his East German superiors put the idea in his head. But attempting to flee came with a stiff fine, two years’ jail time, and maybe even a bullet to the head. Still he remained determined — and even asked random passersby to come with him, but no one took him up on the offer.

His plan to escape was simple enough. He would steal an armored personnel carrier, drive to the most famous wall in the world (at the time at least), and then drive right through it. That’s exactly what he did, but it was nice of him to stop a couple of times and ask if anyone wanted to come.

The armored personnel carrier came from the preparations being made for the upcoming May Day parade. It was a BTR-152. A six wheeled, Soviet-built vehicle whose top could open upward, luckily for Wolfgang Engels. When the workmen went off to lunch, Engels started up his new vehicle, garnering little notice in a military-run city.

He had roughly 100 meters — the length of a football field — to gather enough velocity to crash through a single layer of cinder blocks less than ten feet high. Unfortunately, Engels’ APC didn’t fully penetrate the Berlin Wall and he was soon stuck in his vehicle — and stuck in the wall. East German border guards began to open fire on the BTR-152 and Wolfgang Engels. He decided it was time to book it.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

He left the relative safety of the vehicle and tried to climb away. Ensnared in barbed wire, he was shot at close range while attempting to flee. Twice — once in the back and once in the hand. The second bullet tore through his body, in then out.

Luckily for him, West German police officers from a nearby watchtower fired back at the Eastern border guards, providing much-needed cover and time for Engels. But really, it was time enough for a group of revelers at a nearby bar to come out and help pull him out of the wire and into the freedom of the West. They formed a human ladder, freed him from the wire, and brought him over. They carried his unconscious body back to the bar, closing up the blinds.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

“I came to on top of the counter,” he says. “When I turned my head and saw all the Western brands of liquor on the shelf, I knew that I had made it.”

He ordered a cognac.

Wolfgang Engels was sent by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he recovered from a collapsed lung for three weeks.

He wouldn’t see his mother again until 1990, after the fall of the wall. He learned the East Germans were planning to abduct him and charge him with desertion before the wall fell. As for the soldier who shot him, Engels is just grateful he didn’t turn his AK-47 on automatic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the Marines overcame to win during Desert Storm

The ground war of Desert Storm lasted all of 100 hours. After giving Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army the Noah’s Ark treatment and raining death on them for 40 days and 40 nights, the Army and Marines very swiftly moved in and expelled the entire army all the way out of Kuwait and deep into their own territory.

But it wasn’t all Iraqi troops surrendering to helicopters en masse.


On Feb. 22, 1991, the First Marine Division already had 3,000 Marines and Corpsmen 12 miles inside of Kuwait. The grunts were on foot, carrying heavy packs along with their weapons for all of those 12 miles since the wee hours of the morning. They crossed a minefield and evaded Iraqi armor to do it, and they had already stormed Iraqi positions and taken prisoners. That’s when the Marines were informed that President Bush called a halt to the invasion to give Saddam time to leave Kuwait on his own.

Up until this point, some of the 92,000 Marines in the area of responsibility had already seen action, defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi border attacks, Iraqi artillery attacks, and even an Iraqi amphibious assault on the Saudi city of Khafji. In each of these encounters, Marines were left unimpressed with the performance of the Iraqis on the battlefield, so they changed their tactics to make the best use of their speed and armor while making up for their lack of supplies – but the new plan required new logistical plans in the middle of the Saudi desert, which Navy Seabees accomplished in a hurry. The stage was set.

By the 20th of February, the First Marine Division was staged along the minefields that protected the Kuwaiti border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Marine engineers discovered a path through the mines by watching Iraqi defectors walk through the minefield. The Marines simply mimicked that path and within hours were miles inside Kuwait. The Marines, some carrying up to 100 pounds, walked for 30 miles and then crawled through a minefield. In chemical warfare gear.

Marines along the line began to break through the minefields so their heavy armor could roll through. At least three separate locations drove two lines through the mines under enemy fire. They did the same thing through an inner minefield. Once the Marines were through, they carried on to where the enemy was and began taking out the entrenched defenders immediately. Resistance was uncoordinated and incomplete. The First and Second Divisions invading Kuwait might have met more resistance, but Marines were landing all over the area.

Meanwhile, a Marine landing of reserve troops was going down in Saudi Arabia. For days before landing, these amphibious Marines had conducted training exercises throughout the Persian Gulf, making the Iraqis believe a large amphibious invasion of Kuwait was coming. Instead of that, the Americans moved that Marine force back to Saudi Arabia and replaced its force. That force held up 10 Iraqi divisions and 80,000 Iraqi troops who were just waiting to pounce on the invading Americans. All the while, their cities in Western Kuwait would fall.

Marine artillery was at work as well, destroying 9 APCs, along with some 34 tanks. By the time President Bush declared a cease-fire, Marines had defeated 11 Iraqi divisions, destroyed 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and taken 22,000 prisoners.

Shortly after the Marine advance, everything was over. Kuwait was liberated, and Iraqis were back in Iraq.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Special Forces medic’s bravery in Vietnam has earned him the Medal of Honor

President Donald Trump will award the Medal of Honor to a retired Army medic from Alabama who risked his life several times to provide medical care to his comrades during the Vietnam War, the White House announced Sept. 20.


Trump will award retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose of Huntsville, Alabama, the nation’s highest military honor for his actions in combat. Trump will honor Rose for his conspicuous gallantry during a White House ceremony on Oct. 23.

The White House said Rose, 69, will be recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group during combat operations in Vietnam in September 1970. Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide medical care, and used his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Pfc. Gary M. Rose at Fort Benning, Ga., September 1967. Photo courtesy of Gary M. Rose via US Army.

On the final day of the mission, Rose was wounded but put himself in the line of enemy fire while moving wounded personnel to an extraction point, loading them into helicopters and helping to repel an enemy assault on the American position.

As he boarded the final extraction helicopter, the aircraft was hit with intense enemy fire and crashed shortly after takeoff. The White House said Rose ignored his own injuries and pulled the helicopter crew and members of his unit from the burning wreckage and provided medical care until another extraction helicopter arrived.

Rose is a 20-year veteran of the Army. He will be the second person to be awarded the Medal of Honor by Trump. The president honored James McCloughan of South Haven, Michigan, in July for his actions to save wounded soldiers in a Vietnam kill zone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This real soldier’s photo is still hanging at Checkpoint Charlie

It’s been almost 30 years since the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the primary crossing post between East and West Berlin, was taken down with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The original guardhouse was little more than a temporary shack for much of its life and has since been replaced. As the area in Berlin began to grow and become a tourist attraction, more and more Cold War-era sights were added to the checkpoint.

One of those sights is a photo of a real American soldier, looking East.


These days, the area in Berlin that saw some of the most intense showdowns between East and West is full of tourists and Berlin residents who probably wish they had taken a different route to work. For three Euro, you can take a photo with one of the soldier-reenactors who dress up to man the post. If you’re hungry, there’s a McDonald’s across the street. It’s very much not the Checkpoint Charlie of old, but still worth a visit. For military veterans approaching the once-legendary area, there might be a different question – who is that guy in the photo?

The “soldiers” holding the U.S. flag and posing for tourists were never troops, that’s just fun for the onlookers. But staring at the photo of the American soldier posted at the guardhouse, it’s clear that he’s wearing a real U.S. Army uniform.

His name is Jeff Harper.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the checkpoint’s rise as a prime tourist attraction in the German capital, the photos of Sgt. Harper and his Soviet counterpart on the other side have become as synonymous with the checkpoint as anything else in Cold War lore. But Harper wasn’t exactly the stereotypical Cold Warrior. He was a U.S. Army tuba player with the 298th Army Band in Berlin from 89-94 and never pulled guard duty at the checkpoint. He was just 22 when the photo was taken.

In an interview with the German publication Der Tronkland, Harper said he almost dropped his coffee when he first saw his face up on the sign. That was 1999.

“I am very proud to have become part of the story to this extent and still be part of what is happening in Berlin today,” Harper said. “I can hardly imagine in how many photo albums I have been immortalized.”

Harper has since retired from the Army, but he was still in Berlin for the fall of the wall.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Jeff Harper after his retirement in 2010.

The most important thing to know about the photos is that they’re not part of any authentic recreation of the site. They’re an art exhibit, called Ohne Titel – or “Light Boxes.” The photo was taken by Berlin photographer Frank Thiel in 1994, as an attempt to capture photos of the last Allied soldiers in the city. The young Russian troop isn’t wearing a Soviet military uniform, he’s wearing a 1994 uniform of the Russian Federation.

“… These portraits translate the omnipresent sector signs of the past – “You are leaving the American/British/French sector” – into picture form. They are likewise a reference to the historical moment when Soviet and American tanks faced off against each other right here,” said Thiel. “By using two portraits to symbolize almost 50 years of history, I am suggesting that these two faces are representative.”

These days, Harper is enjoying the retired life driving his motorcycle around the highways of the American West. He says the highlight of his career in Berlin was being able to play in the band for President Bill Clinton. As for the Russian soldier on the opposite side, no one really knows who he is or where he ended up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were America’s first African-American paratroopers

During World War II a company of service soldiers became the world’s first Black paratroopers and then made history as smokejumpers.


It started in 1942 when 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, an E-5 who had taken responsibility for his company because no first sergeant was assigned to it, crafted a plan for improving horrible morale.

The men were assigned to the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, but were afforded none of the privileges other soldiers had and even lacked access to facilities that enemy POWs were allowed to use.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The paratroopers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion get ready to fight a forest fire. Photo: US Army

The men were assigned to cleaning the course after the white paratroopers finished training, and Morris simply had his men run it before they began cleaning. One day they were spotted making their way through the course by a passing general. The general ordered Morris to report to his office the next day. The general had received orders to start a Black airborne test platoon that would soon become a Black company and then airborne battalion. For his leadership of the service company, Morris was asked to become the unit first sergeant.

Morris and his men were officially re-assigned to the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, the Triple Nickles, in the final days of 1943. On Feb. 8, 1944, Morris and 16 others graduated Airborne School and became the first Black paratroopers.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
First Sgt. Walter Morris during pre-jump inspection for his first jump. Photo: US Army

The 555th quickly grew over the next year and Morris was sent to officer candidate school to become an officer so he could take another leadership role in what was now the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Unfortunately for the paratroopers of the unit, lingering racism kept them from the combat deployment to Europe that they were seeking.

They were instead loaned out to the U.S. Forest Service to defend the forests of the western states from Japanese incendiary bombs. The Japanese were floating thousands of balloons, each with four incendiary devices, across the Pacific to start wildfires in North America.

The Forest Service had decided to fight the tactic with “smokejumpers,” a new type of forest firefighter who jumped into the woods near the massive blazes and then created firebreaks to starve the flames of fuel.

Three hundred men were assigned to the mission, but only 160 were sent to Pendleton, Oregon for retraining. Between them all, they conducted 1,200 individual jumps and completed 36 fire missions in the summer of 1945.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The men of the Triple Nickle before a training jump in New Jersey. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Smokejumpers carried special “letdown” ropes to climb down from trees in case they were hung up on the high branches, and the men of 555th crafted special face protection by wrapping chicken wire around football helmets.

The war and the Army smokejumper mission ended in 1945, and the Triple Nickle was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where the famed 82nd Airborne Division was headquartered. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin, “The Jumping General” who commanded the unit, was impressed by the Black paratroopers and an early advocate of integration.

The unit trained and existed within the 82nd Airborne Division until Gavin ordered the men to an 82nd function in Dec. 1947. When the 555th commander presented his battalion to Gavin, the general ordered the unit fully integrated it into the 82nd as the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Brigade.

While the men regretted the loss of the Triple Nickles, they celebrated being integrated into a storied unit.

“Everybody was crying,” former 555th paratrooper Charles Stevens told the Fort Jackson Leader. “I think we were crying for two different reasons. We were glad that segregation was leaving the Army and we were sad we were losing our Triple Nickle colors.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what the Coast Guard was doing during the Civil War

As it would in nearly every war in U.S. history, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role in the Civil War. During this conflict, the Coast Guard’s ancestor agency of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service performed a variety of naval combat operations.

By 1860, the Revenue Cutter Service’s fleet was spread across the nation, with cutters stationed in every major American seaport. After the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, the nation began splitting apart. During these months, men in the service like their counterparts in the Navy and the Army had to choose between serving the federal government or with the seceding Southern states, so the service lost most of its cutters in the South. For example, the captain of the Mobile-based cutter Lewis Cass turned over his vessel to state authorities, forcing his officers and crew to travel overland through Secessionist territory to reach the North.


Regarding the Southern-leaning captain of cutter Robert McClelland, stationed in New Orleans, Treasury Secretary John Dix telegraphed the executive officer in January of 1861, that “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” The phrase later became the basis for a song popular in the North as shown in this newspaper clipping.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

The commanding officer of the New Orleans-based cutter McClelland refused a direct order from Treasury Secretary John Dix to sail his vessel into Northern waters. Dix next ordered the executive officer to arrest the captain, assume command of the cutter and sail the vessel into Northern waters, indicating that the captain should be considered a mutineer if he interfered with the transfer of command. Dix ended his message by writing, “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot,” a quote that would become famous as a rallying message for Northerners. Unfortunately for Dix, the second-in-command of the McClelland was also a Southern sympathizer and the cutter was turned over to local authorities. In addition to five cutters turned over to Southern authorities, Union forces had to destroy a cutter at the Norfolk Navy Yard before Confederate forces overran the facility.

The war required a major increase in the size of the cutter fleet not only to replace lost cutters, but also to support increased marine safety and law enforcement operations. Six cutters sailed from the Great Lakes for East Coast bases and nine former cutters in the U.S. Coast Survey were transferred back to the Revenue Cutter Service for wartime duty. The service also purchased the steamers Cuyahoga, Miami, Reliance, Northerner and William Seward and built six more steam cutters, which joined the fleet by 1864. These new cutters interdicted rampant smuggling brought on by the war, supplied guardships to Northern ports, and helped enforce the wartime blockade.

Revenue cutters taken by Confederate forces were mainly used in naval operations. Union revenue cutters served in a variety of combat missions. For example, the Harriett Lane, considered the most advanced revenue cutter at the start of the war, fired the Civil War’s first naval shot in April 1861 while attempting to relieve federal forces at Fort Sumter. During the ensuing months, Harriett Lane received orders for escort duty, blockade operations and shore bombardment. In August 1861, the cutter served a central role in the capture of forts at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, and was transferred to the Navy to serve as a command ship for Adm. David Dixon Porter in the Union naval campaign against New Orleans.

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Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane forces the merchant steamer Nashville to show its colors during the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
(Illustration by Coast Guard artist Howard Koslow)

The cutter Miami also served as a kind of command ship during the war. In late April 1862, Lincoln, War Secretary Edwin Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase cruised from Washington, D.C., to Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Soon thereafter, Lincoln ordered the bombardment of Sewell’s Point, near Norfolk, in preparation for an assault on that city. On May 9, Lincoln ordered a reconnaissance party from the cutter to examine the shore near Norfolk in preparation for landing troops. The next day, Miami covered the landing of six Union regiments, which quickly captured Norfolk after Confederate forces evacuated the city and the Norfolk Navy Yard.

The gunboat Naugatuck proved unique cutter in the service’s history. Given to the Revenue Cutter Service by New Jersey inventor Edwin Stevens, the gunboat served with the James River Flotilla. In May 1861, Naugatuck assisted in an effort to draw the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia into a battle in the open waters of Hampton Roads. After the capture of its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia’s crew destroyed their trapped ironclad and Naugatuck steamed up the James River with the USS Monitor and other shallow draft warships to threaten Richmond. Naugatuck’s main armament, 100-pound Parrott gun, burst during the subsequent attack on the earthen fort at Drewry’s Bluff and the cutter withdrew to Hampton Roads with the rest of the Union warships. Naugatuck served the remainder of the war as a guardship in New York Harbor.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
This painting depicts the cutter Morris on patrol in July 1861, when its crew boarded the merchant ship Benjamin Adams, while carrying 650 Scottish and Irish immigrants at the time.

As with all wars, the Civil War had a transformative effect on the military services. The war transformed the Revenue Cutter Service from a collection of obsolete sailing vessels to a primarily steam-driven fleet of cutters. The important operations supported by cutters also cemented the role of the service in such missions as convoy duty, blockade operations, port security, coastal patrol and brown-water combat operations. These missions remained core competencies of the Coast Guard in future combat operations. The Civil War operations of the service also reinforced the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service’s reputation as a legitimate branch of the U.S. military.

This article originally appeared on Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

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This is the biggest victory Native Americans scored against the colonials

The fight against westward expansion of the United States did not go well for the native tribes of the Americas. But it didn’t start out that way. In the early years of the United States, one American Indian uprising would give the tribes of the new world a glimmer of hope and cost one Army officer his job – for good reason.


What came to be known as “St. Clair’s Defeat” was also the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military and the largest ever won by Native tribes.

It was the early days of the nascent United States as well as the administration of George Washington. Native tribes along the country’s frontier had allied with Great Britain during the American war for independence, and the victorious Americans were not at all happy about it. So when it came time to pay for the war, the Americans decided to sell off their newly-acquired lands east of the Mississippi, despite the thousands of natives who already lived there. This did not sit well with the tribes, who didn’t recognize American ownership anyway.

Washington ordered Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to march a combined force of American troops and militiamen into the Ohio territory and subdue the indigenous people there. Those tribes, led by Little Turtle of the Miamis and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, along with warriors from around the territory, had already defeated a much larger force sent to dispatch them. St. Clair would fare no better.

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A very generous (for the Americans) painting of the battle. (Illustration by Peter Dennis from John Winkler’s, Wabash 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat/ courtesy of Fort Recovery State Museum)

 

Everything went wrong. St. Clair’s army was wracked by desertions, poor discipline, and disease, as well as bad horses and equipment. He was unable to move during the summer and didn’t leave until October 1791. As the army and its camp followers moved from present-day Cincinnati to what is now Fort Wayne, Ind. they were harassed by native skirmishers, who only compounded the problem.

By November, the menagerie arrived at Fort Recovery, Ohio, where they made camp. Unfortunately, they made no effort to reinforce their position, mount patrols in the surrounding woods, or recon the area. So when the Indians waited until breakfast was served on Nov. 3, 1791, the Americans were completely unprepared. The battle was a complete surprise, and the Indians sent the Americans packing in a rout.

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That’s a little more accurate. (Illustration by Peter Dennis from John Winkler’s, Wabash 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat/ courtesy of Fort Recovery State Museum)

The artillerymen were picked off by the native snipers, and the guns were spiked. Kentucky militiamen fled across the Wabash River without their weapons. While the American regulars were able to mount somewhat of a defense, it was not enough given their lack of preparation. They were able to form up, but a force led by Little Turtle flanked the regulars. Every time the Americans mounted a bayonet charge, the natives appeared to break and flee into the woods, but the oncoming attackers were only encircled and slaughtered once they entered the woods. St. Clair lost three horses.

After three hours, the Americans were forced to make a break for it, leaving supplies and wounded men in the camp. The supplies were looted, and the wounded were executed by the Indians. The casualty rate for the U.S. troops was a stunning 97.4 percent, with 632 killed and 264 wounded. The Natives lost only 21 men.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
There it is.

 

Washington was livid. He demanded St. Clair’s resignation, then reorganized the Army. He and the Congress raised more men for the U.S. Army in order to lead a war against the Indians who inflicted the loss on St. Clair. That unit, the Legion of the United States, was led by Maj. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Two years after the loss of St. Clair’s army, Wayne would march the legion into Ohio and inflict a devastating loss on Little Turtle and Blue Jacket at Fallen Timbers – a win that would bring the war to an end.

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7 surprising facts about Bob Hope

Bob Hope, legendary comedian and star of radio, stage, and screen — not to mention a man who once played third billing to Siamese twins and trained seals — had a really, really soft spot for U.S. troops, especially those who deployed to combat zones. It’s an amazing thing, especially considering that he was British.


For more than 50 years, the “One-Man Morale Machine” spent time away from his family and his comfortable Hollywood life to visit American troops during peacetime and at war. He performed on Navy ships and Army bases, often close enough to hear the sounds of combat. To him, that didn’t matter.

 

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Bob Hope and his USO troupe arrived in Sicily three days after Gen. Patton and the Seventh Army took the key town of Messina.

“Imagine those guys thanking me,” he once said. “Look what they’re doing for me. And for you.”

Today, Bob Hope’s legacy lives on in the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, whose mission it is to support any organization that seeks to bring hope to anyone. For veterans, the foundation supports the EasterSeals of Southern California through the EasterSeals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which helps veterans gain meaningful employment after their service to our nation ends.

No joke: It’s not a handout for veterans, it’s a real hand up. Check it out: it may be just what you or a loved one needs. In the meantime, learn a little bit about the legend himself.

1. Bob Hope was British

Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 in Well Hall, Eltham, County of London, England. In 1908, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, passing through Ellis Island on the way.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

2. He has a lot of medals. A whole lot.

Among them are the Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Air Force Order of the Sword, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, and Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

There are more honors. A lot more, including Admiralty in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. It’s a thing.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Bob Hope receives the Congressional Gold Medal from President Kennedy.
(Library of Congress)

 

3. He was a Harlem Globetrotter.

Along with Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, and a few others, he was named an honorary member of the team.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

4. He did the “Russian Reversal” joke 30 years before Yakov Smirnoff

You knew he was a visionary. So did Yakov Smirnoff, who pretty much made his whole career on the, “In Soviet Russia, TV watches YOU” series of jokes. This is now known as a “Russian Reversal” and was first used by Hope at the 30th Academy Awards in 1958.

5. You can thank Bob Hope for ‘The Brady Bunch’

A struggling biology student in Southern California got a part-time gig writing jokes for Hope to earn extra money. Sherwood Schwartz would later go on to create Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Schwartz described his rise in Hollywood as an accident his whole life.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

 

6. He spent 48 Christmases with American troops overseas.

From 1941-1990, Hope spent most of his Christmases with U.S. troops rather than at his home in Toluca Lake, California. His daughter Linda described Christmas at the Hope house:

Dad was gone. Holidays for the Hope kids took on a new meaning.
“I remember saying, ‘Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas,” Linda said. But she is quick to add that Mom would put it in proper perspective for her.
“She said, ‘No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas. Remember the boys and girls whose fathers may never come back.'”

7. Bob Hope played golf with Tiger Woods.

When Tiger was two years old, he squared off against Hope on The Mike Douglas Show in a putting contest in 1978. Actor Jimmy Stewart was looking on.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
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