It may surprise modern admirers of Finland that the Nordic country did not fight against the Axis during World War II. But their alignment with Hitler wasn’t for territory, ideology, or the persecution of certain ethnicities.
The Finns had one reason for siding with Germany: killing Russians.
And as the war dragged on and the eventual Soviet advance into the Baltics took its toll, the Finns developed a daring strategy of shadowing Russian bombers that had a devastating effect on Moscow’s ability to swallow its western neighbor.
In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the nonaggression agreement between the Nazis and the Soviet Union – contained a secret clause that put Finland in the Soviet sphere of influence. Shortly after, the USSR started negotiating for critical pieces of Finnish territory. A month later, the Russians shelled its own village to make it look like the Finns escalated the conflict.
The Russians then invaded Finland, sparking the so-called “Winter War.”
While the Finns fought the Red Army with tenacity, it was simply too much for the small country. When Russian Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov demanded huge concessions of land and surrender to the exhausted Finnish Army, they had to capitulate.
Finland didn’t stop during the interim peace from March 1940 to June 1941. The Nazis knew what was coming and sent troops to Finland to help them rearm and prepare. When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Russia, the Finns moved with German forces. Stalin counterattacked with air raids on Finnish cities, but the Finns were on the offensive.
After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Finland was rebuffed by the Red Army and pushed back to its 1940 positions. In February 1944, the Russians launched an air raid against Helsinki, the most heavily defended capital at the time (which is saying a lot).
In three waves, Russian bombing runs dropped 20,000 explosives on the capital. Only 3 percent of those actually hit the city. Finland had no night fighters and couldn’t intercept the bombers, even though they knew the Russians were coming.
The Finns had four squadrons of bombers with older, experienced pilots. Finland’s intelligence knew where the Russian bombers were flying from, their radio communication, how Red Army pilots operated, and all their tactics.
In February 1944, Finnish aircraft covertly slipped into Russian bomber formations flying under blackout conditions over the Gulf of Finland. The Finns had very different planes than the Russians, but even when the Russians turned on their navigation lights when they entered friendly airspace, the Finns just played along.
No one noticed.
A Finnish Air Force Dornier DO-17 Bomber from the era. Finland fielded 5 of these during WWII.
One by one, the returning Soviet bombers landed at Levashovo airfield. As the last squadron – the Finns – approached, they opened their bomb bays instead of their landing gear and dropped 80 bombs on the unsuspecting Russians.
The attack was such a success that the tactic was repeated on subsequent Soviet bombing runs. Finland’s pilots joined returning Russian formations and right before landing, hit the airfield with everything they could. For months, these attacks decimated the Russian airfields along the Finnish border and night raids slowly began to dwindle as the tactic took its toll.
While the RAF was known to attempt this tactic with single fighters, no one in World War II ever attempted to join enemy bomber formations in such numbers or with such access as Finland had against the Soviet Union.
Throughout a certain portion of history in the western world, getting a divorce was almost impossible. Even the royals had issues on this front, with perhaps the most famous example being the plight of King Henry 8th, a man whose desire to get an annulment famously led to him starting an entirely new branch of Christianity virtually identical to the old except that he was the ultimate authority and head instead of the Pope.
However, starting around the 14th century in certain parts of Europe, an avenue for a woman to divorce a man was to simply claim that her husband couldn’t consummate the marriage or, to put it more plainly — wasn’t able to shampoo the wookie.
While, yes, technically a man could also use this very excuse to get out of a marriage, the social stigma attached to not being able to successfully put a little Ranch in the Hidden Valley bottle was so great that we could find no examples of a man using this excuse to annul a marriage, despite that this was basically a free pass out of any marriage if the man wanted it, given he simply had to not get it up during the trial and he was free.
This all brings us to these so called “Impotence Trials”, at their peak with an estimated ten thousand or so taking place throughout Europe in the 17th century alone.
As you can probably imagine, the act of proving one’s innocence of this particular crime in court was naturally, quite hard, despite mostly all you needing to do was, well, get hard, with the occasional added requirement of showing you were capable of a little skeetshooting as well.
So how did this process actually go? It seems to have varied slightly from case to case and country to country, but generally the trials took place in the ecclesiastic courts, though we did find instances of ones that took place in a more normal court of law, one of which we’ll get into shortly.
Before such a trial, a rather lengthy waiting period was often required, up to three years, to see if at some point the man was able to violate the prime directive. If, after that time span, the woman still asserted her husband’s spelunker hadn’t ever explored her cave of wonders then a proper trial would commence.
During the trial, potential witnesses to any relevant acts in question, like servants and friends, would be questioned about any intimate details they knew of the couple.
For example, consider the case of one Nicholas Cantilupe. His wife, Katherine Paynel, gave this account to her friend, Thomas Waus, who, in turn, was a witness at the trial:
That she often tried to find the place of…Nicholas’ genitals with her hands when she lay in bed with… Nicholas and he was asleep, and that she could not stroke nor find anything there and that the place in which Nicholas’ genitals ought be is as flat as the hand of a man.
What was going on with Nicholas’ missing measuring stick isn’t known as the trial abruptly halted when Nick went into hiding. That is all history will ever remember of Nicholas Cantilupe.
The women could also potentially be subjected to numerous, sometimes rather invasive, tests, particularly if the man otherwise seemed to be able to hit the two ball in the middle pocket when he himself was examined. The most important test for the ladies was the court trying to determine if the woman making the accusations was still a virgin.
Various ways of testing this existed, but one of the most common was to insert a mirror into the woman-in-question’s snu-snu to try to see if the one eyed optometrist had ever showed up to give an examination of his own.
Naturally, this type of mirror examination was hardly conclusive, and even if it was determined the woman had at some point had her triangle bisected by something, some would simply claim her husband had used his hands when his flag couldn’t get past halfmast. Thus further casting doubt on the veracity of the results of that examination.
Not all just about being able to get it up, a man being able to impregnate the woman was also a key factor. Thus, other things women had to deal with during impotence trials included being grilled on their sexual proclivities, including how often they had sex and, critically, in what position. The latter was considered especially important because having sex in anything other than the missionary position was considered, if not a sin, at least uncouth, as that position was seen as the best way to get a woman pregnant. This should always, in the eyes of certain clergy, be the point of launching a heat seeking missile at the enemy base. Thus, if the man only ever was willing to put sour cream in his taco from an abnormal position, he was considered not to be doing his marital duties.
Beyond that, if the man had issues finishing the deed when the couple did have sex, the woman could potentially use her man’s inability to put a fresh coat of paint on her garden shed as evidence against him.
Now for the men. The tests men had to endure were equally as invasive and, from a social standpoint, potentially even more humiliating as it was their inadequacy as a man that was being challenged, and in an extremely public way, with trial notes from these proceedings being obscenely popular with the masses — humans gonna human, no matter what era.
Again, exactly what happened here seems to have varied a bit from trial to trial and region to region, but the first thing to be determined was if the man was physically capable of doing his best impression of a narwale.
One particularly amusing test, noted to have occurred frequently in Spain, involved alternately dunking Tiny Tim in cold and then hot water and then seeing if he would stand up after.
In other cases, we found accounts of women who were, shall we say, experts on the male magic stick, thoroughly “examining” it and giving their accounts before the court. For example, in one such 1370 instance, we have this account of the results of three women’s examination of one John Sanderson. His wife, Tedia Lambhird, had accused him of being impotent:
that the member of the said John is like an empty intestine of mottled skin and it does not have any flesh in it, nor veins in the skin, and the middle of its front is totally black. And said witness stroked it with her hands and… put [it] in that place it neither expanded nor grew. Asked if he has a scrotum with testicles she says that he has the skin of a scrotum, but the testicles do not hang in the scrotum but are connected with the skin as is the case among young infants.
And, yes, this account of poor John’s Little Soldier is all history will ever remember of him. Rest in Peace John Sanderson. I bet even at the height of your shame, you never considered that 649 years later a description of your genitals would still be fodder for the amusement of the masses.
Moving swiftly on, in other cases, a (male) doctor might be hired to stimulate the man’s noodle to see if it could be cooked al-dente. Understandably, even men capable of normally rising to the occasion struggled to do so under these circumstances.
Physician makes an examination.
(15th century manuscript)
For example, in one famous account of the Marquis de Gesvres, it is noted, in his case he was able to achieve a partial erection while being examined, but the examiners felt the, to quote, “tension, hardness, and duration” were inadequate for the required cloning via boning.
Lucky for the men, many of the males who were a part of the trial were sympathetic to this plight, and so failing to release the Kraken wasn’t usually immediately seen as a definitive sign that the man wasn’t capable of having his corn dog battered under more normal circumstances.
Further, some men even stated their inability to perform during the trial was because the wife had hired a sorcerer to bewitch his giggle stick, such as the case of one Jacques de Sales. In 1603, de Sales was subjected to such a trial and, when he couldn’t salute the jurors, stated his wife herself had cast a spell on his penis to keep it from saying hi.
Given the uncertainty in all this and attempts to give the men in question every opportunity to show they could storm the pink fortress, these trials often drug out for some time, even months, or, in some cases, the ruling would be to tack on another duration of up to three years to see if things sorted themselves out, quite literally, in the end.
This all brings us to what was generally the final, and most definitive test — Trial by Congress, which, just so we all know what we’re talking about here, was loading the clown into the cannon with an audience nearby.
To give an idea of how potentially humiliating this could be for the man, especially given the trial notes would soon be public fodder, we’ll mention a particular one that occurred in Rheims, France, where it was noted:
The experts waited around a fire. Many a time did he call out: “Come! Come now!” but it was always a false alarm. The wife laughed and told them: “Do not hurry so, for I know him well.” The experts said after that never had they laughed as much nor slept as little as on that night.
After the deed was done, or at least the attempt at it, experts would then examine the couple intimately, as well as the sheets, to see if the doughnut had been properly glazed.
However, as you might imagine, doing the dipsy doodle with someone you probably hate at this point, as well as with an audience nearby and your marriage on the line, wasn’t exactly an ideal scenario for the man, especially for men that may have already genuinely had trouble saluting Sergent Furburger.
Case in point — one René de Cordouan, aka, the Marquis de Langey. In 1657, the Marquis had his man-handle were put on trial, not in the ecclesiastical courts, but by the High Court of Paris itself. His then 17 year old wife, Mademoiselle Marie de St Simon de Courtemer, had claimed in the four years they’d been together, she had only ever observed his pooch lying there, to quote her, “absolutely destitute of motion”.
This disdain for his ability to hold a joint session of congress was in stark contrast to their seemingly happy relationship in the early going given letters that were brought to account during the trial.
The Lock, Jean-Honore Fragonard, circa 1776-9.
Interestingly, in this case, eager to prove his abilities in the bedroom to the masses, Langey himself demanded the Trial by Congress, even though up to this point it had appeared the trial might go his way as he had otherwise demonstrated the necessary abilities and the lady herself was considered not to be a virgin by their examination.
Unfortunately for Langey, the pressure to pickle the prime meridian lest his reputation be besmirched forever, someday even recounted on the interwebs, was too much. After several hours of trying, he could not do the deed. It probably didn’t help that a fifteen person jury was hanging out nearby to observe the results.
Thus, the marriage was dissolved, he was forced to pay the legal fees for both he and his ex, he became the butt of jokes among the nobility and the masses, had to return his wife’s dowry, and was forbidden to ever marry again.
Critical to his tale is that, after the divorce, despite the court order against it, he went ahead and took another wife, Diana de Navailles. This time he had no such issues, managing to father a whopping seven kids with Diana. Once his virility was proved, he then appealed his former sentence successfully and his marriage to Diana was officially confirmed.
From this and other similar accounts, it does appear there were at least some men back then fully capable of using their schnoodlypooper who were charged with being impotent or otherwise incapable of getting a puck past the goalie.
To add insult to injury, as mentioned in the case of Langey, should the man lose the case, not only was his inability to Mickey a Minnie Mouse now known to the world, along with very explicit and detailed descriptions of his dud of a Weapon of Mass Destruction, he was also liable for the court and legal fees of both he and his former wife.
On this note, upper class women were far more likely to bring claims of impotence against their husbands as they both had the means to hire a lawyer in the first place, and pay if she lost, and also would typically have better prospects for a future husband more able to give her a proper root canal if she won.
As an idea of how much more likely this was, it is noted that in France approximately 20% of all known instances of Impotence Trials were between members of the nobility, despite that these individuals represented only about 3% of the general populace.
In the end, several famous cases where men supposedly proven to be impotent during a trial managed to father children after started to shift the tides against such trials proving anything. Eventually other avenues of divorce also opened up, which all saw impotence trials falling by the wayside by the 19th century. However, let us not forget that for a brief period in European history, men could literally be put on trial for not being able to take the bald-headed gnome for a stroll in the misty forest.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, True Grit, has become a staple of Western fiction. In the story, 14-year-old Mattie Ross teams up with Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf to avenge the death of her father. The book has been adapted a few times, famously earning John Wayne an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of “Rooster” in the 1969 film of the same name, while Jeff Bridges reprised the role in the 2010 Coen brothers adaptation that earned him an Oscar nomination.
While True Grit has clearly left its mark on both the literary and film worlds, it’s mostly unknown that Portis’ character “Rooster” was actually inspired by a real-life gunslinger. John Franklin Cogburn, nicknamed “Rooster” by his uncle, made his own rules in late-1800s Arkansas. Though he never carried a badge of his own, Franklin was out for blood when it came to Deputy Marshal Trammel. Working undercover to identify moonshiners, Trammel had threatened the women in Cogburn’s family—strong-arming them for information—which is something that didn’t sit well with Franklin. On June 21, 1888, Franklin, his cousin Fayette, and a few others attacked lawmen—including Trammel—near Black Springs, Arkansas. The bloodbath that followed would result in a manhunt for Franklin and crew.
Brett Cogburn details the life of his great-grandfather, John Franklin Cogburn, in Rooster. While the character Charles Portis made famous is not entirely based on Franklin, there are most certainly elements from his life that inspired the classic story.
Read on for an excerpt from Rooster.
By Brett Cogburn
Black Springs wasn’t much of a town as towns went, even in the backwoods of Arkansas. It might have been more aptly termed a “spot in the road,” as some folks will say, more of a community than a town proper. There was only one building that bore a second look and that was the general store. Even that wasn’t much in the way of opulence, its weathered timbers grayed and lacking a single coat of paint. The store commanded the settlement more by height than by any pretentious display of architecture and beauty, being the only two-story structure in sight. The first floor consisted of the meager offerings of merchandise the poor folks who graced its dark interior might want or afford, and the upstairs served duty as the local Masonic lodge. The large front porch overlooked the hardscrabble log and sawmill lumber buildings scattered along a stretch of dusty road that led west through the mountains into Indian Territory. The mangy old hound lying at the foot of the porch and scratching a flea off its bony ribs was in perfect keeping with the pace and prosperity of the tiny settlement.
The cold wind blowing and the gray clouds sliding over the pine treetops on the mountaintop above town reminded everyone that it was the dead of winter. Most folks were huddled around their fireplaces or standing over warmly ticking stoves, so not many saw the tall young man ride into town. He came up the trail from Fancy Hill on a pretty good horse for a hill boy. He left the animal out of the wind on the leeward side of the store and began to eke his way on foot from one building to the next.
Many in Black Springs would have known him, or at least recognized him for one of his clan. All of the men of his family were stamped much the same—high cheekbones, square chins, thick mustaches, and brown eyes that glittered like those of an Indian. The fact that he was bigger than most of his clan wasn’t what gave pause to those who saw him on that morning. Every man in the mountains was a hunter in some form or fashion, and it was obvious that Franklin “Rooster” Cogburn was stalking somebody.
It wasn’t unusual for a man to arrive in town with a rifle in his hands, as the roads could be dangerous to travel and leaving your shooter at home was a sure way to run short of meat in the cookpot. An armed man usually stored his gun to pick up later in whatever business or home he visited first if he came on foot, or he left it on his horse. Franklin didn’t leave his Winchester anywhere. In fact, he carried it across his saddle when he arrived instead of having it in a scabbard, as if he were ready to jump shoot a deer or a turkey. And when he started down the street on foot, the gun was still in his hands.
(Paramount Pictures photo)
Mountain folk can smell trouble just as easy as smoke on the wind, and the word rapidly spread throughout the settlement that Franklin was on the prowl. And word spread just as quickly who it was that he was hunting. Folks gave him room just like you did a mean old bull when you had to walk across your neighbor’s pasture. Butting into somebody else’s business was always chancy, much less antagonizing one of the Cogburns. There were too damned many of them to risk getting crossways with—not if a man valued his peace and wanted to stay out of a fight. It was best to let the Law handle the matter, and that was bound to happen, considering it was a Deputy U.S. Marshal that Franklin was looking for with blood in his eye.
Franklin made no attempt to hide the fact that he was looking for a fight with J. D. Trammell, and he quietly slandered the man’s name to any who asked. He had heard Trammell was in town, and had ridden seven miles through the mountains to corner him. The rumor mill had it that Cogburns believed Trammell was working undercover either for the Revenue Service or for Judge Parker’s court. Trammell had lived and worked for a while among the Cogburns in their stronghold at Fancy Hill, but had recently fled the community due to tension between him and some of the clan.
Lots of the citizens of Montgomery County made whiskey, and the Cogburns made more than anybody. The old Hanging Judge and his army of badge packers out of Fort Smith got a lot of press chasing train robbers and murderers in the Indian Territory, but people of the time knew that the marshals’ main job was arresting whiskey peddlers and moonshiners. The Law was bound and determined to stem the distilling of illegal liquor, and especially to keep it out of the nearby Indian Territory. The mountain folks begrudgingly admired craftiness, and the “revenuers,” as they often called the deputy marshals and other government men, could be especially sneaky in locating and busting up a man’s stills. The kind of men brave enough or outlaw enough to break the law making whiskey often didn’t look too kindly on anyone threatening their means of living, and a detective working undercover risked life and limb.
And there were other things that a Cogburn would tolerate even less than a revenuer. Many of the wives of the Cogburns and other families in the area claimed that Trammell was visiting their homes while their men were gone and using strong-arm tactics to force them to inform on who was making whiskey and where the stills were located. Always hotheaded and ready for a fight, Franklin had come to Black Springs to set things right. Nobody, and he meant nobody, was going to abuse the women of his family. A killing was in order.
J. D. Trammell was indeed a Deputy U.S. Marshal, but what Franklin didn’t know was that Trammell wasn’t in Black Springs. However, Montgomery County Sheriff G. W. Golden just happened to be in town on other business. The first thing he came across at a distance was Franklin armed, angry, and hunting a man whom Golden knew to be a fellow officer of the law. He immediately went to seek the help of the local constable, whose name has unfortunately been lost to history. Both lawmen were in agreement that Franklin should be disarmed, but neither of them was anxious to confront him.
Among the people of southern Montgomery County, the twenty-two-year-old Franklin was known as an honest fellow, quick to lend his help, and a fine hand with a team of horses. While he may have been a likable sort, he was also known to be a part of the large moonshining operation run by some of the rougher sort in his family. He had a quick temper and would fight at the drop of a hat, and it was the opinion of more than a few citizens that his wild streak would eventually come to no good end.
But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.
According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.
NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.
During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.
Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.
The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”
It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.
On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.
Where should you turn if you want to bring down the man? If you want to destroy the pillars of an oppressive society, one of the best places you could turn is, ironically, the U.S. military. It has a guide on how to make land mines, mortar tubes, and even propellants for rockets right at home. TM 31-210 can help you become a full-on anarchist or, as the government would prefer, a resistance fighter in another country.
Joint special operations teams do lots of cool stuff like this, but they also train guerrilla warriors to build rockets. Which, now that we come to think of it, is also cool.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)
TM 31-120, the Improvised Munitions Handbook, was originally an annex for a Special Forces manual, and it was always aimed at helping resistance fighters fight against leaders that American administrations didn’t like.
Special Forces soldiers and the occasional CIA spook would show up in foreign countries and help train up locals to conduct operations against enemy regimes, and sometimes they could even drop a few hundred crates of weapons and ammunition.
But U.S. logistics and purchases have serious limitations and drawbacks when it comes to guerrilla operations, especially when the U.S. doesn’t want to get caught helping. If American C-130s are constantly flying over the Cuban countryside dropping crates, then the Castros are going to know just who to blame for any uprisings.
As the handbook says:
In Unconventional Warfare operations it may be possible or unwise to use conventional military munitions as tools in the conduct of certain missions. It may be necessary instead to fabricate the required munitions from locally available or unassuming materials.
So Special Forces soldiers left copies of this handbook. Resistance forces could use any weapons and munitions the Americans dropped off, and then they could make their own landmines out of tin cans. Yeah, the Army published a guide, in 1969, that explained how to make IEDs.
I would say it’s weird that MREs are heated against a “rock or something” while nitric acid instructions specify “rock or can,” but a mistake while making nitric acid could be deadly.
(U.S. Army TM 31-120)
Take the instructions for “PIPE PISTOL FOR 9 MM AMMUNITION”
All you need is a 4-inch length of 1/4-inch steel pipe, a pipe plug, two couplings, a metal strap, two rubber bands, a flat head nail, two wood screws, a piece of wood, a drill, and an 8-inch long rod.
Yup, that’s 14 items. And it only takes 11 steps to modify and assemble them. The pipe becomes a barrel with a little drilling. Slip the nail in as a firing pin, tape the barrel to the wood and cut it into a stock, then use the rubber bands and a nail to turn the metal strap into a cocking hammer.
The guide does caution that you should test the pistol five times with a string from behind a wall before carrying it into a fight.
And many of the schematics and instructions in the book assume that you’ll have some sort of access to actual modern weapons.
For instance, the tin-can landmine is reliant on a fragmentation grenade, same with the shotgun grenade launcher. But the ten recipes for “GELLED FLAME FUELS,” basically a poor man’s napalm, are made almost exclusively from household materials.
The whole handbook is interesting from an engineering, MacGyver, or historical perspective. But, and we shouldn’t have to say this, you should never try any of this at home. First of all, it’s super dangerous. The book is literally a bunch of dangerous chemical experiments complete with explosives. But also, making any of this stuff is a great way to get arrested on suspicion of domestic terrorism.
It’s not a historical secret that Stephen Decatur had balls of steel. Not literally, of course, but given his fighting record, I can see how you might think that’s possible. There’s a reason America still names houses, schools, streets, and ships after the seaborne legend.
All that and he had a sense of humor too.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
The man who would become arguably the most legendary sailor ever to sail in the United States Navy was the youngest man ever to reach the rank of Captain. He was a stunning military leader and may have personally led the rise in prestige of the U.S. Navy’s ships and sailors in the eyes of its European counterparts. He cut his teeth as a young officer in the Quasi-War with France, where he helped take down 25 enemy ships in a matter of months.
In the First Barbary War, Decatur led a shore party who raided Tripoli’s harbor to burn the captured USS Philadelphia and deny her to the enemy. The raid was successful, and Decatur and crew returned to their ship without losing a single man. The famous British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
By the time the War of 1812 came around, Capt. Decatur was in command of the USS United States, the ship on which President Adams commissioned him a lieutenant and started his career.
Decatur then took the fight to the British in engagement after engagement.
But upon taking command of a squadron led by the USS President during the war, Decatur suffered some bad luck. After taking numerous British prizes, including the HMS Macedonian and HMS Guerriere, the President under Decatur’s command ran aground in foul weather during a confrontation with the British West Indies Squadron. Decatur was defeated aboard President and was captured and paroled to New York City until the end of the war. By then, his name was as feared on the high seas as Lord Nelson’s was for England. Maybe that’s why President Madison sent Decatur to Gibraltar to negotiate with the Barbary Pirates to end the Second Barbary War.
Decatur was sent to “conquer the enemy into peace” as chief negotiator and enforce that peace with a squadron of American ships. The ships he chose were the perfect troll to an enemy already fearful of his name. Decatur chose to depart from New York in command of the USS Guerriere, Macedonian, Constellation, Ontario, Flambeau, Spark, Spitfire, and Torch.
For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.
But believe it or not, painting has hung on.
During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.
According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.
The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)
Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.
Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)
The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.
James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)
The Sherman tank was a powerful force to be reckoned with on the battlefields in WWII; it was fast and mobile and it shelled out plenty of firepower.
It provided just enough cover for American ground troops as it stomped through the German front lines. The Sherman was designed to patrol over enemy bridges and it was easily transported on railroad cars.
When the U.S. decided to invade Europe, General Patton selected the Sherman as his particular tank of choice and wanted as many to roll off the assembly lines as possible. Nearly fifty thousand were produced between 1942 and 1945.
Weighing in at 33 tons, it sustained a speed of 26 miles per hour and housed 2 inches of armor. Many saw the image of the Sherman tank to be invincible just like the American war effort, but the brave soldiers who served as tank crew members believed that it had too many engineering flaws and was far inferior compared to the German’s Tiger and Panther tanks.
The Sherman tank was equipped with a fully-transversing 75mm turret short barrelled gun that fired a high explosive shell 2,000 feet per second. Compared to the German tanks that shot accurately at 3,500 feet per second, the enemy’s armor piercing ammo was 2-3 times more effective.
It was recommended that to defeat the Germans, the tank crew had to speed up and flank around their battlefield rivalry and get within 600 yards range to be effective.
Captain Belton Y. Cooper, author of Death Traps and a member of the 3rd Armor Division maintenance unit, recounts knowing how inferior the Sherman was after seeing its physical destruction firsthand. He knew it was no match for the Nazi’s arsenal.
“We lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into action,” Cooper says. “That’s 1,348 tanks knocked out in combat. I don’t think anyone took that kind of loss in the war.”
Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle parachuted into Normandy in early May 1944, posed as a teen whose family had moved to the region to escape Allied bombing, and sold soap to German soldiers.
Meanwhile, she obtained military intelligence about them and encoded it, hiding it on silk she kept in her hair.
Codenamed Genevieve, Latour was a flight mechanic with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a teen. At the age of 23, she was selected for a covert mission, which required training in unarmed combat, weapons, morse code and parajumping.
In one of her few interviews, she told New Zealand Army News that she joined the fight to honor her godmother’s father, who had been shot by the Nazis.
For months, she lived behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence on German forces. Her father was a French doctor who had married a British citizen living in South Africa. Fluent in French, she lived undercover as a teenage French girl, riding bicycles to pass along her coded messages.
At one point, she directed the bombing of a German listening post, which resulted in the deaths of a German woman and two children. “I heard I was responsible for their deaths,” she said in her interview. “It was a horrible feeling. I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”
She was detained once by the Germans, who never thought to look for a message knitted into a hair scarf and released her.
After the war, she married an engineer and lived in Kenya, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She did not share her military stories; instead, her family learned about her heroics by reading about them online. In 2014, she was presented with France’s highest decoration, an appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, as part of the 70th anniversary of the battle of Normandy.
In April 2021, she will celebrate her 100th birthday.
World War II was an exciting time for special operations and commandos. The advent of airborne operations gave them a whole new angle of approach, and the sheer scale of the war guaranteed that they’d have plenty of chances to use their skills.
But even accounting for those things, operators on both sides of the war distinguished themselves with daring missions.
Only two of the original five made it to the Bordeaux-Bassens docks. The four men who crewed the canoes placed mines on a few ships, which damaged some commercial vessels. While the material damage was limited, it boosted British morale and forced the Germans to devote more resources to defense in a way similar to the U.S. Army Air Force’s Doolittle Raid.
2. The failed attempt to kill Erwin Rommel
Operation Flipper had the lofty goal of crippling an Italian headquarters and intelligence office as well as killing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. The mission was beset by bad weather and the assault force that hit the German officer’s headquarters was smaller than planned.
Months later, a new stockpile of German heavy water was being transported on a ferry when the Norwegian Resistance attacked once again, sinking the ferry and ending Germany’s last best chance at a nuclear reactor or bomb. One man, Knut Haukelid, participated in both raids.
4. German paratroopers take the world’s strongest fort
They did it in a single morning with 85 paratroopers. The men landed on the fort in gliders and quickly took hold of large sections of it, destroying or capturing the guns aimed at the countryside. When the rest of the German army arrived, the remaining defenders surrendered.
5. Benito Mussolini is rescued from a mountaintop retreat by German paratroopers
In July 1943, Italian defeats turned the country against Benito Mussolini and he was exiled to a series of locations. A German commander was able to track the dictator to Gran Sasso, a mountaintop ski resort accessible only by cable car or glider. At 6,300 feet, it was too high even for an airborne assault.
The insane plan for Operation Biting called for five groups of British paras to land in German-occupied France, capture a German radar station, and then make off with key pieces of the technology. The men landed under cover of darkness and quickly captured the building. They even managed to grab two technicians with intimate knowledge of the advanced German radar.
The British sent a small flotilla of vessels led by the converted HMS Campbeltown. Sixteen were small motorboats, twelve of which were destroyed without reaching shore. But the Campbeltown managed to ram the gates of the dry dock. The Germans captured 215 of the 600 attackers and killed 169 more, but explosives hidden in the Campbeltown exploded the next morning, crippling the facilities.
The last place anyone would expect to watch the Blue fight the Gray in Civil War combat is the fields of Western Europe. After all, they have centuries full of historical battles of their own to re-enact for the delight of families, students, and amateur historians alike. Yet, Civil War re-enactors bring those historical battles to life again and again.
Hundreds of re-enactors come from Poland, Italy, France, and Canada to take part in the spectacle. Like any good re-enactor in the United States, the actors are sure to keep all of their clothing, gear, and weapons in good shape – and to make sure they’re historically authentic (as authentic as they can be, fighting the American Civil War in Europe). After all, no one wants to be known as a “Farb” around these dedicated troopers.
After all, re-enactors are a dedicated group. The more historically accurate they are in movement, fighting, and dress, the more enjoyment everyone gets from the actor recreating the event. Onlookers learn more about history as well.
Union troops advance on a Confederate position.
The Europeans who are enthusiastic about the battles are no less dedicated than any American re-enactor. They’ve been to the U.S., they’ve visited the battle sites, they’ve seen the uniforms up close. Many of these soldiers have every detail accurate, right down to the last button.
In the recreation in the video above, the 1864 Battle of Bethesda Church, the Europeans are recreating a real European battalion, recruited from immigrants to the United States. But the battle they’re recreating isn’t the only one they do year after year. Every year they come to recreate a different battle, often from a different year of the war. The battles last for days, and the field commanders often determine the outcomes.
Unlike in the actual Civil War, however, these days end with beer and sausages shared between the two groups.
Peter Francisco was born into a wealthy family in June, 1760, on an island in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. When Francisco was just 5 years old, he was abducted by pirates. The future patriot was ripped from his home and carted off to a nearby ship. Approximately six weeks later, a dock worker saw a boat maneuver up the James River in Virginia. There, the pirates dropped off the young Francisco and left as quickly as they’d arrived.
Nobody’s entirely sure why the abductors snatched him up only to later drop him off without seeking payment, but historians have their theories. Some say that Francisco’s father orchestrated the kidnapping in order to spare Peter from the wrath of his family’s political enemies.
Whatever the case, locals took the abandoned Francisco to a nearby orphanage soon after he arrived. There, he was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston. He took the young boy back to his plantation to learn English. Due to his dark, Mediterranean complexion, however, Francisco lived near the slaves and never received a proper education.
Francisco spent many of his early years working on Judge Winston’s plantation, learning how to be a blacksmith. Winston invited Francisco to join him at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were all in attendance. After several days of intense debate between loyalists and patriots, Patrick Henry delivered his famous quote,
“Give me liberty or give me death.”
As the teenage Francisco watched through a window, he chose liberty.
Nearly a year and a half later, Francisco finally convinced Winston to allow him to join the Continental Army. At just 16 years old, Francisco was officially a member of the 10th Virginia Regiment and stood six feet, six inches tall and weighed 260 pounds — truly a giant of his era.
Soon after, Francisco fought in several famous battles, including Brandywine and Valley Forge. During the Battle of Stony Point, George Washington recruited 20 elite troops to be first in line to assault the British fort. Francisco was selected as one of those men.
Francisco was tasked with scaling a 300-foot wall and reaching the fort’s flagstaff. Of the 20 who led the charge, 17 were either killed or wounded — a large slash across the abdomen put Francisco among them. Despite his injury, he killed his adversaries and reached his destination. He lay, wounded, at the base of the flag as the British surrendered. From then on, Francisco was known as the “Hercules of the American Revolution.”
During the Battle of Camden, Francisco noticed a 1,100-pound cannon in a field next to some dead horses. According to legend, he managed to lift the canon and take it, saving it from falling to British hands. For this courageous act, the U.S. Postal Service design a stamp in Francisco’s honor.
As Francisco continued to fight the war, he continuously remarked on the tiny size of the swords with which they fought. Eventually, Washington gave Francisco a six-foot broadsword — not unlike the sword famously used by William Wallace in his own battles against the English.
By the time Francisco was done serving, he had been wounded six times, but never stopped fighting. He was later elected by the Senate to work as the sergeant-at-arms.
Later, Francisco died from appendicitis. He was 71-years-old.
In 1939, Congress authorized the construction of the USS Wisconsin. The build began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1941. The United States was still doing everything she could to avoid being involved in the war in Europe, but preparing nonetheless. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor eleven months later would change everything.
The world was now at war for the second time and the USS Wisconsin would join the fight.
In 1943 on the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Wisconsin launched. She was commissioned on April 16, 1944. She left Norfolk, VA, and began her work. A few months later, the USS Wisconsin earned her first star in battle by supporting carriers during Leyte Operation: Luzon Attacks. She would go on to prove her seaworthiness by surviving a typhoon that took out three ships.
In January of 1945 while heavily armed, she escorted fast carriers who completed air strikes against Formosa, Luzon. By supporting these strikes, she earned her second battle star. Shortly after that she was assigned to the 5th Fleet. She went on to assist in the strike against Tokyo, which was a cover for the eventual invasion of Iwo Jima.
Under the cover of terrible weather, the USS Wisconsin supported landing operations for Iwo Jima, earning her third battle star. She would earn her fourth in an operation against Okinawa. Following that, she showed her might by keeping the enemy at bay with her powerful weapons and taking down three enemy planes. The USS Wisconsin earned a fifth star after operations against Japan. After putting in over 100,000 miles at sea since joining the fleet, she dropped her anchor in Tokyo Bay. She was vital to the support of the Pacific naval operations for World War II and earned her rest. She was inactivated in 1948 and decommissioned. It wouldn’t last long.
The USS Wisconsin rejoined the fleet in 1951 to assist in the Korean War operations. Following that war, she was placed out of commission yet again in 1958, and sat idle for 28 years until she was needed once more. She would go on to support operations in the Gulf War in 1991. Throughout her six months there, she played an absolute vital role in restoring Kuwait. She was decommissioned for the third and final time — she definitely earned her retirement.
The USS Wisconsin now sits in Norfolk, VA open to the public as a museum.