How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

A bizarrely ironic tale came to light recently in the wake of the publication of an opinion piece written by Doctors Frank K. Butler and John B. Holcomb in the Wall Street Journal on December 20th, 2020. The original opinion piece by Butler and Holcomb (full disclosure: Butler is the father of this author) makes the case for increased tourniquet use in the civilian — i.e., EMS, police, and fire — sector, based on the number of lives tourniquets have saved among U.S. service members in multiple war zones over the past 20 years.

It is a no-brainer for most modern-day EMTs, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters that tourniquets are essential and save lives when applied to life-threatening extremity hemorrhage (arterial bleeding from the arms and legs) to stop the bleeding. However, that fact does not mean that all EMS, police, and fire services field tourniquets widely within their trauma load-outs. Hence, the need for the WSJ opinion piece.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
A tactical operator, part of the Illinois Special Weapons and Tactics team, applies a tourniquet to a mannequin. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Kristina Forst) 

A number of readers responded to the piece, in writing, one of which was published on December 27th in the “Letters” portion of the Opinion section of the paper. That letter is what revealed the hitherto unknown (at least to me) story of the time a tourniquet saved one life and condemned ten times that number to execution. 

The Journal titled the letter “Sometimes the Tourniquet Works All Too Well,” and boy is that an understatement given the details of the story. The letter’s author is Gerald Holmquist, writing from Roseville, CA. He recounts how his fraternity at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s was in need of money and thus occasionally took in boarders at its frat house. He notes that the house was more focused on physics than parties. One such boarder — in 1962 — was a young 20 year-old university student named Rick whom Holmquist describes as a “seldom-bathed alcoholic,” and whom they wanted to boot out soon after he moved in.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
A young “Rick” Ames a few years prior to meeting Holmquist. (WikiMedia Commons)

Holmquist then describes how one night they found a reason to get rid of the malodorous inebriate, as Rick severed an artery while launching his arm through one of the house’s glass windows. Holmquist found Rick laying in a pool of blood, bleeding out, and says that his Boy Scout training kicked in, he put direct pressure on the wound, and then placed a tourniquet on it. Holmquist even went so far as to write the time of tourniquet application in marker on Rick’s forehead. (Well done, sir.)

Holmquist and his fellow frat brothers then managed to get Rick to a local emergency room, and the next day he had packed his stuff, returned his key, and moved out of the frat house. According to Holmquist, they all forgot about him until roughly 30 years later, when Rick was arrested — in 1994 — for committing espionage against the United States in the waning days of the Cold War.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
Aldrich Ames is arrested outside his home in Virginia (Image courtesy of the FBI)

Related: THE WWII SPY ROOTS OF THE PHRASE ‘SECRET SQUIRREL’

The boozy and fetid boarder, and former University of Chicago student, turned out to be none other than Rick Ames. When he was exposed as a spy for the Russians inside the CIA, where his father had gotten him a job soon after he left the University of Chicago, Rick became world-famous by his full name, Aldrich Ames.

Ames started spying for the Russians in 1985 and soon afterward, provided to them the names of ten top-level CIA and FBI Soviet sources (Russians spying for the United States). The Russians quickly wrapped up the sources, crushing American intelligence networks on the Soviets, and killing a number of the Russian spies. Ames would go on to expose roughly one hundred Russian agents (assets) spying for America over approximately eight years.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
Aldrich “Rick” Ames’ mug shot. (FBI)

In all, Aldrich Ames was paid nearly $5 Million for spying on his own country, and the intelligence information he provided to the Russians led directly to the deaths of at least ten Russians working on behalf of America.

As you can see, Holmquist probably regrets that a tourniquet worked so well on Rick Ames. Had he let Ames bleed out, ten more men might have escaped execution at the hands of the Soviet Union, and America might not have suffered such a severe blow to its intelligence operations against the USSR. Ironic, indeed. 

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Wild West’s toughest lawman was born a slave

The real-world exploits of this U.S. Marshal sound like the stuff of legend, up there with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Except most of what you’ll hear about Bass Reeves is real. He escaped slavery in Texas by beating up his owner’s son. Then he lived among the natives in the Indian Territory of what is today Oklahoma. He memorized arrest warrants and always brought in the right criminal.

Bass Reeves was exactly what the Wild West needed.


How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

While he could neither read nor write, Reeves knew the Indian Territory. He escaped there after beating up his master’s son in a dispute over a card game. The need to survive led him to the tribes of the Cherokee, Seminoles, and Creek Indians, whom he befriended and lived with until the end of the Civil War made him a free man. While he was illiterate, his mind was like a steel trap, and his heart was as brave as they come. When U.S. Marshal James Fagan was tasked with cleaning up the Indian Territory of its felons and outlaws, his first hire was Bass Reeves.

Reeves was now the first black lawman west of the Mississippi River and was perfectly suited for duty in the Indian Territory, speaking their language and knowing the terrain. For 32 years, Reeves would bring in the most dangerous of criminals without ever being wounded in action, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Reeves and his Native American partner might have inspired “The Lone Ranger.”

At the end of his long, illustrious career, Reeves claimed to have arrested more than 3,000 felons and shot at least 14 outlaws dead during shootouts – he even had to arrest his own son for murder. Even though he claimed he’d never been hit by an outlaw’s bullet, there were times where they got the drop on the lawman. His favorite trick, one he used many times, was a letter ruse. When his quarry got the better of him, he would ask his captors to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Once the outlaws took the letter, Reeves used the distraction to draw his weapon and disarm or take down the bad guys.

His exploits were soon famous, and he earned the nickname “The Invincible Marshal” for all the times he’d escaped the jaws of death. Only at age 71 did death come for Bass Reeves – not in the form of an outlaw’s bullet, but rather kidney disease, in 1910.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Arlington National Cemetery was owned by General Lee and confiscated for back taxes

Arlington National Cemetery is a well-known tourist spot in which soldiers and civilians alike can pay their respects. The military cemetery is known for the perfectly aligned headstones, the ceremony of guards and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These, of course, are only a few of the features of Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a massive 639 acres that was established during the Civil War. 

The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” supports an Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery /released)

How the land got its start, however, is far less known … yet extremely interesting. The acreage has an entire historical background of significance that the general public knows little about. 

General Lee occupies Arlington

After the death of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, she was left in charge of five plantations, including the land that would eventually become Arlington National Cemetery. The land was passed down to her son (who died young) and later grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, when he turned 21, being conceived to be “of age” to become a landowner. 

A portrait of Martha Washington (Rembrandt Peale – Heritage Auction Gallery, Public Domain)

In 1802, he began building the Arlington House, naming it after his family’s original home, Arlington Gloucestershire in England. The estate was then left to Custis’s daughter, Mary Anna (Martha Washington’s great-great grandaughter), who happened to be married to Robert E. Lee. Mary Anna’s inheritance allowed her to live on the property, but gave no rights to sell the property or any of its parcels. 

The Lees occupied the land, living in what was known as the Custis-Lee Mansion for years, including during Lee’s time in the U.S. military. 

However, Lee resigned his post in April of 1861 upon the start of the Civil War, when he took command of military forces within the Commonwealth of Virginia, which later became the Army of Northern Virginia. 

The Lee estate is populated by the Union

General Robert E. Lee

At the start of the war, Confederate forces stayed upon the Arlington land and buildings. An order was put out by the Union forces to remove anti-Union military from Alexandria, Virginia. Under the impression that the home would soon be captured, soldiers retreated and Mary Anna Lee begrudgingly left her home. It’s said that she buried family treasures before leaving for her sister’s home in Fairfax County. The grounds of Arlington were then soon taken by Union forces. 

As the Civil War raged on, military cemeteries were filling up and the government was looking to acquire new land in which Union soldiers could be buried. With eyes on the Arlington land (it sat above flood plains and had a view of Washington D.C.), it was soon noted that the Lees had not paid their taxes. For Union forces, it’s said that the land fulfilled two boxes: 1) it was ideal for burial grounds and 2) it was a dig at General Lee to use his family land to bury the soldiers whose lives he’d taken. 

Around that time, Mary sent an agent to pay their taxes, as she did not want to appear in person — they owed $92.07 (more than $1,500 today), but the agent was sent away. Historians agree this was likely a political move to obtain the land. The government then hosted a tax sale, purchasing the land for $26,800 (nearly $450,000 in 2021 values). 

Military burials began in June of 1864, and the land was desegregated in 1948.

The Arlington Mansion, when it was known as Custis-Lee Mansion, seen with Union soldiers on its lawn on June 28, 1864

After the end of the war and the death of Mary and Robert Lee, the estate was willed to their eldest son, Custis Lee. He sued the U.S. government for ownership of the land, a case that made it to the Supreme Court. In 1882, they ruled 5-4 in his favor, deciding that “Arlington had been confiscated without due process.” The land was returned to Custis Lee. However, now covered in graves, he had no use for the property. In 1883 he sold the land back to the U.S. for $150,000 ($2.5 million today), wherein the cemetery was named part of a military reservation.

President Hoover held the first National Memorial Day in 1929, starting one of the area’s long standing traditions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Russian submarine had a ‘Crimson Tide’ moment near Cuba

The 1995 movie “Crimson Tide” saw two U.S. Navy officers square off in a battle of wits, gusto and ideology over whether or not the United States and Russia were at nuclear war. Launching their submarine’s nuclear missiles would either be a retaliatory strike against Russian targets or it would precipitate World War III.

Spoiler alert, Denzel Washington wins the day, the submarine learns the war hasn’t started and a nuclear exchange is averted. This may seem like a pretty far-fetched plot, given today’s advances in communications technology, but three naval officers found themselves in just this situation in 1962. 

Three Soviet officers aboard a submarine designated B-59 were headed for Cuba during one of the most tense events of the Cold War. They’d been sailing for four weeks and had little communication from Moscow. They had no idea the world was on the brink of nuclear war. In fact, some of them thought the war had already started. 

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. U.S. National Archives

Back then, communication wasn’t so good and the submarine was in a pretty tense situation. It  was October 1962, in the last few days of what would become known to history as the Cuban Missile Crisis. B-59 had been tracked by the U.S. Navy blockading squadron off the coast of Cuba and the United States was dropping depth charges around its position. 

On the surface, dropping high explosives near a foreign submarine seems like a provocative act, which it was. The U.S. Navy, though, was trying to force the sub to surface so they could have a conversation about its mission and destination. The trouble with that is, there was no way to communicate that idea to the officers aboard. There was also no way for the sub to communicate with the Soviet Navy.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
President Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office. The President knows but does not reveal that he is now aware of the missile build-up. (Public Domain)

Valentin Savitsky, the boat’s captain, believed that the U.S. and USSR were already at war. As the American depth charges rocked the submarine and the waters around, he ordered a ten-kiloton nuclear torpedo to be loaded into its tube. His target was the American aircraft carrier USS Randolph, with nearly 3,500 sailors aboard. 

Soviet naval regulations required the agreement of the boat’s top three officers before a nuclear weapon could be used. Aboard B-59, there were two Gene Hackmans against one Denzel Washington. The Denzel Washington on B-59 was Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.

Arkhipov argued that there was no way the Americans were trying to destroy their submarine. Of all the depth charges they dropped, no one could be this bad at using them. If the U.S. had actually wanted to destroy B-59, they would have done so by now. Arkhipov believed that, like Denzel Washington believed in “Crimson Tide,” the sub needed to surface and get an update from the Kremlin.

Since their last information update was so long ago and their orders so scant, surfacing to communicate with their command about the current situation was a much better idea than potentially triggering a nuclear exchange with the Americans. 

In the face of his officer’s refusal to agree, Capt. Savitsky surfaced his submarine and was immediately met by an American destroyer. The two sides talked, no one boarded the Russian submarine or inspected its cargo. The Russian was ordered to return to the Soviet Union and did.

The next day, the U.S. and USSR reached an agreement that would remove missiles from Cuba and Turkey with a promise the United States would not invade Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fake smokestack made this German ship an unstoppable predator

The SMS Emden was supposed to be a nice ship, but not all that crazy important in war. It was a light cruiser, a utilitarian ship type that is quick, capable, but not all that robust or rugged. These ships are typically designed for low-level conflict or serve as a guard or screening force for larger ships like battleships or, later, carriers.


But the Emden would steam into Allied controlled waters in early 1914, attacking literally dozens of enemy ships and counting on its speed and a little trickery to let it hit and then withdraw in a series of daring raids.

Sea Raider

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Sea Raider

It all started in 1913 when the young SMS Emden received a new commander, Korvettenkapitän Karl von Muller (Korvettenkapitän is roughly equivalent to America’s lieutenant commander rank). Von Muller was the son of a German army officer, and he had risen to his rank by performing well in front of Germany’s elite, including the German emperor’s brother.

One of von Muller’s distinguishing traits was a sort of cunning shrewdness, something that would serve him well on the Emden. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria quickly dragged the major European powers toward war, and von Muller ordered the Emden to sea to prevent its capture in the largely British and Japanese-controlled Pacific islands where the ship was based.

This proved prescient as raiders quickly came for the German fleet. The Emden reported to a rallying point where most of the German navy would meet up to head east to South America, around Cape Horn, and on to Germany. On his way to the rally, von Muller captured the Russian ship Ryazan. When Emden reached the German fleet with its prize, von Muller had a proposal for the admiral.

The SMS Emden was a short-lived but still amazingly successful light cruiser that saw glory in World War I.

(German Federal Archives)

Instead of heading home to Germany, von Muller said, the Emden should head west and raid Allied shipping, especially that of British ships, for a few months and create chaos in the enemy logistics chain.

Light cruisers lacked the armor or heavier guns common on heavy cruisers or larger ships, but they were still more than a match for destroyers and merchant vessels. And the Emden had torpedo tubes that would allow it to tackle even heavier combatants if it could get the jump on them.

Despite the risk of losing the Emden, a modern and valuable cruiser even if it was light, the admiral agreed to the plan. So von Muller led his crew of about 360 men into the Indian Ocean.

The Emden would need some sort of edge to survive. It was fast, so it could close with enemies quickly, partially negating any range advantages that heavier combatants would have against it. But it would still be vulnerable for crucial seconds or minutes while closing with an enemy.

So von Muller turned to subterfuge. Most British ships had two or four smokestacks, and the Emden would be one of the only ships in the area with three smokestacks. So, von Muller had a fourth, fake smokestack installed on the Emden, making it look a lot like the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth.

This might seem like a minor ploy, good for a few minutes of distraction at best, but that momentary hesitation on the part of the enemy gave von Muller and his crew all the time they needed. In just a few days of fighting in September 1914, the Emden captured or destroyed 15 British ships, forcing many merchant vessels to stay in port.

Suddenly, the British ability to resupply vulnerable islands was crippled, and valuable ships would have to be sent to the Indian Ocean to reinforce the naval effort there.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Oil tanks burn in India after an attack by the SMS Emden, a German light cruiser.

(National Library of France)

But the sudden lack of targets at sea did not stop the Emden. The crew simply started going after shore targets like the oil depots at Madras. The Emden fired 125 shells in a short engagement on September 22, busting open many of the Burma Oil Company’s tanks and setting them aflame while also destroying a ship in the harbor.

Between this and earlier attacks, the British decided to cut the number of ships, and potential targets, in the Indian Ocean by 40 percent. This slowed the bleeding of the Royal Navy and merchant vessels but also further slowed the movement of needed war supplies.

But the Emden had taken damage and was running low on supplies by this point, and so it made a risky trip to Diego Garcia where it could attempt to raid needed supplies from the British installations there. But, surprisingly, the Germans found that the locals had no news of the young war when the Emden pulled into harbor, so the German crew simply contracted for repair and supplies without incident.

Freshly resupplied and repaired, the Emden went after British installations at Penang in Malaysia, initiating a short battle there. The primary target was the Russian warship Zhemchung which the Emden hit with torpedoes and cannon fire after approaching under false British colors and with the fake smokestack up.

The Emden sank the Russian vessel and then beat a hasty retreat, but not so hasty that the ship neglected sinking the Mousquet, a French destroyer, while exiting the harbor. This was late October, and the little cruiser had already more than proved its worth in the East, but von Muller wasn’t willing to call it quits.

Other German cruisers had successfully snipped undersea wires in their own raids, and von Muller went after the telegraph wire connecting British troops in South Africa to those in Australia. The wire had a major junction at Direction Island in the Cocos Islands.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

The German light cruiser SMS Emden sits beached after a determined attack by the HMAS Sydney.

(State Library of Victoria)

The Emden landed a shore party there and quickly went after the two cables. But as it pulled into the harbor, the Morse operator sent off a quick burst via the station’s wireless system, alerting a nearby cruiser to the unfamiliar ship in the harbor.

The Emden’s shore party was working the destruction of the cables and the wireless antenna when the Australian HMAS Sydney arrived to investigate, forcing the Emden to turn and face her. This effectively marooned the shore party on land, but the Emden was in a fight for its life.

The Sydney was also a light cruiser, but it was roughly a quarter larger than the Emden and slightly more modern, and it quickly gained the upper hand in the fight. The Emden was doomed, and von Muller quickly beached it on a reef. The German ship had suffered over 100 hits in about 90 minutes of fighting. It only stopped after von Muller surrendered.

The shore party would slowly, laboriously make its way back to Germany by sailing to Indonesia, then to the Ottoman Empire, then traveled across the desert in a failed overland bid for safety, then ran a British blockade on the Red Sea, then, finally, overland to Constantinople. It was a six-month journey, but 43 men made it back to Germany.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why 3 naval battles can claim to be history’s largest

There are a lot of articles that talk about the “largest naval battle,” but they don’t always agree on what battle that is. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, with nearly 200,000 participants and 285 ships, comes up often, but that isn’t the largest number of participants or ships that have clashed at a single point in history. So what’s really the largest naval battle?


The big issue is that it’s hard to define what, exactly, is the proper metric for determining the size of a battle. While land engagements are nearly always measured by the number of troops involved, naval battles can be measured by the number of ships, the size of the ships, the number of sailors, total number of vehicles and vessels, or even the size of the battlefield.

Here are three naval battles with a decent claim to “history’s largest.” One by troops involved, one by ship tonnage and area that was fought over, and one by most ships that fought.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

A French map of the movements involved in the Battle of the Red Cliffs.

(Sémhur, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Battle of the Red Cliffs—850,000 troops clashed on river and land

The Battle of the Red Cliffs is likely the largest amphibious battle of all time with estimates of the troops involved going up to 880,000 with up to 800,000 marching under the Chinese General Cao Cao. Liu Bei and Sun Quan stood up a small navy and army opposition that numbered around 50-80,000. The whole fight took place in 208 AD.

If it sounds like the allied force would get railroaded, realize that they were the ones with better ships and they had hometown advantage. They sailed their ships through the rivers, likely the Han and Yangtze, set them on fire, and managed to crash them into Cao Cao’s fleet. Cao Cao’s men on the river and in camp burned.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

A Japanese destroyer withdraws from the Battle of Leyte Gulf while under attack from U.S. bombers.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Battle of Leyte Gulf—285 ships clash over 100,000 square miles

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is what usually pops up as the top Google search for history’s largest, and it’s easy to see why. The fighting took place over 100,000 square miles of ocean, one of the largest battleships in history sunk, and 285 naval vessels and 1,800 aircraft took part. Of the ships, 24 were aircraft carriers.

It was also a key battle strategically, allowing the U.S. to re-take the Philippines and further tipping the balance of power in the Pacific in World War II in favor of the U.S. and its allies.

One odd note about Leyte Gulf, though, is that it’s often accepted as its own battle, it’s actually a term that encompasses four smaller battles, the battles of Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, Cape Engano, and the Battle off Samar.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Painting depicts the Battle of Salamis where outnumbered Greek ships annihilated a Persian fleet.

(Wilhelm von Kaulbach, public domain)

Battle of Salamis—over 1,000 ships

At the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC during the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persian fleet of 800 galleys had penned 370 Greek triremes into the small Saronic Gulf. The Greek commander managed to draw the Persian fleet into the gulf, and the more agile Greek ships rammed their way through the Persian vessels.

The Persians lost 300 ships and only sank 40 Greek ones, forcing them to abandon planned offensives on land.

(Note that there are conflicting reports as to just how many ships took part in the battle with estimates ranging up to 1,207 Persian ships and 371 Greeks, but even on the lower end, the Battle of Salamis was the largest by number of ships engaged.)

If you had a battle in mind that didn’t make the list, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily out of the running. The Battle of Yamen saw over 1,000 ships clash and allowed the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to overtake the Song Dynasty. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea, 902 American aircraft fought 750 Japanese planes. The Battle of Jutland, the only major battleship clash of World War I, makes many people’s lists as well.

Hell, Wikipedia has a page that lists nine naval battles as potential contenders for world’s largest.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy story of the only underwater sub battle in history

America has 50 attack submarines in active service designed to tail and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships. China and Russia have dozens more.

Strangely enough, only one submarine battle has been fought underwater in over 100 years of modern submarine warfare — it was a World War II action that saw a British sub with limited firepower attack a much larger German adversary.


How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Captured German U-boats sit after the war. The one on the right is a Type IX similar to U-864.

(Imperial War Museums)

The fight took place in 1945, near the end of the war. British intelligence intercepted communications about Operation Caesar, an attempt by Germany to send advanced technology to Japan, helping it stay in the war and, hopefully, buying the Axis a few more months to turn everything around.

The Germans had loaded prototypes and advanced weapon designs as well as German and Japanese scientists onto U-864 with massive amounts of liquid mercury for transport to Japan. Some of the most exciting pieces of technology onboard were jet engines from German manufacturers.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Corvette Capt. Rolf-Reimar Wolfram, commander of U-864.

Operation Caesar was launched on Dec. 5, 1944, under the command of Corvette Capt. Ralf-Reimar Wolfram. His rank is the equivalent of a U.S. lieutenant commander or major — fairly junior for such an important mission.

His initial plan was solid. The Allies controlled much of the water he would have to transit, and the beginning was the most dangerous. Britain had solid control of the North Sea, so Wolfram decided to stick to the coast and allow German shore installations to protect him.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

“Tallboy” and “Grand Slam” earthquake bombs penetrated the surface of the Earth and detonated underground, channeling most of their power through the rock and broke structures like submarine pens, canals, roads, and other targets.

(Imperial War Museums)

Unfortunately for him, he grounded his sub while going through the Kiel Canal and had to head to drydock for repairs. While the boat was being repaired at Bergen, Norway, an attack by British planes dropping “earthquake bombs” damaged the pen and the sub, further delaying the mission.

This delay would prove fatal. Britain had intercepted early communications about the mission, and the delay gave them a chance to send a British submarine to intercept the German one. The HMS Venturer was sent to Fedje, Norway.

Venturer was a fast attack submarine, quick, but with a smaller crew and armament than its enemy. It could fire four torpedoes at once and had a total inventory of eight torpedoes to U-864’s 22.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

The HMS Venturer in 1943.

(Imperial War Museums)

The British sub, under command of Lt. James S. Launders, moved into position on Feb. 6, 1945. Launders was a distinguished sub commander with 13 kills to his name, including the destruction of a surfaced German submarine. The technological challenges he was facing would still be daunting, though.

The Venturer had only two methods of finding an enemy sub, hydrophones or active sonar. The active sonar would give away his position, but the hydrophones had a limited range. And the boat’s torpedoes were designed to attack ships on the surface.

Worse for Launders and his crew, by the time he arrived, Wolfram and U-864 had already passed their position. The German sub was safely beyond the British position.

But then the German sub’s diesel engines began to misfire. Wolfram had a decision: press forward with his mission and risk engine trouble or failure while sailing north past the Baltic countries and Russia and through the Arctic Circle, or double back for additional repairs.

Out of an abundance of caution, Wolfram headed back to Bergen, taking him right through Launders’ trap.

On February 9, the British crew was monitoring their hydrophones when the misfiring diesel engine on the German sub gave away its position. Launders had his sub stealthily move to the source of the noise where he first saw an open ocean, a sign that the engine noise was coming from underwater.

Then, he saw what he suspected was an enemy periscope, likely the German subs snorkel mast that allowed it to run its diesel engines while shallowly submerged. Launders knew he had his target in front of him.

The Venturer tailed the U-864 for the next few hours. U-864 began taking evasive actions, a sign that it had likely detected the British presence.

The British, running low on battery power, decided to put all their eggs in one basket, attacking with two salvos of four torpedoes. The first salvo was “ripple-fired,” with each torpedo launch coming about 18 seconds after the previous one.

www.youtube.com

The British sub dove and began re-loading its four tubes. Again, the British fired all four. Of the eight torpedoes, seven were complete misses.

One was a direct hit. The British hydrophone operators heard the torpedo impact, the explosion, the wrenching of iron as the pressure crumpled it like paper, and the dull thud as the wreckage crashed to the sea floor.

The site was undisturbed for almost 60 years until the Norwegian Navy discovered it in 2003. Mercury was leaking from damaged vials, and Norwegian authorities decided to bury the wreck under tons of sand and rocks to prevent further damage to the ecosystem.

Articles

This sub sank because its commander couldn’t flush his toilet

In April 1945, being a German submariner was a dangerous prospect. Allied sub hunters had become much more effective and German u-boats were being sunk faster than they could be built. Technical breakthroughs like radar and new weapons like the homing torpedo were sinking the Germans left and right.


For the crew of U-1206, the greatest threat was actually lurking in their commander’s bowels. German Navy Capt. Karl-Adolf Schlitt was on his first patrol as a commander when he felt the call of nature and headed to the vessel’s state-of-the-art toilet.

While Allied subs had toilets that flushed into a small internal tank that took up needed space in the submarine, the Germans had developed a compact system that expelled waste into the sea. The high-tech system even worked while the sub was deep underwater.

Unfortunately, the toilet was very complex. By doctrine, there was a toilet-flushing specialist on every sub that operated the necessary valves. The captain, either too prideful or too impatient to search out the specialist, attempted to flush it himself. When it didn’t properly flush, he finally called the specialist.

The specialist attempted to rectify the situation, but opened the exterior valve while the interior valve was still open. The ocean quickly began flooding in, covering the floor in a layer of sewage and seawater. The specialist got the valves closed, but it was too late.

The toilet was positioned above the battery bank. As the saltwater cascaded onto the batteries, it created chlorine gas that rapidly spread through the sub and threatened to kill the crew. Schlitt ordered the sub to surface.

The sub reached the surface about 10 miles from the Scottish coast and was quickly spotted by British planes. One sailor was killed as the sub was attacked. The order was given to scuttle the ship and escape. Three more sailors drowned attempting to make it to shore. The other 37 sailors aboard the U-1206 were quickly captured and became prisoners of war.

Luckily for them, the war was nearly over. The sub sank April 14, 1945. Hitler killed himself April 30 and Germany surrendered May 8.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Nazi rescued 200,000 Chinese civilians from a massacre

It’s a difficult thing to heap praise on a Nazi, but with German businessman John Rabe, it’s hard not to. Rabe was sent to Nanjing (then called Nanking) to work for the German corporation Siemens AG. There were many foreigners living in Nanking at the time, as it was the capital of Nationalist China.

By the time the Japanese Army was sent to capture Nanking in 1937, the high-ranking Nazi party boss had been in the country for nearly 30 years and was ready to flex that power. As the Japanese rained death on the city, there was one area left untouched by the devastation along with hundreds of thousands of civilians.


Rabe was a die-hard Nazi. He joined the National Socialist movement in its earliest days, but he was not prepared for the massacres and atrocities committed by the German-allied Japanese forces. When it became clear the Japanese were going to capture Nanking, Rabe organized an International Safety Zone inside the city – despite being told to leave by Japanese officials.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

There’s no time for war, John Rabe has sh*t to do.

For his dedication to the Chinese people of the city, the Japanese were humbled. They respected his loyalty to the people he lived alongside for three decades. An angry Japanese mayor, installed after the capture of the city, railed Rabe for staying, wondering why he would ever choose to stay. Rabe replied that he was treated well and respectfully by the Chinese people and he wouldn’t leave their side in an emergency.

He took a step back, mumbled some words about Samurai obligations, and bowed deeply,” Rabe said of the mayor.
How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

In every photo of John Rabe, his face says “take your bullsh*t elsewhere.”

This average-sized, bespectacled, bow-tied man was a force to be reckoned with. He was determined to protect his Chinese workers and keep them safe. More than that, he established a two-and-a-half-mile international safety zone in the embassy area that housed an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilian refugees. For two days, Rabe ushered civilians into his own house and urged them to be quiet. He even sent a telegram to Hitler himself to persuade the Japanese to recognize and protect the Safety Zone.

But even that couldn’t entirely stem the tide of the Japanese atrocities. As the streets and ponds of Nanking filled with corpses, John Rabe decided to do the one thing he could beyond protecting the International Safety Zone: Go out into the streets and personally protect civilians.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Did you see that coming? I didn’t.

Rabe would chase Japanese soldiers away from women being raped, going so far as to physically remove them from a room. He was completely unarmed, with only his signature Nazi swastika armband to protect him. He was appalled at the Japanese treatment of the Chinese civilians. Homes were burned, women were gang-raped, mutilated, and killed, and businesses were looted.

The Japanese troops feared the Nazis in Nanking, so much so that Rabe was able to chase them away from nearly every situation while protecting the hundreds of thousands of civilians in his Safety Zone. Because of Rabe, scores of Chinese civilians survived what became known as the “Rape of Nanking,” and he is remembered and revered in the city to this day, the city where his remains are buried.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what happened when a newspaper called John Wayne a ‘fraud’

John Wayne never was able to join the military — when the draft first started in 1939, the then-unknown actor had a 3-A deferment because he was the sole supporter of four children — but that didn’t stop him from hopping in an armored personnel carrier and mounting an invasion with the 5th Armored Cavalry Troop. He had a cigar clenched in his teeth.

He was about to lead the U.S. Army in an invasion of Harvard University.


In January, 1974, the Duke invaded Harvard Square with some of the Army’s finest in response to a letter he received from the campus satirical newspaper, The Harvard Lampoon. In the letter, the paper said,

“You’re not so tough, the halls of academia may not be the halls of Montezuma and maybe ivy doesn’t smell like sagebrush, but we know a thing or two about guts.”

The paper then challenged the conservative Wayne to come to Harvard, a place The Harvard Lampoon described as, “the most intellectual, the most traditionally radical, in short, the most hostile territory on Earth.” They were challenging the actor to come to Harvard and debate against the students who called him, “the biggest fraud in history.”

Wayne accepted.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

The letter was purely goading, but John Wayne wasn’t about to let that bother him — he took the opportunity to visit in style.

He mounted the procession from the halls of The Harvard Lampoon’s on-campus castle, then drove to the door of the Harvard Square Theater through policemen, television crews, ‘Poonies dressed in tuxedos, students, and even some Native American protesters. There was even a marching band in his honor. In the heart of liberal Harvard, the conservative actor was met by thousands of admirers.

After signing autographs for a while, he took the stage. The first thing representatives of The Harvard Lampoon did was present Wayne with a trophy — made of just two brass balls. It was created just for him and awarded simply for coming to Harvard.

“I accepted this invitation over a wonderful invitation to be at a Jane Fonda rally,” he joked.

The Duke graciously accepted the award, noting that their previous guest was porn starlet Linda Lovelace and that seeing his invitation in a unmarked brown envelope was akin to being asked to lunch with the Borgias, a reference to the historical family’s propensity for murdering their guests.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

With the pleasantries out of the way, Harvard’s debate with John Wayne, a spokesman for the right, began. Taking questions from the audience, the Duke sat on a chair on the stage. The New York Times described the debate as one with “little antagonism, the questions often whimsical and the actor frequently drew loud applause.”

John Wayne was a conservative in his political views, but he answered the students’ questions thoughtfully and honestly, often with a wry smile. Asked what he thinks of women’s lib, he said:

“I think they have a right to work anywhere they want to [long pause] as long as they have dinner ready when we want it.”

The only question he seemed to rebuff was one asked about his testifying against fellow Hollywood personalities during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, which led to some being placed on the infamous Hollywood blacklist. The actor said he could not hear the question, even when it was repeated.

“Is your toupee made of mole hair?” One student asked. “No,” the Duke replied. “That’s real hair. It’s not my hair, but it’s real hair.”

Today, John Wayne and Harvard doesn’t seem like a controversial mixture. In 1974, however, the students at Harvard were very much anti-establishment and John Wayne was a symbol of everything they mistrusted about their country, its history, and its government — especially while the Vietnam War and the draft remained a very recent memory.

By 1974, Wayne’s career was threatened by his well-known politics, so it’s not really an exaggeration to say the actor was on his way into hostile territory. The Lampoon ended up doing what amounted to a celebrity roast with Wayne and he took it with a smile, even adding some funny jabs of his own:

“Has President Nixon ever given you any suggestions for your movies?” a student asked. “No, they’ve all been successful,” came the reply.

John Wayne never lost his sense of humor over politics — a lesson we should all take to heart today, liberal and conservative alike. What could have been a moment of sharp political divisiveness was settled with good humor and in the end, thunderous applause.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

These special-purpose vehicles were designed to kill tanks

Prior to World War II, the United States Army — and many other armies — simply thought of tanks as having one purpose: to support the infantry. They really weren’t intended to deal with other tanks; a different vehicle had that job.


Those vehicles were known, aptly, as tank destroyers. The Achilles, which served with the British Army in World War II, was one such tank destroyer. This vehicle was a modified version of the American M10 Wolverine. The big difference between the two vehicles was that the American version had a three-inch gun, while the British Achilles had a quick-firing (or QF) 17-pounder gun (which referred to the weight of the shell fired).

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
A M10 Wolverine tank destroyer fires its three-inch gun during fighting near St. Lo. (US Army photo)

Primary armaments aside, the two vehicles were a lot alike. They had top speeds of 25 miles per hour, could go 200 miles on a tank of fuel, packed a M2 .50-caliber machine gun as a secondary weapon, and had a crew of five. The Wolverine held 54 rounds, while the Achilles had 50.

The 17-pounder gun of the Achilles was able to kill just about any Axis tank in a fight. The tank destroyer was intended to move fast and hit enemy tanks hard, using their speed to get into a good position to hit the enemy tanks and then scoot from the firing position. This was a good thing for the Wolverine and Achilles since there was one thing they lacked: armor.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
German troops check out an Achilles that was knocked out. Tank destroyers could dish it out, but taking it was a different matter. (Bundesarchiv photo)

The real problem, though, was that, all too often, the tanks supporting the infantry, like the M4 Sherman, ended up fighting the German tanks. Eventually, Shermans received tank-busting guns, like the 17-pounder and the three-inch gun.

Today, the tank destroyer concept centers around faster, lightly-armed vehicles that carry anti-tank missiles, as opposed to guns. Today’s tank is still seen as an infantry-support vehicle, but it is also capable of killing enemy tanks.

Watch this video from the Smithsonian Channel to learn more about the Achilles.

 

(Smithsonian Channel | YouTube)
Articles

That time Civil War soldiers stopped fighting and played music for one another

A few weeks after the bloody battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, an odd event took place at the front lines of the Civil War armies camped on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The two sides — camped approximately a mile from one another — engaged in a battle of the bands.


How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
A Union band in the Civil War poses for a photo. (Photo: CC BY-SA Jcusano)

According to University of Virginia Professor Dr. Gary W. Gallagher in his Great Courses lecture series on the war, the concert was begun by a Union band on one side of the field who played a patriotic northern song, likely “Yankee Doodle” or “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Just after they finished playing, the Confederate band opened with the song “Dixie.”

The two bands then continued playing songs for one another throughout the early hours of the night, until the Union band started playing “Home on the Range,” a song popular in both Union and Confederate camps throughout the war.

The Confederate band joined in during the song, and soldiers from each side sang along.

The entire event was captured in a poem “Music in Camp” by John Reuben Thomas.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies
Thure de Thulstrup’s Battle of Gettysburg, showing Pickett’s Charge. (Scan: Library of Congress)

Like the later Christmas Truce of World War I, the peace between the warring sides was short-lived. The Civil War would rage for almost two more years before its official end in May 1865. Indeed, the bloodiest battle of the war, Gettysburg, would take place just a few short weeks after the impromptu concert.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the truth behind the creepy Philadelphia Experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment is one of the most grotesque military urban legends ever — and it has endured as an infamous World War II conspiracy theory. But is there any truth to it? Let’s take a look.

According to legend, on Oct. 28, 1943, the USS Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, was conducting top-secret experiments designed to win command of the oceans against the Axis powers. The rumor was that the government was creating technology that would render naval ships invisible to enemy radar, and there in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was time to test it out.


Witnesses claim an eerie green-blue glow surrounded the hull of the ship as her generators spun up and then, suddenly, the Eldridge disappeared. The ship was then seen in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia before disappearing again and reappearing back in Philadelphia.

The legend states that classified military documents reported that the Eldridge crew were affected by the events in disturbing ways. Some went insane. Others developed mysterious illness. But others still were said to have been fused together with the ship; still alive, but with limbs sealed to the metal.

That’ll give you nightmares. That’s some Event Horizon sh*t right there.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

I’ll never sleep again.

(Event Horizon | Paramount Pictures)

Which is actually a convincing reason why the Eldridge’s story gained so much momentum.

In a 1994 article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jacques F. Vallee theorized that deep-seated imagery is key to planting a hoax into the minds of the masses and of the educated public.

But before we break down what really happened that day, let’s talk about the man behind the myth: Carl M. Allen, who would go by the pseudonym, Carlos Miguel Allende. In 1956, Allende sent a series of letters to Morris K. Jessup, author of the book, The Case for the UFO, in which he argued that unidentified flying objects merit further study.

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Jessup apparently included text about unified field theory because this is what Allende latched onto for his correspondences. In the 1950s, unified field theory, which has never been proven, attempted to merge Einstein’s general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. In fact, Allende claimed to have been taught by Einstein himself and could prove the unified field theory based on events he witnessed on October 28, 1943.

Allende claimed that he saw the Eldridge disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and he further insisted that the United States Military had conducted what he called the Philadelphia Experiment — and was trying to cover it up.

Jessup was then contacted by the Navy’s Office of Naval Research, who had received a package containing Jessup’s book with annotations claiming that extraterrestrial technology allowed the U.S. government to make breakthroughs in unified field theory.

This is one of the weirdest details. The annotations were designed to look like they were written by three different authors – one maybe extraterrestrial? According to Valle’s article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jessup became obsessed with Allende’s revelations, and the disturbed researcher would take his own life in 1959. It wasn’t until 1980 that proof of Allende’s forgery would be made available.

Inexplicably, two ONR officers had 127 copies of the annotated text printed and privately distributed by the military contractor Varo Manufacturing, giving wings to Allende’s story long after Jessup’s death.

So, what really happened aboard the USS Eldridge that day?

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

Somewhere in Delaware there are secret military canals that have all the answers…

According to Edward Dudgeon, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Engstrom, which was dry-docked in the Philadelphia Naval Yard while the Eldridge was, both ships did have classified devices on board. They were neither invisibility cloaks nor teleportation drives designed by aliens, but instead, they scrambled the magnetic signatures of ships using the degaussing technique, which provided protection from magnetic torpedoes aboard U-boats.

How Stuff Works suggested that the “green glow” reported by witnesses that day could be explained by an electric storm or St. Elmo’s Fire which, in addition to being an American coming-of-age film starring the Brat Pack, is a weather phenomenon in which plasma is created in a strong electric field, giving off a bright glow, almost like fire.

Finally, inland canals connected Norfolk to Philadelphia, allowing a ship to travel between the two in a few hours.

The USS Eldridge would be transferred to Greece in 1951 and sold for scrap in the 90s, but Allende’s hoax would live on in our effing nightmares forever.

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