This is why the French are better at war than you think - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the French are better at war than you think

The United States and France do not always see eye-to-eye on military matters. In 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle pulled France from NATO during the height of the Cold War to preserve French independence. (Nicolas Sarkozy rejoined the alliance in 2009.) France tested nuclear devices well into the 1990s, decades after most of the other nuclear powers signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Most recently, France begged off on joining the U.S.-U.K. “Coalition of the Willing” to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


And because of the world wars of the 20th Century, the French military tends to be seen with disdain. The French didn’t fare so well in World War I, as the Germans’ drive through Belgium resulted in much of the fighting being done on French soil. The inability to repel the German forces made the French seem weak. Truthfully, it was a multinational force who failed to expel the invaders, so it’s not entirely France’s fault. And then of course, the quick capitulation and subsequent collaboration of France to the Nazis in World War II gave them the reputation they have today.

The truth is the French armed forces are much more aggressive and capable than these few events would have you believe. Aside from the French Foreign Legion, who are noteworthy in their own right, France projects military power all over Europe, Africa, and Asia, and they’re really good at it. They just have a bad rep. It was the French, led by Charles Martel who kept the Muslims from conquering Western Europe at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. Since then, the French have had their wins and losses, just like anyone else.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
You might have heard of some.

In WWII, Free French forces had the élan to fight their own countrymen who had sided with the collaborationist Vichy government. Free French troops worked in concert with the British and Americans throughout the war. Those who could not escape the fall of France in 1940 fought on as partisans for four years under the Nazi occupation, assisting with U.S. and British intelligence operations, assassinations, sabotage, and were essential to planning the D-Day invasions. The operators of the French Résistance are symbolic of underground resistance movements to this day.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

Vive la résistance!

After World War II, the French experienced a number of setbacks in its former colonies, most notably in French Indochina (aka Vietnam – and we in the U.S. know that war wasn’t as easily winnable as it might have seemed at the time), and in Algiers, where the independence movement led to a series of bloody, brutal attacks and counter attacks between French forces and the Algerian rebels. Since then, France has been resolute in its ideals and willing and able to back up those ideals with military force.

In response to the Nov. 2015 attacks on Paris from ISIS (Daesh), France immediately launched at least 30 air strikes against the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa alone. French audacity led the way for the U.S. to hit ISIS oil facilities in Iraq and Syria, a main source of the terror group’s operating funds. The nuclear-powered French carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently en route to the Mediterranean to support anti-ISIS operations.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

The Charles de Gaulle led an expedition of the one-fourth of the French Navy that supported operations in Afghanistan. The French launched 140 air strikes to support operations on the ground during the 2001 invasion as well as lending its recon aircraft to support U.S. special operations forces and then conventional forces in Operation Anaconda. French ground forces have been in Afghanistan since 2010, and 88 troops died there.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
SAROBI, Afghanistan – French army soldiers prepare their vehicles for a convoy prior to departing camp for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, Operation Eagle. (ISAF photo by MC1 Michael E. Wagoner)

France is especially active in its former African colonies. During the 2004 Ivorian Civil War, the French sent 2,500 troops to keep the peace and prevent the sides from slaughtering each other. When French and Western civilians were rescued by French military helicopters as mobs of Ivorians raided Westerner’s homes. When Ivorian government forces, ostensibly under the guise of attacking rebel positions, hit a French base in Bouaké, killing nine and injuring 31, the French retaliated by an overland march on Yamoussoukro airport, taking out much of the Ivorian Air Force on the ground, and then capturing the country’s main airport in Abidjan.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

 

The French returned to Ivory Coast in 2011 to finish off president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede his election loss . The French ousted Gbagbo and arrested him, then subdued mercenaries hired by the former president.

That same year, French forces intervened in Libya to recon the country and take out artillery and armor bound for dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s effort to fill the streets of Benghazi with “rivers of blood.” France also assisted with the imposition of NATO “no-fly zones,” giving Libyan rebels the air support needed to even the odds of the war against Qaddafi’s regime.

 

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Part of a group of six Palmaria heavy howitzers of the Gaddafi forces destroyed by French Rafale airplanes at the west-southern outskirts of Benghazi, Libya.

 

In 2012, an Islamist group in Mali called Ansar Dine backed Tuareg tribes and secular militia in declaring independence in the Northern area of the former colony of France. They quickly captured three of the country’s largest cities and imposed strict Sharia law. The power vacuum attracted insurgents and jihadists from other Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Malian government fell in a coup led by Malian troops unhappy with the government’s handling of the crisis.

Once a civilian interim government was re-established in the capital of Bamako, Islamist militants began to push toward the country’s center, and the French sent in the marines. French airstrikes stopped the Islamist advance and French troops helped the Malians recapture the vital city of Konna. By the time the French and Malians reached Timbuktu, Islamist resistance faded to nil. The entire operation took six months.

 

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Islamist truck convoy hit by French airstrike near Gao in 2012. (Photo by Blake Stilwell)

 

Today, France leads a 3,000-strong counterterrorism force in Africa, spanning Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Chad. They are the sole Western, NATO country in Operation Barkhane, fighting Islamist presence in West Africa, fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked militants throughout the region.

Articles

This is what it took to be a submarine ace in World War II

We’ve all heard of fighter aces. We’re talking legends like Robin Olds, Duke Cunningham, Pappy Boyington, James Howard, Jimmy Thach, and Swede Vejtasa. Germany had their own aces, and while Erich Hartmann and Adolf Galland are just some who attained immortality with their feats in the skies, others, like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien, were renowned for what they did under the sea.


Kretschmer and Prien were both considered “U-boat aces,” and according to uboat.net, they were part of an elite group. Out of 498 men in World War I, and 1,401 in World War II who commanded U-boats, only a total of 71 men sank more than 100,000 tons of enemy shipping. The tonnage totals are eye-popping in comparison to American commanders, many of whom were rotated out of front-line duty to train new crewmen, similar to the policy used for ace fighter pilots like Thach.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
(Source unknown)

America’s top sub skippers, like Eli Reich or Joe Enright, earned their notoriety on single missions. Reich sank the only battleship to be sunk by American submarines during the war, avenging fallen shipmates, while Enright holds the distinction of sinking the Shinano, the largest vessel ever sink by a submarine.

Germany’s U-boat aces pulled some incredible feats, themselves. Prien, for instance, earned his fame by sneaking into the British naval base of Scapa Flow and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 825 British sailors died when the Revenge-class battleship was hit by three torpedoes.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
U-995, the only surviving Type VII U-boat in the world. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kretschmer was the top-ranking U-boat ace of World War II, sinking 46 ships totaling over 274,000 tons of displacement. Compare that to the JANAC total credited to USS Tang (SS 306), Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane’s command, which sank 24 ships totaling 93,824 tons of displacement.

The German U-boat aces were also survivors. All five of their top aces lived through the war, but one was accidentally killed by a sentry five days after the war, and another died in 1950, and of their top ten skippers, only Gunther Prien was killed in action during the war.

Articles

The founder of Delta Force was almost impossible to kill

In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.


Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Col. Charles Beckwith toward the end of his career.

Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.

It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.

In fact, they called it one of the three worst cases they’d ever seen. Beckwith was given three weeks to live — and he did.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
The British SAS patrol during Malayan insurgency.

He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.

But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.

But death still didn’t come.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
A MACV Special Operation group in Vietnam circa 1969.

Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.

It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.

Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


This is why the French are better at war than you think
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
And the Marine attached to those hands.

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

(Cover Photo: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

A cut-off Japanese garrison wiped out this endangered bird

The tragic defeat of the brave defenders at Wake Island following a gallant stand in the weeks after Pearl Harbor lives on in Marine Corps lore. The legacy includes VMFA-211, the “Wake Island Avengers,” who currently operate the F-35B Lightning II. It also includes a lesson in how the most innocent can pay the heavy price of war. In this case, we’re talking about a bird.

Wake Island was one of many Japanese-held posts that were passed over in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign. The Japanese garrison there was cut off, stuck in the middle of the Pacific and facing occasional strikes by Navy and Army Air Force assets. With no ability to resupply, the Japanese garrisoned there had to survive somehow.


According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, 1,262 Japanese troops later surrendered to the crew of the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162). The United States’ strategy left them malnourished. They had one primary source of food: the Wake Island rail, a small, flightless bird indigenous to the islands.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

The surrender of Japanese troops on Wake Island is signed in September, 1945, too late for the Wake Island rail.

(US Navy)

The Wake Island rail was a little over eight and half inches long. It was notable for its ability to survive in an ecosystem with little — near to none — fresh water. What ultimately doomed this species was its inability to fly and an innate curiosity, which meant they weren’t afraid of humans.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

While the extinction of the Wake Island rail was tragic, it was not the worst of the Japanese military’s misdeeds on Wake Island — here is a monument to 98 civilian contractors summarily executed.

(Prog1)

The Japanese troops took advantage of that curiosity in their struggle to survive — the Wake Island rail was hunted to extinction. A 1946 trip to Wake Island, just a year after the Japanese surrendered, generated no sightings of the bird. Now, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the bird as extinct due to overhunting.

While this extinction is a minor tragedy of war, it is dwarfed by the war crimes Japan committed against civilians on the very same atoll.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how sailors named the ‘cup of Joe’

Coffee is, without question, one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. Service members around the globe wake up every morning to enjoy a tasty cup of Joe and drink it throughout the day to get a critical mid-day boost.

It’s reported that coffee was discovered centuries ago on the Ethiopian plateau — which covers the majority of the country and the Horn of Africa — by a goat herder named Kaldi. After his goats ate the beans from a nearby tree, they had crazy energy that kept them from falling asleep. Humans gave it a shot and, unsurprisingly, felt the same things.

Since then, the bean has been sold throughout the world. People of all ages consume countless gallons of the special drink we commonly refer to as a “cup of Joe.” But have you ever wondered where that nickname came from?

Turns out, it was used long ago as a way to talk sh*t about a man who changed Naval history forever.


 

This is why the French are better at war than you think
There’s nothing troops like more than a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.

Way back in the day, drinking alcohol on Navy ships was the norm for sailors. However, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Josephus Daniels was appointed as the newest Secretary of the Navy.

After he took the position, Daniels decided that the United States needed to clean up a negative image surrounding sailors. To do this, he increased the number of religious chaplains in service, (officially) banned prostitutes from Naval bases and, worst of all, banned personnel from consuming alcohol on vessels.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

(Hampton Roads Naval Museum)

Although sailors hated the idea (big shocker), General Order 99 was issued on Jun. 1, 1914.

Because of the alcohol ban, sailors found their beverage options very limited on ships — but they had plenty of coffee to sip on. In the absence of anything stiffer, a cup of black coffee was strongest option for sailors. So, they began referring to it as a “cup of Josephus Daniels” as a bitter reminder of the man who took the booze away.

As time passed, the insult was shortened to, simply, a “cup of Joe” — a term we use today.

Articles

That time Los Angeles fought off an imaginary Japanese bombing raid

In February 1942, Army units defending Los Angeles launched a devastating barrage of anti-aircraft fire into the sky, sending up 1,433 rounds against targets reported across the city in the “Battle of L.A.”


Fortunately for the occupants (but unfortunately for the egos of everyone involved), the City of Angels wasn’t under attack.

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the American Navy was largely in retreat across the Pacific, and the West Coast was worried that it was the next target of a Japanese attack.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
Army gun crews man a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in Algeria in World War II. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In reality, the chances of a Japanese attack on the West Coast were low since the Navy was pulling back from far flung outposts in order to secure ground they knew they had to hold, like California, Oregon, Washington, and vital bases on Pacific islands.

But LA was overtaken by fear and uncertainty in the early months of 1942. Then, on Feb. 23, a city in California was attacked by the Japanese. A long-range submarine surfaced near Santa Barbara, California, and shelled an oil refinery there.

The very next night, a light was spotted over the ocean off the coast, possibly a signal flare sent up to guide Japanese planes or carriers to their target. Then, a few hours later, blinking lights were spotted and an alert was called. When no attack materialized, the alert was called off.

But in the early hours of Feb. 25, radars picked up activity at approximately 12,000-feet. Lookouts reported dozens of aircraft closing on the city. “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid” was on, and the city residents and their Army gun crews knew exactly how to respond.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
American anti-aircraft gun crews firing in World War II. (Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army RDECOM)

Army Air Force crews rushed from their beds to await launch orders and gun crews ran to their stations. Volunteer air wardens fanned across the city to enforce the blackout.

At 3:06 a.m., the first gun crews spotted their targets and began firing into the sky. For the next hour, a fierce barrage lit up the night as searchlights and shells looked for targets. In all, 1,433 rounds would be fired by gun crews.

Citizens drove through the street against orders and caused three auto fatalities while two others were lost to panic-induced heart failure. Fuzes failed to detonate some rounds in the air and they crashed back to earth where they destroyed property while luckily causing no fatalities.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

But the embarrassing reality started to become clear at headquarters. With no reports of bomb damage and few reports of downed aircraft — none of which could be confirmed — either both sides were engaging in the least effective battle in the history of war or there were not actually any Japanese bombers.

The alert was suspended at 4:15 a.m. and later lifted entirely. Soon, the entire country heard that the reported attacks in Los Angeles were actually just a case of the jitters.

A 1983 military investigation of the incident found a possible explanation. A swarm of meteorological balloons had been released that night with small lights attached to aid in tracking. It’s possible that the gun and radar crews saw these balloons and, in the nervous atmosphere, mistook it for an attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This former President’s son was killed in combat in World War I

The casualty list released by the American Expeditionary Force on July 21, 1918 listed 64 American soldiers and Marines killed in action and 28 missing.

But the name reporters noticed first was that of a 20 year-old college student from Oyster Bay, Long Island: Lt. Quentin Roosevelt.

Quentin Roosevelt had been a public figure since he was four years-old, when his father, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, became president.


Roosevelt had been missing since July 14, 1918, when he and four other pilots from the U.S. Army Air Service’s 95th Aero Squadron engaged at least seven German aircraft near the village of Chamery, France.

His father had been notified that he was missing and presumed dead on July 17 and took it hard.

Quentin Roosevelt was a flight leader in the 95th and despite his famous family, he was very much a regular guy.

“Everyone who met him for the first time expected him to have the airs and superciliousness of a spoiled boy,” wrote Capt. Eddy Rickenbacker, the top American Ace of World War I. “This notion was quickly lost after the first glimpse one had of Quentin.”

This is why the French are better at war than you think

Army Air Service Lt. Quentin Roosevelt

“Gay, hearty and absolutely square in everything he said or did, Quentin Roosevelt was one of the most popular fellows in the group. We loved him purely for his own natural self,” Rickenbacker remembered.

Quentin Roosevelt was the fifth child of Teddy and Edith Roosevelt. Quentin was his father’s favorite and his dad told stories to reporters about Quentin and the gang of boys — sons of White House employees — he played with.
When the United States entered World War I, Quentin Roosevelt was a Harvard student.

His father had argued for American entry into the war, so it was only natural for Quentin and the other three Roosevelt sons to join the military.

Quentin dropped out of Harvard and joined the 1st Aero Company of the New York National Guard. The unit trained at a local airfield on Long Island, which was later renamed Roosevelt Field in Quentin Roosevelt’s honor.

The 1st Aero Company was federalized in June 1917 as the 1st Reserve Aero Squadron and sent to France. Roosevelt went along and was assigned as a supply officer at a training base.

He learned to fly the Nieuport 28 fight that the French had provided to the Americans. The Nieuport 28 was a light biplane fighter armed with two Vickers machine gun.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

Army Air Service Lt. Quentin Roosevelt

The French had decided to outfit their fighter squadrons with the better SPAD 13 fighter, so the Nieuports were available for the Americans. They equipped the 95th and three other American fighter squadrons.

In June 1918 Roosevelt joined the 95th. Roosevelt was a good pilot but gained a reputation for being a risk-taker. With four weeks of training, Quentin Roosevelt got into the fight in July 1918.

On July 5, 1918 he was in combat twice.

On his first mission, the engine of Roosevelt’s Nieuport malfunctioned. A German fighter shot at him but missed. Later that day he took up another plane and the machine guns jammed.

On July 9 he shot down a German plane and may have got another.

On July 14 — Bastille Day the other American pilots were ordered into the air as part of the American effort to stop the German advance in what became known as the Second Battle of the Marne. The German Army was attacking toward Paris. The American Army was in their way.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

New York National Guard Chaplain (Cpt.) Father Francis P. Duffy, the chaplain of New York’s famed “Fighting 69th” reads a service as a cross is placed on the grave of Lt. Quentin Roosevelt in August 1918.

In World War I the main enemy air threat was observation planes that found targets for artillery. The job for Roosevelt and the other American pilots was to escort observation planes over German lines.

The Americans accomplished their mission and were heading home when they were jumped by at least seven German plans. The weather was cloudy, so Lt. Edward Buford, the flight leader, decided to break off and retreat.

But instead he saw one American plane engaging three German aircraft.

“I shook the two I was maneuvering with, and tried to get over to him but before I could reach him his machine turned over on its back and plunged down and out of control,” Buford said.

“At the time of the fight I did not know who the pilot was I’d seen go down. ” Buford remembered, “But as Quentin did not come back, it must have been him.”

This is why the French are better at war than you think

Quentin Roosevelt’s grave outside Chamrey, France after the French erected a more permanent grave marking.

“His loss was one of the severest blows we have ever had in the squadron. He certainly died fighting,” Buford wrote.

Three German pilots took credit for downing Roosevelt. Most historians give credit to Sgt. Carl-Emil Graper. Roosevelt, Graper wrote later, fought courageously.

The Germans were shocked to find out they had killed the son of an American president.

On July 15 they buried Quentin Roosevelt with military honors where his plane crashed outside the village of Chamery. A thousand German soldiers paid their respects, according to an American prisoner of war who watched.

On the cross they erected, the German soldiers wrote: “Lieutenant Roosevelt, buried by the Germans.”

When the German’s retreated, and the Allies retook Chamery, Quentin Roosevelt’s grave became a tourist attraction. Soldiers visited his grave, had their photograph taken there, and took pieces of his Nieuport as souvenirs.

The commander of New York’s 69th Infantry, Col. Frank McCoy, had served as President Roosevelt’s military aid and had known Quentin when he was a boy. At McCoy’s direction, the regiment’s chaplain Father (Capt.) Francis Duffy had a cross made and put it in place at the grave.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

American Soldiers stand at the grave of Lt. Quentin Roosevelt in 1918.

“The plot had already been ornamented with a rustic fence by the soldiers of the 32nd Division. We erected our own little monument without molesting the one that had been left by the Germans,” he wrote in his memoirs.

“It is fitting that enemy and friend alike should pay tribute to his heroism,” Duffy added.

An Army Signal Corps photographer and movie cameraman recorded the event.

After the war, the temporary grave stone was replaced with a permanent one and Edith Roosevelt gave a fountain to the village of Chamery in memory of her son.

Quentin Roosevelt’s body remained where he fell until 1955. Then, at the request of the Roosevelt family, Quentin’s remains were exhumed.

He was laid to rest next to another son of Teddy Roosevelt; Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Ted, as he was called, was a brigadier general in the Army who led the men of the 4th Infantry Division ashore on Utah Beach on D-Day before dying of a heart attack on July 12, 1944.

Both men are buried in the Omaha Beach American Cemetery.

Quentin’s death shocked the apparently unstoppable Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. who grieved deeply, according to his biographers.

Teddy Roosevelt had fought childhood asthma, coped with the deaths of his first wife and mother on the same day, started down rustlers as a rancher in the Dakotas, faced enemy fire in the Spanish American War, survived a shooting attempt in 1912 and survived tropical illness and exhaustion during a 1914 expedition in the Amazon.

But six months after Quentin’s death, Theodore Roosevelt died of a heart attack in his sleep.

During the World War I centennial observance the Division of Military and Naval Affairs will be issue press releases noting key dates which impacted New Yorkers based on information provided by the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. More than 400,000 New Yorkers served in the military during World War I, more than any other state.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet crash-landed a 767 on a race track on family day

Air Canada Flight 143 was supposed to be routine. The crew took possession of their airplane from the departing crew, reloaded on fuel, grabbed the passengers, and headed out of Montreal bound for Edmonton at 41,000 feet.

But then they got a fuel pressure warning. “No big deal,” they may have thought. Pumps fail all the time and gravity can feed these engines, “turn off the alarm.” But then a second one went off. What they would later learn was that the ground crew had entered their fuel measurement using formulas for pounds — but the systems had been converted to work with kilograms.

Shortly after dinner service, the plane ran out of gas.


This is why the French are better at war than you think

The “Gimli Glider” was crash-landed on a race track as families watched in horror and fascination after it ran out of gas thousands of feet in the air.

(Aero Icarus, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The crew heard a long warning noise that none of the members had ever heard before, even in the simulators. The warning signaled a total loss of both engines. The plane had ran out of gas. This is an even bigger problem than it would be in your Chevy since the plane needs engine power to run a host of systems, including the hydraulics

Suddenly, the crew was piloting a massive glider with nearly no power, no hydraulics, and limited instruments — and they were still over 1,000 miles from their destination. To make matters worse, air traffic control suddenly had their own issues guiding the flight since the plane’s radio transponders were powered by, you guessed it, the engines.

Luckily, the pilot often flew and towed gliders for fun, and the first officer, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was intimately familiar with the airspace and landing strips nearby from his time in the service. The two men tapped into their respective skill banks to save the flight and get all 69 people on the plane down safely, eventually netting them awards for their flying in what would later be known as the “Gimli Glider” incident.

This video from Today I Found Out shows how it all went down:

www.youtube.com

An earlier version of this story referred to the race track as a “go-kart track.” The track was being used by small sports cars on the day of the landing, not go-karts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Remorse: How British spies conducted economic espionage in China during World War II

Walter Fletcher was deemed unfit to serve in the British Armed Forces during World War II and was such a nuisance to Baker Street that any jobs he had requested that involved physical effort were denied. Colin Mackenzie, the head of Force 136, the Far East branch of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), once referred to Fletcher as “gloriously fat.” All 280 pounds of him requested special aircraft accommodations to be prepared in advance since he took up two seats on a flight’s manifest. His physicality differed from what was typically seen throughout the ranks of Britain’s elite paramilitary unit — but his wit as a snarky businessman was unmatched.

Fletcher was not well liked, but he was resourceful. Hugh Dalton, the Secretary of State for War, called Fletcher a “thug with good commercial contacts.” When he pitched the idea to run a covert economic espionage mission to manipulate exchange rates on the Chinese Black Market, his expertise was worth the risk. Codenamed Operation Mickleham then later Operation Remorse, Fletcher’s program in the initial stages went from sheer failure to among the most successful economic missions of the war, establishing influence in Hong Kong and funding other covert schemes.


This is why the French are better at war than you think

A mock “Cigarette Card,” front and back, for Lionel Davis, commander of “Remorse” in the field. Photo courtesy of National Archives UK.

The Bank of England provided Fletcher, who built a reputation as a wealthy rubber trader, with 100,000 pounds on Sept. 15, 1942. His bold moves for the next two years involved smuggling rubber from Japanese-controlled Indo-China, and his calculations were met with considerable losses. Internal reports authored by SOE officers were convinced their early predictions of Fletcher — the “Tragicomedy” — were correct.

As his reputation faltered, the Ministry of Supply demanded results. A lesser man would have given up, but Fletcher, both stubborn and determined, took economic intelligence learned during Operation Mickleham and adapted to the currency exchange rates to make profit.

“Then he went up to China and started negotiating in strategic materials, funny ones like tung oil and things like that,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “Then he went on dealing in diamonds, watches, whatever the warlords wanted.”

Fletcher employed a seasoned team, including Frank Ming Shin Shu, also known as “Mouse,” one of his most trusted contacts. Shu bought £500,000-worth of Indian rupees at a lower official rate only to resell them at an inflated price on the Chinese Black Market.

This is why the French are better at war than you think

Mission 204, an unconventional warfare unit comprised of primarily British and Australian soldiers, were tasked with deep penetration operations into China to undermine the Japanese. Screengrab from YouTube.

“We had a very good accountant in London, John Venner, and he helped: even in the early days I had £20,000 of diamonds across my desk in one go,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “One estimate is that the net profit was worth £77 million [£2 billion].”

Not all of the money was invested in back-end deals that filled their pockets. In April 1945, a force of 5,500 French soldiers across eight different locations were low on food and medical supplies and lacked blankets and clothing. Over the next six weeks, some of the funds from Remorse were diverted to purchase 93 tons of aid.

“A better job was done by Mr. Davis’s organisation than could have been achieved by the combined resources of the American and Chinese services of supply,” said a British ambassador in 1945.

B. S. van Deinise, a civilian and advisor of the mission, penned a memo that determined Operation Remorse was the “masterkey” for further intelligence actions in China: “I wanted to point out that the Masterkey should be made available to some of those who want to peep in and out of various compartments without attracting undue attention.”

The billion pound endeavor, hidden behind the auspices of bank statements and a covert paper trail, was only revealed to the general public after several intelligence activities from organizations like the SOE were declassified during the 1990s.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

What happens when the two sides of a war fundamentally disagree?


“Uh…well,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty much the definition of war and you’re kind of a donut for asking, aren’t you?”

Yes, but hang with me. What I mean is, what happens when the disagreement goes beyond politics or ideology or territorial dispute, when the two sides disagree, on a basic level, about what the war they’re fighting is even about? And as a result, fail to agree on how the war will be fought?

Such cases produce quagmires of horrifying scope and duration.

One such case was the Vietnam War.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

For America, Vietnam began as an earnest attempt to free a small country from unwanted and undesirable Communist conscription. As the war ground on, however, idealism gave way to a more basic agenda, to prove the rightness and righteousness of America as a function of its overwhelming military power.

Also read: Green Beret: The US is fighting a 100 year war

For the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong guerrillas who aided them, the war was about finally shaking off the yoke of western colonialism. After years of occupation by the French, American military presence seemed merely the heavy hand of a new foreign master. They were fighting to reunify North and South Vietnam under the ideology of their choice, which happened to be communism.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

In 1956, then Congressman John F. Kennedy was a wholehearted champion of the Cold War-era clarion call to Stop the Spread of Communism.

Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.

But after an extensive fact-finding tour through the Middle and Far East, he returned to the U.S. convinced that preventing the threat of a new communist colonialism in Indo-China would require more than simply offering — by friendship or force — an American colonialism as the superior alternative. Much better to promote the nationalistic aspirations of the region’s native peoples, so long as those aspirations tended toward an American-style love of liberty.

But as the stakes were raised on his own Presidency by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the raising of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy felt an increasingly dire need to prove democratic righteousness and might (Mighteousness?). It was a terrifying time. The nuclear prerogative, which had once been ours alone, was now in the hands of nations whose ideals seemed to us not so much foreign, as alien. Vietnam would have to be, for the American Way, a definitive demonstration. Kennedy again:

…we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.

Had he lived to serve his full term in office, who knows if Kennedy might have have been able to carry out a nuanced foreign policy in Vietnam. He was assassinated in Nov. 1963 and the Vietnam War would become the problem of two more successive administrations. The practical result was a strategy of force, bombardment and attrition that floundered in the face of an enemy who refused to fight by those rules.

The facts on the ground in Vietnam made it clear to American servicemen that there was a grave disconnect between what we thought we were doing there (and the strategy we’d devised for achieving those goals) and how the Vietnamese — allies, enemies, and civilians in between — saw things.

A 1965 skirmish near Danang in which U.S. Marines killed 56 Viet Cong guerrillas put a very fine point on the issue. Among the Vietnamese dead was a 13-year-old boy who, just a day earlier, had been hospitably selling drinks to the Marines. Found on his body were hand-drawn maps of the Marine’s positions and defenses, intelligence for the Viet Cong.

This is why the French are better at war than you think
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

It’s a hard pill to swallow for soldiers who view themselves as a liberating force, to realize that the people they’ve been sent to help view them as the enemy, as occupiers, as aliens. It’s an issue our troops face every day in Afghanistan and the ever-expanding fronts of the War on Terror, a war that is deep into its second decade.

Mighteousness is a delicate stance and a dangerous dance.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Rats, viruses and the Korean War

Rodents are always with us, in good times and bad. When the COVID-19 crippled the restaurant industry, rats came out in abundance, prompting warnings from the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, a video of a rat carrying a slice of pizza went viral. Coffee rat, a video of a rodent carrying a cup of joe in the subway, followed a few years later. Though not as well known today, a similar abundance of rats shaped the experience of the men who served in Korean War, a war that started 70 years ago this summer.


In the Korean War, the rat problem emerged in the later stages of the conflict when lines stabilized. After a year’s worth of fighting up and down the peninsula, the U.S.-led United Nations Command fought North Korea and its Chinese allies over territory near the 38th parallel. In the fateful summer of 1951, the war transformed from one of movement into a war to take strategic positions among hills protected by bunkers and trench lines.

Rats soon filled U.S.-led United Nations Command positions. In the book Voices from the Korean War, American soldier Richard Peters remembered the rats were “both numerous and huge,” pests that “scurried about the bunker as if they owned the place.” Many in his unit tried to hunt them with their bayonets, but they were largely unsuccessful. American GI Norbert Meyer recalled that the rats were “nearly as big as cats.” Another veteran, writing for The Graybeards, the Korean War Veterans Association magazine, called living in the bunkers “a Neanderthal-like existence,” one in which rats were “daily companions.” Brian Hough, serving in the British contingent of the United Nations Command, remembered the rats filling his fortified position. One night, as he was preparing to sleep, he looked over and saw his bunker mate “fast asleep with a rat on his chest gnawing at his clothing.” Later, Hough lamented the scars he still bore from rat bites from the war. Living beside rats would be a memory few veterans of this part of the war would forget.

Rats proved dangerous to servicemen’s health. As U.S. and Allied Forces came into greater contact with the rodents, many contracted a mysterious disease that caused a viral hemorrhagic fever, kidney problems, and a host of other maladies. Approximately 10% of the 3,000 who caught the disease died from it. The outbreak initially puzzled researchers. Some thought it could be a disease carried into Korea by Chinese soldiers. Others thought it might be carried by mites on rats. The mystery of how the disease spread wasn’t solved until years after the armistice was signed. In 1976, South Korean researcher Dr. Ho Wang Lee and his team discovered the virus was spread from rat saliva, feces and urine. They named the disease the Hantaan virus, after a river near the demilitarized zone in Korea, the area of much fighting over hills and bunkers during the later stages of the Korean War.

Hantaan and its family of related viruses has never gone away. In the last 30 years there have been sporadic small outbreaks of the disease. The most recent iteration was in March 2020. In the midst of the current viral crisis, authorities reassured the public that the disease is not likely to spread due to person-to-person contact.

The COVID-19 outbreak, suspected by many to have originated from zoonotic (animal-to-person) transmission, reminds many of the ways that animals have always shaped the lives of humans. Animal–human relationships are especially important in wartime. And fewer reminders are as vivid as the history of rats and the Korean War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Babies were bathed in wine and 5 other fascinating facts about Spartans

In the ancient Greek imagination, the Spartans were considered the best of the best. A Spartan knew the difference between right and wrong, and he never chose wrong. He was always pious toward the gods, he said little but made every word count and he would rather die in a losing battle than come home in defeat. Under Spartan law, it was illegal to surrender. Creating a Spartan man was a process that took more than two decades and cost many lives. Here are 6 things to know about the agōgē, the education of the ancient Spartans.

1. Spartans practiced an early form of eugenics

When a male child was born in Sparta, he would be bathed in wine to test his strength. The Spartans believed that weak babies would react poorly to the wine and convulse or cry. Those infants which failed the test would either be left to die, or would become a slave. If a child passed the test, it would be examined by the Gerousia, the council of elders; a child born with defects would be deemed unfit and left to die. Those children that survived would be raised in their family households, where every day their parents would drill into them the need to put Sparta before themselves.

spartan
Somehow, wine was a test of strength.

2. Spartan education started at 7 years old

At the age of seven, a Spartan boy would leave his family’s home for the last time. He and the other boys would enter the agōgē, the training program where he would spend the next twenty-three years of his life. The boys were assigned to an ilea, a group of sixty boys under the watchful eye of an eiren; the eiren were in their twenties, further along in their education but not full Spartan citizens. The eiren would train the children’s bodies with sports, races, and all kinds of exercises, and would train their minds with history, politics, and literature. Spartans were also trained in the art of wit, to make them careful with their choice of words and allow them to talk down to other Greeks.

3. Children were impoverished to make them tough

The Spartans wanted to create soldiers who would never complain about the harsh conditions of war. Boys foraged their own reeds to weave their own beds, teaching them to be comfortable sleeping anywhere. They were deprived of clothing to make them comfortable in the boiling heat and the freezing cold. Children were deprived of food to make them familiar with hunger, but implicitly encouraged to steal food in order to make them stealthy; a boy who was caught would be whipped without mercy. Spartan boys were trained to be expert survivalists before they even finished puberty. (Some said that Spartans loved war so much because campaigns were less strenuous than their own training!)

4. A Spartan’s life revolved around his mess

When a Spartan man turned twenty, he would start applying for entry into a syssitia, a small club of men who ate all their meals together. This was the core of Spartan society; a man needed the unanimous consent of all members of the syssitia to join. If a man was unable to persuade a syssitia to accept him before he was thirty, he could not become a full citizen of Sparta. According to Spartan law, Spartans had to eat all their meals with their syssitia to encourage comradery. This created extremely strong bonds between the soldiers, and excluded everyone who could not meet the standards the Spartans set for themselves.

5. Some Spartan men joined the secret police

Young Spartans who proved themselves worthy were allowed to join the Crypteia, a secretive order which was responsible for oppressing the helots. The helots were the slaves of Sparta; the state owned the helots as public property and distributed them to Spartan families. Every year the Spartans declared war on the helots, allowing them to murder their slaves with impunity. Members of the Crypteia were sent into helots’ lands, to camp out and keep a watchful eye; those helots who seemed dangerous were to be killed before they could become a threat to the Spartan regime.

6. A Spartan’s education did not end until he was thirty

At 30, a Spartan man could become a full citizen who was allowed to marry and hold public office. He and his wife would be provided with a house, a farm and helots by the state, so the Spartan men could spend all their time on training for combat rather than worry about economic matters. For the first time since he was a child, a Spartan man would live under a private roof, though he would still eat all his meals with his syssitia

At last, he was a Spartan man.

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