How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

We’ve all heard of General George S. Patton. Maybe you’ve seen the movie. Maybe you did a report on him in school. Maybe you even have a grandfather who served under him in World War II. Maybe you’re a Cav or Armor troop. (Scouts out!) All of these and more are good reasons to know who this man was.

First, let’s cover some basics. Then we’ll jump right into stuff you may not know about this well-known — and sometimes notorious — United States Army General…

George Patton, Jr. (also known as George Smith Patton III) was born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California. He died following a car accident on December 21, 1945, in Heidelberg, Germany. He is buried at the American Memorial Cemetery in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. In between those two bookends, he was a United States Army soldier and officer from 1909, until his death. As an officer, he commanded the U.S. Seventh Army and the U.S. Third Army during World War II — in the Mediterranean theater, in France and Germany, respectively. He was nicknamed “Bandito” and “Old Blood and Guts.”

Gen. George Patton commanded Third Army
Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., US Army, commanded Third Army in the breakout from Normandy, across France and into Germany in 1944-1945. (US Army)

Now, that’s enough with what you probably already knew. Let’s dive into the obscure; like what led to Patton being the Army’s master sword instructor.

As a junior officer, Patton was chosen to represent the United States at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He was selected to compete in the first modern pentathlon, a sport invented by the man who revived the Olympics and founded the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Patton was chosen based on his history with fencing at both the Virginia Military Institute and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fencing is one of the five sports found within the modern pentathlon, along with 200m freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and 3200m cross country running. Patton finished fifth overall, and first among the non-Swedes in the event.

Coubertin considered the Pentathlon to be the core of the Olympic spirit. He was inspired by the ancient pentathlon from the original Olympics, which required the skills of an “ideal” Greek soldier. Coubertin created the modern pentathlon based around the skills of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: “He must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers.”

Even Gen. George Patton himself noted the difference(s) between his event at the 1912 Olympics, and other “non-military” events:

“The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games.”

“Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.”

General George Patton jumping an obstacle
Army Lt. George C. Patton jumping an obstacle during the equestrian segment of the Modern Pentathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. (U.S. Army)

Once he wrapped up the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, after some work and travel in Germany, Patton traveled to France in order to train directly with the French swordsman and Master of Arms, Adjutant Charles Cléry, at their Cavalry School in Saumur. Cléry was known throughout Europe, at the time, as being the greatest military swordsman. There, Patton picked up several tactics that were specific to French cavalry swordsmanship: stabbing, rather the slashing, for the most part.

The French penchant for piercing over slashing dated back to their heavy cavalry units during the Napoleonic Wars. The French determined/rediscovered that piercing wounds figured into a far larger percentage of fatalities than simple surface cuts — something Roman Legions understood all too well 20 centuries prior.

Upon completion of his training commitments with the French swordmaster, Patton returned to the United States. Once back, he was temporarily assigned to the Office of the Army Chief of Staff. After a flurry of assignment changes, more advanced training back at Saumur, and some publications on his tactical and technical fencing insights, Patton finally unpacked his bags at the United States Army’s Mounted Service School in Fort Riley, KS, and began his new post as both Cavalry student and the Army’s first Master of the Sword (sword instructor).

This culmination found Patton penning his 1914 Saber Exercise and his Diary of the Instructor in Swordsmanship. It also found the Army Ordnance Corps pumping out 20,000 new M1913 Cavalry Sabers (or “Patton Sabers”) based on his new designs, thus replacing the old hack & slash sabers.

Model 1913 Cavalry Saber

In the middle of all of this, Patton was once again chosen to represent the United States as a Pentathlete at the 1916 Olympics… though those games were canceled due to World War I.

As revolutionary as Patton’s sword tactics (both mounted and dismounted) and sword design were, by the time they reached the line units preparing for combat, they were already obsolete.

So, to recap, one of America’s most famous/infamous generals — who led millions of tons of tanks into the heart of Nazi Germany, and who was both feared and respected by his enemies on the field of battle — dug his roots deep into the soil of swordsmanship and understood that the microcosm of combat is just two dudes or dudettes with weapons in-hand trying to bring their opponent down.

And, as to that, Gen. George Patton’s ability to adapt horseback-mounted, bladed combat into his then-modern, lethal counter-Blitzkrieg armored tank warfare is certainly a testament to the lengths a dyed-in-the-wool troop will go to win a war.

So just remember: The dude who helped defeat Nazi Germany on the back of a tank was once the United States Army’s Master of Swords, and he literally wrote the book on the subject (several of them, actually).

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time Colonel Sanders shot a man in a gunfight over a sign

The world of American small business was a very different place a hundred years ago. Business in America has always been a sort of fight to the death, but in the days before we were all connected by things like the internet, television and the rule of law, things could go south in a hurry.

That fact is especially true in the South, which has always moved at its own pace. Back in the 1920s, taking a guy to court to stop painting over your business’ sign wasn’t the easiest way to get things done. Shooting him wasn’t either, but that’s what happened to Harland Sanders. 

Kentucky Colonel Sanders in the 1970s, in character
Kentucky Colonel Harland Sanders in the 1970s, in character. (Dan Linsay, Wikipedia)

Everyone’s favorite chicken mascot used to be a real guy and yes, he did served in the U.S. military — only he wasn’t a colonel. He was an enlisted teamster who lied about his age to join at 16. After a year in Cuba, he returned home and was discharged. 

Like many veterans, he bounced around from job to job before finding his true calling: entrepreneur. He opened a Shell station in North Corbin, Kentucky. This is where he first started serving food to hungry travelers and locals. But he found competition in the oil business could be a little bit aggressive. 

A competing gas station owner named Matt Stewart ran the local Standard Oil station in North Corbin. As a business tactic, he would paint over Sanders’ Shell Oil sign that told motorists where to find the station. He repeatedly warned Stewart to stop, until one day Sanders caught his competition in the act. 

Maybe you’ve heard about the hot tempers of old time Southerners. Harland Sanders was no different. He threatened to shoot Corbin for painting over the sign, which is a nicer way to say what Sanders actually said, which was that he would “blow [his] g-d head off.” 

But when Sanders approached Stewart that day accompanied by two Shell Oil managers, it was Stewart who opened fire on Sanders. Stewart killed one of the managers, while Sanders retrieved the dead man’s gun. Sanders and the remaining manager returned fire, wounding Stewart. 

When the dust settled, Stewart would survive getting shot by Sanders, but he was on his way to prison for murder. Sanders, acting in self-defense, was not charged. With his competition eliminated, Sanders’ business thrived. He was able to pursue his true passion, the one that would soon involve 11 herbs and spices. 

He became a Kentucky Colonel by Gov. Ruby Laffoon in 1935 for founding the restaurant next to his gas station. His colonelship was later reaffirmed in 1949. In the 1950s, he was able to found and grow Kentucky Fried Chicken, his claim to fame. The days of shootouts with the competition long behind him.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 crazy random things people added guns to

Different weapons serve different purposes in combat, but every fighter in history has looked for an edge – one advantage that could mean the difference between life and death for the combatant. In an era where everyone is cutting each other with increasingly sharp blades of different sizes, wouldn’t it be great if that ax also shot bullets?

If you happened to be the one holding the ax, then yes: that would be great. Unless your opponent was holding a shield – especially if that shield also shot bullets.


If that example sounds far-fetched, that’s because it is — but just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it never happened.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

An ax.

Yes, the ax that shoots bullets was only partly a joke. Polish cavalry used a short ax as a weapon for more than 200 years. The tradition spilled over into Hungary as well, presumably because axes that could also shoot bullets were great at killing Turks.

Even better than the handheld pistol ax was the multi-barreled and/or halberd long gun versions used by Germans around the same time.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

Knives and swords.

The Germans are back with this hunting knife-pistol combo. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, shooting and stabbing was a popular combination, not just among German civilians, but also among troops belonging to various warlords in a then-ununified Germany.

Pistol knives experienced a rebirth in popularity in Victorian England, probably as a means to not get murdered at night on the streets of London.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

Brass knuckles.

Speaking of not getting murdered on the streets of old-timey Europe, French street gangs were keen on using the Apache pistol to do just that: kill to avoid being killed. These were combination brass knuckles, switchblades, and pistols that were really good at being none of those things. The knives were flimsy, the pistol had no trigger guard, and the brass knuckles weren’t big or heavy enough to be a difference maker.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

A walking stick.

This is pretty much just Henry VIII’s thing. The big guy carried a walking stick that was also pulling triple duty as both a pistol and a mace. The pistol part was triple-barreled, and Henry used it while walking around his kingdom at night, trying to not get murdered on the streets of London.

I’m starting to sense a theme here…

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

A shield.

If the firepower of his walking stick proved to be insufficient for anyone coming at him, Henry had his bodyguards equipped with shields… shields that fired black-powder pistols. Considering their size and iron composition, a weapon so hefty would surely have been difficult to aim.

popular

6 wild facts about the deadly creator of SEAL Team Six

These days, Richard Marcinko is a business instructor, author, and motivational speaker. In his earlier years, “Demo Dick” was the United States’ premier counterterrorism operator. Marcinko enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1958 and eventually worked his way up to the rank of commander, graduated with degrees in international relations and political science, and earned 34 medals and citations, including a Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and four Bronze Stars. But that’s just his military resume.

Even among the ranks of American special operators, Marcinko, his record, and his reputation are all exceptional — and it’s easy to see why. At 77, he is still training business executives as well as U.S. and foreign hostage rescue teams. He even worked as a consultant on the FOX television show 24. His memoir, Rogue Warrior, is a New York Times bestseller.

“I’m good at war,” Marcinko once told People Magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked.”


1. North Vietnam had a bounty on his head

As a platoon leader in Vietnam, Marcinko and his SEALs were so successful, the North Vietnamese Army took notice. His assault on Ilo Ilo Island was called the most successful SEAL operation in the Mekong Delta. During his second tour, Marcinko and SEAL Team Two teamed up with Army Special Forces during the Tet Offensive at Chau Doc. The SEALs rescued hospital personnel caught in the crossfire as an all-out urban brawl raged around them.

Because of Marcinko’s daring and success, the NVA placed a 50,000 piastre bounty on his head, payable to anyone who could prove they killed the SEAL leader. Obviously, they never paid out that bounty.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
(US Navy)

2. He was rejected by the Marine Corps

Marcinko joined the military at 18 but, surprisingly (to some), he didn’t first opt to join the Navy. His first stop was the Marine Corps, who rejected him outright because he did not graduate from high school. So Marcinko, who would leave as a Commander, enlisted in the Navy. He later became an officer after graduating from the Navy’s postgraduate school, earning his commission in 1965.

3. He designed the Navy’s counterterrorism operation

You know you’ve made it when they make a video game about your life story.

After the tragic failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. attempt to free hostages being held by students in Iran, the U.S. Navy and its special operations structure decided that they needed an overhaul. Marcinko was one of those who helped design the new system. His answer was the creation of SEAL Team Six.

4. He numbered his SEAL Team “Six” to fool the Russians

When he was creating the newest SEAL Team, the United States and Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War — and spies were everywhere. Not trusting that anyone would keep the creation of his new unit a secret, he numbered it SEAL Team Six in order fool the KGB into believing there were three more SEAL Teams they didn’t know about.

5. His job was to infiltrate bases — American bases

The Navy needed to know where their operational sensitivities were — where they were weakest. Even in the areas where security was thought tightest, the Navy was desperate to know if they could be infiltrated. So, Vice Admiral James Lyons tasked Marcinko to create another unit.

Marcinko created Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, also known as Red Cell, a unit of 13 men. Twelve came from SEAL Team Six and the other from Marine Force Recon. They were to break into secure areas, nuclear submarines, Navy ships, and even Air Force One. Red Cell was able to infiltrate and leave without any notice. The reason? Military personnel on duty were replaced by civilian contractor security guards.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Just like the A-Team, except real. And Marcinko is in command. And he’s the only one. And he killed a lot more people. (NBC Universal Television)

 

6. He spent 15 months in jail

Toward the end of his career, he was embroiled in what the Navy termed a “kickback scandal,” alleging that Marcinko conspired with an Arizona arms dealer to receive $100,000 for securing a government contract for hand grenades. Marcinko maintained that this charge was the result of a witch hunt, blowback for exposing so many vulnerabilities and embarrassing the Navy’s highest ranking officers. He served 15 months of a 21-month sentence.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how America proved it was a nation that could stand on its own

At the turn of the 19th century, the United States was by human standards barely a teenager. But held to the much stouter standards of statehood established by European nations that had seeded it, the U.S. was, to use the vernacular, “barely a glint in its pappy’s eye.”


To be sure, America had made good on the democratic ideals that had fueled its revolution and its Declaration of Independence. And it had managed to greatly expand its territory through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Corps of Discovery Expedition, led by the U.S. Army under Capt.s Lewis and Clark, made those new lands a known realm under the Jefferson administration, while mapping the enticing, yet contested Oregon Territory into the realm of the possible.

But 14 years as a nation was, in the eyes of the world, still considered just an experiment under laboratory conditions. How would these “United States” hold up to real-world, geopolitical pressures? The burden of proof belonged to the U.S., and it knew it. The pressure to prove itself incited the sequence of conflicts that we now refer to as the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 was fought on two fronts, representing the two major proving grounds of American legitimacy — the new frontier west of the Mississippi and the open ocean, through which the growing U.S. merchant marine traded the vast natural resources of North America with the wider world.  On both fronts, Great Britain was testing its former colonies’ resolve.

Locked into the churn of the Napoleonic Wars, the British were enforcing a naval blockade of France, catching U.S. trade ships in the crossfire. To make matters worse, Great Britain was unapologetically pressing American merchant sailors into service in the Royal Navy, a policy that inflamed the American public and lead to skirmishes like the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair (not pictured below.)

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
This is the famous 1812 battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere. Way better optics.

Great Britain was also keen to interrupt American expansion on land, fearing that a Canadian landgrab was imminent. To that end, they provided military support to Tecumsah’s Confederacy, a powerful Native American resistance group in the Old Northwest who sought to block the U.S. from taking further territory from the continent’s original inhabitants.

In spite, or perhaps because, of British military action around its northern and western borders, the U.S. began a concerted, and largely fruitless, effort to invade and capture Canadian territory. At sea, the U.S. Navy engaged in a long series of back and forth battles with the Royal Navy off the U.S. coast. Victories accrued on both sides and public sentiment waxed and waned as both sides claimed the advantage, but the result after 2 years was more or less a draw.

In the face of a stalemate, Great Britain was forced to weigh its distaste for America’s increasingly credible claim of self-sovereignty against the obvious advantages of reopening trade relations. However, the calculus changed when Napoleon’s abdication in Europe suddenly freed up Great Britain’s naval resources, allowing it to redouble its efforts against America. The Royal Navy blockaded the U.S. to near bankruptcy in 1814 and British forces invaded and burned Washington, D.C.  

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
President James Madison had no choice but to sue for peace.

This seemingly clear-cut British victory concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814. But news of the peace travelled slowly in the Age of Sail and out-of-the-loop British forces, attempting to invade Louisiana in January 1815, were roundly defeated at the Battle of New Orleans, giving the U.S. the right to declare a face-saving, buzzer-beater victory.

In the end, everybody got something they wanted from the War of 1812. The British succeeded, at least temporarily, in checking American enthusiasm for territorial expansion, as well as re-establishing itself as the reigning naval heavyweight champion of the world.

But the U.S. had managed to hold its own against global superpowers. Showing a determinist grit beyond its years, it stood up for its right to pursue a national agenda on the international stage. In effect, it had proven to Pappy that it was mature enough to call its own shots.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

What if the most powerful nuclear bomb exploded in space

We all know a nuclear blast on land brings devastating effects to the surrounding region. But what if humans detonated a nuclear bomb in space? Following is a transcript of the video.

Imagine if we detonated a nuclear bomb in space? Actually, you don’t have to.

You can see it for yourself. That was Starfish Prime — the highest-altitude nuclear test in history. In 1962, the US government launched a 1.4 megaton bomb from Johnston Island. And detonated it 400 km above the Pacific — about as high as where the International Space Station orbits today.


[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5babe43bea400292798b4568%3Fwidth%3D1200%26format%3Djpeg&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=516&h=0901f63252391c0f199e105d17bf0830949514d34b930b35c386bdd3bc7b77a4&size=980x&c=2328355194 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5babe43bea400292798b4568%253Fwidth%253D1200%2526format%253Djpeg%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D516%26h%3D0901f63252391c0f199e105d17bf0830949514d34b930b35c386bdd3bc7b77a4%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2328355194%22%7D” expand=1]

The detonation generated a giant fireball and created a burst of energy called an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that expanded for over 1,000 kilometers.

EMPs can cause a power surge, damaging electronic equipment in the process. And this one was no different. Across Hawaii, street lights went dark, telephones went down, and navigation and radar systems went out, not to mention the six, or so, satellites that failed.

And all this came from a 1.4 megaton bomb. Tsar Bomba, which was the largest nuclear bomb that has ever been detonated, was 50 megatons.

So what would happen if we detonated that above the United States?

For starters, there’s no atmosphere in space. So, there would be no mushroom-shaped cloud and no subsequent blast wave or mass destruction. Instead, you’d get a blinding fireball 4 times the size of Starfish Prime’s. And if you looked directly at it within the first 10 seconds, you could permanently damage your eyes.

Satellites wouldn’t be safe either. Radiation from the explosion would fry the circuits of hundreds of instruments in low-earth orbit. Including communication satellites, military spy satellites, and even science telescopes like the Hubble.

Plus, astronauts on board the International Space Station might be at risk of radiation poisoning.

On the ground, however, you’d probably be fine. The detonation point would be far enough away that the high-energy radiation wouldn’t reach you.

But don’t get too comfortable. Remember Starfish Prime’s EMP? This time, the EMP would cover ⅓ of the entire United States, bringing down regional power grids and electronics like a lightning strike.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The radiation would also interact with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere and create a spectacular aurora near the detonation site, that would last for days.

Now, let’s be clear. This will probably never happen. Super-thermonuclear devices like the Tsar Bomba no longer exist. And even if they did, the Tsar Bomba weighed around 27,000 kilograms. There are only a couple of operational rockets in the world that could manage to lift something that heavy into space in the first place.

So we’re probably safe from that, anyway. This video was made in large part thanks to the calculations from physicists at Los Alamos National Lab.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This carrier pigeon saved a battalion in World War I

By fall of 1918, the Allies were pushing back the Germans all along the Western Front. In September, the Allies launched the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final offensive of World War I. But the Germans were not yet beaten and were still fighting to bring a satisfactory end to the war, as the men of the 77th Division were soon to find out.


The 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division’s 154th Infantry Brigade were assigned to take a mill as well as vital road and rail ways that would deny Germans in other sectors the ability to resupply. All along the line a no retreat order was in effect. Major General Alexander, commander of the 77th Division, was particularly adamant, insisting that anyone calling out to fall back should be shot.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

Maj. Charles Whittlesey, commanding 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry, took this to heart. Whittlesey, a Harvard educated lawyer, would lead his men from the front. When the 308th‘s attack began at 7 am on October 2, 1918, American forces all along the front advanced towards their objectives. Whittlesey was leading a force consisting of six companies (A, B, C, E, G, H) from the 308th, K company from 307th, as well as C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion. By the night of October 2nd, Whittlesey’s force reached and secured their objective, Hill 198, when disaster struck on their flanks.

Just as Whittlesey received word that his men captured Hill 198, he was disturbed by just how quiet it was around his position. When he realized he could not hear action from where the 307th was supposed to be, he remarked later “either they had broken through the line as well and reached their objective over there, or they had been licked and fallen back. The former would be good news for the 308th … The latter, however, was unthinkable; orders forbade it.” Also unknown to the men of the 308th was that a strong German counterattack had driven back French and American forces securing the 77th‘s flanks, leaving Whittlesey’s command isolated behind German lines.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Maj. Whittlesey

The men began digging in a position that came to be known as ‘the pocket’ on top of Hill 198. Though it was defensible, the Germans held a nearby hill that overlooked the pocket, as well as a position in a ravine that cut off the path of retreat. The next day Whittlesey sent out numerous runners in an attempt to reestablish contact with friendly forces but not a single one returned. Whittlesey also sent carrier pigeons but they were shot out of the sky by the Germans. The Americans were completely cut-off and surrounded. An attempt by a single company to break out failed with heavy casualties.

On October 4th the situation worsened for the isolated men. Besides German attacks they were also subjected to friendly fire. History is unclear how exactly it happened but what is known is that the men of the Lost Battalion came under fire from their own artillery. Virtually out of options, Maj. Whittlesey wrote a note and sent out his final carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, to stop the shelling of his own troops.

“We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

The bird flew off through the artillery barrage and was then targeted by the Germans. Whittlesey watched as the bird took fire and fluttered to the ground. As his heart sank, he saw Cher Ami regain flight and fly past the Germans on its way to headquarters. When Cher Ami arrived at the 77th Division headquarters it was found that the pigeon had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and the leg holding the message was hanging on by a tendon but Whittlesey’s message had arrived ending the friendly fire.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

Even though the artillery fire stopped, the Americans still did not know exactly where the Lost Battalion was. To make matters worse, the Germans continued attempting to annihilate the Americans and attempts to resupply the force by air were unsuccessful. Their supplies dwindling. The only water source required crawling under fire to a creek. Bandages were being removed from the dead to be used on the wounded. The Lost Battalion held out for nearly a week before they were finally relieved by forces from the U.S. 82nd Division. Of the 554 men who were originally encircled, only 194 were able to walk out on their own after the battle, the rest had all been killed, wounded, or captured.

The Lost Battalion received five Medals of Honor, including Maj. Whittlesey’s, along with 28 Distinguished Service Crosses. Whittlesey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel immediately upon returning to American lines. In 1921, he and other Medal of Honor recipients were pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier. Unfortunately, Whittlesey was deeply troubled by his experiences and disappeared from a passenger ship in November 1921 in an apparent suicide.

Cher Ami, the carrier pigeon that saved the men from their own artillery, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with an Oak Leaf Cluster for heroic service at Verdun and in the stopping the artillery barrage in the Argonne Forest. The bird died in 1919 and was stuffed for display at the Smithsonian.

The story of the Lost Battalion was made into a movie in 1919 and again in 2001.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Navy didn’t have an admiral until after the Civil War

Career progression for officers in the old United States Navy used to be very different from what we know today. Officers had just four ranks open to them, midshipman, lieutenant, master commandant and captain. Congress was not open to creating more because ranks like “admiral” were a European tradition and the American republic wanted to distinguish itself from Europe.

Today’s naval officers have four levels of admiral to strive for, but it wasn’t until the Civil War that Congress gave them any chance of achieving just one admiral’s rank. Until then, achievement in the U.S. Navy was a mishmash of titles, commands and appointments. The Civil War changed that, and a long-serving naval hero would be the first to wear the rank. 

The list of pre-Civil War U.S. Navy legends is a long one. John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Matthew C. Perry, and Isaac Hull all achieved the highest rank possible of a U.S. Navy officer, but none were called admiral. This fact understandably annoyed many naval officers in the early days of the Navy because many became captains early in their careers. 

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Current insignia of the Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral and Fleet Admiral, respectively. Bet John Paul Jones would be jealous. (Wikipedia)

With only four ranks available to them, the highest achievement anyone could reach was the honorific title of commodore. “Commodore” was bestowed upon officers who commanded a squadron, fleet, or any other group of ships. This fact also annoyed senior naval officers, who realized that a midshipman in command of gun boats could be called “commodore.”

While “commodore” wasn’t really a higher rank, officers who earned the title kept referring to themselves as commodore, even when their command ended. Despite the confusion and enmity it caused in the ranks, that’s just how it went from the American Revolution to just before the start of the Civil War.

In 1857, Congress finally created a flag officer’s rank, uncreatively called “flag officer.” Flag officers were little different from the Navy’s old commodores when it came down to it, however, and the rank didn’t last long. In 1862, flag officers were gone and “commodore” became an official rank. 

Then came Commodore David G. Farragut. 

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford (Public Domain)

Farragut was practically a sailor from birth. He was certainly a sailor until his death. His father came to the British colonies that would one day become the United States in 1766 from Spain. When they declared independence, George Farragut joined the South Carolina Navy. After the war was won, he moved his family to Tennessee, where his son David was born. 

David Farragut joined the Navy at age nine and would spend most of the rest of his life at sea. He cut his teeth in combat during the War of 1812, fought pirates in the Caribbean, and served in the Mexican-American War. By the time the Civil War broke out, he was a 64-year-old Commodore given the command of the Gulf Blockading Squadron. 

Three months into this command, he led the Union assault on New Orleans, sailed up the Mississippi Rivers and, along with the Union Army of the Gulf, captured the remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River. Those victories cut the Confederate States in two, the Union’s primary strategy against the south. 

To honor the lifelong sailor and his recent string of wins, Congress created the rank of Rear Admiral on July 16, 1862. Farragut became the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy, and 13 other officers were promoted with him. In August 1864, Adm. Farragut and the Union Navy would capture Mobile Bay, the south’s last major port. The Confederacy was cut off from the rest of the world. 

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army) 

Combined with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Farragut’s attack on Mobile Bay secured a second term for President Abraham Lincoln and the successful conclusion of the Civil War for the Union. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the United States weaponized the weather in Vietnam

There’s not a lot the United States won’t do to win a war, and whether or not you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing isn’t relevant. Assassinating enemy generals, overthrowing governments, or bombing neighboring countries are all fair game – at least they were in Vietnam. The U.S. military didn’t stop there. One of the most extreme examples of manipulating the battlefield also came about in the Vietnam War, when the U.S. military took direct control of the weather in order to win the war. 

It was called Operation Popeye, and like many top secret operations in the Vietnam War, it was eventually leaked to American newspapers. 

Popeye was a five-year program designed to seed the clouds and extend the monsoon season in Vietnam. The heavy rain season was already six months long, drenching the country in May through October. In 1966, the Johnson administration noticed that Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army movements were hampered during heavy rains and prolonging the monsoons could hamper them further.

Communist supply lines became almost useless in the country’s monsoons, turning roads to rivers of mud, jamming up river traffic, and making some parts of the country completely useless for travel, travel which included that of ground forces, trucks, and supplies. 

In order to make it rain, the United States used a method called cloud seeding, using chemical agents to increase cloud condensation to the point of creating precipitation in the form of rain or snow, depending on the temperature. In 1967, the Air Force used two agents to seed clouds, silver or lead iodide in the form of smoke in the air or from the ground. 

Today, cloud seeding is nothing new and is commonly used in more planes than you might think, from farmers’ fields to ski resorts. But the use of seeding clouds as a means of gaining the upper hand in a war had never been done until Operation Popeye. 

On top of restricting enemy movement on the ground, creating clouds and precipitation also had the added benefit of suppressing anti-aircraft missile batteries. Still, when the Air Force briefed the U.S. Senate about Operation Popeye, Senators were not happy about it. The irony of being upset about falling rain as opposed to falling bombs was probably lost on them. 

The New York Times first reported on the operation in 1972, but even then, official anonymous sources in the Pentagon had doubts about its actual effectiveness. They did concede that cloud seeding was able to halt communications and logistics among the communists, but it could not create massive floods or mudslides that would do major damage to the enemy. 

What wasn’t known then and still isn’t known decades later, is what long term ecological effects cloud seeding has on an area. Since the United States was spraying down half the country with Agent Orange anyway, it probably wasn’t a top concern. 

Soon after American legislators discovered the program, they quickly moved to band the practice and sent feelers out to the international community about banning weather modification in warfare. The Soviet Union agreed to it and in 1978 a United Nations resolution went into effect. 

The Environmental Modification Convention states that no military or hostile force can use any action that causes “earthquakes, tsunamis; an upset in the ecological balance of a region; changes in weather patterns (clouds, precipitation, cyclones of various types and tornadic storms); changes in climate patterns; changes in ocean currents; changes in the state of the ozone layer; and changes in the state of the ionosphere.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US and North Korea teamed up to fight Somali pirates

The list of Americans who receive favorable coverage in North Korea’s state media is a very, very short one. President Trump made waves with KCNA’s review of his performance at the 2018 Singapore Summit. But more than a decade before that, the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS James E. Williams received even higher praise.

In 2007, a North Korean cargo ship name Dai Hong Dan was attacked by Somali pirates 70 miles northeast of Mogadishu. The pirates disguised themselves a guard force and overtook the crew to take control of the ship. They set a ransom demand of $15,000. The penalty for non-payment was killing the sailors — that would not happen.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

The crew was stashed away in the engine room and in steerage as the pirates gave their demands. The crew managed to send an SOS to the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Organization. The IMB sent the report to the James E. Williams, which dispatched a helicopter to check on reports of the ship’s hijacking. Meanwhile, the crew used the emergency steerage engine and a lifeboat compass to point the ship out to sea.


How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
Boarding team members from guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams board North Korean cargo vessel Dai Hong Dan to provide medical assistance.
(U.S. Navy)

As the helicopter approached and ordered the pirates to surrender, the crew fought back against their captors, overpowering them after 20 hours of fighting. The Dai Hong Dan’s crew stormed the bridge as U.S. Navy sailors boarded the ship to help the wounded. One of the pirates was killed and six North Korean sailors were wounded in the struggle. Doctors aboard the James E. Williams treated the injured North Koreans.

The Dai Hong Dan was carrying sugar from India to Mogadishu, a cargo which it had already dropped off. The pirates turned out to be the same dock workers responsible for the ship’s safe passage in and out of the port facilities of Mogadishu. The captured pirates were held aboard the North Korean ship, presumably to face justice in the DPRK.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords
The forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of death.
(KCNA)

North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, gave the United States rare praise in its coverage of the incident, saying:

“We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen. This case serves as a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. We will continue to render international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the future, too.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was shot

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. with a .44-caliber single-shot derringer pistol to the back of the head. While Booth fled on horseback, the president was rushed to a boarding house across the street to await the surgeon general. Sadly, the 16th president of the United States died the next morning at the age of 56.

The assassination has maintained infamous throughout history for many reasons. First, the attack was public and led to a heated manhunt. Perhaps more significantly, after four years of civil war, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had just surrendered his army only five days before, effectively ending the conflict. Though Lincoln would not live to see his country recover, in death he kept the promise he made to the Union during his inaugural address “to preserve, protect and defend it.”

President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, were at Ford’s Theater that night to attend Our American Cousin, a comedy. The Library of Congress has preserved the contents of the president’s pockets on his final night. Here’s what he had:

www.youtube.com

Watch the video above to see details of the items in his pockets, which include a pocket knife and two pairs of spectacles. The president also carried on his person a watch fob and a linen handkerchief, stenciled with “A. Lincoln” in red. While these feel very simple, there are some more curious items as well.

First, the president carried newspaper clippings, including, according to the Library of Congress, several favorable to the president and his policies. It’s almost like the 19th Century version of checking out what Twitter had to say about the administration.

Even more curious was the fact that the only currency Abraham Lincoln carried the night he died was a five-dollar Confederate note in a brown leather wallet. “We don’t know with one hundred percent certainty but just a few days earlier, Richmond had fallen, and Lincoln did actually travel to Richmond and this was likely passed onto him as a souvenir,” shared Clark Evans, Head of Reference Services in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.

After his death, the contents of President Lincoln’s pockets were passed onto his son, Robert Todd, and they remained in the Lincoln family for more than seventy years. They were finally placed on display at the LIbrary of Congress in 1976, where they remain the most favored of all objects within the library’s collections.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Airships were surprisingly hard to shoot down in World War II

Zeppelins, as it turns out, are slightly more durable than your average dollar store water balloon. Maybe that’s why they were a staple of the U.S. military of the time. The Hindenburg Disaster aside, 20th-Century airships were built to go the distance – and they did.


The United States was the only power to use airships during World War II, and they used them to great effect. Some 89,000 ocean-going ships were escorted by K-series airships during the war, and only one was lost to the enemy, the Panamanian oil tanker Persephone. The U.S. used them in both theaters of war, conducting minesweeping, search and rescue, photographic reconnaissance, scouting, escort convoy, and anti-submarine patrol missions.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

The massive hanger No. 2 near Tustin, California filled with six airships. Each airship is nearly 250 feet long.

For their anti-submarine missions, K-class airships were equipped with two .50-caliber Browning M2 machine guns and 4 Mark-47 depth charges. The ships flew on helium (the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, and thus became a fireball), which the United States had a monopoly on at the time, and was able to operate them safely. Airships were not just a child’s balloon, they were made with solid, vulcanized rubber to hold air in. But just shooting a blimp wouldn’t take it down, their gas bags were much more effective and could take a few shots.

Other airships that were used by all forces included barrage balloons. These unmanned aerial vehicles pulled double duty in both obscuring the target cities or ships from incoming fighters and bombers while protecting the area around them using the metal tethers that kept them attached to the earth. The tethers would tear through enemy aircraft as they attempted to buzz by the balloons.

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

A Navy K-class airship at Gibraltar, 1944. The 1400-foot Rock of Gibraltar is in background.

For the entire duration of the war, only one K-ship was ever lost to the enemy. K-74 was shot down by a German U-boat in the Straits of Florida in 1943. Of the 10-man crew who went down in the airship, nine survived, and the only lost crewman was eaten by a shark awaiting rescue. The U-boat was assaulted by Allied bombers trying to limp back to Germany and was sunk.

The Navy continued to use blimps to patrol the American coastline until 1962, despite their unique abilities to stay aloft for more than a day at a stretch and the ability to sniff out submarines better than any alternative at the time. The U.S. even tested the effects of a nuclear blast on its K-ships, believing it could be armed with nuclear depth charges.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information