George Washington was nearly impossible to kill - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Despite having two horses shot out from under him, history would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6’2″ and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.


It’s not just that the man was fearless in battle (even though he really was). Washington suffered from a number of otherwise debilitating, painful ailments and diseases throughout his life that would have taken a lesser man down — but not the man who founded the most powerful country ever to grace the Earth.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

“Let them take cover in the woods! We’ll fight the indians in straight lines, in tight formations. That’ll show them who’s boss.” It didn’t show them who’s boss.

He should have died at the Battle of the Monongahela

Near what we today call Pittsburgh,a British force under General Edward Braddock was soundly defeated by a force of French Canadians and Indians during the French and Indian War. Braddock died of wounds sustained in the fighting, but Washington survived despite having two horses shot out from under him. When all was said and done, he also found four musket-ball holes in his coat.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

“C’mon guys… let’s make this quick. Suuuuuper quick.”

He had dysentery the whole time

During much of the French and Indian War, Washington reported bouts of dysentery, an infection that causes (among other things) persistent diarrhea. He suffered from this while dodging bullets at the Monongahela River. The discomfort from it actually made him sit taller on his horse.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

“This is way easier when you don’t have dysentery!”

He trotted 30 yards from enemy lines

During the 1777 Battle of Princeton, Washington rode on his horse as bullets fired from British rifles 30 yards away whizzed around him. When troops worried about their leader getting shot, he simply said, “parade with me my fine fellows, we will have them soon!”

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

America would get two more epic swings at German troops.

Trenton was cold as hell.

Crossing the Delaware was actually much more dangerous than the stories would have you believe. Giant chunks of ice were in the dark water that night and each threatened to overturn the longboats. Washington set out with three boats to make the crossing, and only his made it. Falling into the water likely meant a slow, freezing death for any Continental, even if they managed to get out of it.

Two Continental soldiers who survived the crossing stopped to rest by the side of the road and were frozen by morning.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Paintings: the Presidential Snapchat filter.

He had six of the most lethal diseases of his time.

Normally, if you’re reading about someone in the 1700s contracting tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, or diphtheria, it’s because that’s how they died. Not only did Washington survive all of these conditions, he knew how to inoculate his army against smallpox, claiming the British tried using as an early form of biological warfare. It was the first mass military inoculation in history — and it worked.

In the end, Washington was felled by what modern doctors think was a case of epiglottitis, an acute bacterial inflammation of the little flap at the base of the tongue that covers the trachea.

Like the Rebel Alliance finding an exhaust port in the Death Star plans, life found a way to take down one of history’s greatest. It took 67 years and whole lot of trial and error.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the real Iraq War battle behind ‘The Long Road Home’

In April 2004, a convoy from the US Army’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division was on a routine escort mission. The Baghdad neighborhood they were operating in – Sadr City – would become notorious among American and Coalition forces for at least the next four years. What happened to 1st Cav that day came to be known as “Black Sunday,” a battle then- Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey called “the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.”


 

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
Soldiers from B Co., 3/15 Infantry hand out hard candy to kids in Sadr City, Iraq, Feb. 28, 2003. An ominous stencil of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr looms in the background.

The mission started like any other escort mission. Soldiers in a convoy escorted sewage trucks, known as “honey wagons,” to locations inside the Sadr City area of the Iraqi capital. Though times were tough for the Iraqi people, lawlessness was on the rise throughout Baghdad. Still, everything was for the most part peaceful…until Palm Sunday 2004.

The neighborhood now known as Sadr City housed three and a half million people in five square miles – roughly half of the city’s entire population. Built by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, it was full of mostly Shia muslims who were persecuted under Saddam’s rule. As a result, this densely populated area – smaller in size than most American cities, but with a population higher than Houston or Chicago – was deeply impoverished.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
A U.S. Army soldier assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Calvary Regiment, armed with a 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine, provides security during a patrol near Forward Operating Base Camp Eagle, Sadr City, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The area came under control of the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who took the citizens’ distrust of the occupying Americans and turned in into full-fledged anger. His militant followers formed the formidable Mahdi Army, which attracted fighters from other countries as well as Iraqis. By the time the U.S. was ready to take down al-Sadr, he had grown too powerful. When American shut down his newspaper for inciting violence, Sadr City residents were outraged.

They protested peacefully in the streets at first, but that outrage soon boiled over.

American troops raided al-Sadr’s house and arrested one of his senior aides on the order of Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.  That same day, unbeknownst to the Coalition, al-Sadr’s militia captured Iraqi Police stations across the city.

April 4, 2004 was the day 2-5 Cav was escorting honey wagons as they worked in Sadr City. They had just deployed to Camp War Eagle, on the edge of Sadr City, allegedly the “safest place in Iraq.” They were ambushed by the Mahdi Army as they made their way out of the city. Unable to move all their men out of the area, 19 soldiers holed up in a civilian house, awaiting rescue amid hundreds of enemy fighters.

They had only been in country for a few days.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Relief columns were mounted by 1st Cavalry but those were unable to use the heavy guns on their Bradley M-2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicles due to the rules of engagement. The rescuers were themselves ambushed by the forces hidden in Iraqi Police stations and, unable to bring firepower to bear, were pushed back.

Eventually, the superior firepower was authorized against the Mahdi Army’s superior numbers. 1st Cav’s use of the Bradleys’ main turret was complimented by a force of 1st Armored Division M-1A2 Abrams tanks.

Eight soldiers were lost in the initial ambush and rescue of those trapped and surrounded in Sadr City that April Day. The fight to rescue the platoon from 2-5 Cav is dramatized in National Geographic Channel’s miniseries The Long Road Home, which begins Nov. 7, 2017.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
U.S. troops patrol the deserted streets of the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City at sunset, Apr. 4, 2004. (Wathiq Khuzaie)

But the fighting for Sadr City didn’t end in April 2004. The fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood would rage on in the streets between American forces and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army for another four years. It ended with a ceasefire agreement that allowed Iraqi government troops to enter the area.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Marine left for dead was resurrected at the end of the Vietnam War

In February 1968, two platoons of Marines from a combat base near Khe Sanh went out on a combat patrol. Ronald Ridgeway, just 18-years-old at the time, was one of those Marines. He and 26 of his fellow Marines would not be coming back that night, their patrol would live on, forever known as “The Ghost Patrol.”


A Marine lieutenant lost his way around the area and accidentally led his Marines into a devastating ambush. Ridgeway was shot in the shoulder. Others took much more serious wounds. When the ambush was over, the North Vietnamese walked through the grim melee, popping rounds into Marines to ensure their job was done. Ridgeway was grazed by a bullet that shook his body. The NVA figured he was dead.

So did the Marine Corps.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

A 1973 photo of Ronald Ridgeway.

Many of the ambushed Marines were dead, including two of Ridgeway’s closest friends. Through the night, the young man survived an American artillery barrage and excessive bleeding. He woke to an NVA soldier trying to pull off his watch. For six weeks, the remains of those Marines were left. It turns out there were upwards of 20,000 NVA troops moving to assault the Combat Base at Khe Sanh, defended by just 6,000 Marines.

At first, Ridgeway was listed as missing in action, but after the survivors of the ambush made their way back to Khe Sanh and the battlefields couldn’t be cleared, there was little hope for him. The Marines declared him killed in action. His funeral was held Sept. 10, 1968 in St. Louis. His family and friends mourned the loss of their young Marine. By then, Ridgeway had been a POW for seven months.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Ridgeway in 2013.

The NVA soldier taking his watch didn’t kill him, he just put him in leg stocks and marched him to a jungle POW camp. Eventually, the young Ridgeway found himself in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton. He was beaten and starved, but he survived. He sat in a lonesome cell, with just a wooden bed and a bucket that he emptied in a courtyard once a day.

He was there for nearly five long years before the Paris Peace Accords meant he was headed home before the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. When the list of returning troops was released, Ridgeway’s family was shocked to see their son’s name included on that list.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Ridgeway getting a hug from then-First Lady of California Nancy Reagan and California Governor Ronald Reagan upon returning home in 1973.

“I came back in basically one piece,” he told the Washington Post. “I came back able to live my life. . . . We went over with a job to do. We did it to the best of our ability. We were lucky enough to come back.”

Another place he wanted to see his name listed was his own tombstone. He and his wife visited that several months after he returned home: “Ambushed Patrol Died in Vietnam Feb. 25, 1968… Ronald L. Ridgeway.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first aerial bombing run was made by the Italian Army

In November 1911, Italy was engaged in a costly war against the Ottoman Empire in what is today Libya. It worked out for the Italians in the end, easily defeating the Ottoman Empire, who was by then a shadow of its former glory. The war brought a number of new technologies onto the battlefield, most notably the airplane. Italian pilots were the first to use heavier than air aircraft for both reconnaissance and to drop bombs on enemy positions. One pilot was also the first to fly a night sortie.


For the Turks, who had no anti-air defenses, they were the first to shoot down an aircraft with small arms fire.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

The German-built Taube monoplane like the one flown by Lt. Gavotti over Libya.

On Nov. 1, 1911, Giulio Gavotti, an Italian war pilot, climbed into the cockpit of his Etrich Taube monoplane. His mission was to fly over the Ain Zara oasis, occupied by Turkish troops. Instead of just flying over the target, he decided he would throw bombs out of the plane and into the mass of maybe 2,000 enemy soldiers below. The lieutenant would later write to his father that he was really pleased to be the first person to try. His efforts earned him the nickname “the Flying Artilleryman.”

“I notice the dark shape of the oasis. With one hand, I hold the steering wheel, with the other I take out one of the bombs and put it on my lap…. I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for couple of seconds and then it disappears. And after a little while, I can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I am lucky. I have struck the target.”

And that’s how one pilot ushered in the Air Power age.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Giulio Gavotti, the first bomber pilot.

The young lieutenant had strapped a number of grapefruit-sized grenade-like bombs into a leather pouch in the cockpit. As he flew over the target, he would toss them over the side. The official history of the Italian Army in Libya says that Gavotti screwed in the detonators and flew at an altitude of just 600 feet as he made his bombing runs. He tossed three over the side at an oasis at Tagiura and then one over the Ain Zara Oasis. No one is really sure how many (if any) he actually killed on his run.

In response, the Ottoman Empire issued a formal complaint. Dropping bombs from aerial balloons was outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899. The Italians countered that the airplanes weren’t balloons and any heavier-than-air craft was legally allowed to drop bombs as Gavotti had.

“I come back really pleased with the result,” Gavotti wrote. “I go straight to report to General Caneva. Everybody is satisfied.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

These pilots just got medals for classified 1987 mission

Four Swedish air force pilots received U.S. Air Medals during a ceremony in Stockholm Nov. 28, 2018, recognizing their actions that took place over 31 years ago. Until 2017 the details of their mission remained classified.

During the 1980s, the height of the Cold War was still being felt. The U.S. was flying regular SR-71 aircraft reconnaissance missions in international waters over the Baltic Sea known as “Baltic Express” missions. But on June 29, 1987, during one of those missions, an SR-71 piloted by retired Lt. Cols. Duane Noll and Tom Veltri, experienced an inflight emergency.


Experiencing engine failure in one of their engines, they piloted the aircraft down to approximately 25,000 feet over Swedish airspace where they were intercepted by two different pairs of Swedish air force Viggens.

“We were performing an ordinary peace time operation exercise,” recalled retired Maj. Roger Moller, Swedish air force Viggen pilot. “Our fighter controller then asked me are you able to make an interception and identification of a certain interest. I thought immediately it must be an SR-71, otherwise he would have mentioned it. But at that time I didn’t know it was the Blackbird.”

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, Mobilization Assistant to the commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, salutes the Swedish pilots who are being awarded the U.S. Air Medal in Stockholm, Nov. 28, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelly O’Connor

According to the Air Medal citation, once the Swedish pilots intercepted the SR-71, they assessed the emergency situation and decided to render support to the aircraft by defending it from any potential third-party aircraft that might have tried to threaten it. The pilots then accompanied the aircraft beyond the territorial boundaries and ensured that it was safely recovered.

“I can’t say enough about these gentlemen,” said Veltri, who was at the ceremony. “I am so amazingly grateful for what they did, but also for the opportunity to recognize them in the fashion we are doing. What these guys did is truly monumental.”

Noll, who was not able to be at the ceremony, recorded a message which was played to those in attendance.

“Your obvious skills and judgement were definitely demonstrated on that faithful day many years ago. I want to thank you for your actions on that day,” said Noll. “We will never know what would or could have happened, but because of you, there was no international incident. The U.S. Air Force did not lose an irreplaceable aircraft, and two crew members’ lives were saved. Lt. Col. Veltri and I can’t thank you sufficiently for what you prevented. Thank you for being highly skilled and dedicated patriotic fellow aviators.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa mobilization assistant to the commander, presented the Air Medals to Swedish air force Col. Lars-Eric Blad, Maj. Roger Moller, Maj. Krister Sjoberg and Lt. Bo Ignell.

“That day in 1987 showed us that we can always count on our Swedish partners in times of great peril,” said Williams. “Even when there was both political risk and great physical risk in the form of actual danger, there was no hesitation on your part to preserve the pilots on that day.”

The presentation of Air Medals to the Swedish pilots represented the gratitude from the U.S. and the continued longstanding partnership with Sweden.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This World War II battlefield will disappear forever

The 1943 Battle of Tarawa was the first of the Central Pacific Campaign. There, 18,000 Marines fought a bloody, 76-hour battle to seize the heavily fortified Tarawa Atoll from 4,500 Japanese defenders, wading through hundreds of yards of surf and scrambling for cover on the nearly flat islands.


George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Marines take cover on the beaches of Tarawa while planning their next move forward. Conquering Tarawa would take 76 hours and cost thousands of lives.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Now, the nation of Kiribati, as the former British territory is known today, is expected to be completely underwater within a few decades, including all the territory of its capital, Tarawa.

Importantly for Marine Corps historians, that means that one of World War II’s most bloody and important battlefields will disappear under the waves — with Marine remains and artifacts still on it.

The 1943 battle for the island began with a massive naval artillery bombardment that failed to dislodge most of the pillboxes, obstacles, and defenders on the island. When troops landed on November 20, underwater obstacles in the form of coral reefs, sandbars, and other barriers caused landing craft to get stuck out at sea.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

The assault on Tarawa was a nightmare. Shallow waters led to gently sloping beaches and hundreds of yards of obstacles — all factors that favored the Japanese defenders.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Those who could rode their boats all the way to shore, but men who were stuck eventually waded through chest-deep water for hundreds of yards while under machine gun fire. When the Marines finally reached the beach, they struggled to find good cover on an island where the highest elevation was about 10 feet above sealevel.

Undeterred, the Marines fought through barbed wire and Japanese attackers. On the second day, they were able to land tanks and artillery and punch out from the beach, starting their campaign across the tiny island.

At the end of the three-day battle, the Marines had suffered almost 3,000 casualties, including many men marked missing in action who were either washed out to sea or lost in the sand dunes and vegetation. Of the 4,500 Japanese defenders, there were only 17 survivors left. Most fought to the death as there was no way to escape the island.

Four men earned Medals of Honor during the fighting.

After the war, the Kiribati Islands reverted to British control and then became a sovereign country in 1979. The U.S. signed a treaty of friendship later that year and then established full diplomatic relations in 1980. Since then, the relationship has been friendly if not exactly close.

The State Department says that they actively cooperate with Kiribati to repatriate the remains of Marines when discovered on Tarawa or on any other island within the nation.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexander Bonneyman, Jr., thought to be fourth from the right, and his men attack a Japanese position on Tarawa. Bonneyman posthumously received the Medal of Honor and his remains were recovered from Tarawa in 2015.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Obie Newcomb)

The remains of 139 service members were discovered and repatriated in 2015. One of those repatriated was 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.

In 2017, another 24 remains were discovered and returned.

500 American service members were thought lost on the island, meaning that the remains of hundreds may still be hidden there.

Unfortunately, much of Kiribati rises in elevation no more than 10 feet, meaning that it will be one of the first nations wiped out by rising seas.

Another island nation and World War II battle site under threat is the Marshall Islands, where 400 Americans died seizing the strategic islets from Japanese defenders.

Luckily, these were well-documented battles. Historians have recovered many documents and interviewed survivors of each, and With the Marines at Tarawa was an Academy Award-winning documentary produced during the invasion. So, future generations will still see evidence of the Marine Corps’ sacrifice.

But any historians who need additional evidence from the islands better get to work soon. Time is ticking.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The original stealth fighter absolutely destroyed in Desert Storm

When we talk about stealth fighters today, the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II usually spring to mind. There was one plane, though, that started it all, paving the way for all future stealth aircraft — and did so over a quarter-century ago. That plane was the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.


The Nighthawk was actually a hard sell to legendary aeronautical and systems engineer Kelly Johnson, the man behind aviation hallmarks, like the P-38 Lightning (the plane Tom Lanphier flew to kill Isoroku Yamamoto), the SR-71 Blackbird, and the U-2 Dragon Lady. Lockheed’s website reports that Johnson famously told Ben Rich the plane would “never get off the ground.” But the F-117 wasn’t designed to look pretty or to have high performance. It was meant to be invisible.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
The F-117 Nighthawk, the world’s first attack aircraft to employ stealth technology, retired after 27 years of U.S. Air Force service. The aircraft made its first flight at the Tonopah Test Range, Nev., in June 1981, just 31 months after full-scale development was authorized. The Nighthawk program remained classified until November 1988, when a photo of the jet was first unveiled to the public. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-117 first flew in 1981 and became operational in 1983. The plane was flown only at night to keep prying eyes away — and many of the RD efforts were done in the Nevada desert. In 1989, the plane took some heat after its involvement in Operation Just Cause, where it dropped what were to be, essentially, 2000-pound stun grenades. It didn’t work.

But it was Desert Storm that made the F-117 a legend. On the opening night, F-117s, each with a radar cross-section the size of a marble, slipped into Baghdad and hit vital command and control targets. Saddam’s thugs had no idea that these planes were coming — they had left the city’s lights on.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
An F-117 Stealth Fighter takes off for a mission from the flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

F-117A.com notes that even though only 36 F-117s were in the theater of operations, they hit 31 percent of the targets. There was no other plane the coalition dared to send over downtown Baghdad.

The F-117 serves for 17 years after Desert Storm, seeing action in Operation Allied Force and the Global War on Terror. It was retired in 2008, arguably too soon for this legend to fade away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ever wonder what the first day at West Point is like for a new cadet? Watch this.

Every July, more than 1,200 cadet candidates arrive at West Point, the US military academy in West Point, New York. Established in 1802, it’s around 50 miles north of New York City. The location of the academy has significance in US history. Say what you want about West Pointers (or military academies in general) but getting into West Point is a pretty significant feat!

Located on the western point of the Hudson River right where it bends, West Point has historical significance in America’s quest for independence from the British. During the War of Independence, the British had to attack coming down the Hudson River. From West Point, they could see them coming. 

Reception day, also known as R-Day, is always on a Monday and marks the first of each student’s four-year journey to graduation. In that journey, Cadets will follow through four programs: Character, Academic, Physical and Military.

west point
Clip from video footage of a West Point graduation ceremony.

Their civilian days are officially over right from the start 

The first day at West Point involves a transformation from civilian status through a series of activities. At the end of the day, the Military Academy requires them to take an oath to serve in the US Army. Upon arrival, cadet candidates and their families begin the day with an orientation. However, when that’s over, they have just 60 seconds to bid their families farewell. After that, they will have extremely limited contact with the outside world for six weeks. 

That obligatory West Point haircut is all the rage 

Walking out the door of Eisenhower Hall, students officially become “new cadets” and receive their physical training uniforms and a bag. That bag holds everything they are permitted to carry during their first six weeks. Immediately after, new cadets must head to the barbershop. Male cadets have to pretty much shave their heads, though females do not

After that, new cadets get their assignments at companies that teach them the basics of taking orders and how to properly march. Upperclassmen help to lead the new cadets, operating as a learning environment for both. New cadets learn the basics of leadership skills while upperclassmen practice them. R-Day ends with the Oath Ceremony, where everything the new cadets have learned is reiterated. 

Nothing’s truly free

Attending West Point is free, but it’s not easy to get in. Aside from being a US citizen, students must also be in good physical condition, pass a specific medical exam and show a history of high academic achievement. Also, that free tuition comes with a different kind of debt: service. This includes five years of active duty in the Army and three years as Reserves. All who complete the initial six weeks of basic training are then formally accepted into the corps of cadets. 

Related: Navy intelligence once launched an investigation to find Bill the Goat

Articles

How interrogation techniques are used on recruits and no one knew it

For countless years, various interrogation techniques have been used to locate the bad guys, gain confessions and convict criminals. In 1996, the CIA and Army intelligence officers were forced to release a collection of writings called “Kubark” after a Freedom of Information Act request.


This former secret document reveals practices used against the nation’s enemies to admit wrong doings and learn information to prevent future attacks.

Related: President ponders review of suspected terrorist interrogations and black sites

Section nine (shown below) describes the stages of coercive techniques used to extract vital information from sources. Once you look closely, you may realize you’ve experienced one or more of these techniques up close and personal during your stay in boot camp.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
The levels of Kubark from the original document published in 1963. (Source: NSA Archive / Screenshot)

Here’s how 8 out of 12 forms of counterintelligence interrogation techniques are used on recruits in basic training.

1. Arrest

In this case, arrest doesn’t mean being handcuffed and hauled off to jail, we’re talking about using the element of surprise to achieve the maximum amount of mental discomfort. Picture a few drill sergeants barreling into a squad bay screaming and yelling waking up their recruits at moments notice — it’s the same principle.

2. Detention

According to the NSA archive, the continuity of a man’s surroundings, appearance, daily habits, and actions define his identity. In boot camp, the recruit has no control over any of these aspects in his new military life.

3. Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli

Basic training is known for breaking down recruits before they’re built back up. So recruits are banned from anything positive at least until graduation.

4. Threats and Fears

When a DI tells you that nothing you can do is right and you’re a complete failure, it takes a toll on the mind. Even worse, if you fail you’re going to have to repeat the tough evolution if you don’t get a move on.

5. Debility

Living in close counters with up to 80 other people means getting sick is almost guaranteed. Getting a head cold and forced to hard days work can break anyone’s spirit. The interrogation doesn’t stop for a detainee if they have a little fever.

6. Pain

Everyone’s threshold to tolerate pain is different. As many would collapse and quit, others use it as motivation to push forward and fight. Boot camp is all about mental and physical toughness and so is surviving a harsh interrogation.

7. Heighten Suggestibility and Hypnosis

This state of consciousness means getting someone to accept suggestion without them thinking about it and taking action. In military terms, it’s building up muscle memory.

8. Narcosis

Today it’s mainly known as sleep deprivation. Everyone needs rest or they can make vital mistakes. Boot camp is widely known for keeping military hopefuls up for multiple hours conducting various tasks to see how they respond to the stress.

Also Read: This Navy SEAL’s intense boot camp prepares actors for movie combat

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

In 1940, Finland was far from a major military power. With just a few dozen tanks, fewer than 120 aircraft and an army about a third of the size of the Soviet Union’s, it was ripe for the picking at a time when weaker countries were getting gobbled up by stronger neighbors.

The Soviets invaded Finland on Nov. 30, 1939, while Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan – countries that would later form the Axis Pact – were aggressively invading their neighbors as well as far-flung territories. But they didn’t have the same problems the Red Army did.

In fact, the Soviet Union almost lost its war in Finland altogether. 

When the Soviets came across the Russo-Finnish border on the Karelian Peninsula in the winter of 1939, they brought nearly half a million men, facing Finland’s 130,000. The bulk of the Finnish defenses were at the Mannerheim Line, named for Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim

Mannerheim had been fighting in wars for nearly 40 years. He was an officer in the Russian Imperial Army under Tsar Nicholas II during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. When Finland declared it independence after the Bolshevik Revolution, he served in the anti-Communist White Army. Mannerheim had long been the Red Army’s worst nightmare.

This time was no different. In what was now called “The Winter War” by the Finns, Mannerheim was again in command of an anti-Communist army. The USSR wanted to take Finland by force and install a pro-Moscow Communist government. The best they would get is mineral-rich lands in the north of Finland.

The Mannerheim Line wasn’t completed when the Soviets invaded but it was still a significant line of defenses. It was a series of reinforced concrete bunkers with 157 machine gun positions, eight artillery positions, and even coastal defenses where the line was adjacent to the sea. It was integrated into the geography of the land, making it difficult to see from the air. It was even reinforced at its weakest points. 

Where it was incomplete, it still had a series of trenches and earth redoubts that the Soviet Union would find difficult to overrun. But before the Red Army could even get there, they had to overcome the 21,000 Finnish defenders deployed as a defense in depth.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill
Trenches on the Mannerheim Line in the Winter War

Defense in depth isn’t designed to stop an army in its tracks, but it is supposed to bog it down in a series of battles for short yards as the weaker army is slowly forced to fall back. The Mannerheim Line was Finland’s ultimate fallback position, but they made the Soviets pay for every inch of Finnish land before making it to the line. 

When the USSR invaded, they came with thousands of tanks. There were so many tanks, estimates to this day range wildly between 3,000 and 6,000. The Finns originally had no way of taking out a tank or the training to fight them – but they learned fast. 

They first attacked the bogie wheels of the Soviet tanks, disabling their movement with the use of crowbars. They soon picked up a weapon that was much more effective for them: the Molotov Cocktail. 

When the Soviets first bombed the Finnish capital of Helsinki, they claimed to be dropping food relief for Finnish citizens from the air. The Finns mockingly called the bombs “Molotov bread baskets.” Naturally, they decided they would return the favor, by offering the communists a beverage they called the Molotov Cocktail, an improvised bomb made of a glass bottle filled with gasoline or other flammable liquid and an equally improvised fuse. The Finns mass-produced the incendiary weapon. 

Along with the quick thinking of the Finns came the winter weather. In January 1940, the temperature on the Karelian Peninsula dropped below −45 °F. Finnish troops, many wearing clothes from home, thrived in the weather. Soviet troops began to die from frostbite. 

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

The Finns also wore excellent white camouflage to blend in with the snow while the Red Army was still wearing green and khaki clothing. They made excellent targets for Finnish guerrilla tactics and the stable of now-famous Finnish snipers who picked them off one by one. 

Finland’s tactics against the Soviets are still studied by military historians and tacticians as an example of how to overcome a larger adversary. Though the Red Army eventually forced Finland to capitulate to certain demands, including Karelia, it came at a high cost. Tiny Finland inflicted almost 400,000 casualties on the Red Army, destroyed up to 3,000 tanks and 500 aircraft, and caused the Soviets worldwide embarrassment. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

France’s first WWII attack was a massive Nazi trap

Germany lacked many of the natural resources necessary to make war in the 20th Century and knew that it had to rack up victories and seize materiel early in World War II to be successful, and that’s why it was so great for its forces when France made its first offensive of World War II — exactly according to German plans.


George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Delegates sign the Treaty of Versailles on June 29, 1919, ending World War I. Outcry rose from French military leaders who predicted that Germany would come back from the defeat and invade Europe again.

(U.S. National Archives)​

France and Germany both knew that World War II was in the cards even as the ink was wet on the treaties ending World War I. Some French leaders openly balked at the terms of the treaty, feeling that they gave Germany too much financial clout to eventually rebuild its military, and German leaders headed home knowing that the peace terms would be unpopular, potentially leading to a revolution.

So, France prepared for a mostly defensive war against Germany, constructing the Maginot Line and securing an alliance with Belgium for mutual defense. In Germany, meanwhile, there were years of heartache followed by a surge in support of leaders who claimed that World War I was lost by politicians, not soldiers. Once Hitler became chancellor, and other pro-war groups made headway, Germany began re-arming as well.

The seeds of World War II had germinated, and everyone tried to get their ducks in a row for the coming fight.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

German forces tour Maginot Line defenses after they were captured during the Battle of France. The Maginot Line allowed second-tier soldiers to hold the border with Germany, but Germany had a secret route around.

For France, the plan was to send second-rate troops to the strong line of fortresses known as the Maginot Line while first-rate troops in tanks and other modern weapons would head north and east into Belgium to help the Belgians hold the line along rivers, canals, and Belgian fortresses.

There was one gap between the Belgian lines and the Maginot Line: The Ardennes Forest, a thick, heavily forested and hilly area that was thought too thick and treacherous for most tanks.

Germany’s plan, meanwhile, was predicated upon the French one. Germany knew that the Maginot Line was nearly impenetrable and attacks against it would be suicidal. They also knew that Belgium, a historically neutral country with a young king, was a relatively weak ally. But, best of all for Germany, they knew that their tanks could get through the Ardennes, but it would be slow and challenging.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

German forces push through western Belgium during the invasion in May 1940.

(German federal archives)

On France’s Ardennes assumption: It wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Tanks had only been around for about 20 years during the final ramp up to World War II, and most World War I tanks had been useless on steep slopes, truly uneven terrain, and even thick mud.

The idea that tanks could make it across the muddy, uneven ground in the thick forest and hit French positions might have seemed insane.

But America’s Christie tanks were much more mobile than their predecessors, and the company that manufactured them sold designs and patents to Russian firms after the U.S. Army declined to order them. The Russian tanks had served opposite German forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It was clear that engineers could come up with rough terrain designs, and Germany had even got some good looks at successful designs just in time for World War II. Britain tried to warn France of the dangers in the Ardennes gap, but France barely listened.

Hitler’s Trap

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And so Germany set a trap. First, German forces began breaking tenets of the Treaty of Versailles, including invading and occupying the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia populated primarily by ethnic Germans. France and England, not yet ready for war, signed the Munich Pact that allowed Germany to hold the Sudetenland if they just promised super hard not to invade anyone else.

Belgium’s King Leopold II, worried that his treaties with France and Britain were worthless, re-declared Belgium’s neutrality and re-organized the military for purely defensive purposes.

For France, this was a huge problem. Now, instead of holding joint drills with Belgium and having permission to stage troops in Belgian territory for co-defense, France could only deploy into Belgium after Germany invaded. That would set off a race between France and Germany to take strategic territory quickly if war broke out.

And France was so preoccupied with this race that, when Germany invaded the Low Countries in May, 1940, France sprinted 39 divisions across Belgium. Meanwhile, Germany parked an army group near the Maginot Line to keep France from pulling troops from there.

This meant the Ardennes was guarded only by trees, and Hitler was jubilant. His tanks were tied up in traffic jams throughout the forest, a few good tank battalions or some skilled bombers could’ve stopped the push through the Ardennes cold. Instead, German armored forces were unopposed as France focused its attention north.

The entire Army Group A, with seven armored divisions and another 37 of other types, spilled into Belgium and France well to the rear of where France expected to face any opposition. While French forces fought valiantly across Belgium, they were preoccupied with the massive force that maneuvered its way to Paris.

France had fallen into Germany’s trap, marching their forces into the Belgian plains while Germany’s jaws closed around Paris. On May 14, 1940, just weeks after Germany invaded, French forces withdrew from Paris to save the city from the fighting. French forces began attacking their own oil and weapon stockpiles to limit what Germany would take in victory.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how salty old Vietnam drill sergeants and instructors were made

If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, then you likely agree that Gunny Hartman was the breakout character of the film. That over-the-top, engrossing performance launched the career of R. Lee Ermey — even though his character met an arguably-deserved end.

But how do they really train the non-commissioned officers responsible for breaking in fresh recruits?


George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Beals, a drill sergeant stationed at Fort Knox, demonstrates instructor technique during a media campaign.

(US Army photo by Tammy Garner)

Believe it or not, in some ways, it’s a lot like boot camp. Both the Army and Marine Corps schools for those who instruct recruits (drill sergeants for the Army, drill instructors for the Marines – we’ll refer to both as “DI” for the purposes of this article) are designed this way on purpose: The DI needs to be an expert on basic training, so they must experience it for themselves.

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego – Recruits from Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, receive instructions from a drill instructor during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Kailey J. Maraglia)

But are they all really like Gunny Hartman? No. Let’s face it, some of what Gunny Hartman did to Pvt. Pyle (as played by Vincent D’Onofrio) would have landed him in some serious trouble. Furthermore, his overly aggressive technique simply isn’t always the best method.

“You can’t yell at everyone. You have to use, as my [non-commissioned officers] used to tell me, your tool box and you need to use those different tools. You can’t always yell at someone to get them to do what [they need to do,]” Army Drill Sergeant Dashawne Browne explains.

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It’s not easy to become a DI. The Marines take in roughly 240 prospective DIs in a given year, and as many as twenty percent drop out. That might sound low for such an important position, but neither the Army nor the Marines take just anyone who applies. The Army seeks “the most qualified NCOs” who are willing to take on the responsibility of teaching recruits “the proper way to do absolutely everything in the Army, from making a bed, to wearing a uniform, to firing a rifle.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

There’s a such thing as bad luck and then there’s defying the odds. When looking at the SMS Wien, its luck was so considerably horrible, so tragically unthinkable, it seemingly defied the odds. The ship that was sunk not in one world war, but in both of them. Resurrected and put back into commission, only to sink to the bottom of the ocean once more.

Here’s how it all went down:

SMS Wien in WWI

The SMS Wien, His Majesty’s Ship Vienna, originated as an Austrian ship in the 1890s. (At the time, Austria was a large territory with ample coastline.) It served the Austro-Hungarian Navy as one of three Monarch-class coastal defense ships. The ship fought in the Greco-Turkish War in 1897, made multiple trips in the Mediterranean Sea, and was retired as newer style battleships were built and cycled into the local Navy. (There are historical discrepancies, some citing the ship being built on different dates.) 

SMS Wien
SMS Wien

However, at the start of WWI, the SS Wien was recommissioned, along with its two sisters, to work within the 5th Division AKA the German Empire. 

From 1914-1917, she was sent to modern-day Montenegro to fight French forces. Then, in August of 1917, Wien traveled to Northern Italy, where it was hit with two torpedoes in a sneak attack. She sunk in less than five minutes, after a 34-foot hole was blown into its boiler room. All of the ship’s 46 crew members were killed. 

The boat is salvaged

An initial rescue mission was planned by the Austrians 1918, but stopped by court orders. The boat was ultimately salvated by Italians in 1921 — after the war had ended.

Raised and renamed to Vienna, it was refurbished; little is known about its stint in peaceful times. 

But then in 1935, the ship was renamed once more to Po and converted to a hospital ship for WWI. (Some accounts say it was also a hospital ship as Wien, before converted for living quarters.) More than 200 passengers boarded the vessel at a time, being sent to various locations and offering a nursing staff at-the-ready.

Po was attacked once more, and was sunk on March 14, 1941 after being hit by a British torpedo. (It’s safe to say, torpedoes are not this ship’s friend). Hit at night, British pilots said they could not tell they were aiming for a hospital ship. Italian sources agree that, because lights were partially turned off, it would have not been recognized as a hospital ship. 

On board, 21 inhabitants were killed, with survivors making their way to shore. Among them included Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, who was a nurse with the Red Cross. She was rescued by another ship and went on to continue with the Red Cross until the fall of her father’s rule and the fascist regime in 1943. 

The fate of the ship

The second sinking proved to be the ship’s last. It still remains underwater near Albania, 35 meters deep. 

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