How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The First World War brought a level of destruction that the world had never seen before. At the start of the war, only the French, Russians, English, and Italians stood against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans with their respective territories/colonies/provinces each filing in under their protectorate states. Every corner of the world was forced to take sides, officially or otherwise.

Neutral nations would be asked politically at first, but were quickly strong-armed into supporting one side or the other. This same fate could have befallen Afghans — who were distrusting of British India to the East and the Allied Russians to the north — if the negotiations hadn’t gone spectacularly wrong.


How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Too easy, right? This is only the “Graveyard of Empires” we’re talking about here.

In September, 1915, the Germans saw in opportunity in exploiting the Afghan tribes’ strategic advantage against the Allied troops that had left British India to fight in Europe. Persia had been officially neutral, but swung sides depending on who was more in control (Note: This was before the Turkish Invasion of Persia, which would eventually solidify their anti-Ottoman stance). If Afghanistan would join the Ottomans, the Persians would certainly follow. After all, the Afghan people hated the British and most of the ruling parties. All that stood in the way of a Central Powers-controlled Middle East and a wide-open causeway through India was a hesitant Amir Habibullah Khan, then the leader of Afghanistan.

The Ottomans leveraged much religious control over their fellow Muslim nations. Grassroots protests ran rampant in British-controlled India. Things were at a tipping point and all it would take was some sweet talking by a Bavarian officer, Oscar Niedermayer, on official orders from the Kaiser to go win them over. On paper, the plan was flawless.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
Mahendra Pratap, centre, with (left to right) Maulavi Barkatullah, Werner Otto von Hentig, Kazim Bey, and Walter Röhr. Kabul, 1916

Don’t worry. Niedermayer maybe won’t screw things up just yet.

Niedermayer and his team traveled to Constantinople to meet up with their Turkish counterparts. Despite being in friendly territory, the mission was to be highly covert — one that, if compromised, could end in death for everyone involved. Yet, when the Turks showed up to the Pera Palace Hotel, they found the Germans sh*tfaced drunk, openly telling everyone that they’re going on an Afghanistan Expedition. Understandably, the Turks said, “f*ck it” and left, unwilling to be part of a botched mission that would have them executed if gone poorly due to the actions of some drunken idiots.

After the disaster in Constantinople, Berlin sent in Prussian diplomat, Werner-Otto von Hentig, to join in. Von Hentig was a consummate professional and had brought with him Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian royal who wanted to take control back from the British, to aid in negotiations. Niedermayer took great offense to this and constantly butted heads with von Hentig.

The combined teams finally reached Kabul to start negotiations anew.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
(U.S. Navy)

And celebrate they did. In only the truest of German manners.

Von Hentig and Pratap made friends with the Afghan ruler. Meanwhile, Afghan print media started stirring up anti-British sentiment. Months went by and negotiations continued. The war had started to cripple the Allies and Russia was on the verge of collapse after the “Great Retreat.”

In December, Amir Habibullah Khan ordered the drafting of treaty of friendship to establish an agreement between Afghanistan and Germany. By April 1916, things were looking good for the Central Powers. The enemy was getting weaker and they were inches away from gaining a strategic ally. They would, of course, celebrate.

The details of the event are still hazy, but it’s widely assumed that they got sh*tfaced once again — this time, in a Muslim country that strictly forbade alcohol. This turned into strong condemnation from Afghan leadership — even those who once supported their cause.

The Niedermayer–von Hentig Expedition was sent packing. Soon after, Persia was invaded by the Turks, which gave rise to a hard-line hatred of the Central Powers. As history shows, the Central Powers lost WWI. Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated after the war’s conclusion by an anti-British coup that lead into the Third Anglo-Afghan War — which was lost in spectacular fashion.

All of history as we know it may have been rewritten were it not for one fateful night.

MIGHTY HISTORY

9 books you need to read to understand World War I

November 2018 marks 100 years since Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to a close. Yet in many ways “the war to end all wars” has never really ceased. From the outbreak of a second world war just twenty years later to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the current perilous state of Turkish Democracy, the smoldering ashes of WWI have ignited time and time again. These nine books — arranged by genre and covering the hostilities from the home front, the trenches, and the hospitals where soldiers were treated for a new injury known as “shell shock” — are essential to understanding how a century-old feud shaped the world we live in today.


How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Random House Publishing Group)

1. The Guns of August

By Barbara Tuchman

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the Modern Library’s top 100 nonfiction books of all time, this is the definitive history of the first 30 days of the war—a month that set the course of the entire conflict. Tuchman brings a novelist’s flair to her subject, from the spectacle of King Edward VII’s funeral procession—”The sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendour never to be seen again”—to the dust and sweat and terror of the German advance across Belgium. She captures the war’s key figures with flair and precision and enlivens her analysis with a dry-martini wit: “Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.” Most astonishingly of all, she creates genuine suspense out of the inevitable march of history, convincing her readers to forget what they already know and turn the pages with bated breath.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

2. The First World War

By John Keegan

Twenty years after its original release, this gripping chronicle remains the best single-volume account of the war. Keegan, an acclaimed British military historian, brings a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective to some of the 20th century’s most confounding questions: Why couldn’t Europe’s greatest empires avoid such a tragic and unnecessary conflict? And why did so many millions of people have to die? By foregoing radio and telephone to communicate by letter, Keegan explains, world leaders effectively rendered themselves deaf and blind. The problem was grotesquely amplified on the battlefield, where weapons technology had advanced to the point that entire regiments could be wiped out in a matter of hours. No other history brings the war’s mind-boggling magnitude — 70,000 British soldiers killed and 170,000 wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele alone — into sharper focus.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Aurum Press)

3. Gallipoli

By Alan Moorehead

As an acclaimed correspondent for London’s Daily Express, Moorehead covered WWII from North Africa to Normandy. But the Australian once swore he’d never write about the most famous military engagement in his nation’s history: the Battle of Gallipoli. He’d heard more than enough stories from ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) veterans back home and had grown bored with the subject. Thankfully, he changed his mind — and his eloquent, elegiac account is a modern day masterpiece. From Winston Churchill’s plan to “launch the greatest amphibious operation mankind had known up till then” to the costly, avoidable blunders that doomed 50,000 Allied troops (11,000 of them from Australia and New Zealand), Moorehead vividly captures the grand ambition and tragic folly of the campaign. His sketch of army officer Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how the seeds of modern-day Turkey’s independence were sown at Gallipoli.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Random House Publishing Group)

4. Paris 1919

By Margaret MacMillan

WWI brought about the fall of the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires and displaced millions of people across Europe. Faced with the monumental task of reshaping the world, Allied leaders convened the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Over the next six months, delegates from 27 nations redrew international borders, hashed out the terms of Germany’s surrender, and laid the groundwork for the League of Nations. Above all, they aimed to prevent another world war. They failed, of course — Hitler invaded Poland just 20 years later—but this engrossing, comprehensive history debunks the harshest judgments of the Treaty of Versailles and provides essential context for understanding its myriad repercussions. MacMillan covers impressive ground, from the Balkans to Baku to Baghdad, without losing focus on the colorful personalities and twists of fate that make for a great story

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Orion Publishing Group, Limited)

5. Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain

The daughter of a well-to-do paper manufacturer, Vera Brittain left her studies at Oxford in 1915 to join England’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse in London, Malta, and France. Like so many others of her generation, she felt called to be a part of something larger than herself. By the war’s end — and before she turned 25 — she had lost her fiancé, her brother, and two of her closest friends. Her chronicle of the war years, her return to Oxford, and her attempts to forge a career as a journalist is both an elegy for a lost generation and a landmark of early 20th-century feminism. Upon the book’s original publication in 1933, the New York Times declared that no other WWI memoir was “more honest, more revealing within its field, or more heartbreakingly beautiful”. Eighty-five years later, that assessment still rings true.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. Goodbye to All That

By Robert Graves

This spellbinding autobiography is by turns poignant, angry, satirical, and lewd. It’s also, according to literary critic Paul Fussell, “the best memoir of the First World War.” A lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (where he fought alongside his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon), Graves was severely wounded in the Battle of the Somme and reported killed in action. His family had to print a notice in the newspaper that he was still alive. As befitting a man returned from the dead, Graves breaks all conventions, mixing fact and fiction to get to the poetic truth of trench warfare. Sassoon, for one, objected to the inaccuracies, but Good-bye to All That touched a nerve with war-weary readers and made Graves famous. It has gone on to influence much of the 20th-century’s finest war literature, from Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Penguin Publishing Group)

7. Storm of Steel

By Ernst Jünger

An international bestseller when it was originally published in 1920, this fiercely lyrical memoir is the definitive account of the German experience during WWI. Jünger, a born warrior who ran away from home at the age of 18 to join the French Foreign Legion, fought with the German infantry in the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Cambrai. He was wounded seven times during the war, most severely during the 1918 Spring Offensive, when he was shot through the chest and nearly died. He received the German Empire’s highest military honor, the Pour le Mérite, for his service. Taken from Jünger’s war diary, Storm of Steel has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that separates it from other WWI autobiographies. Some have criticized it as a glorification of war, while others, including Matterhorn author and Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes, think it’s one of the truest depictions of the combat experience ever written.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque

This iconic German novel was first serialized in 1928, 10 years after the armistice. The book version sold millions of copies and was quickly adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. By then, the Nazi Party was the second largest political party in Germany; Joseph Goebbels led violent protests at the film’s Berlin screenings. Three years later, he banned and publicly burned Remarque’s books in one of his first orders of business as Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. Why the intense hatred for the story of a young man who volunteers to fight in WWI? Because it is one of the most powerful anti-war novels in Western literature. In Remarque’s downbeat tale, one nameless battle is indistinguishable from the next and the lucky survivors are doomed to lifetimes of disillusionment and alienation. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, conveys the existential horror of trench warfare so clearly.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(Penguin Publishing Group)

9. Regeneration

By Pat Barker

This audaciously intelligent, powerfully moving historical novel, the first in a trilogy, opens with the full text of Siegfried Sassoon’s letter refusing to return to active duty after receiving treatment for gastric fever. The declaration, which was read in the House of Commons, earned him a mandatory stay at Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he was treated for shell shock by the noted neurologist Dr. William Rivers and became friends with fellow poet Wilfred Owen. From these facts, Barker fashions one of the most original works of WWI literature, intertwining fact and fiction to explore Freudian psychology, the doctor-patient relationship, nationalism, masculinity, and the British class system, among other fascinating topics. Foregoing battlefields and trenches to explore the terrain of the human mind, Barker gets to the essential truth of WWI: No one who lived through it — man or woman, soldier or civilian — saw the world the same way again.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first casualty of the Civil War happened entirely by accident

On Dec. 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, leaving military personnel stationed there in a state of confusion. What belonged to the United States, what belonged to South Carolina, and who was going to be loyal to which side was all unclear. On Apr. 12, 1861, after a long siege, South Carolina Militia commander P.G.T. Beauregard fired the opening salvo of a barrage of cannon fire that would last 34 hours.

In return, Federal Captain Abner Doubleday ordered his men to fire on the South Carolinians. The exchange sparked four years of bloody Civil War in the United States — but not a single man died in combat that day.


When the state seceded, there were actually only two companies of federal U.S. troops in South Carolina. The decision for who would be loyal to who actually turned out to be fairly simple. The rest of the American troops defending South Carolina were actually state militiamen. That’s who Beauregard manned on Charleston’s 19 coastal defense batteries.

But the Federals weren’t actually stationed at Fort Sumter, they were land bound on nearby Fort Moultrie. It was only after the base commander Maj. Robert Anderson feared an attack from state militia via land that the Federals were moved into Charleston Harbor and the protection of Fort Sumter.

Anderson was right. South Carolina state forces began to seize federal buildings, arms, and fortifications almost immediately, and Fort Moultrie was among those buildings. That left the garrison at Fort Sumter as the sole remaining federal possession in South Carolina. And the Carolinians demanded their surrender. Some 3,000 rebel troops laid siege to the base and, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration, it was one of the last remaining federal holdouts in the entire south.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

President Lincoln announced in March, 1861, he would send three ships to resupply and relieve Fort Sumter, so the pressure on Beauregard to take the fort soon increased. On Apr. 11, Beauregard demanded the fort’s surrender and warned he would fire on the fort if the Federals did not comply. They didn’t. That’s when Beauregard fired a punishing barrage at the defenders.

Rebels poured 3,000 cannon shots into the fort over the next 34 hours. The Federals didn’t just take it, they returned fire with everything they had, literally. The U.S. troops were running low on powder and ammunition by mid-afternoon the next day. With their walls crumbling and the fort burning around them, Maj. Anderson reluctantly ordered Fort Sumter’s surrender.

Amazingly, no one was killed in the exchange on either side.

When the time came to lower the Stars and Stripes, Federal troops — soon to be known as Union troops — gave the flag a 100-gun salute as it came down on Apr. 14. But an accidental discharge from one of the fort’s cannons caused an explosion that killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the first death of hundreds of thousands to come.

In the days that followed, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee also seceded from the Union and both sides of the conflict began to mobilize for the next meeting, which would come on July, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why soldiers called this military chocolate bar ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’

When the U.S. Army quartermaster called on Hershey’s chocolate to create a chocolate bar designed especially for the military, it had very specific specifications. One of these might have seemed at odds with the way most people think about chocolate, but there are a lot of things about military service that defy common expectations. 

Called the D-Ration, the chocolate bar was intended to be an emergency source of calories for American soldiers deployed overseas. So it had to be lightweight, high in calories, and able to withstand higher than normal temperatures when carried. 

Naturally, as an emergency ration, they couldn’t have troops breaking into these things when not in an emergency, so the last requirement was that it taste “just a little better than a boiled potato.”

Hershey’s current offering would not pass the temperature test, so the chemists at the corporation got down to business. Using chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, and vanillin, they created a chocolate bar that was roughly the weight of two C batteries but packed 600 calories. To make it less tasty, they used less sugar and more liquor. 

The resulting chocolate was so dense it wouldn’t melt enough to be poured, so the company had to use molds to form the bars. Quartermaster Capt. Paul Logan approved, so Hershey went about mass producing what would be known as Field Ration D.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
This cookies and creme bar sounds a lot better.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company had to package the bars like any other field ration, protecting them from the effects of poisonous gas. They were stored in sealed cellophane, packaged in cardboard boxes, dipped in wax, and shipped in a wooden case boxed with steel nails. 

Producing the chocolate bars for the military might have saved Hershey’s chocolate entirely, as the federal government considered shutting down the entire U.S. candy industry as a nonessential business and rationing sugar and cocoa for the war effort. Milton Hershey was able to show the D-Ration as proof that his business was supplying vital calories for the American troops fighting overseas. 

He was definitely making the chocolate, as records show billions of the bars were produced between 1939 and 1945. But the troops weren’t exactly loving them. This was the intent, of course, but having to carry whatever they needed to fight in the field, a disgusting “chocolate” bar wasn’t going to top the list. Most troops would ditch the D-Ration for a decent kind of ration or, better yet, more ammunition. 

When they did take the bars with them, they found them almost inedible. Soldiers with poor teeth couldn’t chew them and those with good teeth had to whittle slices off the bar to consume. Those who tried to eat the chocolate bars began calling them “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” because it absolutely wrecked their intestines – a situation today’s U.S. troops often refer to as “bubbleguts.”

It stands to reason that, with flavor being an important sticking point for the Army quartermaster, Capt. Logan did eat some of the bar before approving them for mass production and consumption. Logan may not have had the same bubbly reaction in his gastrointestinal tract later experienced by the troops deployed in World War II. 

This is why some soldiers evolved trust issues when it comes to Army food.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American GIs brought Spam to the world

No, we’re not talking about automated, unsolicited emails trying to sell you fat-burning pills or hair-loss recovery foam. The original Spam is a brand of precooked canned meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation. Today, there are 15 varieties of Spam sold in 41 countries and trademarked in over 100. It has transcended social classes and become an integral part of culinary cultures worldwide. So how did this canned luncheon meat product become a worldwide phenomenon? It’s due in large part to American GIs and WWII.

Introduced by Hormel in 1937, Spam aimed to increase the sale of pork shoulder, an unpopular cut of meat. Its name is the result of a contest won by Ken Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel executive. Hormel claims that the true meaning of the Spam name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Food executives,” however it is commonly accepted that it’s an abbreviation of spiced ham.


How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

A World War II-era can of Spam (Photo by Hormel Foods Corporation)

During WWII, delivering fresh meat to frontline troops was an extremely difficult task. Spam offered the military a canned solution that didn’t require refrigeration and possessed an extremely long shelf life. As Spam became an integral part of the GI diet, troops gave the meat a variety of nicknames like “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” The grease from the luncheon meat was used to lubricate weapons and waterproof boots, and the empty cans could be filled with rocks and strung from wire perimeters as intruder alarms. By the end of the war, the military had purchased over 150 million pounds of Spam. For reference, a can of Spam today weighs 12 ounces.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Sgt. Arnold Bourdreau eating canned corned beef in Italy in 1945 (National Archives photo)

Troops across all theaters of the war brought Spam with them as a convenient and preserved meat ration. As a result of the war and the following occupations, Spam was introduced to European and Asian countries where it was quickly assimilated into local diets.

In the UK, Spam’s popularity grew out of necessity as the result of rationing. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered Spam as “a wartime delicacy”. The canned luncheon meat has been adopted into various British recipes like Spam Yorkshire Breakfast, Spamish Omelette, Spam Hash and Spam Fritters.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Spam Fritters with chips and peas (Photo from SpamBrand.com.au)

Spam was also included as a part of Allied aid to the post-war Soviet Union. Strict food rations made meat even more scarce there than in Britain. “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev declared in his memoir.

East Asian countries also adopted Spam as a result of rationing and the scarcity of meat. In Hong Kong, the canned meat was incorporated into local dishes like macaroni with fried egg, ramen and chicken soup. Spam was ingrained so deeply in Okinawan culture that it is used in traditional onigiri (rice balls or triangles usually wrapped in seaweed) and is used in the traditional dish chanpurū. In Korea, Spam’s popularity rose out of the Korean War. As fish became scarce, Spam was used as a replacement in kimbap (rice and vegetable seaweed rolls). The cans of luncheon meat were also used by U.S. troops to trade for goods, services and even information around their bases. Today, Korea is second only by the United States in Spam production and consumption.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Spam Classis Kimbap (Photo from Spam.com)

In Southeast Asia, Spam is most popular in the Philippines. Following WWII, Spam became a cultural symbol on the islands. It is most commonly eaten in Spamsilog, a twist on a traditional Filipino breakfast composed of rice (usually garlic fried rice), a sunny-side up egg, and a meat dish. Though Spam is commonly sliced and fried, it is also used in sandwiches, burgers and spaghetti. In the Philippines, Spam transcends social class and is extremely popular across all walks of life. There are at least 10 varieties of Spam sold in the Philippines that mimic the flavors of traditional meats. It’s estimated that 1.25 million kilos of Spam is sold annually in the Philippines. After Tropical Storm Ketsana in 2009, Hormel Foods donated over 30,000 pounds of Spam to the Philippine Red Cross.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Spamsilog is a breakfast dish that’s acceptable at any time of day (Photo from ThePeachKitchen.com)

In the United States, Spam is especially popular in Hawaii whose residents have the highest per capita consumption in the country. Spam is used most heavily in Spam musubi where a slice is placed on top of rice and wrapped in a band of nori seaweed. The Hawaiian market also features exclusive Spam variants like Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam. Spam is even served in local McDonald’s and Burger King chains. Every spring, Oahu hosts an annual Spam festival called Waikiki Spam Jam where local chefs and restaurants compete to make new spam-themed dishes which are then sold at the street fair.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

A selection of Spam variants at Waikiki Spam Jam (Photo by This Week Hawaii)

Although it is seen by some as a food of poverty or hard times due to its affordability and long shelf life, Spam’s popularity around the world is undeniable. Thanks in large part to the GIs that brought it with them, Spam was able to fill food gaps in countries ravaged by war and evolve into a dietary staple and cultural icon.


MIGHTY HISTORY

A World War II widow discovered her husband is a hero in France

Peggy Harris was married for six weeks when her husband went missing in action over France during World War II. No one ever tried to tell her about her husband’s fate. A fighter pilot, Billie Harris’ last mission came in July 1944. That’s when the confusion started, a confusion that is much more circuitous than the regular fog of war.


Billie Harris was listed as Missing in Action when he failed to come home from a mission over northern France that day in 1944. Then, the Army Air Forces informed his wife that he was alive and coming home. They then rescinded that as well. To her horror, he was killed and buried in a cemetery in France. And then they told her he was in a different cemetery. Then she was informed by the War Department that they weren’t even sure if the remains they had were Billie’s.

His devoted wife waited and waited, for years and decades, waiting for news about her husband. Until she finally decided to write her Congressman about the issue. Over and over for decades she waited and wrote to members of Congress – all the way through 2005.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

In 2005, she got an answer from the Representative from the Texas panhandle, Mac Thornberry. His office informed Peggy that Billie was still listed as MIA, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. Billie’s cousin took it upon himself to look for Billie’s remains personally, to give Peggy some peace. His first stop was requesting the service and medical records for his missing cousin. The records that came back actually revealed his final resting place: Normandy.

First Lieutenant Billie D. Harris died July 17, 1944, the day he went missing. His headstone is one of the hundreds of bright white crosses that adorn the grounds of Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. So what happened? A CBS report found that Thornberry’s office never searched for the record. When CBS did the search, they found Harris listed as KIA.

Thornberry would later send Peggy an apology for bungling the search.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Ever since discovering her husband’s final resting place, she sent his grave a bouquet of flowers ten times a year. Cemetery officials say Peggy Harris is the last widow of World War II’s killed in action who still visits the grave of her departed husband. But that’s not the only news the family discovered in their investigation.

His plane was shot down over Les Ventes, a small French town and he was a legend among the locals of the town – Billie D. Harris managed to avoid crashing into the village and instead went down in the nearby woods. The villagers buried him in their local cemetery, so grateful for his sacrifice. Ever since, the residents of the small town have walked down the main street of Les Ventes every year – a street called Place Billie D. Harris – to remember his sacrifice.

Ever since Peggy discovered her husband’s final hours and gravesite, she’s visited the cemetery and Les Ventes every year to celebrate her husband’s life and talk to the people who remember Billie D. Harris as a fallen hero.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Robert E. Lee wore a colonel’s rank during the Civil War

When Robert E. Lee left the Union Army to command the Army of Northern Virginia, he was just a colonel – a far cry from being the military leader the Confederate forces needed him to be. Despite his promotion in the army of the Confederacy and his rise to prominence as the most able leader the southern states had, he still wore the rank conferred upon him by his former country.


Even as he negotiated the surrender of his new country.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Judging just by ranks, the guy holding Robert E. Lee’s chair almost matches his rank.

Every time we see the leader of the Confederate army in photos or paintings, he’s wearing the rank we’ve come to know as Lieutenant General, a design of three gold stars in the Union Army. But when the Confederacy broke away from the Union, they didn’t just adapt every American military custom and design. Much of the Confederate leadership, especially in the military, were men from West Point who had devoted their lives to military customs and courtesies. Of course, they’re going to change things up.

That was especially true for military uniforms. They took on the color gray for their uniforms in general and did keep a lot of customs held by the Union Army, but they completely revamped the officers’ rank symbols.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

A general of Robert E. Lee’s stature in the Confederate Army would still be wearing gold stars, but his gold stars would have a golden wreath around them and would have a different sleeve design. Instead, the three gold stars he wore every day in Confederate uniform were the equivalent of his last rank in the Union Army, a colonel, despite being named one of the Confederacy’s first five general officers. But Lee didn’t just want to be conferred to a General’s rank.

Instead, Lee had hoped that he could be properly promoted after the Civil War, assuming the Confederacy won its independence. He wanted to be promoted to full General during peacetime, presumably so he could celebrate his new promotion properly, instead of having to push McClellan back from within six miles of Richmond, Va. though some speculate at first it was the highest rank he felt qualified to wear.

Strange reasoning for the man who would essentially take command of the entire war for the South. It’s more likely the man just preferred the simple design of the colonel’s uniform and chose to wear that because he could. Who’s going to argue with Robert E. Lee?

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the CIA recruited and handled its top KGB mole

On June 22, 1977, Aleksandr Ogorodnik killed himself with a CIA-supplied suicide pill after the KGB arrested him based on information initially provided by a mole within the Agency. Just over three weeks later, CIA officer Martha (Marti) Peterson — unaware of Aleksandr’s death — was seized in a KGB ambush while servicing a dead drop in Moscow.

The streets of Moscow were one of the most important, and dangerous, battlefields of the Cold War. American intelligence officers like Marti worked with assets like Aleksandr in the shadows to collect Soviet secrets. The Soviets, in turn, closely watched all foreign nationals and their own citizens for signs of espionage.


Although the story of TRIGON ended tragically, the intelligence Aleksandr provided gave US policymakers valuable insights into Soviet foreign policy plans and intentions. It was insights like this which ultimately helped us win the Cold War.

Recruiting a spy:

Aleksandr Ogorodnik was a mid-level official in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) posted in Latin America and had access to information about Soviet intentions for the region. He enjoyed his life in Latin America and disliked the Soviet system, which he found oppressive.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
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The CIA recruited Aleksandr in South America in 1973. Upon signing up to spy for the Agency, he was given the codename TRIGON.

TRIGON smuggled documents from the embassy and took them to a safe-house, where Agency officers photographed them. The material he provided gave unique insights into Soviet policies in Latin America, including plans to influence other governments.

Return to the motherland:

In anticipation of his recall to Moscow, CIA officers taught TRIGON operational trade-craft and techniques. He also received training in secret writing, the use of one-time pads, and dead drop techniques.

One of the first female CIA case officer to serve behind the Iron Curtain, Marti Peterson, went to Moscow to be TRIGON’s handler. At the time, the KGB discounted the ability of women to conduct intelligence operations, so Marti went unnoticed for almost 18 months.

TRIGON’s value rose significantly after he returned to Moscow in October 1974. He had agreed to continue spying for the Agency, but he asked that the US government resettle his then-pregnant girlfriend. Before leaving for the Soviet Union, TRIGON requested a suicide device in case he was caught. After high-level deliberations at Langley, his CIA handlers reluctantly gave him a fountain pen containing a cyanide capsule.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
TRIGON’S dead drop instructions made by CIA.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

A few months later, per his recontact instructions, TRIGON gave a “sign of life” signal in February 1975. As face-to-face meetings were too dangerous, impersonal operational encounters—using signal sites, radio messages, concealment devices, dead drops, and car drops—began in October and were scheduled monthly.

For nearly two years they worked together, Marti and TRIGON never met. They were only spies passing in the night.

Dead rats for dead drops:

Moscow was a challenging environment to operate within. Even finding one’s way around Moscow proved difficult because Soviet-produced maps of the city were deliberately inaccurate. The Agency had to get creative when communicating with assets, which regularly included the use of dead drops.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
Dead drop rock intended for TRIGON.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

Dead drops are a way for intelligence officers to leave or receive items at a secret location in order to exchange information with an asset without having to meet directly. Everyday items like fake bricks can be used for dead drops. Packed with messages or supplies, the bricks can be deposited at a set location, such as a construction site, for later pickup.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
Marti Peterson’s purse, used during dead drop operations in Moscow.

One of the more surprising concealment devices sometimes used by the CIA were dead rats. The body cavity was large enough to hold a wad of money or roll of film. Hot pepper sauce kept scavenging cats away after the “rat” was tossed from a car window at a prearranged drop site.

Marti used a purse to conceal supplies and equipment that she transferred to TRIGON via dead drop exchanges. Because of the KGB’s gender bias, the purse, like Marti herself, did not attract suspicion.

The mole:

TRIGON soon secured a position in the Global Affairs Department of the MFA that gave him access to incoming and outgoing classified cables to Soviet embassies worldwide. He provided sensitive intelligence about Soviet foreign policy plans and objectives. His reporting went to the President and senior US policymakers.

Meanwhile, Karl Koecher, a naturalized US citizen, was working at CIA as a translator and contract employee. (Unbeknownst to CIA, he was also working concurrently for the Czech Intelligence Service.) He had incidental access to information about TRIGON’s first dealings with the Agency and told his intelligence service, which then notified the KGB.

When that occurred is not known, nor is the time when the KGB began investigating TRIGON. In early 1977, however, his case officers began noticing indications—principally a marked decline in the quality of the photographs—that he had been compromised and was under KGB control.

The Krasnoluzhskiy Most

TRIGON never showed up for a dead drop encounter on June 28, 1977, so another was arranged via radio message for two weeks later.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
Krasnoluzhskiy Most, Moscow Bridge site for dead drop.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

On July 15, Marti went to the Krasnoluzhskiy Most — a railroad bridge near Lenin Central Stadium —to set up the dead drop. The bridge spanned the Moscow River with a pedestrian walkway running along the side of the tracks. A spot was prepicked where TRIGON would receive a “drop” from Marti, and leave a package to be retrieved later that same night.

As night fell over Moscow, Marti left a concealment device in a narrow window inside a stone tower on the Krasnoluzhskiy Most. It was a trap.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

A KGB surveillance team was waiting and seized Marti. They took her to Lyubianka Prison, where she was questioned for hours and photographed with some of the espionage paraphernalia Agency officers and TRIGON had used. She was declared persona non grata (an unwelcome person) and sent back to the US immediately.

The Agency later learned that Alexander Ogorodnik had killed himself a month before Marti had been apprehended. He told the KGB he would sign a confession but asked to use his own pen. Marti wrote in her memoir, The Widow Spy, that “Opening the pen as if to begin writing, he bit down on the barrel and expired instantly in front of his KGB interrogators. The KGB was so intent on his confession that they never suspected he had poison….TRIGON died his own way, a hero.”

This article originally appeared on Central Intelligence Agency. Follow @CIA on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

13 new photos from the Air Force’s D-Day flyover

Seventy-five years ago, tens of thousands of men were churning their way through the hedgerows of Normandy, fighting tooth and nail to liberate French towns and to ensure the security of the tenuous toehold that the Allies had opened against Germany in Operation Overlord on D-Day. This toehold would grow until it was a massive front that made it all the way to Berlin in less than a year.


Now, 75 years later, the U.S. and Allied militaries are celebrating their forebears’ success with a series of events in the U.K. and France. As part of these celebrations, the U.S. Air Force flew two F-15E Strike Eagles with special, heritage paint jobs over the fields and hedgerows of modern day Normandy on June 9, 2019. Here are 13 photos from an Air Force photographer sent to document the event:

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The special Strike Eagles are part of the 48th Fighter Wing and took off from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England, for the flyover. During the D-Day invasion, U.S. Army Air Corps fighters and bombers took off from English air bases to support the landings on the beaches, pushing back the Luftwaffe screens and reducing the number of bombers and dive bombers that troops on the ground would have to endure.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The Army Air Corps’ bombs softened targets and reduced enemy artillery positions and other defenses, but the fight in the hedgerows was still bloody and vicious. And the German coastal artillery had to be eliminated to keep as many pilots in the sky as possible.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

But the pilots who preceded the modern Air Force began the important preparations for D-Day months ahead of time, sending increased bomber formations against Germany, including Berlin, for five months ahead of D-Day. These bomber formations doomed the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, in two ways.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

First, there’s the obvious. The bombers destroyed German factories and war machines, annihilating German equipment and crippling the country’s ability to rebuild it. But Germany responded by sending up their fighters to stop the bombers, and that’s where new American fighters came into the fray.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The P-47s with drop tanks led the charge in 1943, but other fighters joined the fray at the end of ’43 and start of ’44. The P-51B, along with other fighters including the British Spitfires and Typhoons, slayed the German fighters that rose to counter the bombers. By June 1944, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

Army Air Corps pilots gave their lives to prepare for June 6, 1944, and other pilots would make the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and in the weeks and months that followed. But that perseverance and sacrifice paid dividends, allowing for the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Russians were all drunk when Trump Tomahawked Syria

When Syrian President Bashar al-Asad used a sarin nerve gas attack on his own citizens during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump was pissed. According to veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, Trump wanted to kill Asad for the attack, using a targeted leadership strike.


But cooler heads prevailed, and then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis convinced the President to hit Syrian airfields with a series of Tomahawk missiles instead.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Sparing them from getting hit by Mattis’ personal Tomahawk.

The Russians came to Syria in September 2015, at a time when things looked pretty bleak for the regime, good for the loose confederation of rebels, and great for the Islamic State. Almost immediately, Russian intervention began to make the difference for the Syrian government forces. By the end of 2017, the government had retaken key cities and areas from both rebel groups and ISIS fighters.

Also the end of 2017, the Russians began to make their presence at air bases in the country permanent. That’s who the United States called in April 2017, delivering a warning that some of America’s finest manufactured products were being forcibly delivered to a Syrian airbase that night.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

There goes id=”listicle-2636430379″.8 million worth of forcible export.

Nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles were fired from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross of the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea that night. The Pentagon ordered the Navy to deliver a warning to Russian troops in the area right before the attack hit at 3:45 in the morning. According to Woodward’s source, the Russian airfield troop who picked up the phone sounded like he was dead drunk.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

“That’s our secret, captain… we’re always drunk.”

The warning worked, and the attack reportedly killed no Russian troops at the Shayrat Air Base, though it did damage and destroy aircraft and missile batteries, on top of killing nine Syrian government troops and seven civilians. The U.S. attack purposely avoided attacking a sarin gas storage facility on the base. The base itself was targeted because it was the source of Asad’s sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.

Warning Russia of the pending attack may have given the Syrian Air Force notice to shelter its planes and prepare for the attack, as it was noted that many of the planes there survived the assault and its airfields were operational again less than 24 hours later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Were iron maidens ever actually used?

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?


As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The Schandmantel.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Denmark-
Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The Madonna in Sorrow.

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

An open iron maiden.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Also read:

  • How Exactly Did One Become an Executioner in Medieval Times?
  • The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz
  • The Curious Practice of Execution By Golden Shower
  • “No”- The Remarkable Story of Lauritz Sand
  • The Twisted Tale of Delphine LaLaurie and Her House of Horrors
  • MIGHTY CULTURE

    Ross Perot pulled off one of the greatest Army-Navy Game pranks ever

    College pranks leading up to a rivalry football game are par for the course, an expected ordinary event. But when Army meets Navy every year, the pranks are pulled by individuals trained to plan, lead, and meticulously execute military operations – and there is nothing ordinary about the students who attend the United States Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.

    This is especially true of one of Navy’s most famous alums, H. Ross Perot tolled Army in one of the greatest pranks in academy history.


    How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

    There was nothing ordinary about Ross Perot.

    Perot died of leukemia in 2019 at age 89 but the self-made billionaire and businessman who may have changed the outcome of the 1992 election got his start at the Naval Academy, graduating with the Class of 1953. His prank, however, came before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, when Perot was not only out of the Navy, but already a billionaire. His company, Electronic Data Systems, had gone public seven years prior.

    His billions might have been the key element in helping Perot troll – or rather toll – the entire West Point campus on the eve of the biggest game of the season. According to the 1989 book “The Long Gray Line” by Rick Atkinson, Perot had to somehow enlist the help of a West Point chaplain to even get started.

    How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

    Money. Money is how he enlisted an inside man.

    At zero dark thirty on the night before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, Perot, with the help of an Army chaplain, the U.S. Military Academy’s bell-ringer, and a Midshipman friend infiltrated the West Point campus and shattered the quiet of the Hudson Valley night.

    They scaled the stairs of the West Point Chapel, locked the doors behind them and played “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy’s fight song, for the uninitiated) while singing at the top of their lungs. As barracks’ lights all over campus switched on and cadets flooded their ways to the chapel, Perot and company banged out the Marines’ Hymn on the bells as a follow-up.

    Perot taunted the oncoming cadets before surrendering to the mob, who promptly handed the eccentric billionaire over to the waiting Military Police. Perot presumably accepted a slap on the wrist and Navy bested Army 30-6.

    Ross Perot, we hardly knew ye.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    Colonel Young rode 450 miles to get a new Army rank. Here’s why.

    By the time of his death, Col. Charles Young boasted an incredible military career. He was one of just three African-American officers to graduate from West Point. He led troops on the western frontier, became one of the first-ever U.S. military attachés overseas, and commanded troops in the Philippines and Mexico. Teddy Roosevelt even wanted him to lead a volunteer regiment in World War I.

    There was just one problem: Colonel Young was black.

    For the talented Young to lead troops in World War I meant that he would have to be promoted to Brigadier General. Young was a West Pointer who was so good at leading his troops in combat, he became the first black man to make the rank of colonel and even commanded Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Young literally wrote the book on why racial integration in a democratic society is good for its armed forces.


    How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
    Seriously.

    By the time the United States was ready to enter World War I, Young was the highest-ranking African-American officer in service. When the U.S. entered, he would likely earn a promotion to a general’s rank, which did not sit well with his inferior, white officers. These officers wrote the civilian members of the war department, complaining about the situation and then demanding a solution.

    That solution was to get Col. Charles Young fired from the Army. The reason, the Army said, was that Col. Young suffered from high blood pressure. This wasn’t true, of course, it was just the best way to go about unfairly firing a skilled officer for racial reasons. Young couldn’t just complain about the fix to newspapers – he loved the Army, and he wanted that promotion. So, he did the next best thing.

    How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I
    Also the most badass thing, especially in 1918.

    In June, 1918, Young took to his horse and rode the 450-plus miles from Wilberforce, Ohio, to the nation’s capital at Washington, D.C. to prove that not only was he fit to perform his duties, but he was also fit to take on any hardship World War I might have to offer.

    He rode directly to the War Department and met with then-Secretary of War Newton Baker, who asked if he wanted to see combatant duty. When Young said that he did, Newton ordered a new physical assessment. It was done, albeit not as quickly as Young would have liked. He was sent to Illinois, awaiting the results. When the good news came, the war was conveniently nearly over.

    Major Charles Young, age 52, during the Punitive Expedition with the 10th Cavalry in Mexico, 1916.
    Major Charles Young, age 52, during the Punitive Expedition with the 10th Cavalry in Mexico, 1916.

    Young was ultimately sent to West Africa – a strange posting for someone allegedly too chronically ill to go to Europe for war. He posted as a military attaché in Liberia. He helped create stability and security for the country, fighting tribesmen in the wild areas away from the coast.

    Unfortunately, this post is where he also met his demise. He contracted a form of kidney disease in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1922. He fell ill and died there. He was buried with full military honors in Nigeria, but his body was soon exhumed and repatriated to the U.S. Now Charles Young rests in Arlington National Cemetery.

    His remains were welcomed in New York like the return of a conquering hero.

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