Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII -
MIGHTY HISTORY

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Called “the strangest battle of World War II” is the Battle of Castle Itter. Staged at a beautiful Middle Ages-era structure in the Austrian Alps came a fight like we’ve never seen — when the Americans and Germans fought for a common goal. Despite being enemies in WWII, these sides teamed up in order to help save recently released French prisoners, as well as this longstanding castle. 

The battle included military forces from: the U.S.’s 12th Armored Division, Wehrmacht soldiers who had defied orders and remained in Austria, along with the former prisoners of war from France. Together the group fought against the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, a German Waffen-SS division, who attacked Castle Itter, or Schloss Itter, in North Tyrol. 

The castle during WWII

As early as 1940, Germany took control of Castle Itter with an official lease with the structure’s owner, Franz Grüner. However, in 1943, Germany took it forcefully, turning it into a prison camp by April of that year. It was managed by nearby administrators of the Dachau concentration camp. 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Entrance room of Schloss Itter, 1979 (Steve J. Morgan, Wikimedia Commons)

Castle Itter is notable for housing valuable or high-profile prisoners from France, including prime ministers, military hierarchy, and even a tennis star. Other prisoners were also held at the camp, including those who were brought in strictly for labor. This combination is said to have helped the castle remain in working order while providing a leg up in potential negotiations, citing high-profile prisoners as leverage.

The battle begins

On May 3, 1945, the prison’s commander, Sebastian Wimmer, sent a prisoner on an errand. Wimmer penned a letter in English asking for help and directed the prisoner to hand it to the first American they saw. The prisoner did not return, and Wimmer, fearing for his own life, abandoned the castle, with SS guards also leaving post shortly after. This allowed for prisoners to take control of the building, using remaining weapons to arm themselves. 

The following day, American forces were scheduled to come in and perform a rescue mission on the prisoners and the castle itself. However, unaware of these events, the French prisoners sent another messenger for help. By bicycle, their messenger reached the Austrian resistance, which was made of “roaming Waffen-SS troops.” These soldiers had ignored their order to retreat and instead, formed their own resistance. 

By having asked both sides for help, on May 4th, Americans and Germans alike fought alongside one another to the castle’s freedom. Despite heavy fire and a small team of soldiers, they won and sent the French prisoners home. 

Takeaways from the battle

American leader, Captain John. C. “Jack” Lee was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. However, Josef “Sepp” Gangl, leader of the Austrian resistance was killed in the battle from a sniper shot. He was attempting to move the French Prime Minister from shooting range when he was shot with a rifle. Gangl was named as a national hero in Austria, and a street was named after him in Wörgl.

Further adding to the strangeness of the war, it was fought only days before Germany surrendered. This meant that the then-free prisoners of war returned home after the war had ended, due to the length of time it took to return to France. Even though they were freed while WWII was still ongoing.

Want to learn more? A book, The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, by Stephen Harding was released in 2013. Harding, a historian, details the events of the battle and its effect on history. A French film company picked up the rights but has yet to release a date for its adaptation.

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12 surprising facts about The War of 1812

One of the most oft-overlooked wars in American history, the War of 1812 is kind of like a bad sequel to a much more exciting movie. In this case, the original film is the American Revolution and the War of 1812 is really AmRev II: the Hubris. Since no one really won and the reasoning for the war was something that could have been avoided.

No one likes a stalemate.


When people refer to interesting things about the War of 1812, they usually mention the Star-Spangled Banner, Dolly Madison saving George Washington’s portrait from the torch, or the fact the Battle of New Orleans was the most New Orleans thing ever, and it happened after the war ended.

We’ll go a little deeper than that.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
A cartoon lampooning opposition to the War of 1812. (Oxford University Press)

 

New England almost seceded from the Union.

Secession from the Union was a concept that had been hanging around long before the South used it to trigger the Civil War. In this case, the New England states were so against the war that they considered seceding from the United States and forming their own country. When President Madison called up the Massachusetts militia, Governor Caleb Strong refused to send the troops, so Madison sent no troops to defend New England. New England even tried to negotiate a separate peace with the British.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Napoleon.org)

 

Europeans don’t think of it as its own war.

While Canada may revel in the ass-kicking it gave Washington, D.C., and various states around the U.S. may revel in their own victories over the hated British, the actual British don’t call the War of 1812 by its American name. To the Europeans, the War of 1812 is just an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, a new theater in the fight against Imperial France.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

The 1812 Overture is not about the War of 1812.

On that note, every July 4th, you can hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture blaring to the explosions of fireworks across the United States as Americans celebrate their independence. It makes for a pretty great spectacle. The only problem is that the legendary musical piece has nothing to do with the U.S. 1812 was the same year Napoleon marched his Grand Armeé on Moscow, and the Russians responded to the impending fall of their capital by burning it before the French arrived. In the overture, you can even hear parts of the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

The British deployed a 1st rate Ship of the Line on the Great Lakes.

Imagine a massive ship with three gun decks and 112 guns, carrying some 700 British sailors just floating around the Great Lakes. That’s what the British Admiralty launched in 1814 in an attempt to wrest control of the lakes away from the Americans. The HMS St. Lawrence was built on Lake Ontario in just a few months. Her presence on the lake was enough to secure dominance on the lake for the British for the rest of the war.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

It marked the first surrender of a British Naval squadron.

Despite the eventual British dominance on the Great Lakes, control of the massive bodies of water swung back and forth throughout the war, and was probably the theater where the Americans saw much of their success. Delivering blows to the vaunted Royal Navy was great for U.S. morale and terrible for British morale. American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry constructed a fleet of ships just to challenge British dominance on the lakes. At the Battle of Lake Erie, he forced a British naval squadron to surrender for the first time in history.

His dispatch to Gen. William Henry Harrison contained the legendary line, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

We burned their capital first.

The British did manage to torch Washington, and the city was nearly abandoned after its destruction, but it wasn’t just a random idea the British had – Americans actually burned their center of government first. The capital of Upper Canada was at a place then-called York, but today is known as Toronto. Americans burned the provincial parliament and looted key sites, taking the mace of Canada’s parliament (which President Eisenhower later returned) and a British Imperial Lion (which the U.S. Naval Academy has not).

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

The U.S. was saved by a giant storm.

Everyone knows British troops marched on Washington and burned the major buildings of America’s young capital city, including the White House. What they may not know is that the fires that should have raged through the night were extinguished relatively quickly by a freak tornado – some thought it was a hurricane – that hit the area just hours after the British advance. The storm even forced a British withdrawal as the storm killed more British troops than the American defenders.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

It was the first time Asian-Americans fought for the US.

Asian-Americans may have fought for the United States before the War of 1812, but the defense of New Orleans marked the first time any historian or chronicler mentioned Asians at arms during wartime. When the pirate Jean-Baptiste Lafitte famously came to the aid of Gen. Andrew Jackson and American troops in New Orleans, he enlisted several “Manilamen” – Filipinos – from nearby Saint Malo, Louisiana, the first Filipino community in the United States.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Imperial War Museum)

 

It saw the largest emancipation of slaves until the Civil War.

One of the weaknesses of American society at the time was the institution of slavery, a weakness the British would attempt to exploit at every opportunity. The British Admiralty declared that any resident of the United States who wished to settle in His Majesty’s colonies would be welcome to do so, all they had to do was appear before the British Army or Navy. American slaveholders believed it was an attempt to incite a slave revolt, which it may have been. Nonetheless, the British transported thousands of former slaves back to Africa, the Caribbean, and even Canadian Nova Scotia.

Some even joined the British Colonial Marines, a fighting force of ex-slaves deployed by the British against the Americans.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Bilal Muhammed (Muslims in America)

 

It also saw the largest slave uprising – against the invader.

While the British were rousing slaves to join the fight against their oppressors, other slaves were joining forces to fight the British for the Americans. One Muslim slave named Bilal Muhammed was the manager of a plantation of 500 slaves on Georgia’s Sapelo Island. When the British attempted to land on Sapelo, Muhammed and 80 other slaves fought them back into the sea.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

Maine was almost given to Canada as “New Ireland.”

During the American Revolution, the area we know as Maine was a haven for colonists who wanted to remain loyal to the Crown. Their ambitions were, of course, supported by the British government in Canada, who sent a significant force to defend what was then New Ireland. The British gave up New Ireland after the American Revolution in order to cut the French Canadian provinces off from the coastal areas. By the time the War of 1812 rolled through, it was almost ceded again, but the Treaty of Ghent made no changes to the borders, and the British withdrew

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

The war brought about an unopposed political party.

Today we have Democrats and Republicans at each other’s throats, constantly fighting to some end. Back then, the parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Federalist opposition to the war, which ended with the view that America had won by not losing the second war for independence, pretty much ended the Federalist party, leaving just the Democratic-Republican Party as the sole party in a new “Era of Good Feelings.” After the election of 1824, that Era was over, and the party was split into two factions, depending on how much they liked Andrew Jackson’s policies.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 of France’s greatest military victories that people seem to forget

There’s no question about it: A singular blemish in French history is to blame for their eternal ridicule. The moment Marshal Philippe Petain surrendered (kind of) to the Germans after being the main target of the blitzkrieg was the moment people started associating “s’il vous plaît” with “surrender.”

Ridicule against Vichy France, the German puppet state, isn’t without merit — we get it. But to overlook the storied nation’s thousands of years of badassery is laughably incorrect. Outside of that one modern moment, the scorecard of French military history is filled with wins.


Author’s Note: It’s a fool’s errand to try and rank these by historical significance or how they each demonstrate French military might, so they’re listed in chronological order:

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Coincidentally, this would also be the last time England was taken over.

 

Battle of Hastings

If you want to get technical, this battle happened before the formation of France proper. Still, it’s generally agreed that France began with the Franks. Sorry, Gauls. Their legacy of military might includes (successfully) fighting off vikings, Iberians, and, occasionally, the Holy Roman Empire.

But the single landmark victory for the Franks came when Duke William the Bastard of Normandy pressed his claim over the English crown in 1066. At the Battle of Hastings, outnumbered Normans fought English forces, led by King Herald Godwinson. The Normans, led by William, pushed through English shield walls to take out the crown. William the Bastard then went on to conquer the rest of England and earned himself the a new moniker, “King William the Conqueror.”

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Surprisingly enough, feeding your troops makes them fight better.
(Jean-Jacques Scherrer, “Joan of Arc enters Orleans,” 1887)

 

Siege of Orleans

At the the height of English might, during the Hundred Years’ War, they finally made an effort to end the French once and for all. The city of Orleans was put under siege — and the throne was thrust into dire circumstances. All the English had to do was starve city. That was, until a young peasant girl arrived: Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc successfully sneaked a relief convoy of food, aid, and arms into the city, right under the noses of the English. This bolstered the strength of the defenders. With food in bellies and morale on the rise, the besieged made a stand and finally pushed the English out of France.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Seriously. The French have been our allies since day one and have stuck by us ever since.
(John Trumbull, “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” 1820)

 

Battle of Yorktown

This is the battle that won the Americans the Revolutionary War, so it’s most often seen as a major victory for the Americans. But the victory would have never been if it weren’t for massive support from the French.

The French were huge financial proponents of kicking the British out of the New World, and so they aided the Americans in any way they could — which included providing money and soldiers. Everything came to a head at Yorktown, Virginia when Lord Cornwallis went up against General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau. It was an effort of equal parts — both Washington and Rochambeau flanked Cornwallis on each side, forcing his surrender and officially relinquishing British control over the Colonies.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
If you gotta go out, go out in a blaze of glory… I guess.
(William Sadler, “The Battle of Waterloo,” 1815)

 

Most of the Napoleonic Wars

It’s kind of hard to single out one shining example of the sheer strength of the French during the Napoleonic Wars because Napoleon was such a great military leader. If you break down his win/loss ratio down into baseball statistics, like these guys have, he outshines every general in history —from Alexander the Great to modern generals.

Let’s look at the Battle of Ligny. Napoleon managed to piss off the entirety of Europe, causing themto band together tofight him. He was cornered in Prussia andhis enemies were closing in. In a last-ditch effort, he took a sizable chunk out of the Prussian military and forced them to retreat. This all happened while the English, the Russians, the Austrians, and the Germans were trying to intervene.

Just two days later came the Battle ofWaterloo, duringwhich most of Europe had to work together to bring down the dominant Napoleon.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
This is why Petain remains such a polarizing figure. He may have given up France in the 40s, but he saved it thirty years earlier.
(National Archives)

 

The Battle of Verdun

Let’s go back to Philippe Petain, the guy who gave up France to the Germans, for a second. Today, many see him as a traitor, a coward, and a weakling — but these insults can’t be made with putting a huge asterisk next to them. In World War I, he was known as the “Lion of Verdun” after he oversaw and won what is known as the longest and single bloodiest battle in human history.

For almost the entirety of the year 1916, the Germans pushed everything they had into a single forest on the French/German border. It was clear within the first six days that after the Germans spent 2 million rounds, 2 million artillery shells, and deployed chemical warfare for the first time, that the French would not budge. 303 days later, the Germans finally realize that the French wouldn’t give in and gave up.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
​So maybe lay off the “French WWII Rifle for sale” jokes. It might be funny if it weren’t completely inaccurate.
(National Archives)

 

Operation Dragoon

In the opening paragraph, there was a “(kind of)” next to mention of French surrender during WWII. Well, that’s because not all of France gave in — just parts of it. France was split into three: Vichy France (a powerless puppet state), the French Protectorates (which were mostly released back to their home rule), and the resistance fighters of Free France.

The Free French resistance fighters were widespread across the French territory, but were mostly centralized in the South. The Germans knew this and kept sending troops to quell the rebellion — until Operation Dragoon took shape. Aided by Allied air power, French resistance fighters were able to repel the Germans out of Free France in only four weeks and give the Allies the strong foothold they needed in the Mediterranean until the fall of fascist Italy.

Articles

How the ‘Hunt for Red October’ would go down if it happened today

When it hit the streets in 1984, the “Hunt for Red October” marked the invention of the military techno-thriller genre.


The conclusion featured an underwater game of cat and mouse between the Red October (a modified Typhoon-class submarine manned by a skeleton crew), the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700), and the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Pogy (SSN 647) on one side against the Alfa-class submarine V.K. Konavolov.

As any fan of Tom Clancy novels knows, the Red October made it, and the Konavolov ended up on the bottom. But what would happen today?

Let’s start by updating the ships in question. Let’s replace the Typhoon with Russia’s new Borei-class SSBN. In one sense, we still get a very quiet, hard-to-detect vessel. While much smaller than the Red October (24,000 tons to 48,000), the Borei features pumpjet propulsion. This system has been used on British and American submarines for decades.

But the American submarines also will improve. Instead of a Flight I 688 like USS Dallas (now destined for the “Nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – a fancy way of saying scrapyard), we’ll use a Virginia-class SSN (let’s go with USS Illinois (SSN 786) for the sake of discussion. We’ll replace the Pogy (already “recycled”) with USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class submarine.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut is underway in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo from U.S. Navy).

Now, what do we replace the Alfa with? Back in 1984, the Alfa was a mystery. It was known to have high speed and a titanium hull. Today, we know two things about this alleged super-submarine.

First, the Alfa was louder than a teenager’s stereo system playing Metallica. Second, its sonars, like those on most Russian combat vessels, were crap. The successor to the Alfa was the Sierra-class submarine. While not as fast, it did feature a better armament suite (four 650mm torpedo tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes compared to six 533mm tubes for the Alfa). It also was somewhat quieter (given the Alfa’s noise level, that’s easy to do).

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
A Russian Sierra-class attack submarine. (Photo from Wikimedia commons)

How might that final confrontation go? Given what we know about the (lack of) performance Russian sonars were capable of, it is highly likely that the 2016 version of the Hunt for Red October would be far less, shall we say, novel-worthy. It’s highly probable that the Sierra would not even pick up the Borei-class Red October and her escorts. Perhaps, at most, USS Connecticut would fire a decoy or two – sending the Sierra on a wild goose chase.

Thus, the Soviets would never even know America had the Red October.

MIGHTY HISTORY

America is still obsessed with its ex-girlfriends

Britain isn’t our only “special relationship.” The United States has had many passionate affairs over the years. Just like in a real relationship, when things are good, they’re really good — even when the U.S. isn’t such a great partner when it comes to things like human rights.


Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

When the relationship goes bad, no one is more outraged than the United States. Nobody holds a grudge quite like the American government. But instead of moving on and just finding a new boo, we keep sneaking away to spend time with our exes, dropping by in the middle of the night and badmouthing them to everyone else while telling Israel and Palestine how to manage their divorce.

I guess it all depends on how you define “special.”

Russia

This is the one partner we just can’t say goodbye to. It’s been so long since the breakup that there aren’t any Americans left who remember just how good our relations with Russia really were. Russia traded with the colonies during the Revolution, kept the British out of the U.S. Civil War, and even sold us Alaska. Then one day, Russia just… changed.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

We didn’t recognize Russia anymore. Suddenly, Russia wanted to be called the “Soviet Union” and our love faded. After a brief spat (aka “invasion”), we sat back and watched our friend deteriorate on a drug called “Communism” until rival drug dealers (trying to push something called “fascism”) tried to kill them. Like some geopolitical Buford Pusser, we stopped rolling with the punches and began to clean up this town. But all we did was clear out the competition. Soon, other friends got hooked on the Communism and our friendship with Russia broke down.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
This could only be more American if the Rock was wearing an Old Navy flag tee.

We then threatened to kill each other every day for 40 years. Obsessively, we made movies, television shows, and books about how awful our rival could be. Like a Danzig song, we opined about how one day we would emerge victorious against the devil woman, the evil empire that broke our hearts.

Every time Russia tried to reach out to others, go to work, or invade Afghanistan, we were there telling everyone how awful they are — or cutting their brake lines. Our public shouting matches got so bad that people either chose sides or walked away from both of us.

One day, Russia just quit the habit. Russia started coming around again and things were looking good. Russia was Russia again. But then Russia found a new man.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Mr. Steal Your Girl.

Iran

If Russia was our longest breakup, Iran was our most tumultuous. Just a scant few decades after we split with Russia, we found new love with their beautiful, exotic, oil-rich neighbor down the way. The Shah wasn’t the best ruler, but he was smarter than the Tsar. Iran, with its beautiful dark hair, secular government, and vast oil wealth, was more than just a rebound. It was a partner – it shared our love for champagne, defense contracts, and it even liked our friend, Israel.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
And Iran didn’t even mind that we spied on our ex from its house.

Then it happened. One day everything was beautiful and the next thing you know, Iran’s taking hostages. We haven’t forgotten for a single moment. And as much as we publicly berated its behavior, just a few years after the breakup, we were right back in bed together, trading arms for hostages.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
TFW you get caught sleeping with your ex.

Now we’re constantly threatening to come back and kill it. In return, Iran hassles all our friends and undermines us to our allies… but we’re still not afraid to hop back into bed once in a while. For old times’ sake.

Cuba

Our love for Cuba is almost as old as our country itself. Cuba is our first love. We practically grew up together. We even wanted to marry Cuba for the longest time — and when that didn’t work out, we were still very close. Cuba is the girl next door. Then one day, Cuba fell in love with our other ex.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
A blatant violation of bro code.

The next thing you know, Cuba has a gun to our head and we’re locked in a love triangle that nearly destroyed the entire planet.

Nowadays, Cuba is still in love with our ex and we resent them for it, even if the two aren’t together anymore. Cuba is constantly talking trash about us in our own neighborhood. Although we almost buried the hatchet a couple of years ago, those old feelings bring out the mistrust in us and we end up right back to where we started.

France

File this one under “frenemies.” No one took care of us like France did. We even named our favorite drink after the French. But as hot and heavy as the love was during the days of the Revolution, things quickly soured. France started getting pushy and domineering and, fresh from our break up with England, we just weren’t ready to get back into something so fast.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
But we never forget our anniversary.

So, instead of taking on the rest of the world together, we opted to just be friends… friends who constantly criticize each other to everyone else. But then France got in over its head a few times and we had to come help them out – and we never let them forget about it.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
We still have feelings for each other.

Sure, we’re demanding, but France is too independent, just like us after the American Revolution. And every time France opts not to go to war alongside the U.S., we get upset and brand them cowards and cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Vietnam

They were our darling for such a short time. A sort-of rebound from our days with Russia, Vietnam was fighting the addiction to Communism that consumed so many of our friends. We tried to help Vietnam get off the stuff, but to no avail. It was a terrible breakup, one that Americans still can’t forget.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Memories.

The U.S. spent the next few decades struggling with the memories of Vietnam and what happened between us. We couldn’t forget her and we soon began making movies, television, books, and music about Vietnam. We constantly looked in to see what Vietnam was doing, but it was still hooked on the Communism.

And we were so close.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Related: Why the US Navy is going to Vietnam for the first time since 1975

Now that a few years have passed, we just dropped in. We just happened to be in the neighborhood and we thought about Vietnam — we wanted to say hi, share some memories, and maybe see what Vietnam was up to these days.

Give us a call. Keep in touch. You look so good. I’m happy we did this.

Afghanistan

It’s pretty much over between us and Afghanistan.

 

 

Coming Soon:

United Kingdom

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

Taiwan

NATO

Literally all of Africa

Not Israel

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 unusual weapons from the Civil War

In 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln escaped the Baltimore Plot with the help of his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon and detective Allan Pinkerton, eluding assassins. Lincoln’s tough guy had an assortment of weapons, according to the June 1895 edition of McClure’s Magazine, including a pair of heavy revolvers, brass knuckles, a Bowie knife, and a slung-shot. The slung-shot was a crude weapon with a weight tied to a wrist strap, popular among street gangs of the era.

The man responsible for protecting the life of the president carried some peculiar weapons, and the American Civil War that followed featured some unusual weapons as well.

The Arkansas Toothpick

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Pvt. John L. Wood, Company D, 3rd North Carolina Volunteers Regiment, showing an “Arkansas Toothpick,” a weapon similar to the Bowie knife, and sheath with initials J.L.W. Photo by Charles Rees, 1861, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arkansas Toothpick, similar to the Bowie knife, was a heavy dagger with a pointed and straight blade ranging from 12 to 20 inches long. It was versatile, used in service for throwing, thrusting, and slashing. The large-bladed weapon was carried in a holster across the back. It was said to be heavy enough for chopping wood and sharp enough for shaving and combat.

Ketchum Grenade

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Though deadly in its time, the Ketchum hand grenade might remind kids today of a Nerf foam football. Photo courtesy of the civilwarvirtualmuseum.org.

The Ketchum grenade has a strong resemblance to the Nerf foam footballs that wail through the air when thrown. Only, when these hit the ground, they explode — or at least, that was the idea. Patented in 1861 by New York inventor William F. Ketchum, the grenade was used by the Union Army. These Ketchum grenades, however, were largely ineffective. If the nose of the grenade didn’t strike the ground, it didn’t detonate. Confederate soldiers even used blankets to catch them.  

Calcium Floodlights

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Equipped with calcium lights, the Union Navy was able to keep up the bombardment of Fort Sumter around the clock. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

First appearing in lighthouses and theaters in the 1830s, calcium floodlights were repurposed during the Civil War in 1863 in an operation to retake Charleston Harbor. Using the lights, Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore bombarded the Confederate stronghold at Fort Wagner around the clock. The calcium lights, or “limelights,” were chemical lamps that used superheated balls of lime, or calcium oxide, to create an incandescent glow and turn the night into day. The Union engineers not only illuminated their artillery targets but also blinded the Confederate gunners and riflemen. The limelights also spotted Confederate warships, blockade runners, and ironclad fleets.

Coal Torpedo

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Weapons of the Civil War included the coal torpedo. This example was prepared as a model, with a partial coal dust coating and the plug left out. It was found in Jefferson Davis’ office by Union Gen. Edward Ripley when Union forces captured Richmond in April 1865. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coal torpedo was an improvised explosive device (IED) developed by Confederate spy Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay to carry out acts of sabotage. These nasty little bombs appeared to be ordinary clumps of coal. The hollowed-out iron artillery shells were loaded with several ounces of gunpowder, sealed with beeswax, and covered in coal dust. Dozens of saboteurs were given orders to place them in Union coal stockpiles in hopes they would be brought aboard Union steam-powered warships. 

Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter, a commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, recalled the havoc a coal torpedo could create aboard a ship. “When the torpedo was thrown into the furnace with the coal, it soon burst, blowing the furnace-doors open and throwing the burning mass into the fire-room, where it [began to burn] the wood-work,” he wrote.

The concept for coal torpedos as weapons didn’t end with the Civil War. Eddie Chapman, a double agent working for the British during World War II, was provided an explosive device by his German handlers. It was, as the coal torpedoes were, disguised as coal. He was ordered to get it into the coal bunker of a ship. Instead, Chapman turned it over to authorities.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

What D-Day means for us today

Visiting France for the first time as an 18-year-old from the Midwest was a trip I will always treasure. After spending several days in and around London. I was ready to put my high school French to the test, and immerse myself in the French culture. I traveled by train from London to the southern coast to board a ferry to Northern France.

As the ferry got further away from the English coastline, the gray skies began to clear and I could see France in the distance. There was a subtle breeze blowing across the English Channel, which created a serine feeling. When the ferry slowed, signaling the final moments of the ride. I gazed at the beauty before my eyes. The lush green fields and trees on top of the slopes leading onto the beaches looked like a slice of heaven.


My first few steps in France were ushered in by the smell of freshly cut flowers being sold on the street. It was only a matter of minutes before the pastel hues of the flowers and landscape revealed their inspiration for the birthplace of Impressionism. For a moment, I felt I had been transported into a Manet painting.

Turning back around to look at the English Channel, I was overcome with an eerie stillness. It had been 55 years since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.

There were two contrasting French coasts viewed by an 18-year-old in 1999, and an 18-year-old in June of 1944. In those waters off the French coast, thousands of Americans boarded transporters that resembled an open-air commercial sized dumpster on water. There were young men from every corner of the country, split between the transport boats. On some of those small boats there were 18-year-old boys, who had never traveled far from home until that moment.

It’s likely they weren’t focused on the beautiful scenery they were about to disembark upon. Their final thoughts before stepping down the ramp into the choppy waters of the Channel weren’t of eager anticipation to sample the French cuisine, or leisurely strolls through street markets of small French villages. They were of their families back home, who were unaware of the impending horror their loved ones were about to endure, or unaware that by the end of the day, history would change course. Within hours, thousands of American families would be forever changed. Sons, brothers, husbands and fathers would meet their destiny on the shores of Northern France.

At the top of those slopes leading to the beach, Nazi forces opened fire on the thousands of Allied forces storming the beaches. Suddenly, dreams of owning a home or business paled in comparison to the hope of surviving long enough to feel the grass beneath their feet as they continued the bloody campaign inland.

For the American GI’s lucky enough to survive long enough to reach the sandy beaches. The water washing ashore was bright red. It became impossible to tell if the blood shed by Allied forces had overtaken the waters of the Channel.

If a famous Impressionist artist like Cezanne were to capture the moment in a painting, the landscape in the artwork would be void of any gentle pastels. Instead, grey, brown and red would capture the ominousness of the harrowing invasion.

Before the horror besieging the shores, the dark, early morning sky was littered with planes depositing thousands of American paratroopers scattered throughout Normandy. Many planes were shot from the sky as paratroopers leaped from them. Some blasts were so violent they knocked weapons out of the paratroopers’ possession. For those who landed safely on the ground, many found themselves alone in a foreign and hostile land. As they dodged German fighters, paratroopers began to link up to form a stronger offensive force.

The invasion took years to plan, and careful coordination between American, British and Canadian forces comprised of over 150,000 troops. Among the 150,000 troops, 14 Comanche “code-talkers” relayed critical messages in their Native American tongue, which German forces were unable to translate.

By the end of June 6,1944, the Germans had been bombarded by air, land and sea from Allied forces. The Atlantic theater began to shift from Nazi control of Europe to a liberated Western Europe. More than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion.

The success of D-Day was the turning point, and beginning of the end for the Nazis.

In the 76 years since D-Day, millions of people have blissfully explored the rich history, beauty and diverse cultures of Europe. It was the bravery and sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of Allied forces on D-Day that helped save the world.

I was privileged to experience all the beauty Europe offers as an 18-year-old, because thousands of 18-year-olds on June 6, 1944 had the courage to face evil directly in the face.

Winston Churchill summarized it best, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who took 42 Nazis captive with a longsword

We’ve talked about British officer John “Mad Jack” Churchill before. He waded ashore on D-Day with his trademark Scottish claybeg sword, he killed at least one Nazi with his longbow, and he was an all-around BAMF having served in World War II, Israel, and Australia.

Today, we want to talk about that time he took approximately 42 German soldiers captive in World War II.


Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Churchill leads a simulated assault during training for the D-Day assaults.

(Imperial War Museum)

The insane capture took place in 1943 during the invasion of Italy. Churchill, then the commanding officer of Britain’s No. 2 Commando, had taken part in the capture of Sicily and then landed at Salerno with other British troops. He and his men fought for five straight days, grinding through mostly German defenders. They were even lauded for defending a rail and road hub from a determined counterattack at Vietri, Italy, until U.S. armored vehicles arrived to relieve them.

The commandos were granted a short rest and the time for showers and bathing, though they had to avoid enemy mortar fire while enjoying it. Even that rest was short-lived, though. They were serving in reserve for the U.S. 46th Infantry Division, and German forces managed to grab three hills overlooking the division area, imperiling the American forces.

So the British soldiers of No. 41 Commando and No. 2 Commando were sent in to secure two of the three hills in two attacks. Churchill, as the commander of No. 2, was in charge of that second attack.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill after World War II.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

The logistics of the assault were daunting. The men would have to attack uphill across terraces covered in vines and rocky terrain at night while trying to flush out and engage the enemy. Typically, commando attacks at night like this are conducted as silent, stealthy raids. But Churchill decided to bring nearly all of his men, broken into six columns so each column could support those to either side of it.

Churchill himself marched just ahead, spaced evenly between the third and fourth column. To ensure the columns didn’t drift apart or accidentally maneuver against one another in the darkness, he ordered them to yell “Commando!” every five minutes.

For the German defenders in the darkness, this created a sort of stunning nightmare. First, they heard No. 41 Commando take the nearby hill under heavy artillery bombardment as night was falling. Then, as pure dark set in, an unknown number of assailants began churning their way through the vines and across the terraces below, yelling to each other every few minutes. Whenever the Brits found Germans, they’d open up with Tommy guns, rifle fire, and grenades.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Churchill examines a captured 75mm gun during World War II.

(Imperial War Museum)

It caused confusion in the German ranks, and the columns were able to take dozens of prisoners. Churchill, meanwhile, grabbed one of his corporals and went to hunt out those Germans still attempting to organize their defenses.

First, he and the corporal found an 81mm mortar crew and took them prisoner. Churchill led this attack with his trademark sword, a Scottish claybeg. Then, Churchill and the corporal began moving from position to position, grabbing all the German soldiers they could find. By the time the two men made it back to the rest of the commandos, they had taken over 40 Germans prisoner (Reports vary between 41 and 43, but the more authoritative books on the Salerno invasion typically agree on 42, so that’s the number we’re using.)

The rest of the commandos had grabbed plenty of prisoners, and the total for the night between No. 41 and No. 2 Commando was 135, more than the 46th had taken in the five previous days of fighting.

This was a big coup for the intelligence folks who suddenly had access to all these prisoners. More importantly, two of the hills over the 46th were now clear of potential attackers just hours after German forces had staged there to attack.

Churchill would fight through the rest of the war, earning new accolades despite being captured once in Italy and later in Yugoslavia. After World War II, he served in Palestine and then Australia before retiring from the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The awesome way a Cuban defector rescued his family

In 1991, a lone Russian-built MiG-21 approached the Florida coast from Cuba. The plane began “wagging” its wings, a recognized signal for friendly intent. The pilot was Orestes Lorenzo, and he was bringing the MiG to the United States in an attempt to defect from Cuba. The only problem was his wife and kids were still in Cuba.

Not for long.


Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

If you want it done right…

That’s the thing about fighter pilots – no one will accuse them of being timid. Lorenzo was no different. He did fly a 40-year-old MiG straight at the coastline of the world’s lone superpower. In fact, Lorenzo was so daring, he wasn’t even in the Cuban Air Force when he took the jet. He told American officials he’d “borrowed” it to make the flight. Lorenzo didn’t even speak a word of English, he just yearned for freedom.

While he was in Cuba’s Air Force, he learned to fly in the Soviet Union and was deployed to fly air missions in Angola. After a second tour of duty in the Soviet Union, he and his family moved to an air base far from the Cuban capital of Havana. They found themselves unhappy with their situation, facing poverty, repression, and a government more concerned with itself than its people. Lorenzo and his wife hatched a plan to escape with their children, but it was only Lorenzo who landed at Naval Air Station Key West that day in 1991.

That’s where his daring comes in. Lorenzo was whisked away to Washington, where he was (presumably) debriefed, and received his asylum paperwork, as well as visas for his wife and two sons. All was almost set to go as planned, except now the Cuban government wouldn’t authorize his wife and children to leave the island nation. Orestes Lorenzo didn’t just accept his station in life like Castro wanted him to, and he sure as hell wasn’t about to accept this. Lorenzo launched a PR campaign that culminated in President George H.W. Bush giving a speech directed at Cuba, imploring Cuba to let his family go, all to no avail.

Castro refused, so the fighter pilot took matters into his own hands.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Spoiler alert: fighter pilots are brave.

Lorenzo raised ,000 to purchase a 1961 Cessna 310, a small, simple civilian aircraft. He even took lessons to learn to fly the Cessna like an expert. He got word to his family that they should be in a certain spot they all knew well, wearing orange t-shirts. At 5:07 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1992, Lorenzo took off from the Florida Keys in his 30-year-old Cessna and flew just 100 feet above the ocean.

Flying up above a set of cliffs on Cuba’s coastline, some 160 miles from Havana, he pulled up and saw three bright orange t-shirts waiting for him by the side of a road. He landed the plane, got his family inside, and took off again, headed for Marathon in the Florida Keys. Two hours later he and his family were safe.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

The Lorenzo family lands in Marathon.

The U.S. returned the MiG to Cuba, and the Lorenzo family settled in Florida, starting a concrete business. Very few Cuban pilots were able to defect to the United States during the entire Cold War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a warship pretended to be an island

Sometimes in life, the guy with the drunken, so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas hits one out of the park and saves the day. This is clearly what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.


Originally planning to escape to Australia with three other warships, the then-stranded minesweeper had to make the voyage alone and unprotected. The slow-moving vessel could only get up to about 15 knots and had very few guns, boasting only a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20 mm canons — making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above.

Related: 37 awesome photos of life on a US Navy carrier

Knowing their only chance of survival was to make it to the Allies Down Under, the Crijnssen‘s 45 crew members frantically brainstormed ways to make the retreat undetected. The winning idea? What if the warship pretended to be an island?

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
The Abraham Cristessen in all its jungle finery Photo: Wikipedia

You can almost hear crazy-idea guy anticipating his shipmates’ reluctance: “Now guys, just hear me out…” But lucky for him, the Abraham Crijnessen was strapped for time, resources and alternative means of escape, automatically making the island idea the best idea. Now it was time to put the plan into action.

The crew went ashore to nearby islands and cut down as many trees as they could lug back onto the deck. Then the timber was arranged to look like a jungle canopy, covering as much square footage as possible. Any leftover parts of the ship were painted to look like rocks and cliff faces — these guys weren’t messing around.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Check out that boat-shaped island. Oh wait… Photo: Wikipedia

Now, a camoflauged ship in deep trouble is better than a completely exposed ship. But there was still the problem of the Japanese noticing a mysterious moving island and wondering what would happen if they shot at it. Because of this, the crew figured the best means of convincing the Axis powers that they were an island was to truly be an island: by not moving at all during daylight hours.

While the sun was up they would anchor the ship near other islands, then cover as much ocean as they could once night fell — praying the Japanese wouldn’t notice a disappearing and reappearing island amongst the nearly 18,000 existing islands in Indonesia. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t.

The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Peashooter was actually the most advanced fighter of its time

It’s hard to let go. If you’re a sports fan, then you’ve probably watched your favorite players age well past their primes. They cling to their identities as athletes, as competitors, and they refuse to hang up their titles even as the competition gets younger, faster, and stronger around them. Well, this same thing can happen to planes, too.

The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was a technological breakthrough when it first flew in 1932. But, when combat came in 1941, it was hit by a double whammy of being obsolete and badly outnumbered — and the loss rate was abysmal.


The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane fighter to see service in the United States. It officially entered service in 1934 and remained the fastest fighter in the skies until 1938.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

The P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane to enter American service, but within a decade of its first flight, it was greatly outclassed.

(USAF)

Not only that, this plane was also the first to introduce flaps to U.S. aviation — a piece of technology used to make landings easier and safer. The plane needed flaps because it had a then-blistering landing speed of just under 83 miles per hour.

In the skies, it reached a top speed of 227 miles per hour and had a range of 360 miles. The plane’s initial armament included two .30-caliber machine guns — one of which was later upgraded to .50-caliber. Either two 100-pound bombs or five 31-pound bombs could be carried for ground-support missions.

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

P-26 Peashooters on the flight line at Hickam Field, Hawaii.

(USAF)

The P-26 was exported to China and sent to the Philippines, where it saw action against the Japanese. The plane was old, but proved capable of taking down the legendary Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

The last P-26s to serve defended the Panama Canal until 1942, when they were exported to Guatemala. There, they hung on until 1957, four years after the Korean War saw jets fighting for control of the air.

Watch a classic video of these legendary planes in service below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMNlrDLsUQI

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 craziest moments in Army history

The U.S. Army is the oldest American military branch, tracing its lineage back to when the Continental Congress stood up its first riflemen in June 1775. But in over 240 years of Army history, you’re bound to end up with some insane moments.


Here are seven of the U.S. Army’s craziest:

1. When it teamed up with Nazis and prisoners of war to defeat the SS

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Schloss Itter (Itter Castle) in July 1979. (Photo: S.J. Morgan. CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

In May 1945, Germany was collapsing and it was obvious that the war in Europe was almost done. As it ended, Allies raced to secure evidence of war crimes and the Nazis worked to destroy it. This led to what has been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle.”

American tankers rushed to where high-profile prisoners of war were held in Itter Castle in Austria. As a group of drunk SS soldiers marched on the castle to kill the POWs, the Americans offered to help the Wehrmacht defend themselves so that the SS couldn’t kill the POWs and all witnesses.

So, U.S. soldiers, German soldiers, and local resistance fighters fought side-by-side and saved the lives of the prisoners. The friendly German commander was killed in the six hours of fighting before U.S. reinforcements arrived and pushed back the surviving SS members.

2. When it created an imaginary division with inflatable tanks

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Plate of Peas Production | YouTube

 

While the D-Day landings themselves were quite possibly the Army’s finest hour as multiple divisions landed next to its British and Canadian counterparts, the top-secret mission to mislead German intelligence during the Normandy Campaign and invasion of Germany may have been crazier.

Almost immediately after D-Day, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops began deploying artists, actors, designers, and audio-technicians who were tasked with setting out inflatable equipment and patterns of movement that would make the Nazis think an entire combat division was in the area.

And it worked. The ruse was used on more than 20 occasions, often causing the Germans to redeploy forces to counter the fake division, likely saving thousands of lives during World War II.

3. When it promoted a 12-year-old to sergeant after he shot the Confederate colonel attempting to capture him

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Photo: Library of Congress

 

John Lincoln Clem unofficially joined the Union Army at the age of 10 as a drummer boy. He fought a few times before becoming a national celebrity at the age of 12 in the Battle of Chickamagua. It was there that he was nearly captured by a Confederate colonel, but Clem used a sawed-off musket to shoot the officer and escape.

As he evaded other pursuers, his hat was reportedly hit three times by enemy fire. When he made it back to Union lines, he was promoted to sergeant and became America’s youngest-ever non-commissioned officer. He was later captured in another battle, traded in a prisoner exchange, and then was wounded twice before accepting discharge in 1864 at the age of 13.

4. When it fought America’s longest battle on its own

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
German mortars fire towards American positions during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. (Photo: German Army Archives)

 

From September 1944 to February 1945, the Army fought the longest single battle of the nation’s history, a five-month meat grinder for control of the Hurtgen Forest during the drive into Germany.

The 9th Infantry Division marched into the forest on Sep. 12, 1944 to root out German defenders. The thick trees and impassable roads created a nightmare for the attackers. Mortar and artillery shells turned trees into explosions of long splinters that speared into American troops.

The 9th pressed forward while suffering heavy losses, and it was reinforced with 3rd Armored Division tanks. Another nine divisions, a tank battalion, and a Ranger battalion fought on the front lines before the battle finally ended in February 1945.

5. When one of its greatest generals attempted to sell the country out to the British

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Army Col. Ethan Allen, partnered with then-Col. Benedict Arnold, demands the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga. (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Library)

 

There’s a reason “Benedict Arnold” is used as another word for “traitor.” He literally tried to sell the defenses he commanded to the British, threatening a strategically important position in the Revolutionary War. What made it so crazy was how important Maj. Gen. Arnold was before he became a traitor.

He had led the forces that won the Battle of Saratoga and led to diplomatic recognition and increased military assistance from the French. He also helped capture a major fort and its guns, and created America’s first purpose-built naval fleet (then sank it).

The closest modern equivalent would have been if Patton had fought his way through North Africa and half of Germany but then changed sides during the Battle of the Bulge because his new wife was German.

6. When all the Army gunners in an entire city fought off an imagined attack

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

 

The Battle of Los Angeles in 1942 saw the city’s sky lit up with searchlights and anti-aircraft fire as every gun crew in the area attempted to shoot down the Japanese planes bombing the city.

Except there was no air attack. A series of blinking lights had been spotted in the sky near the city and some unknown objects were spotted on radar, leading some military leaders to worry an air raid was coming. Skittish gun crews began firing, and the exploding shells left clouds of smoke that other gunners then fired at as they were illuminated by spotlights.

Over 1,400 rounds were fired in the one-hour “engagement.”

7. That time it rescued over 2,000 prisoners of war with a daring paratrooper raid

 

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII
Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. troops across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

 

The Imperial Japanese were famously hostile towards prisoners of war, and a concerted effort was made in 1944 and 1945 to rescue prisoners before Japanese troops could kill them. On Feb. 23, 1945, a group of Americans and Philippine guerillas launched a daring paratrooper raid to liberate over 2,000 prisoners at Los Baños, Philippines.

The raid was shockingly effective, suffering no paratroopers killed and few American and Filipino casualties while freeing 2,147 prisoners. Future-Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he doubted “that any airborne unit in the world will ever rival the Los Baños prison raid.”

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