These are the 7 finest moments in Army history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

The U.S. Army has over 240 years of storied history, defending America in war after war. The branch ensures American ideals around the world and has stood strong against fascists, dictators, and kings. These are seven of their finest moments.


These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
American infantrymen in the snows of Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.
(U.S. Army)

1. The Army stops the German’s massive counterattack

The Battle of the Bulge was, ultimately, Hitler’s fever dream. The thought was that the German Army could buildup a massive force, cut apart the western Allies, destroy them, and then turn around and beat back the Soviet Union. It was never possible, but someone had to do the nitty-gritty work of shutting down Hitler’s advance and then resume the march to Berlin.

American Army paratroopers rushed in to hold the line at key crossroads, and soldiers dug in and slowly beat back the 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks of the German Army. Artillery barrages rained down on German armor even as it crawled up to the firing positions. American armor got into legendary slugfests with German Panzer columns and infantrymen traded fire at close range, even as shells rained down.

From December 16, 1944, through January, 1945, the Americans cut apart the German bulge and prepared for the drive into the German heartland.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
The British surrender to America on Oct. 17, 1777, after the Battles of Saratoga. The victory at Saratoga convinced France to openly enter the war in support of the Continentals.

2. The Army embarrasses the world’s greatest military power at Saratoga

During the American Revolution, the nascent United States needed a large victory to prove to foreign countries that the rebellion was viable and that they should be recognized as a new nation. A great chance came in late 1777 when British forces coming down from Canada prepared for a massive attack against American General Horatio Gates and his men.

British commander Gen. John Burgoyne lacked the troops during the First Battle of Saratoga, which took place on September 19. He attacked and was barely able to take the field by end of day, suffering twice as many casualties as he inflicted. On October 7, they fought again and the Americans looked good in early fighting — but their attack began to falter. Right as it looked like as though a reversal may occur, Brig Gen. Benedict Arnold charged in with a fresh brigade and saved the day.

Burgoyne managed to retreat the next day, but was eventually surrounded and was forced to surrender on October 17, leading to French recognition of America and open support for the continentals.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, fire a 37mm gun during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
(U.S. Army)

3. America drives the final nails in Germany’s coffin in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

On September 26, 1918, America launched a massive offensive in support of its French allies against the Germans. The operation was under the control of the American Expeditionary Force and Gen. John J. Pershing. They led 37 American and French divisions under artillery cover against the German 2nd Army.

The Americans captured 23,000 Germans in the first 24 hours and took another 10,000 the following day. American and French forces took ground more slowly than expected, but fairly persistently. The Germans were forced into a general retreat and just kept falling back until the armistice was signed on November 11.

The American offensive helped lead to a nearly complete surrender, negotiated in a train car between Germany and France, by which Germany was forced to give into nearly every French demand. America’s victory there solidified America’s prominence as a true world power.

Crew of an M24 tank pulls security in Korea in August, 1950.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Riley)

4. America rolls back the Communists in Korea

The Korean War was initially a war between the two Koreas, with communist forces invading south on June 25, 1950. America sent troops within days to help protect the democratic South Korea, and Task Force Smith fought its first battle on July 5. Early on, American troops fought with limited equipment and reinforcements, but gave ground only grudgingly.

Still, the tide was unmistakable, and democratic forces were slowly pushed until they barely held a port on the southern coast by September, 1950. The Army landed reinforcements there and sent an Army and a Marine division ashore at Inchon, near the original, pre-war border. The two forces manage to break apart most North Korean units and drive north.

By Oct. 19, they had captured the communist capital at Pyongyang and were continuing to drive north. This is the “forgotten victory” as U.S. troops had successfully destroyed the communists on the field. Unfortunately, China would soon join the war, overshadowing the Army and Marine’s success in 1950.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Lee surrenders in 1865.

5. The Army peacefully accepts the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House

The Union Army was very effective during the Appomattox campaign, harrying the retreating Confederates and pinning down Lee’s forces to ensure the war didn’t drag on much longer, but that wasn’t the reason that Appomattox Court House represents one of the Army’s finest moments. The real miracle there was that the two forces, both of which would later be accepted as part of Army lineage, were able to negotiate a peaceful end to the hostilities, despite the animosity.

The war had raged for four years, and Gen. Robert E. Lee still had 28,000 men with which he could have drug out the fighting. But when it became clear that his army would be destroyed or descend into broken looting, he contacted Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to surrender at a house near the fighting.

Grant silenced a band that tried to play celebratory songs, declaring,

“The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”

He gave generous surrender terms, allowing those with horses to keep them so that they could use the animals for late planting. For everyone who remained at the field, the Union opened up their rations to ensure all would eat.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
American troops and equipment are moved ashore after the success of D-Day.
(U.S. Army)

6. Allies land at Normandy on D-Day

It’s one of the most storied and iconic moments in U.S. military history. Thousands of boats carried tens of thousands of troops against reinforced, German-held beaches of France. Machine gun fire rained down from concrete bunkers and engineers were forced to blow apart wire, mines, and other obstacles for the men to even get off the beaches, most of which extended 200 yards before offering any real cover.

Rangers climbed steep cliffs to capture enemy artillery and paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines to secure key infrastructure and silence the big guns inland. Engineers constructed new harbors to rapidly land all the materiel needed to push forward against the staunch German defenses in the hedgerows of France.

In the end, over 1,400 U.S. soldiers were killed in the first 24 hours of fighting, and four men were later awarded Medals of Honor for their valor. Their incredible sacrifices were honored with success. The western Allies had their toehold, and a new front opened in the war against Germany during the Holocaust.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
An Army Multiple Launch Rocket System fires during training. Rockets like these saw combat for the first time in Desert Storm.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis)

7. The dissection of Saddam Hussein’s Army

Operation Desert Storm was a true joint fight with the Navy providing a fake amphibious landing, the Marines conducting operations on the coast and inland, and the Air Force dropping bombs across the country while downing enemy planes.

But the U.S. Army formed the bulk of the maneuver forces, and the huge left hook through the desert was a logistical nightmare that allowed the coalition to absolutely wallop Iraqi forces. Within that left hook, then-Capt. H.R. McMaster led an armored cavalry charge where one troop cut a huge swath through an Iraqi division while suffering zero losses.

Meanwhile, an Army artillery battery conducted a rocket raid from inside enemy territory, and the unit’s battalion destroyed 41 Iraqi battalions and a tank company in less than 72 hours. The Iraqi military had been one of the largest in the world when the war started, but it lost roughly half of its tanks and other equipment in the fighting while inflicting little losses on the U.S.

The ground war had lasted only 100 hours.

Articles

USS Cole steams back to site of deadly 2000 suicide attack

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.


That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.

The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on three occasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)

Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Battle of Hue City was so intense

The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial conflicts embarked upon by the United States. The Marines that retook the city of Hue City are the gold standard of urban warfare. Battalions of Americans, South Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong faced off fighting for every inch of the city. Essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, they triumphed over an overwhelming, well trained enemy. The battle was close, it was up to who wanted victory more – the communists or the Marines.

Communists massacred civilians

Not only were government and military officials massacred, but so were innocent civilians, including women and children, who were tortured, executed or buried alive.

Olga Dror, The New York Times

The battle for Hue City happened during the Tet Offensive, a nationwide coordinated assault on U.S. and allied controlled areas. During the initial days of the attack, communists massacred as many as 5,700 civilians. The victims are buried in mass graves when the city fell into enemy hands. The Viet Cong occupied the city for close to month before the Marine Corps liberated the city.

Supporters of the failed Struggle Movement escaped from the city in two years before the battle. Those same people would turn on their neighbors when they returned with the communists. With their help, the communists gathered intelligence of the city and selected people for death.

Politics attempted to restrict the Marines

Due to the historic aspect of many of the buildings in Hue, the usage of heavy weapons was significantly restricted during the initial days of fighting on both sides of the river. As friendly casualties mounted, and as initial estimates of the size of the enemy force in the Hue City area was significantly increased, fire restrictions were ultimately lifted. In our respectful opinion, our ability to successfully complete the mission was, initially, severely impacted by the rules of engagement.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

To the uninitiated in Rules of Engagement, they’re a set of rules established by high command that dictate what weapons and tactics may be used. Anyone in violation of that can be charged with a war crime. In the example of the Battle of Hue City, also known as the Siege of Hue, the Marine Corps is forbidden to damage the buildings. That is absurd. This is war. The reasoning is that the city was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty, the last dynasty in Vietnam until 1883, and historically significant to Vietnamese culture.

Any commander worth his salt knows that the life one Marine, let alone an American, is worth ten thousand times the value of a structure. The Vietnam War was often hindered by policy makers micromanaging the boots on the ground. You wanted a war? Let the Marines fight it and shut up.

House to House, Street to Street

…Even with proper support of heavy weapons, which was ultimately provided to the Marines, we faced “hard corps” North Vietnamese Army troops who fought from prepared positions, moved to secondary positions, fought again, and finally, very reluctantly, died. In the capture of each room, each floor, each rooftop, each building, each street, it was ultimately the Marine rifleman who won the battle.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

The fighting was so intense that Alpha company lost their Commanding Officer and many of their lieutenants. Charlie Company lost every single officer for the exception of two. The ferocity of combat and the escalating casualty rates saw PFC’s as platoon commanders in the thick of the fighting. Combat promotions were a common sight on the battlefield.

The Marine Corps’ sent three battalions to face off against 15 to 18 NVA battalions for domination of Hue. Initially supported by small arms and the South Vietnamese Army and Marines, it took everything to defeat the determined Viet Cong. The combined allied casualites at the conclusion of the battle climbed to over 3,800. The enemy sustained over 5,000 dead and an unknown amount of wounded.

The Marines adapted their tactics and with heroic determination drove the NVA and Vietcong from Hue despite being spread too thin and fire support being largely restricted  – Richard Camp’s (Col. Ret). Death in the Citadel: U.S. Marines in the Battle for Hue City, 31 January to 2 March 1968 (2017)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what other countries thought about the US Civil War

It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.

Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.


England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.

The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.

One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.

Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.

The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.

London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.

The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.

One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.

The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Unidentified; State Department Messenger Donaldson; Unidentified; Count Alexander de Bodisco; Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister; Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister; Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated); Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; Henri Mercier, French Minister; William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated); Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister; Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated); and Sheffield, British Attache.

(Diplomats at the Foot of an Unidentified Waterfall – NY State, August 1863)

The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.

Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

On New Year’s Eve 1943, a full five months before D-Day, British Major Logan Scott-Bowden and Sgt. Bruce Ogden-Smith swam ashore near the village of Luc-sur-Mer in France’s German-held Normandy region.


In the distance, they could hear Germans singing as they celebrated the new year. A fierce wind that began blowing as they crossed the English Channel carried them a mile from their target landing site, a beach code-named “Sword.” Armed with daggers and Colt .45 pistols, the two men began walking in the darkness, careful to stay below the tide line — where their footsteps would be erased by morning.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Brigadier Logan Scott-Bowden after the war.

“We had to creep past the searchlights to make our way to the correct beach, dropping down on our stomachs every few minutes when the search light came back round,” Scott-Bowden later said.

Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were members of the Combined Operations Pilotage and Beach Reconnaissance Party (COPP), a secret British unit that had been formed by Lord Mountbatten, British Chief of Combined Operations, after the disastrous Dieppe landing in August 1942.

They were there to answer a question.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Sergeant Bruce Ogden-Smith.

By late 1943, planning for the Allied invasion of Europe narrowed the invasion site to the east coast of the Calvados Peninsula in Normandy, which had all the factors the Allies believed they needed for success: A good port at Caen, shelter from the worst of Atlantic Ocean storms, thirty miles of beach, decent exits from the beaches, and a good road network. But old Roman maps of the area, found among the information supplied by the Resistance, indicated the Romans gathered peat from the area, which worried planners.

If there were peat bogs under a thin layer of sand at the proposed invasion sites, the beaches might not be able to support the heavy equipment — tanks, trucks, bulldozers, and the like — that would be part of the landing.

When Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were selected for the mission, and before they left from Gosport, near Portsmouth, they were offered cyanide tablets to be used if they were captured and faced torture.

Related: 6 of the wildest top secret spy missions of World War II

As the men moved closer to shore in the area around Luc-sur-Mer, a gale was blowing. A few miles from the target beach, they changed into rubber wet suits, strapped on their equipment, and transferred to a hydrographical survey craft that took them to within two miles of the shore, where the two men jumped over the side and started swimming.

Besides their other equipment, the men carried a dozen twelve-inch tubes for sand samples and a special instrument, said to look like a pogo stick, for taking the samples.

Eventually the men reached Sword Beach, began taking samples, marking the location from which each was taken on underwater writing tablets strapped to their arms. But they stopped suddenly when they spotted German guard patrolling the dark beach. The two men flattened themselves in the sand as the guard crossed the beach to within twenty feet of them.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Injured and exhausted assault troops are helped ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day,

“We both had our pistols in our hands,” Scott-Bowden said, “and I really thought I was going to have to shoot him.”

After a few minutes, however, the guard moved on without spotting the two men who quickly resumed work and finished their sample collecting.

Weighted down with the samples and their other equipment, they returned to the surf and tried to swim out from the shore to their pickup point – only to be thrown back by the crashing waves kicked up by the wind. A second attempt ended the same way.

The two men rested in shallow water for a few minutes, studying the incoming waves and timing their occurrence before being able to escape the surf and swim into calmer water.

At this point, Scott-Bowden could hear his partner yelling. Fearing Ogden-Smith was in danger — and would alert the Germans to their presence — Scott-Bowden headed in his direction only to realize Ogden-Smith was simply yelling, “Happy New Year.”

“I swore at him, ” Scott-Bowden said, “then wished him a Happy New Year, too.”

They made it.

It was later reported that they left one of the “pogo stick” devices on the beach, but a French civilian found it and hid it for the duration of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What would happen if the Hanukkah story took place today

In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV set to quash Judaism among his subjects. Matthias the Kohein and his five sons fled to the hills and assembled a rag tag group of revolutionaries known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought the seemingly endless mercenary army until they reached Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple Mount.


Three years to the day of Antiochus’ rampage against the Jews, the Maccabees held the dedication. The Festival of Lights as we know it came from this celebration and when the tiny jar of oil managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days.

As a fun thought experiment, and because I love AlternateHistoryHub, lets re-imagine and contextualize the Maccabean Revolt with today’s weaponry, training, and armies. To keep the completely fictional and arbitrary scenario fair, Matthias the Kohein and his sons are the Shayetet 13 – the Israeli equivalent to the Navy SEALs. They serve as both instructors and fighters for the rest of the revolt: made up of IDF personnel — because being a “normal” civilian isn’t exactly a thing in modern Israel.

The modern equivalent of the Seleucid Empire is a bit of a gray area. They hired many Syrian mercenaries, but they weren’t exactly modern Syria. Though it spanned across Turkey to India, its culture, customs, and religions were Hellenic. Since Greece and Israel are allies in real life, this seems to help avoid any pitfalls.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Also pretend like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a while away because much of the revolution took place in the West Bank. (Image via MyJewishLearning.com)

As anyone who is aware of Israeli war history knows, Israel has a strong and constantly-tested military. While it has a 176,500 strong standing military, the number of fit military service troops is around 3,00,000. Their current defense budget if $18.6 billion annually and their Merkava main battle tanks are one of the most devastating in the world. All of that on top of a nuclear-triad option.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
And since this is a large scale revolt under the guidance of a Spec Ops group that is on par with our SEALs, they would use everything at their disposal. (Image via IDF Blog)

As for the Hellenic Armed Forces, their peacetime strength is around 113,500 troops with a total 4,000,000 fit for service troops. Their current defense spending budget is around $9.3 billion and they are the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and they have the highest G.D.P percentage towards military spending in the EU.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
As far as military might, they each fall around the same skill and fire power. After all, Spartan blood runs deep in the Greeks. (Image via Reddit)

Just by pure numbers alone, Israel would take the fight. That’s not even including the home-field advantage of an insurgency. Even if the Greeks were to hire entire mercenary companies to fight for them, an average mercenary company only has roughly 10k personnel and would eat most of their already dwarfed budget. In $366 billion dollar industry, the modern equivalent Seleucid Empire would just not have the funds to match the Maccabean Forces.

Just as they did over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees would reach the Temple Mount and rededicate it by lighting the golden menorah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘terrorist uniform’ you’ll probably wear this winter

Plaid fabric is fairly innocuous. It’s been borrowed by all sorts of groups in America, from hipsters to lumberjacks and punk rockers to professors.

But, in the 18th century, it was the semi-official uniform of Scottish rebels branded as terrorists by the Protestant King George II.


These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

King James II and his wife, Anne, before they were violently deposed and forced to flee to France and exile.

The problems started in 1688 when Catholic King James II was overthrown by a Protestant rebellion. In his absence, who, exactly, would be the legal holder of power in England was thrown up for debate. Would the Catholic king, who had cast away the Seal of the Realm while fleeing to France, or the Protestant William III and his wife, Mary, be the true authority of England?

Different political bodies in England and in other European capitols came down on different sides of the debate, but Mary was crowned queen and her husband became king. But the descendants of James II maintained their claim to the throne in exile. In 1745, James II’s grandson, Charles, made a play for the throne.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the world’s hardest pandering claimant to the English throne in 1745.

(John Pettie)

Boasting Scottish blood, Charles decided to start his campaign in Scotland in 1745. The Parliament of Scotland had initially acquiesced to the rise of Queen Mary and King William III, but the Scottish, as a whole, still supported Catholic rule. And Scotland had been angered by a series of acts by London and the Crown during the early 1700s, including the dissolution of the Parliament of Scotland.

To cement his political standing with the Scots, Charles arrived in the country in a plaid coat. Plaid patterns in Scotland are known as tartans, and they had been a popular part of Scottish identity for centuries.

The ploy worked, and many Scots, especially Highland Scots, decided to support the invasion, creating the Jacobites, as they were known. But, some Lowland Scots supported Mary and William, leading to fighting in Scotland even before Charles began his push south.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Soldiers of a Highland Regiment just before the Jacobite uprising. After the uprising, soldiers serving the British crown could continue to wear patterns like this, but it was banned for nearly all others.

The Highland Scots, often wearing their traditional garb made with tartan fabrics, delivered a number of victories to “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Think Braveheart clothing but The Patriot weapons).

But popular support for Charles and the House of Stuart dried up the further the Jacobites marched south, and so they were soon forced to start pulling back north with his largely Scottish forces.

This led to the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746, where Charles and the Scots attempted to score a defensive victory against government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. Both sides were bogged down in the mud, but greater numbers on the Protestant side allowed them to pin down Scottish fighters with some units while others maneuvered. Their artillery advantage played a large role, as well.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Battle of Culloden, where a Jacobite uprising supporting a Catholic claim to the British throne was ended by government forces.

(David Morier)

But the real brilliance of the Protestant attack came in how they ordered men to attack with bayonets during hand-to-hand fighting. Rather than fencing with the man directly in front of them, as was normal, the men were ordered to thrust into the exposed right side of the enemy adjacent to them.

Charles fled the country, never to return. But the Scots he left behind found themselves in the unenviable position of being stuck in the kingdom they had just rebelled against.

They were branded as terrorists and insurgents, and many of those who took part in the rebellion were hunted and executed. Meanwhile, their traditional fabric had been outlawed for general wear. Only highlanders who joined the British military were allowed to wear tartan fabrics, and usually only in Scottish units.

The ban was lifted in 1782, but by then, many of the traditional patterns had been lost and weavers had died. Still, it slowly grew in popularity once again.

Oddly enough, its popularity had greatly grown among Lowland Scots who had fought against their tartan-wearing brethren. They collected tartan patterns like souvenirs of their fathers’ victories over the Catholics.

Finally, the Protestant aristocracy embraced the pattern after King George IV visited Edinburgh and led a tartan procession of Highland chiefs through the Scottish city.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Now, of course, its popular around the world, but known as plaid in the States. Scottish clans reclaimed their historic patterns or generated new ones that would be tied to families forever. It’s no longer the fabric of a military rebellion. It’s just a cool pattern, often woven of warm cloths, like flannel.

In fact, the rebellious nature of the pattern has been so degraded that one of the most recognizable and broadly used tartan patterns is that of the the Royal House of Stewart, the royal family of England which defeated the 1745-1746 Jacobite Rebellion and then outlawed the fabric for almost 40 years. Oddly enough, it’s very similar to the “Jacobite” pattern worn by the rebels.

So, enjoy your flannel, but maybe tip a Scotch whisky over for the tartan-wearing warriors in the sky while you do so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Austrian Army defeated itself

There has been no friendly fire incident in the history of the world like the 1788 Battle of Karansebes. The Austrian Army had been at war with the Ottoman Turks for more than a year when another contingent of Austrian soldiers stumbled upon another part of their army. What should have been a general misunderstanding turned into a full-on battle with more than ten thousand killed or wounded and the Ottoman capture of Karansebes anyway.


The story starts with a band of gypsies.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

As every good story should.

It’s necessary to know that the Austrians of this time weren’t simply Austrian, they were fighting for the Hapsburg Empire, and their fighting force was comprised of several different languages, with no real common means of communicating between units. Still, units made up of these single language-speakers would regularly patrol by themselves, rather than joining other units to learn multiple languages or having a common tongue.

It was one of these units, a cavalry patrol, that was out looking for any signs of enemy Ottomans around. They didn’t find any Turks, but what they found was a group of Romani Gypsies who were just settling in for the night. The Gypsies offered the Austrians a good time with dancing and drinking, which the grateful cavalrymen eagerly took. Then, more Austrians showed up, but these were a group of infantry, and the cavalrymen refused to share.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Anyone who’s ever known infantrymen can probably guess what’s about to happen.

This started a fistfight, of course. As the rival groups started fighting over the booze, shots rang out from across the nearby river. All the fighting Hapsburg men stopped fighting and took cover, quickly making it back to their camp to warn the others that Turks were shooting from the other side of the river. The camp exploded in a frenzy of men who thought Turks were overrunning their camp. When the German officers tried to get their fleeing men to calm down and come back, they shouted “halt,” which in a German accent, was mistaken for “Allah.” part of the Ottoman’s battle cry.

All the sides fought one another until the camp commander believed he was being overrun, at which point he ordered the artillery to pound his own men.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Imagine this but with cannon fire landing everywhere around them.

When the Turkish Army did arrive to take the town two days later, it was completely deserted by the opposition. They rolled into the city immediately, and the Austrians didn’t talk about Karansebes for another forty years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what happened to the USS Scorpion

The loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was the last peacetime loss of a Navy vessel until the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian ran aground off the Philippines. Unlike the case of the Guardian, 99 sailors lost their lives when USS Scorpion sank after an explosion of undetermined origin.


Related: Life aboard WWII submarines was brutal

For the time, America’s Skipjack-class submarines were very fast. According to the “13th Edition of Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” these 3,075-ton submarines had a top speed of over 30 knots. Armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing anything from World War II-vintage Mk 14 torpedoes to the early versions of the multi-role Mk 48, this sub was as lethal as they come.

 

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1960. (US Navy photo)

The USS Scorpion was the second of the six vessels to be completed and was commissioned in 1960. According to GlobalSecurity.org, she carried out a number of patrols between then and 1967 before being slated for an overhaul. However, this overhaul was cut short by operational needs. The Scorpion was sent out on Feb. 15, 1968, for what would become her last patrol.

After operating in the Mediterranean Sea, she began her return voyage, diverting briefly to monitor a Soviet naval force. The last anyone heard from the sub was on May 21, 1968. Six days later the Scorpion failed to arrive at Norfolk, where families of the crew were waiting.

The Navy would declare her to be “overdue and presumed lost,” the first time such an announcement had been made since World War II. The sub would not be found until October of that year.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
The bow of USS Scorpion (SSN 589), taken in 1986 by an expedition. (US Navy photo)

 

The Navy would look into the disaster, but the official court of inquiry said the cause of the loss could not be determined with certainty. But there are several theories on what might have happened.

One centered around a malfunction of a torpedo. But others suspect poor maintenance may have been the culprit, citing the rushed overhaul.

Check out this video about what it was like to be on the Scorpion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiuM4TnAVMY&t=8s

Engineering Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Salvation Army deployed with the troops

Around this time of year, you’ll find volunteers with the Salvation Army standing outside countless shops and malls, ringing a bell and asking for whatever donations shoppers can spare. Because of their charitable efforts, millions of children will have presents to open and many others will enjoy a much-needed Christmas dinner.

Most people don’t know, however, that the “Army” part of their name isn’t just a reference to the massive volume of volunteers they organize. During both World Wars, the Salvation Army was right there with troops in the trenches, much like today’s MWR and USO. The unpaid volunteers of the Salvation Army put their safety on the line to improve the lives of our nation’s defenders.


These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

There was no one more in need of help than the soldiers fighting on the front lines.

(National Archives)

The Salvation Army was founded in 1852 when William Booth, a Methodist minister, took his teachings of “loving thy neighbor” from the pulpit to the streets to help the less fortunate of East London. It was his belief that everyone in need should be given the love and care they need.

While it still remains a Christian organization to this day, the Salvation Army’s main focus has always been doing good for others, regardless of who they are or what they believe. They adopted a military rank structure to organize their members — mostly pastors and businessmen — to keep within theme of working in “God’s Army.”

The organization’s charitable spirit was put to the test when Canada entered the First World War and many Canadian Salvationists saw their nation’s fighting men dragged through the hell that is trench warfare.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

(National Archives)

The Salvation Army provided troops with many minor comforts that civilians often take for granted, like the materials to write loved ones back home, hot cups of coffee, and the chance to watch a movie. They also gave the troops a nice, home-cooked meal, which was gourmet when compared to the “chow hall special” that was normally offered.

The Salvation Army aimed to provide comforts to those who needed them most — and those who needed them most were on the front lines. So, the Salvationists were right there with them in the trenches. It didn’t matter whether you were carrying a rifle, the volunteers were subjected to the same, awful living conditions and the constant threats of gas attacks, stray bullets, and artillery shells.

The hard work meant a lot to the troops. A quick bite to eat gave them time to clear their heads before jumping back into the fray.

And it was all worth it to put a smile on a war-weary soldier’s face.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it took to be an executioner in medieval times

Mary A. asks: How did someone get the job of an executioner in medieval times?

Few occupations from history are as maligned as that of Medieval-era executioner. Popularly painted as gleeful dispensers of death and torture, the truth seems to be that many executioners throughout this period usually treated the occupation with a certain reverence and exhibited an extreme dedication to duty. Beyond trying to minimize the suffering of those slated to be executed, this was, among other reasons we’ll get into, because it would often mean the life of the executioner if they ever botched an execution or otherwise weren’t extremely professional in carrying out their job.


So, moving beyond any Hollywood depictions, what was it actually like to be an executioner in the ballpark of Medieval times and how did someone get the job in the first place?

A thing to note before we continue is that the duties expected of and performed by executioners, as well as what life was like for specific executioners, has varied wildly across time and regions. For example, as we’ve talked before, those condemned to death in the Ottoman empire during the 18th century could potentially get off scot-free by challenging the executioner to a footrace. In this case, in addition to doling out lethal justice with their bare hands, executioners also worked as both bodyguards and gardeners.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

That caveat out of the way, how did one become an executioner in the first place? It turns out that many European Medieval executioners were former criminals themselves. You see, for reasons we’ll get into shortly, the role of executioner was so unpopular that finding someone to do the job often required either forcing someone into the profession or offering the gig to someone who was slated to be executed themselves.

Scandinavian countries were known to make extensive use of this novel hiring practice, with a little twist thrown in- they’d maim executioners by cutting off one or both of their ears so that they could be easily identified by the public. It also wasn’t uncommon for people made executioners in this way to be branded somewhere on their head, once again for the purpose of their new profession being, in this case literally, written all over their face. For example, as noted in Hugo Mathiessen’s Boddel og Galgefugl,

“In the year 1470, a poor thief stood at the foot of the gallows in the Swedish town Arboga and was waiting to be hanged. The public attending the spectacle had pity on the sinner and when he, to save his neck, offered to become executioner in the town, it was agreed. He was pardoned and the red-hot iron was used to brand his body with both thief and executioner mark.”

In Germany, on the other hand, as author Joel Harrington notes in a discussion of his book, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, while “standing executioners on salary were the norm” throughout Germany during the 1600s, for many centuries prior to this it was commonplace to thrust role of executioner upon a victim’s oldest male relative.

This all brings us around to why so many avoided the profession like the plague. To begin with, the general consensus among most was that in taking such a job, one was then sure to be damned in the afterlife. This was despite the fact that in some regions, such as France, executioners were by official church decree absolved of the sins committed while performing their duties.

This still didn’t stop the general public from considering executioners unclean, leading to the more practical problem with the job- nearly being completely ostracized from society. Coming back to those condemned to die instead becoming an executioner, people seem to have been perfectly fine with this as the criminal’s life would still be forfeit, just in a more metaphorical sense.

For example, throughout Medieval Europe executioners were often forced to live in houses outside of the city or town they plied their trade in. In cases where this wasn’t possible, they tended to live near things like public latrines, lepertoriums, or brothels. Executioners were similarly often denied citizenship to the towns and cities they served (and thus had few rights in the town) and were largely barred from holding office or even entering churches, pubs, bathhouses, etc- basically most public establishments were off limits to the executioner.

Thus, despite executioners being deemed critical for a society to remain civilised, they were paradoxically generally forced to live apart from that civilised society.

In fact, some places across Europe went as far to institute laws specifically targeting executioners and what they could and could not do in their day to day lives. For example, the Bavarian town of Memmingen enacted an ordinance in 1528 that forbade members of the general public dining with an executioner.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Such laws and just general attitudes effectively limited the people an executioner could interact with in their day to day lives to their own family and those from the criminal underworld who simply didn’t care that the executioner was unclean. On top of this, an executioner’s children and spouse were likewise similarly shunned by anyone but the underbelly of society.

This, combined with the fact that the children of executioners could usually only find mates with children of other executioners, understandably led to the role of executioner becoming a macabre family trade that resulted in executioner dynasties that spanned centuries.

Beyond being ostrosised and damning your progeny to a similar life, as well as an afterlife full of hellfire, while there were potentially ways for an executioner to make a killing within the profession, it turns out for most there simply weren’t enough executions themselves to make ends meet. Alternate work was limited to jobs nobody else wanted. This included all manner of things, from disposal of corpses (animal and human), emptying cesspools, collecting taxes from the diseased and prostitutes, etc.

Oddly, at least from a modern perspective, another common profession for a well trained executioner was that of a doctor and surgeon. You see, beyond executing people, another thing executioners were often called to do was torture people for various reasons. These two things, combined with the close-knit community of executioners sharing their knowledge amongst themselves, resulted in lifelong executioners generally having exceptional knowledge of human anatomy, and thus they were commonly called on to treat various medical maladies.

In fact, one rather famous 17th century German executioner, Frantz Schmidt, noted in his journal that over the course of his near five decade career he had over 15,000 people he treated as a doctor, while executing only 394 and disfiguring or otherwise torturing or flogging roughly the same number- meaning most of the time he functioned as a doctor, despite society at the time considering him an executioner.

Schmidt was one of those thrust into the profession as his father was strong-armed into becoming an executioner, condemning Schmidt to the same life once he came of age, though Schmidt’s story has something of a happy ending.

Like many executioners, Schmidt was given a wide berth by the public in his day-to-day life, but the incredible professionalism with which he conducted his grisly duties earned him the begrudging respect of both the general public and those in power. In his later years, Schmidt was able to parlay this into a meeting with Nuremberg authorities and then was able to appeal to Emperor Ferdinand II himself, with the goal of restoring his family honor.

Swayed by not just Schmidt’s words, but also letters from city council members and other notable people extolling Schmidt’s character and dedication to his duty, the then 70 year old executioner was granted both Nuremberg citizenship and had his family name cleared, allowing his progeny to escape the bloody spectre of his work.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

Of course, being ultra-professional with the profession was something of a necessity for Schmidt as, at the time in Germany, there was a law stipulating that any executioner tasked with doling out death by the sword (a form of execution largely reserved for especially important individuals) who took more than three swings to behead a victim would be condemned to die themselves.

Even where such laws didn’t exist, the job of an executioner was extremely dangerous as executioners were also at risk of being killed either by vengeful relatives or the crowd witnessing an execution. In regards to the latter, if an executioner was especially cruel in their meting out of punishment, simply incompetent to the point that they caused undue suffering, or just otherwise acted in an unprofessional manner in performing their duties, it wasn’t unheard of for a crowd to retaliate by killing the executioner on the spot, generally with no consequence to anyone in the mob.

This constant danger of the job was something Schmidt himself talked about several times in his journal, though he only notes one instance where the crowd turned into a mob. This occurred during a flogging he was performing, with the person being beaten ultimately stoned to death by the crowd.

As you might imagine from this, in cases like Schmidt who was trained from childhood to take over the job from his father, a rather lengthy apprenticeship was called for, including a robust education from one’s parent, followed by assisting in executions and torture from a young age. Schmidt also notes that he practiced executions extensively on various animals before being allowed to actually execute a human himself. The end goal of all of this was to make sure he wouldn’t screw up, as raucous mobs didn’t really care if it was someone’s first day on the job or not.

Now, although being an executioner came with some massive downsides, it wasn’t all bad. Enterprising executioners could actually earn a fairly decent living doling out torture and capital punishment on command if they were smart about it. For example, especially skilled executioners who didn’t mind traveling could take advantage of the scarcity of people willing to do their job by plying their trade across whichever country they happened to live in, rather than just staying local.

Executioners also frequently earned extra money in the form of bribes from the condemned or their families, invariably given in the hopes that the executioner would ensure death was as swift and painless as possible, or otherwise allow the condemned extra comforts leading up to the execution. This might include, for example, slipping them extra alcohol or the like to make the execution a little easier to handle.

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

On top of this, throughout much of Medieval Europe a perk of being an executioner is that it was customary for whatever property was worn at the time of death to be granted to the executioner.

Additionally, executioners in Germany were frequently tasked with things like arbitrating disputes between prostitutes and driving lepers out of town, among other such jobs, all of which they could charge a premium for because nobody else was willing to do the job.

Executioners were also sometimes not just given the job of disposing of animal carcasses, but also in some regions the explicit right to all stray animal carcasses found in a town. Depending on the animal, this could mean the rights to valuable hides, teeth, etc.

An even greater benefit for certain executioners, this time in France, was the idea of droit de havage. In a nutshell, because executioners were so ostracized and couldn’t in some regions, for example, just go down to the market and shop freely, under droit de havage, executioners were more or less allowed to tax those who sold various food and drink items. This came in the form of being able to demand goods for free.

Finally, there’s the money an executioner would be paid for performing an execution, flogging, or the like. Although it’s hard to say exactly how much an executioner could earn per hanging or beheading in today’s currency due to the inherent difficulty of gauging the value of historic currencies, it’s evident that it was a good amount, at least relative to the generally low social standing of executioners.

For example, according to information gleaned from an old statute dated to a small German town in 1276 an executioner could earn the equivalent of 5 shillings per execution. This is an amount roughly equal to the amount of money a skilled tradesmen could earn in about 25 days at the time. Likewise, an executioner operating in England some two centuries later in the 1400s could reportedly earn a fee of 10 shillings per execution, or roughly 16 times the amount a skilled tradesmen could earn in a single day.

Granted, as you might have deduced from the aforementioned case of Frantz Schmidt only executing about 400 people and flogging a similar number in his near five decades on the job, nobody was getting rich doing this by itself, it at least wasn’t bad pay per hour of work.

Finally, we’d be remiss in any discussion of Medieval executioners to not point out that the idea of executioners wearing masks to hide who they were does not appear to have actually been much of a thing. Beyond, as mentioned, in many regions being literally branded as executioners, even large cities for much of history weren’t actually that large; so people knew who the executioner in a given region was, if not directly, by being marked such. Thus, wearing a mask would have been pointless.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Only one American ever spied for Japan during World War II

In February 1942, American postal censors intercepted a strange letter that had been returned from an address in Argentina. Supposedly sent from an address in Springfield, Ohio, the postmark read that it was sent from New York City and it contained strange passages. The censors handed the letter over to the FBI. 

That letter and others like it were addressed to and returned from the same undeliverable address in Argentina. All of them contained bizarre statements. When the FBI investigated the letters, they turned up the only American to hand over intelligence to Japanese during World War II. 

The United States was fighting for its life against the Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany. The wounds from the attack on Pearl Harbor were still fresh and internally, the U.S. was doing everything in its power to clamp down on spies and informants in the homeland. 

One of the means of securing wartime information was the use of postal inspectors who would read and censor mail. When they came across a returned letter addressed to an Inez Lopez de Molinali of Argentina, they read it. It made little sense to them.

“The only three dolls I have are three love Irish dolls. One of these dolls is an old fisherman with a net over his back, another is an old woman with wood on her back and a third is a little boy.”

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
One of the bizarre letters turned in to the FBI (Image courtesy of FBI.gov)

Postal inspectors turned up five letters, all returned and all addressed to Senora Molinali. Only the letter supposedly from a Springfield, Ohio address was not in the American west. A couple of them had postmarks that were different from the return address. They were full of strangely-worded paragraphs that, on the surface, appeared to be about doll repairs.

“I just secured a lovely Siamese Temple Dancer, it had been damaged, that is tore in the middle. But it is now repaired and I like it very much. I could not get a mate for this Siam dancer, so I am redressing just a small plain ordinary doll into a second Siam doll…”

When the FBI got hold of all five letters, they were able to determine that the signatures on the letters were fakes and the people who allegedly sent them had no idea who Inez Molinali was nor did they know anyone in Argentina. They were doll collectors, however, and they all had one doll-related fact in common: Velvalee Dickinson’s doll shop. 

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history
Portrait of Velvalee Dickinson (Wikipedia)

Dickinson was a Stanford-educated divorcee who moved from San Francisco to New York City in 1937. Dickinson and her third husband were keeping the books for Japanese clients when they fell on hard times. They moved to New York for a fresh start, where Velvalee opened a new doll shop on Madison Avenue. 

To drum up business, Velvalee advertised in a couple of national magazines and began corresponding by mail with doll collectors across the country – five of which had sent letters to Argentina. 

The FBI determined that all the letters with forged signatures were written on the same typewriter, and thus were likely from the same person. When given to cryptographers who studied the words and the dates of the letters, the code became apparent. The “dolls” in the letters corresponded to ships of the U.S. Navy sent to various ports for repairs. 

“Siam Dolls” were aircraft carriers, a tear in the middle meant a torpedo hit, the “old woman with wood on her back” was a wooden-decked warship, fishermen’s nets were actually anti-submarine nets, and so on. 

When the FBI raided Velvalee Dickinson’s doll shop they found a large sum of money and a lavish lifestyle that being a dollmaker during World War II just was unlikely to support. A deeper investigation found that her former Japanese clients were diplomats. Her participation in Japanese society before the war led her to prominent Japanese officials, including the Consul General and the Japanese Naval Attache in Washington, DC.They had approached her to provide this information before the war began. 

Dickinson was charged on May 5, 1944 of violating the espionage statutes, the Registration Act of 1917, and censorship statutes. She pleaded not guilty, claiming it was her husband who was the real spy. Her husband had fallen ill, however and nurses and caretakers said he did not have the mental capacity to conduct anything at the time, let alone espionage.

So Velvalee Dickinson accepted a plea bargain and was the only American who spied for the Japanese Empire after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Or at least, she was the only one who was ever caught.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about the Berlin Wall

This week in history, East German soldiers closed the borders between East and West Berlin. What started as a makeshift wall in 1961, pieced together with barbed wire, soldiers and tanks, eventually morphed into a 15-foot high symbol of division that blotted the landscape. However, the citizens of Berlin proved time and again where there’s a will, there’s a way. In its 28-year history, over 5,000 people risked life and limb to successfully across the border. For today’s history lesson, let’s take a look at a few more things you probably didn’t know about the Berlin Wall.


The wall was built to keep people in 

At the height of the Cold War, Germany was politically divided. East Germany represented life under Communism, and West Germany held the promise of democracy. Consequently, between 1949 and 1961, over 2 million East Germans fled from East to West.

By August 1961, it is estimated that East Germany was losing approximately 2,000 of its citizens every day. Many of whom were skilled laborers in professionals, and their exodus was wreaking havoc on East Germany’s economy. To stop the bleeding, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advised East Germany to cut off access between the two sides. So, on August 13, 1961, East Germany closed the border between East and West Berlin.

The streets were torn up to build the wall

Initially, a hasty perimeter was set up, and the wall in the city center was made of men and armored vehicles. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soldiers laid down barbed wire and ripped up the street known as Friedrich-Ebert Strasse, to build a makeshift wall. More armed guards kept watch, ready to shoot anyone who tried to cross as the wall was erected.

Over time the Berlin wall was shored up, reaching up to 15 feet high in some spots, and barbed wire and pipes perched atop the wall made climbing over impossible.

Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous checkpoint, but do you know why?

Along the Berlin Wall, there were a few checkpoints where those with the proper documentation were able to cross between sides. Among them was Checkpoint Friedrichstrasse — more commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie. The U.S. Army maintained Checkpoint Charlie, and it was the only checkpoint where foreigners and allied forces were allowed to cross into East Germany.

Checkpoint Charlie also gained notoriety because it was the preferred crossing for prisoner swaps. The most notable prisoner swap occurred in 1962, on Glienicke Bridge, which stood only a short distance from Checkpoint Charlie. During this exchange American U-2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy convicted of espionage.

Checkpoint Charlie has often been depicted in film and books as well, perhaps most notably in the James Bond classic Octopussy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré.

You can own a piece of the wall

On November 9, 1989, East Germany announced relaxed travel restrictions to West Germany, and thousands gathered to demand passage. As East German guards opened the borders, the demonstrations reached a fever pitch. Berliners climbed the wall, defaced it with graffiti, and began chipping away at it, some keeping fragments as souvenirs. While East German guards began dismantling the wall on August 10, 1989, Germany was not officially united until 1990.

Today pieces of the Berlin Wall are available for sale on eBay. You can own a piece of history for .99 plus shipping and handling.

More than 100 people died trying to cross the wall

According to the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, more than 140 people were killed or died at the wall between 1961 – 1989. While many were shot by armed guards, many more perished in an assortment of suicides after failed attempts, freak accidents, and drownings. Perhaps the most bizarre death was the last one to be recorded on August 3, 1989, when Winfried Freudenberg died in a failed attempt to cross the border in a hot air balloon.

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