How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Hashshashin have gone by many namesakes and the word assassin derives from the original religious cult. They consumed hashish to create visions and assassinate Christian crusading leaders and Muslim sultans alike. Their notoriety lives on to this day, influencing cult classics like the Marco Polo Netflix series or mainstream gaming such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassination was not an unfamiliar weapon in the ancient world, but the Hashshashin turned it into an art form.

Religious roots in Islam

The Hashshashin existed as a religious group of assassins from the 11th to the 13th centuries in Persia and Syria. For hundreds of years, they operated out of hidden mountain fortresses near the Caspian Sea. The new Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, but early on it was split between two groups: The Sunni and Shia. The Sunni believe that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor to the Islamic Prophet. The Shia consider Uthman’s son in-law, Ali, to be the legitimate heir. This was the start of different sects of the religion, splintering into other subgroups.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Alamout Castle ruins (Wikipedia, CC-BY-3.0)

Al-Mustansir ruled as Caliph of the Fatimid Caliphate from the age of seven for over 50 years. The religious empire spanned across northern Africa to the west and Persia to the east. Ethnic groups in Egypt made it increasingly difficult for Al-Mustansir to maintain a strong grip of the extensive empire. He gave some of his military power to his General Badr Al-Jamali to defeat the enemies of the state. Badr succeeded in defeating the groups and the politicians that supported them. On January 10, 1094 the eighth Fatimid caliph died in Egypt.

Abu Mansir Nizar, Al-Mustansir’s son, was the next in line as successor. Badr had died earlier that year as well. Badr’s son, Al-Afdal Shahanshah, took his father’s place as the Caliph’s vizier, a high office in the Muslim dynasty. Behind the scenes, Al-Afdal controlled the government due to his father’s exploits. To remain in power, he organized a successful coup. Al-Afdal placed Abu’s younger, 20-year-old brother on the throne instead because it would be much easier to control a child. The governor of Alexandria gave refuge to Abu and appointed him Caliph.

A year-long Egyptian civil war ended with a besieged Alexandria and the surrender of Abu. Imprisoned and executed by a pretender, the rightful ruler of the Caliphate met his end. Egyptian and Syrian leaders reluctantly accepted the bloody transition of power, but Persia to east refused. The Turks invaded the lands to the east and forced Sunni beliefs on the populace and executed those who refused.

Hassan-I Sabbah, a religious leader of a smaller faction, was banished long before the coup in 1080s. His loyalty to Al-Musansir and to Nizari beliefs made him a threat to the ambitious vizier’s family. As a consequence, when the rightful ruler died, he dedicated his life to vengeance and personal gain.

During his exile, he infiltrated the fabled fort Alamut disguised as a missionary of the opposing religious faction. Secretly, however, he was converting followers to his own brand of the religion. He won the fort and established his own Nizari Ismailis revolt – and his secret society the Hashashin.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Siege of Alamut (Wikipedia)

Consequently, Turkish Sultans did not want a renegade upstart seizing forts in their new empire and sent armies to recapture Alamut. The 2,000 foot high fortress that sat on vertical cliffs was impregnable. The Sultan Malik-Shah applied constant military pressure to seize the fort and kill Hassan-I. With this in mind, mysteriously, the Sultan and his vizier died. Of course, the evidence that this this may or may not have been the first assassination by the Hashashin is a topic of debate among historians. This caused a civil war that presented more opportunities for Hassan-I to capture more forts to use as a base of operations for assassinations. Hassan-I became known as “The Old Man in the Mountain.”

Psychological warfare

In spite of the name, Hashashin was originally derogatory in nature. The assassins embraced this notoriety and expanded on the fantastical tales about them. Hashashin refers to copious amounts of hashish smoked by the assassins.

‘The Assassins as men who were drugged with hashish wine and then taken to a lush valley where all of their sexual desires were fulfilled to gain their loyalty.’ – Marco Polo

‘They called themselves “fidayeen” (“martyrs”), which is what many suicide bombers today call themselves.’ – Pico Iyer, Smithsonian magazine, October 1986

A Fi’dai made peace with the fact a mission meant certain death. This dedication was also what made them terrifying. They turned assassination into an artform and could blend in with the population. Their myth grew further as it seemed they practically appeared out of nowhere and could be anyone at any time.

Hence, they could be hired by anyone to kill political or religious leaders with large sums of money. Crusaders even hired the Hashashin during the first Crusade.

Their tactics were so successful that the word assassin came from the word Hashashin.

Romanticism of the assassin

‘The Country of the Assassins’ exists on crusader maps where they had scatter strongholds. That shows that even crusaders knew that was ‘nope’ territory and to leave them the hell alone.

[Marco Polo’s] medieval best seller mentions the Syrian Old Man of the Mountain administering a drugged potion to his fanatical followers to facilitate their deadly missions. Since the sect’s nickname, the Hashishim, was derived from the Arabic for “hashish,” Marco Polo’s account helped cement their reputation as drug-fueled thugs. Modern historians, however, regard Marco Polo’s description as something of an invention itself. — Vicente Millan Torres, National Geographic

Among some of the most notable assassination attempts was the one of the famed Muslim Saladin where 13 Fi’dais were killed. The order was contracted by Rashid Ad-Din Sinan on behalf of Gumushtigin, the ruler of Aleppo.

Richard the lionhearted hired the assassins in 1192, and Jagati, the son of Genghis Khan, hired them 1242. The long list of assassination attempts even includes Edward the first of England in 1272. They could reach out and touch you from the safety of their hidden fortresses in the mountains.

It didn’t matter how tight security was, they were going to kill you or die trying. That’s some scary sh*t for a medieval ruler of any religion.

Assassins are a staple topic in pop culture. From John Wick to the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise, assassins are cool. You could probably list five real or fictional assassins off the top of your head popularized by film and television. The mystery and lethality of assassins capture the imagination. In fact, the Shia Islamic religious sect is still around today. Probably without the contract killings – allegedly. (Conspiracy music intensifies.)

Articles

The time a fishing boat helped capture a North Korean submarine

Since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, a tenuous ceasefire has existed between South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Although gunfire has been exchanged across the demilitarized zone on the 38th parallel, the conflict is largely marked by espionage. In 1998, the extraction of North Korean spies from South Korea was foiled by an unlikely and unintentional defense mechanism.

On June 22, a North Korean Yugo-class became disabled in South Korean waters. About 11 miles east of Sokcho and 21 miles south of the inter-Korean border, the submarine became tangled in a fishing drift net. The North Korean sailors attempted to free the submarine to no avail.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
U.S. Air Force graphic by Billy Smallwood, edited to show location of Sokcho

The surfaced and disabled submarine was observed by South Korean fishermen who notified the South Korean Navy of their sighting. A corvette was promptly dispatched to intercept the North Koreans. The submarine was towed by the corvette back to the navy base at Donghae with its crew still inside. However, the submarine sank on its way into port. It is still unclear if the submarine sunk due to damage sustained or if it was scuttled. The next day, the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency announced that a submarine had been lost in a “training accident.”

On June 25, the submarine was salvaged by South Korea. It had sunk to a depth of approximately 30 meters. The bodies of nine North Koreans were recovered from the submarine. The five sailors who crewed the submarine were apparently executed. Four of them had been shot in the head. “It appears that four men, including the commander, shot the five men to death, then committed suicide,” said the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Chung Young Jin.

The North Korean submarine is now in Unification Park in South Korea

Also discovered in the submarine were two automatic rifles, two machine guns, a shoulder-fired rocket launcher, diving equipment, oxygen tanks, military boots and hand grenades. While this equipment was not exceptional to find on a military submarine, the presence of South Korean drinks suggested that the agents had completed an espionage mission. The submarine’s logbook noted multiple incursions into South Korean waters on previous voyages. The bodies of the submarine crew were buried in the Cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers.

1998 was a year of high tension on the Korean peninsula. Following the 1998 Sokcho submarine incident, a dead North Korean commando and an infiltration craft were discovered near Donghae in July. In December, a semi-submersible vessel exchanged fire with South Korean ships near Yeosu and later sunk with all hands aboard in what became known as the 1998 Yeosu submersible incident. However, the involvement of a fishing net and a fishing boat in the Sokcho submarine incident makes it stand out from the others.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
A North Korean Sang-O submarine that ran aground in South Korean waters near Gangneung (Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/@Idobi)

Feature image: screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

While visiting his family in Germany before World War II, William Sebold was approached by an operative of the Abwehr, Hitler’s secret intelligence service. Sebold was an American immigrant from Germany and was living in the United States. The Abwehr wanted him to spy on American military operations for the Third Reich.

Sebold agreed, but only because the spy agency threatened to harm his family still living in Germany. But the American wasn’t a pushover. Before leaving for the U.S., he visited the American Consulate in Cologne and told them of the German plot. 

The Americans signed Sebold on as a double agent, and he would bring down the largest foreign espionage operation to ever operate on American soil that ended with the convictions of the spies. 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Composite of five photographs of spy Fritz Duquesne, seated, talking to Harry Sawyer, FBI interviewer.

William Sebold was not born a spy. He fought in World War I in the German Army as an engineer and later emigrated to the United States. There, he became an aircraft engineer and an American citizen. He only returned to Germany to visit his mother. 

Upon his arrival, he was approached by a member of the Gestapo, who told him that an intelligence operative would soon contact him with a special mission for Germany. When that man finally contacted Sebold, he was introduced as “Dr. Ritter,” and told Sebold he worked for the Abwehr. 

Sebold would return to the United States as Harry Sawyer with the codename of “Tramp.” German intelligence sent him to a seven-week training course, where he learned to use a shortwave radio, German codes, and spycraft. He was then told who to connect with back in the U.S. and how to send messages between those operatives and German intelligence.

Almost as soon as he was free of his German handlers in Europe, he turned right around and told the American Consul General of the German plot and that he wanted to aid the FBI in bringing it down. The double cross began on February 8, 1940, long before America entered World War II. 

When Sebold returned he and the FBI set up shop for Harry Sawyer in a Time Square office in New York City. Sebold posed as a diesel engineer and the office became a safe house and meeting place for Germany’s stateside spies. His first contact, however, was with Fritz Duquesne, the ringleader of the spies. 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Capt. Fritz Duquesne

Duquesne was a former journalist and lecturer who obtained aircraft blueprints for the German Army and planned sabotage operations at U.S. factories. Eventually, dozens of German spies passed their information, photos and blueprints to the Gestapo through Sebold/Sawyer’s New York office. They even received payment for their services through him. 

What they didn’t know was they were being recorded on audio and film the entire time, through the use of FBI listening devices and a two-way mirror planted in the office’s main room. For 16 months, the FBI maintained and monitored the transmissions of the shortwave radio provided to Sebold by the Germans. While they fed useless information back to Germany, they received information on German operations and operatives in the Western Hemisphere. 

By June 1941, the FBI was ready to move in on the spy ring. They arrested 33 agents, including Duquesne. Nineteen of the accused spies pleaded guilty to the charges. The other 14 took their chances in court, but were all found guilty.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Thirty-three mug shot portraits of the Dusquesne spy ringDuquesne is in the first row, far right.

Sebold disappeared after the trials ended, presumably a part of an early form of witness protection. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the Germans had no reliable intelligence network inside the U.S. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army sent soldiers to Vietnam to be ‘combat artists’

For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.

But believe it or not, painting has hung on.

During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.


According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)

Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)

The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)

Today, combat artwork is still done as part of the United States Army Artist Program, but the Army isn’t alone – the Air Force has one of these programs, too!

Learn more about some of the Vietnam combat artists in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gO_xeUKp5I

www.youtube.com

popular

How the Navy kept its Vietnam river forces going

For a lot of sailors serving in the Vietnam War, especially those on aircraft carriers, the war effort was a matter of routine. For many, that daily routine didn’t involve much combat. But for the Navy’s river force, among a few other units, it was a different story. The pilots who flew from carriers or land bases, the SEALs and members of the Underwater Demolition Teams, and Navy corpsmen all saw plenty of action, among others.

One other group of sailors who often saw combat was the Navy’s riverine force. This force, known as the “Brown Water Navy,” took on the Viet Cong (and later, the North Vietnamese Army) in the Mekong Delta. These days, there are much newer, riverine combat vessels in service, and “brown water” sailors have seen action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


In Vietnam, two classes of vessel primarily carried out operations. The first were PBRs (Patrol Boat Riverine). The Navy bought 32 of these 32-foot long vessels, each of which displaced seven tons. For small ships, they packed a huge punch: Three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher came standard. These small boats could be loaded up extras, too, including 7.62mm machine guns, 60mm mortars, and even flamethrowers!

Whatever configuration, these river force boats brought a lot of firepower for a crew of four to unleash on the enemy.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

A crewman rests near the forward gun turret of a PBR.

(US Navy)

The other vessel was the Patrol Craft Fast, known as the PCF or “Swift Boat.” This vessel, famous for being served on by former Secretary of State John Kerry (whose service drew controversy in 2004), packed three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and had a crew of six. 193 were built, and while they’re most famous for their service in Vietnam, the PCF was also exported.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Swift Boats take South Vietnamese Marines to their infiltration point.

(US Navy)

While the sailors who went into harm’s way deserve our thanks, they could never have done it without the help of those who carried out maintenance on the vessels that brought them to the fight.

See how those maintainers kept the PBRs and Swift Boats in service and in action below!

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ernest Hemingway was almost impossible to kill

If there ever was a candidate for history’s real “Most Interesting Man In the World,” the frontrunner for the title would have to be famed writer, boxer, veteran, and adventurer Ernest Hemingway. He drove an ambulance in World War I, covered the Spanish Civil War, hunted Nazi submarines in the Pacific, gave relationship advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even drank with Castro after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

That brief paragraph barely scratches the surface of the man’s epic life. But truthfully, Hemingway should have died many, many times during his epic journey. In the end, he was the only one who could have ever ended such a life. The Grim Reaper was probably afraid to come around.


As the man himself once said, “Death is like an old whore in a bar. I’ll buy her a drink but I won’t go upstairs with her.”

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Hemingway on crutches in World War I.

He was hit by a mortar in World War I

While driving an ambulance on the Italian Front of the Great War, Hemingway was hit by an Austrian shell while handing out chocolate. The blast knocked him out cold and buried him in the ground nearby. He was peppered from head to toe by shrapnel while two Italian soldiers next to him were killed almost instantly.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Just not all at once.

He carried more diseases than an old sponge.

Throughout his life, Hemingway was struck down hard by things like anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental illness. Even so, he hunted big game in Africa while suffering from malaria, and even boxed the locals.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Hemingway sparring with locals in Africa.

He got into a lot of fights.

The original Big Papa was a fan of fisticuffs. He took any and every opportunity to accept challenges to his boxing prowess, fighting the aforementioned African locals, Caribbean friends, and even contemporary authors who besmirched his good name. If anyone challenged his manhood, they could count on a physical challenge of their own.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

“Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar.”

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

Hemingway enjoyed a good cocktail or three. An entire book has been published with just the cocktails Hemingway enjoyed the most. His favorite was a double frozen blended daiquiri from his favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita. On one occasion, he and a friend drank 17 of the double-strength concoctions. Eventually, he had to stop drinking to mitigate liver damage. No kidding.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Hemingway giving pointers on growing a vet beard. Probably.

The Nazis couldn’t kill him.

Hemingway was writing in Madrid when Spain was devastated by Fascist bombers and was in London when the Luftwaffe bombed that city. He was covering the D-Day landings of World War II, coming onto the beaches with the seventh wave and then moving inland through hedgerow country, moving with the Army through the Battle of the Bulge – all while suffering from pneumonia. All this after hunting Nazi submarines off of Cuba.

He even formed French Resistance members into a militia and helped capture Paris.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

God couldn’t kill him.

While on vacation in Africa, Hemingway and company were nearly killed in a plane crash. On their way to Uganda to receive medical care, their plane exploded upon takeoff. The resulting concussion caused him to leak cerebral fluid, and he suffered from two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken skull. He still went on a planned fishing trip… where a brushfire burned his legs, front torso, lips, left hand, and right forearm.

He responded by getting up and winning a Nobel Prize.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Elvis helped build the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese hit the U.S. Navy with a decisive surprise attack that they thought would cripple American resolve about joining World War II. Not only were they wrong about the Americans joining the war, the attack on the Pacific Fleet would be remembered for generations to come. 

The most devastated ships were the USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona, the only two ships that never saw active service again. The vast majority of Arizona’s crew were trapped in the ship after it sank into the shallow waters of the harbor. 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Destruction of USS Arizona during WWII.

Even then, the hulk of what was left of the Arizona became a memorial to the sailors who died aboard it during the attack. By the late 1950s, the U.S. allowed the private nonprofit Pacific War Memorial Commission to raise funds for a dedicated, permanent memorial to be built where the Arizona was once moored. 

With the goal of raising $500,000 (more than $4.5 million in today’s dollars) for its construction, a public drive for funds began almost as fast as then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Congress allowed it. 

But despite the ongoing public effort, they were only able to raise a fraction of the necessary cost, $155,000 (or $1.4 million when adjusted for inflation), according to the U.S. Naval Institute. That’s when the King decided to get involved, the King of Rock n’ Roll, that is. 

By the time the fundraising effort had stalled, Elvis Presley was fresh out of his stint in the Army and, having been out of the public eye for a number of years, needed a freshening up of his public image and career. The Colonel and the King offered their services to the Pacific War Memorial Commission, who gratefully accepted their help. 

Elvis gathered the likes of country music legend Minnie Pearl, gospel singers the Jordanaires, and his go-to backup players DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore to play with him in Hawaii’s Bloch Arena, near Pearl Harbor. Tickets cost anywhere from $3-$100 ($29-$879 when adjusted for inflation) and all money raised would go toward the USS Arizona Memorial.

In another effort to cut the costs of putting on a show, Parker cut a deal with Paramount Pictures for the production of the movie “Blue Hawaii,” which would cover the cost of getting the singer and his band to Hawaii for production of the movie and to put on the show. 

Most importantly, everyone who wanted to attend the show had to pay the price of admission, from the highest ranking admiral stationed in Hawaii to the King, Elvis Presley himself. Presley, known for his generosity and patriotism, footed the bill for patients of local military hospitals. 

That night, Elvis played all of his fans’ favorite songs, like “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “All Shook Up,” and “It’s Now or Never.” The concert was not only one of the King’s best shows, it helped the stalled fundraising effort with a shot in the arm it hadn’t seen in years. The benefit concert raised more than $60,000 ($527 million) for the memorial commission. Best of all, the publicity encouraged more donations, which came pouring in the the days and weeks that followed. 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
USS Arizona Memorial

By the end of the year, the Pacific War Memorial Commission had all the money it needed to build a memorial for the USS Arizona. Construction of the project began immediately and it was completed in May 1962. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the soldiers of Outpost Harry decimated an entire Chinese Division

By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had raged on for three years. The back and forth maneuvers up and down the peninsula had given way to a stalemate known as the Battle of the Outposts.


All along the 38th Parallel, the belligerents attacked one another’s outposts in the hopes of affecting a breakthrough. Blocking the Communist forces from driving straight on Seoul through the Cheorwon Valley, in an area known as the “Iron Triangle,” were three lonely outposts: Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Outpost Harry was situated on a hilltop in front of the Main Line of Resistance and opposite a Chinese position known as Star Hill. Being so far out in front meant that resupply was difficult and always under enemy observation. Harry’s 1,280-foot elevation did nothing to help matters.

On the night of June 10, 1953, as negotiations to end the war took place just over 50 miles away, elements of the Chinese 74th Division attacked in force. The task of defending the outpost that night fell on K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. Having spent the previous days improving their defenses and sighting in weapons, they were given the order to hold at all costs.

The attack began with a bombardment by mortars, rockets, and artillery. Suddenly the outpost was illuminated by enemy flares. Bugles and whistles sounded and over 3,600 Chinese soldiers rushed toward the outpost. The Americans rained fire down on the advancing Chinese. They exploded 55 gallon drums of Napalm in the midst of the attackers and blasted them with artillery. They were able to repulse two determined waves before the Chinese made it to the trenches and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese were overrunning the outpost.

Lt. Sam Buck, Forward Observer from the 39th Artillery Battalion, was in the Command Post on Harry when it was overrun by the Chinese. As Chinese grenades exploded in the bunker and his comrades were wounded, he continued to resist, dropping any Chinese that came through the door with a burst from his carbine. Eventually wounded and unable to continue firing, he played dead while the Chinese occupied the bunker. The fighting was so intense, one of his last actions before being evacuated later that night was to put the Company Commander’s eyeball back in its socket.

With the defense of the outpost in peril the defenders were rallied by Sgt. Ola Mize. Throughout the attack Mize moved about the outpost tending to wounded, resupplying ammunition, and killing numerous enemies. Three times he was knocked down by explosions and three times he continued his mission. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Eventually artillery strikes called right on top of the outpost, along with reinforcements from C and E Companies, drove the Chinese out of the trenches. A diversionary attack by F Company, 65th Infantry Regiment also helped in clearing the area. The next morning only a handful of the original defenders were still in fighting shape. K Company was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry at the outpost.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
A United States Army artillery crew fires a 105-millimeter howitzer against North Korean Communist positions during a battle in the Republic of Korea. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment relieved K Company and took up the defense of Harry on June 11. Again darkness fell, and the Chinese began bombarding the American positions. Advancing through their own artillery barrage, the Chinese were able to gain the trenches once again. The defenders threw back several attacks before being reinforced by B Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Together the two companies defeated a second Chinese regiment in as many nights. B Company, 15th Infantry was awarded the regiment’s second Presidential Unit Citation.

The next night it was A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team’s turn on the outpost, and once again the Chinese sent a reinforced regiment against the American position. As before, the Chinese advanced through both their own artillery and the Americans’ before entering the trenches where bitter hand-to-hand combat took place. The 15th Infantry Regiment sent L Company to reinforce and drive out the Chinese while another unit of tanks and infantry assaulted through the valley in a diversionary attack. For their actions in the defense, A Company, 5th RCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

The following night, June 13, was relatively quiet. The main action was against a Chinese screening force that attempted to recover their dead from the area around the outpost.

On the night of June 14, a small Chinese force was able to close in on the trenches through their own artillery barrage and attack G Company, 15th Infantry from the rear of the outpost. Reinforcements from E Company, 15th Infantry and a diversionary attack by elements of the 65th Infantry drove the Chinese from the outpost once again.

The next two nights were quiet on the outpost and allowed for some much needed repairs. Men from the Sparta Battalion of the Greek Expeditionary Force were also brought into the area to reinforce the depleted and beleaguered defenders. The Chinese used this time to cobble together what was left of the 74th Division for one more attack on the outpost.

That attack came on the night of June 17. The Chinese threw everything they had left in one last desperate attempt to dislodge the defenders of Outpost Harry. That night the men of P Company, Sparta Battalion, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack. Friendly artillery pounded the slopes around the trenches while the Greeks threw back wave after wave of communist attackers. N Company, Sparta Battalion reinforced their brothers and drove off the Chinese. The 74th Division retreated from the area, combat ineffective after the battle with U.N. Forces. P Company was awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation for holding Outpost Harry the final night.

In total there were five Presidential Unit Citations given for action at Outpost Harry, as well as one Medal of Honor and numerous other personal awards for valor. Just over a month later the armistice was signed, and the defense of Outpost Harry was crucial in ensuring a favorable agreement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy improvised gas mask used by World War I troops

Time and again, the oft-repeated military adage is proven right: if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid. This old saying might be the military’s version of necessity being the mother of invention. Except in the military, necessity could mean the difference between life and death. This was certainly true of U.S. doughboys on the battlefields of World War I, where a single battle could cost up to 10,000 American lives or more.

Americans were used to overcoming long odds in combat. Our country was founded on long odds. But in the Great War, U.S. troops had to contend with a weapon from which they couldn’t recover: poison gas.


How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Many different gas masks were used on the Western Front, but one was more improvised than others.

Throughout American involvement in the First World War, poison gas attacks killed and maimed some 2,000 American troops and countless more allies who had been fighting for years before the doughboys arrived. As a result, all the Allied and Central Powers developed anti-gas countermeasures to try and give their troops a fighting chance in a chemical environment. But gas was introduced as a weapon very early in the fighting, long before the belligerents knew they’d need protection.

But they did need protection. Gas on the battlefield was first administered by releasing the gas from canisters while downwind – a method that could go awry at anytime, causing the wind to shift toward friendly forces. Later on, it would be used in artillery shells that would keep the gas in the enemy’s trench – at least, until the friendly troops advanced to take that trench.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

German soldiers ignite chlorine gas canisters during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915.

But early gases weren’t as terrifying as chemical weapons developed in the course of the war. The first uses of gas attacks involved tear gas and chlorine gas. While tear gas is irritating, it’s relatively harmless. Even the first uses of tear gas on the Eastern Front saw the chemical freeze rather than deploy when fired. Chlorine gas, on the other hand, could be incredibly fatal but was not effective as an instrument of death. Chlorine gas had a telltale smell and green color. Troops knew instantly that the gas had been deployed.

To safeguard against it, allied troops used rags or towels covered in urine to protect their lungs from the gas. The thought was that the ammonia in urea was somehow neutralizing the chlorine to keep it from killing them. That wasn’t it at all. Chlorine just dissolves in water, so no chlorine would ever pass through the wet pieces of cloth on their face. They could have used coffee, and the trick would have still worked.

Water (or urine) wasn’t effective against what was to come.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Troops burned by mustard gas in the First World War.

More than half a million men were injured or killed by poison gas during World War I. The terrifying, disfiguring effects of gases like colorless phosgene gas that caused lungs to fill with fluid, drowning men in their beds over a period of days. Then there was mustard gas, a blistering agent that could soak into their uniforms, covering their entire bodies with painful, burning blisters.

Small wonder it was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

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How the Battle of the Bulge would have gone if GIs had the Javelin

Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”


Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
U.S. Army soldiers with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division shoot the Javelin, an anti-tank weapon. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division)

Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.

The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.

But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.

According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Photo: Wikimedia

Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.

But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.

That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.

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This is how Robert E. Lee’s house became Arlington National Cemetery

Before the Civil War, Robert E. Lee’s mansion was part of a Virginia estate on the Potomac River, across from the nation’s capital. It was land his wife inherited from her father. At 1,100 acres, it was an idyllic area to raise George Washington’s adopted great-grandchildren (his father-in-law, was George Washington Park Custis, the adopted son of the first Commander-in-Chief and our nation’s first First Lady).


They must have been really upset when the Union Army came by in May of 1861 and seized it from them.

 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Taking photos at the enemy commander’s house was all the rage. Probably.

 

Also Read: The Civil War started and ended at the same guy’s house 

The previous month, South Carolinian contingents of the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Civil War had begun. President Lincoln called up the U.S. Army, who came to the capital and took control of the Arlington side of the Potomac. The area was a prime position for Union Artillery.

In April 1861, Lee was appointed commander-in-chief of Virginia’s military forces. Though the state had not yet seceded, it was widely expected to do so. When Virginia left the Union, Lee was appointed to a Brigadier General’s rank in the Confederate Army in May 1861. That’s when the U.S. government took his land and home. Lee was with his army in nearby Manassas when the U.S. Army came knocking on May 24th.

Though the war started well for Lee and Virginia, it didn’t end well. After his defeat at Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia would never recover and Lee would be forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. In the meantime, the land was used by Lee’s (and other) former slaves to grow food to feed the Union Army.

 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
General Irvin McDowell and staff, Arlington House 1862. I told you it was all the rage.

 

Related: Robert E. Lee may have lost Gettysburg because of a heart attack 

After the war, the Lee family decided to try to get their land and home back through a series of legal battles. The main sticking point? Lee’s unpaid tax bill. The U.S. government charged the Lees $92.07 in taxes on their land ($2,130.52 in today’s dollars). Mary, Lee’s wife sent her cousin to pay the bill, but the U.S. would only accept the payment from Lee herself. When she didn’t show, they put the property up for sale.

 

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
Then they hoisted a giant American flag on it, just for funsies.

Now that the land was delinquent on its taxes the government could purchase it, which it did. For $26,800, the equivalent of just over $620,156 today. Except in 2017, 1100 acres of Arlington, Va. is worth millions. But in 2017, that specific 1100 acres is actually priceless, because it’s now called Arlington National Cemetery. It’s where the United States inters its honored war heroes.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world
The first graves in Arlington National Cemetery were dug by James Parks, a former slave. Parks was freed in 1862 but still lived on Arlington Estate for the duration of the war.

 

The U.S. long ago turned it into a cemetery for those troops lost in the Civil War. Union troops were buried there beginning in 1864, partly to relieve the overflowing Union hospitals and partly to keep the Lee family from ever returning. As late as 1870, the year Gen. Lee died, Mary Lee petitioned Congress to get her home back and remove the dead. The petition failed and Mary Lee died in 1873.

Her son, however, sued the government, claiming its 1864 tax auction was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the government to either remove the bodies from the cemetery or pay the Lee estate a fair market price for the land. The government paid $150,000 for the now-priceless land.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How one pilot became Santa Claus to the kids of West Berlin

After the Second World War ended, Germany was split in two. The Allies took control over Western Germany while the communists shrouded the eastern half behind the Iron Curtain. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was also famously split in two. The city is nestled deep into the heart of Eastern Germany, leaving the West Germans living there to fend for themselves in a war-torn city without supplies.

Starting in June of 1948, the communists tried their best to cut West Berlin off from the outside world. In what was later dubbed the “Berlin Blockade,” the Soviets shut down all railway, road, and canal access to Western citizens. Just as quickly, allied humanitarian missions were carried out to get food and supplies to the starving people of West Berlin. Between June 24th, 1948, and September 30th of the following year, 278,228 air missions, collectively called “Operation Vittles,” delivered over 2,326,406 tons of supplies to keep the city alive.

But one man, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, went behind his commander’s back to deliver a little extra and help raise the children’s spirits. His personal mission was dubbed Operation Little Vittles.


How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

For this, the kids gave him the exceedingly clever nickname, “Uncle Wiggle Wings.”

(National Archives)

Lt. Gail Halvorsen arrived in Germany in July, 1948, and was given orders to fly one of the C-54 Skymasters into the city to ferry supplies. On his day off, he decided to walk around the airfield with a camera to get a couple good shots of aircraft taking off and landing. When he made it to the fence at the end of the runway, he noticed that a group of children were gathered to watch the planes.

They asked him all sorts of questions about the planes and their mission and, as a demonstration of good faith, he gave them the two sticks of gum he had in his pocket. The impoverished kids divvied the two sticks, splitting it evenly amongst the large gathering — they didn’t fight over who got the biggest piece. In fact, it was said that the kid missed candy so much that just smelling the wrapper was good enough.

Halvorsen was heartbroken. He promised the children that he’d return with more. He told them that he’d always “wiggle his wings” when he was flying overhead with candy.

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Among all the fan mail and shipments of candy, Halvorsen also received plenty of marriage proposals from the ladies back home. Take notes, fellas.

(National Archives)

The very next day, he tied a bunch of candy to handkerchief parachutes and tossed it out of his plane to the kids waiting below as he took off. Halvorsen continued to do this every single day and, as he did, the daily gathering of kids grew larger.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, heard of what he was doing and was reportedly upset. It wasn’t until every newspaper in the region (and back home) started reporting on the heroics of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or “The Chocolate Flier” that the general officially allow Halvorsen to continue.

Soon enough, people began sending candy to Halvorsen’s unit. Folks back in the States started sending candy by the box, large candy makers donated to Halvorsen’s cause, and the West German children shared the bounty amongst themselves.

As Christmas, 1948, drew nearer, Halvorsen knew he’d have to do something big. By this point, candy makers had supplied him with 18 tons of candy and another 3 tons was given by private donors. In a single night, instead of tossing it to the kids gathered by the runway’s end, Halvorsen spread it across the entire city.

For one night, the spirit of Christmas was brought to the people of West Berlin. The kindness of Lt. Halvorsen, his crew, and the innumerable candy donors would never be forgotten.

To more on this story, listen to the silky smooth narration of Tom Brokaw below.

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