For most people, the Vietnam War is best represented by the grunts on the ground. Movies like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, or Full Metal Jacket dominate the public perception of the war and the films focus primarily on infantry. But the Vietnam War saw a lot of air power as well.
Although helicopters like UH-1 became an icon of the war, fixed-wing planes also saw a lot of action. Some, like the A-1 Skyraider, were legendary for providing close-air support. Others, like the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, went “downtown” to bomb Hanoi or kill MiGs. Then, there’re the B-52s that famously supported Operation Arc Light over Hanoi.
Uniquely, all of this was caught on film. It gets saved as historical record, but the cameras weren’t just recording for us to watch years later. Their purpose was to help intelligence personnel assess just how badly the strikes launched damaged a target, or if a MiG was destroyed in combat or just merely damaged. It helped to back up the observations of pilots, who were busy trying to get home.
So, what was it like seeing the war through pilots’ eyes? Well, we can see exactly what it was like, thanks to what they call Combat Camera. The Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines all have combat cameramen. It’s not exactly a risk-free job. Stars and Stripes reported that three combat cameramen were killed during the War on Terror, and two others died in a 2015 crash during post-earthquake relief operations in Nepal.
Whether it was a strike on an enemy supply convoy or a dogfight with a MiG, much of it was caught on camera. In the video below, you can see what pilots saw during the Vietnam War. Of particular interest are the gun-camera shots showing enemy forces in what is their last few moments before the Air Force brought the firepower on top of them.
During this period of mutual terror, NATO held regular war games. One annual event was Able Archer, a command post exercise in Western Europe that tested the ability of NATO to respond to a nuclear attack. In 1983, a particularly realistic iteration of the event nearly triggered an actual nuclear war.
Modern intelligence reviews of the exercise, the Soviet response, and information gleaned from spies indicates that the Soviets truly thought that Able Archer 83 was an attack.
A British spy in the KGB, Col. Oleg Gordievsky, said that about a week into the exercise, the KGB sent out a cable alerting KGB officers that the American military had just elevated their alert level and that the countdown to war may have already started.
Gordievsky alerted London to the risk the West was running in the exercise and London lobbied America to take steps to prevent a disaster.
Luckily, nothing in Able Archer 83 pushed Soviet fears over the edge and Russia never launched a preemptive strike. Reagan, who later met Gordievsky in the Oval Office after the spy defected to England, wrote that he thought someone should tell the Soviets directly that America had no intention of launching a first strike.
No one has ever claimed that life aboard a U.S. Navy ship was luxurious. Even on the most advanced warships on the planet life can still be cramped. Though today amenities are much improved, the sailors patrolling the oceans in World War II had a much different life than their modern counterparts.
For one thing, the submarines of World War II were much smaller. Though only about 60 feet shorter than a modern submarine, the Gato and Balao-class submarines the U.S. Navy operated in World War II had a displacement of only about one third that of modern Virginia class submarines.
In that small space, the submariners — some 60 to 80 in all — had to store themselves, their gear, and provisions for 75 days.
A submarine of that size simply could not fit all of the necessary provisions for a long war patrol in the appropriate spaces. To accommodate, the crew stashed boxes of food and other things anywhere they would fit — the showers, the engine room, even on the deck until there was space inside to fit it all.
There was one upside though. Because of the dangerous and grueling nature of submarine duty, the Navy did its best to ensure that submariners got the best food the Navy had to offer. They also found room to install an ice cream freezer as a small luxury for the crew.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time or space to enjoy that food. Most of the time the men were lucky to get ten minutes to eat as the boat’s three “shifts” all had to pass through the tiny galley in a short amount of time.
The serving of food was often times also dictated by restrictions on the submarines movements. Submarines were under strict orders not to surface during the day when they were within 500 miles of a Japanese airfield in order to avoid aerial observation and attack. In the early days of the war in the Pacific this meant just about everywhere as the Japanese were in control of vast swaths of territory and ocean.
This meant that the submarines stayed submerged during the day and only surfaced at night. In order to compensate, many crews flipped their schedules doing their normal daily routines at night. The crews called this “going into reversa.” This allowed the crew to take advantage of the time the sub was on the surface.
This was important because once the submarine dove after running its diesel engines for hours, the boat would quickly heat up. The engine room temperature could soar to over 100 degrees before spreading throughout the sub. Combine that with the 80 men working and breathing and the air inside could quickly become foul.
The men knew the air was getting bad when they had trouble lighting their cigarettes due to the lack of oxygen (oh the irony).
To make matters worse, there was little water available for bathing and on long patrols most men only showered about every ten days or so. Laundry was out of the question. Because of these conditions submarines developed a unique smell – a combination of diesel fuel, sweat, cigarettes, hydraulic fluid, cooking, and sewage.
On older submarines, the World War I-era S-boats — often referred to as pigboats — the conditions were even worse. Without proper ventilation, the odors were even stronger. This also led to mold and mildew throughout the boat as well as rather large cockroaches that the crews could never quite seem to eradicate.
If the conditions themselves weren’t bad enough, the crews then had to sail their boats into hostile waters, often alone, to attack the enemy.
Submarines often targeted shipping boats, but sometimes would find themselves tangling with enemy surface vessels. Once a sub was spotted, the enemy ships would move in for the kill with depth charges.
Of the 263 submarines that made war patrols in World War II, 41 of them were lost to enemy action while another eleven were lost to accidents or other reasons. This was nearly one out of every five submarines, making the job of submariner one of the most dangerous of the war.
A further danger the submarines faced was being the target of their own torpedoes. Due to issues with the early Mk. 14 torpedo that was used, it had a tendency to make a circular run and come back to strike the sub that fired it. At least one submarine, the USS Tang, was sunk this way.
On special missions, submarines landed reconnaissance parties on enemy shores, and in a few cases used their 5″ deck guns to bombard enemy positions.
The bravery of the submarines was well-known in World War II. Presidential Unit Citations were awarded 36 times to submarine crews. Seven submarine skippers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at sea.
American submariners in World War II set a tradition of duty and bravery that is carried on by American submarine crews today.
If you think Operation Inherent Resolve is a mission name that makes no sense, you’re not alone. The U.S. military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria was supposed to have a different name altogether. The Pentagon initially rejected OIR and only accepted it as a placeholder. Somehow it stuck, and that’s what we’re left with.
Strange, silly and absurd names shouldn’t be the standard for military operations. Or at least so said Winston Churchill back in 1943. In a WWII memo on the subject of mission names, Churchill said, “Do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way, and do not enable some widow or some mother to say her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.'”
It seems that the military isn’t exactly following Churchill’s recommendation. There’s rarely a public explanation about mission names, but that doesn’t make them any more questionable. Here are a few of the most memorable mission names.
Operation All-American Tiger
Tigers are pretty amazing in their own right, but what would be more American than having an All-American tiger? That’s a question the brass asked themselves, apparently, in 2003, when they settled on this mission name during a November 2003 Iraq War mission. Operation All-American Tiger’s objective was to search and clear farms and villages around the Euphrates River in the Northern Iraqi town of Al-Qaim. Service members detained twelve people as a result, including a few who were on a “Most Wanted” list.
While it’s fun to think about what the military was considering when creating codenames for missions, this one is actually pretty easy to figure out. The nickname for the 82nd Airborne Division is “All American.” The Tiger Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cav assisted the 82nd on this mission.
Specifically, it was the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the 82nd who worked with the Tigers. The 504th even have their own absurd nickname – The Devils in Baggy Pants – taken from a diary entry of a Wehrmacht officer in WWII.
Doesn’t this sound like a mission from the 1980s? It feels decidedly vintage, but Operation Beastmaster actually took place in 2006. OB cleared three neighborhoods in the Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, which itself was subject to a codename, albeit one that was far easier understood. Service members in IED Alley East, as Ghazaliya was known, worked together with the Iraqi Army to uncover weapons caches and a deposit of roadside bomb-creating supplies and tools. Operation Beastmaster also captured one high-ranking (and still unnamed) official, and the Army counted it as a complete win.
Operation Grizzly Forced Entry
In the summer of 2004, U.S. service members went on a counter-insurgency raid in Najaf, Iraq, a city south of Baghdad. The forced entry part of this code name is pretty self-explanatory, as service members were tasked with entering private homes to search for high-value targets who were suspected of attacking coalition forces.
Operation Power Geyser
This counterterrorism unit included 13,000 top secret service members who served as military security to support the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush. Taken from a video game series, the name Power Geyser refers to a character who was able to blast the ground with his fist and create a field of explosive energy around him that sent his opponents flying. In real life, these elite troops carried top of the line weaponry and lurked in the shadows around the White House and the Capitol building while the inauguration took place.
These 2007 missions were efforts to make residential neighborhoods, areas with lots of traffic, and marketplaces safer for Iraqis to live and work during the American involvement of the Iraq war. Service members combed these areas looking for car bombs and IEDs with a decided effort to cut down on sectarian violence in the city. The codenames were pretty easy to figure out, proof that sometimes the most basic name is the best one.
Whoever was thinking up mission names during the Iraq War was definitely trying to keep the plans top secret to ensure the missions were successful. With names like All-American Tiger and Grizzly Forced Entry, someone was trying to make sure no one knew our military’s plans.
But Hitler’s gamble wasn’t entirely crazy. He had real reason to believe that an invasion of Russia could succeed, giving the Third Reich all of the Soviets’ great treasure. To win the war, the Allied Powers had to make sure that Russia didn’t fall.
This meant that the Soviet Union would have to be supplied with massive amounts of planes, tanks, oil, barbed wire, soap, and a thousand other necessities. The British concentrated their outbound logistics on two major routes, the Meditteranean which allowed supplies to reach Malta and the Arctic route which gave access to the U.S.S.R.
German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe forces maintained bases on the northern edges of Norway, allowing them to conduct constant patrols against Allies in the Arctic. Frequent storms caused ice to collect on ships, especially in the winter.
The summer brought its own danger as the Arctic Circle experiences periods where the sun doesn’t set. In some of the northernmost parts of Norway and Finland that the convoys had to pass, the sun doesn’t set for up to three months. During those portions of the year, the convoys were susceptible to being spotted and attacked during every hour of every day for the entirety of the approximately 10 to 15-day trip each direction.
That was hell. There is no other word I know for it. Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.
Carse and the convoy beat off multiple Messerschmitt attacks until one was able to drop a bomb that headed directly for the TNT-loaded ship. Miraculously, a last-second wind gust blew the bomb off to the side of the ship. The resulting concussion damaged the ship but failed to detonate the explosives the ship was carrying. Carse and the convoy continued along their route.
“Russia is indebted to the brave Scottish men who risked their lives in dangerous conditions to deliver vital aid and equipment to the eastern front,” he said. “It was a journey against all odds. Many have never returned. Their sacrifice and heroism comprise a proud chapter in our shared history.”
Author’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the United Kingdom maintained two sea supply routes into Russia, the Meditteranean and the Arctic. In fact, the Mediterranean route did not give access to Russia, but to Malta.
It seems like everything on the Korean Peninsula is going well. Rumor has it that US troops will be pulled out of South Korea if the negotiations are a success. So, get all of your soju-fueled bad decisions out of the way now before you get reassigned stateside.
Before you know it, it’ll be too late to get NJP’d for belligerently screaming, “Merica!” at the DMZ. So, make the most of your OCONUS duty station while you can.
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
It’s been right in front of our eyes this entire time.
Dennis Rodman used to be a spokesman for McDonalds. Rodman visits Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Under a year later, he opens his country. It all makes perfect sense now.
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via Salty Soldier)
(Meme via USAWTFM)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Crusty Pissed Off Veteran)
(Meme via Air Force Nation)
(Meme via Crusty Pissed Off Veteran)
(Meme via Five Bravo)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Cover: Anything that won’t be penetrated by small arms fire. Concealment: Anything that can obscure the enemy’s vision of you. This: None of the above.
It’s like this dude never played a video game in his life.
At the dawn of World War II, although biological and chemical weapons had been used previously in warfare, little was known of precisely how they worked on the human body. Curious, certain Japanese researchers in its army unit 731 conducted a series of indescribably cruel experiments testing the limits of the human body when subjected to harsh conditions, poisonous substances and lethal diseases.
Building on the site of the Harbin bioweapon facility of Unit 731. (Photo: 松岡明芳)
History of Unit 731
Building from the ashes, literally, of a previous program, the “Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army” (Unit 731 for short) was authorized in 1936. Bases were established at various places in China (occupied by Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War), including at Pingfang and Hsinking.
Referring to their victims as maruta, meaning logs, the researchers experimented on, apparently, anyone they could get their hands on: Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Mongolians, Pacific Islanders, other South East Asians and even a few American prisoners of war all fell victim to the doctors at the camps.
Taking the scientific method to new lows, the researchers in unit 731 conducted a variety of experiments:
Effects of Lethal Diseases
Victims were purposely infected with fatal, contagious diseases like the bubonic plague so researchers could learn exactly how the diseases affected the human body; because they feared that decomposition (which begins immediately once a person dies) might corrupt tissues, they dissected their victims alive.
Likewise, because they worried that drugs might blemish their findings, the victims were given no anesthetic. Rather, they were vivisected while fully conscious of what was happening.
The scientists wanted to learn the limits of the human body, and, so, conducted a number of tests on their victim’s arms and legs. Sometimes, the limbs were frozen and thawed in order to study how frostbite and gangrene developed. At other times, limbs were cut off and sewn back onto the other side of the body. In a few experiments, when the limbs were removed, researchers just observed the loss of blood.
Sundry Other Nefarious Tests
Many victims had all or part of their organs removed, and some even had organs detached, then re-attached, in unique ways nature never intended. Experiments were also conducted with high pressure, poisonous chemical exposure, centrifuges, burning, blood infusions from animals, burying and x-rays.
Of course, since the purpose of these tests was to determine how much a body could withstand, the experiments would continue until the test subject was dead.
It is not known how many victims fell prey to these types of tests. However, estimates of the deaths at Pingfang (called by some the Auschwitz of the East) range from 3,000 to 12,000. Victims included women and men, as well as children and babies.
Biological Weapons Testing
One of the fruits of unit 731’s labor was the development of bombs capable of delivering anthrax and the bubonic plague; these were tested in various places throughout China. In addition, fleas infected with the plague were dropped from airplanes in Manchuria as well as the Chinese cities of Changde and Ningbo.
Furthermore, ponds and wells were seeded with typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Estimates of Chinese dead from these various experiments go as high as 200,000.
Attacks on the United States
In late 1944 and early 1945, the Japanese lofted thousands of incendiary balloons across the Pacific with the intention of starting massive forest fires on the West Coast. Luckily, only a few landed, causing nearly no damage (although six people died when a child inadvertently set one off).
It has often been speculated that these balloons were, at least in part, an attempt to determine the viability of using balloons to send plague-infected rats and fleas across the Pacific to the U.S.
The balloon idea was rejected, but the lure of using biological weapons remained. In fact, to thwart an American planned offensive on Saipan in the Mariana Islands in 1944, the Japanese loaded a submarine with biological weapons to be deployed in the battle. It sank before the weapons could be unleashed.
Next up was “Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night”, a plan that involved filling planes with plague-infected fleas and having kamikazes crash them into American assets in San Diego (home of a large air base and major naval repair yard).
The attack was set for September 22, 1945. It is unknown if the plan was ever viable, since Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945, following the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rendered such a biological attack moot.
At the end of the war, unit 731 scientists destroyed much of the evidence of the program. According to reports, however, some infected test animals were released; it is believed that at least 30,000 people died from the plague in the Pingfang area within the first three years after the war.
Like the German rocket scientists and engineers who were folded into military and other governmental programs at the end of World War II through Operation Paperclip, unit 731’s scientists were given immunity from prosecution and their atrocities were covered-up in exchange for exclusive access to their findings.
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While the experiments done by these researchers were horrific, a small amount of good did come of it. For instance, with the frostbite experiments, they discovered the best known treatment for condition – rather than rub the affected area, immerse it in warm water (between 100-120F). Not much consolation to the victims, but something at least…
By some accounts, the atrocities committed by the Japanese researchers in China were not limited to unit 731’s scientists. In 1995, a Japanese doctor told Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times that, in 1942 as a medical student, he and his colleagues traveled to China where they practiced vivisection, amputation and other operations on Chinese victims before euthanizing them.
An often forgotten bit of WWII history is that Japan engaged in significant operations along the West Coast of the United States. In 1941 and 1942, nearly a dozen Japanese submarines harried American ships up and down the coast from the Baja peninsula to the Aleutian Islands. In fact, the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara, California, as well as Fort Stevens, Oregon, were each bombed on February 23 and June 21-22, 1942, respectively.
It sounds like a big job description: “Queen’s Champion and Standard Bearer of England.” Although these days, the title seems more ceremonial than functional, it still sounds like a big deal. Since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, whomever holds the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, England, also has to fight for the monarch at their coronation, should a challenger arise in the middle of it.
Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke is the current champion, but this is his father, the previous champion. A World War II veteran, he died in 2015.
The Dymokes have been the standard bearers for the reigning English monarch since the mid-14th Century, and would ride into Westminster Abbey in full shining armor, on a horse, in full plumage and regalia. To repeat, they ride a horse into Westminster in the middle of a coronation. They then throw a gauntlet – they literally throw a gauntlet – on the ground and announce that whomever dares challenge the King or Queen’s right to the throne must face him in combat. When no one does, the new monarch then drinks wine from a golden cup to honor his or her Champion.
The King or Queen could not fight in such combat unless it were someone their equal who would challenge them, and that usually meant a war.
The tradition has taken a few different forms over the last few monarch coronations, and was left out of Queen Victoria’s coronation entirely.
And sadly, at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the Champion did not get to throw the gauntlet or threaten the crowd, but he did his duty to carry the Royal Standard in the procession. When Prince Charles (or at this rate, William) takes the throne, this is a tradition we in America would like to see revived to its full former glory.
The most intense period of the Cold War came during the Cuban Missile Crisis on Oct. 27, 1962, but it could have been much worse had it escalated into a shooting war. Here is how it may have gone down.
After months of building tensions, the discovery of ballistic missile sites on Cuba on Oct. 14 forced a confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
On Oct. 27, multiple events nearly triggered a war. Perhaps the most dangerous moment was when the Soviet B-59 submarine deployed to Cuba was “signaled” by the USS Beale and USS Cony through the use of sonar, practice depth charges, and hand grenades. The Soviet submarine was carrying a 15-ton nuclear torpedo but was ordered to use it only if American forces blew a hole in the hull or orders came down from Moscow.
Despite the orders limiting use of the torpedo, submarine commander Capt. Vitali Savistky was urged by his political officer to fire. It was only through the urging of Capt. Vasili Arkhipov that it wasn’t fired. If it had, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have easily erupted into all-out nuclear war.
The most obvious target for the torpedo would have been the aircraft carrier USS Randolph that was part of the force shadowing the B-59. With a 15-kiloton warhead, the torpedo would have sank the Randolph and likely other nearby ships.
For comparison, an 8-kiloton explosion looks like this:
Just the loss of the Randolph would have meant over 3,000 sailors and Marines were dead. The fact that the B-59 would have also been destroyed would be little solace and America would be forced to respond. Since a U-2 had already been shot down and the pilot killed over Cuba, the most likely retaliation route for the Americans would have been the bombing of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.
The Air Force had a plan for this, but it expected hundreds of sorties would be needed to wipe out 90 percent of the missiles. With only a few sorties available before a Soviet response, at least one-third of the 24 sites and 36 medium-range ballistic missiles would survive.
To prevent those missiles from being used, America could have ordered an amphibious invasion, an airborne assault, and an overland push from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This would’ve likely triggered a massacre of American troops.
In reality, the Soviets had 40,000 troops and 92 tactical nukes. 12 Luna missiles carried 2-kiloton warheads to a maximum range of 17 nautical miles. 80 Sopka-variant cruise missiles with a range of 40 nautical miles carried 12-kiloton warheads.
At this point, both sides would be forced into full nuclear war. Russia would have to attempt a pre-emptive strike to limit the number of nukes coming at them. America would try to limit the Soviet attack as well as punish Russia for its losses in Cuba.
The surviving missile launchers in Cuba would be the first to fire. Air Force strikes that made it through during the attempted invasion and bombing would have wiped out at least 16 launchers and 24 missiles. But the surviving eight launchers would begin preparations to fire as soon as the first sites were struck.
They would get off their first wave of missiles with a 1-megaton warhead on each. Two would be sent to Washington D.C. and the other six to major U.S. bases and cities in the American Southeast. The launchers, and nearly all of Cuba, would be wiped out before the remaining four missiles could be prepared for launch.
This is because the Strategic Air Command bombers around the U.S. and NATO countries would take off and begin striking targets in Russia and Warsaw Pact countries. The force consisted of 1,306 bombers with 2,962 nuclear bombs.
Facing off against this force was the relatively modest Soviet arsenal: 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles carried a combined yield of 108-204 megatons. Only 138 bombers were available. A mere 30 submarines carried about 84 missiles with a combined yield of less than 100 megatons.
The exchange would go wildly in America’s favor, but vast swaths of Europe, China, and North America would lay in ruins alongside the deceased Soviet Union. The American military would count losses in the hundreds of thousands in a single day of fighting.
Fortunately, none of this ended up happening. Through secret back-channel negotiations, U.S. President Kennedy and Soviet Secretary Nikita Kruschev worked out a deal that removed Russian missiles from Cuba, as long as the U.S. removed its missiles from Turkey and Italy.
Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.
But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.
That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.
1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille
As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.
2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.
3. Eagle Squadrons
Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.
Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.
5. The Flying Tigers
The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.
There are a handful of men in military history that could accurately be described as a “one man army.” You may never have heard of Lawrence Dominic “Fats” McCarthy, but you’ll remember his story after hearing the end of it. An orphan who enlisted to fight World War I for Australian forces, he would leave the war having survived its most intense fighting and wearing the Victoria Cross – the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat.
Dominic McCarthy was hard to miss. He was a large man, with a few extra pounds that earned him the nickname “Fats.” But that never held him back as a soldier. By the time he arrived to fight the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli, he was already wearing the stripes of a Lance Corporal. Despite falling ill, he would survive Gallipoli as one of the last men of his battalion to depart the fighting.
The fighting at Madame Wood may not be as infamous as the fight for Gallipoli or the similarly-named Belleau Wood, but it was just as intense and – at times – treacherous. The hazards in the fighting weren’t just in no man’s land. The English trenches themselves were muddy and full of twisted metal and refuse. Fats was ready to move his men forward toward the German lines, but the units to his left were being held up by stiff enemy resistance. He decided to do something about it.
He grabbed a sergeant and took off for the German position, moving so fast (especially for a man his size), he was able to deftly avoid the incoming German machine gun bullets. He arrived at the enemy machine gun nest well before his battle buddies, eliminated it, and moved on to the trench before the other Aussies even hit the first position.
He entered the enemy trench with just his service rifle as the sergeant, now wounded, caught up to him. The two men swept through the enemy, picking up their grenades and turning the explosive on them. The two Aussies knocked out three machine gun emplacements while inflicting heavy casualties as they moved. McCarthy then shot two more officers and used his captured grenades against another enemy position, bombing it until the Germans waved a blood-soaked white flag.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace. The British press dubbed McCarthy the “Super VC,” but the big man demurred when given that moniker, saying he believed there was a VC inside every soldier.
He survived the war, being repatriated to England after coming down with the Spanish Flu that affected millions of others around the world, surviving until the ripe old age of 83.
I’m sure that after going on incredible journeys to far-out places, like Mount Everest or the Moon, that everyday life would seem a little… meh. Which is probably why, in 1985, the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, and the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, agreed to go to the North Pole.
The idea for the ultimate guys’ trip was the brainchild of professional explorer, Mike Dunn, who wanted to enlist the greatest explorers of the time to go to the North Pole. Dunn was known to be outgoing, so no one thought twice about him calling up famous astronauts and mountaineers saying, “wanna go to the North Pole?”
The adventurous group also included Steve Fossett, the first man to fly a balloon around the world, and Patrick Morrow, the first person to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. Sir Edmund’s son, Peter Hillary, who himself forged a new route to the South Pole among other feats, was there, too.
The explorers ran into few issues as they puddle-hopped their way up north with the help of Canadian bush pilots, and, on April 6, 1985, they touched down at the North Pole. Safely sitting at True North, they popped a bottle of champagne — which immediately froze, but that did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits. In particular, Edmund Hillary, who had just become the first person to stand at both poles (he went to the South Pole in 1958) as well as the summit of Everest.
The trek south, was a different story, however. White-out blizzard conditions and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stranded the group for three days in a Quonset hut on Ellesmere Island (approximately 700 miles from the pole). Luckily, this was a group that definitely had great stories to tell around a fire.
Peter Hillary said it was ”thrilling” and ”incredible” to hear the stories, but the most exciting stuff came from Armstrong, who was famously shy and intensely private. He didn’t open up easily to his new friends, but the two weeks out in the wilderness had forged a bond, and he soon took part in philosophical discussions about the nature of exploration and shared mind-blowing stories about his time in space.
Patrick Morrow later recalled that Armstrong read aloud the account of Salomon Andree of his attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897:
Is it not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea, to be the first to have floated here in a hydrogen-filled balloon? How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors? Shall we be thought mad, or will our example be followed? I cannot deny but that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death, having known what we have done is not the whole, perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man within the ranks, forgotten by the coming generations? Is this ambition?
Morrow said that the quote was an “eerie coda” for this adventure, but what better way to cap off what was the ultimate man’s-man getaway?
There are some important things about Harriet Tubman that your teacher forgot to mention while you were in school. Aside from helping her family (and thousands more) escape slavery, she led troops in combat, cured a disease, and was generally way more badass than history generally portrays her.
Born Araminta “Minty” Ross in Maryland around 1822, “Harriet” adopted her mother’s name after escaping slavery. She lived a remarkably full life, especially for an African-American woman of that time period. She lived to the ripe age of 91, dying at a charity home she founded in Auburn, New York. She was buried with full military honors.
1. Tubman’s codename was “Moses,” and she was illiterate her entire life.
Other Underground Railroad code names included “Canaan” for Canada and Spiritual Songs for directions along the Railroad. Since few slaves were literate, the route of the Underground Railroad had to be accessible to everyone. Tubman used the stars and mosses in the woods to guide her in aiding escapees.
2. She suffered from narcolepsy.
When she was a teenage slave, an overseer threw a metal weight at another slave, but it hit Tubman instead. As a result of the head injury, she would often go into sleeping spells and was difficult to wake. She considered the dreams she had during these spells to be religious visions and her religiosity was a guiding reason to helping slaves escape.
3. Her work as “Moses” was serious business.
She avoided cops, dogs, mobs, bounty hunters, and slave catchers. She and her escapees slept in swamps and moved only at night. Once with her on the Railroad, she threatened to kill anyone who lost their nerve to escape. She even once had to drug a baby. She once told a man”You go on or die.” Known as the “black ghost,” the bounty on her head was at least $12,000, equal to around $330,000 today.
4. She never lost a slave.
She recommended slave escape on Saturdays, as owners used Sundays as a day of rest and would not notice slaves missing until Monday, giving the slave a two day head start. She also preferred to move during winter, when the days are shorter. Estimates of slaves she helped range as high as 3,000.
5. Harriet Tubman was a Union scout during the Civil War.
She also served as a nurse, cook, and spy to Federal troops from 1862 to 1865. She received $200 for three years of combat service (roughly $5,400 adjusted for inflation). When she applied for veteran’s compensation, it took her 34 years to get it and only after the intervention of President Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward. She was 78 years old.
6. She cured dysentery.
Her knowledge of the local flora in Maryland led her to find a cure for Union troops suffering from dysentery. She also helped relieve symptoms of Chicken Pox, Cholera, and Yellow Fever.
7. Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead a combat assault.
While under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863. Using information from escaped slaves, she led Union riverboats through Confederate torpedo traps, freeing 750 slaves and dropping off Union troops. the troops burned the estates of influential Southern secessionists who supplied Confederate forces. She didn’t lose a single troop.
8. She had brain surgery to fix her sleep problems. She refused anesthesia.
She opted instead to chew on a bullet, just like Civil War soldiers did when they had a limb amputated.