Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.


A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Hirohito toward the end of his life.

After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.

One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.

Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.

It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.

Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.

(U.S. Army photo)

“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.

“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”

Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.

After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.

Articles

This is how hedgerows made the invasion of Normandy a living hell

What was the worst thing about being a soldier assigned to the invasion of Normandy? Probably the beaches with Nazi machine guns raining hell down, right?


Well, some historians make a pretty good case that it was actually the French gardens and farms that spread throughout Normandy.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
The hedgerows of the Cotentin Peninsula. (Photo: Public Domain)

While American farms and yards are split by fences — split rail fences in the early days and mostly barbed wire by the World War II years — the farms in Normandy were split by ancient hedgerows.

Originally built by the Romans, the hedgerows were mounds of dirt raised in irregular patterns that served as fences between plots of land. Irrigation ditches with raised sides provided water to all the fields and animals.

Over the hundreds of years since the dirt mounds were raised, thick, tall growths of plants had turned the ditches into tunnels and raised virtual walls of up to 16 feet on top of the mounds.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
Normandy, France, July 15, 1944. (Painting by Keith Rucco for The National Guard)

These wall of vegetation were thick and seemingly impossible to quickly cut through. And the hedgerows were everywhere, an aerial photo of a typical section of the battlefield showed over 3,900 hedged enclosures in less than eight square miles.

Each of these enclosures was a virtual fortress, and the Germans had spent months preparing their defenses. They practiced moving through the hedges, selected areas for machine guns and anti-tank weapons, and practiced firing from trees into nearby enclosures.

Perhaps most importantly, they had planted stakes near the most likely routes of American troops and had mapped the locations of the stakes by coordinates, allowing defenders to quickly and accurately call fire onto the advancing Allies.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
Advancing through an opening in the hedgerows was risky at best. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Compounding the problem was the irregular shape of the enclosures. The rows weren’t laid out in a proper grid. Instead, they were roughly rectangular as a whole, but with a variety of sizes even among adjoining fields. And all of these fields were connected primarily by thin wagon trails that wound through the irregular enclosures.

All of this combined to form a defender’s paradise and an attacker’s hell. In the first days of the Battle for the Hedgerows, American troops would assault an enclosure at full speed, attempting to use velocity and violence of action to overwhelm the defenders. German machine guns pointed directly at these openings cut them down instead.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
(Photo: U.S. National Archives)

While the German defenses in the hedgerows greatly delayed the American advance, the Allies did eventually find a way to breakthrough. At first, armored and infantry units had worked largely independent of each other. The tanks had tried to stay on the move to avoid German anti-tank weapons and artillery while the infantry had slowed down to try and avoid ambushes.

But Sgt. Curtis Grubb Culin III, an armor soldier from New Jersey, figured out the fix. He welded a bar across the front of the tank and added four metal prongs across it. The prongs acted as plows and cutters, allowing the tanks to push through the hedgerows, destroying the obstacles without exposing any of the tanks’ weak points.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
(Photo: U.S. Army)

This allowed the tanks to cut new routes for the infantry while reducing their own vulnerabilities as well. The Allied soldiers began engaging in a true combined arms manner with tanks opening the way and infantrymen advancing just behind.

The infantry would help quickly knock out anti-tank weapons while the tanks could help destroy fortified machine gun nests and cut through hedgerow after hedgerow.

To see what the American GIs had to fight through, check out this video:

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why getting the Antarctica Service Medal is so difficult

Easily one of the rarest medals a troop can earn is the Antarctica Service Medal. Spend a single day in Antarctica, south of 60 degrees latitude in the Southern hemisphere, and you’ve forever got bragging rights.


Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Do it in the wintertime and you’ve earned a distinctive “Wintered Over” clasp you can hold over everyone else. But being authorized to get down there is the hardest part.

Since its discovery in 1820, numerous nations who’ve landed in Antarctica have stuck their flags in the ground and claimed it as their own. Because the continent has essentially no readily available resources, is extremely remote, and was nearly impossible to settle on long-term, the flags (and their claims) were fairly weak.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
So you can kind of get an understanding why there’s nothing in Antarctica. (Photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

But that didn’t stop many nations from trying to hold a claim. The United Kingdom (and, by extension, Australia and New Zealand), France, Norway, Argentina, Chile, and Nazi Germany all claimed portions of the continent. The United States and the USSR also held the right to make a claim but never did.

To ease tensions between all parties in 1959, the Antarctica Treaty was established which laid the ground rules for the continent. It was agreed that Antarctica is the “common heritage of mankind” and could not belong to an entity, territorial claim or not.

This was established to increase scientific understanding of the region and allow scientists the ability to freely communicate. Another article of the treaty bans military personnel and nuclear weapons testing from the continent.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
Which is kind of remarkable if you consider it was brokered during the height of the Cold War. (Photo by Sarah E. Marshall)

The only exception to this policy is that troops are allowed entry into Antarctica as long as it’s done for scientific research and other peaceful purposes — this is the exact mission of every troop who travels south of the 60-degree line.

Airmen, sailors, and coast guardsmen will routinely travel to scientific research facilities to give aid, transportation, or supplies. However, finding the justification to send soldiers or Marines is more limited.

These troops can be found at McMurdo Station, one of the largest coastal facilities on the continent, and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which is a scientific research facility located at the geographic south pole.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
Just let that sink in a bit. Coasties can get that cooler medal far easier than a grunt. Stings doesn’t it? (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)

Articles

This was how the military reacted after terrorists attacked on Sept. 11

On the day that 19 terrorists from the radical Islamic group al-Qaeda attacked the United States using airliners as cruise missiles, the U.S. military jumped to respond.


And it was a response that began even before the Pentagon was hit.

Some stories of 9/11 are well-known, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld racing to the scene of devastation at the Pentagon to aid victims of the attack, or the pilots plan to ram Flight 93 foiled hadn’t by passengers on the plane.

But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
When Flight 93 hit the Pentagon, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ran to the scene to assist victims rather than remain in relative safety. (PentagonMemorial.org)

According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.

NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.

During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
NORAD Command Center. (Wikimedia Commons)

Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.

The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
Maj. Gen. Marc Sasseville, who was the lead F-16 pilot, and prepared to ram a hijacked airliner. (USAF photo)

It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.

On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-14 killed three MiGs with a single missile

A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.

But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.


Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

You can’t slap sanctions on style, apparently.

Now Read: This Iranian was the highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever

The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.

Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.

In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.

By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.

Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.

They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.

Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the drill book America used before the ‘Blue Book’

Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.


Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Revolutionary War re-enactors.

(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)

See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?

Of course. The most recent drill guide for colonial militia before 1778 came from Great Britain, The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty in 1764. The bulk of this focused on how enlisted soldiers should stand, march, and use their weapons for orderly combat.

Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.

A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.

Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.

(Note: While the 2006 PDF is based on the 1764 manual, only Section 1 was in the original manual. If you decide to read it, understand that sections 2-8 were written in the modern day for use by re-enactors in the Tenth Regiment.)

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.

(U.S. Army)

But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.

In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.

At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.

(U.S. Army)

But the techniques in these books weren’t widely used, known, and understood when the American Revolution started, and they were far from comprehensive. Baron von Steuben’s Blue Book addressed a lot of things missing from the older guides.

For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.

It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.

It remained the training guide for U.S. troops until 1812, and soldiers are still quizzed on some details of the manual today during soldier and promotion boards.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This trek through Iraq was the longest escape and evasion by any soldier ever

In January 1991, a British Special Air Service (SAS) team was helicoptered into Iraq by Chinook helicopter. In just a few days, U.S. and coalition forces would launch Operation Desert Storm’s air war to devastate Saddam Hussein’s army as it occupied Kuwait. 

Eight men from the SAS detachment, code-named Bravo Two Zero, were to insert into Iraq and set up an observation post to monitor Iraq’s main supply route into Kuwait. The men of Bravo Two Zero proceeded on foot 1.2 miles from their landing zone.

Right away, things began to go wrong. To escape capture, torture and an uncertain fate, one of the British special operators would have to walk out of there toward Syria – 190 miles away.

The first thing that went wrong for the SAS was their communications. While their home base was receiving their transmissions, nothing was coming back from the British headquarters. The men pressed on.

But they never made it to the would-be observation post. On the way, the team was discovered by a shepherd and, believing they had been seen, the team ditched much of their gear and hightailed it out of the area. 

As they moved, they began to hear the telltale rumble of treads on the ground. Believing they were encountering an Iraqi tank, the SAS prepared for an ambush. Only it wasn’t a tank, it was an Iraqi construction bulldozer – and the driver was as shocked as the SAS was. 

When the driver left, the British knew the jig was up but the next time they encountered heavy vehicles, it was no construction crew. Iraqi armored vehicles had caught up to them and were in such close pursuit that the British soldiers had to fire at their pursuers to slow them down. 

Iraq troops soon joined the APCs in their pursuit of the British as they humped it back to their original entry point, hoping a helicopter would soon find them. But the helicopter never came. By Jan. 24th, 1991, the group was on its way to the emergency exfiltration route… north to Syria. 

Since the British were looking for the soldiers to be headed south toward Saudi Arabia, the SAS were never going to be seen by coalition aircraft unless it was by accident. Even after the group got split up during a dark night, they pressed onward and northward. 

Chris Ryan

Along the way, the men tried to hijack a vehicle but Iraqi Army checkpoints hampered their progress and the walk continued. Eventually, two of the men would die of exposure in the Iraqi desert. Another was shot and killed by Iraqi civilians. Five were captured, interrogated and tortured before being released to the International Red Cross. One of the men. Colin Armstrong, kept walking. 

He walked through Iraq until he reached the Syrian border, where Syria – then a coalition ally – took him into custody and released him to the United Kingdom. After his long trek through the dry desert, he had lost 36 pounds and suffered radiation poisoning after drinking contaminated water. He was awarded the Military Medal for his escape.

Armstrong would later chronicle his desert journey under the pen name Chris Ryan, along with a number of other books. The story of Bravo Two Zero was later made into a TV movie starring Sean Bean (who survives).

MIGHTY HISTORY

Best medics ever: These docs gave absinthe

Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.

So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?


Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

The female mosquito sucks so hard.

(Center for Disease Control)

Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion’s outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier’s daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop’s chances of contracting malaria.

Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.

The artemisia genus of plants, of which wormwood is a member, is a traditional medicine in China for the treatment of parasites in general and malaria in particular, among other ailments. Legion use started with infusing wormwood into wine, and legionnaires who developed a taste for it found they could get a similar fix back in Paris with a new drink known as ‘absinthe.’

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Absinthe looks pretty sweet, but stop burning off all your booze, man.

Absinthe is named for its iconic ingredient, wormwood, which has the Latin name, artemisia absinthium. The drink was invented in 1792 and mass production began in 1797.

Once absinthe became popular, it made as much sense to give that to the troops directly as it did to infuse issued wine with the herb, though the higher costs of absinthe likely limited how much troops got. An article in The Drinks Business gives a barracks rate of 5 centimes for the cheapest wine, 15 centimes for a more popular one, and a stunning 40 centimes for true absinthe.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

“The Green Muse” was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She’s also known as the “Green Fairy,” but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.

(Albert Maignan)

Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn’t sell it instead.

Still, it must’ve made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The “Green Fairy” of absinthe lore.

No takers? Weird.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea below.

The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.

Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.


 

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II
USS Constitution under pursuit (Painting by Anton Otto Fischer)

It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.

The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.

Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.

And then, nothing happened.

Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.

 

(US Navy)

A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.

By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.

Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.

Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

Though his service in the military preceded the formation of the Navy SEALs by nearly twenty years, Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is thought to be the first U.S. commando to operate in the sea, air, and land. His exploits in World War II included boat operations off the coast of Greece, land operations in Central Albania, and a parachute drop into Austria. He also experienced life in the Mauthausen, Austria extermination camp and was a victim of war crimes there.


An orthodontist becomes a commando

Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, Calif. when the U.S. joined World War II. He joined the Navy, originally expecting to teach boat handling skills to U.S. and Allied service members. But he certified on the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit — a SCUBA device adopted by the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 — and was ordered to serve in the OSS.

He was then assigned to the first Underwater Swimmer Group, but was redirected to become the Chief of the Office of Strategic Services Maritime Unit.

Service in the Middle East

In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.

For three months during this period, he commanded a team on land in Central Albania, reporting important information like enemy troop movements and the locations of enemy fortifications, supply dumps, and artillery positions. The team was nearly caught by enemy search parties at least three times, but Taylor and his men slipped the net each time. He was nominated for an Army Distinguished Service Cross by Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan for this service, but received the Navy Cross instead.

Parachuting into Austria

As Allied forces made their way through Europe in 1944, they were assisted by partisan groups in countries occupied by German forces. Allied planners realized they had no contact with partisan groups in Austria, and Taylor was chosen to lead a four-man team into Austria to find allies and collect intelligence ahead of the advance north from Italy.

Taylor parachuted into Austria with three Austrian corporals liberated from a POW camp. It was on this troubled jump that Taylor satisfied the “air” requirement of a sea, air, land commando and became the first U.S. service member to conduct commando missions in all three domains.

Unfortunately, the “Dupont Mission” ran into trouble early when the pilots were unable to drop the team’s radios and other equipment. Taylor was injured while the team retrieved what equipment did make it to the ground and one of the Austrians became very ill in the first days.

Despite the setbacks, the team began collecting intelligence and seeking out Austrians friendly to the Allied cause. They photographed German defensive measures, ascertained the loyalties of individual cities and groups, and formed a network of supporters that could be counted on to aid the Allies. Since they had no radio with which to send the intelligence out, the team had to organize a plan to escape past German lines to American forces in Italy.

Capture and internment at an execution camp

The night before their attempt to escape to Italy, Taylor and the rest of the team were captured and sent to a Vienna prison on Dec. 1, 1944. There, the jailers attempted to make Taylor confess to being a civilian though he was captured while wearing his officer’s insignia. After four months of austere conditions and mistreatment, Taylor was transferred with other prisoners to Mauthausen.

Taylor was warned by another prisoner with experience at Mauthausen and other camps that Mauthausen was one of the worst. The prisoners arrived at the camp by ferry on April 1, 1945. Though it was a violation of the Geneva Convention and his rights as a prisoner of war, Taylor was dressed and treated as a political prisoner. He was also beaten and witnessed the executions of fellow prisoners.

Scheduled execution and eventual liberation

Taylor was twice scheduled for execution. The first time, he was rescued when a friendly worker in the camp’s political office saw his papers in a stack of prisoners to be executed. The worker removed Taylor’s papers and burned them.

The Nazi guards eventually realized Taylor was supposed to have been executed and again ordered his death. Only a few days before the sentence was to be carried out, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp. A few hours after the camp was liberated, an American film crew documenting the camps arrived at Mauthausen and recorded Taylor’s description of life in the camp.

Taylor would go on to testify at the Nuremberg Trials and other court proceedings against Nazi perpetrators of war crimes. His testimony is credited as being the most damning for the camp personnel at Mauthausen, leading to the convictions of all 61 defendants.

Taylor’s full report on the Dupont Mission, his capture, and his time in captivity can be found in an archive maintained by Pica Community College.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Dutch intelligence agents fooled Communists for almost 40 years

By 1968, global Communism was very much a threat to Western Europe. In Czechoslovakia, a massive invasion of Warsaw Pact forces saw a revolution crushed under the communist boot. Eurocommunist parties were popping up in Spain, Finland, and Italy. In China, Mao Zedong had rejected reforms enacted by Deng Xiaoping and re-enacted the repressive policies that led to the Cultural Revolution there. Unlike the Americans, who faced the spread of global Communism with force, the Dutch decided to found the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands – a group with which China cooperated.

The Chinese didn’t know its pro-China party in the Netherlands was a run entirely by Dutch spies who just wanted information on Chinese intentions.


Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Beijing even paid for the party newspaper, also run by Dutch spies.

A Dutch intelligence agent named Pieter Boevé set up the MLPN in 1968, gaining the trust of its Chinese Communist allies through the publication of its newspaper. Its timing was also fortuitous, as China and the Soviet Union had long before began to split in their view of what global Communism should look like. Since the MLPN embraced Maoist China and rejected the Soviet Union, that was even better for the Chairman. Using his MLPN, Boevé was able to expand his influence deeper into the party in Beijing.

His supposedly 600-member Communist party in a deeply capitalist society was the toast of the Communist world while Boevé ran the MLPN. In truth, there were only 12 members, but no one in the party or in the rest of the world knew that. Boevé could go anywhere in the Eastern Bloc, and China welcomed him with open arms so much, Zhou Enlai even threw a banquet in his honor. More importantly, they would brief him on the inner workings of the Chinese mission at the Hague.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

The math teacher who outsmarted global Communism.

After attending a Communist youth seminar in Moscow in 1955, Boevé was recruited by the BVD, the Dutch intelligence service, to play up his Communist bona fides. He accepted and soon visited Beijing for a similar congress. The Sino-Soviet Split played right into the BVD’s hands, and after he embraced Maoism, his fake party practically built itself. The Dutch were able to know everything about China’s secret workings inside their country, and the Chinese paid for it, all of it orchestrated by Boevé, who was never paid as a spy. He was a math teacher at an elementary school.

“I was invited to all the big events – Army Days, Anniversaries of the Republic, everything,” Boevé told the Guardian in 2004. “There were feasts in the Great Hall of the People and long articles in the People’s Daily. And they gave us lots of money.”

The secret was kept until after 2001, when a former BVD agent wrote a book about the agency’s secret operations. Boevé and his fake party were outed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

OORAH: The Marine Battle Cry Origin Story

Walk onto any Marine Corps base and you’ll hear all sorts of celebratory grunts. These almost words coming from the mouths of new Marines and seasoned NCOs sound like Errrr and Yut. Echoing across the well-trimmed grounds, humming through the DFAC, in the hallowed halls of Marine history, one grunt stands out. Oo-rah is the tried and true, battle-tested and history provided Marine call that defines the service. 


It’s no secret the military has way too many slang words and acronyms to count. Most are impossible for the civilian ear to understand. But there are some that translate just fine. One of those is the Marine battle cry, “oo-rah.” Anyone who’s heard it knows it has only one meaning.

Used as a motivational tool to push recruits and Marines beyond their limit, the classic grunt actually stems from another traditional sound.

Related: Here’s where the term ‘Bravo Zulu’ comes from

Although they are a few theories about how the legendary shout started, several sources point to a single origin — aboard a Naval submarine.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Many historians believe that “oo-rah” came from, of course, Marines, assigned to 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance while traveling aboard a submarine in 1953.

When a sub is about to submerge, “dive, dive” is called out over the intercom system followed by a klaxon alarm, which makes a very distinct “aarugha.”

Click play below to hear the klaxon alarm.

(Lord Sandwich | YouTube)

Also Read: Here’s how ‘Taps’ got its name

Reportedly, aboard one of the submarines used during the Korean War was Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, who shortened the sound into “oo-rah,” shouted as Marines dove out of the vessel.

As the grunt become more popular, it spread quickly throughout the Marine Corps. Soon, it became one of the ways Marines responded to various questions.

The symbolic grunt oo-rah has since become one of the most recognized sounds used in the military today.

As for its accredited originator, Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, he served in the Marine Corps for 31 years and retired as the 8th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 1979.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only legal pirate ship of the 20th century was the Goodyear blimp

There’s a lot to unpack in this headline – the legality of pirates, why there would be pirates in the 20th century, how they came to be flying the Goodyear Blimp of all things, and what would be the best way to be a pirate when your only ship is an unarmed airship that proudly displayed your tire company of choice.

First, let’s talk about legal piracy.


Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Definitely not your torrent collection. If you don’t know what torrents are, then you’re probably good.

Know that “piracy” is always illegal, and the only time it’s not against the law is when we agree to call it something else. In the old days – that is the old days of wooden sailing ships – ships known as “privateers” sailed the high seas. These were privately owned and operated ships that were allowed to board and capture this ship of a particular nation, claiming it and its cargo as prizes. A privateer is not a pirate for one simple reason: the privateer carries a Letter of Marque.

A Letter of Marque is issued by one country, listing the specific assets available to the privateer, the enemy nation from which those assets can be seized or destroyed, and the authorization for the privateer to do it in the name of the issuing country. Famous privateers include Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh (who raided Spanish gold ships for the English) and the Goodyear Blimp Resolute.

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

Wait, what?

(U.S. Navy Photo)

For the first time since the War of 1812, the President, through Congress, issued a Letter of Marque to a civilian ship. In this case, the letter of marque allowed the private-owned airship to search for Japanese submarines in the Pacific Ocean, and allowed its crew to be armed without violating any laws of armed conflict.

And it was. The Resolute was based in Los Angeles and was used in regular patrols of the Pacific Ocean, searching for Japanese submarines operating along the United States West Coast. Its crews’ only armament was small arms, but there was little chance of the airship successfully boarding and capturing a Japanese submarine. The airship would just have radioed the location of the submarine to ships who could come do something about it.

Too bad there would be no chance of taking prize money.

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