The intriguing history of the term special operator - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The intriguing history of the term special operator

Operator – someone who operates.

In the civilian world, that could be someone operating an excavator, a wheeled tractor, and other similar heavy equipment. Historically, the term applied to people who worked in the old-school telephone centers and operated the manual telephone switchboards that were necessary in order for someone to call another number.

In the military, conversely, the term operator has come to be associated with troops serving in Special Operations Forces (SOF). A Navy SEAL operator, a Special Forces operator, a Marine Raider operator has become standard nomenclature, even in official communique and statements.

But what’s the actual origin of the term? For many in the spec ops community, an operator is someone who is serving or has served in one of the Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) Special Mission Units (SMU). This would apply to members of the Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS), Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), or one of the other smaller, blacker SMUs.

The office of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) historian, however, posits that the term originated from within the Green Beret community. In support of this claim, there is a document from the late 1950s. Dated April 2, 1959, the document’s headline reads: “The Code For the Special Forces Operator.” It includes 10 provisions to which a Green Beret must abide by. They range from the volunteer and highly dangerous nature of Special Forces – during the Cold War, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (SFODAs) were designed to remain behind enemy lines once the Soviet mechanized onslaught had been unleashed on Western Europe; their role, as it is today, was to organize, train, and lead indigenous forces in waging an Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaign against the Communists – to superb physical fitness, soldiership, and professionalism, among other things.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

“I realize,” the document’s sixth provision states, “it is my responsibility as a Special Forces Operator to undergo more intense and more rugged training than is required of the average soldier of the United States Army.”Read Next: Three SOF Phrases That I Hate

The document was signed by Captain Albert Clement, 1st Company, 77th Special Forces Group (SFG), and witnessed by John Hanretty. The 77th  is one of the original Special Forces Groups and the predecessor of the modern-day 7th SFG.

So, there it is. According to the existing historical evidence, it is the Green Berets who have the claim over the term “Operator.” Does a title matter, though? Not to those who operate.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2020 on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 times China has hacked the U.S.

China’s insatiable hunger to become the apex superpower of the world, and the manner in which they do it is a threat to our way of life. For decades corporations have intentionally failed to raise the alarm to our government about the theft of intellectual property fearing an immediate cease of business with the Chinese. Corporations have silenced themselves against communist China fearing retribution and sold out the American people in the process.


Emboldened by appeasement, the regime now deliberately targets our national security apparatus to destroy us using our own technology.

Trade, our mutually beneficial common ground that our two ideologies stood on, has become the very source of tension between us. This is nothing new, China has always been an enemy of the west, quietly stealing our national treasures and sabotaging our infrastructure. There is no underhanded tactic that the People’s Republic of China won’t lower themselves to as long as it means victory for the dishonorable state. These are the 3 times China has hacked the U.S.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

“For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries,” said former FBI Director James B. Comey.

DoD.defense.gov

First time criminal charges are filed against known state actors for hacking

On May 19, 2014, The Western District of Pennsylvania (WDPA) indicted five Chinese state-sponsored hackers for targeting six American entities in the U.S. nuclear power, metals, and solar products industries. The attacks were a coordinated assault to steal state secrets that would directly benefit State-Owned Enterprises in China. The stolen data would reveal our strategies and vulnerabilities to the enemy.

The victims of these attacks on our soil were: Westinghouse Electric Co., U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, United States Steel Corp., Allegheny Technologies Inc., the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) and Alcoa Inc.

The hackers performed a wide variety of criminal acts that include:

  • 1 count of Conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse.
  • 9 counts of Accessing (or attempting to access) a protected computer without authorization to obtain information for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.
  • 23 counts of Transmitting a program, information, code, or command with the intent to cause damage to protected computers.
  • 29 counts of Aggravated identity theft.
  • 30 counts of Economic espionage.
  • 31 counts of Trade secret theft.
The intriguing history of the term special operator

Another hacker related to this case wanted by the FBI

DOJ

Chinese military hacked into the computer networks of major U.S. defense contractors

On July 13,2016, Su Bin, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China that was sentenced to 4 years with a ,000 fine by United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder.

Su was communicating with the Chinese military and informing them of targets and their vulnerabilities, which files to steal and how it would benefit their government. Su stole military and export-controlled data and sent the stolen data to China.

He targeted the aviation and aerospace fields in order to steal military technical data. This is particularly problematic for our armed forces because he stole data relating to the C-17 transport aircraft and fighter jets produced for the U.S. military. Su was arrested in Canada in July 2014 and extradited to the United States in February 2016.

He admitted that as part of the conspiracy, he sent e-mails to his co-conspirators with guidance regarding what persons, companies, and technologies to target during their computer intrusions. One of Su’s co-conspirators gained access to information located on computers of U.S. companies, and he emailed Su directory file listings and folders showing the data that the co-conspirator had been able to access. Su then directed his co-conspirator as to which files and folders his co-conspirator should steal.

After that, Su would contact the Second Department, General Staff Headquarters, Chinese People’s Liberation Army with translated documents and communicated their value. At this point, his intent was to sell the information for financial gain.

These are the faces of those who prey on the innocent

Department of Justice

Government backed Chinese hackers steal the identities of 78 million Americans

On May 9, 2019, an indictment was issued for several Chinese nationals who engaged in an extremely sophisticated hacking group operating from China. The illicit band of thieves targeted businesses in the United States, including a computer intrusion and data breach of Anthem Inc., a health insurance provider.

This is the most recent attack by the Chinese government against the United States. The Chinese are relentless in their disregard for the law and have shown no indication of slowing down.

“The allegations in the indictment unsealed today outline the activities of a brazen China-based computer hacking group that committed one of the worst data breaches in history.These defendants allegedly attacked U.S. businesses operating in four distinct industry sectors, and violated the privacy of over 78 million people by stealing their PII (Personal Identifiable Information).” – Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.

The hackers used a technique called “spearfishing” where they attached links to e-mails sent to potential victims. When the links are clicked they download a type of file known as a backdoor which they can use to infiltrate the computer. Once they successfully tapped into vulnerable computers they watched the network identifying potential targets. They waited for months before striking.

…they collected the relevant files and other information from the compromised computers using software tools. The defendants then allegedly stole the data of interest by placing it into encrypted archive files and then sending it through multiple computers to destinations in China. The indictment alleges that on multiple occasions in January 2015, the defendants accessed the computer network of Anthem, accessed Anthem’s enterprise data warehouse, and transferred encrypted archive files containing PII from Anthem’s enterprise data warehouse from the United States to China. – Department of Justice

That same PII can be used to take out credit cards or loans in the name of the victims. This kind of identity theft is the most destructive, malicious, and the hardest to recover from. Attacks on innocent civilians such as this proves that the People’s Republic of China has nothing but contempt for Americans. If the Chinese continue to show apathetic targeting of our civilians during peacetime, what are they capable of doing to civilians in wartime?

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy Coast Guard rescue of an Air Force pilot in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, some Coast Guard pilots were given the chance to volunteer for service on the front lines, relieving the pressure on over-tasked Air Force pilots. Some of those Coast Guard pilots who volunteered would go on to dramatically rescue a downed Air Force pilot and were later awarded Silver Stars for their actions.


The intriguing history of the term special operator

Pararescuemen leap out of a HH-3E during an exercise. The HH-3E, known as the “Jolly Green Giant,” was widely used in Vietnam.

(U.S. Air Force)

The 11 Coast Guard pilots selected for the program went through months of special training in survival, tactics, and the aircraft they would be flying, the HH-3E, before flying to Vietnam to start their tours.

In country, they were folded into flight crews, often with Air Force copilots, engineers, and pararescuemen. Their job was to pick up isolated personnel — usually downed aircrews — provide immediate medical care, and deliver them to field medical facilities.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

A U.S. Air Force F-105G, similar to the one lost on July 1, 1968, leading to a dramatic rescue by U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard personnel under fire.

(U.S. Air Force)

On July 1, 1968, an F-105 Thunderchief with the callsign “Scotch 3” was hit over the Vietnamese peninsula and made for the gulf, but fell too fast and the pilot was forced to eject into a jungle canyon. Lt. Col. Jack Modica was knocked out by the impact of his landing, and woke up two hours later.

He reported his condition to the forward air controller, and the HH-3Es attempted to get to him. The first attempts were unsuccessful due to ground fire, so the Air Force sent in another HH-3E with ground attack aircraft suppressing enemy air defenses.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

A Douglas A-1 Skyraider like the one shot down July 2, 1968, while trying to suppress ground fire in Vietnam.

(Clemens Vasters, CC BY 2.0)

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Lonnie Mixon flew the helicopter during these attempts, taking fire that damaged his fuel tank, a hydraulic line, and the electrical system. Shockingly, even after all that damage, he made one more attempt, but was again forced to break off due to anti-aircraft fire. This forced the pilot to spend the night in the jungle. Mixon later received the Silver Star for his brave attempts.

So, the rescue birds came back again in the morning, but it went even worse than the night before. One of the ground-attack aircraft, an A-1 Skyraider, was shot down, and the rescue chopper was forced back home after suffering heavy damage, including having an unexploded rocket lodged inside of it.

With this list of failures, dangers, and damage, the Air Force turned to Jolly 21 pilot U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Lance Eagan and asked him to fly in behind a B-52 bomber strike. Eagan and his Air Force crew accepted the mission and went to work.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

An Air Force crew lowers a jungle penetrator from a HH-3E helicopter during an exercise.

(U.S. Air Force)

Again, ground fire opened up, striking the rescue bird, but Eagan was able to get through the flak intact and spotted smoke thrown by Modica. He found a nearby open patch to lower the PJ into the jungle to go grab Modica. The PJ found that Modica had a pelvic break.

Eagan was forced to lower the helicopter down into the trees, striking some of the high branches, to get the jungle penetrator as close to the pilot as possible, but the PJs still had to carry the injured man a short distance. As the crew began raising the men from the jungle floor, the Vietnamese sprang their trap.

Automatic weapons fire thundered into the helicopter, shattering the windscreen and penetrating the thin metal skin, but Eagan kept the bird steady until the hoist cleared the trees and the HH-3E was able to tear away low and fast.

The injured pilot was successfully delivered to a hospital, and the rescue crew was later decorated for their bravery. Eagan was awarded the Silver Star by the Air Force for his actions.

He and Mixon weren’t the only Coast Guard pilots to receive that award. Lt. Jack Rittichier had been shot down the month before during a rescue attempt, and he was awarded the Silver Star along with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.

The Coast Guard’s involvement in combat air rescue continued for another four years, ending in 1972.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The original ‘Iron Mike’ was an Irish firefighter who would not die

The Great Depression was a tough time in America. Imagine what life in the United States would be like if unemployment was around 50%.

No one was driving Uber to make ends meet in the 1920s, so they had to resort to some pretty spectacular money-making schemes. One of these schemes was murdering alcoholic bums – which turned out to be pretty lucrative. But you couldn’t do this alone; you needed conspirators.


Michael Malloy was a victim of this kind of scheme but his death would end the lives of four of his conspirators, some former friends. Those “friends” would try to kill him seven different times, seven different ways.

Malloy was an out-of-work firefighter who became the target of his favorite bartender at his favorite speakeasy. The bartender, Joe Murphy, and the owner of the bar, Anthony Marino, decided no one would miss the 50-year-old drunk if he happened to drink himself to death one sad night. With two other customers, Dan Kriesberg and Frank Pasqua (who also happened to be an undertaker), they decided they would help that death along.

But first, the payoff. If they could get Malloy to sign a life insurance policy on himself, they could kill the old fellow and collect the insurance money. No one would be the wiser. So one night they got Malloy so drunk, he signed a petition to help Marino run for office. What the drunk really signed was three life insurance policies that would pay upwards of ,000 in today’s money if he died in an accident.

All that was left was to make sure the old fireman had an accident. But that proved much harder than they thought.

Their first attempt was to simply pour drinks down the old Irishman’s throat. They laughed and joked with him as they fed him free drinks all night. When he passed out, he passed out in the bar, only to wake up to more free hooch. The problem with this scheme was that Malloy’s health actually improved because he was no longer depressed. He didn’t struggle to pay for drinks and he had all the friends he could handle.

The conspirators decided that a new tactic was needed. Bartender Joe Murphy mixed Malloy a new cocktail they just got in – a drink mixed with antifreeze. Malloy remarked at how smooth the beverage was before he went to lie down… only to get back up later for more drinks.

Murphy then began to throw any kind of dangerous substance he could think of into Malloy’s drinks. The old firefighter drank more antifreeze, rat poison and turpentine. They served him food laced with wood alcohol, tin shavings, and rotten sardines. Malloy just loved the attention.

Stupefied, the conspirators began to take more direct actions. They doused him with water while he was blackout drunk and threw him into the snowy New York City streets and left him there. When Malloy showed up at the bar that night, he was wearing a new suit, courtesy of the good samaritans who found him and cleaned him up.

Soon they switched to outright murder. They paid a local cab driver to run the man down with his car and leave him. He survived. They tried to call in a hitman. They tried to substitute another drunk who resembled Malloy and kill him, but he survived. When none of that worked, they killed Malloy themselves.

They got the poor man drunk on wood alcohol – normally fatal for humans – and pumped his lungs full of cooking gas. That did the trick. They hired Dr. Frank Manzella, a local official, to produce a death certificate, Pasqua (the undertaker) arranged a pauper’s funeral, and Malloy was dead and buried within four hours.

The bartender, Murphy, received the first insurance policy. But the other insurers became suspicious and the whole plot started to unravel. First, the gang never paid the cab driver who ran over Malloy. Then, they told the hitman too much about their scheme and he began to talk around town. Finally, the insurers learned about another death under those circumstances surrounding the same speakeasy.

The jig was up and all the conspirators were caught, tried and sentenced to the electric chair at Sing-Sing Prison.

When the story about Mike Malloy’s indestructible nature, the local legend began to earn the nickname “Iron Mike.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Green Beret describes how good the Russian Spetsnaz are

In 2001, Mark Giaconia was a Green Beret patrolling the border areas between Kosovo and Serbia. His counterparts were Russian troops, many of which were airborne. Their mission was to disrupt the movements of Albanian UCPMB rebels in the area. For six months, he and his Russian allies worked side-by-side, in the forests and mountains around Kosovo.

Then one day, his coworkers put on what they called a “Spetsnaz Show” – and Giaconia realized who his tactical buddies really were.


To be clear, the “Spetsnaz” aren’t any single part of the Russian military apparatus. They are any special operations unit of the Russian military, including the Russian Navy, Airborne troops, and FSB (formerly the KGB). Most often, when westerners refer to the Spetsnaz, they’re referring to the special operations section of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.

Giaconia’s experience with the Russians was his first – and it was the first time American Specials Forces and Russian special operators worked together. The height of their mission in Kosovo was rolling on a rebel base that had killed one of the Russians’ soldiers. The team captured a young rebel while on a patrol and extracted the location of the rebels’ base of operations.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

American and Russian Special Forces troops in Kosovo alongside Swedish Jaegers, 2001.

Giaconia describes his time in Kosovo with his ODA in his book, One Green Beret: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and beyond: 15 Extraordinary years in the life – 1996-2011. He describes the joint US-Russian Special Forces outfit arriving in an area called Velja Glava, where the rebel camp was supposed to be. After dispatching the sentries, the joint team dismounted from their armored vehicles and moved through the forest to assault the camp. The Russians deftly traversed through the vegetation while Giaconia laid the forest bare with a Mk 19 grenade launcher.

The Russians captured the Albanian rebels that were still able to be captured, and the UCPMB camp was taken out of action permanently. When it came to the performance of the Spetsnaz in combat, Giaconia says they were keen on tactics and had great intuition and instinct. They could shoot well, took care of their weapons and equipment, and were in great shape, and were very well-disciplined.

In short, he says he had a lot of respect for these “badasses in spirit.”

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This is the biggest victory Native Americans scored against the colonials

The fight against westward expansion of the United States did not go well for the native tribes of the Americas. But it didn’t start out that way. In the early years of the United States, one American Indian uprising would give the tribes of the new world a glimmer of hope and cost one Army officer his job – for good reason.


What came to be known as “St. Clair’s Defeat” was also the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military and the largest ever won by Native tribes.

It was the early days of the nascent United States as well as the administration of George Washington. Native tribes along the country’s frontier had allied with Great Britain during the American war for independence, and the victorious Americans were not at all happy about it. So when it came time to pay for the war, the Americans decided to sell off their newly-acquired lands east of the Mississippi, despite the thousands of natives who already lived there. This did not sit well with the tribes, who didn’t recognize American ownership anyway.

Washington ordered Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to march a combined force of American troops and militiamen into the Ohio territory and subdue the indigenous people there. Those tribes, led by Little Turtle of the Miamis and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, along with warriors from around the territory, had already defeated a much larger force sent to dispatch them. St. Clair would fare no better.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
A very generous (for the Americans) painting of the battle. (Illustration by Peter Dennis from John Winkler’s, Wabash 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat/ courtesy of Fort Recovery State Museum)

 

Everything went wrong. St. Clair’s army was wracked by desertions, poor discipline, and disease, as well as bad horses and equipment. He was unable to move during the summer and didn’t leave until October 1791. As the army and its camp followers moved from present-day Cincinnati to what is now Fort Wayne, Ind. they were harassed by native skirmishers, who only compounded the problem.

By November, the menagerie arrived at Fort Recovery, Ohio, where they made camp. Unfortunately, they made no effort to reinforce their position, mount patrols in the surrounding woods, or recon the area. So when the Indians waited until breakfast was served on Nov. 3, 1791, the Americans were completely unprepared. The battle was a complete surprise, and the Indians sent the Americans packing in a rout.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
That’s a little more accurate. (Illustration by Peter Dennis from John Winkler’s, Wabash 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat/ courtesy of Fort Recovery State Museum)

The artillerymen were picked off by the native snipers, and the guns were spiked. Kentucky militiamen fled across the Wabash River without their weapons. While the American regulars were able to mount somewhat of a defense, it was not enough given their lack of preparation. They were able to form up, but a force led by Little Turtle flanked the regulars. Every time the Americans mounted a bayonet charge, the natives appeared to break and flee into the woods, but the oncoming attackers were only encircled and slaughtered once they entered the woods. St. Clair lost three horses.

After three hours, the Americans were forced to make a break for it, leaving supplies and wounded men in the camp. The supplies were looted, and the wounded were executed by the Indians. The casualty rate for the U.S. troops was a stunning 97.4 percent, with 632 killed and 264 wounded. The Natives lost only 21 men.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
There it is.

 

Washington was livid. He demanded St. Clair’s resignation, then reorganized the Army. He and the Congress raised more men for the U.S. Army in order to lead a war against the Indians who inflicted the loss on St. Clair. That unit, the Legion of the United States, was led by Maj. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Two years after the loss of St. Clair’s army, Wayne would march the legion into Ohio and inflict a devastating loss on Little Turtle and Blue Jacket at Fallen Timbers – a win that would bring the war to an end.

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That time Stalin and Churchill drunkenly split up Europe

On Oct. 9, 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill walked into Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s study, got super blitzed on whiskey with the Soviet, and then proceeded to split up Eastern Europe with Stalin by writing a list of countries and percentages next to them. He would later call it his “Naughty Document,” and it’s going on display with other World War II and Cold War Era documents.


The intriguing history of the term special operator
Soviet troops march in 1943. (RIA Novosti Archive, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

World War II brought together unlikely allies, and possibly none of the unions was weirder than Soviet Russia teaming up with Great Britain and the United States. The U.S., Britain, and Russia were members of the Allied Powers in World War I, but Russia withdrew as the Bolsheviks rose up against the tsar.

Britain and America—as well as Canada, France, and others—sent troops to back up the tsar, but the intervention failed. So, the Soviet Union began its existence with a grudge against the foreign troops that had tried to prevent the revolution.

Then, Russia’s first foray into World War II was signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler and then following Germany into Poland, capturing sections of that country. Russia didn’t join the Allied effort until after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

And, in 1944, Soviet forces began to take back Poland, and they were not supporting the Polish Home Army that was part of the Allied forces against Germany. This was a problem for Churchill since the U.K. had joined the war in 1939 largely in response to the invasions of Poland.

The Soviet relationship with the U.S. and Great Britain was fraught, is what we’re saying.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
The man in the middle represents Yugoslavia. This will not go well for him. (W. Averell Harriman Papers)

 

But the Soviet Union benefited greatly from allying itself with the U.K. and America. Russian troops drove American vehicles, and the British and U.S. navies kept the sea lanes open for Russian ships, submarines, and supplies. And the invasions of Italy and Normandy had greatly reduced the pressure on Soviet troops in the east. And remember, the German invasion of the Soviet Union had made it deep into Russia before being turned back.

So, in October 1944, Allied-Soviet relations were healthy, but it wasn’t clear what would happen after Germany was defeated and peace returned. On the night of the 9th, Churchill and Stalin got blitzed and tried to figure out how they would avoid new conflict in the future.

And so Churchill started writing on a scrap of paper. He wrote a list of countries that would be between the Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Bulgaria made the list.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
(Photo by Vints, public domain. Original document by Winston Churchill)

 

Next to these countries, Churchill listed how much “influence” Russia and Britain should have in the countries after the war. Romania would go 90 percent to Russia, 10 percent to Britain. Greece would go 90 percent to the U.S. and U.K. and 10 percent to Russia. Yugoslavia would get an equal split. And Churchill thought Bulgaria should go 75 percent Russian and 25 percent to the other Allies, but Stalin scratched that out and made it a 90-10 split.

And then Stalin put a big blue check mark on it, and the two men looked at it. Churchill proposed burning it, worried about how posterity would look at that casual splitting up of Europe. Stalin told him to keep the document instead.

The next day, the foreign ministers of the two countries tried to shift the percentages a bit and nail down what “influence” meant, but Churchill wouldn’t be pinned down on the details, and so his “naughty document,” as he referred to it, was essentially abandoned.

For what it’s worth, Churchill credited this late night visit and seemingly cavalier negotiation with protecting Greece from a communist takeover. There was evidence discovered after the war that Stalin had already decided to back off of Greece, but Churchill hadn’t known that at the time.

Indeed, there was plenty of conjecture after the “Percentages Document” came to light in the 1990s that the British prime minister was trying to navigate the upcoming peace that would be unforgiving for Britain. The British Empire was clearly in decline, the Soviet Union was on the rise, and America had announced its plans to leave Europe as soon as possible after the war.

So, for Churchill to secure room for democracy after the war, he would have to do it by negotiating with the Soviet Union, at least in part. And if that sucked for Yugoslavia, well, that sucks for them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

Most of those who escaped the infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did so while they were out on a work detail.


But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.

The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.

So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.

Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
Piechowski’s Auschwitz prisoner photo.

 

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.

“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”

Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.

 

The intriguing history of the term special operator
The main gate at Auschwitz.

“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The guard did.

The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.

The intriguing history of the term special operator
A Steyr 220, the model of car the prisoners drove right out of the Auschwitz front gate.

 

In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.

Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army.

He toured to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp until his passing in 2017 at the age of 98.

“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.

Read the full interview at The Guardian’s site.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened when the VC attacked a Special Forces base

It was a small airbase on the border with Cambodia. It bordered a town of 6,000 that survived on the proceeds of local rubber plantations. The airbase was guarded by a few hundred South Vietnamese regulars supported by 11 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers. But it would host a 10-day battle that would see hundreds of North Vietnamese forces killed while that tiny force held the ground.


The intriguing history of the term special operator

The Civil Irregular Defense Group compound at Loc Ninh. The airstrip is to the right of the photo.

(U.S. Army)

The small town and airbase were important for two reasons. First, the airbase was a logistical hub for military and espionage operations conducted by the U.S.; something communist forces were keen to excise. But the town was also the district capital. With a new president awaiting inauguration in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese wanted to embarrass him before he took office.

And North Vietnam was looking for a tasty target. A new commander and staff needed to try out the 9th Division in the field and build up its combat proficiency ahead of larger, corps-level offensives. So, in late 1967, North Vietnamese Senior Col. Hoang Cam, gave orders to get his regiments in position and supplied for an attack on the base at Loc Ninh.

One of his key units ran into an immediate problem, though. U.S. forces were working to secure a hey highway and clear out communist forces that could threaten it, and they swept through an area where Cam’s top regiment was hiding. That regiment was able to set an ambush just in time and killed 56 Americans, but they also suffered heavy losses and fled to Cambodia.

So Cam was down a regiment before the battle started. Still, his men were facing 11 Special Forces soldiers, 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, and about 200 South Vietnamese regulars. The largest weapons on the base were a few mortars and machine guns.

But the North Vietnamese forces failed to hide their buildup. South Vietnamese and U.S. forces intercepted radio traffic, discovered a field hospital under construction, and discovered elements of a specific unit typically employed in major offensives, the 84A Artillery Regiment.

U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland was too savvy to overlook all this evidence of a coming attack. He suspended some operations and ordered his subordinate to plan for a major defensive operation in that part of Vietnam, especially the district capitals at Loc Ninh and Song Be.

The intriguing history of the term special operator

U.S. Special Forces soldiers and South Vietnamese troops in September 1968.

(U.S. Army)

On Oct. 27, 1967, just five days after Westmoreland issued his warning to subordinates, Cam launched the North Vietnamese attack on Song Be. His division attacked a South Korean division but was rebuffed, partially thanks to American artillery and air power. Before South Vietnamese Rangers and American infantry joined the fight the next day, Cam pulled his men back.

As the Rangers looked for the enemy near Song Be, Cam launched a new attack. This time, he struck at Loc Ninh and fully committed to the fight.

Rockets and mortars flew into the base with no warning. The town itself caught on fire, and the South Vietnamese soldiers, with their Special Forces allies, rushed to send their own mortar rounds out.

Before reinforcements could arrive, North Vietnamese sappers blew through a wire obstacle and forced the defenders into the southern part of the compound. With the American and South Vietnamese defense collapsing, the Army rushed in UH-1Bs with machine guns mounted, and the Air Force sent in an AC-47 Spooky gunship that rained metal into the jungle.

The helicopters were able to put some fire on the attackers within the compound, but the AC-47 couldn’t strike there without threatening the defenders. Eventually, that became beside the point, though, as the South Vietnamese called artillery strikes onto the compound. He specifically called for proximity fuses, detonating the rounds a little above the surface to maximize shrapnel damage.

That’s the call you make to shred humans behind light cover. Many of the defenders were in bunkers that would hold back the shrapnel, but the Viet Cong in the open were shredded. The Viet Cong in the jungle finally withdrew under aerial bombing, but attackers remained in the conquered bunkers of the northern part of the compound.

The South Vietnamese were forced to clear these bunkers one-by-one with LAWs, light anti-tank weapons.

The allies found 135 North Vietnamese bodies. They had suffered eight dead and 33 wounded.

But the U.S. knew it had nearly lost the district that night, and it wasn’t willing to go round two with the same setup. So it not only watched the South Vietnamese clear those bunkers, it flew in two artillery batteries and another infantry battalion. Those infantrymen dug into the jungle and established light bunkers.

The U.S. and South Vietnamese alliance struck hard, rooting out platoons in the rubber plantations. In one case, an impatient South Vietnamese soldier grabbed a U.S. officer’s pistol from him and used it to attack a North Vietnamese machine gunner. When he couldn’t chamber a round in the pistol, he used it to pistol-whip the machine gunner instead.

This back and forth continued for days. On Oct. 30, the North Vietnamese sent additional forces to threaten other cities and positions, potentially trying to draw away some of the American defenders. But the allies knew the fight for Loc Ninh wasn’t over and sent other forces to protect Song Be and other locations.

Just after midnight on Oct. 31, another rain of mortars and rockets flew into Loc Ninh. But this time, the fire was more accurate, and North Vietnamese forces used anti-aircraft fire the moment the helicopters and AC-47 showed up. But proximity fuses were again used to slaughter North Vietnamese attackers.

At least 110 North Vietnamese were killed while the allies lost nine killed and 59 wounded.

The next night, artillery and machine gun fire rained onto the air base, but then the main thrust came at the new infantry base in the jungle. Observers posted in the jungle detonated claymores to blunt the attack but then had to melt away as the attackers continued their assault. The U.S. infantry pushed the attack back in just 30 minutes of concentrated machine gun fire and claymore use.

One U.S. soldier had been killed and eight wounded. Over 260 bodies were found, and there were signs that even more had been lost.

Additional forces were flown in, and the U.S. commanders were finally able to go on the attack. The attacks did not go perfectly, however. On Nov. 7, a U.S. battalion moving down a dirt road moved into the jungle and came under a furious assault. An RPG took out most of the U.S. battalion command team, including the commander.

One soldier in that fight was Spc. Robert Stryker who stopped one attack with a well-aimed M79 grenade launcher shot, but then died after diving on a grenade to save others. He’s one of the two Medal of Honor recipients for whom the Stryker vehicle is named.

But the 9th Division finally withdrew, ending the Battle of Loc Ninh. The U.S. had lost 50 dead and hundreds wounded, but the North Vietnamese lost somewhere over 850 dead and failed in its objectives to take either Loc Ninh or Song Be. But the Tet Offensive was on the horizon.

(Most of the information for this article came from an official Army history from the Center of Military History, Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968 by Erik B. Villard. It is available here.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Aerial combat has been around for a little over 100 years, and during that time there have already been plenty of epic air battles in the skies. Here are 7 of the most intense:


1. Battle of the Philippine Sea

 

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A Japanese bomb nearly hits an American ship during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. (Photo: US Navy)

The Japanese fleet securing the Marianas Islands in 1944 was in a tough spot. If it gave up any more ground, America would have bases to attack Japan and the Japanese-occupied Philippines. So, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet was spotted on its way to Saipan, the Japanese attacked it.

The 430 Japanese aircraft were spotted by naval radar operators and the U.S. planes launched to fight over the Pacific. In the end, the American fleet lost 29 planes but downed a stunning 365 and sank two Japanese carriers, sending an estimated 115 more planes to the deep.

2. The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

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(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs moved to destroy Syrian surface-to-air missile sites on Jun. 9, 1982, successfully knocking out 17 of the 19 missile batteries in the first two hours. The Syrians launched their own jets to fight back, 100 of them.

And the Israelis stomped them. The air battle ran for two days and the Israelis scored 29 jet kills the first day and 35 the second without the loss of a single fighter.

READ MORE: This dogfight with nearly 200 jets was like the Battle of Britain on steroids

3. The Battle of Britain

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Photo: Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry

In Sep. 1940, Britain had already endured months of Luftwaffe attacks with over 1,000 bombers striking the country nearly every day. But on Sep. 15, the British launched a counterattack to cripple the Luftwaffe.

At the end of the battle, 40 Royal Air Force planes and many crews were lost, but 56 German craft were downed and Germany was forced to cease daylight bombing raids.

4. Black Tuesday over MiG Alley

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US Air Force F-86 Sabres flying over Korea. Photo: US Air Force

On Oct. 23, 1951, nine U.S. bombers with 89 jets escorting them stumbled into a group of 150 MiG-15s over MiG alley in Korea. The furious 20-minute battle resulted in six downed bombers and an escort lost. The Americans were able to down four of the Russian MiGs attacking them.

5. The Ofira Air Battle

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Mig-17 wreckage from the Ofira Air Battle. Photo: Israel Defense Forces

In one of the first engagements of the Yom Kippur War, Syrian and Egyptian jets moved to bomb the Israeli aircraft at a base near Ofira. Two Israeli F-4s were in the air and took insult at 28 MiGs thinking they could just bomb Israelis whenever they liked.

So, the two Israeli jets turned into the enemy formation and downed seven of them in six minutes. The attackers decided seven was enough and bugged out.

6. The first jets fight the Allies over Berlin

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A captured Me-262 was test flown by the US. Photo: US Army Air Force

In the dawn of jet combat, a group of German Me-262 jet fighters attacked an Allied formation of 1,329 bombers and 700 fighters. The numbers reported for the German jets vary, but most estimates are between 35 and 60.

The small German force used air-to-air rockets and jet engines, both new technologies at the time, to down 13 bombers and six fighters. Two German aircraft were shot down.

7. The air battle over the St. Mihiel Salient in WWI

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Photo: US Army Air Force

In one of history’s largest and earliest air battles, nearly 1,500 Allied planes under the command of the First U.S. Army Air Force.

From Sep. 12-16, 1918, 610,000 men fought for the ground at St. Mihiel as the air forces clashed overhead. Despite a limited number of fighters and severe losses on the ground, German gave as good as they got in the air battle. They fought for control of the air for the first two days of the battle and killed 62 enemy aircraft while losing 63 of their own birds. The Germans did lose 30 balloons to the Allied loss of 4 though.

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This backwards looking tank was actually very effective


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A QF 17-pounder in Tunisia (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)

Although projects were in development to mount the gun on a turreted tank (which led to the Challenger and Sherman Firefly tanks), the British Army needed to develop a vehicle that could carry the gun as quickly as possible. Vickers-Armstrongs was given the challenge and elected to use the outdated Valentine tank as the base of this new vehicle; its official designation being Self Propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I, Archer. The Valentine’s engine was upgraded to a GMC 6-71 6-cylinder diesel with a higher power output of 192 bhp in order to carry the heavy gun without sacrificing mobility. Still the gun could not be mounted in a turret and was instead mounted in a low, open-top armored fighting compartment. As previously stated, this was at the front of the vehicle with the gun facing backwards.

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A front view of the Archer (Photo from The Tank Museum)

The mounting of the 17-pounder in the Archer allowed for 11 degrees of traverse and elevation from -7.5 to +15 degrees. If the gunner required more lateral traverse, the driver would have to physically turn the vehicle. As a result, the driver would remain at his station (facing the opposite direction of the action) at all times. Aside from this, it would be difficult for the driver to get in and out quickly because of the tight confines of the fighting compartment. The gun took up a lot of space and recoiled in the direction of the driver’s head. That said, he was never in any danger of being struck thanks to the hydraulic recoil system that kept the gun well-clear of his head when it recoiled.

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An overhead view of the cramped fighting compartment (Photo from The Tank Museum)

Although its odd layout was the product of necessity, it actually made the Archer an effective ambush weapon. An Archer could set up in a concealed position, fire at a target, and then quickly drive off in the opposite direction without having to turn around since it was already facing backwards. It had a top speed of 20 mph and was very adept at cross-country driving and climbing slopes.

Commonwealth military doctrine labeled the Archer as a self-propelled anti-tank gun rather than a tank or even a tank destroyer. As such, it was operated by the Royal Artillery rather than the Royal Armored Corps. The soldiers of the Royal Artillery eventually complained about the lack of overhead cover in the fighting compartment which led to the development of an optional armored roof. However, this addition saw very little, if any, use.

By the end of the war, a total of 655 Archers had been produced. After the war, the Archer saw service in Germany with the British Armored Corps in the British Army of the Rhine. 200 Archers were also supplied to the Egyptian Army with another 36 going to the Jordanian Arab Legion and National Guard.

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An abandoned Egyptian Archer during the Sinai War, 1956 (Photo from the United States Army Heritage and Education Center)
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How French special forces rescued the holiest site in Islam

It may surprise the younger counterterrorism buffs out there to know that France maintains one of the oldest and most experienced counterterror units in the world, the Group D’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. If you don’t speak French, all you need to know is that they’re gendarmes, soldiers who can arrest you and – when asked – will come to find you outside of France to arrest you.

This is not something you want to happen to you, as some foolish terrorists found out when they seized the holiest site in Islam at gunpoint.


Islam’s version of the end of the world has a number of minor and major signs to look out for. The major part begins with the appearance of the Mahdi, Islam’s redeemer, who brings the world’s Muslim community back to the religion, helps kill the anti-Christ, and paves the way for the rule of Jesus (yes, Christianity’s Jesus, same guy) on Earth.

Over the years, many people have come forward claiming to be the Mahdi. There was Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, the leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, killed near Najaf in 2003. The founder of the Nation of Islam, W. Fard Mohammed, claimed to be the Mahdi as many of the Nation’s followers do. Others have followers make the claim for them, like a leader of a Turkish sex cult.

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Public Domain

“Listen, I never said I am the redeemer of Islam, I just didn’t say you were wrong to say I am.”

But no one in recent memory left quite the impression on history like Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, who led his personal army, al-Ikhwan, to capture the Grand Mosque in Mecca at gunpoint. The Grand Mosque is home to the Kabaa, the holiest site in Islam and destination for all the world’s Islamic pilgrims, a voyage every Muslim must make once in their lifetime. There are a number of other important holy sites contained within.

And in 1979, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani and an estimated 300-600 followers took it over, along with the tens of thousands of people inside. They actually let most of them go, but not before killing the poorly-armed security guards, cutting the phone lines, and sealing themselves in. They were well-armed, well-trained, and well-funded. The Saudis were going to need some help.

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“I choose Pierre.”

That’s where GIGN comes in. While the truly ignorant can laugh about how “French commandos” sounds when the only history they know is from World War II, the rest of you need to know these guys wear ski masks and carry .357 Magnums as their sidearm. When the GIGN come to kill you, they want to make sure the job is done. Their training course has an astonishing 95 percent washout rate. While the US was toying with the idea of a special counterterrorism force, GIGN was probably retaking a cargo container ship somewhere.

Their job in Saudi Arabia would be no different, except they would also be training the Saudi and Pakistani special forces who would be going into the Grand Mosque with them.

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YouTube screen capture

Somewhere out there is a group of Pakistani commandos who pronounce “flashbang” with a little French accent. Fear those people.

The terrorists weren’t a bunch of desperate weirdos with a fundamentalist ideology. These guys were prepared to bring down the entire Saudi Kingdom while inciting other anti-Saud citizens to do the same. The terrorists immediately repelled the government’s counterattack and waited for whatever the King would throw at them next. GIGN is what came next. France sent three of their finest GIGN men who immediately began training their counterparts on how to effectively clear buildings of pesky terrorists. When the men were ready, they all prepared to storm the gates.

But there was a hitch. Muslim Saudi and Pakistani troops would be going in there alone because the Grand Mosque is forbidden to non-Muslims. Even when they’re trying to retake the mosque. Their GIGN mentors would have to sit back and wait to see how well they trained these men.

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Arrested gunmen belonging to the group led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi that stormed Makkah’s Grand Mosque. This photo of the captured militants doesn’t do justice to how well-trained they were.Twitter.

Some 50 Pakistani SSG commandos and 10,000 Saudi National Guardsmen stormed the Grand Mosque after two weeks or so of being held by the terrorists. On Dec. 4, 1979, the militants were disbursed from the mosque and forced to hide about in the now-evacuated city of Mecca. The guardsmen and SSG men fared well against the terrorists, killing roughly 560 of them while others fled the scene into Mecca and the countryside, where most were captured.

After the Frenchmen left Saudi Arabia, the hubbub surrounding the Grand Mosque seizure didn’t die. Instead of crackdowns of unruly citizens, the King of Saudi Arabia opted instead to implement many the famous “sharia” laws Saudi Arabia suffered through for decades; the restrictions on women, powerful religious police, and more. Only in the 2010s has the kingdom seen a loosening of these religious laws.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The military origin of ‘turning a blind eye’ to something

There’s something to be said for aggressively pursuing the job you want. For British Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, that opportunity came at the Battle of Copenhagen when the famous admiral disobeyed the orders of a less-famous, less successful one in the funniest way possible.


Lord Nelson was arguably England’s most famous military mind, and without a doubt, one of its most famous admirals. By the time the British engaged the Danes at Copenhagen, Nelson had been commanding ships for more than 20 years and had been in command as an Admiral for nearly as long. But Nelson wasn’t in overall command of the British at Copenhagen. That honor fell to Britain’s Sir Hyde Parker, but Sir Hyde wasn’t as aggressive as Lord Nelson, certainly not aggressive enough for Nelson’s taste.

Until the Battle of Copenhagen, Parker was considered a very good commander, commanding Royal Navy ships for some 40 years in fights from Jamaica to Gibraltar. But Hyde was more of an administrator than a battlefield leader, sticking close to the rules of naval combat. This wasn’t a problem for anyone until 1801, when he ordered the Royal Navy at Copenhagen to disengage.

Nelson wasn’t having it.

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Unlike Parker, Nelson was known to flaunt the doctrine of naval warfare at the time. He is famous for saying, “forget the maneuvers, just go straight at them.” Nelson was aggressive without being careless and had a sixth sense for the way a battle was flowing. From his ship closer to the fight, he could tell that the attack needed to be pressed. Parker was further away from the fighting, in a ship too heavy for the shallower water closer to Copenhagen. So when he was ready to disengage – as doctrine would have him do – he raised the flag signal.

Nelson is said to have put his telescope up to his blind eye, turned in the direction of Parker’s flagship, and allegedly said:

“I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.”
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Nelson knew the battle would go his way, and even though some of his ships did obey the disengage order, most of the frigates did not. The battle began to turn heavily in favor of the British, with most of the Danish ships’ guns too heavily damaged to return fire. Denmark would be forced into an alliance with the British against Napoleonic France and received protection from Russia. For his actions, Nelson was made a viscount, and Parker was recalled to England, where he was stripped of his Baltic Sea command.

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