This is how British troops got the nickname 'Tommies" - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

In the trenches of World War I, German and French troops would call out over the trenches looking for “Tommy” when they wanted to talk to a British soldier. You don’t hear the term quite so much anymore, but for centuries, Tommies reigned supreme.


How exactly British troops came to be called Tommy is not quite as complex as why German troops were known as “Jerry” (in case you were wondering, it’s believed to be either because “Jerry” is short for German, or because their helmets looked like chamber pots).

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Jerry offers Tommy a light in this undated photo (IWM)

Britain’s Imperial War Museum says the origin of the literal nom de guerre is disputed. One theory says it originated with the Duke of Wellington who made it the nickname in 1843. Another says the Imperial War Office established it in 1845 — a sort of British “John Doe.”

But the Imperial War Museum found evidence of “Tommy” more than a century before Wellington supposedly coined it.

During the British rule of Jamaica, researchers found a 1743 letter to the war office that reported a mutiny among mercenaries there, saying “Except for those from N. America, ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly.”

It was also at this time the red coats worn by British regulars earned them the nickname “Thomas Lobster.”

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Because camouflage is for wimps.

By 1815, the British War Office was using the name “Tommy Atkins” as a generic term – a placeholder name – for sample infantry paperwork. An enlisting soldier unable to sign his name to his enlistment papers would make his mark – leaving the name Tommy Atkins spelled out where his real name should have been.

“Tommy Atkins” and everyone known to history as Tommy Atkins had a distinguished career in the British military. During the Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857, a soldier of the 32d Regiment of Foot remained at his post when most others already fled. He was, of course, overwhelmed and killed. A witness of his heroism later wrote:

“His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign, when a daring deed was done, the doer was said to be ‘a regular Tommy Atkins.’ “

Other Thomas Atkins (or a variation thereof) also appeared as a Royal Welch Fusilier in the American Revolution, the poems of Rudyard Kipling, and indeed with the Duke of Wellington in the 33rd Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Boxtel in 1794.

The last Tommy – Harry Patch of the World War I-era British Army – died in 2009, at the ripe old age of 111.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Harry Patch in 2009

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why World War II veterans are returning captured Japanese flags

It’s not uncommon for troops who overrun an enemy position to take a photo with a captured enemy banner. It’s just as common for them to take that banner home as a souvenir. There are a lot worse things to remove from the battlefield. American troops have been capturing flags since the founding of the republic.

So, why are these World War II veterans returning captured Japanese flags?


The importance of a unit’s standard dates back to antiquity. Roman legions carried standards that took on an almost divine quality, representing the Legion, the Emperor, and even the Gods themselves. They would take extraordinary measures to recover a captured standard, even invading neighboring countries decades after losing the standards just to get them back. The Japanese had a similar tradition with their Yosegaki Hinomaru.
This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

The hinomaru was a blank flag carried by every drafted Japanese soldier. It was signed by everyone in their life; mother, father, sisters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, wives, and children. It was a good luck charm that wished bravery and a safe return home to the carrier. The Japanese troop then marched off to war, the flag folded and tucked somewhere on his person.

These are usually the flags that were captured by American troops in World War II. Because no one enjoys taking photos with the flags of their fallen enemies like U.S. troops.

Read: These 13 photos of US troops with enemy flags show some traditions never die

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

U.S. Marines with a yosegaki hinomaru after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

But American troops had no idea these flags were the personal keepsakes of fallen individuals and not unit flags carried by the Japanese army. Now that the men who captured these battlefield trophies are aging and dying, the flags are being sold off or thrown away altogether, but there’s a better way to handle these pieces of history: giving them back.

And that’s what World War II veterans and their families are doing. Through the international nonprofit Obon Society, families and veterans who still possess a captured yosegaki hinomaru are tracking down the Japanese veterans and families of Japanese veterans of the Pacific War to return the family heirlooms and help the aging veterans heal their decades-old, invisible wounds.

If there’s any doubt about the power of these standards, even to this day, just watch below as a Japanese man reacts to seeing his missing brother’s yosegaki hinomaru.

There are no better frenemies than American and Japanese veterans of WWII. In the years that followed, the U.S. and Japan grew ever closer as allies and as people. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the war, the enduring friendships that developed in the years since have been a testament to the idea that peace is always possible, even in the face of such hard fighting. The only thing that remains is handling the losses incurred along the way – brothers, fathers, sons, and friends.

Groups like the Obon Society and its team of researchers make it easy to start healing the pain that remains between families and friends who lost loved ones in the war. If you or your departed veterans have a flag like the ones seen in the photos above, contact the Obon Society to return the flag to its family and maybe even make contact with them.

Articles

That time the United States Navy lost three cruisers in one night

The United States Navy had some of its greatest moments in World War II — the Battle of Midway is the most notable. But about two months after that “Incredible Victory,” the Navy had a very bad night.


The Battle of Savo Island was not one of the Navy’s shining moments. In fact, it was downright awful.

The United States Navy had transported elements of the 1st Marine Division to Guadalcanal – and the initial invasion went pretty well. Samuel Eliot Morison noted in “The Struggle for Guadalcanal” that, despite the rapid progress in the first two days, August 7-8, 1942, which included taking the partially-complete Henderson Field, seeds for the upcoming disaster were being sown.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Frank Jack Fletcher. (U.S. Navy photo)

Air strikes the day of the attack sank a transport and a destroyer. Then, Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher pulled the carriers back.

This time, the invasion force was left high and dry – and nobody noticed that five heavy cruisers (HIJMS Chokai, HIJMS Aoba, HIJMS Kako, HIJMS Furutaka and HIJMS Kinugasa), two light cruisers (HIJMS Tenryu and HIJMS Yubari), and a destroyer were en route.

Disaster struck in the early morning hours of August 9. The Allies had two picket forces, one north of Savo Island, one to the south. The one to the north had the cruisers USS Astoria (CA 34), USS Quincy (CA 39), and USS Vincennes (CA 44) with two destroyers. To the south were the cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago (CA 29).

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
(Wikimedia Commons)

In the early morning hours, the Japanese first hit the southern group.

The Chicago was hit by a torpedo and damaged. HMA Canberra took it worse: At least two dozen major-caliber hits left her badly damaged and unable to fight.

The Japanese ships went around Savo Island, then hit the northern group. The Astoria and Quincy were both hit bad in quick order, taking many shell hits. The cruiser Vincennes followed shortly afterward, taking at least 85 hits from enemy gunfire, and three torpedo hits.

Quincy and Vincennes sank by 3:00 a.m. The Canberra was ordered scuttled after it was obvious her engines could not be repaired, and it took over 200 more five-inch shells and four torpedoes to put her down. The Astoria sank a little after noon.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
HMAS Canberra prior to being scuttled on Aug. 9, 1942. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Battle of Savo Island served as a wake-up call. During 1942, four more major surface battles would be fought off Guadalcanal before the end of November. But none were as bad as the night the United States Navy lost three cruisers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The USSR won an advanced jet engine from Rolls-Royce in a bet

The MiG-15 was the jet fighter that shook the West out of its delusion of automatic air superiority. Before the MiG-15, B-29 bombers could raid North Korean cities at will — in broad daylight. After the introduction of the MiG-15, the bomber fleet was grounded because the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Stars were too slow to protect them.


A strange, new plane was strafing American aircraft in the skies over the Korean War, and it was 100 mph faster than anything the United Nations forces had in the air. It was also killing dozens of UN pilots and planes — and it had to be stopped.

It might be hard to believe, but the source of the Russians’ new fighter’s monstrous speed was a Rolls-Royce design, which was pretty much supplied by the British themselves.

It wasn’t very often that anyone pulled the wool over the eyes of the British during the Cold War. The Soviets were a clever bunch, though.

In 1946, the Soviets were invited to a Rolls-Royce factory. The delegation in attendance included Artem Mikoyan (the man who put the ‘Mi’ in ‘MiG’) himself. Mikoyan was then invited to visit the house of a Rolls-Royce executive, where they played billiards.

Artem Mikoyan was great at billiards. In fact, he may have used a textbook shark move, losing the first game and then raising the stakes on the second. Here’s the bet he made: If the Russian wins, Rolls-Royce will have to sell jet engines to the Soviets. Find out who won at around 9:00 in the video below.

If it sounds surprising that the deal was made over a bet or that the British would supply the Russians with Rolls-Royce engines, you’re not alone. Stalin himself was incredulous, reportedly saying, “what idiot would sell us their jet engines?”

The Russians agreed to use the acquired engines for non-military purposes exclusively, which they did… until they were able to make a Russian copy of the Rolls-Royce engines, then called the Klimov RD-45. The engine was fitted into the MiG-15 and was fully operational in time for the Korean War, taking to the skies with weaponry designed to take down B-29 Superfortress bombers.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

A B-29 Bomber in the gunsights of a MiG-15.

It was the dominant fighter over Korea until the introduction of the American F-86 Sabre. The Sabre was more than a match for the new MiG, garnering a 10-to-1 combat victory ratio in the war. It was also the plane flown by all 39 United Nations fighter aces.

Sabres and MiG-15s would be at each other’s throats for the duration of the Korean War. The last Sabre was retired from the U.S. military in 1956 whereas the MiG-15 saw service around the world throughout the 1960s. In fact, the plane is still flying with the North Korean People’s Air Force to this day.

Articles

9 military ‘ghost bases’ you’ve probably never heard of

During the Wild West, many towns popped up along the trail and eventually went on to become ghost towns. Military bases, though, have sometimes become “ghost bases” – abandoned and left to rot.


Some of these ghost bases are near cities like the Big Apple. Others, like Johnston Atoll, are pretty far off – a nice getaway spot, if not for the history of being used as a storage center for Agent Orange and other interesting stuff.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Barrels of Agent Orange being stored at Johnston Atoll. (U.S. government photo)

The climates can be very different – from the burning sands of Johnston Atoll to the frozen flatlands of North Dakota, where America briefly operated a ballistic-missile defense system known as SAFEGUARD.

One base in Croatia that once was home for almost 50 fighter jets was abandoned during the Yugoslav civil war of 1991 – and the wrecks are mostly used by folks seeking some adventure. That base still gets “official” use for law enforcement training.

A damaged runway at the Zeljava Air Base in Croatia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You can even check out one abandoned facility that will soon fall into the Pacific. No, not Johnston Atoll (it was a re-claimed coral atoll built over the years long before China did the same thing in the South China Sea), but instead the Devil’s Slide bunker on the California coast. A lack of maintenance and the natural process of erosion will eventually send this coastal-defense bunker tumbling from commanding heights and into the Pacific.

But if you want one “ghost base” that has captured imaginations worldwide, you can go to either the Ukraine or Siberia to see the Duga Radar Array – an early-warning system meant to detect American missiles. Or just pick up the video games “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Stalker” to see representations of the array used.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
The Duga Radar Array near Chernobyl. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, take a peek at this video that tells more about these and some other “ghost bases” – and tell us which “ghost base” you would like to know more about.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The wife of the famous ‘kissing sailor’ is in the iconic 1945 photo – and it’s not the nurse

You don’t have to be a history buff to be familiar with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “Kissing Sailor” photo — though its actual title is “V-J Day in Times Square.” It was taken hours before President Truman officially announced America’s victory in the Pacific War. The sailor in the photo happened to be on a date in New York City. He suddenly decided to celebrate by kissing the closest nurse — it’s just too bad his date wasn’t a nurse.


Authors George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria did an extensive background study on the photo in their 2012 book, The Kissing Sailor. Their extensive forensic analysis determined that sailor was George Mendonsa and the nurse was Greta Zimmer Friedman. Friedman was not prepared for the kiss. In later years, she admitted that she didn’t even see him coming and that the two were strangers.

Related: Iconic World War II nurse Greta Friedman dies at 92

Friedman was working in a dental office at nearby Lexington Avenue, and though the war hadn’t officially ended, the rumors around NYC were swirling that Imperial Japan was set to surrender. She went over to Time Square to read the latest news, and sure enough, the electronic tickers all read “V-J DAY, V-J DAY.” That’s when Mendonsa grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her in.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

“It wasn’t that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back,” she told a Veteran’s History Project Interview. “I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war.”

He grabbed a nurse because he was so grateful to nurses who tended the wounded in the war. The good news was her bosses cancelled the rest of the appointments for the day. The bad news was she never knew the sailor’s name. She never even saw the photo until the 1960s. What she did know was that Mendonsa had been drinking (he was likely drunk).

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

Then-Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa was on 30 days leave from his ship, The Sullivans, at the time. He had been at the helm during the Battle of Okinawa, rescuing sailors from the carrier Bunker Hill after it was hit by kamikaze attacks. It’s small wonder he was happy to not have to go back into combat.

He was on a date with his then-girlfriend, Rita Perry, a woman that would later become his wife, waiting for his train back to the West Coast and back to the war. That’s when he heard the news that the war was over.

Rita can be seen just over Mendonsa’s right shoulder.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Former Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa and his wife of 71 years, Rita, celebrate George’s 95th birthday.(Photo by Hal Burke)

By the time The Kissing Sailor hit bookshelves, Rita Perry (now Mendonsa) and George Mendonsa had been married for 66 years. When asked about her feelings being in the background of a famous photo of her husband, 95 years old as of 2018, kissing another woman, she said, “he’s never kissed me like that.”

Articles

This was the most devastating submarine attack in World War II

Submarines have killed a lot of ships over the course of history. Granted, in the 72 years since World War II ended, the total has been very small. Prior to that, tens of thousands of ships were hit by submarine attack.


Ironically, while an American sub has claim to the largest ship ever sunk by submarine, a Japanese sub, the I-19, can arguably claim it deserves credit for the most devastation in a single attack.

The date was Sept. 15, 1942. The United States was running a large convoy to support elements of the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. The carrier USS Wasp (CV 7) was among the escorting force, which included the battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55), the cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), and a number of destroyers, including USS Laffey (DD 459) and USS O’Brien (DD 415).

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Japanese submarine I-19. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Wasp’s design had been dictated by limits imposed by the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. In essence, she was a scaled-down Yorktown-class design, displacing about 14,900 tons compared to the 20,100 tons of Yorktown (CV 5), Enterprise (CV 6), and Hornet (CV 8). At the time of the Guadalcanal campaign, Wasp carried 25 F4F Wildcats, 26 SBD Dauntless, and 9 TBF Avengers. A potent force, it had missed the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the I-19 made her attack around 2:44 PM, firing six torpedoes. Three hit the Wasp forward, where aircraft fuel and munitions were stored. The torpedoes fatally wounded the carrier. In 36 minutes, it was obvious the Wasp had to be abandoned. But the spread did more.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
USS O’Brien (DD 415) hit by a torpedo fired by I-19 as USS Wasp (CV 7) burns fro three other torpedo hits from the same spread. (US Navy photo)

One torpedo hit the battleship North Carolina, tearing a good-sized hole in the fast battleship, but only did minor damage. A 5.5-degree list got corrected in less than six minutes, per DANFS. A fifth torpedo hit the destroyer USS O’Brien in the bow, in what appeared to be minor impact at first. O’Brien would sail under her own power to a series of forward bases. But on Oct. 19, 1942, effects of the hit caused the destroyer to break in half and sink after a 3,000 mile journey.

The I-19 would escape after this brilliant attack, but eventually karma exacted its price. During the Gilbert Islands campaign, the submarine was located by the USS Radford (DD 446) and sunk with all hands. The video below shows some of USS Wasp’s moments of agony after the torpedo attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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


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

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Taking photos at the enemy commander’s house was all the rage. Probably.

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

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

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

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

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
General Irvin McDowell and staff, Arlington House 1862. I told you it was all the rage.

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

After the war, the Lee family decided to try to get their land and home back through a series of legal battles. The main sticking point? Lee’s unpaid tax bill. The U.S. government charged the Lees $92.07 in taxes on their land ($2130.52 in today’s dollars). Mary, Lee’s wife sent her cousin to pay the bill, but the U.S. would only accept the payment from Lee herself. When she didn’t show, they put the property up for sale.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Then they hoisted a giant American flag on it, just for funsies.

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

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
The first graves in Arlington National Cemetery were dug by James Parks, a former slave. Parks was freed in 1862 but still lived on Arlington Estate for the duration of the war.

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Nazi SS forces tasked with guarding the Nazis’ most high-value prisoners finally moved them all to a single place as the war (and the Nazi party) was nearing its end. Among those were troops with famous names, like Churchill. There were former world leaders who happened to be of Jewish descent, like Hungary’s Miklos Kallay. Prince Philip Von Hesse was there, too. And there were members of high-ranking military families, like the Von Stauffenbergs (whose patriarch famously tried to kill Hitler in the Valkyrie plot).


The group ended up in Niederdorf, in Italy’s South Tyrol region. The infamous SS guards decided to move all their high-value eggs from the infamous Dachau camp into one basket in Italy. Aside from the aforementioned famous prisoners — who were each antithetical to Nazi values — there were British and American troops there, ones known for multiple, repeated escape attempts. There were also relatives of famous foreign dignitaries, like Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s nephew.

In all, there were 140 of the Nazis most high-profile undesirables, each too valuable to be allowed to be captured by oncoming enemy forces. It wasn’t just for their propaganda value, but also their intelligence value. The SS had orders to keep them from being captured by the enemy — by any means necessary. One former German officer, equivalent to a colonel, was also among the prisoner population at Niederdorf. He was incarcerated for allowing a retreat on the Eastern Front against the Red Army, and he knew what the SS might do if pushed.

It was that dedicated German officer who managed to get word out to an old friend that they and the rest of these prisoners were in more mortal danger with every passing day.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Conditions at Dachau were not suitable for this small group of hostages.
(U.S. Army)

 

The prisoners could not be taken to existing concentration camps. It turns out that camp commandants were not accepting new arrivals by this time, mid-April, 1945. The war would soon be over and each was busy covering his ass and the asses of those around him. So, SS-Obersturmführer Edgar Stiller took his lot to a hotel in Niederdorf. The only problem was the hotel was occupied by three German Wehrmacht Generals, so the townspeople of Neiderdorf put them up, feeding and sheltering them.

During their stay German Oberst (colonel) and prisoner Bogislaw von Bonin managed to reach one of the generals at the hotel via telephone. He warned General Hans Roettiger that the prisoners would be massacred by the SS if the Army did not intervene. The only problem was Roettiger was accompanied by SS General Karl Wolff.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Hauptmann (Captain) Wichard von Alvesleben after World War II.

 

Not to be outdone, Roettiger ordered Hauptmann (Captain) Wichard von Alvesleben and his men stationed to the west of Niederdorf to the scene. After learning that Stiller did intend to kill his VIP prisoners using a bomb aboard their transport bus, Alvesleben and the Wehrmacht moved on the town and liberated the Allied prisoners. But the trouble wasn’t over right away.

After herding the prisoners into the town hall and reinforcing it with 15 noncommissioned officer and a heavy machine gun, the Wehrmacht troops demanded the SS guard withdraw from the town and leave the prisoners. Alvesleben even called his cousin, also a Wehrmacht Hauptmann, who reinforced the regular army by surrounding the SS in the town square with another 150 men.

Outnumbered, the SS guard left.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Colonel Bogislaw von Bonin (center) with fellow hostage and British intelligence officer Sigismund Payne Best (dark suit right) shortly after liberation by the United States on 5 May 1945.

 

The prisoners and their Wehrmacht guard marched to the nearby Hotel Pragser Wildsee where they spent the next few days, guarding against German Army deserters and Italian Partisans. They were soon liberated by the arriving American Army, who repatriated the VIP hostages back to their host country and arrested the Wehrmacht.

The hostages, of course, spoke in the defense of the German Army regulars who came to their aid against the SS. The kind-hearted Hauptmann Wichard von Alvesleben would survive the war and live for another 30-plus years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how the Red Baron got his name

“The Red Baron” remains one of history’s most feared fighter pilots. At the dawn of aerial combat Manfred von Richtofen was credited with 80 kills, most of which were won in planes painted bright red.


 

Richtofen was born into German royalty as a freiherr, which is similar to an English baron. Manfred’s father was a military officer who was disappointed when his own career was cut short by injury and so pushed his son to succeed where he failed.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Photo: Wikipedia/C. J. von Duhren

Manfred began training for the military at the age of 11 in a military school, the Cadet Institute at Wahlstatt. The boy who would become the baron was undisciplined and a barely passing student according to his autobiography. He was also prone to dangerous stunts:

I had a tremendous liking for all sorts of risky tricks. One fine day I climbed with my friend Frankenberg the famous steeple of Wahlstatt by means of the lightning conductor and tied my handkerchief to the top. I remember exactly how difficult it was to negotiate the gutters. Ten years later, when I visited my little brother at Wahlstatt, I saw my handkerchief still tied up high in the air.

While Richtofen wasn’t interested in the military and was a lackluster student, he was a gifted athlete and felt it was his duty to fulfill his father’s wishes. He graduated from the school and was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1912. After the outbreak of World War I, Richtofen initially spent his time doing reconnaissance.

But as the armies dug into trenches around Paris, the need for cavalry waned and cavalry soldiers were reassigned to positions laying cable or acting as couriers. Some officers, including Richtofen, were told that they would be assigned quartermaster duty. Richtofen balked.

“I have not gone to war to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose,” he said.

So he applied to training as an observer on reconnaissance flights. His first training flight was a disaster. He lost his equipment and failed to keep track of his position or heading. But he rededicated himself to training and became a skilled observer. As the war ground on he decided to become a pilot. His ambition was bolstered when he met Lt. Oswald Boelcke, a famous fighter pilot.

He earned his pilot’s certificate on Christmas of 1915 and continued training. He was eventually selected by Boelcke to be in Boelcke’s new unit. On Sep. 17, 1916, Richtofen went on his first patrol and scored his first kill.

After that, his momentum built as he scored kill after kill. For each victory, he commissioned a silver cup with the type of the plane he shot down engraved on the bottom.

It wasn’t until late 1916 that Richtofen painted his aircraft red. By this time, he was an accomplished fighter ace with 9 confirmed kills. A number of nicknames cropped up after Richtofen adopted the trademark paint job, including “The Red Baron.”

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Manfred Richtofen with the men of Jagdstaffel 11. Photo: Wikipedia/German Federal Archives

In Jan. 1917 the baron reached 16 kills and was given command of Jagdestaffel 11. He and his men continued to fight the British and in Apr. Richtofen reached a new milestone, finally passing Boelcke’s record 40 kills. By the end of the month, Richtofen had 52 total victories.

But only a few months later, Rictofen was wounded in an air battle when a round struck him in the head. He was initially blinded but regained his sight in time to land the plane. After a forced convalescent leave, Richtofen demanded to return to the front.

Of course, through all of this, the Red Baron was achieving new aerial victories. They seem to have lost their allure for him though. After the shot to his head, he became angry and brooding, but continued to fight.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
The plane Capt. Manfred Richtofen was shot down in after it was picked apart by souvenir hunters. Photo: Australian War Museum

In April 1918, he doubled Boelcke’s record and achieved his 80th kill. But Death was tired of waiting for the baron. On Apr. 21, 1918, the day after his 80th victory, Richtofen was shot through the chest while aggressively chasing a rookie Canadian pilot. There is speculation that his defeat in Apr. 21 can be credited to the traumatic brain injury he sustained the summer before.

The Red Baron had been feared but also respected by his enemies and the Australian aviators of No. 3 Squadron gave him a military burial with full honors.

Articles

28 rarely seen photos from the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was gritty and painful. These 28 photos from the U.S. National Archives provide another glimpse of what U.S. Marines and their South Vietnamese partners went through in that long war:


1. A U.S. Marine officer teaches a Vietnamese recruit to use a grenade launcher.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marine Maj. Hubert G. Duncan, operations officer with the 4th Combined Action Group, instructs a Vietnamese Popular Force soldier in the use of the M-79 grenade launcher. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R. D. Lucas)

2. Vietnamese Rangers move across the landing zone as a Marine helicopter takes off.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
An ARVN Ranger and a CH-46D helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 are silhouetted against the early morning sky near An Hoa. The Rangers were participating in Operation Durham Peak. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bob Jordan)

3. Vietnamese armor soldiers try to get their gun into operation.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
4th Army of the Republic of Vietnam armor at Quangi Nai in January 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Pavey)

4. A U.S. Marine and a Vietnamese Ranger search for enemy weapons.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A Marine from the FLC’s Provisional Rifle Company and an ARVN Ranger probe for enemy weapons during a search of Xuan Thiue village near FLC on March 11, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. A. Wiegand.)

5. American Marines enjoy food and mail during a short stayover in their base village.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Combined Action Program Marines receive mail and an occasional hot meal upon returning to their base village. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R.F. Ruis)

6. Vietnamese rangers practice inserting into and exfiltrating from the jungle on special purpose ladders from a Marine helicopter.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
View of CH-46 helicopter passing over photographer as it carries nine ARVN Rangers hanging on an insertion ladder. The rangers are undergoing training in recon ladder insertion-extraction methods at first recon battalion area. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

7. Vietnamese and U.S. troops get ready for a night ambush.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
American and Vietnamese Marines are assigned their positions before departing for their night ambush site in 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R. F. Ruiz)

8. A Marine trainer assists a Vietnamese student.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A Vietnamese Popular Force trainee is aided through a barbed wire entanglement on the infiltration course at Mobile Training Team-1 located just outside Tam Ky on July 28, 1968, by Sgt. William C. Gandy. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joe Collins)

9. A soldier shot by a sniper smokes a cigarette as another soldier looks at the carbine magazine that caught the incoming round, preventing further injury.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A Popular Force soldier from the village of Hoa Vang steadies himself against a hut after receiving an enemy sniper bullet in his ammunition belt. He received a minor burn as a result of the bullet, which lodged in a carbine magazine. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bartlett)

10. Marines conducting a joint operation with the Vietnamese catch a break on armored personnel carriers.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marines on sweep with ARVNs on amphibious personnel carriers about 7 miles southwest of Danang on Jan. 8, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. R.D. Bell)

11. A joint force rushes to remove supplies from a U.S. helicopter.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
April 16, 1964. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

12. A U.S.-Vietnamese patrol moves through sand dunes during a mission.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A patrol of Vietnamese Popular Forces and U.S. Marines of Combined Action Program, 3rd Marines, 3rd Regiment and 3rd Battalion, move out across dunes bordering Quang Xuyen village to the south of Danang on March 28, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. H.M. Smith)

13. A Vietnamese trainee practices ambushing North Vietnamese forces during a training activity with the U.S.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A Vietnamese Popular Force soldier and U.S. Marine Cpl. Gilbert J. Davis practice ambush techniques outside the compound of Mobile Training Team-1 near Tam Ky on July 28, 1968. The Vietnamese received two weeks of Marine training. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joe Collins)

14. A Marine shows a Vietnamese soldier how to operate the M-60 machine gun during training.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Lance Cpl. Larry W. Elen and an ARVN soldier prepare to fire the M-60 machine gun in mid-December 1969. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. G. J. Vojack)

15. American and Vietnamese troops rush into position as Viet Cong fighters attempt to escape.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
A Popular Force automatic rifleman and his assistant provide cover while a U.S. Marine advances and a Popular Force riflemen leaps over a row of cactus to pursue fleeing Viet Cong. The action occurred during a joint search and sweep operation near Chu Lai on Aug. 24, 1966. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Mincemoyer)

16. American and Vietnamese troops share the map during a clearing operation.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Elements of companies A and C of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, joined forces with the 72nd Regional Forces Recon Co., and the 196th Regional Forces co. in a three-day operation near Ky Tra, 40 miles south of Danang. The operation was designed to destroy Viet Cong base camps. Several camps were found along with numerous documents, food, and weapons. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

17. A U.S. Marine checks a local citizen’s identification.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marine Sgt. Williams ‘Budda’ Biller of the Combat Action Program makes a routine check of a villager’s ID Card. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. H.M. Smith)

18. Troops patrol a village destroyed by the Viet Cong after the locals refused to give aid to the fighters.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
During the night of June 10, 1970, Viet Cong terrorist units attacked the villages of Phanh-Ban and Phanh-My near Danang for two hours. More than half of the villages were totally destroyed by fire and explosives used by sapper attackers because the villagers were loyal to the Saigon government and refused to support local Viet Cong activities or give rice to Communists. The few Popular Force Troops were surprised by the attack and more than 150 villagers were killed. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Berkowits)

19. A U.S. Marine rests during operations.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Private First Class Russell R. Widdifield of 3rd Platoon, Company M, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, takes a break during a ground movement 25 miles north of An Hoa, North Vietnam. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

20. A U.S. Marine on patrol.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marines of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Cross an open field while on patrol 8 miles south of the city of Da Nang. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

21. A U.S. Marine teaches a Popular Force soldier to operate the PRC-25.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marine Cpl. J. R. Stien gives a Popular Force soldier an instruction on the operation of the PRC-25 in late-November 1969. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. G. J. Voljack).

22. A U.S. Marine NCO teaches a firefighter how to properly use his new gas mask.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marine Sgt. Lawrence J. Marchlewski instructs Vietnamese fire fighters in the proper use of their gas mask. The device allows firemen to combat flames in heavy smoke. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. G.W. Heikkinen)

23. A Marine instructor helps a Vietnamese student after an underwater exercise.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

24. Marines and Vietnamese troops offload rice confiscated from a Viet Cong cache.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
American Marines assist two Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers unloading rice from a small sampan. The rice was confiscated from a Viet Cong cache in the walls of a hut in Phu Bai village on Oct. 23, 1966. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Highland)

25. Vietnamese Rangers load onto Marine helicopters for a multi-battalion air assault mission.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Army of the Republic of Vietnam Rangers board CH-46D helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263. The ARVN Rangers spearheaded a multi-battalion Allied helicopter assault. Operation Durham Peak got underway as the first rays of sunlight glinted from the whirling rotor blades. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bob Jordan)

26. Reconnaissance Marines ride to a new insertion point.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marines of Company C, 1st Recon Battalion, ride in a CH-46 helicopter to their next insertion point in May 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. W. P. Barger)

27. A Marine checks out the home of local pigeons used by the Viet Cong to communicate without the Americans intercepting their messages.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marine Cpl. Donald L. Carlson, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, examines a pigeon coop used by the Viet Cong for carrier pigeons on Oct. 24, 1965, in the 28-structure Viet Cong compound discovered during Operation Trailblazer. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Costello)

28. A Joint U.S.-Vietnamese flag raising ceremony.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Marines and Popular Forces of TANGO-1 Combined Unit Pacification Program perform a joint flag raising ceremony in Le Soa Village on Sep. 3, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. R. F. Rappel)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 7 most notorious traitors in military history

There are a lot of hated people in military history and no one is more hated than a turncoat. Even the troops on a traitor’s new side will never trust them entirely — after all, they turned their back on their own country for personal gain.  How trustworthy can they be?


 

This list details the most notorious, most gut-wrenching, most fatal backstabs in military history. These are direct betrayals of historical figures, in alphabetical order.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

 

There are no abstract judgement calls (like naming Judas Iscariot), no political statements (like calling out Nixon for extending the Vietnam War), and no traitors for good causes — Rommel tried to kill Hitler, but that’s hardly “notorious.”

1. Emilio Aguinaldo

Aguinaldo fought many foes to liberate the Philippines and its people, including the Spanish and the Americans. Once captured (he was actually betrayed by his own men) and released, he would wear black to mourn lost Philippine independence. When the Japanese brutally occupied the island, you’d think he’d go right back to fighting invaders killing Filipinos.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Just like old times.

 

You’d be wrong.

He made radio addresses and speeches, imploring the Americans and Filipinos to surrender on Bataan in the hopes of getting the Japanese to make him President of their puppet government. The people ignored him.

When the U.S. retook the islands, he was jailed as a collaborator. Although remembered as the first President of the Philippines, “Japanese collaborator” is a huge stain on his anti-colonialist résumé.

2. Benedict Arnold

The name Americans love to hate. His name is so synonymous with the word “traitor” in the U.S., calling someone a “Benedict Arnold” can still cause fists to fly over 200 years later. Arnold wasn’t a bad general — his skills were critical to early American victories, especially at Saratoga. However, Arnold felt passed over and used.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Because no one in the military knows what that feels like…

 

Related: Benedict Arnold’s tomb is now a kindergarten classroom

Instead of pressing on and waiting for his day to come, he offered to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for money and a general’s commission in the British Army. The British didn’t get West Point, though, because Arnold’s plan was discovered and he escaped to British lines.

3. Ephialtes of Trachis

This is the guy who the historian Herodotus says betrayed the Greeks at Thermopylae. It was there the outnumbered Greeks formed a bottleneck in the pass between the Malian Gulf and the “impassable and precipitous” mountain to the west.

 

Herodotus’ account says Ephialtes showed the much-larger Persian army a “single-wheel track” that ran behind the Greek lines. Once surrounded, the Greeks were, of course, slaughtered.

4. Qin Hui

While Europe was busy obsessing with who was in charge of everyone else, in China, Jurchen raiders from the north were having their way with the Song Dynasty and running off with its emperor. That’s when a general named Yue Fei had enough. He crushed the Jurchens in fight after fight, trying to win back the emperor.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
You pay when you f*ck with Yue Fei.

Then, Qin Hui convinced the replacement emperor that a Yue Fei victory meant a much shorter time on the throne. Yue is recalled and eventually executed for treason. Predictably, losing their best general also meant losing their dynasty.

Yue Fei was exonerated after death. These days, the region where Fei was buried houses statues of Qin and his wife, bound and on their knees, so people can throw things at them for eternity.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Which, let’s be honest, is the greatest idea ever.

 

5. Mir Jafar

Britain ruled India for almost 200 years. How is it possible for such a small, far-away country to invade and conquer one of the richest, most populous places in the world? The answer is Mir Jafar.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

 

At the Battle of Plassey, Robert Clive of the British East India Company bribed Mir Jafar to betray the Indians in Bengal in 1757. His mid-combat betrayal allowed 3000 British troops to best the Nawab of Bengal’s army of 50,000. The British captured Calcutta, then moved on to the rest of India.

Jafar was made the new Nawab. Today, Jafar’s name is equivalent to the American “Benedict Arnold” and the European “Quisling.”

6. Vidkun Quisling

Nothing makes a traitor more heinous than collaborating with the Nazis. Quisling was the President of Norway from 1942 until the end of WWII. While most presidents in Europe end their tenure with a wave and a smile, Quisling’s ended with a trial and execution for carrying out the “Final Solution” in Norway.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Don’t look at me like that, Quisling. Look at yourself.

 

A former Norwegian Army officer, Quisling declared a coup during the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. Having already met with Hitler, he was reasonably sure this coup would put him in control. He was wrong. Eventually the Nazis made him “Minister President,” subordinate to a Nazi official.

7. Andrey Vlasov

Vlasov’s entire career in the Red Army was made by turning terrible units and armies into formidable fighting forces. He cut his military teeth in the Bolshevik Revolution and by the time WWII came around, he was the epitome of a combat-hardened veteran. So, when the Nazis invaded the USSR, Vlasov’s troops were the only ones seeing success.

 

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Andrei Vlasov before defecting.

It was arguably Vlasov’s direction that saved Moscow. But during his defense of Leningrad, Vlasov was captured by the Germans. It was while evading the Nazis that he realized that Bolshevism is the enemy of the Russian people.

After his capture, he detailed to the Germans how the Russians could be defeated. Using anti-Communist Soviet citizens, they created the Russian Liberation Movement, and later the Russian Liberation Army.

They were the only Eastern Front divisions with major successes against the Red Army in the closing days of WWII. If Nazis had not betrayed them over and over, they might have pushed the Red Army back.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”
Heinrich Himmler (left) with Vlasov.

Vlasov was eventually captured by the U.S. Army and handed over to the Russians. You can probably guess what happened after that.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why WWII troops are to thank for the rise of comics

It was June of 1938 when the world first got their hands on Action Comics #1. This new, featured character, Superman, embodied all that was good about the United States. He fought for truth, justice, and the American way. For a whole ten cents, kids could get their own issue, read fantastic stories, and escape from the harsh realities of the Great Depression. But comics found a secondary audience — young adults who were also looking for an fantastical escape from the bleak world around them.

Comic sales suffered alongside the economy at large. Kids simply couldn’t fork over ten cents every week and the entire industry was almost kneecapped before it could became the multi-billion dollar business it is today.

Everything changed on December 20, 1940 (cover-dated for March, 1941) — an entire year before the attack on Pearl Harbor — when another superhero, named Captain America, hit the shelves. He donned star-spangled colors, and the very first public-facing image of Cap featured him delivering a swift punch directly to Hitler’s jaw.

Sales rose into the millions — but not because of kiddies with spare dimes. The audience that bought en masse was, unsurprisingly, the very demographic that wanted to knock Hitler out themselves: the 24-year-old men being shipped off to war.


This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

The creators knew their audience, and they found ways to show their support for the troops in nearly every issue.

(DC Comics)

Despite comic books’ reputation of being pulpy kids’ fiction, troops, at the time, became the primary consumers. Comics were the perfect rucksack stuffer. They were small, easy to fold or roll, and could be fit into anything. You could read it once, share it around, and then enjoy it again when it circled back around. If they got damaged or destroyed, it was fine because it only cost ten cents.

The heroic stories within took troops’ minds temporarily off of the war in front of them. Comic books had mastered escapist fantasy during the Great Depression — and that came in handy among troops fighting in WWII.

Lucky troops could find the newest issues of their favorite series around Europe — most often when in England, before heading back into the fray. But troops would also often request comics in care packages from back home.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

These comics were often printed on higher quality paper so they could withstand the trials of daily military life.

(David McKay Co.)

It wasn’t just the stories of Superman and Batman fighting the good fight back home that connected with the troops. In fact, Captain America was a super-soldier fighting in the same war as the audience for the same reasons against the same enemy.

But the superheroes we love today didn’t steal the show. Non-fiction series stood above them during that era.

In these comics, the characters had no superhuman powers. They weren’t fighting some devious, otherworldly villain. These comics featured real stories told by the troops who were fighting. It wasn’t uncommon for GIs in Europe to enjoy the comics about actions in the Pacific Theater, like Guadalcanal Diary, or for island-hopping Marines to read about the U.S. soldiers in France, in comics like USA Is Ready.

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

One man in particular, Bob Kanigher, used his first-hand experience on the front lines to give the veteran comic book readers arguably one of the finest stories in the medium: Sgt. Rock of Easy Company.

(DC Comics)

The troops’ love of comic books continued well after many made the transition back into civilian life. From then on, the lion’s share of the comic book marketplace featured more mature themes, like crime, supernatural horror, and war — things that returning veterans would enjoy.

This came into direct conflict with a narrative that insisted comic books were for kids. The Comics Code Authority went into effect in 1954, censoring all the “foul” stuff veterans came to love. Comic sales plummeted. This should have been the final nail in the coffin for the medium — but it wasn’t, not by a long shot.

World War II veterans who had read and loved all the stories during wartime elbowed their way into the industry, giving rise to the Silver Age of comic books. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Syd Shore, Alice Marble, Curt Swan, and Bob Kanigher all served their country in the second World War. Together, they brought comic books back into the spotlight, steering them to the bright future they enjoy today.