They say the most dangerous weapon is a pissed-off Marine. Imagine how angry a Marine would have to be after an enemy regiment annihilates the rest of his machine gun unit and threatens to break down the entire line.
Mitchell Paige was so pissed off that he killed them all and then led a bayonet charge to break down their entire line.
As the son of Serbian immigrants, Mitchell Paige was so proud to be an American that he wanted to serve the country that had given his family so much. Right after graduating from high school in his native Pennsylvania in 1936, he joined the Marine Corps and gained a lot of experience at home and at sea in the years before World War II.
When the United States entered the war in 1941, he was immediately sent to the Pacific Theater, first to garrison British Samoa and then to the 2,000 square mile island of Guadalcanal.
It was an important island for the Americans. If the Japanese captured it, they would threaten all U.S. supply lines between the United States and Australia. It would also cut off the Japanese at Rabaul and bolster efforts against Japan on Papua New Guinea.
The Japanese quickly responded with a counterinvasion of the island. One of the most contentious areas for both sides was an airfield under construction at Lunga Point, one referred to by the allies as Henderson Field. The Japanese needed to disable the aircraft threatening its landing ships from Henderson Field but the U.S. Marines had already formed a perimeter around the field, determined to hold it at all costs.
Under naval bombardment from Japanese warships, the Marines fought to stand their ground. Platoon Sgt. Mitchell Paige was commanding a machine gun company at Henderson Field when the Japanese broke through the perimeter, killing or wounding every other man in the machine gun unit as they fought on.
Paige quickly took to one of his guns and fired it into the oncoming enemy horde until it was destroyed. Then he moved on to the next one . And then another one, four in all until they wouldn’t fire anymore. The hailstorm of bullets he fired at the Japanese kept an entire regiment from advancing until he could receive more reinforcements from the 7th Marines.
After those reinforcements arrived, he reformed the fresh Marines into a new line, ordered them to fix bayonets, and then led a charge at his former attackers, pushing them away from Henderson Field and preventing a breakthrough in the perimeter. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for singlehandedly holding the line, along with a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant.
He would retire from the Marine Corps in 1964 with the rank of full-bird Colonel.
The battles that marked the period of the Crusades were bloody and brutal. Medieval warfare flat out sucked; not only was it incredibly violent, but medicine was basically nonexistent, there was poor sanitation practices, and really bad tactics.
The weapons used in the fighting were about as hellish as any martial tools could get. Think about it — it’s no surprise the phrase “get Medieval on them” strikes such fear.
The warriors of the Crusades, from the late 1000s to mid-1200s, were a mix of peasants, soldiers, and knights, and their mix of weaponry reflected the means by which each could acquire arms.
Peasants often had simple weapons — mostly tools used for agriculture — since they could not afford such luxuries of destruction. Knights had more expensive swords and armor, while others had bows, arrows, and spears.
So what are the deadliest weapons to encounter during the Crusades?
1. A mace or club
The mace is a type of club with a ball at the end. When it comes to length, the mace varies between two or three feet. The shaft was made of wood while the ball was usually of iron.
The ball may be smooth and round or have flanges. While this is somewhat of an infantry weapon, some horsemen would also carry the mace. However, a cavalryman’s mace was much longer so that the rider could reach down and swipe his opponent.
The purpose of the mace was to crush bone since it is a top-heavy weapon. One blow from a mace could break a man’s bones easily. Many maces also had flanges for extra damage.
While a ball can crush, a mace with flanges can exploit and penetrate the flexible armor in order to crush the bone underneath, possibly causing the victim to bleed to death.
2. The spear
The spear may be simple in design, but it has proven itself to be an effective close combat weapon over the centuries.
The length of the spear is between six to eight feet. The purpose of the spear in combat is to keep your foe at a distance by thrusting at him, or if the infantryman in question has extra spears or a side arm he can rely on, he could throw it at the enemy.
Spears were used not only against infantry but also against cavalry charges — and to great effect.
The purpose of the spear is to pierce, not tickle. A good spear thrust can pierce and shatter bone, killing in one hit.
The arrow delivered by a bow provided a nasty punch to the enemy. Arrows used against the cavalry would have been shaped to pierce armor while arrows used against ill-equipped infantry likely had barbs to make them harder to pull out of skin and bone.
The men who fought at the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097 during the First Crusade found this out when they fought the Seljuk Turks, who fired volley after volley of arrows into their opposition.
Even though the Crusaders won the battle, it was costly and they learned a valuable lesson about their enemy’s tactics.
The purpose of the arrow is simple: to strike an opponent from a distance. However, many Crusaders would soon learn to place padding under their chainmail. In doing so, the arrows are said to have passed through the chainmail only to lodge into the padding without piercing the soldier.
While killing is the objective, many forget that maiming is just a sufficient. However, if an archer cannot kill or maim his opponent, he can also be a nuisance and harass him by showering down arrows upon him.
The trebuchet is a siege engine first developed in China and brought westward by the armies of Islam, where it was introduced to European warfare during the First Crusade, though some historians doubt this timeline.
The trebuchet was a type of catapult and required many men to operate due to its sheer size and weight.
The purpose of the trebuchet was to weaken and bring down fortress walls. Not only could it fire stone projectiles, it also delivered incendiary objects. While stone is meant to crush, objects of a flammable nature were hurled over castle or city walls to set the various buildings on fire.
Of course, if you want to start a plague, just load up the bodies of plague victims and send them over the walls, as the Mongols did at Caffa in 1347.
What made the battle axe a fan favorite of some Crusade-era fighters was that, while being close in size to a sword, it was cheap to use and required limited skill — much like the mace.
The axe was either single or double-headed and the length of the blade was roughly 10 inches from the upper and lower points.
What makes this weapon so destructive is that not only could it crush a man’s bones wearing armor, the right hit was capable of cutting a limb off. In addition to lopping off enemy limbs, it was also used by doctors to provide amputations on medical patients (though with no guarantee of success).
Of all the weapons to inflict a considerable amount of damage to a human body, the sword was the most prestigious.
While many men could afford such a weapon, primarily nobles and those of wealth used it. Of course, over time, many more men, particularly those who were equipped by the states; i.e. the kings, used the sword.
What made the sword so popular was that it was a symbol of authority. While its design suggests power and of great importance, the judgment it could deliver onto a foe was devastating.
The sword was designed to do three different things, crush, pierce, and slice. Of course, this depends on the blade of the sword. In any case, the three functions of the sword gave its user an upper hand.
If he could not crush his opponent with a single hit (knocking him over, or breaking his arm or leg), he could try to slice him in an exposed are not covered by armor. If that failed, he could try knocking him down and aim for the areas that are vulnerable like the armpits, groin, and knee pit to name a few.
While the sword during the Crusades probably did the least amount of killing, it had the greatest impact as in being the symbol of conquest.
Don’t let the pretty little ponies fool you — the lance will mess your sh** up.
I tip my hat to the person who could survive a lance blow from a cavalryman. Yes, all weapons can kill if used properly, but of all the weapons mentioned, they either, crush, lop, slice, or pierce. In many cases, the victim survives or dies shortly after, which could be days.
The lance, which is least considered, won many of the battles during the early crusades. The lance did it all in one big swoop. As the lance made contact with the victim, it immediately crushed his torso and began to pierce through the body.
As it pierced, it began to slice through the vital organs before exiting the back. There are very few cases where the would-be receiver of the lance survived from his torso wound.
As the knights charged in with their lances, the enemy would be impaled immediately.
The length of a lance measured between 9 and 14 feet. Given the length and weight, along with the rider and his horse moving a full speed, it would not be unthinkable to suggest that two or even possibly three men could be impaled to a lance due to a swift cavalry charge into enemy lines.
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
A lot of American troops find something to love about cultures they discover during their service. One World War I veteran left Ohio and discovered the magical history of Medieval Europe amid the fighting and squalor of the trenches. When he returned to the rolling hills next to Ohio’s Little Miami River, he decided to build that magic in his own backyard. Literally.
Complete with sword room.
Just north of Loveland, Ohio sits a structure that has no business standing in the American midwest. Harry D. Andrews began constructing a full-scale replica of the castle where his medical unit was stationed in Southern France. It was built brick-by-brick by Andrews himself on land he acquired from buying yearlong subscriptions to the Cincinnati newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, taking stones from the Little Miami River, and even using bricks formed from milk cartons.
It took him 50 years to complete the project.
Though it has come to be known as Loveland Castle, the building began its life as Chateau Laroche – French for “Rock Castle” – and Andrews was a huge fan of the Medieval Era of European History. As the Castle Museum’s website reads:
[It was built as] “an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower. It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope.”
Loveland Castle via Instagram
Harry D. Andrews was born in 1890 and served as a medic in France during World War I. While “over there,” he contracted spinal meningitis and was declared dead. Except that he was very much alive and in hospital at the actual Chateau La Roche in southwest France. It would take him six months to recover. By the time he was declared alive, the war was over, and his fiancée was married to someone else. So Andrews stayed in Europe and toured the castles. He never much cared for modern war and believed the weapons used by knights in the Medieval Era were much more fair to a fighting man.
That’s when Harry Andrews gave up on women and dedicated his life to recreating the Medieval Era right there in his native Ohio. As he built the castle, he also constructed a year-round hotbed garden, a secret room, and wrote a book about immigration. As a lifelong Boy Scout leader, he donated the castle to his scouts when he died in 1981. Called the “Knights of the Golden Trail,” they guard the castle to this day.
Bob Hicks was spending a cold December night in his barracks 53 years ago at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City when the phone rang.
It was the chief of his missile maintenance team, who dispatched Hicks to an incident at an underground silo.
“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”
Hicks eventually learned that a screwdriver used by another airman caused a short circuit that resulted in an explosion. The blast popped off the missile’s cone — the part containing the thermonuclear warhead — and sent it on a 75-foot fall to the bottom of the 80-foot-deep silo.
The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. The accident was not disclosed to the public until years later, when a government report on accidents with nuclear weapons included seven sentences about it. The report listed the accident as the nation’s first involving a Minuteman missile.
Further details are reported publicly for the first time here, drawn from documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Journal and others, and from Hicks himself, who is now 73 years old and living in Cibolo, Texas.
When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.
“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”
The trouble began earlier that day when two other airmen were sent to a silo named Lima-02. It was 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth Air Force Base and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, on the plains outside the Black Hills.
Lima-02 was one of 150 steel-and-concrete silos that had been implanted underground and filled with Minuteman missiles during the previous several years in western South Dakota, where the missiles were scattered across 13,500 square miles. There were hundreds more silos in place or soon to be constructed in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, eventually bringing the nation’s Minuteman fleet to a peak of 1,000.
The original Minuteman missiles, called Minuteman I, were 56 feet tall and weighed 65,000 pounds when loaded with fuel. The missiles were capable of traveling at a top speed of 15,000 miles per hour and could reach the Cold War enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union, within 30 minutes.
Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths, and 500,000 injuries.
The two airmen who visited the Lima-02 silo on Dec. 5, 1964, were part of a young Air Force missile corps that was responsible for launching and maintaining the missiles. The two airmen’s names are redacted – as are many other names – from an Air Force report that was filed after the accident.
At noon that Saturday, the airmen received orders to troubleshoot and repair the Lima-02 security system. They made the long drive and arrived at 2 p.m.
The rectangular, north-south aligned, 1-acre silo site was surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with strands of barbed wire. The unremarkable-looking place consisted mostly of a flat expanse of gravel. Toward the south end were several low-slung tops of underground concrete structures.
One of the structures was a 3½-foot-thick, 90-ton slab that covered the missile and would have been blasted aside during a launch. A couple of paces away from that was a circular, steel-and-concrete vault door, about the diameter of a large tractor tire. The door concealed a 28-foot-deep shaft leading to the underground work area known as the equipment room.
Working in 24-degree conditions above ground, the airmen began a series of steps with special tools and combination locks that allowed them to open the massive vault door. Next, they climbed the ladder down to the equipment room, which encircled the upper part of the silo and missile like a doughnut.
The airmen worked in the roughly 5 feet of space between the steel launch tube and the equipment-room wall, among racks of electronics and surfaces painted mostly in pale, institutional green. Though the launch tube was between them and the missile, the missile was not much more than an arm’s length away.
According to the Air Force report on the accident, one of the airmen removed a fuse as part of a check on a security alarm control box. The report says the airman was “lacking a fuse puller,” so he used a screwdriver to pry the fuse from its clip.
When the fuse was re-inserted, the report says, it was supposed to click. The sound of a click indicated good contact with the holder. But there was no click, so the airman repeated the procedure. Still not certain he heard a click, he pulled the fuse out a third time and pushed it back into the holder again.
“At 1500 hours MST,” the report says, referencing 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, “simultaneously with the making of this contact, a loud explosion occurred in the launch tube.”
Hicks arrived at the silo later and heard a simpler story from his team chief. According to that story, it was merely the removal of the fuse with a screwdriver – not the pushing-in of the fuse – that caused the problem. Hicks said the metal of the screwdriver contacted the positive side of the fuse and also the fuse’s grounded metal holder, causing a short circuit that sent electricity flowing to unintended places.
“It would be just like you taking your car battery and you touch a screwdriver to the positive terminal on the battery and you touch the frame of the car,” Hicks explained in a recent interview. “You have just put voltage potential on your entire car.”
Hicks and the accident report agree that the wrong tool was used. In the language of the report, “The technician did not use the authorized, available tool to remove the fuse.”
The resulting short circuit might not have been problematic had it not been for some wiring in one of the missile’s retrorockets that was later found to be faulty. According to Hicks, some weakly insulated or exposed wiring may have been in contact with the metal casing of a retrorocket, allowing for a jolt of electricity that caused the retrorocket to fire.
The retrorockets were housed below the cone of the missile. They were supposed to fire when the missile was in outer space, to separate the third and final fuel stage from the cone, allowing the cone and its warhead — which were collectively called the “re-entry vehicle” — to fall toward the target.
When one of the retrorockets fired inside the missile in the Lima-02 silo, pressure built up in the space where the retrorockets were housed, and the cone of the missile — which was about 5 feet tall, nearly 3 feet in diameter at its base, and about 750 pounds in weight — burst off and fell down in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall.
The cone hit the wall of the silo, bounced back toward the missile and grazed it in two spots along the second fuel stage, hit two of the three suspension cables that supported the missile, and finally crashed to the concrete floor of the silo and came to rest on its side. Luckily, the cone did not do enough damage to the missile to cause the missile to explode.
Neither of the airmen immediately knew what had happened. The bureaucratically written accident report says they “expeditiously evacuated” after hearing the explosion, as the silo filled with gray smoke.
In later years, Buddy Smith, who now lives in Texas and is a friend of Hicks, received training about the South Dakota accident before working in the missile fields of Wyoming.
“I wasn’t there,” Smith said of the explosion, “but I know there were two technicians who ruined their underwear. ‘Cause that ain’t supposed to happen.”
Bob Dirksing, who was Hicks’ roommate at Ellsworth and now lives in the Cincinnati area, said the two airmen who were in the silo when the explosion happened were lucky to survive.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Dirksing said. “If the short had gone to the missile instead of to the retrorockets, it would’ve been a completely different story. I’m sure there would’ve been fatalities. The boys who were down there would’ve been fried.”
The explosion triggered a flurry of activity over the next seven hours. A potential “broken arrow” was declared, which is military-speak for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. A strike team was deployed to set up a 2,000-foot cordon around the silo, including a roadblock. Medics were dispatched to the scene. Three sergeants were flown in by helicopter.
The sergeants went down to the equipment room after the smoke cleared and made two observations: Everything was covered in gray dust, and the missile was missing its top.
A radiation-monitoring team went down next and did not detect alarming radiation levels but did find the missile’s cone, which contained the warhead, damaged and lying at the bottom of the silo.
By about 10 p.m., the scramble to assess the situation was over. Nobody was injured. The missile was slightly damaged but otherwise intact. The warhead was safe inside its cone, although the cone was damaged. And except for some Vale-area residents who probably saw the commotion and wondered what was going on, the public knew nothing.
The emergency was over, and it was time to plan a salvage operation. Sometime before midnight at Ellsworth, the phone rang for Bob Hicks.
Into the silo
Hicks had enlisted less than two years earlier as a skinny, 6-foot-tall, 19-year-old farm boy from Somerset, Texas, a small town about 20 miles south of San Antonio. He was the youngest in a family of 13 children, which included six boys who served more than a combined 90 years on Air Force active duty from World War II to Vietnam and beyond.
After basic training, Hicks had been sent to nuclear weapons maintenance school in Colorado. By October 1963 – eight months after his enlistment – he was installing warheads and guidance packages atop Minuteman missiles in the silos of western South Dakota.
The silos had been rushed into existence after a groundbreaking ceremony in 1962, with Americans still reeling from the shock of seeing the Soviets launch their Sputnik satellite in 1957. If the Soviets could put a satellite into orbit, American leaders reasoned, it would not be long until they could launch a missile on an arcing path through outer space to the United States.
When Hicks got the call about the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he and another airman jumped into the specially equipped truck-and-trailer rig that they typically used to transport warheads. They sped into the night, traveling on the newly constructed Interstate 90 toward Sturgis. It wasn’t long before Hicks had to pull over when he saw a state trooper’s cruiser lights flashing in his rear-view mirrors.
“He said, ‘Ya’ll seem to be in a hurry,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks did not divulge that he was en route to a potential nuclear disaster, and the trooper inquired no further.
But the trooper did mention some smoke emitting from one of the rig’s wheels. Hicks and his companion traced the problem to some bad brake hoses. They made an impromptu fix and sped off again toward Sturgis.
After passing through Sturgis and heading east, Hicks steered the rig north around the hulking, dark mass of Bear Butte and motored across the quiet countryside to Vale before finally reaching the silo.
There were perhaps a dozen people at the scene.
“As we later joked,” Hicks recalled in his slight Texas drawl, “They were standing around not knowing whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.”
According to Hicks, the missile had not yet been rendered safe, and his team chief said somebody had to do it. Hicks volunteered.
When he saw the missile was fully upright, Hicks was relieved. If it had fallen against the silo, the missile might have been weakened to the point of a collapse and explosion. But that disaster had been avoided.
Incredible as it may sound to a civilian, Hicks said he spent no time worrying about the thermonuclear warhead. He had been convinced by his training that it was nearly impossible to detonate a warhead accidentally. Among other things, he said, the warhead had to receive codes from the launch-control officers, had to reach a certain altitude, and had to detect a certain amount of acceleration and G-force. There were so many safeguards built in, Hicks later joked, that a warhead might have been lucky to detonate even when it was supposed to.
That’s not to say his trip down the silo was without danger. The missile, which contained a load of fuel, had been grazed and damaged by the falling cone. And with only a few years of history behind the Minuteman missile program and no known nuclear accident involving a Minuteman until the one Hicks was confronting, he was heading into the unknown.
Nevertheless, he climbed down the shaft and into the equipment room that encircled the upper part of the underground silo. Next, he lowered the so-called “diving board,” which extended from the launch tube toward the missile and allowed Hicks to essentially walk the plank at a height of about 60 feet above the silo floor.
He also installed a work cage, which was a man-sized steel basket that could be hung from motorized cables on the inner wall of the launch tube. The cable assembly not only moved the cage vertically but could also move horizontally on a track around the launch tube, allowing airmen to access every part of the missile.
Hicks maneuvered the cage down the side of the missile and started the procedure to “safe” it. At each point between the missile’s three fuel stages, Hicks inserted a long metal rod with a socket-like head and turned the rod to break the electrical connections between the stages, rendering them incapable of firing.
With the missile “safed,” it was time to figure out what to do about the warhead.
‘Up very slowly’
Hicks said there was a particularly high-ranking officer at the scene who’d been flown in by helicopter. After Hicks had rendered the missile safe, Hicks came back to the surface and heard the officer asking some other men how to retrieve the warhead.
Hicks heard no response, so he piped up. Cargo nets were sometimes used to move heavy equipment in and out of the silo, he said. He suggested that a net could be lowered to the bottom of the silo, and the cone with its warhead could be rolled into the net. The net could then be hoisted up on a cable by a crane.
The officer did not appreciate the boldness of Hicks, whose rank was airman second class.
“He said, ‘Airman, when I want an opinion from you, I’ll ask you,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks retreated to his truck and awaited further orders. Later, Hicks said, he was recalled to the officer’s side and asked to explain the idea again.
The cargo-net method was eventually chosen as the plan, but Hicks said the Air Force wanted the procedure to be practiced in another silo. The practice proceeded over the next couple of days.
Following the practice, the operation was green-lighted, and a crew assembled at Lima-02 on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1964 – four days after the accident – to retrieve the damaged missile cone and its thermonuclear warhead.
First, some jagged edges on the cone that were caused by its violent separation from the missile were covered in padding, and the cone was hoisted about a foot off the silo floor while a mattress pad was slid underneath it. Next, two cargo nets, which were layered one on top of the other under the pad, were pulled up around the cone and hooked to the cable.
Then began the painstaking process of raising the cone up out of the 80-foot-deep silo, in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall, without hitting the missile and causing an explosion. The crane did the lifting, but three men also held tight to a hemp rope that was connected to the cone in case of any problems with the crane, cable or net.
“Up very slow,” reads a portion of a minute-by-minute account of the operation, as printed in the later accident report. “Dead slow. Stop. Up very slow. Stop. Up slow. Stop ”
And on it continued like that for about two hours until the cone emerged from the silo late that afternoon. The cone and its inner warhead were placed on top of some mattresses, Hicks said, in a truck-and-trailer rig. There the cone and warhead sat overnight, in the trailer.
The next day – Thursday, Dec. 10 – a convoy assembled to escort the truck to Ellsworth Air Force Base. According to Hicks, he drove the truck, in part because nobody else at the scene seemed to know how.
The warhead was eventually transported to Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for disassembly. The written record is not as clear about the fate of the missile, but the accident report indicates it may have been removed from the silo the next day, Friday, Dec. 11.
Also on Dec. 11, 1964, the Air Force appointed a board of officers to investigate the accident. The board filed its report seven days later, on Dec. 18, and listed “personnel error” as the primary cause. The report said the cost of the damage was $234,349, which would equate to about $1.85 million in inflation-adjusted 2017 money.
Large sections of the report’s findings and recommendations are redacted, and the non-redacted portions do not disclose the fate of the two airmen who were at the silo when the explosion happened.
Several months after the accident, in March 1965, Hicks was selected as the maintenance man of the month for his division. A short article about the honor in the base newspaper did not disclose that a missile accident had occurred, but it vaguely referenced Hicks’ role in rendering a missile safe and transporting “damaged components.”
That same month, Hicks was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for acts of courage. The written citation with the medal briefly summarized the accident and the role Hicks played in responding to it.
“By his personal courage and willingness to risk his life when necessary in the performance of dangerous duties,” the citation said, in part, “Airman Hicks has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
The accident did not scare Hicks away from dangerous jobs. Shortly after receiving his medal, he trained in explosive ordnance disposal and was eventually sent to Guam during the Vietnam War, where he disarmed and extracted bombs that failed to release from B-52 planes.
Hicks went on to work for the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force equivalent of the FBI. He retired from active duty during the 1980s and was hired to work as a civilian agent for OSI until his final retirement in 2005. Along the way, he and his wife, Janet, had two sons.
The missile silos in western South Dakota were decommissioned following the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1996, all but one of South Dakota’s silos had been imploded. The last remaining silo, called Delta-09, is now host to an unarmed missile and is part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which includes three attractions spread out along Interstate 90 east of Wall – the silo, a preserved launch-control center called Delta-01, and a visitor center.
The former Lima-02 silo site near Vale has passed into private ownership and is now home to a honey-extracting business. The fence that formerly surrounded the silo complex is still there, kept intact by the landowner.
Although South Dakota’s Minuteman missiles now belong to history, the United States still has 400 Minutemans ready to launch from silos in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Each of the missiles is a Minuteman III – two generations advanced from the Minuteman I that was in the Lima-02 silo in 1964.
The Minuteman III fleet is just one part of the US nuclear-weapons triad, which comprises 5,113 nuclear warheads in all, including some in storage and others that are deployed and ready for use from land, sea, or air.
To opponents of nuclear armament, that’s a lot of accidents waiting to happen. The US government has officially acknowledged 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons since the 1950s, while additional accidents, incidents, mishaps, and close calls have been uncovered by journalists and activists.
And accidents continue to happen. In 2014, three airmen were conducting maintenance on a Minuteman III missile at a silo in Colorado when an accident caused $1.8 million worth of damage to the missile – roughly the same amount of damage, taking inflation into account, as the 1964 accident in South Dakota. The few known details of the 2014 accident were revealed only after persistent requests for information from The Associated Press.
None of the accidents suffered by the nation’s nuclear-weapons program has ever caused a nuclear detonation. That there was not a detonation at Lima-02 in 1964 is an indication of the safety and reliability of the Minuteman missile program, according to Bob Hicks, who did not sour on nuclear weapons after the accident.
Hicks views the nuclear triad as a necessary and effective deterrent against attacks from nations such as North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is provoking worldwide anxiety about his development of nuclear weapons.
As the future of nuclear weaponry unfolds, the world may need more unflappable people like Hicks, who considers himself lucky rather than unfortunate to have been called to the site of a nuclear missile accident.
“A career is made up of opportunities,” Hicks said. “Being in the right place, at the right time.”
In 1462, the prince of a small area called Wallachia went to war with arguably the most powerful military force on the planet at the time, led by one of the greatest military minds of the time. The one thing that the prince knew for certain was he would need an extraordinary plan to stay alive and keep his principality from being conquered.
That prince was Vlad III, the Impaler and he was going up against Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, fresh from his resounding victory over the Byzantines, relegating the once-great Roman Empire to the history books, once and for all.
In just 53 days, Mehmed II earned the title “Fatih” – or Conqueror – by doing what no Ottoman Sultan before him could: bringing down the vaunted walls of Constantinople and an end to the Byzantine Empire. Now all of Europe was open to the Ottoman Turks, and one of the closest principalities to the new Ottoman Empire was Romania and its small provincial fiefdoms. The Turks would exert their influence by first charging the un-Islamic a jizya, the tax for not being a follower of Mohammed. When Prince Vlad III of Wallachia refused to pay, Mehmed set out to teach him a lesson.
But Vlad Tepes wasn’t about to sit around and wait for the Ottoman Sultan’s tens of thousands of men to come lay waste to his small lands.
After a long cat and mouse game, the sultan decided to send an envoy as bait for an ambush. But Vlad got wind of the plot and ambushed the ambush in one of the first European uses of handguns. He took the Turkish uniforms, disguised himself, and moved to the nearest Turkish fortress and simply ordered them to open the gates in Turkish. When they did, Vlad slaughtered the defenders and destroyed the fortress. Then he went on a rampage.
Vlad invaded neighboring Bulgaria and began to split his army up to cover more ground. They systematically rounded up Turkish sympathizers and captured troops in a 500-mile area and slaughtered them. Vlad reckoned killing more than 23,000, not counting those he burned in their own homes. He then routed an Ottoman invasion force 18,000 strong under Mehmed’s Grand Vizier. Only 8,000 walked away from the battle. Mehmed was pissed and decided to go take care of Vlad personally.
The sultan assembled an army so large, historians repeatedly lost count trying to keep it all together. Mehmed requested an army of at least 150,000 men but what he got was anywhere between 300,000 to 400,000 and a naval force to sail up the Danube with them. With this force arrayed against him, Vlad freaked out. He asked the King of Hungary for help, and when none came, he conscripted women and children to fight for him. In the end, he amassed an army about one-tenth the size of the Ottoman invaders. Vlad needed some way to level the playing field and scare the sultan back to Constantinople. When the Ottoman Army closed in on him, he got his chance.
The Impaler poisoned wells and destroyed anything of use that Mehmed might capture. He also sent men infected with the plague and other diseases into the Ottoman ranks to infect as many as possible. But still, the enemy made their way to Târgoviște, where their first night in camp turned out to be an unforgettable one. Vlad and his men infiltrated the camp and wreaked havoc on its sleeping men. As the Wallachians slaughtered the now-confused Turks, Vlad attempted to assassinate the sultan in his tent, missing and hitting the tents of his viziers instead.
But that’s not what drove the sultan out of Wallachia.
Sultan Mehmed’s elite Janissaries pursued the Wallachians and managed to inflict casualties numbering in the thousands. The rest of the army pressed on the Wallachia’s capital, prepared to lay siege to the city and destroy it. But instead of a fortified citadel, the Turks found the gates of the city wide open. Inside, as they rode around, they were treated to a “forest of the impaled” along the roadside. Vlad impaled some 20,000 more enemy soldiers and sympathizers. Historical accounts aren’t clear on the sultan’s reaction, if he was horrified or impressed, but they do agree Mehmed decided to leave Wallachia the very next day.
Gurkhas are known as some of the fiercest warriors ever to take up arms. These soldiers from Nepal regularly receive high valor awards from both Britain and India because of their bravery, and they are skilled, in one case defeating Taliban ambushes while outnumbered over 30 to 1. They fought in British forces in almost every major conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries including both World Wars and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Gurkha Rifles unit in 1890. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence/Public Domain
The Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. In 1767, the three valley kings had been fighting each other for years and suddenly realized that the Gurkha Army was invading. The Gurkha conquered parts of the valley and began a siege of one of the kingdoms’ capitals.
In order to prevent conquest by the Gurkha, the Kathmandu kingdoms asked British officers serving nearby in the East India Company armies for assistance.
Capt. Captain George Kinloch led 2,500 soldiers with then-modern weapons into the valley to prevent the Gurkha expansion but failed to properly plan. Battlefield defeats against the Gurkha were made worse by disease and inadequate medical supplies.
A wave of desertions and a two-pronged assault launched by the Gurkha cinched the deal and Kinloch was forced to retreat from the valley. By 1768, the Gurkha armies were able to declare the valley and many of the surrounding mountains to be their own new nation, Nepal.
Over the next 46 years, both the Gurkha and the British expanded their areas of influence and control, creating a number of friction points both between themselves and other nations.
These friction points triggered the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1814. The Gurkha possessed much better knowledge of the terrain and plenty of veteran fighters. The British had numerical and technological advantages with tens of thousands of Indian soldiers equipped by the East India Company.
Despite numerous British advantages, the campaign went badly for the first year. One of the generals was killed in a small skirmish the day before war was officially declared. Other generals were known for cowardice on the battlefield, failing to attack when ordered. One even walked out of his camp.
Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared warriors.
Still, some of the British forces fought valiantly. Col. David Ochterlony led a siege at the primary Gurkha fortress in 1815 while another colonel and 2,000 men captured a secondary fort. The Gurkha eventually surrendered the main fort to Ochterlony and peace documents were drafted.
The Gurkha leaders failed to accept the peace treaty and the British launched a second campaign to settle the matter, this time with Himalayan soldiers marching into the valley beside the British and Indian troops. This second campaign in 1816 made it nearly to the capital of Kathmandu before the Gurkha finally accepted the peace treaty.
They served with distinction in wars against the Sihk, but they were truly lauded for actions in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Gurkha soldiers served as the final guard of Brtish military and government leaders as rebelling Indian troops attempted to kill them.
While the British were successful in re-establishing rule in India, atrocities committed by the East India Company and their soldiers during the conflict led to the British crown abolishing company control of India.
When the crown established direct control of India, the Gurkha regiments were incorporated into the British Army.
Since the breakup of the British empire, Gurkha soldiers have been able to choose to fight in the British or Indian armies which still contain “Gurkha” and “Gorkha” units respectively. They are known for their khukuri knives which feature a curved, 18-inch blade.
In the British military, Gurkha men were limited to serving as enlisted soldiers in Gurkha units until recently. Now, they can try out for both slots in officer training and coveted positions in special operations.
World War II was the golden age of American submarine warfare. By war’s end, seven submarine commanders and one enlisted crew member had received the Medal of Honor. The US submarine fleet, often referred to as the “Silent Service” for its secretive undersea missions, operated independently and in wolf packs while patrolling contested sea lanes in the Pacific.
During war patrols beyond the range of American airpower, US submarines exacted a heavy toll on Japanese naval forces, sinking four fleet carriers, four escort carriers, one battleship, four heavy cruisers, nine light cruisers, 38 destroyers, and 23 submarines.
Although Rear Adm. Roy Davenport was never awarded the Medal of Honor, he was the first and only US Navy sailor to be awarded five Navy Cross medals, an honor Davenport shares with US Marine Corps legend Chesty Puller. Even though the submarine commander is one of the most decorated sailors from World War II, the heroic exploits that made him so remain largely unknown.
FIRST NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS
Before he assumed command of the USS Haddock, Davenport had four submarine war patrols under his belt, having served as an executive officer on the USS Silversides under the command of Lt. Cmdr. Creed Burlingame. As the Haddock’s lieutenant commander, Davenport was awarded his first Navy Cross for conducting numerous hazardous missions into enemy-infested waters off the Caroline Islands between June 30 and Aug. 10, 1943.
During a patrol near Palau, an island country that connects the western chain of the Caroline Islands with Micronesia, Davenport torpedoed and sank the 5,533-ton Saipan Maru, a Japanese transport ship. On July 26, 1943, Davenport fired a total of 15 Mark XIV torpedoes at ranges between 2,000 and 4,000 yards in four separate attacks.
Davenport “pressed home his attacks with cool and courageous determination and despite intense and persistent hostile opposition, succeeded in sinking over 10,500 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 35,500 tons,” his citation states.
SECOND NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS
Davenport was awarded his second Navy Cross while serving as the commanding officer on the sixth war patrol of the USS Haddock between Sept. 2 and Sept. 28, 1943. Over the course of the 27-day war patrol, Davenport engaged with four different Japanese ships. On Sept. 15, he fired four torpedoes, claiming two hits and a fire aboard the target vessel. When the enemy ship attempted to ram Davenport’s submarine, Davenport released two more torpedoes “down the throat.”
Five days later, Davenport came into contact with the Tonan Maru II, a 19,000-ton tanker. He fired six torpedoes from 3,700 yards; half of the volley impacted its target. Between Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, the Haddock engaged two more ships, missing the first with two torpedoes from 3,000 yards. However, the US submarine later claimed three confirmed hits on the second ship after releasing at least eight torpedoes.
“He conducted daring attacks during this patrol which resulted in sinking over 39,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 4,000 tons,” Davenport’s citation reads. “By skillful maneuvering, he successfully evaded enemy counter-attacks and brought his submarine through with no damage.”
THIRD NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS
Davenport was awarded his third Navy Cross while serving as commanding officer of the USS Haddock on its seventh war patrol from Oct. 20 to Nov. 15, 1943. The Haddock patrolled off the coast of the Truk Islands (now called Chuuk Islands), a cluster of 16 volcanic islands, which form part of the eastern Caroline Islands. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 2, Davenport attacked a freighter and a troopship with five torpedoes. The freighter was destroyed, while the troopship survived after catching fire.
“He skillfully conducted a surface torpedo attack against an enemy destroyer search group,” Davenport’s citation reads. “One destroyer was sunk and he thereafter conducted a successful surface retirement during the ensuing confusion. During the patrol, he also delivered highly successful attacks against two heavily escorted enemy convoys which resulted in sinking over 32,000 tons of enemy shipping.”
FOURTH NAVY CROSS: HONSHU, JAPAN
After returning from the Caroline Islands, Davenport requested a transfer and became the first skipper of the USS Trepang, a brand-new, Balao-class submarine. Davenport led the first war patrol of the USS Trepang into enemy-controlled waters south of Honshu, Japan. On his first engagement, he fired six torpedoes at two large tankers, a freighter, and an escort. The engagement sunk the Takunan Maru, a 750-ton freighter.
“By excellent judgment, outstanding skill and aggressiveness, he closed and launched intelligently planned and smartly executed torpedo attacks,” Davenport’s fourth Navy Cross citation reads. “His skillful evasive tactics enabled his ship to escape enemy countermeasures and return to port safely.”
Between Sept. 13 and Oct. 23, 1944, Davenport was credited with sinking three ships and inflicting damage to a Yamashiro-class battleship. According to the Military Hall of Honor: “Davenport weathered a typhoon and, on 10-11 October, picked up a convoy of two tankers and one escort. Firing four stern tubes, he claimed three hits but no sinkings were confirmed in Japanese records. The next night, he fired four torpedoes at a Japanese landing craft, believing all missed. Postwar, he was credited with the 1,000-ton Transport No. 5.”
FIFTH NAVY CROSS: LUZON STRAIT
On Nov. 16, 1944, the USS Trepang departed for its second war patrol from Majuro, a chain of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. On his 10th war patrol, Davenport braved the hazardous waters of the Luzon Strait, which is located between Taiwan and the Philippines’ Luzon Islands.
During the 34-day patrol, Davenport led a wolf pack comprising three American submarines called “Roy’s Rangers.” The US submarines fired 22 torpedoes and destroyed four enemy ships, totaling 35,000 tons. However, the postwar Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee — the US interservice agency that determined Japanese naval and merchant marine shipping losses during the war — reduced the tally from four to three ships sunk, for a revised total of 13,000 tons.
According to his fifth Navy Cross citation, “Daringly penetrating a strong hostile escort screen to deliver a series of night surface attacks, Commander Davenport launched his torpedoes into an escorted convoy, holding to his targets grimly in the face of heavy countermeasures and sinking an important amount of Japanese tonnage.
“During this excellently planned and brilliantly executed engagement, the TREPANG effectively coordinated her efforts with other submarines and, as a result of the combined firepower of these gallant ships, contributed to the destruction of the entire convoy within a period of three hours.”
Throughout the course of World War II German prisoners of war were commonly sent to the U.S. mainland, to be incarcerated in POW camps. This incarceration did not immediately end upon the conclusion of the war, and during this period enemy POWs underwent time in reeducation camps as they awaited repatriation to Germany. In January of 1946, 44 German POWs would get the opportunity to participate in a uniquely American autumn tradition, competition on the gridiron.
POW camps were a mainstay throughout the U.S. mainland in WWII. Upon conclusion of the war, prisoners were not immediately repatriated to Germany; rather many remaining incarcerated until they could be sent home. Many of these camps were located throughout the South and Midwestern states, but California had a handful of these camps as well.
One, located in Stockton, California would host an event that would become known as the Barbwire Bowl Classic, in which 44 German prisoners of war volunteered to participate in a game that would have thousands of spectators and gain national attention.
The commanding officer of the Stockton Ordnance Depot Colonel Kenneth Barager proposed a football game between POWs located at the stockade and POWs located at a smaller camp known as the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, commanded by John M. Kiernan Jr. Barager hoped that this experience would spread football to Europe upon the POWs returning home. So, after posting an announcement asking for volunteers, those men that showed up were shown an instructional film and demonstration about American football, issued equipment provided by local area football teams, and began their preparation for the big game.
The teams were coached by two former collegiate players. Sgt. Ed Tipton, a former player for the University of Texas would lead one squad, initially naming them Stockton Tech, but later changing their name to the Barager Bears. The other side was led by Sgt. Johnny Polczynski who played his college days at Marquette. Polczynski would call his team the Fairground Aggies, later changing their name to Kiernan’s Krushers.
The game was played on January 13, 1946 in front of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 fans. Both teams struggled in the contest as they didn’t completely understand the rules. The teams had trouble throwing the ball, so they primarily stuck to the wing formation and T-formation, in an attempt to establish a rushing attack. A couple of fights apparently broke out, and the culprits were sent to the locker rooms for the remainder of the game.
In the 3rd quarter the Krushers QB Hubert Lüngen scored the games first points on a sneak play. The extra point was no good. The game would come down to the wire in the 4th quarter, with the Bears mounting some offense, driving all the way down to the ten-yard line before being stopped on 4th down. The final score was 6-0 in favor of Kiernan’s Krushers.
After the game the teams changed back into their military uniforms and were treated to a banquet at the Officer’s Club, and were sent back to their POW camps with plenty of leftovers. The teams decided to hold a rematch 4 weeks later, but this time Barager’s Bears would win 30-0.
There is a special and unofficial award for colonels who are most willing to take the fight to the enemy that is quietly passed between senior Marine Corps officers — the colonel rank insignia originally worn by Maj. Gen. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, a veteran of World War II who also served during World War I and Korea.
The Marines held out throughout the night, saving Henderson Field. Edson, who spent most of the night within yards of the forward firing line, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He also earned a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, and two Legions of Merit for his World War II service.
In 1951, Edson was a retired major general. He went to the promotion ceremony for one of his former subordinate officers, Lewis W. Walt. Walt was scheduled to receive his promotion to colonel, and Edson gave him the wings that Edson had worn as a colonel.
Since then, Edson’s Eagles have purportedly graced the shoulders of some of the Marine Corps’ finest colonels.
“For 60 years, the passing of Edson’s Eagles has been unusual for its informality and privacy, honoring ‘the same mystical blend of intelligence, dignity, innovation, and raw courage that were the hallmark of their original owner,’ ” according to a story by the U.S. Naval Institute.
The most famous is undoubtedly Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis who wore Edson’s Eagles as a colonel from 1995 to 1997, rose to the rank of four-star general after leading Navy Task Force 58 in the Afghanistan Invasion and the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq — and is currently President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.
Marine Lt. Gen. William M. Keys wore Edson’s Eagles after proving his mettle in Vietnam. On March 2, 1967, he led his company headquarters against a superior enemy force to save his rifle platoons during an engagement. Then on March 5, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the North Vietnamese while conducting a counterattack.
Other notable recipients of Edson’s Eagles include Gen. Paul X. Kelley, 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps; Col. John Ripley, a Force Reconnaissance Marine famous for his actions at a bridge near Dong Ha, Vietnam; and Gen. James T. Conway, the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
RMS Titanic in Southampton England April 9, 1912 (Wikimedia Commons).
Who has never been daunted by the idea of packing gear for an extended field op? You have to make a list of everything you will need or you think you will need, you have to make sure that your gear’s weight is what the S-3 says it’s supposed to weigh, everything has to fit. When it’s only for leave, your life doesn’t depend on these preparations. You might get chewed out, but you rarely run the risk to freeze to death or turn to cannibalism.
However, when it comes to exploration, expeditions, adventures and other journeys, preparedness is everything. In the most remote corners of the planet, what you carry is all you have, and every decision can be a matter of life or death. Indiana Jones, with his bullwhip, Fedora hat, and roguish charms, might make exploration look easy, but it takes a lot more than an impish smile and witty replies to survive through those expeditions. It requires planning, knowledge, grit and leadership to be a successful adventurer. Some expeditions made it, leading to great discoveries and the retreat of the world’s frontiers. Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance, as it is said in the Corps.
It might seem strange to imagine that Christopher Columbus, a man celebrated for opening an entire continent to European exploration, might have led a failed expedition. However, it makes a lot more sense when we know that the proposed aim of the expedition that reached the Americas in 1492 was actually to reach the Indian subcontinent, then known as the East Indies, by sailing westward and circumnavigating the globe. Also, we cannot say that his voyage was a failure, but the lack of knowledge regarding world geography was sure to stand in the way of his first purpose. At first, he was so sure to have reached his destination that he called the natives “Indians.” Although he travelled four times to the Americas, he never reached India.
The Burke and Wills Expedition
What happens when you combine a man with no experience of life in the Australian bush and an exploration commission? An unmitigated disaster. In 1860, the Australian government was offering a reward of 2000 pounds to whoever would cross the continent north to south. The Royal Society of Victoria organized an expedition of 19 men, led by Robert Burke and William Wills. However, the interior of the Australian continent was largely unknown to non-natives. The expedition was ill-prepared for the challenges they would face. Scorching temperatures would reach 122°F in December. Not to mention the severe vitamin B and C deficiency caused by a lack of knowledge on the local flora. Monsoon rains and rough terrain allowed only one man to survive the return trip.
The Darien Scheme
This is a failed venture that almost bankrupted an entire country. In order to compete against England’s trading power at the end of the 17th century, Scotland tried to establish a colony that would serve as a trading post on the Isthmus of Panama. It rested on the Gulf of Darién, a region that is considered one of the deadliest on Earth. Plagued with poor planning and poor leadership, the scheme was set for failure. Due to epidemics, poor provisioning and a lack of demand for goods, the English and the Spanish Empires came together to ensure the doom of the colony. When the few survivors returned to Scotland, they were often shunned by their families, as the failure of the expedition led to the near financial ruin of the entire country.
The Terra Nova Expedition
In 1910, two rival expeditions were vying to reach the South Pole first. One, led by experienced Norwegian explorer Roal Amundsen, managed to reach its objective on the Dec. 14, 1911. However, in contrast to that team’s relatively smooth trip, the team led by British Captain Robert Falcon Scott went through Hell and never came back from it. The difference came down to planning and preparation.
The British mindset at that time had some very precise, rigid ideas about what was and wasn’t appropriate. Dogs were a no. For Scott, sled dogs were not a grand enough way to travel, unlike horses. Moreover, he didn’t train his men to ski prior to the journey, he took five men when he had packed for four, mishandled the fuel and wrongly marked the return route. The team eventually made it to the South Pole, over a month after Amundsen’s expedition, but none of them survived the return trip.
The Titanic was a tale of hubris. The ship was unsinkable… yet, it sunk on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. At the time, it was the biggest ship afloat, not only in length but also in weight. It was nearly twice as heavy as the second biggest ship. Confident in the size of the ship despite its flawed design, its engineers thought it would be enough to withstand any collision or weather conditions, so they allowed themselves to skimp on safety measures.
In the example made famous by the movie, the Titanic only carried 20 lifeboats, which only allowed room for 1178 passengers. It was more than was legally required, but it was still not enough for the 3327 people it could take on board. As a result, out of the 2224 passengers and crew who were part of its maiden voyage, over 1500 died. To date, it is still the deadliest sinking of a cruise ship in times of peace.
Before the tank entered the lexicon of military history, there was horse cavalry.
The horse, like the modern day tank, provided support to the infantry and artillery. However, while every kingdom, like every modern nation today, has some sort of mobile land support designed to punch holes through enemy lines, only a handful of nations have the best trained. So here we take a look at 5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world.
1. The Numidians (light cavalry)
The Numidians were from what is now Algeria and were known for their cavalry abilities.
The Numidian cavalry of the ancient world. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
Hannibal used these Numidian cavalrymen during the Second Punic War. So what made the Numidian cavalry so darn good?
The Numidians saw many battles during Hannibal’s campaign in Roman Italy. The Greek historian Polybius, describes the Numidian warriors as light cavalry armed with missile weapons (javelins). The Battle of Cannae 216 BCE, showcased their abilities.
What made the Numidian cavalry so effective at Cannae is that unlike the Spaniard and Celtic cavalries that also accompanied Hannibal, the Spaniard and Celtic horsemen were heavy cavalries that fought en masse, much like the Roman cavalry. The Numidians, being light cavalry, fought in a much looser formation and because of this, they harassed the Roman cavalry with complicated tactics before disengaging.
And while the Celtic and Spaniard cavalries had the Roman cavalry fixed, the Numidians went from harassment to providing shock support once the Roman cavalry turned their back. This caused the Roman cavalry to flee once the Numidians made contact and understood that if they do not make a break for it, they would be enveloped and decimated.
2. The Scythians (light cavalry)
The Scythians may not be the original inventors of asymmetrical warfare, but one could argue that they perfected it.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Scythians were ancient nomadic horse warriors who were first mentioned by the Assyrians during the reign of Sargon II (reigned 722 – 705 BCE). What made these horsemen so powerful was that they were raised in the saddle and were typically armed with a distinctive composite bow.
The Scythian bow is unique and revered throughout the ancient world by kings, historians, and a philosopher. King Esarhaddon of Assyria had a Cimmerian bow, the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus were equipped with their bows and arrows, and even Hercules’ Greek portrait displays him armed with a Scythian bow. The Greek philosopher Plato said,
The customs of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes.
When one examines the Scythian lifestyle, one can easily gain an understanding of the type of warfare necessarily carried on against more sedentary (non-migratory) people, like those in Mesopotamia. The Scythian took a guerilla approach to warfare as their method, using small bands to conduct military operations. Herodotus mentions their method of warfare when King Darius of Persia campaigned against them.
It is thus with me, Persian: I have never fled for fear of any man, nor do I now flee from you; this that I have done is no new thing or other than my practice in peace. But as to the reason why I do not straightway fight with you, this too I will tell you. For we Scythians have no towns or planted lands, that we might meet you the sooner in battle, fearing lest the one be taken or the other wasted. But if nothing will serve you but fighting straightway, we have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you for those graves or no. Till then we will not join battle unless we think it good.
The description indicates that the Scythians against whom Darius was warring had no center of gravity. King Darius’ military campaign into Scythia (modern Ukraine) went for nothing. As he could not catch them, the Scythians burnt their own their fields, destroyed Persian supplies, and harassed his forces with hit and run tactics.
In the end, Darius turned his large army around and headed home before it was annihilated.
3. The Parthians (light cavalry)
The Parthian horsemen are much like the Scythians.
The Parthians also known as the Parni/Aparni, originated from eastern Iran and like the Scythians, wore light attire, carried a composite bow and a sidearm — possibly a sword or a dagger. What made the Parthian horse archers so powerful was their ability to hit and run, and this was demonstrated at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire.
(Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The Roman general Crassus led his Roman legions into the desert wilderness thinking they were going to face a pussycat. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with an equal foe. Once Crassus gave the order to form a square, the Parthian horse archers saw an opportunity. They showered the Romans with raining death.
The average Parthian horse archer, with a quiver of 30 arrows, loosed between eight to ten arrows a minute at Carrhae. It would take almost three minutes to exhaust his arsenal before needing to be resupplied. The amount of Parthian horse archers at the battle is estimated at 10,000. Now, if all 10,000 fired away for 20 minutes, the amount of arrows fired by an individual horse archer would have been between 160-200 arrows. Take 10,000 and the amount of arrows fired upon the Roman soldiers are estimated to have been an astounding 1.6-2 million arrows in a 20-minute timeframe.
In the convulsion and agony of their pain they writhed as the arrows struck them; the men broke them off in their wounds and then lacerated and disfigured their own bodies by trying to tear out by main force the barbed arrow heads that had pierced through their veins and muscles.
Romans could do little, for if they break formation they are dead, if they stand still they are dead but have a chance. Only nightfall saved them. While the Parthian horse archers showered the Romans with death, the Parthian cataphract was the hammer.
4. The Parthian Cataphract (heavy armored cavalry)
When it comes to heavy cavalry in the ancient world, the Parthian cataphract takes the lead.
Parthian heavy armored cataphract. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The word cataphract comes from the Greek Kataphraktos means “completely enclosed.” The origins of the cataphract may not have started with the Parthians but with the Massagetae, who also inhabited portions of Eastern Iran three centuries before the arrival of the Parthians. If you want more info on this, click “here.”
The Parthian cataphract in many ways looked like the medieval knights of Europe. What made them so effective on the field of battle was that the rider and horse were covered in armor. The rider would carry a lance, sword, and presumably a bow.
At the Battle of Carrhae, the cataphract would charge into Roman lines once the legions locked shields to protect themselves from the arrows. According to Plutarch, the cataphracts would hit the lines with such a force that “many (Romans) perished hemmed in by the horsemen. Others were knocked over by the pikes or were carried off transfixed.”
This hit and run attack would go on for some time until the Roman broke and fled.
5. Late Roman Equites Cataphractarii and Sassanid Clibanarii (very heavily armored cavalry)
It may be an understatement to say that Equites cataphractarii were heavy cavalry as they were indeed the heaviest of the bunch.
among them were the full-armoured cavalry (whom they called clibanarii or cataphracti equites), all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men. Thin circles of iron plates, fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covered their limbs; so that whichever way they had to move their members, their garment fitted, so skilfully were the joinings made
The Clibanarii were Sassanid. However, the Sassanids also used this term to describe the Equites cataphractarii. The description provided by Ammianus Marcellinus about the Clibanarii goes as follows:
Moreover, all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skilfully fitted to their heads, that, since their entire bodies were plated with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings fitted to the circle of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath. Of these some, who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would think them held fast by clamps of bronze.
The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather.
So who had the best cavalry in the ancient world? Well, the answer to that question is the various nomads who dotted the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, and the Iranian plateau. These various nomads are the ones who not only perfected horse archery and heavy cavalry, they also brought civilization the chariot.
However, horse archers and heavy cavalry — no matter the kingdom — would come to an end once the gunpowder age arrived. Eventually new tactics took the rider off his mount and placed him into a tank.
Here we go. Rounding out the list of the most patriotic, most ‘Murican moments of every U.S. Presidency are the presidents of our age, numbers 35 through 44. Abraham Lincoln is already the all-time best, James Buchanan is the all-time worst — and no one gives a sh*t about Rutherford B. Hayes.
Since we’re approaching today’s era, it’s important for me to remind you all that We Are The Mighty is an apolitical organization and the last time we sided with a political party, the Whigs dissolved like… a week later. This is about America, and no matter how much you dislike(d) one of our Chief Executives, they all led the country to moments of American Glory.
This list is for the Presidents who have completed their time in office, so Trump won’t be on here — perhaps his most patriotic moment is yet to come.
John F. Kennedy
JFK’s time in office was tragically cut short, but his effect on American life is one that endures for the ages. In May, 1961, he addressed Congress to discuss America’s urgent national needs. In that speech, he challenged the United States to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the next decade — calling for a plan that would find success after Kennedy left office (if he had lived).
But it wasn’t just that challenge that inspired America. It was Kennedy’s re-assertion of that challenge the next year while speaking at Rice University where he described the spirit of the United States. This is where he delivered the immortal line about why the United States takes on challenges like going to the moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Johnson was a man of action, ready and able to push business through the political machine of the United States Congress at any cost. This made Johnson an extremely capable Chief Executive, whether you liked him or not. In the middle of the Cold War, during the very hot Vietnam War, amidst all the cultural revolutions that swept the U.S. in the 1960s, everyone could count on calm, collected leadership in the White House.
But his most American moment was forcing the passage of Civil Rights Acts through a Congress that didn’t always agree with that kind of legislation. Johnson, a Texan and devout Christian since age 15 believed in equal rights for all Americans and that it was the duty of Christians everywhere to deliver social justice in God’s name. So he put his infamous temper to work to pass Civil Rights legislation, even though it cost him and his party dearly.
Richard Nixon took office during one of the most tumultuous times in American history ever. The year 1968 was a turning point for the people and culture of the United States and, despite his overall failure to maintain the solemnity of the office of president, Richard Nixon wasn’t a bad president at all. Had he not tried to cover up his role in the Watergate Scandal, he might have been remembered more fondly by history.
But while he was in office, he was the master of American foreign policy and used his skill to manage the Soviet Union and Communist China (which, by this time, were much less than friends) and use them to bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table. Where Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev trounced Kennedy in their first meeting, he couldn’t kick ol’ Nixon around. And, as they still say sometimes, “only Nixon could go to China.”
This is how cool you think you look while smoking a pipe. You don’t, but he does.
Ford is, interestingly, the only President who was never elected to the White House. He ascended to the vice-presidency after his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 and became president the next year. Ford’s most American moment will also forever be his most controversial. As representative, as house speaker, and as vice president, Ford faced very little (if any) in the way of scandals, but one of his first acts as President was to pardon Richard Nixon for any wrongdoing associated with Watergate.
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy. … let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.
The pardon was highly controversial at the time but history proved President Ford correct, so much so that incoming President Jimmy Carter thanked Ford for it as his 1977 inauguration.
“For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
President Jimmy Carter is considered an unsuccessful President by most – including the former President himself. Carter always said his post-presidency was way more successful than his presidency. Carter’s administration was plagued by high inflation, an inherited energy crisis, and, of course, the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Carter’s most American moment came when he was originally supposed to address the nation about energy for the fifth time. Instead of rehashing what he’d said before, Carter laid out everything that was really plaguing the United States: mistrust in government, disrespect for American institutions, petty Washington politics, failures of his own leadership — a crisis of confidence. He told Americans the sad truth, unusual for a politician seeking re-election to any office.
This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth … and it is a warning.
But Carter also discussed how Americans could best the Crisis of Confidence. The Chief Executive and baptist minister implored Americans to have faith — faith in each other, faith in American institutions, and faith in our ability to govern ourselves. Although the speech was initially well-received, the “malaise” speech was a downer and came to be associated with his failed presidency.
President Reagan was elected in a landslide over Carter, whose Presidency was marked by economic trouble and hostages in Iran, which Carter seemed impotent to free. Reagan offered Americans a new morning, augmented by his near-trademark humor and sunny disposition.
The only people who seldom saw that disposition were the Soviets, who were often on the receiving end of Reagan’s stellar speech-making abilities. Nowhere was this more apparent than during a speech late in the President’s second term where Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, site of the infamous Berlin Wall, and called out Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s new openness policy, saying if he truly desired peace he would come to the gate and “tear down this wall.”
George H.W. Bush
President Reagan’s Vice-President George H.W. Bush was Reagan’s successor who handily won the election of 1988. But during the run-up to the election, Bush — a World War II aviator and former head of the CIA — was labeled a “wimp” by Newsweek Magazine.
Yet, when Iraqi troops poured across the Kuwaiti border and the rest of the world told him sanctions would bring Saddam to his knees, it didn’t take the President long to decide to check Saddam Hussein’s aggression. He moved so many troops to Saudi Arabia to prevent an Iraqi invasion that an offensive move seemed imminent. In 1991, Desert Shield switched to Desert Storm and expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait in some 40 days. Not only were the United States and her allies victorious, the looming shadow of military failure in Vietnam was broken.
Love him or hate him, no one felt the pressure of partisan politics like Bill Clinton. After the 1992 election, his party controlled the White House and the Congress but two years later, he felt a wave of pressure as the opposition swept Congress in the midterms. To say the rest of his time in office was “rocky” would be the understatement of the century.
Still, despite the scandals that rocked his administration, Clinton was the first real post-Cold War president and his administration was the first to deal with being the world’s only superpower. Though he faced serious foreign policy challenges over eight years, he used the opportunity to turn attention to America’s domestic issues, including child health care, federal investment in local law enforcement, and securing a balanced budget (and surplus) before leaving office.
George W. Bush
Another “love him or hate him” President, the younger Bush was able to enjoy the Pax Americana for just a few short months before the whole world changed before all our very eyes. George W. Bush was known for a lot of things, but being a fantastic public speaker was not one of them — few would ever dispute that fact. But his most American moment came right after the attacks that changed the world, when he was trying to talk to the American people.
Bush was in the middle of a speech at Ground Zero, delivering his perspective on where the United States would go from here, when, from the background, people complained of not being able to hear what he was saying. Bush’s off-the-cuff response was just f*cking great.
The election of Barack Obama was a historic first that foretold a shift away from the policies of the previous administration. But there was one policy of the United States that remained unchanged since the years of Bill Clinton – the hunt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
The day finally came on May 1, 2011. Then, President Barack Obama was able to inform Americans that forces of the United States finally got to the world’s most wanted terrorist. Jubilant crowds gathered everywhere, not just in front of the White House, but at baseball games, at Times Square, and in towns across America. If you’re not a fan of Obama’s measured tone and think it calls for more celebration, you can see what happened when John Cena broke the news to WWE fans in Tampa, Florida at about the same time.