Medical treatment is a crucial element on the battlefield, helping keep troops in the fight and boost morale with the knowledge that if you’re hurt by the bad guys, someone’s got your back and will get you out of harms way.
While past wars featured medical evacuations draped over the shoulder of a comrade or on the back of a horse, technology has progressed to include a more effect way to get the wounded back to hospitals through the air.
In one of the first true MEDEVAC operations during the Siege of Paris in 1870, balloons were used to rescue civilians and soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war.
It’s reported that another of the first aerial MEDEVACs took place during World War I when an unknown Serbian officer flew a French Air Service plane with an injured comrade to a hospital. Back then, an injured soldier’s mortality rate decreased from 60 percent to 10 percent using aircraft to get them to medical care.
At this point, all documented MEDEVACs had involved fixed wing airplanes.
In April 1944, an Army Air Forces aircraft carrying Army Staff Sgt. Ed “Murphy” Hladovka and three wounded British soldiers was forced to land deep behind enemy lines near Mawlu, Burma. Then a brave Lt. Carter Harman flew his defenseless Sikorsky YR-4B into harms way, rescuing the four stranded men. The helicopter was so small it took four trips to lift everyone to safety.
Acclaimed aeronautical engineer Igor Sikorsky once said, “If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that’s just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.”
During the Korean War, helicopters were more widely used in medical transport, spawning the growth of auxiliary surgical hospitals — later renamed to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, or “M.A.S.H.”
With this medical expansion considered a huge success, the U.S. began beefing up its medical wards on Navy ships, adding dozens of beds and expanding the number of surgical rooms to handle the incoming patients. An estimated 20,000 Americans had been successfully evacuated and treated during the war.
It wasn’t until Vietnam where things kicked into high gear. The UH-1 Huey was big enough that it could carry medical personnel and the wounded on the same bird. This reduced the mortality rate to one dead per 100 causalities.
Entering service in the 1970’s, the UH-60 Black Hawk provided even more room for medical personnel render more complicated medical treatments while in flight on multiple patients. Today, the Black Hawk is the go-to helo for MEDEVACs.
Equipped with the latest in defensive technology and maneuvering capabilities, the UH-60 Black Hawk has the ability to head out into some pretty dangerous situations and land on rough terrain to secure those men and women in need of top medical care.
Today, with the average response time decreasing, the survival rate for the wounded troops has reached an all-time high of a 92 percent.
One of the Allies’ most heroic spies was an amputee turned down by the State Department because of her leg amputation who served with both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, coordinating resistance attacks and other operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Virginia Hall lost her left leg in a hunting accident while serving in the American embassy in Turkey. She ordered a wooden a prosthetic that she named “Cuthbert.” and practiced with it to ensure she could do nearly everything with it that she had done with two legs.
Despite her efforts, the State Department turned Hall down when she requested to take the oral exam needed for her to become a diplomat.
She then returned to France and, when Germany invaded Poland, joined the French Army as an ambulance driver and learned how the Nazis were treating Jewish people in Poland. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she escaped to London and was quickly recruited into the SOE.
The SOE sent her to France as its first female operative in the country. Hall worked from the city of Lyon as a spy posing as a writer for an American newspaper. While in Southern France, she helped establish safe drop zones for the insertion of British agents and supplies for resistance fighters.
The Gestapo began focusing on the region and had orders to hunt “La Dame Qui Boite,” the “Limping Lady.” Hall and her co-conspirators fled in 1942 over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. When she reported to the SOE that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble in the mountains, headquarters told her, “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.”
What was she supposed to do? Shoot her leg again?
Hall was arrested in Spain because she lacked papers, but a letter smuggled to the American consul there got her released six weeks later. She continued working for the SOE in Madrid but thought she was being coddled in such a safe mission.
She wrote to the headquarters, “I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative.”
But in early 1944, Hall learned that America had stood up its own spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. She immediately volunteered for OSS service in occupied France.
The Americans got her a ride into France on a British torpedo boat and she went undercover as an elderly milkmaid. She was probably the only elderly milkmaid in the country who coordinated parachute drops, reported German troop movements, and snuck across the country while transmitting Nazi military secrets via a suitcase radio.
Using supplies inserted into the drop zones she had selected, Hall trained and armed three battalions of French resistance fighters and prepared them for D-Day. When the Allies launched Operation Overlord and came across the channel, her forces launched a series of attacks to disrupt the Germans and help the liberators.
Fighters operating under Hall’s direction derailed trains, sabotaged bridges, destroyed rail and telephone lines, and killed and captured hundreds of Germans.
As the war in Europe wound to a close, Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS approved the award of a Distinguished Service Cross to Hall and suggested to President Harry Truman that he pin it on her personally. Instead, Hall requested that the ceremony be kept private so that she could continue work in the clandestine service.
The administration agreed and Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, pinned the medal on her in September 1945. She was the first civilian and only American woman to receive the award in World War II.
Hall continued to serve in the OSS and then the Central Intelligence Agency until her mandatory retirement at the age of 60 in 1966.
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, something rare and particular began in the 1970s. When — citing the growth of accidental deaths — command decided to take a different type of approach at protecting their soldiers. With song and dance. With a new type of theater show, one that incorporated actual combat soldiers performing song and dance numbers — intertwined with real, somber video recounts of soldier death. It was a merger of a real message and quality entertainment.
Known as the Soldier Safety Show, this military-meets-Broadway program took place during the 70s, 80s and 90s as part of a new approach to get young soldiers to take safety measures seriously.
Former Fort Bragg Commander, retired four-star General Carl Stiner, said that the Soldier Safety Show was born out of growing death toll rates.
“We realized we were having more casualties of all off-duty activities, mainly motorcycles, than from thousands of parachute jumps and heavy equipment drops. We just needed to do something about it,” he said in a 2015 interview with NPR’s This American Life.
Steiner added that between suicide and reckless drinking, Fort Bragg was losing 10 soldiers to every one soldier that died in a training-related event.
Briefs were scheduled, but soldiers slept through them, and other measures were taken but saw little results.
Enter the Soldier Safety Show, which not only engaged young soldiers, but dropped the accidental death rate by one-third.
It worked by employing a combination theater and screen projections of “gut-wrenching” testimonials from soldiers who had lost friends due to accidents and careless mistakes. Then it ended with soldiers standing to take a safety pledge. (This also created the opportunity for a standing ovation at the end of every show.) Viewers and performers alike called the juxtaposition of mournful renditions and live musical theater absurd and unexpected, but somehow, effective.
The Soldier Safety Show was mandatory for all stationed at Bragg. To meet this demand, performing soldiers held 3-4 shows a day around the Christmas holiday, when deaths typically peaked.
On-stage meets the military: Operation Shock and Awe
Those who worked with the program credited most of its success to the director, Lee Yopp. They said Yopp was a unique, boisterous personality with much gusto. Having become a director by accident when working as a football coach and he broke his leg, Yopp found he excelled at directing and took higher, bigger directing jobs. He ended up bankrupting a large theater — and himself — by overspending and creating a flop. However, he was offered the gig to manage the Fort Bragg Playhouse by an old Army buddy.
The running joke was the DoD was the one financial baker who could afford his visions. Yopp incorporated waterfalls, a roller skating rink, parachute rigs, cannons and machine guns (that actually fired); he planted real grass on the stage to bring in horses. And — perhaps his biggest move of all — he brought in explosive experts from Special Forces who helped them rig up loud booms in the stage floor, complete with flash pods.
But Yopp did more than that — he knew how to reach soldiers in a way that mattered. He got big, exciting performances out of his actors … including those who’d never been on stage before. When one of the soldiers’ teenage son got in a car wreck, Yopp took the crew on a field trip and filmed them in the hospital. That was the start of a new act where a young actor talked about driving too fast and losing control, spliced with the real-life footage. They paired it with the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, and it was an instant hit.
Viewers and performers alike say Yopp’s unique way of making the simple overtly complicated helped bring the message together. It got attention and it struck a chord, especially with a young crowd.
Former Fort Bragg soldier Derek Brown, a paratrooper in the 1990s, performed in the Soldier Safety Show after he volunteered with his unit. Brown said he initially thought it was a joke when briefed about an audition for musical theater. (He fell into the category of performers who had never sang or danced before.) It was mandatory for his unit to send a representative, and he was the only volunteer.
Brown called the show a blend of “…the honor and discipline movements with the bravado and panache of Broadway musicals.” And with Yopp’s direction, his encouragement to be big and loud at all times, the show was able to get results.
“He had no room at all for shyness on stage. He made it a point of saying, ‘If you were going to fail, please fail loudly, please fail loudly and sing it as though your life depended on it.’”
During Yopp’s tenure as managing director of the Fort Bragg Playhouse from 1974-1993, they earned more than 35 awards, including a 1980 sweep of the U.S. Army Forces Command music and theater competition, with 15 titles, and best music and theater program among worldwide Army installations in 1981.
He’s often depicted as an old man with a grey goatee rocking a red, white, and blue suit and top hat. Uncle Sam is synonymous with Americana and is the personification of the United States government. His image has graced recruiting posters and political cartoons alike, but surprisingly little is actually known about how he came to be.
He wasn’t first the unofficial mascot of the United States. That honor originally belonged to Columbia. She was the embodiment of the “Spirit of the Frontier” and the goodwill of its people. Even many years after the introduction of Uncle Sam, Columbia would often be depicted side by side with him. Sadly, she grew out of favor around the 1920’s when immigrants identified more with Lady Liberty as the symbol of America. Then, Columbia Pictures’ rise to notoriety kind of stole the rest of her thunder.
The first reference to an “Uncle Sam” in America is found within the original lyrics to the song Yankee Doodle. The original 13th stanza went,
Old Uncle Sam come there to change, some pancakes and some onions. For ‘lasses cakes, to carry home, to give his wife and young ones.
The original draft of the iconic song was far less metaphorical, so it’s assumed it may have just been a reference someone’s old uncle named Sam.
The next possible origin is one that stems from Brother Jonathan, or the original Yankee Doodle. Long before Colonial Americans adopted the moniker of “Yankee Doodle” as a badge of honor, the term was used disparagingly against Americans by the English. It was their way of saying that we were uncivilized hicks in comparison to the English personification, “John Bull.”
The term “Brother Jonathan” was used in much the same way a few decades prior. The name “Jonathan” is directly pulled from Jonathan Trumbull, the only Colonial Governor to side with the Americans during the revolution. The Brits took his perceived betrayal of the Empire, exaggerated his characteristics and, thus, the caricature of “Brother Jonathan” was born.
Just like Yanke Doodle, Brother Jonathan became a prideful rallying cry for early Americans. It’s agreed that his long coat, luscious locks, and goatee were incorporated into the look of Uncle Sam.
The most widely accepted origin of Uncle Sam, however, stems from the War of 1812 when a New York meatpacker, named Samuel Wilson, supplied many troops with rations labeled with “EU-US.” “EU” were the initials of the contractor, Elbert Anderson, and “US” marked the location. Troops were said to have loved Sam for his food and jokingly referred to it as coming from “Uncle Sam.” This is still disputed, however, because there is no written record of it until 1842.
While there’s no denying the likenesses between Sam Wilson and the Uncle Sam that everyone knows today, his look wasn’t solidified until the printing of James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “I Want You For U.S. Army” poster. Flagg wrote in his autobiography that he took some liberties when creating the poster. He made him manlier, more chiseled, and is even said to have based some of the looks on himself — a fact that was praised by President Roosevelt.
Some things are universal. If you’re going to start a war, make sure you’re also the one who finishes it. To be ill-prepared for any reason is dumb and just prolongs a war, yielding pointless loss of life. In the history of the world, wars have been prolonged and lost for many, many stupid reasons.
Things like ignorance, hubris, and incompetence come to mind.
(Department of Defense)
Racism is all three of those things. Especially when a leader is about to send thousands — or even tens of thousands — of his most loyal troops into a situation they can’t possibly win because that leader thinks victory is assured just because he’s white. Or Chinese. Or Japanese. So, let’s be honest with ourselves: The most spectacular examples of military leadership did not belong to any one race.
As a matter of fact, if there’s any one person who can claim dominance over all other military minds, you don’t have to worry about race for two reasons. First, because he killed nearly everyone. Second, because he had sex with all the survivors and most of us are related to him anyway.
When a country goes to war, it needs to come prepared to earn that win. No army, weak or obsolete, is going to just let anyone roll all over them because the invader thinks they’re genetically or racially superior. Yet, in the history of warfare, it happens over and over again.
“Cor, I think we may be knackered.”
1. Battle of Isandlwana
The British had been in Africa for a long time and were pretty good at subduing natives by 1879. Experience taught them that small groups of European forces with superior technology could outgun native warriors, even if they were outnumbered.
It turns out there was a diminishing rate of return to that theory.
British forces in South Africa prepared to invade Zulu with less than 1800 redcoats and colonial troops, a few field guns, and some rockets. They made zero effort at preparing defensive positions. The British didn’t even bother to scout or recon where the opposing Zulu force was. If they had, they would have known much sooner that their camp was surrounded by 20,000 Zulu Impi.
The Impi slaughtered the British — they just absolutely creamed them. Though the redcoats fought fiercely, 20,000 is a hard number to beat. Despite a British victory later at Roarke’s Drift, their invasion of Zululand fell apart. The worst part is that British High Commissioner for Southern Africa didn’t even have to invade. He just wanted to depose the elected government and federalize South Africa. No one authorized his invasion. He just thought so little of the Zulus that he figured it must be an easy task.
But the British had to finish what they started. The second time the British invaded Zululand (because of course they did), they brought more men and technology to win a decisive victory.
Hint: not well.
2. The Battle of Adwa
Italian forays into colonizing Africa didn’t always go according to plan. When carving up Africa for colonization, the other European powers seemed to leave the most difficult areas to subdue for Italy. The Italian army had to subjugate modern-day Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. How do you think that went?
Yeah, they died.
In another example of “we’re white so we must be better” thinking, the Italians — who barely got themselves together as country in 1861 — tried to exploit Ethiopia, an already rich, complex, and advanced society. Italy tried to misinterpret a treaty signed with Ethiopia to subdue it as a client state, but Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II wasn’t having any of it. So, the Italians invaded from Italian-controlled Ethiopia.
After a year of fighting, they made it deep into Ethiopian territory. But as both armies began to struggle to feed themselves, the Italian government wanted a break in the stalemate. Instead of an orderly retreat, the Italians decided to attack, considering 17,000 Italians with old guns versus more than 100,000 Ethiopian troops would be less embarrassing than having retreat before Ethiopians.
Well, the Italians mostly died — but they didn’t have to. The Ethiopians not only had significantly more manpower, they weren’t exactly armed with spears either. They also had rifles. And cavalry. And more of everything on their home turf. The Italian invasion was just a bad idea from the start.
The Italians were pretty much annihilated at Adwa, with more than 10,000 killed, captured, or wounded. For Ethiopia, it guaranteed their independence from European meddling or subjugation, forcing Italy to recognize Ethiopia as such – at least, until Mussolini came to call with airplanes and chemical weapons.
Next time, don’t make your hats such big targets.
3. The Russo-Japanese War
At the turn of the 20th Century, Japan and Russia were in direct competition for dominance over Korea and Chinese Manchuria. Russia was expanding the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach its eastern shores, and did so through China, eventually expanding to the city of Port Arthur — which the Japanese thought they’d won in a previous war with China. Both Russia and Japan became convinced a war was coming. Because it was.
“Wait, wait… I think we want to negotiate now.”
For some reason (racism), the Russians didn’t seem worried. They were far away from any kind of reinforcement and the Japanese had an advantage in manpower and proximity. But the “yellow monkeys,” as they were portrayed in Russian press, gave the Russian military zero pause. The Czar and his advisors were sure Russia would win any war with an Asian country. Japan repeatedly attempted to negotiate with the Russians but to no avail. War was easily averted, but the Czar was sure Japan wouldn’t attack.
Since Russia had advisors with Menelik II in Ethiopia, you’d think they’d be wary of racist overconfidence, but you’d be wrong. Because Japan attacked.
When Japan attacks, they do it in a big way. They attacked the Russian Far East Fleet and bottled it up at Port Arthur, destroying it with land-based artillery. Japan then captured all of Korea in two months. They then moved into Manchuria as the Russians fell back, waiting for land reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Russian Baltic Fleet, which pretty much had to circumnavigate the globe to get to the war.
Russians retreating from Mukden. You’d think they’d be sprinting.
Neither was put to good use. Russia lost 90,000 troops when the Japanese captured the Manchurian capital at Mukden. And the Baltic Sea Fleet (now called the 2nd Pacific Fleet) was annihilated by the Japanese on its way through the Tsushima Strait.
4. World War II in the Pacific
Well, just as the Russians proved they learned nothing about racism by watching Menelik trounce the Italians, the Japanese learned nothing about racism from their victory over Russia.
By 1937, the Japanese were coming out of the Great Depression, well before the rest of the world. Coupled with significant military victories against China, Russia, and in World War I, Japan was riding pretty high. But this isn’t the start of the Japanese superiority complex. The country actually tried to have a race equality declaration written into the League of Nations.
But we all know how well the League of Nations turned out.
Oh. Right. Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese became contemptuous of white Americans and Europeans and saw themselves as a superior race. The inferior white races were considered soft and weak in comparison. When Japanese officials were met with racism while visiting foreign countries, it only exacerbated the issue.
They saw whites as overly individualistic, a society that would crumble at the first sign that it needed to unify or die. Japan soon came to believe its divine role was to be the champion of Asians and to liberate the colonies of the Western powers. Their view of themselves as a superior race was so extreme, it would weigh heavily on the Asian peoples they “liberated.”
But before any of that happened…
And Yamamoto learned about this thing called the U.S. Army Air Forces.
The fact is that American citizens didn’t really want the U.S. to go to war with Japan. But Japan needed raw materials to continue their campaign in Asia. So, when the United States cut them off of American oil and scrap metal, there was only one way to go about getting it.
Just kidding. There were many ways Japan could maintain its expansion in Asia without bombing Pearl Harbor or going to war with Europe, but it opted to bomb the Americans, who had the only fleet that could stop the Japanese Navy, and then take oil and rubber from the British and Dutch colonies in Asia. The Japanese thought if they destroyed the U.S. fleet, then America would just give up and let them have it.
That’s how weak-willed the Japanese thought Americans were. That line Admiral Yamamoto supposedly said about waking a sleeping giant? He never said that. But Japan found out pretty quickly about these guys called “U.S. Marines.”
Japan’s leadership knew they couldn’t win a long war against the U.S., but it was their racial bias that led them to believe the Americans would just give up after Pearl Harbor. They had led themselves to believe Japan was invincible so much that losing the war came as a shock and surprise to most of the Japanese people.
On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.
Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.
Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912
Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.
He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.
The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.
While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.
The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.
An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.
Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.
The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.
In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.
Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.
Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.
The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.
The United States sent its forces into Syria in 2014 to hasten the demise of ISIS. After the fall of the “caliphate” capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa three years later, the U.S. remained. It was determined to conduct operations that would bring the government forces of Bashar al-Asad to heel.
In 2018, U.S. forces and U.S.-backed militias from the Kurish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), controlled the Conoco gas field near the town of al-Tabiyeh in eastern Syria. The Americans and SDF were on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, while Syrian government troops and Russian mercenaries were on the other.
As far as the United States knew, there were no official Russian troops operating in this province. Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made certain of that using official channels to the Russian government, in place to prevent a clash between American and Russian troops. The Russians operating with Bashar al-Asad’s troops were military contractors hired by the Wagner Group.
Pro-Assad forces controlled the nearby major city of Deir-ez-Zor, which allowed them a staging area for nearby attacks and to easily cross the river.
The pro-government forces had begun massing in Deir-ez-Zor for days prior and the American-led Coalition could see every move they made, even if they didn’t know who exactly was making those moves. For all the Coalition forces knew, they could have been ISIS. That’s when a large force departed the city, headed for the headquarters of the U.S.-SDF forces at Khasham.
On Feb. 7, 2018, 500 pro-government Syrian troops, including Iranian-trained Shia militiamen, along with Russian military contractors began their attack on the SDF headquarters. The assault began with mortars and rockets, supported by Soviet-built T-72 and T-55 tanks. Unfortunately for the Syrians, the SDF base just happened to be filled with 40 American special operations forces. After calling to ensure no official Russian forces would be harmed in the making of their counterattack, the operators called down the thunder.
American Special Forces called in AC-130 “Spooky” Gunships, F-15E Strike Eagles, Reaper drones, Apache helicopters, F-22 Raptors and even B-52 Stratofortress bombers. If that wasn’t enough to kill everything coming at them, nearby Marine Corps artillery batteries got in on the action. The attack was turned away, decisively. The only questions that remained were how many were killed in the “fighting” and how was the Syrian government going to cover up this epic mistake?
Coalition forces took one casualty, an SDF fighter who was wounded. The United States estimated the Syrians lost 100 killed. The Syrian government says 55 were killed in the fighting with a further loss of 10 Russian mercenaries. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 68 Syrians dead. Russian media lamented the idea that Russian remains were “abandoned” on the battlefield.
“Write it on your forehead: 14 volunteers were killed in Syria. I’m fed up with you chewing snot and telling fairy tales in your petty articles. As for your speculations there, what you write about those f****** investigations – no one has abandoned anyone.”
It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.
Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.
England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.
General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.
The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.
One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.
Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.
Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.
The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.
London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.
The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.
British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.
One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.
The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.
Unidentified; State Department Messenger Donaldson; Unidentified; Count Alexander de Bodisco; Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister; Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister; Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated); Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; Henri Mercier, French Minister; William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated); Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister; Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated); and Sheffield, British Attache.
The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.
Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.
On May 8, 1945, Navy Seabee Andrew Del Regno sent a letter to his wife from the front lines of the Pacific Front of World War II. It was one of some 600 letters the couple sent each other over the course of the war. His wife, Helen Del Regno, who was home in Nyack, New York, received it much later — after the end of the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese Empire would continue until September of that year.
Decades later, their son, filmmaker Vic Del Regno, would meticulously compile those letters to tell the story of his parents’ undying love for one another in the background of one of the most turbulent times in American history, World War II. That effort culminated with the younger Del Regno’s hour-long documentary, Till Then: A Journey Through World War II Love Letters.
The books have a different title, ‘Who Knew?’
(Photo by Vic Del Regno)
Vic Del Regno found his parents’ correspondence in the garage of their New York home. He had them compiled in leather-bound books to preserve them for posterity. Upon finding them, he was inspired to retrace his father’s service in the Pacific Theater on a trip that took him to legendary places in American military history, including Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.
In the book’s introduction, Vic Del Regno writes that he wanted to capture “the deep loneliness and hardship many couples experienced during the war, caused by being separated by thousands of miles and long periods of time. This is a real life story, taken from the letters, that ties together the elements of love, betrayal, forgiveness, tragedy, and hope.”
The book, entitled Who Knew? A World War II Journey Through Love Letters, was changed because Del Regno wanted the film’s title to reflect how his parents signed off their letters, with a reference to a popular song of the era by the Mills Brothers, ‘Till Then.’
The Del Regno’s original correspondence, saved and bound in 12 notebooks.
(Vic Del Regno)
The letters pull no punches, documenting the war’s grim realities, along with the pain and hardships of a relationship torn apart by a seemingly unending, brutal war. Despite their dismal situation, you can also see the hope brought by each letter and the importance of receiving correspondence from home for a sailor deployed thousands of miles away.
Vic Del Regno wanted to capture the sacrifices made, not just by his parents or by the soldiers and sailors who fought the war, but by all Americans at a time when victory was anything but assured. He also hopes that it might shed some light on the struggles faced by those troops (and their families) who are fighting today’s wars overseas.
“It reaches the many sides of war experienced by those who have served and those who were left behind,” writes Jack Sprengel of the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. “History repeats itself in many ways and this film tells a story just as important as the battle stories told.”
Vic Del Regno’s untiring work is emblematic of the motto his Seabee father shared with his fellow veterans:
“With willing hearts and skillful hands the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”
It took Vic Del Regno just five years and now, that labor of love – the letters of his parents – are preserved forever in the U.S. National Archives.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Army was testing out a number of ideas to help support troops. Some of these ideas, like the XV-5 Vertifan, were decades ahead of their time. Others, though, fell by the wayside as alternate technologies emerged and proved better able to do the job. One of these forgotten experiments was something called the XV-8 Fleep.
At the time, the Army looking for a new way to resupply troops. The Army was also in the middle of restructuring their forces, further dispersing units to better mitigate the effects of a potential nuclear attack. They needed a new, fast way to get materiel from one unit to the next. Something small, nimble, and durable — like a Jeep, which was already a military icon.
“Fleep,” as you’ve probably noticed by now, is a portmanteau of ‘flying’ and ‘Jeep.’ That’s right. The idea sounds silly to us now, but at the time, it made complete sense to the Ryan Aeronautic Company.
The XV-8 performed well enough in testing that the United States Army considered a production run, according to a 1965 report. The Fleep could be flown easily by an average pilot with either fixed-wing or rotary-wing experience. According to AeroFiles.com, it had a top speed of 67 miles per hour and a range of 120 miles. The Army concluded it could haul roughly 1,000 pounds of cargo.
The XV-8 was to be a versatile platform, fulfilling a number of missions for the Army.
By comparison, the top speed of the UH-1D Huey, which was quickly becoming a workhorse in the Vietnam War in 1965, was 137 miles per hour and it had a range of 317 miles. The UH-1D could carry up to 3,116 pounds of cargo.
The numbers here tell a grim tale for the Fleep — the Huey significantly outperformed the Fleep in every comparable metric.
The Fleep wasn’t a bad plane, but the UH-1 simply blew it away in terms of performance.
That’s, ultimately, was why the XV-8 failed to make the cut. Helicopter technology had improved so much in such a short time that, by the time the Fleep saw the light of day, it didn’t stand a chance.
Thankfully, there’s some footage left behind as a relic of this aeronautical oddity. Watch the Fleep take to the skies in the video below.
Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?
The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.
Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.
The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.
In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.
The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.
After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.
Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.
As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.
Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.
It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.
So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.
On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.
Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.
However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.
Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.
That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.
Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.
The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.
While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.
In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.
Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Somalia, 1993 (U.S. Army photo)
On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.
As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”
“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.
Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.
Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”
“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.
“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.
Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.
“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.
With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”
As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”
Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.
After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.
Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)
Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.
Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.
Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.
Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)
From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!