That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

It was a classic naval deception move. In 1914, just after the outbreak of WWI, the German navy cruiser Cap Trafalgar hid its figure and flew under a false flag, pretending to be the British armed merchant HMS Carmania. The goal was to lay in wait for other British ships, lure them in close, then fly the German flag and wreak havoc.


It worked, she was soon face-to-face with… the actual HMS Carmania.

Admittedly, it would have been a great tactic if they pulled it off.

Cap Trafalgar and Carmania were both converted ocean liners with orders to raid enemy shipping. Carmania’s skipper knew the Cap Trafalgar was operating in the area, though he may not have known the German ship was disguised as his own. What can be certain is that once he encountered the fake Carmania, a ferocious naval battle ensued.

Ships’ guns in The Great War had a lot more range than in previous conflicts, especially those in the age of sail. These converted liners could have fought from a distance, and in fact the battle began with the two ships four miles apart. These two ocean liners were vicious.

 

But as each tried to gain the advantage on the other, they ended up much closer than they had to. Cap Trafalgar realized it fared much better at closer ranges as Carmania took more and more damage.

The German captain moved to close the gap.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
He probably should have started sooner.

Blasting into each other’s hull from distances more akin to cannon from the age of sail, Carmania and Cap Trafalgar went to work. Carmania took 79 shots, causing 304 holes, nine dead, and 26 wounded. Cap Trafalgar fared much worse, even though she took fewer hits. Hit by 73 shots and having 380 holes, the ship began to list to the starboard (right) and sank ten minutes after the captain gave the order to abandon ship.

The German cruiser lost 16 sailors, including her captain, and more than 270 were captured by the Royal Navy for the duration of the war.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Carmania lost use of her guns and, with her bow in flames, had to be escorted into a nearby Brazilian island by the HMS Cornawl.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways Civil War troops were obsessed with coffee

American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.

Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.


The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
Which, when mixed with real coffee, is actually pretty good.

But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.

1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.

That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

(theTruthAboutGuns.com)

2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.

In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.

3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.

As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.

A boiled coffee was safer to drink than most other water of the era. Waiting for the coffee to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill most enteric pathogens.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.

4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.

Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.

Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navajo airman is heir to ‘code talker’ legacy

Airman 1st Class Phillip Rock is part of his family’s legacy of military service — a legacy that, in fact, would not have continued if it weren’t for that military service itself.

Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Rock is a B-2 Spirit weapons load crew member in the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. It is his first Air Force assignment and the most recent in his family’s military history.

“I was raised in Kayenta, Arizona, which is an hour away from the four corners,” said Phillip, who is three-quarters Navajo American Indian. “It is really the heart of the reservation.”


Raised by his grandparents, he learned much about his cultural heritage from them. He also learned where his family’s long military lineage began.

This Rock family tradition started with his great grandfather, Joseph Rock — Grandpa Joe — who served in World War II.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron B-2 weapons load crew member, weaves a dream catcher on Nov. 15, 2018, in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“At first, I didn’t know much about what my great grandfather had done,” Phillip said.

Grandpa Joe died in 2004 at age 92 when Phillip was 5 years old. It wasn’t until he was nearly a teen that Phillip realized his great grandfather was a war hero.

One day, when Rock was 12 years old, he was flipping through TV channels with his grandfather, Ernest Rock Sr., in their living room. They stopped to watch a historical documentary about World War II.

Rock recalled asking his grandfather about his great grandfather’s role in the major world conflict which spanned across Europe and the Pacific.

“I said, ‘Isn’t that the war Grandpa Joe fought in? What did he do?'”

His grandfather told Phillip “He was a code talker.”

Western expansion, cultural repression

It was the early 1900s and Joseph Rock was a young boy living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. As the country expanded westward, much of the tribe’s land was taken by the U.S. government. Joseph was sent to school, where his long hair was cut and his name was changed.

“He went up to a chalkboard, pointed at a random configuration of letters, and that’s how he became Joseph Rock,” Phillip said. “Four generations later, we still carry on that last name.”

Grandpa Joe was also punished in school if he spoke his native language — the same language that would later save countless lives.

By 1941, shortly after the U.S. had entered WWII, the Marine Corps began to recruit Navajo tribal members for a top-secret code-communications program that wouldn’t be declassified until two decades later.

At first, fewer than 30 Navajo Indians were recruited as code talkers. In total, only about 400 of the 44,000 American Indians who served in WWII were Navajo code talkers. Joseph Rock was asked to work among them, and he accepted.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, poses for a portrait on Nov. 15, 2018 in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“He was told if he served, the family would get some of their land back and a house,” Phillip Rock said. “None of that happened.”

But those promises weren’t what enticed Grandpa Joe to join the military. He wanted to serve his country, and did so honorably.

“My great grandfather was proud of his service,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s his legacy.”

Military recruitment

This was not the first time American Indians were recruited for U.S. military service, either as combatants or code talkers. During the first World War, American troops relied on messages transmitted in Cherokee and Choctaw tribal languages to pass secret information. However, the languages used were eventually all deciphered by enemy troops.

The Navajo language, though, is considered particularly linguistically difficult. And at that time, it had not been written down. The U.S. government knew it would be nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn.

So, in the early 1940s, Navajo code talkers used their language to create more than 200 new words for military terms and then committed them to memory.

“The enemy never understood it,” a Marine general was quoted as saying after the Navajo code was first used in WWII. “We don’t understand it either, but it works.”

The Navajo code is the only spoken military code that has never been deciphered, and Navajo code talkers are credited with saving thousands of Americans’ and allies’ lives.

Winning the war

Before he knew his Grandpa Joe served as a code talker, Phillip learned about his tribe’s role in WWII as a boy in school.

“We were taught that we should be extremely thankful for what they did,” Phillip said. “Without the code talkers, we wouldn’t have won the war.”

During the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, Navajo code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving thousands of messages. One Marine later stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Joseph Rock was one of those code talkers involved in the critical battle to claim the Pacific island.

During the battle, a grenade landed only feet away from Joseph Rock, who “watched it hit the ground,” Phillip said. Then, Joseph Rock saw one of his fellow Marines dive on top of it, giving his life to save Grandpa Joe.

“He wanted to save the life of a code talker,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s inspiring what people will do to continue with the mission. My Grandpa Joe owed his life to that man.”

Neither Joseph Rock nor the Rock family was ever able to find out who the Marine was, but know future generations of Rocks have their lives thanks to his valor.

“I owe my life to that man, too,” Phillip said.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Traditional native american jewelry is laid out on the couch of Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Each piece of jewelry was gifted to rock throughout his childhood.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Culture and service

Since Grandpa Joe, many members of the Rock family have answered their nation’s call including his grandfather, his father, uncles and an aunt.

For Phillip, his great grandfather’s service as a code talker influenced Philip’s own decision to join the Air Force.

Phillip is the most recent member of his family to serve in the military.

“I feel like it was a prideful thing to carry on that lineage of service,” said Phillip. “It felt like the right calling. My Grandpa Joe was the first to wear this name on a uniform. I am very proud of this name. I knew I wanted to carry that on and wear it on a uniform.”

Meanwhile, Navajo principles have taught him respect, perseverance, and determination.

“My culture really shapes who I am,” Phillip Rock says. “I wear my culture on my sleeve and my name on my chest.”

This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Lt. Col Hackworth is a legend…now, that is.

David Hackworth, affectionately known as “Hack,” was a one-of-a-kind American soldier and a legend among the troops. His military acumen both on and off the battlefield are rivaled by few. His service spanned nearly three decades and began at the age of fourteen during World War II when he lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine. After his time with the Merchant Marine in the Pacific, his lust for adventure and the military life was not satisfied so he again lied about his age to join the U.S. Army as an infantryman, a job at which he would excel. Hackworth was stationed on occupation duty in Trieste with the 88th Infantry Division before volunteering for a combat unit in Korea.


It would be in action in Korea that then-Sergeant Hackworth would start to make a name for himself and to start his collection of Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. He served with numerous elite units while in Korea, including the 8th Ranger Company, 25th Recon Company, and the 27th Wolfhound Raiders. He also set a precedent he would follow for the rest of his career in combat: lead from the front, attack aggressively, ignore overwhelming volumes of fire, and when necessary shrug off wounds to continue the attack.

 

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Because Hackworth reached the rank of sergeant because he lied about his age in 1945, he was still only 19 years old in February 1951 when he earned his first Silver Star and Purple Heart leading troops in Korea. His gallantry in action and aggressive leadership style also earned him a battlefield promotion to second lieutenant and an offer from the commander of the 27th Infantry Regiment to create a special unit, the Wolfhound Raiders. After being promoted, Lt. Hackworth continued his aggressive leadership, volunteering for dangerous patrols and missions, earning two more Silver Stars and two more Purple Hearts. At one point, he refused a direct order to evacuate due to his wounds and stayed on the field until all of his wounded men had been retrieved. At the age of 20, he was promoted to Captain, the youngest in the Army. He also volunteered to stay for another tour in Korea, this time with the 40th Infantry Division.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
David Hackworth receives the Silver Star from Gen. Bradley for heroism under enemy fire in Korea on Feb. 6, 1951.

Between the wars, Capt. Hackworth completed his bachelor’s degree and served in a variety of positions. When the announcement was made that military advisors were being sent to Vietnam, Hackworth immediately volunteered but was denied on the grounds that he had too much combat experience. He would eventually deploy to Vietnam in 1965 with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division as a major, first as the Battalion Executive Officer and the Battalion Commander.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
Col. David Hackworth being interviewed on the front line in Vietnam by Gen. S.L.A. Marshall following the Battle of Dak To in 1967.

Maj. Hackworth was once again asked to establish an elite unit, the Tiger Force, to “out-guerrilla the guerrillas” or “out G-ing the G,” as he called it. During this tour, he added a new component to his leadership style, using his command and control helicopter to insert right into the fight where he was needed most, again leading his troops from the front. During Hackworth’s first tour in Vietnam, he earned two more Silver Stars, as well as the first of two Distinguished Service Crosses he would earn there. After Maj. Hackworth returned to the states he was stationed at the Pentagon briefly, promoted to lieutenant colonel – once again the youngest in the Army, and the sent back to Vietnam with S.L.A. Marshall to conduct research for a book they would co-author called “the Vietnam Primer.” In the book, Hackworth advocated for his counter-insurgency tactics of “out G-ing the G” but more importantly that the fundamentals of combat never change and that a well-trained grunt is the most lethal weapon an army can employ.

In 1969, Lt. Col. Hackworth was given a unique opportunity – to take the poorly trained and demoralized 4th Battalion 39th Infantry Regiment and to apply his knowledge and turn it into a formidable fighting force. Training the unit in counter-insurgency tactics, Lt. Col. Hackworth’s leadership transformed the unit in the “hardcore recondo” battalion that was soon routing enemy main forces. Though initially there was talk of ‘fragging’ their new ‘lifer’ commander, the men soon found their improved tactics and training improved their lives and many credit Hackworth with saving their lives. During his tenure as commanding officer of 4/39, Lt. Col. Hackworth was awarded an additional five Silver Stars and another Distinguished Service Cross. He consistently braved enemy fire (and had his pilot do so as well) to reach wounded soldiers, direct operations and fire support, and when need be, to join the fight himself. His soldiers have pushed for the Medal of Honor for an action in which he had his helicopter land virtually on top of an enemy position while he hung from the strut and pulled his pinned down troops to safety. During his tours in Vietnam Hackworth was wounded an additional five times – for a total of eight Purple Hearts – tying him for the second-most received by a single person.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Lt. Col. Hackworth was next assigned as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. However, his views on the war had taken a turn for the worse. Dissatisfied by his experiences with S.L.A. Marshall and the U.S. military’s failure to learn from the lessons in Vietnam, he also came to see the ARVN officers as corrupt and incompetent. In 1971 though, after being promoted to Colonel and turning down a second opportunity to attend the Army War College, he gave an interview in which he spoke disparagingly about the war in Vietnam. He criticized U.S. commanders and called for a withdrawal of troops. This effectively ended Hackworth’s career. He retired after 26 years of service, seven of which he spent in combat zones, owning an exemplary record for heroism and the love and respect of all those who served under him.

For more information about David Hackworth’s amazing exploits read his books, About Face and Steel My Soldiers Hearts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia tried to join NATO

NATO, as we know it today, is a de facto bulwark against Russian (née Soviet) expansionism into Western Europe and potentially elsewhere. It must have come as a complete surprise when France, Great Britain, and the United States all received letters of intent from the Soviet Foreign Ministry about joining the alliance.

Against themselves.

Originally a political alliance in Western Europe when it was formed in 1949, NATO became a solid military alliance as well when the Korean War made the idea of Communist expansion by force all too real. The same year the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon, the West formed an alliance to neutralize that threat. But before the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe formed the Eastern Bloc in 1955, Russia made an attempt to join NATO.


That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Guess who’s coming to dinner.

Longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin finally died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev was the new communist sheriff in town. So in 1954, when Soviets sent the letters of intent to NATO members, there was a renewed spirit of easing tensions. The Soviets reasoned that the aggressive nature of the NATO alliance would be much less dangerous to world peace if their former anti-Hitler ally were allowed to be a member.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Forgot about An-dre.

But in order to join the alliance, the Soviet Union would have to allow NATO to dictate its military planning and allow the basic tenets of democratic freedoms to bloom in all areas under its control. The debate about potentially allowing Russia to join reminded the member states that the alliance was formed to address threats to world peace when the UN couldn’t — usually because of Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.

Allowing the Russians to have a say in NATO affairs would neutralize NATO the way they neutralized the UN Security Council.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Can’t blame them for trying.

NATO told the Russians exactly that when the alliance rejected Russia’s application for membership, urging it and other Soviet satellites to allow the UN to do its job in keeping the world secure. It was not an unexpected response for the USSR.

“Most likely, the organizers of the North Atlantic bloc will react negatively to this step of the Soviet government and will advance many different objections. In that event the governments of the three powers will have exposed themselves, once again, as the organizers of a military bloc against other states and it would strengthen the position of social forces conducting a struggle against the formation of the European Defense Community,” Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov wrote.

Nine days later, Russia and those satellites formed the Warsaw Pact, its Eastern Bloc counter-alliance. Europe was officially split for the next 40-plus years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the 3rd Infantry Division is called ‘Rock of the Marne’

The 3rd Infantry Division, then known simply as the 3rd Division, was activated in November 1917 for service in World War I. They were fighting the Germans by April 1918. The green troops of the 3rd Division were thrown into the line in the midst of a strong German attack along the Marne River.


The Marne had been the site of a significant battle that had turned back the German onslaught into France in 1914. It would be remembered once again in 1918.

Also read: This is why 3/2 Marines call themselves ‘the Betio Bastards’

After the Germans’ Spring Offensives had ground to a halt, they still sought a breakthrough of the Allied lines. Hoping to draw forces away from Flanders, where the Germans hoped to eventually drive through to Paris, they launched a large scale offensive to the south in the vicinity of Reims.

In the early morning darkness of July 15, 1918 the Germans began crossing the Marne River in assault boats.

Under a massive artillery barrage, the German Seventh Army smashed into the French Sixth Army. Under the brutal bombardment and onslaught of German stormtroopers, the French fell back in disarray. All along the line the Germans were quickly gaining ground – except for one spot on their right flank.

This was the position held by the 3rd Division. Particularly stubborn resistance came from the 38th Infantry Regiment under the command of Col. Ulysses McAlexander. It was dug in along the riverbank with a secondary line holding a raised railroad embankment. As the Germans crossed the river they were met with murderous fire from the Americans.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

As they landed, the Germans quickly found themselves engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately for the Americans, there were simply too many Germans and slowly but surely the advanced platoons on the riverbank were wiped out. The Germans were then met at the railroad embankment, where according to Capt. Jesse Woolridge, they gave a thousand times more than they took, but even those positions became untenable. Reinforcements were quickly rushed in and smashed the beleaguered German troops.

This effort finally broke up the attack.

In Woolridge’s account, he states “it’s God’s truth that one Company of American soldiers beat and routed a full regiment of picked shock troops of the German Army.”

While the rest of the 3rd Division was pushed back, the 38th Infantry was giving the Germans hell.  Refusing to relinquish his position despite his exposed flanks, Col. McAlexander pulled his two battalions on the flanks back to form a horseshoe shape. The shape of his defense and the stubbornness with which he held it earned McAlexander and the rest of the regiment an enduring nickname – the Rock of the Marne.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
General Ulysses Grant McAlexander.

The nickname eventually came to encompass the entire division for their stellar defense of their sector during the massive German attack. The Division would later adopt the special designation The Marne Division as well for their part in the battle.

At the Second Battle of the Marne, the 3rd Division also received its official motto. As French troops retreated, 3rd Division soldiers rushed to the scene to hold the line. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Dickman, gave his famous orders, in French so their allies would understand, “Nous resterons la!” – We shall remain here!

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

The battle was significant. Not just to the 3rd Division but to the entire American war effort. The Americans were relatively untested at the time and their success in holding back the Germans at the Marne garnered great respect from their European counterparts.

Stopping the German offensive also opened the way for the immediate counterattacks of the Aisne-Marne Offensive and finally the Hundred Days offensive that would eventually lead to Germany’s capitulation. The division’s stand was called “one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of military history” by the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John Pershing.

The 3rd Infantry Division would go on to distinguish itself once again during the Second World War. The 3rd was the only division to meet the Nazis on every front fighting from North Africa to Sicily, onto the Italian mainland, into Southern France before ending the war in Germany.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
The 3rd Infantry Division starts the long road home after WWII.

During its spectacular march against the Axis, some 35 members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their action in combat including their most famous member, Audie Murphy.

The Marne Division later fought in the Korean War before spending the Cold War guarding Germany against possible Russian aggression. Since 2003, the division has been actively involved in the Global War on Terror and led the US Army’s invasion of Iraq.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division secures an abandoned UN position on the Kuwait-Iraqi border in March 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

Charles Norman Shay was just a young private in the 1st Infantry Division when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. He was in the first wave, landing some time around 6:30 while the German defenses were still untouched, firing artillery and machine guns into the open holds of boats as American troops attempted to land.


Charles Shay – Returning to the Beaches of Normandy 74 Years Later

youtu.be

Shay was relatively lucky, landing in chest-deep water and finding small obstacles to take cover behind as he made his way to the sands. Still, that meant he had to move forward with minimal cover as German rounds and shells rained down. On the most hotly contested beaches of Normandy, entire companies were cut down before firing a shot.

Shay and the other medics on the beaches had the option of sticking to cover or trying to survive in the water, floating with just their nostrils exposed to minimize the chance that German machine guns found them.

Shay, instead, started transiting into and out of the water, grabbing wounded and drowning men and pulling them to shore where he and others could render aid. This was an extremely hazardous move. While unarmed medics rendering aid are technically protected by the Geneva Convention, another medic on the beach organized a similar effort and many of the soldiers who helped him were gunned down for their efforts.

The young medic would later receive America’s Silver Star and France’s Légion d’Honneur for his valor in Europe in World War II.

Today, Shay is a tribal elder of the Penobscot Tribe in Maine. There’s a memorial park on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach named for him that honors the sacrifices of American Indians who landed at Normandy.

The Allies landed 156,000 troops on D-Day across five beachheads. It was the fulfillment of a promise to the Soviet Union to open a new front against Nazi Germany as Soviet forces fought on the opposite side of Europe. Less than a year after D-Day, as the armies landed at Normandy crunched onward toward Berlin, Hitler killed himself in a bunker and German leaders sued for peace, ending the war in Europe.

Articles

How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Everything the US has learned in Afghanistan the Brits learned in the 1800s

In 1839, the forces of Great Britain and the British East India Company invaded Afghanistan in the first major conflict of the “Great Game” – the struggle between Great Britain and Russia for control of Asia. The British quickly defeated the opposing forces of Dost Mohammad and garrisoned the capital Kabul, as well as the major cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad. However, by mid-1841 the situation in Kabul was deteriorating. The British forces made camp in an indefensible position just outside the capital. Meanwhile, two senior British officials were murdered with no reprisal from the British forces, further emboldening the Afghans.


That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Unfortunately for the soldiers of the garrison, a confluence of events meant trouble for them. First, the appointment of the incompetent General Elphinstone to command the British forces in Kabul. The second was a new government in London calling for increased cost-savings from the ongoing campaign. The combination of these two events led to the fateful decision for the garrison in Kabul, along with their camp followers, to conduct a retreat to Jalalabad and then back to India to escape the rising unrest in the capital. After the first unit to travel to Jalalabad in November has been harassed and sniped throughout their journey, General Elphinstone trusted the assurances of an Afghan warlord that his column would be granted safe passage.

On 6 January 1842, Elphinstone’s column of the British 44th Regiment of Foot, three regiments of Bengal Native Infantry, British and Indian cavalry, the Bengal Horse Artillery – about 700 British and 3800 Indian soldiers – as well as 12,000 camp followers – set off on their march through the treacherous Afghan winter towards Jalalabad. Almost immediately, they began receiving harassing fire from the Ghilzai tribesmen and were ambushed and attacked repeatedly over the next several days. The weather also took a toll on the Indian soldiers and camp followers who had been recruited from the more tropical climate in India. On 9 January, after losing over 3,000 casualties and having only covered twenty five miles, General Elphinstone, along with the wives and children of the officers accepted the offer of a warlord to be taken into his custody for safety, and immediately became his hostages instead. The remainder of the force trudged on, hoping to clear the snow-choked passes and reach the safety of the garrison at Jalalabad.

By 12 January, the column had been reduced to around one hundred men, mostly infantrymen of the 44th Regiment of Foot, as well as a few remaining officers on horseback. As they tried to clear a barrier erected on the valley floor many were killed while the survivors gathered on a hillock outside the village of Gandamak to make their last stand. When offered a surrender by the Ghilzai tribesmen surrounding them a British sergeant reportedly yelled back “not bloodly likely!” and thus sealing their fate. In the ensuing chaos the British infantry fired their remaining ammunition before fighting on with bayonets. Only a handful of men survived to be taken captive.. Though some officers on horses managed to escape they were hunted down and killed as well; all except for one.

“You will see, not a soul will reach here from Kabul except one man, who will come to tell us the rest are destroyed.”

– Colonel Dennie, British Army of the Indus, Nov. 1841

At Jalalabad on 13 January, Colonel Dennie was manning the fortifications awaiting the arrival of the column from Kabul when he spotted a lone man on horseback approaching the city. Upon seeing the man he is said to have remarked “Did I not say so? Here comes the messenger.” The lone survivor of the column was Dr. William Brydon, an assistant surgeon, who straggled in exhausted and severely wounded on a horse that was also severely wounded. Dr. Brydon had survived a sword strike to the head, which had cleaved off a small portion of his skull, thanks to a copy of a magazine he had stuffed into his hat for extra warmth. His horse apparently cleared the gates of the city and promptly laid down, never to rise again. Brydon was the sole survivor of some 16,000 who started the trek a week earlier to arrive at Jalalabad.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
“The Sepoy revolt at Meerut,” wood-engraving from the Illustrated London News, 1857

Brydon would survive his wounds and later survive another harrowing incident when we was severely wounded during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. General Elphinstone died in captivity. Shortly after the news of the massacre reached British officials, the decision was made to withdraw all British forces from Afghanistan, but not before retribution was sought. By the summer of 1842 the Army of Retribution had been raised and marched through Afghanistan, releasing many of the prisoners taken during the retreat from Kabul as well as exacting their vengeance before finally withdrawing on 12 October 1842.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Jewish assassins targeted former Nazis to avenge the Holocaust

The reprisals against German members of the Nazi party didn’t end after the Nuremberg Trials. It was a well-known fact that many high-ranking members of the party survived World War II, the trials, and the Red Army’s wrath. The Jewish people that were left did their best to seek justice, but none were as dedicated as the Nokmim – “The Avengers.”


Without a doubt, the most famous of the Nazi hunters after World War II was Simon Wiesenthal, who ferreted out some 1,100 Nazi war criminals. Wiesenthal was a survivor at the Mauthausen death camp when it was liberated by American troops in 1945. As soon as his health was restored, he began to work in the War Crimes Section of the United States Army, gathering evidence to convict German war criminals.

The operative words here being evidence, convict, and war criminals.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The Nokmim, as they were called, were not about to let anyone who committed those crimes against their people just walk free for lack of what a court determined was sufficient evidence. Wiesenthal would get the biggest names who escaped justice – those like Adolf Eichmann. The Nokmim would get the SS men, the prison guards, the Gestapo foot soldiers whose names might not be in history books.

As former anti-Nazi partisans who had fought in an underground movement for years before the war’s end, they were no strangers to killing.

“We had seen concentration camps,” Vitka Kovner told the Yad Vashem Magazine of her time fighting Nazis in occupied Lithuania. “And after what we witnessed there, we decided that even though the war was over, we had to take revenge for the spilling of Jewish blood.”

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
Vitka Kovner-Kempner (far right) was a resistance fighter in the Vilna ghetto in modern-day Lithuania.
(Jewish Women’s Archive)

With that goal in mind, they acted. Former Nazi SS officers and enlisted men were found hanged by apparent suicides for years after the war’s end. Brakes on cars would suddenly become inoperative, causing deadly accidents. Former Nazis would be found in ditches, victims of apparent hit-and-runs. One was even found in his hospital bed before minor surgery with kerosene in his bloodstream.

One extreme plan even involved killing six million Germans as retribution for the Holocaust using a specially-designed, odorless, colorless poison, but had to settle for poisoning the bread at a prison camp for former SS men using arsenic. That plan may have killed up to 300 of the convicts.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
Some of the leaders of the Nakmim movement would later lead brigades in Israel’s 1948 Independence War.

But the group was comprised of more than just partisans. It may have even included British Army volunteers of Jewish descent who could move freely through the postwar world. No one knows who exactly was part of the group, but it was clear that their reach extended worldwide.

Articles

These 4 guns were used to make the longest sniper kills in history

Snipers are undoubtedly the most lethal shooters on the battlefield, able to take out targets from hundreds and hundreds of yards away, without their marks being alerted to their presence.


They are experts at blending into the environment, masters of patience, physically developed and always well-trained. But snipers still can’t take the shots they they’re known for without a decent rifle in their hands, capable of helping them reach targets at longer-than-normal ranges.

Over the past 50 years, records for the longest kill-shots in history have been made and broken repeatedly by some of the greatest snipers the world has ever seen. These are the four guns they have used to break and set these records on confirmed kills at unimaginably far distances:

4. Browning M2 ‘Ma Deuce’ Heavy Machine Gun

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
The M2 machine gun Carlos Hathcock used for his longest confirmed kill in 1967 (Photo US Marine Corps)

A WWII-era machine gun used as a sniping system doesn’t exactly evoke any images of precision shooting, but it’s exactly what a 24 year-old Marine by the name of Carlos Hathcock used in early 1967 to take out a Vietcong militiaman pushing a bicycle loaded with weapons and ammunition. Built to fire the .50 BMG round, the M2 had exactly the range and stopping power Hathcock wanted in a gun that would allow him to hit targets at distances far beyond what a standard-issue sniper rifle permitted.

With an Unertl scope mounted to a custom-made bracket crafted by Hathcock himself, and the M2 in single-shot mode, the gun could engage targets at distances over 1600 yards. The machine gun was balanced on an M3 tripod and kept in place with sandbags.

His record-breaking February 1967 kill was made using this setup at 2500 yards, creating a record for the history books which would stand until the War in Afghanistan in 2002.

3. Barrett M82A1 Special Application Scoped Rifle

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
An M82A1 sniper rifle without its signature muzzle brake, circa 1990 (Photo US Army)

According to Chris Martin in his book, “Modern American Snipers,” Sgt. Brian Kremer currently holds the American record for the longest sniper kill in Iraq, while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment. The M82 SASR is every bit the beast it looks, firing a .50 Browning Machine Gun round at effective ranges up to nearly 2,000 yards. Weighing in 30 pounds, and measuring 48-57 inches long depending on the barrel used, the M82 is without a doubt one of the most fearsome small arms on the battlefield.

The M82 was originally put into service with the US military in 1990, and has been used in every conflict since. Though smaller-caliber sniper rifles are typically unable to hit targets behind cover, American snipers have been able to use the M82 and the Raufoss Mk 211 .50 caliber round to simply shoot their way through obstacles at great distances to reach their marks. Kremer’s shot reportedly measured 2,515 yards.

2. Accuracy International L115A3 Long Range Rifle

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
British Royal Marine commandos training with L115A1 sniper rifles (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

In 2009, British Army sniper Craig Harrison set a new world record for the longest confirmed kill in history with his L115A3, the standard long-range marksman’s rifle of the British military. During an ambush on a convoy he was attached to, Harrison hit a pair of Taliban machine gunners using 10 carefully-placed shots at a range of 2,707 yards, beating out the previous record by 50 yards.

Known in civilian markets as the Arctic Warfare Magnum, the L115A3 is chambered to fire the .338 Lapua round — a devastating bullet with phenomenal range. Known for its armor-piercing abilities at long distances, the .338 is now extremely popular among military snipers and marksmen across the world.

1. C15 Long Range Sniper Weapon

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle
A Canadian sniper training on the C15 .50 caliber sniper rifle (Photo Canadian Army)

Commercially known as the McMillan Tac-50, this is the rifle which has broken the world record for longest kill on three separate occasions over the last 15 years.

In March 2002 during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, Canadian sniper Arron Perry broke Carlos Hathcock’s 35-year record with a confirmed kill at 2,526 yards. Later that month, another Canadian sniper, Rob Furlong, topped Perry with a shot ranging 2,657 yards. Recently, it was reported that yet another Canadian set and holds the world record — now at a mind-blowing 3,540 yards… that’s over half a mile longer than Furlong’s 2002 kill!

The C15, like its commercial name suggests, is built to fire .50 caliber rounds, and has seen service with a number of elite military units, including the US Navy’s SEAL teams, Canada’s Joint Task Force 2, and Israeli special forces.

This monster of a weapon weighs 26 pounds on its own, and measures 57 inches from stock to barrel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the largest battleship ever planned but never built

In the days before naval aviation and submarines, the battleship was the unchallenged king of the seas. Building a bigger and better ship with more and bigger guns was basically the order of the day, and it continued all the way up until the days before World War II, when the world reached peak battleship, and airplanes proved to be deadlier than the Navy ever imagined.

But America almost reached peak battleship before World War I was even a possibility, and it was possibly the biggest battleship ever conceived – it also might have been an ironic joke from someone who hated the Navy.


That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

Benjamin Tillman, famous racist and Navy hater.

Benjamin Tillman was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and a member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. He was annoyed at the Navy for coming to Congress every year to request money to build more and bigger battleships. Despite this pretty much being what the Navy is supposed to do, Tillman decided it would be best to just get the whole arms race out of the way and build the biggest possible battleship they could at the moment. This led to the creation of the Maximum Battleship design.

No, that’s really what they called it.

Tillman hated the Navy’s battleships, and everyone knew it, but when he requested the Department of the Navy just submit the plans for the biggest battleship they could, the Navy obliged him anyway. There were, however, restrictions on U.S. ship designs at the time. Namely, they had to fit through the Panama Canal.

The first design submitted was a massive 70,000 tons – almost 50 percent heavier than the modern Navy’s USS Missouri – and this was in 1916. It carried 12 16-inch guns and had an armor thickness of 18 inches. In comparison, the Iowa-class battleships of World War II would carry just nine 16-inch guns and have a maximum armor thickness of 14.5 inches. The next iteration of Maximum Battleship designs would have 24 16-inch guns and an armor thickness of 13 inches. It was the third design that really took the cake, however.

Maximum Battleship III – also known as the Tillman III design – weighed 63,000 tons. It had the armor of the second design and the guns of the second design. It could even move at an absurd 30 knots, which is almost as fast as an Iowa-class ship and an insane speed for a ship of that size in 1916. This is a weight equal to the largest battleships ever actually built that moves even faster and was supposed to be built 20 years earlier. That wasn’t the end of the attempt, though. There would be another.

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

The largest of the Tillman Designs.

The fourth design for Tillman featured the 24 guns and even thicker armor, coming in at 19 inches. It was clear by now the Navy wasn’t expecting to get funding for these. The fourth design would displace 80,000 tons and was practically impossible to build with the technology of the day. In all, six designs were made, each bigger and more ridiculous than the last. It would be as big as the modern American supercarriers and carry the most and biggest weapons of anything on earth, on land, or on the oceans. And it would have been sunk just as easily with the advent of naval aviation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Russian Revolution brought the father of the helicopter to America

Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky was designing bombers for the Russian Empire when World War I broke out. Nowadays, the company he founded in the United States makes the “choppers” that transport U.S. presidents. This is the story of how the “father of the helicopter” crossed the Atlantic and made it big — before designing the first aircraft to make regular flights across the major oceans.


 

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