How the 'Oscar' was overshadowed by the Japanese 'Zero' in WW2 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.


That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.

The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
A Nakajima Ki-43-IIa Oscar. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.

Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
A Nakajima Ki-43-III-Ko Oscar takes off as young girls wave. The plane was sent on a kamikaze mission against the American fleet off Okinawa. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.

Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The incredible true story of how the heir to Walmart served in MACV-SOG in Vietnam

The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?

John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.


Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.

“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.

The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.

During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.

Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.

(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)

It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.

Walton was also a strong proponent of education and school vouchers, helping establish the Children’s Scholarship Fund with the goal of sending low-income children to private schools. The Walton family as a whole has donated an estimated 0 million, largely due to John’s advocacy. The William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership recognized his contributions in 2001.

John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.

Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.

Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2

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This hard-drinking salty Coast Guard sea dog was banned from Greenland

One enlisted Coastie mutt – no disrespect, Sinbad was a “mixed breed” – earned a reputation that rivaled any sailor’s in any war before or since. He was one of only two non-humans to reach NCO status, even making Chief by the time of his retirement.


Sinbad was arguably the Coast Guard’s most famous mascot. He was enlisted into the USCG by Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. “Blackie” Rother of the Campbell. Sinbad was supposed to be a gift for Blackie’s girlfriend, but her building didn’t allow pets, so Rother took the dog back to the Cutter George W. Campbell.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
U.S. Coast Guard photo

A full-fledged member of the crew of the Campbell, Sinbad had to fill out his paperwork, wear his uniform, and was given pay commensurate with his rank. When World War II broke out in the Atlantic, Sinbad wasn’t about to play dead when it mattered most.

The dog wasn’t just for fun. He had a watch, a general quarters duty station, and his own bunk. Sinbad certainly didn’t roll over for anyone. When the Coast Guard wanted to use him as a PR tool in allied ports, the pup raised hell from Morocco to Greenland.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Especially Greenland. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The Campbell saw plenty of action. She once rammed an enemy U-boat and was also strafed by a Nazi aircraft in the Mediterranean. During a fight with U-606, the ship was severely damaged and the CO ordered that essential personnel only would remain on the Campbell. Sinbad stayed aboard ship.

Signing his enlistment papers with a pawprint, he served on Atlantic convoy duty with the rest of the Campbell crew. Just like a sailor, he had to be disciplined. One author wrote:

“Sinbad is a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks nor Good Conduct Medals. He’s been on report several times and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States Government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad, he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
U.S. Coast Guard photo

The precocious pup did earn medals, however. His awards include the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Navy Occupation Service Medal.

The crew loved Sinbad, even if no one really took responsibility for the dog. They said he earned his enlistment by drinking coffee, whiskey with beer chasers, and having his own shore liberty. He was reportedly the first off the ship at every port.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Sinbad presumably waiting for the whiskey.

He would hit the bars hard, hopping up on empty bar stools, where his whiskey and beer habit was tended to by every bar in the area. He never paid for a drink but returned the ship “bombed” every night, with only an aspirin to tend to his hangover the next day. Sometimes his drinking led to a Captain’s Mast. He was demoted in rank for actions that generally made him a bad dog. These include:

• Missing a sailing in Italy; captured by the Shore Patrol.

• AWOL trying to rejoin the Campbell.

• Going overboard trying not to miss a sailing.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Sinbad recovering from shore leave.

His most notorious trial was being banned from the island of Greenland altogether. During one port call, Sinbad “made his name infamous among sheep farmers.”

Captain James Hirschfield told the media that as long as Sinbad was aboard, nothing bad could happen to the ship. In a nod to Capt. Hirschfield’s statement, a statue of Sinbad is on the deck of the current Famous-class Cutter Campbell. It is considered bad luck for anyone below the rank of Chief to touch Sinbad or his bone.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Wikimedia Commons

In his retirement days, the aging pup was sent to Barnegat Lifeboat Station in northern New Jersey, After 11 years of service. He slept, watched the ocean, and waited for Kubel’s Bar to open in the mornings until he died in 1951.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the biggest victory Natives scored against the colonials

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


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

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

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

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

A very generous (for the Americans) painting of the battle.

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

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

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

That’s a little more accurate.

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

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

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

There it is.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of US troops who think they saw Bigfoot in Vietnam

In the Kontum Province of Vietnam, near the borders with Laos and Cambodia, there were many reports from U.S. troops on patrols of a strange, not-quite-human but not-quite-ape creature the locals call Nguoi Rung, or “The people of the Forest.” In other words: Bigfoot.


 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Low draft number. Sorry, Bigfoot.

Gary Linderer was on a six-man patrol with the 101st Airborne’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols. While struggle through the underbrush, he ran into “deep set eyes on a prominent brow… five feet tall, with long muscular arms.” The creature “walked upright with broad shoulders and a heavy torso.” His battle buddies told him he just saw a rock ape, but Linderer had seen Rock Apes before. This was no Rock Ape.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
First, Charlie. Now this. Unbelievable.

 

Like the Yeti in the Himalayas, and the Sasquatch sightings all over North America, the Nguoi Rung is a oft-told tale in the area, but despite endless the sightings and folklore attached to the semi-mythical creature, no concrete evidence exists. Linderer wasn’t the only witness, either. Army Sgt. Thomas Jenkins reported his platoon was attacked by these apes throwing stones.

Toward the end of the war, Viet Cong and NVA soldiers reported so many sightings of the reddish-brown hair-covered Nguoi Rung the North Vietnamese communist party secretariat ordered scientists to investigate.

Dr. Vo Quy, a respected ornithologist and environmental researcher from Hanoi, discovered a Nguoi Rung footprint on the forest floor and made a cast of it. The cast was wider than a human foot and too big for an ape.

In 1982, another Vietnamese scientist, Tran Hong Viet discovered more footprints, which led zoologist John MacKinnon to investigate the region. MacKinnon called the area a “tiny, pristine corner of the world unknown to modern science.”

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
The 1982 Footprint Cast.

In 1969, MacKinnon discovered manlike footprints in Borneo’s jungles, which the locals called Batatut. While much of the evidence surrounding the existence of these apes is anecdotal, MacKinnon, known for his discovery of new mammal species in Vietnam, believes there is a possibility the existence of a previously unknown ape species is real.

The account of Nguoi Rung meeting American GIs in Vietnam was first published in Kregg P.J. Jorgenson’s Very Crazy, GI: Strange But True Stories of the Vietnam War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pound for pound, these were the deadliest boats of World War II

They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.


Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)

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America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.

But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.

Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)

These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.

Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.

The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.

They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.

The little boats would distinguish themselves over and over again, even though there were only 29 in the Navy at the start of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur slipped out of the Philippines on a two-day trip through the enemy fleet with Lt. John D. Bulkeley on a PT boat. Bulkeley would earn a Medal of Honor for his actions.

The boats launched constant attacks against Japanese ships, hitting them with Mk. 8 torpedoes. The Coast Guard used 83-foot designs for their submarine hunters and patrol boats, many of which saw service at D-Day where they served as the “Matchstick Fleet” that rescued drowning soldiers.

Also at D-Day, similar landing craft made by Higgins were modified to fire rockets at the shore to suppress shore positions.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy on PT-109.

(U.S. Navy)

But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”

Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.

The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.

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5 times the cosmos affected victory on the battlefield

Warriors throughout history have always been a superstitious breed. Regardless of race, religion or creed, the heavenly bodies dancing in the stars have inspired or discouraged armies locked in conflict. The cosmic dance of objects in the sky was a prelude to death, war and disease. Scientifically, we now know that what causes these phenomena, but in the ancient world, they very much influenced history.

1. Meteorite strike during the battle of Phrygia

The Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC) was the last of the Mithridatic Wars trilogy. Roman general Lucius Licinius Lucullus (say that three times fast) prepared for a major battle at Phrygia. Roman soldiers marched with the general directly against Mithridates’ army. Lucius gambled that if he was able to win the battle, regardless of the fact that he was outnumbered, he could dictate future battles by taking the initiative now.

When both armies met on the field of battle, a meteor in the shape of a hog’s head struck the ground between the forces. Stunned and probably scared they angered some god, both sides decided the bloodless battle was a draw.

If only the dinosaurs had heeded the warnings… (Image by 12222786 from Pixabay)

2. Battle of Halys

During the Lydo-Median war (585 BC) the two armies of Medes and the Lydians met along the Halys river. This was poised to be another historic, decisive battle that would determine the fate of the war. However, a solar eclipse interrupted the battle. This time both armies were scared straight and negotiated peace, unlike the previous example of Phrygia.

…just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on.

Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

3. The Battle of Isandlwana

On January 22, 1879, 1,200 British troops faced off against 12,000 at the battle of Isandlwana. The purpose of the war was to expand the British Empire and secure labor for the diamond fields of South Africa. Previously, Lord Chelmsford demanded Cetshwayo, the Zulu king, to demilitarize, submit, and pay reparations for “insults” against the crown. These terms were meant to be turned down by design, to give Chelmsford his casus belli to invade.

Although the British troops had better equipment, they underestimated the enemy’s desire to fight. Normal standard operating procedures, such as reconnaissance, were ignored. Their supply chains lacked proper execution and they did not make any fortifications to their camp. The Zulus saw an opportunity to attack a British camp at Isandlwana. They divided their army into two columns. The first column attacked head on. The second split in two to form a pincer attack. The second column maneuvered around the flanks and rear. The British force was routed.

The infantry withdrew to the hills and fought to the last man. The mounted troops were the only ones to get away by crossing a nearby river to safety. The final two officers, Lieutenants Melville and Coghill, were shot down by the enemy. During the final moments of their last stand, a total eclipse shrouded the battlefield.

Pictured: the price of overconfidence (Wikimedia Commons)

When news reached London that Britain’s reputation was in peril, they sent a formidable force to save face. At this point, the Zulu nation was only a blip on the Crown’s radar and they had not decided on how, or if, they should incorporate it into the empire. Ironically, King Cetshwayo’s victory doomed his people to the full force of the British war machine. The eclipse symbolically marked, even briefly, a time when the sun set on the colonial British Empire.

4. Halley’s comet inspired Genghis Khan

After Khan conquered the known world (from the Mongol perspective), Halley’s Comet allegedly appeared in the sky. In the year 1222, Genghis Khan claimed Halley’s comet as his personal star because he believed it guided him West. To date, the Mongol Empire is the largest empire in history, due to the mass murder of millions of people that may or may not have happened due to a comet.

“Well, I was just gonna settle down for a while, but…” -Genghis Khan (maybe) (NASA)

5. Battle of the Milvian Bridge

A critical point in Roman history is the division of the empire between East and West. The Empire was at risk of collapse due to constant civil wars, corruption, and outside forces. Constantine, on his rise to power, had a vision the night before the battle of Milvian Bridge. He experienced “a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, ‘Conquer by this.’ ” One of the most important figures in Christianity found a sign from heaven that declared God was on his side. He would inspire his troops and win the battle. Constantine converted but was officially baptized at the end of his life because of his responsibilities of running his new empire.

Constantine made Christianity the main religion of Rome, and created Constantinople, which became the most powerful city in the world.

Kristin Baird Rattini, National Geographic

Feature image: by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

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3 unsung World War II female spies who helped make D-Day a victory

It has been 75 years since upward of 150,000 Allied troops began storming the beaches of Normandy by air, land, and sea. As the June 6 anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in military history approaches, journalist Sarah Rose illuminated several less widely known combat heroes who fought for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe in Operation Overlord: Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac, and Odette Sansom. They are among the 39 female agents who served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secret World War II intelligence agency created in 1940 to “set Europe ablaze.”

“Women are the hidden figures of D-Day,” says Rose, who started researching the history of women in combat and was surprised to learn that their roles dated back to World War II. “People tend to think women were ‘just’ secretarial couriers and messengers. No, there were female special forces agents on the ground and working to keep the Allies from being blown back into the water. They did what men did. They led men.”


In her new book, D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II, Rose chronicles three of these agents’ contributions to the Allied victory in Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Aliases: Monique; Denise Urbain, Whitebeam. 1919-1944 (UK National Archives)

1. Andrée Borrel, the first female combat paratrooper, fought for the liberation of France until Nazis executed her a month after D-Day.

Born to a working-class family on the outskirts of Paris after World War I, Borrel left school at 14. She had a job at a Paris bakery counter when World War II broke out.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
The German military defeated France in June 1940, but many French citizens took up arms in a resistance to Adolf Hitler and his troops. (German Federal Archive)

Once the war began, Borrel left Paris and took a crash course in nursing with the Red Cross.

After a stint treating people wounded by the German Army, she joined a group of French Resistance operatives organizing and operating one of the country’s largest underground escape networks, the Pat O’Leary line. She aided at least 65 Allied evaders (mainly British Royal Air Force airmen shot down over enemy territory) on their journeys out of France to Spain through the Pyrenees.

When she herself got ratted out, she escaped to Lisbon, Portugal. She then moved to London, eager to continue fighting for the liberation of France. In the spring of 1942, the SOE recruited her. She was trained not only to jump behind enemy lines, but also to spy on, sabotage, and kill Axis troops occupying her home country.

Borrel parachuted into France in September of 1942, becoming the first female combat agent to do so. She worked as a courier for the SOE network Physician (nicknamed “Prosper”), which raised bands of Resistance members in the north to carry out guerilla attacks against Nazi troops. Moving between Paris and the countryside, she coordinated aerial supply drops and recruited, armed, and trained Resistance members.

She rose to second in command of the network’s Paris circuit, which was also funneling enemy intelligence back to the Allies in London. She was in the SOE’s first training class for female agents, where she learned skills from hand-to-hand combat to Morse code. When asked, “How might you kill a Nazi using what you have on you?” she is said to have responded: “I would jam a pencil through his brain. And he’d deserve it.”

Her commanding officer described her as “the best of us all.”

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Borrel was sent to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in July 1944, a month after D-Day. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Nazis arrested Borrel in 1943 and sent her to a concentration camp.

Nazis, allegedly leveraging intelligence from a double agent, arrested Borrel and fellow Physician leaders in June 1943. After being interrogated and imprisoned around Paris, she was transferred to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in July 1944 with three other female SOE agents and executed a month after D-Day.

Even from prison, she is said to have continued fighting by inserting coded messages about her captors in several letters to her sister. She was 24.

Honors: Croix de Guerre, Medal of the Resistance, the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
1905-2004 Aliases: Artist, Odile, Irène, Marguerite, Adèle. (Records of Special Operations Executive)

2. Lise de Baissac parachuted into France twice and became the No. 2 commander of a French Resistance group fighting Nazis during the Battle of Normandy.

Andrée Borrel was the first female SOE agent to parachute into France during World War II, but her jumping partner, 37-year-old Lise de Baissac, was right behind her. The daughter of a wealthy family in British-ruled Mauritius, de Baissac was in France when Hitler’s troops moved into Paris in 1940. She fled to the south and then to London. When the SOE started recruiting multilingual women as agents, she joined the fight.

After parachuting into Central France with Borrel, de Baissac set up an Allied safe house for agents in the town of Poitiers in western France, selecting an apartment near Gestapo headquarters — a hiding-in-plain-sight strategy she felt would arouse less suspicion.

She bicycled around occupied territory as a liaison among different underground networks, often riding 60-70 kilometers a day and carrying contraband. On one occasion, a Nazi stopped her and her clandestine radio operator, patting them down. The officer searched them for guns, which they didn’t have, so he let them go. She’d later report that a radio crystal fell out of her skirt as she was leaving but that she leaned over, grabbed the crystal off the ground, and pedaled on.

In August of 1943, when her network in Poitiers was blown, the SOE airlifted her back to England by Lysander aircraft. She trained new female SOE recruits in Scotland. In April of 1944, after recovering from a broken leg, she jumped back into occupied France. She made her way to Normandy, joining her brother, fellow SOE agent Claude de Baissac, in leading a network of Resistance fighters in Normandy. They carried out attacks to weaken Nazi communication and transporation circuits, strategically cutting phone lines and blowing up roads, railways, and bridges to hinder the movement of German reinforcements Hitler was ordering to the beaches.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Sherman tanks of British 30th Corps passing through Bayeux, France. (Imperial War Museum)

De Baissac raced out of Paris to assist the allies when she learned D-Day was imminent.

On June 5, 1944, de Baissac was in Paris recruiting when she learned D-Day was imminent. She biked for three days, speeding through Nazi formations, sleeping in ditches, and reaching her brother and their Resistance circuit headquarters in Normandy.

As the bloody Normandy campaign raged and the Allies struggled to penetrate the Axis front, the de Baissacs continued leading espionage and sabotage operations. They gathered intelligence on enemy positions and transmitted messages back to England, helping lay the groundwork for Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout in which U.S. Army forces came out of the peninsula and pierced Hitler’s front line seven weeks after D-Day.

After the war, she worked for the BBC.

Honors: MBE, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur Croix de Guerre avec Palme

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Aliases: Lise 1912-1995 (Imperial War Museum)

3. Odette Sansom blew up Nazi train lines and, upon being arrested and tortured, told Gestapo officers: “I have nothing to say.”

Odette Sansom was a 28-year-old homemaker in Somerset, England when she answered the British War Office’s call for images of the French coastline, offering photographs she had from her childhood. Born in France as “Odette Brailly” in 1912, she had lost her father in the final months of the World War I. With World War II raging and her English husband already away fighting in the British Army, she didn’t take lightly the decision to leave her three young daughters. But with Hitler already occupying her old home and threatening her new one, she felt compelled to join the fight.

She was tough, determined, and persistent. When a concussion during parachute training left her unable to jump into France, she docked in Gibraltar on a gunrunner disguised as a sardine fishing boat, only to arrive in France’s “free” zone the same week in November 1942 that Hitler’s forces began occupying the region. So began several months working as a courier in SOE agent Capt. Peter Churchill’s network, Spindle. Churchill relied heavily on her to set up clandestine radio networks, coordinate parachute drops, and arm Resistance fighters in the Rhône Alps in preparation for D-Day.

She and Churchill fell in love and continued working together mobilizing Resistance members in southeast France until April 1943, when the Gestapo arrested them. Knowing that they were at risk of being executed as spies, she convinced their captors that her commanding officer was a relative of UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and that she was his wife and only in France at her urging. Peter Churchill was not, in fact, related to Britain’s prime minister, but Sansom figured that if she could trick the Germans into thinking they were VIPs, there would be incentive to keep them alive.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Odette Sansom. (Imperial War Museum)

Sansom emerged from the largest, most lethal women’s concentration camp in history with evidence used to convict its leaders of war crimes.

While Sansom was imprisoned around France and then at Ravensbrück concentration camp, enduring solitary confinement and somewhere between 10-14 torture sessions – she survived.

By the time Ravensbrück was evacuated in the spring of 1945, Sansom’s back was broken, and she had been starved and beaten, with her toenails pulled out and her body burned in attempts to get her to reveal information about her fellow agents. She is said to have revealed nothing.

In the years after the war, Sansom’s testimony was later to convict Ravensbrück camp commandant Fritz Suhren, as well as other SS officers, of war crimes. Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 came less than a year after the sweeping invasions that began the Battle of Normandy, now memorialized as “D-Day.”

Honors: George Cross, Member of the Order of the British Empire, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur


This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Elvis helped build the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese hit the U.S. Navy with a decisive surprise attack that they thought would cripple American resolve about joining World War II. Not only were they wrong about the Americans joining the war, the attack on the Pacific Fleet would be remembered for generations to come. 

The most devastated ships were the USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona, the only two ships that never saw active service again. The vast majority of Arizona’s crew were trapped in the ship after it sank into the shallow waters of the harbor. 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Destruction of USS Arizona during WWII.

Even then, the hulk of what was left of the Arizona became a memorial to the sailors who died aboard it during the attack. By the late 1950s, the U.S. allowed the private nonprofit Pacific War Memorial Commission to raise funds for a dedicated, permanent memorial to be built where the Arizona was once moored. 

With the goal of raising $500,000 (more than $4.5 million in today’s dollars) for its construction, a public drive for funds began almost as fast as then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Congress allowed it. 

But despite the ongoing public effort, they were only able to raise a fraction of the necessary cost, $155,000 (or $1.4 million when adjusted for inflation), according to the U.S. Naval Institute. That’s when the King decided to get involved, the King of Rock n’ Roll, that is. 

By the time the fundraising effort had stalled, Elvis Presley was fresh out of his stint in the Army and, having been out of the public eye for a number of years, needed a freshening up of his public image and career. The Colonel and the King offered their services to the Pacific War Memorial Commission, who gratefully accepted their help. 

Elvis gathered the likes of country music legend Minnie Pearl, gospel singers the Jordanaires, and his go-to backup players DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore to play with him in Hawaii’s Bloch Arena, near Pearl Harbor. Tickets cost anywhere from $3-$100 ($29-$879 when adjusted for inflation) and all money raised would go toward the USS Arizona Memorial.

In another effort to cut the costs of putting on a show, Parker cut a deal with Paramount Pictures for the production of the movie “Blue Hawaii,” which would cover the cost of getting the singer and his band to Hawaii for production of the movie and to put on the show. 

Most importantly, everyone who wanted to attend the show had to pay the price of admission, from the highest ranking admiral stationed in Hawaii to the King, Elvis Presley himself. Presley, known for his generosity and patriotism, footed the bill for patients of local military hospitals. 

That night, Elvis played all of his fans’ favorite songs, like “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “All Shook Up,” and “It’s Now or Never.” The concert was not only one of the King’s best shows, it helped the stalled fundraising effort with a shot in the arm it hadn’t seen in years. The benefit concert raised more than $60,000 ($527 million) for the memorial commission. Best of all, the publicity encouraged more donations, which came pouring in the the days and weeks that followed. 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
USS Arizona Memorial

By the end of the year, the Pacific War Memorial Commission had all the money it needed to build a memorial for the USS Arizona. Construction of the project began immediately and it was completed in May 1962. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army made this 1950s film to try and make MPs cool

In 1955, the Army made a video about the the two most handsome military police officers in the history of the Army and their foot patrols through U.S. town, providing “moral guidance” for soldiers and interrupting all sorts of trouble before it starts.

Oddly, they don’t write a single speeding ticket, but they do snatch a staff sergeant for driving recklessly.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_-UbRxlxCk

www.youtube.com

The military police are moving on foot through the town, learning all the local haunts off base and providing services ranging from giving bus route advice to providing first aid to injured soldiers. They interrupt fights before they happen and let troops know what areas are off limits.

A much wider portfolio than the speed traps they’re known for today.

And the video specifically highlights the “moral services” of the military police officers, which is pretty surprising information for anyone who’s partied with MPs.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

The dangerous gunmen that the MPs stop from shooting up Augusta, Georgia.

(YouTube/Jeff Quitney)

But even in ’50s propaganda, the MPs get into some blue falcon shenanigans, waking up a soldier waiting on a bus to get onto him about his uniform, then detaining a soldier on pass for looking slightly shady.

They even find an idiot boot playing pool in his G.I. boots.

Their finest moment comes when they catch a wanted soldier carrying the world’s most adorable pistol while loitering near an art studio. Of course, our intrepid heroes catch the ne’er-do-well without a shot fired after drawing on him in the mean streets of Augusta, Georgia.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

Actual line in this scene: “Punishment? Well, the sergeant’s company commander will take care of that.” Um, yeah, of course the commander makes the decision, because MPs have all the punitive powers of a Boy Scout.

(YouTube/Jeff Quitney)

Hint: If you want to make a group of soldiers look awesome, give them a more forgiving challenge than rolling boots in one of the safest cities in the Union. Maybe highlight their role in maneuver warfare or the way they breach buildings and fight gunmen inside.

The worst infraction the MPs find in this video, outside of the miniature gunfighter, is a stolen valor major at 25:30.

The video is almost 30 minutes long, but has plenty of unintentional humor to keep you chuckling. Check it out up top, and be sure to share it with any MP buddies who get too big for their britches.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You sing it, but do you really know what ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is about?

The “Star-Spangled Banner” is American lyrics laid on top of a British song to make one glorious national anthem. It details the endurance of American troops against a British naval bombardment at the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814.


But while Americans singing the song at baseball games know that the U.S. came out victorious, Francis Scott Key and other witnesses of the battle had little to be optimistic about. The British brought more ships to the fight than the Americans had cannons on the fort.

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Lots of ships versus one teeny fort. (Image: Public Domain)

 

In Sep. 1814, America was reeling from the sacking and burning of Washington D.C. The first lady, Dolly Madison, had made it out of the city with crucial documents and a portrait of George Washington, but the presidential mansion and much of the capital was destroyed. The victorious British military made its way up the coast, this time targeting the important port at Baltimore.

The British planned a two-pronged assault on the city. The army would march overland to attack the city on foot while the navy was to destroy Fort McHenry and follow the river to the city. There, it would bombard the city and assist in its capture.

The ground attack seemed doomed from the start. About 12,000 American troops, many more than the British had expected, were guarding the city. So the British troops sat back and waited as dozens of British ships, including five of Britain’s eight bomb ketches, moved forward to bombard the fort that only had 19 guns with which to defend itself.

Luckily for the Americans, shallow waters around the fort kept some of the ships away. Unluckily for them, 16 ships were able to get within range of the fort while staying outside the range of the American guns.

Starting early on Sep. 13, the British fired on McHenry with rocket ships and bomb ketches. Bomb ketches were ships with a mortar or howitzer built into the deck. The gun could not be turned, so the ships were pointed at the fort and kept in place with spring-loaded anchor lines. The “bombs bursting in air,” came from these devastating ships.

Meanwhile, ships firing Congreve rockets sailed into range as well. The rockets were made in a variety of sizes. The ones that lit the night at Fort McHenry were mostly 32-pound rockets that carried seven pounds of explosives. They could explode in the air but were designed to be incendiary weapons, setting fires within forts and enemy ships.

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Col. William Congreve, the inventor of Congreve rockets, created this lithograph to show how rocket ships worked in fleet action. (Image: Public Domain by British Col. William Congreve)

 

One moment was more dangerous than any other for the defenders; a bomb fired from one of the ketches landed in the fort’s gunpowder supply. It failed to go off and the troops were able to split the gunpowder into smaller stores around the tiny island.

At another point, British Rear Adm. George Cockburn thought the fort had been badly damaged and moved the ships closer for better accuracy. American artillerymen rushed through the incoming shells and began firing when the British came within range, driving them back.

The intense naval attack lasted for 25 hours.

Key watched the battle play out from a small American sloop behind the British force. He had been rowed into the harbor to negotiate the release of a friend held prisoner by the British. He and his friend were both allowed to leave the British prisoner ship as long as they did not return to shore until after the British bombardment.

The men weren’t allowed to row ashore because the British suspected they had heard the British plans to destroy the city. Key had and knew that a collapse of Fort McHenry spelled certain doom for Baltimore. Throughout the night, he watched the fort’s small storm flag wave through the wind and rain as rockets and bombs rained on the defenders below.

In the morning, he looked to the flagpole at first light to see if the fort had survived. If British colors were flying, Baltimore would be destroyed and America would lose a second major city in less than a month.

 

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2
Spoiler alert: The flag still flies over Fort McHenry. (Photo: Owen Byrne Halifax CC BY 2.0)

 

The flag had changed overnight, but not to the Union Jack. A storm that raged throughout the battle had forced the fort to fly its smaller American flag. Since the morning dawned clear, the garrison changed to its normal flag, a 42-foot by 30-foot beast.

Key saw the garrison flag filling the morning sky and wrote the lyrics to the future national anthem in a fit of inspiration. Contrary to popular belief, the amateur poet wrote them as lyrics from the start, not as a poem. He was familiar with the popular song, “To Anacreon In Heaven” and wrote the lyrics to match up with it.

Meanwhile, the British troops ashore saw the American flag flying and knew that the naval assault had failed. They withdrew and left Baltimore in relative safety.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” would be published in newspapers up and down the coast over the following few days under a variety of names, usually “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” One publication called it, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the name stuck.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German POWs staged their greatest World War I escape

Today, Sutton Bonington campus, part of the University of Nottingham, houses the schools of bioscience and veterinary medicine. But a century ago, during World War I, it was home to a prisoner of war (PoW) camp for German military personnel captured by the British on the Western front. And it was the site of a great escape, when Germans managed to flee the camp on Sept. 25, 1917.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the government took over buildings and sites around the country to convert into PoW camps. Sutton Bonington was a group of buildings completed in 1915 for the Midland Dairy Institute, an agricultural college, but it was taken over by the War Office before the institute’s staff and students could move in. Barbed wire fencing and some additional huts were added to the site and around 600 German military officers moved in.


German officers who were made prisoners of war, by contrast with ordinary soldiers and sailors, were not allowed to work. Many became extremely bored, and sought to relieve the tedium by playing sports such as football and tennis, putting on concerts and plays, and planning how to escape. The preferred escape option was to tunnel under the barbed wire, and to disappear into the countryside beyond.

Two attempts to tunnel out at Sutton Bonington failed, but the third succeeded, and at 1.30am on Sept. 25, 1917, 22 men slipped, slithered and pulled their way along a tunnel, which was less than a metre high. They emerged into a field of turnips, and were hidden from the guards in the sentry posts by a ridge running through a nearby field. It helped their cause that the moon had set before they started, that the search lights were out because of concerns about Zeppelin raids, and that it was not raining.

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

The main administration block at Sutton Bonington campus. It was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers between 1916-19.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In terms of simple numbers, no other breakout was as successful. Usually only two or three men were involved with a tunnel project. The 22 from Sutton Bonington made it the largest breakout in Britain of World War I.

Best laid plans

The men planned to split into groups of four, preferably with an English speaker in each one, and to head for different ports along the east coast. They had maps and a compass with them, as well as food supplies which had arrived in the camp from Germany the previous day. The absconders hoped to stow away on board a vessel passing through the English channel, and return to Germany, re-join their regiment and re-engage with the war.

The breakout was discovered at 4.30am when a policeman patrolling the village of Plumtree came upon Herman Genest walking alone but wearing a German officer’s uniform. He arrested him, took him to the nearest police station, and from there saw him returned to the camp at Sutton Bonington. Genest had been free for approximately three hours.

His arrest led to a roll call at Sutton Bonington which confirmed that 22 men were missing. All police, special constables, and other groups concerned with law and order in the area were ordered from their beds to find the Germans.

Within hours they were reeled in. My own research into the episode has uncovered that three of the German men, claiming to be seeking work in one of Nottingham’s munitions factories, were arrested at Trent Bridge. Two more, including the leader Otto Thelan, were arrested at Tollerton at 11am, and two others later in the day. Also arrested that day was Karl von Müller, a German naval hero from the early days of the war, who was found by children when he was blackberrying at Tollerton.

The rest were picked up over the ensuing days with the last four German officers captured at Brimington Woods, near Chesterfield. A police sergeant found them on September, 30, “and immediately upon being challenged they admitted their identity”, according to a report a few days later in the Derby Daily Telegraph.

Getting out was unlikely

The experiences of these men were typical of other German prisoners who tried to escape during World War I. They were expected to wear their uniforms in camp, but this made them conspicuous if they managed to escape. They had to walk because catching trains was too problematic, and they normally travelled at night and hid in barns and hay stacks during the day. They carried food, but could struggle to find enough liquid, and if they reached the coast there was no guarantee of a passage across the Channel.

Escape was a romantic ideal rather than a rational expectation. Gunter Pluschow, who escaped from another PoW camp at Donington Hall, in Leicestershire, was the only German to make it home in World War I, largely because he managed to adopt a disguise and stow away on board a cargo ship at Harwich.

The Sutton Bonington camp was used for PoWs until February 1919 when those remaining were moved to Oswestry in Shropshire. The site was then cleared and cleaned, including the removal of the huts and barbed wire, and returned to the Midland Dairy Institute, which formally opened in October 1919. In 1946 the institute joined the University of Nottingham as the faculty of agriculture.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

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