History remembers Capt. Jay Zeamer as a tremendous pilot, but he had a rough time getting into the cockpit.
Originally commissioned in the Infantry Reserve, he later transferred to the Army Air Corps to fulfill his dream of flying. There was just one problem: he couldn’t pass the check ride to get into the pilot’s seat.
Despite many attempts, when war came to America in 1941 Zeamer was still stuck co-piloting B-26 Marauders.
Bored with life as a co-pilot, Zeamer asked for a transfer to another unit hoping to start over. Zeamer was eventually transferred to the 403rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group to fly B-17s.
Arriving at the 403rd, Zeamer met up with an old friend, Sgt. Joe Sarnoski, the squadron’s bombardier.
During a combat mission, Zeamer was forced to take over for another pilot, which effectively earned him the right to fly as first pilot. His cool under fire on the mission — and his expert flying skills — also earned him his first Silver Star.
Zeamer’s de facto confirmation made him a pilot, but he had no plane or crew. Through a series of events, Zeamer was able to acquire Sarnoski as both bombardier and navigator. The two began to assemble the rest of the team, testing out compatibility during various missions.
Many of the men, after just one mission with Zeamer, refused to ever fly with him again, but the crazy oddballs and renegades who could hack it ultimately rounded out the crew.
Zeamer and his crew were eventually nicknamed “The Eager Beavers” because they constantly volunteered for missions — especially the most dangerous ones. However, they were still without a plane of their own.
It just so happened that the perfect plane awaited the crew at their next assignment. As new arrivals to the 65th Bomb Squadron, they found a heavily damaged plane being used for parts.
The B-17E had a reputation for taking heavy damage on missions and many believed it to be because of its unfortunate tail number: #41-2666.
Beamer and his crew quickly claimed the plane as their own, and though they never got around to giving it a proper name, often referred to it as “Old 666” after the tail number. The crew repaired and upgraded the plane to their specifications. The .30-caliber machine guns were upgraded to .50-caliber mounts. The waist gunners’ single guns were replaced by twin .50 calibers as well. Zeamer even had a forward-firing gun mounted in the nose so he himself could shoot from the cockpit. All told the B-17 bristled with nineteen guns.
The Eager Beavers soon earned a reputation for their daring deeds. As Zeamer’s friend Walt Krell put it, “Whenever the 43rd got a real lousy mission – the worst possible mission of all that nobody else wanted to fly – they went down to see Zeamer and his gang.”
The Eager Beavers carried out the unwanted missions and earned themselves glory along the way. Every member of the crew received Silver Stars and two more earned Distinguished Flying Crosses. Zeamer himself received a second Silver Star for strafing Japanese searchlights with his forward-firing gun. Sarnoski was rewarded with a battlefield promotion to 2nd lieutenant.
The Eager Beavers and Old 666 took everything that was thrown at them and always returned home.
Then in June 1943, they faced the toughest mission yet – a reconnaissance flight by a lone B-17 over Japanese-infested territory. The mission was to map Bougainville for the upcoming Allied landings. At the last minute word came down that the crew would also need to photograph Buka Island to the north. Zeamer was livid; an already dangerous mission just became practically suicidal.
When Old 666 arrived over Buka, the lone Flying Fortress was spotted by the Japanese who scrambled 17 planes to intercept. The lead flight of Japanese Zeroes caught up to the Eager Beavers near the end of their mapping run.
Unable to stray from its course, Old 666 lumbered along, bracing as the Zeroes attacked. Five planes fanned out in front and flew headlong at the bomber. As the distance closed, the guns on both sides roared to life.
Zeamer scored a hit with his nose-mounted gun while Sarnoski downed one of the incoming Zeroes. Simultaneously, 20mm shells tore through the cockpit and nose, wounding Zeamer and blowing Sarnoski off his gun. Sarnoski dragged himself back to his gun and scored a hit on another fighter before slumping over, mortally wounded.
The battle raged for almost an hour. Zeamer was severely wounded, both legs shot and his rudder pedals blown away. Four other crew members were also wounded. Still, The Eager Beavers continued to rain fire onto the Japanese fighters while Zeamer struggled to maneuver the bomber. The Japanese fighters had brutally damaged the B-17E, forcing it below 10,000 feet with destroyed instrument panels, limited controls, and no oxygen system.
Eventually, the battered Zeroes retreated home, leaving the Eager Beavers to do the same.
Determined to return with the valuable photos, Zeamer refused to relinquish control of the bomber. The rest of the crew treated each others’ wounds and did what they could to keep the stricken bomber in the air.
Just over eight hours after the mission began, Old 666 landed in New Guinea. The fuselage was riddled with holes. Zeamer was nearly left for dead by the medics. He spent many months in hospitals recovering from the mission. Both Zeamer and Sarnoski would be awarded the Medal of Honor, one of only two crews to be so bestowed in World War II.
The mission to Bougainville is the most highly decorated mission ever. With their cumulative awards, the Eager Beavers are the most decorated crew in American history. General George Kenney would write in his memoirs that the mission “still stands in my mind as an epic of courage unequaled in the annals of air warfare.”
If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.
It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.
You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.
Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.
John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.
In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.
Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.
The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.
Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.
From a faith-based U.S. Army unit to an entire “ghost” army, take a look at the four most unusual military units of all time.
An inflatable tank, styled after the M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons)
The Ghost Army
Inspired by a trick that the British pulled in North Africa, the summer of 1944 found soldiers of the U.S. Army undertaking a very unusual task – building a phantom army. To achieve this goal, the Army gathered artists, designers and sound effects experts to encourage confusion behind enemy lines. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is better known as the Ghost Army because it used inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps, along with sound effects and subterfuge to deceive Germans during WWII.
The 23rd took part in more than 20 missions, many of which used illusion and artistry that rivals any Hollywood set. Painters and illustrators worked collaboratively to design uniforms and create dummy vehicles. Sound engineers helped by broadcasting phony radio traffic and mimicked the sounds of an army on the move. There were even actors hired to spread misinformation that would hopefully get picked up by Nazi spies.
The Germans fell for it, and the ruse worked. With the Ghost Army in place, Germany had no clear idea of the US forces’ actual size. The Ghost Army was so convincing that they were even plugged a hole in General Patton’s lines for several days without being discovered. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Ghost Army’s contribution became public knowledge, and by then, many of its members had gone on to illustrious careers in art and design.
The Monuments Men
This particular unit was tasked with attempting to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage during WWII. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archies unit included handpicked art historians, museum curators and academics who skirted the front lines of combat to prevent historically essential buildings and art from being destroyed.
Members from the unit created special maps for the Allies to ensure that culturally significant structures weren’t inadvertently destroyed as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe. To do this, the unit drew plans that showed aircraft pilots where to avoid on bombing runs. While the war was in full swing, the Monuments Men even set about restoring landmarks that were already damaged.
As the war wound down, the unit shifted its focus from preservation to rescue. It tracked down and recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Monuments Men found thousands of pieces of art stolen from Jewish families and museums. Most of these pieces of art were placed deep in salt mines and castles to avoid detection. The Monuments Men did their part in finding the pieces, and then after the war, the artwork was returned to its original owners.
The Mormon Battalion
Composed entirely of Latter Day Saints service members, the Mormon Battalion has the unique and unusual honor of being the only faith-based battalion in all of U.S. Army history. When negotiations between Brigham Young’s church leaders and the US military reached an impasse, it was suggested that a battalion be formed made up of all Mormons. The Mormons hoped their unit might pave the way for their planned exodus to the American West by providing training, equipment and pay. But President Polk saw it as a way to make allies of the Latter Day Saints.
The 500-person battalion never saw any combat, but it became one of the most well-traveled units in all of American history. The service members marked the start of their service by making a grueling might from Iowa through indigenous lands all the way to Santa Fe. From there, they marched on through the untamed lands of Arizona and then to southern California. Once in SoCal, the battalion performed garrison duty in both San Diego and Los Angeles.
Just two years after being formed, the battalion was retired in July 1847. Most of its members headed back north to the Utah Territory to join the rest of their religious pioneers.
King Frederick William I (Wikimedia Commons)
The Potsdam Giants
Everyone always wants to have the biggest army, but for King Frederick William I of Prussia, the idea of having the strongest soldiers in the world was an obsession. At the start of the 18th Century, the monarch tried to gather the tallest troops he could find in all of Europe and create an elite regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Records indicate that several of the service members were over seven feet tall.
To entice this elite unit, King Willian spent a fortune hiring tall soldiers from other militaries in the world. He even instructed his own covert agents to conscript unusually tall civilians into the unit. At one point, William tried to encourage his tallest soldiers to marry tall women. The unit eventually disbanded, but not before William managed to spend a significant amount of money.
From a ghost army to a unit dedicated to preserving history, these four units prove that there’s a lot more to being part of a military than just standing in formation.
In the early 1900s the navies of the world were quickly expanding their submarine fleets and with them the technology that they used to fight.
One problem submarines faced as they matured was how to communicate underwater. Radio communication was only a couple decades old and radio waves barely transmit underwater. To allow submarines to communicate with naval forts, each other, and surface vessels, the U.S. Navy tested an improvised “violin” for submarines that allowed communication at ranges of up to five miles.
The violins had a single string stretched between two large, metal rods connected to the hull of the submarine. A wheel with a rough edges spun in close proximity to the string. A Morse-code operator could tap a button that pressed the spinning wheel to the string, sending a vibration through the string, the rods, and then the submarine hull itself. This vibration would continue through the water to underwater microphones on ships and coastal installations. The tests began in 1913 with three violins being installed on three ships. There’s no sign that these violins were ever used in combat.
Before the tank entered the lexicon of military history, there was horse cavalry.
The horse, like the modern day tank, provided support to the infantry and artillery. However, while every kingdom, like every modern nation today, has some sort of mobile land support designed to punch holes through enemy lines, only a handful of nations have the best trained. So here we take a look at 5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world.
1. The Numidians (light cavalry)
The Numidians were from what is now Algeria and were known for their cavalry abilities.
The Numidian cavalry of the ancient world. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
Hannibal used these Numidian cavalrymen during the Second Punic War. So what made the Numidian cavalry so darn good?
The Numidians saw many battles during Hannibal’s campaign in Roman Italy. The Greek historian Polybius, describes the Numidian warriors as light cavalry armed with missile weapons (javelins). The Battle of Cannae 216 BCE, showcased their abilities.
What made the Numidian cavalry so effective at Cannae is that unlike the Spaniard and Celtic cavalries that also accompanied Hannibal, the Spaniard and Celtic horsemen were heavy cavalries that fought en masse, much like the Roman cavalry. The Numidians, being light cavalry, fought in a much looser formation and because of this, they harassed the Roman cavalry with complicated tactics before disengaging.
And while the Celtic and Spaniard cavalries had the Roman cavalry fixed, the Numidians went from harassment to providing shock support once the Roman cavalry turned their back. This caused the Roman cavalry to flee once the Numidians made contact and understood that if they do not make a break for it, they would be enveloped and decimated.
2. The Scythians (light cavalry)
The Scythians may not be the original inventors of asymmetrical warfare, but one could argue that they perfected it.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Scythians were ancient nomadic horse warriors who were first mentioned by the Assyrians during the reign of Sargon II (reigned 722 – 705 BCE). What made these horsemen so powerful was that they were raised in the saddle and were typically armed with a distinctive composite bow.
The Scythian bow is unique and revered throughout the ancient world by kings, historians, and a philosopher. King Esarhaddon of Assyria had a Cimmerian bow, the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus were equipped with their bows and arrows, and even Hercules’ Greek portrait displays him armed with a Scythian bow. The Greek philosopher Plato said,
The customs of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes.
When one examines the Scythian lifestyle, one can easily gain an understanding of the type of warfare necessarily carried on against more sedentary (non-migratory) people, like those in Mesopotamia. The Scythian took a guerilla approach to warfare as their method, using small bands to conduct military operations. Herodotus mentions their method of warfare when King Darius of Persia campaigned against them.
It is thus with me, Persian: I have never fled for fear of any man, nor do I now flee from you; this that I have done is no new thing or other than my practice in peace. But as to the reason why I do not straightway fight with you, this too I will tell you. For we Scythians have no towns or planted lands, that we might meet you the sooner in battle, fearing lest the one be taken or the other wasted. But if nothing will serve you but fighting straightway, we have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you for those graves or no. Till then we will not join battle unless we think it good.
The description indicates that the Scythians against whom Darius was warring had no center of gravity. King Darius’ military campaign into Scythia (modern Ukraine) went for nothing. As he could not catch them, the Scythians burnt their own their fields, destroyed Persian supplies, and harassed his forces with hit and run tactics.
In the end, Darius turned his large army around and headed home before it was annihilated.
3. The Parthians (light cavalry)
The Parthian horsemen are much like the Scythians.
The Parthians also known as the Parni/Aparni, originated from eastern Iran and like the Scythians, wore light attire, carried a composite bow and a sidearm — possibly a sword or a dagger. What made the Parthian horse archers so powerful was their ability to hit and run, and this was demonstrated at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire.
(Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The Roman general Crassus led his Roman legions into the desert wilderness thinking they were going to face a pussycat. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with an equal foe. Once Crassus gave the order to form a square, the Parthian horse archers saw an opportunity. They showered the Romans with raining death.
The average Parthian horse archer, with a quiver of 30 arrows, loosed between eight to ten arrows a minute at Carrhae. It would take almost three minutes to exhaust his arsenal before needing to be resupplied. The amount of Parthian horse archers at the battle is estimated at 10,000. Now, if all 10,000 fired away for 20 minutes, the amount of arrows fired by an individual horse archer would have been between 160-200 arrows. Take 10,000 and the amount of arrows fired upon the Roman soldiers are estimated to have been an astounding 1.6-2 million arrows in a 20-minute timeframe.
In the convulsion and agony of their pain they writhed as the arrows struck them; the men broke them off in their wounds and then lacerated and disfigured their own bodies by trying to tear out by main force the barbed arrow heads that had pierced through their veins and muscles.
Romans could do little, for if they break formation they are dead, if they stand still they are dead but have a chance. Only nightfall saved them. While the Parthian horse archers showered the Romans with death, the Parthian cataphract was the hammer.
4. The Parthian Cataphract (heavy armored cavalry)
When it comes to heavy cavalry in the ancient world, the Parthian cataphract takes the lead.
Parthian heavy armored cataphract. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The word cataphract comes from the Greek Kataphraktos means “completely enclosed.” The origins of the cataphract may not have started with the Parthians but with the Massagetae, who also inhabited portions of Eastern Iran three centuries before the arrival of the Parthians. If you want more info on this, click “here.”
The Parthian cataphract in many ways looked like the medieval knights of Europe. What made them so effective on the field of battle was that the rider and horse were covered in armor. The rider would carry a lance, sword, and presumably a bow.
At the Battle of Carrhae, the cataphract would charge into Roman lines once the legions locked shields to protect themselves from the arrows. According to Plutarch, the cataphracts would hit the lines with such a force that “many (Romans) perished hemmed in by the horsemen. Others were knocked over by the pikes or were carried off transfixed.”
This hit and run attack would go on for some time until the Roman broke and fled.
5. Late Roman Equites Cataphractarii and Sassanid Clibanarii (very heavily armored cavalry)
It may be an understatement to say that Equites cataphractarii were heavy cavalry as they were indeed the heaviest of the bunch.
among them were the full-armoured cavalry (whom they called clibanarii or cataphracti equites), all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men. Thin circles of iron plates, fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covered their limbs; so that whichever way they had to move their members, their garment fitted, so skilfully were the joinings made
The Clibanarii were Sassanid. However, the Sassanids also used this term to describe the Equites cataphractarii. The description provided by Ammianus Marcellinus about the Clibanarii goes as follows:
Moreover, all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skilfully fitted to their heads, that, since their entire bodies were plated with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings fitted to the circle of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath. Of these some, who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would think them held fast by clamps of bronze.
The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather.
So who had the best cavalry in the ancient world? Well, the answer to that question is the various nomads who dotted the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, and the Iranian plateau. These various nomads are the ones who not only perfected horse archery and heavy cavalry, they also brought civilization the chariot.
However, horse archers and heavy cavalry — no matter the kingdom — would come to an end once the gunpowder age arrived. Eventually new tactics took the rider off his mount and placed him into a tank.
History has shown that all American spies are not created equal in terms of the damage their efforts have done to military readiness. Here are 11 of the worst:
1. Julius Rosenberg gave Russia plans for nuclear bombs.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in 1950 for espionage thought to date back to 1940. They were most famous for giving the Soviet Union atomic secrets, specifically the design for the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The spy ring Julius operated was also responsible for giving the Soviets proximity fuses and radar tubes, two technologies key to effective air defenses which would have played a large part if the Cold War had ever turned hot.
Documents from the Venona Project have shown that Ethel may not have been involved. Her brother, who was caught before the Rosenbergs and testified against both of them, later said that Ethel was not part of the ring. Julius and Ethel were both executed in 1953 after a controversial trial. The trial was called a sham, especially the case against Ethel Rosenberg. It was so hotly contested, it soured America’s relationship with France.
2. Noshir Gowadia gave B-2 Stealth technology to China.
Noshir Gowadia is an Indian-American who was an engineer on early stages of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Though Gowadia was paid $45,000 for his work, he was angry that he wasn’t kept on the project for future phases that were worth much more money. Gowadia wrote to a relative about his dissatisfaction and started his own consulting company.
In 2005, federal investigators arrived at his Maui, Hawaii home to collect evidence that he had knowledge of an effort to help China develop stealth technology for their cruise missiles. Gowadia admitted to many of the accusations, though he claimed he had only used declassified materials. A jury disagreed, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison, disappointing prosecutors who had sought life imprisonment.
China is too closed off to know for sure which stealth designs use information from Gowadia, but China now has a stealth fighter and multiple cruise missiles that are hard to detect on infrared.
3. Chi Mak’s betrayal put modern sailors in jeopardy.
Chi Mak’s activities are hard to get exact, since much of his espionage career is still unknown. The FBI began investigating him in 2004, and the case went to trial in 2007. Mak had worked on Navy engines as an engineer for a defense contractor and had collected sensitive information from other engineers before sending collections of it to China.
When the FBI raided Mak’s home, first in secret and later after arresting Mak and his wife, they found stacks and stacks of classified information relating to naval technology, much of it still going into new Navy ships. The exact nature of what was released has not been made public since the technologies are still classified.
Mak is serving a nearly 24-year, six-month prison sentence after his conviction in 2007. The other spies who worked with Mak plead guilty, receiving shorter prison sentences and deportation orders.
4. Ana Montes deliberately misled the joint chiefs while leaking secrets to Cuba.
From 1984 to 2001, Ana Montes was slipping classified information to Cuba. Hers was a case of spycraft straight out of a novel. She’d don disguises to slip into Cuba, listen in South Florida to shortwave radio broadcasts from Cuba, and slip packages to handlers. And, she did all of it with two FBI siblings and another FBI agent as a sister-in-law. Ana’s sister was a hero of an FBI crackdown in southern Florida that netted other members of Ana’s spy ring, including her handler.
Montes operated by memorizing documents at her desk, first in the Department of Justice and later in the Defense Intelligence Agency, and then typing them on her personal computer at night. She received medals from both the U.S. and Cuba for her activities, though only Cuba gave her a contracted lover. Before she was caught, she had become a regular briefer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. When she was finally arrested, she was pending a promotion to the CIA Security Council. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence.
5. Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames dimed out every American spy they could name.
Though they’re combined on this list because their main damage to the U.S. military was in exposing an American spy in Soviet Russia, Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames were two of the most damaging spies in U.S. history. Ames only operated from 1985 to 1993, while Hanssen spied from 1979 to 2001.
6. John Anthony Walker told the Russians where all the U.S. subs were during the Cold War.
John Walker was a Navy Warrant Officer who made some bad investments and found himself strapped for cash. So, in late 1967 he copied a document from the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. and carried it home. The next morning, he took it to the Soviet Embassy in Washington where he leaked it.
For the next 18 years, Walker would leak the locations and encryption codes for U.S. assets as well as operational plans and other documents. He even recruited his son into the operation and tried to recruit his daughter who served in the Army, but she was pregnant and separating from the service. There are even claims that the sinking of the nuclear armed USS Scorpion was due to Walker’s espionage.
Walker and his son were finally caught after Walker’s ex-wife told everything to the FBI. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said the Soviet Union gained, “access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics” as a result of Walker’s spying. It’s thought that some advances in Russian naval technology were given to them by Walker. He died in prison last year.
7. Larry Chin may have made the Korean War go on much longer.
Larry Wu-Tai Chin was a translator for the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he became a translator for the CIA until his arrest in 1985. During this time, Chin passed many documents and photographs along to his Chinese handlers.
Some experts claim Chin’s actions during the Korean War, when he gave the Chinese government the name of prisoners he interrogated, made the Korean War last longer. Chin told the Chinese government everything that was revealed during the interrogations. He was arrested in 1985 and convicted of all charges, but he killed himself before he was sentenced.
8. James Nicholson sold the intelligence team roster to Moscow.
Harold James Nicholson’s espionage weakened U.S. observation of the Russian Federation during the mid-’90s. Nicholson was the head of CIA officer training program for two years, and he is believed to have sold the identities of all new officers trained during his tenure. In addition, he sold the assignment information for new officers headed on their first assignment.
In an affidavit discussing the case against Nicholson, the lead investigator pointed to two ways that Nicholson directly compromised military operations. First, he gave away the identity of a CIA operative heading to Moscow to collect information on the Russian military. Second, he gave the Russians the exact staffing requirements for the Moscow CIA bureau, allowing them to better prevent leaks to the U.S. of classified military information.
Nicholson was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 25 years. From prison, he doubled down on espionage by teaching his son spy tradecraft, telling him state secrets, and then having his son meet up with old Russian contacts to collect money. He confessed to this second round of espionage in 2010.
9. James Hall III sold top-secret signal programs to the Soviets.
U.S. Army signal intelligence warrant officer James Hall was assigned to a crucial listening post in West Berlin from 1982 to 1985. While he was there, he was feeding information on key programs to his Soviet handlers. Hall released tons of documents, intercepts, and encryption codes, exposing many operations to Soviet eyes.
Arguably his most damaging action was letting the Soviets know about Project Trojan. Trojan would have allowed, in the case of war, the U.S. and its allies to target Russian armored vehicles, missiles, and planes by tracking their communication signals. Since Russia had the clear advantage in armored warfare at this point, the success or failure of Trojan could have decided who won the start of a war.
Hall had more limited access to crucial information when he was reassigned to the United States. In 1988, he bragged about his 6 years of spying to an undercover FBI agent. Hall was tried and sentenced, serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas until his release in 2011.
10. Col. George Trofimoff gave it all to the KGB through his brother the archbishop.
When George Trofimoff was finally arrested in 2000, he was just a bag boy. As a retired Army Reserve colonel though, he is the highest-ranking American ever convicted of espionage. Trofimoff spied for the Soviet Union from 1969 to 1994, a 25-year career.
The worst of the damage was done while Trofimoff was the chief of the U.S. Army’s operations at a NATO safe house where Soviet defectors were debriefed. The safe house had copies of nearly all U.S. intelligence estimates on Soviet military strength. Most weekends, Trofimoff would takes bags of documents home from the safe house, photograph them, and return them to the office before giving the photos to his brother, a Russian Orthodox priest who would go on to become the Archbishop of Vienna.
Trofimoff was arrested at his home at 1427 Patriot Drive and tried for espionage in 2000. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
11. Benedict Arnold tried to abort America.
A traitor who almost strangled America in her crib, Gen. Benedict Arnold is so infamous that his name is used to mean treachery. He was once a hero of the revolution though, attaining multiple victories through brilliance of maneuver. His greatest feat was his victory at the Battle of Saratoga, which convinced France that it was worth it to come out in support of American independence.
Arnold lost his wife during the war and found himself the target of personal and professional attacks from politicians. Convinced that the war would fail and harboring deep resentment of the American political system, Arnold handed over the plans to West Point and agreed to surrender the defenses in exchange for 20,000 British pounds (approximately $3 million today).
But the plans were intercepted and Arnold fled to England. The Revolutionary Army was shaken by the loss of a major hero while they were still fighting against the better equipped and trained British Forces. Arnold would live out his life in England as a rich man, but forever be known as a traitor.
Bonus: Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden
While not technically spies since they didn’t work for a foreign government, the classified intelligence revealed by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are the two most famous leaks in recent memory. Both released tons of documents embarrassing to the U.S. and damaging for foreign relations.
Manning stole documents from his work in Army intelligence by storing them on an SD card and sending the files to Wikileaks. The leak included state department cables, detailed event logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a video of an Apache mistakenly engaging Reuters journalists.
Snowden’s leak was the more damaging. Roughly 200,000 thousand stolen documents were given to journalists, some leading to the compromise of U.S. intelligence operations abroad. Approximately 1.7 million documents were stolen, though Snowden has given conflicting reports on whether they’ve been destroyed or are stored.
Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence while Snowden is living in Russia to avoid prosecution in the U.S.
While we tend to think of drones as a very modern addition to the battlefield, the truth is, America’s Defense Department has long been interested in the concept of unmanned aircraft. In fact, for a short window of time in the 1960s, America’s supersonic, high-flying drones were already attempting reconnaissance flights over China.
In May of 1960, the United States was at a crossroads. A CIA pilot named Francis Gary Powers flying America’s classified U-2 Spy Plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union at the start of the month. The ensuing international incident edged the world one step closer toward nuclear Armageddon, and President Dwight Eisenhower made the decision to cease all manned flights into Soviet Airspace as a result. With reconnaissance satellite technology under development but still years away from providing actionable intelligence, Lockheed’s famed Skunkworks set to work on another possibility: unmanned flights over the Soviet Union.
D-21 Drone with additional rocket booster for launch from a B-52H
In October of 1962, legendary engineer Kelly Johnson, whose career included designing both the U-2 Spy Plane and the SR-71 Blackbird, set to work designing what would come to be called the D-21: a long-range, high altitude drone that leaned heavily on technology developed for the SR-71’s predecessor, the A-12.
The requirements Johnson was given by the CIA and U.S. Air Force were nothing short of extreme: the drone had to reach speeds of Mach 3.3–3.5, an operational altitude of 87,000–95,000 feet, and needed a fuel range of 3,000 nautical miles. Any modern-day engineer would tell you that such a project would still be daunting today, but Johnson had made a career out of accomplishing the seemingly impossible — often with little more than a hand ruler and scratch paper for calculations.
His D-21 design could meet all the requirements set out for him, but in order to achieve such high speeds at such high altitudes, he had to use a ramjet engine that couldn’t function until it was already flying high in the sky. As a result, plans were drawn up to deploy the drone from a variant of the A-12, dubbed the M-21 Blackbird.
Just in case you didn’t think the SR-71 could ever look cooler.
With a wingspan of just over 19 feet and a length of nearly 43 feet, the D-21 looked a lot like someone had just hacked the end off of one of the A-12’s wings, making the M-21 a matching aesthetic choice, if nothing else.
The D-21 carried a single high-resolution camera that would snap photos over a pre-programmed flight path. It would then eject the film canisters, which would drift down via parachute and float in water. The plan was to capture these canisters in the air, with Navy ships positioned to retrieve them from the water as a backup. The drone itself would then self-destruct to avoid being captured and reverse-engineered.
The first three test flights of the D-21 from the M-21 Blackbird went smoothly, but on the fourth attempt, the drone experienced an “asymmetric unstart” passing through the bow wake of its M-21 mothership. The two aircraft collided in mid-air at the blistering speed of Mach 3.25. Both pilots managed to eject, but one ultimately drowned before he could be rescued. The decision was made to scrap the M-21 mothership strategy and instead deploy the D-21 from beneath the wings of the B-52H bomber.
Modified D-21 drones on a B-52H Bomber
After a number of failures, Lockheed’s D-21 completed its first successful B-52H-launched flight in June of 1968 and soon, the program moved into operational reconnaissance flights over China.
In all, four D-21s were launched from B-52Hs and sent into Chinese airspace on reconnaissance missions. Two of the drones completed their flights, but either failed to eject their film, or the film was deemed irretrievable. The other two flights were either shot down or simply disappeared shortly after launch.
Despite their failures over China, the D-21 program was significantly ahead of its time. A Mach-3 capable drone with an operational ceiling of 90,000 feet was an unheard of proposition in its day and remains impressive even in this new era of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The program was ultimately canceled on July 15, 1971, with the B-52s converted for use in the program returned to operational service.
Pacific theater, late 1944. Allied forces have been gradually uprooting the Japanese forces and pushing them back to Japan.
As its foothold in the Pacific shrinks by the day, the Imperial Japanese Army is getting desperate. Already the Japanese have shown a willingness to fight to the last man, an echo of the country’s ancient martial tradition.
However interesting to the outsider the Japanese warfighting culture might be, it bellies a darker side; a side full of disdain and often unfathomable brutality against a defeated foe, regardless of if it’s a civilian or a prisoner of war.
In December 1944, Japanese troops burn alive and shoot 139 Allied prisoners of wars, many of whom were survivors of the Bataan Death March and the desperate fight at the Corregidor, in the Philippines’ Palawan province.
A handful of Americans manage to escape and join the Filipino guerillas. Through them, they succeed in getting the word about the massacre to the approaching American forces. The intelligence makes Allied commanders realize that Allied prisoners of war in several other camps in the region face imminent execution.
They decide to rescue them.
A daring raid of the Cabanatuan Prison Camp
Cabanatuan Prison Camp, January 30, 1945.
Cabanatuan is the largest internment camp in the region, housing over 5,000 prisoners of war at its peak. By January 1945, there are approximately 500 Allied troops held there.
The hostage rescue force is comprised of approximately 120 Rangers and Alamo Scouts, a special operations unit, and about 200 Filipino guerillas. To get to the camp, the rescue force will have to march 30 miles through enemy lines, no small feat considering the size of the force. The Filipinos’ knowledge of the area and the friendly local population somewhat simplify the logistics of the movement.
Led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the raid force is divided into two elements. With 90 men, the assault element will storm the camp through the main, kill any Japanese who resist, and rescue the prisoners. The 30 men of the support element will flank the camp from the east and destroy several guard towers and provide fire support where needed.
Two additional elements, primarily comprised of Filipino guerrillas with some American commands to help, set up blocking positions to the east and west of the camp to hold off any attempt by the Japanese to interfere with the rescue.
A P-61 Black Widow aircraft, which is designed for nighttime operations, will signal the attack with an overpass of the camp in order to distract the Japanese guards.
At exactly 1945, the raid begins.
The largest hostage rescue in American history
The P-61 succeeds in distracting the Japanese guards, allowing the rescue force to approach the camp without getting detected. In a matter of minutes, the American commands overwhelm the Japanese guards and rescue the prisoners, many of who can’t walk following years of forced labor, scant rations, and brutal punishments.
The two blocking positions stop several Japanese relief attempts, killing numerous enemies and destroying several tanks, before collapsing to the camp, where the rescue force has evacuated anyone they could find.
Rescuers and rescued make their way back through enemy lines, using several wagons and stretchers to carry those who can’t walk. After a dangerous and soul-draining forced march, the whole force arrives in friendly lines the next morning. Mission success.
In the Cabanatuan Raid, the American commandos rescued 489 prisoners of war and 33 civilians, while suffering four Americans killed in action (two commandos and two prisoners) and four wounded.
The Cabanatuan Raid is the largest rescue in American history. In the following three weeks, American commandos conduct two similar operations, in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp and Los Banos, rescuing more Allied prisoners of war.
Among the Rangers who took part in the raid was an officer named Arthur “Bull” Simons, who was the executive officer of the 6th Ranger Battalion. Simons would go on the become a legend in the US special operations community and play a key part in the Son Tay hostage rescue during the Vietnam War. Today, the US Special Operations Command recognizes one of its members every year with the Bull Simons Award.
Salamo Arouch literally fought for survival during World War II. But he wasn’t a soldier, he was a boxer of Jewish-Greek descent. That means the All-Balkans Middleweight Champ ended up in Auschwitz when the Nazis rolled into his home city of Thessalonica, Greece, in 1943.
That’s where he started fighting for his life.
Before his internment in the Nazi death camp, Arouch’s boxing record was an undefeated 24-0. He likely never imagined how high that number would climb during his life — or what was in stakes throughout the 200-plus bouts he would have to fight. When the Nazis captured Thessalonica, they rounded up the city’s 47,000 Jewish citizens and shipped them away. A young Salamo and his family ended up at Auschwitz.
Almost the moment he arrived, a car drove up and out stepped the commandant, who asked if any of the new prisoners were boxers or wrestlers. Dutifully, the young Arouch rose his hand. He had been coached by his father and won his first fight at age 14. But the Nazis didn’t take the young fighter at his word. They drew a circle in the dirt and gave him gloves before ordering he and another Jewish boy to fight on the spot.
Arouch squared off with boy. Both were exhausted and frightened, but the Greek came out on top, knocking out his opponent within minutes. Immediately, the guards presented him with another opponent. This time, it was a six-foot-tall Czech man. Arouch knocked him cold, too.
This was the first of hundreds of fights that Salamo Arouch would have to endure in the coming years. He would be led to a smoky warehouse two or three times a week and forced to fight anyone they could pit him against in a cockfight-like ring.
“We fought until one went down or they got sick of watching. They wouldn’t leave until they saw blood,” he recalled. For his part, Arouch managed to keep his strength up because he was given light duties as an office clerk and was fed more and better food than the other prisoners. He managed to eke a win out of every battle, with only two draws due to suffering from dysentery. Soon, he began to realize he was leading each defeated opponent to their fate.
“The loser would be badly weakened,” Arouch told People magazine in 1990, “and the Nazis shot the weak.”
As he fought for his life, his brother and father perished at the hands of the Nazis. His father was gassed because he grew weak. His brother was shot because he refused to remove gold teeth from the bodies of corpses. The young Salamo continued to box, but soon found himself at Bergen-Belson, a camp that killed some 50,000 people. He would not be among those.
The British 11th Armoured Division liberated the camp on Apr. 15, 1945, one year and 11 months to the day after he and his family were first shipped to Auschwitz. It was there he met Marta Yechiel, who would become his wife. The two moved to Palestine to start a new life, but war came quickly and the onetime member of the Greek Army joined the armed forces of a new country, Israel, and fought to keep it a free and safe homeland for Jewish people — especially those like himself, scarred by the Holocaust.
He came to run a successful shipping business out of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. When his life’s story was made into a movie, Triumph of the Spirit, starring Willem Dafoe in 1989, he served as an advisor to the film. Since it was shot at Auchwitz itself, it was not a good experience for the old survivor.
“It was a terrible experience,” he said of returning to the ruined camp. “In my mind, I saw my parents and began weeping. I cried and cried and could not sleep.”
Arouch suffered from a stroke in 1994, one from which he never fully recovered. He died on Apr. 26, 2009 at age 86.
In June 1919, the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet was sitting at anchor at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The cruiser Emden sent out the message, “Paragraph 11; confirm.” Then, all 74 of the warships in the natural harbor attempted to scuttle themselves en masse, and 52 successfully destroyed themselves before British sailors were able to beach them or stop their sinking.
21st June 1919: The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow
It’s important to remember for this story that wars have two ending points. There’s the armistice that stops the actual fighting, and then a lengthy peace process will usually result in a full treaty ending the war. After the armistice ended World War I fighting on Nov. 11, 1918, a large portion of the German navy was interned for the treaty process.
The navy had been largely sidelined during the war thanks to a British blockade, so it was largely intact that November. And the Allied powers, in order to ensure that Germany went through with the peace process, demanded that the nation’s most powerful and modern fleet be sequestered at a neutral port.
But, no nearby neutral port agreed to accept the ships, and so 70 of Germany’s best vessels were sent to the British harbor at Scapa Flow, a natural harbor that housed one of the British fleets. Four other German ships would later meet them there.
Three German ships, the Emden, Frankfurt, and Bremse, enter Scapa Flow on November 24, 1918.
When the German ships were officially handed over on November 21, literally hundreds of ships and thousands of people were present to watch the event. Over 190 Allied ships escorted the first batch of 70 German ships to surrender, making that day the largest concentration of naval power in the history of mankind, even if 70 of the ships had breech blocks in their guns to prevent a sudden return to hostilities.
But the fleet languished there for months. Morale on the German ships was bad during the war and worse while they were confined to ships on short rations in British territory. And the German commander had an order from his superiors to prevent the seizure of the ships by any means necessary.
The German navy seems to have believed that the ships would eventually be returned, Britain wanted to see them scrapped, and the rest of the Allies wanted to divvy them up. But as the negotiations in France made it clear that Germany would not get the ships back, German Adm. Ludwig von Reuter planned for how to destroy his own fleet.
A German destroyer largely flooded at Scapa Flow in 1919.
He didn’t know that the deadline had been extended to June 23, but this actually worked out well for him. The British commander had plans to seize the German ships on June 23 if the German diplomats still hadn’t signed the treaty by then.
And so the ships suddenly began to sink. The German sailors raised their German navy flags from their masts for the first time since they had arrived in the harbor. British sailors in the harbor quickly alerted their own fleet as to what was happening, and the fleet rushed back to save what it could.
A good half of the German fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the ‘Bayern’ the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later, in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went.
The German admiral proceeded to the British flagship and declared that he had “come to surrender my men and myself. I have nudding else.”
British sailors were quickly dispatched to the sinking ships to re-close the valves and pump water out. Some British sailors nearly drowned in this endeavor, but they saved 22 of the ships as 52 settled into the mud at the bottom.
A salvage crew works on the largely underwater German battleship Baden after the Scuttling at Scapa Flow. The partially submerged ship at the left is the cruiser Frankfurt.
The British sailors were under orders to only kill those Germans who refused to close valves when ordered or who resisted British actions to save the vessels. Nine German sailors were killed, but there is some controversy over whether all these sailors had resisted or not.
Still, it was the single largest loss of naval power in one day in human history, even though it was a calm day and no battle had actually taken place.
If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.
Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.
“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”
It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.
With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.
With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.
After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.
Nearly 20 years after America was born, an Irish architect named James Hoban began laying down the first piece of stone for what would become The White House during an elaborate Freemason ceremony.
Less than 24 hours later, the first piece of stone that was laid down vanished and no one appeared to know its whereabouts. Since then, the search for the stone continues as various participants have attempted to locate the historic piece of foundation.
Although the formation of the Freemason’s fraternity is a fiercely guarded secret, their history dates back to 1390 when they were first referenced in a Regius Poem.
A commonly accepted theory is the group emerged from the stonemasons guild amid the middle ages.
In the late 1940s during President Harry Truman’s administration, the White House underwent major renovations as crew members brought in metal detectors in hopes to locate the stone by picking up its metallic minerals and many believed they may have discovered its location.
President Harry Truman — Freemason
When Truman got wind of the search, he ordered them to halt the exploration immediately, which caught everyone off guard. In response, Truman then sent pieces of the White House to several various Freemason locations throughout the country.
Watch the History Channel‘s video to see how many have tried to unlock the mystery.
America didn’t just call on the troops to wage war, she called upon all her people to fight food shortage and a depression with gardens — “Victory gardens” — to be specific. In the early 1940s, when food rationing came into place, everyday Americans were turning up their yards to produce not just enough food for their families, but for their neighbors as well.
It’s safe to say a worldwide pandemic has given us cause to unearth the history of Victory Gardens and take the matter of a potential food shortage into our own, capable hands.
Here’s a thing or two you need to know about how to raise your shovels as your grandparents or great grandparents did long ago.
Canned food was limited
Canned food was rationed both to preserve tin for military use but also to decrease the strain on food transportation. Reducing “food miles” with sustainable urban agriculture was exactly how families and friends stayed supplied with fresh produce. Put down the can of lima beans you’re never going to eat and pick up some seeds instead.
Victory gardens were pushed at a national level, and informational pamphlets (pre-internet) were distributed. Community committees were organized to both assist newcomers and inform neighbors of what was being grown and where. Luckily for us, there’s a whole internet full of information, and local agricultural extensions to call, ensuring social distancing is still met.
So easy a child could do it
Children participated in gardening both out of necessity and to ensure all that good food knowledge didn’t go to waste. Need something for your kids to do? Let them tend to your budding garden at home; it’s a delicious form of education.
It doesn’t take a farm
The average American lawn has more than enough space to grow everything your family needs and more. Learning what plants like to cohabitate in the soil will maximize your growing potential.
How to rely on ourselves has been a skill lost to the “lazy” days of supermarkets stocked to the brim with internationally-grown produce. It may have taken a pandemic, but re-educating America on how to fend for themselves needs to be a skillset we value once again. We need to pass down precious knowledge of food and to become aware once again of the immense value food has in our lives.
Great things have happened throughout history during times of struggle. Every single one of us has the opportunity to make this world better, stronger and more resilient than ever before.