That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

A few years back in the first Democratic Primary debate of 2015, former Senator Jim Webb, a Marine who served in Vietnam, was asked about the enemies he made in his political career of whom he’s most proud. Webb alluded to a Vietnamese solider who threw a grenade at him. Webb doesn’t say it explicitly, but that guy is probably dead.


Webb wasn’t kidding. He was awarded the Navy Cross for that action. His citation is up on the Military Times’ Hall of Valor.

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant James H. Webb, Jr. (MCSN: 0-106180), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”

The former senator from Virginia is a understandably a longtime supporter of the military-veteran community. He attempted to run for President in 2016, but unfortunately didn’t get much traction. Even so, he leaves an impressive legacy behind; He was the chief architect of what would become known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

NOW: This US Army general was rescued from Vietnam as a young boy

OR: 17 Wild facts about the Vietnam War

Articles

America’s top strategic bomber once had devastating tail guns

The B-52 has been serving in America’s nuclear deterrent arsenal since 1952. But a lot has changed on the BUFF and its mission since it was on the front line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


The strategic bomber has gone from being designed to deliver huge nuclear bombs on Russia to dropping precision-guided conventional bombs on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, it is far more likely to deliver its nukes using air-launched cruise missiles than a gravity bomb.

But little did most people know that part of its post-World War II heritage equipped the lengthy bomber with tail guns.

The retirement of Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum is notable since he was the last of the B-52 tail gunners in the Air Force. Most versions of the BUFF had four .50-caliber M3 machine guns – fast-firing versions of the historic Ma Deuce (1,000 rounds per minute, according to GlobalSecurity.org) that were also used on the F-86 Sabre. Two B-52 versions went with different armament options, the B-52B (twin 20mm cannon in some planes) and the B-52H (an M61 Vulcan).

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
This is what a B-52’s tail looks like now, with the M61 Vulcan removed. A sad sight. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the B-52G and H, the tail gunners were in the main cabin, using a remotely operated turret. Earlier models had the tail gunners sitting in a shooters seat in the rear of the plane, providing the BUFF an extra set of eyes to detect SAM launches.

Those tail guns even saw some action. During the Vietnam War, three B-52Ds used their tail guns to score kills. All three of the victims were North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds, who found out the hard way that the BUFFs weren’t helpless targets on their six.

The B-52s up to the G model ultimately used the MD-9 fire-control system for the tail guns. The B-52G used the AN/ASG-15 for its remotely-operated quad .50 caliber turret while the B-52H used the AN/ASG-21 to guide its M61 Vulcan.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
A F-4G Wild Weasel, the plane involved in the friendly fire incident that prompted the removal of the tail guns and tail gunners from the B-52. (USAF photo)

An incident during Operation Desert Storm, though, would soon change things for the BUFF. A friendly-fire incident occurred when a tailgunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the U.S. jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which damaged the BUFF. The BUFF returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.

Shortly after the misunderstanding, the Air Force announced that the tail guns were going away.

So, for all intents and purposes, a generation has passed since the B-52 had a tail gunner. Gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52. To get a glimpse at what was lost, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.

Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama

Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.

Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame

A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.

“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame

No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.

Related: Read How the Soviets Stole the Space Shuttle

Articles

The underground work of Belle Boyd and how she changed the Civil War

One of the most prominent Confederate spies of the Civil War was none other than Belle Boyd. Credited for reshaping the Rebel’s war efforts, Maria Isabella Boyd AKA Belle, was born in modern-day West Virginia to a Southern family. Her father fought as a Confederate soldier and at least three additional family members were listed as spies for the South. 

At just 17, she got a rocky start into the profession when she gunned down a drunk Union soldier. The man had spoken unkindly to her and her mother, and in anger, she grabbed a pistol and fatally wounded him. She was not reprimanded for the shooting, and instead, used the event to become a “rebel spy” in 1861. However, after the event, she was watched by soldiers, which taught her not only how to live under surveillance but how to charm enemy forces. She soon made friends with one of her first guards, who is said to have provided her with flowers and key war secrets. 

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Belle Boyd. Wikimedia Commons

From there on, Boyd was hooked. She began passing information and finding new ways to get secrets from soldiers. Her biggest tool was flirtation, using her beauty and flattering wardrobe choices in her favor. However, she was caught during one of her first spy missions, causing her to find more secretive ways to pass data. She then began using her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who traveled with information in a hollowed watch case. Hopewell would deliver the secrets, allowing Boyd to continue in the shadows. 

Over the next two years, Boyd traveled between battles, earning the trust of Union soldiers through flirtation and friendship. Her efforts were so prolific she was soon known by the Union forces, with descriptions of her attire published so leaders could be on the lookout. 

Her biggest claim to fame is passing along key info to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, just before he went into battle. She told him the Union force was small and to forge ahead toward triumph. It’s said Jackson wrote to her and thanked her personally for helping the cause. The event also earned her the Southern Cross of Honor. 

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Stonewall Jackson. Wikimedia Commons

Boyd was arrested six times before she was finally put into prison in 1862. She served a month before being released, then was imprisoned again the following year. This time she was imprisoned for five months, where, behind bars she sang Dixie — the de facto national anthem of the South, waved Confederate flags from her window, and continued to pass messages. By receiving a rubber ball via bow and arrow, she would sew messages inside the ball that was then received by other spies. 

By the end of the year, Boyd was released from prison after coming down with typhoid fever. A stipulation of her release remained that she not return into Union territory. However, she, with the help of her future husband, a Union soldier, traveled to Canada, then to England where the two were married. 

While in England, Boyd wrote her memoirs, which are seen as highly sensationalized to this day, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. The stories were performed on stage and listed as The Perils of a Spy, starring Cleopatra of the Secession. 

After the death of her first husband, she returned to the United States where she married twice more and traveled the country giving dramatic performances of her involvement within the Civil War. 

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Boyd’s grave. Wikimedia commons.

Boyd died June 11, 1900 in Wisconsin.

Featured photo: Civil War illustration/Canva; inset Belle Boyd/Library of Congress – Public Domain

Articles

The only time European pikemen squared off against Japanese samurai

Bizarre, seemingly impossible anachronistic historical matchups aren’t just for wargaming or Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s at least one instance in recorded history where European regular infantrymen were called on to take down some of Japan’s elite samurai warriors: the Battle of Cagayan.

In 1573, Japanese pirates, known as wokou, sailed into Cagayan, a city on the Philippine island of Luzon. The pirates were made up of ronin (samurai without a feudal master), soldiers of fortune and sailors from Japan and China. When their flat-bottom boats entered Caguyan, they demanded the locals submit to their will.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Samurai pirates? 12-year-old me is stoked (Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, Cagayan was an important gold and silver trading area between the Japanese and Spanish, who controlled the Philippines. The pirates were looking to take control of the precious metal trade – and they were reasonably successful. 

The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to King Phillip back in Spain that the pirates were becoming a nuisance, carrying not just the traditional weapons of the ronin, but also gunpowder weapons like arquebusiers and artillery, weapons he believed were built by the rival Portuguese.

King Phillip dispatched Juan Pablo de Carrión of the Spanish Navy to deal with the problem. Almost immediately, Carrión sank a wokou ship while sailing the South China Sea. That got the pirates’ attention. They responded by sending a fleet of ships to Cagayan, 18 flat-bottomed sampans, led by a junk. 

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
A junk is a ship, if you’re stuck on the last paragraph (Wikimedia Commons)

When Carrión learned of the incoming attack, he assembled the best force he could manage; 40 soldiers on a total of seven ships, with a Spanish galleon at its head. The only advantage they had was that they were much better with firearms than their oncoming enemy. The Spanish had been proficient with them for decades, and made much better weapons and gunpowder than the Japanese carried. 

Carrión and his ships arrived at Cagayan in time to catch the pirates abusing the natives of the town from a sampan. He and his men headed straight for it, and boarded the ship with rodeleros, shield-carrying swordsmen. Once on board, the rodeleros went into combat against sword-carrying Japanese sailors. 

The Spaniards lost the first act of the fight, being forced back to their ships but came back twice as hard. The decks of the ships were a mess of men, bodies and sharp weapons. But the Spanish turned the tide with gunpowder weapons, forcing the Japanese pirates to abandon ship and swim for safety.

With the first sampan effectively out of the fighting, the flotilla of Spaniards sailed up the Cagayan River. It wasn’t long before they found the pirate fleet near a newly-constructed fortress. The turn of events didn’t deter them; they quickly opened up on the wokou ships with their ships’ artillery. 

After blasting their way through the enemy ships, they managed to land on shore and bring that artillery to bear on the pirates from hastily-dug trenches. The pirates called for a cease-fire and asked to be compensated for the gold they would lose by leaving. Carrión refused and the pirates determined they would hit the Spanish with an overwhelming force. 

They assembled a pirate army of 600 men to attack the Spanish trenches and hit them in successive waves. The first and second were easily repelled by superior firepower, but by the third wave, the Spanish were running low on powder.  The samurai ran at them with full force, katanas glinting in the sunlight and almost forced the Spaniards out of their defensive positions. 

But the pirates never managed to dislodge their Spanish enemy. The third wave was devastating for the attackers, so the Spanish left the trenches and finished the pirates off with long pikes. Those Japanese soldiers who could run away did, leaving their weapons and booty behind. 

The victorious Spanish troops kept the strange Japanese weapons and armor they found scattered on the battlefield as war trophies.

popular

One of America’s legendary small arms was designed by a convict

One of the most decorated soldiers in American history had his big day on Jan. 26, 1945. For three hours, he fought off dozens of advancing Nazi troops, coming at him from three sides. He did it with a field phone, an M2 Browning .50-cal, and his trusty M1 Carbine. General MacArthur called the M1 carbine, “One of the strongest contribution factors in our victory in the Pacific.”

That carbine was a weapon designed just for Army paratroopers in World War II. It had its shortcomings, but its reliability would ensure it would see action in three American wars — and was even a preferred weapon of the enemy. But not many people know the steadfast weapon was designed by a self-taught gunsmith, one-time moonshiner, and convicted felon.


That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

David Williams started making moonshine in North Carolina’s backcountry in 1919. The only problem was the Cumberland County native was good at it — really good. Soon, word spread about the quality of the young man’s whiskey. With the rise of Prohibition in 1920, his elevated status soon became unwanted attention. The very next year, his still was raided by local law enforcement, and a shootout ensued. Williams shot and killed a deputy sheriff.

He was captured, convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 30 years in state prison.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Audie Murphy with an M1 carbine in ‘To Hell And Back,’ the film about his Medal of Honor experience in World War II. (Universal International Pictures)

The man who would later earn the nickname “carbine” spent a lot of time in both the prison blacksmith shop, as well as solitary confinement. An inventive tinkerer with no formal training, he spent his time in the box thinking of new ways to improve existing machines — including firearms. He began to make spare parts from scrap metal and wood, which, in turn, earned him more time in the shop. The more time he spent in the shop, the more good he did for himself and society.

It turns out the uneducated tinkerer was exceptionally adept with machine parts. He invented the floating chamber, a mechanism that allowed a larger caliber rifle to fire smaller .22 ammo. While other prisoners were known for building homemade knives, Williams was able to construct rifles from scraps.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
David Marshall “Carbine” Williams with his contribution to World War II. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

He earned an early release in 1929 and returned to his farm, where he constructed a large workshop and began to refine his inventions. Eventually, he was employed by the Winchester Repeating Firearms Company. Just before World War II broke out for the United States, he was able to develop a carbine version of the M1 Garand Rifle.

A carbine is essentially a shorter version of an existing rifle. It’s often lighter in weight and uses a shorter barrel but doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of consistency or accuracy. The M1 carbine, however, was not just a carbine version of the M1 Garand. The two firearms used different ammunition, and the only features they shared were the buttplate and screw. But there was a need for lighter weapons among paratroopers and support crew.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
M1 Carbines were present at the first Iwo Jima flag raising. (USMC photo by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery)

 

Williams self-designed and built a short-stroke gas piston while in prison and incorporated it into his design for a lighter-weight infantry rifle. In trials, “Carbine” WIlliams’ design proved much more effective and consistent than other gun manufacturers, especially in sandy conditions — an environment that would prove very important to the Marine Corps.

By the end of World War II, the U.S. Military produced more than six million M1 Carbine rifles to use against the Nazis and the Japanese, making it America’s most-produced small arm of the war, edging out the iconic M1 Garand by more than a million units.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

The success of the American Revolution was far from certain in the early months of 1781. The patriots managed to gain French support and survived five years of fighting yet had still not been able to win a decisive victory.


But after a fake retreat baited a ruthless British commander into a bloody ambush, the tide slowly began to turn in the Americans’ favor and eventually led to the Crown’s defeat later that year.

In March 1780, the British invaded South Carolina and captured Charleston. When the crown won a lopsided victory at the Battle of Camden, it strengthened their hold on the southern colonies and routed the Continental Army in the south.

General George Washington sent Gen. Nathaniel Greene to take command the Patriots in the south. Greene immediately dispatched Gen. Daniel Morgan into the Carolina backcountry to harass Lord Cornwallis and interdict his supply lines. In response, Cornwallis sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, a brutal young commander, to stop Morgan.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the uniform of the British Legion, wearing a “Tarleton Helmet“.
National Gallery, London. (Joshua Reynolds – Official gallery link)

The next January, Tarleton learned of Morgan’s presence and began a pursuit. Morgan began retreating north to avoid being caught between Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ forces. Flooded rivers slowed his progress. Morgan decided to stand and fight Tarleton rather than get caught attempting to cross a river.

Although Morgan had a formidable force of over 1,000 men, Tarleton did as well. Unfortunately for Morgan, the majority of his force consisted of colonial militiamen, untested in battle. Morgan’s “green” militia had a tendency to break and run at the first hint of a real fight. Morgan knew it. Tarleton knew it. But Gen. Morgan was a clever chap.

He decided to use the untested militia as bait to draw Tarleton into a trap. Morgan devised an ingenious, if unorthodox, tactical plan. The Cowpens, a flat grazing area in backcountry South Carolina would be the place to make his stand. He used three lines of men to oppose Tarleton’s advance.

The first consisted of sharpshooters to harass the British and pick off officers. The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, made up of militiamen. The militia would fire off two volleys before feigning a rout and retreating to the third line. Morgan wanted the British to assume they defeated an untrained militia force and charge forward. Instead of finding a fleeing militia they would meet Lt. Col. John Howard’s colonial regulars holding the third line. In reserve, Morgan had a small force of Continental cavalry.

At dawn on January 17, Tarleton arrived at Cowpens and advanced on Morgan. Tarleton’s arrogance played right into Morgan’s trap. Although slightly outnumbered, the British had more cavalry, regular infantry, and artillery – which the colonials lacked.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
This painting depicts the British regulars engaging the Continentals at close range.

The British launched a frontal assault with infantry in the center and dragoons on the flanks. As they advanced, patriot sharpshooters hit the dragoons hard, taking out numerous officers and disorganizing their advance. They fell back to the second line to join the militia, as planned. When the Redcoats pressed the attack, militia fired off two volleys then began their false retreat. That’s when the British cavalry unexpectedly charged, sending the militia into a real retreat. They flew past the third line where they were supposed to reform.

The Continental cavalry, led by  Lt. Col. William Washington (cousin of  George Washington) came out of nowhere on the British right flank and dispersed their cavalry. The remaining British were still lured into the trap by the retreating militia and engaged the Colonial regulars.

Sensing victory, Tarleton committed his reserve infantry. When Lt. Col. Howard gave ordered his men to face the British reserve, a miscommunication sent them into retreat. Morgan, seeing this, quickly rode and turned the men around. They turned and fired a near point-blank volley into the advancing British infantry. It was the same trick the Americans were using in the center and it worked like a charm.

The rebels then surged into the demoralized British from all directions. As Morgan’s third line rushed forward with bayonets, the cavalry attacked from the right flank while the once-retreating militia reformed and hit the left. Many British soldiers surrendered on the spot. The rest fled.

Tarleton attempted to rally his men. He was met by Lt. Col. Washington who engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Washington narrowly avoided being killed when his trumpeter appeared in time to dispatch a charging Redcoat. Tarleton escaped with what remained of his force.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse at center).

The battle lasted one hour but was a decisive victory for the Americans. The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured along with two cannons. The Americans lost 12 killed and 60 wounded.

Cornwallis, fed up with the Americans, marched to meet them himself. He won a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse before seeking refuge at Yorktown. Gen. Washington laid siege to Yorktown and received the British surrender there on October 18, 1781.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

Most of those who escaped the infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did so while they were out on a work detail.


But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.

The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.

So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.

Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Piechowski’s Auschwitz prisoner photo.

 

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.

“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”

Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.

 

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
The main gate at Auschwitz.

“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The guard did.

The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
A Steyr 220, the model of car the prisoners drove right out of the Auschwitz front gate.

 

In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.

Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army.

He toured to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp until his passing in 2017 at the age of 98.

“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.

Read the full interview at The Guardian’s site.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A look at one of the most inspiring speeches in history

Throughout World War II, Winston Churchill gave a number of speeches that galvanized the British public in the face of extreme hardship and convinced them to keep fighting that good fight against Adolf and his cronies.

Perhaps the most famous speech Churchill ever gave was the one he spent the longest time agonising over — “This was their finest hour,” where he stated in part,


What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

The speech was delivered just a month after Churchill became Prime Minister and at a time when the UK was reeling from the news that France had fallen (effectively leaving the British Empire to fight the Nazi war machine alone, until Hitler turned on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Yanks joined in about six months after that). The speech had to somehow rally the entire country during what Churchill would eventually come to call “The Darkest Hour.” This is a goal the speech is generally accepted as having accomplished and then some, with Churchill’s words deeply resonating with the British public. In particular, Churchill’s sentiments about the British Isles standing strong in the face of what appeared to be impossible odds.

THEIR FINEST HOUR speech by Winston Churchill [BEST SOUND]

www.youtube.com

The speech, which lasted around 36 minutes, was first given in private to Parliament on June 18, 1940, and later to the British public via radio and it’s noted that Churchill was making revisions to it until quite literally the last possible moment. For example, when the Churchill Archives Centre dug up the very same copy of the speech Churchill used when he addressed Parliament, they found that it was covered in random annotations, some of which appear to have been made leading right up to just before he gave the speech.

Impressively, some of these literal last minutes additions ended up being amongst the most memorable lines from it. For example, the line “All shall be restored” which was noted as inspiring many a Britain to do their bit for the greater good of Europe, was a line Churchill scribbled in the margins of the speech when he sat on a bench in the House of Commons waiting to be called to speak.

It’s also noted that Churchill simply winged it at some points, making up some of the lines in the speech on the fly. This was something that was facilitated by Churchill’s insistence on printing the speech in blank verse format, which some experts believe allowed Churchill to read and visualise the speech as a piece of poetry, allowing him to better improvise and more comfortably find a natural rhythm when speaking.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

Winston Churchill

Of course, no matter how good something is, even in the days before internet comments there’s always someone to criticize and, despite “This was their finest hour” being considered one of the finest oratory performances ever given, Churchill’s own secretary, Sir Jock Colville, was wildly unimpressed. Among other things, he noted in his diary that the speech was too long and that Churchill sounded tired when he read it. Given that the speech is often ranked alongside things like the Gettysburg Address, Sir Colville’s opinion evidently wasn’t one shared by many others, however.

Finally, because we kind of have to mention this, when Churchill delivered the speech to the British public via radio, he reportedly did so while smoking a comically large cigar which he kept burning in his mouth for virtually the entire time he was speaking…

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

Articles

This was the final combat flight for the P-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair

You might think that legendary fighter planes like the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang saw their last action in the Korean War.


It seems like a reasonable assumption – but it’d be dead wrong.

Believe it or not, the last combat those planes saw came around the time that F-4 Phantoms and MiG-21s were fighting for air superiority over North Vietnam, and Israeli Mirages and Neshers took on the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Ranker.com

In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras went to war. It lasted about 100 hours, and started less than three weeks after the end of a contentious qualifying series for the 1970 World Cup.

Dubbed the “Soccer War,” the fighting left nearly 3,200 people dead, both military and civilian.

Notable was that it was the last combat action that some legendary planes would see. The war started when El Salvador began its attacks — a makeshift affair with passenger planes being modified to carry bombs for the first strikes. El Salvadoran troops followed the strikes and pushed into Honduras.

Honduras at the time had 19 F4U Corsairs in its inventory, along with 6 AT-6 Texan attack planes. El Salvador had 11 P-51D Mustangs in service, plus some that upgraded Cavalier Mustangs. They had 25 F4U/FG-1 Corsairs in service as well.

During the fighting, Honduran Corsairs downed a P-51 and two Corsairs, gained air superiority over the battlefield, and began pushing the invaders back. Anti-aircraft fire claimed two more Salvadoran Mustangs, while two P-51s were lost in a mid-air collision.

Two Salvadoran Corsairs were also shot down by ground fire.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
Photo: US Navy

When all was said and done, the Organization of American States intervened to arrange for a cease-fire. The war ended with a status quo ante bellum. Today, both Air Forces operate A-37B Dragonfly attack planes (15 for El Salvador, 10 for Honduras), but Honduras also has nine F-5E Tiger II fighters. Honduras and El Salvador took over a decade to sign a formal peace treaty, but the underlying tensions remain in that region.

While the disputes that lead to the Soccer War have not been resolved, the Soccer War did give some legends one last chance to serve.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first aerial dogfight was between two American mercenaries

The airmen of the United States have always been at the fore of airpower. But that didn’t start with the world wars or even the test pilots of the Cold War. The U.S. is the original home of powered flight, of naval aviation, and of aircraft innovation. It all dates back to the turn of the 20th Century – before the world wars. And it was two Americans who went head to head in the air.


That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

If the Civil War taught us anything, it’s that no one kills Americans like Americans kill Americans.

But these Americans weren’t fighting for America. In fact, the United States had seen relative peace since the Spanish-American and the Philippine-American Wars at the turn of the 20th Century. But there was (and always will be) a fight somewhere for anyone who’s looking for it. In the Mexican Revolution, two American aviators were looking for such a fight, using airpower to level the playing field. These airmen of fortune – mercenaries – were hired by either side of the war who wanted the upper hand but knew nothing about flying.

On one side was Dean Ivan Lamb, who was hired by General Benjamin G. Hill, fighting for the Carranzista faction of the war in Mexico. Hill gave Lamb a Curtiss D biplane and took him on as an aerial reconnaissance pilot. Lamb soon learned that his good friend and fellow aviator Phil Rader was hired by the opposing force under General Victoriano Huerta.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

This is what the two pilots were flying in 1913.

While any airman today might be mortified that his good friend was flying for the opposing air force, you should know that in the early days of aviation, airplanes going up against each other was not something that happened. Airplanes were fragile and valuable, so they were used for recon mostly and maybe to drop the occasional bomb or grenade on the opposing side. The two friends weren’t worried. Until Hill ordered Lamb to use his pistol on the opposing pilot. Since there was only one other plane in the area, the Pusher Lamb came upon on Nov. 30, 1913, could only have been that of his good friend. He took out his pistol and prepared to fulfill the letter of his orders.

But not the spirit. This was still his friend and fellow American at the stick of the plane. He made the first interception of one aircraft to another, almost locking wings with Rader. Rader veered off and shook his fist, then pulled his own pistol and fired at his friend. Lamb was shocked… until he realized Rader had fired below him, not at him. Lamb decided to do the same, firing his pistol but purposely aiming wide.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

Dean Ivan Lamb in the service of the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s.

The world’s first dogfight turned into a show of force between two friends – literally. As they fired, the opposing airman turned his plane away from the other in reaction, looking like the round may have hit home, but neither did. The two flew in a circle and reloaded their weapons. So long as they used all their ammunition, no one on the ground would know any better. How could they, when the only two qualified pilots were the men making the combat airshow? When the ammo was done, they waved to one another and went home.

Back on earth, they received a hero’s welcome. The men below watched the aerial “duel” with great interest. Eventually, Lamb left the Mexican service when he stopped getting paid. Rader left when his plane was damaged beyond repair from normal use. Lamb would go on to fight in both world wars, shooting down as many as eight German fighters in WWI.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time U.S. F-15s stumbled into an Iraqi trap and won

It became clear just hours into Operation Desert Storm that the U.S. was leaps and bounds ahead of the Iraqi Air Force — the first aerial clashes resulted in the U.S. downing three enemy aircraft while suffering no losses. But U.S. pilots knew that Iraq had significant air defenses and fighter aircraft that had to be taken seriously.

And that’s what made it so scary for the Air Force and Marine Corps F-15 pilots who realized that they’d stumbled into a sophisticated trap on the second day of the assault.


That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

The F-15 is a stunning fighter that claims over 100 aerial kills with zero losses to enemy fire.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel)

Marine Corps Capt. Charles Magill was leading a flight of eight F-15s protecting a larger strike package headed into the contested airspace to destroy threats on the ground. The eight F-15s in the lead got a call from the E-3 Sentry aircraft on the mission.

Two MiG-29 Fulcrums were near the target area.

Magill decided to take three other F-15s with him to destroy the threat, leaving four behind to protect the main strike package.

www.youtube.com

Four-against-two odds, especially when the team of four has F-15s versus enemy MiGs, is a good setup — but the F-15s had been tricked. As they pursued the MiGs, the ground suddenly erupted with surface-to-air missiles, all locked on U.S. jets and racing to their targets.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

MiG-29 were useful and capable fighters, even if they lacked all the capability of American F-15s.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)

The American pilots were forced to jettison their external fuel tanks and take evasive actions. They deployed flares, put the planes through gut-wrenching turns, and, ultimately, avoided every missile fired against them. This left them in suddenly-safe skies once again — except for the two MiGs that had lured them. The Americans still smelled blood and decided to continue the pursuit.

As they drew close, the MiGs took a sudden turn towards the Air Force and Marine pilots, making the Americans think that the MiGs were prepared for a knockdown fight.

But, it turned out, the Iraqis had spotted a lone Navy F-14 Tomcat and were maneuvering to attack it, allowing the F-15 pilots to pursue the MiGs in turn. Magill took his shot immediately after Air Force Capt. Rhory Draeger. Magill, worried that his first missile had malfunctioned, took a third shot.

Draeger’s first missile flew true and shredded the Iraqi jet, while both of Magill’s missiles also made contact. The first missile tore the right wing from the Iraqi jet and the second missile flew into the resulting fireball and exploded. The strike package was safe once again to attack Iraqi ground targets and Operation Desert Storm continued unabated.

popular

The HMS Thunderbolt was lost with almost all hands. Twice.

The HMS Thunderbolt was lost in combat on March 14, 1943, after a short but successful World War II career that saw it sink multiple Italian vessels, which might have been surprising to some since the submarine had actually sank three years prior in 1940 with a loss of nearly all hands.


That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
The submarine scheduled to become HMS Thetis in 1939. It would later sink but was raised and served in World War II as the HMS Thunderbolt. (Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

That’s because the HMS Thunderbolt was once the HMS Thetis, or, more properly, it was almost the HMS Thetis. It was a submarine launched in 1938 as part of the interwar buildup of arms. The submarine was scheduled to become the HMS Thetis when it was commissioned.

But the planned commissioning didn’t happen. As the submarine went through its sea trials, a tragic accident occurred. Most torpedo tubes, then and now, work using two doors. One door opens to the sea when a torpedo is launched, one door opens into the sub when the crew needs to load a new torpedo. The best subs have mechanisms that make it physically impossible to open one door if the other isn’t closed.

But the N25 had an indicator instead, that was supposed to tell the crew the outer door was open so they wouldn’t open the inner door. But the indicator was really just a small hole in the door that would spurt water if the tube was flooded, and a painter had accidentally filled the small hole in.

During a dive on June 1, 1939, this resulted in the inner door being opened while the outer door was also open. The crew was able to seal a bulkhead after significant flooding, but the boat was filled with 53 members of the defense industry and public, and air was already in short supply in the flooded sub.

The crew managed to raise themselves back to the surface for a short period, and four crewmembers escaped, but it crashed back to the seafloor, and 99 people were killed.

But the almost-HMS Thetis was in shallow water, and divers were able to salvage the ship which was drained, dried, and repaired. After passing new sea trials, it was commissioned as the HMS Thunderbolt in 1940 and sent to the Atlantic.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
​The HMS Thunderbolt in the Mediterranean in 1942. (Royal Navy)

The HMS Thunderbolt was successful, even though it seemed like it would be cursed. First, sailors don’t always like it when a vessel’s name is changed, an old superstition. And if any sub could be a ghost ship, the Thunderbolt was a top contender. Worse, Thunderbolt was, itself, an auspicious name for British vessels as two previous HMS Thunderbolts had been lost in crashes.

All of this likely weighed on the crew, especially when they saw the rust line on the walls of the sub from the original sinking. But it destroyed an Italian sub in the Atlantic on Dec. 15, 1940, and helped destroy an Italian light cruiser and a supply ship in early January 1943 in the Mediterranean.

But on March 14, 1943, the Thunderbolt attacked and doomed the transport Esterel, but caught the attention of the Italian cruiser Cicogna in the process. Cicogna was commanded by a former submarine officer, and he knew the adversary’s tactics and the local sea.

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him
The crew of the HMS Thunderbolt poses with a Jolly Roger flag in 1942. (Royal Navy J.A. Hampton)

The Cicogna forced the Thunderbolt under and, when the British crew tried to resurface for air, spotted the boat’s periscope and hit it with depth charges, ending the ill-fated sub’s career and killing its crew, the second time the submarine was lost with all hands.

Interestingly, the HMS Thetis and Thunderbolt was not the only ship to serve in World War II that had already sank. Just before the Thetis sank, the USS Squalus sank during a test dive just months after it was commissioned. It was later raised and served as the USS Sailfish. And there were seven combat ships sank at Pearl Harbor that later saw service in World War II after salvage and repairs.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information