Operation Aphrodite was a top-secret attempt by the Army and Navy to turn old airplanes into suicide drones during World War II. B-17s and B-24s that were past their service life would be packed with several tons of Torpex, an explosive with twice the power of TNT, and then piloted into heavily-fortified targets.
The planes would take off under control of a pilot and flight engineers before they bailed out. The drones would then be remotely piloted to targets in Nazi Germany via a “mother-plane,” a specially outfitted bomber with remote control of the drone. The hope was that the concentrated mass of explosives would be successful in cracking bunkers and other defenses that survived standard bombing runs.
The program ran from August 1944 to January 1945 but was a massive failure: More Allied service members were killed than Germans and more damage was done to England than to Germany.
Navy Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy had completed his quota of missions months before, but he and his crew had stayed in theater to support the D-Day invasions and the beginning of the advance across Europe. They served primarily in anti-submarine patrols. By the end of July 1944, Kennedy’s crew was headed stateside.
Kennedy again volunteered to stay and joined Operation Aphrodite where he was assigned to fly drones to 10,000 feet before bailing and allowing the mother-plane to take over.
Kennedy and Lt. Wilford J. Willy flew a BQ-8, the designation for the converted B-24s, on August 12, 1944. Kennedy and Willy never made it to their bailout point. The cause of the mishap was never discovered, but the explosives on the Liberator detonated prematurely, killing both pilots and destroying the plane instantly.
Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and the Air Medal.
The failed missions of Operation Aphrodite would continue until the following January when the program was indefinitely suspended and never restarted.
If you don’t think East-West relations have come very far in the past few centuries, consider the fact that James Puckle’s flintlock revolver fired two types of ammo: round shot for use against Christians, and square shot for use against Muslims. The square shot was supposed to hurt more, convincing Muslims of the superiority of Christian life.
Invented in 1718, his “Puckle Gun” is the first weapon to be called a “machine gun,” even if it doesn’t fit the modern definition of the word. The Puckle Gun was tripod mounted, intended for use on ships but had field uses as well. The cylinders revolved manually, firing 32mm shot through a 3-foot barrel and loaded while detached from the main gun.
The main problem was that instead of shooting a series of shots, the chamber had to be unscrewed before the handle could revolve the ammo, then screwed in again to seal the breech to the barrel. In demonstrations, the Puckle Gun could fire nine rounds per minute, tripling the output of disciplined troops, whose rate was three rounds per minute.
The armed forces of Britain didn’t respond favorably to the weapon. As a result, neither did the investors of the time. Only two models of the Puckle Gun exist today, at the homes of members of the Montagu family, the only people to ever buy Puckle Guns with the intention of using them.
Montagu, while acting as Britain’s Master-General of the Ordnance, purchased this first machine gun for use on a doomed expedition to capture St. Vincent and St. Lucia. It’s unknown if they were ever used in combat.
At the end of World War II, Germany was divided in half, leaving West and East Germany. The West was controlled by NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations controlled the East. The former capital of Berlin was torn in two, split between communists and capitalists.
As you might expect, life under a communist regime is hell and people were looking for a way out. After the Berlin Wall and Inner German border (IGB) were created and heavily guarded, only an estimated 5,000 escapees managed to sneak out and into the freedoms of Western civilization throughout the 28 years of the Wall’s existence.
In the early days of the Cold War, defecting wasn’t that difficult. It was estimated that, before the Berlin Wall and the IGB were erected, nearly 3.5 million East Germans defected to West Germany. Legal loopholes, a lack of physical borders, and little effort to keep East Germans meant that all it took to get away was to hop a train.
All of this changed on August 13th, 1961, when the Berlin Wall went up. By August 24th, the order was given to kill anyone attempting to leave East Germany.
2. Wearing uniforms
One of the most iconic images of the Cold War was captured when an East German Soldier, Conrad Schumann, leaped over concertina wire on August 15th, 1961 as the Wall was being created.
Speaking of black markets, special passports that allowed access past guards were also forged. There were certain citizens that were authorized to cross the border, legally, for various reasons. While actual passport holders were required to come back by nightfall, escapees with a fake passport and little interest in returning to a Soviet sh*thole said, “scheiß drauf” and never returned.
Many options for avoiding the Berlin Wall, such as passage through the Spree or Havel Rivers, were downright dangerous. While the guards would detain or shoot as you tried to sneak across the Wall, you ran the risk of drowning if you opted for a river crossing. In fact, many people drowned in escape attempts, but that wasn’t as dangerous as this option.
There were many tall buildings located near the Wall. Escapees would climb up to the highest floor needed and, boldly, jump. Many survived, some were wounded, but others weren’t as lucky.
As the years went on, the Wall grew, making this passage impossible.
The largest mass escape from East Berlin was when 57 people made their way through a tunnel, aptly named afterwords, “Tunnel 57.”
The tunnel systems were elaborate and ran deeply underground to prevent detection.
6. Hiding in trunks
The final illegal journey from East Germany to the West was done by an American man who smuggled a father and his little girl in his vehicle just days before the Wall fell.
There is supposedly a famous quote from Dwight Eisenhower about his “Four Tools for Victory” in World War II, but that quote has been hard to pin down exactly. Several variations exist that include six of the seven tools listed below. The M1 Garand also made the list because, as Gen. George Patton said, “the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
1. The Jeep
While the origins of the name “Jeep” may be up for debate, the rugged-dependable-go-anywhere nature of the Jeep is not.
The Jeep – quite literally – became the workhorse of the American military as it replaced horses in everything from cavalry units to supply trains. Field-expedient improvements made the Jeep capable of just about any mission the GI’s could dream up for it.
Jeeps were so ubiquitous in the European theatre that the Germans thought each American was issued their own. Famed sports car designer Enzo Ferrari described the Jeep as “America’s only real sports car.”
Without the Jeep’s rugged dependability and offensive capabilities, winning the war would have been much more difficult for the Allies.
2. The C-47
While American bombers surely wrought havoc on the Axis powers, it is the C-47, the beloved “Gooney Bird,” that is always cited as a Tool for Victory.
This probably has to do with the fact that the C-47’s flew everywhere and did everything.
C-47’s kept the Allies supplied by flying “the Hump” over the Himalayas, they evacuated wounded soldiers from near the front lines, and they flew over occupied territory to drop Allied paratroopers behind enemy lines.
3. The Bazooka
The Bazooka, or official Rocket Launcher, M1, was a man-portable, recoilless, anti-tank weapon.
Not only did the Bazooka pack more punch than any other man-portable weapon, it was also versatile. With the development of different warheads, the Bazooka could be an anti-tank weapon, a bunker buster, or an anti-personnel weapon. One inspired pilot even attached them to his scout plane to fight German tanks.
The Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or simply the Higgins Boat, is easily one of the most important tools on this list.
“Higgins is the man who won the war for us,” Eisenhower said. If it hadn’t been for his boats, “the whole strategy of the war would have been different.” The boat’s shallow draft and full-size ramp allowed it to carry 36 fully loaded infantrymen, a Jeep, and a squad, or up to 8,000 pounds of cargo directly onto the beaches under assault.
It could then quickly turn around and repeat the procedure as necessary. The LCVP was at every single American amphibious assault throughout the war.
5. The Sherman Tank
The M4 Sherman tank was far from the best tank fielded in World War II. In fact, it was often outmatched by the much stronger German tanks. But the Sherman had a few things that made it such a formidable weapon.
The simplicity of production of the Sherman, and the lack of destruction of American factories, combined with a strong repair and refit program, meant there were always plenty of Shermans. This translated on the battlefield into numerical superiority, which allowed the Allies to simply overwhelm German armored units that had little means of replenishment.
Continuous improvements throughout its service life also continued to make the Sherman a formidable foe for enemy tanks.
6. The M1 Garand
It is well known how Patton felt about the M1 Garand, but what else was it about the rifle that made it a Tool for Victory?
For one, while most of the world’s armies were still using bolt-action rifles, the M1 could deliver eight rounds of .30-06 as fast as a man could pull the trigger. This gave the American rifleman a serious advantage over his foes.
The weapon was also extremely accurate, rugged, and dependable. The M1 was so effective, in fact, that it significantly changed infantry tactics. The M1 rifle saw heavy combat on all fronts and was a vital tool for the American infantry in winning the war.
7. The Atomic Bomb
The incredible destructive power of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was undeniable.
With just two missions over Japan, the Allies were able to secure the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. This ended World War II.
But there was more to it than just victory. The atomic bombs ending the war meant countless American lives saved from not having to invade Japan. The United States anticipated some 500,000 casualties from the invasion that never came and created Purple Heart medals accordingly.
Thanks to the atomic bombs, those medals have supplied U.S. forces ever since.
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]
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.
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.
When you think of badass U.S. Presidents, you likely aren’t thinking of Herbert Hoover. In fact, he’s probably very low on your list of presidential badassery, right there with James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Chester A. Arthur.
But what if you saw him and his wife fighting with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry, his wife brandishing a .38 Smith Wesson, to fight Chinese rebels trying to murder tons of foreigners?
Before he became President of the United States, Hoover was the general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation. He and his wife lived in China around the turn of the 20th Century and was generally well-regarded by the Chinese for his progressive views regarding their treatment.
But the Boxer Rebellion soon broke out in 1900, a semi-spiritual effort to rid China of foreigners, often by ridding their heads of their bodies. It spread from sporadic acts of violence against Western influence to a full-on peasant uprising. That’s when the Chinese Empress Dowager Tsu’u Hzi declared war on all foreign nations at the same time.
Good call, lady.
The powers allied against China included France, Germany, the British Empire, the United States, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Japan, who mobilized a multi-national force (called the Eight-Nation Alliance) to protect foreign interests and recuse the besieged foreign legations and citizens around the country.
The Hoovers were in Tianjin, and they were ready for the Boxers.
For a month, Hoover and his wife – along with the rest of the city – resisted the siege of Tianjin. Future First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover, defended herself with a Smith Wesson .38 caliber pistol while traveling from the battlefield to the hospital.
Initially, the Hoovers enlisted the 800 other Westerners and Chinese Christians (also a target of the Boxers) to maintain a defense of the west end of Tianjin. They reinforced the area with bags of grain and sugar while arming U.S. Marines and sailors who happened to be there.
Hoover was known to have rescued Chinese children caught in the crossfire during the street-to-street fighting. Both Hoovers did duty manning the barricades. It’s not known if the Hoovers — devout pacifist Quakers — actually killed anyone, but they did keep the Boxers from doing it.
The beginning of the end came as the multinational relief column — including the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment, to this day known as the “Manchus” — arrived in Tianjin. Hoover himself led U.S. Marines, along with columns of British, French, and Japanese troops around the city. His knowledge of the area and its terrain was critical to their success there.
Later, biographer David Bruner recalled Mrs. Hoover’s account of her time in his book, Herber Hoover: A Public Life. She said she “had a splendid time during the Boxer Rebellion and would not have missed it for anything.”
Tianjin was the bloodiest battle of the entire Boxer Rebellion.
On May 8, 1945, Navy Seabee Andrew Del Regno sent a letter to his wife from the front lines of the Pacific Front of World War II. It was one of some 600 letters the couple sent each other over the course of the war. His wife, Helen Del Regno, who was home in Nyack, New York, received it much later — after the end of the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese Empire would continue until September of that year.
Decades later, their son, filmmaker Vic Del Regno, would meticulously compile those letters to tell the story of his parents’ undying love for one another in the background of one of the most turbulent times in American history, World War II. That effort culminated with the younger Del Regno’s hour-long documentary, Till Then: A Journey Through World War II Love Letters.
The books have a different title, ‘Who Knew?’
(Photo by Vic Del Regno)
Vic Del Regno found his parents’ correspondence in the garage of their New York home. He had them compiled in leather-bound books to preserve them for posterity. Upon finding them, he was inspired to retrace his father’s service in the Pacific Theater on a trip that took him to legendary places in American military history, including Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.
In the book’s introduction, Vic Del Regno writes that he wanted to capture “the deep loneliness and hardship many couples experienced during the war, caused by being separated by thousands of miles and long periods of time. This is a real life story, taken from the letters, that ties together the elements of love, betrayal, forgiveness, tragedy, and hope.”
The book, entitled Who Knew? A World War II Journey Through Love Letters, was changed because Del Regno wanted the film’s title to reflect how his parents signed off their letters, with a reference to a popular song of the era by the Mills Brothers, ‘Till Then.’
The Del Regno’s original correspondence, saved and bound in 12 notebooks.
(Vic Del Regno)
The letters pull no punches, documenting the war’s grim realities, along with the pain and hardships of a relationship torn apart by a seemingly unending, brutal war. Despite their dismal situation, you can also see the hope brought by each letter and the importance of receiving correspondence from home for a sailor deployed thousands of miles away.
Vic Del Regno wanted to capture the sacrifices made, not just by his parents or by the soldiers and sailors who fought the war, but by all Americans at a time when victory was anything but assured. He also hopes that it might shed some light on the struggles faced by those troops (and their families) who are fighting today’s wars overseas.
“It reaches the many sides of war experienced by those who have served and those who were left behind,” writes Jack Sprengel of the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. “History repeats itself in many ways and this film tells a story just as important as the battle stories told.”
Vic Del Regno’s untiring work is emblematic of the motto his Seabee father shared with his fellow veterans:
“With willing hearts and skillful hands the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”
It took Vic Del Regno just five years and now, that labor of love – the letters of his parents – are preserved forever in the U.S. National Archives.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Army quickly mobilized to engage with Japan in the Pacific Theater. Fortunately for America, we had a few advantages on the ready. Not only did we have the semi-auto M1 Garand to face up against Japan’s bolt-action Arisaka. We also had the M1911 paired against the Japanese Nambu. For the most part, our weapons were far superior to the Japanese – with one major exception. Japan had the Knee Mortar and that was pretty scary.
Don’t let the name mislead you. The knee mortar was really a grenade launcher. Japan called it Type 89, since it was introduced in the 2,589th year of Japan’s existence.
The Knee Mortar makes its appearance
The Knee Mortar was created so Japan’s soldiers stood a chance facing off with the US. Even though their Army included some well-trained infantrymen, the Knee Mortar was definitely their back pocket weapon.
A little history
The short version: Japan had pretty crappy tanks. Their artillery was not much better. When it came down to anti-tank weapons, they didn’t have much there, either. Furthermore, the Imperial Japanese Navy got a lot of the RD priority for new ships and planes. Japan figured – correctly – that their best course of action was to try to ensure naval dominance.
According to a U.S. Army manual, the Type 89 fired a 50mm round and weighed ten pounds. Depending on the round used, it had a maximum range of just under 750 yards. It could fire incendiary rounds, smoke rounds, and high-explosive rounds. Think of it as kind of an M79 grenade launcher on steroids. You didn’t want to fire it from your knee, unless you wanted to be on a medevac flight or ship home. Instead, you braced it on the ground.
Two Marine Corps legends, “Chesty” Puller and Merritt Edson, both came away very impressed by this weapon. Edson, who lead the Marine Raiders on Guadalcanal, noted that a Japanese soldier could carry that weapon and ten rounds with no problem. The weapon was issued in large quantities to Japanese troops and had a high rate of fire. As a result, it was believed to have caused 40 percent of American battle casualties in the Pacific.
Today, the knee mortar is out of service, but the concept is alive in the form of “commando mortars” like the British L9A1, the South African M-4, and the Iranian 37mm “marsh mortar.” In short, grunts have options for lightweight firepower.
Emus are the second largest birds in the world, right behind their cousin, the ostrich. Unable to fly but able to run at 30 miles per hour, these big creatures are considerably useless and extremely dorky. But appearances can often belie great (inadvertent) military prowess, as is proven by that time the Australian army lost a “war” to a massive herd of emus in 1932.
Western Australia, still undergoing a settlement period, found itself in an economic mess tied to an abysmal agricultural situation. Farmers, already beleaguered by falling wheat prices, were further affected by a horde of 20,000 emus converging on their lands. These emus began eating crops and seeds, destroying planted land, and causing a general ruckus.
Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. To that end, in late 1932, Australian Defense Minister Sir George Pearce dispatched three soldiers and a pair of machine guns with the hopes of curbing the emu population, so that the settlers wouldn’t starve.
An officer of the Royal Australian Artillery, Major G. Meredith, was granted command of the operation and ordered to terminate any emu on sight with extreme prejudice. Additionally, he was to return with the skins of 100 emus so that farmers could make hats out of them — an obviously enviable mission for any military officer aspiring to higher ranks.
Placed in charge of two soldiers, Sergeant S. McMurray and Trooper J. O’Halloran, Meredith was to lead this elite emu-slaying strike team into the lands surrounding the town of Campion, set up his guns, and unleash unholy hell on the unsuspecting, dimwitted birds.
McMurray and O’Halloran carried one Lewis gun apiece — a First World War-era machine gun able to spit out between 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The team carried with them around 10,000 rounds of ammunition to feed their guns, and marched into town with a plan of merely walking up to the birds and spraying fire randomly until their pan magazines ran dry.
Oddly enough, the emus somehow outsmarted the trio.
On Nov. 2, Meredith and company happened upon a herd of approximately 50 emus just outside of Campion. Sighting them with their emu-blasters, McMurray and O’Halloran started shooting, aiming for larger groups of the flightless birds. However, the emus split up into smaller groups and used their speed to their advantage, quickly running out of the Lewis guns’ effective ranges.
When the smoke cleared, only 12 emus lay dead, the rest had successfully escaped. Undeterred, Meredith and his team carried on with their mission. On Nov. 4, another opportunity appeared near a dam. Deciding to use textbook tactics instead of random gunfire, Meredith and crew set up an ambush.
After spotting a herd of over 1000 emus heading in their general direction, McMurray and O’Halloran readied a gun and waited patiently. This time, they would hold their fire until the emus got closer, giving them more of an opportunity to drop their targets before they ran off.
Soon, they opened fire… and their guns jammed. The birds fled and the trio only accounted for around 12 confirmed kills. Meredith began noticing a peculiar smartness about the way the emus evacuated the kill box, saying that, “each mob has its leader… who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat.”
According to Meredith, as soon as the “leader” emus noticed something suspicious, they would alert the rest of the herd, which would then scramble off to safety. Weirdly, these leader emus always stayed behind until all the other birds reached safety, then ran away themselves.
Instead of giving into frustration, Meredith decided to go mobile to try and keep up with the emus as they ran off. Borrowing a truck, he mounted a Lewis gun in the rear and had his two subordinates drive and fire when chasing after their feathered prey.
And still, they proved to be no match for the emus.
The truck could neither keep up with the fast birds nor could the gunner aim and fire a round decently — the ride was far too bumpy for that. By Nov. 8, the team had expended over 2,500 rounds with the majority of the emu population surviving the conflict.
Sir George Pearce, now sarcastically dubbed the Minister of the Emu War, pulled the team from the field, signaling an unofficial victory for the emus. A stunned Meredith later commented, “if we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world … They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”
Meredith would be sent back into emu combat soon afterward, as he was the only officer who actually had any experience in fighting these weird creatures. By mid-December, Meredith had earned the title, “Slayer of Emus,” having accounted for 986 kills. However, he was recalled once more. Repeated requests for military intervention from farmers in later years were shot down by the Australian government.
There were just too many emus.
Today, emus still roam the Australian Outback, though they’re far less of a problem to Aussie farmers today than they were to their predecessors back in the 1930s. This remains the only recorded instance in military history where birds unwittingly won a military engagement.
Interestingly enough, no military force has tried to mess with these dorky warrior-birds (or any other flightless bird) since.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) will be decommissioned on Feb. 3, marking the next step on her journey to the “Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – what a 2012 National Review article dubbed a sanitized way of saying “the scrapyard.”
Her predecessor, the Yorktown-class carrier with the hull number CV 6, also was a victim of this alleged crime against naval history.
According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, this sendoff will be a relatively private one, with about 100 people present. The 2012 “inactivation” ceremony saw over 12,000 people attend, according to a Navy release. At that ceremony, it was announced that CVN 80 would be the ninth U.S. Navy vessel to carry the name Enterprise. A CNN report this past April notes that construction of the new Enterprise, a Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, will begin in 2018.
According to the Navy’s command history of the Enterprise (so long that it took nine entries in the Navy’s online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships), the ship saw her first action during the Cuban Missile Crisis – less than a year after she was commissioned. She then did Operation Sea Orbit in 1964, a cruise that circumnavigated the globe.
In 1965, the ship carried out the first of six combat deployments to the Vietnam War, carrying two squadrons of F-4 Phantoms, four squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks and assorted support planes.
North Carolina’s Camp Mackall is not your average US Army training facility. It is home to the Nasty Nick Special Forces Obstacle Course, one of the toughest obstacle courses ever created. In order to complete Special Forces training, men and women must pass Nasty Nick, and it’s no cakewalk.
Who was Nasty Nick?
Nasty Nick is named after its creator, a Vietnam War veteran, the late US Army Special Forces Colonel James “Nick” Rowe. Col. Rowe was a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for over five years. Col. Row is one of only 34 American POWs to make it out alive.
After that brutal experience, Rowe took all he knew about what it’s like to be a POW to make an obstacle course. Today, it serves as a survival, evasion, resistance and escape training program – SERE school. Since its creation, all Special Forces Soldiers have had to complete Nasty Nick before they are officially able to be sworn in.
Phobias and the Special Forces don’t mix
Nasty Nick includes 25 obstacles that span across two miles. They are specifically designed to confront candidates’ fear of confined spaces and heights, not to mention test strength and stamina overall, both physically and mentally. Additionally, without upper body strength, coordination, and balance, making it through the course is nearly impossible. The idea behind this training is to prove that they’d be reliable in real-life situations that those in the Special Forces are likely to encounter.
One of Nasty Nick’s obstacles is a 50-foot wall that Special Forces candidates have to climb over with no safety rope. A fall could be deadly, but this is exactly the kind of test needed to make sure all Special Forces officers are prepared for the things they will inevitably have to face on the job. Fear of heights is just not compatible with the Special Forces.
They don’t call it ‘Nasty Nick’ for nothing
Special Forces operations often occur in urban environments, meaning that Soldiers have to be ready for anything that comes at them. For instance, their hands should be on a weapon instead of holding on to something for balance. After all, there might be bullets flying at them, and they’ll need to defend themselves.
Nasty Nick tests many of these more subtle abilities. Not only do Soldiers have to make it through the course, but it’s also timed. That means simply getting through isn’t enough. The method of getting through is important too. Crawling out of fear when you could be walking won’t cut it. Yet it’s all necessary to prove that any and all Special Forces will be able to perform accordingly when they need to.
Ships hunting subs faced a sort of odd challenge when it came to confirming their number of kills. After all, their target was often underwater, there weren’t always a lot of other ships around to confirm the kill, and the destroyed target would sink additional hundreds of feet under the ocean.
“Are you sure you killed the enemy sub?” “Umm, I filled the ocean with explosives. Does that count?” “No, but that sounds awesome.”
But sub hunters came up with a solution. See, most of a sub sinks when it’s destroyed underwater, but some items float. These items include oil, clothes and the personal belongings of submariners, the occasional packet of documents, and, disturbingly enough, human remains.
It’s definitely kind of nasty, but it’s also good for ship commanders who need to prove they actually sank an enemy sub or five. Commanders would take samples of the water or collect pieces of oily debris.
In Britain, it was traditional by World War II to dip a bucket into the water, scoop up the soup of oil, seawater, and debris, and then keep it on the ship, often in the freezer or refrigerator if they had one.
“We took this photo as we dropped bombs on the sub. Good enough?” “I mean, the sub still looks super intact in this photo. Not good enough.”
(U.S. Navy Reserve)
When they returned to port, intelligence officers would take the buckets to confirm the kills and collect what other info they could.
Obviously, a pile of documents or sub gear was preferred, but the bucket would do when necessary.
This physical evidence of the kill was important, and some ship and boat commanders failed to get credit for claimed kills because they brought no evidence.
“This time, we filled the ocean with explosives, and then took a photo of the second, larger explosion that followed.” “Eh, guess that’ll work.”
There were other ways to get kills confirmed. If multiple ships had hydrophone and sonar operators who heard the sub suffer catastrophic danger before losing contact with the sub, their crews could confirm the kill. Or intercepted intelligence where enemy commanders discussed lost subs could be matched up with claimed kills. Photos were great for subs that were sunk near the surface.
But the preferred method was always physical evidence.
It became so well known, however, that some sub commanders would pack a torpedo tube with random debris and then shoot it into the ocean when under attack. The bubbles from air exiting the tube combined with the trash floating to the surface could fool attackers on the surface, giving the sub a chance to escape after the surface ship left.
The Japanese I-26 submarine, a legendary sub presumed sunk in October, 1944.
Eventually, this caused commanders on the surface to prefer the collection of human remains that floated to the surface. Since it was very rare for submarines to carry dead bodies, that was usually a safe proof.
All of this makes it sound like confirming submarine kills was an imprecise science — and that’s because it was. After the war, governments exchanged documents and historians and navy officers tried to piece together which ships killed which other ships and when. Most ship crews saw an increase in their total kill count, since previously suspected kills could now be confirmed.
But some who had previously gotten credit for kills later found out that they were duped by decoy debris — or that they had gotten a confirmed kill for a sub that actually survived and limped home.
Christopher Lee cemented himself as an icon of the silver screen. During his long and prestigious acting career he was in hundreds of films. His most notable roles were Dracula and later the Wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. However, long before his acting career began, Lee had a lesser known, but just as impressive, career in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British Army during World War II.
Lee enlisted in the RAF in 1940. He worked as an intelligence officer and specialized in decoding German cyphers. In 1943 Lee was seconded to the Army in an officer swap scheme. After this swap he served with the Gurkhas of the 8th Indian Infantry Division during the Battle of Monte Cassino.
There is little known about much of Lee’s time in service, as his records remain classified and he was “reluctant” to discuss anything to do with his service. Between the time he enlisted in the RAF and he was seconded to the Army, Lee was attached to the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the precursor to the Special Air Service (SAS). When pressed about his time serving with the SAS Lee said, “I was attached to the SAS from time to time, but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read into that what they like.”
After his time with the LRDG, Lee was assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). During his time with the SOE, he conducted espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in the Axis occupied Europe. During his final few months of service Lee, who was fluent in several languages including French and German, was tasked with tracking down Nazi war criminals alongside the Central Registry of War Criminals.
When Lee described his time with the organization he stated, “We were given dossiers of what they’d done, and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority.” Lee retired from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant. Post retirement he was decorated for battlefield bravery by the Czech, Yugoslav, British, and Polish governments.
Flying Officer C. F. C. Lee in Vatican City, 1944, soon after the Liberation of Rome. (Wikimedia Commons.)
Not long after his retirement from the RAF, Lee began his film career. It wasn’t long before he proved himself as a true legend of the film industry. This legendary icon of the silver screen, Sir Christopher Lee, passed away in June of 2015 after a lengthy battle with heart problems. His loss was greatly mourned by those who knew him, and those who loved him through his prolific work on screen.
Sir Christopher Lee will always be remembered for his iconic roles in major motion pictures, it can be said that he was one of, if not the, most prolific actors in motion picture history. However, the life he led before his film career is one that should be remembered and celebrated as well. Though details remain unknown and classified, and he never truly spoke of them, his service during World War II was nothing short of heroic. The world will never know what men like Christopher Lee did during the war, but they are heroes nonetheless.
In an interview with a somewhat eager reporter, Lee showed his cheeky yet firm stance on the discussion of his time with the SAS during the war. He leaned forward and whispered to the reporter, “Can you keep a secret?” The interviewer replied with an excited, “Yes!” Lee smiled and leaned back in his chair as he replied, “So can I.”