The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Remember when 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi came out and everyone joked that Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) got bored of his office job at Dunder Mifflin so he left and became an operator? Well, that’s basically what Koshiro Tanaka did in 1985. He hated communists, so he went to Afghanistan to fight them.

After WWII, the Soviet Union retained the historically Japanese Kuril Islands, a major point of contention for Tanaka against both the Soviet and Japanese governments. He believed that Japan should have fought to at least preserve its cultural land. By the 1980s, he saw the growing Soviet presence as an existential threat to his country. Because Japan only had a 250,000-strong Self Defense Force, not a military, Tanaka feared the result of a possible Soviet invasion. “If Japan started fighting a war now, 50 million Japanese would die,” he said. “They [the Soviets] don’t want peace, they want land.”

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
A Japanese office worker fighting with Afghan guerrillas using U.S.-supplied weapons against Soviet troops (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka worked in a typical office job in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district when he decided to take up arms against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, the 44-year-old was not without any training. Though he never served in the JSDF, Tanaka was a sixth-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate and an instructor in the martial art. He brought his skills with him to Afghanistan and taught hand-to-hand combat to the U.S.-backed mujahideen.

Though he fought alongside them, Tanaka did not adopt the tenets of Islam that the Afghan guerillas fought under. Rather, he went into battle with the mindset of a samurai. Tanaka found that there were parallels between the two cultures. Where a mujahideen fighter could earn a spot in Heaven through martyrdom in the holy war, Tanaka sought glory and honor in combat like the samurai warriors of old. “I hope in my mind that I will have the samurai spirit when it is time to die,” he said. He even carried an extra grenade at all times to martyr himself rather than suffer the shame of capture.

Tanaka’s first combat experience in Afghanistan was a shock. He accompanied a mujahideen raid on a communist Afghan government post near Jadladak, 25 miles east of Kabul. “I didn’t know how to fight, how to move,” he recalled. “I felt a bullet go by my ear. I got a shot of adrenaline.” After that experience, Tanaka applied the same discipline he used in karate to learning how to fight with a Kalashnikov. He developed a reputation as a foreign fighter and even had numerous propaganda reports of his death published by the Afghan government. During his time in Afghanistan, Tanaka endured malaria, jaundice, kidney stones, and a broken foot bone.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Tanaka in Afghanistan in 1987 (Koshiro Tanaka)

Between 1985 and 1987, Tanaka made at least seven trips to Afghanistan. However, his actions were frowned upon by his own government and were denounced. “His characteristics are beyond our understanding,” said a Japanese Foreign Ministry representative. “He is kind of strange as a Japanese.” Though Tanaka’s views were shared by some of his countrymen who donated funds to his mercenary trips, he largely paid for them out of his own pocket.

In 1987, Tanaka wrote a book detailing his experiences in Afghanistan called Soviet Soldiers in a Gun Sight, My Battle in Afghanistan. He used the proceeds from the book to fund another trip to Afghanistan and purchased supplies for the mujahideen. “[They] need help, any kind of help,” Tanaka said in a plea for Japanese support. “They need weapons, bread, food, anything.”

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Tanaka with Mujahideen fighters (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka’s next trip took him to the Panjshair Valley where he linked up with the famous Afghan commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The mujahideen leader had taken up karate, but Tanaka reported that, “he’s not so good.” Massoud became a military and political leader in the Northern Alliance alongside Abdul Rashid Dostum of 12 Strong fame, but was assassinated two days before 9/11 in an al-Qaeda/Taliban suicide bombing.

Tanaka’s fight in Afghanistan ended with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. He returned to karate and has taught in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Hawaii, and Germany. He remains an outspoken supporter of a democratic Afghanistan, often sporting a pin of the Japanese flag alongside the Afghan flag.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Tanaka hosted two members of the Afghan Olympic Committee in Tokyo in February 2020 (Koshiro Tanaka)
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 little-known facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most iconic monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus sits on top of a hill that overlooks Washington, DC. Here are five facts you might not know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

5 Facts you might not know

  1. In March 1921, the U.S. Congress accepted the remains of an unknown American soldier who fought in World War I to be buried in a tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. This soldier was buried with full honors.

2. On Memorial Day of 1921, four unknown soldiers were relocated from their World War I American cemeteries in France. Sergeant Edward F. Younger placed roses atop one of four identical caskets. 

3. Then on November 11, 1921, the Unknown Solider was moved to Arlington and officially interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Since 1918, November 11 had been marked by somber remembrances of the service personnel lost in WWI. President Harding led the charge by officiating the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he awarded the Unknown Soldier two high military awards: the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

4. Three years after the Korean War ended, on August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill to allow unknown soldiers who fought in the Korean War and World War II to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.

5. In 1958, unknown Soldiers who fought in World War II and the Korean War were permitted to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.

The Old Guard

Members of the Old Guard have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since April 6, 1948. Currently, The Old Guard monitors the memorial twenty-four hours a day, year-round. These Sentinels do not move from their station and are equipped to withstand all kinds of weather and extreme conditions. After a Solider has volunteered to become a Tomb Guard, they have to undergo a strict screening process and several weeks of intensive training. Every element of the Tomb Guard’s routine has a deeper meaning than what’s shown on the surface.

Guard movements harken back to the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed – a 21 gun salute. Tomb guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Unknown Tomb, then turn and face east for precisely 21 seconds. Then, they turn and face north for precisely 21 seconds, followed by 21 steps back down the mat. Each Guard carries their weapon at “shoulders-arms,” signifying that they stand between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and any possible threat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Grape juice was once the unofficial drink of the Navy

When you think “military beverage,” three things typically come to mind: coffee, beer, and energy drinks. But did you know that around the turn of the century, grape juice was the drink of choice among troops? That’s right. For roughly twenty years, everyone from sailors to soldiers to Marines couldn’t get enough of the purple stuff.

Grape juice reigned supreme during the times of the temperance movement and Prohibition, but it wasn’t just because troops couldn’t drink booze. There were plenty of other reasons for troops to reach for the good stuff.


The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Seems fitting. Every time you drink your “cup of Joe” you’re actually mocking a much despised and highly controversial Navy secretary.

(U.S. Navy)

Welch’s grape juice first came about in 1869 when the American physician and dentist, Thomas Bramwell Welch, invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice to halt the fermentation process, preventing it from turning into wine. The result was non-alcoholic and more suitable for church services. Then, it caught on with the temperance movement crowd — long before Prohibition took effect.

On June 1st, 1914, General Order 99 — which banned alcohol on all Navy vessels and installations — was instituted and, as you might expect, sailors lost their minds. They were left with two options: coffee or juice.

From that moment on, sailors referred to their coffee as “cups of Joe,” named after the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. The slang was adapted as an insult to the man who took away their booze. But sailors couldn’t just constantly chug java — they needed something rich in much-needed vitamins, and fruit juice was the answer.

Welch’s caught on to the trend and doubled down in lending support to the troops. It was a massive success. The sailors loved grape juice and it quickly became a coveted commodity aboard naval vessels.

A few years later, during World War I, Welch’s turned their Concord grapes into a jam called “Grapelade” and sent it to the troops overseas. Once again, the delicious, fruity goodness was a smash hit among the troops. When the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution was put in place in 1919, effectively disallowing booze across all branches of service, troops took a page from the Navy’s playbook and turned to grape juice.

But troops weren’t just drinking it for the taste — it provided a number of health benefits, too, as outlined in the video above.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In 1915, kids went to school outside during a pandemic. Why not now?

Many are still struggling to determine the safest way to go back to school in the fall. But one suggestion to take the curriculum outdoors is compelling for some people—and the idea has an interesting history. A recent article from the New York Times highlights how, in 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Ellen Stone and Mary Packard, implemented a plan that would let kids go to school during a major tuberculosis outbreak.

Following a trend that took wind in Germany, the doctors paved the way for open-air classrooms in the state. They converted a brick building into being more public health-conscious by installing large windows on each side and keeping them open for the whole day. Remarkably, none of the children became sick, although they did endure open-air classes during freezing New England winters. Shortly, 65 schools soon implemented a similar plan, or simply held classes outside within the first two years of Dr. Stone and Packard’s successful plan.


Regardless of your opinion on how, and if, schools should open up, the story does have compelling implications for what early education could one day look like, even post-pandemic. And that’s because, as The Times points out, studies have shown that many children might be more likely to pay attention to what they’re learning if they’re outside, particularly for science and gym classes. That makes sense, because who wouldn’t prefer to learn about photosynthesis outdoors, looking at flowers and trees with the sun shining down, compared to simply studying a chalkboard or textbook cooped up inside? And since kids should exercise anyway, why not make it into a game on the playground?

We know that it’s more difficult to transmit the coronavirus outside, and as schools, districts, and families struggle to figure out their plans for the fall, this history lesson about outdoor teaching might be worth noting?

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

By the beginning of the 19th Century, it was already well established that indeed the Earth was round instead of flat. But the study of modern geology was still in its infancy and prompted many to established some hair brained ideas about how the Earth was actually made.


One of those came from Army Capt. John C. Symmes, Jr., who theorized that the center of the Earth was hollow and filled with productive farms that created cheap vegetables.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
“John Cleves Symmes, Jr and His Hollow Earth” by John J. Audubon, 1920

He believed this so fervently that he dedicated much of his life to organizing an expedition to look for an entrance for explorers to establish trade relations with the people who lived inside the planet.

Symmes began his military career in 1802 and served well during the War of 1812, rising in the infantry to the rank of captain. When the war ended, he left active duty to start a trading business on the American frontier. It was there that he began really expanding upon his theory of a hollow Earth.

His theory was simple. According to a 2004 paper by Duane A. Griffin from Bucknell Univeristy, Symmes believed that all planets formed in layers with gaps in between. Part of this theory went that Saturn’s rings were a collapsed layer of that planet which had partially broken away, leaving trails of dust.

The Appalachian mountains were supposedly the remnants of similar rings that used to orbit the Earth but which crashed to the planet’s surface over time.

According to Symmes’ theory, a large open hole near the planet’s poles allowed access to the inner layers of the planet. Strangely, he claimed that the circumference of these holes included areas which had already been explored, such as northern Canada.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Illustration from “Symmes’s Theory of Concentric Spheres: Demonstrating That the Earth is Hollow, Habitable Within, and Widely Open About the Poles, Compiled by Americus Symmes, from the Writings of his Father, Capt. John Cleves Symmes”

The public ridiculed Symmes at first, but his perseverance gradually won them over, and his theories developed a following.

In 1818, he solicited for 100 people to join him on an exploration of the Arctic to find the hole to the center of the Earth.

Symmes believed that the hole in the Arctic would reveal a warm interior. Venturing into the ice in the Autumn is a huge gamble. For some reason, Symmes was unable to find 100 people to roll the dice with him.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
(Circular: John C. Symmes, Jr.)

In the late 1820s, Symmes worked with Jeremiah N. Reynolds to lobby Congress and President John Adams for the Navy to fund the expedition. While Congress was firmly against the idea, Adams eventually approved it.

The president helped search for a way to make the expedition happen with limited support from Congress. But, Adams was politically unpopular and could not get the resources together before the 1828 election when he was bested by Andrew Jackson. Jackson shut down the expedition.

Sickness claimed Symmes in 1829, so he died before he could see his claims debunked.

One of the best places to learn more about Symmes and his effect on modern science and literature is in Griffin’s full essay on that topic published by Bucknell University. 

Articles

This Komet was the fastest combat plane of World War II

The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.


But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”

The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.

After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
A P-47’s gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.

AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘The 4 Chaplains’ of WWII became Army legends

Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.


There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
The four chaplains, John P. Washington, Alexander D. Goode, George L. Fox, and Clarke V. Poling, are portrayed on this postage stamp. (US Post Office image)

These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.

However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
The USAT Dorchester, which was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat on Feb. 3, 1943. (US Army photo)

When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.

The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Painting showing the survivors of USAT Dorchester being rescued by USCGC Escanaba (WPG 77). (USCG painting)

All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.

The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:

 

Articles

This is what it took to be a submarine ace in World War II

We’ve all heard of fighter aces. We’re talking legends like Robin Olds, Duke Cunningham, Pappy Boyington, James Howard, Jimmy Thach, and Swede Vejtasa. Germany had their own aces, and while Erich Hartmann and Adolf Galland are just some who attained immortality with their feats in the skies, others, like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien, were renowned for what they did under the sea.


Kretschmer and Prien were both considered “U-boat aces,” and according to uboat.net, they were part of an elite group. Out of 498 men in World War I, and 1,401 in World War II who commanded U-boats, only a total of 71 men sank more than 100,000 tons of enemy shipping. The tonnage totals are eye-popping in comparison to American commanders, many of whom were rotated out of front-line duty to train new crewmen, similar to the policy used for ace fighter pilots like Thach.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
(Source unknown)

America’s top sub skippers, like Eli Reich or Joe Enright, earned their notoriety on single missions. Reich sank the only battleship to be sunk by American submarines during the war, avenging fallen shipmates, while Enright holds the distinction of sinking the Shinano, the largest vessel ever sink by a submarine.

Germany’s U-boat aces pulled some incredible feats, themselves. Prien, for instance, earned his fame by sneaking into the British naval base of Scapa Flow and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 825 British sailors died when the Revenge-class battleship was hit by three torpedoes.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
U-995, the only surviving Type VII U-boat in the world. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kretschmer was the top-ranking U-boat ace of World War II, sinking 46 ships totaling over 274,000 tons of displacement. Compare that to the JANAC total credited to USS Tang (SS 306), Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane’s command, which sank 24 ships totaling 93,824 tons of displacement.

The German U-boat aces were also survivors. All five of their top aces lived through the war, but one was accidentally killed by a sentry five days after the war, and another died in 1950, and of their top ten skippers, only Gunther Prien was killed in action during the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Karuika asks: Who was the first person to figure out what dinosaur bones were?

From around 250 to 66 million years ago various dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today the only dinosaurs left are birds, which are coelurosauria theropods — funny enough the same sub-group Tyrannosauruses belong to. (Think about that the next time you’re enjoying a McDinosaur sandwich or scrambling up some dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Beyond their avian progeny, all that mostly remains of these once dominate creatures are fossilized bones, footprints, and poop. While many dinosaurs were actually quite small, some were comparatively massive, bringing us to the question of the hour — what did people first think when they pulled huge dinosaur bones out of the earth?


To begin with, it is generally thought humans have been discovering dinosaur bones about as long as we’ve been humaning. And it appears that at least some of the giant creatures of ancient legend likely stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur bones and fossils, and the subsequent attempts of ancient peoples to explain what they were.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
Giphy

For example, 4th century BC Chinese historian Chang Qu reported the discovery of massive “dragon bones” in the region of Wuchen. At the time and indeed for many centuries after (including some still today), the Chinese felt that these bones had potent healing powers, resulting in many of them being ground down to be drunk in a special elixirs.

As for the exact medicinal purposes, in the 2nd century AD Shennong Bencaojing, it states,

Dragon bone… mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one’s breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one’s life span.

While fossilized bones may not actually make such an effective cure-all, all things considered, the classic depictions of dragons and our modern understanding of what certain dinosaurs looked like are actually in the ballpark of accurate.

Moving over to the ancient Greeks, they are also believed to have stumbled across massive dinosaur bones and similarly assumed they came from long-dead giant creatures, in some cases seeming to think they came from giant human-like creatures.

Moving up to that better documented history, in the 16th through 19th centuries, the idea that the Earth was only about six thousand years old was firmly entrenched in the Western world, leading to these fossils creating a major puzzle for the scientists studying them. Even Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition found a dinosaur bone in Billings Montana, but in his case, he decided it must have come from a massive fish, which was a common way they were explained away given that no creatures that then walked the earth seemed to match up.

The various ideas thrown around around during these centuries were described by Robert Plot in his 1677 Natural History of Oxfordshire:

[are] the Stones we find in the Forms of Shell-fish, be Lapides sui generis [fossils], naturally produced by some extraordinary plastic virtue, latent in the Earth or Quarries where they are found? Or, [do] they rather owe their Form and Figuration to the Shells of the Fishes they represent, brought to the places where they are now found by a Deluge, Earth-quake, or some other such means, and there being filled with Mud, Clay, and petrifying Juices, have in tract of time been turned into Stones, as we now find them, still retaining the same Shape in the whole, with the same Lineations, Sutures, Eminencies, Cavities, Orifices, Points, that they had whilst they were Shells?

Plot goes on to explain the idea behind the “plastic virtue” hypothesis was that the fossils were some form of salt crystals that had by some unknown process formed and grown in the ground and just happened to resemble bones.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

However, Plot argues against this then popular notion stating,

Come we next to such [stones] as concern the … Members of the Body: Amongst which, I have one… that has exactly the Figure of the lowermost part of the Thigh-Bone of a Man or at least of some other Animal…a little above the Sinus, where it seems to have been broken off, shewing the marrow within of a shining Spar-like Substance of its true Colour and Figure, in the hollow of the Bone…

After comparing the bone to an elephant’s, he decided it could not have come from one of them. He instead concluded,

It remains, that (notwithstanding their extravagant Magnitude) they must have been the bones of Men or Women: Nor doth any thing hinder but they may have been so, provided it be clearly made out, that there have been Men and Women of proportionable Stature in all Ages of the World, down even to our own Days

Thus, much like is thought to have happened with certain ancient peoples, he decided some of these bones must have come from giant humans of the past. During Plot’s era, the Bible’s mention of such giants was often put put forth as evidence, such as in Numbers where it states,

The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim… and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.

Though the bone Plot was describing has since been lost to history, he left detailed drawings, from which it’s thought to have come from the lower part of the femur of a Megalosaurus (literally, Great Lizard).

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Modern restoration of Megalosaurus.

But before it was called the Megalosaurus, it had a rather more humorous name. You see, in 1763 a physician called Richard Brookes studying Plot’s drawings dubbed it “Scrotum Humanum” because he thought it looked like a set of petrified testicles. (To be clear, Brookes knew it wasn’t a fossil of a giant scrotum, but nevertheless decided to name it thus because apparently men of all eras of human history can’t help but make genital jokes at every opportunity.)

While hilarious, in the 20th century, this posed a problem for the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature when it eventually came time to formally classify the Megalosaurus as such. The problem was, of course, that Brookes had named it first.

Eventually the ICZN decided that since nobody after Brookes had called it Scrotum Humanum, even though he was the first to name it, that name could safely be deemed invalid. Thus Megalosaurus won out, which is unfortunate because discussion of the rather large Scrotum Humanum would have provided great companion jokes to ones about Uranus in science classes the world over.

Moving swiftly on, humanity continued to have little clear idea of what dinosaurs were until William Buckland’s work on the aforementioned Megalosaurus in 1824.

As for the word “dinosaur” itself, this wouldn’t be coined until 1842 when British scientist Sir Richard Owen noted that the few dinosaur fossils that had been scientifically studied at that point all shared several characteristics. For the curious, those species were the Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus and Iguanodon. He further concluded that the fossils could not have come from any creature that currently roamed the Earth and thus came up with a new name — dinosaur, meaning “terrible/powerful/wondrous lizards”.

Of course, it should be noted that despite being knighted for his life’s work in 1883, Owen was renowned for stealing other people’s ideas and calling them his own, in at least one case even after having previously ridiculed the person he stole the ideas from — paleontologist Gideon Mantell. In several instances, Owen would attempt to take credit for some of Mantell’s pioneering work on the Iguanodon, while downplaying Mantell’s contributions in the process.

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

paleontologist Gideon Mantell.

To add insult to injury, it is speculated that the much more distinguished Owen actively worked to stop some of Mantell’s work and papers from getting published.

To further illustrate Owen’s character and rivalry with Mantell, after near financial ruin in 1838, his wife leaving him in 1839, and his daughter dying in 1840, Mantell would become crippled after a fall from a carriage on October 11, 1841. Previous to the accident, he had frequently suffered from leg and back pain, but the source of it was dismissed as likely due to the long hours of work he put in and the like. Things got worse when a coach he was on crashed, shortly before which Mantell leapt from it. In the aftermath, his former pain became extreme and he ceased to be able to use his legs properly. As he writes, “I cannot stoop, or use any exertion without producing loss of sensation and power in the limbs… and could I choose my destiny, I would gladly leave this weary pilgrimage.” He later laments in his journal, “my long probation of suffering will be terminated by a painful and lingering death.”

What does any of that have to do with Owen? To add insult to injury, after Mantell died from an opium overdose taken to help relieve some of his constant and extreme pain, several obituaries were published of Mantell, all glowing — except one…

This one was anonymously written, though analyses of the writing style and general tone left few among the local scientific community with any doubt of who had written it.

In it, Owen starts off praising Mantell, stating, “On Wednesday evening last, at the age of about 63 or 64, died the renowned geologist, Gideon Algernon Mantell…” It goes on to note how Mantell’s memoir on the Iguanodon saw him the recipient of the prestigious Royal Medal. Of course, later in the article, Owen claims Mantell’s work for which he won that medal was actually stolen from others, including himself:

The history of the fossil reptile for the discovery of which Dr. Mantell’s name will be longest recollected in science, is a remarkable instance of this. Few who have become acquainted with the Iguanodon, by the perusal of the Medals of Creation would suspect that to Covier we owe the first recognition of its reptilian character, to Clift the first perception of the resemblance of its teeth to those of the Iguano, to Conybear its name, and to Owen its true affinities among reptiles, and the correction of the error respecting its build and alleged horn…

The article then goes on to outline Dr. Mantell’s supposed various failings as a scientist such as his “reluctance to the revelation of a truth when it dispossessed him of a pretty illustration”, as well as accusing him of once again stealing people’s work:

To touch lightly on other weaknesses of this enthusiastic diffuser of geological knowledge… we must also notice that a consciousness of the intrinsic want of exact scientific, and especially anatomical, knowledge, which compelled him privately to have recourse to those possessing it… produced extreme susceptibility of any doubt expressed of the accuracy or originality of that which he advanced; and in his popular summaries of geological facts, he was too apt to forget the sources of information which he had acknowledge in his original memoirs.

It finally concludes as it started — on a compliment, “Dr. Mantell has, however, done much after his kind for the advancement of geology, and certainly more than any man living to bring it into attractive popular notice.”

It’s commonly stated from here that, out of spite, Owen also had a piece of Mantell’s deformed spine pickled and put on a shelf in the Hunterian Museum in London where Owen was the curator. However, while this was done, the examination and study of his spine was done at the behest of Mantell himself.

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British scientist Sir Richard Owen.

Thus, an autopsy was performed and an examination of Mantell’s spine showed he had a rather severe and, at least at the time, peculiar case of scoliosis. As to what was so interesting about this case, one of the physicians involved, Dr. William Adams, states, it was discovered “that the severest degree of deformity of the spine may exist internally, without the usual indications in respect of the deviation of the spinous processes externally.”

In other words, in other such cases, it was clear the spine was not straight from visual observation of the person’s back where a curve could be observed. Mantell’s spine, however, exhibited severe scoliosis, but in such a way that upon external examination methods of the day where the person was lying down or standing up, it otherwise appeared straight.

To Adam’s knowledge, such a thing had never been observed before, but if Mantell had this particular brand of scoliosis, surely many others did as well. But how to detect it. Mulling over the problem inspired Dr. Adams to come up with a method to make such a deformity visible with external examination, thus giving the world the Adam’s forward bend test which many a school student even today has no doubt recollections of being subjected to periodically.

Going back to Owen, as to why he seems to have hated Mantell so much, this isn’t fully clear, though it may have simply been Mantell’s work sometimes resulted in showing Owen’s to be incorrect in various assumptions, jealousy of a scientist he deemed inferior to himself, or it could just be that Owen was a bit of a dick. As noted by famed biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, “[I]t is astonishing with what an intense feeling of hatred Owen is regarded by the majority of his contemporaries, with Mantell as arch-hater. The truth is, [Owen] is the superior of most, and does not conceal that he knows it, and it must be confessed that he does some very ill-natured tricks now and then.”

Of course, if you steal other people’s work long enough, eventually you’ll get caught, especially when you’re one of the world’s leading scientists in your field. Owen’s misstep occurred when he was awarded the prestigious Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his supposedly pioneering discovery and analyses of belemnites, which he called the Belemnites owenii, after himself and gave no credit to anyone else for the ideas in the paper. It turns out, however, four years previous he’d attended a Geological Society get together in which an amateur scientist by the name of Chaning Pearce gave a lecture and published a paper on that very same creature…

While Owen was allowed to keep his medal even after it was revealed he’d stolen the work of Pearce, the rumors that he’d similarly “borrowed” other ideas without credit and this subsequent proof resulted in the loss of much of his former academic prestige. Things didn’t improve over the following years and Owen was eventually given the boot from the Royal Society in 1862 despite his long and rather distinguished career.

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Giphy

While he would never again do any scientific work of significance, his post plagiarist career did prove to be a huge boon for those who enjoy museums. You see, up until this point, museums were not places readily open to the public, and to get access, you usually needed to be an academic. They were places for research, not for random plebeians to gawk at things.

After losing any shred of respect from his peers, he eventually devoted his energies into his role as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum. Among other things, as superintendent, he pushed for and helped develop London’s now famed Natural History Museum, London. He also instituted a number of changes such as encouraging the general public to come visit the museum at their leisure, devoted the majority of the displays for public use, had labels and descriptions added below each display explaining what each was of so anybody, not just the educated, could understand what they were looking at, etc. Many among the scientific community fought against these changes, but he did it anyway, giving us the modern idea of a museum in the process.

In any event, after Owen, Mantell’s, and their contemporaries’ work finally revealed these long extinct creatures for what they were, interest in dinosaurs exploded resulting in what has come to be known as the “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists in the 1890s which got so heated, some paleontologists literally resorted to dynamiting mines to beat their rivals in discoveries.

The most famous such rivals were Othniel Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and Edward Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

While the pair started out friendly, even choosing to name species after one another, they eventually became bitter enemies, and when they weren’t doing everything in their power to find dinosaur bones as fast as possible, they were writing and giving talks insulting one another’s work, attempting to get each other’s funding canceled, stealing discoveries from one another or, when not possible, trying to destroy the other’s work. In the end, the product of this rivalry was the discovery of a whopping 142 different species of dinosaurs. (For the record, Marsh discovered 86 and Cope 56.)

Before ending, any discussion of this wild west era of dinosaur bone hunting and scholarship would be remiss without noting the unsung hero of it all — Mary Anning, who is credited with finding many of the fossils used by other scientists for “their” discoveries like of the long-extinct Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaurus (in fact finding the first complete Plesiosaurus), and the flying Pterosaur.

Anning was also noted to be popularly consulted by scientists the world over for her expertise in identifying types of dinosaurs from their bones and various insights she had on them, with many world renowned scientists actually choosing to make the journey to her little shop in person where she sold these bones in Dorset England.

Almost completely uneducated formally and having grown up relatively poor, with her father dying when she was 11, Anning’s expertise came from literally a lifetime of practice, as her family lived near the cliffs near Lyme Regis and from a little girl she helped dig out bones and sell them in their shop.

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Portrait of Mary Anning.

Without access to a formal scientific education, she eventually took to dissecting many modern animals to learn more about anatomy. She also was an insatiable reader of every scientific paper she could get her hands on related to geology, palaeontology and animals. In many cases, unable to afford to buy copies of the papers, she’d simply borrow them from others and then meticulously copy them herself, with reportedly astoundingly exact replication of technical illustrations.

On that note, Lady Harriet Silvester would describe Anning in 1824,

The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.

Despite finding some of the best known specimens of these creatures and risking her life on a daily basis during her hunt for fossils around the dangerous cliffs, Anning got little public credit for her discoveries owing to a number of factors including that she was a woman, from a dissenting religious sect against the Church of England, and otherwise, as noted, had no real formal education. So it was quite easy for scientists to take any ideas she had and the bones she dug up and claim all of it as their own discovery. As Anning herself would lament, “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

A companion of hers, Anna Inney, would go on to state, “these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

That said, given the esteem she was regarded among many scientists, some of them did desire she be given credit for her contributions, such as famed Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz who was one of many to visit Anning’s shop and to pick her brain about various things, ultimately crediting her in his book Studies of Fossil Fish.

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Further praising her work a few years later was an article in The Bristol Mirror, stating,

This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide: – to her exertions we owe nearly all the fine specimens of Ichthyosauri of the great collections …

Of the dangers of her work, Anning once wrote to a friend, Charlotte Murchison, in 1833,

Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.

Beyond academic credit, in one lean stretch where Anning’s family was unable to find any new fossils and they had to start selling off all their worldy possessions just to eat and keep a roof over their heads, one of their best customers, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, decided to auction off many of the bones he’d bought from them and instead of keeping the money, gave it to Anning’s family.

Of this, in a letter to the Gideon Mantell, Birch stated the auction was,

for the benefit of the poor woman… who… in truth found almost all the fine things which have been submitted to scientific investigation … I may never again possess what I am about to part with, yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied.

Beyond the approximately £400 this brought in (about £48,000 today), this also significantly raised the awareness among the scientific community of the family’s contributions to this particular branch of science.

Further, when she lost her life savings apparently after being swindled by a conman in 1835, the aforementioned William Buckland managed to convince the British government and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to give her a pension of £25 per year (about £3,000 today) in recognition of her work’s importance to science.

On top of this, when she was dying of breast cancer in the 1840s and couldn’t continue on in her work as before, the Geological Society provided additional financial support to make sure she was taken care of.

After her death, they also commemorated a stained-glass window in 1850 in her memory with the inscription:

This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.

The president of the Geological Society, Henry De la Beche, would also write a eulogy for her, which stated in part,

I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without adverting to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge…

This was the first eulogy for a woman the society had ever published, and the first time such a eulogy had been given for a non-fellow.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

Why you won’t see this awesome plane design in combat

Remember those super sweet toys from the 1990s, the planes with “backward” wings. The one that comes to mind for me is the old X-Men X-Jet. The new movies feature a plane that looks a lot more like an actual SR-71 Blackbird, but the old cartoons and the movie trilogy from the early 2000s had those distinctive, futuristic, forward-swept wings.


Why Do Backwards Wings Exist?

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Well, those wings existed on actual planes, first in World War II and then in experimental designs through 1991. But you likely won’t see the iconic wings on any real fighters or bombers overhead, even though they allow planes to fly faster while still directing air over the craft’s control surfaces.

The inspiration for forward-swept wings dates back to World War II. As the warring powers developed faster and faster aircraft in the war, they eventually all found that, above a certain speed, pilots suddenly lost control of their aircraft. America tried to overcome this problem with brute force, and it backfired gruesomely in November 1941.

On November 4, Lockheed test pilot Ralph Virden was piloting a P-38 in a controlled dive when he activated spring-loaded servo-tabs that were supposed to help him regain level flight. Instead, they overstressed the plane and caused the tail to tear away. The plane crashed, and Virden was killed.

Eventually, plane designers figured out a more graceful solution to the problem. If they swept the wings, then the airflow would shift, and the shockwaves wouldn’t form. But, when the wings are swept back, the new airflow creates a new problem. The air starts flowing quickly along the wings away from the body of the aircraft, creating stall conditions at the tips of the wings.

And those tips of the wings hold the ailerons. A stall in that region robs the pilot of the ability to roll the aircraft, a vital capability in combat.

So, in 1984, DARPA, NASA, and other agencies launched the X-29 for the first time. It was an experimental aircraft with its wings pointed forward from the body of the aircraft, same as the old X-Men jet. And the Germans actually had a design in World War II with similar characteristics, the Junker 287.

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The Russian Su-47 had a similar wing design to the American X-29, but neither plane was adopted for combat use.

(Jno, CC BY 2.5)

The X-29 had some amazing characteristics compared to its more conventional brethren in the air. It had less induced drag, meaning that it had a better balance of lift-to-drag at high speed. And that allowed it to be up to 20 percent more efficient than it would be with wings swept to the rear. Best of all, the plane would be super-maneuverable even at high speeds. A Russian plane, the Su-47, saw similar advantages.

But designers found in their models, their wind tunnel tests, and actual flight tests, that the X-29’s wings created a lot of problems.

First, the wings had to be made extra strong to deal with the additional stress of the wind hitting those leading edges of the wing far from the body. And, the plane had trouble maintaining its pitch, even with those canards mounted near the cockpit.

But worst of all, the air flowing over all these control surfaces was simply too chaotic for a pilot to control. So, in the X-29, pilots had three computers working together to adjust the flight surfaces 40 times per second. These computers worked to keep the aircraft stable so the pilot could give their inputs according to what they wanted the plane to do rather than constantly having to prevent crashes.

But, if the computers ever all failed in flight at the same time, it was likely that the pilot would encounter an irrecoverable spin or other emergency. So, when the computers all failed on the ground during testing, it sent a shudder through the program. A DARPA history page about the plane even calls it “the most aerodynamically unstable aircraft ever built.”

Still, with all the advances in AI and computers, there might be a place for a design like the X-29 if not for one additional problem: forward-swept wings seem to be inherently less stealthy than wings swept to the rear or a delta-wing design like that of the B-2.

So, with the X-29 less stable and also inherently less stealthy than other designs, the U.S. decided to continue using rear-swept designs in combat aircraft, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever look up to see something like the X-Jet supporting you from overhead.

But at least it looks cool in movies.

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This is the Dunkirk hero who deserted then changed his name to rejoin the army

In 1916, nine-year-old Paddy Ryan was caught in a shootout between the Irish Republican Army and British troops. One of the British men pushed Ryan to the ground, taking a bullet for the young boy. It inspired Ryan to join the Army.


Except Paddy Ryan wouldn’t join the British Army until 1930. But Alfonsus Gilligan, as Ryan was known at the time joined as soon as he could. And deserted shortly after.

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Deserters in the era of the second world war left for many reasons; few of them were actually for cowardice. Most of them were actually because months and years of endless combat pushed many of the frontline British troops past their breaking point.

The British Empire abolished the death penalty for desertion after World War I. In World War II Europe, deserters ran the black markets of occupied countries like France and the Netherlands. In Africa, deserters were often recruited into special operations forces like the British SAS.

Alfonsus Gilligan deserted because he wanted to avoid a court martial.

The 17-year-old wore his Irish Guards uniform to a public event in County Cork, Ireland — in defiance of British Army rules. The Irish, who just fought a war of independence against Britain, started a riot. Gilligan escaped unharmed, but was brought up on charges. He never returned to his London-based unit.

He spent a few years as an itinerant farmer and day laborer before he rejoined the British Army with a new name: Frank “Paddy” Ryan.

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Frank Paddy Ryan in uniform with his wife Molly and son David taken in 1942. (via Birmingham Mail)

He and his fellow Royal Warwickshires deployed to France in 1940. He was part of the rear guard that held back the Nazis at Dunkirk, delaying them long enough for most of the men to make it off the beaches.

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was overrun at Wormhoudt, in northern France, by the German army. They ran out of ammunition and surrendered with the expectation of proper treatment under the Geneva Convention.

Instead, a Nazi Waffen SS division called Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler took many of Ryan’s friends and brothers from the Royal Warwickshires, along with members of the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and a handful of French soldiers, to a barn near Wormhoudt, and then murdered them with grenades and rifle fire.

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This became known as the Wormhoudt Massacre. Paddy Ryan was not among those killed. He fought on along the Ypres-Comines Canal as they made their way to the beach, being evacuated and returning to England on June 1, 1940.

His daughter didn’t discover her father’s first life until after his death in 2000. It inspired her and her husband to explore his life in more detail.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.


They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.

 

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Gurkhas in Afghanistan

 

A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”

 

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Gurkhas in the process of defeating Hitler in 1943.

On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.

He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:

“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister. 

During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.

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Shrestha in the hospital after the train fight.

 

When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:

“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”

Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.

Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.

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Articles

Britain’s ‘unkillable’ soldier gave zero Fs about pain or death

There are officers who seem to be made of glass, staying firmly behind the barriers and barbed wire that keep them protected from the enemy guns.


And then there are those guys who are basically the Black Knight from Monty Python, declaring every injury a flesh wound and jumping back into the fray like an amputated hand ain’t no thang.

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British Army Lt. Gen. Adrian Carton de Wiart. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

That’s why Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart is a British legend; he literally lost a hand, an eye, and part of an ear while serving in three wars, including two World Wars.

Carton de Wiart was born to Belgian nobility in 1880 and sent to prestigious schools. But in 1899, the British found themselves in the second Boer War and Carton de Wiart jumped at the chance to experience combat. But the British only wanted British subjects aged 25 or older or who had their father’s consent.

So, Carton de Wiart employed a clever tactic called “lying” and shipped out under a pseudonym. His first war ended when he received enemy rounds to the stomach and groin and a trip back to England to recover.

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The Boer War was old, nitty-gritty-style fighting. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

But flesh wounds couldn’t keep the Black Knight out of the fight for long, and he volunteered for duty in 1914 during World War I, this time under his actual name as a naturalized citizen.

Similar to in the Boer War, Carton de Wiart found the enemy guns quickly and caught a few rounds from them, this time in his arm and face while fighting as a member of the Somaliland Camel Corps.

He accepted a Distinguished Service Order and headed out for a quick convalescence for his missing eye. According to Lord Ismay, Carton de Wiart was probably happy about the whole situation.

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Then-Lt. Col. Adrian Carton de Wiart led British troops to victory after three other battalion commanders were killed at the Battle of La Boiselle. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

“I honestly believe that he regarded the loss of an eye as a blessing,” he said, “As it allowed him to get out of Somaliland to Europe where he thought the real action was.”

And Carton de Wiart did get into the action. He was sent to the Western Front in 1915 (that’s the year after the enemy rounds knocked out his left eye and took a part of his ear, for those keeping track). Sporting a black eyepatch over his empty socket in the Second Battle of Ypres, he was probably laughing when the German artillery barrage slammed into his position, severely injuring his left hand.

Doctors refused to amputate the hand, so our Black Knight tore off two of his fingers and went back to work. Doctors finally gave in and took the rest of his hand later. That was 1915.

In 1916, Carton de Wiart took command of a regiment at the Somme. Yeah, he once again returned to the front just a year later after a serious injury that would have ended anyone else’s career.

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At the Battle of the Somme, then-Lt. Col. Carton de Wiart saw three other battalion commanders die in the back-and-forth fighting at La Boiselle. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

During World War II, the hero of one war and a distinguished veteran of another took an assignment in Yugoslavia. When — at the age of 60 — his plane was shot down over the Mediterranean, he went ahead and swam his way to shore and was captured by the Italians.

Fun fact: that was Carton de Wiart’s second plane crash. He survived another crash in Lithuania between the wars.

Of course, even capture by the Italians wasn’t enough to stop him, and he attempted multiple escapes. At one point, he managed to evade capture for eight days.

He survived the war and continued to serve the British until he retired in 1947 as a lieutenant general.

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