3 legendary leaders who made America's special-operations units into the elite forces they are today - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

An unconventional visionary: Col. Charles “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith

Charlie Beckwith commissioned in the Army in 1952, volunteering for Special Forcers a few years later.

In 1960, he deployed to Laos as part of a covert special-operations program to harass the North Vietnamese. Following that tour, Beckwith was an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service (SAS).

He was given command of an SAS troop (about 15 operators) and deployed to Malaya, where the British were fighting a Communist insurgency. That deployment had a profound impact on “Charlie Blister,” as the British called him.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Col. Charles Beckwith in Vietnam. US Army

At the time, the British commandos were pioneering special-operations, unconventional warfare, and counterterrorism doctrine. They had recently adopted an “individualistic” approach to selection and assessment, scrutinizing a soldier’s ability to operate and excel on his own.

Beckwith put lessons from the SAS to good use when he redeployed to Vietnam in the late 1960s, but by the 1970s, international terrorism was becoming prevalent. Beckwith saw the need for a unit with counterterrorism and hostage-rescue capabilities.

After years of cajoling senior officers and navigating military bureaucracy, Beckwith created the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as Delta Force.

The unit was part of the attempt to rescue American hostages in Tehran 1980. The failed operation, and Beckwith’s recommendations afterward, led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Beckwith’s greatest accomplishment was Delta Force. His vision, buttressed by his buzzing energy, achieved what others could not.

“He dug the foundations but also paved the future,” a former Delta Force operator told Insider. “He knew he wouldn’t be there forever, so he had to recruit the best guys — the best noncommissioned officers and officers — who would safeguard his baby. And they did. Look at where the unit’s at today.”

During his career, Beckwith received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor under fire, and two Silver Stars. He retired in 1981 and died in 1994, but in 2001 he received the Bull Simons lifetime achievement award, the highest honor given by Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

One hell of a soldier: Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell 
US Army

Bargewell enlisted in the Army in 1967 and went straight to the Special Forces, aiming to serve in Vietnam.

He was assigned to Military Assistance Command — Vietnam Studies and Operations Group (MACV-SOG), a secretive special-operations unit that conducted highly classified operations in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.

Bargewell led cross-border missions that recovered valuable intelligence and put him in close contact with the enemy. During one such operation, a North Vietnamese soldier shot Bargewell in the chest as he cleared a NVA camp, but the bullet got stuck on his chest rig.

On another mission a few years later, he was shot in the face but fought on, allowing his team to exfiltrate, and was the last man out before the NVA overwhelmed the perimeter. His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.

“Eldon always strived to learn,” John Stryker “Tilt” Meyer, a Green Beret legend who served alongside Bargewell in SOG and has written about the unit’s daring operations, told Insider.

“He always wanted to the job better, and he was relentless that way. His desire to learn never left him, not even when he made general. He never changed in all his years. He was one hell of a soldier,” Meyer said.

Bargewell commissioned as an officer after Vietnam, and in 1981, he passed Delta’s arduous selection process and became an operator in the new unit. Bargewell went on to command at all levels in Delta.

“He always pushed his men to practice the basics,” Meyer added. “If there was an operational lull, Eldon filled it up with training. He knew it would come handy in the future.”

And it did. In 1989, Bargewell commanded Operation Acid Gambit, the daring rescue of Kurt Muse, a CIA operative held captive by Panamanian forces in a heavily defended prison.

During the extraction, the MH-6 Little Bird carrying Muse and some operators crashed close to prison, wounding several of them. Bargewell, then a lieutenant colonel, exposed himself to enemy fire to provide cover with a machine gun while his troops exited the damaged helicopter.

The operation was one of Delta Force’s first successful hostage rescues and firmly established it as the US military’s top hostage-rescue outfit.

Bargewell went on to command Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and to have key positions in JSOC and SOCOM. When he retired in 2006, after almost 40 years in uniform, he was among the Army’s most decorated soldiers.

Bargewell spent almost his entire career in Army special-operations units, including Special Forces and the Rangers, but he left his mark with Delta Force. In 2010, he received the Bull Simons award. Bargewell died in 2019.

The networker: Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Stanley McChrystal commissioned in the Army in 1976 and served in airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces units during a 34-year career.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, McChrystal was a rising star. He assumed command of JSOC, which includes Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, and went after Iraq’s growing Islamist insurgency.

With the motto “it takes a network to defeat a network,” McChrystal put liaisons everywhere, from the CIA to conventional military units, putting JSOC at the center of a web of units and agencies that shared intelligence like never before and acted fast.

For example, a Delta Force troop would hit a target early one night, gather intelligence, and conduct another raid immediately afterward, sometimes hitting three targets all over Iraq in the same night.

“We really turned it on with him,” a Delta Force operator told Insider. “The op tempo was crazy, but we pulled it off. We’d do two [or] three hits a night for weeks.”

As a result, JSOC dismantled the insurgency and killed Al Qaeda’s top man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Shrewd and tactful enough to navigate bureaucracy, McChrystal was still a warrior at heart.

At a counterterrorism meeting in an East African country, the CIA station chief present took a cavalier attitude toward McChrystal, who let him finish before saying, “Hey look, if you ever talk to me that way again, I’m going to come around this desk and beat the s— out of you,” according to journalist Sean Naylor.

In 2009, McChrystal assumed command in Afghanistan, where he devised the counterinsurgency strategy. Following Gen. David Petraeus’ example in Iraq, McChrystal argued for a surge of troops to defeat the Taliban. In the end, he persuaded President Barack Obama and the Pentagon despite the political cost of sending tens of thousands of additional troops to what many saw as a forgotten war.

But that command, and McChrystal’s career, ended with a blemish after he and his aides were quoted disparaging the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone article.

McChrystal retired with the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and JSOC’s renovation as his greatest achievements and with “his place secure as one of America’s greatest warriors,” according to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

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

Humor

7 ways to prove your spouse is a spy

If Hollywood thrillers have taught us anything about relationships it’s that your wife or husband could be a spy.


Countless dramatic storylines throughout cinematic history blast the prospect of living with the enemy and never knowing the truth until it’s too late.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, pleaded guilty to selling U.S. secrets to the Soviets and Russia in 2001. He’s currently serving 15 life consecutive sentences — his wife claims she knew nothing about it.

If you ever suspect your spouse could in fact be a spy, check out these tips on how to prove your theory.

1. Randomly toss vegetables in the air

Most spies are great with cutlery. In 1996, we were blessed with the film The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Gina Davis who plays Samantha Caine a.k.a. Charly Baltimore a woman who learns about her mysterious past immediately after a stabbing and pinning a defenseless tomato against a custom made cabinet door.

 2. Take them to a carnival

You’ve been happily married for years and you know for fact you’ve never seen your better half ever fire a pistol or a rifle, but lately you’ve been seeing a different side to them. Here’s your chance to get more evidence of her double life.

Make it a date night to the local carnival and challenge her to a shooting game.

A red flag?

3. Get them wasted

People talk more than usual after tossing back a few.

Take it from Harry Tasker played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron‘s 1994 action comedy hit True Lies — he wasn’t drunk, but the bad guys gave him some pretty good sh*t to admit his secret to his wife, who apparently never went to work with him, or an office Christmas party.

A long time.

4. Install a secret home surveillance system

We do it to watch nannies take care of our kids. … Just something to think about.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

5. Learn to curse in a few different languages

Spies are known to be cultured in many global customs after having traveled the world on secret missions.

Knowing an extra language or two helps them blend into those dangerous environments.

So here’s the trick — when they least expect it, blurt out a curse word in a different language. Watch to see if your suspected spook changes his expression. If it doesn’t, try another. Your spouse will ever get the hint you’re catching on or think you’ve got Tourettes.

Nothing?

6. Wardrobe

Movie spies are known for having some pretty bad ass suits and sunglasses. When they’re off saving the world or reporting sensitive information to foreign governments, they’ve got to do it in style.

Take notice how they remove or put on their sunglasses. If it appears they do in a dramatic fashion every time — you probably married a spy.

You’ll look super cool. 

7. Go to work with them

Let’s face it, in real life — unless you know they own their business — faking a job one is the hardest things your spouse could pull off. Think about it: if they’re into espionage and all that, wouldn’t she have to take you to pick up a dead drop or recruit an agent?

Can you think of any other tells that your spouse is a spook? Comment below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “White Feather Sniper,” Carlos Hathcock

At a young age, Carlos Norman Hathcock II would go into the woods with his dog and the Mauser his father brought back from World War II to pretend to be a soldier. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood, and on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted.

In 1966, Hathcock started his deployment in South Vietnam. He initially served as a military policeman and later, owing to his reputation as a skilled marksman, served as a sniper.


3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

The Hathcock brothers and a friend, shooting as children.

USMC Photo

During the Vietnam War, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong personnel. However, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper’s spotter. Hathcock estimated that he actually killed between 300 and 400 enemy soldiers.

In one instance, Hathcock saw a glint reflecting off an enemy sniper’s scope. He fired at it, sending a round through the enemy’s own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.

Hathcock’s notoriety grew among the Viet Cong and NVA, who reportedly referred to him Du kích Lông Trắng (“White Feather Sniper”) because of the white feather he kept tucked in a band on his bush hat. The enemy placed a bounty on his head. After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers tried to hunt him down, many Marines donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. Hathcock successfully fought off numerous enemy snipers during the remainder of his deployment.

Hathcock did once remove the white feather from his bush hat during a volunteer mission. The mission was so risky he was not informed of its details until he accepted it. Transported to a field by helicopter, Hathcock crawled over 1,500 yards in a span of four days and three nights, without sleep, to assassinate an NVA general. At times, Hathcock was only a few feet away from patrolling enemy soldiers. He was also nearly bitten by a snake. Once in position, Hathcock waited for the general to exit his encampment before shooting. After completing this mission, Hathcock came back to the United States in 1967. However, missing the service, he returned to Vietnam in 1969, taking command of a sniper platoon.

On September 16, 1969, an AMTRAC Hathcock was riding on struck an anti-tank mine. He pulled seven Marines from the vehicle, suffering severe burns in the process. Hathcock received the Purple Heart while he was recuperating. Nearly 30 years later, he received a Silver Star for this action.

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. However, he was in near constant pain due to his injuries, and in 1975, his health began to deteriorate. After diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he medically discharged in 1979. Feeling forced out of the Marines, Hathcock fell into a state of depression. But with the help of his wife, and his newfound hobby of shark fishing, Hathcock eventually overcame his depression. Despite being retired from the military, Hathcock continued providing sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.

Hathcock passed away Feb. 22, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

We honor his service.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here are 5 times bombers beat fighters in aerial combat

When bombers take on fighters without help, five letters tend to describe their end status: T, O, A, S, T. That’s what people tend to think. But that doesn’t always happen. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s skill… but there are times when bomber crews accomplished the mission and came back to base, while the fighter jocks (if they were lucky) wondered WTF happened as they rode down in a parachute.


Here are a few times the lumbering beasts bested their fast moving adversaries.

1. May 8, 1942: SBD bomber vs. Zekes

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the United States deployed Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in an effort to supplement the combat air patrol of Grumman F4F Wildcats. The plan was for the Wildcats to take on the Mitsubishi A6M Zeke and Aichi D3A Val dive bombers, while the SBDs took on the Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bombers.

Like all plans, it’s didn’t survive first contact. The Zekes got at the SBDs, and a number of the American dive-bombers were shot down. One SBD pilot, Stanley Vejtasa, managed to kill three Zekes – two with the pair of .50-caliber machine guns in the nose of his plane, and the third by using his SBD to slice off the wing of the enemy fighter.

Vejtasa later flew Wildcats, got a seven kills in one day at the Battle of Santa Cruz, and ended up becoming a test pilot after World War II.

 

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
A SBD Dauntless doing what it does best: Dropping bombs. (US Navy photo)

2. June 16, 1943: Old 666 vs. Zekes

On a reconnaissance mission around Bougainville, prior to the Allied campaign up the Solomon Islands, a B-17E Flying Fortress made a daring solo run to gather photo intel on enemy strength. Named “Old 666,” and under the command of Capt. Jay Zeamer, the bomber got the photos, then was jumped by as many as 17 Zekes.

After a 45-minute engagement that saw at least three Zeros fall, and six of the nine men aboard Old 666 hit by enemy fire, the Zekes gave up. Zeamer and 2nd Lt. Joe Sarnoski both received the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski posthumously), while the other crewmen received Distinguished Service Crosses.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

 

3. Spads bombers vs. MiG-17

The A-1 Skyraider was a solid naval strike plane in the Korean War, even carrying out one of America’s last torpedo attacks (albeit on a dam) during that conflict. That said, while Skyraiders could drop just about anything on the enemy, they also had four 20mm cannon that could do bad things to a plane in front of them. One Marine Corps Skyraider even shot down a Po-2 transport plane during the Korean conflict.

But in the Vietnam War, Skyraiders covering rescue missions shot down MiG-17s on two occasions, according to TheAviationist.com. Both times, these strike planes were covering downed pilots. On June 20, 1965, two A-1s shared a MiG-17 kill. On Oct, 9, MiG-17s jumped a flight of Skyraiders, and were really on the wrong end of the fight – the Skyraiders had one confirmed kill, one probable, and heavily damaged a third.

 

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
An A-1 Skyraider in 1966, when four planes assigned to USS Intrepid shot down at least one MiG-17. (US Navy photo)

 

4. April 19, 1967: F-105 bomber vs. MiG-17

Invented during the Vietnam War, the F-105G Wild Weasel took on the surface-to-air missile sites that were taking a heavy toll on American planes. The F-105 was more of a bomber – and a good one. But it also had a M61 Vulcan and over a thousand rounds of ammo. Joe Baugher notes that the F-105s shot down at least 27 MiGs during the Vietnam War, many using that gun.

On April 19, 1967, Leo Thorsness and Harold Johnson claimed at least one of those MiG-17s while covering efforts to rescue fellow Air Force personnel whose plane had been shot down. Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the engagement, which lasted for nearly an hour.

 

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
A MiG-17 is shot down by an F-105D on Jun. 3, 1967 over Vietnam. (Photo: US Air Force)

5. Jan. 17, 1991: EF-111 vs. Mirage F-1

On the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, an EF-111 Raven (often called the “Spark Vark”) was carrying out a jamming mission when an Iraqi Mirage F-1 tried to shoot it down. The Spark Vark’s crew, Capts. James Denton and Brett Brandon, took the fight where the Varks excelled: a terrain-following, high-speed chase.

The Iraqi Mirage pilot made the mistake of trying to follow them, and flew into the ground. It was the first air-to-air kill of the 1991 conflict.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
General Dynamics EF-111A Raven at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British sub shows the resiliency of the Royal Navy

When it comes to military history, the Guinness Book of World Records – like the rest of the public – only knows what it’s allowed to know. For the longest time the Guinness Book gave the award for the longest continuously submerged patrol to the HMS Warspite – one of the Royal Navy’s storied names.


While there have been longer patrols the mission of the Warspite happened at the height of the Cold War, prowling the waters around the Falkland Islands after the end of the UK’s war with Argentina.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

This Warspite was the eighth vessel to carry the name.

The Warspite had a number of innovations that made it perfect for its 1983 submerged mission. It was the first Royal Navy vessel navigated entirely by gyroscope. Its nuclear-powered engines, along with air conditioning, purification systems and electrolytic gills allowed it to be submerged for weeks at a time. The longest time below the waves wasn’t even its first record. During a 6,000-mile journey in the far east, the submarine did the entire run submerged, earning the then-record for longest distance submerged. But breaking records wasn’t the Royal Navy’s mission, it was countering the Soviet Union.

No naval force on Earth was better at penetrating the USSR’s maritime boundaries than the Royal Navy. Warspite was specially suited for spy missions in the cold waters of the Arctic. Its ability to sneak into the areas undetected allowed them to watch the Soviet Navy at work and listen to their uncoded communications. But its record-breaking underwater patrol didn’t come against the USSR, it came while watching Argentina.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

The now-decommissioned HMS Warspite.

The ship had just completed a complete, three-year refit after a massive fire nearly caused the captain to scuttle the ship. It was finished just in time for the United Kingdom to go to war with Argentina over the latter country’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. In a rush to get into the action, the crew of the Warspite shrugged off the six-month trial period and dashed for the war.

She didn’t see much action in the war, but its patrol afterward was the stuff of legend at the time. The ship and its crew spent more than 112 days aboard ship and underwater, keeping the Argentine Navy at bay.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This 50-year-old jet is the starting point for great fighter pilots

For more than 50 years, the Northrop T-38 Talon has been the principal supersonic jet trainer used by the U.S. Air Force. The twin jet-powered aircraft, which has tandem-seats for the instructor and student pilot, is the world’s first supersonic trainer.

Air Education and Training Command is the primary user of the T-38 for joint specialized undergraduate pilot training. Air Combat Command and the Air Force Materiel Command also use the T-38A in various roles.

Its design features swept wings, a streamlined fuselage and tricycle landing gear with a steerable nose wheel. Critical components can be easily accessed for maintenance and the aircraft boasts an exceptional safety record.


More T-38s have been produced than any other jet trainer and have been used by the U.S. Navy, NASA, and many foreign air forces in addition to the Air Force.

More than 1,100 were delivered to the Air Force between 1961 and 1972 when production ended.

Development

In 1953, Northrop Corporation engineers envisioned developing a small twin-engine “hot-rod” fighter. It would be decidedly different from the majority of early jet designs, which tended towards large, single and heavy engines.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

A Northrop YT-38-5-NO 58-1191 in flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 10 April 1959.

(US Air Force photo)

The N-156 project began in 1954 with the goal of producing small, agile fighters that could operate from the decks of the Navy’s smallest escort carriers. That market disappeared as the Navy focused on large carriers. However, Northrop continued development with the goal of selling the lightweight fighter to allied air forces.

Then, in the mid-1950s the Air Force issued a General Operating Requirement for a supersonic trainer. Northrop entered a modified N-156 and won the competition, receiving an order for three prototypes, the first of which, designated YT-38, flew in April 1959. The first production T-38 Talons were delivered to the Air Force in 1961. By the time production ended in 1972, 1,187 T-38s had been built.

Deployment

AETC utilized the T-38A to train Air Force pilots that would eventually fly diverse operational aircraft, such as the F-4 Phantom II, the SR-71, the KC-135 and the B-52 in the 1960’s and 70’s. At the same time, the AT-38B variant was equipped with a gun sight and practice bomb dispenser specifically for weapons training.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

A T-38 Talon flies in formation, with the B-2 Spirit of South Carolina, during a training mission over Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Feb. 20, 2014.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

In 2001, most T-38As and T-38Bs were being converted to the T-38C, with its “glass cockpit” of integrated avionics, head-up display and electronic “no drop bomb” scoring system, which has prepared student pilots for flying everything from the A-10 to the B-2 to the F-22.

Advanced JSUPT students fly the T-38C in aerobatics, formation, night, instrument, and cross-country navigation training.
Test pilots and flight test engineers are trained in T-38s at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

AFMC uses the T-38 to test experimental equipment, such as electrical and weapon systems.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

Two T-38 chase planes follow Space Shuttle Columbia as it lands at Northrop Strip in White Sands, NM, ending its mission STS-3.

(NASA photo)

Pilots from most NATO countries train in the T-38 at Sheppard AFB, Texas, through the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program.

NASA uses T-38 aircraft as trainers for astronauts and as observation and chase planes on programs such as the Space Shuttle.

Did you know?

  • In 1962, the T-38 set absolute time-to-climb records for 3,000, 6,000, 9,000 and 12,000 meters, beating the records for those altitudes set by the F-104 in December 1958.
  • A fighter version of the N-156 was eventually selected for the U.S. Military Assistance Program for deployment in allied air forces. It was produced as the F-5 Freedom Fighter, with the F-5G advanced single-engine variant later renamed the F-20 Tigershark.
  • Although upgrades are expected to extend the T-38C’s service life past 2020, the Air Force has launched the T-X Program and is engaged in a prototype competition to replace it.
  • In response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, from 1974 to 1983, the U.S. Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, adopted the T-38 Talon, which used far less fuel than the F-4 Phantom.
3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

The USAF Thunderbirds, T-38A “Talon” aircraft, fly in formation in this autographed picture dating back to 1977.

(US Air Force photo)

General characteristics

  • Primary Function: Advanced jet pilot trainer
  • Builder: Northrop Corp.
  • Power Plant: Two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners
  • Thrust: 2,050 pounds dry thrust; 2,900 with afterburners
  • Thrust (with PMP): 2,200 pounds dry thrust; 3,300 with afterburners
  • Length: 46 feet, 4 inches (14 meters)
  • Height: 12 feet, 10 inches (3.8 meters)
  • Wingspan: 25 feet, 3 inches (7.6 meters)
  • Speed: 812 mph (Mach 1.08 at sea level)
  • Ceiling: Above 55,000 feet (16,764 meters)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms)
  • Range: 1,093 miles
  • Armament: T-38A/C: none; AT-38B: provisions for practice bomb dispenser
  • Unit Cost: 6,000 (1961 constant dollars)
  • Crew: Two, student and instructor
  • Date Deployed: March 1961
  • Inventory: Active force, 546; ANG, 0; Reserve 0

Source: AF.mil

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what other countries thought about the US Civil War

It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.

Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.


England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.

The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.

One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.

Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.

The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.

London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.

The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.

One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.

The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

Unidentified; State Department Messenger Donaldson; Unidentified; Count Alexander de Bodisco; Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister; Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister; Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated); Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; Henri Mercier, French Minister; William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated); Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister; Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated); and Sheffield, British Attache.

(Diplomats at the Foot of an Unidentified Waterfall – NY State, August 1863)

The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.

Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things every American should know about the Purple Heart

On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.

Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.


Purple Heart Trail 

The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.

On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:

Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.

At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.

The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.

The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.

It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.

The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.

Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.

This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel

The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.

There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.

During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.

The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart 

Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.

Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.

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The longest land battle in US history was a huge mistake

The fight for the Hurtgen Forest was one of the most devastating battles of all World War II Europe and one of few the U.S. Army lost after landing at Normandy on D-Day. The relatively quick advance through France gave Allied commanders the drive to race to enter Germany. The pace was so fast, they outran their supply lines and had to take a pause – a pause that would result in the longest land battle in U.S. military history.


Having to wait for the Allied supply lines to catch up to the front gave the beleaguered Nazis the chance to regroup and settle down in one of Europe’s most dense and dark forests. It was a place the Army should never have entered.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
American troops man a machine gun in a captured German position during the 1944 Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

 

To put it mildly, the forest was the ideal place to defend. As the summer was turning to fall, which would soon see winter, the dense wood would see snow and rain that would churn the dirt to mud. Dense forests, deep ravines, and steep hills also gave the German defenders the advantage in the forest. To top it all off, there were also abandoned and overgrown concrete bunkers, part of the old Siegfried Line of defensive fortifications throughout the forest – and that’s exactly what drove the Americans into the bunker.

So after they gave the Germans time to roll out the barbed wire, booby traps, and minefields, the Americans decided to assault the forest head-on in an attempt to be the first to fight and take the vaunted Siegfried Line and thus be the first to enter Germany.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Not my first choice of target, but okay.

 

The forest itself was 70 square miles and was situated between Aachen, a city under siege that would not surrender, and the Ruhr Dam along the Rhine, one the Allies were afraid the Nazis would just destroy in an attempt to flood the Allied advance. The Americans decided they would assault the forest directly, and swiftly neutralize the threat to the dam while ensuring the fall of Aachen. That did not happen.

American tanks and airpower were ineffective while fighting in the forest and the machine gun – which the Wehrmacht had in spades – was the most effective weapon, especially considering the difficulty seeing for any kind of distance, along with the hills and ravines throughout the forest. The Germans zeroed in their mortars before the Americans ever arrived. The Americans should never have engaged the forest at all.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Even Ernest Hemingway, who feared nothing and no one, opted not to stay at Hurtgen Forest. No joke.

 

The U.S. Army didn’t have to go into the woods. The Siegfried Line was being assaulted all along its perimeter. The debacle at Hurtgen cost anywhere from 30,000-50,000 casualties at a cost of just 28,000 German casualties. To make matters worse, the months slowdown in advancement allowed the Germans to break out in a winter offensive, an advance that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Once upon a time, this ‘little kid’ was a lethal Vietnam War fighter

Before the American military draft was overturned in 1973, nearly 2.2 million Americans between the ages of 18-25 were pulled for service, including baby-faced 20-year-old, Mike Allen.


Nicknamed the “little kid” by the Vietnamese, Allen’s fellow soldiers suspected he shouldn’t be deployed because of his apparent age. But he’d simply reply: “My government says I do.”

Assigned to an Army swing battalion, Allen’s unit would rapidly deploy to the most dangerous areas at a moment’s notice, so he saw a lot of action.

Related: The first man killed in the Vietnam War was murdered by a fellow airman

Weighing in at approximately 120 pounds, Allen said in an interview he had to carry a grocery list of munitions like Claymore mines, trip flares, hand fragmentation grenades and at least 2,000 rounds of M60 ammo, just to name a few.

With all that gear strapped to his back, Mike humorously said, “you didn’t want to run short in case you hit the sh-t.”

Like most grunts, Mike had to live in the hot and muggy jungles and wore his first set of clothes for roughly 80 days, with only four 0r five changes to last during the deployment.

Allen earned an Air Medal for surviving at least 25 operational flights into unsecured landing zones.

“You were scared but you couldn’t feel scared because it would overtake you,” Mike said. “You know they’re watching you, and you try to keep your distance.”

Also Read: That time CBS captured an intense firefight in Vietnam

Check out Wisconsin Public Television‘s video below to watch Mike Allen’s patriotic story of what life was like for the “little kid” of Vietnam.

(Wisconsin Public Television, YouTube)Fun Fact:  According to the  National Archives, 27 million American men were eligible for service and only 2.2 million were drafted between 1964 and 1973. That is all.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 little-known times aggressors picked fights with the wrong enemy

Bigger isn’t always necessarily better. Military history is replete with examples of Goliaths falling to Davids. Sometimes the bigger army is the agent of its own failure, like the restrictions placed on American troops in Vietnam. Sometimes the hubris of a leader who seldom loses leads an otherwise formidable force to destruction the way Napoleon did against the Russians. And then some armies just bite off more than they can chew.


3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

At last try to stand up when you surrender your superior force after 18 minutes.

1. Mexico tries to put down Texian Rebellion; gets owned

In March 1836, the Mexican Army under the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked a rebel stronghold near San Antonio in an effort to keep Texas under Mexican domination. In an effort to send a message to the Texians, Santa Anna slaughtered the defenders of an old Spanish mission known as the Alamo, almost to a man. The next time the Texians met the Mexicans in a fight would be a month later at the Battle of San Jacinto. Outnumbered, the Texians took all of 18 minutes to defeat the Mexicans, killing, wounding, or capturing almost all of them – including Santa Anna himself. Texas was soon an independent nation.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

If you want to end French supremacy right, you have to do it yourself.

2. Frederick earns title “The Great” after ending three great powers

The Seven Years’ War was the first true “world war,” involving five major powers and a number of lesser ones, pitting a coalition of the British Empire and Prussia against France, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Austria, and many other German states. On the high seas and in North America, Britain reigned supreme, but on the battlefields of Europe, tiny Prussia would be forced to do battle almost alone and surrounded by opportunist enemies. Frederick struck neighboring Saxony first, before anyone was prepared. He then knocked the French out of the war in Continental Europe at the Battle of Rossbach, despite being outnumbered by more than two-to-one. When the Austrians failed to take the offensive, Frederick destroyed it despite being outnumbered two-to-one – using the same maneuver.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

Oops.

3. Italy tries to create an empire in Africa; Ethiopia isn’t having it

Italy tried to trick the Ethiopians into becoming an Italian client state by using loopholes in the language of a treaty. When this didn’t work, and the Ethiopians decided they were done with Italian meddling, the Italians were already on the warpath, ready to subdue Ethiopia by force. Emperor Menelik II wasn’t someone who was just going to roll over for a European army because they had guns. Ethiopia was gonna go down fighting, if it went down at all. After a year of fighting, the Italians had failed to properly subdue the Ethiopians and decided to attempt a final showdown at a place called Adwa. In the ultimate bad idea, 17,000 Italians with guns took on 100,000 Ethiopians with guns. And horses. It was just a fight that should never have happened in the first place.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

That face when the child soldier you capture is twice the veteran you are.

4. China invades Vietnam; forgets about the French and U.S. invasions

You might think that the years China spent aiding and arming tiny Vietnam would be a hint that Vietnam had a well-equipped, battle-hardened army with a leadership that was well-versed in bringing down giants who tried to ruin their groove. You’d be wrong. When Vietnam invaded neighboring Cambodia to stop the Khmer Rouge from killing all the Cambodians, China saw an opportunity to attack Vietnam and impose their dominance on the young Communist country. Well, Cambodia collapsed like a senior with heatstroke, and Vietnam was able to quickly turn its attention back to those sneaky Chinese. Within six weeks, Chairman Mao was pulling Chinese troops out of Vietnam much faster than the French or Americans had.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

Only in the Falklands.

5. Argentina thinks the U.K. won’t retake an island full of sheep; it’s wrong

In April 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied a series of islands off its coast that the British had occupied basically forever. Argentina didn’t see it as an invasion, really, just a decision to take what was rightfully theirs. Besides, the UK wouldn’t make such a fuss over a few fisherman and some sheep. It would be an easy win, but for one thing the Argentines didn’t count on.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

In Argentina, “Thatcher” means “buzzsaw.”

Once Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to respond with force, she was all a-go. The U.K. dispatched a naval task force of 127 ships immediately to retake the islands. In less than 20 days after setting sail, British Special Air Service commandos and Royal Marines were on South Georgia. Less than a week later, the Marines controlled the island, and so it went. The Argentinian fleet and air force were crippled in just over two months, the Argentinian dictatorship collapsed, and Margaret Thatcher won a new term as Prime Minister.

MIGHTY HISTORY

13 rarely seen illustrations from the Revolutionary War

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with what happened during the American Revolution. But the heroics, triumphs, and defeats of the first American citizens have inspired artists for centuries. Here are 13 illustrations of the war that are often left out of the history books and popular culture:


3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(John Trumbull, Yale University Art Gallery)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Alonzo Chappel via Good Free Photos)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(A.H. Ritchie via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(M.A. Wageman via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Alonzo Chappel via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(E.L. Henry via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(James Peale via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Augustus G. Heaton via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Alonzo Chappel via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Ezra Winter via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(A.I. Keller via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Alonzo Chappel via National Archives and Records Administration)

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today

(Turgis via National Archives and Records Administration)

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Cuba’s national heroes is an American Civil War veteran

As a young boy, Henry Reeve served in the Union Army as a drummer during the American Civil War. By the time of his death in 1876, he was 26 years old and fought in more than 400 battles over seven years – against the Spanish.


In 1868, Cuban landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes led an uprising against Spanish rule over Cuba. From his estate on the Eastern part of the island, Céspedes freed his slaves and raised an army. He led a resistance against the Spanish Empire that would last ten years and cost Céspedes his life. But the uprising attracted its fair share of foreign volunteers, one of those was a New Yorker named Henry Reeve.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
The first independence war did not go well for the disorganized but idealistic Cuban rebels.

Reeve’s Civil War service left him a virulent abolitionist and the Spanish in Cuba were the most determined abusers of slaves left in the Western Hemisphere. When he heard about the anti-slavery, anti-Spanish uprising, he immediately left for Cuba. He arrived in 1869 but was quickly captured by the Spanish Army, who tried to execute Reeve and his group of volunteers. Reeve escaped and went on to be an integral part of an otherwise-failed uprising that came to be known as Cuba’s First War of Independence.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Cuba’s first independence war was very different from later attempts.

His units routinely outmatched the Spanish, often overcoming superior Spanish numbers with the boldness and dedication that an American combat veteran brings to any fight. By the time he jumped over an enemy artillery battery to end a battle, he earned a promotion to Brigadier General and was wounded more than 10 times. Reeve soon became known as “Enrique El Americano” and “El Inglesito” — the Little Englishman — and was placed among legendary Cuban freedom fighters Máximo Gómez and Ignacio Agramonte.

Reeve also participated in daring raids, most famously to rescue Cuban freedom fighter and Major General Julio Sanguilly from the Spanish. That battle pitted 36 Cuban riders against more than 120 Spanish troops. Reeve also led exploration columns into the jungle wilderness of Cuba and led vanguards of the rebel army’s 2nd division.

Like Cuba’s version of Baron Wilhelm Von Steuben, Reeve wore his U.S. Army uniform the entire time.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
Henry Reeve, depicted wearing his Civil War-era U.S. Army uniform.

In 1876, Reeve and his staff were ambushed by the Spanish during their fateful invasion of the Western half of the island. He was unable to escape and, rather than being captured and tortured, he took his own life. It would take more than 20 years before Cuba saw independence from Spain, and even then, it required the help of the United States to unhook Spain from its cash cow.

In honor of the American, Cuba created an international corps of doctors to deploy to disaster areas and areas affected by disease, the Henry Reeve International Brigade. The award-winning team of doctors carries out public health missions in areas like Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Peru. It was the largest contingent deployed to fight Ebola in the deadly 2013-2014 outbreak in West Africa.

3 legendary leaders who made America’s special-operations units into the elite forces they are today
The Henry Reeve Brigade gets down to business in Africa.

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