Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

As the initial results were seen of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22 1941, observers around the world had every reason to believe that Germany was on a course to win the war and become one of the most powerful nations in all of history.


Four million men crossed the border into the Soviet Union during the invasion and quickly claimed large swaths of territory and inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet Union. By the end of the summer, the Wehrmacht had swept through the Baltic states, the Soviet portion of Poland, and the western half of Ukraine. German forces had made their way to Moscow by October before the bitter cold set in and Soviet General Zhukov could organize a successful defense of the city.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
A Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943. (Photo by Georgii Zelma)

The following spring, Hitler devised a new offensive in the East that would target the oil fields of southern Russia and capture the city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. Capturing the city would disrupt supply routes along the Volga and allow German forces to turn north and once again encircle Moscow. The Soviets were no less determined to defend the city as an important industrial and transportation center and a psychologically important city that bore the name of the Soviet Premiere.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
The initial phase of the German invasion, 1941. (Map created by the History Department of the U.S. Military Academy)

In September 1943, German forces entered Stalingrad, which provoked fierce house by house and street by street fighting. The brutality of the fighting is difficult to even imagine. 1.1 million Soviet soldiers became casualties, along with another 800,000 Axis fighters. But beyond the gruesome statistics, the battle for Stalingrad was the psychological turning point of all of the Second World War.

According to British historian Antony Beevor, Soviet soldiers shouted to German Prisoners of War after they had been captured, “This is how Berlin is going to look!” Advances to the east by German soldiers were about to be replaced with Soviet marches westward and no intelligent German believed that they could ever win a war of attrition, which is what Stalingrad became.

Also read: This is how Stalingrad’s most epic sniper duel ended

The fighting was also romanticized almost immediately. First, by the Soviet propaganda machine and later by Hollywood, which produced films like Enemy at the Gates. The center of the fighting is now strewn with monuments celebrating Communism’s great victory over Fascism.

The real legacy of Stalingrad, however, was the wasted lives of so many young men (and women). Germany did not need to make Stalingrad a city of vital strategic importance. The main aim of the campaign was the capture of oil fields in the caucuses. That could have been achieved without taking Stalingrad. Hitler directly intervened to overrule his Generals, who were about to withdraw from Stalingrad to capture targets further south en route to the Baku oil fields. Hitler’s primary aim was the propaganda value of the city.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Soviets preparing to ward off a German assault in Stalingrad’s suburbs.

Soviet preparedness for war was one of the primary reasons why Germany was able to so effectively fight the Red Army in the opening months of the war. Stalin had only recently purged the armed forces of needed officers out of a desire to further consolidate his power. Zhukov was spared but later said he always kept an emergency bag packed in case a knock on the door arrived. Had he been purged, it seems likely the Soviet Union would not have been able to win the war.

Stalingrad was ultimately a microcosm of the broader war in the east: a war of ugliness, cruelty, hatred, racism, misogyny, rape, and plunder. It is a leading candidate for the most brutal war ever fought.

Related: This colorized German war footage shows why Stalingrad was hell on Earth

Of course, some very important military principles were either learned or reinforced through Stalingrad. Military leaders must be cautious in spreading their troops too thinly, soldiers and civilians in a fight for their own country will often prove more motivated and willing to expend themselves, and that guerrilla warfare is a completely different matter than conventional warfare.

More: The 11 eeriest unsolved mysteries of World War II

But, the symbolism of Stalingrad does continue to live on in more inspiring ways than simple cruelty due to the clashing egos of two very powerful men. It really did change the course of history and involved ordinary men and women, in addition to professional soldiers, fighting for their very lives. Today, in Volgograd, there are echoes of the conflict still, as the descendants of those fighters continue on in the legacy left for them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This ‘shotgun’ is the most awesome firearm ever made

At the onset of the industrial revolution, people were looking at ways to mass-produce and commercialize nearly everything. But what about something as manual as duck hunting? Was there any way to mass-hunt ducks with some sort of firearm capable of knocking, say, 50 to 100 ducks out of the air all at once? Yes, in fact, there was. It was called the punt gun.


Back in the first decade of the 19th century, there existed a monster of a shotgun. Each of these guns was custom made for the ambitious hunter that wanted one, but in all cases, the barrels were somewhere between ten and thirteen feet in length. Most were muzzle-loaded while others had false breaches to load the over one pound of ammunition.

The overly-large shotgun weighed over 100 lbs. While many of the existing photos are of hunters jokingly posing like they’re using as a conventional shotgun, realistically, the recoil would’ve likely ripped someone’s arm off.

Instead, the gun was fastened to a punt — a flat-bottomed rowboat. The firer would position the boat towards a large flock of waterfowl and fire. The massive amount shot deployed with a single firing would most certainly take out enough birds to supply the hunter for an entire day. In order to properly mount the gun, the boats themselves needed to be specially-reinforced to account for the immense, destructive force.

 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Not unlike the A-10 Warthog and its GAU-8 Avenger. (Photo by Sydney Harold Smith)

 

But these guns have nothing on the granddaddy of all punt guns – Irish Tom, the world’s largest. Created in Great Britain in the 1930s by W.W. Greener and the Whitworth Factory of Manchester, this gun weighed over 300 lbs, had a 14′ 1″ barrel, and fired 3lbs 2oz of buckshot. The original owner, Stanley Duncan, claimed his best shot downed 100 ducks.

Just a handful of market hunters equipped with punt guns was enough to nearly drive ducks to extinction, ultimately leading to the gun being outlawed. Original and modern remakes can be scarcely found by collectors.

In the UK, punt guns are also used ceremoniously. Ever since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, 21 punt guns have been fired during every coronation and jubilee in Cowbit Wash, Lincolnshire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 badass operators you should know more about

The US Army’s premier special missions unit, commonly known as “The Unit,” has participated in several major military operations since its establishment in 1977. Thomas Patrick Payne was the latest member to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq after helping rescue more than 70 hostages in 2015. At Coffee or Die Magazine, we have shared the stories of some who served within this elite unit. 

Most recently, we sat down with Jamey Caldwell and discussed how he went from an operator chasing Usama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, to a burgeoning fly-fishing career. We also talked to retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb about his career and experiences during the Battle of Mogadishu. And then for the 27th anniversary of that battle, we spoke to former Army Ranger Brad Thomas to gain a perspective through his eyes of the events that occurred before and after the famous battle. Thomas went on to serve a career in the Unit and now is a guitarist for the rock band Silence and Light.

Here are four other operators that you should know more about. 

Col. Charles Beckwith

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Col. Charles Alvin Beckwith, the founder of the US Army’s special missions unit. Photo courtesy of USASOC.

Special operations forces within the US military have been present since as early as the American Civil War, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Army established a highly trained force to respond to evolving crises happening all over the world. Col. Charles Beckwith was the man to lead the charge. The Army Special Forces soldier served with 7th Special Forces Group and spent two years operating with covert “White Star” teams during Operation Hotfoot. Their mission was to harass North Vietnamese Army troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In 1962, Beckwith conducted counterinsurgency operations in Malaya while attached to the British 22nd Special Air Service. This led to an epiphany, and Beckwith conceptualized an equivalent unit in the United States. After the exchange program, Beckwith returned to Vietnam with Project Delta, Detachment B-52, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which became the most decorated unit in the Vietnam War. Beckwith led a 250-man element in 1965 to rescue a Green Beret base in Plei Me

The next year he was struck through the abdomen with a .50-caliber bullet and seriously wounded. In 1977 Beckwith went on to be the founder of the nation’s first counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit. Beckwith later participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the infamous rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis, and retired afterward. 

Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining attended and graduated from the very first selection course. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

Mike Vining served 31 years in the US Army before retiring as a sergeant major. For a one-year tour of duty to Vietnam between 1970 and 1971, Vining served with the 99th Ordnance Detachment as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician. His team was responsible for destroying Rock Island East, the largest enemy ammunition cache in the war.

Vining later attended and graduated from the first Operator Training Course (OTC-1) in 1978 and went on to participate in Operation Eagle Claw, Operation Urgent Fury for the assault on Richmond Hill Prison, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He also served as the explosive investigator of the Downing Assessment Task Force for which he investigated the truck bombing at Al Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. 

Maj. Thomas Greer

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Operators on the hunt for Usama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in November 2001. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Greer, better known by his pen name, Dalton Fury, was among the very first operators to write a book about the initial invasion of Afghanistan. His 2008 book, Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man, discussed the unsuccessful mission of tracking Bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Prior to joining the Unit, Greer served as an enlisted soldier in the 75th Ranger Regiment for eight years. Throughout his 15-year career in special operations units, he hunted war criminals in the Balkans, served as an assault force commander on direct action raids against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and tracked Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. 

Greer retired in 2005 after more than 20 years of military service. In civilian life, Greer consulted on strengthening the security of all the nation’s nuclear power plants and was a military consultant for the popular video games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He died in 2016 after a battle with cancer; he was 52.

Sgt. Maj. Dennis Wolfe

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Dennis Wolfe served his country in the US Army and as a civil servant for 48 years in total. Photo courtesy of USSOCOM.

Dennis Wolfe contributed 48 years of combined military and civilian service to his country. When Wolfe first joined the Army he planned to go the Airborne route, but after suffering a knee injury in basic training, he chose to enter the EOD career field.

“In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service,” he said at the US Special Operations Command ceremony where he was the recipient of the 2018 Bull Simons Award for lifetime achievements as a special operator. 

“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” Wolfe recalled. This assignment was for the US Army’s new special missions unit. Wolfe, as well as Mike Vining on this list, were pioneers in the EOD world. Like Vining, Wolf also attended and graduated the very first OTC-1 in 1978. He participated in Operation Eagle Claw and Operation Urgent Fury and after his retirement was a trailblazer bringing together civilian scientists with military strategists to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said, reflecting on his career. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British crew sang a hilarious song as their ship burned

People who serve in the military tend to develop a pretty dark sense of humor. It comes with the territory. When a very large part of your life involves risking it for your country and for the guy next to you, the idea that your last moments could be closer than you think never fully leaves your mind.

This can change a person. Veterans have a different outlook on some of the more serious aspects of life, laughing at things many others would never dream to, for fear of offending others or, worse, tempting fate. For the crew of the British destroyer HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, this change became readily apparent and their darker sense of humor flourished.


In 1982, the military junta that ruled Argentina decided that the nearby Falkland Islands, a series of small and strategically unimportant islands off the Argentine coast were going to belong to Argentina again. They had been held by Britain for about 150 years at that point. After a workers’ dispute saw Argentine laborers raise the Argentinian flag on South Georgia Island, Argentina invaded. Soon, 10,000 Argentinian troops occupied the islands. The Argentines thought the UK was unwilling and unable to defend their territories so far from the mainland. They were wrong.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

They thought the woman with the nickname “Milk Snatcher” was gonna just let them have the goddamn Falklands.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched a two-carrier naval task force to the area and declared a 200-mile war zone around the Falklands. Within two months, the British retook the Falklands and punished the Argentinian military, but their win was not totally without loss. One of the deadliest weapons the Royal Navy had to face was the new French-built Exocet anti-ship missile. The versatile weapon is capable of sinking enemy vessels with a single, well-placed shot.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in sinking the HMS Sheffield.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Exocet: the trump card of naval warfare.

The Sheffield was on alert but was more concerned about the submarine threat from Argentina’s navy. The crew was totally unaware of the incoming ordnance until they could see smoke from the sea-skimming missiles. The firing aircraft, two Argentinian Navy Super-Étandards weren’t even detected. One missile hit the water, well away from the ship, but the other hit the Sheffield just eight feet above the waterline.

The ship was set on fire and, because the missile hit Sheffield’s water main, there was no way to put it out. Smoke and flames quickly filled the ship, beginning from the second deck where the Exocet missile struck. The crew could only gather and accept the ship’s fate as it burned and they waited to be rescued. Some 20 British sailors died in the initial explosion.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

The HMS Arrow was on its way to rescue the Sheffield’s crew, so they formed a chain to keep everyone together and a Sub-Lieutenant named Carrington-Wood led the crew in singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. To this day, it’s the most-requested funeral song in the UK.

The Sheffield did not sink immediately. She was looked at to see what could be salvaged and only began to take on water as she was towed across the Atlantic. When she sank, she was the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in action since World War II.

Articles

Watch this Texas monster truck rescue an Army vehicle from Harvey floodwaters

For the last several days, Hurricane Harvey has dropped an estimated 50-inches of rain, putting several Texas towns underwater.


Countless Americans are braving the weather conditions, driving massive trucks out to help their fellow flood victims by transporting them and what belongings they can muster to local shelters until this natural disaster clears.

One Twitter video has been recently making rounds of a massive Cadillac Escalade lifted up on enormous tires pulling a nearly submerged medium sized tactical truck from a flooded residential area.

Related: This is how the Growler disables an enemy’s air defense system

After the Escalade roared its powerful motor, the driver managed to tow the Texas National Guard’s military vehicle from the flood waters causing the nearby spectators to cheer.

According to the US Department of Defense, more than 3,800 people have been rescued, but many residents wish to stay at home protecting their belongings from looters.

Also Read: 15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Check out Micheal Keyes’ video below to see the action for yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Merchant Marine suffered the worst losses of World War II

It may sound crazy, but an organization suffered worse losses in World War II than the Army, the Marine Corps, or even the Navy that was in charge of guarding it: The Merchant Marine, the sailors who crewed ships carrying goods from U.S. factories to European battlefields, lost nearly 4 percent of its members in the war.


Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Merchant Marine officers and crew members were in high demand in World War II, but it was a dangerous and largely thankless service.

(National Archives and Records Administration)

The Merchant Marine was never designed for front-line combat on the battlefield or on the ocean. It’s made up of mostly civilian members who conduct almost any type of maritime trade in peacetime, from fishing tours to oil shipping. During a war, the federal government can make these sailors into an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy.

And during World War II, these men went through light training before crewing ships that had to brave not only the seas and storms, but German U-boats that were organized into wolfpacks and ordered to hunt the Merchant Marine.

This forced these men into the worst of the fighting, despite their largely non-combat role. And it made sense for both sides. Logistics moves supplies and, along with the industry that creates those supplies, wins wars. Germany had a weak industrial base and needed to keep American industry out of the war as much as possible. But one of America’s greatest roles in the war was that of “Arsenal of Democracy,” and it couldn’t afford to keep the Merchant Marine at port.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

German U-boats sank ships flying under Allied colors and didn’t have the ability to recover and rescue the people imperiled by the sinking.

(Willy Stower, public domain)

And so German U-boats patrolled the American coasts, sinking ships — sometimes within view of their ports. Whenever possible, German U-boats operated on the surface, drawing oxygen to run their diesel motors and attacking with deck guns that could punch holes in ships’ hulls and doom them. When that was too dangerous, they would hunt underwater and attack with torpedoes.

For the sailors of the Merchant Marine, this was terrifying. They were under threat of German attack from the moment they left the range of the shore guns until they reached European ports. American waters were actually some of the most dangerous as U-boats hunted the coast at night, looking for U.S. ship silhouettes blocking out lights from shore. Once they had the target, the subs could attack and disappear.

Counting the waters around the American Philippines, Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Merchant Marine lost approximately 196 ships in U.S. waters. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, our backyard, we lost another 180 ships. Officially, the U.S. lost 1,554 ships in the war. Approximately 8,000 to 12,000 Merchant Marine sailors were killed.

A ship sinks during World War II.

And the situations during the sinkings were terrifying. When ships were struck, sailors would have only minutes or seconds to get off the boat and to safety. Fires and the twisted hull could block passageways and make escape impossible. Jump into the water too early from too high and you could die from striking the water. Wait too long and the suction of the ship would pull you under to drown. Sharks, oil fires, and starvation could kill even those who made it out safely.

And, oddly enough, since the crews were often still technically civilians even when under Navy control, their pay stopped whenever they weren’t actively serving on a ship. That included when the ships were sunk under them and they had to spend weeks trying to reach a safe port.

The worst year, by far, was 1942, when approximately 500 ships were lost or captured in a single year. When the U.S. and the Axis Powers exchanged declarations of war in December 1941, U.S. ships sunk or otherwise lost skyrocketed from an average of 1 per month from January to November to about 55 in December, not counting Navy warships destroyed at Pearl Harbor.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

“Victory” and “Liberty” ships under construction during World War II. These ships allowed American arms and supplies to be shipped en masse to Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.

(War Shipping Administration)

The U.S. rushed the convoy system from World War I back into service. Merchant ships were encouraged to sail in planned convoys with U.S. and British naval escort, and ships that took part were much safer than those who went it alone. Less than 30 percent of U.S. and allied ships lost to U-boat attacks were in a convoy while they were sunk.

This was due to a number of factors, the darkest of which was that, even when U-boats had the edge against Navy vessels, they needed to remain underwater. Since they couldn’t use their deck guns without surfacing, that meant they could only sink as many ships as they had torpedoes.

But British technological advances and the large American industrial base began giving potent sub-hunting weapons to the U.S. and Allied navies and, suddenly, the U-boats had a lot more to worry about when facing convoys than just their limited arsenals. By May, 1943, sonar, radar, improved depth charges, and other tools had tipped the battle in the Atlantic and across most of the oceans.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania commissioned by the London Illustrated News. The ship was sank by U-boats, leading to America’s direct involvement in World War I.

(London Illustrated News)

Subs were on the run, and the Merchant Marine could sail with less worry. Still, the Merchant Marine lost between 9,000 and 12,000 sailors during the war, depending on whose numbers you use. The National World War Two museum puts the number of dead and presumed dead at 11,324, a loss rate of almost 4 percent. Meanwhile, the Marines took losses of almost 3.7 percent with 24,500 killed out of 669,000 people who served throughout the war.

Yes, joining World War II as the crewman on a merchant ship was more dangerous than joining as a Marine, and the Marines had it the worst of all the Department of Defense branches in the war, suffering 10 percent of all U.S. casualties despite being only 5 percent of the total force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why sailors have 13 buttons on their trousers

An old sailor’s tale is that the buttons represent the 13 original colonies.

In the early 1800s, the iconic trouser’s front flap (crotch area) or “broadfall” had 15 buttons before it was modified 90-years later to have just seven, allowing the manufacturer to reduce the amount of material.


At least, that’s what Navy recruits tell each other during basic training — but that wasn’t the real intention.

In the early 1800s, the iconic trouser’s front flap (crotch area) or “broadfall” had 15 buttons before it was modified 90-years later to have just seven, allowing the manufacturer to reduce the amount of material.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Reportedly years later, the broadfall was enlarged for various reasons including that many sailors didn’t have enough room down there, so the Navy listened and added the extra material and six buttons.

Pro tip: Many sailors have their trousers tailored to remove all the buttons and replace them with Velcro strips to grant easier access to the goods. They then resew the buttons to the outside flap, with uniform inspectors being none-the-wiser.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the American Civil War happened

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly caught a lot of heat for his comments about the cause of the American Civil War. Kelly said that it happened because of “a lack of ability to compromise.” And while that is technically true, it could be said that every war starts because of a lack of ability to compromise.


 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
And sometimes, a compromise is actually a terrible idea.

 

Even if you venture away from the politics of the moment and step back in time to the politics of 1860, the cause of the American Civil War is still because of one issue: slavery. Even a more holistic understanding of the war reveals the one true cause at the heart of the conflict.

State’s rights

When someone is trying to make the cause seem like something other than slavery, the first issue they talk about is “state’s rights.” This happens so often, “state’s rights” has become a euphemism for slavery. But the power of federal law over state law was first settled by the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s.

South Carolina tried to declare certain federal tariffs null and void within the borders of the state. They also asserted they could nullify any federal law they declared unconstitutional. But they were dealing with a president who believed nullification was a step toward secession and he wasn’t having it.

 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Andrew Jackson didn’t take sh*t from anyone.

While Jackson lowered the tariffs to resolve the crisis, he also signed the Force Bill into law, which said the federal government had the authority to implement federal authority by force if necessary. Here the first stones of the road to war were laid, but if the war was really about the authority of states versus the federal government, the Civil War would have started in the 1830s.

Bleeding Kansas

The Civil War was not the first time American started shooting at each other over the issue of slavery. As the Union expanded after the Revolutionary War and more states were added, the balance between slaveholding states and free states was carefully maintained.

Representatives from slave states believed if too many free states were added to the union, the power of slaves states would diminish so much that slavery everywhere could be easily outlawed. But as more destiny manifested in the form of new U.S. territory, someone had to organize the unorganized territory.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
That’s really what they called it.

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise determined the Free State-Slave State border at a latitude of 36° 30′ – a separation of North vs. South. After the Mexican-American War acquired new territory, and thus new states, the Compromise of 1850 determined which would be admitted as Free and Slaveholding states.

Then in 1854, the law of unintended consequences showed up and the Kansas-Nebraska Act said the people of a state would vote on whether or not their state would have slaves. Settlers flooded into the new territories and violence soon erupted between pro- and anti-slavery fighters.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Abolitionist John Brown literally slayed bodies with a broadsword in Kansas.

 

It was a sign of things to come. Literally. Like Terminator 2, the second coming of John Brown is even more epic than the first.

The Dred Scott decision

When a black slave named Dred Scott was sold to a white man who moved Scott into the free areas of Illinois and Wisconsin, Scott sued his owner, arguing that being in a state where slavery was illegal meant that he could not be a slave. That’s when the Supreme Court made the worst decision since declaring that black people in America were to be counted as 3/5 of a person.

 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Someone hold Chief Justice Taney’s beer.

 

The Supreme Court ruled that any black person, free or slave, was property and neither a person nor subject to the protections of law. While the court and President-elect James Buchanan were hoping that the decision would end public debate about legislating slavery, Northerners saw the decision as removing the idea of “free” states entirely and fueled the conspiracy theory of a pro-slavery cabal of rich men in Congress.

John Brown’s raid

Abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, between Oct. 16 and Oct. 19, 1859. He wanted to seize the arms there and distribute them to the local slave population. His intent was to lead a revolt that would destroy slavery in the United States.

 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Remember John Brown? Told you so.

 

Brown’s 22 fellow abolitionists fought a company of U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. Ten of Brown’s men were killed in combat. Brown would be captured and hanged for treason and murder. He would also be considered a martyr by the northern states, which led the south to believe northerners wanted to exterminate their way of life.

Suddenly the Presidential election of 1860 became even more important. It was seen as a referendum on the future of the nation – the country would be free or slaveholding.

Lincoln wins

Lincoln received zero votes in nine states, but still won 40 percent of the overall vote, including majorities in the most populous states. It was enough to beat a heavily divided opposition in the Electoral College. By the time of his inauguration, seven states already seceded from the union – even though Lincoln promised to leave slavery alone where it already existed.

No matter how you study the roads that led to the Civil War, it always comes back to one cause.

The Civil War would kill more Americans than the Revolution, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam – combined.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Hollywood star’s secret radio invention changed war forever

Glamour, grace, and poise was everything that Hedy Lamarr portrayed when she walked into a room and in film. However, it turns out, Lamarr was not just a pretty face.

She was an avid inventor who created one of the most groundbreaking patents dealing with high-frequency technology that changed the way we fight wars today.


Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Hedy Lamarr, above, was one of the most glamorous faces of MGM’s golden era.

(CBS News)

Everyone knows Hedy Lamarr as one of the most famous starlets of the 1930s who took Hollywood by storm when she appeared in numerous films. The public just couldn’t get enough of her beauty and ate up whatever she had to sell. Hedy was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1913, in Vienna, Austria. She immigrated to the U.S. during WWII after she was discovered by an Austrian film director.

A patriot to the core, she made it her duty to visit USOs and help in the war efforts as much as she could. Mostly, this consisted of using her status as a movie star to sell war bonds. She began to think beyond the scope of Hollywood and wanted to be more impactful with her actions.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

The original patent that Hedy Lamarr created with George Anheil in 1941.

Already an inventor at heart, with countless inventions set to the wayside, she started to think of how the military could communicate with one another without the enemy obstructing messages or intercepting intel. Lamarr wanted to bring her latest idea to fruition and shared them with a fellow patron of the arts.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Hedy Lamarr and George Anthiel came together to streamline the patenting of a secret communication messaging system.

She enlisted the help of George Anthiel, an Avante-Garde composer, and they constructed a patent for a secret communication system based on manipulating radio frequency intervals between transmission and reception. What was created was an unbreakable code that helped keep classified messages concealed. Ultimately, ‘spread spectrum’ technology was born of this patent and was first used during the Cuban Missile Crisis on Navy ships.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Hedy Lamarr finally gets her story told in the film Bombshell, where her passion for inventing is revealed.

(Vanity Fair)

Unfortunately, it took years for Lamarr to get recognition for her invention, and she is often just shrugged off as a pretty face of a bygone era. She was finally honored in 1997, along with Antheil, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. In the same year, she was the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, given to those that impact society through their inventions. Lamarr and Antheil were also inducted into the Inventors Hall of fame in 2014.

What’s even more impressive is that Lamar’s patent was the blueprint of all wireless communications we have today. Yes, that includes technology that is used in cell phones, GPS systems, Bluetooth, and WiFi. All of these technologies have especially benefited the military and our war-fighting capabilities. Lamarr’s ideas live on and continue to benefit not only the military, but society at large.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11

Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.


Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Mike Spann during operations in Afghanistan in 2001. (Photo from CIA)

Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.

In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.

The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.

In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.

A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.

Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Northern Alliance troops in 2001 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.

After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.

American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.

After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
A memorial to Spann, built at Qala-i-Jangi (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.

Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.

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The reason the British military formed the Special Air Service

In World War II, the British needed a special group of men to tip the scales in North Africa and they came up with the Special Air Service.


The SAS, originally put together as L Detachment of the Special Air Services Brigade in an effort to mislead the Germans and Italians as to the size of the unit, was tasked with conducting desert raids behind enemy lines.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
An SAS jeep manned by Sgt. Schofield and Trooper Jeavons of 1st SAS near Geilenkirchen, Germany, on November 18, 1944. (Photo: British Army Sgt. Hewitt)

The paratroopers of the SAS failed in their first mission but were stunningly successful in their second when they destroyed 60 enemy aircraft on the ground with no casualties.

As the unit continued to rack up victories, they were given more daring missions and better equipment. One team was even tasked with assassinating German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in France but was unable to reach him before he was injured and evacuated in an unrelated incident.

The SAS history is clearly and quickly laid out in this video from Simple History. Check it out below:

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This is how coal absolved the negatives of the industrial revolution

The Industrial Revolution, which spanned over the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, was a pivotal period in history. It brought Europe and the United States into modern times. It is defined by its technological advancements, which revolutionized the means of industrial production and had a deep and long-lasting impact on the demography of the countries it touched.

New technologies

The faster and more economical production processes led to lower prices, which meant more widespread access to commodities that were previously considered a luxury. The technological discoveries also encouraged the thirst for new knowledge, leading to groundbreaking innovations such as the lightbulb, the telephone, and the X-ray. The wave of discovery also spread to medicine and hygiene, which in turn led to improved health and quality of life, leading to a sharp rise in the population during that period.

The Industrial Revolution also introduced a major shift in energy consumption. Steam power quickly became the main source of power used by machinery or even for the production of electricity. Although it was first produced by burning wood, that resource was eventually replaced by coal.

America controlled energy

The American coal industry became a major player in the Industrial Revolution. It went on to shape the face of the USA in the most profound ways. Until the 18th century, the production of coal in Europe and the USA was marginal. It was a source of power only the wealthy could afford. But with the development of technology and industry, coal quickly became the primary material used to power up industries throughout the two continents. Thanks to the expansion of the iron, steel, and textile industries, the demand for coal rose sharply to fuel steam engines. Coal was also used to power up steamships and steam trains, leading to the development of the transportation system. Coal powered up the machines and allowed them to transport even greater quantities of coal through regions that were previously difficult to service.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
The first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, linking East Coast to West. (National Park Service)

The development of the various industries and the transport system caused a sharp increase in the need for manpower, leading to the creation of many factory, mining, and construction jobs, and a burgeoning blue-collar class. It led to a massive demographic exodus that saw a mostly rural population migrate towards the cities, where jobs were widely available, as well as the rise of wage labor.

Interventionism

The working conditions for miners were extremely difficult. The lowering of production costs and the increase in distribution should have led to an improvement in these conditions, but mine owners refused to follow the general trend. The numerous strikes led by coal miners led to discontent in the population. The country had grown completely dependent on coal. In turn, those worries led to reforms in the working laws that still have an impact to this day. President Roosevelt‘s interventionist attitude in the American economy was partially inspired by the coal miners’ plight. Thus, the coal industry helped to shape both the bureaucratic corporation that came for profit-bent owners and the progressive reforms that stemmed from the wish for humane treatment of the American workforce.

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
The Union defeating the Confederacy in the Civil War was ultimately a matter of resources, and coal was chief among them (U.S. Army)

Yankee coal won the war

Another major impact of the coal industry was felt during the Civil War. At that time, most of the coal production was located in the north of the country. In fact, the North was producing 38 times more coal than the South. It gave the Union’s war industries such as iron, steel, and weapons. It was a massive advantage over the Confederacy, eventually leading to the Union’s victory.

Despite the environmental and humane controversy stirred by the coal industry, its lasting impact on Europe and the USA is undeniable. The smoke of the coal-powered factories has been the mark of a century that brought about a worldwide transformation so deep that it clearly defined a “before” and an “after.” The coal industry played an important role in shaping the western world as we know it.


Feature image: Library of Congress

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That time George Washington’s dentures were stolen from a museum

The Smithsonian Institution is one place you’d think relics from America’s founding were safe. The security there must be pretty good, right? Well, tell that to a pair of George Washington’s dentures.


According to a 1982 New York Times article, the false teeth were discovered missing on June 19, 1981, by a curator who had gone to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History. The lower portion of the dentures turned up in a secure area of the Smithsonian in May, 1982. They were made of gold, lead, elephant ivory, and possibly human teeth — not wood, as many people believe.

“We never made any effort to have the value of the gold appraised,” Lawrence E. Taylor, a spokesman for the Smithsonian said. “It would be minuscule compared to the historic value of the teeth.”

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
Wooden tooth jokes are as funny as actual wooden teeth.

According to Smithsonian magazine, Washington needed dentures because he’d lost most of his teeth from a combination of bad genes and worse dentistry practices at the time. This lead Washington to take measures to correct the tooth loss, including purchasing teeth from African-Americans, according to the official web site of Mount Vernon.

That site also notes that Washington was sensitive about the state of his teeth and tried to keep his dental condition a secret. Documents show he was particularly embarrassed to find out that the British had intercepted a letter in which he asked for a set of tooth scrapers to be sent to him in New York. That said, the intercepted letter helped mislead the British as to his intentions, ensuring the success of the Yorktown campaign.

 

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later
George Washington

According to a timeline at the official site of Mount Vernon, Washington was down to one tooth when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789. That tooth would be removed in 1796, before his term of office ended.

To hear Brad Meltzer describe the heist of the dentures, and to get a quick take on the theft, watch the video below.

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