This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.


Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.

 

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Not a great record for a weapon named after one of the Army’s greatest sharpshooters from history. (Photo: Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0)

The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.

So the military asked manufacturers to keep to a few reasonable rules. Importantly, as much technology as possible needed to come from existing commercial or military surplus sources to keep the weapon relatively cheap to manufacture and maintain.

The winning design came from the Ford Aerospace Communications Corp. and featured two Swedish-made 40mm cannons mounted in a turret and controlled by the Doppler radar from the F-16. The whole thing rode on an M48 Patton tank chassis.

Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
An M247 sits behind an M108 105mm self-propelled howitzer at Yuma Proving Grounds,Arizona. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

 

So the first M247s hit the field and performed horribly in tests. They frequently failed to spot targets. Software changes made it more sensitive, but also caused it to start identifying ground clutter as probable enemies.

Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.

In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.

Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.

And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.

 

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
An M247 Sgt. Alvin C. York Division Air Defense gun on display in Camp Robinson, Arkansas. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.

Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.

In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.

After total spending of $1.8 billion, the Army had received 65 unsatisfactory weapons and sent the request to the Secretary of Defense for the funding for $417.5 million for another 117 weapons. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger withheld the funds until an ongoing test was completed.

The York once again failed, and Weinberger canceled the program in August 1985.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The American story about the creator of this beloved 50-cal will blow your mind

The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.


Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.

That all changed during the course of his usual work.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.

In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.

He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.

(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)

Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.

Articles

These are the rebel wars where Chesty Puller got his start

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is probably known best for his legendary actions in World War II where he led Marines at Guadalcanal and in Korea when he and his men broke out from the Chosin Reservoir.


But Puller originally enlisted in the Corps to fight in World War I.

He was eventually assigned to train new Marines and then sent officer school — which combined to keep him away from the front lines of The Great War.

But in 1919 he was offered a deployment to Haiti if he came back to active duty.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The trip was described to young Marine officers as a sort of consolation prize after their trip to France was canceled. Writing about Puller and another Marine officer in Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps, Leo J. Dougherty III wrote:

They saw service in Haiti as a means of compensation for not having served in the World War, and, as then Capt. William H. Rupertus told the young second lieutenants, as a way to “make money and have some fun.”

But Haiti was a real war zone.

Most of the recent Marine Corps officer training graduates were sent to Haiti as American noncommissioned officers who held officer ranks in the Gendarmerie d’Haïti. This was basically a police and counterinsurgency force whose enlisted ranks were filled with local soldiers but whose officers were mostly Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler served as the commander of Nicaragua’s national guard when he was a major. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The first commander of the Gendarmerie d’Haïti was then-Maj. Smedley Butler, another Marine Corps legend. And the Marines and their gendarmerie fought tooth and nail against determined Caco rebel attacks.

The rebels would hit targets — usually government buildings and forces — and then escape into the jungle.

To catch the rebels, Puller and other gendarmerie officers led their men on hard marches through the jungle and into the mountains, fighting off ambushes along the way.

Puller — who was deployed to Haiti from 1919 to 1924 — later estimated that he fought in about 40 engagements against the Caco rebels in Haiti and learned a lot of lessons, which helped him later in Nicaragua.

Puller was promoted to second lieutenant in 1924 and deployed to Nicaragua for the first time in 1926.

Nicaragua had been racked by political turmoil for over a decade despite an American intervention in 1912, causing instability in Latin America and headaches for American fruit companies. The Marines arrived in 1927 to protect American interests in the country.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

In 1928, Puller arrived and again led a local force, this time it was an element from the Guardia Nacional of Nicaragua. These government forces and their Marine mentors were tasked with disrupting rebel operations.

During his first tour of Nicaragua, Puller served for over two years and was awarded a Navy Cross for leading his men through five major engagements from February to August of 1930. Puller’s element was successful in each of the engagements, killing nine of the enemy and wounding more.

After a year break for training at Fort Benning, Puller returned to Nicaragua and commanded local forces once again. He received a second Navy Cross for actions taken in 1932. Puller was leading 40 Nicaraguans alongside Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William A. “Iron Man” Lee.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The men forced their way into rebel territory a full 80 miles from their base and any reliable reinforcements or lines of communication. Rebels ambushed them, and Puller was in the center of the first attack. When a Nicaraguan fell right next to him and Lee was hit with what were thought to be mortal wounds, Puller quickly rallied the men and got them fighting against the 150 or more rebels.

Despite the fact that they had been ambushed by a numerically superior force, the Marines and Nicaraguans were able to throw off the attack. They killed 10 of the enemy.

Puller led his men back to their base to the south, a full hundred miles away.

But on Sept. 30, 1932, 10 days after the first ambush, the rebels attempted two more attacks designed to wipe out Puller and his men. Both attacks were rebuffed with heavy losses for the rebels, allowing the American-Nicaraguan patrol to arrive at the base on Oct. 31.

Lee survived his wounds and later fought in World War II where he became a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Navy Cross three times for his actions in Nicaragua.

Puller would later take a series of staff and command positions, including a deployment to guard Americans in China, before leading Marines throughout the Pacific in the World War II and Korea battles that made him an icon of the Corps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.

Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.


This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The Pas-de-Calais defenses in 1944.

They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.

The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

U.S. troops of Japanese descent fighting in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, one of the most storied units of the war.

No one expected it in June 1944.

Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

American troops fighting in the hedgerows of the French countryside.

The advance was much faster than expected

German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

German sailors of the Kriegsmarine.

How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them

During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The coordination of the Maquis

The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 of the bravest aviators of the Korean War

Though often called “the Forgotten War,” the Korean War saw many advances in aviation. The war ushered in the jet age and saw the first widespread use of the helicopter in combat. The aviators of the war, many of which were veterans of WWII, knew the bravery necessary to win in aerial conflict. These are six of the bravest aviators of the Korean War.


1. John Walmsley

Flying the dangerous — but effective — missions of Operation Strangle, Capt. Walmsley piloted a B-26 invader with a massive, mounted searchlight for illuminating enemy convoys at night. On September 14, 1951, Walmsley and his crew embarked over North Korea, where he attacked and damaged a heavily-armed supply train.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
An American attack on a North Korean rail station.

When his bombs and ammunition were expended, he stayed on target to direct follow-on attacks through intense anti-aircraft fire. On his third pass, the train was destroyed, but his aircraft was severely damaged and crashed. Walmsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

2. Col. George Andrew Davis, Jr.

Already an ace with seven victories in WWII, Davis had racked up another twelve kills by February 1952. On that day, Davis and his wingman attacked a group of a dozen MiG-15s moving in on American bombers. Approaching the group from behind, Davis blasted the first MiG he came upon before they realized he was there.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Colonel George A. Davis in front of his F-86 Sabre.

Speeding through the formation, he engaged and downed a second MiG. Despite drawing heavy fire from the other MiGs, Davis bore down on a third enemy fighter. A burst of cannon fire sent Davis’ plane spiraling to the ground. Davis received the Medal of Honor for his selfless sacrifice.

3. Lt.(jg) John K. Koelsch

On July 3, 1951, Koelsch responded to a downed Marine aviator near Wonsan, North Korea. Due to heavy fog, his air support was unable to provide covering fire and, during the pickup, his helicopter was downed by enemy fire. He rescued the other two men from the burning aircraft and then led them in evading communist patrols for three days.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Lieutenant Koelsch’s Sikorsky HO3-S-1 helicopter aboard the USS Philippine Sea.

After six more days, the men made their way to the coast where they were captured before they could be rescued. Koelsch later died as a POW due to malnutrition and illness. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

4. Louis Sebille

Having flown light bombers in Europe during WWII, Sebille transitioned to fighter-bombers and was stationed in Japan at the outbreak of the Korean War. During the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, Sebille flew F-51s in close-air support and ground attack roles. On Sept. 5, 1950, he led a flight of three planes to attack an advancing armored column. Diving on the column, he intended to release both bombs, but one stuck. When he attempted to pull away, his plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Capt. Sebille is on the far left, in Britain during WWII.

Mortally wounded, Sebille turned and dove again at the column. He fired all of his rockets and emptied his machine guns into the communist vehicles. This time though, he had no intention of turning away. With his remaining bomb still attached to his wing, he slammed his crippled plane into the lead vehicle, sacrificing himself and holding up what remained of the column. Sebille’s sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor.

5. Charles Loring

Major Loring was already a veteran of ground attack missions in WWII when he joined American forces fighting in Korea in 1952. Flying F-80 Shooting Stars, Loring provided close air support and conducted ground attack missions against the communists. On Nov. 22, 1952, Loring led a flight in an attack against a massive Chinese artillery battery that was putting devastating fire on UN positions.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Charles Loring in his pilot’s gear.

As Loring began his dive bombing run, his aircraft was struck and disabled. His wingman called for him to turn away and return to friendly lines. Instead, Loring, with a steely determination, ignored his wingman’s pleas and continued his dive. He never pulled up and crashed his plane straight into the Chinese battery, destroying it entirely. Loring received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions.

6. Thomas Hudner, Jr.

On Dec. 4, 1950, Hudner, then a Lieutenant Junior Grade, and his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown – the first African-American naval aviator, took off as part of a six-plane flight flying close air support for the Marines engaged at the Chosin Reservoir. After taking enemy fire and trailing fuel, Brown crash-landed his plane. Still alive, but pinned in his plane, Brown tried unsuccessfully to extricate himself as his plane caught fire. Hudner, unwilling to leave his stricken friend, crash-landed his own plane and worked to extract Brown while they waited for a rescue helicopter to arrive.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Mrs. Daisy P. Brown congratulates Hudner after he is awarded the Medal of Honor.

Working frantically, Hudner and the rescue pilot were still unable to remove Brown as he began to lose consciousness. With darkness approaching and Brown’s condition deteriorating, Hudner finally abandoned his effort. Two days later, Navy planes bombed the wreckage to keep Brown’s body out of the enemy’s hands. For his efforts to save Brown, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A veteran stole a Patton tank and went on a rampage in 1995

The story of Shawn Nelson does not have a happy ending. He was an unemployed plumber living in the San Diego area who was struggling from a recent motorcycle accident. He was drowning in debt and was about to lose his home. So, he somehow walked into a California National Guard armory and drove out in an M60A3 Patton Tank.

As a veteran, he knew exactly how to drive it.


The guy was just going crazy,” bystander Kelly Bird told the New York Times. Bird said he saw at least 25 cars flattened. “He was mowing cars over.”

Luckily for San Diego, the tank’s weapons, a 105-millimeter cannon, a 12.7-millimeter antiaircraft gun, and a 7.62-millimeter machine gun, were not loaded. But, for around a half-hour on May 17, 1995, Shawn Nelson took his rage out on the city traffic of San Diego.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

Nelson speeding away in an M60A3 Patton Tank.

The past few years of Nelson’s life were disastrous. He lost both parents to cancer, his wife filed for divorce, he was in a motorcycle accident, lost multiple lawsuits, and was countersued for legal claims, lost his business, and his live-in girlfriend died from a drug overdose. He was in constant pain from his back injuries and was about to be homeless.

He was a suicidal Army veteran with nothing to lose when he entered a National Guard Armory through an unlocked gate and managed to open an unsecured Patton tank that he just so happened to know how to operate. As the guards moved to stop him, the 63-ton tank lurched forward, then out the door, then off the base and into San Diego.

A top speed of 30 miles per hour meant that the police chase was a slow one. But nothing got in Shawn Nelson’s way in the last few minutes of his life. He ran down road signs, hydrants, parked cars, traffic lights – anything that might potentially stop him in his tracked vehicle. He even tried to knock down a pedestrian bridge by ramming it repeatedly. The concrete held, though, and Nelson moved on.

This time, he took the freeway. He got on the 805 south but tried to drive over the concrete barrier into oncoming northbound traffic. That’s when his joyride ended. The tank got stuck on the concrete berm. San Diego police officers mounted the vehicle and opened the hatch, ordering Nelson to surrender himself. When he tried to free the tank one more time, he was shot in the shoulder.

The shot would eventually kill him.

Articles

Medal of Honor recipient who held off 9 German attacks has died

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.


According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Troops from the 3rd Infantry Division in Nuremburg. (US Army photo)

Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.

A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
The Medal of Honor

Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired  as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of Old Abe, the ‘Screaming’ Eagle

All unit patches in the Army are based on something. The 25th ID patch pays homage to their home state of Hawaii. The 3rd ID patch showcases the major battles they were a part of in WWI. The 1st ID went with a big, red one because lieutenants are creative. But it’s the 101st Airborne who has them beat — all thanks to “Old Abe,” who was one badass bird.


Old Abe was captured as a baby bald eaglet in 1861 by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky). He was sold for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann, a rich aristocrat, to be kept as a family pet. It turns out, however, that keeping a bald eagle as a pet was more of an expensive headache than McCann originally thought.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
I mean, what did he expect? He caged the literal personification of American freedom. Just saying. (Painting courtesy of the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum)

So, Abe was again sold for a whole $2.50 (paid in quarters, partly borrowed from friend) to Capt. John E. Perkins of a Wisconsin Militia, The Eau Claire Badgers. The Badgers then quickly became the Eau Claire Eagles — because of this bird. When his unit was activated and re-designated as the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to enter the American Civil War, Perkins decided to finally give the baby bird a name — “Old Abe.”

Perkins brought Abe into every battle in which he and his unit fought. The 8th Wisconsin VIR fought across the Western Theater. It’s said that wherever Perkins’ unit went, Abe’s battle cry was heard across the battlefield, thereby earning the title of “screaming eagle.” As he flew overhead, the Union troops would be reinvigorated. At the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price said,

That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags!

Abe saw 36 battles and was wounded twice but still kept intimidating Confederate troops with his cries.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets
Still more adorable than most combat veterans. (Image courtesy of the National Archive)

When the 8th Wisconsin was mustered back home in late 1864, Old Abe followed. He had become a celebrity to everyone in Wisconsin. People came from far and wide to see the war eagle. He made tours across the country and was used to raise funds for veterans’ issues.

Also Read: This is why Screaming Eagles wear cards on their helmets

Old Abe passed due to complications caused by smoke inhalation in 1881. His remains were preserved and displayed at the Wisconsin Capital building until a fire destroyed the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers remain very carefully preserved at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison.

His likeness would be used in 1921 by the newly formed 101st when they were still an Army Reserve unit. They were then activated to Regular Army in 1942. Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said, “[our division] has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”

The 101st would prove his sentiment true time and time again with Old Abe on their shoulders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.

In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.

1. Trial by combat

Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat 

2. Trial by the cross

Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.

3. Trial by fire

If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.

4. Trial by hot water

Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.

5. Trial by cold water

It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.

6. Trial by… cheese?

One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.

Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.

The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Death Of Stalin: Unique propaganda footage shows dictator’s funeral

Largely unseen footage of the funeral and official mourning following the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin is featured in a new documentary, State Funeral, by Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa. It’s being shown on Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. The mourning events were held at factories, on collective farms, town squares, and in meeting halls across the Soviet Union.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How the ‘Warrior Pope’ led armies in vicious combat

Catholics know the Pope as God’s representative on Earth. Most other people know him as a generally fine world leader who usually wears unique and cool hats. But, from 1503 to 1513, the papal chair was sat by Pope Julius II, the “Warrior Pope,” who was known to be a shrewd politician and skilled conqueror.


Pope Julius II began life in 1443 as Giuliano della Rovere, a member of a poor noble family. His uncle had enough money to fund his way up the Catholic ranks and, eventually, became Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Della Rovere was soon made a cardinal and continued to maneuver for his own gain.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

Pope Sixtus IV, uncle of future Pope Julius II, The Warrior Pope

(Painting by Melozzo da Forlì)

In 1474, della Rovere went to war in Umbria, a Papal State. He led 3,500 infantry in initial fighting and captured a town on his way to Citta di Castello, where the leading rebel against Rome lived. Della Rovere had lost control of some of his men on the way to the town and his siege weapons were having little effect on the city walls. Della Rovere was forced to request reinforcements from Rome.

Once his reinforcements arrived, della Rovere was at the head of 2,000 infantrymen and 28 cavalry squadrons.

There is some question about whether it was della Rovere’s force or political pressure that led to the capitulation of forces at Citta di Castello. Either way, della Rovere was able to head home a conquering hero.

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV, della Rovere was forced to work outside of Rome while rivals took the papal seat. But, in 1503, a resurgent della Rovere used bribes and political pressures to see himself voted into the Papacy. He adopted the name Pope Julius II.

As pope, Julius fought multiple battles — an unheard of activity for a pope, though his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, was rumored to have considered it at one point.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The city of Mirandola was relatively weak compared to other targets of the Warrior Pope, which is why the drawn-out siege was so disappointing.

(Image by unknown artist, suspected to be Lorenzo Penni)

His first battles were against Venice, which held lands taken from the Papal States. This led to a 1508 alliance with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, known as the League of Cambrai. Once the Venetians were sufficiently beaten and cowed, Julius II actually flipped his alliances and joined the Holy League, which worked to push French troops out of Italy in 1512.

It was during this campaign that, in 1511, he took to the battlefield and performed actions that offended observers.

The pope had himself carried to the front where his troops were fighting at Mirandola, a town in northern Italy. He routinely cursed his generals and made jokes at their expense, personally directed military operations, and reviewed the assembled troops. When the city continued to hold out, he ordered that they be threatened with pillage (ignoring the protests of his generals and advisers).

But he impressed his troops once again when he came under repeated cannon attack but remained at the front. The first cannonball struck his headquarters, so the Pope moved to his personal quarters. When those were also hit, he returned to his headquarters and ordered that the damage be repaired while he waited.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope, at the Siege of Mirandola

(Painting by Raffaello Tancredi)

When Mirandola finally fell, he ordered money be extorted from the citizens and disbursed among his troops and that all French soldiers found in the city be executed on the spot.

Luckily for the already deeply offended faithful in his camps, there were no French soldiers to be found in the city.

But the Pope’s conquests created their own problems. Angry French and Venetian forces and their allies soon re-took his conquered lands and even reportedly melted down a statue of him, used the metal to create a cannon, and then mockingly named it after him.

For these consequences, Julius II blamed one of his nephews, the Duke of Urbino, while praising a cardinal who had led forces in the same battles.

As the scapegoated Duke was leaving a tongue-lashing from the Pope and the cardinal was heading to the papal apartments to receive praise, the two men passed each other in the street. The duke leaped from his horse and savagely beat the cardinal before allowing his attendants to murder him.

Julius II was able to form a new alliance with Spain and England that eventually expelled the French, but allowed the Spanish to take hold of much of the same territory. Julius II was forming a new alliance against the Spanish when he died in 1513.

MIGHTY HISTORY

From nursing to newspapers, these were the women of Vietnam

While women made strides during World War II and Korea to be integrated into the military, Vietnam felt like a step backward as the military initially resisted sending women into any career field to Vietnam.

Then, when the military realized they needed to rely on women from the medical career field, it was still a slow process to add more women to the fight. But as the years passed more women were sent overseas. Many women chose not to serve in the military but were civilians supporting various humanitarian agencies and covering news. While the primary field of the women who served overseas was nursing, there were a number of women outside the medical career field who made an impact on the war and helped lead changes for women in the military.


US Army Women

The first Army nurses arrived in Vietnam in 1956. Their primary job was to train the South Vietnamese nursing skills. The nurses would remain and grow in strength with approximately 5,000 women serving from March 1962 to March 1973. Five Army nurses died during the conflict, including Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham and First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane.

In 1964, Gen William Westmoreland asked the Pentagon to provide Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members to help the South Vietnamese train their own women’s Army corps. In 1970, when WAC was at its peak, there were 20 officers and 130 enlisted women serving in Vietnam.

US Air Force Women

The Air Force leadership resisted sending women overseas. When the first Air Force Nurses arrived in Vietnam in 1966, it was out of demand and lack of men in the nursing career field. Once the door opened for women to be overseas as nurses, the door for other career fields opened up as well. Women quickly began to take over the duties that their male counterparts had been assigned. In 1967, the first Women in the Air Force (WAF) members served at the headquarters in Saigon. One of the first women in the Air Force to reach the rank of General, Brig Gen Wilma Vaught, ret, was deployed for Vietnam and served in Saigon for a year.

One Air Force nurse died. Captain Mary Therese Klinger died in a C-5 crash that was supporting Operation Babylift which worked to transport babies from orphanages to America for asylum and adoption. She was the last nurse and the only U.S. Air Force Nurse to die in Vietnam.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

US Navy Women

The U.S. Navy Nurse Corps began to play an important role during the Vietnam War in 1963. And then in 1964 five Navy Nurses were awarded Purple Hearts after being injured during a bombing on Christmas Eve. They were the first women to receive Purple Hearts during Vietnam.

Only nine women outside the Nurse career field served overseas during Vietnam. The first, in 1967, was Lieutenant Elizabeth G. Wylie. She worked in the Command Information Center as part of the staff of the Commander of Naval Forces in Saigon. She would spend three to six days each month in the field taking pictures and gathering information. She was never under hostile fire and loved, “the opportunity to see the heart of the Navy at work.” In 1972, Commander Elizabeth Barrett became the first female Naval Line Officer to hold command in a combat zone.

Many women volunteered to go overseas but were not given a chance. Women were used within the Navy to backfill positions both at home and in Europe to allow more men to go overseas. Without them directly supporting the war effort, the Navy would have struggled to continue on.

US Marine Corps Women

Women Marines had a small presence in Vietnam. It wasn’t until March 1967 that the first woman Marine arrived in Vietnam. Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky was the first to arrive in-country and worked at Military Assistance Command, which was headquartered in Saigon. In total, women Marines in Vietnam normally numbered between eight to 10 enlisted members with one to two officers. There were a total of 28 enlisted women and eight officers between 1967 to 1973.

Civilian Women

Military women were not the only women who went overseas to support the war effort. Civilian women worked for a number of organizations to support the war. The Red Cross, USO, Army Special Service and Peace Corps all relied on women to meet their mission. Other women came to Vietnam as foreign correspondents for news organizations. Georgette “Dickey” Chappelle was a writer for the National Observer and was killed by a mine while on patrol with U.S. Marines outside of Chu Lai in November of 1965. In total, 59 civilian women died during the conflict.

One thing to note about the women who served in Vietnam was that all of the women who served overseas were volunteers. They ranged in age from freshly graduated college students in their 20s to seasoned career women in their 40s. Finding the service records and the history of military women and civilians in Vietnam is like trying to piece together a puzzle with lots of missing pieces. Women did not expect special recognition and were just looking for a way to be a part of the fight. They didn’t stand out or request to be excluded; instead they fought to be part of the effort and we can’t forget their contribution and the lives lost.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The first casualty of the Civil War happened entirely by accident

On Dec. 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, leaving military personnel stationed there in a state of confusion. What belonged to the United States, what belonged to South Carolina, and who was going to be loyal to which side was all unclear. On Apr. 12, 1861, after a long siege, South Carolina Militia commander P.G.T. Beauregard fired the opening salvo of a barrage of cannon fire that would last 34 hours.

In return, Federal Captain Abner Doubleday ordered his men to fire on the South Carolinians. The exchange sparked four years of bloody Civil War in the United States — but not a single man died in combat that day.


When the state seceded, there were actually only two companies of federal U.S. troops in South Carolina. The decision for who would be loyal to who actually turned out to be fairly simple. The rest of the American troops defending South Carolina were actually state militiamen. That’s who Beauregard manned on Charleston’s 19 coastal defense batteries.

But the Federals weren’t actually stationed at Fort Sumter, they were land bound on nearby Fort Moultrie. It was only after the base commander Maj. Robert Anderson feared an attack from state militia via land that the Federals were moved into Charleston Harbor and the protection of Fort Sumter.

Anderson was right. South Carolina state forces began to seize federal buildings, arms, and fortifications almost immediately, and Fort Moultrie was among those buildings. That left the garrison at Fort Sumter as the sole remaining federal possession in South Carolina. And the Carolinians demanded their surrender. Some 3,000 rebel troops laid siege to the base and, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration, it was one of the last remaining federal holdouts in the entire south.

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

President Lincoln announced in March, 1861, he would send three ships to resupply and relieve Fort Sumter, so the pressure on Beauregard to take the fort soon increased. On Apr. 11, Beauregard demanded the fort’s surrender and warned he would fire on the fort if the Federals did not comply. They didn’t. That’s when Beauregard fired a punishing barrage at the defenders.

Rebels poured 3,000 cannon shots into the fort over the next 34 hours. The Federals didn’t just take it, they returned fire with everything they had, literally. The U.S. troops were running low on powder and ammunition by mid-afternoon the next day. With their walls crumbling and the fort burning around them, Maj. Anderson reluctantly ordered Fort Sumter’s surrender.

Amazingly, no one was killed in the exchange on either side.

When the time came to lower the Stars and Stripes, Federal troops — soon to be known as Union troops — gave the flag a 100-gun salute as it came down on Apr. 14. But an accidental discharge from one of the fort’s cannons caused an explosion that killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the first death of hundreds of thousands to come.

In the days that followed, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee also seceded from the Union and both sides of the conflict began to mobilize for the next meeting, which would come on July, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia.