How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

“If you are qualified, fate has a way of getting you to the right place at the right time – tho’ sometimes it appears to be a long, long wait,” professed Marine Col. Dave Shoup.


Fate was certainly on Shoup’s side at Tarawa Atoll, and he didn’t shrink from the occasion.

The 38-year-old Indiana native was one of the four Marines awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Tarawa Atoll in November 1943, one of the most brutal engagements fought in the Pacific during WWII.

Shoup was the only recipient to survive the battle and receive this honor in person.

The battle as a whole was plagued by bad planning and poor decision making, but individual acts of heroism and the sheer willpower of the troops engaged in combat won the day for the Americans.

 

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
General David M. Shoup (1904-1983), Medal of Honor recipient and 22nd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1960-1963). (Photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps)

Shoup was born in December 1904 on a farm in Battle Ground, Indiana, near the site of General William H. Harrison’s victory at Tippecanoe in 1811. Shoup would mirror the same bold leadership qualities of the leader of that battle fought in his backyard 90 years before.

Upon completing high school, Shoup desired to attend college and not remain as an “Indiana plowboy” for the remainder of his life. He attended DePauw University as an ROTC student and successfully graduated in 1926. He transferred to the Marines in the same year after spending only one month in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

Leading up to 1943, Shoup spent time on a number of assignments in the United States, China, and Iceland. He slowly climbed up the ranks in his 15 years of service leading up to WWII, when he was promoted to colonel.

He had a reputation of being a straightforward officer, earning the praise of the men under his command for sharing in their hardships on and off the battlefield. One correspondent described him as “a squat red-faced man, with a bull neck,” known by those who surrounded him as a “profane shouter of orders.”

The greatest trial of Shoup’s life came during the invasion of the Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
U.S. Marines storm the beach at Tarawa Atoll, November 1943. (U.S. Archives)

Tarawa Atoll consisted of a series of islands surrounded by a large coral reef stretching up to 1,100 yards from the shoreline. The Japanese occupied Tarawa Atoll in December 1941 and spent two years leading up to the battle turning it into a formidable obstacle. They fortified the islands with barbed wire and a network of trenches and built an airfield.

The Japanese garrison consisted of about 5,000 men, all willing to die to the last man. Occupation of the island was critical for the U.S. to establish forward operating bases in the Pacific, and the Japanese continued to fortify it up to the day of the invasion.

Shoup was one of the 20,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to land at Tarawa Atoll on November 20, 1943. The Marine division — meshed with veterans of Guadalcanal and raw recruits — made their way to the beach transported by amtracs and landing craft.

The small perimeter of the beachhead became cluttered with bodies and debris as parties of Marines attempted to gain a foothold and power their way inland, while exposed to a barrage of Japanese machine gun and mortar fire. Chaos reigned supreme as the some of the vehicles loaded with reinforcements became bogged down on the reef.

For a time, it appeared the attack on Tarawa Atoll would falter, as many men were pinned down in the shallow water near the reef, either unable or unwilling to move to reinforce the beachhead.

Shoup ordered his men to advance forward from the reef to the beachhead as Japanese artillery, machine gun barrages, and rifle fire rained down on them. Suddenly, a Japanese mortar round exploded nearby, flinging shrapnel into his legs.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

He refused to be evacuated despite the severity of the debilitating wound.

At one point, the defiant colonel shouted to his men, “Are there any of you cowardly sons of bitches got the guts to follow a colonel of the Marines?” The Marines were inspired by his valor and selflessness, and followed him forward.

Shoup assumed command of all land troops upon reaching the beachhead. He ignored the agony of his wounds, and marched up and down the line with his pistol unholstered, coolly directing the advance of Marines further inland.

Success was measured in yards, and the Marines methodically overcame the Japanese defenses.

By the time the battle ended, less than 200 of the original 4,000-man Japanese garrison remained to surrender. They had inflicted a staggering 3,000 casualties on the Second Marine Division. Shoup remained on his feet directing the fight for about 50 hours, finally relinquishing command to be treated for his wounds only when most of Tarawa Atoll was in Americans hands.

Without Shoup’s direction and valor, Tarawa Atoll may well have been a catastrophic defeat. Shoup lived for another 40 years until his death in 1983 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Ketchup became the classic American condiment

No American cookout would be complete without ketchup. Millions of Americans douse their french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and other cookout favorites with the condiment every day. The tomato-based sauce is even a staple for military personnel and astronauts!

Catsup, now more commonly known as “ketchup,” was a British term designated for any “spiced” sauce. The British had access to a myriad of spices from their exploits across the world. Their ketchup was made of oysters, cloves, cayenne, cherries, walnuts, vinegars, mace, and more.


Americans were the first to create ketchup with tomatoes, a crop native to North America, and an 1896 issue of The New York Tribune even declared tomato ketchup to be America’s national condiment found “on every table in the land.” The most famous tomato ketchup is the Heinz 57 variety. Apparently, founder Henry Heinz purposely created his own spelling of “ketchup” to differentiate from his “catsup”-peddling competitors.

Early tomato ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. But these fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers! The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, finally made this dangerous condiment safe to consume – and keep in the cupboard.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

The U.S. military has spent billions of dollars on ketchup since the late 19th century, from manufacturing the condiment to supplying all soldiers with packets of the sauce to spruce up their rations of mass-produced food.

Astronauts even carry ketchup into outer space! NASA provides nonperishable, shelf-stable food, but crews like to amp up the products with their favorite condiments.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
The STS-79 and Mir 22 crews gather on the Atlantis’s middeck for a meal of barbecue served by the STS-79 crew. Mission commander William Readdy offers the Mir 22 crew a bottle of ketchup to use on their meal.

Wherever you are this Fourth of July, we hope you are enjoying this historic condiment on your favorite foods!

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the USDA protected the US military it changed the world

For over 75 years, USDA scientists have been developing ways to protect the U.S. military around the world from powerful adversaries — mosquitoes and other biting arthropods that cause disease. Their work began in 1942 in a small USDA field laboratory in Orlando, where scientists made key discoveries about new chemicals for controlling these pests. At the time, the most effective repellents lasted only 2 hours, and the U.S. military needed a repellent that could protect for 10 hours. In 1952, testing in Orlando confirmed DEET was an effective repellent; it was soon adopted for use by the U.S. Army, became commercially available by 1957 — and is still used widely today.


Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief in-house research agency, have continued their search for better repellents ever since. They used the USDA database of 30,000 compounds to develop a model that used chemical structure data for predicting how long a repellent would keep pests away. This model predicted that some compounds would be more effective than DEET, and subsequent research confirmed some compounds did indeed repel pests more than three times longer than DEET.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
ARS testing demonstrates the efficacy of DEET u2014 used on the left hand u2014 in repelling mosquitoes.

In 2004, the Department of Defense initiated a partnership with USDA and others as part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection (DWFP) program. Its’ mission: to develop and test management tools for pest and vector species that transmit diseases to deployed U.S. troops. ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida; Beltsville, Maryland; and Oxford, Mississippi, have contributed discoveries about repellent as part of the DWFP research and accomplishments. ARS has also collaborated with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center since 2003 to optimize the arthropod bite protection of factory-produced permethrin-treated uniforms. Treating uniforms became standard practice in the 1950s, first with a miticide, and starting in 1991 with permethrin.

ARS National Program Leader Uli Bernier has been responsible for developing protocols to evaluate uniform protection against mosquitoes, and in 2015 conducted a study that led to the registration of etofenprox as an alternative clothing repellent. He recently staffed an ARS information table at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo, where he said visitors wanted to learn more about a new pest-resistant tropical lightweight uniform on display. Visitors were also fascinated by a cage of mosquitoes used for research — but unlike USDA researchers, they were reluctant to place their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes!

This Military Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to the efforts of our servicemen and women. USDA honors our military and will continue to support their work.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time New York built a battleship in Union Square

New York City struggled to meet its recruitment goals during the spring of 1917. The United States had recently entered World War I, which had been raging in Europe since 1914, and the military needed volunteers. While New York City had a population of around 6.5 million at the time, it lagged behind its goal of 2,000 recruits to the United States Navy by under half.

So New York City’s Mayor, John P. Mitchel, decided that he needed a gimmick to spark young men’s interest and convince them to volunteer for the war. What better way to draw attention to the Navy than to construct a battleship in the middle of Union Square? Teaming up with the Navy on the project, the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense raised approximately $10,000 (about $187,000 today) to fund the ship and hired Jules Guerin and Donn Barber to design the appropriately named USS Recruit, basing the design loosely on the USS Maine.


With work rapidly completed by the U.S. Navy, the USS Recruit, also known as the Landship Recruit, was built on the island of Manhattan. Construction finished for a “launch” on May 30, 1917, with the ship being christened by Olive Mitchel, the Mayor’s wife.

The wooden battleship mockup measured over 200 feet long and had a beam, or width, of 40 feet. While not actually armed for battle, the ship featured wooden replicas of two cage masts, six 14-inch guns inside three twin turrets, and ten 5-inch guns. It also had two 50-foot masts, an 18-foot tall smokestack, a main bridge, and a conning tower.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

The Landship Recruit contained ample space for the job of recruiting and training sailors, with multiple waiting rooms and physical exam rooms, complete with full amenities. Doctors, officers, and sailors lived aboard the ship in their separate quarters.

As for the latter, the initial complement was thirty-nine sailors-in-training from the Newport Training Station and their commander, Captain C.F. Pierce. The crew maintained a similar routine to the one of a crew at sea. As reported by Popular Science Magazine in August of 1917,

The land sailors arise at six o’clock, scrub the decks, wash their clothes, attend instruction classes, and then stand guard and answer questions for the remainder of the day. There is a night as well as a day guard. From sunup to eleven o’clock all lights of the ship are turned on, including a series of searchlight projectors.
How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

In addition to recruiting volunteers for the Navy and training new sailors, the USS Recruit served as a public relations tool. Citizens were invited onto the ship to learn about then modern battleships, and the sailors aboard routinely answered the public’s questions during their guard duty. Both patriotic and social events were also held on the battleship with the sailors acting as hosts. One patriotic event, according to a contemporary account from The New York Times, was the presentation of a recreation of Betsy Ross’s American flag. Other events were just social in nature, such as dances held for New York’s social elite. There were reportedly even Vaudeville shows held on board.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

World War I ended in November of 1918 when both Austria-Hungary and Germany agreed to an armistice while the terms of peace could be negotiated. However, the USS Recruitcontinued its recruitment mission until March of 1920. It had helped the Navy recruit an astounding 25,000 new sailors (enough to man the USS Maine, which the Recruit was loosely modeled after, a whopping 45 times over) during its three years of operation.

At this time, the Navy announced that it would move the wooden battleship from Union Square to Luna Park on Coney Island and maintain it as a recruitment site there.

The New York Times described the “sailing” of the Recruit in an article on March 17, 1920:

Yesterday when 10 o’clock came around and with it ‘sailing time’ all of the ceremonies were put on. The crew of eighty men lined up on the quarterdeck and the ship was formally abandoned while the Stars and Stripes and the commissioned pennant were hauled down. The ship’s band struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the colors were lowered to the deck.

The ship was then carefully dismantled over the course of a few days, with the pieces shipped off to Coney Island. Though The New York Times estimated that it would take just two weeks for the Navy to complete the move of the battleship, it was never rebuilt.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Out of sight, out of mind, no contemporary news source seems to have bothered to cover why the ship, which was supposed to be immediately rebuilt, was not. What happened to the pieces of the dismantled ship is also a mystery to this day. A search through the Navy archives for the period in question likewise turned up nothing insightful concerning the ship’s demise. Presumably it was simply decided at the last minute that rebuilding and maintaining the ship was an unnecessary expense given the Navy’s recruitment needs at the time. Alternatively, perhaps the 1920 New York Times piece simply got it wrong, news outlets, even then, not exactly known for their accuracy on the details of reports for various reasons, such as often having to rush submissions.

Bonus Facts

  • While this was the end of the Union Square battleship, it would not be the end of the name in the U.S. Navy. The USS Recruit (AM-285) was launched in 1943 and served during WWII before being decommissioned in 1946 and ultimately sold to the Mexican Navy in 1963. Following this, another landlocked ship was built, the USS Recruit (TDE-1), at the San Diego Naval Training Center in 1949. Built to scale at two-thirds the size of a Dealey-class destroyer escort, the ship was made of wood with sheet metal overlay and was used to train tens of thousands of recruits over the coming decades. It was, however, decommissioned in 1967, funny enough, because it could not be classified in the Navy’s new computerized registry. However, commissioned or not, it was in continuous service from 1949 to 1997 (with a complete re-model in 1982) when the base it is on was closed. While no longer being used, the ship still stands, with some thought to perhaps turning it into a maritime museum at some point.
  • The Camouflage Corps of the National League of Women helped the original USS Recruit to better resemble battleships in combat in 1918, painting it a camouflage pattern (designed by artist William Andrew Mackay).

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The history of Dr. Seuss’ Army career

Dr. Seuss is a story-writing legend in America. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “The Lorax” or “Horton Hears A Who!”


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Army Master Sgt. Nekia Haywood reads to children at Hopkins Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va., March 2, 2018, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

(Photo by Fran Mitchell, Army)

But well before those iconic books were written, Dr. Seuss joined the World War II effort on the home front using his real name, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

At first, he drew posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. But by 1943, Geisel wanted to do more, so he joined the U.S. Army. He was put in command of the animation department of the 1st Motion Picture Unit, which was created out of the Army Signal Corps. There, he wrote pamphlets and films and contributed to the famous Private Snafu cartoon series.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Army Maj. Theodor Geisel.

(Army photo)

Private Snafu — which stood for situation normal, all fouled up — was a series of adult instructional cartoons meant to relate to the noncareer soldier. They were humorous and sometimes even raunchy. According to the National Archives’ Special Media Archives Services Division, Geisel and his team believed that the risque subject matter would help keep soldiers’ attention, and because the Snafu series was for Army personnel only, producers could avoid traditional censorship.

Geisel’s cartoons were often featured on Army-Navy Screen Magazine, a biweekly production of several short segments.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel at work on a drawing of the Grinch, the hero of his children’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

(Library of Congress photo)

One of Geisel’s most significant military works, however, wasn’t animated. It was called “Your Job in Germany” and was an orientation film for soldiers who would occupy Germany after the war was over. Geisel, who was German-American himself, was assigned to write it a year before the Germans surrendered.

According to Geisel’s biography, “Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel,” Geisel said he was sent to Europe during the war to screen the film in front of top generals for approval. He happened to be in Belgium in December 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge — Hitler’s last big counteroffensive in Belgium’s Ardennes forest — erupted. According to his biography, Geisel was trapped 10 miles behind enemy lines, and it took three days before he and his military police escort were rescued by British forces.

According to National Archives staff, it’s possible that the snafu cartoons influenced Geisel’s career as Dr. Seuss. Throughout Snafu, Geisel started using limited vocabulary and rhyme — something noticeable in his later works like “The Cat in the Hat,” which used only 236 words but is one of the best-selling books of all time.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, shares a “The Cat in the Hat” reading hat before he reads to children at the child development center at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., April 26, 2018.

(Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Julie R. Matyascik)

Geisel left the Army in January 1946, having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. He stayed in the filmmaking industry for a few years, even working on documentaries and shorts that earned Academy Awards, but he eventually switched to using his pen name, Dr. Seuss, to start writing children’s books.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

This article originally appeared on Department of Defense.

MIGHTY HISTORY

See the letter General Eisenhower prepared in case D-Day failed

During World War II, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were responsible for leading their nations to victory and jointly planned strategies for the cooperation and eventual success of the Allied armed forces. Roosevelt and Churchill had already agreed early in the war that Germany must be stopped first if success was to be attained in the Pacific. They were repeatedly urged by Stalin to open a “second front” that would alleviate the enormous pressure that Germany’s military was exerting on Russia. Large amounts of Soviet territory had been seized by the Germans, and the Soviet population had suffered terrible casualties from the relentless drive towards Moscow. Roosevelt and Churchill promised to invade Europe, but they could not deliver on their promise until many hurdles were overcome.


Initially, the United States had far too few soldiers in England for the Allies to mount a successful cross-channel operation. Additionally, invading Europe from more than one point would make it harder for Hitler to resupply and reinforce his divisions. In July 1942 Churchill and Roosevelt decided on the goal of occupying North Africa as a springboard to a European invasion from the south.

In addition to the troops, supplies, ships, and planes were also gathered. One photograph shows some of the equipment that was stockpiled in this manner. Countless details about weather, topography, and the German forces in France had to be learned before Overlord could be launched in 1944. In November American and British forces under the command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower landed at three ports in French Morocco and Algeria. This surprise seizure of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers came less than a week after the decisive British victory at El Alamein. The stage was set for the expulsion of the Germans from Tunisia in May 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy later that summer, and the main assault on France the following year.

Because of this success, Eisenhower was named commander of all Allied forces in Europe in 1943. When in February 1944 he was ordered to invade the continent, planning for “Operation Overlord” had been under way for about a year. Hundreds of thousands of troops from the United States, Great Britain, France,Canada, and other nations were assembled in southern England and intensively trained for the complicated amphibious action against Normandy.

Stockpiled Military Equipment in England (National Archives)

General Eisenhower’s experience and the Allied troops’ preparations were finally put to the test on the morning of June 6, 1944. An invasion force of 4,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors was assembled in England for the assault. Eisenhower’s doubts about success in the face of a highly-defended and well-prepared enemy led him to consider what would happen if the invasion of Normandy failed. If the Allies did not secure a strong foothold on D-Day, they would be ordered into a full retreat, and he would be forced to make public the message he drafted for such an occasion. View a large version of the letter here.

Eisenhower D-day retreat message (National Archives)

Here’s what it says: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

As the attack began, Allied troops did confront formidable obstacles. Germany had thousands of soldiers dug into bunkers, defended by artillery, mines, tangled barbed wire, machine guns, and other hazards to prevent landing craft from coming ashore. Document 3 featured with this lesson shows some of the ferocity of the attack they faced. About 4,900 U.S. troops were killed on D-Day, but by the end of the day 155,000 Allied troops were ashore and in control of 80 square miles of the French coast. Eisenhower’s letter was not needed, because D-Day was a success, opening Europe to the Allies and a German surrender less than a year later.

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Everything the US has learned in Afghanistan the Brits learned in the 1800s

In 1839, the forces of Great Britain and the British East India Company invaded Afghanistan in the first major conflict of the “Great Game” – the struggle between Great Britain and Russia for control of Asia. The British quickly defeated the opposing forces of Dost Mohammad and garrisoned the capital Kabul, as well as the major cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad. However, by mid-1841 the situation in Kabul was deteriorating. The British forces made camp in an indefensible position just outside the capital. Meanwhile, two senior British officials were murdered with no reprisal from the British forces, further emboldening the Afghans.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Unfortunately for the soldiers of the garrison, a confluence of events meant trouble for them. First, the appointment of the incompetent General Elphinstone to command the British forces in Kabul. The second was a new government in London calling for increased cost-savings from the ongoing campaign. The combination of these two events led to the fateful decision for the garrison in Kabul, along with their camp followers, to conduct a retreat to Jalalabad and then back to India to escape the rising unrest in the capital. After the first unit to travel to Jalalabad in November has been harassed and sniped throughout their journey, General Elphinstone trusted the assurances of an Afghan warlord that his column would be granted safe passage.

On 6 January 1842, Elphinstone’s column of the British 44th Regiment of Foot, three regiments of Bengal Native Infantry, British and Indian cavalry, the Bengal Horse Artillery – about 700 British and 3800 Indian soldiers – as well as 12,000 camp followers – set off on their march through the treacherous Afghan winter towards Jalalabad. Almost immediately, they began receiving harassing fire from the Ghilzai tribesmen and were ambushed and attacked repeatedly over the next several days. The weather also took a toll on the Indian soldiers and camp followers who had been recruited from the more tropical climate in India. On 9 January, after losing over 3,000 casualties and having only covered twenty five miles, General Elphinstone, along with the wives and children of the officers accepted the offer of a warlord to be taken into his custody for safety, and immediately became his hostages instead. The remainder of the force trudged on, hoping to clear the snow-choked passes and reach the safety of the garrison at Jalalabad.

By 12 January, the column had been reduced to around one hundred men, mostly infantrymen of the 44th Regiment of Foot, as well as a few remaining officers on horseback. As they tried to clear a barrier erected on the valley floor many were killed while the survivors gathered on a hillock outside the village of Gandamak to make their last stand. When offered a surrender by the Ghilzai tribesmen surrounding them a British sergeant reportedly yelled back “not bloodly likely!” and thus sealing their fate. In the ensuing chaos the British infantry fired their remaining ammunition before fighting on with bayonets. Only a handful of men survived to be taken captive.. Though some officers on horses managed to escape they were hunted down and killed as well; all except for one.

“You will see, not a soul will reach here from Kabul except one man, who will come to tell us the rest are destroyed.”

– Colonel Dennie, British Army of the Indus, Nov. 1841

At Jalalabad on 13 January, Colonel Dennie was manning the fortifications awaiting the arrival of the column from Kabul when he spotted a lone man on horseback approaching the city. Upon seeing the man he is said to have remarked “Did I not say so? Here comes the messenger.” The lone survivor of the column was Dr. William Brydon, an assistant surgeon, who straggled in exhausted and severely wounded on a horse that was also severely wounded. Dr. Brydon had survived a sword strike to the head, which had cleaved off a small portion of his skull, thanks to a copy of a magazine he had stuffed into his hat for extra warmth. His horse apparently cleared the gates of the city and promptly laid down, never to rise again. Brydon was the sole survivor of some 16,000 who started the trek a week earlier to arrive at Jalalabad.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
“The Sepoy revolt at Meerut,” wood-engraving from the Illustrated London News, 1857

Brydon would survive his wounds and later survive another harrowing incident when we was severely wounded during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. General Elphinstone died in captivity. Shortly after the news of the massacre reached British officials, the decision was made to withdraw all British forces from Afghanistan, but not before retribution was sought. By the summer of 1842 the Army of Retribution had been raised and marched through Afghanistan, releasing many of the prisoners taken during the retreat from Kabul as well as exacting their vengeance before finally withdrawing on 12 October 1842.

Articles

This pilot crashed his plane into a torpedo to save the carrier

Warrant Officer Sakio Komatsu had just taken off from the aircraft carrier Taiho during the Battle of the Philippine Sea when he spotted six American torpedoes bearing down on his ship.


Almost immediately, he banked his “Judy” dive bomber into the path of one, causing it to detonate against the plane and preventing a hit against the carrier at the cost of his own life.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Near the end of World War II, the Japanese launched one of their best-ever carrier designs. While the carrier Taiho lacked the catapults of many of its American rivals, it was heavily armored, carried 73 aircraft and massive amounts of aviation fuel and ammunition, and boasted radar.

The Taiho launched on April 7, 1943, and was commissioned on March 7, 1944. With the Japanese Navy in retreat across most of the Pacific, the admirals held the Taiho in reserve until it could be sent where it would make a significant difference.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
The Japanese carrier Taiho was an armored support carrier capable of supporting hundreds of planes. (Photo: Public Domain)

It was an armored support carrier, meant to serve on the frontline and protect older carriers launching their planes from the rear. With massive supplies of ammunition and fuel, it would be able to refuel and rearm planes from other carriers.

The ship was committed to combat in June as part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest carrier battles in history. The goal of the Japanese forces was to force a confrontation with the U.S. and wipe out the greater American numbers.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
The Japanese 1st Mobile Fleet maneuvers under fire on June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

On the morning of June 19, the Japanese force, with the Taiho as its flagship, launched planes in what would be one of the most lopsided defeats in naval history. The inexperienced Japanese pilots were massacred in what was later known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

But the Taiho only participated in part of the defeat. In the opening hours of the battle, the USS Albacore spotted the carrier and launched a spread of six torpedoes right as the second wave of planes was taking off.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Komatsu saw the torpedoes immediately after he took off and banked around, crashing his plane into the path and destroying the torpedo at the cost of his own life. Usually, that sort of heroism would mean that the story ends with, “He was awarded a medal and saved the lives of thousands.”

But while Komatsu was heralded for his decision, it wasn’t enough to save the Taiho. Four of the torpedoes missed, one was intercepted by Komatsu, but the sixth impacted the Taiho. It blew through the outer armor and created openings between an aviation tank, a fuel oil tank, and the surrounding ocean.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
The USS Albacore was the submarine that fired the torpedo spread that doomed the Taiho. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Taiho crew gamely patched what holes it needed to and resumed launching aircraft. But there was a danger in its bowels. The leaking fuels were turning into vapors and filling the ship. For just over six hours, the ship continued fighting while the ship turned into a bomb.

Then it blew.

The blast rocked through the ship, blowing out the sides and opening holes that stretched down below the waterline. So Komatsu’s actions were one of the more heroic moments in warfare history, but it wasn’t enough to save his friends or his ship.

Approximately 1,200 men died with the ship.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s Vigilante was designed to drop nukes at Mach 2

When you hear the term ‘vigilante,’ you think of someone who self-righteously takes it upon themselves to deliver violence to the bad guys. But there was one vigilante that made its mark not by bringing death and destruction to those who’ve earned it, but by spying.

The North American A-5 Vigilante was originally designed to be a nuclear-attack plane that would eject a nuclear bomb, attached to a pair of fuel tanks, out of the plane’s rear. The plane could also carry some bombs on the wings, but it’s intended purpose was to deliver a nuke from high altitude at Mach 2.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

An RA-5C lands on USS Saratoga (CV 60). Only 156 A-5s of all variants were built, most as the RA-5C.

(US Navy)

Well, that plan didn’t pan out — the program was marred with complications. First of all, the bomb and fuel tanks would sometimes come out when the Vigilante was launched from an aircraft carrier’s catapult. If you were to make a list of things you didn’t want to happen, accidentally dumping a live nuke on a carrier deck would rank pretty damn high.

Other times, the system simply wouldn’t eject the bomb as expected or the bomb/fuel tank package wouldn’t stay stable. Meanwhile, the ballistic missile submarine was coming into its own, provingto be a far more reliable nuclear delivery system.

Now, most projects characterized bythese kinds of problems would be in for a world of hurt, but the A-5’s speed and high-altitude performance instead gave it a second life — as a reconnaissance plane.

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While it is flying sedately now, the RA-5C was capable of going very fast and very high.

The RA-5C became the definitive version. It dispensed with the bomb and the weapons bay was used for fuel tanks. Catapult launches, though, still sometimes meant the tanks got left behind, starting a fire. But this plane used cameras, infrared sensors, and electronic warfare sensors to monitor enemy activities.

A total of 156 A-5s were built over the production run. Of those, 91 were built as RA-5Cs — 49 other models were later converted to that variant. The plane left service in 1979. Though some consider it a disappointment — the A-3 Skywarrior family of planes outlasted it by over a decade — but none can deny that it was an excellent reconnaissance aircraft.

Learn more about this vigilante turned spy in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fmHOPmBSFI

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

It was a veteran soldier who perfected the ultimate bank robbery

If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.


It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.

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You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.

Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.

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John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.

In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.

Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.

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The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.

Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 4 most poorly named military weapons

Some military vehicles are given names that accurately reflect what they do and how well they do it. Others, however, are not so fortunate — they’re given military monikers that simply don’t fit.

The following tools of war were either given names so lofty that it makes a mockery of their actual performance or a name so low-class that it’s a disgrace to the weapon.


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At Midway, the Devastator got devastated by Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” fighters.

(U.S. Navy)

Douglas TBD Devastator

This plane’s name would have you thinking it’s something that can deliver a huge amount of firepower, sufficient enough to destroy whatever ship lays in its path. Unfortunately, this was far from the reality of the Douglas TBD Devastator.

At the Battle of Midway, a total of 41 Devastators attacked the Japanese carriers. Torpedo Squadron Eight, based on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8) and accounted for 15 of those Devastators — all of which were wiped out. In total, only six Devastators survived. ‘Devastated’ is a much more fitting title.

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The KC-97 Stratofreighter was really an aerial refueling tanker, as seen in action with these A-7 Corsairs.

(USAF)

Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter

This plane found quite a bit of success in its lifetime: 811 were built by the United States and it saw plenty of peacetime work. It was introduced in 1951 and stuck around until 1978 with the Air National Guard. So, what makes ‘Stratofreighter’ such a poor name choice?

This plane wasn’t a transport — it was a tanker. This plane refueled the bombers and fighters who took the fight to the enemy. Really, this plane should have been called the ‘Stratotanker’ (a name later used by the KC-135) because there’s no ‘freighter’ involved.

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The only things mauled by the MIM-46 Mauler were the reputations of those who thought it was a good idea.

(U.S. Army)

MIM-46 Mauler

This missile was intended, as the name implies, to maul enemy planes that approached on close-air support missions. Well, as it turns out, the only mauling the missile did was in theory. In reality, it suffered from all sorts of problems, ranging from failing launch canisters to malfunctioning guidance systems.

Ultimately, the Army instead turned to the MIM-72 Chaparral and Navy went with the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow. The MIM-46 was test fired in 1961 and, by 1965, the Mauler mauled no more.

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This was what the M247 Sergeant York was supposed to be. Reality was very different.

(U.S. Army)

M247 Sergeant York

Sergeant Alvin York was known for his marksmanship, earning the Medal of Honor for heroic acts performed during World War I. The M247 Sergeant York, conversely, was anything but a marksman. When it came time to test this vehicle, which was equipped with a pair of 40mm cannon and the radar of the F-16, it couldn’t even hit a hovering drone. The radar simply couldn’t track anything.

Surely, Sergeant York rolled in his grave over sharing a name with this lemon.

What weapons do you think have unfortunate names? Let us know in the comments!

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in history: the polio vaccine was invented

The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.


The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.

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This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.

Public Health Image Library

The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.

The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.

It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.

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The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.

Public Health Image Library

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.

It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”

A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

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

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


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

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Giphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

However, Plot argues against this then popular notion stating,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Modern restoration of Megalosaurus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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paleontologist Gideon Mantell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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British scientist Sir Richard Owen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portrait of Mary Anning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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