The Maxim Gun's devastating firepower changed warfare forever - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

During the pre-dawn hours of October 25, 1893, a British column of 700 men from the British South African Police under the command of Maj. Patrick William Forbes camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River. While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force comprised of up to 6,000 men – some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.


Among its weapons, the column possessed five Maxim guns – history’s first recoil-operated, belt-fed machine gun. Once a British bugler sounded the alert, the machine guns saw action, and the results were horrific. More than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman were mowed down like grass. As for the British column, it suffered only four casualties.

The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare. In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears.

The Maxim gun was an earth-shattering a weapon in its heyday – and a true weapon of empire.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
(By Zorro2212 – Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Hiram Maxim‘s invention brought industrial-level killing to the battlefield. More than any other weapon developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Maxim gun is responsible for changing the nature of warfare forever.

The British square and “the thin red line” of massed infantry firepower eventually went the way of the dodo.  When the Maxim gun opened fire at 500 rounds per minute, the tactic of soldiers firing in ranks became suicidal – from then on, the infantryman would have to dash and weave, relying on his ability to maneuver to bring fire to bear on the enemy and to stay alive.

The Maxim gun has two phases to its history. The first is when it was used as the weapon of choice to help expand the British Empire during the late 19th Century.  The weapon’s devastating use during The Great War launched the second phase of its history as one of the guns of modern 20th Century warfare.

But to really understand the weapon you have know something about Maxim, an American who was both an impressive genius and a shrewd businessman.

Born in Maine in 1840, tinkering came naturally to Maxim. While still a teenager, he literally built the better mousetrap – his automatically reset and rid local mills of rodents. At 26, he patented a curling iron, the first of 270 more patents to come. Then, Maxim became chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting Co. in New York, where he introduced longer-lasting carbon filaments for electric light bulbs.

But he wanted fame and fortune – particularly fortune. He went to Europe in an effort to seek wealth by developing peacetime inventions like he had in the United States.

“In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States,” Maxim wrote in his memoir. “He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.'”

Sound advice: In 1884, he harnessed the recoil of a bullet with a spring-loaded bolt mechanism and feeding device that fed ammunition into the gun on a cloth belt. The Gatling or Nordenfelt rapid-firing guns of the time were hand-cranked, gravity-fed weapons with multiple barrels prone to jamming.

Maxim also invented a cleaner burning, smokeless powder that he called cordite, which fouled a weapon much less than the black powder of the era. The combination of mechanized automatic fire and cleaner ammunition was revolutionary. By 1889, the British army adopted the Maxim gun; a year later, the armies of Austria, Germany, Italy and Russia all had Maxims.

The quintessential incarnation of the Maxim gun came when the inventor partnered with the British Vickers Co. The result was a water-cooled, tripod-mounted machine gun in .303 caliber, fed by ammunition on a 250-round belt.

It came just in time for World War I.  However, many generals and military planners doubted the effectiveness of the Maxim gun as well as similar machine guns against troops of Western European powers.

They still preached the bayonet charge. As one infantry manual said, “The spirit of the bayonet must be inculcated into all ranks, so that they go forward with aggressive determination and confidence of superiority born of continued practice, without which a bayonet charge will not be effective.”

Not even the evidence of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1906) with its long sieges and trench warfare – an eerie predictor of The Great War’s horrors to come – could persuade military observers of the Maxim gun’s lethality on the modern battlefield.

“The observers watched Russian and Japanese being mowed down in swathes by machine-gun fire and returned home to write: The machine gun is a vastly overrated weapon; it appears highly doubtful that it would be effective against trained European soldiery,” James L. Stokesbury drily comments in A Short History of World War I. “Apparently, they did not consider Japanese, or even Russians, to be in that supposedly elite category.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A large-bore Maxim on the USS Vixen ca. 1898 (US Navy Photo)

The reality on the Western Front was something quite different. Some called The Great War “the machine gun war” – although artillery fire often caused the bulk of the casualties, soldiers vividly recounted watching their comrades drop like flies as machine guns traversed their ranks while firing.

In just one day during the Battle of the Somme – July 1, 1916 – the British saw 21,000 men slaughtered. The great majority of the casualties were killed by Spandau machine guns, the German version of the Maxim.

Maxim – wealthy, famous, and knighted by the queen – died on November 24, 1916, in London, his home after he became a naturalized British subject. A few weeks before, the Battle of the Somme had ended. The result was more than a million casualties.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things every American should know about the Purple Heart

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

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


Purple Heart Trail 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel

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

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

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

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

The Military Order of the Purple Heart 

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Germany gets blamed for starting World War I

On June 28, 1914, an assassin supplied by terrorists shot and killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, igniting an already tense situation between Serbia and the Hapsburg-controlled monarchy in Vienna. By July 1914, a month later, the world was at war, and by the end of the war, Austria-Hungary would no longer exist, and Germany would be punished in the treaty that ended it.

Even though Germany had nothing to do with igniting “the powder keg of Europe.”


The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

A Bosnian terrorist kills an Austrian noble in Serbia so Germany and Russia go to war. Get it?

It’s a little more complicated than who started what but Germany gets the brunt of the blame for the war because of how the fight between Austria and Serbia escalated so fast, and no attempt was made to de-escalate it. The resulting deaths of millions worldwide along with the destruction wrought on European battlefields and the use of poison gas left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (sometimes literally) throughout the duration of the war.

While Germany didn’t necessarily start World War I, it didn’t do much to stop it, either. In fact, many historians believe Germany actively encouraged the war, despite the systems of alliances in place that should have deterred the European powers from fighting. The Germans knew if Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, the Russians would intervene on Serbia’s behalf. Then Germany would have to come to Austria’s aid.

That’s what the Germans wanted.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Russians were still carrying religious icons into battle instead of modern weapons.

Even though Austria was satisfied with Sarajevo’s attempt to smooth things over, Germany convinced the Hapsburg Emperor that he could not only invade and win against the Serbians, but that Germany would have an easy time against all the other European allies. Germany really, really wanted a war with Russia to acquire new territory in the east, but couldn’t justify it. Going to war to back its Austrian ally was more than enough and Austria had a reason to go to war with Serbia. So Germany kept pushing its ally despite calls for peace from the rest of Europe.

Finally, Austria agreed and attacked Serbia, which caused the Russians to come to Serbia’s aid, which forced Germany to back Austria and France to back Russia. Then the Germans invaded France through Belgium, requiring England to intervene in the war as well. So Austria-Hungary technically started the war, but Germany tried to finish it. For four years.

That’s why Germany takes the blame for World War I.

Articles

These are weird Navy traditions and their meanings

A recent Navy Times article notes that the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) joined the “Order of the Blue Nose” — a distinction reserved for ships and crew that crossing the Arctic Circle.


Most people have not heard of such a mystical Navy order, and there are others that are equally shrouded in seafaring lore, according to a list maintained by the Naval History and Heritage Command.

That list includes both well-known orders and not-so-well known orders. They are for notable feats — and in some cases, dubious ones.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Command Master Chief of aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) Spike Call plays the role of King Neptune during a crossing the line ceremony aboard the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Clemente A. Lynch/Released)

Perhaps the most well-known is the “Order of the Shellback,” given to those sailors who have crossed the equator. The “Crossing the Line” ceremony has been portrayed both in the PBS documentary series “Carrier,” as well as being the plot point for an episode of “JAG” in the 1990s.

But there is more than one kind of shellback.

If you cross the equator at the International Date Line (about 900 miles east of Nauru), you become a “Golden Shellback” (since those who cross the International Date Line are called Golden Dragons).

If you cross the equator at the Prime Meridian (a position about 460 miles to the west of Sao Tome and Principe), you become an “Emerald Shellback.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk (WMEC 913) line up on the flight deck and make sounds like a whale to call to the whales as part of their shellback ceremony. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by OS3 Vicente Arechiga)

Now, we can move to some lesser-known, and even dubious orders.

The “Order of the Caterpillar” is awarded to anyone who has to leave a plane on the spur of the moment due to the plane being unable to continue flying. You even get a golden caterpillar pin.

The eyes of the caterpillar will then explain the circumstances of said departure. The Naval History and Heritage Command, for instance, notes that ruby red eyes denote a midair collision.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Then, there is the becoming a member of the “Goldfish Club.” That involves spending time in a life raft. If you’re in the raft for more than 24 hours, you become a “Sea Squatter.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Using the Panama Canal makes you a member of the “Order of the Ditch.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Oh, and in case you are wondering, crossing the Antarctic Circle makes you a “Red Nose.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Robert E. Lee may have lost Gettysburg because of a heart attack

In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee hatched an audacious plan to invade the North, defeat the Union Army, and force an end to the war – with a Confederate victory. Everything – perhaps the entire Civil War – depended on the outcome at Gettysburg.


So maybe Lee should have stayed home to recover from his heart attack.

A study from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed the general’s medical history in 1992. Despite his relatively good medical condition from 1864 to 1867, by the end of the decade, he suffered from exertional (stable) angina – chest pain from blocked arteries caused by activity. By 1870, his angina became unstable and he died at age 63.

“It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit,” the NIH said.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Harvard studies show the cardiac impact of six major risk factors: high total cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Anyone with two or more of these factors has a 69 percent chance of developing a cardiovascular disease – and 11 fewer years of life.

Lee had been suffering from what his doctors diagnosed as pericarditis since March 1863, which had a sudden onset and came with pain in his chest, back, and arms. It affected his ability to ride a horse and he was known to be anxious and depressed in the days and years after, both common conditions after heart attacks.

“It came on in paroxysms, was quite sharp,” he wrote. Doctors look at “my lungs, my heart, circulation, etc. and I believe they pronounced me tolerable sound.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart but the NIH study refutes that diagnosis because American doctors were unfamiliar with the idea of angina. The researchers proposed instead that Lee suffered from ischemic heart disease, which would keep blood and oxygen from getting to the muscles of the heart.

His heart disease may have affected his judgement in all areas of life, which would explain some of the inexplicable and uncharacteristic decisions he ordered that day, namely Pickett’s Charge.

Lee’s March 1863 episode was a heart attack, not Pericarditis. As the NIH diagnosis says, the loss at Gettysburg didn’t break Lee’s heart, it was broken when he got there.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating beginning of the term ‘grunt’

Major H.G. Duncan of the United States Marine Corps once defined a grunt as, “a term of affection used to denote that filthy, sweaty, dirt-encrusted, footsore, camouflage-painted, tired, sleepy, beautiful little son of a b*tch who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years.”


While this is true, we often think of the term as being synonymous with infantryman — you know, the guy who kicks in the doors and blows things up — but the fact of the matter is that terms like this and ‘POG’ have relatively unknown origins. If you were to ask a service member about these terms, the response is typically a definition, not a history lesson.

 

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
This is a grunt. He’s tired of your whining. (image via Reddit)

Related: The fascinating beginning of the term ‘POG’

Some say the term started in Vietnam when POGs needed their own term to describe the dirty, smelly infantrymen who made fun of the troops who sat in air-conditioned buildings all day instead of getting stuck in the jungle. Legend has it that the first POG to use the term was making a reference to the same term as used in the early 1900s to describe those who performed the less desirable jobs, which were typically physically demanding but not mentally stimulating. In this story, the first grunt to hear the term was unfamiliar with its history and instead took it as a compliment.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Let’s be real, grunts do the things you’d rather lie about doing when you go home.

But, much like the term ‘POG,’ ‘grunt’ can also be thought of as an acronym. This origin story takes us back to the second World War when infantry united sustained extremely high casualty rates, forcing troops from rear-echelon units (often referred to as rear-echelon motherf*ckers or REMF) forward they were quickly trained, often in-theatre, to be foot soldiers. These troops were categorized as “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained,” or GRUNT.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Some of these REMFs hadn’t even shot an M1 rifle before. (Image via Pinterest)

Also read: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

Whichever piece of history you find to be more believable, the fact remains that infantry soldiers and Marines really do a lot of grunt work. These days, you might find infantrymen who have spent just as much time with a mop or broom than with their own rifles. Being just as accustomed to the smell of Pine-Sol as spent brass.

No matter the case, infantrymen tend to see their nickname as a compliment — unlike those uptight POGs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This German city faked its way to safety during WWII

The city of Konstanz put itself in the record books in World War II. Not for its fighting heroics or involvement in the war, however. But for something else altogether: bluffing their way to safety. With their creative fix to making it through the war unscathed, this town was able to save its citizens and its buildings, coming out on the other side completely intact. 

And how they did it is less sophisticated than you might think. They didn’t crack hidden communications or scramble GPS — this was WWII after all — they left their lights on. Yes, just like Motel 6, the town refused to go dark.

This is significant because, at the time, German towns went under blackouts during bombing raids. These were nighttime attacks when bombs were sent upon Germany and their Axis partners.

It’s a concept that’s so simple, it’s smart; without allowing American pilots light to see their targets, it was harder to be hit by subsequent bombs. 

They got the idea as the neighboring town, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, kept their lights on. Konstanz simply followed suit, pretending to be another country.

And it worked. While flying overhead, U.S. pilots assumed the lights were in Switzerland — a neutral country in the war — and avoided them as a target. 

Bombing raids in WWII

During the second World War, bombing raids were a regular event. Known as air raids or strategic bombings, these events targeted key areas, with the goal to cripple enemy forces. Target areas included civilian housing, political buildings or important infrastructure, industrial markets, such as warehouses or factories, and areas of transportation, like railways or harbors. The attacks were often paired with ground forces and were most common at night to cause destruction and disrupt enemy activity. 

Berlin alone saw 314 bombings, leaving at least a third of the city in ruins, and by 1945, Germany lost an average of more than 13,000 civilians a month to bombings. 

The history of Konstanz

Konstanz is more than 1,000 years old and is located in South Germany near Lake Constance. It sits near the edge of the Swiss Alps and was home to a Roman Catholic principality for more than 1,200 years. Unlike actual Switzerland, however, they were quite active in the war. The town created parts for submarine radars, developed flying torpedos, and manufactured gun parts. 

It’s a town full of cobblestone streets, epic stone buildings, and plenty of old world charm. Because of their successful stunt, the town is also one of the few German cities that has original buildings that are still intact. Because of this, it’s now a common tourist attraction. 

The impact on the future

While something as simple as lights near the border was effective against technology during WWII, it’s unlikely that a similar tactic could be pulled off today. With more sophisticated machines, like GPS targeting down to the exact coordinate, a city — even right against the border — would likely have a different fate. 

However, their braveness and ingenuity is still celebrated to this day, including their buildings and structures, which can still be toured today. 

Articles

This shows why the battle for Fallujah is so important to Marine Corps history

It still remains one of the bloodiest battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a 48-day house-to-house urban nightmare that left a major city in ruin and an insurgency reeling.


But while Marines (and their Army brothers) lost many men in the fight for Fallujah, Iraq — including 82 Americans killed and more than 600 wounded — it remains a vivid memory for the thousands of Leathernecks who fought there and has earned its place as an iconic battle in the history of the Corps.

Dubbed “Operation al Fajr,” or New Dawn, the battle served as a major test for modern urban fighting in a counterinsurgency and tested many newly emerging theories on how to confront guerrilla armies. It also drew on the Marines’ history, recalling battles like Hue City, and Okinawa.

In the end, it was about the Marines and their brothers, fighting for each and every inch and looking after their own.

Happy 241st birthday United States Marine Corps!

Marines had to engage insurgents in house-to-house fighting.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A U.S. Marine watches for anything suspicious from a building in Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 10, 2004. The Marine is assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 1st Marine Division. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Trevor R. Gift, U.S. Marine Corps.)

Marines moved in small, squad-sized units to clear buildings block-by-block.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
041126-M-5191K-005U.S. Marines prepare to step off on a patrol through the city of Fallujah, Iraq, to clear the city of insurgent activity and weapons caches as part of Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 26, 2004. The Marines are (from left to right) Platoon Sergeant Staff Sgt. Eric Brown, Machine Gun Section Leader Sgt. Aubrey McDade, Radio Operator Cpl. Steven Archibald, and Combat Engineer Lance Cpl. Robert Coburn. All are assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conducting security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan C. Knauth, U.S. Marine Corpss)

For many Marine officers and NCOs, this was their first major test of combat.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
041112-M-5191K-007U.S. Marines, assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 1st Marine Division, confirm map details about Fallujah, Iraq, before continuing patrols during Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 12, 2004. The 1st Marine Division is conducting security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jonathan C. Knauth, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

When it came to taking down Fallujah, the Marines used everything they had.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
An Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) drives through a wall and locked gate to open a path for Marines assigned to 2nd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, as they gain entrance to a building that needed to be cleared in Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan L Jones)

Once Marines secured a building, they rearmed, reoriented and moved on to the next target.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
U.S. Marines huddle behind walls as they receive instructions about their next move after a M1A1 tank eliminates the Iraqi insurgents in a house the Marines were receiving fire from in Fallujah, Iraq, in support of Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Dec. 10, 2004. Operation al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. The Marines are assigned to 3rd Platoon, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris, U.S. Marine Corps.)

When the Marines were done, the city of Fallujah was in shambles.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Fallujah, Iraq (Nov. 15, 2004) – Iraqi Special Forces Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Marines of 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, patrol south clearing every house on their way through Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq by units of the 1st Marine Division. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris.)

Leathernecks went on for days without sleep, sometimes grabbing rest only for a few minutes before taking up the fight once more.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
041109- Marines of 1st Battalion 8th Marines search the city of Fallujah, Iraq for insurgents and weapons during Operation Al Fajr.Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq by units of the 1st Marine Division.Official Marine Corps photo by: LCpl J.A. Chaverri


Classic Marine quote…

“We took down the hardest city in Iraq. This is what people join the Marine Corps to do. You might be in the Marine Corps for 20 years and never get this chance again — to take down a full-fledged city full of insurgents,” said Cpl. Garrett Slawatycki, then a squad leader with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “And we did it.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pierre Le Gloan: The ace WWII fighter who fought for both sides

Fighter aces—those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircrafts—are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds”. There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, and many who have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.


That is, none except one…

Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.

When war came he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On November 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Alchetron

All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.

It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.

Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter ace, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.

On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan it made no difference. He’d flown, fought and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.

His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables) and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.

Neither would his life.

The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.

Soon all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.

Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built, this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Le Gloan, in severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground the undercarriage collapsed.

The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.

Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

Articles

This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

…I was goin’ over the Cork and Kerry Mountains…

Musha rain dum a doo, dum a da…
There’s whiskey in the jar, oh
— Thin Lizzy, Whiskey in the Jar

Whiskey is a mountain spirit. After a cold day on the slopes, are you thirsting for a Cosmo? A margarita? Nope. And we’re not even offering rum as an option. In the mountains, you long for an end-of-day bourbon, scotch, or rye to light your insides on fire. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
You… ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
…complete me. ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

In Vail, Colo, there’s another mountain spirit that has to be reckoned with and unlike whiskey, it’s 100 percent military. It’s the legacy of the Army’s venerable 10th Mountain Division, the special alpine tactical force that trained at nearby Camp Hale during WWII.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Men of the 10th Mountain Division. Not a cocktail in sight.

Spirits, however, are made to blend. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

Now, almost 75 years after 10th Mountain defeated the Germans in Italy, a Vail whiskey distillery is honoring the Division by taking its name. In the tradition of service, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Co. is distinguishing itself as an ardent supporter of area veterans.

Sensing the makings of a 90-proof military food story, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl made the trek out to the Colorado mountains to meet the founders of the 10th Mountain Whiskey over two fingers of their best bourbon.

The distillery was founded by Christian Avignon, the grandson of an 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment medic, and his friend and fellow Colorado ski obsessive, Ryan Thompson. Together, they made it their mission to honor the 10th, whose veterans are responsible not only for key victories against the Nazis, but also for the establishment and leadership of so many of America’s great mountain institutions.

The Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the Sierra Club, the Peace Corps chapter in Nepal, even the famous ski resorts at Vail and Aspen, all count 10th Mountain Division vets among their founding leadership. A storied fighting force inspires a whiskey maker determined to give back. It’s a potent cocktail of tradition, patriotism, and mountaineering that will absolutely warm your insides on a cold day.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

This is what it means to be American in Guam

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Kitty Hawk rammed a Soviet sub

Sinking an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would be quite a feat for any vessel or aggressor. Not only because they each carry an air force greater than the air forces of most countries, and pack a punch with more power than anything most countries could ever hope to bring to bear, but also because they’re really, really hard to sink. American carriers are the biggest warships ever built and move fast enough to outrun submarines.

But that didn’t stop one Soviet sub from trying.


In March 1984, the USS Kitty Hawk was part of Team Spirit 1984, a massive naval exercise in the Sea of Japan, along with the navy of South Korea. The carrier’s 80 aircraft and eight escorts were so engaged in the exercise that they didn’t detect a Soviet Submarine chase the Kitty Hawk into the area. The submarine, K-314, was noticed by the carrier much later than it should have been. The Kitty Hawk turned on its engines to outrun and outmaneuver the Soviets.

It was the height of the Cold War, and both ships were carrying an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Games like this could have ended with a spark that ignited World War III. Instead, it ended in one of the most unforgettable naval engagements of the entire Cold War.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

The 5,200-ton Soviet Victor I-class attack submarine chased the American carrier for a week or so until the Yellow Sea began experiencing some pretty foul weather. K-314 would eventually lose sight and all contact with the Kitty Hawk and the other American ships. The skipper of the sub, Captain Vladimir Evseenko, decided to rise up to periscope depth and assess the situation from 10 meters below the surface. What he saw surprised him – the American carrier strike group was only four or five kilometers from his boat.

And the submarine and the Kitty Hawk were approaching one another very, very fast. At those speeds, it would be very difficult for any two ships to avoid a collision. Capt. Evseenko ordered an emergency dive as fast as he could, but it was all for naught. The 80,000-ton Kitty Hawk hit the sub at full speed.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

“The first thought was that the conning tower had been destroyed and the submarine’s body was cut to pieces,” recalled Evseenko. “We checked the periscope and antennas – they were in order. No leaks were reported, and the mechanisms were ok. Then suddenly another strike! In the starboard side! We checked again – everything was in order…. We were trying to figure out what happened. It became clear that an aircraft carrier had rammed us. The second strike hit the propeller. The first one, most likely, bent the stabilator.”

“I was on the bridge at the time of the incident, monitoring one of the two radars,” Capt. David N. Rogers told reporters aboard the carrier. “We felt a sudden shudder, a fairly violent shudder. We immediately launched two helicopters to see if we could render any assistance to them but the Soviet sub appeared to have suffered no extensive damage.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

The carrier ran over the submarine’s stern, a point in the Victor I-class where the submarine’s sonar is blind due to the sounds of its own engines. The submarine, it turns out, failed to turn on its navigation lights. The Kitty Hawk suffered no damage when running over the sub. The Soviet Union had no response.

Navy officials were quick to point out that in a wartime setting, a Soviet submarine would never have gotten so close to a carrier strike group. In peacetime, losing a Soviet submarine’s location was fairly common. Ramming an adversary, during war or peace, has never been all that common.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This lone soldier saved his company by fighting 100 enemy soldiers

Army Private John R. McKinney was resting after a shift on guard duty in the Luzon area of the Philippines in May 1945 when his position was attacked by some 100 Japanese soldiers at a full run. McKinney, who was part of his unit’s perimeter defense, was cut in the ear with an enemy saber as he rested in his tent that night.


That Japanese NCO would not live to regret disturbing McKinney’s rest.

As the other men in McKinney’s machine gun squad worked to get the weapon ready, McKinney grabbed his service rifle and beat his attacker with it. He then shot another enemy soldier who tried to interrupt that beating.

Unfortunately, one of the machine gunners was injured in the attack and the other tried to carry him to safety. Private McKinney was now alone – and ten Japanese infantrymen were turning the machine gun around. McKinney jumped into the gun’s position and shot seven of those ten enemy troops at point blank range. He then clubbed the three others with the butt of his rifle.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Because a Japanese banzai charge waits for no one.

Unfortunately for him, when McKinney took control of the machine gun, he found the weapon was inoperative. And there were more Japanese troops coming – a lot more. They were lobbing grenades and mortar shells onto his position. So, he did what any combat-hardened Army private would do: he switched positions.

His new position had ammo in it. Lots of ammo.

For 36 minutes, McKinney reloaded his service rifle and repeatedly picked up others as waves of oncoming Japanese troops attempted to swarm and overrun him. He fired almost nonstop into the charge. When he couldn’t fire anymore, he flipped his rifle around and began to club them to death or engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

When all was said and done, 40 Japanese soldiers of the 100 who attacked McKinney lay dead, including the two mortarmen… who were 45 yards away. He protected the fellow members of his company as they slept, killing one enemy soldier every 56 seconds for the duration of the attack.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
McKinney (left) received the Medal of Honor from President Truman for his actions that day.

Not only did he repel the Japanese assault, but he was still alive and in complete control of the area. John R. McKinney died in 1997, at the ripe old age of 76.

Articles

This German soldier received the same wounds in the same town as his father did 30 years earlier

In late 1944, German Pvt. Paul-Alfred Stoob was one of the many German troops quickly retreating from Allied forces. During his withdrawal, he was hit with fire from a Sherman tank and wounded in his head and leg. When he finally made it home to Germany, he learned that his father was also wounded in his head and leg in the exact same town in World War I.


Stoob was a Panther tank driver taking part in the general German withdrawal in 1944 before the Battle of the Bulge temporarily halted Germany’s loss in territory. After the Panther was destroyed by Allied fire, Stoob and the rest of his crew stole a truck and headed east towards Belgium.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A World War II Panther tank in a museum. (Photo: Stahlkocher CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to his story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Beaches of Normandy to the Surrender of Germany,” Stoob and his crew were struggling to find food and supplies during their escape.

They managed to scrape together bread and some eggs before lucking out and discovering a stash of delicacies abandoned by a German headquarters unit. Only a short time after they filled their truck with the fresh food, an American Sherman crew spotted them and opened fire. Stoob was hit in the head and leg, but still tried to escape.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The Sherman tank wasn’t known for its firepower, but it could easily deal with a few German dismounts. (Photo: U.S.Army)

He made for a nearby cemetery and attempted to use the gravestones as cover for his escape. Before he could get away, a French priest begged for him to stop and then went and got an American medic to tend to his wounds.

Stoob spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in the U.S. and didn’t make it home until 1947. That was when he learned that his father, a veteran of World War I, had been wounded in the same unnamed village in 1914, exactly 30 years before his son.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Then Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. stands with Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the son of President Theodore Roosevelt and a Medal of Honor recipient who invaded two countries with his son because #squadgoals. (Photo: U.S. Army)

They weren’t the only father-son duo to bond over the course of the world wars. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. served with his brothers in World War I and then invaded North Africa and Normandy in World War II with his own son, Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II. Both Roosevelts were decorated for valor in the operations and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his role in the D-Day invasion.

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