In March 1967, U.S. Air Force Capt. Merlyn Dethlefsen and three other F-105 Thunderchief pilots were tasked to fly 50 miles north of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. Once there, they were to destroy the Thai Nguyen Steel Works.
The works were protected by a ring of 85mm anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missile batteries, and squadrons of MiG-21 fighters on patrol. Needless to say, the airmen were outgunned. They went anyway.
“Thuds,” as F-105s were affectionately known, would go in ahead of fighter-bomber strike forces to strike SAM sites directly. They would purposely allow themselves to be targeted by the SAM batteries’ radar in order to track the source.
Then they would make their own strike runs at the SAM sites — a tactic known as the “Wild Weasel.”
What makes this mission particularly dangerous is not just that the Wild Weasel allowed himself to be tracked by SA-2 SAM batteries; the danger was also present for the Thuds who flew in behind him, who remained low enough to evade being tracked by the SAM radar and therefore became vulnerable to ground-based anti-aircraft fire.
During this mission, the batteries at Thai Nguyen were much more powerful than expected and took down two of the four Thuds immediately.
This was not the first rodeo for the remaining pilots.
This was not their last rodeo either — eventually, Dethlefsen and his Electronic Warfare Officer, Capt. Kevin “Mike” Gilroy, would fly 100 missions over North Vietnam.
After their two wingmen were shot down, Dethlefsen and Gilroy evaded the MiG interceptors by flying deeper into the anti-aircraft umbrella.
Wild Weasels’ orders usually called for only one attack pass at enemy defenses, but some missions required two. Merlyn Dethlefsen, Gilroy, and their heavily-damaged wingman did far more than the two required passes.
With enemy MiGs chasing them down — and heavily damaged by anti-aircraft guns — they destroyed one SAM site with Shrike missiles and another with a strafing run of 20mm rounds and the Thud’s 750-pound bombs.
A follow-on strike by 72 fighter-bombers would finish the steel works off.
Both of the remaining aircraft made it back to base full of holes from MiGs and 85mm guns.
Captain Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor the very next year while Gilroy received the Air Force Cross.
This famous logo first came to life during the early 1960s when there was an urgent need to identify the rescue and law enforcement service to other boaters and military craft, air and sea. During WWII, Coast Guard Cutters were painted like other warships but carried the letter “W” in front of their hull number to distinguish from the US Navy. The iconography as we know it was ordered and adopted by President John F. Kennedy, and the service has never looked back.
The icon of the US Coast Guard is emulated by other similar organizations and agencies around the globe in some fashion, especially the diagonal design of the stripes.
There is a profound difference in the color scheme of the two logos, even including the additional wording, “Auxiliary.” Both logos embody the same mindset and core mission values. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is an integral part of operations for the service, providing tremendous benefit to the public in areas of boating safety, inspections, and training.
Where did the Auxiliary get its start? Congress passed a law on June 19, 1941 that restructured the Coast Guard Reserve. From then on, the service was directed to operate two reserve forces. The already-existing civilian reserve organization was renamed the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. The newly structured US Coast Guard Reserve was to function on a military basis, providing an important resource of wartime capabilities, very similar to the duties of the other armed services.
The next time you see one of these dedicated professionals at a boat show, at a marina, on patrol, at a training seminars, or performing safety inspections, please remember: without them, the waterways we enjoy for recreational boating would be much different and complex.
Coupled with the Power Squadron, other boating safety organizations, and license training institutions, they expertly provide essential, and sometimes under-appreciated, assistance. Boating safety is not complete with a one-time educational event, but is a full-time endeavor.
In the early 1950s, the U.S. and Russia got into a race to develop the first aircraft-deliverable nuclear bomb. But the Americans accidentally created a much more powerful bomb than they anticipated.
What they thought would be a 5-megaton explosion generated a 14.8-megaton blast.
The Castle Bravo test at the Bikini Atoll in 1954 was the first dry hydrogen explosion that the U.S. attempted and it used lithium deuteride as the fusion fuel. But lithium deuteride is much stronger than the scientists thought.
So the Americans set up the islands and the safe zones for an explosion of 5-6 megatons. The immediate area was evacuated, they checked the wind speeds to limit the spread of contamination, and they positioned all of their facilities in safe areas.
But the 14.8-megaton explosion in Castle Bravo rendered many of these preparations moot. The small strip of land that the device was tested on was wiped out and became a crater 6,510 feet wide and 250 feet deep.
All the soil that had been an atoll flew into the atmosphere along with disintegrated coral reef. These later fell as a powdery ash on unsuspecting Japanese fishers and Pacific Islanders.
One of the Japanese fishermen soon died of acute radiation poisoning while the rest of the victims affected suffered dramatically increased rates of cancer and other diseases.
Despite the costs, the Castle Bravo test did lengthen America’s lead of the nuclear arms race, but it didn’t keep the top spot for nuclear explosions.
On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.
The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.
Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.
They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.
The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.
This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.
U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.
As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.
The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.
Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.
Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.
Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.
Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.
Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.
Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.
After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.
New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.
Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.
Every now and then, the pricks known as ‘Blue Falcons’ come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.
Blue Falcons (also known as Buddy F*ckers) are the most hated people within the military. But as much hate as these troops get from others, most of the time, it’s not done on purpose. Even if they do it with the best of intentions, when a troop f*cks over their buddies, they’re a Blue Falcon and will receive hate accordingly.
Just what everyone wants to do right before they were supposed to get out of there…
(Photo by Capt. John Farmer)
Reminding the chain of command anything before close-out formation
Every Friday afternoon, every troop looks to their clock, counting down the minutes. The weekend is to begin just as soon as the weekend safety brief is done. Then, the Blue Falcon chimes in with something like, “weren’t we supposed to be helping in the motor pool today?”
Okay, so it’s not always as obvious as that — that’s actively being a Blue Falcon. Most of the time, it’s something small like, “man, I can’t wait until me and my buddy Jones go out drinking tonight!” The platoon sergeant hears this and remembers Jones is in second platoon, which reminds him that second platoon is doing lay-outs because First Sergeant said so.
And the military tends to use a sledgehammer-sized solution for a nail-sized problem.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Cousins)
Making a mistake and saying “but we didn’t know that”
When troops mess up and accept responsibility for their actions, they get their wrists slapped, take their punishment, and move on. No one’s perfect and the chain of command knows this (even if they like to pretend otherwise).
Blue Falcons who try to cover their tracks and hide behind ignorance might get a pass if they genuinely do not know better. This, in turn, forces the chain of command to verify that everyone knows what the Blue Falcon did was wrong.
You really can’t tell when dental appointments end. Best to assume it’s all day unless you know for sure.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila)
Telling the truth when silence is better
Honesty is a well-respected quality in a subordinate. If something is wrong, it’s great to have someone who tells the truth and speaks out to correct problems. This becomes an issue, however, if the problem isn’t that big of a deal and it involves others in the unit.
Now, don’t get this twisted. Speak out if you ever see something unsafe, criminal, or unbecoming of a service-member. But if it’s something like, “when did Sgt. Jones say that his dental appointment would end?” You don’t need to answer and screw him over. Just shrug.
Seriously. If you must fulfill your cactus-destroying urges, do it in New Mexico.
Breaking some bizzare, off-the-wall law that nobody knows about
Certain laws are pounded into everyone’s head at every safety brief. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t physically or sexually assault anyone. Don’t do dumb sh*t. And every now and then, the commander needs to brief the entire unit because one person screwed up.
Let’s pretend that a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona accidentally destroys a saguaro cactus. That’s actually a 25-year prison sentence. If one troop screws up and gets charged, the commander must throw “don’t destroy cacti” into their weekly safety brief and everyone else has to sit and listen.
At least with “Soldier of the Whenever” boards, just attending is good enough.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge)
Going above and beyond what’s required
Every leader wants their unit to be the best possible unit, both for bragging rights and for pride. When one troop does amazing work, they’re showered with praise rarely given in the military. Most troops strive to be the best they can give to earn praise and accolades. BZ! Good job! Keep up the good work!
The problem comes when leaders see how great one troop is and questions why the rest aren’t at that same level. This tip isn’t meant to discourage everyone from trying hard, it’s meant for leaders who try to push unrealistic expectations.
Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.
Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.
The Germans were not ashamed of using performance-enhancing drugs on the front lines of World War II. After all, anything that gives your side an edge really matters when the stakes are life and death. Nazi soldiers used Pervitin, a kind of methamphetamine, to stay awake, alert, and march that extra mile during the blitzkrieg conquest of Western Europe. It was so effective that the allies even started experimenting with similar drugs, but none was really perfect for the Allied cause, so the matter was dropped.
Not so in the Soviet Union.
The USSR had some problems unique to their theater of war.
(Museum of the Great Patriotic War)
Aside from the brutality of the fighting between the Nazis and the Communists, two competing ideologies who downright hated each other, the Eastern Front was one of the deadliest of World War II because of one terrifying factor: the weather. Neither side was properly equipped to fight in the long, harsh Russian winter. Hitler didn’t trust meteorologists and instead listened to occultists when deciding how to outfit his Eastern armies. The first winter of the Soviet War began in earnest in September 1941 and would get so cold that German troops’ eyelids were lost to the cold. Some temperatures were recorded at -45° Fahrenheit near Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg).
The Red Army had its own problems with the cold and its own problems in dealing with the cold. Its solution was to use a drug of its own, which they called “heat pills,” but the rest of the world knows it as 2,4-Dinitrophenol – a potent high explosive, herbicide, and weight-loss drug.
In Soviet Union, drug eats YOU.
When your choices are to take a potentially dangerous weight-loss drug that makes you feel warm when you’re definitely not warm and risk a heart attack or maybe feel every moment of freezing to death while a hundred Nazis try to murder you, the choice becomes very clear when you’re the average Red Army Ivan trying not to be one of the 26 million or so dead Soviets by the end of the war. For the USSR chain of command however, they quickly realized they had a problem.
Weight-loss drugs sped up the metabolism of their already too-hungry front line soldiers. It also actually fatigued them further by burning fat for heat instead of energy. Also, it killed a lot of Russian troops, either through heart attacks or fever. But what was the Soviet high command supposed to do? Properly clothe them? That’s not how the Red Army works, comrade.
Communism was not the best experiment for the Russian people. If they had known that the revolution against the Tsar and the Imperial government was going to lead to decades of rule by the repressive Soviet Regime, they might have thought twice.
Of course, when you take a look at the life of a common Russian before the October Revolution, you can kind of understand why they took their chances with the Bolsheviks.
Submit to the present evil, lest a great one befall ye.
6. Russian peasants were serfs for 600 years.
European feudalism in the 11th century bound poor peasants to work the land for their noble masters. Until Tsar Alexander II abolished the practice in 1861, the common Russian was essentially a slave to the imperial aristocracy. Working the land for someone else meant very little time for subsistence farming – and that the Russians were always just one bad season from starvation.
Russians were practically enslaved from the time of the First Crusade until the start of the American Civil War.
5. The people never forgot the “bloody Sunday” of 1905.
Russian people, upset at the low standard of living and scarcity of food, staged a series of strikes around the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Led by an Orthodox Priest — and completely unarmed — the demonstrators aimed to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II, demanding things like working hours, wages, and improved conditions.
Instead, the Russian Imperial Guard slaughtered them, firing into the crowd and killing or wounding 1,000. The Tsar agreed to share power with the state Duma, a parliament. But the revolution was coming.
4. World War I didn’t help.
The Russian military before World War I was large, but led by ineffectual generals and filled with obsolete technology. To make matters worse, the conditions in the field were as deplorable as the working conditions in the factories on the home front. Paying for the war left the Russian economy in shambles as food prices soared.
The economic trouble compounded the calls for higher wages and better working conditions. Soldiers would join workers in forming the “soviets” that would help oust the Tsar from power when the time came.
3. The Tsar was already out of power.
As a matter of fact, by the time the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the entire Romanov family was already captured by the government. The October Revolution came eight months after the February Revolution when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and his brother declined power.
The government ended up in the hands of the Duma and a lawyer named Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and in small councils across Russia, called “soviets” at the local level. It was during this period of shared power that the old and new order clashed and vied for power.
2. It sparked a civil war.
It was the only time the American Army and the Red Army fought in an official battle between the two. Shortly after the October Revolution, the new government made peace with the Central Powers still fighting World War I, as it became embroiled in a Civil War that pit Red Russians (the Bolsheviks) against White Russians (an amalgamation of monarchists, capitalists, and social democrats).
Soldiers and sailors from all across the empire chose sides as Red Army formed and took on conscripts. Former Tsarist officers defected back and forth between the Red Army and its White Resistance. There was also a non-ideological Green movement that had the support of the peasants, but not were reluctant to actually fight.
1. The U.S. invaded Russia.
In order to reopen WWI’s Eastern Front, the Allied Powers landed a number of international units in Russia, to both keep the peace and bolster the White Army to keep Communism from spreading to Europe, if possible. The Americans were deployed in the Siberian city of Arkhangelsk, near the Arctic Circle.
Dubbed the “Polar Bear Expedition,” the Americans joined a British contingent who attempted to fight their way to link up with the Czechoslovak Legion, which held the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Great War ended before any significant headway could be achieved and the Allies eventually left Russia altogether.
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.
In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.
During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.
Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.
When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.
There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.
In 2017, Puerto Ricans battled economic hardship and the lasting effects of Hurricane Maria at home as they celebrated 100 years of American citizenship. On March 2, 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act was passed by Congress, making the island a U.S. territory and guaranteeing citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born after April 25, 1898. With citizenship came all the requirements of citizenship: serving on juries, paying taxes, and being drafted for military service.
Just in time for World War I.
Welcome to the party, pal.
It was just twenty years after the United States usurped the island’s Spanish rulers in the Spanish-American War and annexed Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States. By the end of the United States’ participation in World War I, the Selective Service Act would draft some 2.8 million men, sending an estimated 10,000 troops to France every day. The U.S. Army had come a long way from the third-rate militia it was before the war. To meet the requirements of becoming a great, global power, it needed the manpower of one.
American territories, which at the time included Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and others, were exempt from the draft. The legislature of Puerto Rico immediately asked Congress to extend conscription to American territories – namely Puerto Rico. But this was purely at the request of the Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rican Cpl. Ricardo LaFontaine in 1917.
In all, some 236,000 Puerto Ricans from the island signed up for selective service for a potential draft notice. Of those, 18,000 would go on to serve in the war. But they weren’t always welcome. African-American Puerto Ricans, like many minorities in the U.S., weren’t entirely welcome and ended up in segregated units. For those Puerto Ricans not of African descent, they would be assigned to some regular units in the U.S. military. Still, President Wilson, in the face of discouragement from the War Department, created a Puerto Rican Division.
A full 70 percent of those Puerto Ricans who signed up for service in World War I were rejected for no other reason than the War Department didn’t know what to do with them in a segregated Army. Despite this, there has long been a conspiracy theory that held Puerto Rico was only granted citizenship so they could fight in the war. If that were true, the U.S. would have sent a lot more Puerto Ricans than it did.
It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.
Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.
WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.
A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup
World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.
The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.
The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.
Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.
More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.
Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.
They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.
Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.
Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available.
In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.
Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes.
One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff.
Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol.
At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes.
Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass.
The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages.
Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city.
They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.
Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs.
Last week marked the anniversary of the birth of Mata Hari, and while she is undoubtedly one of the most famous female spies in history, there have been many, many more. These women worked tirelessly to help the French resistance and Allied forces. There’s no doubt that they played an integral part in the defeat of the Nazis in WWII. In honor of Mata Hari’s birthday, we decided to take a look at a few of the brave women who refused to stand idly by while the world was on fire.
Mata Hari (Wikimedia Commons)
After her mother’s death, Mata Hari, born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, married a military captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies. When their marriage fell apart in the early 1900s, Zelle moved to Paris.
Being familiar with Indian sensibilities, and capitalizing on Europe’s love for all things “oriental.” Margaretha Geertruida Zelle pegged herself as a Hindu dancer and artist, complete with veils and beaded brassieres. During this time, she also adopted her stage name “Mata Hari,” which translated from Indonesian means “eye of the day.”
At the dawn of WWI, Mata Hari became a spy for the Allies. Unfortunately, the Germans caught on quickly. They labeled her a German spy (although some claim that she may have been a double agent). Mata Hari was arrested by French authorities in Paris on February 13, 1917. Although Mata Hari maintained her innocence and loyalty to France, she was found guilty of espionage by a military tribunal and sentenced to death.
Mata Hari was executed (by firing squad) on October 15, 1917. Legend has it that she refused her blindfold and even blew a kiss to her executioners before she met her end. Mata Hari was 41.
Virginia Hall (Wikimedia Commons)
Virginia Hall was an American who dreamed of joining the United States Foreign Service. However, a freak hunting accident in which she shot her foot off, left her with a limp and a wooden leg (that she affectionately named Cuthbert) and barred her from being accepted.
Hall eventually found her way to being an ambulance driver in France but was forced to flee when France surrendered to Germany. When she arrived at the American embassy, Hall was asked to provide intelligence from her time in France. She was later recruited as the first operative for the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) and sent to Lyon, France.
During her time there, Hall helped smuggle information and people out of France, just as she helped and smuggle supplies and agents into France. Hall later joined the O.S.S. (the predecessor of the C.I.A), where her time was spent as a radio operator monitoring German communications and organizing drops of supplies for the war against the Germans.
In 1945, Virginia Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for her efforts in France. It was the only one awarded to a civilian woman in WWII. Hall retired in 1966 at the age of 60. She and her husband moved to a farm in Maryland, where she lived until her death in 1982.
Christine Granville (Wikimedia Commons)
Krystyna Skarbek/Christine Granville
Born into Polish aristocracy, Krystyna Skarbek was determined to contribute to the war effort. However, her attempts to enlist were frequently stalled by the fact that she was a woman.
Skarbek made some headway when she devised a cunning plan to help sabotage Germany’s war efforts and their propaganda machine, a plan which she later presented to the British Secret Service. With the aid of her friends, Krystyna was to pose as a journalist based in Budapest and ski (yes, ski) over the Carpathian Mountains into Nazi-occupied Poland to deliver and spread anti-Nazi propaganda.
When Skarbek was finally recruited into the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), she was given a British passport and adopted her new alias as Christine Granville. As a key player in the resistance, Granville repeatedly evaded capture and smuggled information out of Poland to the Allies. Legend has it that she even bit her own tongue to a bloody mess to fake tuberculosis.
Married to a wealthy French industrialist, Nancy Wake witnessed the devastation caused by the Nazis first hand. Not one to sit idly by, Wake joined the French Resistance early in WWII.
Nancy Wake’s contributions include establishing communication between British intelligence and the French Resistance and ushering downed Allied servicemen (and potential POW’s) into England by way of Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains. Once the Gestapo caught on to Wake’s involvement, they dubbed her “The White Mouse.” Wake leapt to the top of their most-wanted list, and a price of 5 Million Francs was put on her head.
Nancy Wake eventually joined the SOE as well, where she continued her military career. And she was not to be trifled with. As one story goes, when an SS guard spotted Wake and her team, she killed him instantly with a judo-chop to the throat.
Nancy Wake became one of the most decorated servicewomen in WWII. Her honors included her appointment as a Knight of The Legion of Honor by France and the Medal of Freedom from The United States. Nancy Wake lived out the rest of her days in England; she died in 2011 at the age of 98.