That’s right, pirates. And not the pretty-boy, Johnny Depp kind of pirates, either. These were violent and calculating river pirates — wish-it-was-Deliverance river pirates — and they ruled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the early part of the 19th century.
Referred to as America’s first serial killers, the Harpe Brothers were a famous pirate clan led by two cousins (yes, cousins. As if Appalachian family trees aren’t difficult enough). Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe robbed and murdered innocent men, women, and children all along the rivers of Middle America. Micajah was said to be the brawn and Wiley the brains, though they were well-matched in viciousness. Both were known to prefer buckskins and even wore the scalps of their victims at their belts.
These buck-skinned freaks became a menace to all westward migration, but quickly fell to their own stupidity. In a drunken act of mutiny, they beheaded one of their own and attempted to collect the bounty. The cousins were immediately recognized, apprehended, and beheaded themselves.
On the more frilly side of the pirate spectrum is the infamous Jean Lafitte. Lafitte also unburdened many boats of their heavy loads along the Mississippi River like the Harpe Brothers. However, he and his brother, Pierre, had a gentler style. Not that they weren’t pirates to the fullest, they just dressed better.
Like any true pirate, Jean Lafitte carried no allegiances to a country. Jean was of French descent but was offered British citizenship to betray the United States during the War of 1812. He helped General Andrew Jackson fend off the British during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and later spied for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence.
Lafitte did all of these things out of pure self-interest, of course, and I can’t think of anything more pirate than that, matey.
Imagine you had some of the world’s best spymasters, espionage rings, and analysts in the world, that intellectuals around the world were enamored with you and wanted to feed you information, and that all of that intelligence was needed to protect your massive military as it faced off against an existential threat to your people, your government, and your nation.
Then imagine you ignored all of that information because, like, can you ever really trust a spy?
Richard Sorge, one of the most successful (and dead) spies of World War II.
That was the reality for many of the spies in World War II, especially Richard “Ika” Sorge, whose spy reports gave a detailed breakdown of the Nazi blitz preparing to smash into the Soviet Union. He watched his nation fail to marshal its troops to face the threat.
Sorge born in 1895 to a German engineer working in Baku, Azerbajin, then a part of the Russian Empire and a major oil-producing region. He served in World War I with the German military but fell in love with communist ideology. After the war, he began teaching Marxism and got a PhD in political theory.
As the conflicts that would flare up into World War II grew, Sorge was a member of the Soviet intelligence as well as the Nazi party and was respected in China and Japan. Better, he had intelligence assets available in all four countries. He was also a famous womanizer. In all four of these countries, he had women who fed him intelligence information that they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else.
He used the intelligence he gathered in Tokyo to ingratiate himself with the Germans who wanted to keep an eye on their Pacific ally. The trust he built up through feeding Berlin information allowed him to gather a lot of intelligence about the Nazis that he could feed to his true masters in Moscow.
In 1938, Sorge got in even deeper with the Nazis when his German handler got sick and his old friend Ott, who had helped him join the Nazi party in the first place, asked him to take on the task of drafting the German Embassy’s dispatches to Berlin, filled with all sorts of great information to pass on to his Moscow superiors.
In 1940 and 1941, Sorge was able to tap into his networks in China and Germany to paint a detailed picture of one of the most important points in the war: The German blitz against the Soviet Union.
A Soviet T-34 burns in the field during Operation Barbarossa.
Sorge, reporting from Tokyo, achieved a shocking level of precision, detailing the size of the force and pinpointing the week that the Nazis would invade. He reported that the attack would take place sometime between June 20 and 25. Operation Barbarossa, as it was named, launched on June 22.
Germany penetrated the Soviet Union 200 miles deep along a nearly 1,800-mile front in only seven days.
Of course, the Soviets were able to push the German forces back, largely thanks to delusional planning on the German side. Germany had expected to conquer Moscow before true winter set in and failed to properly equip its troops for fighting in the frozen wasteland that Russia quickly became. Commanders, chasing the operation’s impossible timetable, failed to secure their gains and left their own lengthening supply lines too lightly guarded.
The harsh winter and Soviet counterattacks hit hard. Russia, with its superior resources and manpower, was able to bleed Germany for its treachery and bloodshed.
But all of this came too late for the thousands unnecessarily lost in those opening days, as well as for Richard Sorge. Sorge continued to send information back to Moscow, including one important report that was actually read and believed. He was able to determine with a high degree of certainty that Tokyo would not enter the European Theater unless it was clear that Russia had lost, preferably if Moscow fell.
The Red Army moved massive numbers of troops from their Easter Front to the west, hastening their success against Hitler.
But Sorge’s luck ran out. On Oct. 10, 1941, security police arrested two members of Sorge’s espionage ring, and one of them spilled all the beans. Sorge was arrested and eventually cracked, admitting to being a communist spy. He was executed on Nov. 7, 1944, refused even his dying cigarette.
One day in 1765, a 5-year-old boy wearing fine clothes and speaking no English was found on the docks of City Point, Virginia. No one knew where he came from, where his parents were, or even how old he was at the time. All they knew was that he kept repeating the name “Pedro Francisco.” So that’s what they called him, eventually anglicizing the name to Peter.
His past didn’t matter to history, but his future did. When the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain more than a decade later, he would be part of it and become known to history as America’s first one-man army.
The nickname of “Hercules” would come much later, when the boy grew into a man. When the average size of an American colonist was around 5’6”, Peter Francisco stood a whopping 6’6” and 230 pounds – large even by today’s standards. A blacksmith by trade, he was a member of the 10th Virginia Infantry when the American Revolution broke out and subsequently became a member of the Continental Army.
His fighting ability would prove crucial to winning some of the most pivotal battles of the war, and perhaps the Revolution itself.
Francisco was just 17 when he enlisted, and saw action at the September 1777 Battle of Brandywine, where the Americans were attempting to halt the British advance on Philadelphia. Washington was a master of strategic withdrawal, and at Brandywine, it became crucial. The British outflanked the Americans. Washington needed time to escape.
Luckily for the famous general, Peter Francisco’s unit was fighting to hold the 12,500-man British assault. He and the rest of the Continentals were able to hold the line for a full 45 minutes, giving Washington’s army plenty of time to escape. Francisco was wounded in the leg, but he learned he had a real talent for killing Redcoats.
By October, he was back in the fighting, once again keeping the British from advancing on Philadelphia. This time, he fought at Germantown, a battle that very nearly saw an American victory. His strength and prowess on the battlefield became the stuff of legend among his fellow soldiers.
Along with the rest of the Continental Army, Peter Francisco wound up at Valley Forge. There, the army learned to fight from one of the best military minds of the day, Baron von Steuben. He taught the Americans not just how to march, but how to fight with the bayonet.
This would serve Francisco and the Continentals well at the upcoming Battle of Stony Point, where a silent, night time assault on the fortress there began and ended with Francisco leading an advance force of 20 men to mercilessly hack the British and expel them from the area. But Peter Francisco was allegedly not using a bayonet.
According to a legend, which has never been confirmed by historians, Gen. Washington presented Francisco with a six-foot broadsword to honor his skill in battle. Some say this was the weapon he used to slash through the British at Stony Point.
As the second man over the wall at Stony Point and being a man of his size, his legend grew among the soldiers of the American army. But his enlistment was up and he returned home to Virginia. Unfortunately for the British, they started attacking the Southern Colonies, which Peter Francisco took personally.
He rejoined the Continental Army, this time marching to Camden, South Carolina under Gen. Horatio Gates. The result of the battle was a humiliating defeat, but Francisco was able to salvage some of his commanding officer’s dignity. He impaled an British cavalryman with a bayonet and picked the man up off his horse. He then mounted it and put his colonel on it, saving the officer’s life.
Another, maybe mythical story has the big man picking up an American cannon from the field so it wouldn’t be captured by the British. Even if it didn’t really happen, it could have, and that’s all that matters.
Francisco’s next interaction with the British Army came under Gen. Nathaniel Greene at Guilford Courthouse. This is another battle where Francisco is supposed to have received the broadsword from General Washington. Whether he had it or not, he and the Americans killed so many of Lord Cornwallis’ regulars that the British victory became a pyrrhic one. Cornwallis wrote that the Americans fought like demons there.
The next time Peter Francisco encountered Lord Cornwallis’ men was when the British surrendered to the Americans and French at Yorktown in Virginia, effectively ending the war with an American victory.
It was Gen. George Washington who did really say that, “Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man Army.”
The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.
The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War.
When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross.
Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.
“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”
The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.
Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.
“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.
During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”
After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.
The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.
“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”
Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.”
Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.
Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.
Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.
Considered to be the first military award of the United States Armed Forces, the Badge of Military Merit is the official predecessor to the highly-respected, yet rarely-coveted Purple Heart.
In 1782, General George Washington created two badges of distinction for American troops. One was a chevron that would be worn on the left sleeve for completing three years of duty “with bravery, fidelity, and good conduct.” The other was a “figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding” and was awarded for “any singularly meritorious action.” Washington’s goal was honor all ranks, high and low, for their gallantry and service to the country.
This was a huge departure from the standards of European warfare. In England, specifically, only high-ranking officers would be decorated with pomp and circumstance — not for individual achievement, but for the hard-fought victories of their men.
“The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all,” wrote General George Washington on the creation of the Badge of Military Merit.
Bear in mind, the Badge of Military Merit was awarded for “not only instances of unusual gallantry in battle, but also extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way” and not for being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States. The badge was awarded by Gen. Washington himself to Sergeant Elijah Churchill and Sergeant William Brown on May 3rd, 1783. A month later, he awarded the third and final badge to Sergeant Daniel Bissell Jr.
The award was never issued again, despite never being officially abolished. The award was the basis for the short-lived Army Wound Ribbon and the golden Wound Chevron. In 1932, the Purple Heart Medal was officially introduced and the Wound Chevron was no longer awarded. Regulations discouraged the simultaneous wear of a WWI Wound Chevron and a WWII Purple Heart, but many troops who were wounded in both did it anyway.
In World War I, there was a need to hit targets either pretty far off, or which were very hard to destroy.
At the time, aircraft weren’t much of an option – in fact, they really had a hard time carrying big bombs. Often, an aircrewman would drop mortar rounds from a cockpit. So, how does one take out a hard target? They used naval guns mounted on railway cars.
Many of these guns came from obsolete armored cruisers – the most common of the rail guns was the BL 12-inch railway Howitzer. The British pressed 81 of these guns into service, and many lasted into World War II. These guns are obsolete now, rendered useless by the development of better aircraft for tactical strikes, from World War II’s P-47 Thunderbolt to today’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, as well as tactical missile and rocket systems like the ATACMS, Scud, and MGM-52 Lance.
The gun the British were moving didn’t actually serve in World War I. According to a release by the British Ministry of Defence, the BL 18-inch howitzer just missed the Great War, but it did serve in World War II as a coastal defense gun – albeit it never fired a shot in anger, since the Nazis never were able to pull off Operation Sea Lion. The gun was used for RD purposes until 1959, when it was retired and sent to the Royal Artillery headquarters.
In 2013, it was briefly loaded to the Dutch railway museum. Later that year, it went to the Royal Armouries artillery museum. It is one of 12 railway guns that survive. The video below from the Smithsonian channel shows how the British Army – with the help of some contractors – moved this gigantic gun.
Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy got a shocking view of the future of warfare in 1944 when, as they were moving supplies from ships to the shore, a jet-powered, Nazi bomber ripped past at approximately 460 mph.
The Arado Ar 234 was the first operational jet bomber and flew at up to 540 miles per hour, so quick that no Allied fighter could match it without going into a dive.
For the air crews assigned to protect the American forces landing supplies in Normandy in August 1944, attacking the Arado was essentially impossible. Loaded with reconnaissance gear, it flew over the beaches at 460 mph while taking a photo every 11 seconds.
At that speed, it could fly over all five original D-Day beaches in less than eight minutes. By the time that fighter aircraft made it into the air to hunt the Arado down, it would already be long gone.
That didn’t quite make the Arado invincible, though. Like the slightly slower British de Havilland Mosquito, a prop-driven British bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that go its speed from its light weight, the Ar 234 was left vulnerable when it was forced to maneuver or slow down for bombing runs.
The P-51 is one of the only aircraft to shoot down an Arado Ar 234 in flight. It did so thanks to a group of P-47 Thunderbolts that forced the jet-powered bomber into a speed-bleeding turn. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant)
One of the only Ar 234s ever shot down was caught because it was forced into a sharp turn while coming out of a bombing run.
A group of German jets were bombing Allied bridges on the Rhine when a group of American P-47s came at them. The German jets took a tight turn to avoid the P-47s, losing so much speed that they were left vulnerable. American Capt. Don Bryan was in a P-51 nearby and was able to position himself so that the turning German planes had to fly just underneath him.
Adolf Hitler considered the Ar 234 one of his wonder weapons that would save Germany, but it suffered from a number of shortcomings. First, the fragile engines needed an overhaul after every ten hours of flight and were replaced after 25. The jet also needed long runways and large amounts of fuel, two things that were hard for a Luftwaffe on the retreat to provide with regularity.
In the end, the jets were sent on just a few operational missions. The Normandy reconnaissance was the first, and they also did duty over the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge and in the final defense of Germany, flying first against the bridges over the Rhine and later against Soviet troop concentrations.
During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.
So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.
A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.
(German Military Archives)
The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.
Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.
But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.
But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.
German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.
(German Military Archives)
Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.
After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.
The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.
Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.
At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.
A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.
(Photo by Bwag)
In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.
Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.
In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.
Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.
While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.
Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.
The fall of Custer and five of the companies under his command at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, known by the Sioux Nation as the Battle of Greasy Grass, was as much a failure of reconnaissance and intelligence as of strategy and tactics, and a modern battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux Nation would play out differently.
First and foremost, modern military formations have better intelligence gathering assets. While Gen. George A. Custer labored under the false impression that Sitting Bull, the Lakota leader, had only 800 warriors with him, it’s more likely that he had well over 1,000 and possibly as many as 2,500.
When Custer first spotted the signs of the camp on June 25, he wanted to spend time scouting and resting his men before attacking but thought his presence had been detected by Sioux forces and would soon be reported. So, he ordered hasty preparations for an attack.
But modern drones and listening devices would have let him know that the fighters who spotted his men were actually leaving the encampment and not reporting to Sitting Bull. Once Custer knew that and was able to spend time gathering intelligence, he would have learned of the size of the enemy force and at least hesitated to attack with his 647 men without getting reinforcements.
But if he did press the attack anyway, that battle would be most similar to a clash between uneven forces of cavalry and mounted infantry. While Custer’s men would likely have enjoyed a technological advantage, the four-to-one numerical advantage of the Lakota, Dakota, Sioux, and Northern Cheyenne forces would have been too much to overcome.
While Custer tried in 1876 to break through to the civilian parts of the camp to force the enemy to either fire in the direction of their loved ones or surrender, a modern Custer would likely try to draw out the enemy forces instead.
To help overcome his shortage of manpower, Custer would likely do this with a careful attack, trying to minimize civilian casualties while inflicting maximum damage on enemy vehicles.
Custer’s best chance would likely have been to send anti-armor missile teams into cover and concealment near the Sioux while one or two mechanized infantry companies deployed their Strykers just below the peak on nearby ridge lines.
Then, at a prearranged signal, the Strykers would roar over the ridge and fire TOW missiles at the Sioux vehicles. To keep the technological gap between the U.S. and Sioux forces, we’ll say the Sioux predominantly have Bradleys and HMMWVs.
The mortars embedded in the infantry companies could then start laying it on thick, slamming rounds into the top armor of enemy vehicles and hitting treads and tires with shrapnel to get mobility kills.
But Custer’s force of almost 650 troops would find it nearly impossible to keep over 2,000 enemies penned in for long, and the Sioux vehicles would make it into the open sooner or later. Once they did, their superiority in numbers would quickly turn the tide.
Custer could claim a victory at this point, satisfy himself with the large losses already inflicted and conduct an orderly withdrawal while radioing other U.S. government forces to be ready to attack the Sioux forces if they dispersed across the area.
If the Sioux followed him as a large group, he would be able to draw them to a larger government force and wipe them out.
If, instead, he pressed his luck, and continued to fight near the Little Bighorn River, it’s likely that the final result would once again be a victory for the Sioux. Once the government anti-tank Strykers and anti-armor teams had expended their missiles, attempts to take the Bradleys out with the Stryker guns would take much longer.
Sitting Bull would be able to get a force assembled, likely by staging it behind one of the hills that dominate the area, and then launch it from behind cover and into the American flank.
Once the American lines were properly disrupted, more and more Sioux vehicles would be able to escape from the camp and launch additional attacks against the beleaguered 7th Cavalry.
While the Sioux would have suffered much heavier losses than in the actual 1876 battle, the end result of a standing battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux nation would always be subject to the huge numbers disparity on the ground.
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.
The Korean War was a massive success for America and democracy, though the numbers may say different. The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir was one of the defining battles of the war and of the Marine Corps. Today, the events of that battle serve as a major history lesson for young Marines. Throughout boot camp, recruit will hear all about the heroics of this battle, instilling that “never-give-up” mentality that defines a Marine.
From this battle comes some of the Corps’ greatest Chesty Puller quotes. Sayings such as, “We’re surrounded. Good, that simplifies the problem” and, “we’re not retreating, we’re attacking in a different direction.”
Even against overwhelming odds, Marines fought till their last breath.
America and its U.N. allies dealt a huge blow to the North Korean and Chinese militaries — and Communist expansion. But it came at a great cost. U.N. forces, led by the United States, almost captured the entirety of North Korea — until China entered the war.
The terrain was mountainous, but worst of all, it was cold. Freezing cold. By this time in the war, the winter had arrived in force, freezing over the landscape and creating many problems for troops, including disabling bouts of frostbite. The piercing cold was so unbearable, Marines at the reservoir said, “it would sink right to your bones.”
At the beginning, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army pushed the 7th Army Infantry Division back, allowing the PVA to encircle the Marines on the mountain. The mentality of the Marines continues to inspire, more than 60 years later: “Never retreat, die where I stand or lay, but never retreat.”
A Chinese invasion was not expected, especially in the dead of the winter storm, but it came all the same. A three-pronged attack hit the unprepared men of the X Corps, consisting of the 1st Marine Division, 7th Army Infantry Division, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army. Chairman Mao sent 10 Chinese divisions across the border with orders to destroy X Corps.
The fighting lasted 17 days. By the battle’s end, the fighting was hand-to-hand. Men were using their teeth, rifle butts, and anything else they could get their hands on to fight the Chinese onslaught.
Chinese units attacked countless times and countless times the PVA was forced back. With each attack, the PVA gained some ground, but at a great cost. With the ground frozen and foxholes impossible to dig, Marines used the bodies of the Chinese attackers as sandbags to help protect them from incoming fire.
The men in the battle had seen the fiercest fighting of the entire Korean War. With the ever-growing presence of the PVA, Marines were forced to start fighting back towards South Korea.
Still surrounded and with elements of the PVA in the way, Marines had to fight their way out against a 360-degree front as they moved south. They were heading to the port of Hungnam, where the men of X Corps could be evacuated.
By the end of the battle, U.S. Marines suffered 836 dead and around 10,000 wounded. The Army had 2,000 dead and 1,000 wounded. The Chinese had the most catastrophic losses. Intelligence reported the Chinese as saying American forces could beat any Chinese effort, no matter the size.
Six Chinese divisions were completely wiped out. Of the ten that attacked, only one would ever see action again. Though the exact numbers are not clear, historians estimate Chinese losses anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 killed. The numbers of Chinese wounded may never be known.
Chosin was technically a loss for the Marines. But it was a Pyrrhic victory at best for the Communists. Despite the loss, this battle instills in every Marine the ability to find strength.
You never give up, did those men give up?
This statement is made by almost every Marine who has ever served since. When faced with overwhelming odds, we use the thoughts of the Frozen Chosin to remind us to never retreat, never surrender, and raise hell.
The American Civil War was a bloody affair, where many battles were fought with infantry tactics that had been around for 100 years. But some weapons designers pushed the envelope of technology during the violent conflict and developed arms that would revolutionize the way militaries fight for centuries.
1. The Repeating Rifle
Although the primary weapon on both sides of the war was the rifled musket, the repeating rifle made its combat debut during the Civil War. The introduction of the percussion cap and the cartridge allowed for the creation of breech-loading rifles, far superior in reloading speed than muzzle-loaders. The weapon truly came into its own though in the form of the Spencer repeating rifle. The rifle fired seven .56 caliber bullets from a tube magazine in the buttstock. A lever-action discharged and loaded the rounds.
The real revolution from the weapon came from a change in infantry tactics. The cartridge and ability to fire multiple rounds in quick secession meant soldiers no longer had to stand massed against each other. Instead, they could maneuver more and even take advantage of cover and concealment by kneeling and lying down while still being able to fire. Unfortunately, the generals of the time were worried that troops would waste too much ammunition so the rifles only saw limited use.
2. The Gatling Gun
Before John Gatling’s invention, there was no way to provide sustained high rates of fire. Although not a true automatic weapon, the hand-cranked, multi-barreled weapon could deliver rounds down range at upwards of 450 per minute. With no links or feed belts, the weapon was gravity fed. The use of multiple barrels limited overheating and allowed for longer sustained rates of fire.
The introduction of rapid fire weapons quickly changed the nature of warfare. No longer could mass infantry formations be used – they would be mowed down by the higher rates of fire. This was a lesson that would not be sufficiently learned until the brutal combat of World War I.
During the Civil War, Gatling guns saw limited action because, once again, the war department feared a waste of ammunition. Most guns used in combat were purchased personally by generals. The rotating barrels of the Gatling gun would later come to prominence in automatic weapons like the GAU-17 minigun and Vulcan 20mm cannon.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, warship design was just beginning to incorporate steam power. Most vessels were still wooden and powered by sail, but the British and French started to add armor-plating the sides of existing ship designs. From the beginning of the war, both the Union and the Confederacy sought to acquire ironclad warships. Their homegrown designs first met at the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862.
The Confederate CSS Virginia, a casemate ironclad, defeated three Union ships before encountering the Union’s USS Monitor. Though the battle ended in a draw with neither ship able to defeat the other, naval warfare was forever changed. In particular, the Monitor gave its name to a new type of warship.
These were low to the waterline and used rotating turrets to house their armament rather than the typical broadsides of a sailing ship. After news of the battle traveled abroad, many nations ceased production of wooden warships in favor of the new monitor-type. The turret has been a prominent design feature of warships ever since.
4. The Submarine
Though it was the Union that had superior industrial capabilities it was the Confederacy that launched the only submarine of the war. That submarine, the H.L. Hunley would be the first such ship to successfully attack and sink an enemy ship.
With a length of just 40 feet and a crew of eight using a hand-cranked shaft to propel her through the water, the Hunley was a far cry from the submarines that would appear in the early 20th century.
The Hunley was armed with just a single spar torpedo – an explosive charge attached to the end of a wooden pole – that was used to successfully sink the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864.
Unfortunately, the Hunley was lost with all hands shortly after her attack but she opened the way for the future of underwater warfare.
5. The Hand grenade
While grenades were not a new invention to the American Civil War, improvements to their design and function radically changed the way they could be used. Prior to this time, grenades had fuses that had to be lit before being thrown and so were only used by special troops known as grenadiers. Other times grenades were closer to Molotov Cocktails than what would commonly be called a grenade.
William Ketchum designed a new grenade that would detonate on impact.
His design consisted of a metal cylinder with a plunger on the nose that would cause the explosives inside to detonate when it landed. To ensure that it landed nose down, he attached a wooden tailpiece with four fins to stabilize the grenade. With this type of fuse, individual soldiers of any type could carry the grenades.
This meant infantry assaulting trenches and other enemy positions could carry grenades while still carrying their rifles. By the 20th century, all major militaries adopted the hand grenade for standard infantry use.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that World War II wasn’t actually a single, globe-spanning conflict. It was really about a dozen smaller conflicts that had all been openly fought (or at least simmering) in the months and years leading up to the German invasion of Poland — the moment most historians point to as the beginning of the war.
Members of the Russian Liberation Army stand together in 1943. The “POA” patch features the Cyrillic-language abbreviation of the unit’s name in Russian.
(Karl Muller, Bundesarchiv Bild)
One of those long-simmering conflicts was between the Soviets in Russia and the Fascists in Germany. Both countries descended into harsh autocracies between World Wars I and II, but their leaders were deeply distrustful of one another. And, their populations were split as to who the worse evil was, even during the war.
That’s probably why somewhere around 200,000 Russian soldiers were recruited from prisoner of war camps and Soviet defections to form the Russian Liberation Army, a military force of Russian citizens who fought for Hitler against Stalin.
The head of the unit, abbreviated from Russian as the ROA, was a decorated Soviet officer, Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov. Vlasov and his men fought well against the Nazi invasion of Russia.
A Leningrad building burns after a German air raid in World War II. The city was besieged by German forces, and Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov was in charge of a large segment of the forces sent to free it.
(RIA Novosti Archive)
Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, and he and his men retook multiple cities from Nazi forces during counterattacks, escaped encirclement at one point, and even helped save Moscow at one point. His face was printed in newspapers as a “defender of Moscow” and he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
But he was then placed in command of an army and sent to break the siege at Leningrad. He failed, though some historians point to the failure of other commanders to exploit openings that Vlasov created. Regardless, most of his army was eventually slaughtered and he was captured.
While imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, Vlasov was known for making statements against Stalin. Eventually, this led to Vlasov advocating for a new military unit made up of Russians and commanded by Russians — but fighting for Germany.
Russian defector to Germany Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov speaks with volunteers in Germany in 1944.
After months in POW camps, Vlasov was able to convince Germany to create the ROA. He wrote pamphlets and other materials to convince more Soviet POWs to join, and these were also dropped as leaflets over Soviet formations to trigger defections. The main selling point was that, after the war, Germany would allow for a free and democratic Russia.
Unfortunately for Vlasov, the Germans still barely trusted him. Most Russians recruited into the ROA served under the command of other officers, including German ones. Vlasov was promoted to general but only put in command of the ROA against Soviet forces one time. On February 11, 1945, Vlasov led the ROA against the Red Army as the Soviets pressed against a Polish river.
Russian defector Gen. Andrey Vlasov meets with senior Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels at far right.
The ROA performed well, but was ultimately withdrawn and never sent into full-scale battle again. As Germany continued to lose ground, many in the ROA switched sides again, and fought their way through German units towards the western Allies, hoping that British and American forces would accept a surrender and request for asylum.
After all, they had no delusions about what the Soviets would do to captured Russian soldiers who fought against Stalin and the Red Army.