This is how the military challenge coin came to be - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Challenge coins mean different things to different troops. Senior enlisted and officers tend to place them on a desk to gloat to peers and the more junior troops slam them on the bar to see who’s buying the next round. How you earn the coin also ranges widely, from “pleasure to meet you, have a coin” to “you made a great cup of coffee, have a coin” to even “you did something worthy of an award, but nah — have a coin.”


Throughout history, warriors have carried coins, going as far back as the ancient Greeks and, eventually, the Romans. Coins carried by warriors were seen as the payment for the ferryman, Charon, to be exchanged for passage into the afterlife. They served as a memento mori, which roughly translates from Latin to mean, “remember that you will die.” This is also the root of the English word ‘memento.’ Even back in the Civil War, troops from both armies carried coins with them as a cheap reminder of being back home.

 

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

 

The legend of the challenge coins, as we know them, started with WWI pilots. A young and rich lieutenant felt the need to flaunt his wealth to his new peers, so he spent his own money to buy solid bronze medallions of his unit insignia for his peers. Another pilot accepted it as a nice gift and wore it in a small leather pouch around his neck. Shortly after, he would be shot down behind enemy lines. He was captured by Germans, who stripped him over everything, but overlooked his medallion.

Related: These are some of the best military challenge coins

He escaped in civilian attire, crossed no man’s land undetected, and stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French didn’t understand English nor his American accent and thought he was a German saboteur. The Germans took every bit of personal identification from the American pilot, so the only proof he had to show the French to not shoot him was the bronze unit medallion his rich peer gave him.

One French captor recognized the insignia and delayed his execution until they could confirm if he was American or not. Instead of a bullet to the head, the French gave him a bottle of wine and sent him on his way. When the pilot returned and told everyone of what happened, carrying those medallions became immediately important among all pilots. This also started the joke punishment of having to buy the next round if you’re not carrying your coin.

 

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
So, if you’re wondering, nearly every tradition the military dates back to WWI. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Another lower enlisted tradition began in post-WWII Germany as assigned U.S. troops would carry West German money with them. The exchange rate was so bad that the One Pfennig coin was hardly worth a fraction of a penny and had nearly zero value to American troops. So, only the poorest of the poor would bother saving them — until troops gathered to drink. If someone would shout, “Pfennig check!” everyone would empty their pockets to see who was poor (if you had the near-worthless coin) and who wasn’t (if you were above keeping them). If you were “rich” enough to not need to carry a worthless coin, you were rich enough to buy your brother-in-arms a drink. This soon shifted to include challenge coins, which also had no monetary value.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 lesser-known facts about the most decorated soldier in American history

No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.

His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.

But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy


This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.

(Signal Corps Archives)

His rise in the ranks

After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.

He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.

In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.

(Universal Pictures)

His acting career

After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.

Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.

(Whispering Smith)

He never wanted to sell out 

To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.

Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.

His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington

On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.

He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)

A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor

The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.

The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave

Just like today, when it comes to leave, the leadership will reluctantly approve leave only when they’ve run out of excuses not to. In ancient Rome, if commeatus (leave) is granted, it affected the readiness of the army. Essentially, the needs of the army come first. The troops of ancient Rome had to accept that visiting families was not guaranteed. However, as much as the empire tried to prevent their soldiers from having human needs, they couldn’t stop nature.

When anyone receives leave of absence (commeatus), and for how many days, it is noted down in lists. For in antiquity (referring here to the early empire) it was difficult to be given unless for very good approved reasons. It seemed incongruous that a soldier of the Emperor, maintained in uniform and pay and rations at public expense, should have time to serve private interests.

Translated from Epitoma rei militaris, Book II, section XVIII

How dare you have a life outside the legion? Having feelings is bad, legionnaire. What does the emperor pay you for? Also, we’re extending your service from 16 years to 25. – Some Roman general probably.

Worst case scenario of granting leave

Once a troop is allowed to go on leave, the world is still not a safe place. War stops for no one and the road home also had its fair share of dangers. For the troops staying behind it meant lowered security with dire consequences.

The bridge was now complete, and the hills in front were occupied, […] with a speed and a display of strength which induced the Parthians to drop their preparations for invading Syria and to stake their whole hopes upon Armenia; where Paetus, unconscious of the coming danger, was keeping the fifth legion stationed far away in Pontus, and had weakened the rest (the fourth and twelfth legions) through unrestricted grants of leave, until he heard that Vologeses was coming with a large and threatening army.

Tactitus Annals Book XV

Commanders had good reason to deny leave because of the threat of fighting the enemy with a smaller force. Similarly, in today’s military leave can be denied due to important training. It is at the discretion of the commanding officer to consider if will not affect crucial training.

Best case scenario of granting leave

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
Saturnalia was the timeth to party.

The Roman troop on leave would attend financial and administrative tasks at home. The best time to request leave, just like today, would be during a holiday season. Saturnalia was practically the purge with less murder. A troop would go on leave, have fun, and return when he said he would.

Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days…All work and business were suspended. Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked, and certain moral restrictions were eased. The streets were infected with a Mardi Gras madness; a mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.

Britannica.com

Lupercalia was another holiday that Romans looked forward to on February 15. It was tied to the founding of Rome myth and promoted fertility. The holiday would start with a ritual sacrifice called the Comitium at a cave named Lupercal at the foot of Palatine Hill. Roman priests would then run naked through the streets and slap women on the breast with bloody bits of goat hide to promote fertility. Additionally, men and women would be paired at random during the festival and there would be a great feast. The holiday consisted of lovemaking and copious amounts of wine. ‘I need my leave approved for…reasons, sir.’

A Roman soldier on leave is not on vacation

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
So…no paid sick days?

While on leave any number of things could happen such as a volcano explosion causing the mass evacuation and destruction of a major city. Normal stuff in the ancient Roman Empire. One Roman soldier on leave experienced the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and found himself with a tough decision to make – save himself or save civilians. At an archeological site at the ancient Herculaneum marina reveals a daring last stand of a Roman soldier attempting to keep order and cross civilians as the world around them burned. When A roman soldier went on leave he could either tend to his family, party like an animal, or take charge of a life or death situation. The following video shows the bravery of solider against impossible odds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Group seeks to name Navy ship for Iwo Jima photographer

The iconic image of six Marines raising an American flag over Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, is recognized around the world, credited with boosting morale at a critical moment of World War II, and generating record fundraising for war relief at home.


It’s also the first photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize in the same year it was taken.

After 72 years, though, some worry that the man who made it, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, may fade from American memory. A group of veterans and photographers want to avoid that with their longshot petition to the US Navy asking that a warship be named for him.

Rosenthal had requested the dangerous wartime assignment after he was rejected for service because of poor eyesight.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
Joe Rosenthal in Dec. 1990. Photo by Nancy Wong.

After photographing the fighting on Guam, Peleliu, and Angaur, he nearly drowned en route to Iwo Jima as he transferred from the command ship El Dorado to an amphibious landing craft the day he took the photograph.

All accounts paint Rosenthal as a hands-on practitioner of his craft, not content to sit on a ship and take photos from afar.

“He was a 33-year-old man basically volunteering for combat and not carrying a weapon, but carrying his camera,” said Tom Graves, chapter historian of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association in the San Francisco Bay Area. “He was exposed to great danger and in fact, was nearly killed several times.”

After coming ashore in Iwo Jima, Rosenthal and others learned an American flag had made it to Mount Suribachi, a volcanic cone at the southwestern tip of the island and a key objective of the Marines. Unfortunately, another photographer had already captured that image.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
Eighteen young Marines stand atop Mt. Suribachi, Feb. 23, 1945. USMC photo by Joe Rosenthal.

“I wanted a flag going up on Iwo, and I want it badly,” Rosenthal later recalled.

When he learned that a second, much larger flag was on its way to the site, he began mentally composing what would become his iconic photo: Where would the men be? Where would the flag be? How tall would it be?

He built a platform of stones and sandbags to stand on, adjusted his shutter timing and tuned his aperture. It was about noon, with the sun directly overhead and a strong wind.

“I see what had to be gone through before those Marines, with that flag, or with any flag, got up to the top of that mountain and secured the highest point, the most important point, perhaps, in the entire battle, the most important ground to be taken by those Marines,” Rosenthal said in a 1997 interview.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
On Feb. 19, 1945, 30,000 Marines and sailors launched the first American assault against the Japanese on the island of Iwo Jima, resulting in some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. This moment of the battle was captured Feb. 23 by photographer Joe Rosenthal.

AP photo editor Jack Bodkin was the first to see Rosenthal’s picture of six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.

“Here’s one for all time,” he declared as he sent the image by Navy radio to San Francisco. The image moved on Feb. 24 and appeared in newspapers on Sunday morning, 17½ hours after it was taken.

The accolades poured in.

“I think it’s the most significant photo of all time because of what it did. I think there’s more beautiful photos, I think there’s more dramatic photos,” said Graves, a commercial photographer. “You can’t glance at it and not be moved by it. Someone at the time said it captures the soul of a nation. And I think it still does today.”

Graves’ group is expected to submit its petition to the Navy on Oct. 9, which would have been Rosenthal’s 106th birthday. Graves knows it’s a longshot, but he and his group figured it was worth a try after the previous Navy secretary opened the door to naming ships for non-military people.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
The USS Gabrielle Giffords is one of few Navy ships named after non-military personnel. Photo courtesy of US Navy.

The legacy would be fitting, said Anne Rosenthal, the photographer’s daughter.

“There are awards and there are plaques and there are speeches, but this whole idea of the ship is so appealing, because a ship is like a living thing. It has people who spend their lives on it, or parts of their lives on it,” Anne Rosenthal said.

Her father wanted to contribute to the war and took his responsibilities seriously. And she said he was not a person who thought much about his own safety and security.

“He was good at his craft before he went to war,” his daughter said. “He wanted to tell the story. And he had very good timing … so in a certain way, he was well-skilled to capture the moment and he came through.”

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal poses on top of Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima in 1945. Photo courtesy of USMC.

Though his preference was to stay on and cover the next battles in the Pacific, Rosenthal was sent back to the United States to receive his Pulitzer and other commendations.

A tour followed for the Seventh War Loan Drive, a six-week effort that yielded a record $26 billion in sales of Treasury Department bonds. Posters featuring the Iwo Jima photo were sold for the effort. The image also appeared on U.S. stamps.

Rosenthal’s photo was so good that some believed it had been posed. Time and Life apologized to Rosenthal and the AP for its claims.

“If I had posed it, I would have ruined it. I would have fewer Marines in the picture and I would make sure that their faces were seen, and I would have their identifications so that their hometown papers would have the information,” Rosenthal said later. “I wish I could pose a picture that good, but I know that I never could.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This small boat was crucial to D-Day’s success

June 6, 1944, will forever be remembered as D-Day. On this day, the Allies orchestrated a massive, complex assault on German fortifications, establishing a foothold on the Nazi-held European mainland. The invasion of Normandy required coordination between units in the air, on the land, and from the sea. Paratroopers dropped into place, troops stormed the beaches, and even George S. Patton was used as a decoy.

But one unassuming piece of technology was a crucial component to Allied victory: a small boat.

Officially, the Navy called it the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel, but everyone knew it as the Higgins boat, named after its designer, Andrew Jackson Higgins. This small craft (it displaced just nine tons total) had a top speed of 12 knots in calm waters. That doesn’t sound like much when compared to today’s Landing Craft Air Cushion that carry 36 Marines at a blazing 40 knots, but it was was the Allies needed to fight and win this decisive battle.


This is how the military challenge coin came to be

A Marine officer observed Japan using Daihatsu-class barges in China and wrote a report.

The Higgins boat wasn’t an American original. Believe it or not, the inspiration came from Japan’s Daihatsu-class barges, 21-ton vessels with bow ramps, which were used in the 1937 Sino-Japanese War. Marine lieutenant Victor Krulak had observed the vehicles in action, photographed them from afar, and sent his observation to his superiors.

After his report was dismissed and filed away by Navy bureaucrats, Krulak made a model of the boat and went to directly to Higgins, asking him if he could create a version for American use. Higgins proceeded to design what would become the LCVP using his own money — he even constructed three prototypes.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

German troops who saw hundreds of LCVPs closing in on the Normandy beaches or ferrying troops across the Rhine – as this LCVP is doing – had no idea the idea came from observing Japanese barges in China.

(US Army)

With the start of World War II, the Allies needed a landing craft. Higgins was ready to produce. The LCVP allowed the use of just about any open beach as a landing point. It was first used in Operation Torch, months after the failed raid on Dieppe.

If Nazi Germany ever wondered who was to blame for the Allies getting their hands on such a boat, perfect for amphibious assaults, they’d never think to look toward their own ally, Japan.

MIGHTY HISTORY

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

They watched for bubbles to surface as the man with a crude scuba mask swam across the basement pool of a prominent Washington hotel 75 years ago this week.


That top-secret World War II-era experiment, seeking to develop the sabotage skills of America’s first elite swimmer-commandos, was the critical opening chapter in the evolving history of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

That afternoon, covert operatives watching Christian Lambertsen’s underwater swim were focused more on whether the air bubbles would break the surface and betray his mission. Nobody saw any.

Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel above Rock Creek Park, in the same room that once housed the pool, a crowd gathered to commemorate that fateful event.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
A diver, equipped with a Lambertson Rebreathing Unit (LARU). (Image courtesy of CIA)

They included some prominent former SEALs — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan, and Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia Republican — in addition to veterans of the fabled World War II espionage unit and predecessor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society, which sponsored the affair.

Combat historian and best-selling author Patrick K. O’Donnell discussed Lambertsen’s newly revealed story. In his 2015 book, “First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit,” Mr. O’Donnell explored what triggered Washington’s scramble for swimmer-commandos and traced it back to an incident in the waters off the coast of Egypt less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

On the night of Dec. 19, 1941, the British navy suffered a devastating sabotage attack. A tanker and two battleships were sunk in Alexandria Harbor, the home of the British navy’s eastern Mediterranean fleet.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
An MU swimmer negotiates anti-submarine concertina wire nets during underwater training. (Photo from USASOC)

Perplexed British intelligence officers soon determined who did it: Six Italian swim commandos, or “frogmen,” using underwater breathing devices, had covertly infiltrated the harbor. The news rattled the British and U.S. governments.

“As a result of [the Italians’] daring attack, the balance of maritime power in that part of the world shifted, setting off an underwater arms race,” Mr. O’Donnell wrote.

Read Also: This is the history of the elite Navy SEALs

Because America had no special operations units in 1942, officials turned to the OSS to create them.

Launched by the legendary Gen. William Donovan, whose statue now stands outside CIA headquarters, the OSS in its heyday deployed more than 13,000 operatives, a third of them women, in addition to four future CIA directors.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

‘Glorified amateurs’

Pioneers of intelligence collection and unconventional warfare, OSS agents were, in Gen. Donovan’s words, “glorious amateurs” who undertook “some of the bravest acts of the war.” Agents quickly dove into developing underwater combat swim technology for its Maritime Unit, or MU.

Finding that the Navy lacked equipment, the OSS enlisted Mr. Lambertsen. At the time, he was a young civilian medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed what he called an underwater “rebreather,” cobbled together from an old World War I gas mask, a bicycle pump, and other parts.

Mr. O’Donnell said the early secret tests on the rebreather were dicey. Once, OSS scientists filled an airtight chamber with poisonous gas, a dog, a canary, and Mr. Lambertsen.

“First the canary and then the dog fell over, as expected (they were not wearing rebreathers), but when Lambertsen leaned over to check the animals, he fell over too,” Mr. O’Donnell writes. “Fortunately, Lambertsen survived, and development of the device continued.”

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
The Lambertsen Rebreathing Unit (LARU). (Image courtesy of USASOC).

Experiments continued at the Shoreham hotel because its basement pool was one of the largest in the city at the time.

Soon, the OSS and Mr. Lambertsen were supervising the manufacture of America’s first rebreather for military use, in addition to wetsuits, swim fins, face masks, motorized surfboards, floating mattresses, and even one-man submarines.

Related: What would happen if the OSS fought the CIA’s Special Activities Division

The OSS MU then kicked into high gear, recruiting a motley, street-smart, distinguished crew of lifeguards, doctors, Olympic-caliber swimmers, and surfers, a roster that included future San Francisco 49ers receiver and kicker Gordon Soltau and Marine Sterling Hayden, who went on to Hollywood fame in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” as the paranoid, nuclear-war-starting Gen. Jack D. Ripper and as Capt. McCluskey in “The Godfather.”

The unit conducted some of the war’s most perilous missions across Europe and Asia, conducting sabotage, gathering intelligence, supplying resistance movements, capturing high-value targets, and infiltrating enemy coastlines using floating mattresses.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
U.S. Navy SEALs storm the beach during a training exercise. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

The SEALs, which stands for “sea, air, land,” were formally established by President Kennedy in 1962. Today, they rank as some of the world’s most elite troops partaking some of the riskiest missions.

But the role of the OSS is not forgotten. The Maritime Unit that got its start in a Washington hotel pool began to formulate the capabilities of today’s SEAL teams, according to naval historians.

As for Mr. Lambertsen, he would become known as the “Father of American Combat Swimming” after coining the term “scuba.”

“The OSS Maritime Unit is a case study in innovation and American exceptionalism,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “A small group of men with hardly any funding but a lot of courage took an idea and forged a reality that lives on today.”

In 2016, after years of lobbying by the OSS Society, Congress awarded OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. The society is now fundraising to build a National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations in Northern Virginia. Charles Pinck, the society’s president, said the museum’s purpose will be to “honor Americans who served at ‘the tip of the spear’ and inspire future generations of Americans to serve their country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Foxley was the 1944 Special Operations plan to kill Hitler

Even as World War II was wrapping up and Allied soldiers occupied much of Western Europe, the British Special Operations Executive was still devising plans to kill Adolf Hitler in Germany and bring the war to a swift end. 

Many different options were considered, including bombing his personal train, sabotaging railway stations, and even poisoning Hitler’s water or food, but all those were deemed too complex to ensure success. 

The planners decided it would be best and easiest to kill the Fuhrer at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain chalet in southern Germany. 

While interviewing German prisoners taken from the Allied invasion of Europe, the SOE discovered one of the defender of the Nazi’s Fortress Europe was once a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, stationed at the Berghof. 

The former guard’s testimony revealed a distinct weakness in the German dictator’s morning routines while staying at the chalet. When he was staying at the Berghof, the Nazis flew a Nazi flag from the top of the house, which could be seen from Berchtesgaden, the town nearby. Every morning around 10am, he would take a 20 minute walk, always alone, out of sight of the guard houses. 

British officials decided this would be the best place to plan for an assassination attempt, as they could confirm that Hitler was at the Berghof before launching the final phases of the operation, then infiltrate the grounds and do the job. 

Another captured German also revealed that his uncle was a local in the town and was vehemently anti-Hitler and could thus be recruited to aid the commandos. Once there, the British considered a few weapons that might be used to ensure Hitler’s demise (including the use of a bazooka) but they settled on a skilled sniper to do the job.

hitler
A bazooka was one of the many weapons considered for the mission.

The Special Operations Executive devised a plan that would see German-speaking Poles and a British sniper parachute into Salzburg and be driven to Berchtesgaden by the uncle. 

Once in Berchtesgaden and disguised as German troops and carrying Wehrmacht rifles, the commandos would make their way to the Berghof grounds and wait for Hitler’s morning stroll. It would be there they take out the Fuhrer and make their way back to Berchtesgaden. 

Although the plan had the backing of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was ultimately abandoned for a few reasons. The first and most important is that all the Allied intelligence services considered Hitler so terrible at military strategy that they feared someone more competent would take his place and prolong the war. 

They also worried about the ramifications of the Hitler Mythology. While it was widely known among Allied leaders (and probably German leadership) that Hitler was a poor strategist, it wasn’t really known among the Fuhrer’s most fervent supporters. Planners worried that killing Hitler would leave behind a mythos similar to the end of World War I – that if Hitler had survived the war, Germany would have won. They worried such an occurrence would lead to another war. 

Finally, they didn’t want to make a martyr of Hitler and thus National Socialism as an ideology. The plan was ultimately scrapped due to the divisions of opinion it caused in the British military and intelligence leadership. 

The plan, originally scheduled for July 14, 1944 didn’t happen and a fully alive Hitler left the Berghof for the last time that day, never to return. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Being assigned to a bomber crew in WWII was basically a death sentence

During the peak of WWII, being a member of a heavy bomber crew meant you were incredibly brave, and you put your country over yourself — it was that dangerous.


Many considered the occupation to be a death sentence. Nearly 71 percent of the bomber’s crew were either killed or labeled as missing in action, which accounts for approximately 100,000 service members.

Related: These Nazi bunkers were one of the most secure outposts of WWII

One of Germany’s primary defenses against allied bombers was their massive array of anti-aircraft guns. The German ground forces commonly fired at the passing bombers even if they didn’t have a clear line of sight due to overcast conditions.

Typically, the bombers had to fly right through the multiple volleys of gunfire, but it was the “waist-gunners” who absorbed the majority of the shrapnel, as they were positioned near an open window in the rear of the plane.

 

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Damage to the “waist-gunner” area of the bomber accounted 21.6 percent of all the hits the plane took.

The image below shows what areas the heavy bomber was most likely to be hit by the enemies’ air-defense systems according to World War Wings’ video.

This is how the military challenge coin came to be
There didn’t appear to be a single safe place to hide while on a WWII bomber. (Source: World War Wings/Screenshot)

Also Read: These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

Check out World War Wings‘ video below to see all the statistics for yourself.

(YouTube, World War Wings)

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome pirate crews who plundered the Seven Seas

So, after sitting through weeks of military transition classes, you’ve decided, “screw it! I’ll just turn to a life of crime!” Congrats! You’re joining a long tradition — a tradition mostly limited to privateers in the 17th and 18th centuries, sure, but a tradition nonetheless.

So, how about piracy? It’s glamorous, it’s profitable, and it’s exciting (also brutal, uncomfortable, and morally repugnant — but don’t get wound around the axle). Here are seven awesome pirates and their crews who turned their seafaring skills into fun, usually short careers in sea vessel re-appropriation:


This is how the military challenge coin came to be

The face of a blacksmith who will absolutely start a crime syndicate and use it to topple an empire.

French Pirate King and American hero Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte was a French blacksmith who expanded his business into smuggling and piracy until he, his brother, and their men controlled a fleet in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, that was stronger than anything the U.S. Navy had in the area. During the War of 1812, Great Britain decided that it would be way easier to buy their way into New Orleans through him than fight for it.

So they offered him ,000 and a captaincy to help them, but he apparently loved America and told Louisiana instead. Authorities didn’t believe him and imprisoned him until then-Gen. Andrew Jackson pointed out that the British would totally do that. Lafitte and his men fought on Jackson’s side during the Battle of New Orleans and were granted full pardons. They later returned to piracy, focusing on Spanish ships because screw those guys.

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Madame Cheng was known for her *ahem* humble roots and her ability to cut your fleet to shreds, fool.

The prostitute pirate Madame Cheng

Cheng was a pirate king looking for love when he fell in with a prostitute and married her. She took the name Cheng I Sao and, when her husband died in 1807, turned his pirate fleet from a successful operation into possibly the largest pirate fleet in history. She overhauled the command structure and rule of law in the fleet, captured vessel after vessel, and made enemies of every European power in China at the time.

But when the Chinese Navy came to stop her, she stomped them so hard that the Chinese military was crippled. They then allied with the Portuguese and British fleets to come after her again, and she stomped them so hard that she ended the battle with more ships and men than she started it with. Finally, China offered her an amnesty and noble title to end the fighting.

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Captain Bart Roberts captured 400 ships, including one filled with the Portuguese king’s personal jewels from the middle of a 44-ship fleet.

Black Bart’s buccaneers on the Royal Fortune

Black Bart was born John Roberts (and likely was never called Black Bart while he was still alive). He was forced into piracy in 1719, but was so good at navigation and assessing enemy ships strengths that he was elected commander only six weeks later when the captain was killed.

His flagship was generally named Royal Fortune, and the crews of his ships did very well for themselves when they weren’t attempting to mutiny. Bart’s crews once stole the best ship out of the Portuguese treasure fleet of 44 ships, including two man-of-wars. Onboard were 40,000 gold coins and a cross covered in diamonds destined for the King of Portugal. Black Bart and his men stole another 400 ships during their short career from 1719 to 1722.

Unfortunately, Bart pushed it too far, constantly pushing off his retirement until a British man-of-war forced the issue with grapeshot through his neck.

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Benjamin Hornigold was known for his antics as well as his fuzzy features and thin ankles.

(Public Domain)

Blackbeard’s mentor, Benjamin Hornigold

Benjamin Hornigold began his pirate career in 1713 as the head of a small gang of men in canoes, but he quickly built up a fortune and a fleet, eventually leading 350 men in the 30-gun Ranger, possibly the most heavily armed ship in the Bahamas in 1717. In one awesome incident, they stopped a merchant ship and boarded it. Instead of stealing the cargo and ship, though, they said that they had all lost their hats the night before and needed to take the crew’s.

But his men were annoyed that Hornigold never allowed them to attack British ships, so they mutinied. Hornigold fled to Jamaica and received the king’s pardon for his piracy, then became a pirate hunter. No honor among thieves.

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Henry Every stands on shore while his ship fights an enemy vessel. Not sure why Every is waving his sword around while hundreds of meters from any action, but whatever.

Henry Every and the Fancy’s successful retirement

Henry Every began his life at sea as a boy and, by 1693, he was an experienced seaman. He took a slot as first mate on a privateer vessel named Charles II. But the vessel sat in port for months and the crew went without pay, so Every stole that ship and renamed it the Fancy.

And the Fancy had a stunning career. Every led the crew to the coast of Africa where they preyed on European merchant vessels and put together a fleet of pirate ships that stole the flagship of India’s Grand Mughal as well as 325,000 British pounds in gold and silver. Then, he cleverly retired. Few of his men faced justice and the rest disappeared wealthy.

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Capt. Jack Rackham got his nickname, “Calico Jack,” for his wardrobe. You’d think the fact that he helped a woman escape from prison and potentially got her pregnant while she was on his crew would be what he was known for, but nope. Calico.

(George S. Harris Sons)

Calico Jack Rackham

John Rackham was known for his calico clothing and for stealing the Ranger from then-Captain Charles Vane. He used the Ranger to plunder a series of merchant vessels, but then took the King’s pardon for a seemingly peaceful life. A peaceful life that involved an affair with the wife of a pirate informant. And then he voided his pardon to break said wife out of jail, and they started a new pirate crew and ship.

Rackham had another few months of successful piracy but then partied a little too hard. Capt. Jonathan Barnet was sent to capture Rackham and found him and most of his crew too drunk to defend themselves. Rackham was executed, but the two women in his crew, the aforementioned informant wife, Anne Bonny, and another woman, Mary Read, were pregnant and allowed to live.

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William Kidd, pimp and traitor

William Kidd and his motley traitors

William Kidd was commissioned as a privateer, and he and his men were sent to the West Indies in 1696 where it didn’t go well. They couldn’t find good targets, so, in 1697, they went to Madagascar and started preying on Indian vessels. Then, in 1698, they spotted the Quedagh Merchant, a 500-ton ship loaded with treasures.

Kidd and his crew stole it, making off with a massive boatload of gold, silk, spices, and other goods. Unfortunately for them, one of the owners of the ship was a senior member of the Indian government and put pressure on the English government to turn Kidd over. Kidd tried to escape to America, but he was caught, bundled to England, and hanged on May 23, 1701.

Articles

This airman saved his crew after their plane was hit with a mortar

Airman 1st Class John Lee Levitow was a loadmaster on an AC-47 — an aerial gunship and the predecessor to the AC-130 — that was pounding Viet Cong forces on the night of Feb. 24, 1969.


But then disaster struck.

The plane was dropping flares and firing in support of a U.S. base under attack, and one of the Viet Cong mortars firing on the base sent a round up that struck the AC-47 instead.

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Airman 1st Class John L. Levitow’s Douglas AC-47D was struck by a mortar round on Feb. 24, 1969. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The mortar round detonated on impact, sending thousands of pieces of shrapnel through the plane and crew. Levitow was hit with 40 pieces of shrapnel, and the other six members of the crew didn’t fare much better.

But the worst piece of news was still coming. Levitow started to drag another injured crew member away from the door before he spotted an armed Mk-24 flare that was smoking and rolling around near stored ammo.

The flares operate on a timer set to anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds. Once armed, a crewmember would throw the flare out the door and it would parachute down. Magnesium in the flare would ignite a 4,000 degree Fahrenheit flame that illuminated the battlefield.

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Airman 1st Class John L. Levitow saved the life of his crew and the plane they were flying in in 1969 by throwing an ignited flare out of the craft despite his serious injuries. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

But with the flare counting down to an ignition inside the aircraft, it would instead set off nearby ammo, burn a hole through the floor, and cook everything in the cabin, including the seven crewmembers aboard.

Levitow, despite his serious wound from the shrapnel, crawled his way to the 27-pound flare and attempted to grab it three times, but it kept escaping his hands. So he threw himself on it, clutched it to his body, and dragged it towards the door.

“I had the aircraft in a 30-degree bank, and how Levitow ever managed to get to the flare and throw it out, I’ll never know,” said pilot Maj. Kenneth Carpenter.

Somehow, Levitow got the flare to the door and out of the plane just before it ignited, saving everyone aboard. The pilot was able to limp the plane back to an emergency landing.

For Levitow, that was his 181st mission. He recovered from his wounds and completed another 20 combat missions before heading home and receiving his discharge paperwork in August 1969.

Less than a year later, he reported to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon. He is the lowest-ranking member of the Air Force to ever receive the award.

An Air Force C-17 was named for him in 1998, “The Spirit of John L. Levitow.” He passed away in 2000.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the worst military decisions of each US President in one sentence

No President is 100 percent flawless in any aspect of their presidency. Even former generals can make bad calls when it comes to being the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces. And even though their military decisions may look good at the time, history could judge the president for not having the vision to nip potential trouble spots in the bud.


1 – George Washington

His attack on the British at Long Island came while they were at their strongest and most well-armed.

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2 – John Adams

With the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams infringed on the very rights he and the other founding fathers just finished fighting for.

3 – Thomas Jefferson

His appointment of Commodore William Bainbridge to command the Philadelphia led to the capture and enslavement of the ship’s crew.

4 – James Madison

He vastly overestimated the United States’ ability to wage war, and when U.S. troops burned York (present day Toronto), he opened the door to the burning of Washington.

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5 – James Monroe

Monroe sent Andrew Jackson to invade Spanish Florida and attack the hostile natives there, despite not being at war with Spain.

6 – John Quincy Adams

Rather than build up the Navy to project U.S. power and protect American interests, he just did nothing.

7 – Andrew Jackson

Jackson began the systematic removal of natives from American territory, while neglecting the Navy.

8 – Martin Van Buren

Van Buren continued Jackson’s anti-Native policy while continuing to neglect the U.S. Navy

9 – William Henry Harrison

Harrison died thirty days into his presidency — before he could even make a military decision.

10 – John Tyler

Built the world’s largest naval cannon, which exploded during a demonstration.

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It’s not polite to stare!

11 – James K. Polk

Micromanaging the war with Mexico took its toll on his health and eventually killed him.

12 – Zachary Taylor

He ate cholera-ridden ice milk and cherries.

13 – Milliard Fillmore

Fillmore’s worst call was not invading Cuba, despite the constant headaches it posed then and in the future.

14 – Franklin Pierce

Pierce let Kansas decide if it would be a free or slave state, which led to Kansas being flooded with zealots from both sides, who promptly killed each other.

15 – James Buchanan

He left the secession crisis for Lincoln.

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James Buchanan: No f*cks given.

16 – Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln kept McClellan in command of the Union Army for way too long.

17 – Andrew Johnson

Instead of fulfilling the vision of Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction, Johnson used federal forces to punish the South.

18 – Ulysses S. Grant

The former Union general worried about being perceived as a dictator, but he still used the military to enforce laws in the South.

19 – Rutherford B. Hayes

Hayes used the Army to break up workers strikes in nonessential industries, which was especially violent in Pittsburgh.

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20 – James. A. Garfield

James Garfield’s biggest mistake was foregoing a security detail (he was assassinated).

21 – Chester A. Arthur

Arthur hired political cronies to overhaul the Navy, which angered Congress, who withheld much of the funds.

22 – Grover Cleveland

Cleveland vetoed pensions for Civil War veterans.

23 – Benjamin Harrison

Harrison ordered the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

24 – Grover Cleveland

Cleveland broke up a rail workers strike with the Army because he wanted them to deliver the mail.

25 – William McKinley

Instead of giving the Philippines its independence, he subjugated the population.

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They’ll love being American!

26 – Theodore Roosevelt

The man’s been dead for almost a hundred years and I’m still afraid to criticize him (no comment).

27 – William Howard Taft

Taft kept U.S. troops as occupiers of Latin American countries, sowing mistrust and discord in the Western Hemisphere that continues to this day.

28 – Woodrow Wilson

Wilson was more concerned with his Fourteen Point peace plan than noticing Germany was being beaten up in the WWI armistice, one of the major causes of World War II.

29 – Warren G. Harding

Harding removed U.S. troops from Cuba instead of annexing it, which would give the U.S. a lot of trouble in the coming decades.

30 – Calvin Coolidge

Silent Cal neglected to maintain the Navy because World War I was over.

31 – Herbert Hoover

Hoover ordered a young General MacArthur to disperse the Bonus Army by force.

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32 – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt put a lot of misplaced trust in Stalin, who promptly used that trust against the U.S.

33 – Harry S. Truman

Truman thought the Chinese wouldn’t intervene in the Korean War even if MacArthur conquered the entire peninsula.

34 – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ordered the CIA to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and put the Shah back in power.

35 – John F. Kennedy

Kennedy greenlit the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and then neglected to give them air support.

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Well, we were done with it, no matter what happened.

36 – Lyndon B. Johnson

LBJ escalated what was a civil war into a grand international conflict because he could only see Communists and didn’t understand Vietnam was fighting more for its independence from outside domination.

37 – Richard Nixon

Nixon’s scheme to get the country out of the Vietnam War started with bombing and then invading Cambodia.

38 – Gerald Ford

Ford ordered Marines back to Indochina to rescue hostages on a mission that ended with a 41 percent casualty rate, adding to the Vietnam War dead even though the war had been over for 2 years.

39 – Jimmy Carter

Carter ordered the all-too-complex Operation Eagle Claw to get hostages out of Iran, which ended disasterously.

40 – Ronald Reagan

Sent Marines to Beirut as peacekeepers, even though half the Lebanese factions fighting there were allied with Iran and lost 241 troops in a barracks bombing in 1983.

41 – George H.W. Bush

Bush’s invasion of Panama, while one of the most successful military operations in U.S. history, took a large toll on the civilian population and infrastructure.

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Related: 21 Facts about the First Gulf War

42 – Bill Clinton

Instead of bombing Osama bin Laden, he bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan.

43 – George W. Bush

“Mission Accomplished.”

44 – Barack Obama

Obama drew a “red line” for Bashar al-Asad of Syria to keep him from using chemical weapons, then didn’t do anything when Asad used the weapons.

45 – Donald Trump

We’ll let you decide this one…

46 – Joe Biden

And this one’s mistakes remain to be seen. 

 

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Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?


The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.

Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.

These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.

 

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Not all pigeons in England are terrible. (Imperial War Museum)

 

Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.

As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.

 

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(Imperial War Museum)

The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On October 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.

The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.

She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.

 

Feature image: Imperial War Museum

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force pilot took on an entire anti-aircraft complex – and won

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.

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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.

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And then they had a Coke on the flightline.

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.

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