U-505 is a German Type IXC submarine that was built and served during WWII. On June 4, 1944, she was captured by U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 in the Atlantic off the coast of the Western Sahara. She was towed to the U.S. Naval Operating Base in Bermuda where she was studied extensively. At the end of the war, U-505 went on a war bond tour of the east coast. After the war, the Navy had no use for a German submarine and planned to sink her as a practice target.
At the time, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry was looking for a display submarine and heard about U-505. In 1954, the Navy agreed to donate the submarine to the museum. However, there was still the matter of getting the warship to the museum. Chicago residents managed to raise $250,000, just under $2.5 million in 2021 adjusted for inflation, to cover the transportation and installation costs.
U-505 was towed from the Portsmouth Navy Yard to the Great Lakes and made a stop in Detroit in July 1954. The final leg of the 3,000-mile journey, and the most challenging, was still to come. U-505 had to moved up the beach from Lake Michigan and across Lake Shore Drive to reach the museum just 900 feet away.
One of the busiest streets in America, Lake Shore Drive carried Chicago’s lifeblood of commerce and traffic. The city agreed to shut the street down for 12 hours from 7PM on September 2nd to 7AM the next day. The company contracted to take on this enormous task was the LaPlant-Adair Company.
Based in Indianapolis, the LaPlant-Adair Company specialized in moving the immovable. From entire homes to a 250,000 gallon Ford plant water tower (still full of water), the company had the moving experience to take on U-505.
At 7PM sharp on September 2, 1954, Chicago police shut Lake Shore Drive. Simultaneously, U-505 crept off the Lake Michigan beach. A series of screw jacks, hand-turned by men, lifted the 920-ton U-boat just four feet, level with the street. The LaPlant-Adair Company’s president, Kenneth Adair, was there to personally supervise the move. He was joined by 10,000 spectators who came to see the submarine cross the street.
A system of tracks and rollers were continuously built, dismantled, and rebuilt to move U-505 just a few feet of the 300-foot-wide street at a time. Despite the herculean effort on display, the enormous crowd dwindled as the night dragged on. By the time U-505 made it safely across Lake Shore Drive just before 4AM, only 500 spectators remained. Still, the LaPlant-Adair Company accomplished their goal with time to spare.
Thanks to the LaPlant-Adair Company’s efficiency, U-505 proudly sits on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry today. Although the Navy stripped her interior, the museum has restored her exterior extremely close to original condition. She stands as a testament to the Germans who crewed her, the Americans who captured her, and the movers who helped her cross the road.
Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle parachuted into Normandy in early May 1944, posed as a teen whose family had moved to the region to escape Allied bombing, and sold soap to German soldiers.
Meanwhile, she obtained military intelligence about them and encoded it, hiding it on silk she kept in her hair.
Codenamed Genevieve, Latour was a flight mechanic with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a teen. At the age of 23, she was selected for a covert mission, which required training in unarmed combat, weapons, morse code and parajumping.
In one of her few interviews, she told New Zealand Army News that she joined the fight to honor her godmother’s father, who had been shot by the Nazis.
For months, she lived behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence on German forces. Her father was a French doctor who had married a British citizen living in South Africa. Fluent in French, she lived undercover as a teenage French girl, riding bicycles to pass along her coded messages.
At one point, she directed the bombing of a German listening post, which resulted in the deaths of a German woman and two children. “I heard I was responsible for their deaths,” she said in her interview. “It was a horrible feeling. I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”
She was detained once by the Germans, who never thought to look for a message knitted into a hair scarf and released her.
After the war, she married an engineer and lived in Kenya, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She did not share her military stories; instead, her family learned about her heroics by reading about them online. In 2014, she was presented with France’s highest decoration, an appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, as part of the 70th anniversary of the battle of Normandy.
In April 2021, she will celebrate her 100th birthday.
Standing among the greatest warriors are the troops who go above and beyond the call of duty for their comrades when the odds are at their slimmest. This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au.
Herbert K. Pilila’au was a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of O’ahu. Those who knew him growing up would describe him as a gentle kid who would spend much of his time reading the Bible and listening to classical music.
He was drafted into the Korean War at the age of 22 and attended Basic Training at Fort Shafter. His peers were in awe as they watched the stillest, quietest soldier in their company turn out to be the most physically fit and strong of the recruits. Despite being the most talked-about soldier, he remained humble and continually wrote home.
(Photo courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation – Hawaii)
Very shortly after basic training, he was attached to Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division and entered the fray in Gangwon Province, Korea. He volunteered to be the squad’s automatic rifleman saying, “someone had to do it.”
He first showed his prowess in battle alongside the rest of the 23rd Infantry Regiment as they fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August of 1951. This victory lead United Nations troops to march on what is now known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)
Pilila’au would meet his destiny on September 17th, 1951, when his platoon was tasked with protecting the ridge-line of Hill 931. After suffering a barrage of North Korean artillery strikes on their position, his platoon was forced to retreat. As they started to rejoin the rest of the unit, North Korean infantrymen descended on their position.
Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au volunteered himself to cover the retreat of the rest of his platoon with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He laid fire into every North Korean that came his way until he ran out of bullets. He then switched to throwing every grenade he had with him. When the grenades were gone, he pulled out his trench knife and carved into any attacker he could while punching them with his free hand. It was only after his platoon was safe that he would be surrounded and, finally, fall to an enemy bayonet.
When his platoon retook the position the next day, they discovered the bodies of forty North Koreans around his. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On June 18th, 1952, Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first Native Hawaiian to receive the United States Military’s highest decoration.
In today’s Army, you can be the toughest general in the U.S. military, but when you turn 64, it’s time to go.
It’s well known most bodies just can’t take the rigors of duty and deployment beyond that (though Gen. Jim Mattis might be the exception), but history does have examples of military leaders who went well past their sexagenarian limitations.
The 73-year-old Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher of the Battle of Warterloo fame did it, and so did the 62-year-old Gen. George Sears Greene, whose men fought off repeated Confederate assaults at Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Army Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles was another one of these timeless warriors who shattered this stereotype and demonstrated that age does not provide a restriction to some men.
Nelson Appleton Miles spent nearly 42 years in the U.S. Army leading up to his 64th birthday in 1903. During the American Civil War, He rose from a lowly lieutenant to the rank of major general of volunteers by the age of 26-years-old. He fought in such notable battles as Seven Pines, Antietam, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, he earned the Medal of Honor as the colonel of the 60th New York Infantry for his “distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy.” He was severely injured in this action and suffered three other wounds through the course of the war.
Miles decided to remain in the army after the American Civil War. He is best remembered for his service on the western frontier during the 1870s and the 1880s — immortalized for his capture of the famed Apache leader Geronimo. By 1895, he rose to overall command of the Army.
Though an excellent soldier, Miles was notorious for being stubborn, quarrelsome, overambitious and opinionated. Many, including President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to see him cast out of the Army once and for all. Those who knew Miles best were aware that he wasn’t going to be forced out of the army without a fight.
Miles’ time for retirement crept up in 1903. He felt that he was still fit for soldiering, so he set out to prove that he was still physically fit to endure the hardships of active campaigning.
At dawn on July 14, 1903, Miles, sporting a summer helmet and light blue shirt, rode out of Oklahoma’s Fort Sill headed toward Fort Reno 90 miles away, intending to shatter Roosevelt’s age barrier. He was accompanied by several younger officers and cheered on by a large crowd of observers.
The tanned and muscular Miles knocked out the first 34 miles in a record time of just under 2.5 hours. Only the 34 year old cavalry officer Capt. Farrand Sayre of the Eight Cavalry was able to keep up with the grueling pace Miles set under the punishing sun and sweltering heat.
Miles tackled the 90 mile ride in just over nine hours, arriving at Fort Reno to the salute of gunfire from the soldiers of the garrison showing “no signs of fatigue.” Within 40 minutes of arriving, Miles changed out of his dusty uniform, reviewed the troops of the garrison, and rode another four miles to catch a 4:00 p.m. train back to Fort Riley, Kansas.
Miles boasted afterward to the papers that, “I enjoyed every moment of the trip, and there was one time that I felt particularly good; that was when I came up to the men who had charge of the pack teams just south of the Canadian river. They had lunch ready and I enjoyed it with them. It made me feel extra good.”
Despite displaying that he was still very much fit for active service, Miles was forced to retire in August of 1903. At 77, the Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient offered his services to Woodrow Wilson’s administration with the American intervention during World War I. The offer was politely refused by the secretary of war who wrote back to Miles, “in time of emergency out government may need to take advantage of your great experience. Please accept appreciation of your most patriotic offer.”
Miles was still spry enough to serve on the battlefield even in 1916. He did not pass away until 60 years after the American Civil War ended in May of 1925 from a heart attack, outliving President Theodore Roosevelt by six years.
While the converted collier, USS Langley, was America’s first aircraft carrier, it wasn’t America’s first fleet carrier. That honor goes to the converted battlecruiser, USS Lexington.
Under the terms laid out in the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty, a naval arms control accord, the United States had the right to convert two of six planned battlecruisers into aircraft carriers. The Lexington and her sister ship, USS Saratoga, were selected and effectively saved from the scrapheap for this role. The Lexington was commissioned in 1927 and, over the next 14 years, she served in the peacetime Navy.
One of the explosions that doomed USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. (US Navy photo)
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington took part in the abortive effort to relieve Wake Island. She then took part in various hit-and-run attacks on Japanese bases in the Marshalls until she went to the South Pacific to ward off a Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington’s planes helped to sink the Japanese carrier Shoho, but on May 8, she came under attack.
The Lexington was struck by two torpedoes at least one bomb. The ship’s crew worked hard to keep the vessel afloat. The ship’s Damage Control Officer, Commander Howard R. Healy, suggested to the captain that if he were to take additional torpedo hits, “it would be as well to take them on the starboard side.” Healy would die in the process of controlling the extensive damage done.
A series of internal explosions would force the United States to scuttle the Lexington, making her the first fleet carrier America lost in WWII. She went down in the Coral Sea in 1942, but not before the Japanese were turned back, suffering a strategic defeat.
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced on Facebook that he found the Lexington. See this heroic vessel, whose sacrifice saved Port Moresby, in the video below.
The B-52 has been serving in America’s nuclear deterrent arsenal since 1952. But a lot has changed on the BUFF and its mission since it was on the front line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The strategic bomber has gone from being designed to deliver huge nuclear bombs on Russia to dropping precision-guided conventional bombs on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, it is far more likely to deliver its nukes using air-launched cruise missiles than a gravity bomb.
But little did most people know that part of its post-World War II heritage equipped the lengthy bomber with tail guns.
The retirement of Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum is notable since he was the last of the B-52 tail gunners in the Air Force. Most versions of the BUFF had four .50-caliber M3 machine guns – fast-firing versions of the historic Ma Deuce (1,000 rounds per minute, according to GlobalSecurity.org) that were also used on the F-86 Sabre. Two B-52 versions went with different armament options, the B-52B (twin 20mm cannon in some planes) and the B-52H (an M61 Vulcan).
In the B-52G and H, the tail gunners were in the main cabin, using a remotely operated turret. Earlier models had the tail gunners sitting in a shooters seat in the rear of the plane, providing the BUFF an extra set of eyes to detect SAM launches.
Those tail guns even saw some action. During the Vietnam War, three B-52Ds used their tail guns to score kills. All three of the victims were North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds, who found out the hard way that the BUFFs weren’t helpless targets on their six.
The B-52s up to the G model ultimately used the MD-9 fire-control system for the tail guns. The B-52G used the AN/ASG-15 for its remotely-operated quad .50 caliber turret while the B-52H used the AN/ASG-21 to guide its M61 Vulcan.
An incident during Operation Desert Storm, though, would soon change things for the BUFF. A friendly-fire incident occurred when a tailgunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the U.S. jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which damaged the BUFF. The BUFF returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.
Shortly after the misunderstanding, the Air Force announced that the tail guns were going away.
So, for all intents and purposes, a generation has passed since the B-52 had a tail gunner. Gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52. To get a glimpse at what was lost, check out the video below.
It was a day like any other day. Dwight Johnson was on his way to the nearby corner store to get some food for his infant son. When he walked in the store that day in April 1971, he accidentally walked in on the store being robbed. That’s when the storekeeper shot him to death.
While he was in Vietnam, he seemed impervious to bullets. Dwight Hal Johnson wasn’t gunned down until he left his home to go to the nearby liquor store at the wrong time.
President Lyndon Johnson puts the Medal of Honor around the neck of Sgt. Dwight H. Johnson.
In 1968, Army tank driver Spc. Dwight Johnson was part of a reaction force near Dak To, in Vietnam’s Kontum Province. With his platoon in the middle of fierce combat with North Vietnamese regulars, Johnson’s tank threw a track. It would not move. With friendly forces to his rear, and a heavily entrenched enemy coming at him, a regular person might have told Johnson not to leave the safety of the tank and just wait. That wasn’t Dwight Johnson’s style.
Since Johnson was unable to drive the tank, he figured it was time to stop being a driver. He grabbed his pistol and hopped out of it. He cleared away some of the enemy from the perimeter, and then hopped back into the tank, somehow not getting hit by the hail of enemy gunfire and rockets. He had just run out of ammo.
He tossed his pistol down and grabbed a submachine gun. Returning to his former position, he began to take out more of the oncoming enemy fighters. Unconcerned with the situation being a well-planned and well-placed ambush, he stayed put, killing the enemy until he ran out of ammo again. After he used the stock of his rifle to kill one more, he moved to his platoon sergeant’s tank, carried a wounded crewman to a nearby armored personnel carrier, then went back to the tank to get a pistol so he could fight his way back to his own tank. Again.
Instead of hopping in, however, he mounted the .50-cal on the back of the tank, using the heavy machine gun to force the enemy back and put an end to the ambush while protecting his wounded comrades in arms. For most of the time he was engaged in close quarters combat, vastly outnumbered by an often-unseen enemy, Spc. Johnson was carrying only a Colt .45 pistol to defend himself.
Having grown up in some of Detroit’s rough neighborhoods gave Dwight Johnson an edge in keeping his cool under fire. Johnson never quit, never left anyone behind and fought an enemy who outnumbered him ten to one while restoring American dominance to a situation that got out of hand. Sadly, it was those same mean streets that would do him in just a few years after coming home from Vietnam.
He struggled with regular life when he returned home, as most veterans did and still do. He struggled with debt and depression until he walked into the Open Pantry Market on April 30, 1971, just one mile from his home. There are conflicting reports of what happened next – some say Johnson had a gun at his side and was robbing the store, other sources say that Johnson was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While we can’t be sure what motivated the store owner to open fire, we can say he shot one of America’s heroes four times, killing him. Dwight Hal Johnson was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In November 1918, David Lloyd George’s name was on everyone’s lips. He was the wartime prime minister who led the nation to eventual victory after four long years of bitter and bloody conflict. Yet despite this fact, a century later, as the war’s end is being commemorated worldwide, it would appear that there is very little recognition of the man. Compared to how Winston Churchill is praised the world over for his role in World War II, Lloyd George has a much lower profile.
A proud Welshman, Lloyd George originally made his name as a politician for his anti-war stance as an arch opponent of the Boer War. But by late 1914 he was acting as a human dynamo in transforming Britain and its empire into a modern state of industrialised warfare. He ensured that the war was financed and avoided economic ruin in his role as chancellor of the exchequer. Then, as minister of munitions, he helped supply the guns, tanks, aircraft and ammunition that kept Britain in the war. His introduction of the naval convoy system in April 1917 — which enabled ships to travel across the Atlantic protected by naval escort — helped win the war at sea and avoid a nation starving.
David Lloyd George.
The Welsh wizard
As prime minister after 1916, his fire and zeal were central to leading a coalition government that not only held the nation together but, in the process, modernized the core executive in Britain, and brought in a system of Whitehall government that is still used today.
Known as the “Welsh wizard“, because of this ability to keep the country unified, Lloyd George’s magic touch became apparent almost on a daily basis. He managed to balance domestic problems and the war with an almost unparalleled political mastery. Against a backdrop of developing civil war in Ireland and industrial and labour disputes on the home front, Lloyd George kept Britain fighting long enough for the arrival of the Americans, who were key to victory on the Western Front. While other nations faltered or buckled — including Austria — Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on the opposing side — he kept Britain and its empire steadfast and in the game.
The key to Lloyd George’s success was that he could be so adjustable and accommodating in what he set out to achieve. He sought to put the best people in charge, whether they be military or civilian, such as the secretary to the war cabinet Maurice Hankey, avoiding static hierarchies and burdensome bureaucracy, such as in his redevelopment and expansion of Britain’s armaments industry. This was something which contrasted him sharply with the military generals running the German War machine, where Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenberg avoided wider engagement as both sought to dominate the war effort.
David Lloyd George with Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson at the WWI Paris peace conference.
By the 1918 election, Lloyd George very much felt that it was even more important for the post-war nation to come together under him as prime minister in one united coalition. He also passionately supported a customs-free Europe and wanted Britain to play a central role in shaping Europe’s future, ensuring peace and prosperity. This he did — alongside US president Woodrow Wilson, Italian prime minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau — with the Treaty of Versailles the following year. It was at this peace summit that Lloyd George created a realistic rather than punitive peace with Germany — which was desired by France — or the distancing of themselves from an active role in Europe like the USA.
Not all of his ventures were so successful, however. Some of his work on new territories (protectorates) — Palestine and Iraq, for example — only worked to store up future problems. The same was true of his attempts to solve the Irish question, which were often done in a brutal and controversial fashion and have led to a century of conflict and division. It has also recently been uncovered that he met with Hitler in 1936 before going on to call him the “greatest living German“.
But whether you love him or loathe him, Lloyd George’s key role in fighting — and winning — World War I cannot easily be underestimated.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.
Larry Walters had a few lifelong dreams. The first was to be a pilot in the United States Air Force. The second was a crazy idea he had as a teenager. It turns out the Air Force had all the crazy it needed in its test pilot corps, but Walters opted to go for the first choice nonetheless — he was going to be a pilot.
It was a TWA pilot that first reported Walters’ triumphant taking to the skies. He did so by radioing the tower about a man in a lawn chair hovering at 16,000 feet.
Larry Walters didn’t join the Air Force. He couldn’t. It turns out, to join the Air Force as a pilot, you need excellent vision. It was truck driver Larry Walters’ one failing. His eyesight was terrible. So, he opted to finally try out the other choice — his crazy teenager idea — and that’s how Larry Walters made history.
He set about constructing his own flying machine, a craft he called Inspiration I. It was an idea he came up with as 13-year-old teen. He saw weather balloons hanging from the ceiling of a local Army-Navy store and was suddenly inspired. It was his “flux capacitor moment.” He did nothing with this inspiration for 20 years… until his rejection from the Air Force made it seem like he would never touch the wild blue yonder.
On Mar. 23, 1982, the Los Angeles native attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to an ordinary Sears lawn chair. Attached to the bumper of a car, he packed a BB gun with him to shoot individual balloons as a means of slowly lowering his altitude. His intended course would take him over the Southern California desert and into the Rocky Mountains in just a few days’ time. But, surprisingly, things went wrong from the start.
Walters aboard Inspiration I.
First, one of the tethers holding the craft to the ground snapped early, propelling Walters into the air at 1,000 feet per minute. It caused him to lose his glasses. Secondly, at a cruising altitude of 16,000 feet it not only got much colder than expected, the currents took Walters over the restricted airspace above Los Angeles International Airport and Long Beach Airport.
REACT (a CB radio monitoring organization): What color is the balloon? Larry: The balloons are beige in color. I’m in a bright blue sky which would be very highly visible. Over. REACT: [Balloon] size? Larry: Size approximately, uh, seven feet in diameter each. And I probably have about 35 left. Over. REACT: You’re saying you have a cluster of 35 balloons?? Larry: These are 35 weather balloons. Not one single balloon, sir. It is 35 weather balloons. REACT: Roger, stand by this frequency.
Eventually, Larry started to take out some of the balloons, but he was losing feeling in his hands and soon lost his BB gun as well. He finally landed at 432 45th Street in Long Beach, more or less unharmed.
He gave the chair to a local kid named Jerry, who kept the chair for the next 20 years in the same condition.
“Jerry” with Larry Walters’ lawn chain. The water jugs were used as ballast.
“By the grace of God, I fulfilled my dream,” Walters told the Associated Press. “But I wouldn’t do this again for anything.”
Walters didn’t do it again, but his legacy lives on in the handful of civilian aviation enthusiasts who practice the art of cluster ballooning. Some of these enthusiasts have reached altitudes of higher than 20,000 feet — and some of them were never seen again after take off.
Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.
In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.
1. Trial by combat
Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat
2. Trial by the cross
Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.
3. Trial by fire
If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.
4. Trial by hot water
Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.
5. Trial by cold water
It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.
6. Trial by… cheese?
One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.
Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.
The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.
Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.
It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.
“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of I’ve Got A Secret. “I was scared to death.”
When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.
“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”
Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.
The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.
Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.
“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”
During the pre-dawn hours of October 25, 1893, a British column of 700 men from the British South African Police under the command of Maj. Patrick William Forbes camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River. While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force comprised of up to 6,000 men – some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.
Among its weapons, the column possessed five Maxim guns – history’s first recoil-operated, belt-fed machine gun. Once a British bugler sounded the alert, the machine guns saw action, and the results were horrific. More than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman were mowed down like grass. As for the British column, it suffered only four casualties.
The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare. In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears.
The Maxim gun was an earth-shattering a weapon in its heyday – and a true weapon of empire.
Hiram Maxim‘s invention brought industrial-level killing to the battlefield. More than any other weapon developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Maxim gun is responsible for changing the nature of warfare forever.
The British square and “the thin red line” of massed infantry firepower eventually went the way of the dodo. When the Maxim gun opened fire at 500 rounds per minute, the tactic of soldiers firing in ranks became suicidal – from then on, the infantryman would have to dash and weave, relying on his ability to maneuver to bring fire to bear on the enemy and to stay alive.
The Maxim gun has two phases to its history. The first is when it was used as the weapon of choice to help expand the British Empire during the late 19th Century. The weapon’s devastating use during The Great War launched the second phase of its history as one of the guns of modern 20th Century warfare.
But to really understand the weapon you have know something about Maxim, an American who was both an impressive genius and a shrewd businessman.
Born in Maine in 1840, tinkering came naturally to Maxim. While still a teenager, he literally built the better mousetrap – his automatically reset and rid local mills of rodents. At 26, he patented a curling iron, the first of 270 more patents to come. Then, Maxim became chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting Co. in New York, where he introduced longer-lasting carbon filaments for electric light bulbs.
But he wanted fame and fortune – particularly fortune. He went to Europe in an effort to seek wealth by developing peacetime inventions like he had in the United States.
“In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States,” Maxim wrote in his memoir. “He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.'”
Sound advice: In 1884, he harnessed the recoil of a bullet with a spring-loaded bolt mechanism and feeding device that fed ammunition into the gun on a cloth belt. The Gatling or Nordenfelt rapid-firing guns of the time were hand-cranked, gravity-fed weapons with multiple barrels prone to jamming.
Maxim also invented a cleaner burning, smokeless powder that he called cordite, which fouled a weapon much less than the black powder of the era. The combination of mechanized automatic fire and cleaner ammunition was revolutionary. By 1889, the British army adopted the Maxim gun; a year later, the armies of Austria, Germany, Italy and Russia all had Maxims.
The quintessential incarnation of the Maxim gun came when the inventor partnered with the British Vickers Co. The result was a water-cooled, tripod-mounted machine gun in .303 caliber, fed by ammunition on a 250-round belt.
It came just in time for World War I. However, many generals and military planners doubted the effectiveness of the Maxim gun as well as similar machine guns against troops of Western European powers.
They still preached the bayonet charge. As one infantry manual said, “The spirit of the bayonet must be inculcated into all ranks, so that they go forward with aggressive determination and confidence of superiority born of continued practice, without which a bayonet charge will not be effective.”
Not even the evidence of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1906) with its long sieges and trench warfare – an eerie predictor of The Great War’s horrors to come – could persuade military observers of the Maxim gun’s lethality on the modern battlefield.
“The observers watched Russian and Japanese being mowed down in swathes by machine-gun fire and returned home to write: The machine gun is a vastly overrated weapon; it appears highly doubtful that it would be effective against trained European soldiery,” James L. Stokesbury drily comments in A Short History of World War I. “Apparently, they did not consider Japanese, or even Russians, to be in that supposedly elite category.”
The reality on the Western Front was something quite different. Some called The Great War “the machine gun war” – although artillery fire often caused the bulk of the casualties, soldiers vividly recounted watching their comrades drop like flies as machine guns traversed their ranks while firing.
In just one day during the Battle of the Somme – July 1, 1916 – the British saw 21,000 men slaughtered. The great majority of the casualties were killed by Spandau machine guns, the German version of the Maxim.
Maxim – wealthy, famous, and knighted by the queen – died on November 24, 1916, in London, his home after he became a naturalized British subject. A few weeks before, the Battle of the Somme had ended. The result was more than a million casualties.
Arlington National Cemetery holds over 300,000 United States veterans. Veterans from every US war or conflict since the Revolutionary War lie here. Founded in 1866, this cemetery is the largest and most prestigious in the nation. It is meant to honor all men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
The grounds are steeped in history
The cemetery grounds, formerly Arlington House, used to be the property of George Washington’s adopted grandson and his wife. In 1831, their daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the couple lived there until Virginia ceded from the Union in 1861. A tax dispute led the federal government to reclaim the property in 1864. However, the land was later returned to Lee’s son after a lawsuit, though the government promptly repurchased it for about $150,000. This made little Lee a very rich man—the equivalent in today’s world would be roughly $4 million.
Presidents, change-makers, and military leadership
One of the most prominent people buried there is 27th US President William Howard Taft, a man who never really wanted to be president at all. His real dream was to become a Supreme Court Justice, a goal he achieved later. No other man has ever served as President of the United States and Chief Justice on the Supreme Court.
Another notable figure buried at Arlington is Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. He argued on the Brown v. Board of Education case, where the Supreme Court finally determined racial segregation to be unconstitutional once and for all.
JFK and Bobby Kennedy have a special, solemn place in Arlington. Above their graves, an eternal flame is lit. Jackie Kennedy was so moved when she saw the eternal flame over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that she wanted the same thing for her husband. When Jackie passed years later in 1994, her remains were placed next to her husband’s.
David Hackworth, a colonel in the US Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, is also buried in Arlington. He was a highly decorated serviceman with tons of honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart with many oak leaf clusters attached to several. Hackworth also wrote a book that criticized how the Vietnam War was handled, for which he took some heat from the government—oops.
Speaking of famous, one of the most famous women buried at Arlington is Admiral Grace Hopper. A leading programmer in the US Navy between 1943 and 1986, Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and one of the first to use the Harvard Mark I. She was also the inventor of one of the first linkers. Today we think of linking as such a standard computer action, but we wouldn’t have it without Hopper.