These ax murders almost started another Korean War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

It must have seemed like a relatively harmless work detail, in the way that any detail in the world’s most heavily armed border area can be harmless. When Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett reported for duty to chop down a tree in the Korean DMZ, they probably never thought they’d be hacked to death by North Korean soldiers.


The two officers were leading a South Korean work detail with a South Korean officer on August 18, 1976. A 100-foot tall poplar tree blocked the view between the U.N. observation post and U.N. Command Post No. 3. North Korean soldiers were known to drag unsuspecting U.N. personnel across the North-South Korean border in this area. Bonifas himself once defused a tense situation at CP No. 3, after several Americans were held at gunpoint by Northern troops.

Bonifas was one of 19 people assigned to help take down the tree that afternoon. He led Lt. Barrett, the South Korean officer, five workers, and 11 enlisted personnel into the joint security area to trim the tree. They did not wear sidearms, as regulations restricted the number of armed people that could be in the area at one time. The workers brought axes to trim the tree.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

As soon as work began, 15 North Korean soldiers appeared, led by a Northern officer, Lt. Pak Chul, who was known for being confrontational. The North Koreans watch the crew work for roughly 15 minutes before demanding they stop because North Korean President Kim Il-Sung had supposedly planted the tree. Capt. Bonifas ordered the work to continue and then turned his back on the North Koreans.

That gesture set Lt. Pak “The Bulldog” Chul over the edge. He sent a runner to get 20 more North Korean soldiers, who came carrying clubs and crowbars in the bed of a truck. He then ordered his men to “kill the bastards.” The Communists picked up the axes dropped by the work party and beat Capt. Bonifas to death on the spot.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

Lt. Barrett jumped over a wall and fell into a ravine across the road. Everyone else was wounded. The U.N. Observation Post could not see where Barrett was but only that North Korean guards were taking turns going into the ravine with an axe. This continued for 90 minutes.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

A search team was dispatched. They found Barrett still alive but badly hacked with the axes. He died on the way to a hospital in Seoul.

The entire incident was recorded on film.

Kim Jong-Il, speaking at a conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Sri Lanka denounced the attack as North Korean troops defending themselves from U.S. aggression.

Around 10:45 a.m. today, the American imperialist aggressors sent in 14 hoodlums with axes into the Joint Security Area to cut the trees on their own accord, although such a work should be mutually consented beforehand. Four persons from our side went to the spot to warn them not to continue the work without our consent. Against our persuasion, they attacked our guards en masse and committed a serious provocative act of beating our men, wielding murderous weapons and depending on the fact that they outnumbered us. Our guards could not but resort to self-defense measures under the circumstances of this reckless provocation.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops went to DEFCON 3 as a military response was weighed by the Pentagon and South Korean President Park Chung-Hee.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
The repatriated American officers.

Instead of an assault, the U.S. launched Operation Paul Bunyan. Three days after the killing, 23 American and South Korean vehicles drove into the the Joint Security Area without alerting the North. They then dispatched 8 two-man teams of engineers with chainsaws to take out the tree. Two platoons of 30 men each came armed with clubs and were accompanied by South Korean Special Forces with axe handles.

The South Koreans had Claymore Mines strapped to their chests, detonators in hand, as they walked across the bridge of no return that separated the two countries. They yelled at the North Korean soldiers, daring the Northerners to cross the bridge and meet them in combat.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

Meanwhile, the massive show of force operation, also had 20 helicopters in the air in the area, as well as B-52 Stratofortress Bombers flying overhead. The bombers were accompanied by F-4 Phantom IIs, South Korean F-5s and F-86s, and a number of F-111 bombers. The USS Midway Task Force was also just offshore.

North Korea deployed 200 troops to meet the force of more than 800 the U.S. and South Korea fielded. The Northerners watched the allied forces vandalize their guard posts from some buses. They eventually filed out and set up fire positions, but by then the Americans were on their way out of the JSA.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

The tree was gone in 42 minutes.

While North Korean President Kim Il-Sung sent a message of regret over the incident, he never took responsibility. The ax used to kill Bonifas and Barrett is now in the North Korean Peace Museum.

In the South, the JSA’s advance camp was renamed Camp Bonifas for the fallen officer. General William Livsey, who commanded the 8th Army at the time, fashioned a “swagger stick” carved from the poplar tree’s wood. He passed it on to his successor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the WWI battle between Mexico and the US

In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.


These ax murders almost started another Korean War

The U.S. never forgot the message (once the British showed it to them… and it was published in the United States press). It would turn President Wilson’s sentiment against Germany and help lead the Americans into the European war.

At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.

One border town, in particular, was feeling the tension. Nogales, which straddles the border in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, was a town where anyone could cross into either country by simply walking across the street – International Street.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA in 1899. Arizona was not yet a U.S. state. (National Archives)

In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.

Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA (right) around 2008.

The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).

Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.

Between two and five Mexican customs officers and an Army private were killed (the carpenter was not) as citizens in Mexico ran to their homes to grab their weapons and ammo. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived and captured the hills overlooking the city. Mexican snipers also began to take shots in the streets of American Nogales.

Mexican troops began to dig trenches as American troops began to move house-to-house. By this time, the American soldiers were taking heavy fire from the Mexicans, both regular troops and citizens. So, American citizens took to their homes – and their guns – to take firing positions near the border. The U.S. 35th Infantry even fired a machine gun into the Mexican positions.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Machine Gun Co, 35th Infantry, Nogales, Ariz. 1917. (Photo courtesy of John Carr)

Suddenly, a lone figure walked among the bodies of Mexicans and U.S. troops in the street, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tried to de-escalate the situation by pleading with his citizens to put down their arms. He was shot from the Arizona side of the border.

It wouldn’t be until 7:45 that day, after just over three hours of fighting, that the Mexicans waved a white flag from their customs house. American buglers sounded “Cease Fire” and order was, eventually, restored.

In order to prevent such violence from happening again, the town constructed the first-ever border fence between Mexico and the United States.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the first steps of the War in Afghanistan unfolded

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.


The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Members of 10th Mountain in Afghanistan during Operation Mountain Serpent on 12 September 2003. | US Army photo

The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.

They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.

The Taliban refused to comply and “The War on Terror” began in earnest.

By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
A U.S. Navy Corpsman searches for Taliban fighters in the spring of 2005. | US Marine Corps photo

In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 historical events that happened on Christmas

Who’s ready for some holiday cheer? Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870, so we’re pretty accustomed to having a couple of days off to spend with family and drink too much eggnog. Christmas wasn’t always such a big party, however. Throughout most of human history, important political figures didn’t let a pesky holiday get in the way of their plans. 

Let’s check out a few of the most significant historical events that happened on December 25th. 

1066: William the Conqueror was crowned king. 

Ever heard of William, Duke of Normandy? What about his more ominous nickname- William the Conqueror? The man was a pretty big deal. In October of 1066, he invaded the British Isles and conquered King Harold II at the legendary Battle of Hastings. After his victory, he wasn’t going to keep his boring old title. What better day to get a new one than Christmas? 

On Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey, William was crowned king of England. This was the beginning of a highly influential 21-year long rule. True to his French roots, the Norman king infused his own culture and language with those of the English people he governed. In doing so, he changed the development of the English language. He also offered generous land grants to his French allies, which was partially responsible for the birth of the feudal system that continued throughout most of the Middle Ages. 

1776: Washington crossed the Delaware. 

George Washington wasn’t our first president for no reason. During the American Revolution, he wasn’t about to take a cocoa break on Christmas. No way. At 6 pm, Washington pushed his exhausted, borderline hopeless troops across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania at McConkey’s Ferry. For those who have only seen the Delaware as a blue line on a US map, that might not sound like such a remarkable feat. In reality, the crossing was treacherous and daring to the extreme. 

When Washington first arrived at the riverside, he was short on supplies and at least 1,700 of his soldiers were too ill or injured to fight. Even more of his men were needed to stay back to guard them. That left 2,400 to prepare a variety of boats and ferries for the crossing. The river was over 30 feet deep in some areas and freezing cold. The boats were loaded with cannons and artillery, and the crossing began. Over the course of several hours, the men made picked their way across, dodging floating ice through the night. 

Their eventual success marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War. After the crossing, Washington led a series of attacks while the opposing forces were still off their game from nights of holiday merrymaking. His risky move resulted in victories in Trenton and Princeton shortly after the new year, restoring hope to the weathered Continental Army. 

1814: The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812

After the Revolutionary War was won, America was far from finished arguing with the British. Great Britain continued trying to restrict U.S. trade and expand its own territory, and Americans weren’t having it. They took on the naval superpower in a conflict that would last nearly three years. The fighting was destructive and costly, reaching a peak when the British burned down the White House

It wasn’t sustainable for either party, so they met in Ghent, Belgium to negotiate a peace agreement. After four months of arguing, a settlement was finally agreed upon. The treaty basically called the war a truce, and all prisoners and captured ships were returned to their home nations. The Treaty didn’t go into effect until February of 1815, so the war didn’t instantly cease. The Battle of New Orleans actually took place in January after it was signed on Christmas. Still, the Treaty of Ghent was effectively responsible for ending the war. 

1868: Andrew Johnson pardoned confederate soldiers

The Civil War isn’t exactly America’s most shining moment, but after it was over, unifying the country was necessary to restore stability. Lincoln’s vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson, did this by doling out a truly massive Christmas gift: With Proclamation 179, he offered amnesty to every single person who fought against the US throughout the Civil War. 

The proclamation was actually the fourth order of its kind, with earlier agreements reestablishing legal rights to confederate soldiers if they signed oaths of loyalty to the United States. The Christmas proclamation brought the postwar agreements to a close. 

1968: Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon

Not all holiday historical events were political. Gazing at the winter moon on Christmas Eve sounds romantic enough, but In 1968, three astronauts spent the night orbiting around it. Originally, the Apollo 8 mission was intended to be no more than a test run for a lunar landing. When progress on the lunar module took longer than anticipated, NASA decided to adjust their mission plan, transforming it into a full-blown moon mission. 

The mission was a huge success. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first men to escape  Earth’s gravitational pull, see the Earth from space, and orbit the moon, and it all happened on Christmas Eve! From orbit, the astronauts broadcasted a report back to Earth, ending in, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” To date, that moment is one of the most-watched in all of television history. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the jets that the last man to walk on the moon flew

With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.


According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
John Glenn standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. Gene Cernan flew the F9F Panther during flight training. (Ohio State University)

 

According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.

The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
A F9F-8 Cougar with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Gene Cernan flew the F9F-8 during his time with VA-126. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
FJ-4B Fury with VA-126. During his time with that squadron, Cernan flew the FJ-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.

Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
An A-4B Skyhawk. Gene Cernan made two deployments with VA-113 and flew the A-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Two NASA T-38s fly past the Space Shuttle launch pad. Gene Cernan got 15 flight hours a month in the T-38 to maintain proficiency as an astronaut. (NASA photo)

Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.

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How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
HMS Dreadnought underway (US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’ hunted his fellow Nazis for Israel

Imagine Adolf Hitler’s top Nazi commando – a Waffen SS officer who helped implement Germany’s “Final Solution” – walking among the trees and photos of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.


It so happens that the same SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, was there in 1962 and was recruited to help Israel’s famed intelligence agency take out his former compatriots.

 

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

Skorzeny was an accomplished SS officer. His daring raid to rescue ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini earned him the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest award Nazi Germany could bestow. After D-Day, he led other commandos into Allied lines wearing American uniforms to capture U.S. weapons and attack from the rear. The Allies dubbed him the “most dangerous man in Europe” for his daring raids and wild schemes.

Though he literally escaped a trial at Nuremberg after the war, the Allies still believed he had a hand in exterminating the Jewish population of Europe.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Skorzeny after rescuing ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

In an exhaustively-researched March 2016 article, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’ Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman talked to ex-Mossad agents who spoke to the paper on the condition of anonymity. They confirmed Skorzeny’s recruitment by the Jewish state’s intelligence agency, Mossad. How one of Adolph Hitler’s top Nazis became an agent of justice for the Jewish people is a story born more from self-preservation than redemption.

In the early 1960s, Mossad was attempting to prevent former Nazi rocket scientists from working on Egyptian defense projects. At the time, the two countries were mortal enemies and Egypt was still nursing its wounded pride from its defeat by Israel in 1948. The Israelis feared the technology from the program would be used to attack Israel. So they set out to stop foreign scientists from cooperating with the Arabs.

The Israelis used intimidation where possible. When that didn’t work, Mossad resorted to more extraordinary measures. Assassinations were common. But to kill these former Nazis, Israeli agents had to get close to them. They needed an inside man. That’s where Skorzeny came in.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Skorzeny’s Nazi Medals

When Mossad initially approached Skorzeny, he thought they were coming to kill him, figuring he was at the top of Israel’s assassination list. Israeli agents had just captured, tried, and hanged notorious Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann, violating Argentinian sovereignty to whisk the war criminal away for trial in Israel. Skorzeny agreed to help Mossad on the condition that legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal remove Skorzeny from his list of war criminals – Skorzeny called the deal his “life insurance.”

He went to Israel accompanied by his Jewish handlers and met with top Mossad officials. This is where the Israelis walked him through Yad Vashem. No one trusted the Nazi, but his genuine interest in his “life insurance” meant Mossad could count on him. He immediately set to work compiling a list of German scientists, front companies, and addresses that were known to be assisting the Egyptians.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Egyptian Leader Gamal Abdel Nasser with a team of rocket scientists (1962).

 

Skorzeny intimidated or killed a number of former Nazi scientists working with Egypt. He even sent mail bombs to Egyptian factories and laboratories working on the rocket program. Neither Skorzeny nor Mossad ever admitted to working together. His biography mentions none of it. Only now will Mossad agents admit to Haaretz that the deal was struck.

The Nazi commando was never assassinated and died of cancer in 1975.  At both of his funerals, one in Spain and the other in his native Austria, former Nazi soldiers and friends gave his remains and military medals the Nazi salute.

MIGHTY HISTORY

It was a veteran soldier who perfected the ultimate bank robbery

If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.


It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.

Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.

In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.

Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War

The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.

Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.

Articles

The only time European pikemen squared off against Japanese samurai

Bizarre, seemingly impossible anachronistic historical matchups aren’t just for wargaming or Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s at least one instance in recorded history where European regular infantrymen were called on to take down some of Japan’s elite samurai warriors: the Battle of Cagayan.

In 1573, Japanese pirates, known as wokou, sailed into Cagayan, a city on the Philippine island of Luzon. The pirates were made up of ronin (samurai without a feudal master), soldiers of fortune and sailors from Japan and China. When their flat-bottom boats entered Caguyan, they demanded the locals submit to their will.

These ax murders almost started another Korean War
Samurai pirates? 12-year-old me is stoked (Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, Cagayan was an important gold and silver trading area between the Japanese and Spanish, who controlled the Philippines. The pirates were looking to take control of the precious metal trade – and they were reasonably successful. 

The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to King Phillip back in Spain that the pirates were becoming a nuisance, carrying not just the traditional weapons of the ronin, but also gunpowder weapons like arquebusiers and artillery, weapons he believed were built by the rival Portuguese.

King Phillip dispatched Juan Pablo de Carrión of the Spanish Navy to deal with the problem. Almost immediately, Carrión sank a wokou ship while sailing the South China Sea. That got the pirates’ attention. They responded by sending a fleet of ships to Cagayan, 18 flat-bottomed sampans, led by a junk. 

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A junk is a ship, if you’re stuck on the last paragraph (Wikimedia Commons)

When Carrión learned of the incoming attack, he assembled the best force he could manage; 40 soldiers on a total of seven ships, with a Spanish galleon at its head. The only advantage they had was that they were much better with firearms than their oncoming enemy. The Spanish had been proficient with them for decades, and made much better weapons and gunpowder than the Japanese carried. 

Carrión and his ships arrived at Cagayan in time to catch the pirates abusing the natives of the town from a sampan. He and his men headed straight for it, and boarded the ship with rodeleros, shield-carrying swordsmen. Once on board, the rodeleros went into combat against sword-carrying Japanese sailors. 

The Spaniards lost the first act of the fight, being forced back to their ships but came back twice as hard. The decks of the ships were a mess of men, bodies and sharp weapons. But the Spanish turned the tide with gunpowder weapons, forcing the Japanese pirates to abandon ship and swim for safety.

With the first sampan effectively out of the fighting, the flotilla of Spaniards sailed up the Cagayan River. It wasn’t long before they found the pirate fleet near a newly-constructed fortress. The turn of events didn’t deter them; they quickly opened up on the wokou ships with their ships’ artillery. 

After blasting their way through the enemy ships, they managed to land on shore and bring that artillery to bear on the pirates from hastily-dug trenches. The pirates called for a cease-fire and asked to be compensated for the gold they would lose by leaving. Carrión refused and the pirates determined they would hit the Spanish with an overwhelming force. 

They assembled a pirate army of 600 men to attack the Spanish trenches and hit them in successive waves. The first and second were easily repelled by superior firepower, but by the third wave, the Spanish were running low on powder.  The samurai ran at them with full force, katanas glinting in the sunlight and almost forced the Spaniards out of their defensive positions. 

But the pirates never managed to dislodge their Spanish enemy. The third wave was devastating for the attackers, so the Spanish left the trenches and finished the pirates off with long pikes. Those Japanese soldiers who could run away did, leaving their weapons and booty behind. 

The victorious Spanish troops kept the strange Japanese weapons and armor they found scattered on the battlefield as war trophies.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington’s massive whiskey distillery empire

Presidents of the past had some interesting hobbies. Abe Lincoln could kick your ass if he wanted to — and that’s exactly what he did wrestling in more than 300 matches. He only lost once. Calvin Coolidge installed an electric horse at the White House because he missed the joy of riding. And Dwight D. Eisenhower was a prolific painter, often giving his latest magnum opus to his closest friends. But before that, the OG President George Washington put them all to shame with his thriving whiskey empire in the final years of his life.

As was the norm during the 18th century, Washington was known to sip low-alcohol “Small Beer” for hydration — including while leading the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War. He wrote his own recipe upside down on the last page of one of his notebooks. He also famously ran up an epic bar tab in celebration of writing the Constitution. So when James Anderson, Washington’s Scottish farm manager, approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse, it was only natural for Washington to transform Mount Vernon into the epicenter of whiskey making in the United States.

Anderson leveraged his expertise distilling grain in Scotland and told Washington that Mount Vernon’s crops and copious water supply could produce a profitable whiskey business. The construction began over the winter of 1797 to 1798, and the distillery was built with large river rocks taken from the Falls of the Potomac and sandstone cut from Mount Vernon. Inside the 75-by-30-foot walls were five copper pot stills, a boiler, and 50 tubs for cooking the mash. It had a second floor for storing extra equipment needed for a sophisticated whiskey production and had sleeping rooms for the workers.

Under Anderson were six enslaved men named Daniel, Hanson, James, Nat, Peter, and Timothy, who brought Washington’s whiskey into being. They were all trained specifically for this operation, and it wasn’t out of the norm for other slaves to be skilled in the trades. On Washington’s gristmill-distillery complex, more than 50 enslaved men and women worked as coopers mending metal, carpenters building and repairing tools, blacksmiths for locks and horseshoes, grooms for the horses, textile workers for clothing, dairy maids to care for the estate’s cows, and gardeners for Mount Vernon’s gardens and orchards.

The average distillery of the era had only one or two stills and stilled for a month — Washington’s operation produced whiskey year-round. Washington was able to do this by favoring the innovation of Oliver Evans’ automated gristmill system, which mechanically milled grain and flour without the need of manual labor. This enabled the gristmill to produce 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of flour and cornmeal per day. And nothing went to waste. Even the slop from the distillery was given to Washington’s hogs in a pigpen located just outside. 

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The second floor of George Washington’s rebuilt whiskey distillery features a small theater that shows the History Channel’s Liquid Gold: Washington’s Distillery. Photo courtesy of mountvernon.org.

The recipe for Washington’s most common whiskey was 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. Rather than being aged, bottled, and branded like the spirits of today, it was poured into wooden whiskey barrels and distributed to merchants at their request. By 1799, the same year of Washington’s death, his side hustle was producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey and pulling in a $7,500 profit. 

Washington’s distillery was re-created in 2007 thanks to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and it’s become an iconic tourist attraction where visitors get the chance to taste George Washington’s Rye Whiskey in person. It took a silver medal in the 2019 American Craft Spirits Association Awards and is recognized as the official spirit of the commonwealth of Virginia. If whiskey isn’t your thing, they also offer brandy and rum, suitable options for anybody looking to toast one of America’s founding fathers. At the very least, treat yourself to some of Washington’s pancakes.

Articles

Watch this Marine describe his personal battle at Tarawa

Louis Mamula was one of the Marines assigned to take Betio Island of the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific.


What was supposed to be a tough but short battle where the Marines would quickly win became some of the bloodiest 76 hours in American history as obstacles on the approach and determined Japanese defenders made the Marines bleed for every bit of sand.

The idea behind capturing Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll was that it would serve as the opening blow in a new front across the Japanese and give the Navy and Marine Corps a corridor through the Central Pacific to Japan.

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Casualties and destruction after the battle for the Tarawa Atoll. (U.S. Navy)

But the landings ran into trouble as coral reefs and man-made obstacles in the water proved more troublesome than originally expected. Troops headed to the beaches sometimes had to get out of their amphibious vehicles and wade through chest-deep water to the beaches under fire.

On land, the situation wasn’t much better. The relatively flat island gave defensive machine gun positions wide fields of fire and favored the defender.

Mamula landed in this chaos and pushed forward with the other Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. In the video below, he discusses what it took to capture the island so well defended that the Japanese boasted, “a million Americans could not take Tarawa in 100 years!”

Articles

American rebels returned this British general’s dog after a crushing defeat

Going up against the most powerful army in the world wasn’t easy. And the Continental Army knew all too well the smell of defeat at the hands of British regulars during their war for independence.


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What’s this!? A British general’s dog? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bitterness at suffering a loss could drive most troops to lash out at the victor in any way they could — even to hold a British general’s dog hostage to snub the victorious commander.

But fortunately for the American rebels, their commander had the moral fortitude — and an abiding appreciation for man’s best friend — to do the right thing.

And there’s even a book about the exchange.

After losing the American revolutionary capital at Philadelphia to British forces lead by Gen. William Howe in September 1777, Washington tried to knock out part of the Red Coat force camped at nearby Germantown. The attack launched Oct. 4 collapsed under its own complexity and the Continental troops were driven from the field by Howe’s forces.

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General Howe beat the pants off of Washington, but he lived the rest of his life fighting criticism of his conduct of the war in America. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The Continentals lost an estimated 1,000 men to Britain’s 500 and it was the second defeat of the American army under Washington’s leadership.

But it turns out the rebels captured an important asset of the British general who just dealt them a crushing blow.

“A dog … which by collar appears to belong to [Howe] accidentally fell into the hands” of Washington’s army.

Washington was well known as a dog lover, with a host of precarious pooches kenneled on his estate at Mount Vernon in Virginia. And though his men were inclined to keep Howe’s dog in retribution, Washington would have none of it.

He ordered a courier to take the dog through British lines and deliver him to Howe with a note written by his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton.

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General Washington’s letter to British Gen. William Howe accompanying his recently-returned dog.(Photo from US government)

“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe,” the note reads.

It turned out Washington’s good karma paid off, as Howe resigned as Britain’s top general of the Colonial Army not long after his victory at Germantown and spent the rest of his life fighting off criticism of his conduct of the war in America.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


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​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

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German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

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A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

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