Napoleon's bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Alexandre Walewski, born to a Polish countess in 1810, was the acknowledged son of a Polish count who had served the last king of Poland before it was annexed by Russia — but most people who knew the family suspected that he was the son of the countess’s lover, Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon’s illegitimate son later ignored his Polish roots and joined the French Foreign Legion.


Countess Marie Walewska was a beautiful woman who married a much older man, Count Athanasius Walewski, who had a burning desire to see Poland break from the Russian Empire and establish itself as a free land once more. A former chamberlain to the last Polish king, Walewski and many of his contemporaries fervently believed that Napoleon was their best chance at a free Poland.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
I mean, she’s pretty if you’re into that “classical beauty” thing.
(Portrait by François Gérard)

So, when the count learned that Napoleon had the hots for his young wife, he encouraged her to go to him. Marie was, by many accounts, pious and initially reluctant. But she eventually became one of Napoleon’s mistresses and, in 1809, became pregnant with what she suspected was an imperial child.

When young Alexandre was born, the rumor mills quickly commented on how much he looked like the French emperor, but Walewski publicly acknowledged the boy as his own, granting the boy the privileges of nobility.

Alexandre grew up with his two acknowledged fathers. At the age of 2, Napoleon gifted the boy the title of count and 69 farms with a combined revenue of 170,000 francs, though the lands were later taken after Napoleon’s first abdication.

So, little Alexandre was the acknowledged son of a count, the biological son of a countess with her own family line, and a count in the Kingdom of Naples by Imperial decree.

But Alexandre shared his Polish father’s desire to break Russian rule of Poland, and, at the age of 14, this got him in trouble.

The Russian Army came calling for young Alexandre and he ran away, first to London and then Paris. In France, the royal line was back on the throne but Alexandre was not punished for his father’s reign. King Louis-Philippe sent him back to Poland.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
The young Count Alexandre Walewski was considered handsome despite his neckbeard.
(Portrait by the school of George Hayter)

In Poland, Alexandre reached the age of 20 and quickly fell in with an attempted rebellion led primarily by Polish officers at the military academy. The uprising had some early success, and Alexandre was sent to London to be the group’s envoy to England. As it would turn out, he was lucky out of the country when the Russian army crushed the uprising in 1831.

Alexandre married the daughter of an earl that December but she tragically died — not long after the deaths of their two children. In 1834, Alexandre was a widower with no living children, so he decided to go back to France.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Typical French Foreign Legion uniforms in 1830s Algeria.

Once there, he applied for French citizenship, which was granted, and a French commission. Soon, Capt. Alexandre Walewski was serving with the French Foreign Legion in Algeria.

During this period, French forces in Algeria were focused predominantly on driving back the Ottomans and ensuring French control of the country. Alexandre distinguished himself as a light cavalry officer and was eventually awarded the grand cross of the Legion of Honor.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Facing off against the Arabs in Algeria took guts, as these Frenchmen found out when they were stomped at Constantine in 1836.
(Print by Auguste Raffet)

By 1837, Alexandre was ready to return to civilian life and he took up writing. He continued to serve as a diplomat when called upon, occasionally representing his cousin, Napoleon III, a French president who would be emperor from 1848 to 1870.

Articles

Who would win a dogfight between a Flogger and a Phantom?

Sure, we all know about the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 Flanker, the MiG-29 Fulcrum… all those modern planes.


But in the 1970s and the early 1980s, the mainstays of the tactical air forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the Phantom in the west and the Flogger in the east.

The F-4 Phantom was arguably a “Joint Strike Fighter” before JSFs were cool. The United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, West German Air Force, and numerous other countries bought the F-4.

According to Globalsecurity.org, the F-4 could carry four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the F-4E had an internal cannon. The plane could carry over 12,000 pounds of ordnance.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Photo: Wikimedia

Like the F-4, the MiG-23 was widely exported — and not just to Warsaw Pact militaries. It was also sold to Soviet allies across the world — from Cuba to North Korea. It could carry two AA-7 radar-guided missiles, four AA-8 infra-red guided missiles, and had a twin 23mm cannon.

Globalsecurity.org notes that the Flogger can carry up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance (other sources credit the Flogger with up to 6,600 pounds of ordnance).

Both planes have seen a lot of combat over their careers. That said, the MiG-23’s record has been a bit more spotty.

According to the Air Combat Information Group, at least 33 MiG-23s of the Syrian Air Force were shot down by the Israeli Air Force since the end of 1973. Of that total, 25 took place in the five-day air battle known as the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The total number of confirmed kills for the MiG-23s in service with the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis in that time period is five.

ACIG tallied six air-to-air kills by Israeli F-4s in that same timeframe (Joe Baugher noted 116 total air-to-air kills by the Israelis in the Phantom), with four confirmed air-to-air losses to the Syrians. That said, it should be noted that by the late 1970s, the F-4 had been shifted to ground-attack missions, as Israel had acquired F-15s and F-16s.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger-G aircraft with an AA-7 Apex air-to-air missile attached to the outer wing pylon and an AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missile on the inner wing pylon. (From Soviet Military Power 1985)

There is one other measure to judge the relative merits of the F-4 versus the MiG-23. The F-4 beats the MiG-23 in versatility. The MiG-23 primarily specialized in air-to-air combat. They had to create another version — the MiG-23BN and later the MiG-27 — to handle ground-attack missions.

In sharp contrast to the specialization of various Flogger designs, the F-4 handled air-to-air and ground-attack missions – often on the same sortie. To give one example, acepilots.com notes that before  Randy “Duke” Cunningham engaged in the aerial action that resulted in three kills on May 10, 1972 – and for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – he dropped six Rockeye cluster bombs on warehouses near the Hai Dong rail yards.

In short, if the Cold War had turned hot during the 1970s, the F-4 Phantom would have probably proven itself to be the better airplane than the MiG-23 Flogger. If anything shows, it is the fact that hundreds of Phantoms still flew in front-line service in the early 21st Century.

Even though the F-4 had retired in 1996, it still flew unmanned missions until this month.

The MiG-23 just can’t match the Phantom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the only living African-American from WW2 to earn MoH

After enlisting in the Army in June of 1941, Vernon Baker was assigned to the 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division — the first black unit to head into combat during WWII.


After completing Officer Candidate School, Baker was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Soon after, he landed in Naples, Italy, and had to fight his way north through the enemies’ front to the central portion of the country.

His unit was then ordered to attack a German stronghold in the mountains of Viareggio. Several allied battalions before them were unsuccessful in taking the enemy region, but Baker was up to the task.

The mountain-top consisted of three hills, “X, Y, and Z.” Baker and his troops began taking the heavily fortified area one hill at a time.

Facing fierce opposition, Baker often came in close enemy contact and managed to survive each deadly encounter as it presented itself.

“Somebody was sitting on my shoulder,” Baker says.

Full of adrenaline from taking the first hill, Baker was handed a submachine gun from a superior officer and instructed to proceed on to the next area.

Patroling nearly on his own, Baker spotted a small German firing position built into the side of the mountain. Armed with a few grenades, he chucked one and landed a perfect strike.

After it detonated and the smoke cleared, a German soldier stuck his head to look around. Baker quickly engaged the troop, killing him on the spot.

Also Read: The 7 best military stories from the glory days of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’

Baker continued to maneuver his way around the mountain and spotted two more firing position — tossing grenades inside each one — killing the enemy troops inside.

After learning the company commander was egressing for resupply, Baker knew he was on his own to lead his remaining troops. Carefully moving through the dangerous terrain, Baker and his men managed to secure the area after several intense firefights.

The next morning, Baker and his men moved through the dangerous terrain and secured the area after several hours of allied bombardment.

52-year later, Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage from former President Bill Clinton.

1st Lt. Vernon Baker became the only living African-American serviceman from WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Check out Medal of Honor Book’s video below to listen to Vernon extraordinary story from the legend himself.

(Medal of Honor Book, YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Libyan rebels called in airstrikes against Gaddafi will blow your mind

In 2011, Libyans took arms against the 40-plus year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. The dictator tried to brutally crush a demonstration against his regime in Benghazi. The response from the Libyan people was a nearly nine-month-long civil war which ended with the death of the dictator near his hometown of Sirte. But it was a victory that almost never was. The Libyan Rebels needed to level the playing field when it came to air superiority – they needed to be able to call in airstrikes.

That’s where Twitter came in.


Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Some people swear by it.

By mid-March 2011, Gaddafi’s loyalist forces were pushing the rebels back fast. All their hard-won gains liberated more than half of Libya from the dictator who promised to make the streets of Benghazi run red with rebel blood. Gaddafi’s air power was proving to be a decisive advantage in the civil war. Luckily for the rebels, there was a NATO task force assembling offshore.

American, French, British, and Canadian ships had all joined each other off the Libyan coast and began to hit Gaddafi’s positions with the full might of their respective sea-based air forces. They also began to enforce a no-fly zone. This was enough to turn the tide of the rebels, who were battle-hardened veterans, fighting for their lives. It was a strategic win for them, no doubt, but the tactical use of NATO air power proved problematic.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

“I can just call a jet fighter and one will come kill these tanks? This must be what being a U.S. soldier is like.”

Many wondered how NATO fighters could know where to drop tactical missiles and bombs when their own JTACs are not on the ground with rebel forces, and NATO has no direct communications with the fighters it’s supporting. The answer is that the Twitter social media network became part of NATO’s overall “intelligence picture.” NATO allies began analyzing data gleaned from Twitter posts to understand Gaddafi’s movements but also to assist rebel fighters in pushing down pro-Gaddafi attacks.

Rebel fighters using their cell phones would gather coordinates from Google Earth and then tweet those coordinates to NATO, who would then come in and light up the loyalist forces. The top NATO brass says it’s a normal step any military would take.

That’s how Gaddafi would meet his end, and where his death would be posted for the world to see.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

“Yes, right up his butt. It’s on YouTube.”

“Any military campaign relies on something that we call ‘fused information’,” said Wing Commander Mike Bracken, a NATO spokesman. “We will take information from every source we can… The commander will assess what he can use, what he can trust, and the experience of the operators, the intelligence officers, and the trained military personnel and civilian support staff will give him those options. And he will decide if that’s good information.”

Since NATO had no boots on the ground but deems it vital to support the Libyan rebels, extrapolating the information needed by commanders seems like a totally legitimate means of intelligence gathering – and an effective one to boot. NATO airplanes decimated Libyan air defenses and made the critical difference in the war for the Libyan people to liberate themselves from a terrible dictator.

And then tweet about it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Kentucky militia was most feared by America’s enemies

“These Kentucky men are wretches,” wrote British Redcoat NCO Sgt. James Commins, ” suborned by the government and capable of the greatest villainies.” The War of 1812 was in full swing by the end of that year, and fighting the war on the British side were contingents of Native American tribes while the Americans called up state militias.

The one thing the British didn’t want was to face the militias from Kentucky. Those guys were maniacs.


Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

(Laughs in Kentuckian)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Kentucky, being on the American frontier at the time, had no fortifications and didn’t have to defend any structures, so its militiamen spent much of their time fighting the enemy wherever they were to be found. Being on the frontier, they spent a lot of time fighting the British Army’s Indian allies. The Indians were really good at taking the scalps of their enemies, a story which the U.S. government used as propaganda. The British tried to get the Indian tribes to cool it with the scalping, but it was too late. The story spread, and the Americans soon had their own savage band: Kentuckians.

The men from Kentucky were reported to have fought almost naked when weather permitted, painting themselves with red all over their body, sometimes carrying only a blanket and a knife with which to take their own enemy scalps. When the British sent Indian Tribes into the Michigan territory, Gen. William Hull, commander of the Michigan forces and governor of the territory, threatened to send Kentucky troops into Canada as a response.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Redcoats must have been sad to find Kentuckians in New Orleans.

(Kentucky National Guard)

And they did invade Ontario.The redcoats weren’t thrilled to be fighting the Kentuckians either. They took enemy scalps not just a war tactic, but as a token of pride in their masculinity. The Kentucky penchant for taking scalps was so well-known, the Indians began to call their militiamen “Big Knives” because of the size of their scalping knives. As a matter of fact, the Indians agreed to stop scalping until the Kentucky militia began their own scalping campaign, and the practice was revived for another half-century or more.

When Redcoats found their pickets and sentries dead and scalped in the mornings, they knew there were Kentucky men in the area, and it made them uneasy. But Kentucky men were not invincible. The Kentuckians took more casualties than all the other state militias combined, fighting in every neighboring state and territory as well as helping the defense of New Orleans while supplying the U.S. with saltpeter.

That’s punching above your weight class.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Battle of San Juan Hill would go down today

The Battle of San Juan Hill is best known for the charge of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, famously called “the Rough Riders,” led by Col. (and future President) Theodore Roosevelt. However, there was much more to that battle than the single, iconic charge. In fact, by some accounts, the attack was what they call a Charlie-Fox. But if it happened today, would it be the same, nail-bitingly close battle?

Historically, the Battle of San Juan Hill pitted 800 Spanish troops on strategically important heights outside Santiago, Cuba, against 8,000 American troops and 3,000 Cuban insurgents. Back then, the Spanish had the advantage of more modern rifles, machine guns, and artillery. So, for the sake of argument, we’ll call it roughly two light infantry battalions against two infantry brigade combat teams. As we talk about a hypothetical, modern Battle of San Juan Hill, we’ll also leave out drones and air support – just to try and keep this comparison “apples to apples.”


Today, in terms of small arms, the United States has the advantage. Spain uses the Heckler and Koch G36, a rifle that the Germans designed but are now dropping due to its myriad problems.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

German troops with G36 rifles carry out a demonstration during BALTOPS 2004. Spain also uses that piece-of-crap rifle.

(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class George Sisting)

The United States, on the other hand, uses the M4 carbine and M16 rifle, which are much more reliable and accurate. Most of the other weapons in service are roughly equal, with the exception of Spain’s M109A5 self-propelled howitzers, which are less modern than American M109A7 Paladins. In terms of munitions, United States has the advantage of the Excalibur GPS-guided shell.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Today, the “Rough Riders” under Teddy Roosevelt’s command would enjoy the edge in small arms and artillery that the Spanish had in 1898.

(George Rockwell)

Today, Spain no longer has the technological advantages they once enjoyed. The U.S. simply has better rifles and artillery at their disposal, which would change the entire dynamic of the battle. First off, American artillery would be able to deliver much more suppressive fire in the 2018 Battle of San Juan Hill.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

The United States Army’s M109A7 Paladin howitzers would bring a decisive edge against Spanish artillery today.

(US Army)

But the real difference lies in American rifles. In the historical battle, the Spanish held out against overwhelming numbers, inflicting about 1,300 casualties on the Americans, due to a combination of defensive positioning and more modern weaponry. This time around, the Americans would make the charge with top-of-the-line weapons while artillery keeps the Spanish holed up.

In short, it’d be a rout. What was once a daring, uphill charge would feel more like a casual stroll.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The military origins of the necktie

“Nothing sexier than a man in a fine cravat,” the beautiful and mysterious woman said flirtatiously.

“Except for a woman who appreciates a fine cravat,” Barney Stinson responded confidently.


“How about we just call it a tie?” The woman joked. The two laughed and the 17th episode of season 5 of How I Met Your Mother continued. But what is a cravat, why is it called that, and why is it the same thing as a tie? For that answer, we have to go back to the 17th century and a hired boost in military power.
Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

The Croatian Cravat Regiment parades through Zagreb wearing their traditional uniform (Croatia Times)

The Thirty Years’ War was fought from 1618-1648 primarily in Central Europe. France entered the war in 1635 and, in order to augment his own forces, King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier to fight for him. These mercenaries wore traditional knotted neckerchiefs which tied the tops of their jackets. Although they were designed to be purely functional, the ties had a decorative effect that piqued the interest of the ever fashion-conscious Parisians. In fact, the Croatian neckties caught the attention of the king who found them rather appealing. He liked the garment so much that he made the ties a mandatory accessory for royal gatherings. In honor of the Croats who introduced the ties, he named the garment “la cravate”—derived from the French word Croates meaning Croats.

Following the introduction of the tie and the death of King Louis XIII, the boy-king Louis XIV began to wear a lace cravat around 1646 at the age of seven. This set the fashion trend for French nobility who quickly donned lace cravats as well. These lace cravats, or jabots, were tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly with great time and effort, and tied in a bow. Soon, the trend spread across Europe like wildfire and both men and women were wearing fabric neck pieces as a sign of wealth and status.

In the 18th century, the cravat evolved to include the Steinkirk, a type of cravat designed to be worn in deliberate disarray. Yet again, this fashion trend evolved from the military as a result of the Nine Years’ War. According to Voltaire, the fashion trend originated at the Battle of Steenkerque where the French were attacked by surprise forcing the French gentlemen to hurriedly don their cravats and wear them in disarray throughout the fight.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Photo portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman c. 1864 (Matthew Brady—Public Domain)

The 18th century saw another evolution of neckwear with the introduction of stocks in 1715. Stock ties were worn as everyday apparel throughout the 18th and 19th century, but became a more formal garment in the later 19th century. They are still worn today by equestrians, especially in dressage where the ties are often mandatory and required to be white. The term originally applied to a leather collar, laced at the back, and worn by soldiers to promote holding their heads high in a military manner. Leather stocks also served a practical battlefield purpose; the layer of leather around the neck afforded some protection against saber or bayonet strikes. The leather stock saw continued use into the 19th century and gave the United States Marines their nickname of “Leathernecks”. The modern Marine dress uniform pays homage to leather stocks with its stiff standing collar. General William T. Sherman is also seen wearing a leather stock along with his necktie in many of his Civil War-era photographs.

The industrial revolution saw the demand for neckwear that was easier to put on, more comfortable, and could last an entire work day without needing to be readjusted. This demand was met with the traditional long necktie that we are familiar with today. Neckwear has come a long way from King Louis XIII’s adoption of the cravat and its evolution and constant influence by the military is a bit of sartorial history that we can still see today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it was like to suffer a German U-boat attack

The Merchant Marine in World War II was supposed to just tool around the world’s oceans, delivering supplies to ports and troops in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific while the real fighting was done by sailors, soldiers, and Marines. But due to German U-boats and other attackers, the mariners actually operated in an extremely dangerous niche.


Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

A U-boat reloads new torpedoes during World War II.

One of the biggest dangers was of U-boat attack, when even a single boat could wipe out an entire convoy, provided that the boat was able to surface and attack using its deck gun.

The mariners were in danger from the moment they lost view of the land. U-boats would typically attack deep into the Atlantic, but they liked to remind Americans that they weren’t safe at any time, so some U-boats were sent to hunt right off the coast.

Regardless of when the attack came, most merchant vessels didn’t have any kind of sonar or radar, not even all Navy vessels had those detection systems in World War II. So, unless your ship was in a large convoy with a naval escort, you won’t know a U-boat was there until it attacked.

German sailors manning deck gun in preparation for attack in North Atlantic Sea. HD Stock Footage

youtu.be

When the U-boat attack got under way, it played out in one of two ways. If there were no threats of a U-boat in the area, you would find out you were under attack when a black hulk slowly surfaced in the nearby waves, a few sailors poured out of it, and the deck gun began firing on your ship.

These were often capable of sending 3.5-inch rounds into the hull of your thin-skinned cargo vessel, allowing water to pour into the lower decks and slowly send you deep into the sea. And since the attacking vessel is a tiny U-boat and not an enemy destroyer or cruiser, there’s no way to get rescued. You have to paddle your lifeboats through a sea filling with oil from the sinking ship, potentially as it’s on fire.

And, believe it or not, that’s, by far, the preferred option.

That’s because the other likely method of attack from a U-boat comes via its torpedo tubes, which means there’s no surfacing ship, no scramble of sailors to warn you. You might, might notice a darkness in the water before a stream bubbles starts racing towards your ship.

If you look a few feet ahead of this stream of bubbles, you’ll see the 21-inch diameter, almost-24-foot-long metal tube barreling towards your ship at nearly 35 mph. It will reach you. It will hit you. And its 600-pound (or heavier) warhead will rip apart the hull.

What happens next depends almost entirely on what cargo is being carried. Got a bunch of foodstuffs like grain and fruit? The boat will sink fairly slowly, and you’ll have a chance to escape. But if you were carrying lots of heavy war materiel, like tanks and planes or, worse, industrial goods like iron and coal, you’re pretty much screwed. The weight and density will take the ship down in minutes.

But the worst came when the ship was carrying fuel or oil. The massive explosion from the torpedo warhead would often rupture any tanks on the targeted vessel, providing a massive burst of heat as the pressure wave mixed the targeted fuel with the outside air, virtually guaranteeing massive fireballs and explosions as the torpedo exploded.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

The Allied tanker Dixie Arrow sinks after being torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine.

(U.S. Navy)

When you’re on a tanker and the tanks suddenly explode, there’s not a lot to be done. The steel around you has likely been twisted, the decks are burning hot and searing your flesh, and the blast wave has likely scrambled your brain. If you’re lucky enough to survive, you now have to overcome your scrambled brains, make it through the burning corridors, and then try to get in a boat and get away from the deck before the suction takes you under.

If you did make it out of a shipping ship, your ordeal isn’t over. Traditionally, combat ships would rescue survivors from enemy vessels once hostilities were over. If a cruiser sinks a destroyer, then once the destroyer crew surrenders the cruiser crew would begin taking on the survivors and would later take them to POW camps.

But U-boats barely have enough room for the crews. They can’t take on survivors. So, after sinking anything from a fishing trawler to a destroyer to a passenger ship, the U-boat crew typically can’t do much more than offer some loaves of bread or water before sailing away. They wouldn’t even tell other Allied ships where to pick up the survivors, at least not at first, since that would give away the location of the subs.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Surrender of German U-boat, U-858, 700 miles off the New England Coast to two destroyer escorts, May 10, 1945.

(U.S. Navy)

Even if your ship was in a convoy, there was no guarantee that you could be picked up by friendly ships since a U-boat wolf pack could sink the entire convoy, leaving dozens of life boats in its wake, filled with slowly dying soldiers desperate for water or food.

To add insult to injury, Merchant Marine members were rarely paid for any period where they weren’t actively crewing a ship, and no, lifeboats don’t count. So their harrowing trial to survive at sea is performed for free, solely for the hope that they’ll survive.

And throughout all of this, the U.S. would often keep the sinkings of ships secret, reporting just a couple of ship losses every week while dozens might have gone down.

Luckily for mariners, British innovation and American industry eventually gave the sub hunters the edge over the submarines, culminating in “Black May” 1943 when German losses got so steep that subs essentially withdrew from the Atlantic, allowing the Merchant Marine to finally sail largely in peace.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how British troops got the nickname ‘Tommies”

In the trenches of World War I, German and French troops would call out over the trenches looking for “Tommy” when they wanted to talk to a British soldier. You don’t hear the term quite so much anymore, but for centuries, Tommies reigned supreme.


How exactly British troops came to be called Tommy is not quite as complex as why German troops were known as “Jerry” (in case you were wondering, it’s believed to be either because “Jerry” is short for German, or because their helmets looked like chamber pots).

 

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Jerry offers Tommy a light in this undated photo (IWM)

Britain’s Imperial War Museum says the origin of the literal nom de guerre is disputed. One theory says it originated with the Duke of Wellington who made it the nickname in 1843. Another says the Imperial War Office established it in 1845 — a sort of British “John Doe.”

But the Imperial War Museum found evidence of “Tommy” more than a century before Wellington supposedly coined it.

During the British rule of Jamaica, researchers found a 1743 letter to the war office that reported a mutiny among mercenaries there, saying “Except for those from N. America, ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly.”

It was also at this time the red coats worn by British regulars earned them the nickname “Thomas Lobster.”

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Because camouflage is for wimps.

By 1815, the British War Office was using the name “Tommy Atkins” as a generic term – a placeholder name – for sample infantry paperwork. An enlisting soldier unable to sign his name to his enlistment papers would make his mark – leaving the name Tommy Atkins spelled out where his real name should have been.

“Tommy Atkins” and everyone known to history as Tommy Atkins had a distinguished career in the British military. During the Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857, a soldier of the 32d Regiment of Foot remained at his post when most others already fled. He was, of course, overwhelmed and killed. A witness of his heroism later wrote:

“His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign, when a daring deed was done, the doer was said to be ‘a regular Tommy Atkins.’ “

Other Thomas Atkins (or a variation thereof) also appeared as a Royal Welch Fusilier in the American Revolution, the poems of Rudyard Kipling, and indeed with the Duke of Wellington in the 33rd Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Boxtel in 1794.

The last Tommy – Harry Patch of the World War I-era British Army – died in 2009, at the ripe old age of 111.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Harry Patch in 2009

Articles

This colonel-turned-mercenary has been battling terrorism for decades

When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.


Neall Ellis isn’t most people.

After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.

With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.

 

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Russian Mi-24 Hind.

 

Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Working for the Sierra Leone government, Ellis and his crew were seen as the most effective force against the rebels, even though they were a single gunship. As Ellis put it, “the gunship strikes the fear of God into the rebels. They run into the bush as soon as they see it.”

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
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As the rebels advanced on the capital, Freetown, the British forces remaining in Sierra Leone evacuated. Freetown looked as if it would fall to the rebels.

Also read: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time

Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.

 

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
The city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was a front for brutal fighting during the Sierra Leone Civil War in the 90s. (Photo via Flickr user David Hond. CC BY 2.0)

In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.

But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”

Ellis’ response was epic.

Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Coalition forces release informational leaflets out of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter over villages in the Logar province, Afghanistan, July 18, 2014. The leaflets are used to pass along information to the local populous regarding on going operations in the area. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock)

Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”

And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.

Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.

His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.

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In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.

Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.

Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.

Later, he would also fly in Afghanistan “where, he reckons, he has had more close shaves than in his entire previous four-decades put together.”

At the age of 67, he is currently rumored to be flying against the Islamic State.

Articles

5 more women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross

Editor’s Note: An earlier story posted at WATM on this subject claimed that only seven women had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After readers notified us that our list was incomplete, we decided to post a new story with the additional information about women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers for keeping us honest and accurate!


Women make up a smaller percentage of the military than men, but they have proven themselves throughout history to be brave, competent, and heroic. Take these sheroes for example:

1. Col. Andra V.P. Kniep

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Colonel Kniep. (Official U.S. Air Force photo)

When then Capt. Andra Kniep took off for a mission in her A-10 over Afghanistan on March 5, 2002, she had no idea she was about to accomplish a most unlikely feat — receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses in two days.

On that first day, Kniep coordinated and led deadly night attacks against Taliban vehicles and positions, destroying numerous enemies. Once the nearly eight hour mission was completed, she then led her element to a “remote, unfamiliar, classified location” for recovery, according to her Distinguished Flying Cross citation.

The next day Kniep once again led her element against the enemy, this time taking control of the Operation Anaconda airspace. Kniep successfully coordinated attack elements using multiple platforms totaling fourteen aircraft. Due to her exceptional ability all elements in the congested airspace were able to complete their missions and support coalition ground forces. For her actions on March 6 she was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross.

2. Lt. Col. Kim Campbell

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Kim Campbell looks at her damaged hog, which she landed at her base after a mission over Baghdad in 2003. (Photo via National Air and Space Museum)

On April 7, 2003, then-Capt. Kim Campbell, piloting an A-10, was part of a two plane sortie flying close air support over Baghdad. When a call came over the radio of troops in contact, Campbell and her wingman responded. After numerous gun and rocket runs supporting the troops on the ground, Campbell’s aircraft took heavy fire.

As she fought with her stricken aircraft, it hurtled towards Baghdad and she faced the possibility of ejecting into hostile territory. Luckily, the A-10 has triple redundancy in its controls, and though both the hydraulic systems were inoperable, the manual reversion system was still functioning. Using this system “of cranks and cables,” Campbell said she was able to “fly the aircraft under mechanical control.”

For her efforts that day Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

3. Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Lt General T. Michael Moseley presents Paulsen-Howe and her crew members the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Bridget Rapp)

On the same day of Capt. Campbell’s heroics, Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe and the rest of the crew of a KC-135 aircraft flew their unarmed tanker into harm’s way. According to the Air Force, Paulsen-Howe and crew entered hostile airspace to assist in the combat search and rescue mission of a downed F-15 north of Baghdad. They provided critical refueling assets during the operation. For their bravery the entire crew were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

4. Col. Tracy Onufer

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
Colonel Tracy Onufer. (Official U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Onufer had been an officer aboard Air Force Special Operations aircraft including the AC-130H and AC-130U flying combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently serving as the Vice Commander of the 352nd Special Operations Wing and according to her Air Force biography is the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions overseas.

5. Capt. Lindsay Gordon

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter prepares to depart Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, on Jan 7, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Capt. Lindsay Gordon was serving as an AH-64 Apache pilot with the 101st Airborne Division when she and Chief Warrant Officer David Woodward were called upon to support an exfiltration of a Ranger element in contact.

When 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopters extracting the Rangers came under heavy fire, Gordon maneuvered her Apache into harm’s way to draw fire. Gordon and Woodward’s action were credited with saving numerous lives and aircraft. For their actions they were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 historic wars that are still technically alive today

International diplomacy is a sort of constantly evolving, tangled mess. So much so that, in some cases, we could technically still be at war with a country that we’re now allied with. For instance, America never ratified the treaty that ended World War I, but invading Germany to finally settle the century-old grudge match would get fairly complicated since it’s now a NATO member. Here are three wars that we never bothered to wrap up on paper (but please don’t try to go fight in them):


Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

U.S. Army infantrymen fight during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I.

(U.S. Army)

America never agreed to the final terms of World War I

Yup, we’ll just go ahead and knock out this one that we hinted at in the intro. America signed, but never ratified, the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.

Oddly enough, though, this wasn’t because of issues with the lay of the land in Europe as the war closed, or even land claims or military restrictions around the world. The actual issue was that American President Woodrow Wilson wanted to establish the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, and he used the treaty to do it.

But isolationists in Congress didn’t want America to join the league, and so they shot down all attempts to ratify the treaty at home. And America only officially adopts treaties when ratified, not signed, so America never actually agreed to the final terms of World War I.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Gurkha troops march to escort Japanese prisoners of war at the end of World War II in 1945.

(Imperial War Museums)

Japan and China never made peace after World War II

There are a number of still-simmering tensions between combatants from World War II, including the Kuril Islands Dispute between Russia and Japan.

(This author even once made the error of saying that Russia and Japan were still at war, which is only sort of right. While the two countries never agreed to a treaty ending the conflict, they did agree to a Joint Declaration in 1956 that had a similar effect. Essentially, it said they couldn’t yet agree to a treaty, but they were no longer fighting the war.)

But there was an Allied country that never reached peace with Japan: China. And China arguably suffered the worst under Japanese aggression. But, because of the civil war in China at the time, there were two rival governments claiming to represent China, and no one could agree on which government to invite. So China didn’t take part in the peace process at all.

So China and Japan never technically ended their hostilities, and Japan’s almost-peace with Russia is not quite finished either.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula in 2015.

(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

The Koreas are, famously, still at war.

The ongoing state of conflict on the Korean Peninsula is probably the most famous issue on this list. The Korean War sort of ended on July 27, 1953, when the United Nations and the Delegation of the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers signed the Korean Armistice Agreement which instituted a truce between North and South Korea.

But, importantly, no national government agreed to the armistice or the truce. The militaries involved essentially agreed to stop killing each other, but the larger governments never came together to hash out the real peace. And this is a problem since the two countries have a much more tense relationship than any other group on this list.

America and Germany are not suddenly going to revert back to 1918 and start killing each other again. But South and North Koreans at the border still sometimes shoot at one another, and people have died in border clashes.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Space Force can learn from this NASA spacecraft mutiny

Just before New Year’s Eve 1973, NASA’s mission control center in Houston lost contact with the crew of Skylab 4. For 90 minutes, no one on the ground knew anything about what was happening in Earth’s orbit. The three crew members had been in space longer than any other humans before them. The astronauts were all in orbit for the first time.

All NASA knew is that the rookie astronauts had a tremendous workload but roughly similar to that of previous Skylab missions. They didn’t know that the crew had announced a strike and had stopped working altogether.


Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Skylab 4 Commander Gerald P. Carr, floating in Skylab.

(NASA)

The Skylab crew had been up in space for six weeks, working a particularly rigorous schedule. Since the cost of a days work in space was estimated to be million or more, there was little time to lose. NASA didn’t see the problem, since previous crews had worked the same workloads. The crew of the latest – and last – Skylab mission, however, had been there with a rigorous schedule for longer than anyone before.

Skylab missions were designed to go beyond the quick trips into space that had marked previous NASA missions. The astronauts were now trying to live in space and research ways to prevent the afflictions that affected previous astronauts who spent extended time in weightless orbit. Medical and scientific experiments dominated the schedules, which amounted to a 24-hour workday. On top of that, there was the cosmic research and spacewalks required to maintain the station.

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Skylab 4

(NASA)

NASA had purposely pushed the crew even harder than other missions when they fell behind, creating a stressful environment among the crew and animosity toward mission control. Mission control had become a dominating, stressful presence who only forced the crew to work excruciatingly long hours with little rest.

So after being fed up with having every hour of the stay in space scheduled, they decided to take a breather and cut contact with the ground. Some reports say they simply floated in the Skylab, watching the Earth from the windows. After the “mutiny” ended and communications were restored, the astronauts were allowed to complete their work on their own schedule, with less interference from below. They even got a reduced workload.

But none of the astronauts ever left the Earth again.

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