National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Where does a museum collection begin? How do curators tell humanity’s most complicated stories? For more than 100 years, the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri has asked and answered these questions about the Great War and its enduring impact.

From the first shots fired in 1914 to the last attempts at peace in 1919, the museum showcases firsthand accounts from the battlefield and the home front. At the museum, the conflict comes alive with more than 300,000 artifacts, objects and documents — one of the world’s largest collections.


Today’s legacy

“The cataclysm that was World War I was the defining moment of the 20th century,” Senior Curator Doran Cart said.

Yet to many Americans, this conflict is a muddled, confusing clash of powers overshadowed by World War II.

For Cart, WWI remains important because it is the start to so many of the important challenges of our modern era. From the conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East, to the present challenges of Russia and Ukraine, to immigration issues and rising isolationist tendencies around the globe the links can be traced to WWI.

“You cannot talk about today’s problems without finding the connections,” he said.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Innovation on and off the battlefield

The lasting ramifications of this conflict continue today as does the innovation discovered in medical and military fields.

Cart shared how medical practices, including advanced techniques in the treatment of head trauma were first developed during this conflict. For the first time, antiseptics were developed to clean wounds, soldiers were taught about hygiene and blood banks were used. In France, vehicles became mobile X-ray units, surgeons were drafted in closer to the frontline and hospital trains evacuated casualties.

“So many of these lessons learned are relevant in war zones today,” Cart said.

In terms of the mechanics of war, this conflict brought about the use of airplanes and tanks in conflict, machine guns and chemical war. All items that are relevant to later conflicts in the 20th century and today.

100 years of collecting

The museum’s latest exhibits, “100 Years of Collecting” and “100 Years of Collecting Art” showcase an exhaustive number of objects and documents that have never been displayed. Highlights including a formal court frock coat and vest worn by Imperial Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s personal household staff and aides, 100+ year-old soldier-issued hardtack (hard bread) and a sign from 1942 indicating the memorial would be closed due to potential threats of WWII-related sabotage.

Another item of interest is the lectern used by President Calvin Coolidge at the Nov. 11, 1926 dedication of what eventually became the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Coolidge spoke before 150,000 people — the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

More stories equal more understanding

The museum has recently acquired a unique and beautifully made Russian woman’s coat.

“Her insignia indicate that she was a machine gun unit commander and the coat is amazing in that it has survived over 100 years with all the turmoil and later history of Russia,” Cart said.

“Women’s history in WWI has been one of the long-overlooked aspects of the war and this piece helps greatly in writing another chapter in history. It also contributes to our future planning needs of acquisitions for the museum in three specific areas: women of all nations involved in the war, minorities and indigenous peoples.”

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Global conflict

“The founders of our museum knew the importance of the global story,” Cart said noting that nearly 20 countries/empires across the world are represented in the exhibition.

Items from the around the globe have been collected, including from the Austro-Hungarian empire, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Countries that were neutral during the conflict — Mexico, Spain and Sweden — are also represented as they supplied items that were used at some point during the conflict.

Visiting the museum

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum has modified their policies to adapt to social distancing and health and safety protocols. The museum is offering limited access timed tickets and recommending social distancing and mask-wearing practices during visits.

“We tell people to maintain the distance of a 1917 Harley Davidson motorcycle, which we happen to have on display, and is nearly six feet in length,” Cart said.

Can’t make it to Kansas City? The museum has made a variety of online resources available for teachers, students and the general public.

Both exhibitions run until March 7, 2021 and are included with general admission to the museum and memorial. More information can be found at https://www.theworldwar.org.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what those ‘metal things’ were on Normandy beaches

Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?

The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.


Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.

The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.

In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.

The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.

After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Czech hedgehogs.

Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.

As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.

Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.

It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.

So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.

On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.

Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.

Czech Hedgehog (World War II Tech)

www.youtube.com

However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.

Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.

That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.

Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.

The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.

While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.

In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.

Bonus Facts:

  • The beaches of Normandy were shelled so heavily and so thoroughly mined that to this day it’s estimated that 4% of the beach still consists of shrapnel.
  • Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Articles

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.


For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.

1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The USS Greer as she appeared in 1941, the year the crew engaged in what was likely the first American military action of World War II. The Greer engaged in a 3.5-hour fight with a German sub. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.

Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.

The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.

Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.

2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

On Sept. 12, the USCGC Northland and USCGC North Star, Coast Guard cutters assisting in the defense of Greenland, spotted a suspicious Norwegian vessel, the Buskoe, operating near a cache of German supplies that the Coast Guard had recently seized.

After questioning the men aboard the vessel, the Northland crew learned that the ship had landed two groups of “hunters” on the coast. On Sept. 13, the North Star sent a crew to take over the Buskoe while the Northland crew dispatched a team to search for the Norwegians.

The Norwegians were discovered with German orders and radio equipment on Sept. 14.

Since the U.S. was not technically at war and could not take prisoners, the men were arrested as illegal immigrants. The Buskoe spy ship was the first Axis vessel captured by Americans in World War II.

3. U-568 hits USS Kearny on Oct. 17, 1941.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The USS Kearny suffered extensive damage from a September 1941 German torpedo attack. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Just after midnight on the morning of Oct. 17, 1941, a British freighter of convoy SC-48 was struck by a German torpedo and began burning in the night. The USS Kearny, assigned to a task force guarding the convoy, dropped depth charges and moved to protect the convoy from further attack.

Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.

After the first 14 hours, the USS Greer (yes, from #1 above) rendezvoused with the ship and established an anti-submarine screen.

Bonus: The Navy looks for a fight with the legendary Tirpitz in the Atlantic in October 1941.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The German battleship Tirpitz was massive and the U.S. hoped to fight it in October 1941, but couldn’t draw it out for the fight. (Photo: U.S. Naval Intelligence)

The Navy’s Task Force 14 was launched in October 1941, with the purpose of guarding a British troop convoy headed to Singapore, a violation of the Neutrality Act.

The task force consisted of an aircraft carrier, battleship, two cruisers, and nine destroyers ,and was likely the most powerful U.S. task force assembled up to that point in history.

Atlantic Fleet Commander Adm. Ernest King wrote a memo to President Franklin Roosevelt saying that he hoped to fight an enemy capital ship like the German Tirpitz, one of the strongest battleships of the war.

Unfortunately for King, the Tirpitz didn’t take the bait and Task Force 14 found no enemy ships during its patrol.

4. USS Reuben James is sunk by U-552 on Oct. 31, 1941.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The USS Reuben James, a destroyer and the first U.S. ship lost in World War II, sails the Panama Canal in this undated photo. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The USS Reuben James, a destroyer escorting a British convoy, was struck by at least one German torpedo that inflicted severe damage at approximately 5:30 in the morning on Oct. 31, 1941.

According to Chief Petty Officer William Burgstresser, one of only 44 survivors, the entire front section of the ship was torn off.

It quickly sank, becoming the first U.S. ship lost in the war and killing 115 crew members, including all officers onboard.

Just over a month after the sinking of the Reuben James, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor finally propelled America into the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Wars are expensive. There’s just no way of getting around that fact. Men, weapons and supplies cost money and countries need a means of paying for them all. To do that, the United States has tried all kinds of ways to raise funds, from the use of War Bonds to forcing draft dodgers to pay an exorbitant fee. 

Even before the turn of the 20th century, the federal government found its ways of filling the war chests with enough gold to fight and win. While today’s perpetual wars are most often paid for in deficit spending, the government of old had to get creative. So it picked up the telephone. 

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the American federal government did not have an income tax. Times were simpler then and the federal government didn’t have the need for so much income or spending. Times definitely have changed and you can see that every April 15th. Those days are long gone and the income tax is here to stay. 

Instead, the United States relied on tariffs from international commerce to fund much of the federal budget. But that didn’t help in times of war, when extraordinary spending measures were required to fund military operations. 

So when Spain declared war on the United States and Congress turned around and did the same to Spain, it decided to levy a three percent tax on telephone service. At the time, it was believed to be a patriotic war tax for a luxury that few Americans had access to. Telephones in the days before the turn of the 20th century were expensive and rare. Many Americans wrote it off as a kind of luxury tax.

For a quick recap, this is what the Spanish-American War was all about. And it’s indirectly responsible for income tax. Thanks for that.

But as anyone who was ever owed money by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service knows, once the government has your money, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. That tax that started in 1898 largely remained in place until 2006. 

That’s not to say that Boomers, Generation-Xers and Millennials have been paying for the Spanish-American War for much of their lives. The tax used to fund that war was rescinded in 1902. The Spanish-American War was not the last war the United States had to pay for. 

In 1914, war in Europe was looming and global trade was disrupted in the outbreak of World War I. The war cut deep into the profits of American companies, hurt tariff revenues, and forced the federal government to once again levy the tax on the telephone. When the United States actually entered World War I, the tax only increased. 

The wartime economic boom soon led to a post-war bust that again hurt businesses and revenue collections, so the World War I telephone excise tax didn’t go away until 1924. But the economy was a bust just five years later and in 1932, the telephone tax returned. By 1954, the tax was raised to 10 percent for local and long-distance calling. 

By the 1960s, more Americans had telephone service, so the excise tax dipped back to three percent in 1966. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began to ramp up, so did the excise tax levied to pay for it. It was pretty much there to stay, but the only question was how much the telephone tax charged American telephone users. 

Eventually, the anti-war movement caught on to the fact that simply using the telephone was funding American military adventures abroad, and it was thus labeled the “war tax.” It hovered between 1-3%, but even in 2000, President Bill Clinton would veto a measure to cut it. 

Even though the tax wasn’t levied on anything but landline phone usage, if there was one thing the left and right could agree on, it was the phone tax had to go – it can’t be a luxury tax if everyone needs a phone. Conservative and liberal groups alike criticized the IRS for the tax, and after a 2006 lawsuit, the phone tax/war tax/luxury tax was finally gone. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Pando Commandos’ were more intense than you’d think

For the 2017 Army-Navy Game, the Army’s jerseys celebrated the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), the predecessor to the current 10th Mountain Division. Even with the spotlight on one of the most versatile units of WWII, many people don’t understand the bad-assery of the “Pando Commandos.”


After witnessing ski-mounted Finnish soldiers successfully take on and destroy two Soviet tank divisions, founder of the National Ski Patrol, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole saw for the need ski troops in the U.S. Army. After much convincing of the Department of Defense, the 10th Light Division (Alpine) was formed from the combinations of the 85th, 86th, and 87th Infantry Regiments assembled, 9,200ft above sea level, at Camp Hale in Pando, Colorado on July 13, 1943.

The goal here was to train a rugged, mountain soldier, acclimated to the harsh mountain tops of the Alps and the frigid north of Scandinavia. Soldiers needed to be trained in both skiing and ice climbing. The 10th Light Division (Alpine) was soon ready to fight and was re-designated as the as the 10th Mountain Division, complete with unique tab and official unit patch.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Because apparently you can’t use a cartoon panda holding a rifle on skis as your official heraldry. (Image via KnowYourMeme)

Meanwhile, the Germans had just set up defenses across the Alps, making travel from the south nearly impossible — a perfect task for the Pando Commandos.

The Germans at Riva Ridge on Mount Belvedere assumed that the near 1,500-ft vertical cliff would be impossible to scale and scarcely manned the position. The 10th Mountain, under the cover of night, blizzard, and complete silence, made the climb and assaulted the Germans as they slept. It was a complete success. The surprise attack grabbed the attention of Germans, who tried to make seven counterattacks to reclaim the peak. None were successful.

At the time, skiing was mostly a college thing. As a result, their division had more degrees and were smarter than anyone else — a fact most 10th Mountain guys would happily tell you today.

Today, the legacy continues on as the 10th Mountain still trains in the icy hell known as Fort Drum. The high-altitude training is perfectly suited for the mountains of Afghanistan.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Liane Schmersahl)

Articles

This special operator was a real life ‘Jason Bourne’

They called him “the East European.”


He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.

But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The East European conducted clandestine electronic surveillance deep inside Baghdad with no official cover. (DOD photo)

The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.

The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.

These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Inspectors and other IAEA staff prepare for the resumption of inspections in Iraq 18 Nov, 2002. (Photo Credit: Mark Gwozdecky / IAEA)

But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.

It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.

The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.

“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”

After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)

“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”

So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.

The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The long-standing relationship between Rolex and the U.S. Navy SEALs

The keen-eyed viewer may have noticed Tyrone “Rone” Woods, played by James Badge Dale, sporting a Rolex Submariner 116610 in Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Some may write this appearance off as a Hollywood product placement by Bay, a known Rolex fan. However, the watch actually shows great attention to detail in Rone’s story and is an integral part of Navy SEAL history.


National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Rone’s Submariner is identifiable by its iconic cyclops magnifier (Paramount Pictures)

Rolex introduced the Submariner watch in 1954. While the watch has evolved into a luxury item that broadcasts wealth and success today, it was originally designed as a rugged, no-nonsense tool watch that professional divers could depend on. Its uni-directional rotating bezel allowed them to time their dives, its robust and accurate movement meant that it could keep good time in an age before battery-powered quartz timepieces, and its water-resistance rating of 660 feet meant that it could do all of this at the depths that professional divers operate at.

In 1962, the first two Navy SEAL teams were formed and they quickly adopted the Submariner as their dive watch. Tudor, Rolex’s more affordable sister brand (think Chevrolet to Cadillac), also made Submariners which were issued to the Navy’s elite warriors. By 1967, Rolex had picked up on the professional military application of their watches and utilized it in a magazine advertisement saying, “For years, it’s been standard gear for submariners, frogmen, and all who make their living on the seas.”

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

In 1967, a Rolex Submariner cost 0, or about id=”listicle-2648518781″,600 in today’s money (Rolex)

The Submariner, in both its Rolex and Tudor forms, was so ingrained in Navy SEAL culture and essential to their specialized missions, that it became standard issue. One Vietnam veteran recalled in an interview, “During the training in BUD/S we were issued our Tudor watches, black face for enlisted and blue faced for officers, and these went with us to our next duty station.” Indeed, the SEALs took their issued Submariners with them to the jungles of Vietnam. Like other servicemembers who purchased their own Submariners, the SEALs valued the watch for its ruggedness, dependability, and accuracy.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

U.S. Navy SEALs Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise wearing their issued Submariners in Vietnam (Rolex Magazine)

In the decades after Vietnam, the advent of battery-powered dive computers and the evolution of Rolex into an expensive luxury brand caused the Navy to cease its issuance of Submariners to the SEALs. Today, however, some Navy SEALs still maintain the elite organization’s relationship with Rolex on their own dime. While Rone did not wear a Rolex Submariner 116610 as depicted in 13 Hours, he did wear a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660, a more robust descendant of the Submariner with a greater water-resistance rating.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Rone wearing his Sea-Dweller (Cheryl Croft Bennett)

Before he joined the CIA’s Global Response Staff in 2010, Rone posted on RolexForums.com looking for a shop in the San Diego area where he could sell his Rolex Sea-Dweller and Panerai Luminor (the Italian Navy’s original issued dive watch). Although his post received no replies, the thread has since become a tribute to the late operator since his death in Benghazi in 2012.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Rone’s first and only post on the forum (RolexForums)

Though the fate of Rone’s Sea-Dweller is unknown, the fact that he is shown wearing a Rolex in 13 Hours is a testament to the care and attention to detail that Bay put in to depicting him and the other Americans in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.


Articles

This Komet was the fastest combat plane of World War II

The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.


But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”

The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.

After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
A P-47’s gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.

AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of US troops who think they saw Bigfoot in Vietnam

In the Kontum Province of Vietnam, near the borders with Laos and Cambodia, there were many reports from U.S. troops on patrols of a strange, not-quite-human but not-quite-ape creature the locals call Nguoi Rung, or “The people of the Forest.” In other words: Bigfoot.


 

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Low draft number. Sorry, Bigfoot.

Gary Linderer was on a six-man patrol with the 101st Airborne’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols. While struggle through the underbrush, he ran into “deep set eyes on a prominent brow… five feet tall, with long muscular arms.” The creature “walked upright with broad shoulders and a heavy torso.” His battle buddies told him he just saw a rock ape, but Linderer had seen Rock Apes before. This was no Rock Ape.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
First, Charlie. Now this. Unbelievable.

 

Like the Yeti in the Himalayas, and the Sasquatch sightings all over North America, the Nguoi Rung is a oft-told tale in the area, but despite endless the sightings and folklore attached to the semi-mythical creature, no concrete evidence exists. Linderer wasn’t the only witness, either. Army Sgt. Thomas Jenkins reported his platoon was attacked by these apes throwing stones.

Toward the end of the war, Viet Cong and NVA soldiers reported so many sightings of the reddish-brown hair-covered Nguoi Rung the North Vietnamese communist party secretariat ordered scientists to investigate.

Dr. Vo Quy, a respected ornithologist and environmental researcher from Hanoi, discovered a Nguoi Rung footprint on the forest floor and made a cast of it. The cast was wider than a human foot and too big for an ape.

In 1982, another Vietnamese scientist, Tran Hong Viet discovered more footprints, which led zoologist John MacKinnon to investigate the region. MacKinnon called the area a “tiny, pristine corner of the world unknown to modern science.”

 

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The 1982 Footprint Cast.

In 1969, MacKinnon discovered manlike footprints in Borneo’s jungles, which the locals called Batatut. While much of the evidence surrounding the existence of these apes is anecdotal, MacKinnon, known for his discovery of new mammal species in Vietnam, believes there is a possibility the existence of a previously unknown ape species is real.

The account of Nguoi Rung meeting American GIs in Vietnam was first published in Kregg P.J. Jorgenson’s Very Crazy, GI: Strange But True Stories of the Vietnam War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US civilian tried to get revenge in Afghanistan with a sword

Gary Brooks Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado, was detained by police with a pistol and a sword. Except for the sword, this would not be unusual in Colorado. But he wasn’t in Colorado. He was in Pakistan, and he was there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks by taking a sword to the world’s most wanted man.


When the U.S. Army adopted the motto “Army of One,” a lot of soldiers laughed. But one American civilian seemed to have taken it to heart. He wasn’t ashamed of his self-imposed mission. He was proud of it. Even when he was arrested in the Chitral District of Pakistan while trying to cross into Afghanistan, he didn’t hide it.

“He told the investigating officer he was going to Afghanistan to get Osama. At first we thought he was mentally deranged,” said Muhammad Jaffar Khan, the Chitral police chief. But the gun-toting, sword-wielding Californian was totally serious. He even brought along night vision goggles. The American was even under armed guard while staying in Pakistan under the guise of being an everyday tourist. One night, he slipped away from his guard and made a run for the border.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan back in 2010 and had no idea – like the rest of the world – that Osama bin Laden wasn’t even in Afghanistan at the time. Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was just a ten-hour drive from the Kalash Valley, where Faulkner was staying. There wasn’t even a border to cross or policemen to arrest him or take away his samurai sword.

But the American had no idea where he was going. He told police he brought the Bible along with him and that God would guide him to where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and allow him America’s vengeance. Or at least allow him to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist. But of course, we all know how OBL’s story ends.

Faulkner’s ends with a Nic Cage movie.

Gary Brooks Faulkner, however, was turned over to the U.S. State Department in Pakistan and repatriated home to Colorado, where he was a guest on various talk shows, including The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, before going back to a regular life of managing his brother’s apartment complex. Then one day, a tenant who was being evicted tried to break into his apartment with three of her friends. She tried to intimidate a man who hunted Osama bin Laden with a sword.

He fired a shot at his assailants, but that shot brought the police, who confiscated his weapons and discovered he was a convicted felon. That shot eventually landed Faulkner in jail.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These dangerous Arctic convoys saved Russia during World War II

Allied sailors braved one of the world’s most dangerous oceans while dodging German U-boats and Luftwaffe attacks to keep the Soviet military supplied throughout World War II.


National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Convoy PQ-17 groups up on Apr. 30, 1942, before sailing on its way to Russia. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. C. J. Ware)

When Germany attacked Russia in June of 1941, the Allied Powers gained a new and powerful member. The massive Soviet Union had a significant industrial capacity and a large population that suddenly found itself joined with the British and French.

But Hitler’s gamble wasn’t entirely crazy. He had real reason to believe that an invasion of Russia could succeed, giving the Third Reich all of the Soviets’ great treasure. To win the war, the Allied Powers had to make sure that Russia didn’t fall.

This meant that the Soviet Union would have to be supplied with massive amounts of planes, tanks, oil, barbed wire, soap, and a thousand other necessities. The British concentrated their outbound logistics on two major routes, the Meditteranean which allowed supplies to reach Malta and the Arctic route which gave access to the U.S.S.R.

The Arctic convoys had the more dangerous route, and approximately 3,000 sailors died while sailing it during World War II.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
A sailor works an ice-encrusted 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield during an Arctic convoy to Russia on Nov 30, 1941. (Photo: Royal Navy Lt. R. G. G. Coote)

German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe forces maintained bases on the northern edges of Norway, allowing them to conduct constant patrols against Allies in the Arctic. Frequent storms caused ice to collect on ships, especially in the winter.

The summer brought its own danger as the Arctic Circle experiences periods where the sun doesn’t set. In some of the northernmost parts of Norway and Finland that the convoys had to pass, the sun doesn’t set for up to three months. During those portions of the year, the convoys were susceptible to being spotted and attacked during every hour of every day for the entirety of the approximately 10 to 15-day trip each direction.

Robert Carse, a sailor on one of the convoys, described what it was like to suffer a combined Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attack in the North Atlantic:

That was hell. There is no other word I know for it. Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.

Carse and the convoy beat off multiple Messerschmitt attacks until one was able to drop a bomb that headed directly for the TNT-loaded ship. Miraculously, a last-second wind gust blew the bomb off to the side of the ship. The resulting concussion damaged the ship but failed to detonate the explosives the ship was carrying. Carse and the convoy continued along their route.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Royal Navy Able Seaman Thomas B. Day stands near a frozen turret on the HMS Belfast in November 1943. (Photo: Royal Navy)

The Arctic deliveries continued until May 1945, just after Germany signed the articles of surrender ending World War II. In the tense build-up to the Cold War, Russian Premier Joseph Stalin denied the importance of the deliveries to keeping the Soviet Union in the war. But, Russian Consul General in Scotland Andrey A. Pritsepov recognized the merchant marine and Navy veterans in an August 2016 ceremony.

“Russia is indebted to the brave Scottish men who risked their lives in dangerous conditions to deliver vital aid and equipment to the eastern front,” he said. “It was a journey against all odds. Many have never returned. Their sacrifice and heroism comprise a proud chapter in our shared history.”

Author’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the United Kingdom maintained two sea supply routes into Russia, the Meditteranean and the Arctic. In fact, the Mediterranean route did not give access to Russia, but to Malta.

Articles

How one Soviet agent single-handedly changed the course of World War II

When Richard Sorge was born, his German parents were living in what is now Azerbaijan, working for the Russian government. He moved with his family to Berlin at a very young age. He was raised in a typical upper-middle-class family, supporters of the German Empire and the Kaiser.

Like many Europeans, he became disillusioned with the state of affairs during and after World War I, and his political views changed. If Richard Sorge hadn’t become a Communist, World War II might have lasted much longer – or ended differently. 

At age 18, Sorge enlisted in the German Army and was sent to the Western Front. As a member of a reasonably wealthy family, he was supportive of the Kaiser and the war – at first. As the war dragged on, his views on war not only changed, his entire political point of view changed along with it. 

Sorge was wounded in his hands and both legs and was discharged in 1916. By the time he left the army, he was no longer a German nationalist. As he recovered from his wounds, he read the works of Karl Marx and became a Communist. After earning a doctorate degree, he joined the Communist Party and moved to the Soviet Union.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Sorge (left) in uniform in 1915 (German Federal Archive)

It was in the USSR that he was recruited to work for the Red Army’s intelligence directorate. He was sent back to Germany posing as a journalist. He would spend years in Germany, China, and Great Britain, reporting back to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) on the development of communist parties in those countries and the outbreaks of violence in China. 

Once Japan had taken parts of China in 1931, the Soviet Union was worried that the Japanese Empire would invade the Soviet Far East. Sorge was sent to Germany to join the Nazi Party, get a job as a correspondent in Japan, and set up an intelligence gathering ring there.

That’s exactly what he did. After reading Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he became adept at creating Nazi propaganda and began attending beer hall meetings. He was so good at his work in Germany that three publications commissioned his work in Japan. Sorge’s farewell dinner was attended by Joseph Goebbels himself. 

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
He was so good at peddling fake Nazi bullsh*t that he had this guy buying in (German Federal Archive)

By 1933, Sorge was working in Japan as a correspondent for Germany’s top newspaper. His real job, from his Soviet handlers, was to determine if Japan was planning an attack on the USSR. He recruited a team of communist informants and by 1935 had contacts in both the German military presence in Japan, as well as the Japanese military and government. 

Sorge was, soon after he was established, committed to the role of the hard-drinking playboy and ladies man, a typical Nazi diplomat in Japan at the time. He was so trusted by the German delegation in Japan that they weren’t just sharing information with the Soviet spy, Sorge was actively writing diplomatic cables back to Berlin.

After some Japanese officers started a border clash with the USSR near Manchuria, Sorge learned that it was an isolated incident and that Japan had no intentions of an all-out invasion of the USSR. 

By far, the two most important intelligence findings of Sorge’s time in Japan came after World War II had started in earnest. He learned that Nazi Germany was planning its invasion of the USSR in 1941, but Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wrote off Sorge as a drunkard. Sorge’s next intelligence coup would not be ignored.

In September 1941, Sorge learned that the Japanese military command was resisting German pressure to go to war with the USSR and wanted to attack the United States’ possessions in the Pacific instead. He reported to Moscow that the Japanese would not invade the Soviet Union until the Nazis captured Moscow, the Japanese had enough troops to invade Siberia, and a civil uprising could be started there.

After receiving this intelligence and seeing the Germans halted before Moscow, Stalin felt he could move Soviet Far East divisions to counter the Nazi invasion and turn the tide against the Germans. 

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
This intel was crucial to the Soviets driving the Germans out of Stalingrad and turning the tide on the Eastern Front (Wikimedia Commons)

Sorge was eventually arrested under the suspicion of espionage. He confessed under torture and was hanged as a spy in November 1944.


Feature image: German Federal Archive

popular

Why Germany was always the underdog in World War II

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to make you sympathize with the Nazis. They were literally a hate group that committed murder on a national scale in addition to helping start and prosecute the deadliest war in human history. They were evil, so don’t let a title like “Underdog” garner them any sympathy. It’s the fault of the fascists that this war ever happened in the first place.

But, while the German military was one of the most feared and successful in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Third Reich had a severe weakness that would hamper the military at any turn: economics.


 

We know, we know. It’s not a very sexy flaw, but industrial warfare relies on an industrial base, and I’m here to tell you that Germany’s industrial base was horrible. Its coal deposits were of mostly low quality and, more importantly, its oil deposits were limited and were much better suited for creating lubricants than fuels.

Not all oil is equal for all purposes, and German crude oil was waxy. It had few of the chemicals necessary for refining fuels, like diesel and gasoline. So while Germany was one of the top producers of iron and steel in the 1930s, often sitting at number two in the world, it relied heavily on imports to fuel its industry.

In 1938, Germany used 44 million barrels of oil. Only 3.8 million barrels of crude had been made in Germany, and the country was able to produce another nine million barrels of synthetic oil. Imports made up the difference, but many of those imports would dry up when the war started, just as the necessity of increasing war production demanded much more oil.

The Third Reich also needed additional access to cobalt, copper, and some other important minerals.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
A British factory produces De Havilland Mosquitoes in 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

 

France and Britain, meanwhile, had large networks of colonies around the world that could send important resources back to the motherland. They had the navies necessary to keep those supply lines open everywhere but the Pacific, where Japan would hold sway. And, France and Britain could buy more oil from the U.S., the top producer at the time with up to 1 billion barrels per year.

When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Great Britain instigated a blockade of Germany. At that point, Germany could no longer buy oil from the U.S. But the Nazis had thought ahead, signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Soviet Russia in August 1939. For the time being, imports to Germany from Russia could keep the Nazi war machine going.

It was partially thanks to this imported oil that Germany was able to invade France and the Low Countries on May 10, 1940, and quickly roll across the country thanks to France’s stubborn belief that that the Ardennes was impassable to armored vehicles. France fell in mid-June.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
​German tank production duringWorld War II was always limited by the availability of steel and oil. (German Bundesarchiv)

 

This was, arguably, the high-water mark for the Third Reich in economic terms. Its industry was strong and undamaged by the war, it had seized vast swaths of Europe including Norway, France, and Austria, and its ally Italy was having some success in seizing resource-rich areas in North Africa.

And, on paper, Germany had ample access to the oil products of the world’s second largest producer, Russia. In theory, this made Germany a powerful force against Britain, its only real adversary at the time. America, the world’s top producer of steel and oil among other industrial and wartime goods, wasn’t officially part of the war. Germany appeared to be top dog.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
Hey, here’s an idea: Don’t trust Hitler (Recuerdos de Pandora, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Except, it wasn’t. Hitler planned to invade Russia, so counting Russian petroleum towards German needs only makes sense in the very short term. And Germany was reliant on Russia for 20 percent of its oil, even after Romania joined the Axis powers.

America, meanwhile, was clearly tying itself closer and tighter to Britain through policies like the expanded Cash-and-Carry in 1939, Destroyers-for-bases in 1940, and Lend-Lease in early 1941. As long as Britain didn’t fully surrender in 1940, it should be expected that America’s industrial might would continue to come down on the side of the Allies for the duration of the war.

This was especially true when it came to Destroyers-for-bases, since this resulted in America gaining bases and stationing troops on British territories around the world. Germany couldn’t possibly conquer Britain and consolidate the gains without entering conflict with the U.S.

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy
The Frontier Refining Company built this 100-octane plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during World War II to make aviation fuel. (Wyoming State Archives)

 

So, if you look at this high-water mark of the Third Reich in 1940, but you place an asterisk next to Germany’s imports from Russia and added U.S. industrial output to the Allies, even with an asterisk, it’s clear that Germany was always underpowered against its enemies.

At its zenith, with its allies doing reasonably well, and with goods flowing into Germany like food from conquered France, aluminum and fish oil from conquered Norway, iron from Sweden, and oil from Romania, Germany still faced constant shortages of key war resources.

Meanwhile Britain, while it faced massive logistics challenges thanks to the sheer size and scope of its empire and alliances, was backed by the U.S. and its ability in 1940 to churn out more oil than the rest of the world combined as well as 34 percent of the world’s pig iron, one of the key ingredients for steel.

None of this is to say that the outcome of the war was determined before it was fought. The fascists brought World War II upon themselves, and it was thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of millions everywhere—from the Polish Resistance to British Royal Air Force to the Soviet Army to the U.S. Navy—that the fascist countries were stopped and defeated.

After all, if the Axis powers had successfully seized all those oil fields in Russia or North Africa, or if Germany had successfully invaded Britain in 1940, they may, may, have been able to win and consolidate their international gains. With the added power from conquered European, African, and Asian nations, the Axis powers might have even swallowed America.

So, we are duly grateful to all the veterans of World War II, but we should also thank our lucky stars for the miners, oil workers, farmers, and factory workers who made sure that the Allies were always better supplied than the Axis.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information