Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial
“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.
The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.
But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.
They did all of this without losing a single man.
On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.
The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.
The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.
But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.
They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.
That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.
They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.
The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.
Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.
Leonid Rogozov was one of 13 scientists and researchers on the Soviet Union’s sixth expedition to Antarctica from 1960 to 1962. One morning in 1961, he woke up feeling general malaise, weakness, and feverish along with pain in his abdomen. He soon understood what was happening. His appendix needed to be removed. Unfortunately, he was the only one who could do it.
So he did.
If movies and television taught us anything during the Cold War, it’s that Russians are amazingly strong superpeople who punch with the force of a full ton, can train even the worst armies to become special operators, and seem to know everything about everyone. In this case, movies and television were absolutely right. Rogozov was the only medical doctor on the team of Soviet scientists at Novolazarevskaya Station, almost 47 miles from the Antarctic Coast, separated by the Lazarev Ice Shelf. On April 29, 1961, the morning he woke up with pain in his abdomen, the average daily temperature would have been around 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
The doctor recognized his symptoms as indicative of appendicitis, an inflammation affecting the appendix that can cause it to burst. Without any kind of treatment, this condition can kill in a matter of a few days. Rogozov had to act fast because his condition was only getting worse. He was beginning to vomit and believed his appendix might soon burst. With the help of two fellow scientists holding mirrors, he used a novocaine solution to numb the direct area and then went to work.
No big deal.
The doctor made a 12-centimeter incision and began looking into his own abdomen and the organs within. He noticed his appendix was discolored with a dark stain and estimated it was about to burst. For two hours, he poked around, resected his appendix, and battled bouts of nausea and the weakness caused by his condition. He sometimes even had to work by feeling alone, being unable to see from the angle he was sitting. But the operation was a success.
Four days later, his digestive system began functioning normally. After five days, his fever receded, and after a week, the incision was completely healed. In two weeks, he was back to duty and after a month, back to heavy labor in Antarctica as if he hadn’t just cut out his own appendix.
There is no greater historical example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object than the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked, harsh country that makes it very difficult for a great power to bring the full might of that power to bear against the locals. Naval forces are out and, in some area, so is air support. The harsh climate and vast nothingness and remotely populated areas makes supply lines difficult to establish and even harder to defend. But the Soviet Union opted to try anyway, invading in force in 1979.
Under Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the country was actually developing and modernizing fairly well… until his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew him in 1973. He established an Afghan Republic and everything went to hell — for many reasons. Five years later, the Pashtun Nationalist government was overthrown in favor of a Communist regime and Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefront.
Communism did not sit well with the people in rural areas, who weren’t used to the control (and taxes and land reforms) of a Communist central government. So, they started fighting back. Then-President Nur Mohammed Taraki asked the Soviet Union to help quell angry protests against a government that suddenly decided to execute so many of them for failing to comply with Communist reforms. That’s when Hafizullah Amin, the Communist Prime Minister, killed Taraki and seized power.
Then, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped in.
People like this.
Seeing Afghanistan descending into chaos and worried that the Islamic Revolution in Iran might spread to Afghanistan and other traditionally muslim Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR decided to move in — and pretty much failed from day one, which was Christmas Day, 1979.
At this point, the Soviets needed to do four things: legitimize the Communist central government in Kabul, rebuild the Afghan Army, destroy resistance to the new government, and win the hearts and minds of the common people they couldn’t directly control.
“Ownership” being the operative word.
1. They could not establish the Communist government’s legitimacy
Failure was immediate, beginning with the man at the top. After just months in power, Amin was out. Literally. One of the first governmental changes the Soviets made was to kill Amin and replace him with Babrak Kamal. This turned the image of the Soviet invasion from one of an intervention to stabilize the government to one of ownership over Afghanistan.
These guys, remember?
2. They did not break the back of the resistance
While they were able to take the major cities, as well as transportation and communications centers, the Red Army quickly pushed tribal warlords into the mountainous regions, where they resolved to begin the Islamic Revolution that nobody had thought about until the Soviets invaded in the first place. Instead of conquering the country, they managed to unite Afghanistan’s disparate population against them.
There’s no Russian translation for “off the beaten path.” Apparently.
The one advantage the Red Army had over mujahideen fighters was their fleet of Hind helicopters. These allowed the Soviets to move people and equipment fast over long distances and into the high mountains. This silver lining lasted until the mid-1980s, when Stinger missiles began to appear in jihadi arsenals. With accurate anti-aircraft missiles, the mujahideen now had the ability to protect their mountainous hiding places and forced the Soviet Union to switch to a tactic of conducting nighttime raiding on enemy targets.
Soviet forces were concentrated in a mass along major highways in the country and in a series of fortified positions throughout their controlled areas. Outside of those areas, neither economy of forces nor consistent supply lines were ever established.
A map of areas controlled by insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 1985.
In places like Khost, Soviet dominance was never even established. The Red Army established a helicopter base on the outskirts of the city, but the city itself spent 11 years under siege from the Mujahideen forces, cut off from the rest of Soviet operations. When a relief column came to the base in 1987, they reset the siege as soon as the Russians left.
The Soviet Union’s previous experience with invading other countries was limited to East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Afghanistan and its people have little in common with the methods of fighting that work in Europe. The tactics employed by the Soviets were mostly of overwhelming firepower, including scorched-earth policies, carpet bombing, and the use of chemical weapons, none of which won them many friends among the people of the country they were trying to win over.
Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.
3. The Soviets did not win over the hearts and minds of Afghan people
A narrative quickly formed that atheist Communists and traditionally Orthodox Christian Russian invaders were on a mission against Islam. Those Afghan warlords that were pushed out of major urban centers and villages came down from the mountains as a united Islamic front, the mujahideen. With the Cold War in full swing, the United States decided to help fuel the fire by supplying the mujahideen with weapons and equipment to help their jihad against the USSR.
Fighters and money flowed into the mujahideen’s ongoing guerrilla war against the Soviet Union from all corners of the Islamic world. Between 1980 and 1985, the Red Army stomped the mujahideen in a series of battles in the Panjshir Valley against the forces of rebel leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud. But Massoud would always live to rebuild his forces and come back at the Russian bear.
The Soviets could win as many pitched battles as they wanted, kill as many Afghan fighters as possible, but the endless tide of money and men would mean that the battles would just be fought over and over. Search-and-destroy missions were not going to pacify Afghanistan. In fact, all it did was either kill the population or turned them into refugees — a full one-third of Afghanistan’s population was killed or fled during the Soviet occupation.
“Set it up like this, it goes bang. Good work, comrade.”
4. The Afghan Army was never an effective force
The Red Army brought in allied advisors from friendly countries to train the Afghan Army in warfighting methods more appropriate than the methods they actually used. Cuban troops who were familiar with insurgency operations from places like Angola and Ethiopia trained the burgeoning Afghan government troops, but the consistent lack of actual combat experience in these tactics wasted a lot of the time they could have spent creating a veteran fighting force.
Furthermore, the inefficient communications and logistics involved with large-scale Soviet operations did little to convince the nascent Afghan troops that their training methods and lessons had any real applicability in real-world fighting. When the Russians left and the Soviet Union fell, many of these trained fighters defected to the mujahideen, leading to the fall of the Afghan Communist regime.
The Soviet Union would stay in Afghanistan until February 1989. They still supported the Communist Afghan government against the mujahideen, which continued until the USSR collapsed in on itself in 1991. In April 1992, mujahideen troops under Ahmad Shah Massoud captured Kabul. But the factional violence within the jihadists didn’t stop and another civil war began.
This time, the victors were an upstart group of hardline Islamists, known as the Taliban.
Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.
Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.
They were some of the most feared and lethal warriors of their time, Scandinavian raiders who were experts in navigation and mobility, armed with iron weapons and advanced tactics, who would bear down on other European settlements for loot and pillage. Vikings were terrifying for all those not protected by high walls or standing armies.
For victims of these raids, death could come quickly and with little warning. The Vikings would raid deep inland by taking their longboats upriver, meaning that death could always be lurking just around the next bend. Towns on the coast were more likely to be raided, but they could at least see ships approaching on the horizon.
Viking shield walls provided plenty of defense while allowing the raiders to use their swords, spears, and axes over the top.
Smart victims would then cower and hide, allowing the village to be plundered without resistance or they might even drag valuables out and buy off the Vikings. This might sound like cowardice, but the Vikings were professional raiders who worked hard to ensure that they had the upper hand, partially through reconnaissance.
The Battle of Stiklestad was fought between Norse kingdoms.
(Peter Nicolai Arbo)
Yeah, by the time you saw the Vikings, they probably already had a whole dossier on you, complete with whatever it is you did with those kind ladies in the expensive inn.
The Vikings actually took plenty of time to conduct quiet observation when they could before a raid, making sure there weren’t a bunch of enemy warriors that happened to be in town. Once they were sure it was just you and a few farmers and craftsmen around, they would launch their attack, keeping their men in tight formation and eradicating serious resistance before it could prepare.
Richer or more established raiders were likely to carry a sword and might even have chain mail or other iron armor, making them extremely challenging to kill for startled farmers in England or France.
Archers and spear men would engage any brave defenders as soon as they got into range, and swordsmen and raiders equipped with axes would charge forward with shields for protection.
So, yeah, unless the Vikings stumbled into a fight with the king’s army because of some bad intel gathering, they were going to win. Every once in a while, they’d do something bold like besiege Paris, and even then they’d usually win, because, again, great intelligence and professional are raiders are typically victorious.
Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney was one of the most lethal snipers of the Vietnam War with 103 confirmed kills. In a particularly daring engagement, Mawhinney stopped a Viet Cong assault by hitting 16 headshots in 30 seconds at night in bad weather.
So, what does it take to be a precise, lethal sniper? Hear from the man himself as he describes his experience in the jungles of Vietnam.
Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney.
(US Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Garrett White)
“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic, Mawhinney’s squad leader, later told LA Times. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up, and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.”
Mawhinney was operating out of a base near Da Nang in what the U.S. military called, “Arizona Territory.” A large North Vietnamese Army force was spotted moving its way south towards the U.S. base, but a monsoon shut down air support. So, Mawhinney volunteered to cover a river crossing where the force was expected to march.
A US Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam.
(US Marine Corps archives)
Mawhinney left his sniper rifle at the base and moved forward with an M14 semiautomatic rifle and a Starlight scope, an early night-vision device.
The sniper and his spotter positioned themselves overlooking the shallowest river crossing. A few hours later, the NVA appeared.
A single scout approached the river first, but Mawhinney waited. When the rest of the NVA began to cross the river, Mawhinney kept waiting. It wasn’t until the men were deep into the river that Mawhinney began firing.
He engaged the enemy at ranges from 25 to 75 meters, nailing one man after the other through the head. As he describes it,
“They started across the river and as soon as the first one started up the bank on our side, I went to work. I got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the weapon, every one of them were headshots. They were dead center… …They never did cross the river that night.”
The two Marines then hastily fell back as the NVA tried to hit them with small arms and machine gun fire.
“To this day,” Mawhinney continues, “I’ve always wondered what their company commander’s report was of what happened to them… “
These days, when the United States wants to deploy fighters to an operating theater, the logistics are actually very simple. The fighters take off, they refuel in midair, and then they land at an operating base. They may make some overnight stops, but they fly their way in, thanks to the impressive refueling capabilities of the 414 KC-135s and 59 KC-10s on inventory.
But it wasn’t always so simple, especially back during World War II. At that point, mid-air refueling had been done as a stunt, but there were no real practical applications. Most of the Army Air Force’s fighters back then didn’t have the range to regularly make non-stop flights. There were some notable exceptions, however. Bombers and the P-38 Lightning could usually make the flights across the Atlantic, typically via Greenland and Iceland.
Most other fighters, including the P-51, couldn’t make the journey. So, here’s what they did instead. After the planes were built, assembled, and quality checked, the next step was to disassemble them and crate them. The crated planes would then be loaded onto a ship and taken to a port near the front lines. There, the planes were taken to a base, removed from the crates, and re-assembled. After yet another quality check, planes were ready to fly.
Now, this could be a problem. You see, if the ship got attacked, the planes on board could be damaged. Or worse, the ship could be sunk. America’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (AV 3) was sunk after it was used as an aircraft ferry.
See how a P-47 got ready for combat at the front lines in the video below.
The reply that came during a seance, according to a defendant’s testimony given at a Kyiv court on March 10, 1948, was that the Soviet dictator was no such thing.
Coming at a time when Josef Stalin’s cult of personality was at its height, such a conversation was sure to attract attention. Especially because the founding father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, was allegedly the one replying from beyond the grave during the conjuring, more than two decades after his death.
Other court evidence revealed that during one of the seances “Lenin” predicted from the afterlife that war was coming — six countries would soon free the Soviet people from Stalin’s yoke.
When asked about the future of Soviet power, an unidentified Russian revolutionary responded that “it won’t exist, with the help of America.”
Such “conversations” were revealed in archived documents of trial testimony and interrogations carried out by the Soviet State Security Ministry (MGB), which included the secret police.
Aside from Lenin, the court heard from a number of early Soviet A-listers, some of whom might have cause to slander Stalin.
Lenin and Stalin.
There was archrival Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940 on the Soviet leader’s orders. And Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, who died under mysterious circumstances after a public argument with her husband in 1932.
Others speaking from the grave included the writers Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Kuprin, as well as famed rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Their questioners were not members of the Bolshevik inner circle, but ordinary residents of the north-central Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva who had never even belonged to the Communist Party.
For their role in conjuring up voices from the past, Ilya Gorban, his sister Vera Sorokina, and his lover Olga Rozova were arrested and accused of anti-Soviet acts and the “creation of an illegal religious-mystical group of spiritists.”
Gorban was an unaccomplished artist when he moved to Bila Tserkva from Kyiv in early 1947, a year before the trial.
The 44-year-old native of the Poltava region had designed museum exhibits and prepared posters and portraits of Lenin for demonstrations. He was wounded during World War II while manning an anti-tank gun near Orel.
He had married and fathered a child. But the marriage ended in divorce and his daughter lived with her mother.
Gorban settled into his new life in Bila Tserkva with his sister, Vera, and got a job at the local industrial plant as a sculptor.
A book lover, he frequented the city library and soon entered into a romance with 39-year-old Olga Rozova, a library employee.
Rozova was married. But her husband — Andrei Rozov, a journalist with a newspaper in Voronezh — had been accused of belonging to an “anti-Soviet Trotskyite terrorist organization” in 1938 and imprisoned for 10 years.
While at work, Gorban had a conversation with colleague Mikhail Ryabinin, who asked the sculptor if he believed in the afterlife and the existence of spirits.
Gorban said he did not, but he did take Ryabinin up on his recommendation that he read the Spirits Book — written in 1856 by Frenchman Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail under the pen name Allan Kardec and considered one of the pillars of spiritism.
The doctrine of spiritism, or Kardecism, centers on the belief that the spirits of the dead survive beyond mortal life and can communicate with the living. The communication usually takes place during seances conducted by a person serving as a medium between this world and the otherworld.
Gorban read it with fascination and proposed that Ryabinin organize a seance. His friend declined, however, saying according to case files that “all these sessions with plates — they are nonsense and baby talk. I contact the spirits at a higher level.”
Gorban’s sister agreed to try, however, and together they conducted a seance based on what they had learned.
They lit candles and sat at a table with a sheet of paper in the center. On the paper the letters of the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes” and “no” were drawn in a circle.
A seance board similar to the one used in Bila Tserkva
A saucer with an arrow from the center to the edge was set over the paper.
The idea was to call on the spirts of a particular person and, if he or she appeared, to ask them questions. If all went well the saucer, beneath the hands of participants, would begin to rotate freely and without force, spelling out answers by pointing to the appropriate symbols on the paper.
Altogether, Gorban and his sister conducted 15 to 20 seances in the summer and autumn of 1947. At times they reached out to people outside the Soviet circle. The spirits of deceased relatives were often conjured up, including the siblings’ mother, who allegedly gave the pair everyday advice. They even got a hold of Alexander Pushkin, but the Russian poet “cursed” them.
Gorban’s girlfriend, Olga Rozova, began to join the sessions, and the group conjured up a late writer who began to compliment her.
“I suspected that this was a trick of Gorban’s, with whom I had been in an intimate relationship,” she recalled during her courtroom interrogation. “The whole session was of a purely personal, amorous character.”
Some sessions were held at Rozova’s apartment, which was inside the library. A friend of hers who headed the local school library, Varvara Shelest, took an interest and also started attending the sessions.
The last seance, according to testimony of group members, was held in December 1947.
They asked Lenin’s spirit about the monetary reforms enacted that year, which included the denomination of the ruble and the confiscation of personal savings.
Knock on the door
A couple of months later Chekists — agents of the feared secret service — came for them.
Rozova was detained on Feb. 19, 1948; Sorokina and Gorban were taken away the next day.
The case was transferred to the authorities in Kyiv, and the trial began on March 6, just two weeks after the suspects were detained.
From the MGB’s point of view, the seances were evidence of the formation of an “illegal religious-mystical group” — which on its own could have led to imprisonment. But the authorities took things one step further by adding the more serious “anti-Soviet” charge.
“This seance had a sharply anti-Soviet character,” read one file. “This deliberate slander pertained to one of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and government.”
When initially questioned, the three did not appear to hide that they had participated in seances. Gorban and Sorokina wrote them off as an attempt to have fun; Rozova said there was no intended goal.
Joseph Stalin, Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin.
But ultimately their confessions were recorded by their interrogators — the sessions were driven by anti-Soviet sentiment and were just a “convenient screen” for “slanderous agitation.”
In his interrogation report, Gorban was quoted as saying he had “tried to defame and slander the Soviet powers and the leaders of the Party and government” to expose the “talentlessness” of Soviet leaders to his alleged accomplices.
Disgruntled by postwar poverty, it was Gorban who had directed the movements of the saucer, according to the documents.
During their trial, those alleged admissions were recanted. Each of the three defendants declared that they did not believe in the otherworld or spirits. When queried about their religious beliefs, each answered that they were atheists. And their sessions, they said, were for entertainment.
“I didn’t think that our sessions were anti-Soviet,” Sorokina testified. “What we did was, of course, not good, but I was, am, and will remain a Soviet person.”
As for the saucer, Gorban said, he had no idea how it moved. All admitted to partial guilt, according to the court files.
The ruling in their case came on March 10, after just two court sessions.
The three were found guilty of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation, and of participation in a counterrevolutionary organization.
Gorban was sentenced to 25 years in a labor camp; Rozova and Sorokina to 10 years each. Gorban would have been executed had the verdict come a year earlier — but the death penalty had recently been suspended.
The mystery of ‘North’
The role of Gorban’s colleague in all this was not forgotten. A criminal case was opened against Ryabinin — the man who had suggested Gorban read the Spirits Book — the same day the others were sentenced.
It is unclear, however, what might have happened to him.
Rozova’s friend, Shelest, also remains a mystery. Despite her attendance at the group’s seances, she was apparently never detained.
According to the case files, she disappeared shortly after the others were nabbed. Material related to her was transferred to a different case, a common step intended to avoid the search for the accused slowing down the investigations of those detained.
When it later emerged that the others had been arrested as part of an underground sting operation, Shelest’s name was not listed among the targets. And when the MGB informed other Soviet authorities about the eradication of a group of spiritists in Bila Tserkva, it made mention only of an informant — codenamed “Sever” (North) — who had attended some of the sessions.
But Shelest’s name did pop up. During their trial the three defendants claimed it was Shelest who initiated most of the “political” questions posed to spirits — including Trotsky, Alliluyeva, and Gorky. Rozova said she had suspicions that Shelest had manipulated the saucer’s movements.
In requesting a pardon in 1954, one year after Stalin’s death, Rozova wrote that “at the trial it became clear to me that Shelest had been tasked with creating an anti-Soviet crime from our seances.” She further argued that Shelest continued to live in Bila Tserkva, yet no one was trying to question her.
Around the same time a prosecutor wrote that while Sorokina and Rozova were “addicted to spiritism because of their curiosity and irresponsibility,” their actions did not result in serious consequences. The two, the prosecutor argued, should be released.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that while the verdicts handed down against Gorban, Sorokina, and Rozova were correct, their sentences were too harsh.
Sorokina and Rozova were released on Feb. 22, 1955, seven years after their arrest. The decision came too late for Gorban, who died in 1950 while incarcerated at a labor camp near the Arctic Circle.
In 1992 — less than one year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — all three were rehabilitated.
Known as the Lion of Africa, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was one of the most respected military minds of World War I and, reportedly, he never suffered a defeat in battle. Born in 1870 to a military family, Lettow-Vorbeck started his military career at the age of 11 by joining the cadet corps in Potsdam, Germany.
By 18, the future officer finished school as valedictorian and was appointed lieutenant of the 4th Footguards. After that, he began working with the U.S. during the historic Boxer Rebellion, where he polished his guerrilla warfare tactics. Through outstanding performance, Lettow-Vorbeck quickly worked his way up in rank.
Lettow-Vorbeck was next sent to German South-West Africa (which is known as Namibia today) to put down a rebellion fueled by Herero and Namaqua tribesmen. After suffering injuries, he was moved to South Africa to recover. In his absence, the quelling of the local insurrection devolved into what’s now considered the first instance of 20th-century genocide — nearly 100,000 locals were killed.
Afterward, the Prussian officer spent a few years back in his homeland of Germany until 1914, when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command over colonial troops in German East Africa.
Then, World War I broke out. As war raged, the German governor of the African colony, Heinrich Schnee, was determined to remain neutral. Lettow-Vorbeck had other ideas. Knowing full-well that the African theater was a sideshow to the real war, the Lieutenant Colonel set out to entangle as many British troops as possible.
Although highly outnumbered, Lettow-Vorbeck and his men successfully held a front using guerrilla tactics and avoiding fighting out in the open — a smart move when you have fewer troops than the opponent. Lettow-Vorbeck’s maneuvers helped defeat the British, Belgian, and Portuguese armies. For his actions, he was promoted to the rank of major general. The new general was well-respected by all of men, including the Askari troops he commanded due to the fact that he was fluent in Swahili, their native tongue.
Once the war had ended, he returned to Germany and received a massive, hero’s welcome from his countrymen.
Although the general was a known anti-semite, he wasn’t a faithful member of the Nazi party. Because of this, Lettow-Vorbeck maintained a great distrust of Adolf Hitler. In letters he wrote, he expressed a thorough distaste for Hitler’s racist rhetoric.
In fact, when Hitler offered him the ambassadorship to the Court of James in 1935, he told Hitler to go f*ck himself.
Some literature suggests that Lettow-Vorbeck didn’t use those exact words — in fact, his words weren’t so kind.
The Office of Strategic Services Detachment 101 was a predominantly Army unit set up to conduct guerrilla operations in Burma during World War II. Originally ordered to conduct limited sabotage and reconnaissance missions, the unit grew to lead almost 10,000 local fighters that killed thousands of Japanese, rescued hundreds of Allied pilots, and enabled the success of Merrill’s Marauders.
The detachment began by sabotaging infrastructure in the area. The first operation, three simultaneous strikes against key bridges, went badly as only one bridge was destroyed and the U.S. teams suffered casualties. The next two operations suffered from rushed planning and little reconnaissance and failed.
One of the Kachins’ preferred methods for killing Japanese were to set up ambush areas. They planted improvised bamboo spikes known as pungyi sticks in the undergrowth and then carefully placed their weapons in concealment.
When the Japanese arrived, the Rangers would attack, forcing the Japanese to decide between taking heavy machine gun and rifle fire in the open or diving into the undergrowth where pungyi sticks awaited them.
Initially, there was a small number of U.S. personnel leading a small number of guerrillas, but as the mission became more successful it got better funding and drew more local recruits. One Catholic missionary, Father Dennis MacAllindon, could speak Kachin and helped the Americans recruit.
So the Kachins carefully watched the Japanese and noted the locations of airfields, supply caches, headquarters, troop buildups, and other threats. American radio operators then relayed this targeting data to bomber units that would strike.
In once case, a Japanese force had hidden their planes in holes covered in sod at an old airbase, making it appear unused from the air. Detachment 101 sent a heads up to the rest of the Army and they bombed the whole thing into ancient history.
Detachment 101 grew to encompass almost 10,000 Americans and locals, still mostly Kachins. When the rest of the Army became serious about retaking sections of Burma, mostly to reopen routes into and out of China, Detachment 101 was a key part of the mission.
The famed Merrill’s Marauders formed the core of Operation Galahad, but Kachin forces protected their flanks, guided patrols, and even helped move equipment by elephant.
The Cold War spawned decades’ worth of bizarre weapon ideas as the West and the Soviet Union strove towards gaining the strategic upper hand over their superpower rival.
The US was responsible for at least seven nuclear weapon designs during the Cold War that now seem outlandish or ill-advised. But the US wasn’t alone in its willingness to build seemingly absurd weapons systems to gain some kind of advantage over the Soviets.
In the 1950s, the UK designed a nuclear landmine that would be placed in West Germany to stop a hypothetical Soviet assault on the rest of Europe, the BBC reports. The landmine, dubbed Operation Blue Peacock, would be operated remotely so that it could be detonated at the moment when it could inflict maximal damage on the invading Red Army.
But the weapon had a major hitch. Buried underground, it was possible that the mine would become cold to the point that the detonator would be unable to trigger a nuclear blast. In 1957, British nuclear physicists found a solution: chickens
“The birds would be put inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and stopped from pecking at the wiring,” the BBC notes. The chickens’ body heat would be enough to maintain the triggering mechanism’s working temperature. In all, the chickens would be estimated to survive for a week, after which time the bomb would return to a possibly cooled and inoperable state.
In all, the landmines designed in Operation Blue Peacock were thought to yield a 10-kiloton explosion which would produce a crater 375 feet in diameter, according to the American Digest. Such destructive potential ultimately led to the abandonment of the project as the British realized that there would be an unacceptable amount of nuclear fallout from such a blast — never mind the complicated issue of burying nuclear weapons within the territory of an allied nation.
By 1958, after the production of only two prototypes, Operation Blue Peacock was abandoned.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
27 years ago, the Black Hawk Down incident was unfolding on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, when a pair of US Army MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down by Somali militia toting rocket propelled grenades.
Of the many incredible stories of bravery and brotherhood that emerged from the day, one in particular stood out enough that two of the soldiers within would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for their heroism and sacrifice.
In August of 1993, a task force consisting of members of America’s elite special operations units were deployed to Somalia after a deadly IED attack on American military personnel who were, at the time, in country conducting a humanitarian mission.
Known as Task Force Ranger, the deployment package consisted of Rangers from the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, Night Stalkers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and operators from Delta Force, among many others.
Attached to the Delta contingent were a pair of sharpshooters — MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart. Both Gordon and Shughart were old hands in the special operations community, the former having served with 10th Special Forces Group before being selected to join Delta Force, and the latter having served with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
On Oct. 3, an operation was launched with TF Ranger running the show entirely. It would be known as “Gothic Serpent,” though in later years, it would more popularly be known as the Black Hawk Down incident. The mission’s primary intent was to capture a pair of high-ranking officials of the Habr Gedir clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aided.
The events of Gothic Serpent were documented in Mark Bowden’s best seller, “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,” and helicopter pilot Mike Durant’s book, “In The Company of Heroes.”
Delta operators and Rangers would be inserted from the air by Night Stalkers in MH-60s near the target building, secure the site and capture the high value targets. A convoy of Humvees and trucks would roll in immediately after to pick up the assault team and the prisoners back to the Mogadishu International Airport, where TF Ranger maintained its headquarters and garrison.
Things began going awry during the mission, however, and Somali irregulars and militia began amassing in considerable numbers, putting up an unexpectedly ferocious fight. Things went south, entirely, when Super 61, one of the Black Hawks attached to the assault element, was shot down killing both pilots and seriously injuring its crew chiefs and two Delta operators in the main cabin during the crash.
Though the momentum of battle was still on TF Ranger’s side, it was firmly lost when a second Black Hawk — Super 64 — was shot down just 20 minutes after Super 61. A nearby Black Hawk, callsign Super 62, circled near the crash site to provide covering fire. Gordon, Shughart and SFC Brad Hallings, another Delta sniper, were aboard Super 62, picking off targets one by one.
The three operators realized that it was highly likely that one if not all of the crew in Super 64 had survived the crash, at least initially. They quickly resolved to request an insertion near the crash site to set up a defensive perimeter to war away an angry lynch mob of Somali civilians and militia starting to stream towards the site. Should the militia get their hands on the survivors, a horrible fate worse than death would potentially await them.
When Gordon radioed in the request, it was nixed twice. Commanders, back at the airport, figured that the three operators would be of more use in the air to Super 64, than on the ground. Repeating his request a third time, Gordon and Shughart were given the go-ahead to insert at the crash site.
Knowing that a supporting ground element wasn’t anywhere nearby, both snipers were fully aware that this would essentially be a suicide mission. Their objective: to buy the crew of Super 64 a little more time until help arrived, even if it meant giving up their lives in the process.
Super 62 swooped in low near the crash site, Gordon and Shughart jumping out with Hallings staying behind to man a minigun in place of an injured crew chief. Super 62 took to the skies again, covering the two operators on the ground as they fought their way to the fallen Black Hawk. Super 62 would soon have to return to base after being hit by an RPG – thankfully, they made it.
Arriving at the crash, the two snipers were proven right when they discovered pilot CW3 Mike Durant alive and conscious, and the other members of the crew – Ray Frank, Tommie Field and Bill Cleveland – still clinging to life, though barely so. They worked quickly to extricate the Night Stalkers from the carcass of the Black Hawk, giving Durant a gun to use defensively while they engaged the oncoming mob.
Dropping targets with the efficiency and effectiveness Delta operators are known for, Shughart and Gordon inflicted major casualties on the mob. Gordon was the first to fall, having succumbed to numerous wounds sustained in the fight. Shughart was killed soon after, having depleted most of his ammunition. Durant was taken alive as a prisoner of war, while the rest of Super 64’s crew tragically died, either due to their injuries from the crash or torture inflicted by the mob.
Gordon and Shughart’s sacrifice was not in vain — Durant would survive his ordeal in captivity, and would later return to fly with the 160th SOAR before retiring. The two operators were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor the following year in 1994, a token of remembrance for their incredible valor and sacrifice in the midst of battle that fateful October day.