This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.


They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Gurkhas in Afghanistan

 

A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Gurkhas in the process of defeating Hitler in 1943.

On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.

He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:

“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister. 

During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Shrestha in the hospital after the train fight.

 

When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:

“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”

Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.

Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how a Marine Expeditionary Brigade would fight the Battle of Belleau Wood today

The Battle of Belleau Wood holds an important place in Marine Corps lore – alongside Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Hue City and Fallujah. During that battle, a brigade of Marines was part of a two-division American force that helped turn back a German assault involving elements of five divisions.


But how would a modern Marine brigade handle that battle?

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918) – an illustration done by Georges Scott. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade of today is an immensely powerful force, with a reinforced regiment of Marine infantry, a Marine air group, and loads of combat support elements. This is usually a total of 14,500 Marines all-included. Don’t forget – every Marine is a rifleman, but the ones who do other jobs will really leave a mark on the Germans.

How will the gear of the MEB stack up to those of the Germans? Well, in terms of the infantry rifle, there are two very different animals. The Marines will use the M16A4, firing a 5.56mm NATO round that has an effective range of 550 meters. The Germans have the famous Gewehr 98, with a range of 500 meters. More importantly, the M16A4 is a select-fire assault rifle, while the Gewehr 98 is a bolt-action rifle.

In other words, the individual Marine has the individual German outgunned. Furthermore, with optics, the Marines are going to have much more accuracy in addition to a much higher rate of fire.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Gewehr 98, standard infantry rifle of the German Army in World War I. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

For the Germans, it gets worse when one looks at other gear the modern Marine brigade has available. In a given fire team, there are two M16A4s, a M249 SAW or M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, and a M16A4 with a M203 grenade launcher. The MG08 may have an edge over the M240 that a Marine company might bring into the fight, but where the Germans will really get chewed up is when they try to attack a MEB’s 18 M2 heavy machine guns and 18 Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
A US Army soldier with an MK-19 grenade launcher. | Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Parsons

As the Germans break themselves on the Marine defenses, the Marine counter-attack will be devastating. M777 Howitzers will fire Copperhead and Excalibur guided projectiles to guarantee hits on German strong points. Marine M224 60mm mortars and M252 81mm mortars will add to the bombardment, and can also lay smoke.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paris Capers

 

Furthermore, Marine brigades will attack at night. The Germans do not have night-vision goggles or even IR viewers. The Marines do. The Marines will also be able to use AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, LAV-25 light armored vehicles, and M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to provide direct support. The BGM-71 TOW and FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles the brigade have will also help decimate German fortifications.

We’re not even touching what the air component of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, three squadrons of AV-8B+ Harriers and two of F/A-18s, plus assorted helicopters, would be capable of doing. Let’s just say that Joint Direct Attack Munitions on fortifications and cluster bombs on infantry in the open would be a decisive advantage for the MEB.

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Local resident and historian Gilles Lagin, who has studied the battle of Belleau Wood for more than 30 years, shows Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Dave Bumgardner a German gas mask found next to the remains he discovered on a recent battlefield study. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Phil Mehringer)

 

The Battle of Belleau Wood lasted for 26 days in June 1918 — nearly a month of vicious combat that left 1,811 Americans dead. A modern Marine brigade would likely win this battle in about 26 hours, and they’d suffer far fewer casualties doing so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Navy constantly checks on this sunken cruiser

In the early months of World War II, the United States Asiatic Fleet had been given an impossible job — hold the line against the might of the Japanese Navy. The ships and men did their best, but they were ultimately forced to retreat towards Australia. Unfortunately, not all of them made it.


One of those ships that didn’t make it was the Northampton-class heavy cruiser, USS Houston. She was sunk by Japanese forces 76 years ago in the Battle of the Sunda Strait alongside the light cruiser, HMAS Perth. Of the 1,061 men aboard, only 291 survived both the sinking and being held as prisoners of war.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
The heavy cruiser USS Houston was assigned to the Asiatic Fleet prior to World War II. (US Navy photo)

In 2014, the wreck of USS Houston, the final resting place of 650 sailors and Marines, including Captain George Rooks (awarded the Medal of Honor), was located. The problem was that the vessel sank in shallow waters, providing easy access for divers.

A 2014 release by the Navy noted that there were signs that the wreck had been disturbed. In 2015, the United States Navy and the Indonesian Navy teamed up to survey the wrecks of Houston and Perth to ascertain their condition.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Navy Divers assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, Mobile Diving Salvage (MDS) 11-7, survey HMAS Perth (D29) during dive operations held in support of search and survey operations of the sunken World War II navy vessels USS Houston (CA 30) and Perth. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

The good news was that the survey showed no signs of recent salvaging. However, the same couldn’t be said for wrecks from battles that took place off the coast of Indonesia, which have been seriously damaged by illegal salvage operators seeking to acquire the pre-1945 steel onboard sunken warships. Some of the vessels, which are considered war graves under international law, have been almost completely stripped for a few Indonesian rupiahs. Each rupiah is worth .0073 cents.

This past September, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) laid a wreath at the Houston‘s location. The ceremony took place during the multi-national CARAT exercises, which have sometimes seen divers survey the wrecks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British crew sang a hilarious song as their ship burned

People who serve in the military tend to develop a pretty dark sense of humor. It comes with the territory. When a very large part of your life involves risking it for your country and for the guy next to you, the idea that your last moments could be closer than you think never fully leaves your mind.

This can change a person. Veterans have a different outlook on some of the more serious aspects of life, laughing at things many others would never dream to, for fear of offending others or, worse, tempting fate. For the crew of the British destroyer HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, this change became readily apparent and their darker sense of humor flourished.


In 1982, the military junta that ruled Argentina decided that the nearby Falkland Islands, a series of small and strategically unimportant islands off the Argentine coast were going to belong to Argentina again. They had been held by Britain for about 150 years at that point. After a workers’ dispute saw Argentine laborers raise the Argentinian flag on South Georgia Island, Argentina invaded. Soon, 10,000 Argentinian troops occupied the islands. The Argentines thought the UK was unwilling and unable to defend their territories so far from the mainland. They were wrong.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

They thought the woman with the nickname “Milk Snatcher” was gonna just let them have the goddamn Falklands.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched a two-carrier naval task force to the area and declared a 200-mile war zone around the Falklands. Within two months, the British retook the Falklands and punished the Argentinian military, but their win was not totally without loss. One of the deadliest weapons the Royal Navy had to face was the new French-built Exocet anti-ship missile. The versatile weapon is capable of sinking enemy vessels with a single, well-placed shot.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in sinking the HMS Sheffield.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Exocet: the trump card of naval warfare.

The Sheffield was on alert but was more concerned about the submarine threat from Argentina’s navy. The crew was totally unaware of the incoming ordnance until they could see smoke from the sea-skimming missiles. The firing aircraft, two Argentinian Navy Super-Étandards weren’t even detected. One missile hit the water, well away from the ship, but the other hit the Sheffield just eight feet above the waterline.

The ship was set on fire and, because the missile hit Sheffield’s water main, there was no way to put it out. Smoke and flames quickly filled the ship, beginning from the second deck where the Exocet missile struck. The crew could only gather and accept the ship’s fate as it burned and they waited to be rescued. Some 20 British sailors died in the initial explosion.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

The HMS Arrow was on its way to rescue the Sheffield’s crew, so they formed a chain to keep everyone together and a Sub-Lieutenant named Carrington-Wood led the crew in singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. To this day, it’s the most-requested funeral song in the UK.

The Sheffield did not sink immediately. She was looked at to see what could be salvaged and only began to take on water as she was towed across the Atlantic. When she sank, she was the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in action since World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warsaw remembers the historic ghetto uprising 75 years later

Commemorations are being held to mark the 75th anniversary the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when thousands of young Jewish fighters took up arms against occupying Nazi German forces during World War II.

The uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 Jewish fighters armed with pistols and other light arms attacked a German force more than three times their size.


Many left last testaments saying that they knew they would not survive but that they wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing and not in the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, where more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews had already been sent.

Only a few dozen fighters survived when the Germans crushed the uprising. Most have since died or are no longer healthy enough to attend the observances.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
With more than 400,000 imprisoned Jews at its highest point, Nazi Germany’s Warsaw Ghetto was the largest in Poland during World War II. The final act of Jewish resistance started 75 years ago, on April 19, 1943, a month before the ghetto was burned down in May of that year.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is scheduled to visit a Jewish cemetery and then take part in the official ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument.

The commemoration comes at a time of heightened tensions between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s new Holocaust law, which came into effect in March 2018, and led to harsh criticism from Israel, Jewish organizations, and others.

The legislation penalizes statements attributing Nazi German crimes to the Polish state with fines or a jail term. Polish government officials say the law is meant to protect the country from false accusations of complicity.

Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in World War II and ceased to exist as a state. An estimated 6 million Poles, about half of them Jews, were killed.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You could lose your boat if you loot a war grave in American waters

Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.


But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.

The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

 

Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”

Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.

 

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Bismark’s final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.

All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.

Articles

This British soldier may have spared Hitler’s life during WWI

History is full of urban legends… The fog of war doesn’t fade when history’s most notorious monster and a gallant British soldier are on both ends of the story.


When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938, he found the German dictator owned a reproduction of a painting by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. The painting depicts a British soldier at the Battle of Menin Crossroads in WWI carrying another to safety.

It was a bizarre acquisition for someone like Hitler, so furious at Germany’s loss and humiliation at the end of World War I.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Chamberlain asked Hitler – a clearly firm German nationalist – why he would choose to have a painting depicting Germany’s WWI enemies in the Berghof, his mountain retreat. Hitler replied that the painting featured a soldier who spared his life in combat.

“That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again,” Hitler is alleged to have said. “Providence saved me from such devilish accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”

That British soldier is believed to be Henry Tandey, a Victoria Cross recipient who remembers sparing a German soldier’s life at Marcoing. At just 27 years old, Tandey led a bayonet charge at Marcoing. He and his nine fellow Tommies took out a German machine gun nest and took 37 prisoners before sending the rest of the Germans in retreat.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
The village of Marcoing after the battle, 1918.

Tandey fought in the First Battle Ypres in 1914 and the Somme in 1916, where he was wounded. He was out of the hospital in time for the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, and in 1918, was at the capture of Marcoing, where he recalls sparing a German soldier’s life.

“I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” Tandey remembered, “so I let him go.” Tandey said the German soldier nodded in thanks, and disappeared.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Hitler, front row left, in 1917.

The accuracy of the story is disputed by historians. Though Hitler’s special interest in the painting is odd, he is known to have owned it as early as 1937, acquired from Tandey’s old regiment.

Historians argue that the faces of both men would likely have been unrecognizable, covered in mud and blood (and who-knows-what-else). They also argue that Hitler, even though he was a message runner, would have been up to 50 miles north of where Tandey was that day. Either that, or the future dictator was on leave.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Tandey with medals in 1973.

Later, during WWII, a Coventry-based journalist approached the British WWI vet and asked him about the alleged encounter. As Tandey stood in front of his home, which had just been bombed by the Luftwaffe, Tandey said:

“If only I had known what he would turn out to be… When I saw all the people and women and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Bloody Mary is feared

Queen Mary I is the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The King loved his daughter but he desired a male heir to continue his line. He started to lust after Anne Boleyn, one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting. Anne was higher-level servant that served as the Queen’s personal assistant but still low born. She allowed the King to pursue her. However, he needed his heir to be legitimate and considered divorcing the Queen. His divorce would trigger a chain of events that would change the course of history forever in England.

Mary falls from grace

Pope Clement VII happened to be Queen Catherine’s cousin. For six years the Pope attempted to delay the divorce, hoping to give Catherine enough time to birth a male heir. King Henry grew angrier over time and married Anne in secret. Henry declared that his marriage to Queen Catherine was invalid because she was the wife of his brother and thus the union was incestuous. He broke away from his ties to Rome and sparked the English Reformation by establishing The Church of England. The archbishop of Canter Bury, Thomas Cranmer, would then grant him an annulment instead.

queen mary
Portrait of Mary Tudor, Queen Mary I (1516 – 1558), circa 1550s
This portrait derives from the work of Hans Eworth who worked as a portrait and history painter (Flickr)

From this point forward Mary I is a bastard. Her titles revoked and cast out of her father’s favor. Her mother was forced to live in exile and this was the beginning of Mary’s deep seated hatred for her step mother, a protestant. Anne hated her too and continuously vied for Mary’s execution. Anne gave birth to a princess, Elizabeth I, whom also became a devoted protestant later in life.

Insult to injury

Anne’s failure to give the King an heir provided an opening for Mary to return to her father’s court but at a high cost. She would have to acknowledge him as the head of the Church of England and accept that her claim to royalty was illegitimate. She reluctantly agreed and regretted it for the rest of her life. For her humiliation she was reinstated at court and given a lavish residence – or be put to death.

As for Anne, she was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on false claims of multiple affairs with other men. The true reason for her execution was her failure to give Henry a male heir. The King married his third wife two weeks later — Jane Seymour. She was able to give Henry a male heir, Edward VI. Edward, also a dedicated protestant, who assumed the throne at the age of nine after his father’s death. Edward died of tuberculosis at the age of 15. He declared another heir so that neither of his sisters, Mary I or Elizabeth I would rule in his stead. Mary I was able to decisively wrestle power for herself in nine days and became the first Queen of England to rule in her own right.

Revenge of the Bloody Mary

For three years rebel bodies dangled from gibbets, and heretics were relentlessly executed, some 300 being burned at the stake. Thenceforward the queen, now known as Bloody Mary, was hated, her Spanish husband distrusted and slandered, and she herself blamed for the vicious slaughter.

Eric Norman Simons, The Queen and the Rebel: Mary Tudor and Wyatt the Younger

Mary also got her revenge against Thomas Cranmer who annulled her mother’s marriage and paved the way for Protestantism. He was burned at the stake for heresy.

Portrait of bloody mary
(Wikipedia)

Queen Mary I continued to rule for five years after taking the throne. She was ruthless and cruel, hellbent on revenge for the harsh life she lived. She blamed the protestants for everything and believed that by burning heretics alive she was saving the souls of everyone in her kingdom. After years of fighting mental illness and physical illness, she succumbed to uterine or ovarian cancer at the age of 42 in 1558. She gained the nickname ‘Bloody Mary,’ the first Queen of England.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US plan to completely destroy Germany after World War II

It’s one of those bizarre twists of history that might have changed the world as we know it, if not just for a small tweak. Believe it or not, the Allied plan for Germany wasn’t all Marshall Plan and Berlin Airlift from the get-go. While they also weren’t about to be nuked, a lot of animosity still remained after the fall of Nazism. World War I was about as far removed from World War II as Operation Desert Storm is from the US-led invasion of Iraq. A lot of people still hated Germany for the Great War – a war it didn’t even start. So they really hated Germany for what it did during World War II.

One of the people who hated Germany and wanted to take it out for good was Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. – and he was almost President of the United States.


This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

He doesn’t seem intimidating now, but keep reading.

When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, Vice President Truman took office. Shortly after that, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. resigned his post. That left Morgenthau next in the Presidential line succession. President Truman, of course, finished out Roosevelt’s term and then some, but had President Morgenthau taken control of what was now a global superpower, his plans for postwar Europe would have had dramatic consequences on world history.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

A page from Morgenthau’s 1945 work, “Germany Is Our Problem.”

Morgenthau wanted not only subdivide Germany into smaller parts, he wanted to wreck all of its industrial capabilities. In order to keep Germans from making armaments, he wanted to keep them from making anything at all. Industrial facilities were to be destroyed, mines were to be wrecked and filled, experts in production and manufacturing would be forcibly removed from the region and put to work elsewhere. Germany was going to become an agrarian state, set back almost a thousand years.

The trouble was, the Nazis found out about it. They told the German people about the program in a piece of German propaganda, encouraging them to fight on against the Americans. Morgenthau’s plan would reduce the population of Germany by potentially millions of people who would no longer be able to produce enough food to feed each other or themselves.

And Roosevelt approved it.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Nobody’s perfect.

When Truman took over, he wanted the plan scrapped and ordered it done so. Unfortunately, the plan he replaced it with was pretty much the same plan under a different name. The JCS Directive 1067 called on Eisenhower to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.” For two years, the recovery of Europe stalled under the plan as Communism crept into the occupied territories.

The Marshall Plan was approved in 1948, replacing the Morgenthau Plan. Named for Secretary of State George Marshall, this new plan for Germany oversaw its postwar recovery without decimating the German economy or its people while creating the foundation of a modern, more peaceful Europe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11

Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.


This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Mike Spann during operations in Afghanistan in 2001. (Photo from CIA)

Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.

In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.

The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.

In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.

A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.

Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
Northern Alliance troops in 2001 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.

After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.

American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.

After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
A memorial to Spann, built at Qala-i-Jangi (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.

Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who took 42 Nazis captive with a longsword

We’ve talked about British officer John “Mad Jack” Churchill before. He waded ashore on D-Day with his trademark Scottish claybeg sword, he killed at least one Nazi with his longbow, and he was an all-around BAMF having served in World War II, Israel, and Australia.

Today, we want to talk about that time he took approximately 42 German soldiers captive in World War II.


This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Churchill leads a simulated assault during training for the D-Day assaults.

(Imperial War Museum)

The insane capture took place in 1943 during the invasion of Italy. Churchill, then the commanding officer of Britain’s No. 2 Commando, had taken part in the capture of Sicily and then landed at Salerno with other British troops. He and his men fought for five straight days, grinding through mostly German defenders. They were even lauded for defending a rail and road hub from a determined counterattack at Vietri, Italy, until U.S. armored vehicles arrived to relieve them.

The commandos were granted a short rest and the time for showers and bathing, though they had to avoid enemy mortar fire while enjoying it. Even that rest was short-lived, though. They were serving in reserve for the U.S. 46th Infantry Division, and German forces managed to grab three hills overlooking the division area, imperiling the American forces.

So the British soldiers of No. 41 Commando and No. 2 Commando were sent in to secure two of the three hills in two attacks. Churchill, as the commander of No. 2, was in charge of that second attack.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill after World War II.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

The logistics of the assault were daunting. The men would have to attack uphill across terraces covered in vines and rocky terrain at night while trying to flush out and engage the enemy. Typically, commando attacks at night like this are conducted as silent, stealthy raids. But Churchill decided to bring nearly all of his men, broken into six columns so each column could support those to either side of it.

Churchill himself marched just ahead, spaced evenly between the third and fourth column. To ensure the columns didn’t drift apart or accidentally maneuver against one another in the darkness, he ordered them to yell “Commando!” every five minutes.

For the German defenders in the darkness, this created a sort of stunning nightmare. First, they heard No. 41 Commando take the nearby hill under heavy artillery bombardment as night was falling. Then, as pure dark set in, an unknown number of assailants began churning their way through the vines and across the terraces below, yelling to each other every few minutes. Whenever the Brits found Germans, they’d open up with Tommy guns, rifle fire, and grenades.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Churchill examines a captured 75mm gun during World War II.

(Imperial War Museum)

It caused confusion in the German ranks, and the columns were able to take dozens of prisoners. Churchill, meanwhile, grabbed one of his corporals and went to hunt out those Germans still attempting to organize their defenses.

First, he and the corporal found an 81mm mortar crew and took them prisoner. Churchill led this attack with his trademark sword, a Scottish claybeg. Then, Churchill and the corporal began moving from position to position, grabbing all the German soldiers they could find. By the time the two men made it back to the rest of the commandos, they had taken over 40 Germans prisoner (Reports vary between 41 and 43, but the more authoritative books on the Salerno invasion typically agree on 42, so that’s the number we’re using.)

The rest of the commandos had grabbed plenty of prisoners, and the total for the night between No. 41 and No. 2 Commando was 135, more than the 46th had taken in the five previous days of fighting.

This was a big coup for the intelligence folks who suddenly had access to all these prisoners. More importantly, two of the hills over the 46th were now clear of potential attackers just hours after German forces had staged there to attack.

Churchill would fight through the rest of the war, earning new accolades despite being captured once in Italy and later in Yugoslavia. After World War II, he served in Palestine and then Australia before retiring from the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How doughnuts have a storied history in the trenches of WWI

Necessity is the mother of invention — and war is often the catalyst. Sure, we can look at all of the obvious military advancements that trickled down to the civilian sector, like fixed-winged aircraft, GPS, the microwave, and the can opener, but it’s a little-known fact that a lot of contemporary American foods also got their start on the battlefield.

The doughnut, one of the most American deserts known to man, got its start when troops needed a tactical desert to get their minds off the horrors of WWI.


This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

Looks just like the line at your local Krispy Kreme — some things never change.

(National Archives)

During WWI, the Salvation Army actually deployed overseas with the troops, offering a wide variety of support for the troops. This support ranged from preparing home-cooked meals to sending money back home to sewing their uniforms when needed. The organization was entirely independent from the Armed Forces, but they followed units around the battlefield — oftentimes going to the front lines with them.

Two women assigned to assist the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division, Ensign Helen Purviance and Ensign Margaret Sheldon, endured the hellish environment of Monte-sur-Soux, France, just as the soldiers did. It rained for thirty days and supplies were running thin. They needed to come up with something — anything — to boost the abysmal morale.

They searched the countryside for ingredients and came back with eggs, milk, yeast, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. Perfect ingredients to make a cake, but that wouldn’t be enough for all the troops. They made some dough, used a wine bottle to work it, and cooked the cake batter on a frying pan in some grease. They served it up — and the soldiers loved it.

Soldiers would gather from all around when they smelled the doughnuts being cooked. It was said that the lines were so long that troops would miss duty or formation because they just wanted a single doughnut. One soldier eventually asked Ensign Purvaince, “can’t you make a doughnut with a hole in it?” She obliged this request by cutting the middle of the doughnut out with an empty condensed milk can and used the rest of the batter for other doughnuts.

Doughnuts quickly spread across the U.S. front and other Salvation Army officers started making them for the troops in their care. It didn’t take long for the women making the sweets to be given the nickname of “doughnut girls” or “doughnut lassies” — despite the numerous other ways in which they aided troops.

So, when National Doughnut Day rolls around on the first Friday of June, know that it’s about more than the glazed treat you used to cheat on your diet this morning. It’s a day in honor of the women who served on the front-lines with the troops, preparing tasty treats in hopes of cheering them up.

To learn more about Doughnut Girls or real meaning behind National Doughnut Day, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

A sub surfacing can happen pretty fast. And pretty violently.


Even at its calmest and slowest pace, that’s still almost 9,000 tons of titanium-hulled, nuclear-powered Russian sub coming at you at 8 miles per-hour.

In February 1992, the crew of the USS Baton Rouge was probably pretty surprised to find out their secret spy mission had been uncovered. How it was discovered was both surprising and entirely by accident, recounted in a paper from MIT’s Defense and Arms Control Studies Program.

The Baton Rouge was assigned to monitor the Russian Navy near the port city of Murmansk. The Soviet Union fell just a few months prior, but the U.S. Navy was still very interested in what the nascent – but still formidable – former Soviet Navy was up to.

All was going well off the coast of Murmansk as the Baton Rouge conducted its mission silently and unnoticed, until the crew was rocked by an impact from outside the boat. A Russian Sierra I-class sub, the Kostroma, collided with Baton Rouge from below as the Russian sub was trying to surface.

The American’s hull was scratched and had tears in its port ballast tank. The Kostroma’s conning tower slammed into the American sub at 8 miles per-hour as the Russian moved to surface. Its sail was crushed from the impact.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
(Russian Navy photo)

Embarrassing? Yes. Deadly? Thankfully no. Both American and Russian subs get much bigger and much heavier the Sierra I-class Kostroma and the Los Angeles-class Baton RougeBoth can carry nuclear-capable cruise missiles, but neither were equipped with those weapons at the time.

After ensuring neither submarine required assistance both returned to port for repairs. In 1995 the U.S. Congress determined that repairing the Baton Rouge would be too costly and the boat was decommissioned.

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself
The Kostroma underway (Russian Navy)

The Kostroma, however, returned to active service – with a kill marker, celebrating the defeat of the Baton Rouge

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