Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).


After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.

But where the construction of the Dreadnought kicked off a battleship race, the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man kicked off a nuclear arms race. In addition to the nuclear bombs you would expect, designers in the U.S. and Soviet Union got creative, eventually creating everything from atomic cannons and recoilless rifles to atomic “mines.”

The underwater nuclear test Hardtack Umbrella was an 8-kiloton explosion. Most nuclear torpedoes were 10-kilotons or greater.
(U.S. Navy)

Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
A Mark 45 nuclear torpedo previously in service with the U.S. Navy.
(Cliff, CC BY 2.0)

But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.

But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.

Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?

But Kuznetsov was cool with the T-5 which would fit in a standard tube. It was a new option for commanders without straining logistics or construction outside of building the weapon itself. And so the Soviets got a nuclear torpedo into testing in 1955, detonating a 3-kiloton warhead.

The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.

If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.

The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.

At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.

Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
A nuclear depth charge delivered via anti-submarine rocket detonates with an approximately 20-kiloton warhead, similar to Russia’s highest-yield nuclear torpedo during the Cold War.
(U.S. Navy)
 

But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.

While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.

The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.

Putin has desperately overhyped all of the weapons from that press conference, and so it’s unlikely that all the braggadocio will hold up, but nuclear torpedoes are technically very feasible, and so there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t build and launch one. A 100-megaton warhead is pretty feasible as well. A stealthy, fast, large torpedo is pretty unlikely though.

The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.

But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.

So, sleep tight, unless you sleep on the water.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The awesome story behind the Commander-In-Chief’s desk

After taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter moved a new desk into the White House. It had been briefly used by President Kennedy, but Johnson moved it out after taking office. Carter’s new desk was known as the Resolute Desk, and was made from the timbers of a British warship that was abandoned in the icy waters of Canada. That was not the ship’s final fate, however.


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The ship was originally part of an expedition sent to track down explorer Sir John Franklin, who left England in 1845 to look for the long-fabled “Northwest Passage.” Franklin and his crew were lost, all dying of starvation and exposure, not to mention the seaborne illnesses of the era. But England didn’t know that, and Franklin’s ships weren’t discovered until 2016, so the Royal Navy sent a squadron out to discover the fate of Franklin himself. The HMS Resolute was just one of the ships in that squadron.

The expedition to find Franklin was as disastrous as Franklin’s own expedition. Eventually, the thick sea ice would force the Navy to abandon at least two of the ships, including Resolute. An American whaling crew found the Royal Navy ship adrift in the waters off Canada, crewed her, and took her to New London. Instead of turning her into an American ship, the United States had other plans.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The “special relationship” between England and the United States is a relatively recent development. In the days before the 20th Century, the two countries routinely butted heads and almost went to war on a number of occasions. At this time, the two were embroiled in border disputes, territorial arguments, fishing rights, and whatever else countries can go to war over. The U.S. decided to give the Resolute a complete American overhaul and refit, then present the ship to Queen Victoria as a peace offering. It worked.

The ship remained in England’s home waters until she left the service in 1879. But the wood from Resolute was to become legendary. Three desks were made, the first for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American merchant from New York who helped search for Franklin’s lost expedition, the second for Queen Victoria herself. The third and largest one was presented as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The desk remained in the White House until the assassination of President Kennedy, when Lyndon Johnson allowed it to go around the country on a traveling expedition and then sending it to the Smithsonian Institution. The desk has been modified twice, the most significant was the addition of a door panel in the front which bears the Presidential Seal. Franklin D. Roosevelt had this added to hide his leg braces from the press. That seal is only one of three that features the eagle’s head turned toward the 13 arrows on its talon, instead of the olive branch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Richard Nixon predicted a Trump Presidency

His wife, Pat, actually thought of it first, while watching Donald Trump on the Phil Donahue Show. The former President Nixon agreed with her enough to write Trump and let him know.


Daytime television talk shows weren’t always about who was the father of whose baby or giving a makeover to teen girls who used to be strippers. In the late 1980s, the shows weren’t always sensationalizing scandal. Shows like Phil Donahue’s actually talked in-depth about news and cultural phenomena that were worthy of the attention. One such phenomenon was the popularity of a real estate mogul in New York who was attracting headlines everywhere: Donald Trump.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

He once debated mosh pits with Marilyn Manson.

In December, 1987, Donahue interviewed Trump on his show. Phil Donahue didn’t pull punches. From the get-go, he grilled Trump on his real estate management practices and the rumors associated with his “empire.” In the middle of the interview, Trump tells Donahue he’s able to be honest because he’s “not running for office,” after defending his policies – to the applause of a middle-class audience.

The look of surprise on Donahue’s face was clear, as he shouted “let’s hear it for the rich folks.” The debate over rent control continued for another ten minutes and the studio audience weren’t the only viewers impressed with the Donald’s performance, one viewer at home was also suitably impressed: Pat Nixon.

The former First Lady of the United States was so impressed with Trump’s responses to Donahue’s grilling that she told her husband, 37th President of the United States Richard Nixon. Nixon might have agreed with his wife, as he took the time to write to Trump:

Dear Donald,

I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me you were great on the Donahue show.
As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!

RMN

The letter was stored away in the Nixon Presidential Library Archives until the author of a 2015 biography of Trump, called “Never Enough,” included it in the memoir of then-soon-to-be Presidential candidate Trump.

Trump’s interview on Donahue covered much more than rent control in New York City. His rhetoric was similar to the arguments he would come to use as a presidential candidate, including the idea of making American allies pay for the “services we are rendering” in providing for their defense.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 of the best National Anthem performances in Super Bowl history

Outside of being the most important football game of the year, the Super Bowl gives us the chance to gather with friends and family and also makes for a good excuse why we’re still a little intoxicated the next day.


One of the most exciting parts for many of us, however, is the performing of the National Anthem. It’s a chance for all of us to get patriotic and be awed by some of the best voices in music (most of the time). Here are seven of the best National Anthem performances in the history of the Super Bowl.

7. Jordin Sparks — Super Bowl XLII

Fresh off of her American Idol win, Jordin Sparks showcased amazing pipes while keeping it simple and classy

(muffy223 | YouTube)

6. Luke Bryan — Super Bowl LI

The lone male soloist on this list, Luke Bryan came out and represented country music — and he did it well.

(Atheneum Group | YouTube)

5. Lady Gaga — Super Bowl L

This was a surprisingly great rendition of our country’s anthem. Save for some weird pronunciation (Lady Gaga is from Jersey but found an accent on the way up to the microphone, apparently), Gaga amazed the crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv2f5r5O0-c
(Anything Slays | YouTube)

4. Vanessa L. Williams — Super Bowl XXX

Former Miss America, Vanessa L. Williams, showed her versatility with this impressive performance.

(kramertony | YouTube)

3. Mariah Carey — Super Bowl XXXVI

The highest-selling female recording artist ever didn’t disappoint with this performance.

(StarpeemReturns | YouTube)

2. Combined Armed Forces — Super Bowl XXXIX

One of only two performances in Super Bowl history by anyone directly enlisted, commissioned, or committed to service. This combined chorale demonstration showed what military focus and vocal talent add up to: perfect pitch!

(Lunatic Angelic | Youtube)

1. Whitney Houston — Super Bowl XXV

They didn’t call her “The Voice” for nothing.

(CavBuffaloSoldier | YouTube)
Articles

‘Irish Brigades’ have fought around the world for hundreds of years

Most people know about the French Foreign Legion, a military unit for foreigners to take part in combat on behalf of the French people. Turns out, one group of people has no need for foreign legions because they’ll just create their own brigade to fight on whichever side of any war they like.


Since the late 1600s, Irish brigades have fought in everything from English wars of succession to the American Civil War to World War II, often in conflicts where Ireland was a neutral nation.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
The 6th Inniskillings, 38 (Irish) Brigade fighting in Sicily in August 1943. (Photo: Lt. Gabe, Imperial War Museum)

The first known “Irish Brigades” fought on behalf of James II, a king of England who converted to Catholicism and was deposed by William III, a Protestant, triggering the War of the Grand Alliance from 1689 to 1697.

While the Catholics failed to return James II or his son James III to the throne, the French and Spanish monarchs had sent armies on the same side as the Irish brigades to the war and had helped organize and equip them as the war dragged on. Many of the Irish veterans returned to France and Spain and created permanent Irish units there.

Other units were formed in other European countries such as Austria and Russia. Like the French Foreign Legion, the Irish Brigades were often kept deployed as much as possible.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Chaplains of the 2nd Brigade (Irish) of the Union Army in 1862. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Irish forces — then organized as three separate regiments — fought on behalf of American colonists after the French openly threw their weight behind the revolution in 1778.  Irish marines served on Capt. John Paul Jones Bonhomme Richard during his attacks on British shipping.

Two French Irish regiments also deployed to the Caribbean to weaken the British there. 500 volunteers from those regiments later took part in the failed Siege of Savannah.

A few decades later, an Irish battalion fought on both sides of the Mexican-American War. The battalion, composed mostly of Irish immigrants new to the U.S., initially were part of the American invasion force. But they faced strong discrimination in U.S. ranks and switched sides.

Unfortunately for them, the U.S. was still the overwhelmingly superior force, and the Mexican forces were defeated. When 85 of them were captured after the Battle of Churubusco, 50 were killed for desertion. Thirty-five who deserted before war was declared were instead branded with a “D” and flogged.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Army Brig. Gen. Robert Nugent, commander of the 2nd (Irish) Brigade, and his staff in 1864. (Photo: William Morris Smith, Public domain)

Just over a decade later, Irish brigades fought on both sides of the Civil War, though they overwhelmingly favored the Union. An estimated 150,000 to 160,000 Irish soldiers fought on behalf of the Union while approximately 20,000 fought on behalf of the Confederacy.

Most of those soldiers fought in regular units, but the Confederacy had one Irish regiment, the 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment (Irish), and the Union had at least five: the 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments.

The Tennessee 10th saw service in the West while the Union regiments, minus the 9th Massachusetts, were part of the 2nd Brigade (Irish) and fought predominantly in the East. Over the course of the war, the Irish Brigade lost 4,000 men; 11 members of the brigade were awarded the Medal of Honor.

But it’s important when looking at those numbers to remember that some regiments assigned to the Irish brigade — such as the 116th Pennsylvania and the 29th Massachusetts — were non-Irish units.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
The Tyneside Irish Brigade advances in World War I during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

During World War I, Ireland was still subordinate to the Kingdom of Great Britain and so Irish units were sent directly to the British Expeditionary Force. Still, most volunteers from within Ireland served in units either officially designated as Irish or named for the Irish areas where the unit was formed.

For instance, the 10th (Irish) Division, 16th (Irish) Division, and 36th (Ulster) Division all served in heavy fighting, as did units like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and Royal Munster Fusiliers. All-in-all, an estimated 200,000 Irish soldiers served in units designated Irish, while an unknown number served in other militaries of the British Commonwealth.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Universal carriers and Irish soldiers of the 6th Inniskillings, 38th Irish Brigade, 78th Division in Sicily in August 1943. (Photo: Lt. Gabe, Imperial War Museum)

By the time World War II rolled around, the Republic of Ireland enjoyed self-rule and was officially neutral. But Irish volunteers served in all branches of the British armed forces.

Enough Irish volunteers for the army were found that the 201 Infantry Brigade was reorganized as the 38 (Irish) Brigade and was initially commanded by The O’Donovan (the title and name held by the reigning chief of the O’Donovan clan). The 38 (Irish) Brigade consisted of three Irish regiments and served primarily in Africa, Sicily, and Italy.

Three other Irish regiments fought in World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Beginning on June 30, 1943, American soldiers, marines and sailors would endure three months of hard fighting to retake the New Georgia Islands from the Japanese in the Pacific. While the ground troops slugged their way through the thick jungles, the pilots above provided air support and tangled with Japanese fighters, keeping them at bay. And they needed a British aircraft carrier to help.

Beginning two days earlier and 300 miles offshore in the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier-based fighter planes flew combat air patrols from the USS Robin in order to intercept any Japanese carrier groups that might oppose the landings. After 28 days of constant air operations, launching 614 sorties and steaming 12,233 miles at an average of 18.1 knots, Robin returned to port to rest her crew and resupply—a record for a Royal Navy carrier.


After the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the U.S. Navy was in a poor fighting state. USS Wasp had been sunk earlier at Guadalcanal and at Santa Cruz, USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was taken out of action to repair the damage she sustained during the battle. This left USS Saratoga as the only operational carrier to keep the Japanese and their four carriers at bay in the Pacific. In order to augment their strength, the U.S. Navy received a loan from Great Britain. In December 1942, at the highest possible level of negotiation, an agreement was made between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. To bolster their ally, the British Admiralty would loan the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to the U.S. Navy to operate in the Pacific.

 

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

USS Wasp burns and lists after being torpedoed. (U.S. Navy photo)

Victorious arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in January 1943 and was refitted for service with the U.S. Navy and operations in the Pacific theater. Now under American control, she was given the codename USS Robin. In dry dock, she was given new communications systems, surface and air radars, and an aircraft homing system to allow interoperability with the U.S. fleet. Her stern was also extended by 10 feet with an added gallery of twenty 20mm anti-aircraft guns to better counter the threat of Japanese air attack.

The Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore Torpedo-Bombers that she carried were replaced with TBM Avengers. The new planes were registered as American and bore U.S. Navy markings—however, they were crewed by Brits. Her Grumman Martlets (the British name for the F4F Wildcat) were also given U.S. Navy markings. The U.S. Navy sent aviators to train the British pilots on American procedures and tactics, and even sent American uniforms (though the crew is still pictured wearing their Royal Navy tropical uniform shorts).

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

USS Robin crewed by British sailors carrying USN Avengers. (U.S. Navy photo edited by Joseph Tremain/Pulled from ArmchairGeneral.com)

After transiting the Panama Canal on February 14, Robin joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943. She underwent shakedown operations which revealed that her arrestor wires were not sufficient to stop the heavy Avengers. Heavier arrestor wires were fitted along with even more AA guns. At Pearl, she was also repainted in U.S. Navy blue grey to further disguise the British involvement with the U.S. Navy from the Axis Powers and prevent her from being mistaken as a Japanese ship. On May 8, she departed Pearl Harbor and sailed for the South Pacific where she joined up with USS Saratoga and formed Carrier Division 1 on May 17.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The solid paint scheme of USS Robin (top and center) versus the disruptive camouflage of HMS Victorious (bottom) (Illustration from British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers by Malcolm Wright)

While conducting air operations in the Coral Sea in support of the New Georgia campaign, it was noticed that Robin handled her fighter wings well, but still had issues with the heavier Avengers. Commanding the carrier division, Rear Admiral DeWitt Ramsey transferred the Avengers of 832 Squadron FAA to the Saratoga and the F4F Wildcats of U.S. Carrier Air Group 3 to Robin. Neither carrier saw any engagement with the Japanese and the division returned to Nouméa on July 25. With the two newest Essex-class carriers, USS Essex and USS Lexington, arriving in Pearl Harbor and the Japanese withholding their carriers, Robin was returned to British control and recalled home.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

USS Robin carrying FAA Avengers, FAA Martlets, and USN Wildcats all bearing USN markings but different paint schemes. (U.S. Navy photo)

She left her Avengers in Nouméa as replacements for the Saratoga and departed for Pearl Harbor on July 31. She sailed with the battleship USS Indiana and carried aboard a handful of U.S. pilots who had finished their tours and two Japanese POWs. Victorious made a brief stop in San Diego and sailed through the Panama Canal on August 26. She arrived in Norfolk on September 1 where her specialized U.S. equipment was removed. On September 26, she arrived at Greenock, Scotland and began refit for her return to Royal Navy service.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

USN Wildcat pilots of VF-3 pose aboard USS Robin. (U.S. Navy photo)

Victorious would finish the rest of the war with the Royal Navy. She participated in an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the infamous Bismarck, with the British Home Fleet. In June 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet and attacked Japanese installations in Sumatra. Victorious continued to conduct air operations in the Indian Ocean until February 1945 when she joined Task Force 113 at Sydney in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa.

TF113 joined the U.S. 5th Fleet at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands on March 25 as Task Force 57. Victorious conducted airstrikes against Japanese airfields on the Sakishima Islands and Formosa in support of the invasion until May 25. During these operations, she was hit by two kamikaze planes. However, unlike the wooden decks of her American counterparts, Victorious‘ armored flight deck resisted the worst of the impacts. She would go on to attack Japanese shipping and even seriously damaged the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo before the end of the war.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

FAA Avenger pilots pose aboard USS Saratoga. (U.S. Navy photo)

After the war, Victorious was refitted and modernized with an angled flight deck. She continued her service in the Royal Navy until a fire broke out aboard in 1967. Although the damage was minor, the Defense Ministry was cutting its budget and the Royal Navy was facing a shortage of manpower, and Victorious would not be recommissioned. She was sold for scrap in 1969.

Though her time with the U.S. Navy saw no action, Victorious played an important role in bolstering the American air arm in the Pacific. Her sailors and airmen showed their American counterparts that they could do their job just as well and filled a critical shortage at a crucial point of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bittersweet story of the Christmas Truce of 1914

War stems from division. It happens when there are problems we just can’t seem to solve. War is seldom beautiful, but every now and then, a little light shines through. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was one of those rare moments. 

It all started with one of the ugliest wars in history. 

World War I began on July 28th, 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It quickly escalated, pinning the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, known collectively as the Central Powers, against the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania and Japan, known as the Allied Powers. The two sides proceeded to engage in over three years of brutal trench warfare. The experience was hellish, with mass casualties on both sides. In total, over 16 million people lost their lives. 

In the midst of utter carnage, the opposing side often seemed evil. Yet, it wasn’t. It was war itself that was inhuman, not the men across the trenches. On Christmas Eve, 1914, soldiers on both sides did the unthinkable; they laid down their arms and sang. 

The renowned Christmas Truce that followed was unauthorized. 

In the earliest weeks of the war, forces on both sides were aggressive and angry. By December, they had seen enough death and destruction for a lifetime. They had initially believed the war would be over by Christmas and many of them longed for an end to the fighting. While Pope Benedict XV called for a temporary ceasefire for the holiday, none of the countries involved settled on any official agreement, so the exhausted soldiers took matters into their own hands. 

As Christmas approached, a sudden cold snap turned weeks of wet weather into an eerily beautiful winter landscape. On Christmas Eve at around 8:30 pm, the truce began. German soldiers began lighting their trenches and singing carols. Small Christmas trees dotted the trenches. Initially, the British were suspicious. One officer reported to headquarters that, “Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” 

Soon, it became apparent that it wasn’t a trap. The Germans sang “Silent Night”, and the British responded with “The First Noel”.  A British soldier, Private Frederick Heath, reported that a Christmas greeting rang out through the darkness: “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!” 

Between the trenches, the war-battered no man’s land transformed. 

Cautious at first, scouts ventured out of the trenches and over the barbed wire that divided the two sides. There, they imparted a message: If you don’t fire at us, we won’t fire at you. Let us have peace, if just for a night. Spontaneous truces sprang up along the trench lines without anyone really knowing how they began. In addition to sharing songs and well-wishes, impromptu games ignited. The Germans claim to have won a soccer match against the British 3-2. Meals, drinks, and laughter were shared until dawn. 

The truce was imperfect, but miraculous nevertheless. 

Unsurprisingly, many officers were against any type of truce. Fraternizing with the enemy was frowned upon, and measures were taken to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s unclear how widespread the truce really was, but some evidence suggests the truce extended across much of the British-held trench line that extended across Belgium, but other reports suggest that the truce took place in sections, scattering pockets of peace and brotherhood throughout thickets of gunfire. 

If anything, that makes the night’s events even more striking. The soldiers who chose to shake hands with their enemies must have been afraid, but they chose to do it all the same. The next day, the war continued with just as much hostility and destruction as it had before, but the opposing forces had been humanized. A grain of respect had settled in. The surprising events that took place on December 24th, 1914 along those dark and bloodied trenches didn’t bring any lasting resolution, but to those who were there, the truce brought the greatest Christmas gift of all: Hope. 

The video below is just a reenactment (and an advertisement at that), but it’s a pretty moving reminder that Christmas spirit lives on, even in the darkest of places. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This teenage single mother was the first freefall parachute pioneer

When Georgia Ann Thompson was just 15 years old, she had a 2-year-old daughter and was working in a North Carolina cotton mill. The baby’s father had run out on them. She was catching a well-deserved break, watching Charles Broadwick’s “World Famous Aeronauts” jump from hot air balloons, landing safely on the ground with the use of parachutes.

The sight so inspired Thompson, she decided to leave her young one with her parents and join the aeronauts. She had no idea her new venture would lead her to become the godmother of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. 

Broadwick didn’t invent the parachute, but he made two important design advances. He designed a “coat pack” chute that could be packed in a backpack and unfurled. He also created the static line that would open the chute when it became tight enough to pull on the pack. This was the parachute Georgia Thompson saw in 1908.

Thompson made her first jump from a balloon the same year she joined the troupe. Broadwick soon adopted Georgia and she became a headliner for the show. Now, with Georgia Thompson going by the name “Tiny Broadwick” (Georgia was only five feet tall and weighed 85 pounds) and being the star of the show, the aeronauts were more popular than ever. 

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As balloons gave way to powered flight, so did the stunts of the World Famous Aeronauts. Tiny became the first woman to jump from an airplane and the first person to ever jump from a seaplane when she glided into Lake Michigan. As her career took off, she sent money back home for her child and eventually married again. 

One of Tiny Broadwick’s biggest gifts to aborted aviation came when demonstrating the use of parachutes to the U.S. Army. In 1914, she performed a series of demonstration jumps to Army commanders who were leery of both the reliability of their aircraft, but also the reliability of parachutes. 

After making three normal static line jumps using Broadwick’s coatpack design, she had an accident on the fourth jump. The line became tangled in the airplane’s fuselage. So for the fifth jump of the day, she detached the static line from the plane and pulled on it during freefall to deploy the chute.

It was both the first freefall jump from an airplane and the first appearance of what would come to be known as a ripcord. 

Her personal life wasn’t as successful as her professional career, having divorced again after a few short years of marriage. She remarried in 1916 but by 1920, was divorced once more. Her aeronautical career ended a short time later, in 1922. After an estimated 1,100 jumps, the life of a daredevil parachutist took its toll on her ankles. Tiny Broadwick died in 1976 but a handmade silk parachute built by Charles Broadwick for her is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Their first battle: Truman rallies his men under artillery fire

Future-President Harry S. Truman was a hero in World War I who technically broke orders when, as a captain, he ordered his men to fire out of sector during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, eliminating German artillery batteries and observers in order to protect U.S. troops. But his first battle saw his men break ranks until Truman, shaking from fear, rallied them back to their guns.


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Capt. Harry S. Truman’s ID card from the American Expeditionary Forces.

(Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

The fight came in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. Truman had recently been promoted to captain and given command of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment. His battery was known as a smart, athletic, but undisciplined lot. He managed to wrangle influence over them.

But he was still untested in battle when his battery moved into position Aug. 29, 1918, and began their bombardment of German positions. The battery’s four 75mm guns sent rounds downrange, and it was great—at first. As Pvt. Vere Leigh later said, “We were firing away and having a hell of a good time doing it until they began to fire back.”

Truman had been in command for less than two months, and his men began to melt away under the cover of rain and darkness. Rumors that the German shells contained gas agents sent the men scrambling to get masks on themselves and their horses.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Truman’s map of the roads through the Vosges Mountains.

(Courtesy Harry S. Truman Library Museum, Independence, Missouri, map number M625)

In all this chaos, it was easy for the artillerymen, especially the support troops, to run into the woods and rocks of the area. Truman was afraid himself and had to struggle to remain in place. He would later write to his wife, “My greatest satisfaction is that my legs didn’t succeed in carrying me away, although they were very anxious to do it.”

Truman was on his horse, trying to keep his unit organized and in place until he rode into a shell crater and tumbled with his horse to the ground. A soldier had to help get him out from under the horse, and Truman watched the fleeing men around him and had to decide whether to run as well.

But he did hold position, and he began insulting and cajoling his troops to get them back on the guns. “I got up and called them everything I knew,” he said. The language was surprising coming from the relatively small and bespectacled captain, but it worked. Gun crews began shifting back to their weapons, other troops got horses back in line in case the battery needed to move, and American rounds screeched through the air to thunder home in German positions.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

“Truman’s Battery” depicts Battery D in battle in World War I.

(Dominic D’Andrea)

Most of his men, of course, refused to admit if they ran. So the men began referring to it as the “Battle of Who Ran.”

Truman’s poise under fire helped endear him to the men, even if he had secretly been terrified. This would later help them stick together in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive when Truman ordered them to kill German artillery batteries and observers that were technically out of the division’s sector. Truman got in trouble for firing out of sector, but he protected his men and the armored units of Lt. Col. George S. Patton Jr. that Battery D was supporting.

Seems like the behavior should’ve been expected from the guy who managed to wrangle Battery D into a unit that would stand and fight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

The first World War was a horrific time to be a soldier on the frontlines. Nations were in a rush to quickly develop and implement the newest and most effective tools of destruction. Before the war, troops had no idea of the true devastation that a tank, fighter pilot, or the various gas canisters could bring. And then there were evil darts.

Flechette darts that — thankfully — never really took off. To be frank, they sound a little silly. They’re just oversized versions of the darts that troops would toss around at their local pub — what’s the big deal? In reality, they were more like something out of a freakin’ horror movie.


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The darts were also mostly silent. One minute, you and your platoon are fine in the trenches. The next, you’re all being turned into pincushions.

(Illustration from the Petit Journal, August, 1915)

First, let’s talk about the physics behind these darts from Hell. They were roughly five inches long, weighed just over a pound, and were made of sharpened steel. When they were dropped from hundreds of feet above the ground, they’d strike the ground with enough force to pierce helmets and even vehicles.

If you filed grooves into the top or added a bird’s feather to the dull end, the dart would always land pointy-side down. Now consider the fact that a single pilot could release a canister filled with around 250 of these darts at a time and you can understand the sheer terror that these things wrought.

The Italians invented the darts before the war, but soon, countries on both sides of No Man’s Land were dropping them on opposing trenches. They were also extremely cheap to make and implement, which means they were used constantly — although the Royal Flying Corps felt they were “unsportsmanlike.” The Germans, on the other hand, were very keen on using the darts on the French. In fact, they had them specially imprinted with the text, “invention Française, fabrication Allemande.” Which roughly translates to, “a French invention, German made.”

The flechette darts didn’t last past the early years of the war when bombs were deemed more effective. But the design of sharp darts being used for war later resurfaced with the flechette rounds used in shotguns and the infamous Beehive artillery round used in the Vietnam War.

To learn more about the flechette darts, check out the video below.

Articles

Sixty years ago the world got its first look at an AK-47

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
The dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes holding a captured AK-47 in what is believed to be the first widely distributed photo of the weapon. (Public domain photo.)


Sixty years ago the weapon that became a symbol of Cold War guerrillas and current day insurgents made its debut in a most unlikely way.

The AK-47, arguably the most widely used assault rifle in the world, first appeared in the hands of both Communist troops and Hungarian revolutionaries during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolution against the nation’s communist government began on October 23 but was ruthlessly crushed by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops by Nov. 10.

In particular, one photo from the revolution gained worldwide attention – and it is arguably the first time the Kalashnikov entered the public consciousness.

C.J. Chivers, former Marine Corps infantry captain and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in his book The Gun that nobody knows which Hungarian revolutionary first picked up a captured AK-47.

But a LIFE Magazine photographer snapped a picture of József Tibor Fejes – “22-years-old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid” – whose costume as an insurgent always included a bowler hat. “The Man in the Bowler Hat” was also hefting an AK-47, making Fejes the first known revolutionary carrying what became widely known as a revolutionary’s weapon.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Fejes with other revolutionaries, still wearing his bowler and carrying a captured AK-47. (Public domain photo.)

“The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen,” Chivers wrote. “Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world’s Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon’s inaugural class.”

Although the Soviet Union had first publically acknowledged the rifle’s existence in 1949, firearms experts and military intelligence analysts in the West knew little about the weapon.

In fact, it was not until 1956 that the Army’s Technical Intelligence Office issued a classified report about the AK-47 – a report that mistakenly labeled the rifle a submachine gun and led to Pentagon brass dismissing the effectiveness of the weapon.

Eventually, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and a host of Soviet satellites and licensees manufactured more than 100 million AK-47s. First encountered by U.S. fighting men during the Vietnam War, the robust construction of the weapon and its reliability soon made believers out of Americans who faced it in the hands of their enemies.

To this day, U.S. soldiers and Marines continue to face adversaries armed with some version of the Kalashnikov.

As for József Tibor Fejes, his fate was sealed. Charged with the execution of a State Security Forces officer by gunning him down in the streets of Budapest, a Hungarian court found Fejes guilty and sentenced him to death.

Despite an appeal, authorities hanged Fejes on April 9, 1959, his punishment for what the court said was an attempt to overthrow the Hungarian people’s republic, the murder of a police officer, and the theft of state property – namely an AK-47 assault rifle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Queen of England could legally get away with murder

Mavos asks: If the queen happened to kill someone can she be prosecuted?

As the current monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and a bunch of other countries that have her on their money, the Queen enjoys something known as sovereign immunity. In a nutshell, sovereign, or crown immunity as it is sometimes known, means that the Queen is for all intents and purposes above the law. So does this mean that the Queen could just up and kill somebody if she felt like it, all the while getting off scot free? In theory, yes, absolutely.


It turns out the queen can commit any crime just about anywhere in the world and get away with it legally thanks to the fact that she enjoys both sovereign immunity and diplomatic immunity. As we’ve discussed in our article on whether diplomats can really get away with murder, diplomatic immunity is so exceptionally far reaching in its scope that a person protected by it could indeed go all Lethal Weapon 2 on everyone with total impunity.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The one problem for those diplomats, however, is that their home nations would in all likelihood not take kindly to them doing so and, beyond recalling them, they’d likely face prosecution at home for these acts if they were serious enough crimes. (Although, as we discussed in that piece, minor crimes like flouting any and all traffic rules and racking up many thousands of dollars in parking tickets without bothering to ever pay tends to be seemingly every nations’ diplomats favorite pastime.)

Going back to the queen, however, unlike most with diplomatic immunity, she does not technically have to worry about what anyone in the UK thinks.

You see, part of her immunity stems from the fact that all justice in the United Kingdom and various other countries she rules is meted out in her name. Now, obviously the Queen doesn’t personally dispense justice like the Kings and Queens of yore, among other reasons because doing so would be impractical. As a result of this, whilst the Queen is considered the “fount of justice” for her subjects, the ability to administer it is doled out to judges across Britain — all of whom are granted the post-nominal of QC (standing for Queen’s Counsel) as a nod to their position as an extension of the Queen’s will.

Likewise, the Crown Court similarly dispenses justice in the Queen’s name and as a result, all cases brought before it are tried as The Crown Versus *Blank*. Unsurprisingly from this, it is not technically possible for the Queen herself to be tried before the Crown Court as it would involve her prosecuting, well, herself.

Looking more deeply, her sovereign immunity also makes it so that the Queen cannot be tried in civil proceedings either, meaning she cannot be sued or have other such civil proceedings brought against her. The Queen also cannot be forced to testify in open court or even be interviewed by the police, not that this matters seeing as she also can’t be arrested.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

And even if she could be legally arrested for a crime, it wouldn’t matter anyway. You see, technically no arrest can be made “in the monarch’s presence” without her consent. Thus, arresting her is impossible on this count too because it would most definitely have to happen in her presence.

In addition, as if it being impossible to arrest someone just standing near the Queen, let alone the Queen herself, this protection extends to her various palaces too, meaning the police can’t arrest anyone, including the Queen, in any place she currently inhabits unless she gives assent.

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that all prisoners in the United Kingdom are held “at her Majesty’s leisure” (which is why the Queen can pardon criminals if she so wills it), meaning she could just walk out of prison anyway by telling everyone to let her go.

Speaking of the police, as with the justice system, they too are charged with dispensing justice in the Queen’s name and all members of British law enforcement, upon joining the force, must swear an oath that reads, in part — “I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable.”

Or to put it another way, the Queen is the absolute authority of the entire UK policing system and her word is, quite literally, law. As a result, the Queen could theoretically shut down any attempt made to arrest her by simply telling the officer to go away.

Now you might say if she did all this, surely Parliament would step in and curtail the murderous Queen’s powers to ensure she could be prosecuted.

The problem is that all laws proposed by Parliament require what is known as Royal Assent before they can be enshrined into British law. As the name suggests, Royal Assent comes directly from the Queen herself so a parliament looking to prosecute the Queen would need the Queen to authorise the bill limiting her own powers, which she obviously would not do if she suddenly decided to start treating life like a game of Grand Theft Auto.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Another avenue that could be pursued in regards to prosecuting the Queen would be to force her to abdicate, removing the many protections she enjoys. To be clear though, this wouldn’t necessarily open the Queen up to prosecution as, under British law, nothing she does as Queen can be considered illegal — it’d just mean she could be prosecuted for any further crimes she happened to commit after.

It’s also worth noting here that the Queen has the power to completely dissolve Parliament if she so chooses and cause a whole new set of people to be elected. And if this group displeased her, she is free to do it again and again. It’s also the Queen’s duty to appoint the prime minister and she could, in theory, appoint anyone she wanted to the position, regardless of the way the British public voted in any elections. So installing someone who would do what she wanted would not be any real hurdle.

Thus, it would take a literal revolution for Parliament to rewrite the laws concerning the Queen without her consent.

There’s a potential problem with this too, though. You see, the Queen is the Commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces. As former professional head of the British Armed forces, Lord Charles Guthrie once noted, “The armed forces are loyal, and we live in a democracy, but actually their ultimate authority is the Queen.”

Yes, like with the police, every member of the Armed Forces in Britain swears an oath of fealty to the Queen and she is considered the ultimate authority in regards to military matters. Thus, if there was an attempt at a Parliamentary revolution and members of Parliament refused to step down as they were rewriting British law without the Queen’s consent, she could simply order the British Armed Forces to forcibly remove them from power or even line them all up and have them executed. The question then would be, in such a scenario, would they honor their oaths to the Queen?

Speaking of her power over the various groups of highly trained armed forces, the Queen has a remarkable number of ways she could theoretically kill someone if she felt so inclined, without need to get her own hands bloody. For example, she could instruct a crack team of SAS commandos to silently make a person disappear, tell her personal guard to charge them with their bayonets, or ask the Red Arrows to crash into someone’s house.

Again, whether the soldier, sailor or airmen in question would honor their oaths and listen to the order is another matter entirely — but the point is, if the Queen ever gave such an order there is no authority on Earth that could legally override it save for herself.

On top of that, if any investigation was every put in place to see why these soldiers had gone on their murder spree, the Queen not only could not be questioned in court, as previously mentioned, but also ignore the matter entirely as, despite her prominent political position, she and everything to do with her private life are exempt from any Freedom of Information requests.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing


If the Queen felt particularly gung-ho she could even personally declare war on any nation or person and, thanks to her Royal Prerogative, need not consult anyone about it before hand. In fact, she could even authorise a nuclear strike on a person anywhere in the world via Britain’s secretive and expansive network of nuclear submarines, again thanks to the fact that all of the men and women stationed aboard these vessels swear to put the Queen’s orders before all others.

Now you might say a foreign power might get pretty upset if that nuclear strike happened on their soil, and the International Criminal Courts might also try to step in, but if they decided to tangle with this rather formidable woman, the Queen could theoretically make her army larger by commandeering any ships that entered British waters (another power of hers) and by commanding the various armies of the commonwealth (all of whom swear a similar oath of fealty to the crown, same as the British armed forces) to come to her aid — that’s a lot of nations and military might.

Again, how many of these armies would listen, particularly after she decided to go all Armageddon on the world, is irrelevant to the legal discussion at hand — what matters is that the Queen technically has the ability to do all this and that nobody could legally stop her.

Despite the tremendous power she theoretically wields and the fact that she enjoys a “unique legal status” as monarch making her totally and unequivocally above the law, the Queen doesn’t utilise even an iota of her full powers. Why? Well, mainly to keep in the good graces of her subjects with it being noted by the official website of the British Monarchy that , “Although civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.”

At the end of the day, she herself swore an oath to her subjects, which she seems to have spent her many decades as Queen taking very seriously. Specifically, in her speech at her 21st birthday, she stated, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The President is forbidden from going to the top of a major US monument

In 1967, a 77-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower ascended to the top of the famed St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the West. It wasn’t a planned trip, but the former President decided to go visit it anyway. And he wanted to go to the top, something the Secret Service forbids Presidents, past and present, to do. But Ike was the one who signed off on the construction of the Arch in 1954 and besides – who was going to tell the Supreme Allied Commander “no?”


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

In case you were wondering about the answer to that question, it’s “no one.”

But he was the only one and even Eisenhower, a former President by the time he ascended to the highest peak of the 630-foot archway, had to do some sneaky work to be able to get to the top over the objections of his contingent of bodyguards. Eisenhower’s visit to the Gateway Arch came after hours, so there were no other tourists around, and it wasn’t a scheduled part of his itinerary, so potential assassins wouldn’t ever have known he would be there. He took the famed tramway up the arch over the objections of the Secret Service.

While Ike isn’t the only President to overrule the objections of the those who protect him, he’s the only one who forced his way up the St. Louis Arch. By the time he came to visit the city on the Mississippi River, two more Presidents had occupied the Oval Office after his tenure. It was a pretty safe bet.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

The view inside the top of the arch.

Getting to the top is actually a pretty cleverly designed tram that is part elevator and part Ferris wheel. But the top of the arch is a very small, cramped space that doesn’t make for a lot of room to maneuver or for a lot of people to spend any significant amount of time. It also keeps people relatively close together, which is a problem for a protective unit trying to keep people out of arms reach of the world’s most powerful person.

Despite the cramped space, some 160 people can fit in the top of the arch, and a complete trip to the top takes about 45 minutes on average. That’s a lot of time, space, and opportunity to give a would-be threat.

But in reality, the Leader of the Free World is actually the one in charge, and they can do whatever they want, but the USSS really doesn’t want the President up in the Arch.

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