In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.
(Royal Air Force)
Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.
(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)
But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”
The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.
So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.
An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.
(UK National Archives)
The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.
Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.
And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.
Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.
And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.
In 1981, the United States accused the Soviet Union of providing chemical weapons to Communist countries in Southeast Asia to test a new kind of toxin for use in the ongoing arms race. Hmong tribesmen who fought with the US and South Vietnamese before the end of the Vietnam War described a kind of “yellow rain” pouring down on them from the skies.
The truth was a relief to both the villagers and the bees – and was actually kind of worse, in some ways.
Today is the day you readers learn that bees poop.
Refugees fleeing the reprisals from the Communist governments of Laos and North Vietnam reported to their American allies that low-flying helicopters had dumped an oily yellow liquid on them en masse. Those hit by the liquid claimed to have suffered from seizures, headaches, and blindness, as well as some internal bleeding. The United States didn’t know exactly what the substance was, but they believed it was a chemical agent the Soviets were testing on these unwitting refugees.
President Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of doing as much in 1981:
For some time now, the international community has been alarmed by continuing reports that the Soviet Union and its allies have been using lethal chemical weapons in Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. … We have now found physical evidence from Southeast Asia which has been analyzed and found to contain abnormally high levels of three potent mycotoxins—poisonous substances not indigenous to the region and which are highly toxic to man and animals.
We’ll give him partial credit.
The Soviets, of course, denied every word of this. They would have denied it even if it was true. And you can’t blame Haig, this totally sounds like something the Soviet Union would do. But to get the international community behind the accusation, the United States needed to prove it – that would prove to be a huge problem.
The refugees were inconsistent with their stories, and the so-called samples of the agent proved inconclusive in laboratory testing. Furthermore, the sufferers of the effects of the “toxin” were actually suffering from fungal infections in their skin. No one knew exactly what was happening until a Harvard researcher decided to check it out once and for all. Biologist Matthew Meselson traveled to the affected areas to do his own legwork, separate from the official investigation. Traveling to Laos, he recreated the events surrounding the alleged attack and found that it wasn’t a strange chemical substance. It wasn’t even strange. In fact, it was fairly common.
Because everybody poops.
Meselson’s team found the yellow raindrops clinging to leaves in northern Laos. Once they concluded that this is what the refugees were describing, they conducted a test on the matter and found many kinds of pollen grains in it, typical of those digested by bees. It was, in fact, bee poop. Huge clouds of bee poop fell on those people.
When his study went up for peer review, it was found that villages in China had the same experience, only instead of chemical weapons, the villagers thought the yellow rain foretold a dangerous earthquake.
For a country that hasn’t been conquered since Tamerlane rolled through, Afghanistan has sure been shaped by all those who tried to control it. Today, there’s even a little strip of land in the country’s northeast that forms a panhandle – strange for such a small strip considering the major powers who fought for control of the area.
It was those major powers who created the panhandle in the first place. Today it borders China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. But during a period of time in Afghan history known as “The Great Game,” those countries were parts of China, the Russian Empire, and the British Empire, respectively.
A treaty between Russia and Great Britain in 1873 made the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between the Russian Empire and Afghanistan’s northern border. In 1893, the Durand Line became Afghanistan’s border with British India. A mostly independent Afghanistan was a buffer zone between the two growing empires.
It’s an area even more ungovernable than the rest of Afghanistan. At elevations as high as 17,000 feet in some areas, the area is inaccessible to most Afghans – and even the Taliban and the Soviet Union were unable (or unwilling) to fully move into the area.
The form of Islam practiced in the Wakhan is very hostile to the Taliban, a further explanation of the lack of central interference from Kabul.
The 3,500-mile area used to be a route along the Silk Road and was traversed by great historical figures like Alexander the Great and Marco Polo. People there still depend on trade, but this remote part of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province sees little in the way of tourists or even Afghan visitors.
Today the area has few roads, no government, and is home to roughly 12,000 nomadic and semi-nomadic people.
The U.S. Air Force has officially authorized the use of two-piece flight suits while on duty.
Starting immediately, the two-piece flight suit — otherwise known as the two-piece flight duty uniform, or “2PFDU” — is authorized to be worn in both garrison and deployed locations, the service said in a news release April 22, 2019.
“The 2PFDU continues an effort to provide airmen with improved form, fit and function to perform their duties in any environment,” the release states. “Squadron commanders will now have the flexibility to make combat uniform decisions based on what is best for their airmen to meet mission requirements.”
Last week, Military.com spoke with Maj. Saily Rodriguez, the female fitment program manage officer for the human systems program office within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, about upgrading current fighter pilot and aircrew flight suits, which are typically a one-piece garment for men and women.
U.S. Air Force demo pilots walk off the flightline during the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Feb. 28, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Jensen Stidham)
Advantages of a two-piece suit include greater ease in using the bathroom and improved overall comfort, Rodriguez said.
Along with meeting safety regulations, a two-piece flight suit, to be comprised of a standard top and bottom, would have to accommodate the needs of all aircrew members, she said.
The Air Force on April 23, 2019, said the traditional, one-piece flight duty uniform (FDU) will continue to be an option for aircrew.
A two-piece uniform has already been in use in the Air Force for those flying cargo airlift or helicopters.
The service in 2017 said that airmen flying these aircraft — anything aside from a fighter and without an ejection seat — had begun wearing the Army Aircrew Combat Uniform, known as the Airman Aircrew Combat Uniform in the Air Force, or the A2CU.
First Lt. Kayla Bowers, a 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, looks out of the cockpit of her aircraft.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden)
The uniform looks very much like the Air Force’s Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP. Commanders across the force had begun giving some airmen the option to wear the A2CU as a duty uniform during training or while deployed.
Giving airmen the option to wear the 2PFDU “aligns with the traditional FDU, elevating the significance of squadron focus and identity, which supports [Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen David Goldfein’s] intent to revitalize squadrons,” Lt. Gen. Mark D. Kelly, deputy chief of staff for Air Force operations, said in the release.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
An ISIS militant teaching a class on how to behead captured prisoners was nailed in the head by a British sniper attached to the elite Special Air Service from 1,000 meters away.
The International Business Times says the 20-person execution class scrambled as the instructor’s head was taken “clean off” by the round from an Israeli-made .338 caliber DAN rifle. The bullet is designed to “tumble” as it moves through a target’s body, inflicting massive damage.
“One minute he was standing there and the next his head had exploded,” a British military source told Express UK. “The commander remained standing upright for a couple of seconds before collapsing and that’s when panic set in. We later heard most of the recruits deserted. We got rid of 21 terrorists with one bullet.”
Express also reported that British SAS units are deployed in small numbers to combat Daesh terrorists to avoid an all-out ground war. The militants will either swarm to a location, making an airstrike a better defense or retreat using tunnels.
One tactic the SAS uses is setting “desert death traps” for jihadis by laying out dummies dressed as officers. The terrorist fighters are alerted by scouts and locals, take the bait, and are then gunned down by SAS snipers.
“This is actually how we would get SEALs off the ship submerged,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub told Business Insider.
“So you would stick a platoon of SEALs in here, 14 guys … you fill this chamber with water until you match the outer sea pressure. Once the pressure in and outside the ship match, the hatch will lift off open, and they can swim out of a fully filled chamber into open ocean.”
Once the chamber is filled with water, matching the pressure inside and out, “there’s an internal locking mechanism that would open” the top hatch where SEALs swim out, Senior Chief Darryl Wood told Business Insider.
The SEALs can then swim to retrieve what is known as a special-forces operations box, which would be filled with weapons and needed gear, from the tower.
In addition to getting SEALs off the ship, lockout trunks can be used for the entire crew to escape in case the submarine is downed.
This video gives a close-up look at the lockout trunk:
The US Supreme Court has lifted an injunction against the Trump administration’s transgender military ban, allowing him to enforce his policy barring certain transgender troops from joining or staying in the military.
President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court in November 2018 to lift injunctions issued by federal court judges, which placed a hold on the policy’s implementation while a legal challenge continues in lower courts.
The conservative majority granted the president’s request on Jan. 22, 2019, essentially allowing the ban to be implemented while lower courts decide on its constitutionality. Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have kept the injunctions in place blocking the policy, Reuters reported.
President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Along with the request to lift injunctions, the Trump administration also asked the Supreme Court to bypass normal judicial proceedings by deciding the legal merits of the policy. The justices refused, allowing a California-based federal appeals court to issue a ruling.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Glamour, grace, and poise was everything that Hedy Lamarr portrayed when she walked into a room and in film. However, it turns out, Lamarr was not just a pretty face.
She was an avid inventor who created one of the most groundbreaking patents dealing with high-frequency technology that changed the way we fight wars today.
Hedy Lamarr, above, was one of the most glamorous faces of MGM’s golden era.
Everyone knows Hedy Lamarr as one of the most famous starlets of the 1930s who took Hollywood by storm when she appeared in numerous films. The public just couldn’t get enough of her beauty and ate up whatever she had to sell. Hedy was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1913, in Vienna, Austria. She immigrated to the U.S. during WWII after she was discovered by an Austrian film director.
A patriot to the core, she made it her duty to visit USOs and help in the war efforts as much as she could. Mostly, this consisted of using her status as a movie star to sell war bonds. She began to think beyond the scope of Hollywood and wanted to be more impactful with her actions.
The original patent that Hedy Lamarr created with George Anheil in 1941.
Already an inventor at heart, with countless inventions set to the wayside, she started to think of how the military could communicate with one another without the enemy obstructing messages or intercepting intel. Lamarr wanted to bring her latest idea to fruition and shared them with a fellow patron of the arts.
Hedy Lamarr and George Anthiel came together to streamline the patenting of a secret communication messaging system.
She enlisted the help of George Anthiel, an Avante-Garde composer, and they constructed a patent for a secret communication system based on manipulating radio frequency intervals between transmission and reception. What was created was an unbreakable code that helped keep classified messages concealed. Ultimately, ‘spread spectrum’ technology was born of this patent and was first used during the Cuban Missile Crisis on Navy ships.
Hedy Lamarr finally gets her story told in the film Bombshell, where her passion for inventing is revealed.
Unfortunately, it took years for Lamarr to get recognition for her invention, and she is often just shrugged off as a pretty face of a bygone era. She was finally honored in 1997, along with Antheil, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. In the same year, she was the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, given to those that impact society through their inventions. Lamarr and Antheil were also inducted into the Inventors Hall of fame in 2014.
What’s even more impressive is that Lamar’s patent was the blueprint of all wireless communications we have today. Yes, that includes technology that is used in cell phones, GPS systems, Bluetooth, and WiFi. All of these technologies have especially benefited the military and our war-fighting capabilities. Lamarr’s ideas live on and continue to benefit not only the military, but society at large.
World War I veteran John Ronald Reuel “J.R.R.” Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937 and followed it up with The Lord of the Rings (1954-1944), books that would shape fantasy epics forever. The stories take place in Middle Earth, a medieval-esque land inhabited by humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, dragons, orcs, and trolls, as well as sorcerers and wizards and witches and all manner of magics.
Thanks to sexy Legolas Peter Jackson, everyone has heard of Tolkien’s creations, but not everyone knows where he drew his inspiration from. Finally, the biopic Tolkien will tell the author’s tale.
Tolkien would lost two friends in the Battle of the Somme, a heavy toll for anyone to bear. Tolkien would also suffer from ‘trench fever’ — a typhus-like condition — that would heavily debilitate him for the rest of his service.
The journey from warrior to artist is a fascinating one, and Tolkien is one of the greatest. He had already begun writing some of his earliest tales, and after the war he sought employment as an Assistant Lexicographer on the New English Dictionary and later as an Associate Professor in English Language at the University of Leeds.
Based on the trailer, the film appears to celebrate Nicholas Hoult’s Tolkien, from his early education, love of language, and close friendships; to the war; and, of course, to his relationship with Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins.
For fans of his work, the film looks promising.
For anyone who knows the toll that war can take, the film looks familiar — and perhaps promises a way “back again.”
Tolkien is directed by Dome Karukoski and will open on May 10, 2019.
As he slides his hands across the edges of the wings and walks from nose to tail, inspecting all aspects of the jet, a wave of emotion begins to hit Jim Harkins.
His weathered features appear calm and determined, but they hide the tears he is fighting back.
While he walks around the aircraft, he greets each maintainer and says, “Thank you.” Harkins rubs and taps the bulging nose of the QF-4 Phantom II, like an aged cowboy saying hello to a trusty steed, and then climbs into the cockpit.
“One last time,” Harkins says and the canopy closes around him.
For Harkins and the F-4, this is a day of lasts. For Harkins, it’s the last time he will fly for the Air Force and, for the Phantom, the last time it will take to the skies.
It’s their final flight.
“It’s not really sad, because in the military you get used to a lot of lasts, but it’s humbling,” Harkins said.
Harkins isn’t the only one feeling nostalgic and emotional about the aircraft affectionately referred to as “Old Smokey.” Hundreds of “Phantom Phixers,” “Phantom Phliers” and “Phantom Phanatics” gathered on the flightline at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, to watch the final F-4 flight.
Some used to work on the aircraft, some are just fans and others, like retired Col. Chuck DeBellevue, had the privilege of actually flying the fighter.
DeBellevue flew the F-4 in Vietnam, where he had six confirmed kills – two against the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 and four against the MiG-21, the most of any U.S. aviator during the war.
He’s not just saying farewell to an amazing machine, he’s saying goodbye to an old friend.
“A friend who got me home more times than I care to remember,” DeBellevue said. “Being back on the flightline today brought back a lot of memories, not all are good. I lost a lot of friends, but it was a great airplane. I loved to fly that airplane. It’s very honest and it got me out of a lot of tight spots during the war.”
DeBellevue recalls the Navy originally bought the F-4 to be a fleet interceptor and the Air Force bought it in 1963 to do everything – and it did do everything. It served as the primary air superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, but it also served roles in ground-attack and aerial reconnaissance and, once taken out of active service, was designated the QF-4 where it flew as aerial targets.
The F-4 was a workhorse weapons system for the Air Force through the 1990s and it still hold the distinction of being the first multi-service aircraft. During it’s heyday, the F-4 set 16 speed and altitude records and demonstrated its effectiveness time and again throughout its lengthy career.
The Phantom looked cool doing it, too.
“You didn’t get into the F-4, you put it on, it became you,” DeBellevue said. “It was a manual airplane, not like an F-16 or F-15, they were aerodynamic and designed well. The F-4 was the last plane that looked like it was made to kill somebody. It was a beast. It could go through a flock of birds and kick out barbeque from the back.”
On the flightline at Holloman, the final flight of four F-4s prepare to take off for the last time. The engines rumble and smoke flies.
In his jet, Harkins looks over the crowd, dancing in the cockpit, revving up the on-lookers and saluting those in attendance. Everyone cheers as the final four F-4s begin their last taxi.
Harkins is first to pass the crowd, followed by pilots Eric “Rock” Vold, Jim “Boomer” Schreiner and finally Lt. Col. Ronald “Elvis” King, the last active duty F-4 pilot and commander of Det. 1, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron. Together these men will fly the Phinal Phlight demonstration before King officially retires the QF-4 program during a ceremony following the flight.
“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but every time I get into the F-4 I can’t help but think of all the stories of all the pilots and all the maintainers who made this aircraft great,” King said. “The history and the heritage to me is the biggest satisfaction of flying the airplane.”
King had no concept when he became the squadron commander he would be the last active duty pilot. It didn’t really set in until he and Harkins began taking the F-4 on a farewell tour during to air shows and aviation expos last year. King felt obligated to take the F-4 on the road, to give admirers the chance to see it, touch it and share their stories one last time. It was then he realized this tour piloting the F-4 would be something special.
“It’s going to be sad to shut those engines down for the last time, but she’s served our country well,” King said of the F-4. “It’s exciting too, because our mission is to provide full scale aerial targets and we are going to be able to do that now with an airplane that’s better suited, provides higher performance and is more representative of the threats we face today in the QF-16.”
King said it was getting more and more difficult to keep the F-4’s in the air, and the only reason the QF-4 lasted as long as it did was because of the maintainers of the 82nd ATS.
Unfortunately, he says, there is no longer a need for the F-4. All remaining aircraft will be de-militarized at Holloman and used as ground targets at the White Sands bombing range.
King says most people don’t like to hear the fate of the last F-4s, and he understands, but it’s too costly to maintain as a heritage piece or to preserve them for museums.
“At the end of the day, the Air Force isn’t real sentimental,” King said. “It will have a warrior’s death.”
Engines roar and a flume of dust and smoke signals to the crowd the final four F-4s are off. The first two jets, piloted by King and Schreiner take off in a two-ship formation. Harkins follows in the third position and Vold in fourth. The last two jets perform an unrestricted climb, staying low to the ground in afterburner before pulling into a vertical climb at the end of the runway. The crowd goes crazy.
The sound of the F-4 is distinct. As Harkins passes over the crowd in a low-altitude turn it sounds like the jet is ripping the sky.
Multiple passes are made in four-ship, two-ship and stacked formations over the crowd of hundreds in attendance. Camera shutters clicking at a furious pace can be heard down the tarmac.
Out of nowhere, the sky cracks open and multiple booms shake the ground, buildings and cars, setting off alarms across the base. The concussions signal the F-4s going supersonic high above.
Harkins swoops down out of the sky passing over the crowd multiple times, and makes his final approach. As his wheels touch back to Earth, Harkins enters the history books as the last pilot to fly 1,000 hours in the F-4.
“I can’t imagine a better way to go out than with the F-4, it’s a special moment and a special jet and then … done,” Harkins said. “Although I flew F-16s and I went down to the F-4, but I consider myself going out on top.”
As climbs down from his jet he’s doused with water from his comrades and sprayed with champagne. In the distance, King lands his F-4 and with the front landing gear touching the asphalt, the history books close on the aircraft’s legacy.
But while the Phantom’s time in the sky may be over, the tales of its exploits are far from done. For those who flew the F-4, there is always time to wax poetic about the good ‘ole days, tearing across the wild blue yonder on “Old Smokey.”
Like many post-9/11 veterans. Amanda Burrill is all about physical fitness. She’s very conscious of what food she eats, she makes sure to get enough sleep, and she’s very, very active. She has to be — this is how she beats TBI every day of her life. Now, the Navy officer who nearly had to relearn how to walk is set to run — for her fellow veterans, that is.
As a young Navy officer on a deployment, Burrill slipped in a sewage leak and lost consciousness. Soon after, she began to have memory problems. When she went to get it checked out, she was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. But that didn’t deter her — she spent a total of eight years in the Navy. After leaving the service, she became an advocate for veterans suffering from TBI, but first, she became an amazing example for them to follow.
She spent two years in surgeries, rehabs, and therapies. She spent a great deal of time studying as well, attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and becoming a trained chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu. She even studied wine in Paris. Next, she started running. She runs marathons and Iron Man triathlons on top of competing in fitness competitions. Now, she’s a writer and on-air talent for the Travel Channel and uses that fame to advocate for anyone who is suffering from TBI.
But she’s not finished running. She’s just running for her fellow veterans now.
In September, 2018, Amanda Burrill will run in the Relay for Heroes, benefiting the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Endurance athletes from all over the world will converge on New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air Space Museum to follow a route along the banks of New York City’s Hudson River. The goal isn’t 26.2 miles or any number of miles — the goal is to run as many miles as possible during the 12-hour race.
If you’re there, you just might see Amanda Buriill, the Navy rescue swimmer who climbed Denali after her TBI diagnosis, running for the first time since 2015.
“We summited Denali unguided!” Burrill told WATM. “I’m an avid, record-breaking mountaineer; not despite my injuries but because of them. The mountaineering interest started while I was in brain injury rehab, as I needed a fun hobby to replace my first and true love: running.”
After her injury, Burrill’s balance and gait were poor and it affected her running ability. Doing marathons and Ironman races with busted form “messed her up,” as she says. She now has a metal shank foot, full of screws, that’s been opened lengthwise five times.
“Mountaineering is more about suffering well than having stable feet,” she says.”I WILL OUT-SUFFER ANYONE. Knowing that in my heart is pretty damn awesome.”
She is running to highlight female veterans, TBI awareness, and resiliency. From firsthand experience, she believes female vets are underserved when it comes to TBI treatment and believes self-advocacy is an essential element in furthering the cause of women getting the help they need — even if that just means receiving a diagnosis.
“I hope to raise awareness — and money — and bond with my teammates in a show of Lady Vet solidarity,” she says.
The Relay for Heroes will start on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York City. The starting line can be found at West 46th Street 12th Avenue, New York, NY 10036. You can run as an individual or in 4-6 person teams. For more information or to register, visit the Relay for Heroes website. If you’re unable to run or support a runner, you can still donate to Burrill’s Relay for Heroes team here.
The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).
Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.
The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.
The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”
While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.
The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.
4. The Ten Thousand
The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.
In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.
Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.
As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.
During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.
3. The Varangian Guard
The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.
What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.
2. The White Company
The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.
Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.
What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.
1. Henry MacIver
Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)
MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.
While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.
After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.
After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.
Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.
When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.
After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”
MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.
The Chinese military has deployed military personnel and armored medical vehicles to Germany for joint drills, a first for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as it attempts to forge closer ties with Europe.
The joint exercise — Combined Aid 2019 — is focused on preparing troops with the medical service units of the Chinese and German armed forces to respond to humanitarian crises, such as mass casualty incidents and serious disease outbreaks, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.
The exercise follows a cooperative military medical training exercise in 2016 in Chongqing, where the PLA and the German Bundeswehr practiced responding to an imaginary earthquake scenario.
“We’ve seen China increasing its participation in these kinds of activities. It provides a low risk means to demonstrate its commitment to global governance, which may help reduce anxiety about its growing military capabilities,” China watcher Matthew Funaiole, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told INSIDER.
“Training exercises also help improve its coordination and logistics, which is helpful for the modernization process,” he added.
Chinese troops in Germany.
The PLA’s paramedical forces have been stepping up their participation in this type of cooperative training. These troops have even been deployed to humanitarian crisis zones, such as the Ebola outbreak in certain parts of Africa.
Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, told the South China Morning Post that there may be more to the Chinese military’s activities than preparing for crises.
“The PLA in the future will need to go abroad to protect China’s overseas interests in countries along the Belt and Road Initiative,” he explained. “If there could be some basic mutual trust and understanding with NATO forces, the risk of potential conflict could be greatly mitigated.”
The Belt and Road Initiative refers to a massive Chinese-led project designed to position China at the heart of a vast, far-reaching global trade network.
Wany Yiwei, a European studies expert at Renmin University of China, stressed that uncertainty as a result of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy has created new opportunities for China and Europe.
“As the leader of the EU, Germany has said that Europe should take charge of its own security,” he told the Hong Kong-based SCMP. “It is also a brand new world security situation now, as both China and Europe would want to hedge their risks in dealing with the US.”
Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with the Atlantic Council, told Stars and Stripes that “the presence of the Chinese military in Germany for this exercise creates very bad optics for Germany, NATO and the US and is a cheap propaganda victory for China.”
Last year, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) conducted its first combined exercise with the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) in waters near China’s new military base in Djibouti. It marked an unprecedented level of cooperation at that time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.