Pepsi Navy: When the Soviets traded warships for soft drinks - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Pepsi Navy: When the Soviets traded warships for soft drinks

Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, the communist state was so desperate for Pepsi that they traded the American beverage company some 20 warships for a shipment of their sugary elixir; making the Pepsi Navy the sixth-largest in the world at the time.

In 1959, just two years after the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test forced both the U.S. and Soviet Union to reassess their approach to nuclear deterrence, then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev both attended the American National Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park. As the two men exchanged barbs about the efficacy of each nation’s respective economic model, Head of Pepsi International Donald Kendall decided to break the ice with a few small cups of their namesake soda.

Pepsi Navy
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev sipping Pepsi next to (then) Vice President Richard Nixon.

As luck would have it, the Soviet Premier was immediately smitten by the sugary, carbonated drink, and a deal was struck for the Soviets to begin receiving shipments of the beverage. Pepsi had secured the first such agreement between a capitalist American company and the communist Soviet Union… but there was one serious problem. Soviet money was effectively useless outside of the nation’s borders.

But while the Soviets may have lacked hard currency, they did have something else to trade: vodka. So Pepsi and Khrushchev made a deal: Pepsi would provide shipments of soft drinks, and in return, the Soviet Union would provide vodka from their state-owned brand Stolichnaya, for resale in the United States.

For a bit less than a decade, the agreement between the Soviet Union and Pepsi stood without any issue, but in 1980, geopolitics soured the deal. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and the American people responded by boycotting Soviet-sourced products, including the Stolichnaya vodka Pepsi was getting in trade for their soda. Within a few years, Stolichnaya sales had dropped enough for Pepsi to no longer consider the deal worthwhile.

(C Watts on Flickr)

But the Soviet Union’s love for America’s second-tier cola was too strong to let the deal lapse, and Soviet officials began looking for other ways to reimburse Pepsi for shipments of soda. By 1989, they had a solution. In exchange for Pepsi’s soft drinks, the Soviets offered them a veritable Navy. Pepsi agreed to the deal, taking possession of a Soviet cruiser, a frigate, a destroyer, 17 submarines, and a handful of oil tankers — instantly making the drink distributor the owner of the sixth-largest navy on the planet.

But despite that significant bragging point, the newly established Pepsi navy was far from battle-ready. The fleet of submarines was in a terrible state of disrepair, with many listing to one side and nearly all of them showing signs of serious rust. The surface ships in Pepsi’s new navy weren’t in much better shape, with perhaps only one that was truly seaworthy and at least one other that required constant pumping to keep it afloat.

The Pepsi Navy waiting to be scrapped.

Nonetheless, the United States government wasn’t particularly pleased to see a corporation suddenly command enough naval firepower to square off with some entire nations. Pepsi’s CEO, Donald Kendall, who had first introduced Khrushchev to the beverage, responded to America’s complaints with all the aplomb one might expect from the admiral of Pepsi’s navy, reminding the Pentagon that he had just managed to reduce the number of ships at the Soviet’s disposal by a considerable number.

Soviet submarine in the Pepsi Navy

“I’m dismantling the Soviet Union faster than you are.”

-Donald Kendall (PepsiCo CEO)

Of course, his comment may also have had something to do with the Soviet people’s love for his capitalist product. A number of things ultimately led to the downfall of the Soviet Union, including Ronald Reagan’s efforts to spend the communist regime into oblivion and later, Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Glasnost” policy of more open governing… but it’s tough to dispute the effect products like Pepsi had on the Soviet populous.

Shortly after taking possession of the Pepsi navy, the soda brand sold all twenty warships to a Swedish scrap-recycling company in order to recoup the cost of their Pepsi shipment.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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This is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor

In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.


Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.

Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

So far he is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.

On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.

“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”

Still, Shields kept fighting.

“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”

But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.

“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.

The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.

Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.

“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.

Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.

At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”

The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy used a carrier to transport an Army brigade

When you think about the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that the United States Navy operates, it’s natural to immediately think of them launching fighters to carry out strikes against the enemy. Over the years, history has proven that carriers are very good at that. However, instead of orchestrating combat in the sky, one Nimitz-class carrier ended up carrying American troops into battle.


USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) with USS George Washington (CVN 73). (US Navy photo)

Now, the use of American carriers to carry troops isn’t entirely outlandish. At the end of World War II, some carriers, including USS Enterprise (CV 6), took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the returning of GIs en masse from overseas. It’s easy to see why – a carrier transports up to 5,000 sailors and Marines, only about 3,200 of which are crew. The remaining 1,800 are in the air wing. If you were to eliminate some of that air wing, you’d quickly create capacity for other personnel.

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) in the Atlantic Ocean March 29, 2016. (US Navy photo)

In 1994, the United States was preparing to invade Haiti to remove a military junta that had taken power in 1991. The plan involved getting special operations and light infantry troops into Haiti. The problem was, there weren’t many good bases on the island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti accounts for half. The other half of the island, owned by the Dominican Republic, didn’t have much in the way of usable bases, either – after all, P-51 Mustangs were still that country’s front-line fighter at the time.

Numerous Army AH-1T Cobra gunships and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are parked on the flight deck of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), which carried a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division to Haiti in 1994. (US Navy photo)

That left the U.S. with one option: a floating base. Meanwhile, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) was preparing for a deployment. These ships can usually haul up to 90 aircraft. It didn’t take long for someone to get the idea to load elements of the 10th Mountain Division, along with special ops unit, like Delta Force and the Nightstalkers, onto the carrier.

Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, Ft Drum, N.Y., dressed in full combat gear, line up to board UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at Port-au-Prince airport Port-au-Prince, Haiti to take them to Bowlen Airfield during Restore Democracy on 22 Sept 94. (US Army photo)

The Eisenhower sailed from Norfolk, hauling 56 helicopters and 2,000 troops. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and other choppers were very quickly parked on the ship’s flight deck. The good news was that this arrangement never had to be tested in combat – a delegation that included retired general Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter convinced the Haitian regime to vacate peacefully. The 10th Mountain Division entered without a fight via helicopters launched from the carrier’s deck.

Even without facing combat, the Eisenhower had proven that carriers can be very versatile instruments of national policy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How D-Day would go down today

The invasion of Normandy, known today as D-Day, was one of the seminal moments of history. It was a massive operation that included airborne drops, amphibious assaults, and a host of other missions. The fact that all of these moving parts were orchestrated using the (relatively) primitive technology of the time is an amazing accomplishment — one that culminated in a decisive victory for Allied forces.

But how would it all go down if it happened today?


While the use of paratroopers would be similar to that of D-Day, today’s transports can deliver a lot more than just troops.

(US Army)

The overnight airborne drop

The airborne operation as part of a hypothetical, modern-day Normandy Invasion would be fairly similar to that of World War II. We’d still have paratroopers make their jump in the middle of the night, but there’d be a few key differences. Firstly, we’ve gotten a little better at putting paratroopers where they aught to be — this means more troop concentration and fewer “Little Groups of Paratroopers.”

Secondly, today’s paratroopers can drop alongside HMMWVs equipped with heavy firepower, like the M2 machine gun, the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher, and the BGM-71 TOW missile. Additionally, each soldier now has either a M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon or the M136 AT-4.

Today’s bombardment would intelligently target Nazi positions using advanced systems, like the Joint Direct Attack Munition.

(USAF)

The pre-attack bombardment

On D-Day, five battleships, including USS Nevada (BB 36), provided fire support for the massive operation. America no longer has any battleships in service. Today, the biggest guns would be on the Zumwalt-class destroyers, which can launch a variety of munitions.

However, the real heavy lifting would be done by Joint Direct Attack Munitions on the fortifications. On D-Day, Allied forces dropped a lot of bombs and fired a lot of heavy shells towards the Nazis in hopes of hitting something vital. Since then, our aim has improved. JDAMs can hit within 30 feet of an aimpoint. Laser-guided bombs are even more accurate.

On the morning of D-Day, the first wave of the attack could very well be helicoptered by CH-53E Super Stallions.

(Photo by FOX 52)

The amphibious assault

Perhaps the most iconic element of D-Day was the amphibious landings. Higgins boats hit the shores en masse and under extremely heavy fire as Allied troops spilled out and onto the sand. Today, we’d likely use helicopters to get behind initial defenses. Heli-borne assaults would likely take place overnight, focusing on key objectives, like Pegasus Bridge.

At this stage, Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships would provide covering fire, using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to knock out — or at least suppress — any German positions that survived the precision-guided munitions.

A-10 Thunderbolts will roam behind the beach, bombing targets or dropping CBU-89 GATOR mines to tie up German reinforcements.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch)

Past the beach

All throughout a modern D-Day, there’d be deeper strikes. Aircraft like the F-15E Strike Eagle, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the Tornado GR.4, and the B-1B Lancer would be dropping bombs on German units further inland. Some of the bombs would be GATOR mine systems, which are, essentially, air-dropped minefields, to delay reinforcements long enough for American, Canadian, and British troops to consolidate a beachhead.

In short, the Nazis of World War II had a slight chance of stopping the Allies on D-Day. Today, there’d be no stopping it.

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This Nazi submarine was looted by American divers

It is always interesting to dive on wrecks. This can include wrecks of sunken warships, which can serve as an eerie glimpse into the past. Some ships, like the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), are old warships being put to use as artificial reefs.


Others were sent to Davy Jone’s Locker the hard way during the war. One such vessel is the Nazi U-boat U-85. According to U-Boat.net, this sub sank three vessels during its wartime service before it ran into USS Roper (DD 147). The Roper put U-85 on the bottom of the Atlantic. All hands went down with the Nazi sub less than twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina.

The Nazi submarine U-52, a Type VIIB U-boat similar to U-85. (British government photo)

The story, though, doesn’t end there. According to Outer Banks Sentinel’s web site, in 2001, divers Jim Bunch, Roger Hunting, and Rich Hunting retrieved the sub’s Enigma machine. The site claimed that Navy divers had attempted a similar objective shortly after the U-boat sank in 1942. The Sentinel noted that the Enigma was worth as much as $200,000, although appraisals supposedly for tax purposes were in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.

A 2003 release by the United States Navy’s Naval Historical Center noted that “the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.” The Navy, the divers, and the German government later arranged for the Engima machine in question to be donated to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, where it is today.

A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The looting of war graves has become an epidemic in the East Indies, including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and a number of other allied vessels.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US Navy captured its first enemy ship in 129 years

In the early days of the U.S. Navy, boarding and capturing enemy vessels was common practice. As naval firepower increased, the practice became to sink the other ship rather than capture it. Then in 1944 with some daring actions–and a stroke of luck–the U.S. Navy captured a German U-boat, its first such accomplishment since the War of 1812.


The German U-boat, U-505, was known as a hard-luck case, though it could also be said that it was a boat that wouldn’t sink. On her fourth patrol of the war, a British Hudson bomber scored a direct hit in an attack run so low that the explosion caused the plane to crash as well. The captain gave the order to abandon ship but the technical crew insisted on staying aboard to save the vessel. After two weeks of repairs, the U-boat was able to limp back to Europe and had the honor of being the most heavily damaged submarine to ever return to port.

Despite numerous abortive cruises due to French saboteurs, U-505 finally sailed for another patrol; this time, however, it earned another dubious honor when her skipper became the first–and only–known submarine commander to crack and commit suicide while under attack.

Finally, in the spring of 1944, fully-repaired and under the command of a new captain, U-505 set a course for the coast of West Africa for an 80-day war patrol.

Also heading towards West Africa during that time was Task Group 22.3, commanded by Captain Daniel Gallery from his flagship, the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal. Task Group 22.3 was employed as an anti-submarine Hunter-Killer group as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Along with Guadalcanal the group also consisted of five destroyer escorts.

Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 had one mission: take out German U-boats. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

During Task Group 22.3’s second Hunter-Killer cruise, Captain Gallery had an important revelation. A long-running battle with U-515 ended when the U-boat was too heavily damaged to continue and surfaced so its crew could abandon ship. As the Germans abandoned ship, the task group blasted it until it finally sank. Gallery realized that if he had a trained boarding party ready they could quickly board a scuttled U-boat and save it from sinking. As the task force returned to port, Gallery began making preparations for just such an event during the next sortie.

On June 4, 1944, Task Group 22.3 found the perfect prey. As U-505 was returning from its war patrol, it inadvertently stumbled right into the middle of the task group. The sub tried to dive but the clear waters allowed the Guadalcanal’s aircraft to maintain visual contact and use their guns to mark the submarine’s location in the water. The task group’s destroyer escorts then moved in for the kill.

USS Chatelain began its attack by launching its Mark 4 Hedgehog anti-submarine weapon at the U-boat. When those failed to score a hit, Chatelain repositioned and dropped a pattern of depth charges against the sub.

Task Group 22.3 attacks the German U-505. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

A U-505 surviving crewmember, Hans Goebeler remembered the attack vividly. “They really gave it to us,” he said. “The explosions were the biggest I ever heard.” The depth charges caused severe internal and external damage to the U-boat. With all hope seeming lost, the commander gave the order to surface and abandon ship–just as Gallery had anticipated.

As the sub came to the surface, the American ships and aircraft raked it with gunfire, hoping to quickly drive off the German sailors before they could properly scuttle the ship. The fire had the intended effect. The Americans killed one German and wounded two others as the rest of the crew quickly jumped overboard to escape the maelstrom of bullets.

Normally the American destroyer escorts would have moved in to finish off the U-boat and send it to Davy Jones’ Locker but Captain Gallery’s decision to try to capture a German submarine called for a different action. As the Germans fled the sinking sub, a nearby destroyer escort, the USS Pillsbury, launched a boarding party to rescue the stricken vessel. The other ships picked up their new German POWs.

Led by Lt. Albert David, the boarding party plunged through the conning tower and into the submarine. It was a race against time–the ship sinking beneath them was rigged with scuttling charges that could explode at any moment. The boarding party quickly found the open sea strainer, an 11-inch pipe pouring water into the submarine, and capped it. To their relief, the party found that in their haste to abandon ship, none of the Germans had taken the time to arm the scuttling charges. Most of the submarine was below the water with just the front portion and most of the conning tower still visible. The sub was hanging on by an air bubble in one of the dive tanks.

The boarding party quickly secured the biggest prize of all: U-505’s log books, charts, codes, and its Enigma machine. The ship was still in danger of sinking, however, and with little working knowledge of German submarines, the task of salvaging U-505 fell on the task group’s chief engineer, Commander Earl Trosino. As Gallery would later say when the situation was the most precarious, “thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard for his own safety, we succeeded in saving U-505.”

Task Group 22.3 takes great risk to capture U-505–and the wealth of intelligence on board. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

With the submarine secured, the task group took it under tow and headed for Bermuda. The intelligence gained from the capture of U-505 was invaluable. By maintaining strict secrecy of the operation, the Germans were never aware that the Americans had captured their U-boat intact with its precious cargo of information. The entire task group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions. Lt. David was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in leading the boarding party.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The real-life ‘Chappy’ Sinclair from Iron Eagle was an Air Force legend

Airmen and 80s movie buffs are likely to be familiar with the 1986 cult classic Iron Eagle. Sometimes called the “Top Gun of the Air Force,” Iron Eagle did not have the big budget, box office success or star power that its Naval-based counterpart did (although the soundtrack did have its fair share of great songs). However, the film did feature Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. (of An Officer and a Gentleman fame) as Colonel Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, the wise Vietnam Veteran fighter pilot who gave Top Gun‘s Jester a run for his money. Chappy serves as a mentor to the main character, teenager Doug Masters played by Jason Gedrick, and guides him throughout the film.

Iron Eagle movie poster. (Credit to TriStar Pictures)

As a mentor, Chappy shares his knowledge and experience, gained in the unforgiving skies above Vietnam, with teenage Masters. An accomplished fighter pilot, Chappy helps Masters to acquire intelligence, create a rescue plan and steal two F-16 fighter jets to attack the fictional Middle Eastern country of Bilya where Masters’ father is being held. While these fictional feats are impressive, they pale in comparison to the accomplishments of the real-life Chappy.

Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr. was born on February 20, 1920 in Pensacola, FL. He graduated Tuskegee University in 1942 and received his pilot wings and commission as a 2nd LT at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama on July 28, 1943. He remained at Tuskegee to train pilots for the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. Having completed training in the P-40 Warhawk fighter, Chappy trained on the B-25 Mitchell bomber and was stationed in Kentucky and Ohio until the end of the war.

Chappy first saw action during the Korean War. In 1949, he went to the Philippines as a flight leader in the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Field. In July of the next year, he left for Korea where he also flew with the 44th and 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons in P-51 Mustang and F-80 Shooting Star fighters. During the war, Chappy flew a total of 101 combat missions.

Chappy poses with his P-51 Mustang in Korea. (Photo from the United States Air Force)

After the war, Chappy continued his Air Force career, holding commands and serving at a number of bases. In 1954, while stationed at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, Chappy was given the “Young Man of the Year” award by the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce for his outstanding community relations efforts. In June 1957, he graduated from the Air Command and Staff College.

After serving on staffs, and later as assistant director and director of operations for a number of wings, Chappy went to Thailand in 1966 to support combat missions in Vietnam. He became the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing vice commander under triple (then double) ace Col. Robin Olds. Flying from Ubon Air Base in Thailand, the two men created a strong and effective tactical command, earning them the nickname “Blackman and Robin.” In total, Chappy flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam during the war.

Following his service in Vietnam, Chappy became the commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing at Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic. Following the coup by radical Libyan military officers, including Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. announced plans to close Wheelus Air Base. Wanting to see how far he could push the Americans, Gaddafi sent a column of armored half-tracks through the base housing area at full speed. Unamused by the stunt, Chappy closed the base gates and confronted Gaddafi. During their confrontation, Gaddafi kept his hand on the pistol in his hip holster. “I told him to move his hand away,” Chappy recalled having had his own .45 strapped to his hip. The future Libyan dictator complied. “If he had pulled that gun, his hand would have never cleared the holster.”

Chappy’s Air Force career saw him serve as principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM, and special assistant to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force. Chappy retired in 1978 as a four-star general, the first African-American to achieve the rank.

General Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr. Command Photo. (Photo from the United States Air Force)

The next time you watch Iron Eagle, remember General Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr., the trailblazing African-American pilot who served in three wars, stared down Gaddafi, and dared to see just how far he could go.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Persian Immortals became masters of psychological warfare

War is just as much a psychological battle as it is physical. If you’re able to convince your enemy that they have no chance of surviving before the first drop of blood is spilled, you’ve already won. No warriors in history have embodied this concept better than the Anausa or, as they’re more commonly known, the Persian Immortals.

Even their very name, “Immortal,” is a part of the mind tricks they played on their enemies. In order to keep up the image of being unkillable, they wore matching uniforms and hastily recovered their dead or wounded, fueling the illusion that none fell in battle. But that barely even scratches the surface of the psychological warfare the Persians employed to conquer 44 percent of all humanity at the height of their power in 480 B.C.


As over-the-top as the rest of the film was, this is an entirely accurate scene. The rest of the movie though? Ehhh…

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

As with many early civilizations, much of the history of Achaemenid Empire (to Empire for which the Immortals fought) has been lost to time. The history we do have comes from the Greek scholar, Herodotus. Though he opposed Persia, he kept detailed battle plans of the Immortals and those that faced them.

One such example happened to make its way into the 2006 film, 300. A Spartan at Thermopylae scoffed at a Persian envoy who said their arrows could “black out the sky” by replying, “then we’ll fight in the shade.” That wasn’t just a boast — that actually happened.

The Immortals were well aware that their arrows were inferior to Spartan steel. So, instead of making them stronger, they made more of them so that every archer could unleash them in one, rapid moment, literally blacking out the sky with arrows.

“Cats! Our only weakness!” – Some Egyptian, probably.

(Ancient History Museum)

Another example of the ferocity of the Immortals was when the Persians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians knew that the Egyptians were faithful to the Egyptian Goddess of Cats, Bastet. To the Egyptians, any harm done to a cat was considered great sacrilege.

Knowing this, the Persians simply drew cats on their shields and let loose a bunch of cats onto the battlefield. This alone was enough to make many Egyptians immediately surrender. When the other Egyptians manned their catapults, the Persians would let them know that they had cats with them — and that unleashed the artillery could mean killing a few felines.

If the Immortals didn’t have enough time to prepare for an individual opponent, they’d resort to their shock-and-awe cavalry, armed with sagaris, or long axes. The lightweight ax made it easy for Immortals to twirl them over their heads and swing fast enough to make an enemy’s blood splash far enough back to intimidate their foes.

At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 B.C., Alexander II of Macedon was nearly scalped by an Immortal cavalryman named Spithridates. His ax sliced clean straight through Alexander’s helmet and was just millimeters away from being a fatal blow.

After that moment, Alexander swore to the destruction of Persia. He studied their tactics and instructed his men on how to counter their advances. This took away the Persian’s edge in battle, and Alexander, from then on, took on the moniker of “the Great.”

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This is the story behind the pre-inauguration wreath laying ceremony

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday afternoon.


The ceremony took just under 13 minutes, according to video of the event available at CSPAN.org. Neither the president-elect nor vice-president elect chose to speak at the event.

President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Jan. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Trump will be sworn-in as the 45th president of the United States during the Inauguration Ceremony Jan. 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery/released)

According to a report by Bloomberg, the ceremony is one of the first of the series of events that will culminate in Trump and Pence taking their oaths of office on the West Front of the Capitol Building on Jan. 20.

A 2013 report by EverythingLubbock.com notes that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took part in a similar ceremony on Jan. 20, a day prior to their second public inauguration, and C-SPAN.org has video of Obama and Biden taking part in a 2009 ceremony prior to taking office on Jan. 18 of that year. The ceremony honors military personnel who have “served and sacrificed” according to EverythingLubbock.com.

Gary S. Davis, second left, deputy director ceremonies and special events/chief of ceremonies, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, and Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, right, Commanding General, Joint Task Force-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, brief President-elect Donald J. Trump, third from left, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, left, prior to a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Jan. 17, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Trump and Pence placed a wreath at the Tomb. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery/released)

The ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns. According to the website of Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb was first built to honor an unknown serviceman who fell during World War I. It was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1921 (Nov. 11, now Veterans Day).

In 1958, unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were interred on May 30. On May 28, 1984, the Vietnam Unknown was interred. According to homeofheroes.com, all four Unknowns were awarded the Medal of Honor. An official Army website notes that unknown Belgian, British, French, Italian, and Rumanian soldiers from World War I were also awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 1998, the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed. DNA testing later identified him as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. CNN reported that Blassie was returned to his family and buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

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Congress passes Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act

Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.


Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.

On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.

The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.

“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”

He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.

Related: How to honor Vietnam War Veterans

Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.

“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.

Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.

“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.

Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.

“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”

In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”

Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:

— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”

— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”

— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British soldier escaped from Dunkirk by stealing a car

Imagine the tension of being a British soldier waiting to be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk as the Nazi Wehrmacht closed in around you and your mates. Now imagine somehow being left behind after all 340,000 of your fellow troops were led back to Britain.

That’s what happened to then-20-year-old James May, a British Tommy, left behind on the beach. Luckily, he survived the Nazi onslaught and would eventually return to France’s beaches four years later – on D-Day.


May joined the service in 1940, after World War II broke out. He enlisted to become a driver with the 13-division strong British Expeditionary Force in France. The British mission on continental Europe in the early days of the war did not go well. After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, the French and British declared war almost immediately. Just as fast, the British Expeditionary Force began arriving in France.

By June, 1940, they were all being evacuated by any British subject who had a boat that could float. Most of them, anyway.

The effort to rescue the trapped Allied troops was dubbed “Operation Dynamo” and was a mission to pick up distressed British, French, and Belgian troops waiting on the beaches at Dunkirk. By May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany had captured all of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They were already in control of much of Northern France and had the Allied forces on the ropes.

As the Nazis moved to push the Allies into the sea, British citizens and Royal Navy ships mounted the massive impromptu rescue effort, pulling any troops they could fit in their craft, and ferrying them back across the channel. Not everyone survived the wait on the beaches, as they were constantly harassed by the Nazi luftwaffe and threatened by German ground forces.

British troops waiting for evacuation on the beaches of Dunkirk.

In Dynamo, the British expected to be able to save some 30,000 to 45,000 troops who would then defend the British home islands. Using a still-unknown number of “little ships” piloted by civilians, they managed to save ten times that number. It truly was a miracle.

But James May and six of his fellow soldiers were somehow left behind. They did what any quick-thinking, resourceful bunch of soldiers would do in a lawless area with an determined enemy bearing down on them: They stole a car and beat it.

In their own, smaller version of the Miracle at Dunkirk, the group managed to drive out of the war zone in their stolen vehicle, evading the Wehrmacht for a full six days before finding a boat and captain that would ferry them home to England.

He was stationed in Northern Ireland for much of the war but he had his chance to hit the beach of France once more, and again as a driver. This time, however, he was driving a British DUKW amphibious vehicle, landing British troops in the battle to crack the walls of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Top 10 most intense battles in US history

In the short history of our country, the United States rose to global military dominance — yeah, I said it. Come at me, China.

But the road to the top was paved with the blood of good men and women. Looking back, there are some pivotal battles we remember with solemn pride and a little bit of hoo-rah. Let’s check out 10 of the most intense battles in United States history.


10. The Battle of Chosin

This blown bridge at Funchilin Pass blocked the only way out for U.S. and British forces withdrawing from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea during the Korean War. Air Force C-119 Flying Boxcars dropped portable bridge sections to span the chasm, allowing men and equipment to reach safety.
(Photo by U.S. Air Force)

The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was one of the defining battles of the Korean War and the stuff of legend in the Marine Corps. In the Fall of 1950, U.N. Forces under the command of General MacArthur had almost captured the entirety of North Korea when they were attacked by thousands of Chinese Communist soldiers. The U.S. X Corps was forced to retreat and by mid-November the 1st Marine Division and elements of the 7th Infantry Division found themselves surrounded, outnumbered, and at risk of annihilation in the high North Korean Mountains at the Chosin Reservoir. Their only way out was a fighting retreat back to the coast.

Although as Chesty Puller put it, they weren’t retreating, they were “fighting in the opposite direction.”

Over the course of the next 17 days, the Marines and soldiers fought the Chinese — and bouts of frostbite — with fierce determination and epic endurance. They broke through the enemy’s encirclement and even rebuilt a bridge the Chinese destroyed using prebuilt bridge sections dropped by the U.S. Air Force.

By the end of the battle, the U.S. Marines suffered 836 dead and roughly 10,000 wounded. The Army had 2,000 dead and 1,000 wounded. The Chinese had the most catastrophic losses. Six out of their ten divisions were wiped out and only one would ever see combat again. Although exact numbers are not known, historians estimate that anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 Chinese were killed.

Although technically a loss for the Marines, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir lives on in memory as an example of the Marine fighting spirit and the ability to find strength even when the odds are stacked against them.

9. The Battle of Antietam

Charge of Iron Brigade near the Dunker Church, on the morning of Sep. 17, 1862.
(Painting by Thure Thulstrup)

A year and a half into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln needed a Union victory. He finalized the Emancipation Proclamation during the summer but his cabinet feared it would be too difficult to enforce after a string of northern losses, including the Second Battle of Bull Run (known as the Battle of Manassas to the rebels).

Lincoln charged Major General George B. McClellan with the defense of Washington D.C. against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North. Earlier in the month, Lee divided his men, sending General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to capture Harper’s Ferry. Following Jackson’s success, Lee decided to make a stand in Maryland at Antietam Creek.

After two days of posturing, fighting began early in the morning on Sep. 17, 1862, and lasted well past sundown, with staggering casualties on both sides and no ground gained. The next day, both armies gathered their dead and wounded and Lee retreated south.

It was the bloodiest one day battle in American history, with 23,000 casualties from both sides and nearly 4,000 dead.

Sticking with the Civil War, let’s move on:

8. The Battle of Gettysburg

Among the many militia regiments that responded to President Lincoln’s call for troops in April 1861 was the First Minnesota Infantry.
(Painting by Don Troiani)

The Battle of Gettysburg was not only the largest battle of the Civil War, it remains the largest battle ever fought in North America.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had just won a decisive victory against Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Wanting to capitalize on the recent victory, Lee led his troops on a second invasion into the Northern states to defeat the Union on their own soil and hopefully gain recognition of the confederacy by European countries.

General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the two forces met near Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The Confederates outnumbered the Yankees at roughly 30,000 to 18,000. By the end of the first day, the Yankees were forced to retreat through town to cemetery ridge and Culp’s Hill.

By the next day, both sides had gained reinforcements. Meade now had roughly 94,000 soldiers in a fish hook formation, allowing him to successfully move troops from one front to another. Lee had roughly 72,000 soldiers wrapped around the fish hook.

The Confederates attacked first but at the end of the second day, the Union defense lines held strong.

On the 3rd day, Lee tried an aggressive attack to crush the federals. He sent General Pickett with approximately 12,500 men to crush the Union Army with a direct charge.

It turned out to be one of Lee’s most ill-fated decisions. Fifty percent of Pickett’s men were wounded or killed and the rest of his troops were forced to retreat.

Also read: 5 most humiliating defeats in military history

On July 4th, Lee and his men waited for the Yankees to attack — but they didn’t.

That night the Northern Army of Virginia began its retreat back to the South. His train of wounded men stretched 14 miles long. Lee’s greatest opportunity became his greatest failure and his hopes of European recognition for the Confederacy — and a quick end to the war — were dashed.

Casualties were high on both sides. The Union suffered around 23,000 casualties while the South suffered 28,000 — more than a third of Lee’s army.

The battle was the deadliest in the Civil War and prompted Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg address four and a half months later at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Although the fighting continued for nearly two more years, Gettysburg was an irrevocable turning point in the war in the Union’s favor.

7. Hue City

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. W. F. Dickman)

The North Vietnamese captured the venerated capital city of Hue during the Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of attacks on over a hundred American and South Vietnamese positions countrywide.

The battle to regain Hue began in February 1968 and lasted nearly a month, as Marines ferociously drove North Vietnamese and Communist Viet Cong forces from the city.

The Perfume River divided the city of Hue in two. To the north was the Citadel, a three-square mile fortress surrounded by walls 30-feet high and up to 40-feet thick, with a moat on three sides and the Perfume River on the 4th. To the south, the smaller and more modern section of Hue was connected to the Citadel by a bridge.

U.S. Marines and soldiers were tasked with clearing out the entrenched enemy in the southern portion of the city, while the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) would clear out the Northern portion and the citadel.

Untrained for urban combat, U.S. battalions had to come up with tactics and techniques on the spot — while facing a brutal enemy. The process was methodical and casualty heavy. They went from house to house and room to room to gain ground. Speed, surprise, and shock were essential to achieve victory.

After clearing the south side, U.S. battalions broke into the Citadel from the bridge to assist ARVN troops.

Finally on Feb. 24, the South Vietnamese flag flew over the citadel. On March 2, the longest sustained infantry battle the war had seen to this point was officially declared over.

Casualties were high on both sides.

The U.S. suffered 216 dead and 1364 wounded. South Vietnamese losses totaled 384 dead and 1,830 wounded with thousands of civilians were caught in the the cross-fire or murdered. The North Vietnamese casualties included 5,000 dead and countless more wounded.

Virtually all of Hue was destroyed, leaving roughly 100,000 homeless.

While technically a win for the U.S. and South Vietnamese, the news coverage of the event shocked the American population and broke their faith in the war.

U.S. troops would not experience that intensity of urban fighting again for another 36 years until the second battle of Fallujah, which is number six on our list.

6. Second Battle of Fallujah

An M-198 155mm Howitzer of the US Marines firing at Fallujah, Iraq, during the Second Battle of Fallujah.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The Second Battle of Fallujah was the bloodiest battle American troops fought in the entire Iraq conflict and the deadliest battle for the Marine Corps since Hue City in 1968. From November through December 2004, a joint American, British, and Iraqi-government offensive fought to clear the insurgents from their Anbar province stronghold.

An estimated 4000 enemy combatants were in the city when the fighting began — it’s even suspected that al’Qa’eda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi held his headquarters there. They fortified their defenses before the attack, preparing spider holes, traps, and concealed IEDs throughout the town. They created propane bombs hidden in buildings, cut off access to escape routes and roofs, and designed fields of fire where they believed coalition forces would maneuver.

Nearly 70% of the civilian population fled the city, reducing civilian casualties and allowing coalition forces to launch their assault. Army, Marine, and Iraqi forces attacked with an air barrage, followed by an insertion of Marines and Navy Seabees, who bulldozed obstacles. The worst of the fighting continued for the first week, but insurgents resisted throughout the six-week campaign.

By the end of December, 82 US troops were killed with another 600 wounded. British and Iraqi forces sustained 12 killed with another 53 wounded. Over 2000 insurgents were killed while another 1200 were captured.

Keeping with Post-9/11, let’s talk about Afghanistan.

5. Battle of Sangin

U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment and the Afghan National Army provide cover as they move out of a dangerous area after taking enemy sniper fire during a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, in November 2010.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. David R. Hernandez)

The Battle of Sangin was one of the deadliest campaigns in Operation Enduring Freedom. The Sangin River Valley was a Taliban stronghold and was considered the center of opium production. In 2010, United States Marines replaced the British forces in Sangin and initiated a deadly campaign to clear out the insurgent presence in the region. The counterinsurgency lasted for four years, and during this time Marines sustained casualties at some of the highest rates seen during the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.

IEDs peppered the landscape, killing or maiming hundreds. During the height of the fighting, there was daily contact with the enemy just meters outside allied FOBs. In October 2010, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines began a 7-month tour that would kill dozens of them in action and injure hundreds more, with at least 34 of them becoming single, double, or triple amputees. But the “Dark Horse” Marines made progress extending their security perimeter and clearing Highway 611, which allowed for the transportation and operation of future units.

Also read: 10 songs we listened to while “Bangin’ in Sangin”

By 2012, Sangin was transformed from a battlefield into a thriving rural town, but the price was over 100 British and American lives lost and hundreds more wounded. The Taliban continued to fight for Sangin, and today, the area remains in contention.

4. Operation Bolo

(U.S. Air Force photo)

This is the only air-to-air fight we’ll cover. It’s decidedly less deadly than any other battle on this list, but the tactics and implications merit a discussion.

Operation Bolo was the biggest air battle in the Vietnam War and one of the most successful ambush actions in military history.

In the last months of 1966, the North Vietnamese Army’s Mig-21 Fishbed fleet had become more active and successful at intercepting the F-105 Thunderchief formations of the United States Air Force.

The F-105 “Thuds” were super-sonic fighter-bombers with the mission of destroying communist air defense systems. They did this in the role of the wild weasels, a group that would fly slow and low enough to bait the communist surface-to-air systems into targeting them, thus giving away the enemy position and allowing the Wild Weasels to attack and destroy.

But with the MiG-21 added to the fight, the Thuds were falling vulnerable to air-to-air attacks.

The U.S. Air Force decided they needed to neutralize the MiG threat. Air Force legend and World War II Ace Colonel Robin Olds designed a gutsy plan to accomplish this.

Known as Operation Bolo, the mission was to lure the enemy MiGs into battle by hiding supersonic F-4C jets among the slower and less-maneuverable Thud formations.

On Jan. 2, 1967, Olds and his formation of phantoms took to the cloudy skies to fly the F-105 bomb run. They kept to the F-105 speed and flew in the F-105 formation.

The NVA took the bait and engaged.

Related: This Wild Weasel didn’t want Desert Storm to be like Vietnam

Popping up from the clouds, the Fishbeds attacked in pairs. Olds and his formation began a legendary dogfight, where U.S. forces exploited their tactical and technical advantage over the enemy.

Within 13 minutes, seven MiGs were destroyed — roughly half the NVA Mig -21 fleet. The Americans hauled ass back to Thailand with zero casualties.

In the next week, similar missions took out more communist aircraft. As a result, the North Vietnamese were forced to ground their aircraft for several months as they re-trained their pilots and sought new air defense tactics.

Colonel Olds remains the only U.S. Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

To illustrate how terrible it can be when our birds are shot down, let’s move on to Somalia.

3. Battle of Mogadishu

Michael Durant’s helicopter heading out over Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Super64 was the second helicopter to crash during the incident.
(U.S. Army photo)

On Dec. 9, 1992, eighteen hundred United States Marines arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia to help affect peace in the war-torn country. As part of Operation Restore Hope, the Marines supported international aid workers in the country for humanitarian aid operations, including food and supply distribution. In 1993, President Bill Clinton reduced the U.S. presence as the United Nations formally assumed responsibility for operations.

In June, however, Pakistani UN peacekeepers were ambushed by militias loyal to Somali warlord General Mohammad Farrah Aidid, and 24 UN soldiers from Pakistan were killed.

In response, the UN authorized the arrest of Aidid, and President Clinton dispatched 160 Army Rangers and Delta Force operators on a mission to capture the warlord and other leaders of his militia.

The operation went disastrously wrong. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and a brutal urban battle began. The first Black Hawk was struck by an RPG, killing the pilot and co-pilot in the crash, and injuring five more passengers, including one who would die later from his wounds. A rescue mission retrieved the rest of the survivors, but then the second Black Hawk was struck, killing three in the crash. Pilot Mike Durant survived, but his back and leg were broken and he was taken prisoner.

Two Delta Force operators, MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart, were killed attempting to rescue Durant, who was held prisoner for 11 days until his release was secured through diplomatic negotiations. Gordon and Shughart would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.

President Bill Clinton immediately ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, and other U.N. countries followed suit, leaving the region unstable and without a functioning government.

Let’s talk about World War Two, a conflict where military fatalities were estimated between 50 and 80 million.

2. Iwo Jima

Wrecked vehicles litter an Iwo Jima beach.
(DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert M. Warren)

In the final stretch of World War II, the allies sought to gain control of strategic islands in the Pacific. Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific Island located roughly 660 miles from Japan, making it an ideal forward-deployed location for the Allies and Axis powers alike. On Feb. 19, 1945, after three days of naval and aerial bombardments, which launched over sixty-eight hundred tons of bombs and twenty-two thousand shells, the first wave of United States Marines stormed Iwo Jima’s volcanic shores.

Over 21,000 Japanese were there to greet them, heavily entrenched in a complex network of underground tunnels and artillery positions. What followed was some of the most violent fighting of the Pacific in World War II, due in large part to the determination of the Japanese to die before they would surrender.

They burned any vegetation that might have provided the Marines with cover, then launched artillery fire at the Marines’ exposed positions. Naval Seabees got to work on U.S. artillery positions, forward command posts, and field hospitals — all while holding their own in the fight.

Read more: Marines get an official history lesson on Iwo Jima

The iconic raising of the American Flag over Mount Suribachi took place four days into the battle, but the fighting continued for a month. Marines used artillery and flamethrowers to destroy enemy defenses, and the final battle on March 26 included a massive attack against the Americans that ultimately came down to hand-to-hand combat.

In the end, nearly all of the Japanese defenders were killed, except for a couple hundred prisoners. Over 6000 Americans died helping to take the island, with 17,000 more wounded.

1. D-Day

American troops approaching Omaha Beach on Normandy Beach, D-Day, World War II.

This one is ranked for its intensity, carnage, and outcome.

D-Day was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken to date and a logistics marvel. One of the most important battles in World War II, it turned the tide of the conflict in the Allies’ favor and eventually led to their victory in Europe.

Allied forces had been planning D-Day for months. Codenamed Operation Overlord, its goal was to gain a strong foothold in continental Europe by landing thousands of Allied troops and supplies on the beaches of Normandy, France.

The original invasion date was set for May, but due to poor weather conditions it was postponed until June. Despite the continued poor weather, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, gave the order to attack.

D-Day would commence on June 6, 1944.

On Eisenhower’s orders, roughly 176,000 troops embarked on their journey from England to France on 6,000 landing craft, ships, and other vessels.

Just before midnight, airborne troops parachuted into occupied France, surprising the Germans.

Air and naval bombardments were underway to weaken the German defenses before the main invasion began.

At 0630 local time, the land insertion struck across five sectors in a 60-mile coastal stretch of Normandy. British and Canadian troops overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, as did the Americans at Utah. But the American G.I.’s at Omaha faced a tough fight.

The aerial and naval bombardment had done little to diminish the heavily fortified German defenses, both on the shore and on the cliffs above the beaches. Allied amphibious tanks were launched too far from shore and only 2 out of 29 made it to the beach. Many soldiers drowned in the waves, dragged down by the weight of their rucksacks, and many more were mowed down by the constant German fire.

Related: 8 famous people who served on D-Day

Small groups of Americans managed to make it across the beach and traverse up the cliffs.

Allied casualties on June 6 have been estimated at over 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action, consisting of around 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians.

By the end of the day, 155,000 Allied troops successfully stormed and held Normandy’s beaches. By Aug. 21, 1944, the allies had successfully landed over 2 million men in Northern France and suffered 226,386 casualties. German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured. Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded.

The success of the invasion was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. It forced the Germans to fight a two-front war with the Soviets on the East and British, Canadian, and U.S. forces on the west.

The Nazi Third Reich would fall the following May.

This article was written with contributions by Megan Hayes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the battle of Dunkirk — by the numbers

Everyone knows the basic story about the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” during which trapped British troops were evacuated from the French coastal city. But how much do you really know of this miraculous nine-day operation?


Granted, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Dunkirk” made over $500 million, but it told just a tiny snippet of the tale. What makes the miracle of Dunkirk so impressive are the numbers of people the operation moved out of France.

The evacuation had become necessary because German tanks had attacked through the Ardennes forest – which Allied planners had assumed was impassable terrain for tanks.

There’s a lesson in that, but that is for another time. As a result of the disastrous way the Battle of France unfolded, about 800,000 Nazis had roughly 400,000 British and French troops trapped with their backs to the English Channel, with the safe haven of England being 22 miles away.

The crew of a fishing boat retrieves British troops off Dunkirk. (US Army image)

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered a maritime evacuation, thinking that perhaps 45,000 troops could be pulled out. However, many British civilians brought their boats, and an armada of over 700 vessels, ranging from warships to rowboats was soon heading for the pocket.

They faced a devastating gauntlet. During the nine-day evacuation, Nazi planes dropped 45,000 bombs. That came down to roughly one bomb every 17.5 seconds. The Royal Air Force sent 16 squadrons of Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes to cover the evacuation. In 2,739 fighter sorties, they shot down as many as 240 Nazi planes.

The British Army evacuation from Dunkirk (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Nazis managed to kill 68,000 troops who were holding the line, along with nine destroyers (six British, three French) and over 200 of the smaller vessels carrying out the evacuation. But that armada – citizens of a free country rising up to meet the call – managed to evacuate 338,226 troops — a figure far higher than the optimistic hopes of 45,000.

You can see a video about this evacuation below.

YouTube, World War Wings