How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would have to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle

A nuclear thermal propulsion system meant to operate in low Earth orbit may sound like the stuff of the future, but the future will come much sooner than most of us expect. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (better known by its acronym, DARPA)  just announced three companies will be designing America’s most futuristic engine – and it’s expected to be operational by 2025. 

This engine is not known by its acronym, DRACO, which stands for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations. DARPA says the three big contractors designing over the next four years will be General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Aerospace company Lockheed Martin is known for making some of the fastest fighters, including this U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the 58th Fighter Squadron.

DRACO is not only advanced because the propulsion system will be the first of its kind, it’s also advanced because electric and chemical systems don’t give current technology anything close to the kind of maneuverability we’ve come to expect from space vehicles that don’t actually exist, like X-Wing fighters and Federation Runabouts. 

Designers aren’t exactly thinking that the new system will give any space vehicle the kind of handling current air fighters enjoy, but it’s fun to think about what the future may hold. Military planners are hoping for any kind of advanced agility in orbit, something that offers the best of the chemical and electric propulsion currently used by orbiting vehicles. 

Current chemical systems are only half as efficient as the nuclear thermal system will be. Chemical systems create water as a waste product

“The performer teams have demonstrated capabilities to develop and deploy advanced reactor, propulsion, and spacecraft systems,” Maj. Nathan Greiner, the project’s Air Force program manager, said in a statement. “The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space.” 

The first phase is (appropriately) the foundational phase of the design plan. General Atomics will develop the system’s reactor and propulsion mechanics. The other two companies will build off of that design and each create a concept for a spacecraft. 

This won’t be the first time The United States has conceived the idea of a nuclear-powered engine in space. In 1961, NASA built nuclear reactors for use in rocket engines with its Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA). 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
1 December 1967: The first ground experimental nuclear rocket engine (XE) assembly is shown here in “cold flow” configuration, as it makes a late evening arrival at Engine Test Stand No. 1 in Jackass FlatsNevada. The engine is in the left background with a shield structure in the mid/foreground.

Then-Director for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center conceived the idea of manned missions to Mars using spacecraft powered by three NERVA engines each, eight years before man landed on the moon. The proposed mission was supposed to embark in 1981 and land on Mars by 1982. Instead it was scrapped in 1972. 

DARPA’s nuclear thermal rocket system will use fission to heat liquid hydrogen and fire that heated element in its gaseous from the rear of the rocket. As it expands through a nozzle, it will create thrust in space. 

If you’re worried about the possibility of an exploding rocket filled with radioactive elements spewing those elements all over the Earth, you’re not alone. But scientists assure us that nuclear thermal rockets will use low-enriched uranium, which would not be usable as a weapon if that happens. 

They also assure us that the uranium used in the propulsion system won’t be radioactive until the rocket is well clear of Earth’s atmosphere. 

Right now, DRACO rockets are being considered for transit between the Earth and its moon, but it would significantly cut down on travel times inside the solar system, potentially reaching Mars in as little as three months.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hair today, gone tomorrow: 62 years ago, Elvis joined the Army

When Elvis Presley turned 18 years old in 1953, he registered for the draft – just like every other young American male during that time. The rules governing the draft stated that all young men that were in good health were required to serve in the United States military for a minimum of two years. When he signed his name on that line, promising to serve, he had no idea of the superstar fame that would soon be coming his way.


After signing up for the draft, he graduated high school and soon began his entertainment career. Three years later in 1956, he was a film and recording star. Presley was in the middle of filming King Creole when he received his draft notice. He requested a delay so he could finish filming, which he was granted.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

On March 24, 1958, with his family and friends by his side, The King reported to the Memphis draft board. Once he was sworn in and processed with others into the Army, he boarded a bus to Arkansas.

He would go on to coin the phrase “hair today, gone tomorrow” after he received his G.I. haircut.

Once Presley finished his basic training, he was on leave and managed to do a concert and recording session in Nashville. He then headed back to Ft. Hood, Texas, to complete his advanced training. His mother became ill during this time and passed away and Presley was granted leave to be with her.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

When he returned to Ft. Hood, he was assigned to the Third Armored Spearhead Division. He soon boarded the U.S.S. Randall and sailed for Germany. Upon arrival, he served in Company C, which was a scout platoon. He was declared off limits to the press.

Presley would be right there in the thick of things alongside his unit. He completed all required duties. Some research suggested that he did more than what was required of him because he didn’t want people to assume he got special treatment. He would go on to earn a medal for expert marksmanship and rise to the responsibility of an NCO, all without seeking celebrity treatment.

He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1960.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Red Army used cavalry to deadly effect on WWII’s Eastern Front

In terms of technological advancement on the battlefield, World War II oversaw a complete transition from the fighting of the 19th century to the advanced mechanized warfare of the future. By the end of the war, the world would reach the atomic age. At the war’s start, however, the armies of Europe and Asia were still using cavalry and horses.

That doesn’t mean the horse-mounted units weren’t effective. The opposite is actually true, and the most efficient uses of cavalry came on World War II’s Eastern Front, in Poland and later the Soviet Union.

After launching Operation Barabarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans made sweeping advances into Soviet territory, inflicting havey damage on the Red Army and capturing hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops. 

Then, the German soldiers brutalized those prisoners of war. The advance also took a heavy toll on Soviet civilians. When the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad in 1943 and forced to fall back, the Red Army made sure the German soldiers paid a heavy price for all of their transgressions. 

A trademark of the German invasion was the constant encirclement, capture or defeat of entire Soviet divisions. When it came time to make an envelopment of their own, the communist troops would give Hitler’s soldiers a taste of their own medicine. 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A Russian soldier guiding a military horse in the dead of winter.

By Fall 1943, the German Army was pushed all the way back to what is today Ukraine, after coming within 100 miles of taking the Soviet capital of Moscow. German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South fell back to the Dnieper River, where the Germans were supposed to have constructed a series of fortifications in case the invasion failed.

These fortifications were supposed to have been built for the situation they now found themselves in. Except the fortifications had never been built. The Germans were forced back further and the Soviets were coming right for them. 

The German 8th Army reformed a 62-mile front, with the town of Korsun in its center. The Germans were low on supplies, ammunition, and pretty much anything else needed to fight a war. The Russians, on the other hand, were flush with fresh troops and American-made equipment and vehicles. 

By early February, Russian Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov decided he would use the same tactic he used to crush the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, a double envelopment. Just four days after the attack began, the envelopment of the German 8th began to form around Korsun. The move was much worse than the Germans originally thought – the Red Army had formed a double envelopment, the Korsun Pocket.

Relief to the pocket was hampered by both the weather and by German dictator Adolf HItler. Hitler ordered German forces outside the pocket to try to encircle the Red Army instead of helping the pocket simply break out. Then the weather turned unseasonably warm, turning the roads from frozen dirt to mud. 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
SS Cavalry Brigade in Russia, 1941 (Adendorf, Peter, Wikimedia)

The Germans were barely able to move and the Korsun Pocket was soon whittled down to just seven square miles. The Wehrmacht had to break out or be destroyed and without orders from Hitler, made the attempt on Feb. 16, three weeks into the battle. 

But the Soviets were ready for the attempt, and brought every tank and gun they could to stem the German breakout. As the Germans advanced, the Soviet brought T-34 tanks into their formation, driving over hundreds of infantrymen. Then, the Cossacks attacked. 

Horse-mounted cavalry armed with sabers poured into the German defenders, and as they broke and ran for the safety of nearby hills and streams, they were literally cut down by the Cossack cavalry. Those who tried to surrender with their hands raised in the air found their hands lopped off. 

For three hours, the heavy horsemen hunted the Germans. 20,000 were killed in the Korsun Pocket fighting and 8,000 were eventually taken prisoner. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 terrifying things US troops faced in Vietnam’s jungles

Anyone who’s ever deployed can tell you there’s more to worry about in the field than just the enemy. While of course the North Vietnamese were the primary concern of American troops in the Vietnam War, just being in the jungle presented an entirely unexpected series of its own challenges – like giant centipedes.


Rumors persisted about things like fragging, rampant drug use, and even the appearance of Bigfoot in Vietnam. But when US troops weren’t earning the Medal of Honor while completely stoned, they were fighting off things that only previously appeared in their nightmares.

Related: This is the story of US troops who think they saw Bigfoot in Vietnam

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Bring on the flamethrower.

Giant insects

As seen in the cover photo of this post, the creepy crawlers of the jungle have the space and the food necessary to grow to an insane level. That guy in the photo is Scolopendra subspinipes, also known as the Vietnamese centipede, Chinese redhead, or Jungle Centipede. It’s extremely aggressive, and its venomous bite hurts like hell, sources say. But the fun doesn’t stop with centipedes, giant scorpions were also known to bother American troops in bivouac.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Weaver ants

Imagine you’re in some kind of tank or armored vehicle, busting down trees in the jungle when suddenly, you bust down the wrong tree, one filled with a nest of red ants. These buggers were reportedly immune to the issued bug spray and, given the choice between NVA small arms fire and dealing with red ants in the tank, tank crews would either bail on the tank or man the vehicle completely naked. They were often referred to as “communist ants” because they were red in color and never seemed to attack the Vietnamese.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Very pretty, but also what the KGB used to kill dissidents.

Debilitating plants

Troops in Vietnam were sometimes lifted right up out of troop carriers and other vehicles by low-hanging vines that seemed innocent at first, but as soon as they were touched, constricted around an unsuspecting driver, grabbing them by the arms or neck. They became known as the “wait-a-minute” vines. But that’s just the beginning.

Vietnam’s most beautiful trees and flowers are also its deadliest. Heartbreak Grass, Flame Lillies, Twisted Cord Flowers, and Bark Cloth Trees are all powerful enough to kill a human or cause blindness upon contact or accidental ingestion, which is more common than one might think.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Bring that flamethrower back over here.

Venomous snakes

You know what kinds of animals love a hot, humid place with lots of shade? Reptiles and amphibians, both of which Vietnam has in droves. Vietnam has so many snakes, American troops were advised to just assume they were all deadly – because most of them are. The country is filled with Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, and more. The snakes that weren’t venomous were all giant constrictors, still very capable of murdering you in your jungle sleep.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Yes, troops were mauled by tigers.

Large wildlife

Since we’re talking about giant jungle snakes, we should discuss the other giant creatures that inhabit the wilds of Vietnam. Southeast Asia is also home to aggressive tiger species, leopards, and bears. Those are just the traditional predators. There are also elephants, water buffaloes, and gaurs, giant cows, who will go on a murder rampage that an M-16 isn’t likely to stop.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how North Korea thinks the Korean War started

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea suddenly and unexpectedly invaded South Korea. Their first stop was the 24th Infantry Division stationed at Taejon. Since the U.S. and South Korean armies were already exhausted from trying to stop the North Korean People’s Army every step of the way from the border, Taejon didn’t stand much of a chance. 

But to hear the North Koreans tell the story of Taejon, you’d think the Americans started the war and that Taejon was “liberated” when the KPA captured the city after a week of fighting. That’s what Singaporean tourist Aram Pan learned on a visit to North Korea’s Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. 

Pan uploaded a video of his visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War museum in May of 2020. There, he saw a massive panoramic diorama of the Battle of Taejon from the North Korean point of view. The tour was led by a North Korean tour guide wearing the uniform of the Korean People’s Army.

“The U.S. imperialists provoked the Korean War on June 25, 1950,” said the guide. “Our soldiers liberated Seoul, the enemy’s capital on June the 28th, 1950, only three days after the outbreak of the Korean War.” 

What the tour guide said is mostly accurate. The war did start on June 25th and North Korea did capture Seoul on the 28th of June. 

“After losing Seoul, the enemy went to Taejon city as their second capital,” she continues, “and they were going to block the advance of our soldiers in the Taejon area.”  

This is also mostly correct. The North Koreans did advance on Taejon after taking Seoul, and the Americans did stand a Taejon in an attempt to block the North Koreans from advancing further south. But there’s nothing different about that battle plan. Most defending armies in a war are going to try to block the advances of an invader. 

crew of an m24 during korean war
Crew of an M24 tank along the Naktong River front. On the ground is Pfc. Rudolph Dotts, Egg Harbor City, N.J. gunner (center); Pvt. Maynard Linaweaver, Lundsburg, Kansas, cannoneer; and on top is Pfc. Hugh Goodwin, Decature, Miss., tank commander. All are members of the 24th Reconnaissance, 24th Division. (Army, KOREAN WAR)

The guide then shows off the massive panoramic display that was created in 1974. The exhibit shows what it would have looked like if you had been standing on a southwestern hill two kilometers away from Taejon during the June 14-21, 1950 battle there. 

It also depicts what the North Koreans are taught about the Korean War. The guide says that President Kim Il-Sung personally oversaw the Battle of Taejon from Seoul. It’s highly unlikely Kim was so close to the fighting at the time. It was important to him to unify the Korean Peninsula under his regime, but Taejon was just another city to take from the Americans. 

Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il probably enjoyed hearing this when they visited the exhibit’s opening in 1974, but it’s factually inaccurate. 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A Russian made T34/85 tank knocked out in Taejon, Korea, on 20 July stands at testimony to the heroic action of Major General William F. Dean, Commanding Officer,24th Infantry Division. (Korean War Signal Corps Collection)

“This battle was very famous because at this battle, the enemy’s technical superiority was defeated by our tactical superiority under the wise command of President Kim Il-Sung,” the guide continues. 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Victorious War Museum Entrance (Uri Tours, Wikipedia)

The panoramic exhibit is 50 feet high, 433 feet long, and 137 feet in diameter but it gives a 25 mile view of the battlefield. The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum also features a number of captured or destroyed aircraft, tanks, and other vehicles from the United Nations and United States – of which it claims to have destroyed more than 10,000.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

What British civilians did for special operators after ‘Desert One’ will tear you up

“To you all from us all for having the guts to try.”

These were the words written on the cases of beer waiting for American special operations troops in Oman on Apr. 25, 1980. They were gifted to the U.S. service members by British civilians working at the airfield.


The British didn’t know for sure who the American troops were, but what they did know came from news reports in Iran and the United States that a group of Army Delta Force troops, United States Marines, and Air Force aircrews flew out of their base to an unknown destination and returned many hours later.

British airfield operators also knew that not everyone had come back.

By the time President Jimmy Carter gave Operation Eagle Claw the green light, hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been held for 174 days. The operational ground force commander was also the legendary founder of Delta Force, Col. Charlie Beckwith – and no one was more eager to get going.

A new documentary from Filmmaker Barbara Koppel, “Desert One,” explores the leadup and fallout of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. military’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages. It also details every angle of the event from people who were on the ground, with interviews from those who were there.

The interviewees include veteran member of the Eagle Claw mission and their families, Iranians who were holding Americans hostage at the embassy, a handful of the hostages, an Iranian who was part of a group of locals who came upon the landing site in the middle of the night, and even remarks from President Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale.

Carter, dedicated to achieving the release of the hostages through diplomatic means, still charged Beckwith with creating a hostage rescue plan. Carter exhausted every channel before giving Beckwith the go-ahead, but Beckwith was ready.

The plan was an incredibly complex one, and with so many moving parts, many felt then that it had little chance for success – a statement even many of the Deltas agreed with.

Coming into a remorse desert location near Tehran, called “Desert One” 3 U.S. Air Force C-130s would deliver 93 Delta force operators destined for the Embassy, 13 Special Forces troops to retrieve hostages from the foreign affairs ministry building, a U.S. Army ranger team, and a handful of Farsi-speaking truck drivers. “Desert One” would be the staging area for the planes and refueling bladders, guarded by an airfield protection team.

Eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters from the USS Nimitz would be dispatched to Desert One to refuel and take soldiers to another desert site, “Desert Two” where they would hide until nightfall. CIA operatives would take trucks to Desert Two and drive soldiers to Tehran. There, the rangers would capture an abandoned air base outside of the city as a landing place for two C-141 Starlifter aircraft.

During the assault, the helicopters would fly from Desert Two to a soccer stadium near the embassy in Tehran to kill the guards, pick up the hostages, and fly them to the Starlifters. The helicopters would be destroyed on the ground, and everyone would fly aboard the C-141s to Egypt.

The rescue mission never made it past Desert One. A number of unforeseen incidents, including Iranian citizens, an intense dust storm, and mechanical failures contributed to the failure of Eagle Claw. After a tragic accident at the airfield claimed eight lives and the mission lost the minimum number of helicopters needed, Carter ordered them to abort.

To this day, Carter accepts responsibility for the failure of the mission, as he did on Apr. 25, 1980, making a televised address to the American people.

President Jimmy Carter – Statement on Iran Rescue Mission

www.youtube.com

“I ordered this rescue mission prepared in order to safeguard American lives, to protect America’s national interests, and to reduce the tensions in the world that have been caused among many nations as this crisis has continued,” the president said. “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.”

When looking back on his time as President, whenever Carter is asked what he would do differently in his administration, his answer is always the same:

“I would send one more helicopter.”

When the Americans returned to Oman and the British civilians realized who they were and from where they’d just come, they rounded up any beer they could and left the now-famous note.


Articles

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

A Navy Seabee is probably the one sailor that Marines love the most — next to the platoon doc, of course.


Camouflage is their typical working uniform. They spend most of their time in the field and dirt. They don’t shy away from messy jobs. As one Marine captain once told a journalist in Iraq: Seabees build things, they blow things up, and they shoot straight.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3, engage a simulated force during NMCB 3’s Final Evaluation Problem (FEP). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Gomez/Released)

The Navy’s “Can Do” sailors do a lot. They build field toilets and bunkers, construct camps and pour concrete, fix damaged utilities and buildings, help civilians in distress and even kill the enemy when required. Their work building airfields and camps across the Pacific during World War II undoubtedly helped in the allied victory.

A fraction of that force today, Navy Seabees are the backbone of the Naval Construction Force that includes 11 naval construction battalions and two amphibious construction battalions. Battalions send detachments of Seabees to as many as a dozen countries, and missions vary from repairing water lines, building schools and roads or pulling camp security.

Seabees serve in one of seven ratings – builder, construction mechanic, engineering aide, equipment operator, steelworker and utilitiesman – but every one will tell you they’re a Jack-of-all-trades among warfighters. Seabee ingenuity gets things done.

The classic round Seabee logo of the “Fighting Bee” holding a Tommy gun, wrench, and hammer — one of only a few Navy-approved insignias that sailors can wear on their uniforms — is as relevant today, 75 years after the first Seabee units were formed, as it was on March 5, 1942.

Combat readiness is a critical a mission because Seabees training for, say, a western Pacific rotation to Okinawa might be sent to a combat zone elsewhere. “You could be building a schoolhouse in the Philippines… and go to war,” said Chief Utilitiesman Phil Anderton, 31, a Seabee with Naval Construction Battalion 3 based at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Anderton learned that lesson as an 18-year-old Seabee in 2005. His battalion prepared to deploy to Rota, Spain, but ” they canceled leave, and for three weeks we trained to go to war,” he recalled. “It’s like that fast. Three weeks.” They ran scores of convoy security missions across volatile Iraq.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Seaman Jonathan Rosa and Petty Officer 2nd Class Leroy Jimmy, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 18 (NMCB 18) return fire during a training evolution as part of a field training exercise (FTX). (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Carver/RELEASED).

It’s little surprise that Seabees going through their battalion final training exercise, required to certify as combat-ready, looks like they’re already in the hot zone. “This right here is the culmination of ‘be ready for war.’ It’s awesome,” Anderton said as he escorted a journalist through an expeditionary forward operating camp NMCB-3 built on an empty lot for its final training exercise at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., last fall.

The air hummed with the sound of diesel trucks, generators and heavy machinery. Dust kicked up from medevac Humvee. The sound of gunfire echoed. Helping set that combat mindset was an opposing hostile force that kept trying to sneak along a creek to infiltrate perimeter lines and attack the camp. For three days since they arrived, and with little sleep, the battalion’s 550 Seabees grappled with an indirect fire attack from the mock enemy that wounded 17 and damaged the nearby airfield.

“Lately we’ve been seeing the small-arms attacks in the dark,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Matthew Lundeen, the quick reaction force commander.

In the midst, civilian-actors pleaded in their native language for the Americans to leave while others wanted their help, or so it seemed.

All Seabees get combat tactics training, and they have to learn what seasoned grunts do by instinct. “We put a lot on our E-4s and E-5s to make very sound, tactical decisions, putting bullets down the range to keep us safe,” said Anderton, the Bravo Company operations chief and a former drill instructor. “The first line of defense is them. They’re the ones in the pit when the aggressions happen.”

“Making that tactical decision that is either going to put him in jail or save his life,” he said. “That’s the most critical, that they would pull the trigger at the right time.”

“This is a pressurized environment that really tests the leaders,” said Cmdr. Laurie Scott, NMCB-3’s commander, especially for junior Seabees who haven’t yet served overseas. “This is a lesson in sleep deprivation,” he said. “You kind of get the sense of how people react under pressure.”

The night before, a Seabee spotted some infiltrators in the scrub and bushes who had been harassing them. “We walked down to the lines and, sure enough, there was someone out there and we started shooting,” said Steelworker 2nd Class Shianne Chlupacek with Charlie Platoon. “It was pretty cool.”

A half-dozen or so enemy tried to infiltrate the camp. “We saw them with the thermals setting up,” Builder 3rd Class John Skoblicki[cqgf] said. “They set up right in between (Pit) 4 and 3, and then they opened up. We shot back.”

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 15, pour concrete as they work to complete a runway expansion project. NMCB 15 is currently mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is an expeditionary element of U.S. Naval Forces that support various units worldwide through national force readiness, civil engineering, humanitarian assistance, and building and maintaining infrastructure. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Garas)

“We’d been tracking them for awhile,” as enemy flashlights prodding the pit line gave them away, said Steelworker Seaman Korey Benton[cqgf], 20. “We engaged and fired back,” added Skoblicki. No casualties among the Seabees, but Skoblicki blew through the first can of ammo with the M240 machinegun before it jammed with the blanks. “It tends to do that,” he said. Benton provided covering fire with the M16 rifle until they could get the 240 up and running. “You just have to keep racking,” he said.

Chlupacek stood in an M16 pit the Seabees carved from the brown-mocha dirt with their E-tools and the help of a Catepillar 420 backhoe. (To a Marine, it’s a fighting hole. To Seabees, it’s a “defensive fighting pit.”) “It’s definitely part of being a Seabee,” said Chlupacek, who grew up around farms and hunting and got into welding in her small Nebraska town.

This was her third FTX. A cold front had blown chilly rain through the region just as the Seabees arrived to build their FOB. “It was the first day when we started doing trenching. It was hard to keep morale up,” she said. “I’d walk the lines for about 16 hours, and I’d keep telling the troops that it’ll be over soon. It was wet and it was cold.”

“Once you get entrenched, it’s pretty easy,” she said. “We didn’t get entrenched until the third day we were here. At first, it was just sitting on the ground, in like a skirmish room.”

Perhaps more than most seagoing sailors, Chlupacek is comfortable in the rugged outdoors. “I love tactics, so this is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “You get in the game, and you feel it. OK, there’s enemy out there, and let’s kill ’em. I like it.”

Living like a grunt isn’t for every Seabee. Others take well to the “build-fight” life. “I love either side, tactics or building. I joined to be a Seabee,” said Builder 2nd Class Harlee Annis, 23, of Ukiah, Calif., who enlisted after he saw a pamphlet about Seabees while at a junior college. “I got my first gun when I was 7 years old.”

On this day, Annis was the gunner who manned the M16 service rifle, a qualification he earned during NMCB-3’s “homeport” period at Port Hueneme. “This is probably the funnest part, to get to fire it,” he said. He wasn’t on shift during the attack the previous night and was eager to get this first shot off. “I was hoping,” he said. “Today. Maybe.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British fought off the WWII Italian invasion of Malta with old biplanes

The Mediterranean island of Malta was a crucial possession during World War II. The Axis powers needed the island to secure its supply lines to North Africa. The Allies needed the island to disrupt those supply lines and keep Fascist Italy from controlling the entire sea. 

Taking the island would prove more difficult than expected for Mussolini. His grand plan involved landing 40,000 troops on the island and built a flotilla of boats for the occasion. But first, he had to weaken its defenses. For that, he decided to use air power. 

Italian air power would not be enough to bring the population of Malta and its British defenders to their knees. In fact, it would prove their undoing. 

Fascist Italy’s air forces, the Regia Aeronautica, began bombing and strafing the island’s meager defenses on Jun. 11, 1940. 55 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers and 21 Macchi C.200 fighters attacked virtually unopposed, but the next time Italian pilots flew over Malta’s capital city, they found some pushback.

The island’s British defenders had a number of Gloster Sea Gladiator biplanes from the 1930s still in crates in a warehouse. They quickly assembled the old planes, armed them with their Vickers guns, and were able to have them airborne in time to meet the returning Italians. 

The Royal Air Force pilots were going up against Italy’s most advanced aircraft. By the time the Gloster Sea Gladiator finished its production run, the aircraft was already obsolete. In contrast,  the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero bomber was the feather in Italy’s military cap, one of the fastest medium bombers in the world at the time. The same could be said for the Macchi C.200 Saetta fighter. 

Another problem for the RAF was the lack of skilled fighter pilots. The men who would be taking the old biplanes up against Fascist Italy’s best planes weren’t fighter pilots at all. They were a bunch of pilot used to flying cargo planes and flying boats. 

vintage biplane
This plane looks amazing, but it’s not what the pilots had in mind.

Still the RAF did what it was known to do, and that is to make mincemeat of the opposition, even when the technological or numerical odds are stacked against them. In their first aeronautical meeting, the RAF pilots shot down several of the Regia Aeornautica’s faster, more powerful planes, losing only one Gloster Sea Gladiator. 

The Maltese defenders would send only three biplanes up against the Italian attackers at a time, to keep from losing their entire defense force. Despite these colossal efforts, the Italians were still able to bring the pain to Malta, but the Maltese never lost their resolve. 

Eventually, the British were able to get more substantial resistance to the Italian attacks. The RAF was able to fly more advanced Hawker Hurricanes to the island’s defense, along with ships from the Royal Navy to provide anti-aircraft guns. By the end of 1940, the British had given the Italian Air Force a big black eye. Mussolini’s invasion of the island would have to wait. In the meantime, Allied control of Malta threatened Axis operations in North Africa. When the Germans moved to back up the Italian Army in North Africa, the Nazi Luftwaffe got involved in attacking Malta. 

The island became a focal point of the struggle for control of the Mediterranean. British merchant shipping and the Royal Navy tried desperately to deliver supplies and reinforcements to Malta, and lost tons of shipping in repeated attempts, but the Axis still controlled the skies. 

German attacks were devastating compared to the Italian air campaign. The Luftwaffe leveled much of the capital city of Valetta but the resolve of the Maltese people would never waver. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would award them the George Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest civilian honor, for their effort. 

Eventually, it was a combination of Italy’s poor performance in Greece and  Hitler’s timing and military decision-making that would save the island from invasion. The Nazis were forced to come to Italy’s aid in Greece and Yugoslavia in April 1941. In June 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. 

The troops needed to invade Malta were suddenly needed elsewhere. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Chesty Puller may have been America’s first Wolverine

Marine Corps legend Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is known today for his heroics and his chest full of medals, but some Marines claimed in 1984 that the nickname was a reference to Puller’s metal ribcage, a prosthetic that was placed there after his chest was shot and chopped up by Haitian rebels.


You heard that right: The claim was that Chesty had a metal skeleton like the Marvel hero Wolverine.

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The resemblance is uncanny. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

His nickname, “Chesty,” actually came from his impressive physique and stance, according to a Marine Corps article originally published in 1948 when Puller was a major and the acting commander of a battalion.

The writer of the article, Marine Sgt. Nolle T. Roberts, goes on to describe some stories that Puller’s men had added to his nickname after the fact, including the story of the Wolverine ribcage:

The nickname, “Chesty,” was a natural in view of the colonel’s ramrod stance and belligerent appearance and nature. However, the men of the wartime First Division boasted that Col. Puller had a false “steel chest,” apparently replacing the natural bone structure which had been hacked away by machette-swinging bandits in the Banana Wars. A few claimed that he developed the chest from shouting commands above the noise of battle.

Puller’s chest was likely made with steel because the Army was hoarding all the Adamantium to eventually create Wolverine.

For his part, Puller didn’t quite seem to understand the nickname or the stories surrounding it. In a 1954 letter to Maj. Frank C. Sheppard, Puller wrote:

I agree with you 100% I had done a little soldiering previous to Guadalcanal and had been called a lot of names, but why ‘Chesty?’ Especially the steel part?

The “little soldiering” that Puller is referring to included combat deployments to both Haiti and Nicaragua. Puller supported government forces in Nicaragua and earned his first two Navy Crosses leading units of local fighters against numerically superior rebel forces. So, “a little soldiering” was likely tongue-in-cheek, and it’s easy to see why Puller’s men may have seen him as a man of steel.

While Puller may not have understood the nickname, it’s become a part of Marine Corps culture. Puller is more commonly known by his nickname “Chesty” than by his actual name.

popular

The Tiger used in ‘Fury’ was captured after being disabled by the most improbable shots

Out of nowhere, a shot cuts through the last Sherman tank in the column, blowing its turret off. The three remaining Shermans reverse from the road as another shot whizzes into the dirt, narrowly missing them. Backed into a wood line, the Shermans spot their ambusher – a German Tiger I tank. With no way out, the Shermans return fire and charge the Tiger. The shots from the Shermans bounce off of the Tiger’s 100mm frontal armor with no effect.


Undeterred, the Tiger fires an 88mm shell straight through the front of a second Sherman. Continuing their charge toward the Tiger, a third Sherman is hit, its turret blown off of its hull. The last surviving Sherman finally gets around the Tiger and traverses its gun to aim at the weaker armor at the rear of the tank. Only after taking two shots through its vulnerable engine compartment does the deadly Tiger grind to a halt. With their tank ablaze, the surviving German crew members abandon the Tiger and are cut down by Sherman’s hull-mounted .30-cal machine gun.

This scene from Sony Pictures’ “Fury” has been viewed by millions of people online. Produced with the help of The Tank Museum in Bovington, UK, the scene features the only operating Tiger I tank in the world today.

Officially called the Panzerkampfwagen VI, Tiger I, Sd.Kfz. 181, the Tiger tank was heavily armored and equipped with the deadly 88mm gun. Paired with a well-disciplined crew, the Tiger was a menace to the allied armies during WWII. However, it was prone to track failures and mechanical breakdowns. The Tiger’s operational range was also restricted by its high fuel consumption.

Built in February 1943, Tiger 131 was issued to the German 504th Heavy Tank Battalion and was shipped to Tunisia in March 1943 to reinforce the German defense of North Africa. As the allies prepared a major push toward Tunis, German forces launched a spoiling attack in April. On April 24, the British 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters, a line infantry regiment, took a location known as Point 174. The Germans immediately counter attacked with armor, including Tiger 131.

During the counter attack, British tanks of the 142nd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps and 48th Royal Tank Regiment arrived to reinforce the Foresters. German and British tank shells streaked past each other as the two sides vied for control. During the exchange, Tiger 131 was hit by three 6-pounder solid shot shells from British Churchill tanks.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A British Churchill Mk IV tank like the ones used at Point 174. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

The first shot hit the Tiger’s barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring. The shell jammed the turret’s traverse, destroyed the radio, and wounded the driver and radio operator. The second shell disabled the gun’s elevation device when it hit the turret lifting lug. The third shot hit the loader’s hatch and deflected shrapnel fragments into the turret. Unable to aim their main gun and continue the fight, the crew of Tiger 131 abandoned their tank.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Tiger 131 with its damaged loader’s hatch. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

After repelling the German counter attack, British forces discovered Tiger 131 on the battlefield and were surprised to find it intact and drivable—the first Tiger to be captured in such a state. Using parts from destroyed Tigers, British engineers repaired Tiger 131 to be inspected and evaluated. The tank was displayed in Tunis where it was shown to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI. In October 1943, Tiger 131 was sent to England and displayed around the country as a trophy to boost morale and fundraise before it was turned over to the School of Tank Technology. There, it was thoroughly inspected and assessed in order to aid future British tank design and evaluate its weaknesses to be exploited by allied troops on the front.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
King George VI inspects Tiger 131 in Tunis. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

On September 25, 1951, Tiger 131 was transferred from the British Ministry of Supply to The Tank Museum in Bovington, UK, where it was put on display. In 1990, the tank was given a complete restoration by museum staff and the Army Base Repair Organisation, an executive agency of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In 2003, Tiger 131 returned to the museum in a fully functional state, making it the only working Tiger tank in the world. After further work and a repainting in period colors, the restoration was completed in 2012.

Because of its rarity, Tiger 131 has been the subject of many books, toys, and models. As previously stated, the tank gained further fame after it was used in the 2014 film “Fury.” It has also been featured in the popular online tank game “World of Tanks.” The Tank Museum keeps Tiger 131 well-maintained, taking it out for a “Tiger Day” exhibition at least once a year for the public to see it in motion.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Tiger 131 on display. (Credit: The Tank Museum)

The Tiger tank inspired confidence in its crew and fear in its enemies. Today, Tiger 131 serves not as a weapon of war, but as a well-preserved piece of history for people to see and learn from. The stewards of this history at The Tank Museum take great pride in their work and hope to continue to share it with the world for many decades to come.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The long-standing relationship between Rolex and the U.S. Navy SEALs

The keen-eyed viewer may have noticed Tyrone “Rone” Woods, played by James Badge Dale, sporting a Rolex Submariner 116610 in Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Some may write this appearance off as a Hollywood product placement by Bay, a known Rolex fan. However, the watch actually shows great attention to detail in Rone’s story and is an integral part of Navy SEAL history.


How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Rone’s Submariner is identifiable by its iconic cyclops magnifier (Paramount Pictures)

Rolex introduced the Submariner watch in 1954. While the watch has evolved into a luxury item that broadcasts wealth and success today, it was originally designed as a rugged, no-nonsense tool watch that professional divers could depend on. Its uni-directional rotating bezel allowed them to time their dives, its robust and accurate movement meant that it could keep good time in an age before battery-powered quartz timepieces, and its water-resistance rating of 660 feet meant that it could do all of this at the depths that professional divers operate at.

In 1962, the first two Navy SEAL teams were formed and they quickly adopted the Submariner as their dive watch. Tudor, Rolex’s more affordable sister brand (think Chevrolet to Cadillac), also made Submariners which were issued to the Navy’s elite warriors. By 1967, Rolex had picked up on the professional military application of their watches and utilized it in a magazine advertisement saying, “For years, it’s been standard gear for submariners, frogmen, and all who make their living on the seas.”

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

In 1967, a Rolex Submariner cost 0, or about id=”listicle-2648518781″,600 in today’s money (Rolex)

The Submariner, in both its Rolex and Tudor forms, was so ingrained in Navy SEAL culture and essential to their specialized missions, that it became standard issue. One Vietnam veteran recalled in an interview, “During the training in BUD/S we were issued our Tudor watches, black face for enlisted and blue faced for officers, and these went with us to our next duty station.” Indeed, the SEALs took their issued Submariners with them to the jungles of Vietnam. Like other servicemembers who purchased their own Submariners, the SEALs valued the watch for its ruggedness, dependability, and accuracy.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

U.S. Navy SEALs Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise wearing their issued Submariners in Vietnam (Rolex Magazine)

In the decades after Vietnam, the advent of battery-powered dive computers and the evolution of Rolex into an expensive luxury brand caused the Navy to cease its issuance of Submariners to the SEALs. Today, however, some Navy SEALs still maintain the elite organization’s relationship with Rolex on their own dime. While Rone did not wear a Rolex Submariner 116610 as depicted in 13 Hours, he did wear a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660, a more robust descendant of the Submariner with a greater water-resistance rating.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Rone wearing his Sea-Dweller (Cheryl Croft Bennett)

Before he joined the CIA’s Global Response Staff in 2010, Rone posted on RolexForums.com looking for a shop in the San Diego area where he could sell his Rolex Sea-Dweller and Panerai Luminor (the Italian Navy’s original issued dive watch). Although his post received no replies, the thread has since become a tribute to the late operator since his death in Benghazi in 2012.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Rone’s first and only post on the forum (RolexForums)

Though the fate of Rone’s Sea-Dweller is unknown, the fact that he is shown wearing a Rolex in 13 Hours is a testament to the care and attention to detail that Bay put in to depicting him and the other Americans in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Screaming Eagles wear cards on their helmets

The pop culture lexicon often depicts troops from WWII and Vietnam as having a playing card, usually the Ace of Spades, strapped onto their helmet. Although the Vietnam-era “Death Card” is an over-exaggeration of Screaming Eagles believing the urban legend that Vietnamese feared the Spade symbol (they didn’t) and later as a calling card and anti-peace sign, it remains a symbol for unit identification.


Most specifically within the 101st Airborne Division.

The practice of painting the symbol onto a helmet was created in England just before the Normandy Invasion. The purpose was that when a soldier jumped or glided into Normandy and got separated from a larger portion of the unit, the easily identifiable symbol would easily mark a soldier as being apart of a specific regiment and a small dash at the 12, 3, 6, or 9 o’clock position specified the battalion.

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
In March 1945, Gen. Eisenhower awarded the 101st Airborne Division with a Presidential Unit citation for defending Bastogne.

Spades were designated for the 506th Infantry Regiment, Hearts for the 502nd, Diamonds for the 501st, and clubs for the 327th Glider Infantry. The ‘tic’ marks went from 12 o’clock meaning HQ or HQ company, 3 o’clock being 1st battalion, 6 o’clock being 2nd, and 9 o’clock being 3rd battalion.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Today, the symbols are still used as a call back to the 101st Airborne’s glory days in WWII.

The regiments are more commonly known by as Brigade Combat Teams and the symbols are each given as Clubs to the 1st BCT, Hearts to the 2nd BCT, Spades to the now deactivated 4th BCT, and Diamonds to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade along with the 1st Battalion, 501st out of Alaska under the 25th ID. The Rakkasans of the 101st Airborne’s 3rd BCT wear a Japanese Torii for their actions in the Pacific and being the only unit to parachute onto Japanese soil at the time.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

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