At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.
Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”
That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.
To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.
In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.
The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.
If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.
The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.
And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.
It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.
To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.
These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.
But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.
Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).
By this November, thousands of Americans will have exercised their right to vote for the next president of the United States. With just over half of that population as female (50.8%), women have a huge say in how that election turns out. But as we all know, that wasn’t always an option. Who has had the right to vote has changed over time, including those of different races, genders, and those who had certain assets.
Go back in time with us as we look at some of the most important events that led to women’s voting rights.
1776: The New Jersey Constitution Grants Women the Right to Vote
These trailblazers provided women with the right to vote via their state constitution through 1807.
1838: “School suffrage” voted into effect in Kentucky
This special amendment was created for widows who had school-age children, it allowed them to vote on school-related issues.
1848: First convention to discuss women’s rights
After a two day meeting held in New York, a convention was called for women to talk about their rights. Held in Seneca Falls, New York, the event was considered successful with signatures from 68 women and 32 men on the “Declaration of Sentiments.” It included the country’s first “formal” demand for women’s voting rights, with:
“It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
1850: The first National Woman’s Rights Convention takes place
After taking over conventions for themselves — men were kicked out of planning or helping with events — this largest event to-date took place in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was attended by more than 1,000 people.
National conferences were held annually through 1860, with the exclusion of 1857.
1853: The first feminist newspaper is printed
The Una, “A paper devoted to the elevation of woman” was printed in Providence, Rhode Island.
1861: Kansas allows school election votes
The state of Kansas allowed women to start voting in school board elections.
1866: Documents are presented to Congress
After receiving 10,000 signatures, suffragist leaders presented the document to Congress, requesting women’s votes.
1868: The 14th amendment is ratified
With the 14th amendment, more Americans are given the right to vote, but it includes the word “male,” prohibiting females from securing their rights.
1870: Wyoming grants female votes
Citing territorial status, Wyoming is the first state — or future state — to allow women to vote. When it became a state in 1890, it was the first official state to grant female votes.
1871: The Anti-Suffrage Party was created
Wives of prominent men, including those of Civil War generals, gather to found this movement.
1872: Women head to both sides of the ballot
The first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull runs for president. Later that year, 16 women voted in New York, including Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested and fined, but refused to pay.
1878: A suffrage movement is introduced
An amendment addressing women’s suffrage was first brought to congress. It wasn’t passed until 1920 as the 19th amendment.
1910: Washington state grants women’s rights
In its third attempt, the amendment was passed, granting rights to Washington women. Washington is followed in subsequent years by many states.
1915: The largest women’s suffrage parade
The year hosted the largest suffrage parade of its kind. Some 40,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue to as much as a half-million viewers. It’s still known as the largest parade in NYC.
1918: President Wilson addresses Congress
After having personal petitions dropped on him, President Wilson personally stands up to Congress for women’s votes?
1920: The 19th amendment is passed
After being sent to the states for ratification in 1919, the amendment granting women’s rights was finally passed into law.
The two World Wars were some of the first true industrial wars, forcing leaders to innovate so they would lose fewer troops and have a chance at victory. While some were slow to change, some leaders figured out truly novel ways of using everything from bicycles to railroads to artists. Here are just seven of the crazy jobs that were created:
German bicycle troops in World War I.
Believe it or not, bicycles were a huge part of World War I. France and Britain has about 250,000 troops in bicycle units by the end of the war, and most major combatants had at least a couple thousand. This included bicycle couriers, reconnaissance cyclists, and bicycle infantry, all of which were exactly what they sounded like.
Want to work on two wheels but don’t want to pedal so much? Fair enough, maybe the motorcycle corps was for you. Motorcycles were used for everything that bicycles were, and occasionally even pressed into service as anti-tank weapons. But the craziest way to use motorcycles was definitely tank recovery.
A fake M4 Sherman, an inflatable decor, sits on the ground in World War II.
Fake Army/city creator
On both sides of World War II, artists were put to work creating decoy forces or, in the case of Britain, decoy cities to draw away attackers and waste the enemy’s resources. The most famous of this is likely America’s “Ghost Army,” a collection of mostly inflatable military hardware complete with fake radio traffic that caused the Germans to overestimate the enemy they were facing and even got them to think D-Day was a feint.
British Chindits, guerrilla fighters from Britain who fought in Burma, discuss operations in a captured town.
(Imperial War Museum)
Guerrilla warfare fighter/trainer
For major combatants with lots of territory to fight over, it’s always easier if you can put a small number of troops or trainers into position and force a much larger enemy force to remain there to fight them. That’s what America achieved with guerrilla trainers like Detachment 101 and the British achieved with guerrilla units like the Chindits.
In both cases, sending in a couple dozen or a couple thousand men tied down entire Japanese divisions and inflicted heavy losses. The situation was similar in Europe. A Marine guerrilla warfare unit of just six men provided support to French resistance fighters and killed so many Nazis that the Germans assumed they were an entire battalion. And they achieved this despite losing two Marines on the jump into France.
“Mad” Jack Churchill leads his troops off the boats during a training exercise while preparing for D-Day. He’s the one with the sword at far right.
(Imperial War Museum)
Granted, these jobs only came up under one commander: Jack “Mad Jack” Churchill, a British officer who led his men onto the beaches of Normandy while carrying a claybeg (basically a smaller claymore) and a longbow. And he did use the weapons in combat, at one point riding through France on a bicycle with his quiver hanging from the frame.
Poison gasses float across a battlefield in World War I.
Chemical warfare operator
The first large-scale deployment of chemical weapons came at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915, but, luckily, was largely outdated by changes in international law before World War II, so there were just a couple of years in history where offensive chemical warfare operators were a real thing.
Railway artillerymen were usually outside of the range of enemy fire, so it was relatively safe. But expect some serious hearing loss and even brain damage. Massive amounts of propellant were required to launch these huge shells.
When we think of crazy military schemes, we probably think of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. From nuclear-tipped kamikaze pilots to a base on the moon to secret listening cats, the two superpowers came up with a lot of unconventional ideas for fighting World War III.
So no one would blame you if you thought the idea of a silly military scheme from Canada was a little far-fetched. The U.S.’ northern neighbors are very rational, logical, and don’t feel the need to project global military power.
Project Habakkuk was the British effort to make unsinkable, non-melting landing strips made of Pykrete — a slurry of ice and sawdust. Pykrete (named for the inventor, Geoffrey Pyke) floated in water and would help keep the ice from melting during the summer months. Upon hearing about this, one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisors made his way to Churchill’s bath and tossed a piece in.
It floated in the bath water and the wheels of invention began to turn. Churchill long had an idea for protecting British shipping but couldn’t spare the steel. Pykrete was an excellent material for his new endeavor.
British fighters patrolling for U-Boats in the North Atlantic were limited in the time they could loiter in the air above shipping lanes. If the Allies could create unsinkable floating refueling stations throughout the area, the planes could land, refuel, and continue the mission. More shipping would undoubtedly get through to England. The idea was first floated on Canada’s Patricia Lake in 1943.
A 1,000-ton, 1:50 scale model was constructed on the Canadian lake to keep the material frozen while keeping the idea away from Nazi spies and saboteurs. The project was dubbed “Habakkuk,” and would be a ship 2000 feet long and 100 feet thick. The actual ship needed 26 electric motors and a 15-story rudder to support its massive 7,000 mile operational range.
Unfortunately, despite the success of keeping the Pykrete ship frozen throughout the Canadian summer and the material standing the test of being rebuilt, the cost of actually building the size necessary to fit the plan was just too high.
The British abandoned the 60-foot long model, where parts of its construction (the non-ice parts) can be found on the bottom of Patricia Lake to this day.
For Andrew Jackson, living through the Revolutionary War did more than just decide to whom the land belonged. It shaped his entire family … and him into an eventual politician and leader. It was a war that made him into an orphan — both his brothers and mother were killed (his father died while he was still in the womb).
A family who emigrated from Ireland two years before he was born, the Jacksons made their home along the North Carolina/South Carolina border, where they worked as farmers.
Only to be torn apart by the onset of war.
Less than two decades later, at 14, Andrew Jackson was left alone, with incredible life experience under his belt. Including a stint as a prisoner of war. Yes, the future president was captured by the British and held against his will.
Jackson joins war efforts as a teen
Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh. was first to join the efforts of the Revolutionary war. He fought in the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779, but succumbed shortly after due to heat exhaustion. This was the first slight that Jackson is said to have felt personally from the British.
But he wasn’t alone, soon after, widespread British distaste would grow among the locals.
During the battle of Battle of Waxhaws in 1780, the Continental Army was losing and attempted to surrender. However, a British commander was shot during the transaction, causing the British to charge full force on the remaining Continental forces. It’s now known as the Waxhaw Massacre.
Outraged and encouraged by their mother, Elizabeth, Andrew and his brother, Robert, joined themselves. Just young teenagers — Andrew was 13 — they began attending local militia drills, where they found work as messengers.
Captured by the British
It was in April of 1781, that the pair was captured by the British while delivering mail. In captivity, the brothers were severely malnutritioned and were struck with smallpox and became close to death.
Jackson himself was slashed from a sword after he refused to clean an officer’s boots. His brother, too, refused and was slashed, but less noticeably so. The scars on Andrew’s head and left hand were still visible in adulthood. It’s also said to have even further intensified his hatred for the British.
Meanwhile, their mother negotiated their release. She met them upon said release to take them home, some 40-plus miles away. With one horse between the three of them, Robert was placed on the animal due to his declining health. Unfortunately, Robert died two days after making it back home. Andrew was able to recover.
Elizabeth returned to the war efforts, volunteering to nurse other prisoners of war back to health. However, she contracted cholera and died in November of that year, leaving her youngest son as an orphan at just 14 years old.
It’s said that, even as an adult, Jackson personally blamed the British for all three deaths.
Life after the Revolutionary War
Jackson went on to live with distant relatives, until he received an inheritance from his grandfather, who remained back in Ireland. Jackson then went to school and worked as a teacher, before embarking to study law at just 17. Then by 21, he began his career as a politician. He is said to have been wild, ambitious, and one who loved to gamble in taverns and carry on with friends.
He’s the last U.S. President to have involvement in the Revolutionary War, and the only U.S. President to have been a prisoner of war.
In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.
But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.
The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.
Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.
In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.
However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.
The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.
The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.
If you pay attention, you might sometimes see long, cigar-shaped pods firmly attached to the undersides of classic fighter and attack aircraft, sometimes with unit markings on them.
Known as “drop tanks,” these simple devices extend the range of the aircraft they’re hooked up to by carrying extra usable fuel. Back during World War II, however, attack pilots found a secondary use for drop tanks as improvised bombs, used to bombard enemy ground positions.
Drop tanks became popular in the late 1930s as a means for fighters to carry more fuel for longer escort and patrol missions. Easily installed and removed, they were a quick solution for the burgeoning Luftwaffe’s fighter and dive bomber fleets, which would prove to be instrumental in the opening months of WWII.
By the onset of WWII, air forces with both the Axis and Allies were experimenting with the use of drop tanks in regular combat operations. In the European theater, British and German pilots stuck to using their drop tanks as range-extenders. American fighter pilots changed the game.
(US Air Force)
Though it wasn’t common practice, P-47 Thunderbolt pilots were noted for their creativity in combat, switching their fuel feed selector to their internal tanks while making a low pass over an enemy position. With relative precision, they would jettison their drop tanks, still filled with a decent amount of fuel, before climbing away.
After releasing their tanks, pilots would swoop back around and line up again with their target. If they timed it right and aimed well, a long burst from their cannons would ignite the fuel left inside the tanks, blowing them up like firebombs.
This didn’t always work, however, especially as paper tanks became popular during the war as a method of conserving metal. So, by the end of the war, American crews in both the European and Pacific theaters had to refine their drop-tank technique.
Instead of pilots peppering the tanks with shells from their cannons, they’d simply fill up the tanks with a volatile mixture of fuel and other ingredients to form rudimentary napalm bombs, which would detonate upon impact.
(US Air Force)
By the time the Korean War started, the newly-formed US Air Force had cemented the practice of filling drop tanks with napalm and using them as makeshift bombs for low-level close air support missions. According to Robert Neer in his book, Napalm: An American Biography, British statesman Winston Churchill notably decried the practice of using napalm during the Korean conflict, calling it cruel and noting the increased likelihood of collateral damage and casualties during napalm strikes.
In the Vietnam War, the use of napalm expanded greatly, though factories now began building bombs specifically designed to carry napalm internally. Today, the US military has virtually ceased using napalm as a weapon. Here’s what life is like for US Army Tankers, today.
Ed Tipper, a member of the famous D-Day-era “Easy Company,” died at his home in Lakewood, Colorado, Feb. 1.
He was 95.
According to a report by the Denver Post, the former paratrooper with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, spent over 30 years as a teacher before retiring in 1979. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service in World War II.
The Daily Caller noted that Tipper suffered severe wounds during the Battle of Carentan, including the loss of his right eye, when a German mortar shell hit while he was clearing a house. The opening credits of the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” shows Tipper, played by Bart Raspoli, being comforted by Joe Liebgott, played by Ross McCall, in the aftermath of that hit.
“So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years and really six days starting on D-Day,” his daughter, Kerry Tipper, told the newspaper. “Teaching was 30 years.”
Most notable, though, is that despite the wounds, which included two broken legs, Tipper managed to carry on a very active life.
“He just refused to accept people’s limitations,” his daughter Kerry told the Denver Post. The newspaper reported that Tipper took a list of things doctors said he couldn’t do and made it a checklist. He was known to be an avid skier well into his 80s.
His daughter also added that Tipper, like many in Easy Company, felt, “a little embarrassed that their group got attention, that theirs was spotlighted when there were so many other groups that did incredible things and made sacrifices.”
According to the Denver Post, Tipper is survived by a wife who he married in 1982, a daughter and a son-in-law. A public memorial service is scheduled for June 1.
Below, see the Battle of Carentan as portrayed in “Band of Brothers.” Ed Tipper is wounded at around 7:14 into the video:
When the 95th Infantry Division joined the struggle in Northern France, they could not possibly have imagined the enormous task they would soon face. They landed in France in September and first entered combat towards the end of October. Their first actions were in support of the larger attack on the fortress city of Metz.
The last force to conquer the city was commanded by Attila the Hun in 415 AD, more than 1,500 years before WWII.
While the city was always heavily defended, the French updated the fortifications prior to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. These fortifications included some fifteen forts that ringed the city.
After France’s capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War, the region of Alsace-Lorraine, which included Metz, was annexed by Germany.
Prior to the First World War, Germany enhanced the fortifications around Metz by adding an additional 28 forts and strongpoints in a second ring outside the first. When the French retook possession of the city after the war, they incorporated the new German defenses into the Maginot Line. This included upgrading many positions with rotating steel turrets housing artillery.
By October, when the 95th joined the fray, little progress had been made in cracking the cities defenses.
Beginning in early November, the division’s first order of business was to secure several bridgeheads in the area. This was done under the guns of the German forts and against stiff resistance on the ground. 1st Battalion 377th Infantry Regiment reported over 50% losses after successfully making a river crossing at Uckange.
At the same time the 2nd Battalion, 378th Infantry Regiment secured a bridge at Thionville.
With the Americans approaching the forts, the Germans launched numerous counterattacks to drive them from their bridgeheads. All along the line the Americans threw the Germans back with heavy casualties.
Now with their positions across the river were secured, it was time to go to work on the forts.
Under the command of Colonel Robert Bacon, the two battalions that made the river crossing joined the division reconnaissance troop and a tank company to form Task Force Bacon.
The task force tore down the east bank of the Moselle towards Metz, capturing five towns in the first day. The next day, an additional six towns were captured by the task force. A journalist traveling with the task force described the attitude of its commander:
“Col. Bacon was given a self-propelled 155, but he didn’t use it exactly as the books say it’s supposed to be used. His idea of correct range for the big gun was about 200 yards. Result was that a considerable number of buildings required remodeling later.”
That night the task force reached the outskirts of Metz.
While Task Force Bacon was giving the Germans hell, the rest of the division was driving down the west bank of the Moselle and reducing German forts. The division then executed an assault crossing of the river under heavy fire and also made their way into the outskirts of the city.
At this point, the outer ring of forts was broken and the men now faced the formidable inner ring.
On Nov. 18, ten days after joining the fight for Metz, a patrol from the 95th linked up with elements of the 5th Infantry Division attacking from the south. They now had Metz surrounded.
The two divisions then launched an all-out attack on the city. As the men of the 5th Infantry Division stormed the forts to the south, the 95th instead decided to use deception.
Col. Samuel Metcalfe of the 378th Infantry Regiment, tasked with leading the assault, wanted to do an end run around the line of forts to his front but he needed to keep the Germans distracted to do so. A small task force of infantry and support personnel was left in front of the forts and told to make as much noise as possible. The trick worked like a charm and within several hours the regiment rolled up six of the forts from the rear.
As the onslaught continued, American forces entered the fortress city of Metz. It was an achievement unmatched in over 1,000 years.
Still the fighting continued.
During the heavy fighting to take the city, the 95th Infantry Division had its first Medal of Honor recipient. Over the course of several days Sgt. Andrew Miller repeatedly led his squad in reducing German pillboxes and machine gun positions. Often single-handedly and at close range, Miller stormed the positions and captured German prisoners. At one point – outnumbered four-to-one – he convinced his would-be killers to instead surrender to him.
In a week of fighting in and around Metz, Miller was responsible for the destruction of at least five enemy machine gun emplacements, killing three German soldiers, and capturing 32. Unfortunately, Miller was killed in action a week after the capture of Metz while once again leading his men from the front.
During the valiant fighting, the war correspondents covering the battle took to calling the 95th Infantry Division “the bravest of the brave.”
The 13th Demi-Brigade is one of the legendary units of the French Foreign Legion. During World War II, it was the only formation to immediately join Gen. Charles de Gaulle and the Free French Forces when France capitulated to to the Nazis.
From the creation of Vichy France to the country’s eventual liberation, the 13th Demi-Brigade carried the Legion’s honor in battles across the world. The 13th fought in Norway and across Africa, Syria, Italy, and France before victory was achieved.
Allied soldiers during the Battle of Narvik where French legionnaires with the 13th Demi-Brigade and other forces liberated Norwegian ports from Nazi occupation.
The 13th took part in two landings in Norway, both aimed at the port town of Narvik. The first was on May 6 at a point seven miles north of the city, and the second was on May 26 from a position to the south. Conditions during the fight were brutal. Temperatures fell as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the legionnaires were attacking a force three times their size.
While the German’s conquest was ultimately successful, the victory wouldn’t matter. The legionnaires fought through vicious machine-gun fire, Luftwaffe attacks, and artillery bombardment, finally pushing the Germans out of Narvik and into the surrounding country. The Legion was pursuing the Germans across the snow and were only 10 miles from the Swedish border when the call came in to return home.
The Germans had invaded France, and all hands were needed to defend Paris.
France surrenders to Germany following the fall of Paris.
But it was too late. The brutal blitzkrieg laid France low before the legionnaires could get back. They landed in France only to learn that it was now German territory. After a brief debate about whether to continue fighting, the force’s commander executed a lieutenant who wanted to abandon the mission, and the bulk of the force went to England.
It was here that the 13th, answering the call of de Gaulle, joined the Free French Forces, the only legion able and willing to do so. As the rest of the Legion decided how much to cooperate with German authorities assigned to watch them per the armistice, the 13th was deciding how many Germans each of them would kill.
They first got their chance when they were sent to North Africa in the end of 1940. There, they captured Gabon and the Cameroons essentially unopposed and helped the British during vicious battles against Italian forces to secure territory in East Africa. In June 1941, they were sent to Syria where they would fight their own — Legion forces loyal to Vichy France.
The 6th Foreign Legion Infantry was garrisoned in Syria, an area under French mandate. Vichy France was allowing German forces to use their ports and airfields in Syria, posing a threat to the Suez Canal and British oil fields in the Middle East. The situation could not stand, and legionnaire was doomed to fight legionnaire.
The 13th, for their part, took a risk in the hopes that a legion civil war could be avoided. They fought through other French forces, at one point using outdated artillery in direct-fire mode as improvised anti-tank guns. When they had fought through to the Legion forces, they sent a small patrol to the outpost.
The outpost sent out a guard who presented the patrol with a salute and then arrested the patrol’s members. The fight was on.
Free French Forces legionnaires, likely members of the 13th Demi-Brigade, maneuver during the Battle of Bir Hacheim.
(Photo by Sgt. Chetwyn Len)
Luckily for the 13th, the 6th and other forces under Vichy control had been stripped of most of their serious weapons and were suffering severe morale problems. But the fight was fierce but brief. The 13th Demi-Brigade won the battle, a fight that included bayonet charges and grenade assaults, and it marched into Damascus in triumph eight days later.
They allowed all members of the 6th to join the 13th if they so wished. Less than 700 of nearly 3,000 did so.
Instead, the French forces destroyed 33 tanks in the first hour and held out for another two weeks. When the defenders finally gave in, they did so on their terms, conducting a nighttime breakout through German lines with the walking wounded and healthy troops marching and providing cover fire for the wounded on litters.
Allied forces celebrate at the end of their successful evacuation out of Bir Hacheim.
They made it through the desert to El Alamein where the commander, the legendary prince and Lt. Col. Dmitri Amilakhvari, reportedly had a dream where he was hit with a mortal wound and the last rites were administered by someone other than his chaplain.
During the first morning of the Battle of El Alamein, a German counterattack with tanks and air support felled the brave prince when a shell fragment pierced the iconic legion white kepi that he wore instead of a helmet. His last rites were administered by a French chaplain.
The 13th failed to take their objective, and the British command sidelined them for the next year.
While the end of their time in Africa was less than glorious, they were still heroes of fighting in multiple countries, and they were still needed to continue the war. Their next chance at glory was in Italy in April, 1944, during fighting that would be brief but bloody.
The legionnaires, with two infantry battalions, an artillery battery, and an anti-tank company, were sent against Italian troops dug into the mountainsides and fortresses of Italy. They were tasked in some areas with climbing rock faces and castle walls under fire. In one case, six troops climbed a wall with bags of grenades and managed to take the high ground from the enemy and rain the explosives down on the enemy in a daring coup.
Italy cost the legionnaires over 450 killed and wounded, but the war wasn’t over. The D-Day invasions of Normandy were underway, and the French Foreign Legion wasn’t about to sit out the liberation of France.
13th Demi-Brigade troops parade during a ceremony in the 1950s or ’60s.
(Private collection of Lieutenant-colonel Paul Lucien Paschal)
Paris was liberated on August 25, but the legionnaires were to the south and east, continuing to push the invaders from the southern French coast north past Switzerland and east, back towards Germany. The 13th, unfortunately, was not allowed to follow.
It had suffered over 40 percent losses in the fighting in France and western Italy as they pushed the Germans back. The unit was put on other duties as newly revived Legion units and Free French Forces drove with the rest of the Allied forces into Germany.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines irony as the following: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. It’s like being run over by an ambulance that’s on its way to save you — instead of saving you (the expectation), it’s turned you into roadkill (the ironic twist).
Now, these are not to be confused with just bad moments — if you want examples of those, take pretty much any example listed in Alanis Morissette’s song, Ironic (then again, writing a song entitled Ironic and failing to cite a single example of real irony is kinda ironic…).
Another hilarious example of situational irony stems from the fact nearly every well-known “peace” symbol has a military origin. Sure, they may have been co-opted throughout the years to take on entirely different meanings, but if you go by the original definition of each symbol, you’re effectively intimating the opposite of your intent.
Pretty much every symbol for peace, shy of the Roerich Pact’sThree Jewels, has roots in military culture — in fact, many of them have been used as signals of martial might. You may be familiar with a few of these:
The “V” sign
The simple hand gesture, synonymous with counter-culture hippies, Richard Nixon, and teenage girls, actually has concrete beginnings that can be traced to one man at one moment: Winston Churchill threw up his index and middle fingers to signal a ‘V,’ for “victory,” after the Allies triumphed over the Axis Powers.
I like to think that he knew full well that he was giving everyone the forks, but wanted to see how long it took anyone to say something.
But before that, Belgian Minister of Justice, Victor de Lavaleye, began spreading the use of the finger ‘V’ across Europe. In 1941, he was using it as a quiet protest to say that “victory is coming” or “freedom is coming” in the Netherlands (“freedom” in Dutch is “vrijheid,” which also starts with a “v”). Churchill, upon co-opting the symbol, eventually turned his palm outward to avoid sending the British gesture for “up yours.”
In either case, the symbol that is now known for peace started as a way to signal impending or fresh military victory, depending on your cited origin.
You can go ahead and pick whatever color you like — it all sends the same message.
After WWI, wearing a red poppy on one’s lapel was a sign of respect for fallen troops. It was a direct homage to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields. In 1933, the Peace Pledge Union shifted the tradition, imploring people to wear white poppies instead of the red ones to honor the casualties of war without extolling it.
If you really want to be specific, however, the poem never really identifies which color poppy grew at Flanders Field, just that there were poppies. So, if you’re wearing poppies of any color, you’re referencing one of history’s most famous wartime poems. The only reason he chose the red version of the poppy is because it’s eye-catching.
The “peace symbol”
The most famous symbol to come out of the 1960s is actually a clever use of military speak to directly get the military’s attention for a specific issue: nuclear disarmament. Just after the UK had developed their H-Bomb and tested it near Christmas Island, the Direct Action Committee called for a pause on the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. The Committee agreed that outright pacifism wasn’t the solution — but they also agreed that nuclear weapons weren’t the answer to the Cold War, either.
The DAC needed a symbol to rally behind, so designer and DAC board member Gerald Holtom created one, incorporating the flag semaphores for ‘N’ and ‘D’ in the design, for “nuclear disarmament.”
Funnily enough, Joker is using the symbol in its proper context. His pin says that wars shouldn’t be fought by nuclear means, but through conventional warfare.
They never trademarked the design, so it was free to use among members of the counter-culture and anti-Vietnam War protesters ran with it.
The olive branch
The most misunderstood signal of peace is the olive branch. The first example of olive branches being used as a symbol dates back to the stories of ancient Greece when Athena was trying to win the patronage of Athens over Poseidon. Legend has it, she threw her spear into the ground and it blossomed into the first olive tree. The new tree was, essentially, a giant “f*ck you” to Poseidon because her olives were more useful than his salt water.
Athenians later gave olive branches out as a symbol of Athena to mighty warriors and Olympians. The olives and their branches represented prosperity after long-fought wars.
During the time of the Romans, Mars, the God of War, was often depicted holding an olive branch. To the Romans, “extending the olive branch” meant to be from a god or ruler and given to their subject. It was something more along the lines of “we fought, now enjoy this peace and prosperity.”
The Romans knew best that si vis pacem, para bellum, or “if you want peace, prepare for war.”