How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

The 83rd Infantry Division, nicknamed Thunderbolt, first entered combat in Normandy in late June 1944. Generally fighting as part of Patton’s Third Army, they were involved in major combat across Northern France and Europe.


Their first action was as a part of Operation Cobra to breakout of the Normandy hedgerows. They then fought against stiff resistance until they finally entered Germany.

This is where the 83rd would come to notoriety as the “Rag-tag Circus.”

Once American forces crossed the Rhine in March 1945, it became an all-out sprint for Berlin with the fast-moving Armored Divisions of the 12th Army Group leading the way.

 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

 

But the 83rd was a light division with very little in the way of organic transportation assets.

According to the After Action Report of the 329th Infantry Regiment, the Rag-tag Circus was born of necessity when the regiment’s ten non-organic trucks were detached for other duties. As the battalion commanders protested, word came down from the division commander, “utilize to the fullest extent the captured German transportation they had in their possession.”

The 83rd took the idea and ran with it.

Any German vehicle they could get their hands on got a coat of OD green paint and some white stars and was pressed into service.

They commandeered all manner of vehicles: trucks, staff cars, motorcycles, buses, German tanks, and even a Messerschmitt BF 109 was confiscated and piloted by a member of the division.

One of the more famous vehicles pressed into service was a German fire truck. Loaded with infantrymen, it proudly displayed a banner with the division’s intentions, Next Stop: Berlin.

 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Photo from Public Domain.

 

These commandeered vehicles complemented the already-taxed vehicles the 83rd had. Pushing the limits of reason, tanks carried more than 30 troops on top while jeeps, with and without trailers, were carrying more than a dozen.

Men were packed on so tight that the assistant division commander quipped, “it looked like the men were sprayed on the tanks.”

But this motley crew of vehicles and men that made up the Rag-tag Circus wasn’t the only amazing thing about the 83rd Infantry Division’s drive across Germany.

The Rag-tag Circus had the Germans on the run and was moving at a blistering pace. Pockets of German resistance were quickly overcome and the division moved on.

Oftentimes, division headquarters would displace forward as much as five times per day. The grunts on the ground almost never stopped.

They moved so fast that the lead elements of regiments were often moving out of the other side of a town before the Germans had even had a chance to retreat.

 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Photo from Public Domain.

 

This led to some rather comical instances.

As the Rag-tag Circus sped east through yet another town, an erratic driver entered their column. The vehicle was just another German staff car like so many others in the convoy and since speed was the order of the day, it might not have otherwise drawn much attention. But the erratic driving and continual horn-honking alerted some of the GIs. PFC David Webster took a closer look as the car sped by his vehicle and noticed there was something different about this German car – it still had Germans in it. In fact, sitting in the rear was a Wehrmacht General who was oblivious to the fact that the column he was speeding through was actually American — not German. The GIs stepped on the gas and blocked the path of the Germans, leading to the capture of a German general by almost sheer luck.

In another instance, the Rag-tag Circus was simply travelling so fast that they overtook a column of German vehicles attempting to retreat to the east. This time, the 83rd bagged themselves a German Colonel to go with their prized General.

But those weren’t the only prisoners the 83rd took. In their fourteen day, 280-mile dash across Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe, they captured some 12,000 German POWs and 72 German towns. They also liberated over 75,000 Allied POWs from German camps and liberated a number of concentration camps as well.

 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

 

The Rag-tag Circus was also the first unit to cross the Elbe River on April 13, 1945, securing a bridgehead after engineers built a treadway bridge across the river.

Despite Berlin being less than 50 miles away and German resistance virtual nonexistent, the 83rd was told to hold their position.

Although they were known as the Rag-tag Circus during their courageous run up to the Elbe, the division sought a more appropriate name to commemorate the achievement. The men of the division settled on “Thunderbolt,” which became the official division nickname.

 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

The Elbe would end up being the closest the Americans would get to Berlin before the war ended and on April 25, 1945, elements of the 65th Infantry Division linked up with Russians advancing from the east.

Despite its heroic and record-breaking efforts, the 83rd was denied a Presidential Unit Citation. After occupation duty in German, the 83rd returned to the United States in March 1946 and was inactivated the following month.

Articles

The real reason the Japanese invasion of Singapore was a disaster

In February 1942, the war in the Pacific came to British-controlled Singapore. The Japanese were ready to assault one of the British Empire’s most significant military bases and capture the cornerstone of the imperial defense strategy. 

Despite its well-known status as “the Gibraltar of the East,” the Japanese managed to land 30,000 troops on the islands and force a British surrender. It was a disaster for the British, of course, but the real disaster is that the British could have annihilated the invaders.

Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita led a force of about 30,000 troops down the Malayan Peninsula for two months before beginning the fight for Singapore. The well-positioned British forces were seemingly protected by impassable jungles on an island where they’d destroyed the only causeway that would give invaders access. 

The Japanese still managed to move through the dense jungle and make an amphibious landing on Singapore. In about a week, the British surrendered the island, in the largest surrender in British military history. 

Singapore was defended by almost 90,000 British and Imperial troops. Although many of these troops were undertrained, the fighting in the jungles would have negated Japanese air superiority had the British rode out to meet them. The British believed the jungle was too dense to mount an overland campaign and didn’t. 

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Lieutenant-General Percival and his party carry the Union flag on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first mistake was allowing the Japanese to advance down the peninsula to get the bulk of their forces to Singapore itself. The British defenders had time to create a credible defense for the island in the days following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other Allied holdings throughout the Pacific Theater. If they had had created multiple lines of credible defenses in the peninsula, similar to the lines used by the Duke of Wellington against Napoleonic armies in the Peninsular War. 

Green as they may have been, the British, ANZAC, and Indian defenders might have been able to put up a better fight if they had prepared a defense in depth to funnel the oncoming Japanese into a death trap before they could reach the strait separating Singapore from the peninsula. The jungle canopy would have hidden the fighting from Japanese air power and allowed the British a fighting chance. 

Just such a defense occurred at the Battle of Pasir Panjang, where 1,400 British forces in reinforced concrete bunkers held out against 13,000 Japanese invaders. Despite being low on ammunition and subject to banzai charges still held on with their fighting spirit intact. Similar engagements occurred at places like Parit Sulong and Niyor during the fighting for the Malay peninsula.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Photo of the blown up causeway between Singapore and Malaysia, delaying the Japanese attack for nine days. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Island of Singapore is also not the size of Greenland. After destroying the only causeway, the British knew the Japanese would have to make an amphibious landing somewhere along the facing coastal areas. Allowing the enemy to land a force of 30,000 troops there nearly unimpeded was a costly mistake. Singapore’s coastal defense guns weren’t even turned against the invading troops. They weren’t even used against the massing forces in the nights before they made the crossing. 

The British commander, believing Japanese landings would take place elsewhere, failed to reinforce the troops opposing the landings that were currently taking place. The initial assault consisted of 13,000 Japanese troops, which, even if one is expecting another landing, is enough to send reinforcements. Yamashita even said as much after the war. Once inland, Singapore’s fate was sealed. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what other countries thought about the US Civil War

It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.

Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.


England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.

The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.

One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.

Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.

The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.

London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.

The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.

One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.

The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

Unidentified; State Department Messenger Donaldson; Unidentified; Count Alexander de Bodisco; Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister; Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister; Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated); Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; Henri Mercier, French Minister; William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated); Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister; Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated); and Sheffield, British Attache.

(Diplomats at the Foot of an Unidentified Waterfall – NY State, August 1863)

The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.

Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: US forces land at Inchon

On Sep. 15 1950, U.S. Marines under United Nations Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, dividing the Northern forces in two.

The Korean War began a few months before when 90,000 North Korean troops swept across the 38th parallel and pushed South Korean forces into a hasty retreat. By September, it was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.

In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.

Codenamed “Operation Chromite,” the U.S. Marines’ amphibious invasion at Inchon was extremely risky, but its success allowed the U.S. to recapture Seoul, the capital of South Korea. 

Unfortunately, the intervention of the Chinese military stalled the U.S. and South Korean advances, preventing them from achieving a decisive victory in the war, which would continue for another brutal three years. 

Featured Image: The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two POWs made a daring escape from prison just to relieve the boredom

On Jan. 23, 1943, an Italian POW named Felice Benuzzi, who was being held by the British in Africa, escaped.


But for a very peculiar reason.

Once free of the wire, Benuzzi and two other prisoners who escaped with him spent the next two weeks working their way up the south side of the nearby 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya, their only map a sketch of the mountain they found on a can of Oxo corned beef.

Then they returned to the POW camp.

A member of the Italian Colonial Service, Benuzzi was taken prisoner when the British liberated Ethiopia in 1941 and was imprisoned beneath Mt. Kenya in Camp 354, a camp for civilian POWs. There he encountered the mountain, the first 17,000-foot peak he had ever seen.  In his 1952 book about the camp and the mountain, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, Benuzzi said he “fell in love” with the mountain the first time he saw it.

Not so the camp.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Benuzzi, last on the right in the camps with friends. (Photo from Benuzzi’s book No Picnic on Mount Kenya)

He quickly became bored with the routine and the inactivity of Camp 354, a huge camp that could accommodate up to 10,000 prisoners.

“The sole activity for this host of people was to wander round the camp… They just walk and stop when they see other people talking. Then they stay for a while and join in the conversation,” Benuzzi wrote.

Also read: This Army Air Corps pilot stole a plane to escape from a POW camp

He quickly decided he had to take some action — do something to stay sane. He had been a mountaineer in the Alps before the war, and he decided the something he would do was climb Mt. Kenya.

He recruited another prisoner, Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and (like Benuzzi) a mountaineer before the war, and the two men set about making, buying, and stealing the equipment and food they would need to tackle the mountain.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
The second highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya. (Photo by Håkon Dahlmo)

They hoarded what they could from their rations and stopped smoking so they could use the cigarettes to buy supplies and food from other prisoners. They made crampons from steel taken from a scrapped automobile and an oven cover, ice-axes from hammers, and ax-handles that doubled as tent poles.

At the last minute, they recruited a third man, Enzo Barsotti, a non-mountaineer who would help with the escape and climb, but would not be in on the attempt at the summit.

“The only reason we decided to [recruit] him,” Benuzzi wrote, “was because he was universally thought to be mad as a hatter, and mad people were what we needed.”

When they were finally ready, they simply walked out of the camp through a gate that opened into the camp gardens using a key they had stolen and copied, accompanied by another prisoner disguised as a British officer. The three men holed up in a shed near the gardens until dark, dug up the supplies and equipment they had hidden there earlier, and began working their way up the mountain.

They had also left a note for the camp commander explaining what they were doing and promising to return.

They spent a week climbing to about 14,000 feet where they established a base camp and where Barsotti, who was by then suffering from altitude sickness, remained while the other two men headed to the summit.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Barsotti and Benuzzi attempted the 17,000-foot climb up Mt. Kenya as escaped POWs. (Photo from Benuzzi’s book No Picnic on Mount Kenya)

But as Benuzzi and Balleto continued on, a storm blew in and the limitations of their homemade equipment became obvious. They made it to over 16,000 feet but could go no farther. There, they left an Italian flag they made for the purpose and a piece of paper with heir names sealed in an empty brandy bottle.

They then headed back to the base camp and – after a brief rest – began their descent, finally slipping back into Camp 354 as part of a work party.

Like escape stories? 5 of the ballsiest WWII POW escape attempts – all by the same pilot

It was the 18th day after their escape.

When they were discovered, they were each sentenced to twenty-eight days solitary confinement, but were released after seven days, Benuzzi wrote, because the camp’s commander “appreciated our sporting effort.”

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Felice Benuzzi’s book on his daring adventure.

After the war, Benuzzi continued in the Italian diplomatic service at several postings, including to the United Nations in New York and as ambassador to Uruguay. He died in Rome in 1988.

No Picnic on Mount Kenya is considered a mountaineering classic.

Articles

5 types of extra armor added to tanks during WWII

The technological evolution of warfare is cyclical. As weapons become deadlier, armor becomes stronger. As armor becomes stronger, weapons become deadlier. During WWII, tank technology rapidly advanced from small light tanks to battlefield behemoths like the German Tiger. In order to better protect themselves from enemy fire, tank crews often added extra layers of protection to their tanks. Some added armor was more effective than others, though.

1. Sandbags

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An angry General Patton after reprimanding a tank crew for the sandbags on their Sherman (Public Domain)

Sandbags stop bullets, right? Generally, yes. Short of a high-caliber round like a .50 BMG, sandbags are able to stop bullets. Not tank shells, bullets. Still, this reality didn’t stop American tankers from fortifying the front, sides and turret of their M4 Shermans with an array of sandbags. Arguably more of a psychological armor than a protective one, Sherman crews were desperate for any advantage against the deadly German anti-tank guns they went up against. However, not only did the sandbags offer no additional protection from tank shells, but the extra weight added undue stress to the suspension and drivetrain. By the summer of 1944, General Patton himself banned the addition of sandbags on his tanks. Where sandbags did have some potential is as protection from magnetic mines. Some tank crews placed sandbags on their vehicle’s underside to deter such weapons.

2. Spare tracks

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
British tank with tracks for armor (Imperial War Museum)

Seeking additional armor, Sherman tankers took to welding spare track-links to their tanks. Like the sandbags, the tracks were applied to the front and sides of the tank hull as well as the turret. However, the effectiveness of the track armor is doubtful. Tracks were not made of armor-grade steel and offered little, if any, additional protection. In fact, the soft track steel could normalize an incoming AP round and turn it directly into a Sherman’s hull, negating the protective effect of its sloped frontal armor. Again, the added weight put extra strain on the suspension and drivetrain with dubious benefits. Still, this didn’t prevent American, British, Canadian or Polish tankers from slapping spare tracks on their tanks.

3. Logs

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
A 76mm Sherman with logs strapped to its sides (Public Domain)

Logs were another improvised armor added to tanks during WWII. However, they could also be removed from the tank and placed under the tracks in boggy terrain for additional traction. In fact, many Soviet tanks left the factory with logs mounted for this reason. As armor, however, logs did not offer much protection. Like the sandbags, a full-power AP round could penetrate a log and reach a tank’s hull armor with very little lost velocity. However, it did provide some stand-off distance to protect against shaped charged weapons. Still, the molten jet of copper created by these weapons was generally unfazed by the extra spacing of a log.

4. Spaced Armor

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
A Panzer IV H fitted with hull and turret Schürzen (Public Domain)

In order to keep a shaped charge from reaching the tank itself, a layer of armor needed to be placed far enough from the tank to give the warhead enough space to detonate harmlessly. At an angle, the extra layer of armor could also reduce the effectiveness of kinetic projectiles like tank AP shells and anti-tank rifle rounds by altering their angle of attack. Spaced armor could be mounted on the turret and/or the hull. The Germans used spaced armor extensively in the form of Schürzen. These armored skirts were fitted primarily against kinetic rounds and proved effective against light anti-tank weapons.

5. Tank armor

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
A 76mm Jumbo Sherman. Note the extra armor on the front resulting in the recessed hull-mounted ball turret. (Public Domain)

What’s the best type of extra tank armor? Actual tank armor. Although Patton banned the application of sandbags to his tanks as extra armor, crews were eventually allowed to cannibalize armor from destroyed tanks and weld it onto their own tanks. The salvaged armor was applied to weak points like hatches, ports and flat sections in general, and proved to be effective. The concept of extra armor on the Sherman culminated in the M4A3E2 “Jumbo” Sherman. From the factory, Jumbos were fitted with thicker armor on the hull front, turret, and gun mantlet. Though the extra armor slowed the tanks down by 3-4 mph, it made them nearly unkillable from the front, even by a Tiger.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the Irish American battalion that en masse defected to Mexico

A bit of far off Irish-American-Mexican history brings to light a lesser-known chapter of Irish military service – the time that 265 Irish service members defected.

Some called them heroes; others called them traitors. The Irish immigrants who joined the Army in the 1840s decided when the war broke out between the US and Mexico that they wanted none of it.


Right after the US annexed Texas in 1845, both Mexico and America sent military members to the newly created and shared border.

1845 America was a tumultuous place – Florida was admitted as a state, the Great Fire of Pittsburg destroyed much of the city, and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published.

Thoreau embarked on his two-year experiment to live in the woods at Walden Pond, a huge fire destroyed lots of New York, and the US Naval Academy officially opened its doors. Johnny Appleseed died in 1845, and Edmonia Lewis died.

A lot was going on, no more so evident than within the US Army. In 1845, the Army was a hodgepodge of service personnel, with diverse backgrounds, much like it is today. Service members were from all over the world, especially from western European countries, all of which had distinct and robust Catholic population groups. Many immigrant service members were blatantly disrespected and discriminated against by “native-born Americans,” which led to widespread unrest and low morale. Adding to that was most of the immigrant soldiers were Catholic, outliers in the very protestant America of the time.

So back to the Irish battalion. No one is quite sure exactly how it happened. Still, most historians agree that the widespread abuse of immigrant personnel coupled with the very low troop commitment levels led to a huge percentage of the Army feeling invisible, disenfranchised, and without appropriate ways to voice their frustrations.

Much of the American public felt that the annexation of Texas was useless – an expansionist war was nothing the young country needed. One of the most vocal about the uselessness of the expansion was Abraham Lincoln, who was quoted as not surprised that the Army saw so many deserters during this time.

While the Army was struggling to hold rank, the Mexican military saw an opportunity to infiltrate and spread propaganda, which is exactly what they did.

Several Mexican Army generals sent messages targeted toward immigrant personnel stationed at the Texas border. These messages crossed the Rio Grande River. All held one core focus – that immigrant service members should abandon their American Army posts and join their Catholic brothers in arms in the Mexican military. The messages offered Mexican citizenship and huge land grants – as much as 320 acres for privates.

More than 5,000 US soldiers would desert their posts throughout the war, and more than 40,000 simply disappeared in Mexico.

The Irish defectors were known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, and their Mexican brothers-in-arms called them “The Red Company” because so many of them had red hair and ruddy complexions.

The battalion’s flag showed a winged harp, three-leaf clovers, and the motto, “Irish till the end of time,” written in Gaelic. The battalion fought alongside the Mexican Army as part of a rolling rearguard that worked to defend against as the US military advanced further into Mexico.

In the final days of the final battle, over 60 deserters were captured, and fifty of them were executed. The Mexican Army pleaded for mercy and leniency, but only a handful of the Irish deserters were actually pardoned.

But, of those who were pardoned, it wasn’t as easy as just walking away. The men had to receive 50 lashes on their backs while being tied to trees in the plaza at Churubusco, and their faces were branded with “D” for deserter. To this day, the Irish battalion is honored every year in festivals throughout Mexico and Ireland.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘3 minutes to save a life’: The man responsible for the Jaws of Life

No firefighting crew would think of responding to a car accident today without a kit of extraction tools, nearly always including the so-called Jaws of Life. The hydraulic Jaws are a pinch and cutting tool that can snip through the strongest parts of a car frame in seconds and peel open roofs and doors like a can opener.

But the man who invented the Jaws of Life was not a firefighter, first responder, or even a safety engineer. In fact, in the 1950s and early 1960s, George Hurst helped make cars more dangerous by making them faster. He built a thriving business around motor racing, building floor-mounted gear shifts for race cars. That business took him to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961, where he saw something that shifted his priorities.

When a racer crashed, he watched rescue crews try to extract him from the wreckage of his car. It took over an hour. Hurst thought to himself that there must be a better way.

When he looked into the tools that rescue crews use, he found that traditional circular saws just weren’t, well, cutting it. The saws created sparks, increasing the risk of fire or explosion, and were extremely loud, which caused distress for the trapped victim. And, of course, they took too long to get the job done.

In 1961, Hurst patented the first hydraulic rescue tool and hired Mike Brick to market the device nationwide. The initial design was a 350-pound hunk of metal, far too large for even a team of rescuers to handle. In the span of a decade of tinkering and refining their rescue device, Hurst and Brick downsized the prototype to only 65 pounds, calling it the Hurst Power Tool. 

In 1971, they took the tool to the SEMA trade show for specialty equipment marketers in California. The spotlight propelled their device into stardom, and soon, fire departments were carrying it on their firetrucks. The Hurst Power Tool adopted the nickname the “Jaws of Life” for its role in snatching victims from the “jaws of death.”

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An early prototype of the Hurst Power Tool (aka Jaws of Life) is demonstrated at Hurst headquarters in Warrington, Pa. George Hurst is pictured on the left. Photo courtesy of Hurst Jaws of Life.

As the Hurst website notes, “In three minutes, the average person can listen to a song, make their bed or brush their teeth. In three minutes, first responders can save a life with HURST Jaws of Life tools.”

Firefighters can elect to carry a combination tool that is the Swiss Army knife of the Jaws of Life, with cutting and spreading functions that increase the speed of extrication. Some departments also carry individual-function Jaws of Life machines that spread, cut, and ram. The StrongArm was adapted to meet the standards of law enforcement and military communities, adding a capable tool to their breaching arsenals. 

Hurst died in 1986 at 59. Thanks to Hurst’s innovative thinking, victims of car accidents across the globe have been able to escape serious injury and even death.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient directed a counterattack his first time in combat

Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.

Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.


How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Barnum takes a moment for a quick photo op while stationed in Vietnam.

The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.

Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.

After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
U.S. troops load up on a Huey during the Vietnam War.

After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.

In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.

1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.

Articles

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

The recent release of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was held for over a year for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel room, means that now three Americans are currently being held by North Korea. Warmbier suffered what some reports describe as extensive brain damage, and he is currently being treated.


But these are not the first Americans to have been held hostage. A 2017 list from USA Today before Warmbier’s release noted some other incidents dating from 2009 to the present. These cases have involved civilians. However, prior to 1996, when Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu River, there had been some incidents where American troops were held hostage.

Here are four of them, from a 2003 Congressional Research Service report and other sources.

1. January 23, 1968

The environmental research ship USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was attacked and captured by North Korean Forces. One American was killed in the initial attack, while 82 others were held for 11 months. The vessel is still in North Korean hands.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

2. July 14, 1977

A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by North Korean forces, killing three of the crew. The surviving crewman was briefly held by the North Koreans until he was released, along with the bodies of the deceased.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
A CH-47 in flight. (Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

3. December 7, 1979

An American foot patrol strayed into a North Korean minefield. One was killed, at least two were wounded. While the wounded were able to return to friendly territory, the body of the dead American was held for a few days.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

4. December 17, 1994

A U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa was shot down by the North Koreans. One crewman was killed, the other was held for 13 days.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

Most returns took place at the Joint Security Area, near Panmunjom, the site where a village stood until the armistice that ended the fighting of the Korean War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.

A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.

If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.


Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
The veterans of Detachment A today.

“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”

Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.

“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

(Courtesy Photo)

That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.

“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.

During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.

“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”

Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.

“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know the Japanese planned a biological attack on the U.S. during WWII?

Following their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of America into WWII, the Japanese began to implement unconventional weapons in combat. During the Philippines campaign in March 1942, the Japanese planned to release roughly 150 million fleas carrying plague to root out the American defenders. However, the surrender at Bataan preempted their use. By the end of the war, the Japanese were itching to use their biological weapons.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Shirō Ishii, the head of Japan’s biological weapons program (Public Domain)

Developed by the infamous Unit 731 in Japanese-occupied China, a stockpile of plague was weaponized and ready to be deployed. To deliver the disease, the Japanese developed the Uji bomb. The bomb was incredibly simple and made of a ceramic container filled with corn and plague-infected fleas. A few hundred feet over the ground, a small charge would shatter the ceramic container and shower the ground below with corn and fleas. The corn would attract local rat populations and the fleas would then mount the rats who would spread the disease throughout the target area. Unit 731 tested the Uji bomb in Manchuria to devastating effect. In some cases, entire villages were wiped out by the plague. The leader of the Unit 731, Surgeon General Shirō Ishii, was especially keen to field the weapon.

During the Battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, the Japanese planned another plague attack against the Americans. Two gliders would be towed from mainland Japan to an airfield in the Pingfang District of China. There, they would be equipped with their Uji bombs, towed over the island, and released to deliver the pathogen over the invasion forces. However, the gliders never made it to China and the pathogen was not released.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An Uji bomb (Association for Learning & Preserving the History of WWII in Asia)

Instead, Ishii devised a long-distance strike on San Diego, California. Using five of Japan’s new long-range aircraft carrier submarines, the I-400-class, planes would be launched off the California coast to drop Uji bombs on the city. The plan was finalized on March 26, 1945. “I was told directly by Shiro Ishii of the kamikaze mission ‘Cherry Blossoms at Night’, which was named by Ishii himself,” recalled Ishio Kobata, one of the pilots selected for the mission. “I was a leader of a squad of seventeen. I understood that the mission was to spread contaminated fleas in the enemy’s base and contaminate them with plague.”

Like most Japanese operations in 1945, Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night was a one-way suicide mission for both the pilots and submariners involved. The operation was scheduled to begin on September 22 following the completion of the necessary I-400-class submarines. Though the plan was approved, Chief of the Army General Staff Yoshijirō Umezu vetoed it for logistical reasons. However, he re-approved the plan in early August 1945 when he saw that the submarine construction was on schedule. It was only the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent Japanese surrender on August 15 that canceled Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.

By the time the Japanese surrendered, three of the I-400-class submarines had already been built with at least two more to be completed by September 2. Arata Mizoguchi, a navy commander in Unit 731, believed that Cherry Blossoms at Night would have launched if the war had gone on. If the plan had been successful, the resulting epidemic would have been catastrophic.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An I-400-class submarine. Note the long aircraft hangar and forward catapult (Public Domain)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This intense first-person video shows how dangerous life was in the trenches of WWI

For the soldiers in the trenches of World War I, safety from artillery came from lines of trenches and a network of tunnels to keep the ever-present artillery off their heads. But sometimes the very fortifications that served to protect them, were just as life threatening as the incessant bombardment.


That was the reality for the countless men and some children who were assigned to fight in the trenches of WWI.

Related: These kids volunteered to fight in the trenches in WWI

With all those thousands of miles of trenches, both sides of the fight faced overwhelming odds and challenges like flooding, disease-carrying rats, malnourishment, and the constant mental strains of battle fatigue.

In many areas, the zig-zag trench construction placed the opposing forces as little as 50 yards away from one another, making it extremely difficult to watch the enemies’ activity while peering over the trench’s wall without the taking an incoming shot.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
A soldier uses a periscope to search for enemy combatants. (Source: Imperial War Museum)

Since trenches had little overhead coverage, artillery shells frequently landed inside the emplacements. The distinct whistle of an incoming artillery round gave troopers just a few seconds to seek cover.

At a moment’s notice, the troops who occupied those trenches had to be prepared to defend themselves or leap out and race across No Man’s Land.

This was the dangerous area in between the enemy fronts which was covered with razor sharp barbed wire and plenty of enemy land mines.

Also Read: WWI’s deadliest sniper was from Canada

Check out SOZO 3D‘s first-person WWI reenactment video below to witness what it was like to charge the battlefield from the trenches.

PUT ON YOUR HEADPHONES AND TURN YOUR VOLUME UP!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgWmA2Qn8zc
(SOZO 3D, YouTube) 
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