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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Some of the best jokes the CIA wrote for President H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush occupied the White House during tumultuous times, conducting military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf and grappling with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in just four years.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun, he told the CIA officers tasked with briefing him each day.

As vice president and president, Bush took special interest in the intelligence he was provided and in the personnel who provided it, according to a remembrance in the most recent edition of the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence journal, written by its managing editor, Andres Vaart, a 30-year CIA veteran.


In a 1995 article in the journal, one of Bush’s briefers, Charles A. Peters, recounts how, on Jan. 21, 1989, the day after his inauguration, Bush injected levity into one of the more severe daily tasks the president takes on.

“When the President had finished reading, he turned to me and said with deadly seriousness, ‘I’m quite satisfied with the intelligence support, but there is one area in which you’ll just have to do better.’ The [director of Central Intelligence, William Webster] visibly stiffened,” Peters wrote, according to Vaart.

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

Chief Justice William Rehnquist administering the oath of office to President George H. W. Bush during Inaugural ceremonies at the United States Capitol. Jan. 20, 1989.

(Library of Congress)

“‘The Office of Comic Relief,’ the new President went on, ‘will have to step up its output.’ With an equally straight face I promised the President we would give it our best shot,” Peters wrote. “As we were leaving the Oval Office, I wasted no time in reassuring the Director that this was a lighthearted exchange typical of President Bush, and that the DCI did not have to search out an Office of Comic Relief and authorize a major shakeup.”

The CIA staffers compiling the PDB included a “Sign of the Times” section, which included amusing or unusual anecdotes meant to lighten otherwise heavy reading.

“Libyan intelligence chief recently passed message via Belgians laying out case for better relations with US and expressing desire to cooperate against terrorism… even suggested he would like to contribute to your re-election campaign,” one January 1992 entry read, according to Peters.

“French company says it has won contract to export vodka to Russia… deal apparently stems from shortage of bottles and bottling equipment… no word on whether Paris taking Russian wine in return,” a July 1992 entry read.

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

US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

(George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Bush’s single term stretched over the final days of the Soviet Union, possibly giving CIA staffers the opportunity to draw on their cache of Soviet jokes to liven up the daily briefing.

Bush’s briefs also included updates about his counterparts. From time to time, Vaart writes, Bush would call one of those leaders to chat about something interesting they were doing.

For staffers working on the President’s Daily Brief between 1981 and 1993, during Bush’s time in office, “no labor was too intense to produce the needed story and no hours were too many or too late to make certain we … made it good and got it right,” Vaart writes.

“This may have been true with later presidents,” Vaart adds, “but what stood out with President Bush was that we … knew well that the effort was truly appreciated.”

“We also saw through those interactions, as though at first hand, the humor and personality of a man who deeply cared about the people who served him,” he writes.

Bush’s mirth was widely recounted in the days after his death on Nov. 30, 2018. Friends and colleagues remembered his enthusiasm for jokes — at his expense, like when he invited Dana Carvey to the White House to impersonate him after his 1992 electoral defeat, and at the expense of others, like the “award” he gave aides who fell asleep during meetings, named after national-security adviser and frequent dozer Brent Scowcroft.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

9 military ‘ghost bases’ you’ve probably never heard of

During the Wild West, many towns popped up along the trail and eventually went on to become ghost towns. Military bases, though, have sometimes become “ghost bases” – abandoned and left to rot.


Some of these ghost bases are near cities like the Big Apple. Others, like Johnston Atoll, are pretty far off – a nice getaway spot, if not for the history of being used as a storage center for Agent Orange and other interesting stuff.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Barrels of Agent Orange being stored at Johnston Atoll. (U.S. government photo)

The climates can be very different – from the burning sands of Johnston Atoll to the frozen flatlands of North Dakota, where America briefly operated a ballistic-missile defense system known as SAFEGUARD.

One base in Croatia that once was home for almost 50 fighter jets was abandoned during the Yugoslav civil war of 1991 – and the wrecks are mostly used by folks seeking some adventure. That base still gets “official” use for law enforcement training.

A damaged runway at the Zeljava Air Base in Croatia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You can even check out one abandoned facility that will soon fall into the Pacific. No, not Johnston Atoll (it was a re-claimed coral atoll built over the years long before China did the same thing in the South China Sea), but instead the Devil’s Slide bunker on the California coast. A lack of maintenance and the natural process of erosion will eventually send this coastal-defense bunker tumbling from commanding heights and into the Pacific.

But if you want one “ghost base” that has captured imaginations worldwide, you can go to either the Ukraine or Siberia to see the Duga Radar Array – an early-warning system meant to detect American missiles. Or just pick up the video games “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Stalker” to see representations of the array used.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
The Duga Radar Array near Chernobyl. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, take a peek at this video that tells more about these and some other “ghost bases” – and tell us which “ghost base” you would like to know more about.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways Civil War troops were obsessed with coffee

American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.

Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.


The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Which, when mixed with real coffee, is actually pretty good.

But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.

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

“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.

1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.

That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.

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

(theTruthAboutGuns.com)

2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.

In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.

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

When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.

3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.

As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.

A boiled coffee was safer to drink than most other water of the era. Waiting for the coffee to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill most enteric pathogens.

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

The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.

4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.

Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.

Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American President started his day in the most veteran way possible

Our first president, George Washington, sold whiskey from one the country’s largest distilleries after leaving office — but reportedly never drank his own supply. Instead, Washington sipped a dark porter style of beer mixed with molasses that was brewed in Philadelphia. His presidential successor, John Adams, loved drinking hard cider, rum, and Madeira wine during his time off. The eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, drank so much whiskey that he earned the nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.”

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

Many of our Presidents turned to their alcohol beverage of choice in order to relax after a long day’s work. However, one president flipped the script and decided to start his days by knocking back a shot of his favorite: bourbon.


It’s reported that President Harry S. Truman liked to start his days with a nice, brisk walk and a shot of Old Grand Dad (bourbon).

Truman appreciated a strong Old Fashioned and, reportedly, would complain to his staff if he felt the cocktail was too weak. Although it may seem unhealthy for a person of his position to consume such a potent drink so early in the morning, he actually prided himself on maintaining a nutritious diet.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Truman sitting at a table with Roosevelt discussing some presidential stuff.

In a diary entry, dated January 3, 1952, Truman wrote:

“When I moved into the White House, I went up to 185. I’ve now hit an average of 175. I walked two-miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty-eight steps a minute, I eat no bread, but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast, liver & bacon or sweetbreads or ham or fish and spinach and another non-fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner, I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of non-fattening vegetables, an orange, pineapple, or raspberry for dinner. So, I maintain my waistline and can wear suits bought in 1935!”

On behalf of the veteran community, we say well done, sir.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.


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

Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.

Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.

Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.

My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”

The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.

Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.

I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.

But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.

But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.

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

Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.

And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.

As Amy said the night before the funeral:

I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?

But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.

Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.

Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.

Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.

“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”

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

Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.

(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.

Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.

Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:

They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.

Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”

Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marines just took a look at this Civil War battlefield to learn military lessons for the future

Atop a pristine hill, about 60 gunnery sergeants made life-or-death decisions Sept. 19 morning as modern Marines considered how the Battle of Brandy Station unfolded on June 9, 1863.


The class from the Marine Corps University at Quantico attended a staff ride to Fleetwood Hill, St. James Church, and the Graffiti House as part of its Professional Military Education training.

“We could go to any patch of grass to have a conversation,” said Phil Gibbons, a task analyst for enlisted PME. “But this is really the best place to do it.”

The site, Gibbons explained, provides a near-untouched battlefield, unspoiled by modern development. That, he said, makes it easy to envision troop movements and see the places where key actions occurred.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Map of the Battle of Brandy Station. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW

“The modern inconveniences on some battlefields, Manassas, Chancellorsville, are just not there at Brandy Station,” Gibbons said. “There are no modern buildings or monuments obstructing your view. There are no 7-11s in the middle of the field.”

The battle, which involved 18,456 mounted troops and was the largest cavalry clash in North America, also remains largely unknown by today’s students of military history, which also makes it a great teaching tool, said the instructor.

“Many of these Marines are in their 20s and 30s, and today’s generation doesn’t know as much about history as we did growing up,” said Gibbons. “You could take them to Gettysburg, but everyone knows what happened there and how it turned out.”

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Brandy Station Battlefield Historic District, Culpeper County. Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Master Sergeant Gerson Ruiz, a native of Arkansas who has been teaching the staff rides for about three years, agrees that the Brandy Station Battlefield tops the region’s list of battlefields as a case study.

“We try to give them limited information at first,” Ruiz said. “Just what the commanders knew at the time. The ground is the same. So, what would they do? Then, we tell them what really happened.”

One such moment came at about 4:30 a.m. when 22-year-old Confederate Maj. Cabell Flournoy sensed movement in the dense fog down at Beverly Ford, and roused about 150 men of the 6th Virginia, many who rode without coats or saddles into a melee with the 8th New York.

Flournoy’s forces eventually fell back with about 30 casualties, but the confrontation at the Rappahannock River allowed time for word of the advancing Union forces to reach Gen. Jeb Stuart on Fleetwood Hill.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Fleetwood Hill. Photo by Craig Swain of Marker Hunter blog.

“His quick reaction, getting everyone up and in the saddle and down to the picket line to hold up the federal advance saved everyone’s bacon,” said Gibbons. “There are some great lessons down here. That one changed the whole tide of the battle.”

Historians consider the skirmish a draw, with about 1,090 casualties combined.

“It’s crazy how it was back then,” said Brian Johnson, a gunnery sergeant from North Carolina. “But at the same time, we’re looking at the same concepts though. I guess you could say the weapons are upgraded.”

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Graffiti House, a field hospital during the Civil War. Wikimedia Commons photo by user Cecouchman.

At the Graffiti House, the gunnery sergeants learned more about the history of Brandy Station and the house that served as both a field hospital for the South and a headquarters for the North. Soldiers, both Blue and Gray, left signatures and drawings on the walls of the two-story structure.

Gibbons expressed his appreciation to the staff of the Graffiti House for accommodating the large groups several times each year.

“They’ve never said no to us,” Gibbons said. “What they do here is just fantastic. It doesn’t matter what day we’re coming, they’ll have someone here to lead us on tours.”

The Marine Corps University was founded in 1989; however the military school claims a much longer history, beginning in 1891 with 29 company grade officers attending the School of Application, according to the its website.

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Eisenhower painted a portrait of British general he called a ‘psychopath’

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a difficult man to get along with. American Generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton couldn’t stand the guy and even the Royal Navy’s Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay thought promoting Montgomery to Field Marshal was “stupid.”  It’s surprising that the United States’ Supreme Allied Commander and later President Dwight Eisenhower disliked him most of all. Even more surprising is probably Ike’s hand-painted portrait of “Monty.”

Historian Anthony Beevor tells the story of Eisenhower’s 1952 portrait of his British counterpart, which Eisenhower signed, “’To my friend Monty from Ike,” by noting that the two men didn’t get along from the moment they met. Eisenhower was incensed at Montgomery’s smoking in his presence. Montgomery didn’t think much of Eisenhower’s abilities as a soldier. 

The general Eisenhower painted a portrait of

Of course, Montgomery didn’t think any less of himself, no matter what his war record looks like. His men famously took heavy losses when they didn’t need to, due to Monty’s attention to detail, especially in taking the city of Caen. Before the disastrous failure of Operation Market Garden, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill still prompted him to Field Marshal – a rank above the Supreme Allied Commander’s.

But the invasion of Europe didn’t happen without Ike, and when the American landed in France he took command of the ground forces there. Monty was furious, but there was little he could do. Eisenhower was in charge. 

Rank didn’t stop Montgomery from rankling anyone though. The Field Marshal took credit for American wins in the Battle of the Bulge and, as Beevor points out, the British command was told that no American would agree to serve under Montgomery ever again. 

Eisenhower painted Montgomery some seven years after World War II ended, probably just enough time to be able to forgive and forget – until Montgomery’s autobiography hit bookshelves.

Monty’s 1958 memoirs were filled with criticisms of his American counterparts, especially Ike. But they didn’t stop at criticizing Americans. Montgomery almost faced a lawsuit for suggesting that British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck wanted to retreat during the First Battle of El-Alamein in 1942. His lie was so egregious that he was forced to recant it on the BBC that same year.

Having Bernard Montgomery criticize him in memoirs was too much for then-President Eisenhower. Ike railed about Montgomery until the day he died, referring to the Field Marshal as an “egocentric” and a “psychopath.” 

Articles

A brief history of dogs in warfare

Puppies are fluffy and adorable and cuddly companions. Companions who are capable of sinking long, sharp teeth into the flesh of enemy skulls and pulling muscle from the bone.


And in honor of National K9 Veterans Day celebrated on March 13, we took a look at the history of dogs in warfare.

While dogs are known as man’s best friend, they’re also fur missiles that have served in mankind’s wars since at least 600 B.C when the Lydian king deployed dogs to help break the invading army of Cimmerians.

In the early days, the dogs were used to break up enemy formations, charging into the ranks and tearing down as many enemy soldiers as possible. Friendly forces would either hit the enemy just behind the dogs or would wait, letting the dogs sow chaos before the humans hit with maximum force.

As warfare modernized, so did the service of dogs. They gained armor for avoiding injury in combat (think large dogs in little knight costumes) and breeders tailored new generations of dogs better suited for fighting. Dogs were pressed into new roles, acting as couriers, sentries, and scouts.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Rrobiek, a Belgian Malinois military working dog, and his handler, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Ogin, 3rd Infantry Regiment, practice bite training after work in Baghdad, Feb. 14, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anna Pongo)

In American military history, dogs served primarily as morale boosters, though some acted as prison guards and sentries. In one case during the Civil War, a Confederate spy who suspected she would be searched hid documents in a false coat of fur on her dog. The documents were safely delivered to Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard who was a little surprised when the woman cut the false hide off of her dog.

On the water, dogs served as rat catchers and mascots. Ships’ dogs also helped find food and water on undeveloped islands.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
(Photo: U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command)

During World War I, dogs originally appointed as unit mascots distinguished themselves in open combat. One of America’s greatest animal war heroes served in World War I. Stubby the dog started hanging out with Connecticut soldiers drilling for service on the front lines.

Stubby went overseas with the 102nd Infantry and gave soldiers early warning of artillery, gas, and infantry attacks. During a raid against German defenses, Stubby was wounded by a hand grenade. Stubby stayed in the war and later apprehended a German spy. He was later promoted to sergeant.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Sgt. Stubby rocks his great coat and rifle during World War I. (Photo: Public Domain)

Of course, the introduction of true industrial war in World War I brought other changes to animal service, including the beginning of dogs acting as engineers. Dogs were fitted with cable-laying equipment and would place new communication lines when necessary, providing a smaller target for enemy soldiers trying to prevent Allied communication networks.

In World War II, dogs returned to their old roles, but they were also pressed into new ones. In one of the more horrific moments for animal combat, Soviet forces trained dogs to scurry under German tanks while wearing magnetic mines. The mines would detonate against the hull, disabling or killing the tank but also the dog.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Rob was a heroic parachuting dog of World War II later awarded the Dickin Medal. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

The first airborne dogs jumped into combat on D-Day, accompanying British paratroopers as they fought the German armies.

America’s greatest dog of its greatest generation was likely Chips, a German Shepherd, Collie, Husky mix that forced the capture of 14 Italian soldiers in one day during the invasion of Sicily despite being wounded.

Throughout Korea and Vietnam, dogs continued to serve next to their humans.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
Australian soldiers pose with their black labs trained to hunt Viet Cong soldiers in the infamous tunnels of the Vietnam War. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

In Vietnam, an Air force sentry dog named Nemo was patrolling the airbase perimeter with his handler when they were attacked by Viet Cong guerillas. The handler killed two enemies and Nemo savagely attacked the rest while the handler called for reinforcements. Nemo lost an eye and the handler was injured, but Nemo kept him safe until reinforcements arrived.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs have served primarily in explosive detection roles, helping American and allied forces avoid IEDs and mines. They’ve also served on assault teams with special operators.

While some of the dogs in modern special operations are trained to engage directly with the enemy, Cairo went on the kill/capture mission against Osama Bin Laden but was there to search out hidden passages, enemies, or weapons.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Israeli pilot took on 11 MiGs and became the top scoring jet ace of all time

The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.


After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.

The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).

Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.

 

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Giora Epstein (USAF artwork)

It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.

Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.

Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.

That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An Israeli Nesher over the Golan Heights. Giora Epstein scored 11 kills in week using this plane during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.

Yeah, that’s one badass pilot.

MIGHTY HISTORY

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

They watched for bubbles to surface as the man with a crude scuba mask swam across the basement pool of a prominent Washington hotel 75 years ago this week.


That top-secret World War II-era experiment, seeking to develop the sabotage skills of America’s first elite swimmer-commandos, was the critical opening chapter in the evolving history of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

That afternoon, covert operatives watching Christian Lambertsen’s underwater swim were focused more on whether the air bubbles would break the surface and betray his mission. Nobody saw any.

Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel above Rock Creek Park, in the same room that once housed the pool, a crowd gathered to commemorate that fateful event.

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A diver, equipped with a Lambertson Rebreathing Unit (LARU). (Image courtesy of CIA)

They included some prominent former SEALs — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan, and Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia Republican — in addition to veterans of the fabled World War II espionage unit and predecessor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society, which sponsored the affair.

Combat historian and best-selling author Patrick K. O’Donnell discussed Lambertsen’s newly revealed story. In his 2015 book, “First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit,” Mr. O’Donnell explored what triggered Washington’s scramble for swimmer-commandos and traced it back to an incident in the waters off the coast of Egypt less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

On the night of Dec. 19, 1941, the British navy suffered a devastating sabotage attack. A tanker and two battleships were sunk in Alexandria Harbor, the home of the British navy’s eastern Mediterranean fleet.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
An MU swimmer negotiates anti-submarine concertina wire nets during underwater training. (Photo from USASOC)

Perplexed British intelligence officers soon determined who did it: Six Italian swim commandos, or “frogmen,” using underwater breathing devices, had covertly infiltrated the harbor. The news rattled the British and U.S. governments.

“As a result of [the Italians’] daring attack, the balance of maritime power in that part of the world shifted, setting off an underwater arms race,” Mr. O’Donnell wrote.

Read Also: This is the history of the elite Navy SEALs

Because America had no special operations units in 1942, officials turned to the OSS to create them.

Launched by the legendary Gen. William Donovan, whose statue now stands outside CIA headquarters, the OSS in its heyday deployed more than 13,000 operatives, a third of them women, in addition to four future CIA directors.

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‘Glorified amateurs’

Pioneers of intelligence collection and unconventional warfare, OSS agents were, in Gen. Donovan’s words, “glorious amateurs” who undertook “some of the bravest acts of the war.” Agents quickly dove into developing underwater combat swim technology for its Maritime Unit, or MU.

Finding that the Navy lacked equipment, the OSS enlisted Mr. Lambertsen. At the time, he was a young civilian medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed what he called an underwater “rebreather,” cobbled together from an old World War I gas mask, a bicycle pump, and other parts.

Mr. O’Donnell said the early secret tests on the rebreather were dicey. Once, OSS scientists filled an airtight chamber with poisonous gas, a dog, a canary, and Mr. Lambertsen.

“First the canary and then the dog fell over, as expected (they were not wearing rebreathers), but when Lambertsen leaned over to check the animals, he fell over too,” Mr. O’Donnell writes. “Fortunately, Lambertsen survived, and development of the device continued.”

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
The Lambertsen Rebreathing Unit (LARU). (Image courtesy of USASOC).

Experiments continued at the Shoreham hotel because its basement pool was one of the largest in the city at the time.

Soon, the OSS and Mr. Lambertsen were supervising the manufacture of America’s first rebreather for military use, in addition to wetsuits, swim fins, face masks, motorized surfboards, floating mattresses, and even one-man submarines.

Related: What would happen if the OSS fought the CIA’s Special Activities Division

The OSS MU then kicked into high gear, recruiting a motley, street-smart, distinguished crew of lifeguards, doctors, Olympic-caliber swimmers, and surfers, a roster that included future San Francisco 49ers receiver and kicker Gordon Soltau and Marine Sterling Hayden, who went on to Hollywood fame in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” as the paranoid, nuclear-war-starting Gen. Jack D. Ripper and as Capt. McCluskey in “The Godfather.”

The unit conducted some of the war’s most perilous missions across Europe and Asia, conducting sabotage, gathering intelligence, supplying resistance movements, capturing high-value targets, and infiltrating enemy coastlines using floating mattresses.

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany
U.S. Navy SEALs storm the beach during a training exercise. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

The SEALs, which stands for “sea, air, land,” were formally established by President Kennedy in 1962. Today, they rank as some of the world’s most elite troops partaking some of the riskiest missions.

But the role of the OSS is not forgotten. The Maritime Unit that got its start in a Washington hotel pool began to formulate the capabilities of today’s SEAL teams, according to naval historians.

As for Mr. Lambertsen, he would become known as the “Father of American Combat Swimming” after coining the term “scuba.”

“The OSS Maritime Unit is a case study in innovation and American exceptionalism,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “A small group of men with hardly any funding but a lot of courage took an idea and forged a reality that lives on today.”

In 2016, after years of lobbying by the OSS Society, Congress awarded OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. The society is now fundraising to build a National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations in Northern Virginia. Charles Pinck, the society’s president, said the museum’s purpose will be to “honor Americans who served at ‘the tip of the spear’ and inspire future generations of Americans to serve their country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 crazy random things people added guns to

Different weapons serve different purposes in combat, but every fighter in history has looked for an edge – one advantage that could mean the difference between life and death for the combatant. In an era where everyone is cutting each other with increasingly sharp blades of different sizes, wouldn’t it be great if that ax also shot bullets?

If you happened to be the one holding the ax, then yes: that would be great. Unless your opponent was holding a shield – especially if that shield also shot bullets.


If that example sounds far-fetched, that’s because it is — but just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it never happened.

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

An ax.

Yes, the ax that shoots bullets was only partly a joke. Polish cavalry used a short ax as a weapon for more than 200 years. The tradition spilled over into Hungary as well, presumably because axes that could also shoot bullets were great at killing Turks.

Even better than the handheld pistol ax was the multi-barreled and/or halberd long gun versions used by Germans around the same time.

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

Knives and swords.

The Germans are back with this hunting knife-pistol combo. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, shooting and stabbing was a popular combination, not just among German civilians, but also among troops belonging to various warlords in a then-ununified Germany.

Pistol knives experienced a rebirth in popularity in Victorian England, probably as a means to not get murdered at night on the streets of London.

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

Brass knuckles.

Speaking of not getting murdered on the streets of old-timey Europe, French street gangs were keen on using the Apache pistol to do just that: kill to avoid being killed. These were combination brass knuckles, switchblades, and pistols that were really good at being none of those things. The knives were flimsy, the pistol had no trigger guard, and the brass knuckles weren’t big or heavy enough to be a difference maker.

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

A walking stick.

This is pretty much just Henry VIII’s thing. The big guy carried a walking stick that was also pulling triple duty as both a pistol and a mace. The pistol part was triple-barreled, and Henry used it while walking around his kingdom at night, trying to not get murdered on the streets of London.

I’m starting to sense a theme here…

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

A shield.

If the firepower of his walking stick proved to be insufficient for anyone coming at him, Henry had his bodyguards equipped with shields… shields that fired black-powder pistols. Considering their size and iron composition, a weapon so hefty would surely have been difficult to aim.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

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

Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

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

Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

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