A daring raid launched to recover or destroy a captured ship 212 years ago marks the most celebrated episode of the United States first overseas military operations. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and a small group of volunteers composed mostly of U.S. Marines covertly entered the port of Tripoli and successfully burned the captured USS Philadelphia.
Corsairs from what were known as the Barbary States, composed of of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, had been ravaging the Mediterranean for centuries, capturing merchant vessels and enslaving or ransoming their crews. Some estimates place the number of Europeans sold into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries by the Barbary pirates at well over a million.
American shipping had traditionally relied on British naval protection, but following the American Revolution the British let the Barbary States know that U.S. vessels were fair game. In 1785 Dey Mohammed of Algiers seized several American vessels and held their crews for ransom. The weak U.S. government at the time could not raise the money or the naval power to get the sailors back.
Though the U.S. managed to successfully conclude a treaty with Morocco, it wasn’t until until 1795 that an agreement to pay exorbitant tribute to Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis bought the captured sailors back. These tributes and later payments eventually began to consume up to 10 percent of the national budget.
Due to the situation with Algiers, Congress had authorized the construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy. When Tripoli declared open season on U.S. ships in 1801 over late payments of tribute, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a small fleet to enforce a blockade of Tripoli and sent envoys to Sicily in order to secure a base to operate from.
After several skirmishes the U.S. Navy was largely able to maintain the blockade, its ships unchallenged at sea. But in October of 1803 the brand-new frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground a reef while patrolling the port of Tripoli. The captain and crew were captured and taken ashore for later ransom, and the Philadelphia was anchored in the harbor.
In order to deny the use of the Philadelphia to Tripoli, Lt. Decatur, commander of the schooner USS Enterprise, came up with an elaborate plan. A small vessel from Tripoli had recently been captured and rechristened as the USS Intrepid. Decatur would disguise the Intrepid as a regular merchant ship, enter the harbor at night, and lead a small force of mostly U.S. Marines to recapture or burn the Philadelphia; a raid. The USS Syren would stand by to offer fire support.
On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the raid plan was a go. Sicilian volunteers who could speak Arabic functioned as pilots for the Intrepid, and they called out in Arabic as the Intrepid entered the harbor to allay the harbormasters suspicions. Decatur and his men were disguised as Maltese seamen and Arabs.
When the Intrepid pulled alongside the Philadelphia, they took the Tripolitan guards completely by surprise with swords and boarding pikes. Without the loss of a single man they recaptured the ship, killing many of the guards and sending the rest overboard, but the Philadelphia was in no condition to return to sea. After the raiders set the Philadelphia on fire, they reboarded the Intrepid and made their escape as the Syren and Tripolitan shore batteries exchanged fire. The operation had been a spectacular success and was widely celebrated back home.
The U.S. ransomed the crew of the Philadelphia back in 1805, and Decatur went on to have a distinguished career through the War of 1812, and as fleet commander led a second operation against the Barbary States in 1815. After defeating the Dey of Algiers, Decatur negotiated a series of treaties that ended the Barbary threat to U.S. ships for good, and marked the end of one the first overseas operations by the United States. Even today, the raid is one of the most memorable in US history.
The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).
Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.
The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.
The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”
While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.
The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.
4. The Ten Thousand
The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.
In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.
Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.
As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.
During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.
3. The Varangian Guard
The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.
What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.
2. The White Company
The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.
Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.
What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.
1. Henry MacIver
Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)
MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.
While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.
After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.
After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.
Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.
When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.
After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”
MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.
For Andrew Jackson, living through the Revolutionary War did more than just decide to whom the land belonged. It shaped his entire family … and him into an eventual politician and leader. It was a war that made him into an orphan — both his brothers and mother were killed (his father died while he was still in the womb).
A family who emigrated from Ireland two years before he was born, the Jacksons made their home along the North Carolina/South Carolina border, where they worked as farmers.
Only to be torn apart by the onset of war.
Less than two decades later, at 14, Andrew Jackson was left alone, with incredible life experience under his belt. Including a stint as a prisoner of war. Yes, the future president was captured by the British and held against his will.
Jackson joins war efforts as a teen
Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh. was first to join the efforts of the Revolutionary war. He fought in the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779, but succumbed shortly after due to heat exhaustion. This was the first slight that Jackson is said to have felt personally from the British.
But he wasn’t alone, soon after, widespread British distaste would grow among the locals.
During the battle of Battle of Waxhaws in 1780, the Continental Army was losing and attempted to surrender. However, a British commander was shot during the transaction, causing the British to charge full force on the remaining Continental forces. It’s now known as the Waxhaw Massacre.
Outraged and encouraged by their mother, Elizabeth, Andrew and his brother, Robert, joined themselves. Just young teenagers — Andrew was 13 — they began attending local militia drills, where they found work as messengers.
Captured by the British
It was in April of 1781, that the pair was captured by the British while delivering mail. In captivity, the brothers were severely malnutritioned and were struck with smallpox and became close to death.
Jackson himself was slashed from a sword after he refused to clean an officer’s boots. His brother, too, refused and was slashed, but less noticeably so. The scars on Andrew’s head and left hand were still visible in adulthood. It’s also said to have even further intensified his hatred for the British.
Meanwhile, their mother negotiated their release. She met them upon said release to take them home, some 40-plus miles away. With one horse between the three of them, Robert was placed on the animal due to his declining health. Unfortunately, Robert died two days after making it back home. Andrew was able to recover.
Elizabeth returned to the war efforts, volunteering to nurse other prisoners of war back to health. However, she contracted cholera and died in November of that year, leaving her youngest son as an orphan at just 14 years old.
It’s said that, even as an adult, Jackson personally blamed the British for all three deaths.
Life after the Revolutionary War
Jackson went on to live with distant relatives, until he received an inheritance from his grandfather, who remained back in Ireland. Jackson then went to school and worked as a teacher, before embarking to study law at just 17. Then by 21, he began his career as a politician. He is said to have been wild, ambitious, and one who loved to gamble in taverns and carry on with friends.
He’s the last U.S. President to have involvement in the Revolutionary War, and the only U.S. President to have been a prisoner of war.
Future U.S. General of the Army and President Dwight D. Eisenhower was just a recently promoted and temporary brigadier general when the U.S. was dragged into World War II on December 7, 1941. One week later, he would have a meeting with Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall that would change the trajectory of his career and life.
Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks to paratroopers before D-Day invasions.
It’s easy to forget that Eisenhower was a relatively junior officer with no battlefield experience at the start of World War II. Like future-Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr., Eisenhower saw the potential of tanks in World War I and helped create American armored doctrine and units. But where Patton was sent forward to lead the tanks into combat in France, Eisenhower was kept in America to oversee production and logistics.
For the next few decades, he would serve in staff and command positions, earning accolades of nearly all the officers he served with. He dabbled in aviation, though he never earned his military wings, and kept abreast of other military developments in order to prepare for future conflict.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall picked Eisenhower for a leading position on his staff and then in North Africa from a pool of over 400 qualified candidates, many of them with more experience than Eisenhower.
(Dutch National Archives)
In 1940, it was clear that the fighting in Europe would likely boil over, and Japan was already years into its own warpath in the Pacific. So, the Army held massive war games to test its readiness for war, and Eisenhower once again rose to the top, earning him a temporary promotion to brigadier general in September 1941.
So, in December 1941, Eisenhower was still untested in battle, had never commanded above the battalion level, and was younger, less experienced, and lower ranking than many of the officers that an Army chief of staff would reach out to for help. But Marshall, who had only met Eisenhower twice, knew that the man had a reputation for natural leadership.
Eisenhower, the department is filled with able men who analyze their problems well but feel always compelled to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they’ve done.
The Queen Mary in June 1945.
Eisenhower would later write that, after saying those words, Marshall “looked at me with an eye that seemed to me awfully cold, and so, as I left the room, I resolved then and there to do my work to the best of my ability and report to the General only situations of obvious necessity or when he personally sent for me.”
This relationship between the men would soon be tested. Eisenhower, trying to keep the unnecessary work off Marshall, made the decision to send 15,000 men to Australia on the British ship Queen Mary to reinforce allies there. He did not ask Marshall for guidance, and he ordered that the ship could proceed without escort, trusting secrecy and the ship’s speed to get the division to safe harbor.
When the ship stopped for fuel in Brazil, though, an Italian official spotted it and sent word to his superiors in Rome. Italy was an Axis power, and any valuable intelligence known in Rome would likely be passed to German U-boats quickly.
General of the Army Eisenhower and Marshall greet pass crowds at an Army air field in July 1945.
(Abbie Rowe, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Eisenhower’s office received an intercepted copy of the message.
The Queen Mary just refueled here, and with about 15,000 soldiers aboard left this port today steaming southeast across the Atlantic.
Knowing that he could not recall the ship or send it an escort without creating more dangers, Eisenhower sat on the news and waited to see how it would play out. When the ship arrived safely in port, he breathed a sigh of relief and then went to his boss, prepared to confess and face the consequences. “I suspected—with obvious reason—that I might be ignominiously dismissed from the presence of the Chief of Staff, if not from the Army,” he later wrote.
Instead, Marshall heard the news and grinned, telling Eisenhower that he had received the same intercept at the same time, he just wasn’t going to burden Eisenhower with the worry until he knew how the gamble played out.
Marshall’s faith in Eisenhower proved well-placed, and the two men worked together even as Eisenhower’s meteoric rise made him Marshall’s peer instead of subordinate. (Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army, a five-star rank, only four days after Marshall.)
In December of 1945, the war was over, and America was preparing for a turbulent peace. Eisenhower once again reported to the Army Chief of Staff’s office, this time to replace his old boss.
The USS O’Bannon was named for the legendary Marine Corps hero Presley O’Bannon, who famously led a ragtag group of Marines and mercenaries in a daring overland expedition to surprise an enemy in North Africa. The World War II-era destroyer became a ship worthy of its namesake just a year after it was launched, surprising an enemy Japanese submarine – not with cunning or guile, but with potatoes.
Lots of potatoes.
O’Bannon would also serve in the Korean War and in Vietnam.
It’s not as if the O’Bannon didn’t have real armaments. The ship carried 17 anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, depth charges, and .38-caliber deck guns. O’Bannon was a floating death machine. It just so happened that its potato store was all it needed in this one instance.
The ship had been running support missions in the Pacific Theater since it was launched the previous year. After the O’Bannon joined in the shelling of the Solomon Islands in 1943, it was cruising its way back to its home station in the middle of the night. That’s when it came upon the enemy sub known as RO-34.
RO-34 had no idea the Fletcher-class destroyer, a good-sized ship displacing 2,000 tons and carrying a buttload of weapons at its disposal, was in the vicinity. RO-34 was moving along, on the surface, as its crew dozed silently. O’Bannon had the drop on the enemy boat. And yet, despite the O’Bannon’s buttload of weaponry, the skipper decided to ram the submarine instead.
As the destroyer careened toward the submarine that was half its size, ready to send it to the bottom, someone aboard the U.S. destroyer surmised the sub could be a minelayer and take the O’Bannon to the bottom of the ocean in the resulting explosion. The ship turned rudder in a hurry, only to find itself now alongside its determined enemy. They were too close to use that buttload of weapons – or even their sidearms.
The Japanese naturally flipped the f*ck out when they realized they were next to an American destroyer. They scrambled, running for the ship’s deck guns, which were the perfect weapon to use on the O’Bannon. The fortunes of the battle just changed 180 degrees. They needed to buy time to keep the enemy away from the deck guns while creating distance enough to use their own weapons – they looked around for anything they could chuck at the Japanese sailors.
Luckily, they had been carrying bins of potatoes on the deck, and the Americans began to throw them at the crew of RO-34, who promptly began to flip the f*ck out once more. The half-asleep Japanese sailors thought they were hand grenades.
The thud of potatoes thrown at high velocity on a metal hull might have the sound of a grenade hitting a similar surface, but for those in doubt, remember what was happening to the Japanese crew. First, they were just woken from a deep sleep. Second, their alarm clock was a giant enemy ship coming at them at full speed. Third, they were likely confused as to why the Americans decided to come alongside them to throw stuff at them, rather than just shoot them. And finally, who throws potatoes in the middle of World War II instead of trying to kill the enemy? The Japanese had no way of knowing the thuds could be spuds.
The potatoes gave the O’Bannon time to get far enough away to use its real weapons, which it did, hitting RO-34 hard before the sub dove into the dark sea. The destroyer then moved over the submarine’s position and finished it off with depth charges.
The crew was later presented with a plaque to commemorate the potato incident – from the Association of Maine Potato Growers.
In the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the forces of the Empire of Japan also struck a number of other strategic targets. But those weren’t surprise hit and run attacks. Japan’s army and navy invaded Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Borneo, British Hong Kong, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
That was just in 1941. The following year, Japan also invaded New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, India, the Solomon Islands, Timor, Christmas Island and the Andaman Islands.
The defenders of these Pacific possessions had mixed success in holding off or repelling their attackers, but many fell to the surprise attacks. In all the Japanese took 140,000 Allied prisoners during the war. An estimated 36,000 were sent back to Japan but many would not survive the trip.
One of the biggest reasons for this were the transports they were packed into. These notorious transports were called “Hell Ships” by the prisoners aboard them – and for a good reason.
Prisoners taken by the Japanese were beaten and starved, if not killed outright when captured. Those who did survive captivity were often pushed into forced labor, used in mines and factories all over Imperial Japan and its newly-acquired territories.
When prisoners were taken at any one of the battles fought to “acquire” the new Japanese possessions, Allied forces expected treatment in line with the rules regarding POWs under the 1929 Geneva Convention, which forbade their use in wartime production and hostilities against their home countries. The agreement before 1949 was intended not to punish those prisoners for being taken captive, but only to prevent their further participation in the war.
When captured by the Japanese, however, POWs were not treated humanely as the Geneva Convention prescribed. The Japanese saw surrender as a dishonorable act and treated their prisoners as if they were dishonored.
As a result, an estimated 40% of American prisoners taken by Japan died in captivity. The Hell Ships that transported them to all regions of the empire are indicative of why. Like the Bataan Death March and the conditions of tropical prisons on land, prisoners on hell ships endured the harsh treatment of their overseers, a lack of food and water, and all the diseases found among large groups of forcibly incarcerated people.
Unlike the prison camps and the death march, the prisoners aboard hell ships also had to contend with little access to air and proper ventilation. They had to endure the extreme heat of being held in a cargo hold. Worst of all, the ships also carried war supplies and auxiliary troops so they couldn’t be flagged as a non-combatant ship.
As a result, hell ships were frequently targeted by Allied air and naval forces, meaning they (and the prisoners of war aboard them) could be strafed, torpedoed, and sunk but aircraft, submarines and other Allied naval ships.
These attacks happened much more than anyone would like to admit. An estimated 20,000 Allied prisoners went down aboard the hell ships, targeted by friendly forces. If they were attacked or sunk, their treatment in the situation was not guaranteed. If they survived the attacks, some were killed trying to escape the incoming water. If they were allowed to escape the sinking ship, there was no telling if the Japanese would try to rescue them.
When they did escape the sinking ship and were rescued by the Japanese, they found themselves right back to being captive, often in just the same horrifying conditions they’d just escaped.
At least 14 hell ships were sunk by the Allies during the war, killing thousands of Allied POWs.
When a civil war between Chinese powers ended with victory for the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated to a region of the nation that had only recently been returned from Japanese control, known as Taiwan. They quickly established a provisional capital in Taipei, and so began a half-century long staring contest from across the Pacific Ocean’s Taiwan Strait. Today, tensions remain high between these two Chinese governments, prompting complex foreign relations and sporadic military posturing between each government and their respective allies.
On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted an unusual series of military exercises aimed at preparing the nation to defend itself against a Chinese attack even after its military installations had been rendered useless by wave after wave of Chinese air strikes and naval bombardments. Taiwan knows China could feasibly neuter their military response capabilities fairly quickly, and in order to stay in the fight, they’d need to get creative with how they field their intercept and attack aircraft. When you’re fresh out of airstrips but still have fighters to scramble, what do you do?
You close down the freeways.
Freeway or Runway? It all depends on the circumstances.
(Photo courtesy of Taiwan’s Freeway Bureau)
“Our national security has faced multiple challenges,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the press on Tuesday. “Whether it is the Chinese Communist Party’s [People’s Liberation Army] long-distance training or its fighter jets circling Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability. We should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”
As a part of the drills, Taiwan launched four different types of military aircraft from portions of highway that were shut down for use as makeshift airstrips. Long stretches of blacktop normally reserved for slow-moving commuters fighting their way through workday traffic instead became packed with American sourced F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, along with French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan-made IDF fighters. Each aircraft took off carrying a full combat load.
The drills not only demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to scramble fighters and support aircraft from the freeway, it also proved conclusively that Taiwan’s troops can conduct refueling and ammunition replenishment operations right there on the highway, redeploying jets back into the fight quickly even after their air bases have been destroyed.
Taiwan fighters land on highway for Chinese ‘invasion’ wargames
“There are only a few military air bases which would become the prime targets in the event of an attack. The highway drill is necessary as highway strips would be our priority choice if the runways were damaged during a war,” Air Force Colonel Shu Kuo-mao explained.
Over 1,600 military personnel took part in the drills, along with Taiwan’s new variant of the F-16 that has been called the “most advanced fourth-generation fighter on the planet” by its builder, Lockheed Martin. The F-16V offers advanced AESA Radar sourced through Northrop Grumman, as well as a variety of updates and upgrades to avionics and combat systems meant to make it a formidable opponent for just about anything in the sky that isn’t Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter, the F-35, or its sister in stealth, the F-22.
The F-16V is touted as the world’s most advanced fourth generation fighter by Lockheed Martin
(Promotional image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The F-16s that took part in Tuesday’s drills notably flew carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, sourced from the United States, meaning their primary role in a fight would be to engage with encroaching aircraft and vessels, rather than air-to-surface strikes against the Chinese mainland.
With only about a hundred miles separating Taiwan’s shores from China’s, it stands to reason that combat operations would begin with a heavy bombardment of Taiwan’s few operational airstrips. These drills, however, suggest that even such an offensive may not be enough to stop Taiwan from responding with some of the best fighters on the planet.
He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.
But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.
The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.
The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.
These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.
But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.
It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.
The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.
“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”
After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.
The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)
“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”
So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.
The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.
After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.
The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.
Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:
What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.
The original plan called for taking Rabaul
MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.
Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?
A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.
The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies
The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.
New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.
The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man
According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.
USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.
Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even
In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.
Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.
John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign
John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.
(Imperial Japanese Navy)
The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.
Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.
(Australian War Memorial)
The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war
The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.
USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.
Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign
During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.
Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).
On July 20, 1969, the United States won the space race. America had put two astronauts on the moon, secured the ultimate high ground, and put an end to decades of back and forth victories won by American and Soviet scientists. While many Americans saw the space race as a matter of national honor and prestige, many involved in the race for each nation’s government knew the truth: the space race was an extension of the Cold War in every appreciable way, and there was far more at stake than simply bragging rights.
Perhaps it’s because of this struggle for space supremacy, or what felt like the very real possibility that the Soviets might win it, that makes American audiences tend to gloss over the incredible achievements of the Soviet space program. It certainly makes sense not to celebrate the victories of your opponent, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the incredible feats put on display in both Russian and American space programs were victories for the human race, even if the politics of the day made it impossible to appreciate such a concept.
There may be no better example of this idea than the Soviet Venera program that took place between 1961 and 1984. The Soviets’ Mars efforts may have been marred in failure, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that they actually had a great deal of success in sending orbiters and even landers to Venus.
This might be one of the toughest little space robots you’ve ever seen.
(Venera 10 courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Over the span of just over two decades, the Soviets managed to put thirteen probes in orbit around Venus, with ten hardened devices reaching the planet’s hell-like surface to send back scientific data and even images of the planet. Because of the Soviet practice of keeping their space-endeavors a secret until it was politically beneficial to announce them, very little was known about these missions for decades, and it seems that much of the data acquired by these landers was lost during the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but some treasures did manage to survive. Color photos of the Venusian surface taken by Venera 13, for instance, offer us a rare glimpse of what it’s like on the surface of a world many of us may have never thought we’d get to see.
Unlike the arid and cold environment of Mars that allows for the extended use of landers and rovers, Venus’ harsh environment made the long-term survival of any equipment utterly impossible. Instead, Soviet scientists hardened their landing platforms using the best technology available to them with a singular goal: they only had to last long enough to gather some data, snap some pictures, and transmit it all back to earth. If a lander could do that before the extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures as high as eight hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit destroyed it, it was deemed a success.
It took Venera 13 four months to reach the surface of Venus, but once there, it survived for only around 120 minutes. During that time, it sent back fourteen color photos, eight more in black and white, and it drilled for a few soil samples which it analyzed internally. A duplicate lander, the Venera 14, was launched five days later and also managed to reach the surface, but survived only about an hour before succumbing the extreme environment.
Venera 13 lasted around 2 hours on the surface of Venus before the heat and pressure destroyed it.
While other Venera landers reached Venus, no others were able to transmit back color photographs of the environment. A number of them did. however, transmit back black and white images.
The pictures we have of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet Venera program may not offer the same sweeping panoramic views we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from NASA’s Martian efforts, but they do offer an almost uncanny glimpse into a world that, upon getting a good look, doesn’t appear as alien as we may have expected. In a strange way, seeing Venus makes it feel that much closer, and although these images were captured by the Soviet Union during an era of extreme tension and a world on the verge of conflict, from our vantage point firmly in the future, it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible accomplishment these photos truly represent.
Besides, we did end up winning the space race, after all.
The Espionage Act of 1917 defined espionage as the notion of obtaining or delivering information relating to national defense to a person who is not entitled to have it. The Act made espionage a crime punishable by death, but there are always men and women willing to risk it — for country, for honor, or maybe just for some quick cash.
Whether they infiltrated the enemy’s ranks or sweet-talked the details out of careless persons who ignore all those “loose lips sink ships” posters, these are the most notorious spies with the most successful espionage missions in history, ranked by the operations they disrupted, the damage they dealt, and the odds stacked against them.
The Central Intelligence Agency team that discovered Soviet mole Aldrich Ames. From left to right: Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen, Dan Payne.
10. Aldrich Ames — COLD WAR
Aldrich Ames is a 31-year CIA veteran turned KGB double agent. In 1994, he was arrested by the FBI for spying for the Soviets along with his wife, Rosario Ames, who aided and abetted his espionage. Following his arrest and guilty plea, Ames revealed that he had compromised the identities of CIA and FBI human sources, leading some to be executed by the Soviet Union.
During a nearly year-long investigation into his subterfuge — and his subsequent trial — it was revealed that Ames had been spying for the Soviets since 1985, passing details about HUMINT sources, clandestine operations against the USSR, and providing classified information via “dead drops” in exchange for millions of dollars.
Ames is currently serving his life sentence, while his wife, as part of a plea-bargain agreement, served only five years and walked free.
Virginia Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan in September 1945.
9. Virginia Hall “The Limping Lady” — WWII
Virginia Hall was one of the most successful espionage operatives of World War II, earning not only the contempt of the Gestapo, but the Distinguished Service Cross — the only civilian woman to be so honored. As a spy, she organized agent networks, recruited the local population of occupied France to run safe houses, and aided in the escape of Allied prisoners of war.
Oh, and she did it all with a wooden leg named ‘Cuthbert.’
Known by the Nazis as “The Limping Lady,” she was recruited by British spymaster Vera Atkins to report on German troop movements and recruit members for the resistance in France. Posturing as an American news reporter, she encoded messages into news broadcasts and passed encrypted missives to her contacts.
She signed up with the U.S. Office of Strategic Service and in 1944 she organized missions to sabotage the Germans. She is credited with more jailbreaks, sabotage missions, and leaks of troop movements than any other spy in France.
Harriet Tubman needs no introduction.
8. Harriet Tubman — CIVIL WAR
Everyone knows that Harriet Tubman helped slaves reach freedom through the Underground Railroad after her own escape in 1849. When the Civil War broke out 11 years later, she continued the fight by becoming a spy for the Union Army.
Though she was unable to read or write, Tubman was exceptionally bright. Her time spent with the Underground Railroad taught her to keep track of complex details and information, scout transportation routes, and arrange clandestine meetings.
She used these skills to build a spy ring, mapping territory, routes, and waterways, and collecting human intelligence about Confederate movements and weaponry. She was the first and only woman to organize a military operation during the Civil War, overseeing the transport of Union boats through Confederate-mined territory based on intel she had collected.
During the same raid, she helped to free 700 local slaves, 100 of whom would take up arms for the North.
George Blake, far left, along with other Soviet spies.
7. George Blake — WWII-Cold War
George Blake was recruited to the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6, during World War II. During the Korean War, he was taken prisoner by the Korean People’s Army, and during his three year detention he became a communist and decided to betray his country.
In 1953, he returned to Britain a hero, but secretly began his work as a double agent for the KGB, wherein he would compromise anti-communist operations and reportedly betray over 40 MI6 agents and dismantle MI6 operations in Eastern Europe.
In 1961, he was exposed by a Polish defector, arrested, and sentenced to 42 years of imprisonment, but in 1966 he broke out and fled to Moscow, where he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin.
(Civil War Harper’s Weekly, April 4, 1863)
6. Agent 355 — AMERICAN REVOLUTION
There were several Patriot spy rings that worked to overthrow British occupation during the Revolutionary War, but very few of these secret groups had women who actively took part in the espionage. The Culper Spy Ring, however, is known mainly for a very unusual agent, a spy known then and now only as ‘355’ — the group’s code number for the word ‘woman.’ The mystery woman’s identity was kept secret to protect herself and likely her family, but her daring contributions to the American cause have been remembered in history. She took part in several counterintelligence missions, including spy operations that resulted in the arrest of major John Andrew — the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York — and the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s treason.
Some historians guess that Agent 355 was likely a shopkeeper or a merchant who learned information about Red Coat military operations from chatty British customers, and that she would then divulge this information to George Washington. Regardless of her methods, Agent 355 made critical contributions to the Revolutionary cause.
5. Rose Greenhow — CIVIL WAR
Confederate spy Rose Greenhow is credited with obtaining critical intelligence about the Union’s plans to attack in Manassas, Virginia. She established her spy network in Washington DC at the beginning of the Civil War, and it quickly proved its worth when Greenhow uncovered details about Union General Irvin McDowell’s plans in 1861. Greenhow spirited intelligence to Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who requested extra troops when he met Union forces at Bull Run on July 21st.
The Battle of Bull Run was the first major land battle of the Civil War and, as a result of Greenhow’s intelligence, the South was able to achieve a major victory and launch their rebellion with momentum. Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself sent Greenhow a letter of appreciation after the battle.
Federal authorities were soon able to trace Greenhow’s activities, however, and she was placed under house arrest before an incarceration in the Old Capitol Prison. After her release, she would continue to fight for the Southern cause until her death at sea while transporting Confederate dispatches aboard a British blockade-runner.
Ronald Reagan’s July 21, 1987, meeting with MI 6 asset Oleg Gordievsky.
(Image via Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
4. Oleg Gordievsky — COLD WAR+
Oleg Gordievsky has been given credit for shifting the balance of power during the Cold War. For 11 years, he spied for MI6 while working as a high-ranking KGB officer in London. In 1968, Gordievsky was a junior spy working abroad for the KGB when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. He resolved himself to fight the communist system from within. In 1972, Gordievsky was recruited by MI6 after he was referred by a Czech spy who had defected to Canada.
Over the next decade, Gordievsky would provide details of current and former KGB operations as well as the KGB’s attempts to influence western elections. He was exposed to Moscow by Aldrich Ames and managed to survive a KGB interrogation despite being drugged. MI6 managed to recover Gordievsky and smuggle him safely out of the country.
He is one of the highest-ranking KGB officers ever to operate western espionage missions and for this he was sentenced by Soviet authorities to death in absentia.
3. Francis Walsingham — TUDOR ENGLAND
Most spies work in secret, but Francis Walsingham served Queen Elizabeth I with the badass title of Spymaster. A staunch Protestant, Walsingham served as Principal Secretary of State for the Tudor queen before joining her Privy Council, where he devised an intricate spy network during her reign. He uncovered what became known as the Babington Plot of 1586, which lead to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots the following year.
Encouraged by her supporters, Anthony Babington wrote a letter to Mary concerning “the dispatch” of Queen Elizabeth during Mary’s incarceration in England. Mary’s reply was intercepted by Walsingham and Thomas Phelippes, who copied the letter and forged a damning postscript to the end. Walsingham used the copied letter and the cipher text of the original to convince Elizabeth that for as long as Mary lived, she posed a threat to the Protestant throne.
Elizabeth reluctantly signed Mary’s death warrant and she was beheaded on February 8, 1587. Elizabeth safely reigned until her own death in 1603.
Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.
2. Robert Hanssen — COLD WAR+
Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services from 1979 to 2001 and remains one of the most damaging double agents in American history. His espionage activities included delivering thousands of pages of classified material to Moscow, revealing the identities of human sources and agents and details about America’s nuclear operations.
The FBI discovered Hanssen’s treachery and he was indicted on 21 counts of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He would finally plead guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy in exchange for 15 consecutive life sentences in prison over the death penalty.
1. The Rosenbergs — COLD WAR
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the first U.S. citizens to be convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime after they were found guilty of delivering classified information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Julius was an engineer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and his wife Ethel worked there a secretary. In 1950, they were implicated by David Greenglass, Ethel’s younger brother, who worked at Los Alamos, a secret atomic bomb laboratory in the States and who confessed to providing classified intelligence to the Soviets.
The Los Angeles Times reported that not only did the Rosenbergs do “their best to give the Soviets top atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, they succeed in handing over top military data on sonar and on radar that was used by [Moscow] to shoot down American planes in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.”
After a controversial trial and global speculation, they were executed via electric chair on June 19, 1953.
In almost every war in history, spies have had a big role in the outcome of the war. Those who played both sides, put themselves in danger in order to learn secrets, and played the part to get helpful information — they played a huge part in the history books. And in most cases, they don’t earn the credit they deserve. Because they were successful, their roles were under the radar, leading few people to understand just how they helped turn the course of a given war.
In the Civil War, female spies were especially helpful in providing key information. There are noted individuals who brought their espionage skills to the table in order to help their side. This is worth noting because — when considering the war and who sacrificed, most often, men get the glory. They were on the front lines, they were being injured or killed for their duty, while women stayed home and filled in with the work that needed to be done at home and in factories.
However, it’s this very stereotype that caused women to be such successful spies during the Civil War. In most cases, they were trusted and considered to not have a role in the war. Therefore, women could easily find information or infiltrate the other side. It’s said that hundreds of women got information by flirting and tricking soldiers into giving up key information.
Other methods were used to share secrets, such as hiding items in intricate hairdos, or flashing a fan with Morse Code. In one particular instance, it’s said that a Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, flashed her fan across the Potomac River, sending a message to hidden soldiers.
But war secrets weren’t the only things being communicated during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman famously helped free hundreds of slaves, thanks to her work obtaining secrets and the locations of hidden underwater mines.
Smuggled Items and Belle Boyd
In addition to finding secrets and passing them along, women would also smuggle goods to their respective side’s forces. They might place medicine, ammunition or even weapons in a basket or in the hoops of their skirts. Due to modesty trends of the time, it was considered indecent to check women’s clothing, so it was known that they would not be searched by male guards. Women also sewed important notes into the seams of their dresses, hiding key information in plain sight.
Maria “Belle” Boyd was a known force of the time. She pioneered these methods of smuggling and even recruited others to do the same. Working for the Confederacy, Boyd got her start when she killed a drunk Union soldier who “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.” Armed, she shot him and received no repercussions for the action.
At just 17, this was the start of her stint as “the Rebel spy.” Soon after, Boyd began making friends at Union camps and eavesdropping on their talk, reporting back to the Confederates. She flirted with soldiers, who shared secrets with the temptress time and time again.
The Union learned of her interactions and gave her many nicknames in the press, including: the Rebel Joan of Arc, Amazon of Secessia, La Belle Rebelle, and the Siren of the Shenandoah. Her attire was listed in the New York Tribune so that she might be identified by soldiers who saw her in person.
Eventually, a Union soldier helped her escape to Canada. She wrote an exaggerated memoir while living in Europe, having married the soldier who helped her escape.
A lot of people get nicknames in the military, usually something derogatory. But not these guys. These 11 military leaders got awesome nicknames by doing awesome stuff.
Here’s what they are and how they got them:
1. Group Capt. Sir Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader
Group Capt. Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero of the second World War known for his exploits in the air and frequent escape attempts as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He did all of this despite the fact that he lost his legs in 1931 in an air show accident. He was drummed out of the service due to disability but returned when Britain entered World War II. He wore two prosthetic legs and earned his insensitive but inarguably awesome nickname.
2. Capt. Michael “Black Baron” Wittmann
Michael Wittman was an SS-Hauptsturmführer, the SS equivalent of an army captain, in command of a tank crew in World War II. From his time as a young enlisted man to his death as a captain, he was known for his skill in tanks and scout cars. As the war ground on, Wittman became one of the war’s greatest tank aces, scoring 138 tank kills and 132 anti-tank gun kills.
He was recognized with medals and a message of congratulations from Adolph Hitler. He was giving the nickname “The Black Baron” as an homage to the World War I flying ace, “The Red Baron,” Manfred Von Richtofen.
3. General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing
General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through World War I and became one of America’s highest ranked officers in history, second only to President George Washington.
Pershing’s nickname was originally a horrible epithet given to him by students while he instructed at West Point. They angrily called him “[N-word] Jack” in reference to his time commanding a segregated unit. The name was softened to “Black Jack” and has become a part of his legacy.
4. Gen. Norman “The Bear” Schwarzkopf
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is probably best known for his leadership of Desert Storm. He sported two colorful nicknames. He didn’t like the most famous one, “Stormin’ Norman,” probably because it alluded to his volatile temper. But he seemed to have a fondness for his second, “The Bear,” an allusion to his 6ft., 4in. height and nearly 240-pound size.
Lt. Gen. James Gavin is probably best known for the same achievement that gave him his nickname, commanding one of America’s first airborne units and literally writing the book on airborne operations, FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of the Air-Borne Troops.
Even after he rose to the rank of general officer ranks, he kept conducting combat jumps with his men. He landed in Normandy as a brigadier general and jumped in Operation Market Garden as a major general, earning him another nickname, “The Jumping General.”
6. Gen. Sir Frank “The Bearded Man” Messervy
Gen. Sir Frank Messervy was a successful cavalry officer in the British Indian Army in both World Wars and later served as the first commander of the Pakistan Army. In garrison, he had the appearance of a stereotypical, well-groomed Englishman. But he famously neglected to shave during battles, leading to a thick beard when he was engaged for more than a few days.
7. Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller
One of the greatest heroes of the Korean War, Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller tried to join World War I but the conflict ended just before he could ship out. Instead, he fought in anti-guerilla wars, World War II, and the Korean War. But for all of his battlefield exploits, he received a nickname for his physical appearance. His impeccable posture and large frame made him look “chesty,” so that became his name.
8. Maj. Gen. Smedley “The Fighting Quaker” Butler
Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler was born into a Quaker family in Pennsylvania in 1881. Despite the Quakers’ aversion to violence, Butler lied about his age to become a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1898, developed a reputation for being fierce in a fight, and made his way to major general while receiving two Medals of Honor in his career.
Butler also received a brevet promotion to captain when he was 19 for valorous action conducted before officers were eligible for the Medal of Honor. In recognition of his huge brass ones, his men started calling him “The Fighting Quaker.”
9. “The Constable” Gen. Charles de Gaulle
Gen. Charles de Gaulle was the highest ranking member of France’s military in World War II and led Free French Forces against the Nazis after the fall of France.
Staff Sgt. William Guarnere fought viciously against the Germans as a paratrooper in Europe and gained a reputation for it, leading to his nickname “Wild Bill” and his portrayal in Band of Brothers.
Because of his exotic last name, he also gained the unfortunate nickname of “gonorrhea.”
11. Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion
Brig. Gen. Francis Marion was best known for leading guerilla fighters through the woods and swamps of the southern colonies during the American Revolution. After repeatedly being harassed by Marion and his men, the British sent Col. Banastre Tarleton to hunt him down.
Marion evaded Tarleton over and over again. When a 26-mile chase through the swamps game up empty, Tarleton complained that he would never find that “swamp fox” and the name stuck.