SEALs honor the man who made the 'frogmen' possible - We Are The Mighty
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.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
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.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
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.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

‘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.”

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
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.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
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

How the Civil War created photojournalism

The first photojournalist to capture wartime photographs was an unknown American attached to US Army forces fighting in the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. These images were developed using the daguerreotype process invented by French scene painter Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, which required mirrors and chemicals to fix an image on a sheet of copper plated with silver. During the Crimean War, British photographer Roger Fenton traveled in his photographic van to take more than 350 photos that depicted landscapes and soldiers. The American Civil War, however, is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively — and to have given rise to photojournalism as a widespread form of storytelling.

From the beginning of the Civil War, Mathew Brady and his team of photographers followed the Union and snapped photographs of battlefields, camps, towns, soldiers, and slaves. Brady was already one of the most prominent photographers in the US, opening Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in 1858, when he felt the urge to capture America’s bloodiest war himself. 

“I felt that I had to go,” he said. “A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

But the primitive technology and equipment required subjects to be perfectly still at the moment the camera’s shutter snapped, and so battle scenes were absent from those wartime portfolios. Although this crucial element to the history of warfare was missing, Brady recruited a world-class team including Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan to present the rawness and emotion to the general public. Here are some of their photographs that encapsulate the American Civil War, as well as images from lesser-known photographers of this era.

Brady and his photographers used mobile photography units such as wagons to carry equipment, mix chemicals, and even serve as makeshift darkrooms. Brady’s is pictured above in a field in Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Timothy O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death,” 1863. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death” shows dead bodies that await burial after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. This image first appeared among 10 photographic plates of Gettysburg published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), America’s first anthology of photographs. O’Sullivan served as Gardner’s field operator during the war. About O’Sullivan’s image, Gardner wrote, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ […] Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
African American men collecting bones of the dead in Virginia, 1865. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

John Reekie briefly worked under Mathew Brady’s supervision. Like that of O’Sullivan, his work appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. The above image shows African American men collecting bones from soldiers killed in battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in April 1865.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Mathew Brady captured this photo May 3, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Brady famously took images of camp life, daily routines of Union soldiers, mission planning, moments prior to battle, and, as the image above shows, the aftermath of battle: At Mayre’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Confederate caisson and eight horses were destroyed by a Second Massachusetts siege gun. 

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Mathew Brady, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The photo above captures a Confederate method of destroying railroads. The railroad ties were set on fire, and the heat bent the rails to render them useless. Brady’s desire to photograph more than human subjects gave historians visual evidence of some of the tactics used during the war.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Photo by Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, 1865, courtesy of the Met Museum, public domain.

Professional photographers weren’t the only ones to use photography to document wounds sustained by soldiers. Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, a surgeon for the Union Army, captured the above clinical photograph of Samuel Shoop, a private of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose leg was amputated after he suffered a gunshot wound. This photograph served as a teaching tool for future medical students and other Army surgeons.

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

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These are the 7 articles of the French Foreign Legion’s Code of Honor

Hundreds of people are knocking on the door to serve in the Legion and roughly 10-15 make the cut per recruiting class.

But newly-minted Foreign Legionnaires receive the distinctive white Kepi of the legion upon finishing the first four weeks of Basic Training and moving on to the next phase of their training.


When they do, they recite the Legion’s seven-article Code of Honor.

Article 1.

Legionnaire, you are serving France with Honour and Fidelity.

Article 2.

Each legionnaire is your brother in arms whatever his nationality, his race, or his religion might be. You show him the same close solidarity that links the members of the same family.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Sappers of the French Foreign Legion.

Article 3.

Respect for traditions, devotion to your leaders, discipline, and comradeship are your strengths, courage, and loyalty your virtues.

Article 4.

Proud of your status as legionnaire, you display this in your always impeccable uniform, your always dignified but modest behaviour, and your clean living quarters.

Article 5.

An elite soldier, you train rigorously, you maintain your weapon as your most precious possession, and you take constant care of your physical form.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
French Foreign Legionnaires in Afghanistan.

Article 6.

The mission is sacred, you carry it out until the end and, if necessary in the field, at the risk of your life.

Article 7.

In combat, you act without passion and without hate, you respect defeated enemies, and you never abandon your dead, your wounded, or your arms.

Learn more about the French Foreign Legion in the video at the top.

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That time a bugler led the charge by scaling the walls of Peking

At the turn of the 20th Century, all of the great powers had converged on China seeking to curry favor and carve up the country for trade. This led a secret Chinese organization, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (known as the Boxers to the foreigners), to rise up in rebellion.


At the end of 1899, the Boxers rose up against the foreigners and Christians they felt were invading their country. Coming from the countryside, they met in Peking (now Beijing) with the intention of turning the Chinese imperial government to their cause and destroying the foreign presence.

As the situation deteriorated, foreign nationals and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter of Peking. The increased presence of the Boxers led the international community to send a force of 435 men to guard their respective legations.

The American contingent joined the Marines already stationed there, including one Pvt. Dan Daly.

Throughout the spring, the Boxers gained strength and were actively burning churches, killing Christians, and intimidating Chinese officials who opposed them.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900.

As the international community stepped up efforts to maintain their positions in China, they put the Imperial Chinese government and Empress Dowager Cixi in a bind. The Empress was being pressured to take the side of the Boxers by officials who felt exploited by foreign nations.

Finally, in June 1900, the Empress’ hand was forced by international attacks on Chinese forts as well as the presence of the Seymour Expedition sent to reinforce the Legation Quarter.

On June 19, she sent word for the international community to leave. The next day the Chinese military, along with Boxer supporters, laid siege to the Legation Quarter.

As the situation was deteriorating, America began planning its response.

Also read: This Marine’s actions against the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion remain the stuff of legend

Known as the China Relief Expedition the force that assembled in China consisted of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 14th Infantry Regiment, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Battery F, 5th Field Artillery Regiment totaling some 2,500 men.

After brief fighting at Tientsin, in which Col. Liscum, commanding the 9th Infantry, was killed, the force marched on Peking to relieve the besieged Legation Quarter.

The pressure on the Legation Quarter had been steadily increasing. Through the night of Aug. 13 and into the morning of Aug. 14, Dan Daly was single-handedly holding off a determined assault by the Boxers. When Daly’s relief finally arrived, he inquired about the meaning of “Quon fay,” something the Chinese had been yelling at him all night.

He was amused to learn that it meant “very bad devil.”

For his actions that night Daly was awarded his first Medal of Honor.

Later in the day on Aug. 14, the first units of the Eight-nation Alliance reached the outer walls of Peking.

Leading the American units was the 14th Infantry Regiment.

When they arrived at their assigned gate, they found it already under attack by a Russian unit which was pinned down and taking heavy casualties.

The Americans moved south looking for an opening. The best they found was a lightly defended section of the Tartar Wall. The wall was some 30 feet high, and with no scaling ladders or grappling hooks, Col. Daggett, the regimental commander, asked for a volunteer to climb the wall.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
I’ll try, Sir,

Cpl. Calvin Pearl Titus, a bugler from Company E, stepped forward and said, “I’ll try, sir.”

With a rope slung over his shoulder Titus began to climb the wall. He grasped to the slightest of holds and he made his way up, undetected by the Chinese defenders.

“All below is breathless silence. The strain is intense.” Daggett would later write, “Will that embrasure blaze with fire as he attempts to enter it? Or will the butts of rifles smash his skull?” 

As Titus cleared the wall, he found it undefended. He called down to his comrades, “The coast is clear! Come on up!”

Following Titus’ lead and using the rope he threw down, more soldiers followed. As the number of Americans on the wall increased, they were finally discovered by the Chinese.

The Chinese opened fire but it was too late — the Americans held the wall.

Shortly after 11am, the 14th Infantry planted the American flag atop the wall.

They then fought their way back to the gate to relieve the beleaguered Russians.

With the Chinese driven back, the American artillery arrived and blasted down the inner gate leading to the Legation.

The Americans then cleared the way to the Legation Quarter only to find that the British had beat them to it. Thanks to the confusion caused by the Russians and Americans, British Indian soldiers had snuck through a water gate and directly into the Legation relieving the siege.

The Americans consolidated their position while the rest of the relief force conducted mopping up operations throughout Peking.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Calvin P. Titus, 1905.(Library of Congress photo)

For his heroism in breaking the siege, Cpl. Titus was awarded an appointment to West Point where, during his second semester in the spring of 1902, he was presented the Medal of Honor by president Theodore Roosevelt.

A fellow cadet approached Titus after he received his award exclaiming, “Mister, that’s something!” That cadet was Douglas MacArthur, who would receive his own Medal of Honor during World War II.

Titus went on to serve 32 years in the Army, rejoining his old unit, the 14th Infantry, before seeing action against Pancho Villa in 1916 and occupying Germany after WWI.

He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1930.

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5 Reasons why Saddam Hussein thought he could invade Kuwait and win

On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi tanks and infantry steamrolled across Kuwait in an invasion and occupation that took all of two days. The Iraqi dictator blamed Kuwait for slant drilling from Iraqi oil fields and claimed the Gulf state was actually an ancient province of Iraq. In reality, Saddam owed the Kuwaitis $14 billion from Iraq’s nearly 10-year war with Iran and Kuwaiti oil drilling was driving down the price of oil. 

In response, the United States and a coalition of countries created a massive counteroffensive force in Saudi Arabia while giving Saddam an ultimatum to either leave Kuwait or face the coalition’s punishment. For some reason, he let the deadline lapse and was forcibly removed. Here are the top five reasons why he thought he could stick around:

1. Saddam thought the U.S. was okay with the invasion

Saddam supposedly thought the Kuwaitis were stealing oil and purposely producing more than OPEC standards in order to keep Iraqi revenues low. To keep tensions from rising, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie met with Saddam who told her he wanted Kuwait to agree to the OPEC standards. Under orders from the Bush administration, Glaspie told Saddam the U.S. had no opinion on the issue.

Saddam thought she was talking about the tensions between the two countries. Glaspie actually meant the OPEC production standards. So when Saddam went to war, he was actually surprised to get a condemnation from the United States. 

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Well, now you’re just being childish, Saddam (DoD image by Tech. Sgt. David McLeod)

2. Iraq was the world’s 5th-largest army

Iraq could legitimately boast a million men under arms in 1990. Even though the United States only considered a third of the army capable of fighting a real war, that’s still more than 300,000 troops he could use as an offensive force. 

Having such a large ground force was not insignificant, especially not to American military planners. While a large army may make a difference when fighting Iran, it’s a whole other matter to fight an advanced Western army. Iraq’s air force was heavily overpowered in this regard and it had no navy to speak of. 

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Look at all this awesome sexiness that Saddam didn’t have (U.S. Air Force)

3. Iraqi troops were combat veterans

No matter how many effective fighters Saddam had and no matter how many of them were conscripted into the Iraqi Army, they were still veterans of a brutal 10-year war with neighboring Iran. Any soldier will tell you there’s a very big difference between fighting troops that have been battle tested and troops that are as green as the uniform they’re wearing. 

While Iraq didn’t necessarily win the Iran-Iraq War, it didn’t lose the war, either. The weapons he accumulated over the years to fight Iran could still be used against any other opponent. The U.S. knew what he had because we had the receipt. 

4. Anti-Western sentiment was high in the Middle East

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Palestinians were fighting to shake off the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a cause celebrated by most Arabs and Arab leaders in the region. Saddam even tried to frame his invasion of Kuwait as redrawing the lines of a map created by the British and righting a historical wrong. 

When that didn’t work, Saddam tried portraying himself as a devout Muslim, praying in mosques and creating religious artwork of himself in prayer. That didn’t work either. Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia still called him the “Enemy of God.” 

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
“Words hurt, too, guys.” (Wikimedia Commons)

5. Iraq had months to prepare for the Gulf War

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was finished by August 4, 1990. Saddam annexed Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province by the end of the month. The President of the United States and the President of the Soviet Union both demanded Iraq leave Kuwait immediately. It wasn’t until November 29, 1990 that the United Nations passed a resolution threatening military action if Saddam didn’t leave. 

All Saddam did in the meantime was send hundreds of thousands of troops into Kuwait to bolster the occupation forces there. He could have pressed his advantage and invaded Saudi Arabia before the Coalition could build up its troops and vehicles, but he didn’t. Only after there were hundreds of thousands of Coalition troops did he invade – and was quickly repulsed.

Feature image: U.S. Air Force

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 10 trailblazers are behind the 19th Amendment

The 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4th, 1919, and formally ratified over a year later on August 18th, 1920. While that breakthrough deserves celebration, it also deserves perspective. While women have had the right to vote for a century, it took nearly a century to win it. Even before the Civil War, reformers and suffragists were discussing the future of women’s rights, paving the way for the liberties we are proud to have today. The 10 amazing women below are just a few of the figures who dedicated their lives to our rights.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Women learn to vote at NCR in Dayton on Oct. 27, 1920. NCR ARCHIVES AT DAYTON HISTORY

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

One of the most recognizable names in women’s rights history, Susan B. Anthony was raised by her Quaker parents to be confident, independent and dedicated to her beliefs. She was encouraged to believe that men and women should live equally and strive to rid the world of injustice, and she took that message to heart. She started out campaigning for married women to have property rights, before joining abolitionist leagues and speaking out against slavery.

So firmly did she believe in equal voting rights for men and women, however, that she refused to support any suffrage movements for African Americans that only included men. This created a divide between activists, but the two groups eventually joined forces to form the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its president. Anthony later became the group’s second president, and she dedicated the rest of her life to the suffrage movement she helped to found.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
“Votes for Women” Justice Bell Ink Blotter, 1915. (Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Another early suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a philosopher and a pioneer of the women’s rights movement. She married an abolitionist named Henry Brewester Stanton in 1840 and traveled with him to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. After being told women were not permitted, she was enraged. With the help of other reformers including Lucretia Mott, she planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. It’s reported that 240 people attended, agreeing that women’s rights were non-negotiable and it was time to fight for equality. This was the true beginning of the women’s suffrage movement.

Like Susan B. Anthony, Stanton was against the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men voting rights, but not women. While she passed away 18 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, a statue of her, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott stands at the U.S. Capitol in honor of her achievements.

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

Lucy Stone was tough as nails. She boldly refused to take her husband’s last name, stating that the age-old tradition “refused to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being” and “conferred on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” She worked hard as a traveling lecturer against slavery and sexism, and unlike some activists, she supported the 15th Amendment.

Stone continued to fight for universal suffrage, however, assisting with the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1871, she and her husband founded a feminist newspaper called “The Woman’s Journal,” which remained in publication until 1931, nearly 40 years after her death!

Lucy Burns (1879-1966)

A fiery activist in both the British and American suffrage movements, Lucy Burns was a good friend of fellow activist Alice Paul. They were leaders in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, and Burns in particular was known for her passionate and aggressive tactics. She was among the suffragettes arrested for protesting at the White House, later being force-fed during a hunger strike.

By the time the 19th was ratified, Burns had suffered through a considerable amount of jail time and was understandably exhausted. She retired from activism, reportedly saying, “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” Her later years were devoted to the Catholic Church and the upbringing of her orphaned niece.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Votes for Women New Jersey c. 1914. (Wikimedia Commons)

Alice Paul (1885-1977)

Building on the work of earlier activists, Alice Paul was even more bold in her approach to winning the vote. The Quaker suffragette spearheaded the most militant branch of the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside Emmaline Pankhurst in the Women’s Social and Political Union in London. Their tactics were far from “ladylike,” using civil disobedience to capture media attention and raise awareness. When she became the chair of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, she organized a massive suffrage parade to clash with President Wilson’s inauguration- a mass publicity stunt that ignited further protests. In 1914, she moved on to start her own organization, the Congressional Union.

This soon evolved into the National Woman’s Party, which was responsible for many loud, highly-visible protests including a picket of the White House that lasted for months. As retaliation for this act of rebellion, she was imprisoned and force-fed for weeks, eventually winning the sympathy of the public…and the president. The pickets were one of the final moves leading to the ratification of the 19th amendment.

Paul also proposed an additional Equal Rights Amendment, but 100 years later, it still has yet to be ratified.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells started out as a schoolteacher in Memphis. While she was there, she wrote for the city’s Black newspaper, The Free Speech, covering the racial injustice and violence in the South. Many were outraged and violently threatened her, destroying The Free Speech office in an angry mob. She moved north for her own safety, but never stopped campaigning for civil rights.

In addition to her anti-racism activism, she was determined to fight for women’s suffrage- even when she wasn’t welcome. Although most early suffragists supported racial equality, by the beginning of the 20th century that wasn’t always the case. Many white suffragists only joined the cause in hopes of giving “their” women the right to vote to maintain their hold on white supremacy. Many white suffragists didn’t want to march with Black people at all, but that didn’t stop Wells. She marched anyway, continuing to fight for civil rights for the rest of her days.

Frances E.W. Harper (1825–1911)

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper didn’t have the easiest upbringing, but that didn’t slow her down. She was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, William Watkins. He was the founder of the Watkins Academy for Negro youth and an outspoken abolitionist, and Harper followed in his footsteps. She became a teacher at schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but couldn’t return to her hometown Maryland without risking her freedom. Her writing and lectures advocated for both women’s rights and anti-slavery groups. She was one of just a handful of Black women involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century, founding the National Association of Colored Women Clubs. She was also one of the first Black women to become a published author in the United States.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Mary Church Terrell was raised in Tennessee by remarkably successful parents. They were once enslaved, but they defied the odds and built extremely successful businesses. Her father became one of the South’s first Black millionaires! After she graduated from college, she worked as a teacher and became an activist, supporting women’s rights and Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Women Clubs with Wells and acted as the organization’s first president.

Later, she picked alongside Alice Paul in front of the White House. She spoke prolifically on civil rights, trying to engage more Black women in the suffrage cause. She didn’t soften with age, either. When she was over 80 years old, she sued a D.C. restaurant after she was refused service, leading to the desegregation of Washington’s restaurants in the early 50s.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859- 1947)

Susan B. Anthony had some big shoes to fill when she left her position as president of the NAWSA, but she left it in good hands. Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to take on the role, representing the less confrontational branch of the women’s rights movement. During her many years as an activist, she also contributed to the formation of the Women’s Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association. Once the vote was finally one, she said, “Now that we have the vote let us remember we are no longer petitioners. We are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”

She retired after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but not before establishing the League of Women Voters. She also co-authored a book called “Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement” in 1923.

Lucretia Mott (1793- 1880)

One of the earliest women’s rights activists, Lucretia Mott was a social reformer who sought to change the role of women in society entirely. Her Quaker roots instilled a fundamental belief in equality, inspiring her to attend early women’s rights and abolitionist meetings. When she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she thought they had been invited as delegates.

Instead, she was taken to a segregated women’s section, furthering her resolve to bring about social change. She helped draft the Declaration of Sentiments during the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and she didn’t stop there.

When slavery was outlawed, she advocated giving former slaves of both genders the right to vote. She was later elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention, and she attempted to use the platform to conduct women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements at the same time. Her skill as a speaker helped further both movements, establishing her as one of the most memorable and accomplished female activists of the 19th century.

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Before he wrote children’s books, Roald Dahl was a menace to Axis forces in the sky

Roald Dahl is often considered to be one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century. Among his most popular publications are classic stories like “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” “Fantastic Mr Fox,” “The BFG” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even if you haven’t read the books or seen their film adaptations, the titles of these stories have achieved a mythical status in the world of children’s entertainment. Those that have read his second autobiographical publication, “Going Solo,” will know that Dahl served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during WWII. In the book, he details his service to King and Country and his combat experiences against Axis forces.

After finishing school and taking a hiking trip through Newfoundland in 1934, Dahl went to work for the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in Britain, he was assigned to Mombasa, Kenya and then Dar es-Salaam, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania); the former German colony was still home to many Germans. In August 1939, as a second war with Germany loomed on the horizon, Britain made plans to round up the hundreds of Germans living in Dar es-Salaam to prevent any sort of rebellion or uprising. Dahl joined the King’s African Rifles, receiving a commission as a lieutenant and command of a platoon of indigenous askari soldiers.

In November of that year, Dahl joined the RAF as an aircraftman and made the 600-mile drive from Dar es-Salaam to Nairobi where he was accepted for pilot training. Of the sixteen other men that joined with him, only three would live to see the end of the war. After just seven hours and forty minutes of instruction in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, Dahl made his first solo flight.

Following his initial flight training, Dahl received advanced flight training at RAF Habbaniya outside of Baghdad. He trained there for six months on Hawker Harts before he was commissioned as a pilot officer on August 24, 1940.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
A Gloster Gladiator. The fact that he had the courage to fly a biplane in WWII tells you something already. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dahl was assigned to fly the obsolete Gloster Gladiator, the RAF’s last biplane fighter, with No. 80 Squadron RAF. Though he received no training on the Gladiator nor any specific instruction on aerial combat, Dahl received orders on September 19, 1940 to fly his Gladiator from Abu Seir to No. 80 Squadron’s forward airstrip near Mersa Matruh. On the last leg of his flight, Dahl could not locate the airstrip and was running low on fuel. With night approaching, he attempted an emergency landing in the desert. The undercarriage of his Gladiator hit a boulder and Dahl crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose, and emerged from his aircraft’s wreck temporarily blinded. He passed out and was rescued by friendly forces who took him to the aid station at Mersa Matruh before being transferred to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. An RAF inquiry later revealed that Dahl had been given an incorrect location and was mistakenly sent to the no man’s land between the British and Italian forces.

In February 1941, Dahl was discharged from the hospital and returned to flight status. By then, No. 80 Squadron had been transferred to Eleusina, near Athens, as part of the Greek campaign. The squadron had traded in their Gladiators for the new Hawker Hurricane and Dahl was ordered to fly one across the Mediterranean in April after just seven hours in the aircraft. Luckily, Dahl made it to Greece without incident and rejoined his squadron. At this point in the Greek campaign, the RAF combat aircraft in the operating area consisted of just 14 Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheim light bombers.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
A Hawker Hurricane. That seems more like it (Wikimedia Commons)

On April 15, Dahl got his first taste of action flying solo over the city of Chalcis. He intercepted a formation of six Junkers Ju 88 bombers that were attacking ships and managed to shoot one of them down. The next day, he scored another kill on a Ju 88.

On April 20, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens alongside his friend David Coke and Pat Pattle, the highest-scoring British Commonwealth ace of the war. The battle was an absolute furball which Dahl described as “an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side.” Five of the twelve Hurricanes involved in the battle were shot down and four of their pilots were killed including Pattle. Greek observers counted 22 German aircraft shot down, but because of the chaos of the aerial melee, none of the pilots were able to take credit for specific kills. Dahl received credit for one kill, though he likely shot down more.

In May, as the Germans closed on Athens, Dahl and No. 80 Squadron were evacuated to Egypt and reassembled in Haifa. From there, Dahl flew daily sorties over the course of four weeks. On June 8, he shot down a Vichy French Air Force Potez 63 heavy fighter, and on June 15, he shot down his third Ju 88.

Following this period, Dahl began to suffer from headaches that caused him to blackout and he was invalided home to Britain. He would serve the rest of the war as a diplomat and an intelligence officer, attaining the rank of wing commander by its end. In 1946, he was invalided out of service with the rank of squadron leader. His combat record of five aerial victories, confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced with Axis records, qualify him as a fighter ace.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Dahl’s leather flying helmet on display in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden (Wikimedia Commons)

Dahl would go on to write the aforementioned children’s stories and many more besides. His kindhearted books and their warm sentiment serve as the antithesis to his violent wartime experiences.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 Air Force pararescuemen who risked it all ‘that others may live’

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.


These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”

Here are six of them that epitomized those words.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

(U.S. Air Force)

1. Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger

William Pitsenbarger was the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross, later upgraded to the Medal of Honor, and his sacrifice is still the standard to which modern pararescuemen strive to honor with service. Now, his amazing story is finally reaching the masses when The Last Full Measure hits theatres on January 24, 2020.

Check out the trailer below:

The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions

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William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.

When an Army company stumbled into an ambush, the mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire came so quick and thick that the soldiers were soon unable to defend themselves while evacuating their wounded. Pitsenbarger recognized what was happening and got special permission to join them on the ground and prepare the wounded for evacuation. Pitsenbarger got nine of the wounded out on three flights before it became too dangerous for the helicopters to operate.

Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.

His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

(U.S. Air Force)

2. Chief Master Sgt. Duane Hackney

Duane Hackney is arguably the most decorated airman in U.S. history. We can’t go into all of his heroics here, but he served from Vietnam to Desert Storm and amassed an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals.

His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.

Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller

Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.

Miller quickly led the establishment of a hasty defense and then began rendering aid to the wounded. Four of his team were killed almost instantly and five were wounded, but Miller re-distributed ammo to those able to fight and maintained the medical interventions on the wounded for the next 15 hours in bitter cold. He was credited with saving wounded men, allowing the soldiers and airman to keep fighting until rescued, and allowing for the successful recovery of seven sets of U.S. remains.

4. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.

He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)

5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz

On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.

Rather than withdraw to cover, Ruiz laid down heavy fire, killing one insurgent and suppressing the others long enough for him to reach the wounded men. Despite heavy machine gun fire, grenades, and accurate rifle fire, Ruiz stayed exposed until other teammates reached him, then he gave lifesaving care to his buddies under fire.

He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

(U.S. Air Force)

6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper

Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.

As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.

Culpepper later received the Distinguished Service Cross with Valor Device.

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Kiwi fighting man who earned two Victoria Crosses

When considering the most courageous and indomitable soldiers of World War II, the likes of Jack Churchill, Leo Major, and Audie Murphy come to mind. But New Zealand had their own contribution to that list: Charles Upham.


If it hadn’t been for the outbreak of World War II, Charles Upham would have likely passed his days in anonymity on a farm in New Zealand.

Instead, when war broke out in Europe, Upham, despite being college educated and 30 years old, enlisted as a private in the New Zealand Army. He was assigned to the 20th Battalion before accepting a position in an Officer Cadet Training Unit from which he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.

Upham rejoined the 20th Battalion before they shipped out for Greece in 1941. In the face of an overwhelming German invasion, Upham and other Allied forces were evacuated to Crete, where they awaited an inevitable Axis offensive.

In May 1941, German Fallschirmjager (paratroopers) conducted a parachute assault on Crete. Upham was part of the heavy fighting around the Maleme Airfield.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Nazi German Fallshirmjaeger after landing on Crete.

During an attack by his battalion on the airfield, Upham led his platoon at the front of the assault. Through his undaunted courage, he and his men advanced over 3,000 yards against the Germans. During the advance, Upham single-handedly attacked three separate German machine gun positions, silencing two of them with grenades and allowing his men to take out the other.

As his platoon withdrew, he carried a wounded soldier from the field under heavy fire.

Upon his return to friendly lines, Upham was sent back to return a beleaguered company to the battalion’s new position. Without Upham’s effort, the company likely would have been cut off and annihilated.

But Upham was far from done on Crete.

Over the next two days, Upham and his men endured bombardment by the Germans, during which time he was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder and shot in the foot. However, he remained on duty with his men and refused to be evacuated.

On the fourth day, Upham led his platoon against a German attack and drove them back. He then moved forward to, once again, pull back another unit. During his withdrawal, he was fired upon by two Germans. Upham feigned death before crawling into a firing position. With his arm disabled by the shrapnel wound, he cradled his rifle in the crook of a tree branch and gunned down his attackers as they charged him.

Finally, Upham led his men one more time against the Germans as they attempted to assault the Force Headquarters and utterly annihilated the attacking unit.

Despite Upham’s valiant efforts, the Allied forces on Crete were defeated and he and his unit were evacuated to Egypt.

While in Egypt, Upham was promoted to Captain and placed in charge of a company in the 20th Battalion.

In October 1941, Upham was conferred the Victoria Cross for his actions on Crete.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Upham receives his first Victoria Cross.

But back in Egypt, Upham would once again distinguish himself. This time, during the fighting at El Ruweisat Ridge during the First Battle of El Alamein. Early in the fighting, Upham was wounded twice, once while crossing open ground under fire and again when he personally attacked and destroyed a truckload of Germans with hand grenades.

Despite his wounds, Upham stayed with his men.

After personally conducting an information gathering mission armed with an MG42, Upham led his unit against a strongly defended German position. Through force of personality and an indomitable spirit, Upham motivated his men forward to seize the positions. During the attack, Upham personally destroyed a German tank as well as several other vehicles. During his daring offensive, he was wounded a third time by a bullet to the elbow.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

Upham continued to lead his men in a courageous defense of their hard-won position from a German counterattack. Finally, weakened by blood loss, Upham was evacuated to the Regimental Aid Station. However, as soon as his wound had been dressed, he left the aid station to return to his men. When a final German counterattack severely wounded him and decimated his company, Upham fell into German hands as a prisoner of war.

For most soldiers, their story would end here. But Upham was not “most soldiers.” Discontent with being a POW, Upham tried numerous times to escape. He jumped from a moving truck in one instance and from a moving train in another. He tried to climb over a fence, in broad daylight, before being caught. And even once, while placed in solitary confinement, made a run for it and was able to clear the gates before being recaptured.

Upham’s repeated escape attempts earned him a spot at the notorious Colditz Castle in late 1944.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
The notorious Colditz Castle prison.

When Colditz was liberated by American forces, Upham declined immediate repatriation and instead insisted on fighting with the Americans who gladly accepted him.

However, he was soon returned to Britain where he married his sweetheart, a nurse from New Zealand, in June 1945, shortly after the end of hostilities.

Upham was presented his first Victoria Cross in May 1945 by King George VI. When another recommendation came through for Upham’s actions at El Alamein, King George questioned whether he deserved a bar to his Victoria Cross as it has only been done twice before. Major General Howard Kippenberger replied, “in my respectful opinion, Sir, Upham won this VC several times over.”

He received a bar, indicating a second award of the Victoria Cross, in September 1945.

Upham returned to New Zealand and took up farming, avoiding the fame that came with his exploits during the war as much as possible.

Articles

That time the US collected Soviet radar technology via the moon

A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.


So American intelligence decided to try a newly discovered option. In 1946, the U.S. Army Signal Corps had bounced communications signals off of the moon, proving that it had a suitable surface for relaying signals. The Navy spent the next decade building a system that would allow communications between far flung ships and bases by reflecting the signals off the moon.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.

But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.

They would get insanely lucky.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Meanwhile, the Army and Air Force were just pissed that Russia was irradiating their future moon bases. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.

In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

To the surprise and delight of the CIA, the Russians began tracking the moon with the radar for practice, giving the U.S. up to 30 minutes at a time of continuous data. A CIA historical document detailing the effort said:

We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.

The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.

All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.

Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.

Articles

5 notorious ship grounding incidents the Navy would rather we all forget

The recent grounding incident involving the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) in Tokyo Bay is not the first time a Navy vessel has run aground. But some have been more…notorious than others.


Grounding a ship is not exactly career-enhancing in this day and age (never mind that the Antietam spilled 1,100 gallons of oil in one of Godzilla’s favorite hangout spots). In fact, it usually means the end of one’s advancement in the Navy.

Here are a few notorious groundings over the years to remind the soon-to-be-relieved personnel that it could be worse.

1. USS Guardian (MCM 5)

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
The mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5) sits aground on the Tubbataha Reef. Operations to safely recover the ship while minimizing environmental effects are being conducted in close cooperation with allied Philippines Coast Guard and Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell)

The mine counter-measures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5) is the first U.S. Navy ship to be lost since USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1968. The vessel ran aground on Jan. 17, 2013 on a reef, and was very thoroughly stuck. So much so that a 2013 Navy release indicated she had to be dismantled on the spot. A sad end to a 23-year career.

2. The Honda Point Disaster

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Aerial view of the disaster area, showing all seven destroyers that ran aground on Honda Point during the night of 8 September 1923. Photographed from a plane assigned to USS Aroostook (CM-3). Ships are: USS Nicholas (DD-311), in the upper left; USS S.P. Lee (DD-310), astern of Nicholas; USS Delphy (DD-261), capsized in the left center; USS Young (DD-312), capsized in the center of the view; USS Chauncey (DD-296), upright ahead of Young; USS Woodbury (DD-309) on the rocks in the center; and USS Fuller (DD-297), in the lower center. The Southern Pacific Railway’s Honda Station is in the upper left. (U.S. Navy photo)

Imagine losing seven warships in a day during peacetime. Yes, that actually happened to the United States Navy. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, during the evening of Sept. 8, 1923, a navigational error lead seven destroyers to slam into rocks at Honda Point, California, at a speed of 20 knots. Twenty-three sailors were lost, as were seven Clemson-class destroyers that were about five years old.

3. USS Decatur (DD 5)

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
USS Decatur (DD 5) while on sea trials. Then-Ensign Chester W. Nimitz ran her aground in 1908. (U.S. Navy photo)

This one is notable not for any loss of life but for the career it could have derailed. Accoridng to a 2004 article in Military Review, on July 7, 1908, the destroyer USS Decatur (DD 5) ran aground on a mudbank in the Philippines. It was pulled off the next day. The commanding officer was relieved of command, court-martialed, and found guilty of “neglect of duty.”

However, his career didn’t end. That was a good thing for America because that commanding officer was Chester W. Nimitz, who would command the Pacific Fleet in World War II.

4. USS Port Royal (CG 73)

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
The Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) ran aground Feb. 5, 2009, about a half-mile south of the Honolulu airport while off-loading personnel into a small boat. The salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), which included an embarked detachment of Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 personnel, the Motor Vessel Dove, and seven Navy and commercial tugboats freed Port Royal off a shoal on Feb. 9. (U.S. Navy photo)

Now some groundings are just embarrassing. This is one of them. The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) had been on sea trials after about $18 million in repairs. According to a Navy release in 2009, the ship ran aground about a half mile from one of the runways at Honolulu International Airport, providing arriving and departing tourists with an interesting view for a few days.

5. USS Hartford (SSN 768)

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Damage to the submarine USS Hartford’s rudder after its grounding. (US Navy photo)

On Oct. 25, 2003, the attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) ran aground off the island of Sardinia. According to a 2004 Navy release, fixing the damage required assets from Louisiana to Bahrain. It took 213 dives to repair the vessel enough that she could return to Norfolk at half speed. Six years later, the Hartford would collide with the amphibious transport US New Orleans (LPD 18).

MIGHTY HISTORY

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

As the initial results were seen of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22 1941, observers around the world had every reason to believe that Germany was on a course to win the war and become one of the most powerful nations in all of history.


Four million men crossed the border into the Soviet Union during the invasion and quickly claimed large swaths of territory and inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet Union. By the end of the summer, the Wehrmacht had swept through the Baltic states, the Soviet portion of Poland, and the western half of Ukraine. German forces had made their way to Moscow by October before the bitter cold set in and Soviet General Zhukov could organize a successful defense of the city.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
A Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943. (Photo by Georgii Zelma)

The following spring, Hitler devised a new offensive in the East that would target the oil fields of southern Russia and capture the city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. Capturing the city would disrupt supply routes along the Volga and allow German forces to turn north and once again encircle Moscow. The Soviets were no less determined to defend the city as an important industrial and transportation center and a psychologically important city that bore the name of the Soviet Premiere.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
The initial phase of the German invasion, 1941. (Map created by the History Department of the U.S. Military Academy)

In September 1943, German forces entered Stalingrad, which provoked fierce house by house and street by street fighting. The brutality of the fighting is difficult to even imagine. 1.1 million Soviet soldiers became casualties, along with another 800,000 Axis fighters. But beyond the gruesome statistics, the battle for Stalingrad was the psychological turning point of all of the Second World War.

According to British historian Antony Beevor, Soviet soldiers shouted to German Prisoners of War after they had been captured, “This is how Berlin is going to look!” Advances to the east by German soldiers were about to be replaced with Soviet marches westward and no intelligent German believed that they could ever win a war of attrition, which is what Stalingrad became.

Also read: This is how Stalingrad’s most epic sniper duel ended

The fighting was also romanticized almost immediately. First, by the Soviet propaganda machine and later by Hollywood, which produced films like Enemy at the Gates. The center of the fighting is now strewn with monuments celebrating Communism’s great victory over Fascism.

The real legacy of Stalingrad, however, was the wasted lives of so many young men (and women). Germany did not need to make Stalingrad a city of vital strategic importance. The main aim of the campaign was the capture of oil fields in the caucuses. That could have been achieved without taking Stalingrad. Hitler directly intervened to overrule his Generals, who were about to withdraw from Stalingrad to capture targets further south en route to the Baku oil fields. Hitler’s primary aim was the propaganda value of the city.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Soviets preparing to ward off a German assault in Stalingrad’s suburbs.

Soviet preparedness for war was one of the primary reasons why Germany was able to so effectively fight the Red Army in the opening months of the war. Stalin had only recently purged the armed forces of needed officers out of a desire to further consolidate his power. Zhukov was spared but later said he always kept an emergency bag packed in case a knock on the door arrived. Had he been purged, it seems likely the Soviet Union would not have been able to win the war.

Stalingrad was ultimately a microcosm of the broader war in the east: a war of ugliness, cruelty, hatred, racism, misogyny, rape, and plunder. It is a leading candidate for the most brutal war ever fought.

Related: This colorized German war footage shows why Stalingrad was hell on Earth

Of course, some very important military principles were either learned or reinforced through Stalingrad. Military leaders must be cautious in spreading their troops too thinly, soldiers and civilians in a fight for their own country will often prove more motivated and willing to expend themselves, and that guerrilla warfare is a completely different matter than conventional warfare.

More: The 11 eeriest unsolved mysteries of World War II

But, the symbolism of Stalingrad does continue to live on in more inspiring ways than simple cruelty due to the clashing egos of two very powerful men. It really did change the course of history and involved ordinary men and women, in addition to professional soldiers, fighting for their very lives. Today, in Volgograd, there are echoes of the conflict still, as the descendants of those fighters continue on in the legacy left for them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Thousands more died so World War I would end at 1100

“I may be one of the few people in this room who remembers when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice that ended the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” Reagan said in 1982, repeating the memorable line about the end of World War I, a war so horrible that it was known for decades as “The War to End All Wars.”


SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

British troops man their artillery piece while defending against German attacks during the Spring Offensive, a failed German advance.

(Imperial War Museum)

But that tidy line, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” came at a cost. Thousands more soldiers, 1,100 of them in one unit, would die during the morning before the Armistice took effect.

See, the end of World War I, like the end of most large wars, was clear for months before it actually came. With the introduction of the tank in 1916 and of American troops in 1917, the stalemate in Europe turned slowly but inexorably in favor of the Allies. The Central Powers, including Germany, were doomed to eventually drown under the industrial might it faced.

But they would fight on for over a year after America entered the war, attempting counter attacks and bloody defenses in order to improve their position at the bargaining table. It was a messy and futile business. The creeping crush of American and Allied steel slowly slaughtered its way east.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
British troops hold the southern bank of the River Aisne in May 1918 during Germany’s Spring Offensive.
(Imperial War Museum)

By October, 1918, the writing was on the wall. Germany hadn’t achieved a major victory since February, and the Spring Offensive that was supposed to shift the tide back in their favor had been utterly defeated. Berlin was starving under a British blockade and the front lines were quickly approaching the German border. Turkey surrendered at the end of the month and Austria-Hungary did so on November 3.

On November 7, 1918, the Germans sent a three-car delegation to the front lines and played a loud bugle call through the forest. The Germans informed some very surprised French troops that they were there to discuss terms of surrender with the French commander.

This is the first point where the top French and American officers, Field Marshall Ferdinand Fochs and Gen. John Pershing, could have slowed their advance. They could have ordered subordinate commanders to avoid costly advances against terrain or defenses that favored the Germans. In a war that generated over 2,000 deaths per day, a relatively calm November 7-11 could have saved thousands.

But Pershing and Fochs didn’t know, for sure, that Germany would actually go through with the surrender. The Germans had already committed a number of acts during the war that would’ve been beyond the pale before the conflict. They had introduced chemical gasses to the conflict, killed thousands of innocent, civilian ship passengers with their U-boats, and ignored multiple treaties and other legal agreements in their prosecution of the war.

So, the leaders resolved to continue fighting until the last legal moments and then see whether German forces actually stopped fighting. Fochs and the German delegation met in train cars in the Ardennes Forest, and Fochs quickly made it clear that he wasn’t looking to negotiate nicely. When the German delegation approached his car he ordered his interpreter to ask what the gentlemen wanted.

They said they had come to hear the Allies’ proposal for surrender. Fochs replied that he had no proposals. Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the German foreign ministry told Fochs in French that his men sought the conditions for the Armistice. Foch replied, “I have no conditions to offer.”

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

The German and French delegation pose at Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch’s rail car after the November 11, 1918, armistice ending World War I was signed.

The Germans would have to beg, or Foch was prepared to push the front on to German soil. And so the German delegation, with added urgency as riots broke out in Berlin amid the ever-worsening food situation, begged. And it turned out that Foch did have conditions, and they were tough.

First, Germany had to cede dozens of ships, hundreds of submarines, and massive tracts of land to France including land then under control of German troops. And, Germany would have to give up massive amounts of transportation equipment, from planes to train locomotives to railway cars. When it came to the submarines and railways cars, France was actually asking for more than Germany physically had.

And the German government had to agree to the deal before November 11 at 11 a.m., or the offer would be withdrawn.

But Foch was unmoved by German pleas. In his and Pershing’s minds, the idea of stopping the war short of German soil was insane. If Germany was allowed breathing room, it could only serve German interests. Either they would be allowed to quit the war without suffering at home the way the French people had, or they would simply use the armistice to re-organize their forces and then resume their attacks without agreeing to a full treaty.

Finally, just after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the German delegation agreed to the terms. They would later seek, in some cases successfully, to negate the most onerous terms of the agreement during the treaty process, though many of them stuck.

But that left the long morning from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., Foch’s original deadline for an agreement and the legally binding time that the agreement would go into effect. Until then, the war was still raging.

If the ceasefire had taken place immediately after the agreement was signed, then hundreds would have still died as word made its way to the trenches — but the alternative was worse. Commanders were told that an armistice had been signed and that it would take effect at 11 a.m. They were given little or no instructions on how to spend the remaining hours.

For some, the answer was obvious: you don’t get your men killed to capture ground that you can walk safely across in a few hours or days. But for others, this was one last chance to punish the Germans, one last chance to improve France and America’s place at the peace table, one last chance at glory, awards, and promotions.

And so, after the armistice was signed, some Allied forces launched new attacks or decided to continue ongoing ones. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall ordered the 5th Marine Regiment to conduct a contested crossing of the Meuse River, acknowledging, as he briefed his officers, that he would likely never see them again.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Two American soldiers run towards a bunker in a classic photograph that may have been staged after the actual fighting.
(Library of Cogress)

When word came down that the armistice had been signed, the general left his men on the attack, notifying them only that they must cease attacking at 11. And so they continued. Eleven-hundred Marines died at the crossing before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month arrived. The artillerymen on each side reportedly increased their fire when they learned, at 9 a.m., that the war was almost over.

The 157th Brigade kept fighting, as well, when they learned about the armistice at 10:44. With only 16 minutes left in the war, the American brigade still had a chance at taking a tiny, insignificant French village back. The general gave the order that attacks would continue until 11.

A supply soldier assigned to the brigade went forward with the 313th Regiment and took part in an attack through the fog against a German machine gun. Most of the Americans stopped short as the first German rounds zipped overhead, but Pvt. Henry Gunther pressed on.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
A captured German machine gun team moves their weapon.
(National Library of Scotland)

The German gunners, aware that the war would end in mere minutes, attempted to wave him off. They yelled, but Gunther came on. So, finally, the German gunner gave one, last tug on his trigger, sending a burst into the charging private. Gunther was killed, the last official American casualty of the war.

Another town was attacked, and successfully captured, in the final minutes. Stenay was taken by the 89th U.S. Division at the cost of 300 casualties.

Up and down the front, artillery batteries fired until the last seconds. All-in-alll, the belligerents suffered an estimated 2,738 deaths on the final morning. American forces are thought to have suffered over 3,500 casualties of all types. Congress would later look into the “inefficiencies” of American troops being sent to their likely deaths in the final hours of fighting.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Americans celebrate the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.
(Chicago Daily News, Public domain)

But, it’s important to remember that military leaders couldn’t be sure the war was actually over, and they saw Germany admitting weakness as a sign it was time to press home the final attack in order to guarantee peace. If the Allies had rested, it might have allowed Germany to solidify their forces and improve their defenses.

The Allied leaders had heard only rumors or nothing at all about the events eating Germany from the inside. The Kaiser had abdicated and fled into exile. German sailors were in mass mutinies that crippled the already under-powered fleet. The aforementioned riots in Berlin were threatening to overwhelm the new republic, only days old and formed in crisis.

But that doesn’t restore to life the thousands lost in the final days to ensure victory, men whose brave sacrifices didn’t gain a much ground, but did cement the peace that ended mankind’s worst conflict up to that point in history. Their sacrifice may feel more tragic, but is no less noble than the millions lost before November 11.

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