The SMS Wien sunk twice - during both World Wars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

There’s a such thing as bad luck and then there’s defying the odds. When looking at the SMS Wien, its luck was so considerably horrible, so tragically unthinkable, it seemingly defied the odds. The ship that was sunk not in one world war, but in both of them. Resurrected and put back into commission, only to sink to the bottom of the ocean once more.

Here’s how it all went down:

SMS Wien in WWI

The SMS Wien, His Majesty’s Ship Vienna, originated as an Austrian ship in the 1890s. (At the time, Austria was a large territory with ample coastline.) It served the Austro-Hungarian Navy as one of three Monarch-class coastal defense ships. The ship fought in the Greco-Turkish War in 1897, made multiple trips in the Mediterranean Sea, and was retired as newer style battleships were built and cycled into the local Navy. (There are historical discrepancies, some citing the ship being built on different dates.) 

SMS Wien
SMS Wien

However, at the start of WWI, the SS Wien was recommissioned, along with its two sisters, to work within the 5th Division AKA the German Empire. 

From 1914-1917, she was sent to modern-day Montenegro to fight French forces. Then, in August of 1917, Wien traveled to Northern Italy, where it was hit with two torpedoes in a sneak attack. She sunk in less than five minutes, after a 34-foot hole was blown into its boiler room. All of the ship’s 46 crew members were killed. 

The boat is salvaged

An initial rescue mission was planned by the Austrians 1918, but stopped by court orders. The boat was ultimately salvated by Italians in 1921 — after the war had ended.

Raised and renamed to Vienna, it was refurbished; little is known about its stint in peaceful times. 

But then in 1935, the ship was renamed once more to Po and converted to a hospital ship for WWI. (Some accounts say it was also a hospital ship as Wien, before converted for living quarters.) More than 200 passengers boarded the vessel at a time, being sent to various locations and offering a nursing staff at-the-ready.

Po was attacked once more, and was sunk on March 14, 1941 after being hit by a British torpedo. (It’s safe to say, torpedoes are not this ship’s friend). Hit at night, British pilots said they could not tell they were aiming for a hospital ship. Italian sources agree that, because lights were partially turned off, it would have not been recognized as a hospital ship. 

On board, 21 inhabitants were killed, with survivors making their way to shore. Among them included Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, who was a nurse with the Red Cross. She was rescued by another ship and went on to continue with the Red Cross until the fall of her father’s rule and the fascist regime in 1943. 

The fate of the ship

The second sinking proved to be the ship’s last. It still remains underwater near Albania, 35 meters deep. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Thousands more died in the Nazi blitz due to ignored spy reports

Imagine you had some of the world’s best spymasters, espionage rings, and analysts in the world, that intellectuals around the world were enamored with you and wanted to feed you information, and that all of that intelligence was needed to protect your massive military as it faced off against an existential threat to your people, your government, and your nation.

Then imagine you ignored all of that information because, like, can you ever really trust a spy?


The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

Richard Sorge, one of the most successful (and dead) spies of World War II.

(Bundesarchiv)

That was the reality for many of the spies in World War II, especially Richard “Ika” Sorge, whose spy reports gave a detailed breakdown of the Nazi blitz preparing to smash into the Soviet Union. He watched his nation fail to marshal its troops to face the threat.

Sorge born in 1895 to a German engineer working in Baku, Azerbajin, then a part of the Russian Empire and a major oil-producing region. He served in World War I with the German military but fell in love with communist ideology. After the war, he began teaching Marxism and got a PhD in political theory.

He moved to Moscow in 1924 and was recruited into Soviet intelligence and sent to China, then Japan. Through a surprising bit of luck, Sorge was able to meet up with a German officer named Lt. Col. Eugen Ott in Japan and become a member of the Nazi party.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

Richard Sorge was wounded in World War I.

(Photo by Eva Tilden)

As the conflicts that would flare up into World War II grew, Sorge was a member of the Soviet intelligence as well as the Nazi party and was respected in China and Japan. Better, he had intelligence assets available in all four countries. He was also a famous womanizer. In all four of these countries, he had women who fed him intelligence information that they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else.

He used the intelligence he gathered in Tokyo to ingratiate himself with the Germans who wanted to keep an eye on their Pacific ally. The trust he built up through feeding Berlin information allowed him to gather a lot of intelligence about the Nazis that he could feed to his true masters in Moscow.

In 1938, Sorge got in even deeper with the Nazis when his German handler got sick and his old friend Ott, who had helped him join the Nazi party in the first place, asked him to take on the task of drafting the German Embassy’s dispatches to Berlin, filled with all sorts of great information to pass on to his Moscow superiors.

In 1940 and 1941, Sorge was able to tap into his networks in China and Germany to paint a detailed picture of one of the most important points in the war: The German blitz against the Soviet Union.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

A Soviet T-34 burns in the field during Operation Barbarossa.

(Bundesarchiv)

Sorge, reporting from Tokyo, achieved a shocking level of precision, detailing the size of the force and pinpointing the week that the Nazis would invade. He reported that the attack would take place sometime between June 20 and 25. Operation Barbarossa, as it was named, launched on June 22.

Between Sorge and a spy in China, Walther Stennes, Moscow received 42 reports, all of them brushed aside by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin who thought he had the measure of Hitler.

When the Germans struck, they hit with almost 4 million soldiers who were reinforced over the following weeks and months by units from Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, and Hungary.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

German officers pose with a captured Soviet plane.

The Soviet military, ill-positioned and -prepared, saw entire units swallowed up, killed, and captured as the Nazis cutoff unprotected supply lines and overran barely fortified positions. 600,000 Soviet troops were killed, captured, or seriously wounded in the first week while 4,000 aircraft were destroyed, many of them still on the ground.

Germany penetrated the Soviet Union 200 miles deep along a nearly 1,800-mile front in only seven days.

Of course, the Soviets were able to push the German forces back, largely thanks to delusional planning on the German side. Germany had expected to conquer Moscow before true winter set in and failed to properly equip its troops for fighting in the frozen wasteland that Russia quickly became. Commanders, chasing the operation’s impossible timetable, failed to secure their gains and left their own lengthening supply lines too lightly guarded.

The harsh winter and Soviet counterattacks hit hard. Russia, with its superior resources and manpower, was able to bleed Germany for its treachery and bloodshed.

But all of this came too late for the thousands unnecessarily lost in those opening days, as well as for Richard Sorge. Sorge continued to send information back to Moscow, including one important report that was actually read and believed. He was able to determine with a high degree of certainty that Tokyo would not enter the European Theater unless it was clear that Russia had lost, preferably if Moscow fell.

The Red Army moved massive numbers of troops from their Easter Front to the west, hastening their success against Hitler.

Even more impressive, Sorge had a contact with the Japanese premier’s closest advisers, and he was able to feed them information convincing them to keep invading further south into China and towards European positions in Asia, relieving pressure from Soviet Forces on the Eastern Front.

But Sorge’s luck ran out. On Oct. 10, 1941, security police arrested two members of Sorge’s espionage ring, and one of them spilled all the beans. Sorge was arrested and eventually cracked, admitting to being a communist spy. He was executed on Nov. 7, 1944, refused even his dying cigarette.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You sing it, but do you really know what ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is about?

The “Star-Spangled Banner” is American lyrics laid on top of a British song to make one glorious national anthem. It details the endurance of American troops against a British naval bombardment at the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814.


But while Americans singing the song at baseball games know that the U.S. came out victorious, Francis Scott Key and other witnesses of the battle had little to be optimistic about. The British brought more ships to the fight than the Americans had cannons on the fort.

 

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Lots of ships versus one teeny fort. (Image: Public Domain)

 

In Sep. 1814, America was reeling from the sacking and burning of Washington D.C. The first lady, Dolly Madison, had made it out of the city with crucial documents and a portrait of George Washington, but the presidential mansion and much of the capital was destroyed. The victorious British military made its way up the coast, this time targeting the important port at Baltimore.

The British planned a two-pronged assault on the city. The army would march overland to attack the city on foot while the navy was to destroy Fort McHenry and follow the river to the city. There, it would bombard the city and assist in its capture.

The ground attack seemed doomed from the start. About 12,000 American troops, many more than the British had expected, were guarding the city. So the British troops sat back and waited as dozens of British ships, including five of Britain’s eight bomb ketches, moved forward to bombard the fort that only had 19 guns with which to defend itself.

Luckily for the Americans, shallow waters around the fort kept some of the ships away. Unluckily for them, 16 ships were able to get within range of the fort while staying outside the range of the American guns.

Starting early on Sep. 13, the British fired on McHenry with rocket ships and bomb ketches. Bomb ketches were ships with a mortar or howitzer built into the deck. The gun could not be turned, so the ships were pointed at the fort and kept in place with spring-loaded anchor lines. The “bombs bursting in air,” came from these devastating ships.

Meanwhile, ships firing Congreve rockets sailed into range as well. The rockets were made in a variety of sizes. The ones that lit the night at Fort McHenry were mostly 32-pound rockets that carried seven pounds of explosives. They could explode in the air but were designed to be incendiary weapons, setting fires within forts and enemy ships.

 

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Col. William Congreve, the inventor of Congreve rockets, created this lithograph to show how rocket ships worked in fleet action. (Image: Public Domain by British Col. William Congreve)

 

One moment was more dangerous than any other for the defenders; a bomb fired from one of the ketches landed in the fort’s gunpowder supply. It failed to go off and the troops were able to split the gunpowder into smaller stores around the tiny island.

At another point, British Rear Adm. George Cockburn thought the fort had been badly damaged and moved the ships closer for better accuracy. American artillerymen rushed through the incoming shells and began firing when the British came within range, driving them back.

The intense naval attack lasted for 25 hours.

Key watched the battle play out from a small American sloop behind the British force. He had been rowed into the harbor to negotiate the release of a friend held prisoner by the British. He and his friend were both allowed to leave the British prisoner ship as long as they did not return to shore until after the British bombardment.

The men weren’t allowed to row ashore because the British suspected they had heard the British plans to destroy the city. Key had and knew that a collapse of Fort McHenry spelled certain doom for Baltimore. Throughout the night, he watched the fort’s small storm flag wave through the wind and rain as rockets and bombs rained on the defenders below.

In the morning, he looked to the flagpole at first light to see if the fort had survived. If British colors were flying, Baltimore would be destroyed and America would lose a second major city in less than a month.

 

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Spoiler alert: The flag still flies over Fort McHenry. (Photo: Owen Byrne Halifax CC BY 2.0)

 

The flag had changed overnight, but not to the Union Jack. A storm that raged throughout the battle had forced the fort to fly its smaller American flag. Since the morning dawned clear, the garrison changed to its normal flag, a 42-foot by 30-foot beast.

Key saw the garrison flag filling the morning sky and wrote the lyrics to the future national anthem in a fit of inspiration. Contrary to popular belief, the amateur poet wrote them as lyrics from the start, not as a poem. He was familiar with the popular song, “To Anacreon In Heaven” and wrote the lyrics to match up with it.

Meanwhile, the British troops ashore saw the American flag flying and knew that the naval assault had failed. They withdrew and left Baltimore in relative safety.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” would be published in newspapers up and down the coast over the following few days under a variety of names, usually “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” One publication called it, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the name stuck.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This single joke by Reagan put the Soviet military on alert

So, President Ronald Reagan managed to make it into the news about 15 years after his death due to some leaked audio with inflammatory, racist remarks. But, oddly enough, 20 years before his death, Reagan accidentally sent Soviet forces in Vladivostok into high alert thanks to another bit of leaked audio. Specifically, he told an ill-advised joke about outlawing Russia.


The joke came on Aug. 11, 1984. Reagan was in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so he had a big announcement planned for his weekly radio address to America. He was going to be at his ranch in California, and so he asked National Public Radio engineers to do the address from there. They agreed.

So, the engineers came out and set up. As they were going through the mic checks, they asked him to say a few words to make sure they had all the levels right. Reagan agreed and went off on a quick riff:

My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

Ronald Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office, outlining his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation in July 1981.

(White House Photo)

The engineers in the room got that it was a joke, and they were part of a deal not to release informal or off-the-record audio. So they chuckled, got the levels right, and let the president give his actual, scheduled address.

But they weren’t the only ones who had heard the remarks. The audio was already being sent to some of the radio stations that would broadcast the remarks, and those stations were recording the feed in case they missed the start of the presidential address.

And not all of them were part of the agreement to hold recordings not meant for broadcast. Someone leaked the audio.

Most of the world got that it was a joke and the punditry class took on its typical role of either condemning or praising the remarks. Most condemned, especially in those countries in Europe that Russia’s missiles could reach. The Soviet Union was also predictably, not a fan.

But one group of Soviet soldiers weren’t entirely sure that it was a joke. There were reports of a low-level Soviet commander putting his troops in Vladivostok on a wartime footing on August 13, in the belief that America really was going to war with the Soviet Union.

The story is disputed, but it says the troops were told to stand down about 30 minutes later as the Soviet officer wasn’t actually allowed to issue that level of alert. Also, obviously, if the August 11 remarks about bombing the Soviet Union in five minutes were real, there wouldn’t be an undamaged Soviet Union on August 13.

Reagan was overwhelmingly re-elected despite the blowback from the joke, and he actually established a productive relationship with Soviet Mikhail Gorbachev in the late ’80s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Midget submarines have gotten a lot of press in recent years. The 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a North Korean Yono-class midget submarine showed that with today’s modern torpedoes, they can pack a punch.


Midget submarines have arguably had a longer combat career than their bigger cousins. The Turtle, a one-man midget sub, was used in an effort to attack British ships off New York during the Revolutionary War.

The hand-powered midget submarine CSS Hunley successfully sank the sloop USS Housatonic in 1864. Larger coastal and fleet submarines didn’t really achieve a lot of success until World War I.

But the midgets still stuck around.

Nearly all the major powers used them in World War II. The British, Germans, and Japanese all had varying degrees of success with them.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Chief petty officers and chief petty officer selects from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable perform preservation maintenance on Japanese navy submarine HA-51, a World War II Type C three-man midget submarine, at the T. Snell Newman Visitor Center. Cable is undergoing upgrades at Guam Shipyard for a conversion to the Military Sealift Command. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Jennifer L. Walker)

The British X-boats managed to damage the German battleship Tirpitz. Japanese submarines had their high-water mark on May 29, 1942, when they damaged a British battleship and sank a merchant ship at Diego Suarez in Madagascar.

But Germany’s Seehund — or “Seal” — was probably the most successful. Built in 1944, the Seehund displaced 17 tons, carried two torpedoes, and had a crew of two. The vessel could go four knots underwater, and seven knots on the surface.

U-Boat.net notes that 137 of these midget subs were commissioned, which sank eight vessels and damaged three more in four months of operation.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
S 622, a German Seehund later taken into service by the French Navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Below is a video showing how a replica of one of these mini-submarines was made for a museum display. Take a look and see what went into making that replica — and what that display will teach future generations about what life on one of these vessels was like.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How spies use radio stations to communicate secrets

While spies typically try to hide as much of their communication as possible, there is one method of intelligence communication that is literally broadcasted so that everyone for thousands of miles around can listen in to the messages, but no one else can understand the message.


The Secret Radio Stations Used to Communicate with Spies

www.youtube.com

These were known as “numbers stations,” an apt name since they exist solely to broadcast number sequences to spies operating in the area. Governments dispatch their spies with books of codes, and then the numbers broadcasted are used with these books to assemble messages years after the spy was dispatched.

These are typically done with “one-time pad” encryption where the message cannot be cracked without the book of numbers. The list of numbers is compared to a single line of numbers in the book, and comparing the numbers will give the spy the message intended for them. But, importantly, each line in the book is used a single time.

So, someone listening in cannot piece together messages through careful listening or tracking, only through stealing the book, if they can find it. So, governments can broadcast their numbers in the clear, usually from a radio station bordering the country they are spying in, without worry.

America has suffered spies that listened to these stations, like Ana B. Montes, one of the highest ranked spies in U.S. history. But we’ve also used the method ourselves especially during the Cold War. Our allies in Britain had done so, running a station in Cyprus for years.

Some spies during the Cold War, including some from the U.S. and Britain, were captured with their code books intact. America had its own numbers coup in the 1980s when it turned a source in the Soviet Government that fed them the codes used to instruct communists in the U.S. at the time.

To listen in yourself, you need to live in range of a broadcasting station and to have a “shortwave” radio, a receiver that listens to high-frequency signals. Few places still track the broadcasts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a tuba led to the National Guard training allies in Europe

In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.

“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”


The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.

“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”

That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”

That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.

“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.

“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”

The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.

“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Sgt. 1st Class Harry R. Martinez, right, with the New Jersey Army National Guard, demonstrates how to load an ammunition drum on a M249 squad automatic weapon to Albanian Officer Candidate Endri Deda while training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

The idea grew from there.

“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”

Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.

“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”

By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.

The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.

“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.

As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.

First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.

“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.

“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”

The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.

“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.

Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.

“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”

Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard demonstrate how to properly apply camouflage concealment to the face at Babadag Training Area in eastern Romania

It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.

“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”

McGuire added that’s a significant element.

“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”

Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.

“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.

For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.

“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”

The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.

“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.

“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 rituals warriors used to prepare for battle

War, like math, is a universal language shared by every strata of civilization. Warriors from all cultures have, in one form or another, prepared themselves physically and mentally for the task at hand using rituals. More often than not, stepping onto the battlefield meant risking bodily death.

With the end of natural life so near, many warriors would confer with the divine, looking for their blessing to carry them to victory. Some conjured animal spirits to lend them their strength while others requested that deities guide their blades.

These are the rituals that prepared the champions of various cultures to meet their fate.


The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Marines are known for summoning the strength of the Devil Dog.
(Knut Stjerna)

Berserkers used mind-altering drugs to induce rage

The berserker was an elite Norse warrior that used pure rage to find success in battle. To achieve the status of a berserker, one had to live in the wilderness and become possessed by one of three animals, from which they’d conjure strength: the bear, the boar, or the wolf. The warrior then had to drink the blood of the chosen animal and wear its pelt when summoning its strength in battle.

But it wasn’t all possessions and summonings. Historians theorize that berserkers would eat Amanita muscaria (a hallucinogenic mushroom) and rub henbane leaves onto the skin (which causes a numbing sensation) to better endure pain in battle. Copious amounts of alcohol combined with mind-altering chemicals would send these warriors into a rage, effectively summoning severe aggression on demand.

Original maori haka dance

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Maori tribes used an intimidating dance

The Maori tribes developed a war cry dance to intimidate the enemy at the outset of battle and to inspire their warriors into a frenzy. They, like many other cultures, called upon the God of War using a ritual dance called the perperu haka when a fight was imminent.

Over time, the haka evolved into several distinct versions, each used in a specific ceremony. There are hakas for national events in New Zealand, weddings, funerals, and special guests. Each dance has a cultural significance and a rich history woven into the choreography.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Good things come to those who wait — or pay cash.
(Ugo Bardi)

The Greeks used sacrifices to predict the outcome of battles

The ancient Greeks did not take superstition lightly and often sought the guidance and protection of their Gods before battle. Before the Battle of Plataea, which took place near Boeotia, Greece, in 479 B.C., both the Armies of Xerxes I and the Greek alliance consorted with their respective seers to determine the outcome of the battle. Each offered ritual sacrifices to their Gods, looking for the signal of imminent victory. The sacrifices revealed omens that defeat belonged to whichever side initiated combat.

After days of indecision, the Persian general Mardonius decided that he had waited long enough and attacked. He lost.

Kamikaze Pilots Take-Off. Archive film 96623
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Kamikaze pilots drank magical sake

The term ‘Kamikaze‘ comes from the Mongols’ failed invasion of Japan in 1281. A typhoon completely destroyed the invaders and became known as the Divine Wind, or the Kamikaze, that saved Japan. The victory at the Battle of Midway by the U.S. Pacific Fleet in 1942 forced Vice Admiral Takashiro of the Japanese First Air Fleet to use suicidal pilots to inflict damage upon U.S. vessels.

The Kamikaze was a call to action that drew university students from all walks of life. The ceremony these pilots would undertake before flying their last consisted of drinking sake ‘infused’ with magic to provide ‘spiritual lifting.’ They were thanked by their officers and boarded their planes with 550-pound bombs. Out of approximately 2,800 Kamikaze pilots, 14% of Kamikaze hit U.S. ships and only 8.5% managed to sink them.

Some African tribes still practice scarification

To this day, tribes in Ethiopia engage in ceremonial stick duels between 20 or more young men of rival villages to earn respect from their families and community. Before a duel takes place, a witch doctor will bless the fighters with sacred leaves and cut patterns into their skin with razors. These patterns serve as a supernatural defense against serious harm. In most cases, these duels aren’t usually deadly — ‘usually’ being the operative word.

The cutting ritual, also known as scarification, is a lengthy and painful pre-battle requirement. Showing courage during this process also grants the young man the right to marry a wife. If a fighter cannot bear the pain of scarification, he will not be seen as worthy to bear the responsibilities of marriage.

There are videos out there for the strong-stomached, but we’ll not be providing one.

Articles

That time Civil War soldiers stopped fighting and played music for one another

A few weeks after the bloody battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, an odd event took place at the front lines of the Civil War armies camped on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The two sides — camped approximately a mile from one another — engaged in a battle of the bands.


The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
A Union band in the Civil War poses for a photo. (Photo: CC BY-SA Jcusano)

According to University of Virginia Professor Dr. Gary W. Gallagher in his Great Courses lecture series on the war, the concert was begun by a Union band on one side of the field who played a patriotic northern song, likely “Yankee Doodle” or “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Just after they finished playing, the Confederate band opened with the song “Dixie.”

The two bands then continued playing songs for one another throughout the early hours of the night, until the Union band started playing “Home on the Range,” a song popular in both Union and Confederate camps throughout the war.

The Confederate band joined in during the song, and soldiers from each side sang along.

The entire event was captured in a poem “Music in Camp” by John Reuben Thomas.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Thure de Thulstrup’s Battle of Gettysburg, showing Pickett’s Charge. (Scan: Library of Congress)

Like the later Christmas Truce of World War I, the peace between the warring sides was short-lived. The Civil War would rage for almost two more years before its official end in May 1865. Indeed, the bloodiest battle of the war, Gettysburg, would take place just a few short weeks after the impromptu concert.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier used his teeth as bullets to attack Turkish invaders

For four months in 1538, 600 Portuguese troops were holding back an attempt to capture the Indian City of Diu against 22,000 combined enemy troops. Most of those came from the Sultanate of Gujarat, but there were also 6,000 troops from the hated Ottoman Empire. Portugal had been engaged in a series of conflicts with the Turks since 1481. Diu was just a valuable possession.

Portugal’s soldiers would be damned if they were going to let some Ottoman Turk take their Indian jewel.


The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

And no Gujaratis neither.

The Ottomans had been trying to force Portugal out of its possessions all over Asia, from the Red Sea to India, and would partner with anyone who would help them. The Sultanate of Gujarat was just one more enemy aligned against them. Portugal controlled the flow of valuable spices to Europe through Diu, and the Turks were ready to take it from them, sending the largest fleet it ever sent to the Indian Ocean.

Portugal had a few things going for them the Indians didn’t have when Portugal first took control of Diu. The Portuguese built a fortress to protect the city, and its commander, António da Silveira, was an experienced fighter of Gujarati forces. Though the Portuguese would eventually win the confrontation, there are a few noteworthy things about this battle, not least of all the most provocative reply to a surrender demand ever sent when Silveira wrote a note to Suleiman Pasha in response to his second demand (keep in mind, I had to remove the worst parts of it):

“I have seen the words in your letter, and that of the captain which you have imprisoned through lie and betrayal of your word, signed under your name; which you have done because you are no man, for you have no balls, you are like a lying woman and a fool. How do you intend to pact with me, if you committed betrayal and falsity right before my eyes?… Be assured that here are Portuguese accustomed to killing many moors, and they have as captain António da Silveira, who has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks, that there’s no reason to fear someone who has no balls, no honor and lies…”
The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

“António da Silveira, has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks.” – António da Silveira

In response to that surrender demand, the Turkish commander ordered an immediate assault on the Portuguese fortress, bombarding it for nearly a month with cannons from the land and from his ships at sea. He then ordered a full assault of a small fortlet that stood in the mouth of the nearby river. Inside, just a handful of Portuguese troops were holding out against hundreds of enemy troops, some of them the feared Ottoman Janissaries.

Inside one of the bastions, a Portuguese soldier believed he was the only survivor of the fortlet. He was out of ammunition but still had the powder necessary to kill the oncoming enemy. The Turks, fully believing the man was indeed out of ammunition were surprised to get shot while trying to enter the bastion, anyway. According to a Dutch priest who was present, the man ripped his own tooth out and loaded it into his weapon so he could keep fighting.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

Actual photo of Turkish Galleys in retreat.

Though various Indian forces would attempt to retake Diu over the coming centuries, they would not be able to control the city until the Portuguese relinquished it to the Indian government in 1961.

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This is how an outnumbered Navy hero earned the Medal of Honor for protecting Guadalcanal

In the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 1942, Vice Adm. William Halsey had a sleepless night. A major Japanese force was steaming towards Henderson Field bent on a massive bombardment.


Halsey had sent two small groups of ships under the overall command of Rear Adm. Daniel Judson Callaghan to stop them.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Callaghan’s force faced long odds. He had two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers (two of which had been optimized for the anti-aircraft role), and eight destroyers. The opposing force had two fast battleships, a light cruiser, and 14 destroyers.

In essence, Halsey knew he had probably sent Callaghan and many of the sailors under him to their deaths.

Only as the seconds turned into minutes, and the minutes turned into hours, one thing was obvious: Henderson Field had not come under attack.

Dawn would soon reveal that one of the fast battleships, the Hiei, was crippled, while American sailors on two cruisers — the USS Atlanta (CL 51) and USS Portland (CA 33) — were fighting to save their ships.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
The Japanese fast battleship Haruna. (Photo from Wikimedia)

Reports trickled in. Four destroyers sunk, Callaghan and Rear Adm. Norman Scott, the hero of the Battle of Cape Esperance, were dead.

Later, when commanders sorted out what happened, it turned out Callaghan had – whether by accident or design – gotten his force intermingled with the Japanese bombardment group. When he ordered, “Odd ships fire to port, even ships fire to starboard,” he touched off a melee that scattered both forces across Ironbottom Sound.

At one point during the maelstrom Callaghan’s flagship, the USS San Francisco (CA 38), got within 2,500 yards of the battleship Hiei, and put a shell into her steering compartment. By the time the fight was over, the Japanese had exhausted most of their ammunition, and it was too close to dawn to reassemble their forces, hit Henderson Field and escape American air power.

Rear Adm. Hiroaki Abe instead ordered a retreat, leaving Hiei to its fate.

In the aftermath of the battle, Hiei would be sunk by air strikes launched from the USS Enterprise (CV 6) and Henderson Field. The USS Juneau (CL 52), damaged during the battle, would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. The officer in charge of the surviving vessels, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover, would inexplicably fail to look for survivors, leaving over a hundred men behind. Only three would be rescued.

The Japanese tried to bombard Henderson Field again two days later, but this time the Kirishima met up with two battleships, the USS Washington (BB 56) and USS South Dakota (BB 57), with four destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Willis Augustus Lee. Even though the Japanese put USS South Dakota out of action and sank or damaged the four destroyers, the USS Washington was able to fatally damage the Kirishima.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
The USS Callaghan in 1987. (Photo from Wikimedia)

Callaghan would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on Nov, 13, 1942, one of five presented for actions in that battle (the others were to Norman Scott, Lt. Cmdr. Bruce McCandless, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Schonland, and Bosun’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt Keppler). The Navy later named two ships for Adm. Callaghan. The first USS Callaghan (DD 792) would be sunk by a kamikaze attack while on radar picket duty off Okinawa in 1945. The second USS Callaghan (DDG 994) saw 20 years of service with the United States Navy until she was sold to Taiwan.

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That time aliens landed in the Soviet Union for a walk in the park

The Russians have a strange history with the Unidentified Flying Objects. While 99 percent of the UFOs encountered by Russia and the Soviet Union over the years were probably American spy planes, they insist that one of them actually landed and its crew decided to step out and stretch their legs.

And then they shot a bunch of children.


In the late 1980s, The New York Times quoted Soviet police Lt. Sergei A. Matveyev, who swore he saw the spaceship, saying that lanky, three-legged creatures landed in a park in the Russian city of Voronezh on Sept. 27, 1989. Some 300 miles from Moscow, citizens of Voronezh reported a deep red ball, around 10 feet in diameter, landing in a park.

It was not an optical illusion,” he told the Russian TASS News Agency. “It was certainly a body flying in the sky. I thought I must be really tired, but I rubbed my eyes and it didn’t go away.”

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars
Admit that you were thinking about this meme.

 

A hatch opened and out stepped a three-eyed creature that stood nine feet tall and was dressed in silver overalls and bronze boots. It left the ship with a companion and a robot. After taking a triangle formation around the robot, the robot came to life. A boy began to scream in terror. That’s when the stuff hit the fan. With a look, the boy was paralyzed.

The aliens disappeared briefly and returned with “what looked like a gun” and shot the boy, who disappeared. He reappeared later, after the spacecraft had departed. Citizens of the town reported multiple sightings of the ship between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, but when Soviet investigators came to the scene, their only abnormal finding was elevated levels of radioactive Cesium-23.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

As for the children who witnessed the landing in the park, they were all separated. When asked to draw what they saw that day, they all drew “a banana-shaped object that left behind in the sky the sign of the letter X.” The boy who was abducted could remember nothing about the craft.

The local interior minister said that if the craft appeared again, they would dispatch the Red Army to investigate the event. If the aliens had returned in full force to invade the Soviet Union, they would have met the joint capability of the Soviets along with the United States, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at the 1985 Lake Geneva Summit to join forces against any extraterrestrial invader.

Now read: That time the US and Russia agreed to be allies if aliens attacked Earth

MIGHTY HISTORY

The game-changing Swedish warship that sank in its first battle

In 1563 and 1564, Sweden built a massive warship that was the pinnacle of naval technology at the time.

Its creation ushered in a sea change in naval combat — despite the fact that the ship sank early in its first battle.


King Eric XIV of Sweden ordered that the ship Mars be constructed to put Sweden at the forefront of naval artillery. It was a five-deck ship with two decks dedicated to artillery, mostly cannons. Even the crow’s nests had guns.

All this came at a time when naval engagements were decided by seamanship and armed boardings —where a group of sailors from one ship crossed to the deck of an enemy ship and fought with swords and pistols.

Naval artillery in the early and mid-1500s was focused on killing enemy personnel or causing structural damage to the enemy ship, but no one had ever sunk a ship that way. Ships were usually sank by fire, sabotage by boarding crews, or by ramming.

But Eric XIV had a vision of the future and ordered his admiral to take the Mars as part of a huge fleet aimed at Denmark and Lubeck (part of modern Germany) and sink ships using its naval artillery.

And the admiral delivered… probably. A Danish chaplain said that the Mars cast a somber shadow over the whole Danish and German fleet when it arrived. He also said it later sank the Longbark, one of the largest ships in the enemy fleet, with naval gunnery.

If accurate, it was likely the first time a ship was sunk by naval artillery.

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

The 64-gun warship Vasa sits in museum. The ship was built in the tradition of the Mars, but wasn’t as well designed and floundered during its first voyage in 1628.

(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)

But the Mars cast too large a shadow and, as a consequence, drew too many attackers. On the second day of the battle, enemy ships sent massive amounts of fireballs onto the Mars and disabled it before sending boarding parties onto it.

What happened next is unsure. A fire definitely occurred in the Mars‘ gunpowder stores, and that might have set the loaded cannons off. Regardless, the ship was destroyed in the following hours, left to sink in approximately 250 feet of water.

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Luckily for archaeologists, it was 250 feet of the Baltic Sea, which lacks the large populations of shipworms that destroy wrecks in the rest of the world. And the cold water is relatively still, reducing erosion. According to researchers who spoke to National Geographic, the wreck might be the best preserved vessel of its kind.

The concept behind the Mars was proven in the years following its loss as navy after navy, including those of Denmark and Lubeck, constructed large ships reminiscent of the cannon-toting behemoth.

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