The Israeli media dubbed it the “Double Miracle In Gaza” — a Hamas fighter took shots at an IDF soldier, hitting him in his cache of grenades. If life were a movie, we know what would happen next.
Luckily life is most definitely not like the movies. The soldier in question (his name was not released by the media) was operating in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.
After the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. The goal was for the IDF to move in and arrest Hamas leadership and the militants responsible for the killings. In response, the terror group fired a number of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
That’s when the IDF moved in on the missile sites.
The soldier’s unit was in Shuja’iyya, in the north of Gaza, where many of Hamas rockets are fired into Israel. Shuja’iyya is a major urban center and is also densely populated. Hamas fired an estimated 140 rockets from the city during the conflict.
His unit was looking for the secret tunnels Hamas uses to sneak into Israel across a blockade. As they moved, an AK-47 round hit a grenade attached to his protective vest. The grenade stopped the bullet and –miraculously – didn’t explode.
The Israelis determined that the bullet was at the end of its effectiveness range, that it was fired from very far away, and didn’t have the energy required to penetrate the vest.
As for the grenade, it’s designed that way. A series of combat incidents involving grenades hitting grenades and exploding in the IDF caused the Israeli military to revamp their grenade design.
After the incident, the IDF cleared Shuja’iyya of Hamas fighters, then bulldozed a number of buildings to collapse the illegal tunnels — tunnels used to smuggle small arms, missiles, and other weapons into Gaza. The IDF then moved on to secure other areas near Gaza’s northern border with Israel.
President Donald Trump will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the family of a fallen U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Combat Controller at a ceremony on Aug. 22, 2018, for his extraordinary heroism in March 2002 while deployed to Afghanistan.
According to the medal nomination, Tech. Sergeant John Chapman distinguished himself on the battlefield through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” sacrificing his life to preserve those of his teammates. Chapman was part of a joint special operations reconnaissance team deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 that came under overwhelming enemy fire during a heroic rescue attempt on Takur Ghar mountain, Afghanistan, March 4, 2002.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America’s best and bravest Airmen.”
During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team flew into an enemy ambush. Intense enemy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire significantly damaged the helicopter, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts into the “hornet’s nest” of enemies below. Following a controlled crash landing a few miles away, the remaining team members elected to fly back to the enemy-infested mountaintop in a heroic attempt to rescue Roberts.
Tech. Sgt. John Chapman
During the rescue attempt, Chapman and his teammates once again received heavy enemy fire from multiple directions. Chapman, despite the enemy fire, charged uphill through thigh-deep snow to directly assault an enemy position. He took the enemy bunker, cleared the position, and killed the enemy fighters occupying the position.
Then, with complete disregard for his own life, Chapman deliberately moved from the bunker’s protective cover to attack a second hostile bunker with an emplaced machine gun firing on the rescue team.
During this bold attack, he was struck and temporarily incapacitated by enemy fire.
Despite his wounds, Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow Soldiers and Sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American Airmen.”
John Chapman holding a child in Afghanistan.
He continued, “I extend my deepest thanks to the members of Tech. Sgt. Chapman’s family, his military family, and the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who were his brothers on the battlefield and who have remained committed to honoring his legacy. He is a true American hero.
“This is a reflection of our commitment to recognizing the heroic actions of our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. “As Chapman’s story reminds us, we have a sacred duty to honor the actions and sacrifices of all our service members. I share our Airmen’s deepest gratitude to the Chapman family, as well as the family members of all those who gave their lives serving our great nation.”
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s most prestigious military decoration. It is awarded by the president, in the name of Congress, to military members who have distinguished themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in action with an enemy of the United States.
Chapman will be the 19th Airman awarded the Medal of Honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947. He will be the first Airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War.
Today, we want to talk about that time he took approximately 42 German soldiers captive in World War II.
Churchill leads a simulated assault during training for the D-Day assaults.
(Imperial War Museum)
The insane capture took place in 1943 during the invasion of Italy. Churchill, then the commanding officer of Britain’s No. 2 Commando, had taken part in the capture of Sicily and then landed at Salerno with other British troops. He and his men fought for five straight days, grinding through mostly German defenders. They were even lauded for defending a rail and road hub from a determined counterattack at Vietri, Italy, until U.S. armored vehicles arrived to relieve them.
The commandos were granted a short rest and the time for showers and bathing, though they had to avoid enemy mortar fire while enjoying it. Even that rest was short-lived, though. They were serving in reserve for the U.S. 46th Infantry Division, and German forces managed to grab three hills overlooking the division area, imperiling the American forces.
So the British soldiers of No. 41 Commando and No. 2 Commando were sent in to secure two of the three hills in two attacks. Churchill, as the commander of No. 2, was in charge of that second attack.
Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill after World War II.
(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)
The logistics of the assault were daunting. The men would have to attack uphill across terraces covered in vines and rocky terrain at night while trying to flush out and engage the enemy. Typically, commando attacks at night like this are conducted as silent, stealthy raids. But Churchill decided to bring nearly all of his men, broken into six columns so each column could support those to either side of it.
Churchill himself marched just ahead, spaced evenly between the third and fourth column. To ensure the columns didn’t drift apart or accidentally maneuver against one another in the darkness, he ordered them to yell “Commando!” every five minutes.
For the German defenders in the darkness, this created a sort of stunning nightmare. First, they heard No. 41 Commando take the nearby hill under heavy artillery bombardment as night was falling. Then, as pure dark set in, an unknown number of assailants began churning their way through the vines and across the terraces below, yelling to each other every few minutes. Whenever the Brits found Germans, they’d open up with Tommy guns, rifle fire, and grenades.
Churchill examines a captured 75mm gun during World War II.
(Imperial War Museum)
It caused confusion in the German ranks, and the columns were able to take dozens of prisoners. Churchill, meanwhile, grabbed one of his corporals and went to hunt out those Germans still attempting to organize their defenses.
First, he and the corporal found an 81mm mortar crew and took them prisoner. Churchill led this attack with his trademark sword, a Scottish claybeg. Then, Churchill and the corporal began moving from position to position, grabbing all the German soldiers they could find. By the time the two men made it back to the rest of the commandos, they had taken over 40 Germans prisoner (Reports vary between 41 and 43, but the more authoritative books on the Salerno invasion typically agree on 42, so that’s the number we’re using.)
The rest of the commandos had grabbed plenty of prisoners, and the total for the night between No. 41 and No. 2 Commando was 135, more than the 46th had taken in the five previous days of fighting.
This was a big coup for the intelligence folks who suddenly had access to all these prisoners. More importantly, two of the hills over the 46th were now clear of potential attackers just hours after German forces had staged there to attack.
Lots of people like to play a mind game that centers around one moral quandary: Would you kill baby Hitler? Yeah, it’s Hitler, but it’s also a baby… Hell, this same question was even jokingly debated during an episode of Superstore, where the crew tries to decide whether you should help a celebrity steal baby Hitler. Apparently, “killing” Hitler was a step too far for NBC.
But it wasn’t for Germans living under the Third Reich, who actually tried to kill adult Hitler multiple times. In fact, if you add in assassination attempts from the Allies, there were at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life, with more planned but never executed. Here are four of the best assassination attempts by German citizens:
The remains of a beer hall in Munich after Johann Georg Elser destroyed a support pillar with a bomb in an attempt to kill Hitler.
1. A random carpenter misses Hitler by 13 minutes
If it weren’t for the rise of Hitler, Johann Georg Elser would’ve been entirely forgettable. He was a skilled laborer, mostly in carpentry, who was once employed in an armaments factory. He combined the explosive knowledge he gained there with his carpentry skills to form a daring plan to kill Hitler during a planned speech.
Hitler gave a speech every year at a beer hall in Munich. Elser started going there late every night in 1939, eating and then hiding so he could emerge after it closed. In the empty beer hall, he clandestinely hollowed out a section of pillar and filled it with explosives. He set the timer for halfway through Hitler’s approximately hour-long speech.
But the attack was set after the invasion of Poland, and Hitler was eager to complete his November speech and get back to Berlin. He delivered his speech an hour early on November 8, 1939. Hitler left the podium 13 minutes before the bomb went off, killing eight and wounding 60. Elser was later captured while attempting to escape the country. He lived through most of the war in a concentration camp before his execution in 1945.
Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer who attempted a suicide bombing of Adolf Hitler.
2. A weapons expert tried to use two suicide bombs
In 1943, Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff was assigned to give Hitler a tour of captured Soviet weaponry. The tour was supposed to last 10 minutes, so von Gersdoff decided to carry two bombs in his pockets during the tour, set to go off five minutes from when they were set.
But Hitler, again, was impatient and rushed through the tour. Von Gersdorff had planned to embrace Hitler as the bombs ticked down to zero, but was instead forced to rush to a bathroom and defuse his ordnance as Hitler walked away.
Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow, the mind behind multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.
3. A German officer used a dud fuse
German Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow was a career officer quietly serving on the staff of his uncle when Germany invaded Poland. He took part in the invasion and later operations, but was quickly disgusted by the actions of the SS, especially the executions of surrendering or captive Soviet Soldiers.
He decided that the execution of Hitler was the best thing for Germany. To that end, he tried to recruit other senior officers to his plots, but was largely unsuccessful. So, instead, he convinced another officer to carry a package of brandy to friends in Berlin while flying with Hitler in 1943 — but the brandy was actually a bomb.
Unfortunately, the fuse on the bomb was a dud, and von Tresckow was forced to go to Berlin and recover the failed bomb. He didn’t give up, and was eventually able to recruit Col. Claus von Stauffenerg to his plans, leading to the “July Plot.”
Hitler and Mussolini survey the aftermath of the “July Plot” in 1944.
4. The “July Plot” is foiled by a thick table leg
The “July Plot” in 1944 is probably the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler. As hinted above, von Tresckow and von Stauffenerg were key to the efforts. The plan was to smuggle a briefcase bomb into the “Wolf’s Lair,” an underground bunker in Germany, and set it off. This would kill Hitler and some of his closest aides and top officers.
The senior leaders involved in the assassination attempt, including the former chief of the army general staff and the chief of staff of the reserve army, would then take control of what levers of government they could while pressuring the remaining powers in Berlin to make peace before it was too late.
And it very nearly worked. This time, Hitler didn’t leave early, the bomb did go off, and Hitler was even injured. So, why didn’t Hitler die? Well, an officer needed to get closer to him to make a point, and he moved the briefcase behind the leg of a thick, oak table. When the bomb went off, the table absorbed and redirected a lot of the blast.
Most of those involved were caught and killed or, in the case of von Tresckow, committed suicide.
Fighter aces are a rare and legendary breed: People who are not only skilled enough to fly jets in combat, but so good at it that they can knock down at least five of the enemy without dying themselves. But there’s an even more elite subset of pilots who were able to kill at least five of the enemy in a single day, sometimes a single engagement.
Here are 7 of these elite pilots:
1. 1st Lt. James Swett
Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Swett was sent against Japanese fighters near the Solomons Island on April 7, 1943. He led his four-plane flight against 15 enemy bombers and successfully shredded three of them in a single dive. Now separated from the rest of his flight, he attacked a group of six bombers and downed four of them. While lining up on a fifth bomber, he ran out of ammo.
His plane had been damaged in the fighting and he had suffered cuts to his face from a broken cockpit window. He managed to land his stricken plane into the ocean and was picked up by the Navy. His seven kills from that day were accompanied by eight more over the course of the war. He received the Medal of Honor and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.
2. 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc
During fighting in the Solomon Islands on January 31, 1943, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc was sent up to escort dive bombers targeting Japanese ships. A swarm of Japanese Zeroes rose up against them. DeBlanc and his men were able to keep the Zeroes off the dive bombers, but then he got a call for assistance from low-flying bombers that they were under attack by Japanese float planes.
DeBlanc banked down into the fight and shot his way through three of the float planes. Low on fuel and ammo, he finally banked away towards home, only to notice that two Japanese fighters were coming up behind him. DeBlanc turned back to fight and killed the two Zeroes before being forced to bail out of his plane because of the damage from all the fighting. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions and survived the war.
Caldwell went after a group of three bombers and took out the 2nd and 3rd planes in formation with quick bursts, then he made more passes through the now-dispersed bombers and hit two more in wings and engines. Finally, he came up towards the belly of a fifth bomber and waited until he was right against it to open fire, engulfing it in flames and sending it down.
4. Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a legend in early World War II, and his most famous battle came just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On February 20, 1942, a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers headed for the USS Lexington. One flight of Navy F4F Wildcats went after the first wave, and O’Hare and his wingman were the only ones left to defend against the second wave.
But O’Hare’s wingman experienced a gun jam, and so O’Hare had to go after eight Japanese bombers on his own. He went after the rear bombers on the right side, first, downing two of them quickly with bursts through the engines and fuel tanks. On a second pass, O’Hare destroyed two more with shots to an engine and to a left wing and cockpit. Finally, he hit two more on a third pass, leading him to believe that he had downed six. The engagement had lasted less than six minutes.
During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, British Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke and his gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, were sent to help keep the beaches open for evacuation. On May 29, they were in their Defiant when their formation engaged with a group of German Bf 109 fighters and they killed one. Later in the mission, they engaged a group of Bf 109s and Bf 110s, killing one of each.
They refueled and rearmed and headed out for another mission, this time finding a group of dive bombers attacking at the beaches. Cooke positioned the plane near the ground and gave Lippett a stable platform to shoot from. The young gunner targeted the fuel tanks that sat between the German pilot and navigator, killing five over the beaches and helping kill two more.
Only two days later, they would go missing over the English Channel.
His greatest one-day total came on September 18 when he made a run on balloons and downed two, then killed two of the German fighters that came up to kill him, and then spotted and killed a German reconnaissance plane on his way back to U.S. lines.
7. Capt. Stanley Vejtasa
Navy Capt. Stanley Vejtasa is one of the few “double aces” with 10.5 confirmed aerial kills. He achieved ace status in a single day on October 26, 1942, when he killed two Japanese dive bombers attempting to sink his carrier and then turned to interrupt a torpedo attack, killing five of them for seven kills in a single mission.
But his greater contribution to the war may have been his skill in dive bombers and other planes while attacking Japanese planes. He was credited with sinking at least five ships including a carrier and damaging seven more, making him one of the very few pilots who can claim ace status against ships.
Hold onto your hats — we’re about to dive deep into a micro-portion of U.S. history. The Cuban Missile Crisis is undoubtedly an important part of American warfare knowledge. But now, with hindsight in our favor, we can look back and consider the situation with ease. The fact of the matter is, that when it took place, it was a terrifying time for all involved. The public was scared, and government officials worked round-the-clock to ease tensions of nuclear war.
Take a look at these important events and how they helped channel current events of the time.
First things first, what was the Cuban Missle Crisis?
The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October of 1962, when the Societ Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The fear of weapons sitting just 90 miles from U.S. boarders led to nationwide panic, and the launch of a Naval blockade of Cuba. The general public feared of a nuclear war. The event took place over 13 days and was dissolved when sitting president, John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev reached an agreement. The U.S. would not invade Cuba (secretly, JFK also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey), and the Soviet Union would remove missiles from Cuba.
The addition of missiles to Cuba was widely fueled by the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. The event convinced Fidel Castro that a U.S. invasion was imminent, and it strengthened his position with the Soviet Union.
The U.S. learned about the missiles from aerial photos taken by a Lockheed U-2. Fearing that such planes would be shot down, it took a high-altitude pass over the country but was still able to take images.
We almost launched nuclear weapons. On October 27th, 12 Navy ships found a Soviet Submarine outside of Cuba and began dropping explosives that would force it to surface. Not having had communication in days, the Soviet submarine was unaware if the war had begun or not. Soviet protocol required agreement by three onboard officers in order to launch a nuclear weapon. The Submarine’s captain wanted to respond with a nuclear torpedo, however, another member, officer Vasili Arkhipov would not consent. The submarine surfaced and torpedo exchange was avoided. It’s widely agreed that having done so would have started a nuclear war.
In the event of a nuclear war, it was estimated that there would have been 200 million deaths — 100 million each of Americans and Soviets. This number was found by the Belfer Center at Harvard.
Before enacting a trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, JFK obtained more than 12,000 Cuban cigars.
The end of the crisis also ended Khrushchev’s political reign. The Soviets disliked backing down from an event they say their leader initiated. Khrushchev held office for two more years, but the event is said to have weakened his power and trust from the people.
Castro wasn’t consulted in the treaty. It’s worth noting that Khrushchev alone made the deal with JFK. This weakened the relationship between Cuba and the Soviets, with Casto angered he hadn’t been involved.
Because of the crisis, the White House added a phone line that went directly to the Kremlin, a fortified city in Moscow and where the Soviet party kept its headquarters. Today, the access operates by lightning-fast email/chat and is called Washington–Moscow Direct Communications Link. In popular culture, it’s known as “the red telephone.”
It was the only time the U.S. has been at DEFCON 2 — that’s Defense Readiness Condition. DEFCON 2 means the country is ready for nuclear war and can deploy and engage armed forces within six hours.
Featured image: An S-75 Dvina with V-750V 1D missile (NATO SA-2 Guideline) on a launcher. An installation similar to this one shot down Major Anderson’s U-2 over Cuba. (Wikipedia)
Few geniuses are recognized in their time and for better or for worse, Napoleon Bonaparte was one of those geniuses. “The Little Corporal” was loathed by European royalty as he upended royal houses across the continent, winning victory after stunning victory.
At its height, Napoleon’s French Empire controlled most of Europe, either directly or indirectly, placing his relatives and other rulers on various thrones as client states. This control extended to much of North and South America as well.
To do this, he trounced every army, great power and coalition sent his way, stepping over formerly mighty nations, like Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Spain. To defeat him, the Sixth Coalition formed and decided on the grand strategy of not fighting him.
Napoleon was successful on the battlefields of Europe for many reasons. He didn’t promote officers because of their family lineage, he promoted them because they were good at what they did.
Personally, he was successful for many reasons. First and foremost, he was fast. He could mobilize his well-organized armies much faster than other powers at the time, and once engaged, was able to quickly analyze battlefield situations. When his opponents made mistakes, his organization allowed him to exploit those errors quickly as well. This made him very aggressive on the battlefield, forcing his opponents to be on the defensive.
He also was well-versed in historical fighting, from antiquity to the present. He read the works and histories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gusatvus Adolphus and Frederick the Great. He used these histories and applied their lessons to the warfare of the time.
He did not follow the accepted practices of other powers and generals. Napoleon’s goal was the complete destruction of the enemy’s main force in a short time. He would outmaneuver his opponents to force them into a decisive battle where he had the advantage. Once his enemy was defeated, he would pursue the enemy force and destroy it completely.
There were three main strategies to the emperor’s battlefield successes: the envelopment, the central position, and the frontal assault. Napoleon’s favorite was the envelopment, where his forces attempted to get behind the enemy formation and force them either to retreat or fight while surrounded. The central position was the classic “divide and conquer,” where he would keep a Corps between two enemy formations and defeat each one individually.
If those two formations couldn’t work, he would use a frontal assault. Like the name implies, Napoleon would concentrate on the enemy’s center, with artillery support. When the enemy was weakened, he would send his reserves in to break the enemy line. The last required perfect timing and all could only be done with an army as mobile as Napoleon’s.
There’s a reason Carl Von Clausewitz, who literally wrote the book on war, called Napoleon Bonaparte “The God of War.”
To defeat the military genius, the coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and smaller German nations met at Trachtenberg in 1813, to discuss their strategy. They agreed that no one was willing to risk their armies against Napoleon directly. Instead, they decided on another plan.
SInce he had already handed the Coalition defeats at Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden, Coalition forces would not engage the emperor’s army. They would instead attack the armies led by his Marshals. In the meantime, they would form a numerically superior force that even Napoleon could not beat.
The plan culminated in the Coalition victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. The goal of creating a large force came to fruition at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as Napoleon’s 177,000-strong army faced a Coalition Army of more than 250,000. In the largest battle Europe had ever seen up to that point (and wouldn’t see again until World War I), the Coalition finally handed Napoleon the decisive defeat they needed.
The French were forced out of Germany as a number of German states switched sides against them. The next year, the Coalition invaded France and forced the emperor’s abdication and first exile to the island of Elba.
One of the better-known assumptions about combat is that the side with the greater numbers usually wins. Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? Being outnumbered puts you at an automatic disadvantage. Still, other factors, like experience, equipment, tactics and even weather come into play. Here is a list of famous clashes throughout history with unlikely resolutions.
The Evacuation of Dunkirk (1940)
In World War 2, during the height of Hitler’s aggression, British, Canadian, French and Belgian troops had been forced onto the beaches of Dunkirk, France, by the advancing German army. Since most of the escape routes to the English Channel had been severed, a slaughter seemed imminent.
So Winston Churchill came up with a plan. During “Operation Dynamo,” destroyers and transport ships were sent to evacuate the troops from the beaches. They wouldn’t have been enough, but civilians pitched in to help. Roughly 700 civilian-owned vessels joined the rescue mission. Hitler also decided to pause the attack for three days, allowing over 300,000 people to be safely returned to Britain between May 27th and June 4th.
King Henry V’s famous victory over the French was the decisive battle in the Hundred Years’ War. Due to the terrain (a recently-plowed field surrounded by woods), with foot soldiers in the center flanked by wedges of archers wielding longbows, the numerically superior French forces were handicapped. Because they were narrowed at the front of their ranks, they couldn’t mount any maneuvers that could overwhelm the English forces.
When the battle commenced on the morning of October 25th, it was over in a short three hours with an unexpected win for the British. France was crippled and a new period of English superiority began in the war.
Cannae (216 BC)
Everyone knows the name Hannibal. This story might remind you why he was such a legend. The famed Carthaginian general arrived early at the battlefieldvnear Cannae – an ancient village in southeastern Italy. Despite being greatly outnumbered by the Romans, he easily defeated them using his superior skills of strategy.
He sent his 50,000 troops to guard the Aufidus river, depriving his opponents of water in the sweltering August heat. Hannibal further took advantage of the terrain by forcing the Romans to face south, where the heat, wind, and blowing grit ground them down even further. Though Roman Consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro brought nearly twice the men of their opponent, many in the ranks were relatively inexperienced, which further contributed to their loss.
The Battle of Chancellorsville (1863)
This victory of the confederates over a Union force twice its size during the American Civil War “was the contest that put Confederate leader Robert E. Lee into the pantheon of great military generals.” The new young general on the Union side, Joseph Hooker, fell prey to bad luck and poor strategic decisions that gave Lee the advantage. For starters, he sent most of his cavalry ahead to raid in Virginia, depleting his reconnaissance force. Lee’s information about the Union troop positions was much keener, and to top it off Hooker’s German troops defected at a crucial moment. A combination of Lee’s audacity and Hooker’s timidity won the day for the confederates.
The Capture of Belgrade (1941)
The brazenness and ingenious use of deception on the part of German SS Officer Fritz Klingenberg enabled a small force of German troops to capture the Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade during World War 2. Following a long campaign of bombing runs by Lutwaffe planes, Klingenberg first tried to ferry a large force across the Danube river in a motorboat to capture the city, but became stranded with only six troops when the boat sank.
Undeterred, the skeleton crew headed to the heart of the city, capturing Yugoslavian troops and trucks along the way. They replaced the Yugoslavian national flag with the German one, and upon meeting with Belgrade’s mayor, Klingenberg bluffed that they were only a fraction of a much larger invading force, and would resume bombing if necessary. When backup German troops arrived on April 13, 1941, they were shocked to discover that the city had already been taken.
Through this string of shocking victories, we can learn an invaluable lesson that every member of the military likely already knows; don’t give in to defeat until the battle is over. Until then, use every ounce of courage and tact, and you just might live to tell the tale.
When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.
The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.
The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.
In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.
In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.
Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.
That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.
Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.
His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.
But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.
That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.
Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.
While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.
British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.
Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.
On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops.
Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire.
The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.
Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.
Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.
The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue.
The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air.
Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year.
Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.
Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.
In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.
During the second world war, the size of the U.S. military swelled significantly and became far larger than even during World War I. With technology advancing so significantly in the interwar years and the military growing more diverse, the need arose for a rank higher than four-star general. The U.S. needed an equivalent to the British and Russian Field Marshal.
But they declined. Instead, the five-star “General of the Army” and “Fleet Admiral” for the Navy were created by act of Congress.
The reason was ultimately that the name of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall would have sounded ridiculous with this new rank. Still, the Americans were now the senior partner in the alliance against the Axis and its commanders were technically outranked by British Field Marshals.
Admiral Ernest King was a well-known stickler for things like uniform wear (he even introduced a new Navy uniform during the war), awarding fewer medals so that they meant something when awarded, and – especially – for rank. The longtime officer hated the idea of using British terms like “Admiral of the Fleet.” He suggested other terms, like “Arch Admiral” and “Arch General.” His suggestions were so odd, his contemporaries thought he was joking.
President Franklin Roosevelt thought “Chief General” and “Chief Admiral” would be good names for the new positions. The debate ended when Congress revived the five-star ranks with their new names in 1944.
Only one American officer ever held the title of “Field Marshal.” Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Field Marshal of the Army of the Philippines in 1936 when the island nation achieved a semi-independent status. MacArthur was tasked to create an operational army for the fledgling country and wore a special uniform, complete with a Field Marshal’s baton.
Someone went and moneyball-ed military history. Ethan Arsht applied the principles of baseball sabermetrics to the performances of history’s greatest generals’ ability to win battles. It starts with comparing the number of wins from that general to a replacement general in the same circumstances.
The math is tricky but the list is definitive. There are just a few caveats.
First, where is all this information coming from? Although an imperfect source, Arsht complied Wikipedia data from 3,580 battles and 6,619 generals. He then compiled lists of key commanders, total forces, and of course, the outcome. The general’s forces were categorized and his numerical advantage or disadvantage weighted to reflect tactical ability. The real power is ranking the general’s WAR score, the aforementioned Wins Above Replacement.
For each battle, the general receives a weighted WAR score, a negative score for a loss. For example, at the Battle of Borodino that pitted Napoleon against Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov, the French had a slight numerical advantage against the Russians. So, the model devised by Arsht gave Bonaparte a WAR score of .49, which means a replacement general had a 50 percent chance of still winning the battle. Kutuzov gets a -.49 for Borodino, meaning a replacement for him had a 51 percent chance of losing anyway.
The more battles a commander fights and wins, the more opportunities to raise their scores. Fighting fewer battles doesn’t help, either. There were some surprises in the model, like the apparent failures of generals like Robert E. Lee and more modern generals. For the more modern generals like Patton, that can be attributed to the relatively small number of battles commanded.
For more about Arsht’s results, responses to criticism, and his findings, visit his post on Medium’s Towards Data Science. To see every general’s data point and where they sit in the analysis, check out the Bokeh Plot, an interactive data visualization. Remember, this has nothing to do with overall strategy and it’s all in good fun. Arsht does acknowledge his shortcomings, so check those out, too.
10. Alexander the Great
As previously mentioned, Alexander was a great strategist, but since his life was cut short and he had only nine battles from which to draw data, it leaves the model very little to work with. Still, the conqueror of the known world is ranked much higher than other leaders with similar numbers, including the Japanese Shogun Tokugawa, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart.
It should be noted that Alexander’s per-battle WAR average is higher than anyone else’s on the list.
9. Georgy Zhukov
Zhukov has only one more battle than Alexander and his overall score barely squeaks by the Macedonian. Interestingly enough, his score is far, far above that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Confederate Generals Jubal Early and John Bell Hood. That’s what overcoming the odds does for your WAR score.
8. Frederick the Great
Ruling for more than 40 years and commanding troops in some 14 battles across Europe earned the enlightened Prussian ruler the number 8 spot on this list. His per-battle average was also lower than Alexander’s but, on the whole, he was just a better tactician.
7. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant’s performance commanding Union troops in 16 battles earned him the seventh spot on the list – and the U.S. presidency. Although his performance on the battlefield is clearly much better than those of his contemporaries, it should be noted that his Civil War arch-rival, Robert E. Lee, is so far below him on the list that he actually has a negative score.
6. Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, once captured by Scipio Africanus, is believed to have given his own ranking system to Scipio, once the two started talking. His personal assessment wasn’t far off from the truth. He listed Alexander the Great and himself. Both of whom are in the top ten, even centuries later.
5. Khalid Ibn al-Walid
Khalid was a companion of the Prophet Mohammed, and one of the Islamic Empire’s most capable military leaders. In 14 battles, he remained undefeated against the Byzantine Empire, the Sassanid Persians, and helped spread Islam to the greater Middle East. Compared to others who fought similar numbers of battles, his score eclipses even Frederick the Great.
4. Takeda Shingen
Being one of the best military minds in feudal Japan is a really big deal, because almost everyone seemed to be a military mind and being better than someone else might mean you get challenged to a duel. After 18 battles, the Tiger of Kai reigned supreme – in Japan, anyway.
3. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
It’s a pretty big deal to be the guy who delivered a solid defeat to the man they called “Master of Europe.” Napoleon’s old nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, also saw command of 18 battles, but his WAR score is considerably higher than that of Takeda Shingen, his nearest challenger.
2. Julius Caesar
Caesar didn’t have command in as many battles as Shingen or the Duke of Wellington, but his WAR score reflects a lot more risk and shrewdness in his battlefield tactics. But Caesar also couldn’t top Alexander’s per-battle WAR average.
1. Napoleon Bonaparte
Yes, you might have guessed by now, but the number one spot belongs to l’Empereur. Napoleon is so far ahead of the normal distribution curve created by the data for these 6,000-plus generals, it’s not even close. After 43 battles, he has a WAR score of more than 16, which blows the competition away. There can be no question: Napoleon is the greatest tactical general of all time, and the math proves it.