5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Mercenaries are warriors who are paid for their martial services by a nation’s leader or other “employer,” and who get a little extra coin from the spoils of war.


Most mercenaries once fought in professional armies before joining the motley ranks of private forces. They have no allegiance to a nation unless that nation pays well, and even that is transient.

But throughout history they’ve been seen as skilled warriors — albeit dubious about ethical conduct — and have proven effective for leaders who need an extra punch in an all out fight.

Here is a list of some of the most notable mercenaries in history:

5. The Apiru/Habiru

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

When the Amarna Letters were discovered, the world was introduced to a group of people the Egyptians called Apiru or, in Akkadian, “Habiru.”

The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).

Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.

Also read: This is what you need to know about Hawaii’s ancient special forces

The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.

The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”

While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.

The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.

4. The Ten Thousand

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Heroic march of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries. (Painting by Bernard Granville Baker (1870-1957)

The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.

In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.

Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.

As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.

During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.

3. The Varangian Guard

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Varangian Guardsmen, an elite unit that served as bodyguards for Byzantine Emperors. (Image: an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle)

The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.

The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.

What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.

2. The White Company

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
John Hawkwood lead The White Company, a fighting unit shrouded in both myth and reality. (Image: Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, 1436)

The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.

Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.

More Elite Forces: This is why there are four musketeers in every ‘Three Musketeers’ movie

What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.

1. Henry MacIver

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)

Most people have never heard of Henry MacIver had it not been for author Richard Davis and his book Real Soldiers Of Fortune published in 1906.

MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.

While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.

After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.

After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.

Related: Shaolin monks have a colorful history as elite martial artists

Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.

When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.

After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”

MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.

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Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

I know a lot of veterans who based their military careers on whichever recruiting office they walked into first. That’s one way to go about signing your life away to Uncle Sam, but it’s not what I would recommend. The military is a major commitment and will probably affect the rest of your life, whether you serve for four years or forty.

The biggest factors that go into your military experience are which branch you join and whether you enlist or commission as an officer. In this article, we’ll be going over some of the differences between officers and enlisted personnel across the five branches of the military.

We’ll cover everything from pay and benefits, mission execution to culture.


5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

How to Join

Qualifications for enlisting in the military:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Meet the age and fitness requirements
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test

For each branch, enlisted personnel begin their military experience with a form of boot camp. It is a strenuous introduction to military life, from the medical in-processing to the physical training to the hazing discipline. After about eight weeks of boot camp, enlisted personnel will receive their first duty assignments (probably at a job-specific training location) and they’ll be ready to actively serve in the military.

Qualifications for commissioning in the military:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Meet the age and fitness requirements
  • Have an undergraduate degree
  • Complete an officer training program

In order to earn a commission into the United States military, officer candidates must complete an officer training program. Two options for cadets without college degrees are to attend a military academy, such as West Point or the Air Force Academy, or to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps while attending the qualified college of their choice.

Academy cadets and ROTC cadets will learn about the military while completing their undergraduate or graduate degrees. Half-way through their studies, they will attend a summer boot camp, much like the enlisted boot camps except that cadets will already be expected to meet physical fitness and academic requirements. For officer candidates, boot camp is the rite of passage that will elevate cadets to the leadership fundamentals portion of their training.

Once academy or ROTC cadets graduate and receive their degrees, they commission into active duty and receive orders for their first assignment, which, like enlisted personnel, will probably include a job-specific training.

A third route to becoming an officer is to complete an Officer Candidate School (or Officer Training School, depending on the branch). Cadets who already have college degrees will undergo a three-month training program that includes military academics and leadership training as well as boot camp. Once complete, OCS/OTS cadets will commission just like academy and ROTC cadets.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Missions

Enlisted personnel make up 82% of the military. They are primarily responsible for carrying out military operations. The remaining 18% are officers, who are responsible for overseeing operations and enlisted personnel.

Officers will have a head-start on managerial experience, commanding personnel at the mid- to senior-level corporate executive level. They hold a commission from the President of the United States, a position that comes with more authority and responsibility.

Enlisted personnel, however, are the subject matter experts. They will have the hands-on application of the mission and as they rise in rank they will also rise in leadership authority and experience. Enlisted personnel are also expected to continue their education while on active duty and many earn degrees and vocational training that can translate to a civilian career after their service.

Mission requirements and experience will vary depending on your military career and assignment location. A career in cyber operations might mean the mission is conducted over the internet, where the officer’s role is to aggregate information collected by enlisted personnel. A career in the infantry might mean that an officer is coordinating weapons and targets as enlisted personnel fight in combat.

That being said, there are certain career fields only available to officers or enlisted. A prime example: Air Force pilots are officers.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Pay Tables

Officers will start out at a higher pay grade than enlisted personnel, though enlisted service members are eligible for a variety of bonuses that can be quite substantial. Officers will also receive higher benefits such as monthly Basic Allowance for Housing. You can see from these charts, however, that year-for-year and promotion-to-promotion, officers tend to make about twice as much money as enlisted personnel from monthly basic pay alone.

Education

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

 

Let’s say you want to serve in the military to help pay for college.

Veterans (enlisted and officer) who meet qualifications are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a program that will help pay for college classes or an on-the-job training program after military service. The Post-9/11 GI Bill includes tuition and BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) assistance so it’s a major benefit when veterans transition back to civilian life.

But it’s not precisely equal for everyone.

According to the VA, “If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days, you may be eligible for this VA-administered program.”

In other words, after a typical four-year service commitment, the average enlisted veteran will qualify for a paid college degree (and the Yellow Ribbon Program can supplement tuition that the GI Bill might not cover, at a private school for example).

The average officer, however, will not qualify for the GI Bill after a four-year service commitment. Here’s why:

Tuition and fees for the military academies is free for officer candidates. ROTC cadets also compete for varying degrees of scholarships to cover their college expenses in addition to receiving stipends during training.

In other words, most officers receive a college degree and then they serve in the military. If they want to earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, they will have to serve additional time beyond their initial service commitment. Over time, officers accrue a percentage of the GI Bill.

So, if you’re still in high school and you’re trying to decide what you want to do in the military and what career you might want after the military, it could make sense to enlist first and gain professional experience then go to college courtesy of the GI Bill in the field you want to pursue.

As an alternative, you can complete your officer training and earn your first degree, serve in the military and gain professional experience similar to that of mid-level professionals, then either separate after your service commitment and pursue a civilian career or continue to serve longer and accrue GI Bill benefits for your next degree.

There are no wrong options here – it all depends on whether you know what career you want, whether it aligns with your potential military career and what kind of degree or vocational training would support you.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Culture

Officers tend to be older when they join the military, having already obtained their undergraduate degree. They are also trained with an emphasis on leadership and responsibility. Furthermore, active duty officers generally have the option of living off-base as opposed to barracks. For many of these reasons, officers get into less trouble than enlisted personnel while on active duty. As for women in the force: 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

According to the DoD’s 2018 Statistical Data on Sexual Assault, 88 percent of sexual assault reports were made by enlisted personnel.

Both officers and enlisted make critical contributions to the United States military. Their experiences will vary from location to location and job to job. They will also vary based on their branch. Be sure to read about the differences between each branch of the military to decide which one is best suited for you.

Articles

The band ‘Foo Fighters’ got their name from this war mystery

Few people question where popular bands got their names. Especially when the band is as popular as Foo Fighters. Founded in 1994 by a former member of Nirvana, today the band is known for its millions of records sold, awards won and topping the airwaves for the better part of three decades. Even if you aren’t familiar with the band, it’s likely that you’ve heard some of their songs, like “My Hero,” “Learn to Fly” and “Best of You” — only to name a few of the Grammy-winning band’s hits. 

One of their older works, if you’re not familar

But before all of that, before they were a chart-topping rock band, they were named after a little-known war phenomenon. The Foo Fighters is actually a term that dates back to World War II when dashing lights were seen up in the sky. War pilots often saw these bright lights that would dash and turn directions — far faster than any aircraft could at the time. Not knowing the origin of the lights, the pilots started calling them “foo fighters.” 

The history of the flashing lights

While the 415th Night Fighter Squadron was stationed over Rhine Valley, occupied by Germany at the time, pilots began reporting lights. They stated, “Eight to 10 bright orange lights off the left wing … flying through the air at high speed.” Nothing was visible on radar, and the lights are said to have disappeared. “Later they appeared farther away. The display continued for several minutes and then disappeared.” 

The radar observer at the time coined them “foo fighters,” a nonsensical term from the cartoon strip “Smokey Stover.” The phenomenon kept occurring, and the name stuck. 

Further sightings listed the lights as being red, orange and green, easily flying alongside planes at 200+ mph. What’s more impressive was the maneuverability, as the lights could move quickly, change directions and stop with ease. Nothing was ever picked up by radar, either. 

The reports by pilots began compiling, and additional pilots from other units said they had seen a similar phenomenon. The frequency and consistency of the reports led military officials to believe it wasn’t battle fatigue, as had previously been theorized, and an investigation was launched.

However, little was found from their research. Eventually, their data was halted with the end of the war, never to find an answer to what the foo fighters actually were. 

Various theories have been offered, such as high-tech enemy devices, remote-control light-producing devices, structureless lights (and therefore not showing up on radar) and of course, UFOs. The theories of unidentified flying objects was so popular that the term foo fighters became synonymous with UFOs themselves. 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Between Foo Fighters, and purported sightings like this one in New Jersey in 1952, it was a weird time in the U.S. (Wikimedia Commons)

As late as 1953, the CIA was working on the matter, specifically to determine if there was a security threat. A panel of six scientists, including physicists using experimental aviation tech, gathered on the matter; no official conclusion was provided. 

It’s likely that we will never truly know the sources of these dodging lights from WWII. In any case, we’re left with the historic accounts — and a popular term, and an even more popular band — to remember this curious event. 

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why experts think Kim Jong Un never actually attended an elite military academy

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.

North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”

Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.


North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
(KCNA)

According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.

Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.

Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater

Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.

“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.

(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)

Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.

“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.

Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.

“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”

‘A natural at military strategy’

While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.

NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

(KCNA)

According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”

He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.

“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.

“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.

Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.

“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

(KCNA)

Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.

“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”

In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”

NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.

In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.

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

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This is how dog tags got their name

Troops carry with them the reminder of their death on the battlefield. Nearly every military since has a variation of identification tags, but it’s American troops who truly intertwine them within their culture. There’s deep-rooted symbolism behind dog tags.


To the American war fighter, it is as much of a badge of honor as everything else carried with them. The tags give the survivors of the conflict all of the necessary information about the fallen warrior. When they go to meet their maker on the battlefield, one is collected for immediately for notification and the other is used in case cannot be immediately recovered.

Carrying around some sort of identification for a warrior’s remains is a time honored tradition. Going as far back as the ancient Spartans, the phrase “Come back with your shield or on it” had a deeper meaning.

Of course, it’s a cold way for a wife to tell her husband to win the fight or die with honor. But the intricate and deeply personal designs of the Spartan shield meant that the wife could have closure if he fell in battle. Even the Roman Legionaries carried lead disks in a pouch around their neck called “signaculum.”

 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Roman Signaculum, one of the first identification tags. (Image via Rome Across Europe)

The first time American troops would use tags to identify their bodies was with Gen. George Meade having his men write their name and unit designation on a piece of paper. In 1906, aluminum tags were introduced and by 1913, it became mandatory to wear.

Through out the years, what was written on the tags has changed, and each branch of the current U.S. armed forces has different information written on them, but what remains constant is the troop’s name, religion, and usually the blood type.

The term “dog tags” actually can’t be found in U.S. military regulations, where instead they’re called “identification tags.” The military always has ridiculous names for everything, right? A shovel is an “entrenching tool,” a bed is a “rack,” the bumbling idiot who just graduated college is “sir.” The list goes on.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
A pair of blank dog tags hang from a battlefield cross on display during a Memorial Day ceremony, May 25, 2015, in Goldsboro, N.C. The battlefield cross presentation is a tradition that began during the Civil War and continues today to show respect for fallen service members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Among the first instances of the identification tags being called “dog tags” comes from the Prussian Army in 1870. It comes from the term “hundemarken” which was similar to what each dog in the then Prussian capital of Berlin required. The American adaptation of the name dates to just before WWII.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the Social Security Act. Through enumeration, the idea was to give a social security number to all employees across America. Troops would be an easy group to convince to adopt this change. We already had identification tags and incorporating a social security number into it for further identification was a smooth transition.

In comes William Randolph Hearst. History buffs may remember him as the media mogul who controlled the era’s news. Film nerds know him as the unofficial subject of “Citizen Kane.” He was also a fierce opponent of FDR and the New Deal.

Hearst began spreading a rumor about how the Social Security Act would label all workers with tags and probe them for all of their personal information. In reality, only one was ever created as a prototype in the massive brainstorm of ideas and was shot down early in favor of the cards we use today.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

As troops adopted the SSN into their tags, it was further proof Hearst needed that FDR wanted to destroy America. The fear mongering of “you’re treated like dogs! Your personal information will be taken away! The government will own you!” continued. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines would read the papers by Hearst with indifference, gave a collective “Meh, we know,” and rolled with it.

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This common health concern hits vets more than anyone — but nobody talks about it

Not feeling “in the mood” when your partner is trying to get you there. Erectile dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction.

There are a lot of ways to describe it, but there’s no denying what it is. For many men, sexuality is tied to masculinity — it’s a part of a man’s identity — and not getting there can shake a returning veteran’s confidence at every level.

Despite all of the pharmaceutical ads that make the issue seem like it’s an “old man’s problem,” it hits younger veterans — even those in their 20s — at an alarming rate. It might not make the best dinnertime conversation, but there’s no shame in it. It’s a very real problem for veterans of all ages and it’s something that you shouldn’t avoid discussing with your significant other — or a healthcare professional, at the very least.


This article was created in partnership with hims, a men’s wellness brand dedicated to helping guys be the best version of themselves.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

The loss of confidence in one major aspect could be the catalyst in sending veteran spiraling downwards.

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Mauricio Campino)

There are two primary causes of erectile dysfunction: There’s the physiological component that affects blood circulation, preventing it from reaching the right spots at the right moment. This aspect is most common among older men, men who maintain sedentary lifestyles, and those who make unhealthy lifestyle choices — like smoking two packs a day, eating fast food five times a week, and generally avoiding exercise. A gym membership or walking the dog an extra lap around the block can do wonders for that, but that’s a conversation best held between you and a medical professional.

The problem that hits many returning veterans is rooted in psychological trauma — and it’s an often-neglected side effect of post-traumatic stress. It seems pretty obvious when you think about it, right? Nobody wants to think about sex when their mind is still back in the war.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

And, well, if your mind is here… it’s not in the bedroom.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Follow our logic here for a little more understanding: If you’re a veteran, think back to your days at boot camp or basic training. Chances are high that you didn’t sport wood a single time during the entire nine weeks. While there, you probably caught wind of some BS rumor about saltpeter being put in the drinking water to prevent it from happening, but the logical side of your brain knew that it was because of the stress you were enduring.

Take that same stress and amplify it by the daily struggles that veterans who live with post-traumatic stress deal with. Of course, the severity of the situation varies. It ranges from just having the occasional “bad night” that a veteran would rather just sleep off to replaying a single tragic moment over and over, like some kind of broken record from Hell.

It’s becoming a little easier to understand how common this issue really is among veterans, right?

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

(U.S. Navy)

Whatever your case, not getting your private to stand at the position of attention really isn’t something to be ashamed of. Have an open dialogue with your significant other. Ask for their patience, their understanding, and their help in getting you to relax — foreplay is a two-way street, after all.

If you’re still having difficulties, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It’s actually an extremely common thing brought up at the VA and there are plenty of treatment options out there.

If you’re interested in clinically tested medication, you can try the solutions offered by hims for just for the first month. hims will connect you with US-based, licensed doctors online so that you can find the right solution for you from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

And remember, there actually is a rating for ED that can only be brought up by talking to a medical professional.

This article was created in partnership with hims, a men’s wellness brand dedicated to helping guys be the best version of themselves.

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4 times the US military won by tricking the enemy

Wars are never fought fair and square.


In order to win, militaries try to beef up their own numbers, acquire better technology, or in some cases: totally bullsh*t the other side into thinking they are going to do something they aren’t really doing.

It’s called a feint. In a nutshell, a military feint is a tactic employed in order to deceive the other side. A military might feint that it’s going to attack Town A so the enemy shifts all its forces there, only to later attack Town B.

Here are four times the U.S. military pulled it off to great effect:

1. Both sides made fake guns out of painted logs in the Civil War.

Since photography wasn’t as widespread and there weren’t any reconnaissance planes, feints were arguably easier to pull off during the Civil War. That was definitely the case for the both sides, which sometimes used fake guns to trick each other into thinking they were going to attack somewhere else, or the place they were defending was heavily-fortified.

 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons

Known as “Quaker Guns,” soldiers would take wooden logs, paint them black, and then prop them up on a fence or in a mount, making them look like artillery pieces from a distance. From the official US Army magazine:

When Confederate forces advanced on Munson’s Hill after the first Battle of Manassas, they held the hill for three months, but when Federal troops gained the hill in October of 1861, they discovered they had been tricked. There was nothing on the hill except Quaker guns.

Quaker Guns were used before and after the Civil War. But the tactic saw extensive use by the Confederates, to make up for their lack of actually artillery.

2. The Allies misled the Germans so well in World War II, Nazi leaders thought the real D-Day invasion was a feint.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.Photo: Wiki Commons

 

In what is perhaps the best feint ever, Allied forces during World War II confused the Nazis so well that they didn’t even know what was happening when the real D-Day landings began.

The deceit goes back to a plan developed prior to the June 6, 1944 landings called Operation Fortitude. Split into two parts — North and South — Fortitude had the goal of convincing the Nazis that the Allies wanted to invade occupied Norway, and Pas de Calais in France. They really wanted to invade Normandy, but the Germans had no clue.

The Allies literally created a fake army consisting of inflatable tanks and trucks, and broadcast hours-long transmissions about troop movements that the Germans would intercept.

When the landings finally came at Normandy, German commanders thought it was a smaller force, and the much larger attack was happening later.

“North of Seine quiet so far. No landings from sea. Pas de Calais sector: nothing to report,” a German message on June 6 reads. Then about a day after invasion, forces were warned: “Further enemy landings are to be expected in the entire coastal area. Enemy landings for a thrust toward Belgium to be expected.”

The Allies were pretty awesome at this deception game. Just one year prior, they fooled the Germans using a uniformed corpse with “top secret” documents into preparing for an invasion in the wrong place, when the Allies instead invaded Sicily.

3. The US Army built a fake base to fool Saddam Hussein, and it worked.

The ground war of the Persian Gulf War was over pretty quickly, thanks to Gen. Schwarzkopf’s extensive planning and leadership. Schwarzkopf wanted to use a “left hook” or “Hail Mary” play of his forces, effectively cutting off Iraqi forces in Kuwait by going behind their lines.

 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Photo: US Army

But in order to achieve it, Schwarzkopf needed to trick the Iraqi Army. Instead of Iraq thinking they would get hit with a “left hook,” Army planners wanted them to think the U.S. would invade near Kuwait’s “boot heel.” FOB Weasel was how they did it.

It was eerily similar to Operation Fortitude. From a previous article by our own Blake Stilwell:

FOB Weasel was what Rick Atkinson, author of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War called “a Potemkin base… giving the impression of 130,000 troops across a hundred square kilometers.” Army truck drivers wearing the red berets of paratroopers would shuttle vehicles between FOB Weasel and logistic bases.

The U.S. army’s XVIII Airborne Corps established FOB Weasel near the phony invasion area. They set up a network of small, fake camps with a few dozen soldiers using radios operated by computers to create radio traffic, fake messages between fake headquarters, as well as smoke generators and loudspeakers blasting fake Humvee, tank, and truck noises to simulate movement. Inflatable tanks with PVC turrets and helicopters with fiberglass rotors were lined up on the ground as well. Inflatable fuel bladders, Camo netting, and heat strips to fool infrared cameras completed the illusion. The Americans even taped “Egyptian” radio traffic messages about the supposed American presence to be intercepted by the Iraqis.

As Stilwell notes, even well after the Iraqi Army was expelled from Kuwait on Feb. 21 1991, Iraqi intelligence still thought American forces were near the “boot heel.”

4. The insurgents knew US troops were coming before the Second Battle of Fallujah, but they had no idea of when or where.

Before the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, insurgents were well aware that an attack was on the horizon. The city had become completely lawless, swept up by a large number of insurgents, who were spending their time building up defenses in the city.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Photo: USMC

On the outskirts, Fallujah was completely cut off by U.S. troops surrounding it. Insurgents inside the city knew they would eventually be attacked, but a series of feint attacks made it hard to pinpoint from where or when. And beyond deceit, the feints allowed troops to test out enemy capabilities before the main effort.

From the Marine Corps Gazette:

Marine battalions manning vehicle checkpoints (VCPs) or participating in feints were extremely successful in targeting fixed enemy defenses and degrading insurgent command and control capabilities. A series of feints conducted by 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv) deceived the insurgents as to the time and location of our main attack. They knew we were coming, but they didn’t know when or from where. The feints also allowed us to develop actionable intelligence on their positions for targeting in Phase II. The Commanding Officer, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, whose Marines manned the southern VCPs around Fallujah, described this period as a real-world fire support coordination exercise that provided a valuable opportunity for his fire support coordinator and company fire support teams to work tactics, techniques, and procedures and to practice coordinating surface and air-delivered fires.

In an interesting example from a grunt on the ground, a feint attack from Lima Co. 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines tested enemy defenses and helped planners realize the spot they feint attacked wasn’t the best for the real thing.

“Had we decided to attack from the south, the battle would have been hellacious from day one,” one Marine recalls in the book “We Were One.” “The thing we discovered after the battle was they oriented a lot of their defenses to the south.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Institutional operating codes: the culture of military organizations

There are many elements that make up a fighting force’s effectiveness in battle; leadership, doctrine, and equipment are most often cited as key determinants. But, as this extensive study shows, organizational culture is also an important factor. Overall, The Culture of Military Organizations convincingly shows that internal culture has an enormous influence on fighting organizations. This influence includes their approach to warfare and their performance in battle.


An institution’s culture frames what its institution values, what heroes it reveres, and what it rewards. Culture imbues an organization with a sense of mission, identity, and core competencies. Cultural influences deeply impact what members think, how they perceive problems, and how they react to them. These are reinforced by rituals and narratives, passed on to recruits and acolytes in the training and educational programs of all armed forces.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

A fighting organization’s culture emerges over an extended period, sometimes deliberately and often indirectly from victory and defeat. Culture operates internally like the operating system of a computer. Some scholars contend that culture is so deeply embedded that its existence and influence is imperceptible. In fact, military members are said to sense and act without being consciously aware that their belief system is framing their orientation and actions.

Numerous authors have researched the subject in the past.[1] Yet, it has never been comprehensively studied in a rigorous and comparative manner. This is what makes this excellent book valuable.

The editors of this anthology bring together extensive experience, from both academic and practitioner perspectives. Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, holds the General Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University. Mansoor earned his PhD at Ohio State University and served as executive officer to General David Petraeus during the 2007 surge of U.S. forces in Iraq. His memoir of his tour as a brigade commander, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, shows his mettle as a combat leader and student of war. Mansoor teamed up with Williamson Murray, an acclaimed U.S. historian and U.S. Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era. Murray’s best work has focused on grand strategy and military innovation and adaptation.[2] This book stands with those for relevance and historical scholarship.

The editors assembled an international cast of scholars to delve deep into their respective countries and areas of expertise through sixteen case studies. Most explore a single armed force within a particular country for a specified period of time. The book contains an introduction and framework, along with an international suite of case studies covering a range of cultures and wars, from the U.S. Civil War to the most recent conflict in Iraq. The cases examine institutional and wartime history, but stress how culture impacted its subject’s effectiveness over time.

Mansoor and Murray employ a wide definition of military culture, representing “the assumptions, ideas, norms, and beliefs, expressed or reflected in symbols, rituals, myths, and practices, that shape how an organization functions and adapts to external stimuli and that give meaning to its members.”[3] Culture is multi-dimensional, set in a large social context, and reflected in an organization’s internal practices. “A service’s culture is a complex aggregate of its attitudes,” Harold Winton has written, “toward a variety of issues including its role in war, its promotion system, its relation to other services, and its place in the society it serves.”[4]

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

The notion that a military service has a distinctive set of values that create its personality or DNA is fairly well accepted in security studies.[5] More relevant to our current strategic context, many scholars link the limits of a rigid culture when it comes to changing military organizations and their practices. Several notable studies, including those of Elizabeth Kier and John Nagl, find organizational or military culture relevant to both peacetime innovation and wartime adaptation.[6] In Israel, Meir Finkel explored organizational flexibility and noted how critical culture was to learning and agility in wartime.[7] Murray’s own work on innovation recognizes policy makers or institutional leaders must work within or alter an existing culture to overcome barriers to change.[8]

The editors wisely commissioned two well respected researchers to establish an analytical foundation for this study. Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen Gerras, both with the U.S. Army War College, employ two different analytical models for examining organizations. They adapted a framework generated in the commercial world, drawn from 17,000 middle managers and nearly one thousand organizations. None of the organizations involved were military. This framework is more useful for societal comparisons—which the pair recognizes, while still demonstrating the model’s analytical utility—but only within the U.S. Army. More familiar to scholars in this field was their inclusion of Edgar Schein’s list of embedding and reinforcing mechanisms. Unfortunately, this useful framework is left to the respective authors to consider, and few took up the task.

The best chapter is Richard Sinnreich’s overview of the Victorian-era British Army. This case is a common interpretation, concluding that this era embraced the English gentleman ideal of an officer corps drawn from the upper tier of society. Rigorous professional development and competitive promotions were disdained and book learning frowned upon. Sinnreich details how pre-World War I tactical modernization in the British Army was stillborn, despite the introduction of breech-loading rifles and quick-firing artillery. The tribal conformity imposed by regimental life, and a social system that deferred instinctively to one’s superiors were pressures that “tended to stifle subordinate initiative and to breed a tactically rigidity ill equipped to deal with more modern and sophisticated enemies.”[9] This all came to a head in South Africa near the end of the century, where “British regulars, including storied regiments, repeatedly were outgeneraled, outmaneuvered, and outfought by South Africa’s indifferently organized but well-armed and determined Boer militias.”[10] Readers may want to compare this interpretation of social linkages and limited intellectual development with recent scholarship.[11]

The Royal Navy is not slighted, Professor Corbin Williamson covers its evolution from 1900 to the end of the Second World War. Williamson deftly addresses the Navy’s struggle to balance near-term training against higher order education to develop competent officers in a period of rapid technological change. He quotes another scholar’s assessment: “The educational system, as it existed in 1914, lacked coherence and ambition.”[12] When the test of war emerged, the Navy lacked officers who could make an impact at the cabinet level or in theater strategy debates. Andrew Gordon’s wonderful insights from Rules of the Game are leveraged to good effect to detail how rigid naval command had become. The disappointments from Jutland influenced the Royal Navy’s reconception of command, initiative, and offensive employment, and served as the basis for a series of reforms, drawn from Lambert’s Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution. “Through these reforms,” Williamson concludes, “the navy reinvigorated an offensive ethos and placed a higher priority on subordinate’s initiative based on an understanding of the admiral’s intent similar to modern ‘mission command.'”[13]

Allan Millett, former Marine and author of the definitive history of the U.S. Marine Corps, writes about the intense nature of that institution’s internal operating system. Millett gives appropriate recognition to General Victor Krulak and his son, General Charles C. Krulak, as institutional innovators. But this chapter overlooked an excellent appreciation of Marine Corps change agents by Terry Terriff of the University of Calgary.[14] There are other recent works that readers will want to explore.[15] The culture of the U.S Marine Corps is going to be sorely tested in this next decade, as a generation of Marines leaves behind a half-century focus on amphibious missions, after its 15 years of counterinsurgency operations, and now attempts to redefine its identity and transition to great power competition.[16]

The U.S. Air Force has a distinctive culture, and Robert Farley superbly draws out how that institution developed an unshakable and misguided belief that high-altitude, daylight, and precision bombing was a decisive form of warfare. He correctly notes how influential the Pacific and European campaigns of World War II were to the Air Force, conflicts in which its preferred operating paradigm was severely tested by adversary counter-responses. He argues the Air Force’s fervent desire for independence promoted an element of autonomy and assertiveness that still exists today, and with studied understatement notes, “the pursuit of technological innovation has played an unusually large role in the culture of the USAF for the course of its history….”[17] This is a culture now beset by numerous priorities from air superiority fighters, stealth bombers, and remotely piloted aerial systems…and now to a competing Space Force. Farley suggests the combat experiences of the last generation has moved past its fixations with autonomy and technology, and moved towards closer interaction with other services, especially special operations. That may be the official line but the previous generation still contends airpower is even more precise and decisive.[18]

One of the distinguishing aspects of this book is the inclusion of non-Western examples. Dan Marston, now with Johns Hopkins University, provides an illuminating discussion on the Indian Army, and Gil-li Vardi’s chapter on the Israeli Defense Force is balanced. Vardi depicts the evolution of the Israeli Defence Force’s psyche; including its offensive nature and penchant for initiative and improvisation over hierarchy and directive command.

The lack of Chinese and French chapters is an obvious drawback in the book’s design. Given the increasing salience of the Chinese military today, this has to be considered a shortfall.[19] Furthermore, while the chapter on Russia was well executed, it stopped at the end of World War II, leaving readers to wonder how Russia military culture has since evolved. These weaknesses are offset by a strategic culture chapter penned by David Kilcullen, who does address Russian national culture. What he does not capture is the debate over the utility of strategic culture.[20] Some dispute its existence and use in understanding or anticipating a rival’s moves or deriving insights on how history, geography, form of government, and civil-military relations influence a state’s strategic behavior.

The editors present a selective suite of implications. They note the social links from any military to its larger culture, the criticality of military education to sustain critical thinking, and the tensions between continuity and change. Gil-li Vardi’s point about the difficulty of leveraging culture is underscored: “organizational culture is a resilient and even sluggish creature, which operates on cumulative knowledge, organically embedded into a coherent, powerful and highly restrictive mind-set.” This is the most salient feature of the study, assisting leaders in closing the gap between today’s force and one that meets the needs of the future conception of warfare. Murray’s past works on innovation clearly show that an organizational culture inclined to test its assumptions, assess the external environment for changes routinely, and experiment with novel solutions is best suited for long-term success.[21] The challenge for leaders today, not explored enough in the book, is learning how to successfully reprogram the internal code to improve its alignment with new missions or technologies.[22] We can hope some enterprising scholars will jump into this field and apply the same conceptual lens to complement this product.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

media.defense.gov

Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus observed that “culture, once formed, is difficult to change; it cannot always be ‘tamed’ but it can and should be understood.”[23] Those responsible for strategic leadership and for preparing their military for the future, must understand how culture impacts the effectiveness of an armed force. This is particularly relevant since most officials today describe the strategic environment as an age of disruptive technological change.[24]

Professors Mansoor and Murray offer a superlative foundation for reflecting on how to change the odds of gaining that transformation short of the carnage of a world war.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Here’s everyone in the crazy ‘Matrix 4’ cast so far

The cast of the next Matrix is looking pretty fly. Sometime in the near future, possibly the most popular movie franchise from your high school years will return. And now, it doesn’t have anything to do with superheroes or Jedi knights. As of right now, production on The Matrix 4 has begun and that means we’ve started to figure out who is actually in the cast. Now, there are a few obvious ones, but there are also a few surprises.

So, who is in and who is out for Matrix 4? Here’s the good, the bad, and the you-had-no-idea about the casting for this retro-cyberpunk sequel, coming out, sometime in the next few years.


Confirmed cast:

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Keanu Reeves as Neo

This was an obvious one. You can’t go back to the Matrix without Neo. So yeah, Keanu is back.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity

Ditto for Trinity. Carrie-Anne Moss was announced when the project was announced.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Neil Patrick Harris as somebody

What’s this! It’s the villainous ac-tor Count Olaf? Yep, the excellent Neil Patrick Harris is somehow in the movie. Let’s hope he’s the bad guy.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as somebody else

The actor perhaps most famous for a supporting role in Aquaman is rumored to the lead of this film. Is he the new Neo?

Rumored cast:

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe

While not 100 percent confirmed, there’s also talk that Jada Pinkett Smith as been approached to reprise her role as Niobe from the original trilogy. This has not been made clear, but obviously, if you saw her in Gotham, you know she can still nail this kind of crazy role.

Not-confirmed cast:

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus

So far, nothing has been said about whether or not the most badass member of the original Matrix squad will return. Right now, let’s just cross our fingers that Morpheus is a surprise secret revelation.This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

 

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would have to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan

A Navy SEAL who led a risky assault on a mountain peak to rescue a stranded teammate in Afghanistan in 2002 will receive the Medal of Honor, according to a White House announcement.

Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski will receive the military’s highest honor May 24, 2018, according to the announcement.


According to the White House release, Slabinski is credited with leading a team back to rescue another SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, after he was ejected from an MH-47 Chinook crippled by enemy rocket-propelled grenade fire March 4, 2002 in eastern Afghanistan.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
An MH-47 Chinook helicopter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

The operation would ultimately be known as “The Battle of Roberts Ridge” in honor of Roberts. The team had originally begun the mission the day before, tasked with establishing an outpost on the top of Takur Ghar mountain as part of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan’s Shah-i-Kot Valley.

“Then-Senior Chief Slabinski boldly rallied his remaining team and organized supporting assets for a daring assault back to the mountain peak in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammate,” the White House announcement reads. “Later, after a second enemy-opposed insertion, then-Senior Chief Slabinski led his six-man joint team up a snow-covered hill, in a frontal assault against two bunkers under withering enemy fire from three directions.”

Slabinski “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire” as he took on al-Qaida forces in the rescue attempt, according to the release.

“Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation became untenable,” the release said.

Moving his team into a safer position, Slabinski directed air strikes through the night and, as daylight approached, led “an arduous trek” through waist-deep snow while still under fire from the enemy. He treated casualties and continued to call in fire on the enemy for 14 hours until an extract finally came.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski will receive the military’s highest honor.

Slabinski previously received the Navy Cross for leading the rescue and directing continued fire on the enemy throughout the lengthy and brutal fight.

“During this entire sustained engagement, Senior Chief Petty Officer Slabinski exhibited classic grace under fire in steadfastly leading the intrepid rescue operation, saving the lives of his wounded men and setting the conditions for the ultimate vanquishing of the enemy and the seizing of Takur Ghar,” his medal citation reads. “By his heroic display of decisive and tenacious leadership, unyielding courage in the face of constant enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Senior Chief Petty Officer Slabinski reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Slabinski’s actions were highlighted in a moving 2016 New York Times account that emphasized the role of Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman,who was attached to the SEAL team and ultimately died on the mountain.

Task and Purpose reported in late April 2018, that Chapman, credited with saving the entire SEAL team he was attached to during the operation, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. The White House has not confirmed that.

Chapman reportedly directed air strikes from AC-130 gunships after Roberts was ejected from the MH-47. During follow-on attempts to rescue Roberts, Chapman would ultimately be wounded by enemy fire from close range.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
A U.S. Air Force AC-130Uu00a0gunship.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

Reporting surrounding the role of Slabinski and the SEALs in recovering Chapman paints a complex picture. According to the New York Times report, Slabinski believed, and told his men, that Chapman was dead. Air Force officials, however, reportedly contest that Chapman was still alive and fought by himself for more than an hour after the SEALs moved back to a safer position. Predator drone footage reportedly supports this belief.

Slabinski himself told the publication doubt persisted in his mind.

“I’m trying to direct what everybody’s got going on, trying to see what’s going on with John; I’m already 95 percent certain in my mind that he’s been killed,” he said in an interview with the Times. “That’s why I was like, ‘O.K., we’ve got to move.'”

Slabinski would be just the second living SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan. The first, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers, received the award in February 2016 for his role in rescuing an American doctor who had been captured by the Taliban.

Slabinski will also be the 12th living service member overall to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.

According to a biography provided by the White House, Slabinski enlisted in the Navy in 1988 and graduated Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1990. He completed nine overseas deployments and 15 combat deployments over the course of his career, including multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired as director of the Naval Special Warfare Safety Assurance and Analysis Program after more than 25 years of service, according to releases.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Slabinski’s previous awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, five Bronze Stars with combat “V” device, and two Combat Action Ribbons.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier stayed awake for 40 years after being shot in the head

After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.


Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Wikimedia Commons

Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.

From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.

But for 40 years, Paul Kern experienced none of these symptoms. His biggest issue with being awake for 24 hours a day was the costs associated with being awake and functional for that extra eight hours.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
“Hide the pain Harold.” The stock image heard ’round the world. The face you make when you haven’t slept since 1915 and have time to do literally everything.

Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.

One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history
Stock photo. Don’t let Adderall-starved college students find out about Russian bullets.

Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last of Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Rough Riders’ died in 1987

The people who live through the world’s most historic events are the best connection to our past. Today, as we lament the growing losses of veterans who fought in World War II and the Korean War, it can still be a surprise that we are so close in time to the wars of the 19th Century. Just 34 years ago, we lost our only connection to the “Rough Riders,” the volunteer cavalry regiment that famously stormed San Juan Hill with Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

Ralph Waldo Taylor, who enlisted at age 16, wasn’t the last veteran of the Spanish American War, but he was an important connection to its memory. 

Now Read: These were the last surviving veterans of every major American war through WWI

The Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, which was then occupied by Spain. Tensions had been mounting between the United States and Spain for decades between the two countries, inflamed by the “muckraker” journalism popular at the time.

Sensational stories, not all of them exactly true, filled newspapers as each competed for bigger and bigger circulation. Finally the powder keg blew (literally) when the Maine was destroyed. The newspapers claimed the ship struck a Spanish mine in the harbor and President McKinley was pressured to ask Congress for a declaration of war. 

Among the most excited to see action was Theodore Roosevelt, who resigned from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to help raise a regiment of volunteers. The unit he formed was the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Originally under Col. Leonard Wood, Roosevelt soon found himself in command. 

The Rough Riders
Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan. (Wikipedia)

The Rough Riders, as they were called after Roosevelt assumed command, was made up of  Western frontiersmen, Ivy League athletes and Native American tribesmen, among others. One of its volunteers was a young, 16-year-old named Ralph Waldo Taylor.

The young man deployed with the Rough Riders to Cuba in 1898 and though it was supposed to be a cavalry unit, its horses were not deployed with them. The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry was in reality fighting like an infantry unit. 

Teenage Taylor was with Roosevelt and the Rough Riders when they marched to the base of San Juan Hill, a heavily-defended high ground that seemed impregnable from their vantage point. They took cover at the base of nearby Kettle Hill to avoid sniper and artillery fire, but quickly found themselves pinned down. 

After the attack began, the unit’s orders forced them to hold their position, even under heavy enemy fire. Roosevelt grew frustrated with the situation and, disregarding orders, led a charge up San Juan Hill. Within 20 minutes the hill belonged to the Americans. 

Taylor lied about his age to enlist in the New York National Guard. He eventually told his wife, Bessie, about what happened that day.

“They charged up the hill in waves, trying to knock out the Spaniards in a blockhouse at the top,” she told UPI in 1987. “Ralph was in the second or third wave and he used to tell how some members of his company were killed as they ran up the hill beside him.”

For Roosevelt, the victory meant election to the governor’s mansion in New York and eventually being named Vice-President of the United States. When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, he assumed the office of President. For Taylor, life carried on the way it does for many war veterans: he took a job. 

In 1986, Taylor was informed by the U.S. government that he was one of a few surviving combat veterans of the era, and that he was the only survivor of San Juan Hill still living. 

“He could visualize all the thousands who fought with him and it overwhelmed him that he was the only one left,” she said.

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