There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.
He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.
Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.
Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.
“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”
Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.
Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.
This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.
“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”
While this rings true for people who own a house, it was even more important for the leader in charge of a kingdom, an empire or even a republic. The reason for this is that the man in the “high castle” had much a stake. So to make sure that the country is strong, a king would build a fortress — or a wall with many fortresses — to project the centralized strength and influence of his nation throughout his realm and beyond.
Understand that a fortress is not just a building with a certain amount of walls and towers, but also can be a wall. Below is a list of the strongest fortresses ever built in the history of the world.
5. Masada, Israel
On a rocky plateau situated on a hill in southern Israel near the edge of the Judean desert, one can find the fortress of Masada. Almost all information on Masada and the siege that took place comes from the first-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus.
The fortress of Masada withstood a year-long siege by Roman Gov. Lucius Flavius Silva. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In 66 AD, the Kingdom of Judea was in upheaval over Rome’s prolonged occupation and revolted. In doing so, a small group of rebels known as the Sicarii captured Masada after slaughtering its Roman garrison. In 72 AD, Lucius Flavius Silva, commander of the Legio X Fretensis, laid siege to Masada.
To reach the top, Lucius gave the order to build a massive ramp that was 375 feet high and 450 feet long. Once the legionaries made it to the top, they rolled the siege engines in and battered Masada’s walls until they fell.
Once inside, the Romans didn’t find an enemy in sight. Rather, they found over 900 dead. Only two women and five children survived.
The Great Wall of Gorgan. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The date of its construction is disputed. Some say it is 1,000 years older than the Great Wall of China. While little is known about the wall, the Parthians (247 BCE – 224 AD) who ruled Iran, are said to have built on the original remains of the wall.
The original height and width is unknown, but when the Sassanid Empire (224–651) overthrew the Parthians they repaired, enlarged, and added fortresses to the wall. The height of the Gorgan wall has yet to be determined. The width of the wall was between 20 to 30 feet wide and featured 30 fortresses.
What made this wall significant was that for many centuries it prevented nomads from the north, like the Dahae, Massagetae, Hephthalites and other various nomadic elements from getting in.
3. Hadrian’s Wall, England/Scotland
Hadrian’s Wall is well known to most casual students of history.
The purpose of the wall is obvious, but as to why it was constructed, remains disputed. The reason for this is that there is no clear evidence that suggests Roman Britain, south of the future wall, was under any real substantial threats — even though there had been some minor rebellions in the province and within the Roman Empire. This was probably the reason why Hadrian built the wall — as a symbol and reminder that it is best to separate one from the barbarians.
Hadrian’s Wall would provide Roman Britain security from the Celtic/Pictish tribes in the north until Rome abandoned Britannia in 410 AD.
To ensure the safety of this second Rome, Constantine issued an order to build of a wall. The Wall of Constantine was laid out in a series of four rows, with the inner two featuring towers 50 feet apart.
While very effective in repelling invaders, the Roman Emperor Theodosius II decided to expand the walls. The Theodosian Walls consisted of two — an inner and outer wall — which consisted of 96 towers. The inner wall was 40 feet high while the outer wall stood at 30 feet high.
The walls of Constantinople paid off for many centuries and were able to throw back 12 sieges from 559-1203 AD. However, the city was captured in 1204 during the fourth crusade, but afterward was able to withstand five more sieges until that fateful day in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks bashed down the walls and captured the city.
1. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China needs no introduction. Many assume that the Great Wall was built and finished during the lifetime of a Chinese emperor. Instead it was constructed by multiple emperors over 1,000 years.
The height, length, and thickness of the wall — or walls — vary, depending on which emperor built it and how much they could afford.
For example, once the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) pushed out the Mongols, they set about to expand and enlarge the Great Wall. The total length of the Great Wall under the Ming was over 5,000 miles long and 25 feet high and 15 – 30 feet thick at the base. If one were to take the wall and line it up, the length would be over 13,000 miles, according to study in 2012.
While the Great Wall looks good, it provided only temporary protection. The problem was that due to its size, it was too cumbersome and too costly to man.
The purpose of the Wall was to keep nomads out from the north. Instead, it kept the people of China isolated within and the wars that came with it.
The Mongols, however, just went around it during their invasion in 1211. The Ming would later enhance the wall, but it didn’t make a difference when the Manchu invaded in 1644.
From that point on, the Great Wall was more of a monument to look upon with amazement.
Hitler, oddly enough, seemed obsessed with America in many ways. He admired Henry Ford and American industrialization. He liked American films and Mickey Mouse cartoons. And, perhaps most oddly for a man of Hitler’s obsession with perception and propaganda, he even named his rolling fortress of a train after the rival country, calling it “Amerika.”
Hitler had a few iconic pieces of transportation, from a famous Mercedes to the SSS Horst Wessel sailing vessel, but his headquarters train was one of the most famous during the war. Nazi soldiers would march along routes ahead of the train to make sure no one was lying in wait for it, and there were multiple decoy trains that would run up to 30 minutes ahead of or behind Hitler’s train.
And each train was a beast. Hitler had a car for meetings as well as a living car with space for his bath and sink, complete with gold-plated faucets, according to the above documentary about it. There was also a communications car and multiple cars for defense against air and land attacks. It could house up to 200 leaders, staff, and soldiers.
Hitler set an example by rolling out his train, and other Nazi leaders began buying their own top-tier trains complete with command wagons and defenses. They all had individual names, but only Hitler’s was named for a future Allied power. But it wasn’t out of respect for the American nation or people. Hitler had named the train for the destruction of Native Americans by western settlers.
Hitler holds a meeting in his personal train during World War II.
(YouTube/World at War)
Keeping these trains moving required regularly changing out the engines. After all, Hitler couldn’t be left cooling his heels on a train platform as wood and water was loaded onto the train when it ran low. Instead, the train would pull into a station, and railway workers would quickly swap out the nearly empty engine with fully fueled cars. The Fuhrer could be back on his way in minutes instead of hours.
And these swaps were required multiple times per day. Every 30 miles or so, the train would run low on fuel, partially thanks to the massive weight of all the armor on some of Amerika’s cars.
Of course, the train had to be renamed when America entered the war on the side of the allies. The name changed from Amerika to “Brandenburg,” and Hitler reduced his use of the train for meetings, instead primarily using it as secure transportation. The meetings that were held on the train were held in bunkers instead.
As the Allies started to retake territory from 1942 to 1944, the trains themselves got bunkers. One is still in decent shape in Poland, an enormous concrete bunker surrounded by grass and trees in southeastern Poland. These bunkers were primarily needed for protecting the trains from attack by air.
After all, the Allies developed tools to crack apart sub pens by using bombs that mimicked the effects of earthquakes, cracking the concrete foundations of the structures. Destroying a train is relatively easy, needing just a few lucky bomb hits to destroy even an armored engine or the tracks themselves.
For security reasons, crews were required to destroy much of the paperwork generated in support of the train; everything from supply paperwork to schedules. And the train itself was partially destroyed in May 1945. The surviving components of the train passed into civilian use after the war.
Over the years, many researchers and scientists have scoured government documents at the National Archives in search of proof that life exists beyond Earth.
The National Archives and Records Administration is actually home to several collections of documents pertaining to unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or “flying disks.” And over the decades, those resources have been thoroughly probed and scrutinized for even a hint of more information and proof of alien existence.
One set of documents, known as Project Blue Book, includes retired, declassified records from the United States Air Force (USAF), currently in the custody of the National Archives. It relates to the USAF investigations of UFOs from 1947 to 1969.
According to a US Air Force Fact Sheet, a total of 12,618 sightings were reported to Project Blue Book during this time period. Of those, 701 remained “unidentified.” The project — once headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio — officially ended in 1969.
The subject of UFOs has long fascinated National Archives staff members as well. In a July 15, 2017, National Archives The Text Message blog post, “See Something, Say Something”: UFO Reporting Requirements, Office of Military Government for Bavaria, Germany, May 1948 archivists Greg Bradsher and Sylvia Naylor share a brief history of Project Blue Book, the project’s alternative names over the course of its existence, and some information on the infamous Roswell, New Mexico, UFO incident.
All of Project Blue Book documentation is available on 94 rolls of microfilm (T1206) with the case files and the administrative records. These records are available for examination in the National Archives Microfilm Reading Room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Motion picture film, sound recordings, and some still pictures are maintained by the Motion Picture Sound Video Branch and the Still Picture Branch. There is even a Project Blue Book webpage so researchers can access online more than 50,000 official U.S. Government documents relating to the UFO phenomenon.
Richard Peuser, chief of textual reference operations at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, said the agency has seen a steady amount of interest in files dealing with UFOs, responding to “a few hundred or so requests” over the years.
“Sometimes the same person would write multiple times hoping for a different answer,” Peuser continued. “Many felt that the records were too benign and that the Government [must be] ‘hiding’ the real stuff. Often there were allegations of coverup, of deliberately hiding or destroying the documents.”
Peuser said, “The National Archives still gets a fair amount of inquiries relating to UFO’s and folks have come in looking for other records in accessioned US Air Force records in particular. So, Roswell, Area 51, Majestic-12, Projects Mogul, Sign, Grudge, and Twinkle continue to fascinate and draw researchers to examine our holdings for aliens.”
The National Archives catalog yielded 37 catalog descriptions, organized under flying saucers, saucers, flying UFO phenomena, UFOlogy, or UFOs.
Over the years, as records have been processed and cataloged at the National Archives, other documents have come to light.
Just a few years ago, as archives technician Michael Rhodes was processing hundreds of boxes of Air Force records, he came across a drawing in the corner of a test flight report document that caught his eye.
The drawing — Rhodes said in the July 8, 2013 National Archives Pieces of History blog post, Flying Saucers, Popular Mechanics, and the National Archives — caught his attention because of its striking resemblance to the flying saucers in popular science fiction films made during that era. Researchers can look through the entire series in person or read the Project 1794 Final Development Summary Report of 1956 online.
The National Archives online catalog includes a series of records from the Federal Aviation Administration that document the sighting of a UFO by the crew of Japan Airlines Flight 1628 while in Alaskan airspace. National Archives records include simulated radar imagery and an article that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine on May 24, 1987, about the incident.
Records in this collection also include notes from interviews with the three crew members who spotted the UFO and are available in the online catalog. The records were discovered as part of the Alaskan digitization project, according to Marie Brindo-Vas, a metadata technician at the National Archives in Seattle, Washington.
Another interesting record from National Aeronautics and Space Administration files includes the Air-to-Ground transcripts from Gemini VII. Found in the National Archives online catalog, the records include the transcript of a conversation between Houston control and astronauts who “have a bogey at 10 o’clock high.” Bogey was often the term used to refer to UFOs. The conversation goes on to explain that the astronauts are seeing in a polar orbit “hundreds of little particles going by from the left out about 3 or 4 miles.”
The National Archives also has audiovisual records pertaining to UFOs such as the video of Maj. Gen. John A. Samford’s Statement on “Flying Saucers” from the Pentagon, Washington, DC, on July 31, 1952, in which the military leader discusses the Army’s investigation of flying disks. Another video issued by the Department of Defense highlights USAF Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Tacker and Maj. Hector Quintanilla, Jr., discussing Project Blue Book and the identification of UFOs.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum possesses a document relating to UFOs composed by Ford when he was House Minority Leader and Congressman from Michigan. The original document is located in Box D9, folder “Ford Press Releases – UFO, 1966” of the Ford Congressional Papers: Press Secretary and Speech File at the Ford Library.
In this memorandum, then-Congressman Ford proposed that “Congress investigate the rash of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in Southern Michigan and other parts of the country.” An attached news release to that memorandum goes on to say “Ford is not satisfied with the Air Force explanation of the recent sightings in Michigan and describes the “swamp gas” version given by astrophysicist J. Allen Hynek as flippant.”
In October 1969, the then-Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, saw a UFO over the skies of Leary, Georgia. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, Georgia, has the full report that he submitted into the International UFO Bureau.
As more documents are searched, processed, and declassified, what evidence might be found of alien and UFO existence at the National Archives? That remains to be seen, but based on past history, it’s clear that researchers and UFO enthusiasts will continue to dig for more information. The widespread fascination with the possibility of the existence of alien life forms and UFOs continues to arouse great passion and controversy all over Earth.
When Royal Air Force pilot Sydney Cohen crash landed on the Italian-controlled island of Lampedusa in 1943, he thought he would be in for the fight of his life. Lampedusa was the home of more than 4,000 Italian troops in garrison, and all Cohen had was his service weapon to fight them.
Instead, he was in for the surprise of his life, and was crowned King of Lampedusa shortly after.
A biplane similar to the one flown by Syd Cohen.
Cohen was supposed to be headed back to his home base on Malta in a Swordfish biplane but never quite made it. The pilot was flying with his two-man crew, Sgt. Peter Tait, the navigator, and Sgt. Les Wright, the wireless operator and gunner, on a search and rescue mission over the Mediterranean Sea. Their instruments failed mid-flight and they got turned around, only to run out of fuel before realizing the island below was not Malta.
The plane had a “fit of gremlins,” as Cohen later described it. The only place he could land was on the Axis-held island of Lampedusa.
Luckily for the RAF pilot, there were no Nazis on Lampedusa, only Italians. The island had a big runway and the crew saw no option but to go in and land on it, consequence be damned. They could never reach Malta in their condition and it was better than crashing into the ocean. They also didn’t know that the Allies ran heavy bombing missions on the island. So when he crash landed on the island, it made for incredible headlines back in London. Not because of a terrific battle – it was the mass surrender of 4,300 Italians.
“As we came down on a ropey landing ground we saw a burnt hangar and burnt aircraft around us,” Cohen said. “A crowd of Italians came out to meet us and we put our hands up to surrender but then we saw they were all waving white sheets shouting, `No, no. We surrender.’ The whole island was surrendering to us.”
It’s good to be the king.
Cohen got bold and asked to see the island’s commandant. As they moved toward the commandant’s villa, another Allied air raid began. The RAF pilot began to surmise the Italians were sick of getting bombed and really were ready to surrender.
“They asked me to return to Malta and inform the authorities of their offer to surrender,” he said. “They gave me a scrap of paper with a signature on it.”
So Cohen refueled and took off for the Allied base in Tunis to give the RAF the news. Upon hearing it, the RAF, the newspapers, London society, and even the British Jewish population raved about the new “King of Lampedusa.”
The play “The King of Lampedusa” performed in London’s East End.
Cohen’s story was immediately picked up and turned into a play and a musical. Hollywood even wanted to make a movie of the event as soon as possible. News of the debacle even reached the ears of Nazi propagandists in Berlin, who threatened to give the Jews in London’s East End “a visit from the Luftwaffe.”
The real life of Sydney Cohen doesn’t have a happy ending, no matter how the play, musical, and/or feature film turned out. Cohen disappeared while flying a mission near the Straits of Dover in August 1946. Neither his body nor the wreckage of his plane were ever located and no one knows exactly what happened to him.
Called “the strangest battle of World War II” is the Battle of Castle Itter. Staged at a beautiful Middle Ages-era structure in the Austrian Alps came a fight like we’ve never seen — when the Americans and Germans fought for a common goal. Despite being enemies in WWII, these sides teamed up in order to help save recently released French prisoners, as well as this longstanding castle.
The battle included military forces from: the U.S.’s 12th Armored Division, Wehrmacht soldiers who had defied orders and remained in Austria, along with the former prisoners of war from France. Together the group fought against the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, a German Waffen-SS division, who attacked Castle Itter, or Schloss Itter, in North Tyrol.
The castle during WWII
As early as 1940, Germany took control of Castle Itter with an official lease with the structure’s owner, Franz Grüner. However, in 1943, Germany took it forcefully, turning it into a prison camp by April of that year. It was managed by nearby administrators of the Dachau concentration camp.
Castle Itter is notable for housing valuable or high-profile prisoners from France, including prime ministers, military hierarchy, and even a tennis star. Other prisoners were also held at the camp, including those who were brought in strictly for labor. This combination is said to have helped the castle remain in working order while providing a leg up in potential negotiations, citing high-profile prisoners as leverage.
The battle begins
On May 3, 1945, the prison’s commander, Sebastian Wimmer, sent a prisoner on an errand. Wimmer penned a letter in English asking for help and directed the prisoner to hand it to the first American they saw. The prisoner did not return, and Wimmer, fearing for his own life, abandoned the castle, with SS guards also leaving post shortly after. This allowed for prisoners to take control of the building, using remaining weapons to arm themselves.
The following day, American forces were scheduled to come in and perform a rescue mission on the prisoners and the castle itself. However, unaware of these events, the French prisoners sent another messenger for help. By bicycle, their messenger reached the Austrian resistance, which was made of “roaming Waffen-SS troops.” These soldiers had ignored their order to retreat and instead, formed their own resistance.
By having asked both sides for help, on May 4th, Americans and Germans alike fought alongside one another to the castle’s freedom. Despite heavy fire and a small team of soldiers, they won and sent the French prisoners home.
Takeaways from the battle
American leader, Captain John. C. “Jack” Lee was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. However, Josef “Sepp” Gangl, leader of the Austrian resistance was killed in the battle from a sniper shot. He was attempting to move the French Prime Minister from shooting range when he was shot with a rifle. Gangl was named as a national hero in Austria, and a street was named after him in Wörgl.
Further adding to the strangeness of the war, it was fought only days before Germany surrendered. This meant that the then-free prisoners of war returned home after the war had ended, due to the length of time it took to return to France. Even though they were freed while WWII was still ongoing.
Want to learn more? A book, The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, by Stephen Harding was released in 2013. Harding, a historian, details the events of the battle and its effect on history. A French film company picked up the rights but has yet to release a date for its adaptation.
Minutes after Tate Jolly arrived at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a mortar hit the compound where an ambassador and another American had been killed and dozens more were trapped.
The Marine gunnery sergeant was one of only two U.S. troops with a small task force that rushed to respond to what quickly became clear was a coordinated attack on the U.S. State Department facility.
It was a remarkable mission. The closest military backup was hours away, which later led to fierce debate about how U.S. troops should be postured to protect Americans and diplomatic posts overseas.
“There was no one even remotely close to being able to go and get them in North Africa,” a source familiar with the operation planning said. “The nearest airplanes were hours away and the nearest ground troops a day away or further.”
The source spoke under the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the Sept. 11, 2012, incident, which remains a topic of controversy in Washington seven years later.
The scene was chaotic when the team arrived, and they quickly tried to restore order. There were nearly 30 panicked people who needed to be evacuated quickly, but the compound was under fire from multiple sides.
“Unfortunately, it was not a whole lot of offense; it was a whole lot of just holding guys off as long as they could to try and get out,” the person familiar with the mission said.
Jolly, who declined a request for an interview, would ultimately be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism there. The soldier with him, Master Sgt. David Halbruner, received the Army‘s Distinguished Service Cross. The valor awards are exceeded only by the Medal of Honor.
Little has been known about the Jolly’s actions in Benghazi. There was no public ceremony when he received his valor award and, until recently, his name has not been publicly tied to the mission in media reports.
His hometown paper in North Carolina,the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, recently reported that the 36-year-old who’d graduated from high school about 90 miles north of Charlotte was the Marine who’d gone above and beyond to save other Americans. Jolly recently retired as a master sergeant.
According to testimony, public documents and the person familiar with his actions, Jolly was calm in the face of deadly chaos. He and Halbruner are credited with saving numerous lives that day.
With a rifle strapped to his back amid an onslaught of mortars and machine-gun fire, Jolly tended to the wounded, at one point throwing a man onto his back and shuffling him down a ladder amid a barrage of enemy fire. He helped some get back into the fight and provided vital care to others with life-threatening injuries.
Here’s how then-Gunnery Sgt. Jolly helped get other Americans to safety during a situation that caused a years-long political firestorm thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.
A Delta Force Marine
Jolly, an infantry assault Marine, was assigned to a Delta Force detachment in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for Marines to join the elite Army special-operations teams.
The Marine had deployed to Iraq twice before joining the secretive counterterrorism force, spending about five years carrying out clandestine missions before the Benghazi attack and another five after, according to information about his career obtained by Military.com.
He racked up more than a dozen total deployments with Delta Force.
The Navy Cross Jolly received for his actions in Benghazi was his fourth valor award. He has two Bronze Stars with combat “V” devices — one of which he earned for undisclosed reasons during his time with Delta Force, and a second from a 2004-2005 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq.
Jolly also earned a Navy Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during that deployment.
(Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)
According to his award citations, Jolly repeatedly braved enemy fire in Ramadi to help take out an enemy sniper who had ambushed a government center. He received the Navy Commendation Medal for risking his life to destroy roadside bombs when an explosive ordnance disposal team couldn’t reach his unit.
On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jolly was about 600 miles away from Benghazi in Tripoli — roughly the same distance between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Since Jolly and Halbruner were some of the only troops in-country, the operation was coordinated not by U.S. Africa Command, but the CIA.
Team Tripoli, made up of Jolly, Halbruner and five others, arrived in Benghazi at about 1:30 a.m. That was about four hours after the attack began, and two since Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens had last been seen alive.
The team was led by Glen Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) security officer and former Navy SEAL, who was later killed. He was Team Tripoli’s medic.
The plan, according to the person familiar with the mission, was to leave the airport and head to the hospital, where they believed Stevens was being treated. When they found out Stevens had died, the first ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, the team headed to the consulate to bolster the diplomatic security personnel and GRS, a group of private military contractors who were fending off the attackers.
“It could’ve gone really, really bad,” said the source familiar with the mission. “It could’ve become 30 American hostages in North Africa. There were seven shooters going in to protect people who don’t shoot for a living.”
By the time they arrived, Sean Smith, a State Department foreign service officer, had also died. It was still dark, just after 5 a.m., according to a congressional timeline of the attack. Within minutes, the first mortar hit.
The attacks continued, with one witness estimating there were as many as 100 insurgents spotted surrounding their location in 20- or 30-man groups. It was a skilled enemy, one of the troops there later told members of Congress.
“It’s not easy … to shoot inside the city and get something on the target within two shots — that’s difficult,” the witness testified. “I would say they were definitely a trained mortar team or had been trained to do something similar to that.
“I was kind of surprised,” the service member added. “… It was unusual.”
They were there a matter of hours, but at times witnesses said the team feared they wouldn’t make it out alive. It began to “rain down on us,” one of them told lawmakers.
”I really believe that this attack was planned,” the witness said. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”
In total, six 81-millimeter mortars assaulted the annex within a minute and 13 seconds, a congressional report on the attack states. Doherty and Tyrone Woods, another former SEAL with the GRS, didn’t survive.
Dave Ubben, a State Department security agent, and Mark “Oz” Geist, another GRS member, were badly hurt. The men were defending the compound from the rooftop, determined to make it look like they had a lot more firepower than they actually did.
“There was a lot of shooting, a lot of indirect fire and explosions,” the source with knowledge of the response said. “It was just guys being really aggressive and doing a good job at making it seem like their element was bigger than it was, like they were less hurt than they were.”
Ubben — who’d testified before a federal court in 2017 that he took shrapnel to his head, nearly lost his leg, and had a grapefruit-sized piece of his arm taken off — was losing blood fast. Geist also had a serious arm injury that needed immediate attention.
Jolly and Halbruner were determined to save them. Amid the fight, they were tying tourniquets to the men’s bodies.
Ubben is alive because Jolly helped move him from the rooftop to a building where diplomatic personnel were hunkered down. Gregory Hicks, who became the acting chief of mission after Stevens died, later described how the gunny did it during a congressional hearing.
Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.
“One guy … full of combat gear climbed up [to the roof], strapped David Ubben, who is a large man, to his back and carried him down the ladder, saved him,” Hicks said.
Jolly and Halbruner also went back out to the rooftop to recover the bodies of the fallen.
“They didn’t know whether any more mortars were going to come in. The accuracy was terribly precise,” Hicks said. “… They climbed up on the roof, and they carried Glen’s body and Tyrone’s body down.”
It was for Jolly’s “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way” to save numerous unarmed Americans’ lives that he earned the Navy Cross, according to his citation.
Bracing for the worst
That attack was traumatic for many of the civilians trapped inside one of the buildings, according to the person with knowledge of the operation. They’d lost their ambassador and another colleague, and they had no experience being caught in a life-and-death combat situation.
Once Jolly and Halbruner brought the injured men in from off the rooftop, the diplomatic staff helped treat their wounds, according to the source familiar with the situation. It gave them a mission as the onslaught continued outside.
As the sun came up, the remaining team members worried that terrorists would overtake the facility. First believed to be the work of the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia group, the attack was coordinated by several networks in the region, including al-Qaida affiliates.
Throughout the night, the Americans had the advantage of night vision, the person familiar with the mission said. In the daylight, it could quickly become an even playing field.
Surprisingly though, it got quieter. They gathered inside one of the buildings and formed an evacuation plan to move the diplomatic staff to the airport and eventually out of Benghazi.
“[They had to talk about] things like, ‘What happens if they came under attack on the way out? Do you know where to go if you are separated from the group or are being shot at?'” according to the person familiar with the plans.
They prepared for the worst: that as the convoy left the compound, they’d be ambushed, everyone would panic, and the terrorists would take hostages. But they made it to the airport without issue and, by 7:31 a.m., the first plane with survivors took off for Tripoli.
“Who would’ve thought seven people could go into Benghazi and get more than 25 people out? Especially without traditional military support?” the person familiar with the mission said. “… But you can do a lot if you’re determined and have no other choice.”
The Defense Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later faced a host of criticism over their response to the attack. Critics called it too slow — a congressional investigation finding that despite President Barack Obama and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clearly ordering the military to deploy response forces, none were sent until almost eight hours after the attacks began.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton honor the Benghazi attack victims at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony held at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 14, 2012.
(State Department photo)
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked to explain why he hadn’t dispatched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Italy. He told lawmakers it would’ve been “the wrong tool for the job.”
The Marine Corps, the nation’s go-to crisis-response force, has been particularly responsive in the aftermath of the attack. Since there aren’t enough amphibious ships to stage Marines everywhere they’d like to be at sea, they’ve set up land-based crisis-response forces built to respond to emergencies quickly. Those units include up to 2,200 personnel, along with aircraft and logistics capabilities.
Those units are now based in Europe, the Middle East and Central America. Those assigned to Africa and the Middle East have fielded several State Department requests to evacuate embassy personnel or shore up security when intelligence has indicated a high risk for attack.
The Marine Corps and State Department have also bolstered the number of embassy guards placed at diplomatic posts around the world, standing up dozens of new detachments that previously did not have military personnel.
It was a tragedy to see a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed in Benghazi but, sadly, it sometimes takes an awful situation to get the attention of those in charge of policy, the person familiar with the response said.
“It was a bad situation, but a lot of priorities changed after this tragedy that would otherwise never have gotten fixed.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
December 7, 1941, is a day which lives in infamy. But it dawned normally at 7:13 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and the attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t begin until the afternoon in Washington. For leaders like Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, the expectation would have been that it would be another tense day of preparing for war, at least until a single note was presented to him.
Then-Lt. Col. George C. Marshall in World War I.
(National Archives and Records Administration)
Marshall had spent years growing as an Army officer before he was tapped in 1939 to become the chief of staff. By that time, he had 37 years of experience in the military and had served in the mud of the Philippine-American War and of France in World War I, rising to colonel and serving as the chief of staff to then-chief of staff Gen. John J. Pershing.
After World War I, he led a number of units before taking over the Army as a whole, and he was experienced in making do with short spending. But it was probably by late 1939 that the growing regional wars would become a world war. (In an odd twist of history, Marshall’s first day as chief of staff was September 1, 1939, the same day Germany invaded Poland.)
Even though the president, secretaries of State, Navy, and War, and the chiefs of Army and Navy war plans and Chief of Naval Operations had all known for hours about the building intelligence signaling war, Marshall was the first one to order the likelihood of war be briefed to the commanders in the trenches. Unfortunately, transmitting that intelligence would take over 8 hours, and Short wouldn’t receive it until seven hours after the attack began.
So when the day dawned on December 7, Marshall was likely hoping that he could keep shifting resources to where he thought they were needed most, that he had a little more time to reinforce and improve positions across the Atlantic and Pacific. By noon, he knew he was likely out of time and that December 7 would be the day.
A digital scan of the actual note given to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall.
(U.S. Army War College)
Within hours, he would receive a message. It was not addressed to him, though most papers destined for the chief of staff’s desk were laboriously drafted and then addressed to him. It was not typewritten or printed. It wasn’t even written with particularly good handwriting.
But it likely made Marshall’s blood run cold. In just 14 words, it confirmed that the suspected attack was underway.
To all ships Hawaiian area Air raid on PH This is no drill. Urgent
Marshall would learn over the following weeks that over 2,300 Americans had died. He likely second-guessed some of his own decisions about Pearl Harbor after the stunning losses there, though it’s unclear that any of the assets he removed from the island base would have made a difference.
(One of the biggest redeployments from Pearl was nine heavy bombers which, if they had survived the attack, would have been used in the hunt for the Japanese fleet and vengeance on December 7, but American hunters had almost no idea where the Japanese carriers were.)
The air raid pulled America firmly into World War II, awakening the “Sleeping Giant.” America would chase Japanese forces all the way back across the Pacific and would pummel the island nation’s allies in Europe.
Exactly 108 years ago on Nov. 14, 2018, carrier aviation was born from an experiment that would eventually evolve into one of the most important aspects of modern warfare.
Here are some impressive moments in the history of carrier aviation.
Eugene Burton Ely flies his Curtiss Pusher biplane from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser No. 2), in Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1910.
(US Navy photo)
1. Eugene Burton Ely flew a Curtiss Pusher biplane off the deck of the USS Birmingham on Nov. 14, 1910, marking the first time the Navy had launched a plane from a warship, which came only seven years after the Wright Brothers’ first flights. This moment can be considered the birth of carrier aviation.
Squadron Commander E H Dunning attempting to land his Sopwith Pup on the flying-off deck of HMS Furious, Scapa Flow, 7 Aug. 1917. He was killed when his aircraft veered off the flight deck and into the sea.
3. British Royal Naval Air Service pilot Edwin H. Dunning successfully landed an aircraft on a moving warship, the HMS Furious, for the first time on Aug. 2, 1917. He died five days later on a follow-up attempt, demonstrating the challenge of landing on a ship at sea.
A Sopwith Cuckoo, which was designed to take off from British carriers but land ashore, dropping a torpedo.
4. The first plane specifically designed to take off from an aircraft carrier and drop torpedoes was the Sopwith Cuckoo. The plane, which lacked the ability to land on a carrier, completed its first flight in June 1917. As this technology evolved, it would play a critical role in future battles.
5. The Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, unquestionably the most important carrier-based aircraft in the Pacific Theater of World War II, entered service with the US military in 1940. The bomber carried a 1,000-pound bomb and was responsible for sinking 300,000 tons of enemy shipping, everything from submarines to battleships to carriers, reportedly more than any other Allied aircraft.
7. US Navy Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare became the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor for defending the American aircraft carrier USS Lexington from a wave of Japanese heavy bombers on Feb. 20, 1942. He took on a formation of nine Japanese bombers, shooting down roughly half a dozen enemy planes. He would later lead the first nighttime mission from a carrier on Nov. 26, 1943. O’Hare was killed during that mission.
Douglas SBDs of USS Yorktown´s air group head back to the ship after a strike on Japanese ships in Tulagi harbor on 4 May 1942.
8. The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought May 4-8, 1942, was the first naval battle in history in which the two opposing naval surface forces never came within sight of one another, highlighting the true warfighting range of carrier-based fighters and bombers.
The U.S. Navy Lockheed KC-130F Hercules from Transport Squadron 1 (VR-1), loaned to the U.S. Naval Air Test Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) on 10 October 1963.
9. On Oct. 30, 1963, a C-130 Hercules pulled off the seemingly impossible, landing on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. There in the North Atlantic, the C-130 became the heaviest aircraft to ever land on an aircraft carrier.
An F-35C Lightning II carrier-variant of the Joint Strike Fighter makes an arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe)
10. A carrier version of the F-35, the most expensive aircraft in history, landed on an aircraft carrier for the first time in November 2014. Four years later, an American F-35B conducted its first combat operation from the deck of a US Navy amphibious assault ship.
Popular history remembers the Confederate States of America for a lot of things, but having a developed government capable of almost anything the United States could do is seldom one of those things. But it did have all the trappings of a democratic government, including a Treasury Department, an Electoral College, and even coordinated clandestine activities.
Spies. They had spies.
They’re, like, the first thing new governments get. Catch “Turn: Washington’s Spies” on AMC.
I describe the Confederacy’s secret soldiers as a kind of Secret Service, but that’s not entirely an accurate description. The mission of the U.S. Secret Service is not only to protect the President and other American leaders, but to act as an investigation and enforcement arm of the Treasury Department. They track down counterfeiters and other fraudsters while assisting on anti-terror and counter-narcotics task forces with other agencies. But intelligence is not their mission.
In the Confederacy, it could have been. The Confederate government had countless secret agents in their employ, so many the Confederate government couldn’t always track them all. They were assigned many, many roles.
In the early morning hours of a balmy August night in 1864, an American barge parked on the James River was filled with stores of supplies for the Siege of Petersburg. After about an hour, the barge exploded, destroying an estimated million of Union supplies. Its destroyer was Capt. John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service. He and a handful of other saboteurs destroyed a number of Union supply carriers, sunk Union ships, and allegedly destroyed the river steamship Sultana, killing thousands in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.
Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a DC socialite who provided the Confederate Army with enough information to win at First Bull Run.
Like any other army fighting a war, the Confederate Army needed information about their opponents. More than that, the Confederates needed to know what was happening in Washington, who their friends were, and other such information. There were many Northerners willing to oblige them.
James Murray Mason and John Slidell were captured by the Union on their way to Britain. They were later released.
The Confederate States were, like most rebellions, eager to have international recognition of their independence. Confederate agents operated in Europe and elsewhere looking for this kind of support. They also measured public sentiment for or against their cause while providing any useful military information they could pick up. The US and Britain almost came to blows after two Confederate agents were captured from a British ship and detained.
“They’re over there!”
The Confederate version of the US Army’s storied unit not only conducted battlefield communication for the Confederate armies in the field but also took on a number of espionage-related missions. They gave the Confederate artillery the positions of Union troops and maintained a secret telegraph line of communications for its spies that extended all the way to Canada.
Much of the Signal Corps’ mission logs were destroyed in the Union capture of Richmond, so the full extent of their clandestine activities may never be known.
Confederates were so renowned for their use of torpedos that the Union had guys who did nothing but disarm them all day.
The Torpedo Bureau
The Confederates were very vulnerable to the vast superiority of the Union Navy. The solution for them was to mine or torpedo everything in sight. To this end, they hired two brothers who developed Confederate torpedo technology, taking them from crude wooden shells filled with gunpowder to disguised canisters which looked like coal that would be smuggled into the boiler rooms of Union steamships.
Land mines and sea mines were soon to follow.
Raids from Canada
Like modern-day green berets, Confederate agents recruited Canadians and sympathetic northerners to launch raids on American outposts in the north of the country. One such raid was the St. Albans Raid of St. Albans, Vermont in 1864. Locals of the Vermont area were forced to swear loyalty oaths to the Confederacy at gunpoint as the raiders robbed the three local banks, gaining money and notoriety for the Confederates.
Spies sacrifice a normal life to provide their country with actionable intelligence. Their patriotism comes at the cost of risking life and limb, imprisonment, and public damnation. Often, they have to think outside the box to accomplish the mission at all costs. The skills earned through the crucible of training combined with a mastery of language and culture make them an exceptional force on (and off) the battlefield.
Intelligence officers aren’t usually recognized (for obvious reasons) for their work in clandestine operations, but their technique, brilliance, and sex appeal has captured the imagination of the masses for generations. When the Government demands secrecy and surgical destruction, they send the best of the best.
Listed below, in no particular order, are five times that spies broke the mold to make the impossible possible.
Frank Gleason used dinner rolls to transport explosives
Frank Gleason was an officer in the Army’s Engineer Corps during World War II that commanded the most devastatingly brilliant sabotage missions against the Japanese occupation of China. Leveraging small unit leadership and training from Camp X, he lead attacks on bridges, rail lines, and communication systems.
He later served as a supply officer at Cam Ranh Bay in the South China Sea, sending supplies to troops in Vietnam. Gleason was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award, on March 21, 2018.
Virginia Hall smuggled documents inside her fake leg
Virginia Hall had a hunting accident early on in life that left her with an amputated leg. It was her prosthetic limb (which she named “Cuthbert”) that ended her career aspirations of becoming a diplomat. During World War II, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and spent 15 months supporting the French Underground.
She also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by relaying information of German activity and disrupting their logistics whenever possible. She smuggled documents in her prosthetic leg and evaded detection with forged French documents. The Germans called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”
The Grave of the Man Who Never Was: Operation Mincemeat
Glyndwr Michael wasn’t a spy, and nor was Major William Martin, but the deception here was a monumental success of intelligence operations. Glyndwr Michael was a homeless man who died from eating rat poison. His corpse, however, was destined for greater things. The body was drafted and promoted into the Royal Marines. British Intelligence created a backstory for the corpse, complete with a picture of a fiancee, two love letters, a diamond ring with receipt, a furious letter from his disapproving father, and a notice of overdraft from the bank. The body was dressed according to its rank and sent to float off the coast of Spain, attached to a briefcase that contained a (phony) letter, outlining allied war plans. The Germans discovered these plans, adjusted their strategy accordingly, and, in turn, left a key landing spot without important defenses.
The story of love-struck, ID-losing, overdrafting Royal Marine who was marrying a girl his father didn’t approve of was convincing enough to the Germans. You know, as a veteran, I feel personally attacked by the fact that they believed this without question…
Louis-Pierre Dillais disguised himself as a hippie
Operation Satanic (originally Operation Satanique) was an attack on the Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, ship was owned and operated by GreenPeace and docked in Port Auckland, New Zealand. The crew was on a mission to protest a planned nuclear test in Moruroa by the French.
Louis-Pierre Dillais and Jean-Luc Kister joined the protesters under the ruse that they shared their ideologies. When they believed the crew had disembarked, they attached explosives to the hull of the ship. However, some of the crew returned earlier than anticipated, and the detonation that sunk the ship also killed a crew member.
Meet the KGB Spies Who Invented Fake News | NYT Opinion
In the 1980s, the former Soviet Union created a disinformation campaign to convince the world that the United States created the AIDS/HIV virus in Fort Detrick, Maryland, to kill off African-Americans and the LGBT community. The Soviets made their move, and with frightening efficiency, the world believed that the U.S. would do such a thing without evidence. Eventually, we forced the Soviet Union to its knees in 1991, but they fought dirty the whole way down.
With the surprising (to some) victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, one issue that will come into sharp focus is how he will handle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.
During the campaign, he promised to “bomb the sh– out of” ISIS. Realistically, with the militants hiding among civilians in densely populated cities in the Middle East, a “bomb the sh– out of” them campaign would be a tough sell. So maybe it’s a good idea to see what similar air wars are in the historical playbook to get an idea of the cost.
This is the crowning masterpiece of the career of Sir Arthur Harris. In mid-February 1945, four massive raids with 722 Royal Air Force bombers and 527 more from the United States Army Air Force (which also contributed over 750 P-51 Mustang fighters) delivered almost 4,000 tons of bombs on target.
Dresden was firebombed for several nights, killing an estimated 130,000 Germans. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
For the loss of eight planes, over 200 factories were damaged. Not a bad ratio, except of course the fact that over 100,000 civilians were estimated to have been killed in the days-long fire bombing.
Kinda why the Air Force developed precision bombing.
The B-29 bombing offensive against Japan had not been entirely effective using daylight attacks from high altitude. That was when Gen. Curtis LeMay decided to change the game. Instead of high-altitude bombing during the day, he sent 334 B-29s against Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945. He wanted to fly along with the raid, but since he had first-hand knowledge of top-secret military code-breaking efforts, the risk of his capture was too high and he was grounded.
Of the planes sent, 27 were lost due to enemy action.
But once again, 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped, annihilating 16-square miles of the city costing an estimated 130,000 lives. Emperor Hirohito toured the city in the aftermath of the raid, he began to work to get Japan out of the war.
With the Paris Peace talks stalled over ending the Vietnam conflict, President Richard Nixon acted decisively. For nearly two weeks in late December 1972, 207 B-52 Stratofortresses, along with hundreds of other planes, launched a massive aerial assault on Hanoi. Dubbed the “Christmas Bombing,” over that 11-day period, over 15,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the BUFFs, with the tactical aircraft dropping more. In all, 16 B-52s and 12 other planes were lost.
B-52 Stratofortress bombers dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on Hanoi during the Christmas bombing campaign. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The North Vietnamese ultimately resumed negotiations, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973. Some reports indicate nearly 1,000 Vietnamese were killed during the raids.
During Operation Desert Storm, the B-52Gs sent to targets over Iraq and Kuwait delivered up to 40 percent of the wartime bombing tonnage. Most of their operations involved carpet-bombing the Republican Guard and other Iraqi ground forces. Joe Baugher noted that in 1,620 sorties, one B-52G was lost due to an electrical failure on Feb. 3, 1991, and three others suffered combat damage.
5. War on Terror
The current bomber force may have drawn down, but in the 1990s, the B-52, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit were all equipped to handle precision-guided munitions. Today, they have been delivering lots of bombs on various terror groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.
What’s the difference between pirates and patriots? A government to be loyal to, of course. Such was the case during the age of sail, when warring nations would literally hire pirates and other captains to raid enemy shipping.
When officially endorsed by a belligerent nation, pirates were issued a Letter of Marque – the marque being a pledge to fight for one nation…at least for the time being.
Such was the case with England’s “Sea Dogs,” hired by Queen Elizabeth I to raid gold-laden Spanish treasure fleets sailing from the New World. Capturing a ship meant money for both the ship and her crew as well as the Marque-issuing government.
The Catholic King Philip of Spain was determined to flip Protestant England back to Catholic control. The English Protestants and their Queen were having none of it. For some 19 years, the two countries were bitter rivals, fighting a series of battles on both land and sea that saw little else but money change hands.
For the crews who shared the prize money, life was harsh. Disease and starvation were common among sailing crews at the time. For the Sea Dogs’ commander, a few good prizes could make them rich. One pirate would become the second highest-earning pirate of all time.
That Sea Dog was Sir Francis Drake, a Protestant captain with a distaste for Spanish Catholics. Perhaps one of the greatest English leaders of the age, Drake led the expedition that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and took his piracy tour to the Pacific for the first time in history.
The Spanish put a price on his head that would be the modern equivalent of almost $7 million.
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and the war ended the next year. Drake would also not survive the war, dying of dysentery after attacking Puerto Rico. Though the peace restored the status quo, the war was a disaster for Spain.
Embracing the Sea Dogs was a disaster for England as well. After the war, they joined the raiders of the North African coast, continuing their anti-Catholic piracy careers alongside the Turkish corsairs of the Barbary States.