The history of the U.S. Space Force goes back long before President Trump directed the Pentagon to create a “Space Force” in June of 2018. But the history of space and the military actually goes back to shortly after the end of World War II.
General Hap Arnold was an early visionary of the potential of space operations. He directed the RAND Corporation to determine the feasibility of satellite for strategic communications in 1946. That study identified nearly all of the current space mission areas: intelligences, weather forecasting, communications and navigation. The Air Force’s role in space remained constant leading up to Air Force Space Command’s creation. During the Cold War, space operations focused on missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. During Desert Storm, AFSPC showed their importance for supporting the Warfighter.
Then, in 2001, the Space Commission recommended that Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) give up Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to AFSPC. Due to the nature and importance of space, AFSPC was the only command to have their own acquisition arm within the command. In 2002, AFSPC was given their own four-star commander, a position that had previously been split between AFSPC and NORAD. In 2005, AFSPC was given the control of cyber, but it was later forced to give up that responsibility in 2018. This move allowed AFSPC to focus on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing adversaries.
In August 2019, the AFSPC commander was assigned the dual-hat responsibility of U.S. Space Command Commander and on December 20, 2019, with the signing of the National Defense Acquisition Act (NDAA) the United States Space Force was born.
For those outside the space community, the idea of a Space Force felt outlandish and people wondered what this Space Force would do. Would they fight wars in space? Why is space so important that a whole new military branch was created? And with much of the work within the Space Force and AFSPC classified, many people do not know the role and scope of why a Space Force was created. But if you do some research you will learn that both China and Russia already have their own version of a Space Force and America needed to take this crucial step forward to maintain space superiority.
For many years, the role and scope of space have been growing and the “wars” being fought in space have been happening hidden behind layers of classification. Even everyday tools that Americans use like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), cell phones and more, rely on the technology created to keep our country safe and on the leading age of this new frontier. With the recent success of private companies such as Space X, the role and scope of space is changing. The military needs a branch of its own to help continue the innovation and keep up with this changing climate.
So where are we now? The Air Force opened the window for organic space career fields (such as Space Operations and Space Systems Operations) and common career fields (such as Intelligence, Cyber, Engineering and Acquisitions) to apply for transfer to the U.S. Space Force from May 1-31, 2020. For those within the organic space career fields, they were given the option to transfer, retrain to a new career field or leave the military. The transfer for organic space career fields is set to begin on September 1, 2020. For common career fields, each career field board will meet to determine what members who applied will be accepted to the Space Force. The transfer for all Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) is expected to be completed by February 1, 2021. Army, Navy and Marine Corps transfers are still being worked and are expected to take place in FY 22/23. Those who choose to transfer will incur a two-year service commitment.
Those who have decided to apply for the transfer are now in the wait and see bucket. Waiting to find out what the military board decides to do and waiting to see how this change will impact where they are stationed and what their future will be. While many people are already in a Space Force billet there will be new Space Force members who will need to be reassigned to a new unit based on their choice to join the Space Force. The Air Force and Space Force are still working out the details on how these changes will happen and how and when they will take place.
Those who are waiting to join the military’s newest branch have a bit of excitement as this historic change takes place. With new information being released as it becomes available the excitement and uncertainty makes this an interesting time to be serving in the military. The Space Force is a new branch that will allow space to take its role in the forefront of our nation’s security. And while still so much of what happens within the Space Force is unknown, we know the impacts of what is happening will change the world we live in.
In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.
Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.
“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”
Still, Shields kept fighting.
“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”
But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.
“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.
The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.
Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.
“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.
Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.
At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”
The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”
Do you remember when former President George W. Bush gave a speech congratulating America for completing the mission in Iraq back in 2003? That took place aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (and is probably a moment the former POTUS would probably like to take back for obvious reasons but let’s stay on track here).
In May of 2017, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was redelivered back to the Navy after undergoing nearly a four-year mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul.
Approximately 2.5 million hours of labor were committed to the overhaul and restoration of this legendary aircraft carrier.
The vessel’s upgrades include various repairs and replacements of ventilation, electrical, propellers, rudders, and combat and aviation support systems.
With the innovated modification to the rudders and propellers, the USS Abraham Lincoln can now tactfully turn around with minimal support.
The Queen is likely one of the single best protected people on the entire planet. But on June 13, 1981, a 17 year old young man who held a marksman’s badge from the Air Training Corps somehow managed to circumvent the endless layers of security put in place to protect the Queen and fired a revolver at her from about 10 feet or 3 meters away. In the process, he managed to get not just one shot off, but a half a dozen, completely emptying his gun. So how is the queen still alive today? Well, thanks to strict gun laws in the UK, the young man, one Marcus Sarjeant, could only get his hands on a gun that shot blanks…
So why did he do it? According to Sarjeant, he was inspired to try and kill the Queen thanks to the deaths of John Lennon, JFK, and the attempts on the life of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In particular, Sarjeant was intrigued by the subsequent notoriety and fame Mark David Chapman achieved after shooting Lennon and endeavoured to do something similarly shocking so that he’d be remembered as well. Not unique in this, humans have been doing this sort of thing seemingly since humans have been humaning, with perhaps the most notable ancient example being about two thousand years ago when Herostratus destroyed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World just so history would remember him.
A modern model of the Temple of Artemis.
Going back to Sarjeant, prior to trying to shoot the Queen, he had received military training, reportedly joining and then quickly quitting both the Royal Marines and Army after 3 months and 2 days respectively. In the former case, he claims he couldn’t take the bullying from his superiors. It’s not clear why he left the Army. After this, Sarjeant tried and failed to become both a police officer and firefighter before working briefly at a zoo — a job he quit after just a few months reportedly because, as with seemingly all teens, he didn’t like being told what to do.
After deciding that shooting the Queen was his ticket into the history books, Sarjeant wrote in his journal, “I am going to stun and mystify the world with nothing more than a gun… I will become the most famous teenager in the world.”
Decision made, Sarjeant set about trying to get a hold of a gun with which to accomplish the task. Fortunately for the Queen, he was unable to do this thanks to strict UK laws related to gun ownership and the sale of live ammunition. Thus, he was both unable to acquire bullets for his father’s revolver and unable to acquire one of his own, even after successfully joining a gun club. Eventually, he did manage to purchase a Colt Python replica, which was modified to fire only blanks.
Despite the unmistakable handicap of not having a working gun, Sarjeant charged ahead with his plan to assassinate the Queen anyway, posing for pictures with his newly acquired firearm, as well as his father’s that he had no bullets for. He then sent these to a couple magazines along with a letter about what he was going to do. He also reportedly sent a letter to the Queen stating, “Your Majesty. Don’t go to the trooping of the color today because there is an assassin waiting outside to kill you”. This is a letter we should note didn’t arrive until 3 days after Sarjeant tried to shoot the Queen.
Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II riding to trooping the colour in July 1986.
As for the day of the Trooping the Colour ceremony, Sarjeant waited patiently for the Queen who he knew would be vulnerable due to the fact that she would be riding a horse in the open, and not in her usual well-guarded carriage. As soon as Sarjeant spotted her Majesty, he rushed forward and fired all 6 blanks his gun held at her, something that understandable startled the Queen’s 19-year-old horse, Burmese.
The Queen, showing why she is often considered an ambassador for British stoicism, didn’t really react much other than calming her horse and then continuing on all smiles as if nothing had happened.
If you watch the live news reporting of the event, the BBC broadcaster likewise exhibits this same stereotypical British reaction, directly after the shots were fired calming saying, “Hello, some little disturbance in the approach road… Burmese receiving a reassuring pat from her Majesty Queen, but he’s a very experienced, wise old fellow…” And then, much as the Queen had done, continuing on as if nothing significant had just happened.
Prince Charles reflects on Trooping The Colour in 1981 – Elizabeth at 90 – A Family Tribute – BBC
Of course, seconds after the shots were fired, the Queen’s personal guard tackled Sarjeant and began treating him as you might expect her guard would a man who had just seemingly tried to kill their charge. Sarjeant reportedly later told the guards his reasoning for the assassination attempt: “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody.”
Sarjeant was ultimately taken to jail where he had to be held in solitary confinement for his own protection, as apparently even British prisoners don’t take kindly to someone taking pot shots at the queen.
When it came to the trial, because Sarjeant’s gun only held blanks, he couldn’t technically be tried for attempted assassination. As a result, Sarjeant was instead tried under Section 2 of the Treason Act of 1842, for “wilfully discharging at the person of Her Majesty the Queen a cartridge pistol, with intent to alarm her”.
Funny enough, this act came about in the first place because of people taking pot shots at Queen Victoria, most notably when one John Francis on May 29, 1842 chose to point a gun at the Queen, but not fire. The next day, he did the same thing, but this time discharging his weapon, but without apparent attempt to actually hit her, at which point he was arrested and tried for treason. A mere two days later, another individual, John William Bean, did the same thing, except, again, there was no risk to the queen. In this case, Bean had loaded the weapon with paper and tobacco.
The problem here was that, while neither of these instances were individuals actually trying to kill the queen, they nonetheless were being charged with treason, a conviction of which meant death. This was something Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, thought was too harsh, which ultimately led to the passage of the Treason Act of 1842. This had lesser penalties for discharging a fire arm near the monarch with intent to startle said monarch, rather than kill. As for the sentence if convicted, this included a flogging and a maximum prison sentence of 7 years.
Going back to Sarjeant, said Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane to Sarjeant during the trial,
I have little doubt that if you had been able to obtain a live gun or live ammunition for your father’s gun you would have tried to murder her majesty. You tried to get a license. You tried to get a gun. You were not able to obtain either. Therefore, for reasons which are not easy to understand, you chose to indulge in what was a fantasy assassination…. You must be punished for the wicked thing you did.
Or to put it another way, Sarjeant won’t be remembered by history as the guy who tried to kill the Queen, but the guy who tried (and utterly failed) to mildly startle her.
In the end, while Sarjeant did apologize for what he’d done in court and would later write a letter to the queen apologizing directly, he was nonetheless sentenced to five years in prison, though at least got out of the flogging part of the possible punishment. Sarjeant ultimately only had to serve three years, the majority of which was spent at Grendon Psychiatric Prison in Buckinghamshire.
After he got out of prison in October of 1984, he changed his name and very deliberately disappeared from the public eye, his desire for fame evidently having been quashed during his time being held at Her Majesty’s leisure
Back in 1987, the world was a very different place. While the Soviet Union was on a crash course with destiny, the power the nation wielded–backed by a massive nuclear arsenal–had left it in a decades-long staring match with the United States.
Mutually Assured Destruction, a doctrine of military strategy that left the two nuclear powers in a stalemate President Ronald Reagan described as a “suicide pact,” had left the world in an uneasy state of both peace and war simultaneously. And nowhere was this dichotomy more present than in the homes of residents of East and West Germany. The nation had been divided since the end of World War II, with NATO’s Western powers in West Germany, and a Soviet puppet-state called the German Democratic Republic in the east.
East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards in 1989 (University of Minnesota Institute of Advanced Studies)
By 1987, the wheels that would ultimately tear down the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany physically and ideological were already turning, and a young man named Mathias Rust was keen on playing his part in history. Like many young adults, Rust was increasingly politically minded. Unlike most 18-year-olds, he also had a pilot’s license and access to a Cessna 172 airplane that had been modified by removing the rear seats for added fuel capacity.
In October of 1986, Rust had watched the Reykjavík summit between U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. As that summit ended in a stalemate, Rust felt the overwhelming urge to find a way to make a difference.
“I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it,” he would go on to tell the BBC.
Rust soon began forming a plan. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and while it’s unlikely that Rust was aware of the axiom, his actions embodied the premise. He took stock of the skills he had, the resources he had available, and the situation to begin forming an idea. He’d take his little Cessna directly into the heart of the Soviet Union in a political spectacle he hoped would inspire others.
“I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds,” Rust said.
Rust’s rented Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
By May 13, 1987, Rust was ready to put his plan into action, but he still harbored understandable doubts. Today, Russia is renown for their advanced air defense systems, and the same was true of their Soviet predecessors. The USSR maintained the most elaborate and largest air defense system anywhere on the globe and they had demonstrated a propensity for using it against civilian aircraft. Only about five years earlier, the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into their airspace, killing all 269 passengers on board.
Rust told his parents he was leaving on a tour of Northern Europe that would help him accumulate more hours toward his professional pilot’s license, and for the first few days, that’e exactly what he did. After a few days of traveling, he stayed in Helsinki, Finland for a few days and pondered what he was about to do. He wanted to make a big public statement, but he wasn’t keen on dying in the process.
“Of course I was afraid to lose my life. I was weighing if it is really responsible, reasonable, to take this kind of risk. At the end I came to the conclusion, ‘I have to risk it.'”
He filed a flight plan that would have taken him to Stockholm and took off just like he would on any other day. As Rust recalls, he still wasn’t really sure he would go through with it until well after he was already airborne.
“I made the final decision about half an hour after departure. I just changed the direction to 170 degrees and I was heading straight down to Moscow.”
Rust’s flight path (WikiMedia Commons)
It wasn’t long before Soviet air defenses were alerted to his presence. They were tracking him on radar, and within an hour of diverting from his flight plan, fighters had been scrambled to intercept his little Cessna. He was flying low–only about 1,000 feet off the ground or 2,500 feet above sea level, and donned his crash helmet.
“The whole time I was just sitting in the aircraft, focusing on the dials,” said Rust. “It felt like I wasn’t really doing it.”
Fate was on Rust’s side, however, and one of the fighter pilots reported seeing what he believed was a Yak-12–a Soviet plane that looks similar to a Cessna 172. Either the pilot or his air traffic controllers decided that the plane must have been allowed to be there, because they broke off pursuit. At around the same time, Rust descended below the clouds to prevent them from icing up his wings, which also made him disappear from Soviet radar. Once he passed the clouds, he climbed back up to 2,500 feet and popped back up on their radar scopes.
Suddenly, he spotted fighters emerge from the cloud cover in front of him.
“It was coming at me very fast, and dead-on. And it went whoosh!—right over me. I remember how my heart felt, beating very fast,” he explained. “This was exactly the moment when you start to ask yourself: Is this when they shoot you down?”
Before he knew it, Soviet Mig-23 interceptors pulled up alongside him from both beneath him and his left. The single-seat, swing-wing Mig-23 was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.3 (more than 300 miles per hour faster than an F-35) and was positively massive compared to Rust’s little Cessna. In order to flank him, the Migs had to lower their landing gear and extend their flaps to scrub their speed enough not to scream past Rust and his single-prop 172.
“I realized because they hadn’t shot me down yet that they wanted to check on what I was doing there,” Rust said. “There was no sign, no signal from the pilot for me to follow him. Nothing.”
Rust would later learn that the pilots were indeed trying to contact him, but were using high-frequency military channels. Finally, the Migs pulled their landing gear in, dropped their flaps and screamed off into the distance again, circling rust twice in half mile loops before departing. Rust had once again made it through a brush with Soviet interceptors and was still flying straight for the Soviet capital.
A later investigation would confirm that, either the pilots assumed the Cessna was indeed a Soviet Yak-12, or their command didn’t think the situation warranted any concern. Shortly after the fighters departed, luck would once again deal in Rust’s favor. He unknowingly entered into a Soviet air force training zone where aircraft with similar radar signatures to his own were conducting various exercises. His small plane got lost in the radar chatter, which would save his neck in the following minutes.
The Soviet Yak-12 looks very similar to a Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
Protocol required that all Soviet pilots reset their transponder at frequent intervals, and any pilot that didn’t reset theirs would immediately show as hostile on radar. At 3pm, just such a switch was scheduled, but because Rust was flying among a group of student pilots, the Soviet commander overseeing radar operations assumed he was a student that had absent-mindedly forgotten to switch his transponder. He ordered the radar operator to change Rust’s radar return to “friendly,” warning that “otherwise we might shoot some of our own.”
An hour later, Rust was little more than 200 miles outside of Moscow, and subject to a new region’s radar and air defense scrutiny. Once again, radar operators spotted the small aircraft and intercept fighters were dispatched, but the cloud cover was too thick and they were unable to find the small Cessna visually. Soon thereafter, another radar operator would mark Rust’s plane as “friendly,” mistaking it for a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to the region.
As Rust approached Moscow’s airspace, the report that was forwarded to the air defense in the area listed a Soviet aircraft seemingly flying with its transponder off, rather than anything about a West German teenager infiltrating hundreds of miles of heavily guarded Soviet airspace.
Rust then flew his small plane over Moscow’s infamous “Ring of Steel,” which was made up of multiple overlapping air defense systems built specifically to protect the Soviet capital from American bombers. Air defense rings surrounded Moscow at 10, 25, and 45 miles out, all capable of engaging a fleet of heavy bombers, but none the least bit interested in the tiny plane Rust piloted.
Shortly thereafter, Rust entered the airspace over the city itself–an area that had all air traffic heavily restricted, even military flights. As Rust flew over Moscow, Soviet radar operators finally realized something was terribly amiss, but it was too late. There was no time to scramble intercept fighters; Rust was already flying from building to building, trying to identify Moscow’s famous Red Square.
“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”
Moscow’s Red Square
Rust spotted a 6-lane bridge that led into Red Square with sparse traffic and only a few power lines he’d need to avoid. He flew over the first set of wires, then dropped the aircraft down quickly to fly below the next set. As he nearly touched down, he spotted a car directly in his path.
“I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust said, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”
With his wheels on the ground, Rust rolled directly into Red Square. He had wanted to park the plane in front of Lenin’s tomb, but a fence blocked his path and he settled for coming to a stop in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. He shut down the engine and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the reality of his situation slowly engulfed him. He had done the impossible.
“A big crowd had formed around me,” Rust recalled. “People were smiling and coming up to shake my hand or ask for autographs. There was a young Russian guy who spoke English. He asked me where I came from. I told him I came from the West and wanted to talk to Gorbachev to deliver this peace message that would [help Gorbachev] convince everybody in the West that he had a new approach.”
Rust next to his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square
He had anticipated being captured immediately by the KGB, but instead found the crowd confused and delighted by his stunning entrance. One woman gave him some bread. A young soldier chastised him for not applying for a visa, but credited him for the initiative. What Rust didn’t realize was that the KGB was already present, and agents were already worming through the crowd, confiscating cameras and notebooks people had Rust sign.
An hour later, two truck loads of Soviet soldiers arrived. They mostly ignored Rust as they aggressively pushed the crowds back and put up barriers around the teenager and his plane. Then three men arrived in a black sedan, one of whom identified himself as an interpreter. He asked Rust for his passport and if they could inspect the aircraft. Rust recalls their demeanor as mostly friendly and even casual.
The plane was then taken to the nearby Sheremetyevo International Airport where it was completely disassembled during its inspection, and despite the friendly demeanor of the Soviets, he was immediately transported to Lefortovo prison. The prison was infamous for its use by the KGB to hold political prisoners.
A modern view of the Lefortovo prison (WikiMedia Commons)
Initially, the Soviets refused to believe that Rust had accomplished his daring mission without support from NATO forces. The date he chose, May 28, was Border Guards Day in the Soviet Union, and they accused him of choosing the day intentionally to embarrass them. Then they accused him of getting the maps he’d used to reach Moscow from the American CIA… that is, until the Soviet consul in Hamburg confirmed that they could purchase the very same maps through a mail order service.
After realizing Rust was not the world’s youngest and most ostentatious CIA operative, they finally charged him illegal entry, violation of flight laws, and “malicious hooliganism.” Rust pleaded guilty to the first two charges, but refused the third, claiming he had no malicious intent. Nonetheless, he was found guilty on all counts by a panel of three judges and sentenced to four years in the same Lefortovo prison. Despite the prison’s harsh reputation, Rust was mostly well cared for, and even allowed to have his parents visit every two months.
In 1988, Rust was released from prison in a “goodwill gesture” following a treaty between Reagan and Gorbachev that would have both nations eliminate their intermediate range nuclear missiles. It was not quite such a happy ending for many Soviet officials however.
Rust’s re-assembled Cessna on display in the German Museum of Technology (WikiMedia Commons)
In a way, Rust’s flight did exactly what he’d hoped. The stunt had seriously damaged the reputation of the Soviet military and provided Gorbachev with the leverage he needed to outfox those who opposed his reforms.
Almost immediately following Rust’s landing in Red Square, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were both removed from their posts for allowing such an egregious violation of Soviet airspace. Shortly thereafter, hundreds of other officers were also removed from their positions. Rust’s flight led to the single largest turnover of Soviet officers since the 1930s, according to Air Space Magazine.
Rust would never sit behind the stick of an aircraft again, but would go down in history as the only pilot to defeat the entirety of the Soviet military using a rented, single prop, trainer plane. Unfortunately, Rust’s seemingly heroic stunt has been overshadowed by the troubled man’s continued run-ins with the law. In the early 90s, he received another prison sentence for assaulting a woman that refused his romantic advances. In 2005, he was again convicted of a crime–this time for fraud. Today he describes himself an analyst for an investment bank, seemingly keen to leave his high-flying theatrics behind him.
Sure, you’ve heard of the War on Drugs but what about drug use during military conflict, drugs in the Army, and even wars where people were high? Throughout history, drugs and wars have gone hand in hand. Needless to say, a military conflict is a stressful environment and the stress of the battlefield can be traumatizing to troops — drug use and war are no strangers to one another.
1. Amphetamines Keep Syrian Forces Fighting
Speed seems to be the drug of choice for military conflicts; amphetamine has that dangerous combination of keeping soldiers fighting for days on end and keeping them from getting any sleep. In the Middle East, Syrian-made Captagon is the speed of choice, being employed by ISIS fighters so they can stay alert during battle.
One minor setback: The drug, which was created in the ’60s to treat hyperactivity and narcolepsy, is highly addictive — so addictive that it was banned in the ‘8os (that’s how you know it’s bad). It’s also very cheap to make, yet has a street value of around $20 a tablet. The effects of Captagon keep the soldiers euphoric, sleepless, and energetic. The profits from Captagon sales are believed to be used by the Islamic State in Syria to buy weapons.
2. The First Opium War Was Non-Ironically Fought Over Opium
Take a wild guess as to the prominent drug of the First Opium War. If you said “opium,” then you are unsurprisingly correct. How it worked: Britain violated China’s ban on the importation of opium, seeking to right an imbalance in the flow of trade between the two countries. The Chinese people quickly became addicted to the drug, including those in the army.
It is estimated that 90% of the Emperor’s Army was addicted to opium. Put that head-to-head with a superior British military and, well, you can predict the outcome.
3. The American Civil War Created “Soldier’s Disease” and Morphine Addicts
During the Civil War, morphine was considered a “wonder drug” for the wounded. It was also used as an anesthetic and pain killer during field amputations. The problem was, after the war, many wounded soldiers carried on with their morphine use.
It was estimated that 400,000 soldiers returned from the war as addicts. The term “soldier’s disease” was even coined to describe the addiction. By the end of the 19th century, there were one million Americans who had “soldier’s disease.”
4. Zulu Warriors Fought While Tripping on Mushrooms
In the 1870s the British Empire wanted to conquer the Zulu Kingdom. To help combat their foes, the Zulus would use magic mushrooms and THC, packed in a snuff form. When the British came attacking, they just popped magic mushrooms and felt invincible.
5. World War I Soldiers Smoked ‘Em Up
Morphine fell out of favor after the “soldier’s disease” epidemic of the Civil War, and by the time World War One rolled around it was no longer in use. So, the doughboys in the trenches turned on to tobacco to calm their nerves and cigarettes were even distributed as part of military rations. Some 14 million were given out daily.
6. Hitler Fueled His Third Reich with Speed
Have you seen the documentary High Hitler? The whole Nazi regime was fueled on speed and meth to keep them marching. Along with that, the Americans, British, and Japanese troops popped amphetamines to stay awake. Some 200 million pills were distributed to soldiers by the American military. Soldiers and speed was thought of as the ultimate fighting combination.
7. The Vietnam War Was All Pot and Heroin
The ’60s was the time of cultural revolution. While the kids were getting high at Woodstock, so were the soldiers in Vietnam. Marijuana was the preferred drug of the troops – which they referred to as “the sh*t.” Things shifted in 1968 and society began to crackdown on weed. As a result, soldiers switched to heroin, which they mixed with tobacco and smoked in the field.
By the summer of 1971, 20 percent of American troops in Vietnam were heroin addicts.
8. Sierra Leone Civil War Numbed Boy Soldiers with Brown-Brown and Speed
You’d be hard-pressed to find a sadder chapter in history than that of Sierre Leone and the war fought with boy soldiers. To get children to kill, the drug lords used a combination of speed, cocaine, and “brown-brown”: a snorted mixture of cocaine and gunpowder.
The drugs would make the boy soldiers numb to everything around. To charge them up at night, the child troops would be made to watch Rambo movies.
9. Pill-Popping Energized the Iraq War
Much like how prescription drugs were abused by the rest of society in the 2000s, the pills were also abused by the American military. Prescription drug abuse tripled among soldiers during the Iraq War.
Afghanistan has always been known for opium and its poppy fields. In fact, the country produces 90% of the world’s supply. A 2009 United Nations study estimated that $160 million of drug money in Afghanistan goes to fund terrorist activities each year.
Heroin serves two distinct military tactics in this case: The Taliban was using the drug money to fight Americans, and also using the heroin to get Americans addicted.
Drunken British soldiers gulped alcohol to boost morale and give them the courage to kick Napoleon’s ass. Some Brit soldiers would spend a month’s wages on a single drinking session, which higher-ranking officers were told to strictly avoid.
12. The Speedball Was Invented During the Korean War
Most of what the average person knows about the Korean War is from watching reruns of the TV show M.A.S.H. But what type of drug abuse were these soldiers into during the military conflict?
The Korean War saw American servicemen stationed in Korea and Japan concocting the speedball: an injectable mixture of amphetamine and heroin.
13. Boko Haram Uses Sex-Enhancing Drugs
In the conflict between the Nigerian Army and Boko Haram militants, drugs have played a different role in the conflict than as in other wars and military encounters. Members of the Nigerian Army have noted that Boko Haram has turned their camps into sex enclaves.
When the troops captured their bases, they found a littering of condoms and sex-enhancing drugs. Surprisingly, the troops didn’t find Qur’an or other Islamic book.
14. The Gaza Strip Is a Drug Trafficking Epicenter
The war between Israel and the Palestinians indirectly caused a flurry of drug trafficking activity. Over 1,200 tunnels have been constructed on the Gaza/Egyptian border to smuggle food, weapons, goods, and drugs into Gaza.
The Contras were the US-backed and funded terrorist rebel groups that took on the left-wing, socialist Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government in Nicaragua.
In 1986, the Reagan Administration acknowledged that funds from cocaine smuggling helped fund the Contra, which included payments to known drug traffickers by the US State Department. So basically, the CIA worked with drug smugglers to fund an overthrow of the Nicaraguan government.
16. Hemp Played a Major Role in the Revolutionary War
As is widely known, America’s Founding Fathers were well into the hemp and cannabis. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. Needless to say, the Declaration of Independence was signed on hemp paper.
The 1950s and 60s were a more fraught time in French history than most Americans realize. It was a time where senior generals deployed their forces against French territory and threatened Paris and the sitting president twice in just three years.
The first coup came in 1958, following years of unrest. The French Fourth Republic, the government formed in 1946, a couple of years after the liberation of France from Nazi control, was never steady. Among other problems, an unpopular and bloody war in Algeria, then a French colony, was a millstone around the nation’s neck.
Members of the French Army operate in Algeria.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Richard M. Hunt via State Archives of North Carolina)
In May, 1958, the government attempted to open negotiations with their major opponent in French Algeria, the Algerian National Liberation Front. If the war was unpopular, capitulating was worse. Rioters in French Algeria occupied an important government building.
The situation continued to degrade until May 24, when the troops got involved.
Military members in French Algeria launched Operation Resurrection, invading Corsica with little bloodshed. Gen. Jacques Massu, one of the senior military officials in French Algeria and the coup forces, agreed with others that the paratroopers could take Villacoublay Airfield, just a few miles from Paris.
Gen. Charles de Gaulle and his men were greeted by huge crowds when Paris was liberated, and he enjoyed enduring popularity for years.
(U.S. Office of War Information photo by Jack Downey)
The French Fourth Republic, facing mounting unrest at home and the growing possibility of an invasion by its own forces, collapsed. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who had avoided politics since 1946 but retained massive support of the protesters and France at large, took power. A new constitution was approved in September and the Fifth French Republic was born.
For the French people, this was a potential return to stability and sensible government. For forces in French Algeria, this was seen as the chance to focus on the business of fighting rebels.
But the French people outside of Algeria were still not fully behind the war — and it only got worse over the following years.
Workers set up communications for the Ministry of Armament and General Liaisons, a part of the resistance during the Algerian War that survived the end of the war and became part of the permanent government there.
By 1960, de Gaulle was working to negotiate peace with the rebels and the morale of troops stationed there plummeted. Mid-career and senior officers began refusing orders as some troops tried to avoid dying in the final days of a lost war while others attempted to achieve some victories that would strengthen the French position and prevent a second Vietnam.
It was against this backdrop that the retired and popular French Gen. Maurice Challe met with senior officers and proposed a second coup, this one against de Gaulle. He was joined in the inner circle by generals Edmond Jouhaud, Andre Zeller, and Raoul Salan, but the group enjoyed the support of other senior officers.
In the final hours of April 21, 1961, French paratroopers took over important buildings and infrastructure in French Algeria, especially the capital, Algiers. Challe took to the radio the next morning to call on all other troops in French Algeria to cease supporting Paris and follow him instead. It had been less than three years since some of those same troops had supported the coup that brought de Gaulle to power.
Challe threatened Paris itself in his radio address, saying he, “reserved the right of extending the action to metropolitan France to reestablish a constitutional and republican order.”
De Gaulle gave his own public address, while wearing his old uniform, where he called on the people of French Algeria and France as a whole to resist the attack on the Fifth Republic.
France, for the most part, followed de Gaulle. Workers staged a symbolic, hour-long strike to show that they could shutdown industry if the coup continued. Citizens rallied and prepared to occupy the airfields around Paris with cars and bodies to prevent any planes from French Algeria landing.
The six-foot, five-inch Charles de Gaulle was popular at home and imposing everywhere he went, but he faced numerous attempts to force him and his government from power by vocal and well-organized opposition, including some generals in French Algeria.
Many pilots and crews flew their planes out of the country and sabotaged their own aircraft to prevent further use. Soldiers refused to leave their barracks or organized their own ruling committees if they thought their officers were loyal to the coup.
Oddly, despite de Gaulle calling for resisting “by all means” and ordering loyal troops to fire on rebel troops, there were no known cases of troops loyal to France attacking or inflicting casualties on rebelling troops. Rebel troops are thought to have killed less than five people, a tragic loss of life, yes, but much less than would be expected in a rebellion with organized battalions on each side.
Saint Marc remained in the barracks and the men were arrested the following morning. Challe was later sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served a little over five before receiving a pardon from de Gaulle. Saint Marc was sentenced to 10 but also received a pardon.
The Fifth Republic, despite its rocky start, endures today. Algeria achieved independence in 1962, ending France’s colonial empire.
This training video was shown to female soldiers in the 1970s to teach Army etiquette by comparing candidates for a coveted assignment.
Not surprisingly, the standards are sexist by modern standards. Candidates for the assignment are rated on how feminine and pretty they are. The office even agrees on the best performing member of the unit, but she’s knocked from the top spot for walking too much like a man. Another candidate lacks military discipline and is inefficient, but is easy to look at so she makes it into the top three.
The whole thing is two packs of cigarettes and an extra-marital affair away from being a ‘Mad Men’ episode. Check it out below.
You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”
It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.
Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.
In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.
By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.
Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.
Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.
The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.
None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.
How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.
For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.
Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.
The SS Meredith Victory might be the luckiest and most important ship of the entire Korean War. The Merchant Marine vessel carried men and materiel that saved US troops in the Pusan Perimeter, protected the supplies around Inchon harbor, and pulled off the “Christmas Miracle” – the largest single ship rescue evacuation of refugees in history.
Merchant Mariners might be history’s biggest unsung heroes. The Korean War in 1950 was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.
In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.
The unsung heroes of the Merchant Marine were part of the Inchon Landing force as well. If it weren’t for them, the whole thing might have fallen to the bottom of the ocean. The day before the landings at Inchon, a massive typhoon hit the coast of the Korean Peninsula, just off of which lay the United Nations invasion fleet. Hurricane-force winds slammed the boats supporting the invasion. Among them was the SS Meredith Victory, a merchant marine ship carrying men and supplies for the landing. Were it not for the ship’s crew’s skill at saving the ship, the entire invasion might never have happened.
The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.
But that’s not the last time history called the Meredith Victory. By the end of 1950, the Chinese had intervened in the war and were pushing UN forces back to the south. Along with those retreating troops came thousands of North Korean refugees fleeing the repressive Communist regime. By the time the Meredith Victory arrived in Hungnam Harbor, the docks were packed with refugees and soldiers fleeing the Chinese.
“The Koreans on the dock, to me, that’s what we were there for, that was our job. The problem was how we [were] going to get them aboard,” remembered Burley Smith, a Merchant Mariner, the third mate aboard the Meredith Victory. “There were too many people and not enough time to get them all loaded. It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”
North Korean refugees crowd the harbor at Hungnam, December 1950.
By this time, the Army had already left, and the Chinese were being held back by Naval gunfire. The crew of the Meredith Victory began loading passengers aboard this ship meant to house 59 people. The crew worked around the clock, loading the masses of people on to her decks. They managed to get all 14,000 onto the ship and safely away from the harbor before the Army blew the port facilities.
The ship traversed the coast of Korea, on the lookout for mines, enemy submarines, and North Korean fighter planes. By the time the ship got to Geoje Island, every single refugee was alive – and five more were born along the way. It was a Christmas miracle.
PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?
The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.
So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?
As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.
Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.
The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,
When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.
So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.
Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,
It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.
A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,
Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…
That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.
Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.
Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.
Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.
According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:
the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.
Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?
Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.
So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.
Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,
men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.
Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,
I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…
In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,
Denmark- Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.
Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.
In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.
Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.
This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.
This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.
Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.
Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”
Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.
The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.
An open iron maiden.
This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.
Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.
While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.
Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…
This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.
As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,
The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.
That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.
All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
On Sept. 21, 2018, the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System hosted our annual POW/MIA Recognition Day program. Three former prisoners of war (POW) attended including World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.
Here is his story.
From Bartlesville to the Battle of the Bulge
Born on April 2, 1926, Fred Brooks turned 18 in 1944. Nearly nine months later, the native of Bartlesville, Okla. was sent to the front lines on Christmas Day during the Battle of the Bulge.
On January 10, 1945, Brooks and five other solders in the 4th Infantry Division were conducting a night patrol and entered a German village.
“We went into this little village at night to check it out, and there wasn’t anyone in that village when we entered it,” said Brooks. “When daylight came, the Germans were everywhere. They killed one and wounded two.”
Surrounded, the remaining soldiers were forced to surrender, and were transported to Stalag IV-B Prison Camp in Mühlberg, Germany.
Brooks said the Germans fed the POWs once a day, which was typically a small cup of vegetable soup.
World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.
“That’s all they had to give you,” he said. “The Germans had nothing to feed their own troops, let alone us.”
He said the Germans never harmed him, but he did have to endure the brutal winter conditions.
“My feet were frozen terribly bad,” he said. “I didn’t have one drop of medication. There was an elderly English man in the camp where I was at and he helped me tremendously to clean the wounds as best we could. It was a rough winter.”
On April 23, 1945, the Russians liberated Stalag IV-B and approximately 30,000 POWs.
“The Russians entered our camp during the night,” said Brooks. “The next day, I think there was three German guards left and the Russians hung them high in the trees. We were very happy to see (the Russians). They fed us.”
Approximately 3,000 POWs died at Stalag IV-B, mostly from tuberculosis and typhus.
World War II Veteran and former POW Fred Brooks has received his health care from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System for approximately 30 years.
Brooks was reunited with the American Army and sent to the coast of France to wait for a transport ship home. While waiting, he met another soldier from Bartlesville, and the two made a pact not to tell their families they were coming home.
“When we got to the little bus station in Bartlesville, his wife was waiting on him,” he said with a laugh. “He had broken our vow not to call.”
From the bus station, Brooks walked a mile to his parent’s home.
“I got my parents up at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It was unreal. My parents were just out of it to see me walking in the door. It really surprised them. They were very happy.”
After the war, Brooks worked in construction and retired at the age of 75. He still lives in Bartlesville.
Looking back on the war and his internment in a German POW Camp, Brooks credits divine intervention for his survival.