This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Acting as a double agent can be a dirty, confusing game of keeping one’s stories straight. But in a time of war, it can be a necessary gig that top spies hold proudly. Where they’re playing two sides of the system for one common goal. In other words, it’s a spy who works for two countries, but only holds loyalties to one. 

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Juan Pujol Garcia

This is exactly what Spanish spy, Juan Pujol García, did during World War II. Only with a twist. Garcia tried to work for the British, but his job queries were rejected. Therefore, he took matters into his own hands and worked from afar. He first got the idea to work from afar after seeing political extremism during the Spanish Civil War. Wanting to offer something “for the good of humanity,” he began looking into career options as a spy. 

In whole, the story is more of an embarrassment on the Germans’ part, failing to fact check. However, it also offers a unique and rare piece of history.

After he was turned down by the Brits, Garcia took a new approach. He got a job with Hitler’s soldiers and flubbed his information. To fulfill his orders, he made up data, even entire movements, and sent it back to the Germans.

How he got the gig — false reports 

Pujol created a false version of himself as both a member of the British government and a closet Hitler supporter. He was also able to obtain a false passport. The combo did the trick and Germany quickly hired him as a spy. His first orders were to travel to Britain and “flip” fellow spies to join the movement. Instead, Pujol moved to Lisbon, Portugal and began sending up completely falsified reports. He pulled “data” and said he gathered from tourist guides, train schedules, movie shorts, and print ads. 

Notably, the information was filled with social faux pas and blatant mistakes, as Pujol didn’t know much about British culture. Most notably, he reported that Scottish were avid wine drinkers. In fact, Scotland is known for its whiskey and, at the time, served little wine. He also made mention of a liter/litre, unknowing that the U.K. did not operate on the metric system.

However, his superiors failed to check his information and put full trust into his word. 

Soon into his gig, Garcia began adding subordinates to his operation. This helped his case in two ways — 1) he could blame the fictional employees of false information and 2) to appear as if his efforts were growing with more spies under his wing. 

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Pujol’s original passport.

For perhaps his biggest win for the Brits, Pujol invented an entire convoy. He told the Germans about the Brothers of the Aryan World Order, a Welsh fascist movement. To counter a “planned attack,” Hitler sent a large defense system against this fake event. 

The event caused Britain to finally accept Pujol on their side. He was then moved to Britain and offered a job with M15. He and his boss continued to expand the fake network of spies throughout the war. 

At its largest point, the Germans were paying 27 fake spies brought on by Pujol, who operated under the codename Garbo. 

Lasting effects of WWII

Pujol is perhaps the only participant of WWII to receive honors from both sides. He was awarded an Iron Cross from the Germans, which required authorization from Hitler himself. He also became a member of the Order of the British Empire, with King George VI doing the honors.

Overall, he’s cited with helping win Operation Fortitude in deceiving Hitler’s forces when Allies were landing at Normandy. His efforts convinced them that the main attack would be at an alternate location and time. 

After the war

Fearing retribution from Hitler, Pujol, with the help of M15, moved to Angola to fake his death of malaria. He then moved to Venezuela where he ran a bookshop. 

In the 1970s and 80s, he was heavily researched by war thriller writer, Nigel West. After 12 years of hunting for Garbo’s real name, the two met up and collaborated on a book. In 1987 the pair released Operation Garbo: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Spy of World War II.

Articles

3 heroes who became POWs twice

There is no easy time to be a prisoner of war.


The United States military’s code of conduct implores captured service members to continue to resist by any means possible. This often means reprisals from one’s captors. Therefore, surviving one stint in a POW camp can be excruciating.

To do it twice is unimaginable — except these three American servicemen did it.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
The United States Code of Conduct is memorized by service members to act as a touchstone and a guide if captured. (Department of Defense)

1. Wendall A. Phillips

Phillips was assigned to the Air Transport Command as a radio operator on C-47 aircraft flying from bases in England.

While in Europe Phillips survived five separate crashes. During the last one, in late 1944, his aircraft was shot down. Though he walked away from the crash, he was unable to evade the Germans and was captured.

He and his fellow crewmembers were taken to a German POW camp in Belgium.

Phillips had no intention of sticking around though. After just 33 days Phillips and two other POW’s made a break for it.

Also read: Bob Hoover stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Phillips simply snuck away while no guards were around. Finding a hole in the electric fence around the camp, Phillips and the other two men made good their escape and quickly found a place to hide.

Phillips travelled for three days before he linked up with the French Underground. The resistance fighters helped Phillips make it back to American lines.

After returning to American forces, Phillips was reassigned to the China-India-Burma Theater flying “the Hump” to bring supplies to forces fighting the Japanese.

Once again, Phillips’ airplane crashed and he was captured by the enemy.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, April 16, 1945. (Imperial War Museum Photo)

According to an article in The Morning Call, Phillips endured torture at the hands of the Japanese — they even forcibly removed his fingernails trying to get information out of him.

Phillips would not escape this time but he would survive his ordeal as a POW; he was released with the Japanese surrender in 1945.

2. Felix J. McCool

When Gen. Wainwright conveyed the American surrender in the Philippines to President Roosevelt, he said, “there is a limit to human endurance, and that limit has long since been passed.” But Gen. Wainwright was certainly not speaking for one Marine sergeant, Felix J. McCool.

McCool was still recovering from wounds he had received earlier in resisting the Japanese when he, the 4th Marine Regiment, and the rest of the defenders of Corregidor were rounded up and shipped off to internment.

Just getting there was bad enough as the captives were crammed into cattle cars so tightly that when men passed out or died they could not even fall down.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
POWs in the Pacific Theater endured horrific conditions. Pictured here are men on the Bataan Death March with their hands bound behind their backs; later this would be labeled as a Japanese War Crime. (U.S. National Archives)

But for McCool, being a Marine meant that he was not out of the fight. He did everything in his power to resist his Japanese captors.

While working as forced labor on an airfield McCool and his fellow prisoners created a tiger trap on the runway — they later watched as a Japanese airplane crashed and burned due to their handiwork.  

McCool also managed to smuggle in medical supplies to help the sick and wounded.

He did this despite the constant threat of beatings and even summary execution. He carried on despite the horrendous conditions in the camp.

But there was worse to come.

McCool next endured a brutal voyage to Japan aboard a Japanese prisoner transport vessel, known as a “hell ship.” McCool survived the hellacious conditions only to be put to work in an underground coal mine. There he continued his resistance by sabotaging the work and keeping the faith with his fellow prisoners.

After thirteen months in the coal mine, McCool was freed by the ending of the war in the Pacific.

He returned to the United States and decided to stay in the Marine Corps. Then in 1950, now a Chief Warrant Officer, he found himself fighting the North Koreans.

McCool became part of the fateful Task Force Drysdale, an ad hoc, mixed-nationality unit that was attempting to fight its way toward the beleaguered Marines fighting at the Chosin Reservoir. When the task force was ambushed and separated along the roadway to Hagaru-ri, McCool was once again taken prisoner.

McCool and his fellow captives were marched far north through brutal cold with no rations. Once in their internment camp, the conditions hardly improved. Besides the brutal treatment, the men were also subjected to communist indoctrination and propaganda.

Related: The day we saved 2,147 prisoners from Los Baños Prison

McCool’s resistance earned him the ire of his captors and they threw him in the Hole — a barely three foot square hole in the ground. But he endured.

McCool was repatriated with many other Americans during Operation Big Switch after the end of hostilities.

According to his award citations, McCool spent over six years as a prisoner of war between his two internments.

He later wrote a book about his experiences and the poetry that he wrote to keep himself going during those terrible times.

3. Richard Keirn

Richard Keirn was a young flight officer on a B-17 when he arrived in England in 1944. On Sept. 11, 1944, he took to the skies in his first mission to bomb Nazi Germany. It would also be his last.

Keirn’s B-17 was shot down that day and he became a POW for the remainder of the war. Released in May 1945 after the defeat of Germany, Keirn returned to the United States and stayed in the military. He became a part of the newly formed U.S. Air Force.

In 1965, Keirn embarked for Vietnam, flying F-4 Phantom II’s.

Then on July 24, 1965, North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles engaged and shot down an American aircraft for the first time. That aircraft was piloted by Capt. Richard Keirn.

Keirn ejected from his stricken aircraft and would spend nearly eight years as a POW in North Vietnam.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Keirn, like many of his fellow POWs, made every effort to resist the North Vietnamese. For his actions as a POW, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Legion of Merit.

Keirn was released from captivity with many other downed airmen as part of Operation Homecoming in 1973.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 surprising targets of Chinese espionage

For America, there’s a pretty clear idea of what our intelligence agencies should do, and it’s mostly about keeping tabs on new enemy weapons, terrorists plots, and counterespionage. But, American technology and innovations are also a coveted target for other countries, especially ones like China that are developing rapidly.

And China has the money and the culture to do something about it. They have proven capable of stealing secrets, partially to support military programs and partially to support the state-run companies that are in charge of keeping the people happy so President Xi Jinping can keep concentrating on wandering the Hundred Acre Wood.


(He reportedly hates being compared to Winnie the Pooh, so that’s just the best)

Here are six targets of Chinese espionage that you probably wouldn’t guess:

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

The site of some of the most sinister thefts of secret technology.

(Photo by Don Graham)

Farms

Perhaps the most surprising target of foreign espionage, especially Chinese, is American farms. America has some of the most advanced farms in the world, both in terms of the machinery used and the seeds that are grown there. The seeds and machines are so advanced, in fact, that it creates friction with normal farmers who are banned from repairing their own machines and cannot grow new seeds from their crops (they have to purchase a new batch of seeds from the manufacturer, instead).

China needs to feed millions of mouths, but doesn’t want to spend all the time and money to do the research required. Instead, they’ve sent agents across the U.S. and other nations to steal seeds from suppliers, like Monsanto and Pioneer, either illegally purchasing them or straight ripping them out of the ground.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Self-driving cars like, the Waymo, could remake the economy, and China doesn’t want to get left behind.

(Photo by Dllu)

Self-driving cars and other automation

While self-driving cars seem like a luxury more than anything else, the underlying tech is challenging to create and could, potentially, be extremely lucrative. Add to that the fact that deep-learning algorithms for one task can give you a better idea how to create algorithms for another task, and it’s easy to see why nations, especially China, would target the companies making the new vehicles.

Prosecutors allege that a former Apple employee was stealing tech for a new employer in China when he was arrested in the airport with stolen trade secrets from an autonomous car project.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Microbes are an important part in the manufacture of some drugs and recently, chemicals. Yeah, China and other countries like those.

(Agricultural Research Service)

Microbes

Really any important biological discovery, especially medicinal, could go here, but a particular microbe case is instructive. Ching Wang, a man of Chinese descent who discovered an anti-parasitic drug in the 1970s, told the New Yorker that he received a phone call a little after he and his colleagues published their paper.

The caller worked for a state-run pharmaceutical company in China and was wondering if Wang could fly himself out to China with a sample of the microbe, just for funsies. Wang didn’t go, obviously, but China needs advanced medicine that it isn’t always willing to research. When China can get people to hand over crucial information, extort such information from companies, or simply steal it from non-secured computers, they can bound forward in science overnight.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Universities are centers of learning and research that China would love to rip off.

(Photo by Ulrich Lange)

Universities

Speaking of which, universities are a great place for espionage agents, and it’s not about the co-eds. Many advanced projects being done in a country are typically the result of a partnership between governments, corporations, and universities.

And, as you might imagine, universities are typically the weakest links in these partnerships. So, they’re often the target of spies.

While there used to be only a couple thousand active contracts driving defense-applied research at any given time, a 2007 report showed that that number had risen to above 50,000 by 2006. Needless to say, there’s a lot of great research being done in places like MIT.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Chinese wind farms are often made possible by technology that was stolen from an American company that nearly went bankrupt thanks to the theft.

(Photo by Land Rover Our Planet)

Wind and solar companies

China made a pledge to generate more clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do so, they apparently decided to just steal a bunch of U.S. secrets. In one high-profile case, American company AMSC sold 0 million in tech to Chinese firm Sinovel, putting safeguards in place that would, hopefully, prevent theft of their intellectual property.

Yeah… Those safeguards failed. China got help from an insider to download source code, reversed engineer the tech, installed it on all of their projects, and then didn’t pay the 0 million. A U.S. court recently decided a case against Sinovel for million.

The lawsuit might have gone better, except the Chinese military allegedly broke into AMSC’s servers to steal their legal strategy against the Chinese firm.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

The Chinese Meng Shi, or “Brave Soldier,” is a vehicle that isn’t at all a ripoff of the AM General Humvee that American troops and their allies drive.

(Photo by Morio)

Free samples

​Oddly enough, despite all of China’s thefts, companies are still super eager to do business with state-run corporations and other entities in the country just to keep their foot in the door. Some even give free samples, something China encourages and regularlytakes advantage of.

That’s likely how China was able to domestically produce the Meng Shi, the “Brave Soldier.” AM General tried to sell them a Humvee and left behind a free sample after a visit in the 1980s. Later, China purchased a few for “oil exploration.” Then, the Meng Shi rolled off the line looking distinctly Humvee-like.

For its part, China insists that the appearance is a coincidence stemming from the vehicles’ similar missions. And besides, the Meng Shi is better on every metric, at least according to papers written by military officials and not subjected to peer review.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Elephantry in the ancient world was the weaponized manifestation of an emperor’s power and wealth. India was the first and the last country to officially use them in direct combat. These majestic beasts were captured and trained to serve as ‘tanks’ from as early as 1500 B.C. to 1800 A.D.


They also served as beasts of burden for engineers in World War II.

 

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
You thought your enlistment was bad?

 

Male elephants were captured in the wild and were trained to indiscriminately attack humans. It was once thought that elephants could not tell the ethnic differences between people, but modern studies have debunked this myth. Considering this, armies would dress in vivid colors to differentiate themselves from the enemy. However, it didn’t always work out so well.

Warfare evolves and, as a result, war elephant armor went from mundane and utilitarian to extravagant. Towers were tied onto their backs like saddles to house up to six warriors. Mounted personnel would consist of one officer, archers, and spearmen who, while astride the elephant, would have a mobile height advantage and protection. Spikes or swords were fastened onto the tusks and ankles of the elephant to increase lethality. They were raised to spearhead formations and break the lines of a phalanx. Their purpose was to instill terror and exacerbate the fog of war.

To ensure maximum aggression, handlers would serve elephants wine before battle then prod them at the ankles to direct their anger forward. The elephants would charge into formations, blinded by rage, and unleash a symphony of violence and death.

 

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Dumbo, drinking the grog at the Marine Corps Ball, circa 1996, colorized. (Image from Disney’s Dumbo)

At the Battle of the Hydaspes, in 326 B.C., King Porus of Paurava and King Alexander III of Macedon showcased how elephantry was employed and taken down in battle. Alexander ordered his Phalanx to take on Porus’ elephantry, but their sheer size and fearsome force were enough to break the lines in several places. Seeing his infantry decimated, he ordered his cavalry to reinforce the lines.

On Alexander’s orders, the light infantry sent javelins into the eyes of the beasts in tandem with the heavy infantry who cut at their hamstrings with axes and scimitars. The elephants, wild with pain and fear and unable to defeat the Phalanx, stampeded onto their own troops. King Porus’ ordered a full attack as a last-ditch effort to retake the initiative, but his forces were slaughtered. The surviving elephants were then captured and used by Alexander in subsequent battles.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(United States Military Academy map by Frank Martini, cartographer)

As exciting as it may be to imagine something out of a Greek epic, the quality of life for these creatures was often abhorrent. Elephants are one of the few animals in the animal kingdom to mourn friends and relatives. Their intelligence and memory have become synonymous with serenity and grace.

These veterans of the ancient world have done their service and are no longer used in battle. Their watch has ended.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.


The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
One of the most famous O-1s — this plane made a landing on USS Midway (CV 41) as South Vietnam fell.
(US Navy)

The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
The rockets this Bird dog packs aren’t to kill the enemy – they just provide an aiming point.
(US Air Force)

In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.

In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

How one of the most iconic flags was made in honor of this woman’s MIA husband

On January 7, 1970, Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff flew his Sidewinder A7A Corsair off the USS Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. After completing a strafing run near the city of Sepone, he came under heavy enemy automatic weapons fire and went down. An observer reported seeing a flash, which may have been the ejection seat leaving the aircraft, but search teams located neither a parachute nor a survivor.

Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff was pronounced MIA that same day, promoted to commander while missing, and, sadly, was declared dead on November 16, 1978. His grieving wife, Mary Hoff, wanted the world to know that he and every other troop captured or declared missing in action would not be forgotten.


This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

Who says randomly cold-calling the right people to get what you want never works?

Soon afterward, Mary Hoff joined the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization founded by two wives of POW/MIA troops, Karen Butler and Sybil Stockdale. The group was quickly gaining traction in Washington, fighting for the U.S. government’s recognition of the importance of returning troops listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action.

As the group grew larger, Mary noticed that they were missing a symbol — something easily identified and immediately understood. She had an idea: a flag. Instead of going through the proper channels, she simply cold-called Annin Flagmakers, the oldest and largest flag-making corporation in the United States.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

As prominent as the flag is in military culture, it only took two revisions from the original to get the version we know today.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

The vice president of sales at Annin, Norm Rivkees, had no clue who the League of Families were at the time. During the phone call, Hoff explained everything, from who they were to what the flag should look like. Rivkees was impressed by her dedication and brought it up to the president of the company who immediately gave the idea the green light.

Rivkees contracted the job of designing the flag to Hayden Advertising who gave the task to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley was an Army Air Corps veteran himself who flew a C-46 twin-engine transport during World War II. He drafted several designs, all in black and white, of a man’s profile with guards behind him.

His son, Jeffery Heisley, was serving in the Marine Corps and had recently returned home on leave. The younger Heisley had unfortunately been struck with hepatitis and was looking very sickly. The elder Heisley turned the misfortune into a positive as his son would make the perfect model for his design. The frail male profile that adorns today’s flag is that of Jeffery Heisley.

Newton, as a pilot, remembered his own fears from his flying days. He added the famous words, “You are not forgotten,” to the flag, to offer the reassurance he wished he had while serving. The design was then ready for approval.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

That also makes the POW/MIA flag the only non-national flag to ever fly over a nation’s capitol building.

(Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)​

Mary Hoff and the League of Families loved the design and adopted it in 1972. Keep in mind that at this point, the flag was only intended to be used for the organization. Its prominence quickly grew within the military community throughout the 1970s and, by 1982, it was flown over Ronald Reagan’s White House.

The flag became an official national symbol through the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, which requires that the flag be flown outside most major government buildings, all VA medical centers, and all national cemeteries on POW/MIA Recognition Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out these amazing uncovered photos of the great Ernie Pyle

On April 18th, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on Iejima* during the Battle of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, was well-known for his intimate and personal storytelling that highlighted the experiences of the “average” soldier. Pyle was able to tell the stories of enlisted men because he embedded himself in their day-to-day lives; he didn’t just observe their work, he lived, traveled, ate, and shared foxholes with them.

In remembrance of Ernie Pyle, the Unwritten Record presents photographs and motion pictures that highlight his work as a roving war correspondent during WWII.


Marines

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
PFC. Urban Vachon of Laconia, NH, and Columnist Ernie Pyle, rest by the roadside on the trail at Okinawa.
(Photo by Barnett)


This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(Photo by TSgt. J. Mundell)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Mr. Pyle is shown here talking to Division Commander, Major General Graves B. Erskine. It is Ernie’s first trip into the Pacific. Previously he wrote about GI Joe from the European Theater of Operations. From left to right: Major General Erskine, Lt. Comdr. Max Miller, Col. Robert E. Hogaboom, Ernie
(Photo by Tsgt. Mundell)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Columnist Ernie Pyle rests on the roadside with a Marine patrol.
(Photo by Barnett)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle, noted columnist, on the trail with a group of Marines. He is fourth from the left. Okinawa.
(Photo by Barnett)

Navy

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle being transferred by breeches buoy from the USS Cabot (CVL-28) to the USS Moale (DD-693) / Date: February 23, 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, interviewing Joe J. Ray S1/c and Charles W. Page S1/C on board the USS Yorktown (CV-10) / Date: February 5, 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle visiting with Marines aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa /u00a0Date: March 20, 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle watching Marine play Casino aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 29, 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle and sailors listening to war reports over loud speaker aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawau00a0/ Date: March 29, 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle with troops listing to PFC Johnny Maturello play accordion aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 1945

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Caption: L to R; Edward P. Krapse, Lt. Arlington Bensel Jr., Ernie Pyle, and Cpl. Edward M. Wrenne.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle center leaning on a Marine’s shoulder.

Army

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Bomb that hit PRO today also hurt some of the war correspondents, among whom was Ernie Pyle. He suffered a slight cut on the face and is here looking at his bed from which he had just left to watch the bombing, when the roof fell on it. Nettuno Area, Italy.
(Photo by Blau)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Cpl. Jesse Cooper (of Powell Station, TN), Ernie Pyle, and Pvt. Willian Bennet (of Dunn, NC) at muzzle of a 155mm rifle. Fifth Army. Anzio Beachhead area, Italy.
(Photo by Bonnard)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
At Nettuno, Italy, Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, and Major General Lucian Truscott, stand in front of Corps Headquarters.
(Photo by Blau)

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Ernie Pyle, preparing to cover the Pacific war front, gets a preview from enlisted men who have returned from the front. From left to right u2013 T/4 Al Levy (of Albany, NY), T/5 William Gharrity (of Chippewa Falls, WI), and Ssgt. Richard W. Bridenbaugh (of Toledo, OH)/ Date: January 1945.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Correspondent, Ernie Pyle, of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Washington DC, interviewing Sgt. Ralph Gower (of Sacramento, CA), Pvt. Raymond Astrackon (left, of New York City), and 2nd. Lt. Annette Heaton, ANC (of Detroit, MI), attached to an evacuation hospital. North Africa / Date: December 2, 1942.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
The body of Ernie Pyle, who lost his life while serving with first line troops on Ie Shima, was laid to final rest on July 19th in the new Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu. Pall bearers are pictured removing Ernie Pyle’s flag draped casket before the burial ceremonies / Date: July 1

Jack Lieb Collection

Jack Lieb was a newsreel cameraman who covered the end of the war in Europe (D-Day to Germany). Pyle appears in the following videos, which document preparations for the D-Day invasion in England and France.The records presented above were found in the following series:

The records presented above were found in the following series:

*Iejima is often referred to as Ie Shima. Additionally, at the time of Pyle’s death, some news outlets referred to Iejima as Ie Island.

Special thanks to Audrey Amidon, who provided links and context to the films included in this blog post.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

As members of England’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANYs, during World War II, Odette Sansom, Violette Szabó, and Noor Inayat Khan might have worked in hospitals, driven ambulances, sent coded radio signals, fixed trucks, or even, as one FANY did during the war, taught the future Queen Elizabeth to drive.

But when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed the nation’s clandestine spy agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze,” the three FANYs merged their nursing roles with espionage. The SOE, which carried out audacious sabotage plots across Europe, recruited 2,000 FANY members to the secret service. But only 39 went into the field to conduct commando operations, including Sansom, Szabó, and Khan.

Each brought her unique upbringing to her missions. Sansom (pictured above) and Szabó were both born in France; Sansom to a French man killed in World War I, whereas Szabó’s father had been an English soldier. Khan was a Muslim from India descended from a sultan. But their French fluency and familiarity with military skills like marksmanship caught the eye of England’s spy masters.

The commandos working for SOE in North Africa, the Far East, and particularly across Europe were the No. 1 targets of the Gestapo and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. “From now on, all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man,” read Adolf Hitler’s secret Commando Order (Kommandobefehl) issued on Oct. 18, 1942. If members of the SOE were discovered, man or woman, they’d be hunted, tortured, and executed. 

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Noor Inayat Khan was a Muslim princess who volunteered for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. She became one of the first women awarded the George Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest civilian honor. It was accepted posthumously on her behalf. Photo courtesy of the Soefi Museum.

Sansom, Szabó, and Khan had to be discreet and keep their identities secret. They carried false papers with fake names, home addresses, and occupations. Virginia Hall, famously known as “The Limping Lady,” who served with the SOE early in the war, used a cover as a French American stringer for the New York Post writing under the public persona of Brigitte LeContre. The FANYs received training in weapons handling, fieldcraft, and sabotage, and assumed their own disguises.

Sansom took the code name Lise as a courier for the Spindle spy ring, or “circuit” under the SOE’s F Section (France). Circuits were generally composed of three officers: a circuit leader, a courier, and a radio operator. A wife and mother of three children, Sansom transported messages and money to associates in the French Resistance. After seven months of clandestine fieldwork, she was captured by the Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, a notorious spy catcher who personally arrested more than 100 agents and officers. Sansom was interrogated for hours at Fresnes Prison in Paris, subjected to techniques including the removal of her toenails. 

When she wouldn’t confess, the Nazis sent her to Ravensbrück, the most feared concentration camp for women in Europe. Her cell was in an underground prison infamously known as “The Bunker.” For three months and eight days she lived in solitary confinement next to a furnace, in total darkness, starving. Her hair and teeth fell out. She even lapsed into a mini-coma but ultimately survived the war. Many of her fellow FANYs, however, did not, including Szabó and Khan.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Odette Sansom at the FANY memorial at St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, in 1948. She is holding Tania Szabó, daughter of SOE officer Violette Szabó. Photo courtesy of FANY.

On her second mission in France, Szabó parachuted behind German lines the day after D-Day and established contact with resistance forces in the area. On June 10, 1944, she joined Jacques Dufour in a car to Salon-la-Tour. Along the route the Germans set up a roadblock, and Dufour stopped the vehicle 50 yards away. He instructed Szabó to dash into a field as he provided covering fire. Szabó instead pulled out her Sten submachine gun and joined the fight before the pair fled into the field. She fought until she had fired all her ammunition and was captured. She joined Sansom in Ravensbrück but was executed in January 1945.

Khan’s fate was equally senseless. The Muslim princess was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore state — today, a part of India — who pioneered rockets used as military weapons. Khan worked as a wireless radio operator in Paris. At one point she was the only SOE wireless operator in the city, operating under the code name Madeleine, and was critical in communications with the Prosper resistance network and the outside world. A Frenchwoman betrayed Khan to the Gestapo, and she and three other female SOE officers were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, they were executed.

All three women — Sansom, Szabó, and Khan — were awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor. Among the 39 FANY and SOE commandos who went into the field, 13 died as German prisoners or were killed in action. On May 7, 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, unveiled a plaque at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, dedicated to all 52 FANYs who died during World War II. In attendance was Odette Sansom. In her arms she held Tania, the only daughter of Violette Szabó, who would later accept her mother’s medal and write a book about her famous mother’s life. Khan became the first Indian woman in history to be honored with a memorial and a permanent Blue Plaque awarded by the English Heritage charity. These Blue Plaques honor notable people and organizations connected with particular buildings across London — and Khan’s can seen at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived before joining the SOE.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why a Civil War soldier would drop a gun to pick up his unit’s flag

If during the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, you watched the superb 1993 movie that starred Martin Sheen, Sam Elliot, Jeff Daniels, and Tom Berenger, you probably noticed something that may not have made a lot of sense at a couple of points in the movie.


Perhaps the best-known instance is at the 3:55:09 mark of the Extended Edition of “Gettysburg” (available at Amazon.com) where an artillery round takes out a group of Confederate troops, including the soldier holding the flag.

The troops re-organize to fill the gap, but one of the troops picks up the flag and drops his rifle. That’s right – that soldier has taken his gun out of the fight!

Screenshot from Gettysburg trailer

Sounds completely crazy, right? What the heck is going through someone’s mind that they would take their gun out of the fight in the middle of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle? I can just hear Gunny Hartman shouting, “What is your major malfunction?”

Well, in 1863, war was much different. There were no radios. Messages were delivered by junior aides – essentially acting as runners with messages back and forth. Blue Force Tracker was 140 years into the future. But there was still the need to tell whose units were friendly, which were okay to shoot at, and where the heck all of them were.

The answer back then was to have each regiment have a specialized flag – or “colors.” So, now everyone – from the commanding general to the lowest private knows which unit was where. This was important, as the Minnesota Historical Society noted, since it meant troops could rally behind them for a charge, or to fall back.

That meant whoever held the colors had to have a lot of guts. He was out in the open, and he was a target. During some fighting on the first day of Gettysburg, one Confederate regiment had 10 different color bearers in 10 minutes, and lost 14 color bearers that day. The Union regiment opposite them lost at least three of their own.

The colors had such importance that many a Medal of Honor citation involved either capturing an enemy unit’s colors, or saving the colors of a soldier’s own unit. Given that importance, it is not surprising then, that in 1863, a soldier’s logical response when a color bearer was hit would be to drop his gun and pick up the colors.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Buran: How the Soviets stole the Space Shuttle

Although America’s space shuttle was not the budget-friendly platform it was intended to be, the program was so successful that the Soviet Union decided to build their own. Unbeknownst to most, they actually did, and it even flew in space.

On April 12, 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life for the first time. As the shuttle’s three powerful main engines ignited, they burned a swimming pool’s worth of fuel every 25 seconds, thrusting the 4.4 million pound shuttle into the sky with an astonishing 37 million horsepower. In just eight and a half minutes, the shuttle would expend all of the fuel in its massive orange fuel tank and burn through its two solid-fuel rocket thrusters.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(NASA)

If you were to start an 80’s sitcom just as the Columbia launched that day, the space shuttle would go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour before the first commercial break.

The success of Columbia’s first mission was an exciting time for the United States, but on the other side of the globe, it left Moscow in a sour mood. The Soviets had been watching America’s space shuttle program mature, thanks to America’s more media-friendly approach to space travel. In fact, by Columbia’s first launch, the Soviets had already begun development on their own space shuttle–one that bore a striking resemblance to NASA’s new crown jewel.

Using the Cold War as rocket fuel

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Richard Nixon meets Leonid Brezhnev June 19, 1973 during the Soviet Leader’s visit to the U.S. (Wikimedia Commons)

The American space shuttle program had roots that reached all the way back to the Apollo era, but the concept itself wasn’t presented to the public until 1972. Two years later, as NASA’s efforts were beginning to take shape, a secret meeting was held in the Kremlin between the head of the Soviet Union’s Military-Industrial Commission, Vladimir Smirnov, and the Soviet leader at the time, Leonid Brezhnev.

While the Americans had always done a good job of dressing their space efforts up as nothing more than the pursuit of science and national pride, the military applications of such a vehicle were clear. America’s space shuttle would allow for the launch of bigger, more complex spy satellites, allow crews to fly into orbit to conduct maintenance or repairs, and, most importantly, allow for the vessel itself to be re-used–theoretically driving down the price of orbital operations. Among the Soviets, there was also the fear that this new spacecraft could be used as some sort of orbital bomber.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise under construction in 1976 (NASA)

“Such a vehicle is like an aircraft. It is capable, through a side maneuver, of changing its orbit in such a way that it would find itself at the right moment right over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo,” Smirnov explained in the meeting.

Just as defense officials in the United States may have over-estimated (or intentionally inflated) the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s various military and technological programs, Smirnov and his supporters knew that it was in their best interest to really sell the idea that the American shuttle posed a serious threat to Soviet interests.

“They began to use the shuttle to frighten Leonid Illyich Brezhnev and they explained to him that damned shuttle could zoom down on Moscow at any minute, bomb it to smithereens and fly away,” a Russian journalist wrote in 1991, just before the Soviet Union fell.

“Brezhnev understood, yes, of course, an alternative weapon is necessary.”

The Cold War was ripe with this sort of military one-upmanship, both as a means to gain a military advantage, and as a public means of validating each nation’s respective economic models. Every American success the Soviets couldn’t match was seen as a defacto argument in favor of capitalism by leaders in Moscow.

In effect, admitting that they couldn’t build their own shuttle would mean acknowledging that the Soviet system was falling short of the scientific, engineering, and material capabilities of America’s government model. This ideological conflict was the very bedrock of the Cold War, and just ten years before the Soviet Union would collapse under the weight of its own failure, things were already beginning to look bleak. The Soviet Union needed a win, and Smirnov was able to convince Brezhnev that a Soviet space shuttle could be just that.

The Soviet’s secret Space Shuttle program begins

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Soviet Buran space shuttle (WikiMedia Commons)

By early 1976, the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers gave their approval to move forward with plans to develop a new shuttle. Heading up the secret effort was Col. General Alexander Maksimov, a military official tasked with managing the Soviet’s existing military space programs. Two scientists, V. P. Glushko and Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, were also tasked with leading the effort, but among those involved, there was no doubt that the new shuttle program, dubbed “Buran,” would be a distinctly military endeavor.

“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, developer of the Energia booster program. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”

Initially, the Soviets considered restarting a previous space-plane program called “Spiral.” Development had ended on the small space-plane concept more than a decade prior, however, and Soviet officials noted that the intended use of “Spiral” wouldn’t offer anything close to the capability offered by America’s forthcoming shuttles.

Stealing the Space Shuttle

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(NASA)

With the Americans making steady progress on their own space shuttle program by the late 1970s, the Soviet leadership recognized how far behind they were. If they were going to keep pace with NASA, they would need to find a way to expedite the design process without backtracking to their canceled Spiral program. While the decision to scrap Spiral was made based on its limited capability, many within the Soviet Union were frustrated by the seemingly schizophrenic approach to developing orbital platforms.

“The Spiral was a very good project but it was another mistake for our government. They said Americans didn’t have a space shuttle [back then] and we shouldn’t either and it was destroyed. Then, after you made your space shuttle, immediately they demanded a space shuttle. … It was very crazy of our government.”

-Georgi Grechko, Soviet Cosmonaut

Despite the frustrations of those involved and the Soviet Union’s impending collapse, at the time, the Soviet space program remained among the best in the world. Its scientist and engineers had racked up victory after victory in the first rounds of the Cold War’s space race, putting the first satellite, animal, and man into orbit before the Americans. NASA may have thrown a knockout punch with the moon landing in 1969, but the Soviets were far from down for the count. If America could design a space shuttle, it was entirely plausible that the Soviets could too. The only question was: Could they do it fast enough to keep pace with NASA?

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
NASA Shuttle and Buran shuttle compared

Without help, the answer seemed to be a resounding no, but the Soviets were no strangers to reverse engineering American technology. For instance, in the late 1950s, the Soviets got their hands on one of America’s highly capable air-to-air missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, through a deal brokered with China (and one pilot’s incredibly good luck). The Soviets were able to glean a great deal of information about missile technology from the single missile they acquired and rapidly put Soviet variants of the missile into production. A space shuttle, however, would certainly be a lot tougher to steal… but as it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.

America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, was a civilian agency that was clearly delineated from America’s military. While this separation may have been more about aesthetics than function (nearly every space effort had military implications), NASA did not treat its shuttle program like it was the development of a weapon system at all. As a result, documentation and even plans for the shuttle were all considered unclassified–and readily available to the public. In fact, much of the material the Soviet Union needed was hosted on commercial databases, making the effort to gather these documents one of the first (if not the first) case of digital espionage.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(WikiMedia Commons)

“Documents acquired dealt with airframe designs (including the computer programs on design analysis), materials, flight computer systems, and propulsion systems. This information allowed Soviet military industries to save years of scientific research and testing time as well as millions of rubles as they developed their own very similar space shuttle vehicle.”

-The 1985 CIA analysis on “Soviet Acquisition of Militarily Significant Western Technology”

Reaching orbit

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
(Wikimedia Commons)

With all the technical information they needed, construction on the Buran began in 1980, and within just four years, the Soviets were able to unveil their strikingly familiar-looking space shuttle. Despite the clear aesthetic resemblance, however, the Buran did depart from the American design in a number of important ways.

First and foremost, rather than housing the shuttle’s main engines within the spacecraft itself, the Soviets chose to simply attach their shuttle to their super-heavy lift Energia rocket. It was also designed and built to operate autonomously, making it capable of completing orbital missions without a crew on board. Perhaps the most significant departures from the American shuttle were the four jet engines mounted on the rear of the aircraft that would offer the vehicle powered flight. However, despite there being images of these jet engines on the Buran, they were not present as the spacecraft prepared for its first orbital flight.

On November 15, 1988, seven and a half years after the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, the Buran launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet space shuttle did not have a crew on board, which may have been seen as an appropriate precaution. Less than 20 years earlier, three cosmonauts died after their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized in space. Four years prior to that, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed in the first-ever launch of the Soyuz spacecraft. While crew safety was likely a consideration, by 1988, the Soviet Union was already amid political turmoil. Killing another crew in a space launch would not have helped the situation.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Soviet Buran space shuttle (Wikimedia Commons)

The Buran first reached low earth orbit on the back of its massive Energia rocket. From there, it boosted itself into a slightly higher orbit before circling the planet twice and beginning reentry. Without its jet engines, the Soviet space shuttle would have to glide back to its runway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome just like the American shuttle. Unlike the American shuttle, however, the Buran had no pilot on board to manage the descent.

In a resounding success for the ship’s autonomous systems, the Buran touched down shortly after reentry, making what some called a “flawless” runway landing. In fact, upon closer inspection, the Buran’s heat shielding seemed to have faired even better than America’s first shuttle launch. With new data to work with, the Soviets began preparing for another launch that would never come.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Remains of a Buran spacecraft being towed to Zhukovsky Airfield (Wikimedia Commons)

Three years after the Buran’s first and only successful flight, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, any hope of ever putting the Soviet space shuttle Buran back into orbit.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

popular

What happens when a special operator is caught up in a terrorist attack

In September, 2013, four masked men entered the Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In the terrorist attack that ensued, 71 people died, including 62 civilians, five Kenyan troops, and the shooters themselves. More than 200 others were wounded in the attack, which included the collapse of a significant part of the building after a three-day siege. Caught in the attack were oil workers from an international firm who stopped for lunch.

That firm’s security service just happened to include an ex-Special Air Service operator and a former Irish Ranger. The two men weren’t in the mall, but they immediately began to organize a rescue operation.


This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Attackers inside the Westgate Mall. (Screen capture from YouTube)

The oil company’s staff were in a second-floor sushi restaurant when their security personnel back at the office learned of what was originally reported as a robbery. Given their background, the two men (their names were never given) immediately identified it as more – it had to be a terrorist attack. They were right. That day, four militants from the Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, infiltrated their way into Kenya and into the mall carrying assault rifles and grenades. The two men headed over to the mall to rescue their embattled comrades.

In their first efforts to get into mall via basement delivery ramp in the parking garage, they ran into a hail of bullets and were forced to double back. On their way back, they ran into 100 people cowering behind an armored car. They rallied the civilians and helped guide them to the safety of the main road in front of the mall. As they exited, they could see bloody hands waving for help as shots were fired on the roof of the car park. The hand disappeared into a mall coffee shop. The SAS veteran enlisted two Kenyan plainclothes policemen and two Kenyan policemen with assault rifles to help them attack the fire escape.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Onlookers during fighting at the Westgate Mall area.
(Anne Knight/ Wikimedia Commons)
 

When the six men arrived at the coffee shop, they found 20 dead and 100 more sheltered in place. As one of the officers watched the stairs, the men persuaded the others to climb down the fire escape. There was a “bloodbath” in the adjacent car park rooftop. As the civilians went down the fire escape, the 18-year SAS veteran and the Irish Ranger split up. The SAS operator went out onto the rooftop as the Ranger continued on toward the sushi restaurant where his charges were held.

The SAS paired injured people with the uninjured to hasten their retreat and covered the bodies of the dead. Meanwhile, the Ranger had come under fire from the militants, and his two Kenyan policemen returned fire. He bolted toward the restaurant, where he found the oil company staff hiding in a storeroom, then convinced them to race back to the coffee shop while the policemen held the terrorists at bay. The two men reconnected in the cargo area, hustling the oil company’s staff into a company car. With their charges safe, they pleaded for the Kenyan police to assault the car park, but were rebuffed. The police were waiting on a SWAT team and would not advance without them.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
A Kenyan military MD 500 Defender helicopter hovers over the Westgate mall, 23 September (Anne Knight/ Wikimedia Commons)

The Brit and the Irishman couldn’t wait. With the help of a uniformed Kenyan soldier and a Sikh civilian who had already escaped the mall, they went back into the fray. They found a Red Cross ambulance that was struggling to remove the dead and wounded people from the roof of the car park. The men worked for an hour with the emergency medical personnel before doctors could arrive. They were about to leave when they got a text from another friend inside the mall.

They went in to retrieve him, too. The three remaining men exited via the trusted route of the fire escape just three hours after the terror attack began. The men rescued all of their personnel and friends, along with hundreds of trapped civilians, aided in the triage of the wounded, and exited the danger zone without any injury to themselves. By the time they left the mall, the police had still not cordoned off the local area. The siege of the mall would last almost two more full days.

Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

This stunning Nazi attack came 2 months before Pearl Harbor

On Oct. 23, 1941, US Navy destroyer USS Reuben James left Newfoundland to escort a convoy bound for Britain. Two days later, the German U-boat U-552 left the French port of St. Nazaire to prowl the North Atlantic on its sixth patrol.

The US was not a belligerent in the war in Europe at the time, but Washington had set up neutrality zones in the Atlantic in which its ships would guard British and neutral merchant ships. US ships would also notify convoys of U-boats’ locations.


The James and the U-552 sailed a few weeks after a U-boat fired on the Navy destroyer USS Greer without hitting it. After that incident, President Franklin Roosevelt told the public that “if German or Italian vessels of war enter the waters, the protection of which is necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril.”

In the early-morning hours of October 31, when the Reuben James and the U-552 crossed paths near Iceland, the de facto state of war between the US and Germany in the Atlantic intensified.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

German Capt. Lt. Erich Topp and other crew members aboard the U-552 in St. Nazaire, France, Octo. 6, 1942.

The James and four other US destroyers were escorting the more than 40 ships that made up HX-156, a convoy of merchant ships sailing from Halifax in Canada to Europe. At that time, US warships would escort convoys to Iceland, where British ships took over.

As day broke on October 31, the Reuben James was sailing at about 10 mph on the left rear side of the convoy. Just after 5:30 a.m., the U-552 fired on the James, its torpedoes ripping into the left side of the destroyer.

“One or more explosions” occurred near the forward fire room, “accompanied by a lurid orange flame and a high column of black smoke visible for several minutes at some miles,” according to the Navy’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

The ship’s forward section was blown off, and it sank rapidly. Only two sailors on that part of the ship survived the blast. Others who made it out were sailors “berthed, or on watch, [aft of] the forward fireroom.”

No official order came to abandon ship, but crew members launched three rafts and started to leap overboard as the sea swallowed the ship. The captain had issued life jackets to the crew and told them to have them on hand at all times, which meant many sailors were able to get to them as they fled the ship.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

A German U-boat.

While many men made it off, a number of those in the water around the ship were killed or later drowned after at least two depth charges on the ship detonated as it sank.

The escort commander sent two destroyers to investigate. With a smooth sea and little wind, they were able to spot the James’ sailors just before 6 a.m. and began rescuing them minutes later. The destroyers’ crews used cargo nets, Jacob’s Ladders, life rings, and lines to pull survivors, many covered in oil, out of the water.

Rescue operations were over by 8 a.m.; 44 of the crew were recovered, but 93 enlisted men and all the ship’s seven officers were killed.

US merchant ships had already been sunk in the Atlantic, and in mid-October, another US destroyer was hit by a torpedo but made it to Iceland. But the James became the first US warship sunk by the enemy in World War II.

“The news of the torpedoing of one of our destroyers off Iceland was the first thing that the President spoke of this morning, and that has cast a shadow over the whole day,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote on November 1. “I cannot help but think of every one of the 120 men and their families, who are anxiously awaiting news.”

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII

US Coast Guard cutter Spencer crew members watch a depth charge blast a German submarine attempting to break into a large US convoy, April 17, 1943. The U-boat was critically damaged and sunk off the coast of Ireland.

Germany was unapologetic, saying US ships were escorting British ships in a war zone and had fired on German vessels before. The US didn’t declare war, but the sinking drew the US further into the conflict in Europe, which was already more than two years old.

On November 1, Roosevelt signed an executive order reassigning the US Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the Navy. About two weeks later, under pressure from the president, Congress further amended the Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s, revising them to allow US merchant ships to be armed and to sail into war zones.

On December 8, the US declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Three days later, Germany declared war on the US.

The James was stricken from the Navy’s official register on March 25, 1942. The U-552 continued the fight. It joined U-boats that preyed on US ships along the East Coast in 1942 but was later transferred to waters closer to Europe.

The U-552’s success waned, as did that of the rest of the U-boat force, as the Allies improved their convoy and anti-submarine tactics and invaded Europe, recapturing ports. In early May 1945 — days before the surviving Nazi leadership surrendered in Berlin — the U-552 was scuttled in waters off the North Sea.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Hoover still gets fan mail from overseas

It is easy to overlook the significance of Herbert Hoover’s food relief efforts by looking merely at numbers. The precise number of people Hoover saved from starvation remains murky but most scholars agree it is in the hundreds of millions. Ironically, one of the most brutal leaders of modern times, Joseph Stalin, is credited with the following aphorism: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”


Scholars have since discredited the attribution. The quote, whomever said it, aptly applies to post-World War I era Europe. Herbert Hoover, against the wisdom of world leaders, used the American Relief Administration to provide food to Russian people living in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks as well as areas controlled by White Russian forces. Remaining above politics knowing that hunger is apolitical, Hoover provided food to roughly eighteen million Russians. This goodwill was not lost on those who received food as continues to be evident in letters the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff receive from descendants.

It is important to highlight these letters because they focus on individual lives that were prevented from becoming both tragedies and statistics. It places a human face on the food relief efforts and, more importantly, provides some sense of what drove Hoover in his tireless efforts to eradicate hunger. The following account is provided by Natalia Sidorova.

Also read: 13 Presidents who narrowly escaped assassinations

“I am writing you to celebrate the legacy that Herbert Hoover has earned in history by his compassion and care for millions of people in Russia and other countries who were on the brink of death by starvation.

About 97 years ago, my grandmother Zinaida Tiablikova moved to Moscow from her small town Klin, fifty miles to the north. She lived alone while she studied chemistry at Moscow University.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Zinaida Tiablikova

At that time there was a terrible food shortage throughout all of Russia as a result of the chaos following the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war between White and Red Russians. Many poor Russians from the Volga region came to Moscow in desperate hope of finding food in the city.

In 1920 a friend of my grandmother told her that the American Food Administration provided warm meals once a day for needy people, primarily children. Although most of the food centers were in the Volga River region where starvation was an enormous problem, there also were a few food centers in Moscow.

Related: The 17 most bizarre jobs of American presidents

My grandmother Zinaida went to one of these food centers on Miasnitskaya Street in Moscow. Throughout most of 1920 she and many other persons received a delicious hot meal once a day. She remembered on occasion receiving condensed milk and hot chocolate. For the many poor Russians these were special treats because they had never had condensed milk or chocolate before. Certainly these nutritious meals protected her and many other persons from death by starvation or other diseases caused by lack of food.

She told me that there was a photo of Herbert Hoover on display at the food center, even though Mr. Hoover himself did not want such public recognition. The people of the community chose to display his photo as their own spontaneous expression of their gratitude to Mr. Hoover and to the American people.

I now have a daughter named Galina who goes to college here in America. I have told her this story of my grandmother. This story demonstrates to my daughter that the American and Russian people can be great friends to one another in times of need.

This spy led Germans on a wild goose chase during WWII
Zinaida with two classmates, 1925.

I doubt that Mr. Hoover himself then was supportive to the Bolshevik ideology which in recent years has fallen into disrepute even among conservative Russians. However, Mr. Hoover put aside his own personal beliefs about politics and economics so that he could help other persons.

My grandmother always spoke with great appreciation of the generosity of the American people as expressed through the person of Herbert Hoover. She was always amazed that Mr. Hoover possessed special administrative skills so that he could distribute food to remote regions where the food was in greatest demand. She was delighted for the American people when she learned years later that Mr. Hoover was elected President. She cherished the memory of his photo in the food center and she prayed for him throughout her life.

More: This future President and First Lady fought with US troops in China

My grandmother is not with us any more to express her own gratitude to Mr. Hoover. As her grand-daughter I accept that task with full enthusiasm. As an American citizen who was born in Moscow, I thank Mr. Hoover and I thank all the people of America for their generosity and compassion to millions of poor Russians in one of the darkest hours in our history. The legacy of Mr. Hoover’s goodness and the goodness of the American people is inscribed in the hearts of millions of Russian people.

Mr. Hoover’s legacy is also a beacon of hope for future generations. In a world that continues to be torn apart by conflict of all types, Mr. Hoover’s example reminds us that the best response to a crisis is compassion.”

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