Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

In 1940, following the fall of France, Winston Churchill authorized the establishment of a volunteer fighting force to wage a secret war against Hitler’s armies. This unique force became known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and their main mission was sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. Despite being shrouded in controversy, and being viewed with suspicion by other agencies — the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) didn’t want their information-gathering operations disrupted with blown up bridges and factories — the SOE survived World War II and actually played a big part in winning the war for the Allies.

In a speech after World War II was over, General Eisenhower even stated, “The disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on German security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of Resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.”


For the SOE, sabotage meant blowing up trains, bridges and factories. Subversion was about fostering revolt and/or guerilla warfare in all enemy and enemy-occupied countries. The most unique element of the SOE is the fact that while the senior staff were ex-public school and Oxbridge, the agents were people from all walks of life, for example, former chefs, electricians, and journalists.

The SOE’s first headquarters was set up in November 1940. At the same time, they established mansions from the Highlands to the New Forest for training. At these sprawling estates the potential members of the SOE were trained to kill with their bare hands, disguise themselves, derail trains, and get out of handcuffs with a thin piece of wire and a diary pencil. If they passed this intense training as well as a grueling parachute course, then they were considered fit to be a part of the SOE.

In order to give the agents more of an edge, the SOE also employed budding scientists to invent unique weapons of war. These weapons included single-shot cigarette pistols, the sleeping beauty – a submersible canoe – and carborundum – an abrasive grease when smeared on the right spot could bring a locomotive to an immediate standstill. They also established the Camouflage Section which created fake tree trunks to conceal radio equipment, and fake camel dung that hid a booby trap that could blow the tire off an enemy truck. To top it all off, the SOE, also had a False Documents section where agents collected bogus identities and fashion companies outfitted agents with suits and dresses.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

The SOE conducted many successful missions of sabotage and subversion throughout the War. Their first headline success was in June of 1941 when they blew up the Pessac power station in France. This precision mission halted all work at a vital U-boat base in Bordeaux and crippled the all-electric railways in the region. Then in Czechoslovakia in 1942, the SOE assassinated Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, with a grenade. Later that year in Greece they blew up the Gorgopotamos bridge, which carried vital supplies for Rommel’s army in the desert. And in Norway, in 1943, the SOE destroyed the heavy water plant in Vemork, effectively ending the Nazi atomic bomb program.

While other secret agencies shared a mutual dislike for the SOE, their successful missions played a large part in the Allies’ eventual victory. Without the sabotage and subversion of the Special Operations Executive the outcome of World War II could have been very different. The price was high, but the SOE performed their missions to the letter. Finally, with no war left to fight, the SOE was disbanded forever in 1946. The Agents of the SOE were sent back to their normal lives, and most of them carried the secrets of their wartime missions and victories to their graves, never even telling those closest to them what role they played in the Allied victories of World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when you hit an RV with a Civil War mortar

After reading the headline of this article, you might be thinking, “why?” We think it’s better to start with, “what?”

In this case, “what” is a replica of the “Roaring Meg,” a mortar used in the English Civil War in 1646 to absolutely devastate the final holdout of Royalists who resisted the Parliamentarians.


See, in mid-17th century England, there was a very spirited debate about just how much of a monarchy England should be. To make a very long story short, King Charles I and the Parliament at Westminster were prosecuting a war against Scottish forces and then Irish rebels from 1639-1641. In 1642, differences of strategy led to the King’s parliament starting a civil war against him.

Yeah, the whole thing was really messy.

The war didn’t go well for the King, and he lost entire sections of his country in 1642 and 1644. By 1646, he had only one good castle left, Goodrich Castle at Herefordshire, but it was defended by a very loyal knight. In June 1646, Parliamentarians demanded that the Royalists surrender, but were politely rebuffed.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

Except for some missing lead, this is basically what Goodrich Castle looked like after ole’ Meg was done with it. Note that the castle builders hadn’t designed the walls and towers to have those gaping holes in them.

(David Merrett, CC BY 2.0)

So, a siege ensued. For six weeks, the Parliamentarians attacked with artillery and managed to destroy the castle cisterns and a number of other structures, but the defenses held. So, the Parliamentarian commander, Colonel John Birch, commissioned a massive mortar from the local blacksmith.

“Roaring Meg” could fire an approximately 200-pound ball loaded with about 4 pounds of gunpowder that would explode in the courtyard, devastating nearby buildings with the blast wave and shrapnel. Meg destroyed buildings and walls and, combined with the mining operations happening at the same time, forced the defenders to surrender.

www.youtube.com

Now, Meg is a historical display, but a group of men got together to see what, exactly, a replica Meg could do. Because of modern ideas of “safety,” and “survival,” and “not being horribly maimed for the purposes of entertainment,” the men decided to fire the mortar at a caravan without any explosives loaded inside the ball. Then, after getting their hit, they would place explosives with similar power into the caravan and blow it up that way.

The video is pretty sweet (even if it took them a lot of shots to actually hit the caravan, which is normal with an old-school mortar). Check it out above.

Articles

This Spitfire shot down near Dunkirk just flew again

During the famed and perilous evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II, brave pilots, sailors, and citizens fought tooth and nail to rescue soldiers trapped on the French beach from the German Luftwaffe as it attempted to wipe them out.


One of the pilots, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson, was shot down in a Spitfire MK1 N3200 on May 26, 1940, the opening hours of Operation Dynamo. Stephenson spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Germans, eventually staying at the famous Colditz Castle after numerous escape attempts from other prisons.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

But his aircraft, hit through the radiator and with other damage to the body, was left on the beach near Calais, France. The Spitfire plane became a popular photo destination for German soldiers who would often take small parts of the aircraft with them as souvenirs.

By the time the Allies liberated Calais in 1944, no one was too worried about digging what scrap remained out of the beach. And so the plane continued to sit, slowly becoming more and more buried by the mud and sand on the beach.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
The restored Spitfire Mk. 1A taxis to the runway at an air show in England. (Photo: YouTube/Imperial War Museums)

It wasn’t until 1986, over 40 years after the war ended, that the plane was recovered — and it wasn’t until the new millennium that someone decided to actually restore the old bird.

Thomas Kaplan, an American investor and philanthropist, backed the 14-year restoration project and gifted the plane, now back in flying condition, to the Imperial War Museum.

Now the plane is housed at the same hangar on the same base that it flew from that fateful day in 1940, but it has a much different mission. It serves as a flying history exhibit for the museum, soaring over air shows and allowing visitors to hear what the original Spitfires sounded like in combat.

Learn more about the history of the plane and see it in flight in the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

By the time Samuel Woodfill was earning his Medal of Honor in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1917, he was already a veteran of another war. The fighting of World War I just happened to be very different from the fighting he saw in the Philippine-American War. But Woodfill was practically born to be an Army man.

samuel woodfill

His father was a veteran of the Civil War and Mexican-American War and raised Samule to be an excellent shot with a rifle. By 1901, he was enlisting in the U.S. Army the way his father had 60 years before. 

Woodfill was immediately sent to the Philippines with the 11th Infantry in 1901. There, he fought Filipino Insurrectionists in the jungles of the islands for three years before returning to American territory. When World War I broke out, the growing U.S. Army needed its skilled veterans to train and lead the new recruits being sent over to European battlefields. 

He deployed with the American Expeditionary Force to France in 1917, still an enlisted non-commissioned officer. But the same need for veterans and leaders that saw Woodfill deploy with the AEF soon saw him promoted to a Lieutenant’s commission. By 1918, almost 17 years to the day he first joined the Army, he was promoted again.

Woodfill was then sent to lead men in the coming Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. In the second week of the massive offensive, Woodfill and his men found themselves near the French town of Cunel, moving through heavy fog. Despite the fog, they were spotted by German defenders, who opened up on the Americans with heavy machine gun fire. 

His men immediately took cover, but Lt. Woodfill did not. He rushed straight at the German defenders, a machine gun nest manned by four enemy soldiers. He shot three of them and, jumping into the enemy position, fought the German officer in hand to hand combat. Woodfill killed the opposing officer too. 

Signalling his men to get up and keep moving, they found themselves under fire again from another German machine gun. This time, he ordered his men to advance on the position, which they did. It was overrun and its three-man crew were captured. As they moved forward, they were again shot at by an enemy machine gun. 

Charging forward, the American dispatched the third machine gun nest, with Woodfill emptying his rifle and taking down five more Germans. They then entered a German bunker guarded by two more enemy troops. Having spent all his ammunition, Woodfill grabbed a nearby pickaxe and beat the two defenders to death. 

Throughout the whole ordeal, Woodfill and his men hadn’t noticed that the air was becoming thick with mustard gas, but they were beginning to feel its effects. He ordered his men to get out of the enemy area and go back to the American lines. The gas was only means of stopping the American advance in the area. 

None of his men were killed in the fighting, but the mustard gas knocked Samuel Woodfill out of the war. It took him weeks to recover from its primary effects, but the gas left his lungs permanently scarred for the rest of his life. He was soon awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Cunel. 

His exploits as a soldier were so legendary, Gen, John J. Pershing, who gave Woodfill his battlefield commission in 1917, called him “The Most Outstanding Soldier of World War I.” 

samuel woodfill

He was even chosen to be one of the pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Though he retired as a Master Sergeant in 1923, at the onset of World War II, the Army recommissioned him as a major and put him in charge of training new troops in Alabama. 

His second retirement from the Army came in 1942, after the death of his wife. Samuel Woodfill died nine years later and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Space exploration is still the next frontier… and it’s been happening for 80 years in the military

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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An old Saxon poem depicts Jesus as a viking warrior chief

When Christianity was getting its start, the religion didn’t exactly spread like wildfire. In its early days, the world was a tough place to be spreading new ideas. To create converts, Christians had to appeal to many, many different kinds of people for centuries. Selling the “Prince of Peace” to the Germanic-Saxon tribes of Northern Europe was particularly hard, so Christians framed Jesus in a way the locals could better understand.


Saxons were pretty much forced to take on Christianity in the 8th and 9th Centuries after a guy named Charlemagne rolled across Northern Europe with a giant sword he named “Joyous” and forced everyone there to take Communion or take three feet of steel.

But that didn’t mean they were thrilled about it.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
“New Rule: Everyone who says anything about Valhalla gets sent there immediately.”

So, to make the idea of accepting the Christian god more amenable to the erstwhile pagan northerners, Jesus was recreated in a Saxon poem called Heliand, an epic poem that incorporated the Christian ideals with the Germanic warrior ethos – and that’s what caught on like wildfire. Not only did the Saxon warriors begin to accept the tenets of the new religion, the mix of cultures became the foundation of Medieval Europe and the culture of knighthood.

From there, the budding religion blossomed in the north and became widespread among the Saxons and beyond.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
“Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior?”

But it wasn’t just that the idea of God’s son being a warrior chieftain that appealed to the northerners. It was actually just a really rockin’ good poem for the time. It was so popular, in fact, that multiple copies of Heliand still survive. If we’re being honest with ourselves, no matter what we think of the Christian religion, the stories are pretty good. Of particular interest in the Heliand are the stories of Genesis, the Revolt of the Angels, the story of Cain and Abel, and the Destruction of Sodom.

Imagining the same characters from these Biblical stories in a different setting would changes the way we see Christianity, even today.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
All I’m saying is I would read more of the Bible if all the characters were vikings.

Another reason it caught on so fast was that it was written in a way familiar to the Saxons. It’s the largest known work ever written in the Old Saxon language and it was written in the epic poem style that was already popular with those people at the time. Jesus became a chieftain, prayers became runes, and the last supper became “the last mead hall feast with the warrior-companions.”

The poem still exists in many forms, with manuscripts being held by the British Museum, the Catholic Church in Vatican City, Germany’s Bavarian State Library, and more. You can buy an English-language copy of the Heliand on Amazon, which includes lines from the life and times of Jesus like:

The Chieftain of mankind is born in David’s hill-fort.
• The three foreign warriors present their gifts to the Ruler’s Child.
• John announces Christ’s coming to Middlegard.
• Christ the Chieftain is immersed in the Jordan by His loyal thane John.
• The Champion of mankind fights off the loathsome enemy.
• Christ, the might Chieftain, chooses His first warrior-companions.
• The mighty Rescuer calls twelve to be His men.

Now admit that Christmas and Easter just got a whole lot cooler.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Their first battle: Ulysses S. Grant charges to victory

It was the first major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War. President James K. Polk’s attempts to annex Texas and buy the lands west of the amiable state had failed, and the Army was sent in under Gen. Zachary Taylor to force the issue, starting at the Battle of Palo Alto where a young West Point graduate would first face the guns of the enemy.


Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

Then-Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, at left. Grant and Lt. Alexander Hays fought together in Mexico and later in the Civil War where Hays was killed.

(Public domain, retrieved from University of Texas Arlington)

Cadet Ulysses S. Grant had been an underwhelming student, graduating 21st in a class of 39 students in 1843. But even the lowest West Point graduate commissions as a lieutenant, and Grant was sent to be the quartermaster in the 4th Infantry despite having proven himself as an adept horseman.

The young lieutenant was in the line of battle on May 8, 1846, when U.S. federal troops baited Mexican troops into attacking and beginning hostilities. He would complain late in life that he thought the war was unjust and that Polk was wrong to have provoked it, but in 1846 he was just a lieutenant ordered to fight with his men.

Palo Alto was named for the tall trees in the area, and Mexican artillery and cavalry numbering almost 4,000 men and 12 artillery pieces had positioned themselves on a hilltop near these trees. The U.S. forces arrayed against them had almost 2,300 troops and only 8 artillery pieces, and they had to march through tall grass and up the slope to attack.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

An illustration shows U.S. troops engaging Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Palo Alto.

(Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot)

The reluctant lieutenant noted the enemy’s arms and superior numbers in his memoirs, saying:

As I looked down that long line of about three thousand armed men, advancing towards a larger force also armed, I thought what a fearful responsibility General Taylor must feel, commanding such a host and so far away from friends.

But Grant’s memoirs also provide a window of hope for the U.S. forces. Though outnumbered, they had a clear technological advantage:

an army, certainly outnumbering our little force, was seen, drawn up in line of battle just in front of the timber. Their bayonets and spearheads glistened in the sunlight formidably. The force was composed largely of cavalry armed with lances. Where we were the grass was tall, reaching nearly to the shoulders of the men, very stiff, and each stock was pointed at the top, and hard and almost as sharp as a darning-needle.

So the men were in tall, sharp grass like they were advancing through a sea of rapiers, but their enemy was relying on lances to pierce through the infantry. Lances were a dangerous weapon at the time, but disciplined infantry could still give better than they got under lance attack if they stayed in formation and fired when the horsemen were close.

But if they broke and ran, lancers would slice through the lines and gut one man after another.

As Grant and the men advanced, the Mexican artillery was the first to fire, but they opened fire when the U.S. lines were still too far away, and the grass proved itself to be quite useful to the Yanks.

As we got nearer, the cannon balls commenced going through the ranks. They hurt no one, however, during this advance, because they would strike the ground long before they reached our line, and ricocheted through the tall grass so slowly that the men would see them and open ranks and let them pass. When we got to a point where the artillery could be used with effect, a halt was called, and the battle opened on both sides.
Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

Major Ringgold, an artillery officer, was killed at the Battle of Palo Alto.

(Public domain)

It was at this point that the U.S. artillery advantage showed itself. The infantry on either side could still inflict little damage as they were too far apart for accurate musket fire. But while the U.S. soldiers were barely in the effective range of Mexican artillery, American artillery could reach further and with greater effect.

The artillery was advanced a rod or two in front of the line, and opened fire. The infantry stood at order arms as spectators, watching the effect of our shots upon the enemy, and watching his shots so as to step out of their way. It could be seen that the eighteen-pounders and the howitzers did a great deal of execution. On our side there was little or no loss while we occupied this position.

For most of the day, Grant and the infantry would trade limited shots with the enemy infantry while their artillery punished the Mexican forces. The U.S. did suffer losses; Grant makes note of two artillery officers hit nearby, one of them killed. The Mexican cavalry tried to turn the U.S. flank, but disciplined infantry fire drove them back. The limited U.S. infantry advances and the punishing artillery fire made good effect, and the Mexican forces began to withdraw before sunset.

Grant went forward under fire to occupy the vacated positions and saw the effects of Mexican artillery at close range.

In this last move there was a brisk fire upon our troops, and some execution was done. One cannon-ball passed through our ranks, not far from me. It took off the head of an enlisted man, and the under jaw of Captain Page of my regiment, while the splinters from the musket of the killed soldier, and his brains and bones, knocked down two or three others, including one officer, Lieutenant Wallen,—hurting them more or less. Our casualties for the day were nine killed and forty-seven wounded.

When Grant and the U.S. forces advanced the next day, they found that their enemy had departed. The Battle of Palo Alto was over with a decisive U.S. victory. But there was a lot of war left to fight, and Grant was at or near the front for most of the major battles, serving under Gen. Taylor for the start but transferring to Gen. Winfield Scott’s command in 1847 before the battles of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec.

During these engagements, he was twice promoted by brevet for bravery, reaching the rank of brevet captain.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Hashshashin were the most feared assassins of the ancient world

Hashshashin have gone by many namesakes and the word assassin derives from the original religious cult. They consumed hashish to create visions and assassinate Christian crusading leaders and Muslim sultans alike. Their notoriety lives on to this day, influencing cult classics like the Marco Polo Netflix series or mainstream gaming such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassination was not an unfamiliar weapon in the ancient world, but the Hashshashin turned it into an art form.

Religious roots in Islam

The Hashshashin existed as a religious group of assassins from the 11th to the 13th centuries in Persia and Syria. For hundreds of years, they operated out of hidden mountain fortresses near the Caspian Sea. The new Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, but early on it was split between two groups: The Sunni and Shia. The Sunni believe that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor to the Islamic Prophet. The Shia consider Uthman’s son in-law, Ali, to be the legitimate heir. This was the start of different sects of the religion, splintering into other subgroups.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Alamout Castle ruins (Wikipedia, CC-BY-3.0)

Al-Mustansir ruled as Caliph of the Fatimid Caliphate from the age of seven for over 50 years. The religious empire spanned across northern Africa to the west and Persia to the east. Ethnic groups in Egypt made it increasingly difficult for Al-Mustansir to maintain a strong grip of the extensive empire. He gave some of his military power to his General Badr Al-Jamali to defeat the enemies of the state. Badr succeeded in defeating the groups and the politicians that supported them. On January 10, 1094 the eighth Fatimid caliph died in Egypt.

Abu Mansir Nizar, Al-Mustansir’s son, was the next in line as successor. Badr had died earlier that year as well. Badr’s son, Al-Afdal Shahanshah, took his father’s place as the Caliph’s vizier, a high office in the Muslim dynasty. Behind the scenes, Al-Afdal controlled the government due to his father’s exploits. To remain in power, he organized a successful coup. Al-Afdal placed Abu’s younger, 20-year-old brother on the throne instead because it would be much easier to control a child. The governor of Alexandria gave refuge to Abu and appointed him Caliph.

A year-long Egyptian civil war ended with a besieged Alexandria and the surrender of Abu. Imprisoned and executed by a pretender, the rightful ruler of the Caliphate met his end. Egyptian and Syrian leaders reluctantly accepted the bloody transition of power, but Persia to east refused. The Turks invaded the lands to the east and forced Sunni beliefs on the populace and executed those who refused.

Hassan-I Sabbah, a religious leader of a smaller faction, was banished long before the coup in 1080s. His loyalty to Al-Musansir and to Nizari beliefs made him a threat to the ambitious vizier’s family. As a consequence, when the rightful ruler died, he dedicated his life to vengeance and personal gain.

During his exile, he infiltrated the fabled fort Alamut disguised as a missionary of the opposing religious faction. Secretly, however, he was converting followers to his own brand of the religion. He won the fort and established his own Nizari Ismailis revolt – and his secret society the Hashashin.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Siege of Alamut (Wikipedia)

Consequently, Turkish Sultans did not want a renegade upstart seizing forts in their new empire and sent armies to recapture Alamut. The 2,000 foot high fortress that sat on vertical cliffs was impregnable. The Sultan Malik-Shah applied constant military pressure to seize the fort and kill Hassan-I. With this in mind, mysteriously, the Sultan and his vizier died. Of course, the evidence that this this may or may not have been the first assassination by the Hashashin is a topic of debate among historians. This caused a civil war that presented more opportunities for Hassan-I to capture more forts to use as a base of operations for assassinations. Hassan-I became known as “The Old Man in the Mountain.”

Psychological warfare

In spite of the name, Hashashin was originally derogatory in nature. The assassins embraced this notoriety and expanded on the fantastical tales about them. Hashashin refers to copious amounts of hashish smoked by the assassins.

‘The Assassins as men who were drugged with hashish wine and then taken to a lush valley where all of their sexual desires were fulfilled to gain their loyalty.’ – Marco Polo

‘They called themselves “fidayeen” (“martyrs”), which is what many suicide bombers today call themselves.’ – Pico Iyer, Smithsonian magazine, October 1986

A Fi’dai made peace with the fact a mission meant certain death. This dedication was also what made them terrifying. They turned assassination into an artform and could blend in with the population. Their myth grew further as it seemed they practically appeared out of nowhere and could be anyone at any time.

Hence, they could be hired by anyone to kill political or religious leaders with large sums of money. Crusaders even hired the Hashashin during the first Crusade.

Their tactics were so successful that the word assassin came from the word Hashashin.

Romanticism of the assassin

‘The Country of the Assassins’ exists on crusader maps where they had scatter strongholds. That shows that even crusaders knew that was ‘nope’ territory and to leave them the hell alone.

[Marco Polo’s] medieval best seller mentions the Syrian Old Man of the Mountain administering a drugged potion to his fanatical followers to facilitate their deadly missions. Since the sect’s nickname, the Hashishim, was derived from the Arabic for “hashish,” Marco Polo’s account helped cement their reputation as drug-fueled thugs. Modern historians, however, regard Marco Polo’s description as something of an invention itself. — Vicente Millan Torres, National Geographic

Among some of the most notable assassination attempts was the one of the famed Muslim Saladin where 13 Fi’dais were killed. The order was contracted by Rashid Ad-Din Sinan on behalf of Gumushtigin, the ruler of Aleppo.

Richard the lionhearted hired the assassins in 1192, and Jagati, the son of Genghis Khan, hired them 1242. The long list of assassination attempts even includes Edward the first of England in 1272. They could reach out and touch you from the safety of their hidden fortresses in the mountains.

It didn’t matter how tight security was, they were going to kill you or die trying. That’s some scary sh*t for a medieval ruler of any religion.

Assassins are a staple topic in pop culture. From John Wick to the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise, assassins are cool. You could probably list five real or fictional assassins off the top of your head popularized by film and television. The mystery and lethality of assassins capture the imagination. In fact, the Shia Islamic religious sect is still around today. Probably without the contract killings – allegedly. (Conspiracy music intensifies.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Taiwan is preparing for war by training fighter pilots to use freeways as runways

When a civil war between Chinese powers ended with victory for the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated to a region of the nation that had only recently been returned from Japanese control, known as Taiwan. They quickly established a provisional capital in Taipei, and so began a half-century long staring contest from across the Pacific Ocean’s Taiwan Strait. Today, tensions remain high between these two Chinese governments, prompting complex foreign relations and sporadic military posturing between each government and their respective allies.


On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted an unusual series of military exercises aimed at preparing the nation to defend itself against a Chinese attack even after its military installations had been rendered useless by wave after wave of Chinese air strikes and naval bombardments. Taiwan knows China could feasibly neuter their military response capabilities fairly quickly, and in order to stay in the fight, they’d need to get creative with how they field their intercept and attack aircraft. When you’re fresh out of airstrips but still have fighters to scramble, what do you do?

You close down the freeways.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

Freeway or Runway? It all depends on the circumstances.

(Photo courtesy of Taiwan’s Freeway Bureau)

“Our national security has faced multiple challenges,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the press on Tuesday. “Whether it is the Chinese Communist Party’s [People’s Liberation Army] long-distance training or its fighter jets circling Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability. We should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”

As a part of the drills, Taiwan launched four different types of military aircraft from portions of highway that were shut down for use as makeshift airstrips. Long stretches of blacktop normally reserved for slow-moving commuters fighting their way through workday traffic instead became packed with American sourced F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, along with French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan-made IDF fighters. Each aircraft took off carrying a full combat load.

The drills not only demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to scramble fighters and support aircraft from the freeway, it also proved conclusively that Taiwan’s troops can conduct refueling and ammunition replenishment operations right there on the highway, redeploying jets back into the fight quickly even after their air bases have been destroyed.

Taiwan fighters land on highway for Chinese ‘invasion’ wargames

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“There are only a few military air bases which would become the prime targets in the event of an attack. The highway drill is necessary as highway strips would be our priority choice if the runways were damaged during a war,” Air Force Colonel Shu Kuo-mao explained.

Over 1,600 military personnel took part in the drills, along with Taiwan’s new variant of the F-16 that has been called the “most advanced fourth-generation fighter on the planet” by its builder, Lockheed Martin. The F-16V offers advanced AESA Radar sourced through Northrop Grumman, as well as a variety of updates and upgrades to avionics and combat systems meant to make it a formidable opponent for just about anything in the sky that isn’t Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter, the F-35, or its sister in stealth, the F-22.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII

The F-16V is touted as the world’s most advanced fourth generation fighter by Lockheed Martin

(Promotional image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The F-16s that took part in Tuesday’s drills notably flew carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, sourced from the United States, meaning their primary role in a fight would be to engage with encroaching aircraft and vessels, rather than air-to-surface strikes against the Chinese mainland.

With only about a hundred miles separating Taiwan’s shores from China’s, it stands to reason that combat operations would begin with a heavy bombardment of Taiwan’s few operational airstrips. These drills, however, suggest that even such an offensive may not be enough to stop Taiwan from responding with some of the best fighters on the planet.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how these 3 legends each earned two Medals of Honor

Since the introduction of the Medal of Honor at the beginning of the Civil War, only 19 men have received it twice.


Five received both the Army and Navy version for the same action. Four Navy sailors received two for actions during peacetime. Before the 20th Century, a number of Medals of Honor were bestowed for any valorous action – because it was the only medal at the time.

However, there are still 3 men who earned the Medal of Honor as we’ve come to know it – by gallantry in the face of the enemy – twice.

Those three men were John McCloy, U.S. Navy, and Daniel Daly, and Smedley Butler, both U.S. Marines .

The three men’s paths would cross during the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Caribbean campaigns, and World War I.

The Boxer Rebellion

In early 1900, the United States and seven other nations dispatched forces to China to quell the Boxer Rebellion and to protect their national interests.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
I’ll Try Sir,

 

During the fighting, McCloy and Daly both earned their first Medals of Honor while Butler, an officer (who was ineligible for the Medal of Honor at the time), received a Brevet promotion – an award for officers who had displayed gallantry in action – in lieu of the Medal of Honor. Butler rushed out of a trench in the face of withering enemy fire to rescue a wounded Marine officer before being wounded himself.

John McCloy earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during four battles throughout the month of June 1900. At that time, Navy seamen called “Bluejackets” left the ship with Marines to fight as infantry. McCloy was one of those Bluejackets.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
U.S. Marines in China, ca. 1900

 

Dan Daly found himself alone on a wall outside the American Legation in Peking after his commanding officer left to get reinforcements. From his position, he single-handedly held off attacks by Chinese snipers. He also fought off an attempt to storm the wall holding his position, alone, through the night until reinforcements arrived. His actions earned him his first Medal of Honor.

The Occupation of Veracruz

Over a decade later, the three men found themselves fighting in the Caribbean during the Banana Wars and the Occupation of Veracruz.

During the tumultuous Mexican Revolution in 1914, the United States received word of a weapons shipment inbound to the port of Veracruz. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the port captured and the weapons seized. He dispatched several warships and Marine contingents for the mission.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
The first American sailors land at Veracruz, 1914. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

During the initial battle, John McCloy, now a Chief Boatswain, commanded three picket boats unloading men and supplies in the port. When his force came under fire from a nearby building, he drove his force into harm’s way and fired a volley from the boats’ one-inch guns.

The Mexicans fired in response, revealing their positions which were then silenced by the USS Prairie. During the fighting, McCloy was shot in the thigh but remained at his post as beachmaster for 48 hours before being forced to evacuate by the brigade surgeon. McCloy’s was awarded his second Medal of Honor for this.

Meanwhile, then-Maj. Smedley Butler was leading his battalion of Marines through the streets of Veracruz. For conspicuous gallantry while leading his forces against the enemy on April 22, Butler received his first Medal of Honor. Butler attempted to return this Medal of Honor because he didn’t feel he adequately earned it. He was rebuffed and told to wear it well.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
U.S. troops march through Veracruz in 1914. (National Archives)

Daniel Daly was with the Marines at Veracruz but (in an uncharacteristic move for Daly) earned no medals for bravery during the action.

The U.S. Occupation of Haiti

While McCloy was employed elsewhere, Maj. Butler and Gunnery Sgt. Daly embarked with the 2nd Marine Regiment for duty in Haiti in 1915. While fighting the Caco rebels, both men received their second Medals of Honor.

On October 24, 1915, Maj. Butler was leading a reconnaissance patrol of the 15th Company of Marines, which included Gunnery Sgt. Daly. That evening, the patrol was ambushed by 400 Cacos. The Americans lost their machine gun and were forced to retreat to high ground.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
A U.S. Marine inspect Haitian soldiers, ca. 1915 (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

That night, Daly ventured out to retrieve the machine gun. He killed three Cacos with his knife in the process. The next morning, Butler ordered the patrol to organize into three sections to attack and disperse the rebels. Daly led one section. They drove the Cacos into Fort Dipitie before the Marines assaulted and captured it. This action earned Daly his second Medal of Honor.

Less than a month later, Butler led a group of 100 Marines and sailors against Caco rebels holed up in Fort Rivière. Under heavy cover fire, Butler and 26 of his men entered the fort through an opening in the wall. Once inside, they dispersed the rebels, killing 51 with only one Marine wounded. This is how Butler earned his second Medal of Honor.

World War I

Although by the time the U.S. entered World War I, the three gallant men already wore two Medals of Honor each. But their bravery was not finished. Brig. Gen. Butler would sit out the war in command of a depot, Dan Daly further cemented his place in Marine Corps lore at Belleau Wood – where he shouted his famous “do you want to live forever?” quote.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Marines depicted at Belleau Wood (U.S. Marine Corps museum)

He earned the Navy Cross during the battle, reportedly because having a third Medal of Honor would have simply been ridiculous.

McCloy commanded the minesweeper USS Curlew during the Great War. He received a Navy Cross for his part in clearing the North Sea mine barrage after the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US military once successfully used a psychic to locate a lost plane

During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?


In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.

A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.

The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.

President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.

“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”

The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”

Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”

The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.

Articles

This presidential nominee’s campaign was tanked by a tank

In the 1988 presidential campaign, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had a problem: he needed to look credible as a commander-in-chief during a time when Democrats were being criticized for their defense policies.


Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration had been pushing through a major peace-time military build-up.

According to CQ Researcher, a large portion of the Democrats in Congress had opposed that build-up in the 1984 elections. That caused the perception that the Democrats were being weak on defense, which led to Reagan’s 49-state landslide.

Dukakis had been among those who were critical of the buildup, the mainstays of which — the B-1B Lancer, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and a host of other weapon systems – are in service today (with a few exceptions).

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
An E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft flies over the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zackary Alan Landers/Released)

Worse, according to a 2013 article in Politico, during the month of August, Dukakis had gone from leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 points to trailing him, and one big reason was that 54 percent of Americans felt that then-Vice President Bush would do a better job on national security, while only 18 percent thought Dukakis would.

To counter that, Dukakis went on a swing that discussed defense, but one event was marked by defense workers jeering him. Then, he went on a visit to a General Dynamics plant in Michigan where he planned to ride in an M1 Abrams tank, a key part of the buildup that Democrats had criticized.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew. (Dept. of Defense image)

 

However, to do the ride, Dukakis was told he had to wear protective headgear. He did so, and ended up sealing his fate.

Within a week, the photo of Dukakis in the helmet had become a joke (think Kushner in his vest), but the worst was to come when operatives with Bush’s campaign developed an attack ad. Using 11 seconds of footage, they highlighted Dukakis’s opposition to the Reagan buildup and foreign policy.

Dukakis, who had already been trailing, and already saw 25 percent of Americans less likely to vote for him, was now in freefall. He eventually lost the 1988 election by seven million votes.

You can see a video by Politico on the infamous tank ride below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Vietnam almost became a protectorate of the US

It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.


Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Until the early 1960s. Probably.

And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.

As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Maybe if they fought in Paris as hard as they fought in Algeria the French wouldn’t have lost Vietnam in the first place.

 

It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.

One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.

 

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Until the early 1960s. Probably.

Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.

The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.

It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.

On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.

Sabotage and subversion: How secret agents helped win WWII
Japanese sentries salute French officers in Saigon, 1945.

 

Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.

“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”

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