One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Hans Speidel had a long history of service to his country, no matter what that country was called or who happened to be its leader. Speidel was born in the German Empire and fought for the Kaiser in 1914, stayed in uniform during the tumultuous Weimar Republic and rose through the ranks of Nazi Germany. 

What Speidel did as a Nazi officer is nothing short of extraordinary – and brave. 

Hans Speidel
Hans Speidel

For four years, he served as an officer in the German Army, leading troops at the Battle of the Somme as a lieutenant. After World War I, as German politics, economics and government all seemed to spiral out of control, and the Nazis came to power, he stayed in the Army. In 1930 he was appointed to the General Staff.

Speidel soon found himself invading France in 1940 with the German Army and he would become Chief of Staff to many notable Nazi Field Marshals, despite never joining the Nazi Party himself. It was as a Chief of Staff that Speidel was promoted to general, while serving on the Eastern Front. 

He was soon sent to the Atlantic Wall to serve as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Chief of Staff. After his time on the Eastern Front, he became convinced that Hitler’s military strategies were a series of blunders that would see his country fall to ruin. He even failed to pass on Hitler’s order to bomb Paris with V1 and V2 rockets as the Nazis were forced to withdraw from France.

With his increasing disappointment in the Nazis, Speidel joined what would become known as the 20 July Plot, an attempt to assassinate the Fuhrer and take control of the armed forces. 

Hans Speidel

The plotters needed someone close to Rommel to recruit the Field Marshal’s support. No one was closer to Rommel than Speidel, who admired Rommel for his years of service. Rommel never officially joined the plot because he was against Hitler’s assassination – he wanted Hitler arrested and put on trial. But when the Fuhrer survived, Rommel and Speidel were both rounded up by the Gestapo.

They, along with almost 7,000 others were arrested for their role in the attempt on Hitler. Rommel was forced to commit suicide. Speidel spent the rest of the war in prison.

After the war, Speidel was one of only two Nazi-era generals who would be allowed to create the new West German Army. His role in the plot to kill Hitler was critical in the newfound trust placed in the Bundeswehr, the new Army of the Federal Republic of German and its integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

Speidel worked his way up to a four-star general’s rank in the Bundeswehr, and was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Ground Forces for all of NATO in 1957. He retired in 1963 and died in 1984. 

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The Ballad of Iwo Jima flag raiser, Ira Hayes

In 1964, country music star Johnny Cash released an unconventional album. It was calledBitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian,” and it was a radical departure from Cash’s previous release five months prior,I Walk the Line. The album was a concept album and was entirely dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of Native Americans.


The lead single of the album was called “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Most Americans at the point had either forgotten who he was or had no idea who he was to begin with. But everyone in the United States and most people around the world had definitely seen his picture. He was in one of the most famous photographs in world history.

Ira Hayes
Ira Hayes
Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won’t answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

Ira Hayes was one of six Marines that were photographed by Joe Rosenthal on the summit of Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. He was part of a group that was ordered to take down the first flag raised and replace it with a bigger flag so that it would be seen better. As the flag went up, Rosenthal took a couple of snaps (he almost missed the flag raising looking for rocks to use as a stand) and had the pictures flown out to Guam. When the film was developed, the photo editor of the AP claimed it was “one for all ages” and had it sent to New York. It was immediately sent around the world 17 hours after it was taken. It won the Pulitzer Prize that year and became one of the most iconic photographs ever taken. And it was about to push into the limelight a young man who had always tried to avoid it.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
U.S. Navy

 

Gather ’round me people
There’s a story I would tell
‘Bout a brave young Indian
You should remember well
From the land of the Pima Indian
A proud and noble band
Who farmed the Phoenix Valley
In Arizona land
Down the ditches a thousand years
The waters grew Ira’s peoples’ crops
‘Til the white man stole their water rights
And the sparkling water stopped
Now, Ira’s folks were hungry
And their land grew crops of weeds
When war came, Ira volunteered
And forgot the white man’s greed

Ira Hayes was born on the Gila River Indian Community, a reservation in Arizona. He was the son of a World War I vet and was the eldest of six children, of which two died in infancy, and two died in their 20s. Life on the reservation was hard. His father was a farmer but farmed on land that was almost unsuitable for farming big crops. He was only able to grow enough to sustain the family. Hayes was a Pima Indian, who were traditionally famers. However, the U.S. government moved the Pima to an area around the Gila River where the land was not too agreeable with an agricultural lifestyle. An effort to build a dam that would send water to the community instead flowed toward a nearby white community, which led many Pima to think the government was trying to kill them off. Hayes grew up as one of the few kids that could speak English and learned to read and write. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he was one of the millions of kids that went to join the military.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won’t answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

There they battled up Iwo Jima hill
Two hundred and fifty men
But only twenty-seven lived
To walk back down again
And when the fight was over
And Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high
Was the Indian, Ira Hayes

Hayes graduated from boot camp in San Diego and was designated a Paramarine (this was a shortlived MOS that was essentially an airborne Marine). He earned his wings and went off to fight in Bouganville in the South Pacific. He then was assigned to 5th Marine Division and started training for the upcoming invasion of Iwo Jima.

Hayes landed with his unit at the base of Mt Suribachi 75 years ago. On February 23, the was to accompany his Sergeant, Mike Strank up Mt Suribachi to replace the smaller American flag that had just been raised with a bigger one. One of the Marines that joined him was his friend, Harlan Block. After they raised the flag, they continued on to fight for another five weeks. The battle was much more ferocious than expected with the Japanese fighting to the last man while trying to inflict as many casualites. The Marines fought bravely but endured a terrible toll in taking the island. Hayes himself watched his friend, Block die as well as Sergeant Strank.

At the end of the battle, Hayes emerged physically unscathed, but the mental and emotional toll was heavy. In his platoon of 45 men, only 5 were left when the battle was over.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won’t answer anymore

Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

 

Ira Hayes returned a hero
Celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored
Everybody shook his hand
But he was just a Pima Indian
No water, no home, no chance
At home nobody cared what Ira’d done
And when did the Indians dance

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Hayes meets with Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron in 1947 over discrimination against Native Americans (Public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Within two weeks of leaving Iwo, Hayes and the two other living flag raisers, Rene Gagnon and James Bradley were put on a plane and flown to Washington, D.C. Before he died, Franklin Roosevelt wanted them to be paraded around the country to raise money for war bonds. The war in Japan still needed to be won, and the loss of American life so far had not sat well with the public that wanted their boys home. Roosevelt and his successor Harry Truman knew the flag raisers would be instrumental in raising money for the war. Raising the Iwo Jima flag over the U.S. Capitol, they then went to New York and around the country. For Hayes, there were a few things bothering him. First, he knew that his friend Harlan Block was one of the flag raisers and somehow was misidentified as someone else. He told officers at Headquarters Marine Corps what happened, and they told him the names were released, and it was too late. He was ordered to keep quiet. The second was he was suffering from what we now know as survivors guilt and PTSD. He just wanted to head back to his unit and be with his friends. He was able to leave the tour early and headed back and was part of the occupation force of Japan.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won’t answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

Then Ira started drinking hard
Jail was often his home
They let him raise the flag and lower it
Like you’d throw a dog a bone
He died drunk early one morning
Alone in the land he fought to save
Two inches of water and a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes

After the war, Ira Hayes had a few years as a minor celebrity. People would stop by the reservation to say hi, he recreated his role in a John Wayne movie, and attended ceremonies honoring his role in the flag raising. He tried to make things right and hitchhiked 1,300 miles to see the family of Harlan Block. He told them their son was one of the flag raisers and wrote a letter they could present in which he gave details on how to prove it (the boots Block and Hayes wore were Paratrooper boots and different than the other Marines). But the guilt and trauma that Hayes endured were too much. He also dealt with the racism Native Americans faced when he traveled. Once he went to visit a war buddy and wasn’t allowed on the property because he was Indian. He had to wait on the road until his friend arrived home. He couldn’t hold a job and became an alcoholic. When he was back in Arizona, things got worse. Farming was impossible, there were few resources, and there was nothing to do but drink. He was arrested over 50 times for public intoxication. When asked about his drinking he said, “I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they’re not coming back. Much less back to the White House, like me.”

Hayes died on Jan. 24, 1955. He was found next to an abandoned hut on the reservation, dead of exposure and alcohol poisoning. He was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Hayes’ headstone at Arlington National Cemetary (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won’t answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

Yeah, call him drunken Ira Hayes
But his land is just as dry
And his ghost is lying thirsty
In the ditch where Ira died

A decade later, Johnny Cash decided he would create an album about how Native Americans were treated in the USA. Cash at the time, believed he was part Cherokee and took up a cause that few cared or even knew about. For his Bitter Tears album, he used several songs from his friend, songwriter and Korean veteran Peter LaFarge. One of the songs was a song, LaFarge had written about Hayes.

In the lead up to its release the album proved controversial. Radio stations and fans balked at the political nature of the song, and stations refused to play it. Cash was so angered he took out a full-page ad in Billboard magazine in which he called out those who were boycotting the song and album seen here.

The song would end up being a hit, rising up to #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles.

For Ira Hayes, his heroism and tragic life would be immortalized forever not, just by a photograph but also a song.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How bombing the crap out of Iwo Jima hurt America’s assault

During the hell that was World War II, the U.S. conducted 72 straight days of vicious bombing raids on the island of Iwo Jima to gain access. America did everything within their power to weaken Japanese forces before sending ground troops in to secure the rest of island for allied use.


Although U.S. forces bombed the crap out of the island, one aspect of their strategy may have been overlooked in a big way.

Related: That time pancakes helped fight the Japanese in WWII

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima under intense bombardment. (Image from The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

Before the several weeks of the continued bombing, Japanese forces managed to construct well-fortified, underground structures that would withstand heavy American artillery.

Once the bombing ceased, Marines and Sailors were given the green light to board amphibious transport vessels and head toward the enemy’s shores.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Marines heading to battle. (Image from Marine Corps Association)

Navy ships, once again, pounded the shoreland, shooting over the Marines as they moved in to attack. Within minutes, thousands of ground troops hit the beachhead expecting the unexpected.

Once the Marines landed, their initial push was met with minimal pockets of small arms fire. The grunts believe the prior bombardment has killed off most of the Japanese.

But as they moved forward, the grunts would soon encounter the extreme consequences resulting from the weeks of intense bombardment.

Also Read: How a Marine inched his way to knock out a Japanese machine gunner

Soon after the Marines moved further inland, the Japanese defenses came alive and launched a full counterattack. Ground troops fought hard, day after day.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
These Marines take a much-earned break during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

However, the intense allied bombings caused significant superficial damage to the island, littering the surface with debris. This clutter helped to naturally conceal the Japanese pillboxes — small, concrete guard posts with small slits for weapon fire — making it extremely difficult for ground troops to locate and destroy them before it was too late.

Despite this clear disadvantage to the Marines, their fighting spirit proved superior as the grunts managed to secure the island of Iwo Jima.

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The time Special Forces combat divers recovered 26 Americans from the floor of the Pacific Ocean

One of the first-ever Special Forces underwater operations wasn’t targeted against an enemy. Rather, it was to assist in the search and recovery of 26 Americans who had perished in a freak aircraft collision.

On March 7, 1958, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) R4Q (C-119) “Flying Boxcar” transport and a United States Navy (USN) AD-6 Skyraider fighter were returning to Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base (AFB) after a mission in the Philippines. As they prepared for their final approach to the base, the weather suddenly turned to rain, seriously limiting visibility. The pilots, thus, decided to make an instrument landing. At that crucial moment, however, the Navy Skyraider lost its communication with both the USMC transport and with the control tower. The Marine pilots frantically tried to reach their Navy colleague on the radio, to no avail. Moments later, the Skyraider smashed into the fuselage of the R4Q, turning both aircraft into a fireball of debris and human flesh.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar (U.S. Air Force photo)

After the aircraft were lost from the radar, the call went out to the standby Search-and-Rescue (SAR) crews. SAR planes and helicopters from Naha AFB and other bases scrambled into action and scoured the cold Pacific Ocean for traces of the wreckage with hopes of finding survivors. After days of futilely combing the ocean, the search was called off.

In the end, the wreckage of both aircraft was discovered on the floor of the Pacific about three miles offshore. Faced with a delicate and complex recovery effort, the Marine Corps and Navy turned to the Green Berets of the 1st Special Forces Group (SFG). Dive operational detachments were then assigned to the task. In the end, after Herculean efforts, they managed to recover all 26 bodies.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

In the wake of their success, the Commanding General of the IX Corps sent a letter to the 1st SFG. “In times of such tragedy and sorrow, it is most gratifying to know that local military personnel and organizations, as exemplified by the First Special Forces Group (Airborne), may be relied upon to render promptly such outstanding professional assistance,” he wrote. “I am confident that the parents, wives and loved ones of the deceased share my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for [your] outstanding contribution…to the successful accomplishment of the search and salvage operation.”

Tragically, a number of the Green Berets who participated in the recovery operations would be killed in action in Vietnam a few years later.

The year 1958 was a bad one for the C-119. In total, an astounding five aircraft were lost due to accidents, with a total loss of life of 34 service members. But the venerable Flying Boxcar continues to serve in numerous capacities in the U.S. military.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier

Articles

The 6 most insane obsessions of the world’s craziest dictators

Most of us will never know for sure, but there must be something about absolute power that drives a person absolutely insane. For some reason, the dictators that capture and hold power for decades start exhibiting strange behaviors that definitely weren’t apparent when they were just a simple goat herder (Moammar Qaddafi), weatherman (Joseph Stalin) or doctor (François Duvalier).

Next: The 9 day jobs of brutal dictators

Those obsessions might have been present while they were nobodies, but they definitely got the chance to bloom once they started living life with a cheat code for unlimited money and power inside their own country. Here are a few of the most bizarre obsessions:

1. Kim Jong-Il – Food

While it may surprise no one that a North Korean is obsessed with food, most of them are obsessed with finding food. Former dictator and dad to current dictator Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il, had no problems finding it, but he was very particular about it. 

Legends say he had a team of female servants who would go through each individual grain of rice destined for his plate to ensure they were all exactly the same size. He also demanded that rice be cooked on a fire made from wood from sacred Mount Paektu – 420 miles from Pyongyang.

When he wanted a taste of international cuisine, he had it flown in… brick by brick. To make the perfect pizza, he flew in a pizzeria from Italy. To make beer, he moved a brewery from Germany. It’s a good thing he wasn’t into wings, because the Pyongyang Hooters would be incredibly depressing. 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Guy Fieri really missed out on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: Pyongyang” (Wikimedia Commons)

2. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier – Black Dogs

The former doctor and Haitian dictator was a longtime diabetic who suffered a heart attack and went into a coma after an insulin overdose. He recovered, but as he convalesced, he left power with an ally, Clement Barbot. Of course, he soon began to accuse Barbot of trying to steal that power and overthrow Papa Doc. It wasn’t true, but Barbot then actually tried it by kidnapping Papa Doc’s family.

The coup failed and a nationwide manhunt soon began for Barbot. When he couldn’t be found, Papa Doc somehow got it in his head that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog. So the dictator, despite being an educated doctor, had all the black dogs in Haiti put to death.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
As if being a cruel despot to humans wasn’t bad enough… (Image by LaurenLiebhaber from Pixabay)

3. Fidel Castro – Ice Cream

Even before he seized power in Cuba, Papa Fidel was known to be obsessed with ice cream. Supporters sent him ice cream cake for his birthday while he was fighting in the jungles. He celebrated seizing power in Havana with a nice milkshake and once ate 18 scoops of ice cream for lunch. 

There’s no insane, over-the-top story about his obsession. He did create one of the world’s best ice cream parlors, Coppelia, for the Cuban people, which the government still subsidizes. The closest the CIA ever got to assassinating the Cuban dictator was poisoning one of his milkshakes. 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Nothing says “party” like state-run ice cream (Wikimedia Commons)

4. Joseph Stalin – Nude Drawings

We aren’t saying Stalin was making nude drawings or forcing people to draw in the nude. His obsession was much more specific. He really liked making rude comments on drawings of nude men. It didn’t matter if it was a classical painting or a doodle on a cocktail napkin, he was going to write something on it. 

The comments sometimes had nothing to do with the drawings. On one nude male figure, the Soviet dictator wrote, “Ginger bastard Radek, if he had not pissed against the wind, if he had not been angry, he would still be alive.” 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Radek was a former Trotsky supporter who disappeared into Stalin gulags. At least the world knows what happened to him.

5. Adolph Hitler – Western Novels

The Fuhrer was obsessed with the writings of German author Karl May. He was more specifically obsessed with the author’s novels set in the Old American West, featuring a fictional Apache war chief named Winnetou and a German called Old Shatterhand. He even mentions May in “Mein Kampf.” 

As World War II dragged on, Hitler still forced his generals, troops and the German people to read the Old West works of Karl May, despite widespread shortages in everything needed to actually make books. He even demanded his generals read it for inspiration in fighting the Red Army. 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Hitler’s generals would draw straws to determine who would interrupt book club (maybe) (Bundesarchiv)

6. Moammar Qaddafi – Condoleezza Rice

The Libyan dictator had an obsession with Condi that she described as “weird and a bit creepy.” Of course, she knew about his obsession with her: he made a video about her called “Black Flower in the White House,” complete with an original score by a Libyan composer. Luckily, she wrote in her memoir, the video was not raunchy. 

When anti-Qaddafi rebels captured his compound, they found a homemade scrapbook of her in his personal quarters, one that was filled with photos and press clippings. They, of course, showed the world immediately to let the public humiliation of Qaddafi begin. 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
If you look up the song online, there are multiple guesses/ interpretations to how it went — no, seriously
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released)
MIGHTY HISTORY

8 books about the Iraq War that will give you something to think about

The morning of March 19, 2003, marked the beginning of the Iraq War that would eventually lead to devastating loss for both countries. With its roots in the first Persian Gulf War, some argue that the Iraq/U.S. conflict was inevitable, while others consider it an unnecessary war.

After dictator Saddam Hussein’s refusal to abandon Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied forces launched a full-scale attack. What followed were years of American occupation, a large number of Iraqi and American casualties, and a growing tide of opposition to the seemingly unending war. The Iraq War spanned nearly the entirety of two presidential administrations in the United States, leading to shifting strategies and new technologies. Eventually, the Obama administration withdrew the final troops in 2011, but the long years of warfare continue to affect the Iraqi nation. These Iraq War books recount, analyze, and revisit the effects and experiences of a war that some have deemed preventable.


One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

1. Dreaming of Baghdad

By Haifa Zangana

A humane approach to Middle Eastern affairs, Dreaming of Baghdad is a hauntingly beautiful memoir that will leave you with a new perspective on the “War on Terror”. We follow Haifa Zangana’s experience as a political activist during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. She — along with a small group who resisted Saddam’s rule — was eventually captured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

There is a stark illumination on the psychological disturbances experienced by individuals under dictatorship. Zangana is brutally honest when retelling her story of exile and incarceration; she experienced the agonizing loss of friends and comrades through torture and death in prison. A first-hand account that shifts between time, place, and subjectivity to comment on how the trauma of power and war affect our memory.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Skyhorse)

2. Packed for the Wrong Trip

By W. Zach Griffith

The relatively unknown prison at Abu Ghraib garnered global attention once photos of the abuses inflicted on prisoners were released. Abu Ghraib quickly became the focal point of a worldwide scandal. Just a few months after the photographs were released, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Maine National Guard arrived to serve as guards. Originally trained and meant to serve in Afghanistan, the soldiers were deeply unprepared for the scrutiny they would receive and the attacks they would soon endure. The group of citizen-soldiers were forced to rely on each other in order to survive one of the darkest prisons in the world and change it for the better.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Open Road + Grove/Atlantic)

3. The Finish

By Mark Bowden

Get inside the political choices that brought down Osama bin Laden. Bowden’s narrative takes the reader all the way back to President Clinton’s administration to discover the many seemingly minor actions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow. After Bin Laden’s terrorist organization wreaked havoc through the 1990s and early 2000s, taking him down became a top priority for foreign intelligence services around the world.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(HMH)

4. Why We Lost

By Daniel P. Bolger

Firsthand experience and understanding brings a new perspective to American actions in the Iraq War. With a career as an army general that spanned over 35 years, Daniel Bolger provides a candid look into U.S. led campaigns with an insider look into the meetings, strategies, and key players of the war.

Bolger’s main argument is that we lost the Iraq War because the American forces never knew who they were truly fighting. As Bolger puts it, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife?”

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

5. The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath

By John Keegan

His background as a military historian with extensive knowledge on warfare gives Keegan’s discussion a refreshing, objective perspective. Keegan collated a well-detailed look into Iraqi history, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Iraq War, despite its broad title, primarily recounts the 21-day invasion by the United States and allies that removed Hussein from power. As an explanation of the factors that led to the war, this is an unmissable resource.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

By J. Kael Weston

This powerful 2016 book examines the relationship between warfare and diplomacy. Like many of the other authors on this list, Weston had an inside look into the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Weston was a State Department official — serving over seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston uses this experience to show both the war and his own personal journey throughout the narrative. As a firsthand witness, he saw the sacrifice and casualties caused by a devastating war. The book follows Weston as he visits families, memorials, and the grave sites of 31 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 — an operation he personally ordered. This deeply affecting tale reckons with Weston’s and the country’s actions in Iraq.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Bloomsbury Publishing)

7. Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Nicholas Moore

This eyewitness account of the Iraq War is presented through a series of vignettes as Nicholas Moore recounts the development of the Ranger Regiment. He chronicles the challenges troops had to face and adapt to while hunting for Iraq’s Most Wanted. Serving in an elite special operations unit, Moore was intimately involved in the war on terror, spending over a decade with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

Moore discusses the search and rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the devastating loss of the Chinook helicopter crash, which killed 38 men and one military working dog. Moore sees the events both as a soldier and as a husband and father who nearly lost his life in a global war against terrorism.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq

By Bing West

This is a straightforward recapitulation of the Iraq War that reconfigures the reader’s understanding of the long-lasting conflict. Whatever your political stance, West puts it all under the microscope and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew. From the United States’s entrance into the war to the brink of defeat in 2006, to the unimaginable turnaround in 2007, West criticizes the Bush administration and Army generals as he travels between the Pentagon and Ramadi. In the end, West asks us to reflect on our mistakes to avoid repeating history.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Emu War wasn’t as silly as folks make it out to be

It’s always brought up as a fun fact that, at one point in history, Australia sent troops on an “all-out” assault against emus that were destroying the Western Australian Outback. A while later, it was decided that the humans wouldn’t win and the history books marked a big ‘L’ for the Aussies in the Great Emu War of 1932.

When it’s put like that, it’s funny and makes a great fun fact that can be brought up whenever Australia’s military might is in question. But the thing is, Australia’s military kicks ass — and saying, “Australia lost a war against a bunch of flightless birds,” while sort of true, doesn’t really do what actually happened justice.


One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

If there’s anyone who could actually be blamed for the perceived failure of the Great Emu War, it’s this guy, Sir George Pearce. The man who decided to set up the Australian Army for a lifetime of jokes.

The Australian government didn’t just decide to go on a mass Emu-killing spree out of the blue. It was in response to the destruction of farms caused by emus in their search for food and water. After WWI, Australia rewarded its returning veterans with farmland to call their own. The only stipulation was that this farmland was basically barren Outback that was plagued with native animals. The terrible soil didn’t leave farmers with many options in terms of crops, but wheat grew fairly well given the conditions. Unfortunately, wheat also attracted emus.

Of the nearly 5000 veterans who participated in the program, very few were able to grow crops without having them destroyed by hungry birds. Even fewer could afford to build fences to keep the emus at bay. The government, not willing to address the problem of terrible land quality, decided that the emu was entirely at fault for crops not growing.

It was declared by Western Australian Senator, Sir George Pearce, that veterans and troops should tackle the problem head-on and hunt the birds.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Good luck fighting an enemy too stupid to know it’s been shot four times with only enough ammo to take out half the population even if your aim is perfect.

The biggest misconception about the Emu War is that it was a massive assault staged by the Australian military. It wasn’t. It was literally just three men, a pick-up truck, two Lewis machine guns, and 10,000 rounds. There were veteran farmers who also took up arms, but only Major G.P.W. Meredith and his two gunners were officially at war.

That’s three men versus 20,000 massive birds.

Emus aren’t just large turkeys. They stand at an average height of six feet four inches, can run up to 31 mph, have the strongest legs of any animal, and can easily shred apart metal fences with their talons. As the three Aussie hunters found out, emus can take roughly five bullets before realizing they’ve been shot and ten rounds before they finally die.

Emus naturally flock in hordes of hundreds, which means that any time the hunters unloaded into the horde, the birds would quickly disperse into smaller mobs that scattered in different directions. With only so many guns, the hunters could only focus on those smaller mobs while the rest took off running.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

If they aren’t in mobs, you’ll be searching for hours just to find one.

In that respect, the hunters were technically efficient. They managed to gun down a confirmed 986 emus over the span of a few weeks. Of the 9,900 rounds they used, they averaged out about one kill per ten or so rounds — the estimated number required to kill an emu. The three men also faced constant backlash from the news and local farmers during their hunt.

The media laughed at them for the absurdity of it all and dubbed it the “Great Emu War” to make light of the situation. It give readers a moment of levity during the otherwise-grim Great Depression. While the general population thought it was silly to send any troops after birds, the farmers were upset that the government sent only three guys to go solve a problem spanning an Australian state that’s twice the size of Alaska.

The hunters tried to give up several times because they knew how pointless it was — but each time, they were pushed back into hunting emus. Eventually, they gave up on December 9th, 1932, and everyone laughed at the three men for failing to do the impossible.

The only logical way to deal with the emus was what happened eventually. The government placed a bounty on the emus and let the farmers handle it — which they did very well. Over time, the farmers would collect a bounty on over 57,000 emus and the farms turned profitable again. It should also be noted that some farmers were smart enough to breed emus and collect a bounty on the birds they’d raised, but that was bound to happen.

All in all, the Aussies would eventually prevail over the emus. It just took more than three guys in a pick-up truck to do it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 battles that took place after the war ended

Wars are generally long, bloody, and horrible affairs that everyone is anxious to wrap up so that everyone can go back home.


But for some reason, there have been wars that don’t end on time. Here are four times that the U.S. found itself in a battle after the war it was fighting was technically already over:

1. The Battle of New Orleans propels Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to nationwide fame after the War of 1812

 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the War of 1812 ended.

 

The War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, but Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson repelled an attack on Jan. 8, 1815, by approximately 8,000 British regulars who hadn’t yet heard about the treaty. Jackson’s defense of the city inflicted 2,000 casualties — including three generals and seven colonels — on the British and made Jackson an American hero.

Even that wasn’t the final battle of the supposedly terminated war. The British survivors of New Orleans launched another attack on nearby Fort St. Philip which failed and then a successful attack on Fort Bowyer in modern-day Alabama.

2. American Gen. Sterling Price fought an extra battle in Mexico because he didn’t believe the peace news

 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
The city of Vera Cruz was captured as a legitimate military objective during the Mexican-American War. The city of Santa Cruz de Rosales was captured after the war because why not? (Painting: Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot)

 

American Gen. Sterling Price had orders to hold and defend southern New Mexico near the end of the Mexican-American War — orders that he ignored to attack the city of Chihuahua in early 1848. When he arrived at the city, a group of citizens told him that the garrison had withdrawn from the town to avoid bloodshed as the war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the previous month.

Price basically wrote the treaty off as fake news and just assaulted south anyway, catching up to the Mexican forces at the city of Santa Cruz de Rosales. The Mexican commander attempted to defend the town, repelling attacks from the north and west but falling to a thrust from the south.

3. The Battle of Palmito Ranch may have been a colonel trying to pop his combat cherry before the war ended

 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
A map of the Battle of Palmito Ranch captures the military movements but not the stupidity of the conflict. (Photo: Pi3.124 CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

While there was no official peace treaty ending the Civil War, everyone had pretty much agreed it was over by May 1865. Lincoln was dead, the Confederate cabinet was scattered, and the War Department was getting ready to release most of the Union Army from the service.

But Union Col. Theodore H. Barrett found himself occupying an island near Confederate forces who were slowly negotiating a surrender with a major general. Rather than let those negotiations play out, Barrett led his regiment against the Confederate forces despite the fact that he had no combat experience and no orders to do so.

The blow-by-blow of the battle is farcical where it isn’t boring, but it basically amounts to a useless Union defeat at the hands of barely interested rebels and some French soldiers who were stationed in Mexico just across the river. Barrett later claimed the defeat was the fault of another colonel, but a court martial supported no charges against the other officer.

4. The last troops to die in the Vietnam War fought weeks after the war ended and two years after America withdrew

 

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
U.S. Marines run from a heavily-damaged HH-53C helicopter during the SS Mayaguez operation. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

While the American involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the actual war drew on for another two years until South Vietnam surrendered to Communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.

But the final battle involving American troops took place from May 12 to 15. The Khmer Rouge, a communist military group that had recently seized Cambodia, captured the crew of the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez and President Gerald Ford deployed sailors, Marines, and airmen to rescue them.

The operation suffered from a lack of intelligence and the Marines hit the wrong island, one that was being guarded by 150 to 200 dug-in fighters when the Marines expected light resistance. America lost 41 Marines and airmen killed and wounded, but recovered the ship and the crew.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

The little old building on the back of the $20 bill is known all around the world as the residence and workplace of the leader of the free world. Being said leader of the White House is a dangerous prospect: There have been thirty-three known attempts at the lives of sitting U.S. presidents. Four of those attempts, unfortunately, were successful.

It stands to reason that measures must be taken at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent any attacks on the lives of the president, the first family, and anyone else who serves there. But protecting the president requires far more than just armed guards and motion-activated cameras.

The true extent of the protection at the White House has never been — and shouldn’t ever be — released to the public. While the White House is open about sharing some of its protective measures, it should be assumed that the men and women of the Secret Service have thought of ways to counter or deal with literally any other scenario a would-be threat could conjure up.


One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

You really don’t want to try your luck at finding out what the President’s bathroom looks like.

21-day advanced tour notice

When you think of a “secure location,” the last place you think of is somewhere that’s so widely visited that it offers tours in eleven different languages. But not just anyone can easily mosey on into the White House.

In order to be given the tour of the highest office in the land, you must submit an application at least 21 days before your scheduled visit. This gives the security an accurate headcount and the ability to perform background checks on visitors. For obvious reasons, the tour is also guided through only select portions of the White House.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

If gas stations and banks have them, you can assume the White House has better.

(Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Bulletproof windows

Windows are typically vulnerable to firearms. Funnily enough, in any photo you see of the White House, you’ll also see countless windows. Even the Resolute Desk is positioned with the President’s back turned to a bunch of windows in the Oval Office.

Thankfully, they’re some of the most impenetrable windows known to man. In November 2011, an attacker fired seven rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into the White House, but not even consecutive shots could shatter a window.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

“There he is! Get him!”

Infrared sensors

Every inch of the perimeter is surrounded in infrared lasers that detect even the most minuscule threat against the White House. These aren’t the lasers that you’d see in old spy films that challenge intruders to a deadly game of limbo. No, these blanket everything to include the sky, the surface, and even underground.

With that level of security, you’d expect swarms of agents to descend on even the smallest intruders — like a wayward squirrel. Well, it happens all the time. But it’s better to be aware of every single squirrel than to let a single threat wiggle by.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

In this photo are at least seven SAM batteries (probably), so the White House itself wouldn’t need one.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher)

Surface-to-air missiles

Washington D.C. is a no-fly zone. Any plane not scheduled or following the strict path into Ronald Reagan National Airport are first given a warning. If they don’t show any sort of compliance immediately, they’ll be taken down by one of the countless surface-to-air missiles located around the capital.

While it’s known that many missile batteries are located in Washington D.C., it’s more of an urban legend that there’s an Avenger missile system on top of the White House itself. That remains unproven, but the White House does have those high-tech laser systems that can detect any possible threat from a mile out, alerting other missile systems that then take down the threat.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Which probably means the guy who had fun with the drones might now be in charge of them. Or not. We’ll never know.

(United States Secret Service photo)

Drones

In January, 2015, an unnamed government employee and amateur drone hobbyist was having fun with his drone outside the White House lawn after his shift. It was able to fly through the detection systems fairly easily until it hit the ground and set off countless alarm systems, sending every single agent into a frenzy. The man wasn’t charged because he was an employee at the White House and because it highlighted a major security fault in the systems at the time.

Since then, the White House has employed drones of their own to act as both roving security cameras and to take down any other drones that come into area. Coincidentally, the same drones that the Secret Service now uses are the same that the hobbyist used.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Everyone always looks through the fence, but never stops to admire the awesomeness that is the fence itself.

The fence

With all of these security measures in place, the most obvious one is actually the most effective, historic, and iconic: the fence that surrounds the White House. First erected in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson, it has seen many changes over its lifetime. What was once a simple barricade to keep the president’s livestock on the property has now become an 11-foot tall, vehicle-stopping, climb-resistant, behemoth of steel and rebar.

Not only is the newest fence crowned with spikes to deter attempts at climbing, it also alerts agents the moment anyone puts pressure on it to ensure nobody makes it over.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 deadliest battles for troops to fight in

For better or worse, the grunts handle the main chunk of the fighting. These are your combat arms troops — infantry, scouts, tankers, artillerymen, etc.


The supply guys in the back can usually get a bit comfy knowing that they probably won’t get called to the front line — except in the case of total war when the front line is so decimated that everyone, back to front, needs to push into the fray.

To quantify the level of suck, we’ve ranked the following battles by a metric that measures the percentage of casualties in relation to troops present on the battlefield and total loss of life from both sides. Thankfully, for today’s troops, full-scale battles aren’t as catastrophic as they were before the advent of modern medicine.

6. Battle of Antietam (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 3.22%

Starting things off is the single bloodiest day in American military history: Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam. Within the span of 12 hours, around 25 percent Union troops and 31 percent of Confederate troops were wounded, captured, or killed. Six Generals died as a result of the battle along with 3,454 other troops.

The battle is considered a Union victory strategically and it paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered just five days later. But, when the dust settled outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland, no one knew who won. If the Confederacy waited a few more hours, it could have gone in their favor, Lincoln would have never had the confidence to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, and the South would have had stronger European allies, thus drastically changing the course of the war.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

5. Battle of Gettysburg (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 4.75%

The three-day battle between Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be remembered both as the turning point of the Civil War and for the enormous loss of life.

With between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties on both sides, the Battle of Gettysburg is the costliest battle in U.S. history. The fighting for the “Little Round Top” alone left nearly 1,750 dead.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Time to do grunt stuff, boys!

4. Battle of Tuyuti (Paraguayan War)

Fatality Rate: 8.71%

The Paraguayan War became the bloodiest of all Latin American wars when Paraguay pushed its boundaries on all sides, unifying the previously-uneasy alliances between Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

While the entire war would cost Paraguay nearly 70 percent of its total adult male population, the Battle of Tuyuti cost the Paraguayans nearly their entire force in a failed surprise attack on the Triple Alliance encampment.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Note to self: Never piss off all of your neighboring countries at the same time.

3. Battle of Okinawa (World War II)

Fatality Rate: 35.48%

The battles of the Pacific Theater finally culminated in one of the last major battles of WWII, which saw the deaths of 240,931 troops and Okinawan conscripts. While the American troops suffered over 82,000 casualties with 14,009 deaths, the Japanese lost up to 80% of their defense forces.

The reason for such a high Japanese death toll is two-fold: First, pitting untrained, conscripted Okinawan civilians against the battle-hardened American forces that fought through the Pacific isn’t exactly an even match. Second, the Japanese refused to surrender. After witnessing the horrors of Okinawa, mental fatigue was widespread among American GIs.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

2. Battle of the Argonne Forest (World War I)

Fatality Rate: 39.48%

The final Allied offensive of World War I was also its bloodiest. For years, German troops pushed down the French and British troops, but they finally managed to stand up again with the aid of the Americans. When H-Hour finally began on Sept. 26th, the Allies expended more ammunition than both sides of the American Civil War – in just the first three hours.

The loss of life was astounding on both sides. 28,000 Germans, 26,277 Americans, and an estimated 70,000 French soldiers were on the push towards Sedan, France. French forces finally managed to recapture the Sedan railway hub in the final days. Then, it was announced that the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11th, 1918, bringing an end to the war.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
It was also the largest American military operation with 1.2 million troops operating under Gen. Pershing’s command.

1. Battle of Cannae (Second Punic War)

Fatality Rate: 53.42%

This battle is remembered throughout history for many reasons. Hannibal’s impressive march on a Roman Army twice as large, the first recorded use of the “Pincer movement,” but also the overwhelming defeat of that massive Roman army.

The scholar Polybius estimated that, of the 86,400 Romans who fought, only 770 Romans made it out alive. The Carthaginian forces managed to only lose 5,700 of their 50,000 and only 200 out of their 10,000 cavalrymen.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
Everyone thought elephants in battle would be a terrible idea until they had to fight elephants in battle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Long-lost military slang: The dog robber

There are all sorts of great bits of military lingo and slang that eventually fall by the wayside. While FUBAR has survived through to modern day, SNAFU and TARFU have been mostly forgotten — even though all three were popular slang and had characters in WWII-era GI cartoons named after them. Snafu was even voiced by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny.


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One old terms that seems to have fallen out of popularity is “dog robber,” which, today, is occasionally used by a handful of general’s aides and adjutants to describe their own job, though that wasn’t the original meaning of the term.

“Dog robbers” is the U.S. Army equivalent of the British slang term, “batman,” which refers to an officer’s personal valet or orderly, one step removed from the butler. So, while the aides-de-camp were assisting the general with the actual task of conducting battles and campaigns, the batmen and, later, dog robbers, were cleaning uniforms, running errands, and scrounging for any personal items their officer might need.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Think Woodhouse right before the massacre in the German trenches.

French Foreign Legion Capt. John Hasey was hit by a burst of machine gun fire in his face and had to be nursed back to health. In his biography, Yankee Fighter, he gave credit to his “dog robber” for keeping him fed before the ambush and helping him reach aid after.

My own platoon was there, with Blashiek, my faithful batman — or dog-robber, as he is known in the United States Army; and when I say “faithful,” I mean exactly that. For six months that tough Polish soldier had cared for me as carefully as any Southern mammy, fed me fresh mule meat when I was starved, and tactfully neglected to let me know what it was. He helped carry me back to a First Aid station outside Damascus when my jaw was shot away and my chest and arms were sprayed with machine-gun fire. It was upon him that I leaned when my legs began to wobble.

These were usually enlisted troops, and their assignments weren’t limited to general officers. Lieutenants could have a batman, especially if they were from a rich family and hired a civilian to work for them, but the practice was most common with captains and above.

This makes it obvious why the term began to fall out of use in the U.S. With the country’s generally dim view of aristrocracy, assigning enlisted soldiers to provide hygiene and personal support to officers feels a little against the country’s values. As this position largely disappeared from the military, the term lost popularity.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

This is a photo from when King George V visited the New York National Guard. Guess if the king was visiting, I might want a valet, too.

(New York National Guard)

But it did survive. How? It evolved to encompass more of the staff members around the general, especially the aide. And, it reverted back to its original meaning.

See, the U.S. Army didn’t come up with the term. It started to become popular in the military in the Civil War for an officer’s servant, but its first documented use was actually in 1832 to describe a scrounger.

As the servants disappeared, scroungers got the title again instead. James Garner, a famous actor and veteran, actually played a dog robber in the 1964 movie The Americanization of Emily and later told Playboy Magazine that he had been a dog robber (the scrounger type) in the Korean War.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

And James Garner’s character got to have sex with Mary Poppins. And that was after he admitted to being a dog robber and a coward — not bad.

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

According to Garner, he had served in an Army post office and bartered for the materials to make a bar, a theater, a baseball diamond, and a swimming pool.

That would make him a dog robber on the level of Milo Minderbinder (for all you Catch-22 fans out there).

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Marine Corps’ first amphibious landing

In 1775, Captains Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan recruited men in a popular Philadelphia bar, promising them beer and adventure on the high seas. Just a few months after that November gathering at Tun Tavern, some five companies of the finest Marines landed on the island of Nassau and handed the stunned British a gleaming defeat.


Marines across the Corps maintain that the two newly-commissioned officers were in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern that chilly November day to create a cadre of warriors who would serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy. Former Quaker and onetime pacifist Samuel Nicholas managed to raise two battalions of Marines out of Philadelphia. They would need all the help they could get because while the Army was fighting the British off at home, the Marines were going to take the fight to the enemy.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler
This 1803 map of Nassau is very similar to its 1776 defenses.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the colonial government of Virginia moved its stores of gunpowder to a “safer” location, to keep it out of the hands of rebel forces — who were desperately low. That location was in the Bahamas, supposedly safe from marauding rebel ships and fighters.

When word reached Congress about the large stores of gunpowder in the Crown Colony of the Bahamas, the body sent secret instructions to Commodore Esek Hopkins to lead a flotilla of eight ships and 220 Marines (led by Capt. Samuel Nicholas) to Nassau and capture the large gunpowder supply in March, 1776. Consisting of two forts, Nassau and Montagu, the island’s defenses were a wreck. Fort Nassau could not support firing its 46 cannons. Fort Montagu controlled the entrance to the harbor, but most of the gunpowder and ammunition on the island was held at Nassau.

After a brief council, Hopkins decided the landing party would land near Fort Nassau aboard three ships at first light. The invaders would capture the town of New Providence before the alarm was raised among the island’s defenders.

They were spotted by the British, who then fired guns from Fort Nassau to arouse the island’s defenses. The landing team was forced to withdraw back to the ships and the ships left to rejoin the rest of the flotilla to determine their next move. The aborted raid did have a positive effect for the nascent Americans however: The Governor of the Bahamas almost had the extra gunpowder moved aboard one ship for safekeeping, but that idea was abandoned. The gunpowder stayed put and Fort Montagu was reinforced with only 30 mostly unarmed militiamen.

Back aboard the rebel flotilla, a new plan was hatched. The Marines, bolstered by 50 Continental Sailors, would land on Nassau via three ships and backed by the USS Wasp for firepower. In two hours, the Americans landed their entire force east of Montagu unopposed. This was the first amphibious landing of the U.S. Marine Corps.

After landing, the Marines encountered a British reconnaissance force as Fort Montagu was reinforced with another 80 militiamen. Word soon got out that the invading force was sizably larger than the island’s defenses, Montagu fired only three shots before giving up, and the militiamen simply returned to their homes. The Marines occupied the fort that night. The next morning, they occupied Fort Nassau without a shot.

Unfortunately for the invaders, the governor managed to sneak 150 barrels of gunpowder out of the harbor that night because none of the American ships were guarding the harbor. They did take the remaining gunpowder stores and all the weapons and guns the flotilla could carry. These weapons were later used by the Army under Gen. George Washington.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how US soldiers trained to fire a nuclear round

In the 1950s U.S. forces were stretched dangerously thin. U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower stated of this, “My feeling…remains, that it would be impossible for the United States to maintain the military commitments which it now sustains around the world (without turning into a garrison state) did we not possess atomic weapons and the will to use them when necessary.”

No surprise from this that, unsatisfied with the portability of their shiny new M65 nuclear cannons, which required a couple of very large trucks to transport, and further unsatisfied that firing it off in many tactical situations would be a bit like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade, in the late 1950s the U.S. military brass for once were thinking smaller. What they really wanted was a simple weapon that could launch a miniature nuclear warhead, could be carted around by a few soldiers, and be fired relatively quickly and reliably. This would allow a handful of soldiers to successful combat far superior forces on the other side, even at relatively close range, which none of the other nuclear weapons of the age could safely do — Enter the Davy Crockett.


Rumor has it the name was chosen in homage to the famed American politician owing to the legend that he once grinned a bear to death, with the idea referencing the association between Russia, and the Soviet Union in general, with bears.

Whether that’s actually the reasoning behind the name or not, the first prototype of the Davy Crockett was completed in November of 1958 and ultimately deployed about two and a half years later in May of 1961. Featuring a variant of the W54 warhead contained in an M388 round, the projectile was fired from an M-28 or M-29 smooth bore recoilless gun. This was capable of launching the 10 or 20 ton yield nuke as far as about 1.25 miles for the M28 or 2.5 miles for the M29.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

As for portability, the Davy Crockett could be either deployed and fired from the back of a jeep for maximum mobility, or even broken down into its components, with the pieces of the weapon carried by five soldiers on foot.

The general procedure for firing the 76 pound nuclear round was quite simple. First a spotting round would be shot from an attached gun to ensure the weapon was aimed reasonably well. After this, in order to get the nuke to end up more or less where the spotting round did, the angle of the gun would have to be adjusted. To do this, a small book with pre-calculated tables was carried giving adjustment figures for said angle.

However, it turns out test firings with non-live nukes showed again and again that the Davey Crockett was an obscenely inaccurate weapon, possibly both because of the angle adjustment and that the weapon itself was smooth bore. Of course, the fact that the Davey Crockett was shooting a nuclear warhead helped make this inaccuracy issue not as much of a problem as would be the case with other similar weapons.

Once the target was mildly locked on, the propellant charge would be inserted into the muzzle with a metal piston placed in after as a sort of cap. This was followed by the M388 round itself containing the W54 warhead. As the M388 was far too big to fit inside the bore, instead a rod would be attached to the back, with the nuke sitting at the front.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

As for how the warhead would know when to detonate, there was a timer dial that would be set based on estimated distance to the target, using figures given in the aforementioned book containing a spreadsheet of tables.

However, contrary to what is often stated, the timer was not actually the thing that triggered detonation. Rather, it simply armed the bomb once the time ran out. The actual trigger for detonation was a simple radar device in the back of the M388 that would detect how far above the ground the nuke was. There was also a high and low switch that could slightly adjust height of detonation based on the radar reading.

As you might have gleaned from all this, also contrary to what is often stated, this switch did not control the yield of the bomb, just what height it would detonate above the ground, roughly 20-40 feet AGL, depending on setting.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

It should also be noted that, unlike many other nuclear weapons, this was an otherwise dumb nuke. Once the timer was set and it was fired, it would either go off or prove itself to be a dud. There was no aborting detonation after launch.

If all that is involved in firing the Davey Crockett sounds like it might take a long time, it turns out not at all given the destructive power of this weapon. One former Davey Crockett section soldier, Thomas Hermann, notes that they were actually trained and well capable of firing a nuke every two and a half minutes!

So just how deadly could this weapon be? While extremely low-powered as nukes go, the weapon nonetheless produced a blast in the ballpark of as large as the highest yield non-nuclear explosive devices of the era. But unlike many of these, it was relatively small and portable. More important than that was its potential for extended damage long after the initial blast. This was particularly useful when fired around critical routes that enemy soldiers would have to traverse. Not only would the initial blast do significant damage to any soldiers and enemy vehicles around at the time, but the radioactive fallout, which would almost certainly be fatal to anyone within about a quarter of a mile of the initial blast when it went off, would remain long after, making a given route, such as a mountain pass, impassable for several days after if one was interested in not dying of radiation poisoning. Naturally, the Soviets could defend against this simply by equipping each of their soldiers with lead-lined refrigerators, but for whatever reason they never seemed to have chosen to go this route.

On the other end of things, neither did the Americans. This was despite the fact that the Davey Crockett was also not terribly safe for those firing it. While 1.25-2.5 miles away is plenty of range to keep the soldiers who pulled the trigger safe from being harmed by the blast itself, in real world scenarios the enemy being fired upon could be closer and some of your own troops might also be even closer still.

Critical to all of this was also wind direction. With no wind, the radiation kill zone in the immediately aftermath of the blast was approximately 1,500 feet, but wind could easily blow dangerous radioactive particles towards one’s own troops. As such, crew were instructed to, if possible, only fire the gun when suitable cover behind a hill or the like was available to help reduce radiation exposure.

One of NATO’s most important Commanders was a Wehrmacht general who tried to kill Hitler

Photograph of a U.S. developed M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle on a tripod

(Department of Defense)

That said, presumably to try to get the soldiers operating the weapon to be slightly less hesitant about firing it, the instruction manual notes that the leader of the troop should instill a great sense of urgency in the soldiers operating the Davy Crockett and to remember that, to quote, “The search for nuclear targets is constant and vigorous!”

On top of that, the manual states that if the nuke failed to detonate for some reason, the soldiers should wait a half hour and then go and recover the supposed to be armed and ready to detonate at the whim of a radar trigger nuke…

Needless to say, while the Davy Crockett was deployed everywhere from West Germany to South Korea, with well over 2,000 of the M388 rounds made and 100 of the guns deployed, it was never actually used in battle.

That said, the Army did do one test fire of the Davy Crockett with a live M388 round. This occurred during Operation Sunbeam in a test code named “Little Feller I”, which took place on July 17, 1962. The nuke flew approximately 1.7 miles and detonated successfully about 30 feet above the ground, with an estimated yield of 18 tons from the blast. Interestingly enough, this was the last time the United States would detonate a nuke in the air close to the ground thanks to the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water. (And, yes, that is the real name of the treaty).

In the end, as cool as having a portable nuclear gun is and all, within only a few years the weapon would become antiquated, and by 1967 the Army was already beginning to phase it out, with it going the way of the Dodo completely by 1971. No doubt to the eternal relief of the soldiers tasked with firing the things should the need arise.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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