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.
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.
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.
In the civilian world, that could be someone operating an excavator, a wheeled tractor, and other similar heavy equipment. Historically, the term applied to people who worked in the old-school telephone centers and operated the manual telephone switchboards that were necessary in order for someone to call another number.
In the military, conversely, the term operator has come to be associated with troops serving in Special Operations Forces (SOF). A Navy SEAL operator, a Special Forces operator, a Marine Raider operator has become standard nomenclature, even in official communique and statements.
But what’s the actual origin of the term? For many in the spec ops community, an operator is someone who is serving or has served in one of the Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) Special Mission Units (SMU). This would apply to members of the Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS), Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), or one of the other smaller, blacker SMUs.
The office of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) historian, however, posits that the term originated from within the Green Beret community. In support of this claim, there is a document from the late 1950s. Dated April 2, 1959, the document’s headline reads: “The Code For the Special Forces Operator.” It includes 10 provisions to which a Green Beret must abide by. They range from the volunteer and highly dangerous nature of Special Forces – during the Cold War, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (SFODAs) were designed to remain behind enemy lines once the Soviet mechanized onslaught had been unleashed on Western Europe; their role, as it is today, was to organize, train, and lead indigenous forces in waging an Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaign against the Communists – to superb physical fitness, soldiership, and professionalism, among other things.
“I realize,” the document’s sixth provision states, “it is my responsibility as a Special Forces Operator to undergo more intense and more rugged training than is required of the average soldier of the United States Army.”Read Next: Three SOF Phrases That I Hate
The document was signed by Captain Albert Clement, 1st Company, 77th Special Forces Group (SFG), and witnessed by John Hanretty. The 77th is one of the original Special Forces Groups and the predecessor of the modern-day 7th SFG.
So, there it is. According to the existing historical evidence, it is the Green Berets who have the claim over the term “Operator.” Does a title matter, though? Not to those who operate.
In the days before the United States entered World War II, Hollywood’s first jab against fascism came from an unlikely place. Actually, three unlikely places: Larry, Curly and Moe. AKA the Three Stooges.
The year was 1940 and Europe was already embroiled in conflict after Britain and France declared war on Germany over its 1939 invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the United States had no appetite to enter the war.
In Hollywood, the Hays Code, a set of strict moral guidelines that governed motion picture production, was in full effect. Aside from prohibiting onscreen depictions of sexual activity and profanity, the code restricted insults against the leaders, culture, and institutions of any foreign country.
Despite the Hayes Code, Nazi Germany got a full-force slap in three Jewish comedians. For their 44th film, “You Nazty Spy!” the Three Stooges decided to lampoon the Nazis, Germany, and Adolf Hitler.
Set in the fictional country of “Moronika,” the plot centers around three arms dealers who oust the peaceful king and install three wallpaper hangers as dictatorial leaders. Moe takes the Hitler role, Larry substitutes for Joseph Goebbels, and Curly takes on the portly Hermann Goring role.
Like the real Hitler, the trio immediately makes a land grab from the neighboring countries and are eventually eaten by lions. Hey, they’re the Three Stooges, they aren’t going for Oscars. The stories are less about plot and more about the two-fingered eye poke.
Moe Howard’s depiction of Hitler and mockery of the Third Reich on the silver screen enraged the Fuhrer. He added all three stooges to his list of people to kill, along with the entire Hapsburg royal family – but of course he never got the chance to exact his revenge on the stooges.
The first to go was Hitler himself, killing himself in his Berlin bunker as the Red Army approached. Curly was next, dying in 1952. He was a notorious drinker and suffered multiple blows to the head in more than 190 movies and shorts over 20 years. He suffered a series of strokes, paralysis, and mental decline.
Despite later attempts to revive the Stooge Franchise, the comedy act was never really the same after that. Larry Fine died in January 1975 of a condition similar to Curly’s, although less pronounced. Five months later, Moe Howard died of lung cancer.
It likely starts off with a degree from a top school, and includes a stint working in law or Congress. It might even feature some military service.
But the presidents on this list have a few unconventional gigs to add to their experience. At some point in their lives, these 17 presidents tended bars, crafted toys, and even personally hung criminals. Whether or not these odd jobs helped prepare them to take on the White House remains to be seen.
Here are the 17 weirdest jobs of US presidents:
Andrew Jackson was a 13-year-old militia courier during the Revolutionary War.
The turbulent, controversial seventh president of the US was actually the last head of state to serve in the Revolutionary War, in some capacity. Andrew Jackson joined the fighting at the age of thirteen and served as a courier, according to a report from CNN.
His position with the local militia was informal, but that didn’t stop the British from imprisoning the teenager, along with his brother Robert. Some accounts say that when Jackson refused to clean an officer’s boots, the enemy soldier slashed his face with a sword, leaving a permanent scar.
Abraham Lincoln owned a bar
Did you know that Lincoln was the only licensed bartender to rise to the position of chief executive?
According to Amy Cavanaugh’s article in the Chicagoist, the future president launched a business in New Salem, Illinois. The joint, known as Berry and Lincoln and co-owned by an old militia friend named William F. Berry, functioned as both a store and a drinking establishment. In 1833, Berry and Lincoln received a liquor license and began selling brandy, wine, and whiskey. Later on, the future president would leave the business to become the postmaster of New Salem.
Unfortunately, Berry’s alcoholism caused the duo to fall into debt — which Lincoln wouldn’t fully pay off until he became a congressman.
Andrew Johnson worked for his mom as an apprentice tailor
Johnson — who was vice president at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and became the country’s 17th president as a result — started off as an apprentice tailor for his mother while he was still a teen, according to CNN. Later, he moved up to a tailoring position in South Carolina and Tennessee.
James Garfield tended to mules
James Garfield’s tenure as the 20th president of the US was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1881. His presidency was so brief that most historians exclude him from presidential rankings.
However, there was a time when Garfield’s career was on the rise. According to the “Erie Canal” by Ralph Andrist, the “Ohio farm boy” got his start working for his cousin who owned a canal boat. Garfield made $8 a month driving the boat’s mules.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison was elected as the 23rd president of the US — following in the footsteps of his grandfather, William Harrison.
Years earlier, when he had yet to establish a law career, Harrison began a rather archaic side hustle — working as a court crier for $2.50 a day, according to his official presidential website.
Grover Cleveland executed people
Today, Cleveland is perhaps best known for serving as both the 22th and 24th president of the US.
Few people know about the somewhat morbid turn his career path took early on in his professional experience.
While serving as sheriff of New York’s Erie County from 1871 to 1874, Cleveland personally hanged two criminals instead of delegating the gruesome task.
According to a 1912 article in the New York Times, Cleveland argued that he had “insisted that he had no moral right to impose upon a subordinate the obnoxious and degrading tasks that attached to his office.”
However, this incident came back to haunt him. According to the White House Historical Association, Cleveland was lambasted as “the hangman of Buffalo” during the 1884 presidential election.
Warren G. Harding was a teenage newspaperman
Before ascending to a scandal-marred stint in the White House, Harding enjoyed a sterling reputation as the editor of The Marion Star.
Harding bought the struggling paper when he was only 18-years-old and immediately began poaching journalists at the 1884 Republican National Convention.
He always had a soft spot for the paper. After he became president, he even planned to stay on as an associate editor, according to the Marion Star. Harding died before that could happen.
Calvin Coolidge was a toy maker
As the 30th president of the US, Calvin Coolidge became known as a man of few words and an advocate of laissez faire policies.
Coolidge had followed a fairly conventional path to the White House, becoming a lawyer and governor. Before that, however, he took on a rather unusual weekend job in high school.
According to the Southwest Times Record, Coolidge crafted doll carriages at the Ludlow Toy Manufacturing Company.
Herbert Hoover worked in the geology and mining field
Hoover — the 31st president of the US — worked as a geologist and mining engineer to pay for his living while he explored the Western Australian gold fields in the late 1890s, according to CNN.
At the tender age of 23, he was promoted to mine manager and worked in various gold fields until taking a well-earned less physical job as an independent mining consultant.
Harry Truman opened a haberdashery
As Careercast notes, long before he lead the country as the 33rd president during WWII, Truman ran a haberdashery in Kansas City. Truman co-owned the short-lived store with a military buddy he met during WWI. The haberdashery shut down during a recession in the 1920s, forcing Truman to seek a new career in politics.
Lyndon B. Johnson worked as a shoe shiner and a goat herder
When Johnson was just 9, he shined shoes during summer vacation for extra pocket change and later used these skills to buff shoes in high school, as well, according to The Week. Later, the 36th president of the US worked as a goat herder on his uncle’s farm.
Richard Nixon worked as a chicken plucker and ran a game booth
While visiting family in Prescott, Arizona, in 1928 and 1929, Nixon — the 37th president of the US — plucked and dressed chickens for a local butcher, according to The Week. Later, he worked a “Wheel of Fortune” gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival and said it was his favorite job.
Gerald Ford was a park ranger
The 38th president of the US said working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park was “one of the greatest summer of my life,” according to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
The feeling is mutual: his supervisor at the park, Canyon District Ranger Frank Anderson, said Ford was “a darned good ranger.”
His most dangerous duty was working as an armed guard on the truck that fed the bears in the park. This high-risk job later became fodder for impressive stories to share with his kids.
Before he entered the realm of politics, Carter operated a peanut farm in Georgia. According to Careercast, this rustic gig ” helped Carter appeal to voters throughout his time in politics.”
Ronald Reagan was a circus worker, a superstar lifeguard, and an actor
At age 14, Reagan briefly worked for the Ringling Brothers circus as an unskilled laborer for $0.25 an hour, according to The Week.
A year later, he took a summer job as a lifeguard at Rock River outside of Dixon, Illinois, according to PBS. There he worked 12 hour-days, seven days a week, for seven summers.
The “lean, tall, and tan” teenager became somewhat of a hero here after pulling 77 people from the danger of the swift river over the course of those seven summers, according to Heritage.
Later, Reagan went into show business. He starred in a few productions and even earned the lifelong nickname “Gipper” from his memorable turn in “Knute Rockne, All-American,” according to Careercast.
In 1981, he became the 40th president of the US at age 69.
Bill Clinton was a grocer and a comic book salesman
At age 13, Clinton started working as a grocer in Arkansas, according to Convenience Store News. Ever the businessman, he persuaded his boss to let him sell comic books at the store, too, and was able to rake in an extra $100 for his tenacity.
In 1993, Clinton became the 42nd US president.
George W. Bush was a landman in the oil industry and the part-owner of the Texas Rangers
After graduating with his MBA from Harvard, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the US, took a job as a landman for an oil company, in which he scouted potential sites to drill for oil, according to the Miller Center
It wasn’t glamourous, according to The Week: “It was hard, hot work,” he said. “I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life.”
Later on, Bush became part-owner of the MLB’s Texas Rangers, according to Careercast.
The nation’s 43rd President was born into a political family, with father George H.W. Bush serving as the 41st President, Vice-President to Ronald Reagan, and Director of the CIA under Gerald Ford.
By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.
That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.
The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.
Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.
“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.
The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.
“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.
Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.
“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”
That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.
“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
The Destroyer USS Melvin.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.
Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.
During World War II, Toni Frissell volunteered as a photographer for the American Red Cross, Women’s Army Corps and Eighth Army Air Force, capturing images that would introduce military women and Tuskegee Airmen to the world.
While she’s perhaps best remembered for her high-fashion photography for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Frissell produced thousands of images of nurses, front-line soldiers, WACs, Black airmen, and orphaned children. She wanted to show the truth of the war, rather than concentrating only on fashion work. “I became so frustrated with fashions that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a real reporting job,” she recalled.
According to the Library of Congress, Frissell aggressively pursued wartime assignments at home and abroad, often over her family’s objections, using her connections with high-profile society matrons. Her photographs of Women’s Army Corps trainees were used to counter negative public perception of women serving in the military. Her images of the Black pilots in the 332nd Fighter Group also helped break down racist objections to people of color serving in the United States military.
The Acting Assistant to Director for Army Air Forces (AAF) described her as “among the most valuable collaborators the AAF can number from all the ‘guests’ we have taken overseas to help us get our story not only told, but understood.” He urged her to make her prints available for publication in order to better tell the story of World War II military service and the war effort.
After the war, Frissell continued to work for Harper’s Bazaar, but she produced little fashion work after 1950. Her experience as a war observer encouraged her toward photojournalism; she did freelance work for Life, Look, Vogue, and Sports Illustrated until her retirement in 1967.
Frissell died on April 17, 1988, at the age of 81. Her collection of photos in the Library of Congress includes nearly 340,000 images as well as her archive of film negatives.
Without a doubt, the most athletic President had to be Theodore Roosevelt. An avid boxer, wrestler, runner, and lover of all things outdoors, America’s 26th President never seemed to reach his peak performance. One might think his subordinates in the United States Army would have realized this before they complained to the Commander-In-Chief. Lesson learned.
And that lesson is Teddy Roosevelt will embarrass you.
Roosevelt remains – to this day – the pinnacle of red-blooded American manliness. This gravel-chewing stone-cold badass never met a challenge he wasn’t willing to put in a headlock and pummel with the sheer force of his iron will. He wasn’t just comfortable with a sustained level of violence in his daily life, this man thrived on it. And he expected no less from those who served him, especially in the United States military. This is the man who volunteered to serve, raised his own regiment, and then earned the Medal of Honor on his first deployment.
There was pretty much nothing TR couldn’t do. So why on earth would anyone in the U.S. military complain to the athlete-in-chief about how hard their life is? One cavalry officer discovered this bad idea personally.
Don’t forget, Roosevelt rode for the Army before he was President, so he knew a thing or two about it.
It seems the officer complained to the President about having to ride 100 miles in three days. President Roosevelt, who instituted mandatory physical training for the United States Armed Forces during his Presidency scoffed at the idea. Soldiers and sailors were, for the first time, required to maintain a baseline level of fitness. Still, the Army officer objected to the level of riding he and his men were forced to endure. In response, the then 51-year-old President saw the complaint as a challenge.
He sought to show the Army that not only was it possible to do in three days, but that three days was more than enough time – and he was going to do it personally. If a 51-year-old man who wasn’t training every day could do it, then surely the U.S. Army who is training could do it.
Not only did Roosevelt ride that 100 miles as President, he did it in a single day. The President rode along with his military aide Archie Butt and his physician to the Virginia town of Warrenton. There, Roosevelt gave a speech at the Warren Green Hotel and shook hands with everyone who came out to listen. He had a quick lunch before he and his riding companions headed back to Washington, where they finished their ride in a snowstorm.
And that’s why you don’t complain to Teddy Roosevelt.
Want to win a war game? Plan carefully, work hard, and get lucky. Want to win a war? You need to get good (or, “Git Gud,“ as you Fortnite players might say). That was the challenge facing military leaders at the start of the Civil War. Industry and daily life had changed year by year over the preceding decades, and if military leaders didn’t evolve and rise to the challenges brought on by the new conflict, they and their men would be lucky to get shallow graves.
A railway gun used during the U.S. Civil War during the Siege of Petersburg, June 1864–April 1865.
(Library of Congress)
The Industrial Revolution took a while to get started and into full swing, but by the 1850s, it was raging across North America with wooden (and, quickly, steel) railroads crisscrossing the country while horses and engines, were pressed into service to pull the train cars. Steam-powered shovels dug canals, and ships crossed the oceans in record time with coal-heated boilers pushing them along.
Improvements in metallurgy and machining had allowed for more powerful pistons for steam engines, but if you used the same techniques to create cannons, you could safely pack more powder per shot and create more cannons in total. And, the massive improvements in the understanding of iron mining and smelting meant fewer weapons made of brass.
And since machining and interchangeable parts had also improved, it had become possible to manufacture rifled cannons in large numbers. Rifled cannons were more accurate, more destructive, and could deliver explosives into stone masonry.
30-pounder Parrot rifle at Port Hudson, Louisiana.
These changes had, obviously, begun before the war actually broke out. For instance, the Parrot rifle was created in 1860. It was designed by a former Army captain who had left the service in 1836. It was actually a cannon and relied on a cast-iron barrel, a then-recent development in cannon design, but far from revolutionary.
Cast-iron barrels have better accuracy than those made of wrought iron, but cast iron is brittle and has less tensile strength, essential for surviving repeated firings. Parrot wrapped the cast-iron barrel in wrought iron with a focus on the breech where the worst pressures were experienced. The addition of rifling helped improve accuracy and range.
But the 1861 outbreak of war drastically increased the market for the Parrot rifle and similar weapons. And, it also created a market for new artillery munitions.
A display with different rounds for the Parrot rifle.
(Dr.Stew82, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Explosive shells, chained shot, heated shot, all had been around for a while, but the industrial war had created industrial demand. Again, new manufacturing techniques allowed for many more rounds to be created. But, even better, when well-made explosive shells were fired from rifled cannons, they could pierce walls, drilling feet into the surface before exploding.
This destroyed stone walls and timber fortifications with ease. While Parrot rifles and other long-range artillery, were able to fire up to 1.5 miles or more, wrought-iron, rifled cannons firing smaller shells could reach out over 2 miles.
For defenders, that was a guaranteed catastrophe. Traditionally, forts counted on altitude to outrange their opponents. If opposing artillery had similar weapons, the fort’s defenders gained a considerable range advantage because they were firing from 15-feet above the ground or potentially higher.
But if the attacker showed up with wrought-iron, rifled cannons with reinforced breeches, they’d likely have a huge range advantage. With a cast-iron barrel reinforced by wrought iron, they lose a little range but pick up some serious accuracy.
Parrot rifle and carriage.
(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
And when the attacker’s shells buried into the walls before exploding, they could shred straight through the defenses while staying outside the range of the fort’s smoothbores.
And this was decidedly in the Union’s favor because it had the factories and money to manufacture these technological marvels.
When artillerymen got into duels with the new weapons, it was an interesting if lethal exchange. But for infantrymen sent against these new guns, meant they could have to march under fire for over a mile to get into range of their attackers. It took 15 to 20 minutes for infantry to cross the distance while each gun’s crew was pushing out two rounds per minute.
Between that and breakthroughs in rifle technology (similar story to artillery, improved manufacturing techniques combined with improved range and rate of fire) made an infantry attacker’s job nearly impossible. The worst was Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg where 15,000 Confederates tried to cross .75 miles of open field under artillery and rifle fire. Nearly 6,000 men died, and the rest retreated.
War is brutal. It makes people do harsh things. Then, it makes the other side retaliate against those harsh things. But war is also a fight with rules and when sides don’t play by those rules, tempers flare, emotions run high, and that’s when the sh*t really starts to fly.
Now, the third Geneva Convention governs the treatment of POWs. No POW can be tried for fighting in war, though they can be tried for war crimes — but they certainly aren’t supposed to be executed immediately. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the laws of armed conflict like they should.
The following 7 troops would be executed immediately after capture.
7. Anyone with a trench gun.
During WWI, American troops used what came to be known as a “trench broom,” a Winchester model 1897, modified for trench warfare. The shotgun fired buckshot pellets and could be slamfired, meaning if the user holds the trigger as he pumps a new round in the chamber, the round will fire automatically. Needless to say, the trench broom killed a lot of Germans.
The Germans lodged a formal protest against the use of the weapon, saying it was illegal under the 1907 Hague Convention definition of any “arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” When the American continued using it, the German High Command threatened that any POW found with a trench gun or trench gun shells would be shot on site.
This one’s another Hitler order. The man was not a fan of Communism and so issued the “Commissar Order,” which stated that Soviet political officers captured on the Eastern Front would be separated from their units and executed. He believed their sole purposed was to spread “Judeo-Bolshevism” and that they needed to be eradicated.
The order extended to anyone in the Soviet service who either bought into Bolshevism or was there to spread the ideology.
Countries don’t like it when soldiers only fight for money. You at least need to have a flag to which you pledge your allegiance. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American — if you’re not fighting with the American army, you better not get captured.
In 1976, four mercenaries – including one American Vietnam veteran who was recruited in Soldier of Fortune Magazine — were captured fighting against the government in Angola’s civil war. When captured, then-President Agostinho Neto ordered their execution, ignoring clemency pleas from the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry Kissinger.
Yeah, it’s on here twice. The flamethrower was a nasty weapon. If I were a troop where facing a flamethrower was a possibility, I’d be scared sh*tless, too. But the flamethrower guy didn’t ask to be given the flamethrower. I mean, I assume… who’s going to ask to carry around a very shootable tank full of explosively flammable liquid that only gives you about six or seven seconds of firepower?
There’s no “stop drop and roll” when you’re covered in napalm. So, it was pretty well-known that every side hated you so much they would shoot you just for being the guy with the flamethrower. For the Nazis, this extended to flamethrower tank crews.
1. The Waffen SS.
It was not an official order, but among the Allied ground troops, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence that captured Waffen SS members were usually “shot while trying to escape.”
The Russians hated them because they found many of their Eastern Front POWs in concentration camps, shot or slowly worked to death. The Canadians hated the SS for the Ardennes Abbey Massacre. The SS slaughtered American POWs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. British and French POWs were massacred numerous times by Waffen SS troops.
When Europe went to war in 1939, America knew it was only a matter of time before it was dragged into another global conflict. To prepare, the country recruited and drafted hundreds of thousands of men in 1940 and held a series of exercises the next year that helped define how the U.S. would fight the Axis over the next six years.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Regular Army consisted of 190,000 poorly equipped soldiers and 200,000 National Guardsmen who had it even worse. That was simply not enough men to fight the war. So Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited and drafted their way to a 1941 active force of 1.4 million soldiers.
To prepare to face the Nazis abroad, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, ordered a modern workup plan.
After learning individual and small unit skills, large units were sent to “General Headquarters Maneuvers” in Louisiana and the Carolinas.
It’s in Louisiana that the Army tested new combined arms doctrines established in 1940 and 1941. About 472,000 soldiers participated in the Louisiana training exercises across thousands of square miles of maneuver space.
But many of the Army’s new fighting methods weren’t going to work against the Axis powers, with the Army Air Force retaining control of its planes in Air Support Commands that often ignored requests by ground commanders, for example.
Tanks were also controlled by infantry and cavalry units who often squandered the advantage that the modern machines gave them. Instead of using the tanks to conduct vicious thrusts against enemy formations like Germany had famously done in Poland and France, American commanders used tanks as spearheads for infantry and cavalry assaults.
But while the exercises exposed a lot of what was wrong with Army strategy mere months before Pearl Harbor, it also gave careful and attentive leaders a chance to fix problems with new doctrine and strategies.
First, tank warfare advocates met secretly in a Louisiana high school basement on the final day of the maneuvers in that state. Then-Col. George S. Patton spoke with general officers and tank commanders who agreed on a plan for creating a new Army branch dedicated to developing modern armored strategies.
A member of the group, Brig. Gen. Frank Andrews, took the recommendation to Marshall who agreed and created the brand new “Armored” branch. The infantry and cavalry were ordered to release their tanks to this new branch.
In Africa and Europe, these armored units would prove key to victory on many battlefields. Patton put his tank units at the front of the Third Army for much of the march to Berlin.
The cavalry lost much more than just its tanks. It was in the 1941 maneuvers that Army leaders ordered the end of horse units in the cavalry and ordered them to turn in their animals and move into mechanized units instead.
The air units also went through changes, though markedly fewer than ground commanders asked for. Ground units desperately wanted dive bombers that could conduct operations in close proximity to their own forces, breaking up enemy armor and infantry formations like the Luftwaffe did for Germany.
The Army Air Forces did respond to these requests, finally buying new dive bombers developed by the Navy and practicing how to accurately target ground units. But the AAF still focused on strategic bombing and air interdiction to the detriment of the close air support mission which was a distant third priority.
But the greatest lessons learned in the maneuvers may not have been about doctrine and strategy. Marshall and McNair kept a sharp eye out during the war games for top performers in the officer corps who could be promoted to positions of greater leadership.
A number of young officers were slated for promotions and new commands. Colonels Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were scheduled for promotion to brigadier general. Lieutenant Col. Omar Bradley held the temporary rank of brigadier general during the maneuvers and proved his worth in the exercise, allowing him to keep his temporary star. He would hold the temporary rank until Sep. 1943 when it was made permanent.
While the 1941 maneuvers were imperfect and the Army still had many tough lessons to learn in World War II, the identification of top talent and outdated or bad strategies allowed the force to prepare for global conflict without risking thousands of lives, reducing the cost they would pay in blood after war was declared at the end of the year.
The Army wrote a comprehensive history of the Maneuvers which was updated and re-released in 1992. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 is available here.
John Wayne never served a day in the military, but he certainly was one very vocal supporter of the troops.
During World War II he tried to enter the military, but between a series of old injuries from his acting career and a bodysurfing incident, his family situation, and the maneuverings of a studio head, his efforts were thwarted, according to the Museum of Military Memorabilia.
Wayne did make USO tours in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944, well after the fighting there had ended. But he made a number of iconic World War II films, including “They Were Expendable” in 1945, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” in 1949 (where he was nominated for an Oscar), “The Longest Day” in 1960, and “The Green Berets” in 1968. In “They Were Expendable,” the producers of the film worked with Medal of Honor recipient John Bulkeley.
One film that doesn’t get the attention of these other classics is “Operation Pacific,” released in 1951, which featured retired Adm. Charles Lockwood, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during World War II. Wayne played the executive officer, then the commanding officer, of the fictional submarine USS Thunderfish in this film.
Given Lockwood’s involvement, it’s no surprise that the film features some of the notable submarine exploits of World War II, compressed into one story — including Howard C. Gilmore’s famous “Take her down” orders, and the effort to fix the badly flawed torpedoes that dogged the U.S. Navy’s submarines for the first portion of the war.
The film’s climax featured an incident that composited the attacks on Japanese carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea with the actions of the submarines USS Darter (SS 227) and USS Dace (SS 247). The film is notable for showing the many missions the subs of World War II carried out, from evacuating civilians to rescuing pilots to, of course, sinking enemy ships (the Thunderfish’s on-screen kill total included a carrier, destroyer, a Q-ship, and a submarine).
The U.S. military in World War II kept women out of many of the front line areas of World War II, limiting much of their contributions to ferrying planes or sorting the mail. But women often rose to the occasion when they were called to serve within range of the enemy guns, possibly none more so than the four women recognized for valor at the Anzio beachhead.
The American advance in Italy stalled out in late 1943, and U.S. planners needed a way to draw off German forces from the Gustav Line or lance their way into Rome directly. The proposed solution: land troops at Anzio and Nettuno, just 35 miles from Rome. The bold amphibious assault didn’t initially go well.
The Army quickly took a beachhead, and the corps commander wanted to take a hill that would allow the soldiers to sever German supply lines. He didn’t have the troops to protect his own logistics lines if he took the hills, though, so he just held the area around his beachheads.
This did threaten German lines and drew off their forces, but not enough to allow the other allied forces to break through the Gustav Line. Instead, the troops at Anzio were confined to a small area and subject to constant artillery and air bombardment. Their field hospital included plenty of female nurses and, obviously, the German fire didn’t pay much attention to the nurses’ noncombatant status.
Troops unload tanks and other gear from Navy ships at the Anzio Beachhead.
Enter First Lt. Mary Roberts and Second Lts. Elaine Roe, Virginia Rourke, and Ellen Ainsworth. In February 1944, as the Germans built up their forces to contain and then pierce the American bubble, they rendered aid to wounded soldiers even as shells rained upon them.
There were rumors that the Germans were using the Red Cross on the hospital as an aiming marker, even though it should’ve marked it as a non-target. There were rumors that the counter assault was coming any day, that the hospital was going to be evacuated, that the hospital would never be evacuated because the damage to morale would be too great.
The Allies suffered 19,000 casualties.
The nurses kept as many of the men alive as they could. On Feb. 10, Roberts was running the operating room when the surgical tent took a direct hit. Two corpsmen were wounded, and equipment was destroyed, but she rallied the medical staff and kept the surgeries going so the wounded could keep receiving treatment.
Ainsworth was working in the surgical ward that same night and moved the patients to the floor, continuing to render aid as the explosions rocked the tent. She was hit in the chest and died six days later of her wounds.
Meanwhile, Roe and Rourke were working at another field hospital on the beachhead where they continued patient care without electricity, their calm demeanors soothing the fears of the wounded. When ordered to evacuate the wounded, they organized the troops and got their 42 patients out safely despite the threat.
And if you’re curious what happened next for the larger Anzio battle, Hitler got impatient. He ordered his generals to get rid of the American presence at Anzio. But, while the Americans didn’t have the forces to threaten and hold the German lines, they had been building up their defenses.
It’s a difficult thing to heap praise on a Nazi, but with German businessman John Rabe, it’s hard not to. Rabe was sent to Nanjing (then called Nanking) to work for the German corporation Siemens AG. There were many foreigners living in Nanking at the time, as it was the capital of Nationalist China.
By the time the Japanese Army was sent to capture Nanking in 1937, the high-ranking Nazi party boss had been in the country for nearly 30 years and was ready to flex that power. As the Japanese rained death on the city, there was one area left untouched by the devastation along with hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Rabe was a die-hard Nazi. He joined the National Socialist movement in its earliest days, but he was not prepared for the massacres and atrocities committed by the German-allied Japanese forces. When it became clear the Japanese were going to capture Nanking, Rabe organized an International Safety Zone inside the city – despite being told to leave by Japanese officials.
There’s no time for war, John Rabe has sh*t to do.
For his dedication to the Chinese people of the city, the Japanese were humbled. They respected his loyalty to the people he lived alongside for three decades. An angry Japanese mayor, installed after the capture of the city, railed Rabe for staying, wondering why he would ever choose to stay. Rabe replied that he was treated well and respectfully by the Chinese people and he wouldn’t leave their side in an emergency.
“He took a step back, mumbled some words about Samurai obligations, and bowed deeply,” Rabe said of the mayor.
In every photo of John Rabe, his face says “take your bullsh*t elsewhere.”
This average-sized, bespectacled, bow-tied man was a force to be reckoned with. He was determined to protect his Chinese workers and keep them safe. More than that, he established a two-and-a-half-mile international safety zone in the embassy area that housed an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilian refugees. For two days, Rabe ushered civilians into his own house and urged them to be quiet. He even sent a telegram to Hitler himself to persuade the Japanese to recognize and protect the Safety Zone.
But even that couldn’t entirely stem the tide of the Japanese atrocities. As the streets and ponds of Nanking filled with corpses, John Rabe decided to do the one thing he could beyond protecting the International Safety Zone: Go out into the streets and personally protect civilians.
Did you see that coming? I didn’t.
Rabe would chase Japanese soldiers away from women being raped, going so far as to physically remove them from a room. He was completely unarmed, with only his signature Nazi swastika armband to protect him. He was appalled at the Japanese treatment of the Chinese civilians. Homes were burned, women were gang-raped, mutilated, and killed, and businesses were looted.
The Japanese troops feared the Nazis in Nanking, so much so that Rabe was able to chase them away from nearly every situation while protecting the hundreds of thousands of civilians in his Safety Zone. Because of Rabe, scores of Chinese civilians survived what became known as the “Rape of Nanking,” and he is remembered and revered in the city to this day, the city where his remains are buried.