This is the story behind the Red Army's most iconic WWII photo - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

It was the Red Army’s “Iwo Jima” moment, Soviet troops fixing the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the most infamous symbol of Hitler’s rise to power. On May 2, 1945, Soviet photographer Yevgeny Khaldei snapped the now-famous photo of Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov raising the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag.


 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Photo by Yevgeny Khaldei

But the truth behind the photo, who was in the photo, and who actually raised the Soviet victory banner, was clouded in the fog of war and muddled by the Russian propaganda machine for decades. The first to raise the flag were a Kazakh, Lt. Rakhimzhan Koshkarbaev and Pvt. Georgij Bulatov, a Russian from Sverdlovsk.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Koshkarbaev received the Order of the Red Banner for storming the Reichstag with his troops.

 

At first, the Kremlin announced that Georgia-born Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov were the men in the photo. The men were hailed as heroes and lived the rest of their lives in the glory created by Soviet propaganda.

Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 did the truth come out. Kovalyov and Ismailov were really the ones who hoisted the flag on the building… in the photo. But they weren’t the first to raise one. One story has it that a Sergeant Mikhail Menin, part of a five-man fire team led by Vladimir Makov raised a flag on the building first.

In 2007, the Russian Institute of Military History announced that honor went to Koshkarbaev and Bulatov. The only problem was they hoisted the red banner at 10:30 at night. No one believed these two, however – it was too dark for photos.

A documentary film titled “The Motherland Calls” about Kazakhs in the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet term for WWII), relayed anecdotal evidence from other Red Army veterans that described Koshkarbaev and other men from the 674th regiment moving on the parliament building – including the Soviet filmmaker and combat cameraman Roman Karmen.

 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Karmen in the Red Army.

 

Karmen recalled filming “the Kazakh officer” as a Red Army combat cameraman in Berlin.

“You see, we received an order from Moscow: the Victory Banner over the Reichstag should be hoisted by representatives of Georgia and Russia, but it was difficult to stop. I was told to cut the frames [of Koshkarbaev], but they are preserved, in the archives.”

Kovalyov and Ismailov were pressured by the the KGB to stay quiet about their role in the flag raising. Bulatov was found hanged in his apartment in 1955.

Soviet leadership began pressuring their troops to capture the building in preparation for the International Workers Day celebrations for May 1st. The Soviets tried to drape red banners on the building via aircraft, but came up short when the banners were caught on the girders of the roof.

But as of May 30th, Hitler still controlled the Reichstag.

The German parliament building, Hitler’s rubber stamp, was defended by 1,000 German troops, so Soviet leadership ordered nine divisions to attack the building. Red Army troops used mortars fired horizontally to punch through bricked-up doorway throughout the building. They fought room by room until Soviet fire teams could make their way to the stairs and the roof of the building.

 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Photo by Yevgeny Khaldei

 

By May 2nd, the only Germans left in the building surrendered from the basement. That’s when the photographer Yevgeny Khaldei made his way up to the roof and enlisted Kovalyov and Ismailov to help raise the now-famous red banner. He burned through a whole roll of film taking the image.

The last surviving Red Army veteran who stormed the Reichstag died in 2015.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 simple reasons the Union won the Civil War

If zeal could be weaponized in wartime, the Confederacy might have had a chance. Not everyone in the South was very confident about the Confederacy’s chances of winning the Civil War. As Rhett Butler pointed out in Gone With The Wind, there were just some things the South lacked that the North had in massive amounts — and it just so happened that all those things were the things you need to fight a war.

Cotton, slaves, and arrogance just wasn’t going to be enough to overcome everything else the Confederates lacked. Rhett Butler wasn’t far off in listing factories, coal mines, and shipyards as essential materials.


The fictional Rhett Butler only echoed statements made by prominent, prescient (and real) Southerners at the time, like Sam Houston.

“If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country —the young men.”

The Confederacy never had a chance. The Civil War was just the death throes of an outmoded way of life that was incompatible with American ideals and the nail in its coffin was manufactured by Northern factories and foundries.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Manufacturing capacity

When it comes to actually fighting, there are some essentials that an army needs to be backed by — chief among them is the weapons of war. Southern historian Shelby Foote noted that the Industrial Revolution in the United States was in full swing at the time of the Civil War and much of that growing industrial strength was firmly in the North. Meanwhile, the South at the war’s onset was still chiefly an agrarian society which relied on material imported from outside the 11 would-be Confederate states.

It’s not that the Southern economy was poorly planned overall, it was just poorly planned for fighting a war.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Cotton awaiting transport in Arkansas.

Economics

Very closely related to industrial output is what the South could trade for those necessary war goods. When all is well, the South’s cotton-based economy was booming due to worldwide demand for the crop. The trouble was that the population density in the South was so low that much of the wealth of the United States (and the banks that go along with that money) were overwhelmingly located in the North.

When it came time to raise the money needed to fight a war, it was especially difficult for the South. Levying taxes on a small population didn’t raise the money necessary to fund the Confederate Army and, for other countries, investing in a country that may not exist in time for that investment to yield a return is a risky venture. And tariffs on imported goods only work if those goods make it to market, which brings us to…

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Civil War sailors were some of the saltiest.

Naval strength

Although the Confederacy saw some success at sea, the Confederate Navy was largely outgunned by the Union Navy. One of the first things the Union did was implement a naval blockade of Southern ports to keep supplies from getting to the Confederate Army while keeping that valuable Southern cotton from making it to foreign ports. The South’s import-export capacity fell by as much as 80 percent during the war.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Ground transport

Earlier I noted the Southern economy was poorly planned for fighting any war. That situation becomes more and more dire when fighting the war on the South’s home turf. The North’s industrialization required means of transport for manufactured goods and that meant a heavy investment in the fastest means of overland commercial transport available at the time: railroads.

Northern states created significant rail networks to connect manufacturing centers in major cities while the South’s cotton-based economy mainly relied on connecting plantations to major ports for export elsewhere. Railroad development was minimal in the South and large shipments were primarily made from inland areas by river to ports like New Orleans and Charleston – rivers that would get patrolled by the Union Navy.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

The port of Charleston in 1860.

Population

People who live in a country are good for more than just paying taxes to fund a functional government and its armies, they also fuel the strength, reach, and capabilities of those armies. In the early battles of the Civil War, the South inflicted a lot more casualties on the North while keeping their numbers relatively low. But the North could handle those kinds of losses, they had more people to replace the multiple thousands killed on the battlefield.

For the South, time was not on their side. At the beginning of the war, the Union outnumbered the Confederates 2-to-1 and no matter how zealous Southerners were to defend the Confederacy, there simply wasn’t enough of them to be able to handle the kinds of losses the Union Army began to dish out by 1863. At Gettysburg, for example, Robert E. Lee’s army numbered as many as 75,000 men – but Lee lost a third of those men in the fighting. Those were hardened combat troops, not easily replaced.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Jefferson Davis was widely criticized by his own government, being called more of an Adams than a Washington.

Politics

Replacing troops was a contentious issue in the Confederate government. The Confederacy was staunchly a decentralized republic, dedicated to the supremacy of the states over the central government in Richmond. Political infighting hamstrung the Confederate war effort at times, most notably in the area of conscription. The Confederate draft was as unpopular in the South as it was in the North, but Southern governors called conscription the “essence of military despotism.”

In the end, the Confederate central government had to contend with the power of its own states along with the invading Union Army. In 1863, Texas’ governor wouldn’t even send Texan troops east for fears that they would be needed to fight Indians or Union troops invading his home state.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Coast Guard got its stripes

This famous logo first came to life during the early 1960s when there was an urgent need to identify the rescue and law enforcement service to other boaters and military craft, air and sea. During WWII, Coast Guard Cutters were painted like other warships but carried the letter “W” in front of their hull number to distinguish from the US Navy. The iconography as we know it was ordered and adopted by President John F. Kennedy, and the service has never looked back.


The icon of the US Coast Guard is emulated by other similar organizations and agencies around the globe in some fashion, especially the diagonal design of the stripes.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
That feeling when you first realize that all Coast Guard assets have diagonal stripes… (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Taylor Bacon)

There is a profound difference in the color scheme of the two logos, even including the additional wording, “Auxiliary.” Both logos embody the same mindset and core mission values. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is an integral part of operations for the service, providing tremendous benefit to the public in areas of boating safety, inspections, and training.

Where did the Auxiliary get its start? Congress passed a law on June 19, 1941 that restructured the Coast Guard Reserve. From then on, the service was directed to operate two reserve forces. The already-existing civilian reserve organization was renamed the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. The newly structured US Coast Guard Reserve was to function on a military basis, providing an important resource of wartime capabilities, very similar to the duties of the other armed services.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The iconic Coast Guard stripes. Imagery from US Coast Guard.

The next time you see one of these dedicated professionals at a boat show, at a marina, on patrol, at a training seminars, or performing safety inspections, please remember: without them, the waterways we enjoy for recreational boating would be much different and complex.

Coupled with the Power Squadron, other boating safety organizations, and license training institutions, they expertly provide essential, and sometimes under-appreciated, assistance. Boating safety is not complete with a one-time educational event, but is a full-time endeavor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why WWI was once called ‘The War to End All Wars’

Hindsight is a cruel mistress. After Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, nearly every corner of the globe was drawn into a conflict — and the enormous loss of life that ensued was tragic. There were so many participants in the brawl that you couldn’t just name the war after its location or its combatants — after all, the “French-British-German-Austrian-Hungarian-Russian-American-Ottoman-Bulgarian-Serbian War” doesn’t really roll off the tongue (nor is it a complete list). So, the people of the time called it, simply, “The Great War.”

In some rare instances, the war was referred to as the “First World War,” even before the advent of the second. Ernst Haeckel, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, called it that because it escalated beyond the scope of a “European War” — it was truly international.

Others, however, took a more optimistic approach by calling it, “The War to End All Wars.” As history has shown, this was certainly not the case — but some plucky, upbeat civilians genuinely believed it would be rainbows and sunshine after the dust from the global conflict settled.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

You wouldn’t think the guy that wrote about aliens destroying humanity would be such an optimist…

(Illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds.’)

English author H.G. Wells — the genius behind The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds — wrote in an articles to local newspapers that this global struggle, this Great War, would be “The War That Will End Wars” as we know them (full versions of his articles were later transcribed into a book entitled The War That Will End War).

In his articles, Wells argued that the Central Powers were entirely to blame for the war and that it was German militarism that sparked everything. He believed that once the Germans were defeated, the world would have no reason to fight ever again.

We know today that these statements were far from true, but for the people who were living in constant fear mere miles away from the front line, it was the optimism that they needed to keep going. By 1918, the term “The War to End All Wars” had spread all across Europe like a catchphrase and was synonymous with hope for a better future.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

He was a eloquent speech writer, but he was a few years too late to come up with the phrase.

(National Archives)

Despite the fact that the phrase had been used in Europe for years, it’s most often attributed to President Woodrow Wilson. This is particularly strange because the President only once used the term — and never did so in any congressional address. Wilson did once refer to the end of the war as the “final triumph of justice,” but he seldom used the phrase for which he later became known.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

If there was a single human being who knew war best, it was, without a shadow of a doubt, General of the Armies Eisenhower.

(National Archives)

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor and British statesman, was a loud opponent to the phrase. Mockingly, he said that The Great “War, like the next war, is a war to end war” — and, of course, he was right. To the shock of absolutely nobody, conflicts persisted around the world after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

Wells, who originally coined the phrase, later backtracked on his statements, insisting that he, too, was being ironic. He joined in with everyone else in making fun of his statements — and later claimed it was the “war that could end war.”

In 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower put it plainly and finally.

“No one has yet explained how war prevents war. Nor has anyone been able to explain away the fact that war begets conditions that beget further war.”
MIGHTY TRENDING

The 5 strangest military mission names from the Iraq War

If you think Operation Inherent Resolve is a mission name that makes no sense, you’re not alone. The U.S. military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria was supposed to have a different name altogether. The Pentagon initially rejected OIR and only accepted it as a placeholder. Somehow it stuck, and that’s what we’re left with.

Strange, silly and absurd names shouldn’t be the standard for military operations. Or at least so said Winston Churchill back in 1943. In a WWII memo on the subject of mission names, Churchill said, “Do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way, and do not enable some widow or some mother to say her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.'”

It seems that the military isn’t exactly following Churchill’s recommendation. There’s rarely a public explanation about mission names, but that doesn’t make them any more questionable. Here are a few of the most memorable mission names.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Operation All-American Tiger

Tigers are pretty amazing in their own right, but what would be more American than having an All-American tiger? That’s a question the brass asked themselves, apparently, in 2003, when they settled on this mission name during a November 2003 Iraq War mission. Operation All-American Tiger’s objective was to search and clear farms and villages around the Euphrates River in the Northern Iraqi town of Al-Qaim. Service members detained twelve people as a result, including a few who were on a “Most Wanted” list.

While it’s fun to think about what the military was considering when creating codenames for missions, this one is actually pretty easy to figure out. The nickname for the 82nd Airborne Division is “All American.” The Tiger Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cav assisted the 82nd on this mission.

Specifically, it was the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the 82nd who worked with the Tigers. The 504th even have their own absurd nickname – The Devils in Baggy Pants – taken from a diary entry of a Wehrmacht officer in WWII.

Operation Beastmaster

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
U.S. Army

Doesn’t this sound like a mission from the 1980s? It feels decidedly vintage, but Operation Beastmaster actually took place in 2006. OB cleared three neighborhoods in the Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, which itself was subject to a codename, albeit one that was far easier understood. Service members in IED Alley East, as Ghazaliya was known, worked together with the Iraqi Army to uncover weapons caches and a deposit of roadside bomb-creating supplies and tools. Operation Beastmaster also captured one high-ranking (and still unnamed) official, and the Army counted it as a complete win.

Operation Grizzly Forced Entry

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
U.S. Army soldiers remain alert in the courtyard as other members of their unit search a house during Operation Grizzly Forced Entry on Aug. 21, 2004 (DoD photo)

In the summer of 2004, U.S. service members went on a counter-insurgency raid in Najaf, Iraq, a city south of Baghdad. The forced entry part of this code name is pretty self-explanatory, as service members were tasked with entering private homes to search for high-value targets who were suspected of attacking coalition forces.

Operation Power Geyser

This counterterrorism unit included 13,000 top secret service members who served as military security to support the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush. Taken from a video game series, the name Power Geyser refers to a character who was able to blast the ground with his fist and create a field of explosive energy around him that sent his opponents flying. In real life, these elite troops carried top of the line weaponry and lurked in the shadows around the White House and the Capitol building while the inauguration took place.

Operation Safe Neighborhood + Operation Safe Market

These 2007 missions were efforts to make residential neighborhoods, areas with lots of traffic, and marketplaces safer for Iraqis to live and work during the American involvement of the Iraq war. Service members combed these areas looking for car bombs and IEDs with a decided effort to cut down on sectarian violence in the city. The codenames were pretty easy to figure out, proof that sometimes the most basic name is the best one.

Whoever was thinking up mission names during the Iraq War was definitely trying to keep the plans top secret to ensure the missions were successful. With names like All-American Tiger and Grizzly Forced Entry, someone was trying to make sure no one knew our military’s plans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This crusader was packing four guns and sidewinder missiles

When you think of a crusader, you may think of the Christian warriors who tried to ‘free’ the Holy Land (but are now mostly known for their bad behavior). Or, you could conjure up images of a World War II tank used by the British. But there was one crusader, in particular, that packed four guns and could go very fast. We’re talking about the Vought F-8 Crusader, once called “The Last Gunfighter.”


In the wake of the Korean War, the United States Navy was trying to stabilize its carrier air wings. The shift from propeller-driven planes to jets was well underway and the Navy had to jettison a few duds as it tried to make that shift. The F6U Pirate, for example, just didn’t have the oomph in the engine and the F7U Cutlass was too dangerous… for its pilots.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Still, the Navy was looking for a fighter. Vought, despite the failures of the Pirate and the Cutlass, managed to win this contract. This time, however, the company came up with a classic in what was called the F8U Crusader at the time. The plane established a reputation for speed — Korean War MiG-killer John Glenn, a future astronaut, took a reconnaissance variant across the country in record time in 1957.

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the centerpiece of the Crusader’s combat capabilities was a suite of four Mk 12 20mm cannon backed up by four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Crusader served with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, scoring 18 kills for three air-to-air losses. While the fighter retired soon after the Vietnam War ended, the photo-reconnaissance version stuck around with the Navy Reserve until 1987.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Two RF-8G Crusaders in flight shortly before the 1987 retirement of the plane. (USAF photo)

Two countries received the F-8 Crusader on the export market. France operated the F-8E(FN), equipped with R.530 and R.550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles instead of the American Sidewinder. Those served until December 1999. The Philippines flew the F-8H model, operating it until 1991.

Learn more about this four-gun Crusader in the video below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSEUE5QC_HI
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army’s Caribou cargo plane supplied troops in Vietnam

The United States Army has a little-known fleet of fixed-wing cargo planes. Currently, the major player in that fleet is the C-23 Sherpa, but throughout the years, there have been some other planes that proved very capable of handing the Army’s needs. One such plane was the C-7 Caribou.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
When the C-7 entered service, it was first called the CV-2B. (U.S. Army photo)

Like the C-23, the C-7 Caribou filled a vital niche for the Army. Instead of providing that support in the deserts of the Middle East, however, it proved to be a valuable cargo asset in the jungles of Vietnam. The C-7 could carry four tons of cargo or 32 troops, had a top speed of 216 miles per hour, and could go 1,308 miles.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The C-123 Provider was too big for some re-supply missions. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Army had taken a look at the Air Force’s C-123 Provider and C-130 Hercules and quickly realized that there was a big gap in cargo-delivering capabilities between these massive planes and the small loads carried by helicopters of the time (the famous UH-1 Huey had flown in 1956, but was trickling into service). So, they sought a small transport plane to fill that gap.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The Royal Australian Air Force used the Caribou until 2009. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

A Canadian company, de Havilland Canada, ended up fielding a design that would fit the bill for the Army. It was unique in that it could take off and land given just 1,000 feet. It could pull this off despite the fact that it had less horsepower in its two engines than in a single R-2800, the engine that powered World War II planes, like the F6F Hellcat and the P-47 Thunderbolt.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
A privately owned DHC-4T Turbo Caribou cargo plane approaches a remote Special Operations Task Force South East outpost in the province of Uruzgan, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick)

The Army bought 173 C-7s and used them in Vietnam until 1967, when the Air Force took these planes on in exchange for dropping performance restrictions of Army helicopters. The C-7s continued to serve until 1985, when the C-23 replaced them. Some C-7 stayed in service with Australia until as late as 2009!

Learn more about this impressive cargo plane in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNggrKE3qAQ
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

History is written by the victors, so we don’t hear a lot of stories from the armies of those who lost the war. For stories of heroism to spread, it’s essential that some of the losers survive in combat to tell those stories. 

But the story of Sgt. Sayed Zakaria Khalil is said to have spread, not because of his fellow Egyptians, but  because of the Israeli soldier who killed him in combat.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. The idea was to get the jump on Israel, sneak attacking them the way the Israelis had attacked Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War. That was when Israel had captured the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians and Egypt wanted it back. 

At first, the move worked. At first. 

Soon, however, the Syrian fighters in the Golan Heights began to crumble and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) entered Syrian territory. The Israeli focus soon shifted to the Egyptians. Egypt made quick gains in the Sinai but were about to feel the IDF for the first time during the war. 

Egypt lasted much longer than they did in 1967, but not by much, on the scale of wars. And it didn’t end well. The entire war went almost three full weeks, and Israel’s troops not only crossed the Suez and entered Egypt, they came within six miles of the Egyptian capital. 

It was another rout for Egypt, but there was one thing they could be proud of: Sgt. Sayed Zakaria Khalil.

What does it say about a single soldier that can handle a superior force (in numbers, technology, and training) as the rest of his unit fades away? The Israelis were already on the move and the Egyptian army needed time to escape back across the Suez Canal when the 24-year-old Egyptian paratrooper landed along the other side of the Mitla Pass in the Sinai, near Mount Jalala.

The Egyptian Army needed a full extra day to escape across the Suez and return to Egypt or they would be destroyed in the Sinai. It was up to Sgt. Khalil’s unit to give them the time. 

Khalil was waiting for the Israeli advance at the pass and, having traded his food for ammunition due to Ramadan fasting, felt he was as ready as he would ever be. Soon, IDF tanks came rumbling into the area. 

Under the cover of darkness, he and four others attacked and disabled 7 Israeli tanks before blending back into the mountainside. 

Now that the Israelis were aware of the Egyptian presence, they dropped paratroopers of their own in to eliminate the threat. This is where accounts get murky. 

Some say Khalil and his fellow paratroopers were attacked by 100 IDF troops. Some accounts say Khalil shot down an Israeli aircraft from the ground. Some accounts say he destroyed 3 tanks and killed 22 enemy soldiers. What is clear is that Khalil fought the Israelis for hours, until he was the last Egyptian in his unit still alive. 

According to one Israeli account, Sgt. Khalil took a position that allowed him to fend off and kill 22 Israeli troops before being overcome by machine gun fire himself. That account came from the Israeli who killed Khalil. 

The Israeli is said to have picked up Khalil’s belongings, impressed by the defense of the soldier. He then buried his fallen Egyptian adversary and fired a 21-gun salute into the air.

These days, not much is written about Sgt. Khalil and his suicidal stand near Mount Jalala. A city street in Cairo that bears his full name and the 2016 Egyptian war flick “Lion of Sinai” are his enduring legacy.

Articles

One of Napoleon’s best generals returned to France after almost 200 years

Charles-Étienne Gudin’s heart has always been with France. More specifically, it’s been in France since his death fighting the Russians with Napoleon in 1812. His body, unfortunately, was mostly lost to history. Gudin was just one of 380,000 members of Napoleon’s Grande Armée who never made it back to France. 

Well, mostly, anyway. His remains were recently discovered in a park in Smolensk, Russia, a find that can finally close the door on the emperor’s disastrous march to Moscow and his hasty retreat. 

Gudin served the French Army faithfully for decades, first under the reign of King Louis XVI, then under the revolutionary government of France. Somehow, Gudin’s noble life didn’t end with the guillotine and he continued his service when Napoleon finally ascended to power, unifying France – and the rest of Europe against France. 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Born in 1782, died in 1812. All Gudin really knew was war and violence. (Museum of the History of France/ Wikimedia Commons)

He first became a general while Napoleon was First Consul of France. By the time Napoleon finally became emperor, Gudin had already fought for France in the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions. By the time he fought against the Third and Fourth Coalitions, he was one of the emperor’s most trusted leaders. 

His service earned him the title of Count of the French Empire, Governor of Fontainebleau, and a division command in the Grande Armée during Napoleon’s planned invasion of the Russian Empire. Russia was not complying with Napoleon’s Continental System, a blockade of Great Britain that was forced on European powers. Anyone not complying would have to face Napoleon in battle, which was not an appetizing idea to any world leader at the time. 

When he learned that much of Britain’s exports were flowing into Spain, he launched an invasion of the country, which was already in the middle of a war of independence. In 1812, realizing Russia was not complying, he decided to create the world’s largest army and bring Tsar Alexander I to his knees. 

It wouldn’t be the first time France had whipped the Russian Bear. He defeated the Tsar at Friedland in a pretty evenly matched battle. At Austerlitz, the outnumbered Napoleon inflicted a humiliating defeat against both the Russian Empire and the Austrian Empire, which completely reshaped the continent, ceded Italy and parts of Germany to France and effectively ended the Holy Roman Empire. 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Charles Thevenin’s painting of Napoleon accepting the surrender of 23,000 Austrian troops (Palace of Versailles/ Wikimedia Commons)

The thought of the most effective military leader the world had ever known massing an army of nearly half a million men and heading for Russia was not a good one for Alexander but the sheer size of the Grande Armée would be its own undoing. It was not able to feed itself and depended on foraging to sustain its men. When the Russians under Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov began its scorched-earth policy and subsequent retreat, refusing battle with Napoleon, the French Army began to dwindle away. 

When the emperor arrived in Moscow, he found it on fire. As the army finally turned around and headed back for France, it was a shadow of its former self. Winter set in and decimated the retreating French, who were suffering from widespread disease and couldn’t even build campfires, let alone fight. 

But Gudin never even made it that far. At the August 1812 Battle of Valutino, near Smolensk, Russia, French forces engaged a small Russian defensive position on the Stragan River. Gudin led the final assault on the position. It was a success and the French won the day, but Gudin was hit by a cannonball and lost a leg in the effort. Three days later, he died of gangrene. His heart was removed from his body and returned to France. 

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The Battle of Valutino, where Gudin was mortally wounded (unknown artist/ Wikimedia Commons)

The rest of Gudin was found in a coffin in a park near Smolensk in 2019. Almost two years to the day later, Russia returned the general’s remains. In a ceremony held near a Moscow airport, a horse-drawn cart accompanied by men in 19th-century French military uniforms accompanied the remains as it was repatriated to France. 

“Gudin represents a reconciliation between France and Russia, because Gudin was a Russian enemy in 1812. He came to attack Russia. Now, when Russia honours him and gives (the remains) to France, it’s the biggest symbol of reconciliation between our two countries,” Pierre Malinowski, president of the Foundation for the Development of Russian-French Historical Initiatives told reporters at the ceremony.

Feature image: Georges-François-Marie Gabriel/ Wikimedia Commons

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Why America’s World War II torpedoes were horrible

During World War II, the U.S. Navy had some of the most advanced weapons available, like artillery shells with proximity fuses that detonated at set distances from their target. But they also had a secret weakness: Many of their torpedoes would explode too early, would swim under their targets without exploding, or might even circle back around to hit them.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
Submarine officers and representatives of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance pose with a Mk. 14 torpedo in 1943. (U.S. Navy)

It wasn’t the only flawed torpedo, but most of the Navy’s torpedo problems centered around the Mk. 14. It was supposed to be the most advanced and deadly anti-ship weapon in the U.S. fleet. They ran on steam and could travel over five miles and hit speeds of almost 53 mph and then detonate under an enemy ship’s hull with up to 643 pounds of high explosives.

In tests and in theory, this would break the keel of an enemy ship, ripping it in half or opening massive holes in the hull, quickly sending it to the deep.

American submarine commanders headed out with their boats filled with Mk. 14s. They were supposed to use their deck guns as much as possible, since they carried a limited number of torpedoes and each cost ,000 (about 1,000 in today’s money). But when the tactical situation called for firing a torpedo from stealth, like when facing a destroyer or launching a surprise attack against a convoy, they were supposed to fire a few torpedoes and watch the show.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The Mk. 14 torpedo began its career as a deeply flawed weapon, but a series of changes in 1943 would get it fit to fight. (U.S. Navy)

But submarine commanders quickly began reporting problems with their weapons after Adm. Harold Rainsford Stark ordered unrestricted submarine warfare. The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance thought the weapons should work 98 percent of the time. Submarine commanders were seeing much different results.

In one extreme case, a submarine commander fired all but one of his 16 torpedoes. Of the 15 shots he took, twelve hit the target and only one exploded. And that explosion was at the wrong time. The Japanese target got away with minimal damage.

In another instance, the USS Seawolf fired four Mk. 14 torpedoes at a Japanese transport with no results. That commander had Mk. 10 torpedoes on board, the World War I weapon the Mk. 14 was replacing. Lt. Cmdr. Frederick B. Warder ordered Mk. 10s into the tubes. The first shot hit the target’s stern and the second sank the enemy ship.

The older Mk. 10 was two for two while the Mk. 14 had failed completely. This wasn’t the Seawolf’s first issue with the Mk. 14, either. It had six previous tours under its belt, all plagued by torpedo issues, including that time it fired eight Mk. 14s, which accounted for seven misses and a dud hit.

Some Japanese vessels even reportedly pulled into their ports with Mk. 14 torpedoes sticking out of the hull. They had suffered direct hits, but the warheads had failed to detonate.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo
The USS Tullibee was destroyed when it fired a torpedo at a Japanese ship in World War II only for it to swim in a circle and hit the submarines instead of the enemy in March, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

Worse, the Mk. 14s had a pesky habit of detonating properly when they circle ran, the worst possible situation. A circle run occurs when a torpedo follows a curved instead of straight path. And uneven drag, propulsion, or warping of a torpedo can cause a circle run and, like the name implies, it sends the torpedo in a circle, back to its starting point.

This fault was definitively described 24 times, sinking two submarines and forcing the 22 others to dodge their own ordnance.

The Bureau of Ordnance dragged their feet about assessing the problem, and then it took a while to get definitive solutions. So, for two years, submarines went on patrols with faulty weapons that could swim right under the target, pierce it without detonating, or even sink their own submarine.

But the Navy did eventually find the causes of the faults. The circle runs were caused by faulty gyros that failed to straighten the path. The torpedo sometimes swam right under the target because the torpedoes had been tested with faulty depth-measuring equipment and with warheads that didn’t reflect their real buoyancy. The failures to detonate were caused by faulty magnetic and mechanical initiators.

In fact, the mechanical initiator was an especially galling failure as far as submarine commanders were concerned, because they had been told for years that the real problem was them firing from bad angles while a 90-degree hit was most effective. In reality, the mechanical failures were most common at exactly 90 degrees, failing 70 percent of the time in later lab tests.

The Mk. 14 had been in the fleet for nearly 20 years by this point, so it might seem impossible that these faults hadn’t been discovered earlier. But it had been developed during the Great Depression when budget constraints severely constricted the tests and experiments scientists and engineers could do.

Changes were eventually made. The torpedoes were re-calibrated for the proper depth and the magnetic initiators were thrown out entirely. The mechanical ones were faulty thanks to heavy firing pins that couldn’t achieve the right momentum when the torpedo was at full speed, so they were replaced with a lighter metal alloy.

Ironically, the alloy chosen had made it into U.S. arsenals after it was discovered in a Japanese fighter shot down at Pearl Harbor. It fixed the Mk. 14’s mechanical initiation problems, allowing likely detonations no matter the torpedo’s angle of attack.

These changes took the Mk. 14 from one of the worst weapons of World War II to a top contender. It served until 1980, deep into the Cold War.


-Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Civil War vet’s grave is Underground Railroad site

Former slave and Civil War veteran Reddy Gray died on Sep. 4, 1922, when he was 79 years old. He was buried in Baltimore’s Loudon Park National Cemetery — the first VA burial site included in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Gray’s experience is representative of African Americans who risked travel through the Underground Railroad to find freedom, but his story is significant for the wealth of information gleaned from public records. His life is a reminder of the fight for civil rights that began in the 1860s to continues today.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Deed of Manumission and Release of Service,” 1865.

Gray went by Reddy, short for Redmond, Redman or Reverdy. Born at Loch Raven, Maryland, to John and Lydia Talbott Gray, he was enslaved by the Thomas Cradock Risteau family in Baltimore County from birth to until the middle of the Civil War. Likely a field worker or carriage driver, he resisted servitude by escaping in March 1863. It is not clear what happened, but Gray’s “Deed of Manumission and Release of Service” retroactively corresponds with his enlistment. President Abraham Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and the U.S. Army was recruiting black soldiers.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

U.S. Army, Gray Muster-Out record, 1865.

Gray enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops at Baltimore City on March 23, 1864. His Company B, 39th U.S. Colored Infantry, fought in Virginia at the Sieges of Petersburg and Richmond, and in the expeditions and capture of Fort Fisher and Wilmington in North Carolina. Reddy mustered out in Wilmington on Dec. 4, 1865, and that record remarks, “slave when enlisted.”

His life after the Civil War shows personal accomplishment and community involvement. He learned to read and write. He returned to Baltimore and had four children, including son Redmond, with second wife Susan Gray, who worked as a laundress. In the army he suffered from rheumatism, for which he received a disability pension in 1890; however, he worked as a manual laborer doing light work like trimming lawns or gathering rags and as a carriage driver.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Reddy Gray Burial Site Certificate of Acceptance, NPS 2018.

As “Redmond” Gray, he appears in the Baltimore Sun, Sep. 15, 1894, as judge for a running race at the “Colored People’s Fair” in Timonium, Maryland; and a few years later as a member of the Colored-Odd Fellows. Reddy (also Reverdy) Gray is honored with his name on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Other black soldiers who found their freedom through the Underground Railroad are buried at Loudon Park National Cemetery along with Gray, but their stories are not so easily documented.

The Network to Freedom program is managed by the National Park Service, per the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998. Loudon Park National Cemetery was one of the 14 original national cemeteries established under the National Cemetery Act of July 17, 1862; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How sailors navigated before GPS

Humanity is fated to explore, colonize, and come up with new ways to assert dominance over the forces of nature. The timeline of recorded history is marked by inventions that have propelled us forward to achieve the impossible and expand our collective intelligence. The early explorers navigated the violence of the open ocean by using the stability of the heavenly bodies to guide them.

Before sailors could brave the blank spots on the map, they had to know where home was and how to find their place in the world. By charting the stars, keeping precise time, and using their honed senses, humanity was given the tools needed to explore ever outward.


This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

(HISTORY’s ‘Vikings’)

The Vikings used known points

The vikings sailed far enough from shore to lose sight of landmasses in a time before there was a proven method of navigation. They passed down knowledge of stars, coasts, currents, navigational landmarks, and wildlife to create mental maps.

They would make notes of unique mountain formations and follow currents favored by pods of whales for feeding. They also used a plumb bob, an instrument used to determine water depth by tying a weight to a rope and plopping it into the ocean. Viking sailors navigated by using their senses: listening to the calls of seabirds, allowing them to estimate which region they were in. They’d verify their guess by tasting the water to gauge the amount of fresh water flowing into the sea.

Flóki Vilgerðarson, who appeared in HISTORY’s Vikings, was a real person who used caged ravens when traveling. When he thought land was near, he would release a raven. If it circled the boat, there was no land. If it flew away, the ship followed it towards land. This technique was adopted by other vikings who followed in the footsteps of this pioneer.

Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland using these techniques and raided western Europe with impunity, without fear of sea.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

Let me sing you the song of my people…

(Maui Guide)

The Polynesians used songs

The Polynesians used songs to navigate the seas, an art passed down from master to apprentice over generations. They maintained guilds on each island that would identify sources of food and directed sailors towards them in times of famine and traded this knowledge for other resources. To identify where they were, they made close observations of sea signs, just as the vikings did, and recorded extremely detailed directions in the form of song lyrics.

The guilds also safeguarded the secrets of constructing outrigger canoes capable of making long voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

This is the story behind the Red Army’s most iconic WWII photo

With this, I will make my own empire! With blackjack — and freedom!

(ResearchGate)

The British invented the chronometer to identify latitude

Celestial navigation was turned into a science by the British. In 1714, the British government declared a prize of £20,000 be award to whomever could solve the problem of finding a ship’s current longitude position while out on the open ocean. John Harrison was clockmaker who believed the answer was in accurate timekeeping. He proved that one could find their latitude by calculating the position of the sun, moon, stars, or other celestial bodies in relations to the current time to find where you are on the globe.

Making a correct calculation required a timepiece that would not lose its accuracy due to storms, temperature changes, or manufacturing limitations. If one didn’t know the exact time, the almanacs and journals that outlined the location of celestial bodies were, basically, useless.

Harrison made the H4, a chronometer the size of a watch, and it was able to accurately keep GMS time in any clime and place, regardless of conditions. On its maiden voyage to Jamaica, it was only off by five seconds by the journey’s end.

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