When Frederick Funston, a brigadier general of volunteers, explained his plan to Maj. Gen. Arthur McArthur, his division commander in the Philippines, MacArthur called it “a desperate thing.”
“I fear that I shall never see you again,” he said.
When the Spanish-American War ended, the United States was granted sovereignty over the islands, but a segment of the Filipino population believed they were promised independence, objected to the American takeover, and began an armed resistance.
By the time that resistance — called the Philippine Insurrection — finally ended, it cost 4,234 Americans killed and another 2,818 wounded as well as at least 16,000 Filipino casualties. At the head of the rebel forces was Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino politician who fought against Spanish occupation of the island before the war and continued his opposition when Americans took control.
In February 1901, Funston was the commander of the 4th District of Luzon. After months of uncertainty, he confirmed Aguinaldo’s location through a captured rebel officer named Cecilio Segismundo and hatched a plan to capture him. Aguinaldo, Segismundo said, was at the village of Palanan with several officers and a force of about 50 men.
He also said that all approaches to Palanan were closely watched.
“The only recourse was to work a stratagem,” Funston wrote in his memoirs.
On Mar. 6, 1901, with Funston in command, the gunboat Vicksburg left Manila Harbor. On board was a force of 81 Filipino scouts dressed as insurgents, along with Funston and four other Army officers masquerading as captured American privates. Six days later, at one o’clock in the morning, the force quietly landed at Casiguran on Luzon’s east coast. They were still almost 100 miles from Aguinaldo’s Palanan hideout.
They were accepted in the area as what they purported to be, a rebel force with American prisoners. The ruse was working.
From Casiguran, they were able to send messages ahead to Palan announcing their arrival on the coast and their intent to come to the rebel headquarters. (A forged letter was sent earlier announcing their “capture” of the Americans and that they would bring them to Aguinaldo.)
“It was thoroughly understood,” Funston later wrote, “that we would not be taken alive. ”
After gathering what food and supplies they could from the natives, the force marched along the beach and on jungle trails through almost constant rain and on half-rations, arriving at Palanan nine days after landing at Casiguran.
They were welcomed by the rebels as they had been at Casiguran and the two “leaders” of the column, Filipinos disguised as rebel officers, were taken to meet Aguinaldo. One of them, a Spanish secret service officer named Lazaro Segovia, stood at a window and explained at length how the Americans were “captured.” When he thought the moment was right, he waved his hat, signaling the men in the courtyard to attack, and they began firing on the rebels.
Two rebels were quickly killed, and the remainder dispersed. Aguinaldo, meanwhile, heard the firing and, thinking his men were celebrating by firing their weapons into the air, went to the window to tell them to save their ammunition.
There he was tackled by the second “leader,” a renegade rebel officer named Hilario Tal Placido, as Segovia pulled out a pistol and fired six rounds, killing one of Aguinaldo’s officers and wounding another. The rest of the rebels leaped through the room’s windows and escaped.
By then, Funston reached the room, took charge, and explained to Aguinaldo — in fluent Spanish — that he was now a prisoner of the United States Army.
After the men rested at the village for a day, they walked back to the beach and were picked up by the Vicksburg’s boats, which, in turn, took them to the gunboat and then to Manila.
Funston was rewarded by being promoted to brigadier general of the regular army and was praised by President Theodore Roosevelt for the raid, which Roosevelt called, “the crowning exploit of a career filled with cool courage.”
Aguinaldo, realizing he was beaten, called for the rebels to lay down their arms and a year later, on July 4, 1902, President Roosevelt declared the insurrection over.
Funston died in 1917 at age 51 and was buried at the Presidio in San Francisco.
The mortar round detonated on impact, sending thousands of pieces of shrapnel through the plane and crew. Levitow was hit with 40 pieces of shrapnel, and the other six members of the crew didn’t fare much better.
But the worst piece of news was still coming. Levitow started to drag another injured crew member away from the door before he spotted an armed Mk-24 flare that was smoking and rolling around near stored ammo.
The flares operate on a timer set to anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds. Once armed, a crewmember would throw the flare out the door and it would parachute down. Magnesium in the flare would ignite a 4,000 degree Fahrenheit flame that illuminated the battlefield.
Levitow, despite his serious wound from the shrapnel, crawled his way to the 27-pound flare and attempted to grab it three times, but it kept escaping his hands. So he threw himself on it, clutched it to his body, and dragged it towards the door.
“I had the aircraft in a 30-degree bank, and how Levitow ever managed to get to the flare and throw it out, I’ll never know,” said pilot Maj. Kenneth Carpenter.
Somehow, Levitow got the flare to the door and out of the plane just before it ignited, saving everyone aboard. The pilot was able to limp the plane back to an emergency landing.
For Levitow, that was his 181st mission. He recovered from his wounds and completed another 20 combat missions before heading home and receiving his discharge paperwork in August 1969.
U-505 was a near absolute failure as a killer, failing to sink a single ship for multiple combat tours in a row, suffering the only suicide of a commanding officer in the German undersea service until the final days of the war, and becoming the first submarine captured in the war despite failed attempts to scuttle the ship.
Yeah, the crew couldn’t even sink the sub properly.
The “unluckiest” U-boat, U-505, after its capture by sailors of Task Group 22.3.
Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe commissioned the boat in August 1941 and led it on three tours, sinking seven ships. (Kapitänleutnant is roughly equal to a U.S. Navy lieutenant, the O-3 grade.) Loewe did have one black spot on his record, though.
On July 22, 1942, a misunderstood command led to the ship shooting off the mast of a sailing boat with no flag and then sinking it. The ship belonged to a Columbian diplomat, and Columbia declared war after the incident. Berlin wasn’t exactly worried about Columbia, but that still ended up being Loewe’s last patrol.
Loewe then relinquished command to Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech who had a much rougher time on the boat.
Zschech had been a successful officer before his command, and he held two Iron Crosses when he arrived on the U-505. He was expected to be a star. But his first two patrols had resulted in only one sinking. Before he could leave for his third patrol, French dockworkers sabotaged the U-505. They were executed, but their sabotage had the desired effect.
The U-505 struggled on its sixth patrol and sank no ships. Its seventh, eighth, and ninth patrols were cut short as the crew kept hearing strange noises that likely represented ongoing problems from the sabotage, and the boat turned back from each tour.
Zschech was professionally embarrassed. He was supposed to be a star of the submarine service but had sank one ship over the course of six patrols. On Oct. 9, 1943, Zschech took the crew on its 10th overall patrol, his seventh. Fifteen days later, the U-505 was spotted and came under heavy, determined depth charge attack.
The Oberleutnant zur See Paul Meyer got his crew out of the depth charge attack and led them back to port. The ship received a new commanding officer, Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange. His first patrol on the boat lasted only nine days with little effect. But his next patrol, launched March 16, 1944, would go for 81 days. But it would end horribly.
It wasn’t entirely Lange’s or the crew’s fault. The U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 had successfully sunk U-515 on its previous tour, and the task group commander had gotten an idea for a greater coup. U-515 had, after suffering extreme damage, come to the surface in the middle of the task group. The task group quickly sank it with all the guns it had, but the commander wanted to try using only machine guns next time, hoping to save the sub and capture it.
Survivors of the U-505 await their transportation to POW camps in 1944.
The USS Chatelain was the first to attack after Wildcat fighters from the USS Guadalcanal spotted the U-505, and it’s depth charges quickly forced the sub to surface. U-505 began circling to the right, and the gunners of the task group began laying into it out of fear it was lining up for a torpedo attack. This quickly proved false as submariners started leaping into the ocean, and the group commander ordered the larger caliber weapons to cease fire.
It was the first capture of an enemy ship by a U.S. Navy vessel since 1815. The boarding parties quickly got classified materials and the enigma machine out, and then set about trying to save the boat. This required closing the scuttling vents, disabling the charges, and then pumping water out of the boat.
And the U-505, in either a final slap in the face of its German crew or a final act of supporting sailors, depending on who you ask, the boat’s pumps successfully cleared the water, and it was towed to the Caribbean for study. The surviving crew members sat out the rest of the war in a POW camp.
It’s a known fact that Marines are territorial by nature and do not play well with other branches while in garrison. It stems from our culture. Even though other branches have more funding and better promotion mobility, our intensity on an individual and unit level cannot be matched.
This intensity means Marines will always choose to save face over admitting they’re hurting, tired, or sick to anyone — with one exception: the Navy Corpsman, often affectionately known as “Doc.”
No other MOS in any branch will ever earn the amount of unwavering loyalty shown to the corpsman by a ferocious pack of Devil Dogs. Not many can understand our way of life because, simply, they weren’t there. No one else was there — nobody except our corpsman.
When they’re not in formation, they get a pass, which is fine — but they’re often gone without explanation. Here’s what they’d tell you:
“You don’t want to distract me while I’m practicing this, Staff sergeant.”
They’re honing their craft
The Marine Corps does not have medics, but as a department of the Navy, the Navy sends us those who have the cajones to enter the fires of combat. They’re usually the only medical caregiver on deployments and will perform a wide range of duties, from preventing diseases to rendering urgent emergency treatment on the battlefield. They will utilize their weapon to protect the life of the patient under their care. Badasses.
Their chief may have some training planned for them or they may be fulfilling a class required by the Navy. It is not uncommon to hear that chief himself was in Iraq or Afghanistan at the outset of the conflict and is sharing his wisdom with the next generation. Whatever Navy sorcery is going on in the Battalion Aid Station that demands Sick Call to be canceled must be important. By all means, carry on.
Those who do not qualify for Marine Regs will be issued standard utility uniforms instead.
They’re embracing our beloved Corps
According to Article 6501, personnel serving with Marine Corps, officer and enlisted Navy personnel may wear Marine Corps service and utility uniforms, including insignia, following the Marine Corps uniform regulations. If, after a series of tests and inspections, one qualifies to wear Marine Regs (regulation), they will be issued service and dress uniforms at no cost to the service member including all accessories.
The corpsman must also abide by Marine Corps grooming standards. They are required to maintain both Navy and Marine uniforms while attached to the Fleet Marine Force until they return to a Naval unit once again. No one is going to have a problem with Doc missing formation because he’s adopting our customs and traditions.
“First Platoon used crayon on these forms… again…”
They could be attacking endless waves of paperwork
Behind every light-duty chit is a mountain of paperwork we’ll never have to deal with. Unfortunately for the corpsmen, they have to process, file, and report everything. They don’t only have to keep up to date with Navy readiness training but Marine Corps readiness as well.
If something is beyond the medical capabilities of the BAS, a troop will be sent to the Navy Hospital for advanced treatment. They will also have to explain — in writing why they made their recommendation. When you have thousands of Marines under your care, the administrative element of medicine piles up.
Corpsmen have inherited not only our sense of humor, but also our prowess to avoid stupid games when possible. Several have witnessed a Doc pop smoke before their very eyes in a masterful display of ‘not my pasture, not my bullsh*t,’ inspiring envy and respect.
Corpsmen have done what few people have been able to do: become accepted by Marines as one of their own. Loyalty to a platoon goes both ways, and if anybody messes with a corpsman, they’re going face injuries that will warrant that same corpsman’s medical expertise.
Early last month, Israel buried an ace who had seven kills — more than twice as many as John Glenn — and hundreds of operational missions under his belt. He was known as Ran Ronen.
According to a report by the Jerusalem Post, Ronen, whose real name was Ran Pekker, was buried on Dec. 4, 2016, following his death after a long struggle with blood cancer. Ronen was best known for flying the Mirage III and F-4 Phantom during the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.
Ronen notably gained publicity from the History Channel series Dogfights, providing interviews in two episodes, “Dogfights of the Middle East” and “Desert Aces.” In the former, he described his involvement in both escorting a defecting MiG-21 to Israel and his involvement in the attack on Ghardaka Air Base in Egypt. The latter episode, best known for relating Giora Epstein’s legendary 1-vs.-11 fight, featured Ronen’s encounter with a Jordanian Hawker Hunter.
Ronen later became a diplomat and founded the Zahala project for youth, according to a web site outlining the reasons he received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2008.
Below are the Dogfights episodes Ronen appears in. His missions are discussed from 13:12 to 32:12 in the first video, and in the first 12:30 in the second video.
But back then he was just Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, a civilian detainee. He was one of some 80,000 detainees who were held at one of four detention facilities throughout Iraq. They were a mix of petty criminals and insurgents captured in house raids over the course of the war.
It was the Iraqi government who released Baghdadi.
Eventually, the 2008 U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq would set the terms for closing the prison system and moving the detainees to Iraqi custody. The American government was primarily concerned with some 200 prisoners they deemed most dangerous.
Baghdadi was not one of them.
At the time of his release, Baghdadi and the others who were released were considered “low level” and not much of a threat. After his release, he gravitated to the insurgent group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which came to be known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006. The Americans continued to systematically eliminate AQI’s leadership. In 2010, Baghdadi was promoted to a leadership position in what was left of the network.
No one really knows how Baghdadi rose in the ranks. When his name was revealed as one of the group’s leaders (which then started calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq), no one in U.S. intelligence knew any of their names. The seeds of what would become ISIS were sown.
The German Navy in World War II found a clever but risky method of extending their submarine patrols by building “milk cows,” specialized submarines covered in fuel tanks to refuel their brethren, and drawing the fire of American destroyer and planes.
Submarines were a game-changing weapon in World War I and remained a great strategic tool in World War II, allowing relatively few men to destroy enemy ships, drowning enemy personnel and destroying important ordnance. But they had a range problem.
The German U-461, a milk cow. It was sunk July 30, 1943, with another milk cow and an attack submarine.
The German standard in World War II was the Type VII C, which had “saddle tanks” that could hold enough fuel for a patrol of 6,500 miles, which might sound like a lot — but is actually fairly limited. U-Boats needed enough fuel to get from their pens, to the start of their patrol, through their route, and then back to the pen. Attacking ships near the U.S. east coast or the Caribbean required a 5,000-mile round trip, leaving just 1,500 miles’ worth of fuel for actually patrolling and attacking.
So, naval planners and engineers came up with a crafty solution: Turn some submarines, dubbed “milk cows,” into refuelers by strapping massive tanks to the outside, and have them refuel the other subs. The milk cows also carried medical personnel and necessary supplies.
This allowed the German submarines to move farther into the Atlantic, preying on convoys that would’ve otherwise thought they were safe. Better, it allowed the submarines to stay on patrol longer, meaning that German subs with the milk hookup were now limited only by mechanical issues. A single milk cow could tend to about 12 other subs.
The USS Cory, top right, attacks U-801, a German submarine that was attempting a linkup with the milk cow U-488, which the Cory was hunting. Cory never found U-488, which was later sunk by an aircraft from the USS Croatan in April, 1944, while attempting to link up with a boat that needed medical assistance.
Germany ordered 10 of them, and they became one of the most important assets in the Atlantic Ocean.
But the Americans and their allies understood how the milk cows tipped the balance, and they prioritized targeting them. The Allied Naval Headquarters in London ordered, “Get the Milk Cows at any cost!” a message that supposedly originated with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who later said that the U-boats were his only real fear.
Once the Allies captured the German enigma machine and built up their anti-submarine warfare fleets, open season was declared on milk cows, and the milk cows were uniquely vulnerable.
The milk cow U-459 sinks after suffering an attack from an English bomber.
(Photo: Royal Air Force, Public Domain)
While they could dive deeper than other ships thanks to a thicker hull, they were more bulbous and took longer to get underwater at all. And they were larger, making them easier to spot both with the naked eye and with sonar or radar. But most importantly, they relied on high-frequency radio waves to make contact with their supported subs and set up rendezvous. Since the Allies could read those transmissions, they could crash the parties and strike the cows.
The first was sank by good luck in August 1942 when a seaplane happened over the milk cow U-464 at sea on its maiden patrol. The seaplane, a Catalina, damaged it with depth charges and radioed its position to nearby ships. The commander scuttled the boat to prevent its capture.
Open season on milk cows started the following May. The boat U-463 was spotted on the surface by a British bomber, which managed to drop a number of depth charges directly onto the ship before it could register the danger and dive. It went down with all hands.
The following June, four milk cows were sank, two of them in one battle. Boats U-461 and U-462 were working together on a single German sub when all three were spotted by Allied bombers. The bombers radioed the position and began their attack. The submarines put up a stiff resistance, but ended up prey to the 5 bombers and multiple surface ships that arrived on scene. All three sank.
By October 1943, only three milk cows remained either in the fleet or under active construction. All three would sink before the war ended.
Modern U.S. subs have no need of milk cows and can actually spend an entire cruise undersea with no resupply.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)
The U.S. Navy in World War II relied on surface ships as submarine tenders, but even that role has been largely phased out as America focuses on nuclear-powered submarines that can stay at sea for months without assistance, generating their own power and cleansing their own water thanks to the nuclear reactor. They can even create their own oxygen to stay under longer.
Eventually, the ships do need fresh food, but that’s generally achieved when crews rotate out. There’s simply no need for modern milk cows.
New details have emerged in recent months about the exact plans for Operation Sealion, Nazi Germany’s scheme to invade England, overwhelm defenses south of London, and install the then-Duke of Windsor as the new, pro-German king of England.
German troops land equipment.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
While media tends to focus on the 1940 events highlighted by movies like Dunkirk and the 1944 happenings as showcased by Saving Private Ryan, there’s actually a lot of history in the years between. At the start of that period, in May 1940, Nazi Germany was clearly in the dominant position over Britain.
The encirclement of troops at Dunkirk had robbed the British army of much key equipment. The British army successfully evacuated most of its men and a lot of Free French forces out of Dunkirk, but was forced to leave nearly all of its artillery and vehicles behind, as well as thousands of tons of ammo, food, uniforms, weapons, etc.
And the British Navy was larger and more capable than the German one, but British admirals were reluctant to devote large warships to the English Channel, relying on destroyers and the occasional cruiser instead. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force was strong, but would rely on bombers to take out German landing ships. And Germany had a plan for that.
German troops test amphibious tanks for the planned invasion of Britain in Operation Sealion.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
See, Germany planned to do its amphibious invasion under the cover of darkness. The Royal Air Force’s best bombers relied on sights that only worked with plenty of light. At night, Britain’s best bombers would be next to useless.
So in 1940, despite Britain’s pseudo-alliance with the U.S. and its massive industrial base, Germany had the machinery and troops for an invasion, and Britain lacked the equipment to properly defend itself. And Germany had big plans.
First, the invasion flotilla would launch from bases on the French coast, most likely in September 1940. A diversionary attack would sail north and attack around Newcastle in England or Aberdeen in Scotland, drawing defenders north. Within a few days, the real invasion would come across the Strait of Dover.
Plan of battle of Operation Sealion, the cancelled German plan to invade England in 1940
Germany even knew what to do when it got there. German leaders believed that the then-Duke of Windsor, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (lots of names), held German sympathies. He was the former King Edward VIII as well, having served in the role from the start of 1936 to the end of 1936. He had abdicated out of love to avoid a constitutional crisis (long story). All Germany had to do was put him back on the throne, hopefully giving them a new ally.
An abandoned Soviet KV-2 tank left by the roadside is inspected by curious German soldiers.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
So Germany had the forces, the plan, and the follow-up, all staged and ready to go right as Britain was at its weakest. So why didn’t it happen? Why didn’t America have to join the war in Europe with no convenient staging place off of France? With Britain’s colonies split between opposition to Germany and loyalty to Edward VIII?
But, stupidly enough, part of it was some comments Hitler had made during the initial planning for Operation Sealion.
A landing craft from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.
(Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)
When the Kriegsmarine was briefing Hitler in the summer of 1940, the Fuhrer had emphasized the need for complete air superiority over the channel before an invasion was launched. As previously discussed, this was unnecessary, but Hitler had emphasized it during planning, and few leaders were willing to try to go to him with a plan that ignored it.
So, when the Royal Air Force surprisingly won the Battle of Britain, the invasion was delayed from September 1940 to early 1941, then back further as Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, got underway in June 1941. The Soviet Union successfully resisted the invasion in late 1941, and the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, drew America more firmly into the war.
In just over a year of fighting, Germany had gone from ascendant, with the machinery and manpower to potentially invade England, to the defensive, with too few troops to resist Soviet counterattacks. Allied counters in Africa, France, and D-Day sealed the deal.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
Military working dogs go through lives of intense national service, trained from near birth to mind human commands and either fight bad guys or hunt for dangerous substances and contraband. But they’re still living creatures, and they are allowed to retire and live out their days after their service is done.
And, since this is the military, there’s a ceremony involved. But when you do retirement ceremonies with healthy, eager dogs, it’s actually a pretty adorable experience.
In this video from Fort Benning, the 904th Military Working Dog Police Detachment held a ceremony to retire two of their working dogs. Max is a Belgian Malinois with 10 years of service and Grisha is a Malinois who had spent four years at Fort Benning. Both dogs received Army Commendation Medals and were slated to live out their days in the civilian world.
Military working dogs serve in a variety of roles. The most visible is likely the dogs trained to detect improvised explosive devices and similar threats like mines and suicide vehicles. These animals are employed across the world, especially at forward bases and combat outposts.
But the military also has dogs that detect drugs to aid law enforcement agencies on military installations, as well as cadaver dogs which are unfortunately required to help find bodies after disasters.
But the animals also serve on the front lines or in raids. Special operators like Navy SEALs now take dogs on some missions to help keep curious onlookers back or even to take direct action against enemy fighters, using their teeth to harm foes or just to pin people down so the SEALs can sort hostages and civilians from fighters in relative safety.
One of the newer ways for animals to serve is in emotional support roles, a job which hearkens back to some of the earliest animals in military units. Animal mascots have been common to military units for centuries, and troops have long looked to the mascots for companionship.
Galileo Galilei, one of the world’s most famous scientists, mathematicians and inventors, kept his favor with the Venetian court by inventing and peddling items for the Venetian military, especially his famous telescope.
See, there are two bits of information about Galileo’s invention of the telescope in 1609 that some history books leave out. To start, he wasn’t the first inventor of the telescope. A Dutch spectacle maker invented it before him, and Galileo may have even seen that telescope before he invented his.
Second, one of the first things that Galileo did with his telescope was to send it to the Doge of Venice, one of the republic’s senior leaders, with the recommendation that it be used by the country’s army and navy as an instrument of war.
While Galileo might or might not have invented the first telescope, he almost certainly invented the most powerful one of his day. It was capable of an approximately 8-9x magnification at a time when everyone else reached only 4x.
That meant that Venetian admirals using a Galileo spyglass could have reconnoitered enemy fleets and positions from 8 miles away, where they would be pinpricks to someone using a 4x telescope and invisible to anyone who didn’t have a spyglass.
Galileo outlined this potential advantage in his letter to the doge, but the doge didn’t immediately buy it for Venetian forces. Still, Galileo was rewarded for his work. His salary as a professor of mathematics at the University of Padua was doubled and he was granted the position of “professor for life.”
The inventor, of course, went on to find other uses for a good telescope. Galileo invented a 20x telescope that allowed him to identify the larger moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and other phenomena in the night sky.
The telescope wasn’t the only thing that Galileo ever created for the military. He also created an improved “gunner’s compass” that allowed artillerymen at the time to quickly calculate elevation, making them more lethal in siege warfare.
If you think that troops marched at each other with muskets and rifles in the Civil War because they were too dumb to maneuver, you’re dead wrong. Civil War formations were the pinnacle of strategy at the time, allowing commanders to bring maximum force to bear at a crucial moment as long as they could think far ahead of their enemy.
Infantry in the Civil War typically marched in lines or columns, quite similar to their forebears in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. This technique is sometimes ridiculed since it gives the enemy a long warning that attackers are headed for them. But these massed formations usually worked better for attackers than small groups, like those we use today.
Typically, unless there was particularly valuable terrain or cover nearby, troops that marched in small groups against an enemy were destroyed by the enemy’s concentrated fire.
So, instead, troops marched in large blocks that would be recognizable to George Washington or Andrew Jackson. But warfare and the necessary tactics had changed a lot in the decades between those men leading armies and the Civil War.
The biggest surprise for Washington or Jackson would come when an attacking force drew within 400 yards of their target. That was when defenders would raise their rifles and deliver their first volley at the attacking force, 300 yards further than was typical for earlier soldiers.
Remember the old saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”? That’s a bad adage for the Civil War thanks to the increase in rifled weapons.
Rifling dated back to before 1500, but rifled weapons feature a spiraling groove down the barrel that increases accuracy but greatly increased load time. Most commanders and procurement officers went with cheaper, smoothbore muskets that could be fired much more quickly.
But improvements in manufacturing and metallurgy had made it much easier and cheaper to produce quality rifles and, probably even more important, French inventor Claude-Étienne Minié figured out how to create quality ammunition for rifled weapons that could be quickly loaded.
The Minié ball was slightly smaller than the barrel it would be loaded into, allowing it to easily slide down the barrel without getting caught on the grooves. But it had a small opening in its base, not unlike the small opening on the bottoms of most cans and bottles you see today. When the weapon was fired, the hot gasses would push into that little cavity and expand the bottom of the round, making it grip the grooves and spin as it left the barrel.
So, suddenly, infantrymen could fire rifled weapons just as fast as smoothbores while still enjoying the massive improvements in accuracy and range. For troops in defensive positions, this meant that they could launch multiple volleys while attackers were marching up. If there were walls, fences, or ditches in the way, like during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, each obstacle gave a chance for defenders to launch an additional volley.
The only way an attacker could survive these volleys is if they arrived with a large enough force to absorb multiple volleys until they closed the gap, then attacked with the survivors of the charge. When possible, there was a way for attackers to turn the power balance back in their favor: flanking.
Formations in combat were typically quite wide and could not change their overall direction of fire quickly or easily. If a formation was able to hit its enemy from the side, the flanking force could bring all of its guns to bear while the soldiers who had been flanked could respond with just a few shooters on the edge of the formation.
The best way out of this was a well-organized retreat or, rarely, an advance past the flanking force. Attempting to stand and fight was nearly always a recipe for disaster.
But of course, with skilled infantrymen firing about 2-4 shots per minute, it was still quite common for competing forces to fire their weapons while in short ranges and then have to defend or attack with no time to load another round. Then, it was time for rifle and bayonet combatives.
The butt of the rifle was a great club, and the bayonet at the front was a slashing and stabbing weapon. If attackers and defenders closed into bayonet range, men would swarm one another and attempt to fight in small teams that would slash their way through enemies.
But there was one technology, deployed in limited numbers during the Civil War, that changed all of this. Repeating rifles could fire anywhere from six to 15 rounds without reloading, allowing them to hit rates of fire of 15 or more per minute. Like rifled muskets, they were typically accurate to 400 yards or more.
When employed, this allowed the men with repeating rifles to inflict severe losses on their enemy even when outnumbered. In some cases, a force with repeating rifles could even ward off a flanking attack since each rifleman at the edge of the formation could fire as fast as 10 musket-wielders.
A pinnacle of wartime technology, the HMS Trident was supposed to patrol the Atlantic, doing submarine things. Maybe sink a ship or two, enforce the blockade, and smuggle a reindeer from Russia to England. If that last part sounds more like the plot of a Nickelodeon cartoon than a World War II mission, then you clearly don’t understand diplomacy.
Our stage is World War II, 1941. America is the Arsenal of Democracy but is not yet formally part of the war. Russia and England are the bookends to a powerful and super-evil Nazi Germany, and Germany is busily invading the latter while trying to contain the former.
Britain and Russia were not natural allies. Britain had interceded in the Russian Civil War in 1918 on the losing side, and many veterans of that war were still kicking in 1941. Some were resentful. Some, certainly, would’ve cheered if Germany had invaded the British Isles in 1940 and conquered it.
But Hitler made strange bedfellows. And so a Russian bear cuddled up to the British crown, and much canoodling was had by all. But young romances rely on careful gestures, and one side cannot spurn the gift of another. Which brings us to the strange events of the HMS Trident in 1941.
Again: This was the international diplomacy equivalent of a new high school romance. If the cute girl passes you a photo of her, even if it also shows her disapproving grandpa and some unsightly dental headgear, you give the photo a kiss, smile at the girl, and then tuck the photo into the door of your locker.
And so the British set sail for another six weeks of wartime patrol. Pollyanna often slept in the captain’s cabin next to his bunk. And, according to the BBC, she would trot to the control room and wait for the hatch to open when fresh air was allowed in. The moss eventually ran out, and the crew fed Pollyanna scraps from their meals.
When the sub returned to England, it took a bit of work to get Pollyanna back out. The moss and the table scraps had taken their toll, and the young reindeer was too large to make it back out of the torpedo tube. Instead, she was winched out through the top.
Polly went to the zoo and was reportedly happy, though she did have a few quirks from her submarine service. George Malcolmson, a Royal Navy Submarine Museum Archivist, said, “It was rumoured that she never forgot her submarine career, for whenever she heard bells or a sound like a submarine tannoy, she would lower her head as though preparing for diving stations.”
Pollyanna died at the zoo five years later, the same week that the HMS Trident was sent to the breakers yard to be reduced for scrap.