This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

The Vatican Swiss Guard is primarily regarded as a tourist attraction, but they are actually descended from a famous military tradition and their duties are anything but just ceremonial.

Composed of a company of former Swiss military, the Swiss Guard are responsible for the protection of the Pope and perform many ceremonial functions as well. Though best known for their colorful uniforms and halberds, plainclothes Guardsmen also serve as bodyguards for the Pope and security for the Vatican.


Entrance requirements for the Guard is strict. Potential Guardsmen must be Catholic males, of Swiss nationality, and have completed Swiss military training. Their service records have to be spotless, and they must be at least 5′ 9″ tall and be between 19 and 30 years of age. Though the Guard has considered opening up positions for women, for now it’s exclusively male.

The Guard’s history stretches back to the Middle Ages. Swiss mercenaries, or Reislaufer, were among the most feared fighting forces of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Switzerland was an overpopulated and poor country, and its independent cantons would contract out its militia to other countries as a means of support.

Gaining their reputation with spectacular victories over their Austrian Habsburg overlords in the 13th century, the Swiss were famed for their skill in using pikes and halberds in deep column attacks. Their general refusal to take prisoners only added to their ferocious repute, and they became the most prized mercenaries in Europe.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Kneeling salute in Clementine Hall, 1937 (Public Domain)

Noted for their loyalty, Swiss mercenaries served as the bodyguard contingent for many European monarchs such as the French throne. During the storming of the Louis XVI’s palace during the French Revolution, his Swiss Guard refused to surrender despite being hopelessly outnumbered and running low on ammunition. It took a note from the king himself for them to lay down their arms, and their spirited defense so enraged the revolutionaries hundreds of them were summarily executed.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Swiss Guards defending Louis XVI’s palace during the French Revolution.

Swiss mercenaries had been serving the Papal States for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1506 that a permanent Guard of 150 men under the direct control of the Pope was formed, at the suggestion of the Swiss bishop Matthaus Schiner. When mutinous unpaid troops from the Holy Roman Empire sacked Rome in 1527, the Swiss Guard proved their bravery by losing most of their number defending Pope Clement VII. Out of 189 men, only 42 survived, but they bought time for the Pope to escape through a secret tunnel ahead of marauding enemy soldiers hoping to hold him for ransom.

When German forces occupied Rome during World War II, the Guard took up defensive positions and prepared to fight to the death, but Adolf Hitler chose not to attack the Vatican.

The Guard gradually morphed into a mostly ceremonial unit during the later 20th century, but this changed with the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. Mehmet Agca, a Turkish national believed to have been backed by the KGB, shot the Pope four times as he entered St. Peters Square, nearly killing him. The Guard has since refocused as personal protection, with the pope’s security detail beefed up and armed with light automatic weapons.

In 2006, the Guard celebrated its 500th anniversary by marching a contingent of former Guardsmen from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland to Rome, in emulation of the first Guards journey in 1505-06. Since Switzerland banned mercenaries in 1874 with the sole exception of the Vatican, this unit is the last remaining example of a storied line of soldiers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the deadliest insurgent sniper in Iraq

The name struck fear in the hearts of U.S. and coalition troops during the war in Iraq. A sharpshooter who could unleash his deadly round in an instant and melt away unscathed.


He was almost like a ghost — a hyper accurate sniper that built a legend around his stealth and lethality. Videos peppered YouTube and LiveLeak that reportedly chronicled his exploits, adding to the growing legend.

In fact, “Juba,” as he was known, became a media sensation in his own right, his lethal skills were condensed into the character “Mustafa” that fought a sniper duel with Chris Kyle in the popular “American Sniper” film. And he’s the central villain in the sniper thriller movie “The Wall.”

Insurgent propaganda credited Juba with 37 kills and he became well known among American troops in Iraq during the height of the insurgency in 2005 and 2007.

“He’s good. Every time we dismount I’m sure everyone has got him in the back of their minds,” Spc. Travis Burress, an sniper based in Camp Rustamiyah, told The Guardian newspaper in 2005. “He’s a serious threat to us.”

Videos purported to show several of Juba’s kills are a vivid reminder of why he was so feared by American troops. With pinpoint accuracy, the insurgent sharpshooter was able to target the gaps where heavily-armored U.S. service members remained vulnerable, dropping coalition forces with heartbreaking deftness.

And when he killed, he proved difficult to track.

“We have different techniques to try to lure him out, but he is very well trained and very patient,” a U.S. officer told The Guardian. “He doesn’t fire a second shot.”

Insurgent videos taunted U.S. troops — and even President Bush —that Juba was everywhere. (YouTube screen shot)

To hunt Juba, the U.S. dispatched the notorious Task Force Raptor, an elite unit of Iraqi special operators akin to Baghdad’s version of Delta Force. The Raptors harried Juba on his home turf of Ramadi, chasing him around the insurgent hotbed until the trail went cold. Most analysts at the time argued that Juba had fled Ramadi for another battlefield.

Though Juba became a well-known name among American troops on patrol in Iraq, there are some who argue the insurgent marksman was a myth — a composite of several enemy snipers that was built into a legend by the insurgency to frighten coalition troops. At Juba’s height, about 300 American troops had been killed by gunshots in Iraq, and one video of Juba’s exploits claimed he’d killed more than 140 soldiers and Marines.

“Speculation is [that] there was more than one Juba,” said former Special Forces and Iraq war vet Woody Baird. “My estimation is the bad guys were running a psychological operation attempting to terrorize the conventional forces by promoting a super sniper.”

It’s unclear what happened to Juba, though most agree that he was killed in action — either by American or Iraqi sharpshooters or even ISIS terrorists.

But some believe Juba is a made up insurgent meant to strike fear in U.S. troops at checkpoints and in vehicle hatches.

“Juba the Sniper? He’s a product of the U.S. military,” Capt. Brendan Hobbs told Stars and Stripes in 2007. “We’ve built up this myth ourselves.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the ways Beetle Bailey spoke for every troop

Mort Walker, famed comic strip writer and former Army First Lieutenant, passed away on Jan. 27, 2018. His most famous work, Beetle Bailey, changed the way comics are enjoyed daily in 1950 and it continues to touch lives today. It fostered acceptance of the comic strip as an artistic medium by an older crowd and showed American military service in a new light.


The comic drew its humor from the realities of service, spotlighting both the good and the bad, and gave audiences around the world a more relatable soldier than any other in pop culture. Walker served on the Italian front of WWII and knew exactly how privates, sergeants, and officers all acted: kind of funny, sometimes.

Here’s how the comic strip spoke for all of us.

Privates will be lazy

The longest-running gag in the series is Pvt. Beetle Bailey trying to skip out of work. Given the opportunity, he’ll sleep. If he has to work, he’ll need a kick in the ass to get going — sometimes literally.

This is not unlike a large portion of the lower enlisted in the real-world military. As much as every NCO and officer would love to pretend like their troops are the pinnacle of perfection, they’re much more like Pvt. Bailey than they are Captain America. In a way, that humanizes the military. Civilians can relate to the “work” ethic of Bailey and, in turn, some of our troops.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
The lower enlisted will master every rule and regulation just to find the one loophole they need. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

NCOs still have a good heart

Sgt. 1st Class Snorkel is a mix between an alcoholic, an asshole, and, in his own, unique way, Beetle Bailey’s friend. He’s got anger issues, but they’re never unjustified. He has to constantly burst Bailey’s bubble, but only because he’s got a job to do.

Non-commissioned officers in the real military are much the same way. Underneath their rank and loud voice, they’re still human. Caring humans who still have a job to do.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
For reference on how dedicated Mort Walker was at his craft, this comic was released a day before his passing. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

Officers’ ideas aren’t always the best

Brig. Gen. Halftrack is a goofy and inept General who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. The gears will already be turning properly when he comes in and throws everything off kilter.

There’s a misconception among civilians and even in the military itself (especially from the officers) that their generals are near-mythical geniuses. Turns out, they’re just as flawed as everyone else. In the military, we call this the “Good Idea Fairy.”

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Rest in peace, 1st Lt. Mort Walker. The military and veteran community lost one of its funniest voices. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “White Feather Sniper,” Carlos Hathcock

At a young age, Carlos Norman Hathcock II would go into the woods with his dog and the Mauser his father brought back from World War II to pretend to be a soldier. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood, and on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted.

In 1966, Hathcock started his deployment in South Vietnam. He initially served as a military policeman and later, owing to his reputation as a skilled marksman, served as a sniper.


This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

The Hathcock brothers and a friend, shooting as children.

USMC Photo

During the Vietnam War, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong personnel. However, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper’s spotter. Hathcock estimated that he actually killed between 300 and 400 enemy soldiers.

In one instance, Hathcock saw a glint reflecting off an enemy sniper’s scope. He fired at it, sending a round through the enemy’s own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.

Hathcock’s notoriety grew among the Viet Cong and NVA, who reportedly referred to him Du kích Lông Trắng (“White Feather Sniper”) because of the white feather he kept tucked in a band on his bush hat. The enemy placed a bounty on his head. After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers tried to hunt him down, many Marines donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. Hathcock successfully fought off numerous enemy snipers during the remainder of his deployment.

Hathcock did once remove the white feather from his bush hat during a volunteer mission. The mission was so risky he was not informed of its details until he accepted it. Transported to a field by helicopter, Hathcock crawled over 1,500 yards in a span of four days and three nights, without sleep, to assassinate an NVA general. At times, Hathcock was only a few feet away from patrolling enemy soldiers. He was also nearly bitten by a snake. Once in position, Hathcock waited for the general to exit his encampment before shooting. After completing this mission, Hathcock came back to the United States in 1967. However, missing the service, he returned to Vietnam in 1969, taking command of a sniper platoon.

On September 16, 1969, an AMTRAC Hathcock was riding on struck an anti-tank mine. He pulled seven Marines from the vehicle, suffering severe burns in the process. Hathcock received the Purple Heart while he was recuperating. Nearly 30 years later, he received a Silver Star for this action.

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. However, he was in near constant pain due to his injuries, and in 1975, his health began to deteriorate. After diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he medically discharged in 1979. Feeling forced out of the Marines, Hathcock fell into a state of depression. But with the help of his wife, and his newfound hobby of shark fishing, Hathcock eventually overcame his depression. Despite being retired from the military, Hathcock continued providing sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.

Hathcock passed away Feb. 22, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

We honor his service.

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

Articles

A future Kentucky governor attempted biological warfare in the Civil War

Dr. Luke Blackburn was a respected medical doctor and philanthropist until he allegedly attempted to create a yellow fever outbreak targeting Northern civilians and soldiers during the Civil War. Despite widespread outrage at the time, he later won a landslide victory to become the governor of Kentucky.


This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Governor of Kentucky Luke Blackburn is best remembered for having fought many outbreaks of yellow fever and other diseases. (Photo: Kentucky Historical Society)

Blackburn was a native Kentuckian who began working as a physician after receiving his medical degree from Transylvania University. Early in his career, he implemented a quarantine to shut down a cholera epidemic and he later led another that successfully stopped an outbreak of yellow fever in the Mississippi River Valley. He gave an encore performance against another outbreak in 1854.

But when the tide of the Civil War started going against the South, he found that his loyalty to the Southern cause was greater than his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.

The vaunted doctor allegedly traveled to Bermuda in 1864 when an epidemic of yellow fever broke out. During this time in the Civil War, the disease was known for striking down cities, killing thousands.

Blackburn helped treat the sick in Bermuda, but he also stole the clothing and bedding of those who died of either yellow fever or smallpox. He then sent trunks of these items to auction places in the North where they were sold and distributed among civilians.

Godfrey Hyams, an Englishman who met Blackburn in Canada, was one of the men paid to smuggle the tainted clothing and bedding into the North. He was promised $100,000 for his services, almost $1.5 million in current dollars.

Hyams was able to sell five trunks of clothing through auctioneers, but only one Union soldier death was attributed to the men and that one was circumstantial. The soldier had died from smallpox after buying clothes at a consignment store that held Blackburn clothing.

The reason that no one died of yellow fever due to Blackburn’s actions is that the disease can not be transmitted via the clothing or bedding of its victims, though no one knew it at the time. Oddly enough, the Transylvania-trained doctor would have been more successful if he had recruited more bloodsuckers into his organization. Specifically, he needed female mosquitoes.

Yellow fever is a blood-borne virus spread by certain female mosquitoes. If Blackburn had succeeded in bringing a few victims North for mosquitoes to bite, he may have succeeded in his dark quest. But it wasn’t until 1901 that a team led by Maj. Walter Reed proved the connection between mosquitoes and yellow fever, so Blackburn didn’t know in 1864 and 1865 that his plan could never work.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
The female yellow fever mosquito spreads the disease by biting into humans. The left and center illustrations show the female. The one on the right is male. (Illustration: Public Domain by E. A. Goeldi in 1905)

But Blackburn was dedicated to his plan. He returned to Bermuda to fill three more trunks with infected clothing and bedding. He contracted a man there, Edward Swan, to send these trunks to the North the following Spring, but Swan was found out and tried.

Meanwhile, Hyams had still not been paid. Hyams finally got tired of waiting and went to the U.S. counsel’s office in Toronto to sell out his employer in early April 1865. A public trial filled the newspapers in Canada and throughout the U.S., but Blackburn was eventually acquitted on a technicality.

The trunks had been shipped to Nova Scotia before entering the U.S., and the court that was trying Blackburn did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. Meanwhile, the three other trunks from Bermuda were never on Canadian soil.

Blackburn, for his part, did not testify at his trial but said years later that the entire plot was too preposterous for gentlemen to even believe it existed. After his Canadian acquittal, he avoided the U.S. for a time to avoid prosecution, but he went south in 1868 to fight a yellow fever outbreak in Texas and Louisiana.

Prosecutors allowed him to work unmolested and Blackburn went on to fight yellow fever in Tennessee, Florida, and then back in his hometown of Kentucky over the following 10 years. His success fighting the outbreak in Kentucky caused his public image to drastically improve there.

In 1879, he won the gubernatorial election in Kentucky and became the governor. Much of his efforts in that position were aimed at easing prison crowding and bad conditions through pardons and the construction of a new prison. These measures proved unpopular and Blackburn failed to secure the Democratic nomination in 1883. He returned to private life and died in 1887.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Canadian invented an e-tool that doubled as a shield

There’s a long list of interesting technologies that almost made their way onto the front lines during the brutal days of World War I.


In trench warfare, as troops set into position to attempt a shot, they often became the enemy’s target. They needed some way to protect themselves.

To this end, Gen. Sir Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defense during the war, engineered a device that looked just like an infantryman’s shovel, but slightly modified — with a hole. This unique invention was intended to act as a shield for allied forces and was dubbed the “MacAdam shovel,” named after Hughes’ secretary, Ena MacAdam, who sparked the idea. The E-tool was made of durable metal and was standard-issue, making this shield a potential lifesaver across the service.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
A sniper demonstrates using the MacAdam shovel.

In 1914, thousands of MacAdam shovels were produced for the Canadian army. However, the invention came with a few drawbacks.

First, the new shovels were made using a new, bullet-deflecting steel, making it much heavier than previous E-tools. Additionally, it didn’t have a carrying handle — as it was supposed to stick in the ground — making it more cumbersome for troops.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
A drawing of MacAdam shovel from Hughes’ patent design request.

Secondly, the shield shovel was mass produced to deflect incoming enemy rounds — but failed to do just that. Small caliber rounds managed to drill right through.

Lastly, and most obviously, the E-tool was used for digging, which is hard to do with a hole in your shovel. After testing the shield, many military minds refused to accept the shovel as a multi-use tool.

Hughes and MacAdams’ brainchild was, ultimately, scrapped. Bummer.

Check out Simple History‘s video below for more details on this odd shield that couldn’t protect much.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why old armies used to fight in lines

I just discovered The Armchair Historian, a rather endearing YouTuber who created an animated history lesson about why armies used to stand in lines and kill each other. It seems counterintuitive now that we have weapons designed to kill large quantities of people and traditional wars between nations have given way to asymmetrical conflicts.

According to our friendly historian here, there were three main reasons armies used this battlefield formation up until the 20th century:


www.youtube.com

Griffin Johnsen (The Armchair Historian himself) narrates the video and summarizes the effectiveness of line formations succinctly. They were influenced by cavalry, order and communication, and the tactics of the enemy. As warfare technology advanced, so, too, did battlefield tactics. One example Johnson gives is how horses influenced warfighting.

Cavalry was effective against infantry, so the line formation was adopted to defend against cavalry. Once munitions became more accurate and lethal, cavalry became less effective… and the evolution continued.

Line formation warfare was developed during antiquity and used most notably in the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of the Bastards Battle of Cannae. It was seen as late as the First World War before giving way to trench warfare and specialized units with increased firepower and weaponry.

“Despite the prolific casualties suffered by units in close order formations during the start of the First World War, it should still be understood how effective line formations were in their heyday,” narrates Johnsen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToOIvD5mlow

www.youtube.com

But seriously, can we talk about the Battle of the Bastards? Geek Sundry broke down the tactics displayed (omitting the tactics not displayed — SERPENTINE, RICKON, SERPENTINE!!!) in what is arguably one of the most riveting Game of Thrones episodes created.

The Boltons’ tactic of using Romanesque scutums to surround the Stark forces was unnerving and would have delivered a crushing victory without the intervention of the Knights of the Vale.

The probable Bolton trap of allowing the appearance of an escape path (in this case…a mountain of bodies — talk about PSYOPS) effectively tempted their enemy to break formation.

Even commanding archers to volley their arrows into the fray of the battle was a gangster move; it killed Bolton’s own men, but for a man who believes in the ends justifying the means… it was a very lethal means to an end.

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Anyway, I got distracted there for a second. Check out Johnson’s video above to learn more about why armies fought in lines. Shout-out to his segue into sponsor promotion at 6:38. Enjoy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

When Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, the Marines were one of the first units to respond. By Feb. 23, 1991, I Marine Expeditionary Force was controlling two reinforced Marine Divisions poised to strike Iraqi forces in Kuwait.


Facing the Marines were two massive minefields and some ten Iraqi divisions.

In the lead up to the invasion, the Marines worked furiously to find gaps in the minefield that they could strike through. They also frequently clashed with Iraqi forces when conducting artillery raids and during the pre-emptive Battle of Khafji.

 

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Marines from Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion, drive their M-60A1 main battle tank over a sand berm on Hill 231 while rehearsing their role as part of Task Force Breach Alpha during Operation Desert Storm. (Dept. of Defense photo)

That battle convinced the Marines that maybe the task ahead was not as formidable as they might have assumed. The Marines realized the Iraqis lacked aggression and coordination, and if hit hard they would back down.

But before that could happen they still had to find a way through the minefields. The commanders of the two Marine divisions had their own ideas of how that would happen.

The 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, was divided into four task forces – Ripper, Papa Bear, Taro, and Grizzly. Two task forces would clear lanes through the minefields before allowing the other two to pass through to spearhead the attack.

The 2nd Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Keys, had a different plan. Keys ordered the Division to breach the minefields before storming across Kuwait to meet the Iraqis.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
An Iraqi T-55 main battle tank burns after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm. (Creative Commons photo)

Before the ground war even started, the Marines of Task Forces Taro and Grizzly were infiltrating into Kuwait and through the minefield in order to take up blocking positions when the invasions started.

Then, on Feb. 24, 1991 at 0430 local time, the invasion officially began. The 1st Marine Division’s two task forces, Ripper and Papa Bear, began their assaults through the gaps provided by Taro and Grizzly.

On their flank, the 2nd Marine Division, augmented by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s 1st Brigade, began breaching operations at the minefield. Mine-clearing line charges and plow-equipped tanks blasted a path through the mines.

As the Marines cleared the minefields, they prepared to engage Iraqi forces. However, instead of an immediate fight, they were confronted with waves of surrendering Iraqi soldiers.

Unable to handle the large numbers of POWs, and with objectives to meet, they simply pointed the Iraqis towards the rear and drove on.

On the first day, the Marines only encountered light resistance and captured all of their objectives.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The wells were set on fire by Iraqi forces before they were ousted from the region by coalition force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David McLeod)

However, the next day, Feb. 25, the Iraqis launched counterattacks in force against the Marine positions.

Using the burning Burqan oil fields as concealment, the Iraqis were able to infiltrate very close to the Marines before launching their attacks.

The sudden appearance of an Iraqi brigade to the Marine’s flank caused quite a stir. The 1st Tank Battalion of TF Papa Bear bore the brunt of the Iraqi advance. The Marine commander reported, “T-62s everywhere, scattering like cockroaches from the Burqan oil field.”

As the Marine’s M60 Patton tanks engaged the Iraqis, daring Marine aviators came in low under the smoke to blast Iraqi tanks with Hellfire missiles. In three and a half hours of hard fighting, the Marines drove off the Iraqis while destroying 75 armored vehicles.

On TF Papa Bear’s other flank, another Iraqi force was massing to attack the 1st Marine Division’s forward command post. A platoon of infantry and another of LAV-25s commanded by Cpt. Eddie Ray were all that guarded the CP.

When artillery rounds began raining down around the Marines Ray raced forward to assess the situation. What he found was a numerically superior Iraqi force of tanks and armored personnel carriers approaching their position.

Ray’s small force immediately began engaging the Iraqi’s as they made a move for the CP. Seeing the attack developing, Brig. Gen. Draude, the assistant division commander, quipped, “If I die today, my wife is going to kill me.”

Another officer quickly called for reinforcements from TF Ripper and I MEF headquarters. He was told everyone was in a fight and there was no available air support.

M1 Abrams during Desert Storm. (Photo: US Department of Defense)

 

He responded by simply holding the radio headset in the air for a few seconds before vehemently stating, “We are in a REAL fight at division forward!”

I MEF sent two Cobra gunships to support the beleaguered Marines. With the gunships on station, Ray made a bold move — he counterattacked. Despite overwhelming odds, Ray’s small force hammered the Iraqis and drove them from the vicinity, destroying 50 vehicles and capturing 250 prisoners.

Ray was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

In the 2nd Marine Division’s sector, the Iraqis were fighting just as tenaciously. B Company, 4th Tank Battalion — a reserve unit and the only Marines armed with the new M1 Abrams — awoke on the morning of Feb. 25 to see a massive Iraqi armored column moving in front of their position.

In what became known as the Reveille Engagement, the men of B Company, despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, maneuvered on line and engaged the Iraqis. In just 90 seconds, the Marine tankers wiped out the entire Iraqi force of 35 tanks and APCs.

After defeating the Iraqi counterattacks, the Marines continued their drive north the next day. They took the vital Al Jaber airfield and made it to the outskirts of Kuwait City and the international airport.

While the 2nd Marine Division cut off the Iraqi’s retreat, the 1st Marine Division attacked and secured the airport with support from two battleships firing from the gulf.

The 100-hour ground war cost the Marines five killed and 48 wounded. In that time they fought over 100 miles through occupied territory, crushed seven Iraqi divisions, destroyed over 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and took over 22,000 prisoners.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time engineers at China Lake MacGyvered a laser-guided missile

Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.

Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.


But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.

(US Navy photo)

The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.

The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.

(US Navy photo)

Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.

The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Japanese bombers attacked targets with rocket-propelled people

Kamikaze attacks — known as “special attacks” by Japan — were an infamous tactic designed to not only destroy American ships but also strike fear in the Allied navies.


But two months before the first kamikaze attacks were carried out at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Oct. 1944, a Japanese transport pilot pitched the idea of a kamikaze super weapon, the Oka “Cherry Blossom” Type 11 plane.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Photo: Wikipedia/Jarek Tuszynski

While the Oka was technically a plane, it was more like a pilot-guided missile. It was a 4,700-pound aircraft that contained 2,600 pounds of high explosives. That left only 2,100 pounds for the body, armor-piercing nose cone, and three rocket engines.

The Oka was carried by a mother plane — usually a Betty medium-bomber — to a launch point within 23 miles of its target. The Oka pilot would then squeeze into the craft and strap himself in while a crew member on the bomber would lock the cockpit closed.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Photo: Wikipedia

After it was released, the Oka glided most of the way to its target from high-altitude. Once the Oka got close to a naval ship, it would ignite the engines and race at its target.

Hitting the enemy ship at up to 576 mph, it punched right through most armor and detonated its 2,600-pound payload inside the ship.

While those 2,600 pounds of explosives gave the kamikaze a big boom when it hit its target, the small control surfaces and extreme speed made it very hard to aim.

The Oka’s commonly made it past enemy defenses and outran pursuing fighters, but they sometimes missed their target entirely.

Also, the bombers carrying the Oka were susceptible to attack. While carrying the massive weapon, the planes lost maneuverability, range, and speed. The first thing a Betty with an Oka was supposed to do if it came under attack was drop the Oka and attempt to evade the fighters.

This led to another problem for the Oka pilots. When the bomber crews felt a route was too dangerous, they’d often order the Oka pilot into the suicide plane early and launch it.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Photo: Wikipedia

The pilot would be left sitting in the cockpit, piloting his coffin into the ocean with no chance at destroying a target.

In the end, the more than 850 Oka 11s produced sank only one ship and damaged six others. Longer range variants were produced that could fly up to 81 miles. They would have been a serious threat to Navy ships during an invasion, but none ever saw combat.

Today, a number of Oka survive in museums. One Oka type 22, the longer range model, still exists and is housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.

Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?


This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

This information in important to the rest of the story.

(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)

Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.

The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?

(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)

That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.

But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.

On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.

(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)

You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.

One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.

Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.

Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.

Thirty-nine did not.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

It should come as little surprise that, for the third time in a row, historians agreed that Abraham Lincoln was the best US president.


For C-SPAN’s third Presidential Historians Survey, nearly 100 historians and biographers rated 43 US presidents on 10 qualities of presidential leadership: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of his times.

Scores in each category were then averaged, and the 10 categories were given equal weighting in determining the presidents’ total scores.

Notable top presidents include George Washington at No. 2, Thomas Jefferson at No. 7, and Barack Obama at No. 12.

While some historians weren’t shocked that Obama didn’t rank higher overall on the list — “That Obama came in at No. 12 his first time out is quite impressive,” Douglas Brinkley of Rice University said — others were surprised by his lower-than-expected leadership rankings, including No. 7 in moral authority and No. 8 in economic management.

“But, of course, historians prefer to view the past from a distance, and only time will reveal his legacy,” Edna Greene Medford of Howard University said.

Here are the top 20 presidents, according to historians surveyed by C-SPAN.

20. George H. W. Bush

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 8

19. John Adams

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 11

18. Andrew Jackson

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl.

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 7

Related: The 17 most bizarre jobs of American presidents

17. James Madison

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 9

16. William McKinley Jr.

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 10

15. Bill Clinton

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, No. 3

14. James K. Polk

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
(Portrait: George Peter Alexander Healy)

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership and administrative skills, both No. 9

13. James Monroe

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 7

More: These photos show what our veteran presidents looked like in uniform

12. Barack Obama

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Best leadership quality and rank: pursued equal justice for all, No. 3

11. Woodrow Wilson

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
(Library of Congress)

Best leadership quality and rank: vision, No. 7

10. Lyndon B. Johnson

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 1

9. Ronald Reagan

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 5

8. John F. Kennedy

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 6

7. Thomas Jefferson

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, vision, both No. 5

6. Harry S. Truman

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
(United States Library of Congress.)

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, pursued equal justice for all, both No. 4

Also read: This is how presidents-elect learn about covert operations before they’re sworn in

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 4

4. Theodore Roosevelt

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 2

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, international relations, both No. 1

2. George Washington

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, moral authority, performance within the context of his times, all No. 1

1. Abraham Lincoln

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
Photo taken by one of Lincoln’s law students around 1846.

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, administrative skills, vision, pursued equal justice for all, all No. 1

MIGHTY HISTORY

The M3 “Grease Gun” was designed to save money and kill Nazis

If this weapon was your sibling, it would be the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable little brother who helped you curb-stomp the neighborhood bullies. Nobody really loved the M3 submachine gun dubbed “the Grease Gun” by GIs. But nobody really hated it, either.


It was so cheaply made it looked like a mechanic’s tool rather than the product of advanced American industrial know-how.

“By the Korean War, the M3 and M3A1 were used in greater numbers than the Thompson,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and former director of the Fort Lewis Military Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.

It was supposed to serve as a replacement to the iconic and expensive Thompson submachine gun, but developed a reputation of its own that kept it in the U.S. military inventory from World War II all the way through Desert Storm.

“Although unattractive and cheaply made, it was a practical weapon,” said Archambault, a U.S. Army veteran who is also an artist and illustrator who specializes in military subjects. “The weapon did have close-range stopping power: A visitor to the Fort Lewis Museum once told me the story of shooting a Chinese soldier at close range and knocking him out of his boots like in a cartoon or a Three Stooges movie.”

During World War II, there was almost a desperate urgency to manufacture vast quantities of weapons as quickly and cheaply as possible – particularly submachine guns.

In the 21st century, we are used to weapons made from exotic materials and possessing high-technology features that maximize killing power. Back then, the materials used for these hastily produced SMGs looked like they were purchased on sale at the corner hardware store.

The British did it by producing the Sten Gun, a 9 x 19-mm submachine gun made of steel tubing and sheet metal that bears a similarity to a piece of plumbing. In fact, one of its nicknames was “the plumber’s nightmare.”

So did the Russians when they made the PPSh (pronounced “puh-puh-shaw” because of the sound of the Cyrillic letters in the weapon’s name), a 7.62 x 25-mm submachine gun that was often produced in auto shops by unskilled labor.

 

This military unit has been guarding the Pope without a break for over 500 years
U.S. Army soldiers train with M3 submachine guns. (U.S. Army photo.)

The United States was no different when it came to producing a quick-and-dirty alternative to the Thompson. The M3 is an ugly hunk of metal – words like “crafted” or “elegant” simply are not applied when discussing the looks or pedigree of the weapon.

Made of stamped metal parts like a General Motors car – not surprising when you remember it was produced by the same division that made metal automobile headlights – the M3 is not a submachine gun noted for its fine tolerances and sleek design.

It has no adjustable sights, no selector switch, no fine-grained wood furniture, and few milled-steel components. It was welded together, and the user could see the welds on the weapon’s exterior.

Even the butt stock is simply a bent, U-shaped length of heavy wire.

“The advantage was that the M3 was easy to manufacture and much cheaper to make than the Thompson submachine gun,” said Archambault, who said only the barrel, breech block and parts of the trigger mechanism were made of machined steel.  Yet, that simplicity allowed the manufacture and distribution of more than 600,000 M3s during World War II alone.

Besides, it saved the government money.  The iconic Thompson submachine gun – a sleek, well-made weapon highly prized by any GI who could get his hands on one – cost Uncle Sam about $225 each.

That is about $3,000 a weapon today when you adjust for inflation. A new Grease Gun cost the government about $20 each, or about $260 a weapon in today’s dollars.

It is a beast to carry. It weighs nearly 11 pounds when it has a full 30-round magazine inserted, and the extra magazines weighed several pounds each when loaded.

But it spewed .45-caliber ACP bullets at 450 rounds per minute, was simple to operate, compact because the butt-stock collapsed, and it was disposable.

Yes, disposable: Until 1944, soldiers and Marines who had M3s that had been damaged during battle simply threw them away and drew a new weapon from the armory because no one who made supply decisions thought it was worthwhile to manufacture spare parts for the gun.

No wonder it was also nicknamed “the poor man’s Tommy Gun.”

However, soldiers didn’t embrace it at first. The M3 had some initial problems with an awkward cocking handle, but in 1944 the cocking handle was eliminated and a flash hider added – the M3A1.  Once they discovered its stopping power and the weapon’s kinks were worked out, GIs and Marines developed a sort of grudging affection for the gun.

It was not only used during the Korean War but also by both U.S. and South Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.  U.S. helicopter pilots often carried one in their cramped cockpits because it was smaller than an M16 and offered more firepower than a pistol.

It even developed a kind of “bad boy” reputation because of its prominence in the popular film “The Dirty Dozen.” In one famous scene, Lee Marvin‘s character fires a Grease Gun at the criminals and misfits he is transforming into a fighting unit while they train on an obstacle course.  Throughout the movie, the M3 is carried by most of the cast members.

The reality is the M3 was probably the easiest and least expensive weapon for the movie’s armorers to obtain. Yet, the image stuck.

The last time the Grease Gun went to war as an official member of the U.S. inventory was 1991 during Desert Storm. Tank crews carried them as a backup weapon – nearly 50 years after it was first introduced to save money and kill Nazis.

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