That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

By the beginning of the 19th Century, it was already well established that indeed the Earth was round instead of flat. But the study of modern geology was still in its infancy and prompted many to established some hair brained ideas about how the Earth was actually made.


One of those came from Army Capt. John C. Symmes, Jr., who theorized that the center of the Earth was hollow and filled with productive farms that created cheap vegetables.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
“John Cleves Symmes, Jr and His Hollow Earth” by John J. Audubon, 1920

He believed this so fervently that he dedicated much of his life to organizing an expedition to look for an entrance for explorers to establish trade relations with the people who lived inside the planet.

Symmes began his military career in 1802 and served well during the War of 1812, rising in the infantry to the rank of captain. When the war ended, he left active duty to start a trading business on the American frontier. It was there that he began really expanding upon his theory of a hollow Earth.

His theory was simple. According to a 2004 paper by Duane A. Griffin from Bucknell Univeristy, Symmes believed that all planets formed in layers with gaps in between. Part of this theory went that Saturn’s rings were a collapsed layer of that planet which had partially broken away, leaving trails of dust.

The Appalachian mountains were supposedly the remnants of similar rings that used to orbit the Earth but which crashed to the planet’s surface over time.

According to Symmes’ theory, a large open hole near the planet’s poles allowed access to the inner layers of the planet. Strangely, he claimed that the circumference of these holes included areas which had already been explored, such as northern Canada.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Illustration from “Symmes’s Theory of Concentric Spheres: Demonstrating That the Earth is Hollow, Habitable Within, and Widely Open About the Poles, Compiled by Americus Symmes, from the Writings of his Father, Capt. John Cleves Symmes”

The public ridiculed Symmes at first, but his perseverance gradually won them over, and his theories developed a following.

In 1818, he solicited for 100 people to join him on an exploration of the Arctic to find the hole to the center of the Earth.

Symmes believed that the hole in the Arctic would reveal a warm interior. Venturing into the ice in the Autumn is a huge gamble. For some reason, Symmes was unable to find 100 people to roll the dice with him.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
(Circular: John C. Symmes, Jr.)

In the late 1820s, Symmes worked with Jeremiah N. Reynolds to lobby Congress and President John Adams for the Navy to fund the expedition. While Congress was firmly against the idea, Adams eventually approved it.

The president helped search for a way to make the expedition happen with limited support from Congress. But, Adams was politically unpopular and could not get the resources together before the 1828 election when he was bested by Andrew Jackson. Jackson shut down the expedition.

Sickness claimed Symmes in 1829, so he died before he could see his claims debunked.

One of the best places to learn more about Symmes and his effect on modern science and literature is in Griffin’s full essay on that topic published by Bucknell University. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.

Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available. 

In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.

Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes. 

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Torpedo tubes on a US destroyer

One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff. 

Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol. 

At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes. 

Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass. 

The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages. 

Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city. 

They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.

Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out this tracked, vintage 1950s six-shooter

When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.


The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,

(US Army)

The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.

This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.

(USMC)

The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.

Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KImM4zesVlo

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Japanese transports carrying POWs were called ‘Hell Ships’

In the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the forces of the Empire of Japan also struck a number of other strategic targets. But those weren’t surprise hit and run attacks. Japan’s army and navy invaded Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Borneo, British Hong Kong, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. 

That was just in 1941. The following year, Japan also invaded New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, India, the Solomon Islands, Timor, Christmas Island and the Andaman Islands. 

The defenders of these Pacific possessions had mixed success in holding off or repelling their attackers, but many fell to the surprise attacks. In all the Japanese took 140,000 Allied prisoners during the war. An estimated 36,000 were sent back to Japan but many would not survive the trip.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
The Lisbon Maru was being used to transport Allied POWs when it was attacked, killing over 800 British prisoners.

One of the biggest reasons for this were the transports they were packed into. These notorious transports were called “Hell Ships” by the prisoners aboard them – and for a good reason. 

Prisoners taken by the Japanese were beaten and starved, if not killed outright when captured. Those who did survive captivity were often pushed into forced labor, used in mines and factories all over Imperial Japan and its newly-acquired territories. 

When prisoners were taken at any one of the battles fought to “acquire” the new Japanese possessions, Allied forces expected treatment in line with the rules regarding POWs under the 1929 Geneva Convention, which forbade their use in wartime production and hostilities against their home countries. The agreement before 1949 was intended not to punish those prisoners for being taken captive, but only to prevent their further participation in the war. 

When captured by the Japanese, however, POWs were not treated humanely as the Geneva Convention prescribed. The Japanese saw surrender as a dishonorable act and treated their prisoners as if they were dishonored. 

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Death March starting point marker in Mariveles, Bataan. During the Bataan Death March, many Allied POWs were beaten and killed by Japanese captors. (Image by Ramon F Velasquez, Wikipedia)

As a result, an estimated 40% of American prisoners taken by Japan died in captivity. The Hell Ships that transported them to all regions of the empire are indicative of why. Like the Bataan Death March and the conditions of tropical prisons on land, prisoners on hell ships endured the harsh treatment of their overseers, a lack of food and water, and all the diseases found among large groups of forcibly incarcerated people.

Unlike the prison camps and the death march, the prisoners aboard hell ships also had to contend with little access to air and proper ventilation. They had to endure the extreme heat of being held in a cargo hold. Worst of all, the ships also carried war supplies and auxiliary troops so they couldn’t be flagged as a non-combatant ship. 

As a result, hell ships were frequently targeted by Allied air and naval forces, meaning they (and the prisoners of war aboard them) could be strafed, torpedoed, and sunk but aircraft, submarines and other Allied naval ships.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Attack on Oryoku Maru on December 15, 1944 by a Hellcat fighter from USS Hornet (CV-12).

These attacks happened much more than anyone would like to admit. An estimated 20,000 Allied prisoners went down aboard the hell ships, targeted by friendly forces. If they were attacked or sunk, their treatment in the situation was not guaranteed. If they survived the attacks, some were killed trying to escape the incoming water. If they were allowed to escape the sinking ship, there was no telling if the Japanese would try to rescue them.

When they did escape the sinking ship and were rescued by the Japanese, they found themselves right back to being captive, often in just the same horrifying conditions they’d just escaped. 

At least 14 hell ships were sunk by the Allies during the war, killing thousands of Allied POWs.  

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Meet the intelligence officer who urged Nimitz to kill Yamamoto

If you’ve seen the 1960 classic, The Gallant Hours, starring James Cagney as Admiral William F. Halsey, then you saw a very dramatized version of how the United States Navy got the information that would eventually lead to the demise of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. But Hollywood blockbusters have a way of twisting history for the sake of entertainment.


In the movie, Capt. Frank Enright, an intelligence officer, passes on the information to Halsey who then flies to Guadalcanal, where he gives the command to Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Lanphier would later bring justice to Isoroku Yamamoto in the skies over the island of Bougainville.

Historically, Halsey didn’t get the information about what would be Yamamoto’s last flight directly from the officer who recommended the mission. In fact, the officer who urged the mission to go ahead was in Pearl Harbor, right by the side of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. That officer was Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Edwin T. Layton, the intelligence officer who recommended that Yamamoto be taken out. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

In his memoirs, “And I Was There,” Layton related his service as a naval attache in Tokyo prior to the war. He was one of a number of officers fluent in Japanese — the most notable of the others being Joe Rochefort, best known as the officer who saved Midway. Layton had been assigned as the chief intelligence officer for the Pacific Fleet in 1940 and witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nimitz chose to retain Layton, who would be the one officer Nimitz kept by his side throughout the war.

By April of 1943, Rochefort had been sidelined from code-breaking by jealous Washington bureaucrats, but Layton was still at Pearl Harbor when the message with Yamamoto’s itinerary was decoded. Having met Yamamoto a number of times in Japan (he had even played cards with him), Layton had a knowledge of the Japanese commander. He told Nimitz,

“Aside from the Emperor, probably no man in Japan is so important to civilian morale. And if he’s shot down, it would demoralize the fighting Navy.”

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Painting depicting the moment that Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. shot down the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” carrying Isoroku Yamamoto (USAF photo)

 

The rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen P-38s were slated to carry out the mission of intercepting the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Two of the P-38s had to turn back. The rest tangled with Japanese forces, gunning for aircraft containing the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier landed the shot that ended Yamamoto.

After World War II, Layton served in the Navy until 1959, taking up his position as chief intelligence officer during the Korean War. He died in 1984, before his memoirs were published. Even though Layton played a crucial, yet unheralded role in America’s victory over Japan, no ship has been named in his honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The truth about why the US released ISIS’ leader in 2004

In President Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address, he mentioned that the U.S. military captured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but released him. This may have been a surprise to many watching.


“We have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi,” Trump said.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
President Trump delivers the State of the Union address to Congress, Jan. 30, 2016 (U.S. Army photo)

The U.S. did capture Baghdadi in February 2004, in the early days of the Iraq War. He was held at Camp Bucca, a prison facility in Garma, Iraq, along the country’s border with Kuwait.

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.

Baghdadi was captured in a house raid near Fallujah in 2004; he was described by U.S. officials as a “street thug” at the time.

Nine U.S. military review boards worked six days a week reviewing the detainees’ cases over the lifetime of the prison system, resulting in 20-45 percent of captured prisoners being released.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Sgt. Adonis Francisco, Alpha Company, 2-113th Infantry Battalion, patrols along a catwalk at the Camp Bucca Theater Internment Facility, the largest detention center in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo)

The man who would become the Islamic State’s caliph was held from February to December of 2004. But the U.S. didn’t simply release him, they transferred him to the Iraqi justice system.

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.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi around 2005.

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.

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This is how Harry Truman’s prize swords were stolen from his Presidential Library

Presidential libraries aren’t usually the prime targets for well-executed heists, but in the case of Harry Truman’s located in Independence, Missouri, some of his rare collectibles weren’t well secured.


On the early morning of March 24, 1978, Truman’s library had one security guard stationed at the north end and he noticed a questionable woman walking around across the street — keeping the guard’s concentration (a decoy).

Related: Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Less than 10-minutes after the guard noticed the mysterious lurking female, an additional car pulled up near the south gate of the library and the “break-in” commenced as the thieves broke through a pane of glass to gain entry.

As the alarm sounded, the singular guard dashed at full speed toward the disturbance, 100 yards away from his post to discover that the thieves had padlocked the door from the other side where the thief was about to take place.

As the guard shook the door and yelled at the burglars, he heard the sounds of glass shattering as it fell to the floor.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
A view of the broken glass in the lobby exhibit case where swords and daggers were stolen. (Source: Truman Library)

The thieves took the merchandise they appeared to be after and made their escape all within less than 45-seconds after the initial alert. The rare daggers and swords that were stolen were gold and jewel encrusted art from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
The items were the museum’s most valued items. (Source: History Channel/ Screenshot)

At the time of the robbery, the net worth of the stolen items was valued at 1 million dollars.

According to the Examiner, this case is still under investigation.

Check out the History Channel‘s video reporting on the classic capper.

(History Channel, YouTube)

Also Read: This was the RAF’s insane plan to steal a Nazi plane

MIGHTY HISTORY

German POWs hit the gridiron for the Barbwire Bowl Classic

Throughout the course of World War II German prisoners of war were commonly sent to the U.S. mainland, to be incarcerated in POW camps. This incarceration did not immediately end upon the conclusion of the war, and during this period enemy POWs underwent time in reeducation camps as they awaited repatriation to Germany. In January of 1946, 44 German POWs would get the opportunity to participate in a uniquely American autumn tradition, competition on the gridiron.


POW camps were a mainstay throughout the U.S. mainland in WWII. Upon conclusion of the war, prisoners were not immediately repatriated to Germany; rather many remaining incarcerated until they could be sent home. Many of these camps were located throughout the South and Midwestern states, but California had a handful of these camps as well.

One, located in Stockton, California would host an event that would become known as the Barbwire Bowl Classic, in which 44 German prisoners of war volunteered to participate in a game that would have thousands of spectators and gain national attention.

The commanding officer of the Stockton Ordnance Depot Colonel Kenneth Barager proposed a football game between POWs located at the stockade and POWs located at a smaller camp known as the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, commanded by John M. Kiernan Jr. Barager hoped that this experience would spread football to Europe upon the POWs returning home. So, after posting an announcement asking for volunteers, those men that showed up were shown an instructional film and demonstration about American football, issued equipment provided by local area football teams, and began their preparation for the big game.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

Kiernan’s Krushers

(http://warfarehistorynetwork.com)

The teams were coached by two former collegiate players. Sgt. Ed Tipton, a former player for the University of Texas would lead one squad, initially naming them Stockton Tech, but later changing their name to the Barager Bears. The other side was led by Sgt. Johnny Polczynski who played his college days at Marquette. Polczynski would call his team the Fairground Aggies, later changing their name to Kiernan’s Krushers.

The game was played on January 13, 1946 in front of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 fans. Both teams struggled in the contest as they didn’t completely understand the rules. The teams had trouble throwing the ball, so they primarily stuck to the wing formation and T-formation, in an attempt to establish a rushing attack. A couple of fights apparently broke out, and the culprits were sent to the locker rooms for the remainder of the game.

In the 3rd quarter the Krushers QB Hubert Lüngen scored the games first points on a sneak play. The extra point was no good. The game would come down to the wire in the 4th quarter, with the Bears mounting some offense, driving all the way down to the ten-yard line before being stopped on 4th down. The final score was 6-0 in favor of Kiernan’s Krushers.

After the game the teams changed back into their military uniforms and were treated to a banquet at the Officer’s Club, and were sent back to their POW camps with plenty of leftovers. The teams decided to hold a rematch 4 weeks later, but this time Barager’s Bears would win 30-0.

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Celebrate freedom with a real Revolutionary War cocktail

One of the reasons Prohibition failed in America is probably because America was founded on and was fueled by booze from the get-go. The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The U.S. Marine Corps was founded in a bar. There just isn’t a lot Americans won’t do to keep the party going a little longer. The best example of this is the legendary Revolutionary War leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.


That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
That face when you decide to take a British fort just because you can.

 

Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were the first to deliver a crushing defeat to the British during the American Revolution. They captured the guns at Fort Ticonderoga, along with two other forts in the area. Ticonderoga was the key to Lake Champlain, which denied the British entry from that point and became the staging area for patriot incursions into Canada. More importantly, the cannons seized at the fort were moved to Boston, where the British occupied much of the city since April 1775. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the redcoats at places like the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Army needed the help.

In November 1775, Ethan Allen and his Vermonters moved the forts supplies and guns overland to Boston, where General George Washington and his artillery commander Henry Knox used them to force the British to withdraw from Boston after holding it for almost a full year.

 

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth
This is the fort they were looking for (Wikimedia Commons)

What prompts a gaggle of armed good-ol’ boys from Vermont to take on a heavily armed and fortified position of professional soldiers in the world’s largest, best-equipped, and seasoned army of veterans? Alcohol, of course. The night before Allen and the boys seized the fort, they all met at Remington’s Tavern in Castleton, Vermont. There, they sat down with Benedict Arnold who was sent by the Continental Congress to capture the fort and its guns. The Green Mountain Boys were there because they were going to take the fort anyway, sanctioned or not – so Arnold and his regulars might as well join in.

The liquid courage being poured at the tavern was what was common for the area during that time period: hard cider. Colonists planted apples in the new world primarily for the purpose of drinking it. The crop thrived here and kept people healthy, as it was often safer than the drinking water. In fact, cider was pretty much used as currency. But back then, drinking men needed more of a kick, so they added shots of rum to their cider, two shots of it to every pint of cider. They called the drink a “stone fence” because it felt like you were running down a hill into one.

For America…

 

After the ragtag group downed enough bravery, the two commanders led the crossing of Lake Champlain in the early morning hours, with 83 of the Green Mountain Boys. But dawn was coming fast, and Allen and Arnold worried that if they waited for the whole force, they might lose the element of surprise. So with just 83 Vermonters, they stormed Fort Ticonderoga, catching the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the guns for use elsewhere in the Revolution.

If they hadn’t captured them, the rebellion might have died in its cradle by diminishing hopes and expectations for the Continental Army’s chances. So down a few of these spiked ciders for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who might have just saved the future U.S., fueled by liquid courage.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

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“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that nearly killed Chuck Yeager

Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.


Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).

(US Army)

The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.

To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.

Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.

Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgToX-Fy42U

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the most successful fighter pilots in history are all Nazis

When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).

How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?


That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.

The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.

A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

And they did.

(U.S. Army)

In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.

Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.

That time an Army officer tried to reach the center of the Earth

It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.

In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.

1. Trial by combat

Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat 

2. Trial by the cross

Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.

3. Trial by fire

If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.

4. Trial by hot water

Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.

5. Trial by cold water

It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.

6. Trial by… cheese?

One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.

Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.

The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.

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