This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam's retreating troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops

“Big Wind” is a 92,600-pound beast made from a tank chassis and two turbojet engines that are powerful enough to blow out oil fires like candles on a birthday cake.


While it looks ridiculous and would be nearly useless in a tank fight, this modified military hardware fought some of the largest fires set by Saddam Hussein‘s withdrawing army in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

When oil wells are on fire, the pressure under the earth’s crust keeps the oil rushing to the surface until the well is capped. Crews can’t cap the well until the fire is put out.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
We’re talking about some big fires too. Photo: US Navy Lt. Steve Gozzo

“Big Wind” does this by interrupting the flow of oil into the air. A small crew moves the tank into position at 3 mph. The larger the fire, the closer the tank has to get. The largest fires burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and require the tank to pull within 30 feet.

Once there, the crew begins pumping water into the exhaust of the idling jet engines before ramping up the jet power. The result is a thick, fast-moving steam that cuts through the oil and smothers the fire. The fire, robbed of oxygen and separated from its fuel, quickly goes out. The “Big Wind” stays in position for another 20 minutes, spraying steam on the hot oil to cool it down.

Then, oil workers begin the dangerous job of capping the well.

See “Big Wind” in action in this video:

Articles

This is why the ‘Bouncing Betty’ was absolutely devastating

Developed by German Engineers during the 1930s as a defensive strategy of the Third Reich, the self-contained anti-personnel mine was originally named Schrapnellmine or S-Mine. Considered one of the deadliest tools on the battlefield, the French first encounter this version of bouncing mines in 1939 as it devastated their forces.


Dubbed the “Bouncing Betty” by American infantrymen, these mines were buried just underground, only exposing three prongs on the top which were usually camouflaged by the nearby grass vegetation.

Related: ISIS is digging up Nazi land mines in Egypt to use for IEDs

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops

Once these prongs were disturbed by a foot or vehicle, the mine would shoot itself upward to around 3 feet or at its victim’s waist level using its black powder propellant. The fuse was designed with a half a second delay to allow its aerial travel.

As it detonated, ball bearings contained inside flew out rapidly and acted as the casualty producing element. The S-mine was lethal at 66 feet, but the American training manuals stated that serious casualties could be taken up to 460 feet.

The landmine had great psychological effects on ground troops as it was known to inflict serious wounds rather than kill.

Although the Schrapnellmine was highly effective and constructed mostly out of metallic parts, detection was quite simple using metal detectors. However, at the time, such heavy and expensive gear wasn’t available to all infantry units as they fought their way through the front lines.

Also Read: The US Navy has minehunting ships that are terrible at finding mines

So allied forces had to probe the soil with their knives and bayonets to search for the dangerous mines. When they were discovered, a soldier could disarm the Bouncing Betty with a sewing needle inserted in place of the mine’s safety pin.

Production of the Bouncing Betty ended in 1945 after Germany had manufactured 2 million of the mines.

(Lightning War 1941, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The patriotic reason FDR’s White House was known for its terrible food

While Franklin Delano Roosevelt was personally known for his love of good food, good drink and an all-together indulgent lifestyle, his White House was definitely not. The rule around Washington was “when invited to dine at the White House, eat before you go.” 

This rule can be traced back to two simple reasons. The first reason was that Roosevelt was elected president amid the greatest economic disaster the United States had ever experienced. 

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the GI Bill of Rights at the White House, June 22, 1944. Courtesy photo

Scores of the American people were going through some very hard times. As rich a man as Roosevelt was in private life, in his public life, he and Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to show their solidarity with struggling Americans. 

The second reason was the official White House housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt. Mrs. Nesbitt had never worked professionally in the hospitality industry. She just knew how to keep a home for her family. She was a close friend of Mrs. Roosevelt, however, and her husband lost his job after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, so Eleanor Roosevelt hired her for the job. 

Mrs. Henrietta Nesbitt, White House housekeeper, Feb. 1939

Henrietta Nesbitt was not only not a housekeeper, she was also so bad in the kitchen, even Gordon Ramsey would walk out. White House meals served to the President included boiled kidney and green beans, a prune and flour pudding, and Kedgeree, a British stew of boiled fish, rice and eggs. 

All this for the guy tasked to fix the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and later, World War II. All while suffering from a paralytic illness. Still, he rarely complained about the food, according to all sources from the time. 

Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the progressive policies of the day, was happy to report to the press that two-course meals at the White House cost less than ten cents on any given day. Visitors to the White House saw it another way entirely. 

When Ernest Hemingway ate with the Roosevelts in 1937, he later remarked to his mother that it was the worst meal he’d ever had. 

“We had a rainwater soup followed by rubber squab, a nice wilted salad and a cake some admirer had sent in,” he wrote. “An enthusiastic but unskilled admirer.” 

The simplistic and inexpensive menu didn’t just get served to the Roosevelts’ American guests. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited their private home in New York’s Hyde Park for an official dinner in June 1939, Mrs. Nesbitt served the royals good old American hot dogs and beer

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
Eleanor Roosevelt (center), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London, October 23, 1942. Apparently, they were pleasantly surprised by an American hot dog dinner.

Also dining with the king and queen that evening was Hyde Park’s cooks, gardeners, and housekeeping staff. King George was unfazed, gleefully eating the dogs from silver trays. Rumor has it the queen didn’t know how to go about actually eating them. 

But even though she was serving the President of the United States, Henrietta Nesbitt had full control over what would be served for any meal at any given time. After being elected to an unprecedented fourth term in office, at the height of World War II, President Roosevelt’s health was in serious decline. He would die less than three months later, but asked that Chicken a la King be served at the inaugural lunch.

Mrs. Nesbitt swapped out the Chicken a la King for chicken salad. That’s real power.

Articles

This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.


But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.

How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
The Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war. Purple Heart day is dedicated to honoring service members, past and present, who have received the Purple Heart medal.

How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.

We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.

The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.

According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
(Photo: AP)

Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.

HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Centurion tank was tough enough to survive a nuclear blast

The British-made Centurion tank was first developed in 1945 but came much too late to be used in World War II. The British needed a larger, heavier version of the Comet. The Centurion also had sloped armor and a more powerful main turret.


 

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
The British Centurion in Korea. (Australia War Memorial photo)

 

The tank was also an effective deterrent in postwar Western Europe. NATO planners saw it as a perfect counter to the Russian T-34. The Centurion served in the Korean War, a dominant partner in the UN forces’ breakout from Pusan. The tank operated in the subzero temperatures and even on the tops of mountains. Australians in the Vietnam War also used it, as did India and Pakistan (their wars pitted Centurion tanks against other Centurion tanks), Sweden, South Africa, Jordan, and Israel. The British used the Centurion through the 1991 Gulf War.

 

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
Centurions of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Negev (photo by Fritz Cohen)

The Nuclear Test

Besides powering through the high mountains and subzero temperatures in North Korea and fighting through the dense, sweltering jungles of Vietnam, the biggest testament to the Centurion’s toughness came in Australia in 1953. An Australian Army Centurion Mark 3 was left at ground zero of a 9.1 kiloton nuclear detonation — engine running and loaded down with ammo, supplies, and a mannequin crew.

When test crews inspected the tank after the blast, they found the vehicle intact, if heavily sandblasted. The only reason the engine stopped was because the tank ran out of fuel. While the blast wave would have killed a real tank crew at that distance from the epicenter, the researchers realized they could have driven the tank off the test site.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
The actual post-blast Atomic Tank

The actual tank that withstood the nuclear blast, naturally nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was used by the Australians in the Vietnam War. It took an RPG and stayed in the fight during an engagement with the North Vietnamese.

Israel, Jordan, Libya, and South Africa still use variants of the Centurion today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

One day in 1765, a 5-year-old boy wearing fine clothes and speaking no English was found on the docks of City Point, Virginia. No one knew where he came from, where his parents were, or even how old he was at the time. All they knew was that he kept repeating the name “Pedro Francisco.” So that’s what they called him, eventually anglicizing the name to Peter.

His past didn’t matter to history, but his future did. When the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain more than a decade later, he would be part of it and become known to history as America’s first one-man army. 

The nickname of “Hercules” would come much later, when the boy grew into a man. When the average size of an American colonist was around 5’6”, Peter Francisco stood a whopping 6’6” and 230 pounds – large even by today’s standards. A blacksmith by trade, he was a member of the 10th Virginia Infantry when the American Revolution broke out and subsequently became a member of the Continental Army.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
A miniature portrait of American Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco. (Image courtesy of Virginia Historical Society, Public Domain)

His fighting ability would prove crucial to winning some of the most pivotal battles of the war, and perhaps the Revolution itself.

Francisco was just 17 when he enlisted, and saw action at the September 1777 Battle of Brandywine, where the Americans were attempting to halt the British advance on Philadelphia. Washington was a master of strategic withdrawal, and at Brandywine, it became crucial. The British outflanked the Americans. Washington needed time to escape.

Luckily for the famous general, Peter Francisco’s unit was fighting to hold the 12,500-man British assault. He and the rest of the Continentals were able to hold the line for a full 45 minutes, giving Washington’s army plenty of time to escape. Francisco was wounded in the leg, but he learned he had a real talent for killing Redcoats. 

By October, he was back in the fighting, once again keeping the British from advancing on Philadelphia. This time, he fought at Germantown, a battle that very nearly saw an American victory. His strength and prowess on the battlefield became the stuff of legend among his fellow soldiers. 

Along with the rest of the Continental Army, Peter Francisco wound up at Valley Forge. There, the army learned to fight from one of the best military minds of the day, Baron von Steuben. He taught the Americans not just how to march, but how to fight with the bayonet. 

This would serve Francisco and the Continentals well at the upcoming Battle of Stony Point, where a silent, night time assault on the fortress there began and ended with Francisco leading an advance force of 20 men to mercilessly hack the British and expel them from the area. But Peter Francisco was allegedly not using a bayonet.

According to a legend, which has never been confirmed by historians, Gen. Washington presented Francisco with a six-foot broadsword to honor his skill in battle. Some say this was the weapon he used to slash through the British at Stony Point. 

As the second man over the wall at Stony Point and being a man of his size, his legend grew among the soldiers of the American army. But his enlistment was up and he returned home to Virginia. Unfortunately for the British, they started attacking the Southern Colonies, which Peter Francisco took personally.

He rejoined the Continental Army, this time marching to Camden, South Carolina under Gen. Horatio Gates. The result of the battle was a humiliating defeat, but Francisco was able to salvage some of his commanding officer’s dignity. He impaled an British cavalryman with a bayonet and picked the man up off his horse. He then mounted it and put his colonel on it, saving the officer’s life. 

For such a massive man, he looks surprisingly unintimidating. That probably wouldn’t be the case if you were standing next to him and his massive broadsword. (YouTube)

Another, maybe mythical story has the big man picking up an American cannon from the field so it wouldn’t be captured by the British. Even if it didn’t really happen, it could have, and that’s all that matters. 

Francisco’s next interaction with the British Army came under Gen. Nathaniel Greene at Guilford Courthouse. This is another battle where Francisco is supposed to have received the broadsword from General Washington. Whether he had it or not, he and the Americans killed so many of Lord Cornwallis’ regulars that the British victory became a pyrrhic one. Cornwallis wrote that the Americans fought like demons there. 

The next time Peter Francisco encountered Lord Cornwallis’ men was when the British surrendered to the Americans and French at Yorktown in Virginia, effectively ending the war with an American victory. 

It was Gen. George Washington who did really say that, “Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man Army.”

Articles

This is why America bought nearly two dozen Fulcrums

When the former Soviet Union collapsed, many of the former Soviet republics had sizable stocks of military gear. Much of it ended up being sold at bargain prices around the world. One of the countries that had a large stockpile was Moldova.


According to the NationalInterest.org, the former Soviet republic didn’t have much population. They did have a number of MiG-29s, as well as helicopters, and there was a very big worry that Iran, with its bank accounts bloated with oil money, would seek to bolster its force of MiG-29s. This was bad, but some of Moldova’s MiG-29s had been equipped to deliver tactical nukes.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
A MiG-29. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

To prevent this, the United States opened its checkbook. According to a New York Times report in 1997, 21 of Moldova’s MiG-29s – including all of the MiG-29 Fulcrum Cs – were taken apart and shipped to the United States on board cargo planes. Yemen and Eritrea were left to pick over the remainder of the airframes.

After purchase, the MiG-29 were “exploited.” Now, that pervy-sounding term is also somewhat accurate. But really, a lot of what happened with the MiG-29 was a lot of test flights and mock dogfights. In other words, pretty much the standard practice when America gets its hands on enemy gear.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Bishop

Through that testing, it was discovered that the MiG-29 had its virtues: It was easy to fly. The plane also had the ability to help a pilot recover from vertigo. It had great technology to assist in landings. Not to mention the fact that the AA-11 Archer and its helmet-mounted sight made the Fulcrum a very deadly adversary in a dogfight.

That list item, though, would be countered when America deployed the AIM-9X Sidewinder, which had the capability to use a helmet-mounted sight as well. Furthermore, when America and NATO faced Fulcrums over the former Yugoslavia, the United States shot down four MiG-29s, and a Dutch pilot shot down one as well.

The video below discusses how America used the checkbook to get a bunch of MiGs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE5DWzWhguU
MIGHTY HISTORY

The first aerial bombing run was made by the Italian Army

In November 1911, Italy was engaged in a costly war against the Ottoman Empire in what is today Libya. It worked out for the Italians in the end, easily defeating the Ottoman Empire, who was by then a shadow of its former glory. The war brought a number of new technologies onto the battlefield, most notably the airplane. Italian pilots were the first to use heavier than air aircraft for both reconnaissance and to drop bombs on enemy positions. One pilot was also the first to fly a night sortie.


For the Turks, who had no anti-air defenses, they were the first to shoot down an aircraft with small arms fire.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops

The German-built Taube monoplane like the one flown by Lt. Gavotti over Libya.

On Nov. 1, 1911, Giulio Gavotti, an Italian war pilot, climbed into the cockpit of his Etrich Taube monoplane. His mission was to fly over the Ain Zara oasis, occupied by Turkish troops. Instead of just flying over the target, he decided he would throw bombs out of the plane and into the mass of maybe 2,000 enemy soldiers below. The lieutenant would later write to his father that he was really pleased to be the first person to try. His efforts earned him the nickname “the Flying Artilleryman.”

“I notice the dark shape of the oasis. With one hand, I hold the steering wheel, with the other I take out one of the bombs and put it on my lap…. I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for couple of seconds and then it disappears. And after a little while, I can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I am lucky. I have struck the target.”

And that’s how one pilot ushered in the Air Power age.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops

Giulio Gavotti, the first bomber pilot.

The young lieutenant had strapped a number of grapefruit-sized grenade-like bombs into a leather pouch in the cockpit. As he flew over the target, he would toss them over the side. The official history of the Italian Army in Libya says that Gavotti screwed in the detonators and flew at an altitude of just 600 feet as he made his bombing runs. He tossed three over the side at an oasis at Tagiura and then one over the Ain Zara Oasis. No one is really sure how many (if any) he actually killed on his run.

In response, the Ottoman Empire issued a formal complaint. Dropping bombs from aerial balloons was outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899. The Italians countered that the airplanes weren’t balloons and any heavier-than-air craft was legally allowed to drop bombs as Gavotti had.

“I come back really pleased with the result,” Gavotti wrote. “I go straight to report to General Caneva. Everybody is satisfied.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Here’s what it takes to become a Coastie

US Coast Guard Training Center Cape May is where the Coast Guard enlisted corps call home. It is also the only place in the entire Coast Guard where enlisted men and women can train for this Military branch. To put it another way, can’t enter the Coast Guard without passing through Cape May. For this reason, Cape May, New Jersey is considered to be the original home of the Coast Guard. Currently, it is the Coast Guard’s fifth-largest base. 

Eight weeks of physical and mental intensity coming right up

coast guard

The eight-week boot camp at Cape May is nothing short of intense. The core of the training includes search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and national defense, though it covers things like navigation and environment protection as well. In total, the Cape May boot camp includes 11 statutory missions, divided between classroom instruction and practical training. 

The practical training provides necessary hands-on experience to ensure recruits fully know what they are getting into when they become “Coasties.” For instance, they must undergo firefighter training, where they experience a simulated fire. They also have to swim 100 meters in either front crawl, sidestroke, or breaststroke and tread water for five minutes. 

Pass or fail, there is no in between

If trainees don’t pass both the written and physical tests, they don’t graduate to become Coasties. And here’s a scary statistic about Camp May: an astounding one in five recruits do not graduate. Some of them are dismissed for not passing, while others ask to dis-enroll. The sheer amount of responsibility and discipline it takes to be a member of the Coast Guard isn’t for everyone, clearly. 

If you’re looking for a break, Coast Guard training is not for you

The mess hall where recruits eat during their training might seem like a place where they can relax a bit, but the opposite is true. Recruits say mealtimes bring on some of the greatest pressure, as they endure lots of screaming. But why in the mess hall, you ask? It’s all part of the mental challenges young recruits are up against. 

The level of intensity of both the physical and mental challenges at Camp May are meant to prepare recruits for the life-or-death situations they will likely come up against as Coast Guards in the real world. Recruits need to be able to operate quickly and effectively as a team under stress. If they can’t do that, they have no place in the branch. After all, no one calls the Coast Guard on good days. 

Related: California Coast Guard cutters seize over $156 million in cocaine

Articles

This is the fastest American bomber that ever took to the skies

While Russia has deployed a number of Mach 2 bombers — like the Tu-22 Blinder and Tu-22M Backfire — these were not the fastest bombers that ever flew.


That title goes to the the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

You haven’t heard much about the Valkyrie – and part of that is because it never got past the prototype stage. According to various fact sheets from the National Museum of the Air Force, the plane was to be able to cruise at Mach 3, have a top speed of Mach 3.1, and it had a range of 4,288 miles. All that despite being almost 200 feet long with a wingspan of 105 feet, and having a maximum takeoff weight of over 534,000 pounds.

That performance was gained by six J93 engines from General Electric, providing 180,000 pounds of thrust.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
The XB-70’s immense size is apparent in this photo of the plane on display at the National Museum of the Air Force. (USAF photo)

The XB-70s had no provision for armament, but the production version of this bomber was slated to be able to haul 50,000 pounds of bombs – either conventional or nuclear. Imagine that plane being around today, delivering JDAMs or other smart weapons.

With the performance and a weapons load like that, buying this plane to supplement the B-52 should have been a no-brainer, right? Well, not quite.

The fact was that the Valkyrie was caught by the development of two new technologies — the surface-to-air missile and the intercontinental ballistic missile. The former made high-speed, high-altitude runs much more dangerous (although it should be noted that the SR-71 Blackbird operated very well in that profile). The latter offered a more rapid strike capability than the XB-70 and was cheaper.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
The cockpit of the XB-70. Despite the plane’s immense size, it was still pretty cramped inside. (USAF photo)

Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as a result of the new technologies, the XB-70 was reduced by the Eisenhower Administration to a research and development project in December 1959. The B-70 was reinstated for production during the 1960 presidential campaign in an attempt to deflect criticism from John F. Kennedy. But Kennedy eventually threw it back to the lab.

Despite a public-relations effort by top Air Force brass, the B-70 remained an RD program with only two airframes built. A 1966 collision during a flight intended to generate photos to promote General Electric’s engines destroyed one of them. The surviving airframe is displayed at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
This photo of the XB-70 gives another glimpse of its immense size when compared to the X-15, the fastest manned aircraft that ever took to the skies. (USAF photo)

Take a look at this video from Curious Droid on the XB-70.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Called “the strangest battle of World War II” is the Battle of Castle Itter. Staged at a beautiful Middle Ages-era structure in the Austrian Alps came a fight like we’ve never seen — when the Americans and Germans fought for a common goal. Despite being enemies in WWII, these sides teamed up in order to help save recently released French prisoners, as well as this longstanding castle. 

The battle included military forces from: the U.S.’s 12th Armored Division, Wehrmacht soldiers who had defied orders and remained in Austria, along with the former prisoners of war from France. Together the group fought against the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, a German Waffen-SS division, who attacked Castle Itter, or Schloss Itter, in North Tyrol. 

The castle during WWII

As early as 1940, Germany took control of Castle Itter with an official lease with the structure’s owner, Franz Grüner. However, in 1943, Germany took it forcefully, turning it into a prison camp by April of that year. It was managed by nearby administrators of the Dachau concentration camp. 

Entrance room of Schloss Itter, 1979 (Steve J. Morgan, Wikimedia Commons)

Castle Itter is notable for housing valuable or high-profile prisoners from France, including prime ministers, military hierarchy, and even a tennis star. Other prisoners were also held at the camp, including those who were brought in strictly for labor. This combination is said to have helped the castle remain in working order while providing a leg up in potential negotiations, citing high-profile prisoners as leverage.

The battle begins

On May 3, 1945, the prison’s commander, Sebastian Wimmer, sent a prisoner on an errand. Wimmer penned a letter in English asking for help and directed the prisoner to hand it to the first American they saw. The prisoner did not return, and Wimmer, fearing for his own life, abandoned the castle, with SS guards also leaving post shortly after. This allowed for prisoners to take control of the building, using remaining weapons to arm themselves. 

The following day, American forces were scheduled to come in and perform a rescue mission on the prisoners and the castle itself. However, unaware of these events, the French prisoners sent another messenger for help. By bicycle, their messenger reached the Austrian resistance, which was made of “roaming Waffen-SS troops.” These soldiers had ignored their order to retreat and instead, formed their own resistance. 

By having asked both sides for help, on May 4th, Americans and Germans alike fought alongside one another to the castle’s freedom. Despite heavy fire and a small team of soldiers, they won and sent the French prisoners home. 

Takeaways from the battle

American leader, Captain John. C. “Jack” Lee was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. However, Josef “Sepp” Gangl, leader of the Austrian resistance was killed in the battle from a sniper shot. He was attempting to move the French Prime Minister from shooting range when he was shot with a rifle. Gangl was named as a national hero in Austria, and a street was named after him in Wörgl.

Further adding to the strangeness of the war, it was fought only days before Germany surrendered. This meant that the then-free prisoners of war returned home after the war had ended, due to the length of time it took to return to France. Even though they were freed while WWII was still ongoing.

Want to learn more? A book, The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, by Stephen Harding was released in 2013. Harding, a historian, details the events of the battle and its effect on history. A French film company picked up the rights but has yet to release a date for its adaptation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pripyat is one of the creepiest military hardware graveyards in the world

Emptiness and gloom is pretty much the main theme at Pripyat, Ukraine, one of the largest ghost towns in the world.


Built as a small residential city for employees assigned to the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, it was suddenly abandoned en masse after Chernobyl’s Number 4 reactor experienced the worst nuclear meltdown in history in 1986, spreading deadly radiation across Ukraine and large chunks of Eastern Europe.

As a direct result of this accident, decrepit farmers fields and forest clearings are now home to some of the eeriest military hardware graveyards in the world, full of untouchable Soviet-era equipment.

 

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
Irradiated Soviet military equipment lies dormant near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, the power plant spewed uncontrollable amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, fatally irradiating hundreds, if not thousands, of the Pripyat’s citizens. Over the course of a few days, the entire town was told to pack lightly and leave right away by military personnel deployed to the area to help with the response to the effects of the meltdown.

Within a week, Pripyat, a once-thriving planned city was deserted — save for scores of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and heavy trucks brought in by the military to assist with the nuclear cleanup.

Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. State-of-the-art remote-controlled fire suppression units, radiation monitors, cherry-pickers and more, were also brought in to tackle the horrifying situation that lay before Chernobyl and its neighboring towns.

The debacle proved to be a global embarrassment for the Soviet Union, still in control over Ukraine, and something needed to be done to make it go away quickly before further details of the accident made their way into Western newspapers.

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
 

Cleanup and response crews were placed on rotating schedules to limit their exposure to radiation, though this proved in the long run to be poorly executed, leading to the deaths of many.

When removing helicopters and trucks from Pripyat and neighboring locales similarly affected by the meltdown, Geiger scans noted that every single truck brought into the disaster zone was severely radioactive. In effect, soldiers were operating inside cocoons of radioactivity, bombarding them with harmful cancer-causing radiation particles.

There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. Scores of tanks and trucks were left to rot in “mohyl’nyk” (Ukrainian burial grounds) after it was no longer feasible to safely operate them (the term “safely” being used very relatively and loosely here).

More equipment and military vehicles were brought in to assist with the post-meltdown cleanup, and more were similarly condemned and abandoned.

Helicopters, especially gargantuan Mil Mi-6 Hook transports, were listed among the worst cases of exposure, given that they were tasked with flying directly above the plant after the accident in order to release chemical solvents to eliminate fires burning beneath the plant’s blown-off roof. These helicopters were also abandoned at burial grounds, arranged among rows of dark green equipment.

Today, some of these armored trucks, tanks, helicopters, and even trains, still sit in the fields around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station near Pripyat, which has since been enveloped in a sarcophagus to prevent further radiation leakage. The largest of these fields is known as the Rassokha Equipment Cemetery.

 

This tank-jet hybrid was used to put out oil fires set by Saddam’s retreating troops
There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The general area, known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, is mostly off-limits to the public, though occasional tour groups are permitted to briefly enter the Zone for a quick peek before being ushered out. Visiting the abandoned vehicle graveyards is prohibited, however.

The Ukrainian government has invested considerable amounts of time and money into securing the Chernobyl plant, still in a low state of operation, and with disposing of the vehicle mohyl’nyk, full of unsalvageable gear. Over the past decade, teams of specialists have entered these fields to dismantle large sections of the graveyards and bury them on the spot, ensuring that the radiation they emit is fully contained.

Even still, the burial of every single piece of hardware will take years, thanks to the sheer numbers used in the wake of the accident. The few remaining war machines left untouched serve as silent reminders of the worst nuclear disaster in history, never to be used again.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

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

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

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

At first, the move worked. At first. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information