There’s no physical activity that America’s 26th President would turn a blind eye to, especially when it came to the defense of the United States. No matter how old he was, Roosevelt was game for any challenge.
Even if that meant years in the trenches of World War I Europe, Roosevelt wanted to be there, serving his country with his fellow Americans.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, then 40-year-old Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned the office when he received an offer to join Leonard Wood’s 1st Volunteer Cavalry and head to Cuba to fight.
Even as an older man, he distinguished himself during the war in Cuba. After Wood was promoted, Col. Roosevelt took command of the unit. His most famous action came at San Juan Hill, where he led his Rough Riders up the hill against dramatic odds, taking the formidable position from its Spanish defenders.
The action propelled him to the governor’s mansion in New York and eventually to the Vice-President’s office. When President William McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt took the White House. He was 42 years old when he took office but that didn’t stop his love for physical vigor. He was still the youngest person to ever take the office.
Roosevelt practiced all forms of physical activity, even as President of the United States. From Boxing to Judo, to Hunting, Horseback Riding, and Running, he was there for it all. He even challenged the U.S. military’s physical fitness standards, which is the reason the military has such standards today.
After finishing McKinley’s term, he was elected to a term of his own before his successor, William Howard Taft took office in 1909. Roosevelt took a safari to Africa.
Although he failed in an attempt to return to politics in 1912, he was still a larger-than-life figure in American politics. His legacy as president has stood the test of time, as TR is consistently ranked in the top five presidents of all time, even today.
But to Roosevelt, the biggest disappointment of his life was yet to come. World War I broke out during President Woodrow Wilson’s second term, and there were many German provocations that led to American involvement in the war. A telegram from the German foreign ministry to Mexico revealed a ploy to bring Mexico into the war against the U.S. outraged many American.
It was unrestricted submarine warfare from the Germans, and the sinking of the British liner Lusitania that killed 128 Americans, only increased the outrage. The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with the German Empire.
Then, a few days later, an unrepentant Germany sunk the American liner Housatonic because it was carrying food to the British Isles. The United States declared war on Germany soon after.
Roosevelt, then 58 years old, disliked Wilson personally but supported the war. He volunteered his services in raising troops to go fight the Germans on the Western Front. In March 1917, Roosevelt received authorization from Congress to do just that. The Congressional resolution authorized the former president to raise four divisions, just like he’d raised the 1st Volunteer Cavalry to fight the Spanish in Cuba.
But President Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief, intervened. He declined to send Roosevelt’s volunteers. Instead, he sent the American Expeditionary Force under Gen. John J. Pershing. It was one of Roosevelt’s biggest disappointments. Then, in 1918, his son Quentin was shot down while flying against the German Air Force. Roosevelt never recovered from the loss. The 26th President died in his sleep in January 1919.
Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.
Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.
Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”
They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them
When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.
Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.
Their wings weren’t just for decoration
It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.
Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?
Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.
They adapted extremely well to firearms
As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.
Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.
The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.
Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?
They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.
Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.
Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.
A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.
The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.
The famous winged banners weren’t needed.
They never really went away
As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.
Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.
Marbleezy asks: How did the ancient Romans manage to build perfectly straight roads hundreds of miles long?
The ancient Romans were a people famed for their architectural prowess, something no better demonstrated than by their ability to build almost perfectly straight and incredibly durable roads spanning expansive distances. For example, in Britain alone, the Romans built well over 50,000 miles of roads with the longest ruler-straight stretch spanning over 50 miles. They did all of this in an era without modern surveying tools, construction equipment, or even very accurate maps of precisely where their destination was for many of the areas. So how did they do it?
To begin with, it’s important to note there were a few different types of roads that were made throughout the Roman Republic and Empire, and exact method and materials used for road construction varied somewhat from region to region and evolved slightly over the centuries.
That caveat out of the way, the three main classification of Roman roads were viae terrenae, essentially dirt roads, often made by people walking and wagons riding over the same path over time; viae glareae, which would be a dirt road that was then graveled; and, finally much more interestingly, viae munita, which were more or less paved roads, some of which have survived through modern times.
Within these types of roads there were further classifications based on who could use them, such as viae publicae (public roads), viae militares (military or state use roads), and viae privatae (private roads, constructed at private expense and for the owners to decide who they allowed access, perhaps the general public or perhaps just a select few).
To help pay for them, roads of all types often had tolls, particularly at locations like bridges and city gates where it would be impractical to avoid the tolling location.
The Appian Way, a road connecting the city of Rome to the southern parts of Italy, remains usable even today.
This brings us to the road construction process itself. As dirt and gravel roads aren’t terribly interesting, we’re going to focus this article on the viae munita. So how did they make these incredibly durable and generally amazingly straight roads? After all, even with modern machinery, constructing and maintaining an expansive road system is an extremely time consuming and labor intensive process.
To start with, a group of surveyors would be sent out to figure out the precise direction connecting the two main points. At the same time, they’d attempt to plan the route as efficiently as possible while accounting for any major obstacles like tall mountains, rivers, etc. When possible, they may attempt to avoid such obstacles, but, particularly in some of the earliest Roman road construction, where it might result in having to take a large detour to get around, say, a mountain, if possible given the terrain, they tended to just build the road to go directly over it or directly through it. For example, the longest tunnel through such a mountain was the Grotta di Cocceio which was excavated from 38 to 36 BCE and is approximately 1 km (.62 miles) long and about 5 meters (5.4 yards) high and wide. Before WWII, it was also still a fully functional and safe to traverse tunnel despite standing about 2,000 years at that point, but was damaged during the war, though there are presently efforts to have it repaired and opened again to the public.
As for going over a mountain, it’s important to note here that we don’t mean they’d use switch backs as is the general method today. No, if at all possible, they’d just build roads straight up a mountain and down the other side, expecting the soldiers and mules and the like to just man up and traverse the steep slopes without complaint.
That said, as the empire matured, it did eventually become apparent that there were economic advantages to slightly longer roads that were easier for draught animals to pull carts over, and thus there was a shift to favoring longer distances but lesser gradients when talking roads for general public use.
A Roman street in Pompeii.
Either way, during the process, the surveyors would setup markers, often at very visible points like on hills, mapping out the optimal path, again trying to ensure the road would be as straight as possible between the start and end point to reduce needed labor, materials, and distance needed to traverse the road once it was complete.
This brings us to how they actually ensured perfectly straight roads between the markers. A key tool here was a device known as a groma. In a nutshell, this was nothing more than a sort of cross with four weights hanging from a string at each end of the cross to function as plumb lines. The whole thing could rotate with degree markers on top. Two of the plumb lines would then be lined up with a marker and then on the other side lined up with the previous marker. Where changes in direction would need to be made, the degrees were marked and ultimately the whole thing drawn up on a central document showing the entire route of the road with each segment.
Once the actual construction was to begin, the groma would once again be used, this time with rods pounded into the ground between markers using the groma to make sure every single rod was perfectly inline in between the markers.
Now, finally, construction of the road would start, usually first done via plows to loosen the soil, this would be followed by legionaries and/or slaves digging the ground out, with depth varying based on conditions. For instance, swampy land would need a lot thicker foundation if it was to have any staying power. For more typical ground, the trench needed would be somewhere in the realm of 3-6 feet (around 1-2 meters) deep. Once dug out, this would then be tamped down to a leveled, compact layer of earth.
From here, exact road composition varied based on available materials in a given region, land composition, and a variety of factors like this.
But typically large stones would be packed as tightly as possible together and into the earth base. Onto this layer would usually be placed smaller stones, sometimes comprising broken concrete or somewhat crushed rock, again packed and smoothed as best as possible. Depending on availability, they would also put a layer of sand on this foundation to make a genuinely perfectly smooth surface.
On top of all of this, at the minimum gravel would be added, packed, and leveled. In some cases, such as near big cities, as described in one manuscript on the construction of roads in Rome itself, paving stones, often flint, lava rock, or marble, would be embedded in cement for the top layer instead. When the road was complete, they are thought to have been quite smooth allowing for relatively bump free travel in carts and the like.
During this whole process, special attention was taken to making the center of the road higher than the sides so that any water would drain off, with the entire road surface itself also elevated above the ground on the sides where drainage ditches would generally be created to help rapidly move water away from the road in times of heavy rains.
Beside the roads were footpaths, sometimes graveled, which were particularly handy in the case of viae militares where only people with proper authorization could use the road itself. Finally, at the very outer edges of the roads, any nearby trees and bushes would be removed to help reduce areas for bandits to hide and surprise anyone with an attack, as well as to help ensure plant growth didn’t overtake the road or tree roots compromise it.
But this wasn’t the end of the construction process. They now needed to know exact distances along the road. It’s not fully clear how they did this, though a device known as the odometer of Vitruvius is mentioned starting around 27 BC and is often claimed to have been used for this purpose. However, whether it was actually ever used for road construction, or even made at all, is up for debate.
A depiction of Vitruvius presenting De Architectura to Augustus.
At a high level, this device used the spinning of a wheel to mark distance. In this case, it was the spinning of a wagon wheel which was in turn hooked up to gears that would drop a pebble into a container every Roman mile (4,841 feet, which is around 1,000 paces of an adult male, with the world “mile” deriving from the Latin milia, meaning, funny enough, 1,000 paces).
For whatever it’s worth, while Leonardo da Vinci tried and failed to make such a device as per outlined, in 1981 one Andre Sleeswyk was successful in building one exactly as described except, unlike da Vinci, he used triangular gear teeth instead of square ones. His justification for this modification being that these same type of gear teeth were used in the Antikythera mechanism, which was created sometime from around 250 BC to 70 BC, with the device itself used to predict various astronomical phenomenon like eclipses. Thus, perhaps if the odometer of Vitruvius was ever actually built and used, maybe it used these too.
There are, of course, many other much less technologically advanced ways they could have measure mile distances easy enough and with extreme accuracy. However they did it, at every mile mark, the law required they place an approximately two ton, 7 foot tall (2 feet in the ground) mile marker, called a miliarium. Helpfully, on this stone would be engraved the names of the locations the road connected and how many miles to each from that respective marker. A master marker, known as the Miliario Aureo or Golden Milestone was also created during Caesar Augustus’ rule and placed in the central Forum of Rome itself. This was the point at which all Roman roads were said to lead. It’s not actually clear what was on this master marker, but it’s been speculated it listed the distances from that point to all major cities under Roman rule.
Whatever the case, like the roads themselves, some of these mile markers are still standing giving archaeologists and historians a valuable snapshot of the past, since they tended to include not just basic geographic information, but information about when the road was built or repaired and by whom.
Next up, it was also required by law that regular way stations be built for official use, generally every 16 to 19 miles apart. These were more or less really nice resting areas providing food and drink and the like for officials. For the general public, inns known as cauponae would tend to pop up near these way stations. On that note, at particularly high trafficked way stations, many other businesses would pop up as well, sometimes leading to the creation of whole towns.
Along these roads you’d also find at similar intervals mutationes, or changing stations, where people could get the services of veterinarians, wheelwrights, etc., as well as potentially find new mounts.
To give you an idea of how fast one could move along these roads with its network of way stations and facilities, it’s noted that Emperor Tiberius once traversed about 200 miles in 24 hours after news that his brother, Drusus Germanicus was dying from gangrene after being seriously injured falling from a horse. A more typical time to traverse for, say, a government mail carrier was usually around 50 miles per day if not in a particular hurry.
But to sum up, it turns out that Roman road construction, amenities and all, wasn’t all that different from modern times, often featuring deep foundations, paved surfaces, proper drainage, landscaping around the roads, sidewalks, toll booths, rest areas, hotels, restaurants, the historic equivalent to gas stations and convenience stores, etc.
The infamous phrase — “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” — has come to mean a person who is neglecting their duties, probably by doing something frivolous. But did Nero actually sit around play music while Rome was burning around him in 64 AD?
To begin there was such a fire, though its extent is unknown. According to Tacitus, the fire lasted for six days and decimated Rome, with only four districts untouched (out of a total of fourteen). He goes on to state that ten of the eleven districts that burned were heavily damaged, with three of those completely destroyed. However, oddly, there is very little documented mention of the fire from those who actually lived through it. The only Roman historian during that period who even mentioned it at all was Pliny the Elder, and even he only briefly referenced it in passing.
Had it been as widespread as Tacitus claimed, one would think the likes of Plutarch, Epictetus, or other such famed Roman historians who lived through the fire would have mentioned such a significant event. And, indeed, we see that perhaps it wasn’t that great of a fire from the only other documented first hand account of the scope of the disaster — a letter from Seneca the Younger to Paul the Apostle, where he explicitly stated that only four blocks of insulae were burned (a type of apartment building), along with 132 private houses damaged (about 7% of the private houses in the city and .009% of the insulae). Not anywhere close to as widespread as Tacitus later claimed, though Seneca did say the fire lasted six days, as Tacitus stated.
As to Nero’s reaction to the fire, the first and biggest flaw in the fiddling story is that the fiddle, or violin, didn’t actually exist in Nero’s time. Historians aren’t able to give an exact date for the invention of the violin, but the viol class of instruments to which the violin belongs wasn’t developed until at least the 11th century. If Nero actually did play a stringed instrument—and there’s no evidence that he did, whether during the burning of Rome or otherwise—it was probably a lyre or cithara.
Okay, so some details can get muddled through history. But did Nero neglect Rome while it burned? Historians argue probably not. Reports do place Nero thirty-five miles away from Rome at the time of the fire, as he was staying in his villa at Antium. However, an account from Tacitus tells us that he returned to Rome immediately when word of the fire reached him in order to begin relief efforts. As the fire raged on, Nero even opened up his own gardens to provide a temporary home for those who were now homeless. He also ordered the construction of emergency accommodation and cut the price of corn, as well as provided food directly, so that people could eat. Besides this, he paid for much of these relief efforts out of his own pocket.
However, Tacitus also tells of the rumour that had spread among the masses: while the flames surged through the city, Nero stood on his private stage and sang about the destruction of Troy in a comparison of the two events. Whether or not the rumour had any evidence to back it up or was just something made up by the unhappy masses, we don’t know, but this and Suetonius’ account are the most likely source of the fiddle story we hear today. Unfortunately for Nero, at least in the context of this story, he did have a reputation for enjoying concerts and participating in music competitions, so the activity itself wasn’t entirely unlikely even if the timing of the act is highly questionable.
Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome.
While Tacitus claims the singing story was a rumour, Suetonius wrote about it with conviction. However, the story could have been an attempt to further mar Nero’s name. Nero faced problems during his reign from the very start, when it was reported that his own mother poisoned his predecessor, Claudius. He was also blamed for the death of Claudius’ son Brittanicus, who was being urged to take his proper place as Emperor by overthrowing Nero. Numerous other deaths were thought to have been committed by Nero’s hand, including one of his wives and his own mother.
As such, Nero was painted as a man who was difficult for the masses to trust. No one knew how the fire started, and many Romans believed that he had started the fire that burned their city. (It likely started in shops containing flammable goods, and was probably an accident rather than any one person’s intentional act.)
With the mob out for blood, Nero was forced to turn to a scapegoat and blamed Christians for starting the fire. There were only a small number of Christians in Rome at the time and they were considered a strange religious sect, so they were an easy target. As Tacitus stated:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all [Christians] who pleaded guilty [to the fire]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Even finding someone to blame for the fire didn’t help Nero’s plea of innocence. In the wake of the fire, he built a palace on top of some of the land cleared by the flames, which people argued he had been planning from the start, though this is highly unlikely as the place he built the new palace was over a half mile away from where the fire started. In addition to a new palace, Nero did provide for the reconstruction of the city, but rebuilding stretched the limits of Rome’s treasury at the time. He was forced to devalue Roman currency, which wasn’t a popular move.
Nero ended up committing suicide — or at least, begging his secretary to kill him when he lost the nerve to do it himself—four years after the fire. Accounts of his life and of the time of the fire are highly contradictory. Further, Suetonius and Tacitus wrote their histories fifty years after Nero died, and Cassius Dio wrote his 150 years later. Many historians also think it likely that Nero was more popular with the people of Rome than he was with the senators, and as all three of the main sources were from the senatorial class, it’s likely they carry more than a little bias against him, not unlike happened with the popular history of Marie Antoinette who popular history remembers very differently than who the actual woman appeared to be. That being said, Tacitus did state that while Nero’s death was welcomed by senators, the lower classes mourned his passing.
So in the end, the implication that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” — or played the lyre, sang a song, or neglected his duty in any way — is likely the result of anti-Nero propaganda and an attempt to tarnish his name. The morality of many of his actions during his reign is open to debate, but the fiddling, or playing music, story is almost certainly a myth, unless he was playing to entertain the displaced masses he’d taken in.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Post Office is in dangerous peril right now, and like most Americans, you might be wondering what you can do to help. Well, the most obvious thing is to send more mail. Buying a pack of Forever stamps helps, and so does sending little notes in the mail. It’s fun to send postcards and notes and equally exciting to receive something besides junk mail or bills, plus you’re doing your civic duty in helping prop up a bona fide American institution. One other thing you can do is get a clear understanding of how our post office came to be and what factors contributed to its formation.
The USPS got its start in 1775 during the Second Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War, American colonies relied on communication via horseback riders who transported messages between cities, towns, and the battlefields. Making sure the mail was delivered quickly and efficiently was difficult. Still, it was also critical to the survival of the colonists and the service personnel who were fighting the Revolutionary War. Because of its vast importance to the earliest days of America, it’s often said that the post office helped create American democracy. Though the earliest Americans might not have realized it at the time, introducing a standardized postal service was the first step in creating a connected and unified country.
Three months after the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord, the Continental Congress looked to Benjamin Franklin to formally establish a postal service. As the first Postmaster General, Franklin had a lot of work to do, with limited time and a limited budget. But one thing he did have on his side was the support of leadership and the early American public’s support. Everyone understood that there was something very important to be gained by establishing a national postal service and something critical that would be lost without it.
Franklin was the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette, and the year he was appointed postmaster, he leaned into a distinct fringe benefit of his new role. He was able to send his newspaper to readers at no cost. This helped the Pennsylvania Gazette gain a large circulation and helped serve another purpose as well – it educated the public on what was happening with the war. In 1753, Franklin was appointed the postmaster of all 13 colonies. During his tenure, he traveled extensively along the postal routes to find the most reliable and efficient route for riders. This helped lay the groundwork for our current post office, and it helped create a system of communication for everyone living in the country at the time.
The connections Franklin created on postal routes also allowed battle messages to reach leadership faster. Being up to date on troop movements, morale, and supply needs helped command chains stay ahead of the British and contributed greatly to the Revolutionary War effort.
Of all the founding institutions introduced during the earliest days of forming America, the Post Office is incredibly overlooked and undervalued, underappreciated, and unstudied. For many decades, the post office served as a de facto connection between citizens and the government. Prior to introducing the post office, knowledge of public affairs had always been limited to a specific and elite population. America needed something new, something that would allow news to be circulated throughout the entire country. The founding members of the Continental Congress wanted something different for the country they were creating and realized early on that a post office would be the central network by which they could spread information and provide access to knowledge.
Unlike other post offices in mainland Europe, Franklin wanted the American post office to transport not just mail but also ideas. In addition to delivering letters and cards, the post office creation subsidized the delivery of newspapers, which helped create an informed electorate. This was unmatched at the time and helped bind together the early colonists and set the expectation that Americans should always have open access to information. Now more than ever, that open access to information is important, just as Franklin knew two hundred years ago.
It’s easy, when you’re one of the world’s great powers, to think that most battles will go your way. And the ones that won’t? Well, you can only lose so badly when you’ve got better technology, larger formations, and/or God on your side. Unfortunately, that’s not true, and even great powers can get themselves curb stomped in surprising ways.
Here are seven military defeats where someone thought they could be the big dog in a fight only to find out they were facing a bear:
Painting depicting the final minutes, and Russian losses, at the Battle of Tsushima Strait where a Russian fleet was annihilated by a larger, better prepared Japanese fleet in 1905.
Battle of Tsushima
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Russia once fielded a top-tier navy that made enemies around the world quiver in their boots. That actually changed during the Battle of Tsushima, when Russia sent a massive fleet to defend their claims in and around Korea from a growing Japanese Navy. The Japanese Navy used their better ships, tactics, and telegraphy (think ship-to-ship Morse code) to demolish the Russians.
The two fleets closed with each other on May 27, 1905, and the Japanese ships were in better condition, allowing them to sail slightly faster. Even better for the Japanese, there was a heavy fog that their telegraph traffic could penetrate, but the Russians couldn’t communicate as well with their lights and flags.
Japan’s five battleships and 84 other ships and boats were able to twice “cross the T” of Russia’s 38 ships, pounding the Russians with broadsides while the Russians could only reply with forward guns. The Russians were forced to flee, sinking only three Japanese torpedo boats while losing 28 ships.
Ottoman soldiers man machine guns in 1916, similar to the troops that maintained the Siege of Kut.
(Library of Congress)
Siege of Kut
The Siege of Kut took place in 1915 in what is now Iraq. British-Indian forces, retreating from a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, decided to stop at Kut, a position easily defended, but difficult to resupply. Since we’re talking about a siege, you can probably guess how that went.
Approximately 11,000 British and Indian infantrymen reached the fortress on December 3, and the Ottomans arrived four days later with 11,000 troops of their own — and with more reinforcements on the way. The British sent away cavalry and other forces that could escape and then settled in for the siege. The Ottoman forces, under command of a German adviser, cut off river and land access to the city.
British forces outside the city attempted to relieve it three times, but all three attempts failed dismally. While the Ottomans suffered approximately 10,000 casualties, the British were eventually forced to surrender after suffering 30,000 casualties and the capture of an additional 10,000 troops, including six generals.
Australian troops man captured Italian tanks during the capture of the port city of Tobruk in 1941 after Italian forces spread themselves too thin.
(Australian War Memorial)
Italian Western Desert Campaign — World War II
The Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940 was a fine if uninspired victory for the Italian fascists. They moved forward about 12 miles per day for about a week in September, 1940. During the campaign, the Italians failed to keep their troops close enough together to properly support one another, and the British took advantage of that fact the following December in Operation Compass.
The British planned a five-day raid in response. The goal was simply to push the Italians back a little, but the British made a note before the first attacks stating that they should be prepared to keep pushing, just in case — and this came in handy. The British forces quickly made much more progress than expected.
The Italians were occupying a series of fortified camps and, one after another, they fell to a force of 36,000 British soldiers. The British attacked from December 9 to February 9, 1941, and lost less than 600 troops killed and missing while inflicting over 5,000 kills and capturing over 125,000 Italian soldiers, 420 tanks, 564 aircraft, and multiple cities, including the key port of Tobruk.
Colorized photo of French artillerymen during the defense of France in 1940 as the German blitzkrieg thunders towards Paris.
Battle of France
As we head into this one, let’s take a quick break to say that WATM actually really respects the performance of the French military from conflicts like the 100 Years War to the American Revolution to World War I. But the Battle of France in World War II was, uh, not France’s finest moment.
The French military knew that an invasion by Germany was likely in 1940, and they tried to prepare through modernization efforts and training. But, they made two big assumptions that would turn out to be false: The Ardennes Forest’s challenging terrain would prevent an invasion through there, and Belgium would last for weeks or months, allowing France to re-deploy troops as necessary if the Germans invaded through there.
Instead, the Germans proved the many of their tanks could make it through the Ardennes Forest, and Belgium fell within days. France, despite having more modern equipment and slightly more troops, fell to Germany in only 46 days with 1.9 million troops taken prisoner, thousands of tanks and aircraft destroyed or captured, and most of their country under German control.
Oil tanks burn on Midway Atoll after a Japanese air attack at the outset of the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway was supposed to be Pear Harbor: The Sequel. It was an ambush set only six months after the attacks at Pearl. The Japanese goal was to draw the American fleet into a battle the Americans would think they could win, then slam them with additional forces and wipe out much America’s remaining carrier and capital ship strength.
Instead, America captured Japanese communications traffic and set an ambush of their own. Japan was working on the assumption that America would only have two carriers and a fleet full of demoralized sailors. Instead, America intercepted the plans and showed up with an extra carrier and prepped over 120 aircraft on Midway itself to join the battle.
On June 4, 1942, the fleets clashed, and Japanese aircraft were outnumbered by a vengeful U.S. presence in the air. Japan would lose three carriers and almost 250 aircraft in the fight while sinking one U.S. carrier and downing approximately 150 U.S. aircraft. The battle tipped the balance of power in the Pacific in World War II.
Soviets celebrate holding the city of Stalingrad in February 1943 after the German assault failed.
Battle of Stalingrad
The German invasion of Soviet Union relied on a number of horrible assumptions, including the idea that Soviets, especially the Slavs, were racially inferior and part of an uncoordinated system that would crumble at the first real assault from German armor. Unfortunately for them, racism and hope aren’t viable strategies.
Instead, the Soviets forced Germany to fight for nearly every foot of Soviet territory they took, and Stalingrad was arguably the worst of all. For nearly six months, German forces slogged their way through the city, street by street, and some of the streets were impossible to take. At “Pavlov’s House,” an infantry platoon turned an apartment building into a fortress and wiped out German armored formations for weeks.
The Germans threw well over 1 million men against the city and lost over 800,000 of them killed, captured, and wounded. The Soviets actually lost more (over 1.1 million), but they bled the German formations dry of food, ammo, and in some cases, men, allowing the Soviet Union to take the offensive and begin pushing the enemy back towards Berlin.
The Bridge at Arnhem stands after British paratroopers were pushed back by a German counterattack in 1944.
(Imperial War Museum)
Operation Market Garden
In 1944, the allies hoped they could end the war in Europe before Christmas — push into the German heartland, take out industry, and push into Berlin by December and give all the Allied citizens the world’s best Christmas present. The plan called for a two-force approach, airborne assaults to take key bridges and a ground campaign to envelope portions of the Ruhr River.
The assault on Sep. 17, 1944, didn’t go as planned. German forces had learned lessons from previous Allied offensives, like a little thing called D-Day, and they made sure to reinforce bridges where possible and blow them up when they couldn’t hold them.
In a series of nine key bridges, the capture of most of them was either delayed or prevented. So, the airborne forces remained isolated as the armored forces couldn’t punch through the German defenders without bridges. Over 15,000 troops were killed, captured, or wounded while inflicting somewhere around 10,000 casualties and failing to take the key terrain, guaranteeing that the war would continue into 1945.
In the closing days of 2020, the Department of Defense released its 2021 Defense Budget. A voluminous document that contains the projected spending for all services for the next year, the Defense Budget also includes small tidbits of seemingly unrelated information, including proposals for awarding the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor under fire, or upgrading a lesser award to the Medal of Honor
In the 2021 Defense Budget, there were four recommendations for an upgrade. Specialist Dwight Birdwell (Vietnam War), Sergeant First Class Earl Plumlee (Global War on Terror, Afghanistan), Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Cashe (Global War on Terror, Iraq), and finally retired Colonel Ralph Puckett (Korean War).
Although the first three of their families are still waiting for news, Col. Puckett’s case moved forward, and the legendary Ranger was awarded the Medal of Honor last month. A true warrior, Puckett received the Medal of Honor at the age of 94.
Destined for Glory
Puckett was born in 1926 in Tifton, Georgia, and commissioned in the Army as an infantry second lieutenant in 1949 after he graduated from West Point. His first duty station was in Okinawa, as part of the occupation force there.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Puckett volunteered for the Rangers, a light infantry, special operations unit. During World War Two, the Rangers had undertaken a series of the hardest and most sensitive missions, including scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and destroying fortified German positions in Normandy during D-Day and the Cabanatuan prisoner of war rescue mission in the Philippines.
By now a 1st Lieutenant, Puckett was selected to lead the only Ranger company at the time, the 8th Ranger Company, 8213th Army Unit, 8th U.S. Army. He had only a little over a month to train his troops to work as a team before they deployed to the front.
A Leader to Follow
On 25 and 26 November 1950, Puckett and his Rangers were attached to Task Force Dolvin and led the advance of the 25th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Unsan. His unit attacked and captured Hill 205. However, the Chinese were determined to recapture the strategic position regardless of casualties.
For over four hours, the Chinese threw wave upon wave of troops at Puckett and his men. The Americans were outnumbered by ten to one but they kept fighting into the night. Finally, after having repelled five counterattacks, the Rangers were overrun in the sixth. By that point, they had no supporting artillery and were low on ammunition with multiple casualties. Hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of the trenches of World War One ensued, and the Rangers were forced to fall back in the face of overwhelming numbers.
By that point, Puckett had suffered multiple wounds throughout his body, a testament to his dedication to his troops and to leading from the front. He exposed himself to enemy snipers and machine-gun fire several times to reveal their positions so his Rangers could take them out. When the Chinese eventually overran their position, Puckett ordered his men to leave him behind, an order which they openly disobeyed, fighting their way to their wounded leader and taking them with them. For his actions, leadership, and fighting spirit, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross at the time, the second-highest award for valor in combat.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Puckett received is telling:
“With complete disregard for his personal safety, First Lieutenant Puckett led his company across eight hundred yards of open terrain under heavy enemy small-arms fire and captured the company’s objective. During this operation he deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire to enable his men to spot locations of the machine guns.
After capturing the objective, he directed preparation of defensive positions against an expected enemy counterattack. At 2200 hours on 25 November 1950, while directing the defense of his position against a heavy counterattack, he was wounded in the fight shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back During these attacks, he left the safety of his foxhole in order to observe movements of the enemy and to direct artillery fire. In so doing, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy small-arms and mortar fire.
In the sixth counterattack, at 0300 hours on 26 November 1950, he was wounded again, so seriously that he was unable to move. Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal. Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety.”
Warrior for Life
Despite the action he saw in Korea and the wounds he received as a result, Puckett decided to stay in the Army and continue to serve his country. A decision he affirmed even after the Army offered him a medical retirement.
After he recovered from his wounds, Puckett was assigned as an instructor to the U.S. Army Ranger School, West Point, and as a Ranger advisor to the Columbian Army, where he established the famous Escuela de Lanceros special operations course. Puckett, however, had had enough of cozy assignments, and he volunteered and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1960 and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany.
In 1967, Puckett, a lieutenant colonel at that point, found himself again on the front lines as commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
On August 13, 1967, elements of his unit came upon a North Vietnamese battalion and a fierce fight ensued. Puckett went straight to the frontline and coordinated defense. He moved through a heavily mined area several times while directing the fight. Day gave way to darkness and the battle was still going. Puckett repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to visit foxholes and rally his troops. At one point, he personally evacuated two wounded soldiers after a mortar barrage. Even as the battle was going badly, he refused evacuation and instead stayed with his men.
One of his lieutenants who was preparing his platoon for a final stand recalled that “word of Colonel Puckett’s arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.”
Puckett retired in 1971, after 22 years of service.
After his retirement, the 75th Ranger Regiment made him an Honorary Colonel of the Regiment from 1996 to 2006 and also established the annual Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award, which is awarded every year to the best junior Ranger officer in the unit whose actions and leadership during demanding circumstances made the difference. Given that the 75th Ranger Regiment has been continuously deployed in Global War on Terror for more than 7,000 consecutive days, competition for Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award is fierce.
In 1992, Puckett was inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame, in 2004 he was selected a distinguished graduate of the US Military Academy, and in 2007 he received the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.
“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy. Clearly a unique, courageous Soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate Infantry leader,” General Jay Hendrix, a former commander of the US Army Forces Command, the largest Army formation, said.
Puckett’s awards include the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars (the third-highest award for valor), two Bronze Stars for Valor (the fourth-highest award for valor), two Legions of Merit, five Purple Hearts, ten Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal, among other decorations.
Puckett also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge, and the Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.
Simply put, the 1529 Siege of Vienna did not go the way the Ottoman Empire hoped it would. Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent, was coming off a fresh string of victories in Europe and elsewhere when he decided that the road to an Ottoman Europe had to be paved through the legendary city of Vienna. He boasted that he would be having breakfast in Vienna’s cathedral within two weeks of the start of his siege.
When the day came and went, the Austrians sent the Sultan a letter, telling him his breakfast was getting cold.
When you drop sick taunts, you must then drop sick beats.
The Sultan had a reason to be cocky going into the Siege of Vienna. He had just brought down the Hungarians, the longtime first line of defense for European Christendom. Hungary lost its king and fell into a disastrous civil war which the Ottomans intervened in. The Habsburgs, who controlled half of Hungary and all of Austria at this time, weren’t having any of it and Hungary was split for a century after. For the time being, however, the Ottomans and their Hungarian allies were going head-to-head with Austrian Archduke Ferdinand I, pushing the Austrians all the way back to Vienna in less than a year.
But Europe’s Christian powers were not going to let Austria fall without a fight and so sent help to the besieged city. That help came in the form of German Landsknechts, Spanish Musketeers, and Italian Mercenaries. It was the furthest the Islamic armies had ever penetrated Europe’s heartland. But Suleiman would fail to take the city.
Look, if you want to have breakfast in church, most Christians will happily oblige you.
The torrential rains started almost immediately, meaning the Turkish armies had to abandon its powerful cannons, along with horses and camels who were unaccustomed to the amount of mud they had to trudge through. Even so, they still came with 300 cannons and outnumbered the defenders five-to-one. The allied troops inside the city held their own against the Turkish onslaught as the rain continued.
Sickness, rain, and wounds hounded the Ottoman armies until snowfall took the place of the rain. The Ottomans were forced to retreat, leaving 15,000 men killed in action behind.
The Sultan would never get his breakfast in the cathedral. No sultan would ever get breakfast in an Ottoman Vienna.
Roald Dahl is often considered to be one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century. Among his most popular publications are classic stories like “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” “Fantastic Mr Fox,” “The BFG” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even if you haven’t read the books or seen their film adaptations, the titles of these stories have achieved a mythical status in the world of children’s entertainment. Those that have read his second autobiographical publication, “Going Solo,” will know that Dahl served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during WWII. In the book, he details his service to King and Country and his combat experiences against Axis forces.
After finishing school and taking a hiking trip through Newfoundland in 1934, Dahl went to work for the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in Britain, he was assigned to Mombasa, Kenya and then Dar es-Salaam, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania); the former German colony was still home to many Germans. In August 1939, as a second war with Germany loomed on the horizon, Britain made plans to round up the hundreds of Germans living in Dar es-Salaam to prevent any sort of rebellion or uprising. Dahl joined the King’s African Rifles, receiving a commission as a lieutenant and command of a platoon of indigenous askari soldiers.
In November of that year, Dahl joined the RAF as an aircraftman and made the 600-mile drive from Dar es-Salaam to Nairobi where he was accepted for pilot training. Of the sixteen other men that joined with him, only three would live to see the end of the war. After just seven hours and forty minutes of instruction in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, Dahl made his first solo flight.
Following his initial flight training, Dahl received advanced flight training at RAF Habbaniya outside of Baghdad. He trained there for six months on Hawker Harts before he was commissioned as a pilot officer on August 24, 1940.
Dahl was assigned to fly the obsolete Gloster Gladiator, the RAF’s last biplane fighter, with No. 80 Squadron RAF. Though he received no training on the Gladiator nor any specific instruction on aerial combat, Dahl received orders on September 19, 1940 to fly his Gladiator from Abu Seir to No. 80 Squadron’s forward airstrip near Mersa Matruh. On the last leg of his flight, Dahl could not locate the airstrip and was running low on fuel. With night approaching, he attempted an emergency landing in the desert. The undercarriage of his Gladiator hit a boulder and Dahl crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose, and emerged from his aircraft’s wreck temporarily blinded. He passed out and was rescued by friendly forces who took him to the aid station at Mersa Matruh before being transferred to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. An RAF inquiry later revealed that Dahl had been given an incorrect location and was mistakenly sent to the no man’s land between the British and Italian forces.
In February 1941, Dahl was discharged from the hospital and returned to flight status. By then, No. 80 Squadron had been transferred to Eleusina, near Athens, as part of the Greek campaign. The squadron had traded in their Gladiators for the new Hawker Hurricane and Dahl was ordered to fly one across the Mediterranean in April after just seven hours in the aircraft. Luckily, Dahl made it to Greece without incident and rejoined his squadron. At this point in the Greek campaign, the RAF combat aircraft in the operating area consisted of just 14 Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheim light bombers.
On April 15, Dahl got his first taste of action flying solo over the city of Chalcis. He intercepted a formation of six Junkers Ju 88 bombers that were attacking ships and managed to shoot one of them down. The next day, he scored another kill on a Ju 88.
On April 20, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens alongside his friend David Coke and Pat Pattle, the highest-scoring British Commonwealth ace of the war. The battle was an absolute furball which Dahl described as “an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side.” Five of the twelve Hurricanes involved in the battle were shot down and four of their pilots were killed including Pattle. Greek observers counted 22 German aircraft shot down, but because of the chaos of the aerial melee, none of the pilots were able to take credit for specific kills. Dahl received credit for one kill, though he likely shot down more.
In May, as the Germans closed on Athens, Dahl and No. 80 Squadron were evacuated to Egypt and reassembled in Haifa. From there, Dahl flew daily sorties over the course of four weeks. On June 8, he shot down a Vichy French Air Force Potez 63 heavy fighter, and on June 15, he shot down his third Ju 88.
Following this period, Dahl began to suffer from headaches that caused him to blackout and he was invalided home to Britain. He would serve the rest of the war as a diplomat and an intelligence officer, attaining the rank of wing commander by its end. In 1946, he was invalided out of service with the rank of squadron leader. His combat record of five aerial victories, confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced with Axis records, qualify him as a fighter ace.
Dahl would go on to write the aforementioned children’s stories and many more besides. His kindhearted books and their warm sentiment serve as the antithesis to his violent wartime experiences.
The attack on the Alamo in 1836 was not a 13-day siege and slaughter as often portrayed in film and television. Don’t get me wrong – the defenders of the mission-turned-fortress were killed en masse as Mexican troops stormed the structure. It’s just that not everyone inside the Alamo died that day.
That’s how we came to know of Joe — just Joe, any other names he had are lost to history now. Joe was the slave of William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo during Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s siege of the Texian fort. But no one knows exactly how Joe got there. No matter how he ended up there, he was one of many slaves and free blacks who fought or died at the Alamo.
Joe was a stalwart defender alongside Travis and other Texians. When the din of the fighting died down and the Mexicans firmly controlled the fort, Joe was shot and bayoneted, only to be saved by a Mexican field officer. Because Joe could speak Spanish, he was able to be interrogated afterward.
That’s where attorney-turned-author Lewis Cook picked up the story. His first book, called Joe’s Alamo: Unsung, is a fiction-based-on-history account of what came next, after the Alamo, and after Joe escaped.
Cook was waiting to go to medical school when he discovered Joe’s story and was compelled to write about the Alamo. Cook discovered the Alamo was more than a bunch of white, male landowners fighting for Texas. The fort was full of women, minorities of many color, and followers of many religions. So, he set out to tell the story of the Alamo, a story that, he believes, belongs to all of us through the diversity of its defenders.
In his book, Cook tells a different story from what is commonly told in textbooks, film, and TV shows. It includes recently discovered facts about William Travis, Susana Dickinson, Davy Crockett, and Joe himself.
Audible: For you, the listeners of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out some of the books and authors featured on Mandatory Fun. To download your free audiobook today go to audibletrial.com/MandatoryFun.
Remember that awesome scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the paratroopers and Rangers make bombs out of their socks, stick them to tanks, and blow the treads off?
Well, the British and Germans actually had devices that did that, and no one had to take his socks off. Americans would have had to improvise to create the same effect, but there’s little sign that they did this regularly since even the best sticky bombs had some serious drawbacks.
The British had one of the first sticky bombs, the Number 74 Mk. 2. It was developed thanks to the efforts of British Maj. Millis Jefferis and a number of civilian collaborators. Their goal was to create a device which would help British infantry fight German tanks after most of the British Army’s anti-tank guns were lost at the evacuation of Dunkirk.
The glass broke when the bomb hit the tank and deformed against the surface, allowing enough of the sticky fabric to attach for it to stay on the armor. When the handle was released, a five-second fuse would countdown to the detonation.
Obviously, getting within throwing and sticking distance of a tank is dangerous work. And, while the bomb was sent to the infantry in a case that prevented it from sticking to anything, it had to be thrown with the case removed. At times, this resulted in the bomb getting stuck to the thrower, killing them.
The Germans had their own design that used magnets instead of an adhesive, making them safer for the user. It also featured a shaped charge that allowed more of the explosive power to penetrate the armor.
But the German version featured the same major drawback that the British one did, the need for the infantryman to get within sticking distance of the tank.
Javelins and TOW missiles may be heavy, but they’re probably the better choice than running with bombs.
“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.
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.
The Marine Corps has historically found itself on short end of the stick when it comes to aviation. In fact, during World War II, the planes they got were either obsolete (like the F2A Buffalo and SB2U Vindicator) or unwanted by the Navy. The latter case, though, gave the Marines one heck of a plane. One so good, the Navy eventually flew it, too.
That plane was the Vought F4U Corsair, probably best known for its appearance on the show Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad as Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the top Marine ace of all time. So, why didn’t the Navy want what would prove to be one of the great planes of World War II?
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Corsair had a top speed of 416 miles per hour, could reach a maximum range of 1,016 miles, and had six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. But this plane, originally designed to operate off U.S. Navy carriers, was just too hot.
Vought had taken the powerful R-2800 engine and tried making a compact fighter with it. They succeeded, but the Corsair proved to be a tricky beast to fly. It soon earned the nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” As a result, the Navy went with the F6F Hellcat — an awesome fighter in its own right — and pawned the Corsair off on the Marines.
The Marines took to the Corsair like a duck to water. The plane gave them something that could go toe-to-toe with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, but also carry a powerful load of bombs and rockets, making it a multi-role fighter.
The British acquired some, too, and operated them off of escort carriers. By the end of World War II, the United States Navy began to operate Corsairs from carriers to counter the kamikaze threat. The Corsair served through the Korean War, and even saw combat action in the Soccer War of 1969. Watch a video about this Navy reject turned Marine Corps legend below:
You may think that terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons has been a concern only since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. Well, you’d be wrong — off by well over a decade.
The thought of terrorists getting nukes has been on the minds of the Department of Defense for a long time. While today’s worries center mostly around a certain rogue state pawning off a nuke or some of Russia’s nukes mysteriously walking off, back then, the concern was more along the lines of terrorists trying to sneak in and steal nukes.
Now, before you panic, even if you have a nuke, like the B61 gravity bomb, you can’t just set it to go off. There are a lot of measures in place to make sure it only detonates when authorized. One of the most important tools in this regard is the permissive action link. It actually had its genesis in the 1960s, when the United States had forward-deployed nukes to be dropped by the planes of NATO allies.
Now, if you saw the 1996 movie Broken Arrow, you saw a very Hollywood-esque version of how the device works. You need to enter the right code for the nuke to be armed. Enter the wrong code and the B61 becomes a 716-pound paperweight.
The permissive action link, though, is a defense measure in place just in case the bad guys actually get their hands on the nuke. The better solution, of course, is to make sure that they don’t get their hands on it in the first place. This is where lots of armed security comes in, equipped with the latest technology to detect intruders.
Watch the video below to learn how the Defense Nuclear Agency planned to deal nuke thieves in the 1970s.