That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

The Marines on Wake Island had a last stand that belongs with the Alamo in terms of its legendary status. One Marine, Henry Elrod, became a legend during that stand.


What is not as well known is that there was an effort to try to either relieve or evacuate the Marines from Wake Island. Samuel Eliot Morison described that operation in “The Rising Sun in the Pacific,” Volume III of his 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.

 

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Most of the F4F Wildcats defending Wake Island were lost in the initial attack. The remaining would also fall to the Japanese, but not before sinking the Kisaragi battleship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Within days of the Pearl Harbor attack, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel started the effort to help the Marines on Wake.

Kimmel saw a chance to catch part of the Japanese fleet by surprise using Wake as a form of bait. Given that Wake was 2,300 miles from Pearl Harbor, there was no time to waste.

That said, the expedition still took time. All three carriers in the Pacific Fleet would take part. But there were a few problems. The

USS Saratoga (CV 3) was the carrier that had the planes of VMF-221, 14 F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters (utter pieces of junk, but that is another story). In a fateful decision, Kimmel put Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher in charge of Task Force 14, which had the mission to steam into Wake Island.

Fletcher would command from the cruiser USS Astoria (CA 34).

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
U.S. Navy Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters pictured during a training flight from Naval Air Station (NAS) Miami, Florida (USA). 14 of these planes were slated to reinforce the Marines on Wake Island. (US Navy photo)

Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, in command of Task Force 8 on the USS Enterprise (CV 6), would be held in reserve. Vice Adm. Wilson Brown, on board the USS Lexington (CV 2), would carry out a diversionary raid on the Marshall Islands.

Shortly after the expedition departed, Kimmel was relieved by Vice Adm. William Pye, pending the arrival of Chester W. Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. The expedition made its way towards Wake, but Fletcher was seemingly obsessed with his destroyers’ fuel state. Much as the Civil War-era Gen. George McClellan temporized about pressing the attack against Robert E. Lee in late 1862, Fletcher would take time the Marines could not afford to get the fuel he thought he needed for his ships.

Even after messages from the Marines on Wake reported the presence of enemy dive bombers and their desperate situation, he chose to fuel on Dec. 22. Morison would note that the destroyer with the least amount of fuel still had almost 90,000 barrels of fuel oil in its tanks.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Frank Jack Fletcher. (US Navy photo)

Even with the difficult refueling, the USS Saratoga was 425 miles from Wake at 0800 on Dec. 23, where the Marines were in desperate combat with the Japanese. Pye called off the Wake Relief Expedition when word of the landings reached Pearl Harbor. Morison notes that the Marines had actually wiped out the invasion force on Wilkes Island, and it took time to convince the hard-fighting Marines to surrender. They would spend almost four years in Japanese prison camps. Almost 100 of them would be massacred on Oct. 5, 1943.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Inexplicably, Fletcher would still be assigned seagoing commands after the failure of the Wake Relief Expedition. The USS Lexington would be lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The USS Yorktown (CV 5) would be sunk at the Battle of Midway (where Fletcher did the smart thing and let Raymond Spruance take the lead).

Fletcher would leave Marines hanging again at Guadalcanal, when a decision to pull back the carriers would lead to the disastrous Battle of Savo Island, where the USS Astoria and three other heavy cruisers would be sunk.

Fletcher was wounded when the USS Saratoga was torpedoed at the end of August, 1942. After that, he’d be shunted off to backwater commands until the end of World War II. He died in 1975.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How North Korea blackmailed Israel with nuclear weapons

A North Korean diplomat reportedly told an Israeli diplomat in 1999 that Pyongyang would provide ballistic missile technology to Iran, a state sworn to destroy Israel, unless it paid up to the tune of $1 billion.

North Korea has a long and well documented history of providing weapons technology, including chemical and nuclear weapon infrastructure, to countries like Iran and Syria.


While Pyongyang commands a few dozen operational nuclear warheads, according to intelligence reports, its real threat to the world lies not in starting an outright nuclear war, but in selling nuclear weapons to states, or terrorists, that may use them.

It’s unclear if Israel ever paid North Korea’s blackmail, though Israel would later destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor that North Korea was suspected of helping build.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

A test-launch of a North Korean ballistic missile.

(KCNA)

North Korea selling nukes is a bigger threat than just building them

If North Korea launched a nuclear attack, it would swiftly find itself on the receiving end of more powerful, more precise nuclear weapons. North Korea’s nuclear weapons serve mainly to deter attacks.

But because of North Korea’s decision to defy international law by testing and developing nuclear weapons, it finds itself under heavy sanctions and impoverished.

This leaves North Korea as a cash-hungry state with an excess of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. A terror group or fellow rogue state, seeing the legitimacy and national power nuclear weapons have bestowed upon North Korea, might seek to buy nuclear technology off Pyongyang.

While many experts generally expect North Korea to maintain the status quo with its nuclear weapons by using them mainly to deter enemies, it’s less clear that Iran, Syria, or especially a terror network would show such restraint.

“Depending on the demand, we certainly cannot exclude the possibility that North Korea will sell its nuclear weapons for cash,” said Nam Sung-wook, a former South Korean intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal, who first reported on North Korea’s attempted blackmail.

The UN has concluded that North Korea has a long history of weapons cooperation with Iran and Syria, the US’s two foremost nation-state enemies in the Middle East. Iran’s stated goal is to destroy Israel, and while their conventional military offers them little hope of achieving that, nuclear weapons actually could do the job.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

Trump isn’t doing anything about this

The US under President Donald Trump has lowered the threat of outright nuclear war with North Korea following talks and a summit with Kim Jong Un, but no work towards denuclearization appears to have actually taken place.

North Korea has not shared with the US any details of its nuclear program, and the US has no specifics from the Kim regime on how many weapons it has or where it keeps them.

So despite Trump’s insistence that North Korea isn’t a threat anymore, there’s absolutely no way of knowing if Kim would provide nuclear weapons to aggressive states, or use that leverage to blackmail countries for fear of nuclear war.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The world wants China to own up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre

The United States has added its voice to international calls for China’s communist-led government to give a full public accounting of those who were killed, detained or went missing during the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

In a bold statement from Washington to mark the 29th anniversary of a bloody crackdown that left hundreds — some say thousands — dead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese authorities to release “those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”


To this day, open discussion of the topic remains forbidden in China and the families of those who lost loved ones continue to face oppression. Chinese authorities have labeled the protests a counter-revolutionary rebellion and repeatedly argued that a clear conclusion of the events was reached long ago.

In an annual statement on the tragedy, the group Tiananmen Mothers urged President Xi Jinping in an open letter to “re-evaluate the June 4th massacre” and called for an end to their harassment.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
President Xi Jinping
(Photo by Michel Temer)

“Each year when we would commemorate our loved ones, we are all monitored, put under surveillance, or forced to travel” to places outside of China’s capital, the letter said. The advocacy group Human Rights in China released the open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers ahead of the anniversary.

“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” the letter said.

In his statement, Pompeo also said that on the anniversary “we remember the tragic loss of innocent lives,” adding that as Liu Xiaobo wrote in his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, “the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest.”

Liu was unable to receive his Nobel prize in person in 2010 and died in custody in 2017. The dissident writer played an influential role in the Tiananmen protests and was serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power when he passed.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Liu Xiaobo

At a regular press briefing on June 4, 2018, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States over the statement on Tiananmen.

“The United States year in, year out issues statements making ‘gratuitous criticism’ of China and interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Hua said. “The U.S. Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” she added.

In a statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China like many websites, Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-backed Global Times, called the statement a “meaningless stunt.”

In another post he said: “what wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realized by holding whiny commemorations today.”

Commemorations for Tiananmen are being held across the globe to mark the anniversary and tens of thousands are expected to gather in Hong Kong, the only place in China such large-scale public rallies to mark the incident can be held.

Exiled Tiananmen student protest leader Wu’Er Kaixi welcomed the statement from Pompeo.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Wu’Er Kaixi

However, he added that over the past 29 years western democracies appeasement of China has nurtured the regime into an imminent threat to freedom and democracy.

“The world bears a responsibility to urge China, to press on the Chinese regime to admit their wrongdoing, to restore the facts and then to console the dead,” he said. “And ultimately to answer the demands of the protesters 29 years ago and put China on the right track to freedom and democracy.”

Wu’er Kaixi fled China after the crackdown and now resides in Taiwan where he is the founder of Friends of Liu Xiaobo. The group recently joined hands with several other non-profit organizations and plans to unveil a sculpture in July 2018 — on the anniversary of his death — to commemorate the late Nobel laureate. The sculpture will be located near Taiwan’s iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper.

In Taiwan, the self-ruled democracy that China claims is a part of its territory, political leaders from both sides of the isle have also urged China’s communist leaders to face the past.

On Facebook, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen noted that it was only by facing up to its history that Taiwan has been able to move beyond the tragedies of the past.

“If authorities in Beijing can face up to the June 4th incident and acknowledge that at its roots it was a state atrocity, the unfortunate history of June 4th could become a cornerstone for China to move toward freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.

Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT, who saw close ties with China while in office, also urged Beijing to face up to history and help heal families’ wounds.

“Only by doing this can the Chinese communists bridge the psychological gap between the people on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and be seen by the world as a real great power,” Ma said.

This article originally appeared on The Voice of America News. Follow @VOANews on Twitter.

Articles

This awesome ‘trench broom’ terrified Germans in both World Wars

A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.


That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
A World War II Marine carries a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.

The spread of a shotgun was perfect for this mission, but the Americans didn’t stop at just buying off-the-shelf weapons. The War Department contracted for standard, trench, and riot versions of most shotguns.

Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
The Trench Winchester Model 1897 shotgun features a cut-down barrel, sling, heat shield, and a bayonet lug. (Catalog Illustration: Public Domain)

The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.

But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.

But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
A standard pump-action Winchester Model 1897 lacks military features like the heat shield and bayonet lug. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.

Shotgunners would rapidly clear German trenches, cutting away the defenders. The tactic was so effective that Model 97s picked up the nicknames “trench brooms” and “trench sweepers.”

The German government lobbed an official protest against the weapon, saying that the weapon inflicted unnecessary cruelty. America responded that the claim was hollow coming from the nation that introduced chemical weapons and flamethrowers into warfare.

There are even reports that American soldiers skilled in skeet shooting were placed along the front trenches to shoot enemy hand grenades from the air, deflecting or destroying the devices before they could hurt American troops.

The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Bearcat has been unjustly overshadowed by history

When you think about Grumman fighters, the Wildcat, the Panther, and the Tomcat all spring to mind. And for good reason — these planes are all classics. But there is one Grumman fighter that didn’t quite get a chance to shine in World War II, but it did see some action in Southeast Asia.


That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Grumman F8F Bearcats line up on the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV 45)

(U.S. Navy)

During World War II, the Navy was deploying the F6F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair was operated by the Marine Corps. The Hellcat was a very tame plane, but the Corsair — known as the “Ensign Eliminator” and foisted on the Marines — simply had higher performance. The Navy wanted the best of both planes. They wanted the F8F Bearcat.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

French F8F Bearcats prepare to take off to carry out a napalm strike in Southeast Asia.

(U.S. Navy)

At the heart of the Bearcat was the Pratt and Whitney R-2800. This was the powerplant used by both the Corsair and Hellcat, but the Bearcat was much lighter, which gave it extreme performance. The Bearcat also packed a significant punch — to the tune of four M2 .50-caliber machine guns. If that wasn’t enough, the Bearcat was also able to haul five-inch rockets or a 1,000-pound bomb.

The Bearcat’s primary mission was to intercept enemy planes. The plane had a “bubble” canopy (pretty much a standard feature on today’s fighters) to improve the situational awareness of pilots. The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,105 miles. It stuck around long enough to see some upgrades, but was quickly replaced by the onset of fighter jets, like the F9F Panther.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkeN4riBy4A

www.youtube.com

The Bearcat did see some combat, though. The French acquired Bearcats from the United States and used them in Southeast Asia. Some of those same planes were later passed on to the South Vietnamese.

The Bearcat also got some time in the spotlight when it was flown by the Blue Angels, from 1946 to 1950.

Learn more about this almost forgotten Grumman cat in the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This dog disarmed a bomb by marking it

Explosive ordnance disposal is an extremely dangerous business that requires the highest levels of intelligence, toughness and discipline. Only the best of the best in the U.S. military can make it through EOD School to earn the coveted “Crab.” Dogs sometimes accompany EOD techs in the field, helping to sniff out concealed explosives. During WWII, however, one dog decided to have a go at disarming a bomb herself.

In 1941, Britain was under constant attack by Germany during The Blitz. The Nazis conducted mass air raids on industrial targets, towns and cities. The bombing campaign resulted in the destruction of two million houses, over 40,000 civilian deaths and injured thousands more.


That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Germany dropped 2,393 incendiary devices during The Blitz (Public Domain)

In April 1941, a German incendiary bomb fell through the roof of the house where a Great Dane named Juliana and her owner lived. Juliana reportedly walked over to the bomb, stood over it and urinated on it. By marking the incendiary device, Juliana extinguished it and prevented the fire from spreading. For her actions, she was awarded the Blue Cross medal. The first animals to be awarded the medal were horses that had served in WWI.

Three years later, Juliana came to the rescue again. In November 1944, a fire broke out in her owner’s shoe shop. Juliana alerted her owner’s family and everyone was able to evacuate the shop before any lives were lost. For this, she was awarded a second Blue Cross.

Tragically, Juliana died in 1946 after she consumed a poison that was dropped through her owner’s mail slot.

Juliana’s heroic actions were forgotten until a watercolor portrait and her second Blue Cross medal came up in a Bristol property clearance auction in 2013. The portrait had a plaque on it that recounted her disarming of the bomb and the medal described how she alerted her owner’s family to the fire in the shoe shop. Auctioneer Philip Taubenheim described Juliana as, “a Great Dane with a great bladder.” Expected to sell for £60, the portrait and medal ended up selling for an incredible £1100.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Juliana’s portrait (Artist unknown)

Though she wasn’t a military working dog, Juliana’s fantastic story highlights the often-overlooked role that animals play in war and proves that dogs are indeed man’s best friend.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The highly caffeinated life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the chain-smoking D-Day mastermind who became president

There are a lot of benefits one can get from drinking coffee. Studies show the right amount of coffee can lower your risk of Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also has a protective effect on your liver, whatever that means.

But history shows that drinking the right amount of coffee could also help your ability to mastermind the largest amphibious military operation in history (sorry, Marines), defeat the Axis powers, and reassert federal authority over the states. In the mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “right amount” was as much as 15 to 20 cups of coffee every day, depending on which of those feats was most important.


In just over two years, the brigadier general who’d never seen combat became the supreme Allied commander in Europe — an intense situation for anyone. Throughout the war (and into his presidency), Ike drank up to 20 cups of coffee and smoked four packs of Camels as he worked day and night to win the war in Europe.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

NPG.65.63. PO 3262. Oil on canvas, 1947.

For Eisenhower, the answer was simple; Type 2 diabetes wasn’t occupying Paris, and doing the work necessary to win World War II required a diet of coffee and cigarettes.

There’s a lot to be said about Eisenhower’s service record. For one, Ike never saw combat, and that was never his specialty, even if it grated on him at times. But there’s more to serving in the military than being a hardcore, door-kicking Nazi-killing machine.

Someone has to get the Nazi-killing machines to the Nazis, and that’s where Ike came in.

At the outset of World War II, Eisenhower was a relatively unknown junior officer who had never held command above a battalion level. But as the war continued, his boss, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, came to rely more and more on his logistics and leadership ability.

First up was planning the greater war in the Pacific. Eisenhower needed to send a division of men to reinforce Australia. He requisitioned the British luxury liner RMS Queen Mary to carry 15,000 soldiers from New York to Sydney around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. After the ship departed, the Army learned that Axis U-boats knew about it and would be hunting it every step of the way. Eisenhower paced the floor until the Queen Mary arrived in Sydney.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Ike was fueled entirely on coffee, cigarettes, and a burning desire to win.

That’s the kind of leader Eisenhower was. He didn’t show it, but he was wracked with anxiety over the potential loss of so many Allied soldiers. Chugging coffee, chain-smoking, and pacing was how he dealt with the pressure.

When he was awaiting word on that first troop transport’s arrival in Sydney Harbor, Eisenhower wore the same calm demeanor as he did reviewing the troops preparing to land at Normandy on June 6, 1944. He walked among them and asked questions, speaking with them at ease. He watched as they prepared to mount an invasion that even he wasn’t sure would be a success.

Ike famously wrote two speeches for the D-Day landings — one if they were successful and one in case they failed. He knew he was taking a gamble with all those men’s lives.

In his mind, 75% of them were going to die trying to free Europe on his orders. He had done all he could, drinking cup after cup of coffee, battling insomnia and headaches to give them their best shot at victory.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Trolling his own vice president? Public domain photo.

As June 6 came and went, he paced around a trailer, chain-smoking through the day and into the night. He downed cup after cup of coffee, waiting for reports of the invasion to come in.

Coffee was Eisenhower’s constant companion as he navigated the postwar world of the 1950s, managing the Soviet Union, the end of the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, the Interstate Highway System, and the use of the US Army to enforce federal laws in the states.

Ike struggled with health issues, especially heart disease, in his post-military career. He suffered at least seven heart attacks and a stroke before his death in 1969. But that wasn’t the coffee’s fault. The supreme Allied commander developed a brain tumor that made him vulnerable to heart attacks.

All that coffee just fueled the end of fascism in Europe and a reboot of the American century.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprisingly long history of the flamethrower

One of the most intimidating standard-issue weapon fielded to troops is, without a doubt, the flamethrower. Yes, bullets are intimidating, but nothing shocks and terrifies the primitive side of our human brains like a wave of fire surging toward you.


In contemporary warfare, the use of flamethrowers has tapered off in favor of more accurate weapons. Contrary to popular belief, they are not outlawed by the Geneva Convention — they just can’t be used anywhere near civilians. The most notable modern example of a flamethrower being used against another person was in 2014, when it was used as an execution tool by North Korea against its Deputy Minister of Public Safety.

The flamethrower, as we know it, was first created by Germany in 1901 and was known as the flammenwerfer. The flamethrower would find immense popularity among troops in the trenches of WWI, the all-out war of WWII, and the forests and jungles of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Only problem is there’s still no place to attach a bayonet.
(Courtesy of the National Archive)

However, the ancestor of what we call the “flamethrower” today got its start early in history with the Byzantine Empire. In 672, Crusader navies would spew a napalm-like substance, called “Greek Fire,” on their enemies. The actual composition of Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret that is now lost to time, but scholars generally agree that pine resin was used to make it sticky.

As technology evolved, Greek Fire was then launched out through a hand siphon that a troop could carry into battle. This was called a “cheirosiphon.” Crusaders would station a hand siphon atop a ladder or wall and spray the Greek Fire down, raining chaos onto their enemy.

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
Who needs a long bow when you have a mother f*cking flamethrower?
(Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1605)

In the East, China invented their own version in 919, during a time known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Pen Huo Qi worked nearly identically to the Crusaders’ flamethower, but it was more elaborate and was made to resemble metal dragons breathing fire.

Outside of the Crusaders, Vikings may have also created their own version of Greek Fire in 1041 (albeit with a different name) after they laid siege on Constantinople. The Saga of Yngvar the Traveler tells the story of a man (Ingvar) as he learns the art of flame-throwing — because apparently regular vikings weren’t terrifying enough.

When guns and gunpowder became the dominant weapon on the battlefield, the comparatively short range of flamethrowers made it less appealing — but it wasn’t ever forgotten. Threats of using Greek Fire even persisted through the American Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Soviets were the first to put a flag on the moon — not the US

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person in history to dismount a lunar space module and walk on the moon. It was then that he spoke those famous words,

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That epic moment had millions of Americans glued to their television sets, witnessing history in the making.

The moon is positioned 240,000 miles away from Earth and, as far as we knew, Armstrong’s famous moment marked the first time a flag was ever planted into the extraterrestrial surface — a landscape pocked with inactive volcanoes, impact craters, and lava flows.

The only problem is, it wasn’t actually the first time a flag was placed on the moon. We may have beaten the Soviets by putting the first man on the moon, but they get the credit for planting the first flag.

 

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
An overhead view of the moon’s surface.

Toward the end of the 1950s, Russia beat the U.S. by firing a satellite called Sputnik into orbit. The thought of Russia beating the United States in the “space race” left many Americans scared sh*tless. They believed that if the Soviets possessed a type of lunar technology, they might be able to fire weapons at the U.S. aimed from space.


That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack
The Soviet satellite, ‘Sputnik’

 

So, when the Russians successfully put an object into orbit, the American government responded by further funding and speeding up their space program. The Soviets took notice and quickly fired a rocket toward moon, which crash-landed on its surface. That rocket, however, was carrying a Russian flag inside. Technically, the Russians had placed a flag on the moon.

It was a slick move, but the American government made sure to tell the Russians that their shady act didn’t give them any territorial rights in space.

Then-Vice President Nixon was incensed by the Soviets’ ballsy move and was sure to remind everybody that it took them four tries to even hit the moon. In 1960, Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy promised Americans that if he were elected, he would win the “space race.”

 

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

Kennedy kept that promise on the day Armstrong touched down on Lunar soil.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: There was a POW Camp in the middle of Mississippi

Located in Clinton, Mississippi, Camp Clinton was a POW facility and the home of about 3,000 German and Italian POWs during World War II. A lot of them were members of the Afrika Corps who were captured in Africa. That’s right: World War II included battles in a continent many people never realize was even a part of the war.

Wait…Africa Was Part of WWII? 

Africa’s involvement in the war had more to do with the big powers in the war using North Africa strategically rather than those countries having their own stake in it. That’s why Britain, German and Italian soldiers went into places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in the first place in 1940. 

The US didn’t arrive in the fight on the North African front until 1942. Their attack from the west with Britain’s attack from the east trapped German and Italian soldiers in the middle. And those so-called German and Italian “Afrika Corps” are the ones who became POWs. 

Camp Clinton was the best of the bunch

In total, the US took about 275,000 of those Soldiers as POWs, and 3,400 of them came to Camp Clinton. Of the four main POW base camps in Mississippi, Camp Clinton was the most “prestigious.” It held the high-ranking German officers, including generals, colonels, majors and captains. The highest-ranking of them all even had special housing.

camp clinton POW camp

Many POWs chose to work, with a modest sum of 80 cents a day. After all, there was nothing else to do. They mostly picked cotton and planted trees, not surprising considering their Mississippi locale.

Not All German POWs Were True Nazis 

And here’s another thing you might find surprising: the majority of the German POWs were not all-out Nazis. They were just guys who had gone to war when their country needed them. However, a few of the POWs did indeed subscribe fully to the Nazi ideology. One of them even got so crazy that he ended up killing a non-fanatical German POW. That’s when the US government realized that the animosity between the Nazi fanatics and the rest of the POWs could get out of hand, and they quickly shipped off the fanatics to Oklahoma. 

World War II ended in May 1945, which normally would mean the POWs would return home right away. However, thanks to the labor shortage in the US, which wasn’t the case this time. President Truman had many of the German POWs stay and work until the middle of 1946.

Years later, some of those German POWs came back to Mississippi to visit and pay homage to their experiences. If that doesn’t prove how decently they were treated, I don’t know what would. You might even venture to say that going to the Mississippi POW facilities like Camp Clinton saved their lives. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have survived the war at all. 

Related: The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II

Articles

How Rangers ‘left their mark’ on the Italians at Sened Station

In early 1943, the 1st Ranger Battalion, known as Darby’s Rangers, was still relatively unknown and rather untested. All of that was about to change.


The Rangers had been formed less than a year before at the insistence of Gen. George Marshall. Marshall believed that the Americans needed a commando unit and ordered Major Orlando Darby to make it happen. On June 19, 1942, the 1st Ranger Battalion was activated from “volunteers not adverse to dangerous action.”

Though over 2,000 men had volunteered, only 575 officers and enlisted men were accepted into the battalion. The British Commandos then trained these men at their training facility at Achnacarry, Scotland.

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William Darby. (U.S. Army photo)

Less than six months after their formation, the Rangers spearheaded the Allied invasion of North Africa by taking out Vichy French artillery batteries at Arzew, Algeria. In a quick but decisive move, the Rangers captured the guns and some 60 prisoners.

After helping secure the port facilities and a nearby town, the Rangers were withdrawn from action. They began an intense training period, focusing on forced marches and night fighting. Both would prove useful in the near future.

With the rapid advance of Allied forces across North Africa, and commanders unsure of what to do with a specialized raiding force like the Rangers, they were not involved in the ongoing combat.

That changed in February when the Rangers were called upon to conduct raids against Axis forces to gather intelligence and weaken enemy morale.

Darby devised a plan to attack the Italians at Sened Station.

Trucked to within 20 miles of their objective the Rangers set off in total darkness. The Rangers set a blistering pace and stealthily covered some fourteen miles before taking shelter among the rocks for the day.

Word was passed around for that night’s mission — the Rangers would leave their mark.

“They’ve got to know that they’ve been worked over by Rangers,” Capt. Roy Murray said. “Every man is to use his bayonet as much as he can. Those are our orders.”

While his men concealed themselves among rocks and brush, Darby and his executive officer, Major Herman Dammer, conducted a leaders’ reconnaissance of the Italian outpost.

With the final plan set, the Rangers prepared to move out as the sun set. Faces were blackened and anything that jingled or rattled was secured to ensure silence. Helmets had been traded for wool caps the night before.

Once the moon set, the Rangers began their movement toward the objective.

The raiding force consisted of three line companies and a detachment of 81mm mortars. They moved out three companies abreast, toward positions within 500 yards of the outpost.

Darby was able to track the movement of his men by an ingenious method. Using red-lensed flashlights covered with a shroud mounted on the pack of a few men, he was able to see when his units were in position. This also ensured that no man wondered off course.

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Rangers train on the terrain of the 8 November assault at Arzew (U.S. Army Photograph)

When all was ready, Darby sent forward the order to fix bayonets and move out.

Slowly, silently, the Rangers crept toward the unsuspecting Italian garrison.

Some amount of noise must have made it to the Italians at their posts because they became suspicious. With the Rangers still some 200 yards out, Italian machine guns opened fire. In the pitch black, their fire was wild and inaccurate. The Rangers held their fire and continued to creep forward.

As the Rangers made it to within 50 yards of the wire, the Italian’s fire became too close for comfort. Italian sentries called out into the night, “Qui va la? Qui va la?” (“Who goes there?”)

All at once the Americans responded. The Rangers leapt up and charged across the short distance to the Italian perimeter. American Tommy Guns riddled the outpost as riflemen tossed hand grenades and stormed across the Italian defenses with their bayonets.

One Ranger, Cpl. James Altieri, stumbled into a trench and right on top of an Italian soldier. In the brief struggle, Altieri dispatched the man by stabbing him in the stomach. It was his first hand-to-hand kill. He immediately vomited before continuing the fight.

Altieri later described the fighting by saying, “We worked them over furiously, giving no quarter.”

As the Rangers cleared the outpost, the 81mm mortars pounded the Italian positions and cut off their retreat.

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American troops march in the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. (Dept. of Defense photo)

In just 20 minutes, the Rangers were victorious. The Rangers had killed some 75 Italians and captured eleven more from the elite 10th Bersaglieri Regiment. The Italian artillery and machine guns were destroyed in place.

The victory had cost the Rangers one man and another 20 wounded.

As Darby conferred with the assault commanders and consolidated his position, he could hear the distant rumble of tracked vehicles — German armor. This was expected; the raid had been intended to draw out the Germans to help commanders determine their strength. But it also meant it was time for the Rangers to get out of Dodge.

Also read: 8 more awesome nicknames that enemies gave the U.S. military

Retracing their steps, the Rangers set out on a forced march back to the French outpost with their prisoners in tow.

The sudden ferocity with which the Rangers struck earned them the nickname “the Black Death” among the Italians.

The daring raid also garnered Darby and eleven other Rangers a Silver Star for gallantry.

Darby and the Rangers would see more intense combat in North Africa before spearheading assaults into Sicily and Italy.

Their success convinced the Army to stand up four more Ranger battalions in the European theatre.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 strangest super weapons of the Cold War

The Cold War was one of the most trying times for both Americans and Russians, who constantly lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. If they only knew about the other weapons the superpowers were coming up with, no one would ever have slept at night. The struggle against Communism was a field day for weapons manufacturers and government war planners. It seemed the military was open to almost anything that could kill or stymie the Russian menace.

Even if that meant getting a little creative.


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The Blue Peacock

Land mines are a dangerous, tricky business for a couple of reasons. The first is that they’re hidden, of course, and no one knows where they are until it’s too late. With the Blue Peacock, “too late” came with a lot of baggage – eight to ten kilotons worth. In the Cold War, everyone wanted their special atomic weapon, it seemed. For the British, that came in the form of denying the Soviets an area to occupy in the event of World War III. Blue Peacock was a large atomic weapon that would have been buried in areas around Northern Germany and set to trigger if someone opened the casing or if it filled with water.

The idea was for the bomb to be left unattended, so on top of its itchy trigger finger, it could be set off with an eight-day timer or just detonated by wire. What’s truly silly about this weapon is that British engineers didn’t know how to address the extreme cold of the North German Plain, so their plan was to either wrap the bombs in blankets or keep live chickens with them to keep them warm.

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Chrysler TV-8 Tank

Is this the goofiest tank you’ve ever seen? Me too, but it’s an American-engineered nuclear tank, imported from Detroit. This behemoth was nuclear in that it was powered by a nuclear reactor that was designed to use closed-circuit television for the crew to see. The crew would reside in the tank’s massive pod area, along with the engines and ammunition storage but the pod design would also allow the TV-8 to float, along with two water jet pumps, giving it an amphibious landing capability.

Along with the tank’s main turret, the TV-8 carried two manual .30-caliber machine guns along with a remote-controlled .50-cal mounted on top of the pod. At 25 tons, this incredible hulk was still half the mass of the M1 Abrams.

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Project Orion

Still riding high from the possibilities of nuclear power, American engineers thought going to Mars and beyond would be possible with the use of an atomic engine. But this isn’t an engine that is propelled by some sort of atomic chain reaction or any kind of vacuum energy, no. This engine was powered by atomic bombs. Nuclear bombs were supposed to give the spaceship lift and, once in space, the energy needed for an interplanetary excursion.

The only problem was it left nuclear fallout and radioactive waste spread throughout the atmosphere.

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“Rods from God”

Finally, someone decided that nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons were being a little overdone (probably, anyway) and came up with the idea to design a weapon that could hit with the force of a nuke, but without actually nuking a city.

“Project Thor” was born.

Read: These Air Force ‘rods from god’ could hit with the force of a nuclear weapon

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Project Pluto

If there was ever a contest for the biggest “f*ck you” weapon of the Cold War, the United States’ Project Pluto is the top contender. The weapon was an unmanned ramjet loaded with nuclear weapons that, once launched, would fly around for as long as it could at supersonic speeds. This jet engine was special, though, because it was heated by a nuclear reactor, so that turned out to be a very, very long time. Once the nuclear drone bomber delivered its payload to targets, it would just fly around, dropping its nuclear waste on everyone it flew over.

Potentially forever.

The Pentagon scrapped the idea because there was no known defense and they didn’t want the Soviets to develop a similar weapon and use it on the United States.

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Soviet Ekranoplan – “The Flying Boat”

Unlike a couple of the other crazy superweapons of the Cold War that made this list, the Ekranoplane was actually built by the Soviet Union. Faster than any ship and bigger than any plane, the Flying Boat could carry anything from troops to cargo to nuclear weapons, all at a crazy speed. And just 13 feet off the ground. Its engines were some of the most advanced of the time, each producing thrust equal to the F-35’s engines.

It could carry some two million pounds, flying low over water to evade detection, moving small, portable D-Day invasions across the globe. Luckily only one was ever built, and the Soviets lost the Cold War anyway.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Panzerfaust was one of the best weapons against tanks

The Panzerfaust had limited range, limited stopping power, and required brave troops to draw deeply into a tank’s range to kill it, but it was still one of the more effective tank weapons of the war, and they instilled fear in Allied tank crews forced to drive against it.


Panzerfaust – How Effective was it? – Military History

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As World War II progressed, tanks got beefier and beefier, forcing infantrymen to find new ways to wreck panzers. They eventually turned to an idea first pioneered in the 1880s by German and American scientists.

The scientists had found that when a hollow was left in explosives, they produced a jet of hot air that did more damage than a solid block would, and the effect with high explosives was much greater than the effect by any other explosives. This knowledge was largely unexploited in World War I but many academics, especially in Germany, did research and weapons design in the 1930s.

In 1943, the first Panzerfaust was created, and the shaped-charge breakthroughs were key to its design. It was a recoilless rifle that could launch a shaped charge anywhere from 30 to 200 yards, depending on the model. When the munition hit a tank, a shaped charge at the front of the warhead detonated and sent a jet of hot metal into the tank’s cabin, usually killing the crew and potentially setting off fuel or ammo stores in the vehicle.

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A soldier with a Panzerfaust from the Panzer Division Hermann Göring smiling to the camera, Russia, 1944.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

Early Panzerfaust could penetrate 5.5 inches of steel, and Germany later upgraded it to penetrate almost 8 inches of armor. Meanwhile, a T-34 turret had 3.5 inches of armor, and the M4 Sherman had up to 3 inches. This overkill could terrorize Allied tank crews who knew that, if it was hit with a Panzerfaust, it was likely all over.

Luckily for them, the Panzerfaust did have one big shortcoming: It was an infantry weapon with a range between a few dozen yards and 200 yards, and the 200-yard variants weren’t deployed during the war. So, tank crews could slaughter Panzerfaust crews from hundreds of yards outside of the anti-tank team’s range.

But only if they could spot the anti-tank teams from out of the weapon’s range. Panzerfaust teams would hide in brush or trenches and wait for tanks to roll up, or they would sneak through buildings and hit the tanks from close range.

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A soldier inspects his Panzerfaust.

(Bundesarchiv Bild, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Either way, the weapon was the most effective Germany had against tanks at close range, taking out about half of the Allied tanks killed at short range. And the weapon was nearly on par with dedicated anti-tank guns, requiring just a little over twice as many shots per tank killed despite having much lower logistics and training requirements.