There was a time when duels 'downsized' the officer ranks - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

In 1814 the War of 1812 was rising in intensity and the young American nation found itself struggling to mount a serious defense against the British juggernaut. Compounding America’s problems of short-manning and a limited supply of weapons was the fact that officers kept killing each other in duels over matters of honor, Donald R. Hickey said in his book, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.


 

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Duelists fighting to the death over perceived insults. Painting: Public Domain

 

“One in twelve American navy officers who died on active duty before 1815 were killed in duels, eighteen in all,” Stephen Budiansky wrote in Perilous Fight; “easily twice that number had fought a duel, and every officer lived with the knowledge that his reputation for courage was always liable to be tested on the field of honor.

A Smithsonian.com article noted an even grimmer statistic saying, “Between 1798 and the Civil War, the Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did to more than 60 years of combat at sea.”

One spot of ground near Washington, D.C. was popular for both duelists and journalists. At least 26 duels, many of them between military officers, were fought there. In one duel in 1820, Commodore Stephen Decatur, a decorated naval officer, was killed by Commodore James Barron over a years-old disagreement.

The disagreement stemmed from the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and was the root cause of 8 other duels as well. Officers fought each other to the death to determine who should be blamed for the USS Chesapeake‘s surrender to the HMS Leopard in a skirmish in 1807.

Gen. Andrew Jackson was nearly killed in a duel in 1806 when he dueled attorney Charles Dickinson and was shot within inches of his heart. Jackson plugged the wound with a handkerchief before killing Dickinson.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the War of 1812 ended. Not photographed: The hole in his chest from the nearly fatal dueling wound he shrugged off. Painting: Public Domain.

It got so bad that in 1814 the War Department threatened to discharge duelists in a failed attempt to bring the practice to an end.

This would have been a direct reversal of common military culture at the time. In 1813, a regimental commander refused a duel from one of the doctors in his unit. The doctor was later convicted of insubordination but immediately pardoned.

Other officers from the same camp had convinced the commanding general that it was a greater injustice that a duel had been refused than that a doctor had posted insubordinate notices. When the war was over, the Army kept the insubordinate doctor but released the colonel from service.

Abraham Lincoln, before he was president, nearly cut down Army officer James Shields. Lincoln had ridiculed Shields in the press and Shields demanded the chance to defend his honor. Lincoln chose broadswords as the weapon and, on the dueling ground, used his much larger arms to cut down a branch that was over Shields’ head.

With the encouragement of the crowd, the men called off the duel. During the Civil War, then-Brig. Gen. Shields defeated Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown, an important victory for the Union.

Although generally frowned upon, duels still happened until after the Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Army vet clears unexploded ordnance in Vietnam

The United States dropped more than seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1957 and 1975, more than twice what it dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II. That’s a lot of ordnance. This doesn’t take into account the rockets, mortars, tank rounds, etc. used by American and allied infantrymen on the ground in Vietnam. An estimated ten percent or more of that tonnage didn’t explode – which means it’s still there.


It also means someone, now nearly 50 years later, is going to find it – a mother, father, or child. That’s where Chuck Searcy, a U.S. Army veteran, comes in. He’s on a mission to clear those UXOs.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Chuck Searcy is a Georgia-based Army vet on a new mission.

Searcy co-founded Project RENEW in 2001, a million effort to clear unexploded weapons from the former war zone while teaching children about the bombs and helping those affected by them.

Since the war’s official end in 1975 – when North Vietnam invaded and forcibly unified the South – more than 100,000 Vietnamese civilians have been killed by unexploded ordnance in the country. Some of them were farmers or other kinds of laborers, clearing paths through fields as they’ve done time and time again. Others injured by the bombs were metal scrappers, gathering what they could to make extra money.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Ten percent is a lot of explosive still sitting around.

In 2017, Searcy and Project RENEW cleared some 17,000 munitions found in the middle of Vietnam. Over the project’s lifetime, the group has cleared more than a million. Searcy first returned to Vietnam in 1995, the year after the United States formally normalized relations with the still-Communist country. Back then, he was helping kids find orthopedic devices for missing limbs, but he kept reading about the problems with explosives in the countryside.

“We kept reading about kids and farmers getting blown up by unexploded ordnance,” Searcy told Georgia’s Ledger-Enquirer. “Why aren’t we helping?”

Now they do. When someone finds a bomb and reports it, the group will send out a team to dispose of it as they always have. But in the last 20 years, they’ve become more proactive, more methodical. They not only interview villagers asking about bomb sightings, they examine U.S. Air Force databases, reviewing every single bombing run of the war.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Chuck Searcy now and in his Vietnam-era years.

While often times, the difference can be difficult to measure, there is one important number to follow, and that is how many people were killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in a given area. In Quang Tri, a province that saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, the number killed or wounded in 2001 (when project RENEW began its education program) was 89. In 2017, the number dwindled to two.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the storied history behind the drill sergeant’s campaign hat

The very moment a United States Armed Forces recruit steps foot off the bus, they’ll be greeted by a non-commissioned officer wearing a campaign hat and, in that moment, their life will change forever. Every branch in the Armed Forces (with exception of the Navy) uses a variation of the same, broad-brimmed hat. When you see someone wearing it, you know they’re dedicated to breaking the civilian out of young prospects and molding Uncle Sam a batch of new, capable warfighters.

But long before the campaign hat became the official headgear of every private’s nightmares, it was used by soldiers in the Old West, who casually wore it for so long that it just kind of became an official thing.


There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Don’t get this confused with the Stetson worn by cavalrymen. The campaign hat was mostly worn by infantrymen.

(National Archives)

The campaign hat was first worn back in the 1840s by soldiers making their way across the country toward the Pacific. The typical forage cap used out east simply wasn’t a suitable option for blocking out the blinding sun that hung relentlessly above the American deserts.

The soldiers heading west were so far away from the brass (and military regulations was comparatively relaxed in those times) that they simply substituted regulation gear with whatever else made more sense. It was said that they were inspired by the sombreros of the Mexican Vaqueros, but the soldiers made their hats smaller to be more practical for longer rides.

The new unofficial hat finally got recognition and was authorized in the 1870s. This version was made of black felt, had a softer brim, and was still missing the distinctive pinch on the top. Over the years, the hat underwent several slight adjustments until becoming the campaign hat we know and love/fear today.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Technically speaking, Smokey the Bear has been around longer (1944) than the Army has officially had drill sergeants (1964). So they kinda took his hat.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

The British took note of the campaign hat and soon incorporated it into the wardrobe of their armies located around the Empire, as many fought under conditions similar to those of the Wild West — like the Boer Wars in South Africa. Canadian, South African, and Kiwi troops all adapted the hat — the Canadian Military then famously handed it down to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

By the turn of the century, the hat also became synonymous with the Buffalo Soldiers — in fact, they were responsible for sewing in the iconic “Montana Pinch” we all recognize today. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked into various national parks and became some of the first national park rangers.

Later, park rangers, CBP agents, and highway policemen would all wear similar campaign hats in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who’d, essentially, laid the foundation for their careers. Meanwhile, the troops tossed the hat at the advent of WWI as helmets were the preferred combat headgear.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Never thought we would all have to thank the Coast Guard for keeping this terror-inducing hat alive and well… but they adopted it during the Spanish-American War and never abandoned it during the World Wars.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)

One by one, each branch began putting recruits through more extensive and intense recruit training programs, helmed by the finest NCOs each branch had to offer. The Marines were the first in 1956 — and they needed an easily identifiable symbol to distinguish the drill instructor from everyone else.

They chose the campaign cover for all the same reasons the soldiers of the Wild West did — the fact that recruits couldn’t clearly see the eyes of the DI under the brim was just an added bonus. Other branches quickly followed suit. The Army adopted it in 1964 and the Air Force and Coast Guard did so in 1967

Which leaves out the Navy. Fact is, the Navy has just never had a reason to use the hat and has never showed any intentions of switching.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

. . . [Captain] Fraser opposed an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and this official’s hostility proved fatal to the Captain’s long career: by an arbitrary abuse of power, the administration in 1856 revoked his commission summarily. Both indefensible and stupid, this action resulted wholly from personal animosity and cost the government one of the most far-sighted and loyal men who ever sailed in the Revenue-Marine.
Capt. Stephen Evans, U.S. Coast Guard, retired. “The United States Coast Guard: A Definitive History”

As the quote above indicates, Capt. Alexander Vareness Fraser, first commandant of the service, was a visionary and a man of character. During his four years as head of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, he did his best to professionalize and modernize the service. Many of his innovations were ahead of their time taking place decades after he tried to implement them.


Fraser was born in New York, in 1804, and attended the city’s Mathematical, Nautical and Commercial School. In 1832, he applied for a commission with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. President Andrew Jackson signed his commission as second lieutenant aboard the cutter Alert. Fraser served as boarding officer when the service ordered his cutter to Charleston during the infamous “Nullification Crisis” in which South Carolina officials defied federal law requiring merchant ships arriving in Charleston to pay tariffs. During this event, political tempers cooled and a national crisis was ultimately averted.

After the Nullification Crisis, Fraser was offered command of a merchant vessel destined for Japan, China and the Malayan Archipelago. Upon his return two years later, Fraser received appointment as first lieutenant aboard the Alert. Soon thereafter, Congress passed a law authorizing revenue cutters to cruise along the coasts in the winter months to render aid to ships in distress. Fraser returned to New York before any cutters actually started this new duty, and he applied for it, taking command of the Alert when its captain was too sick to go to sea. He spent three years performing this mission, becoming the first cutter captain to carry out the service’s official search and rescue mission.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Rare pre-Civil War photo of Alexander Fraser in dress uniform.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

In 1843, Treasury Secretary John Spencer created the Revenue Marine Bureau to centralize authority over the cutters within the department and appointed Fraser head of the Bureau. As head of the service, Fraser busied himself with all financial, material and personnel matters concerning the revenue cutters. During his first year in office, he assembled statistics and information for the service’s first annual report and he outlawed the use of slaves aboard revenue cutters. He instituted a merit-based system of officer promotion by examination before a board of officers. He also began the practice of regularly rotating officers to different stations to acquaint them with the nation’s coastal areas. He tried to improve the morale of the enlisted force, raising the pay of petty officers from $20 a month to $30; however, he also prohibited the drinking of alcohol onboard cutters. He made regular inspection tours of lighthouses and tried to amalgamate the Lighthouse Board with the Revenue Marine Bureau, a merger that finally occurred nearly 100 years later. With construction of the 1844 Legare-Class cutters, Fraser introduced the service to iron hulls and steam power. However, these hull materials and motive power were experimental at the time and the new cutters proved unsuccessful.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Early photo of a Legare-Class iron cutter converted to lightship use.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

In November 1848, Fraser completed his four-year tenure as commandant. He asked for command of the new cutter C.W. Lawrence on a maiden voyage that would round Cape Horn bound for the West Coast. This journey placed him in charge of the first revenue cutter to sail the Pacific Ocean. The Lawrence arrived at San Francisco almost a year after departing New York and, during this odyssey, Fraser took it upon himself to educate his officers in navigation and seamanship much like the Revenue Cutter Service School of Instruction did after its founding in 1876. Unfortunately, all of these trained officers resigned their commissions when they reached California to join the Gold Rush.

On the San Francisco station, Fraser had an exhaustive list of missions to perform with a crew depleted by the lure of gold. He not only enforced tariffs and interdicted smugglers; he provided federal law enforcement for San Francisco, relieved distressed merchant vessels and surveyed the coastline of the new U.S. territory. Fraser had a busy time with 500 to 600 vessels at anchor in San Francisco harbor, many with lawless crews. There were no civil tribunals to help with law enforcement, so Fraser did his best to enforce revenue laws while aiding shipmasters in suppressing mutiny.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Painting of Alexander Fraser showing his home town of New York and the cutter Harriet Lane in the background.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

After completing his assignment on the West Coast, Fraser returned to New York City. There, he was suspended and investigated on the charge of administering corporal punishment in San Francisco. The case was unsuccessful so he retained his captaincy in New York. In 1856, the merchants of New York decided they needed a new cutter because the port had become such an important commercial center. Fraser favored building a steam cutter and visited Washington to lobby for new construction. Congress appropriated funds for the steam cutter Harriet Lane, which later earned fame in the Civil War.

Because Fraser had lobbied Congress directly, without permission from the Department of the Treasury, his commission was revoked in 1856. He went into private business in New York as a marine insurance agent, but he retained a sincere interest in military service. He applied for reinstatement in the service during the Civil War and, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a captain’s commission for Fraser. By then, however, personal matters intervened and Fraser regretfully declined the appointment. He died in 1868 at the age of 64 and was laid to rest in a Brooklyn cemetery.

Fraser introduced the service to professionalization, new technology and moved a reluctant service toward reforms and innovations that would take place long after his death. As the first commandant, Fraser’s foresight and enlightened leadership set the service on course for growth and modernization. He was a true seaman, a visionary and a member of the long blue line.

This article originally appeared on Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only successful missile attack on a US warship was an Iraqi sucker punch

On May 17, 1987, a long-range luxury business jet approached the USS Stark, which was on a routine patrol in the Persian Gulf. The Iran-Iraq War was nearing its end, but attacks from both sides were still brutal and frequent. When Stark requested the plane identify itself, it instead fired two Exocet anti-ship missiles, killing 37 sailors and wounding another 21.


The Stark was well outside the war zone and wasn’t expecting to run into any kind of attack, especially from Iraq, which was a de facto ally of the U.S. The crew of the Stark saw what they believed was an Iraqi Mirage fighter coming their way, and, as such, was no real cause for alarm. But the F-1 Mirage wasn’t a fighter at all — it was a classified, modified business-class plane, specially adapted to raid Iranian targets.

The Americans never saw it coming.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Most reports say the Stark was attacked by an Iraqi F-1 Mirage fighter.

The ship’s electronic surveillance systems didn’t see the missiles and neither did the radar, despite both systems being able to track the business jet. The jet made a few quick turns, coming closer with each turn. When it was 30 miles out, it fired and sped away. The second missile hit Stark 30 seconds after the first. The crew had no time to respond.

According to the Navy’s official investigation of the incident, Stark’s crew and officers believed the plane would “benignly pass them by.” The Tactical Action Officer took no action, even though he knew the Mirage fighter they believed the plane to be was capable of firing missiles from 38 miles away. The TAO tried to increase the ships readiness level in the minutes before the first missile hit, but by then it was too late.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

There was plenty of blame to go around. The Weapons Control Officer was not at his station, the Fire Control Technician had already left the operations room on personal business, the automatic detector-tracker was off, the fire control radar was on standby, and the Mk-92 fire control radar was not locked onto the attacker until the missiles were already on their way.

The first Exocet penetrated the hull but did not explode, hitting right beneath the bridge. Its unspent fuel sparked a huge fire aboard the ship. The second missile hit the same spot, but this one exploded, blowing a 3×4.6-meter hole in the ship’s hull. Of the 37 sailors who died, 29 were killed immediately, two were lost at sea, and eight more died of their wounds.

Strangely enough, it was an Iranian helicopter and a Saudi Arabian ship that assisted the Navy in rescue and salvage operations.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Stark was still afloat and managed to hobble back to port in nearby Bahrain with the help of destroyers USS Waddell and USS Conyngham, along with the destroyer tender USS Acadia. Captain Glenn Brindel was relieved of command of the Stark, eventually taking non-judicial punishment and retiring early.

Iraq initially claimed the ship violated the war-zone area, but upon seeing the Navy’s evidence to the contrary, relented. They announced they would pursue their own inquiry into the incident and apologized to the United States after President Reagan called an emergency meeting of the National Security Planning Group.

If this attack was carried out by Iraqi planes, then it ‘would have been the result of confusion by the pilots’,” the Iraqi Foreign Minister told the Guardian. It’s not known what became of the pilot but the Iraqi investigation found he thought the Stark was an Iranian tanker.

Articles

The founder of Delta Force was almost impossible to kill

In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.


Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Col. Charles Beckwith toward the end of his career.

Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.

It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.

In fact, they called it one of the three worst cases they’d ever seen. Beckwith was given three weeks to live — and he did.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
The British SAS patrol during Malayan insurgency.

He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.

But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.

But death still didn’t come.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
A MACV Special Operation group in Vietnam circa 1969.

Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.

It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.

Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War troops ate so much mutton it went out of style

Imagine trying to feed literally tens of thousands of men. You and a couple of dozen others are in charge of buying all the food necessary fill all those bellies as they march across continents or charge from trench to trench and burned 4,600 calories per day, almost 30 percent more than a farmer would need. You would likely take whatever food was available in large quantities, and you might feed the men so much of it that they never wanted to see it again.


There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

World War 2 propaganda poster shows soldier receiving a massive piece of freshly cooked meat under the slogan “After the fighters, you come first. SHARE THE MEAT.”

(National Archives and Records Administration)

That’s what, allegedly, happened with American troops and mutton in World War II. While troops got some meat from local farms and wild game when they were lucky or had particularly resourceful supply officers in the unit, most of their calories and most of their meat was shipped from the states.

American farmers generated as much food as they could, and it was canned, jarred, concentrated, preserved, and more and sent to the fronts. One of the meats that preserved and canned well and was widely available was mutton, and so it was shipped forward by the ton.

But while canned mutton was stable and safe to eat, it wasn’t exactly desirable. And that’s especially true since military buyers weren’t discerning customers, and so they were often delivered particularly gamy and poor meat. And so American troops ran into the MRE problem of today but on a much greater scale.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Mutton looks so delicious in the wild.

(Pixabay, lfmatac)

Anyone who has had an MRE can tell you it’s not that bad for food that can be safe on a shelf for years. Most of the components taste fine, the nutrition is pretty balanced for someone who is expected to work and sweat all day, and it can be transported easily.

But while an MRE tastes OK the first couple of times or first dozen times you eat one, eating one every day gets repetitive. Eating two a day becomes onerous. It becomes a task that you force yourself through, not a meal, not a welcome morale boost or a respite from the fear and monotony.

Now imagine that, instead of 24 separate meals like the MRE program offers, you had only a few meals, all of them based around meat. And so you would be eating that canned mutton multiple times per week, potentially as much as a couple of days a week. Poor cuts of meat, canned for weeks or months or years, and then delivered to troops that had been eating it repetitively for years.

Oddly enough, when troops got home from war, some of them told their families that they never wanted to see the stuff again.

And some allege that it’s because of this that mutton fell out of favor in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, in Britain, after the war. The British drop off was even more noticeable because the country had been so culturally tied to sheep and the wool industry for centuries before World War II.

But there are some historians who allege that the story is overblown, that the damage to the mutton industry was already in the cards. Wool clothing gave way, increasingly, to cotton and synthetic fibers after the war, and so no one was raising sheep to adulthood for wool. That reduced the sizes of the herds that mutton was harvested from. And lamb, harvested from younger sheep, became more popular.

Here’s hoping the MRE pizza is properly rotated with other meals. We’d hate to have that ruined for an entire generation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This mayor saved his town by drinking 3 liters of wine at once

There are no wars like religious wars, and the wars between early protestants and Catholics are no exception. They tend to be particularly destructive and brutal. Such was the 1618-1648 Thirty Years War, which was one of the most destructive in human history. The German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber might have met the same fate as many before it were it not for the legendary wine it produced and the extraordinary consumption ability of its Bürgermeister, Georg Nusch.


There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Prost. Prost to the Max.

Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly led the Catholic armies of the Thirty Years War. For 11 of those 30 years, Tilly dominated the protestant forces, sacking and destroying town after town with a demoralizing effect. When he arrived at Rothenberg, he was prepared to do the same to it as he had done so many other times. Legend has it he sent the city’s councilmen to death and prepared to burn the town. At the last second, he was convinced to take a glass of wine – in a large, beautifully ornate cup.

Tilly was as taken with the nearly one-gallon flagon as he was the wine itself. With his mood changed, either by the townsfolk or because of a delicious, intoxicating beverage, Tilly decided to offer the town a bargain. He said he would spare the town if anyone could slam an entire glassful of the wine – the 3.25 liter glassful – in one drink.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

When your future rests upon the fate of a bar bet.

Anyone in the town was free to try, but there was a catch. Anyone who failed to down the full glass in a single go would be put to death. The choice was clear: die trying to drink the wine or die by the sword when the Catholics torch the town. That’s when fate the mayor stepped in.

The glass itself was new. No one had ever really downed a whole glass tankard of wine in one drink. No one knew they should have been practicing all these years. But that was okay. The people of Rothenberg elected him to take care of the town, and by choice and by duty, Georg Nusch was going to be the first man to make the attempt.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

And ever since, no one could stop talking about it.

When Nusch walked in, he took the tankard, and downed the entire 3.25 liters of wine, all in one go. Everyone watching, especially Tilly, was suitably impressed. True to his word, Tilly spared the town, and the locals have been telling the legend of Der Meistertrunk (the Master Drink) for some 400 years now. They even wrote a play about it, which is retold better and better (like most bar stories) with every retelling.

But most notably, the story is retold in the clock tower of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the 17th-century Ratstrinkstube. When the clock strikes the hour, a door opens and out comes Count Tilly on one side, and the other side comes Mayor Nusch, who puts a drink to his lips for as long as the clock chimes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 finest moments in Air Force history

The Air Force is now aged well into its seventies and the branch that started as an offshoot of the U.S. Army is looking at having a child of its own — the U.S. Space Force. Even though the mere need for the U.S. Air Force is one that is still debated in some circles, it’s pretty safe to say the service is here to stay, and for good reason. The men, women, and aircraft of the U.S. Air Force have accomplished some of the most incredible feats in military history.


When you look back at the legacy of the USAF, there are so many important, pivotal events that either established the Air Force as one to be reckoned with, cemented the legendary status of some great American heroes, or made the difference when it was needed the most. There’s a reason these moments will live forever in our collective imagination. Like the mythological tales of great heroes setting out to impress the gods, these are the Air Force’s finest moments.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

You have to admit, it’s ballsy to go into combat in a rig made of canvas and popsicle sticks.

(U.S. Air Force)

1. The St. Mihiel Offensive – World War I

For four years, the St. Mihiel Salient was a giant bulge in the lines of the Western Front. In 1914, the German Army managed to create a 250-square mile indentation on the front while trying to capture the fortress at Verdun. When the United States joined World War I in 1918, General John J. Pershing demanded an area of the front that was exclusively the responsibility of American forces. He got it.

An important aspect of that battle was the air war over St. Mihiel, the largest air battle of the entire war. 1,476 allied aircraft took on 500 German aircraft over four days in September 1918. The First U.S. Army Air Service took command of air elements from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Portugal. Combined force air power destroyed enemy aviation, achieved complete air superiority, and aided ground forces while denying enemy air reconnaissance assets.

The Salient was itself crushed by American ground troops within those four days.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

From the USAF’s raid on the Ploesti Airfields in Romania.

(U.S. Air Force)

2. World War II

An essential element to early Nazi successes in World War II relied on the new tactic of blitzkrieg, which required large but very fast movements of concentrated forces and massive air firepower. Before entering the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces saw the importance of air power in the skies over London and were shown that power in force at Pearl Harbor. After entering the war, the Air Forces were tasked with gaining air superiority, crushing the Germans’ ability to wage war, and prepare Fortress Europe for an allied invasion.

During World War II, being on a bomber crew was deadlier than even landing on the beaches of the Pacific with the U.S. Marines. As the war came home to Germany, the Air Force only stepped up the intensity of the bombing campaign while proving that American airmen and technology were more than a match for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the Nazi air forces struggled to put up a fight as fuel, pilots, and ammunition were in such short supply against the overwhelming air power of the USAAF.

In the Pacific theater, the Air Force immediately brought the pain as fast as they could after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid started out the war with Japan by reminding them that they weren’t out of the United States’ long reach. The Air Force fought alongside the Navy in as many pitched air battles as were needed, but the real strength of the Air Force came at the end of the Navy and Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign. As air bases were set up closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, Army Air Forces bombers pummeled mainland Japan with firebombs, crippling Japanese industry until two days in August 1945 changed the world forever: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Pacific War for good.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

In all your life, you’ll never be this cool.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. The Tuskegee Airmen – World War II

In the days before the integration of the Armed Forces, African-Americans served primarily in support roles, and usually as enlisted men. That all changed in the lead up to World War II when President Roosevelt ordered the Army to begin training black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field – in the heart of the segregated South. It was a time when Americans widely believed that black people could not be trained to use advanced technological equipment, especially aircraft.

Not only were the college-educated Tuskegee Airmen able to fly and operate aviation technology, they were really, really good at it. Tuskegee Airmen flew some 15,000 sorties in the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II, risking their lives and the reputation of their entire race on their performance. Their success rate on bomber escort missions was twice as high as other groups in the 15th Air Force and, over the course of the war, they took down hundreds of enemy planes, thousands of enemy railcars, and even sank an enemy destroyer.

The massive successes of the more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen led to the integration of the Armed Forces after the war and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the first black Amy Air Force pilots, became the first African-American general of the newly-created U.S. Air Force.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

The Original Grubhub.

4. The Berlin Airlift – Cold War

The first battle in the ideological war that pit Western Capitalism against Eastern Communism wasn’t fought with guns or bombs, it was fought with food. After WWII, Berlin was divided into four zones, each administered by one of the victorious European Allies. The area surrounding the city was entirely Soviet-dominated. The German capital was, effectively, nestled deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany. As Cold War tensions mounted, the USSR cut off all land routes to the Western-occupied parts of the city in an effort to starve out the capitalist allies. Any help to Berlin could only come through a dedicated air corridor.

In the days before massive cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy, the U.S. Air Force and the Western Allies launched what became known as the Berlin Airlift, a massive coordinated cargo hauling campaign that (at its height) saw an aircraft land in Berlin every single minute. German ground crews were soon able to unload an aircraft within 20 minutes in order to make sure the city was nurtured with the 394,509 tons of food, coal, and other supplies the city would need to survive the almost year-long Soviet siege of the city.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

5. MiG Alley – Korean War

During the Korean War, the Air Force was again put to the test. The Nazis developed jet-powered fighters by the end of World War II, but even then, it was an imperfect technology. By the time the Korean War saw Communist forces engage the United Nations Coalition on the Korean Peninsula, both sides were still flying propeller driven aircraft. That soon changed. As the war ground on through December of 1950, the United States still had no jet-powered answer to the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter.

Then, finally, came the F-86 Sabre. The swept-wing design and the skill of UN and American pilots were able to make short work of MiG-15 fighters. In the infamous “MiG Alley” – the Northern area of North Korea, near its border with China – where Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean fighters waited at high altitudes to come down raining death on UN fighters, featured massive jet vs. jet air battles. Air Force F-86 pilots had a stunning 10-1 kill ratio.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Robin Olds is the reason for the Air Force’s “Mustache March” tradition.

6. Operation Bolo – Vietnam War

The early days of the air war over Vietnam didn’t go so well for the USAF. The Vietnam War’s kill ratio is a dismal but disputed 2-1. Air Force sorties coming to the landward side of Vietnam from bases in Thailand were picked up by superior North Vietnamese early warning radar and intercepting Communist planes were able to wait for the incoming Air Force planes. Once inside North Vietnam, Air Force pilots had only their eyes to help guide them. Air Force pilots would always end up on the defensive against skilled North Vietnamese pilots and surface-to-air missile batteries.

Air Force legend and triple ace Robin Olds devised a way to take advantage of the increasing boldness of Vietnamese pilots. In “Bolo,” Olds created what looked like a standard USAF F-105 bombing run to North Vietnam’s radar. Enemy MiG-21s made a beeline for what they thought were the usual F-105 Thunderchief bombers only to find Olds and his fleet of F-4 Phantoms ready for air-to-air combat. Without suffering a single loss, the Air Force downed seven enemy MiG-21s, changing the way the Air Force fought in the air. In the weeks that followed, North Vietnam lost half of its combat planes to U.S. airmen.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Behold: The reason the movie “Jarhead” has no climactic battle scenes.

(U.S. Air Force)

7. Operation Desert Storm

The air war of Operation Desert Stom was one of the most massive and successful air campaigns ever. Since Coalition aircraft could roam the skies in the region virtually unopposed. The buildup of men, materiel, equipment, and aircraft was one of the largest airlift operations in military history (even bigger than the Berlin Airlift). By the time the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went, the U.S. Air Force was more than ready to take the initiative.

Now Read: 21 facts about the First Gulf War

Starting Jan. 17, 1991, the Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties against Iraqi targets and dropped more than 88,000 tons of ordnance. Like a modern-day Noah’s Ark story, the Air Force pummeled Iraq for some 40 days and 40 nights. After the U.S. Air Force smashed some 38 Iraqi aircraft, those pilots still in the air fled to Iran (who they just finished an eight-year war with) rather than face the U.S. Air Force in combat. The Gulf War ended in Iraqi defeat on Feb. 23, 1991.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Native American nations declared war on Germany twice

After members of the Native American Blackfeet Nation overwhelmed an Army recruiting office in 1941, those waiting in line cried, “since when has it been necessary for Blackfeet to draw lots to fight?


Hitler surely didn’t realize the fight he was picking.

Japan kicked off their war with the U.S. with a bang — no declaration necessary. Their formal declaration came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One by one, the United States and the Axis countries declared war on one another. But the war between Native American nations in the United States and Germany had never actually been resolved, so they just resolved to continue fighting.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

The Iroquois Confederacy declared war against the Kaiser’s Germany in 1917 alongside the U.S. after 16 members of a traveling circus were detained by the Germans, ostensibly for their own protection. The capture of those 16 prompted the leaders of the Iroquois to issue a declaration of war and implored members of the Iroquois Nation to enlist to fight alongside their U.S. ally, even though they were ineligible for American citizenship.

Some 12,000 Native Americans enlisted in the U.S. military during World War I, mostly volunteers, serving as scouts, snipers, and code talkers. Their incredible service in World War I prompted the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, to write:

The North American Indian took his place beside every other American in offering his life in the great cause, where as a splendid soldier, he fought with the courage and valor of his ancestors.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Comanche veterans of World War II.

Beyond code talkers 

When World War II came about, the Iroquois hadn’t yet made peace with Germany, so they were already ready to go back to Europe to give Germany more of the same. The Chippewa and Sioux Nations, this time around, also issued formal declarations of war.

Members of the Navajo Nation overwhelmed recruiting offices in three states with recruits ready to go fight – no draft required. One fourth of the entire Mescalero Apache Nation joined the U.S. military during World War II as did all the able-bodied Chippewas at the Grand Portage Reservation. So great was the Native Americans’ desire to serve that if all Americans had joined the military during World War II in the same proportion that Native Americans did, there would have been no need for a draft. Ten percent of all Native Americans served in World War II.

Another 150,000 left the reservations and went to work in war production, serving in factories and farms while Native women took over the traditionally male roles on the reservations.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Coming home

Native Americans won their citizenship after World War I with the 1924 Snyder Act, but it was World War II that disrupted so much of traditional American society, including Native American nations.

Natives came home with a new standard of living, new skills, and shaped a new way forward for pan-Native American societies. For the first time, Native Americans were able to assert themselves and their status as equals, fighting for the rights and privileges of every other American, as well as those granted to them by existing treaties with the United States.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The guerrillas and gangs that fought on behalf of the Confederacy

In the U.S. Civil War, people on both sides of the conflict decided that their best contribution would come in the form of “irregular resistance,” rather than uniformed fighting, but Southerners joined the bands in larger numbers and provided a more material contribution to the war effort.

Here’s a quick primer on who these men were and how they fought.


There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Confederate cavalrymen raid union livestock in the west in 1864. Guerrilla forces could often conduct missions like this, but had to be sure and melt away before Union forces caught them.

(A.R. Waud, Harper’s Weekly)

First, we have to define exactly who we’re talking about: the guerrillas and gangs who took up arms to uphold the Confederacy and its values, not the criminal gangs and bands of deserters who used weapons to fight off the law. While these groups overlapped at times, we’re going to ignore (for now) those who did not provide material support to the secession.

But that still leaves a large number of people and groups, some with famous names, like Mosby’s Rangers, McNeill’s Rangers, and William C. Quantrill.

Guerrilla operations varied state to state and battle to battle, but usually combined elements of screening, spying, and sabotage.

Remember, these were typically disorganized bands of men, often with even less formality than a state or local militia. They knew they had little chance in a knockdown fight with trained Union companies, so they didn’t fight that way. Instead, they would attack targets of opportunity and melt away.

This was useful for Confederate leaders at times. For instance, John McNeill and his rangers would sometimes screen Confederate troop movements. Basically, McNeill would position his force at the edge of where Confederate troops were marching or conducting river crossings, interrupting Union columns drawing close to the southerners and giving them a chance to form proper defensive lines.

But, they wouldn’t stay for the full fight. They’d melt away into the trees after a few shots, forcing the Union troops to either break up and give chase or re-form to face regular Confederate troops.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

John S. Mosby and his men were a terror for Union forces, but they generally fought well within the rules.

(Library of Congress)

But, even better, the guerrillas could move in areas where the Union held control and either nip at the federal underbelly or spy on them and report back. This was the mission where John Mosby and his men made their mark. They were known for hit-and-run fighting, inflicting casualties on Union forces and then riding away before the enemy could form up.

At times, they would steal supplies or even capture buildings and infrastructure for a short time, often disabling bridges and railways that were crucial to federal supply.

Mosby even once captured the general sent to hunt him down, reportedly waking the general in his bed with a slap on the back.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

In August, 1863, at Lawrence, Kansas, Quantrill’s Raiders attacked and destroyed the city because of its support of abolition policies and pro-Union sentiments.

(Harper’s Weekly)

So, why did the Confederacy see so many more guerrillas join their ranks than the Union? Well, the biggest reason was likely that most irregular forces fought locally, where their networks of friends and supporters could hide and supply them.

Union gangs fighting locally would’ve only happened when Confederate troops crossed the border north, something that was fairly rare during the war.

Also, the Union had a much larger training apparatus and the ability to equip more men, making it less necessary for their supporters to find unconventional ways of fighting. And the North didn’t have such a strong tradition of frontiersmanship, meaning that much of the population was less suited for roughing it deep in the woods and swamps.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

Guerrilla leader Capt. William C. Quantrill was reportedly a brutal murderer who sometimes targeted Confederate sympathizers.

(PBS)

Of course, there were exceptions to this. Some Northerners, especially those living in the west, were quite handy with horses and would’ve been fine as guerrilla fighters. Some even did fight as pro-Union guerrillas, mostly in border states, often clashing with Confederate guerrillas.

So, how did this all pan out for the South? Well, of course, they lost the war. And there’s an argument to be made that they lost partially because of the support of guerrilla forces rather than despite it.

While forces like Mosby’s and McNeill’s made measurable, concrete contributions to the war, most were little more than violent gangs. William C. Quantrill was reportedly an animal abuser in his youth, and was a bloody murderer as a guerrilla for the South.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

“A Rebel Guerrilla Raid In A Western Town” (1862)

(Thomas Nast)

He and his men committed massacres of Union troops but also of men and boys that they suspected of being Union sympathizers. They and other groups stole supplies from farms, tore down fences, and burned homesteads whenever they felt like doing so.

And they allegedly felt that way often. Combine the actions of these guerrillas and those of deserter bands and gangs of pro-Union southerners, and state governments often found that they needed armies at home just to instill law and order, limiting the forces they could send to the front. In some cases, formerly pro-secession Confederate citizens welcomed their nation’s surrender simply because they wanted a return to normalcy.

So, while the efforts of men like Jesse James and Jack Hinson stirred Confederate spirits, the actions of their contemporaries undermined the national effort and galvanized Union support for the war, arguably contributing to the South’s destruction.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How effective draftees in the Vietnam War actually were

The image of the men who fought in Vietnam is usually that of a draftee who didn’t want to be there, likely from a poor family, who were sent to die while they were still teens. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only a third of Vietnam vets were draftees. The average age of U.S. troops in Southeast Asia was 23, and more than 80 percent had a high school diploma, twice as many as the World War II generation. They were more educated, affluent, and older than any assembled American fighting force who came before them.

But even if they were a force of draftees, would that have mattered?


There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

The short answer is “nope.”

While the popular consensus is that the United States lost the war in Vietnam, the U.S. handily won the fighting in Vietnam. The United States didn’t win every single battle, but it won almost every single major engagement, even those massive, infamous surprise attacks of the North Vietnamese, which garnered headlines but little else. The Tet Offensive, arguably the most famous enemy attack of the whole war, was a huge defeat for the Communists. And no American unit ever surrendered to the enemy in Vietnam, either.

Now: This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

For many Vietnam veterans who enlisted to fight in the war, drafted men made good, if not better, soldiers when put to the test. Other volunteers say they saw no difference between drafted Americans and volunteers, and would not have known how they ended up in Vietnam without asking. The only real way you could ID a drafted soldier is by seeing a troop who was much older but wearing a lowly rank. Some volunteer troops even said they respected draftees for answering the forced call to service and fighting without question.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

They weren’t all happy about going, of course.

Whether American troops in Vietnam were one-third draftees (as the facts dictate) or they were a force of young, poor, uneducated conscripts (As pop culture would have us believe), what is indisputable is what they accomplished there. The United States was able to win most of the major pitched battles fought there. And while popular history says the United States lost in Vietnam, if the goal of the war was to prevent other countries in the region from falling to Communism (you know, like dominoes), then, the U.S. may have won in the long run.

Some 475 million people in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines do not currently live in a Communist state. When the United States began to ramp up its efforts to help South Vietnam, it moved masses of military men and materiel into these countries. Those forces bolstered the governments of those countries, who all faced some form of insurgency or Communist upheaval at the beginning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. By the time the U.S. left South Vietnam, those countries had secured their borders, governments, and way of life against Communist threats.

So maybe we should reconsider the idea that we lost and that draftees somehow weren’t as dedicated to winning.

Articles

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Midget submarines have gotten a lot of press in recent years. The 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a North Korean Yono-class midget submarine showed that with today’s modern torpedoes, they can pack a punch.


Midget submarines have arguably had a longer combat career than their bigger cousins. The Turtle, a one-man midget sub, was used in an effort to attack British ships off New York during the Revolutionary War.

The hand-powered midget submarine CSS Hunley successfully sank the sloop USS Housatonic in 1864. Larger coastal and fleet submarines didn’t really achieve a lot of success until World War I.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
Drawings of CSS Hunley. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the midgets still stuck around.

Nearly all the major powers used them in World War II. The British, Germans, and Japanese all had varying degrees of success with them.

The British X-boats managed to damage the German battleship Tirpitz. Japanese submarines had their high-water mark on May 29, 1942, when they damaged a British battleship and sank a merchant ship at Diego Suarez in Madagascar.

But Germany’s Seehund — or “Seal” — was probably the most successful. Built in 1944, the Seehund displaced 17 tons, carried two torpedoes, and had a crew of two. The vessel could go four knots underwater, and seven knots on the surface.

U-Boat.net notes that 137 of these midget subs were commissioned, which sank eight vessels and damaged three more in four months of operation.

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks
S 622, a German Seehund later taken into service by the French Navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Below is a video showing how a replica of one of these mini-submarines was made for a museum display. Take a look and see what went into making that replica — and what that display will teach future generations about what life on one of these vessels was like.

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