After Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the Civil War began in earnest. It would be won by force just a few years later, in a war that tore the country apart — a war that Americans still haven’t forgotten. So when North Dakota governor William “Wild Bill” Langer declared North Dakota’s independence — in 1934 — you have to wonder what he was thinking.
It’s likely he was thinking about anything that would get him out of going to a federal prison. Langer was just convicted of a felony and the state Supreme Court upheld a conviction that would remove him from the Governor’s office. His lieutenant governor, Ole Olson (yes, that’s really his name), took over.
Good thing the National Guard was already on the streets.
Langer was skimming money from government paychecks into an account run by the group that put him in the office of governor. But that’s not even what he was convicted for, which was conspiracy to violate an act of Congress. His jail sentence was longer than his time in office.
But the voters loved him anyway. Despite the charges and convictions, they voted for him.
Martial law had to be declared in North Dakota. Earle Sarles, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard and the man technically in charge of the entire state at that moment, basically decided, on the spot, who would be governor: Olson or Langer.
Israeli Air Force Mirage IIICJ 158 at the Israeli Air Force Museum in Hatzerim. Bears 13 kills markings and the colours of 101 Squadron. (Wikimedia Commons).
Israeli Col. Giora Epstein, one of the world’s greatest fighter aces of the jet era, was leading a flight of four planes during the Yom Kippur War when his team spotted two Egyptian MiG-21s. Epstein pursued the pair and quickly shot down the trail plane.
But that’s when the Israelis got a surprise. The pair of MiG-21s were bait. While the four Israeli planes were pursuing the surviving MiG they could see, approximately 20 more MiG-21s suddenly hit them with an ambush.
What followed was one of the most lopsided victories in modern aerial combat. The four Israeli Neshers fought the approximately 21 MiGs, calling out to each other to help them avoid Egyptian MiGs or to chase down vulnerable enemies.
During the fight, Epstein’s partner shot down a MiG but got missile exhaust into his own engine, causing a stall. Epstein walked him through a restart and sent him home. Another Israeli pilot chased a MiG out of the battle area, and the third headed home due to a lack of fuel.
Epstein found himself alone with 11 enemy MiGs. What followed was minutes of insane aerial combat as Epstein’s main target pulled off a maneuver thought impossible in a MiG-21: a split S at approximately 3,000 feet. It’s a move that should have caused him to crash into the ground.
But the MiG succeeded, barely. It got so close to the ground that it created a cloud of dust against the desert ground, but then escaped the cloud and flew back toward the sky. Epstein managed to get a burst of machine gun fire out before the MiG could escape, destroying the Egyptian jet. Epstein was left in the fight with 10 MiG-21s out for vengeance for their lost comrades.
The MiGs flew in pairs against Epstein, firing bursts of machine gun fire and missiles at the Israeli ace. Epstein outmaneuvered them, killing two with 30mm cannon fire and forcing the rest to bug out.
Americans today would have a hard time recognizing the all-out war effort citizens of the United States made during World War II. The idea of government dictating what and how much big business could produce, restricting the use of civilian products available to the public, and the mobilization of civilians in a war effort are all things that we just haven’t faced in the generations since. During World War II, these civilians were putting their lives on the line to hunt submarines. The Civil Air Patrol was born of that mobilization.
Civilian pilots and their resources were marshaled by the military to support the war effort here at home, even before the war began. Some 200,000 men and women of all races served in CAP in every state during World War II. After Nazi submarines sunk more than 400 ships off the U.S. Atlantic coast in the first six months, these civilian pilots took to the skies in their private planes to help hunt them down.
Civil Air Patrol pilots who were forced to bail out of their planes into the sometimes icy water below joined an exclusive club: the Duck Club.
The Civil Air Patrol was open to all races and genders from the get-go. All you needed was a radio and a plane you could fly.
(Civil Air Patrol)
The single-engine civilian aircraft flown by CAP volunteers in those days weren’t nearly as reliable as ones they depend on these days. CAP pilots would fly up to 50 miles off the U.S. coast, looking for enemy submarines in planes with engines that could quit at any given moment. Maybe this isn’t so bad for the pilot if their mission takes them into the Gulf of Mexico, but in the North Atlantic, having to bail could be deadly.
Even wearing their rubber “zoot suits,” designed to protect them from frigid northern waters, was no guarantee of survival in case of a bail out. These civilian pilots lost 59 of their own during the course of the war — 26 of whom were simply lost at sea. Maybe they survived the elements, maybe they didn’t. Being adrift in the middle of nowhere in the 1940s was tantamount to a death sentence.
For those who bailed out, each CAP station had amphibian planes who would attempt to come to the rescue. But even those were susceptible to being lost at sea – and some were. If a CAP pilot was successfully recovered after a bailout, he became a member of “The Duck Club,” those who were forced to ditch their planes by taking a dip in the ocean.
CAP pilots who joined this elite club earned a special badge: a patch featuring Donald Duck, his eyes crossed by the red propellers that symbolized the Civil Air Patrol. The Congressional Gold Medal the CAP received came much later, signed not by President Roosevelt, but President Obama. Their recognition came decades too late.
The history of the Civil Air Patrol is such a big deal because these were volunteers who put their life and property on the line to protect the liberties of their fellow citizens. They would not receive the GI Bill benefits received by veterans who fought overseas, despite finding Nazi subs operating in American water, rescuing airmen adrift at sea, reporting mines, distressed vessels, escorting convoys, and, in some cases, sacrificing their lives.
That’s just the history of the CAP and the tip of the iceberg. Their mission also extended along the southern border, in the wild forests, and elsewhere. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and an underrated, oft-forgotten total force partner in U.S. air defense. More than 60,000 civilian airmen still dedicate their time, energy, expertise, money, and personal property to the defense of the U.S. homeland and supporting aerospace education.
In the closing days of 2020, the Department of Defense released its 2021 Defense Budget. A voluminous document that contains the projected spending for all services for the next year, the Defense Budget also includes small tidbits of seemingly unrelated information, including proposals for awarding the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor under fire, or upgrading a lesser award to the Medal of Honor
In the 2021 Defense Budget, there were four recommendations for an upgrade. Specialist Dwight Birdwell (Vietnam War), Sergeant First Class Earl Plumlee (Global War on Terror, Afghanistan), Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Cashe (Global War on Terror, Iraq), and finally retired Colonel Ralph Puckett (Korean War).
Although the first three of their families are still waiting for news, Col. Puckett’s case moved forward, and the legendary Ranger was awarded the Medal of Honor last month. A true warrior, Puckett received the Medal of Honor at the age of 94.
Destined for Glory
Puckett was born in 1926 in Tifton, Georgia, and commissioned in the Army as an infantry second lieutenant in 1949 after he graduated from West Point. His first duty station was in Okinawa, as part of the occupation force there.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Puckett volunteered for the Rangers, a light infantry, special operations unit. During World War Two, the Rangers had undertaken a series of the hardest and most sensitive missions, including scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and destroying fortified German positions in Normandy during D-Day and the Cabanatuan prisoner of war rescue mission in the Philippines.
By now a 1st Lieutenant, Puckett was selected to lead the only Ranger company at the time, the 8th Ranger Company, 8213th Army Unit, 8th U.S. Army. He had only a little over a month to train his troops to work as a team before they deployed to the front.
A Leader to Follow
On 25 and 26 November 1950, Puckett and his Rangers were attached to Task Force Dolvin and led the advance of the 25th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Unsan. His unit attacked and captured Hill 205. However, the Chinese were determined to recapture the strategic position regardless of casualties.
For over four hours, the Chinese threw wave upon wave of troops at Puckett and his men. The Americans were outnumbered by ten to one but they kept fighting into the night. Finally, after having repelled five counterattacks, the Rangers were overrun in the sixth. By that point, they had no supporting artillery and were low on ammunition with multiple casualties. Hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of the trenches of World War One ensued, and the Rangers were forced to fall back in the face of overwhelming numbers.
By that point, Puckett had suffered multiple wounds throughout his body, a testament to his dedication to his troops and to leading from the front. He exposed himself to enemy snipers and machine-gun fire several times to reveal their positions so his Rangers could take them out. When the Chinese eventually overran their position, Puckett ordered his men to leave him behind, an order which they openly disobeyed, fighting their way to their wounded leader and taking them with them. For his actions, leadership, and fighting spirit, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross at the time, the second-highest award for valor in combat.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Puckett received is telling:
“With complete disregard for his personal safety, First Lieutenant Puckett led his company across eight hundred yards of open terrain under heavy enemy small-arms fire and captured the company’s objective. During this operation he deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire to enable his men to spot locations of the machine guns.
After capturing the objective, he directed preparation of defensive positions against an expected enemy counterattack. At 2200 hours on 25 November 1950, while directing the defense of his position against a heavy counterattack, he was wounded in the fight shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back During these attacks, he left the safety of his foxhole in order to observe movements of the enemy and to direct artillery fire. In so doing, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy small-arms and mortar fire.
In the sixth counterattack, at 0300 hours on 26 November 1950, he was wounded again, so seriously that he was unable to move. Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal. Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety.”
Warrior for Life
Despite the action he saw in Korea and the wounds he received as a result, Puckett decided to stay in the Army and continue to serve his country. A decision he affirmed even after the Army offered him a medical retirement.
After he recovered from his wounds, Puckett was assigned as an instructor to the U.S. Army Ranger School, West Point, and as a Ranger advisor to the Columbian Army, where he established the famous Escuela de Lanceros special operations course. Puckett, however, had had enough of cozy assignments, and he volunteered and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1960 and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany.
In 1967, Puckett, a lieutenant colonel at that point, found himself again on the front lines as commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
On August 13, 1967, elements of his unit came upon a North Vietnamese battalion and a fierce fight ensued. Puckett went straight to the frontline and coordinated defense. He moved through a heavily mined area several times while directing the fight. Day gave way to darkness and the battle was still going. Puckett repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to visit foxholes and rally his troops. At one point, he personally evacuated two wounded soldiers after a mortar barrage. Even as the battle was going badly, he refused evacuation and instead stayed with his men.
One of his lieutenants who was preparing his platoon for a final stand recalled that “word of Colonel Puckett’s arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.”
Puckett retired in 1971, after 22 years of service.
After his retirement, the 75th Ranger Regiment made him an Honorary Colonel of the Regiment from 1996 to 2006 and also established the annual Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award, which is awarded every year to the best junior Ranger officer in the unit whose actions and leadership during demanding circumstances made the difference. Given that the 75th Ranger Regiment has been continuously deployed in Global War on Terror for more than 7,000 consecutive days, competition for Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award is fierce.
In 1992, Puckett was inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame, in 2004 he was selected a distinguished graduate of the US Military Academy, and in 2007 he received the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.
“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy. Clearly a unique, courageous Soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate Infantry leader,” General Jay Hendrix, a former commander of the US Army Forces Command, the largest Army formation, said.
Puckett’s awards include the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars (the third-highest award for valor), two Bronze Stars for Valor (the fourth-highest award for valor), two Legions of Merit, five Purple Hearts, ten Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal, among other decorations.
Puckett also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge, and the Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.
During World War II, the Army had a unit of special forces known as the “Ghost Army.” Officially called the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, the unit used theatrical and deceptive techniques to fool the enemy. It was soldiers putting on a show with special effects like speakers, inflatable tanks, fake radio transmissions and more.
Made up of 1,100 soldiers, the team used these illusion methods to deceive Axis intelligence–specifically, creating false targets, and faking a much larger force than was actually present.
Their ghost-like tactics
The Ghost Army’s mission was clear: to impersonate Allied Army units. They remained near the front lines of the war, hiding in plain sight, creating fake battle scenes and camps. They did this by remaining unseen until they wanted to be, and only letting Germans see what they wanted them to see.
Their “traveling road show” was taken to France shortly after D-Day.
Inflatable tanks, planes, Jeeps and trucks were all used, courtesy of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers. Inflating the items with an air compressor, the soldiers would hide the fake vehicles — poorly — with branches and trees, so they could still be seen from far away. They also created false airfields and bivouacs — the latter had laundry drying in plain sight. Motor pools and tank formations were also formed, all of which could be done within a few hours of work. Their “show” was a well-choreographed routine.
It’s worth noting that soldiers in the 603rd were mostly artists and recruited from schools in the Northeast. After the war, many of its former members went on to become known for their artwork.
In addition to visual deceptions, the Ghost Army used sound and light effects. With the help of sound engineers, they played recordings from real Army units. They would adjust the recording based on the current scene they were created, played with high-tech equipment and amplifiers. The sounds were so projected that they could be heard as far as 15 miles away.
False radio transmissions were also played, known as “spoof radio.” By pretending to be soldiers from real units, they employed different communication styles to even further mislead the enemy.
Finally, when the unit did receive real vehicles, they used tactics that they called atmosphere. For instance, driving a few tanks in a circle to create the appearance of a convoy. They would also place dummy Military Police, and painting various insignia on false headquarters to make the scene even more realistic.
The unit’s inception
The Ghost Army came to be after a similar tactic was used by the British military just a few years prior. Soldiers were recruited for their talents in creativity, artistry, and theatrics. In addition to recruiting from art schools, the Army found members at ad agencies, engineering and architecture firms, and they heavily recruited actors.
Together, the efforts of 1,100 were able to create the false presence of two units with more than 30,000 soldiers. Their efforts are credited for moving German forces away from actual Allied units in more than 20 locations.
Their mission was classified until 1996, when the records were finally unsealed. There was also a PBS documentary, The Ghost Army, released in 2013.
During WWII, Adolf Hitler knew that American forces would invade somewhere on the coast of France and fight their way inland. To prevent the invasion, the Germans constructed a massive Atlantic wall full of dangerous obstacles along the beachheads to combat amphibious vehicles from pulling up landing onto the shoreline.
U.S. forces had no internal expertise on how to breach Hitler’s solid barriers — so they turned to one man — Draper Kauffman.
After Kauffman graduated from the Naval Academy years before the invasion, he was denied an officer’s commission due to having poor eye-sight. Wanting to serve in the military, Kauffman traveled overseas and became an ambulance driver for the British. After a short period as a German POW, he went to London to join the fight as “The Blitz” was in full swing.
On the first day, German bombers had dropped 377 tons of ordnance onto the city — many of the explosives did not detonate. The government asked for volunteers to help with bomb disposal, Kauffman stepped up to volunteer and raised his hand.
Kauffman learned all he could about his new field and rapidly excelled at it. His advanced bomb disposal knowledge earned him a transfer from the British Navy to the American one.
Soon after entering the American Navy, an event took place that would change our history forever — the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Navy gave Kauffman orders to create a bomb disposal unit; he went right to work.
One of his first tasks was to disarm a 500-pound bomb located in the harbor. He completed the deadly mission and received the Navy Cross for his excellent work.
In 1943, Kauffman received a life-changing phone call during his honeymoon that was to report to Washington as directed. His newest assignment was to create a plan to mitigate Hitler’s beach obstacles.
He would go from disarming bombs to now planting them. Along with a few other Naval officers, the “U.S. Navy Combat Demolition” unit was born.
Kauffman and his officers began training “frogmen” out of the swampy and mosquito infested area in Fort Pierce, Florida — the first BUD/s class started training. Kauffman and the instructors taught the Navy’s bravest men how to sneak up onto an obstacle undetected and take it out.
In 1962, the Navy SEALs were officially declared when former President John F. Kennedy had them established to conduct Unconventional Warfare — and they’ve been kicking a** ever since.
America didn’t just call on the troops to wage war, she called upon all her people to fight food shortage and a depression with gardens — “Victory gardens” — to be specific. In the early 1940s, when food rationing came into place, everyday Americans were turning up their yards to produce not just enough food for their families, but for their neighbors as well.
It’s safe to say a worldwide pandemic has given us cause to unearth the history of Victory Gardens and take the matter of a potential food shortage into our own, capable hands.
Here’s a thing or two you need to know about how to raise your shovels as your grandparents or great grandparents did long ago.
Canned food was limited
Canned food was rationed both to preserve tin for military use but also to decrease the strain on food transportation. Reducing “food miles” with sustainable urban agriculture was exactly how families and friends stayed supplied with fresh produce. Put down the can of lima beans you’re never going to eat and pick up some seeds instead.
Victory gardens were pushed at a national level, and informational pamphlets (pre-internet) were distributed. Community committees were organized to both assist newcomers and inform neighbors of what was being grown and where. Luckily for us, there’s a whole internet full of information, and local agricultural extensions to call, ensuring social distancing is still met.
So easy a child could do it
Children participated in gardening both out of necessity and to ensure all that good food knowledge didn’t go to waste. Need something for your kids to do? Let them tend to your budding garden at home; it’s a delicious form of education.
It doesn’t take a farm
The average American lawn has more than enough space to grow everything your family needs and more. Learning what plants like to cohabitate in the soil will maximize your growing potential.
How to rely on ourselves has been a skill lost to the “lazy” days of supermarkets stocked to the brim with internationally-grown produce. It may have taken a pandemic, but re-educating America on how to fend for themselves needs to be a skillset we value once again. We need to pass down precious knowledge of food and to become aware once again of the immense value food has in our lives.
Great things have happened throughout history during times of struggle. Every single one of us has the opportunity to make this world better, stronger and more resilient than ever before.
"Portrait of Spartan warrior with selfmade theater clothings and with original spartan symbol, adopted in the 420s BC, was the letter lambda (a), standing for Laconia or Lacedaemon, which was painted on the Spartans' shields and broochs,selective focus, very creative sepia - color retouching to underline the ancient time,vignetting and added noise".
In the ancient Greek imagination, the Spartans were considered the best of the best. A Spartan knew the difference between right and wrong, and he never chose wrong. He was always pious toward the gods, he said little but made every word count and he would rather die in a losing battle than come home in defeat. Under Spartan law, it was illegal to surrender. Creating a Spartan man was a process that took more than two decades and cost many lives. Here are 6 things to know about the agōgē, the education of the ancient Spartans.
1. Spartans practiced an early form of eugenics
When a male child was born in Sparta, he would be bathed in wine to test his strength. The Spartans believed that weak babies would react poorly to the wine and convulse or cry. Those infants which failed the test would either be left to die, or would become a slave. If a child passed the test, it would be examined by the Gerousia, the council of elders; a child born with defects would be deemed unfit and left to die. Those children that survived would be raised in their family households, where every day their parents would drill into them the need to put Sparta before themselves.
2. Spartan education started at 7 years old
At the age of seven, a Spartan boy would leave his family’s home for the last time. He and the other boys would enter the agōgē, the training program where he would spend the next twenty-three years of his life. The boys were assigned to an ilea, a group of sixty boys under the watchful eye of an eiren; the eiren were in their twenties, further along in their education but not full Spartan citizens. The eiren would train the children’s bodies with sports, races, and all kinds of exercises, and would train their minds with history, politics, and literature. Spartans were also trained in the art of wit, to make them careful with their choice of words and allow them to talk down to other Greeks.
3. Children were impoverished to make them tough
The Spartans wanted to create soldiers who would never complain about the harsh conditions of war. Boys foraged their own reeds to weave their own beds, teaching them to be comfortable sleeping anywhere. They were deprived of clothing to make them comfortable in the boiling heat and the freezing cold. Children were deprived of food to make them familiar with hunger, but implicitly encouraged to steal food in order to make them stealthy; a boy who was caught would be whipped without mercy. Spartan boys were trained to be expert survivalists before they even finished puberty. (Some said that Spartans loved war so much because campaigns were less strenuous than their own training!)
4. A Spartan’s life revolved around his mess
When a Spartan man turned twenty, he would start applying for entry into a syssitia, a small club of men who ate all their meals together. This was the core of Spartan society; a man needed the unanimous consent of all members of the syssitia to join. If a man was unable to persuade a syssitia to accept him before he was thirty, he could not become a full citizen of Sparta. According to Spartan law, Spartans had to eat all their meals with their syssitia to encourage comradery. This created extremely strong bonds between the soldiers, and excluded everyone who could not meet the standards the Spartans set for themselves.
5. Some Spartan men joined the secret police
Young Spartans who proved themselves worthy were allowed to join the Crypteia, a secretive order which was responsible for oppressing the helots. The helots were the slaves of Sparta; the state owned the helots as public property and distributed them to Spartan families. Every year the Spartans declared war on the helots, allowing them to murder their slaves with impunity. Members of the Crypteia were sent into helots’ lands, to camp out and keep a watchful eye; those helots who seemed dangerous were to be killed before they could become a threat to the Spartan regime.
6. A Spartan’s education did not end until he was thirty
At 30, a Spartan man could become a full citizen who was allowed to marry and hold public office. He and his wife would be provided with a house, a farm and helots by the state, so the Spartan men could spend all their time on training for combat rather than worry about economic matters. For the first time since he was a child, a Spartan man would live under a private roof, though he would still eat all his meals with his syssitia.
Challenge coins mean different things to different troops. Senior enlisted and officers tend to place them on a desk to gloat to peers and the more junior troops slam them on the bar to see who’s buying the next round. How you earn the coin also ranges widely, from “pleasure to meet you, have a coin” to “you made a great cup of coffee, have a coin” to even “you did something worthy of an award, but nah — have a coin.”
Throughout history, warriors have carried coins, going as far back as the ancient Greeks and, eventually, the Romans. Coins carried by warriors were seen as the payment for the ferryman, Charon, to be exchanged for passage into the afterlife. They served as a memento mori, which roughly translates from Latin to mean, “remember that you will die.” This is also the root of the English word ‘memento.’ Even back in the Civil War, troops from both armies carried coins with them as a cheap reminder of being back home.
The legend of the challenge coins, as we know them, started with WWI pilots. A young and rich lieutenant felt the need to flaunt his wealth to his new peers, so he spent his own money to buy solid bronze medallions of his unit insignia for his peers. Another pilot accepted it as a nice gift and wore it in a small leather pouch around his neck. Shortly after, he would be shot down behind enemy lines. He was captured by Germans, who stripped him over everything, but overlooked his medallion.
He escaped in civilian attire, crossed no man’s land undetected, and stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French didn’t understand English nor his American accent and thought he was a German saboteur. The Germans took every bit of personal identification from the American pilot, so the only proof he had to show the French to not shoot him was the bronze unit medallion his rich peer gave him.
One French captor recognized the insignia and delayed his execution until they could confirm if he was American or not. Instead of a bullet to the head, the French gave him a bottle of wine and sent him on his way. When the pilot returned and told everyone of what happened, carrying those medallions became immediately important among all pilots. This also started the joke punishment of having to buy the next round if you’re not carrying your coin.
Another lower enlisted tradition began in post-WWII Germany as assigned U.S. troops would carry West German money with them. The exchange rate was so bad that the One Pfennig coin was hardly worth a fraction of a penny and had nearly zero value to American troops. So, only the poorest of the poor would bother saving them — until troops gathered to drink. If someone would shout, “Pfennig check!” everyone would empty their pockets to see who was poor (if you had the near-worthless coin) and who wasn’t (if you were above keeping them). If you were “rich” enough to not need to carry a worthless coin, you were rich enough to buy your brother-in-arms a drink. This soon shifted to include challenge coins, which also had no monetary value.
In 1943 and 1944, specially chosen units of the British Empire were sent into the jungles of Burma on “Chindit” expeditions that went deep behind Japanese lines and assaulted railways, logistic hubs, and bridges to cripple Japanese forces and force them to redirect forces from other fronts. Most soldiers sent into the jungle were wounded, killed, or fell ill, but they made the Japanese pay.
British officers Brig. Gen. Mike Calvert, Lt. Col. Shaw, and Maj James Lumley discuss tactics after the capture of Mogaung in Burma in June 1944 during the second Chindit expedition.
(Imperial War Museums)
The first Chindit expedition, Operation Longcloth, was effected by the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade when they marched into Japanese-occupied Burma in 1943. They attacked Japanese supply depots as well as rail and communication lines.
The unit was made up of multiple infantry regiments, a commando company, eight sections of the Royal Air Force, a signal section, and a mule transport company. Despite the large infantry elements the unit had on paper, they were predominantly a special operations force and they were trained that way, spending months in India working out how to move and live in the jungle with limited resupply or permanent structures.
But the effort was costly. A third of the troops were lost in the jungle or too wounded or sick to march out. The British left them behind. Another 600 were too ill after their return to civilization to fight again, and were sent to hospital until released from service.
Geurilla leaders, including British Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate at center, pose for a photo.
(Imperial War Museums)
Still, the efforts had proved that a single brigade of irregular forces, properly organized and trained, could shift the strategic balance in the jungle. The commander, British Gen. Orde Wingate, proposed a second, larger expedition for deployment in 1944. Prime Minister Winston Churchill readily agreed and assigned six brigades to the task and the American 1st Air Commando Group was assigned to support the operation.
While training the forces for the second Chindit expedition, Wingate took some time to help train America’s 5307th Composite Unit, which would earn fame under the name “Merrill’s Marauders” for operations similar to the Chindits’.
Operation Thursday began with two forces making their way into the country on the ground in the opening weeks of 1944 while four more brigades were to be inserted via glider. The initial glider landings on March 5 were unopposed but still faced major problems. Aerial reconnaissance had failed to spot ditches and trees on the dropzone and glider crashes killed 30 men and wounded 28.
Another 400 men landed safely and improved the runway enough for Dakota aircraft to start ferrying in supplies and additional men. 18,000 troops quickly arrived on the ground with everything they needed to move through the jungle and hunt Japanese soldiers, and more followed over the next few days.
A column of Chindit troops crosses a river in Burma in 1943.
(Imperial War Museums, Public Domain)
Wingate’s orders could be broadly summarized in three points. He was to:
Draw off and break up Japanese forces fighting in the Ledo Sector where Gen. Joe Stilwell was trying to create a road for U.S. resupply,
Prepare the battlefield for the Chinese forces advancing from the east, and
Absolutely destroy every Japanese target that presented itself.
Operation Thursday took place in the middle of Japan’s supply and logistics operations in Burma. Wingate said his force “had been inserted into the enemies’ guts.”
Unlike the 1943 operation, the second expedition relied on some static defenses and bases.
“White City” was constructed on a Japanese railway to control operations there, while a landing site named “Broadway,” one of the three original dropzones, was built into a large and powerful airbase. Other installations included “Aberdeen” and “Blackpool.” Except for the White City and Blackpool, both built on the railroad, Chindit installations were built into the jungle where they were less likely to stumble into Japanese forces.
Chindits prepare a roadblock as a precaution against Japanese attacks.
(Imperial War Museums)
The men were deployed in columns of about 400 men at a time, fighting when they encountered an appropriate enemy force but melting into the jungle and re-forming when faced with a larger Japanese element.
Occasionally, an especially tough target needed to be brought down, and the columns would re-form into battalions or brigades.
The mission achieved its main objectives by the end of March, supporting the efforts of their allies across Burma, but the force stayed in position and continued to hamper Japanese elements.
British Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate died in a plane crash in 1944, causing his force to later fall under direct command of American Gen. Joseph Stilwell who was unpopular for sending the guerrilla force on conventional infantry missions without proper support.
(Imperial War Museums, Public Domain)
On March 24, the mission suffered a major setback when Wingate died in a plane crash. His successor, Brig. Gen. Joseph Lentaigne maintained the Chindits’ mission until ordered in May 1944 to fall in under Stilwell. Stilwell deployed the force like a typical infantry unit for a number of attacks, but failed to provide it with sufficient artillery and air support in some cases.
Stilwell later ordered the 77th to take Myitkyina despite being at only 10 percent strength. The commander turned off his radios and marched out instead.
Chindits prepare tea during a halt in Burma.
(Imperial War Museums)
Eventually, the Japanese forces in Burma began to find and conduct serious assaults on Chindit strongholds, especially White City and Blackpool on the rail networks. White City held out for its entire existence, suffering some penetrations past the wire, but always repelling the enemy force eventually.
Blackpool was not so lucky. Close to Japanese lines, it was eventually isolated thanks to Japanese anti-aircraft guns that prevented aerial resupply. The men were finally forced to fight their way out — 2,000 starving and sick men cutting past the jungle and the Japanese.
The rest of the Chindits, meanwhile, were suffering from the intense fighting, jungle heat and humidity, and disease. By late July, Lentaigne made the decision that the 111th Brigade was no longer fit to fight and withdrew them on his own authority. The rest of the Chindits followed over the next month and the last emerged from the jungle in late August 1944.
The true conquest of a country is more than just invading its land borders. To truly conquer a country, an invader has to subdue its people and end its will to fight.
There are many countries in the world with a lot of experience in this area and there are many more countries who were on the receiving end of some subjugation.
At the end of World War II, the age of colonialism was officially ended for most of these conquerors and what grew from that end was a rebirth of those people and their culture, which just went to show that their people were never really subdued in the first place.
And then there were some countries that either never stopped fighting or have been constantly fighting for their right to exist ever since they won their independence. Some of them overcame great odds and earned the respect of neighbors and former enemies.
The alternative was to allow themselves to be subject to some foreign power just because they didn’t have the latest and greatest in military technologies.
In the last installment, we looked at countries whose people, geography, sheer size, populations, and culture would never allow an invader to conquer them. This time, we look at smaller countries who took on great powers as the underdog and came out on top.
The Vietnam War wasn’t some historical undercard match, it was actually a heavyweight championship fight – the United States just didn’t realize it at the time. The history of Vietnam’s formidable people and defenses date well before the Vietnam War and even before World War II.
Vietnam has historically been thought of as one of the most militaristic countries in the region, and for good reason. Vietnam has been kicking invaders out since the 13th century when Mongol hordes tried to move in from China.
While it wasn’t Genghis Khan at the head of the invading army, it wasn’t too far removed the then-dead leader’s time. Kubali Khan’s Yuan Dynasty tried three times to subdue the Vietnamese. In the last invasion, Khan sent 400 ships and 300,000 men to Vietnam, only to see every ship sunk and the army harassed by the Vietnamese all the way back to China.
In more modern times, Vietnam was first invaded by the French in force in 1858 and they couldn’t subdue the whole of the country until 1887, 29 years after it first started. It cost thousands of French lives and the French even had to bring in Philippine troops to help. Even then, they won only because of a critical error on the part of Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc, who terribly misjudged how much his people actually cared for his regime.
The Japanese invasion during WWII awakened the Vietnamese resolve toward independence and they immediately started killing Japanese invaders – and not out of love for the French.
They famously gave France the boot, invaded Laos to extend their territory, and then invaded South Vietnam. That’s where the Americans come in.
The American-Vietnam War didn’t go so well for either side, but now-Communist Vietnam’s dense jungle and support from China and the Soviet Union gave the North Vietnamese the military power to match their will to keep fighting, a will which seemed never-ending, no matter which side you’re on. North Vietnam was able to wait out the U.S. and reunite Vietnam, an underdog story that no one believed possible.
Vietnam’s resistance to outsiders doesn’t end there. After Vietnam invaded Chinese-backed Cambodia (and won, by the way), Communist China’s seemingly unstoppable People’s Liberation Army with its seemingly unlimited manpower invaded Vietnam in 1979.
For three weeks, the war ground Vietnamese border villages in a bloody stalemate until the Chinese retreated back across the border, taking an unexpectedly high death toll.
Though not much about early Finnish history is known, there are a few Viking sagas that mention areas of Finland and the people who inhabit those areas. Those sagas usually involve Vikings getting murdered or falling in battle. The same goes for Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, and virtually anyone else who had their eyes set on Finland.
In the intervening years, Finns allowed themselves to be dominated by Sweden and Russia, but after receiving their autonomy in 1917, Finland wasn’t about to give it up. They eventually became a republic and were happy with that situation until around World War II began.
That’s when the Soviet Union invaded.
The invasion of Finland didn’t go well for the USSR. It lasted all of 105 days and the “Winter War,” as it came to be called, was the site of some of the most brutal fighting the world has ever seen to this day. Finns were ruthless and relentless in defending their territory.
For example, the Raatteentie Incident involved a 300-Finn ambush of a 25,000-strong Soviet force – and the Finns destroyed the Russians almost to the last man. The Finnish sniper Simo Hayha killed 505 Russians and never lost a moment’s sleep. When the retreating Finns destroyed anything that might be of use to an invader, it forced Soviet troops to march over frozen lakes.
Lakes that were mined by the Finns and subsequently exploded, downing and freezing thousands of Red Army invaders.
The Winter War is also where Finnish civilians perfected and mass-produced the Molotov Cocktail.
From the British War Office:
The Finns’ policy was to allow the Russian tanks to penetrate their defences, even inducing them to do so by ‘canalising’ them through gaps and concentrating their small arms fire on the infantry following them. The tanks that penetrated were taken on by gun fire in the open and by small parties of men armed with explosive charges and petrol bombs in the forests and villages.
This was the level of resistance from a country of just 3.5 million people. Finns showed up in whatever they were wearing, with whatever weapons they had, men and women alike. In short, Finns are happy to kill any invader and will do it listening to heavy metal music while shouting the battle cry of, “fire at their balls!”
If part of what makes the United States an unconquerable country is every citizen being able to take up arms against an invader, just imagine how effective that makeshift militia force would be if every single citizen was also a trained soldier. That’s Israel, with 1.5 million highly-trained reserve troops.
Israel has had mandatory military service for all its citizens – men and women – since 1949 and for a good reason. Israel is in a tough neighborhood and most of their neighbors don’t want Israel to exist. This means the Jewish state is constantly fighting for survival in some way, shape, or form and they’re incredibly good at it.
In almost 70 years of history, Israel earned a perfect war record. Not bad for any country, let alone one that takes heat for literally anything it does.
Not only will Israel wipe the floor with its enemies, it doesn’t pull punches. That’s why wars against Israel don’t last long, with most lasting less than a year and the shortest lasting just six days. As far as invading Israel goes, the last time an invading Army was in Israel proper, it was during the 1948-49 War of Independence. Since then, the farthest any invader got inside Israel was into areas seized by the Israelis during a previous war.
In fact, when an Arab coalition surprised Israel during Yom Kippur in 1973, the Israelis nearly took Cairo and Damascus in just a couple of weeks.
More than just securing their land borders, Israel keeps a watchful eye on Jewish people worldwide, and doesn’t mind violating another country’s sovereignty to do it. Just ask Uganda, Sudan, Argentina, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, UAE, Tunisia… get the point? If a group of Jewish people are taken hostage or under threat somewhere, the IDF or Mossad will come and get them out.
The Mossad is another story entirely. Chance are good that any country even thinking about invading Israel is probably full of, if not run by, Mossad agents. Israel will get the entire plan of attack in plenty of time to hand an invader their own ass.
Just before the 1967 Six Day War, Mossad agent Eli Cohen became a close advisor to Syria Defense Minister. He actually got the Syrians to plant trees in the Golan Heights to help IDF artillery find the range on their targets.
One of the world’s oldest civilizations, Japan was able to keep its culture and history relatively intact over the centuries because mainland Japan has never been invaded by an outside force.
Contrary to popular belief, the “divine wind” typhoons didn’t destroy the Mongol fleets outright. Mongol invaders were able to land on some of the Japanese islands, but after a few victories and a couple of stunning defeats, the Japanese exhausted the Mongols and they were forced to retreat back to their ships. That’s when the first typhoon hit.
Mongols invaded again less than seven years later with a fleet of 4,400 ships and some 140,000 Mongol, Korean, and Chinese troops. Japanese samurai defending Hakata Bay were not going to wait for the enemy to land and actually boarded Chinese ships to slaughter its mariners.
Since then, the Bushido Code only grew in importance and Japan’s main enemies were – wait for it – the Japanese. But once Japan threw off its feudal system and unified, it became a force to be reckoned with. Japan shattered the notion that an Asian army wasn’t able to defeat a Western army in a real war, soundly defeating the Russians both on land and at sea in 1905, setting the stage for World War II.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was not a great idea, the Japanese made sure the Americans knew that any invasion of Japanese territory would cost them dearly – and they made good on the promise, mostly by fighting to the death. The United States got the message, opting to drop nuclear weapons on Japan to force a surrender rather than attempt an invasion. Even though the U.S. got the demanded surrender, Japan was not a conquered country. The United States left Japan after seven years of occupation and the understanding that Communism was worse than petty fighting.
“Bushido” began to take on a different meaning to Japanese people. It wasn’t just one of extreme loyalty to traditions or concepts, or even the state. It morphed throughout Japanese culture until it began to represent a kind of extreme bravery and resistance in the face of adversity. While many in Japan are hesitant to use bushido in relation to the Japanese military, the rise of China is fueling efforts to alter Japan’s pacifist constitution to enable its self-defense forces to take a more aggressive stand in some areas.
Since the end of World War II, Japan has worked not to dominate the region militarily, but economically. Japan’s booming economy has allowed the country to meet the threats raised by Chinese power in the region, boosting military spending by billion and creating the world’s most technologically advanced (and fifth largest) air force, making any approach to the island that much more difficult.
5. The Philippines
The 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines are not a country that any invader should look forward to subduing. The Philippines have been resisting invaders since Filipinos killed Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. For 300-plus years, people of the Philippines were largely not thrilled to be under Spanish rule, which led to a number of insurrections, mutinies, and outright revolts against the Spanish. As a matter of fact, for the entire duration of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the Moro on Sulu and Mindinao fought their occupiers. That’s a people who won’t be conquered.
By the time the people of the Philippines rose up to throw off the chains of Spanish colonizers, there was already a massive plan in place as well as a secret shadow government ready to take power as soon as the Spanish were gone. This revolution continued until the Spanish-American War when the Americans wrested the island nation away, much to the chagrin (and surprise) of the Philippines.
Freedom fighters in the Philippines were so incensed at the American occupation that U.S. troops had to adopt a new sidearm with a larger caliber. Moro fighters shot by the standard-issue Colt .38-caliber M1892 Army-Navy pistol would not stop rushing American troops and the U.S. troops in the Philippines were getting killed by lack of firepower.
Meanwhile, the Philippines created a government anyway and immediately declared war on the United States and, even though it ended with the capture of rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo, American troops would be in the Philippines until 1913, attempting to subdue guerrillas in the jungles and outlying islands. Until, that is, Japan invaded.
If you want to know how well that went for the Japanese, here’s a photo of Filipino freedom fighter Capt. Nieves Fernandez showing a U.S. soldier how she hacks off Japanese heads with her bolo knife.
So, even though the actual Armed Forces of the Philippines might be a little aged and weak, anyone trying to invade and subdue the Philippines can pretty much expect the same level of resistance from the locals. Consider hot climate and dense jungles covering 7,000-plus islands, full of Filipinos who are all going to try to kill you eventually — the Philippines will never stop resisting.
Like the Moros, who are still fighting to this day.
Homecoming for a naval vessel is a huge deal. After months at sea, the ship’s crew don their sharpest uniforms and stand on deck to catch a glimpse of their loved ones before they dock and are finally reunited. Homecomings were an even bigger deal in the days before email, phones, and video calls were more common aboard ships. Imagine, then, the frustration felt by sailors and family members alike when a ship ran aground right before it docked. That was the situation for the crew and family of the USS Enterprise in 1983.
Launched in 1960, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), was America’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. A technological marvel for the time, she served with distinction during the Vietnam War and survived a catastrophic fire in 1969 that killed 27 sailors and injured 314 more. In 1982, Enterprise made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. The ship sailed an eight-month tour before returning to San Francisco in April, 1983.
The carrier sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn. Enterprise was steered into port by a civilian pilot, but was turned back over to the hands of a Navy pilot before she ran aground. At about 9:30 a.m., the 90,000-ton ship missed the edge of a 400-yard wide, 40-foot deep ship channel while maneuvering through the morning overcast and wind. Enterprise was stuck on a sandbar just 1,000 yards from her berthing.
4,500 sailors and 3,000 family members could now just see each other, but were still far from being reunited. “It was a real drag, being so close and yet so far,” recalled Capt. Jack McAuley, “We couldn’t do anything but sit around and grin and bear it.” The ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert J. Kelly, sprung the crew into action to dislodge the carrier. In an effort to shift the ship’s center of balance, the crew assembled on the port side of the flight deck. Nine military and civilian tug boats joined the effort to free Enterprise. After nearly six hours of rocking, and with the help of the tide, Enterprise made it off the sandbar at 3:12 p.m.
After another 90 minutes of maneuvering, Enterprise was finally docked and her crew was released ashore. Frustration turned to relief as sailors and family members embraced each other after months of separation. Sadly, many crewmen missed their flights out of San Francisco as a result of the ordeal. Ironically, there was one individual on board who was a crewmember of a different Enterprise.
Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, flew out on a Navy helicopter to join the crew of the Enterprise at 7 a.m. that morning and welcome them home. “Our vessel is the Starship Enterprise and this is the USS Enterprise,” he later said, “We’ve got a new drink—Enterprise on the Rocks.” Jokes aside, while Enterprise suffered no obvious damage, she underwent a thorough stress check to ensure her seaworthiness before her next deployment.
Capt. Kelly took full responsibility for the incident. “I am the captain and I was in control. I am totally responsible for what happened,” he said during a news conference. “Naturally, it’s embarrassing.” Although collisions and groundings are usually career-enders for Navy ship captains, Capt. Kelly, who had been selected for promotion to commodore, was eventually promoted all the way to four-star admiral and served as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1991 to 1994.
Eight months at sea, running aground in sight of loved ones, rocking the ship off of a sandbar, and all while George Takei was on board. The 1982-1983 WESTPAC tour was a truly unforgettable experience for the crew of the USS Enterprise.
News that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attending the ceremony remembering the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack has drawn some interest.
Unfortunately, it also seems to have drawn some advice from White House Spokesman Josh Earnest directed toward veterans of the surprise bombardment.
During a recent press briefing, Earnest said that World War II veterans should “set aside their own personal bitterness” over the unprovoked attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that left 2,403 Americans dead and over a thousand wounded.
Japan has refused to apologize for the attack, which sank or damaged 19 American vessels, including eight battleships and destroyed or damaged over 300 aircraft.
“If I were a World War II veteran who was drafted by the United States military to go and fight for our country overseas in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, I might feel quite embittered. And I think it would be a perfectly natural and understandable human reaction to not be particularly satisfied with the words of the Japanese Prime Minister,” Earnest said during the Dec. 5 briefing.
“There may be some who feel personally embittered,” he added. “But I’m confident that many will set aside their own personal bitterness, not because they’re personally satisfied by the words of the Prime Minister, but because they recognize how important this moment is for the United States.”
Abe is the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit Pearl Harbor, declaring his intent to “mourn the souls of the victims” of the attack. American forces shot down 29 Japanese planes, and sank five midget submarines and one submarine.
Fifteen Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the attack, while 51 received the Navy Cross, four received the Distinguished Service Cross, and 53 received the Silver Star.
It is estimated that 161,000 American military personnel were killed in action while fighting in the Pacific Theater. The war lasted for three years and nine months, with the end taking place when Japan signed surrender documents on board the USS Missouri (BB 63) on Sept. 2, 1945.