That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

In December of 1915, allied forces received word that it was time to evacuate from the fight against the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli.


In order to cover their sneaky retreat, Australian forces needed to find a way to make it appear as if they were still present so that the Turkish wouldn’t immediately follow.

One resourceful soldier stepped up and did just that. Lance Cpl. William Scurry came up with a way to rig rifles to fire, unmanned, at different times and at various points to deceive the enemy. So, the “drip rifle” or “pop-off rifle” was born.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
Australian soldiers at Anzac Cove, 1915

Related: That time Google Maps accidentally sparked a military invasion

After the rifle was loaded and set into a fixed position by using sands bags, two tin cans, used for storing rations, played a key role in this brilliant invention. One was filled with water and had a hole punched into it, while the other, empty, was attached by string to the rifle’s trigger.

Over time, water dripped into the empty tin can, eventually filling it to the point where it was heavy enough to pull rifle’s trigger, firing the weapon.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
One of the drip rifles.

Also Read: This legendary Navy skipper sank 19 enemy ships

After the rifles were set, allied forces snuck away into the night. The sporadic rifle fire gave the enemy the impression that they were still up against a mighty power.

On the last night of the evacuation of Gallipoli, troops left behind mannequins and artillery equipment to further sell the illusion and help buy the allies more time — it worked.

The rear guards successfully escaped without suffering any casualties. Later, Scurry received the Distinguish Conduct Medal for his ingenuity.

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete animated breakdown of this epic story.

 

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How WWII submarine commander Roy Davenport was awarded 5 Navy Crosses

World War II was the golden age of American submarine warfare. By war’s end, seven submarine commanders and one enlisted crew member had received the Medal of Honor. The US submarine fleet, often referred to as the “Silent Service” for its secretive undersea missions, operated independently and in wolf packs while patrolling contested sea lanes in the Pacific.

During war patrols beyond the range of American airpower, US submarines exacted a heavy toll on Japanese naval forces, sinking four fleet carriers, four escort carriers, one battleship, four heavy cruisers, nine light cruisers, 38 destroyers, and 23 submarines. 

Although Rear Adm. Roy Davenport was never awarded the Medal of Honor, he was the first and only US Navy sailor to be awarded five Navy Cross medals, an honor Davenport shares with US Marine Corps legend Chesty Puller. Even though the submarine commander is one of the most decorated sailors from World War II, the heroic exploits that made him so remain largely unknown.

FIRST NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Before he assumed command of the USS Haddock, Davenport had four submarine war patrols under his belt, having served as an executive officer on the USS Silversides under the command of Lt. Cmdr. Creed Burlingame. As the Haddock’s lieutenant commander, Davenport was awarded his first Navy Cross for conducting numerous hazardous missions into enemy-infested waters off the Caroline Islands between June 30 and Aug. 10, 1943. 

During a patrol near Palau, an island country that connects the western chain of the Caroline Islands with Micronesia, Davenport torpedoed and sank the 5,533-ton Saipan Maru, a Japanese transport ship. On July 26, 1943, Davenport fired a total of 15 Mark XIV torpedoes at ranges between 2,000 and 4,000 yards in four separate attacks. 

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
The crew of the USS Haddock (SS-231) pose for a group photo. Photo courtesy of navsource.org.

Davenport “pressed home his attacks with cool and courageous determination and despite intense and persistent hostile opposition, succeeded in sinking over 10,500 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 35,500 tons,” his citation states.

SECOND NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Davenport was awarded his second Navy Cross while serving as the commanding officer on the sixth war patrol of the USS Haddock between Sept. 2 and Sept. 28, 1943. Over the course of the 27-day war patrol, Davenport engaged with four different Japanese ships. On Sept. 15, he fired four torpedoes, claiming two hits and a fire aboard the target vessel. When the enemy ship attempted to ram Davenport’s submarine, Davenport released two more torpedoes “down the throat.”

Five days later, Davenport came into contact with the Tonan Maru II, a 19,000-ton tanker. He fired six torpedoes from 3,700 yards; half of the volley impacted its target. Between Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, the Haddock engaged two more ships, missing the first with two torpedoes from 3,000 yards. However, the US submarine later claimed three confirmed hits on the second ship after releasing at least eight torpedoes. 

“He conducted daring attacks during this patrol which resulted in sinking over 39,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 4,000 tons,” Davenport’s citation reads. “By skillful maneuvering, he successfully evaded enemy counter-attacks and brought his submarine through with no damage.”

THIRD NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Davenport was awarded his third Navy Cross while serving as commanding officer of the USS Haddock on its seventh war patrol from Oct. 20 to Nov. 15, 1943. The Haddock patrolled off the coast of the Truk Islands (now called Chuuk Islands), a cluster of 16 volcanic islands, which form part of the eastern Caroline Islands. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 2, Davenport attacked a freighter and a troopship with five torpedoes. The freighter was destroyed, while the troopship survived after catching fire.

“He skillfully conducted a surface torpedo attack against an enemy destroyer search group,” Davenport’s citation reads. “One destroyer was sunk and he thereafter conducted a successful surface retirement during the ensuing confusion. During the patrol, he also delivered highly successful attacks against two heavily escorted enemy convoys which resulted in sinking over 32,000 tons of enemy shipping.” 

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
The ship’s sponsor, Mrs. R. M. Davenport, with a champagne bottle for christening; Lt. Cmdr. Roy Davenport; and the matron of honor, Mrs. Garvey, with roses, are seen before the launching at Mare Island, March 23, 1944. Photo courtesy of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum/navsource.org.

FOURTH NAVY CROSS: HONSHU, JAPAN

After returning from the Caroline Islands, Davenport requested a transfer and became the first skipper of the USS Trepang, a brand-new, Balao-class submarine. Davenport led the first war patrol of the USS Trepang into enemy-controlled waters south of Honshu, Japan. On his first engagement, he fired six torpedoes at two large tankers, a freighter, and an escort. The engagement sunk the Takunan Maru, a 750-ton freighter.

“By excellent judgment, outstanding skill and aggressiveness, he closed and launched intelligently planned and smartly executed torpedo attacks,” Davenport’s fourth Navy Cross citation reads. “His skillful evasive tactics enabled his ship to escape enemy countermeasures and return to port safely.”

Between Sept. 13 and Oct. 23, 1944, Davenport was credited with sinking three ships and inflicting damage to a Yamashiro-class battleship. According to the Military Hall of Honor: “Davenport weathered a typhoon and, on 10-11 October, picked up a convoy of two tankers and one escort. Firing four stern tubes, he claimed three hits but no sinkings were confirmed in Japanese records. The next night, he fired four torpedoes at a Japanese landing craft, believing all missed. Postwar, he was credited with the 1,000-ton Transport No. 5.” 

FIFTH NAVY CROSS: LUZON STRAIT

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
Lt. Cmdr. Roy M. Davenport of Los Angeles, Calif., wears the Navy Cross recently presented to him for sinking “many thousands of tons” of enemy shipping. Davenport stands beside his vessel’s conning tower, on which are painted Japanese flags, indicating the enemy victims. Photo courtesy of navsource.org.

On Nov. 16, 1944, the USS Trepang departed for its second war patrol from Majuro, a chain of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. On his 10th war patrol, Davenport braved the hazardous waters of the Luzon Strait, which is located between Taiwan and the Philippines’ Luzon Islands.

During the 34-day patrol, Davenport led a wolf pack comprising three American submarines called “Roy’s Rangers.” The US submarines fired 22 torpedoes and destroyed four enemy ships, totaling 35,000 tons. However, the postwar Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee — the US interservice agency that determined Japanese naval and merchant marine shipping losses during the war — reduced the tally from four to three ships sunk, for a revised total of 13,000 tons.

According to his fifth Navy Cross citation, “Daringly penetrating a strong hostile escort screen to deliver a series of night surface attacks, Commander Davenport launched his torpedoes into an escorted convoy, holding to his targets grimly in the face of heavy countermeasures and sinking an important amount of Japanese tonnage.

“During this excellently planned and brilliantly executed engagement, the TREPANG effectively coordinated her efforts with other submarines and, as a result of the combined firepower of these gallant ships, contributed to the destruction of the entire convoy within a period of three hours.”

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

Feature image: navsource.org

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7 startling facts about the US military after 20 years of war

With the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan either drawing down or seeing the United States take a non-combat role, many are looking back to see how the Armed Forces have changed since the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. 

The most revealing data visualization so far has come from USA Today, who created a stunning set of graphs and visuals using 20 years of data from places like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Costs of War Project, the Watson Institute, Brown University and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

What it shows is the unbelievable growth of the U.S. military’s global reach and an incredible amount of military spending. Here are just a few revelations. 

1. The U.S. might have 800 military bases around the world

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Stanton)

The main visual on USA Today’s in-depth chart shows the growth of the United States’ military bases worldwide, and shows the order in which they opened since the end of the Cold War. In 85 of those countries, the U.S. has conducted counterterrorism operations.

What’s more stunning is that combing through endless Pentagon documents, researchers were able to list an astonishing 800 current U.S. military bases overseas, says American University’s David Vine. 

2. In 2021, U.S. troops saw combat in eight countries

It’s not unusual to see stories and reports from the front lines of fighting in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but USA Today reports that in February 2021, American combat forces were in action in eight total countries that month, far more than the media often report. 

It may come as a surprise to many that US troops were also actively engaged in combat in Mali, NIgeria, Somalia, Kenya and Yemen. The United States was also conducting drone or air strikes in Libya and Pakistan while conducting counterterrorism operations with unknown details across Africa, South America and Central and Southeast Asia.

3. Our main geopolitical rival has only one overseas base

The Pentagon says China is building up bases in Pakistan and the Pacific Rim region, which should come as no surprise, given its controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, but it only has one confirmed foreign military installation – in Djibouti, where the U.S. also operates a military base. 

United States forces are not only also in Djibouti, they are also stationed at bases in the eight countries surrounding Djibouti, which may help check the expansion of Chinese influence in Africa – or not. 

4. The human cost of decades of war is high

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
U.S. Army

In the 20 years following the September 11 attacks and the resulting Global War On Terrorism, civilians in the affected countries have borne the brunt of the death toll. More than 335,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting. 

If we’re keeping score by body count between the belligerents, the terrorists and other extremists have fared the second worst, with more than 259,000 killed. National militaries like those of Iraq and Afghanistan came in third with 177,073 while U.S. Allies have lost 12,468. The United States has seen 7,950 American contractors and 7,104 troops killed in action. 

5. The Global War on Terror cost more than $6 trillion

Wars are expensive and the Global War on Terrorism is no different (it’s not over, by the way). The Department of Defense alone has spent some $1.9 trillion to fight it. The Department of Homeland Security has spent at least $1 trillion, the DoD budget has grown by $803 billion in the past 20 years and the cost of taking care of American veterans is running $437 billion.

What’s really staggering is that the second largest expenditure is the estimated interest spent on borrowing the money to pay for the war, which is currently costing the U.S. taxpayer $925 billion.

6. Global warfare is changing

Despite the advances in battlefield technology and American supremacy due to fighting the war on terror, everything we’ve learned may all be for naught. The newest battlegrounds are not in physical locations, they’re in cyberspace, and the U.S. is taking the brunt of those attacks. 

Since 2005, China has targeted American government networks, public networks, and private companies 67 times. Russian and Iran have attacked the US 28 times each and North Korea has targeted U.S. networks 12 times. When extremists attack the United States, the Department of Homeland Security says the source of those attacks are domestic terrorists.

7. The U.S. outspends everyone on defense – by a lot

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

The budget allotted to the Department of Defense is $731.8 billion, which far outpaces the next 10 countries’ defense budgets. In fact they would all have to band together to spend an equivalent amount to rival U.S. defense spending. 

China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Brazil together spend as much as the Pentagon every year, just for regular planned operations and development. This spending doesn’t always even account for extra spending allotted by Congress for other, related programs, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Feature image: U.S. Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the battles mentioned in the Marines’ Hymn

The early days of November bring more than just chilly weather and the beginning of a winter-long food and football hibernation cycle. That’s what Thanksgiving is for.


That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

Come the 10th and 11th – the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day respectively – military towns and American Legion Halls all over the country begin shaking with the booming voice of Marines past and present, singing the Marines’ Hymn, a song about the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli.

If you’re a Marine, you definitely know what these are. If you’ve served in the military at some point, you’ve probably been able to pick up what they mean. But for a lot of civilians, military culture and tradition can be a black hole of knowledge – unless one of their history teachers was a Marine, there’s no reason for them to know this.

Can you imagine Marine Corps grade school?

The Halls of Montezuma

No, the Marines did not fight Aztec warriors. They were around 300 or so years too late for that.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
I can tell you how well that would go, though.

The reference is to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire…which also happens to be modern-day Mexico City. In 1847, the U.S. and Mexico were engaged in a bit of a war and it wasn’t going well for the Mexicans. The Americans were in the middle of capturing the Mexican capital. But Mexico under dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wasn’t going down easily – neither were its people.

To break the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops while capturing the city itself, Gen. Winfield Scott determined that he would have to capture Chapultepec Castle, a military academy on the heights overlooking the city. The hill leading up to the castle was a 200-foot slope ending in a 12-foot wall, designed to keep enemy troops from doing exactly what the Marines were about to do.

After the Americans made it through volley after volley of artillery and gunfire, the Mexican Army was waiting for them. They engaged in a good old-fashioned fistfight.

They then scaled the castle walls and entered the inside of the castle – known as the Halls of Montezuma. They raised the American flag and by the time Gen. Scott entered the castle, the streets were guarded by U.S. Marines.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
According to the Marines’ Hymn, that must mean Mexico City is heaven now?

The Marines captured the fortress in an hour, with a loss of 90 percent of the Marines’ officer and NCO corps. Legend has it the NCOs and officers added scarlet stripes to their pants to commemorate their lost brothers here. Today these are referred to as “blood stripes” to remember the Marine blood shed in Mexico City.

The Shores of Tripoli

Why do the Marines sing about the Shores of Tripoli when those particular shores have been pretty unfriendly to Americans for much of the time most active Marines have been alive? Because, like Chapultepec, this battle happened early on in Marine Corps history.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t friendly back then either.

The wars with the Barbary pirates were an epic and underreported time in American history. The Marines got one of their first heroes when Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his contingent of Marines accompanied a force of Arab allies under U.S. agent William Eaton marched 500 miles overland to attack the city of Derne.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
One of the earliest sexual exploits of the green weenie. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Henson)

It was after the march that O’Bannon and the Marines, along with Eaton and his Greek and Arab mercenaries, captured the city against a much larger force. The Tripolitans sent reinforcements, but by the time they arrived, the city had already fallen. When that force tried to retake the city, U.S. Navy vessels and captured Tripolitan guns manned by Marines repelled the attack.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
The Hornet, seen here owning the HMS Peacock in the War of 1812, was one of the ships at Derne that day.

The capture of Derne forced the leaders in Tripoli to make peace with the Americans, stop raiding American shipping, and free American slaves. The Marines say Lt. O’Bannon was presented with an elaborate Mamluk-style sword by the Ottoman representative, which is now the model for those carried by Marine Corps officers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US troops responded to liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp

On April 28, 1945, just 25 days after the United States Army discovered Hitler’s terrible secret, the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp. The 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, came upon a similar camp.

This camp was near the Bavarian city of Dachau, and and human feces. 

Unlike at Ohrdruf, the American GIs were going to make sure some of the surviving Nazi SS camp guards paid a price for what they did there. 

When the Americans first arrived, the SS guards were still firing at them in short bursts. The 45th was soon joined by the 42 Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Henning Linden. The Nazi garrison was substantial but no match for both Infantry Divisions. Most of the prison complex’s SS garrison and leadership had already fled. 

A Swiss representative of the International Red Cross was called in to negotiate the camp’s surrender. 

dachau
Prisoners of Dachau cheering on American soldiers.

On April 29th, SS Lieutenant Heinrich Wicker surrendered to Gen. Linden and the Americans began to secure the main camp. Once inside, the U.S. troops were horrified and enraged by the scene. There were hundreds of corpses strewn throughout the prison complex, along with rooms full of stacked, emaciated bodies. 

They took 100 SS guards prisoner amid a growing typhus infection among the camps inmate population, which numbered as many as 32,000. But not all of the SS soldiers had surrendered. Those who were still fighting were manning the guard towers. Sparks left some of the Nazi POWs under the watchful eyes of a machine gun team and began to make his way toward the fighting. 

Almost as soon as he’d begun to walk away, he heard a young private shout that the SS guards were trying to get away, before an eruption of machine gun fire split the silence. Returning to the scene, he found a dozen or more SS prisoners gunned down by the team. Elsewhere in the camp, U.S. troops were looking the other way when former inmates began to assault the camp guards.

Some SS troops attempted to get away, but were chased down by the former prisoners and severely beaten or killed. 

In all, Sparks estimates that around 30-50 SS camp guards were either killed by American troops or allowed to be killed by former Dachau inmates. The rumor about Americans killing all the SS guard was later spread, but Sparks disagrees with the rumor. 

“The regimental records of the 157th Field Artillery Regiment for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau,” he wrote.

An Army investigation of the incident alleged 21 deaths were perpetrated by U.S. troops, with another 25 attributed to the former prisoners. General George S. Patton, as military governor of Bavaria, received the report and the charges of Sparks being complicit in the reprisal but tore up the charges.

For his part, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had personally witnessed the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp liberation along with Patton, simply cabled Washington that the camp had been taken by Americans and that 300 SS guards were “neutralized.” 

Sparks noted that the “good citizens” of the nearby city of Dachau were forced to assist with burying the remains of the murdered prisoners. The 45th Infantry Division was soon on its way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and was fighting in the streets the next day.

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The intense rules for US Marines who protected mail from gangsters

“When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. “Or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.” It was the Golden Age of the Gangster, when bank robbers were folk heroes, cheered on by citizens who were suffering under the weight of Prohibition and the Great Depression. But when the mail started getting robbed by these hoods, the Postmaster General asked President Harding to send in the Marines.


That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
(USMC photo)

In October 1921, gangsters hit a mail truck in New York City, making off with .4 million in cash, securities, and jewelry – million dollars when adjusted for inflation. That wasn’t the only high-stakes robbery. Between April 1920 and April 1921 alone, thieves stole more than six million dollars in U.S. mail robberies – million when adjusted for inflation. So when the Postmaster asked the President for the Marines, the Commander-In-Chief was happy to oblige.

Harding instructed Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to meet with Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Lejeune to “detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from the depredations by robbers and bandits.”

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

Marines guarding a Chicago mail train.

Marines from both coasts were activated and armed with trench guns, M1911 pistols, and the M1903 Springfield rifle to stand watch as high-value mail deliveries were moved between institutions, large cities, banks, and government offices. They rode mail trucks and trains, often seated with the driver and in with the valuable cargo. The Navy Secretary told his new detachment of 50-plus Marines and officers:

“To the Men of the Mail Guard, you must when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, if attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. If two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through. When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.”

That was the spirit of the orders. The orders themselves were just as intense.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

1. To prevent the theft or robbery of any United States mails entrusted to my protection.

2. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to handle the mails entrusted to my protection and to allow no unauthorized persons to handle such mails or to have access to such mails.

3. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to enter the compartment (railway coast, auto truck, wagon, mail room, etc.) where mails entrusted to my protection are placed, and to allow no unauthorized person to enter such compartment.

4. In connection with Special Order No. 3, to prevent unauthorized persons loitering in the vicinity of such compartment or taking any position from which they might enter such compartment by surprise or sudden movement.

5. To keep my rifle, shotgun, or pistol always in my hand (or hands) while on watch.

6. When necessary in order to carry out the foregoing orders, to make the most effective use of my weapons, shooting or otherwise killing or disabling any person engaged in the theft or robbery, or the attempted theft or robbery of the mails entrusted to my protection.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

The FAQ section of the Mail Guards’ training manual tells you everything you need to know about how Marines would respond to this robbery problem, once the gangster tried to break in:

“Q. Suppose he [the robber] is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?
A. Shoot him.

Q. Suppose the thief was apparently unarmed but was running away?
A. Call halt twice at the top of your voice, and if he does not halt, fire one warning shot; and if he does not obey this, shoot to hit him.

Q. Is it permissible to take off my pistol while on duty; for instance, when in a mail car riding between stations?

A. Never take off your pistol while on duty. Keep it loaded, locked, and cocked while on duty.

Q. Is there a general plan for meeting a robbery?

A. Yes; start shooting and meet developments as they arise thereafter.

Q. If I hear the command ‘Hands Up,’ am I justified in obeying this order?
A. No; fall to the ground and start shooting.

Q. Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery?
A. Only over a dead Marine.”

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

Marines in a mail car.

Robberies stopped entirely. For four months, the Marines guarded the U.S. Mail, and for four months, there were zero successful robberies. After a while, the Post Office was able to muster its own guard forces, and the Marines were withdrawn from mail duty. By 1926 robberies shot up again and the Marines were called back.

The second time the Marines were withdrawn, people stopped trying to rob the U.S. mail.

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These kids volunteered to fight in the trenches in WWI

In this day and age, allowing a minor to enlist in the military and be sent off to war is practically impossible — especially with our modern tracking systems.


But at the start of the 20th century, an accurate method of recording individual troop movement hadn’t been invented; thousands of soldiers would eventually go missing through the course of the war, many of whom were actually children.

After WWI reared its ugly head, military recruiters were paid bonuses for every man they enlisted. Countless young men, many of them orphans or just seeking adventure, would simply lie about their ages to join up.

The recruiters saw dollars signs and looked past any age issues as they wrote the coercible young boy’s names down, signing them up on the spot. Many feared the thought of going off to war but thought they would look weak if they didn’t take part with their friends — the ultimate peer pressure.

Related: Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
These young boys swear in to join the fight. (Source: The Great War/ YouTube/ Screenshot)

The idea was extremely controversial at the time, but it didn’t stop the boys from volunteering as they showed up to the local recruiting offices in droves. It’s estimated that 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army alone.

Once they signed up, they were sent through some basic infantry training then whisked off the front lines.

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli
This young boy mans his post. (Source: The Great War /YouTube /Screenshot)

Most famously was John Condon, an Irishman who is believed to have been the youngest combatant killed; at the age of 14, he died during a mustard gas attack in Belgium while serving in the third battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment.

Also Read: Here’s proof that every group of military buddies mirrors the kids from the movie ‘The Sandlot’

Typically, when a soldier was “confirmed” killed in the war, his family would receive word by telegram of the passing — if the proper forms were filled out, which in too many cases they weren’t.

The military has improved in this aspect. Today, an officer and a chaplain would show up on the families’ doorstep to deliver the dreadful news.

Fun fact: The word infantry derives from Italian word “infanteria” which means “youth, foot soldier.” That is all.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Charlie DeLeo: Keeper of the Flame

If you’ve ever set foot in New York City at night and glanced across the Upper Bay at Lady Liberty, you’d see that her torch burns bright. From 1972 to 1999, you had Charlie DeLeo to thank for that awe-inspiring sight.

Known as the “Keeper of the Flame,” DeLeo was responsible for ensuring the light bulbs—some 22 stories up—were changed. He accomplished this every day, rain or wind or shine, so that when people see the statue they are left with a sense of hope. DeLeo believes this spirit embodies the best of what America offers.


In Vietnam

One might say that DeLeo himself is synonymous with the best of America: he has always endeavored to give whenever and whatever he can. He gave first when, at 17, he gained his parent’s permission to enlist in the Marine Corps. His poor eyesight required a waiver, and he was limited to duties as a cook.

In Vietnam, DeLeo was desperate for a transfer to the infantry. He believed in his heart that he was a rifleman, but learned quickly that, when in a war zone or combat situation, no task is menial and it takes the work of everyone to ensure success. He believed that honor comes from hard work, determination and devotion.

When eligible, DeLeo submitted for transfer, but soon found himself in a construction unit—not the infantry. But he found excitement there when, one night in Phu Bai, three Marines were killed and 52 were injured during a mortar attack. DeLeo was among the injured; he took shrapnel to his leg.

With Lady Liberty

During his recovery, DeLeo saw the bodies of dead Marines waiting to be transported back home. It was on the Khe Sanh airstrip when DeLeo decided that he had seen enough. He received a Purple Heart upon returning home, then—in uniform—went to visit Lady Liberty. The statue had always been special to DeLeo, ever since he took a trip there in fourth grade. He wanted to see the torch up close but wasn’t permitted when he got there.

About four years later, while between jobs, DeLeo again went to see the Statue of Liberty, and on impulse, asked about a job. He was told that they were looking for a maintenance guy and that he should ask about it. He did, and he was hired. But it wasn’t until a few months into his position that he took on his iconic role.

DeLeo’s boss had got wind that he was sneaking up into the torch, where no one ever went and weren’t supposed to go. Instead of being let go, his boss gave him the task of caring for the torch. From then on DeLeo became the “Keeper of the Flame.”

The “Keeper of the Flame” ensures the Lady’s torch is ship shape, changing out bulbs and cleaning the encasement when necessary. With this role, DeLeo became something of a celebrity, having several articles written about him, and one time appearing on a game show. In 1998 he won a Freedom Award from America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, and he’s even had a book written about his life, called Charlie DeLeo: Keeper of the Flame, by William C. Armstrong.

Thank you for your service, Charlie DeLeo!

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Iran’s Special Forces still wear US green berets

When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.

The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.


In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.

It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.

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Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.

Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.

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NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.

The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 most ‘Murican moments of every presidency, part three

Not every President of the United States has a memorable administration. And, for some of these presidents, it’s probably best that people forget their time in office. That being said, no president is trying to be remembered as the worst president of all time. They might not even be thinking about being the best of all time – many are just playing the hands they were dealt, for better or for worse. How they play that hand determines their legacy.

Some are just better players than others.


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No matter what their legacy ends up being in the annals of American History, each Presidency had its high points, whether it be a moment of patriotism, like James Madison’s administration, or a moment of love of country, like Andrew Jackson’s. They might even have, simply, the less-celebrated “holding it together and not freaking out while keeping a straight face,” like John Tyler’s administration.

The point is, they all have their moments that truly embody the American spirit — and these are those moments.

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Fat-president jokes are so 1880s.

Grover Cleveland #2

Cleveland is the only President of the United States to serve two non-consecutive terms. This would be like George H.W. Bush coming back and taking the White House from Bill Clinton in 1996 — unthinkable in our day and age, but technically possible. It wasn’t so improbable in Grover Cleveland’s era. The Democrat’s first term saw him get badly-needed upgrades to coastal defenses and the U.S. Navy through a Republican Congress, which was no small feat, even back in 1885. But it was his skill as Commander-In-Chief that got him re-elected in 1892.

This time, he wasn’t just thinking about the defense of the United States. He wanted American ships that could take the U.S. Navy on the offensive and commissioned five battleships and 16 torpedo boats, effectively doubling the battleship capability of the U.S. Navy. These ships would later be used to defeat Spain in the Spanish-American War.

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Every photo of William McKinley makes him look like he’s disappointed in you.

William McKinley

The president that built the bridge to the 20th Century, William McKinley was the last Civil War veteran — and the only enlisted Civil War veteran — to ride his military service to the White House. He was elected to two terms in the nation’s highest office but was assassinated just six months into his second. It was a tragic end to a good career but, fortunately, he was able to start the American Century with a bang.

Actually, it’s more like a lot of bangs. McKinley sent the USS Maine into Havana harbor to protect U.S. interests in the middle of a Cuban slave revolt against Spanish rule. When the Maine exploded in Havana harbor, he commissioned a court of inquiry to determine if the Spanish were at fault. Even though modern evidence later revealed that an onboard accident destroyed the American ship, McKinley’s court determined a Spanish mine was at fault. McKinley asked Congress for a declaration of war against Spain, which the United States won in less than a year, capturing Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and for a while, Cuba as American territories.

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It’s difficult to choose the most American moment from the presidency of the most American man who ever lived.

Theodore Roosevelt

President McKinley is more often than not overlooked by history, not because he was inconsequential (he wasn’t) but rather because he’s in the shadow of one of the giants of history. In the U.S., there was only one man who could do what TR did – regulate monopolies while taking on big business, preserve national parks, and clean up our food and drugs while instituting the income tax and the inheritance tax — aka the “Death Tax.” These ideas seem counter to today’s right-left politics, but Roosevelt could do it and if you called him a flip-flopper, Teddy would have words (and probably fists) with you.

Roosevelt’s most American moment came as part of his “Big Stick” foreign policy and was an addendum — corollary, actually — to the Monroe Doctrine. When Venezuela refused to pay its foreign debt in 1902, Italy, Germany, and Britain blockaded its ports and tried to force payment through an international court. Where the Monroe Doctrine warned Europe to stay out of the United States’ backyard, the Roosevelt Corollary warned Europeans that the United States military would be the guard dog keeping them out.

At Roosevelt’s order, the U.S. Navy met the blockade around Venezuela and forced them to back down. The parties then settled into arbitration.

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You see, this cat Taft is one bad mother.

William Howard Taft

Taft and Roosevelt were close friends and saw eye-to-eye on most issues facing the United States at the time of Taft’s election. Taft was pretty much Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor to the office and, even though the two men were different in tone and constitution, much of what Roosevelt started was picked up under Taft. One of the first uses of the Roosevelt Corollary was in Nicaragua, under Taft’s orders.

Nicaragua was quickly falling into total chaos. The government was facing a powerful rebellion backed by American diplomats. Meanwhile, the elected government was heavily indebted to Europeans. When the government executed two Americans, the U.S. cut ties and aided rebel forces in the capture the capital of Managua. The U.S.then forced Nicaragua to take a loan so Europeans couldn’t get their hands on a potential new canal site (the Panama Canal was under construction at the time). American troops essentially took control of the entire country for the next 20 years.

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“He kept us out of war.” Lolz

Woodrow Wilson

As the first professor elected to the U.S. Presidency, Wilson was a far departure from the days of Roosevelt and Taft. History is beginning to question some of Wilson’s decisions regarding domestic policy, but one thing we can’t question is his resolve to protect Americans and American interests. When Pancho Villa killed Americans while raiding new Mexico, he ordered America’s premiere military man to follow him into Mexico. Then, Germany started messing with the U.S.

In the ultimate series of boneheaded provocations, Germany, in the middle of World War I kept poking the United States. After British spies intercepted a telegram from the German Ambassador to the leaders of Mexico promising an alliance if the United States entered the European War and the torpedoing of the Lusitania liner that killed hundreds of Americans, Germany sunk a number of American ships. Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war and the United States entered World War I.

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He wasn’t nicknamed “The Regulator,” but it would’ve been cool.

Warren G. Harding

The United States helped win the war in Europe but was left with many, many questions in its wake. Harding’s administration was determined to get the United States back in order in the post-WWI years. Beyond the drawdown of American troops from Europe and Cuba, a reduction in the overall military, and arms reduction agreements with major world powers, Hardings most American moment has to be the rejection of the League of Nations.

The United States did not sign the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I because of the agreement to the creation of the League of Nations. Instead it conducted separate agreements with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Harding was elected on a platform of opposing the League. In the end, the League was a failed body — but was it because of the lack of U.S presence or despite it?

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Meanwhile, nothing about Calvin Coolidge’s look is all that cool… but stick around.

Calvin Coolidge

“Silent Cal” really believed that most things, from flood control to business, would work itself out and the Federal government wasn’t there to handle every single problem faced by the states. What Coolidge did believe in was the rights of Americans, regardless of race — a big deal for 1923. The 30th President didn’t care what color anyone was and let it be known that Americans were Americans. Period.

He granted Native Americans citizenship and used his first inaugural address to remind the government of the rights of African-Americans and that the government had a public and private duty to defend those rights. He even thanked immigrants for making the United States what it was and called for the U.S. to welcome and protect immigrants.

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One of the few presidents whose major life achievements came before and after being president.

Herbert Hoover

Everything great about Herbert Hoover (and there’s a lot. Seriously, look it up) happened outside of his Presidency. Hoover was a tireless, dedicated public servant who spent much of his life in service to others both before and after taking office. Unfortunately for Hoover, history will forget everything but his response to the Great Depression, which was abysmal and engulfed most of his time in office. His critics had a point.

Internationally, Hoover was the last U.S. President who didn’t really need to pay close attention to the rest of the world. His most American moment was winding down the interventionist wars in Latin America which began at the turn of the century. Troops from Nicaragua and Haiti were finally coming home.

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Franklin Roosevelt ran his Presidency like he had the Konami codes to the White House.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

If only every leader could as capable as FDR, the only President to serve more than two terms. If there’s one President that had the biggest effect in shaping the United States to look like the country it is today, it would be Franklin Roosevelt. The reason new administrations are judged on their first 100 days in office is because the Roosevelt Administration implemented New Deal reforms to end the Great Depression while ending Prohibition within its first few months.

It wasn’t just his oversight of World War II that made for a great patriotic moment. There are so many moments to choose from throughout his four terms in office. The most exciting moment came in 1943 at the Casablanca Conference where he told Winston Churchill he would only accept the unconditional surrender of each Axis power. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem so powerful a statement, but in 1943, victory for the Allies was far from assured.

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If you f*cked with America while Truman was in charge, he probably sent some guys after you.

Harry S. Truman

Truman prosecuted the end of World War II, the reduction in size of the U.S. Armed Forces, the rebuilding of post-war Europe, the formation of the United Nations, the integration of armed forces, and so much more. It’s hard to believe people thought so little of Truman after he left office given everything we know his administration really did.

His most American moment was the highly-unpopular move of firing General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, asserting civilian control of the military and his status as Commander-In-Chief, telling Time Magazine later,

“I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President … I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a b*tch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”
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The face when someone who already oversaw the destruction of global fascism threatens the Communist way of life.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Of course the man who presided over victory in Europe during World War II is going to ascend to the presidency. But when Ike took office as Chief Executive, the United States was in the middle of a bloody stalemate, leading United Nations forces against the communists in Korea. His solution wasn’t to make a speech at the UN General Assembly or take advice from others. The onetime Supreme Allied Commander would go see for himself.

Eisenhower was barely President-elect when he arrived in Korea after two brutal years of fighting there. He immediately concluded that it would forever be a stalemate no one would really win and then threatened the Chinese Communists with nuclear war if they didn’t hammer out an agreement. The Communists, rattled by Ike’s WWII reputation, believed him and concluded an agreement within 8 months.

Looking to go back in time? Check out part two.

Looking to visit the future? Part four is coming soon!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This boxer survived the Holocaust by winning fights in Auschwitz

Salamo Arouch literally fought for survival during World War II. But he wasn’t a soldier, he was a boxer of Jewish-Greek descent. That means the All-Balkans Middleweight Champ ended up in Auschwitz when the Nazis rolled into his home city of Thessalonica, Greece, in 1943.

That’s where he started fighting for his life.


Before his internment in the Nazi death camp, Arouch’s boxing record was an undefeated 24-0. He likely never imagined how high that number would climb during his life — or what was in stakes throughout the 200-plus bouts he would have to fight. When the Nazis captured Thessalonica, they rounded up the city’s 47,000 Jewish citizens and shipped them away. A young Salamo and his family ended up at Auschwitz.

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Almost the moment he arrived, a car drove up and out stepped the commandant, who asked if any of the new prisoners were boxers or wrestlers. Dutifully, the young Arouch rose his hand. He had been coached by his father and won his first fight at age 14. But the Nazis didn’t take the young fighter at his word. They drew a circle in the dirt and gave him gloves before ordering he and another Jewish boy to fight on the spot.

Arouch squared off with boy. Both were exhausted and frightened, but the Greek came out on top, knocking out his opponent within minutes. Immediately, the guards presented him with another opponent. This time, it was a six-foot-tall Czech man. Arouch knocked him cold, too.

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This was the first of hundreds of fights that Salamo Arouch would have to endure in the coming years. He would be led to a smoky warehouse two or three times a week and forced to fight anyone they could pit him against in a cockfight-like ring.

“We fought until one went down or they got sick of watching. They wouldn’t leave until they saw blood,” he recalled. For his part, Arouch managed to keep his strength up because he was given light duties as an office clerk and was fed more and better food than the other prisoners. He managed to eke a win out of every battle, with only two draws due to suffering from dysentery. Soon, he began to realize he was leading each defeated opponent to their fate.

The loser would be badly weakened,” Arouch told People magazine in 1990, “and the Nazis shot the weak.”

As he fought for his life, his brother and father perished at the hands of the Nazis. His father was gassed because he grew weak. His brother was shot because he refused to remove gold teeth from the bodies of corpses. The young Salamo continued to box, but soon found himself at Bergen-Belson, a camp that killed some 50,000 people. He would not be among those.

The British 11th Armoured Division liberated the camp on Apr. 15, 1945, one year and 11 months to the day after he and his family were first shipped to Auschwitz. It was there he met Marta Yechiel, who would become his wife. The two moved to Palestine to start a new life, but war came quickly and the onetime member of the Greek Army joined the armed forces of a new country, Israel, and fought to keep it a free and safe homeland for Jewish people — especially those like himself, scarred by the Holocaust.

He came to run a successful shipping business out of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. When his life’s story was made into a movie, Triumph of the Spirit, starring Willem Dafoe in 1989, he served as an advisor to the film. Since it was shot at Auchwitz itself, it was not a good experience for the old survivor.

“It was a terrible experience,” he said of returning to the ruined camp. “In my mind, I saw my parents and began weeping. I cried and cried and could not sleep.”

Arouch suffered from a stroke in 1994, one from which he never fully recovered. He died on Apr. 26, 2009 at age 86.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British special operators who terrorized Japanese forces

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.


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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.

The first expedition damaged critical infrastructure but saw less direct fighting with Japanese forces. This caused a shift in Japanese thinking, making them feel that they were too vulnerable with a defensive posture in Burma. The efforts of the 77th Brigade pushed the Japanese to go on the offensive, making them give up troops in ultimately failed attacks on Allied forces.

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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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,
  2. Prepare the battlefield for the Chinese forces advancing from the east, and
  3. 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.

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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.

All of this would prove disastrous for a Japanese force already heavily committed to a fight with Allied forces under Gen. Joe Stilwell while suffering guerrilla attacks from other irregular forces, like the Kachin Rangers under U.S. Army Col. Carl Eifler of the OSS.

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.

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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.

Estimates for casualties under Stilwell’s direction range as high as 90 percent of all casualties suffered by the six brigades. The 77th Brigade suffered 50 percent losses in a single battle when ordered against Moguang.

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.

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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.

A survivor of the expedition estimated that they had killed 25 Japanese troops for every Chindit they lost.

The Japanese forces in Burma were falling as were many of the Japanese positions across the Pacific, but the Chindits had once again paid dearly for their success. Over 1,000 men were killed, 2,400 wounded, and 450 missing. Meanwhile, over half of the survivors who made it out had some illness that required hospitalization or special diet.

Maladies like malaria, dysentery, and jungle sores were most common, and many soldiers had two or three of the conditions at once.

The 77th Brigade was the only one to fight in both expeditions. It was later disbanded but has been re-activated as a cyber warfare force focused on unconventional warfare in the digital domain.

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