Italy's knife-wielding special operators were WWI's most devastating shock troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Throughout history, Italy wasn’t known for its dominance or military strength, but these knife-wielding operators made crucial advances using only a small force.


The Arditi, meaning “the daring ones,” were a group of volunteers, chosen from the most courageous of men and considered to be Italy’s most elite soldiers during WWI. Getting their name from the Royal Italian Army in 1917, they were known for engaging the enemy with vicious hand to hand combat and swift tactical movement.

 

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
The Arditi.

The Arditi organization was much smaller than the regular infantry units, consisting of only five officers, 41 NCOs, and 150 men. Their unique strategy relied heavily on surprise, speed, and their sheath as they strategically advanced towards their opposition behind a curtain of allied artillery fire.

According to The Great War Youtube channel, once the bombardment ceased, the men would charge forward into enemy trenches, with only daggers in their teeth and grenades in their hands, with the goal of clearing and then holding their newly-earned positions until the relief of their fellow troops arrived, which could take up to a full day.

Due to their outstanding production, they were paid almost three times what the regular Army received.

Then, a bonus system was employed for taking enemy prisoners — 10 lire for a Private, 20 for an NCO, and 50 for an officer. Not to mention there was compensation for capturing enemy weapons, ranging from anywhere between 5 to 500 lire depending on the weapon’s size and caliber.

The Arditi seized 3,600 prisoners, 63 machine guns and 26 pieces of artillery over their course of the war. The Arditi were making bank back in 1917 and deserved every cent — according to History Answers.

As their losses in personnel grew, new soldiers were assigned to Arditi units by recommendation only. Before they could officially join, they had to complete a specialized school that mimicked the dangers and conditions of the front lines.

The fatality rates among the recruits were extremely high due to the realistic training methods.

It wasn’t until Battle of Vittorio Veneto Offensive in October of 1918 when the Arditi would make its largest impact on the war.  A dozen Arditi units combined, making two monstrous assault divisions. The brave men lead one another on a forceful charge on the Austro-Hungarian forces, resulting in a climatic victory.

Although the Arditi was disbanded in 1920, their bravery, patriotism, and impact on the Great War lives on in Italian military historical lore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy opened an installation in land-locked Utah

In 1942, the US Navy built a supply depot in Clearfield, Utah. The Clearfield Naval Supply Depot was part of the US war effort during World War II to build up military stockpiles. This was on top of an already impressive building phase by the US Navy, sparked by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Yet Utah is landlocked and in the middle of nowhere. So it might seem like a strange decision to build a Naval storage facility there. Turns out the Navy was spot on with this choice.

Why Clearfield, Utah was the perfect spot for Naval Supply Depot

Clearfield, Utah was a strategic location in many ways. Its centralized location in the west meant supplies could reach any US ports in one day by rail. Even better, its proximity to two major railways was perfect. Its dry climate was also ideal for storage. Most importantly, the location of Clearfield provided security against enemy attacks thanks to its remoteness and distance from the ocean. Placing a supply depot on the coast would have been a primary target and thus too big of a risk.

Talk about a massive facility

Clearfield Naval Supply Depot encompassed over eight million square feet of covered storage space with 84 storage buildings as well as eight million more square feet of open storage, all 25 miles north of Salt Lake City. Its goal was simple: to provide plenty of war material support to the West Coast and Pacific Fleet. It also supported several Naval Districts in North and South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma. 

By the end of World War II, Clearfield was the largest Naval supply depot globally. Who would have thought? Part of the reason for needing such a gargantuan stockpile of Naval gear was that by 1945, the US had the largest Navy in the world. You can’t have that huge Navy without providing all it needed to operate. 

The question of staffing was a tough one

The question of how to staff such a massive supply depot during a time when most able-bodied workers were already off fighting the war is a good one. They got it done though, finding around 8,000 people to staff the place at its height. Some were Naval officers, some civilian employees, Marines to provide security, and some prisoners of war thanks to the prisoner-of-war camp that was also on site. 

Plenty of the staff were female workers, which was previously unheard of. Yet desperate times called for “desperate measures.” Interestingly, the depot began to notice it faced absentee problems, because women often went off to shop for their families during the day. It was such a big issue that the base officers arranged for local businesses to stay open later so the women could shop after work. 

While Clearfield Naval Supply Depot was eventually phased out and sold to private firms by 1962, its role in World War II Naval operations will never be forgotten.

Articles

This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.


But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.

How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
The Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war. Purple Heart day is dedicated to honoring service members, past and present, who have received the Purple Heart medal.

How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.

We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.

The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.

According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
(Photo: AP)

Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.

HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the flower that marked a German soldier as being elite

Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets, and Marine Reconnaissance are just of the few forces in the U.S. military that are considered the best of the best. The Navy SEALS earn their beloved Trident, Army Green Berets proudly wear their unique headgear, and Marine Recon team members usually get their insignia tattooed onto themselves.

Each of these symbols are considered the marks of a powerful and well-trained instrument of war. But back in the World War I era, German troops had a different idea. They’d travel high up in the Alps, far above the tree line, just to pick a very small flower — one that would show others that they were true warriors.


Also Read: Watch this Sentinel destroy a trespasser at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
The Edelweiss flower sitting at the top of the Alps

The edelweiss, otherwise known as Leontopodium alpinum, is a flower native to the Alps and is a national icon in Switzerland. The name, in German, is a combining of the words for ‘noble’ and ‘white.’ It’s beautiful, unique, and it grows more than 10,000 feet above sea level, so finding one means you’ve made quite the hike.

Daring German troops would haul their gear straight up the mountain, reach the top of the tree line, and search for the precious little, white flower. If you saw someone who managed to bring one back down, you know they’d climbed mountains for it.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Swiss troops patrol their border in the Alps during World War II.

This prestigious act wasn’t for soldiers alone. Reportedly, in the 19th century, the edelweiss was associated with purity and Swiss patriotism. In fact, countless young men would risk their lives in attempts to retrieve the unique little flower and give it to their brides.

Related: This is actual footage of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

In 2001, HBO’s classic mini-series Band of Brothers featured the small flower:

Today, the edelweiss flower is still worn by various Austrian, Swiss, Polish, and German troops.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Off the shore of Staten Island is PC 1264’s grave

Just off the western shoreline of Staten Island – on a body of water called the Arthur Kill – is the graveyard for a ship that deserved much better. The vessel received no name other than the PC 1264 even though it remains a part of U.S. Naval history. She only served for 22 months in combat, with her keel laid in October 1943 and her decommissioning in February 1946. 

The ship served as a submarine chaser in the North Atlantic hunting for the Nazi wolf pack. Some believe that PC 1264 wounded a German U-Boat, U-866, after a chase near Buoy Able in February of 1945. German submarines would hide out under Buoys as sonar was being developed by the Allies. 

The ship had come far from when President Franklin Roosevelt had written his memo to the Navy Department that led to the manning of PC 1264. FDR concluded, despite the anticipated backlash, that African Americans could man duty in the Navy other than messmen. He suggested that the Navy Department allow African Americans to serve on the line and ordered such on April 7, 1942.

PC 1264 was initially manned with 53 African Americans and its commander was a white officer, Lieutenant Eric Purdon. Several incidents, both good and bad, followed the ship early on. After traveling up the Hudson to load ammunition at Iona Island, Lt. Purdon had trouble getting permission to dock with the ship’s load. In a last shot, they requested permission from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Not only were they allowed to dock, West Point opened its doors to the crew, providing buses and even tours to the sailors. 

The ship sailed south to Miami to the then Submarine Chaser Training Center. There, the harassment included long inspections of the returning sailors’ identification cards when coming back on base (by white civilian guards). It was rumored that there was a plan to shoot up the ship. Another chaser crew (of whites) overheard the threat, armed themselves and stood at the gate backing off the white civilian guards. 

pc 1264

PC 1264 began serving escort duty in 1944 and provided escorts to shipping, to include protecting the French submarine Argo to avoid it being confused with a German U Boat. A spy revealed the Germans planned to use its U Boat fleet to launch V-1 and V-2 rockets at the ports of the United States in January 1945. PC 1264 ran patrols from New York to Virginia, protecting these ports and the American shipping. 

It was in February 1945, while making an “anti-submarine” run against a North Atlantic buoy, that a submarine was believed to have been spotted when a conning tower rose briefly. The U Boat was believed to have been wounded by PC 1264. U Boat 866 was later confirmed sunk by another anti-submarine attack force.

In May 1945, a new officer reported aboard the ship to serve as second in command. Ensign Samuel Gravely, an African American from Richmond, Virginia, would eventually become the Commanding Officer of the vessel. While in Miami, the Shore Patrol detained Ensign Gravely, believing he was impersonating an officer. His crew came to his defense in a heated confrontation. Once it was clear that he was, in fact, a United States Naval Officer, the Shore Patrol backed down.  However, the base Admiral demanded then white Commanding Officer Purdon to court martial the black enlisted sailors that had come to Gravely’s defense. Lieutenant Purdon, citing his authority as a Commanding Officer of a ship of line, refused to do so. PC 1264 left for sea shortly thereafter. 

Ensign Gravely had the final task of commanding the ship, then with its full complement of African American sailors, to its decommissioning and transfer to the Arthur Kill graveyard on Staten Island. Gravely went on to a successful Navy career, retiring as a Vice Admiral. 

PC 1264 sits, today, in the mud until the wind, rain and rust cause her to disappear below the water line. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Alaska was so important for an American victory in WWII

It’s often called the “Forgotten Campaign of the Second World War” — and there’s no secret as to why. The campaign lost out on fanfare mostly because it took place in a far off, remote territory that few Americans lived on or cared about. And it didn’t help that it happened at a time when Marines and soldiers were pushing onto the beaches at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

The truth is, however, that the sporadic fighting and eventual American victory on the frozen, barren islands of Alaska proved instrumental to an Allied victory in the the Pacific.


Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

A bit of a fixer-upper, but nothing that can’t be buffed out.

(National Archives)

Just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a two-day attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska. On June 3rd and 4th, 1942, their targets were the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears on Amaknak Island.

The Japanese attack was an attempt to establish a foothold in the Northern Pacific. From there, the Japanese could continue and advance towards either the Alaskan mainland or move toward the northwestern states of the United States. A few days later, on June 6th and 7th, the Japanese invaded and annexed the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu — along with the western-most Aleutian Islands.

It was a tactical victory for the Japanese but the Americans managed to shoot down a Zero during the Battle of Dutch Harbor, and it happened to land in relatively good condition.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Allied troops would move onto Kiska with over 34,000 troops… Just to find the island completely abandoned two weeks prior.

(National Archives)

Meanwhile, Japan was busy moving the bulk of their naval forces toward Midway to aid in recovery from the burgeoning American victory there. Back in North America, the Americans had regrouped and gained the support of the Canadian military.

The bolstered Allied troops moved toward Japanese-occupied territories. They sporadically picked off enemy vessels one by one as they pushed through the island chain. Then, on March 27th, 1943, the American and Japanese fleets squared off at the Battle of Komandorski Islands. The Americans took more damage, but caused enough to make the Japanese abandon their Aleutian garrisons.

On May 11th, U.S. and Canadian soldiers landed on Attu Island to take it back. Japanese dug in and booby-trapped much of the surrounding island. The Americans suffered 3,929 casualties — 580 dead, 1,148 wounded, and over 1,200 cold-weather injuries — but the Japanese were overrun. In a last-ditch effort, the Japanese committed the single largest banzai charge — an attack in which every infantryman first accepted their death before charging charged into battle — in all of the Pacific campaign. The Japanese suffered 2,351 deaths with hundreds of more believed to be lost to the unforgiving weather.

The captured Zero from Dutch Harbor, dubbed the Akutan Zero, was studied and reverse engineered by American technicians. Test pilots were successfully able to determine the weak-points and vulnerabilities of the fighter aircraft, which were quickly relayed to the rest of the Army Air Force. This information proved vital in later battles.

In the end, America would retake the islands and force the Japanese Navy back south to deal with the brunt of the American military. With the Japanese gone, the only route into the continental U.S. was secure again.

To learn more about the Aleutian Campaign, check out the video below!

MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt IV became a Navy SEAL to fight in Vietnam

Like it or not, the United States has political family dynasties that extend across generations. Despite all the focus on the Bush and Clinton dynasties at the end of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, it’s still hard to forget the greatest American family name to ever appear on a ballot: Roosevelt.


Roosevelt is the family that brought us terms like square deal, new deal, and Rough Riders that we use to this day. From Theodore’s then-progressive views on preserving the natural beauty of the United States to Franklin’s cool leadership through our toughest decades since the Civil War, Roosevelts have long stood for everything that is good about America, even if the two most notable members sat on different sides of the political aisle.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

The later generations weren’t as politically active as their presidential ancestors, but their dedication to service never diminished. Roosevelts have served in the Army and Navy, as state legislators, the CIA and its forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services, just to name a few. Roosevelts fought in the trenches of World War I and landed at Normandy during D-Day.

There was even a Roosevelt silently stalking the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam: Theodore Roosevelt IV.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Even as a Frogman, it’s hard to outshine the original TR.

TR-4 (as he’s called by some in the special operations community), graduated from BUD/S class 36 and deployed to Vietnam with UDT 11 as a Navy officer for two years. During his time in Vietnam, SEALs were becoming proficient at kill-or-capture missions against mid-level Viet Cong leaders. The VC were trying to form a shadow government in South Vietnam, in preparation for an eventual U.S. withdrawal and reunification of the country. The SEALs collected intelligence and then traced them to their hideouts among the civilian populations.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

TR-4 today.

In the years following his service in the Navy, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service, serving in Washington, DC, and what is now Burkina Faso. Like his great-grandfather, Theodore Roosevelt IV advocates for conservation issues and works in favor of non-partisan anti-corruption efforts. TR-4 doesn’t seek public office, he’s an investment banker and a member of numerous political and public policy-related groups.

And yes, there is a Theodore Roosevelt V.

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The HMS Thunderbolt was lost with almost all hands. Twice.

The HMS Thunderbolt was lost in combat on March 14, 1943, after a short but successful World War II career that saw it sink multiple Italian vessels, which might have been surprising to some since the submarine had actually sank three years prior in 1940 with a loss of nearly all hands.


Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
The submarine scheduled to become HMS Thetis in 1939. It would later sink but was raised and served in World War II as the HMS Thunderbolt. (Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

That’s because the HMS Thunderbolt was once the HMS Thetis, or, more properly, it was almost the HMS Thetis. It was a submarine launched in 1938 as part of the interwar buildup of arms. The submarine was scheduled to become the HMS Thetis when it was commissioned.

But the planned commissioning didn’t happen. As the submarine went through its sea trials, a tragic accident occurred. Most torpedo tubes, then and now, work using two doors. One door opens to the sea when a torpedo is launched, one door opens into the sub when the crew needs to load a new torpedo. The best subs have mechanisms that make it physically impossible to open one door if the other isn’t closed.

But the N25 had an indicator instead, that was supposed to tell the crew the outer door was open so they wouldn’t open the inner door. But the indicator was really just a small hole in the door that would spurt water if the tube was flooded, and a painter had accidentally filled the small hole in.

During a dive on June 1, 1939, this resulted in the inner door being opened while the outer door was also open. The crew was able to seal a bulkhead after significant flooding, but the boat was filled with 53 members of the defense industry and public, and air was already in short supply in the flooded sub.

The crew managed to raise themselves back to the surface for a short period, and four crewmembers escaped, but it crashed back to the seafloor, and 99 people were killed.

But the almost-HMS Thetis was in shallow water, and divers were able to salvage the ship which was drained, dried, and repaired. After passing new sea trials, it was commissioned as the HMS Thunderbolt in 1940 and sent to the Atlantic.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
​The HMS Thunderbolt in the Mediterranean in 1942. (Royal Navy)

The HMS Thunderbolt was successful, even though it seemed like it would be cursed. First, sailors don’t always like it when a vessel’s name is changed, an old superstition. And if any sub could be a ghost ship, the Thunderbolt was a top contender. Worse, Thunderbolt was, itself, an auspicious name for British vessels as two previous HMS Thunderbolts had been lost in crashes.

All of this likely weighed on the crew, especially when they saw the rust line on the walls of the sub from the original sinking. But it destroyed an Italian sub in the Atlantic on Dec. 15, 1940, and helped destroy an Italian light cruiser and a supply ship in early January 1943 in the Mediterranean.

But on March 14, 1943, the Thunderbolt attacked and doomed the transport Esterel, but caught the attention of the Italian cruiser Cicogna in the process. Cicogna was commanded by a former submarine officer, and he knew the adversary’s tactics and the local sea.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
The crew of the HMS Thunderbolt poses with a Jolly Roger flag in 1942. (Royal Navy J.A. Hampton)

The Cicogna forced the Thunderbolt under and, when the British crew tried to resurface for air, spotted the boat’s periscope and hit it with depth charges, ending the ill-fated sub’s career and killing its crew, the second time the submarine was lost with all hands.

Interestingly, the HMS Thetis and Thunderbolt was not the only ship to serve in World War II that had already sank. Just before the Thetis sank, the USS Squalus sank during a test dive just months after it was commissioned. It was later raised and served as the USS Sailfish. And there were seven combat ships sank at Pearl Harbor that later saw service in World War II after salvage and repairs.

Articles

That sub commander who sank a hospital ship and got promoted

Under the Geneva Convention, hospital ships are immune from attack. Or, in very simple terms, shooting at them is a huge no-no.


But one American sub commander did worse – he actually sank a hospital ship. However, he managed to get promoted and retire as a two-star admiral nevertheless.

Charles E. Loughlin was the first commanding officer of the USS Queenfish (SS 393). The first three war patrols netted him a pair of Navy Crosses and a Silver Star, according to the Military Times Hall of Valor.

But it was on his fourth patrol that things went south.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
USS Queenfish (SS 393). (US Navy photo)

CombinedFleet.com reported that in January 1945, the United States and Japan had come to an agreement to allow packages from the Red Cross to be delivered to American POWs. The Japanese selected the Awa Maru, a relatively new freighter (CombinedFleet.com reports she was completed on March 5, 1943), to carry out the delivery.

She was demilitarized, while American headquarters sent out a number of messages advising submarines that she was not a valid target.

According to “Sink ‘Em All,” the wartime memoirs of Vice Adm. Charles Lockwood, who served as Commander, Submarines Pacific, Loughlin was the victim of some mistakes from Lockwood’s staff. Lockwood, in particular, pointed to a message sent to “All Submarines” that outlined the route the ship would take and ordering submarines to let the ship pass that should have been sent to only those subs along the Awa Maru’s route.

In addition, Loughlin apparently had not been shown earlier dispatches by his communications personnel, and as a result, failed to grasp the importance of the March 30, 1945 dispatch. Two days later, in the evening hours of April 1, the USS Queenfish detected a contact on radar, going at a speed somewhere between 16 and 18 knots.

It was foggy, and with visibility down to about 200 yards. Contrary to the agreement allowing the ship free passage, the Awa Maru did not sound its fog horn. Lockwood would quote Loughlin’s patrol report noting that based on the data, the radar contact appeared to be a destroyer or destroyer escort. The Queenfish fired four torpedoes at the target at a range of 1,200 yards. All four hit, sinking the hospital ship.

After a recovered survivor revealed the identity of the vessel that was sunk, Loughlin reported the incident to Lockwood. The USS Queenfish was sent back to Pearl Harbor. Loughlin, though, would end up receiving only a letter of admonition from a general court martial – an action that, according to an NSA article on the sinking, prompted an enraged Nimitz to issue Letters of Reprimand to at least some of the court martial panel. Lockwood would report that one member of the court-martial panel would tell him that they came to the conclusion that Loughlin had never been shown the earlier dispatches, but that Loughlin had refused to throw his communications officer under the bus.

By all rights, Loughlin’s career should have been sunk, but instead, Loughlin would serve for over two more decades in the Navy.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
VADM Charles A. Lockwood. (US Navy photo)

How did this happen despite a such colossal screw-up? The reason is because intelligence information would reveal that the Awa Maru was, in the words of a Britney Spears song, “not that innocent.”

CombinedFleet.com noted that while the ship had picked up the relief packages, and was delivering them, she also carried 20 planes, 2,000 bombs, and 500 tons of other munitions. The Awa Maru dropped the planes, bombs, and ammo off in Saigon, prior to delivering the relief supplies to Singapore. When the ship was sunk, she was carrying bales of rubber and according to Lockwood, tins carrying granular material. The crew on USS Queenfish recovered some of the materials.

Lockwood would later come to believe that “Loughlin should have been awarded a commendation instead of a reprimand.” Fleet Adm. Ernest King sought to ensure that Loughlin would never hold a seagoing command again, but Navsource.org reports that Loughlin commanded the heavy cruiser USS Toledo (CA 133) and the oiler USS Mississinewa (AO 144). He rose to the rank of rear admiral, receiving the Legion of Merit for tours commanding Submarine Squadron Six and the Naval District of Washington.

In 1949, Japan quietly abandoned claims for compensation for the Awa Maru’s sinking.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard left a scow near Niagara Falls that’s still there 100 years later

The Niagara River’s famously beautiful Horseshoe Falls is truly a wonderful sight. But if you look upriver before the falls, you might notice a rusted out hulk of a scow that looks like it’s been sitting on the river for a century. 

That’s because it has been.

A rusted scow at Niagara Falls
Aerial view of rusted scow at Niagara Falls.

Two workers from the Buffalo, New York were doing a regular day’s work of dredging silt from the mouth of a canal that diverted the river to hydraulic power generators when they suddenly broke loose from the tugboat and began to float toward the falls. 

Not many people survive going over Niagara Falls and those who do call it a “miracle.” But in 1918, the number of people who survived was two, the first being a 62-year-schoolteacher who went over in a wooden barrel. 

Going over Niagara Falls will drop your body 187 feet into the rocks and water. You might get to the bottom of the river and not make it back up. If your body survived the impact, the freezing water would give you 15 minutes to get out before you began suffering from hypothermia. 

The scow was beached on a sand berm when the tugboat came to release it and bring it back to shore. As the towing commenced, the rope between the boats snapped and sent the scow hurtling toward the falls. Luckily, it ran aground on some rocks in the river, 650 feet from oblivion. 

Unable to reach the men by boat, Canadian firefighters were able to get a lifeline to its two crewmembers as the U.S. Coast Guard was dispatched to rescue them. The Coast Guard was able to get a lifeline to the iron dredging boat and the two men climbed to safety. The entire rescue operation took 17 hours due to tangled lines. 

It was Canadian World War I veteran William “Red” Hill Sr. who climbed out to untangle the lifelines throughout the night. He’d only been back from the war for four days when he made the rescue.

Unsure of what to do with the iron hull, not knowing who would pay for a costly dismantling operation or if it was even worth the risk and effort, the Coast Guard did what anyone with a little common sense would do: leave it there.

The scow sat on the rocky shoal that miraculously saved its two crewmen for more than a hundred years. In 2019, a powerful storm raised the water levels of the river and freed the scow from the shoals. 

The rusting iron mass shifted from the rocks and floated closer to Horseshoe Falls, flipping onto its side 50 meters closer.

The rusted hull of a scow at Niagara Falls.

In the years since the 1918 accident, around 5,000 bodies have been found at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls, either suicides or as stunts to survive the trip. An estimated 25% of those daredevil attempts end in death. 

One of those daredevils was William “Red” Hill, Jr., the son of the valiant rescuer of the two men trapped on the scow. In an effort to honor his daredevil father, the younger Hill went over the falls in a barrel, dying in the attempt. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: What’s it like inside the War College in Pennsylvania?

Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the US Army War College began in response to the many military failures that occurred throughout the Spanish-American War. It was established on November 27, 1901, by the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to provide more effective training for officers. Root also established the Army General Staff. Their job was to train all who enlisted to eventually become members of the Army General Staff themselves. 

The Army General Staff’s other roles were perhaps even more important. They included advising the President of the United States, providing intellectual direction to the Army, devising plans and acquiring information. 

Advanced military training is serious business

The War College’s first class graduated six captains and three majors of the Army and Marine Corps on November 1, 1904. It was the first advanced educational training provided outside of West Point. These officers studied current military issues. They also took a deep dive into more complex topics like military science, national defense and command philosophy. Unlike other study tracks, this was hands-on, since most of what they learned was of direct interest to the General Staff.

Shifting goals for a shifting world

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A student training for the ACFT 3.0, a revised and updated program with a more inclusive scoring assessment. (The Army War College, Facebook)

After its first several years, some big changes occurred at the Army War College. First, the General Staff officially parted ways with the Army War College when the National Defense Act passed in 1916. Then, with World War I going on, the college closed its door for two years. When it reopened in the fall of 1919, its goals had shifted quite a bit. 

Instead of specific training to become members of the General Staff, the Army War College was now a place to engage in the academic study of war. Its curriculum shifted to things like responsible command, the impact of political, economic and social factors on national defense, and history. It was a truly great educational system — one which produced distinguished graduates such as Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley. 

To stay ahead of the pack, you have to evolve

The Army War College had to close its doors again in the 1940s during World War II. It reopened in 1950, once again with a lot of changes. This time, it was imperative to address the Army’s need for more officers with advanced education. Also, the college relocated for a year to Fort Leavenworth. However, in 1951, it went back to Carlisle, though this time at Carlisle Barracks. Its new curriculum began focusing on what went wrong during World War II as well as understanding the more complex environment of the Cold War. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s and the rise of the information revolution that the Army War College once again evolved. This new age meant different kinds of war strategies, thus transforming the military school from preparing officers to become Army staff to a full-on graduate school providing Master’s degrees in Strategic Studies. 

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Resident student Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Martin is promoted to Col. by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris with the help of her husband Col. Aaron Martin. (US Army War College, Facebook)

This is the state of the Army War College today. It provides a highly advanced two-year Master’s program that prepares students to become senior-level leaders in the military and U.S. government. And as the world keeps changing, there’s no doubt the Army War College will keep changing with it.

Related: This legendary triple ace wrote an amazing letter on modern Air Force leadership

Articles

The World War II commander who helped John Wayne make an iconic war film

John Wayne never served a day in the military, but he certainly was one very vocal supporter of the troops.


During World War II he tried to enter the military, but between a series of old injuries from his acting career and a bodysurfing incident, his family situation, and the maneuverings of a studio head, his efforts were thwarted, according to the Museum of Military Memorabilia.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
John Wayne in Operation Pacific, a 1951 film centering on the submarine service during World War II. (Youtube Screenshot)

Wayne did make USO tours in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944, well after the fighting there had ended. But he made a number of iconic World War II films, including “They Were Expendable” in 1945, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” in 1949 (where he was nominated for an Oscar), “The Longest Day” in 1960, and “The Green Berets” in 1968. In “They Were Expendable,” the producers of the film worked with Medal of Honor recipient John Bulkeley.

One film that doesn’t get the attention of these other classics is “Operation Pacific,” released in 1951, which featured retired Adm. Charles Lockwood, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during World War II. Wayne played the executive officer, then the commanding officer, of the fictional submarine USS Thunderfish in this film.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
VADM Charles A. Lockwood, who served as technical advisor for Operation Pacific. (US Navy photo)

 

Given Lockwood’s involvement, it’s no surprise that the film features some of the notable submarine exploits of World War II, compressed into one story — including Howard C. Gilmore’s famous “Take her down” orders, and the effort to fix the badly flawed torpedoes that dogged the U.S. Navy’s submarines for the first portion of the war.

The film’s climax featured an incident that composited the attacks on Japanese carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea with the actions of the submarines USS Darter (SS 227) and USS Dace (SS 247). The film is notable for showing the many missions the subs of World War II carried out, from evacuating civilians to rescuing pilots to, of course, sinking enemy ships (the Thunderfish’s on-screen kill total included a carrier, destroyer, a Q-ship, and a submarine).

You can see the trailer below. The film is available for rent on Youtube.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Vietnam’s ‘Boat People’ is now an Air Force officer

The “boat people,” as they came to be known, are an oft-forgotten footnote at the end of the Vietnam War. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal and the subsequent fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north, refugees packed ships leaving the southern half, bound for anywhere but there.


Between 1975 and 1995 some 800,000 people faced pirates, traffickers, and storms to escape the grip of Communism and make it to a new life in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, or elsewhere. Images of boat people adrift on any kind of ship routinely made the nightly news. Rescued refugees would be resettled anywhere they would be accepted, many of them ending up in the Western United States. One of those people was Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Asan Bui.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Vietnamese “Boat People” being rescued while adrift at sea.

Asan Bui was born on one of those vessels, adrift in the ocean, bound for nowhere, some 44 years ago. He was a citizen of no country. His father took his then-pregnant mother out of Vietnam because he had served in South Vietnam’s army as an artilleryman. Against all odds, he, his wife, and five children all escaped the iron curtain as it came crashing down.

Bui, like many who fought for anti-Communist South Vietnam, faced persecution and execution at the hands of the oncoming Communists in 1975. The fall of the southern capital at Saigon was imminent, and many were looking for a way to flee. Asan Bui’s father took his family by boat.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Air Force Reserve, Lt. Col. Asan Bui was born at sea 44 years ago while adrift in the ocean aboard a wooden boat.

(U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes)

Bui’s family was just the tip of the iceberg. The fall of Saigon caused 1.6 million Vietnamese people to flee South Vietnam. The elder Bui was not happy to leave and wanted to fight the Communists every inch of the way. His sense soon got the better of him, though. If he were captured, he would likely have been tortured and killed.

“Anyone that fought alongside the United States would be killed or imprisoned in re-education camps,” Bui told the Air Force Reserve. “I have personally spoken with individuals that have gone through this brutal ordeal and survived. Some were not released for over a decade and still carry the traumatic scars.”

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Lt. Col. Bui’s father, Chien Van Bui, calls in artillery fire during the Vietnam War.

(Photo provided by Lt. Col. Asan Bui)

If they did survive the capture and torture, Southern fighters could look forward to hard time in Communist labor camps, re-education centers, or worse. Instead of all that, Chien Van Bui fled with his family. When the family was rescued, they were taken to Camp Asan in Guam, naming their newborn child after the camp they called home.

Asan Bui joined the United States Air Force in his mid-twenties, now serving his 19th year for the country that took him in and allowed him to start a family of his own. Lt. Col. Asan Bui is the commander of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla. He is dedicated to continued service.

“I want to honor those (military and sponsors) that have sacrificed so much for my family and the Vietnamese refugees,” said Bui. “Especially the Vietnam veterans.”

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