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.

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WH recommends vets ‘set aside’ bitterness over Pearl Harbor attack

News that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attending the ceremony remembering the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack has drawn some interest.


Unfortunately, it also seems to have drawn some advice from White House Spokesman Josh Earnest directed toward veterans of the surprise bombardment.

During a recent press briefing, Earnest said that World War II veterans should “set aside their own personal bitterness” over the unprovoked attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that left 2,403 Americans dead and over a thousand wounded.

Japan has refused to apologize for the attack, which sank or damaged 19 American vessels, including eight battleships and destroyed or damaged over 300 aircraft.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A rescue operation underway from the burning USS West Virginia after the Japanese attacks. (U.S. Navy, December 7, 1941)

“If I were a World War II veteran who was drafted by the United States military to go and fight for our country overseas in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, I might feel quite embittered. And I think it would be a perfectly natural and understandable human reaction to not be particularly satisfied with the words of the Japanese Prime Minister,” Earnest said during the Dec. 5 briefing.

“There may be some who feel personally embittered,” he added. “But I’m confident that many will set aside their own personal bitterness, not because they’re personally satisfied by the words of the Prime Minister, but because they recognize how important this moment is for the United States.”

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

Abe is the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit Pearl Harbor, declaring his intent to “mourn the souls of the victims” of the attack. American forces shot down 29 Japanese planes, and sank five midget submarines and one submarine.

Fifteen Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the attack, while 51 received the Navy Cross, four received the Distinguished Service Cross, and 53 received the Silver Star.

It is estimated that 161,000 American military personnel were killed in action while fighting in the Pacific Theater. The war lasted for three years and nine months, with the end taking place when Japan signed surrender documents on board the USS Missouri (BB 63) on Sept. 2, 1945.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This 1871 expedition is the other Korean War

In 1871, an American fleet led by a diplomatic and merchant ship entered Korean waters and were fired upon by antiquated shore batteries, leading to a battle where 650 Marines and sailors landed on one of the island and fought against Korean personnel to capture five forts.


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

Officers of the USS Colorado pose on the ship in Korean Waters near the end of the Korean Expedition in 1871.

(U.S. Navy)

The mission of the fleet was to open up trade and diplomatic relations with the Korean people, a mission that was fraught with dangers stemming from a bloody history.

The expedition is sometimes known as the Punitive Expedition and may or may not have come as a result of a previous expedition in 1866 where the USS General Sherman sailed upriver to Pyongyang, clashed with local authorities, and fought with large crowds of Koreans before Korean people managed to burn the vessel and kill the survivors.

Meanwhile, the General Sherman incident followed years of Korean atrocities against their Christian populations, largely a response to perceived encroachment by missionaries and other western influences.

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

U.S. Navy officers pose during a council of war aboard the USS Colorado in June 1871 while preparing to make landfall on a Korean island.

(U.S. Navy)

So, when the fleet arrived in Korea, they shouldn’t have expected a warm welcome. But they were still surprised when the lead vessel, an unarmed merchant ship, came under a sustained 15-minute barrage from shore batteries.

But the American fleet was only moderately damaged from the fusillade and the Americans simply withdrew. They returned 10 days later, made landfall, and spoke to Korean authorities.

The Koreans refused to apologize, and the Americans launched a concerted assault on Ganghwa Island, the source of the earlier fire. The island boasted five forts, but they were mostly armed with outdated weapons and the troops lacked training in the tactics of the day.

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

Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Brown and Pvt. Hugh Purvis stand in front of a captured Korean Military Flag in June 1871 following the capture of Korean forts on June 11. Brown and Purvis received Medals of Honor for their actions during the short conflict.

(National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Approximately 650 Marines and sailors, nearly all the men of the expedition, attacked one fort after another, pushing the Korean forces back and inflicting heavy casualties while suffering relatively little in return. The fighting was over before nightfall, but the Americans achieved a dramatic success.

They captured five forts, killed 243 Korean troops, and suffered three deaths and little damage to equipment.

The Koreans refused to enter negotiations with the Americans, and simply closed themselves back off for another two years.

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

Korean troops killed during the 1871 Korean Expedition.

(Ulysses S. Grant II Photographic Collection)

While the force failed to meet its political and strategic goals, it had been a smashing tactical success. This was partially thanks to the superior American weaponry, but also thanks to the bravery of individual fighters.

Fifteen Medals of Honor for actions in the one-day battle were approved. They range from citations for fighting hand-to-hand with the enemy to save a fellow American like Marine Corps Pvt. John Coleman to “carrying out his duties with coolness” like Quartermaster Patrick Grace did.

This engagement took place before the Battle of Little Bighorn triggered a review of the Medal of Honor standards, resulting in a slow increase in what was necessary to earn one of the medals.

As for Korean relations, they wouldn’t take off until the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation. Relations under the treaty continued until 1910 when Japan established colonial rule, which didn’t end until 1945 and Japanese capitulation in World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the Bible passage Roosevelt used to promise aid to England

Almost a year before America was attacked at Pearl Harbor and officially joined World war II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent his top aide to London to promise aid to Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a slightly amended Bible quote. This was the promise that would lead to the Lend-Lease Act, Destroyers for Bases, and other programs that would buy the British Empire time against the Third Reich.


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

Harry Lloyd Hopkins was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest aides, eventually becoming the Secretary of Commerce.

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Harry L. Hopkins was a social worker in New York in 1931 when Roosevelt, as the governor of New York, tapped him to run the New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. From there, Hopkins grew professionally closer to the governor and then went with him to the federal level as the administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

In this role, Hopkins was basically one of the new president’s architects for economic recovery from the Great Depression. He directed the spending of .5 billion to shore up the economy, served on the Drought Committee, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, and other groups. Roosevelt eventually named him Secretary of Commerce.

By the time World War II broke out in 1939, Hopkins had been a trusted and capable entity for Roosevelt for eight years. So, despite being an economics guy, Roosevelt still leaned on him for foreign policy, as well.

By 1940 and 1941, Hopkins was being sent to London and Moscow to express support for the Allied Powers holding the line against Hitler. And, in January 1941, that was just Britain.

England was still reeling from the barely successful defense during the Battle of Britain where it staved off the air campaign and prevented a German cross-channel invasion but lost tens of thousands of British civilians and service members in the process.

And so Hopkins re-assured Churchill during a small dinner party by offering a toast with a fitting Bible quote. He altered slightly, saying, “Whither thou goest, I will go. And where though lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Even to the end.”

That last bit, “Even to the end,” does not appear in the actual Bible quote, though the idea is similar. It’s from Ruth 1:16 which reads, “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

In the Bible, this is followed by Ruth 1:17 which says, “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

So, yeah, “Even to the end,” is just a more succinct version of what Ruth was saying there.

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

British and U.S. sailors inspect depth charges on destroyers slated for trade to Britain in 1940.

(U.S. Navy)

The message could not have been more clear to England, and it wasn’t the only sign that Roosevelt stood with Britain. He gave a speech January 6 where he laid out the “Four Freedoms” as a democratic condemnation of the fascist powers. And, as he built support in Congress, he continued shipping as much military hardware over as he could excuse.

Though America was technically neutral in the conflict at that point, Roosevelt made plans to “loan” equipment to Britain, to rent it out, to trade it for bases, and more. These efforts sent 50 destroyers and thousands of vehicles and weapons across the Atlantic. U.S. ships, including the Coast Guard, assured the sovereignty of other neutral nations, mostly by searching out Nazis and arresting them in places like Greenland.

Of course, all this work raised the ire of the Axis Powers. Combined with an embargo that would starve Japan of oil, this led to an attack against America which, in line with Japan’s military history to that point, took the form of a surprise attack over the seas. And then America took the gloves off, focusing less on sermons at dinner parties and more on smacking the absolute sh-t out of Japanese and German forces.

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17 photos that show how great-grandpa got ready for WWI

Basic training sucks, but it follows a predictable pattern. A bunch of kids show up, someone shaves their heads, and they learn to shoot rifles.


But it turns out that training can be so, so much better than that. In World War I, it included mascots, tarantulas, and snowmen.

Check out these 18 photos to learn about what it was like to prepare for war 100 years ago:

1. If the old photos in the National Archives are any indication, almost no one made it to a training camp without a train ride.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
New York recruits heading to training write messages on the sides of their train. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

2. Inprocessing and uniform issue would look about the same as in the modern military. Everyone learns to wear the uniform properly and how to shave well enough to satisfy the cadre.

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

3. Training camps were often tent cities or rushed construction, so pests and sanitation problems were constant.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A U.S. Marine at Marine Corps Training Activity San Juan, Cuba, shows off the tarantula he found. Tarantulas commonly crawled into the Marines’ boots at night. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

4. Unsurprisingly, training camps included a lot of trench warfare. America was a late entrant to the war and knew the kind of combat it would face.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers make their way through training trenches in Camp Fuston at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

5. Somehow, even training units had mascots in the Great War. This small monkey was commonly fed from a bottle.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A World War I soldier plays with the unit mascot at Camp Wadsworth near Spartansburg, South Carolina. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

6. Seriously. Unit mascots were everywhere. One training company even boasted three mascots including a bear and a monkey.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A World War I soldier lets the regimental mascot climb on him. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

7. Troops in camp built a snowman of the German kaiser in New York.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Troops at Camp Upton on Long Island, New York, pose with their snowman of the kaiser. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

8. A lot of things were named for the enemy in the camps, including these bayonet targets.

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

9. This grave is for another dummy named kaiser. He was interred after the unit dug trenches in training.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers in a training camp at Plattsburg, New York, show off the grave they created for a dummy of the German kaiser during training on trench construction. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

10. World War I saw a deluge of new technologies that affected warfare. These shavers were preparing for a class in aerial photography.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers training at the U.S. Army School of Aerial Photography in New York shave before their class. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

11. Uniform maintenance was often up to the individual soldier, so learning to mend shirts was as important as learning to shoot photos from planes.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers from the 56th Infantry Regiment mend their own clothes at Camp McArthur near Waco, Texas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

12. Local organizations showed their support for the troops through donations and morale events.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers training at Camp Lewis, Washington, grab apples from the Seattle Auto-Mobile Club of Seattle. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

13. Some were better than others. Free apples are fine, but free tobacco is divine.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A thirty-car train carrying 11 million sacks of tobacco leaves Durham, North Carolina, en route to France where it will be rationed to troops. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

14. Nothing is better than payday, even if the pay is a couple of dollars.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Troops are paid at Camp Devens, Massachusetts. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

15. Someone get these men some smart phones or something. Three-person newspaper reading is not suitable entertainment for our troops.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
A father, son, and uncle share a newspaper on a visitor’s day during training camp. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

16. Once the troops were properly trained, they were shipped off to England and France. Their bags, on the other hand, were shipped home.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Soldiers finished with stateside training pose next to the large pile of luggage destined for their homes as they ship overseas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

17. Again, trains everywhere back then. Everywhere.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Engineers ready to ship out write motivational messages on the side of their train car just before they leave the Atlanta, Georgia, area for France. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way British pilots took out incoming V-1 missiles

One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.


This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.

The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.

The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.

But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.

So some pilots began to experiment with a risky but valuable alternative. If a plane flew close enough to a V-1, the wind off the plane’s wings could nudge the flying bomb off course. And if the disturbance was enough to flip the V-1 over, known as “turtling,” then it would often fail to explode.

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

A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.

(Public domain)

But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.

Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.

Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.

In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.

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

An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

Wait…Africa Was Part of WWII? 

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

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

Camp Clinton was the best of the bunch

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

camp clinton POW camp

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

Not All German POWs Were True Nazis 

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

FDR’s home away from home — the “Little White House” in Georgia

Before taking office as POTUS, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a white house of his own — a smaller, less notable white house, located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Now a museum of all things FDR, the late president built the house in 1932. He first came to this location of West-Central Georgia in 1924, while seeking treatment for his polio in the natural buoyant waters.

It was a combination of warm mineral water — sitting at a year round 88 degrees — and physical exercise that helped ease his symptoms. Into his presidency, FDR used the Little White House as a vacation retreat, where he’s said to have visited a total of 16 times, often for weeks with each stay.

In fact, it’s said that FDR drew many of his ideas for the New Deal from his small town visits, specifically the Rural Electrification Administration.


Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation

In 1927, FDR purchased the land that hosted its popular warm waters. Formerly known as Bullochvile, the area had become a tourist destination for residents of Savannah and Atlanta, including those with symptoms of yellow fever. Through his ownership, he rebuilt the area’s “ramshackle” hotel that housed pools of natural mineral waters, and began bringing in polio survivors to bask in these healing waters.

FDR became so interested in hydrotherapy that he eventually founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was funded by the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes. Their rehab efforts were available for a wide variety of ailments, including post-polio syndrome, amputation, spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and stroke.

The location transferred ownership to Augusta University Health in 2014, who still serves patients today.

A tourist destination

The area is preserved as the Warm Springs Historic District, where buildings have been maintained to their looks from the Roosevelt era, with the exception of a cottage that burned down in 2001 due to a suspected lightning strike.

Visitors can head to the Little White House for a trip back in time; the space is said to be preserved as it was the day Roosevelt died. (Yes, you can even see the very room where he passed.) Other highlights include his custom Ford convertible and the Unfinished Portrait, a painting that was being made of FDR when he suffered a stroke.

Take a feel of the warm waters by hand on your tour, or plan ahead for a swim; the springs are open to public swimming once a year on Labor Day weekend.

https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/travel/7-of-the-worlds-amazing-healing-waters

https://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/topics/history/article/progressive-era-world-war-ii-1901-1945/background-to-fdrs-ties-to-georgia

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about firing squads

Throughout history, executions have been controversial ways of punishing heinous crimes against individuals, institutions, and governments. From hangings to lethal injection, executions have spanned the gamut of cruelty and, at every point, there has raged a debate over the moral grounds of taking a life for justice.

Historically, one form of execution has been reserved for military personnel: the firing squad. The concept is elementary: a prisoner stands against a brick wall or study barrier and is gunned down by a handful of soldiers. It might sound simple, but there are a few things about this deadly punishment that you might not know


The final walk

Out of grim curiosity, we’ve watched several videos of firing-squad executions found in the war archives. We noticed that the majority of criminals sentenced to die conducted their last walks under their own accord. Although this was likely their last moment of life, criminals weren’t dragged to their position.

We thought that was interesting.

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

A firing squad in Cuba.

The crimes committed

Throughout many parts of the world, if a troop or civilian was convicted of cowardice, desertion, espionage, murder, mutiny, or treason, they would be sent up in front of a firing squad as punishment.

That doesn’t happen too often today.

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

What it’s like facing a Spanish firing squad without a blindfold.

Blindfolds

In many cases, the prisoner was blindfolded before stepping in front of his executioners. However, some requested the opportunity to face the men who were about to unload their barrels.

That’s pretty ballsy.

According to the Crime Museum, when the condemned person was able to look into the eyes of their executioners, it diminished their anonymity. This made the event stressful for the shooters who were following orders.

The firing squad

Once given the cue by a superior, each soldier pulled the trigger of their rifle simultaneously, resulting in a kill shot by multiple rounds.

In some cases, only a handful of the executioners were given live rounds. The rest would receive blanks. This way, nobody could know who, exactly, was responsible for the kill.

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

Ronnie Lee Gardner in the the courtroom

(National Public Radio)

The last use of a firing squad for a convicted criminal.

According to NPR, the last person to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer, Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010. While already faced with a murder conviction in Utah, Gardner attempted to escape and, in the process, killed an attorney.

Gardner’s conviction came through before the state abandoned the use of the firing squads in 2004. He elected to be killed this way.

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These are the 9 general officers who have earned five stars

Even though the five-star general rank essentially died in 1981 with Omar Bradley, the idea of a five-star general rising above all others to command so much of the American and allied militaries is remarkably heroic.


The five-star general officer was born in WWII because American generals and admirals were often placed above allied officers of a higher rank. Someone elevated to that position could never retire and was considered an active-duty officer for the rest of their life.

That’s a lot of trust. The list of the 9 officers we deemed worthy of the honor rightly reads like a “who’s who” of U.S. military history.

1. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
How many WWII-era Admirals were issued that hat?

Leahy was the first officer to make the rank. He was the senior officer in the U.S. Navy and the senior-most officer in the U.S. military. He retired in 1939 but was recalled to active duty as the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then Truman until 1949. During the latter years of his career, he reported only to the President.

2. General of the Army George Marshall

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Gen. Marshall looks like he’s already sick of your shit.

George Marshall was a major planner of the U.S. Army’s training for World War I and one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s aides-de-camp. He would need those planning skills when World War II broke out, as he oversaw the expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces and the coordination of U.S. efforts in the European Theater. After the war it was Marshall who helped rebuild Western Europe with an economic plan that came to be named after the man himself.

3. Fleet Admiral Ernest King

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

King was the Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces (the U.S. now only uses the term “Commander-In-Chief” to refer to the President) and the Chief of Naval Operations. Though he never commanded a ship or fleet during a war, as the Navy representative of the Joint Chiefs, he helped plan and coordinate Naval Operations during WWII.

4. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

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

MacArthur graduated from West Point in 1903, fought in the occupation of Veracruz, World War I, and resisted the Japanese invasion of the Philippines for six months during WWII. MacArthur, despite having to retreat to Australia, oversaw the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific and accepted their surrender less than four years later.

He would also orchestrate the occupation and rehabilitation of Japan, and the American counterattack during the early months of the Korean War.

5. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
Even though he looks sad, Chester Nimitz will f***ing kill you.

Nimitz was the Navy’s leading authority on submarine warfare at the outbreak of World War II.  He would rise to be Commander-in-Chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and eventually take control of all U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater. He served the Navy on Active Duty in an unofficial capacity until his death in 1966.

6. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
“Hitler! Macho Man Dwight Eisenhower coming for youuuuuu OHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH.”

Ike never saw combat as a soldier, but his planning skills were essential as Supreme Allied Commander of all allied expeditionary forces in Europe during World War II. He planned and executed the invasion of North Africa in 1943, and of course the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. After the war, Eisenhower was the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and was elected President in 1952.

7. General of the Army and Air Force Henry H. Arnold

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

“Hap” Arnold is the only officer ever to hold two five-star ranks in multiple branches and is the only person to ever to be General of the Air Force.

Before WWII, Arnold was the Chief of the Air Corps and became commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces when war broke out. He was one of the first military pilots ever, being trained by the freaking Wright Brothers themselves.

If Billy Mitchell is the Father of the Air Force, Hap Arnold helped raise it — he took a small organization and turned it into the world’s largest and most powerful air force during the WWII years.

8. Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops
That is one salty sailor.

“Bull” Halsey started World War II harassing Japanese fleet movements in the Pacific in his flagship, the Enterprise. He was later made commander of all U.S. forces in the South Pacific and commander of the Navy’s third fleet. Halsey earned his status after the war ended but took the Navy on a goodwill cruise of friendly countries

9. General of the Army Omar Bradley

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

As mentioned, Omar Bradley was the last surviving five-star general, dying in 1981. He fought alongside the U.S. Army’s greatest all under the command of Dwight Eisenhower. He excelled during the D-Day landings and subsequent European campaigns. He eventually commanded 1.3 million fighting men as they invaded fortress Europe — the largest assembly of U.S. troops under a single commander.

* General of the Armies of the United States John J. Pershing

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

Pershing was promoted to this rank and title in 1919, though no official rank insignia existed at the time. It was made by Congress to recognize his role in the American entry into World War I in Europe.

* Admiral of the Navy George Dewey

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

Dewey received the title “Admiral of the Navy” by act of Congress in 1903. Admiral Dewey’s service during the Spanish-American War made him a national hero and celebrity.

* General of the Armies of the United States George Washington

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

President Gerald Ford promoted Washington to this rank and title — essentially a six-star general — in 1976 to always ensure Washington would be the senior-most officer of any group.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 famous lines from legendary speeches that were made up on the spot

A good speech from a great leader can change the world. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech that strengthened the resolve of the Union to continue fighting battles like that for another two years. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt told the American people that day would live in infamy, and it has ever since.

But it might surprise you to discover that some of history’s greatest lines were improvised by the speaker, instead of written into the script of the age.


President Bush’s Ground Zero “Bullhorn Speech”

George W. Bush has been accused of a lot of things, but being one of history’s greatest orators is not one of them. Still, in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States needed its fearless leader to show up at the center of it all and encourage the nation to stand tall, and George W. Bush was able to do that. What started out as an impromptu, unprepared remark about empathy turned into one of the most memorable speeches of modern presidential history when a worker in the back shouted, “we can’t hear you,” referring to the president’s bullhorn.

President Bush, contrary to what some might believe, is quick on his feet and responded with the legendary line “I can hear you. The whole world hears you. And whoever knocked down these buildings will hear all of us real soon.”

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walked to the podium on Aug. 28, 1963, intent on sticking to the script. His prepared remarks mentioned nothing about the dream King had. He’d mentioned the dream speech before, but was convinced the speech wouldn’t have the same effect on such a gathered crowd for such a long speech. In the middle of the speech, Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to Dr. King, telling him to use the “dream” line.

At around 12:00 above, you can see the shift in Dr. King’s face. He stops looking down at his notes as he had for the previous 12 minutes and begins to address the crowd directly, flawlessly delivering the “dream” portion of the speech. This part of the speech is much less measured and more emotional than a banking analogy.

Winston Churchill’s “The Few” Speech

By August 1940, Britain stood alone in Europe against the Nazi war machine. Poland and France had already fallen, and the only things protecting England was the English Channel and the Royal Air Force. British airmen were giving everything they had to defend the island nation from the relentless attacks of the Nazi Luftwaffe, day and night, and they were running low on planes and pilots. Churchill was moved by the pilots who survived the bombing of an RAF airfield just days before and told the assembled men that ‘never in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few.’

He delivered a speech on that to Parliament on Aug. 20, 1940.

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

(Smithsonian Institution)

George Washington “Grows Blind”

The Continental Army was growing restless in 1783. Victory in independence was just around the corner, but they didn’t know that. They were upset at having not been paid by Congress. Officers and soldiers of the army decided to meet in Newburgh, N.Y. to draw up a letter to Congress. Their demand was to be paid or warn the body of a coming mutiny. When George Washington heard about it, he decided to address the men on a day of his choosing.

When he entered the hall, he entered through a side door instead of the main door and proceeded to give a nine-page speech warning them against such a mutiny. He also expressed support for their sentiments and went to share a letter from a Congressman who shared it too. As he pulled out the letter, he also pulled out his glasses and said the immortal words:

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”

It was that improvised line that prevented the mutiny, reaffirmed their loyalty to their graying commander, and won the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the true origin of the Marine Recon paddle

So, you just became friends with a Recon veteran and he’s got a decorated wooden paddle on his wall. What the f*ck is that all about? Well, it’s a tradition. Simple as that. But there’s history behind that tradition and, if you really want to really wow your new Recon Marine friend, you can throw this little tidbit out there.

In fact, there’s a good chance they don’t even know the true story behind it.


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

Much like Recon, everyone wants to be a viking until it’s time to do viking sh*t.

(Painting by Frank Dicksee)

The Viking misconception

A lot of people believe Recon inherited the paddle tradition from Vikings. While there certainly are similarities between these seafaring badasses of old and today’s Marines, the paddle is not one of those traditions.

The paddle is a little more of a contemporary tradition. It got its start with the Marine Raiders of WWII.

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

Obviously, no one actually stole it. Who would steal government property?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The Raider origin

According to legend, modern Recon Marines can trace their military family tree back to the Raiders of the Pacific, who had military-issued paddles because, well, clandestine means f*ck your boat motor, you got good, ol’ fashioned manpower.

Like all most issued gear, these paddles had to be returned prior to parting ways with the unit. Thing is, after spending so much time with these paddles, they started to feel more like yours than the government’s. So, boat-mates would break into supply lockers and steal the paddles back for their “true” owners.

Marine Brad Colbert Discusses the History of the Paddle

www.youtube.com

Decorating

Upon successfully stealing your paddle back, your boatmates would decorate that sh*t and give it to you before you left as a going-away present. Today, even non-Recon Marines are gifted paddles, but the tradition started out with the Raiders.

Would you like to know more? Watch the video below for the full story, as told by Brad “Ice Man” Colbert (of Generation Kill fame). Of course, there’s some explicit language in there, so be aware.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How one commander tried to get his men to leak D-Day plans

British Lt. Col. Terence Otway and his men were to be charged with assaulting the Merville battery on June 6, 1944, at the height of the D-Day invasions of occupied France. For their mission – as well as the overall invasion – secrecy was of the utmost importance, so Otway wanted to ensure his men held that secret close and wouldn’t divulge anything under any circumstances.

So he turned to one of the oldest tricks in the intelligence-gathering book to test their mettle: using women to try to draw the information out of them.


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

The Merville Gun Battery.

Otway and the British 9th parachute battalion were going to assault the series of six-foot-thick concrete bunkers that housed anti-aircraft guns, machine gun emplacements, and artillery from a special artillery division. In all, 150 paratroopers would attempt to take down 130 Germans in a hardened shelter. Since the assault would come just after midnight and well before the main landings, operational security was paramount. The Lieutenant Colonel decided to test his men to see if they could be trusted with the information.

According to the 2010 book “D-Day: Minute by Minute,” Otway enlisted the help of 30 of the most beautiful women of the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce and sent them out to the local pubs with the mission of trapping his men into divulging their secret plans. It was an important test; if the men of the 9th weren’t able to take down those guns, the entire landing might be in jeopardy.

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

Otway in 1944.

But Otway would be pleased with the discipline of his men. Throughout the nights, they caroused as they always had, drinks in hand, singing the night away. But not one of Otway’s men ever gave up their secret. The attack would go on as planned. His 150 now-proven loyal men landing in the area by parachute and by glider that day in June. Even though the winds disbursed the fighters throughout a large area, they still managed to take down the gun site, albeit taking heavy casualties in the process.

After the Merville Gun Battery was down, the exhausted and depleted British paratroopers then moved on to secure the occupied village of Le Plein. Their assault on the guns cost them roughly 50 percent of their total strength – but they were able to accomplish their mission because of the total secrecy surrounding it from lift off to completion.

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