The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army

With the dust still settling after the end of World War II in Europe, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill set his sights on the next threat to Western Democracy: the Soviet Union.


 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army

 

Related: This is what happens when you try to invade and conquer Russia

Churchill was a dedicated anti-Communist. Even before the war’s end, the British PM expanded his anti-Communist rhetoric. He would later employ the same anti-Stalinist zeal in his public comments to people living inside the Iron Curtain (a term he coined in a 1946 speech).

The Prime Minister’s 1946 speech argued the Soviets were determined to expand their influence across Europe and into Asia – a conclusion U.S. President Harry S. Truman also held.

So it makes sense that Churchill would ask his War Cabinet to draw up a plan that would “impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire,” as Rakesh Krishnan Simha of Russia India Report writes.

This essentially meant Churchill was ready to start World War III.

Dubbed “Unthinkable” by Britain’s General Staff, the plan called for American, British, and Polish troops — as well as soldiers from the newly-defeated Wehrmacht — to completely surprise the Soviets from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

The differential in land forces between the West and the Soviet Union could not be offset by the air and naval superiority the Americans and British would have.  The West just could not muster the manpower to match the Soviets. Churchill’s Defence Minister warned him that a quick victory would be “beyond our power” and that they should be prepared for “a long, protracted war against heavy odds.”

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
I wonder what country had an army that was really good at long, protracted war?

Manpower wasn’t the only issue. The Defence Minister’s plans relied on American allies — and the Pacific War was still in full swing. The United States was preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. The rest of Europe was in tatters and could not assist the British in their efforts.

Then there was the question of how to defend the British Isles. The Russians could not mount the same submarine threat the Germans did during World War II. And the British Defence Ministry concluded the Russians certainly couldn’t launch an invasion from the sea.

But rocket attacks were a different challenge altogether. British planners were well aware of this threat and included it in the report to Churchill. Once the Russians began making these weapons en masse, the British expected a “far heavier scale of attack than the Germans were able to develop and no way of effectively reducing this.”

With Russian superiority in mainland Europe, the hypothetical rocket-based devastation of the British Isles in the scenario, and the insistence of President Truman that the United States would not participate, Churchill shelved the idea forever.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Sea Harrier defeated more superior fighters during the Falklands War

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April, 1982, the Royal Navy sent two carriers — the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes — to support the forces that would have the job of taking those islands back.


According to an Air Force study of Argentinian air power, the Argentinians committed 122 combat aircraft – a mixture of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors. Against this, the Royal Navy had two squadrons of British Aerospace Sea Harriers totaling 20 aircraft, with later reinforcements of eight Sea Harriers and 10 RAF Harriers.

In essence, the ability of the British to take back the Falklands rested on pilots and aircraft fighting while outnumbered six-to-one.

 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Argentinean Air Force Mirage III fighters (Youtube Screenshot)

The Sea Harrier pilots did have an advantage. The Argentinians only had two aerial refueling aircraft – and that shortage meant only so many planes could be sent on a given strike. Furthermore, their most capable fighters, the Mirages and Daggers, were not equipped for mid-air refueling.

One of the most notable dogfights involving the Sea Harrier took place on June 8, 1982. A pair of RAF Sea Harriers, lead by RAF Flight Lt. David Morgan, engaged four A-4 Skyhawks following up on an attack that had inflicted severe damage on the landing ships HMS Sir Galahad and HMS Sir Tristan.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Gun-camera footage of an Argentinean Air Force A-4 Skyhawk being shot down by RAF Flight Lieutenant David Morgan. (Youtube Screenshot)

Morgan engaged the Skyhawks first, firing two Sidewinders and scoring two kills. His wingman shot down a third. The last Skyhawk fled. Morgan and his wingman then returned to the carrier HMS Hermes. Morgan would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

Six days after that engagement, the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands would surrender. The Sea Harrier had proven it was capable of winning a war, even when badly outnumbered. Below, check out this clip from the Smithsonian Channel, which shows footage from Morgan’s engagement with the Argentinean Skyhawks, and see how the Fleet Air Arm was Britain’s 1982 version of “The Few.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

These WWII bombers were converted into gunships

The idea of putting weapons on aircraft to strike ground targets is not a new one. Although the concept has culminated in the deadly AC-130 gunship today, it was employed to great effect in Vietnam with the AC-47 Dragon and ACH-47 Chinook gunships. During WWII, air forces even experimented with mounting tank cannons on planes. But what about modifying bombers into gunships to take on fighter planes? They tried that too.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
British bombers like the Wellington were lightly armed compared to American bombers (RAF)

Bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany were a critical part of the Allied war strategy. If Germany’s industrial capacity and infrastructure could be crippled, it would seriously impact the military’s ability to fight the war. However, the British RAF quickly learned that the Germans would not let these bombing raids fly through uncontested. German anti-air and fighter plane defenses were so deadly that the British switched exclusively to night bombing to protect their aircraft and crews.

While this meant that German defenses had a harder time shooting down the bombers, it also made it that much more difficult for the bombers to hit their targets. The accuracy and effectiveness of the RAF’s bombings dropped considerably at night. But, because the Allied fighter planes at the time did not have the range to escort the bombers all the way to Germany and back to England, this was seen as the only viable option. Enter America and the most American solution.

How do you protect a bomber formation from enemy fighters without your own fighter escort? Put more guns on your bombers. British aircraft like the Vickers Wellington medium bomber and Avro Lancaster heavy bomber were defended by a maximum of 8 and 10 .303-caliber Browning machine guns, respectively, and these were early variants. Later variants of these bombers both stripped two machine guns to save weight. On the other hand, American aircraft like the Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber carried 10 and 13 .50-caliber Browning machine guns, respectively. With deadlier guns, and more of them, American bomber doctrine believed that fighter escorts would not be necessary.

Unfortunately, the increased firepower meant little to the German Luftwaffe who shot down American daytime bombing raids in much the same way they did British raids. Still, America insisted on bombing by day while the British bombed at night. Although long-range fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang were in development to escort bombers over the entirety of their missions, a quick fix solution was needed. So what do you do if the guns you have aren’t enough? You add more guns of course.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
British school children tour a YB-40. Note the remote chin turret (U.S. Air Force)

In 1942, Lockheed’s Vega company converted a B-17F Flying Fortress into the YB-40 Flying Fortress. Living up to the name carried over from its forerunner, the new plane bristled with defensive armament. A second manned dorsal turret was added where the radio compartment was, the single .50-caliber waist-mounted machine guns were replaced with dual guns, and the bombardier’s equipment was replaced by a remotely-operated twin .50-caliber machine gun chin turret. With 16 guns, a bomb bay converted into an ammunition magazine, and additional armor plating, the YB-40 was designed to add extra protection to American bomber formations.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
The YB-40 was loaded with firepower (U.S. Air Force)

Although 13 YB-40s were ordered for operational testing, one was lost on delivery and crashed in Scotland. A gunship version of the B-24, called the XB-41 Liberator, was also ordered. It carried 14 .50-caliber machine guns and was intended to fly as a gunship in bomber formations, the same as the YB-40. However, testing at Eglin Field in Florida found flaws with the aircraft and the conversion of further B-24s into XB-41s was cancelled. These flaws included reduced speed and climb rates as a result of the extra weight. Unfortunately, these problems were also present on the YB-40s.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
The XB-41 Liberator also featured an additional dorsal turret (U.S. Air Force)

Still, the gunships are credited with a total of 48 sorties over Europe. They scored five confirmed kills on German fighters with another two probables claimed. Only one YB-40 was lost in combat. Overall though, the gunship concept proved to be relatively ineffective. Plus, with the operational introduction of the P-47 and P-51 Thunderbolt, the gunship bombers became obsolete. Although Consolidated continued to work on their XB-41 concept, the project was ultimately abandoned once the military lost interest.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Vega modified the B-17F to create the YB-40 (U.S. Air Force)

However, some good did come from the YB-40 project. The remote chin turret in the bombardier’s position was carried over into some of the last production B-17Fs and became part of the standardized modification on the B-17G, the final production variant of the bomber.

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This is how British Commandos pulled off ‘The Greatest Raid of All’

During World War II, there were many ingenious and courageous raids, but only one would come to be known as “The Greatest Raid of All” – the British raid on St. Nazaire.


Since the beginning of hostilities, the German Navy had wreaked havoc on shipping in the Atlantic. With the fall of France, the Nazis had ample facilities on the Atlantic to service their fleet, well away from areas patrolled by the Royal Navy. The British wanted to take this away and force them through the English Channel or the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) gap, which they heavily defended. To do this, they devised a daring raid that would put the port of St. Nazaire out of action.

The plan, codenamed Operation Chariot, was to assault the port with commandos supported by a converted destroyer, the HMS Campbeltown. The British planned to load the Campbeltown with explosives and then ram it into the dry docks where it would detonate. The commandos would also land and destroy the port while up-gunned motor launches searched for targets of opportunity.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army

The raiding force consisted of 265 commandos (primarily from No.2 Commando) along with 346 Royal Navy sailors split between twelve motor launches and four torpedo boats.

The raiders set out from England on the afternoon of March 26, 1942, and arrived at the target just after midnight on March 28. At that point, the Campbeltown raised a German naval ensign to deceive German shore batteries. However, a planned bombing by the Royal Air Force put the harbor on high alert, and just eight minutes from their objective they were illuminated by spotlights.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
British Commandos, 1942

A gun battle between the approaching ships and the Germans ensued. At one mile out, the British raised their own naval ensign, increased speed, and drove through the murderous German fire. The helmsman of the Campbeltown was killed, his replacement wounded, and the whole crew blinded by searchlights. At 1:34 a.m., the destroyer found the Normandie dry dock gates, hitting with such force as to drive the destroyer 33 feet onto the gates.

As the commandos disembarked, the Germans rained small arms fire on the raiders. Despite suffering numerous casualties, they were able to complete their objectives, destroying harbor facilities and machinery.

The commandos on the motor launches were not so lucky. As the boats attempted to make their way to shore, most of them were put out of action by the German guns. Many sank without landing their units. All but four of 16 sank.

The motor launches were the means of egress from the port for the commandos already ashore. The image of many of them burning in the estuary was a disheartening sight.

Lt. Col. Newman, leading the Commandos on shore, and Commander Ryder of the Royal Navy realized evacuation by sea was no longer an option. Ryder signaled the remaining boats to leave the harbor and make for the open sea. Newman gathered the commandos and issued three orders: Do the best to get back to England, no surrender until all ammunition is exhausted and no surrender at all if they could help it. With that, they headed into the city to face the Germans and attempt an escape over land.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Commando prisoners under German escort

The Commandos were quickly surrounded. They fought until their ammunition was expended before proceeding with their only remaining option: surrender. Five commandos did manage to escape the German trap though and make their way through France, neutral Spain, and to British Gibraltar, from which they returned to England.

As the Germans recaptured the port, they also captured 215 British commandos and Royal Navy sailors. Unaware that the Campbeltown lodged in the dry dock was a bomb waiting to explode, a German officer blithely told Lt. Commander Sam Beattie, who had been commanding the Campbeltown, the damage caused by the ramming would only take a matter of weeks to repair. Just as he did the Campbeltown exploded, killing 360 people in the area and destroying the docks – putting them out of commission for the remainder of the war.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates. Note the exposed forward gun position on Campbeltown and the German anti-aircraft gun position on the roof of the building at the rear.

The British paid dearly for this success. Of over 600 personnel involved, only 227 returned to England. Besides those taken prisoner, the British also had 169 killed in action. The raid generated a large number of awards for gallantry, one of the highest concentrations for any battle. Five Victoria Crosses, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, were awarded, two posthumously. There were a total of 84 other decorations for the raiders ranging from the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to the Military Medal.

Close up of HMS Campbeltown after the raid. Note the shell damage in the hull and upper works and the German personnel on board the vessel. Close up of HMS Campbeltown after the raid. Note the shell damage in the hull and upper works and the German personnel on board the vessel.

The raid infuriated Hitler and, along with other raids by commandos, caused the Germans to spread troops all along the coast to defend against future raids or invasions. More importantly, the destruction of the St. Nazaire port denied the Germans repair facilities for large ships on the Atlantic coast. Due to the daring nature of the operation and the high price paid for success, the action came to be called “The Greatest Raid of All.”

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That time an American cruise missile hit the wrong continent

Today, we see cruise missiles as very accurate. This was not always the case. In fact, one cruise missile has the distinction of hitting the wrong continent – and it was quite a miss.


The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
SM-62 Snark in flight. (USAF photo)

The missile in question was the SM-62 Snark. It was intended to help deter Soviet aggression. According to Designation-Systems.net, with a maximum range of 6,000 miles and a top speed of 550 knots, it had a W39 nuclear warhead with a 4 megaton yield – 20 times as powerful as the W80 used on the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile.

It flew at 50,000 feet – which at the time made it hard to intercept with enemy anti-aircraft missiles.

The Snark needed the big warhead. The closest it came to hitting its target was within about eight miles. That is a very far cry from the 260 feet that Designation-Systems.net cited the early models of the Tomahawk cruise missile achieving.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
SM-62 Snark missile on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

But Air Force magazine described the miss to end all misses. On Dec. 5, 1956, a Snark was launched with a flight plan to cruise to Puerto Rico and return to its base in Florida. Only, it stopped responding to signals.

Even a self-destruct command didn’t work. The Air Force scrambled fighters to shoot down the wayward missile, but they couldn’t pull off the intercept – proving that the design got that part right.

Ultimately, the missile went beyond tracking range – last seen headed towards Brazil. The missile would remain missing for 26 years until some wreckage was found in that South American country.

According to a Reuters report in the Regina Leader-Post, unidentified Brazilians found the parts and reported them.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
SM-62 Snark launching from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. (USAF photo)

Designation-Systems.net reported that the Snark would achieve a brief period of fully operational service from February to June 1961 (an initial operating capability was established in 1959). But then-President John F. Kennedy ordered the one active wing to stand down, largely due to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles.

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Watch a 20mm Lahti anti-tank rifle rip through steel plates

The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.


According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t laugh. According to the 25th Infantry Division Association’s website, American personnel used the Browning Automatic Rifle — or BAR — against the Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.

A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle used during World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.

via GIPHY

For a real in-depth look at this awesome gun — and the way they set up this firepower demonstration — look at the whole video below:

FullMag, YouTube

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These presidents were all (distantly) related to each other

Power — even political power — doesn’t fall too far from the family tree when it comes to the U.S. presidency … then again, sometimes it comes several branches over. At least, that’s the case for many former U.S. presidents, including those that are as far as 10th cousins, twice removed, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Is your head spinning?!) 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Cousins!President of the United States Barack Obama with George W. Bush and Michelle Obama shortly after boarding Air Force One for the trip to South Africa on 9 December 2013.
Pete Souza

Take a look at this list of U.S. presidents and their relations to other former presidents for a new way to look at our leaders who have served as Commander in Chief.

Closely related

George W. and George H.W. Bush were father and son, respectively. No surprise there. They served as the 31st and 43rd presidents of the U.S.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
President George W. Bush and former President George H.W. Bush sit on stage at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, during dedication ceremonies. Both are scheduled to attend opening ceremonies scheduled for later in the evening.
White House photo by Eric Draper.

Another father and son duo came in John Adams and John Quincey Adams who served as the second and sixth presidents, respectively. 

William Henry Harrison, ninth president, was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president. 

Meanwhile, James Madison, fourth president, was second cousins with Zachary Taylor, the 12th president. 

FDR is related to 11 presidents

Next comes Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president, who was related to 11 — yes ELEVEN — other presidents. Five of them through blood and the remaining six by marriage. This was determined by a study done by multiple genealogists. (There is even controversy that he’s related to a 12th former president.)

They include:

  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, FDR’s fifth cousin 
  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Henry William Harrison
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • James Madison 
  • William Taft
  • Zachary Taylor
  • Martin Van Buren, third cousins, four-times removed
  • George Washington 

He was also reportedly related to Winston Churchill and Robert E. Lee. Woah!

Distantly related cousins

The search for distant relatives becomes deep when it comes to former U.S. presidents, practically unending. With generations between them and blood and marriage bonding many in office, the list of distant cousin only continues to grow.

  • James Madison and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt, third cousins three-times removed
  • John Adams and Calvin Coolidge, third cousins, five-times removed
  • James Madison and Barack Obama, third cousins, nine-times removed
  • John Tyler and William Henry Harrison, fourth cousins, once removed
  • Ulysses Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, once removed
  • John Adams and Millard Fillmore, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Zachary Taylor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth half-cousins, three-times removed
  • James Garfield and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, fourth cousins, three times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • James Garfield and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • John Adams and William Howard Taft, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, six-times removed

And on on on and on, all the way up to 10th cousins, four-times removed. Are they still even related at that point?? 

This is an interesting look into the genealogy of the American president and how families long ago are even distantly related to modern U.S. presidents. 

Featured photo: Presidential portraits taken from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

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4 times a military laughed in the face of the enemy

There are three things soldiers possess in spades: courage, a dubious sense of humor and foul words. There are countless examples throughout military history mounting heroic resistance despite overwhelming odds and issuing brave or hilarious replies to surrender ultimatums. Some of these battles were won, others were lost, but the courage and the wit of these soldiers went down in history as symbols of panache.

Spartans at Thermopylae

How can one talk about military defiance without mentioning the Spartans? The battle of Thermopylae is the standard when it comes to clever use of terrain and stubborn resistance. During the Greco-Persian Wars in the fifth century B.C., Persians attempted to invade and crush Greece several times. In 480 B.C., one of these invasions would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the Spartans. King Leonidas gathered a small force, estimated at 300 soldiers, to face the largest army to have ever walked the earth, according to the historian Herodotus.

Outnumbered thousands to one and ordered to lay down their weapons by King Xerxes’s envoys, the undaunted Spartans replied, “Come and take them.” Using the narrow channel of the Hot Gates to cancel the number of Persian soldiers, they resisted for three days. Eventually, they were surrounded and killed to the last. This heroic stand inspired the Greeks to take arms. The Spartans bought enough time for the city-states to gather an army to drive the Persian invasion back. A century later, they showed their nerve again when King Philip II of Macedonia demanded them not to resist. He threatened that the entire city of Laconia would be slaughtered if the Spartans were defeated, they only replied: “if…”

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Historians are divided on whether a “Spartan kick” was used to send the Persian envoy down into the well. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Navy during the American Revolution

Commander John Paul Jones, often called the “Father of the American Navy”, was a man of flamboyant panache and daring. He was sometimes even called a pirate by his enemies.

He was the commander of the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War. Commander Jones found himself facing two British ships, the 50-gun HMS Serapis and the 22-gun Countess of Scarborough. Completely outnumbered and outgunned, he still decided to brazenly engage them in battle. The Richard quickly sustained heavy damages and began to sink. According to some sources, when the British encouraged him to surrender, the commander defiantly replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” According to others, it went more along the lines of, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.” For the uninitiated, lowering the flag (or “striking” one’s colors), is an international sign of surrender.

No matter the words, the meaning was clear: he would fight to the end. With the dubious support of the Alliance, an allied ship that did as much damage to the enemy as to the Richard, the Countess of Scarborough was put out of service. Then, while his ship sank, Jones and his sharpshooters managed to clear the Serapis’ deck before boarding the British ship and capturing it. The Richard completely sank a day and a half later.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
“Go ahead, call me ‘King of the Squids.’ I dare you.” (Independence National Historic Park/ Wikimedia Commons)

The French at Waterloo

A reply was made so famous by Pierre Jaques Etienne Cambronne, the word was named after him. Waterloo was one of Napoleon’s more famous defeats and led to his downfall. Yet, it was a moment of glory for one of his generals.

Surrounded on all sides and injured by shrapnel, the British repeatedly demanded his surrender, to which he replied, “the Guards die but do not surrender.” The ultimatum was given over and over again until the fed-up general replied “Merde!” (which means “sh*t” – pardon my French). In the end, he was captured by the British and the French troops were severely defeated, but his defiance against the despised British made him a celebrated figure in France and the swear word was named after him.

The man who won Waterloo isn’t routed Napoleon, it isn’t Wellington caving at four o’clock, desperate at five o’clock, it isn’t Blücher who did not fight, the man who won Waterloo is Cambronne. To strike with such a word the thunder that kills you, it is to vanquish.

Victor Hugo
The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
The potty mouth is mightier than the sword (“Cambronne à Waterloo” by Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq/ Wikimedia Commons)

101st Airborne at The Battle of the Bulge

By the winter of 1944, the tide of WWII had turned against the Germans. They were forced to retreat on both European fronts, progressively losing conquered territories. On the 16th of December, they launched the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, in an effort take back Antwerp, the strategic Belgian port, and cut the Allied forces in two. Despite warning signs, the attack was almost a complete surprise.

On the southernmost attack road stood Bastogne, an important crossroads town on the way to the German’s objective. The German force arrived near Bastogne on the 20th of December, but it was already held by the 101st Airborne Battalion. The Germans encircled the town to lay siege to its occupants. The Americans were outnumbered five to one, lacked many basic supplies or a supply route, and had no senior management. The chaos was partially due to the 101st’s commander, Major General Maxwell Taylor, being engaged elsewhere at the time. Despite the obvious imbalance, they were not ready to give up.

On the 22nd of December, a delegation of German soldiers waving white flags presented their commander’s surrender ultimatum; the demand was not well received. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, then in charge of the besieged American force replied simply: “NUTS!” The message was translated as “Go to Hell” to the German delegation before they were sent on their way. In the following days, the 101st sustained many casualties, but they held on until the 26th of December when elements of General Patton’s armies arrived and manage to break the encirclement. The siege ended on the 27th of December, and the 101st was nicknamed “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”


Feature image: U.S. Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: King Philip’s War

A colonist war you never heard of completely impacted the presence of Europeans on the continent during the early days of America.

Don’t mess with a Harvard grad

King Philip spent the majority of his life among English colonists. He was even educated at Harvard and no doubt spoke great English. Yet the alliance between the Indigenous people of North America and the colonists was not unbreakable. Their friendly relations came to an end after the colonists repeatedly violated agreements they had made with the Native Americans. 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
“Philip, King of Mount Hope”, from the Church’s The Entertaining History of King Philip’s War, line engraving, colored by hand, by the American engraver and silversmith Paul Revere. (Public Domain)

First, the colonists encroached further and further into Native land. Then, the colonists tried to create a peace agreement that included the Indigenous people of North America surrendering all their guns. Finally, the colonists hanged three Wampanoags who had murdered another Wampanoag for betraying their tribe. King Philip decided the colonists had crossed too many lines and put his foot down: he and his people could take no more. Thus, began King Phillip’s War.

You can’t be a savage and not expect savage in return

Despite being not very well-known, King Philip’s War was the deadliest per-capita war in all of American history. It began when the Wampanoags burned down the Plymouth colony of Swansea,  slaughtering many colonists who had lived there. Then, under Metacomet’s orders, another Central Massachusetts tribe called the Nipmuc raided several English colonies. The extreme violence of the raids included the indiscriminate butchering of men, women, children, and even livestock. 

In the first six months of King Philip’s War, the English did not have even one victory to show for it. At last, delegates from each of the English colonies met and decided to preemptively attack the Narragansetts, a neutral Indigenous people of North American tribe, with a militia of 1,000 men. Just as the Narragansetts had been slaughtering colonist towns, so the English Militia slaughtered them, leaving 600 dead. It was a turning point in the war for the colonists that the Indigenous people of North America never came back from.

A friendship that was never meant to last

Though King Philip himself was killed in 1676, early in the war, the barbarous fighting continued for three years in total, lasting from 1675 to 1678. When the war ended, the European colonists controlled all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Hudson River. 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
King Philip’s death site in Bristol, Rhode Island on Mount Hope. (Public Domain)

King Philip’s War was a game-changer for the relationship between the colonists and the Indigenous people of North America. Before the war, English colonists and the Indigenous people of North America maintained a decent relationship. The war significantly changed all that. It gutted their alliances and left both sides hostile toward the other both in spirit and in action. This new cutthroat relationship ultimately paved the way for total European domination of North America.

Related: What was it like to be the king who lost the colonies?

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a dangling paratrooper was rescued by open-top biplane

People on the sidewalks of San Diego and at several nearby military facilities stared, transfixed, into the sky as a Marine R2D-1 transport plane slowly circled the area with what one witness later called “a queer whirligig” dangling beneath its trail.


That “whirligig” was Marine 2nd Lt. Walter S. Osipoff.

It was 9:30 in the morning May 15, 1941 when Osipoff, a member of the first group to go through the new Marine parachute school in Lakehurst, New Jersey, was jumpmaster on a training flight. He successfully launched his eleven jumpers, jettisoned a cargo pack, and was attempting to jettison a second when the ripcord of his parachute became entangled with the cargo pack’s ripcord. His parachute opened and dragged him out of the plane along with the cargo pack, leaving him dangling, head-down, 100 feet beneath the transport, which was flying at 800 feet.

 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
(Photo from San Diego Air Space Museum)

He was held only by the leg straps of his parachute. The plane’s pilot, Capt. Harold Johnson, could immediately feel the downward pull from the rear of the plane and was quickly notified of what was going on. He slowed down to 110 mph, the slowest he could safely go, and struggled to keep the plane’s nose down.

Crewmembers’ attempts to pull Osipoff back into the plane were unsuccessful.

Osipoff continued to twist, his eyes pressed closed and his arms and legs crossed. He suffered burns and cuts from his parachute’s shrouds and his left arm and shoulder had been injured when he was violently yanked out of the plane.

On the ground at Naval Air Station North Island, Marine lieutenant and test pilot William Lowrey had seen what was happening above. He yelled to Aviation Chief Machinist’s Mate John McCants to quickly fuel a Curtiss SOC biplane, called the control tower by telephone for clearance (the biplane, like the R2D-1 from Osipoff dangled, had no radio), and then took off with McCants in the rear cockpit.

When the two men caught up with the transport plane, Lowrey matched its speed as best he could and slowly inched up on Osipoff — but it wasn’t working. Johnson was having trouble holding the transport steady and Osipoff was twice hit by the biplane’s wing.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
A Curtiss SOC-1 Biplane, like the one used to rescue the paratrooper. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

McCants later said he could see blood dripping off of Osipoff’s helmet and knew the jumpmaster had been badly hurt.

Johnson moved up to 3,000 feet, where he found more stable air, and the transport evened out. By this point, the larger plane had enough fuel left for only ten minutes.

Again, Lowrey approached the dangling Osipoff.

As he worked up below the jumpmaster, McCants stood up in the open, rear cockpit of the biplane and was finally able to reach Osipoff.  He grabbed him by the waist and eased the man’s head into the open cockpit while Lowrey struggled to hold the biplane steady. The cockpit was too small to carry both McCants and Osipoff. McCants started to cut the parachute shrouds and ease Osipoff onto the fuselage of the biplane, just behind the rear cockpit.

Suddenly, then the biplane jumped and its propeller hit a piece off the larger plane. Miraculously, in doing so, the propeller also sliced through the remaining shrouds of Osipoff’s parachute and he settled onto the biplane’s fuselage.

Osipoff was free.

McCants continued to hold the jumpmaster in place while Lowrey took the biplane down, fighting to control its rudder which had been damaged in the collision with the transport plane, and landed safely at the air station.

Osipoff had been hanging beneath the transport for thirty-three minutes. Among his other injuries, he had suffered a fractured vertebra is his back that would keep him in a body cast for the next three months. He went on to win a Bronze Star in World War II and ended the war as a lieutenant colonel.

Both Lowrey and McCants were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses.

The Navy information bulletin announcing Lowrey’s decoration referred to the incident as “one of the most brilliant and daring rescues within the annals of our Naval history.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the North Vietnamese feared South Korean Marines

There’s no army on earth more anti-Communist than that of South Korea. When your closest neighbor and mortal enemy is North Korea, there’s just no other way. South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea, suffered heavily from the surprise invasion from the north that started the three year long Korean War. The south has been willing to fight communism anywhere in the world ever since. 

When the United States intervened in the war in Vietnam, one of the earliest allies to send combat troops was the Republic of Korea. When the ROK 2nd Marine Brigade arrived in October 1965, its commander made sure the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong knew who they were going up against.

“We have only one purpose here — combat,” he said. He went on to say that they would be ready to fight any communist “anywhere, anytime.” And they were. 

south korean marines

A total of 37,000 Korean Marines would find their way to the battlefields of Vietnam and they were able to accomplish what other allies could not. Korea’s 2nd Battalion took over the assault on Ca Tau Mountain in November 1965. It was a heavily fortified position that the North had held for more than 18 years. The French couldn’t take it. The South Vietnamese failed to take it. The South Koreans took it in just nine hours. 

Everywhere South Korean Marines went, they cleared entire areas of communist aggression, securing rice fields, ports and the flanks of U.S. and South Vietnamese allies. In February 1966, the NVA attacked the Korean 3rd Marine Division at Tra Binh Dong. The Koreans held off the advance, despite being outnumbered 5-to-1. 

What they did next would likely embed itself in the minds of communnist forces in Vietnam anytime they considered fighting South Korean Marines.

More than 2,400 North Vietnamese soldiers pressed their attack but were pushed back – until the Marines ran out of ammunition. Once the shooting from the Marines stopped, the communists charged the Korean lines. Where other armies might have broken off or retreated, the Marines stayed put.

When the NVA poured through the Korean defenses, they found a force armed with fixed bayonets, pickaxes, and entrenching tools, which the Koreans used to such devastating effect that that forced the advancing communists back out of their perimeter. 

Upon returning to their lines, the Koreans detonated charges they’d set up around their camp. If the NVA planned an orderly withdrawal, that plan was now out the window. The Marines decided they would box in their enemy with the controlled detonation.

The NVA also quickly found out that the Koreans weren’t completely out of ammunition. A detachment of Marines had left the perimeter and taken out the NVA’s mortar company. The communists tried one last time to charge the perimeter, but by then the detachment had returned and the NVA attacked a line that exploded with machine gun fire, cutting them down.

What should have been an easy victory for the North Vietnamese Army turned into a total disaster, killing a tenth of the attacking force. Half of the communist dead were actually killed in the hand to hand fighting inside the Marines perimeter. The South Koreans lost 15 of their own, but the NVA didn’t try another offensive in the area until after the Korean Marines departed. 

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These World War I troops claimed to be rescued by angels

In August, 1914, British troops were in full retreat from the World War I Battle of Mons in Northern France. The Germans chasing them were far greater in number, and the men were desperate. In a turn of good luck, they happened to pass a celebrated old battle site that turned the tide of their retreat, in an almost supernatural way – and that’s exactly how it was remembered.


The Battle of Mons went as well for the Brits as could be expected. It was the first test of the British Expeditionary Force in continental Europe. They fought hard, and the Germans paid dearly for their advance. But the French Fifth Army gave way to the Germans, and the British could not hold the line on their own. An orderly battle turned into a two-week rout that would end with the epic Battle of the Marne – but not unless the BEF could escape the oncoming Germans. They retreated south as orderly as possible.

On their way, they passed the site of the famous medieval Battle of Agincourt, where King Henry V’s English longbowmen devastated a French Army that outnumbered the English with estimates as high as 6-to-1. The retreating British troops of 1914 were on the run from a numerically superior German force when legend says a British soldier said a prayer to Saint George that changed the outcome of their retreat.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
St. George, the Christian dragon slayer.

 

George was a Roman Praetorian Guard for Emperor Diocletian, and was executed for not recanting his professed Christian faith centuries before the emperor converted the empire to Christianity. He is probably the most prominent of all soldier-saints. So, when a retreating British soldier asked St. George for help, it makes sense for the men of the retreating army to believe he may have intervened when the Germans suddenly broke off their pursuit.

After the battle, men present during the fighting chalked the sudden turn of events up to a number of supernatural explanations, each more awe-inspiring than the next. In the most prevalent retelling, the prayer to St. George caused an army of spectral English bowmen to appear, which both frightened and slaughtered the pursuing Germans.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Looks like St. George needs to train his angels a bit.

 

The claims of the English soldiers were grounded by a fictional short story called “The Bowmen” written by Arthur Machen after the battle. In the book, angelic archers appear after a British soldier prays for help from St. George. Led by the patron saint of England, a thousand archers appeared and mowed down the enemy. Afterward, the German generals determined the BEF must be using a new gas weapon, as there were no wounds on the dead German troops.

Machen’s story was a fabrication, of course, based on a different story by Rudyard Kipling. That one was set in Afghanistan. But veterans of the Battle of Mons soon began to claim they were eyewitness to the spectral event. In each retelling, the story changes: German soldiers are found with arrow wounds, the ghost army was actually a team of angels in the form of medieval knights and led by St. George, or the BEF was able to retreat into a wall of clouds.

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
World War I Ex Machina.

 

The Angels of Mons very quickly entered the lore and legends of the First World War, joined there by stories of ghouls living in No Man’s Land, crucified Canadian soldiers, and the end of the war by Christmas.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This unstoppable artillery bombardment doomed Nazi Berlin

In what is sometimes described as the largest artillery bombardment in history, the Soviets opened the road to Berlin in 1945 at the Battle of Seelow Heights with a massive barrage that saw over 9,000 Soviet guns and rockets firing along a front approximately 18.5 miles long. That’s one artillery piece every 11 feet.


The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
Like this, but more cannons. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

 

The Seelow Heights defenses were a mere 35 miles from Berlin and were the last truly defendable position before Berlin.

Estimates vary about the exact number of shells and rockets fired in the wee hours of April 16, but some think that as many as 500,000 shells were fired in the first 30 minutes. The German defenders, counting reserves held near Berlin, totaled less than 150,000 men.

For comparison, the massive Allied assault on the Gustav line in Italy in 1944 featured “only” 2,000 guns firing 174,000 shells over 24 hours. The British bombardment at the Battle of the Somme in World War I boasted 1,537 guns which fired 1.5 million shells over 4 days. The Soviet crews at the Seelow Heights could have hit that total in about 90 minutes.

Unfortunately for the Russian soldiers, their generals followed Soviet military doctrine nearly to the letter, and the Germans had grown used to their tactics. Anticipating a Soviet bombardment, the German generals had pulled most of their men back from the first defensive lines and reduced the number of men in the second lines.

“As usual, we stuck to the book and by now the Germans know our methods,” said Colonel General Vasili Kuznetsov, a Russian commander. “They pulled back their troops a good eight kilometers. Our artillery hit everything but the enemy.”

So a Soviet bombardment with three times as many shells as there were defending troops managed to obliterate one line of trenches, damage another, but kill very few of the defending troops. It also left German mortars, machine guns, tanks, and artillery emplacements.

 

The British planned to start World War III by invading Russia with the German army
A Russian T-34 tank burns during World War II. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

 

The Soviets continued the battle with a rolling barrage that did begin softening the German army positions. But, by that point, Soviet tanks and infantry were struggling to get through the soft ground around the Ober River which had been flooded and turned to marshlands.

The German weapons which had survived the artillery bombardment were able to inflict heavy losses on the attacking Soviet columns.

But the Soviet numbers were simply too much for the German defenders. Over the next few days, the Russians lost approximately 33,000 men while inflicting 12,000 casualties on the Germans. But Russian planes took the skies from the Luftwaffe and the army brought up the artillery, allowing them to force their way forward with tanks and infantry.

Despite the heavy losses, the Red Army took the Seelow Heights on April 19, 1945, and launched its final drive to Berlin. Soviet troops surrounded the city and forced their way in. German leader Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30 and Germany surrendered on May 8.

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