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.
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.”
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.
Featured image courtesy of Lexington Herald Leader (kentucky.com)
The people of Letcher County, Kentucky are currently raising money to build a bronze statue of one of their most iconic civil war veterans, Martin Van Buren Bates. This statue is meant to celebrate more than just his military service, however. It is celebrating his international celebrity status as an actual giant.
Martin Van Buren Bates came from a well-known family in Letcher County. According to historical records, he was born in 1837, and by the age of 13, would weigh 300 pounds. Bates would continue to grow until he was 28 years old, measuring an astounding 7-foot-11 inches tall and weighing 500 pounds. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Bates at 7-foot-9 inches tall.
The point is he was a huge guy. Records of Bates, held at the Letcher County clerk’s office, claim that one of his boots could hold a half bushel of shelled corn—28 pounds of corn.
Bates began his career as a school teacher, but upon the outbreak of the Civil War joined the Confederacy fighting with the 5th Kentucky Infantry. He ascended to the rank of Captain due to his bravery and leadership on the battlefield.
Eventually, he was severely wounded in combat in the Cumberland Gap area, where he was captured and imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio.
After the war he briefly returned to Kentucky, before leaving due to violence between former Union and Confederate soldiers. He headed to Cincinnati, where he would join the circus. While on tour with the circus in Nova Scotia, Bates met Anna Swan, who just so happened to be 7-foot-11 inches tall. The two fell in love and got married while on tour with the circus in Europe.
The wedding was a bit of a spectacle with thousands attending. England’s Queen Victoria even gave the couple diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents. The couple moved to Seville, Ohio, where they purchased a farm and hoped to settle down after their lives in the circus. The couple had a son who only survived for 11 hours, but weighed 23 pounds 12 ounces, and a daughter who weighed 18 pounds, but also died at birth.
Advocates for the statue hope to place a bronze statue in a local park to commemorate Bates. The cost of the statue is an estimated ,000, but advocates argue it is important to remember the county’s history before it is forgotten.
Throughout WWII, the German Army was constantly developing newer and more lethal weaponry to equip its soldiers on the western and eastern fronts. One problem that they kept encountering was the complexity and resulting low tolerances of their early-war equipment. In short, the Germans over-engineered their designs which made them difficult to produce, maintain and employ in adverse combat conditions. One prime example of this problem is the MG 34.
Introduced in 1934 (hence its name) and fielded in 1936, the MG 34 is generally considered the world’s first general-purpose machine gun. With its full-power rifle cartridge, the gun could be used as a light or medium machine gun for an infantry unit, an anti-aircraft gun, or a secondary gun for an armored vehicle. It was light enough to be carried by one man and had a rate of fire that was unmatched at the time of its introduction.
Most German tanks were equipped with the MG 34 Panzerlauf. Meaning armor barrel, the Panzerlauf omitted the MG 34’s stock and could be mounted internally in a tank’s hull, coaxially in the turret, or externally on top of the turret. However, as previously mentioned, the MG 34 required precision machining and was unreliable in muddy, snowy, dusty and humid conditions. As the war intensified, the German Army needed a replacement that could be built more easily and perform more reliably on the battlefield.
Designed and put into service in 1942, the MG 42 with its stamped metal parts was cheaper, easier to produce, more reliable, more user-friendly and arguably more lethal than the MG 34. The new gun boasted a nearly 100% increase in range to 2000 meters and 50% increase in rate of fire to 1500 rounds per minute. It was for this reason that the MG 42 was nicknamed Hitler’s buzzsaw by allied troops who learned to recognize and fear the weapon’s distinct sound.
Why then, did German armored vehicles not adopt the MG 42 if it featured so many improvements over the MG 34? In short, science. As a bullet is shot through a barrel, friction and burning propellant cause the barrel to heat up. In the case of the MG 34 firing 1000 rounds per minute, the barrel would heat up fairly quickly under sustained fire. If a barrel gets too hot, its shot group opens up and the gun’s accuracy deteriorates. Moreover, prolonged stress on the barrel could cause it to fail outright. For these reasons, machine guns like the MG 34 usually feature a barrel that can be swapped out quickly.
In the case of the MG 34, the barrel is replaced by rotating the receiver counter-clockwise from the barrel shroud. From there, the old barrel can be removed and a new one slotted in. The receiver is the rotated clockwise back into place and the gunner can resume firing. While this design is perfectly adequate, the barrel change on the MG 42 is even easier. On the MG 42, the barrel pops out to the right of the gun. The old barrel is swapped out for a new one and then gunner simply locks it back into line with the receiver. However, this was simply not compatible with the existing German tank designs.
Inside a tank, a gunner can easily rotate the MG 34’s receiver and swap out the barrel if it gets too hot. But, because the rest of the gun is mounted in the hull or turret, the side-swapping barrel of the MG 42 would not work. The mounting designs would have to be completely reworked in order to accommodate it. Additionally, the inside of a tank is a far less adverse environment than a muddy foxhole on the western front or a snowy foxhole on the eastern front. As such, the higher tolerances of the MG 42 were not necessary. In cases where a machine gun was mounted outside of a vehicle like on top of a turret or on an open-topped self-propelled gun, the Germans still fielded the MG 34 in order to streamline parts logistics and weapon maintenance.
By the end of WWII, both the standard MG 34 and its Panzerlauf versions were still being produced and fielded by the German Army. After the war, Germany designed the MG 3 general-purpose machine gun from the MG 42. New armored vehicles were also designed with integration of the new gun in mind. The U.S. also incorporated design elements of the MG 42 into the M60 machine gun which still sees limited use in its special forces variants today.
On the day after Thanksgiving 1984, a Soviet citizen on a tour of the DMZ suddenly abandoned his group and sprinted to freedom in South Korea.
Vasilii Matuzok long dreamed of fleeing the oppression of Communism. He even obtained a job in Pyongyang as a means of making his escape attempt.
But despite its name, the Demilitarized Zone is anything but. The four-kilometer wide area is heavily mined and guarded by armed soldiers from each side. A crossing there was as near suicidal during the Cold War as it is today.
However, at a small village named Panmunjom (the site of the Korean War Armistice signing), the North and South created a Joint Security Area. This area is heavily guarded but it contains no minefields or other the deterrents to crossing that can’t be said for the rest of the DMZ.
When Matuzok’s tour group was distracted, he made a break for it.
Immediately realizing what was happening, some 30 North Korean soldiers pursued him and fired wildly in the hopes of bringing him down before he could reach the other side.
This immediately created a significant incident. As the two sides were still technically at war – having never signed a peace agreement – the North Korean soldiers pursuing Matuzok instantaneously became an armed incursion. The UN guards quickly alerted the United Nations Quick Reaction Force at nearby Camp Kitty Hawk.
The United Nations had a Joint Security Force company comprised of Americans and Koreans stationed at Camp Kitty Hawk to respond to any incidents at the Joint Security Area and provide the guard detail.
As the incident developed into a full-on firefight between the North Korean soldiers and the UN’s JSA guards, Capt. Bert Mizusawa got the call at Camp Kitty Hawk. He told his men to load up while he got as much information as he could from the Tactical Operations Center.
As his group sped the quarter mile to the JSA, Mizusawa was unaware of the defection. His sole purpose was to restore the Armistice conditions. The North Korean soldiers, invaders at this point, had to be turned back, he said, “with no concern for proportionality… we were going to win no matter what.”
When Mizusawa and the QRF arrived with three infantry squads augmented with three machine gun teams, the UN guards at the JSA had the intruding North Koreans pinned down in an area known as the “Sunken Garden.” It had been only fifteen minutes since Matuzok defected.
Mizusawa sent one squad east to reinforce the men at Checkpoint 4, who were engaged against the North Koreans there while he personally led the other two squads on a flanking maneuver to the southwest. During their movement, the men came across Matuzok hiding in the bushes.
Captain Mizusawa immediately realized the urgency of the situation. If the North Koreans were able to kill or recapture Matuzok, they controlled the narrative of the day’s events.
After confirming Matuzok’s intention to defect, Mizusawa put him in the personal custody of the QRF Platoon Sergeant who raced him to safety at Camp Kitty Hawk.
With the defector now secured Mizasawa was in a tactically perfect situation. He had his enemy pinned down on low ground and was in position to move in from the flank. The Americans executed a textbook example of Battle Drill 1A. As the lead fire team bounded into the Sunken Garden under accurate suppressive fire, the North Koreans attempted to flee.
Caught in the open, they chose to surrender rather than be gunned down.
The elapsed time since the defection was approximately 20 minutes. It only took six minutes after the arrival of the QRF platoon to defeat the North Korean threat.
During the fighting, a South Korean KATUSA soldier was killed and an American soldier wounded when they drew heavy fire from the North Koreans protecting the escape of Matuzok.
The North Koreans lost three killed, five wounded, and eight captured during the incident.
However, for the North Korean soldiers, failure in this situation would be costly. It is believed that the leader of the North Korean troops and his subordinate were summarily executed immediately after the incident.
Despite being one of the worst instances of violence on the DMZ in some time, further bloodshed was avoided.
Hoping to keep the incident quiet, the Army choose to withhold some awards immediately after the firefight. It would not be until the year 2000 that the Army recognized the service and awarded or upgraded seventeen decorations to participants on that day.
Matuzok, the defector that started everything, eventually was allowed to resettle in the U.S. as a refugee under an assumed name.
Featured Image: Green Beret in Vietnam (not Gaspard); Photos: SF Association Chapter XXI.
‘A Warrior’s Warrior’ in MACV-SOG
During America’s long war in Vietnam, many of the Green Berets who fought there became legends within the Special Forces Regiment. And among those warriors were the men of MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group); the SOG warriors were among the finest the country has ever produced.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard was one of the most well-known and respected officers from that generation. After serving with the Marine Corps in World War II, Gaspard joined the Army. He was an original, volunteering for the newly formed 10th Special Forces Group and attending Special Forces Class #1. He would run cross border operations in the Korean War but really made his mark during the war in Vietnam, working in Special Forces A-Camps as well as running some of the most secret operations across the border into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Gaspard became a “Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment” in December 2010.
Shortly after I moved to SW Florida I got into contact with Chapter XXI of the SF Association. I was checking out their excellent website, saw a large segment dedicated to LTC Gaspard, and remembered a brief meeting I had with him years ago. More to that soon.
George Wallace Gaspard Jr. was born at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Ala., on August 5, 1926. He was the son of the late George W. Gaspard of MN, and Annie Lou Bamberg of AL.
He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946 and fought in the final battle of World War II on the island of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division. He first entered the U.S. Army on June 11, 1951.
In May 1952, Gaspard was a student in the first all-officer-class at the Ranger course. He then attended a special course at the Air Ground School located at Southern Pines, N.C. Afterward, he volunteered for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which had just been organized at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His first assignment was as a team leader of the 18th SF Operational Detachment. In November 1952, he attended Special Forces Class #1. The fledgling Special Forces unit, much of it comprised of World War II vets from the OSS, was anxious to get involved in the Korean War and conduct missions similar to those conducted in occupied areas of Europe and the Pacific during the war.
The SF troops were put in an active intelligence operation that utilized Tactical Liaison Offices (TLO). Although they were initially manned only by anti-communist Koreans, the TLO would eventually conduct “line-crossing operations” which included using Chinese agents to gather intelligence on the enemy.
However, the Far East Command (FEC), assigned the SF troops as individual replacements rather than as 15-man A-Teams that SF was employing at the time using the OSS WWII Operational Group model.
In March 1953, then 1Lt. Gaspard was assigned to FEC/LD 8240AU FECOM. He commanded four enlisted men and 80 South Korean agents, who were dispatched behind enemy lines to gather intelligence on the North Koreans. Obviously the threat of double agents, something that would later haunt SOG operations in Vietnam, loomed. An excellent piece on this facet of the Korean War, written by former SF Officer and USASOC Historian Eugene Piasecki, “TLO: Line Crossers, Special Forces, and ‘the Forgotten War'” can be found here.
Gaspard was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for actions in combat during June 11-12, 1953.
In October 1954, Gaspard joined the 77th SF Group (A) as a guerrilla warfare instructor with the Psychological Warfare School’s Special Forces Department. He was subsequently transferred to the 187th ARCT and honorably discharged in September 1957.
From 1960 to 1962, he served as a civilian mobilization designee with the Special Warfare department in the Pentagon. In April 1962, he was recalled to active duty and assigned to the 5th SF Group (A) at Fort Bragg, commanding Det A-13. In September, he opened a new Special Forces Camp in Kontum Province at Dak Pek, Vietnam, which remained the longest continuously active SF/ARVN Ranger camp until it was overrun in 1972. That would be the first of seven tours of duty in Vietnam for Gaspard.
During the early days of Vietnam, there was a general lack of accurate reporting by the press on the fighting. However, there were a handful of reporters who were willing to walk in the field and endure combat with the troops. One of those was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter David Halberstam. He was a special correspondent with the New York Times and not a wire reporter, so, he had the time to visit the troops and share a much closer look at what was truly transpiring on the ground.
One of the first people that Halberstam met in Vietnam was Speedy Gaspard. The two developed a friendship and Gaspard became a source of what was really happening in the outlying areas of Vietnam where SF was working by, with, and through the locals. Halberstam was so taken by Gaspard that he modeled the lead character of his war novel “One Very Hot Day” after him.
Captain Gaspard returned to Fort Bragg in 1963 as adjutant and HHC commander of the newly formed 6th SF Group (A). In July 1965, he reported to AID Washington, DC, and subsequently to AID Saigon, where we was assigned as a provincial adviser in Quang Duc Province. He was instrumental in the very tricky negotiations to peacefully transfer FULRO personnel (Front Uni de Lutte des Races Opprimées — United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) to the Army of South Vietnam.
FULRO was comprised of the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards). They were hated by the lowland Vietnamese, both in South and North Vietnam and referred to as “moi” (savages). At the time, Vietnamese books characterized Montagnards as having excessive body hair and long tails. The Vietnamese rarely ventured into Montagnard regions until after the French colonial rule. Then, they built several profitable plantations to grow crops in and extract natural resources from those bountiful areas.
The simple mountain people were excellent hunters and trackers. They immediately bonded with the Green Berets assigned to stop the communist infiltration of South Vietnam and the Green Berets responded in kind. SF set up the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG), which trained and led the Montagnards in Unconventional Warfare against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
But the South Vietnamese government never trusted and hated the CIDG program because it feared the Montagnard people would want independence. (Such was their hatred for the Vietnamese that the Montagnards would continue to fight a guerrilla war against unified Vietnam for 20 years after the war ended. There were reports of genocide against the mountain people and over 200,000 died during the fight.)
Gaspard was promoted to major in 1966, and after completing his tour, reported to 1st SF Group (A), Okinawa. In October 1967, he returned to Vietnam and directed the MACVSOG “STRATA” program until September 1968.
The commanders in Vietnam, especially among the SOG personnel, were never satisfied with the intelligence collection activities conducted in North Vietnam. STRATA was conceived to aid the intelligence situation by focusing on short-term intelligence-gathering operations close to the border. The all-Vietnamese Short Term Roadwatch and Target Acquisition teams would report on activities across the border and then be recovered to be used again. Gaspard and the SOG Commander, Col. Jack Singlaub, briefed Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams on STRATA operations.
Once, a STRATA team became surrounded and required emergency extraction. Gaspard, riding a hydraulic penetrator, twice descended to remove a wounded agent. He was subsequently awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism and the Purple Heart Medal for his actions.
Moles inside South Vietnam’s government and military, even in SOG, were a constant source of leaks to the North, even in SOG. Some of these leaks came to light much later. However, Gaspard would remedy that. As written in a fantastic piece by SOG team member John Stryker Meyer, Gaspard moved the operations jump-off location out of South Vietnam and the intelligence leaks began to dry up.
“The unique aspect of STRATA, which operated under OP34B, the teams launched out of Thailand, flying in Air Force helicopters. The Air Force performed all insertions and extractions without pre-mission reports to Saigon. During Gaspard’s tenure at STRATA 24 teams were inserted into North Vietnam on various intelligence-gathering missions. Only one and a half teams were lost during that period of time that involved inserting and successfully extracting more than 150 STRATA team members during that time.” “Again, a key part to our success was having our separate chain of command and not telling Saigon. We worked with the Air Force on a need-to-know basis.”
It wasn’t until many years later that Gaspard realized the extent of the communist infiltration of the south, right into SOG headquarters. Meyer describes in his piece the horror felt when someone close to the Americans, someone who had been vetted, was in fact a spy for the enemy.
“During a 1996 Hanoi television show, Maj. Gen. George “Speedy” Gaspard, was shocked when he saw an individual he knew as “Francois” receive Hanoi’s highest military honor for his years of service as a spy in SOG. Gaspard, who had several tours of duty in Vietnam and in SOG, knew “Francois” and was “shocked” when he saw the program. Francois had access to highly sensitive information while employed by the U.S. Author and SOG recon man John L. Plaster, has a photo of Gaspard standing with Francois in Saigon when Gaspard had no idea of the spy’s real role for the NVA. That photograph of Gaspard and Francois is on Page 463 of Plaster’s book: SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars, by Paladin Press Book. “There’s no question that he hurt SOG operations,” Gaspard said. “Again, how do you gauge it all? When you look at the success rate of STRATA teams by comparison, you can see why they succeeded. We were disconnected from Saigon and we didn’t have the NVA and Russians working against us.”
Gaspard returned to SOG in 1969 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1971. He reported to 1st SF Group, Okinawa as the group executive officer, and later assumed command of the 1st Battalion. He retired in August 1973 after having served in three wars.
His earned multiple awards and decorations including the Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with V-device and five Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with V-device and three Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman’s Badge with one Battle Star, Master Parachutist Badge, Pacific Theater Service Ribbon with one Campaign Star, Korea Service Ribbon with two campaign Stars, Vietnam Service Campaign Ribbon with 15 campaign Stars, 18 other service and foreign awards including the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Gold, Silver and Bronze stars, U.S. Navy Parachute Wings, Korea Master Parachutist Wings, Vietnamese Master Parachutist Wings, Thailand Master Parachutist Wings, and Cambodia Parachute Wings.
LTC Gaspard was a member of SFA, SOA, VFW, MOAA, American Legion, and the Sons of Confederacy.
From 2004 to 2017 Speedy served as president, vice president, or secretary of the Chapter XXI President of the Special Forces Association. (The Chapter provided a lot of Gaspard’s personal biography listed here.)
In 1985, Colonel Gaspard entered the South Carolina State Guard and in 1987 was appointed Chief of Staff with the rank of Brigadier General. In 1991, he was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the early fall of 1989, when I was a student in the SF Officer’s course at Ft. Bragg, one of our fellow students was a young man named George Gaspard, the son of Speedy. Young George, whom we knew as “Buck” was an outstanding officer and an even better man who was very popular among the officers in the class.
We learned that General Speedy Gaspard was going to address our class. He first showed us an outstanding slideshow of pics he took while conducting some hair-raising missions with SOG. They were better than anything we had seen in any book or magazine. He then addressed the class in his self-effacing style and said: “standing before you is an old, fat man, but in Vietnam, I was an old, fat captain… but I relied on and surrounded myself with outstanding SF NCOs who made me look brilliant.”
He encouraged the future A-Team commanders to trust in their team sergeants and NCOs and they’d never be steered wrong. SF NCOs, he said, were the true leaders of Special Forces and officers need to realize it, work together, and take care of NCOs. Of course, sitting in the rear of the classroom was General David Baratto commander of the Special Warfare Center and School (SWC), who cringed a bit at those pointed comments.
Sitting in the back, my buddy Wade Chapple and I were stealing glances at General Baratto who looked pained… In a typical Chapple bit of sarcasm, he leaned over and said to me, “I think his (Baratto’s) head is about to f***ing explode.”
After the day was over, our entire class, including many of our instructors, joined Speedy Gaspard at the “O-Club” for a cocktail or three. He regaled us with some cool stories about the SF and SOG guys he served with. It was a memorable night. When we left that night, he made everyone feel that we knew him well. It was an honor to have met him.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard passed away on January 30, 2018.
The Medal of Honor is well-known as the U.S. military’s highest honor for acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Usually, only members of the military earn the award. But a few, rare civilians have, too.
It’s kind of a big deal.
Created in 1861 as a Navy medal, there have been 3,513 Medals of Honor bestowed, with roughly half going to veterans of the U.S. Civil War. The medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, but in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield.
A purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules. Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.
“Buffalo Bill” Cody
In 1872, Buffalo Bill was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. He received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.
Amos Chapman Billy Dixon
Chapman was also a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. He was a half-Native who also worked as an interpreter. While working with Lt. Frank Baldwin out of Fort Dodge, he and another civilian scout, Billy Dixon, along with four soldiers, were confronted by a joint force of more than a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The six retreated to a buffalo wallow, essentially a mid-sized hole in the ground. On the way there, Dixon was injured, so Chapman picked him up and carried him to the defensive position. He stopped to fight off attackers on occasion, but was shot in the leg a quarter mile from the wallow. He dragged himself and Dixon the rest of the way to the wallow. The six held out until weather forced the enemy withdrawal, three days later.
Another civilian scout during the Indian Wars, Dozier was awarded the honor for gallantry at the Little Wichita River, Texas in 1870. Dozier and another scout tracked a band of the Keechi to Bluff Creek. Dozier fired down on the Keechi from a higher position, wounding Chief Keesh-Kosh. Noticing that U.S. soldiers below were exposed to direct fire from a band of Keechi on a hillside, Dozier mounted his horse and attacked the band by himself. Dozier suffered serious injuries when his horse was shot out from under him, but was credited with the campaign’s success.
Ferrell was a civilian in the service of the Union Navy during the Civil War. While acting as a Navy pilot near Nashville, Tennessee, an engagement with Confederates saw the flag of their ship, the Neosho, shot down. Ferrel and the ship’s quartermaster ran through the enemy fire to reraise the flag.
Another U.S. Navy civilian in service to the Union during the Civil War, Freeman was at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He was the pilot of the Union Flagship. He piloted the Navy’s ships into the bay under “terrific” enemy fire, from Fort Morgan, the CSS Tennessee, and a flotilla of Confederate gunboats. The boats were captured, the Tennessee surrendered, and the Fort’s guns were silenced.
Mary Edwards Walker
Walker received her Medal of Honor recommendation from General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. She worked as a contract surgeon at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. During battles, she would frequently cross enemy lines and treat civilians. Throughout the war, she was contracted as a surgeon by the Army of the Cumberland, the 52d Ohio Infantry, and the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She would be arrested by the Confederacy as a spy in 1864 and spend four months as a POW. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson, and refused to give it back when Congress erased her award. She died two years later. President Jimmy Carter restored her status in 1977.
William H. Woodall
Woodall was a civilian employee of the Union Army during the Civil War. At the Battle of Namozine Church, while riding as a scout with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, Woodall was with a group of scout spies dressed in Confederate uniforms when they captured Confederate General Rufus Barringer. Woodall captured the general’s headquarter’s flag.
Flying missions out of Takhli Air Force Base, in Thailand, Maj. Harold Johnson served as an Electronic Warfare Officer of an F-105 Wild Weasel, which due to its dangerous, top-secret missions had about a 50 percent survival rate.
“Everyday you were shot at very severely,” Johnson states in an interview. “I’d have a lot of the electronics there and hopefully do the job that I’m supposed to do to protect the rest of the flights.”
In April 1967 — and just seven missions shy of rotating back home — the North Vietnamese fired a heat-seeking missile that struck Johnson’s Wild Weasel. While both crew ejected safely, they were later captured.
Before being taken to a POW camp, the Vietnamese paraded Johnson through a village where the locals poked and prodded him with sharpened bamboo sticks.
“I still got scars on my legs. The kids were the worst, they could slip through the guards and get at you,” Johnson calmly admits. “I had a lot of holes in me when I got to the camp.”
After eight days of intense daily beatings, torture, and hallucinations from lack of sleep, Johnson began falsely pointing out targets on a map.
Due to Johnson being constantly isolated in his cell, he learned to secretly communicate with other prisoners using an alphanumeric tapping system. “If you can picture a box with five units that you put your letters in, one would be your first line, and then you go ABCDE,” Johnson states.
After six long agonizing years, Harold Johnson was released from the prison camp and sent back to the US.
“Well, it finally happened, when you’re being interrogated that was the thing that gave us strength was you’re gonna to have to stay here, one of these days I’m going out of here.”
During World War II, the Allies, especially Britain, worked hard to convince Germany that every attack it saw was a feint and that every shadow in its vision was another Allied army coming to crush it. These deception operations led to the creation of an entire, fake invasion of Norway that was supposed to keep German defenders away from Normandy on D-Day.
Norwegian soldiers on the Narvik front in World War II.
The overall deception operation was known as Operation Bodyguard, a reference to a speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill that said Truth was too precious and fragile to go anywhere without a Bodyguard of Lies. And when it came to D-Day, Bodyguard was on steroids.
To understand how deception operations worked for D-Day, it’s important to understand that the actual landings at Normandy weren’t necessarily logical. The Normandy landings took no deepwater port, and the terrain in the area forced the Allied invaders to fight through thousands of hedgerows to break out into the rest of France. Even after that, it was over 600 miles from there to Berlin, and the bulk of that was through German homeland.
So, while the D-Day landings of Operation Neptune were successful and Germany lost the war, it wasn’t the easiest or, arguably, even the most logical course of action. After all, there were two succulent nuts that would be easier to crack than Normandy.
German troops in the Balkans in 1941.
(Bundesarchiv Bild, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The first and likely the easiest 1944 target for the Allies would’ve been an invasion into the Balkans, the soft underbelly of Europe. Allied troops were already holding the lowest third of Italy, all of North Africa, and Turkey, so they had plenty of places to invade from. And taking the Balkans from Hitler would’ve robbed him of much of his oil, copper, and bauxite, among other materials.
But another juicy target was Norway. Norway had been captured by Germany early in the war because Hitler knew that he needed a large Atlantic coastline to prevent his navy being bottled up in the Baltic and North seas like it had in World War I. And, the German presence in Norway helped keep Sweden neutral and amenable. If Norway fell, Sweden might allow Allied forces in its borders or, worse, join the alliance itself.
From Sweden or Norway, the Allies could easily bomb northern German factories and take back Denmark. And an invasion through Denmark would put the Allied forces less than 450 miles from Berlin, and only half of that path would be through German home territory.
And so Allied strategists played up the possibility of a Norway invasion, seeking to keep as many German units as possible deployed there to make the actual landings in France much easier.
Danish troops during Germany’s invasion in 1940.
This led to Operation Mespot, a coordinated plan to move troops, create false planning documents, and pass fake intelligence that would indicate an invasion into Norway, through friendly Sweden, and into Denmark in the summer of 1944, right as the actual D-Day invasions were taking place. According to the Mespot deception, the D-Day landings were the feint to draw German defenders from real invasions in the Baltics.
The part that related directly to an invasion of Norway was Operation Fortitude North, and it called for a British and American landing in the North. There, the forces would link up with Russian soldiers and press south. In order to sell this subterfuge, Britain ordered dozens of double agents from Germany to report on the movements of the “4th Army,” a fake organization that would be a major force in the invasion.
Those second two units were real, and the 52nd had actually been training for a potential invasion of Norway. So Germany wasn’t completely crazy.
The British 4th Army was a field army in World War I, and military deception planners revived the unit in World War II on paper in order to create fake units to deceive German defenders.
(Imperial War Museum)
The American troops were supposedly talkative, and German agents were told stories of another infantry division and three Ranger battalions training in Iceland. German double agents there were told to verify this false intelligence, and they did. In the end, Germany thought 79 divisions were training in England for invasions when there were only 52, and they believed that the main target might be Norway.
Since Hitler was already obsessed with a Baltic invasion, all of this intel fed into his fears and demanded a response. And so one was given. 464,000 German troops were held in Norway to fight off an Allied invasion. While many would have been there regardless, 150,000 were otherwise “surplus” troops who likely would’ve been sent to France to combat the landings if Germany had known Norway was relatively safe.
There was also a Panzer division and 1,500 coastal defense guns, many of which could have been moved if Germany had better intelligence.
British forces land on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
(Sgt. Mapham J, No. 5 Army Film Photographic Unit)
All of this had a real effect for Allied troops on the French beaches. Combined with the success of the famous Ghost Army, deception operations towards the Balkans, and German missteps, the D-Day landings faced much less resistance than they otherwise would have.
While Germany was defending Normandy, Denmark, and Greece, it was getting pummeled in France.
This training video was shown to female soldiers in the 1970s to teach Army etiquette by comparing candidates for a coveted assignment.
Not surprisingly, the standards are sexist by modern standards. Candidates for the assignment are rated on how feminine and pretty they are. The office even agrees on the best performing member of the unit, but she’s knocked from the top spot for walking too much like a man. Another candidate lacks military discipline and is inefficient, but is easy to look at so she makes it into the top three.
The whole thing is two packs of cigarettes and an extra-marital affair away from being a ‘Mad Men’ episode. Check it out below.
On Dec. 18, 1944, Pfc. Harry Miller was cold, exhausted, and covered with grease. His hands were numb from the cold and he was bone tired after working all night. He and his fellow Soldiers from the 740th Tank Battalion had toiled around the clock to piece together three American tanks from an ordnance depot in Belgium.
With only the three refurbished tanks, Miller and the 740th was asked to stop the 1st SS Panzer Division, the German spearhead in the Battle of the Bulge.
Even before the Germans launched their surprise Ardennes offensive that December, Miller was not thinking about Christmas. His only thought was on keeping warm, he said. Northern Europe had been gripped by record-breaking cold.
When the German tank columns first approached, Miller and his fellow Soldiers were in Neufchateau, Belgium, but they had no tanks. At the beginning of the battle, the 740th was ordered to proceed to an ordnance depot in nearby Sprimont. Miller was hopeful, as he believed tanks would be issued at the depot. However, upon arrival, there were no functional tanks.
Depot personnel had left town in a hurry, leaving all of their equipment and tools behind. Miller and the 740th worked throughout the night and by morning, three tanks and a tank destroyer rolled out the gate. They were ordered to Stoumont to stop the German advance.
The 740th’s three tanks faced the lead element of Battle Group Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One M-1 Sherman tank fired and destroyed a German Panther. A second Sherman destroyed a second German tank. A third tank, a restored M-36, destroyed a third German tank. With the three German tanks out of action, and the narrow road blocked, the attacking German column retreated. Thus, a few restored tanks within their first one-half hour of combat had turned the tide of the German attack.
Miller was part of a specialized unit. A few days later he crewed one of six Sherman tanks that formed the Assault Gun Platoon. His tank had a 105mm gun.
Miller remembers the snowfall was especially heavy. Members of 82nd were cold and exhausted. Marching through four feet of snow was laborious. A few lucky Soldiers from the 82nd jumped on his tank to hitch a ride to avoid walking in the deep snow. Suddenly the tank took on enemy fire. When they heard audible dings from enemy bullets hitting the tank, the 82nd Soldiers scrambled off to take defensive positions.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. It was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II.
The 740th Tank Battalion was formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 1, 1943. It had mostly men from Texas and Oklahoma. They trained at Knox and at the Desert Training Center in Bouse, Arizona.
Miller is a veteran of 22 years in the Army and Air Force. The Columbus, Ohio-native had always wanted to serve in the Army and enlisted at the age of 15 in 1944. Besides being a veteran of World War ll, he served in the Korean War with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in the communications center.
Miller later served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War with the Strategic Air Command. He was in charge of codes and cryptology used for command missions, including bombing runs in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in January 1966 as a senior master sergeant and a communications operations superintendent.
Upon retirement, Miller worked as a private investigator, director of security and safety at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a safety inspector at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, where he again retired in January 1989. He took up jazz and swing drumming lessons at age 69 to play with Seattle, Washington bands.
Miller, 89, resides at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. He laments that out of 800 Soldiers from the 740th, only six were able to attend this year’s reunion on Labor Day.
Miller said he is proud of all of his military service and wishes he could do it all over again. He advises Soldiers who are serving today to stay in and retire.
During the Cold War, the U.S. government was hell-bent on one upping the commies in any way possible. In the process, they came up with a number of outlandish plans, such as that time they proposed nuking the moon, interestingly enough a project a young Carl Sagan worked on. There were also many more down to Earth projects like the development of what would become the internet in order to ensure ease of sharing information among the nation’s scientists. This brings us to a project that unfortunately went into history’s dustbin — the U.S. Army’s plan to build a massive military installation on the moon.
Known as Project Horizon, the impetus for the plan came when the Soviets set their sites on the moon. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “The Soviet Union in propaganda broadcasts has announced the 50th anniversary of the present government (1967) will be celebrated by Soviet citizens on the moon.”
U.S. National Space policy intelligence thought this was a little optimistic, but still felt that the Soviets could probably do it by 1968. Military brass deemed this a potential disaster for the United States for several reasons.
Concept art from NASA showing astronauts entering a lunar outpost.
To begin with, if the Soviets got to the moon first, they could potentially build their own military base there which they could use for a variety of secret projects safely away from the United States’ prying eyes. In the extreme, they could potentially launch nuclear attacks on the U.S. with impunity from that base.
Naturally, a military installation completely out of reach of your enemies both terrified and tantalized military officials.
Next up, if the Soviets landed on the moon first, they could try to claim the entire moon for themselves. If they did that, any move by the U.S. to reach the moon could potentially be considered an aggressive act, effectively making the moon off limits to the United States unless willing to risk war back home.
This was deemed to be a potential disaster as the moon, with its low gravity, was seen as a needed hub for launching deep space missions, as well as a better position to map and observe space from than Earth.
Beyond the practical, this would also see the Soviets not just claiming the international prestige of an accomplishment like landing and building a facility on the moon, but also countless other discoveries and advancements after, as they used the moon for scientific discovery and to more easily launch missions beyond.
Of course, the Soviets might do none of these things and allow the U.S. to use the moon as they pleased. But this wasn’t a guarantee. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “Clearly the US would not be in a position to exercise an option between peaceful and military applications unless we are first. In short, the establishment of the initial lunar outpost is the first definitive step in exercising our options.”
The threat of having the moon be in Soviet hands simply would not stand. As Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson would famously state in 1964, “I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon.”
Thus, long before Kennedy would make his famous May 25, 1961 declaration before Congress that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”, military brass in the U.S. were dead-set on not just man stepping foot on the moon, but building a military installation there and sticking around permanently.
And so it was that in March of 1959, Chief of Army Ordnance Major General John Hinrichs was tasked by Chief of Research and Development Lieutenant General Arthur G Trudeau with developing a detailed plan on what was needed to make such a moon base happen. A strict guideline of the plan was that it had to be realistic and, towards that end, the core elements of the plan had to use components and equipment either already developed or close to being completed.
To facilitate the outline for the project, Major General John B. Medaris stated, “We grabbed every specialist we could get our hands on in the Army.”
The resulting report published on June 9, 1959 went into an incredible amount of detail, right down to how the carbon dioxide would be scrubbed from the air at the base.
So what did they come up with?
To begin with, it was deemed the transport side could be accomplished using nothing more than Saturn 1 and Saturn 2 rockets. Specifically, 61 Saturn 1s and 88 Saturn 2s would transport around a total of 490,000 lbs of cargo to the moon. An alternative plan was to use these rockets to launch much of the cargo to a space station in high Earth orbit. These larger sections would then be ferried over to the moon using a dedicated ship that would go back and forth from the Earth to the moon.
The potential advantage here was that for the Saturn rockets to get equipment to the moon, they were limited to about 6000 pounds per trip on average. But if only transporting something to orbit, they could do much greater payloads, meaning fewer rockets needed. The problem, of course, was that this version of the plan required the development of a ferrying rocket and an orbiting space station, which made it the less desirable option. Again, a strict guideline for the project was that the core of the plan had to use existing or near existing equipment and technology in order to expedite the project and get to the moon before the Soviets.
Whichever method was used, once everything was on the moon, a pair of astronauts would be sent to inspect everything and figure out if anything needed replaced. The duration of this first moon landing by man was slated to be a 1-3 month stay.
Next up, whatever replacement items that needed to be sent would be delivered, and then once all that was set, a construction crew would be sent to complete the base. The general plan there was to use explosives and a specially designed space bulldozer/backhoe to create trenches to put the pre-built units into. Once in place, they would simply be attached together and buried in order to provide added protection from meteorites and potential attacks, among other benefits.
As for the features of this base, this included redundant nuclear reactors for power, as well as the potential to augment this with solar power for further redundancy. Various scientific laboratories would also be included, as well as a recreation room, hospital unit, housing quarters, and a section made for growing food in a sustainable way. This food would augment frozen and dehydrated foods supplied from Earth.
The base would also have extensive radio equipment to facilitate the moon functioning as a communications hub for the U.S. military back on Earth that could not be touched by any nation on Earth at the time. On a similar note, it would also function as a relay for deep space communications to and from Earth.
Beyond the core base itself, a moon truck capable of transporting the astronauts and equipment around was proposed, as well as placing bomb shelters all around the base for astronauts to hide in if needed. Water, oxygen, and hydrogen would ultimately be provided from the ice on the moon itself, not only sustaining the astronauts but potentially providing any needed fuel for rockets, again to help facilitate missions beyond the moon and transport back home to Earth.
Of course, being a military installation, it was deemed necessary for the 12 astronauts that were to be stationed at the base at all times to be able to defend themselves against attack. Thus, for their personal sidearms, a general design for a space-gun was presented, more or less being a sort of shotgun modified to work in space and be held and fired by someone in a bulky suit.
The astronauts would also be given many Claymore like devices to be stationed around the base’s perimeter or where deemed needed. These could be fired remotely and more or less just sent a hail of buckshot at high speed wherever they were pointed.
Thanks to the lesser gravity and lack of tangible atmosphere, both of these weapons would have incredible range, if perhaps not the most accurate things in the world.
Artist concept of a lunar colony.
But who needs accuracy when you have nuclear weapons? Yes, the astronauts would be equipped with those too, including the then under development Davey Crockett nuclear gun. Granted, thanks to the lack of atmosphere, the weapon wouldn’t be nearly as destructive as it would be on Earth, but the ionizing radiation kill zone was still around 300-500 meters.
Another huge advantage of the Davey Crockett on the moon was that the range was much greater, reducing the risk to the people firing it, and the whole contraption would only weigh a little over 30-40 pounds thanks to the moon’s lesser gravity, making it easier for the astronauts to cart around than on Earth.
Of course, being a space base, Project Horizon creators naturally included a death ray in its design. This was to be a weapon designed to focus a huge amount of sun rays and ionizing radiation onto approaching enemy targets. Alternatively, another death ray concept was to build a device that would shoot ionizing radiation at enemy soldiers or ships.
As for space suits, according to the Project Creators, despite being several years before the character would make his debut in the comics, they decided an Iron Man like suit was the way to go, rather than fabric based as NASA would choose. To quote the report,
For sustained operation on the lunar surface a body conformation suit having a substantial outer metal surface is considered a necessity for several reasons: (1) uncertainty that fabrics and elastomers can sustain sufficient pressure differential without unacceptable leakage; (2) meteoroid protection; (3) provides a highly reflective surface; (4) durability against abrasive lunar surface; (5) cleansing and sterilization… It should be borne in mind that while movement and dexterity are severe problems in suit design, the earth weight of the suit can be allowed to be relatively substantial. For example, if a man and his lunar suit weigh 300 pounds on earth, they will only weigh 50 pounds on the moon.
Along with death rays, nuclear guns, and badass space suits, no self respecting moon base could be governed by anything as quaint as a simply named committee or the like. No, Project Horizon also proposed creating a “Unified Space Command” to manage all facets of the base and its operation, along with further exploration in space, including potentially a fleet of space ships needed to achieve whatever objectives were deemed appropriate once the base was established.
As to the cost of this whole project, the report stated,
The total cost of the eight and one-half year program presented in this study is estimated to be six billion dollars (*about billion in 2019 dollars*). This is an average of approximately 0 million per year. These figured are a valid appraisal, and, while preliminary, they represent the best estimates of experienced, non-commercial, agencies of the government. Substantial funding is undeniably required for the establishment of a U. S. lunar outpost; however, the implications of the future importance of such an operation should be compared to the fact that the average annual funding required for Project HORIZON would be less than two percent of the current annual defense budget.
Of course, the reality is that the entire Apollo program ended up costing a little over billion, so this billion estimate likely would have ballooned to much greater levels had the base actually been built. That said, even massively more expensive, given the number of years, this would have still represented a relatively small portion of the United States’ annual defense budget, as noted.
Sadly, considering the initial plan was explicitly to make this a peaceful installation unless war broke out, meant mostly for scientific discovery, and considering what such a moon base would have meant for the direction of future space exploration, neither President Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor the American public had much interest in even going to the moon at all, let alone building a base there.
NASA conceptual illustration of a lunar base.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Greatest Generation was pretty non-enthusiastic about the whole space thing. In fact, even after Kennedy would make his famous speech before Congress and then at Rice University, a Gallup poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans were against the plan to land a man on the moon, generally seeing it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Sentiments did not greatly improve from there.
But Kennedy was having none of it, as outlined in his September 12, 1962 speech at Rice University:
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war… But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…
As for the U.S., as the initial glow of the accomplishment of putting a man on the moon rapidly wore off, and with public support almost nonexistent for further missions to the moon, it was deemed that taxpayer dollars would be much better spent for more down to Earth activities like spending approximately SEVEN TIMES the Apollo program’s entire cost sending older taxpayer’s children off to kill and be killed in Vietnam… a slightly less inspiring way to counter the communists. Thus, efforts towards the moon and beyond were mostly curtailed, with what limited funds were available for space activities largely shifted to the space shuttle program and more obviously practical missions closer to home, a move the Soviets quickly copied as well unfortunately.
A little talked about facet of Kennedy’s goal for landing on the moon was actually to have the Soviets and the U.S. join together in the effort. As Kennedy would state in the aforementioned Rice speech, “I… say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”
Unfortunately, each time Kennedy proposed for the U.S. and Soviets join efforts towards this unifying goal, which seemingly would have seen the Cold War become a lot less hot, the Soviets declined. That said, for whatever it’s worth, according to Sergei Khrushchev, the son of then Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev, while his father initial thought it unwise to allow the U.S. such intimate knowledge of their rocket technology, he supposedly eventually changed his mind and had decided to push for accepting Kennedy’s proposal. Said Sergei, “He thought that if the Americans wanted to get our technology and create defenses against it, they would do that anyway. Maybe we could get (technology) in the bargain that would be better for us…”
Sergei also claimed that his father also saw the benefit of better relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as a way to facilitate a massive cutback in military spending that was a huge drain on Soviet resources.
Sergei would further note that Kennedy’s assassination stopped plans to accept the offer, and the Johnson administration’s similar offer was rejected owing to Khrushchev not trusting or having the same respect for Johnson as he had developed for Kennedy.
Whatever the truth of that, thanks to declassified documents after the fall of the Soviet Union, we know that the Soviets were, in fact, originally not just planning to put a human on the moon, but also planning on building a base there as well. Called Zvezda, the planned Soviet moon installation was quite similar to the one outlined in Project Horizon, except instead of digging trenches, this base would simply be placed on the surface and then, if needs be, buried, but if not, the base was to be a large mobile platform to use to explore the moon.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
A lot of American troops find something to love about cultures they discover during their service. One World War I veteran left Ohio and discovered the magical history of Medieval Europe amid the fighting and squalor of the trenches. When he returned to the rolling hills next to Ohio’s Little Miami River, he decided to build that magic in his own backyard. Literally.
Complete with sword room.
Just north of Loveland, Ohio sits a structure that has no business standing in the American midwest. Harry D. Andrews began constructing a full-scale replica of the castle where his medical unit was stationed in Southern France. It was built brick-by-brick by Andrews himself on land he acquired from buying yearlong subscriptions to the Cincinnati newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, taking stones from the Little Miami River, and even using bricks formed from milk cartons.
It took him 50 years to complete the project.
Though it has come to be known as Loveland Castle, the building began its life as Chateau Laroche – French for “Rock Castle” – and Andrews was a huge fan of the Medieval Era of European History. As the Castle Museum’s website reads:
[It was built as] “an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower. It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope.”
Loveland Castle via Instagram
Harry D. Andrews was born in 1890 and served as a medic in France during World War I. While “over there,” he contracted spinal meningitis and was declared dead. Except that he was very much alive and in hospital at the actual Chateau La Roche in southwest France. It would take him six months to recover. By the time he was declared alive, the war was over, and his fiancée was married to someone else. So Andrews stayed in Europe and toured the castles. He never much cared for modern war and believed the weapons used by knights in the Medieval Era were much more fair to a fighting man.
That’s when Harry Andrews gave up on women and dedicated his life to recreating the Medieval Era right there in his native Ohio. As he built the castle, he also constructed a year-round hotbed garden, a secret room, and wrote a book about immigration. As a lifelong Boy Scout leader, he donated the castle to his scouts when he died in 1981. Called the “Knights of the Golden Trail,” they guard the castle to this day.
In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.
Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.
The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.
Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.
The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.
The British gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China, and soon ships based in colonial India were vigorously exchanging silver for tea and porcelain. But the British had a limited supply of silver.
Starting in in the mid-1700s, the British began trading opium grown in India in exchange for silver from Chinese merchants. Opium — an addictive drug that today is refined into heroin — was illegal in England, but was used in Chinese traditional medicine.
However, recreational use was illegal and not widespread. That changed as the British began shipping in tons of the drug using a combination of commercial loopholes and outright smuggling to get around the ban.
Chinese officials taking their own cut abetted the practice. American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium joined in the narcotics bonanza in the early 1800s. Consumption of opium in China skyrocketed, as did profits.
The Daoguang Emperor became alarmed by the millions of drug addicts — and the flow of silver leaving China. As is often the case, the actions of a stubborn idealist brought the conflict to a head. In 1839 the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu instituted laws banning opium throughout China.
He arrested 1,700 dealers, and seized the crates of the drug already in Chinese harbors and even on ships at sea. He then had them all destroyed. That amounted to 2.6 million pounds of opium thrown into the ocean. Lin even wrote a poem apologizing to the sea gods for the pollution.
Angry British traders got the British government to promise compensation for the lost drugs, but the treasury couldn’t afford it. War would resolve the debt.
But the first shots were fired when the Chinese objected to the British attacking one of their own merchant ships.
Chinese authorities had indicated they would allow trade to resume in non-opium goods. Lin Zexu even sent a letter to Queen Victoria pointing out that as England had a ban on the opium trade, they were justified in instituting one too.
It never reached her, but eventually did appear in the Sunday Times.
Instead, the Royal Navy established a blockade around Pearl Bay to protest the restriction of free trade … in drugs. Two British ships carrying cotton sought to run the blockade in November 1839. When the Royal Navy fired a warning shot at the second, The Royal Saxon, the Chinese sent a squadron of war junks and fire-rafts to escort the merchant.
HMS Volage‘s Captain, unwilling to tolerate the Chinese “intimidation,” fired a broadside at the Chinese ships. HMS Hyacinth joined in. One of the Chinese ships exploded and three more were sunk. Their return fire wounded one British sailor.
Seven months later, a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire. Chinese state troops — “bannermen” — were still equipped with matchlocks accurate only up to 50 yards and a rate of fire of one round per minute.
Antiquated Chinese warships were swiftly destroyed by the Royal Navy. British ships sailed up the Zhujiang and Yangtze rivers, occupying Shanghai along the way and seizing tax-collection barges, strangling the Qing government’s finances. Chinese armies suffered defeat after defeat.
When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms. The Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that Hong Kong would become a British territory, and that China would be forced to establish five treaty ports in which British traders could trade anything they wanted with anybody they wanted to. A later treaty forced the Chinese to formally recognize the British as equals and grant their traders favored status.
More war, more opium
Imperialism was on the upswing by the mid-1800s. France muscled into the treaty port business as well in 1843. The British soon wanted even more concessions from China — unrestricted trade at any port, embassies in Beijing and an end to bans on selling opium in the Chinese mainland.
One tactic the British used to further their influence was registering the ships of Chinese traders they dealt with as British ships.
The pretext for the second Opium War is comical in its absurdity. In October 1856, Chinese authorities seized a former pirate ship, the Arrow, with a Chinese crew and with an expired British registration. The captain told British authorities that the Chinese police had taken down the flag of a British ship.
The British demanded the Chinese governor release the crew. When only nine of the 14 returned, the British began a bombardment of the Chinese forts around Canton and eventually blasted open the city walls.
British Liberals, under William Gladstone, were upset at the rapid escalation and protested fighting a new war for the sake of the opium trade in parliament. However, they lost seats in an election to the Tories under Lord Palmerston. He secured the support needed to prosecute the war.
China was in no position to fight back, as it was then embroiled in the devastating Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising led by a failed civil-service examinee claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels had nearly seized Beijing and still controlled much of the country.
Once again, the Royal Navy demolished its Chinese opponents, sinking 23 junks in the opening engagement near Hong Kong and seizing Guangzhou. Over the next three years, British ships worked their way up the river, capturing several Chinese forts through a combination of naval bombardment and amphibious assault.
France joined in the war — its excuse was the execution of a French missionary who had defied the ban on foreigners in Guangxi province. Even the United States became briefly involved after a Chinese fort took pot shots at long distance at an American ship.
In the Battle of the Pearl River Forts, a U.S. Navy a force of three ships and 287 sailors and marines took four forts by storm, capturing 176 cannons and fighting off a counterattack of 3,000 Chinese infantry. The United States remained officially neutral.
Russia did not join in the fighting, but used the war to pressure China into ceding a large chunk of its northeastern territory, including the present-day city of Vladivostok.
When foreign envoys drew up the next treaty in 1858 the terms, were even more crushing to the Qing Dynasty’s authority. Ten more cities were designated as treaty ports, foreigners would have free access to the Yangtze river and the Chinese mainland, and Beijing would open embassies to England, France and Russia.
The Xianfeng Emperor at first agreed to the treaty, but then changed his mind, sending Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to man the Taku Forts on the waterway leading to Beijing. The Chinese repelled a British attempt to take the forts by sea in June 1859, sinking four British ships. A year later, an overland assault by 11,000 British and 6,700 French troops succeeded.
When a British diplomatic mission came to insist on adherence to the treaty, the Chinese took the envoy hostage, and tortured many in the delegation to death. The British High Commissioner of Chinese Affairs, Lord Elgar, decided to assert dominance and sent the army into Beijing.
British and French rifles gunned down 10,000 charging Mongolian cavalrymen at the Battle of Eight Mile Bridge, leaving Beijing defenseless. Emperor Xianfeng fled. In order to wound the Emperor’s “pride as well as his feeling” in the words of Lord Elgar, British and French troops looted and destroyed the historic Summer Palace.
The new revised treaty imposed on China legalized both Christianity and opium, and added Tianjin — the major city close to Beijing — to the list of treaty ports. It allowed British ships to transport Chinese indentured laborers to the United States, and fined the Chinese government eight million silver dollars in indemnities.
The Western presence in China became so ubiquitous, and so widely detested, that an anti-Western popular revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, broke out in 1899. The hapless Qing Dynasty, under the stewardship of Dowager Empress Cixi, first tried to clamp down on the violence before throwing its support behind it — just in time for a multi-national military force of U.S., Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, French, Japanese and British troops to arrive and put down the rebellion.
It then spent an entire year looting Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding countryside in reprisal.
‘Century of Humiliation’
It’s hard to over-emphasize the impact of the Opium Wars on modern China. Domestically, it’s led to the ultimate collapse of the centuries-old Qing Dynasty, and with it more than two millennia of dynastic rule. It convinced China that it had to modernize and industrialize.
Today, the First Opium War is taught in Chinese schools as being the beginning of the “Century of Humiliation” — the end of that “century” coming in 1949 with the reunification of China under Mao. While Americans are routinely assured they are exceptional and the greatest country on Earth by their politicians, Chinese schools teach students that their country was humiliated by greedy and technologically superior Western imperialists.
The Opium Wars made it clear China had fallen gravely behind the West — not just militarily, but economically and politically. Every Chinese government since — even the ill-fated Qing Dynasty, which began the “Self-Strengthening Movement” after the Second Opium War — has made modernization an explicit goal, citing the need to catch up with the West.
The Japanese, observing events in China, instituted the same discourse and modernized more rapidly than China did during the Meiji Restoration.
Mainland Chinese citizens still frequently measure China in comparison to Western countries. Economic and quality of life issues are by far their main concern. But state media also holds military parity as a goal.
I once saw a news program on Chinese public television boasting about China’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning— before comparing it to an American carrier. “They’re saying ours is still a lot smaller,” a high school student pointed out to me. “And we have only one.”
Through most of Chinese history, China’s main threat came from nomadic horse-riding tribes along its long northern border. Even in the Cold War, hostility with the Soviet Union made its Mongolian border a security hot spot. But the Opium Wars — and even worse, the Japanese invasion in 1937 — demonstrated how China was vulnerable to naval power along its Pacific coast.
China’s aggressive naval expansion in the South China Sea can be seen as the acts of a nation that has succumbed repeatedly to naval invasions — and wishes to claims dominance of its side of the Pacific in the 21st century.
The history with opium also has led China to adopt a particularly harsh anti-narcotics policy with the death penalty applicable even to mid-level traffickers. Drug-trafficking and organized crime remain a problem, however. The explosion of celebrity culture in China has also led to punitive crackdowns on those caught partaking in “decadent lifestyles,” leading to prominent campaigns of public shaming.
For example, in 2014 police arrested Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan, for possessing 100 grams of marijuana. His father stated he wouldn’t plead for his son to avoid imprisonment.
Past history does not always determine future actions. Chinese sentiments toward the United Kingdom today are generally positive despite the Opium Wars. The escalating military confrontation over the South China Sea is a reality of our times, but that doesn’t mean China’s leaders will forever be committed to a strategy of expansion and confrontation.
Nonetheless, fostering better relations requires that we understand how China’s current foreign policy has it roots in past encounters with the West.