The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

There aren’t a lot of places in the world that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency hasn’t been. Communist China became one of those places almost as soon as the agency was created. But for the Dalai Lama, they made an exception.

For much of the CIA’s formative years, it was locked in a struggle to stop the spread of Communism anywhere in the world. One of its earliest stops was the newly “liberated” Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet. 

In 1950, China and Tibet were in diplomatic talks over the future of an independent, sovereign Tibet. China, now headed by the Chinese Communist Party, held that Tibet was part of China and sought to incorporate it. Anything else would lead to war. It was either a great negotiation tactic or a terrible one. 

A map of Tibet where the Dalai Lama is from.
The area in red represents Tibet, the region that has been fiercely disputed for decades.

But Chairman Mao would soon have an ace up his sleeve. As the talks continued, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army advanced into Tibet, captured the town of Qamdo, and occupied it. The Tibetan Army was weak and obsolete in the face of PLA forces fresh from winning the Chinese Civil War. The PLA held their positions as word got to the Tibetan delegation at the ongoing talks in India.

Negotiators were sent to Beijing in 1951, where they were presented with the Seventeen Point Agreement. Under threat of force, Tibet would become part of China.For its part, China guaranteed religious freedom and that the government, including the Dalai Lama, would remain in place. The Chinese Communist Party run Tibet’s defense and international affairs.

The Chinese did not allow for negotiations or for the delegates to confer with the Tibetan government.

The mountains of Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is from
The mountains of Tibet

With the agreement signed, the PLA marched into the Tibetan capital at Lhasa in what the Chinese call the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” As Communist land reforms began to be implemented, however, Tibetans began to fight back.

Those resistance fighters were trained by the CIA’s Special Activities Division, who had been in Tibet for years. Tibetan fighters were trained in Colorado, Saipan, Nepal, and India in order to slow the spread of Chinese authority and sap the strength of the PLA. The 60,000 troops necessary to occupy Tibet required massive resources from Beijing and the CIA was happy to keep those troops busy.

Gyalo Thondup, brother to the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama reached out to the Americans from exile in India and helped coordinate the effort. Fighting broke out in 1956, as Tibetan rebe;s began destroying Chinese government offices and killing Communist officials. China responded by bombing a monastery. 

In 1959, rumor spread that China was planning to kidnap the Dalai Lama and remove him from the country. Tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets in protest and revolt. Though the PLA responded by killing scores of them in retaliation, the rebels were able to shuttle the Lama out of Lhasa. 

The Dalai Lama in his red robes

Tibetan resistance fighters smuggled him out of the city dressed as a common soldier and into the countryside where rebels had taken control of the area. There, they met with CIA-trained rebels who secured passage to India for the Tibetan leader. Only the CIA knows how he managed to escape the country.

When the Chinese discovered the Dalai Lama escaped, they killed even more Tibetans, allegedly stacking bodies in the street like “cordwood.”

After the 1959 uprising, China began to aggressively expand Communist influence in Tibet’s government while turning the tide against the Tibetan rebels. As the PLA began to advance, Tibetans fled their country for India and Nepal. The CIA stepped up its efforts in Tibet, supplying trained commandos, along with arms, munitions, and other supplies.

The clandestine undermining of Chinese efforts there continued until 1974, when President Richard Nixon changed U.S. policy toward China.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.


Check Out USAToday’s Draft Number Calculator.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
A U.S. soldier turns to give instructions as firing continues in front of him during Operation Byrd.

The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.

Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
It was seriously a draft lottery.

Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.

Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.

They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
Carter pardoned draft dodgers the day after his inauguration.

Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US Marine Wayne Terwilliger charged a Japanese tank head-on

The nose of their amphibious tank entered the ocean and bobbed through the waves en route toward the reef of Saipan, the largest archipelago among the Northern Mariana Islands. Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, a radioman assigned to the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, watched helplessly as they crept over the reef toward the beach into the range of Japanese defensive positions.

“I started seeing these puffs of water all around us, and it took a second to realize what was causing them,” Terwilliger wrote in his autobiography. “Then we heard small arms fire hitting our tank, and the reality sank in: there were people on that island who wanted us dead.”


Prior to the invasion of Saipan, U.S. Navy frogmen conducted a daring reconnaissance mission in advance of the assault force. Valuable intelligence collected had provided the amphibious tanks with adjustments to successfully land on the beach — but they didn’t anticipate how their tracked vehicles would navigate earth displaced by battlefield weaponry in combat.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Wayne Terwilliger, third from the left, on the beach at Saipan during a shelling attack, June 1944. The photo ran in newspapers across the country; in 2000, it appeared as background on a sheet of commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

While the amphibious tanks attempted to land on the beach, some were destroyed and others became trapped in craters left from mortar shells in the sand. “Japanese mortars kept whistling over our heads,” Terwilliger said, describing his first hours in combat stuck inside a large, green, immobilized target. “Most of them were headed toward the beach area, but we never knew when one would come our way. We also had no idea how long we’d be stuck there. We were there at least a couple of hours, though it seemed like forever.”

Terwilliger’s crew left the disabled tank and scattered, diving into foxholes situated out of the open. Gunfire snapped overhead, and explosions from mortars and grenades flung a wall of shrapnel through the air. Before they could catch their breath the rumbling sound of an unfamiliar tank grew nearer. Their horror realized Japanese armor with the big red “Rising Sun” emblem on the tank’s side was blasting its 37mm turret gun and had stopped directly beside their foxhole.

With nothing more than a few hand grenades, his crew couldn’t defend themselves. They pulled the pins and hurled them at the tank before fleeing for cover, but there wasn’t any within crawling distance. Terwilliger ran under heavy fire across open ground until he reached an old Japanese artillery piece. His stomach dropped when he realized he had run the wrong way. He found a little path, as if all of the enemy’s attention was upon him, and sprinted toward the beach as bullets zipped passed. He looked over his shoulder to find the Japanese tank trailing his every move.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, front left, with Company D, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion, which was created to lead the assault on key islands in the South Pacific. They fought at Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima, and were preparing for new battles when the war ended. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

He zigzagged through the soft sand to give the tank a harder target to hit. Marines waved and yelled to get his attention, and he dashed over a small sand dune for cover. “I looked back just in time to see one of our tanks made a direct hit, which knocked the Japanese tank on its side,” Terwilliger reflected. “That was my first six or seven hours of combat.”

Terwilliger served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps, participating in the invasion of Tinian, as well as being among the first amphibious tanks to lead the invasion of Iwo Jima. During World War II, many amateur and professional baseball players joined service teams when not actively participating in combat operations.

“We didn’t have any spikes so we played in the boots the Marines issued us,” Terwilliger told ESPN. “You would have an air-raid sound during the game, you would scatter and then come back later to finish.” Terwilliger helped lead his battalion team to a 28-0 record, even winning the 2nd Division Championship — not bad for a high school second baseman.

When news of Japan’s surrender in 1945 came in, Terwilliger was in Hawaii, preparing to invade mainland Japan. He left the military that same year and went on to have a successful career as a player, coach, and manager in Major League Baseball. For 60 years, taking Terwilliger well into his 80s, he remained active in America’s national pastime. He was a teammate of Jackie Robinson — the first Black player to break the color barrier — and a personal friend of Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball. However, Terwilliger’s most prized experience was his service as a U.S. Marine.

BRCC Presents: WWII Army Ranger Roy Huereque & The Best Defense Foundation

www.youtube.com

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

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This American warrior was always ‘ready for the assault’

Few men experienced such heroic military service in the 19th century as did William Trousdale of Tennessee.


Riddled with battle scars by the time of his death in March, 1872, the backwoodsman would earn the nickname “Sumner County’s War Horse” after fighting against Creek and Seminole Indians and British and Mexican soldiers for over 30 years of service. Trousdale served under the immortal Andrew Jackson, and declined an generalship from the legendary leader saying, “I value the compliment, but decline the appointment, as I desire no connection with the army except in times of war.”

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
William Trousdale’s grave Lincoln-like appearance was backed by a cool demeanor, serving him well as a politician and on the battlefield. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

William Trousdale was born in North Carolina on September 23, 1790. At the age of 6, his father James — a Scotch-Irish officer who served under Gen. George Washington — emigrated with his family from North Carolina to Tennessee after the American Revolution. In the uncompromising landscape of the Tennessee frontier, young Trousdale matured into adulthood “amid the trying experiences of rude pioneer life,” and became familiar “with privation and inured to hardship.” Despite his Spartan upbringing, he proved to be an excellent student, pouring over history books, biographies, and Shakespeare’s dramas.

His first call to arms came in 1813. At 23, he volunteered for service as a private in Capt. William Edwards’ company in the Second Regiment of Volunteer Mounted Riflemen and fought at the Battles of Tallushatchee (Davy Crockett also fought there) and Talladega under Andrew Jackson during the Red Stick Creek War. In one incident shortly after he received a promotion to lieutenant, Trousdale traversed the rushing and high currents of the Tennessee River on horseback, on a special mission from Jackson, despite the fact he could not swim and nearly up to his waist in water. He journeyed in this manner for nearly three miles until he completed his daring mission.

Trousdale returned home soon after, but was thrust back into war when the British burned the U.S. capital in August of 1814. He rejoined his regiment under Jackson in November of 1814, and marched to Pensacola, Florida, as part of the American expedition attempting to drive out a unified Britain, Spanish, and Creek Indian detachment. When a single gun positioned in the city’s street threatened to decimate the American ranks, Trousdale “with several other daring spirits,” charged the gun head-on and captured it.

Fort San Miguel still held out and a forlorn assault was prepared for the next day. A call was made for volunteers, and not a man stepped forward dreading the task of marching into the “very jaws of certain death.” Trousdale suddenly “broke the silence by proclaiming himself ready for the assault” and stepped forward, leading others to follow his bold example. Fortunately for the Americans, the British evacuated the fort the next day removing the need for a frontal assault.

Jackson’s command moved to New Orleans from Pensacola when a British expedition prepared to make an amphibious landing near the city. There Trousdale fought as one of the many motley Americans who defended the city of New Orleans against a professionally trained British invasion force in January of 1815.

Trousdale returned to Tennessee and resumed the study of law. Admitted to the bar in 1820, he also chose to enter politics, but the Second Seminole War interrupted his civilian pursuits. He was soon elected colonel of the Second Regiment of Tennessee Mounted Volunteers and led a storming party over a heavily defended hammock at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp in November of 1836.

During the action it was recorded that, “Colonel Trousdale vainly attempted to force his horse through the closely matted vines and shrubbery, and in the midst of a terrific shower of rifle balls leaped from his horse, seized his holsters, and on foot bade his command ‘follow him.’ They did follow him and, hand to hand, struggled with the foe in the hammock and came out victorious.”

When war broke out with Mexico 10 years later, he received an appointment as colonel of the newly organized Fourteenth Infantry Regiment from President James K. Polk. He led his regiment at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco outside of Mexico City in August of 1847.

At the bloody Battle of Molino del Rey on September 8, a Mexican bullet pierced Trousdale’s shoulder, and he also had his horse shot from under him. Despite his minor wound, Trousdale led his regiment in the assault on Chapultepec Castle four days later. He received two more wounds in the right arm in this battle, but refused to leave the field, and only allowed the wound to be treated after an American victory had been secured. He received praise after the war from President Polk for his “gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Chapultepec,” and was brevetted a brigadier general.

Following the conflict, he served as the governor of Tennessee and as a minister to Brazil. He died at the age of eighty-one years old of pneumonia on March 27, 1872, ending a long and illustrious career volunteering his services to his home state and country.

Trousdale’s exploits remain unknown to most Americans today. Upon his death, the Fayetteville Observer made a proclamation that may still hold true even 140 years later: “While the past generation revere his reputation, the rising youth may find his virtues a study; in his acts, an example worthy of imitation.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate spy got away with treason

Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.

Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted. 

This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.

“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History

Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson. 

She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case. 

The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.

“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org

This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.

In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.

By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.

In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.

If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:

“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Vietnam draft actually worked

Winning the lottery has likely never crossed your mind to be anything short of a celebration of newfound riches. Yet, for American men born before 1958, finding your number selected at random on television didn’t generally translate to wealth.

Ever wondered how the Vietnam draft actually worked? We’re combing through the history pages to find out just how birthdates and the Selective Service System mattered throughout the 20th century.


The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Your grandfather, father and I

Coming of age doesn’t come close to holding the same meaning as it did for the nearly 72 million “baby boomers” born into the Vietnam era draft. Requirements for registration varied over the decades, ranging from eligible age ranges beginning at 21 and eventually lowering to age 18.

Uncle Sam had called upon its fighting-age citizens as far back as anyone alive could recall, as both World Wars and the Korean War utilized draftees. The Selective Service Act of 1917 reframed the process, outlawing clauses like purchasing and expanding upon deferments. Military service was something that, voluntary or not, living generations had in common.

Low was high and high was low

When the lottery took effect, men were assigned a number between 1 and 366. (365 days per year plus one to account for leap year birthdays.) In 1969, a September 14birthday was assigned a number 001. Group 001 birthdays would be the first group to be called upon. May 5 birthdays were assigned number 364 or would have been the 364group to be required to report. Even if called upon, screenings for physical limitations, felony convictions or other legal grounds resulted in candidate rejection.

This method was determined to be a “more fair and equitable process” of selecting eligible candidates for service. Local draft boards, who determined eligibility and filled previous quotas for induction, had been criticized for selecting poor or minority classes over-educated or affluent candidates.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Grade “A” American prime candidates

In addition to a selection group, eligible males were also assigned a rating. These classifications were used between 1948 and 1976 and are available to view on the Selective Service System’s website.

1-A- eligible for military service.

1A-O- Conscientious Objector. Several letter assignments are utilized for various circumstances a conscientious objector may fall under.

4-G- Sole surviving son in a family where parent or sibling died as a result of capture or holds POW-MIA status.

3-A- Hardship deferment. Hardship would cause undue hardship upon the family.

Requests for reclassification, deferments, and postponements for educational purposes or hardships required candidates to fill out and submit a form to the Selective Service.

Dodging or just “getting out of dodge”

Options for refusing service during Vietnam varied. Frequently called “draft dodgers” referred to those who not just objected, but literally dodged induction. Not showing up, fleeing to Canada, going AWOL while in service or acts such as burning draft cards were all cards played to avoid Vietnam.

Failing to report held consequences ranging from fines, ineligibility of certain benefits, to imprisonment. In what has widely been viewed as a controversial decision, President Jimmy Carter pardoned hundreds of thousands of “draft dodgers” eliminating the statuses like “deserter” from countless files.

Researching the history of “the draft” in American history dates back to that of the Civil War. While spanning back generations and several wars, the Vietnam era draft is still viewed as the most controversial and widely discussed period in its history.

In case you’re wondering, The Selective Service System’s website still exists, as men are still required to register even today.

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Repeating rifles ‘saved 1,000 lives’ in their combat debut

The Spencer Repeating Rifle was originally considered a useless expense by the U.S. War Department who thought the rifles were too expensive and that they would encourage wasteful firing by soldiers on the lines.


But in the rifle’s combat debut, a Union brigade took an important gap and held it against overwhelming numbers, causing XIV Corps Commander Maj. Gen. George Thomas to declare that the men and their rifles had “saved the lives of a thousand men.”

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
Union Col. John T. Wilder outfitted his men with the Spencer Repeating Rifle after the War Department refused to do so. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Union Col. John T. Wilder was an early believer in the Spencer Repeating Rifle, a new weapon design that allowed a soldier to load seven pre-made cartridges instead of pouring powder and loading each round between shots as muskets required.

This gave a soldier carrying a repeating rifle the capability of firing 14-20 well-aimed shots per minute against the 2-3 shots per minute of other troops.

But while Wilder and other officers were eager to try the repeating rifle, the War Department refused to purchase them. Wilder, eager to outfit his mounted infantry brigade with the new weapons, organized funding through his hometown bank.

On the morning of June 24, 1863, Wilder’s mounted infantry brigade was sent as the vanguard of an attack toward Manchester, Tennessee. The first step of the attack was securing mountain passes and Wilder’s brigade was ordered toward’s Hoover’s Gap, the most direct route to Manchester.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
The Tullahoma Campaign began with Col. John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade taking Hoover’s Gap and ended with Union forces driving the Confederates from Middle Tennessee. (Map: Hal Jespersen, CC BY 3.0)

The mounted infantrymen rode hard ahead of the rest of Union forces, arriving near the gap and encountering the first elements of Confederate resistance at noon. According to Col. James Connolly, a regimental commander in the brigade, that was when the brigade really got going.

While the corps commanders expected to capture the gap in the following days, Wilder wanted to push the brigade through the gap before the Confederates could reinforce it. Then, Wilder and his men would hold the gap until the rest of the Union army could catch up. Wilder sent Connolly’s regiment on a headlong dash through the gap.

Connolly and his men scattered a regiment of Confederate cavalry and pushed into the gap at a full gallop. He later wrote:

… the valley is barely wide enough to admit the passage of two wagons side by side, and the hills upon either side command the valley completely; as we swept through the valley with our 1,500 horsemen on a gallop we noticed the lines of entrenchments crowning the hills, but they were deserted; the enemy was surprised and flying before us, so we pushed onward until we passed entirely through the “Gap,” when a puff of white smoke from a hill about half a mile in front of us, then a dull heavy roar, then the shrieking of a shell told us we could advance no further as we had reached their infantry and artillery force.

The Union brigade was six miles ahead of its planned limit of advance and approximately 12 miles ahead of its reinforcements, who would have to march through deep mud and up steep hills to reach them.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
The Spencer Repeating Rifle allowed seven shots between reloads. (Photo: En-Wiki F-35, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, the single Union brigade faced a counterattacking force of four Confederate infantry brigades and four artillery batteries.

The Union forces sent their horses to the rear and set up a line of battle on a hill overlooking the southern entrance to the gap. Connolly and his men set up a position supporting the single, light artillery battery the Union had.

The Confederate guns opened a bombardment of the Union soldiers and rebel infantry began marching on the Union artillery battery. Connolly and his men watched the enemy march towards them and then opened fire with their Spencer repeating rifles.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists
This is the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Included because no one commissioned a painting of the Lightning Brigade at Hoover’s Gap, but we need some kind of battle imagery here. (Painting: Don Troiani courtesy of the National Guard)

Their first volley of fire cut through the Confederate ranks, but the rebels outnumbered the Union soldiers approximately four to one. The Confederates recovered their colors from the ground and resumed charging.

But the Confederates didn’t know about repeating rifles. The Union quickly fired another volley, and then another, until, in Connolly’s words, “the poor regiment was literally cut to pieces, and but few men of that 20th Tennessee that attempted the charge will ever charge again.”

Riders arrived at the battle and relayed orders to Wilder to withdraw his men, but Wilder ignored the orders and insisted that his men could hold the line.

The fight continued — with the numerically superior Confederates trying to push the Union soldiers off but being cut down by the fire from the Spencers — until after 7 p.m. when Union reinforcements began arriving.

Another artillery battery set up near the exit from the gap and infantry began taking positions near Wilder’s brigade on the hills.

Corps Commander Maj. Gen. George Thomas met Wilder and told him, “You have saved the lives of a thousand men by your gallant conduct today. I didn’t expect to get this Gap for three days.”

Wilder and his men had inflicted over 200 casualties on the Confederates while suffering fifty-one deaths of their own. This four-to-one advantage in casualties came despite an exact opposite disadvantage in troop numbers.

Wilder’s brigade was honored with a new nickname, “The Lightning Brigade.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 disgusting diseases older troops had to worry about

So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.

If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!


The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.

(Popular Science Magazine)

Trench fever

Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.

It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Literal blue balls (thanks to genital lesions!)

We’re not including a photo here for obvious reasons. A soft chancre is an “infectious, painful, ragged venereal ulcer” that develops at the site of Haemophilus ducreyi. The bacteria can also cause “buboes, or ‘blue balls'” according to a 1918 pamphlet issued by the War Department.

After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.

The clap and syphilis

While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.

And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.

Tuberculosis

Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.

It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.

(Public domain)

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever, caused by salmonella that infects the intestines, was a huge problem in the Civil War and World War I. Back then, the particularly bad sanitation practices allowed fecal material from infected troops to make it into the food and into the digestive tracts of healthy ones. It triggered skin lesions, diarrhea or constipation, trouble breathing, and fever, among other symptoms.

In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.

War nephritis

Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.

While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.

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This is your intestines on dysentery.

Dysentery

Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.

So, yeah, pretty horrible. And troops shifting between different fronts and battlefields in World War I allowed different versions of the disease to reach new places and vulnerable populations. Today, it’s easier to diagnose and treat, but the best safeguard is good hygiene and sanitation.

“Soldier’s heart” or effort syndrome

Effort syndrome, also known as “soldier’s heart syndrome,” wasn’t well understood, but it was a tendency for soldiers in the Civil War and World War I to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and cold extremities. It’s thought that the syndrome may have been caused by a previous disease, like fever, jaundice, dysentery, etc. combining with the stress and rigors of war.

Over 36,000 troops were discharged in World War I for heart ailments.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first combat qualified female naval aviator died in a crazy accident

When Lt. Kara Hultgreen died while trying to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the event touched off a national debate about women in combat roles and the military pushing women who weren’t ready into active service. Except Hultgreen was more than qualified to be a naval aviator – she was just a victim of a well-known deficiency in the F-14’s Pratt & Whitney engine.


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“Top Gun” doesn’t mention engine deficiencies.

Hultgreen’s mom thought she would be the perfect debutante. Instead, her little Kara set out to be a Naval Aviator, flying the F-14 Tomcat. The goal didn’t stop at the F-14, Kara Hultgreen wanted to be an astronaut one day. But she didn’t start with the Tomcat, she started her career flying the less-pretty EA-6A. She made it to the Tomcat 18 months later.

“Yes, it’s a macho job in a number of ways,” she told Woman Pilot magazine before she died. “But that’s not why I wanted to do it. I did this to become a fighter pilot. It makes me feel no less feminine and it should not make men feel less masculine. The F-14 is a humbling jet and I’ve been humbled.”

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Call Sign: “Revlon”

What she meant by being humbled is that Hultgreen narrowly failed her first attempt at F-14 carrier qualification. But she passed easily her second time around, ranking third in her class overall. Tragically, it was a similar event that would result in her death.

On Oct. 25, 1994, she was attempting to land her F-14 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. She overshot the landing area’s centerline and attempted to correct the mistake. Her correction disrupted the airflow into her Tomcat’s left engine, which caused it to fail. This was a known deficiency in that particular engine. What she did next caused the plane to tilt over to the left. When her Radar Intercept Officer realized the plane was not recoverable, he initiated the plane’s ejection sequences. He was fired out, and .4 seconds later, Hultgreen was fired out of the plane.

But by then, the Tomcat had turned over by 90 degrees and Hultgreen was launched into the ocean, killing her instantly.

By the time she died, Lt. Hultgreen had more than 1,240 hours of flying time in the F-14 Tomcat and had landed on a carrier some 58 times, 17 times at night. She was ranked first in defending the fleet from simulated attacks by enemy aircraft and in air refueling, and second in tactics to evade enemy aircraft and in combined familiarization with tactics and aircraft. The Aerospace Engineer was a Distinguished Naval Graduate of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.

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Yet, despite all of her achievements, training, and preparation, there were some who blamed the military for her death, alleging her superiors overlooked her mistakes in training in trying to beat the Air Force in training the first female fighter pilot. One group, the Center for Military Readiness, claimed to have obtained Hultgreen’s training records in 1995, records which they said would have disqualified her as an aviator.

These records are contradicted by records released from Hultgreen’s family the year prior, however. Her colleagues and fellow pilots praised her performance as a naval aviator and reminded people that 10 F-14 pilots were killed in accidents between the years of 1992 and 1994. Hultgreen once even brought an EA-6A Intruder to a safe landing, despite flying it with crippled landing gear.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This World War II battlefield will disappear forever

The 1943 Battle of Tarawa was the first of the Central Pacific Campaign. There, 18,000 Marines fought a bloody, 76-hour battle to seize the heavily fortified Tarawa Atoll from 4,500 Japanese defenders, wading through hundreds of yards of surf and scrambling for cover on the nearly flat islands.


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Marines take cover on the beaches of Tarawa while planning their next move forward. Conquering Tarawa would take 76 hours and cost thousands of lives.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Now, the nation of Kiribati, as the former British territory is known today, is expected to be completely underwater within a few decades, including all the territory of its capital, Tarawa.

Importantly for Marine Corps historians, that means that one of World War II’s most bloody and important battlefields will disappear under the waves — with Marine remains and artifacts still on it.

The 1943 battle for the island began with a massive naval artillery bombardment that failed to dislodge most of the pillboxes, obstacles, and defenders on the island. When troops landed on November 20, underwater obstacles in the form of coral reefs, sandbars, and other barriers caused landing craft to get stuck out at sea.

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The assault on Tarawa was a nightmare. Shallow waters led to gently sloping beaches and hundreds of yards of obstacles — all factors that favored the Japanese defenders.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Those who could rode their boats all the way to shore, but men who were stuck eventually waded through chest-deep water for hundreds of yards while under machine gun fire. When the Marines finally reached the beach, they struggled to find good cover on an island where the highest elevation was about 10 feet above sealevel.

Undeterred, the Marines fought through barbed wire and Japanese attackers. On the second day, they were able to land tanks and artillery and punch out from the beach, starting their campaign across the tiny island.

At the end of the three-day battle, the Marines had suffered almost 3,000 casualties, including many men marked missing in action who were either washed out to sea or lost in the sand dunes and vegetation. Of the 4,500 Japanese defenders, there were only 17 survivors left. Most fought to the death as there was no way to escape the island.

Four men earned Medals of Honor during the fighting.

After the war, the Kiribati Islands reverted to British control and then became a sovereign country in 1979. The U.S. signed a treaty of friendship later that year and then established full diplomatic relations in 1980. Since then, the relationship has been friendly if not exactly close.

The State Department says that they actively cooperate with Kiribati to repatriate the remains of Marines when discovered on Tarawa or on any other island within the nation.

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Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexander Bonneyman, Jr., thought to be fourth from the right, and his men attack a Japanese position on Tarawa. Bonneyman posthumously received the Medal of Honor and his remains were recovered from Tarawa in 2015.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Obie Newcomb)

The remains of 139 service members were discovered and repatriated in 2015. One of those repatriated was 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.

In 2017, another 24 remains were discovered and returned.

500 American service members were thought lost on the island, meaning that the remains of hundreds may still be hidden there.

Unfortunately, much of Kiribati rises in elevation no more than 10 feet, meaning that it will be one of the first nations wiped out by rising seas.

Another island nation and World War II battle site under threat is the Marshall Islands, where 400 Americans died seizing the strategic islets from Japanese defenders.

Luckily, these were well-documented battles. Historians have recovered many documents and interviewed survivors of each, and With the Marines at Tarawa was an Academy Award-winning documentary produced during the invasion. So, future generations will still see evidence of the Marine Corps’ sacrifice.

But any historians who need additional evidence from the islands better get to work soon. Time is ticking.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the first woman to ever join the French Foreign Legion

Throughout the bloody and horrific history of human warfare, there are tons of stories of heroism in the face of great danger. Troops all over the world have been willing to risk life and limb to ensure the safety of others and that’s worth celebrating. Everyone knows about war heroes like John Basilone, but how many of you know about Susan Travers? If you don’t, you should.

Susan Travers, quite simply, was one badass woman. She left behind a pampered life and a wealthy family to do something great. One thing led to another and she eventually became the only woman to ever be allowed to join the prestigious French Foreign Legion, which only allowed male foreign nationals.

Here’s how she went from the daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral and heiress to being one of the most badass women in all of history:


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A Finnish ski patrol, lying in the snow on the outskirts of a wood in Northern Finland, on the alert for Russian troops, January 12, 1940.

(Imperial War Museums)

The Winter War

Travers initially joined up as a nurse, but quickly realized she didn’t like the sight of blood or sickness and subsequently became an ambulance driver with the French Expeditionary Force. She was sent to Finland to assist during their Winter War against the Soviets, but everything changed when France fell to the Nazis.

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Parade of the 13th DBLE through Roman ruins in Lambaesis, Algeria.

General De Gaulle’s Free French Forces

When the Nazis took France, Travers went to London to get in the fight. There, she was attached to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion. It was there she shed her disgust for blood and gore and became accustomed to the rough life of a warfighting badass. She earned the nickname “La Miss” from her male comrades. This was when she started driving for higher-ups.

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower with Gen. Pierre Koenig, Military Commander General of Paris, and Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley. August 27, 1944.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

1st Free French Brigade

After spending several months as a driver for senior officers and demonstrating her extreme aptitude for navigating the most dangerous conditions, including minefields and rocket attacks, she was assigned as the driver for the Commanding Officer of the 1st Free French Brigade, Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig.

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Free French Foreign Legionnaires “leap up from the desert to rush an enemy strong point”, Bir Hacheim, June 12, 1942.

(Photo by Chetwyn Len)

Fort of Bir Hakeim

It was in May, 1942, when Rommel’s Afrika Korps geared up to attack the Fort at Bir Hakeim. Koenig ordered all the women to evacuate, but Travers refused to leave, becoming the only woman among at least 3,500 men. Rommel assumed the fort would be taken in 15 minutes but, instead, the Free French held out for fifteen days.

Eventually, their supplies ran low, and Koenig led a breakout, trying to evade minefields and German tanks. Being the Colonel’s driver, Travers truly led the breakout; however, the convoy was discovered when one of the convoy’s vehicles ran over a landmine. Travers stepped on the gas.

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Susan Travers in Northern Africa.

A “delightful feeling”

Upon discovery, the convoy fell under heavy machine gun fire, and Travers just kept laying on the accelerator. She’s quoted as saying,

“It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark. My main concern was that the engine would stall.”

She broke through the German lines, creating a gap through which the rest could follow. After they made it to Allied lines, she discovered the vehicle had at least 11 bullet holes in it and sustained severe shrapnel damage. After that, Koenig was sent to Northern Africa to continue the fight while Travers remained with the Legion, seeing action in Italy, Germany, and France. She was eventually wounded when she drove over a landmine.

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In 2000, she published her memoirs.

French Foreign Legion

In May of 1945, Travers applied to become an official member of the French Foreign Legion. She “failed” to mention her gender and they accepted her into their ranks. This made her the first — and only — woman to ever join the French Foreign Legion.

She eventually was sent to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War and, by the end of her career, earned the Medaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre, and the Legion d’honneur (the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits).

MIGHTY HISTORY

The often forgotten Buffalo Soldiers must be remembered

They served in battles on the Great Plains, Cuba, Mexico, the Philippines and France. They fought the Native Americans, protected American pioneers, took on ranchers to protect farmers, battled with Pancho Villa, protected our southern border, charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, served under Black Jack Pershing, served as the first park rangers for our National Parks, inspired the Smokey Bear and Drill Instructor hat, had Bob Marley write a song about them and earned Medals of Honor along the way.


They also did all this in the face of extreme racism and prejudice from the people they served with, people they protected and the government who put them in harm’s way.

The Buffalo Soldiers first came into existence immediately after the Civil War. The Union Army had seen the bravery of African Americans in the war and set about creating units for them. In 1866, they drew up what would eventually be 2 Cavalry Regiments (9th and 10th) and 2 Infantry Regiments (24th and 25th)
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(U.S. Library of Congress)

The United States reduced the number of its soldiers to 25,000 at the end of the war, and African Americans made up 10% of the Army’s ranks. They were paid a month, which was the same as a white man who served (which was unheard of at the time). They were also prohibited from being stationed East of the Mississippi River as Congress and the Army feared reaction to black troops (especially in the South during Reconstruction) would not be civil.

So the newly formed units were sent West.

The origins of the name ‘Buffalo Soldier’ are contested to this day. Some believe they were given the name as a sign of respect from the Cheyenne or Comanche. Others say it was because they wore buffalo hide coats to keep warm on the prairie or because they fought with the nobility of a buffalo. Another legend that is less politically correct is that the Apaches saw the hair of the African American soldiers and likened it to a buffalo’s mane. In any case, the troops gradually adopted the name as their own and wore it as a badge of honor.

The first part of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers takes place during the Indian Wars. Americans were expanding out West and into direct conflict with the Native Americans who fought to maintain their lands. The Buffalo Soldiers had plenty of tasks outside of fighting. They built roads, protected mail carriers, enforced land settlement disputes, protected farmers from free-range cattlemen and fought the Native Americans.

Fighting over 177 engagements, the Buffalo Soldiers went up against the Apache, Comanche, Kiowas, Cree, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Indians. They worked to keep Indians on reservations, protected settlers from raids, and protected settlers’ interests from as far north as Montana down to southern Texas. They also enforced settlement rules, making sure that land wasn’t (ironically) illegally taken by settlers.

In the midst of all this, the Buffalo Soldiers experienced extreme racist behavior from their fellow soldiers and the people they were protecting. African Americans, for a long time, could not become officers and command Buffalo Soldiers. White officers would sometimes refuse to take commands in Buffalo Soldier units, thinking it was beneath them. George Custer famously refused to command black troops convinced they wouldn’t fight (they came to his rescue later on). They were also subject to abuse from the very people they were protecting. White settlers would ask for help only to attack Buffalo Soldiers when they were the ones who were sent to help.

(Who knew Blazing Saddles was based on a true story?)

At the turn of the century, as the Indian Wars wound down, the Buffalo Soldiers were sent overseas as part of America’s foray into foreign affairs. They were sent to the Philippines to help put down insurrections and also fought in the Spanish-American War. When Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill, the Buffalo Soldiers charged alongside him. One of their 1st Lieutenants was a young man named Jack Pershing.

Cuba was not Pershing’s first command with the Buffalo Soldiers, nor would it be his last. Pershing was so impressed with the courage of the soldiers he commanded, he sought for other units to emulate their discipline and standards. Ironically when he ended up at West Point as an instructor and tried to enforce the same standards, he earned the despicable nickname N***** Jack. This was eventually softened to ‘Black Jack’ Pershing. Pershing would later command the Buffalo Soldiers on the border but bow to political racism when it came to the Great War.

After Cuba, the Buffalo Soldiers were sent to California. At the time, several National Parks had been established and there was a need to protect the lands. At Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the Buffalo Soldiers became the first park rangers chasing after poachers, ejecting settlers and squatters, keeping illegal logging in check, and building infrastructure so that people could visit.

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On a side note, the Buffalo Soldiers adopted the ‘Montana crease’ in their hats in Cuba. When they ended up at Yosemite the creased hats became synonymous with the park. The style was later adopted by park rangers, Smokey Bear, border patrol agents, highway patrolmen, and your ferocious drill instructor.

In the lead up to World War I, the U.S. at first took an isolationist role. That said, there was worry that the Germans would try to interfere with U.S. sovereignty. The Buffalo Soldiers were sent to the border with Mexico as the Mexican Revolution had caused instability on the border, and the U.S. was worried about Mexican and German interference with the border.

Back under the command of Black Jack Pershing, the Buffalo Soldiers chased after Pancho Villa after his incursion into New Mexico. They later battled Mexican forces and German military advisors in the Battle of Ambos Nogales in 1918.

Although successful in that battle, there was a bittersweet element to it.

The Buffalo Soldiers watched as Black Jack Pershing, one of their biggest advocates, took command of the American Expeditionary Force as they headed over to Europe to fight in the Great War.

The Buffalo Soldiers did not go. President Woodrow Wilson was openly racist and did not want them to fight alongside white soldiers. They were kept home, while segregated support units were sent to work behind the lines. It only added to the hurt when some of those support units were lent to the French to fight under their command.

In World War II, the reorganization of the Army led to the creation of the 92nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Division. Other segregated units were organized, and many took on the name and traditions of the Buffalo Soldiers.

After World War II, the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers was instrumental in desegregating the Army. By the time the Korean conflict started, the descendant units of the Buffalo Soldiers were absorbed into other units as part of integration.

The legacy of the Buffalo Soldier cannot be denied. Given the opportunity to serve, African Americans came through time and time again, even in the face of racism and prejudice. The history of these men goes hand in hand in the expansion into the West, the establishment of our National Parks, protection of our borders and the fight for freedom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Emu War wasn’t as silly as folks make it out to be

It’s always brought up as a fun fact that, at one point in history, Australia sent troops on an “all-out” assault against emus that were destroying the Western Australian Outback. A while later, it was decided that the humans wouldn’t win and the history books marked a big ‘L’ for the Aussies in the Great Emu War of 1932.

When it’s put like that, it’s funny and makes a great fun fact that can be brought up whenever Australia’s military might is in question. But the thing is, Australia’s military kicks ass — and saying, “Australia lost a war against a bunch of flightless birds,” while sort of true, doesn’t really do what actually happened justice.


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If there’s anyone who could actually be blamed for the perceived failure of the Great Emu War, it’s this guy, Sir George Pearce. The man who decided to set up the Australian Army for a lifetime of jokes.

The Australian government didn’t just decide to go on a mass Emu-killing spree out of the blue. It was in response to the destruction of farms caused by emus in their search for food and water. After WWI, Australia rewarded its returning veterans with farmland to call their own. The only stipulation was that this farmland was basically barren Outback that was plagued with native animals. The terrible soil didn’t leave farmers with many options in terms of crops, but wheat grew fairly well given the conditions. Unfortunately, wheat also attracted emus.

Of the nearly 5000 veterans who participated in the program, very few were able to grow crops without having them destroyed by hungry birds. Even fewer could afford to build fences to keep the emus at bay. The government, not willing to address the problem of terrible land quality, decided that the emu was entirely at fault for crops not growing.

It was declared by Western Australian Senator, Sir George Pearce, that veterans and troops should tackle the problem head-on and hunt the birds.

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Good luck fighting an enemy too stupid to know it’s been shot four times with only enough ammo to take out half the population even if your aim is perfect.

The biggest misconception about the Emu War is that it was a massive assault staged by the Australian military. It wasn’t. It was literally just three men, a pick-up truck, two Lewis machine guns, and 10,000 rounds. There were veteran farmers who also took up arms, but only Major G.P.W. Meredith and his two gunners were officially at war.

That’s three men versus 20,000 massive birds.

Emus aren’t just large turkeys. They stand at an average height of six feet four inches, can run up to 31 mph, have the strongest legs of any animal, and can easily shred apart metal fences with their talons. As the three Aussie hunters found out, emus can take roughly five bullets before realizing they’ve been shot and ten rounds before they finally die.

Emus naturally flock in hordes of hundreds, which means that any time the hunters unloaded into the horde, the birds would quickly disperse into smaller mobs that scattered in different directions. With only so many guns, the hunters could only focus on those smaller mobs while the rest took off running.

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If they aren’t in mobs, you’ll be searching for hours just to find one.

In that respect, the hunters were technically efficient. They managed to gun down a confirmed 986 emus over the span of a few weeks. Of the 9,900 rounds they used, they averaged out about one kill per ten or so rounds — the estimated number required to kill an emu. The three men also faced constant backlash from the news and local farmers during their hunt.

The media laughed at them for the absurdity of it all and dubbed it the “Great Emu War” to make light of the situation. It give readers a moment of levity during the otherwise-grim Great Depression. While the general population thought it was silly to send any troops after birds, the farmers were upset that the government sent only three guys to go solve a problem spanning an Australian state that’s twice the size of Alaska.

The hunters tried to give up several times because they knew how pointless it was — but each time, they were pushed back into hunting emus. Eventually, they gave up on December 9th, 1932, and everyone laughed at the three men for failing to do the impossible.

The only logical way to deal with the emus was what happened eventually. The government placed a bounty on the emus and let the farmers handle it — which they did very well. Over time, the farmers would collect a bounty on over 57,000 emus and the farms turned profitable again. It should also be noted that some farmers were smart enough to breed emus and collect a bounty on the birds they’d raised, but that was bound to happen.

All in all, the Aussies would eventually prevail over the emus. It just took more than three guys in a pick-up truck to do it.