Some of the iconic photos of the combat in the Pacific theater feature the Douglas SBD Dauntless. This dive-bomber was the plane that won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, fatally damaging three Japanese carriers in a span of five minutes. What may not be as famous, however, is the SBD’s successor.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was in the works at the start of World War II but didn’t really see combat until November 1943. While the SBD was a popular plane — proving to be not only a capable Japanese ship killer, it was also a deadly air-to-air combatant in the hands of pilots like Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa — it was relatively old, having entered service in 1938.
That replacement was the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. This far-more-modern plane could carry a greater payload and was faster than its predecessor. The problem was, however, that the plane wasn’t the easiest to fly, which helped it earn a dirty nickname — one that claimed it had some canine ancestry.
Yes, they called it the “Son-of-a-Bitch Second Class.”
Despite the moniker, the SB2C became a very good plane in its own right. Not only could it carry a heavy bomb in its bomb bay, rockets could also be carried under the wings when necessary. This is very useful when you want to suppress the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire. The SBD, despite its superb track record in combat, couldn’t do that. The SB2C also had two 20mm cannon that were forward firing, giving it a far greater punch than the SBD could provide with two M2 .50-caliber machine guns.
The dive-bomber, though, was in its twilight. One big reason was that fighters like the F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair were both capable in air-to-air combat and very proficient in dropping bombs. On a carrier deck, space is limited, and the multi-role fighters proved to be better, more efficient investments than dive-bombers. Still, the Helldiver played its part in bringing victory over the Axis in World War II.
Learn more about this plane with a nasty nickname in the video below.
As the war raged on, infantry units began dominating the battlefield as troops increased their use of the rifled muskets and Gatling guns. These new deadly weapons caused the need for entrenchments as a form of cover.
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban — the first known architect of trench warfare.
Historically, the Vietnam War is one of America’s longest-running conflicts — only Operation Enduring Freedom has been longer. But, of all the chaos and carnage that characterized the Vietnam War, one of the most notable clashes is similar to one performed on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) about 36 years later.
The date was May 2, 1964. Viet Cong commandos had been trying to hit an American transport ship in Saigon to stop the flow of materiel to the South Vietnamese government. Two ships, the USNS Card and the USNS Core, had been serving as transports for helicopters and other essentials. The ships were World War II-era Bogue-class escort carriers that displaced about 16,600 tons and could travel at a top speed of 18 knots while carrying a dozen F4F Wildcats and nine TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bombers.
After World War II, these carriers were too small to operate jets and a bit too slow for front-line service. Still, when a ship has a flight deck that is 439 feet by 70 feet — almost 31,000 square feet – and a hangar deck of roughly the same size, it’s still useful. So, the Military Sea Transport Service (the forerunner to today’s Military Sealift Command) took these ships. After all, they were pretty much free.
According to the National Interest, the Viet Cong managed to pull off the May 2 attack by sending a commando through the sewer system. A pair of limpet mines were stashed by the sewer’s exit, waiting for the commando as swam out toward the ship. He then planted the limpet mines on the side of the Card, set the timer, and made a clean getaway. At three in the morning, the mines went off. Severely damaged, the Card settled on the bottom of the harbor with five of her crew killed.
But she didn’t stay there. It took the Navy 17 days to do the temporary repairs required to get the Card out of the harbor. By the end of the year, the former escort carrier was back in service, and she made other runs carrying materiel. She did so for five more years after returning to service. In 1971, the Card was scrapped. Any claims that the Communists in Vietnam sunk a carrier are nothing but propaganda.
The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.
The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.
This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.
The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.
The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.
It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.
The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.
On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.
It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”
A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.
In the Battle of Stalingrad a group of 25 men in a nearly abandoned apartment held off thousands of German soldiers during nearly two months of fighting. Time and time again, the assaulting German forces attacked the building occupied by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov and his platoon.
In the fighting at Stalingrad, Russian and German soldiers clashed in bloody, close-quarters combat. Some buildings held Germans and Russians on different floors for days, fighting the other side through the stairwells.
When 21 Russian soldiers arrived, they helped prepare the building for an extended siege. A PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle was placed on the roof, machine guns were placed in every available window facing the main square, mortars were emplaced, and walls were knocked out to facilitate communications between the men.
Then the Germans came. Armored and infantry columns would move up the streets to try and take out the building. They were forced to cross “9th January Square,” a wide open space named for Russia’s Bloody Sunday. While the Germans were in the square, the Russians would strike.
The Russian soldiers would open fire with the anti-tank rifle on the roof, piercing the thin turret armor of the tanks. The men found that if they waited until the tanks were within 25 meters of the building, the enemy tanks could not elevate their own guns high enough to retaliate.
Meanwhile, machine gunners would begin firing from the windows, shattering the bodies of German infantrymen. When they had the rounds, the men would begin lobbing mortars out of the building and onto the attacking column.
The Germans were devastated in the fight for the building that they eventually marked on their maps as a fortress. Inside, the Russians were sticking to Order 227 which demanded that Soviet soldiers take, “Not one step back!”
They held out until Nov. 25 when a Russian counterattack allowed fresh soldiers to replace Pavlov and his men in the defense of Pavlov’s house. The civilians in the basement were also allowed to evacuate.
The building was reconstructed after the war. Bricks and materials from the bombed out structure that Pavlov and his men held was used to construct a monument on the corner of the new building.
The first photojournalist to capture wartime photographs was an unknown American attached to US Army forces fighting in the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. These images were developed using the daguerreotype process invented by French scene painter Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, which required mirrors and chemicals to fix an image on a sheet of copper plated with silver. During the Crimean War, British photographer Roger Fenton traveled in his photographic van to take more than 350 photos that depicted landscapes and soldiers. The American Civil War, however, is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively — and to have given rise to photojournalism as a widespread form of storytelling.
From the beginning of the Civil War, Mathew Brady and his team of photographers followed the Union and snapped photographs of battlefields, camps, towns, soldiers, and slaves. Brady was already one of the most prominent photographers in the US, opening Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in 1858, when he felt the urge to capture America’s bloodiest war himself.
“I felt that I had to go,” he said. “A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”
But the primitive technology and equipment required subjects to be perfectly still at the moment the camera’s shutter snapped, and so battle scenes were absent from those wartime portfolios. Although this crucial element to the history of warfare was missing, Brady recruited a world-class team including Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan to present the rawness and emotion to the general public. Here are some of their photographs that encapsulate the American Civil War, as well as images from lesser-known photographers of this era.
Brady and his photographers used mobile photography units such as wagons to carry equipment, mix chemicals, and even serve as makeshift darkrooms. Brady’s is pictured above in a field in Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.
O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death” shows dead bodies that await burial after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. This image first appeared among 10 photographic plates of Gettysburg published in Gardner’sPhotographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), America’s first anthology of photographs. O’Sullivan served as Gardner’s field operator during the war. About O’Sullivan’s image, Gardner wrote, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ […] Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”
John Reekie briefly worked under Mathew Brady’s supervision. Like that of O’Sullivan, his work appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. The above image shows African American men collecting bones from soldiers killed in battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in April 1865.
Brady famously took images of camp life, daily routines of Union soldiers, mission planning, moments prior to battle, and, as the image above shows, the aftermath of battle: At Mayre’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Confederate caisson and eight horses were destroyed by a Second Massachusetts siege gun.
The photo above captures a Confederate method of destroying railroads. The railroad ties were set on fire, and the heat bent the rails to render them useless. Brady’s desire to photograph more than human subjects gave historians visual evidence of some of the tactics used during the war.
Professional photographers weren’t the only ones to use photography to document wounds sustained by soldiers. Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, a surgeon for the Union Army, captured the above clinical photograph of Samuel Shoop, a private of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose leg was amputated after he suffered a gunshot wound. This photograph served as a teaching tool for future medical students and other Army surgeons.
In the last part of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army’s chief enemy was the scores of Native American tribes who still roamed America’s Great Plains and dominated the American Southwest, among other places. As sporadic attacks against settlers in those regions increased, the U.S. government decided it had to act. By the dawn of the 20th Century most of the tribes had capitulated and resigned themselves to their reservations.
And it all started with a lame cow.
Lameness describes an injury to the cows foot that adversely affects its life.
A cow can become lame for any number of reasons, such as a toe abnormality, something getting embedded in its hoof, or even just walking long distances regularly. When a cow’s hoof becomes bruised or worn down, the animal spends more time laying down and tends to eat less, adversely affecting its condition. A cow with this condition passed through Fort Laramie, Wyoming one day in 1855 along with a group of Mormon immigrants.
While the group of settlers rested at Fort Laramie, their lame old cow wandered off by itself. Eventually, it came across a group of Mniconjou tribesmen who were waiting for an annuity from the U.S. government. It was late, the men were starving and had no means to procure food for themselves. Naturally, once the cow was in sight, it became dinner.
The cow was allegedly worth four dollars, but when the Natives tried to trade a good horse for the lame cow (the one they already ate), the offer was rejected. Instead, the settlers demanded for the cow. At first, the Army was willing to brush the incident off as trivial and stupid, but the officer of the post was no fan of the Indians. He set out with some 30 troops and departed for one of the Indian Camps to confront them about the cow. After brief words were exchanged by a drunken translator that was also really bad at his job, the soldiers began to fire into the Indians.
The Indians fought back. By the end of it, the leader of the Lakota was dead along with all the Army soldiers. The Army retaliated by gathering 600 troops and assaulting the Lakota where they lived. The Plains Wars just began in earnest. The Army struck a number of tribes over the next few years, as President Ulysses S. Grant decided he’d had enough of the natives and it was time to pony up the resources to get them onto reservations.
All because of one lame cow.
The fighting began with the Lakota, then came the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, Apache, Arapaho, and eventually, even the dreaded Comanche tribe were systematically subdued by the Army and forced onto reservations. One by one the tribes were forced to abandon their traditional lands and ways of life, for life on the reservations. Most of the Indians never received anything promised by the government and fought on until they were forced to capitulate.
Even as World War II was wrapping up and Allied soldiers occupied much of Western Europe, the British Special Operations Executive was still devising plans to kill Adolf Hitler in Germany and bring the war to a swift end.
Many different options were considered, including bombing his personal train, sabotaging railway stations, and even poisoning Hitler’s water or food, but all those were deemed too complex to ensure success.
The planners decided it would be best and easiest to kill the Fuhrer at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain chalet in southern Germany.
While interviewing German prisoners taken from the Allied invasion of Europe, the SOE discovered one of the defender of the Nazi’s Fortress Europe was once a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, stationed at the Berghof.
The former guard’s testimony revealed a distinct weakness in the German dictator’s morning routines while staying at the chalet. When he was staying at the Berghof, the Nazis flew a Nazi flag from the top of the house, which could be seen from Berchtesgaden, the town nearby. Every morning around 10am, he would take a 20 minute walk, always alone, out of sight of the guard houses.
British officials decided this would be the best place to plan for an assassination attempt, as they could confirm that Hitler was at the Berghof before launching the final phases of the operation, then infiltrate the grounds and do the job.
Another captured German also revealed that his uncle was a local in the town and was vehemently anti-Hitler and could thus be recruited to aid the commandos. Once there, the British considered a few weapons that might be used to ensure Hitler’s demise (including the use of a bazooka) but they settled on a skilled sniper to do the job.
The Special Operations Executive devised a plan that would see German-speaking Poles and a British sniper parachute into Salzburg and be driven to Berchtesgaden by the uncle.
Once in Berchtesgaden and disguised as German troops and carrying Wehrmacht rifles, the commandos would make their way to the Berghof grounds and wait for Hitler’s morning stroll. It would be there they take out the Fuhrer and make their way back to Berchtesgaden.
Although the plan had the backing of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was ultimately abandoned for a few reasons. The first and most important is that all the Allied intelligence services considered Hitler so terrible at military strategy that they feared someone more competent would take his place and prolong the war.
They also worried about the ramifications of the Hitler Mythology. While it was widely known among Allied leaders (and probably German leadership) that Hitler was a poor strategist, it wasn’t really known among the Fuhrer’s most fervent supporters. Planners worried that killing Hitler would leave behind a mythos similar to the end of World War I – that if Hitler had survived the war, Germany would have won. They worried such an occurrence would lead to another war.
Finally, they didn’t want to make a martyr of Hitler and thus National Socialism as an ideology. The plan was ultimately scrapped due to the divisions of opinion it caused in the British military and intelligence leadership.
The plan, originally scheduled for July 14, 1944 didn’t happen and a fully alive Hitler left the Berghof for the last time that day, never to return.
As members of England’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANYs, during World War II, Odette Sansom, Violette Szabó, and Noor Inayat Khan might have worked in hospitals, driven ambulances, sent coded radio signals, fixed trucks, or even, as one FANY did during the war, taught the future Queen Elizabeth to drive.
But when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed the nation’s clandestine spy agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze,” the three FANYs merged their nursing roles with espionage. The SOE, which carried out audacious sabotage plots across Europe, recruited 2,000 FANY members to the secret service. But only 39 went into the field to conduct commando operations, including Sansom, Szabó, and Khan.
Each brought her unique upbringing to her missions. Sansom (pictured above) and Szabó were both born in France; Sansom to a French man killed in World War I, whereas Szabó’s father had been an English soldier. Khan was a Muslim from India descended from a sultan. But their French fluency and familiarity with military skills like marksmanship caught the eye of England’s spy masters.
The commandos working for SOE in North Africa, the Far East, and particularly across Europe were the No. 1 targets of the Gestapo and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. “From now on, all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man,” read Adolf Hitler’s secret Commando Order (Kommandobefehl) issued on Oct. 18, 1942. If members of the SOE were discovered, man or woman, they’d be hunted, tortured, and executed.
Sansom, Szabó, and Khan had to be discreet and keep their identities secret. They carried false papers with fake names, home addresses, and occupations. Virginia Hall, famously known as “The Limping Lady,” who served with the SOE early in the war, used a cover as a French American stringer for the New York Post writing under the public persona of Brigitte LeContre. The FANYs received training in weapons handling, fieldcraft, and sabotage, and assumed their own disguises.
Sansom took the code name Lise as a courier for the Spindle spy ring, or “circuit” under the SOE’s F Section (France). Circuits were generally composed of three officers: a circuit leader, a courier, and a radio operator. A wife and mother of three children, Sansom transported messages and money to associates in the French Resistance. After seven months of clandestine fieldwork, she was captured by the Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, a notorious spy catcher who personally arrested more than 100 agents and officers. Sansom was interrogated for hours at Fresnes Prison in Paris, subjected to techniques including the removal of her toenails.
When she wouldn’t confess, the Nazis sent her to Ravensbrück, the most feared concentration camp for women in Europe. Her cell was in an underground prison infamously known as “The Bunker.” For three months and eight days she lived in solitary confinement next to a furnace, in total darkness, starving. Her hair and teeth fell out. She even lapsed into a mini-coma but ultimately survived the war. Many of her fellow FANYs, however, did not, including Szabó and Khan.
On her second mission in France, Szabó parachuted behind German lines the day after D-Day and established contact with resistance forces in the area. On June 10, 1944, she joined Jacques Dufour in a car to Salon-la-Tour. Along the route the Germans set up a roadblock, and Dufour stopped the vehicle 50 yards away. He instructed Szabó to dash into a field as he provided covering fire. Szabó instead pulled out her Sten submachine gun and joined the fight before the pair fled into the field. She fought until she had fired all her ammunition and was captured. She joined Sansom in Ravensbrück but was executed in January 1945.
Khan’s fate was equally senseless. The Muslim princess was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore state — today, a part of India — who pioneered rockets used as military weapons. Khan worked as a wireless radio operator in Paris. At one point she was the only SOE wireless operator in the city, operating under the code name Madeleine, and was critical in communications with the Prosper resistance network and the outside world. A Frenchwoman betrayed Khan to the Gestapo, and she and three other female SOE officers were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, they were executed.
All three women — Sansom, Szabó, and Khan — were awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor. Among the 39 FANY and SOE commandos who went into the field, 13 died as German prisoners or were killed in action. On May 7, 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, unveiled a plaque at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, dedicated to all 52 FANYs who died during World War II. In attendance was Odette Sansom. In her arms she held Tania, the only daughter of Violette Szabó, who would later accept her mother’s medal and write a book about her famous mother’s life. Khan became the first Indian woman in history to be honored with a memorial and a permanent Blue Plaque awarded by the English Heritage charity. These Blue Plaques honor notable people and organizations connected with particular buildings across London — and Khan’s can seen at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived before joining the SOE.
In April 1990, the FBI was called to Teddy Roosevelt’s house. No one would dare steal from TR while he was alive, but since he had been dead for 70-plus years and his house was long ago turned into a museum, the thief was able to rob the place and make off with an important piece of Americana: Teddy Roosevelt’s piece. They stole the pistol he used at the Battle of San Juan Hill.
To this day, no one knows who took it, and only the FBI knows who turned it in, but now it’s back where it belongs. Its history is America’s history, and the history of Teddy Roosevelt’s sidearm matches the legacy of the man who wielded it. It started with a sinking ship.
In 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor, a port owned by Spain at the time. Since anti-Spanish sentiment and pro-Cuban Independence was at a fever pitch among Americans at the time, the incident was blamed on a Spanish mine. Even an official Navy inquiry supported the mine theory. With more than 250 American sailors dead, the United States had to respond, and they did so by declaring war on Spain.
Teddy Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Incensed by the Spanish provocation, it wasn’t enough for TR to just dispatch American warships to distant Spanish colonies. The man felt he had to go kill some Spaniards personally – and he did. He helped raise the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry and deployed to Spain with an insane, ragtag group of cowboys, journalists, and athletes, the likes of which the world will never see again.
Roosevelt earned a Medal of Honor for leading what was supposed to be an overmatched support column on a daring charge up the hill that totally routed the defending Spanish, and he did it wielding a Colt Model 1892 Army and Navy double-action, six-shot revolver, one special to Roosevelt for many reasons.
The weapon is valued at over $250,000 and has an inscription above the grips: “From the sunken battle ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898. San Juan. Carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.”
The April 1990 theft was actually the second time the pistol had been taken from Sagamore Hill. The first time was in 1936 when it was removed from the case, but the thief panicked and threw the weapon into the woods nearby. Roosevelt’s sidearm and 1st Volunteers uniform are considered the most priceless artifacts on display at the museum.
In the annals of World War II history, the brutality of the Sino-Japanese War is often overshadowed by the fierce fighting on the eastern front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The horrors the Japanese inflicted on China are often lost in the systematic destruction and murder of the Holocaust.
When it comes to brutal fighting and horrible occupation, the Japanese war on mainland China had no equal.
Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria in 1931 but stopped after occupying the province. Still, it gave the Japanese a foothold on the continent and rose tensions between the two countries. In 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops fought for control of the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. The event led to a full-scale invasion of China, setting off World War II in Asia.
Within a year, the Japanese occupied the capital city of Peking, Shanghai, and Nanjin. Its Navy and Air Forces were completely destroyed. Still, the Chinese people and Nationalist government under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek were steadfast in their resistance to the invasion and occupation.
After, the de facto Chinese leader signaled that any surrender negotiations would be refused, the Japanese stopped trying to offer any terms. Having made so may gains so fast, however, the Imperial Japanese Army was forced to stop any advances and consolidate them. The Emperor ruled that no more wartime operations would be conducted in 1938.
Still, the Japanese were able to follow fleeing and disorganized Chinese troops along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. The Yellow River runs into southern Shandong Province around the fortified town of Taierzhuang, some 430 miles south of Beijing. There was no getting around Taierzhuang. To advance south into the strategically important Xuzhou area, the Japanese would have to take the town.
The Japanese Army launched an all-out assault with 300 men. From the start of the attack, things did not go as planned. The initial assault led the Japanese soldiers into the town gates and into a temple, which the Chinese burned down, killing all 300 men inside.
The very next day, the Japanese launched another, more successful assault, breaking the gates of the town and establishing an entry point. They took half of the town in the first day, but Chinese reinforcements arrived while the invaders were bogged down in urban combat. The new Chinese artillery lit up the Japanese outside the town.
In all, more than 100,000 Chinese troops would fight at Taierzhuang against a total of 70,000 Japanese troops, along with tanks, artillery, and aircraft.
The Chinese slowly began to retake parts of Taierzhuang. But Japan’s own reinforcements began to trickle in. The two sides were locked in a stalemate. In the outskirts of the city, Chinese farmers began to sabotage rail lines, waterways, and communication lines. The Japanese reinforcements were cut off from linking up and soon found their rear filled with Chinese troops.
Japanese tanks and other armored vehicles were also decimated by China “Dare to Die” Corps, Chinese soldiers who wore body armor and strapped high explosives to themselves so they could dive underneath enemy tanks and destroy them.
These suicide bombers use everything from grenade vests to sticks of dynamite in place of anti-armor weapons to even the playing field. In a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate, Japan employed poison gas to dislodge the Chinese defenders.
It was the first victory for China against Japan during what would become known as World War II. Though both sides lost roughly the same number of troops, the battle bought time for the Chinese government to escape the Japanese Army and showed that Japan could be defeated in battle.
U.S. Attorney George E. Q. Johnson of Chicago, Illinois, was personally tasked by President Hoover to orchestrate the takedown of Al Capone, the gangster of the Windy City who had the law in his pocket. Capone had transformed Chicago into a hive of organized crime in defiance of prohibition. However, how can the law be enforced if those in charge of gathering evidence accepted bribes? You bring in a man who cannot be bought.
Eliot Ness was a Prohibition agent who attacked the distribution pipeline of alcohol while the U.S. Treasury Department simultaneously collected evidence on Al Capone’s tax-related crimes. Ness marshaled a small team of experts to track empty barrels from saloons en route to Capone’s distilleries to be refilled with the illegal substance. Whenever there was to be a raid on these operations, Ness notified the press so they could be on the scene. It was his way of sending a message to the public: There was a new sheriff in town.
However, there was a lot more to this moral crusader than met the eye.
The face of a man who just watched years of his collected evidence get tossed to the wayside.
The Prohibition case was not used against Al Capone
In June, 1931, Al Capone was indicted on charges of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to violate Prohibition. Unfortunately, the chances of convicting the crime lord for his violating Prohibition required city-level action, and to betray Capone was as deadly as suicide. So, the only charges that would stick were federal tax crimes.
While Eliot Ness is credited as the agent who took down Al Capone, it wasn’t his thwarting of the bootlegging operation that did it.
Hello darkness my old friend
He had a drinking problem
Eliot Ness decompressed after a long day of busting bootleggers by pouring himself a drink and reading the headlines made from his crackdowns. That’s like a DEA agent going home to do a celebratory line of coke while watching the news praise yet another successful raid on a cartel. He pieced together a scrapbook of his victories to chronicle his own legacy.
Maybe there’s some truth to the saying, “never meet your heroes…”
He failed to catch a serial killer in Cleveland
Later in his career, Ness took his fight against organized crime to Cleveland, and he successfully turned it from the deadliest city in America to the safest. Then, in what seems like a deliberate challenge to the man who turned a city around, a serial killer preyed on the homeless, killing them and severing their limbs in brutal fashion.
After 12 bodies were found in succession, Ness brought the police to where the homeless lived in makeshift huts and burned them to the ground. Ness reasoned that if there were no more homeless to fall victim, there would be no murders.
It seems crazy, but it worked. The homeless were relocated to the Salvation Army, and the death toll stopped climbing.
He wrote the book that was turned into a movie
The 1987 hit gangster film, The Untouchables, directed by Brian De Palma, was based on Eliot Ness’ book by the same name. It recounts a sensationalized version of the hunt for Al Capone that puts him at the center of the investigation as the principal figure who took down the gangster.
Most of the embellishments can be credited to the co-author, Oscar Fraley. An abundance of self-celebration aside, a good story is a good story.
On the morning of June 7, 1917, after a dry quip to journalists about how he didn’t know whether he and his men’s actions “shall change history tomorrow,” but would “certainly alter the geography,” a British major general ordered a series of mines set off, detonating an almost 1 million pounds of explosives, killing about 1,000 German soldiers, and causing leaders in London —about 130 miles away — to hear the explosion.
A howitzer crew provides fire support during the infantry assault at the Battle of Messines Ridge.
(National Library of Scotland)
It all started soon after World War I descended from a fast-paced maneuver war into the trench-warfare stalemate that would define the conflict. Allied troops facing Germans in Belgium were, like their brethren in the trenches southward across France, quickly demoralized as the war ground on, thousands died, and almost no significant changes were made to the balance of the war.
People were dying by the thousands to seemingly no effect. So, some British officers came up with a plan to shift the line in Belgium by putting in years of work that would guarantee an eventual victory far in the future.
The plan was changed, overhauled, and refined plenty of times in those two years, but the basic underpinnings stayed the same. Near the village of Messines in Belgium, British tunnelers got to work digging towards and then under the German lines along the ridge that dominated the area. This digging operation would continue for two years.
Sappers dig a communication trench near Messines Ridge after the explosion that essentially handed the area to the British. Engineers had worked for nearly two years to dig the original tunnels that made the explosion possible.
(Imperial War Museums)
Shafts were dug across the front, and some were dug as deep as 100 feet and then filled with strong explosives. On top of these subterranean towers of explosives, each major stockpile had a mine that would act as the initiation device.
For German soldiers and officers, this was obviously a nightmare. For those directly over the explosion, the nightmare was over instantly. The Earth erupted around them like a volcano. The earth shook and shot into the sky. Men were wrecked by the blast and then survivors were buried alive in the debris. Approximately 1 millions pounds of explosives were used in the blast.
Soldiers share a smoke on June 10 during the Battle of Messines. The Battle of Messines Ridge had kicked off the British advance and given them a huge advantage when engineers successfully set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives beneath a key ridge.
(Imperial War Museums)
But the slight breaks between explosions meant that, for minutes afterwards, German troops and officers were terrified that more explosions were coming, that they would be killed or buried in a sudden tower of fire and dirt.
Meanwhile, British troops had been staged to take advantage of the sudden opening in the lines. Many were knocked down by the initial blast despite staging hundreds of yards away. But they stood up and attacked the German lines. What had been a ridge was now a series of major craters, and the British were determined to take them.
The British had known that a large explosion was coming, though many individual soldiers didn’t know the exact details, and so they were able to rally much faster than the Germans. The British infantry assault, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage, successfully captured 7,000 survivors in addition to the 10,000 that the explosions had killed.
And the British were left holding what was left of the ridge. The Germans retreated and this allowed Britain to launch more attacks into Ypres. The Battle of Messines Ridge had been a great success, though the Ypres Offensive it enabled was less so. The idea for the larger offensive had been to capture the German U-Boat pens on the Belgian coast, but the openings at Messines Ridge didn’t eliminate the German defenses further on.
The Ypres Offensive was launched on July 31, just weeks after the explosions at Messines, but Germans fiercely contested the assaults and launched counterattacks of their own. The offensive was, ostensibly, an Allied victory. The Allies took Ypres and a lot of other territory, but suffered 275,000 casualties to Germany’s 220,000.
That’s why most of the world has forgotten the detonation at Messines Ridge. It was one of the largest man-made explosions in history at the time and it allowed the British to pull a victory, seemingly out of thin air. But its strategic impact didn’t last.