The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

The French Foreign Legion is one of France’s elite fighting forces, filled with men who are ready and willing to do extreme violence on France’s behalf. When 1930s Germany started looking at its neighbors with greedy eyes, it knew that it had to do something about the Legion.

Germany saw its opportunity in the large number of Legion noncommissioned officers who were German by birth. The Nazis hatched a plan to send droves of men to the Legion. These men would then convince German noncommissioned officers to betray the Legion. The spies would also collect lists of Jewish legionnaires and other groups targeted by the Third Reich for extermination.

Somewhere around 80 percent of French Foreign Legion NCOs were German, so this was no idle threat. The Legion quickly caught on to the Nazis’ plan and began screening German recruits carefully.

 

Still, many Nazi agents got in before the heightened scrutiny began. Legion leaders, knowing they were compromised, began sending suspect Legionnaires to low-risk postings like road construction. At the same time, Legionnaires who might be targeted by the Nazis were sent to far-flung outposts in North Africa.

 

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Free French Foreign Legionnaires attack an enemy strongpoint in Africa in 1942. Photo: Public domain

The level of German sympathies in the Legion was bad enough that France debated whether or not to deploy Legion units from their headquarters in Algeria to France ahead of the possible German invasion. They settled on recruiting new Legionnaires from anti-Nazi populations, such as political refugees from Germany and French reservists, and brought loyal Legionnaires from North Africa to train them.

Nine new regiments were raised but most lacked the standards and experience of the true French Foreign Legion. Most of these units were sent to the front before the Germans invaded and they fought bitterly to resist the blitzkrieg when it was launched. When war broke out, the Legion also took the preventative measure of arresting German Legionnaires suspected of being Nazi spies.

The Legion has a long and proud history of fighting well past when other units would have surrendered, and the Legion units fighting in France upheld that tradition. Most continued fighting even after taking losses of 75 percent or more, only ceasing when ordered by their commanders after the Armistice was signed.

The 11th Foreign Infantry Regiment, knowing it would likely be wiped out, even burned its colors to prevent their capture before launching a series of delaying actions to buy other units time to retreat.

After the Armistice was signed, Germany demanded that their spies be allowed to leave the Legion. The true Legionnaires were happy to see them go.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
French Foreign Legionnaires assigned to Indochina pose under a plane wing. Photo: Public Domain

Those spies took lists of people considered “undesirable” with them, and the Legion quickly had to make false papers to protect them from arrest by the Nazis. Many were shipped under new names to remote outposts where the Nazis were unlikely to look for them.

Unfortunately, about 2,000 men were found out by the Nazis. Most were sent to a new German unit, the 361st Motorised Infantry Regiment, and forced to fight for Germany.

At the same time, Legion units split into three groups. Some of the newer units, filled with recruits who had joined “for the duration of the war,” were disbanded. Others joined the Free French Forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle and continued to resist the Germans. A few units, mostly those in areas already controlled by the Germans, joined the Vichy French forces and fought against the allies.

In one battle in Syria, this actually resulted in men from the Free French Foreign Legion fighting those from the Vichy French Legion. Following the Legion’s mantra, “The Legion is our Fatherland,” the treated prisoners and wounded from the opposing Legion with special care.

Ultimately, the Free French Foreign Legion won and continued supporting the Allies well into the invasion of Germany.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the intelligence officer who urged Nimitz to kill Yamamoto

If you’ve seen the 1960 classic, The Gallant Hours, starring James Cagney as Admiral William F. Halsey, then you saw a very dramatized version of how the United States Navy got the information that would eventually lead to the demise of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. But Hollywood blockbusters have a way of twisting history for the sake of entertainment.


In the movie, Capt. Frank Enright, an intelligence officer, passes on the information to Halsey who then flies to Guadalcanal, where he gives the command to Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Lanphier would later bring justice to Isoroku Yamamoto in the skies over the island of Bougainville.

Historically, Halsey didn’t get the information about what would be Yamamoto’s last flight directly from the officer who recommended the mission. In fact, the officer who urged the mission to go ahead was in Pearl Harbor, right by the side of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. That officer was Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Edwin T. Layton, the intelligence officer who recommended that Yamamoto be taken out.

(U.S. Navy photo)

In his memoirs, And I Was There, Layton related his service as a naval attache in Tokyo prior to the war. He was one of a number of officers fluent in Japanese — the most notable of the others being Joe Rochefort, best known as the officer who saved Midway. Layton had been assigned as the chief intelligence officer for the Pacific Fleet in 1940 and witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nimitz chose to retain Layton, who would be the one officer Nimitz kept by his side throughout the war.

By April of 1943, Rochefort had been sidelined from code-breaking by jealous Washington bureaucrats, but Layton was still at Pearl Harbor when the message with Yamamoto’s itinerary was decoded. Having met Yamamoto a number of times in Japan (he had even played cards with him), Layton had a knowledge of the Japanese commander. He told Nimitz,

“Aside from the Emperor, probably no man in Japan is so important to civilian morale. And if he’s shot down, it would demoralize the fighting Navy.”
The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Painting depicting the moment that Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. shot down the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” carrying Isoroku Yamamoto

(USAF photo)

The rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen P-38s were slated to carry out the mission of intercepting the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Two of the P-38s had to turn back. The rest tangled with Japanese forces, gunning for aircraft containing the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier landed the shot that ended Yamamoto.

After World War II, Layton served in the Navy until 1959, taking up his position as chief intelligence officer during the Korean War. He died in 1984, before his memoirs were published. Even though Layton played a crucial, yet unheralded role in America’s victory over Japan, no ship has been named in his honor.

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The ‘Fork-tailed devil’ terrified Japanese pilots

Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.


Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.

While the XP-38 was a radical design, the Army adopted it anyway because they needed its power and speed to compete with new German and British designs. And it packed a lot of punch with four .50-cal. machine guns and a single 20 mm cannon, all crammed into the nose.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. It had four .50-cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon in its nose. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.

But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.

The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
The last known photograph of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto before he was killed by American P-38s. (Photo: Public Domain)

The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.

A kill team of four P-38s flew with 12 others to an intercept point, dropped their tanks, and attacked the two bombers and six fighters of Yamamoto’s flight and escort. Two Americans had to peal off when their drop tanks failed to disconnect, but the other 14 successfully downed both bombers and the Zeros bugged out. One P-38 was lost in the battle and Yamamoto was killed along with his deputy.

America’s top-scoring fighter ace of all time, Maj. Richard Bong, achieved all of his 40 aerial victories in P-38s and the number two ace, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., achieved most of his 38 kills in the P-38.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, America’s second-highest fighter Ace of all time. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.

In Europe, the plane that dominated over the Pacific became a major liability for pilots because it wasn’t designed to withstand the extreme cold of Europe’s winter air at 20,000 feet and higher, especially in the particularly bitter 1943-1944 winter.

Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.

He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.

And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.

Luckily, the debut of the P-51 gave a viable alternative to the P-38. It didn’t suffer from the cold-weather problems of the P-38 and had comparable or better speed, range, and maneuverability at most altitudes while being easier for rookies to fly. It’s only major shortcoming against the P-38 was that it had only one engine and it was more susceptible to damage than either of the Lightning’s two.

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This man in Georgia restores WWII airplane turrets in his garage

Plane turrets got their combat debut in World War II but were nearly obsolete by the time the war ended as jet planes could fly too fast for most gunners to hit them.


Most turrets were scrapped after the war, but one enthusiast in Georgia is collecting those that survived and restoring them to working conditions.

In his workshop in Georgia, Fred Bieser has thousands of turret parts and, as of 2013 when this video was shot, had restored seven turrets. Most of them are kept in his workshop, but some have gone on display at military museums.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
American ball turret gunner Alan Magee poses in his station. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

In this video from Tested, Bieser takes a video crew through his workshop and shows the guts of turrets and how they worked.

The video includes a lot of cool history on turrets, like how pilots worked with gunners to ensure accuracy and how Britain and America used different technologies for power and control.

Check out the full video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Bazooka Charlie’ turned his WWII recon plane into a tank killer

Charles Carpenter, or “Bazooka Charlie” as he’s now remembered, served as an Army pilot in the Second World War, tasked with locating enemy positions from the air for artillery bombardment. Aircraft like Carpenter’s unarmed L-4 Grasshopper were perfect for low-level, low-speed reconnaissance, but ol’ Bazooka Charlie aspired to do more than spot enemy tanks… he wanted to destroy them himself.

The L-4 Grasshopper military aircraft was just a Piper J-3 Cub with some added plexiglass

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
L-4 Grasshopper (WikiMedia Commons)

The Army’s L-4 Grasshopper, which is more commonly known by its civilian moniker, the Piper J-3 Cub, was an American design out of the Piper Aircraft firm that first went into production in 1938. Its simple strut-braced monoplane design made the aircraft extremely manageable at the sort of low, loitering speeds needed for a reconnaissance or military liaison aircraft. The Cub was so well suited for the role that the American military would eventually order more than 5,400 of the newly dubbed “L-4 Grasshoppers” for the fight.

But the Grasshopper’s performance and capabilities left a lot to be desired compared to some of the more legendary World War II planes like the acrobatic Spitfire, the powerful P-51 Mustang, or the forward-reaching B-29 Superfortress. The aircraft had room for one pilot and one passenger and was almost identical to the civilian-market cub, with the exception of a plexiglass skylight and rear windows for improved visibility in combat environments. With just the pilot on board, the Grasshopper would top out at 85 miles per hour, had a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, and could remain airborne for around three hours. It was also capable of flying very slowly–with a stall speed of just 38 miles per hour–which made it ideally suited not just for recon patrols, but for artillery spotting duties.

Of course, with a trained observer onboard carrying a 25-pound radio, the aircraft was often stuck operating while exceeding its intended weight parameters, but the plucky Grasshopper proved capable for its role, even if it wasn’t quite the war machine other aircraft of the day had become.

Charles Carpenter turned his Grasshopper into a tank-buster

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Charles Carpenter and his L-4 Grasshopper

Charles Carpenter signed up to serve in 1942, shortly after the United States entered the war. He was assigned the role of Grasshopper pilot and became an artillery spotter for the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Initially, the job was fairly safe–German troops rarely fired upon the unarmed scout aircraft for fear of giving away their position, which gave Carpenter a great deal of latitude when it came to performing his duties. As the war stretched on, however, Carpenter began to grow weary of his artillery spotter role, and began looking for ways to play a more active role in the fighting.

It wasn’t long before Carpenter found his way into the fight, jumping on a .50 caliber machine gun during an engagement with Nazi troops. After firing for a few minutes, Carpenter chose to lead a group of soldiers into the German-held town they’d come from and, despite not being their commander, the troops followed. In the midst of the fighting, Carpenter ordered the tank he’d jumped on to open fire on another vehicle that soon proved to be American. He was promptly arrested after the incident and threatened with a court martial… That is, until General Patton himself intervened on the young pilot’s behalf. It was after that close call that Carpenter decided to keep his fighting in the air.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Crew chiefs attach a bazooka to Carpenter’s L-4. (U.S. Army photo)

Inspired by stories he’d heard from other unarmed scout aircraft, now Major Charles Carpenter decided to follow suit, strapping not one but six M1A1 bazookas to the wing struts of his Grasshopper. Aided by an ordnance tech and a crew chief, the bazookas were wired into the cockpit of the airplane and could be fired by flipping switches either individually or all at once. Each bazooka could fire a single rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade that could penetrate as much as three inches of armor plating. That was enough to take out a tank if you hit it in the right places (like on top) but would be practically useless against the Nazi armor when engaging head-on.

Bazooka Charlie and Rosie the Rocketeer

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
(U.S. Army photo)

With his Grasshopper now equipped with enough firepower to rain holy hell down on his enemies, Carpenter took to calling his aircraft “Rosie the Rocketeer,” in honor of the cultural icon representing women working in factories and shipyards back home in the States. His plane wasn’t the only thing to get a new nickname though, and soon after he began flying with his bazookas Charles Carpenter became better known among the troops around him as Bazooka Charlie.

Carpenter’s first kill came quickly, eliminating a German armored car before upgrading some of his bazookas to the more capable M9 platform, which could fire the M6A3 High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds he’d need to go after bigger prey. Soon, the Germans began to realize that the crazy Grasshopper scouting them was just as capable of destroying vehicles as the artillery he guided, prompting them to fire on him any time he appeared in the sky.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
The Deseret News, Oct. 11, 1944

“Word must be getting around among those Krauts to watch out for Cubs with bazookas on them,” Carpenter said at the time.

“Every time I show up now, they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”

Despite the hail of gunfire, Carpenter would dive his aircraft directly at Nazi tanks and open fire with his bazookas at only about 100 meters off the ground. Then he’d pull straight up, hoping to get back out of range of the enemy gunfire before they managed to shoot him down.

The “Mad Major” goes on the offensive

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Lawrence Journal-World – Oct 3, 1944

These exploits soon earned Bazooka Charlie yet another nickname: The “Mad Major.” Although Carpenter had been inspired by other pilots who had armed their aircraft, his wild successes at fighting armored vehicles inspired other artillery scout and reconnaissance pilots to follow suit, but according to press coverage at the time, the other pilots “found that driving their frail aircraft into a hail of German small arms fire was extremely unhealthy.” As a result, most returned to their less-dangerous observation duties.

Whether you knew him as Bazooka Charlie, the Mad Major, or just as Major Carpenter, the man tended to live up his larger-than-life reputation. At one point, he destroyed a German column advancing toward Allied troops and instead of flying back to base, he chose to land his aircraft in a nearby field to scout out the damage he’d wrought. While doing so, he managed to take an additional six German soldiers prisoner with a rifle he’d found on the ground–which, it probably goes without saying, was not a common practice among artillery scout pilots.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
There isn’t much space for POWs in this thing. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“Some people around here think I’m nuts,” Carpenter once said, “but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war, we have to go on with it 60-minutes an hour and 24-hours a day.”

Not long after, Carpenter would match some of the exploits found among Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain, despite flying an aircraft that was never meant for combat. During a patrol, Carpenter found an American infantry unit pinned down by German soldiers and he sprung into action, engaging the German positions with his on-board weapons. When he ran out of firepower, he flew straight back to base and had the ordnance team re-arm his Grasshopper for another jaunt.

After expending all of his rockets again, he returned once more for re-armament. After flying three combat sorties into the fight, Carpenter had managed to destroy two German tanks and break up the Nazi attack. British pilots defending against Nazi bombers in the Battle of Britain would often fly multiple sorties a day in order to beat back the overwhelming Luftwaffe numbers, though they often used amphetamines to push through the exhaustion.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
(Imperial War Museums)

By the time World War II came to a close, Charles Carpenter was officially credited with killing six Nazi tanks, making him an official “tank ace,” though many claim his unofficial number was actually much higher. According to some accounts, Carpenter and his airplane Rosie the Rocketeer took out at least 14 Nazi tanks, a number of other armored vehicles, and dozens of enemy soldiers. He never took so much as a scratch from enemy fire, earning him one more nickname among the Allied troops he fought alongside: the Lucky Major.

With the war at an end, Carpenter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded a Silver star, a Bronze Star, and an Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service, but with no more Nazi tanks to fight from the sky, the legendary pilot hung up his flight suit and went right back to work in the profession he had prior to the war, as a high school history teacher.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

For around 30 years, the food court at the center of the Pentagon’s courtyard was an easy source of mid-afternoon calories for the hungry planners of a potential World War III with the Eastern Bloc. There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the food.

It was said the Soviet Union had at least two nuclear missiles pointed at it at all times.


The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Target Acquired.

The hot dog stand, replaced in the early 2000s with another, presumably less hot dog-oriented food stand, was the center of life for a lot of the Cold War lunches had by the staff at the nation’s most important military building. It was said that the Soviet Union watched the comings and goings of top U.S. military brass in and out of the tiny structure in the middle of the courtyard every day.

They surmised it must be an important planning center or command and control bunker. So, obviously, when the war broke out, it would have to be one of the first things to go. Two ICBMs should take care of it.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

And most of the DMV area.

“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services, told DoD News. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand.”

No one in Russia has ever confirmed this rumor, but the stand still earned the moniker “Cafe Ground Zero.” In reality, substantiated or not, the hot dog stand was smack dab in the middle of the United States’ most important military building. Since the blast radius of the Soviet Union’s best and biggest nuclear missile was big enough to wipe out New York City along with parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it stands to reason that destroying the hot dog stand at the center of the Pentagon would just be a win for clogged arteries.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

A real victory.

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This is the Dunkirk hero who deserted then changed his name to rejoin the army

In 1916, nine-year-old Paddy Ryan was caught in a shootout between the Irish Republican Army and British troops. One of the British men pushed Ryan to the ground, taking a bullet for the young boy. It inspired Ryan to join the Army.


Except Paddy Ryan wouldn’t join the British Army until 1930. But Alfonsus Gilligan, as Ryan was known at the time joined as soon as he could. And deserted shortly after.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Deserters in the era of the second world war left for many reasons; few of them were actually for cowardice. Most of them were actually because months and years of endless combat pushed many of the frontline British troops past their breaking point.

The British Empire abolished the death penalty for desertion after World War I. In World War II Europe, deserters ran the black markets of occupied countries like France and the Netherlands. In Africa, deserters were often recruited into special operations forces like the British SAS.

Alfonsus Gilligan deserted because he wanted to avoid a court martial.

The 17-year-old wore his Irish Guards uniform to a public event in County Cork, Ireland — in defiance of British Army rules. The Irish, who just fought a war of independence against Britain, started a riot. Gilligan escaped unharmed, but was brought up on charges. He never returned to his London-based unit.

He spent a few years as an itinerant farmer and day laborer before he rejoined the British Army with a new name: Frank “Paddy” Ryan.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Frank Paddy Ryan in uniform with his wife Molly and son David taken in 1942. (via Birmingham Mail)

He and his fellow Royal Warwickshires deployed to France in 1940. He was part of the rear guard that held back the Nazis at Dunkirk, delaying them long enough for most of the men to make it off the beaches.

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was overrun at Wormhoudt, in northern France, by the German army. They ran out of ammunition and surrendered with the expectation of proper treatment under the Geneva Convention.

Instead, a Nazi Waffen SS division called Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler took many of Ryan’s friends and brothers from the Royal Warwickshires, along with members of the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and a handful of French soldiers, to a barn near Wormhoudt, and then murdered them with grenades and rifle fire.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

This became known as the Wormhoudt Massacre. Paddy Ryan was not among those killed. He fought on along the Ypres-Comines Canal as they made their way to the beach, being evacuated and returning to England on June 1, 1940.

His daughter didn’t discover her father’s first life until after his death in 2000. It inspired her and her husband to explore his life in more detail.

Articles

Here is the heroine who was as awe inspiring as Wonder Woman

Warner Brothers will showcase the courage and will of the comic book hero “Wonder Woman” this weekend in her big screen debut.


But it might be worth taking a look at the military exploits of Milunka Savic — a real-life Wonder Woman. Savic fought in both Balkan Wars and World War I to become the most-decorated woman of military history.

Savic took her brother’s place to fight for Serbia in 1912, cut her hair and took his name. She earned the rank of corporal and was shot in the chest at the Battle of Bregalnica. It was only during treatment that physicians discovered that she was a woman.

That per her commanding officer into a bit of a predicament — punish such a skilled soldier or risk this young woman’s life. They sent her to a nursing unit instead. She stood at attention requesting to return to her old infantry regiment. The commander said he would think about it and get back to her with an answer.

Savic simply stood at attention until they allowed her to serve in the Infantry.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Milunka Savic was a total badass. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Soon after, Austro-Hungarian troops invaded her homeland, beginning World War I.

Vastly outnumbered at the Battle of Kolubara, Savic entered no-man’s land throwing a bunch of grenades then jumped into an enemy trench and took 20 Austro-Hungarian soldiers prisoner — all by herself.

For her valor, she earned the highest honor of the Kingdom of Serbia — The Order of Karadorde’s Star with Swords. She did the same thing in later battles, capturing 23 Bulgarian troops.

Savic was wounded seven more times in various skirmishes. Few in numbers, her unit continued the fight under the French Army where she fought in Tunisia and Greece. In one instance, a French Officer refused to believe that a woman could be a capable fighter.

He placed a bottle of cognac 40 meters away. If she could hit it, another 19 bottles were for her. She proved him wrong with one shot.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
Via History Click

Savic’s story lives on in Serbia as a true heroine. Her military honors include two Orders of Karadorde’s Star with Swords, two French Legions of Honor, Britain’s Order of St. Michael and St. George, and she is the only woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre — The French Cross of War.

Youtube, The Great War

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Hail to the Chief’ became the Presidential anthem

The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.


During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.

You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.

Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Hail to that mullet, President Polk.

By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.

How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.

By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.

He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Their first battle: George A. Custer charges into Manassas

Famous Maj. Gen. George A. Custer is probably best known for his exploits after the Civil War, but he graduated from West Point in June 1861, arriving in the regular Army just in time to lead cavalrymen in the First Battle of Bull Run that July. Yeah, Custer rode into combat the month after he graduated college.


The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Cadet George A. Custer at West Point in 1859.

(Public domain)

The First Battle of Bull Run, or the First Battle of Manassas as it was known in the South, focused on the railroad intersection at Manassas. The railroads that intersected there were key to Washington’s ability to send troops and supplies south into Virginia in case of an invasion of the South. Both sides knew this and wanted to control the junction.

The South stationed an army there, but those men largely fell back when 30,000 Union troops assembled nearby in June 1861. Just weeks later, the field commander of the Union Army, Gen. Irvin McDowell, proposed using his 30,000 men to further drive back the Confederate defenders and then advance on Richmond. His goal was to capture the Virginia capital, recently selected as the second capital of the Confederacy.

While the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had fallen back when the Union troops showed up, they were obviously not willing to leave the capital undefended. They had to fight the Union at Manassas Junction.

Custer arrived in Washington D.C. on July 20, 1861, the day before the battle broke out. He had been held on West Point’s campus for disciplinary reasons right after he had graduated from the school as the 34th ranked student in a class of 34. Because of his late start after this detainment, he barely reached D.C. in time for the battle.

He reported to the Adjutant-General’s office and was told that he had been assigned as an officer in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. (This was an auspicious assignment. Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee had commanded the unit until January 1861.)

But after giving Custer his orders, the adjutant offered to introduce Custer to Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. At the time, Scott was the Commanding General of the United States Army. Custer gave his assent, and Scott asked Custer if he would rather spend the following weeks training recruits or if he desired “something more active?”

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

A Union artillery battery is overran at the First Battle of Bull Run.

(Sidney King, public domain via Good Free Photos)

Custer said he wanted more active work, and Scott ordered him to procure a horse and report back by 7 p.m. to carry dispatches to McDowell, the field commander. Custer did so, introduced himself to the general and his staff, and then reported to his regiment.

Because of West Point’s detaining him, Scott had managed to ingratiate himself with the Army’s top commander and its top field commander mere hours before its first engagement, a fight he would now ride in. It was a pretty great start for a bottom-of-his-class West Pointer.

But when the actual battle touched off, Custer was present and in the saddle, but did not see serious action. The Union commanders had seven cavalry troops on the field, but largely used them attached to infantry brigades where they would, at most, protect the infantry’s flanks or do a little reconnaissance.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Custer, on the right, as a captain after he captured one of his West Point classmates.

(Library of Congress)

Still, he made himself present and provided warnings to commanders, leading to a citation in reports from the battle and impressing George C. McClellan. The battle went badly for the Union, and McDowell was removed from command. That might seem like a problem for the cavalry officer who had just impressed McDowell, but McDowell was replaced by McClellan.

As McClellan re-organized and re-trained the Union military, he kept an eye on Custer who was quickly impressing others, largely through brash actions. During the Peninsula Campaign, he saw a debate about whether it was safe to ford a river and ended the argument by riding into the middle of it and reporting that, yeah, he wasn’t dead. It was probably fine.

His bravado earned him fans, and his connections to top officers got him looked at for commands that a young officer likely wouldn’t have gotten looked at for. In fact, he rose so quickly that he received a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers at the tender age of 23.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane story of a Russian aircrew’s daring escape from a Taliban prison

In August, 1995, a series of events occurred that would just seem implausible today. A Taliban MiG fighter intercepted a Russian Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD, forcing it to land at Kandahar International Airport in the middle of a nationwide Civil War. The crew and its passengers were taken prisoner by the Taliban. They were held for a year while the Russian government tried to negotiate their release with the help of a U.S. senator

The 1990s were a crazy time. Even with our post-9/11 goggles off, it seems inconceivable that any number of the above could happen – just try to imagine these crazy things:

  • A Taliban MiG fighter
  • Forcing a Russian plane to land
  • Russian government negotiating
  • A U.S. Senator helping Russia

It’s all true, of course. In 1994, the Taliban exploded out of Kandahar and, by the time of this incident, controlled much of the country south of Kabul. When the Airstan plane was flying over, the Taliban were still deadlocked against the Afghan government of the time, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.

It must have been an awkward ask for Rabbani, who spent years fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, only to ask them for weapons in trying to keep it away from other Afghans.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis
TFW you lose Afghanistan and have to ask for help from the people you took it from.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Even Jiffy Lube makes you keep the keys on the dashboard, guys.

The Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD was carrying a load of 30 tons of weapons from Albania bound for the legitimate Afghan government when it was intercepted by a Taliban MiG-21. It was an old fighter, even in the 1990s, but was still enough to bring down the Ilyushin II.

Upon landing, the crew of seven was taken into custody by the Taliban — but the story doesn’t end there. As negotiations between the Russians and the terrorist group began to stall, American Senator Hank Brown stepped in to facilitate the talks, not only buying the Russians time, but also the crew. It didn’t hurt that the Taliban wanted some of their people freed in exchange for their prisoners.

For over a year, the Russian aircrew prepared for their daring escape. Brown managed to get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian Airstan crew maintain their captured aircraft to ensure it was in working order when the time to take off finally came. Brown visited the crew and let them know they would be maintaining it.

But not only did the crew perform its routine maintenance, they also slowly but surely prepared it for their flight home. They finally got their big chance one day, just over a year after being captured. When half of the Taliban who regularly guarded them left the group to attend evening prayers, the crew tricked the others into leaving their weapons outside the plane.

They overpowered the remaining three guards and started the engines.

By the time the Taliban noticed the plane was getting ready for take off, it was already taxiing down the runway. They tried to block their takeoff using a fire truck, but to no avail, the Russians were airborne well ahead of the truck’s position on the runway. The Taliban missed catching the escaping Russians by a mere three to five seconds.

The crew had done the impossible and the Taliban were not able to scramble intercepting aircraft in time to catch them.


They left Taliban airspace as fast as possible and set course for the UAE. By the time they landed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was waiting by the phone to congratulate them. They made it home to Russia shortly after. The crew is said to celebrate their escape from the terrible event like a second birthday. The Taliban are brutal to prisoners, and the crew of the Airstan Ilyushin Il considered the entire country a prisoner of the terror group.

“My heart really goes out to these people. I’ve seen what a poverty-stricken and miserable standard of living they have. They’re still fighting because they’ve nothing left to lose,” a member of the crew told the BBC.

Their daring escape was the subject of a Russian film, Kandagar, in 2010.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What does the World Health Organization actually do?

World War II changed everything. The need for unity against evil and international peace was a concept the world was craving, even with the failing of the League of Nations to prevent World War II. President Franklin D Roosevelt saw the extreme need for the leadership of the United States and created the concept of the United Nations. Although he died before their first meeting, it would come to pass in 1945. At the first meeting, diplomats recognized the need for a global health initiative.

The World Health Organization was born.


The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

World Health Day is celebrated every year as the anniversary that the WHO came into existence, which was April 7th, 1948. The WHO was formed with the firm belief that every human being deserves high standards of health and that it is an inherent right. The original constitution gave them the responsibility of tackling international diseases, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The history of the WHO’s service to the human race is rich. Since its creation, the world has changed and evolved. The WHO’s constitution has been amended forty-nine times to adapt these changes. The WHO has guided the world through things like discovery of antibiotics and life saving vaccines for polio and the measles. They would go on to develop the Expanded Programme on Immunizations to bring vaccines to children worldwide and save countless lives.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Their smallpox vaccine campaign eliminated the deadly virus from this earth. They were also behind the saving of 37 million lives with their initiative on the detection and treatment of tuberculosis. In 2003 they developed the global treaty to tackle tobacco, which according to the WHO website, has killed 7.2 million. This is more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In 2012 the WHO developed a plan to target things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They would continue to focus on overall health, eventually outlaying their recommendation for global health coverage in 2018.

The impact that the WHO has on the world is unmeasurable. They remain committed to responding to health emergencies, elimination of communicable diseases, making medication accessible, training health care professionals, and prioritizing the health of everyone.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The military origin of the classic gin and tonic cocktail

Some days, you just feel like you need a drink. Other days, you can’t live without one. For hundreds — maybe thousands — of English troops, there’s one drink that literally saved their lives: the gin and tonic.


It all started when the Spanish learned that Quechua tribesmen in the 1700s (in what is now Peru) would strip the bark from cinchona trees and grind it to help stop fever-related shivering. The active ingredient in the cinchona power was a little chemical known as quinine. It didn’t take long before Spain began to use the remedy to fight malaria.

Eventually, the treatment made its way around the world, helping the British colonial government in India maintain order.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Any gin is a better complement to wood shavings than wine.

Whilethe French mixed the cinchona with wine, the British mixed theirs with gin,sugar, and,often, a bit of lemon. Later on, this mixture became even more pleasantwhen a Swiss jeweler of German descent, Johann Jakob Schweppe, created amixture of bubbly soda water, citrus, and quinine—and calledit “Schweppes Indian Tonic Water.”

By 1869, Indian companies were manufacturing their own soda water and lemon tonics. With easy access to the soda and one of Britain’s favorite spirits, the redcoats were free to continue colonizing the subcontinent unabated by pesky mosquitoes.

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

Too bad there wasn’t a cocktail that helped the British conquer Afghanistan.

Today’s tonic water has much less quinine in it. To prevent malaria, you’d need between 500-1,000 milligrams of quinine, but consuming an entire liter of tonic water today would only get you about 83-87 milligrams. Quinine alone isn’t even an effective treatment for the disease anymore, as malarial parasites have grown resistant to the drug. These days, a drug cocktail is more effective at malaria prevention than quinine alone.

So, bring along your Hendrick’s and Tonic, but don’t forget to bring your malaria pills, too.


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