Thomas Hudner had a unique view of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was flying his Corsair above the fray as the Marines held on for dear life down below. That’s when a fellow naval aviator, Ens. Jesse Brown, was shot down by Chinese small arms fire. Hudner’s ensuing rescue would earn him the first Medal of Honor awarded during the Korean War.
But the pilot wasn’t thinking about medals.
Hudner watched powerless as his buddy crash-landed five miles behind enemy lines. The plane was belly-down, but it didn’t look good — until Hudner saw Brown waving. They called a rescue helicopter, but it wouldn’t arrive for at least 30 minutes. The Chinese were all around the area and Brown was stuck in the cockpit of his burning Corsair.
“I was not going to leave him down there for the Chinese,” Hudner was quoted as saying in his New York Times obituary. The Times called it a “civil rights milestone,” but Hudner wasn’t thinking of Brown as a black pilot. Brown was a Navy pilot — a U.S. Navy pilot.
President Truman had ordered the integration of the Armed Forces of the United States only two years prior. It worried many in government that black men and white men might not be able to fight alongside one another. Ensign Brown was the first African-American naval aviator.
Hudner risked a court martial when he deliberately landed his plane, wheels-up, in sub-zero temperatures, ran to Brown’s Corsair, and simultaneously tried to control the fire and free his trapped shipmate. Hudner radioed the rescue crews to bring an ax and a fire extinguisher.
Hudner injured his back in the crash, but it was all for naught. Brown’s leg was pinned down by the fuselage and night was coming. The helicopter couldn’t fly at night and they would all freeze to death in the open if the sun went down before they could free Brown.
Unfortunately, Brown lost consciousness and the helicopter pilot ordered Hudner to leave. Hudner promised he would come back for him. Four months later, President Truman awarded Hudner the Medal of Honor for his heroic crash-landing and rescue of his shipmate, downed behind enemy lines.
He wouldn’t be able to come back for Brown until 2013, when the retired naval aviator flew to Pyongyang, North Korea to attempt to find Brown’s remains. Though the government agreed to the expedition, they were unsuccessful in finding Brown.
Hudner has an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named in his honor and lobbied then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to name a guided missile destroyer for Brown. The first USS Jesse L. Brown, a Knox-class frigate, was decommissioned in 1994 and sold to Egypt.
There is no doubt that the most well-known and infamous pirate of all time is Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. He terrorized the Caribbean for years before his eventual death in 1718. Three hundred years later, his massive, hidden fortune is still lost to history.
Despite how they’re portrayed in pop culture, pirates did not leave maps laying around with an “x” marking the spot — probably because that’s a terrible plan. If anything, they would know a general location and remember where it was buried. When it comes to massively successful pirates like Blackbeard, however, a single treasure chest buried six feet deep wouldn’t be nearly enough.
In fact, as far as we know, only one pirate, Thomas Tew, used an actual treasure chest to stow his prize. That particular cache of wealth was valued at around $102 million in today’s money. According to Blackbeard’s ledger, his wealth was evaluated at a (comparatively) paltry $12.5 million. If you think that’s suspiciously low for a pirate of his stature, you’d be correct. His ledger also notes that his real treasure “lay in a location known only to him and the devil.”
In terms of a suitable hiding spot, it’s more than likely stowed in a cave similar to Dungeon Rock in Massachusetts, where pirate Tom Veal hid his treasure. Knowing that Edward Teach often docked in the Carolinas, that’d be a logical start for treasure hunters. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina was his most common hang-out spot, but if it hasn’t been found there over the last three hundred years, you can be sure it’s not there.
Weeks before his death, Blackbeard knew his time was coming to an end. The Spanish and British were hot on his tail and, if he hadn’t already, he wouldn’t have had the time to consolidate all of his Caribbean treasures. He went down with his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of Ocracoke Island.
Many ships have been discovered off the shore, but none have identified as Queen Anne’s Revenge. Although Blackbeard’s ship was boarded, no Englishman was recorded as becoming extremely wealthy after the raid there’s little reason to believe that there was a large sum of money on his ship.
As far as anyone knows, it’s still out there somewhere…
As exciting as the sudden appearance of thousands of hatchets at the front was, it’s not clear that they were actually used violently. The mounted infantrymen carried them into battle, but the weapons’ main contribution to the war effort seems to have been logistical.
It’s unlikely that the unit would have found much use for the hatchets in combat. Each man could fire seven shots between reloads, making it unlikely that enemy forces could march into range of the hatchets. And the men rarely rode their horses during the actual fighting. Instead, they would ride quickly to the battlefield, dismount, and send the horses to the rear.
In that way, the mounted infantrymen really were the predecessors to mechanized infantry and air assault infantry rather than cousins to the cavalry.
And if they had been cavalry, they probably would have been saddled with those common sabers instead of their awesome, namesake hatchets.
The British battleship HMS Rodney stands out just by looking at her photo.
She and her sister ship, HMS Nelson, had a unique design — their entire main battery forward of their superstructure.
The Rodney took part in the bombardment of the Normandy beaches during the initial stages of Operation Overlord, capping off a wartime career that also included taking on the German battleship Bismarck.
It was during the final battle with the Bismarck that HMS Rodney would achieve a unique distinction among battleships — as the only one to torpedo another battleship. How did this come about? In fact, torpedoes seem like an odd thing to put on a battleship, especially as MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Nelson-class battleships had nine 16-inch guns.
But HMS Rodney was equipped with two 24.5-inch torpedo tubes with a number of reloads.
These torpedoes could pack quite a punch. According to NavWeaps.com, they carried 743 pounds of TNT and could travel at a top speed of 35 knots and a maximum range of 20,000 yards. In other words, it could ruin just about any warship’s day.
That can be very useful for a ship in combat.
Why? Because sometimes, battleships fought at close quarters. For instance, the Battle of Tsushima Strait was fought at very close range, according to WeaponsandWarfare.com. In that case, a torpedo would have a good chance of scoring a hit.
Even if the torpedoes were fired at a longer range, an opponent would have to dodge them, and that might allow for a tactical advantage because even though battleships are tough, their captains don’t want to take a torpedo hit if they can help it.
The Nelson-class batt;eships in front of HMS Revenge. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
On May 27, 1941, when the Brits caught up to the Bismarck the Rodney closed in, firing numerous broadsides at the Bismarck. According to a report by an American observer, at one point, the commander of the Home Fleet, Sir John Tovey, ordered the Rodney to fire her torpedoes if possible. About 2.5 hours later, one of the Rodney’s torpedoes scored a hit on the German battleship.
Ultimately, the Bismarck would be sunk by torpedoes from the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire. The Rodney would go on to serve in the Royal Navy until she was scrapped in 1949. But she always holds the distinction of being the only battleship to torpedo another battleship.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
In 1942, a Japanese fleet of almost 100 ships, led by the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, attempted an even more overwhelming attack that would have kicked the U.S. out of the Central Pacific and allowed the empire to threaten Washington and California. Instead, that fleet stumbled into one of the most unlikely ambushes and naval upsets in the history of warfare.
Thanks to quick and decisive action by key sailors in the fleet, the U.S. ripped victory from the jaws of almost-certain defeat.
The first big decision that saved Midway Atoll came as Pearl Harbor was still burning. Intelligence sailors like Cmdr. Edwin Layton had to figure out what Japan would do next.
Patrick Wilson as Cmdr. Edwin Layton in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Naval intelligence knew that Japan was readying another major attack. Layton was convinced it was aimed at Midway, but Washington believed it would hit New Guinea or Australia. Layton and his peers, disgraced by the failure to predict Pearl Harbor, nevertheless pushed hard to prove that the Japanese objective “AF” was Midway.
A clever ruse where they secretly told Midway to report a water purification breakdown, then listened for whether Japan reported the breakdown as having occurred at “AF” proved that Midway was the target and allowed the Navy to concentrate valuable resources.
Next, Layton’s new boss, Adm. Chester Nimitz, agreed with his intelligence officers and prepared a task force to take on Japan. But Japanese attacks and other priorities would make that a struggle. The daring Doolittle Raid in April against Tokyo proved that American airpower was capable of striking at the heart of Japan, but it tied up two aircraft carriers.
Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Then, America lost a carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea and suffered near-catastrophic damage to another, the USS Yorktown. With only two carriers ready to fight but the attack at Midway imminent, Nimitz made the gutsy decision to prepare an ambush anyway. He gave repair officers at Pearl Harbor just three days to repair the USS Yorktown even though they asked for 90.
Still, Nimitz would have only three carriers to Japan’s six at Midway, and his overall fleet would be outnumbered more than three to one.
If this under-strength U.S. fleet was spotted and destroyed, Japan would finish the victory begun at Pearl Harbor. Cities in Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast would be wide open to attack.
After a few small strikes on June 3, the Battle of Midway got properly underway in the early hours of June 4. The opening clash quickly proved how easily the base at Midway would have been steamrolled without the protection of the carriers. The 28 Marine and Navy fighters on the atoll were largely outdated and took heavy losses in the opening minutes. It quickly fell to the carrier-based fighters to beat back the Japanese attack.
But something crucial happened in this opening exchange: A PBY Catalina patrol plane spotted two of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. could go after the enemy ships while Japan still didn’t know where the U.S. fleet was. The decision to search this patch of ocean and report the sighting would change history.
American bombers and torpedo planes launched from 7 am to 9:08 and headed to the Japanese carriers in waves.
When Ensign George Gay Jr. took off that morning, it was his first time flying into combat and his first time taking off with a torpedo. But he followed his commander straight at the Japanese ships, even though no fighters were available to cover the torpedo attack.
The torpedo bombers arrived just before the dive bombers, yet the Japanese Zeros assigned to defense were able to get to Gay’s squadron. An estimated 32 Zero planes attacked the Douglas TBD Devastators, and all 15 planes of Gay’s squadron were shot down.
Gay survived his crash into the sea and was left bobbing in the middle of the Japanese fleet for hours. But the decision of the torpedo pilots to attack aggressively despite having no fighter cover and little experience drew away the squadron of Mitsubishi Zeroes guarding the Japanese carriers. This risky gambit would allow the dive bombers to be lethal.
One of the dive bomber pilots was Navy Lt. Dick Best. A faulty oxygen canister injured him before he ever saw an adversary, and then a co-pilot suffered a mechanical failure, but he kept his section of planes flying against the Japanese carriers.
Ed Skrein as Dick Best (left) and Mandy Moore as Anne Best in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Best was forced to decrease altitude and ended up at the lead of the dive bombers right as they reached the Japanese fleet. He took his section through a series of violent maneuvers before they released their bombs over the carrier Akagi at full speed. Two bombs destroyed planes taking off, and another did serious damage to the deck. One of the hits jammed the carrier’s rudder, forcing it into a constant turn that made it useless until it sank. Another two carriers were destroyed in that attack as Gay bobbed in the ocean.
The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu circles to avoid bombs while under attack by Army Air Force B-17 bombers from Midway Atoll on the morning of June 4, 1942. Soryu suffered from some near misses, but no direct hits during the attack.
(U.S. Air Force)
Best was injured, and mourning lost friends, but he took part in a later attack that afternoon and bombed the carrier Hiryu despite curtains of fire coming from the carrier and a nearby battleship. Hiryu was the fourth Japanese carrier lost in the battle, and it created a sea change in the war.
Japan was forced out of the Central Pacific, and America was on the warpath, all thanks to the decisions of U.S. sailors like Best, Gay, Nimitz, and Layton.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?
The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.
Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.
The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.
In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.
The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.
After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.
Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.
As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.
Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.
It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.
So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.
On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.
Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.
However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.
Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.
That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.
Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.
The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.
While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.
In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.
Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Boxing is a sport that empowers human ambition and drive unlike any other form of activity. The physical preparation boxers make before a fight is unparalleled and the adrenaline rush after a well-deserved victory is irreplaceable. There’s just no comparison to any other form of winning. Maybe that was boxing’s appeal to deployed American sailors.
By the end of the Spanish-American war, the U.S. Navy occupied the Dominican Republic and sent a heavy naval force along the shores of this small Caribbean island in order to protect the U.S. government’s financial interest.
Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time and he believed implementing combative boxing events on naval vessels would increase military morale by having competitors pummel one another for glory. These events grew very popular and in no time boxing became a main sporting activity widespread across the Navy.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan…until one match went too far and turned fatal on July 8, 1908, aboard the USS Yankee.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Not long after the orders were passed down, boxing matches were being held on the decks of naval vessels in order to generate unit cohesion. To liven up the troops and sailors alike, these events were code-named “Smokers.”
Smokers went from a recreational sporting matches to prizefighting spectacles in no time, providing the opportunity to earn respect and extra pay for those sailors in need of a salary hike. This gave minority sailors – primarily Jewish and black sailors –the chance to be seen as more than just their ethnic background. It was one way to earn respect from and build camaraderie with their white counterparts in the days before a racially integrated military.
On July 8, 1908, onlookers cheered and mocked the fighters as the contestants took the stage. Raphael Cohen, a Jewish coal shoveler on the USS Yankee, awkwardly took the ring, awaiting the confident Jordan R. Johnson, a black gunners-mate from the USS Olympia, whose experience could be seen in his cold, unbroken deathly glare.
Both men came from humble beginnings, hardened by their fair share of turmoil, which may have been what brought them into the ring – or as the fighters would call it, the circle of truth.
Johnson joined the military at age 15 and quickly became a victim of physical abuse by his fellow shipmates. This was easily identifiable by unexplained scars on his ribs, abdomen, and neck. Growing up, Johnson spent nights shackled in irons, which turned him into a hardened fighter and earned him fear and respect on the Olympia. The ship’s decks became his training ground as he fought anyone who would meet him.
Cohen, on the other hand, was a young man looking for his identity, merely trying to to find where he belonged in this testosterone-heavy environment. After marrying at a young age, he believed the Navy would turn him into a man (or at least the man he thought he should be) so he searched to prove to himself that he was tough enough to hang with the other fighters.
Both fighters were eager to get the fight going once the bell rang. The fully-charged Cohen fearlessly ran straight at Johnson, whose patience and experience kept him calm throughout the exchange. They fought hard, throwing caution to the wind, and neither giving in as the rounds continued.
Hundreds of sailors and Marines went wild as the two boxers pummeled one another. As each round continued, the crowd could see Cohen weakening. Even the referee questioned Cohen’s condition before allowing him to remain in what would become Cohen’s last stand.
By the eighth round, Cohen had enough, finally slumping to the ground after a crisp shot to the temple landed by Johnson rattled Cohen and left him unable to continue.
Johnson was victorious but what had he really won? Cohen would later be raised onto a stool and carried out of the ring. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead in the medical room.
An autopsy would later reveal the cause of death being a massive blood clot found inside of Cohen’s brain, attributed to the excessive beating he received in the bout. Captain Edward Francis of the USS Yankee later denied all involvement with the organization of the fight and reported Cohen’s death as “not in the line of duty.”
Cohen’s remains were buried in the Dominican Republic but later sent back to his family in New York in 1911. His remains were finally laid to rest in Maimonides Cemetery in Brooklyn. Jordan Johnson was cleared of all wrongdoing and left the Navy a year later. In 1929, Johnson passed away at the young age of 46, leaving the events of that day as a piece of untold military history.
Immediately after the birth of aviation, there was a race to beat records, improve techniques, and push aerial boundaries. Being the first female to break the sound barrier is just one of the many records that Jacqueline Cochran holds, solidifying her place in history as a pioneer of the Golden Age of flying.
Jacqueline Cochran was born Bessie Lee Pittman on May 11, 1906, in Muscogee, Florida. Growing up in poverty, by just six years old, she started working at her family’s cotton mill in Georgia. Her childhood was rough, but it ingrained in her a will and resolve that catapulted her in achieving personal goals.
A young Jacqueline Cochran on the precipice of her aviation career.
She went on to marry George Cochran at the young age of 14 and changed her name to Jacqueline Cochran. Her marriage didn’t last, but that didn’t stop her from making a name for herself in the business world. In the early 1930s, she decided to venture into becoming a beautician and, eventually, owned her own cosmetics company that lasted well into the 1970s.
Jacqueline Cochran simultaneously ran her successful cosmetic line during her aviation career.
However, it seemed that ordinary life was not suited for Cochran. She wanted to make a difference in the war efforts of the time and felt that flying would offer the hand-hold to do so. In 1932, her ambitions reached into the world of aviation and she began to train and study. After just three short weeks of instruction, she received her pilot’s license and set her sights even higher.
Above, Jacqueline Cochran in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
Cochran obtained many prestigious titles, including being the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy during the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race. She set an international altitude and speed record while becoming the first woman to make a blind landing. She earned the Distinguished Service Medal for leading the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WAFS) and continued to set speed records for 15-, 100-, and 500-km courses after breaking the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre in 1953.
Chuck Yeager championed for Jacqueline Cochran and supplied her with guidance before she broke the sound barrier.
In addition to all these impressive records, she had time to lend a hand to the advancement of female aviators when she gained command over the British Air Transport Auxiliary, consisting of a select group of female pilots. In the U.S., Cochran directed the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1942, which provided more than one thousand pilots to the armed forces.
At the time of her death in 1980, her persistence and drive for excellence attributed to her collection of more speed, distance, and altitude records than anyone in the world, male or female.
“Jackie was an irresistible force… Generous, egotistical, compassionate, sensitive, aggressive — indeed an explosive study in contradictions — Jackie was consistent only in the overflowing energy with which she attacked the challenge of being alive.”
Poland doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it should for its performance in the Second World War. The Nazi invasion of Poland is too often glossed over as a starting point for World War II as viewers just wait for Britain, the Soviet Union and United States to get involved.
But the Nazis had their hands full with Poland in the West, even as the Soviets were coming in from the East. Despite being outnumbered, outgunned and obsolete, the Poles weren’t about to just roll over for anyone. These are the people who enlisted an angry, drunk bear to fight with them, after all.
If the rest of the Nazi invasion of Poland had gone the same way as the 1939 Battle of Wizna, the Nazis would have been sent home packing. The Poles gave them a bloody nose that forced the Germans to reconsider how they invaded other countries.
On Sept. 7, 1939, around 700 Polish soldiers manning a half-finished fortification near the Polish town of Wizna, very close to Warsaw. Some 40,000 Germans with 350 tanks and 650 pieces of artillery, led by vaunted General Heinz Guderian were coming right for them.
Wizna was the centerpiece of a 9-kilometer line that protected the Biebrza river crossing. By the time Nazi tanks crossed over the border, only a handful of the reinforced concrete bunkers that made up the fortifications were complete. The Poles held the high ground but augmented the defenses with trenches, barbed wire, and minefields. They were as ready as they would ever be.
They were about to make such a stand that Guderian had to answer questions about it for the rest of his life.
Though the Germans captured Wizna almost immediately, their attempt to cross the nearby Narew River were thwarted when Polish engineers blew the bridge as they crossed. Every time they tried to make small unit raids under the cover of darkness, the Poles threw them back.
The German Luftwaffe dropped leaflets on the defenders, telling them Poland was captured by the Nazis and encouraging them to surrender. Polish officers in the fortifications told their troops they wouldn’t be taken alive. With that out of the way, the Nazi assault continued.
By Sept. 8, the Poles had to abandon the trenchworks for the relative safety of the half-finished bunkers. They were cut off from the rest of the retreating army, including their own artillery support. Enemy tanks were able to move on an capture nearby towns, but the Poles were keeping the wehrmacht at bay with heavy machine guns in well-placed pillboxes.
The Germans attacked from both the North and South over the course of three days, having to clear each of the heavily-defended bunkers one by one. To take them, the Germans would have to destroy most of them to crush the Polish resistance inside.
Eventually a ceasefire was called and surrender options were laid out. The officer in charge of the Polish defense, Capt. Wladysław Raginis, ordered his men to surrender only because they were running out of ammunition.
Only 70 Poles who defended the Wizna fortifications that day survived. The Nazis never released their official body count of the Germans who died trying to take it.
Nazi subs prowled the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.
Herbert G. Claudius was in command of the patrol ship USS PC-566 in 1942. His mission and that of his crew was to monitor the Louisiana coast and its territorial waters for signs of any Nazi u-boat activity. On July 30, 1942, they got their chance, sinking a submarine that was preying on American shipping. For this, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with a Combat V device. The medal was issued in 2014, 72 years after the action.
At the time, Claudius was relieved of command for the same action.
USS PC-566 was a submarine chaser patrol boat, much like the one seen here.
In all, Hitler sent around 22 or more u-boats into the Gulf of Mexico at the outset of World War II, and they were successful. The submarines prowling the coasts of Texas and Florida picked off an estimated 50 ships during the war. They were wreaking absolute havoc on American shipping, and the United States Navy was only able to sink one of them. That’s the u-boat taken down by Claudius’ USS PC-566 and her crew.
On July 30, 1942, the passenger liner SS Robert E. Lee was torpedoed and sank by U-166 45 miles south of the Mississippi River Delta. Upon entering the area, Claudius and his crew spotted U-166’s periscope and dropped depth charges into the water until an oil slick bubbled up to the surface – proof positive they hit their target, possibly destroying the boat.
When Claudius reported the action to the Navy, the Navy was skeptical because the crew of PC-566 had not yet received anti-submarine training and admonished the crew of the patrol boat for poorly executing the attack. Their skipper was relieved of his command and sent to anti-submarine school instead of receiving the Legion of Merit he so richly deserved. After reviewing the evidence presented to the Navy by Ballard and by oil companies who also found the wreck, the Navy reversed course, just 72 years too late.
In a 2014 ceremony, Claudius’ son, also named Herbert G. Claudius, received his father’s Legion of Merit from then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the Pentagon. The elder Claudius, who died in 1981 after 33 years of Naval service, “would have felt vindicated.”
Dean Ivan Lamb was many things in his life, but first and foremost, he was an accomplished aviator. Having (more or less) dueled one of his best friends in the world’s first-ever dogfight during the Mexican Revolution, he went on to serve in many more air forces in his time behind the stick.
But his most lasting contribution to the world has a little more kick – the Pisco Sour.
Dogfighting in these would make anyone thirsty.
Lamb had been flying almost as long as men had invented heavier-than-air flying machines, attending an aviation school in 1912, less than a decade after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Before he even graduated, he made his way down to Mexico as an airman for hire, coming into the employ of Mexican General Benjamin G. Hill. He was ordered to take down the opposing pilot, another American mercenary airman named Phil Rader. This was the first-ever dogfight between planes, but the men didn’t really try too hard to kill each other, eventually both made their ways back home. But Lamb continued the aviator-for-hire business, making his way to England in time for World War I.
In the Great War, Lamb allegedly performed wonders for Britain’s Royal Flying Corps, becoming an ace before the war’s end. After the war, he started running letters for the post office by airmail. But postwar life was a little boring for Lamb, as it can be for many veterans, so he went down south. Way down south. To South America.
Dean Lamb traveled around the continent, helping establish the Air Force of Honduras and flying missions in conflicts in Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay in his time there. From Panama to Bolivia, the southern hemisphere knew the name of Dean Ivan Lamb. But his most enduring accomplishment has nothing to do with war or death, unless you have too much. Lamb, it turns out, was an avid drinker.
The pilot enjoyed good ol’ American whiskey and fine French champagne when it was available in mass quantities. He loved rum and cokes at a time when Coke was something entirely new, and he always sampled the local liquors. Ten-year-old tequila was his favorite in Mexico, in Brazil it was cachaça, and in Lima, he drank Pisco. He may not have created the Pisco Sour, but he certainly helped it find an audience in the United States.
Which should include everyone.
When the skies were too overcast to take to the air, Lamb would take to the bar. The bar serving the strongest Pisco Sours in Peru, the honor of which belonged to a place called Morris’ Bar in the Hotel Maury, according to Lamb’s autobiography, The Incurable Filibuster: Adventures of Col. Dean Ivan Lamb. The cocktails at the Hotel Maury – especially the Pisco Sour, where the drink was first created – were allegedly so strong the bartenders weren’t allowed to pour more than one for anybody. When Lamb argued his way to another round, he got so belligerent he had to leave Peru the next day.
“I have hazy recollections of an argument about another one, something of a fight in a Chinese restaurant, police, soldiers, more battles and crowds of people waking in the hotel with a guard of soldiers holding off people with bills for damages,” he wrote.
And with that, Lamb was on his way back to the United States, fueled by a drink that can only get you kicked out of the Peruvian Air Force.
When Milunka Savić’s brother got the notice that he was to be drafted to serve in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria, Milunka instead cut her hair and went to serve in his place. It was the first act of bravery and defiance that would come to define her life and her service. By the end of three wars – in all of which she served with distinction – she would be the most decorated female combatant in military history.
The history of women serving in combat is relatively new. Before the mid-20th Century (depending on which army), women were relegated to non-combat roles and medical fields. There are many examples of women who served in combat, however, they just had to hide their true gender, lest they be drummed out of the service. No matter how skilled or valuable, once discovered, they were invariably let go. Not so for Milunka Savić.
Once mobilized, Savić deployed to the front lines an amazing ten times before she was wounded fighting the Bulgarians. It was on her tenth trip to the front that she was wounded in a sensitive area, her chest. Once the medical men got to her, they discovered her secret, and she was sent before her commander. This man wanted to send a very competent soldier to the nursing corps, but Milunka Savić stood at attention for a full hour while he tried to wait her out. Luckily for Serbia, he relented and sent her back to the war.
After returning to duty, she managed to capture 23 Bulgarian prisoners while earning a promotion to Corporal. By the time World War I rolled around Milunka Savić was still in the Serbian Army. The one-woman wrecking crew fought the Great War from the very beginning in 1914, quickly earning a Karađorđe Star with Swords, which was the highest military honor the Kingdom of Serbia could bestow upon its troops at the time – and Savić earned two of them. This wasn’t the only honor she would earn.
During World War I, she managed to rack up two French Légions d’Honneur, Russian Cross of St. George, British medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael, Serbian Miloš Obilić medal. She was also the only female recipient of the French Croix de Guerre. When World War II rolled around, she was no longer in the military, but she chose to keep fighting in her own way. She ran an infirmary for partisans fighting the Nazi occupation.
After the end of World War II, Savić settled down in Belgrade where she lived the rest of her life with three adopted children. She lived on a small government pension but she never stopped watching the door – just in case some Bulgarian tried to come back for revenge.
In America, we call it “eminent domain.” In China, they call it a Wednesday. Or whatever day the government comes and decides to take your house so they can build a freeway across what used to be your living room.
Yang Youde was a 56-year-old rice farmer who one day got the word that the government wanted to develop the land on which his farm stood. He wasn’t having it. He’d heard the stories about other regular people being forced off their land. Yang wasn’t about to become a victim.
Before the Chinese government and the hired agents of the land developers could force him out, he set out to create a system of defenses that would keep them in fear of coming onto his property. Using old stovepipes and fireworks, he built a real-life cannon that could fire rockets up to 100 yards.
“My goal isn’t to hurt anyone, I just want to solve my problem,” Yang told al-Jazeera. “If I get hounded out, I’m left with nothing. What’s my future except to steal, rob, or beg?
In February 2010, they came for him determined to violently force him away. He fired rockets at 30 crews until he ran out of ammo. After a physical altercation, the local police stepped in and forced the developers to come back some other time.
Yang made more ammo. And a giant watchtower. He also converted a push cart into a mobile rocket launcher.
From that high vantagepoint, he was able to hold off 100 demolition crew workers. This time, when the police came, they came for Yang.
Yang was offered the U.S. equivalent of ,000 for his Wuhan-adjacent farm. But he had a nice parcel of land with a fishpond on it. He knew he couldn’t fight the government forever, but he wanted at least a fair price. After all, his contract for the land didn’t run out for another 19 years.
And he said the Chinese government’s compensation policies entitled him to five times the offered amount. The old farmer had been growing watermelons and cotton on the land for some 40 years.
When all was said and done, Chinese state media reported that Yang was offered upward of 0,000 for his land, which he eventually agreed to. According to al-Jazeera, Yang was also held in jail for 51 days and tortured for his famous stand.