Sergeant Henry Gunther was actually a private the day he charged a German machine gun nest for the last time in World War I. He had just been busted down in rank for criticizing the war in a letter he wrote home, and he wasn’t happy about it.
Luckily for millions of other soldiers and civilians in Europe, everyone knew the Armistice would come into effect on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
This is why so many question why Sgt. Gunter charged a German machine gun nest at 10:59 that same day.
Gunther and his unit came across a German position north of Verdun on Nov. 11, 1918. As they took cover from the machine guns, they received word that the war would be over in less than an hour.
That’s when Sgt. Gunther charged the position with a fixed bayonet.
The Germans fired a number of warning shots and tried to yell at Gunther – in English – to stop.
But Gunter wasn’t the only troop to die in that last hour of World War I. Some 3,000 men died in that short time. Some historians even speculate that Gunther was ordered to charge the machine guns.
Even though so many others died around the same time, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John J. Pershing declared that Gunther would be known as the last man killed in action in the war.
Sergeant Henry Gunther was engaged before the war started and just secured a job as a bookkeeper in the Baltimore area before he was drafted in 1917.
After his death was recorded at 10:59, his fellow troops moved his body and buried him near where his company was posted. His remains were moved to the United States in 1923.
On Veteran’s Day 2008, a memorial was constructed on the site where he was killed in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France.
When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.
The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.
In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.
It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.
Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.
Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.
NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.
The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.
Since relocating from Yuma, Arizona, to Iwakuni, Japan, in January, the Marine Corps’ first squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters has been hard at work ironing out the basics of operations in the Pacific, from streamlining supply chains to practicing “hot reloads” and rapid ground refueling from a KC-130.
In fall 2017, the unit — Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 — will deploy aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
And the squadron is well aware that a sea deployment in the tense Pacific could well entail responding to a regional crisis or a combat contingency, Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, the squadron’s commanding officer, told Military.com in an interview this month.
“When I was a young guy in [AV-8B] Harrier land in 2003, several MEUs … were in a normal deployment and something happened, and they ended up in a bigger picture,” Rusnok said, referring to MEU-based combat units dispatched to Iraq to assist with ground operations during the invasion. “That’s something that could really happen. Given the small numbers of F-35s that are out there, I think [combatant commanders] are going to look at that and say, ‘I’ve got six airplanes out on the MEU. I could do something with them.’ ”
VFMA-121 has hit milestones not just for the Marine Corps, but for the entire Defense Department since late 2012, when it became the first squadron to activate with the 5th-generation fighter.
The unit’s reception in the Iwakuni community has been warm, Rusnok said. Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda attended the March change-of-command ceremony for the unit, and an aviation day at the air station drew a crowd of 210,000, with locals surrounding a displayed F-35B “six or seven deep,” he said.
While the squadron has not begun shipboard training, set to happen later this summer, it’s already preparing for the upcoming MEU deployment in practical ways, standing up and proving out logistics capabilities and supply chains for the F-35 in the Pacific.
Working Out Supply Chains
Rusnok noted that, in the space of months, the Joint Strike Fighter program went from being based almost solely in the continental United States to having aircraft in Israel, Italy, and Japan, among other locations.
“That’s such an incredibly complicated, such an exponential growth in geography that it’s almost hard to fathom, if you rewind back several years, to see we’re this far along,” he said. “What we’ve done, I think, at Iwakuni is to break down some of these barriers and find out how that airplane is supportable in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The squadron has worked with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and aircraft maker Lockheed Martin to find faster ways to ship gear and replacement parts, and to send broken parts back to the United States to repair. With a global supply chain and a relatively small number of active aircraft, sometimes a plane in need of a part at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona must get it shipped from Iwakuni, and vice versa.
“Iwakuni is distinctly different from CONUS-based units, not only because of the tyranny of distance in the Pacific region, but we also have a wide variety of places we could potentially go,” Rusnok said. “Expeditionary maintenance logistics are incredibly important to what we do.”
The squadron got to hone its fighting skills earlier this month at Northern Edge, a 12-day training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
The exercise included the Air Force’s 5th-generation F-22 Raptor, as well as numerous fourth-generation fighters, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
In the exercise, the largest VFMA-121 has participated in since moving forward to Iwakuni, the F-35s were able to drill on joint operations in the Western Pacific, focusing on aerial interdiction, strike warfare, air-to-air, and offensive counter-air missions.
Rusnok said the F-35’s kill ratio from the exercise was not immediately available, though one of the missions he flew racked up eight kills and zero losses, he said, a fairly indicative statistic.
But he doesn’t particularly like to talk about those stats.
“Everyone likes to focus on that air-to-air piece. It robs that statistic out of a bigger scenario,” he said. “You never hear about the surface-to-air kills we got, the enemy systems degraded. There’s a bigger picture.”
The exercise, Rusnok said, also tested the F-35’s ability to create a “God’s-eye view” of the battlespace, with its ability to network and transmit information. Northern Edge showed, he said, that the capability remained strong, even in a dense radio frequency environment that hindered transmissions.
“Where other air systems have problems, we’re able to cut through that so easily,” he said. “Our ability to resist that kind of attack on the electromagnetic spectrum is huge.”
Testing Maintenance Software
The squadron also brought with it a deployable version of its Autonomic Logistics Information System, a software designed to revolutionize F-35 maintenance that has been hampered by production and upgrade delays. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report questioned whether ALIS was truly able to deploy in practice, citing a lack of redundancy in the system.
“Every time we deploy this airplane, we make a decision whether to deploy ALIS or leave it home,” Rusnok said.
In this case, he said, the squadron worked with the Air Force to make necessary modifications to host the ALIS deployable operating unit, hardware that travels with the squadron when connectivity is an issue. Overall, Rusnok said, the system worked well during the exercise, and preparing to use it offered insights on its future use.
“Let’s say we’re going to an Air Force base in Country X — we know those facilities are now compatible with ALIS,” he said. “Maybe we can take advantage of this and put it in our playbook as something we can do, optimize to really cut down on that logistics footprint.”
Now back in Japan, the squadron has already begun early preparations for its upcoming deployment, conducting rapid ground refueling tests using the KC-130 Hercules and practicing “hot reloads” in which the aircraft receives new ordnance while the pilot remains in the cockpit.
The unit’s pre-deployment preparations will likely provide insights for units that come after. The next F-35B deployment, aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex, will come months after VFMA-121 deploys to the Pacific and is expected to take the Corps’ second F-35 squadron, VFMA-211, to the Middle East.
“Come the fall, we’re going to have all the pieces in place so we can effectively deploy the squadron,” Rusnok said.
There’s a very good reason why you can find spears in the history of every civilization and tribe on Earth. It’s not just because they’re simple, be it a common pointy stick or an elaborately engineered and weighted one. And it’s not only because they were relatively cheap, compared to other weapons that could be mass-produced at the time.
No, spears were everywhere because spears work.
The men and women who practice HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, are extremely adept at swordplay, but Nikolas Lloyd (known online as Lindybeige) wanted to see if they could hold their own with history’s most ubiquitous weapon. He equipped sword experts with spears and some with swords, and pitted them against each other to determine which is better, once and for all.
None of the people fighting in the video above are experts with spears and shields, but all are familiar with swordplay. They would be fighting against their favorite weapons.
For the swordsman to have a chance at the spearman, he must be extremely fast, but even speed may not be enough. As Lloyd points out, the head of the spear can move very, very fast itself. There is very little chance of a swordsman closing against an eight-foot spear from any kind of distance – and keep in mind; this is not an expert spearman. In the hands of an expert, there is even less likelihood that the sword will hit its target.
When up close, the spear’s length becomes a drawback, so using a shield to get closer might be the obvious solution. Shields did raise the effectiveness of the sword against the spear, but not by much. When adding to the length of swords, the spear still came out on top. Check out the video to see the which weapon ends up being the most effective in medieval combat.
While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.
In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.
The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.
USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay
The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.
Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.
The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.
The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.
USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines
The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.
The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.
The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.
The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.
USS Nevada shelled Normandy
The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.
While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.
The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.
USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells
The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.
But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.
By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.
The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.
The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.
The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.
The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.
The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.
Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.
This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.
The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.
The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.
The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.
After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.
(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)
ISIS terrorists have taken over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and attracted thousands of new recruits, but the group has also brought some of its former adversaries back into the fight: American military personnel.
Known as the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, it is the Islamist militant group responsible for ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and the destruction of antiquities throughout Iraq and Syria. The Arabs fighting the group call them Daesh, which is an acronym of the group’s name in Arabic and also happens to mean “a bigot who imposes his views on others” (and they will cut out your tongue for calling them that).
The group started out as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, then merged with other groups as Zarqawi was killed and the U.S.-led war in Iraq continued. It took many forms and went underreported in the West until after the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. In 2013, the group split from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni group fighting the Asad government in Syria, declaring a new Islamic State, a caliphate — which muslim groups around the world (including al-Qaeda) flatll condemned. In 2014, when a string of military victories against Iraqi government forces saw Daesh approaching Baghdad on one front and trapping thousands of ethnic Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq. The Yazidis were sure to be slaughtered if Daesh forces caught up to them. Who saved the Yazidis from certain death? The Kurds.
The Kurdish militia in Iraq, the Peshmerga, are the most effective fighting force in the region. Their sister service in Syria, the YPG, are battle hardened from fighting the Asad government and other Islamist faction in the Civil War since 2011. NATO air power provided cover for the already-capable Kurdish ground forces makes the Kurdish militia the best hope for pushing Daesh back into Syria and then cutting off their ability to win followers and wage war. Daesh is well-armed, well-equipped, and well-financed, while the Kurdish Peshmerga need all the help they can get.
Reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War before World War II — when foreigners flocked to that fight — people are coming from all over the world to fight ISIS. Called Heval (“friend”) by their Kurdish allies, Americans are joining the Peshmerga’s International Brigade, the Syrian YPG’s Lions of Rojava, or a number of other Kurdish units fighting Daesh, and two-thirds of them are U.S. military veterans. Former Army reservists, Marines, Rangers, and other U.S. military veterans are coming by the dozens,lest the Daesh brand of violence engulf the whole world, like Fascism did after the Spanish Civil War. Each has their own reason for coming, each left their own lives behind.
Jordan Matson, from Wisconsin, was among the first to volunteer. He didn’t spend a long time in the Army, but he’s ready to stay with the Kurds for the long haul.
As of September 2015, the YPG boasted more than a hundred American ex-military members. The Peshmerga had only a handful, as those who are discovered by U.S. forces in Iraq are routinely forced away from the front.
Sean Rowe is from Jacksonville, Florida. He did two tours in Iraq while in the Army.
“This is something I feel compelled to do,” Rowe told his hometown newspaper. “Women and children are being slaughtered over there. They need our help. I know we can make a difference.” Rowe is an Ohio native who founded Veterans Against ISIS so he could “take the fight to them.”
Bruce Windorski is a 40-year-old former Army Ranger from Wisconsin. He is fighting in Syria with Jamie Lane, a decorated Marine veteran from California. Windorski’s brother was killed when his helicopter was shot down in Kirkuk. He originally ventured to Kirkuk to make peace with that. He went to fight in Syria instead. Lane saw footage of ISIS capturing Anbar province, where he served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007.
“My friends were killed on these very streets,” Lane told the Wall Street Journal. “I felt a big part of my PTSD is trying to find a reason for that mayhem and bloodshed, and I thought maybe if I go back I can fill that hole.”
Lane joined through the Lions of Rojava Facebook Page, which advertises: “Welcome to our Family Brothers and Sisters. Join YPG…and send ISIS terrorists to Hell and save Humanity.” Some even come back to America to help other veterans get into the fight. Lu Lobello of Las Vegas, Nev. is one such veteran.
“America is not fighting Islamic State,” Lobello, a Marine, told the Wall Street Journal. “But Americans are.”
In the video above, the Americans recall being pinned down as ISIS fighters closed in on their position, saved at the last minute by an armored Kurdish bulldozer. They hopped in while the driver covered their movement and drove the dozer with his feet.
“There’s evil in this world that needs to be dealt with,” Kurt Taylor, a former soldier from Texas told Fox News. “They’re no joke. They’re very disciplined, highly effective fighters. If we’re not careful, they’ll win.”
With Taylor is an unnamed Marine from Washington State and Aaron Core, a former Tennessee National Guardsman whose tour in Iraq ended in 2010. When the terrorist organization killed journalist James Foley in August of 2014, he was determined to come back. They do not get paid for their time with the Kurds.
Samantha Johnston left her three children with a care taker and came to Iraq to help the children there.
“These children here who are homeless, orphaned; mothers and sisters have been raped and sold, fathers who have been killed,” Johnston told the Daily Mail. “They are suffering, and I knew that I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I couldn’t look my children in the eyes and say, ‘I didn’t do anything to help.'”
Patrick Maxwell is a real estate agent in Austin, Texas. When he was in Iraq as part of his Marine Corps duties, he never saw the enemy, never fired a shot. Maxwell, who separated in 2011 and had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life, still considers himself a warrior.
“I figured if I could walk away from here and kill as many of the bad guys as I could,” Maxwell told the New York Times. “That would be a good thing.”
Roberto Pena joined the Marines in 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. He fought as a Rifleman in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 and fully understands the risks of going back to fight ISIS today.
“It’s about humanity itself,” he told NBC San Diego. “We cannot let atrocities continue to happen and history keep repeating itself, where we just turn a blind eye.”
This month, a UK-based investigative journalism organization called Bellingcat released the results of a study it conducted on why Americans go to fight ISIS. Like the few mentioned here, some go out of a sense of moral need, some go for religious beliefs, and some are veterans who struggle to rejoin civilian life.
Americans who go off to Iraq and Syria to join Daesh face numerous criminal charges if they return. That isn’t so for those going off to fight them. Governments of Canada and the Netherlands openly say there are no consequences for citizens going to fight ISIS in Iraq or Syria.
Running off to join the Kurdish fighters is easy, but not without its risks, of course. In June, Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts died during the battle for Kobani, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border. Broomfield believed a divine message told him to fight for the Kurds. Turkey has since entered the conflict and as part of its ongoing war with Kurdish separatists, has taken to bombing Kurdish positions where Western fighters might gather before advancing on ISIS positions. Looming large, too, is the prospect of being captured by Daesh.
The Peshmerga have since stopped accepting foreign volunteers. Other militias still do, but since most of the groups in the field in the region, including the YPG’s sister militia in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party (or PKK) are considered terror groups by the United States and allies, the unwary volunteer my end up fighting for the wrong side.
Sometimes you have a few enemies who absolutely, positively need to go away, and you’re just all out of trusty 5.56x45mm NATO standard with which to work.
A few fighting forces in history have found themselves in the exact same situation and decided to do something about it. They made their own weapons out of everything from leftover liquor bottles to water pipes. Here are seven of their greatest hits.
1. Molotov Cocktail
One of the most famous improvised weapons of all time, the Molotov cocktail is simple and easy to create. During the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, fighters resisting the Soviet-backed army began wrapping glass bottles and jars in fabric, filling them with flammable liquids, setting the fabric on fire and throwing them.
Speaking of homemade mines, fougasses were mines originally created by the British Army to melt tanks if the Germans invaded across the channel. Basically, an explosive charge sends a ton of burning fuel and oil onto a target.
A weapon of choice for the Assad Regime in Syria, barrel bombs are exactly what they sound like. A barrel is stuffed with explosives and oftentimes wrapped in metal before being dropped from a helicopter. When they detonate, the metal turns into a spread of shrapnel with deadly results.
6. Hell cannons
The rebels in Syria have their own answers to their enemy’s barrel bombs, and one of the most frightening is the hell cannon. Improvised barrels fire fin-stabilized propane tanks over a kilometer before a fuse detonates a blast large enough to destroy floors of a building.
Larger versions use oxygen cylinders or even residential water heaters for ammunition and can destroy multiple buildings.
7. Homemade flamethrowers
Another amazing weapon from the Polish resistance in World War II, the K Pattern Flamethrower was basically a compressed air tank, fuel tank, hose, and pipe with a flaming rag on the end.
But they worked, well. They could fire for up to 30 seconds, usually in one-second bursts. Operators cleared houses with them and sometimes even killed large tanks like the Tiger with them.
Presidents of the past had some interesting hobbies. Abe Lincoln could kick your ass if he wanted to — and that’s exactly what he did wrestling in more than 300 matches. He only lost once. Calvin Coolidge installed an electric horse at the White House because he missed the joy of riding. And Dwight D. Eisenhower was a prolific painter, often giving his latest magnum opus to his closest friends. But before that, the OG President George Washington put them all to shame with his thriving whiskey empire in the final years of his life.
As was the norm during the 18th century, Washington was known to sip low-alcohol “Small Beer” for hydration — including while leading the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War. He wrote his own recipe upside down on the last page of one of his notebooks. He also famously ran up an epic bar tab in celebration of writing the Constitution. So when James Anderson, Washington’s Scottish farm manager, approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse, it was only natural for Washington to transform Mount Vernon into the epicenter of whiskey making in the United States.
Anderson leveraged his expertise distilling grain in Scotland and told Washington that Mount Vernon’s crops and copious water supply could produce a profitable whiskey business. The construction began over the winter of 1797 to 1798, and the distillery was built with large river rocks taken from the Falls of the Potomac and sandstone cut from Mount Vernon. Inside the 75-by-30-foot walls were five copper pot stills, a boiler, and 50 tubs for cooking the mash. It had a second floor for storing extra equipment needed for a sophisticated whiskey production and had sleeping rooms for the workers.
Under Anderson were six enslaved men named Daniel, Hanson, James, Nat, Peter, and Timothy, who brought Washington’s whiskey into being. They were all trained specifically for this operation, and it wasn’t out of the norm for other slaves to be skilled in the trades. On Washington’s gristmill-distillery complex, more than 50 enslaved men and women worked as coopers mending metal, carpenters building and repairing tools, blacksmiths for locks and horseshoes, grooms for the horses, textile workers for clothing, dairy maids to care for the estate’s cows, and gardeners for Mount Vernon’s gardens and orchards.
The average distillery of the era had only one or two stills and stilled for a month — Washington’s operation produced whiskey year-round. Washington was able to do this by favoring the innovation of Oliver Evans’ automated gristmill system, which mechanically milled grain and flour without the need of manual labor. This enabled the gristmill to produce 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of flour and cornmeal per day. And nothing went to waste. Even the slop from the distillery was given to Washington’s hogs in a pigpen located just outside.
The recipe for Washington’s most common whiskey was 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. Rather than being aged, bottled, and branded like the spirits of today, it was poured into wooden whiskey barrels and distributed to merchants at their request. By 1799, the same year of Washington’s death, his side hustle was producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey and pulling in a $7,500 profit.
Washington’s distillery was re-created in 2007 thanks to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and it’s become an iconic tourist attraction where visitors get the chance to taste George Washington’s Rye Whiskey in person. It took a silver medal in the 2019 American Craft Spirits Association Awards and is recognized as the official spirit of the commonwealth of Virginia. If whiskey isn’t your thing, they also offer brandy and rum, suitable options for anybody looking to toast one of America’s founding fathers. At the very least, treat yourself to some of Washington’s pancakes.
Twenty-nine years ago, on Jan. 16, 1991, the United States led the massive offensive coalition Operation Desert Storm, during the Persian Gulf War. The forces of this coalition were made up of 32 different countries, all combining efforts to stop and remove Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait the year prior.
There were over 900,000 coalition troops; 540,000 of them were American.
The U.S. began its invasion with air attacks that would decimate Iraq’s air defenses, taking out communications, weapons and oil refineries. Then, a covert and classified bombing mission began, known as Operation Senior Surprise. Its airmen were known as the Secret Squirrels.
Seven B-52G Stratofortresses took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in La., flying around 14,000 round-trip miles to launch 35 missiles at strategic locations in Iraq. They would require air refueling over the Atlantic, but all made it home safely. At the time, it was a world record for the longest bombing mission.
The world watched live on TV with CNN broadcasting around-the-clock coverage. General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell would go on to become household names in America as citizens watched the war unfold in real-time.
The battle would intensify when the massive U.S. led ground offense began. Troops on foot would begin the “100-hour ground battle” on Feb. 24, 1991. This attack would lead to a liberated Kuwait in just under four days.
On Feb. 28, 1991, a cease-fire was officially declared, and Iraq pledged to honor future peace terms. One of the terms was that Saddam Hussein would get rid of all weapons of mass destruction. He would go on to refuse weapons inspectors admittance.
The Gulf War was a test in American diplomacy, with President Bush remembering the lessons of the Cold War. The war was backed by public and congressional support when that diplomacy failed. President Bush appeared to struggle greatly over going to war, even writing a letter to his children on New Year’s Eve of 1990 about the decision. It would go on to become the end of this kind of warfare and the beginning of a new era.
The United States lost 382 troops in the Gulf War, and the Department of Defense estimated that it cost the United States billion dollars. The costs to those who served during the conflict were far greater.
Troops returning from the gulf war began getting sick; 250,000 of them.
The illness was called Gulf War Syndrome. A very wide range of chronic symptoms have been reported, including cognitive problems, respiratory disorders, muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, rashes and digestive problems. The troops were exposed to dangerous pesticides, and the pills given to them to protect against nerve agents would be proven to be part of the cause.
The intent of the United States getting involved in the middle east conflict was to prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining control of Kuwait’s oil, which would have led him to having 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. This would have greatly impacted not just the United States, but many other countries who depend on oil for their way of life. However, it led to the U.S. becoming even more entangled in foreign politics, which would lead to more war, not less.
The Gulf War didn’t prevent the uprisings in Iraq, and we would end up right back there a decade later, losing another 6,967 troops as of 2019. This time we would attack without congressional approval and the support of the other surrounding Arab nations. We would not have the U.N. Resolution in our pocket or local support.
Nineteen years later, we are still at war. The lessons in the Persian Gulf War seem to have been forgotten. Twenty-nine years after the cease-fire was declared, it begs the question – was it worth it?
The reply that came during a seance, according to a defendant’s testimony given at a Kyiv court on March 10, 1948, was that the Soviet dictator was no such thing.
Coming at a time when Josef Stalin’s cult of personality was at its height, such a conversation was sure to attract attention. Especially because the founding father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, was allegedly the one replying from beyond the grave during the conjuring, more than two decades after his death.
Other court evidence revealed that during one of the seances “Lenin” predicted from the afterlife that war was coming — six countries would soon free the Soviet people from Stalin’s yoke.
When asked about the future of Soviet power, an unidentified Russian revolutionary responded that “it won’t exist, with the help of America.”
Such “conversations” were revealed in archived documents of trial testimony and interrogations carried out by the Soviet State Security Ministry (MGB), which included the secret police.
Aside from Lenin, the court heard from a number of early Soviet A-listers, some of whom might have cause to slander Stalin.
Lenin and Stalin.
There was archrival Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940 on the Soviet leader’s orders. And Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, who died under mysterious circumstances after a public argument with her husband in 1932.
Others speaking from the grave included the writers Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Kuprin, as well as famed rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Their questioners were not members of the Bolshevik inner circle, but ordinary residents of the north-central Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva who had never even belonged to the Communist Party.
For their role in conjuring up voices from the past, Ilya Gorban, his sister Vera Sorokina, and his lover Olga Rozova were arrested and accused of anti-Soviet acts and the “creation of an illegal religious-mystical group of spiritists.”
Gorban was an unaccomplished artist when he moved to Bila Tserkva from Kyiv in early 1947, a year before the trial.
The 44-year-old native of the Poltava region had designed museum exhibits and prepared posters and portraits of Lenin for demonstrations. He was wounded during World War II while manning an anti-tank gun near Orel.
He had married and fathered a child. But the marriage ended in divorce and his daughter lived with her mother.
Gorban settled into his new life in Bila Tserkva with his sister, Vera, and got a job at the local industrial plant as a sculptor.
A book lover, he frequented the city library and soon entered into a romance with 39-year-old Olga Rozova, a library employee.
Rozova was married. But her husband — Andrei Rozov, a journalist with a newspaper in Voronezh — had been accused of belonging to an “anti-Soviet Trotskyite terrorist organization” in 1938 and imprisoned for 10 years.
While at work, Gorban had a conversation with colleague Mikhail Ryabinin, who asked the sculptor if he believed in the afterlife and the existence of spirits.
Gorban said he did not, but he did take Ryabinin up on his recommendation that he read the Spirits Book — written in 1856 by Frenchman Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail under the pen name Allan Kardec and considered one of the pillars of spiritism.
The doctrine of spiritism, or Kardecism, centers on the belief that the spirits of the dead survive beyond mortal life and can communicate with the living. The communication usually takes place during seances conducted by a person serving as a medium between this world and the otherworld.
Gorban read it with fascination and proposed that Ryabinin organize a seance. His friend declined, however, saying according to case files that “all these sessions with plates — they are nonsense and baby talk. I contact the spirits at a higher level.”
Gorban’s sister agreed to try, however, and together they conducted a seance based on what they had learned.
They lit candles and sat at a table with a sheet of paper in the center. On the paper the letters of the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes” and “no” were drawn in a circle.
A seance board similar to the one used in Bila Tserkva
A saucer with an arrow from the center to the edge was set over the paper.
The idea was to call on the spirts of a particular person and, if he or she appeared, to ask them questions. If all went well the saucer, beneath the hands of participants, would begin to rotate freely and without force, spelling out answers by pointing to the appropriate symbols on the paper.
Altogether, Gorban and his sister conducted 15 to 20 seances in the summer and autumn of 1947. At times they reached out to people outside the Soviet circle. The spirits of deceased relatives were often conjured up, including the siblings’ mother, who allegedly gave the pair everyday advice. They even got a hold of Alexander Pushkin, but the Russian poet “cursed” them.
Gorban’s girlfriend, Olga Rozova, began to join the sessions, and the group conjured up a late writer who began to compliment her.
“I suspected that this was a trick of Gorban’s, with whom I had been in an intimate relationship,” she recalled during her courtroom interrogation. “The whole session was of a purely personal, amorous character.”
Some sessions were held at Rozova’s apartment, which was inside the library. A friend of hers who headed the local school library, Varvara Shelest, took an interest and also started attending the sessions.
The last seance, according to testimony of group members, was held in December 1947.
They asked Lenin’s spirit about the monetary reforms enacted that year, which included the denomination of the ruble and the confiscation of personal savings.
Knock on the door
A couple of months later Chekists — agents of the feared secret service — came for them.
Rozova was detained on Feb. 19, 1948; Sorokina and Gorban were taken away the next day.
The case was transferred to the authorities in Kyiv, and the trial began on March 6, just two weeks after the suspects were detained.
From the MGB’s point of view, the seances were evidence of the formation of an “illegal religious-mystical group” — which on its own could have led to imprisonment. But the authorities took things one step further by adding the more serious “anti-Soviet” charge.
“This seance had a sharply anti-Soviet character,” read one file. “This deliberate slander pertained to one of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and government.”
When initially questioned, the three did not appear to hide that they had participated in seances. Gorban and Sorokina wrote them off as an attempt to have fun; Rozova said there was no intended goal.
Joseph Stalin, Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin.
But ultimately their confessions were recorded by their interrogators — the sessions were driven by anti-Soviet sentiment and were just a “convenient screen” for “slanderous agitation.”
In his interrogation report, Gorban was quoted as saying he had “tried to defame and slander the Soviet powers and the leaders of the Party and government” to expose the “talentlessness” of Soviet leaders to his alleged accomplices.
Disgruntled by postwar poverty, it was Gorban who had directed the movements of the saucer, according to the documents.
During their trial, those alleged admissions were recanted. Each of the three defendants declared that they did not believe in the otherworld or spirits. When queried about their religious beliefs, each answered that they were atheists. And their sessions, they said, were for entertainment.
“I didn’t think that our sessions were anti-Soviet,” Sorokina testified. “What we did was, of course, not good, but I was, am, and will remain a Soviet person.”
As for the saucer, Gorban said, he had no idea how it moved. All admitted to partial guilt, according to the court files.
The ruling in their case came on March 10, after just two court sessions.
The three were found guilty of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation, and of participation in a counterrevolutionary organization.
Gorban was sentenced to 25 years in a labor camp; Rozova and Sorokina to 10 years each. Gorban would have been executed had the verdict come a year earlier — but the death penalty had recently been suspended.
The mystery of ‘North’
The role of Gorban’s colleague in all this was not forgotten. A criminal case was opened against Ryabinin — the man who had suggested Gorban read the Spirits Book — the same day the others were sentenced.
It is unclear, however, what might have happened to him.
Rozova’s friend, Shelest, also remains a mystery. Despite her attendance at the group’s seances, she was apparently never detained.
According to the case files, she disappeared shortly after the others were nabbed. Material related to her was transferred to a different case, a common step intended to avoid the search for the accused slowing down the investigations of those detained.
When it later emerged that the others had been arrested as part of an underground sting operation, Shelest’s name was not listed among the targets. And when the MGB informed other Soviet authorities about the eradication of a group of spiritists in Bila Tserkva, it made mention only of an informant — codenamed “Sever” (North) — who had attended some of the sessions.
But Shelest’s name did pop up. During their trial the three defendants claimed it was Shelest who initiated most of the “political” questions posed to spirits — including Trotsky, Alliluyeva, and Gorky. Rozova said she had suspicions that Shelest had manipulated the saucer’s movements.
In requesting a pardon in 1954, one year after Stalin’s death, Rozova wrote that “at the trial it became clear to me that Shelest had been tasked with creating an anti-Soviet crime from our seances.” She further argued that Shelest continued to live in Bila Tserkva, yet no one was trying to question her.
Around the same time a prosecutor wrote that while Sorokina and Rozova were “addicted to spiritism because of their curiosity and irresponsibility,” their actions did not result in serious consequences. The two, the prosecutor argued, should be released.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that while the verdicts handed down against Gorban, Sorokina, and Rozova were correct, their sentences were too harsh.
Sorokina and Rozova were released on Feb. 22, 1955, seven years after their arrest. The decision came too late for Gorban, who died in 1950 while incarcerated at a labor camp near the Arctic Circle.
In 1992 — less than one year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — all three were rehabilitated.
When Army basic training soldier Jennifer Campbell was told to run through smoke on the obstacle course, she leaned into it and went for the awesome photo moment of charging through the thickest plume of smoke.
Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t white smoke; it was o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, a potent form of tear gas used to teach basic trainees to trust their chemical masks and other gear. But Campbell wasn’t wearing chemical gear; she was running full speed and sucking down air on an obstacle course.
So the young soldier got two lungs full of the agitating gas, forcing violent coughs as her drill sergeants got a good laugh and the other trainees scrambled to get their masks on.
But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Campbell got her own laughs when the winds shifted and the rest of her platoon got hit unprotected, including the drill sergeant who triggered her episode. See how it all went down in the Go90 video embedded at the top.
On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops.
Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire.
The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.
Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.
Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.
The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue.
The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air.
Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year.
Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.
Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.
In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.
If it weren’t for the Japanese, the Marine Corps’ biggest enemy in the Pacific theater of World War II might well have been the U.S. Army. On at least five occasions, Army commanders were relieved of command for what the Corps deemed was a lack of proper aggression. Those commanders were given the benefit of being relieved by their Army commander. When one brigadier was relieved by his Marine commander, it caused a grudge the branches held on to for years.
Gen. Ralph Smith began World War II with a promotion to brigadier general and a command of American soldiers in the Pacific. With Smith came his experience in previous American conflicts. He served under Gen. John J. Pershing in Mexico, during the Punitive Expedition. He also fought on the Western Front of World War I and was among the first American troops to land in France. He earned two Silver Stars in combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. His bravery and combat credentials were without question.
When he earned his second star, he also took command of the 27th Infantry Division, an Army unit that was soon folded into the 2nd Marine Division. The new mixed unit formed the V Amphibious Corps under Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith and its target was the Gilbert Islands. The Marines would attack and capture Tarawa while the Army did the same on Makin. The Marine Corps’ Smith thought the Army’s 6,400-plus troops should be able to overwhelm the 400 defenders and 400 laborers who held the reinforced island.
But it didn’t happen as quickly as “Howlin’ Mad” Smith though it should. This would build tensions when it came to take Saipan.
As if Saipan wasn’t tense enough.
On Saipan, the Marines and the Army would fight side-by-side on a dream team that would not be matched until the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team in 1992. When the U.S. began its assault on Mt. Tapochau in the middle of the island, the Marines found themselves advancing much further, much faster than their Army counterparts. The soldiers at Mt. Tapochau were tasked with taking an area known as “Hell’s Pocket.” The Army was expected to go into a valley surrounded by hills and cliffs under enemy control.
Now, if terrain is given a nickname by the Americans tasked to take it, that’s a pretty good indication of some intense fighting. But Holland Smith didn’t know that because he hadn’t inspected the terrain. The Army commander devised a plan to split his forces, using one battalion to hold the pocket while the other outflanked the Japanese defenders. Unfortunately, he would not be in command to implement it. It turns out “Howlin’ Mad” Smith was about to live up to his nickname.
The U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division marches to the front on Saipan.
With what he saw as a lack of aggression on Makin fresh in his mind, the inability of the Army to advance on Saipan made the Marine Corps’ Maj. Gen. Smith furious. He not only relieved the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith of command of the Army on Saipan, he ordered Ralph C. Smith off the island. It would be the only time an Army commander would be relieved of command by a superior from another branch, and the Army wouldn’t forget it for years. The firing was so public that Smith could no longer command a unit in the Pacific and spent the rest of the war in Arkansas.
After the war, a panel of inquiry was convened. Known as the Buckner Board, it was staffed entirely by Army brass. When it looked into the Saipan incident, it found that Holland Smith had not looked at the terrain facing the Army on the island and was not in possession of all the facts. The plan hatched by the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith to take Hell’s Pocket worked, and the Army was able to catch up to the Marines.