In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.
But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.
The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.
Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.
In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.
However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.
The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.
The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.
A view of the offices of the KGB Soviet State Police located on Dzerzhinski Circle, a few blocks from Red Square. (Wikimedia Commons).
George Tromiloff was a retired U.S. Army officer who had been passing information onto the Soviet KGB for decades as a means of paying his debts. He was finally caught by the Germans in 1994, but due to a statute of limitations, he was allowed to go free. He retired to Florida, but his spending habits never changed. He was soon in debt once again.
At his wits’ end in Florida, he met with a Russian man named Igor Galkin, who said he represented the Russian SVR. Only three years had passed since Tromiloff’s release in Germany. He was ready to divulge more secrets to Russian intelligence.
Except Galkin wasn’t from Russian intelligence. His real name was Dmitri Droujinski, and he was a special agent for the FBI. He specialized in catching moles, Russian infiltrators inside the U.S. intelligence apparatus. By 2000, Tromiloff was behind bars for good.
Droujinski didn’t just go after the high-ranking moles who had escaped justice in their espionage operations. His mission inside the FBI was to root out anyone suspected of giving away America’s most closely-held secrets. From the 1960s through the late 1990s, Droujinski and his Russian accent and appearance were used to lure spies out of hiding and catch them in the act.
His “Oscar-worthy” performances not only outed Tromiloff, a career U.S. Army intelligence officer, but also a clerk at the National Security Agency who was passing secrets collected from all over the world to the KGB, and Warrant Officer James Hall III, who passed information to the East German secret security service, the Stasi.
When anyone contacted the Soviet Union’s Embassy in Washington, it was usually recorded by American counterintelligence agencies. They would then send Droujinski in to make contact in order to keep the potential spy away from the Soviets. Droujinski would make them believe they were talking to the Russians while keeping U.S. secrets safe.
Although Droujinski worked for the FBI, he was the US government’s go-to “fake Russian,” working for anyone who needed his services, including the NSA and the CIA. He was American counterintelligence’s best-kept secret. Even when he had to testify in court, he altered his appearance so no one could get a beat on his real identity.
Over his nearly 40-year career, Droujinski posed as either a KGB officer or terrorist financier to infiltrate spy rings, terror cells or catch lone moles. He told Smithsonian Magazine he’d worked as many as 50 cases in his time in the FBI, and sent at least half of his targets to prison.
Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the FBI had some major cleanup work to do. In 1992, a KGB archivist named Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the United Kingdom. He brought with him a massive collection of documents, notes, and records from the KGB collected over his 30 years of service in the Soviet intelligence service. Within those documents were the code names and identities of the KGB’s many western agents, moles, and spies.
The Cold War may have ended but the FBI wanted to bring those American traitors to justice. Droujinski spent the last decade of his counterintelligence career doing just that. There’s no statute of limitations on espionage in the United States.
Droujinski came to the U.S. from a family of anti-Bolshevik fighters inside Russia. He joined the Marine Corps at age 21 and ended up working for the FBI, using his Russian background to catch the USSR’s most damaging American spies. He also retired to Florida, where he remains very secretive about his past life.
Over 160,000 Black people are currently in the United States military, serving a critical role in keeping our country safe, and they’ve been doing so for a long, long time. In fact, many of the Black celebrities you know and love are veterans! Keep reading to learn about 10 of the most famous Black veterans…you might be surprised!
Born in 1956, Montel Brian Anthony Williams is best known for his work as a TV host and motivational speaker. His show, The Montel Williams Show, ran for 17 years, but that’s not his only claim to fame. Williams served in both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. After enlisting in 1974, he attended a four-year officer training program, graduating with a degree in general engineering and a minor in international security affairs.
After completing Naval Cryptologic Officer training, he spent 18 months as a cryptologic officer in Guam. He later became supervising cryptologic officer at Fort Meade, eventually leaving the navy after achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He earned several awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
Food Network personality Sunny Anderson grew up as an Army brat. Her family’s ongoing travels and her parents’ love of food gave her a chance to explore international cuisines, inspiring her future career. After graduating high school in 1993, she joined the United States Air Force, where she earned the rank of Senior Airman. She also worked as a military radio host in Seoul, South Korea, going on to work for the Air Force News Agency radio and television in San Antonio from 1993 to 1997.
Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known as MC Hammer, is one of the most well known American rappers of the late 80s. He rose to fame quickly both as a rapper, dancer and record producer, coming out with hits like “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit.” In addition to creating the famous “Hammer pants” and his successful entertainment career, Burrell served in the Navy for three years as a Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Store Keeper until his honorable discharge.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, AKA Ice-T, is a multi-talented entertainer with a tumultuous background. He had more than one run-in with the law in his youth, but after his daughter was born he decided to join the Army. Marrow served a two year and two month tour in the 25th Infantry Division.
Military life wasn’t for him, however, and he used his status as a single father to leave the Army and begin his career as an underground rapper. Since then, he has made a name for himself as a musician, songwriter, actor, record producer and actor, starring as a detective on Law Order SVU and hosting a true-crime documentary on Oxygen.
Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, activist and actor, Harold George Bellanfanti Jr is no stranger to hard work. He enlisted in the Navy at the start of World War II while he was still finishing high school. After an honorable discharge two years later, he focused on his music career, bringing Caribbean-style music to the US. One of his first albums, “Calypso,” was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.
He was also a passionate supporter of the civil rights movement, going on to advocate for humanitarian causes throughout his life. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and currently acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Ever heard of Orville Richard Burrell? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either, but you probably know his stage name: Shaggy. Burrell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1968. He began taking voice lessons in the early 80s, filling the streets with music. His talent was apparent early on, but in 1988 he joined the Marine Corps, serving with the Field Artillery Battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. He achieved the rank of lance corporal, and continued to sing while he did it. He went on to earn seven Grammy nominations, winning twice for Best Reggae Album.
James, better known as Jimi, Hendrix, began playing guitar in his hometown of Seattle at just 15 years of age. After enlisting for a short time in the Army and training as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, he continued his music career to become one of the most renowned guitarists of all time. His music career, much like his military career, was brief, but powerful. He earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which describes him as “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
Berry Gordy Jr
American record, film, and tv producer and songwriter Berry Gordy Jr didn’t get his start in the music industry. He dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer, which he excelled at until he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1950. He was first assigned to the 58th Field Artillery Bn., 3rd Inf. Div. in the Korean War, later playing the organ and driving a jeep as a chaplain’s assistant. When his tour was over in 1953, his music career took off.
He founded the Motown record label, which was the highest-earning African American business for several decades. Several of his songs topped the charts, and he’s known for helping budding artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes achieve greatness.
Actor and film narrator Morgan Freeman is yet another famous veteran. He earned a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University, but he turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. There, he served as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman, rising to the rank of Airman 1st Class.
After being discharged four years later, he moved to Los Angeles and studied theatrical arts at the Pasadena Playhouse. Considering he has since won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and many Oscar nominations, it looks like his hard work paid off!
James Earl Jones
Few voices are as iconic and recognizable as that of American actor James Earl Jones. Before launching his acting career, Jones served in the military, receiving his Ranger tab and helping to establish a cold-weather training command at the former Camp Hale. During his time in the military, he was promoted to first lieutenant. Following his discharge, he served his country in a different way, with over seven decades of theatrical excellence. In addition to winning numerous Tonys, two Emmys and a Grammy, he was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Nearly two decades later, President Barack Obama invited him to perform Shakespeare at the White House. Wow!
These Black veterans aren’t the only ones we should care about.
The history of African American military personnel is as old as our country itself. Countless Black Americans have made their mark on U.S. Military history, and they continue to do so today. Click here to explore the firsthand experiences of Black vets, or learn more about how to support them here.
“The Codebreaker,” premiering this week on PBS’ “American Experience,” tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, a visionary American codebreaker who established our decryption programs during World War I, helped break the codes used by gangsters during Prohibition and led our efforts to break the Enigma code during World War II.
Wait, you’re saying, if this cryptanalyst was so great, how come we’ve never heard of her? “The Codebreaker” delves deep into her story, utilizing government files that weren’t declassified until decades after her death to reveal the truth about a person who deserves recognition as a pioneer of American military intelligence.
The program will premiere on most PBS stations on Monday, Jan. 11, and be available to stream via the PBS app and website. As with all PBS programs, check your local listings for exact dates and times and streaming options.
The documentary was inspired by the book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone. “The Codebreaker” was written and directed by Chana Gazit, who made the 1998 documentary “Surviving the Dust Bowl,” which remains one of the greatest “American Experience” episodes ever made.
How did Friedman and her young husband William come to play such a huge role in the United States’ war effort? It’s a weird story. Both had been recruited by millionaire industrialist George Fabyan to help him prove his theory that English nobleman Francis Bacon was the true author of the so-called “Shakespeare” plays.
A popular theory in the early 20th century held that Bacon had embedded an elaborate code in the text of the plays, and Fabyan established a research institute to prove his theories. He recruited a young Elizebeth Smith. She met and married William Friedman while working at the estate.
As they worked on the project, the two young researchers realized that the Bacon theory was completely unsupported by evidence and were looking for a way to leave when Fabyan volunteered his staff’s services for codebreaking during World War I.
We’ve got a clip from the episode that explores how the Friedmans contributed to the war effort.
American Experience ‘The Codebreaker’ – World War I and the Rise of Military IntelligenceWhen the United States entered the Great War, the country had no dedicated codebreaking units. The task of decrypting enemy radio messages fell to Elizabeth Friedman and her husband, William.
Friedman was the primary codebreaker for our military during that war and pioneered many of the techniques that were used so successfully during the next generation’s war. In the interim, she worked with Coast Guard intelligence to combat rum running during Prohibition, decoding criminal messages and often testifying in trials to help convict the bootleggers.
During World War II, she worked with the Navy but was not allowed to lead her codebreaking unit. As a woman, she was required to report to a junior male officer because women weren’t allowed those positions of authority then.
Her intelligence work helped take down Nazi cells in South America and prevented Germany from bringing the war to our hemisphere in hopes of diluting American strength on the European fronts. Since the work was secret, Friedman sat by quietly as J. Edgar Hoover claimed credit for her work as the FBI took down the enemy intelligence networks.
William Friedman suffered from depression during the later years of his life, and Elizebeth supported the family while she wasn’t getting credit for her work. Friedman never went public with her role during her lifetime, and she died in a New Jersey nursing home in 1980.
Stories like this one suggest that there are dozens or hundreds or perhaps thousands of untold heroes that we don’t know about yet and who deserve to be honored for their contributions to the country. “The Codebreaker” is a strong contribution to that cause and a documentary that’s worth your time.
Nancy Bentley, in a custom uniform, stands with an officer on the HMAS Sydney in 1920.
In November 1920, a little girl was playing in the bushland of Tasmania when she slipped and fell to the ground. Nancy Bentley surprised a snake which proceeded to bite her wrist, threatening her life. Because of the remote location where she was bitten and the fact that she was a woman, the Royal Australian Navy enlisted her into the service as a mascot to save her life.
The light cruiser HMAS Sydney which once had a living human girl as its mascot.
The ship’s medics were willing to assist the injured girl, but regulations from the crown and instructions from admirals ordered the commander, Captain Henry Cayley, to prevent women from boarding the ship. He felt he needed to create some official pretext to explain the little girl on his ship. But women, even little girls, were forbidden from serving in the standard ranks of the navy.
So Cayley turned to the office of mascot, an official rank in many military forces at the time that was typically assigned to animals adopted by the unit or crew. Basically, a crew could acquire or purchase an animal and then use the “wages” assigned to the mascot to feed and house it. Understandably, the rules regarding this rank were lax since, you know, it was typically for dogs and cats.
So Cayley ordered that Nancy be admitted onto the crew with service number 000001 and given a rating of “mascot” on November 15. Her terms of enlistment were even more lax. She was to remain in the navy “till fed up.”
The ship’s medical staff gave her rudimentary treatment and sent her to Hobart, Tasmania, for further treatment. She was also allowed to see a movie at the town’s theater after her treatment before the ship carried her back home. In all, she spent eight days in the navy.
“I was the crew’s official mascot and everybody from the Captain down gave me VIP treatment,” Nancy said in 1970.
She was well-reviewed by the navy. Her character was reviewed as “very good,” and she was “exceptional” in her naval duties.
It would take another 21 years before women were allowed into the actual ranks of the Royal Australian Navy as World War II required manpower that only women could provide.
America’s highest honor for military service, the Medal of Honor, has been awarded to Canadian-born service members 61 times — but only four times since 1900. These four Canadians saved American lives in battles from the Occupation of Veracruz to the Vietnam War.
1. Specialist Peter C. Lemon
Then-Spc. Peter C. Lemon helped beat back a Vietnamese assault that broke into his fire base. (Photo: U.S. Army).
Army Spc. Peter C. Lemon was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1950 but moved to America as a child and later joined the Army. When he was 19, he was serving as an assistant machine gunner at a fire support base in Vietnam near the border with Cambodia.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 71st Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division was one of the units hard pressed by German forces. After the death of the company commander, some soldiers began talking of surrender. That’s when Sgt. Charles MacGillivary assumed command and slipped off into the forest on his own.
Once again, he snuck up on a machine gun nest and took it out with a single grenade. He then grabbed a submachine gun from the ground and crept close to a third nest, killing the attackers as they tried to swing their own gun onto him. Finally, he hit a fourth machine gun nest and took it out with a grenade and close fighting. He lost his left arm in this final engagement, but survived the war.
3. Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro
The only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor, Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro was part of the task force that assaulted Guadalcanal during World War II. On Sept. 27, 1942, he commanded a group of landing craft that carried Marines from one section of the island to another in order to bypass a Japanese defensive line.
Munro dropped the Marines without incident and returned to base only to learn that, soon after the boats left, the Marines were ambushed. They had fought their way back to the base, but were under heavy assault and needed evacuation.
Although the event was catastrophic, only two ships were beyond repair — USS Oklahoma and Arizona. The Oklahoma was eventually refloated to the surface, but the battle damage was too overwhelming to repair and return to service.
However, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.
Talks of constructing a permanent memorial started as early as 1943, but it wasn’t until several years later that the effort would take shape. After the creation of Pacific War Memorial Commission, plans of how to commemorate the ship’s memory began rolling in.
Admiral Arthur Radford ordered a flag to be installed on the wreck site and have a colors ceremony conducted every day.
In 1950, requests for additional funds were denied by the government, as their top priority was to focus on the war efforts in Korea.
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inked Public Law 85-344 allowing the PWMC to raise $500,000 for the memorial construction. But after two years of fundraising, only $155,000 in total proceeds had been collected — they needed a lot of help.
Little did they know, they were about to get it.
Tom Parker read about the PWMC’s struggling endeavor and came up with a genius plan. Parker just happened to be Elvis Presley’s manager and was looking for ways to get his client back on top after being drafted by the Army in 1957 — Elvis was discharged from service in 1960.
Reportedly, Parker approached Elvis to perform at a benefit to help boost the memorial campaign — and his music and acting careers.
Elvis, who was not only patriotic but loved the idea of performing for a cause, agreed to help with the campaign. The PWMC agreed to Parker’s plan, and a performance date was set — March 25, 1961.
Although the performance brought in $60,000 in revenue, the campaign was still well short of its goal. But from the publicity of Elvis’ show, donations from outside sources rolled in, and the PWMC finally raise the $500,000 they needed.
On May 30, 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial officially opened thanks to Elvis and the PWMC.
You’ve probably heard about Japan’s Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you’ve even heard about Japan’s manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn’t the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.
For Britain, it all started in December 1941. Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Britain suffered its own surprise naval raid on December 19. Two British battleships and a tanker suffered serious damage in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt when large explosions ripped through their hulls from outside.
But the captain of the HMS Valiant had captured two Italian divers just before the explosions, and one of them had asked to meet with him just before the blasts. Coincidentally, they had been detained in the room just above the damage to the hull. So he summoned those dudes again and asked what, exactly, had happened to his ship and the two others. (A fourth ship was damaged by the blasts, even though the Italian teams had only hit three targets.)
Four other divers were captured by Egyptian police in the following days, and Britain pieced together how the attacks were carried out. The men had launched from an Italian submarine on a torpedo modified to propel the divers through the water. These torpedoes not only had warheads, but they also had two little seats for the divers.
Basically, imagine a two-person motorcycle, but shaped to fit in a large torpedo tube and propelled by a propeller instead of wheels. Now attach a mine to the front. Or you could’ve just looked at the picture above, but whatever. Let’s keep going.
Britain saw this and was all, “Hey, Brits can be strapped to metal tubes, too! We should strap dudes to metal tubes.” So they developed the Chariot starting in April 1942 and attempted the first manned torpedo mission that October.
The British Chariot Mk. I was about 22 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighed over 1.75 tons and had a 600-pound Torpex warhead, equal to almost a 1,000 pounds of TNT. The plan was that divers would get onto the torpedo and steer it through the water to a target. Then the divers would remove the warhead from the torpedo and place it on the target ship’s hull with a timer, and then pilot the submersible away.
If all went to plan, the 600 pounds of high explosive would then blow a large hole in the target.
The first Chariot mission failed after the torpedoes were lost at sea as a ship delivered them into range of their target. Their target, by the way, was the German battleship Tirpitz, which would’ve made for an epic combat debut if it had succeeded.
But Britain modified submarines to carry the new torpedo and began sending the Chariot into combat.
But yeah, manned torpedoes have mostly given way to submersibles and mini-subs because manned torpedoes were really valuable for delivering divers. When it comes to delivering warheads, even during World War II, it made more sense to fire conventional torpedoes.
Today, guided torpedoes make the use of manned torpedoes for explosive delivery completely unnecessary.
On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) shared a video on Twitter of a remarkable ceremony. “The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward.”
This video is particularly special to watch, as it clearly shows how effective the process is:
In the video, the soldier conjures the name of William A. Richards, a fallen World War II veteran, killed in 1944, with sand from Omaha Beach, one of the D-Day invasion sites. D-Day marked the turning of the war in Europe, where millions and millions of Allied service members perished.
Others began to respond to the tweet with their own experiences witnessing the ceremony, including the graves of their relatives. The sands from Normandy beaches are sent to military cemeteries throughout Europe. In the Netherlands American Cemetery, the graves of American service members have been adopted by Dutch families, who research the lives of the fallen and honor their graves with flowers.
For so many, these rituals are powerful reminders of the cost of freedom. The sanctity of a military funeral is one that is shared across the country — and, in the case of the world wars, across the globe. It can be easy for many Americans to feel separated, through both time and distance, from the horrors of World War I and World War II; but for our allies in Europe, the wars were fought in their own backyard.
The sands of Omaha Beach bring forth the names of those who died fighting against Nazi Germany and the enemies of freedom, lest we ever forget.
The year was 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American military history. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive and North Korea captured the American spy ship Pueblo outside its territorial waters. Riding high on his “victory” over the United States, Kim Il Sung and the North Korean military mounted its most daring provocation to date.
The North Koreans trained an elite group of 31 special operations commandos to infiltrate the South across the demilitarized zone. They were led by Kim Shin-jo, a proud revolutionary who was ready to liberate the south from the heel of American occupation.
He formed the 124th Special Forces unit. Their goal was to make it to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, where President Park Chung-hee lived and worked. They were then to take photos to prove he was dead.
They broke into teams of six, dressed as South Korean troops, and crossed the border through barbed wire, observation posts, and minefields. They traversed the steep mountains and deep valleys only to immediately run into South Koreans near the DMZ.
Instead of killing their Southern cousins, Kim and the elite unit warned them not to give away their presence and sent the Southerners on their way. Of course, the South Koreans immediately told the authorities. The South Korean military launched a massive search for the commandos.
Within 200 yards of their objective, one South Korean soldier halted them to check their IDs. The North Koreans unloaded on the unprepared South Koreans — like an ISIS offensive 200 yards from the White House.
They killed 35 and wounded another 64 people. Kim Shin-jo took cover near the woods, and never even fired his weapon. He wasn’t interested in killing civilians — he wanted Park Chung-hee.
He never got the chance.
All but two of the 124th Special Forces were killed. One of them managed to evade capture, eventually returning home across the border. Kim was captured. He was shown on television in handcuffs for all of South Korea to see.
Kim was interrogated for months and eventually broke down, seeing the South Korean military’s compassion through a high-ranking officer, who convinced him the fight was between them and the North Korean regime, not the North Korean people.
Eventually, Kim gave his services (and information) to the military, became a citizen, and married a South Korean. For this, the North Korean regime executed his immediate family, and — as is customary in the North — sent three generations of relatives to its Siberian prison camps.
Kim Shin-jo was reborn in many ways: he renounced his Communist upbringing and became a born-again Presbyterian minister. He leads a church of 70,000 outside of Seoul, one of the largest congregations in the world, right under the shadow of North Korean artillery.
Gurkhas are known as some of the fiercest warriors ever to take up arms. These soldiers from Nepal regularly receive high valor awards from both Britain and India because of their bravery, and they are skilled, in one case defeating Taliban ambushes while outnumbered over 30 to 1. They fought in British forces in almost every major conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries including both World Wars and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Gurkha Rifles unit in 1890. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence/Public Domain
The Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. In 1767, the three valley kings had been fighting each other for years and suddenly realized that the Gurkha Army was invading. The Gurkha conquered parts of the valley and began a siege of one of the kingdoms’ capitals.
In order to prevent conquest by the Gurkha, the Kathmandu kingdoms asked British officers serving nearby in the East India Company armies for assistance.
Capt. Captain George Kinloch led 2,500 soldiers with then-modern weapons into the valley to prevent the Gurkha expansion but failed to properly plan. Battlefield defeats against the Gurkha were made worse by disease and inadequate medical supplies.
A wave of desertions and a two-pronged assault launched by the Gurkha cinched the deal and Kinloch was forced to retreat from the valley. By 1768, the Gurkha armies were able to declare the valley and many of the surrounding mountains to be their own new nation, Nepal.
Over the next 46 years, both the Gurkha and the British expanded their areas of influence and control, creating a number of friction points both between themselves and other nations.
These friction points triggered the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1814. The Gurkha possessed much better knowledge of the terrain and plenty of veteran fighters. The British had numerical and technological advantages with tens of thousands of Indian soldiers equipped by the East India Company.
Despite numerous British advantages, the campaign went badly for the first year. One of the generals was killed in a small skirmish the day before war was officially declared. Other generals were known for cowardice on the battlefield, failing to attack when ordered. One even walked out of his camp.
Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared warriors.
Still, some of the British forces fought valiantly. Col. David Ochterlony led a siege at the primary Gurkha fortress in 1815 while another colonel and 2,000 men captured a secondary fort. The Gurkha eventually surrendered the main fort to Ochterlony and peace documents were drafted.
The Gurkha leaders failed to accept the peace treaty and the British launched a second campaign to settle the matter, this time with Himalayan soldiers marching into the valley beside the British and Indian troops. This second campaign in 1816 made it nearly to the capital of Kathmandu before the Gurkha finally accepted the peace treaty.
They served with distinction in wars against the Sihk, but they were truly lauded for actions in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Gurkha soldiers served as the final guard of Brtish military and government leaders as rebelling Indian troops attempted to kill them.
While the British were successful in re-establishing rule in India, atrocities committed by the East India Company and their soldiers during the conflict led to the British crown abolishing company control of India.
When the crown established direct control of India, the Gurkha regiments were incorporated into the British Army.
Since the breakup of the British empire, Gurkha soldiers have been able to choose to fight in the British or Indian armies which still contain “Gurkha” and “Gorkha” units respectively. They are known for their khukuri knives which feature a curved, 18-inch blade.
In the British military, Gurkha men were limited to serving as enlisted soldiers in Gurkha units until recently. Now, they can try out for both slots in officer training and coveted positions in special operations.
It’s one of those bizarre twists of history that might have changed the world as we know it, if not just for a small tweak. Believe it or not, the Allied plan for Germany wasn’t all Marshall Plan and Berlin Airlift from the get-go. While they also weren’t about to be nuked, a lot of animosity still remained after the fall of Nazism. World War I was about as far removed from World War II as Operation Desert Storm is from the US-led invasion of Iraq. A lot of people still hated Germany for the Great War – a war it didn’t even start. So they really hated Germany for what it did during World War II.
One of the people who hated Germany and wanted to take it out for good was Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. – and he was almost President of the United States.
When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, Vice President Truman took office. Shortly after that, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. resigned his post. That left Morgenthau next in the Presidential line succession. President Truman, of course, finished out Roosevelt’s term and then some, but had President Morgenthau taken control of what was now a global superpower, his plans for postwar Europe would have had dramatic consequences on world history.
A page from Morgenthau’s 1945 work, “Germany Is Our Problem.”
Morgenthau wanted not only subdivide Germany into smaller parts, he wanted to wreck all of its industrial capabilities. In order to keep Germans from making armaments, he wanted to keep them from making anything at all. Industrial facilities were to be destroyed, mines were to be wrecked and filled, experts in production and manufacturing would be forcibly removed from the region and put to work elsewhere. Germany was going to become an agrarian state, set back almost a thousand years.
The trouble was, the Nazis found out about it. They told the German people about the program in a piece of German propaganda, encouraging them to fight on against the Americans. Morgenthau’s plan would reduce the population of Germany by potentially millions of people who would no longer be able to produce enough food to feed each other or themselves.
And Roosevelt approved it.
When Truman took over, he wanted the plan scrapped and ordered it done so. Unfortunately, the plan he replaced it with was pretty much the same plan under a different name. The JCS Directive 1067 called on Eisenhower to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.” For two years, the recovery of Europe stalled under the plan as Communism crept into the occupied territories.
The Marshall Plan was approved in 1948, replacing the Morgenthau Plan. Named for Secretary of State George Marshall, this new plan for Germany oversaw its postwar recovery without decimating the German economy or its people while creating the foundation of a modern, more peaceful Europe.
Acting as a double agent can be a dirty, confusing game of keeping one’s stories straight. But in a time of war, it can be a necessary gig that top spies hold proudly. Where they’re playing two sides of the system for one common goal. In other words, it’s a spy who works for two countries, but only holds loyalties to one.
This is exactly what Spanish spy, Juan Pujol García, did during World War II. Only with a twist. Garcia tried to work for the British, but his job queries were rejected. Therefore, he took matters into his own hands and worked from afar. He first got the idea to work from afar after seeing political extremism during the Spanish Civil War. Wanting to offer something “for the good of humanity,” he began looking into career options as a spy.
In whole, the story is more of an embarrassment on the Germans’ part, failing to fact check. However, it also offers a unique and rare piece of history.
After he was turned down by the Brits, Garcia took a new approach. He got a job with Hitler’s soldiers and flubbed his information. To fulfill his orders, he made up data, even entire movements, and sent it back to the Germans.
How he got the gig — false reports
Pujol created a false version of himself as both a member of the British government and a closet Hitler supporter. He was also able to obtain a false passport. The combo did the trick and Germany quickly hired him as a spy. His first orders were to travel to Britain and “flip” fellow spies to join the movement. Instead, Pujol moved to Lisbon, Portugal and began sending up completely falsified reports. He pulled “data” and said he gathered from tourist guides, train schedules, movie shorts, and print ads.
Notably, the information was filled with social faux pas and blatant mistakes, as Pujol didn’t know much about British culture. Most notably, he reported that Scottish were avid wine drinkers. In fact, Scotland is known for its whiskey and, at the time, served little wine. He also made mention of a liter/litre, unknowing that the U.K. did not operate on the metric system.
However, his superiors failed to check his information and put full trust into his word.
Soon into his gig, Garcia began adding subordinates to his operation. This helped his case in two ways — 1) he could blame the fictional employees of false information and 2) to appear as if his efforts were growing with more spies under his wing.
For perhaps his biggest win for the Brits, Pujol invented an entire convoy. He told the Germans about the Brothers of the Aryan World Order, a Welsh fascist movement. To counter a “planned attack,” Hitler sent a large defense system against this fake event.
The event caused Britain to finally accept Pujol on their side. He was then moved to Britain and offered a job with M15. He and his boss continued to expand the fake network of spies throughout the war.
At its largest point, the Germans were paying 27 fake spies brought on by Pujol, who operated under the codename Garbo.
Lasting effects of WWII
Pujol is perhaps the only participant of WWII to receive honors from both sides. He was awarded an Iron Cross from the Germans, which required authorization from Hitler himself. He also became a member of the Order of the British Empire, with King George VI doing the honors.
Overall, he’s cited with helping win Operation Fortitude in deceiving Hitler’s forces when Allies were landing at Normandy. His efforts convinced them that the main attack would be at an alternate location and time.
After the war
Fearing retribution from Hitler, Pujol, with the help of M15, moved to Angola to fake his death of malaria. He then moved to Venezuela where he ran a bookshop.
In the 1970s and 80s, he was heavily researched by war thriller writer, Nigel West. After 12 years of hunting for Garbo’s real name, the two met up and collaborated on a book. In 1987 the pair released Operation Garbo: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Spy of World War II.