The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

U.S. tanks were inferior to German tanks in WWII and were cut down in swathes, or so people tend to believe. After all, American tankers supposedly nicknamed the Sherman the “Ronson” because it “lights every time.” However, the Ronson Corporation did not start using this slogan to advertise their lighter fluid until the 1950s, and the Sherman was actually a very capable tank on the battlefield.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
This is how most people picture a Sherman during WWII (U.S. Army)

Thanks to media depictions in film and video games, the Medium Tank, M4 Sherman is remembered today as a tank with weak armor and an even weaker gun. However, this image is taken out of the context of the war in which it fought. Against the early-war Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, the Sherman’s 75mm M3 short-barrel gun was capable of delivering knock-out punches. Moreover, the tank’s sloped frontal armor was adept at bouncing the incoming German fire.

As newer German tanks like the Panther and the Tiger appeared on the battlefield, the Sherman’s combat ability in a tank-on-tank fight was diminished. To counter the new threat, the Sherman was equipped with thicker frontal armor and a new gun. In 1944, the U.S. fielded the 76mm M1 high-velocity long-barrel gun which could actually penetrate a Tiger’s armor from the front. The gun had already seen action with U.S. Tank Destroyer Battalions. Mounted on the lightly-armored M18 Hellcat tank destoyer, the 76mm M1 was undoubtedly a threat to the German tanks.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
A destroyed Panther in the Falaise pocket (Public Domain)

In 1946, the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Lab conducted a study on the engagements fought by the 3rd and 4rd Armored Divisions during 1944. The study examined 30 armor-on-armor engagements and found that the Sherman had a 3.6-to-1 kill ratio against the German Panther. While part of the Sherman’s success is due to its new armor and gun, other wartime factors must be taken into account.

In 1944, the Germans were largely on the defensive against the allied invasion. Air superiority had all but been achieved by the allied forces. Close air support and strategic bombing severely crippled German industrial power and slowed the supply trains that moved parts, fuel and ammunition to the front. As a result, the Germans could not field a fighting majority of their over-engineered tanks, with many of them down for maintenance or sitting reserve. Moreover, many of Germany’s tank aces from earlier in the war, like Michael Wittmann, had been killed. German tanks were increasingly being crewed by inexperienced soldiers and sent up against allied veterans of Italy and North Africa.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
The long-barrel 76mm was better at killing tanks (U.S. Army)

However, despite the effectiveness of the 76mm M1, the preferred gun was still the 75mm M3. Why did troops prefer a gun with a shorter barrel that a Panther or Tiger tank commander would simply laugh at? The answer is the reality of combat in the European theater. Unlike their depiction in media, the majority of allied tank engagements on the western front were against anti-tank guns, infantry, and fortified positions like bunkers.

As previously mentioned, the Germans were less and less able to field their tanks as the war raged on. They also didn’t have that many to begin with. Roughly 9,000 Panther tanks were built between 1943 and 1945 and less than 1,400 Tiger I tanks were built between 1942 and 1945. Factor out the tanks that were destroyed prior to 1944, the ones that were yet to be built, and those unable to be fielded for one reason or another, and the peak of frontline Panther combat strength in 1944 was September at 2,304. However, that same month, Panther losses totaled 692. By comparison, the U.S. fielded an average of 2,000 Sherman tanks per Army Group.

With this in mind, the likelihood of a Sherman engaging in a tank battle with a Panther or Tiger was low. For the majority of their engagements against soft targets, the short-barrel 75mm M3 and 105mm M4 howitzer guns were more effective. While the 105mm howitzer shot a larger round than the 76mm M1, its short barrel propelled the heavy round at a low velocity. While it could fire a high-explosive anti-tank round that was capable of penetrating a Panther’s armor, it had to be shot at a high angle and with great precision in order to lob the slow and heavy round at the target. Rather, the 75mm and 105mm guns were used primarily to shoot high-explosive rounds. In fact, around 80% of rounds fired by all nations during WWII were HE and smoke.

The same BRL study that found the superior Sherman to Panther kill ratio also examined the lethality of American cannons and HE rounds since they were the most commonly used rounds. The study detonated an HE shell from each of the guns fielded during the war in a field and counted the number of casualty-inducing pieces of shrapnel within a 20-foot radius. The 105mm produced around 1,010 pieces of shrapnel and the 75mm produced 950. On the other hand, the late-war 90mm M3 long-barrel gun produced 672 pieces of shrapnel and the 76mm produced just 560. Because the 75mm was a low-velocity gun, it was able to use a longer shell that packed more high-explosive filler than the long guns. For this reason, it was actually more effective at eliminating the majority of targets that it came upon during the war.

While the Sherman did have its flaws like its high profile (which actually gave the crew a more spacious and comfortable fighting compartment), it was actually a very effective tool for the job that it was given. Supplemented by tank destroyers and supported by air cover, American tank columns rolled across Europe and smashed German defenses on their way to Berlin.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
(U.S. Army)
Articles

These NASA nerds made a Franken-bomber, but they weren’t the first to do it

Recently, NASA made the news when its engineers managed to cobble together a new WB-57 Canberra out of parts from multiple other planes. This is a particularly notable achievement as one of the airframes had spent roughly 40 years at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

 

But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.

She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.

Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

 

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
DAYTON, Ohio – The B-17D The Swoose rests next to the B-17F Memphis Belle in the restoration area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.

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This British marksman could have killed George Washington


The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)

Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.

Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle

In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.

Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.

Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.

Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)

Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.

While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Battle of Hue City was so intense

The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial conflicts embarked upon by the United States. The Marines that retook the city of Hue City are the gold standard of urban warfare. Battalions of Americans, South Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong faced off fighting for every inch of the city. Essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, they triumphed over an overwhelming, well trained enemy. The battle was close, it was up to who wanted victory more – the communists or the Marines.

Communists massacred civilians

Not only were government and military officials massacred, but so were innocent civilians, including women and children, who were tortured, executed or buried alive.

Olga Dror, The New York Times

The battle for Hue City happened during the Tet Offensive, a nationwide coordinated assault on U.S. and allied controlled areas. During the initial days of the attack, communists massacred as many as 5,700 civilians. The victims are buried in mass graves when the city fell into enemy hands. The Viet Cong occupied the city for close to month before the Marine Corps liberated the city.

Supporters of the failed Struggle Movement escaped from the city in two years before the battle. Those same people would turn on their neighbors when they returned with the communists. With their help, the communists gathered intelligence of the city and selected people for death.

Politics attempted to restrict the Marines

Due to the historic aspect of many of the buildings in Hue, the usage of heavy weapons was significantly restricted during the initial days of fighting on both sides of the river. As friendly casualties mounted, and as initial estimates of the size of the enemy force in the Hue City area was significantly increased, fire restrictions were ultimately lifted. In our respectful opinion, our ability to successfully complete the mission was, initially, severely impacted by the rules of engagement.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

To the uninitiated in Rules of Engagement, they’re a set of rules established by high command that dictate what weapons and tactics may be used. Anyone in violation of that can be charged with a war crime. In the example of the Battle of Hue City, also known as the Siege of Hue, the Marine Corps is forbidden to damage the buildings. That is absurd. This is war. The reasoning is that the city was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty, the last dynasty in Vietnam until 1883, and historically significant to Vietnamese culture.

Any commander worth his salt knows that the life one Marine, let alone an American, is worth ten thousand times the value of a structure. The Vietnam War was often hindered by policy makers micromanaging the boots on the ground. You wanted a war? Let the Marines fight it and shut up.

House to House, Street to Street

…Even with proper support of heavy weapons, which was ultimately provided to the Marines, we faced “hard corps” North Vietnamese Army troops who fought from prepared positions, moved to secondary positions, fought again, and finally, very reluctantly, died. In the capture of each room, each floor, each rooftop, each building, each street, it was ultimately the Marine rifleman who won the battle.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

The fighting was so intense that Alpha company lost their Commanding Officer and many of their lieutenants. Charlie Company lost every single officer for the exception of two. The ferocity of combat and the escalating casualty rates saw PFC’s as platoon commanders in the thick of the fighting. Combat promotions were a common sight on the battlefield.

The Marine Corps’ sent three battalions to face off against 15 to 18 NVA battalions for domination of Hue. Initially supported by small arms and the South Vietnamese Army and Marines, it took everything to defeat the determined Viet Cong. The combined allied casualites at the conclusion of the battle climbed to over 3,800. The enemy sustained over 5,000 dead and an unknown amount of wounded.

The Marines adapted their tactics and with heroic determination drove the NVA and Vietcong from Hue despite being spread too thin and fire support being largely restricted  – Richard Camp’s (Col. Ret). Death in the Citadel: U.S. Marines in the Battle for Hue City, 31 January to 2 March 1968 (2017)

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.


The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.

Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.

Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.

My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”

The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.

Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.

I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.

But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.

But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.

And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.

As Amy said the night before the funeral:

I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?

But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.

Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.

Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.

Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.

“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.

(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.

Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.

Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:

They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.

Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”

Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.

Articles

This Civil War veteran served all the way through World War I

Just days after the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Peter Conover Hains graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At a time when officers and cadets were deserting the U.S. military in favor of serving their home states, especially those who seceded from the Union, this Philadelphia native stayed put — and the U.S. Army would get their investment back in spades.


After 26 of his 57 classmates left to join the Confederacy, Hains became an artillery officer, firing off the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run. There, he fought bravely, even though the Union Army lost terribly. After as many as 30 smaller combat engagements, he eventually found himself in the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States would never be the same.

During the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, the Union’s Chief Engineer fell ill and was unable to fulfill his duties. So, the responsibility shifted to then-lieutenant Hains. The engineering at Vicksburg would be crucial to the Union victory, so there could be no mistakes. The 12-mile ring of fortifications and entrenchments around the city kept the 33,000 Confederate defenders bottled up and isolated from the outside world. The surrender of Vicksburg, after a 40-days-long siege, along with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg sounded the death knell for the Confederacy.

Grant promoted Hains to captain for his work.

In the postwar years, he was appointed Engineer Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board and his constructions were so sound that many still stand to this day, undisturbed by rising sea levels or tropical storms. He also fixed the foul-smelling swamp that was Washington, D.C. by designing and constructing the Tidal Basin there, a sort of man-made reservoir that flushes out to the Washington Channel.

Still in the Army by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he served as a brigadier general of volunteers, but no known record of deploying to fight exists. Before and after the Spanish-American War, Hains served on the Nicaragua Canal Commission and was responsible for successfully arguing that such a canal should be built in Panama.

He retired from the Army in 1904 — but the Army wasn’t done with him. World War I broke out for the United States and in September, 1917, Peter Conover Hains was recalled to active duty one last time. For a full year, he managed the structural defenses of Norfolk Harbor and was the district’s Chief Engineer. At age 76, he was the oldest officer in uniform.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Just be advised, every veteran who just got off IRR: They will find you.

His sons and their sons all continued Hains’ military tradition, attending West Point and serving on active duty. He, his sons, and his grandson are all interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Australian Navy enlisted a little girl as its mascot

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.

Yup. Really.


The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

The light cruiser HMAS Sydney which once had a living human girl as its mascot.

(Public domain)

The problem was this: The closest doctor was in the town of Sorrell, and it was unlikely that Nancy’s father could get her there in time. So dad desperately rowed out to the HMAS Sydney, a light cruiser conducting exercises on the coast.

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.

Nancy’s story is now available as a children’s book, and her image adorns a trophy given to the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Australian Navy.

Articles

This Medal of Honor recipient led an attack with grenades, bayonets, and an E-tool

Then-Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Wilson was a veteran of World War II and a former officer when he led Company I of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, in an attack on a numerically superior group of enemy soldiers on June 5, 1951, during the Korean War.


When his men struggled to take the terrain, he rescued the lead element under hostile fire with grenades, led a bayonet charge that killed 27, and then protected his men from the enemy counterattack using his rifle and an entrenching tool.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
(Photo: Public Domain)

Yeah, he fought off a counterattack by killing four enemy soldiers with a foldable shovel.

Company I’s attack on June 5 first faltered when dug-in enemy forces pinned down the advancing Americans using submachine guns and other weapons, according to Wilson’s Medal of Honor citation. That was the first time Wilson leapt into action to save his men.

He charged forward, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. His bold attack wiped out four enemy soldiers firing submachine guns, allowing Company I to continue the advance. The assault platoon moved up and established a base of fire.

So Wilson got a group of men together to press the attack with a bayonet assault. Wilson and the rest of the group killed 27 enemy soldiers and Company I began consolidating the gains it had so far. That was when the Koreans launched a counterattack.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Bet the unit wished they had a recoilless rifle handy at that point. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Americans were under severe pressure by the Korean assault, so Wilson again leaped into action. He initiated a one-man assault that killed seven and wounded two, shutting down the enemy’s drive.

When the Americans attempted another assault, it was decisively stopped by enemy fire. Wilson gave the order for the lead platoon to withdraw. But the withdrawal quickly went sideways with the commanding officer, platoon leader, and even Wilson suffering serious wounds.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Korea sucked, is what we’re saying. (Portrait: Public Domain)

That was when Wilson made his rifle/E-tool attack. He managed to kill three enemies with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands. That’s when he grabbed the E-tool and killed four more of the enemies.

His actions delayed the final Korean counterattack and allowed Wilson to evacuate the unit, but he suffered a second wound during that action.

Over three years later, on Sept. 23, 1954, then-1st Lt.Wilson received the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Japanese tried to bomb the US using balloons

In the early hours of Dec. 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and finalizing President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.


Soon after the attacks, the U.S. decided to get a little payback and sent in a group of 80 brave men and 16 B-52 bombers to execute the famous “Doolittle Raids.”

Related: That time two Navy legends fought a duel with Marines

What most people don’t know, however, is that the Japanese had planned what they believed to be an epic response to these successful, retaliatory attacks.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

On Nov. 3, 1944, Imperial Japan plotted to release approximately 9,000 hydrogen balloons packed with high-explosives and send them toward American shores to add to their kill count. Since their aircraft were incapable of reaching American soil, they figured this would be the best, undetectable approach.

After the Japanese deployed the paper-made balloons into a jet stream headed for the west coast, they calculated the journey would take three to four days — at which point, another attack could commence.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
The lower section of the Japanese’s balloon bombs.

Also Read: That time pancakes helped fight the Japanese in WWII

An estimated 1,000 balloons reached their target but caused little-to-no damage. The other 8,000 fell harmlessly into the ocean.

The Press was instructed not to report this story to avoid giving the enemy any more exposure. However, one of the balloons caused a few fatalities.

On May 5, 1944, Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife, Elise, were on their way to Gearhart Mountains for a picnic along with five Sunday school children in the car. While the reverend was locating a parking spot, the children and his wife came across one of the explosive balloons. Because the media was instructed not to report that specific story, the children began playing with it, unaware of the dangers, causing it to explode — killing them instantly.

Once again, the general population was instructed to keep the tragic event a secret. But, eventually, the word got out about the weapon and its intercontinental range.

Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this insane revenge plot.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Women can vote thanks to these 16 milestones

By this November, thousands of Americans will have exercised their right to vote for the next president of the United States. With just over half of that population as female (50.8%), women have a huge say in how that election turns out. But as we all know, that wasn’t always an option. Who has had the right to vote has changed over time, including those of different races, genders, and those who had certain assets.

Go back in time with us as we look at some of the most important events that led to women’s voting rights.


1776: The New Jersey Constitution Grants Women the Right to Vote

These trailblazers provided women with the right to vote via their state constitution through 1807.

1838: “School suffrage” voted into effect in Kentucky

This special amendment was created for widows who had school-age children, it allowed them to vote on school-related issues.

1848: First convention to discuss women’s rights

After a two day meeting held in New York, a convention was called for women to talk about their rights. Held in Seneca Falls, New York, the event was considered successful with signatures from 68 women and 32 men on the “Declaration of Sentiments.” It included the country’s first “formal” demand for women’s voting rights, with:

“It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

1850: The first National Woman’s Rights Convention takes place

After taking over conventions for themselves — men were kicked out of planning or helping with events — this largest event to-date took place in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was attended by more than 1,000 people.

National conferences were held annually through 1860, with the exclusion of 1857.

1853: The first feminist newspaper is printed

The Una, “A paper devoted to the elevation of woman” was printed in Providence, Rhode Island.

1861: Kansas allows school election votes

The state of Kansas allowed women to start voting in school board elections.

1866: Documents are presented to Congress

After receiving 10,000 signatures, suffragist leaders presented the document to Congress, requesting women’s votes.

1868: The 14th amendment is ratified

With the 14th amendment, more Americans are given the right to vote, but it includes the word “male,” prohibiting females from securing their rights.

1870: Wyoming grants female votes

Citing territorial status, Wyoming is the first state — or future state — to allow women to vote. When it became a state in 1890, it was the first official state to grant female votes.

1871: The Anti-Suffrage Party was created

Wives of prominent men, including those of Civil War generals, gather to found this movement.

1872: Women head to both sides of the ballot

The first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull runs for president. Later that year, 16 women voted in New York, including Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested and fined, but refused to pay.

1878: A suffrage movement is introduced

An amendment addressing women’s suffrage was first brought to congress. It wasn’t passed until 1920 as the 19th amendment.

1910: Washington state grants women’s rights

In its third attempt, the amendment was passed, granting rights to Washington women. Washington is followed in subsequent years by many states.

1915: The largest women’s suffrage parade

The year hosted the largest suffrage parade of its kind. Some 40,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue to as much as a half-million viewers. It’s still known as the largest parade in NYC.

1918: President Wilson addresses Congress

After having personal petitions dropped on him, President Wilson personally stands up to Congress for women’s votes?

1920: The 19th amendment is passed

After being sent to the states for ratification in 1919, the amendment granting women’s rights was finally passed into law.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Allies built all-new harbors in a matter of days after D-Day

There was a reason that the Nazis thought the original D-Day invasions were a feint: Aside from the misdirection operations conducted by the Allies, the geography of the beaches made it seemingly impossible to fully supply a large invasion force.

It was seemingly impossible, even with landing ships and Higgins boats, to move enough beans and bullets over the sands.


The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

A line of U.S. Liberty ships deliberately sunk off the coast at Omaha beach to form a breakwater for the Mulberry harbor there.

(U.S. Army)

But the Allies had a secret. They didn’t need to fully supply the invasion for months using only the landing craft, and they didn’t need to race to a port and try to wrest it from fierce defenses. Instead, they had a plan to build their own port, complete with two man-made harbors, in a matter of days just after D-Day. These “Mulberry harbors” would tip the logistics battles in favor of the landed forces.

The inspiration for Mulberry harbors came from the failed Dieppe Raid, which pitted about 6,000 troops against the heavily defended port at Dieppe, France, and resulted in 2,000 Canadians being taken prisoner.

The Allies realized that taking a deepwater port would be a tall order. While the plan for Operation Overload included a follow-on operation against the port of Cherbourg, to be completed in eight days, military planners realized they needed a Plan B.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

A sectional concrete breakwater for the Omaha Beach breakwater is floated towards the French shore, June 1944

(U.S. Navy)

That Plan B ended up being Mulberry harbors, sort of the Ikea solution to deepwater ports. The British needed eight months to build the concrete sections and prepare them for deployment. On June 6, when they got the word that the landing forces were likely to succeed in taking the assigned beaches, a fleet of ships took off towards France carrying these concrete sections.

But the British engineering plan was ambitious. It called not just for a few large piers, but two entire artificial harbors. For those who aren’t familiar with naval activities, this meant that the engineers had to construct what was, essentially, a massive horseshoe stretching hundreds of feet into the ocean to shelter the piers from the worst ocean currents.

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The Mulberry artificial harbor at Arromanches, France, September 1944.

(British Army Sgt. Harrison)

Each harbor had multiple piers with a combined length of six miles. The concrete caissons that made up the piers required 330,000 cubic yards of concrete, 31,000 tons of steel, and 1.5 million yards of steel shuttering.

When the call came to begin construction, the ships took off across the channel and began placing gear in position. Some older ships were deliberately sunk to help form the breakwaters, and the piers were ready to receive supplies a shocking three days after the invasion began.

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But it was hardly a charmed undertaking. The American forces controlled one harbor and the British, Canadian, and Free French forces controlled the other. The British piers were anchored to the seafloor, but the American ones were not, and a June 19 storm demolished the American harbor.

According to an article by Michael D. Hull on Warfare History Network:

The Americans’ harbor was harder hit than Port Winston. The Utah Beach Gooseberry lost several blockships that were torn open, and the Mulberry harbor off St. Laurent was devastated. The breakwaters were overwhelmed by waves, two blockships broke their backs, and only 10 out of 35 Phoenix caissons remained in position. The piers and bombardons were wrecked, and the harbor was eventually abandoned. When the gale finally blew itself out on June 23, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, commander of the U.S. 12th Army Group, went down to the beach to see the damage for himself. “I was appalled by the desolation, for it vastly exceeded that on D-Day,” he said.
The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

This was a huge problem because Cherbourg — slated for liberation on June 21 — was still in German hands. The decision was made to shift what pieces were still functional in the American harbor to the British one and shut down the U.S. effort, doubling the necessity of taking the French port.

While Cherbourg would end up being the greater logistics hub for the Allies through the conclusion of the war, it was the Mulberry harbors that kept Allied logistics alive long enough for Cherbourg to fall. At the height of their use, the Mulberry harbors moved 12,000 tons of cargo and 2,500 vehicles a day.

The harbors were designed for 90 days of hard use, but the British installation actually functioned for a full eight months. The American harbor was used, without the broken piers, for most of the rest of the war as well.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Nazi Germany’s answer to the Jeep

Prior to World War II, the rising chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced plans to make Germany into a motorized nation. This led to the adoption of the Volkswagen Beetle. But Hitler also ordered military versions of the vehicle developed, and these vehicles would go on to fill the same niche for the Reich that the Jeep served in America.


American Jeep Vs German Kubelwagen: Truck Face-Off | Combat Dealers

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The road to the Kubelwagen began in the 1933 Berlin Auto Show. That was when Hitler called for a motorized Germany and then heard the plans for Ferdinand Porsche’s 25-horsepower vehicle with an air-cooled engine. Hitler demanded that it seat four and get good gas mileage, and they were off to the races.

It took a few years for Porsche to finalize the design and begin mass production under the newly formed Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Volkswagens company, soon shortened to Volkswagen.

But Hitler quickly rose from chancellor to Fuhrer, and his SS officers asked this new Volkswagen company if it could make a militarized version of its KdF Volkswagen in January 1938. The company fast-tracked the project, and the first prototypes came off the line in November.

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank

A Type 82 Volkswagen Kubelwagen

(AlfvanBeem, CC0)

The initial prototypes had some shortcomings in testing. They could not run at walking speed due to their gearing, and they had insufficient ground clearance as well as a less-than-robust suspension. All of these problems were quickly ironed out, though. By the time the Type 82 version, the vehicle’s second iteration, went into production in 1940, it was a capable machine well-liked by the troops.

It was fuel efficient for the time, reliable, and could carry four soldiers and the lion’s share of their gear. It was not, by default, armored or armed, though. So it rarely acted as a front line troop carrier. Instead, it served in a logistics and support role, ferrying spare parts or other key supplies to where they were needed or getting key leaders into position to observe the enemy or their own troops.

So, you know, similar to the Jeep. But there were a number of traits that separated the two vehicles.

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A Volkswagen Kubelwagen

(Staffan Vilcans, CC BY-SA 2.0)

For instance, the Kubelwagen had a 22.5 hp engine, much weaker than the Jeep’s 60 hp or even the civilian Volkswagen’s 25-hp engine. But the engine was air-cooled, which did make it a little less prone to breakdowns. And it had a wider and longer wheelbase than the Jeep as well as more storage space.

But the Kubelwagen wasn’t the only military version of the Volkswagen. A command vehicle, the Type 87 Kommandeurwagen, had 4-wheel drive and looked more like a Beetle. And the Type 166 Schwimmwagen was the most-produced amphibious car in history.

In all, there were 36 variants of the Kubelwagen as well as numerous versions of the Kommandeurwagen and Schwimmwagen. In all, about 50,500 Kubelwagens were built during the war, and thousands survived as museum and collector’s pieces. And, luckily for the owners, the vehicles shared many parts with the Beetle, and so owners could keep repairing them for decades.

When Allied troops got their hands on any of these variants, the vehicles were generally met with grudging respect. So much so that Americans put together an English-language version of the manual to help other troops maintain their captured vehicles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 weird things you didn’t know about the Civil War

Thinking back to a time where it was the U.S. against, well, ourselves, it’s hard to think about how different things were at this time. (Or maybe not … that’s your call.) Where there were two schools of thought — so divided that it was an attempt to split into two different countries. The United States fought — the Union against the South — from 1861 until 1865. But we all know the history, and we know how it ended. What we don’t know are some of the lesser talked about events of the war. 

Take a look at these strange-but-true facts that represent the corners of the Civil War:

  1. Immigrants made a huge portion of fighting forces

One-third of soldiers participating in battles were immigrants. As much as 10% of Union forces were German, with 7.5% of them being Irish. Large populations of French, English, Italian, Polish, and Scottish soldiers also helped round out military forces. By 1863 African Americans began joining the military; by the end of the war, 1 in 10 soldiers were Black. Many historians believe their involvement turned the war in the Union’s favor. 

2. The death toll was HIGH

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Civil war reenactors

The Civil War was the U.S.’s deadliest war to-date. In one war alone, more soldiers were killed than in both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — combined. That accounts for a loss of 625,000 total — 2% of the total population of the time. However, two-thirds of lives were loss to disease due to poor living conditions and close-quarters. Common epidemics that took solider lives included: chicken pox, measles, mumps, and malaria. 

3. Abraham Lincoln was almost shot in 1863

No, not that assisanation attempt. Two years before the president was shot and killed, he was nearly hit while riding a horse. Traveling to his family’s summer home (away from the White House), soldiers heard a gunshot just before the startled horse sprinted their way. Lincoln, still on the horse, was hat-less. His cover was later found with a bullet hole through it. He asked the soldiers to keep the incident quiet. 

4. Lack of pay equality

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Company I of the 36th ColoredRegiment. U .S. Colored Troops, (USCT) Infantry. (Public Domain)

Non-white soldiers refused pay in protest. White soldiers were paid around $13 per month, with officers receiving more. Other races, specifically African Americans were offered just $10 … and were charged $3 for clothing and supplies. In protest, they refused pay for 18 months. Congress altered the pay scale, allowing equal pay in September of 1864, with the adjustment including back pay for previous months. 

5. Hidden messages

It’s said that Confederate soldiers smuggled messages via brass, “rectal acorns.” The small metal containers were hollow and allowed messengers to hide and travel with messages without being intercepted. 

6. Generals led the fight

The Sherman was actually a great WWII tank
Albert Sidney Johnston (February 2, 1803 – April 6, 1862) served as a general in three different armies: the Texian Army, the United States Army, and the Confederate States Army. He was eventually killed in combat. (Public Domain)

Today, it’s unheard of for Generals to lead the march into battle. But during the Civil War, that was a daily norm. Generals quite literally led their troops into battle. They marched at the head of the line, making them 50% more likely to be killed in a battle over privates. Many Generals were lost in the war for this reason. During the Battle of Antietam, three Generals were lost in a single battle. 

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