These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

(Featured Image by Deviant Art user NovaCaster)

In 1941, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, famous aviatrix Marina Raskova lobbied Joseph Stalin to form regiments of women pilots. Out of necessity, Russia became the first country to allow women to fly combat missions and formed three regiments.


The most fearsome of these groups, the 588th Regiment, became known as the Nachthexen or,Night Witches,” a name the women adopted with pride.

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The Night Witches were not treated equally to their male counterparts. The only regiment made up entirely of women — ages 17 to 23 — wore hand-me-downs from male pilots and flew militarized crop-dusters known as Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

The planes were made mostly of wood and canvas and, if hit by tracer bullets, would ignite like paper. The pilot and navigator sat in open cockpits, with only small, glass windscreens to protect them from the savage Russian winters. To top it all off, the aircraft carried no radio or machine gun. The Po-2 could carry only two 220-lb. bombs at a maximum speed of 94 mph. Because of the weight of the bombs they carried and the low altitudes at which they flew, they carried no parachutes. They had no radar to help navigate through the night skies — only maps and compasses.

The courageous and smart women that made up the 588th, however, used these trainer planes’ shortcomings to their advantage. Because of the planes’ primitive construction, German radar could hardly see their approach, so they were assigned night harassment. Often operating in a sort-of stealth mode, idling engines as they neared the targets, they would glide their way to the bomb release points.

As a result, their planes made little more than soft “whooshing” noises as they flew by. Until, that is, they dropped their bombs right in the middle of sleeping Nazi formations.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

The Germans became terrified of the “Night Witches” and spread wild rumors that the women were given special injections that gave them feline-perfect night vision. Soldiers often would refuse to go outside and smoke for fear of letting the bombers know where they were. The “Night Witches” were so effective and so elusive that German pilots received the Iron Cross and a cash award of 2,000 Reichsmarks if they shot one of them down.

Related: 22 female war heroes you’ve never heard of

Dealing with daily sexual harassment on the ground and grueling night runs (sometimes up to 18 per night), the women were hardened and feared very little. However, the all-female aircrew did fear one thing above all else, and that would be what might occur if they were grounded and captured alive by the Germans.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Hint: It would not end well for the pilots, who were both female and Russian — a deadly combo when caught by the SS.

Galina Beltsova, a navigator with the Dive Bombers regiment said,

All of us were provided with one extra bullet and if I could see I was being circled by the enemy, of course, I could take out my pistol and shoot myself — as a last resort.

The female fighter pilots initially struggled, but later earned the respect of their brothers-in-arms. As a regiment, they flew more than 24,000 combat missions and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary bombs. The leader of the 588th Regiment, Irina Sebrova, became one of the most decorated pilots in the Soviet Army and was awarded the distinctions of Hero of Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Sebrova also received 3 Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class, the Order of the Red Star, and various medals.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

The “Night Witches” didn’t have great planes, superior bombs, or even very much support for their unit, but they nonetheless became one of the most remarkable fighting forces of World War II.

No broomsticks needed.

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This friendly fire incident hamstrung the P-38

The P-38 Lighting was a superb long-range fighter in all theaters of the war. The plane is best known for the “Zero Dark Thirty” operation of the Pacific Theater – the shoot-down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto by Capt. Tom Lanphier.


But the P-38 didn’t get there right away.

In fact, given its ground-breaking design, it was going through a lot of teething problems.

According to AcePilots.com, one of the biggest problems was compressibility. The P-38 was one of the first planes to deal with it due to its high speed (up to 420 miles per hour), especially when they dove.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
This P-38 compressibility chart is taken from a USAAF P-38 pilot training manual. Pilots of early P-38s (ones without the 1943 dive flap retrofit) were advised against steep dives as compressibility would force the plane to dive more steeply as well as immobilize the controls, a situation that could prove fatal if initiated below 25,000 feet. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

What would happen is a shock wave of compressed air would form, keeping the plane’s elevators from working. The P-38s would be caught in a dive, and unable to pull out until they got to lower altitudes.

As a result, German fighters knew that diving was a way to escape. One pilot who had a close call was Air Force legend Robin Olds, who described his incident in an episode of “Dogfights.”

After a lot of work, Lockheed designed some flaps that would help address the issue by changing the airflow enough so the elevators would be able to function.

A number of kits were put together to be installed on P-38s in the field, but those destined to go to England never got there, hamstringing the P-38s there.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Douglas C-54 Skymaster. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The reason?

A Royal Air Force pilot mistook the United States Army Air Force Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo plane carrying the kits for a Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol plane. Given the Condor’s reputation, they were prime targets. The C-54 was shot down, and the kits were lost.

As a result, the P-38s went into combat unable to pursue a German fighter diving to escape the “Fork Tailed Devil” and fight another day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The infamous Polish cavalry charge against the Nazis actually worked

On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.


These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

(Laughs in Polish)

The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.

Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.

So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.

On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.

The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.

What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The survivors of the USS Cole recount the deadly attack in this powerful video

The explosion was sudden, violent, deafening, so intense that 8,500 tons of steel lifted out of the water and crashed back down. The very metal of the ship shimmered and rippled in front of their eyes, remembered survivors. The force of it threw retired Master Chief Sonar Technician Paul Abney out of his chair and sent a shipmate flying over his head. Then, everything went black.


YouTube, All Hands

At first, Abney thought the noise came from simultaneous explosions in a movie he was watching in the chiefs mess. Others thought there had been a kitchen explosion. The ship was also taking on some 200,000 gallons of fuel, and most Sailors assumed something had gone horribly, fatally wrong.

But the explosion had been on the port side of the ship, the opposite side of the fuel tank. It wasn’t just an explosion. It wasn’t an accident. It was an attack. It was terrorism, and a gaping 40-by-60-foot hole had been ripped into USS Cole (DDG 67), sending her listing by about 15 degrees.

When the ship had arrived in Aden, Yemen, that morning, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2000, something felt off. (Some Sailors had gut feelings of doom for much of the cruise.) The port itself was eerie, with rusting, hulking wrecks of Iraqi tankers abandoned almost a decade before, following Desert Storm. A small civilian craft lay on its starboard side, half submerged.

“I didn’t have good feelings when we pulled into Aden,” retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman James Parlier, the ship’s command master chief, explained. “Those things started sending up red flags, not so much I expected an attack, but things didn’t seem right. You can just be more on guard, but we were given an order to go in on Force Protection Bravo. … Even if we were at a higher force protection, there’s no way we would have found the explosives in that boat alongside the ship.”

The crew had undergone anti-terrorist force protection training only days prior, but it hadn’t focused on waterborne attacks, or the dangers lurking in Yemen specifically. And, as Abney pointed out, under existing rules of engagement, Sailors couldn’t fire on anyone before being attacked. “In this case, the attack was a huge blast.”

The Yemeni pilot who directed the Cole to a concrete pier seemed jumpy and anxious to get off the ship, recalled Abney and Parlier. He insisted that the ship pull straight in, her bow pointed toward the port. The Cole’s captain, by contrast, wanted the bow facing out to sea so they could leave quickly. The captain prevailed, but then tugboats meant to guide the destroyer rushed in so quickly that gunners’ mates had to point their rifles and tell them to back off.

A small boat then pulled up alongside the ship. Abney photographed the seemingly ubiquitous garbage barge, but there was no way to know the destruction it would wreak at 11:18 a.m.

“It was a deafening sound,” said Abney. “But I recall more just feeling it than hearing it. The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair. Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing I can recall from the blast is just this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was very hard to breathe.”

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
US Navy photos

Even getting down to the ground didn’t help, he continued. When he felt his way to where the door should have been, it was blocked. The galley exit was obstructed as well. Along with several injured, dead and dying chiefs, Abney was trapped. He and a shipmate began banging on the bulkhead, hoping, praying someone would hear them before they all suffocated from the smoke.

“I had a crew member grab me by the right arm in a death grip and said, ‘Master Chief, you’ve got to help me. I’m dying,'” remembered Abney. “I ended up stepping on one of the other crew members. … It was pitch black and it was basically feeling my way around.”

After one of the Sailors cut into the mess and freed the chiefs, Abney went looking for help for his shipmates. He was stunned at the destruction he found throughout the ship. “The deck came up and was pushed all the way into the bulkhead. … There were people that were crushed up against this bulkhead.

“There were people that were still trapped in the machinery, caught in various different things. … There were two shipmates that were triaged and were laying in the (passageway). One, I think was already deceased and the second was struggling for breath and later did not make it. … Just to see this crew member struggling for breath and the amount of trauma that it took to put his eye out of socket, it really hit me then that we were in bad shape.”

Parlier was hard at work triaging the patients. He had missed the blast’s epicenter by minutes. Had he been in his office, instead of in a meeting, he would most likely have been killed instantly. With the electricity out on most of the ship, and the phones dead, Parlier wasn’t initially sure if the Cole’s regular doc was alive. He quickly provided some battlefield training to crew members on how to move the wounded – there weren’t enough accessible stretchers – and how to provide some rudimentary medical care. There were a lot of shrapnel wounds, broken bones, blast injuries.

One 19-year-old Sailor, Parlier remembered, “was in horrific condition. The crew didn’t know what to do with him. We put him on a door, basically, and put him back out aft. We took him out on the fantail on the flight deck. … I tried to do CPR on him, but he was … in really, really bad shape. He was the first guy I’ve ever lost in my life, and I had to make a call because we had over 25 casualties on the fantail and flight deck alone, people screaming.” Ultimately, 17 Sailors died. Most were in the chiefs mess with Abney or in the galley, lined up for chow.

With the assistance of the U.S. ambassador and some local authorities, corpsmen managed to evacuate the seriously wounded to a Yemeni hospital within that critical first hour. Able-bodied Sailors accompanied them as walking blood banks and body guards. American doctors in country on a mission trip also rushed to the hospital, which Parlier said was crucial in saving lives. From there, wounded Sailors were life-flighted to Navy hospitals in Djibouti and Sigonella, Italy, before receiving more complex treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Many of the deceased Sailors remained on the ship, however, inaccessible and officially classified as missing. (The Navy would continue recovering remains for years following the attack.) In temperatures that climbed well above 100 degrees, their bodies quickly decayed, making the situation unbearable for the Sailors left aboard the ship. The stench, exacerbated by rotting food, was choking, while flies swarmed the ship. Still worse was knowing that shipmates and good friends – in one case a fiance – lay trapped below and no one could do anything.

It’s not like being on a carrier. When you’re on a small boy, you know almost everybody on the ship. … These crew members were like your kids. It was pretty devastating. … It would be like someone bombing your home. You worked with these kids every day. The Navy environment isn’t like any other work environment. … You’re eating three meals a day with these folks. … Twenty four hours a day, you’re running across the same people, and you kind of get to know their different quirks and personalities and what makes them tick.” – STCM Paul Abney

In those first terrible days after the attack, as they fought to keep the Cole afloat, shutting down sections of the ship, jerry rigging pumps, forming bucket brigades, survivors didn’t have latrines, showers, drinking water, hot food or even MREs. Although the embassy arranged food delivery from an Aden hotel, many of the Sailors, including Parlier, didn’t trust it. They made do with snacks and sodas until help arrived.

That help first came from the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Marlborough (F233), which arrived the next day, bearing potable water, followed over the next few days by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), USS Haws (FFG 53) and other ships as part of Operation Determined Response.

“There wasn’t a dry eye,” remembered Parlier of that first glimpse of an American flag. “There were tears in Sailors’ eyes because we knew our shipmates had come to help us.” The best part? Chefs on the Haws cooked up a big batch of chili mac for Cole Sailors. “We had our first hot meal in days and, man, that chili mac, it just raised the spirits of the crew.”

As the U.S. assets poured into Aden – the ships, Marines to guard the ship, SEALs, divers, recovery teams for the remains, engineers, investigators – each asset provided a layer of protection and security for the Cole crew. They had been alone in a hostile country, their major weapons systems disabled. It had been impossible to know who to trust. For example, at one point, as the Yemeni army set up a large perimeter around the wounded ship, its guns were actually pointed at the wounded destroyer.

“You felt pretty darn vulnerable,” Parlier said. “You didn’t know what was going to happen next. … At one point, we were low crawling because there were inbound boats. We didn’t know if they were armed or not. The .50 caliber accidentally went off. You’re on pins and needles. … We always thought there was another attack coming.”

“It was sad” to leave his ship behind, said Parlier, who was evacuated to Norfolk, Virginia, via Oman and Germany with the rest of the crew. “I was proud of her. … I was saddened. I would have never thought in my life that I would have to go through something like that.”

At the time, the Navy wasn’t sure the Cole, transported to Pascagoula, Mississippi, via the heavy lift ship MV Blue Marlin, could be salvaged. Officials argued that there were better uses of money, but the crew disagreed. They thought decommissioning it would send a terrible message to the enemy.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
US Navy photos

Today, Parlier is thrilled that the Cole is back, stronger than ever, still defending the nation. “She needed to be put back in the water to show [the terrorists] that we weren’t going to be defeated and we were going to stand steadfast as Americans.”

A memorial on board honors the fallen Sailors, but, Parlier added, “she’s not a museum. She’s an American warship and she’s out there just like other destroyers, serving and doing their job, doing what they’re trained to do so I can be safe at home.”

Editor’s note: Read about how Cole crewmembers used their training to save their ship and learn more about Abney and Parlier by clicking here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 naval officers who became President

1. Lt. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

When America joined World War II in December 1941, John F. Kennedy, Harvard graduate and second son of the former ambassador to Great Britain, was eager to join thousands of other young men and sign up. Rejected twice for health reasons, he finally received a commission as an ensign in 1941.


Kennedy obtained a seagoing command — a patrol torpedo (PT) boat — the following year. While in and around the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, he participated in patrols and operations to block Japanese supply barges.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

The night of Aug. 1, 1943, Kennedy’s PT 109 joined 14 other boats on a patrol to intercept Japanese warships. Then, disaster struck. Around 2:00 in the morning, in the pitch darkness, a Japanese destroyer cut PT 109 into two. Two Sailors perished and the others were wounded. Kennedy himself was thrown into the cockpit, landing on his bad back. In excruciating pain, he managed to help two survivors who had been thrown into the water. Then, the men swam for a small island three miles away, Kennedy towing an injured shipmate with a life jacket strap between his teeth. They spent 15 hours in the water.

After 4 days without food, fresh water, or any sign of life, the men swam to another, larger island. Kennedy carved a message into a coconut: “NAURO ISL…COMMANDER…NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT…HE CAN PILOT…11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT…KENNEDY.” He asked one of the locals to deliver it to the PT base on the island of Rendova. Rescue finally came, Aug. 8.

Also read: The 8 new ships the Navy commissioned this year

Later, in command of another PT boat, Kennedy led the rescue of 50 Marines under heavy fire. He was eventually promoted to lieutenant and received the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal before leaving the Navy in 1945.

Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph, a Navy pilot, had been killed in action in 1944, but that didn’t seem to diminish Kennedy’s affection for the service. As president in 1963, he famously told cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, “I can imagine a no more rewarding career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think I can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

2. Cmdr. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Already a congressman from Texas, Johnson received an appointment as a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve in June 1940, and was activated shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. According to a 1964 New York Times article, he “waited only long enough to vote for declarations of war against Japan on Dec. 8 and against Germany on Dec. 11, then obtained the consent of the House for a leave of absence and reported for active duty.”

President Franklin Roosevelt sent him to the South Pacific on a special mission: investigate confusion and inefficiency in Australian ports, where there were reports of malingering and even sabotage by dock workers. By June, Johnson was near Port Moresby in New Guinea. On the 9th, he received permission to serve as an observer on a B-26 bomber, set to take part in an aerial combat mission over enemy positions.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Lt. Cmdr. Lyndon B. Johnson. (Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library)

“The two sides,” the New York Times quipped, “were taking turns raiding each other’s bases. This morning was the Americans’ turn.” The Times went on to say that reports of what happened next vary, but according to official citations and some veterans’ recollections, when Allied planes neared the target, eight Japanese Zeros attacked. At least one American plane crashed in the ensuing dogfight.

Johnson’s plane developed some sort mechanical trouble, possibly hit by cannon and machine gun fire, and turned back alone.

More: These photos show what our veteran presidents looked like in uniform

A Times war correspondent who was later killed in action, Byron Darnton, sent back a report that said, Johnson “got a good first-hand idea of the troubles and problems confronting our airmen and declared himself impressed by the skill and courage of the bomber crews and fighter pilots.”

Johnson, who reportedly climbed up to look out of the navigator’s bubble during the attack, would receive an Army Silver Star from Gen. Douglas MacArthur for the incident. According to the citation, “he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved. His gallant action enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information.”

Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress serving in the armed forces to return to their legislative duties later that summer. Johnson headed back to Washington, but remained in the Naval Reserve until he became commander in chief upon Kennedy’s assassination, Nov. 22, 1963. His resignation was accepted by the secretary of the Navy, effective Jan. 18, 1964.

3. Cmdr. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

In June 1942, Nixon, then an attorney for the Office of Emergency Management, accepted an appointment as a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Naval Reserve.

He volunteered for sea duty the following spring, and was assigned as the officer in charge of the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal and later Green Island. His unit prepared manifests and flight plans for C-47 operations and supervised the loading and unloading of cargo aircraft.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Lt. Cmdr. Richard M. Nixon. (Richard Nixon Foundation)

A Navy letter of commendation praised him for “sound judgment and initiative.” His efficiency “made possible the immediate supply by air of vital material and key personnel, and the prompt evacuation of battle casualties from these stations to rear areas.”

Promotions followed, and eventually service stateside at the Bureau of Aeronautics. He was released from active duty in March 1946, but remained in the Reserve until 1966.

4. Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)

Ford had played college football in Michigan and coached at Yale before getting his law degree. After America entered World War II, the Navy put Ford’s background as a coach and trainer to good use, and commissioned him as an ensign and instructor for the Navy’s V-5 (aviation cadet) program in April 1942. Ford taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid and military drill, and coached the cadets in numerous sports.

He was next assigned to USS Monterey (CVL 26) as the assistant navigator, athletic officer and antiaircraft battery officer in 1943. Monterey helped secure Makin Island in the Gilberts that year. In 1944, Ford’s ship supported landings and carrier strikes throughout the Pacific, including Kwajalein, the Marianas, northern New Guinea, Wake Island and the Philippines.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Lt. Cmdr. Gerald R. Ford. (Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum.)

In December 1944, a fierce typhoon with winds topping 100 knots destroyed part of Third Fleet, resulting in the loss of three destroyers and more than 800 men, as well as significant damage to Monterey. During the storm, several aircraft tore loose from their cables and collided. This started a devastating fire. The storm almost claimed Ford himself. As he left his battle station, the ship rolled 25 degrees, he lost his footing and slid toward the edge of the deck. A two-inch steel ridge proved his salvation, however. “I was lucky,” he later said. “I could easily have gone overboard.”

The ship was declared unfit for service and limped into port for repairs. Ford returned to coaching Navy recruits. He was released from active duty in February 1946, and remained in the Naval Reserve until 1963. His service stayed with him even after he became president in 1974, however:

“Whoever watched the Pacific churned by winds of wars comes to this hallowed place with feelings overcoming words,” he said when visiting the USS Arizona Memorial. “Our shipmates who rest in honor here, our comrades in arms who sleep beneath the waves and on the islands that surround us need no eulogy beyond the eternal gratitude of the land that they loved.”

5. Lt. James “Jimmy” Carter Jr. (1977-1981)

Carter, the fifth consecutive Navy veteran to become president, grew up in rural Georgia. He received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943, after two years of study at Georgia colleges. He graduated in June 1946 with a commission as an ensign, thanks to accelerated wartime training.

“From the time I was five years old, if you had asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’ I would have said, ‘I want to go to the Naval Academy, get a college education, and serve in the U.S. Navy,'” Carter explained during an interview for his Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.

“My family had all been farmers for 350 years in this country. Working people, and no member of my father’s family had ever finished high school, so this was an ambition that seemed like a dream then. It was during the Depression … and a college education was looked upon as financially impossible. The only two choices we had were to go to West Point or Annapolis, where the government paid for the education. I had a favorite uncle who was in the Navy, so I chose Annapolis.”

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Midshipman James Earle Carter. (Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

Carter spent two years on ships — USS Wyoming (E-AG 17) and USS Mississippi (E-AG 128) — before applying for submarine duty. He reported to USS Pomfret (SS 391) in Pearl Harbor in late 1948, just in time to participate in a simulated war patrol to the western Pacific and the Chinese coast in January 1949.

Carter was getting involved in the new, nuclear-powered submarine program when his father died in 1953. In fact, he was in charge of the crew that was helping build USS Seawolf (SSN 575) and the nuclear power plant that later became a prototype. After his father’s death, Carter resigned his commission as a lieutenant and returned to Georgia to manage the family peanut business.

6. Lt. j.g. George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)

Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in June 1942 and began preflight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he received his commission and his wings almost a year later, he became the youngest pilot in the Navy.

By 1944, he was flying bombing missions on Avenger aircraft with Torpedo Squadron VT-51 in the Pacific off the USS San Jacinto (CVA 30). On June 19, upon returning from one of the biggest air battles of the war, the Marianas, his aircraft made a tail-first water landing after an engine failed. The crew made it safely out of the plane before it exploded.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
George H.W. Bush (U.S. Navy)

On Sept. 2, 1944, he had an even closer call. Bush’s plane was hit by antiaircraft fire while bombing the island of Chichi Jima, about 600 miles south of Japan. Bush continued his mission with a plane that was on fire and completed his strafing run — scoring several damaging hits — before bailing out over the sea. Although Bush was rescued by a Navy submarine, the USS Finback (SS 230), a few hours later, his two crew members, Lt. j.g. William White and Radioman Second Class John Delaney, died.

Related: These are the Presidential traditions around the Army-Navy game

“We knew it was going to be a fairly dangerous mission, but this is what our duty was,” Bush, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross, later told the U.S. Naval Institute. “I felt the whole plane jolt forward. It’s when I saw the flame along the wing that I thought, ‘I better get out of here.’ I told the crewmen to get out. I dove out onto the wing. I hit my head on the tail, a glancing blow like this, bleeding like a stuck pig. I dropped into the ocean and I swam over and got into this life raft. I was sick to my stomach. I was scared. If someone didn’t pick me up, I would have been captured and killed. … Suddenly, I saw this periscope and it was the USS Finback.

“People talk about you’re a hero, but there’s nothing heroic about getting shot down, and I wondered, why was I spared when the two friends who were in the plane with me were killed? I don’t know the answer.”

Bush, remained on the Finback for a month and then saw action in the Philippines. Ultimately, he earned three Air Medals for flying 58 missions during World War II. He was discharged after Japan surrendered, then enrolled in Yale University.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways ninjas were nothing like they are in movies

Quick. Think of a ninja. If you imagined them as an honorable Feudal-Japanese assassin dressed entirely in black and throwing shuriken at their enemies, I’ve got some bad news for you.


This isn’t to say that they weren’t bad asses in their own right. They were definitely real and they definitely did many high-profile assassinations that continue to astound the world hundreds of years later. They just didn’t do things the way films, video games, and literature (in both the West and Japanese pop culture) depict them.

Much of their history is often shrouded in both mystery and myth, making actual facts about them sketchy at best and inaccurate at worst. What we do know about them comes from either the most high-profile, like Hattori Hanzo, or the very few verified sources.

1. They were never called “ninjas” in their time

The term “ninja” is actually a misreading of the Kanji for “Shinobi no Mono” or “the hidden person.” This was shortened when their legends grew to just “Shinobi” or “the hidden.”

“Ninja” became the more popular name for them after WWII for Westerners who found the word easier to pronounce than the actual name for them. Ninja eventually circled back and became the more used term in Japanese culture as well.

On a related note: This is also how the term “kunoichi” or “Female Shinobi” came about. There may not be historical evidence of women acting as deadly shinobi, but they could have been used for other ninja tasks. Which leads us to…

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
I know, Easy to mix up.

2. They would scout and collect intel more than kill

There were many tasks of a Shinobi. It is well-documented that high-ranking leaders hired Shinobi to assassinate their enemies, like Oda Nobunaga and everyone who tried to kill Nobunaga. But the most useful Shinobi were “monomi” or “ones who see.”

Their espionage skills were so revered that it’s said even Sun Tsu wrote about them in Art of War. Monomi would either hide in crowds or sneak into a meeting so they could eavesdrop on important conversations. Once they learned what they needed to know, they’d get out of there.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

3. They never wore the all-black uniform

To nearly every other fighter in the history of war, a uniform has been an advantage. Shinobi, like everyone else doing undercover work in plain sight, would be stupid to wear anything that screams out “Hey everyone! I’m not actually a monk. I’m a deadly assassin!” They wore whatever they need to to fit in.

The uniform that everyone thinks of comes from kabuki theater. The crew who would work behind the stage dressed in the all-black uniforms to not distract from the performance while they were rearranging the sets or setting off the special effects. Fans in attendance would occasionally catch a glimpse of a stage hand and joke that they were shinobi. The “joke” part gained momentum and it just sort of stuck.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Traditional kabuki theater still uses the same get-up. (Screengrab via YouTube)

4. They used everything for weapons except throwing stars

Let’s be honest. Throwing stars aren’t that deadly? It’s just a sharp piece of metal. Want to know what they actually used? Bows, poison, primitive flamethrowers, and damn near everything else. This includes the least stealthy weapon in feudal Japan, guns.

They did use their iconic swords, but the most common weapon was an inconspicuous farming sickle attached to a chain. After Oda Nobunaga tried to ban swords in Japan, no one cared if a farmer still had a sharpened sickle, so it wouldn’t seem out of place.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Mortal Kombat isn’t too far off with Scorpion’s weapon. (Courtesy Photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 questions of unconventional warfare according to a top officer

Unconventional warfare is necessarily a messy business. It entails finding the enemies of our enemies and convincing them to fight our mutual foes, even if we’re not necessarily friends. It reduces America’s risk in blood, but it also means our national security rests on the shoulders of foreign fighters. In the confusing situations this creates, one top officer in the Afghanistan invasion had three simple questions to cut through the chaos.


These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

U.S. special operators pose with Hamid Karzai during the invasion of Afghanistan. Karzai would go on to be president of Afghanistan.

(U.S. Army)

During the invasion, then-Lt. Col. Mark Rosengard was in command of Task Force Dagger, and he had to greatly expand the unconventional warfare program in the country. So he couldn’t spend days or weeks of time and reams of paper figuring out whether he would trust one potential guerrilla leader or another.

So, according to reporter Sean Naylor in his book Not a Good Day to Die, Rosengard just asked three questions.

First, “Do we have a common goal today, recognizing tomorrow may be different?” Basically, do the militiamen or guerillas want the same outcome as the American forces? Including, do they want to see the same people die?

Next, “Do you have a secure backyard?” Simply, do the local forces have somewhere safe-ish to train? If the forces have to constantly quit training in order to fight off attacks, then they won’t be able to actually train. But if there’s any sort of safe compound in which to get to work, then it’s time to ask the third question.

“Are you willing to kill people?”

Yeah, that’s not a very complicated one.

Taken together, these three questions would let Rosengard know whether he could get to work with a new commander. Of course, there were additional concerns that he had to keep track of.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

Afghan forces in a discussion with a senior weapons sergeant of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.

(U.S. Army)

For instance, on the first question, you would need to keep track of whether the militias might really turn on you tomorrow. It’s a bad idea to spend too much time training foreign fighters who only have a few days or weeks of loyalty to America left.

But, overall, these three questions match up with American choices in other wars.

Gen. John “BlackJack” Pershing made alliances with Moro tribesmen in the Philippines and hired them as law enforcement officers even though he knew their long-term goals would be different. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt allied America with Russia to destroy Germany, adding the Soviet Union to the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 despite it being clear that the U.S. and Soviet Union would eventually be at loggerheads.

Rosengard’s gambles in Afghanistan largely worked out for the invasion, and U.S. special operators and unconventional forces took large sections of the country in the Winter of 2001, a period in which they had planned to take just a small foothold in the north. The operators and their guerrilla allies also were able to bring Hamid Karzai back to the country to take power, helping cement American control of the country.

But, of course, the issues with Afghan forces in the invasion were quickly felt. Pashtun tribesmen were extremely helpful in taking the country from the Taliban, but their half-hearted attacks at Tora Bora are thought to have been a major contributor to Osama Bin Laden’s escape from that mountain stronghold into Pakistan where he would successfully hide until his death in 2011.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a civilian aircraft in distress set a world glider record

Air Transat Flight 236 was on its routine route from Toronto, bound for Lisbon, Portugal. It was a day like any other for the experienced crew – at least it started off like a normal day. By the end of it, 306 people would be saved from extreme danger, and two pilots would set a world record, all while pretty much arriving at their destination.


Flight TS236 was a late-night flight from Toronto to Lisbon, taking off just before 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Aug. 4, 2001. It took off without incident, fully fueled and flew pretty much normally for the first four hours of its flight. But what the pilots didn’t know was the fuel line to their number two engine had ruptured and was leaking fuel the entire time. Still, everything on the instruments read normal – until they didn’t.

The first sign of trouble came with a high oil pressure warning and a low oil temperature warning. With there being no obvious cause of the oil warnings, the seasoned pilots determined it must be a false warning. They reported the situation but continued with the flight. An hour later, they got another warning. This time, the plane was warning them of a fuel imbalance. Easily remedied, the pilots began to transfer fuel from the left wing to the right, pouring the fuel right out through the leak.

Ten minutes later, they radioed a fuel emergency.

At the controls of TS236 were probably the best pilots to be in this situation. First Officer Dirk de Jager was just 28 years old had nearly 5,000 hours at the stick of an airplane, and hundreds of those were with the Airbus 330 he was copiloting. Captain Robert Piché was 48 and had more than 16,000 hours in an aircraft. Luckily for everyone aboard, Capt. Piché was also an experienced glider pilot. He would need those skills in the coming hours.

Five hours after taking off from Toronto, engine #2 on Air Transat Flight 236 flamed out due to lack of fuel. Three minutes later, its other engine flamed out. To make matters worse, without their main power source, the plane’s flaps, brakes, and spoilers were without power. Falling at a rate of 2,000 feet every second, the pilots reasoned they had a good 15 minutes or so before they would have to ditch in the ocean. But luck was on their side, they were coming up on Lajes Field Air Base in Portugal.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

Capt. Piché actually had to do a number of turns to lower his altitude before coming into Lajes Field. Almost seven hours after taking off, the plane touched down, and it touched down in a rough way. With no brakes, the landing gear locked up, the tired deflated and the landing gear took massive damage from the impact. A number of the passengers and crew sustained some injuries, but everyone was alive – and in Portugal.

TS236 glided powerlessly and with no fuel for almost 20 minutes, flying some 75 miles, setting the world record for the longest glider flight. The Airbus 330 Piché landed that day is still in service and is now known as the “Azores Glider.”

Articles

Unexploded German WWII bomb found in British port

Germany dropped a lot of bombs on England (not to mention the rest of the United Kingdom) during World War II. Not all of them exploded – and unexploded ordnance, or UXO, has been an ongoing issue.


According to a report by NavalToday.com, war’s gift that keeps on giving turned up in Portsmouth, England. This is where the Royal Navy is planning to base the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
The Royal Navy’s largest ever warship HMS Queen Elizabeth is gently floated out of her dock for the first time in Rosyth, Scotland in July 2014. (Photo from U.K. MOD)

The report said that the German SC250 bomb, which weighed 500 pounds and had 290 pounds of high explosive, was discovered while dredging was underway as part of a program to improve the Royal Navy base’s infrastructure. The London Guardian reported on a past UXO find in Portsmouth in November that was rendered safe in a controlled detonation. The Guardian report also mentioned a bomb discovered in September.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians work with local law enforcement bomb squad members to transport Civil War cannonballs washed ashore from Hurricane Matthew to a safe location at Folly Beach, S.C., Oct. 9, 2016. After the discovery of ordnance on the beach, local law enforcement and Air Force personnel worked together to properly dispose of the hazards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

UXO has been a long-running problem after wars. In fact, last October saw EOD personnel in the United States tasked to deal with Civil War cannonballs that were unearthed by Hurricane Matthew. UXO from World War I and World War II has been very common in Europe, including poison gas shells.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
U.S. Marines with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) platoon, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBRIF) participate in a final training exercise with Fire Department of New York (FDNY) responding to and deactivating a notional explosive threat found at a steam plant on Randall’s Island, N.Y., Sept. 15, 2016. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Maverick S. Mejia)

In 2009, a U.S. Navy release reported that a number of leftover mines and a British torpedo from World War II were discovered during a mine countermeasures exercise during that year’s BALTOPS. Three years later, during that same exercise, an unexploded aerial bomb was discovered according to another U.S. Navy release.

A 2011 Navy release estimates that in the Baltic Sea alone, there are over 200,000 pieces of UXO from not only conflicts, but training exercises dating back to the Russian Revolution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US Marine Wayne Terwilliger charged a Japanese tank head-on

The nose of their amphibious tank entered the ocean and bobbed through the waves en route toward the reef of Saipan, the largest archipelago among the Northern Mariana Islands. Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, a radioman assigned to the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, watched helplessly as they crept over the reef toward the beach into the range of Japanese defensive positions.

“I started seeing these puffs of water all around us, and it took a second to realize what was causing them,” Terwilliger wrote in his autobiography. “Then we heard small arms fire hitting our tank, and the reality sank in: there were people on that island who wanted us dead.”


Prior to the invasion of Saipan, U.S. Navy frogmen conducted a daring reconnaissance mission in advance of the assault force. Valuable intelligence collected had provided the amphibious tanks with adjustments to successfully land on the beach — but they didn’t anticipate how their tracked vehicles would navigate earth displaced by battlefield weaponry in combat.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

Wayne Terwilliger, third from the left, on the beach at Saipan during a shelling attack, June 1944. The photo ran in newspapers across the country; in 2000, it appeared as background on a sheet of commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

While the amphibious tanks attempted to land on the beach, some were destroyed and others became trapped in craters left from mortar shells in the sand. “Japanese mortars kept whistling over our heads,” Terwilliger said, describing his first hours in combat stuck inside a large, green, immobilized target. “Most of them were headed toward the beach area, but we never knew when one would come our way. We also had no idea how long we’d be stuck there. We were there at least a couple of hours, though it seemed like forever.”

Terwilliger’s crew left the disabled tank and scattered, diving into foxholes situated out of the open. Gunfire snapped overhead, and explosions from mortars and grenades flung a wall of shrapnel through the air. Before they could catch their breath the rumbling sound of an unfamiliar tank grew nearer. Their horror realized Japanese armor with the big red “Rising Sun” emblem on the tank’s side was blasting its 37mm turret gun and had stopped directly beside their foxhole.

With nothing more than a few hand grenades, his crew couldn’t defend themselves. They pulled the pins and hurled them at the tank before fleeing for cover, but there wasn’t any within crawling distance. Terwilliger ran under heavy fire across open ground until he reached an old Japanese artillery piece. His stomach dropped when he realized he had run the wrong way. He found a little path, as if all of the enemy’s attention was upon him, and sprinted toward the beach as bullets zipped passed. He looked over his shoulder to find the Japanese tank trailing his every move.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, front left, with Company D, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion, which was created to lead the assault on key islands in the South Pacific. They fought at Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima, and were preparing for new battles when the war ended. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

He zigzagged through the soft sand to give the tank a harder target to hit. Marines waved and yelled to get his attention, and he dashed over a small sand dune for cover. “I looked back just in time to see one of our tanks made a direct hit, which knocked the Japanese tank on its side,” Terwilliger reflected. “That was my first six or seven hours of combat.”

Terwilliger served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps, participating in the invasion of Tinian, as well as being among the first amphibious tanks to lead the invasion of Iwo Jima. During World War II, many amateur and professional baseball players joined service teams when not actively participating in combat operations.

“We didn’t have any spikes so we played in the boots the Marines issued us,” Terwilliger told ESPN. “You would have an air-raid sound during the game, you would scatter and then come back later to finish.” Terwilliger helped lead his battalion team to a 28-0 record, even winning the 2nd Division Championship — not bad for a high school second baseman.

When news of Japan’s surrender in 1945 came in, Terwilliger was in Hawaii, preparing to invade mainland Japan. He left the military that same year and went on to have a successful career as a player, coach, and manager in Major League Baseball. For 60 years, taking Terwilliger well into his 80s, he remained active in America’s national pastime. He was a teammate of Jackie Robinson — the first Black player to break the color barrier — and a personal friend of Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball. However, Terwilliger’s most prized experience was his service as a U.S. Marine.

BRCC Presents: WWII Army Ranger Roy Huereque & The Best Defense Foundation

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out this tracked, vintage 1950s six-shooter

When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.


The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,

(US Army)

The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.

This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.

(USMC)

The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.

Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KImM4zesVlo

www.youtube.com

Lists

The 12 most essential Civil War books

The Civil War is cemented in history as the deadliest war fought on American soil. For four years, the Unioners of the North fought the Confederates of the South, hoping to dismantle the institution of slavery. This led to the loss of over 600,000 lives and, ultimately, the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865.

Thousands of Civil War books have been written since the first shot rang out in 1861. Though no single book can attempt to cover the endless tragedies or important events that occurred over those four years, the following works add valuable new perspectives to the narrative. Between fictionalized accounts and battle retellings to soldiers’ eye-opening diaries, this list will satisfy any Civil War history buff.


1. Dee Brown on the Civil War

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Open Road Media

By Dee Brown

This trilogy focuses on the some of the Civil War’s most influential but lesser-known figures. In Grierson’s Raid, a former music teacher leads almost 2,000 Union troopers from Tennessee to Louisiana. Their attack diverts attention from General Grant’s crossing of the Mississippi—an instrumental distraction for the subsequent Siege of Vicksburg.

The Bold Cavaliers stars Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, whose cavalrymen wreak havoc on Alabama. Meanwhile, The Galvanized Yankees tells the widely unknown story of a group of captured Confederate soldiers. Faced with the prospect of serving time in a prison camp or in the Union Army, they choose the latter. When they’re tapped to guard outposts in the Western frontier, their experiences have profound effects on their own loyalties—and make for a fascinating Civil War story.

2. Battle Cry of Freedom

By James. M. McPherson

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book charts the period between the 1846 outbreak of the Mexican-American War to Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. Author James McPherson examines the economic, political, and social factors that led to the Civil War, particularly how small, violent outbursts evolved into America’s deadliest war. Both sides believed they were fighting for freedom—though their definitions of this freedom differed greatly. With in-depth analyses of nearly every major event, Battle Cry of Freedom is an indispensable addition to any history buff’s collection.

3. The Civil War: A Narrative

By Shelby Foote

In the first book of Foote’s three-volume series, the author opens with Jefferson Davis’ resignation from the US Senate. The Democratic politician was destined for another, bigger role: the first presidency of the Confederate States. So begins an extensively researched account of the events—and war—that followed, which culminates in the Union’s victory four years later. Maps are a welcome addition to the narrative, providing useful visuals of important battle sites and travel routes.

4. Mary Chesnut’s Diary

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Penguin Classics

By Mary Chesnut

A native of South Carolina, Mary Chesnut kept a detailed account of her life as an upper class woman during the Civil War. Though her husband was a senator and a Confederate officer, Mary secretly hated the institution of slavery. From her reflections on witnessing the first shots fired in Charleston to hearing parts of her husband’s meetings, Chesnut’s diary is one of the few complete firsthand accounts of the war written by a non-soldier.

5. For Cause and Comrades

By James M. McPherson

After countless bloody battles and widespread death, how did Civil War soldiers find the will to keep fighting? In For Case and Comrades, James McPherson explores what drove them—namely, their unshakeable belief in the necessity of their actions. For both sides, victory was worth everything.

McPherson analyzed over 250 diaries and 25,000 letters to truly understand the soldiers’ thought processes. He was shocked by their eloquence and honesty, and the frequency with which they wrote of their daily lives. Their writings reveal how they were not just hardened men of war—but brothers, sons, fathers, and husbands who simply wanted to go home with their dignity in tact. The result is a humanizing study of war, and of the men who fought unwaveringly for their ideals.

6. The Black Flower

By Howard Bahr

As a war veteran and novelist, Bahr was a master of well-paced, engaging Civil War fiction—and lucky for us, he wrote three books. The first installment in his Civil War trilogy is The Black Flower, a New York Times Notable Book. When a 26-year-old Confederate soldier is wounded, the bond he forms with a medic gives him hope for a brighter, post-war future.

The Year of Jubilo sees a similar hero: Gawain Harper, who only fights in the Confederate army to be with the woman he loves. His return home is not as charmed as he anticipated when he discovers the rebels’ plot to incite new warfare—which Gawain must stop.

In the final book, The Judas Field, Civil War veteran Cass accompanies a friend to Tennessee, where they’ll retrieve the bodies of her brother and father. As they pass through devastated Southern towns, Cass cannot escape his haunting memories of the battlefield. All three novels explore the violence of warfare, the endurance of hope, and the lengths to which men and women fought to return to their loved ones.

7. The North and South Trilogy

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Open Road Media

By John Jakes

In the trilogy that has sold millions of copies, John Jakes examines how war can disintegrate even the closest of bonds. While training at West Point, Southerner Orry Mains quickly befriends Northerner George Hazard. But when the Civil War places them on opposite sides of the battlefield, tensions reverberate through their relationship, their families, and the rest of Jakes’ bestselling trilogy. Part war story, part family drama, the books were adapted into a wildly popular miniseries starring Patrick Swayze and James Read.

8. Murder at Manassas

By Michael Kilian

With the Civil War still in its earliest days, Virginian Harrison Raines is torn between his abhorrence of slavery and his love for his home state. He is also in love with actress Caitlin Howard—though her affection for John Wilkes Booth (yes, that one) poses a serious threat. Raines’ personal dramas reach new heights when, after taking Caitlin to watch the Battle of Bull Run, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving a wrongly-disgraced major. What ensues is a fast-paced whodunit full of rich historical detail and real-life figures like Abe Lincoln.

9. Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier

Nothing, not even war, can prevent Inman from reaching his true love, Ada, in North Carolina. After being gravely wounded in battle, Inman deserts the Confederate army, determined to return to the woman he left behind. As he journeys across the ravaged American landscape, Ada struggles to restore her late father’s farm back to its former glory. But with only a few moments shared between them, have Inman and Ada pinned their hopes on a foolish dream?

Frazier’s National Book Award-winning novel is based on stories he heard from his great-great-grandfather as a child. Gorgeously written and unrelentingly heartbreaking, Cold Mountain is at once an unforgettable tale of war and a deeply moving love story.

10. The Killer Angels

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Ballantine Books

By Michael Shaara

Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel recreates the bloodiest battle in American history: Gettysburg. Over the four days of fighting, countless men died—men with families, men with futures, men who might have done great things for the nation. Shaara imagines who these men, whether Northern or Southern, may have been.

Told through the perspectives of multiple historical figures, the story begins with a very confident Robert E. Lee as he and his troops travel to Pennsylvania. But instead of finding the victory they envisioned, Lee and his fellow Confederates are demoralized by the battle—and many know they’re unlikely to win the war, or even see its end.

11. Cain at Gettysburg

By Ralph Peters

Another Gettysburg-centered novel, Cain at Gettysburg is a fictional retelling of what is considered “the turning point of the Civil War.” It follows a misfit group of characters—including desperate generals, a German refugee, and an Irishman who fled the famine—as they fight for their cause, unsure of their futures. Compelling and jam-packed with action, Cain at Gettysburg is a fascinating tale of battle, bravery, and brotherhood that no lover of Civil War history should miss.

12. Gone with the Wind

By Margaret Mitchell

If you ever had access to the Turner Classic Movie channel, then you’ve probably heard of the film version of Gone with the Wind. But before Vivien Leigh starred as Scarlett O’Hara, there was Margaret Mitchell’s epic book, which offers a more detailed look at Georgia during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. At the center, of course, is Scarlett—a Southern belle and the daughter of a wealthy planter—who is forced to change her spoiled ways once war divides the country. Though her enduring relationship with Rhett Butler is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time, the novel is also one of the best portraits of the effects of war on a place and its people.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

Articles

‘Vinegar’ Joe Stilwell lost the best WWII assignments twice

Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.


And initially, it looked like that would happen, but two of the biggest commands of the war slipped through his fingers. He was assigned to lead the invasion of North Africa when America was ready to deploy forces across the Atlantic, but was recalled to take another mission. He was later assigned to lead the invasion of Japan…until the atomic bombs made it unnecessary.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
General Chiang Kai-shek, Madam Chiang Kai-shek, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell celebrate the day after the Doolittle Raid strikes Tokyo. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense Capt. Fred L. Eldridge)

Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.

Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.

This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell eats C-rations as a Christmas meal in 1943 while not-at-all wishing that he had commanded the invasion of North Africa instead of that punk kid Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Stilwell, meanwhile, was sent to the CBI theater where he was charged three major jobs. He was to command all U.S. forces in the theater, lead the Lend-Lease program in China, and serve as the chief of staff for Chiang Kai-shek, the Supreme Allied Commander for the China theater.

He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
American forces assigned to GALAHAD rest in Burma during a movement in World War II. GALAHAD would be better known by history as Merrill’s Marauders. (Photo: U.S. Army)

But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.

The overall retreat was so disorderly that important railways were shut down thanks to crashes and traffic jams. Stilwell had to lead a group from his headquarters on vehicles and then on foot after the air corridors were closed. The vehicles eventually had to be abandoned because of the bad roads, and so Stilwell and a select group walked through the jungle out of Burma.

The group has started with 80 members and emerged from the jungle with 114, having picked up 34 strays and suffered no losses — possibly the only large group to do so.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Kachin Rangers stand in formation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

For the next two years, Stilwell had to rely on a small group of Americans leading guerrilla operations in Burma to keep the Japanese off kilter. Army Col. Carl F. Eifler led a small group of U.S. soldiers who recruited the local Kachin people into an insurgency against the Japanese. The force was credited with killing 5,428 Japanese troops and recovering 574 isolated Allied troops, mostly downed aircrews.

But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.

These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams
Merrill’s Marauders move through the China-Burma-India Theater on the Ledo Road. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.

Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.