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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the morning of June 7, 1917, after a dry quip to journalists about how he didn’t know whether he and his men’s actions “shall change history tomorrow,” but would “certainly alter the geography,” a British major general ordered a series of mines set off, detonating an almost 1 million pounds of explosives, killing about 1,000 German soldiers, and causing leaders in London —about 130 miles away — to hear the explosion.
A howitzer crew provides fire support during the infantry assault at the Battle of Messines Ridge.
(National Library of Scotland)
It all started soon after World War I descended from a fast-paced maneuver war into the trench-warfare stalemate that would define the conflict. Allied troops facing Germans in Belgium were, like their brethren in the trenches southward across France, quickly demoralized as the war ground on, thousands died, and almost no significant changes were made to the balance of the war.
People were dying by the thousands to seemingly no effect. So, some British officers came up with a plan to shift the line in Belgium by putting in years of work that would guarantee an eventual victory far in the future.
The plan was changed, overhauled, and refined plenty of times in those two years, but the basic underpinnings stayed the same. Near the village of Messines in Belgium, British tunnelers got to work digging towards and then under the German lines along the ridge that dominated the area. This digging operation would continue for two years.
Sappers dig a communication trench near Messines Ridge after the explosion that essentially handed the area to the British. Engineers had worked for nearly two years to dig the original tunnels that made the explosion possible.
(Imperial War Museums)
Shafts were dug across the front, and some were dug as deep as 100 feet and then filled with strong explosives. On top of these subterranean towers of explosives, each major stockpile had a mine that would act as the initiation device.
For German soldiers and officers, this was obviously a nightmare. For those directly over the explosion, the nightmare was over instantly. The Earth erupted around them like a volcano. The earth shook and shot into the sky. Men were wrecked by the blast and then survivors were buried alive in the debris. Approximately 1 millions pounds of explosives were used in the blast.
Soldiers share a smoke on June 10 during the Battle of Messines. The Battle of Messines Ridge had kicked off the British advance and given them a huge advantage when engineers successfully set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives beneath a key ridge.
(Imperial War Museums)
But the slight breaks between explosions meant that, for minutes afterwards, German troops and officers were terrified that more explosions were coming, that they would be killed or buried in a sudden tower of fire and dirt.
Meanwhile, British troops had been staged to take advantage of the sudden opening in the lines. Many were knocked down by the initial blast despite staging hundreds of yards away. But they stood up and attacked the German lines. What had been a ridge was now a series of major craters, and the British were determined to take them.
The British had known that a large explosion was coming, though many individual soldiers didn’t know the exact details, and so they were able to rally much faster than the Germans. The British infantry assault, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage, successfully captured 7,000 survivors in addition to the 10,000 that the explosions had killed.
And the British were left holding what was left of the ridge. The Germans retreated and this allowed Britain to launch more attacks into Ypres. The Battle of Messines Ridge had been a great success, though the Ypres Offensive it enabled was less so. The idea for the larger offensive had been to capture the German U-Boat pens on the Belgian coast, but the openings at Messines Ridge didn’t eliminate the German defenses further on.
The Ypres Offensive was launched on July 31, just weeks after the explosions at Messines, but Germans fiercely contested the assaults and launched counterattacks of their own. The offensive was, ostensibly, an Allied victory. The Allies took Ypres and a lot of other territory, but suffered 275,000 casualties to Germany’s 220,000.
That’s why most of the world has forgotten the detonation at Messines Ridge. It was one of the largest man-made explosions in history at the time and it allowed the British to pull a victory, seemingly out of thin air. But its strategic impact didn’t last.
If you think Operation Inherent Resolve is a mission name that makes no sense, you’re not alone. The U.S. military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria was supposed to have a different name altogether. The Pentagon initially rejected OIR and only accepted it as a placeholder. Somehow it stuck, and that’s what we’re left with.
Strange, silly and absurd names shouldn’t be the standard for military operations. Or at least so said Winston Churchill back in 1943. In a WWII memo on the subject of mission names, Churchill said, “Do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way, and do not enable some widow or some mother to say her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.'”
It seems that the military isn’t exactly following Churchill’s recommendation. There’s rarely a public explanation about mission names, but that doesn’t make them any more questionable. Here are a few of the most memorable mission names.
Operation All-American Tiger
Tigers are pretty amazing in their own right, but what would be more American than having an All-American tiger? That’s a question the brass asked themselves, apparently, in 2003, when they settled on this mission name during a November 2003 Iraq War mission. Operation All-American Tiger’s objective was to search and clear farms and villages around the Euphrates River in the Northern Iraqi town of Al-Qaim. Service members detained twelve people as a result, including a few who were on a “Most Wanted” list.
While it’s fun to think about what the military was considering when creating codenames for missions, this one is actually pretty easy to figure out. The nickname for the 82nd Airborne Division is “All American.” The Tiger Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cav assisted the 82nd on this mission.
Specifically, it was the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the 82nd who worked with the Tigers. The 504th even have their own absurd nickname – The Devils in Baggy Pants – taken from a diary entry of a Wehrmacht officer in WWII.
Doesn’t this sound like a mission from the 1980s? It feels decidedly vintage, but Operation Beastmaster actually took place in 2006. OB cleared three neighborhoods in the Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, which itself was subject to a codename, albeit one that was far easier understood. Service members in IED Alley East, as Ghazaliya was known, worked together with the Iraqi Army to uncover weapons caches and a deposit of roadside bomb-creating supplies and tools. Operation Beastmaster also captured one high-ranking (and still unnamed) official, and the Army counted it as a complete win.
Operation Grizzly Forced Entry
In the summer of 2004, U.S. service members went on a counter-insurgency raid in Najaf, Iraq, a city south of Baghdad. The forced entry part of this code name is pretty self-explanatory, as service members were tasked with entering private homes to search for high-value targets who were suspected of attacking coalition forces.
Operation Power Geyser
This counterterrorism unit included 13,000 top secret service members who served as military security to support the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush. Taken from a video game series, the name Power Geyser refers to a character who was able to blast the ground with his fist and create a field of explosive energy around him that sent his opponents flying. In real life, these elite troops carried top of the line weaponry and lurked in the shadows around the White House and the Capitol building while the inauguration took place.
These 2007 missions were efforts to make residential neighborhoods, areas with lots of traffic, and marketplaces safer for Iraqis to live and work during the American involvement of the Iraq war. Service members combed these areas looking for car bombs and IEDs with a decided effort to cut down on sectarian violence in the city. The codenames were pretty easy to figure out, proof that sometimes the most basic name is the best one.
Whoever was thinking up mission names during the Iraq War was definitely trying to keep the plans top secret to ensure the missions were successful. With names like All-American Tiger and Grizzly Forced Entry, someone was trying to make sure no one knew our military’s plans.
Army Pvt. James S. Bumgarner met a North Korean patrol during the evening of April 23, 1951, during the early stages of the Korean War. You probably know him better as actor James Garner, star of The Rockford Files, Maverick, and The Great Escape, among many others. But before his Hollywood career took off, he enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marine at the end of World War II, then into the California National Guard before deploying to Korea for 14 months with the 5th Regimental Combat Team.
In his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files, he wrote:
Army chow was bearable as long as I could keep the onions and garlic out of it. I cannot stand onions and I’m very sensitive to garlic. I can taste tiny amounts of it, like when they’ve cooked another dish with garlic before and don’t wash the pan. If I get even a hint of it, I might throw up in my plate. This violent aversion may have saved my life: like our South Korean allies, the Chinese and North Korean troops lived on a diet of fish heads, rice, and garlic.
One night while on guard on the line, I caught a faint whiff of it coming from the direction of the enemy positions. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew there was someone out there and they were coming closer. Once I sniffed them I could hear them, too. It turned out to be a patrol heading straight for our position. They were just the other side of a rise when I passed the word down the line. We were ready for them and stopped them in their tracks.
He was wounded in that exchange and received his first Purple Heart. 32 years after the war, Garner received another Purple Heart for being wounded during a friendly fire incident where a strafing fighter hit him in the buttocks. The Army mixed up the paperwork and only found it after the actor mentioned the incident on Good Morning America
“I got it in the backside. I went into a foxhole headfirst and I was a little late. There’s a lot of room for error with a wound in the rear. It’s a wide target.”
During his long career as an actor, Garner played a number of military roles, including an American airman in the WWII-era British Eagles Squadron, an Army Tanker, and Army infantryman.
“After 32 years, it’s better to receive this now than posthumously,” Garner said at his ceremony. “It is indeed an honor and I tried to serve my country to the best of my ability.”
Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War.
In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.
McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured.
Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.
The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.
The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”
George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”
Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce.
The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.
There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a movie where the good guy says some really dope stuff right before he takes out the bad guy – but that doesn’t happen in real life, does it? It DOES. Throughout the history of warfare, those who have chosen warfighting as their profession have kept cool enough under fire to reply, retort, and rebuff their enemies with a weapon as lethal as firearms and blades – a silver tongue.
Daniel K. Inouye
“Nobody called off the war!”
Inouye had just pulled off some epic, Medal of Honor-winning fighting, which included being gutshot, taking a frag grenade blast, and being shot in the leg and arm. He told his men to hold back while he went off and cleared the area. He was successful in breaking the confidence of the enemy. He said this as he was moving to get back to the aid station when reinforcements began to arrive in order to keep the men on target. He would lose that arm.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,
“I have seen their backs before, Madam.”
This incredibly awesome line wasn’t technically made in wartime. It was made by a wartime Field Marshal, however, by the name of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. While at an event in Vienna, he was asked about how he felt about French Generals turning their backs on him at a conference in Vienna. This was his reply when asked about the event.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”
The founding father of modern-day Turkey was actually a wordsmith of the highest caliber. He rose to power and reformed the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I, but he rose to prominence defending Turkish lands during the battle for Gallipoli. This was his order to the 57th Infantry Regiment defending Gallipoli.
General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“No damn man kills me and lives to tell about it!”
What makes this quote so epically cool is that Forrest was shot and wounded by a fellow officer, a subordinate of his. Even though Forrest would survive the wound, he said this before taking his turn to shoot back. Forrest survived. The officer did not.
United Flight 93 passenger probably never predicted such an offhand remark might one day become synonymous with that day and the American resolve to defeat terrorism. This is what he told his fellow passengers right before they all fought to recapture their airplane and try to avoid crashing into something important. Instead, they opted to down it in a rural field.
General George S. Patton.
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no one because I am the most evil man in the valley.”
Yeah, Patton had a lot of cool things to say in combat. But nothing tops this one-liner. Patton was a religious man, growing up in California, he was a regular at his local church, which helps the street cred for this sentence. What also helps is that Patton didn’t care if the enemy thought he was evil or not – he was coming, and he knew the enemy was afraid.
“If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
The Great Khan was ruthless in his efficiency, brave in his execution, and fearsome until the very end. Khan accumulated an empire that would be the largest on Earth until the British Empire reached its apogee. Until then Khan controlled 17 percent of the Earth surface, killing so many people, it led to global cooling.
Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daly
“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!”
Of course, leave it to a United States Marine to top this list of dope sh*t said in the face of certain death. There are few Marines as storied as Sgt. Major Daniel Daly one of a very short list of people to earn the Medal of Honor. Twice. Daly said this at the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, where Marines earned their nickname “Devil Dogs.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has an under-recognized place in World War II history, fighting German spies before the U.S. entered the war and immediately taking on convoy escort duties, weather patrols, and anti-submarine missions after America declared war on the Axis Powers. One of the Coast Guard crews that bravely shouldered the load was the USCGC Campbell which, in icy Atlantic waters, took bold action to finish off a German U-boat that attempted to attack it.
Crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell pose with their mascot, Sinbad, in World War II.
(U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)
The Campbell was part of a class of 327-foot Coast Guard cutters specially designed for high-speed service on the high seas. It spent much of World War II protecting convoys and, in February 1943, was one of the escorts for Convoy ON-166. This was before the bulk of German submarines were chased from the Atlantic in “Black May,” and the wolf packs were on the prowl to cut off supplies to Europe and starve Britain into submission.
The Campbell’s involvement started with rescuing 50 merchant mariners from the water. It had to dodge a German torpedo during the rescue, and then it pressed the attack against U-753, heavily damaging it and forcing its withdrawal. It spent the rest of the night driving off German U-boats until it finally attempted to get back to the convoy.
Crewmembers load a Mk. VII depth charge onto the HMS Dianthus, another escort of ON-166, during World War II.
(Imperial War Museums)
In the pre-dawn darkness, Campbell was 40 miles behind the convoy, essentially alone and attempting to catch up and help kill more German submarines. But then a shape emerged from the inky blackness. U-606 was bringing the fight to the Campbell and attempting to engage it before it could meet up with the convoy.
U-606 had three kills to its name, including two ships of ON-166. But it had been damaged while sinking those earlier ships, and attacking the Campbell was a greedy and potentially risky move. Attacking from the surface exposed its position to the American crew and would allow the Campbell to employ its gun crews as well as depth charges.
When the Campbell spotted the sub, it went one step further. Cmdr. James A. Hirshfield ordered a ramming maneuver, swinging the ship about to slam its hull against the submarine.
The Campbell’s bold maneuver came at a cost, though, as the side plating ruptured and salt water began to pour in. Cmdr. Kenneth K. Cowart supervised damage control while also helping to ensure that sufficient engine power was on hand for the continued maneuvering and fighting.
Meanwhile, on the deck, the men controlling the depth charges had managed to drop two during the ram, damaging U-606 further. And deck gun crews began pouring fire onto the stricken sub, attempting to disable or kill it before it could unleash its own deadly barrage against the cutter.
In this melee, an all-Black gun crew of a three-inch gun battery distinguished itself for bravery, accurately concentrating its damage on the sub’s deck and conning tower.
He led the remaining crew through four days of damage control without engine power before finally receiving a tow back to port for repairs. The Campbell survived the war. Hirshfield received the Navy Cross for his actions, and Cowart and Cmdr. Bret H. Brallier received Silver Stars for their parts in saving the cutter.
Louis Etheridge, the man who led that all-Black gun crew on the three-inch battery, later received a Bronze Star for his work that February.
America has 50 attack submarines in active service designed to tail and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships. China and Russia have dozens more.
Strangely enough, only one submarine battle has been fought underwater in over 100 years of modern submarine warfare — it was a World War II action that saw a British sub with limited firepower attack a much larger German adversary.
Captured German U-boats sit after the war. The one on the right is a Type IX similar to U-864.
(Imperial War Museums)
The fight took place in 1945, near the end of the war. British intelligence intercepted communications about Operation Caesar, an attempt by Germany to send advanced technology to Japan, helping it stay in the war and, hopefully, buying the Axis a few more months to turn everything around.
The Germans had loaded prototypes and advanced weapon designs as well as German and Japanese scientists onto U-864 with massive amounts of liquid mercury for transport to Japan. Some of the most exciting pieces of technology onboard were jet engines from German manufacturers.
Corvette Capt. Rolf-Reimar Wolfram, commander of U-864.
Operation Caesar was launched on Dec. 5, 1944, under the command of Corvette Capt. Ralf-Reimar Wolfram. His rank is the equivalent of a U.S. lieutenant commander or major — fairly junior for such an important mission.
His initial plan was solid. The Allies controlled much of the water he would have to transit, and the beginning was the most dangerous. Britain had solid control of the North Sea, so Wolfram decided to stick to the coast and allow German shore installations to protect him.
“Tallboy” and “Grand Slam” earthquake bombs penetrated the surface of the Earth and detonated underground, channeling most of their power through the rock and broke structures like submarine pens, canals, roads, and other targets.
(Imperial War Museums)
Unfortunately for him, he grounded his sub while going through the Kiel Canal and had to head to drydock for repairs. While the boat was being repaired at Bergen, Norway, an attack by British planes dropping “earthquake bombs” damaged the pen and the sub, further delaying the mission.
This delay would prove fatal. Britain had intercepted early communications about the mission, and the delay gave them a chance to send a British submarine to intercept the German one. The HMS Venturer was sent to Fedje, Norway.
Venturer was a fast attack submarine, quick, but with a smaller crew and armament than its enemy. It could fire four torpedoes at once and had a total inventory of eight torpedoes to U-864’s 22.
The HMS Venturer in 1943.
(Imperial War Museums)
The British sub, under command of Lt. James S. Launders, moved into position on Feb. 6, 1945. Launders was a distinguished sub commander with 13 kills to his name, including the destruction of a surfaced German submarine. The technological challenges he was facing would still be daunting, though.
The Venturer had only two methods of finding an enemy sub, hydrophones or active sonar. The active sonar would give away his position, but the hydrophones had a limited range. And the boat’s torpedoes were designed to attack ships on the surface.
Worse for Launders and his crew, by the time he arrived, Wolfram and U-864 had already passed their position. The German sub was safely beyond the British position.
But then the German sub’s diesel engines began to misfire. Wolfram had a decision: press forward with his mission and risk engine trouble or failure while sailing north past the Baltic countries and Russia and through the Arctic Circle, or double back for additional repairs.
Out of an abundance of caution, Wolfram headed back to Bergen, taking him right through Launders’ trap.
On February 9, the British crew was monitoring their hydrophones when the misfiring diesel engine on the German sub gave away its position. Launders had his sub stealthily move to the source of the noise where he first saw an open ocean, a sign that the engine noise was coming from underwater.
Then, he saw what he suspected was an enemy periscope, likely the German subs snorkel mast that allowed it to run its diesel engines while shallowly submerged. Launders knew he had his target in front of him.
The Venturer tailed the U-864 for the next few hours. U-864 began taking evasive actions, a sign that it had likely detected the British presence.
The British, running low on battery power, decided to put all their eggs in one basket, attacking with two salvos of four torpedoes. The first salvo was “ripple-fired,” with each torpedo launch coming about 18 seconds after the previous one.
The British sub dove and began re-loading its four tubes. Again, the British fired all four. Of the eight torpedoes, seven were complete misses.
One was a direct hit. The British hydrophone operators heard the torpedo impact, the explosion, the wrenching of iron as the pressure crumpled it like paper, and the dull thud as the wreckage crashed to the sea floor.
The site was undisturbed for almost 60 years until the Norwegian Navy discovered it in 2003. Mercury was leaking from damaged vials, and Norwegian authorities decided to bury the wreck under tons of sand and rocks to prevent further damage to the ecosystem.
There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn’t enough.
The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.
Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy’s leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.
One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.
There’s an old military adage that goes “if it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.” This idea clearly dates all the way back to the Classical Era, because the stupidest thing ever done to protect a fighting force was perpetrated in 480 BC. By a King.
Say what you want about Persian King Xerxes I, he knew how to fight a battle. That is to say, he always brought enough men and material to get the job done. Yes, this is the same Xerxes seen in the movie 300, but before the Persian Army could get to Thermopylae, they had to cross the Hellespont, what we call the Dardanelles today. It did not go exactly as planned.
Like a lot of things the Persian Army tried.
Xerxes was coming right off of victories over uprisings against Persian rule in Egypt and Babylon and had acquired a massive army, as-then-unheard-of in ancient times. Some 300,000 troops were ready to pour into Greece to avenge the ass-kicking the Greeks perpetrated on Xerxes’ father, Darius. Xerxes was not one to overthink things. The simplest way to get a massive army from one land mass to another was to simply build a bridge and roads to it. Xerxes even had the bridges built in advance so his army wouldn’t have to wait to get to Greece.
This did not go exactly as the Persian Army planned. Before he and his troops could arrive, the seas swelled up and swallowed the bridges, completely destroying them. When the King arrived, it was just debris. Infuriated with the seas, Xerxes marched out to the sea and whipped it with a chain 300 times as his soldiers watched and shouted curses at the water.
He also beheaded the engineers who built the bridge, which may have been a contributing factor to his eventual success.
The bridges were then rebuilt to the exact specifications required to hold 300,000 Persian troops bent on destruction, along with their pack animals, cavalry, and whatever else they could carry. This time, the bridges held and the Persians marched out to meet the Greeks – who would kick the Persian Army right back out of Europe by the following spring.
When the Persians arrived at the bridges in full retreat, they had been destroyed again.
If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?
To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.
So how did the tradition actually start?
While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.
Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.
Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.
Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.
Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.
As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.
This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.
On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.
Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.
Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,
Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.
On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”
Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)
On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”
That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”
History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”
As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.
When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.
This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.
As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”
That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .
Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.
Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.
For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.
On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.
That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.
Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”
Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.
This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.
As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.
Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.
As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.
On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).
To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…
Major’s unit approached the town of Zolle in the Netherlands in April 1945 and asked for two volunteers to scout for enemy troops, an easy observe and report mission. Major and his buddy, Willy Arseneault, volunteered to go.
Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)
They were told to establish communications with the local Dutch resistance and warn them to take cover if possible, since the morning’s attack would open with heavy artillery and the Canadians wanted to limit civilian casualties.
Major could have turned back at this point and reported the loss of his friend, or he could have carefully completed the mission and carried news of the German strength back to his command. Instead, he decided to go full commando and sow terror in the hearts of his enemies.
He captured a German driver and ordered his hostage to take him into a bar in Zwolle. There, Major found a German officer and told him that a massive Canadian attack was coming.
The Canadian then gave the German hostage his weapon back and sent him into the night on his own. As the rumor started to spread that Canadians were in the town and preparing a massive assault, Major went on a one-man rampage.
He tossed grenades throughout the town, avoiding civilians and limiting damage to structures but sowing as much panic as possible. He also fired bursts from a submachine gun and, whenever he ran into Germans, he laid down as much hurt as possible.
At one point, he stumbled into a group of eight Germans and, despite being outnumbered, killed four of them and drove off the rest.
He also lit the local SS headquarters on fire.
Major’s campaign of terror had the intended effect. The German forces, convinced they were under assault by a well-prepared and possibly superior force, withdrew from the city. Hundreds of Germans are thought to have withdrawn from the town before dawn.
It took a lot to get SS troops to run, but Canadian Pvt. Leo Major turned it into a one-man job. (Photo: German Bundesarchives)
A group of Dutch citizens helped Major recover Arseneault’s body and the sniper returned to his unit to report that little or no enemy troops were present in Zwolle.
The Canadians marched into the town the next day and Major was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He is the only Canadian to receive DCMs for two wars.
He was nominated for a capturing 93 German troops in 1944 but refused it because he though Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was too incompetent to award medals. But Major received the DCM for capturing Zwolle. In the Korean War he received another DCM after he and a team of snipers took a hill from Chinese troops and held it for three days.
He became an honorary citizen of Zwolle in 2005 and died in 2008. Soon after his death, Zwolle named a street after their Canadian liberator.
We know our government as one of checks and balances, always ensuring that one branch has oversight over another. But in case of some kind of national emergency, the President of the United States has the ability to essentially turn the democratically-elected government into a sort of constitutional dictatorship, with him (or her) at its center.
This doesn’t mean the chief executive has to enact all the powers at once or that, in an emergency, that they have to enact them at all. These are just the possibilities. In case you read this and think to yourself, “Holy cow, no one is ever going to really do that!” Guess again. Most of these have been done before.
Precedents for the President
There are four aspects to an emergency: the sudden onset and how long it will last, how dangerous or destructive it is, who it may be dangerous to, and who is best suited to respond. The President has to declare a state of emergency and indicate which powers he’s activating.
“We should ask the President,” said no businessperson ever.
1. Regulate all commerce and business transactions.
Under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the President is allowed to regulate all the finances of the United States, including all international transactions.
Pictured: Not yours.
2. Seize all privately-held gold stores.
Under the same 1917 act of Congress, the President has the authority to take all privately-owned gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates. The last time this was used was in 1933 to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression. Citizens were allowed to keep only 0 worth of gold.
Citizens were paid its value per ounce and for the cost of transportation as they were required to surrender the gold to a Federal Reserve Bank within three days of the order.
Better make room for a new logo.
3. Take control of all media in the U.S.
Under the Communications Act of 1934, the President can establish the Office of Telecommunications Management, which oversees all media and telecommunications, regardless of advances in technology. President Kennedy did this through Executive Order 10995 in 1962.
Make way for the Trump Train!
4. Basically capture all resources and manpower.
Kennedy also signed executive orders allowing for the seizure of electric power fuels and minerals, roads, highways, ports, sea lanes, waterways, railroads, and the private vehicles on those throughways. Under further orders, he allowed for the Executive Office of the President to conscript citizens as laborers, seize health and education facilities, and airports and aircraft. These are continued in Executive Orders 10997, 10999, 11000, 11001, 11002, 11003, 11004, and 11005.
Just wait til they get bored on their deployment to Wyoming.
5. Deploy the military inside the United States.
While American governors can offer their National Guard resources to the President without being ordered, as they do in the case of U.S. troops monitoring the border with Mexico, the use of Active Duty troops inside the U.S. is forbidden under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878…
…unless there’s an emergency. The Insurrection Act allows for the President to use troops to put down insurrections or rebellions within the United States. After Hurricane Katrina, however, the Insurrection Act was amended to allow the POTUS to use federal troops to enforce the law — a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Every U.S. Governor was against this change.
Like an inauguration but with waaaaaaaaay fewer people.
6. Suspend the government of the United States.
A presidential directive signed by George W. Bush on May 9, 2007, gives the President of the United States the authority to take over all government functions and all private sector activities in the event of a “catastrophic emergency.” The idea is to ensure American democracy survives after such an event occurs and that we will come out the other end with an “enduring constitutional government.” This piece of legislation is called “Directive 51.”