6 things to know about the Gallic Wars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar is known as one of the greatest generals of all time. He was so inspiring that he persuaded his army to cross the Rubicon River and march on Rome, to overthrow the politicians who threatened to strip Caesar of his military command. Caesar had to earn their loyalty, though, and he earned his reputation as a brilliant commander in the Gallic Wars. These conflicts were fought between 58 and 50 BC in the land the Romans called Gaul (and we call France). Here are six things to know about the Gallic Wars.

1. Caesar fought the wars to pay off his debts

In the year 59 BC, Caesar served as consul, one of the highest positions in the Roman government. In Roman politics, you won votes through bribery, and Caesar spent so much money that by the end of his consulship he was riddled with debts. There was an easy solution to this problem: give himself a province. Provincial governors could enrich themselves through conquest and plunder, and Caesar ended up receiving a stunning three provinces to govern: Transalpine Gaul, Cisalpine Gaul, and Illyricum (southern France, North Italy, and the western Balkans, respectively). But to the north, there was Gaul, ripe for the taking.

2. The conflict started out small

When Caesar learned that a Gallic tribe called the Helvetii were planning on migrating through Transalpine Gaul, he started to fortify the Rhone River to stall their movement. The Helvetii were denied the right to cross, so they doubled back to find a different route, all the while raiding and plundering other Gauls. These oppressed tribes came to Caesar asking for help defending themselves from the Helvetii, and Caesar obliged. Over the course of a few months, the Romans pursued the Helvetii and whittled down their forces before finally defeating them at the Battle of Bibracte.               

3. Many Gauls wanted Caesar there…

Many Gauls were impressed with Caesar’s defeat of the Helvetii and so asked him to defeat the Germanic tribe of the Suebi that was invading Gaul. Caesar could not declare war just yet because the Suebi king Ariovistus was technically a Roman ally, but repeated harassment of the Gallic tribes gave Caesar the justification he needed to declare war. By the end of the year 58 BC, Caesar had defeated Ariovistus. The next year Caesar and his legions marched to fight the Belgae, a Gallic confederation that was harassing a Roman-allied tribe. The most warlike of the Belgae were the Nervii, who surprised the Romans at the Battle of the Sabis and nearly defeated them. Caesar, however, was able to turn the tide of battle and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Belgae surrendered to Caesar shortly after. Lots of Gauls were happy that Caesar was there to protect them from dangerous tribes, but others were starting to chafe under Roman rule.

4. …until they didn’t

In 54 BC, the Eburones tribe under king Ambiorix revolted against Caesar’s rule, slaughtering thousands of Romans at the fortress of Atuatuca. The Romans responded by attacking Ambiorix’s allies and isolated the Eburones until the rebellion fizzled out. This, however, was only the precursor to a much larger rebellion. Vercingetorix, king of the Averni tribe, had been making alliances with other tribes for a while now, and in 52 BC, Vercingetorix and his united tribes rebelled against Rome. The Romans chased the Gauls throughout Gaul until Vercingetorix holed up in the fortified city of Alesia, which Caesar could not take. On top of that, Vercingetorix summoned his Gallic allies to attack the Romans who were stationed outside Alesia. The Romans were able to defend themselves from Gallic attacks within and without the city until Vercingetorix surrendered. There were more campaigns to wipe out the last elements of resistance, but Caesar had successfully conquered Gaul for Rome.

5. Caesar went as far as Britain and Germany

Back in 56 BC, Caesar started a new campaign against the Veneti tribe, which had taken Roman hostages and threatened to kill them unless the Romans sent them food. The Romans were victorious after a long campaign on sea and land. Afterwards Caesar started two controversial campaigns: one across the Rhine River in what the Romans called Germania, and one across the English Channel in what the Romans called Britannia. Neither campaign yielded much fruit, but the fact that Caesar had crossed into the “barbarian” lands of Britain and Germany left an impression on the minds of many Romans.

6. Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars himself

One of the most important historical sources for the Gallic Wars is the Commentari de Bello Gallico, or Commentary on the Gallic Wars, written by Julius Caesar himself. With this book, Caesar could record the history of the Gallic Wars for posterity, while also defending his actions to the Romans, many of whom were suspicious of his imperialist tendencies. Although Caesar is most famous for his dictatorship over the Roman Republic, his conquests during the Gallic Wars supplied him with the support and resources he would require to change the course of Roman history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marine Corps’ all-time top fighter plane was a Navy reject

The Marine Corps has historically found itself on short end of the stick when it comes to aviation. In fact, during World War II, the planes they got were either obsolete (like the F2A Buffalo and SB2U Vindicator) or unwanted by the Navy. The latter case, though, gave the Marines one heck of a plane. One so good, the Navy eventually flew it, too.


That plane was the Vought F4U Corsair, probably best known for its appearance on the show Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad as Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the top Marine ace of all time. So, why didn’t the Navy want what would prove to be one of the great planes of World War II?

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Corsair had a top speed of 416 miles per hour, could reach a maximum range of 1,016 miles, and had six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. But this plane, originally designed to operate off U.S. Navy carriers, was just too hot.

Vought had taken the powerful R-2800 engine and tried making a compact fighter with it. They succeeded, but the Corsair proved to be a tricky beast to fly. It soon earned the nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” As a result, the Navy went with the F6F Hellcat — an awesome fighter in its own right — and pawned the Corsair off on the Marines.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
F6F Hellcats from VF-1 in flight. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Marines took to the Corsair like a duck to water. The plane gave them something that could go toe-to-toe with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, but also carry a powerful load of bombs and rockets, making it a multi-role fighter.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
A Vought F4U Corsair fires rockets at ground targets on Okinawa. (DOD photo)

The British acquired some, too, and operated them off of escort carriers. By the end of World War II, the United States Navy began to operate Corsairs from carriers to counter the kamikaze threat. The Corsair served through the Korean War, and even saw combat action in the Soccer War of 1969. Watch a video about this Navy reject turned Marine Corps legend below: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoJbdGjSwM0
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know these military facts about Alcatraz?

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz or “The Rock” closed its doors forever. Although modern society may know its name because of famous residents like Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulgar, there is a rich history beyond that. Long before the daring escapes of mobsters, it was actually used by the United States Military as a fortified defense. It would also become the Army’s first long-term prison.


Discovered in 1775 and mapped by Spanish explorers, Alcatraz wouldn’t come under the ownership of the United States until after the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Two years later an Army and Navy joint commission recommended that it be a part of a triangle of defense for the bay of San Francisco. It was then that President Fillmore signed an executive order reserving it for public purposes. That purpose was a military prison.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Captain Joseph Stewart and Company H of the U.S. Artillery took command over Alcatraz. It would go on to house Army personnel who had violated rules and regulations. Two years after the Civil War began, a confederate ship was seized and its entire crew imprisoned on Alcatraz. As prisoners continued coming, more prison structures were built.

Prison construction continued, eventually covering up the original coastal fortification that was built in the 19th century. Alcatraz was officially designated as the Pacific Branch military prison in 1907 and was renamed “Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks” in 1915. It was considered the place soldiers would go for punishment and to undergo “retraining.”

Army prisoners would go on to build almost all of the buildings on the island. The last soldiers departed Alcatraz in 1933 when it became the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It would undergo some modernization and improvements before it opened its doors in 1934. A few months later, Al Capone would help make Alcatraz forever infamous.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

The new federal prison became home to America’s criminal population that was deemed too difficult or dangerous to be anywhere else. It would house a total of 1576 men and there were 14 known attempts at escape. Alcatraz officially closed its doors on March 21, 1963, after it was decided it was just too costly to maintain.

Today, over a million tourists visit Alcatraz every year walking the halls and grounds of one of the most infamous prisons in history, many not knowing it was built by soldiers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what ‘eternal patrol’ means for submarines

As of this writing, it appears there is little hope for an actual rescue of the crew of the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan. Some reports indicate an explosion was picked up by both American and United Nations underwater acoustic sensors.


6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
USS Thresher (SSN 593) in 1961. (U.S. Navy photo)

When submarines are lost, they are said to be “on eternal patrol.” This comes from the fact that many times, the term submariners use for deployment is “patrol,” a term that predates World War II (a 1938 movie focusing on a subchaser was called Submarine Patrol). A combat deployment is often called a “war patrol,” and American ballistic missile submarines are on “deterrent patrols.”

These patrols begin when a sub leaves port, and end on their return. When a sub sinks, and doesn’t make it home, the patrol is “eternal.”

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1960. (US Navy photo)

The loss of a peacetime submarine is not unheard of. Since the end of World War II, the United States lost four submarines. Two, the nuclear-powered attack submarines USS Thresher (SSN 593) and USS Scorpion (SSN 589), were lost with all hands. In the late 1940s, two Balao-class diesel-electric submarines, USS Cochino (SS 345) and USS Stickleback (SS 415) also sank as the result of accidents.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
An Oscar-class submarine similar to the Kursk, which sank after an accidental explosion in 2000. (DOD photo)

The United States has not been alone in losing submarines. Most famously, in 2000, the Russian nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine Kursk, an Oscar-class vessel, suffered an on-board explosion and sank with all hands. The Soviet Union had five nuclear-powered submarines sink, albeit one, a Charlie-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine, was raised, and they lost other subs as well, including one in a spectacular explosion pierside.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
A Whiskey Twin Cylinder-class submarine. One sank after an accident, and was not found for over seven years. (DOD photo)

It sometimes can take a long time to find those subs. A Whiskey “Twin Cylinder”-class guided-missile submarine that sank in 1961 took over seven years to find. The Soviets never did locate the Golf-class ballistic missile submarine K-129 until investigative reporter Jack Anderson revealed the existence of Project Azorian.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
A photo of the Golf-class ballistic-missile submarine K-129, which sank in 1968, and was later salvaged by the CIA. (CIA photo)

While the cause of the explosion that has apparently sent the San Juan and her crew of 44 to the bottom of the South Atlantic may never be known, what is beyond dispute is that submariners face a great deal of danger – even when carrying out routine peacetime operations.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 regulations from von Steuben’s ‘Blue Book’ that troops still follow

The winter of 1777 was disastrous. The British had successfully retaken many key locations in the 13 colonies and General Washington’s men were left out in the cold of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Morale was at an all-time low and conditions were so poor, in fact, that many troops reportedly had to eat their boots just to stay alive. No aid was expected to arrive for the Americans but the British reinforcements had landed. It’s no exaggeration to say that, in that moment, one cold breeze could have blown out the flames of revolution.

Then, in February, 1778, a Prussian nobleman by the name of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived. He set aside his lavish lifestyle to stand next to his good friend, George Washington, and transform a ragtag group of farmers and hunters into the world’s premier fighting force.


With his guidance, the troops kept the gears turning. He taught them administrative techniques, like proper bookkeeping and how to maintain hygiene standards. But his lessons went far beyond logistics: von Steuben also taught the troops the proper technique for bayonet charges and how to swear in seven different languages. He was, in essence, the U.S. Army’s first drill sergeant.

The troops came out of Valley Forge far stronger and more prepared for war. Their victory at Stony Point, NY was credited almost entirely to von Steuben’s techniques. He then transcribed his teachings into a book, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, better known as, simply, the “Blue Book.” It became the Army’s first set of regulations — and many of the guidelines therein are still upheld today.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Given the hours you spend prepping your dress blues, there’s no way in hell you’d bring it to a desert — or do anything other than stand there for inspection.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder)

Different uniforms for officer, NCOs, and troops

This was the very first regulation established by the ‘Blue Book.’ In the early days of the revolution, there was no real way to tell who outranked who at a glance. All uniforms were pieced together by volunteer patriots, so there was no way to immediately tell who was an officer, a non-commissioned officer, or solider. von Steuben’s regulations called for uniforms that were clear indicators of rank.

Troops today still follow this regulation to a T when it comes to the dress uniform — albeit without the swords.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

The rifle twirling is, however, entirely a recent officer thing.

(Department of Defense photo by Terrence Bell)

Marching orders

If there was one lasting mark left on the Army by von Steuben, it was the importance of drill and ceremony. Much of the Blue Book is dedicated to instructing soldiers on proper marching techniques, the proper steps that you should take, and how to present your arms to your chain of command.

Despite the protests of nearly every lower enlisted, the Army has spent days upon days practicing on the parade field since its inception — and will continue to do so well into the future.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

If you thought troops back then could get by without hospital corners on their bed, think again!

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Susan Krawczyk)

Cleanliness standards

One of the most important things von Steuben did while in Valley Forge was teach everyone a few extremely simple ways to prevent troops from dying very preventable, outside-of-combat deaths. A rule as simple as, “don’t dig your open-air latrine right next to where the cooks prepare meals” (p. 46) was mind-blowing to soldiers back then.

But the lessons run deeper than that. Even police calls and how to properly care for your bedding (p. 45) are directly mentioned in the book.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

While there arestillpunishments in place for negligencetoday, the armorer would be paying far more than for a lost rifle.

(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)

Accountability of arms and ammo

No one likes doing paperwork in the military (or anywhere else) but it has to be done. Back then, simple accounting was paramount. As you can imagine, it was good for the chain of command to actually know how many rifles and rounds of ammunition each platoon had at their disposal.

While the book mostly focuses on how to do things, this is one of the few instances in which he specifically states that the quartermaster should be punished for not doing their job (p. 62). According to the Blue Book, punishments include confinement and forfeiture of pay and allowances until whatever is lost is recouped.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Once given medical attention, a troop would be giving off-time until they’re better — just like today.

(U.S. Army photo by Robert Shields)

Sending troops to sick call

The most humane thing a leader can do is allow their troops to be nursed back to full health when they’re not at fighting strength. The logic here is pretty sound. If your troops aren’t dying, they’ll fight harder. If they fight harder, America wins. So, it’s your job, as a leader, to make sure your troops aren’t dying.

According to the Blue Book, NCOs should always check in on their sick and wounded and give a report to the commander. This is why, today, squad leaders report to the first sergeant during morning role call, giving them an idea of anyone who needs to get sent to sick call.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

“No one is more professional than I” still has a better ring to it, though.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Maria Mengrone)

NCOs should lead from the front

“It being on the non-commissioned officer that the discipline and order of a company in a great measure depend, they cannot be too circumspect in their behavior towards the men, by treating them with mildness, and at the same time, obliging everyone to do his duty.” (p. 77)

This was von Steuben’s way of saying that the NCOs really are the backbone of the Army.

According to von Steuben, NCOs “should teach the soldiers of their squad” (p. 78). They must know everything about what it means to be a soldier and motivate others while setting a proper, perfect example. They must care for the soldiers while still completing the duties of a soldier. They must be the lookout while constantly looking in. Today, these are the qualities exhibited by the best NCOs.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

They probably didn’t think we’d have radios back then…

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval)

The soldier’s general orders

Today, each soldier of the Army has their general orders when it comes to guard/sentinel duty. von Steuben’s rules run are almost exactly the same:

  1. Guard everything within the limits of your post and only quit your post when properly relieved? Check.
  2. Obey your special orders and perform your duties in a military manner? Check.
  3. Report all violations of your special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in your instructions to the commander of the relief? Kinda check… the Blue Book just says to sound an alarm, but you get the gist.
MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

John F. Kennedy was born into privilege, graduated from Harvard, and did not have to fight in World War II, but he did — he insisted.


Related: 6 alternated names troops have for military awards

Ironically, Kennedy was not allowed to serve in the military on his first attempt. He was disqualified from entering the Army’s Officer Candidate School in 1940 because of a severe back injury. Historian and Kennedy biographer, Robert Dallek suggests his vertebrae started degenerating while treating his intestinal problems with steroids in the late 1930’s, according to the New York Times.

Thanks to his father’s political influence as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and the help of his friend, Captain Alan Kirk, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Kennedy got his foot in the door despite his back problems. He was commissioned as an ensign on October 26, 1941, and assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington D.C.

Not satisfied with simply serving, Kennedy made his way to the Naval Reserve Officers Training School at Northwestern University in Chicago, Il. After completing his training on September 27, 1942, he entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island and promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on October 10, 1942. On December 2, he received orders to his first command aboard PT-101 with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Four in Panama.

His stint in Panama was short lived, in February 1943, he was transferred to the Island of Tulagi in the Solomons as a replacement officer to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two. By April 1943 he was the commanding officer of PT-109, the boat that distinguished his Naval career and arguably his path to the White House.

 

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR, (standing at right) with other crewmen on board PT-109, 1943. Image: Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center.

After the sinking of PT-109 by a Japanese destroyer, he gathered the remaining survivors of his crew to vote on whether to fight or surrender. It was there that he famously said, “there’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families, and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.”

This American Heroes Channel video profiles John F. Kennedy’s actions that earned him the Purple Heart along with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

In November 1920, a little girl was playing in the bushland of Tasmania when she slipped and fell to the ground. Nancy Bentley surprised a snake which proceeded to bite her wrist, threatening her life. Because of the remote location where she was bitten and the fact that she was a woman, the Royal Australian Navy enlisted her into the service as a mascot to save her life.

Yup. Really.


6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

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

(Public domain)

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

The ship’s medics were willing to assist the injured girl, but regulations from the crown and instructions from admirals ordered the commander, Captain Henry Cayley, to prevent women from boarding the ship. He felt he needed to create some official pretext to explain the little girl on his ship. But women, even little girls, were forbidden from serving in the standard ranks of the navy.

So Cayley turned to the office of mascot, an official rank in many military forces at the time that was typically assigned to animals adopted by the unit or crew. Basically, a crew could acquire or purchase an animal and then use the “wages” assigned to the mascot to feed and house it. Understandably, the rules regarding this rank were lax since, you know, it was typically for dogs and cats.

So Cayley ordered that Nancy be admitted onto the crew with service number 000001 and given a rating of “mascot” on November 15. Her terms of enlistment were even more lax. She was to remain in the navy “till fed up.”

The ship’s medical staff gave her rudimentary treatment and sent her to Hobart, Tasmania, for further treatment. She was also allowed to see a movie at the town’s theater after her treatment before the ship carried her back home. In all, she spent eight days in the navy.

“I was the crew’s official mascot and everybody from the Captain down gave me VIP treatment,” Nancy said in 1970.

She was well-reviewed by the navy. Her character was reviewed as “very good,” and she was “exceptional” in her naval duties.

It would take another 21 years before women were allowed into the actual ranks of the Royal Australian Navy as World War II required manpower that only women could provide.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how you got away with drinking during prohibition

After a long shift, troops have the option to relax by kicking off their boots and cracking open a beer. However, this privilege wasn’t available to the veterans of World War I. On Dec. 18, 1919, a little over a year after The Great War, alcohol was an illegal substance in the United States. The veterans who fought in the most destructive war at that time were now denied the right to a cold brew. Imagine winning WWI, yet a civilian tells you you’re not allowed to drink. Fat chance.

The Eighteenth Amendment wasn’t perfect, which was perfect, because the loopholes allowed veterans to consume alcohol without directly violating the Constitution. The Lance Corporal underground of today can get away with some mischief, but they have nothing on the post-World War I veterans scoring some booze using a real underground.


6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

“I’ll start my own country, with blackjack…”

They bought it before it was illegal

Troops returning from the European theater had a valuable head start to legally purchase as many bottles as they could before Prohibition came into effect. It was legal to drink alcohol that was purchased prior to the 18th Amendment, in the privacy of your own home. The loophole in the law was the ‘manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors,’ not consumption, which is an important distinction if you’re dodging an NJP.

Modern troops that are stationed in Okinawa understand the essential skill needed to stockpile booze in preparation for monsoon season. Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance, every second counts.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Vino Sand Co.

They made their own wine

If you’ve never tried the Navy’s Well Wine, don’t.

Vineyards during prohibition ceased producing wine for distribution and instead sold bricks of dried grapes. These bricks could be mixed with water and left to ferment over the period of three weeks or more to create wine. Troops could purchase these bricks and accidentally let them ferment in a dark cupboard somewhere.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Blatz Products Company

They made their own beer too

Malt syrup was not an illegal substance, but it was the key ingredient to make beer at home. By adding water, yeast, and sugar to the syrup, a troop could buy one can and patiently wait for the fermented ingredients to produce 50 pints of beer.

This wasn’t legal, and raids were conducted on stockpiles of malt syrup, but if a troop wanted to get away with drinking beer, this was one they could get away with in their basement.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Auction Find

They would get a prescription for whiskey

A troop could legally purchase a pint of hard liquor every ten days at a drug store with a doctor’s prescription. It was during this time that Walgreens happily contributed to providing people with the medicine they so desperately needed in those trying times. Their aid in the legal sale of alcohol allowed them to flourish into 500 chain stores during the 1920s.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

“Extra, Extra, read all about it. Terminal Lance Corporals become clergymen en masse!”

US Navy 100912-M-2275H-196 A command chaplain holds church services aboard USS Kearsarge

A troop could get it from their Chaplin or religious leader

The Yorkville Enquirer reported the ban on sacramental wine on Sept. 1, 1922 had been lifted.

Imported or Domestic Product now allowed for Sacramental Use. David I. ltlair, commissioner of internal revenue, has definitely removed the ban from sacramental wine, in a decision which repeals two former decisions placing restrictions on wine for ‘sacramental use, and amends the regulations governing its distribution.

Incredibly, troops mysteriously became devout attendees to services because:

If a bonded winery for the purposes of manufacturing ceremonial wines for general distribution, but not for his congregation only. A priest, rabbi or minister of the gospel also may be employed as a qualified winemaker to supervise the production of the needed wines.

Naturally, the number of religious leaders also rose by dubious amounts after 1922.

To Alcohol! The cause of… and solution to… all of life’s problems.

www.youtube.com

Alcohol has a special place in our military history, and we can take solace in the fact that our forefathers got equally sauced as we do today using legal — or questionable methods.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

The officers of the USS Liberty were sunbathing on the decks of their ship on June 8, 1967, just outside of Egypt’s territorial waters. Not too far away, Egypt was in the middle of the Six Day War with the Israelis, who would occupy the Sinai Peninsula by the war’s end.


The peaceful day aboard the intelligence-gathering ship was destroyed when Israeli Mirage and Mystere jets tore through the air – and dropped ordnance that ripped through the Liberty’s hull.

 

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
McGonagle shows the damaged Liberty in June 1967 (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander William McGonagle was severely wounded as the Israelis fired rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge, and then strafed his ship. He still managed to call his crew to quarters and take command of the Liberty from the bridge. The ship was on fire, men were dead and wounded, and McGonagle himself was burned by napalm and losing blood.

The Liberty was not a warship but a lightly-armed, converted freighter — a holdover from World War II. Her mission was to collect signals intelligence and radio intercepts on the war between the Arabs and Israelis but not to get involved in the fighting or violate Egyptian sovereignty.

With his ship still in range of the U.S. 6th Fleet, Cmdr. McGonagle radioed the USS Saratoga, which sent 12 fighters to assist. Those fighters were recalled on orders from Washington. The Israeli fighters eventually let up and disappeared on their own. But that wasn’t the end of the attack. When they were gone, three Israeli torpedo boats opened up on the American ship and blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars
The hole in USS Liberty’s hull from an Israeli torpedo. (U.S. Navy photo)

The armaments on the USS Liberty were totally outmatched. The ship was carrying only four .50-caliber machine guns, a far cry from the Egyptian ship Israelis claim shelled the coastline that morning. The Liberty was a sitting duck.

Of the ship’s 294 men, 34 were killed in the attack and 171 were wounded.

With his ship burning and flooded, McGonagle directed the maneuvering of his ship for 17 hours while critically wounded. He refused medical treatment until he was convinced more critically wounded members of his crew were treated. He didn’t give up command until the Liberty encountered a U.S. destroyer.

For his gallantry and determination, McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Israel maintained that its attack on the Liberty was a mistake, that the planes were looking for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. Some find this troublesome, considering the El Quseir was a very different size than the Liberty and had a very different profile. Still, The IDF’s own inquiry says the Israeli Chief of Naval Operation did not know the Liberty was in the area. The captains of the torpedo boats maintained that closer identification was impossible because the Liberty was “enveloped in smoke.”

McGonagle’s official account of the incident corroborates the Israeli account, but the crew of the Liberty aren’t so certain. A 2002 BBC Documentary includes interviews with the Liberty’s crew, Israeli officials, and even Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time.

“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation,” then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said of the Liberty Incident “Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. … I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

There are numerous conspiracy theory-related sites, some even run by Liberty crewmembers, that call into question some of the actions of the Israeli forces and of the orders from Washington. Some of these theories include:

• The Liberty was attacked to keep the U.S. from knowing about Israel’s upcoming attack on Syria.

• Trying to draw the U.S. into a greater anti-Arab war.

• Hiding Israeli war crimes (alleged massacres of Egyptian POWs).

• Israelis using unmarked aircraft.

• Torpedo boats machine gunning life rafts.

• Jamming radio signals meant that Israel knew the frequency the ships would be on– and thus knew they were American.

Official accounts (including from McGonagle) maintain that the Israeli torpedo ships halted mid-attack and offered assistance once the identity of Liberty was ascertained. The Americans politely declined.

Though Israel has apologized for the incident and paid reparations to the sailors’ families, many among the crew of the Liberty believe the U.S. still downplays the attack on their ship to kowtow to their longtime ally.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Prince Charles got all his medals without fighting in a war

When decked out in his full royal regalia, the Prince of Wales looks much like what you think a 69-year-old aristocrat might — much like what you think a stereotypical soon-to-be king might. His military uniform is emblazoned with medals, ropes, pins, patches, and other decorations worthy of someone who may soon occupy the biggest seat in the entire United Kingdom.

Which is amazing, considering he hasn’t seen combat once in his life.


Britain itself has not been devoid of conflict, even within Charles’ relatively short lifetime. He was born three years after the end of the Second World War, but broke royal tradition by going straight to university instead of joining the military after his secondary education. When he did join the armed forces in the 1970s, he did stints in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Even though he was late to the game, there was still plenty of action to see.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Armed British soldiers in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

During Charles’ service window, the UK saw a number of shooting conflicts, most notably the Falklands War with Argentina and The Troubles, a military occupation of Northern Ireland. He saw action in neither conflict.

While the Prince of Wales didn’t see combat duty, he still trained vigorously with the members of units to which he was attached. He has trained in undersea warfare and commanded a Royal Navy Destroyer and has learned to fly helicopters and twin-engine jet fighters with the RAF. Charles also successfully completed the parachute regiment’s jump training at an age much older than the average recruit.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Charles, tasked to lead the parachute regiment in 1978, decided he would be unfit to lead them without undergoing the training himself. He was 30 years old.

(Clarence House)

Charles also commands the Welsh Guards, leading the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, marking Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

The Prince wears the ceremonial uniform of Colonel of the Welsh Guards during the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.

(Clarence House)

So, this isn’t to say Charles’ medals are somehow unearned. He wears no medals for valor in combat. Instead, he wears the appropriate regalia, given his service, ranks in the Navy and Air Force, and appropriate titles. He wears the Order of Merit, the Order of the Bath, and the Queen’s Service Order, all for service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Other decorations of note include medals related to the Queen herself, including the Queen’s Coronation medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, all awarded for a celebration of his mother ascending to the throne and her continued reign as Queen. He also wears awards from Canada and New Zealand, and wears the Order of the Garter, chosen and awarded by the Queen herself.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry presented Operational Medals to the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

(Buckingham Palace)

It’s a tradition for men in the Royal family to serve in the military. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, served in World War II and his sons, William and Harry, both served. Harry famously deployed to combat duties in Afghanistan in recent years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Britain’s highly successful balloon attack against the Nazis

In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.


6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.

(Royal Air Force)

Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.

(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)

But in September 1940, a few British barrage balloons broke free during a storm and drifted across Scandinavia, pissing the Scandinavians all the way off. The steel tethers these balloons dragged behind them had a pesky habit of shorting out power lines and otherwise damaging infrastructure.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

A U.S. Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, known as JLENS.

(U.S. Arny)

Ya know, about like what happened when that JLENS aerostat (blimp, basically) broke free in October 2015.

But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”

The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.

So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.

(UK National Archives)

The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.

The incendiary devices were filled with wood shavings and paraffin wax.

Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.

And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.

And balloons that weren’t shot down could easily do hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1942, a balloon launch overloaded a power plant at Böhlen so badly that the plant was completely destroyed. And while the power was off in this and other events, German units were made less ready for combat, and German wartime production was slowed.

Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.

And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Thud dominated the enemy in the air and on land

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief could go fast — it had a top speed of 1,390 miles per hour. But this “fighter” was, in reality, a powerful tactical bomber. But despite being designed to put bombs on land targets, the F-105 proved to be a deadly adversary to those who attacked from the sky — it was a rare bird; it was a bomber that could kill a fighter.


The F-105‘s design process started in 1950 as the intended replacement for the F-84F Thunderstreak, a plane that hadn’t yet made its first flight. The YF-105A prototype first flew in 1955 and was soon followed by the first production version, the F-105B. However, the F-105B was quickly deemed out-dated, as it could only operate in daylight and in good weather.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

A look at the wide variety of weapons the F-105 Thunderchief could carry into battle.

(USAF)

The main weapon of the F-105 was supposed to be a B28 or B43 “special store” — a nuclear bomb. The later B57 and B61 nukes were later made options for the plane as well. Thankfully, these were never used in anger. But what did get use was the F-105’s ability to carry up to 14,000 pounds of ordnance — not to mention AIM-9 Sidewinders and a M61 Vulcan gun with 1,028 rounds of ammo.

With the onset of newer models, specifically the F-105D, the Thunderchief became a lethal plane in any weather condition, day or night. The F-105D was the workhorse during the early days of the Vietnam War. The plane successfully pummeled land targets, like the Paul Doumer bridge, while excelling in air-to-air combat. The F-105 scored 27.5 kills in the skies.

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

The F-105G Wild Weasel version of the Thunderchief was used to kill or suppress enemy surface-to-air missile sites.

(USAF)

The F-105F, intended as a combat trainer, instead became the basis for the most notable Wild Weasel of the Vietnam War – the F-105G. One Wild Weasel pilot, Leo Thorsness, would earn the Medal of Honor in the F-105 for taking on North Vietnamese MiGs during an effort to rescue a downed air crew.

The F-105 stayed in service until 1984, marking nearly three decades of service. Learn more about this lethal multirole fighter in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlFgmfrvE-c

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Vietnam vet talks Agent Orange and a brotherhood among fellow veterans

In 1968, Rodger “Jim” Lammons had two choices: he could join the military, or he could wait and be drafted. He chose the former, not knowing the effects Agent Orange would have on his life. In March of that year, the native of Smiths Station, Alabama, signed with the Navy where he served six years as a “SeaBee,” an oronym for C.B., or construction battalion.

After finishing basic and advanced training courses in California, including a four-week stint at Camp Pendleton with Marines, Lammons was dispatched to Vietnam out of Port Hueneme, California. 

“That’s where we got on the big bird and flew out,” he said.

Lammons poses by a humvee

For more than a year – 13.5 months – Lammons was stationed in Vietnam. He served as a heavy equipment operator, gunner, and, “whatever it took to get the job done.” Lammons said, at times that even meant driving semis and hauling materials up from deep-water piers, or to Red Beach and dispersing them along Route 1.

“We just did what we needed to do, and that meant the job changed from day-to-day,” he shared.

After Vietnam, Lammons returned to the U.S., before taking another overseas stint in Puerto Rico.

“Then my time was up and I went home,” he said, listing not staying in and retiring with the Navy as one of his biggest regrets.

However, his reception back home was less than welcoming. Along with his fellow veterans, Lammons was egged, spat at. They were cussed at and called names, he said, most notably, “baby killers.”

“None of it was true. We were just there to do what our country asked us to do.”

While he remembers his time in the Navy fondly, Lammon’s stories come in spurts. He gives specific details, then pauses, circling around until the whole of it comes together, often out of order. This, he explained, is due to a rough recovery from surgery – a bad combination of anesthesia and gout. His memory hasn’t been the same since.

His wife, Carol, anticipates each gap, prompting him with questions that cause his eyes to light up with moments from years past.   

This is just one of his side effects that can be attributed to Agent Orange. 

“They would fly over – helicopters, aircrafts. They would spray different things on the foliage to try and kill it. Well, we were in the foliage and it would just coat us.”

“We didn’t understand the dangers at the time.”

Today, Lammons suffers from gout, diabetes and neuropathy, among other illnesses. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“There’s a thing, some people, it doesn’t bother them,” he said, referencing his brother who served as a Marine in Vietnam, but has never shown symptoms of Agent Orange, despite direct exposure.

Lammons didn’t know the cause of his illnesses until 2016, when he and Carol relocated to Port St. Joe, Florida. A new town meant a new doctor, and a new facility, and the puzzle pieces of Agent Orange began coming together.

“They saw things that were wrong with me that shouldn’t be wrong.” After seeing various specialists, Lammons was referred to the VA representative in Gulf County, who helped relate his symptoms to Agent Orange exposure.

Lammons while deployed to Vietnam, where he came in contact with Agent Orange.

After his years in the Navy, Lammons worked in Columbus, Georgia as a construction superintendent. Then, at the start of the Global War on Terrorism, he applied to work overseas as a civilian contractor, where he would spend nearly four years.

On why he chose to volunteer, he said it was an easy choice. He told Carol, “There’s got to be something I can do. If they need someone to go, I’ll go.”

Once again, stepping up for his country in a time of war, a time of need.

After all, more than 50 years later, Lammons still cites Vietnam as an unforgettable bonding experience.

“We all became brothers – black, white, it didn’t matter what color – to this day we still are brothers.”

Even now, when seeing someone in a Vietnam hat, he greets them.

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