4 things you didn't know about Roman gladiators - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat the sh*t out of each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena — or until the match ended in a draw.


Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.

What their dental impressions revealed

Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.

After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.

They formed their own trade unions

Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.

Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen’s family as compensation.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Commodus gives a thumbs down when dictating a gladiator’s bloody future.
(DreamWorks Pictures)

Fighting to the death

Contrary to popular belief, gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.

That’s a lot of debt.

They were split up into different sections and types

Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.

Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.


Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.

The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.

Between the wars, aviation pioneers tried to get the Navy and Army to understand how important planes would be in the next war. Army Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell had some success in 1921 when his men sank the captured German battleship Ostrfriesland in a test.

Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.

Instead, he turned to his carriers.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Yarnell ordered his cruisers to remain near San Diego in complete radio silence while his two carriers, the USS Lexington and USS Saratoga, proceeded to Pearl Harbor with three destroyer escorts inside a massive rainstorm that hid them from enemy observers and radar.

On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

 

The fighters took off first, F-4Bs. They launched strafing runs against the defenders’ fighters, barracks, and other assets, keeping them from taking off. Behind them, flights of BM-1 dive bombers dropped flares and bags of flour that simulated bombs, “destroying” every single battleship and many of the other vessels.

Like the Japanese, Yarnell attacked from the northeast and, like the Japanese, he attacked in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

The referees of the exercise declared Yarnell the clear winner, but later reversed their decision when Pearl Harbor admirals and generals complained that Yarnell acted in an unfair manner.

Their complaints included that Sunday morning was an “inappropriate” time for an attack and that “everyone knew that Asians lacked sufficient hand-eye coordination to engage in that kind of precision bombing,” according to Military.com.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.

The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Russians had Women’s ‘Battalions of Death’ in World War I

Saying that World War I was really bad for Russia is like saying Hitler was a somewhat unstable veteran of the Great War. While the Tsar fielded the largest army in the world at the time and should have been able to trounce the Germans, years (maybe decades) of neglecting modernization hampered the Russians. Roads were impossible and railways were inadequate. Casualties were heavy and the conditions were deplorable. Even drafting men for the war was difficult. Life in the Russian Empire was so bad, the Tsar would be toppled and replaced by the Soviet Union.

Before the Tsar was forced to abdicate, the Russian Empire tried a last-ditch effort to fill its ranks: hiring women.


4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Congrats, you’re hired.

When the Great War first began, Russians were only too happy to serve in their country’s military. It was (on paper, at least) one of the most vaunted fighting forces on Earth at the time. But Tsarist Russia’s poor infrastructure, the indecision of the Russian high command, and the lack of adequate food, supplies, and other war resources soon made life miserable. When word got out about the deteriorating conditions on the front, good men suddenly became hard to find. Women, on the other hand, had been trying to join the regular army since day one. These women soon demanded the government form all-women’s military units.

The Tsarist government, facing an increasing manpower shortage, finally gave in. It formed 15 all-women’s battalions in an effort to replace its missing manpower with womanpower. They included communications battalions, a naval unit, and the aptly-named Women’s Battalion of Death. Of the 5,000 women who served in these units, 300 of them would join the Battalion of Death and march to the front in 1914.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Maria Bochkareva was awarded multiple medals after stabbing Germans to death in the trenches.

Led by the peasant fighter-turned military leader Maria Bochkareva, the women were highly-trained and tightly-controlled by Bochkareva. While her harsh (sometimes brutal) leadership kept a majority of potential volunteers from joining, the 300 or so who did stay became some of the most hardcore Russian troops of the First World War. They first saw action in the Kerensky Offensive of 1917. It was a terrible loss for the Russians, who lost 60,000 troops in the fighting. But it was a stunning victory for the Women’s Battalion of Death.

When ordered to go over the top and storm the enemy trenches, the women never hesitated, even when the men at their side did. In one instance, the Russian women made it through three trench systems before the lack of reinforcements necessitated their retreat. Bochkareva, though wounded twice, earned three medals for bravery in combat. With the effectiveness of the women in combat proven on the front, other women were deployed back home.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Back in St. Petersburg, things weren’t going so well for the Tsar and his government. Another women’s battalion had to be deployed to the Winter Palace to defend government ministries and the people who were running them. This is where history could have been made or turned back. When the Bolshevik fighters attempted to take the city, the women weren’t at the Winter Palace, they abandoned the government ministers to their fate and went to guard the supplies. Eventually, they were overcome by the Bolsheviks and forced to surrender. When the Bolsheviks officially took power, these women’s units were disbanded, with varying success.

Women who wanted to fight the Bolsheviks stayed in their units, joining the White Russian forces in the Russian Civil War. Others went home and became Soviet citizens. Many would live long enough to see women conscripted once more when Russia was again threatened from the outside, taking up arms against the Nazis and forming an essential element to the resistance of the Soviet Union – many of whom would go on to earn the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fake smokestack made this German ship an unstoppable predator

The SMS Emden was supposed to be a nice ship, but not all that crazy important in war. It was a light cruiser, a utilitarian ship type that is quick, capable, but not all that robust or rugged. These ships are typically designed for low-level conflict or serve as a guard or screening force for larger ships like battleships or, later, carriers.


But the Emden would steam into Allied controlled waters in early 1914, attacking literally dozens of enemy ships and counting on its speed and a little trickery to let it hit and then withdraw in a series of daring raids.

Sea Raider

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Sea Raider

It all started in 1913 when the young SMS Emden received a new commander, Korvettenkapitän Karl von Muller (Korvettenkapitän is roughly equivalent to America’s lieutenant commander rank). Von Muller was the son of a German army officer, and he had risen to his rank by performing well in front of Germany’s elite, including the German emperor’s brother.

One of von Muller’s distinguishing traits was a sort of cunning shrewdness, something that would serve him well on the Emden. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria quickly dragged the major European powers toward war, and von Muller ordered the Emden to sea to prevent its capture in the largely British and Japanese-controlled Pacific islands where the ship was based.

This proved prescient as raiders quickly came for the German fleet. The Emden reported to a rallying point where most of the German navy would meet up to head east to South America, around Cape Horn, and on to Germany. On his way to the rally, von Muller captured the Russian ship Ryazan. When Emden reached the German fleet with its prize, von Muller had a proposal for the admiral.

The SMS Emden was a short-lived but still amazingly successful light cruiser that saw glory in World War I.

(German Federal Archives)

Instead of heading home to Germany, von Muller said, the Emden should head west and raid Allied shipping, especially that of British ships, for a few months and create chaos in the enemy logistics chain.

Light cruisers lacked the armor or heavier guns common on heavy cruisers or larger ships, but they were still more than a match for destroyers and merchant vessels. And the Emden had torpedo tubes that would allow it to tackle even heavier combatants if it could get the jump on them.

Despite the risk of losing the Emden, a modern and valuable cruiser even if it was light, the admiral agreed to the plan. So von Muller led his crew of about 360 men into the Indian Ocean.

The Emden would need some sort of edge to survive. It was fast, so it could close with enemies quickly, partially negating any range advantages that heavier combatants would have against it. But it would still be vulnerable for crucial seconds or minutes while closing with an enemy.

So von Muller turned to subterfuge. Most British ships had two or four smokestacks, and the Emden would be one of the only ships in the area with three smokestacks. So, von Muller had a fourth, fake smokestack installed on the Emden, making it look a lot like the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth.

This might seem like a minor ploy, good for a few minutes of distraction at best, but that momentary hesitation on the part of the enemy gave von Muller and his crew all the time they needed. In just a few days of fighting in September 1914, the Emden captured or destroyed 15 British ships, forcing many merchant vessels to stay in port.

Suddenly, the British ability to resupply vulnerable islands was crippled, and valuable ships would have to be sent to the Indian Ocean to reinforce the naval effort there.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Oil tanks burn in India after an attack by the SMS Emden, a German light cruiser.

(National Library of France)

But the sudden lack of targets at sea did not stop the Emden. The crew simply started going after shore targets like the oil depots at Madras. The Emden fired 125 shells in a short engagement on September 22, busting open many of the Burma Oil Company’s tanks and setting them aflame while also destroying a ship in the harbor.

Between this and earlier attacks, the British decided to cut the number of ships, and potential targets, in the Indian Ocean by 40 percent. This slowed the bleeding of the Royal Navy and merchant vessels but also further slowed the movement of needed war supplies.

But the Emden had taken damage and was running low on supplies by this point, and so it made a risky trip to Diego Garcia where it could attempt to raid needed supplies from the British installations there. But, surprisingly, the Germans found that the locals had no news of the young war when the Emden pulled into harbor, so the German crew simply contracted for repair and supplies without incident.

Freshly resupplied and repaired, the Emden went after British installations at Penang in Malaysia, initiating a short battle there. The primary target was the Russian warship Zhemchung which the Emden hit with torpedoes and cannon fire after approaching under false British colors and with the fake smokestack up.

The Emden sank the Russian vessel and then beat a hasty retreat, but not so hasty that the ship neglected sinking the Mousquet, a French destroyer, while exiting the harbor. This was late October, and the little cruiser had already more than proved its worth in the East, but von Muller wasn’t willing to call it quits.

Other German cruisers had successfully snipped undersea wires in their own raids, and von Muller went after the telegraph wire connecting British troops in South Africa to those in Australia. The wire had a major junction at Direction Island in the Cocos Islands.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

The German light cruiser SMS Emden sits beached after a determined attack by the HMAS Sydney.

(State Library of Victoria)

The Emden landed a shore party there and quickly went after the two cables. But as it pulled into the harbor, the Morse operator sent off a quick burst via the station’s wireless system, alerting a nearby cruiser to the unfamiliar ship in the harbor.

The Emden’s shore party was working the destruction of the cables and the wireless antenna when the Australian HMAS Sydney arrived to investigate, forcing the Emden to turn and face her. This effectively marooned the shore party on land, but the Emden was in a fight for its life.

The Sydney was also a light cruiser, but it was roughly a quarter larger than the Emden and slightly more modern, and it quickly gained the upper hand in the fight. The Emden was doomed, and von Muller quickly beached it on a reef. The German ship had suffered over 100 hits in about 90 minutes of fighting. It only stopped after von Muller surrendered.

The shore party would slowly, laboriously make its way back to Germany by sailing to Indonesia, then to the Ottoman Empire, then traveled across the desert in a failed overland bid for safety, then ran a British blockade on the Red Sea, then, finally, overland to Constantinople. It was a six-month journey, but 43 men made it back to Germany.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy improvised gas mask used by World War I troops

Time and again, the oft-repeated military adage is proven right: if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid. This old saying might be the military’s version of necessity being the mother of invention. Except in the military, necessity could mean the difference between life and death. This was certainly true of U.S. doughboys on the battlefields of World War I, where a single battle could cost up to 10,000 American lives or more.

Americans were used to overcoming long odds in combat. Our country was founded on long odds. But in the Great War, U.S. troops had to contend with a weapon from which they couldn’t recover: poison gas.


4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Many different gas masks were used on the Western Front, but one was more improvised than others.

Throughout American involvement in the First World War, poison gas attacks killed and maimed some 2,000 American troops and countless more allies who had been fighting for years before the doughboys arrived. As a result, all the Allied and Central Powers developed anti-gas countermeasures to try and give their troops a fighting chance in a chemical environment. But gas was introduced as a weapon very early in the fighting, long before the belligerents knew they’d need protection.

But they did need protection. Gas on the battlefield was first administered by releasing the gas from canisters while downwind – a method that could go awry at anytime, causing the wind to shift toward friendly forces. Later on, it would be used in artillery shells that would keep the gas in the enemy’s trench – at least, until the friendly troops advanced to take that trench.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

German soldiers ignite chlorine gas canisters during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915.

But early gases weren’t as terrifying as chemical weapons developed in the course of the war. The first uses of gas attacks involved tear gas and chlorine gas. While tear gas is irritating, it’s relatively harmless. Even the first uses of tear gas on the Eastern Front saw the chemical freeze rather than deploy when fired. Chlorine gas, on the other hand, could be incredibly fatal but was not effective as an instrument of death. Chlorine gas had a telltale smell and green color. Troops knew instantly that the gas had been deployed.

To safeguard against it, allied troops used rags or towels covered in urine to protect their lungs from the gas. The thought was that the ammonia in urea was somehow neutralizing the chlorine to keep it from killing them. That wasn’t it at all. Chlorine just dissolves in water, so no chlorine would ever pass through the wet pieces of cloth on their face. They could have used coffee, and the trick would have still worked.

Water (or urine) wasn’t effective against what was to come.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Troops burned by mustard gas in the First World War.

More than half a million men were injured or killed by poison gas during World War I. The terrifying, disfiguring effects of gases like colorless phosgene gas that caused lungs to fill with fluid, drowning men in their beds over a period of days. Then there was mustard gas, a blistering agent that could soak into their uniforms, covering their entire bodies with painful, burning blisters.

Small wonder it was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hitler had no idea the Soviets were so strong before invading

By the time Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, they were already at war with the British Empire, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Poland, France, and much of Western Europe had already fallen, but governments in exile joined the Allied effort against the Axis powers. So, the natural thing to do would be invade the world’s largest country, right?

If you’re Hitler, obviously, your answer is yes.


But Hitler just secured dominance of Continental Europe and was risking it by going up against a major world power with whom he had a treaty of nonaggression. Hitler’s lebensraum theory aside, the reason he launched the 1941 attack on the Soviet Union is that he just didn’t know how strong the Soviet Union actually was.

Intel and all that.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Yeah, no big deal.

There is only one audio recording of Adolph Hitler speaking in a conversational voice, as opposed to the multitude of films of the man making incendiary speeches at rallies and events. He is speaking with the Commander-In-Chief of Finnish Defense Forces Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who was engaged with the Third Reich in a war against the USSR.

If someone had told me that a country could start with 35,000 tanks, then I’d have said, ‘You are crazy!’,” the German dictator told Mannerheim in the 1942 recording. “If one of my generals had stated that any nation had 35,000 tanks, I’d have said: ‘You, my good sir, you see everything twice or ten times.You are crazy, you are seeing ghosts.’

In the 11-minute audio clip obtained by the History Channel, Mannerheim and Hitler were recorded secretly by a Finnish engineer, since Hitler would never allow such recordings. The SS soon realized the dictator was being recorded and ordered the engineer to shut it off immediately. He was somehow allowed to keep it a secret — and he did, until 1957.

“It was unbelievable,” he said of a factory in Donetsk that was able to produce some 3,000-6,000 tanks alone before the Nazis shut it down.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Unbelievable.

But Hitler goes on to say that even if he had known about the military and industrial capacity of the Soviet Union’s massive centralized labor force and output potential, he would have invaded anyway. By the winter of 1939-1940, he says, it was clear there would be war between them. He just knew he couldn’t fight the Soviets and the Western Allies in a two-front war — saying it would have broken Nazi Germany.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Well, he got that part right at least.

The Führer goes on to admit that the Germans were poorly prepared to fight a war in the extreme weather of the Eastern Front.

Our whole armament, you know, is a pure good weather armament,” He said. “It is very capable, very good, but is unfortunately just a good weather armament. Our weapons were naturally made for the West… and it was the opinion from the earliest of times: you cannot wage war in winter.”
4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

I’m pretty sure this depiction of Soviet General Winter is what inspired Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

Hitler goes on to talk smack about the “weakness of Italy,” referring to Mussolini’s failures in North Africa, Albania, and Greece, where German army and air assets were forced to divert from the buildup to invading the USSR to instead go rescue Italian troops being repulsed by the Greeks. Three entire divisions were sent to reinforce the Italians instead of invading Russia.

He believed the Soviets had their own designs on ruling all of Europe and that he had to launch when he did to keep them from capturing the oil fields in Romania, which Hitler believed would have been Nazi Germany’s death blow — which wasn’t entirely wrong.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

That’s why the U.S. Army Air Corps blew it up in 1943.

(U.S. Army)

Since the recording was cut off, no one really knows what else the two men talked about in their secret meeting that day, but it’s believed that in that meeting, Mannerheim realized Hitler’s position was weak and would no longer act subordinate to him for the duration of World War II.

Articles

See the intense Navy deck logs from the Pearl Harbor attack

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s Imperial Navy infamously attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. For the men and women working on Navy ships that morning, their normal peacetime duties were suddenly and violently interrupted with the outbreak of war.


The officers on watch helped lead the immediate defense and rescue efforts, and they also maintained the deck logs that detailed what happened in the hours immediately preceding the attack and throughout the day.

While few of the logs from that day maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration have been scanned into digital copies, the White House released a few on its Facebook page to mark the 75th anniversary of the attacks.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Maryland received little damage during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma and the burning USS West Virginia are visible in this photo with it. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The USS Maryland survived the attacks and went on to fight at the Battles of Midway, Tarawa, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, and others. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 with seven battle stars. At Pearl Harbor, the ship engaged Japanese planes and a suspected submarine

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The deck log of the USS Maryland detailed the ship’s quick defense during the attack, getting her guns firing within minutes of the first Japanese planes flying overhead. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Solace was a hospital ship which quickly began taking on wounded. It went on to serve throughout the Pacific and survived the war.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Solace at anchor. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The deck log of the USS Solace, a hospital ship, which rapidly began taking on wounded from other vessels. (Photo: National Archives Administration)

The USS Vestal, a repair ship, took multiple bomb hits and was forced to beach itself. Fires onboard the ship created such thick fumes that crewmembers were evacuated to the Solace. The ship survived the battle and served in the Pacific during the war, repairing such famous ships as the USS Enterprise and USS South Dakota after major battles.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Vestal was beached after suffering multiple bomb hits at Pearl Harbor. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Vestal’s log details the progression of the fight as vessel after vessel took heavy damage on Battleship Row.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The deck logs of the USS Vestal detail the damage done to nearby battleships. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Dale was a Farragut-class destroyer that was heavily engaged throughout World War II, earning 12 battle stars before the surrender of Japan.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Dale sails through the water on Apr. 28, 1938. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

At Pearl Harbor, it’s officers took detailed notes on the reports coming into the ship and show the chaos of the day. The ships were warned of probable mines, parachute troops, submarine attacks, and other dangers — many of which were false — as the military tried to get a handle on the situation.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Dale’s log at Pearl Harbor detailed the reports of attacks by paratroopers, submersibles, and other Japanese elements. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Conyngham was a destroyer that screened ships from air attack for most of the war. It fought at Midway, the Santa Cruz islands, Guadalcanal, and others. The ship received 14 battle stars in World War II.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Conyngham served with distinction throughout World War II, earning 14 battle stars before the war ended. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

At Pearl Harbor, the Conyngham had just taken on a resupply of ice cream when the attack began. Alongside other destroyers, it set up a screen to shoot down Japanese planes attempting further attacks.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The USS Conyngham was enjoying an ice cream delivery just before the attack started. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

(h/t US National Archives and Angry Staff Officer)

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome machine guns America took to WWI

World War I was known as the first war of the industrial age, with modern nations sending their best weapons to the front in massive numbers. Modern inventions like the machine gun forced changes to tactics and strategy.


America entered the war late, allowing it to pick and choose its favorite weapons from its allies while manufacturers at home tried to close America’s materiel gap. Here are seven of the machine guns America employed during the Great War:

1. Lewis Machine Gun

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
American Marines dire the Lewis Machine Gun during tests. (Photo: U.S. Library of Congress)

The Lewis Machine Gun was invented by Army Col. Isaac Newton Lewis and pitched to the service in 1911. It was turned down at the time, and a few years later the newly-retired officer showed his weapon to European buyers who were highly interested.

A factory was built in Belgium, and approximately 100,000 of the automatic weapons chambered for .30 caliber rounds saw service in World War I, including many purchased by the U.S. after its 1917 adoption of the machine gun. It could spit 500-600 rounds per minute and was especially valued in air service due to its minimal recoil.

2. Hotchkiss Model 1914

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
A Royal Army chaplain poses with a captured Hotchkiss Model 1914 during World War II. (Photo: Royal Army)

Derived from machine gun models developed in 1900 and 1897, the Hotchkiss Model 1914 was one of the most popular heavy machine guns of the war and was carried by French and U.S. troops. It was typically deployed with a tripod, though it was also used in tanks and on fortifications.

The machine gun fired up to 450 rounds per minute and was chambered for 8mm rounds. Oddly enough, the French weapon was named for an American industrialist who owned the company which manufactured it.

3. Vickers Medium Machine Gun

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
British soldiers fire the Vickers Machine gun during the Battle of the Somme. (Photo: United Kingdom)

The water-cooled Vickers Medium Machine Gun fired rounds chambered in .303 and could spray 450 of them per minute at full speed. The Vickers did suffer from being excessively heavy for assaults at 44 pounds. But it shined in defense positions.

4. Colt-Browning M1895

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
A U.S. Army captain fires the Colt-Browning M1895 Machine Gun during a demonstration. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Often known as the potato digger, the Colt-Browning M1895 was chambered for a range of calibers and typically weighed 22.5 pounds and fired 600 rounds per minute. A number of variants were introduced during the war, including vehicle-tank and aircraft versions manufactured by Marlin.

The American Expeditionary Forces rarely used the original infantry versions, typically opting for the aircraft version, the Marlin Gun.

5. Browning M1917 Gun

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
(Photo: US Marine Corps)

The Browning M1917 — a water-cooled, heavy machine gun — saw limited use in World War I because it was developed and manufactured late in the conflict.

It could fire .30-cal. rounds at 450-600 rounds per minute and, in one impressive test, fired over 20,000 rounds without a single malfunction.

6. Browning Automatic Rifle

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Army 2nd Lt. John M. Browning stands with the Browning Automatic Rifle designed by his father. (Photo: Army Heritage and Education Center)

The Browning Automatic Rifle, commonly known as the BAR, was developed late in the war but was rushed to the front in 1918. The air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed automatic rifle commonly used in infantry assaults and counter-sniper roles. It could fire 550 rounds per minute but was typically fired in bursts.

The weapon designer’s son, 2nd Lt. John M. Browning, carried the weapon during some of his missions on the front.

7. Chauchat Light Machine Gun

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The Chauchat machine gun had a reputation for unreliability. (Photo: Bukvoed CC BY 4.0)

The Chauchat was known for being unreliable, especially an American version re-chambered from 8mm to .308 cal. But, it was mass produced and weighed only 20 pounds allowing it to be carried by infantry on the assault.

American quality control tests on the Chauchat produced a 40-percent rejection rate.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fastest fighter jet in the world is over 50 years old

Fastest jet in the world? That’s easy. Most people know it’s the SR-71, the reconnaissance plane so fast it could outrun missiles. But the fastest fighter jet? Well, the Soviets created a fighter jet to chase down the SR-71 Blackbird, and it was so fast that it’s still the fastest fighter jet ever built. And it’s still in service today.


The MiG-25 Foxbat looks ungainly and boxy next to fourth and fifth-generation fighters. Its younger sibling, the MiG-29, is much sleeker, and the aggressive-looking F-35, F-22, and even the Su-57 make for way better wall posters than the Foxbat.

By comparison, the Foxbat looks almost like a box truck. If you’re feeling generous, you could compare it to something like an old Chrysler LeBaron, instead.

But only if that Chrysler Lebaron could sweep down a drag strip at speeds over 60 percent faster than its rivals.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

A two-seat trainer version of the MiG-25 flies over forested land.

(Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com), GFDL 1.2)

The story of the Foxbat is a fairly simple one. When Russia first understood the SR-71, it realized that the step from a reconnaissance plane that could fly three times the speed of sound to a bomber that could do so was large but hardly insurmountable. They had to plan on U.S. bombers that could outrun ground-launched missiles.

And so they got to work on a fighter that could move on the edge of space with the SR-71 and the planned XB-70 Valkyrie. While they knew it was unlikely they could create a fighter that could fly faster than a reconnaissance plane, there was a decent chance that it could outfly the bomber since the bomber would have to carry more weight.

Lacking the materials science to create light airframes like the SR-71, it did the next best thing and just made the engines so powerful that they could muscle through, carrying the nickel-steel alloy frame to record heights and speed. And the engineers at the Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG is a shortening of that name), were some of the world’s best engine designers.

They came up with a twin-turbojet design that could propel the MiG-25 to Mach 2.8 in operational conditions and 3.2 if the pilots were willing to risk the engines. The plane quickly set world records for speed, time to climb, and top altitudes for a fighter.

And that scared the U.S. and the rest of NATO. Not only was the Foxbat ridiculously fast and powerful, but its design suggested that it was super maneuverable, a design characteristic that the West was moving toward.

But two events would completely change the calculus for the Foxbat. One made it a plane without a mission, and the other took away much of the fear for pilots who might be called to face it.

XB-70 Valkyrie Mid-air collision June 8, 1966

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First, a catastrophic crash killed two pilots and destroyed the 0-million XB-70 Valkyrie test aircraft in a program that was already suffering cost problems. The program was canceled. Suddenly, there was little prospect of a Mach 3 bomber for the Foxbat to chase, meaning the most critical mission for Soviet planners was preventing American air superiority.

And then, a Soviet pilot defected to Japan with his MiG-25 in 1976, and NATO learned that the Foxbat was actually sort of horrible at air superiority.

When they disassembled, studied, re-assembled, and tested the plane, American engineers realized that it would almost always have a speed and altitude advantage against NATO planes, but it couldn’t capitalize on it. The Foxbat didn’t have a look-down, shoot-down radar system.

Without getting too into the technical weeds, the science of getting a radar that can see ahead of a fighter and beneath it without getting confused by ground clutter is actually sort of tough, and the Soviets hadn’t nailed it yet. So Foxbat pilots would be forced to descend to engage other fighters.

And once it was on a relatively even altitude with its adversaries, it would be relatively easy pickings. While it was undeniably fast, it was not actually super maneuverable. It was unlikely that a Foxbat could dodge missiles or win a dogfight. With a few changes to doctrine, planes like the F-4 Phantom could keep the Foxbat on the run or down it entirely.

Still, the Foxbat has continued in service in Post-Soviet Russia, and it’s still the fastest and highest-flying fighter jet in the world, carrying its full combat load so high that the pilot’s tears will boil off their faces. It just doesn’t matter because there’s nothing up there for the Foxbat to fight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One legendary Marine became a butter bar 3 times

One of the Marine Corps’ greatest heroes had to earn his “butter bars” (as the rank of second lieutenant is called because the devices are yellow/gold in color) not once or twice, but three times before it stuck.


4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Photo: US Marine Corps

 

Lewis B. Puller dropped out of college in 1918 and joined the Marines in an attempt to get to France before World War I ended, but he was assigned to training new Marines in the states instead. He attended noncommissioned officer training as a corporal and was appointed to the Marine Officers Basic School. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the reserves- butter bar #1. 

Unfortunately, the war had wrapped up and the Marine Corps was downsized only 10 days later. Puller was placed on the inactive list.

Puller re-enlisted as a corporal to join Marines headed to Haiti to serve in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, a police force with predominantly white men serving as officers over rank and file troops recruited from the local Haitian population. Puller began his service in the Gendarmerie as a second lieutenant while keeping his U.S. Marine Corps rank of corporal. Butter bar yet again…but not for long.

While in Haiti, he attempted multiple times to regain his U.S. commission but was denied each time. He also led several successful raids through the jungles of Haiti, but still no butter bar.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

 

When he returned to America in 1924 he was finally commissioned as an officer for keeps. In 1928 he was assigned to the Guardia Nacional, a Nicaraguan military force led by U.S. officers that fought anti-government rebels in that country.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Photo: US Marine Corps

In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first and second of five Navy Crosses and began climbing the officer ranks. After tours of the Pacific and a period training new Marine officers, he returned to combat in World War II and earned two more Navy Crosses. He also fought at Korea, leading the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from Chosin Reservoir and earning his fifth Navy Cross.

Over this 27-year period, Puller had made it to the rank of major general. He retired amid medical problems in 1955 and was granted a “tombstone promotion” to lieutenant general. These were promotions given selectively to troops with combat citations to confer extra prestige upon leaving the service, but they didn’t entitle the service member to any additional retirement pay. He died in 1971.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how a Marine Expeditionary Brigade would fight the Battle of Belleau Wood today

The Battle of Belleau Wood holds an important place in Marine Corps lore – alongside Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Hue City and Fallujah. During that battle, a brigade of Marines was part of a two-division American force that helped turn back a German assault involving elements of five divisions.


But how would a modern Marine brigade handle that battle?

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918) – an illustration done by Georges Scott. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade of today is an immensely powerful force, with a reinforced regiment of Marine infantry, a Marine air group, and loads of combat support elements. This is usually a total of 14,500 Marines all-included. Don’t forget – every Marine is a rifleman, but the ones who do other jobs will really leave a mark on the Germans.

How will the gear of the MEB stack up to those of the Germans? Well, in terms of the infantry rifle, there are two very different animals. The Marines will use the M16A4, firing a 5.56mm NATO round that has an effective range of 550 meters. The Germans have the famous Gewehr 98, with a range of 500 meters. More importantly, the M16A4 is a select-fire assault rifle, while the Gewehr 98 is a bolt-action rifle.

In other words, the individual Marine has the individual German outgunned. Furthermore, with optics, the Marines are going to have much more accuracy in addition to a much higher rate of fire.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Gewehr 98, standard infantry rifle of the German Army in World War I. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

For the Germans, it gets worse when one looks at other gear the modern Marine brigade has available. In a given fire team, there are two M16A4s, a M249 SAW or M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, and a M16A4 with a M203 grenade launcher. The MG08 may have an edge over the M240 that a Marine company might bring into the fight, but where the Germans will really get chewed up is when they try to attack a MEB’s 18 M2 heavy machine guns and 18 Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
A US Army soldier with an MK-19 grenade launcher. | Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Parsons

As the Germans break themselves on the Marine defenses, the Marine counter-attack will be devastating. M777 Howitzers will fire Copperhead and Excalibur guided projectiles to guarantee hits on German strong points. Marine M224 60mm mortars and M252 81mm mortars will add to the bombardment, and can also lay smoke.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paris Capers

 

Furthermore, Marine brigades will attack at night. The Germans do not have night-vision goggles or even IR viewers. The Marines do. The Marines will also be able to use AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, LAV-25 light armored vehicles, and M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to provide direct support. The BGM-71 TOW and FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles the brigade have will also help decimate German fortifications.

We’re not even touching what the air component of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, three squadrons of AV-8B+ Harriers and two of F/A-18s, plus assorted helicopters, would be capable of doing. Let’s just say that Joint Direct Attack Munitions on fortifications and cluster bombs on infantry in the open would be a decisive advantage for the MEB.

 

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Local resident and historian Gilles Lagin, who has studied the battle of Belleau Wood for more than 30 years, shows Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Dave Bumgardner a German gas mask found next to the remains he discovered on a recent battlefield study. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Phil Mehringer)

 

The Battle of Belleau Wood lasted for 26 days in June 1918 — nearly a month of vicious combat that left 1,811 Americans dead. A modern Marine brigade would likely win this battle in about 26 hours, and they’d suffer far fewer casualties doing so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Pepsi became the 6th largest military in the world

Almost everyone in the world has a favorite soda that they enjoy whenever they get the opportunity. But, is your favorite tasty drink worth giving up a military arsenal big enough to stock a whole country? Well, at one point in history, the Russians thought so.


In 1959, then-President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to bring our America culture to citizens of the Soviet Union and show them the benefits of capitalism.

To showcase their ideologies, the American government arranged the “American National Exhibition” in Moscow and sent then-Vice President Richard Nixon to attend the opening — but things were about to take a turn for the worse.

Related: This is the cheesy ‘Top Gun’ commercial Pepsi made in the 1980s

Nixon and Soviet leader Khrushchev got into an argument over the topic of capitalism versus communism. Their conversation got so heated that the vice president of Pepsi intervened and offered the Soviet leader a cup of his delicious, sugary beverage — and he drank it.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
Pepsi saves the day!

Years later, the people of the Soviet Union wanted to strike a deal that would bring Pepsi products to their country permanently. However, there was an issue of how they would pay for their newest beverage, as their money wasn’t accepted throughout the world.

So, the clever country decided to buy Pepsi using a universal currency: vodka!

In the late-1980s, Russia’s initial agreement to serve Pepsi in their country was about to expire, but this time, their vodka wasn’t going to be enough to cover the cost.

So, the Russians did what any country would do in desperate times: They traded Pepsi a fleet of subs and boats for a whole lot of soda. The new agreement included 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
A Soviet diesel submarine.

The combined fleet was traded for three billion dollars worth of Pepsi. Yes, you read that right. Russia loves their Pepsi.

The historical exchange caused Pepsi to become the 6th most powerful military in the world, for a moment, before they sold the fleet to a Swedish company for scrap recycling.

Also Read: That time someone sued Pepsi because they didn’t give him a Harrier jet

Check out Not Exactly Normal‘s video below to get the complete rundown of this sweet story for yourself.

 

(Not Exactly Normal | YouTube)
Articles

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

The United States owes its success in the Revolutionary War to help from France. The chief architect of that help was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. In America, we simply call him “Lafayette.”

When France needed help during World War I, a squadron of American airmen volunteered their skills to fight against Germany. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille. When American troops finally arrived in France years later, their leaders walked into the tomb of the nobleman and announced, “Lafayette, we are here.”

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
The Escadrille Lafayette in July 1917 (U.S. Air Force photo)

The relationship between the Marquis and the United States has endured for many centuries because of his admiration and service to a country that was not his own. That admiration runs so deep, that the nobleman is buried in American soil – in Paris. 

When the Marquis de Lafayette came to the United States to fight the British in the Revolution, he was so committed to the cause that he volunteered to serve without pay. Unlike other French officers volunteering, Lafayette had the military pedigree to be of use and soon came to be the right hand man to Gen. George Washington himself. 

That pedigree didn’t come with much experience. Lafayette would be learning as he served the American cause. Luckily, as a wealthy man, his personal contributions more than made up for what he lacked in military experience. But as he gained that valuable experience, he proved himself an able commander.

A dedicated Enlightenment thinker, his devotion to the cause of American ideals led him to fight in several battles, to be wounded at the battle of Brandywine, and encourage France to recognize American independence. Most crucially, it was Lafayette’s forces that harassed Cornwallis on his way to Yorktown.

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators
John Ward Dunsmore’s 1907 depiction of Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge (Wikimedia Commons)

This forced the British to move across the James River, where they were eventually trapped by Washington, Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau  by land and the French fleet by sea. He was forced to surrender his army after an almost three-week siege. It was the beginning of the end of the war, and the start of the American experiment.

Lafayette fought in the Continental Army all over the colonies, from New England to the Mid-Atlantic to the South, and was one of the few things that all the new states of the United States had in common. He so loved the ideals of the American Revolution that he tried to export them to France when he returned home. 

His advocacy for American liberty would serve him and his wife well in the coming years of the French Revolution. The French admiration for American values saved the lives of the noble and his wife. 

Lafayette would return to the United States many times in the years following the revolution. His visits would confirm the idea that the Founding Fathers had created a functioning democracy, based on the egalitarian values of the Enlightenment. He came to love the United States and proclaimed that he wanted to be buried in American soil.

Marquis de Lafayette
Lafayette’s grave (Wikimedia Commons)

On his final visit to the United States, Lafayette filled a trunk full of earth from the land near Boston’s Bunker Hill. When the noble died in 1834, his son interred him in the dirt from America. The American flag has flown over his grave continuously since 1850, a simple site behind an innocuous high stone wall.

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