In the days before the United States entered World War II, Hollywood’s first jab against fascism came from an unlikely place. Actually, three unlikely places: Larry, Curly and Moe. AKA the Three Stooges.
The year was 1940 and Europe was already embroiled in conflict after Britain and France declared war on Germany over its 1939 invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the United States had no appetite to enter the war.
In Hollywood, the Hays Code, a set of strict moral guidelines that governed motion picture production, was in full effect. Aside from prohibiting onscreen depictions of sexual activity and profanity, the code restricted insults against the leaders, culture, and institutions of any foreign country.
Despite the Hayes Code, Nazi Germany got a full-force slap in three Jewish comedians. For their 44th film, “You Nazty Spy!” the Three Stooges decided to lampoon the Nazis, Germany, and Adolf Hitler.
Set in the fictional country of “Moronika,” the plot centers around three arms dealers who oust the peaceful king and install three wallpaper hangers as dictatorial leaders. Moe takes the Hitler role, Larry substitutes for Joseph Goebbels, and Curly takes on the portly Hermann Goring role.
Like the real Hitler, the trio immediately makes a land grab from the neighboring countries and are eventually eaten by lions. Hey, they’re the Three Stooges, they aren’t going for Oscars. The stories are less about plot and more about the two-fingered eye poke.
Moe Howard’s depiction of Hitler and mockery of the Third Reich on the silver screen enraged the Fuhrer. He added all three stooges to his list of people to kill, along with the entire Hapsburg royal family – but of course he never got the chance to exact his revenge on the stooges.
The first to go was Hitler himself, killing himself in his Berlin bunker as the Red Army approached. Curly was next, dying in 1952. He was a notorious drinker and suffered multiple blows to the head in more than 190 movies and shorts over 20 years. He suffered a series of strokes, paralysis, and mental decline.
Despite later attempts to revive the Stooge Franchise, the comedy act was never really the same after that. Larry Fine died in January 1975 of a condition similar to Curly’s, although less pronounced. Five months later, Moe Howard died of lung cancer.
By the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing, and the Soviets appeared to have an edge in fighter plane technology. The USSR debuted a new plane, the MiG-15. This new fighter had a design that no one had yet seen flying. Its swept-back wingspan allowed it to achieve speeds approaching the speed of sound. It was also incredibly effective against all the fighters of that age. The Navy needed to figure out how to beat it to protect its carrier.
They turned to defense contractor Grumman, who soon turned its designs inside-out and trying to take the new MiG down.
And they started with the F9F Cougar.
Looks cool on a carrier, looks worse getting shot down by MiGs.
What came of the project was the F11F Tiger, which incorporated the latest and greatest in naval aviation technology and tactics into the basic designs of the carrier-based F9F Cougar. The Cougar has a windswept wing design of its own, as the MiG-15 had completely outclassed straight-wing fighters in the skies over Korea. The Navy wanted some fighters who could protect its ships in aerial combat. Grumman began its effort with the F9F Cougar but went back to the drawing board and came out with the Tiger, a supersonic fighter that could be launched from a carrier and bring the fight to the MiGs.
Unfortunately, its high top speed is how the F11F Tiger became the first fighter to shoot itself down.
On Sept. 21, 1956, test pilot Tom Attridge began a shallow dive in his F11F. As he did, he fired two short bursts from the aircraft’s four 20mm cannons, and thought nothing of it – until he got to the end of his dive, and the bursts began to shoot up his aircraft. He started at 20,000 feet and then went into a Mach 1 dive as he fired. He accelerated with afterburner and at 13,000 feet, fired to empty. He continued his dive. but at 7,000 feet, something struck his canopy glass and one of his engine intake lips. The aircraft began to lose power, and Attridge headed back to base to land it.
But in order to make it back without shattering the canopy, he had to slow down his Tiger to a crawl, and the engine would only produce 78 percent of its normal power. He wouldn’t make it back to base at that rate. Two miles away from the runway, the engine went out completely.
Attridge didn’t bail out – test pilots are crazy – in the slowed aircraft, he settled into some trees. Despite some injuries, he exited the plane once on the ground and was picked up by a rescue helicopter. The plane, as it turned out, was hit in the windshield, the right intake, and the nose cone by its own rounds. The low pitch of the plane and its trajectory, combined with the trajectory of the bullets and the speed of the Tiger’s descent at half the speed of sound right into the guns’ target area, meant that the plane would easily catch up with its own burst of 20mm fire.
When Mitchell Paige was a young boy, he watched Marines proudly march in a parade. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to join the Corps. On his 18th birthday, the motivated young man walked 200 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore and enlisted.
After completing his training, Paige quickly rose up in the ranks, eventually earning command over his own platoon. Soon after, he was sent to join other troops in the ground invasion of the Island of Guadalcanal. The island housed a critical airfield — one within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, making it extremely dangerous in enemy hands.
Paige was sent in to protect another infantry company with his deadly squad of machine-gunners, but the fight would soon take an unexpected turn.
As Paige’s Marines settled into position, rain poured down. He ordered his men to remain as silent as possible. The mission was to hold the line at all costs — or risk losing control of the crucial airfield.
Then, the enemy swarmed in, engaging the Marines with everything they had. As his men fell injured, Paige ran back and forth firing his men’s weapons, making the Japanese think there were still plenty of American troops left in the fight.
As Paige continued to fire the machine guns, he was discovered by an enemy troop. That troop aimed directly at Paige and fired. The platoon sergeant leaned back and somehow dodged the incoming rounds. The hot bullets whizzed through the tiny, open space between Paige’s neck and chin, miraculously causing zero damage.
Paige returned fire, taking the enemy soldier out just as quickly as he had appeared.
Still, the Japanese troops severely outnumbered the American Marines. Paige loaded himself up with ammo and charged the enemy while holding his .30 caliber machine gun at his hip. He shot at every Japanese troop that entered his field of vision.
They dropped like flies.
Suddenly, his surroundings fell still — completely silent. Paige turned his head and saw two Marine riflemen headed his way, celebrating. Reportedly, 33 Marines fought off more than 2,000 Japanese troops during the intense skirmish.
On May 21, 1943, Mitchell Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds.
When Europe went to war in 1939, America knew it was only a matter of time before it was dragged into another global conflict. To prepare, the country recruited and drafted hundreds of thousands of men in 1940 and held a series of exercises the next year that helped define how the U.S. would fight the Axis over the next six years.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Regular Army consisted of 190,000 poorly equipped soldiers and 200,000 National Guardsmen who had it even worse. That was simply not enough men to fight the war. So Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited and drafted their way to a 1941 active force of 1.4 million soldiers.
To prepare to face the Nazis abroad, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, ordered a modern workup plan.
After learning individual and small unit skills, large units were sent to “General Headquarters Maneuvers” in Louisiana and the Carolinas.
It’s in Louisiana that the Army tested new combined arms doctrines established in 1940 and 1941. About 472,000 soldiers participated in the Louisiana training exercises across thousands of square miles of maneuver space.
But many of the Army’s new fighting methods weren’t going to work against the Axis powers, with the Army Air Force retaining control of its planes in Air Support Commands that often ignored requests by ground commanders, for example.
Tanks were also controlled by infantry and cavalry units who often squandered the advantage that the modern machines gave them. Instead of using the tanks to conduct vicious thrusts against enemy formations like Germany had famously done in Poland and France, American commanders used tanks as spearheads for infantry and cavalry assaults.
But while the exercises exposed a lot of what was wrong with Army strategy mere months before Pearl Harbor, it also gave careful and attentive leaders a chance to fix problems with new doctrine and strategies.
First, tank warfare advocates met secretly in a Louisiana high school basement on the final day of the maneuvers in that state. Then-Col. George S. Patton spoke with general officers and tank commanders who agreed on a plan for creating a new Army branch dedicated to developing modern armored strategies.
A member of the group, Brig. Gen. Frank Andrews, took the recommendation to Marshall who agreed and created the brand new “Armored” branch. The infantry and cavalry were ordered to release their tanks to this new branch.
In Africa and Europe, these armored units would prove key to victory on many battlefields. Patton put his tank units at the front of the Third Army for much of the march to Berlin.
The cavalry lost much more than just its tanks. It was in the 1941 maneuvers that Army leaders ordered the end of horse units in the cavalry and ordered them to turn in their animals and move into mechanized units instead.
The air units also went through changes, though markedly fewer than ground commanders asked for. Ground units desperately wanted dive bombers that could conduct operations in close proximity to their own forces, breaking up enemy armor and infantry formations like the Luftwaffe did for Germany.
The Army Air Forces did respond to these requests, finally buying new dive bombers developed by the Navy and practicing how to accurately target ground units. But the AAF still focused on strategic bombing and air interdiction to the detriment of the close air support mission which was a distant third priority.
But the greatest lessons learned in the maneuvers may not have been about doctrine and strategy. Marshall and McNair kept a sharp eye out during the war games for top performers in the officer corps who could be promoted to positions of greater leadership.
A number of young officers were slated for promotions and new commands. Colonels Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were scheduled for promotion to brigadier general. Lieutenant Col. Omar Bradley held the temporary rank of brigadier general during the maneuvers and proved his worth in the exercise, allowing him to keep his temporary star. He would hold the temporary rank until Sep. 1943 when it was made permanent.
While the 1941 maneuvers were imperfect and the Army still had many tough lessons to learn in World War II, the identification of top talent and outdated or bad strategies allowed the force to prepare for global conflict without risking thousands of lives, reducing the cost they would pay in blood after war was declared at the end of the year.
The Army wrote a comprehensive history of the Maneuvers which was updated and re-released in 1992. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 is available here.
Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it’s hot on the work site, it’s important to stay cool. If it’s hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.
Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army’s aircraft on the ground.
There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.
By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.
They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.
The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol’ martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.
Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.
There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A’s fuselage.
Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.
When you look at the Iowa-class battleships, in a way, you are looking at the ultimate in a surface combat platform. They are huge – about 45,000 tons — they carry nine 16-inch guns and have an array of other weapons, too, from Tomahawk cruise missiles to Phalanx close-in weapon systems.
Looking at them, could you imagine diluting that surface-combat firepower for some Harriers? Well, the U.S. Navy did.
According to the 13th Edition of “The Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” the Navy kicked around the idea of turning the Iowa and her three sisters into a combination battleship-carrier. The after turret would be removed, and the space would be turned into a flight deck. WarisBoring.com noted that the plan called for as many as 20 AV-8B Harriers to be carried on the ship.
There was also a consideration for adding vertical launch systems for Tomahawks and Standard surface-to-air missiles.
It wasn’t as if the battleships hadn’t operated planes before, as in World War II the battleships operated floatplanes – usually for gunfire spotting. The Iowas kept their planes in an on-board hanger in the aft section of the ship.
That section was later used to land helicopters when they were in service during the 1980s. The New Jersey even operated a UCAV, the QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, while blasting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese positions during her one deployment in the Vietnam War.
That said, the project never went forward. One big reason was at the end of the Cold War, the Iowa-class ships were quick to go on the chopping block — even as the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin provided outstanding fire support to the Marines during Operation Desert Storm.
Another can be ascribed to history. Late in World War II, Japan was desperate for carriers. And when they tried to convert the battleships Ise and Hyuga to carrier, the effort wasn’t successful.
It is open to debate whether 20 Harriers would have been a fair trade for a third of an Iowa’s 16-inch firepower. What isn’t open for debate is that the Iowa-class fast battleship has never truly been replaced a quarter-century after their decommissioning.
“The Red Baron” remains one of history’s most feared fighter pilots. At the dawn of aerial combat Manfred von Richtofen was credited with 80 kills, most of which were won in planes painted bright red.
Richtofen was born into German royalty as a freiherr, which is similar to an English baron. Manfred’s father was a military officer who was disappointed when his own career was cut short by injury and so pushed his son to succeed where he failed.
Manfred began training for the military at the age of 11 in a military school, the Cadet Institute at Wahlstatt. The boy who would become the baron was undisciplined and a barely passing student according to his autobiography. He was also prone to dangerous stunts:
I had a tremendous liking for all sorts of risky tricks. One fine day I climbed with my friend Frankenberg the famous steeple of Wahlstatt by means of the lightning conductor and tied my handkerchief to the top. I remember exactly how difficult it was to negotiate the gutters. Ten years later, when I visited my little brother at Wahlstatt, I saw my handkerchief still tied up high in the air.
While Richtofen wasn’t interested in the military and was a lackluster student, he was a gifted athlete and felt it was his duty to fulfill his father’s wishes. He graduated from the school and was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1912. After the outbreak of World War I, Richtofen initially spent his time doing reconnaissance.
But as the armies dug into trenches around Paris, the need for cavalry waned and cavalry soldiers were reassigned to positions laying cable or acting as couriers. Some officers, including Richtofen, were told that they would be assigned quartermaster duty. Richtofen balked.
“I have not gone to war to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose,” he said.
He earned his pilot’s certificate on Christmas of 1915 and continued training. He was eventually selected by Boelcke to be in Boelcke’s new unit. On Sep. 17, 1916, Richtofen went on his first patrol and scored his first kill.
After that, his momentum built as he scored kill after kill. For each victory, he commissioned a silver cup with the type of the plane he shot down engraved on the bottom.
It wasn’t until late 1916 that Richtofen painted his aircraft red. By this time, he was an accomplished fighter ace with 9 confirmed kills. A number of nicknames cropped up after Richtofen adopted the trademark paint job, including “The Red Baron.”
In Jan. 1917 the baron reached 16 kills and was given command of Jagdestaffel 11. He and his men continued to fight the British and in Apr. Richtofen reached a new milestone, finally passing Boelcke’s record 40 kills. By the end of the month, Richtofen had 52 total victories.
But only a few months later, Rictofen was wounded in an air battle when a round struck him in the head. He was initially blinded but regained his sight in time to land the plane. After a forced convalescent leave, Richtofen demanded to return to the front.
Of course, through all of this, the Red Baron was achieving new aerial victories. They seem to have lost their allure for him though. After the shot to his head, he became angry and brooding, but continued to fight.
In April 1918, he doubled Boelcke’s record and achieved his 80th kill. But Death was tired of waiting for the baron. On Apr. 21, 1918, the day after his 80th victory, Richtofen was shot through the chest while aggressively chasing a rookie Canadian pilot. There is speculation that his defeat in Apr. 21 can be credited to the traumatic brain injury he sustained the summer before.
The Red Baron had been feared but also respected by his enemies and the Australian aviators of No. 3 Squadron gave him a military burial with full honors.
‘Empire’ is such a great word. It evokes images of lasting power, strength, and historical importance — even when it has nothing to do with an actual empire.
When it does have to do with an actual empire, you expect some kind of lasting imprint on humanity — some kind expansive reach; some kind of anything, really. Empires aren’t supposed to just rise for no reason and collapse like the Cowboys in the playoffs.
6. The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire has a glorious 600-year history of basically just scaring Europeans about the spread of Islam. If you look at the current state of affairs, it’s obvious that Europe never needed the help in the first place. When it came to actually spreading Islam, the Caliphate wasn’t quite so good at it.
At its height, the Ottomans didn’t even have full control over the lands they supposedly ruled. As soon as they reached a period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century, they kinda let the whole Empire decline. And even when Ottoman military power recovered, they still suffered losses in territory and in wars. After choosing the wrong side of WWI, they became modern-day Turkey. At only 100 years old, it already has a history and culture more unique than the Ottomans ever had.
5. The German Empire
Another victim of poor decisions during WWI, the German Empire only lasted 47 years. That’s not even long enough for the Kaiser to have a mid-life crisis.
Even though it saw a lot of technological and industrial achievements, it pretty much squandered those on a couple of World Wars that it somehow lost. It was late to the game of creating a colonial empire — one with a plan that can be best described as “oh yeah, me too,” as they simply took what Britain and France left behind.
4. The Galactic Empire
As dramatic as the changeover from Republic to Empire might have been (as painstakingly recounted in the Star Wars prequels), their biggest achievements include getting beaten by a fleet of space fighters that resemble your Uncle Todd’s Camaro after spending all their time enslaving and killing entire populations.
Not to mention their big goal was trying to build the same space station twice and they got trounced in their efforts both times. They left no cultural legacy on the people of the galaxy except for “I’m so happy they’re gone.”
3. The Russian Empire
This was an empire that was constantly trying to keep up with everyone else. The few Tsars who managed to drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into being competitive, had to do it by some extreme means — like publicly cutting off beards.
Peasants in parts of Russia were essentially slaves from the 11the century until the 19th century. They weren’t emancipated until 18-goddamn-61. With all that free labor, Russia still struggled to keep up with the rest of the world. And we wonder why the Soviet Union was so popular at first.
2. The Holy Roman Empire
What is it? No, seriously. WHAT IS IT? French philosopher Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Like an early European Union, a group of small kingdoms and principalities chose their Holy Roman Emperor to operate out of any city he wanted. He ruled basically nothing and the smaller kingdoms could ignore him at their will.
Sure, individual emperors could get things done, but that was because of who they were outside of being the Holy Roman Emperor, not because actually being Holy Roman Emperor. It’s especially sad for the Holy Roman Empire that a family or dynasty could overshadow the whole history of the empire.
1. Austro-Hungarian Empire
Besides the Herculean effort to stop the Ottomans at Vienna (we went over that), Austria-Hungary is most famous for getting kicked around by Napoleon and losing the World War they dragged everyone into.
Imagine a family of really dumb, inbred, rich people who owned a huge plot of land and put an army on it. Then they hired their stupid friends to command the army because uniforms are cool. Then, that family’s neighbors always come bail them out when they’re losing wars because they don’t want the neighborhood going to shit.
When you think of “midget submarines” in the context of World War II, Japan’s spring to mind. It makes sense seeing as they played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor — in fact, one such submarine was found beached near Oahu, exhumed, and then taken on tour to help the U.S. sell war bonds. But Germany and Italy also deployed midget submarines during the Second World War.
None of these subs racked up the huge kill counts of their full-sized counterparts. One of the big reasons for that was that these submarines just didn’t have a lot of speed (one of Germany’s most successful mini-subs could reach a top surface speed of seven knots). They also lacked endurance. That said, midget submarines came with a number of advantages: They were hard to locate, harder to kill, and didn’t require much in the way of materials, personnel, or fuel.
Captured German Seehund midget submarines lined up.
(British Ministry of Defense)
Germany’s most successful midget submarine was the Seehund, which had a blistering top speed of three knots while submerged. It could go about 300 miles and carried two torpedoes. This sub managed to sink a freighter off the coast of Great Yarmouth, but it rarely saw action — less than half of the 285 built saw active service.
Italy, on the other hand, can lay claim to some serious bragging rights for pulling off what was perhaps the most successful midget submarine attack of World War II. On December 18, 1941, three human torpedoes, essentially primitive versions of today’s swimmer delivery vehicles, infiltrated the British naval base in Alexandria, Egypt.
A human torpedo, similar to that used in the December 18, 1941 raid on Alexandria that damaged four Allied ships.
(Photo by Myrabella)
Italian frogmen, under the command of Luigi Durand de la Penne, used the human torpedoes to place mines on the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, as well as a British destroyer and a Norwegian tanker. The two battleships were damaged badly — enough to keep them out of action for months. De la Penne later has honored by the Italian Navy who named a destroyer after him.
Learn more about the German and Italian midget subs in the video below!
In 1942, not long after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Soviet pilot S. Kuzniecov was returning to base from a reconnaissance mission over Nazi-occupied Russia. As he flew over Kalinin (modern-day Tver), he was ambushed by German Messerschmidt fighters. He was shot down and forced to crash land his Iluyshin Il-2.
One of the German pilots landed at a nearby flat strip of land to collect souvenirs from his prey and to kill the Soviet pilot if he was still alive. But Kuzniecov wasn’t in the cockpit of the downed fighter anymore. He hid in the nearby woodline waiting for the enemy pilot.
As soon as the German approached Kuzniecov’s Il-2, Kuzniecov made a mad dash to the German’s waiting Messerschmidt. He took off and headed for home. But his troubles didn’t end there.
Soviet pilots didn’t take kindly to German Me-109 fighters approaching their airbases. The Russian managed to survive getting shot down by the Nazis and almost died trying to avoid getting shot down by his comrades.
He did survive and was later awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women. Kuzniecov was blinded by anti-aircraft fire over Poland in 1944. He managed to land his new Il-2 in a wheels-up crash landing, but what happened to him after he left the cockpit is unknown to this day.
When the Il-2 first appeared, it was called the “Flying Infantryman” by the Red Army, as beloved by ground troops as the A-10 is for Americans today. When given an inspection and a test flight, American Ace Eddie Rickenbacker called it the “best aircraft of its type in the world” and the “Beast from the East.”
It lived up to the hype as maybe the most important Soviet airframe of World War II.
War brings out the very best in technological innovation. Humans have shown themselves to be remarkably adept in devising new, creative ways to kill each other. The Vietnam War brought out this human capacity for creative destruction on a grand scale, even if it manifested itself a little differently on both sides.
The United States was blasting into the Space Age and, with that surge of technology, came chemical defoliants, like Agent Orange and jet aircraft that could break the sound barrier. The Vietnamese expanded their work on tried-and-true effective yet obsolete weapons, like punji stick booby traps. The two sides were worlds apart technologically, but when it came to murderous creativity, the combatants were close peers.
The XM-2 backpack mounted personnel detector.
1. People sniffers
The United States was desperately seeking a way to detect North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong movement across the DMZ and down the Ho Chi Minh trail, not to mention the bands of NVA and VC that were hiding in the dense jungles of South Vietnam. The U.S. infamously used the chemical defoliant Agent Orange to strip vegetation from entire areas, but it was more effective at giving everyone cancer than it was at outing hidden bands of the enemy.
So, the minds over at General Electric created a mobile cloud chamber that could detect ammonia, a component of human sweat. They called them the XM2 and XM3 personnel detectors, but the troops who used the devices quickly dubbed them “people sniffers.” While troops hated the XM2 backpack versions (and for good reasons, like the noise it made in an ambush area and the fact that it detected their sweat as well as the enemy’s), the XM3 saw widespread use on helicopters.
However, the enemy caught on and began to post buckets of urine around the jungle to create decoys for people sniffers. In the end, the device wasn’t even that great at picking up people, but it did detect recent cooking fires, which retained its usefulness.
Gross dog poop. …or is it?
It’s fairly well-known by now that the punji stick booby traps used by the Viet Cong during the were sometimes smeared with poop as a means to cause a bacterial infection in the victim. The idea was to try to take as many people and resources from the battlefield as possible: one injured soldier, at least one more to help cart him away, and maybe a helicopter could be lured into an ambush trying to medevac the wounded.
What’s not as well known is the Americans also used poop to their advantage. This is, again, the result of trying to track the movement of men and materiel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The United States placed sensors along the supposed routes of the Trail but when discovered, these sensors were, of course, destroyed. The U.S. needed to place sensors that wouldn’t be detected or destroyed. The answer was poop – in the form of a poop-shaped radio beacon.
An X-ray view of that same “poop.”
The Air Force dropped these sensors from the air and they would detect movement along the trail during the night, relaying the signal via radio. Since they looked like disgusting poop, the VC and NVA would often just leave them alone, thus ensuring the Americans would be able to listen along the trail.
3. “Lazy Dog” Flechettes
Imagine an explosive device filled with thousands of tiny darts or nails. It’s not difficult – many anti-personnel weapons use some kind of shrapnel or fragmentation to wreak havoc on enemy formations. Flechette weapons in the Vietnam War were no different. American helicopters, ground forces, and even bombers would fire missiles and rockets filled with thousands of these darts, launched at high speeds to turn any enemy cluster into swiss cheese.
A unique version of the flechette weapons however, came from B-52 Bombers, who would fly so high as to be pretty much silent to enemy Viet Cong or North Vietnam Army formations on the ground. When dropped from such a high altitude, the darts didn’t need an explosive to propel them, as they fell to Earth, they gained in velocity what they would have had from such an explosion. The result was a deadly blast of thousands of darts that was both invisible and inaudible – until it was too late and death rained from the sky.
Fun fact: When dropped from space, a large enough object could hit the ground with the force of a nuclear weapon.
Throughout the war, the Army wrestled with the problem of clearing vegetation to find Vietnamese hiding spots. Since Agent Orange took too long and could be washed away by heavy rains, the U.S. needed another way to clear paths for the troops. In 1968, they leased two vehicles designed for logging companies and sent them off to Southeast Asia. These became tactical tree crushers.
A 60-ton vehicle with multi-bladed logger wheels knocked trees over and chopped the logs as it drove. The U.S. military version would have a .50-cal mounted on the rear for self-defense, as well as a couple of claymores on the sides to keep the VC away from the driver. The vehicle was very effective at clearing trees, but the engine was prone to giving out and the large design made it an easy target for the enemy, so the military version was never made.
Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.
But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.
The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.
And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.
Plaid fabric is fairly innocuous. It’s been borrowed by all sorts of groups in America, from hipsters to lumberjacks and punk rockers to professors.
But, in the 18th century, it was the semi-official uniform of Scottish rebels branded as terrorists by the Protestant King George II.
King James II and his wife, Anne, before they were violently deposed and forced to flee to France and exile.
The problems started in 1688 when Catholic King James II was overthrown by a Protestant rebellion. In his absence, who, exactly, would be the legal holder of power in England was thrown up for debate. Would the Catholic king, who had cast away the Seal of the Realm while fleeing to France, or the Protestant William III and his wife, Mary, be the true authority of England?
“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the world’s hardest pandering claimant to the English throne in 1745.
Boasting Scottish blood, Charles decided to start his campaign in Scotland in 1745. The Parliament of Scotland had initially acquiesced to the rise of Queen Mary and King William III, but the Scottish, as a whole, still supported Catholic rule. And Scotland had been angered by a series of acts by London and the Crown during the early 1700s, including the dissolution of the Parliament of Scotland.
The ploy worked, and many Scots, especially Highland Scots, decided to support the invasion, creating the Jacobites, as they were known. But, some Lowland Scots supported Mary and William, leading to fighting in Scotland even before Charles began his push south.
Soldiers of a Highland Regiment just before the Jacobite uprising. After the uprising, soldiers serving the British crown could continue to wear patterns like this, but it was banned for nearly all others.
The Highland Scots, often wearing their traditional garb made with tartan fabrics, delivered a number of victories to “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Think Braveheart clothing but The Patriot weapons).
But popular support for Charles and the House of Stuart dried up the further the Jacobites marched south, and so they were soon forced to start pulling back north with his largely Scottish forces.
This led to the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746, where Charles and the Scots attempted to score a defensive victory against government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. Both sides were bogged down in the mud, but greater numbers on the Protestant side allowed them to pin down Scottish fighters with some units while others maneuvered. Their artillery advantage played a large role, as well.
Battle of Culloden, where a Jacobite uprising supporting a Catholic claim to the British throne was ended by government forces.
But the real brilliance of the Protestant attack came in how they ordered men to attack with bayonets during hand-to-hand fighting. Rather than fencing with the man directly in front of them, as was normal, the men were ordered to thrust into the exposed right side of the enemy adjacent to them.
Charles fled the country, never to return. But the Scots he left behind found themselves in the unenviable position of being stuck in the kingdom they had just rebelled against.
They were branded as terrorists and insurgents, and many of those who took part in the rebellion were hunted and executed. Meanwhile, their traditional fabric had been outlawed for general wear. Only highlanders who joined the British military were allowed to wear tartan fabrics, and usually only in Scottish units.
Oddly enough, its popularity had greatly grown among Lowland Scots who had fought against their tartan-wearing brethren. They collected tartan patterns like souvenirs of their fathers’ victories over the Catholics.
Finally, the Protestant aristocracy embraced the pattern after King George IV visited Edinburgh and led a tartan procession of Highland chiefs through the Scottish city.
Now, of course, its popular around the world, but known as plaid in the States. Scottish clans reclaimed their historic patterns or generated new ones that would be tied to families forever. It’s no longer the fabric of a military rebellion. It’s just a cool pattern, often woven of warm cloths, like flannel.
In fact, the rebellious nature of the pattern has been so degraded that one of the most recognizable and broadly used tartan patterns is that of the the Royal House of Stewart, the royal family of England which defeated the 1745-1746 Jacobite Rebellion and then outlawed the fabric for almost 40 years. Oddly enough, it’s very similar to the “Jacobite” pattern worn by the rebels.
So, enjoy your flannel, but maybe tip a Scotch whisky over for the tartan-wearing warriors in the sky while you do so.