In May 1945, the Axis powers were all but beaten, but the war was far from over for the United States. Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8 but a lot of work was left to be done – namely, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was assumed that many Purple Heart medals would be needed, but history took a different course.
The ongoing Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.
The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.
So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course.
World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.
“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.
The refurbished and new Purple Hearts are almost identical.
A recipient may never know for which war their medal was made.
“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” Giangreco said.
Either way, if you earn a Purple Heart, you can wear it with pride.
What happens when a military unit is outnumbered, outgunned and low on supplies? Most of the time, they get overrun and the defenders are killed to the last man. It’s probably happened more times than we can count, but the world will never know because the victors write history.
The most incredible stories we do hear about are the ones where the outnumbered defenders win the day. This could happen for a lot of reasons, but the most common is simply the attackers are outclassed. All the numbers and advanced weapons in the world have a hard time standing up to a unit that is simply better than the rest.
Some stories come because the defenders emerged victorious. Others are remembered because their stand was so great, the story had to be told. Here are 6 of the best.
1. The Siege of Jadotville, 1961
What do 158 Irish soldiers with little to no combat experience do when upward of 5,000 African rebels and mercenaries start barging in on their position with no end in sight? Ask for some whiskey, of course.
Congolese rebels declared independence from the rest of the country after Belgium granted Congo its independence. One rebel sect decided to seize the mineral deposits in the Katanga region by force and claim it for themselves. The only thing standing in their way was a UN peacekeeping force of Irishmen carrying WWII-era weapons.
When the rebels came at them with heavy mortars, human wave attacks and even air support, the Irish just dug in. For three days, low on water and ammunition, and getting strafed from the air, the Irish fought off the rebels, killing 300 and losing zero. Eventually the defenders of Jadotville had to surrender or die of thirst. They were taken prisoner but were soon released to the UN, still with no losses.
2. Sihang Warehouse, 1937
There aren’t a lot of Chinese victories to celebrate in the early days of World War II, but the story of the 800 Heroes in Shanghai is definitely one of them. After massively crushing the Chinese for months, the Japanese entered Shanghai with the intention of defeating the Chinese nationalist government decisively. The Chinese were able to leave the city relatively intact only because of the fighting at the Sihang Warehouse.
Only around 450 untested Chinese troops actually made it to the six-story warehouse, but their goal was to buy time for the Chinese to retreat to the west. An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers laid siege to the warehouse for five days as wave after wave of attack was repelled.
They couldn’t level the building with naval guns, bombs, artillery or chemical attacks, because the Western powers were watching across the nearby Wusong River. Any collateral damage might bring them into the war.
The Chinese soldiers’ last stand allowed the Chinese army to survive, and for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek to focus the world’s attention on Japanese aggression in China.
3. The Battle of Camaron, 1863
While the U.S. was fighting the Civil War, Mexico was engulfed in a conflict of its own. The French had invaded Mexico to install a monarch friendly to French interests in the Western Hemisphere. At Camaron, 65 members of the French Foreign Legion found themselves besieged by 3,300 Mexican soldiers whose only goal was their demise.
When the Mexicans demanded the French surrender, the Legionnaires responded they still had plenty of ammunition. Over the course of the next few hours, the French used it to good effect. Although they systematically lost ground and men with that ammunition, the Mexicans paid dearly for their repeated attacks. When the ammo was gone, the few remaining men launched a bayonet charge.
When all was said and done, the French finally negotiated a surrender, which allowed for them to keep their weapons and gear. All but 19 Legionnaires were killed in the siege, but the Mexicans lost 490, killed or wounded.
4. The Battered Bastards of Bastogne, 1944
The Battle of the Bulge was one hell of a way to spend Christmas. It was the last German offensive of World War II, and it was supposed to retake the harbor of Antwerp from the Allies and blunt the European offensive that would soon see the fall of the German Reich. It all depended on who controlled the converging roads at Bastogne, which cut through the dense Ardennes forest.
Unfortunately for the Germans, it was controlled by the men of the 101st Airborne Division. The Bulge eventually surrounded Bastogne, and when the the German Army demanded the 101st’s surrender, they got the now-famous reply: “Nuts!”
For a week the Germans relentlessly attacked the Americans at Bastogne. For more than a week, they hit the paratroopers, who were outnumbered 5-to-1, lacked cold weather gear in the December snows, had no senior leadership or air power to support them. But the Germans couldn’t advance without Bastogne.
They never got the chance. The day after Christmas, the U.S. Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton made contact with the German Army and broke the siege, eventually pushing back the armored advance.
5. Battle of Longewala, 1971
Even though the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 lasted just under two weeks, there was still a lot of heroism to be found. Pakistan launched a surprise air attack on 11 Indian air bases on Dec. 3, 1971. The next day, its ground forces began rolling toward India. One of the first stops for Pakistan was the lightly-defended outpost at Longewala but they threw 2,000 soldiers and 40 tanks at it just for good measure. They should have brought more.
The defenders of Longewala decided that they could either stand and defend their base or try to outrun a tank battalion on foot. Even though there were only 120 of them and just a recoilless rifle to use against the tanks, they decided to stay and fight. The recoilless rifle was much more effective than expected and wreaked havoc on the attackers.
With the full moon in play and the tanks burning against the night sky, the oncoming infantry was a shooting gallery for Indian machine guns. By the time the sun came up the next day and the cloud cover cleared, the Indian Air Force made mincemeat of the Pakistani attack. They lost nearly every tank and a tenth of their infantry. The Indian defenders lost just two men.
6. Pavlov’s House, Stalingrad, 1943
The Battle of Stalingrad might have been the most pivotal battle of World War II. For six months, Soviet and German Forces fought each other in some of the war’s most brutal urban combat. The Germans were fighting to take Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s namesake city while the Soviets were fighting for their existence.
As the USSR sustained terrible losses, one soldier, Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, took a building that became a symbol of the Soviet struggle against the German invader. Just a month after the Germans began the assault on the city. Pavlov captured a four-story building looking over what was once a city square. The building defended a key bank of the Volga, which the USSR needed to cross to send troops and supplies. Pavlov would hold the building at all costs.
For 60 days, he reinforced and rebuilt the building, destroying tanks with a roof-mounted anti-tank rifle and mowing down wave after wave of attackers, several times a day. Pavlov and his comrades held the building for 60 full days, defending Soviet landings and civilians hiding inside the structure. The Soviet troops said more Germans died trying to take Pavlov’s House than did trying to take Paris.
The apartment building still stands in what is today Volgograd, with a memorial to Sgt. Pavlov attached to one corner.
A Spitfire and Hurricane fly together during a Battle of Britain commemorative flight (Ministry of Defence photo)
The Battle of Britain was a turning point for the allied forces during WWII. After their evacuation at Dunkirk, the British Army was in a poor state, having abandoned much of its warfighting equipment and machinery in France. The Home Guard, the armed citizen militia that supported the British Army, was mobilized in anticipation of a German invasion of the British Isles. As Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, the British people prepared to fight the Germans on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, and in the hills. Ferrying an army across the English Channel is no easy task though, and the Germans needed to secure air superiority before their invasion.
In July 1940, Germany began an air and sea blockade of Britain with the goal of compelling her government to negotiate a peace settlement. Initially targeting coastal-shipping convoys, ports, and shipping centers, the German Luftwaffe was redirected to incapacitate RAF Fighter Command on August 1. They targeted airfields and infrastructure in an attempt to defeat the RAF on the ground. It was the job of the RAF’s fighter pilots to repel these attacks by the much larger German Luftwaffe. In the words of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, “Our young men will have to shoot down their young men at the rate of five to one.”
Supermarine Spitfires during the Battle of Britain (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
When people think about the Battle of Britain, they often envision elegant Supermarine Spitfires with their large, elliptical wings, locked in a deadly aerial ballet with German Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Or perhaps a mental image is conjured of those same beautiful Spitfires cutting swathes through formations of Luftwaffe Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers or Heinkel He 111 level bombers. Either way, the hero aircraft of the Battle of Britain that most people remember is the Supermarine Spitfire. However, the truth of the matter is that the Hawker Hurricane shot down more German aircraft than all other air and ground defenses combined during the Battle of Britain.
Although it was not nearly as pretty as the Spitfire, looking rather like a sad Basset Hound, the Hurricane was a more stable gun platform with its thicker wings. They allowed its eight .303 Browning machine guns to be mounted closer together in the wings and closer to the center of the aircraft, producing more accurate fire. Though the Spitfire was armed with the exact same guns, its thinner wings forced them to be mounted further out from the fuselage which caused the plane to become unbalanced when they were fired.
Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
The Hurricane, with its wood and fabric construction, was also easier for ground crews to repair and conduct maintenance on. Conversely, the Spitfire’s metal construction meant that skilled metal workers were needed to conduct repairs. This difference in design also meant that the Hurricane could be produced quicker and in larger numbers than the Spitfire. During the Battle of Britain, 32 RAF fighter squadrons flew the Hurricane whereas only 19 squadrons flew Spitfires.
RAF pilots scramble to their Hurricanes (Royal Canadian Air Force photo)
This is not to say that the Spitfire was inferior to the Hurricane; in fact, it was arguably the better dogfighter. Although both planes were powered by the same Rolls-Royce 27-litre liquid-cooled V-12 Merlin engine, the Spitfire could climb faster and turn tighter thanks to its wing design. As a result, Spitfires were generally directed to intercept the Luftwaffe escort fighters while Hurricanes attacked the enemy bomber formations.
In short, neither the Spitfire nor the Hurricane could have won the Battle of Britain alone. The two planes complemented each other in the sky and worked together to repel the onslaught of German air attacks. In the end, the RAF reported 1,542 aircrew killed and 1,744 aircraft destroyed while the Luftwaffe reported 2,585 aircrew killed or missing, 925 captured, and 1,634 aircraft destroyed in combat. Failing to establish air superiority over Britain, Hitler was forced to postpone his invasion indefinitely. Shooting down a majority portion of enemy aircraft, the Hurricane deserves its fair share of fame alongside the Spitfire in staving off the Nazi threat.
During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese were trying to find ways to force the United States out, as they had the French. In December 1967 they figured the Marine base at Khe Sanh would be the perfect place to replicate Dien Bien Phu, their decisive victory against the French in 1954.
Well, the French didn’t have the air power of the United States Air Force and United States Marine Corps. Nor did they have cargo planes like the C-130 Hercules and the C-123 Provider.
This was one of two big game-changers in the years since Dien Bien Phu. The cargo planes France had back then were C-119 Flying Boxcars – which could haul almost 14 tons of cargo. The French had as few as nine planes in that theater.
The American C-123s could carry 12 tons, but the C-130s could carry over 22 tons – and the Americans had a lot more airlift assets. This meant a lot of supplies got to the Marines – 12,430 from just the Air Force, and another 4,661 tons via Marine helicopters.
One other big difference: The B-52 Stratofortress. Yes, BUFFs were at Khe Sanh, compared to second-hand A-26 Invaders. A B-52 could drop 51 M117 750-pound bombs on a target. The A-26 could carry 6,000 pounds of bombs – or up to 12 500-pound bombs.
That did not include the support from other planes like the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk.
Over 20,000 sorties were flown in defense of Khe Sanh – 2,500 of which were flown by B-52s. When all was said and done, the North Vietnamese lost 15,000 personnel trying to take Khe Sanh – making the siege a costly error. The base was eventually relieved, and a lot of abandoned gear was captured.
The video below from the DOD provides an excellent outline of just how American air power caused the siege of Khe Sanh to fail.
For around 30 years, the food court at the center of the Pentagon’s courtyard was an easy source of mid-afternoon calories for the hungry planners of a potential World War III with the Eastern Bloc. There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the food.
It was said the Soviet Union had at least two nuclear missiles pointed at it at all times.
The hot dog stand, replaced in the early 2000s with another, presumably less hot dog-oriented food stand, was the center of life for a lot of the Cold War lunches had by the staff at the nation’s most important military building. It was said that the Soviet Union watched the comings and goings of top U.S. military brass in and out of the tiny structure in the middle of the courtyard every day.
They surmised it must be an important planning center or command and control bunker. So, obviously, when the war broke out, it would have to be one of the first things to go. Two ICBMs should take care of it.
And most of the DMV area.
“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services, told DoD News. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand.”
No one in Russia has ever confirmed this rumor, but the stand still earned the moniker “Cafe Ground Zero.” In reality, substantiated or not, the hot dog stand was smack dab in the middle of the United States’ most important military building. Since the blast radius of the Soviet Union’s best and biggest nuclear missile was big enough to wipe out New York City along with parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it stands to reason that destroying the hot dog stand at the center of the Pentagon would just be a win for clogged arteries.
Today’s U.S. Navy can trace its origins to the Continental Navy of the Revolutionary War. It boasts the largest, most capable fleet in history, proudly serving its mission of “…winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.” America’s sailors are the finest in the world, and their rousing song — born in victory — suits them well.
Bandmaster Lt. Charles A. Zimmerman served as director of the U.S. Naval Academy Band from 1887 until his death in 1916, and he wrote a march for each graduating class. But it was “Anchors Aweigh” would be the one ultimately adopted by the U.S. Navy as its official song.
The Navy Midshipmen take the field in the 2012 Army-Navy game.
U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge)
2. It helped shut out the Army
By 1906, Navy had not beaten Army on the football field since 1900. Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles approached Zimmerman with a request for a new march — one that would lift spirits and “live forever.” According to legend, Miles and Zimmerman got to work at the Academy’s chapel organ. Later that month, the band and brigade performed the song and the Navy swept the Army in a 10-0 victory.
Sailors secure a line to the capstan while hoisting the anchor chain.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Finley)
3. It’s chock full of naval jargon, starting with the title
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Cole)
4. It evolved over time
It wasn’t until 1997 that the lyrics were finally revised (by the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, John Hagan) to be a little less college football and a little more domination of the high seas.
The revised lyrics include some naval lore, such as a reference to Davy Jones, whose locker on the ocean floor is home to drowned sailors and shipwrecks, and the “seven seas,” an ancient phrase for all the world’s oceans.
The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.
For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.
1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.
The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.
Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.
The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.
Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.
2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.
Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.
Some things are universal. If you’re going to start a war, make sure you’re also the one who finishes it. To be ill-prepared for any reason is dumb and just prolongs a war, yielding pointless loss of life. In the history of the world, wars have been prolonged and lost for many, many stupid reasons.
Things like ignorance, hubris, and incompetence come to mind.
(Department of Defense)
Racism is all three of those things. Especially when a leader is about to send thousands — or even tens of thousands — of his most loyal troops into a situation they can’t possibly win because that leader thinks victory is assured just because he’s white. Or Chinese. Or Japanese. So, let’s be honest with ourselves: The most spectacular examples of military leadership did not belong to any one race.
As a matter of fact, if there’s any one person who can claim dominance over all other military minds, you don’t have to worry about race for two reasons. First, because he killed nearly everyone. Second, because he had sex with all the survivors and most of us are related to him anyway.
When a country goes to war, it needs to come prepared to earn that win. No army, weak or obsolete, is going to just let anyone roll all over them because the invader thinks they’re genetically or racially superior. Yet, in the history of warfare, it happens over and over again.
“Cor, I think we may be knackered.”
1. Battle of Isandlwana
The British had been in Africa for a long time and were pretty good at subduing natives by 1879. Experience taught them that small groups of European forces with superior technology could outgun native warriors, even if they were outnumbered.
It turns out there was a diminishing rate of return to that theory.
British forces in South Africa prepared to invade Zulu with less than 1800 redcoats and colonial troops, a few field guns, and some rockets. They made zero effort at preparing defensive positions. The British didn’t even bother to scout or recon where the opposing Zulu force was. If they had, they would have known much sooner that their camp was surrounded by 20,000 Zulu Impi.
The Impi slaughtered the British — they just absolutely creamed them. Though the redcoats fought fiercely, 20,000 is a hard number to beat. Despite a British victory later at Roarke’s Drift, their invasion of Zululand fell apart. The worst part is that British High Commissioner for Southern Africa didn’t even have to invade. He just wanted to depose the elected government and federalize South Africa. No one authorized his invasion. He just thought so little of the Zulus that he figured it must be an easy task.
But the British had to finish what they started. The second time the British invaded Zululand (because of course they did), they brought more men and technology to win a decisive victory.
Hint: not well.
2. The Battle of Adwa
Italian forays into colonizing Africa didn’t always go according to plan. When carving up Africa for colonization, the other European powers seemed to leave the most difficult areas to subdue for Italy. The Italian army had to subjugate modern-day Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. How do you think that went?
Yeah, they died.
In another example of “we’re white so we must be better” thinking, the Italians — who barely got themselves together as country in 1861 — tried to exploit Ethiopia, an already rich, complex, and advanced society. Italy tried to misinterpret a treaty signed with Ethiopia to subdue it as a client state, but Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II wasn’t having any of it. So, the Italians invaded from Italian-controlled Ethiopia.
After a year of fighting, they made it deep into Ethiopian territory. But as both armies began to struggle to feed themselves, the Italian government wanted a break in the stalemate. Instead of an orderly retreat, the Italians decided to attack, considering 17,000 Italians with old guns versus more than 100,000 Ethiopian troops would be less embarrassing than having retreat before Ethiopians.
Well, the Italians mostly died — but they didn’t have to. The Ethiopians not only had significantly more manpower, they weren’t exactly armed with spears either. They also had rifles. And cavalry. And more of everything on their home turf. The Italian invasion was just a bad idea from the start.
The Italians were pretty much annihilated at Adwa, with more than 10,000 killed, captured, or wounded. For Ethiopia, it guaranteed their independence from European meddling or subjugation, forcing Italy to recognize Ethiopia as such – at least, until Mussolini came to call with airplanes and chemical weapons.
Next time, don’t make your hats such big targets.
3. The Russo-Japanese War
At the turn of the 20th Century, Japan and Russia were in direct competition for dominance over Korea and Chinese Manchuria. Russia was expanding the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach its eastern shores, and did so through China, eventually expanding to the city of Port Arthur — which the Japanese thought they’d won in a previous war with China. Both Russia and Japan became convinced a war was coming. Because it was.
“Wait, wait… I think we want to negotiate now.”
For some reason (racism), the Russians didn’t seem worried. They were far away from any kind of reinforcement and the Japanese had an advantage in manpower and proximity. But the “yellow monkeys,” as they were portrayed in Russian press, gave the Russian military zero pause. The Czar and his advisors were sure Russia would win any war with an Asian country. Japan repeatedly attempted to negotiate with the Russians but to no avail. War was easily averted, but the Czar was sure Japan wouldn’t attack.
Since Russia had advisors with Menelik II in Ethiopia, you’d think they’d be wary of racist overconfidence, but you’d be wrong. Because Japan attacked.
When Japan attacks, they do it in a big way. They attacked the Russian Far East Fleet and bottled it up at Port Arthur, destroying it with land-based artillery. Japan then captured all of Korea in two months. They then moved into Manchuria as the Russians fell back, waiting for land reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Russian Baltic Fleet, which pretty much had to circumnavigate the globe to get to the war.
Russians retreating from Mukden. You’d think they’d be sprinting.
Neither was put to good use. Russia lost 90,000 troops when the Japanese captured the Manchurian capital at Mukden. And the Baltic Sea Fleet (now called the 2nd Pacific Fleet) was annihilated by the Japanese on its way through the Tsushima Strait.
4. World War II in the Pacific
Well, just as the Russians proved they learned nothing about racism by watching Menelik trounce the Italians, the Japanese learned nothing about racism from their victory over Russia.
By 1937, the Japanese were coming out of the Great Depression, well before the rest of the world. Coupled with significant military victories against China, Russia, and in World War I, Japan was riding pretty high. But this isn’t the start of the Japanese superiority complex. The country actually tried to have a race equality declaration written into the League of Nations.
But we all know how well the League of Nations turned out.
Oh. Right. Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese became contemptuous of white Americans and Europeans and saw themselves as a superior race. The inferior white races were considered soft and weak in comparison. When Japanese officials were met with racism while visiting foreign countries, it only exacerbated the issue.
They saw whites as overly individualistic, a society that would crumble at the first sign that it needed to unify or die. Japan soon came to believe its divine role was to be the champion of Asians and to liberate the colonies of the Western powers. Their view of themselves as a superior race was so extreme, it would weigh heavily on the Asian peoples they “liberated.”
But before any of that happened…
And Yamamoto learned about this thing called the U.S. Army Air Forces.
The fact is that American citizens didn’t really want the U.S. to go to war with Japan. But Japan needed raw materials to continue their campaign in Asia. So, when the United States cut them off of American oil and scrap metal, there was only one way to go about getting it.
Just kidding. There were many ways Japan could maintain its expansion in Asia without bombing Pearl Harbor or going to war with Europe, but it opted to bomb the Americans, who had the only fleet that could stop the Japanese Navy, and then take oil and rubber from the British and Dutch colonies in Asia. The Japanese thought if they destroyed the U.S. fleet, then America would just give up and let them have it.
That’s how weak-willed the Japanese thought Americans were. That line Admiral Yamamoto supposedly said about waking a sleeping giant? He never said that. But Japan found out pretty quickly about these guys called “U.S. Marines.”
Japan’s leadership knew they couldn’t win a long war against the U.S., but it was their racial bias that led them to believe the Americans would just give up after Pearl Harbor. They had led themselves to believe Japan was invincible so much that losing the war came as a shock and surprise to most of the Japanese people.
In 1560, a Japanese leader attempting to capture the capital of Kyoto lost his head and most of his men when his army got too drunk and loud to realize it was under attack by a much smaller force until the enemy had cut its way to the leader’s tent.
Japanese samurai leader Imagawa Yoshimoto launched an offensive in 1560 to invade to Kyoto, leading approximately 20,000-35,000 samurai west and capturing a series of small castles on his way.
As the two forces marched towards one another, each made its own small stop. Oda stopped to pray at the Atsuta Shrine. The priests there would later comment on how calm the samurai leader was.
Imagawa, however, stopped to loot a few castles.
That night, Imagawa’s forces got hammered and feasted as Oda took advantage of the terrain and confusion.
First, he had a small group set up false battle flags from behind a ridgeline, giving the impression that he was firmly camped for the night. Then, he led most of his men through a careful maneuver under cover of darkness and thunderstorms.
Oda’s force crept close to Imagawa’s camp and then attacked with its full force. The partying in the camp was so loud and the attack so sudden, that many of Imagawa’s samurai failed to realize they were in a fight.
Imagawa himself is said to have stormed from his tent to yell at his men for their level of drunkenness only to be immediately attacked by a spear-wielding enemy. Imagawa cut through the spear and injured his attacker, but was tackled and beheaded by another samurai.
After the collapse of the Second French Empire, the Third French Republic banished any and all heirs to the many monarchies that once ruled the country. This included all branches of the houses of Orléans, Bourbon, and Bonaparte.
The now defunct-royal families lived in exile and their power waned with each passing generation. Years passed and family lines continued, leading to the birth of the great grand-nephew of Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon VI. Following the death of his father, Louis became the Bonapartist claimant to the French throne at age 12 while living with his mother in Switzerland. He lived a fairly quiet life and a 1929 recording of him shows a love for film.
When World War II broke out in 1939, he immediately wrote to the French Prime Minister, Édouard Daladier, asking him to overlook the nineteenth-century law and allow him to fight in the French Army. He was denied. Not satisfied with watching his homeland burn, he joined the French Foreign Legion under the pseudonym “Louis Blanchard.” According to Legionnaire tradition, recruits enlist under a nom de guerre, or war name, to let go of who they were before they enlisted and restart their lives.
Louis fought in North Africa with the Legionnaires until the Second Armistice of Compiegne. The armistice was all but in name a French “surrender” to Nazi Germany and the death of the Third Republic. His unit was demobilized in 1941 under the order of Vichy France. However, his fight wasn’t over. He planned to make his way to London to join de Gaulle’s Free French Forces, but was captured by German border patrol en route in December 1942.
Eventually, he would escape his cell and join the French Resistance, this time under another pseudonym, “Louis Monnier,” just before the Normandy invasion. He served in the Brigade Charles Martel, a subtle armed resistance that fought alongside the Allies. He joined them in pushing back the German forces until Aug. 28, when his seven-man patrol was obliterated. He lived but was severely wounded. He was transferred to the Alpine Division, where he adopted a third nom de guerre, “Louis de Montfort,” and continued the fight.
He would earn many awards for his actions in WWII, including the title of Commander of the Legion of Honor, the highest French award — one created by his great grand-uncle — for his actions. Louis Napoleon VI would live out his life in Paris, despite authorities knowing it was illegal, until the law was repealed in 1950. He would spend the rest of his life as a prominent businessman and a powerful figure in many historical associations until his passing on May 3rd, 1997.
Farrier (Hardy) sets his plane on fire to keep it out of German hands. (Credit to Warner Bros. Pictures)
The pilot checks his watch and does another calculation. The fuel gauge on his Spitfire had been shot out by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, and he was reduced to estimating his remaining fuel level with quick arithmetic. As he approaches the Dunkirk coast, the engine begins to sputter and the prop slows to a lethargic, useless spin. Now gliding, the pilot spots a German Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber making a dive on the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force troops attempting to evacuate below. He lines up his gunsight and lets out a burst of fire from his .303 Browning machine guns, sending the smoking Stuka into the water.
Dunkirk movie promo (Credit to Warner Bros. Pictures)
The men on the ground cheer and wave at their airborne savior as he glides his Spitfire over the beach. Once he is clear of the British beachhead, the pilot lowers his flaps for landing. The landing gear release lever malfunctions and he is forced to manually crank his landing gear down as the beach below him grows closer and closer. He skillfully sets the Spitfire down on the beach with no bumps or bounces—a perfect landing under any circumstances. After setting fire to his plane, the pilot reflects on his long day of fighting before he is captured by German troops.
This account follows the story of an RAF Spitfire pilot named Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, in the 2017 Warner Bros. film Dunkirk. Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk tells the suspenseful story of the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. What most people don’t know is that Farrier’s actions depicted in the film are based on the real-life exploits of New Zealand fighter ace Alan Deere.
Deere was born in Westport, New Zealand in 1917. During his school years, he excelled in sports and took up rugby, cricket, and boxing. After school, he convinced his mother to sign an “Under 21” form, allowing him to join the RAF at the age of 20. Deere moved to England in 1937 to begin his flight training. After graduating flight school, Deere was assigned to No. 54 Squadron and flew the Gloster Gladiator before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire in March 1939.
During Operation Dynamo, the BEF evacuation at Dunkirk that began on May 26, No. 54 flew several sorties every day to provide air cover over Dunkirk and the English Channel. On May 27, Deere destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that was attacking a hospital ship, much like Farrier did in the film. The intense aerial combat and high operational tempo of Dynamo meant that, by May 28, No. 54 Squadron had been attrited to just eight serviceable aircraft.
Deere led the squadron on a dawn patrol, Deere spotted a German Dornier Do 17 bomber. He split off a section of his patrol to engage the enemy aircraft. During his attack on the Do 17, Deere’s Spitfire was hit by machine gun fire from the bomber’s rear gunner. He was forced to make an emergency landing to the east on a Belgian beach, during which he was knocked unconscious. After he came to, Deere torched his plane and made his way into a nearby town where he received first aid and hitched ride on a British Army truck back to Dunkirk. During the boat ride back to England, Deere received harsh words and criticism about the RAF’s fighter cover from the BEF soldiers (this experience was portrayed in the story of a different RAF pilot in the film).
Deere’s scuttled Spitfire on the beach. (Photo from spitfirepv270.co.nz)
After the Battle of France, Deere flew during the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. During the war, Deere scored 22 aerial victories, 10 probable kills, and damaged 18 enemy aircraft. He became a quadruple ace and the second highest scoring New Zealand fighter pilot in history. For his contributions during the war, Deere was awarded two British Distinguished Flying Crosses, the American Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the British Distinguished Service Order, and appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Deere’s military career also brought him numerous near death experiences, including having his Spitfire’s wing shot off, and a head-on engagement with a Bf 109 which resulted in an aerial collision and another glide to an emergency landing. Befitting an unkillable man like Deere, his autobiography is titled Nine Lives.
Portrait of Wing Commander Alan Deere. (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
After the war, Deere continued to serve in the RAF and achieved the rank of Air Commodore before retiring in 1967. He returned to his boyhood passion of athletics and became the RAF’s Director of Sport as a civilian. During his later years, Deere suffered from cancer. He died on September 21, 1995. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.
Memorabilia from Deere’s military career, including medals, trophies, and even the engine from one of his Spitfires, are on display at museums in both Britain and New Zealand. Perhaps his best tribute, however, is a restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing his markings when he served as a Wing Commander during the war. The Spitfire was restored by Deere’s nephew, Brendon Deere, and is flown at air shows in New Zealand.
Brendon Deere’s restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing Alan Deere’s markings. (Photo from airshowtravel.co.nz)
During World War II, just about every American got on board the fight against Nazi Germany and Japan. We really mean it – it was just about everyone. A number of future Presidents helped with the war efforts, ranging from Dwight Eisenhower (Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe) to JFK (PT 109) to Ronald Reagan (filming stateside) to Gerald Ford (service on a carrier).
Reagan often played roles in various training films – including one on how to recognize the Zero – but he also once teamed up with one of Batman’s greatest enemies. Well, more accurately, he teamed up with the actor who played the Penguin in the 1960s TV series, Burgess Meredith.
This is not unheard of from Batman’s enemies. In one World War II-era comic that DC did in conjunction with Marvel in which Batman teamed up with Captain America, the Joker turned on the Red Skull when Cap’s nemesis turned out to be a real Nazi, saying, “I may be a criminal lunatic, but I’m an American criminal lunatic!”
In this film, called The Rear Gunner, Meredith played “Pee Wee,” a tailgunner on a B-24 Liberator. He is initially talent-spotted by the pilot of the plane (Ronald Reagan’s character), and trains to become a gunner. “Pee Wee” gets a kill when a Zero tries to bounce the plane as it is being ferried to the Southwest Pacific, where they will face Japan.
Things will come to a head when the B-24 is sent after a Japanese carrier. You’ll need to watch the film to see how it turns out. But you can see an icon of `60s TV and a future President team up to train tail gunners below.
On Jan. 23, 1943, an Italian POW named Felice Benuzzi, who was being held by the British in Africa, escaped.
But for a very peculiar reason.
Once free of the wire, Benuzzi and two other prisoners who escaped with him spent the next two weeks working their way up the south side of the nearby 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya, their only map a sketch of the mountain they found on a can of Oxo corned beef.
Then they returned to the POW camp.
A member of the Italian Colonial Service, Benuzzi was taken prisoner when the British liberated Ethiopia in 1941 and was imprisoned beneath Mt. Kenya in Camp 354, a camp for civilian POWs. There he encountered the mountain, the first 17,000-foot peak he had ever seen. In his 1952 book about the camp and the mountain, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, Benuzzi said he “fell in love” with the mountain the first time he saw it.
Not so the camp.
He quickly became bored with the routine and the inactivity of Camp 354, a huge camp that could accommodate up to 10,000 prisoners.
“The sole activity for this host of people was to wander round the camp… They just walk and stop when they see other people talking. Then they stay for a while and join in the conversation,” Benuzzi wrote.
He quickly decided he had to take some action — do something to stay sane. He had been a mountaineer in the Alps before the war, and he decided the something he would do was climb Mt. Kenya.
He recruited another prisoner, Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and (like Benuzzi) a mountaineer before the war, and the two men set about making, buying, and stealing the equipment and food they would need to tackle the mountain.
They hoarded what they could from their rations and stopped smoking so they could use the cigarettes to buy supplies and food from other prisoners. They made crampons from steel taken from a scrapped automobile and an oven cover, ice-axes from hammers, and ax-handles that doubled as tent poles.
At the last minute, they recruited a third man, Enzo Barsotti, a non-mountaineer who would help with the escape and climb, but would not be in on the attempt at the summit.
“The only reason we decided to [recruit] him,” Benuzzi wrote, “was because he was universally thought to be mad as a hatter, and mad people were what we needed.”
When they were finally ready, they simply walked out of the camp through a gate that opened into the camp gardens using a key they had stolen and copied, accompanied by another prisoner disguised as a British officer. The three men holed up in a shed near the gardens until dark, dug up the supplies and equipment they had hidden there earlier, and began working their way up the mountain.
They had also left a note for the camp commander explaining what they were doing and promising to return.
They spent a week climbing to about 14,000 feet where they established a base camp and where Barsotti, who was by then suffering from altitude sickness, remained while the other two men headed to the summit.
But as Benuzzi and Balleto continued on, a storm blew in and the limitations of their homemade equipment became obvious. They made it to over 16,000 feet but could go no farther. There, they left an Italian flag they made for the purpose and a piece of paper with heir names sealed in an empty brandy bottle.
They then headed back to the base camp and – after a brief rest – began their descent, finally slipping back into Camp 354 as part of a work party.
When they were discovered, they were each sentenced to twenty-eight days solitary confinement, but were released after seven days, Benuzzi wrote, because the camp’s commander “appreciated our sporting effort.”
After the war, Benuzzi continued in the Italian diplomatic service at several postings, including to the United Nations in New York and as ambassador to Uruguay. He died in Rome in 1988.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya is considered a mountaineering classic.