The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Despite what many think, the Thompson submachine gun was not the first submachine gun.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

But many will argue it was the best submachine gun ever put in the hands of fighting men – whether they were “good guys” or “bad guys.”

Well-made, robust, capable of firing more than 800 rounds a minute in some models and chambered for the man-stopping .45-caliber ACP round, the gun lived up to one of its original names: The Annihilator.

“I knew several soldiers who used Thompsons for special operations in Vietnam,” said Alan Archambault, a retired U.S. Army officer and former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “Even in the 1960s, the Thompson was still an iconic weapon for U.S. soldiers. Often when one soldier would rotate to the U.S., he would pass the Thompson on to another soldier in theater.”

The brainchild of Gen. John T. Thompson, a former chief of small arms for the Ordnance Department and firearms designer, the stalemate on the Western Front during The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) convinced him the ordinary infantryman needed a new weapon. Thompson wanted something he called “a trench broom.”

“Our boys in the infantry, now in the trenches, need a small machine gun, a gun that will fire 50 to 100 rounds, so light that he can drag it with him as he crawls on his belly from trench to trench, and wipe out a whole company single-handed,” Thompson wrote in a 1918 memo to firearms designers. “I want a little machine gun you can hold in your hands, fire from the hip and reload in the dark. You must use ammunition now available and I want it right away.”

Designers produced a prototype by 1919, but the first practical models were too late for the war. Still, Thompson convinced Colt to produce 15,000 M1921 submachine guns.

Early observers of the M1921 test-fired on the range were impressed by how much firepower the “little machine gun” delivered.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

The problem was Thompson had no steady stream of customers, even when Thompson’s company Auto-Ordnance Corp. released the M1928 – considered by many the definitive Tommy gun model.

True, the U.S. Marine Corps purchased Thompsons and used them effectively in China and during the Latin American “banana wars” of the 1920s. The Postal Service armed its security personnel with Thompsons as well.

But the weapon was expensive – very expensive. Adjusted for inflation, its $200 price tag is roughly equivalent to $2,300 today.

To put things in perspective, consider the contemporary cost of prime, high-end arms like the Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal SCAR 17S 7.62×51 millimeter NATO – it costs about the same as a Tommy Gun did during the Roaring ’20s.

Besides, for better or worse the Thompson gained a “bad boy” reputation. A handful of criminals such as John Dillinger and George “Machine Gun” Kelly gave the weapon a bad name.

At first, potential customers such as the British government considered the Thompson “gangster weapons” and refused to purchase the submachine gun.

But by 1939, all that changed. Great Britain entered World War II starved for armaments.

The War Office eagerly purchased every M1928 it could, and the weapon was a hit with the Tommies – particularly the Commandos.

The weapon’s reliability and ability to bring devastating automatic fire to close quarters combat made the Thompson a favorite of the Commandos.

They even honored the weapon in the design of their unit recognition flash: A stylized Thompson superimposed on an anchor headed by an eagle.

There were also many American G.I.s who even relished the gangster panache of the Tommy Gun. Images of actors like James Cagney in “The Public Enemy” – easily one of the most violent movies of its time – ducking around a corner as a gangster fired on him with a Thompson were unforgettable.

“It was often seen in gangster films that were watched by impressionable young men who came of age during World War II,” Archambault said.  “So, even before its use in World War II, it was an iconic weapon.”

Sure, the M-1 Garand was the basic weapon for the American infantryman. But the Thompson found its way into the hands of officers, squad leaders, paratroopers, U.S. Marines and any soldier lucky enough to grab one.

Also, G.I.s and Marines were fighting all across the globe in battlefield environments that included deserts, jungles and snow. The sheer reliability of the Thompson, particularly in its less-expensive but equally deadly M1A1 model, made it the perfect weapon to endure the lousiest battlefield conditions.

Eventually, the cost of the Thompson prompted development of the M-3 “Grease Gun,” which could be produced in greater quantities for far less money than even the M1A1.

But by the Korean War, the Army relegated the Thompson to a secondary role. By Vietnam, the first M-16s were in the hands of GIs and the military considered the Thompson obsolete.

Today, Thompson submachine guns are in high demand among collectors legally authorized to own full-auto weapons. On average, the price for a clean Tommy Gun is about $25,000.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’ hunted his fellow Nazis for Israel

Imagine Adolf Hitler’s top Nazi commando – a Waffen SS officer who helped implement Germany’s “Final Solution” – walking among the trees and photos of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.


It so happens that the same SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, was there in 1962 and was recruited to help Israel’s famed intelligence agency take out his former compatriots.

 

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Skorzeny was an accomplished SS officer. His daring raid to rescue ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini earned him the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest award Nazi Germany could bestow. After D-Day, he led other commandos into Allied lines wearing American uniforms to capture U.S. weapons and attack from the rear. The Allies dubbed him the “most dangerous man in Europe” for his daring raids and wild schemes.

Though he literally escaped a trial at Nuremberg after the war, the Allies still believed he had a hand in exterminating the Jewish population of Europe.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
Skorzeny after rescuing ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

In an exhaustively-researched March 2016 article, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’ Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman talked to ex-Mossad agents who spoke to the paper on the condition of anonymity. They confirmed Skorzeny’s recruitment by the Jewish state’s intelligence agency, Mossad. How one of Adolph Hitler’s top Nazis became an agent of justice for the Jewish people is a story born more from self-preservation than redemption.

In the early 1960s, Mossad was attempting to prevent former Nazi rocket scientists from working on Egyptian defense projects. At the time, the two countries were mortal enemies and Egypt was still nursing its wounded pride from its defeat by Israel in 1948. The Israelis feared the technology from the program would be used to attack Israel. So they set out to stop foreign scientists from cooperating with the Arabs.

The Israelis used intimidation where possible. When that didn’t work, Mossad resorted to more extraordinary measures. Assassinations were common. But to kill these former Nazis, Israeli agents had to get close to them. They needed an inside man. That’s where Skorzeny came in.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
Skorzeny’s Nazi Medals

When Mossad initially approached Skorzeny, he thought they were coming to kill him, figuring he was at the top of Israel’s assassination list. Israeli agents had just captured, tried, and hanged notorious Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann, violating Argentinian sovereignty to whisk the war criminal away for trial in Israel. Skorzeny agreed to help Mossad on the condition that legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal remove Skorzeny from his list of war criminals – Skorzeny called the deal his “life insurance.”

He went to Israel accompanied by his Jewish handlers and met with top Mossad officials. This is where the Israelis walked him through Yad Vashem. No one trusted the Nazi, but his genuine interest in his “life insurance” meant Mossad could count on him. He immediately set to work compiling a list of German scientists, front companies, and addresses that were known to be assisting the Egyptians.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
Egyptian Leader Gamal Abdel Nasser with a team of rocket scientists (1962).

 

Skorzeny intimidated or killed a number of former Nazi scientists working with Egypt. He even sent mail bombs to Egyptian factories and laboratories working on the rocket program. Neither Skorzeny nor Mossad ever admitted to working together. His biography mentions none of it. Only now will Mossad agents admit to Haaretz that the deal was struck.

The Nazi commando was never assassinated and died of cancer in 1975.  At both of his funerals, one in Spain and the other in his native Austria, former Nazi soldiers and friends gave his remains and military medals the Nazi salute.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

These days, action movie actor Steven Seagal is best friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and trains Serbia’s Special Forces police in hand-to-hand combat. But when his movie career was at its peak, the tough guy image might have been just a front.

There’s no doubt that Seagal has the skills to back up his action movie street cred – at least, the martial arts parts of his persona. He is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and spent his early adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan before making it big on the silver screen. 

Though the actor is known for good career decisions in the martial arts world, he’s not really known for making good career decisions in Hollywood. 

One of Seagal’s biggest producers, Julius R. Nasso, helped create a string of action film hits in the early 1990s that kept Seagal’s star shining bright. After Seagal’s 1992 film “Under Siege,” which takes place aboard the famed USS Missouri, Seagal was the go-to action movie actor. But it was his relationship with Nasso that would slowly bring down his career.

Nasso produced six of the aikido expert’s most popular films, including “Marked for Death,” “Fire Down Below,” and the sequel to “Under Siege,” “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.” But soon the relationship soured and Nasso claimed that Seagal broke a $60 million deal for four more films. What happened next is something out of one of Seagal’s action films.

The producer was connected to one of New York’s five mafia families, and called on a Gambino family associate to help straighten out the action movie star. Seagal had no idea the mob was out for justice until mobsters forced him into a car in Brooklyn in 2001. 

The actor claimed that wiseguys took him to a well-known mob restaurant and threatened him. Seagal didn’t break any arms or throw people through windows, as one might expect from his movies. Instead, he handed over at least $700,000.  

During an investigation into mob activities on New York’s waterfront involving Peter Gotti, brother to mafia boss John Gotti and by then the boss of the Gambino family, investigators were able to corroborate Seagal’s claims. On federal wiretaps, the FBI heard mob enforcers joking about shaking down Seagal and making references to his movies. 

Nasso denied the claims that he was a Gambino family associate, telling reporters that all he wanted was the $500,000 that Seagal owed him after reneging on the contract deal. 

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
An old chart of the Gambino family hierarchy from the 1990s. (Image courtesy of Gunnar Sigurður Zoega Guðmundsson, Flickr)

But the FBI reports and wiretaps say otherwise. The mafiosi involved with Seagal’s kidnapping were some of the Gambino family’s most notorious capos and street soldiers, including Richard Bondi, Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, and Primo Cassarino. 

The actor knew he was on deadly ground when Cassarino and Ciccone accompanied Nasso on a visit to the actor’s Los Angeles home. The actor eventually paid Nasso and the mafiosi and the money was never traced to whomever actually received it. 

Rather than hunt down and kill the Gambino capos and underboss in revenge for the shakedown – something one of his action movie characters would certainly do – Seagal went to authorities, who used the FBI wiretaps to force a guilty plea from Nasso.

In 2003, the former action movie producer was sentenced on extortion and conspiracy charges. He spent a year in prison and was forced to pay a $75,000 fine. Seagal went on to make a series of direct-to-video action movies, averaging about two per year since 2003, along with training foreign special operators and becoming a Russian citizen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army designed divisions to fight a nuclear war

The advent of nuclear weapons on the battlefield left the Army very worried. It’s understandable; a bomb that could take out an entire city was rightly seen as a game-changer.


Over the years, the Army has shifted its divisional formations, from the “square” formation in World War I (two brigades each with two regiments) to a “triangle” formation (three regiments). But everything changed when the United States Army designed nukes for use on the battlefield, as they presumed the Soviets were going to eventually develop their own.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
A chart showing the organization of the 3rd Infantry Division. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The solution was a new, pentomic divisional organization. Instead of regiments and battalions, each infantry and airborne division would have five battlegroups, each with five companies of infantry, a mortar battery, and a headquarters unit. Furthermore, each division had two battalions of artillery. Looking at it mathematically, the “triangular” infantry division had three regiments, each with three battalions that had three infantry companies, making for a total of 27 infantry companies. The pentomic structure had 25 infantry companies.

The first unit to adopt this structure was the 101st Airborne Division. As Time Magazine reported in 1957, the Army planned to re-organize 19 infantry and airborne divisions along the pentomic structure.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
The pentomic divisional structure was meant to fight on atomic battlefields. (US Army photo)

However, the Army soon found some problems with this structure. The first was that there was a long gap between command tours. The companies were commanded by captains, but you had to be a full colonel to get a “battlegroup.” Keeping the same person in charge for so long means command skills will get rusty. It also caused consternation among those concerned with tradition. The “battlegroup” concept placed the storied histories of regiments at risk.

Ultimately, the pentomic structure failed to take hold as growing arsenals made a nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact unlikely. The Army ended up going back to a triangular structure that used brigades instead of regiments — just in time for the Vietnam War. In the 2000s, the Army shifted to modular brigade combat teams and put four to a division, before dropping that number to three per division in the 2010s.

Articles

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

War can be hell…and war can be absolute boredom. There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards. Anyone who served in the military and made it past basic training probably ended up in a game of cards with their fellow troops.


The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
Photo taken by an 82d Airborne paratrooper during WWII. (Portraits of War)

They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag, or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear. Plus, they’re cheap. It just makes sense that the troops and playing cards would pair so well together.

The Bicycle Playing Card Company recounts the history of American troops and playing cards, though many other nations’ militaries also have a tradition of playing cards in their downtime. It just beats sitting around thinking about everything that could go wrong in a battle. As one Civil War soldier said, “Card playing seemed to be as popular a way of killing time as any.”

Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft, and even teach a little about American history. Even in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
These cards are probably well-known by now.

Also Read: This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Playing cards themselves can be traced back to 12th century China. Some scholars think they made their way to Europe through Italian traders. The cards (and maybe even the games) predate the United States. But Americans have their own love affair with cards, and the military is no different.

Early special decks were released depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (John Quincy) Adams as the kings of the deck. By the time of the Civil War, playing cards were in every American camp, Union or Confederate.

Since troops in the Civil War spent a lot of time in camp and had easy access to decks, alcohol, and firearms, a cheater could make the game go very badly for himself. The war actually shaped the way playing cards are printed, so players could hold a tighter hand.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Another innovation of that era was the design on the backs of cards. Before then, most were made with plain backs, ones that were easy to mark and see through. The new back designs made short work of that problem.

In 1898, the Consolidated Playing Card Company created a cheap deck and poker chips for troops deploying to the Spanish-American War. For World War I, the U.S. Playing Card Company released special decks just for a few specialties of service in the Great War, namely Artillery, Navy, Air Corps, and Tank Corps. The German High Command in WWI considered the game so important to morale, they called the cards kartonnen wapens – cardboard weapons.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
German soldiers playing cards on the Western front in the summer of 1916. (Playing Card Museum)

Many playing card factories converted to war production during World War II, but that certainly didn’t mean no decks were printed. The aforementioned cards used to identify aircraft, known as “spotter cards,” were essential to the war effort.

During the Vietnam War, playing card companies sent deployed soldiers and Marines special decks comprised of just the ace of spades, believing the Viet Cong considered the symbol to be a deadly serious omen.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

As late as 2007, American forces were given decks meant to inform them about important cultural and historical relics in the countries to which they deployed.

Watch below as magician Justin Flom recounts the oft-told story of a Revolutionary War soldier and his deck of cards, which acts as his bible, calendar, and almanac. Be sure to watch til the end for a magician’s tribute to American troops overseas.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy uses WWII-era ‘bean-bag drop’ for aircraft communication

One-hundred-ten degree heat radiated from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter swooped in and dropped a message resurrecting an 80-year-old aircraft-to-ship alternative communication method.

Historically, war tends to accelerate change and drives rapid developments in technology. Even with superior modern capabilities, the US Navy still keeps a foot in the old sailboat days and for good reason.

During the sea battles of WWII, US Navy pilots beat enemy eavesdropping by flying low and slow above the flight deck and dropping a weighted cloth container with a note inside. This alternative form of communication was termed a “bean-bag drop.”


During the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan, a Douglas SBD Dauntless pilot spotted a Japanese patrol vessel approximately 50 miles ahead of USS Enterprise (CV 6). The pilot believed he had been seen by the Japanese and decided not to use his radio but flew his SBD over the Enterprise flight deck and dropped a bean-bag notifying the ship of the Japanese patrol boat ahead.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

A US Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless drops a message container known as a “bean-bag” on the flight deck of USS Enterprise while crew members dart to catch the message to deliver it up to the ship’s bridge.

(Naval Aviation Museum)

A video posted by Archive.org shows actual video of a SBD rear gunner dropping a bean-bag down to the Enterprise flight deck that day and shows a sailor picking up the bean-bag, then running to the island to deliver it up to the bridge.

The bean-bag design progressed when USS Essex (CV 9) ran out of them and Navy pilot Lt. James “Barney” Barnitz was directed to provide replacements. Barnitz went to see the Essex Parachute Riggers and out of their innovation, the bean-bag was cut and sown into a more durable form.

Fast-forward 80 years to August 2019, when Boxer’s Paraloft shop was tasked to make a new bean-bag specifically for a helo-to-deck drop.

“I started with the original measurements of the bean-bag used on the USS Enterprise in 1942 and built this one to withstand the impact of a drop but also weighed down for an accurate drop,” said Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta, who works in Boxer’s Paraloft shop.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta sows together naugahyde and web materials that will be used as a message delivery container between aircraft and ship, Aug. 10, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Frank L. Andrews)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

An actual message container called a “bean-bag” used to deliver messages from an aircraft to the ship during World War II.

(Naval Aviation Museum)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta with a message container known as a “bean-bag” he designed and sowed together, Aug. 10, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Frank L. Andrews)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs to a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs to a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.  

The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War. 

When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross. 

Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
Lena H. Sutcliffe Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” and the first living woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Three other nurses were awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. Photo courtesy of the US Navy Institute.

“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.

Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.

“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.

During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.

The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.

“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”

Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.” 

Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.

Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.

Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Were iron maidens ever actually used?

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?


As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

The Schandmantel.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Denmark-
Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

The Madonna in Sorrow.

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

An open iron maiden.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Also read:

  • How Exactly Did One Become an Executioner in Medieval Times?
  • The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz
  • The Curious Practice of Execution By Golden Shower
  • “No”- The Remarkable Story of Lauritz Sand
  • The Twisted Tale of Delphine LaLaurie and Her House of Horrors
  • MIGHTY HISTORY

    That time U.S. F-15s stumbled into an Iraqi trap and won

    It became clear just hours into Operation Desert Storm that the U.S. was leaps and bounds ahead of the Iraqi Air Force — the first aerial clashes resulted in the U.S. downing three enemy aircraft while suffering no losses. But U.S. pilots knew that Iraq had significant air defenses and fighter aircraft that had to be taken seriously.

    And that’s what made it so scary for the Air Force and Marine Corps F-15 pilots who realized that they’d stumbled into a sophisticated trap on the second day of the assault.


    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    The F-15 is a stunning fighter that claims over 100 aerial kills with zero losses to enemy fire.

    (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel)

    Marine Corps Capt. Charles Magill was leading a flight of eight F-15s protecting a larger strike package headed into the contested airspace to destroy threats on the ground. The eight F-15s in the lead got a call from the E-3 Sentry aircraft on the mission.

    Two MiG-29 Fulcrums were near the target area.

    Magill decided to take three other F-15s with him to destroy the threat, leaving four behind to protect the main strike package.

    www.youtube.com

    Four-against-two odds, especially when the team of four has F-15s versus enemy MiGs, is a good setup — but the F-15s had been tricked. As they pursued the MiGs, the ground suddenly erupted with surface-to-air missiles, all locked on U.S. jets and racing to their targets.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    MiG-29 were useful and capable fighters, even if they lacked all the capability of American F-15s.

    (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)

    The American pilots were forced to jettison their external fuel tanks and take evasive actions. They deployed flares, put the planes through gut-wrenching turns, and, ultimately, avoided every missile fired against them. This left them in suddenly-safe skies once again — except for the two MiGs that had lured them. The Americans still smelled blood and decided to continue the pursuit.

    As they drew close, the MiGs took a sudden turn towards the Air Force and Marine pilots, making the Americans think that the MiGs were prepared for a knockdown fight.

    But, it turned out, the Iraqis had spotted a lone Navy F-14 Tomcat and were maneuvering to attack it, allowing the F-15 pilots to pursue the MiGs in turn. Magill took his shot immediately after Air Force Capt. Rhory Draeger. Magill, worried that his first missile had malfunctioned, took a third shot.

    Draeger’s first missile flew true and shredded the Iraqi jet, while both of Magill’s missiles also made contact. The first missile tore the right wing from the Iraqi jet and the second missile flew into the resulting fireball and exploded. The strike package was safe once again to attack Iraqi ground targets and Operation Desert Storm continued unabated.

    Articles

    This is why German submarines attacked civilian vessels during World War I

    In retrospect, Germany’s decision to attack merchant ships and carry out unrestricted submarine warfare seems incredibly stupid. They knew – or should have known – that killing citizens of a neutral country (specifically the United States) even unintentionally was a damn good way to get America in the war on the side of the Allies.


    Well, it turns out that Germany was relying on submarines to throttle British commerce. When the war started, the Germans had their submarines play by what had been the accepted rules of warfare when it came to merchant ships.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    A German U-boat under fire during World War I. (Youtube screenshot)

    You approached them, you got them to stop, and you allowed the passengers and crew to abandon ship before you sank the ship. When it came to warfare, it was reasonably civilized, given that you were sending those people from a relatively safe merchant vessel and into open lifeboats and rafts, with only oars and the ocean current for travel and not that much in the way of supplies.

    As you might imagine, the folks on those merchant ships didn’t want to go through that kind of ordeal of they could avoid it. So, the British started by arming merchant ships. Soon the submarines were being fired on as they surfaced. The invention of the Q-ship made following the rules for submarines even more hazardous – and a good way for the sub to be sunk. When subs sank, the casualty rate amongst the crew often was 100 percent.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    A U-boat’ victim starts its plunge to the bottom of the ocean. (Youtube screenshot)

    German sub commanders didn’t want to have that sort of end-of-life experience. Nor did their crews, for that matter. So, the Germans decided to carry out unrestricted submarine warfare where they shot the merchant ships on sight. And thus began the chain of events that would bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    This Medal of Honor recipient walked 200 miles to serve in the Marines

    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.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Sgt. Mitchell Paige as he inspects one of his Marine’s machine gun. (Medal of Honor Book)

    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.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    This was the Army’s battle dress throughout the centuries

    From rags to spit-and-polish boots, from scratchy blue wool to the new operational camouflage pattern, from tricorn hat to helmet, the Army uniform has changed drastically through the years. In honor of the U.S. Army’s 240th birthday, and the launch of the Operational Camouflage Pattern, Soldiers takes a look at the evolution of battle dress from the Revolution through today.


    The Revolutionary War

    Early in the war, most Soldiers simply wore what they had, whether that was a state militia uniform, frontier dress (as seen here in the 1777 battle of Saratoga) or even their regular clothes. Washington actually ordered the use of fringed hunting shirts as a field garment to provide some uniformity until the Continental Army had a more consistent uniform.

    Also read: Dress uniforms from every military branch, ranked

    Supply problems throughout the war – sometimes Congress actually failed to authorize uniform funds – forced many Soldiers to huddle in blankets in the winter and tie rags around their feet when their shoes wore out.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Even officers’ uniforms varied widely. Here, Washington sports the blue and buff regimentals he designed, whereas an aide-de-camp wears brown and another general wears black. The officers’ ribbons, instituted by Washington, indicate their various ranks and positions. Noncommissioned officers were distinguished by epaulettes or strips of cloth on the right shoulder.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Later in the war, Continental Army uniforms became more standardized. Here, Soldiers wear the uniforms prescribed in1779: blue coats lined with white and trimmed with white buttons, worn with white overalls and waistcoats. The colors facing the coats identified Soldiers by region or branch.

    For example, the lieutenant on the right wears blue faced with buff and shoulder epaulettes, indicating he is an infantry officer from New Jersey or New York. The Soldier on the left is an artillery private.

    In 1782, blue coats faced with red became standard for everyone except generals and staff officers.

    The War of 1812

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    During the War of 1812, the Army began cutting uniform cloth at the Philadelphia Arsenal before distributing it to master tailors, in the hopes of insuring greater uniformity and more efficient sizing.

    Uniforms were highly influenced by the dress of European armies. The version adopted in 1813 and used for the next two decades was single-breasted blue coat with black herringbone false buttonholes and gold bullet buttons. (High boots were only authorized for generals and general staff officers.)

    Related: How new Army and Marine uniforms are signaling a looming ‘big ass fight’

    The gray uniform on the right was adopted in March 1814 as an alternate because of a shortage of blue cloth. A detachment of riflemen in green summer linen rifle frocks stands at attention in the background.

    The Mexican-American War

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    The heat and the dust of the Southwest had a major impact on the Army’s uniforms, and Army leaders began to see the need for separate field and dress uniforms. Fatigue jackets, first introduced in 1833, light blue pants (with stripes for officers and NCOs) and forage caps became the field dress. (Many cavalrymen/dragoons like the Soldier on the left wore a yellow band on their forage caps, in contradiction to regulations.)

    Most officers wore the dark blue frock coat seen on the first lieutenant to the right. His light blue trousers with a white stripe down the side and the silver buttons on his coat indicate infantry.

    The Soldiers the background wear the universal dress of the enlisted infantryman: light blue fatigue jackets and trousers.

    The Civil War

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    The trend throughout the mid-19th century was increased simplicity and practicality for uniforms. New regulations in 1851 (refined in 1858 and 1860) had introduced the blue wool frock coat as the service uniform for all Soldiers, a style worn throughout the Civil War, with double-breasted coats worn by field grade officers and above. Mounted troops wore jackets with sky blue trousers.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    The later regulations updated the Army campaign hat, and introduced a four-button sack coat (as seen on the first sergeant above) and forage cap, often known as a kepi, for field wear.

    In practice, many uniforms were purchased by individual states, privately tailored or were made at home by mothers, wives and sisters, and there was an enormous amount of variety on the battlefield.

    The Spanish-American War

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Cpl. Thomas Gorman of the 3rd Regiment, Texas Volunteer Infantry poses for a photo in 1898. (U.S. Army History and Heritage Command)

    The Spanish-American war was the last time the blue Army field uniform was used in a major campaign. During the war, Soldiers wore a uniform and campaign hat adopted in the 1880s. For enlisted infantrymen this meant a dark blue wool shirt or jacket, light blue wool trousers, brown canvas leggings and a drab campaign hat.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    The standard officer uniform was an undress coat trimmed with black mohair braid that was introduced in 1895, dark blue breeches, black boots and drab campaign hat.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    Cavalry Soldiers typically tied neckerchiefs around their necks, as these Spanish-American War veterans demonstrate after the war. (The famous Rough Riders wore lighter blue shirts and brown trousers to set them apart.) The Soldier on the left wears the new, khaki uniform that was issued in late 1898, after forces returned from Cuba.

    World War I

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    A World War I Soldier with full pack, circa 1818. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    The standard uniform in World War I was the service coat and breeches introduced in the first decade of the century, when sweeping War Department reforms included almost every article of clothing. Khaki and olive drab continued to replace blue, black leather changed to russet, chevrons became smaller and pointed up instead of down, and even insignia and buttons changed.

    More: Why the US military has shoulder pockets on combat uniforms

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Thanks to the vast amounts of olive drab wool the Army needed during the war, uniform color varied from mustard green to brown. Other variations occurred when many officers like this lieutenant colonel had their uniforms tailored in England or France. Officers also adopted the British brown leather Sam Browne belt and wore high, brown boots instead of the leggings and brown shoes worn by enlisted Soldiers. Another item of equipment widely used by the American Expeditionary Forces was the British basin pattern steel helmet.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Signal Museum)

    World War I was the first conflict in which large numbers women officially went to war, both as nurses and as telephone operators – “Hello Girls” – for the Signal Corps in France. (A few women were also attached to other branches such as the Quartermaster Corps.) They needed uniforms. The Army issued them Navy blue wool, Norfolk-style jackets and matching wool skirts, as seen in this photograph of the Hello Girls. (Hello Girls and nurses wore similar uniforms.)

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Here, an Army nurse (center) wears the navy blue worsted military overcoat and velour hat, and high tan shoes prescribed in August 1917. (A Red Cross nurse is on the left in a dress similar to what nurses would have worn for hospital work.)

    World War II

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    In the late 1930s, the Army introduced trousers to replace the jodhpur-like service breeches that had been in use since the turn of the century. The new trousers were worn with shorter, dismounted leggings made of khaki canvas. The introduction of a comfortable and practical field jacket in 1940 quickly relegated the service coat to garrison wear. The rounded, steel M-1 helmet made its appearance in 1941, as did new, herringbone twill, olive drab fatigues.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    After fighting began, the quartermaster general recommended several changes to make the uniform more practical, and suggested a layering system in 1943 that would keep troops warm during the cold European winters, standardized as the M-1943 field ensemble with cap, four-pocket field jacket, detachable jacket hood, field trousers and service shirt. Heavy winter coats and jackets were also available as seen in this 1944 photo of troops in Belgium. 1943 also saw the introduction of combat boots with attached leather gaiters and the field cap.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    Although an early form of camouflage was more heavily used in the Pacific, this photo taken in France in July 1944 shows that the Army did use it in Europe, particularly the 2nd Infantry Division. However, the experiment was not a success: Other Allied troops mistook the Soldiers for Nazis. Even in the Pacific, units found that the olive drab uniform offered better concealment.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Soldiers in the Pacific fought in herringbone twill fatigues in olive drab shade number seven, which was adopted in 1943 as summer combat clothing. Local commanders had the option of allowing troops to roll their sleeves up and leave their collars open.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Female Soldiers in the Women’s Army Corps get ready to disembark from their transport ship in an unknown location during World War II. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    In 1943, the Women’s Army Corps joined the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent part of the Army. Female service and field uniforms paralleled those worn by the men, albeit with a skirt.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Army nurses train to follow the fighting man: Because the Soldier fights over hills and barricaded areas, these nurses at Fort Baker, California, train to follow him wherever he goes to engage the enemy, ready to supply ever aid and comfort possible to the wounded, 1943. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    In some forward or malaria-prone areas, women could replace their skirts with slacks (or even altered male trousers), as these nurses demonstrate in a training photo from 1943.

    Also read: This is why there’s no excuse for Hollywood to screw up military uniforms

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    In the Pacific, female personnel traded their stockings and Cuban heel shoes for cotton anklets and high quarter russet field service shoes.

    The Korean War

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Two men find that several days rain has made their foxhole a small water tank. Trying to bail some of the water out with their helmets are Sgt. Robert LeGregor (left) and Sgt. George Rainwater, both of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    Uniforms worn in the Korean War were those of an Army in transition and reflected innovations from the closing days of World War II. In fact, the original fatigues in this conflict were leftover World War II summer uniforms from the Pacific theater.

    The combat boot widely used in Korea was actually the old service shoe with a double-buckle cuff. Its flesh-out leather was no longer treated with dubbin, but instead was rubbed smooth to accept polish.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Sgt. 1st Class Elijah McLaughlin (left front), leads his squad down a steep hill, northwest of the Chongchon River, as they begin a 1,500-yard advance to another hill. Assistant squad leader Cpl. Luther Anderson is in the right front, Nov. 20, 1950. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    Adjustments had to be quickly made for the frigid Korean winter, and Soldiers needed heavy overcoats. Herringbone twill cotton clothing in a dark olive drab shade became the battle dress, with large pockets providing a convenient means to store rations and other vital items.

    The Vietnam War

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (Photo by Pfc. Norman F. Bachman, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    At first glance, uniforms worn during Vietnam are remarkably similar to those worn during the Korean War, but as the war wore on, modifications in basic weapons, clothing and equipment came rapidly as the Army tried to solve the special problems encountered in hot and humid Vietnam. The updated, wind-resistant fatigue jackets and pants brought back the use of cargo pockets and other utilitarian features. Fast-drying boots with nylon uppers accompanied the uniform.

    Olive green underclothing and subdued ranks and nametapes, which became a requirement in 1968, reduced the chances of giving away one’s position to the enemy.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

    Members of the Women’s Army Corps and Army nurses, seen here caring for Vietnamese refugees in 1975, typically wore uniforms similar to the men: two-piece tropical combat uniforms of olive-green, rip-stop cotton poplin.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (Photo by Spc. 5 Raymond C. Jewett, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    Special Forces Soldiers quickly realized they needed more concealment than their olive drab fatigues could provide. Very early on – this Special Forces unit was photographed in country in 1964 – this meant the duck hunter camouflage pattern that dated from World War II.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (Photo by Spc. 5 Thomas A Seddon, Jr., U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

    The uniform was unsatisfactory, however, and Special Forces quickly adopted the tiger stripe camouflage used by rangers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, as seen on this sergeant first class in February 1968. Because tiger stripe was not official Army issue, units contracted local tailors to produce the uniforms, leading to a lot of variation.

    By the end of the war, a precursor to the woodland battle dress uniform pattern, known as ERDL, had been introduced.

    1981-2004

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (Military History Institute, U.S. Army History and Heritage Command)

    The Army’s iconic battle dress uniform made its appearance in 1981. (By 1988, there was a hot-weather version as well.) Its woodland pattern meant that for the first time, all Soldiers wore camouflage, and the uniform saw service in operations around the world, including Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 1994 and the Balkans in the late 1990s.

    Also read: This is how US Army uniforms have changed since the Revolutionary War

    Properties of the fabric and the use of miniature rank insignia on the collar further reduced the chance of detection. The Army also issued an improved protective vest, new helmet and new field coat. A redesigned boot drew upon the best features of commercial hiking and camping gear to extend the Soldier’s capabilities in a field environment. The Army also issued a new personal armor system for ground troops, which included a new helmet and Kevlar vest.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army History and Heritage Command)

    Around the same time, the Army introduced the six-color desert battle dress uniform, often called chocolate chip camouflage. It was intended for limited use by Special Operations troops, and in military exercises in the Middle East. Although a logistics glitch kept it from being issued to all deployed Soldiers, this uniform is most closely associated with Operation Desert Storm. It was also used by some troops in Somalia in 1993.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    Soldiers practice house-breaching techniques in their desert combat uniforms. (U.S. Army)

    After Soldiers reported that the dark patches on the DBDU made it difficult to blend into the terrain effectively, the Army began issuing a new, three-color desert camouflage uniform in July 1991. (Only a few Soldiers were issued the uniform before the end of Operation Desert Storm.) It had been developed using soil samples from throughout the Middle East. This uniform, with improved, lighter boots, was still in use more than a decade later when Soldiers began deploying to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 (many Soldiers were issued body armor in the woodland pattern).

    2004-2014

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jeffery Sandstrum)

    The Army combat uniform, featuring a universal, digitized gray and green camouflage took the place of both the BDU and the DCU in June 2004. The new uniform added additional pockets, a mandarin collar that could be worn up or down, zippers, moved the rank insignia to the center of the chest and featured hook-and-loop tape for name tapes, rank insignia and badges. Later updates included flame-resistant material and the option for sewn-on tapes and badges. The accompanying t-shirt and socks were moisture wicking.

    Although the black beret had been authorized for wear with field uniforms as well as service uniforms in 2001, it was further approved for use in a combat zone with the introduction of the ACU.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (Department of Defense photo by Spc. Blair Neelands)

    In 2007, the Army authorized the moisture-wicking, flame-resistant Army combat shirt, originally designed to be worn under the new improved outer tactical vest (also introduced in 2007) in warm weather. The sleeves featured the universal camouflage pattern, and included cargo pockets and elbow pads.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann)

    To allow Soldiers to operate more effectively in Afghanistan’s varied terrains, the Army introduced a new multicam pattern for the ACU, featuring seven shades of greens, browns and beige. It was issued to deployed Soldiers starting in 2010. A matching combat shirt was also available. Mountain combat boots featured a tougher, more durable sole.

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kandi Huggins)

    With women taking on more combat roles than ever, their uniforms and gear are almost identical to their male counterparts. The Army even issued a new version of the tactical vest – one specifically designed for women’s bodies – in 2013.

    2015 and Beyond

    The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator
    (PEO Soldier)

    The Army will begin issuing Army combat uniforms in the operational camouflage pattern, which is similar to multicam, in the summer of 2015. The cut is based on the ACU, but lower leg pockets will be closed by a button instead of hook and loop tape thanks to Soldiers’ concerns that the old fastener made too much noise in combat environments. Pockets for kneepads and elbow pads will also be removed. The Army uniform board is still considering other changes, including a return to the fold-down collar, adjustments to the infrared square identification for friend or foe, the removal of one of three pen pockets on the ACU sleeve and the elimination of the drawstring on the trouser waistband.

    The Army is expected to retire the digital universal camouflage pattern in 2018.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    That time we almost launched the atomic bomb on North Korea

    On November 30, 1950, the United States was deeply entrenched in the Korean War after suffering a surprise attack on its troops. On this day, President Truman issued the thinly veiled threat of using the Atomic Bomb against North Korea.

    The devastating effects and impact following the dropping of the ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ nuclear weapons during World War II was still reverberating throughout much of Asia in 1950. Although the White House would issue a statement following the comment by the president about always considering the use of the Atomic Bomb against North Korea, it did little to backtrack. Instead, it reiterated that the United States would use any means necessary.

    While most historians agree that the bombs swiftly ended the war in the Pacific, the cost on humanity was heavy. Over 200,000 people died as a result of both bombs, the majority of whom were civilians. These numbers don’t even include those maimed and forever damaged by the effects of the bomb. One of the pilot’s responsible for dropping one of the bombs recorded a raw message in his logbook after it was dropped: “My God, what have we done?” The initial reaction to the bombing from Americans was mostly in favor but has since fallen. In the 1950s there was a sharp rise in objection against the use of nuclear weapons. Despite acknowledging the horror brought on by using these weapons against the innocent, the president didn’t discount its possible use once again during the Korean War. 

    How did the United States fall into war so soon after the horrors of World War II? A line in the sand started it all. Following World War II, Korea was split into two. The northern region was occupied by the Soviet Union and the south, America. When the United Nations pushed for an election and unified country, the Soviets installed a communist regime instead. In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. It wasn’t long after that when President Truman ordered a military response by air and sea, swiftly followed by boots on the ground. 15 countries would follow them and join the fight. 

    What threw everyone off was when China entered into the fray – on the side of North Korea. They violently attacked American and United Nations forces beginning November 26, 1950. It would be their forces that would push American and allied troops out in an embarrassing retreat. This appeared to come as a shock as the United States and China had what was considered a good relationship at the time. While initially believing all troops would be home by Christmas, the surprise attack by the Chinese swiftly ended that hope. 

    It was that attack which led to President Truman’s threat of reusing the atomic bomb, though he stated he thought it was a terrible weapon. In the end, it wasn’t used against North Korea and the war itself ended in a sort of stalemate. Although the country wasn’t unified as hoped, South Korea was able to establish a democratic society while the North continued their dictatorship and communist establishment. To ensure the safety of the border and South Koreans, American troops remain along its demilitarized zone still to this day. 

    Ending nuclear weapons has long been a goal of those who oppose war but these days their voices are joined with a larger majority. Around 49 percent of Americans think the United States should eliminate its nuclear weapons while 32 percent believe new treaties should be ignored and it should hold onto its weapons. 

    North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons since the Korean War ended, which took the lives of 2.5 million people. 37,000 of them were Americans. The lessons of the previous wars are still fresh in the minds of many older generations of Americans who lived through them. But as they pass on, their stories die with them. It is vital that new generations of Americans not only learn the history of its wars but also the ever present treat of new ones lurking on the horizon.

    Although the Atomic Bomb has not been used since World War II, its threat of absolute devastation has never been more real. 

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