The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada... in Canada - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

The War of 1812 was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain, though it could be argued that Canadians and Native Americans were most affected by it. The northern theater of the war, especially near the border of Canada and the Great Lakes, saw some of the most intense fighting — so much so that, after the Treaty of Ghent, President James Madison decided to build a fort at the northern end of Lake Champlain to prevent future invasion.


The only problem… was that the fort was built on the wrong side of the border.

The Americans didn’t discover the error until two years later, when a surveyor found the fort was being built north of the 45th parallel.

 

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Oops.

Construction halted on the fort, which earned the moniker “Fort Blunder,” until 1842, when the U.S. moved the boundary line north (see the current boundary in the image above) — because pride.

Also read: This War of 1812 veteran saw the Battle of Gettysburg from his porch – then joined it

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolved a number of border issues between what would one day become Canada and the United States, who promptly began to build another fort — this one named for revolutionary war hero General Richard Montgomery. The fort was built from the same limestone slabs that helped raise the Brooklyn Bridge, and, though it was never fully garrisoned, it was armed and ready for action.

As the United States’ relationships with Great Britain and Canada flourished, Fort Montgomery’s function dwindled. In 1926, it was auctioned off by the U.S. government and sold to a private bidder.

War of 1812: This is the only time since the War of 1812 that enemy forces occupied US soil

Today, it’s actually for sale… but no one wants it (except for me — I absolutely want it and I am currently looking for a $3 million donation for this cause. The parties there will be epic. Bring your boat and everyone you know…), though in 2009, it was placed on The Preservation League of New York State’s list of Seven to Save.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Mercenaries are warriors who are paid for their martial services by a nation’s leader or other “employer,” and who get a little extra coin from the spoils of war.


Most mercenaries once fought in professional armies before joining the motley ranks of private forces. They have no allegiance to a nation unless that nation pays well, and even that is transient.

But throughout history they’ve been seen as skilled warriors — albeit dubious about ethical conduct — and have proven effective for leaders who need an extra punch in an all out fight.

Here is a list of some of the most notable mercenaries in history:

5. The Apiru/Habiru

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

When the Amarna Letters were discovered, the world was introduced to a group of people the Egyptians called Apiru or, in Akkadian, “Habiru.”

The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).

Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.

Also read: This is what you need to know about Hawaii’s ancient special forces

The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.

The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”

While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.

The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.

4. The Ten Thousand

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Heroic march of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries. (Painting by Bernard Granville Baker (1870-1957)

The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.

In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.

Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.

As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.

During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.

3. The Varangian Guard

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Varangian Guardsmen, an elite unit that served as bodyguards for Byzantine Emperors. (Image: an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle)

The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.

The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.

What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.

2. The White Company

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
John Hawkwood lead The White Company, a fighting unit shrouded in both myth and reality. (Image: Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, 1436)

The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.

Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.

More Elite Forces: This is why there are four musketeers in every ‘Three Musketeers’ movie

What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.

1. Henry MacIver

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)

Most people have never heard of Henry MacIver had it not been for author Richard Davis and his book Real Soldiers Of Fortune published in 1906.

MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.

While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.

After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.

After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.

Related: Shaolin monks have a colorful history as elite martial artists

Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.

When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.

After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”

MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 retorts that prove the Ancient Spartans were funnier than you thought

The ancient Spartans are legendary for their courage and discipline, but these warriors were also famous in their time for their dry, sarcastic humor. A “laconic phrase,” a phrase that is especially concise and blunt, is actually named after Laconia, the Greek region where Sparta was located. Some Greeks attributed the Spartan terseness to ignorance, but others thought differently. The Athenian philosopher Plato wrote, “If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.” Here are some of the best examples of Spartan wit.


1. King Demartus

According to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, King Demaratus of Sparta was once being pestered by a man with endless questions, especially who was the best among the Spartans. The irritated king finally responded, “Whoever is least like you.”

2. King Pleistoanax

Plutarch also describes King Pleistoanax, who heard an Athenian orator claim that the Spartans had no education. Pleistoanax retorted, “True, we are indeed the only Greeks who have learned no evil from you.”

3. Stellos 

In Zack Snyder’s 300, after hearing from a Persian emissary that the Persian archers’ arrows would blot out the sun, the Spartan soldier Stelios jokes that the Spartans will fight in the shade. This actually comes from Herodotus’s Histories, the ancient source on the Persian War, except it is spoken by the soldier Deinekes. However, an ancient source from Plutarch does mention King Leonidas telling his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades.”

4. Commander Pausanias

After the Spartans routed the Persian invasion at the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanias decided that the banquet the Persians had set out for themselves should be served to himself and his officers instead. Upon seeing the feast, Pausanias cracked that, “The Persian is an abominable glutton who, when he has such delicacies at home, comes to eat our barley-cakes.” Spartan food was notoriously disgusting. When a traveler from Sybaris visited Sparta and tasted their infamous “black broth” he exclaimed, “No wonder Spartans are the bravest of men. Anyone in their right mind would rather die a thousand times than live like this.”

5. Spartan women

It wasn’t just the Spartan men who cracked jokes. Unlike most Greek women who were expected to be subservient to their husbands, the women of Sparta held considerable political and economic power. The Spartan men were always preparing for a war or fighting one, so the women were expected to manage their households themselves. A non-Spartan woman once asked Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas, why the Spartan women were the only ones who could rule over men. Gorgo responded, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”

6. Short but sweet

When King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) invaded southern Greece, he sent a message to the Spartans asking if he would be received as a friend or enemy. The Spartans’ reply was brief: “Neither.” Offended, Philip sent a threat: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans’ reply was just as short as before: “If.”

7. Spartan response 

The Macedonians eventually did conquer Greece, and the later Macedonian king Demetrius I offended many Greeks through his extravagance and prideful attitude. He even forced the ambassadors of Athens, his favorite of the Greek cities, to wait two whole years at court before speaking to them. Sparta resented the Macedonian rule, and sent only one ambassador to the court on behalf of the city. Demetrius was infuriated and demanded to know if Sparta had really sent only one man to speak with the king; the Spartan responded, “Aye, one ambassador to one king.”

8. King Agesilaus II

King Agesilaus II of Sparta was respected for his martial virtue as well as his wit. Someone asked him what the boundaries of Sparta were, as unlike most Greek cities Sparta had no defensive walls. Agesilaus drew his spear and extended it, claiming that the borders were “as far as this can reach.” When asked why Sparta had no walls, he pointed to the armored citizens and explained that “these are the Spartans’ walls.” After Agesilaus was wounded in a battle against Thebes, the Spartan warrior Antalcidas joked that “The Thebans pay you well for having taught them to fight, which they were neither willing nor able to do before.”

For the Spartans, humor was more than just entertainment. It taught them how to think on their feet, how to conserve resources by training them to be economical with their words, and encouraged camaraderie between the citizens. All of us have something to learn from this warlike people, not just from their wisdom, but from their wisecracks.

Articles

This is why the Navy SEAL swim challenge is not for just anyone

Navy SEAL candidates go through some of the hardest military training in the world before earning their beloved Trident.


Before graduating BUD/s, they must successfully pass “drown-proofing” which is a series of swim challenges that must be completed without the use of their hands or feet — which are tied together.

This swim challenge is comprised of five difficult tests that not only pushes the mind but the body to its limits.

Can this Buzzfeed host use both his mental and physical strength to overcome and complete this challenge? Let’s find out.

Related: This SEAL was shot 27 times before walking himself to the medevac

Note: This challenge was done in an eight-foot deep pool versus the nine-foot one the Navy uses during the training.

Phase 1: Bobbing up and down 20 times for five minutes.

Success! (Images via Giphy)Result: Pass

Phase 2: Float on your back for five minutes

The key here is not to panic. (Images via Giphy)Result: Fail

Phase 3: The Dolphin swim

Where endurance kicks in. (Images via Giphy)Result: Pass

Phase 4: Front and back somersault

One of the test’s hardest challenges. (Images via Giphy)Result: Pass

Phase 5: Retrieve a GoPro at the bottom of the pool

He made that look easy. (Images via Giphy)Result: Pass

4 out of 5 isn’t bad.

Also Read: 7 unrealistic Navy SEAL characters in the movies

Check out the Buzz Feed Blue’s below to watch this host attempt the whole Navy SEAL water challenge for yourself.

(YouTube, BuzzFeedBlue)Do you think this guy passed the Navy SEAL swim test? Comment below.
Articles

These 1941 war games decided how the Army fought World War II

When Europe went to war in 1939, America knew it was only a matter of time before it was dragged into another global conflict. To prepare, the country recruited and drafted hundreds of thousands of men in 1940 and held a series of exercises the next year that helped define how the U.S. would fight the Axis over the next six years.


Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Regular Army consisted of 190,000 poorly equipped soldiers and 200,000 National Guardsmen who had it even worse. That was simply not enough men to fight the war. So Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited and drafted their way to a 1941 active force of 1.4 million soldiers.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
A U.S. Army Airborne commander uses a field radio telephone during the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. (Photo: US Army Signal Corps)

To prepare to face the Nazis abroad, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, ordered a modern workup plan.

After learning individual and small unit skills, large units were sent to “General Headquarters Maneuvers” in Louisiana and the Carolinas.

It’s in Louisiana that the Army tested new combined arms doctrines established in 1940 and 1941. About 472,000 soldiers participated in the Louisiana training exercises across thousands of square miles of maneuver space.

But many of the Army’s new fighting methods weren’t going to work against the Axis powers, with the Army Air Force retaining control of its planes in Air Support Commands that often ignored requests by ground commanders, for example.

Tanks were also controlled by infantry and cavalry units who often squandered the advantage that the modern machines gave them. Instead of using the tanks to conduct vicious thrusts against enemy formations like Germany had famously done in Poland and France, American commanders used tanks as spearheads for infantry and cavalry assaults.

But while the exercises exposed a lot of what was wrong with Army strategy mere months before Pearl Harbor, it also gave careful and attentive leaders a chance to fix problems with new doctrine and strategies.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Soldiers rush from their tank during maneuvers in Louisiana. (Photo: US Army Signal Corps)

First, tank warfare advocates met secretly in a Louisiana high school basement on the final day of the maneuvers in that state. Then-Col. George S. Patton spoke with general officers and tank commanders who agreed on a plan for creating a new Army branch dedicated to developing modern armored strategies.

A member of the group, Brig. Gen. Frank Andrews, took the recommendation to Marshall who agreed and created the brand new “Armored” branch. The infantry and cavalry were ordered to release their tanks to this new branch.

In Africa and Europe, these armored units would prove key to victory on many battlefields. Patton put his tank units at the front of the Third Army for much of the march to Berlin.

The cavalry lost much more than just its tanks. It was in the 1941 maneuvers that Army leaders ordered the end of horse units in the cavalry and ordered them to turn in their animals and move into mechanized units instead.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
U.S. Army soldiers fill 5-gallon jugs from a gasoline tank on a railroad car during the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. (Photo: US Army Signal Corps)

The air units also went through changes, though markedly fewer than ground commanders asked for. Ground units desperately wanted dive bombers that could conduct operations in close proximity to their own forces, breaking up enemy armor and infantry formations like the Luftwaffe did for Germany.

The Army Air Forces did respond to these requests, finally buying new dive bombers developed by the Navy and practicing how to accurately target ground units. But the AAF still focused on strategic bombing and air interdiction to the detriment of the close air support mission which was a distant third priority.

But the greatest lessons learned in the maneuvers may not have been about doctrine and strategy. Marshall and McNair kept a sharp eye out during the war games for top performers in the officer corps who could be promoted to positions of greater leadership.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Senior Army officers, including Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, third from left, pose during the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941. (Photo: Eisenhower Presidential Library)

A number of young officers were slated for promotions and new commands. Colonels Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were scheduled for promotion to brigadier general. Lieutenant Col. Omar Bradley held the temporary rank of brigadier general during the maneuvers and proved his worth in the exercise, allowing him to keep his temporary star. He would hold the temporary rank until Sep. 1943 when it was made permanent.

While the 1941 maneuvers were imperfect and the Army still had many tough lessons to learn in World War II, the identification of top talent and outdated or bad strategies allowed the force to prepare for global conflict without risking thousands of lives, reducing the cost they would pay in blood after war was declared at the end of the year.

The Army wrote a comprehensive history of the Maneuvers which was updated and re-released in 1992. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 is available here.

Articles

This is the last tank airborne units jumped into combat

Airborne forces face a problem whenever they have to jump behind enemy lines — whether it’s to seize an enemy airfield or to take and hold territory.


The paratroopers can’t bring their own armor support, because America doesn’t currently have an airborne-certified tank or large armored vehicle. (The Stryker and the Light Armored Vehicle have undergone successful airdrop tests, but neither has been certified).

But it wasn’t always this way. During the Cold War, Airborne forces relied on the M551 Sheridan, an Airborne-capable light tank first fielded in 1969.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
The M551 Sheridan tank was a 16-ton tank made primarily of aluminum and employed by airborne forces. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Sheridan was a replacement for the World War II-era Mk. VII Tetrarch tank and the M22 Locust Airborne tank. The Tetrarch was a British glider-capable light tank and the M22 was an American tank custom-built for glider insertion.

The M551, unlike its predecessors, was airdrop-capable, meaning it could be inserted using parachutes instead of gliders. The tank was also used with the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System, an airdrop system that allowed the U.S. to drop the tanks from a few feet to a few dozen feet off the ground.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
An M551 Sheridan is pulled from the back of a C-130 by the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The Sheridan was crewed by four people and weighed 16 tons, light enough that it could actually swim through the water. It was powered by a 300-hp diesel engine and could hit approximately 45 mph. It could travel 373 miles between fill-ups.

The tank used an experimental 152mm gun that could fire missiles or tank rounds. Even its tank rounds were experimental, though — they used a combustible casing instead of the standard brass casings.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
The M551 Sheridan tank firing a Shillelagh missile. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Sheridan served well in Vietnam and Panama. During Operation Just Cause, it was even airdropped into combat, allowing paratroopers to bring their own fire support to the battlefield.

The tank’s main gun could inflict serious damage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, allowing it to punch out enemy bunkers from outside the range of many enemy guns.

Unfortunately, the light armor of the Sheridan posed serious issues. Some Sheridans were pierced by enemy infantry’s heavy machine guns, meaning crews had to be careful even when there was no enemy armor or anti-armor on the field. Worse, the main gun started to develop a reputation as being unreliable.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
The M551 Sheridan could be airdropped from Air Force cargo planes. Crew would follow it to the ground and get the tank up and running. (GIF: YouTube/Strength through Humility)

Firing the main gun knocked out the electronics for the longer-range missile, meaning that a tank firing on bunkers or enemy armor at close range would usually lose their ability to punch targets at long range. And there was no way to avoid this issue as the Shillelagh missile couldn’t hit targets at less than 2,400 feet.

The only way for an M551 to punch at close range was to give up its capability at long ranges.

By 1980, most cavalry units were moving to the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank, which was actually introduced before the Sheridan. The Patton featured heavier armor, more power, and a more reliable gun. It had also just been upgraded with new “Reliability Improved Selected Equipment,” or “RISE.”

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
The M60 Patton, which is still in service with allied nations today, was seen as more reliable and powerful than the M551. (GIF: YouTube/arronlee33)

According to an Army history pamphlet, one cavalryman told the Stars and Stripes, “We can get the job done with the Sheridan, but most cavalrymen would rather have the tank.”

The airborne forces would keep the Sheridan through 1996, partially because they had no other options. A number of potential replacements were canceled and modern airborne forces just make do without true armored support.

The Army is, once again, looking at new light tanks or heavy-armored vehicles to support paratroopers. The new solution could be another custom-built tank, like the Sheridan. But as of summer 2016, its specifications were up in the air. It just has to be capable of an airdrop, and it has to get the job done.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two Red Army veterans on freedom and why it’s always worth fighting for

They call it the “Island of Death.”

At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.


“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”

I cannot.

We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.

Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.

“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”

Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.

After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.

The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.

The Other Side

Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.

“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.

Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.

His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.

“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”

Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.

There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.

And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.

The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.

True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.

Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”

Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”

The Past

Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.

“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”

Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.

In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.

Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.

Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.

On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.

It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.

We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.

“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”

“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Then Valeriy abruptly stands.

“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”

I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.

A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.

Today, we are a family.

No One Forgets

Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.

Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.

Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.

Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.

Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.

Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.

Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.

“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.

“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”

No War Ever Ends

After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.

Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.

“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”

Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.

“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”

Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.

As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.

If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?

Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.

“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.

He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.

“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.

Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.

Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.

In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.

Hope

In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.

“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.

But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.

“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”

Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.

When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.

My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.

“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”

Moral Courage

As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.

Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.

It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.

Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.

In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.

“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.

Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These important tools are made from sunken warships

Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.


The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

U.S. Navy divers extract oil from the World War II German cruiser Prinz Eugen to prevent it leaking into the environment. The steel of the hull would be worth billions for use in scientific experiments and medical instruments.

(U.S. Navy)

Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.

It’s not enough to be a big threat to life around the world, but disasters like those at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have created background radiation in the atmosphere that will last for centuries. And making steel requires that air is passed through molten steel. If that air has any radioactive molecules in it, which it often does, then the steel will be slightly radioactive.

That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.

But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.

Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.

But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.

So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Medical scanners often require low-background steel, a material most easily obtained through World War II and earlier salvage.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

You read the headline. You know where this is going.

Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.

So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.

There’s even speculation that the Voyager 1 or Explorer 1 satellites may contain World War I German warship steel.

It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.

So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.

And some artifacts from long before World War II are now being used for scientific experiments. Historians and scientists have a tense tug of war when it comes to lead from ancient Chinese and Roman sites and wrecks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

North Korean ‘Night Witches’ raided United Nations bases during the Korean War

During World War II, the Red Army employed old canvas and wood built biplanes to instill fear in the German Army on the Eastern Front. A squad of all-female pilots would fly Polikarpov PO-2 and Yakovlev Yak-18 planes from the 1920s over Nazi barracks and drop bombs on them in the middle of the night. Soon, the Germans began calling them the “Night Witches,” fearful that they would wake up to the sound of exploding ordnance– or worse, die from it.

The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment would fly in and cut the engines of their prop planes to drop their bombs, so there was no warning, no radio traffic and no way of knowing when they would strike.

Irina Sebrova, one of the leaders of the Night Witches
Irina Sebrova flew 1,008 sorties in the war, more than any other member of the regiment.

The effect on German morale was devastating. It was so devastating that North Korea revived the idea after they started to lose the Korean War. North Korea began using the old biplanes in the exact same way, with the same tactics and many of the same effects, although North Korea wasn’t limiting its night raids to women pilots. They were happy to take anyone who could fly. 

Americans began to call these fly by night attacks “bedcheck charlie” or “Washing Machine Charlie,” due to the noise they made upon their approach. 

They would appear briefly in the dark and disappear just as fast. While the Night Witches typically carried two bombs on their planes, the North Koreans used around five, flying in on Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes at its maximum speed of 94 miles per hour. 

The Polikarpovs would fly in with little planning, drop their bombs and be on their way before the Americans could respond effectively, usually hitting very little. It was the only air tactic that they could use to their advantage, as the United Nations forces maintained full control of the skies, even at night.

Even if the UN air forces could get planes in the air fast enough to intercept the puttering bombers, they couldn’t be seen on radar and would fly too low and too slow to actually bring them down. In fact, only a handful of these North Korean bedchecks were ever shot down. 

Some attacks were actually successful. In fact, the last time an American ground troop was killed by an enemy aircraft was during one of these propeller-driven nighttime attacks. 

In April 1953, one of these night raids hit an American position on the North Korean island of Cho-Do, in the Yellow Sea. Several Polikarpov PO-2s dropped their ordnance on an artillery position, hitting two Army anti-aircraft artillerymen and bleeding away into the night before UN F-94 Starfires could intercept them. Pfc. Herbert Tucker and Cpl. William Walsh were both instantly killed.

In June 1953, a similar attack from North Korean biplanes hit the South Korean port city of Inchon, igniting a mushroom cloud of flame that took days to extinguish. While “bedcheck charlie” wasn’t as deadly or devastating to morale as the Night Witches were to the Nazis, they were still a dangerous tactic that harassed the United Nations forces in Korea.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this taste-test review of a 120-year-old ration

Steve from MREinfo has long been the go-to source for all things related to rations, but he may have just made his the most interesting discovery to date: an emergency ration from the Second Boer War, which ran from 1899 to 1902. Now, he’s going to taste it.

Viewer discretion is advised.


His website is beloved by many troops trying to figure out exactly which MRE offers the best snacks and which can be tossed to the FNG. Through his YouTube channel, he receives rations from all around the world and tries them out on camera for the world to see. It’s a great way to see how the other armies of the world treat their troops.

First, here’s a sample of his work with a 2017 Chicken Burrito Bowl to cleanse your palate.

Occasionally, he gets a ration that is well beyond its shelf life and, in the face of putrefaction, he bravely takes a bite — for science. In the past, he has reviewed rations from many historical conflicts, ranging from the Vietnam War to the present.

Recently, he checked off “Second Boer War” from his list of history taste tests. For context, this War happened well before the advent of refrigerating food, it was the war in which Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fought in, and, at the time, spreading the idea that people might someday watch a man eat a ration via a device that fits in your pocket would get you burnt for witchcraft.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
You know, definitely an era you wouldn’t associate with long-lastingu00a0food.
(Imperial War Museum)

The British Emergency Ration he opens is in remarkable condition. The meal contains dried beef broth that needs to be boiled and cooked before eating. To best satisfy our curiosity, he tries it before and after boiling. Before boiling, it has a flavor profile similar to a packet of instant ramen noodle seasoning — just without any flavor. He says, “it tastes like pulverized beef jerky and bread crumbs mixed with cardboard and a little bit of chlorine.”

He later prepared the broth as intended. The smell of it cooking is horrendous, but he bravely carries on with his experiment.

Seriously. You might not want to watch this unless you have a strong stomach. We won’t take it personally if you can’t handle it.

Articles

These are the 9 general officers who have earned five stars

Even though the five-star general rank essentially died in 1981 with Omar Bradley, the idea of a five-star general rising above all others to command so much of the American and allied militaries is remarkably heroic.


The five-star general officer was born in WWII because American generals and admirals were often placed above allied officers of a higher rank. Someone elevated to that position could never retire and was considered an active-duty officer for the rest of their life.

That’s a lot of trust. The list of the 9 officers we deemed worthy of the honor rightly reads like a “who’s who” of U.S. military history.

1. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
How many WWII-era Admirals were issued that hat?

Leahy was the first officer to make the rank. He was the senior officer in the U.S. Navy and the senior-most officer in the U.S. military. He retired in 1939 but was recalled to active duty as the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then Truman until 1949. During the latter years of his career, he reported only to the President.

2. General of the Army George Marshall

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Gen. Marshall looks like he’s already sick of your shit.

George Marshall was a major planner of the U.S. Army’s training for World War I and one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s aides-de-camp. He would need those planning skills when World War II broke out, as he oversaw the expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces and the coordination of U.S. efforts in the European Theater. After the war it was Marshall who helped rebuild Western Europe with an economic plan that came to be named after the man himself.

3. Fleet Admiral Ernest King

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

King was the Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces (the U.S. now only uses the term “Commander-In-Chief” to refer to the President) and the Chief of Naval Operations. Though he never commanded a ship or fleet during a war, as the Navy representative of the Joint Chiefs, he helped plan and coordinate Naval Operations during WWII.

4. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

MacArthur graduated from West Point in 1903, fought in the occupation of Veracruz, World War I, and resisted the Japanese invasion of the Philippines for six months during WWII. MacArthur, despite having to retreat to Australia, oversaw the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific and accepted their surrender less than four years later.

He would also orchestrate the occupation and rehabilitation of Japan, and the American counterattack during the early months of the Korean War.

5. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
Even though he looks sad, Chester Nimitz will f***ing kill you.

Nimitz was the Navy’s leading authority on submarine warfare at the outbreak of World War II.  He would rise to be Commander-in-Chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and eventually take control of all U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater. He served the Navy on Active Duty in an unofficial capacity until his death in 1966.

6. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
“Hitler! Macho Man Dwight Eisenhower coming for youuuuuu OHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH.”

Ike never saw combat as a soldier, but his planning skills were essential as Supreme Allied Commander of all allied expeditionary forces in Europe during World War II. He planned and executed the invasion of North Africa in 1943, and of course the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. After the war, Eisenhower was the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and was elected President in 1952.

7. General of the Army and Air Force Henry H. Arnold

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

“Hap” Arnold is the only officer ever to hold two five-star ranks in multiple branches and is the only person to ever to be General of the Air Force.

Before WWII, Arnold was the Chief of the Air Corps and became commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces when war broke out. He was one of the first military pilots ever, being trained by the freaking Wright Brothers themselves.

If Billy Mitchell is the Father of the Air Force, Hap Arnold helped raise it — he took a small organization and turned it into the world’s largest and most powerful air force during the WWII years.

8. Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
That is one salty sailor.

“Bull” Halsey started World War II harassing Japanese fleet movements in the Pacific in his flagship, the Enterprise. He was later made commander of all U.S. forces in the South Pacific and commander of the Navy’s third fleet. Halsey earned his status after the war ended but took the Navy on a goodwill cruise of friendly countries

9. General of the Army Omar Bradley

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

As mentioned, Omar Bradley was the last surviving five-star general, dying in 1981. He fought alongside the U.S. Army’s greatest all under the command of Dwight Eisenhower. He excelled during the D-Day landings and subsequent European campaigns. He eventually commanded 1.3 million fighting men as they invaded fortress Europe — the largest assembly of U.S. troops under a single commander.

* General of the Armies of the United States John J. Pershing

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Pershing was promoted to this rank and title in 1919, though no official rank insignia existed at the time. It was made by Congress to recognize his role in the American entry into World War I in Europe.

* Admiral of the Navy George Dewey

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Dewey received the title “Admiral of the Navy” by act of Congress in 1903. Admiral Dewey’s service during the Spanish-American War made him a national hero and celebrity.

* General of the Armies of the United States George Washington

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

President Gerald Ford promoted Washington to this rank and title — essentially a six-star general — in 1976 to always ensure Washington would be the senior-most officer of any group.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This intelligence officer was the forgotten hero of Midway

Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.

Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.


He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.

By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Joseph John Rochefort.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.

Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.

Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.

Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.

Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Captain Edwin Layton.

But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.

The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.

Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.

Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.

Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.

After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.

John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.

Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.

Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.

The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.

Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.

This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Only one person at a time can wear Edson’s Eagles

There is a special and unofficial award for colonels who are most willing to take the fight to the enemy that is quietly passed between senior Marine Corps officers — the colonel rank insignia originally worn by Maj. Gen. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, a veteran of World War II who also served during World War I and Korea.


Edson made his name leading Marine Raiders in World War II. One of his finest moments came during the defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal as he led 830 Raiders under his command against approximately 2,500 Japanese attackers.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada
The Marines on Guadalcanal faced fierce Japanese opposition. (Photo: U.S. Archives)

The Marines held out throughout the night, saving Henderson Field. Edson, who spent most of the night within yards of the forward firing line, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He also earned a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, and two Legions of Merit for his World War II service.

In 1951, Edson was a retired major general. He went to the promotion ceremony for one of his former subordinate officers, Lewis W. Walt. Walt was scheduled to receive his promotion to colonel, and Edson gave him the wings that Edson had worn as a colonel.

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

According to an article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine, Edson told Walt, “In the spirit of our Corps, pass them on to some other deserving fighting Marine when you no longer need them.”

Since then, Edson’s Eagles have purportedly graced the shoulders of some of the Marine Corps’ finest colonels.

“For 60 years, the passing of Edson’s Eagles has been unusual for its informality and privacy, honoring ‘the same mystical blend of intelligence, dignity, innovation, and raw courage that were the hallmark of their original owner,’ ” according to a story by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The most famous is undoubtedly Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis who wore Edson’s Eagles as a colonel from 1995 to 1997, rose to the rank of four-star general after leading Navy Task Force 58 in the Afghanistan Invasion and the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq — and is currently President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Marine Lt. Gen. William M. Keys wore Edson’s Eagles after proving his mettle in Vietnam. On March 2, 1967, he led his company headquarters against a superior enemy force to save his rifle platoons during an engagement. Then on March 5, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the North Vietnamese while conducting a counterattack.

He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on March 2 and the Silver Star for his March 5 engagement.

Other notable recipients of Edson’s Eagles include Gen. Paul X. Kelley, 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps; Col. John Ripley, a Force Reconnaissance Marine famous for his actions at a bridge near Dong Ha, Vietnam; and Gen. James T. Conway, the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

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