Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea below.

The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.

Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.


 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
USS Constitution under pursuit (Painting by Anton Otto Fischer)

It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.

The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.

Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.

And then, nothing happened.

Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.

 

(US Navy)

A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.

By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.

Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.

Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

FDR wrote a letter to the future President for America’s first WWII hero

Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.

He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.


Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross

Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.

That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.

Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.

Roosevelt wrote,

To the President of the United States in 1956:

I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.

“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for the New York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”

In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.

The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying

“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.

Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 books about the Iraq War that will give you something to think about

The morning of March 19, 2003, marked the beginning of the Iraq War that would eventually lead to devastating loss for both countries. With its roots in the first Persian Gulf War, some argue that the Iraq/U.S. conflict was inevitable, while others consider it an unnecessary war.

After dictator Saddam Hussein’s refusal to abandon Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied forces launched a full-scale attack. What followed were years of American occupation, a large number of Iraqi and American casualties, and a growing tide of opposition to the seemingly unending war. The Iraq War spanned nearly the entirety of two presidential administrations in the United States, leading to shifting strategies and new technologies. Eventually, the Obama administration withdrew the final troops in 2011, but the long years of warfare continue to affect the Iraqi nation. These Iraq War books recount, analyze, and revisit the effects and experiences of a war that some have deemed preventable.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

1. Dreaming of Baghdad

By Haifa Zangana

A humane approach to Middle Eastern affairs, Dreaming of Baghdad is a hauntingly beautiful memoir that will leave you with a new perspective on the “War on Terror”. We follow Haifa Zangana’s experience as a political activist during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. She — along with a small group who resisted Saddam’s rule — was eventually captured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

There is a stark illumination on the psychological disturbances experienced by individuals under dictatorship. Zangana is brutally honest when retelling her story of exile and incarceration; she experienced the agonizing loss of friends and comrades through torture and death in prison. A first-hand account that shifts between time, place, and subjectivity to comment on how the trauma of power and war affect our memory.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Skyhorse)

2. Packed for the Wrong Trip

By W. Zach Griffith

The relatively unknown prison at Abu Ghraib garnered global attention once photos of the abuses inflicted on prisoners were released. Abu Ghraib quickly became the focal point of a worldwide scandal. Just a few months after the photographs were released, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Maine National Guard arrived to serve as guards. Originally trained and meant to serve in Afghanistan, the soldiers were deeply unprepared for the scrutiny they would receive and the attacks they would soon endure. The group of citizen-soldiers were forced to rely on each other in order to survive one of the darkest prisons in the world and change it for the better.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Open Road + Grove/Atlantic)

3. The Finish

By Mark Bowden

Get inside the political choices that brought down Osama bin Laden. Bowden’s narrative takes the reader all the way back to President Clinton’s administration to discover the many seemingly minor actions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow. After Bin Laden’s terrorist organization wreaked havoc through the 1990s and early 2000s, taking him down became a top priority for foreign intelligence services around the world.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(HMH)

4. Why We Lost

By Daniel P. Bolger

Firsthand experience and understanding brings a new perspective to American actions in the Iraq War. With a career as an army general that spanned over 35 years, Daniel Bolger provides a candid look into U.S. led campaigns with an insider look into the meetings, strategies, and key players of the war.

Bolger’s main argument is that we lost the Iraq War because the American forces never knew who they were truly fighting. As Bolger puts it, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife?”

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

5. The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath

By John Keegan

His background as a military historian with extensive knowledge on warfare gives Keegan’s discussion a refreshing, objective perspective. Keegan collated a well-detailed look into Iraqi history, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Iraq War, despite its broad title, primarily recounts the 21-day invasion by the United States and allies that removed Hussein from power. As an explanation of the factors that led to the war, this is an unmissable resource.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

By J. Kael Weston

This powerful 2016 book examines the relationship between warfare and diplomacy. Like many of the other authors on this list, Weston had an inside look into the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Weston was a State Department official — serving over seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston uses this experience to show both the war and his own personal journey throughout the narrative. As a firsthand witness, he saw the sacrifice and casualties caused by a devastating war. The book follows Weston as he visits families, memorials, and the grave sites of 31 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 — an operation he personally ordered. This deeply affecting tale reckons with Weston’s and the country’s actions in Iraq.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Bloomsbury Publishing)

7. Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Nicholas Moore

This eyewitness account of the Iraq War is presented through a series of vignettes as Nicholas Moore recounts the development of the Ranger Regiment. He chronicles the challenges troops had to face and adapt to while hunting for Iraq’s Most Wanted. Serving in an elite special operations unit, Moore was intimately involved in the war on terror, spending over a decade with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

Moore discusses the search and rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the devastating loss of the Chinook helicopter crash, which killed 38 men and one military working dog. Moore sees the events both as a soldier and as a husband and father who nearly lost his life in a global war against terrorism.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq

By Bing West

This is a straightforward recapitulation of the Iraq War that reconfigures the reader’s understanding of the long-lasting conflict. Whatever your political stance, West puts it all under the microscope and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew. From the United States’s entrance into the war to the brink of defeat in 2006, to the unimaginable turnaround in 2007, West criticizes the Bush administration and Army generals as he travels between the Pentagon and Ramadi. In the end, West asks us to reflect on our mistakes to avoid repeating history.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Saddam Hussein buried Iraq’s air force in the desert

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, American troops found a lot of bizarre things – toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood and Saddam’s romance novel. While they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Iraqi Freedom

One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.

The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

But they were suuuuuuper good at bolting to other countries to escape the enemy.

In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.- bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s air power could actually make a difference in the fighting – but that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States was another matter.

Iraqi pilots were ready to go defend their homeland from the U.S.-led invasion, but the Iraqi dictator would have none of it. He knew what American technology could do to his aircraft, especially now that the U.S. was flying the F-22. They would get torn to shreds. He also remembered what his pilots did in the first Gulf War when sent to defend the homeland. They flew their fighters to the relative safety of Iran rather than face annihilation, and Iran never gave them back.

Saddam wanted his air force. So he decided to keep them all safe.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

(US Air Force)

At al-Taqqadum and al-Asad air bases, the dictator ordered that his most advanced fighters be stripped and buried in the sand near the airfields. In retrospect, this was probably a good decision for the aircraft. Whatever was left unburied was quickly and forcibly dismantled by the U.S. Air Force on the ground during the invasion. In trying to fight off the Coalition of the Willing, Iraq’s air forces all but disappeared.

Saddam hoped that by saving the aircraft in the sand, he could prevent their destruction and when he was ready (because he assumed he would still be in power after all was said and done), he could unbury them and use their advanced status to terrify his enemies and neighbors.

That, of course, didn’t happen.

popular

3 of the stupidest wars ever fought in world history

There are a lot of good reasons humans have gone to war in the past few centuries, believe it or not. Halting or preventing genocides, declaring independence to give oppressed people a homeland, and of course, defending ones homeland from an invader would all be good reasons to take up arms against another country.

These wars were none of those things, and are presented in no particular order.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
It is, admittedly, a nice bucket. (Screen capture from YouTube)

The War of the Oaken Bucket

While the War of the Oaken Bucket sounds more like a college gameday rivalry, it was really a 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, that killed 2,000 people. It was really a proxy war between supporters of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy and, before I get too far into the details here, what you really need to know is that it was started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well.

Even dumber is the lopsided victory the Modenese won in defending that bucket. At the Battle of Zappolino, some 32,000 Bolognese marched on 7,000 Modenese – and were chased from the battlefield.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Surprisingly unrelated to the ongoing debate over Canadian bacon being real bacon.

 

The Pig War

This is a war that could have devolved into a much larger conflict, which makes it even stupider than it sounds. On San Juan Island, between the mainland United States and Canada’s Vancouver Island, was shared by both American settlers and British employees of the Hudson Bay Company. While the island was “shared” in practice, both countries had a claim to the northwestern island and it created a lot of tensions in the region. Those tensions boiled over in June 1859 when an American farmer shot a British boar for tearing up his potato crop. Arguments ensued and the farmer was almost arrested by the British.

The U.S. Army got wind of the situation and sent Capt. George Pickett (later of Pickett’s Charge fame) with a company of soldiers, who promptly declared the island American property. Of course the British responded by sending in its trump card, the Royal Navy. For weeks, it appeared the standoff would spark a greater war between the two powers, but cooler heads prevailed and the sides took joint custody of the island.

War of the Stray Dog

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Ad-war-able… (Image by birgl from Pixabay)

Another war that is exactly what it sounds like, except this one really did cause a number of deaths, as well as a 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog, even though it ran across the Greek border with Bulgaria. Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, of course shot him.

The Greeks then began an invasion of Bulgaria, occupying border towns and preparing to shell and take the city off Petrich before the League of Nations intervened, negotiating a cease fire.


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

A strange story about the Aussies facing off against Stinger missile-wielding kangaroos started circulating around the internet in 1999. The most interesting development was that the story proved to be true. Mostly.


 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Their great-grandfathers proudly served in WWI.

 

The original story was about the Defence Science and Technology Organization’s Land Operations/Simulations division in Australia developing the realism of their exercise scenarios. As the story tells it, the programmers were supposed to add mobs of kangaroos to the simulation, making sure to program how they might scatter from low-flying helicopters.

Supposedly, the Australian programmers reused object code from a simulated infantry unit on the marsupials. The new kangaroos scattered from the helicopter, as programmed. Then, they reappeared behind a hill, armed to the teeth with Stinger missiles. The programmers apparently forgot to deprogram their infantry training.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Private Joey does not operate with his coffee for the day.

 

Snopes, the website dedicated to investigating internet rumors, picked up this story in 2007. They found that the internet actually had the basic story right.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Unfortunately, the Pop Rocks and Coke myth is still a myth.

 

Dr. Anne-Marie Grisogono, head of the Simulation Land Operations Division at the Australian DSTO, told Snopes that programmers knew what they were doing. Heavily armed kangaroos became part of the simulation, weapons and all.

The Aussies thought it was hilarious, and not at all embarrassing.

“Since we were not at that stage interested in weapons,” Dr. Grisogono told Snopes, “we had not set any weapon or projectile types, so what the kangaroos fired at us was, in fact, the default object for the simulation, which happened to be large multicolored beachballs.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The inventor of the Gatling gun wanted it to save lives

The iconic ‘BRRRRRT’ of the A-10’s GAU-8 30mm autocannon is created by its extremely high rate of fire. The gun is able to achieve this thanks to its multi-barrel Gatling design. Rather than firing all of its rounds from a single barrel, the gun uses seven barrels to distribute the heat created when it fires. This design is the brainchild of American inventor Dr. Richard J. Gatling.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Dr. Richard J. Gatling (Public Domain)

Gatling was an creative southern man from North Carolina. At the age of 21, he invented a screw propeller for steamboats. However, he was beat to the invention by John Ericsson who patented the design just a few months before. Gatling worked as a merchant and teacher in North Carolina before he moved to Missouri at the age of 36. There, he continued working as a merchant and inventor. He created a rice-sowing machine and a wheat drill to aid in farming. Following a bout with smallpox, Gatling became interested in medicine.

Gatling attended the Ohio Medical College and graduated in 1850. Though he had his MD, he never actually practiced medicine. Rather, Gatling was more interested in inventing things. He continued to work in business and tinker with ideas until the outbreak of the Civil War.

At that time, Gatling lived in Indianapolis, Indiana. As Union soldiers returned from battle, Gatling noticed something about the war’s casualties. More soldiers were killed or taken out of action by battlefield illness than by bullets or shrapnel. Gatling deduced that if a weapon existed that reduced the number of men needed to fight a war, more men could be spared. “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine—a gun—which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished,” he wrote.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Dr. Gatling’s patent for ‘Improvement in Battery Guns’ (U.S. Patent Office)

During the Civil War, a highly trained soldier could fire five rounds a minute. Gatling concluded that his design needed to be simple to operate with very little training. The gun was powered by a crank shaft that was turned by hand. This allowed for a rate of fire of up to 200 rounds per minute with no skill required. Additionally, the gun was gravity-fed from a top-mounted reloader. This meant that the loader just needed to drop cartridges in from the top to keep the gun firing. Again, very little skill was required.

The Gatling gun made its combat debut at the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia in 1864. However, the gun was unproven and expensive. The 12 guns used at Petersburg were purchased personally by Union commanders. It was not until 1866 that the U.S. Army adopted the Gatling gun after a sales representative demonstrated it in combat.

To his’s dismay, his invention did little to reduce the casualties of human conflict. Rather, the gun was further refined with the inventions of newer, deadlier cartridges and smokeless gunpowder. While the Gatling gun was used until the late 19th century, its design gave rise to modern rotary guns like the aforementioned GAU-8 Avenger, the M61 Vulcan, and the M134 Minigun. Gatling’s legacy also includes a WWII Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Gatling (DD-671), as well as the slang word “gat” which is a shortening of the gun that’s named after him.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
A battery of 1-inch Gatling guns c. 1877 (U.S. Army)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the legendary Dam Busters crippled Germany

One of the most legendary successes of the Royal Air Force in World War II was a bombing raid that was written off for decades as a largely symbolic victory, but was actually a technically challenging operation that choked Nazi industry in 1943 and helped ensure that German factories couldn’t produce the materiel necessary to win.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

A Lancaster bomber with the special Upkeep bomb bay and bomb used in Operation Chastise in May, 1943.

(Royal Air Force)

The Dam Busters Raid, officially known as Operation Chastise, was the result of a series of bombing raids that hit target after target in the Ruhr region of Germany, but failed to significantly slow German industrial output. Planners needed a way to cripple German industry, and large-scale bombing wasn’t getting the job done.

So, they presented an alternative: Instead of attacking individual factories and areas, they’d wipe out an entire productive region with the destruction of key infrastructure. Some of the best and most obvious targets were the dams in the Ruhr region.

The dams fulfilled a few key roles. They channeled water to where it was needed, provided hydroelectric power, and kept thousands of acres of farmland protected for regular cultivation.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Workers construct tanks in factories in Germany during World War II. Factories like this one, and the factories that fed them raw materials, were targeted during Operation Chastise, the “Dam Busters Raid.”

Destroying the dam would wreak worse havoc, allowing flood waters to damage dozens of factories essential for everything from coke production to tank assembly as well as additional farmland. The raid would tip the scales of 1943 and 1944 — provided they could figure out how to pull it off.

And figuring it out would prove tough. This was before England’s “earthquake” bombs, so the weapons available at the outset of the raid were basically just normal gravity bombs. But hitting a narrow dam with a bomb is challenging, and even a direct hit on the top of the dam would be unlikely to actually cause any sort of breach.

It would take multiple strikes, potentially dozens, in almost the exact same spot to really break a dam from the top.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

An inert, practice bouncing bomb skips along the water in this video still from training drops by the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron. The bomb is one of the “Upkeep” munitions, the barrel-form of the weapon aimed at destroying German dams.

(Imperial War Museums)

But if the bomb could strike the dam, that would be much different. A bomb strike against the air-exposed side of the dam could heavily damage it, and a bomb in the right spot on the water side of the dam would cause the whole thing to shatter under the combined pressure of the blast and the water.

So, Britain went shopping for options, and they found a weapon under development by British engineer Barnes Wallis, who wanted to create a better bomb for taking out destroyers.

His thought was fairly simple: A bomb with the right shape and spin could skip across the water until it struck a ship. Then, the spin would drive the bomb underwater as it basically rolled itself down the outside of the ship. It would explode under the waterline with a payload much larger than a torpedo, dooming the ship. These became known as the “Bouncing Bombs.”

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

One of the flight crews from the Dam Busters Raid pose in July 1943. Their successful attack made the brand new 617 Squadron world-famous overnight and crippled German infrastructure.

(Royal Air Force)

His weapon was adapted slightly for Operation Chastise. The original “High Ball” design, basically a sphere, evolved into the “Upkeep” bomb, a more barrel-shaped weapon.

The British created an all-new squadron to conduct the mission, the 617. Pilots from across the Western Allies, including U.S., British Canadian, Australian, and Kiwi personnel, were assigned. The plan was for a low-level, nighttime raid targeting three dams in the valley. The squadron began intense training with the special bombs.

The most successful method they found was flying 60 feet above the water at 232 mph ground speed. While this gave the greatest chances of success and minimized the likelihood that surprised, tired anti-aircraft crews would get a shot at them, it also made for spectacularly dangerous and tricky flying.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The dam at Edertalsperre in Germany after the Dam Buster raid. The hole in the dam was estimated to be 230 feet wide and 72 feet high.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

At 9:28 p.m. on May 16, 1943, the 133 men took off in 19 bombers aimed at three separate and challenging targets. They flew in three waves and successfully breached two of the dams while damaging the third.

The next morning, the attacks were reported in Germany and England. Germany tried to downplay the results, and Britain played up the success. For a generation, the exact results were in controversy. Even British historians would claim that the attack was over-hyped.

But, newer research has revealed that the raid really was a stunning success, one that was quickly known in the region as the “Mohne Catastrophe.” Germany lost 400,000 tonnes worth of coal production in the month of May and had to divert thousands of forced laborers from the coast of Normandy and other sites to repair the damages.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The English King George VI inspects the airmen of the 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, on May 27, 1943, after their widly successful mission.

(Royal Air Force)

The workers had to repair the physical dam before the fall rains or risk the region running low on water and electricity — even after the dam was repaired. They had to repair 100 damaged factories, not counting the 12 factories completely destroyed. Thousands of acres of farmland, necessary to feed the armies on the march, were ruined.

And, all of this came while the German army was desperately trying to stave off Soviet advances and just a year before the Normandy landings, increasing the chances of success there.

In other words, the mission was a stunning success. But it didn’t come without cost. Two bombers were lost on their way to the target. One struck the water’s surface and another hit electrical wires. Eight bombers were shot down.

53 Allied personnel were killed and another three captured.

Articles

3 systems America scrapped after its mid-range nuke agreement with the USSR

The 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union eliminated an entire class of ground-launched missiles.


The treaty states: “…each Party shall eliminate its intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, not have such systems thereafter, and carry out the other obligations set forth in this Treaty.”

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
The 3M-14 land attack missile, which may be the basis of the INF Treaty-busting SSC-8. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to a report by the New York Times, Russia has operationally deployed one battalion equipped with the SSC-8 cruise missile. A 2015 Washington Free Beacon report noted that American intelligence officials assessed the missile’s range as falling within the scope of weapons prohibited by the INF Treaty (any ground-launched system with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles).

The blog ArmsControlWonk has estimated the SSC-8’s range to be between 2,000 and 2,500 kilometers (1,242 and 1,553 miles) based on the assumption it is a version of the SS-N-30A “Sizzler” cruise missile.

While it looks like the Russians could be holding onto some banned systems, the U.S. scrapped three systems falling under the INF Treaty.

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A BGM-109G Gryphon is launched. (DOD photo)

1. The BGM-109G Gryphon cruise missile

Forget the name, this was really a ground-launched Tomahawk that was deployed by the Air Force. According to the website of the USAF Police Alumni Association, six wings of this missile were deployed to NATO in the 1980s. Designation-Systems.net noted that the BGM-109G had a range of 1,553 miles and carried a 200-kiloton W84 warhead.

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Pershing missile ARTY/ORD round 32 roars skyward, T-time 815 hours at Hueco Range, Ft. Bliss, Texas. (US Army photo)

2. The MGM-31A Pershing I and MGM-31B Pershing Ia ballistic missiles

The Pershing I packed one of the biggest punches of any American nuclear delivery system and could hit targets 740 miles away. With a W50 warhead and a yield of 400 kilotons (about 20 times that of the bomb used on Nagasaki), the Pershing Ia actually was too much bang for a tactical role, according to Designation-Systems.net.

The West Germans operated 72 Pershing 1a missiles, according to a 1987 New York Times report.

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The US Army launches a Pershing II battlefield support missile on a long-range flight down the Eastern Test Range at 10:06 a.m. EST on Feb. 9, 1983. This was the fourth test flight in the Pershing II engineering and development program and the third flight from Cape Canaveral. (DOD photo)

3. The MGM-31C Pershing II

According to GlobalSecurity.org, this missile had longer range (1,100 miles), and had a W85 warhead that had a yield of up to 50 kilotons. While only one-eighth as powerful as the warhead on the Pershing I and Pershing Ia, the Pershing II was quite accurate – and could ruin anyone’s day.

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A Soviet inspector stands beside the mangled remnants of two Pershing II missile stages. Several missiles are being destroyed in the presence of Soviet inspectors in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (DOD photo)

According to the State Department’s web site, all three of these systems were destroyed (with the exception of museum pieces) by the end of May, 1991.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the ‘Miracle at Dunkirk’ saved World War II for the Allies

From May 26 to Jun. 4, 1940, one of the largest evacuations in human history saved approximately 338,000 Allied troops and gave the Allies the strength to continue resisting Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.


The operation was more successful than the planners’ wildest dreams, partially because of the skill and bravery of boat crews and troops but also because of horrible decisions by the German high command.

The days leading up to the evacuation were characterized by one of the most effective German Blitzkriegs. British, Belgian, and French forces were falling back across France and a thrust by Germany through the Ardennes successfully cut the Allied force in half. By May 19, Britain was looking for ways to get its expeditionary force back across the channel.

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Troops line up on the beaches in hopes of rescue at Dunkirk. Photo: Imperial War Museum

A failed counterattack on May 21 sealed France’s fate but Germany’s advances made it appear impossible to stage a large evacuation. The Germans crossed the canals near Dunkirk by May 24 and were about to capture Dunkirk, the last port the British could feasibly use. Luckily, Hitler ordered his Panzers to stop advancing and to even fall back a short distance to the canals.

Hitler’s reasoning is a source of debate, but two main factors are thought to have been uppermost in his mind.

First, Hermann Goering may have been successful in his attempts to convince the fuhrer that the Luftwaffe could kill the troops on the beaches of Dunkirk . Also, there was a chance that Hitler believed that Britain was more likely to surrender if it hadn’t been embarrassed and didn’t have the slaughter of approximately 200,000 of its own troops to rally around.

Unfortunately for Hitler, Britain sent nearly the entirety of the Royal Air Force, including planes from the defensive-in-nature British Metropolitan Air Force, to cover Operation Dynamo. Working with French and British navy ships in the waters below, they were able to establish a weak air superiority over the beaches and parts of the channel, limiting the chances for the Luftwaffe to attack.

On May 25, King George VI declared a national day of prayer and attended a special service at Westminster Abbey. The next day, Operation Dynamo kicked off. Almost 400,000 British, Belgian, and French troops lined up in the water and on the beaches in hopes of rescue. Senior commanders were skeptical that they could get even 25 percent of them to safety.

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British troops walk through the water to waiting ships. Photo: Imperial War Museum

In a perimeter around Dunkirk, British and French units prepared to fight delaying actions, often to the last man, to give their buddies a chance to retreat. On May 26, these troops were sorely tested. The Belgian King Leopold, whose troops were cut off in small pockets and being quickly overwhelmed, surrendered and Hitler allowed the Panzers to attack Dunkirk.

As the tanks crashed against the defenders, the Royal Air Force and other planes desperately fought to keep the Germans away from the ships. The Royal Navy was attempting to evacuate as many men as possible, but found itself unable to keep up.

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Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation

British leaders finally announced to the public how desperate the situation on the beaches was. Dunkirk was burning to the ground and troops were being bombed on the sand and strafed as they stood neck-deep in the water. The public responded valiantly, cobbling together hundreds of privately-owned vessels to form a flotilla of “Little Ships” that became a symbol of British perseverance.

The action drug on for days as six destroyers, eight personnel ships, and about 200 small craft were sunk and tens of thousands of men were killed or captured. But, 338,000 troops were rescued, approximately 140,000 from the British Expeditionary Force and 198,000 from the Polish, French, and Belgian armies. Forty-thousand were lost, either captured or killed.

In Britain, “Dunkirk Spirit” became a symbol of national pride, an embodiment of how Britons could come together to face down any foe and overcome any challenge. Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons, saying that Britain would fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, and in the streets.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how these 3 legends each earned two Medals of Honor

Since the introduction of the Medal of Honor at the beginning of the Civil War, only 19 men have received it twice.


Five received both the Army and Navy version for the same action. Four Navy sailors received two for actions during peacetime. Before the 20th Century, a number of Medals of Honor were bestowed for any valorous action – because it was the only medal at the time.

However, there are still 3 men who earned the Medal of Honor as we’ve come to know it – by gallantry in the face of the enemy – twice.

Those three men were John McCloy, U.S. Navy, and Daniel Daly, and Smedley Butler, both U.S. Marines .

The three men’s paths would cross during the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Caribbean campaigns, and World War I.

The Boxer Rebellion

In early 1900, the United States and seven other nations dispatched forces to China to quell the Boxer Rebellion and to protect their national interests.

 

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I’ll Try Sir,

 

During the fighting, McCloy and Daly both earned their first Medals of Honor while Butler, an officer (who was ineligible for the Medal of Honor at the time), received a Brevet promotion – an award for officers who had displayed gallantry in action – in lieu of the Medal of Honor. Butler rushed out of a trench in the face of withering enemy fire to rescue a wounded Marine officer before being wounded himself.

John McCloy earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during four battles throughout the month of June 1900. At that time, Navy seamen called “Bluejackets” left the ship with Marines to fight as infantry. McCloy was one of those Bluejackets.

 

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U.S. Marines in China, ca. 1900

 

Dan Daly found himself alone on a wall outside the American Legation in Peking after his commanding officer left to get reinforcements. From his position, he single-handedly held off attacks by Chinese snipers. He also fought off an attempt to storm the wall holding his position, alone, through the night until reinforcements arrived. His actions earned him his first Medal of Honor.

The Occupation of Veracruz

Over a decade later, the three men found themselves fighting in the Caribbean during the Banana Wars and the Occupation of Veracruz.

During the tumultuous Mexican Revolution in 1914, the United States received word of a weapons shipment inbound to the port of Veracruz. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the port captured and the weapons seized. He dispatched several warships and Marine contingents for the mission.

 

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The first American sailors land at Veracruz, 1914. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

During the initial battle, John McCloy, now a Chief Boatswain, commanded three picket boats unloading men and supplies in the port. When his force came under fire from a nearby building, he drove his force into harm’s way and fired a volley from the boats’ one-inch guns.

The Mexicans fired in response, revealing their positions which were then silenced by the USS Prairie. During the fighting, McCloy was shot in the thigh but remained at his post as beachmaster for 48 hours before being forced to evacuate by the brigade surgeon. McCloy’s was awarded his second Medal of Honor for this.

Meanwhile, then-Maj. Smedley Butler was leading his battalion of Marines through the streets of Veracruz. For conspicuous gallantry while leading his forces against the enemy on April 22, Butler received his first Medal of Honor. Butler attempted to return this Medal of Honor because he didn’t feel he adequately earned it. He was rebuffed and told to wear it well.

 

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U.S. troops march through Veracruz in 1914. (National Archives)

Daniel Daly was with the Marines at Veracruz but (in an uncharacteristic move for Daly) earned no medals for bravery during the action.

The U.S. Occupation of Haiti

While McCloy was employed elsewhere, Maj. Butler and Gunnery Sgt. Daly embarked with the 2nd Marine Regiment for duty in Haiti in 1915. While fighting the Caco rebels, both men received their second Medals of Honor.

On October 24, 1915, Maj. Butler was leading a reconnaissance patrol of the 15th Company of Marines, which included Gunnery Sgt. Daly. That evening, the patrol was ambushed by 400 Cacos. The Americans lost their machine gun and were forced to retreat to high ground.

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A U.S. Marine inspect Haitian soldiers, ca. 1915 (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

That night, Daly ventured out to retrieve the machine gun. He killed three Cacos with his knife in the process. The next morning, Butler ordered the patrol to organize into three sections to attack and disperse the rebels. Daly led one section. They drove the Cacos into Fort Dipitie before the Marines assaulted and captured it. This action earned Daly his second Medal of Honor.

Less than a month later, Butler led a group of 100 Marines and sailors against Caco rebels holed up in Fort Rivière. Under heavy cover fire, Butler and 26 of his men entered the fort through an opening in the wall. Once inside, they dispersed the rebels, killing 51 with only one Marine wounded. This is how Butler earned his second Medal of Honor.

World War I

Although by the time the U.S. entered World War I, the three gallant men already wore two Medals of Honor each. But their bravery was not finished. Brig. Gen. Butler would sit out the war in command of a depot, Dan Daly further cemented his place in Marine Corps lore at Belleau Wood – where he shouted his famous “do you want to live forever?” quote.

 

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Marines depicted at Belleau Wood (U.S. Marine Corps museum)

He earned the Navy Cross during the battle, reportedly because having a third Medal of Honor would have simply been ridiculous.

McCloy commanded the minesweeper USS Curlew during the Great War. He received a Navy Cross for his part in clearing the North Sea mine barrage after the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the dead bodies after big battles in history

Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?


A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.

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That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.

With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.

As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.

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This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.

As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.

The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.

It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.

That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…

Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:

The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.

And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.

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Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.

Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:

Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.

After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…

It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.

The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.

In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:

Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.

Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:

It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!

The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”

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Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.

Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.

Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.

As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.

Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How WWII propaganda is still convincing kids to eat carrots

Here in the modern world, many of us are more aware than ever of how the media can shape our perceptions of reality. While most debate about “perception management” these days is relegated to the arena of political mudslinging, the truth is, there has always been a concerted media effort to shape how we see the world in the form of advertising. And as many national governments learned early on, the same media infrastructure built to sell us products can also be used to sell us on ideas.

If you’re looking for a good example of how government initiatives can shape our idea of reality, you need to look no further than the air campaigns of World War II — because if you’re one of the millions of people that think eating carrots can help improve your vision, you’ve been duped by half-century-old wartime propaganda.


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Not the wartime propaganda posters you were expecting?

(World Carrot Museum)

British (and eventually American) pilots defending the U.K. from Nazi bombers were among the first aviators in history ever to be tasked with night-time combat operations. Less than four decades after the Wright Brothers first took to the sky, Allied pilots were fighting for their lives in pitch darkness over the European theater.

At the time, aviators had to rely on their senses, rather than on the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat aircraft, but it wasn’t long before the advent of onboard Airborne Interception radar (AI) gave the Brits the edge they needed over inbound Nazi bombers. The British also knew that announcing their new technological advantage would put the Nazi’s to work on finding ways to counter it, so instead, they chose a very different track.

As Allied fighters started closing with and destroying Nazi bombers in increasing numbers despite the difficult to manage night sky, the English Ministry of Information launched a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the world that their pilots had impeccable Nazi-hunting night vision thanks to a steady diet of — you guessed it — carrots.

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Technically speaking, they’re not wrong. A serious Vitamin A deficiency could make you go blind.

(US National Archive)

Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their campaign, and carrots are known to be a good source of Vitamin A. Technically speaking, eating more vitamin A won’t do anything for an otherwise healthy person’s vision, but not getting enough of it can cause vision problems. Because of this, it was easy for the Brits to twist the story away from eating carrots to avoid a Vitamin A deficiency, and instead toward the idea that eating enough carrots could actually make you see better at night.

The decision to use carrots was also informed by the nation’s sugar rations limiting snack options for the U.K. populace. Carrots were a great snack for school kids to munch on and the nation had plenty of them to spare — so selling the public on the idea that eating more carrots could turn your kid into a hawk-eyed fighter pilot benefited the war effort in ways beyond German perceptions.

It wasn’t long before the idea of carrots improving one’s night vision simply became carrots improving vision altogether. Soon, no one remembered where they first heard about carrots being so important to eye health and just started accepting it as the truth.

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Amazing what a few posters can do.

(Bryan Ledgard on WikiMedia Commons)

Even today, mothers and fathers all over the world continue to tell their kids to eat their carrots because they’re good for their eyes. This isn’t because there’s a great deal of Vitamin A deficiencies in the modern world, but rather, because we’re still operating off of the familiar wisdom we gleaned from propaganda posters printed while Hitler was touring Paris.

Propaganda, it pays to remember, is little more than advertising paid for by governments, rather than corporations. We all know and accept the idea that advertising works (to the tune of 3 billion in the United States last year alone). Whether we like it or not, it seems that propaganda does too.

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