The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Homecoming for a naval vessel is a huge deal. After months at sea, the ship’s crew don their sharpest uniforms and stand on deck to catch a glimpse of their loved ones before they dock and are finally reunited. Homecomings were an even bigger deal in the days before email, phones, and video calls were more common aboard ships. Imagine, then, the frustration felt by sailors and family members alike when a ship ran aground right before it docked. That was the situation for the crew and family of the USS Enterprise in 1983.

Launched in 1960, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), was America’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. A technological marvel for the time, she served with distinction during the Vietnam War and survived a catastrophic fire in 1969 that killed 27 sailors and injured 314 more. In 1982, Enterprise made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. The ship sailed an eight-month tour before returning to San Francisco in April, 1983.

The carrier sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn. Enterprise was steered into port by a civilian pilot, but was turned back over to the hands of a Navy pilot before she ran aground. At about 9:30 a.m., the 90,000-ton ship missed the edge of a 400-yard wide, 40-foot deep ship channel while maneuvering through the morning overcast and wind. Enterprise was stuck on a sandbar just 1,000 yards from her berthing.

4,500 sailors and 3,000 family members could now just see each other, but were still far from being reunited. “It was a real drag, being so close and yet so far,” recalled Capt. Jack McAuley, “We couldn’t do anything but sit around and grin and bear it.” The ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert J. Kelly, sprung the crew into action to dislodge the carrier. In an effort to shift the ship’s center of balance, the crew assembled on the port side of the flight deck. Nine military and civilian tug boats joined the effort to free Enterprise. After nearly six hours of rocking, and with the help of the tide, Enterprise made it off the sandbar at 3:12 p.m.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
USS Enterprise in 1982 (U.S. Navy)

After another 90 minutes of maneuvering, Enterprise was finally docked and her crew was released ashore. Frustration turned to relief as sailors and family members embraced each other after months of separation. Sadly, many crewmen missed their flights out of San Francisco as a result of the ordeal. Ironically, there was one individual on board who was a crewmember of a different Enterprise.

Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, flew out on a Navy helicopter to join the crew of the Enterprise at 7 a.m. that morning and welcome them home. “Our vessel is the Starship Enterprise and this is the USS Enterprise,” he later said, “We’ve got a new drink—Enterprise on the Rocks.” Jokes aside, while Enterprise suffered no obvious damage, she underwent a thorough stress check to ensure her seaworthiness before her next deployment.

Capt. Kelly took full responsibility for the incident. “I am the captain and I was in control. I am totally responsible for what happened,” he said during a news conference. “Naturally, it’s embarrassing.” Although collisions and groundings are usually career-enders for Navy ship captains, Capt. Kelly, who had been selected for promotion to commodore, was eventually promoted all the way to four-star admiral and served as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1991 to 1994.

Eight months at sea, running aground in sight of loved ones, rocking the ship off of a sandbar, and all while George Takei was on board. The 1982-1983 WESTPAC tour was a truly unforgettable experience for the crew of the USS Enterprise.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
USS Enterprise listed 10 degrees to port when she ran aground (U.S. Naval Institute)
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 crazy random things people added guns to

Different weapons serve different purposes in combat, but every fighter in history has looked for an edge – one advantage that could mean the difference between life and death for the combatant. In an era where everyone is cutting each other with increasingly sharp blades of different sizes, wouldn’t it be great if that ax also shot bullets?

If you happened to be the one holding the ax, then yes: that would be great. Unless your opponent was holding a shield – especially if that shield also shot bullets.


If that example sounds far-fetched, that’s because it is — but just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it never happened.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

An ax.

Yes, the ax that shoots bullets was only partly a joke. Polish cavalry used a short ax as a weapon for more than 200 years. The tradition spilled over into Hungary as well, presumably because axes that could also shoot bullets were great at killing Turks.

Even better than the handheld pistol ax was the multi-barreled and/or halberd long gun versions used by Germans around the same time.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Knives and swords.

The Germans are back with this hunting knife-pistol combo. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, shooting and stabbing was a popular combination, not just among German civilians, but also among troops belonging to various warlords in a then-ununified Germany.

Pistol knives experienced a rebirth in popularity in Victorian England, probably as a means to not get murdered at night on the streets of London.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Brass knuckles.

Speaking of not getting murdered on the streets of old-timey Europe, French street gangs were keen on using the Apache pistol to do just that: kill to avoid being killed. These were combination brass knuckles, switchblades, and pistols that were really good at being none of those things. The knives were flimsy, the pistol had no trigger guard, and the brass knuckles weren’t big or heavy enough to be a difference maker.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

A walking stick.

This is pretty much just Henry VIII’s thing. The big guy carried a walking stick that was also pulling triple duty as both a pistol and a mace. The pistol part was triple-barreled, and Henry used it while walking around his kingdom at night, trying to not get murdered on the streets of London.

I’m starting to sense a theme here…

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

A shield.

If the firepower of his walking stick proved to be insufficient for anyone coming at him, Henry had his bodyguards equipped with shields… shields that fired black-powder pistols. Considering their size and iron composition, a weapon so hefty would surely have been difficult to aim.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 absolute BAMFs who saved lives in Vietnam War

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

There are two primary ways to end up a hero on the battlefield: either slay the enemy in such stunning numbers that even Frank Miller starts to think the story sounds exaggerated, or else place your own body in harm’s way repeatedly so as to save the lives of friendly forces (bonus points for doing both).

These six men put themselves in mortal danger to rescue their peers.


The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger poses with his M-16 in front of a rescue helicopter.

(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

1. Air Force pararescue joins the ground fight under mortar fire

On April 11, 1966, an Army company became separated and found itself under fierce fire. With mortars landing in their perimeter and machine gun fire racing in, the casualties started to mount. When Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger arrived for the wounded, it quickly became apparent that the infantry was losing the ability to defend itself and conduct medevac at the same time. So, he requested permission to join the ground fight.

In the jungle, he directed the evacuations under fire until it became too fierce for the helicopters to stay. Given a last chance to fly out, Pitsenbarger gave up his seat to a wounded man and stayed on the ground to serve as a medic. Overnight, he kept giving medical aid and resisting the enemy until he succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.

In September, 1966, he posthumously became the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross. It was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Now, his bravery and the struggle to have his valor honored at the highest level is set to hit the big screen. Check out the trailer below for The Last Full Measure, landing in theatres on January 24th.

The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions

www.youtube.com

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Navy Lt. j.g. Clyde E. Lassen

(U.S. Navy)

2. Navy helicopter pilot turns his lights on in a firefight

When Navy Lt. j.g. Clyde E. Lassen went out on June 19, 1968, he must have known that it was a risky mission: pulling two downed aviators out of a night time firefight.

But when he arrived on site, it was worse than he expected. The downed pilots were repeatedly hampered by thick underbrush, and a firefight was already raging around them. He managed to land his helicopter the first time but the pilots couldn’t get to him. He came to a new spot under an illumination flare, but the flare burned out and Lassen struck a tree in the darkness.

He barely saved his own bird from crashing but, rather than heading home for fuel and repairs, he came back in under another flare. When that burned out, Lassen turned his own lights on, making him a beacon for enemy fire. Doing so let him land long enough to pick up the other pilots and skedaddle for home. He reached the ship with only five minutes of fuel left. He later received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Army Maj. (Chaplain) Charles Liteky, far right of four men lined up, waits to receive his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

(White House Photograph Office)

3. Army chaplain goes full beast-mode and rescues infantry

Army Capt. Charles James Liteky was supposed to hang out in the back and administer to the spiritual needs of the infantry, but on Dec. 6, 1967, a large enemy force suddenly assaulted his battalion and one company was nearly overwhelmed — and so the chaplain ran into the machine gun fire to help.

First, Liteky found two wounded men and carried them to safety. Then he went back out and began giving aid to the wounded and last rites to the dying. When he found a wounded man too heavy to carry, he rolled onto his back with the man on his chest and inched his way through heavy fire to safety. He was credited with saving 20 men despite wounds to his own neck and foot. His Medal of Honor was approved the following year.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Allan J. Kellogg, Jr.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

4. Marine rallies his men under machine gun fire, then jumps on grenade

Gunnery Sgt. Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. was leading a platoon on a risky rescue operation on the night of March 11, 1970, when his company was assaulted by a large North Vietnamese force. As the firefight intensified, one enemy soldier slowly crept to the platoon and managed to get a hand grenade into its midst.

That grenade glanced off the chest of Kellogg. He recognized what it was and had the chance to dive away, but he instead dove onto the explosive and hoped that his body and the Vietnamese mud would save his platoon. It worked, but the weapon inflicted severe injuries upon Kellogg.

He survived and would later receive the Medal of Honor for his action.

5. Navy SEAL leads small team to rescue downed pilots after other attempts fail

In early 1972, a pilot was downed behind enemy lines, triggering a race between the U.S. and North Vietnam to reach him. American attempts from the air were a catastrophic failure. In one week, 14 Americans were killed, seven more aircraft were lost, two were captured, and another aviator was stuck behind enemy lines.

So, U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. j.g. Tom Norris put together a gutsy ground extraction with his Vietnamese Sea Commando counterparts. They rescued the first isolated pilot on April 11, the first day of the SEAL extraction plan — but the other pilot they were trying to rescue couldn’t reach the river. Over the next three days, the commandos lost four members to mortar fire on a second rescue attempt.

With dashed spirits and a depleted force, only Norris and the Vietnamese commander were willing to continue. They dressed up as fisherman, stole a sampan, and grabbed the missing pilot. They were nearly discovered by enemy patrols multiple times, and Norris was forced to call in a series of airstrikes to save them at one point, but it worked.

Norris would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. The Vietnamese commander received the Navy Cross and later became an American Citizen.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Army Spec. 5 James McCloughan receives the Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump for actions in the Vietnam War.

(U.S. Army Eboni Everson-Myart)

6. Army medic continuously ignores orders and runs towards machine gun fire

In May, 1969, Army Spec. 5 John C. McCloughan was part of a combat assault that went sideways right away. Two helicopters were downed and the ground fire became too thick for helicopters to conduct a rescue. McCloughan, a medic, was sent in to help extract the air crews from the ground. When he arrived on site, he immediately dashed over 100 yards across open ground to recover one soldier, despite a platoon attacking towards him.

Then, he charged through American air strikes to rescue two others and gave them medical aid even after he was torn up by shrapnel. He was specifically ordered to see to his own wounds and stop charging into danger, but he just kept charging. Over the course of the 48-hour firefight, he was credited with saving at least 10 men and with destroying an RPG position with a hand grenade.

He received a Medal of Honor in 2017 for his actions.

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprisingly long history of the flamethrower

One of the most intimidating standard-issue weapon fielded to troops is, without a doubt, the flamethrower. Yes, bullets are intimidating, but nothing shocks and terrifies the primitive side of our human brains like a wave of fire surging toward you.


In contemporary warfare, the use of flamethrowers has tapered off in favor of more accurate weapons. Contrary to popular belief, they are not outlawed by the Geneva Convention — they just can’t be used anywhere near civilians. The most notable modern example of a flamethrower being used against another person was in 2014, when it was used as an execution tool by North Korea against its Deputy Minister of Public Safety.

The flamethrower, as we know it, was first created by Germany in 1901 and was known as the flammenwerfer. The flamethrower would find immense popularity among troops in the trenches of WWI, the all-out war of WWII, and the forests and jungles of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Only problem is there’s still no place to attach a bayonet.
(Courtesy of the National Archive)

However, the ancestor of what we call the “flamethrower” today got its start early in history with the Byzantine Empire. In 672, Crusader navies would spew a napalm-like substance, called “Greek Fire,” on their enemies. The actual composition of Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret that is now lost to time, but scholars generally agree that pine resin was used to make it sticky.

As technology evolved, Greek Fire was then launched out through a hand siphon that a troop could carry into battle. This was called a “cheirosiphon.” Crusaders would station a hand siphon atop a ladder or wall and spray the Greek Fire down, raining chaos onto their enemy.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Who needs a long bow when you have a mother f*cking flamethrower?
(Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1605)

In the East, China invented their own version in 919, during a time known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Pen Huo Qi worked nearly identically to the Crusaders’ flamethower, but it was more elaborate and was made to resemble metal dragons breathing fire.

Outside of the Crusaders, Vikings may have also created their own version of Greek Fire in 1041 (albeit with a different name) after they laid siege on Constantinople. The Saga of Yngvar the Traveler tells the story of a man (Ingvar) as he learns the art of flame-throwing — because apparently regular vikings weren’t terrifying enough.

When guns and gunpowder became the dominant weapon on the battlefield, the comparatively short range of flamethrowers made it less appealing — but it wasn’t ever forgotten. Threats of using Greek Fire even persisted through the American Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Soviet Union abandoned its World War II POWs

As Russia’s government pulled out all the stops on May 9, 2018, to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and to remember the estimated 25 million Soviets who died during the war, historian Konstantin Bogoslavsky was working to shed light on the fate of Soviet POWs “abandoned” by their own government.

The savagery of Hitler’s war on the Soviet Union is widely documented, but many details remain elusive about the plight of Red Army prisoners.


Their exact number will never be known for sure, but estimates of Soviet Red Army soldiers taken prisoner during World War II range from 4 million to 6 million. About two-thirds of those captured by the Germans — more than 3 million troops — had died by the time their comrades captured Berlin in May 1945.

The archives of the Soviet People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs were recently digitized, and Bogoslavsky has been studying the wartime correspondence between the Soviet government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Geneva-based international organization that tried to aid prisoners, the wounded, and refugees during the war.

“Already on June 23, 1941, the Red Cross sent a telegram to [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov offering its assistance to the Soviet Union during the war,” Bogoslavsky told RFE/RL. “Molotov confirmed his interest.”

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav

In the first weeks of the conflict, Germany and the Soviet Union both confirmed they would adhere to international conventions on the treatment of prisoners. However, it quickly became clear that neither side intended to keep its commitment.

In the first six months of the war, as the Germans raced across the Soviet Union to the outskirts of Moscow, more than 3 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner, often as a result of encirclement as Soviet officials refused to allow them to retreat or failed even to issue orders.

According to the archival materials, Bogoslavsky said, the Axis powers offered to exchange lists of prisoners with the Soviets in December 1941. Molotov’s deputy, Andrei Vyshinsky, wrote to his boss that a list of German prisoners had been compiled and advised that it be released to prevent harm to the Soviet Union’s reputation.

“But Molotov wrote on the message, ‘…don’t send the lists (the Germans are violating legal and other norms),'” Bogoslavsky said. “After that, almost all the letters and telegrams received from the Red Cross…were marked by Molotov as ‘Do Not Respond.'”

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The Soviet government adopted this policy as a result of a cold-blooded calculus.

“By the end of 1941, more than 3 million people had been taken prisoner, and one of the Soviet leadership’s goals was to control this avalanche,” Bogoslavsky said. “A Soviet soldier had to understand that if he was captured, he wouldn’t be getting any food parcels from the Red Cross and he wouldn’t be sending any postcards to his loved ones. He had to know that the only thing awaiting him there was inevitable death.”

One Soviet document issued under Stalin’s signature, the historian noted, asserted that “the panic-monger, the coward, and the deserter are worse than the enemy.”

In addition, the Soviet government refused to allow any Red Cross representatives into its own notorious prison camps, where they might stumble on secrets of Stalin’s prewar repressions.

“The distribution of food and medicine to prisoners was carried out by representatives of the Red Cross, and that would have meant allowing them access to camps in the Soviet Union,” Bogoslavsky said. “The Soviet leadership was categorically opposed to that. Despite numerous requests, Red Cross representatives were never given visas to travel to the Soviet Union.”

“Of course, the entire responsibility for the mass deaths of Soviet prisoners must fall on the leadership of the Third Reich,” he added. “But Stalin’s government, in my opinion, was guilty of not giving moral support or material assistance to its own soldiers, who were simply abandoned.”

In March 1943, Molotov wrote a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Standley, who had forwarded an offer from the Vatican to facilitate an exchange of information about Soviet prisoners being held by the Germans.

“I have the honor of reporting that at the present time this matter does not interest the Soviet government,” Molotov wrote. “Conveying to the government of the United States our gratitude for its attention to Soviet prisoners, I ask you to accept my assurances of my most profound respect for you, Mr. Ambassador.”

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Molotov’s letter to U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Standley

During the course of the war, the Soviet government also refused to cooperate with the governments of German allies Finland and Romania on the prisoners issue. Soviet prisoners in Finland did receive Red Cross packages that were organized by a charity in Switzerland and distributed in Finland on a unilateral basis.

In 1942, Romania offered to release 1,018 of the worst-off Soviet prisoners in exchange for a list of Romanians being held by the Soviet Union.

“The Soviet leadership simply ignored that offer,” Bogoslavsky said.

“The Soviet Union was the only country that refused to cooperate with the Red Cross and did not even allow Red Cross delegations onto its territory,” he added. “Germany did not work with the Red Cross in connection with Soviet prisoners, but it did cooperate concerning those of its Western enemies — the Americans, the British, and the French.”

The misfortunes of many Soviet POWs did not end when the guns fell silent.

“It is a myth that all those who returned from POW camps were sent to the gulag,” Bogoslavsky said. “The NKVD (Soviet secret police) set up special camps for checking and filtering returning prisoners. According to historian [Viktor] Zemskov, about 1.5 million former prisoners passed through the filtration process. Of them, about 245,000 were repressed.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Iranian hostage crisis changed American history

The basic story goes like this.


On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. The hostages were held for 444 days, and not released until minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president.

However, as always, there is more to the story.

The storming of the embassy came about eight months after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni seized power in Iran after the outser of the country’s leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. But the Shah had taken power after a coup d’etat by royalist officers backed by the United States and Great Britain deposed prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, resolving an ongoing power struggle between the two.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
The American Embassy in Iran being overrun in 1979 (Iranian Interior ministry photo)

While the Shah’s rule saw the Iranian economy improve significantly, he soon backed a secret police known as SAVAK. The growing repression, though, helped make the Shah more and more unpopular. By January 1979 he and his family left on a “vacation” and never returned.

After the Americans were taken hostage, Khomeni gave his approval to the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Following that, the U.S. attempted a hostage rescue mission that failed. The crisis crippled then-President Jimmy Carter, who eventually lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
The burned out C-130 from the failed Operation Eagle Claw sits in the Iranian Desert. At far right is the destroyed helicopter. Photo: US Special Operations Command

Reagan’s administration would proceed to launch a major peace-time military buildup, and the eventual end of the Cold War.

This History Channel video discusses the hostage crisis and its impact on U.S. policy in the decade that saw the end of the Soviet Union.

YouTube, History

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Teddy Roosevelt wins a bar fight

Bullying is nothing new; even the Old West had its share of bullies. When one of those Old West villains made the mistake of poking fun at the glasses of a stout man of average height in a Mingusville, Montana, hotel one day, he got run out of town on a train.


The fight began with what might be the oldest taunt against people who wear glasses. The fact that this particular bully said it to young Teddy Roosevelt in 1884 just goes to show how old the name “four eyes” really is. But the bully had no idea who was wearing those glasses. TR didn’t come looking for a fight, but he always looked to end them.

Bullies learn the hard way.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

This is the guy who cured his own asthma using just willpower, after all.

By 1884, Teddy Roosevelt did not yet have the bold international reputation he would have in later years, but he was still a successful boxer and martial artist. He wore his signature round spectacles, as he always had, even when he was ranching in the Dakota Territory. The bully in question could not have known about TR’s dedication to his personal “Big Stick” policy.

Roosevelt was on a sort of hiatus from political life, having supported a losing candidate in the Republican Party. His wife Alice died during childbirth earlier that year. His mother died just days later. He left the world of New York politics to start a second ranch out west, where he did more than play cowboy in the Dakota Badlands. It was there he learned to rope, ride, and hunt in the Wild West. He even wrote three books about his time there.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Don’t talk sh*t.

When he came into Nolan’s Hotel in what was then Mingusville, Montana, he was on a self-driven riding trip through the Badlands and Western Dakota areas. Late one cool evening, as he walked upstairs to the bar area, he heard two shots ring out. He noticed the people in the room were looking around with fake smiles. A man with two cocked pistols in his hands was apparently shooting at the clock on the wall.

As soon as he saw the young Roosevelt, he told the room that “Four Eyes” was going to buy drinks for everyone. Roosevelt just laughed it off and took a seat by the stove — but the man followed him. He stood over the future president and told him again that “Four Eyes” was going to buy the drinks, guns still in each hand. Teddy laughed and stood up.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

TR was well-known for his boxing exploits later in life.

“Well, if I’ve got to, I’ve got to,” Roosevelt told the man as he stood.

Instead of laughing it off, Roosevelt hit the man with a hard right to the jaw as he rose, then followed it up with a left and another right. The guns went off, but Roosevelt was unsure if the man was actually trying to shoot him. With Roosevelt’s final right, the man stumbled into the bar, hitting his head and knocking himself senseless. With that, the bar owners dragged the man out into a nearby shed and put him on a freight train the next morning.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things everyone should know about Russia’s October Revolution

Communism was not the best experiment for the Russian people. If they had known that the revolution against the Tsar and the Imperial government was going to lead to decades of rule by the repressive Soviet Regime, they might have thought twice.


The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Worst. Boy band. Ever.

Of course, when you take a look at the life of a common Russian before the October Revolution, you can kind of understand why they took their chances with the Bolsheviks.

Submit to the present evil, lest a great one befall ye.

6. Russian peasants were serfs for 600 years.

European feudalism in the 11th century bound poor peasants to work the land for their noble masters. Until Tsar Alexander II abolished the practice in 1861, the common Russian was essentially a slave to the imperial aristocracy. Working the land for someone else meant very little time for subsistence farming – and that the Russians were always just one bad season from starvation.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Just plowing away, rethinking that whole Napoleon thing.

Russians were practically enslaved from the time of the First Crusade until the start of the American Civil War.

5. The people never forgot the “bloody Sunday” of 1905.

Russian people, upset at the low standard of living and scarcity of food, staged a series of strikes around the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Led by an Orthodox Priest — and completely unarmed — the demonstrators aimed to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II, demanding things like working hours, wages, and improved conditions.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
First you emancipate them and then they ask for crazy things, like not dying at work.

Instead, the Russian Imperial Guard slaughtered them, firing into the crowd and killing or wounding 1,000. The Tsar agreed to share power with the state Duma, a parliament. But the revolution was coming.

4. World War I didn’t help.

The Russian military before World War I was large, but led by ineffectual generals and filled with obsolete technology. To make matters worse, the conditions in the field were as deplorable as the working conditions in the factories on the home front. Paying for the war left the Russian economy in shambles as food prices soared.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The economic trouble compounded the calls for higher wages and better working conditions. Soldiers would join workers in forming the “soviets” that would help oust the Tsar from power when the time came.

3. The Tsar was already out of power.

As a matter of fact, by the time the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the entire Romanov family was already captured by the government. The October Revolution came eight months after the February Revolution when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and his brother declined power.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The government ended up in the hands of the Duma and a lawyer named Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and in small councils across Russia, called “soviets” at the local level. It was during this period of shared power that the old and new order clashed and vied for power.

2. It sparked a civil war.

It was the only time the American Army and the Red Army fought in an official battle between the two. Shortly after the October Revolution, the new government made peace with the Central Powers still fighting World War I, as it became embroiled in a Civil War that pit Red Russians (the Bolsheviks) against White Russians (an amalgamation of monarchists, capitalists, and social democrats).

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Yeah, well… that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Soldiers and sailors from all across the empire chose sides as Red Army formed and took on conscripts. Former Tsarist officers defected back and forth between the Red  Army and its White Resistance. There was also a non-ideological Green movement that had the support of the peasants, but not were reluctant to actually fight.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Just like in America!

1. The U.S. invaded Russia.

In order to reopen WWI’s Eastern Front, the Allied Powers landed a number of international units in Russia, to both keep the peace and bolster the White Army to keep Communism from spreading to Europe, if possible. The Americans were deployed in the Siberian city of Arkhangelsk, near the Arctic Circle.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Dubbed the “Polar Bear Expedition,” the Americans joined a British contingent who attempted to fight their way to link up with the Czechoslovak Legion, which held the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Great War ended before any significant headway could be achieved and the Allies eventually left Russia altogether.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

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“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Actually, the Maginot Line was a good idea

The Maginot Line is a historic meme, a shrine to the failure of fixed defenses in the age of tanks and planes. But modern historians are increasingly making a bold claim: It wasn’t the Maginot Line that failed, it was diplomacy and French armored tactics.


The Maginot Line: Actually a Good Idea

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YouTube channel Historigraph has a pretty great primer on this concept that you can check out above, but we’re going to go over his arguments and that of historians below.

The purpose of the Maginot Line was to secure France’s border with German so well that, even accounting for Germany’s much larger population and birth rate, no attack over the border could succeed. This was to be achieved with strong defenses and massive concentrations of artillery.

And so it was constructed with thick concrete — reaching 12-feet thick in the most secure bunkers — and artillery and machine guns with overlapping fields of fire along a 280-mile front. The defenses were so imposing that military planners counted on second-rate troops to man them in case of a war.

But why would French planners place second-rate troops on the border with their greatest nemesis, even if they had great defenses? Because the French knew that Germany wasn’t limited to attacking over its shared border with France. And the military wanted its best troops available to fortify the less built-up grasslands in Belgium.

France had a deal with Belgium that, in case of a likely or actual invasion by a foreign army, would allow French troops to operate on Belgian soil. The plan was for the best French divisions to form a battle line with their Belgian counterparts along the River Meuse and Albert Canal.

The River Meuse was a great, natural bit of terrain for defenders that, when combined with the Albert Canal, would allow Belgian and French forces to hold back an attacking army for an extended time. It had seen fighting in World War I, and it always went bad for the attacker.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

A French Char B1 tank destroyed by its crew. The Char B1 was a good tank with thick armor, a strong 75mm gun, and acceptable speed. But French armor was not used effectively in the defense of France despite France having about as many tanks as Germany did.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

Nearly all of France’s tanks and most of her best troops would man this barrier and prevent a German invasion from the north. But, German forces would be forced to come against this defensive line because the only alternative was attacking against the Maginot Line — suicide.

But there were two flaws in France’s assumptions that wouldn’t be revealed until too late. The first was that Belgium was a neutral state in Europe prior to 1914. When Belgium was formed in 1830, it was as a neutral buffer state and all the major European powers gave some guarantee towards that neutrality. Most of the pledges stopped short of saying they would necessarily defend Belgium if it were invaded, but that was the general understanding.

So, Belgium was not actuallysuper comfortable with being an ally of a major European power in case of war. The country preferred neutrality instead. The other big problem was that Belgium in 1936 had a young and inexperienced king who headed a small military. King Leopold III needed strong guarantees of French resolve.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

A Panzer IV pushes through France in 1940.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

And so when Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by moving their own troops into the Rhineland, German territory that was off limits to its military under the terms that ended World War I, Leopold III became scared. Rather than count on France to hold up its end of the bargain, he broke the pact with France and reasserted Belgian neutrality.

And that is what made the Maginot Line suddenly much less useful. Sure, it would still force the Germans to go around it, allowing 943 miles of border to be guarded with lower-tier troops. But France now had hundreds of miles of border, most of it bare plains, that were guarded by nothing but Belgian hopes and dreams.

Hitler invaded and France raced to set up a defensive line as deep into Belgium as they could. But the Germans broke through Belgian defenses even more quickly than anyone could have guessed, partially because the Belgians had under-supplied one of the world’s best forts.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The Fort Eban Emael as it was captured by German troops.

Fort Eban-Emael was the anchor of defenses on the Albert Canal, but Germany landed a bare 87 paratroopers on top of the fort, which was built into a hill, and captured it. The defenders had machine guns and artillery that could sweep the top of the hill, but their weapons maintenance was shoddy and the artillery lacked the canister shot that would have been most effective.

The fort fell in the first day, and the three bridges it guarded were soon lost as well. The Germans swept east and finally encountered the French digging in on the River Dyle. And here was where French armored doctrine failed. French tanks were only slightly outnumbered, but were committed to battle piecemeal while German armor was formed into strong columns capable of forcing opening in French lines and then exploiting them.

And the French also underestimated the ability of modern tanks to navigate the tough terrain of the Ardennes Forest, failing to send either a counterattack or bombers to the forest despite multiple reports that German armor was making its way through.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

American troops look at Maginot Line defenses during the drive to Berlin in 1944.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

And so, the Maginot Line stood, strong and proud and funneling German troops north just like it was supposed to. The Maginot Line allowed France to choose its ground. But because of diplomatic missteps and a failure by French generals to understand the changing role of the tank, the defensive lines to the north failed.

The general argument against the Maginot Line is that the money should have spent on tanks, planes, and other modern equipment instead, but those were the exact assets which France failed to properly employ.

Today, fixed defenses are out of vogue as strategic bombing and bunker busters have made them nearly impossible to man for long. But they had one last hurrah in them in the Battle of France — if only their successes had been combined with good combined arms maneuvering.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a U-boat sank as a result of flushing the toilet

In the 1970s, BP oil pipeline workers came across a curious item about 12 miles southwest of Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire sitting about 86 meters under the surface- an old German U-Boat. In fact, one of the last U-Boats ever sunk in WWII. Unlike so many of its fellow subs, however, this one’s demise came about owing to a sequence of events all stemming from someone flushing the toilet incorrectly… So what exactly happened here?


U-1206’s Toilet Disaster

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U-1206’s Toilet Disaster

U-1206, a Type VIIC submarine, was officially ordered on April 2, 1942 and ultimately launched on December 30, 1943. About a year and a half later, On April 6, 1945, the shiny new craft with its crew of 50 men departed from Kristiansand, Norway on its first non-training patrol machine.

Pertinent to the topic at hand is that while most submarines at the time used a storage tank to stow the product of flushing on board toilets and other waste water, with stereotypical German engineering efficiency, U-boat designers went the other way and decided to eject the waste directly into the ocean.

On the plus side, this saved valuable space within the submarine while also reducing weight. The downside, of course, was that ejecting anything into the ocean required greater pressure inside than out. As a result, U-boats had long required that, in order to use the toilets, the ship would have to be near the surface

Of course, being so close to or on the surface is generally to be avoided when on patrol if a sub captain wants to see his ship not blown up. This resulted in crewmen who needed to purge their orifices while submerged needing to do so in containers, which would then be stored appropriately until the sub needed to surface and the offending substances could be ditched over board.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

As you can imagine, this didn’t exactly improve the already less than ideal smell of the air within the sub while it was plodding away down under. But there was nothing much that could be done about this…

That is, until some unknown German engineers designed a high pressure evacuation system. As to how this system worked, in a nutshell, the contents of the toilet were piped into an airlock of sorts. Once the offending matter found its way into said airlock, this would be sealed and subsequently pressurized, at which point a valve could be opened which would eject the fecal matter and fluids into the sea.

This all brings us to eight days into the patrol mission, on April 14, 1945.

Now, before we get into this, it should be noted that there are two versions of the story of what happened next- one version is stated by literally every single source we could find discussing this event on the interwebs, as well as repeated on the show QI and found in countless books on the subject. As for the other version, if you dig a little deeper, thanks to the good people at the Deutsches U-Boot Museum Archive, you can actually find the official account from 27 year old Captain Karl-Adolf Schlitt, who, minus a couple letters in his last name, couldn’t have been more aptly named for what was about to occur.

All this said, in both cases, the root cause of the sub’s sinking were the same- improper use of the toilet’s flushing mechanism.

That caveat out of the way, as the vessel was cruising along at around 70 meters below the surface and about eight miles from Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the popular version states that Captain Schlitt had need of evacuating his bowels and so, no doubt with dignity befitting a man of his stature and rank, did his business in the toilet. That done, he was now left to try to flush the thing.

Unable to figure out the complicated contraption, Captain Schlitt called in help from the “W.C. Waste Disposal Unit Manager”- literally the only guy on board officially trained in how to flush the toilet, apparently also known among the crew as (translated), “the shit-man”.

Unfortunately for the men that would soon die as a result, for whatever reason the crewman who was supposed to know how to flush the toilet made a mistake and turned the wrong valve…

That’s the popular version to which we could not find any primary document to support it, despite it being widely parroted. As for the official version, Captain Schlitt himself claimed, “In April 1945 U-1206 was in the North Sea off Britain. On board the diesel engines were faulty. We could not charge our batteries by the snorkel any more. In order to get the diesels working again we had put down about 8-10 miles from the British coast at 70mts, unseen by British patrols… I was in the engine room, when at the front of the boat there was a water leak. What I have learned is that a mechanic had tried to repair the forward WC’s outboard vent. I would say – although I do not have any proof – that the outer vent indicator either gave false readings or none at all.”

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

As to why said mechanic was attempting to work on the toilet’s outboard vent while deeply submerged, that’s every bit as much of a mystery as to why an engineer trained in how to properly flush the toilet would have screwed it up so badly in the Captain Schlitt pooping version of the story.

Of course, it is always possible that the good Captain made up his version of things to avoid personal embarrassment and perhaps the other version came from crew members giving a very different account, but we could not locate any crew member’s version of events to verify that.

Whichever story is true, the result in either case was the contents of the toilet, if any, and the ocean outside shooting like a jet stream into the submarine.

Things were about to get a whole lot worse.

You see, as alluded to in Captain Schlitt’s account, the U-1206 was a diesel electric sub, featuring twin Germaniawerft F46 four-stroke engines, which charged a bank of batteries which, in turn, powered two electric motors capable of producing 750 horsepower combined. The problem was that the batteries were directly below the toilet area. According to Captain Schlitt, when the water rushed in, “…the batteries were covered with seawater. Chlorine gas started to fill the boat.”

As this was all happening, Captain Schlitt ordered the vessel to be surfaced. He then states, “The engineer who was in the control room at the time managed to make the boat buoyant and surfaced, despite severe flooding.”

So here they were, diesel engines down for maintenance, batteries soaking in seawater, having taken on a significant amount of said water, chlorine gas filling the ship, and on the surface just off the coast of enemy territory.

The nightmare for Captain Schlitt was about to get worse. As he noted in his account of events, “We were then incapable of diving or moving. At this point, British planes and patrols discovered us…”

With few options available, Captain Schlitt ordered various valves on the U-1206 be opened in order for it to fill with water, after which the crew abandoned the sub, with it shortly thereafter sinking.

The crew made their way to the Scottish coast on rubber rafts, but things didn’t go well here either. Schlitt states, “In the attempt to negotiate the steep coast in heavy seas, three crew members tragically died. Several men were taken onboard a British sloop. The dead were Hans Berkhauer, Karl Koren, and Emil Kupper.”

Ultimately 10 crewmen did make it shore, but just like their surviving compatriots at sea, were promptly captured.

In the aftermath, thankfully for just about everyone, just 16 days later, on April 30, 1945, Hitler bravely, and with no regard for his own personal safety, infiltrated the Führerbunker and single handedly managed to rid the world of one of the most notorious individuals of all time by putting a bullet through his own brain. About a week after that, Germany finally surrendered.

As for what happened to Captain Schlitt after, this isn’t clear, other than he appears to have lived to the ripe old age of 90, dying on April 7, 2009.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Giphy

Bonus Facts:

The practice of calling the toilet the “head” was originally a maritime euphemism. This came from the fact that, classically, the toilet on a marine vessel, or at least where everyone would relieve themselves, was at the front of the ship (the head). This was so that water from the sea that splashed up on the front of the boat would wash the waste away. The first known documented occurrence of the term used to describe a toilet area was from 1708 by Woodes Rogers, Governor of the Bahamas, in his work “Cruising Voyage Around the World.”

Despite toilet paper having been around since at least the 6th century AD (initially in China), it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century when toilet paper would first be introduced in America and England and it wasn’t until the 1900s, around the same time the indoor toilet became common, that toilet paper would catch on with the masses. So what did people use for wiping before toilet paper? This depended greatly on region, personal preference, and wealth. Rich people often used hemp, lace, or wool. The 16th century French writer Francois Rabelais, in his work Gargantua and Pantagruel, recommended using “the neck of a goose, that is well downed”.

The goose is kind of getting the crappy end of that deal. *crickets* Poor people would poop in rivers and clean off with water, rags, wood shavings, leaves, hay, rocks, sand, moss, sea weed, apple husks, seashells, ferns, and pretty much whatever else was at hand and cheap/free. For seaman, the common thing was to use old frayed anchor cables. The Inuit’s and other peoples living in frigid regions tended to go with clumps of snow to wipe with, which, other than the coldness factor, is actually one of the better options it seems compared to many other of the aforementioned methods.Going back a ways in history, we know the Ancient Roman’s favorite wiping item, including in public restrooms, was a sponge on a stick that would sit in salt water and be placed back in the salt water when done… waiting for the next person…

Back to America, one extremely popular wiping item for a time was corn cobs and, later, Sears and Roebucks, Farmers Almanac, and other catalogs became popular. The Farmers Almanac even came with a hole in it so it could be easily hung in bathrooms for just this purpose… reading and wiping material in one, and no doubt boosting their sales when said magazine needed replaced!Around 1857, Joseph Gayetty came up with the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States. His paper “The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet” was sold in packages of flat sheets that were moistened and soaked with aloe. Gayetty’s toilet paper sold for about 50 cents a pack ( today), with 500 sheets in that package. Despite its comfort and superiority at cleaning, this wasn’t terribly popular, presumably because up to this point most people got their wiping materials for free from whatever was at hand, and humans hate change and newfangled innovations.

Around 1867, brothers Edward, Clarence, and Thomas Scott, who sold products from a push cart, started making and selling toilet paper as well. They did a bit better than Gayetty; their original toilet paper was much cheaper as it was not coated with aloe and moistened, but was just rolls of somewhat soft paper (often with splinters).As the indoor flushable toilet started to become popular, so did toilet paper. This is not surprising considering there was nothing really to grab in an indoor bathroom to wipe with, unlike outdoors where nature is at your disposal. The age old Farmers Almanac and similar such catalogs also were not well suited for this purpose because their pages tended to clog up the pipes in indoor plumbing.Even once it became popular, wiping with toilet paper still doesn’t appear to have been painless until surprisingly recently.

The aforementioned splinter problem seems to have been somewhat common until a few decades into the 20th century. In the 1930s, this changed with such companies as Northern Tissue boasting a “splinter free” toilet tissue.As for today, toilet paper is still extremely popular, though wet wipes, similar to Gayetty’s, have made a major come back in recent years, much to the chagrin of sewer workers the world over.Much like our forebears who shunned Gayetty’s innovation, vastly superior toilet seat add-on bidet systems that take 10 minutes to install and cost only around , literally paying for themselves in drastic reduction of toilet paper usage relatively quickly and providing significantly better cleaning, are still largely shunned for some reason.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

British commandos blew up Nazi shipyards in this crazy daring op

In early 1942, things were finally starting to look up for the Allies in Europe. After the Miracle at Dunkirk, the British managed to regroup and deploy their forces elsewhere. The Blitz was over, and the English home islands were safe from invasion (for the time being). Most importantly, the Americans were in the war on the Allied side. The time was right to hit Nazi Germany where it hurt while making the North Atlantic just a little safer for the Royal Navy to operate.

The British set out to destroy the shipyards at St. Nazaire, France.


The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

An aerial view of the target.

The French port as St. Nazaire held one of the largest drydocks in the world. The legendary battleship Bismarck was on its way to St. Nazaire when the Royal Navy caught up to her and sunk her. Few other docks could accommodate ships of that scale. So to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, the British decided to destroy them with a daring commando raid. There was just one problem, the Special Operations Executive believed the mission would require more explosives than they could reasonably carry into the dock.

And all the Navy ships that could destroy the facility were too heavy to get into the Loire Estuary. So instead of using people or guns to destroy the complex, they decided to essentially make one giant floating bomb.

The British needed to destroy the facility’s dock, the water pumping machinery, and any U-boats or other shipping in the area. To get the men and explosives close enough to the facility and have enough to actually do the job, the SOE decided to strip a Royal Navy destroyer, making it light enough to slip into the estuary and up the River Loire. After stripping it for weight, the ship would be packed with explosives. The plan was for the commandos to board smaller ships and disembark. Once in the facility, they would set explosives elsewhere in the complex, then blow them up.

All of them, including the giant ship bomb.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The convoy of two destroyers and 16 smaller craft left England and set sail for France on the afternoon of March 26, 1942. After capturing two French fishing boats, they all arrived off the coast of St. Nazaire around 9 p.m. and made their way into the port under a German naval ensign. That’s when the RAF began making a bombing run that was supposed to distract the German defenders, but it only served to make the Germans more suspicious. By the time the flotilla of English ships was coming in range of the target, they were challenged by the German navy.

In an instant, all the defenders’ searchlights and guns were pointed at the ships. The Germans began to rake the ship with incessant fire, even after the British surrendered. The German fire only increased, so now the British began to shoot back. The HMS Campbeltown, the ship that was laden with explosives, increased her speed.

At 1:30 a.m. the Campbeltown rammed the gates of the dockyard facility, driving the hull into the gate. The commandos finally disembarked as 5,000 German defenders scrambled to make sense of what was happening. Two assault teams, five demolition teams, and a mortar group all spread out into the complex. They moved quickly to take out the various workings of the drydock and the ships there, and they were largely successful, but the effort was not without casualties. The Germans managed to kill many of the raiders.

By this time, escaping back to the ships was not an option. The commando teams’ new orders were to escape back to England however they could and to only surrender if they ran out of ammunition. Most of them did. They attempted to piecemeal an escape to a nearby old town and into the outlying woods. They were quickly surrounded and captured by the Germans. Only five managed to make it back to Spain and thus, England.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

The Campbeltown wreck was still in the dry dock months later.

The Campbeltown didn’t explode right away. It remained lodged in the drydock gates for more than 24 hours as the Germans tried to make sense of the Allied raid. At noon on March 28, 1942, the charges exploded, completely destroying the drydock, along with two tankers moored there. It killed 360 Germans and knocked the drydock out for the remainder of World War II.

Some 169 British troops died in the effort, along with 215 taken prisoner. The Nazis lost two tugs, two tankers, and the drydock in this daring raid but the more strategic importance of the raid was less than welcome. Hitler began to double his efforts to fortify the Western coast of France. By the time D-Day came around in 1944, the new fortifications would cost the Allies dearly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army colonel was stupid brave

Meet Colonel McIntosh

One American officer made the bold proclamation that “a braver man than Colonel McIntosh never lived.” Few could argue with this assessment when evaluating the deeds of James Simmons McIntosh.


Born in Georgia in 1787, James Simmons McIntosh came from a long line of soldiers. His great-uncle, General Lachlan McIntosh, served with Washington at Valley Forge. His father, John McIntosh, was the American commander who taunted the British to “come and take it” when they demanded the surrender of Fort Morris in 1778. It was only appropriate that James enter the army when of age.

He received an appointment to the First United States Rifle Regiment as a lieutenant at the age of 25 in November 1812. Like his forefathers, he had a chance to fight the British, and fought at the Battle of Scajaquada Creek in August 1814. McIntosh received a serious wound and was left for dead on the field of battle. An American burial party discovered McIntosh still breathing and transferred him to New York to recover. The House of Representatives of Georgia later presented Lieutenant McIntosh with a dress sword for his “gallantry and intrepidity” in the war that he carried until his death.

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming
Colonel McIntosh’s final battle at Molino del Rey during the Mexican-American War. (Lithograph by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot after a drawing by Carlos Nebel.)

Left for Dead: The Battle of Palo Alto

At the conclusion of the war, he opted to stay in the army for the next 30 years. McIntosh rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Fifth United States Infantry Regiment by 1839. In October 1845, he reported to General Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi, Texas, when war clouds loomed over Mexico. He played a leading part in Taylor’s operations when war broke out in 1846. On May 8, 1846, at the Battle of Palo Alto, his regiment held the extreme right of Taylor’s line and beat back a fierce Mexican lancer charge to save the army’s baggage train.

The Mexican army fell back to a strong defensive position situated at Resaca del la Palma after their defeat at Palo Alto. McIntosh and his regiment were ordered to conduct a frontal assault on the left of the entrenched Mexican line the next day by General Taylor. McIntosh rode forward as Mexican bullets cut through the air. He was one of the first Americans to set foot inside the Mexican position, but had to dismount due to the uneven terrain.

In the chaos of the assault, McIntosh was waylaid by six Mexican infantrymen before he could unholster his pistol. One of the six assailants bayoneted McIntosh’s arm, breaking the bone. As he fell to the ground, two other soldiers attempted to skewer him with their bayonets. McIntosh grabbed the barrel of one of the Mexican muskets with his bare hand and stopped the infantryman’s bayonet within inches from his face. While preoccupied with warding off this attack, the other Mexican infantryman drove his bayonet into McIntosh’s mouth, forcing his front teeth inward, and piercing the back of his neck.

Also read: This Green Beret’s heroism was so incredible that Ronald Regan said it was hard to believe

The Mexican infantrymen left the American colonel for dead. McIntosh found the strength to lift his mangled body from the ground and stagger in the direction of the American line. His shattered arm dangled at his side, and his face and neck were a bloody mess. Lieutenant James Duncan of the Second Artillery noticed McIntosh staggering across a small pool of water, and ordered his men to assist the colonel.

Duncan asked if he could do anything for McIntosh. The veteran colonel somehow managed to get off the words, “Yes! Give me some water, and show me to my regiment!”

He collapsed soon after and was transported back to Point Isabel, Texas, to recover. Most American newspapers reported he had died during the battle. In twelve months, the old Spartan recuperated from his ghastly wounds and headed back to join Winfield Scott’s army on its march against Mexico City. McIntosh again assumed command of his beloved Fifth United States Infantry Regiment. He distinguished himself in command of the regiment at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.

A Final Stand: The Battle of El Molino del Rey

On the night of Sept. 7, 1847, General William Worth called together the senior officers of his command and broke the news to them that General Scott had ordered a forlorn assault on the strongly fortified Mexican position at El Molino del Rey. That night these officers, including McIntosh, poured over a battle map under candlelight in preparation. Most of those present would be dead before noon the next day.

At dawn on Sept. 8, 1847, three American columns of 3,447 men were arrayed shoulder to shoulder for the assault on El Molino del Rey. With his superior ill, McIntosh took command of the Second Brigade. He was ordered to concentrate his brigade’s assault on the center of the Mexican defenses anchored by the strongly fortified Casa Mata. In his usual manner, he made his way out in front of his men conspicuously mounted on his horse and carried the sword presented to him by the citizens of Georgia.

The Mexican defenders sat motionless until the McIntosh’s men advanced to within 100 yards of the Mexican position. The American infantrymen were nearly swept to pieces over the open ground. They pushed through the storm of bullets and made it to within 25 yards of the Mexican position.

McIntosh remained mounted through the hail of bullets to inspire his men to continue forward. A musket ball suddenly hit him in the thigh, causing him to crash to the ground. While lying wounded, another ball tore through his knee and painfully lodged into his groin. Lieutenant Ralph W. Kirkham of his staff ordered two American infantrymen to carry the wounded colonel to the rear. They grabbed McIntosh by his coat and began to drag him to the rear.

More heroes: This one-armed Gurkha fought off 200 Japanese with a bolt-action rifle

McIntosh refused to be dragged any further until he received word that a second American assault broke through the Mexican position. He kept probing those nearby, “Is that fort taken yet?” The Americans suffered 20 percent casualties that day, making it the bloodiest day of the U.S-Mexican War for the United States.

McIntosh lingered in a makeshift hospital for over a month. His most recent wounds healed well, and it appeared for a time that the resilient colonel would recover. His health took a turn for the worse when his old War of 1812 wound broke open and became infected. He died on Sept. 26, 1847, and was buried in a nearby Mexican cemetery.

Members of his native Georgia raised enough money to cover the expenses of bringing his remains back home for reburial. His sword and uniform, pierced by eight bullet holes, were placed upon his coffin during his funeral. He was reburied in the Colonial Park Cemetery on March 18, 1848, resting in immortality alongside those members of his family that fought so valiantly in the service of their county.