The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

The book character Dracula is based on Vlad Dracula, a 15th-century royal often known as Vlad the Impaler for his tendency to place human beings on spikes, largely because of a stunning June, 1462, attack on the armies of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.


The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Vlad III, the ruler of Wallachia who would be known as “The Impaler” and “Dracula.”

First, let’s acknowledge that Vlad is world famous because he was a literal monster who would later be immortalized as a fictional vampire. His actions, including the ones discussed herein, were horrible — some of which would be considered war crimes today. So, you know, don’t keep reading if you don’t want to hear about Vlad the Impaler’s war crimes. (Also, in the future, don’t click on articles about Dracula’s brutal attacks. There’s no way these articles won’t be monstrous.)

Vlad was the son of a smart and capable ruler of the realm of Wallachia, a small territory on the Black Sea that was trapped between the then-large and powerful Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Vlad and his brother were taken by the Ottoman Empire as hostages when young, growing up in the sultan’s court. Vlad’s brother took to Ottoman life and converted to Islam, but Vlad developed a deep hatred of the sultan and his kingdom.

When Vlad ascended to the throne, Sultan Mehmed II sent envoys to demand a tribute from the young ruler. Vlad, giving a hint as to how he would also rule his own people, ordered the two Ottoman men executed and their heads impaled with long nails. The sultan was understandably angry at this treatment and sent a top general to exact revenge.

But Dracula, which translates to “Son of the Dragon,” was an heir to a successful military leader and a smart tactician in his own right. He led his own forces against the sultan’s army and set a successful ambush, capturing many of the Ottoman soldiers sent against him.

Mehmed II had been engaged in a lengthy siege, but he abandoned it to answer this new threat. Vlad had marched into the sultan’s lands and laid waste, poisoning water, burning villages, and yes, impaling soldiers and civilians. Some were even impaled alive, and the sultan’s men began finding some still breathing and gurgling on the spikes as the Ottoman army closed on the forces of Wallachia.

It was these attacks on Turks and Bulgarians that would cement Vlad’s status as the “Impaler.” By his own estimates, Vlad and his men killed 23,844 people, not counting those who burned in their homes rather than come out and face the Wallachians’ spears and swords.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Mehmed II was a great military leader of the Ottoman Empire.

(Paolo Veronese)

Mehmed II ordered mercy killings for those who were on spikes but still alive, and the sultan prepared to go on the warpath within Wallachia. But Vlad had continued his devastation within his own country. Vlad had done many of the same things to his own people while withdrawing ahead of the much larger Ottoman army.

The scorched earth campaign worked; the Ottomans could find little food or water for them or their horses. Any foragers who strayed too far were killed by Vlad’s men. The rest of the Ottoman army were forced to make camp and resupply.

But they did so near the fortress of Targoviste, and Vlad was waiting for the sultan. When he saw the large tents going up, he disguised himself as a senior member of the Ottoman army and walked right up to the gate guards, using his accent-free Turkish that he had gained as a hostage in the Ottoman court to get in unchallenged.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
The Battle With Torches depicts the attack by Vlad the Impaler against Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
(Theodor Aman)

 

He carefully paced the camp and searched out all the key targets, then walked right out. That night, Vlad returned and ordered the gates opened, again. This time, he entered with a column of horses and got hundreds in before the guards even knew to raise the alarm. By the time the sultan’s camp was rousing itself for the fight, Vlad had between 7,000 and 10,000 troops burning a path to the sultan’s tent.

Unfortunately, the sultan was absent from the tent, so Vlad burned it to the ground, attacked the tent of the sultan’s top advisers, and pulled out before the Ottomans could launch a proper counterattack. Luckily for them, the Ottomans spent the first couple of hours fighting each other in the confusion caused by the raid.

Over the following days Mehmed regrouped his forces and marched to the fortress of Targoviste, where there worst horror of the whole campaign waited for them.

Vlad and his men had erected a massive forest that covered a square mile outside the fortress. It was made of 20,000 sharpened stakes, and each stake had at least on body impaled on it. While many were prisoners of war, some were women and children. The worst were the mothers whose babies were attached to their bodies. Birds had made nests in some of the corpses.

Mehmed II had the numbers and the experience to lay siege to the fortress, but in the face of these horrors, he pulled back. Vlad ruled Wallachia off and on until 1477, when he was killed in battle. Wallachia would survive as a principality until merging with Moldovia in 1859. It would eventually become part of modern-day Romania.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Celebrate freedom with a real Revolutionary War cocktail

One of the reasons Prohibition failed in America is probably because America was founded on and was fueled by booze from the get-go. The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The U.S. Marine Corps was founded in a bar. There just isn’t a lot Americans won’t do to keep the party going a little longer. The best example of this is the legendary Revolutionary War leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.


The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

That face when you decide to take a British fort just because you can.

Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were the first to deliver a crushing defeat to the British during the American Revolution. They captured the guns at Fort Ticonderoga, along with two other forts in the area. Ticonderoga was the key to Lake Champlain, which denied the British entry from that point and became the staging area for patriot incursions into Canada. More importantly, the cannons seized at the fort were moved to Boston, where the British occupied much of the city since April 1775. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the redcoats at places like the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Army needed the help.

In November 1775, Ethan Allen and his Vermonters moved the forts supplies and guns overland to Boston, where General George Washington and his artillery commander Henry Knox used them to force the British to withdraw from Boston after holding it for almost a full year.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

This is the fort they wanted to take.

What prompts a gaggle of armed good-ol’ boys from Vermont to take on a heavily armed and fortified position of professional soldiers in the world’s largest, best-equipped, and seasoned army of veterans? Alcohol, of course. The night before Allen and the boys seized the fort, they all met at Remington’s Tavern in Castleton, Vermont. There, they sat down with Benedict Arnold who was sent by the Continental Congress to capture the fort and its guns. The Green Mountain Boys were there because they were going to take the fort anyway, sanctioned or not – so Arnold and his regulars might as well join in.

The liquid courage being poured at the tavern was what was common for the area during that time period: hard cider. Colonists planted apples in the new world primarily for the purpose of drinking it. The crop thrived here and kept people healthy, as it was often safer than the drinking water. In fact, cider was pretty much used as currency. But back then, drinking men needed more of a kick, so they added shots of rum to their cider, two shot of it to every pint of cider. They called the drink a “stone fence” because it felt like you were running down a hill into one.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

For America.

After the ragtag group downed enough bravery, the two commanders led the crossing of Lake Champlain in the early morning hours, with 83 of the Green Mountain Boys. But dawn was coming fast, and Allen and Arnold worried that if they waited for the whole force, they might lose the element of surprise. So with just 83 Vermonters, they stormed Fort Ticonderoga, catching the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the guns for use elsewhere in the Revolution.

If they hadn’t captured them, the rebellion might have died in its cradle by diminishing hopes and expectations for the Continental Army’s chances. So down a few of these spiked ciders for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who might have just saved the future U.S., fueled by liquid courage.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a simple name change connects Marine special operators to their past

Given how long America has been fighting wars, one would think that special operations were among the first thing Americans developed and perfected. But it wasn’t — not really. The tactics used in the Revolutionary War were considered guerrilla tactics and U.S. troops were the first to openly fire at officers.


This did not endear America to the rest of the world community.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Despite this long history, America’s special operations community is relatively young. During World War II, the British created their famous Commando units. Seeing this, President Franklin Roosevelt asked his military leadership for something similar to what the British were doing.

The Marine Corps was first tasked with creating such an elite group. Already the smallest branch and specialized in amphibious landings, they created two battalions: the 1st Raider Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, and the 2nd Raider Battalion, commanded by Maj. Evans Carlson.

Related: 3 key differences between Recon Marines and Marine Raiders

Each man had their own ideas on how they would command their units. For example, the 2nd Raiders had a much more relaxed posture when it came to military discipline, quickly creating unit cohesion.

Many in the Marine Corps’ hierarchy didn’t like the idea of a small Marine Corps unit — most believed that the Raiders did the exact same thing as the rest of the Corps. The major difference was, however, that the Raiders worked as a small force and didn’t participated in big landings. In fact, they would land during the night and move into the Japanese-held territories, creating havoc, disrupting enemy supply lines, and taking them completely by surprise.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
Marine Raiders on Tulagi Island.

One of the biggest successes of the Marine Raiders was how they worked in support of bigger forces — a tactic developed to perfection today by modern special operators.

The Marine Raiders were later turned into the 4th Marine Division in 1944. The Raiders were only around for two years, but are heralded as some of the best warriors in the whole Pacific Campaign. The Marine Raiders left a huge legacy for special operations in America.

In 2014, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos announced that the 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion would be renamed the 1st Raider Battalion, connecting the Raiders of the past with the Raiders of today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This command post flew 24 hours a day for 29 years

We’ve all seen the movie where a well-funded group of terrorists makes a threat against the U.S. government then all hell breaks loose until one man or woman steps up and saves the day by defeating the bad guys. These films often make our defensive capabilities appear powerless versus these fictional villains.

Although these storylines are entertaining, our government’s ability to protect us goes well beyond some smart computer hacker, especially in the event of a nuclear war.

The nuclear war strategy of the U.S. relies upon its capacity to communicate with and control its nuclear forces under the most hazardous of conditions. For close to 30 years, this vital defense plan was laid in the hands of 11 different converted EC-135Cs code-named “Looking Glass.”


 

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

 

 

Operation Looking Glass was introduced by the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command on Feb. 3, 1961. It was prepared to take over all operational control of nuclear forces if the ground-based command centers were destroyed or rendered unusable.

If that devastating nuclear event occurred, the general officer serving as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) aboard the “Looking Glass” would be required by law to assume the authority of the National Command Authority and directly command execution during a nuclear attack.

 

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

To avoid any potential enemy threat from jamming the unique aircraft’s signal, the specialized planes came equipped with high-frequency antennas located on the wings. Along with the AEAO, a crew consisting of approximately 15-20 airmen would man their solitary post for several hours a day.

Since its maiden flight in 1961, there has always been a “Looking Glass” plane flying somewhere above the United States in case of an emergency, 24-hours a day.

On June 1, 1992, Operation Looking Glass was grounded from service and replaced.

Check out the video below to witness just how special this flying beast was to national security.

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How the Battle of the Bulge would have gone if GIs had the Javelin

Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”


Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
U.S. Army soldiers with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division shoot the Javelin, an anti-tank weapon. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division)

Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.

The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.

But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.

According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
Photo: Wikimedia

Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.

But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.

That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This insanely talented sniper was known as ‘The White Death’

Considered the deadliest sniper of all time, Simo Hayha joined Finland’s Civil Guard at the age of 17 and quickly established himself as an excellent marksman. It was here that he honed his skills with the Mosin-Nagant, developing a talent that the Soviets would soon come to fear.


Hayha regularly practiced his warfighting craft by accurately firing his bolt-action rifle 16 times per minute at a target 500-feet away — which is a challenging task.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what would become known as the “Winter War,” or the Russo-Finnish War.

Although the Finns were highly outnumbered, they had the home-field advantage and turned to guerrilla-style fighting to defend their territory from the encroaching Red Army.

In the beginning, Hayha found himself fighting against an enemy force of 4,000 with just 31 other men at his side.

Related video: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time – Featuring John Cena

On Dec. 31, 1939, Hayha scored 25 kill shots while dressed in all white to perfectly camouflage himself among the snow-covered terrain. The talented marksman would stalk his targets in freezing temperatures for several hours. Using the surrounding snow, Hayha packed himself deep within the frozen ground to decrease his chances of being noticed.

Hayha preferred using iron sights instead of optic scopes as other snipers had grown to favor. Although it was harder to get a fix on a target, using iron sights helped him avoid detection from light reflected off the scope.

As Hayha tallied up his kills, he was given a nickname that would write him into the history books — “The White Death.”

He tallied 505 kills, the highest count from any significant war. All of the kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days — meaning he averaging over five per day. Hayha ended up getting wounded in the war; shot by an explosive bullet which nearly took off his lower left jaw.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

He survived the wound and continued to live a long life. Hayha passed away in a veteran’s nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.

Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this talented sniper’s record-setting life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the German Navy accidentally fought itself in World War II

Aside from stories about U-Boats and how German Admiral Karl Donitz took over for Hitler when the dictator killed himself, you don’t really hear much about the German Navy in World War II. There are a lot of reasons for this, and like most problems with the Nazis, much of it is due to incompetence of leadership. 

One of the Kriegsmarine’s earliest adventures in the war was Operation Wikinger. The operation was a response to sightings of British submarines in the North Sea. If the British were out there, they reasoned, the best response would be to go after them and clear the seas.

This turned out to be a terrible idea. 

The German Navy’s issues were manyfold, and much of it happened right from the start of the Nazi regime.

Hitler had high hopes of building a Navy that could go toe-to-toe with the British but didn’t really guide his military leadership from there. Karl Donitz said he would need 1,000 submarines to take on the Royal Navy. He got 57.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
No matter how big a U-boat is, 57 isn’t the same as 1000. (Diego Delso)

To top it all off, the rest of the world powers had realized that the age of big battleships was over and that naval air power would be the deciding factor at sea. Meanwhile, Germany was finishing the world’s largest battleship, the Bismarck. 

Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering is equally to blame for Germany’s ptificul naval forces during the war. Unwilling to cede any command of the air from the Luftwaffe, he wouldn’t divert resources to create a naval air force. It was also Goering’ Luftwaffe that put the nail in the coffin of Operation Wikinger. 

When Wikinger was finally launched in February of 1940, the task force consisted of six destroyers with two land-based Luftwaffe bomber squadrons in support. This should have been fine for such a small and nearby area of operations like the North Sea, but exchanging information between two services meant information had to go all the way down the chain of one command, all the way up another, and back again. 

So when a lone German bomber flew over the six destroyers without indicating whether it was friend or foe, the ships opened fire on it. The bomber returned fire, but the Luftwaffe had more experience. It scored a direct hit on one of the destroyers, cutting it in two. The rest of the ships returned to help the crew as the bomber flew home.

That’s how another destroyer suddenly hit an undersea mine. At this point, no one in the task force knew what was happening, who was attacking them, or how they were being attacked. One of the ships, believing it was being attacked by a submarine, dropped its depth charges, damaging its own rudder in the process. 

By the time the ships were finally ready to go home, the German Navy had lost two destroyers and 578 sailors. Poor communication was to blame. The Kriegsmarine knew the bombers would be in the area, but they failed to inform the ships. The Luftwaffe bomber didn’t even know there were German ships in the North Sea. 

The whole debacle took 30 minutes. To this day, no one knows if the mine that struck one of the destroyers was German or British. Not a single officer was disciplined for the losses. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Virginia is in a fight with Minnesota over this piece of history

No matter how you feel about the Confederate States of America or the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, it’s undeniable that relics from the Civil War belong in a museum.

But which one?


The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

A face that screams “wanna fight about it?”

In 1863, a Pvt. Marshall Sherman from the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment captured a Confederate battle flag from the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa. His bravery that day earned him not only the keepsake of his heroics, but also the Medal of Honor.

“We just rushed in like wild beasts. Men swore and cursed and struggled and fought, grappled in hand-to-hand fight, threw stones, clubbed their muskets, kicked, yelled, and hurrahed,” said Minnesota soldier William Harmon, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The flag, no longer on public display, resides at the Minnesota Historical Center in St. Paul. And Virginia wants it back.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

“Come get it. Sincerely, the 1st Minnesota Infantry”

The 1st Minnesota wasn’t only at Gettysburg, though the unit took a beating there. They were also at First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Seven Pines, and First and Second Fredericksburg, just to name a few. It was at Gettysburg that the 1st was ordered to charge a Confederate position where they would be outnumbered by at least five to one to keep a faltering Union line together. They suffered 82 percent casualty rate but still helped hold off Pickett’s Charge the next day.

The Regiment has their own monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield today.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

And Minnesota has a war trophy.

For a century, Virginia has tried to get it back, through any means necessary. They tried asking nicely. The answer was no. They tried an act of Congress. Minnesota said no. Even after a Presidential order, Minnesota declined. In 1998, 2000, 2003, and in 2015, the answer remained the same. When Virginia demanded the piece of their heritage back, then-Governor Jesse Ventura replied that it was now Minnesota’s heritage.

Check out the story from Minnesota’s Historical Society.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why WWI was once called ‘The War to End All Wars’

Hindsight is a cruel mistress. After Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, nearly every corner of the globe was drawn into a conflict — and the enormous loss of life that ensued was tragic. There were so many participants in the brawl that you couldn’t just name the war after its location or its combatants — after all, the “French-British-German-Austrian-Hungarian-Russian-American-Ottoman-Bulgarian-Serbian War” doesn’t really roll off the tongue (nor is it a complete list). So, the people of the time called it, simply, “The Great War.”

In some rare instances, the war was referred to as the “First World War,” even before the advent of the second. Ernst Haeckel, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, called it that because it escalated beyond the scope of a “European War” — it was truly international.

Others, however, took a more optimistic approach by calling it, “The War to End All Wars.” As history has shown, this was certainly not the case — but some plucky, upbeat civilians genuinely believed it would be rainbows and sunshine after the dust from the global conflict settled.


The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

You wouldn’t think the guy that wrote about aliens destroying humanity would be such an optimist…

(Illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds.’)

English author H.G. Wells — the genius behind The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds — wrote in an articles to local newspapers that this global struggle, this Great War, would be “The War That Will End Wars” as we know them (full versions of his articles were later transcribed into a book entitled The War That Will End War).

In his articles, Wells argued that the Central Powers were entirely to blame for the war and that it was German militarism that sparked everything. He believed that once the Germans were defeated, the world would have no reason to fight ever again.

We know today that these statements were far from true, but for the people who were living in constant fear mere miles away from the front line, it was the optimism that they needed to keep going. By 1918, the term “The War to End All Wars” had spread all across Europe like a catchphrase and was synonymous with hope for a better future.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

He was a eloquent speech writer, but he was a few years too late to come up with the phrase.

(National Archives)

Despite the fact that the phrase had been used in Europe for years, it’s most often attributed to President Woodrow Wilson. This is particularly strange because the President only once used the term — and never did so in any congressional address. Wilson did once refer to the end of the war as the “final triumph of justice,” but he seldom used the phrase for which he later became known.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

If there was a single human being who knew war best, it was, without a shadow of a doubt, General of the Armies Eisenhower.

(National Archives)

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor and British statesman, was a loud opponent to the phrase. Mockingly, he said that The Great “War, like the next war, is a war to end war” — and, of course, he was right. To the shock of absolutely nobody, conflicts persisted around the world after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

Wells, who originally coined the phrase, later backtracked on his statements, insisting that he, too, was being ironic. He joined in with everyone else in making fun of his statements — and later claimed it was the “war that could end war.”

In 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower put it plainly and finally.

“No one has yet explained how war prevents war. Nor has anyone been able to explain away the fact that war begets conditions that beget further war.”
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4 reasons the Aardvark and Switchblade could still kick ass today

In this day and age, the F-111 Aardvark and its larger variant, the FB-111 Switchblade, are often forgotten. That shouldn’t be the case. Here are four reasons that these planes could still kick a lot of ass.


1. Speed

The F-111 was fast – with a top speed of Mach 2.5, according to GlobalSecurity.org. The FB-111 was also capable of going fast, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher. Not just at high altitudes, but also on the deck. In fact, these planes were designed to deliver a knockout punch at treetop level.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
A General Dynamics FB-111A Aardvark on display at the Barksdale Global Power Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base. This plane could fly over twice the speed of sound – and deliver 35,500 pounds of bombs. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Payload

The B-2, B-1B, and B-52 get a lot of press for their huge payloads — anywhere from 51 to 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. But the F-111 and FB-111 could each carry 36 Mk 82s. That is nothing to sneeze at. During the Vietnam War, Baugher noted that four F-111s were delivering as many bombs as 20 F-4s.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
A left side view of an F-111A dropping 24 Mark 82 low-drag bombs in-flight over a range on May 1, 1980. The aircraft was assigned to the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. (USAF photo)

3. Range

Baugher notes that the FB-111 could fly over 2,500 miles with four AGM-69 Short-Range Attack Missiles and internal fuel. That is a long reach – without tying up tankers like the KC-135, KC-46, or KC-10. While the AGM-69 is no longer in service, imagine what sort of distant targets could be hit by a squadron of FB-111s carrying AGM-158 JASSMs based at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

The F-111F demonstrated this range in an operational context during Operation El Dorado Canyon, when 18 planes from the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing flew from bases in England around Spain to hit targets around Tripoli. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that the mission was about 6,400 miles — the longest fighter mission in history.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
Ground crew prepares an F-111F of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing for a retaliatory air strike on Libya. (USAF photo)

4. Accuracy

The F-111 was very capable with laser-guided bombs, but the planes could also deliver unguided bombs accurately. During Desert Storm, that the F-111Es from the 20th Fighter Wing carried out attacks with conventional “dumb” bombs — and suffered no combat losses doing so.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous
A U.S. Air Force General Dynamics F-111F aircraft, equipped with an AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack laser target designator, banking to the left over Loch Ness (UK). (USAF photo)

In short, the Aardvark and the Switchblade had a lot of life left when they were sent to the boneyard in the 1990s. One could imagine that with upgrades to carry JDAMs, AGM-154 JSOWs, and even the AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER systems, that these planes would certainly be a huge assets in today’s global hotspots.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.


The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.

Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.

Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.

My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”

The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.

Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.

I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.

But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.

But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.

And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.

As Amy said the night before the funeral:

I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?

But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.

Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.

Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.

Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.

“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.

(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.

Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.

Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:

They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.

Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”

Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 most overrated empires in history

‘Empire’ is such a great word. It evokes images of lasting power, strength, and historical importance — even when it has nothing to do with an actual empire.

When it does have to do with an actual empire, you expect some kind of lasting imprint on humanity — some kind expansive reach; some kind of anything, really. Empires aren’t supposed to just rise for no reason and collapse like the Cowboys in the playoffs.

6. The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire has a glorious 600-year history of basically just scaring Europeans about the spread of Islam. If you look at the current state of affairs, it’s obvious that Europe never needed the help in the first place. When it came to actually spreading Islam, the Caliphate wasn’t quite so good at it.

 

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They were famous for receiving the pointy end of history’s largest cavalry charge.

At its height, the Ottomans didn’t even have full control over the lands they supposedly ruled. As soon as they reached a period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century, they kinda let the whole Empire decline. And even when Ottoman military power recovered, they still suffered losses in territory and in wars. After choosing the wrong side of WWI, they became modern-day Turkey. At only 100 years old, it already has a history and culture more unique than the Ottomans ever had.

5. The German Empire

Another victim of poor decisions during WWI, the German Empire only lasted 47 years. That’s not even long enough for the Kaiser to have a mid-life crisis.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Even though it saw a lot of technological and industrial achievements, it pretty much squandered those on a couple of World Wars that it somehow lost. It was late to the game of creating a colonial empire — one with a plan that can be best described as “oh yeah, me too,” as they simply took what Britain and France left behind.

4. The Galactic Empire

As dramatic as the changeover from Republic to Empire might have been (as painstakingly recounted in the Star Wars prequels), their biggest achievements include getting beaten by a fleet of space fighters that resemble your Uncle Todd’s Camaro after spending all their time enslaving and killing entire populations.

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King Leopold approves.

Not to mention their big goal was trying to build the same space station twice and they got trounced in their efforts both times. They left no cultural legacy on the people of the galaxy except for “I’m so happy they’re gone.”

3.  The Russian Empire

This was an empire that was constantly trying to keep up with everyone else. The few Tsars who managed to drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into being competitive, had to do it by some extreme means — like publicly cutting off beards.

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Also by working serfs to death for centuries after the feudal system was retired.

Peasants in parts of Russia were essentially slaves from the 11the century until the 19th century. They weren’t emancipated until 18-goddamn-61. With all that free labor, Russia still struggled to keep up with the rest of the world. And we wonder why the Soviet Union was so popular at first.

2. The Holy Roman Empire

What is it? No, seriously. WHAT IS IT? French philosopher Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Like an early European Union, a group of small kingdoms and principalities chose their Holy Roman Emperor to operate out of any city he wanted. He ruled basically nothing and the smaller kingdoms could ignore him at their will.

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This comes up when you google Holy Roman Emperor. Do you know who this is? Do you care? Did you also just make fun of his hat?

Sure, individual emperors could get things done, but that was because of who they were outside of being the Holy Roman Emperor, not because actually being Holy Roman Emperor. It’s especially sad for the Holy Roman Empire that a family or dynasty could overshadow the whole history of the empire.

1. Austro-Hungarian Empire

Besides the Herculean effort to stop the Ottomans at Vienna (we went over that), Austria-Hungary is most famous for getting kicked around by Napoleon and losing the World War they dragged everyone into.

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Let’s be honest, Franz Ferdinand probably had it coming.

Imagine a family of really dumb, inbred, rich people who owned a huge plot of land and put an army on it. Then they hired their stupid friends to command the army because uniforms are cool. Then, that family’s neighbors always come bail them out when they’re losing wars because they don’t want the neighborhood going to shit.

That’s the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the last enemy ship sunk by the US Navy in combat

When the last Perry-class frigate, the USS Simpson, lowered her flag for the last time in 2015, it left only one ship in the active fleet which sank an enemy in combat. The USS Constitution sank an enemy ship, the British HMS Guerriere, during the War of 1812. The target sank by the Simpson was much more recent than that. She sank an Iranian patrol boat in the Persian Gulf in 1988.


There are just no more deepwater targets threatening the American Navy these days.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Russia’s garbage scow of a carrier can go sail off the edge of the world.

In 1988, the war between Iran and Iraq was winding down but could still break out in hot spots here and there. But the Iranian Navy’s most intense battle of the war came against the U.S. Navy, not Iraq’s. For the United States, it was the most explosive surface battle it faced since World War II. When the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in the Persian Gulf, the Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis, a massive retaliation that destroyed half the Iranian Navy and a number of the Islamic Republic’s oil drilling platforms.

The cost to the U.S. Navy was just two Marines, who died in a helicopter accident that day.

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Iran’s oil platforms burning during Praying Mantis.

It was a long day for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy. U.S. Marines were raiding oil platforms with precision that would have made Chesty Puller proud. Naval aviators were dropping precision bombs down the enemy’s smokestacks. It was a free-for-all as the United States just unleashed the full power of the Navy in the Gulf. Frigates, gunboats, speedboats, and more all became target practice.

One of those targets was the Joshan, a Kaman-class fast attack craft that decided to run head-on against an entire surface action group. By itself.

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

Yeah, they all died.

Joshan engaged the USS Simpson and USS Wainwright after the latter ship’s skipper warned the Iranians that further movement would cause for the Americans to sink her. Her response to the warning was to fire a harpoon missile at the ships. Wainwright and Simpson evaded the missile using chaff and then turned their attention back to the Iranian gunboat.

It only took four missiles from the Oliver Hazard Perry-class missile destroyers to put the Joshan at the bottom of the Gulf.

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