During this period of mutual terror, NATO held regular war games. One annual event was Able Archer, a command post exercise in Western Europe that tested the ability of NATO to respond to a nuclear attack. In 1983, a particularly realistic iteration of the event nearly triggered an actual nuclear war.
Modern intelligence reviews of the exercise, the Soviet response, and information gleaned from spies indicates that the Soviets truly thought that Able Archer 83 was an attack.
A British spy in the KGB, Col. Oleg Gordievsky, said that about a week into the exercise, the KGB sent out a cable alerting KGB officers that the American military had just elevated their alert level and that the countdown to war may have already started.
Gordievsky alerted London to the risk the West was running in the exercise and London lobbied America to take steps to prevent a disaster.
Luckily, nothing in Able Archer 83 pushed Soviet fears over the edge and Russia never launched a preemptive strike. Reagan, who later met Gordievsky in the Oval Office after the spy defected to England, wrote that he thought someone should tell the Soviets directly that America had no intention of launching a first strike.
This weekend, comic book fans all over the world were saddened by the terrible news that the father of superheroes had passed — and veterans lost a brother-in-arms who dedicated his life to the arts. This week, the Army Signal Corps says farewell to its most prominent member.
Stan Lee, WWII veteran, comic-book author, and editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, passed away on the morning of November 12, 2018. As painful as this news is to his family, friends, and fans around the world, we can all appreciate the fact that his life was a very accomplished one. The only way to truly honor a man so great is by reflecting on his storied life and “rise ever upward.” Or, as he’d put it, in it’s Latin form, “excelsior!”
Captain America Comics #3 (1941)
Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber, began his career in the comic book world in 1939 when he took on a position as an assistant at Timely Comics under Joe Simon. It wasn’t an easy job, but it needed doing. He’d get people lunch, make sure everyone’s inkwells were full, and even do some proofreading — these weren’t glamorous duties, but they kept the wheels turning. When he finally touched the comic book world directly, he changed it forever — he was given a small amount of creative control over Captain America #3, and he used it to give Cap his signature shield ricochet.
Many years later, and troops doodling things to pass the time hasn’t changed one bit.
What was nothing more than a small writer’s credit at the time gave rise to immense goals. From that moment forward, Lee set out to create the next “Great American Novel.” As we all know, this ambition eventually morphed and developed into the greater Marvel Universe, a web of fictions that has today touched the lives of millions across the globe. But this lofty goal wasn’t outside of the scope of reality for a 19-year old Stan Lee — he believed in himself.
By then, World War II was heating up and Lee found himself enlisted in the Army by early 1942. Soon after that, he was at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, learning to string and repair communication lines. In his downtime, he’d continue to draw and write to help pass the time.
It wasn’t long until the Army realized that they needed to create training films to onboard the massive influx of new troops. Because of the highly-sensitive nature of the process, they couldn’t trust just anyone to create them — they needed soldiers. The Army began its Signal Corps Photographic Center at Fort Monmouth, which, coincidentally, was where Lee was stationed.
Lee’s superior officers recognized his creative talents from his hobbies and his earlier work with Timely Comics. So, they more or less hey-you’d him into using his talents for the Army. This was exactly the break he needed. He was laterally transferred to the Fort Monmouth Film Production Laboratory and worked side by side with some of the other greatest artistic visionaries of the U.S. Army.
He stood in formation with Frank Capra, the three-time Academy-Award-winning director for films like It’s a Wonderful Life, cartoonist Charles Addams of The Addams Family fame, and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Lee was one of nine soldiers to ever earn the position of “playwright” for the U.S. Army.
Lee didn’t have any notoriety before then, unlike many of his famous fellow soldiers. He was, simply, that guy who wrote for comic books, but that didn’t phase him one bit. He kept giving the Army his all — and it showed. He was so good and so fast at what he did, in fact, that he was asked to slow down many times because it made everyone else look bad.
This scene in Avengers 2 will always bring joy to my heart.
(Walt Disney Studios)
Lee’s service concluded in 1945 and he went back to Timely Comics. No longer was he just some kid grabbing coffee; he was a war hero. The skills he developed while quickly chugging out quality content for the Army was exactly the type of tempo needed in the comic world.
Lee used his Army experiences to perfect comic book making. He turned the process into a creative assembly line. Lee would write the captions in the bubbles, another artist would pencil in the scene, another would color it, and another would finalize the lettering. This style became known as the “Marvel Method.” It distributed the workload evenly and it gave everyone equal creative input.
Stan Lee may not have written the next Moby Dick as he planned while a bright-eyed 19-year-old, but there’s no denying that his life’s work — the Marvel Universe — stands tall as the most enduring, relevant collection of fiction of his era.
Rest easy, Mr. Lee. You made True Believers out of all of us.
In World War II, airborne units were really in their infancy. The Germans pioneered their use in combat, and the United States built perhaps the largest airborne force in the world, with five airborne divisions.
But these divisions had a problem. There weren’t many planes to transport them for large-scale airborne ops. Today, most transports used in airborne operations have rear ramps for loading cargo (like, jeeps and artillery). Back then, they didn’t.
The C-47 Skytrain was based on the DC-3 airliner. The C-46 Commado was also based on an airliner.
Yeah, paratroops could be dropped, but they could be scattered (thus creating the rule of the LGOPs). How would they drop the heavier equipment, and keep the crews together? The answer came with the development of gliders. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pioneered the use of them, but the U.S. and Great Britain built lots of them.
According to the National World War II Glider Pilots Association’s web site, the United States built over 13,000 CG-4A Waco gliders. Each of these gliders could carry 15 troops, or a Jeep and four paratroopers, a trailer, up to 5,000 pounds of supplies, an anti-tank gun plus operators, or a 75mm artillery piece and its crew.
About 6,500 glider pilots were trained during World War II, taking part in eight missions from Sicily to Luzon. In the 1950s, advancements in transport aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, led to the glider units being deactivated in 1952. But the gliders helped deliver firepower, troops, and supplies during World War II – when that ability was needed.
The video below shows how gliders were used during the Normandy invasion.
It’s not every day that the mild-mannered janitor at your school turns out to be a bad ass Medal of Honor recipient. But that was exactly the case for thousands of cadets at the United States Air Force Academy.
The story starts in Italy in 1943. Pvt. William Crawford was serving as a scout in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, as it fought its way up the Italian peninsula.
After landing at Salerno, Crawford’s unit was advancing against stiff German resistance. Just four days after the landings, I Company launched an attack against Hill 424. Once his platoon gained the crest, they became pinned down by intense German machine gun fire.
Ignoring the hail of bullets, Crawford advanced on the German position and silenced it with a hand grenade.
When his platoon was once again pinned down, Crawford didn’t hesitate to charge forward, this time to destroy two machine gun emplacements.
He first attacked the machine gun to the left and destroyed it and the crew with a hand grenade. He then worked his way to the next machine gun under intense fire. When he was in range he again tossed a hand grenade that sent the crew running.
Later during the intense fighting in Italy, the Germans captured Crawford. His status was listed as missing, presumed dead.
When his Medal of Honor was approved in 1944, it was presented to his father, posthumously.
However, Crawford had in fact survived and in 1945 was liberated from a German POW camp by advancing Allied forces.
Crawford was discharged after the war and returned home before marrying in 1946. He decided to reenlist in 1947 and served another 20 years before retiring with the rank of Master Sergeant in 1967.
His next career move would prove fateful. He took a position as a janitor at the Air Force Academy in his home state of Colorado.
Despite his courage in combat, Crawford had always been rather mild-mannered and didn’t care much to talk about himself. As such, the cadets at the Academy paid him no mind, assuming he was just any other janitor.
Crawford carried on his duties until 1976 when one cadet, James Moschgat, noticed a picture in a history book about World War II.
Moschgat couldn’t believe what he was seeing and showed the picture to his roommate saying, “I think Bill our janitor is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.”
The next day Moschgat and his roommate confronted Crawford to ask if it was truly him that was talked about in the book. According to Moschgat’s account Crawford simply looked at the picture and replied, “Yep, that’s me.”
Astonished by what they had just learned, they quickly asked why he had never mentioned it before. Crawford’s reply once again showed his humility. He simply said, “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
Word quickly spread around campus that there was a Medal of Honor recipient in their midst.
The story could have easily ended here with a known recipient of the Medal of Honor working as a janitor at the Air Force Academy. Most people would have never heard the story.
However, the cadets weren’t done.
They eventually found out that because of the circumstances, mainly that Crawford was a POW at the time, he had never had a formal ceremony to present him with his medal.
So, when the Class of 1984 reached graduation they invited Crawford as their special guest. And they had a special surprise in store for him. President Ronald Reagan was giving the commencement speech at the Academy that year.
In the fog of war, it’s not uncommon for outstanding pieces of heroism to go unrecognized — at least for a time. In the case of Joe Rochefort, a lack of recognition was one part needing to protect secrets and another part bureaucratic vengeance.
Other times, it simply takes a while for the necessary proof of heroism to be gathered. This was the case for Corporal Stephen Austin.
Austin served with the 27th Marine Regiment during the Vietnam War. According to a report by the Fresno Bee, it took two attempts and a number of years to gather the statements from Austin’s fellow Marines about what he did when his platoon was ambushed on June 8, 1968, during Operation Allen Brook.
Fellow Marine Grady Birdsong felt no bitterness about the length of time it took to recognize Austin’s valor.
“We were on the move all the time and, to be real honest with you, we weren’t concerned about awards. We were just concerned about staying alive and being able to come home,” he explained.
Birdsong, though, took up the cause after the death of Al Joyner, another Vietnam veteran who served alongside Austin.
Dog tags once worn by Stephen Austin during his military service, when ended when he was killed in action.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Marcos Alvarado)
The initial award was slated to be a Silver Star. However, after the statements were reviewed, the award was upgraded to the Navy Cross — a decoration for valor second only to the Medal of Honor. If you read the citation, it’s clear why it was upgraded.
“With complete disregard for his own safety,” the citation reads, Austin broke cover to attack an enemy machine gun nest with a hand grenade. He succeeded in hitting the position but was mortally wounded. Because of his actions, surviving members of his platoon were able to eliminate the enemy.
General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, presented the Navy Cross to Austin’s daughter.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Olivia Ortiz)
The Navy Cross was personally presented by General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to Austin’s daughter, Neily Esposito, on July 21, 2018. The 27th Marine Regiment is currently inactive.
Army Pvt. James S. Bumgarner met a North Korean patrol during the evening of April 23, 1951, during the early stages of the Korean War. You probably know him better as actor James Garner, star of The Rockford Files, Maverick, and The Great Escape, among many others. But before his Hollywood career took off, he enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marine at the end of World War II, then into the California National Guard before deploying to Korea for 14 months with the 5th Regimental Combat Team.
In his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files, he wrote:
Army chow was bearable as long as I could keep the onions and garlic out of it. I cannot stand onions and I’m very sensitive to garlic. I can taste tiny amounts of it, like when they’ve cooked another dish with garlic before and don’t wash the pan. If I get even a hint of it, I might throw up in my plate. This violent aversion may have saved my life: like our South Korean allies, the Chinese and North Korean troops lived on a diet of fish heads, rice, and garlic.
One night while on guard on the line, I caught a faint whiff of it coming from the direction of the enemy positions. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew there was someone out there and they were coming closer. Once I sniffed them I could hear them, too. It turned out to be a patrol heading straight for our position. They were just the other side of a rise when I passed the word down the line. We were ready for them and stopped them in their tracks.
He was wounded in that exchange and received his first Purple Heart. 32 years after the war, Garner received another Purple Heart for being wounded during a friendly fire incident where a strafing fighter hit him in the buttocks. The Army mixed up the paperwork and only found it after the actor mentioned the incident on Good Morning America
“I got it in the backside. I went into a foxhole headfirst and I was a little late. There’s a lot of room for error with a wound in the rear. It’s a wide target.”
During his long career as an actor, Garner played a number of military roles, including an American airman in the WWII-era British Eagles Squadron, an Army Tanker, and Army infantryman.
“After 32 years, it’s better to receive this now than posthumously,” Garner said at his ceremony. “It is indeed an honor and I tried to serve my country to the best of my ability.”
Even though the five-star general rank essentially died in 1981 with Omar Bradley, the idea of a five-star general rising above all others to command so much of the American and allied militaries is remarkably heroic.
The five-star general officer was born in WWII because American generals and admirals were often placed above allied officers of a higher rank. Someone elevated to that position could never retire and was considered an active-duty officer for the rest of their life.
That’s a lot of trust. The list of the 9 officers we deemed worthy of the honor rightly reads like a “who’s who” of U.S. military history.
1. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy
Leahy was the first officer to make the rank. He was the senior officer in the U.S. Navy and the senior-most officer in the U.S. military. He retired in 1939 but was recalled to active duty as the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then Truman until 1949. During the latter years of his career, he reported only to the President.
2. General of the Army George Marshall
George Marshall was a major planner of the U.S. Army’s training for World War I and one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s aides-de-camp. He would need those planning skills when World War II broke out, as he oversaw the expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces and the coordination of U.S. efforts in the European Theater. After the war it was Marshall who helped rebuild Western Europe with an economic plan that came to be named after the man himself.
3. Fleet Admiral Ernest King
King was the Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces (the U.S. now only uses the term “Commander-In-Chief” to refer to the President) and the Chief of Naval Operations. Though he never commanded a ship or fleet during a war, as the Navy representative of the Joint Chiefs, he helped plan and coordinate Naval Operations during WWII.
4. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
MacArthur graduated from West Point in 1903, fought in the occupation of Veracruz, World War I, and resisted the Japanese invasion of the Philippines for six months during WWII. MacArthur, despite having to retreat to Australia, oversaw the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific and accepted their surrender less than four years later.
He would also orchestrate the occupation and rehabilitation of Japan, and the American counterattack during the early months of the Korean War.
5. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
Nimitz was the Navy’s leading authority on submarine warfare at the outbreak of World War II. He would rise to be Commander-in-Chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and eventually take control of all U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater. He served the Navy on Active Duty in an unofficial capacity until his death in 1966.
6. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Hitler! Macho Man Dwight Eisenhower coming for youuuuuu OHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH.”
Ike never saw combat as a soldier, but his planning skills were essential as Supreme Allied Commander of all allied expeditionary forces in Europe during World War II. He planned and executed the invasion of North Africa in 1943, and of course the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. After the war, Eisenhower was the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and was elected President in 1952.
7. General of the Army and Air Force Henry H. Arnold
“Hap” Arnold is the only officer ever to hold two five-star ranks in multiple branches and is the only person to ever to be General of the Air Force.
Before WWII, Arnold was the Chief of the Air Corps and became commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces when war broke out. He was one of the first military pilots ever, being trained by the freaking Wright Brothers themselves.
If Billy Mitchell is the Father of the Air Force, Hap Arnold helped raise it — he took a small organization and turned it into the world’s largest and most powerful air force during the WWII years.
8. Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.
“Bull” Halsey started World War II harassing Japanese fleet movements in the Pacific in his flagship, the Enterprise. He was later made commander of all U.S. forces in the South Pacific and commander of the Navy’s third fleet. Halsey earned his status after the war ended but took the Navy on a goodwill cruise of friendly countries
9. General of the Army Omar Bradley
As mentioned, Omar Bradley was the last surviving five-star general, dying in 1981. He fought alongside the U.S. Army’s greatest all under the command of Dwight Eisenhower. He excelled during the D-Day landings and subsequent European campaigns. He eventually commanded 1.3 million fighting men as they invaded fortress Europe — the largest assembly of U.S. troops under a single commander.
* General of the Armies of the United States John J. Pershing
Pershing was promoted to this rank and title in 1919, though no official rank insignia existed at the time. It was made by Congress to recognize his role in the American entry into World War I in Europe.
* Admiral of the Navy George Dewey
Dewey received the title “Admiral of the Navy” by act of Congress in 1903. Admiral Dewey’s service during the Spanish-American War made him a national hero and celebrity.
* General of the Armies of the United States George Washington
President Gerald Ford promoted Washington to this rank and title — essentially a six-star general — in 1976 to always ensure Washington would be the senior-most officer of any group.
Götz von Berlichingen was known for a lot of things. The most obvious was that he lost an arm to cannon fire in the heat of battle. Unfortunately for him, it was his right arm, the one that swung swords and dealt death. Unfortunately for all of his enemies, he wouldn’t die until age 82 – and he had a mechanical arm built just so he could keep killing them all.
That’s not even his most enduring legacy.
He was the first to tell an enemy to kiss his ass.
The phrase caught on like wildfire.
When your name is literally pronounced “Guts,” it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It took him only three years to get sick of fighting for God and country for the Holy Roman Empire. So, the young von Berlichingen turned to fighting for something more tangible: money. He and his squad of Teutonic mercenaries fought for all levels of feudal lords and barons — anyone who could afford to have a soon-to-be legendary badass on their side.
It was in 1504, while fighting to take Landshut for the Duke of Bavaria, that a cannonball lopped his arm off at the elbow. He had two prosthetic arms created for himself – and one of them could still hold his sword or shield. So, von Berlichingen continued to make money the best way he knew how.
This time, he was more machine than man.
The knight seized merchant shipping, kidnapped nobles for ransom, and raided towns around Germany as a means of making money. This, unfortunately, earned him few powerful friends, and he found himself banned from the Holy Roman Empire on multiple occasions. He was even captured and held for ransom himself.
After his final ban, he joined the German peasants in exacting revenge on the leadership of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite that failure, he fought on until he was captured again. When finally liberated by Charles V, he was forced into a sort of house arrest, only allowed to come out in case Charles needed his services.
Of course Charles needed his services. You would, too.
Berlichingen would assist German knights in fighting the Ottoman under Suleiman the Magnificent and invade France against the famous King Francois I. By then, however, he had already uttered his famous phrase. It was somewhere near Baden-Wurttemburg, while under siege, that the seemingly-immortal knight received a surrender demand. He was not impressed by it at all. He returned it with a famous response, telling the Swabian army (and their leaders) to kiss his ass.
Though some translations have it as “lick my ass.”
After he was sick of mercilessly slaughtering Europeans all over the continent, Götz von Berlichingen decided to sit down and write his memoirs, which were apparently the greatest story ever told in German for the longest time. The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe penned a 1773 drama that is still retold to this very day, based solely on the story of von Berlichingen’s account of his life.
Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy got a shocking view of the future of warfare in 1944 when, as they were moving supplies from ships to the shore, a jet-powered, Nazi bomber ripped past at approximately 460 mph.
The Arado Ar 234 was the first operational jet bomber and flew at up to 540 miles per hour, so quick that no Allied fighter could match it without going into a dive.
For the air crews assigned to protect the American forces landing supplies in Normandy in August 1944, attacking the Arado was essentially impossible. Loaded with reconnaissance gear, it flew over the beaches at 460 mph while taking a photo every 11 seconds.
At that speed, it could fly over all five original D-Day beaches in less than eight minutes. By the time that fighter aircraft made it into the air to hunt the Arado down, it would already be long gone.
That didn’t quite make the Arado invincible, though. Like the slightly slower British de Havilland Mosquito, a prop-driven British bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that go its speed from its light weight, the Ar 234 was left vulnerable when it was forced to maneuver or slow down for bombing runs.
The P-51 is one of the only aircraft to shoot down an Arado Ar 234 in flight. It did so thanks to a group of P-47 Thunderbolts that forced the jet-powered bomber into a speed-bleeding turn. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant)
One of the only Ar 234s ever shot down was caught because it was forced into a sharp turn while coming out of a bombing run.
A group of German jets were bombing Allied bridges on the Rhine when a group of American P-47s came at them. The German jets took a tight turn to avoid the P-47s, losing so much speed that they were left vulnerable. American Capt. Don Bryan was in a P-51 nearby and was able to position himself so that the turning German planes had to fly just underneath him.
Adolf Hitler considered the Ar 234 one of his wonder weapons that would save Germany, but it suffered from a number of shortcomings. First, the fragile engines needed an overhaul after every ten hours of flight and were replaced after 25. The jet also needed long runways and large amounts of fuel, two things that were hard for a Luftwaffe on the retreat to provide with regularity.
In the end, the jets were sent on just a few operational missions. The Normandy reconnaissance was the first, and they also did duty over the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge and in the final defense of Germany, flying first against the bridges over the Rhine and later against Soviet troop concentrations.
The Iranian Navy sure does talk a big game for the sheer number of times it got slapped around in its home waters. When Iranian sailors captured U.S. Navy sailors in 2016, the usual response would have been a short, potent facepunch from a nearby carrier group. When President Obama opted not to slap them around, what should have seemed like a close call instead appears to have artificially inflated some Iranian egos, because traditionally, Iran is not good at Navy things.
Iran has been hit or miss on the water (usually miss) since they lost to the outnumbered Greeks at Salamis in 480 BC. Its biggest naval win came against Iraq on Sept. 28, 1980, a day they still celebrate as “Navy Day” because no other engagement would qualify. Ever since, Iran has been threatening anyone within earshot with its aging, rusted patchwork of garbage scows it calls a navy.
Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran, 1941
During World War II, the Allied powers thought neutral Iran was more likely to aid the Axis powers than the allies when push came to shove. Since Iran’s rich oil fields were not something anyone wanted in Hitler’s hands, the Soviets and the British Empire invaded Iran in August 1941. The British Commonwealth ships steamed into Abadan Harbor and promptly lit up the Iranian fleet, killing its leadership and deposing the Shah. The two allied powers then divided the country between them.
Operation Prime Chance 1987
After Iran crippled the Iraqi Navy during the early days of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians pretty much had free rein to wreak as much havoc as they wanted on Iraqi shipping – even if those ships weren’t flagged as Iraqi. The Iranians began targeting tankers and container ships flagged as neutral countries in an effort to choke Iraq into submission. Pretty soon, other countries were reflagging their ships as American, both to deter the Iranians from attacking or laying mines and benefitting from U.S. protection.
The Iranians did not stop mining the Gulf, so the United States began setting up oil platforms as maritime staging areas for special operations missions. Operating from these bases, the Navy took down a number of Iranian minelayers while protecting international shipping lanes.
Operation Nimble Archer, 1987
U.S. forces attacked and burned Iranian oil platforms after Iran fired a missile at a Kuwaiti tanker, hitting it and wounding dozens of sailors. The Navy determined the attack came from an otherwise-unoccupied oil platform, which they next surrounded, boarded, and destroyed – using both Navy SEALs and accurate fire from four destroyers as well as aircraft.
The special operators who boarded the platforms also seized valuable classified intel, as the platforms were controlled by the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Operation Praying Mantis, 1988
In 1988, it wasn’t a flagged merchant who hit an Iranian-laid mine. This time it was a US Navy ship, the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Unfortunately for Iran, Ronald Reagan was still President, and the USS Enterprise carrier group was in the area. An entire battalion of United States Marines assaulted an oil platform being used to stage Iranian attacks in the Gulf. When the platform tried to fire on the Americans, they were punished for the effort from US Navy destroyers and Cobra helicopters.
The Iranians responded by sending an Iranian missile boat, the Joshan, straight at the U.S. fleet. When Joshan missed that shot, the American fleets overwhelmed the ship with missiles and guns, sending her to the bottom. Meanwhile, Iranian aircraft and destroyers joined the fray, one destroyer was sunk the other was heavily damaged, and the Iranian fighters were no match for US Navy A-6 Intruders.
Donald Large had one of the aptest last names in the history of last names. He was a beast, 6-ft. 6 inches tall and 240 pounds by the time he went through SAS selection the first time (more on that in a moment). But his road to military service started when he was just an over-sized tyke.
Born in 1930, he was just a boy when British troops preparing for service in France and Germany began training near his home. He watched the men readying to take the fight to Hitler and decided he would be a military man as well, a goal made even easier by his frame, and the frequent hunting trips his dad took him on.
He started as an Army Cadet, a sort of military-affiliated Boy Scouts in Britain, and then managed to get into the real British army at just 15 years old. As he trained in the military and then served Britain, he grew to his adult height and received the nickname “Lofty,” but he still craved combat.
But Large was wounded from a gunshot and shrapnel in the fighting and was taken prisoner, surviving a 10-day forced march to a prisoner of war camp. He survived another gunshot wound, disease, 80 pounds of weight loss, and two years of muscle atrophy and near starvation before he was swapped in a wounded prisoner exchange.
Despite all the scar tissues, Large reportedly did quite well in selection, only struggling with jumping out of the plane due to his being oversized for the plane and parachute. He weighed enough that he fell faster than other paratroopers, and this combined with a fear of heights made falling the hardest part for him.
But he was a stalwart man and made the jump anyway. He had proven himself capable and was on his way to the SAS.
Except that he rode a motorcycle soon after and crashed, crushing his ankle. The SAS told him that he would need to go back through selection to prove he was still capable of meeting the unit’s high standards. While most people would’ve probably waited a few months if they ever went back, Large simply re-bandaged his ankle, found out what his new boot size was with the swelling and bandages, and went back.
Yeah, he went back through selection while his ankle was still injured. He had only taken four weeks from crash to his second selection process.
He would serve with the SAS around the world and retired in 1973. He died in 2006.
The battles that marked the period of the Crusades were bloody and brutal. Medieval warfare flat out sucked; not only was it incredibly violent, but medicine was basically nonexistent, there was poor sanitation practices, and really bad tactics.
The weapons used in the fighting were about as hellish as any martial tools could get. Think about it — it’s no surprise the phrase “get Medieval on them” strikes such fear.
The warriors of the Crusades, from the late 1000s to mid-1200s, were a mix of peasants, soldiers, and knights, and their mix of weaponry reflected the means by which each could acquire arms.
Peasants often had simple weapons — mostly tools used for agriculture — since they could not afford such luxuries of destruction. Knights had more expensive swords and armor, while others had bows, arrows, and spears.
So what are the deadliest weapons to encounter during the Crusades?
1. A mace or club
The mace is a type of club with a ball at the end. When it comes to length, the mace varies between two or three feet. The shaft was made of wood while the ball was usually of iron.
The ball may be smooth and round or have flanges. While this is somewhat of an infantry weapon, some horsemen would also carry the mace. However, a cavalryman’s mace was much longer so that the rider could reach down and swipe his opponent.
The purpose of the mace was to crush bone since it is a top-heavy weapon. One blow from a mace could break a man’s bones easily. Many maces also had flanges for extra damage.
While a ball can crush, a mace with flanges can exploit and penetrate the flexible armor in order to crush the bone underneath, possibly causing the victim to bleed to death.
2. The spear
The spear may be simple in design, but it has proven itself to be an effective close combat weapon over the centuries.
The length of the spear is between six to eight feet. The purpose of the spear in combat is to keep your foe at a distance by thrusting at him, or if the infantryman in question has extra spears or a side arm he can rely on, he could throw it at the enemy.
Spears were used not only against infantry but also against cavalry charges — and to great effect.
The purpose of the spear is to pierce, not tickle. A good spear thrust can pierce and shatter bone, killing in one hit.
The arrow delivered by a bow provided a nasty punch to the enemy. Arrows used against the cavalry would have been shaped to pierce armor while arrows used against ill-equipped infantry likely had barbs to make them harder to pull out of skin and bone.
The men who fought at the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097 during the First Crusade found this out when they fought the Seljuk Turks, who fired volley after volley of arrows into their opposition.
Even though the Crusaders won the battle, it was costly and they learned a valuable lesson about their enemy’s tactics.
The purpose of the arrow is simple: to strike an opponent from a distance. However, many Crusaders would soon learn to place padding under their chainmail. In doing so, the arrows are said to have passed through the chainmail only to lodge into the padding without piercing the soldier.
While killing is the objective, many forget that maiming is just a sufficient. However, if an archer cannot kill or maim his opponent, he can also be a nuisance and harass him by showering down arrows upon him.
The trebuchet is a siege engine first developed in China and brought westward by the armies of Islam, where it was introduced to European warfare during the First Crusade, though some historians doubt this timeline.
The trebuchet was a type of catapult and required many men to operate due to its sheer size and weight.
The purpose of the trebuchet was to weaken and bring down fortress walls. Not only could it fire stone projectiles, it also delivered incendiary objects. While stone is meant to crush, objects of a flammable nature were hurled over castle or city walls to set the various buildings on fire.
Of course, if you want to start a plague, just load up the bodies of plague victims and send them over the walls, as the Mongols did at Caffa in 1347.
What made the battle axe a fan favorite of some Crusade-era fighters was that, while being close in size to a sword, it was cheap to use and required limited skill — much like the mace.
The axe was either single or double-headed and the length of the blade was roughly 10 inches from the upper and lower points.
What makes this weapon so destructive is that not only could it crush a man’s bones wearing armor, the right hit was capable of cutting a limb off. In addition to lopping off enemy limbs, it was also used by doctors to provide amputations on medical patients (though with no guarantee of success).
Of all the weapons to inflict a considerable amount of damage to a human body, the sword was the most prestigious.
While many men could afford such a weapon, primarily nobles and those of wealth used it. Of course, over time, many more men, particularly those who were equipped by the states; i.e. the kings, used the sword.
What made the sword so popular was that it was a symbol of authority. While its design suggests power and of great importance, the judgment it could deliver onto a foe was devastating.
The sword was designed to do three different things, crush, pierce, and slice. Of course, this depends on the blade of the sword. In any case, the three functions of the sword gave its user an upper hand.
If he could not crush his opponent with a single hit (knocking him over, or breaking his arm or leg), he could try to slice him in an exposed are not covered by armor. If that failed, he could try knocking him down and aim for the areas that are vulnerable like the armpits, groin, and knee pit to name a few.
While the sword during the Crusades probably did the least amount of killing, it had the greatest impact as in being the symbol of conquest.
Don’t let the pretty little ponies fool you — the lance will mess your sh** up.
I tip my hat to the person who could survive a lance blow from a cavalryman. Yes, all weapons can kill if used properly, but of all the weapons mentioned, they either, crush, lop, slice, or pierce. In many cases, the victim survives or dies shortly after, which could be days.
The lance, which is least considered, won many of the battles during the early crusades. The lance did it all in one big swoop. As the lance made contact with the victim, it immediately crushed his torso and began to pierce through the body.
As it pierced, it began to slice through the vital organs before exiting the back. There are very few cases where the would-be receiver of the lance survived from his torso wound.
As the knights charged in with their lances, the enemy would be impaled immediately.
The length of a lance measured between 9 and 14 feet. Given the length and weight, along with the rider and his horse moving a full speed, it would not be unthinkable to suggest that two or even possibly three men could be impaled to a lance due to a swift cavalry charge into enemy lines.
Underage soldiers were often allowed to enlist during the Civil War — especially if they chose a non-combat position such as bugler or drummer boy. This led to boys barely in their teens suffering wounds alongside the grown men.
In one case, a 12-year-old boy nearly lost his left hand and arm when it was shattered by an artillery shell.
Sometime in 1864, he was serving in battle when an artillery shell burst nearby. The shrapnel ripped through his left hand and arm. He is widely regarded as having been the youngest Civil War casualty.