That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Nazi SS forces tasked with guarding the Nazis’ most high-value prisoners finally moved them all to a single place as the war (and the Nazi party) was nearing its end. Among those were troops with famous names, like Churchill. There were former world leaders who happened to be of Jewish descent, like Hungary’s Miklos Kallay. Prince Philip Von Hesse was there, too. And there were members of high-ranking military families, like the Von Stauffenbergs (whose patriarch famously tried to kill Hitler in the Valkyrie plot).


The group ended up in Niederdorf, in Italy’s South Tyrol region. The infamous SS guards decided to move all their high-value eggs from the infamous Dachau camp into one basket in Italy. Aside from the aforementioned famous prisoners — who were each antithetical to Nazi values — there were British and American troops there, ones known for multiple, repeated escape attempts. There were also relatives of famous foreign dignitaries, like Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s nephew.

In all, there were 140 of the Nazis most high-profile undesirables, each too valuable to be allowed to be captured by oncoming enemy forces. It wasn’t just for their propaganda value, but also their intelligence value. The SS had orders to keep them from being captured by the enemy — by any means necessary. One former German officer, equivalent to a colonel, was also among the prisoner population at Niederdorf. He was incarcerated for allowing a retreat on the Eastern Front against the Red Army, and he knew what the SS might do if pushed.

It was that dedicated German officer who managed to get word out to an old friend that they and the rest of these prisoners were in more mortal danger with every passing day.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Conditions at Dachau were not suitable for this small group of hostages.
(U.S. Army)

 

The prisoners could not be taken to existing concentration camps. It turns out that camp commandants were not accepting new arrivals by this time, mid-April, 1945. The war would soon be over and each was busy covering his ass and the asses of those around him. So, SS-Obersturmführer Edgar Stiller took his lot to a hotel in Niederdorf. The only problem was the hotel was occupied by three German Wehrmacht Generals, so the townspeople of Neiderdorf put them up, feeding and sheltering them.

During their stay German Oberst (colonel) and prisoner Bogislaw von Bonin managed to reach one of the generals at the hotel via telephone. He warned General Hans Roettiger that the prisoners would be massacred by the SS if the Army did not intervene. The only problem was Roettiger was accompanied by SS General Karl Wolff.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Hauptmann (Captain) Wichard von Alvesleben after World War II.

 

Not to be outdone, Roettiger ordered Hauptmann (Captain) Wichard von Alvesleben and his men stationed to the west of Niederdorf to the scene. After learning that Stiller did intend to kill his VIP prisoners using a bomb aboard their transport bus, Alvesleben and the Wehrmacht moved on the town and liberated the Allied prisoners. But the trouble wasn’t over right away.

After herding the prisoners into the town hall and reinforcing it with 15 noncommissioned officer and a heavy machine gun, the Wehrmacht troops demanded the SS guard withdraw from the town and leave the prisoners. Alvesleben even called his cousin, also a Wehrmacht Hauptmann, who reinforced the regular army by surrounding the SS in the town square with another 150 men.

Outnumbered, the SS guard left.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Colonel Bogislaw von Bonin (center) with fellow hostage and British intelligence officer Sigismund Payne Best (dark suit right) shortly after liberation by the United States on 5 May 1945.

 

The prisoners and their Wehrmacht guard marched to the nearby Hotel Pragser Wildsee where they spent the next few days, guarding against German Army deserters and Italian Partisans. They were soon liberated by the arriving American Army, who repatriated the VIP hostages back to their host country and arrested the Wehrmacht.

The hostages, of course, spoke in the defense of the German Army regulars who came to their aid against the SS. The kind-hearted Hauptmann Wichard von Alvesleben would survive the war and live for another 30-plus years.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy battleships pulled off the biggest military deception of Desert Storm

The Desert Storm portion of the 1990-1991 Gulf War lasted only 100 hours, not only because the combined land forces of the Coalition gathered against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was overwhelming and talented – it was – but it was also the contribution of two of the U.S. Navy’s biggest floating guns that drew a significant portion of Saddam’s army off the battlefield.


Shelling from the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin made it all possible, playing a crucial role in a conflict that would end up being their last hurrah.

 

Here comes the boom.

 

Everyone knew a ground assault on Iraqi-occupied Kuwait was coming and had been for months. The only question for the Iraqis was where it would come from. Iraqi forces had been on the receiving end of a Noah’s Ark-like deluge of bombs and missiles for the past 40 days and 40 nights. Iraq believed the Coalition would make an amphibious landing near Kuwait’s Faylaka Island, when in reality the invasion was actually going into both Iraq and Kuwait, coming from Saudi Arabia.

If the Coalition could make the Iraqis believe an amphibious invasion was coming, however, it would pull essential Iraqi fighting units away from the actual invasion and toward the Persian Gulf. It was the ultimate military rope-a-dope.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Here’s what really happened.

 

The best way to make Saddam believe the Marines were landing was to soften up the supposed landing zone with a naval barrage that would make D-Day look like the 4th of July. The USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin were called up to continuously bombard the alleged landing beaches – and they sure made a spectacle of it. The Iraqi troops were supposedly shocked and demoralized, surrendering to the battleships’ reconnaissance drones as they buzzed overhead, looking for more targets.

It was the first time anyone surrendered to a drone. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of another Iowa-class barrage. But the Marine landing never came. Instead, the Iraqis got a massive left hook that knocked them out of the war.

Articles

How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A mass murderer allegedly learned to kill from an Army vet-turned hitman

The story of Robert Prongay gets more confusing the more anyone retells it, but it all begins with prolific serial killer and alleged mafia hitman, Richard Kuklinski. Known as “The Iceman” for masking his victims’ times of death by freezing their corpses, Kuklinski claimed to have killed more than 100 people for the five families of the New York City mafia — and he claimed to have learned his skills from a Special Forces veteran.


Kuklinski was only ever convicted of five murders, but it was enough to put him away for the rest of his days. These victims were small-time drug and porn dealers in the mid-1980s. In one of those murders, he used a hamburger laced with cyanide, a murder technique he picked up from a man he described as a Special Force veteran-turned-ice cream man, Robert Prongay.

He taught me a lot,” Kuklinski once said. “But he was extremely crazy… he’d go into these neighborhoods and sell ice cream to the kids, then maybe kill one of their fathers.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Prongay was played by Chris Evans in the 2013 movie about Kuklinski, ‘The Iceman.’

Kuklinski was known as “The Iceman” to law enforcement and Prongay was called “Mister Softee.” According to Kuklinski, the two men met at a New Jersey motel while stalking the same mark. They summed each other up and realized they were both contract killers. Prongay told Kuklinski he was an Army Special Forces veteran, trained in using explosives and poisons.

In Kuklinski’s words, Prongay used his ice cream truck as a surveillance van to follow around his potential victims, whom he would kill using aerosol cyanide and remotely-detonated grenades. It was from Prongay that Kuklinski said he learned to freeze bodies to mask time of death.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
A man who is allegedly Robert Prongay serving ice cream from his Mister Softee truck.
(HBO)

Not much is really known about the real Prongay. Kuklinski claimed to have a very firm moral code when it came to killing. He could kill anyone without feeling anything at all, but he wouldn’t kill innocent women and children. The Iceman claimed that Mister Softee asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him, which Kuklinski declined. When Prongay began to talk about poisoning an entire reservoir just to kill one family, Kuklinski shot him.

The only verification that Prongay existed and may have known Kuklinski is that an ice-cream man by the name of Robert Prongay was killed in his ice cream truck, shot twice in the chest. On Aug. 9, 1984, his body was found hanging out the side of his ice cream truck. The real Prongay, it turns out, was facing trial in New Jersey for bombing the front house ex-wife and making terrorist threats against his ex-wife and son.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Before murdering Prongay, the Iceman and Mister Softee teamed up on a few occasions. An HBO Documentary in 2001 found old film reels of Prongay and called him an “Army demolitions expert,” a claim verified by Paul Smith of the New Jersey Organize Crime Bureau.

It is our opinion,” Smith told HBO, “that friendship led to Richard Kuklinski learning a lot about killing with different types of chemicals, including cyanide.”

In reality, Kuklinski made a lot of claims about himself and his famous hits. He was convicted of killing the members of a small-time burglary gang he led in New Jersey, along with one of his cyanide suppliers. The claims of the people he worked for and murdered makes his resume sound like one of the most prolific hitmen in the history of the American mafia. If you believe Kuklinski, he was recruited by Gambino capo Roy DeMeo, who gave Kuklinski his death orders.

Kuklinski claimed the murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro, a murder in which Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was also charged. The Iceman also claimed the death of Roy DeMeo and claimed to be involved in John Gotti’s famous hit on Gambino boss Paul Castellano. The only mafia hit law enforcement really related to Kuklinski was that of Calabro.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Kuklinski claimed to have killed some 100-250 people between 1948 and 1986 but his claims varied wildly in later years, as some of them were unverifiable and others were found to be complete fabrications (he claimed to have killed famous disappearing act Jimmy Hoffa, for example). Renowned mafia writers and historians claim to never have heard of a hitman named Kuklinski.

If Kuklinski’s claims are true, he would be the most prolific serial killer/hitman in American history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These universal peace symbols are the definition of irony

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines irony as the following: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. It’s like being run over by an ambulance that’s on its way to save you — instead of saving you (the expectation), it’s turned you into roadkill (the ironic twist).

Now, these are not to be confused with just bad moments — if you want examples of those, take pretty much any example listed in Alanis Morissette’s song, Ironic (then again, writing a song entitled Ironic and failing to cite a single example of real irony is kinda ironic…).

Another hilarious example of situational irony stems from the fact nearly every well-known “peace” symbol has a military origin. Sure, they may have been co-opted throughout the years to take on entirely different meanings, but if you go by the original definition of each symbol, you’re effectively intimating the opposite of your intent.


Pretty much every symbol for peace, shy of the Roerich Pact’s Three Jewels, has roots in military culture — in fact, many of them have been used as signals of martial might. You may be familiar with a few of these:

The “V” sign

The simple hand gesture, synonymous with counter-culture hippies, Richard Nixon, and teenage girls, actually has concrete beginnings that can be traced to one man at one moment: Winston Churchill threw up his index and middle fingers to signal a ‘V,’ for “victory,” after the Allies triumphed over the Axis Powers.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

I like to think that he knew full well that he was giving everyone the forks, but wanted to see how long it took anyone to say something.

But before that, Belgian Minister of Justice, Victor de Lavaleye, began spreading the use of the finger ‘V’ across Europe. In 1941, he was using it as a quiet protest to say that “victory is coming” or “freedom is coming” in the Netherlands (“freedom” in Dutch is “vrijheid,” which also starts with a “v”). Churchill, upon co-opting the symbol, eventually turned his palm outward to avoid sending the British gesture for “up yours.”

In either case, the symbol that is now known for peace started as a way to signal impending or fresh military victory, depending on your cited origin.

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You can go ahead and pick whatever color you like — it all sends the same message.

White poppies

After WWI, wearing a red poppy on one’s lapel was a sign of respect for fallen troops. It was a direct homage to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields. In 1933, the Peace Pledge Union shifted the tradition, imploring people to wear white poppies instead of the red ones to honor the casualties of war without extolling it.

If you really want to be specific, however, the poem never really identifies which color poppy grew at Flanders Field, just that there were poppies. So, if you’re wearing poppies of any color, you’re referencing one of history’s most famous wartime poems. The only reason he chose the red version of the poppy is because it’s eye-catching.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

The “peace symbol” 

The most famous symbol to come out of the 1960s is actually a clever use of military speak to directly get the military’s attention for a specific issue: nuclear disarmament. Just after the UK had developed their H-Bomb and tested it near Christmas Island, the Direct Action Committee called for a pause on the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. The Committee agreed that outright pacifism wasn’t the solution — but they also agreed that nuclear weapons weren’t the answer to the Cold War, either.

The DAC needed a symbol to rally behind, so designer and DAC board member Gerald Holtom created one, incorporating the flag semaphores for ‘N’ and ‘D’ in the design, for “nuclear disarmament.”

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Funnily enough, Joker is using the symbol in its proper context. His pin says that wars shouldn’t be fought by nuclear means, but through conventional warfare.

(Warner Bros.)

They never trademarked the design, so it was free to use among members of the counter-culture and anti-Vietnam War protesters ran with it.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

The olive branch

The most misunderstood signal of peace is the olive branch. The first example of olive branches being used as a symbol dates back to the stories of ancient Greece when Athena was trying to win the patronage of Athens over Poseidon. Legend has it, she threw her spear into the ground and it blossomed into the first olive tree. The new tree was, essentially, a giant “f*ck you” to Poseidon because her olives were more useful than his salt water.

Athenians later gave olive branches out as a symbol of Athena to mighty warriors and Olympians. The olives and their branches represented prosperity after long-fought wars.

During the time of the Romans, Mars, the God of War, was often depicted holding an olive branch. To the Romans, “extending the olive branch” meant to be from a god or ruler and given to their subject. It was something more along the lines of “we fought, now enjoy this peace and prosperity.”

The Romans knew best that si vis pacem, para bellum, or “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Navy’s most stunning victories had a breakfast break

America’s first great military debut on the international stage took place in 1898 when it launched a war against Spain. No longer was the U.S. military limited largely to the American continent. The new Navy, pushed forward by its new Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, would not only fight in both oceans, it would win decisively.


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Commodore George Dewey at Manila Bay, his stunning first blow against the Spanish fleet.

(U.S. Naval Historical Center)

And, at the point of its first and greatest victory in the Spanish-American War, a Navy commodore took a quick break for breakfast while slaughtering Spain. And we don’t mean a few sailors were sent belowdecks at a time for food. We mean the entire fleet disengaged, everyone had breakfast, and then came back to finish the shellacking.

The buildup to war centered around control of Cuba, a Spanish colony that desired independence. Americans, meanwhile, were split on the issue. Some wanted Cuban independence, some hoped for a Cuban state, but almost everyone agreed that Spain should screw off.

But there was tension between the hawks and the pacifists in the country. Not everyone thought it was a good idea to risk a war with Spain, a major European power. So, as a half measure, the USS Maine was sent to Havana Harbor to safeguard Americans and American interests during the struggles between rebels and Spain.

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The wreck of the USS Maine is towed out of Havana Harbor.

(R.W. Harrison, Library of Congress)

But on February 16, 1898, the Maine suddenly exploded in the harbor. Investigations in the 20th century would find that the explosion was most likely caused by a bad design. A coal bunker had exploded, an event which occurred spontaneously in other ships of similar design. But the conclusion of investigators at the time was that the explosion was caused by a mine, and the implication was that Spain planted it.

America, already primed for conflict, declared war. And Roosevelt got his man Dewey the orders to take two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and a gunboat to the Philippines to strike the first blow.

The Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo had a large fleet in the Philippines with 13 ships, but they were old and outdated. The armor was thin at key points, many of the guns were too small to do serious damage against newer battleships and cruisers like America’s, and they were tough to conduct damage control on, so fires could easily rage once started.

American ships file past the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. In the actual battle, darkness and smoke obscured the Spanish ships, so the American forces were unsure how much damage was being done.

(Public domain)

Montojo knew that the Americans would likely come for him, and he also knew that his fleet would struggle against the newer U.S. ships, so he decided to place his own vessels under the protection of shore batteries.

He sailed to Subic Bay where modern shore batteries were supposed to have been recently completed. But when he arrived, he found that not a gun was erected. Because of the constant fighting with Filipino rebels, the engineers had been unable to build the important defenses.

Montojo sprinted to Manila Bay where his men could be more easily rescued and ships more easily salvaged if lost, but he deployed his ships far from the city and in a shallow part of the harbor where his men could easily swim to shore if sunk, but also putting most of his ships out of range of the shore guns’ protection.

During the early hours of May 1, Dewey sailed into the harbor with his six ships in a battle line. He initiated the attack, and American ship after American ship paraded past and launched shells into the ineffective Spanish ships. Dewey turned back for another pass, and the ships repeated their process.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

American ships file past the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. In the actual battle, darkness and smoke obscured the Spanish ships, so the American forces were unsure how much damage was being done.

(Public domain)

Dewey and the Asiatic fleet kept this up for hours. They were like a saw ripping into the Spanish fleet but with cruisers for teeth instead of shards of metal. But around 7:35, Dewey received a message that the 5″ guns had only 15 rounds remaining per gun.

Dewey knew that his gunners would need time to re-arm, and there was no point to doing it while under threat of the Spanish guns. So he took a look at the time, and ordered the fleet to withdraw. While this would later be reported as a withdrawal for breakfast, that wasn’t the initial intent. As Dewey would later write:

It was a most anxious moment for me. So far as I could see, the Spanish squadron was as intact as ours. I had reason to believe that their supply of ammunition was as ample as ours was limited.
Therefore, I decided to withdraw temporarily from action for a redistribution of ammunition if necessary. For I knew that fifteen rounds of 5-inch ammunition could be shot away in five minutes.

But during this withdrawal, Dewey learned two pieces of joyous news:

But even as we were steaming out of range the distress of the Spanish ships became evident. Some of them were perceived to be on fire and others were seeking protection behind Cavite Point…
It was clear that we did not need a very large supply of ammunition to finish our morning’s task; and happily it was found that the report about the Olympia’s 5-inch ammunition had been incorrectly transmitted. It was that fifteen rounds had been fired per gun, not that only fifteen rounds remained.

So Dewey suddenly realized that, first, he had the upper hand in the fight and, second, his men didn’t actually need to redistribute ammo. So, he ordered his men to take a break and get a bite to eat. Meanwhile, he called his captains together and learned that no ship had serious damage or fatalities to report. (One man would later die of either heatstroke or heart attack.)

So, after his men ate, Dewey returned to the attack and hit the city of Manila, quickly forcing its surrender. But he would have to wait for Army forces to arrive to actually hold it. It was the opening days of America’s first great overseas war, and the Spanish fleet was already in tatters, and the U.S. Navy was already a hero.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why you can’t climb the arm of the Statue of Liberty anymore

More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.

But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
New York Harbor in 1916.
(National Board of Health)

German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
View of the debris of the Lehigh Valley pier wrecked by an explosion of munitions on Black Tom Island, New Jersey. Five dead and $25,000,000 worth ($500,000,000 in 2018) of property destroyed.
(National Archives)

It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.

The Great War had finally come home in a big way.

This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.

Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
The aftermath of the Black Tom explosion.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.

That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy used a carrier to transport an Army brigade

When you think about the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that the United States Navy operates, it’s natural to immediately think of them launching fighters to carry out strikes against the enemy. Over the years, history has proven that carriers are very good at that. However, instead of orchestrating combat in the sky, one Nimitz-class carrier ended up carrying American troops into battle.


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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) with USS George Washington (CVN 73). (US Navy photo)

Now, the use of American carriers to carry troops isn’t entirely outlandish. At the end of World War II, some carriers, including USS Enterprise (CV 6), took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the returning of GIs en masse from overseas. It’s easy to see why – a carrier transports up to 5,000 sailors and Marines, only about 3,200 of which are crew. The remaining 1,800 are in the air wing. If you were to eliminate some of that air wing, you’d quickly create capacity for other personnel.

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The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) in the Atlantic Ocean March 29, 2016. (US Navy photo)

In 1994, the United States was preparing to invade Haiti to remove a military junta that had taken power in 1991. The plan involved getting special operations and light infantry troops into Haiti. The problem was, there weren’t many good bases on the island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti accounts for half. The other half of the island, owned by the Dominican Republic, didn’t have much in the way of usable bases, either – after all, P-51 Mustangs were still that country’s front-line fighter at the time.

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Numerous Army AH-1T Cobra gunships and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are parked on the flight deck of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), which carried a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division to Haiti in 1994. (US Navy photo)

That left the U.S. with one option: a floating base. Meanwhile, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) was preparing for a deployment. These ships can usually haul up to 90 aircraft. It didn’t take long for someone to get the idea to load elements of the 10th Mountain Division, along with special ops unit, like Delta Force and the Nightstalkers, onto the carrier.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, Ft Drum, N.Y., dressed in full combat gear, line up to board UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at Port-au-Prince airport Port-au-Prince, Haiti to take them to Bowlen Airfield during Restore Democracy on 22 Sept 94. (US Army photo)

The Eisenhower sailed from Norfolk, hauling 56 helicopters and 2,000 troops. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and other choppers were very quickly parked on the ship’s flight deck. The good news was that this arrangement never had to be tested in combat – a delegation that included retired general Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter convinced the Haitian regime to vacate peacefully. The 10th Mountain Division entered without a fight via helicopters launched from the carrier’s deck.

Even without facing combat, the Eisenhower had proven that carriers can be very versatile instruments of national policy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the real Iraq War battle behind ‘The Long Road Home’

In April 2004, a convoy from the US Army’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division was on a routine escort mission. The Baghdad neighborhood they were operating in – Sadr City – would become notorious among American and Coalition forces for at least the next four years. What happened to 1st Cav that day came to be known as “Black Sunday,” a battle then- Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey called “the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.”


 

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Soldiers from B Co., 3/15 Infantry hand out hard candy to kids in Sadr City, Iraq, Feb. 28, 2003. An ominous stencil of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr looms in the background.

The mission started like any other escort mission. Soldiers in a convoy escorted sewage trucks, known as “honey wagons,” to locations inside the Sadr City area of the Iraqi capital. Though times were tough for the Iraqi people, lawlessness was on the rise throughout Baghdad. Still, everything was for the most part peaceful…until Palm Sunday 2004.

The neighborhood now known as Sadr City housed three and a half million people in five square miles – roughly half of the city’s entire population. Built by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, it was full of mostly Shia muslims who were persecuted under Saddam’s rule. As a result, this densely populated area – smaller in size than most American cities, but with a population higher than Houston or Chicago – was deeply impoverished.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
A U.S. Army soldier assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Calvary Regiment, armed with a 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine, provides security during a patrol near Forward Operating Base Camp Eagle, Sadr City, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The area came under control of the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who took the citizens’ distrust of the occupying Americans and turned in into full-fledged anger. His militant followers formed the formidable Mahdi Army, which attracted fighters from other countries as well as Iraqis. By the time the U.S. was ready to take down al-Sadr, he had grown too powerful. When American shut down his newspaper for inciting violence, Sadr City residents were outraged.

They protested peacefully in the streets at first, but that outrage soon boiled over.

American troops raided al-Sadr’s house and arrested one of his senior aides on the order of Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.  That same day, unbeknownst to the Coalition, al-Sadr’s militia captured Iraqi Police stations across the city.

April 4, 2004 was the day 2-5 Cav was escorting honey wagons as they worked in Sadr City. They had just deployed to Camp War Eagle, on the edge of Sadr City, allegedly the “safest place in Iraq.” They were ambushed by the Mahdi Army as they made their way out of the city. Unable to move all their men out of the area, 19 soldiers holed up in a civilian house, awaiting rescue amid hundreds of enemy fighters.

They had only been in country for a few days.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Relief columns were mounted by 1st Cavalry but those were unable to use the heavy guns on their Bradley M-2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicles due to the rules of engagement. The rescuers were themselves ambushed by the forces hidden in Iraqi Police stations and, unable to bring firepower to bear, were pushed back.

Eventually, the superior firepower was authorized against the Mahdi Army’s superior numbers. 1st Cav’s use of the Bradleys’ main turret was complimented by a force of 1st Armored Division M-1A2 Abrams tanks.

Eight soldiers were lost in the initial ambush and rescue of those trapped and surrounded in Sadr City that April Day. The fight to rescue the platoon from 2-5 Cav is dramatized in National Geographic Channel’s miniseries The Long Road Home, which begins Nov. 7, 2017.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
U.S. troops patrol the deserted streets of the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City at sunset, Apr. 4, 2004. (Wathiq Khuzaie)

But the fighting for Sadr City didn’t end in April 2004. The fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood would rage on in the streets between American forces and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army for another four years. It ended with a ceasefire agreement that allowed Iraqi government troops to enter the area.

Articles

This is why America bought nearly two dozen Fulcrums

When the former Soviet Union collapsed, many of the former Soviet republics had sizable stocks of military gear. Much of it ended up being sold at bargain prices around the world. One of the countries that had a large stockpile was Moldova.


According to the NationalInterest.org, the former Soviet republic didn’t have much population. They did have a number of MiG-29s, as well as helicopters, and there was a very big worry that Iran, with its bank accounts bloated with oil money, would seek to bolster its force of MiG-29s. This was bad, but some of Moldova’s MiG-29s had been equipped to deliver tactical nukes.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
A MiG-29. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

To prevent this, the United States opened its checkbook. According to a New York Times report in 1997, 21 of Moldova’s MiG-29s – including all of the MiG-29 Fulcrum Cs – were taken apart and shipped to the United States on board cargo planes. Yemen and Eritrea were left to pick over the remainder of the airframes.

After purchase, the MiG-29 were “exploited.” Now, that pervy-sounding term is also somewhat accurate. But really, a lot of what happened with the MiG-29 was a lot of test flights and mock dogfights. In other words, pretty much the standard practice when America gets its hands on enemy gear.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Bishop

Through that testing, it was discovered that the MiG-29 had its virtues: It was easy to fly. The plane also had the ability to help a pilot recover from vertigo. It had great technology to assist in landings. Not to mention the fact that the AA-11 Archer and its helmet-mounted sight made the Fulcrum a very deadly adversary in a dogfight.

That list item, though, would be countered when America deployed the AIM-9X Sidewinder, which had the capability to use a helmet-mounted sight as well. Furthermore, when America and NATO faced Fulcrums over the former Yugoslavia, the United States shot down four MiG-29s, and a Dutch pilot shot down one as well.

The video below discusses how America used the checkbook to get a bunch of MiGs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE5DWzWhguU
MIGHTY HISTORY

This castaway airman helped map the entire world

A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.


As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.

But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Airman 2nd Class Bob ‘Red’ Cunningham, 1374th Mapping and Charting Squadron, sits near his footlocker and reads a magazine during his six-month assignment on North Danger Island in 1956. The 22-year old radar operator and his three teammates lived in a tent and shared the tiny island in the South China Sea with a six-man Air Force radio relay station team. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.

The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.

It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.

Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.

Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.

“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”

Also Read: Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.

To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.

The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.

“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”

The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.

On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.

“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Cunningham pumps water from an old well on North Danger Island in 1956. The Airmen only used this for laundry and washing. Drinking water was delivered in 55-gallon barrels. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.

A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.

Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.

“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”

Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.

“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”

The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.

Read Also: That time Americans demanded the Coast Guard rescue the cast of Gilligan’s Island

They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.

Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.

That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.

For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.

“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis
Cunningham points to the camp on ‘North Danger Island’ where he lived and worked as a radar operator for six months in 1956 during an Air Force project mapping the earth. (Air Force photo by Josh Turner)

In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.

Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.

“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

You have to hear Muhammed Ali’s take on North Korea

Dennis Rodman wasn’t the first professional athlete to visit North Korea. He probably won’t be the last either. In 1995, Japanese pro wrestler – as in, WWE-level sports entertainment pro wrestler – invited fellow wrestling superstar Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammed Ali to visit the Hermit Kingdom with him on a goodwill tour.

It didn’t take long for “The Louisville Lip” to speak his mind, even in the middle of the most repressive country on Earth.


That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

This is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Muhammed Ali.

Ali was never one to keep his thoughts to himself – and he always accepted the consequences. In 1967, he was stripped of his title, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined ,000 for not obeying his call to be drafted saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

While Ali did not end up going to prison, his stance left him nearly broke and destitute, exiled from boxing for years. The experience didn’t curb his mouth one bit. He has always put his money where his mouth is, even when his voice was ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

But even a debilitating degenerative disease couldn’t stop him from lighting the Olympic torch in 1996.

So when The People’s Champion was invited to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1995, it should have been a surprise to no one that he would still speak his mind. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki invited Ali and fellow wrestler Ric Flair on a goodwill tour of the country in 1995. The group was part of the DPRK’s International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Also coming with the group was Rick and Scott Steiner, Road Warrior Hawk, Scott Norton, Too Cold Scorpio, Sonny Onoo, Eric Bischoff, and Canadian Chris Benoit.

Flair and Inoki would headline two main events from Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium in front of more than 150,000 North Koreans. Muhammed Ali was just a wrestling fan. But when they arrived in the North Korean capital, things immediately got weird for the athletes.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Inoki, Flair, and Ali in Pyongyang 1995.

Their passports were confiscated, and they were assigned a “cultural attache” who followed their every movement and marked their every word. They were not left alone, even for a moment, even as they discussed the show they would put on later that night. One night, the group was sitting at a large table eating dinner with North Korean bigwigs, when one of the officials began some big talk about how North Korea could take out Japan and/or the United States whenever they wanted.

In his biography Ric Flair described Ali speaking up, his voice clear and loud as if his Parkinson’s Disease didn’t exist, saying:

“No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Antonio Inoki and Muhammed Ali in Pyongyang for the 1995 International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace.

When they were ready to go, Ric Flair was asked to say a few words about how great North Korea is and how much the United States paled in comparison. Flair demurred, instead thanking the North Koreans for their hospitality and complimenting them on their capital city.

Muhammed Ali was not asked to say anything before leaving.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

That time high-value POWs were rescued from Nazis by the Nazis

Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

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