Why gladiators of Rome didn't die as often as you thought - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Flamma, Spartacus, and Carpophorus are just a few of the deadly gladiators that saw many victories while fighting in Rome’s famous arenas.


The vicious sport of gladiator fighting was just as popular back then as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was much more gangsta, though. Crowds would swarm to see mighty warriors beat the crap out of one another until only one man was left standing — or the match ended in a draw.

Most people believe that once you stepped foot into one of Rome’s great arenas, chances were, you weren’t coming out alive.

That’s almost true.

Related: These 4 Gurkha stories will make you want to forge your own kukri knife

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings, as a way to provide entertainment at wealthy aristocrats’ funerals. It’s reported, that roughly only one in nine of the competitions ended in death. Many of the warriors who lost the bloody brawls were granted mercy — for financial reasons.

“If a gladiator was lost in the arena, that represented an enormous loss of an investment.” Professor Michael J. Carter explains.

If a rented gladiator was killed in the games, the sponsor was looking to forfeit nearly 50 times the cost of the rental.

Also Read: This soldier took on enemy troops with the sword that took off his arm

In fact, gladiators were the sports celebrities of their time and were awarded exclusive access to the best doctors and trainers to prepare them for the next bout.

Regardless of the quality treatment, however, a majority of gladiators would eventually fall in the arena — or they earned their freedom.

However, even in death, many of the gladiators lived on as stories engraved onto ancient Roman halls and statues.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
Spartacus was a rebel gladiator who raised an army against Rome.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to get the complete breakdown of how these ancient warriors were treated.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the ‘Warrior Pope’ led armies in vicious combat

Catholics know the Pope as God’s representative on Earth. Most other people know him as a generally fine world leader who usually wears unique and cool hats. But, from 1503 to 1513, the papal chair was sat by Pope Julius II, the “Warrior Pope,” who was known to be a shrewd politician and skilled conqueror.


Pope Julius II began life in 1443 as Giuliano della Rovere, a member of a poor noble family. His uncle had enough money to fund his way up the Catholic ranks and, eventually, became Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Della Rovere was soon made a cardinal and continued to maneuver for his own gain.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Pope Sixtus IV, uncle of future Pope Julius II, The Warrior Pope

(Painting by Melozzo da Forlì)

In 1474, della Rovere went to war in Umbria, a Papal State. He led 3,500 infantry in initial fighting and captured a town on his way to Citta di Castello, where the leading rebel against Rome lived. Della Rovere had lost control of some of his men on the way to the town and his siege weapons were having little effect on the city walls. Della Rovere was forced to request reinforcements from Rome.

Once his reinforcements arrived, della Rovere was at the head of 2,000 infantrymen and 28 cavalry squadrons.

There is some question about whether it was della Rovere’s force or political pressure that led to the capitulation of forces at Citta di Castello. Either way, della Rovere was able to head home a conquering hero.

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV, della Rovere was forced to work outside of Rome while rivals took the papal seat. But, in 1503, a resurgent della Rovere used bribes and political pressures to see himself voted into the Papacy. He adopted the name Pope Julius II.

As pope, Julius fought multiple battles — an unheard of activity for a pope, though his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, was rumored to have considered it at one point.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

The city of Mirandola was relatively weak compared to other targets of the Warrior Pope, which is why the drawn-out siege was so disappointing.

(Image by unknown artist, suspected to be Lorenzo Penni)

His first battles were against Venice, which held lands taken from the Papal States. This led to a 1508 alliance with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, known as the League of Cambrai. Once the Venetians were sufficiently beaten and cowed, Julius II actually flipped his alliances and joined the Holy League, which worked to push French troops out of Italy in 1512.

It was during this campaign that, in 1511, he took to the battlefield and performed actions that offended observers.

The pope had himself carried to the front where his troops were fighting at Mirandola, a town in northern Italy. He routinely cursed his generals and made jokes at their expense, personally directed military operations, and reviewed the assembled troops. When the city continued to hold out, he ordered that they be threatened with pillage (ignoring the protests of his generals and advisers).

But he impressed his troops once again when he came under repeated cannon attack but remained at the front. The first cannonball struck his headquarters, so the Pope moved to his personal quarters. When those were also hit, he returned to his headquarters and ordered that the damage be repaired while he waited.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope, at the Siege of Mirandola

(Painting by Raffaello Tancredi)

When Mirandola finally fell, he ordered money be extorted from the citizens and disbursed among his troops and that all French soldiers found in the city be executed on the spot.

Luckily for the already deeply offended faithful in his camps, there were no French soldiers to be found in the city.

But the Pope’s conquests created their own problems. Angry French and Venetian forces and their allies soon re-took his conquered lands and even reportedly melted down a statue of him, used the metal to create a cannon, and then mockingly named it after him.

For these consequences, Julius II blamed one of his nephews, the Duke of Urbino, while praising a cardinal who had led forces in the same battles.

As the scapegoated Duke was leaving a tongue-lashing from the Pope and the cardinal was heading to the papal apartments to receive praise, the two men passed each other in the street. The duke leaped from his horse and savagely beat the cardinal before allowing his attendants to murder him.

Julius II was able to form a new alliance with Spain and England that eventually expelled the French, but allowed the Spanish to take hold of much of the same territory. Julius II was forming a new alliance against the Spanish when he died in 1513.

Articles

Maryland’s ‘Immortal 400’ saved the entire American Revolution

When British General William Howe landed 20,000 Redcoats on Long Island, the situation looked grim for the young Continental Army. General George Washington’s Continentals seemed to be pinned down as Howe simultaneously attacked the Americans head-on while he moved his troops behind Washington’s position.


In his book, “Washington’s Immortals,” Patrick O’Donnell describes how their only way out was a small gap in the British line, somehow being held open by a handful of Marylanders.

Well before the signing of the Declaration of Independence put the nascent United States on a war footing with the world’s largest, most powerful empire, Col. William Smallwood started forming a regiment of men for the coming conflict.

Smallwood formed nine companies of  infantry from the north and west counties of the Maryland Colony. Though they would be reassigned multiple times, the 400 men of the 1st Maryland Regiment took part in many major battles of the American Revolution, most notably covering the American retreat out of Long Island through a series of brave infantry charges.

British forces occupied “The Old Stone House” with a force that outnumbered the aforementioned Marylanders. While the rest of the Americans retreated in an orderly fashion, the few hundred Maryland troops repeatedly charged the fortified position with fixed bayonets.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
Lord Stirling leading an attack against the British in order to enable the retreat of other troops at the Battle of Long Island, 1776. (Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.)

American forces survived mostly intact — except for the Marylanders. Only nine of them made it back to the Continental Army.

Their rearguard actions against superior British troops in New York City earned them the nickname “The Immortal 400.” Their stand against 2,000 British regulars allowed Washington’s orderly retreat to succeed so he could fight another day.

There were 256 Marylanders who died to keep the Redcoats at bay and save the fledgling United States Army.

The Immortal Regiment went on to fight at the pivotal battles of Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown. The unit continued its service long after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.

Maryland earned one of its nicknames, “The Old Line State,” because Washington referred to Maryland units as his “Old Line.” The U.S. Army National Guard’s 115th Infantry Regiment could trace its origins back to the Immortal 400, but the 115th is now merged with the 175th Infantry Regiment.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true history of the Medal of Honor

The nation’s highest medal for valor under enemy fire dates back over 150 years and has been awarded to well over 3,000 men and one woman in honor of heroic acts, including everything from stealing enemy trains to braving machine gun fire to pull comrades to safety.

This is the true history of the Medal of Honor.


Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was one of Andrew’s Raiders and the first recipient of the Medal of Honor. Most of the other soldiers on the raid were eventually awarded the medal.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The idea of creating a new medal for valor got its legs when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles suggested to Iowa Senator James Grimes that he author legislation to create such an accolade. The idea was that such an honor would increase morale among the sailors and Marines serving in a navy fractured by a burgeoning civil war. Grimes’s bill was introduced on Dec. 9, 1861, and quickly gained support.

The bill quickly made it through Congress and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on December 21. At the time, the president was authorized to award 200 medals to Navy and Marine Corps enlisted personnel. It would be another seven months, July 1862, before Army enlisted personnel were authorized to receive the medal — but another 2,000 medals were authorized at that time.

The first medal to be awarded went to a soldier, Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott, one of Andrews’ Raiders who stole a locomotive in Big Shanty, Georgia, and took the train on a 87-mile raid across Confederate territory in April, 1862. Parrott received the Medal first, but nearly all Army personnel on the raid eventually received it. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented the first six.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

The Navy was the first service authorized to present Medals of Honor, but the Army beat them to the punch. Still, hundreds of medals were awarded to deserving sailors for actions taken during the conflict, including this one presented to William Pelham for actions on the USS Hartford in 1864.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Although Andrews’ Raiders were among the first to receive the Medal of Honor, they were not the first persons to earn it. Recommendations for the award trickled in for actions taken earlier.

The earliest action that would earn an Army Medal of Honor took place in February, 1861, when assistant Army surgeon Bernard Irwin rescued 60 soldiers from a larger Apache force with only 14 men. The first naval action to earn the medal took place in October, 1862, when sailor John Williams stayed at his position on the USS Commodore Perry when it was under heavy fire while steaming down the Blackwater River and firing on Confederate batteries.

In 1863, the medal was made permanent and the rules were broadened to allow its award to Army officers. Soon after, in 1864, a former slave named Robert Blake became the first Black American to receive the Medal of Honor when he replaced a powder boy who was killed by a Confederate shell, running powder boxes to artillery crews while under fire.

In 1865, the first and only award of the of the Medal of Honor to a woman occurred. Dr. Mary E. Walker had served in the Union Army during the war and requested a commission. President Andrew Johnson refused but ordered that she be awarded a Medal of Honor in recognition of her bravery and service under fire even though she had served as a civilian and was ineligible.

Seven years later, the Civil War had ended but campaigns against Native Americans were being fought in earnest. It was during these Indian Wars that William “Buffalo Bill” Cody also received the medal despite being technically ineligible.

The medals for Walker and Cody were rescinded in 1917 but later reinstated. Walker’s was reinstated in 1977, Cody’s in 1989.

It’s sometimes noted that the Civil War-standard for the Medal of Honor was lower than the standard applied during World Wars I and II and more modern conflicts. The change in requirements began in 1876 after a surge of recommendations poured in following the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Additional recommendations came from the Legion of Honor, a group led by Medal of Honor recipients that would later become the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. In 1897, President William McKinley adopted new, higher standards that would later be applied during World War I.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Air Force Capt. Jay Zeamer received a Medal of Honor of the Gillespie design featuring a blue ribbon with 13 stars, the word valor, and a wreath of laurels.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

While Civil War and Indian Wars-era Medals of Honor featured designs that incorporated a red, white, and blue ribbon and multiple clasps, in 1904, Medal of Honor recipient and Gen. George Gillespie introduced a new design with a blue ribbon carrying 13 stars. It also added a laurel wreath around the iconic star, added the word “VALOR” to the medal, and made a number of other, smaller design changes.

All Medal of Honor designs approved after 1904 are an evolution of this design.

In 1915, the Navy broadened its rules for the medal so that naval officers, like their Army counterparts, were eligible. In 1918, additional rules for the Army Medal of Honor required that the valorous action take place in conflict with an enemy, that the recommended awardee be a person serving in the Army, and that the medal be presented within three years of the valorous act.

Another change during World War I was that the Medal of Honor was officially placed as the highest medal for valor. While it had always been one of the top awards, it was previously uncertain if the Medal of Honor always outranked service crosses, distinguished service medals, and the Silver Star. In July 1918, the relative tiers of each medal were established, officially putting the Medal of Honor on top.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

U.S. Coast Guardsman Douglas Munro and his compatriots work to protect U.S. Marines on the beaches of Guadalcanal during a withdrawal under fire from Japanese soldiers.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The other military services would later adopt similar restrictions.

The only award of the Medal of Honor to a Coast Guardsman took place during World War II after Signalman First Class Douglas Munro braved Japanese machine gun fire to rescue Marines and sailors during the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was shot in the head during the engagement and died soon after returning to U.S. lines.

Because no Coast Guard version of the medal had ever been designed, Munro’s family was presented the Navy version. A 1963 law allowed for a Coast Guard design but no design has been approved and no medals of such a design have ever been made.

The Air Force made its own design for the medal in 1956 and it was officially adopted in 1965. Prior to that, airmen received the Army award.

Today, there are three approved versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each the Army, the Air Force, and the naval services.

To date, the medal has been presented to nearly 3,500 people.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Shia hits the fan: Understanding Iran’s role in the Middle East

The Islamic Republic of Iran was America’s original nemesis in the Middle East before Saddam’s Iraq stole the spotlight from 1990-2003. (Saddam and the Iranians, by the way, fought a bloody 8-year war against each other in the 1980s.) A casual observer might assume that the Islamic Republic of Iran must be best buddies with the infamous Islamic State (ISIS)…but no, they share a mutual hatred of each other.


Yeah, it’s all a bit complicated and messy, so strap in, and we’ll clear things up a bit.

Iran is a theocracy, meaning the country is governed by religious law. Rather than a single strongman dictator, Iran is ruled by a group of religious clerics who control the country’s “elected” leaders like former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (remember him?) Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 after religious fundamentalists overthrew the secular government of Shah Reza Pahlevi.

The Shah was a dictator, albeit one less brutal than the current regime, who came to power in 1954 with the help of the American CIA. It was a bad look for Uncle Sam, and many Iranians never forgot it.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

American hostages in Iran following the Islamist takeover of 1979.

(Source: Associated Press)

The Iranians are not Arabs like their neighbors to the west. Rather, they are Persians. Instead of Arabic, they speak a dialect of Persian called Farsi. The Iranians are predominantly Shia Muslims, whereas most Arabs are Sunni Muslims.

Theologically, Shias and Sunnis are akin to Protestants and Catholics in the Western world. 85-90% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni and, while the world’s Shia are concentrated in Iran, there are Shia minorities throughout the Arab world. Iraq is unique because it has both an Arab majority and a Shia majority, giving Iran a prime opportunity for heavy influence there (check the news…)

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Sunni jihadist groups, whereas Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and many of the large militias in Iraq are Shia.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

(Source: Pew Research Center)

So the Iranians are Persians and not Arabs, and their leaders are fundamentalist Muslims but from the opposite branch of Islam than bin Laden and the Islamic State.

So what’s Iran’s game plan? In a nutshell, Iran wants to preserve and spread its “Islamic revolution” by boxing out the Sunni Arabs and supporting Shia groups across the Middle East (they also work with certain Sunni groups like Hamas.)

To dominate the Middle East, Iran’s leaders want to exploit the “Shia Crescent,” a network of Shia populations stretching from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon. Iran’s message to these Shia populations is “Big Brother Iran is here to save you from the Sunnis, the Israelis, and the Americans.”

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

(Source: Geographic Intelligence Services)

You can think of the fight against ISIS as World War II, with ISIS filling the role of Nazi Germany. During WWII, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union set aside their rivalries to defeat a common threat. The Defeat-ISIS campaign was similar in that Iran’s Shia coalition shared a mutual enemy with the American/Sunni alliance, even though the two sides weren’t officially partners.

But now, like in 1945, the old rivalries are back in play once again. On one side, Iran leads Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and other Shia factions in the region. Opposing them are the Sunni Arab countries aligned with the United States.

Fear and mistrust of Iran runs deep in countries like Saudi Arabia- so deep, in fact, that Saudi Arabia has reportedly made secret arrangements with Israel to counter the Iranian threat (that’s, uh, a plot twist…to put it mildly.) Iraq, with its Shia majority but close and complicated relationship with the United States, remains stuck in a tug-of-war between the rival coalitions.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Alleged secret plan for Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace to strike Iran. Saudi Arabia publicly denies this.

(Source: Rick Francona)

Iran was once the great ancient empire of Persia, and there is more to modern Iran than its leaders’ ambitions. Iran has a population of over 80 million, and resentment toward the regime is widespread. Strict religious tyranny and a weak economy cause frequent protests which the Iranian regime suppresses with ruthless violence. It’s unclear if this unrest will eventually put the regime’s power in serious jeopardy.

Iran’s economic problems are driven in part by economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe. These sanctions, in turn, are imposed partly as a result of Iran’s nuclear program- a program which, the regime insists, is strictly for domestic energy production. Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons is concerning because an atomic Iran could lead its Sunni rivals to pursue their own nuclear weapons.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Iranian protesters in 2009.

(Source: Getty Images)

Further Iranian vs. American bloodshed seems to have been averted in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, but violence between the two countries is nothing new.

The infamous 1983 Beirut bombing, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen, was perpetrated by an Iranian suicide bomber and 1988’s “Operation Praying Mantis” pitted the U.S. Navy against the Iranian Navy in the largest American naval combat operation since WWII. The whole region remains a Game of Thrones-tier snake pit of conflicting loyalties, religious conflict, and political scheming.

Hopefully now, however, you better understand what led to the U.S. government ordering a drone strike on that guy who looked like Sean Connery.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Iranian Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. drone strike in January 2020.

(Source: Getty Images)

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ‘failed’ prototype planes that went on to serve for years

Prototype planes that lose competitions rarely get a second act. Just ask the YF-23 Black Widow II — two jets were produced and tested and now both will live out their days on display in museums. But there are a lucky few who have lost out only to get a second chance.

It’s rare, but, in a few cases, these runners-up made a huge impact with the United States military. The following planes made the most out of a second chance.


Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
(US Navy)

The XF4F-3 Wildcat in flight. This plane got a second chance after earlier prototypes fell short against the Brewster F2A Buffalo, which turned out to be a real lemon in combat.

Grumman F4F Wildcat

Believe it or not, the extremely successful Wildcat almost never saw the light of day. The original version of this plane lost a developmental competition to the Brewster F2A Buffalo. Thankfully, the Navy gave the Wildcat a second chance, and this plane ended up holding the line against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s force of Mitsubishi A6M Zeros.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
(USAF)

Boeing’s Model 299 did very well in the competition — until a fatal crash knocked it out of contention.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The prototype of the B-17, known as Model 299, initially performed extremely well. It was faster and more powerful than the competition. Unfortunately, the Model 299 crashed during its second evaluation flight, killing both pilots on board. With the Model 299 destroyed and disqualified, Douglas won the competition with the B-18

Fortunately, the Army Air Force, who were extremely impressed with the B-17’s performance, found a legal loophole through and kept the program alive. It went on to be the mainstay of the Eighth Air Force in World War II.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
(USAF)

A version of the F-86 beat out the XF-88 Voodoo, but the plane survived as the basis for the F-101 Voodoo.

McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo

In 1946, the Army Air Force was looking for a long-range, jet-powered escort fighter. McDonnell offered up the XF-88 Voodoo to compete for this contract, which lost out to a version of the F-86 Sabre.

Combat in Korea quickly proved that the U.S. still needed an effective penetration fighter. So, McDonnell scaled up the XF-88 to make the prototype of the F-101 Voodoo, which entered service in 1957 and didn’t fully retire until 1983!

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
(USAF)

The B-1A was cancelled, but made a comeback in the 1980s as the B-1B Lancer.

Rockwell B-1 Lancer

The B-1 originally fell victim to Jimmy Carter’s budget axe, but the need to replace aging B-52s was patently obvious. After intense political debate, the B-1B Lancer entered production in the 1980s. While this airframe no longer carries nukes, it can still put a real hurt on Russian ambitions in the Baltics or hammer the Chinese in the South China Sea.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Northrop YF-17 Cobra

In the eyes of the Air Force, the YF-17 was inferior to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but the Navy saw something in this design. After making some modifications, this prototype become the classic F/A-18 Hornet, which still serves today!

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time U.S. F-15s stumbled into an Iraqi trap and won

It became clear just hours into Operation Desert Storm that the U.S. was leaps and bounds ahead of the Iraqi Air Force — the first aerial clashes resulted in the U.S. downing three enemy aircraft while suffering no losses. But U.S. pilots knew that Iraq had significant air defenses and fighter aircraft that had to be taken seriously.

And that’s what made it so scary for the Air Force and Marine Corps F-15 pilots who realized that they’d stumbled into a sophisticated trap on the second day of the assault.


Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

The F-15 is a stunning fighter that claims over 100 aerial kills with zero losses to enemy fire.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel)

Marine Corps Capt. Charles Magill was leading a flight of eight F-15s protecting a larger strike package headed into the contested airspace to destroy threats on the ground. The eight F-15s in the lead got a call from the E-3 Sentry aircraft on the mission.

Two MiG-29 Fulcrums were near the target area.

Magill decided to take three other F-15s with him to destroy the threat, leaving four behind to protect the main strike package.

www.youtube.com

Four-against-two odds, especially when the team of four has F-15s versus enemy MiGs, is a good setup — but the F-15s had been tricked. As they pursued the MiGs, the ground suddenly erupted with surface-to-air missiles, all locked on U.S. jets and racing to their targets.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

MiG-29 were useful and capable fighters, even if they lacked all the capability of American F-15s.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)

The American pilots were forced to jettison their external fuel tanks and take evasive actions. They deployed flares, put the planes through gut-wrenching turns, and, ultimately, avoided every missile fired against them. This left them in suddenly-safe skies once again — except for the two MiGs that had lured them. The Americans still smelled blood and decided to continue the pursuit.

As they drew close, the MiGs took a sudden turn towards the Air Force and Marine pilots, making the Americans think that the MiGs were prepared for a knockdown fight.

But, it turned out, the Iraqis had spotted a lone Navy F-14 Tomcat and were maneuvering to attack it, allowing the F-15 pilots to pursue the MiGs in turn. Magill took his shot immediately after Air Force Capt. Rhory Draeger. Magill, worried that his first missile had malfunctioned, took a third shot.

Draeger’s first missile flew true and shredded the Iraqi jet, while both of Magill’s missiles also made contact. The first missile tore the right wing from the Iraqi jet and the second missile flew into the resulting fireball and exploded. The strike package was safe once again to attack Iraqi ground targets and Operation Desert Storm continued unabated.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 stories you (probably) didn’t know about war correspondent Ernie Pyle

Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900, at the turn of the 20th century. The famed war correspondent and columnist was better known as “Ernie” and had the reputation as the voice of the American servicemen during World War II. He chronicled the blitz in London and the individual heroism of Londoners, the roles of Vichy French officials in North Africa and their corroboration with the Nazis, and the allied invasions of both Italy and Normandy. One of his most heart wrenching pieces, “The Death of Captain Waskow,” revealed the emotional grief of soldiers when one of their men was killed in combat.

His refreshing writing style informed the general public back home and provided a rare look at the happenings of America’s sons, husbands, and fathers serving overseas.


Pyle’s birthday is now recognized as National Ernie Pyle Day. The day celebrates his wartime columns, his Pulitzer Prize for reporting, and the memory of his legacy, one that ended too soon. On April 18, 1945, Pyle was shot and killed by a Japanese soldier on the island of Ie Shima while he was covering the war in the Pacific. While there is plenty known about Pyle’s exploits from his famous dispatches, here are four lesser known stories of Ernie Pyle’s historic legacy that are worth mentioning on his day of remembrance.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Before Pyle was well known during World War II, his name was synonymous with the aviation world. Though he had a student pilot’s permit, Pyle never got a license. Photo courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Before The Fame

Before Ernie Pyle became a war correspondent during World War II, it could be argued that he had already seen much of what the human experience had to offer from his travels around the globe. He suffered from restlessness, a common affliction for many in his chosen profession. The farm boy from Indiana had a curiosity in service, so he enlisted in the US Naval Reserves during World War I. However, that didn’t get him overseas, which left a burden and lingering question about the adventure waiting for him.

After leaving Indiana University, Pyle cut his teeth as an aviation reporter for the Washington Daily News under the helm of the Scripps Howard newspaper entity. His yarns received many compliments, including one by none other than aviator Amelia Earhart.

“Not to know Ernie Pyle,” she said, “is to admit that you yourself are unknown in aviation.”

“I’ve covered 200,000 miles and been on five of the six continents and crossed both oceans and delved into every country in the Western Hemisphere and written upward of 1,500,000 words in that, daily column,” Pyle wrote in July 1941. “I’ve gone down the Yukon River on a stem-wheeler, and lived with the lepers in Hawaii, and petted llamas in the high Andes, and reveled in the strange lazy beauties of Rio.”

His “Great Experience” halted when his quest of service took him to all three theaters of operations during World War II.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Men of the 133rd Field Artillery Battalion enjoy Cokes on the front, March 17, 1944. Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The ,000 Coca Cola Bottle

Coca-Cola was a prized beverage amongst American GI’s serving overseas in Europe during World War II. Pfc. Frederick Williams, a soldier from a field artillery brigade with prior service along the Italian front had returned home. He decided to send two bottles of Coke to his old unit, many of whom hadn’t seen a carbonated beverage for more than a year. The soldiers decided to split one of the Cokes and donate the other in a raffle to raise money for adoption efforts for the children whose fathers were killed in the brigade.

The Cokes were advertised in the brigade’s mimeographed newspaper for 25 cents a piece, and before the week was over the raffle had raised more than id=”listicle-2646905372″,000. Another soldier had received a second bottle of Coke and added the prize to the key. Three weeks passed and the total cash prize climbed to ,000.

“That one Coke was equivalent to the value of 80,000 bottles back home,” Pyle wrote in astonishment as he covered the event. Coke added an additional ,000 to the value and, despite the noble cause, Nazi propagandists used the opportunity to broadcast through the airwaves lies suggesting individual soldiers payed ,000 for one bottle of Coca-Cola.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

In peacetime they are nickel-plated and shiny. In wartime they are black with a rough finish. A display at the National World War II Museum shows one of Pyle’s Zippo lighters donated during the war. Photo courtesy of the National World War II Museum.

Ernie’s Zippo Lighters

Readers from the United States and abroad were glued to the words Pyle strung together, including George Blaisdell, the president of Zippo Manufacturing Company. Braisdell sent a letter and 50 Zippo lighters personally addressed to Pyle to hand out to his servicemen friends.

“They’ll burn in the wind, and pilots say they are the only kind that will light at extreme altitudes,” Pyle once wrote. “Why, they’re so popular I had three stolen from me in one year.”

Pyle was an avid smoker, and through the habit he bonded with soldiers over a cigarette. “My own lighter was a beauty, with my name on one side and a little American flag on the other,” Pyle said. “I began smoking twice as much as usual just because I enjoyed lighting the thing.”

Conversations and insights happened while having a smoke that may not have occurred while sitting in a foxhole or over a meal of “C-rations” or in a bunk aboard a navy ship. Pyle’s ability to connect with pilots, infantrymen, medics, and even animals helped his writings convey a sense of identity and commonality to his readership.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Ernie Pyle visits Leathernecks of the 3rd Marine Division, where, along with talking to the veterans of the fight on Bougainville and Guam, he observed the famous Marine Corps war dogs for the first time on Jan. 24, 1945. Shown here talking to “Jeep,” a scout and security patrol Doberman pinscher. Photo by TSgt. J. Mundell, courtesy of the National Archives.

Pyle and the War Dogs

Marines serving in the Pacific theater often named their military working dogs after terms familiar with the US military. Jeep, a black-and-brown Doberman pinscher, was utilized by Marines from the 3rd Marine Division. Pyle learned all about their war dog program, which consisted of 60 dogs, 90 handlers, 10 NCO observers, two K-9 medics, and three kennel supervisors. Jeep’s job as a scout and security patrolman helped the Marines locate sniper positions, search caves and pillboxes, alerted signs of potential ambushes, and ran messages to unit commanders.

Sergeant, another war dog that impacted Pyle and the Marines, was killed after he had been wounded by shrapnel from an air raid. The Marines specifically trained their dogs to run into foxholes when they heard the aircraft, but a lucky shot by the enemy resulted in Sergeant having to be put down.

“It is not belittling the men who died,” Pyle wrote of the tragedy, “to say that Sergeant’s death shares a big place in the grief of those who were left.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The brutal attack that made Dracula so famous

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


Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

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

(Paolo Veronese)

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

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

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

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
The Battle With Torches depicts the attack by Vlad the Impaler against Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
(Theodor Aman)

 

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the only living African-American from WW2 to earn MoH

After enlisting in the Army in June of 1941, Vernon Baker was assigned to the 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division — the first black unit to head into combat during WWII.


After completing Officer Candidate School, Baker was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Soon after, he landed in Naples, Italy, and had to fight his way north through the enemies’ front to the central portion of the country.

His unit was then ordered to attack a German stronghold in the mountains of Viareggio. Several allied battalions before them were unsuccessful in taking the enemy region, but Baker was up to the task.

The mountain-top consisted of three hills, “X, Y, and Z.” Baker and his troops began taking the heavily fortified area one hill at a time.

Facing fierce opposition, Baker often came in close enemy contact and managed to survive each deadly encounter as it presented itself.

“Somebody was sitting on my shoulder,” Baker says.

Full of adrenaline from taking the first hill, Baker was handed a submachine gun from a superior officer and instructed to proceed on to the next area.

Patroling nearly on his own, Baker spotted a small German firing position built into the side of the mountain. Armed with a few grenades, he chucked one and landed a perfect strike.

After it detonated and the smoke cleared, a German soldier stuck his head to look around. Baker quickly engaged the troop, killing him on the spot.

Also Read: The 7 best military stories from the glory days of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’

Baker continued to maneuver his way around the mountain and spotted two more firing position — tossing grenades inside each one — killing the enemy troops inside.

After learning the company commander was egressing for resupply, Baker knew he was on his own to lead his remaining troops. Carefully moving through the dangerous terrain, Baker and his men managed to secure the area after several intense firefights.

The next morning, Baker and his men moved through the dangerous terrain and secured the area after several hours of allied bombardment.

52-year later, Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage from former President Bill Clinton.

1st Lt. Vernon Baker became the only living African-American serviceman from WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Check out Medal of Honor Book’s video below to listen to Vernon extraordinary story from the legend himself.

(Medal of Honor Book, YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were Britain’s ‘manned torpedoes’ in World War II

You’ve probably heard about Japan’s Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you’ve even heard about Japan’s manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn’t the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.


Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

A Kaiten Type 10 manned torpedo. Japanese manned torpedoes were a little more “terminal” than British ones.

(Kansai Man, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But there is an important distinction between the two programs. Britain’s manned torpedoes were designed with a focus on getting the pilots back safely after the mission, while Japan’s program was essentially Kamikaze tactics, but under the water.

For Britain, it all started in December 1941. Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Britain suffered its own surprise naval raid on December 19. Two British battleships and a tanker suffered serious damage in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt when large explosions ripped through their hulls from outside.

But the captain of the HMS Valiant had captured two Italian divers just before the explosions, and one of them had asked to meet with him just before the blasts. Coincidentally, they had been detained in the room just above the damage to the hull. So he summoned those dudes again and asked what, exactly, had happened to his ship and the two others. (A fourth ship was damaged by the blasts, even though the Italian teams had only hit three targets.)

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Two British sailors on a manned torpedo, the Chariot Mk. I.

(Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

Four other divers were captured by Egyptian police in the following days, and Britain pieced together how the attacks were carried out. The men had launched from an Italian submarine on a torpedo modified to propel the divers through the water. These torpedoes not only had warheads, but they also had two little seats for the divers.

Basically, imagine a two-person motorcycle, but shaped to fit in a large torpedo tube and propelled by a propeller instead of wheels. Now attach a mine to the front. Or you could’ve just looked at the picture above, but whatever. Let’s keep going.

Britain saw this and was all, “Hey, Brits can be strapped to metal tubes, too! We should strap dudes to metal tubes.” So they developed the Chariot starting in April 1942 and attempted the first manned torpedo mission that October.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

A British Chariot Mk. 1.

(Imperial War Museums)

The British Chariot Mk. I was about 22 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighed over 1.75 tons and had a 600-pound Torpex warhead, equal to almost a 1,000 pounds of TNT. The plan was that divers would get onto the torpedo and steer it through the water to a target. Then the divers would remove the warhead from the torpedo and place it on the target ship’s hull with a timer, and then pilot the submersible away.

If all went to plan, the 600 pounds of high explosive would then blow a large hole in the target.

The first Chariot mission failed after the torpedoes were lost at sea as a ship delivered them into range of their target. Their target, by the way, was the German battleship Tirpitz, which would’ve made for an epic combat debut if it had succeeded.

But Britain modified submarines to carry the new torpedo and began sending the Chariot into combat.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

U.S. Navy SEALs prepare to fly through the water in a SEAL Delivery Vehicle.

(U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle)

Chariot torpedoes were used against Italian ships, the beaches of Sicily, and Japanese ships in Phuket, Thailand. And, yeah, it turns out those massive warheads do work. Britain even made a new design of Chariot, the Mk. II Terry Chariot, that was faster, had a warhead twice the size, and a larger combat radius.

But if it was so good, why aren’t there a bunch of manned torpedoes zipping around today? Well, there are actually a few. The U.S. Navy has the SEAL Delivery vehicle which is, basically, a manned torpedo that SEALs use to get to targets, but the Navy is looking to can it and get mini-subs instead. These would perform the same mission, but SEALs wouldn’t need to be exposed to the outside water in the mini-subs.

But yeah, manned torpedoes have mostly given way to submersibles and mini-subs because manned torpedoes were really valuable for delivering divers. When it comes to delivering warheads, even during World War II, it made more sense to fire conventional torpedoes.

Today, guided torpedoes make the use of manned torpedoes for explosive delivery completely unnecessary.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

Articles

9 military ‘ghost bases’ you’ve probably never heard of

During the Wild West, many towns popped up along the trail and eventually went on to become ghost towns. Military bases, though, have sometimes become “ghost bases” – abandoned and left to rot.


Some of these ghost bases are near cities like the Big Apple. Others, like Johnston Atoll, are pretty far off – a nice getaway spot, if not for the history of being used as a storage center for Agent Orange and other interesting stuff.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
Barrels of Agent Orange being stored at Johnston Atoll. (U.S. government photo)

The climates can be very different – from the burning sands of Johnston Atoll to the frozen flatlands of North Dakota, where America briefly operated a ballistic-missile defense system known as SAFEGUARD.

One base in Croatia that once was home for almost 50 fighter jets was abandoned during the Yugoslav civil war of 1991 – and the wrecks are mostly used by folks seeking some adventure. That base still gets “official” use for law enforcement training.

A damaged runway at the Zeljava Air Base in Croatia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You can even check out one abandoned facility that will soon fall into the Pacific. No, not Johnston Atoll (it was a re-claimed coral atoll built over the years long before China did the same thing in the South China Sea), but instead the Devil’s Slide bunker on the California coast. A lack of maintenance and the natural process of erosion will eventually send this coastal-defense bunker tumbling from commanding heights and into the Pacific.

But if you want one “ghost base” that has captured imaginations worldwide, you can go to either the Ukraine or Siberia to see the Duga Radar Array – an early-warning system meant to detect American missiles. Or just pick up the video games “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Stalker” to see representations of the array used.

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought
The Duga Radar Array near Chernobyl. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, take a peek at this video that tells more about these and some other “ghost bases” – and tell us which “ghost base” you would like to know more about.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information