Sherlock Holmes is one of the most well-known cultural icons of Great Britain. To date, he’s been portrayed by 254 actors and has been referenced in over 25,000 Holmes-related products. Some of these works are masterpieces, such as BBC’s Sherlock (2010) and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009).
It should come as no surprise that a character as intelligent as Sherlock Holmes was written by an equally smart man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What most people don’t know is that his life’s story played out nearly identically to his characters’.
He was knighted outside his novels
Although the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887, he struggled to gain public recognition. It took until 1901’s release of The Hounds of Baskervilles for him to truly reach fame.
His recognition would reach far beyond fiction, however. In 1902, he wrote the war pamphlet entitled The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct. In it, Doyle counters every charge levied against the British Empire for the then-contemporary Boer War. The pamphlet became so popular with bureaucrats and politicians that he was knighted in October of that year.
He was a Doctor, like Watson
After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Doyle searched for adventure. He became a whaling boat’s medical officer and traveled to the Arctic. He would write throughout his travels. Then, in 1900 (seven years after writing The Final Problem), the onset of the Second Anglo-Boer War prompted Doyle to travel to South Africa and serve as a medic. He was ultimately deemed unfit for frontline duties but, since he was already there and was an actual doctor, he served the British Empire regardless.
He compiled personal accounts from both the British and Boer troops he treated, which would later be inspiration for his non-fiction work, The Great Boer War. It should be noted that some of the accounts were said to be a bit dramatized.
He was a huge family man — unlike his characters. (Courtesy Photo)
He actually solved crimes, like Sherlock
Sherlock’s deductive reasoning skills didn’t simply materalize out of thin air. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cleverly investigated crimes himself as an advocate for justice. He took on two high-profile, closed cases, both of which ended with proper justice.
The first was George Edaliji, a half-Indian lawyer accused of threatening harm to and then mutilating animals. Doyle proved that the incriminating letters used to sentence the lawyer didn’t match Edaliji’s handwriting and linked the crimes to another animal mutilation that occurred while he was in custody. The second was of Oscar Slater who was accused of murdering an elderly woman. Doyle proved his innocence. He showed that Slater’s behavior and suspicious lifestyle wasn’t because he was a murderer, but rather because he was trying to hide his mistress from his wife.
At the onset of World War I, the warring powers needed all the help they could get on both land and sea. So, when the British Empire lost two of her ships to mines and torpedoes, they did the only logical thing they could think of: welded the remaining pieces together and sent the ship back into the war.
The World War I Naval equivalent of Motrin and clean socks. (HMS Nubian in Chatham Drydock after being torpedoed in 1916)
The HMS Nubian and the HMS Zulu were both Tribal-class destroyers in the service of the Royal Navy. They were also both launched in 1909. Since their range was much too short to go into the open ocean, they were used primarily for home defense, hunting submarines, and protecting England from any seaborne threats. Unfortunately, they both also met similar fates at the hands of the Kaiser’s navy.
Nubian was part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, charged with defending England’s east coast. By the outbreak of World War I, she was in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla hunting German U-boats and hitting German defenses on the coast of Belgium. She was torpedoed by one such submarine during the 1916 Battle of the Dover Straits. None of her crew were killed until the ship ran aground and broke apart while being towed back to port. The bow of Nubian was completely torn off, and a dozen men were killed.
HMS Zulu lost its stern after hitting a German mine.
HMS Zulu was in the same class as the Nubian. The two ships were even part of the same destroyer flotilla before the war started. By the time World War I did kick off, Zulu was in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla operating outside of Dover, where she joined the Dover Patrol, looking for German submarines to prevent them from accessing the Atlantic through the English Channel. Unfortunately for the Zulu, she struck a mine laid by a German sub. The explosion killed three sailors and ripped off the ship’s stern.
A French destroyer helped it limp back to the port of Calais, where it was towed back to England. Once in England, the Zulu and the Nubian would make history: they would become the HMS Zubian.
The Zubian, with no real difference in length, displacement, or firepower.
The portmanteau of the two ships’ names is as accurate as it is appropriate. The Nubian, having lost her bow and the Zulu, having lost her stern, could not simply be written off as a loss during what was then considered “the War to End All Wars.” The two sister ships were so similar that they could exchange parts or whole pieces – and that’s exactly what happened. Instead of scrapping one or the other, the two parts were just welded together. The resulting ship, the Zubian, set sail for vengeance almost immediately.
In the war’s final two years, Zubian saw service in the 6th Flotilla in the Dover Straits throughout the war. In February 1918, she saw a U-boat attempt to surface with its antenna up. Zubian moved to ram the German U-boat, but it submerged before the British could hit her. Zubian dropped depth charge after depth charge on the sub until oil and metal floated to the surface, revenge for the hurt German U-boats put on her previous two ships (and the crews manning them).
Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.
And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.
Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.
As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.
As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.
When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.
Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.
German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.
With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.
Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…
For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.
A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.
Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).
Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.
As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.
So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.
A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.
This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”
The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”
Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”
On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”
In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.
As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.
Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?
Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.
Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.
Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.
They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.
Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”
Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”
Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”
Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”
A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”
Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.
Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
While most movies and TV series on the war over Germany in World War II focuses on the aerial duals between American P-51 Mustangs, British Spitfires and Luftwaffe fighters like the Bf-109, the Bf-110, and the FW-190, the bulk of the air casualties came from anti-aircraft guns, or “flak.”
The crewmen who had it worst from the flak were the waist gunners, who accounted for 21.6 percent of casualties. Bombardiers and navigators, who were stationed in the very front of the plane and who had only a glass nose between them and a very long drop, also had a bad time of it, accounting for 15 percent and 13.2 percent of casualties respectively.
The safest crew member was the ball turret gunner (5.5 percent), the pilot (7.7 percent), and co-pilot (6.6 percent), who together accounted for 19.8 percent of casualties).
They were most likely to be hit in the legs (44 percent of the time), followed by the arms (31 percent). The development of flak vests meant that only 9 percent of casualties were hit in the chest and abdomen, while 16 percent of hits were in the head.
You can see a video on how and why German flak was such a threat below.
The “Miracle at Dunkirk,” when 338,000 troops were evacuated in Operation Dynamo where optimistic estimates topped out at 45,000 might be rescued, was a turning point for the allies, allowing them to salvage troops that would fight in North Africa, at D-Day, and beyond.
In 7 steps, here’s how the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on the beaches of France and then rescued in Operation Dynamo.
The military maneuvers and buildup between the two sides were dubbed the “Phoney War.” Belgium, the Netherlands, and other countries across Europe prepared for the likelihood of a German invasion.
2. The Germans invade
On May 10, 1940, the “Phoney War” came to a violent end as the Germans invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. The Germans quickly took ground and captured bridgeheads on the River Meuse, allowing them to invade France through the Ardennes Forest.
4. The French and British withdraw towards the beaches
As army after army and country after country surrendered to the German war machine, those still fighting were forced to withdraw further and further east and north. They were pushed against the beaches of France. Panzer forces attacked and captured the French deep-water ports at Boulogne and Calais on May 25 and 26, limiting the potential evacuation options.
5. The Panzers stop
The 48-hour timeline was agreed upon because it was the longest that forces could reliably hold out against German armor. But the German tanks had mysteriously stopped their push towards Dunkirk itself on May 23 by order of Gen. Ewald von Kleist. The next day, a full “stop order” was given by Hitler.
The Allies responded by quickly shoring up their defenses as best they could. What was a loose line of troops on May 23, likely to be brushed aside quickly, became a much more formidable line of dug in but exhausted forces.
One of the most shocking events in the evacuations began on May 27 when the Royal Navy requisitioned small vessels for use in the evacuations. Most of the ships were manned by the Royal Navy, but some ship owners insisted that they would pilot their craft to assist in the evacuation.
It’s not every day that the mild-mannered janitor at your school turns out to be a bad ass Medal of Honor recipient. But that was exactly the case for thousands of cadets at the United States Air Force Academy.
The story starts in Italy in 1943. Pvt. William Crawford was serving as a scout in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, as it fought its way up the Italian peninsula.
After landing at Salerno, Crawford’s unit was advancing against stiff German resistance. Just four days after the landings, I Company launched an attack against Hill 424. Once his platoon gained the crest, they became pinned down by intense German machine gun fire.
Ignoring the hail of bullets, Crawford advanced on the German position and silenced it with a hand grenade.
When his platoon was once again pinned down, Crawford didn’t hesitate to charge forward, this time to destroy two machine gun emplacements.
He first attacked the machine gun to the left and destroyed it and the crew with a hand grenade. He then worked his way to the next machine gun under intense fire. When he was in range he again tossed a hand grenade that sent the crew running.
Later during the intense fighting in Italy, the Germans captured Crawford. His status was listed as missing, presumed dead.
When his Medal of Honor was approved in 1944, it was presented to his father, posthumously.
However, Crawford had in fact survived and in 1945 was liberated from a German POW camp by advancing Allied forces.
Crawford was discharged after the war and returned home before marrying in 1946. He decided to reenlist in 1947 and served another 20 years before retiring with the rank of Master Sergeant in 1967.
His next career move would prove fateful. He took a position as a janitor at the Air Force Academy in his home state of Colorado.
Despite his courage in combat, Crawford had always been rather mild-mannered and didn’t care much to talk about himself. As such, the cadets at the Academy paid him no mind, assuming he was just any other janitor.
Crawford carried on his duties until 1976 when one cadet, James Moschgat, noticed a picture in a history book about World War II.
Moschgat couldn’t believe what he was seeing and showed the picture to his roommate saying, “I think Bill our janitor is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.”
The next day Moschgat and his roommate confronted Crawford to ask if it was truly him that was talked about in the book. According to Moschgat’s account Crawford simply looked at the picture and replied, “Yep, that’s me.”
Astonished by what they had just learned, they quickly asked why he had never mentioned it before. Crawford’s reply once again showed his humility. He simply said, “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
Word quickly spread around campus that there was a Medal of Honor recipient in their midst.
The story could have easily ended here with a known recipient of the Medal of Honor working as a janitor at the Air Force Academy. Most people would have never heard the story.
However, the cadets weren’t done.
They eventually found out that because of the circumstances, mainly that Crawford was a POW at the time, he had never had a formal ceremony to present him with his medal.
So, when the Class of 1984 reached graduation they invited Crawford as their special guest. And they had a special surprise in store for him. President Ronald Reagan was giving the commencement speech at the Academy that year.
Nazi Germany may have been one of the most evil regimes in history, but that regime also had some very good equipment. The Tiger tank, the Bf 109 and FW 190 fighters, the U-boat, and the MG42 machine gun were all very good.
Perhaps the most notorious weapon they had was called the “88.” Technically, it was called the 8.8 centimeter Flak 18, 36, 37, or 41, but most folks just described it with the number that referred to the gun’s bore diameter in millimeters. That was a measure of how notorious the gun was.
The first 88s were intended as anti-aircraft guns to kill bombers. They were very good at that – as many allied bomber crews found out to their sorrow. But the gun very quickly proved it was more than just an anti-aircraft gun, starting with its “tryout” in the Spanish Civil War. The gun also proved it could kill tanks.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, it could kill tanks from a mile away. When the Germans discovered that, they began to churn out 88mm guns as quickly as they could. As many as 20,700 were built, and they found themselves used on everything from Tiger tanks to naval vessels. Even after the war, the gun hung around, and during the war, it was something that allied forces quickly tried to neutralize. The 88 was even pressed into service with some Seventh Army units due to an ammo shortage.
The gun had a crew of seven, and weighed nine tons. The gun could be fired at targets as far as nine miles away. Very few of these guns are around now, but in World War II, many Allied troops wondered if the Germans would ever run out.
You can see video of one of the few surviving “88s” being fired below.
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
So wrote 21-year old Nathan Hale before being hanged for espionage by the British on Sept. 22, 1776. Hale had originally been encouraged to join the revolution by an old Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge.
Tallmadge and Hale had been close during their time at Yale and often exchanged letters. Three years after their graduation, Tallmadge wrote to Hale, newly an officer in the American forces, saying, “Was I in your condition, I think the more extensive service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honor of our God, a glorious country and a happy constitution is what we have to defend.”
Hale agreed with Tallmadge’s sentiment and soon accepted an assignment to do more than just fight–he would spy from behind enemy lines. Although Hale’s venture into espionage ended rather poorly, Tallmadge’s revolutionary feelings did not subside. Soon, he would find himself at the center of the American Revolution’s most important spy ring.
The Culper Ring, founded and supervised by Tallmadge, operated from late October in 1778 until the British evacuated New York in 1783. Although the ring was active for all five of these years, its most productive period was between 1778 and 1781.
Benjamin Tallmadge with his son, William.
After Tallmadge brought the ring together, it was led by Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend, codenamed “Samuel Culper, Sr.” and “Samuel Culper, Jr.” respectively. The codename “Culper” came straight from George Washington himself, a slight alteration of Culpeper County, Virginia where Washington had worked as a surveyor in his youth.
The ring was highly sophisticated, using methods still familiar today. Couriers, invisible ink. and dead drops were the norm. Some messages were hidden in plain sight, coded within newspaper advertisements and personal messages. Supposedly, one woman, Anna Strong, was even able to use the clothes she hung to dry to send messages to other members of the ring. Codes and ciphers were standard practice. These methods enabled agents to send Tallmadge apparently innocent letters. Tallmadge could pick out individual words to decode messages.
While Woodhull and Townsend ran the show, many agents, couriers, and sub-agents were also involved. Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Anna Strong and the still-unidentified ‘Agent 355’ all played vital roles. Other members included Hercules Mulligan and his slave Cato. Mulligan warned in January, 1779 of British plans to kidnap or kill senior American leaders including Washington himself. Cato delivered the vital message.
Other agents included Joseph Lawrence, Nathan Woodhull (Abraham’s cousin), Nathaniel Ruggles, William Robinson and James Rivington. So solid was the ring’s security that its very existence remained unconfirmed until the 20th century. Even Washington himself couldn’t identify every Culper agent. Its strict security preserved both the ring and the lives of individual members, boosting their confidence in themselves and each other.
The Culper Ring’s successes, what spies call coups, were many. They warned of a surprise attack on newly arrived French troops at Newport, Rhode Island. The forces, properly warned, were able to foil British plans to devastate their men while they recovered from their transatlantic voyage. The Culper spies uncovered British plans to destroy America’s nascent economy by forging huge amount of Continental dollars. Continental dollars were soon withdrawn from circulation, replaced with coins by 1783.
Without the Culper Ring, Washington may have fallen for a raiding operation meant to divide his forces. In 1779, General William Tryon raided three main ports of Connecticut, destroying homes, goods in storage, and a number of public buildings. Tryon was attempting to split off a portion of Washington’s forces to allow British forces to rout the Americans.
Washington did not ride out to meet Tryon. Instead, Tryon’s forces rampaged through civilian land and the general was criticized by both American rebels and those who supported the British as barbarous.
By far the Culper Ring’s most important coup was exposing General Benedict Arnold. Arnold, whose name has entered the American language as a metonym for treachery, was in contact with British spy Major John André and planned to surrender West Point to the British. The Culper Ring warned Tallmadge of a high-ranking American traitor, but lacked his identity. Tallmadge identified Arnold when André was captured and later hanged for his treason. Although Arnold escaped with his life, West Point remained safe from the British.
Benedict Arnold in 1776
Abraham Woodhull’s sister Mary is sometimes credited with exposing Major André and thus Benedict Arnold. André (alias John Anderson) fled when he realized he was under suspicion. Unlike the Culper Ring’s, André’s security was lax. That cost André his life, Arnold his reputation, and ultimately helped cost the British Empire its American colony.
Stopped by three soldiers, André first tried to bribe them to let him go. Instead of taking the bribe, the soldier, now actively suspicious rather than idly curious, searched him and found incriminating papers. The letters proved conclusively that André was a British spy. The information contained in André’s letters was almost useless to the British; their commander General Clinton already had it. They were, however, extremely valuable to Tallmadge.
André’s captured messages were in Benedict Arnold’s handwriting, making it suddenly clear who was leaking high-level information. Arnold fled for his life, going to England, then Canada. After alienating a number of business partners in New Brunswick, Arnold returned to England. André was not so lucky to escape the American forces–he would make a useful reprisal for the hanging of Tallmadge’s dear friend, Nathan Hale. Caught dead to rights by the Culper Ring, André would soon be dead, period.
Hale had been hanged on Sept. 22, 1776 at the tender age of 21. He died bravely, with composure, courage and dignity. André faced the gallows equally bravely on Oct. 2, 1780. Before his death he received a visitor: Colonel Tallmadge.
The two spent part of their time together talking. At one point André asked Tallmadge whether his capture and Hale’s were similar. Tallmadge, remembering his dead friend and perhaps feeling guilty at encouraging him to take a more active revolutionary role, replied, “Yes, precisely similar, and similar shall be your fate…”.
The British evacuated New York in mid-August, 1783. On Nov. 16 of the same year, Washington himself visited to mark the seventh anniversary of the American retreat from Manhattan. While there he met someone to whom he and his new nation owed a personal and national debt: Culper agent Hercules Mulligan.
January 29, 1863 was a snowy day in Northern Virginia. The Confederate Army was about to face the most challenging year of its short life span, but that wouldn’t stop a few thousand soldiers from having a little fun. Some of the Confederacy’s Texas soldiers began tossing snowballs around while quartered in Virginia Rappahannock Valley when they decided to execute a sneak attack on some of their fellow volunteers from Arkansas.
When all was said and done, more than 9,000 troops were throwing snowballs at each other in the biggest snowball exchange ever recorded.
The year 1863 was a hard year from the start for the Confederates. It began on January 1, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves held in the “rebellious territories.” It would mean an influx of Black troops for the Union and prevent Europeans from entering the war for the Southern cause.
The Confederates would end up fighting desperate battles against Union forces at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg. But first, they would fight a a light but cold war against each other in the Rappahannock Valley.
When the soldiers woke up that January morning, they found the entire valley blanketed with a heavy snowfall and snow drifts up to seven feet deep. The 1st and 4th Texas made quick use of the precipitation, and pelted their fellow Texans in the 5th Infantry with hard-packed ice balls.
Outnumbered and surprised, members of the Texas 5th quickly responded with a barrage of their own. They drove their assailants back to their own tents. With their fellow Texans repulsed, a small truce was declared, giving the Texans enough time to formulate a plan of attack on the neighboring Arkansas regiments.
Again, with the element of surprise, the Texas hit the 3rd Arkansas Infantry, who quickly surrendered. The two groups merged and the joint force next moved into full battle mode, Now under the command of their officers, with battle flags, drummers, and buglers, a 1,500-strong force marched nearly a mile for a surprise attack on the Georgia Brigade.
The Georgians were ready for the attack, having been alerted to the snowball melee happening down the road. Holding the high ground, the Georgians fought their fellow Confederates. Outnumbered by the Georgia infantry, the Texans and Arkansans were forced to fall back and wait for reinforcements.
When those new troops came, they assaulted the Georgians again, driving them back to their tents, where the Georgia infantry surrendered to their attackers. Having subsumed the Georgia infantry, the snowball army boasted a division’s strength and marched on another division, this one commanded by Gen. Lafayette McLaws. With two divisions tossing snowballs at one another, an estimated 9,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia were fully committed to the icy battle that came to be called “The Great Snowball Fight of 1863.”
Like so many things that are fun, the people in charge weren’t pleased when they found out about the incident. There was good cause for the outrage, though. When the Confederates formed up for their snowy assault, the Union troops on the other side of the valley mobilized for a real Confederate attack. Gen. James Longsteeet soon banned any snowball fighting in the Confederate Army.
In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.
But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.
The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.
Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.
In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.
However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.
The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.
The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.
No one knows more about political drinking than author Mark Will-Weber, whose book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, explores the stories behind each president’s favorite alcoholic beverage.
“Presidents drink for the same reasons we all drink,” Will-Weber recently told Business Insider. “Sometimes because it’s part of the job, sometimes it’s because they’re lonely or depressed — there’s a whole gamut of reasons of why people drink.”
For Will-Weber, knowing what the former presidents like to drink brings a “human side” to those who we “normally hold on a pedestal.”
Ahead, take a look at the presidents’ favorite alcoholic beverages, rounded up from Will-Weber’s book and The New York Post.
Our first president, George Washington, was a whiskey drinker, as were Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson. According to Will-Weber, Johnson was so inebriated when he arrived at the 1865 inauguration as Lincoln’s vice president that he had to be pulled off the stage.
John Adams reportedly started every morning with a hard cider. William Henry Harrison was also a big fan.
According to Will-Weber, Thomas Jefferson purchased so much wine it put him on the brink of financial ruin.
James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Ulysses S. Grant were all champagne lovers. Of these, Polk was the most modest drinker. Will-Weber told us about a small scandal that happened under Monroe, when a whopping 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to the White House.
John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and James Buchanan enjoyed Madeira wine, which gets its flavor by being heated repeatedly.
According to Will-Weber, Franklin Pierce was one of the heaviest drinkers to fill the White House. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 64.
On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln apparently drank the least while in office. Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Calvin Coolidge were also light drinkers.
Beer was the drink of choice for James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.
According to Will-Weber, the temperance movement tried to convince Chester A. Arthur to have a dry White House, but he refused.
The McKinley’s Delight was coined for President William McKinley. It was a strong drink made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, and absinthe.
In a daring, well-documented nighttime raid, 23 Navy SEALs landed in an al-Qaida compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They were there to kill or capture the world’s most wanted man. The entire operation lasted only 40 minutes and ended with the death of Osama bin Laden.
Or did it? That’s what the deep state, reptile aliens or any number of conspiracy theory boogeymen would want you to believe, sheeple. The truth is out there.
Imagine instead believing that the bin Laden raid wasn’t a result of years of research, intelligence work and training. Since there were no photos released to the public, some believe the government isn’t telling the whole truth about the “alleged” death of bin Laden in 2011.
The U.S. government’s reluctance to release the photos of his body and the immediate burial at sea didn’t help quash these theories, either.
You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find alternate theories about bin Laden’s death. And if this author is mysteriously killed in the coming weeks, you can be sure one of these is true. Definitely.
Osama bin Laden died in December 2001
Some say the world’s most wanted terrorist was suffering from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic mutation that affects the proteins keeping the body’s tissue together. bin Laden, according to former State Department official Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, looked like a textbook case of the disorder. His tall frame, long limbs and long face all displayed classic symptoms.
The disease affects one in about 5,000 people and can cause sudden death and there is no definitive DNA test for it. Instead, doctors begin with judging the outward appearance of a suspected “Marfanoid” person — someone thin and often lanky, sometimes with spidery fingers and curved spines. Pieczenik claimed CIA doctors had treated OBL for Marfan, and the al-Qaida leader died just months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Other claims say he died at the same time, but of renal failure, not Marfan Syndrome.
He didn’t die — he got a vacation.
Like all great conspiracy theories, this one is fact mixed with a healthy dose of fiction — but the facts make it just believable enough to catch on. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA flew Soviet-built weapons from Saudi Arabia to the Afghan Mujahideen during Operation Cyclone.
The conspiracy theory alleges that bin Laden became a CIA asset at this time. The CIA, partnering with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, worked to build the mythos surrounding Osama bin Laden, so that fanatical terrorists would come to Afghanistan. Funded through the heroin trade, tacitly permitted by Pakistan, the CIA created a means to fight Islamic fundamentalism in one place.
The raid that killed bin Laden the terrorist was allegedly a means to let bin Laden the CIA asset retire. This is a theory backed by the Iranian regime.
Pakistan Captured bin Laden in 2006
This one comes from legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh alleges that Pakistan’s ISI captured the terrorist in 2006 and used him as leverage to operate in Afghanistan. The ISI then sold bin Laden to the U.S., but forced them to stage the raid that killed him.
According to Hersh, when Navy SEALs arrived in Abbottabad, they were met by an ISI officer who casually walked them to bin Laden’s bedroom. The SEALs then riddled him with bullets, tore his body apart, and dispersed them throughout the Hindu Kush, just because.
Hersh’s sources for this story are both dubious and anonymous.
Pictured: No Arabs. Definitely no Arabs here.
Bin Laden Didn’t Even Live In Abbottabad
In the London Telegraph, Abbottabad resident Bashir Qureshi dismissed the idea that bin Laden and his family lived in the area. Though the raid blew out the windows on his house, he still dismissed the idea, saying “Nobody believes it. We’ve never seen any Arabs around here, he was not here.”
The Pakistani press didn’t help. Newspapers in the country allege the raid was set up so U.S. forces would have an excuse to enter Pakistan. Former ISI officials seconded that idea in Western media, noting that someone was killed and removed by the U.S. forces during the raid, but it wasn’t bin Laden. The real bin Laden was already dead, they said, and the U.S. knew it … they just didn’t know where he died.
The U.S. Captured bin Laden Well Before 2011
Another theory promoted by the Iranian regime says that the U.S. captured and held bin Laden for years before finally killing him. Fearful that forcing the world’s most wanted terrorist to face trial in the U.S. could result in a hung jury or worse, an acquittal, the United States decided to execute him and stage his death as an elaborate raid.
This theory alleges that killing Osama bin Laden was a stunt by the Obama Administration in order to secure an election victory — even though the presidential election was more than a year away at the time.
Bin Laden Was Literally Kept on Ice
In keeping with the “bin Laden was already dead, the United States just confirmed it” line of thinking, this theory states that the United States had either captured bin Laden after the raid on Tora Bora or that he died of renal failure well before 2011. The U.S. then allegedly froze his body in liquid nitrogen to wait for an expedient time to announce the “victory.”
The expedient times listed by proponents of this conspiracy include not clashing with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and knocking an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” off the air so President Obama could thumb his nose at Donald Trump.
A daring raid launched to recover or destroy a captured ship 212 years ago marks the most celebrated episode of the United States first overseas military operations. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and a small group of volunteers composed mostly of U.S. Marines covertly entered the port of Tripoli and successfully burned the captured USS Philadelphia.
Corsairs from what were known as the Barbary States, composed of of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, had been ravaging the Mediterranean for centuries, capturing merchant vessels and enslaving or ransoming their crews. Some estimates place the number of Europeans sold into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries by the Barbary pirates at well over a million.
American shipping had traditionally relied on British naval protection, but following the American Revolution the British let the Barbary States know that U.S. vessels were fair game. In 1785 Dey Mohammed of Algiers seized several American vessels and held their crews for ransom. The weak U.S. government at the time could not raise the money or the naval power to get the sailors back.
Though the U.S. managed to successfully conclude a treaty with Morocco, it wasn’t until until 1795 that an agreement to pay exorbitant tribute to Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis bought the captured sailors back. These tributes and later payments eventually began to consume up to 10 percent of the national budget.
Due to the situation with Algiers, Congress had authorized the construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy. When Tripoli declared open season on U.S. ships in 1801 over late payments of tribute, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a small fleet to enforce a blockade of Tripoli and sent envoys to Sicily in order to secure a base to operate from.
After several skirmishes the U.S. Navy was largely able to maintain the blockade, its ships unchallenged at sea. But in October of 1803 the brand-new frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground a reef while patrolling the port of Tripoli. The captain and crew were captured and taken ashore for later ransom, and the Philadelphia was anchored in the harbor.
In order to deny the use of the Philadelphia to Tripoli, Lt. Decatur, commander of the schooner USS Enterprise, came up with an elaborate plan. A small vessel from Tripoli had recently been captured and rechristened as the USS Intrepid. Decatur would disguise the Intrepid as a regular merchant ship, enter the harbor at night, and lead a small force of mostly U.S. Marines to recapture or burn the Philadelphia; a raid. The USS Syren would stand by to offer fire support.
On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the raid plan was a go. Sicilian volunteers who could speak Arabic functioned as pilots for the Intrepid, and they called out in Arabic as the Intrepid entered the harbor to allay the harbormasters suspicions. Decatur and his men were disguised as Maltese seamen and Arabs.
When the Intrepid pulled alongside the Philadelphia, they took the Tripolitan guards completely by surprise with swords and boarding pikes. Without the loss of a single man they recaptured the ship, killing many of the guards and sending the rest overboard, but the Philadelphia was in no condition to return to sea. After the raiders set the Philadelphia on fire, they reboarded the Intrepid and made their escape as the Syren and Tripolitan shore batteries exchanged fire. The operation had been a spectacular success and was widely celebrated back home.
The U.S. ransomed the crew of the Philadelphia back in 1805, and Decatur went on to have a distinguished career through the War of 1812, and as fleet commander led a second operation against the Barbary States in 1815. After defeating the Dey of Algiers, Decatur negotiated a series of treaties that ended the Barbary threat to U.S. ships for good, and marked the end of one the first overseas operations by the United States. Even today, the raid is one of the most memorable in US history.