The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Austro-Hungarian ski patrol on the Italian front.
(Imperial War Museum)

 

The unit was formed after the success of Operation Gunnerside, a British-Norwegian commando operation that saw the destruction of equipment at a Nazi-held heavy water plant, ultimately delaying German creation of a nuclear bomb or reactor (The Germans were already leaning towards the reactor over the bomb and had limited material to pursue either).

But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.

Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Commandos carry the wounded to landing ships.
(Imperial War Museum)

 

Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.

The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.

But No. 14 Commando would get its chance to fight just south of Arctic Circle. Eight men were sent on a canoe raid against German ships in Operation Checkmate.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
The “Cockleshell Heroes,” another group of canoe raiders who sunk ships with explosives.
(Royal Marine Museum)

 

They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.

But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.

Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.

The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Eisenhower painted a portrait of British general he called a ‘psychopath’

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a difficult man to get along with. American Generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton couldn’t stand the guy and even the Royal Navy’s Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay thought promoting Montgomery to Field Marshal was “stupid.”  It’s surprising that the United States’ Supreme Allied Commander and later President Dwight Eisenhower disliked him most of all. Even more surprising is probably Ike’s hand-painted portrait of “Monty.”

Historian Anthony Beevor tells the story of Eisenhower’s 1952 portrait of his British counterpart, which Eisenhower signed, “’To my friend Monty from Ike,” by noting that the two men didn’t get along from the moment they met. Eisenhower was incensed at Montgomery’s smoking in his presence. Montgomery didn’t think much of Eisenhower’s abilities as a soldier. 

The general Eisenhower painted a portrait of

Of course, Montgomery didn’t think any less of himself, no matter what his war record looks like. His men famously took heavy losses when they didn’t need to, due to Monty’s attention to detail, especially in taking the city of Caen. Before the disastrous failure of Operation Market Garden, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill still prompted him to Field Marshal – a rank above the Supreme Allied Commander’s.

But the invasion of Europe didn’t happen without Ike, and when the American landed in France he took command of the ground forces there. Monty was furious, but there was little he could do. Eisenhower was in charge. 

Rank didn’t stop Montgomery from rankling anyone though. The Field Marshal took credit for American wins in the Battle of the Bulge and, as Beevor points out, the British command was told that no American would agree to serve under Montgomery ever again. 

Eisenhower painted Montgomery some seven years after World War II ended, probably just enough time to be able to forgive and forget – until Montgomery’s autobiography hit bookshelves.

Monty’s 1958 memoirs were filled with criticisms of his American counterparts, especially Ike. But they didn’t stop at criticizing Americans. Montgomery almost faced a lawsuit for suggesting that British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck wanted to retreat during the First Battle of El-Alamein in 1942. His lie was so egregious that he was forced to recant it on the BBC that same year.

Having Bernard Montgomery criticize him in memoirs was too much for then-President Eisenhower. Ike railed about Montgomery until the day he died, referring to the Field Marshal as an “egocentric” and a “psychopath.” 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like being a female Marine in WW2

Margaret Jessen just wanted a little more excitement in her life.


Fresh out of high school, Jessen didn’t find that excitement working as a linotype operator at the local newspaper. So, what does a young woman in search of adventure do when there’s a war going on?

In Jessen’s case, she joined the Marines.

“I was young then, and I wanted the action. There was nothing going on (here). It was too dull at home,” said Jessen, who was Margaret O’Shaugnessy at the time.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Four female pilots leaving their ship at the four engine school at Lockbourne are members of a group of WASPS who have been trained to ferry the B-17 Flying Fortresses. Photo from USAF.

She’d worked for a couple years at the newspaper in Homer, Nebraska, after graduating from Homer High School in 1942. With World War II raging in Europe and in the Pacific Ocean, there were a lot of opportunities to find something more exciting to do. There was the military, and there were jobs available in the many factories that built planes, ships, and other supplies needed for the American war effort.

Jessen considered both before telling her mother that she was joining the Marines.

Also Read: WWII-era female flyers are fighting for military burial honors (and you can help)

“Oh, she was horrified,” Jessen said. “I said I was going to join the Marines or go to California to be a welder. She figured if I didn’t show up for work in the Marines, someone would come looking for me. If I didn’t show up for work as a welder, they wouldn’t look for you.

“She figured I’d be better off in the Marine Corps.”

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
The first group of 71 Women Marine Officer Candidates arrived 13 March 1943 at the US Midshipmen School (Women’s Reserve) at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, March 13, 1943. Massachusetts. Photo from USMC.

Jessen joined the Marines in May 1944 and was sent to Missouri for basic training. Men also were trained at the base, but kept separate from the women. Jessen said the training was physically demanding, and women were allowed to practice on guns but were not allowed to have them. Once she completed basic training, Jessen was sent to Norman, Oklahoma, to learn how to fix Cosair fighter planes.

“They just thought that’s what I was capable of,” Jessen said.

Jessen passed the training and was sent to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Santa Ana, California, where she was assigned to work as an office clerk. She never did work on airplanes.

“You know how the government works,” she said. “They train you to do one thing and then have you do another.”

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Aluminum paint production. Women work alongside of men in this Midwest aluminum factory now converted to production of war materials. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer.

The women who arrived at El Toro weren’t viewed positively by the men they replaced. For many of the men, it meant they were losing their stateside assignments and heading to war.

“The men were mad at us because we came in and took their jobs and they were sent overseas, so we were resented, I’m sure,” Jessen said.

Jessen spent the remainder of the war at El Toro and was discharged in June 1946. Still looking for adventure, Jessen and another female friend hitchhiked across the country to Florida and up the East Coast to New York.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
A poster used by the US government to recruit women to the war effort during WWII.

“It drove my mother crazy,” Jessen said with a wry smile and a chuckle.

Eventually, Jessen returned home, where she began dating Alfred Jessen, who had served in the Army in Germany during World War II. They were married in 1947 and raised five sons. Jessen would later work for Iowa Beef Processors in Dakota City for 19 years before retiring in the mid-1970s. Her service in the Marines taught her a valuable lesson for her later work experiences.

“It taught me how to get along with people,” she said. “You don’t judge them. Everybody was the same.”

Over the years, Jessen saw her husband honored for his military service. Few people knew she, too, had served.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
USMC photo by Cpl Aneshea S. Yee

“I think my husband was proud of it, too. He realized they didn’t treat us the same,” Jessen said. “When they came around and offered him an award for being in the service, he told them I was in the service, too, but they never offered me an award.”

That slight doesn’t lessen the pride Jessen said she feels about her decision to join the Marines rather than be a welder.

“I’m proud of the fact I served,” she said. “It gave me a lot of experiences.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient walked 200 miles to serve in the Marines

When Mitchell Paige was a young boy, he watched Marines proudly march in a parade. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to join the Corps. On his 18th birthday, the motivated young man walked 200 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore and enlisted.

After completing his training, Paige quickly rose up in the ranks, eventually earning command over his own platoon. Soon after, he was sent to join other troops in the ground invasion of the Island of Guadalcanal. The island housed a critical airfield — one within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, making it extremely dangerous in enemy hands.

Paige was sent in to protect another infantry company with his deadly squad of machine-gunners, but the fight would soon take an unexpected turn.


As Paige’s Marines settled into position, rain poured down. He ordered his men to remain as silent as possible. The mission was to hold the line at all costs — or risk losing control of the crucial airfield.

Then, the enemy swarmed in, engaging the Marines with everything they had. As his men fell injured, Paige ran back and forth firing his men’s weapons, making the Japanese think there were still plenty of American troops left in the fight.

As Paige continued to fire the machine guns, he was discovered by an enemy troop. That troop aimed directly at Paige and fired. The platoon sergeant leaned back and somehow dodged the incoming rounds. The hot bullets whizzed through the tiny, open space between Paige’s neck and chin, miraculously causing zero damage.

Paige returned fire, taking the enemy soldier out just as quickly as he had appeared.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Sgt. Mitchell Paige as he inspects one of his Marine’s machine gun. (Medal of Honor Book)

Still, the Japanese troops severely outnumbered the American Marines. Paige loaded himself up with ammo and charged the enemy while holding his .30 caliber machine gun at his hip. He shot at every Japanese troop that entered his field of vision.

They dropped like flies.

Suddenly, his surroundings fell still — completely silent. Paige turned his head and saw two Marine riflemen headed his way, celebrating. Reportedly, 33 Marines fought off more than 2,000 Japanese troops during the intense skirmish.

On May 21, 1943, Mitchell Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Australian Air Force squared off against missile-shooting kangaroos

A strange story about the Aussies facing off against Stinger missile-wielding kangaroos started circulating around the internet in 1999. The most interesting development was that the story proved to be true. Mostly.


 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Their great-grandfathers proudly served in WWI.

 

The original story was about the Defence Science and Technology Organization’s Land Operations/Simulations division in Australia developing the realism of their exercise scenarios. As the story tells it, the programmers were supposed to add mobs of kangaroos to the simulation, making sure to program how they might scatter from low-flying helicopters.

Supposedly, the Australian programmers reused object code from a simulated infantry unit on the marsupials. The new kangaroos scattered from the helicopter, as programmed. Then, they reappeared behind a hill, armed to the teeth with Stinger missiles. The programmers apparently forgot to deprogram their infantry training.

 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Private Joey does not operate with his coffee for the day.

 

Snopes, the website dedicated to investigating internet rumors, picked up this story in 2007. They found that the internet actually had the basic story right.

 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Unfortunately, the Pop Rocks and Coke myth is still a myth.

 

Dr. Anne-Marie Grisogono, head of the Simulation Land Operations Division at the Australian DSTO, told Snopes that programmers knew what they were doing. Heavily armed kangaroos became part of the simulation, weapons and all.

The Aussies thought it was hilarious, and not at all embarrassing.

“Since we were not at that stage interested in weapons,” Dr. Grisogono told Snopes, “we had not set any weapon or projectile types, so what the kangaroos fired at us was, in fact, the default object for the simulation, which happened to be large multicolored beachballs.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 rarely seen photos from the Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War started after the USS Maine suddenly exploded in Havana Harbor in February 1898, an incident that was later found to be caused by faulty ship design but was blamed, at the time, on a Spanish mine. The resulting war was focused on Cuba, but the growing American military contested Spain across its empire, resulting in combat from the Atlantic to Pacific.


Here are 10 photos from the conflict:

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

Articles

Here is how the Navy feels about finders keepers

The Navy tends to be very strict when people recover items from sunken wrecks. In fact, when an Enigma machine was taken from the wreck of U-85, the Navy intervened. They even tried to grab a plane they left lying around in a North Carolina swamp for over 40 years.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
A U.S. Marine Corps F3A-1 aircraft of Marine Air Group 91 commanded by LCol Joseph M. Renner. (U.S. Navy photo)

According to a 2004 AP report, the plane in question was very valuable. It was the only known surviving Brewster F3A “Corsair.” Well, let’s be honest here. The F3A can best be described as a Corsair In Name Only, or CINO. Brewster’s Corsairs had problems — so much so that in July, 1944, the Navy cancelled the contract and Brewster went out of business less than a month after D-Day.

Brewster was also responsible for the F2A Buffalo, a piece of crap that got a lot of Marine pilots killed during the Battle of Midway.

According to that AP report, the story began with a fatal accident on Dec. 19, 1944, which killed Lt. Robin C. Pennington, who was flying a training mission in the F3A. The Navy recovered Pennington’s body and some gear from the Corsair, then left the wreck. Eventually, the plane was recovered by Lex Cralley in 1990, who began trying to restore the plane. A simple case of “finders keepers, losers weepers,” right?

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Nope. The Navy sued Cralley in 2004 to get the plane back. After the report appeared, comments were…not exactly favorable towards the Navy at one normally pro-military forum.

Eventually, then-Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) got involved. According to a May 28, 2004 report by Hearst News Service, Jones eventually authored an amendment that settled the lawsuit by having the Navy turn the F3A over to Cralley.

The Navy usually has been very assertive with regards to wrecks. According to admiraltylawguide.com, in 2000, the Navy won a ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal preventing Doug Champlin from salvaging a TBD Devastator that had survived both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy uses WWII-era ‘bean-bag drop’ for aircraft communication

One-hundred-ten degree heat radiated from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter swooped in and dropped a message resurrecting an 80-year-old aircraft-to-ship alternative communication method.

Historically, war tends to accelerate change and drives rapid developments in technology. Even with superior modern capabilities, the US Navy still keeps a foot in the old sailboat days and for good reason.

During the sea battles of WWII, US Navy pilots beat enemy eavesdropping by flying low and slow above the flight deck and dropping a weighted cloth container with a note inside. This alternative form of communication was termed a “bean-bag drop.”


During the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan, a Douglas SBD Dauntless pilot spotted a Japanese patrol vessel approximately 50 miles ahead of USS Enterprise (CV 6). The pilot believed he had been seen by the Japanese and decided not to use his radio but flew his SBD over the Enterprise flight deck and dropped a bean-bag notifying the ship of the Japanese patrol boat ahead.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

A US Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless drops a message container known as a “bean-bag” on the flight deck of USS Enterprise while crew members dart to catch the message to deliver it up to the ship’s bridge.

(Naval Aviation Museum)

A video posted by Archive.org shows actual video of a SBD rear gunner dropping a bean-bag down to the Enterprise flight deck that day and shows a sailor picking up the bean-bag, then running to the island to deliver it up to the bridge.

The bean-bag design progressed when USS Essex (CV 9) ran out of them and Navy pilot Lt. James “Barney” Barnitz was directed to provide replacements. Barnitz went to see the Essex Parachute Riggers and out of their innovation, the bean-bag was cut and sown into a more durable form.

Fast-forward 80 years to August 2019, when Boxer’s Paraloft shop was tasked to make a new bean-bag specifically for a helo-to-deck drop.

“I started with the original measurements of the bean-bag used on the USS Enterprise in 1942 and built this one to withstand the impact of a drop but also weighed down for an accurate drop,” said Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta, who works in Boxer’s Paraloft shop.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta sows together naugahyde and web materials that will be used as a message delivery container between aircraft and ship, Aug. 10, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Frank L. Andrews)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

An actual message container called a “bean-bag” used to deliver messages from an aircraft to the ship during World War II.

(Naval Aviation Museum)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class Carlos R. Freireizurieta with a message container known as a “bean-bag” he designed and sowed together, Aug. 10, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Frank L. Andrews)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Naval Air Crew (Helicopter) 2nd Class Joe Swanso conducts a bean-bag drop exercise to communicate with amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs to a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs to a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Bradley Peterson runs with a bean-bag that was dropped on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during an exercise to communicate with an MH-60S Sea Hawk, Aug. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Caracci)

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This oiler saved the American carriers at Coral Sea

The humble fleet oiler doesn’t get a lot of attention. Today’s version of this vessel, the Henry J. Kaiser-class replenishment oiler, is still relatively slow (capable of reaching a top speed of 20 knots), but it is huge (displacing over 40,000 tons). It makes sense that the ship responsible for hauling gas enough to fuel an entire carrier strike group — both ships and planes — would be a lumbering sea giant.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, however, one humble oiler did more than provide fuel for the ships in the fight.


That oiler, the USS Neosho (AO 23), saved the American carriers. The Neosho was a Cimarron-class vessel that joined the fleet in 1939. She wasn’t as big (displacing 7,500 tons) or fast (capping out at 18 knots) as today’s oilers, but she was still able to top off the fleet’s tanks.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

USS Neosho (AO 23) refuels the carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5) before the Battle of the Coral Sea.

(U.S. Navy)

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Neosho fulfilled her primary mission prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea, refueling USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Astoria (CA 34) after planes had carried out strikes against Japanese-occupied Tulagi. It was on the first day of the coming battle, however, that she would do much more than provide fuel.

At the time, the Navy was so short on hulls that she had only one escort, USS Sims (DD 409). A Japanese plane found the Neosho and her lone escort on May 7. The enemy pilot mistook the ship for a carrier. So, the Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, sent their air groups after the oiler. The Sims was quickly sunk and Neosho took seven bomb hits and had a Japanese plane crash into her.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

USS Neosho (AO 23) pictured while taking the Japanese attack meant for the carriers USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Yorktown (CV 5).

(Japanese Defense Agency)

The vessel stayed afloat for four days when Allied search planes finally found her. The destroyer USS Henley (DD 391) arrived on the 11th. The 123 survivors that were taken off of the oiler then learned that the United States Navy had turned back the Japanese — in no small part because the Neosho took a strike intended for Lexington and Yorktown.

The Neosho was scuttled, but two other fleet oilers have since borne the name.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US plan to train nuclear suicide bomber paratroopers

It’s an idea as old as nuclear weapons themselves: If you could slip a nuke into a city and detonate it, the enemy would never know it was coming. No missiles detected, no early warning radar, just one day: BOOM. In Cold War lore, these man-portable devices were usually envisioned as suitcase bombs. But the U.S. Army doesn’t do suitcases.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

They used to though. They used to do suitcases really well.

No, the Army’s man-portable nuclear weapon was, of course, a duffel bag of sorts – and it was designed to be carried by a paratrooper, Green Light Team, or Atomic Demolition Munitions Specialists in case of World War III. NATO knew if the Soviets invaded with a traditional, conventional force, it would take time to mount any kind of meaningful resistance or counterattack. So in the 1960s, the Army came up with the brilliant idea to pack nukes on the backs of individual troops and drop them into strategic places to deny their use to the enemy.

One single paratrooper could cut off communications, destroy crops, and demolish key infrastructure in both the Soviet Union and in recently-captured, Soviet-held territory. There’s just one problem with this plan that the Army didn’t really see as much of a problem, apparently.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Humans can run faster than nuclear blasts?

Humans can’t run faster than nuclear blasts. In theory, the idea would be that the troop in question would either set a timer and secure the location before hoofing it out of there, with plenty of time to spare. But let’s be real: is the U.S. Army going to leave that much to chance? What if the enemy found it, disarmed it, secured it and then was able to reproduce it or use that weapon against NATO forces? They wouldn’t because Big Army isn’t that dumb.

Even if it were possible to outrun the timer on the bomb and/or the bomb yield was small enough for the munitions crew to escape, there’s no way the team would be recoverable due to the fallout or the alarm raised by such a weapon – or more likely because the use of a nuclear weapon triggered a full nuclear exchange.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Pacific theater, late 1944. Allied forces have been gradually uprooting the Japanese forces and pushing them back to Japan.

As its foothold in the Pacific shrinks by the day, the Imperial Japanese Army is getting desperate. Already the Japanese have shown a willingness to fight to the last man, an echo of the country’s ancient martial tradition.

However interesting to the outsider the Japanese warfighting culture might be, it bellies a darker side; a side full of disdain and often unfathomable brutality against a defeated foe, regardless of if it’s a civilian or a prisoner of war.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Rangers who participated in the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

In December 1944, Japanese troops burn alive and shoot 139 Allied prisoners of wars, many of whom were survivors of the Bataan Death March and the desperate fight at the Corregidor, in the Philippines’ Palawan province.

A handful of Americans manage to escape and join the Filipino guerillas. Through them, they succeed in getting the word about the massacre to the approaching American forces. The intelligence makes Allied commanders realize that Allied prisoners of war in several other camps in the region face imminent execution.

They decide to rescue them.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
American commandos who participated in the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

A daring raid of the Cabanatuan Prison Camp

Cabanatuan Prison Camp, January 30, 1945.

Cabanatuan is the largest internment camp in the region, housing over 5,000 prisoners of war at its peak. By January 1945, there are approximately 500 Allied troops held there.

The hostage rescue force is comprised of approximately 120 Rangers and Alamo Scouts, a special operations unit, and about 200 Filipino guerillas. To get to the camp, the rescue force will have to march 30 miles through enemy lines, no small feat considering the size of the force. The Filipinos’ knowledge of the area and the friendly local population somewhat simplify the logistics of the movement.

Led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the raid force is divided into two elements. With 90 men, the assault element will storm the camp through the main, kill any Japanese who resist, and rescue the prisoners. The 30 men of the support element will flank the camp from the east and destroy several guard towers and provide fire support where needed.

Two additional elements, primarily comprised of Filipino guerrillas with some American commands to help, set up blocking positions to the east and west of the camp to hold off any attempt by the Japanese to interfere with the rescue.

A P-61 Black Widow aircraft, which is designed for nighttime operations, will signal the attack with an overpass of the camp in order to distract the Japanese guards.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
American commandos and Filipino guerrillas after the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

At exactly 1945, the raid begins.

The largest hostage rescue in American history

The P-61 succeeds in distracting the Japanese guards, allowing the rescue force to approach the camp without getting detected. In a matter of minutes, the American commands overwhelm the Japanese guards and rescue the prisoners, many of who can’t walk following years of forced labor, scant rations, and brutal punishments.

The two blocking positions stop several Japanese relief attempts, killing numerous enemies and destroying several tanks, before collapsing to the camp, where the rescue force has evacuated anyone they could find.

Rescuers and rescued make their way back through enemy lines, using several wagons and stretchers to carry those who can’t walk. After a dangerous and soul-draining forced march, the whole force arrives in friendly lines the next morning. Mission success.

In the Cabanatuan Raid, the American commandos rescued 489 prisoners of war and 33 civilians, while suffering four Americans killed in action (two commandos and two prisoners) and four wounded.

The Cabanatuan Raid is the largest rescue in American history. In the following three weeks, American commandos conduct two similar operations, in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp and Los Banos, rescuing more Allied prisoners of war.   

Among the Rangers who took part in the raid was an officer named Arthur “Bull” Simons, who was the executive officer of the 6th Ranger Battalion. Simons would go on the become a legend in the US special operations community and play a key part in the Son Tay hostage rescue during the Vietnam War. Today, the US Special Operations Command recognizes one of its members every year with the Bull Simons Award.

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Army Legend Hal Moore Dies at 94

Legendary retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame died Feb. 10. The commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Ia Drang was days short of his 95th birthday.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

According to a report by the Opelika-Auburn Tribune, Lt. Gen. Moore had suffered a stroke on the evening of Feb. 9 and was “hanging tough,” according to a family member.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley in Vietnam. Plumley died in 2012.

Moore gained immortality from the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” co-written with reporter Joe Galloway, about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The book was used as the basis for the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers,” in which Academy Award-winning actor Mel Gibson portrayed Moore.

Moore served 32 years in the Army after graduating from West Point, and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross and four Bronze Stars.

According to an official after-action report, the three-day battle left 79 Americans killed in action, and another 121 wounded. None were left behind or missing after the battle. American forces killed 634 enemy troops, and wounded at least 1,200.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Soldiers of the U.S. Amry 1/7th Cavalry disembark from a Bell UH-1D Huey at LZ X-Ray during the battle of Ia Drang. (US Army photo)

While preparing to film the epic movie — which made over $78 million at the United States box office, according to Box Office Mojo — Gibson would develop a deep friendship with Moore. This past summer, while headlines noted that Gibson and Vince Vaughn had eaten at Hamilton’s, an Auburn-area restaurant, what hadn’t been known then was that Moore’s family had recommended the eatery to the A-list superstars.

Below, here are some of the more iconic moments from “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Hal Moore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the British plan to kill Erwin Rommel before D-Day

Very few enemy generals have captured the imagination of their foes. And of those, none seem to be as interesting as Nazi German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. He was Hitler’s favorite and Patton’s “Magnificent Bastard” at the same time. Perhaps it’s because he never joined the Nazi Party that history gives the bold commander a reprieve or maybe it’s because he was implicated in a late war plot to assassinate Hitler.

No matter what the basis our fascination for the man was, the fact remained that he was a German Field Marshall and the best hope for keeping the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe at bay. He had to go.


To this end, the British hatched Operation Gaff, the plot to kill or capture Rommel behind enemy lines while he was in occupied France. Rommel was posted in France following the Allied victory in North Africa. Though his vaunted Afrika Corps had to evacuate those battlefields, Rommel still returned to Germany with a hero’s welcome. He would soon be posted in France, where he seriously upgraded the coastal defenses that would give the Allies so much trouble on June 6, 1944.

British Intelligence learned that Rommel’s field headquarters was located in La Roche-Guyon, France, the Special Air Service launched its plan. Six commandos parachuted into Occupied France near Orleans on July 25, 1944. They were to track down Rommel at his headquarters building, which they learned was lightly defended. There was just one problem.

Rommel was gone.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

The Field Marshall was severely wounded in a car accident just a few days before the launch of Gaff. His staff car was overturned during strafing runs from two British Typhoon fighter planes. Just like a similar plan to kill Rommel in North Africa in 1941, the plot was foiled because Rommel was not in his house as the plan called for. But unlike in the 1941 plan, the commandos sent to kill Rommel in 1944, the commandos of Gaff didn’t just end their mission, they began the long walk back to the Allied lines. Along the way, the wreaked total havoc.

Their first stop was a train station that was ferrying troops to fight the Americans in France. They demolished the tracks at the station with way more explosives than necessary. Once the sabotage was done and German troops were dealing with the aftermath, the commandos engaged the HQ building, clearing it of its 12 Nazi guards. They then moved on from that station, destroying tracks all along the way until they were able to link up with the American forces.

Rommel didn’t live long, however.

The German general, of course, would be implicated by friends in the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler at a military briefing at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters five full days before the SAS commandos ever landed in Europe. The wildly popular Rommel couldn’t just be branded as a traitor, so Hitler gave him the choice to commit suicide or stand before the People’s Court. The Court would have dragged his family through the mud, and the outcome would be the same, so Rommel chose to take cyanide on Oct. 14, 1944.

If Rommel had stayed in France instead, he would likely have been captured by the Americans and survived the war.

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