7 worst military defeats in modern history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 worst military defeats in modern history

It’s easy, when you’re one of the world’s great powers, to think that most battles will go your way. And the ones that won’t? Well, you can only lose so badly when you’ve got better technology, larger formations, and/or God on your side. Unfortunately, that’s not true, and even great powers can get themselves curb stomped in surprising ways.

Here are seven military defeats where someone thought they could be the big dog in a fight only to find out they were facing a bear:


Painting depicting the final minutes, and Russian losses, at the Battle of Tsushima Strait where a Russian fleet was annihilated by a larger, better prepared Japanese fleet in 1905.

Battle of Tsushima

It’s sometimes hard to remember that Russia once fielded a top-tier navy that made enemies around the world quiver in their boots. That actually changed during the Battle of Tsushima, when Russia sent a massive fleet to defend their claims in and around Korea from a growing Japanese Navy. The Japanese Navy used their better ships, tactics, and telegraphy (think ship-to-ship Morse code) to demolish the Russians.

The two fleets closed with each other on May 27, 1905, and the Japanese ships were in better condition, allowing them to sail slightly faster. Even better for the Japanese, there was a heavy fog that their telegraph traffic could penetrate, but the Russians couldn’t communicate as well with their lights and flags.

Japan’s five battleships and 84 other ships and boats were able to twice “cross the T” of Russia’s 38 ships, pounding the Russians with broadsides while the Russians could only reply with forward guns. The Russians were forced to flee, sinking only three Japanese torpedo boats while losing 28 ships.

Ottoman soldiers man machine guns in 1916, similar to the troops that maintained the Siege of Kut.

(Library of Congress)

Siege of Kut

The Siege of Kut took place in 1915 in what is now Iraq. British-Indian forces, retreating from a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, decided to stop at Kut, a position easily defended, but difficult to resupply. Since we’re talking about a siege, you can probably guess how that went.

Approximately 11,000 British and Indian infantrymen reached the fortress on December 3, and the Ottomans arrived four days later with 11,000 troops of their own — and with more reinforcements on the way. The British sent away cavalry and other forces that could escape and then settled in for the siege. The Ottoman forces, under command of a German adviser, cut off river and land access to the city.

British forces outside the city attempted to relieve it three times, but all three attempts failed dismally. While the Ottomans suffered approximately 10,000 casualties, the British were eventually forced to surrender after suffering 30,000 casualties and the capture of an additional 10,000 troops, including six generals.

Australian troops man captured Italian tanks during the capture of the port city of Tobruk in 1941 after Italian forces spread themselves too thin.

(Australian War Memorial)

Italian Western Desert Campaign — World War II

The Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940 was a fine if uninspired victory for the Italian fascists. They moved forward about 12 miles per day for about a week in September, 1940. During the campaign, the Italians failed to keep their troops close enough together to properly support one another, and the British took advantage of that fact the following December in Operation Compass.

The British planned a five-day raid in response. The goal was simply to push the Italians back a little, but the British made a note before the first attacks stating that they should be prepared to keep pushing, just in case — and this came in handy. The British forces quickly made much more progress than expected.

The Italians were occupying a series of fortified camps and, one after another, they fell to a force of 36,000 British soldiers. The British attacked from December 9 to February 9, 1941, and lost less than 600 troops killed and missing while inflicting over 5,000 kills and capturing over 125,000 Italian soldiers, 420 tanks, 564 aircraft, and multiple cities, including the key port of Tobruk.

​Colorized photo of French artillerymen during the defense of France in 1940 as the German blitzkrieg thunders towards Paris.

(Cassowary Colorizations)

Battle of France

As we head into this one, let’s take a quick break to say that WATM actually really respects the performance of the French military from conflicts like the 100 Years War to the American Revolution to World War I. But the Battle of France in World War II was, uh, not France’s finest moment.

The French military knew that an invasion by Germany was likely in 1940, and they tried to prepare through modernization efforts and training. But, they made two big assumptions that would turn out to be false: The Ardennes Forest’s challenging terrain would prevent an invasion through there, and Belgium would last for weeks or months, allowing France to re-deploy troops as necessary if the Germans invaded through there.

Instead, the Germans proved the many of their tanks could make it through the Ardennes Forest, and Belgium fell within days. France, despite having more modern equipment and slightly more troops, fell to Germany in only 46 days with 1.9 million troops taken prisoner, thousands of tanks and aircraft destroyed or captured, and most of their country under German control.

Oil tanks burn on Midway Atoll after a Japanese air attack at the outset of the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway was supposed to be Pear Harbor: The Sequel. It was an ambush set only six months after the attacks at Pearl. The Japanese goal was to draw the American fleet into a battle the Americans would think they could win, then slam them with additional forces and wipe out much America’s remaining carrier and capital ship strength.

Instead, America captured Japanese communications traffic and set an ambush of their own. Japan was working on the assumption that America would only have two carriers and a fleet full of demoralized sailors. Instead, America intercepted the plans and showed up with an extra carrier and prepped over 120 aircraft on Midway itself to join the battle.

On June 4, 1942, the fleets clashed, and Japanese aircraft were outnumbered by a vengeful U.S. presence in the air. Japan would lose three carriers and almost 250 aircraft in the fight while sinking one U.S. carrier and downing approximately 150 U.S. aircraft. The battle tipped the balance of power in the Pacific in World War II.

Soviets celebrate holding the city of Stalingrad in February 1943 after the German assault failed.

Battle of Stalingrad

The German invasion of Soviet Union relied on a number of horrible assumptions, including the idea that Soviets, especially the Slavs, were racially inferior and part of an uncoordinated system that would crumble at the first real assault from German armor. Unfortunately for them, racism and hope aren’t viable strategies.

Instead, the Soviets forced Germany to fight for nearly every foot of Soviet territory they took, and Stalingrad was arguably the worst of all. For nearly six months, German forces slogged their way through the city, street by street, and some of the streets were impossible to take. At “Pavlov’s House,” an infantry platoon turned an apartment building into a fortress and wiped out German armored formations for weeks.

The Germans threw well over 1 million men against the city and lost over 800,000 of them killed, captured, and wounded. The Soviets actually lost more (over 1.1 million), but they bled the German formations dry of food, ammo, and in some cases, men, allowing the Soviet Union to take the offensive and begin pushing the enemy back towards Berlin.

The Bridge at Arnhem stands after British paratroopers were pushed back by a German counterattack in 1944.

(Imperial War Museum)

Operation Market Garden

In 1944, the allies hoped they could end the war in Europe before Christmas — push into the German heartland, take out industry, and push into Berlin by December and give all the Allied citizens the world’s best Christmas present. The plan called for a two-force approach, airborne assaults to take key bridges and a ground campaign to envelope portions of the Ruhr River.

The assault on Sep. 17, 1944, didn’t go as planned. German forces had learned lessons from previous Allied offensives, like a little thing called D-Day, and they made sure to reinforce bridges where possible and blow them up when they couldn’t hold them.

In a series of nine key bridges, the capture of most of them was either delayed or prevented. So, the airborne forces remained isolated as the armored forces couldn’t punch through the German defenders without bridges. Over 15,000 troops were killed, captured, or wounded while inflicting somewhere around 10,000 casualties and failing to take the key terrain, guaranteeing that the war would continue into 1945.

Articles

This unstoppable artillery bombardment doomed Nazi Berlin

In what is sometimes described as the largest artillery bombardment in history, the Soviets opened the road to Berlin in 1945 at the Battle of Seelow Heights with a massive barrage that saw over 9,000 Soviet guns and rockets firing along a front approximately 18.5 miles long. That’s one artillery piece every 11 feet.


Like this, but more cannons. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

The Seelow Heights defenses were a mere 35 miles from Berlin and were the last truly defendable position before Berlin.

Estimates vary about the exact number of shells and rockets fired in the wee hours of April 16, but some think that as many as 500,000 shells were fired in the first 30 minutes. The German defenders, counting reserves held near Berlin, totaled less than 150,000 men.

For comparison, the massive Allied assault on the Gustav line in Italy in 1944 featured “only” 2,000 guns firing 174,000 shells over 24 hours. The British bombardment at the Battle of the Somme in World War I boasted 1,537 guns which fired 1.5 million shells over 4 days. The Soviet crews at the Seelow Heights could have hit that total in about 90 minutes.

Russland, Angehörige der Waffen-SS-SS-troops-in-Russia German SS soldiers relax on their vehicle. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Unfortunately for the Russian soldiers, their generals followed Soviet military doctrine nearly to the letter, and the Germans had grown used to their tactics. Anticipating a Soviet bombardment, the German generals had pulled most of their men back from the first defensive lines and reduced the number of men in the second lines.

“As usual, we stuck to the book and by now the Germans know our methods,” said Colonel General Vasili Kuznetsov, a Russian commander. “They pulled back their troops a good eight kilometers. Our artillery hit everything but the enemy.”

So a Soviet bombardment with three times as many shells as there were defending troops managed to obliterate one line of trenches, damage another, but kill very few of the defending troops. It also left German mortars, machine guns, tanks, and artillery emplacements.

A Russian T-34 tank burns during World War II. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

The Soviets continued the battle with a rolling barrage that did begin softening the German army positions. But, by that point, Soviet tanks and infantry were struggling to get through the soft ground around the Ober River which had been flooded and turned to marshlands.

The German weapons which had survived the artillery bombardment were able to inflict heavy losses on the attacking Soviet columns.

Sowjetisches_Ehrenmal_Seelower_Höhen-Seelow-heights-soviet-memorial A memorial to the Soviet troops who fought at Seelow Heights now stands at the location of the battle. (Photo: H. der Löwe CC BY-SA 3.0)

But the Soviet numbers were simply too much for the German defenders. Over the next few days, the Russians lost approximately 33,000 men while inflicting 12,000 casualties on the Germans. But Russian planes took the skies from the Luftwaffe and the army brought up the artillery, allowing them to force their way forward with tanks and infantry.

Despite the heavy losses, the Red Army took the Seelow Heights on April 19, 1945, and launched its final drive to Berlin. Soviet troops surrounded the city and forced their way in. German leader Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30 and Germany surrendered on May 8.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Sam Adams will help launch your vet-owned business

Do you love beer? Do you love money? Are you a military veteran who owns a business? Would you like to improve your business strategy and learn from experts through mentoring in essential business disciplines, such as social media, sales and distribution, marketing, and package design?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then listen up. The StreetShares Foundation is teaming up with Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream to provide the military and veteran-community with access to capital and mentoring through StreetShares’ Veteran Small Business Awards.


The StreetShares’ Veteran Small Business Award will provide $100,000 in business grants to the chosen recipient in addition to educational resources and support. By connecting you with experts and hosting speed-coaching events all across the country, StreetShares gets to help you, a veteran and entrepreneur, succeed!

To apply, submit a video pitch and short application to the StreetShares Foundation website. In your application, be sure to include a business idea, how you’d use reward funds, how your product or service fits your target market, team and company history, and how your business impacts the military and veteran community.

(The StreetShares Foundation Twitter)

About the StreetShares Foundation

The StreetShares Foundation was launched on Veterans Day, 2016, with the goal of educating, inspiring, and supporting veteran business owners across America. The Foundation is run by veterans and is based just outside of our nation’s capital.

“Research shows military veterans give back to their communities in powerful ways. But studies also show this special breed of entrepreneurs need coaching and better mentor networks,” said StreetShares Foundation Board Member, Mark L. Rockefeller. “Our partnership with Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream addresses these needs head-on. Together, we’ll provide community-impact veteran business owners with free coaching, mentoring, and grants to put their dreams in motion.”

For more information, visit their website.

(Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream)

About Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream

Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream is a philanthropic program that embodies Sam Adams’ pursuit for greatness by providing food and beverage startups with real-world business advice. Since 2008, they’ve provided coaching and loans to over 40 breweries across the country totaling more than id=”listicle-2557006807″ million.

MIGHTY CULTURE

As he approaches retirement, Wright examines his tenure as CMSAF

The 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force carries a smile with confidence, which reflects his easy nature of engaging everyone wherever he goes. Who would have expected young dental technician Kaleth O. Wright in 1989 to one day become that man?


CMSAF18 Kaleth O. Wright – The Exit Interview

www.youtube.com

When he started his career in 1993, as a medical professional, Wright wasn’t sure of himself at first. But, with the help of mentors, he worked his way up the ranks. In 2016, he was serving as the command chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. After only a few months in the position, he was surprised to learn of his selection for the highest enlisted position in the United States Air Force.

“To be honest, my initial reaction was I was going to be the token black guy on the slate,” Wright explained.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright swear in delayed entry members during the Washington Redskins versus Philadelphia Eagles game at the FedExField in Hyattsville, Md., Sept. 10, 2017. The game was dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force in celebration of the service’s 70th birthday. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN RUSTY FRANK)

However, he quickly realized that wasn’t the case and instead chose to embrace the opportunity presented to him.

“I decided…I’m going to take the opportunity to get the job, and then do the best that I can,” he said. “I guess, as they say, the rest is history.”

During his tenure, Wright worked with three Secretaries of the Air Force. He first worked with Acting Secretary Lisa Disbrow, then Secretary Heather Wilson, concluding his career with Secretary Barbara Barrett. Wright appreciated their guidance and leadership in tackling the position’s responsibilities and handling top issues that affected Airmen.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, right, checks out a piece of 3D printed material with Staff Sgt. March Tiche, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals apprentice, during his tour Sept. 23, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. Wright arrived at Travis AFB for a three-day visit to meet with Airmen and get a firsthand look at how Team Travis contributes to rapid global mobility. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // LOUIS BRISCESE)

“I’ve had a fantastic relationship with all of them, they were all really great personalities and they all gave me the space to get after enlisted issues,” he said. “So I’ve really appreciated the guidance, feedback, and the listening ear from all three of the secretaries.”

One of the most important relationships during his time as CMSAF was the one with Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen David L. Goldfein. They developed a great relationship, Wright saw him as a big brother as they collaborated on many different projects and decisions.

“We’re able to provide each other feedback…,” said Wright. “We have a lot of fun together. It’s really been great… I got a mini-Ph.D. in leadership just being able to sit beside him.”

Mentorship and guidance to help improve the force didn’t just come from top leadership Wright met with Airmen from around the world to provide feedback on issues that affected them directly. As he traveled and met with other chiefs to discuss policies, Airmen were included in the conversations to advocate for the changes they wanted to see.

The 18th CMSAF led many improvements for the force. He enhanced leadership development by rolling back additional duties, evolving Enlisted Professional Military Education, removing weighted Airman Promotion System tests, and improving talent management and leadership development processes.

He also pushed for joint-custody assignments, changed bereavement to the service’s sick leave policy, and helped make job-specific fitness tests, as well as the diagnostic fitness assessments, which are currently in beta testing.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright greets one of his former Airmen, Tech. Sgt. Amanda Taylor, 726th Operations Group command support staff superintendent, during a base tour Oct. 19, 2018 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Wright and Taylor were stationed together at Osan Air Base, South Korea, between 2007 and 2008 where they used to play basketball together. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS ANDREW D. SARVER)

Initiatives he headed up also included increased dwell time for Airmen after giving birth and the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program, which includes indefinite enlistment based on high-year tenure and increased HYT for grades E-5 through E-9.

While addressing these issues, Wright built many relationships. The more he learned about Airmen accomplishing extraordinary things, the more he was determined to make the Air Force a better place for them.

“I think Airmen today are phenomenal,” Wright said. “I think they’re super talented in what we ask them to do. They’re creative, they’re innovative, they’re thoughtful, and they’re committed. I’ve just been amazed at what our Airmen have been able to accomplish, and what they do on a daily basis. And, to some extent, what they put up with on a daily basis.”

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (right) coins Senior Airman Isaac Buck, 512th Rescue Squadron special mission aviator, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Sept. 27, 2019. Wright recognized Airmen belonging to Team Kirtland that performed above and beyond their own call of duty with his challenge coin. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AUSTIN J. PRISBREY)

Wright explained that he wants Airmen to keep improving themselves and each other.

“I’m a dental tech who became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and I think all too often, we provide Airmen with formulas for success…without the benefit of allowing them to dream, and for them to decide, ‘hey, this is what I want to be,'” he said. “It might be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, or it might it be the President of the United States, but be dreamers – dream big.”

While trying to help those dreams come true, he acknowledges there are still challenges to be met.

“I do believe we have some areas we need to work on, and that’s racial inequality, as witnessed by what’s happening in our Air Force today, and I think we need to embrace technology and really invest in our IT infrastructure–some of the systems that we use are too old and too slow, and they slow our Airmen down,” he said.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright shakes hands with a 100th Security Forces Squadron Airman during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 26, 2018. Both Wright and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein visited Team Mildenhall prior to heading back to the U.S. after a visit to U.S. Central Command during the holidays. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHRISTINE GROENING)

Wright put a spotlight on resilience as suicides across the service remain a concern. He prioritized ensuring programs and policies were in place and accessible, such as Task Force True North, which puts resources into squadrons to nurture mental health.

The CMSAF explained the service also needs “to do better with gender equality,” by improving diversity in recruitment, pilot accessions and leadership.

“I do think that in order for us to maintain our status as the greatest Air Force, we have to be tougher on ourselves than anybody else,” he said. “If we work on those areas, we’ll just become a better, more diverse, more capable Air Force.”

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to U.S. Air Force Airmen during an enlisted all-call at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 26, 2018. Wright visited numerous units to speak with Airmen about enlisted issues. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS D. BLAKE BROWNING)

Wright understands there’s still a lot more work that needs to be accomplished. But as he reflects on his time in uniform and as CMSAF, he credits his mentors, family and the Team 18 staff on the growth and success of his venture.

Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force First Sergeant special duty manager, taught him how to be passionate about helping people and Wright credits Chief Master Sgt. Kristina Rogers, senior execute to the office of CMSAF, with, “keeping us all in check.” However, he acknowledges his character development grew from Master Sgt retired Joe Winbush, Wright’s first supervisor, who he considers “my mentor, my pops” from early in his career.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright answers a question during an all-call with the Airmen from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Aug. 16, 2017 at Fort George G. Meade, Md. During the CMSAF’s visit he conversed with the Airmen about topics concerning airmanship, professionalism and future enlisted Air Force initiatives. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. ALEXANDRE MONTES)

As his Air Force career concludes, Wright will forever be part of a legacy of leaders.

While the service prepares for Wright’s transition, he noted the new top enlisted leader, Chief JoAnne S. Bass, holds the same passion and focus on the Airmen as well as awareness of how decisions can affect their lives and careers.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force first sergeant special duty manager, meet with 92nd and 141st Maintenance Group Airmen to discuss the streamlining of the periodic inspection process at Fairchild Air Force Base, March 22, 2019. The periodic inspection is the most in-depth inspection Fairchild maintainers conduct on the KC-135 Stratotanker. The two-week inspection is conducted every 24 months, 1,800 flight hours or 1,000 landings. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. MACKENZIE MENDEZ)

“This type of work is never finished and I’m excited about our next Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,” he said. “She actually helped build some of these programs and processes. I think she’ll have her own priorities and things she’ll want to work on and I’m confident that she’ll continue to work on some of the things that we literally started together.”

He leaves one last bit of advice to his replacement, “do you.”

“I told her don’t ever be concerned or worry about changing something, eliminating something, offending me, or what have you,” he smiled, wanting her to stay true to her conviction and values. “I had three and a half, almost four years to impact the Air Force. Now it’s your turn.”

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, views a loadmaster training video with Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force special duty manager for first sergeants, and Capt. Joseph Hunt, 314th Airlift Wing chief of group tactics, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Oct. 3, 2019. Wright visited multiple units across the installation including the 19th AW, 314th AW, and 189th AW to learn about Herk Nation’s singular focus on Combat Airlift. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AARON IRVIN)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it took to be an executioner in medieval times

Mary A. asks: How did someone get the job of an executioner in medieval times?

Few occupations from history are as maligned as that of Medieval-era executioner. Popularly painted as gleeful dispensers of death and torture, the truth seems to be that many executioners throughout this period usually treated the occupation with a certain reverence and exhibited an extreme dedication to duty. Beyond trying to minimize the suffering of those slated to be executed, this was, among other reasons we’ll get into, because it would often mean the life of the executioner if they ever botched an execution or otherwise weren’t extremely professional in carrying out their job.


So, moving beyond any Hollywood depictions, what was it actually like to be an executioner in the ballpark of Medieval times and how did someone get the job in the first place?

A thing to note before we continue is that the duties expected of and performed by executioners, as well as what life was like for specific executioners, has varied wildly across time and regions. For example, as we’ve talked before, those condemned to death in the Ottoman empire during the 18th century could potentially get off scot-free by challenging the executioner to a footrace. In this case, in addition to doling out lethal justice with their bare hands, executioners also worked as both bodyguards and gardeners.

That caveat out of the way, how did one become an executioner in the first place? It turns out that many European Medieval executioners were former criminals themselves. You see, for reasons we’ll get into shortly, the role of executioner was so unpopular that finding someone to do the job often required either forcing someone into the profession or offering the gig to someone who was slated to be executed themselves.

Scandinavian countries were known to make extensive use of this novel hiring practice, with a little twist thrown in- they’d maim executioners by cutting off one or both of their ears so that they could be easily identified by the public. It also wasn’t uncommon for people made executioners in this way to be branded somewhere on their head, once again for the purpose of their new profession being, in this case literally, written all over their face. For example, as noted in Hugo Mathiessen’s Boddel og Galgefugl,

“In the year 1470, a poor thief stood at the foot of the gallows in the Swedish town Arboga and was waiting to be hanged. The public attending the spectacle had pity on the sinner and when he, to save his neck, offered to become executioner in the town, it was agreed. He was pardoned and the red-hot iron was used to brand his body with both thief and executioner mark.”

In Germany, on the other hand, as author Joel Harrington notes in a discussion of his book, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, while “standing executioners on salary were the norm” throughout Germany during the 1600s, for many centuries prior to this it was commonplace to thrust role of executioner upon a victim’s oldest male relative.

This all brings us around to why so many avoided the profession like the plague. To begin with, the general consensus among most was that in taking such a job, one was then sure to be damned in the afterlife. This was despite the fact that in some regions, such as France, executioners were by official church decree absolved of the sins committed while performing their duties.

This still didn’t stop the general public from considering executioners unclean, leading to the more practical problem with the job- nearly being completely ostracized from society. Coming back to those condemned to die instead becoming an executioner, people seem to have been perfectly fine with this as the criminal’s life would still be forfeit, just in a more metaphorical sense.

For example, throughout Medieval Europe executioners were often forced to live in houses outside of the city or town they plied their trade in. In cases where this wasn’t possible, they tended to live near things like public latrines, lepertoriums, or brothels. Executioners were similarly often denied citizenship to the towns and cities they served (and thus had few rights in the town) and were largely barred from holding office or even entering churches, pubs, bathhouses, etc- basically most public establishments were off limits to the executioner.

Thus, despite executioners being deemed critical for a society to remain civilised, they were paradoxically generally forced to live apart from that civilised society.

In fact, some places across Europe went as far to institute laws specifically targeting executioners and what they could and could not do in their day to day lives. For example, the Bavarian town of Memmingen enacted an ordinance in 1528 that forbade members of the general public dining with an executioner.

Such laws and just general attitudes effectively limited the people an executioner could interact with in their day to day lives to their own family and those from the criminal underworld who simply didn’t care that the executioner was unclean. On top of this, an executioner’s children and spouse were likewise similarly shunned by anyone but the underbelly of society.

This, combined with the fact that the children of executioners could usually only find mates with children of other executioners, understandably led to the role of executioner becoming a macabre family trade that resulted in executioner dynasties that spanned centuries.

Beyond being ostrosised and damning your progeny to a similar life, as well as an afterlife full of hellfire, while there were potentially ways for an executioner to make a killing within the profession, it turns out for most there simply weren’t enough executions themselves to make ends meet. Alternate work was limited to jobs nobody else wanted. This included all manner of things, from disposal of corpses (animal and human), emptying cesspools, collecting taxes from the diseased and prostitutes, etc.

Oddly, at least from a modern perspective, another common profession for a well trained executioner was that of a doctor and surgeon. You see, beyond executing people, another thing executioners were often called to do was torture people for various reasons. These two things, combined with the close-knit community of executioners sharing their knowledge amongst themselves, resulted in lifelong executioners generally having exceptional knowledge of human anatomy, and thus they were commonly called on to treat various medical maladies.

In fact, one rather famous 17th century German executioner, Frantz Schmidt, noted in his journal that over the course of his near five decade career he had over 15,000 people he treated as a doctor, while executing only 394 and disfiguring or otherwise torturing or flogging roughly the same number- meaning most of the time he functioned as a doctor, despite society at the time considering him an executioner.

Schmidt was one of those thrust into the profession as his father was strong-armed into becoming an executioner, condemning Schmidt to the same life once he came of age, though Schmidt’s story has something of a happy ending.

Like many executioners, Schmidt was given a wide berth by the public in his day-to-day life, but the incredible professionalism with which he conducted his grisly duties earned him the begrudging respect of both the general public and those in power. In his later years, Schmidt was able to parlay this into a meeting with Nuremberg authorities and then was able to appeal to Emperor Ferdinand II himself, with the goal of restoring his family honor.

Swayed by not just Schmidt’s words, but also letters from city council members and other notable people extolling Schmidt’s character and dedication to his duty, the then 70 year old executioner was granted both Nuremberg citizenship and had his family name cleared, allowing his progeny to escape the bloody spectre of his work.

Of course, being ultra-professional with the profession was something of a necessity for Schmidt as, at the time in Germany, there was a law stipulating that any executioner tasked with doling out death by the sword (a form of execution largely reserved for especially important individuals) who took more than three swings to behead a victim would be condemned to die themselves.

Even where such laws didn’t exist, the job of an executioner was extremely dangerous as executioners were also at risk of being killed either by vengeful relatives or the crowd witnessing an execution. In regards to the latter, if an executioner was especially cruel in their meting out of punishment, simply incompetent to the point that they caused undue suffering, or just otherwise acted in an unprofessional manner in performing their duties, it wasn’t unheard of for a crowd to retaliate by killing the executioner on the spot, generally with no consequence to anyone in the mob.

This constant danger of the job was something Schmidt himself talked about several times in his journal, though he only notes one instance where the crowd turned into a mob. This occurred during a flogging he was performing, with the person being beaten ultimately stoned to death by the crowd.

As you might imagine from this, in cases like Schmidt who was trained from childhood to take over the job from his father, a rather lengthy apprenticeship was called for, including a robust education from one’s parent, followed by assisting in executions and torture from a young age. Schmidt also notes that he practiced executions extensively on various animals before being allowed to actually execute a human himself. The end goal of all of this was to make sure he wouldn’t screw up, as raucous mobs didn’t really care if it was someone’s first day on the job or not.

Now, although being an executioner came with some massive downsides, it wasn’t all bad. Enterprising executioners could actually earn a fairly decent living doling out torture and capital punishment on command if they were smart about it. For example, especially skilled executioners who didn’t mind traveling could take advantage of the scarcity of people willing to do their job by plying their trade across whichever country they happened to live in, rather than just staying local.

Executioners also frequently earned extra money in the form of bribes from the condemned or their families, invariably given in the hopes that the executioner would ensure death was as swift and painless as possible, or otherwise allow the condemned extra comforts leading up to the execution. This might include, for example, slipping them extra alcohol or the like to make the execution a little easier to handle.

On top of this, throughout much of Medieval Europe a perk of being an executioner is that it was customary for whatever property was worn at the time of death to be granted to the executioner.

Additionally, executioners in Germany were frequently tasked with things like arbitrating disputes between prostitutes and driving lepers out of town, among other such jobs, all of which they could charge a premium for because nobody else was willing to do the job.

Executioners were also sometimes not just given the job of disposing of animal carcasses, but also in some regions the explicit right to all stray animal carcasses found in a town. Depending on the animal, this could mean the rights to valuable hides, teeth, etc.

An even greater benefit for certain executioners, this time in France, was the idea of droit de havage. In a nutshell, because executioners were so ostracized and couldn’t in some regions, for example, just go down to the market and shop freely, under droit de havage, executioners were more or less allowed to tax those who sold various food and drink items. This came in the form of being able to demand goods for free.

Finally, there’s the money an executioner would be paid for performing an execution, flogging, or the like. Although it’s hard to say exactly how much an executioner could earn per hanging or beheading in today’s currency due to the inherent difficulty of gauging the value of historic currencies, it’s evident that it was a good amount, at least relative to the generally low social standing of executioners.

For example, according to information gleaned from an old statute dated to a small German town in 1276 an executioner could earn the equivalent of 5 shillings per execution. This is an amount roughly equal to the amount of money a skilled tradesmen could earn in about 25 days at the time. Likewise, an executioner operating in England some two centuries later in the 1400s could reportedly earn a fee of 10 shillings per execution, or roughly 16 times the amount a skilled tradesmen could earn in a single day.

Granted, as you might have deduced from the aforementioned case of Frantz Schmidt only executing about 400 people and flogging a similar number in his near five decades on the job, nobody was getting rich doing this by itself, it at least wasn’t bad pay per hour of work.

Finally, we’d be remiss in any discussion of Medieval executioners to not point out that the idea of executioners wearing masks to hide who they were does not appear to have actually been much of a thing. Beyond, as mentioned, in many regions being literally branded as executioners, even large cities for much of history weren’t actually that large; so people knew who the executioner in a given region was, if not directly, by being marked such. Thus, wearing a mask would have been pointless.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the drill book America used before the ‘Blue Book’

Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.


Revolutionary War re-enactors.

(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)

See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?

Of course. The most recent drill guide for colonial militia before 1778 came from Great Britain, The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty in 1764. The bulk of this focused on how enlisted soldiers should stand, march, and use their weapons for orderly combat.

Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.

A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.

Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.

(Note: While the 2006 PDF is based on the 1764 manual, only Section 1 was in the original manual. If you decide to read it, understand that sections 2-8 were written in the modern day for use by re-enactors in the Tenth Regiment.)

A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.

(U.S. Army)

But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.

In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.

At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.

The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.

(U.S. Army)

But the techniques in these books weren’t widely used, known, and understood when the American Revolution started, and they were far from comprehensive. Baron von Steuben’s Blue Book addressed a lot of things missing from the older guides.

For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.

It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.

It remained the training guide for U.S. troops until 1812, and soldiers are still quizzed on some details of the manual today during soldier and promotion boards.

Articles

First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Marine Corps made black troops drill on separate fields, but that’s how it was for African-American leathernecks who were preparing to fight during World War II.


Dubbed the “Montford Point Marines” after their segregated training grounds at Montford Point on the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the 20,000 black Marines were finally honored July 29, 75 years after their service. The 15-foot tall memorial outside the gates of Camp Johnson is largely the result of efforts by the Montford Point Marine Association to commemorate the first African-American units in the Corps.

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – U.S. service members and guests listen to the National Chaplain of the Montford Point Marine Association, Reverend James E. Moore, as he delivers the invocation during the Montford Point Marine Memorial dedication ceremony held at Jacksonville, North Carolina, July 29, 2016.

“Today, as a result of the hard work and perseverance of so many of you here, across the country and those no longer with us, that vision is now a reality,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East at the memorial dedication.

“This inspiring memorial takes it rightful place among the other silent testimonials to the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation.”

The Montford Point Marines made up the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense Battalions, which mainly operated artillery and anti-aircraft guns. They were initially trained by white officers, but soon after their enlistment, several black NCOs took over the training and drilling of the first African-American Marines.

The units saw little action in the Pacific since the 51st and 52nd were assigned to outlying islands away from the main action. But some Montford Point Marines from ammunition and depot companies did see combat on Guam, Saipan, and Peleliu.

“This is something that I never thought would be possible,” Ivor Griffin, a Montford Marine who served 23 years, told Marines.mil. “I heard about it being in the making, and I thought it couldn’t be true, I thought we were the forgotten 20,000.”

The Montford Point Marines served from 1942 until 1949 when President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. military and abolished all-black units.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Marine ‘Hero of Nasiriyah’ is retiring

While the saga of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a soldier assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company who was captured by Saddam’s forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is well known, the incredibly heroic story of the attempt to rescue that unit isn’t. Now, the brave Marine behind that rescue attempt is retiring.

According to a report by the Marine Corps Times, Sergeant Major Justin LeHew is set to retire after 30 years of service in the Marine Corps. His most recent assignment has been with the Wounded Warrior Battalion — East, based out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

LeHew became a legend while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the chain of command learned about the dire situation the 507th Maintenance Company was in, they sent LeHew’s unit to try to rescue the soldiers.


According to his Navy Cross citation, when they arrived on the scene, LeHew helped his Marines evacuate four soldiers from the beleaguered maintenance unit. Then, an intense, three-hour-long firefight broke out. When an AAV-7 was destroyed, LeHew sprang into action.

One of the AAV-7s destroyed in the Battle of Nasiriyah. Justin LeHew earned the Navy Cross for heroism in retrieving dead and wounded Marines from a similar vehicle.

(USMC photo by Master Sergeant Edward D. Kniery)

According to a release by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he made multiple 70-yard sprints to the destroyed vehicle, retrieving nine dead and wounded Marines, picking body parts out from the wreckage — all while under fire from the enemy.

He received the Navy Cross for his actions while on another deployment to Iraq with C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Around the time he was awarded the Navy Cross, he would again distinguish himself in combat — this time in Najaf. During a battle against insurgents, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, helping, once again, to evacuate the wounded, including taking one Marine with a sucking chest wound straight to a forward operating base. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star with the Combat Distinguishing Device in 2005.

After his second tour in Iraq, LeHew held a number of senior leadership positions.

(USMC photo)

Since then, LeHew has held a number of senior NCO assignments. LeHew has also an obstacle in the Crucible named in his honor. In the opinion of this writer, LeHew also makes the short list of people who deserve having a ship named after them.

MIGHTY MOVIES

6 reasons ‘The Long Road Home’ might be the most realistic military show ever

This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.


The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”

Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.

1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.

Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.

The actors and 2-5 Cav vets from The Long Road Home talked to We Are The Mighty about their experiences making the show. (National Geographic)

Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.

“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”

Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)

“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.

“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”

2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.

You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.

“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”

Raddatz is still covering military operations in the CENTCOM area as of 2016.

She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.

“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”

3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.

If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.

In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).

4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.

When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.

“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”

A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)

“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”

“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”

Jason Ritter portrays Capt. Troy Denomy with Kate Bosworth as Gina Denomy on the set of The Long Road Home at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: National Geographic/Van Redin)

The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.

“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”

5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.

“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”

The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.

A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)

“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”

6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.

When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.

“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”

Eric Bourquin agrees.

“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”

A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)

The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time New York built a battleship in Union Square

New York City struggled to meet its recruitment goals during the spring of 1917. The United States had recently entered World War I, which had been raging in Europe since 1914, and the military needed volunteers. While New York City had a population of around 6.5 million at the time, it lagged behind its goal of 2,000 recruits to the United States Navy by under half.

So New York City’s Mayor, John P. Mitchel, decided that he needed a gimmick to spark young men’s interest and convince them to volunteer for the war. What better way to draw attention to the Navy than to construct a battleship in the middle of Union Square? Teaming up with the Navy on the project, the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense raised approximately $10,000 (about $187,000 today) to fund the ship and hired Jules Guerin and Donn Barber to design the appropriately named USS Recruit, basing the design loosely on the USS Maine.


With work rapidly completed by the U.S. Navy, the USS Recruit, also known as the Landship Recruit, was built on the island of Manhattan. Construction finished for a “launch” on May 30, 1917, with the ship being christened by Olive Mitchel, the Mayor’s wife.

The wooden battleship mockup measured over 200 feet long and had a beam, or width, of 40 feet. While not actually armed for battle, the ship featured wooden replicas of two cage masts, six 14-inch guns inside three twin turrets, and ten 5-inch guns. It also had two 50-foot masts, an 18-foot tall smokestack, a main bridge, and a conning tower.

The Landship Recruit contained ample space for the job of recruiting and training sailors, with multiple waiting rooms and physical exam rooms, complete with full amenities. Doctors, officers, and sailors lived aboard the ship in their separate quarters.

As for the latter, the initial complement was thirty-nine sailors-in-training from the Newport Training Station and their commander, Captain C.F. Pierce. The crew maintained a similar routine to the one of a crew at sea. As reported by Popular Science Magazine in August of 1917,

The land sailors arise at six o’clock, scrub the decks, wash their clothes, attend instruction classes, and then stand guard and answer questions for the remainder of the day. There is a night as well as a day guard. From sunup to eleven o’clock all lights of the ship are turned on, including a series of searchlight projectors.

In addition to recruiting volunteers for the Navy and training new sailors, the USS Recruit served as a public relations tool. Citizens were invited onto the ship to learn about then modern battleships, and the sailors aboard routinely answered the public’s questions during their guard duty. Both patriotic and social events were also held on the battleship with the sailors acting as hosts. One patriotic event, according to a contemporary account from The New York Times, was the presentation of a recreation of Betsy Ross’s American flag. Other events were just social in nature, such as dances held for New York’s social elite. There were reportedly even Vaudeville shows held on board.

World War I ended in November of 1918 when both Austria-Hungary and Germany agreed to an armistice while the terms of peace could be negotiated. However, the USS Recruitcontinued its recruitment mission until March of 1920. It had helped the Navy recruit an astounding 25,000 new sailors (enough to man the USS Maine, which the Recruit was loosely modeled after, a whopping 45 times over) during its three years of operation.

At this time, the Navy announced that it would move the wooden battleship from Union Square to Luna Park on Coney Island and maintain it as a recruitment site there.

The New York Times described the “sailing” of the Recruit in an article on March 17, 1920:

Yesterday when 10 o’clock came around and with it ‘sailing time’ all of the ceremonies were put on. The crew of eighty men lined up on the quarterdeck and the ship was formally abandoned while the Stars and Stripes and the commissioned pennant were hauled down. The ship’s band struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the colors were lowered to the deck.

The ship was then carefully dismantled over the course of a few days, with the pieces shipped off to Coney Island. Though The New York Times estimated that it would take just two weeks for the Navy to complete the move of the battleship, it was never rebuilt.

Out of sight, out of mind, no contemporary news source seems to have bothered to cover why the ship, which was supposed to be immediately rebuilt, was not. What happened to the pieces of the dismantled ship is also a mystery to this day. A search through the Navy archives for the period in question likewise turned up nothing insightful concerning the ship’s demise. Presumably it was simply decided at the last minute that rebuilding and maintaining the ship was an unnecessary expense given the Navy’s recruitment needs at the time. Alternatively, perhaps the 1920 New York Times piece simply got it wrong, news outlets, even then, not exactly known for their accuracy on the details of reports for various reasons, such as often having to rush submissions.

Bonus Facts

  • While this was the end of the Union Square battleship, it would not be the end of the name in the U.S. Navy. The USS Recruit (AM-285) was launched in 1943 and served during WWII before being decommissioned in 1946 and ultimately sold to the Mexican Navy in 1963. Following this, another landlocked ship was built, the USS Recruit (TDE-1), at the San Diego Naval Training Center in 1949. Built to scale at two-thirds the size of a Dealey-class destroyer escort, the ship was made of wood with sheet metal overlay and was used to train tens of thousands of recruits over the coming decades. It was, however, decommissioned in 1967, funny enough, because it could not be classified in the Navy’s new computerized registry. However, commissioned or not, it was in continuous service from 1949 to 1997 (with a complete re-model in 1982) when the base it is on was closed. While no longer being used, the ship still stands, with some thought to perhaps turning it into a maritime museum at some point.
  • The Camouflage Corps of the National League of Women helped the original USS Recruit to better resemble battleships in combat in 1918, painting it a camouflage pattern (designed by artist William Andrew Mackay).

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the battles mentioned in the Marines’ Hymn

The early days of November bring more than just chilly weather and the beginning of a winter-long food and football hibernation cycle. That’s what Thanksgiving is for.


Come the 10th and 11th – the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day respectively – military towns and American Legion Halls all over the country begin shaking with the booming voice of Marines past and present, singing the Marines’ Hymn, a song about the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli.

If you’re a Marine, you definitely know what these are. If you’ve served in the military at some point, you’ve probably been able to pick up what they mean. But for a lot of civilians, military culture and tradition can be a black hole of knowledge – unless one of their history teachers was a Marine, there’s no reason for them to know this.

Can you imagine Marine Corps grade school?

The Halls of Montezuma

No, the Marines did not fight Aztec warriors. They were around 300 or so years too late for that.

I can tell you how well that would go, though.

The reference is to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire…which also happens to be modern-day Mexico City. In 1847, the U.S. and Mexico were engaged in a bit of a war and it wasn’t going well for the Mexicans. The Americans were in the middle of capturing the Mexican capital. But Mexico under dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wasn’t going down easily – neither were its people.

To break the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops while capturing the city itself, Gen. Winfield Scott determined that he would have to capture Chapultepec Castle, a military academy on the heights overlooking the city. The hill leading up to the castle was a 200-foot slope ending in a 12-foot wall, designed to keep enemy troops from doing exactly what the Marines were about to do.

After the Americans made it through volley after volley of artillery and gunfire, the Mexican Army was waiting for them. They engaged in a good old-fashioned fistfight.

They then scaled the castle walls and entered the inside of the castle – known as the Halls of Montezuma. They raised the American flag and by the time Gen. Scott entered the castle, the streets were guarded by U.S. Marines.

According to the Marines’ Hymn, that must mean Mexico City is heaven now?

The Marines captured the fortress in an hour, with a loss of 90 percent of the Marines’ officer and NCO corps. Legend has it the NCOs and officers added scarlet stripes to their pants to commemorate their lost brothers here. Today these are referred to as “blood stripes” to remember the Marine blood shed in Mexico City.

The Shores of Tripoli

Why do the Marines sing about the Shores of Tripoli when those particular shores have been pretty unfriendly to Americans for much of the time most active Marines have been alive? Because, like Chapultepec, this battle happened early on in Marine Corps history.

Let’s be honest, it wasn’t friendly back then either.

The wars with the Barbary pirates were an epic and underreported time in American history. The Marines got one of their first heroes when Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his contingent of Marines accompanied a force of Arab allies under U.S. agent William Eaton marched 500 miles overland to attack the city of Derne.

One of the earliest sexual exploits of the green weenie. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Henson)

It was after the march that O’Bannon and the Marines, along with Eaton and his Greek and Arab mercenaries, captured the city against a much larger force. The Tripolitans sent reinforcements, but by the time they arrived, the city had already fallen. When that force tried to retake the city, U.S. Navy vessels and captured Tripolitan guns manned by Marines repelled the attack.

The Hornet, seen here owning the HMS Peacock in the War of 1812, was one of the ships at Derne that day.

The capture of Derne forced the leaders in Tripoli to make peace with the Americans, stop raiding American shipping, and free American slaves. The Marines say Lt. O’Bannon was presented with an elaborate Mamluk-style sword by the Ottoman representative, which is now the model for those carried by Marine Corps officers.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

3 advanced Russian weapons (that don’t actually work)

Despite an underperforming economy and budget cutbacks, Russia has still managed to keep their place at the forefront of American discussion when it comes to looming military threats, and that’s certainly no coincidence. Russia is keen to make themselves the weapons supplier of choice for nations America won’t sell to, and snagging media coverage for their advanced weapons programs is an essential part of that endeavor.


Unlike the free (though certainly flawed) media infrastructure we have in the United States, Russia’s media is almost entirely state-owned. That means there are no dissenting views or lively debates regarding Russian domestic or foreign policy to be found in their news media, but more importantly to us on this side of the Red Curtain, they employ the same state-sanctioned approach to foreign reaching outlets as well.

Russia owns lots of news outlets all over the world (some of which recently had to register as foreign agents in the United States), and they use this reach to shape perceptions of their military hardware. Stories produced by these state actors then get picked up in good faith by other outlets that know their audiences will love a video of Russian infantry robots storming muddy battlefields and before you know it, Russia’s in the news again… and this time there’s lasers!

Here are just some of the “advanced” Russian weapons that littered American headlines last year… and the ugly truth behind them.

Russian robot tank in action: Uran-9 performs fire drill

youtu.be

Russia pretended their Uran-9 Unmanned Combat Vehicle fought in Syria

In May of 2018, Russia announced that their new infantry drone, the Uran-9, had officially entered the fight in Syria, where Russian forces have been bolstering Bashar al Assad’s regime against Syrian Democratic Forces for years. The drone’s combat successes stole headlines the world over, and one even participated in Russia’s Victory Day Parade last year.

According to Russian-based media, the semi-autonomous combat vehicle comes equipped with a 30 mm 2A72 autocannon as its primary weapon, along with a 7.62 chambered PKTM machine gun, four anti-tank missiles, and six thermobaric rocket launchers. It all sounded really impressive until June when Russian officials speaking at a security conference called “Actual Problems of Protection and Security” admitted that despite footage of it rolling around Syria… the drone tank plain old doesn’t work. Soon after, mentions of the Uran-9 and Russia’s Terminator-like plans for future wars declined rapidly.

Dude’s practically invisible!

Russia announced developed “Predator-style” active camouflage… then quickly forgot

Russian arms manufacturer Rostec also announced a breakthrough in camouflage technology last year, claiming that their new “electrically-controllable material” could instantly change color based on the environment it was in, providing Russian troops and even vehicles with the most advanced and effective camouflage ever seen on the battlefield. This game-changing technology again drew headlines all over the world as Rostec and Russian officials touted an upcoming demonstration of the tech.

Of course, after thousands of stories were written about this breakthrough technology, Rostech never followed through on any kind of demonstration, releasing stills of what looks like a guy in a motorcycle helmet and hockey pads instead. It didn’t matter — by then, the story had already become much larger than any corrections ever would be.

About as far as it goes.

(Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

Putin’s “invincible” nuclear powered missile is a national embarrassment

In a speech Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered last March, he touted a number of new weapons programs, but none with as much vigor as the new nuclear-powered cruise missile called the 9M730 Burevestnik. That’s right — nuclear powered. The concept makes some sense: nuclear power offers the ability to travel a great distance on a tiny amount of fuel, and as Putin himself claimed, this new missile would have a near limitless range as a result.

But once again, this concept may make for some great headlines, but in practice, the missile has been a dud. Russia conducted four different tests with this missile between November of 2017 and February of 2018 with the nuclear drive failing to engage in every test. According to U.S. estimates, the furthest this missile has made it so far is 22 miles (under conventional rocket propulsion), and the last test resulted in losing the missile somewhere in the Barents Sea. When this program last hit the headlines, it was because the Russian Navy was still out there looking for it. According to Russia, they had another “breakthrough” this past January, however, so be prepared for a new slew of headlines.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The next generation of Warrior is more Spartan than you may think…

It’s raining on a Tuesday morning — pretty standard for a Marine physical fitness test — and I know that rain or shine; pull-ups, sit-ups, and a three-mile run are going to happen. I stand, shivering in the pre-dawn drizzle, listening for the sergeant to call me forward. I’m at an about face waiting for my buddy to finish his set of pull-ups. 21… 22… 23… he just hit a perfect score. It’s my turn now. I stretch my arms and take a deep breath.

“Next,” the sergeant calls.


I mount the bar and wait for the signal to start. This isn’t my first PT test, which is a blessing and a curse. I know exactly the number of pull-ups that I need to crank out, but after three deployments, I have no idea how my body is going to respond. I prepare myself for a battle. I start to pull and pull harder. I breathe slow and deep, but then my shoulder pops, an injury left over from my years as a high school pitcher. I gut through the pain to the end. 21… 22… 23… I finish the test with a perfect score, but the pain in my arm will take weeks to heal. I’m qualified by Marines standards but my injury makes me feel anything but ready for war.

Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks, Board of Advisors for Sparta Science

Just like the legendary King Leonidas and his 300, today’s warriors require strict physical training and discipline to make sure they are ready for any battle. Readiness is exactly the problem that Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks and his team at Sparta Science are trying to fix. In fact, my PFT injury is much more common than I thought. The Marine Corps estimates that musculoskeletal injuries cost 365,000 lost duty days and 1 million annually.

To help Marines increase their readiness for war, the Marine Corps is turning to some 21st century technology. General Marks is no stranger to hard problems and out-of-the-box thinking. He cut his teeth as an Airborne Ranger and the senior intelligence officer in Iraq. General Marks told We Are The Mighty,

“Every Marine has his or her strengths and weaknesses but we all have to complete the mission. Sparta Science helps to identify those individual weaknesses and provide a training program to make sure you are ready to fight on any mission.”

Dr. Phil Wagner uses the Sparta System.

Sparta Science is the brainchild of Dr. Phil Wagner, a strength coach and former Rugby player who asked himself a simple question, “Can we use technology to increase performance and prevent injuries before they happen?” Dr. Wagner believed the answer not only to be a resounding “yes” but he believed he could also identify potential injuries in a matter of seconds. He’s developed the Sparta System, which first uses a movement assessment (Balance, Plank, Jump) to capture a personalized body scan. The scan is then compared against over a million other assessments and with AI technology, the system can identify areas prone to injury and prescribe personalized training programs to correct weaknesses.

Sparta System dashboard.

The Sparta System is already being deployed among college athletes and even professionals in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA to outstanding results. Not only is the system helping athletes achieve their peak physical performance but it’s also helping prevent injuries that can cost players/teams millions of dollars in medical expenses. General Marks and the Sparta team believe their system can also help military leaders all the way from the top brass to the NCOs on the ground to better leader and prepare their troops for war.

Athletes undergo assessment through the Sparta System.

Imagine that within minutes of completing a Sparta Assessment, your NCO or Platoon leader could have a chart showing your overall readiness score — and any injury risks to your feet, knees, or back. It’s this level of detail that General Marks expects will change the game in military readiness,

“By having access to this kind of information, military leaders can make smarter choices about how to train for war and employ those soldiers once they get there. The Sparta System makes us fight better.”

As this new system continues to be used among various military units, we should expect the ancient Spartan ethos of “the more you train in peace the less you bleed in war” to still apply. However, we can also avoid some preventable risks, like popping shoulders during a PFT.