British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

World War I wounds were horrific, as an opening in the skin created easy access for all the nasty diseases that swam through the trenches and crawled through the mud of No Man’s Land. A bullet wound, shrapnel puncture, or even a few scratches from barbed wire could get infected quickly. And so Britain looked to history and other countries for potential methods of quickly producing a higher quality material for bandages. A surprising solution was found in peat moss, the layer of plants that grow on top of many bogs and peat fields. So, they wanted to pack their wounds with plants that grew from decay-filled ground. Seems legit.


British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
British troops march into Tsingtao after capturing it from German troops in 1914.​
(British Government)

But there’s actually a long history of packing wounds with plants, especially moss. Ancient Irish warriors used mosses, as did French and German soldiers in the 1890s. Germany was even using moss bandages during World War I, and Britain decided to copy their foes.

So what made moss so great a bandage material? A few things. First, there weren’t conflicting needs for moss. While cotton was also a great material, belligerent countries needed cotton cloth for uniforms and gun cotton for ammunition, so there wasn’t enough to go around.

Next, some species of moss were actually more absorbent than cotton. Spaghnum moss, by weight, can hold twice as much liquid as cotton can, meaning that a similarly sized bandage can sop up a lot more blood while protecting the wound. This is thanks to how moss grows, basically creating cells and allowing them to die in order to create reservoirs for storing water. Those tiny reservoirs can hold blood as well, drying out the wound and allowing it to clot faster.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Sphagnum moss was a valuable bandage material in World War I.

(Katja Schulz, CC BY 2.0)

Even better, some species of moss have special cell walls with an electrical charge that, long story short, makes them naturally antiseptic. These bandages kill bacteria without the need for any fancy chemical solutions or coatings. They were also naturally resistant to mildew.

But, then why wasn’t Britain already using this miracle material? Because it was crazy hard to collect. When the British decided to start using the moss as a bandage material, British and Canadian organizers started hosting events just to go walk the peat bogs and collect the material. One man even made the news for walking over 1,000 miles to collect the goods. And these workers were nearly always volunteers.

But the bandages did make a difference on the front, outperforming cotton bandages to the point that America, the only combatant still flush with cotton, traded gas masks components to get its hands on the moss because the plant-based bandages were better.

When the war ended, there were obviously much fewer volunteers willing to walk through the elements for no pay or willing to assemble the final bandages, so they fell out of favor. But some medical manufacturers continued to make the bandages and sell them. They were rare, though.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
The Sphagnum Moss Sanitary Napkins were for when you wanted to take ‘all natural’ way too far.
(Smithsonian Museum)

For some reason, U.S. manufacturers experimented with using moss-based materials for feminine hygiene products. For some reason, women weren’t super into it, and the product largely disappeared. If you are into it, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History actually has a box of them in their collections.

Just go full National Treasure and you, too, can enjoy the benefits of sphagnum moss bandages. That was the most popular moss for bandages in World War I, so they’re even the most relevant historically.

Now, scientists in Europe are looking for ways to cultivate plants like sphagnum moss without damaging the peat bogs that they grow on most easily, preferably by getting them to grow in controlled conditions on farms. Trampling peat bogs is labor intensive and very harmful to the environment, releasing lots of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. Growing moss somewhere else might make it commercially viable without threatening the environment.

So, in World War III, you might get to use moss-filled bandages, just like great-great-great grandpa in The Great War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is every American President’s favorite drink

No one knows more about political drinking than author Mark Will-Weber, whose book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, explores the stories behind each president’s favorite alcoholic beverage.


“Presidents drink for the same reasons we all drink,” Will-Weber recently told Business Insider. “Sometimes because it’s part of the job, sometimes it’s because they’re lonely or depressed — there’s a whole gamut of reasons of why people drink.”

For Will-Weber, knowing what the former presidents like to drink brings a “human side” to those who we “normally hold on a pedestal.”

Ahead, take a look at the presidents’ favorite alcoholic beverages, rounded up from Will-Weber’s book and The New York Post.

Our first president, George Washington, was a whiskey drinker, as were Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson. According to Will-Weber, Johnson was so inebriated when he arrived at the 1865 inauguration as Lincoln’s vice president that he had to be pulled off the stage.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Cheers.

John Adams reportedly started every morning with a hard cider. William Henry Harrison was also a big fan.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Fermentation tanks and barrels for crafting hard cider. (Photo by Scott Bugni)

According to Will-Weber, Thomas Jefferson purchased so much wine it put him on the brink of financial ruin.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Also read: Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Ulysses S. Grant were all champagne lovers. Of these, Polk was the most modest drinker. Will-Weber told us about a small scandal that happened under Monroe, when a whopping 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to the White House.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Maman Voyage via Flickr)

John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and James Buchanan enjoyed Madeira wine, which gets its flavor by being heated repeatedly.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Luis Villa del Campo via Flickr)

According to Will-Weber, Franklin Pierce was one of the heaviest drinkers to fill the White House. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 64.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo from Library of Congress)

On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln apparently drank the least while in office. Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Calvin Coolidge were also light drinkers.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Image from Library of Congress)

Beer was the drink of choice for James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

According to Will-Weber, the temperance movement tried to convince Chester A. Arthur to have a dry White House, but he refused.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
The 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur. (Image from Library of Congress)

The McKinley’s Delight was coined for President William McKinley. It was a strong drink made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, and absinthe.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Sam Howzit via Flickr)

Related: 13 Presidents who narrowly escaped assassinations

Teddy Roosevelt used fresh mint from the White House garden to make his famous mint juleps.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed scotch.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo via Flickr user morberg)

Although Warren G. Harding was president during Prohibition, that didn’t stop him from enjoying some whiskey before playing a game of golf.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Markus Reinhardt via Flickr)

President Herbert Hoover requested a dry martini while suffering from pneumonia in his 80s, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was known for loving cocktails, especially gin-based martinis.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Although, I doubt his martinis ever looked like this…

One of Will-Weber’s personal favorite presidential drinking stories is about Harry S. Truman, who would down a shot of bourbon every morning before starting his day.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Arkadiusz Benedykt via Flickr)

According to Will-Weber, President John F. Kennedy drank various cocktails, such as daiquiris, but his favorite was the bloody mary.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by William Clifford)

A Texas native, President Lyndon B. Johnson enjoyed sipping a cold Texas-brewed Pearl beer while driving around his ranch.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo from Pearl Beer via Facebook)

Will-Weber said President Richard Nixon enjoyed expensive bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild — but he’d often serve cheaper wine to his guests.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

While serving in the House of Representatives, Gerald Ford would drink martinis at lunch. When he became president, his staff suggested he stop that habit.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Ken30684 via Flickr)

More: This is how US Presidents almost got to choose their own entrance music

President Jimmy Carter didn’t drink much — so when he met with Soviet leaders, instead of taking a shot of vodka, he’d arrange for a small glass of white wine.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Didriks via Flickr)

President Ronald Reagan enjoyed Orange Blossom Specials, made with orange juice, vodka, and sweet vermouth.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Cesar I. via Yelp)

George H.W. Bush dabbled in a bit of everything, from beer to vodka. However, his son George W. Bush didn’t drink while in office.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush

When he was a student, Bill Clinton regularly made snakebites: hard cider mixed with beer.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo by Liza P. via Yelp)

President Barack Obama is a big fan of beer. Under his administration, the White House has brewed its own honey ale, using honey from hives on the grounds.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
I just like to imagine that he plays Beer Pong… (Image via Flickr)

Although President Donald Trump unsuccessfully launched his own brand of vodka — and his family operates Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia — the man himself doesn’t drink.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
President Donald Trump is not a fan of the sauce.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The stunning way Andrew Jackson prevented a mass desertion

Tennessee Militia Maj. Gen. Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson had to face down potential mass desertions twice in just a short period during the War of 1812, and both times he put on stunning displays of bravery that would hint at his potential for future success in both war and politics.


British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Portrait of Andrew Jackson

Jackson is a controversial figure for good reason. He was a military hero who earned accolades fighting the British, generally remembered as morally fine, and for fighting Native American tribes, something most of America would rather not talk about.

But he was, for better or worse, a product of his time, a general who marched where his state asked him to go and who shared the spirits and beliefs of his peers, even the deeply prejudiced ones. And he was dedicated to doing his own duty and in seeing every man around him do what he saw as their duty.

The Tennessean was beloved by his troops, partially thanks to an event in early 1813. The War Department had ordered many of his men dismissed from service at New Orleans with no provisions or plans to get them back to Nashville where they had enlisted. Jackson responded by personally leading the men north to safety before meeting up with his replacement troops.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Jackson and his men find a missing supply train as well as, according to some reports, captured Creek warriors and Black men who attempted to flee slavery.

(John Frost, 1847)

He became a hero in the eyes of the Tennessee militiamen. But they would face hardships as well, fighting throughout 1813 against Creek Native Americans and then suffering severe supply shortages the following winter. When he learned in November 1813 that many were considering deserting, he begged them to stay.

Jackson offered a deal. If missing supply wagons did not arrive in two days, he would ride back with them. But if supplies arrived, they would stay.

The two days passed and a standoff ensued. After a bit of wrangling, Jackson agreed to ride north with a body of soldiers and look for the missing supplies. If they were found, he expected them to return to the fort. And so the men rode north and did actually find the train, filled with meat and flour. According to 1847 pictorial on Andrew Jackson’s life, they also found re-captured slaves and Creek prisoners.

They ate in place, and then Jackson ordered them back to the camp. No one was happy with the command, and an entire infantry company attempted to march away north, and Jackson intercepted them with cavalry. When they arrived back at the main camp, an entire brigade was getting ready to leave.

This time, he grabbed a musket and, since his left arm was badly injured from a personal fight earlier that year, he laid the weapon across his horse’s neck and aimed it with his right arm at the mutineers. This was one gun against a brigade. The deserters could have easily overpowered him, but someone would either have to take the first shot or be the first person to try and ride past Jackson and call his bluff.

No one tempted the anger in Jackson’s eyes. Instead, troops loyal to Jackson began forming up behind him until there was little chance the brigade could break free, so they turned and headed back south.

But the anger in camp was far from quenched, and the bulk of the men had signed one-year contracts that they believed would end Dec. 10, 1813. Jackson insisted that their contracts would end one year after he had called them forward into the field, an anniversary that wouldn’t come for months.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

“Let me just ride around in front of these.” – Andrew Jackson, 1813

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Gabrielle C. Quire)

On the night of December 9, just hours before the men’s contracts ended by their own estimates, Jackson ordered the men to parade outside the fort. He ordered an artillery company out as well.

Then he rode out in front of the men and promised that, if they attempted to leave, he would order the cannons fired with himself still in the middle. Yes, he would likely be the first killed, but dozens would follow him to a quick grave if they attempted to leave.

He ordered the gunners to light their matches and then watched the men in silence. Eventually, officers came forward and promised that they and their men would stay until reinforcements arrived.

It must have been quite the dramatic display, and it did save Jackson’s army for a few days.

But the hits would keep coming for Jackson. Reinforcements arrived, and so he released the men who had attempted to “desert.” Then it turned out the new men’s contracts were also due to end in December, and that another brigade’s contracts would end January 4, 1814.

Jackson protested, but the arguments over contracts had made it back to the larger world. Both the governor of Tennessee and the secretary of war agreed with the militiamen that their contracts ended one year after signature, not one year after being called to active service in the field.

The general did eventually receive his reinforcements, though. And he would go on to win battles against the Creeks that resulted in treaties favorable to the U.S. and would bolster Jackson’s eventual political career. He was accepted into the U.S. Army, as opposed to the Tennessee Militia, as a brigadier general and then major general.

Articles

This is the fastest American bomber that ever took to the skies

While Russia has deployed a number of Mach 2 bombers — like the Tu-22 Blinder and Tu-22M Backfire — these were not the fastest bombers that ever flew.


That title goes to the the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

You haven’t heard much about the Valkyrie – and part of that is because it never got past the prototype stage. According to various fact sheets from the National Museum of the Air Force, the plane was to be able to cruise at Mach 3, have a top speed of Mach 3.1, and it had a range of 4,288 miles. All that despite being almost 200 feet long with a wingspan of 105 feet, and having a maximum takeoff weight of over 534,000 pounds.

That performance was gained by six J93 engines from General Electric, providing 180,000 pounds of thrust.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
The XB-70’s immense size is apparent in this photo of the plane on display at the National Museum of the Air Force. (USAF photo)

The XB-70s had no provision for armament, but the production version of this bomber was slated to be able to haul 50,000 pounds of bombs – either conventional or nuclear. Imagine that plane being around today, delivering JDAMs or other smart weapons.

With the performance and a weapons load like that, buying this plane to supplement the B-52 should have been a no-brainer, right? Well, not quite.

The fact was that the Valkyrie was caught by the development of two new technologies — the surface-to-air missile and the intercontinental ballistic missile. The former made high-speed, high-altitude runs much more dangerous (although it should be noted that the SR-71 Blackbird operated very well in that profile). The latter offered a more rapid strike capability than the XB-70 and was cheaper.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
The cockpit of the XB-70. Despite the plane’s immense size, it was still pretty cramped inside. (USAF photo)

Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as a result of the new technologies, the XB-70 was reduced by the Eisenhower Administration to a research and development project in December 1959. The B-70 was reinstated for production during the 1960 presidential campaign in an attempt to deflect criticism from John F. Kennedy. But Kennedy eventually threw it back to the lab.

Despite a public-relations effort by top Air Force brass, the B-70 remained an RD program with only two airframes built. A 1966 collision during a flight intended to generate photos to promote General Electric’s engines destroyed one of them. The surviving airframe is displayed at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
This photo of the XB-70 gives another glimpse of its immense size when compared to the X-15, the fastest manned aircraft that ever took to the skies. (USAF photo)

Take a look at this video from Curious Droid on the XB-70.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

When it comes to aviation, aircraft are only as good as the pilots behind them, and in the beginning, one man was instrumental in getting military aviation off the ground.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois was one of the first in the military to assume the mantle of aviator as manned flight was still in its infancy, and according to Bob Barlow, U.S. Army Aviation Museum volunteer and former aviator, his efforts helped shape what aviation is today.

Foulois first enlisted in the Army to serve in the Spanish-American War in 1898, but only served for five months before being mustered out, said Barlow. He re-enlisted in 1899 at just 18 years old and quickly ascended through the ranks to become a second lieutenant by 1901.


He was sent to the Army Signal School in 1908 where he wrote the thesis, “The Tactical and Strategically Value of Dirigible Balloons and Aerodynamical Flying Machines,” showcasing his foresight that the future of warfare would be in aviation.

A quote from Foulois’ thesis read, “In all future warfare, we can expect to see engagements in the air between hostile aerial fleets. The struggle for supremacy in the air will undoubtedly take place while the opposing armies are maneuvering for position.”

“He said the military dirigible and the airplane would be responsible for gaining the upper hand in the skies before the battle took place — nobody ever really talked about that before him,” Barlow said.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Major General Benjamin D. Foulois

Foulois was selected as one of three Signal Corps officers to receive flying instruction to become one of the first military aviators, and on July 13, 1912, he became the fifth Army officer to be rated as a military aviator.

“He was one of the first three selected, but he was the first military aviator to stay the course,” said Barlow. “He was taken up by the Wright brothers and sent to Fort Sam Houston to complete his training on his own.

“Around this time, as aviation started taking off more and more, there were a lot of ground commanders who thought it was a lot of nonsense,” he said. “But there were visionaries like Foulois who knew that it was the next big thing.”

Throughout his testing of aircraft in 1911, which included the Wright Military Flyer, he was instrumental and innovating and providing ideas, even inventing the first seat belt, said the museum curator.

“(Later in life) when asked what his inspiration was for creating the seat belt, he said he was getting tired of being thrown out of the aircraft and hitting his head,” said Barlow.

Foulois also could see that the Wright Military Flyer was incredibly outdated and wouldn’t be able to compete on the battlefield.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Lt. Foulois and Orville Wright

“The airplane at the time was a push propeller aircraft that was basically a box kite,” said Barlow. “At the same time, the French were way ahead of us with a tractor aircraft and central seating for the aircraft, which looks more like the proper airplane that we know today.”

After a series of crashes and accidents, Foulois, along with other officers in aviation. condemned the pusher propeller aircraft and began to lean toward the tractor aircraft. In 1913 he joined the 1st Aero Squadron, and by 1914 he was appointed as its commander.

In March of 1916, he reported for duty with Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, and along with Capt. Townsend Dodd performed the first U.S. aerial reconnaissance mission over enemy-held territory in Mexico.

“This was their first foray into getting their feet wet with military combat aviation,” said Barlow, adding that by the time World War I came along, Foulois was probably the most experienced officer in the military in regards to aviation.

Because of his experience, he was tasked with the procurement, production, and development and operations of aircraft.

Initially, the Army wanted several thousand aircraft, 4,800 pilots and twice as many mechanics, all within a year, but with the resources at the time it wasn’t possible.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Brig. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois, Maj. Gen. James. E. Fechet and Brig. Gen. H.C. Pratt

“That didn’t’ happen,” said Barlow. “We weren’t ready for that. Our output was barely 40 aircraft a month on a good month, so, we had to borrow from the British and the French.”

Foulois later deployed to France doing the same job, and in 1917 he become chief of air services in the zone of occupation for the Army Expeditionary Force. It was during his time in WWI that eventually the U.S. produced its own aircraft, the JN-4 Jenny.

Following the war, he was later appointed as the chief of the Air Corps in 1931, and in 1934 then-President Theodore Roosevelt tasked Foulois to head the Army Air Corps Mail Operation, which ended in the Air Mail scandal of 1934 because the Air Corps was ill equipped to take on the mission, said Barlow.

“They flew about 1.4 million miles carrying the mail and they lost a lot of people doing it,” he said. As a result, Foulois ended up taking the brunt of the blame for the program’s failure and was forced into retirement in 1935 with 36 years of service.

Despite the scandal, Barlow said Foulois was instrumental in bringing military aviation to the forefront.

“This is a man who came in the military at 18 … and became one of the first three pilots in the U.S. military. He was there through the birth of all the doctrine, the changes and the clashes with the ground force,” he said. “What we’re doing now we owe to him. He was the first military aviator to stay the course, and he was Army aviator No. 1 as far as I’m concerned.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Unleash the hounds: Spartan warrior dogs

If you thought your K-9 was a badass, you’re probably right. But maybe not quite as badass as these 4 Spartan Warrior dogs.


British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

cdn.pixabay.com

1. The spear assault dogs

While you might think of dogs in combat and warfare as a relatively new concept, their origin traces back to mid-seventh century B.C., when the Ephesians waged war on Magnesia. Sounds like something out of the Bible until you realize that instead of animals walking onto an ark two-by-two under a rainbow, every horseman was accompanied by a spearman and a war dog who broke enemy ranks in order to lead a bloodbath by spear assault.

Good times.


British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

cdn6.picryl.com

2. The PSYWARFARE dogs

Dogs were also instrumental in psychological warfare.

At the battle of Pelusium, Cambysesus II preyed on the Egyptians’ reverence of animals by putting dogs on his front line. Kill a bad guy, sure, but nobody wants to harm a puppy. The tactic worked. Dogs were frequently used as messengers and lookouts as they were less likely to be harmed. The Egyptians mummified dogs because of their respect for the creatures.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

live.staticflickr.com

3. The Molossian

War dogs were both celebrated and feared. The Molossian was the desired breed, which is a relative of the modern day mastiff. Greek poet Oppian wrote, “Impetuous and of steadfast valour, who attack even bearded bulls and rush upon monstrous boars and destroy them….They are not swift, but they have abundant spirit and genuine strength unspeakable and dauntless courage.” Who can forget Hercules from Sandlot? The Beast was feared, and for good reason.

In his work, Cynegetica (“The Chase,”) Nemesiani, who was basically the Cesar Millan of his day, had this helpful hint for how to identify which of the pups would be the strongest:

“You should get a series of flames made in a wide circuit with the smoke of the fire to mark a convenient round space, so that you may stand unharmed in the middle of the circle: to this all the puppies, to this the whole crowd as yet unseparated must be brought: the mother will provide the test of her progeny, saving the valuable young ones by her selection and from their alarming peril. For when she sees her offspring shut in by flames, at once with a leap she clears the blazing boundaries of the fire-zone, snatches the first in her jaws and carries it to the kennel; next another, next another in turn: so does the intelligent mother distinguish her nobler progeny by her love of merit.”

That’s not intense at all. Totally how we pick out German Shepherds.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

c1.staticflickr.com

4. The Agassians

They may not have been much to look at, but plenty of scholars would pick the British Aggasians over the Molossians in a head to head battle.

Poet Oppian described them as: “There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs; squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.”

Sure, our K-9s might be able to detect bombs, drugs and humans and are probably smarter than the Greek war dogs, but nothing looks as badass as a dog with a wolf collar, something the war dogs used to wear to prevent fatal wolf bites. We think these should be standard issue for all 31Ks and their dogs, too.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

upload.wikimedia.org

MIGHTY HISTORY

Rats, viruses and the Korean War

Rodents are always with us, in good times and bad. When the COVID-19 crippled the restaurant industry, rats came out in abundance, prompting warnings from the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, a video of a rat carrying a slice of pizza went viral. Coffee rat, a video of a rodent carrying a cup of joe in the subway, followed a few years later. Though not as well known today, a similar abundance of rats shaped the experience of the men who served in Korean War, a war that started 70 years ago this summer.


In the Korean War, the rat problem emerged in the later stages of the conflict when lines stabilized. After a year’s worth of fighting up and down the peninsula, the U.S.-led United Nations Command fought North Korea and its Chinese allies over territory near the 38th parallel. In the fateful summer of 1951, the war transformed from one of movement into a war to take strategic positions among hills protected by bunkers and trench lines.

Rats soon filled U.S.-led United Nations Command positions. In the book Voices from the Korean War, American soldier Richard Peters remembered the rats were “both numerous and huge,” pests that “scurried about the bunker as if they owned the place.” Many in his unit tried to hunt them with their bayonets, but they were largely unsuccessful. American GI Norbert Meyer recalled that the rats were “nearly as big as cats.” Another veteran, writing for The Graybeards, the Korean War Veterans Association magazine, called living in the bunkers “a Neanderthal-like existence,” one in which rats were “daily companions.” Brian Hough, serving in the British contingent of the United Nations Command, remembered the rats filling his fortified position. One night, as he was preparing to sleep, he looked over and saw his bunker mate “fast asleep with a rat on his chest gnawing at his clothing.” Later, Hough lamented the scars he still bore from rat bites from the war. Living beside rats would be a memory few veterans of this part of the war would forget.

Rats proved dangerous to servicemen’s health. As U.S. and Allied Forces came into greater contact with the rodents, many contracted a mysterious disease that caused a viral hemorrhagic fever, kidney problems, and a host of other maladies. Approximately 10% of the 3,000 who caught the disease died from it. The outbreak initially puzzled researchers. Some thought it could be a disease carried into Korea by Chinese soldiers. Others thought it might be carried by mites on rats. The mystery of how the disease spread wasn’t solved until years after the armistice was signed. In 1976, South Korean researcher Dr. Ho Wang Lee and his team discovered the virus was spread from rat saliva, feces and urine. They named the disease the Hantaan virus, after a river near the demilitarized zone in Korea, the area of much fighting over hills and bunkers during the later stages of the Korean War.

Hantaan and its family of related viruses has never gone away. In the last 30 years there have been sporadic small outbreaks of the disease. The most recent iteration was in March 2020. In the midst of the current viral crisis, authorities reassured the public that the disease is not likely to spread due to person-to-person contact.

The COVID-19 outbreak, suspected by many to have originated from zoonotic (animal-to-person) transmission, reminds many of the ways that animals have always shaped the lives of humans. Animal–human relationships are especially important in wartime. And fewer reminders are as vivid as the history of rats and the Korean War.

Articles

The British and Germans built these deadly hollowed-out trees in WWI

As if the lowly soldier of World War I didn’t have enough to worry about on the hellish battlefields of France — from massive flamethrowers, to giant artillery guns to poison gas — there was a lot of nastiness that could kill you in no-man’s land.


But killer trees? Come on, is there no decency?

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Gif: AllMovieVideos via YouTube)

Not quite the nightmare scenario of living, walking Ents from “Lord of the Rings,” the British and later the Germans nevertheless disguised sniper hides and observation posts in positions designed to look like trees destroyed on the battlefield made from steel drums and camouflaged to look like an everyday arbor.

In the constant game of cat and mouse that marked the stalemate of the Western Front, diabolical designers looked to the splintered wreckage of the pock-marked battlescape to hide their positions. According to a story about the deadly hollowed-out trees in the London Daily Mail, the Brits found wrecked trees they could use to construct what they called “O.P. Trees” for observation posts.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Is that a German Baumbeobachter behind me? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“The ideal tree was dead and often it was bomb blasted,” the MailOnline story said. “The photographs and sketches were then sent to a workshop where artists constructed an artificial tree of hollow steel cylinders.”

“It contained an internal scaffolding for reinforcement, to allow a sniper or observer to ascend within the structure,” the story added.

The trees were built to look exactly like the ruined ones in no-man’s land, so troops would sneak between the lines in the dark and replace the real tree with the fake one. Manned by a British Tommy, the O.P. Trees gave a better view of the battlefield than peering over the trench line.

Historians say a soldier perched within the tree would relay his observation to another trooper posted below, who’d carry the information back to the lines for an attack.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
An O.P. Tree being installed on a World War I battlefield by British troops. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“As far as we know the trees were surprisingly successful and none of them were detected by the enemy,” a historian with the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, England, told MailOnline. “In 1916 the Germans had captured a lot of the higher ground on the Western Front and even the elevation of a few feet through one of these trees could prove crucial.”

The Germans later caught on to the tactic and built their own, calling them Baumbeobachter (which means “tree observer”) and used them throughout the war. The Brits are said to have used their first O.P. Trees during the battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, and historians estimate around 45 were deployed to the Western front.

MIGHTY HISTORY

America’s ‘most decorated woman’ fought from the Philippines to Korea

Ruby Bradley was an Army combat nurse on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Bradley survived the attacks, days on the run, years as a prisoner of war, and years as one of the top combat nurses treating and evacuating the wounded from Korea.


She also rose to the rank of colonel and became one of America’s most decorated female veterans before retiring in 1963.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Army Col. Ruby Bradley saved hundreds of lives as a prisoner of Japanese forces by stealing surgical tools and using them for 230 major operations. She also delivered 13 babies while in captivity. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hours after the Pearl Harbor attacks began, other Japanese forces began striking U.S. troops and ships across the Pacific, including at bases in the Philippines which was a U.S. commonwealth at the time. Bradley ran a hospital in northern Luzon and treated patients there during the Japanese landings and follow-on attacks.

The 34-year-old evacuated the camp and hospital with other soldiers on Dec. 23 as the Army fell back. Bradley hid in the hills with another nurse and a doctor for five days before a local gave them up to the Japanese.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

 

For the rest of the war, Bradley was a POW. But she refused to stop treating the Americans and allies around her. The POW camp was established at Bradley’s former base, and she broke into the old hospital with a doctor and stole World War I-era morphine and a large number of surgical tools.

Their trip into the hospital had been risky. Japanese forces in World War II were known for treating prisoners harshly and for conducting sudden executions, but it paid off the very next day. Bradley took part in the emergency removal of an appendix the very next day.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Surgery in the Pacific in World War II was challenging no matter the circumstances. (Photo: U.S. Army)

In a 1983 interview with the Washington Post, Bradley said of the incident, “The Japanese thought it was wonderful we could do all this without any instruments.”

Bradley assisted in hundreds of operations and the delivery of over a dozen babies during her time in captivity. None of the patients experienced an infection from their surgeries despite the conditions, most likely thanks to the firm attention to detail by the Army and civilian nurses who sterilized the area and tools before each procedure.

But Bradley didn’t just deliver babies, she also helped care for many of the children captured by the Japanese soldiers or born in the camp. Prisoners were allotted only one cup of rice per day. Bradley would save rice from her portions to give to children who were struggling.

The nurses even made birth certificates and stuffed animals for the children from hemp that they gathered from plants in and around the camp.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Then-Cpt. Ruby Bradley is evacuated with other prisoners from a Japanese POW camp after its liberation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

The medical staff established a number of other lifesaving measures in the prison camp — everything from forced hand washing to making sure utensils were covered when not in use to assigning people to swat flies.

When the war ended, Bradley returned to normal service and earned a new degree in nursing. By the time the Korean War broke out, she was a major with experience running nurse teams. She was sent forward with the 171st Evacuation Hospital from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and evacuated troops wounded in combat.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
A U.S. soldier is evacuated by the Air Force 3rd Air Rescue Squadron in Korea. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

Her duties often took her to bases near the front lines. During the evacuation of Pyongyang, she refused to leave while any of her patients were still on the ground. She got the last one onto a plane and was running up the ramp when an artillery shell struck her ambulance.

Bradley later said, “You got to get out in a hurry when you have somebody behind you with a gun.”

The aircraft made it out safely and Bradley remained in the Army. The next year, she was featured on an episode of “This is Your Life,” a TV program that sought to tell the stories of amazing Americans.

She retired in 1963 as possibly the most decorated woman in military history to that point. She died on July 3, 2002, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Remembrance: Marines and Navy Medicine at Korea’s Chosin Reservoir

Arlington, Va. —

Seventy years ago the 1st Marine Division was fighting in the mountains around Korea’s Chosin Reservoir. It was a brutal winter – by some reports the coldest on record – and Marines were facing subzero temperatures, frostbite, hypothermia, and dehydration. The temperatures were so unbearable that Marines who served at the reservoir said the cold “would sink right to your bones.”

It was so cold that weapons were malfunctioning and at times Marines were fighting hand-to-hand, using rifle butts, their teeth and anything they could get their hands on to fend off the relentless attacks.   

Against all odds those Marines did what Marines do – they fought. Despite being surrounded by eight determined enemy divisions, the Marines broke through in one of the most epic acts of survival and determination in history. 

As TMO, I take considerable pride in the fact that embedded with those units at Chosin were Navy physicians, dentists and hospital corpsmen who embodied that eternal bond Navy Medicine has with the Marine Corps and the fundamental values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.

Honor:

In the Chosin Campaign, Navy Medical personnel could be found serving with honor at forward hospitals at Hagaru, clearing stations at Chinhung-ni and Koto-ri, as part of forward deployed surgical teams, and embedded within the 5th and 7th Regiments of the 1st Marine Division. Often medical care was performed within 200 yards of the frontlines and under the constant barrage of rifle and mortar fire.

 “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon

When the Marines reached the Hamhung-Hungnam area on 11 December, medical personnel could be found operating the division hospital and offshore aboard hospital ships like Consolation which was used to transport survivors to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where definitive and long-term care was available.

Across mountainous terrain, through heavy snow and under constant attack, it was the job of Navy Medicine to perform first aid, frontline surgical care, attend to high rates of frostbite and immersion foot, manage aeromedical evacuation, and transport casualties to safety. This was a job conducted around the clock until the very end of the campaign.  

By the time the 1st Marine Division arrived in the Hamhung-Hungnam area, Navy medical personnel had treated more than 7,350 casualties – many suffering cold weather injuries and some requiring emergency amputations. 

Courage:

Courage was not in short supply among the Navy medical personnel at Chosin and can be seen in the story of HM3 James Waller, a corpsmen attached to the Marine Infantry Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  

While facing the enemy near Yudam-ni on 29 November, Parker moved through a hail of fire to aid six Marines critically wounded by a mortar barrage.  Although the ridge was devoid of cover, Parker treated the casualties and supervised their evacuation to positions of comparative safety. Despite a face wound, working in near-total darkness and in sub-zero temperatures with frostbitten hands he continued to administer to the casualties, even fighting off six enemy attacks in the process. Until the last casualty was evacuated Parker gallantly refused any medical aid even though incurring a second serious wound.  Chosin Reservoir Photo by Katie Lange DownloadDetailsShare

In the days and months after being evacuated, those Marines saved by Parker spoke of his bravery and his words of encouragement.  Through his daring initiative, fortitude and selfless efforts on behalf of his comrades, Parker served to inspire all who observed him and aided immeasurably in the saving of many lives. For his efforts this young corpsman was later awarded the Navy Cross.

Other Navy medical personnel who served in the Chosin Campaign were later recipients of Silver Stars and Bronze Stars with Valor.

Commitment:

It has been said of Chosin’s medical personnel that their devotion to duty and untiring efforts saved many lives. More than anything, they were committed to the safety and survival of thousands of Marines. This was not an easy job under the conditions.

Lt. Henry Litvin, a physician attached to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, later described just how difficult practicing medicine at Chosin could be:

“If you were treating a wound, you’d cut through the clothing to where the wound was, or you’d put a battle dressing over the clothes and make sure the wound wasn’t leaking blood,” he said. “It seemed that the intense cold inhibited bleeding. The wounds we saw had already been wrapped by corpsmen in the companies. If the battle dressing was in place, even over their clothing, and there was no leaking blood, we just checked the battle dressing and left the wounds alone.”

In recalling the dedication of corpsmen and regimental and battalion medical officers at Chosin, Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon wrote: “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

As we look back and honor the “Chosin Few,” let us remember that our military physicians, dentists, nurses, administrators, and, of course, our hospital corpsmen continue to ensure the safety, health and care of our Marine brethren. Navy Medicine remains steadfast in its commitment to provide medical power for naval superiority and ensure the Marine Corps is always ready for the fight. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This US Army sergeant started the Korean War by selling out to the KGB

For more than 60 years, only seven people on Earth knew that the Soviets broke U.S. military and diplomatic ciphers. One of those people was former KGB Berlin bureau chief and master Soviet spy Sergei Kondrashev. Kondrashev and his peers searched desperately for American code clerks as they came and went from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The KGB knew next to nothing about American ciphers, the code room in the embassy, or even the personnel who worked there. That changed in the early days of the Cold War.


Tennent Bagley was a CIA agent working around Eastern Europe, including Berlin. In the early 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, he was to be featured on a German television show to discuss Cold War intelligence with former KGB agents. In preparation for the show, he met Kondrashev, his direct KGB counterpart. Kondrashev told Bagley things that the CIA never knew, including the story of “Jack,” a U.S. Army Sergeant who single-handedly sparked off the Korean War.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow (until 1979).

In 1949, the memory of World War II and the existential threat to Russia was still fresh in the mind of Soviet Premiere Joseph Stalin. Tensions with the U.S. were higher than at any time in recent memory. The Soviet Union needed a way to predict American behavior.

They thought they lucked out when Sgt. James “Mac” MacMillan, a U.S. Army code clerk in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, began dating a Soviet national, nicknamed “Valya.” Kondrashev was the intelligence agent assigned to Mac. He persuaded Mac to give him any details of the code room and of anything else he knew. In exchange, the KGB offered to set him and Valya up with an apartment in Moscow and money to start their lives.

It was only a few weeks after their first meeting that Mac defected to the Soviet Union. Kondrashev soon learned Mac’s knowledge of the American codes was limited and the Russians were no closer to breaking the codes.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Sergei Kondrashev in 1949.

The Russians watched the U.S. embassy intently. Based on the information provided by Mac, they knew what the code clerks looked like, but after Mac’s defection, the Americans were on alert. The KGB’s got lucky again when agents reported an Army clerk visiting a local apartment, staying long into the night, and then returning to the embassy a few nights a week.

They code named that clerk “Jack” and his Russian lover “Nadya.” Nadya was single, attractive, and had her own apartment. She was an employee of the U.S. embassy. Jack was also single, but was short, overweight, and losing his hair. The Russians also discovered he had a history of alcoholism and was known to be greedy. Nadya saw Jack as an opportunity to live abroad at a higher standard of living.

The KGB discovered Nadya had been approached, as an asset but the intelligence agency had more than enough contacts inside the embassy and dropped her as a contact. At the same time, they instructed the young woman to foster the relationship.

She set up the meeting between Jack and Kondrashev, who would be his KGB handler. After a number of meetings designed to assess Jack’s vulnerability, Jack began to offer useful information. Russian government code breakers also started attending the meetings. For the rest of Jack’s tour in Moscow, he met with the KGB, for which he was paid more than $100,000 and told that Nadya would be allowed to leave the Soviet Union and join him in the West.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

In addition to information about the code room, cipher machines, and code procedures, Jack also gave the KGB code schedules for when the deciphering procedures would be changed, broken and used cipher parts, and a print copy of the alphabet backward and forward (along with punctuation marks).  The KGB was able to reconstruct the American code machine by the end of 1949. They were now able to read all American communications destined for installations worldwide.

Stalin’s fear of a direct military confrontation with the United States guided much of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy in the years following the Second World War. For years, Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the Communist regime in North Korea, urged Stalin for support (read: “permission”) to invade South Korea and unify the peninsula under his rule. Stalin hesitated to give Kim the green light because he thought the Americans would rush to defend the South Korean regime.

Deciphered American military communiques convinced Stalin that the Americans would not be as willing to defend South Korea as previously thought. The secret messages revealed that the U.S. had moved combat assets to the Japanese mainland and would thus be ineffective in defense of the fledgling republic. Stalin gave Kim the go-ahead and North Korean tanks rolled across the border on June 25, 1950.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
U.S. troops fighting off a North Korean offensive on the streets while trying to recapture Seoul.

Nadya was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union due to the KGB’s fears of American counterintelligence discovering Jack. Kondrashev’s superiors in the KGB did not survive Stalin’s purges. The codes Jack divulged to the USSR were used to read American diplomatic and military communications until 1961.

Jack returned to the U.S.; his identity was never discovered as Kondrashev went to great lengths to not disclose information to Bagley that might be used to compromise Jack.

(Author’s note: Bagley documented these stories in his book, Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is an actual Army report on witches in the Republic of the Congo

Please spare some sympathy for the member of the Special Operations Research Office who, in 1964, was ordered to take a good, hard look at the impact of “witchcraft, sorcery, magic, and other psychological phenomena” during the civil war in the Republic of the Congo.

Yup. This poor soul was actually tasked with investigating the burning question of, “Are we losing because of the witches?

The surprising answer was, to paraphrase, ‘At least partially.’


In fact, the 1964 paper even analyzed the viability of U.S. forces and their allies adopting magic for their own purposes. Oh yeah, if you wanted to be a U.S. Army witch doctor, this was the time to do it.

Except, of course, the U.S. didn’t actually believe magic was affecting the physical world. Instead, it was studying how the belief in magic affected the morale of troops fighting on each side of the conflict, and then it had to decide whether to engage in some play-acting; doing fake magic in order to affect the enemy’s perceptions.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

A Swedish soldier with U.N. forces on duty in Congo during the crisis.

(Pressens Bild, public domain)

This wouldn’t be the Army’s only flirtation with the supernatural at the time. In 1950, a U.S. Army colonel helped fake a vampire attack to terrify communists in the Philippines, and psychological operations soldiers pulled a similar (but less effective) trick in Vietnam when they played ghost sounds over enemy troop concentrations.

The magical beliefs in the Congo revolved around two supposed classes of powers. There was sorcery, a system of magic that relied on rituals that were usually performed while mixing ingredients for a traditional medicine or preparing a charm. And there was witchcraft, a method of doing magic that relied on an innate ability that some people had from birth. These witches could simply wish for certain things to happen and, for some inexplicable reason, they would.

This magical belief was deep-seated in the Congolese. It had survived and even flourished despite nearly 100 years of economic and religious colonization. What missionaries and Belgian representatives sent to the country always found was that when push-came-to-shove, the bulk of the Congolese people would only incorporate European beliefs and power structures into their belief in magic. European beliefs were never able to replace traditional, magical ones.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

A Shona witch doctor in Zimbabwe.

(Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Belgium finally began relaxing its stranglehold in 1957 over what was then the Belgian Congo, this struggle had resulted in a deep rift between the Congolese who embraced European education and methods and those who were more dedicated to tribal beliefs and power structures. But both sides held magical beliefs. The European-influenced évolués, as they were known, simply hid those beliefs.

The Belgian Congo collapsed in 1960 and U.N. forces were eventually sent in to try and keep a tentative peace after repeated fighting and clashes. The stakes there were high. Certain parts of the Congo were quite resource-rich, including one of the breakaway zones. It also had Uranium that would be quite valuable to either the Soviet Union or the U.S., depending on who tied the emerging but troubled Republic of the Congo to their sphere of influence.

Hence U.S. military planners debating on twisting magical beliefs to their own ends. The rebellious forces often had the sorcerers (and the occasional witch) prepare magical defenses that were supposed to stop harm from European weapons.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Swedish soldiers from the U.N. man a fighting position near a road in Niemba.

(Pressens Bild, public domain)

Upon deeper study, though, the 1964 paper recommended against weaponizing these beliefs against the Congolese rebels. There were a couple of major concerns. One was that these évolués were the ones most likely to be Congolese leaders that the U.S. would work with. Since they still believed in magic, they would probably balk at a U.S. mockery of it.

But they would balk even harder if their forces or their Western allies began dabbling in magic. Their entire political brand was built on not being superstitious and backwards like their peers (even though they did believe in the same magic).

Even more troublesome, though, was that while the belief in magic was near universal across the country, the exact details of the belief varied wildly between tribes and, sometimes, even between sub-tribes. As the paper described it, “Literally, one man’s charm might be another man’s potion.”

So, if a psychological operations unit were sent to capitalize on these beliefs, they would have to surreptitiously gather data on every targeted tribe and keep detailed records of it. Then, when crafting their messaging or other plots, they would have to adjust it for each tribe and then take care to keep the messages from sabotaging each other.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

Irish forces on duty in Congo during the Crisis.

(Irish Defence Forces)

But the most awesome concern with the program was the author’s worry that, if the U.S., Western, and government forces began openly engaging in magical operations against tribal leaders and insurgent witch-doctors, and the witch-doctors engaged in open counters, then the one near-guaranteed result would be an increased belief in magic.

In the post-war Congo, that would grant a ton of power to tribal leaders and witch-doctors, potentially necessitating power sharing that the évolués and their Western backers wouldn’t necessarily want. And, while there were government-friendly tribes, nearly all the insurgents were part of traditional tribal structures, so potentially strengthening the belief in magic would be a long-term problem for the West whether they won or lost.

Instead, the paper recommended overturning magical beliefs by showing them to be false. The biggest magical claim that witch-doctors made was that they could make troops invulnerable to Western weapons. So, every enemy soldier killed with a Western weapon weakened belief in magic. As the paper states it:

In the Congo, as elsewhere in black Africa, there is every reason to believe that disciplined troops, proficient in marksmanship, and led by competent officers, can handily dispel most notions of magical invulnerability.

In the end, it appears that no magical campaign was launched. But that hasn’t prevented decades of rebellions, coups, and other violence.

This unrest has unfortunately continued to this day — literally. On the day this article was written, accusations of recent murder by police, election violence by the state, and other human rights abuses were in the news.

Almost makes you wish the magic was real. Would be a perfect time to whip up a few charms to protect the population.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

From the punitive expedition to Mexico before World War I to the mountains of Korea, American service members relied on one iconic pistol above any other, the Colt M1911. In fact, some special operators still carry modified and reworked versions of the same sidearm today.


The famous pistol came, like many of the best weapons, from an urgent battlefield necessity. Soldiers and Marines fighting the Spanish in the Phillippines during the Spanish-American War ended up in combat with a rebel group that had been active in the islands for years, the Moro.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force fires an M1911 .45-caliber pistol at a range in Jordan June 9, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

 

The Moro fighters were known as fanatics and used opiates to keep going even if they were hit. The troops engaged in combat with them found out quickly that their pistols, .38-caliber weapons, often needed a few hits to bring down a fighter. This gave attacking Moro fighters time to get an extra couple knife swings or trigger pulls in before they were killed.

Soldiers reached back to their last sidearm, the Colt Model 1873 Revolver which fired a .45-caliber round. The .45 got the job done, and the Army put out a call for a modern weapon that fired it, preferably with semi-automatic technology and smokeless powder.

After a long competition, the winner was a Colt pistol from famed designer John Browning. It was a semi-automatic weapon that fired the desired .45-caliber cartridge packed with smokeless powder, allowing troops to defend themselves with lots of firepower on demand without giving away their position.

The Army designated the weapon the M1911 for the year it was adopted and got it out to the field. The gun got a trial with the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916 where it performed admirably, but it cemented its place in troops’ hearts in 1917 when the American Doughboys carried it with them to Europe.

In World War I, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps carried the weapon. Army Cpl. Alvin C. York was part of an attack through German lines to destroy or capture some enemy machine guns. The initial attack was successful but everything went sideways and York was the highest ranking of the survivors.

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
Army Sgt. Alvin C. York was awarded the Medal of Honor for killing dozens of Germans and capturing 132 of them as a corporal after an American assault was partially broken up. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

In a famous move, York managed to kill many of the Germans and capture 132 of them nearly on his own. During the engagement, he killed six Germans in six shots with his M1911 and it was that pistol that he pointed at the German commander’s head when he demanded and received their surrender.

Army Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., another Medal of Honor recipient, used the pistol after he was shot down in an attempt to fight off the German infantry trying to take him prisoner. While Luke was eventually killed, he took seven of the infantrymen with him.

Love for the M1911 spread to America’s allies. Great Britain, for instance, bought the guns for the Navy and the Flying Corps. In World War II, the Colt M1911 was once again the pistol of choice and Americans were lucky enough to get it as standard issue.

 

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua W. Brown)

 

Through Korea and Vietnam, the M1911 was the standard sidearm and a favorite of troops who cited its stopping power, ergonomics, and reliability.

But the weapon’s .45-caliber ammunition made it less operable with NATO allies and when the U.S. encouraged standardizing weapons and ammo across the alliance, it was sent to the chopping block. In 1992, the military branches transitioned to the Beretta M9 and its smaller 9mm ammunition.

But some M1911s are still floating around as special operations units reworked the M1911A1 variant introduced in 1926, allowing them to use the .45-caliber ammunition.

In fact, the Marine Corps ordered 12,000 new M45A1s from Colt. The M45A1 is basically a modernized M1911 that, of course, fires the .45-caliber round. But the 1911’s days might be numbered as Marine special operations troops are scheduled to ditch their .45s and pick up Glocks over the next several years.

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