This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

The USS Growler was listing at 50-degrees, its bow bent sharply to the side. Japanese machine gun fire raked the bridge. Two men had already been killed and three more wounded — including the submarine’s captain, Cmdr. Howard Gilmore. He was clinging to bridge rail to keep from collapsing. The Growler needed to submerge to survive; there was no time to waste. Gilmore cleared the bridge and, too badly injured to save himself, he gave the order.


Take her down!

He sacrificed himself and saved his boat. He had also earned a Medal of Honor, becoming only the second submariner to be so honored and the first of World War II.

His body was never found.

 

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Gilmore died saving his crew.

The Selma, Alabama native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1926. He served on the Battleship USS Mississippi before entering the submarine service in 1930 and served on several submarines there before taking command of the newly-built Growler the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After her shakedown cruise, the Growler played a minor role at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and then began wartime patrols.

Gilmore commanded her on four of those patrols.

On his first patrol in July 1942, the Growler was near Kiska in the Aleutian Islands when she spotted three Japanese destroyers. Commander Gilmore attacked, sinking one of destroyers, the Arare, damaging the other two. The action earned him a Navy Cross.

But it’s the fourth patrol that is remembered.

In early February 1943, the Growler was in the area of the Bismarck Islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea and already sunk 12,000 tons of Japanese shipping and damaged at least one other ship. In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, she was on the surface charging her batteries when the Japanese convoy escort Hayasaki spotted her through the darkness and the overcast. The Japanese ship quickly turned to ram the submarine. Gilmore, who was on the bridge at the time, sounded the collision alarm and ordered “left full rudder,” which brought the Growler on to its own ramming course.

The submarine struck the Japanese ship amidships at eleven knots, damaging Hayasaki‘s plating and her own bow. Eighteen feet of the submarine’s bow was bent to port and the forward torpedo tubes were put out of action. She was listing. The Hayasaki immediately began raking the Growler’s bridge with machine gun fire, killing the junior officer of the deck, Ensign W. Williams, and a lookout, Fireman W. F. Kelley. Two other crewmen on the bridge were also severely wounded, one with a serious leg injury and the other with an arm wound.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
The Growler’s bow bent at a 90-degree angle.

Hanging on as the ­Growler listed and knowing the Growler had to submerge or be lost, Gilmore ordered the bridge cleared. The Quartermaster and Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Arnold Schade, went through the hatch and pulled the wounded men through after them.

They waited in the control room for Cmdr. Gilmore to follow.

Instead, they heard the command: “Take her down!”

The Growler submerged and was able to avoid further damage. When she later surfaced, there was no sign of the Hayasaki — or of Gilmore, Williams, and Kelley.

Schade and the remaining crew of the Growler were able to hold the submarine together enough to get her back to Brisbane, Australia, arriving on Feb. 17. There, she was dry-docked and underwent extensive repairs before returning to the war under the command of Capt. Schade.

Growler continued wartime patrols for the next two years but was lost with her crew off the Philippine Islands in November 1944. It was her 11th patrol on the war.

Gilmore was awarded a Medal of Honor and additionally honored in September 1943 when a new submarine tender was christened the USS Howard W. Gilmore and launched in California.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Gilmore’s wife accepted his Medal of Honor in his place.

The command, “Take her down!” became a legend in the submarine service.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This guy kept fighting World War II for 30 years after Japan surrendered

Hiroo Onoda was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who refused to believe that World War II had ended. He spent nearly 30 years holding out in the Philippine jungle waiting to be officially relieved.


Also Read: The Most Famous Photograph Of World War II Was Taken 70 Years Ago

According to his memoir, Onoda – just an apprentice officer at the time – received direct orders from the division commander to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerilla warfare. His men were to destroy the airfield and harbor installations to stop the advance of American forces.

Before carrying out his orders, he got a pep talk from Lieutenant General Akira Muto, Chief of Staff of the Fourteenth Area Army who dropped in unexpectedly:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.

To put it in perspective, that was the equivalent of having an O-8 and an O-9 giving orders to an O-1. On top of that, he believed the emperor was a deity and that the war was a sacred mission. Onoda was deeply honored and impressed; he took these orders more literally and seriously than any trooper could have.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Japanese reps sign the article of surrender aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A few months later, the Imperial Japanese forces surrendered, leaving thousands of soldiers scattered across the South Pacific and Asia. Many of these stragglers were captured and sent home while others went into hiding, committed suicide, or died of starvation and sickness. The remaining stragglers – including Onoda – took leaflets and radio announcements of Japan’s surrender as enemy propaganda and trickery.

On Lubang, Onoda’s men and several other groups retreated into the jungle when the allied forces overran the island. They continued to fight, but after several attacks the groups dwindled into cells of less than five men each. There was four in Onoda’s cell: Cpl. Shoichi Shimada, Pvt. Kinshichi Kozuka, Pvt. Akatsu, and Onoda.

Thinking that they were still at war, they survived by eating coconuts and wild fruits, stealing from locals, and occasionally killing their livestock for meat. They evaded Filipino search parties and killed 30 people who they believed were enemies. In 1950, one of the enlisted men surrendered and the other two were later shot dead by the local police in 1954 and 1972.

In 1974, Norio Suzuki, a Japanese college dropout, found Onoda shortly after arriving in the Philippines. According to Onoda’s memoir, “when Suzuki left Japan, he told his friends that he was going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”

Onoda didn’t budge with Suzuki’s request to return to Japan because he still considered himself to be under orders. Suzuki took photos with Onoda and returned to Japan to show the government that the World War II vet was still alive. The Japanese government sent Onoda’s former commanding officer to formally relieve him of his duty.

Onoda came home to a hero’s welcome filled with parades and speeches by public officials. He was the pride of Japan, the loyal soldier, who some believed could claim victory because he never surrendered.

Onoda died on January 16, 2014 at the age of 91.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daredevil pilot escaped Germany and invented air warfare

World War I pilots began by simply waving at each other in flight, greeting their adversary as each pilot headed to his own reconnaissance mission. But as World War I quickly became brutal—and the pilots themselves saw friends die on the ground by the thousands and in the air by the dozens—they quickly sought out ways to kill each other.


And one of the pioneers who pulled it off was Roland Garros, a daredevil pilot who barely escaped Germany with a night flight into Switzerland at the war’s start.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

French Pilot Roland Garros in a plane with a canine.

(Public domain)

Garros was a French pilot who had already made a name for himself as a daredevil and aviation expert by flying across the Mediterranean in 1913. But when World War I broke out, he was in Germany and made his unscheduled night flight into Switzerland to get away, quickly joining the Storks Squadron, a group of aviators who would be the highest ranked French air-to-air combatants in the war.

And Garros led the way. Fighter combat in the air began with pilots carrying pistols to shoot at enemy aviators and darts to drop on hostile troops on the ground. But most pilots were looking for some way to mount machine guns on their planes.

But pilots usually looked through propeller blades while flying, and that was the most logical place to mount a gun for pilots to control. But, obviously, shooting through their own propeller would inevitably cause the pilot to shoot down himself. One of the early fixes was to mount the machine gun above the propeller blades, but that pointed the gun into a weird angle, and no one was able to shoot anyone down with that configuration.

Garros figured out another way. He mounted his gun right in front of his seat so he could look down the barrel to aim. To get around the problem of destroying his propeller, he simply armored the wooden blades with a metal sheath and trusted them to deflect those rounds that would’ve downed him while the rest of the rounds flew toward his target.

And it worked. On Aug. 25, 1914, Garros and Lt. de Bernis successfully engaged a German airplane and damaged it with gunfire, wounding one of the German pilots and forcing the plane to turn and run.

It is sometimes counted as the first known aerial victory, though it’s important to note that “aerial victory” today is often used to refer to shooting down an enemy plane, not forcing it to run. That feat was first accomplished Oct. 5 by another French pilot.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

An illustration of aerial combat in World War I.

(Public domain)

But Garros would go on to down five enemy planes in March 1915, causing the American press to dub him an “ace,” one of the first times that term was used. He also may have been the first pilot to achieve five kills.

Either way, his bravery, and ingenuity helped put France at the forefront of the changing face of aerial warfare. Unfortunately, air combat was a risky business, and Garros would not survive the war. In April 1915, he was shot down and crashed behind German lines.

He quickly attempted to burn his plane to hide how the forward-firing machine gun worked, but he was captured before he could complete the coup. He would spend the next three years in a prisoner of war camp before escaping, achieving new aerial victories in 1918, but then dying in combat on Oct. 5,1918.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy ways MacArthur tried to get supplies to the Philippines

America’s defense of the Philippines from December 1941 to April 1942 was a desperate one. It was a time when the most powerful military leaders in the world scrambled to get basic food and ammunition to American, Filipino, and other forces gallantly holding out against what was the one of the world’s fiercest fighting forces, the Imperial forces of Japan.


This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

U.S. Army troops move up against Japanese Forces in March 1945, nearly three years after Japan conquered the Philippines.

(Army photo by Lt. Robert Fields)

For Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur and other military leaders tasked with preventing a complete collapse, the solution was clear: Run the blockade by any means available, including hiring smugglers and submarines, offering bonuses to civilian or Navy crews who successfully delivered supplies to the islands and survived.

The first Japanese attacks on the Philippines began just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with Japanese aircraft catching American interceptors on the ground between patrols. Japanese landing parties arrived hours later, and the Japanese march on Manila was underway.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

​Army air crews pilots and ground personnel pose in front of a P-40 pursuit aircraft in the Philippines in 1942, just before the islands were conquered by Japan.

(U.S. Army Air Corps)

American defenders outnumbered their Japanese attackers, but the Japanese forces were battle-hardened veterans from other theaters of the war while the American and Filipino forces included a lot of green troops, some of them recruited as recently as that fall.

With the Japanese fleet dominating the ocean around the islands and elite Japanese forces pushing the Americans back, it quickly became clear that American forces were fighting a delaying action. MacArthur, desperate to hold the ground and keep his men alive, pushed for immediate resupply.

One early proposal was that the Navy put together a task force of submarines to smuggle supplies, especially rations, in under the Japanese blockade. But the Navy resisted the plan, saying that their submarines were needed to keep pressure on the Japanese Navy, and that their naval clashes tied up large numbers of Japanese ships and planes that would otherwise be used against American forces ashore.

This argument carried the day at first, but as January arrived with no real resupply, the defenders were forced onto reduced rations. Worse, jungle diseases were taking an increasing toll on the Americans, especially those forced to fight in low-lying and jungle areas.

So, leaders, from colonels on the ground to Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, pushed for creative options with next to no regard for cost. Planes from other islands and Australia were sent to airdrop what supplies they could, but they were mostly limited to relatively light items, like medicine and bandages, with almost no capability for the heavy stuff, like rations and ammo.

MacArthur requested anti-aircraft ammunition via submarine, but was turned down. Marshall, meanwhile, dictated orders for ships and funds in Australia to be used to resupply the Philippines:

Use your funds without stint. Call for more if required. Colonel Chamberlin has a credit of ten million dollars of Chief of Staff’s fund which can be spent in whatever manner latter deems advisable. I direct its use for this purpose. Arrange for advance payments, partial payments for unsuccessful efforts, and large bonus for actual delivery. Your judgement must get results. Organize groups of bold and resourceful men, dispatch them with funds by planes to islands in possession of our associates, there to buy food and charter vessels for service. Rewards for actual delivery Bataan or Corregidor must be fixed at level to insure utmost energy and daring on part of masters. At same time dispatch blockade runners from Australia with standard rations and small amounts of ammunition on each. Movement must be made on broad front over many routes. . . . Only indomitable determination and pertinacity will succeed and success must be ours. Risks will be great. Rewards must be proportional. Report initiation of plan
This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

​The USS Narwhal, one of the submarines eventually pressed into service to deliver supplies to beleaguered American forces in the Philippines.

(U.S. Navy)

But the blockade runners also had issues getting through, and precious few were even sent. Eventually, the need to remove MacArthur, by order or President Frankiln D. Roosevelt, as well as precious metals and Filipino officials before Japan could capture them necessitated the use of submarines for evacuation.

So, the armed forces went ahead and put food and bullets on the submarines for the way in. A few more submarines were loaded with supplies in late winter and early spring, including three from Hawaii, but few were able to find their dropoff point and get fully unloaded before Japanese forces either captured their destination or preemptively forced the their withdrawal.

After all, submarines aren’t made to be rapidly unloaded, especially outside of normal port facilities. And the supplies typically had to be stored in ballast tanks, increasing the challenge.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in 1944.

(U.S. Army)

So, by March, some units were on quarter or starvation rations, and Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to evacuate himself and his family. MacArthur still believed that sufficiently determined commanders could run the blockade, and he effected his escape in in a patrol torpedo boat.

But, despite aerial, surface, and submarine attempts at resupply over the following month, adequate supplies just couldn’t make it through to the men. Finally, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright IV, acting commander of all Allied forces in the Philippines, was forced to surrender the garrison. Before he did so, he put large sections of his command back under the direct control of MacArthur so that they wouldn’t be included in the surrender.

Still, Japan took over 60,000 prisoners, and forced most of them on the Bataan Death March where over 10,000 died on their way to prison camps. American and Filipino forces that were not part of the surrender fought on for the duration of the war, celebrating MacArthur and conventional forces’ return to the islands in October, 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Deep below the Ukrainian port city of Odesa lies one of the largest underground labyrinths in the world. The Odesa catacombs date back to the early 1800s when limestone was mined for the city’s grand buildings. Through the years, the vast subterranean maze has served as a Cold War bunker, a World War II refuge for Soviet fighters, and a hideout for smugglers. Today, local explorers are still mapping the vast tunnel system and discovering new insights into the past.


Articles

That time British paratroopers stole a Nazi radar station from occupied France

In the early days of World War II the Germans still had an advantage over the British. Even though the Royal Air Force had won the Battle of Britain, its bombers suffered heavy losses when they crossed the channel into occupied Europe.


British scientist believed this was due to advances in German radar technology.

Reconnaissance photos showed that the Germans indeed had a complex radar system involving two types of systems – long-range early warning and short-range precision – that allowed them to effectively guide night fighters to British bomber formations. In order to develop effective countermeasures against these radar systems the British scientists needed to study one.

Operation Biting was conceived to steal a German “Wurzburg” short-range radar.

A German radar installation at Bruneval, France, was identified as the best target to conduct a raid against.

The plan called for C Company, 2nd Parachute battalion led by Maj. John Frost to parachute into France, assault the German position, steal the radar, and then evacuate by sea back to England with their loot. Accompanying the paratroopers would be a Royal Air Force technician who would oversee the dismantling and transport of the radar.

After extensive training and briefings, the raid was set for late February, 1942, when a full moon and high tides would provide the perfect environment for the assault force.

On the last night of the mission window, the conditions were just right and the men of C Company embarked for France aboard converted Whitley bombers of No. 51 Squadron.

The company was divided into five sections each named after a famous British naval officer: Nelson, Jellicoe, Hardy, Drake, and Rodney. Three sections – Jellicoe, Hardy, and Drake – would assault the German garrison at the station and capture the Wurzburg radar. While this was taking place, Nelson would clear the evacuation beach and the area between it and the station. Finally, Rodney would be in reserve guarding the most likely approach of a German counterattack.

The drop was almost entirely successful with only a portion of the Nelson section missing the drop zone a couple miles. The rest of the paratroopers and their equipment landed on target. Frost and the three assault sections were able to rendezvous in just 10 minutes. The Germans still had no idea British paratroopers were in the area.

That didn’t last long though, as the paratroopers assaulted the villa near the radar station. The paratroopers killed the lone German defending the house with a machine gun on the upper floor. But the attack alerted the rest of the garrison in other nearby buildings who immediately began returning fire killing one of the paratroopers. Frost stated that once the firing started “for the whole two hours of the operation there was never a moment when some firing was not going on.”

As the paratroopers battled the Germans, Flight Sgt. C.W.H. Cox, the RAF technician sent along to dismantle the radar, led the engineers to the radar set to begin its deconstruction under heavy German fire. After a half hour of work they had the parts and information they needed and loaded them onto special carts to haul them to the evacuation beach. The men of C Company had also managed to capture two German radar technicians who had vital knowledge of the operation of the Wurzburg radar.

Frost then ordered the force to withdraw to the beach. This was just in time, as a column of German vehicles began to arrive at the radar station. Almost immediately upon departure the paratroopers encountered a German pillbox that should have been cleared by the Nelson task force. Due to a communications breakdown Frost had not learned about the missed drops of a large portion of the Nelson group.

A small portion of the force had arrived and was fighting to hold the beach but the remainder had been moving at double time to reach their objective. After a brief firefight with a German patrol, the remainder of Nelson arrived on the scene and cleared the pillbox allowing the rest of the force to continue to the beach.

Once on the beach, the communications problem became even worse – the paratroopers had no contact with the Royal Navy flotilla assigned to evacuate them. Frost tried to raise them on the radio and when that failed, he decided to fire signal flares. The flares worked, and just in time, as a lookout spotted a trail of headlights moving toward the beach. Three Royal Navy landing craft came ashore and the paratroopers hastily loaded themselves and their prizes onboard before setting out for home. The return trip was without incident and the raiders returned to England to a hero’s welcome.

The British losses were two killed, two wounded, and six men captured who had become separated during the fighting. But the amount of intelligence they returned to England was near priceless. The information provided by the captured Germans and the radar itself allowed the British to advance their countermeasures.

This would prove crucial in the airborne operations at Normandy two years later.

The raid received praise from all over, including the Germans and Americans. A German report from the leader of the army’s airborne forces praised the execution of the raid.

A New York Times article dated March 3, 1942, predicted that the success of the raid had “changed the nature of warfare itself” and that soon these types of commando units and actions would grow to encompass much larger formations such as the airborne divisions that the Allies formed.

As for the men of C Company and Frost, they would see action in North Africa and Italy before being a part of the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden.

Articles

‘The White Rose of Stalingrad’ was a female pilot who terrorized the Nazis

The actual translation of Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak’s epic nickname might be “The White Lily of Stalingrad,” depending on the language you speak. Considering the Lily’s association with death and funerals, it’s rather fitting for such an incredible pilot.


Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.

In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Good for Russia.

The Soviets, probably realizing that this fight was going to kill a lot of Soviet people (and it did, to the tune of 27 million), were foresighted enough to consider gender equality when it came to their military units. Where American women pilots were only allowed to transport planes, Stalin was forming three fighter regiments of all-female pilots.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Seriously though, good for Russia.

During her two years of wartime service, she racked up 12 solo kills and four shared kills over 66 combat missions.  She scored her first two kills over Stalingrad three days after her arrival in the area.

Young Lydia Litvyak flew a few missions with the all-female unit before transferring to a mixed-gender unit — over Stalingrad. It was here she earned her illustrious moniker, “The White Rose of Stalingrad.” She flew around a hail of anti-aircraft fire to engage an artillery observation balloon from the rear. She shot it down in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled mayhem — a notoriously difficult task for any pilot.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Good thing Lydia Litvyak wasn’t just any pilot.

Litvyak wasn’t finished; she later became one of two women to be crowned “first female fighter ace” as well. She wasn’t flawless — she was shot down more than once and bled more than her share over Russian soil.

But even when forced to make belly landings, she hopped right back into the closest cockpit.

She was so good, the Russian command chose her to be Okhotniki, — or  “free hunter” — a new tactic that involved two experienced pilots who were free to hunt the skies on seek and destroy missions. She terrorized German pilots all over the Eastern Front.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
The Yakovlev Yak-1, a plane flown by Soviet fighters, including Lydia Litvyak.

“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.

The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.

Articles

That time the Air Force landed bombers on tank treads

During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force experimented with a seemingly crazy idea for dispersing the weight of their heaviest bomber across the tarmac of airports and bases. They would fit the bombers with tank tread-inspired landing gear.


The B-36 Peacemaker was the largest plane ever built by America. Originally designed before the Pearl Harbor attacks, the B-36 was supposed to be a cross-ocean bomber that could drop 10,000 pounds of ordnance on Berlin or Japan while taking off and landing in the U.S.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Convair XB-36 takeoff during its first flight on March 29, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

When flying shorter routes, the plane could carry as much as 86,000 pounds.

The massive B-36 was slowly developed throughout World War II but was finished too late for the war. The first bomber rolled off the line six days after the Japanese surrender. But the plane’s capabilities, carrying 10,000 pounds of ordnance to targets thousands of miles away, made the plane perfect for a nuclear strike role in the Cold War.

There was one big problem, though. The B-36 was extremely heavy, about 419,000 pounds when fully armed. And all that weight initially sat on two smaller tires in the front and two larger ones under the wings.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Convair XB-36 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The weight on each tire was so great, the Peacemakers risked sinking into the concrete if they were parked for too long on most airstrips.

So the Air Force tried out a novel solution. They installed tank tread landing gear under the nose and both wings of the plane, allowing the weight to be spread over a much larger area.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Side view of Convair XB-36. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Initial tests of the system were successful, but the Air Force scrapped it anyway. It focused on improving more airstrips rather than putting the bulky system on production B-36s. It did start buying the planes with four smaller wheels under each wing instead of the single large one, which also helped with the pressure per square inch on airfields.

The weight-to-surface-area problem would come up again with the B-47, the Peacemaker’s successor. B-47s dispersed during the Cuban Missile crisis sunk into the concrete of Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and pilots had to hire a tow truck driver to pull them out of the holes they created.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An airman and his dog flew 30 combat missions in World War II

Czech Foreign Legionnaire and airman Vachlav Bozdech and his French wingman, Pierre Duval, were shot down over no man’s land between France and the invading German Army in 1940. After the crash, Bozdech dragged the wounded Duval into a nearby house. Its tenants were nowhere to be found, having evacuated the house of all they could carry — which did not include their German Shepherd puppy.


Despite having just walked away from a plane crash and running from oncoming enemy troops, the Czech and French airmen stopped to feed the puppy a bit of candy from their coats and melt some snow to give it a drink. As the night wore on, the two men decided they would make a break for the French lines, but without the dog.

Almost as soon as they left, the puppy began to howl. Duval and Bozdech decided they would have to kill the dog before he gave away their positions to the Nazis. Cue Sarah McLachlan.

No, Bozdech did not kill the pup. The other method of getting the dog to be quiet was as simple as the Czech putting the puppy in his coat and bringing him along — which he did.

As the downed airmen made their way to the French lines, German flares lit up the night sky, turning their darkness cover into the light of day. The three booked it to the nearest tree line, running into some fresh troops. Luckily they were French, a search party sent to look for the downed airmen. When they all arrived back at their home airbase, Duval went to the infirmary while Bozdech took the dog back to the barracks of the exiled Czech airmen. The Czech named him Antis after their favorite Czech aircraft.

Or just “Ant” for short.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Stiff upper lip, pup.

(Damian Lewis)

Antis slept in the barracks with Bozdech and the Czechs as World War II got into full swing. The Nazis rolled on France at max blitzkrieg, destroying most of the planes at Saint-Dizier, their home base. But Bozdech still went up to meet the Luftwaffe in air combat, only this time, Ant went with him. He was the perfect back-seater. He didn’t even flinch as the Czech fired dual .50-caliber machine guns at the oncoming Me-100.

Eventually, the airmen were forced to flee from France and make their way through neutral Spain to Gibraltar, where they could fight the Nazis from Britain. But their evacuation ship wouldn’t allow dogs. No problem – Ant remained on shore as the Czech boarded the ship. After it departed, the dog swam 100 yards or more to the ship. The Czechs hoisted him up and made a space for him to sleep below decks.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Antis’ Dickin Medal.

(Damian Lewis)

The pair made it to the UK after a few close calls. Bozdech flew with the RAF’s Czech Squadron near Liverpool for much of the war – with Antis flying some 30 missions with his best friend. The loyal pup even helped look for survivors of an air raid, despite his own injuries. After the war, Vachlav Bozdech returned to his home country, but he didn’t get to stay long. In 1948, the Czech government began cracking down on anyone who fought with the Western Allies during the war. Bozdech found himself escaping across another border with Ant, this time into West Germany.

Antis was later awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest award for gallantry bestowed upon an animal in service. Vaclav and Antis eventually became British subjects and Ant lived to the ripe old age of 14.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard just officially turned 106, but it’s actually way older

The Coast Guard isn’t the most highly respected branches of the Armed Forces, to put it lightly. For all the flak it gets from other branches, the Coast Guard has solidly established its value to the US. In fact, it has one of the lengthiest histories of all. 

The Coast Guard is among the oldest federal organizations in the US

It was established back in 1790, just 14 years after America gained independence. For eight years, it reigned supreme as the US’s only sea-based service. At that point, the Navy was invented, but the CG was far from finished. 

On January 28th, 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged into one; the new, official Coast Guard. As described by Title 14 of the U.S. Code

“The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”

It has played a role in nearly every war since. 

Is it a military force or a law enforcement branch? Yes. 

Despite being over a century old, the Coast Guard is the most misunderstood branches. It’s actually a two for one deal. Most of the time, it functions as an arm of Homeland Security and a marine rescue agency. Members are also responsible for guarding marine wildlife, environmental protection, and enforcing the law all across the country’s coastline. 

During times of war, however, it becomes an extension of the Navy, to assist against foreign threats as directed by the President.

To be more specific, the Coast Guard…

  • Is responsible for enforcing the law across all U.S. ports and waterways
  • Protects over 100,000 miles of coastline
  • Mans a fleet of hundred of cutters and aircraft, plus over 1,600 boats 
  • Conducts around 45 search and rescues a day
  • Seizes thousands of pounds of illegal drugs each week
  • Screens over 350 merchant vessels before arrival in U.S. harbors
  • Investigates pollution incidents
  • Maintains buoys and other navigation aids
  • Investigates commercial vessel casualties
  • Makes the shipping of billions of dollars worth of goods possible

In short, the Coast Guard is pretty frickin’ cool.

Coast Guard performing a rescue
Thanks, Coast Guard! For apprehending drug traffickers and rescuing dumb*ss kayakers alike.

In addition to celebrating its 106th official birthday (and its 231st if you count its earliest years), the Coast Guard has churned out some awesome vets. Jeff Bridges, Arnold Palmer, and even Popeye were coasties! It also has a frat that used to be called the Ancient Order of Pterodactyl. It was renamed to the Coast Guard Aviation Association in 2007. Not quite as catchy, but still cool. 

More importantly, 10 lives every day are saved by members of the Coast Guard. Happy birthday, guys. You’re doing awesome.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These Dutch villagers wait years to adopt US graves from World War II

There are so many rich, incredible facts surrounding the World War II-era Netherlands American Cemetery near Maastricht. It lies along a highway that saw some of history’s most memorable names – Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, just to name a few. In the 20th Century, Hitler’s Wehrmacht also used the road to capture the Netherlands and Belgium and bring them into the Nazi Reich.

What rests there now is a memorial and cemetery to those who fought to liberate the country from the grip of the Nazi war machine. The locals have never forgotten who died there and, from the looks of things, they never will.


This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

The cemetery is meticulously well kept. A memorial tower overlooks a reflecting pool and at the base of the tower is the stature of a mother grieving over her lost son. Elsewhere on the grounds is a list of the battles and operations fought by U.S. servicemen during World War II, the names of those 8,301 men buried on the grounds, and the names of those 1,722 who went missing while fighting in the Netherlands.

Among the honored dead are seven Medal of Honor recipients and a Major General. In all, it’s a remarkable site with historic significance. The most significant thing about the 65-acre Netherlands American Cemetery is who takes care of each American gravestone.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Since 1945, the Dutch people in the area have adopted individual graves, keeping the site clean and maintaining the individual memorials. They ensure that flowers adorn their adopted grave and that the name and deeds of the American interred there are never forgotten. They actually research the entire life of their adopted fallen GI. Some of them adopt more than one.

Ever since the end of WWII, people have adopted the graves of these men and women out of a deeply heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices that they made for our freedom,” local Sebastiaan Vonk told an Ohio newspaper. “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”

The Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery Margraten has 300 people waiting to join them.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

The American Cemetery is one of the largest in the world. Its upkeep and memory are so important to the locals whose families saw the horrors of Nazi occupation. Even those separated by the 1945 liberation of the Netherlands by a generation or more still hold those names dear and are taking their remembrance project one step further – remembering their face.

A new effort, The Faces of Margraten, seeks to collect photos of the men who died or went missing in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. On Dutch Memorial Day, the group displays personal photos of more than 3,000 of those interred in the cemetery, holding an event that “brings visitors face-to-face with their liberators.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Where the middle finger got its meaning & a great POW use of it

Jeremy A. asks: How did flipping the bird come to mean fu?

While some common gestures, such as the high five, have pretty well known and surprisingly modern origins, it turns out one of the most popular of all has been around for well over two thousand years, including having various similar connotations as it has today.

Unsurprisingly once you stop and think about versions of the expression’s meaning, extending the middle finger simply represents the phallus, with it perhaps natural enough that our forebears chose their longest finger to symbolically represent man’s favorite digit. (Although, there are some cultures that instead chose the thumb, seemingly preferring to have their girth, rather than length, represented here…) It’s also been speculated that perhaps people noticed that the curled fingers (or balled fist in the case of the thumb) made for a good representation of the testicles.


Either way, given the symbolism here, it’s no surprise that the expression has more or less always seemed to have meant something akin to “F*k You” in some form or other, sometimes literally.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

(Photo by Natã Figueiredo)

For example, in Ancient Greece, beyond being a general insult, in some cases there seems to be a specific implication from the insult that the person the gesture was directed at liked to take it up the bum. In the case of men, despite male on male lovin’ being widely accepted in the culture at the time, there were still potentially negative connotations with regards to one’s manliness when functioning as the bottom in such a rendezvous, particularly the bottom for someone with lower social standing.

Moving on to an early specific example we have Aristphanes’ 423 BC The Clouds. In it, a character known as Strepsiades, tired of Socrates’ pontificating, decides to flip off the famed philosopher.

Socrates: Well, to begin with,
they’ll make you elegant in company—
and you’ll recognize the different rhythms,
the enoplian and the dactylic,
which is like a digit.
Strepsiades: Like a digit!
By god, that’s something I do know!
Socrates: Then tell me.
Strepsiades: When I was a lad a digit meant this!
[Strepsiades sticks his middle finger straight up under Socrates’ nose]

For whatever it’s worth, in the third century AD Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, we also have this reference of a supposed incidence that occurred in the 4th century BC, concerning famed orator Demosthenes and philosopher Diogenes.

[Diogenes] once found Demosthenes the orator lunching at an inn, and, when he retired within, Diogenes said, “All the more you will be inside the tavern.” When some strangers expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, [Diogenes] stretched out his middle finger and said, “There goes the demagogue of Athens.”

(No doubt water was needed to put out the fire created by that wicked burn.)

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew
Giphy

Moving on to the first century AD, Caligula seems to have enjoyed making powerful people kiss his ring while he extended his middle finger at them. On a no doubt completely unrelated note, the chief organizer of his assassination, and first to stab him, was one Cassius Chaerea who Caligula liked to do this very thing with, as noted by Suetonius:

Gaius used to taunt him, a man already well on in years, with voluptuousness and effeminacy by every form of insult. When he asked for the watchword Gaius would give him “Priapus” or “Venus,” and when Chaerea had occasion to thank him for anything, he would hold out his hand to kiss, forming and moving it in an obscene fashion.

Speaking of the implications of this insulting gesture, it seems to have fallen out of favor during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christianity, or at least records of it diminish. This may mean people actually stopped popularly flipping the bird or may just mean its uncouth nature saw it something not generally written about. That said, we do know thanks to the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville that at least as late as the 6th century people were still extending the finger as an insult, in this reference particularly directed at someone who had done something considered “shameful”.

Moving on to more modern times, the gesture was popularly resurrected in documented history starting around the early 19th century, with early photographic evidence later popping up in the latter half of the 1800s. Most famously, we have a photograph of the gesture flashed by present day Twitter sensation and former 19th century baseball iron man Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn. Radbourn was a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters in 1886 when the team, along with the New York Giants, posed for a group photo. In the photo, Old Hoss can be seen giving the bird to the cameraman. (We’ll have more on Charley “Hoss” and his possible connection to a different expression in a bit.)

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Boston Beaneaters and New York Giants, Major League Baseball Opening Day 1886. Charles Radbourn giving the finger to cameraman (back row, far left).

At this point you might be wondering why we call extending the middle finger today — “flipping the bird” or “giving the bird”. The connection is speculated to derive from the centuries old practice of more or less making bird sounds, particularly owl and geese calls, as an equivalent to booing when an audience is dissatisfied by something. This, in turn, gave rise to the popular 19th century expression to “goose” someone and then a little later led to the expression “give the big bird”, as noted in William Earnest Henley’s late 19th century work, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present:

Big Bird: To get or give the big bird — To be hissed on the stage…. When an actor or actress gets the big bird, it may be from two causes; either it is a compliment for successful portrayal of villainy, in which case the Gods simply express their abhorrence of the character and not of the actor; or, the hissing may be directed against the actor, personally for some reason or other. The Big Bird is the goose.

By the mid-20th century, this seems to have extended to “giving the bird” not just referring to insulting sounds, but to describe extending the middle finger as well. One of the earliest examples of this can be found in the 1942 animated film A Tale of Two Kitties. In it, the pair of cats attempt to capture Tweety bird. At a certain point, one of the cats implores the other “Give me the bird!” The other cat then turns to the viewers and exclaims “If the Hays Office would only let me, I’d give him the bird alright.”

Bonus Facts:

  • Going back to Charley “Hoss” Roadbourn, he is widely speculated to be the inspiration for the expression “Charley Horse”, indicating a random muscle cramp in the leg. The expression popped up in baseball shortly after his historic 1884 season in which he posted a 1.38 ERA with 441 strikeouts in 678 and 2/3 innings, winning 59 games by modern rules (or 60 by the scorers of the day) despite the fact that his team only played 112 games that year. If you’re wondering how he managed to pitch in so many games, this was as a result of a fight between he and the team’s other best pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, that saw Sweeney leave and Old Hoss offer to start every game for the remainder of the season. He nearly did this, starting 40 of the remaining 43 games that year and winning 36 of them. However, at a certain point he reportedly became so sore he couldn’t even raise his arm above his head without significant warmup that required starting by soft tossing from just a few feet and slowly working back as his arm loosened up. It is speculated that his prolific pitching around this time, and presumably frequent cramps from over use of his muscles, may have inspired the expression. For whatever it’s worth, a 1907 issue of the Washington Post indicates that Old Hoss actually once had a severe leg cramp in a game, which directly gave rise to the expression. Whatever the case, one of the earliest known instances of the expression “Charley Horse” occurred in an 1887 edition of The Fort Wayne Gazette where it notes, “Whatever ails a player this year they call it a ‘Charley horse’…”
  • American seamen captured by the North Koreans in the famous “Pueblo crisis” once used the North Korean’s ignorance of the meaning of extending the middle finger to good use in propaganda photos taken by their captors. When asked, the captured men simply stated that it was a good luck gesture, so were allowed to continue using it in the photographs… at first. When the North Koreans discovered what it actually meant, the seamen were beaten.
  • As we alluded to in the body of this piece, there are several places on Earth where a thumbs up has a similar meaning to extending the middle finger. Why we bring this up specifically is that when American troops first started being stationed in Iraq, some reported being greeted by civilians offering a thumbs up, with the soldiers (and many in the media) interpreting it as most Westerners would — all the while not realizing the people were more or less flipping them off.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The only off-duty NYPD officer killed on 9/11 was hours from retiring

It’s usually awesome when life imitates art – especially when that art form is an action movie. The good guys usually overcome big odds and the bad guys usually get put away. But cop life doesn’t work out like that sometimes. In the movies, when a cop is just days away from retirement, the audience knows he may not make it. But real life isn’t supposed to be like that.

Unfortunately for NYPD officer John William Perry, the morning he turned in his retirement papers was Sept. 11, 2001. And he wasn’t about to miss his calling that day.


This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

John Perry was not your average New York cop. A graduate of NYU Law School, he had an immigration law practice before he ever went to the police academy. He was a linguist who spoke Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese, among others. Not bad for anyone, let alone a kid who grew up in Brooklyn with a learning disability. He even joined the New York State Guard and worked as a social worker for troubled kids.

He was a jack of all trades, beloved by all. He even took a few roles as an extra in NY-based television and film.

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

He was appointed to the NYPD in 1993 and was assigned to the 40th Precinct, in the Bronx borough of New York. The morning of September 11, he was off-duty, filing his retirement papers at 1 Police Plaza. In his next career, he wanted to be a medical malpractice lawyer. That’s when someone told him about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Instead of leaving his badge, he picked it back up.

He dashed the few blocks to the scene and immediately began assisting other first responders with the rescue operation. Perry was last seen helping a woman out of the South Tower when it fell just before 10 a.m. that day.

“Apparently John was too slow carrying this woman,” said Arnold Wachtel, Perry’s close friend. “But knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.”

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

Some 72 law enforcement officers and 343 FDNY firemen were killed in the 9/11 attacks that morning. John William Perry was the only off-duty NYPD officer who died in the attack. An estimated 25,000 people were saved by those who rushed to their aid, leaving only 2,800 civilians to die at the World Trade Center site. President George W. Bush awarded those killed in the attack the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor. Perry was also posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department’s Medal of Honor.