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Wednesday, July 12, 2017


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  1. One of the most astonishing acts of survival during World War One is being told at The Tank Museum in Dorset to mark the centenary of the action. For more than 60 hours the crew of tank ‘Fray Bentos’, which was stuck in no-man’s-land, fought off German machine gun fire, snipers, grenades, heavy artillery and dynamite. An enemy soldier even climbed on top and dropped a grenade inside but one of the plucky Brits threw it back before it exploded. During the three days and two nights even the Allies were shelling the Mark IV tank so it wouldn’t end up in enemy hands. Fray Bentos advanced during the Third Battle of Ypres – Passchendaele – on August 22, 1917, but was soon on its side in a bomb crater, stranded. Inside were nine men who would become the most decorated tank crew of the war. Captain Donald Richardson and 2nd Lt George Hill received the Military Cross, Sgt Robert Missen and Gunner William Morrey were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Gunners Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd and James Binley received the Military Medal. A depiction of the action involving Fray Bentos Lance Corporal Ernest Braedy was the only one to die, being shot as he got out to try and access the unditching gear. Only Gunner James Binley was not injured physically, but was left ‘shocked’. The tank’s main guns were rendered mostly useless because of the angles at which they were pointing so the men used their personal weapons to repel wave after wave of attack. The Bible of Robert Missen who was part of the Fray Bentos crew – the most heavily decorated tank crew of WW1. They spent 72 hours in no man’s land at Passchendaele being shot at. Now the museum in Bovington has a new display telling the story and focusing on Robert Missen, many of whose effects they have. After the action Missen wrote a brief, matter-of-fact account of it: “We got into a very deep soft place and went in sideways and just at that moment Mr Hill fell back off his seat, hit. “Capt Richardson got on the seat to relieve him, but he was foul of the controls and before the driver could do anything she was right in and ditched. “Budd and Morrey were hit at the same time. Budd was unconscious for about 2 hrs. Mr Hill hit in head and neck, Morrey arm and leg. “I got out of right sponson door to put on one side of the unditching gear but I heard bullets hitting the tank and saw some Boche about 30 yds off firing at me, I got in again. Robert Missen of the heroic tank crew of Fray Bentos, pictured here early in his military career. “Braedy had got out of the other side to help me, and they shot him and he fell under the side of the tank that was sinking, Arthurs said he was dead. “We kept on firing and killed several Boche close to the tank, we expected the infantry to come up any time.” He concluded “…Captain Richardson told me to go back and warn the infantry not to shoot us as we should sooner or later have to clear out of the tank. We were all getting stiff from wounds. I got out of the right sponson door and crawled back to the infantry.” One by one the crew followed, even carrying with them the Lewis guns so they didn’t fall into enemy hands. An aerial pic of the battle area with Fray Bentos visible beneath the Y of ‘Fray’ on the map. ‘Gallipoli’ was their target during the action. Capt Richardson had named his tank Fray Bentos because before the war he was a grocer in Nottingham and had the licence for the famous meat products. The tank crew were also like the meat in a Fray Bentos tin. David Willey, curator of the Tank Museum, said: “Many amazing stories of stoicism and bravery have emerged with the First World War anniversaries, but you still cannot help but be taken aback by the tale of Fray Bentos. “Eight men, stuck in tank for three days and nights in no-man’s-land, being continually shot at with bullets and hot metal flying around inside. “Temperatures reached 30 degrees C (86F) and dropped down to freezing at night. The men were forced to drink water from the radiator to say alive. “To lose just one man during this siege was quite remarkable; their heroism and calmness under sustained attack was astonishing, especially when you consider how many serious injuries there were. “We have been left a number of Missen’s personal effects including the Bible he had with him, his uniform, medals, identity tag and cigarette case. A Mark IV tank similar to Fray Bentos – it is exhibited in The Tank Museum “And here at the museum we have an example of the tank that these men were in, so it is possible to see how cramped and intimate the space in which the drama took place.” Missen had joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1909 then moved to the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps and Tank Corps during the war. He served in the Royal Tank Corps until 1936. The keen sportsman retired on his birthday by putting on a bowler hat and saying: “Now show me civil life”. Ernest Braedy’s body was never found and Percy Budd was killed a year later aged 22. Richardson later fought at the Battle of Cambrai, in a tank named Fray Bentos II. That tank was put out of action and captured by the Germans, who took it to Berlin, where it was put on display. His son served in the Royal Tank Regiment in the Second World War and was killed at El Alamein. Thanks to The Tank Museum for this article. View the full article
  2. Expedition Led by Microsoft Co-founder and Philanthropist Paul G. Allen Used Advanced Technologies and Newly Discovered Data Wreckage from the USS Indianapolis was discovered on Aug. 18 by the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel, which is owned by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. The Indianapolis was found 5,500 meters below the surface, resting on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean. “To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role during World War II is truly humbling,” Mr. Allen said. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.” The Indianapolis was tragically lost in the final days of World War II when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945. The Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes, making it impossible to deploy much of its life-saving equipment. Prior to the attack, the Indianapolis had just completed its secret mission of delivering components of one of the two nuclear weapons that were dropped on Japan. Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines onboard, only 317 survived. At the Mare Island Navy Yard after her final overhaul, 12 July 1945. Circles on photo mark recent alterations to the ship. Note stripped Cleveland class light cruiser in the right background, with YC-283 alongside. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. “Even in the worst defeats and disasters there is valor and sacrifice that deserve to never be forgotten,” said Sam Cox, Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “They can serve as inspiration to current and future Sailors enduring situations of mortal peril. There are also lessons learned, and in the case of the Indianapolis, lessons re-learned, that need to be preserved and passed on, so the same mistakes can be prevented, and lives saved.” “For more than two decades I’ve been working with the survivors. To a man, they have longed for the day when their ship would be found, solving their final mystery,” said Capt. William Toti (Ret), spokesperson for the survivors of the USS Indianapolis. “They all know this is now a war memorial, and are grateful for the respect and dignity that Paul Allen and his team have paid to one of the most tangible manifestations of the pain and sacrifice of our World War II veterans.” As the naval flagship of the Fifth Fleet, the sunken Indianapolis was the object of many previous search efforts. Mr. Allen had recently acquired and retrofitted the 250-foot R/V Petrel with state-of-the-art subsea equipment capable of diving to 6,000 meters (or three and a half miles). Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 10 July 1945, after her final overhaul and repair of combat damage. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. “The Petrel and its capabilities, the technology it has and the research we’ve done, are the culmination of years of dedication and hard work,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Mr. Allen. “We’ve assembled and integrated this technology, assets and unique capability into an operating platform which is now one among very few on the planet.” The other key factor in the discovery was information that surfaced in 2016 by Dr. Richard Hulver, historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, which led to a new search area to the west of the original presumed position. By finally identifying a naval landing craft that had recorded a sighting of the USS Indianapolis the night that it was torpedoed, the research team developed a new position and estimated search, which was still a daunting 600 square miles of open ocean. Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for retrieving and restoring the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service. Mr. Allen’s expedition team was recently transferred to the newly acquired and retrofitted R/V Petrel specifically for continuing exploration and research efforts. Bow-on view, taken off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 10 July 1945, after her final overhaul. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. The 16-person expedition team on the R/V Petrel will continue the process of surveying the full site as weather permits and will be conducting a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks. The USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy. The crew of the R/V Petrel has been collaborating with Navy authorities throughout its search operations and will continue to work on plans to honor the 22 crew members still alive today, as well as the families of all those who served on the highly decorated cruiser. View the full article
  3. By Jeremy P. Ämick, who writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America. For 22 years, Gary Elliott wore the uniform of a United States sailor, making the trip “around the world 1-1/2 times.” When reflecting on his experiences in exotic and interesting locations, Elliott affirms that regardless the hardships of his naval past, it was an adventure that will never be forgotten and made possible with the support of his wife. “I became a sailor in 1965 and I’m still a sailor to this day,” said Elliott, 69, Lohman, Mo. “It’s just a mindset that never leaves you.” Enlisting in August 1965, Elliott dreamed about joining the Navy as early as eight years old; however, receipt of his notice to take his physical during the era of the Vietnam War draft motivated his decision to join of his own accord. The young enlistee traveled to Great Lakes, Ill., in late August 1965, where he completed his basic training and was immediately assigned to the USS America—a supercarrier commissioned only months prior to his arrival. “When I stepped aboard the ship at Pier 12 in Norfolk (Virginia),” Elliott explained, “it was the day that I turned 19 years old.” Aboard the ship for its maiden voyage, the young sailor from rural Missouri received his first exposure to foreign lands, visiting countries such as France , Italy, Spain and Lebanon. However, Elliott said, since he was lacking in rank, he was relegated to duties that progressed from working as a mess cook to the maintenance and operation of large forklifts. Lohman, Mo., veteran Gary Elliott enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1965 and went on to serve 22 years in uniform during both Vietnam and the Cold War. Courtesy of Jeremy P. Ämick “I really just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere,” he said. Eventually, he was able to attend aviation ordnance school and traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., for a year of training. From there, he began a lengthy assignment in aviation when he was sent to Moffett Field, Calif., and attached to a P-3 Orion Squadron. The Orion, Elliott said, was a Naval aircraft used to patrol the coasts for such clandestine threats as Soviet submarines. Elliott is pictured in the early 1980s loading a sonobouy while a member of the crew of a naval observation aircraft. Courtesy of Gary Elliott “After I was at Moffett for a few months, I discovered that we would soon deploy and that sped up some of my plans,” he smiled. This news, he explained, served as his inspiration to return to Missouri on September 10, 1967 and marry his fiancee, Carol Fischer, who would in later years accompany him on many of his duty assignments. Throughout the next several years, Elliott’s duties primarily included service aboard an Orion airplane engaged in several six-month overseas deployments to locations such as Iwakuni, Japan, during which, he added, they would drop “sonobuoys”—an expendable sonar system—in the ocean to help detect the presence of submarines. When his enlistment ended in 1970, the sailor made the decision to leave the service, but reenlisted in early 1972 after finding out that his wife was pregnant. “I had been attending Lincoln University full-time on the GI Bill and didn’t have insurance (for his child’s birth),” Elliott said. “No insurance … no job—I just thought that it was time to go back in.” Elliott completed maintenance training for the F-4J—a twin-engine jet fighter/bomber—followed by nearly ten months of service on the USS Saratoga, which deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War and served as a platform to launch aircraft for bombing missions. While aboard the ship, he learned that he had become father to his first and only child, a son named Michael. The next few years were just as frenetic as the previous as he returned to flying with a Navy patrol squadron after attending training to became an anti-submarine warfare technician. ”This time I was not only loading and dropping the sonobuoys, but I was also analyzing the information they were transmitting,” he said. He later deployed to the Naval Air Station at Keflavik, Iceland, spending two years helping to train the Icelandic Defense Force and assisting with the storage and maintenance of weapons. He then returned to a P-3 Orion Squadron and was assigned to Barber’s Point in Hawaii; however, after the Navy transitioned to a new patrol aircraft, he discovered his “ordnance” position had been phased out. The final assignment of his career began in 1984 when he traveled to the Naval Air Station at Oceana, Va., where, for the next three years, he worked on weapons systems for various aircraft. Following his retirement from the Navy in 1987, Elliott and his family returned to Lohman. He went on to earn his certification in HVAC and refrigeration and worked many years in the industry, retiring for good in 2010. The former sailor has continued his legacy of public service with the church council at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, as an alderman for the community of Lohman and by participating in many events to support veterans. Considering all of the moves and uncertainties associated with this military career, Elliott asserts it is the support of his family that has been the foundation of his career. “I’m glad I got to see the things we got to see and visit the places that we did,” said his wife, Carol. “But I must admit, the deployments were very difficult … especially when they were back to back because it seemed like every time he was gone something happened—the car would break down, our child was born,” she smiled. Despite any hardships, she concluded, it was an experience that helped to create many wonderful and enduring memories for the family. “Whatever obstacles came our way, you just went through it because you had to,” Carol said. “I can say that it was all certainly worth it and that I am very proud of everything that my husband accomplished in his military career.” By Jeremy P. Ämick View the full article
  4. During the spy games of WWII, the result of the war was hanging by a thread. Gevorg Vartanian, a young Armenian who joined the Soviet intelligence circle through his father, proved to be a valuable asset, even when he was 16 years old. Vartanian’s father posed as a rich Persian merchant in Tehran for 23 years, having moved there in 1930 when his son was six years old. He worked as an informant and an intelligence officer for the Soviets. Young Gevorg discovered his gift for learning languages while coping with Persian. Growing up in Persia, which by that time insisted on the name Empire of Iran, certainly influenced the creation of his spy persona – living in a foreign country, adopting a foreign language and lifestyle. He was soon recruited through his father for the KGB. In 1940, he was already responsible for recruiting other agents to join the Soviet side. Vartanian worked with a spy cell consisting of seven other intelligence agents who successfully foiled a number of Axis operations and captured more than 400 Nazi spies during a brief two-year period. He gained the trust of the agency and, despite his young age, was advancing through the ranks of the KGB. But, first, why was there a Soviet presence in Iran in the first place? Iran was a troubled country between the two wars. The country’s bitter political struggle turned into a civil war during the 1920s, and it ended with the victory of the future Shah (Emperor) Reza Khan. The Empire of Iran proclaimed neutrality as it intended to straighten out its inner political situation. British supply convoy with Soviet escorts in Iran, September 1941. The Soviet Union was interested in influencing Iranian policy for a long time, and when World War II broke out, the country became strategically very important. Rich with oil and positioned between the British colonies of Iraq and India and USSR, the country was peacefully occupied by a joint force of Soviet and British forces and the so-called Persian Corridor was established in 1941. The corridor served to deliver military aid to the Soviet Union which was at the time holding the only front in Europe against Nazi Germany. Since the country served as a sort of a meeting grounds for the Allies and the Soviets, it was agreed in early 1942 that a conference should be held in Teheran, to determine the further development of the war. The conference was planned for November 1943. The Nazis had acquired information on the location of the conference, so they began their careful planning of an assassination that could’ve easily won the war for them. The Tehran Conference was to be headed by the Big Three ― Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. Hitler saw it as an opportunity to decapitate his enemies’ leadership with a single blow. Meanwhile, the Soviets wanted to know how much the Germans really knew. Nikolay Kuznetsov, an agent who was undercover posing as a German officer in occupied Ukraine, under the name of Paul Siebert, found out that the Germans were aware that the Big Three was to meet in Tehran. He acquired the information while drinking with an SS officer, Ulrich von Ortel, who gave it away in his intoxicated state. Von Ortel knew only that an assassination was planned in Tehran, targeting the Big Three. It was Operation Long Jump. Hitler took this opportunity seriously, employing his most capable men for the job. The man in charge of the operation was Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the Chief of Security Police. The man who was to lead the action was Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s trusted commando, notorious for his operations that often used criminal and terrorist methods. In autumn of 1943, Vartanian and his cell were given the task of preventing the assassination attempt. He was personally responsible for the security of three of the most important men on the planet, and he was barely 19 at the time! Soviet tankmen of the 6th Armoured Division drive through the streets of Tabriz on their T-26 battle tank. After a thorough counter-intelligence investigation, Vartanian and his team located six German radio operators who were supplying the information two months before the conference opened on the 28th of November, 1943. The radio operators were part of an advance crew which was dropped by parachute near the Iranian town of Qom, some 40 miles away from Tehran. After capturing the radio crew, they were given information on the whereabouts of the assassination squad. The Soviet agents tailed the assassins back to Tehran. There, the German agents were met with their welcoming committee. It became clear that Abwehr, the German Army Intelligence Service, had a developed network of informants and spies in Iran. They met in a villa that served as their HQ. From this location, the Germans radioed their progress back to Berlin. Even though the messages were encrypted, the Vartanian cell managed to decipher them. Vartanian wrote about his experience later: “We followed them to Tehran, where the Nazi field station had readied a villa for their stay. They were traveling by camel and were loaded with weapons. While we were watching the group, we established that they had contacted Berlin by radio, and recorded their communication… When we decrypted these radio messages, we learned that the Germans were preparing to land a second group of subversives for a terrorist act — the assassination or abduction of the Big Three. The second group was supposed to be led by Skorzeny himself.” When the Nazis realized they were being watched, they aborted the mission. All the members of the first group were arrested and forced to contact their handlers under Soviet supervision. The operation got off track and the main group led by Skorzeny never went to Tehran. “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe” and the savior of Benito Mussolini was forced to back down from one of his most ambitious operations ever, all thanks to this young KGB operative. Gevorg Vardanyan Plaque in Yerevan, Armenia. By Armineaghayan – CC BY-SA 4.0 After the war, Vartanian graduated from the School of Foreign Languages in Yerevan, Armenia, as he was always keen on learning new tongues. It remains unknown whether or not did he retire from his service after the war. He was a bearer of the Hero of the Soviet Union medal and a respected figure in the society. Vartanian met with Churchill’s granddaughter in 2007, and she congratulated him on his contribution to the Allied war effort. Gevorg Vartanian died in 2012, at the age of 87. His death caused a lot of grief in Russia and his homeland, Armenia, for he was loved by the people and perceived as a legendary hero. Both Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister, and Dmitri Medvedev, the President of Russian Federation, gave their condolences to Vartanian’s widow Gohar and his friends and relatives. On that occasion, Medvedev described Vartanian as “a legendary intelligence agent, a genuine patriot of his country, a bright and extraordinary person…” He took part in splendid operations, which went down in the history of the Russian foreign intelligence service. His death is an irretrievable loss to his family and all those who knew and highly appreciated the legendary man.” View the full article
  5. It’s difficult to mention either the early days of archaeology, Troy or even the history of ancient Greece without mentioning Heinrich Schliemann. The German archaeologist, born 1822, also helped to further the idea that perhaps Homer’s works were really based on actual historical events that occurred, rather than being just fiction. The Beginning Schliemann was obsessed with finding the location of Troy, with his interested peaked early in his life by Homer’s works. In fact, he even went so far as to say that, as an eight-year-old, he claimed he would find the city of Troy. Of course, who’s to say if this actually occurred, as it could have been a mere way for Schliemann to draw the public eye to his story. It also conflicts with another tale Schliemann told regarding his past, saying his first interest in the Homeric works didn’t even come about until he was in his teen years, and he overheard an intoxicated man recite some Homeric verse in the grocery store where he worked. Heinrich Schliemann’s bust at a museum in Germany. By Ethan Doyle – CC BY-SA 3.0 Schliemann had a bad habit of spinning tall tales regarding his life, and told stories about witnessing the San Francisco Fire and dining with President Millard Fillmore in Washington, D.C. However, it’s highly doubtful that either of these things happened. From Rags To Riches Regardless of what the true stories might be, Schliemann’s lack of a formal college education actually helped steer his life onto the path that would eventually lead him to Troy. Because of a lack of funds, his father could not afford to give the young Schliemann a formal education. Because of this, he was forced to take odd jobs here and there around Europe. He eventually landed on a job with an importing and exporting firm that allowed him to travel quite a bit. During his travels, he showed a remarkable aptitude for learning languages, and could eventually speak not only German, but also English, French, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Greek and Latin. His travels also allowed him to further his education in his own way. He learned quite a lot of business savvy, and ended up making a good deal of money off the California Gold Rush, which enabled him to begin a life as a gentleman. He retired at 36 and, at this point, was fully obsessed with Troy. He announced his dedication to finding the city, divorced his wife and moved to Athens. The Right Spot Up until this point, the location of Troy was a bit of a gamble. Some didn’t even believe the city existed at all, accounting it all to fiction. However, there was the population of believers who kept the search alive. About 40 years before Schliemann arrived on the scene, a Scottish journalist picked a spot that he thought would hold the lost city. The land was later owned by an American man living in the region, and it was this man that Schliemann approached in order to conduct an extensive excavation on the area. Before beginning excavation, though, Schliemann would need a new assistant. What better way to find one than by advertising for a wife in an Athenian newspaper? He met a young woman 30 years younger thanhim,named Sophia. Sophia and her Trojan treasures. The Jewels of Helen Excavations began in 1871. Assuming that the Troy Homer refers to must be in the very lowest portion of the hill he was excavating, Schliemann immediately dug through all of the upper levels to get to the bottom, possibly missing quite a lot of artifacts. In fact, he has been criticized greatly for using dynamite for this purpose, potentially destroying important historical pieces. However, two years later in 1873, he came across what is now known as Priam’s Treasure and the Jewels of Helen. He originally said that he and Sophia excavated the brilliant gold ornaments by themselves, alone, and carried off the gold in Sophia’s shawl. He later retracted the story, though, and said it was a lie. Sophia, did, though, wear the jewels in public at a later date. Later, these same jewels found a home at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, but were stolen by the Soviet Army during World War II, and now reside in Moscow. Stealing and Smuggling Finding the gold and jewels was only the beginning of a line of drama, though. Schliemann published his findings in a paper entitled “Trojan Antiques,” which the Turkish government read and then sued him over, as he had been digging on a side of the hill that stretched over into Turkey. However, he smuggled the gold out of the country, refusing to let government officials get their hands on his findings. Turkey, however, made sure that he did not dig in the same place again for the next two years. Mask of Agamemnon, which Schliemann discovered in the late 1800’s. By DieBuche – CC BY-SA 3.0 The Mona Lisa of Prehistory However, satisfied with finding what he felt was sufficient evidence of the location of Troy, Schliemann turned his attention to excavation at Mycenae, another ancient Greek location. There, he made a great discovery – royal grave shafts, along with all their treasures. He even claimed to discover the skull of Agamemnon, a Greek legend in mythology. Whether or not the skull actually is that of Grecian leader, the golden mask adoring the skull became quite famous and is sometimes called the Mona Lisa of prehistory. You can see it at the National Archaeology Museum of Athens. A Great Life Despite his habit for stretching the truth and just outright lying on occasion, along with his blatant disregard for following the rules, especially when he wanted to excavate somewhere he didn’t quite have permission, Schliemann can still be admired for his utter tenacity. His great belief in the ancient city of Troy led him on a remarkable journey that resulted in the discovery of some of the most important artifacts of his time. Schliemann died in 1890, rather ridiculously, from what started as an ear infection, then resulted in a coma. He is buried in Athens, in a mausoleum designed after ancient Grecian architecture. View the full article
  6. Lieutenant James Swett wasn’t the only man to become an Ace in one day during the war and nor was he the only Ace to receive the Medal of Honor. However, he might very well be the only man to earn both the first time he ever flew a combat mission. Taking to the skies near Guadalcanal, Swett would down seven enemy aircraft and was working on his 8th when he finally ran out of ammunition. Swett would go on to serve with distinction throughout the war having survived going down in a plane twice and once required rescue for indigenous tribes in a canoe. By the time the war ended he was taking off from the decks of an aircraft carrier with over 15 confirmed kills, but it would be his first day of combat that would earn him a place among the fighter ace elite. Born to Fly James Swett was born in 1920 Seattle and eventually moved to San Mateo, California as a youth. In 1939, he enrolled in college and made a push to earn his private pilot’s license. He would eventually earn his private license which took considerably more flight hours to earn than what would be typical of fighter pilots in the war. However, he was destined to take to the skies in a uniform and in August of 1941 he enlisted in the Navy Reserves and began flight training where he eventually graduated in 1942 in the top ten percent of his class. Lt.. James Swett and other members of VMF-221 He was then given a choice between a commission in the Navy or the Marine Corps; he subsequently chose the Marines. At this point, the Americans were fully immersed into the war in the Pacific and after lengthy training, Swett was assigned to VMF-221 at Guadalcanal. VMF-221 would be the second most victorious squadron in the Marine Corps racking up 185 enemy planes downed. And while Swett would play a major role in that overall score, his fame as a fighter pilot would all kick off for him on his very first day in combat. First Day on the Job After months of training and waiting, Swett’s moment for action had finally arrived. He took to the skies on April 7th, 1943 as the division leader for a combat air patrol over the Russell Islands. The Marines were anticipating a large approach of Japanese aircraft and their mission was to interdict and destroy as many as possible. When a report of over 150 planes approaching Ironbottom Sound was issued, the Marines knew they had found their target. Taking his division of F4F Wildcats into the fray, Lieutenant Swett was ready for action. Coming into their sights was the massive formation of Japanese Aichi D3A (Val) dive bombers and the first shots of his war were fired. F4F Wildcats at Guadalcanal Given the size of the formation, targets were plentiful, but navigation was very difficult and there was chaos in the sky. Swett zeroed in on three Vals that were descending for a raid on the harbor. Pursuing in his Wildcat, he quickly destroyed the first two before his plane was actually hit by American anti-aircraft fire that was targeting the approaching Japanese planes. Despite damage to his left wing, Swett took out the third bomber and turned back into the battle for more. He found his next target in a line of bombers approaching for attack. With quick short bursts up close, he downed four more bombers bringing his total to 7 and making him an instant ace. He was then tackling his 8th kill when his ammunition finally ran out. At this point, his cockpit had been shot to pieces by return fire and he was bleeding heavily. With his plane in tatters and no hope to make it back to the airfield, Swett successfully attempted a water landing apart from breaking his nose on the instrument panel due to the sudden stop. As he attempted to exit the cockpit, his parachute straps become caught and dragged him beneath the sea with his plane. Descending to his demise for an undetermined period of time, his life raft suddenly inflated and jetted him to the surface just in time to catch his desperately needed next breath. A Long War Ahead A Coast Guard boat was able to pull him out of the water and took him to a nearby harbor where he was given morphine and a good deal of scotch to ease not only his pain, but what was likely the toughest first day at work he would ever experience. While recouping at a Naval Hospital, Swett was informed that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. However, the war was still raging and this was no time to rest on his laurels. He joined back up with VMF-221 and was now flying the Vought F4U Corsair. Now a Captain, in June of 1943 Swett would add two Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers to his total along with splitting the credit for a Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Just a week later, he would add a couple of more Bettys and another Zero to his total near New Georgia Island. Unfortunately for Swett, it was the Zero he didn’t see that would send him once again careening into the sea. He was picked out of the sea by a couple of indigenous tribal members operating a 10-man canoe who paddled him several hours towards Allied forces and back into the fight. James Swett in his planeAfter picking up a few additional kills, Swett returned to the United States where he would become carrier qualified and eventually assigned to the USS Bunker Hill. From the decks of the Bunker Hill, he would add his final kill which was a Yokosuka D4Y Judy kamikaze that Swett would describe as a sitting duck. By war’s end, Swett had flown over 100 combat missions and was credited with 15.5 confirmed kills along with 4 more probable. He had earned two Purple Hearts, 8 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Medal of Honor and a harrowing tale of avoiding drowning by riding to the surface of the sea on an inflating lift raft. It was quite a long and distinguished resume for the man who had already accomplished more than most on his very first day at the “office.” View the full article
  7. The Toledo War of 1835 took place between the US state of Ohio and a foreign country – Michigan. Though hundreds joined the conflict, only one was injured. And while it ended the following year, it was only officially resolved in the 20th century. It all started in 1787 when the US government passed the Northwest Ordinance. This ordinance set aside the Northwest Territory for future states of which there’d be no less than three nor more than five. Unfortunately, the Ordinance was based on inaccurate maps. Fast forward to 1802. Ohio applied to become a state, so the US government created wording that officially defined its boundaries. Ohio wanted its borders defined in such a way that guaranteed it the Maumee River watershed and the rest of the southern shore of Lake Erie. The government instead decided that Ohio’s northern boundary would depend on still unconfirmed geographical data. In 1805, Congress set up the Michigan Territory and defined its boundaries according to the Ordinance. Because a portion of Michigan’s southern boundary overlapped that of Ohio’s northern boundary, the countdown to the war had begun. As maps of the area improved, there were calls to resolve the issue of the Ohio-Michigan border. Congress approved an official survey in 1812, and a slice of southern Michigan was given to Ohio. Michigan disputed the results and ordered another survey which absorbed a portion of northern Ohio. The difference between the Ohio survey and the Michigan one created a zone eight miles wide, and 468 miles long called the Toledo Strip. Michigan claimed this land and began collecting taxes from it. The Toledo Strip. By Drdpw – CC BY-SA 3.0 Before railways, rivers and canals were important for transportation and commerce. Since the Strip included the Great Black Swamp (now mostly drained) which lay within the Maumee River and Portage River watersheds, its economic value was immense. The Strip also opened up to Lake Erie, making it a potentially lucrative port, so Ohio built the Erie Canal to connect the Eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes at Buffalo and to New York City. Trade boomed, as did the number of settlers coming to the Midwest. The Strip was also extremely fertile, producing an abundance of wheat and corn. By the 1820s, Michigan had 60,000 residents – the minimum required to enter the Union. But when it submitted its claim to the Strip, Ohio used its political clout to deny them statehood and claimed ownership of the Strip. The former worked, the latter did not. The Great Black Swamp. By Drdpw – CC BY-SA 2.5 Michigan retaliated by founding the city of Toledo in 1833, and Monroe County where it lies, in 1835. It then issued the Pains and Penalties Act, which punished Ohioans found on the Strip. The act also penalized any Michigander who dared submit to Ohio’s authority or participated in Ohio elections. On April 8th, 1835 Major Benjamin F. Stickney and his two sons, One Stickney and Two Stickney (seriously, those were their names) were arrested by a Michigan sheriff. Their crime was participating in Ohio elections while on the Strip. The issue began a series of arrests and counter-arrests, as well as lawsuits from both sides for illegal detention. President Andrew Jackson was asked to mediate the issue, but politics stayed his hand. Ohio was a swing state, even then, with representatives in government, while Michigan was not. So Jackson suggested that Michigan give up its claim to the Strip in return for statehood. Michigan refused. Site of the Battle of Phillips Corner Believing the matter settled, Ohio sent another survey team to the strip when they were arrested by the Michigan militia in the area of Phillips Corner on April 25th. A few shots were fired in the air, but no one was either hurt or killed – an incident known as the Battle of Phillips Corner. Ohio responded by setting aside $300,000 to raise a militia of its own. Michigan responded by raising $315,000 to increase the one it had to 10,000, and by setting up a functioning state government. Jackson’s response was to deny the latter entry to the Union till the border issue was resolved. By June, the two militias decided to finally fight it out. Fortunately, their choice of a battle site was the Great Black Swamp – before it was drained in the 20th century. As a result, most of the men got lost, and the two sides couldn’t find each other. Michigan Governor Woodbridge Nathan Ferris and Ohio Governor Frank B. Willis shaking hands over the state line markers put up in 1915 After about a week, the most determined made it to the dividing Maumee River and vented their mutual hatred by firing shots in the air while hurling insults. Exhausted and out of ammo, they then returned home. Blood was finally spilled on July 15th when Michigan Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood went to Toledo to again arrest Major Stickney. Fed up, the man and his two sons resisted. Two Stickney stabbed Wood with a pen knife and fled deeper into Ohio. The wound wasn’t serious, and the sheriff lived, but things escalated further when Ohio refused Michigan’s demand to send Two Stickney back for prosecution. The US government had had enough. Michigan was again offered the original terms – statehood, financial incentives, and the Upper Peninsula in exchange for giving up the Toledo Strip. Turtle Island. By Frank12 – CC BY-SA 3.0 Since Michigan was on the verge of bankruptcy, it accepted the terms on December 14th, 1836. Legend has it that a Toledo native, hearing that her city was now officially part of Ohio, rejoiced and said, “Thank the Lord! I never liked Michigan weather!” It seemed that Michigan had got the losing side of the bargain until they discovered vast deposits of copper and iron ore in the Upper Peninsula in the 19th century. More wealth came out of it than from California at the height of the gold rush. Michigan still felt itself on the losing end, however, so another survey was conducted in 1915. It was only in 1973 that the US Supreme Court finally settled the matter, causing Michigan to lose half of Turtle Island to Ohio in Maumee Bay. Still, the rivalry between the two states didn’t die. In 1897, the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes football teams first duked it out – well within living memory of the Toledo War. And they’ve continued doing so every year since. View the full article
  8. When you think of Dwight D. Eisenhower, there’s much that comes to mind: a military leader, President of the United States, Supreme Allied Commander, Chief of Staff of the Army, and even president of an Ivy League university. What probably doesn’t fall within that list is a man who lost a bet to a British Allied general. Of all of Eisenhower’s storied accomplishments, that single bet stands out as perhaps the funniest loss of his career – it’s certainly a laugh-worthy moment in the midst of America’s history, and it all started with a single World War II victory. It All Started with Montgomery’s Reputation Although it sounds more funny than unusual that two military leaders would make a bet with each other, the one between Eisenhower and Lieutenant General Bernard L. Montgomery had more to do with the Lt. General’s reputation than a joke between friends. In fact, the bet was rooted in events that happened long before Eisenhower and Montgomery settled their wager. By 1943, as the world faced the tumultuous events of World War II, Montgomery had earned himself quite a notorious reputation within the Allied military. He was known as a man with no tact and limited diplomatic skill. According to the war diaries of Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and a supporter of Montgomery, the Lt. General was frequently reprimanded by his superiors because he handled situations with zero tact and an overbearing ego. Montgomery was unconcerned with others’ feelings and tended to act without thinking of those around him. Despite such an abrasive attitude, Montgomery continued to succeed in his military career. Montgomery was unpopular with the majority of his fellow soldiers and even his superiors – in fact, Winston Churchill himself described Montgomery as “In defeat, unbeatable; in victory, unbearable” – but it was well known that he was a skilled soldier and leader. Unlike so many British Army recruits during World War II, Montgomery had no social pedigree. The son of a bishop from Tasmania, he stood out amongst the many other class-conscious officers. Quickly, the Army realized that Montgomery was strong-willed and incisive, able to inspire the men he trained and masterful in his objectives. History remembers him today as the soldier who modernized the British Army by reorganizing and training the Fifth and Twelfth Corps as well as the South-Eastern Army in the early years of the war. It was his effectiveness and efficiency that propelled Montgomery to new military heights and also to new conflicts with increasing numbers of leaders. As the Allied Forces brought England and America together, so too did they bring Montgomery and Eisenhower together. In 1943, Eisenhower was the supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean and northern Europe – and this meant Montgomery fell under Eisenhower’s command. The two men clashed almost immediately, and it was no surprise that the relationship between them was tense, teetering on the verge of a falling out at any moment. Allied Success in Africa Gives Montgomery the Bet Victory Even more telling of Montgomery’s attitude was his tendency to misbehave at inappropriate times – and it was this that led to the bet with Eisenhower. More accurately, Montgomery’s bet wasn’t even with Eisenhower himself; it was with a member of Eisenhower’s staff. The former president simply ended up paying the price for another’s silly joke. As the Allies conducted the North African campaign in 1943, Montgomery bet Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff at Allied Forces Headquarters in Tunisia during the operation, that he could capture the city of Sfax by mid-April of that year. Smith replied with a joke: if Montgomery succeeded, Smith would give him a Flying Fortress and a crew to go with it. Weeks and months passed, and Smith forgot about his little joke. Montgomery, however, wasn’t about to let Smith off the hook. On April 10th, Montgomery took control of Sfax, succeeding as he’d predicted. His immediate action upon achieving victory was to send Smith a message, in which he announced that he was ready to “claim his winnings” from Smith. Ever a good sport, Smith responded by laughing at Montgomery, reminding him that it was merely a joke. Montgomery didn’t find anything about the situation funny; he refused to drop the issue, or to accept that it was ‘just a joke.’ News of the joke and Montgomery’s determination to get what he believed he was owed reached Eisenhower’s ears – and Eisenhower was furious. Eisenhower didn’t keep his anger towards Montgomery hidden. A few weeks after hearing about the bet and Montgomery’s insistence to hold Smith accountable, Eisenhower vented to Montgomery’s mentor, Alan Brooke, during a meeting. Brooke believed he could convince Montgomery to give up the bet and attempted to smooth the situation over with Eisenhower. Shortly after that embarrassing meeting, Brooke met with Montgomery and admonished him about his “crass stupidity” – and although Montgomery apologized to Brooke, the entire situation grew even worse. Fortunately for Montgomery, Eisenhower was a skilled diplomat who would never leave another party angry; Eisenhower saw that Montgomery did eventually receive his Flying Fortress. However, that plane came at a political cost for Montgomery. Because his behavior infuriated Eisenhower, any positivity in the duo’s relationship was lost. Eisenhower couldn’t believe that Montgomery would selfishly accept the plane; the Allied troops desperately needed B-17s to bomb targets and succeed. The two men faced each other with ill feelings for the rest of their work together in the Allied forces. In a somewhat ironic twist, Montgomery didn’t get to keep his “winnings” for very long. After all of the anger and ruined diplomatic relationships, Montgomery’s Flying Fortress experienced a crash landing. It was written off as too damaged to salvage, and the plane was never repaired or replaced. All of Montgomery’s pushing, prodding, and demanding ultimately got him nowhere – what remains of his bet is the hilarious moment in history it left behind. View the full article
  9. On December 16, 1944, Allied troops were caught by surprise. A massive offensive by German forces struck west out of the Ardennes region, smashing into the Allied lines. For the first time since D-Day, the Allied advance was halted. In places, they were pushed back. Throughout the war, the Allies had the advantage in military intelligence. So why did they not see the attack coming? Signs of Trouble There were plenty of reasons for the Allies to suspect such an attack. Months beforehand, as Hitler began preparing for the offensive, Japanese representatives in Berlin had heard rumors of the preparations. Their messages were intercepted and decrypted, giving the Allies their first clue. Over the following months, the Germans moved troops, tanks, and planes west. They included powerful contingents of the SS, the politicized and vicious military elite of the Nazi war machine. Intercepted signals told the Allies those movements were happening, although not why. Aerial reconnaissance observations added to the evidence. The pieces were not put together correctly. The same intelligence systems that had served so well during the Battle of Britain and the war in the Atlantic failed the Allies. German Security It was Hitler’s last substantial roll of the dice, and he was not taking chances on it. The German military took precautions to hide their plans from the Allies. Hitler revealed his plans only to a select few. Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, the leader of the new Sixth Panzer Army, went for several weeks without knowing about the operation his army was created to do. Radio silence was imposed upon the lower formations of the military. It was a sensible precaution, given that the Allies regularly intercepted and decoded German signals. It was undermined by the fact the Allies had broken the Enigma encryption used for top level messages, but it reduced the evidence emerging. The operation had a defensive sounding cover name, but that turned out to be irrelevant, as the Allies never knew it. More Immediate Concerns One of the biggest distractions for the Allies was their success. They had developed their intelligence operations during a defensive period. When they were concerned with fending off Luftwaffe raids on England and Panzer offensives in North Africa, the full focus of attention was on looking out for enemy attacks. That changed as the Allies took the offensive in North Africa and then Italy. Then they advanced into Europe on an unprecedented scale in the summer and fall of 1944. From the Canadian’s march across Holland through the British push toward the Rhine to the American strike toward Germany’s industrial heartland, they were involved in a series of massive attacks. Their focus was on looking for information that might hinder their progress, rather than a counter-offensive from Germany. Over-Optimism Over-confidence was clearly a factor. The D-Day landings had been an extraordinary success, an achievement with no parallel in military history. Operation Cobra and Patton’s drive across France had been so swift and decisive that American tanks had run out of fuel before they ran out of space to maneuver. The closing of the Falaise gap had destroyed a German army, with 10,000 men killed and 50,000 captured. It created a sense of euphoria and belief that the Allies were unstoppable. The Germans appeared to be on the back foot. In such an atmosphere, it was all too easy to overlook the enemy’s will to attack. The Nature of the Ardennes The terrain of the Ardennes forest created a sense of false security. Hilly and thickly wooded, it was terrible ground through which to make an attack, especially one using tanks. Not only were the Allies not looking for trouble there, but the area was poorly defended. That would have been an understandable mistake if not for a vital precedent. Less than five years before, Hitler had launched a successful offensive through the Ardennes. The French delusion that it was not possible was a factor in their country’s swift defeat. No-one considered that Hitler might repeat what had worked for him before. American M36 tank destroyers of the 703rd TD, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, move forward during heavy fog to stem German spearhead near Werbomont, Belgium, 20 December 1944. Bad Weather Hitler’s cunning and Allied shortcomings were important, but chance also played a part in hiding the Ardennes offensive. Alongside signals interception, the other most important tool of Allied intelligence gathering was photographic reconnaissance (PR). From early in the war, the British had been developing techniques for photographing enemy bases and formations from the air, and for interpreting the meaning of what they saw. It allowed them to identify German troop build-ups and anticipate attacks. The biggest limitation on PR was the weather. To safely photograph enemy formations, intelligence planes had to fly high overhead. Bad weather could easily block their ability to see the ground and what was happening there. In the days leading up to the Ardennes breakout, the weather turned against the Allies. PR could not see what was happening. They were effectively watching the Germans with one eye closed. Falling into the Firefighting Theory Those problems led to and were aggravated by the Allied commanders’ expectations of the Germans. Assuming they were on the run, the Allies expected enemy operations just to be firefighting – rushing to counter the blaze of Allied attacks rather than planning an offensive. When they heard German troops were heading west, they assumed it was for defense. The possibility of the Germans planning an assault was never seriously considered. A combination of over-confidence, limited thinking, and missing intelligence kept the Allies from foreseeing the German attack. That failure mattered as it cost lives and slowed their advance. Ultimately, their offensive came too late to save Nazi Germany from defeat. Sources: Ralph Bennett (1999), Behind the Battle: Intelligence in the War with Germany 1939-1945 Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of WWII View the full article
  10. North Africa was one of the great battlegrounds of the Second World War. From early on, British and Commonwealth forces faced German and Italian troops across the northern desert. In 1942, they were joined by the Americans in an invasion of Vichy and German-occupied French-North Africa, which was named Operation Torch. Torch saw the emergence of tensions between British and American forces, tensions which would add a bitter taste to the whole campaign and continue to poison their attempts to cooperate as they moved on to Europe. A Disorganized Start Torch was launched in haste and amid much confusion. No-one knew what sort of response the Allies would meet. British and Commonwealth forces under General Montgomery had the German Field Marshal Rommel on the retreat, but retreats had been turned around before in the African Theater. The loyalties of the Vichy French were uncertain. While many would be glad of a chance to fight the German invaders, while others had thrown themselves too wholeheartedly behind the Axis to switch. Bitterness remained over the way the British had sunk the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir rather than risk the Germans capturing it. Map of Operation Torch In a rush to prove that the Americans had joined the fight, the powers behind Operation Torch used whatever troops they could get, many of them poorly trained for the task. The Americans were inexperienced, fresh to the war. Torch Stalls Starting on the 8th of November, 1942, the Allies succeeded in their initial aim of landing in three distinct areas – the Moroccan Atlantic coast, the Algerian port of Oran, and the port of Algiers. There was bitter fighting by Oran’s French defenders, but the others surrendered, making the initial landings a success. In Morocco, the American General Patton settled in to train his troops before advancing further. Meanwhile, Axis forces prepared for a determined defense of what they held. An Anglo-American force under the British General Anderson twice failed to capture Tunis, being halted by an Axis counter-attack on Christmas Day. General Patton (Left) Shares a Joke With Admiral Hewitt. A Tense Winter The Allies were now forced to wait out an uncomfortable winter. Rains turned the ground to mud, straining already tenuous supply lines. Bar room brawls broke out between American and British soldiers. Even among the senior officers, bitter arguments began, forcing Eisenhower, the man in charge, to stamp down on anti-British sentiment among his own staff. The problem stemmed from different experiences and attitudes. Britain had been a global power for centuries and had been fighting in North Africa since 1940. The Americans, the product of a peacetime military, struck them as brash, boastful, and inexperienced. The Americans, seeing themselves as rescuers bringing much-needed resources, found the British cold, patronizing, and ungrateful. Shelving Satin The abandonment of Operation Satin both highlighted and exacerbated these tensions. Satin was the brainchild of Eisenhower’s planning team. It was a plan for American and French forces to punch through the Eastern Dorsal mountains to the coast, cutting off General von Arnim’s forces from the rest of the German retreat. In January 1943, Satin was proposed at a conference in Casablanca between Churchill and Roosevelt. Believing that the inexperienced American and French troops could not beat the hardened German Panzer divisions, the British strongly opposed the plan, and it was abandoned. The Americans had been robbed of a chance to prove themselves, thanks to the British sense of superiority they already loathed so much. Erwin Rommel, the “desert fox” in North Africa in 1942. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Rommel’s Revenge A further blow was about to be struck against American morale, as Rommel prepared his counter-stroke. On the 14th of February, 1943, Rommel over-ran the Americans at Sidi Bou Zid. An American counter-attack, though assembled with impressive speed, was a total disaster, leading to thousands of losses. Five days later, Rommel attacked again, this time at the Kasserine Pass. The American defenders impressed the German commander with their tactical cunning but still could not win over their own allies. With the Americans forced to withdraw, it was the British who fought a brilliant delaying action that robbed Rommel of strategic victory, and which in British eyes reinforced their superiority over the Americans. The Fredendall Problem Adding to Eisenhower’s problems was one of his generals, the fiercely anti-British General Fredendall. A friend of the US Army Chief of Staff, Fredendall could not be easily replaced. So Eisenhower sent another of his officers, General Harmon, to assess the situation at Fredendall’s II Corps HQ. General Fredendall What Harmon found when he arrived on the 23rd of February came as a great shock. Fredendall was so nervous that he was considering moving his headquarters in the middle of the night. Following Harmon’s arrival, Fredendall took to his bed for a day. Not only was he biased against the British, but he was failing utterly in his command. Harmon took over the situation. He visited nearby British troops holding off the 10th Panzers and then threw American forces in to back them, countermanding Fredendall’s previous orders. Harmon wrote to Eisenhower that Fredendall was unfit for command, and Eisenhower dismissed Fredendall. Worried about the effect on public opinion, the army covered this up, claiming that Fredendall was returning home to use his experience in training troops. Asserting the British Way The British General Alexander had recently arrived to take over overall command. He had no faith in the Americans, and would not follow Eisenhower’s preferred approach of treating the alliance as one between equals. It could have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, Alexander began turning the situation around. Rather than simply push the Americans aside, he insisted that British professionalism be brought to bear across the Allied forces. British officers established training programs to prepare the Americans for battle. Alexander earned the respect of American officers. That their troops lacked experience was unavoidable – training provided a solution, where previous they had simply been put down. Patton and Ryder Three generals would now prove the mettle of the Americans. Patton, taking over from Fredendall, turned II Corps around, creating an efficient and aggressive military machine. He began a successful offensive on the 16th of March, and days later smashed a German battle group at the Battle of El Guettar. His advance put the Allies back on the offensive, and soon the Germans were in retreat. Ryder, leading the 34th Division, took and defended the crucial Hill 609 outside Bizerte in one of the fiercest battles seen in the campaign. Harmon, leading the 1st Armored Division, smashed through the German lines, cutting off their retreat. Von Arnim and 250,000 veteran troops were forced to surrender. The Americans had done more than enough to prove their worth, but the British still lacked faith in them. Conflicts would continue into the invasion of Italy. But at least now they could work together. Most importantly, Africa had been won. View the full article
  11. Google Maps makes it perfectly clear that you should take its directions with a grain of salt and a hefty dose of common sense. The problem is that some people ignore that caveat with disastrous consequences. In 2007, for example, someone in Britain ignored road signs in favor of Google Maps – which is how they ended up in the River Sence. Two years later, Lauren Rosenberg made international headlines by being so determined to follow Google Maps to the letter that she walked directly into oncoming traffic and was hit. Rather than blame herself, however, she pointed a finger at Google. The following year, Nicaragua took a page from Rosenberg and blamed Google Maps for its invasion of Costa Rica. Nicaragua and Costa Rica were once part of the Spanish Empire. But when the latter declined and the two became independent, they clashed over territory. To end it, they tentatively agreed to make the Rio San Juan the dividing line between their east-west borders. To settle the issue, US President Grover Cleveland reaffirmed the Cañas-Jerez Treaty of 1858. Further upheld by the Central American Court of Justice (CACJ) in 1916, the treaty gave the Rio San Juan to Nicaragua, but allowed Costa Rica to use it for trade without taxation. In 1998, however, Nicaragua banned the Costa Rican police and military from using the river and imposed a US$25 tax on Costa Rican tourists. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) got involved the following year by supporting Nicaragua’s ban on its neighbor’s police and military, but not its tourist tax. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. Río San Juan in Nicaragua Enter Edén Atanacio Pastora Gómez (“Edén Pastora,” for short) – a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF). He later quit that group and ran for Nicaragua’s presidential elections in 2006. Gómez lost to José Daniel Ortega Saavedra – who’s still Nicaragua’s president as of 2016. To keep him busy, President Ortega appointed Pastora to the position of Minister of Development of the Rio San Juan Basin. Given Pastora’s guerilla past, it was a recipe for disaster. Disputed boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. By AlexCovarrubias – CC BY-SA 3.0 Because on October 8, 2010 Pastora led soldiers onto Isla Calero – a 1.86-mile long island that serves as a wetland ecological reserve with protected environmental status. But there was a problem. Isla Calero belongs to Costa Rica. And to make sure that everyone knew it, the Costa Ricans had very graciously put their flag on it. Seeing it, Pastora very ungraciously took it down and replaced it with Nicaragua’s flag. That done, he ordered the island’s trees removed to make way for dredging operations that would clear a channel to the Caribbean Sea. And where was the dredged material to go? Why, on the island, of course. Costa Rica was understandably upset and complained to Nicaragua. Hoping to de-escalate the tension, Pastora and his men left the island, but Ortega had other ideas. He denied the charges, but when confronted with the evidence, claimed there was no way Pastora could possibly have invaded Isla Calero. Why? Well, because the island was obviously Nicaraguan territory! Minister of Development of the Rio San Juan Basin, Edén Atanacio Pastora Gómez on August 25, 1978 Costa Rica’s reply came on October 22 when they sent 70 police officers to the border. Nicaragua responded by sending over 50 soldiers to “their” island. So how did Pastora justify his actions? Google Maps. In 2010, Google put the Nicaraguan border about a mile and a half into Costa Rican territory – effectively placing Isla Calero within Nicaraguan jurisdiction. Google Latin America apologized profusely, but claimed that Google Maps was a work in progress meant to help people get from point A to B, as well as find their nearest taco joint. Period. It was never meant to justify invasion, or as Google more delicately put it – “to decide military actions between two countries.” The company then updated the information and the correct border can still be seen on current maps. End of story, right? Wrong. In response to the company’s statement and subsequent correction, Pastora changed his story. His new version claimed that he had never relied on Google Maps to begin with and accused the Nicaraguan press of misquoting him. A map dated to March 2, 1898 delineating the borders between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Pastora insisted that he had instead relied on the original text of the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty. Except that the treaty’s original text supports Costa Rica’s claim to Isla Calero. Ditto with President Cleveland’s interpretation and the later one by the CACJ. Up till then, even Nicaraguan maps recognized the island to be Costa Rica’s. Faced with that inconvenient tidbit, Ortega came up with an ingenious answer. Costa Rica’s border had been moving steadily north for centuries as the San Juan River delta slowly dried up – which is certainly true. As such, Costa Rica had been slowly occupying Nicaraguan land. Pastora was therefore simply recovering territory based on how the San Juan River had once flowed… over 150 years ago, that is. Costa Rica wasn’t buying it and demanded resolution from the Organization of American States (OAS). Nicaragua refused and wanted the ICJ to arbitrate. The OAS ordered both countries to remove their troops from the area while the issue was resolved. Photos given by the Costa Rican government to the ICJ accusing Nicaragua of cutting two channels into Isla Portillos. The above picture was taken on June 30, 2013, while that below was dated September 5. Costa Rica agreed, but Ortega refused because he was hoping to get reelected on a patriotic vote. It worked. He was reelected and in February 2011, the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies published a new map placing Isla Calero within Nicaragua. Tensions rose as Nicaragua built a fence on the island and cut channels into it. Costa Rica responded by building a highway next to the river on territory also recognized as protected wildland. Fortunately, despite increased militarization on both sides, no fighting actually broke out save for a few civilian skirmishes. In the end, Costa Rica won. Well, sort of. The ICJ got involved, ruling against Nicaragua on December 16, 2015. Before it could rejoice, however, Costa Rica was also reprimanded for building their road. On June 7, 2016 Costa Rica demanded US$6 million in compensation for its damaged island. The ICJ agreed, but there’s another problem – it has no power to make Nicaragua pay. And since Ortega is up for another reelection… well, we know how that turned out the first time, don’t we? View the full article
  12. Feudal Japan is remembered as the era of the samurai. Like the knights of feudal Europe, they were the expensively equipped warrior aristocracy. They were, however, just one of numerous different types of warrior distinct to that period. Samurai Emerging late in the first millennium AD, the samurai were a warrior aristocracy. As landowners and leaders of society, even the lowliest of samurai, were wealthier and more privileged than most Japanese people. The samurai began as horse archers which influenced their equipment even as they shifted towards their role as swordsmen. Their right arm was initially less armored than the left, leaving it free to draw arrows and the bowstring. Over time, their quiver at the right hip was abandoned. Their armor became sturdier and symmetrical as they shifted to close quarters fighting using carefully crafted swords. Samurai in armor, 1860s. Hand-coloured photograph by Felice Beato. Samurai fought with a variety of weapons, including spears and clubs. Their most common and iconic weapons were the paired swords of the long katana and the shorter wakizashi, both curved and crafted to deadly sharp edges. Almost all commanders were a samurai. They were Japan’s military, political, social, and economic elite. A feudal hierarchy of land ownership meant each samurai owed military service to another, right up to the Emperor. In battle, samurai provided the elite core of fighters in most armies and shock troops for cavalry and infantry charges. Sohei From the 11th through to the 16th centuries, the samurai sometimes fought alongside or against another group of elite warriors – the sohei. The sohei were Buddhist warrior monks. Several monasteries maintained armies of them. They provided protection during times of strife and were used during disputes with other temples or samurai lords. The most famous and feared contingent were based at the Enryaku-Ji, the main temple on Mount Hiei. The sōhei Benkei with Minamoto no Yoshitsune Sohei were usually less equipped than samurai. They wore the armor of regular infantry over their monastic robes, often with an outer robe over the top. Knotted towels or cowls covered their shaven heads. Their traditional weapon was the naginata, a bladed polearm. The sohei could be valuable allies for samurai lords, but they could also be troublesome. They used their military power to assert the independence of their monasteries in the face of secular authority. Ikko-Ikki The 15th century saw the rise of another fearsome group of religious warriors, the Ikko-Ikki. The Ikko-Ikki were Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists, following an offshoot of Pure Land Buddhism. They believed in salvation for all humanity, not just those with the time and inclination to study the details of religion. They were, therefore, more egalitarian than the sohei; being a mass social movement under arms rather than a cadre of elite fighters. Some Ikko-Ikki shaved their heads as a sign of their faith. Aside from that, they looked and fought much like the samurai-led armies they opposed. They gained enough power to take control of the province of Kaga in 1488, before being driven back as a fractured Japan was reunited over the next century. We know less about the Ikko-Ikki than about many other warriors of the time. They have left an impression of being something akin to Europe’s peasant revolts, but with an added tone of religious fanaticism that made them tough opponents. Ronin To be a samurai was not just to be a warrior. It was to be part of a clear hierarchy, to know your place and to defend it. Sometimes a samurai lost his place in the hierarchy. It could happen when his daimyo, or lord, died or was disgraced, leaving him without a master. He then became a ronin, a word meaning “man of the waves.” Graves of the forty-seven Rōnin at Sengaku-ji Without lands of their own or regular income, penniless ronin sought employment the best way they knew – by hiring themselves out as mercenaries. During the violent upheavals of the late 15th and 16th centuries, such work was plentiful. As order in Japan was restored, there was less and less work for such men. Ninja Japan’s secretive assassins, the ninjas, left even less information about their activities than the Ikko-Ikki. Ninja lore is full of rumor, uncertainty, and exaggeration. Drawing of the archetypical ninja, from a series of sketches (Hokusai manga) by Hokusai. Woodblock print on paper. Volume six, 1817. The ninjas played a very different role from the other warrior groups. They did not fight on the battlefield. Instead, they fought from the shadows, using stealth and cunning to assassinate enemies. The daimyo Uesugi Kenshin, who died in 1578, was rumored to have been killed by a ninja who spent days hiding in the filth of a lavatory. He was waiting for his chance to strike at his victim’s most vulnerable and unsuspecting moment. Ninjas dressed in all-encompassing outfits to conceal them from view. They were black for night work and khaki brown for daytime. Ashigaru Like European knights, the samurai were symbolic of the wars they took part in due to their glamor and status; not because they were the most common participants. The bulk of feudal Japanese armies were made up of ashigaru, the ordinary foot soldiers. Ashigaru using matchlocks and hiding behind shields. The equipment of ashigaru varied considerably. Many wore the okegawa-do, the simplest form of battle armor. It consisted of two parts, one protecting the front and the other the back, connected by a hinge and cord. The ashigaru fought with spears, swords, and bows. In the 16th century, gunpowder weapons were coming to the fore. The warlord Nobunaga won a great victory in 1575 by equipping 3,000 of his ashigaru with arquebuses. Tsukai-ban To be effective, any army needs communications. Every daimyo of note kept a tsukai-ban, a messenger corps. Those soldiers ensured the coordination and transmission of information between units on busy and chaotic battlefields. Source: Stephen Turnbull (1987), Samurai Warriors View the full article
  13. The Irish have had a rough time in the era of modern history. They suffered from the awful potato famine and faced intense hostility when they came in droves to America. The British occupation of Ireland was also a tense subject, greatly exacerbated by the thought that British lack of aid during the potato famine was almost as bad as a full genocide against the Irish. Many American Irish simply put their heads down and worked hard to find their place in America, but some were simply angry and wanted to do something. The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish Republican group, largely based in New York City and Ireland, that bordered on a terrorist organization, though it did contain a large international faction aimed at simply giving humanitarian aid to Ireland. One of their main goals was to free Ireland from British rule. Though technically not under orders from Ireland, the Fenians were a large contingent of Irish fighting on behalf of Ireland. For the thousands of Fenian supporters in America, freeing their home island from British rule was a tough ask, seeing as it was across the Atlantic. But a massive British possession loomed just to the north. The idea was formed that the Fenian Brotherhood would form an armed invasion force to seize as large of a chunk of Canadian territory as they could. They could then use this as a bargaining chip, trading Irish independence for giving back their occupied territories of Canada. The Irish Famine caused a lot of emigration as well as resentment towards the British whom the Irish thought could have helped more. Before the large, planned attack, a group of about 700 Fenians invaded New Brunswick, but scattered very quickly at fast approaching British warships. A discouraging result for the Irish, but apparently not too much, for the other main attack would commence just two months later. The plan was to cross the Niagara River between the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario. The area was possibly defensible after it was secured and was able to be taken by surprise. Additionally, the US patrolling gunboat USS Michigan was sabotaged by crew loyal to the Fenian Brotherhood the morning of the invasion on June 1st, allowing most of the Fenian invaders to get across in multiple barges. A map of the raids in the heart of the Great Lakes region. For such a bold attack it could be assumed that the Fenian Brotherhood had about 10,000 soldiers or more, considering their aspirations of invading Canada. Well, they probably had about 900, with a possible maximum of 1,500 men. So, manpower was lacking, but firepower, command structure and experience were not. Many of the Fenian Brotherhood volunteers were veterans of the American Civil War. The war being very recent, they were skilled down to the individual level, being expert riflemen. They also had the ability to perform tactical maneuvers on command. The Irish also had plenty of weapons and apparently so much ammunition that they had to dump some in the river to lighten their load. Once the USS Michigan was repaired, it was able to cut off the remaining Fenians and their supplies. Despite their position the Fenians across the river kept on marching, setting up an ambush for the soon to respond Canadian militia. The Fenian commander, John O’Neill, had extensive military experience and set up a trap to lure the Canadians to a ridge where the bulk of the Fenians were entrenched. The Battle of Ridgeway. The battle of Ridgeway started with the larger Canadian force pushing back the forward units of Fenian troops. This progressed according to the Fenian plan to lure the Canadians to their fortifications on the ridge. As the Canadians were pressing onward, however, their discipline absolutely fell apart. It seems that one unit formed a square formation fearing an ultimately nonexistent cavalry charge. When the order was reversed the unit fell apart and the line of advance wavered. The Fenians noticed the wavering of the lines and decided to rally their forces and launched a bayonet charge that broke the Canadians and prompted a full withdrawal. The Canadians suffered about 22 dead and 37 wounded to the Fenian’s five dead and 16 wounded. The Fenians knew that they couldn’t hold the town of Ridgeway and decided to take the lightly defended Fort Erie. Here, 79 Canadians made a brave stand against the hundreds of Fenian attackers. After some fierce fighting, the Fenians captured the better-defended town. Things didn’t change too much, however, as several thousand men of the Canadian militia and British regulars were advancing towards the Fenians. Despite their successes, the Fenians were losing hope in their cause with a massive sense of impending doom. About half of O’Neil’s forces deserted, many making makeshift rafts to cross the river back to America. In the face of sure defeat, the Fenians marched back to American soil, being apprehended by American troops just on the other side of the river. The Fenians banked on some US support or at least US recognition of the Irish holding lands in Canada, but they were mistaken. The Americans did indeed make little effort to stop the rallying of the Fenians and have been accused of giving some support. It seems that the US saw the earlier failed “invasion” and figured that the second one would have a similar outcome, so it wasn’t worth the expense to root out and apprehend the invaders. Irish freedom was not just an idea limited to the Fenian movement, though they had some of the most aggressive and deadly tactics. Despite the victories, the Irish invasion of Canada was a total failure, as no possessions could be held long enough to negotiate on behalf of Ireland. Despite these failures, many Fenians still held on to the idea of attacking Canada. The Fenian efforts redoubled after news that a Fenian made bomb was set off in London in an effort to break out a fellow Fenian. 120 people were injured and 12 killed by the blast. Aims for the radical Fenians seemed to shift from securing territory to simply causing enough problems to force negotiations. This political cartoon paints a very unflattering image of the Fenians and their violent acts. Several more raids were launched over the next several years; all were utter failures. US treatment of the raiders was usually quite lenient and they often simply ferried them away from the Canadian border. Despite their best efforts, Fenian raids and bombing fostered British resentment against the Irish and greatly undermined peaceful Irish independence movements. The raids also unified the Canadian territories as the citizens and militia had to rely on themselves to defend against these attacks that could happen at any time. This sense of unity would lead to the formation of an independent Canada. View the full article
  14. Atomic bombs exploded into chaotic destruction just two times in history: first on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima and again on August 9 of that same year in Nagasaki. When the United States unleashed those two bombs upon Japan’s cities, the international community saw destruction unlike anything prior. More than 100,000 civilians died in the wake of the explosions, and many more fell ill or died in the weeks, months, and years that followed. Yet perhaps the most surprising legacy of those two atomic bombs is that both happened to miss one man. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was present in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the nuclear weapons detonated, yet somehow survived. This miraculous man, who earned the nickname “Lucky,” lived a long life as the only Japanese citizen recognized as a survivor of both terrifying explosions. How Yamaguchi Found Himself in Hiroshima Tsutomu Yamaguchi shouldn’t have been in Hiroshima when Little Boy, the first atomic bomb, exploded within the city. In fact, Yamaguchi was on his way out of the city – it was merely bad luck that led him to his fate. 29-year-old Yamaguchi worked for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. In May 1945, Mitsubishi sent Yamaguchi on a three-month business trip to Hiroshima. After spending the summer designing new oil tankers for the company, he was scheduled to return to his hometown of Nagasaki on August 6. His wife, Hisako, and his young son, Katsutoshi, waited for him there. On that fateful day, Yamaguchi packed his bags and headed to the Mitsubishi work site one last time. Before he reached his destination, though, he heard a plane overhead. As he turned his attention skyward, Yamaguchi recognized a U.S. B-29 bomber. The plane dropped a small object and soared away. It was 8:15 in the morning. Moments later, everything lit up in a fiery blast. Yamaguchi instinctively dove into a nearby ditch – but the shock wave that accompanied Little Boy’s powerful explosion yanked Yamaguchi from his hiding place. He was thrown into a potato patch, quickly losing consciousness as the bomb’s after-attack continued. The mushroom cloud left by Little Boy bloomed above Hiroshima as the city burned. Yamaguchi had been standing less than two miles away from the impact site. When he regained consciousness, burns scarred his face and his forearms, his right ear was gone, and he would later learn both of his eardrums were ruptured. Yet he was alive. Yamaguchi wandered around his destroyed workplace, attempting to piece together what happened. He found two coworkers who also survived the blast. When they discovered that trains were still running out of the city, the men made their way through the ruins of Hiroshima to the train station. As they passed through the city, Yamaguchi saw complete hell: streets lined with corpses, buildings burned and crumbling, and many structures still lit with burning fires. Yamaguchi Experiences Hell Once Again Soon, “Lucky” was home in Nagasaki. Despite the painful burns that covered his body, the bandages swathing his entire body, and the hearing he’d lost in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi went to work at the Mitsubishi plant on August 9th. He told his coworkers there the story of what happened when the world around him exploded, and his supervisor remarked that Yamaguchi was crazy – his story just wasn’t believable to these people who had never experienced the detonation of a nuclear weapon. In the seconds that followed Yamaguchi’s story – and his supervisor’s comments – the U.S. dropped the world’s second nuclear bomb, Fat Man. Like Yamaguchi witnessed in Hiroshima, what appeared to be a small dot in the sky suddenly exploded into brilliant white light. Indoors this time, Yamaguchi fell to the floor as the bomb shattered every window in the building. In complete disbelief, he believed that somehow the aftershock of the Hiroshima blast had hit Nagasaki. Yamaguchi was wrong; Nagasaki was hit with a new bomb, one even more powerful than the first. For the second time, this miraculous man escaped certain death. Just like in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi immediately tried to find a hiding place. Yet his family was at risk. He ran home to his wife and young son and found them hiding in the rubble of their home. Fortunately, neither was seriously injured. The three made their way to a bomb shelter, where they suffered the immediate effects of Fat Man’s radiation. Yamaguchi, still burned from Hiroshima, lived helplessly as the radiation exposure made his hair fall out, his wounds grew infected with gangrene, and he couldn’t keep any food in his stomach without vomiting. Miraculously, “Lucky” survived these ailments and continued to live. A Lucky Life After the Atomic Bombs In the years that passed after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Yamaguchi’s life returned to normal. He kept a low profile, working with the U.S. military during the nation’s occupation of Japan. He earned recognition from the Japanese government as a hibakusha – the word for those who survived the bombings – and received financial and medical assistance because of this status. “Lucky” Yamaguchi sought hibakusha status only for the Hiroshima explosion at first. A simple man living a normal life, he didn’t want the attention that would come with the recognition of being a “double survivor.”. Yet as Yamaguchi grew older, he began to experience health problems caused by radiation, and he felt it was his destiny to allow the government to record his unique story. So, in January 2009, Yamaguchi filed for double hibakusha recognition. He was recognized by Japan in March of that same year, becoming the only person in government records to be an official survivor of both nuclear bomb attacks. A year after his recognition as a double survivor – on January 4, 2010 – at the age of 93, Tsutomu “Lucky” Yamaguchi died from stomach cancer. The last years of his life were filled with health challenges imposed on him thanks to Little Boy and Fat Man, as he developed cataracts, acute leukemia, and ultimately the cancer that took his life. Yet this incredibly lucky man survived to not only share his story with the world but to live a normal life for nearly 100 years. He truly deserved the nickname “Lucky,” after experiencing two world-altering and terrifying events yet surviving them both. View the full article
  15. Horace Augustus Curtis wasn’t supposed to be a war hero. He was supposed to be a nobody who lived and died in relative poverty in Cornwall. Curtis’s father died when he was just four years old, and the 1901 census called his mother a pauper. But then the Great War came, and Horace was swept along on its coattails, seeing action in Gallipoli, Greece, Palestine, and France. After the wave of nationalist pride following the declaration of war in August 1914, Curtis enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI). Within days of taking the King’s Shilling, Curtis was sent from the DCLI into the welcoming arms of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to undergo training in County Kildare, Ireland. Recruiting in Ireland was not going as well as it was across the sea. As a result of this, Lord Kitchener decided to transfer recruits from England to fill vacant positions on the Emerald Isle. After finishing their basic training, the unit moved to Dublin and then to Basingstoke where they underwent intensive training for the next three months. During that time they were inspected by both King George V and Kitchener – who were pleased with what they saw. Curtis’s first action would be brutal. It would be bloody, and it would have almost certainly sapped the moral of the men fighting with the 7th. Troops are landing at Suvla Bay, Turkey, 25 April 1915. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrived at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on the 7th of August, 1915. The 7th Battalion entered the action later than other units from the same division – but this didn’t save them from the same grisly fate. Suvla Bay has become known for massive incompetence by the British commanding officer Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford, who was dismissed from his post following the failure. There were 21,000 casualties as a result of the confusion and poor leadership. Estimates of deaths sustained by the 10th Division vary from 75% of the original strength to 25% – or 3,000 men. But somehow Curtis was not among them – and his role in the whole conflict was far from over. The survivors of Gallipoli were then sent on to Macedonia in September 1915. Curtis would have seen action during the Battle of Kosturino, which was fought for six days between the sixth and 12th of December, 1915. During the conflict of Kosturino, Bulgarian troops managed to force the total withdrawal of Allied forces from Serbia – which allowed the Axis powers to construct the railway line stretching from Berlin to Constantinople. But despite this setback for the British Army, the time spent fighting in Macedonia would prove to be of great personal success for Curtis. Not only was the soldier promoted from Lance Corporal to full Sergeant, but he was also mentioned in dispatches on the 21st of July 1917. The 10th Division took an extremely long and winding route before they reached the European theatre of war again. After their stay in the Mediterranean, they were transferred to Alexandria in Egypt in September 1917 in order to fight the Ottomans in Palestine. Cardinal Francis Bourne, the Head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and Major-General William Hickie, the Commander of the 16th Irish Division, inspecting troops of the 8/9th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Curtis would remain there for a further eight months, honing his craft and getting used to his new leadership role before April 1918, when the 6th Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the 7th left their units in order to return to France to stop the German advance. The 7th landed in the French town of Marseilles on the 31st of May and were absorbed by the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers after being broken down into a Cadre. This would be the fourth theatre of war in which Curtis had fought, but mother nature would strike him down before long. After being in France for just over a month, Curtis was forced into the Bermondsey Military Hospital in London after contracting malaria. He stayed there for four days before returning home between the 24th of July and the 3rd of August – it was the first time Curtis had seen home for four years. On the 19th of August, he was cleared to return back to action and was at the front on the 21st of September. Time was now getting perilously close to Armistice Day, but the soldiers on the front were not to know that. In fact, Curtis won his Victoria Cross just two months before peace would settle over Europe for another generation. The action in which Curtis would perform heroics and be forever remembered in the military history of the British Army would take place near Le Cateau, the place in which the Germans had inflicted a decisive defeat on the Allies just months earlier. It was the morning, and the platoon that Curtis was in had just come under heavy machine gun fire. The Sergeant immediately realised the danger to his own troops and the whole action and didn’t think twice before rushing headlong to engage the enemy. Portrait of Horace Augustus Curtis who was awarded the Victoria Cross: France, 18 October 1918. Not only did Curtis have to get through withering German fire, but he also had to survive the British barrage of fire. He single-handedly killed or wounded the crews of two machine guns. As a result of this, four more guns surrendered and Curtis casually captured over 100 enemy soldiers before his brothers in arms could reach him. The citation in the London Gazette on the 6th of January 1919 read: “For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty East of Le Cateau on the morning of 18th October 1918, when in the attack his platoon came unexpectedly under intense machine-gun fire. “Realising that the attack would fail unless the enemy guns were silenced, Sjt Curtis, without hesitation, rushed forward through our own barrage and the enemy fire and killed and wounded the teams of two of the guns, whereupon the remaining four guns surrendered. “Then turning his attention to a train-load of reinforcements, he succeeded in capturing over 100 enemy before his comrades joined him. His valour and disregard of danger inspired all.” Unlike some winners of the Victoria Cross, Curtis survived the way and was discharged from active service on the 31st of March 1920. After that, however, he swiftly signed up for the 5th Territorial Battalion DCLI for three years and was promoted to Sergeant. According to a family source, Curtis rarely mentioned what he went through in the war. The hero died on the 1st of July, 1968. View the full article