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From the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE to Operation Mincemeat in WWII, discover 7 risky gambles that ended up changing world history, in this episode of History Countdown.
In 1933, group of wealthy businessmen that allegedly included the heads of Chase Bank, GM, Goodyear, Standard Oil, the DuPont family and Senator Prescott Bush tried to recruit Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler to lead a military coup against President FDR and install a fascist dictatorship in the United States. And yes, we're talking about the same Prescott Bush who fathered one US President and grandfathered another one.
How did that work out?
A good rule of thumb: never trust a man named Smedley to run your hostile military coup for you. Besides being no fan of fascism, Smedley Butler was both a patriot and a vocal FDR supporter. Apparently none of these criminal masterminds noticed that their prospective point man had actively stumped for FDR in 1932.
Smedley spilled the beans to a congressional committee in 1934. Everyone he accused of being a conspirator vehemently denied it, and none of them were brought up on criminal charges. Still, the House McCormack-Dickstein Committee did at least acknowledge the existence of the conspiracy, which ended up never getting past the initial planning stages.
Though many of the people who had allegedly backed the Business Plot also maintained financial ties with Nazi Germany up through America's entry into World War II. But at least the United States never ended up becoming a fascist dictatorship (unless you ask Ron Paul supporters).
The lesson here? Fascist or not, you don't fuck around with guys named Smedley or Dickstein.
Related: 6 Evil Corporations in Movies (With Terrible Business Plans)
4. V-3 cannon
Devised in the summer of 1944, the V-3 was designed to fire 300 nine-foot-long dart-shaped shells every hour. A series of secondary charges positioned along the 416-foot barrel were meant to speed up the projectile, which would hypothetically be able to reach London from well over 100 miles away in the French town of Mimoyecques. But when the V-3 finally became operational, the velocity of the shell was a mere 3,280 feet per second, which was estimated to be about half what was needed to reach London.
Hitler had authorized the production of 50 of these weapons, but before the original plans for the V-3 could be implemented, Allied forces bombed and destroyed the gun, despite Germany's best efforts to hide the munitions under haystacks.
7 moments in history you (might) think are made up but aren’t
Going on strike, you would presume, is closely linked to the history of industrialisation and the formation of trade unions. Wrong! While it was of course the industrialisation of economies that led to better organised work forces, the idea of putting down tools because of a dispute goes back a very long way indeed.
The very first strike recorded in history started in 1152 BC, on 14 November. This was during the reign of Rameses III in ancient Egypt.
It is a common misconception, largely created by Biblical stories, that much of the work on ancient Egyptian monuments was carried out by slaves. While the Egyptians did indeed have slaves, they were by no means the main workforce. Craftsmen, builders and haulers were paid men who took pride in their work – this is evidenced by the quality of the structures, many of which have stood for more than 3,000 years.
In November 1152 BC, trouble was brewing during the construction of a royal necropolis – a group of tombs/crypts – at Deir el-Medina. The workers felt they were being underpaid and that their wages were in arrears, so they organised a mass walkout, halting construction.
The response was very interesting: you might assume that pharaohs would bring out the whips or cut the heads off the ring leaders of the strike, but after discussion the artisans wages were paid – in fact, their wages were actually increased – and the workers returned to finish the job.
The necropolis still stands to this day.
Fantasy fight becomes a reality
The film Rocky Balboa (2006) has a strange premise: after the current heavyweight champion sees a computer-generated fight between himself and Rocky, he gets the Italian Stallion out of retirement for a bout. But this somewhat ridiculous scenario does have a historic precedent.
In 1967, radio producer Murray Woroner came up with an idea of how to settle every pub argument about boxing. He said that by putting all the stats and details of each fighter (when they were in their prime) into a computer, it could determine who would win, if they ever met. He used the then-cutting edge NCR 315 Data Processing System and computer with 12 bits of memory (that’s not even one per cent of a small update for an app today).
It was a publicity stunt, but it was hugely popular, as each fight was performed as a radio play – as if the fight was taking place live.
One of these radio plays came to the attention of Muhammad Ali in the 1960s. At the time he could not box due to his refusal to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali was close to being declared bankrupt his reputation was pretty much his only remaining asset. So when Woroner claimed Ali would lose in a semi-final to Jim Jeffries, Ali threatened to sue. However ever the canny businessman, Woroner instead offered to pay Ali $10,000 to participate in a filmed version of one of the radio fantasy fights: against Rocky Marciano who had retired 14 years earlier.
Ali needed the money and agreed Marciano accepted the challenge. The two men, who had never met before, allegedly grew quite fond of each other as they fought in front of the cameras for days in order to get the right footage. The two fighters sparred for about 70 to 75 rounds, which were later edited according to the ‘findings’ of the computer. Sadly, Marciano died in a plane crash three weeks after filming ended.
The fight footage was shown as a one-off event in 1,500 cinema theatres, and was an instant hit – the estimated takings were $5 million. The ‘computer’ (really Woroner, who knew Marciano was more popular) had determined that Marciano would knock out Ali in the 13th round (in reality this was unlikely).
The ‘dancing plague’
Also known as ‘St Vitus’s Dance’, choreomania was a truly bizarre medieval phenomenon from central Europe. It involved spontaneous and continuous dancing by crowds of people until they collapsed through exhaustion – or worse, died. Bizarre as it sounds, choreomania was regularly reported by eyewitnesses and was a genuine concern for authorities. It also seems to have been contagious – for example, in June 1374 one of the widest outbreaks began in Aachen, Germany, before spreading to other places such as Cologne, Flanders, Utrecht, and later Italy.
There were still outbreaks more than a century later – in Strasbourg in July 1518 a woman named Frau Troffea began dancing in the street. Within four days 33 others had joined her, and within a month there were 400, many of whom suffered heart attacks and died.
Because no autopsies were carried out and because medical science of the day could hardly be described as advanced, only guesses can be made as to the causes. Perhaps it was some kind of skin infection or muscular inflammation leading to spasms?
At the time some people believed that the dancing was a curse brought about by St Vitus, who was, according to Christian legend, a Christian saint from Sicily, so they responded by praying and making pilgrimages to places dedicated to Vitus. The recovery of some victims further bolstered the perceived connection between illness and the saint.
You can read more about choreomania, the medieval dance mania, in the Christmas 2017 edition of BBC History Magazine.
The American invasion of Korea
Nope, not the one in the 1950s – the one in 1871.
In the 19th century a number of Asian nations sealed themselves off from the outside world – most famously Japan and China, but Korea too. America had decided to ‘unlock’ these Asian states and trade with them. It had worked well in Japan, with the diplomatic mission led by Commodore Perry in the 1850s, but the idea was put on hold during the American Civil War. It wasn’t until 1871 that a small fleet of American ships returned to the Pacific and travelled to the coastline of Korea. The American diplomatic vessel (which was a merchant ship, not a warship) came in towards the shore and was fired at by Korean shore batteries.
The Americans landed 10 days later with 650 marines and sailors. They made contact with the local Korean officials but the Koreans wanted to avoid the discussion about opening fire on a diplomatic mission. It was a classic case of cultural misunderstanding. The Koreans did not want to lose face over the error and the Americans mistook this for arrogance and decided to teach the Koreans a lesson.
The marines then assaulted and captured Ganghwa Island’s forts, the batteries that had (probably) fired on the diplomatic mission. The series of clashes were one-sided – Korea had not moved with the times and was using virtually medieval technology and tactics against well-trained and equipped American troops. By the end of the day the Americans had captured all the forts with the loss of just three men, while the Koreans had suffered losses of 243.
The Koreans had the last laugh, though: not only did they not apologise, they refused to speak to any member of the US government and didn’t reopen diplomatic negotiations for 11 years, maintaining its isolationist policy (only thawing a little to Japanese trade). The American expedition was, in a way, like the British Suez incident in the 1950s – militarily it was a success, but politically it was a complete failure.
An underwhelming WW2 battle
Castle Itter is a small fortification in Austria used by the SS during the Second World War as a prison for high profile detainees. It is also the site of one of the most curious battles of the conflict.
On 6 May 1945, peace was on the horizon and the Third Reich was collapsing. With the German commander (also in charge of Dachau) committing suicide, and some of the Waffen SS soldiers retreating, one of the prisoners, Zvonimir Čučković, a Yugoslav freedom fighter, escaped and went looking for some Allied troops to rescue the rest of the prisoners.
He found an American armoured column and got them to come with him. At the same time a Major Josef Gangl (an Austrian in the German Army) had collaborated with Austrian resistance in the closing days of the war, also with the intent to free the castle prisoners, but had decided instead to surrender with his men to the Americans. With the arrival of Čučković a strangle agreement would take place – the major and his Wehrmacht troops would fight alongside the Americans against the SS guards.
The resulting battle of Castle Itter was hardly pivotal, but the SS faced not only their fellow countrymen and Americans (with a Sherman tank), but there were also Austrian partisans and French prisoners joining in. It was a wonderful symbol of the unifying effect the Allies had compared to the polarising effect of the Nazis.
The battle may not have been big (a maximum of 100 men were involved), but it was vicious. The Sherman tank was destroyed and Major Josef Gangl was killed by a sniper. It was, however, the only time the American army fought alongside the German army in the entire war. The SS were defeated and surrendered, and the rest of the prisoners were released unharmed.
The immovable interest rate
Britain did not invent banking as we know it today – many of the concepts were copied from Holland – but with a growing empire, England rapidly became the master of what today is termed as “modern banking”. The Bank of England was founded in 1694 and was given exclusive possession of the government’s balances. It was additionally given permission to be the only corporation (rather than the government) to issue bank notes. What the bank also did in the same year was set the first national interest rate at six per cent.
While today we are familiar with a changing interest rate, interest rates didn’t start moving around regularly until the late 19th century. In 1719 the Bank of England moved the interest rate from four per cent to five per cent, but it didn’t move again until 1822, when it went back down to four per cent. That interest rate lasted 103 years – the longest fixed rate in British history.
This is even more surprising when you consider what happened during that time frame: while there were a number of smaller conflicts during these 103 years, three wars during this period were really big deals. There was the Seven Years’ War (fought between 1754 –1763 and the main conflict in the seven-year period from 1756–1763), which shunted Britain to the top of the heap in terms of empires, taking Canada from the French and making it a British realm. But this huge change in Britain’s fortunes did not impact upon interest rates.
Then, a decade-and-a-half later, there was the American War of Independence (1775–83), fought between the Kingdom of Great Britain and 13 of its former North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America. You might have thought this would prompt the Bank of England to change the interest rate, but no.
Finally there were the years of war with France from the 1790s to 1815. This involved sending fleets to places like the Caribbean and Egypt soldiers were landed in America, Argentina and Spain France threatened invasion, and at one point had a trade war (called the Continental System), which led – for a brief time – to a big slump in the London stock market. But again, this failed to prompt any interest rate adjustments.
The sack of Baltimore
In southern Ireland there is a small village called Baltimore. It had little to contribute to history until the summer of 1631, when it was attacked – but by whom?
Was it the French planning an invasion of England via the Emerald Isle? Or perhaps it was some kind of pro-Catholic uprising leading to a vicious English assault, or the Spanish up to their old tricks?
You might be surprised to learn that the perpetrators were about as exotic as it gets for the 17th century – Barbary pirates from North Africa led by a Dutch captain (and Muslim convert)-turned pirate, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger.
The attack was quick and unexpected. The villagers (mainly English settlers, but some native Irish too) were put onto the ships and forced into slavery. There were, however, different types of slaves: some prisoners were destined to live out their days as galley slaves (a brutal and short life), while many of the younger women would spend long years in the seclusion of the Sultan’s harem or within the walls of the Sultan’s palace as labourers. Sadly, it is thought that only three of the settlers ever saw Ireland again.
Jem Duducu is known as @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter, and he is the author of The Napoleonic Wars in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing, 2015).
8 Turbine Prize
The industrial era in France was a period that followed a time of turmoil and instability. In order for the country to remain a European economic power that was strong enough to compete with its neighbors, France needed technological advancements to support its growing industries. That is why the French Society for the Encouragement of Industry was born.
One of the society&rsquos first ambitions was to find a better alternative to the waterwheel, something more modern and efficient that could be introduced on a large commercial scale. In 1823, the society established the Turbine Prize&mdasha contest that rewarded the best new design with 6,000 francs.
In 1827, a young engineer named Benoit Fourneyron claimed the prize with his new invention: the water turbine. Based on a design from Claude Burdin, Fourneyron&rsquos invention became the first commercial hydraulic turbine in the world.
Although this 6-horsepower turbine was impressive for the time, it wasn&rsquot enough for Fourneyron. He used the prize money to continue his research and improve his design.
The end result was the 60-horsepower Fourneyron turbine, which was completed in 1834. It functioned at 80 percent efficiency and became popular throughout Europe and North America during the industrial era.
These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.
The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.
Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”
Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.
Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.
In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.
In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.
You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.
So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?
Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.
As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.
Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.
In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)
As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.
In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).
This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.
After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.
Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.
Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.
Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).
Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.
As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.
WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.
Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).
But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.
More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)
The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.
Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.
Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.
Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.
With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.
It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.
As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.
Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.
As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.
In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.
In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.
As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.
But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.
- Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
- The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
- Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
- There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
- While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
- Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
- On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
After 75 years, D-Day veteran is reunited with his long-lost French love
Posted On April 29, 2020 15:51:40
An American D-Day veteran was reunited with his French love, 75 years after they first parted, USA Today reports.
K.T. Robbins kept a photo of the girl he met in the village of Briey in 1944. Jeannine Pierson, then Ganaye, was 18 when she met the Army veteran, who was 24 at the time.
“I think she loved me,” Robbins, now in his late nineties, told television station France 2 during an interview. Travelling to France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Robbins said he hoped to track down Pierson’s family, the BBC reports. “For sure, I won’t ever get to see her. She’s probably gone now.”
Robbins left Pierson when he was transferred east. “I told her, ‘Maybe I’ll come back and take you some time,'” he said. “But it didn’t happen.” After the war, Robbins returned to the US, got married, and started a family. Pierson, too, married, and had five children.
After Robbins showed the photo of the young Pierson to France 2 journalists, they tracked her down — she was still alive, now 92, and living just 40 miles from the village where they had originally met.
Robbins reunited with his wartime love at Sainte Famille, her retirement home in the town of Montigny-les-Metz.
“I’ve always thought of him, thinking maybe he’ll come,” Pierson said. And, 75 years later, he did.
“I’ve always loved you. I’ve always loved you. You never got out of my heart,” Robbins told Pierson upon their reunion.
The two sat together and told reporters about the time they spend together so many years ago.
“When he left in the truck I cried, of course, I was very sad,” Pierson told reporters. “I wish, after the war, he hadn’t returned to America.” She also started to learn English after World War II, in hopes Robbins would return.
“I was wondering, ‘Where is he? Will he come back?’ I always wondered,” Pierson said.
“You know, when you get married, after that you can’t do it anymore,” Robbins said about returning to find Peirson earlier. Robbins’ wife, Lillian, died in 2015.
While the two had to part again — Robbins left for Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion — they promised to meet again soon.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
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You probably know from history class that World War I started with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke named Franz Ferdinand, kicking off a domino effect of events that left millions dead. You may not know, however, that what knocked over that first domino was a sandwich.
There was this guy named Gavrilo Princip. He was a Bosnian student and guerrilla, part of a group called the Black Hand. Sounds like the evil organization of mages that secretly controls the world, right? Unfortunately, it was something a lot less awesome: a Slavic independence group.
And for some weird reason, they really hated Franz Ferdinand.
To be fair, he had that kind of face.
The World-shattering Coincidence
Let's make sure to clear this up: Gavrilo Princip very much wanted to assassinate Uncle Franz. It was how it happened that was so fucking random.
In mid-1914, Ferdinand, his wife and the obligatory group of less important political figures and other random hangers-on that always accompanies a soon-to-be-assassinated fool, were cruising through the streets of Sarajevo in a (stupidly) open-top car.
The Black Hand had crafted an intricate assassination plot, which basically consisted of, "just kill this dumbass somehow." Unfortunately, as is always true with intricate assassination plots, something went wrong.
When Franz's motorcade passed by the assassins, one of the group, a guy named Nedeljko Cabrinovic, lobbed a grenade at the motorcade. The problem was he was using a shitty 1914 grenade, so it took 10 seconds to detonate, and by then Uncle Franz was out of range. The unlucky fools in the car behind them bit it instead, and the assassins dispersed in the chaos.
Cabrinovic took a cyanide pill that failed to kill him and jumped into a three foot river to "drown" himself. Franz and his party, it seemed, were safe.
But Franz was not yet done putting his life in insane danger. Against the advice of pretty much everyone, he insisted on going to the hospital to visit the people who were injured by the grenade. The driver, unfortunately, had no idea where the fuck he was going. They ended up crisscrossing hilariously through the streets of Sarajevo, until they just randomly happened to pass a cafe where, you guessed it, Gavrilo Princip was enjoying a post-failed-assassination sandwich.
After the obligatory pause of dumbfounded luck, Princip grabbed his pistol and turned the tide of history.
And How Did it Change The World?
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
. Then there was the post-war economic failure.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
. Which was part of the reason Germany actually elected.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
. which resulted in the Cold War.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.
That's right. Most of the horror and death of the 20th Century may not have happened had Gavrilo Princip not gotten the munchies for a sandwich.
7 Insane Military Gambles That Changed the World - HISTORY
According to a new GAO report the F-35 is still riddled with maintenance and performance issues, but yet Congress keeps demanding more.
If you had all the money in the world, would you pay nearly $2 trillion for a plane that couldn’t get off the ground half the time? Probably not, even if your means were endless. It may sound like an insane question, but it’s one that taxpayers and watchdogs are asking the U.S. military now after yet another nonpartisan government report found countless flaws with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
A bit of background on the F-35 for readers uninitiated to perhaps the most expensive boondoggle in the $700-billion-per-year defense budget today: the program began in the 1990s and was, according to the Congressional Research Service, or CRS, intended to be “the last fighter aircraft program that DoD [the Department of Defense] would initiate for many years… expected to shape the future of both U.S. tactical aviation and the U.S. tactical aircraft industrial base.” Lockheed Martin, today the nation’s largest private defense contractor, was selected as the primary manufacturer of the aircraft in 2001, with Pratt and Whitney tapped to make the engine.
The program has been troubled from the start, with numerous quality and safety concerns, doubts about the number of jobs promised and created by the program, trouble with the plane’s logistics software, and countless delays and design flaws. A new report from Congress’s nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, sums up all these concerns while putting a fresh, updated bow on troubles with the multi-trillion-dollar project — which the Air Force Chief of Staff recently called a “Ferrari” for his service branch.
Let’s start with a big one: the estimated costs for maintaining and sustaining the F-35 over a 66-year cycle just went up —again — from $1.20 trillion in 2018 to $1.27 trillion today. That’s a $70-billion increase from just two years ago, or 6 percent. Since the 2012 sustainment estimate, the cost has gone up a whopping $160 billion, or 14 percent. Spread out over 66 years, that’s an average of $2.4 billion in added costs per year. And those costs may just continue to rise in future estimates.
Combine the new sustainment cost estimate with the estimated procurement costs for DoD, around $400 billion for 2,500 F-35 aircraft, and the total program cost for the F-35 right now sits at around $1.7 trillion over 66 years. That’s about $25.7 billion, per year, over the next 66 years. It’s also more than 40 percent of the total annual budget of $60.9 billion for the State Department and Foreign Operations in fiscal year 2021.
Here’s how the F-35 program alone stacks up against other components of the discretionary federal budget:
— F-35 Per-Year Program Costs (Current Estimate): $25.7 billion per year
— Entire Department of Agriculture (USDA) Budget: $23.4 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
— Entire Budget for Congress: $5.3 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
— Entire Budget for the Federal Judiciary: $7.7 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
— Entire Budget for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): $11.9 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
— Entire General Fund Budget for the State of Maryland, Where Lockheed is Headquartered: $19.6 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
— Entire General Fund Budget for the State of Connecticut, Where Pratt and Whitney is Headquartered: $20.1 billion (in fiscal year 2021 source)
What do taxpayers get for this extraordinary investment in history’s most expensive plane? Well, according to GAO, the F-35 faces four major sustainment challenges in the years ahead, including 1) supply chain concerns such as spare parts delivery, 2) maintenance issues such as a lack of support equipment, 3) a malfunctioning and ineffective logistics software system that the military is currently in the process of completely replacing, and 4) underperforming engines.
Dive deeper into these four issues and one understands the dire straits the F-35 program is in. While the program has made three improvements to long-running supply chain concerns, the lack of spare parts availability still makes it “impossible” for the Air Force to reach mission-capable targets of 90 percent for its variant of the aircraft, the F-35A.
Maintenance requirements and delays also make it impossible for the F-35A to reach its mission-capable targets ditto the F-35B and F-35C variants for the Marine Corps and Navy, respectively. As mentioned above, the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) software for the F-35 is so bad — including “incorrect, missing, or corrupt electronic records,” that the program is starting from scratch with a new system called ODIN, or Operational Data Integrated Network. Sound bad? It gets worse: GAO says in their new report that a “myriad of technical and programmatic uncertainties [surround] the development of ODIN.” In other words, the incumbent logistics system is functionally deficient and its replacement may or may not be better.
Sadly, we haven’t even covered the largest maintenance issue facing the F-35 program: the engines made by Pratt and Whitney. According to GAO, 20 F-35 aircraft were unable to fly by the end of 2020 because of needed engine repairs. More troublingly, this backlog is projected to grow significantly over the next decade. By 2030, GAO estimates, the F-35 program will face an 800-engine deficit. This, the nonpartisan watchdog says, will be enough to ground 43 percent of the F-35 fleet — more than ten times the proportion of F-35 aircraft that cannot fly today.
In other words, taxpayers have spent tens of billions of dollars — and are being asked to spend hundreds of billions more — on planes that cannot fly.
GAO often makes recommendations to the lawmakers the agency serves, and they have two that Congress should certainly include in the upcoming defense policy bill: 1) require DoD to report every year on its progress in making the F-35 more sustainable and affordable, and 2) make future F-35 procurement decision contingent on program progress in addressing all of the above concerns.
The second recommendation will be a harder one for Congress to implement, for dozens of lawmakers have a vested interest in the continuation of the F-35 program regardless of its performance issues. Take a look at this map and you’ll see why. The F-35 and its parts are made and assembled in states and congressional districts across the country, bringing with it direct and indirect jobs that can make it hard for lawmakers to rein in the $1.7-trillion program.
Now, as the Project on Government Oversight’s Mandy Smithberger has pointed out, “studies have consistently shown that military spending is a remarkably poor job creator compared to almost any other kind of spending.” That doesn’t mean mothballing the F-35 will be easy. The program even has its own bipartisan caucus in Congress, and last year 130 members of the House asked Congressional leaders to continue funding and supporting the aircraft. In other words, change will be difficult.
Hopefully, though, some courageous members of Congress will step up and ask for a halt in F-35 purchases as these significant concerns continue. Who would want to pay nearly $2 trillion for a plane that can’t fly?
Chilling World War III 'wargames' show US forces crushed by Russia and China
According to research organization RAND, should a major conflict arise in Russia and China's 'backyards,' US forces would be crushed by a vast array of both conventional and cyber weapons. Based on a variety of wargame simulations, a clash with Russia in the Baltic states would result in the rapid defeat of U.S. forces and their allies. Simultaneously, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, while a massive military gamble for China, would also pose a huge challenge for U.S. forces in the area.
Scary World War III ‘wargames’ show U.S. forces crushed by Russia and China in certain hot spots around the globe.
Research organization RAND has run dozens of wargames simulating major conflict scenarios in what it describes as Russia and China’s “backyards.” The wargames suggest that the U.S. forces in those locations would get attacked by a vast array of both conventional and cyber weapons.
RAND Senior Defense Analyst David Ochmanek discussed the simulations at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington D.C. last week. “In our games, where we fight China or Russia … blue gets its a** handed to it, not to put too fine a point on it,” he said, during a panel discussion. Blue denotes U.S. forces in the simulations.
“We lost a lot of people, we lose a lot of equipment, we usually fail to achieve our objectives of preventing aggression by the adversary,” Ochmanek added during the CNAS discussion.
File photo - Artillerymen of 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment fire M109 Alpha 6 Paladins, on Tapa Army Base, Estonia, Nov. 27, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by: Sgt Caitlyn Byrne, 10th Press Camp Headquarters)
Based on the wargames, a clash with Russia in the Baltic states would result in the rapid defeat of U.S. forces and their allies, Ochmanek told Fox News. “Within 48 to 72 hours, Russian forces are able to reach a capital of a Baltic state,” he said. On the other side of the world, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, while a massive military gamble for China, would also pose a huge challenge for U.S. forces in the area, according to Ochmanek.
Russia and China have amassed large inventories of precision-guided cruise missiles and ballistic missiles that can reach hundreds of miles and strike military targets, the researcher said. Set against this backdrop, U.S. military outposts and aircraft carriers in the contested regions could face a potential devastating barrage of missiles.
In RAND’s wargames and analysis, Russia, and particularly China, unleash so many missiles that they overcome U.S. defenses. “They send salvos that are so great that we cannot intercept all the missiles,” Ochmanek said.
File photo - Infantrymen of the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, fire M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 2 vehicles on Tapa Army Base, Nov. 13, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by: Sgt Caitlyn Byrne, 10th Press Camp Headquarters)
The researcher notes that the key “domains of warfare” are contested from the start of hostilities. The U.S., he explains, should not assume air and maritime superiority over the battlespace. American space assets could also face attacks, while U.S. command and control systems could be targeted by electromagnetic and cyber weapons.
To combat these threats, U.S. forces could ramp up their deployment of so-called ‘standoff’ missiles that can be fired from large distances, such as cruise missiles, according to Ochmanek, along with highly robust reconnaissance systems and jam-resistant communications.
“For a sustained investment of an additional $8 billion a year between 2020 and 2030, the U.S. Air Force could buy the kit needed to make a difference,” he said, noting that similar sums would be required for the Army and Navy.
President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget plan proposes $750 billion for defense, up 5 percent from fiscal 2019.
America’s posture is also key when it comes to challenging potential adversaries such as Russia, according to Ochmanek. “It’s putting more combat power back into Europe, and putting it on Europe’s eastern flank,” he said.