#3. The Doolittle Raid
In the spring of 1942, America wasn't exactly punching within its weight class and was generally getting its ass kicked up and down the Pacific in World War II. Meanwhile, people in Japan were being told by their whack-job government that they were invulnerable to attack. To prove that Uncle Sam could actually hurt Japan, legendary airman Jimmy Doolittle devised a plan to hit the Japanese where they lived (Japan). Thus was born the Doolittle Raid.
Keep in mind that bombers that could just fly from friendly territory to Japan were not a thing at the time. This was 1942, and military aircraft in general were still new enough that it took luck just to get off the runway and back down again without bursting into flame (during the war, aircraft accidents alone destroyed more than 12,000 planes and killed a mind-boggling 13,621 pilots and passengers -- just on the American side). So Doolittle's plan was to load up a carrier with bomber aircraft, sail into Japanese-patrolled waters, then launch the bombers and drop bombs on industrial targets.
Specifically these industrial targets, photographed during the raid itself.
Did we mention that nobody had tried to launch a B-25 off an aircraft carrier? It wasn't intended for that purpose. And this is not a minor point -- it's the difference between taking off from a long, roomy, comfortably flat runway versus taking off from the tiny deck of a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean, where one wrong move means sharks are sorting through the wreckage to find the most tasty parts of your body. Also, nobody involved in the mission had ever taken off from an actual carrier -- not even in training.
To top it all off, the aircrafts' limited fuel capacity more or less guaranteed landing either in a part of China that was occupied by Japan (mere hours after bombing their homeland) or in the sea.
"Land in either the red or the blue, and you're dead. But no, seriously, good luck."
Right off the bat, things went horribly wrong. The carrier force that was set to release Doolittle and the other raiders on their suicide mission was spotted by a patrol boat, so everyone said "screw it" and launched the planes, even though they were still around 170 nautical miles from their intended launch point. After flying for six hours (again, at wave-top height), the bombers reached Japan and dropped their payload.
At that point, one bomber headed for Vladivostok in the USSR and the rest went south toward China, hoping to make it to a friendly airfield or just anywhere not crawling with Japanese troops. Due mainly to the early start, there was actually very little chance of the raiders ever making land, never mind Chinese-held airstrips. However, a strong tailwind gave them a little extra push and allowed some of the planes to make land before running out of fuel. Others weren't so lucky.
What survivors there were went two different ways: Some were captured by the Japanese, while the rest, including Doolittle, sneaked through Japanese lines with the help of Chinese guerrillas.
While not a great deal of physical damage was actually done to Japan, the raid caused a great boost in morale in America. It also shook the Japanese people's trust in their government and forced them to spend key strategic resources (including a whole bunch of aircraft carriers) to protect the Japanese Home Islands against raids.
#2. The bin Laden Raid
As if you didn't know this was going to be here.
The now world-famous raid was carried out by a unit known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six, and we're not allowed to know their actual names, but of the few things we are allowed to know is that they were founded by a guy known as "The Shark Man of the Delta" and "Demo Dick," plus he's already featured in a Cracked article (so you just know he's cool).
Every war hero has to go through this rigorous process.
Anyway, 79 of these ghost warriors and an awesome dog named Cairo took four advanced stealth-modified choppers (which we're also not allowed to know about), flew low through the part of Pakistan's airspace where unknown aircraft are automatically shot down, assaulted a compound designed to defend against exactly this sort of attack and then stormed out 38 minutes later with angry Pakistani F-16s in pursuit.
"What, bin Laden? Shit. OK, we'll get off your tail and never speak of this again."
When things go right in a raid, it's easy to lose track of how disastrous even one mistake would have been. Have you seen Black Hawk Down, where the choppers get shot down and the Americans are surrounded by thousands of heavily armed and pissed off Somalis? This raid could have turned out like that, except with the crowd made up of trained Pakistani soldiers, zero chance of overland rescue and the mother of all diplomatic shitstorms preventing any air rescue.
If the SEALs' choppers were to crash or otherwise break down, they would have been beyond screwed. So can you imagine what went through their minds when the first chopper stalled and crashed (albeit very slowly) in bin Laden's backyard?
"Oh no, my dahlias! You bastards."
Probably not much, because they are SEAL Team Six and they don't give a shit. Ditching the original plan to rappel onto the roof, they just blew a hole in the wall and started shooting. After securing the compound (during which some innocents were injured by mistake) and, oh yeah, killing fucking Osama bin Laden, they grabbed everything of value to the intelligence guys (including bin Laden's wank bank), crammed into the three surviving choppers and hauled ass out of there.
In this one action, 79 men and a dog took out the most wanted man on planet Earth and the closest thing real life had to a James Bond supervillain. This was the man responsible not just for 9/11, but for the deaths of thousands of civilians across four continents, the figurehead of an organization that posed the greatest threat to the security of the free world. The raid brought closure to one of the most traumatic events in American history. Oh, and it gave the USA a reason to finally start ending the war in Afghanistan. Not bad for 38 minutes' work.
And what did you do today?
#1. The St. Nazaire Raid
During World War II, the colossal Louis Joubert Lock at St. Nazaire in France was the only dock under Nazi control that could a. bypass the Allies' main naval defense line and b. accommodate the Germans' gigantic primary battleships, the Bismarck and the Tirpitz. If the Germans ever moved those huge ships into that dock, they would be able to wreak havoc in the shipping lanes supplying the U.K. from America, starving the U.K. into submission and therefore more or less winning the war.
If they swung this thing around, they could probably just bridge the English Channel and walk ashore.
Obviously, with their dinners on the line, the British needed to prevent this. A team of 600 British sailors and commandos took an ancient WWI-era American destroyer called the HMS Campbeltown and 18 small motorboats (which were made mostly of wood and burst into flames constantly during the raid) and set out for France in March 1942.
"There's no way this can fail!"
The plan was to sail straight up an estuary lined with heavy coastal gun emplacements and crash the destroyer (which was packed with explosives on a timer) into the dock gate. Then they'd jump out onto the dock (where the commandos would be outnumbered by about eight to one by the German garrison) and do as much damage as possible. With the Campbeltown lodged in the gate (the bomb was set to detonate after the commandos had left) and as much chaos and mayhem created as possible, the commandos would board the surviving motorboats and sail triumphantly back to Blighty.
That was the plan, anyway. Sailing a destroyer packed with explosives into St. Nazaire harbor was very much like trying to disable a running blender by reaching into it holding a live grenade. After a brave but futile attempt at bullshitting the German coastal defenses, the raiders found themselves sailing through walls of coastal battery fire and flak. The British returned fire but were hampered somewhat by the fact that their largest gun was still smaller than the smallest gun being fired on them. But in that British tradition, they soldiered on.
See that tiny ship in the middle of the dock? Yeah. It's a big dock.
Most of the ships -- including the one with the huge, dock-destroying bomb inside -- made it to their destination. The commandos jumped out and started shooting and blowing up everything they could find.
The small boats that were supposed to transport the raiders home were all destroyed or otherwise put out of action, so the surviving commandos were ordered to run for the Spanish border or fight until they ran out of ammo. As for the floating bomb that was sitting at the dock gate? The Germans just left it. For some reason they never went and defused the explosives, which detonated later in the day and put the dock out of action for the rest of the war.
"Hey, do you guys hear a ticking sound? No? It's probably just me."
Of the 600 men, only 228 of them made it back to England: 169 died and 215 were captured and became prisoners of war. However, the raid killed 360 Germans, which if you're keeping score is significantly higher than 169, and basically saved Britain's ass. After the raid, 38 medals were awarded, including five Victoria Crosses, and today the operation is colloquially known as "the greatest raid of all."
Who are we to argue?
Read more from Tony Pilgram at Bad Metaphors.
For more crazy conflicts, check out The 6 Most Retarded Police Standoffs of All Time and 5 True War Stories That Put Every Action Movie to Shame.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happens when John Cheese and David Wong strap up and make a raid on Dunkin Donuts.
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