Wars are fought by elite, highly trained, barrel-chested soldiers with steely eyes and jawlines you could open a can of tuna with. At least that's what the movies would have us believe. No one pictures their sweet grandma strafing the border with an AK-47 in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other, raining down death and destruction as epic as her homemade apple pie. But it does happen ...
#5. The Churchill Club: Rebels, Nazi Fighters, Teenagers
In 1941, a small band of ragtag misfits led by Knud Pedersen, a teenager with no experience in arms or fighting, became the very first Danish Resistance group. The Winston Churchill-inspired Churchill Club took out dozens of Nazi vehicles, stole loads of Nazi weapons, spread anti-Nazi propaganda, and just generally made the Nazis feel about as wanted as that kid on the bus who wore way too much Axe body spray.
Or the Danish school bus equivalent. Say, the kid with too many tulips.
The Nazis were crotchety old Mr. Wilson, and the Churchill Club was their Dennis the Menace. Through a series of wacky shenanigans, the club built up an arsenal of stolen weapons ... which they gave to the adults to use. Because stopping the war machine is no excuse for underage unsupervised gun use. No joke: Their motto was "If the adults won't do something, we will!"
Mette Lind Jorgensen
Ooh, those little rascals.
The Churchill Club kept right on spitting in those Nazi cornflakes until they were finally busted in 1942 ... after they set an entire freight train full of munitions on fire. Dang, those youthful shenanigans escalated quickly. Some members later established more formal resistance, while Pedersen himself went on to a life of helping young artists make a name for themselves in the Copenhagen area. Without his help, we might not have the works of Arthur Kopcke or ... Yoko Ono.
Hell, we almost forgive him for it.
#4. Three Medical Students Ambush a Nazi Death Train
Youra Livchitz, Robert Maistriau, and Jean Franklemon were medical students dissatisfied with a career of saving lives one at a time, so they decided to operate in bulk. The friends set up a plan to ambush the XXth Convoy to Auschwitz -- the train line that transferred Jewish captives to their deaths at the Nazis' most infamous concentration camp.
The Nazis died out. The train lived on.
Yep: Three untrained civilians essentially set up the great Nazi train robbery.
On April 19, 1943, the XXth Convoy was carrying 1,631 prisoners to their likely demise, and three students were all that stood between them and the worst shower this side of a dorm. Armed with a hurricane lamp, red tissue paper, a pair of pliers, a pistol, and balls the size of planetoids, the students set about stopping the train to Auschwitz. They knew that engineers would slow the train if they saw an emergency signal on the track, so they glued the red tissue paper around a hurricane lamp, placed it on a bend in the track, and forced the train to a halt.
Livchitz volunteered to stop it with his bare hands, but the others just really loved lamps.
Step 1 complete! Now, on to Step 2: Dealing with the 15 trained soldiers and their commander, who were guarding the prisoners.
Clearly, this operation had a rather steep difficulty curve.
So the plan was for Livchitz to take on any Nazi soldiers with just a pistol, while Maistriau and Franklemon used the pliers to get the transport car doors open? How bloody improbable does that sound? Toss a mohawked black dude into that mix, and you've got one of the less believable episodes of The A-Team. And yet the three students managed to get 115 people off of that train, and to freedom. You gotta love it when a plan comes together.
#3. Hugh O'Flaherty, the Priest Who Was Born Without the Ability to Give a Damn
Despite the Germans bombing Dublin every now and again, Ireland managed to stay neutral for the duration of World War II. Too bad nobody told Irish priest Hugh O'Flaherty, who set about transforming his life into a giant middle finger pointed right at the Third Reich.
Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society
Nazi trolling was his favorite hobby, other than golf.
While priests from Axis countries had to evacuate the Vatican after the entire country was surrounded by an Axis power, priests from neutral countries were allowed to remain hassle-free. However, after Italy surrendered in 1943, things started to get messy. Allied POWs in POW camps were now technically free, but stranded -- and it looked like the German forces were marching in to take them back. They needed someone to help them -- someone with shining moral character, a heart of solid steel, a haircut some would describe as "a drunken cloud," and a bitchin' orange silk cloak. Someone who could possibly be described as "the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican."
O'Flaherty sprang into action, accepting every POW (over 4,000 of them!) who came to the doors of the Vatican. From there, he began smuggling them out of Rome using his gigantic network of contacts, helpers, and disguised safe houses.
Pima Air and Space Museum
Sometimes he disguised refugees as priests. Or cattle.
When the local German forces began to suspect O'Flaherty, did he abandon his hasty life of heroism? Oh no, he kept right on, wandering Rome in disguise, dodging assassination attempts -- he even had the balls to walk POWs right down the stairs of the Vatican in full view of the SS battalion watching from just outside the border. The last one, unsurprisingly, got him a bounty on his head. Despite being in the cross hairs of the SS and apparently priest-hatin' bounty hunters, O'Flaherty still managed to get every last one of the POWs who came to him to safety. When the war was over, O'Flaherty visited the very man who ordered him killed, Colonel Herbert Kappler, in prison. After what we have to assume were more than a few awkward conversations full of hateful pauses, O'Flaherty converted Kappler to Catholicism.
We're not even sure how that's a burn, but we are sure it's a pretty friggin' sweet one.