The 5 Most Insane Rescue Missions That Actually Worked
Action heroes aren't real. In real life, hostages stay hostages, trapped people stay trapped and there's no Bruce Willis to come crashing through a window in an undershirt.
Well, usually. Even in real life, every once in a while, the good guys pull off a rescue that would seem grossly implausible by Hollywood standards. Like ...
Escaping the Nazis With Cross-Dressing
Flying a glider during World War II wasn't for the faint of heart. Shit, flying a glider at any time isn't for the faint of heart. But during WWII, when a glider was an engineless craft with all the aerodynamics of a brick, it was especially treacherous. The glider was towed behind another plane and then cut loose in the hopes that it would safely crash in a way that didn't kill everyone on board.
Yeah, but tank-planes!
While flying a mission over Holland during World War II, glider pilot George F. Brennan was being towed to his target when German anti-aircraft guns attacked. Brennan was first hit with a bullet in his hand. Next, an AA shell fragmented near the plane, showering him with flak in the chest, leg, arm and ass. A few minutes later, another bullet went the spoof-comedy route and hit the gas line of a jeep strapped down in the back of the plane, igniting a gas fire. The flames spread to the pilots, burning them before other passengers were able to put it out. So, you know, it was a pretty bad flight. And did we mention that all of this happened before the glider was even released from the plane that was towing it?
"Don't worry, gravity is a Nazi invention, and we're having no truck with it."
As if being burned, shot and riddled with shrapnel wasn't enough, another shrapnel round exploded before the glider could make its way to the ground, lodging burning pieces of metal into Brennan's jaw.
The Insane Rescue:
The first part of the rescue came off with no problem -- after crashing, Brennan was rescued by the Dutch resistance, who took him to a hospital.
But that's when things got complicated: That hospital was currently occupied by the German military. The Nazis had taken over the first floor and Brennan was on the second, a few feet and one floor above Colonel Klink's head. So how in the hell do the Dutch hide an injured pilot in plain sight of the enemy? Here's where you have to ask: What would a slapstick '80s sitcom do?
It was a question that haunted Hitler every day.
So, in a move right out of Tom Hanks' greatest role to date, the buddy sitcom romp Bosom Buddies, the Dutch decided the best course of action was to stuff a pillow down Brennan's shirt, disguise him as a pregnant woman and let him recover in the maternity ward.
There he sat for weeks, slowly recovering a flight of stairs up from the Nazis, nodding in polite conversation whenever the Dutch women in his ward would talk about cheeseburger crotch and pregnancy "tumors." He was able to stay hidden until the frontline reached the hospital.
Escaping the Jungle in a Slingshot Hang Glider
On May 13, 1945, 24 passengers took off in a comfortingly named "Gremlin Special plane" to fly over the jungles of New Guinea, which at the time was nothing more than a gigantic, unexplored land mass. It was a tour that was only supposed to take three hours, but ended up taking much longer due to an unfortunate mishap. It's exactly like the premise of the beloved television comedy Gilligan's Island, except for the part where 21 of the 24 passengers tragically died when the plane ended up slamming into a mountain.
After hours of walking through the jungle, the survivors were able to make their way to a clearing and flag a search-and-rescue plane to let them know they were alive. In turn, the jungle let those planes know that there was no chance they could land on account of all the trees and such.
"Send lumberjacks. Repeat: Send lumberjacks."
To make matters worse, as the planes were uselessly flying overhead searching in vain for a place to land, the survivors noticed a tribe of natives standing at the edge of the clearing. But the bad news didn't stop there. Somehow, word came down that those natives were possibly cannibals. Oh no! But it was cool, because they were the silly kind of natives who once had a prophecy that white-skinned ghosts would fall from the sky, so nobody got immediately eaten.
But beliefs in space ghosts didn't change the fact that, due to the remoteness of the area, a rescue party couldn't walk in (because they didn't fall from the sky, they probably would've been eaten anyway), and again, dense jungle prevented planes from landing.
Early attempts at claiming the country had involved trained birds and tiny American flags.
The Insane Rescue:
Somehow, the proposed and enacted solution to this was to just keep dropping more people into the area in the hopes that a larger group of people would miraculously be able to escape a space so tightly packed that three people couldn't do the same. This, for some reason, went on for two months, with more men and supplies being dropped into a jungle that there was no escape from. It was quite the debacle, and there was but one solution.
Enter the Fanless Faggot.
"Move to the left a bit more ... there. Now our descendants don't think we're terrible people."
That was the actual, real name of a build-it-yourself hang glider. The big idea was to drop the necessary parts to construct a Fanless Faggot (we'll never get used to typing that) into the jungle clearing and, just like that, everyone could get the hell out of there. But wait, you say, how is a hang glider useful if you're trapped on the ground in a dense jungle?
Stop asking stupid questions. Obviously, they planned to attach a giant rubber bungee cord to the back of the glider so a plane towing a hook behind it could fly overhead and slingshot the Fanless Faggot and its ever-growing crew of stranded jungle dwellers into the air and back to relative safety.
"You know, we could probably just get used to cannibals and parasitic worms."
If that plan sounds totally insane, it's probably because you haven't been living in the jungle for an extended period of time with angry natives who at any moment could simultaneously realize you aren't a fallen ghost and remember that they are hungry cannibals. Until you've been through that, don't tell us shit about how crazy a slingshot airplane sounds.
With everyone loaded onto a glider and the bungee system set up, the lifting plane swooped down and successfully caught the FF, launching it into the air. The plan, as wacky as it sounds, totally worked, and everyone was rescued.
And even had horribly uncomfortable friendships with some of the natives.
POWs Freed by a Near-Suicidal Bombing Run
When the Nazis occupied Northern France, they rounded up hundreds of French resistance fighters and detained them at Amiens Prison. For France, this was not going to end well, since those French fighters were facing an inevitable date with a German firing squad.
So it's no surprise that those brave French were willing to go along with any plan that resulted in them not dying at the hands of the Nazis. But we have to think that they were at least a little bit concerned when word came down that the Allies did indeed have a plan ... they were going to bomb the shit out of the prison they were in.
"Hey, in for a penny, in for a glorious explosive death."
The Insane Rescue:
Keep in mind this was decades before anything resembling precision bombing techniques were invented. Before smart bombs, the Allies' usual procedure was "Here is a small factory we want to destroy, let's just carpet bomb the whole city. Surely one or two of the thousands of bombs we drop will hit the target." Back then, "collateral damage" meant everyone in a 50-mile radius.
Conscious of this fact, the rescue planners sought to bomb the prison from such a low altitude you'd think the plan was to decapitate Nazis using airplane wings. But the real plan was no less insane. Basically, they were hoping to drop the bombs in such a way that only the walls of the prison would be destroyed, and not the building where the prisoners were being held. It would be kind of like trying to free a man by shooting off his handcuffs with a shotgun.
While you sprint toward him at breakneck speed.
Accordingly, the French Underground and Allies had such little faith in the plan that they decided that if the bombs failed to knock a hole in the wall, a second bombing run would just carpet bomb the whole prison to rubble. The prisoners themselves were on board with that, saying they would rather die at the hands of the Allies than reveal anything to the Nazis under torture. So much for the French being pussies, yeah?
That act bumped them up to at least the 56th least surrendery country in the world.
When the operation got underway, its poor odds didn't improve, as only a portion of the bombers made it to the target due to weather and mechanical difficulties. Those that avoided the German AA defenses and planes quickly got to work on the French jail and through skill and luck were able to smash a hole into the wall by swooping down low. Way low, as in, lower than the prison building.
As a bonus, they also destroyed the guard house where most of the German staff were having their meal. All the while, the whole rescue was broadcast live by the BBC via a British reporter who hitched a ride on one of the planes. Damn! War coverage used to be awesome.
Rescued by Way of Mundane Golf Stats
On April 2, 1972, Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, an intelligence analyst, was aboard a plane used to jam North Vietnamese Communist Army (NVA) radar. While over enemy territory, anti-aircraft missiles knocked his plane out of the sky. Luckily, Hambleton was able to bail out before the craft exploded. Less luckily, his bailout landed him in front of a huge army of NVA regulars in the process of launching one of the biggest North Vietnamese offensives into South Vietnam.
And they were coming for him -- the enemy found out he was an intelligence analyst, which meant he'd be a very high value POW. Fortunately for Hambleton, he had pretty extensive knowledge of something else ... the game of golf.
"On second thought, we don't want him any more."
The Insane Rescue:
A SEAL team sent in on foot to rescue Hambleton quickly realized that Vietnamese intelligence was listening to their radio communications. You can immediately see the problem this would cause with staging a rescue -- telling Hambleton where to wait for a chopper would mean half the North Vietnamese army would also be waiting in that spot.
"Surprise! Tank party!"
On the fly, the Special Forces developed what must have been the most boring special code ever with Hambleton, based on his extensive knowledge of golf courses. That's right, all that useless bullshit you have stuffed in your head could save your life some day!
Nah, we're totally kidding; algebra is useless.
Transmissions would use golf terms and Hambleton's encyclopedic knowledge of distances to the green from famous courses. An example transmission would read, "You're going to play 18 holes and you're going to get in the Swanee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna. The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National." How did the NVA not figure that out?
For six more days, Hambleton scrambled around the NVA-infected jungle, moving from "green" to "green." Although he mostly escaped detection, at one point he came upon a surprised Vietnamese man who attacked him with a knife. Hambleton was able to "neutralize" his attacker. So you could say that fate gave Hambleton ... a mulligan. Man, this golf code shit is easy.
"There's one ball in play and one in the bunker. Also, I may need an ambulance."
The rescue of Iceal "Gene" Hambleton (Call sign Bat 21 Bravo) from behind enemy lines was the largest, longest and most complex search-and-rescue operation during the entire Vietnam War, and it was all possible because of one man's Rain Man-like knowledge of golf.
Related: 5 Golf Courses That Can Kill You
Ross Perot Goes A-Team on Iran
The Iran of the 1970s wasn't at all like the Iran we know today. The ruling government was massively corrupt, the citizens were threatening to rise up and all involved parties basically blamed the United States for their troubles. OK, so we take that first sentence back.
This guy's name is probably Bahmoud Bhmadinejad.
Unsurprisingly, American corporations doing business in Iran were popular targets for aggression. Two executives working for U.S.-based electronics firm EDS, Bill Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone, learned that the hard way when they were taken into custody on trumped up (probably) bribery charges and thrown in jail on December 28, 1978.
Fortunately, their employer was this 5'6" tower of badassery ...
Yep, that's former presidential hopeful and all-around adorable crazy old man Ross Perot, and he does not take kindly to his employees being taken into custody. After lobbying the American and Iranian governments to free his captured executives to no avail, Ross Perot did what any of us would do: He used his network of old military buddies to form a strike team with the intent of freeing the hostages without any government help.
We're going to repeat that last part again with added emphasis, just so it sinks in: Ross Perot used his network of old military buddies to form a strike team with the intent of freeing the hostages without any government help.
Tuesday night at Perot's local Waffle House.
Perot managed to gain entry into Iran by posing as a journalist, at which point he immediately decided cover stories are for bitches and went straight to the Iranian government to give them one last chance to remedy the situation before things got awesome. They ignored his demands. Things got awesome.
While Perot was negotiating in Iran, 60-year-old Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, a shadowy operative who was already famous for leading a number of raids and assaults while serving with the American Special Forces, was assembling a team of men and smuggling them into Iran. But first, they spent a few weeks storming a mock-up of the Tehran prison where the EDS executives were being held. How did they know what the prison looked like? Ross Perot cased the joint, that's how.
Dramatization (may be inaccurate).
When they arrived in Iran, all their weeks of practicing the raid on the Tehran prison mock-up went to shit. The Americans had been moved to Qasr Prison, one of Tehran's largest and best fortified jails. Faced with the prospect of having the entire mission go down in flames, Perot and company again did what any of us would do in that situation. Shit their pants and flee the country, you ask? No, instead they had an Iranian EDS employee named Rashid start a freaking riot and lead the ensuing mob right to Qasr Prison. There, Rashid stoked the crowd's anger until they stormed the prison and freed all of the inmates.
"Sometimes your government are complete assholes, and that makes me think unkind things about your culture! ATTACK!"
At that point, Colonel "Bull" Simons moved in, swooped up the two executives and proceeded to get everyone out of the country. The team used Rashid as a guide and quickly made their way to Turkey, where they boarded a plane and bid adieu to the total chaos that Iran was turning into.
From start to finish, the entire operation took less than two months. Meanwhile, the Iran hostage crisis erupted shortly thereafter and dragged on for an excruciating 444 days. Damn. Are we sure Ross Perot shouldn't have been president?
The guy's got some moves.
For more implausible military missions, check out The 6 Most Hilarious Undercover Operations Ever Pulled Off. Or learn about The 25 Least Inspiring Military Operation Names.