5 Famous Wars That Showed Up in the Last Place You'd Expect
If, say, North and South Korea were to go to war again, you'd pretty much expect the fighting to stay there. If you were hanging around Disney World in Orlando and suddenly a couple of North and South Korean platoons showed up and started shooting at each other, you'd assume you were the victim of some elaborate flash mob prank. Yet that sort of thing has happened all through history, like the time ...
The German Navy Attacked Cape Cod
Quick: What exactly does the U.S. Coast Guard do? They save sinking boats and shit, right? Maybe stop smugglers, that sort of thing? All of it must seem like a pretty sweet deal if you're doing that instead of, say, fighting a world war. That's why the Coast Guard off the small town of Orleans, Massachusetts, probably thought they had a pretty sweet gig during World War I -- no filthy trenches or death-defying naval attacks for them. All they had to do for the war effort was guard a bunch of lobster traps and enjoy the whale watching. Which made it all the more pants-wetting when, out of the blue, an Imperial German submarine suddenly rose from the abyss in attack mode.
In freaking Cape Cod.
This itty bitty little sideways elf shoe looking place.
It was July 21, 1918, and the German sub U-156 suddenly found itself in possession of far too many torpedoes and far too few targets. The U-boat's captain, Richard Feldt, spotted Orleans, with its several unassuming tugboats and barges docked in the harbor. Most people would've shaken their head sadly and gone off to blow their excess torpedoes on icebergs or whatever. Feldt, on the other hand, thought, "I must now shoot all of this," high-fived his second in command, and proceeded to attack the quaint little town in a move right out of a Stephen King novel.
Bemused bathers ashore stared in slack-jawed surprise as the U-boat began its attack, blasting at boats and spraying the town with bullets from mounted machine guns. The Coast Guard, annoyed by the pesky sounds of warfare in their peaceful station, popped their heads out to investigate -- only to find their little town quickly turning into a war zone. They hastily sent out a few shoddy aircraft, which completely failed to damage the U-boat with their bombs.
"OK, that's close enough to finished -- just send it out."
Still, they lucked out: The Germans were apparently completely unprepared for an attack from an enemy nation whose soil they were actively bombing. They retreated in the face of the Coast Guard's desperate flailing, leaving the town in panic and disarray.
The American Civil War Spilled Over into France and Brazil
The big thing about civil wars is that they tend to keep within the country in question. That's the whole point, really. So if you were fighting in the American Civil War and took a break in, say, France, you'd think you had left the fighting behind and could relax with some nice 19th century French prostitutes.
Perhaps that is why the Confederate ship CSS Alabama was so confident when it stopped for repairs in the French seaside town of Cherbourg. The Alabama had been busy raiding Union ships in the Atlantic and went to get some repairs time on the other side of the ocean. Even if you have to endure accordion music and filthy mimes, a little holiday in a then-neutral country must've felt like heaven after all that hardcore warrin'. Then, after the repairs were finished, they sailed leisurely back to sea to run right the fuck into a Union battleship. Suddenly the North and the South were continuing their American conflict within sight of ... whatever France had at the time instead of the Eiffel Tower.
Back then, their main tourist attraction was just a dude. People loved Chad France.
The ship was the Union vessel USS Kearsarge, a sloop-of-war that, unbeknownst to the Confederates, had been tracking the Alabama down due to everyone getting tired of its bullshit. The Kearsarge hung around French waters until the Alabama was shoddily (France, remember) repaired. The second the latter left safe waters, crew relaxed and hull creaking, it ran into the Kearsarge. Unable to turn back and unfit to fight, the Alabama had just one thing left to do: Say "fuck it" and challenge the Kearsarge to a one-on-one duel, just off the French shore.
This went about as well as you'd expect. The Alabama went under after an hour's combat, its crew presumably still cursing the French sea chanty from the tavern last night that they couldn't get out of their heads.
"EAT SHIT, SCUMB- blbblbllblblbll ..."
By the way, almost the exact same thing happened to the Confederate ship the CSS Florida (which happened to be a sister ship of the Alabama) when it decided to stop for coal in the Brazilian port of Bahia. Despite the fact that they were in freaking South America -- the wartime equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card -- the Florida happened to encounter the Union ship USS Wachusett, which promptly captured the vessel.
"Onward! We will not stop until we have shown the entire world how much we suck at war."
Greenland Was Full of Secret Nazi Outposts
Imagine being an American rescue pilot in 1943, gliding over the vast emptiness of Greenland. You may be drifting off course over the world's largest island, but you don't care -- you're thousands of miles from World War II, and that's what counts. After all, who the hell cares about Greenland?
Look at that piece of shit. Just floating there like it doesn't know it sucks.
Suddenly, you notice a strange structure in the middle of the rugged wilderness below. Whatever could that be? Intrigued, you mark the spot on your map, making a point to return to the site on foot to see what this peculiar construct in the untouched wilderness might be. Days later, you finally make the trip and knock on the door of the structure.
Then, a Nazi comes out and punches you in the dick.
Why the hell were Nazis in Greenland? Did they hear that the Ark of the Covenant was buried there? Actually, it was all about monitoring the weather. In the days before weather satellites, you needed weather-monitoring stations in remote places to tell you what weather systems were coming your way. So when an American rescue plane stumbled upon that strange shack in the ass end of Greenland, they had actually come across a major Nazi operation.
Or as we call it in the States, a "Minnesota Hitler shed."
Once a patrol had captured the lone German officer manning that outpost, they realized that the Nazi bastards had secretly littered Greenland's coastline with them, providing valuable weather data for Hitler and pals 24/7.
Since bombing the entire coastline of a massive island wasn't really an option even for America, they devised an alternate strategy: A 15-strong congregation of U.S., Norwegian, and Danish troops stormed station after station after station using dog sleds, commandoing their way through hundreds of miles of snow and ice. Sometimes they met heavy resistance from the Germans, while others surrendered almost immediately because their toilet had frozen.
Which wasn't a huge issue until their assholes thawed.
By October 1944, the Allies had won one of the coldest operations of the war, losing just one man in the process, which is still more casualties than what they probably expected to lose in fucking Greenland.
German and British Fleets Bumped into Each Other in a "Safe Zone"
During World War I, pretty much all of South America (save for Brazil) was neutral. As such, Chile had no reason to think that any of the warring countries would just randomly show up on their doorstep. And when it happened, it wasn't a couple of random boats like in the Civil War example we told you about before -- these guys each brought a goddamn naval squadron with them.
And the ability to make panties evaporate with a glance.
In the blue corner, we have Christopher "All the Bling" Cradock. In the red corner, Maximilian "Too Cheap to Have a Photo Taken" von Spee. Both were going through particularly relaxed parts of their respective missions. Von Spee's squadron had performed a two-month scouting mission to the Pacific, eluding enemy troops left and right, and were finally back in the safer waters of the Chilean coastline. Cradock was expecting even less trouble -- he was just in the process of moving his squadron along the coast.
So ... Cradock was heading down the coast. Von Spee was heading up the coast. Both were secure in the knowledge that there would be no enemies around because, goddamn it, the ocean is a big place, and what the fuck are the odds. So what happened next was a nasty shock for everyone involved.
"We're trying to swim here, you assholes!"
The fates of the two forces intertwined near the port city of Coronel in late October of 1914. Von Spee immediately gained a dual advantage in their unavoidable contest: Not only did he learn of the enemy's existence first, he also had much better ships. Still, he had his work cut out for him, as both sides had a lot of goddamn ships.
The Brits, in a trademark stiff-upper-lip moment, put up a good fight, but the German forces quickly took out the two largest ships, damaged two retreating ones, and generally scored the kind of curbstomp victory rarely seen outside professional wrestling. It was, by the way, the first naval battle of World War I, and, for the good people of Coronel, the fireworks display of the century.
"I think I'll just stick with these. There's much less blood involved."
Japan Attacked Alaska ... and Oregon ... and California
For a "global" war, World War II stayed pretty far away from North America. The few battles that took place nearby were entirely naval, but except for a bunch of random bomb balloons, no enemy ever entered U.S. soil.
That is, except for the Japanese. Something that gets left out of history lessons is the fact that, after Pearl Harbor, they attacked American soil all the time, in increasingly random places.
For instance, Japan kicked things off with a submarine attack against Ellwood, California, a small town right next to Santa Barbara. Although there was a viable target in the form of an oil refinery, the sub only managed to slightly damage a derrick and a few surrounding buildings. Still, this attack against a random West Coast town did its job, sending shockwaves all around America and single-handedly launching the whole Japanese Invasion hysteria that ran rampant until the tide of the fight turned definitively in favor of the Americans.
Back then, newspapers damn well knew how to make headlines.
Then a few months later in June, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced outside another random target, an Army fort in Oregon, and started blasting the base with artillery shells from its 5.5-inch deck gun. The sub soon had to escape a retaliating bomber, but not before damaging phone lines, destroying part of a baseball field, and ... well, that's about it.
The biggest Japanese attack on U.S. soil, however, was an actual, honest-to-God invasion. In fact, for a while it looked like it could have actually become a major battlefront. Its destination was even less expected than the previous ones: The Japanese brought their A-game to the extremely surprised residents of the tiny Alaskan Aleutian Islands. In a legendary feat of thoughtlessness, however, they then proceeded to try to attack Canada. As fighting an enemy while standing on another enemy's soil is referred to in military strategy books as "What? Shit no," Japan soon found itself beaten back by the collective force of the American and Canadian troops.
"Prepare for the combined wrath of Dunkin' Donuts AND Tim Hortons!"
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't plotting to take over Finland, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.
For more bizarre battles, check out The 5 Most Retarded Wars Ever Fought and 5 Lesser Known (Completely Ridiculous) American Civil Wars.