The 5 Most Creatively Bizarre Military Units In History
War is terrible, but our popular culture is obsessed with it for a reason -- the history of warfare is full of great, weird stories. So, if nothing else, we can give a shout out to those who were thinking outside the box and gave us ...
Israel's Autistic Intelligence Unit
Young people with autism often struggle with finding their place in a world that doesn't understand them -- half the time they're shunned for being "creepy," and the other half they're patronized and treated like taller, more articulate babies. Well, Israel has a solution for young Israelis on the autistic spectrum looking for a way to pass the time: Come and do extremely sensitive intelligence work for the country's military!
As children, autistic people tend to compensate for their under-developed social skills by over-developing their perceptual ones (something every writer of TV detectives apparently knows). Israel has taken advantage of this by recruiting autistic young adults into Unit 9900, an elite intelligence unit that pores over aerial and satellite images to pick out the tiniest details. And as it turns out, they're pretty fucking good at it. They may struggle to fit in at parties, but show them hundreds of nearly identical pictures of maps, and they'll spot key differences most of us would totally miss (like the slightly elevated grass in a Gaza soccer field that was actually a hidden weapons cache).
Which is double-impressive, since Israeli computer monitors appear to be extremely blurry.
While autistic teens are exempt from mandatory conscription in Israel, since 2008 the Israeli Defense Force has been taking some of them as volunteers on an individual basis. The selection process is rigorous, as not everyone (autistic or not) is psychologically suited for the sheer tedium of intelligence work. Those who pass the six-month training process, however, are entrusted with classified information and get to call themselves the elite of imagery analysts. So unlike you, they actually have an excuse for spending their late teens/early twenties sitting in front of a computer, fighting virtual wars for eight-plus hours a day.
And they subsist on more than just Mountain Dew.
The IDF has also realized that people with autism are well suited for software quality assurance, something especially important in a field where computer bugs can kill people. Another plus of this program is that it allows autistic individuals to build some useful life skills before they turn 21 -- when, as a rather nasty birthday gift, Israel cuts off almost all types of support for them. It seems unwise to piss off highly trained intelligence officials who handle top-secret data, but what do we know.
The Ritchie Boys (Or, The Real-Life Inglourious Basterds)
Imagine you're a Jewish person who managed to escape Germany or Austria during World War II and ended up in the U.S., where most of the population hasn't tacitly agreed that you deserve death just for existing. What do you do now? Go to Coney Island? Catch up on all those movies you missed? Never leave the safety of your bedroom again? If you said "get back to Europe and kick some ass," then you're Ritchie Boys material.
In the words of a Ritchie Boy: "I wanted a weapon. I wanted to kill Nazis." They weren't after glory -- why, you might even call them bastards. But, like, with terrible spelling.
Is it just us, or is the one on the left the spitting image of Brad Pitt?
Camp Ritchie was a secret facility in Maryland where the U.S. Army trained recruits in the noble arts of interrogation, psychological warfare, and counterintelligence. Thousands of Jewish refugees ended up there, since their first-hand knowledge of the German language and society came in pretty handy. After training, their jobs included writing leaflets aimed at defectors, coming up with ways to demoralize troops, and even assisting in getting captured Nazis to talk -- one particularly effective technique was called "just threatening to hand them over to the Soviets."
Some Ritchie Boys were sent also into the field to spy, sabotage, or just wander around messing with Nazis in any way they could. When Austrian expat Gerald Geiger was captured by the Nazis, he managed to turn the tables on the interrogator by getting him to divulge information:
The reverse-interrogation was interrupted by the arrival of those Allied tanks the Nazi was asking about, and Geiger lived on to do more recon work. Not all Ritchie Boys were so lucky. At least one was shot dead by an American soldier during the Battle Of The Bulge for speaking German a little too well. It's a good thing they didn't all get shot while posing for the following picture, though they probably would have thought it was worth it:
Is that a machete? Please let that be a machete.
The British Paradogs Of D-Day
Hey, here are some dogs parachuting during World War II:
Show this to your pet to make it feel as inadequate as you will for the rest of this article.
While these particular photos weren't taken in actual war zones, parachuting dogs were absolutely a thing during one of the most famous battles in history: the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces in 1944 (feel free to pretend the "D" in D-Day stands for "dog" from now on). They were graduates of England's War Dogs Training School, where generous Britons volunteered their beloved pets to help the war effort/get rid of them.
While most of the dogs were taught how to sniff out explosives and such, a select group were trained in parachuting. This was seriously accomplished by having trainers jump out of aircrafts with some meat on their person and letting the dogs leap out after them, wearing parachutes originally intended for dropping bicycles to paratroopers. The dogs would eventually be trained so well that they sometimes allowed themselves to be thrown out of the planes. You're now definitely wondering what that looked like, so here's some training footage from Canada:
"Good thing you have nine lives and always land on your feet."
Thus, when the 13th Parachute Battalion touched down on the beaches of Normandy, they had more than just human soldiers. Of course, in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and this was especially true even before the dogs had touched down -- one dog called Bing had to be tossed out of the plane by a jump-master after having second thoughts about the whole thing, and ended up tangled in a tree for two hours.
Despite the somewhat slapstick start to the whole "combat" thing, the dogs proved their worth, sniffing out mines, explosives, and Nazis (they do love the scent of a good turd). Bing, or "Brian" as his mother called him, would go on to serve until the end of the war, and was even awarded the Dickin Medal, the UK's highest honor for animals. Yes, that clumsy-ass dog was a bigger hero than you'll ever be.
This is the first time we wish a dog would call us "good boy."
The Civil War's Rainbow Battalions
Quick, which historical army are these gentlemen below supposed to be dressed as? Something from the Middle East or North Africa, maybe?
No cheating and looking at the title of this entry!
Nope, that's the uniform worn by Union Army forces from the exotic land of New York. As in, soldiers actually wore that during the American Civil War. They were so inspired by the French Zouave army that they decided to just crib their entire fashion sense.
The French kinda owed us for stealing the whole "independence" idea, to be fair.
You've probably been taught in school that during the Civil War, Union soldiers wore blue and Confederates wore gray. This was, like a lot of the stuff your teachers fed you about the Civil War, not quite right. In the early stages of the war, it was pretty common for some Union soldiers to be dressed in gray and some Confederates to be dressed in blue uniforms, because they had literally been recruited from what a short time ago was the same country.
In fact, some military units from both the Union and the Confederacy wore shit that was downright bonkers. These were mostly "old boys club" militias made up of rich guys who wanted to look flashy on the battlefield, because it's important to remain dapper whilst being bayonetted in the butt. Others dressed as "tributes" to their various ethnic origins -- the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry, for instance, straight up dressed in kilts and Scottish caps. They even had the (cold) balls to nickname themselves "Highlanders."
A name they definitely didn't deserve, since they're all currently dead.
And then we have the Third New Jersey Cavalry, who looked like something Nintendo might have designed. Known as the "Butterfly Boys" for their distinctive hooded cloaks (and, you know, the fact that their unit flag featured a butterfly), they were supposed to charge into battle "armed only with a saber" in order to maintain the consistency of their style. In unrelated news, the Colonel who came up with this idea was reportedly a raging alcoholic.
That's a pretty cool cloak, though, and you need it to meet the Gorons in Death Mountain.
Today's Most Unusual And Epic Animal Cavalry
When you think about it, it's pretty weird that horses are the only animals that human armies ride. It's also pretty not-true. And yes, we're talking in the present tense.
No concept is safe from gritty reboots, not even Santa.
In early 2016, the Russian Northern Fleet Motorized Rifle Brigade started training (in temperatures reaching negative 30 degrees) on how to ride reindeer sleds into battle, complete with sleigh bells. Apparently, resupplying vehicles would be difficult in the arctic, so Russia just said, "Fuck it, let's use reindeer. What else are they there for?" After all, the use of these noble creatures in battle actually has a precedent dating back to World War II, when the Soviets invaded Norway to drive the Nazis out and gained a decisive advantage thanks to their hardy cavalry. The tough bastards could easily move in the snow and could even swim from ship to shore (to be clear, we're talking about the reindeer, not the Russians).
"All right, that's half an hour, time to switch places with the reindeer."
Russia isn't the only country still using their fauna this way. China, being massive, also has a massive land border. One particular area, the Pamir Mountains along the Sino-Pakistan border, is extremely mountainous and very difficult to traverse, and also lacking a lot of modern infrastructure. None of that is much of a concern for yaks, who are able to climb up relatively steep slopes while carrying useful loads and full-sized humans on their backs. So, the Chinese border patrol figured they might as well take advantage of that.
*Cue Cops theme*
But that's a quick stroll to the store compared to what the Sirius dog sled patrol in Greenland has to undergo. 12 soldiers, split into six teams of two and riding dog sleds, have to patrol for 26 months non-stop across the endless ice. Once again, the unit traces its roots back to World War II, where it was originally tasked with hunting down German weather stations that provided crucial meteorological information to the Nazi war machine (how do you say "yep, still cold as shit" in German?). Today, the patrol is there to support Danish claims to the Arctic and Greenland, even if it means sledding through the wilderness for months with only each other, the dogs, and the polar bears for company.
(Not a joke. There are polar bears. And they're hungry.)
But hey, someone's gotta protect all that nothing.
Also check out 6 Military Units Whose Training Would Traumatize Rambo and 6 Insane Military Training Techniques Designed To Break You.
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