4 Heroes of World War 2 Who Have Yet To Get Their Own Movies
Everyone knows a good ol' war yarn. Or at least you should, judging by how many of them we've documented over the years. However, some of the best stories from World War II still haven't seen widespread exposure. Let's fix that.
Thomas Pierson Frank Stopped The Nazis From Flooding London
As we've previously discussed, in terms of batshit crazy plots and doomsday devices, fictional Nazis seem pretty toned down compared to their real-life counterparts. It's ironic, then, that for all their occult worship and prototype stealth jets, they came within a hair's breadth of destroying their one of their greatest enemies through sheer dumb luck.
During the war, the Luftwaffe dropped countless bombs on London -- as they did with many other cities and towns -- in order to force a surrender from the British. They hit homes, they hit businesses, they hit government buildings, they hit everything ... including the embankments that prevent the River Thames from flooding London. If those walls had been destroyed, the ensuing flooding would've caused mass devastation.
The only thing that stopped them? Thomas Pierson Frank and the Thames Flood Prevention Emergency Repairs Team.
When Frank and his Dam(un)busters received a report that an embankment had been damaged, they would immediately head out and repair it before things escalated. And It wasn't just the threat of floods that the team had to contend with. If the public was aware of the danger, they would've understandably freaked out and started panicking, which could have led to the Nazis learning about this weakness and giving London history's worst pool party.
For this reason, the team worked at night. But you know who else was also working at night, don't you?
Despite records showing that the embankments were damaged 120+ times during the war, the actions of Frank and the TFPERT meant that they never broke.
Mary Babnik Brown's Hair Helped Guide Bombing Raids
Although Dr. Strangelove might've made it look easy, conducting a bombing raid involves precise planning and aiming a step beyond simply choosing a cowboy hat and using the good ol' thumb measurement system. Unless you like wasting hugely expensive ordinance and committing war crimes, in which case, be our guest.
During the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces had great difficulty making a bombsight (as the name suggests, an aiming device for bombs) that could withstand the freezing temperatures at high altitudes. The material they used to make the crosshairs for these devices -- black widow spider webs -- was not only brittle and extremely difficult to work with, but also extremely rare.
Out of desperation, the War Department went to their back-up plan and posted advertisements in several newspapers asking for blonde women to send in samples of their hair -- but only if it had never been "primped with curling irons or treated with chemicals of any kind." It took two years, but eventually, Mary Babnik Brown, a factory worker from Pueblo, Colorado, responded with a sample of her hair and an ironclad guarantee that not only did it match their requirements perfectly, but that she also had enough hair for several wars' worth of bombsights.
The government immediately snapped her up and asked her to send in strands 22 inches long ... a challenge she, no pun intended, blew apart by sending in strands 34 inches long.
Although Brown was eager to help the war in any way (so much so that she refused to take the money that the government was offering), the process wasn't easy for her. After her hair was removed, she reportedly cried for two days straight, and in a later interview, she described how it took two months to get over her loss. ("At first I was so ashamed, I wore a bandana to work so people wouldn't ask me about it.")
The kicker to this story, however, is that it wasn't until 1987, over 40 years after her donation, that she learned precisely what her hair was used for. As it turns out, the initial ad was rather vague, since the War Department -- some would say, wisely -- didn't want to advertise to the enemy that their bomb-dropping skills matched those of a toddler playing Angry Birds.
The Conscientious Objectors Who Allowed Themselves To Be Used As Guinea Pigs
To be a conscientious objector during World War II was to court everything from public shaming to being arrested and thrown in prison. You could have the best, most airtight reason for not wanting to get machine-gunned on a beach ("Because I ... don't?"), and it wouldn't matter a jot because how dare you, your country needs you.
There was a way for conscientious objectors to have their cake and eat it too, though. They could sign up for the Civilian Public Service, doing "work of national importance under civilian direction," which could range from fighting forest fires to caring for the mentally ill to being experimented on by scientists.
Over the course of the war, 500+ conscientious objectors willingly became test subjects for "dangerous and life-threatening medical experiments seeking cures for malaria, hepatitis, atypical pneumonia and typhus." In other words, all of the nasty natural bullshit that was killing the troops faster than the enemy could.
In 1941, for instance, a group of conscientious objectors based at Campton, New Hampshire signed up to be infected with lice (the primary cause of typhus) in order to provide a way for scientists to test different concoctions of anti-louse powders. In the words of the guy who ran the experiment, they lived "in complete isolation for 18 days, without changing or washing their underwear, clothing, or bedding ... and out any powders or sprays which thought safe for human trial."
It wasn't just diseases and all-you-can-scratch body bugs, either. Some signed up to be dehydrated or starved in order to determine the best way of keeping, for example, dehydrated shipwrecked sailors or starved civilian populations alive after they were saved, lest rescuers accidentally kill them.
The most famous of these experiments was the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, in which a group of 36 subjects were starved -- again, with their consent -- for an entire year, which resulted in "significant decreases in their strength and stamina, body temperature, heart rate and sex drive," along with causing them to "dream and fantasize about food, read and talk about food and savor the two meals a day they received."
The kicker is that the war was over by the time that it wrapped, although it wasn't entirely in vain. The long-term results of the experiments were severe enough to help spur the creation of the Marshall Plan, which was designed to assist postwar countries in fighting disease, malnutrition, and poverty.
Meyer Lansky, The NYC Gangster Tasked With "Disrupting" American Nazi Groups
Game Of Thrones is ending next year, which is going to leave a significant hole in HBO's programming schedule. Our solution? Bring back Boardwalk Empire and give us Meyer Lansky and the years he and his boys spent beating the shit out of the Bund, the American franchise of the Nazis.
For those of you without premium cable, Lanksy was a major player in the underworld of New York City in the '30s and '40s, and he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty whenever dirty deeds needed doing. He was also Jewish, which gave him a vested interest in disrupting meetings held by the Bund, a group of dipshits formed in 1936 to promote Nazism in the United States.
With the support of "Lucky" Luciano and the legal protection of New York State Judge Nathan Perlman, Meyer's gang -- which was entirely Jewish -- began interrupting Bund rallies and kick-blasting anyone they found there. After the Bund got wise to these wiseguys, they began locking down their meetings tight. Lansky then sent gang members to infiltrate the meetings ahead of schedule, whereupon they'd rush the stage and doors simultaneously.
As one enforcer described an average night:
"The Nazi scumbags were meeting one night on the second floor. Nat Arno and I went upstairs and threw stink bombs into the room where the creeps were. As they came out of the room, running from the horrible odor of the stink bombs and running down the steps to go into the street to escape, our boys were waiting with bats and iron bars. It was like running a gauntlet. Our boys were lined up on both sides and we started hitting, aiming for their heads or any other part of their bodies, with our bats and irons. The Nazis were screaming blue murder. This was one of the most happy moments of my life."
And as we mentioned, Lansky himself was a lead-by-example boss:
"We got there that evening and found several hundred people dressed in brown shirts. The stage was decorated with a swastika and pictures of Hitler. The speaker started ranting. There were only about fifteen of us, but we went into action. We attacked them in the hall and threw some of them out the windows. There were fistfights all over the place. Most of the Nazis panicked and ran out. We chased them and beat them up, and some of them were out of action for months. Yes, it was violence. We wanted to teach them a lesson. We wanted to show them that Jews would not always sit back and accept insults."
Lansky was also assisted in his quest to introduce Nazi face to Jewish fist by Walter Winchell, a journalist who would not only broadcast glowing reviews of his "work," but also leak information to the gang about forthcoming meetings that could do with some disruption. We'd recommend that modern-day journalists take notes, but honestly, at this point we'd settle for having them stop writing glowing profiles about white supremacists.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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