4 Soldiers Who Heroically Risked Their Lives For A Laugh
It's easy to forget that even during the horrors of wartime, daily life continues. Some people get stressed, some get anxious, but some gaze upon a world wracked by misery and declare, "I have the perfect idea for a hilarious joke." Look at how ...
Ken Gatward Flew Over Occupied Paris To Troll The Gestapo
In 1942, the Nazis were at the peak of their power, with influence not matched until decades later, when dumbasses started making YouTube videos about how great they were. So the British Royal Air Force, in an attempt to boost bedraggled Allied morale, conceived of Operation Squabble. British intelligence had learned that the Nazis were conducting daily marches down Paris' Champs-Elysees, because the Nazis loved stuffy military parades, and the British wanted to fuck with one, because the British love annoying the Germans.
Flight Lieutenant Alfred "Ken" Gatward and his navigator Gilbert "George" Fern were asked to volunteer for this dangerous assignment because of their experience in daylight raids and low-level attacks -- and also, presumably, their extremely British names. The plan was to strafe one of those obnoxious Nazi parades and drape a big French flag over the Arc de Triomphe, because there's propaganda and then there's just dropping your balls in the enemy's face.
Gatward and Fern practiced by shooting up a shipwreck in the English channel and studying maps of Paris to determine the best route in and out, and then they set off. When they arrived, the parade was still being assembled -- intel on its timing had been inaccurate. Undeterred, Fern released the flag as planned, and then, flying at second-story height through the city, Gatward attacked the building being used as Gestapo headquarters. SS troops fled the building and, according to the record, literally shook their fists at him, as if they all were well aware that they were the villains in this conflict.
Gatward faced light anti-aircraft fire and had a bird sucked into one engine, but the pair dropped a second flag on German Navy headquarters before returning home safely to receive commendations and what we can only assume was all the sex. That day's parade was cancelled in the chaos, the Nazis' reputation as an untouchable war machine was shaken, and Allied media had a field day with the stunt. Gatward buried the remains of the bird, in case you were wondering.
Gabriele D'Annunzio Risked His Life To Mock The Austrians ... Twice
Gabriele D'Annunzio was a staunch Italian nationalist, was which a pretty tough thing to be in 1917. The Italians had just suffered a crushing defeat that forced a massive retreat after two and a half years of grinding deadlock, and even if the tide turned, it was clear that Italy would fail to achieve the ambitious territorial gains they had entered World War I with their eyes on. Morale was low, and D'Annunzio, who had achieved celebrity for his poems, plays, and lavish affair-riddled lifestyle before volunteering for the army, wanted to change that.
First he launched the Buccari Raid in February of 1918, which saw three small motorboats navigate into the sheltered heart of Austrian shipping to fire torpedoes at enemy ships. This required the crews to sneak through several miles of narrow straits, where they could be fired at from both land and sea if they were noticed. The stealth mission was a success, although one of their torpedoes plowed into the beach while the rest were harmlessly caught up in anti-torpedo nets, and the warship they thought they were firing on later turned out to have only been a mothballed passenger ferry anyway. But D'Annunzio's real goal was to release three floating containers sporting the Italian flag, taunting the Austrians with the knowledge of how far they'd snuck into their territory.
The raid was a propaganda coup, but D'Annunzio wasn't done. On August 9, 1918, he was onboard one of eight planes that flew over Vienna to drop half a million leaflets on the populace below. The leaflets, some with a message written by D'Annunzio himself, mocked Austria's loyalty to Germany, and warned that the Italians could just have easily dropped bombs. The Viennese were more baffled than outraged, since D'Annunzio's leaflets had been written in Italian instead of German, and were also so full of high-minded nonsense like "The rumble of the young Italian wing does not sound like the one of the funereal bronze, in the morning sky" that they would have been incomprehensible even to most people who could speak the language. But the 1,200 km round trip was an impressive technical feat for the day, and fawning newspaper headlines all over the Allied world further boosted Italian morale.
D'Annunzio's declaration that Austria's allegiance to Germany would doom them proved prophetic, as the war would soon end with the Austro-Hungarian Empire's dissolution. As for D'Annunzio himself, after the war, he continued his voluminous literary career. This famously led to him, uh ... being declared the father of fascist thought and briefly running his own proto-fascist, music-obsessed city-state, all while gaining a reputation as a hypersexual lunatic. Which is maybe the exact kind of personality that you need to do all of the above.
Chickie Donohue Went On A Beer Run For His Buddies In Vietnam
The Vietnam War has such a dour reputation that if in the middle of a grim drama about the brutal dehumanizing nature of the conflict, a character showed up with a case of beer and a smile, you'd think it was the most inappropriate Pabst marketing campaign ever conceived. But that really did happen, thanks to the efforts of John "Chickie" Donohue.
In 1967, Donohue was a 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran turned merchant seaman who was tired of seeing his old comrades and locals from his New York neighborhood come home in bodybags. So when his ship departed New York for Vietnam on an ammunition run, he brought along a duffel bag full of beer and a plan to track down as many of his old friends still in the country as he could. Because if you're going to face death in a pointless conflict, you might as well have a nice buzz going.
He met one pal right in the harbor and promptly got drunk with him, but had to trek his way up and down Vietnam over the course of several days to find the rest, using time off earned by working extra shifts. He hitched rides on jeeps and mail planes while convincing military officials that he wasn't a lunatic, or at least that he wasn't the dangerous kind of lunatic. Everyone was baffled to see him voluntarily show up in a war zone in a bright plaid shirt, and he spent at least one night hunkered down with a company engaged in combat on the front line.
The beer he delivered provided a much-needed reminder of home to soldiers who were starting to grow depressed by their conditions. Although perhaps no anecdote better illustrates how much the Vietnam War sucked than the fact that these men were thrilled to get what was probably the warmest beer in military history.
A British Soldier Brought An Umbrella Into Battle
Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter was so absurdly British that you can't even read his name without being compelled to brew a cup of tea. He was serving in India when World War II began, but by 1942, he had volunteered for the Parachute Regiment. The job of throwing yourself out of an airplane and into enemy territory attracted characters as colorful as one might expect. Digby, who claimed that he struggled to remember passwords, took to carrying an umbrella into battle, with the logic that only an Englishman would do such a thing.
Digby had apparently never heard of espionage, but never mind that, because by 1944, he was jumping into the Battle of Arnhem. Those of you who either know your military history or played Medal Of Honor on the PS2 know that one didn't go well for the Allies.
Digby, despite his eccentricities, had a reputation as a calm and innovative commander, and his unit advanced deep into occupied Dutch territory. This was accomplished in part with the aid of Napoleonic-era bugle calls, as Digby, believing radios to be too unreliable in the heat of battle, had trained his men in their use. According to lore, in the course of the battle, Digby A) led a charge with a bowler hat on his head, a pistol in one hand, and his umbrella in the other, B) rescued his unit's chaplain, who was pinned down by mortar fire, and escorted him to safety while opening the umbrella as though it would protect them from attacks, C) responded to observations that lugging an umbrella around was idiotic by pointing out that it might rain, and D) disabled a German armored car by jamming his umbrella through the observation slit and into the driver's eye.
Some of those exploits may be exaggerated, but what is true is that an umbrella-wielding madman cannot singlehandedly make up for bad intelligence and overconfident strategy, and so Digby and his troops were among the many exhausted soldiers forced to surrender when Allied armor failed to punch through the German lines to relieve them. A wounded Digby was sent to a hospital, from which he and a fellow officer promptly escaped by hopping out the window.
A local woman put them in touch with the Dutch Resistance, which equipped Digby with civilian clothing and forged documents that conveniently identified him as deaf and mute. He spent the next month bicycling around the area to help Allied soldiers hidden by the resistance, at one point even assisting the Nazis in pushing a staff car out of a ditch without arousing any suspicion. And then, when the moment was right, he helped about 150 soldiers escape back to Allied territory. The Germans were probably glad to be rid of him.
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