Finland: The Little Country that Could

To those of you who may be surprised to find the word “Finland” even mentioned in a blog about military history, let me assure you, I’m just as shocked myself. Finland isn’t well known for its military, as the young country celebrates it’s 100th birthday in 2017, and currently holds a population of just over 5 million. In, fact, Finland’s history mainly consists of being a part of larger powers such as the Kingdom of Sweden from the 12th century through 1809, and then Russia until it’s independence in 1917.

The story began in 1917 when Russia was forced to give up a large chunk of territory following their defeat in World War I, leading to the creation of several countries including Finland. Twenty-two years later, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the power-hungry Soviet Union had their sights set on reclaiming what they believed to be rightfully their own.

Flares over Finland

Flares light up the sky over Finland during a Soviet assault. During the winter Finland is dark almost 24 hours of the day. (PHOTO BY FINNISH ARMY PICTURES)

On November 30th, 1939, without a formal declaration of war, the Soviets sent twenty-one divisions (450,000 men) across the border and opened artillery fire on the capital, Helsinki, effectively beginning what would become known as “The Winter War.”

The entire world assumed little Finland was done for, expecting the conflict to end in a matter of days. To put things into perspective, the population of the Soviet Union in 1940 is estimated to have been over 190 million, almost 50 times greater the population of Finland.

In addition to being outnumbered, the Finns were under equipped, originally only having enough ammunition for 60 days of full-scale war. While the Russians mobilized over 5,000 tanks and 2,500 aircraft during the conflict, the Finnish Air Force and Tank Corps were basically nonexistent.

Finland did have one crucial edge over the “Ruskies”: the home-field advantage. Despite its size, the Finnish defense force was highly trained. Finnish troops were required to have 365 days of training, taking time to learn how to use the harsh weather, terrain, and constant darkness during the later half of the year to their advantage.

Finnish Ski Troops

Finnish ski troops prepare to ambush a Soviet patrol. Traveling on skis allowed the Finns to travel quickly and silently through the countryside. (PHOTO BY IMPERIAL WAR MUSUEM)

The Soviet plan of attack consisted of concentrated force in two main areas: the southern part of Finland, which held most of the country’s population, known as the Karelian Isthmus, and the Finnish Lapland, the underpopulated arctic in the upper part of the country.

The Finnish deployed most of their troops along the Mannheim Line, a defensive structure built in the Karelian Isthmus upon Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917. The Finns were surprisingly able to hold, halting Soviet forces until early February.

As a result of the stalemate in the south, the Soviets attempted to make ground in the north, deploying far more troops than the Finnish high command ever imagined. As a result, the Finns let the Soviets cross the border without resistance, as they didn’t have the resources to defend a another fortified line like they were in the south.

Simo Hayha

Finnish sniper Simo Hayha, nicknamed “White Death”, claimed over 500 kills throughout the war. (PHOTO BY FINNISH MILITARY ARCHIVES)

They instead resorted to guerrilla warfare, using the famed ski troops to execute ambushes and surprise attacks on Soviet supply lines and patrols. The Finnish troops and positions were well camouflaged with the snow, while the Russians were dressed in the standard olive uniforms of the Red Army. The Soviet T-34 tanks were not painted in appropriate camouflage, allowing the Finns to destroy over 3,500 during the war with anti-tank guns and bazookas.

The Finnish soldiers were also dressed accordingly to the extremely low temperatures, while most Soviet troops were issued nothing more than a light winter jacket. Temperatures were reported to have dropped below -45 degrees Fahrenheit, dooming thousands of Russians to frostbite.

The Finnish were unable to hold the Soviets forever, as they started losing ground come spring 1940. However, the severe Russian causalities and humiliation sustained during the fourth month invasion lead Stalin to propose the Moscow Peace Treaty on March 13, 1940.

Finnish 76 mm Anti-Tank Gun

Finnish 76 millimeter anti-tank gun, camouflaged to blend in with the arctic terrain. (PHOTO BY FINNISH ARMY PICTURES)

The Finns were forced to give up the Karelian Isthmus, along with several islands and small pieces of territory which the Soviets had managed to secure.

The gains were far outbalanced by the cost. By March 13th, over 125,000 Soviets were reported as dead or missing, with another 180,000 men wounded. The Finnish estimated they shot down nearly 500 planes and destroyed over 3,500 tanks. In total the Finns suffered only 70,000 casualties, but did witness the devastation of many towns in the northern part of the country.

At the time, the Finnish were looked down upon by many for signing a treaty with Nazi Germany, as the Germans were knee-deep in a war with the Russians themselves. Field Marshal C.G.E Mannheim, the head of the Finnish military, knew that he needed Germany’s resources in order to repel the Russians, prompting the Finnish government to strike a deal. The Germans agreed to send the Finns weapons, tanks, planes, and a few divisions of men in exchange for access to move their forces through the country.

C.G.E. Mannerheim

Field Marshal Mannerheim (right), chief commander of Finnish forces, stands with Adolf Hitler in 1942. (PHOTO BY SUOMEN KUVALEHTI)

However, modern historians see that this alliance was a necessity in order for the Finnish to defend their homeland. Once the Russian threat had been neutralized, Mannheim saw to it that his country broke all ties with Germany, earning the respect of the Western world. The Field Marshall later served as Prime Minister of Finland after the war in 1946.

The ultimate moral of the story here is that despite a population of only 5 million, Finland comes packin’. As I’ve learned from Erdal, his country is still proud of their victory against the odds, and every male in Finland is still required 365 days of military service after finishing high school.

Vladimir Putin’s recent actions in Ukraine and threats to reunite the former Soviet Union make this history lesson even more relevant. If Russia once again becomes the aggressor, all I have to say is be careful what you step in Vlady, because the Finns won’t come quietly.


Peter Freuchen: The Most Interesting Man in the World

The Age of Arctic Exploration remains largely excluded from the history books because, quite frankly, there’s nothing sexy about exploring uninhabited blocks of ice. Arctic explorers never received the glory they deserved, and never became household names or the subjects of movies and tv shows.


Freuchen with his third wife, Dagmar Cohn-Freuchen. (PHOTO BY KOTTKE.ORG)

It’s a shame because after reading into it, I realized that these courageous, bearded men were often quite fascinating, especially one in particular. If anyone deserves a movie made about them, it’s Peter Freuchen.

The 6’ 6” Danish native originally fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a sailor, but later decided he’d rather use his skills to sail to the unexplored arctic than fish or transport cargo.

In 1910 he left Denmark, embarking on his first expedition of Greenland. He eventually founded and established the settlement of Thule in Northern Greenland, which is now a large U.S. Naval base. He remained at Thule and governed the new Danish colony until 1920.

During this time he lead several expeditions of the rest of Greenland. His most famous, the First Thule Expedition (1912), tested Robert Peary’s claim that a channel divided Peary Land and Greenland. Freuchen proved Peary incorrect with a dangerous and historic 620 mile dogsled trip across the inland ice.

Freuchen continued exploring, facing may near-death experiences. In one particular instance, our heroic explorer found himself trapped under a layer of solid ice, and claimed to have saved his life by chiseling his way out with a piece of his own frozen feces.

After he retired from exploring, he took up work in the film industry as a consultant and writer for Artic-related scripts. In 1933 he co-starred in MGM’s Oscar winning Eskimo, playing the ship captain.

Freuchen's best selling autobiography, Vagrant Viking: My Life and Adventures, published in 1953. (PHOTO BY TIKIT)

Freuchen’s best selling autobiography, Vagrant Viking: My Life and Adventures, published in 1953. (PHOTO BY TIKIT)

As if it couldn’t get any better, Freuchen volunteered to work alongside the Danish Resistance during Word War II after his homeland was conquered and occupied by Nazi Germany. He was eventually captured and sentenced to death, but managed to escape a German prison camp by climbing over a barbed-wire fence, and fled to Sweden. Oh yea, and he did it with a peg leg, as he was forced to amputate his own left leg in 1926 due to frostbite.

After the war, Fruechen retired from dangerous things and moved to America, eventually rising to public fame. The Dane became a top selling author, writing dozens of fictional and nonfictional novel about his experiences in the arctic. His most famous work, Peter Freuchen’s Famous Book of the Eskimos, showed the modern world the ways of Eskimo culture, which was published after his death in 1965. Freuchen spent years living along side Inuit natives in Greenland and even married an Inuit woman, Navarana Mequpaluk, his first of three wives.

In 1956 the 70 year old ex-explorer was invited to be a contestant on the popular quiz show The $64,000 Question for the topic “The Seven Seas”, walking away with the $64,000 grand prize.

Thanks to reddit, I actually found a short clip from the gameshow (Freuchen comes in around the 5:00 mark) on Youtube. You’ll be shocked me to see that the man who so much resembled a polar bear was actually quite soft spoken, humbly admitting to have harpooned 20-30 whales in his day. After seeing the real man you’ll have no doubt that his famed but disputed “sh*t knife” story is indeed true.

Almost one year after his television appearance, the man who survived numerous avalanches, frostbite, and a German prison camp, was killed by a heart attack on September 2nd, 1957.

Peter Freuchen was no-doubt the most interesting man in the world. The Dos Equis guy doesn’t even stand a chance.

Weapons of Mass Impracticality

German precision is in fact very much a thing. As a proud owner of an Audi A6 I can attest to their perfectionist ways. Of course perfectionism isn’t a bad thing concerning an automobile you hope to drive for 10 years, but it still astonishes me how they manage to complicate the simplest things.

After two years I finally mastered the ingenious but painfully complicated system that is the dashboard clock in my car. Until this year it was a biannual tradition that I’d spend the morning after daylight savings flipping through the owners manual in order to change the time. It turns out this clock can do a dozen different things you’d never imagine a clock could do, but of course you’d never know unless you read the manual cover-to-cover multiple times.

The German High Command observes the finished Schwerer Gustav Rail Gun. (PHOTO BY DIESELPUNKS.COM)

The German High Command observes the Schwerer Gustav upon completion. (PHOTO BY DIESELPUNKS.COM)

German precision applies to much more than automobiles, as Germany’s been a leader in military and aerospace technology since the 19th century. For starters, a well known example is the WWII Tiger tank, which was renowned as the deadliest tank in the war. The Germans insisted on constantly improving the tank, thus perfectionism prevented it from ever being mass-produced. The Tiger couldn’t compete with the cheaper and inferior American Sherman tank, since they heavily outnumbered the Tiger.

A lesser known example was the 80cm Schwerer Gustav Railway Gun, the largest-calibre rifled weapon to ever be used in combat. The Gustav was commissioned by the German Army High Command to Krupp in 1934, in order to combat France’s state of the art defensive structure known as the Magino Line. The German military needed a weapon powerful enough to obliterate the multi-layered concrete structures, but be able to do so from a distance beyond the range of French artillery.



Of course the Gustav was over budget and behind schedule, costing 10 million German Marks and taking six years to produce one prototype. The weapon wasn’t battle ready until early 1942, with the finished product measuring 141 feet long and weighing 1,329 tons. When mounted on a railcar it’s barrel stood 25 feet above the track.

By the time it was ready for showtime, France had long surrendered, rendering the Gustav’s original purpose obsolete. The German command eventually found use for it in the siege of Sevastopol in May, 1942, where they hoped it would help end a stale-mate. It took three weeks and over 1,400 men to ship the titanic cannon to Sevastopol, a Russian fortress in present day Crimea.

The Gustav firing on

The Gustav firing on “Ammunition Mountain”, an underground ammunition depot at the Russian fortress of Sevastopol. (PHOTO BY WIKIPEDIA)

After it’s combat debut on June 5th, the Gustav was utilized several more times until the fall of Sevastopol on July 4th. In total the gun fired 50 shells from up-to 23 miles away, causing devastation. It assisted in destroying forts, outposts, batteries, and an undersea ammunition depot in Severnaya Bay. The ammunition magazine, known as “Ammunition Mountain”, lay beneath 30 meters of water and 10 meters of solid concrete. The Gustav broke through and decimated it’s concrete shell with just eight shots, hitting the ammunition magazine and triggering a large explosion.

Despite it’s success, the Gustav was too impractical to be used regularly. Utilizing the massive gun required through planning before hand, as it had to be disassembled, shipped, then reassembled, which took several weeks. Miles of track needed to be laid down in order to position the gun for one attack, as unlike most rail guns, the Gustav could only fire in one direction. If the barrel pointed in any direction but forwards, it’s massive recoil would knock the rail car off the track.



The cannon only saw action once more before the end of war. In 1944 it was called on to fire over thirty shells into Warsaw, Poland in order to suppress an uprising against German troops.

After this the Gustav was sidelined, and had long disappeared by the time Germany surrendered in May, 1945. Spare parts and shells were eventually found but the cannon was never located, prompting many to believe the 10 million Mark disappointment was scrapped for metal in the final months of the war.

The Schwerer Gustav ultimately proved to be another impractical German creation that was pushed into production by a micro-managing Adolf Hitler, desperate to find any edge over the Allies. Regardless, the Gustav was truly ahead of its time and will continue to leave historians in awe for years to come.

Japan’s Final Act of Desperation

By 1945 the war was coming to a close, and an Allied victory was inevitable. In Europe the Allies had almost completely liberated France, and were crossing German borders for the first time. In the Pacific, the Japanese Empire had been slowly losing ground since mid-1942, and this trend didn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. The Americans were closing in and preparing  to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which would mark the first time American soldiers set foot on Japanese soil.

At this point the Japanese air forces were almost nonexistent, and what was left was constantly wasted in kamikaze suicide attacks. The Imperial Navy had never recovered from losing three aircraft carriers in the Battle of Midway in 1942, and the Americans had annihilated what was left of it at Truk in early 1942. The Japanese were done, and they knew it.

Although the plan may have been a little unrealistic, there's no denying that the balloons were an engineering wonder. Each was rigged with a gas timing device that was set to run on a cycle. After the third or fourth cycle (roughly a week or two) the gas level would rise high enough to trigger the explosive, propelling a rocket downwards toward the ground.

Although the plan may have been a little unrealistic, there’s no denying that the balloons were an engineering wonder. (PHOTO BY CUFON)

However that didn’t stop them from throwing together one last horribly desperate and unrealistic plan to terrorize the American mainland and force the Allies to call for truce: incendiary balloons.The plan actually wasn’t terrible on paper, especially in terms of Japan’s usually “innovative” military plans. It involved making use of a strong current of winter air that Japanese meteorologists discovered flowing at high altitude and speed across the Pacific ocean, and towards the Western coast of the United States.

The Japanese military decided they would construct thousands of explosive hot air gallons, which would then be released into the wind. In theory, the gallons would then be pushed by the jet stream towards the American main land.

The balloons themselves were made from paper so they could easily be carried by the wind. Each was rigged with a gas timing device that was set to run on a cycle. After the third or fourth cycle (roughly a week or two) the gas level would rise high enough to trigger the explosive, propelling a rocket downwards toward the ground. The thought was they would either explode in a large city, causing casualties and creating panic, or in the wilderness, which would start mass wild fires.

As seen above, the wind patterns proved to be unpredictable, scattering the balloons in all directions.

As seen above, the wind patterns proved to be unpredictable, scattering the balloons in all directions. (PHOTO BY CHICAGO BOYZ)

The Japanese high command may have had visions of explosions in the streets of Los Angeles, but in reality the whole plan was extremely ineffective. Of the 9,000 balloons released in early 1945, only 300-500 even reached North America, most of which ended up getting stuck in trees in the middle of the no where.

Despite original panic, the attack quickly became a joke amongst the people living on the West Coast. Every few days someone would see a balloon in a tree and they’d simply call the fire department, who would then call for a bomb squad. The only casualties that occurred were the deaths of a woman and her five children on May 5th, 1945. The family was on a picnic outside of Bly, Oregon, when one of the children supposedly touched a balloon sitting in a nearby tree, triggering the explosive.

As the inconsistency of jet stream sent the flying death machines in all directions, most were lost in the Pacific Ocean. However two made it as far east as Texas, and two more miraculously ended up near Detroit, Michigan.

As the inconsistency of jet stream sent the flying death machines in all directions, most were lost in the Pacific Ocean. However two made it as far east as Texas, and two more miraculously ended up near Detroit, Michigan. (PHOTO BY STATESMAN)

One major flaw in the Japanese design was that the gas timing system only worked when the balloon was moving in air, so if a balloon ended up in a tree, the cycle would stop and the balloon wouldn’t explode unless disturbed. As a result, it took years for all of them to be located, as several weren’t found until the 1950’s. Even a few balloons remained undetected until the early 1960’s.

Japan’s final effort wasn’t a bad idea, it was just extremely unrealistic, not to mention expensive. To be honest, the only major effect the attack had on the American public was they realized the level of the country’s desperation, insuring that the end was indeed approaching.

Tragedies of the Vietnam War: The My Lai Massacre

The Vietnam War is arguably the most controversial major military action in U.S. History. Despite original public support when U.S. troops were first sent to aid the South Vietnamese in 1964, United States intervention received large outspoken disapproval by 1968. Many argued whether or not America should have ever gotten involved, as the war had no direct affect on the United Sates. In an era of Cold War tension, others believed that insuring Vietnam did not fall into the hands of the Russian-supported North Vietnamese Army was a worthy way to fight the spread of Communism, and the Soviet Union itself.

U.S. soldiers witness the aftermath of the massacre at My Lai. (PHOTO BY U.S. ARMY)

U.S. soldiers witness the aftermath of the massacre at My Lai. (PHOTO BY U.S. ARMY)

Public opinion was further turned against the war on May 4th, 1970, as a result of the infamous Kent State Massacre. The Ohio National Guard was condemned for putting down an anti-war protest at Kent State University by firing into the crowd, killing four students and severely wounding nine more. But an even more devastating Vietnam War tragedy is often forgotten: The My Lai Massacre.

Following the North Vietnamese-led Tet offensive in late January, 1968, the U.S. military increased their efforts to track down and destroy the Viet Cong, a pro-Communist militia force. The Viet Cong, commonly referred to amongst American soldiers as simply “Charlie”, was much more feared than the organized North Vietnamese Army. They operated out of ordinary villages and wore civilian clothes, allowing them to blend in with the general population.

In order to search out the Viet Cong, U.S. intelligence urged to army to form Task Force Baker, a unit comprising of three rifle companies from the 11th brigade. They were trained and specialized in searching villages for signs of affiliation with the Viet Cong, such as hidden weapons and openings to the infamous underground tunnels which the Viet Cong used to conduct operations against U.S. troops.

A U.S. Soldier prepares to clear out a tunnel used by the Viet Cong. The brave men who volunteered to enter the often booby-trapped tunnels were known as

A U.S. Soldier prepares to clear out a tunnel used by the Viet Cong. The brave men who volunteered to enter the often booby-trapped tunnels were known as “tunnel rats”. (PHOTO BY VVA.ORG)

On March 16, 1968, Task Force Baker was ordered to “engage and destroy” the enemy in the commonly known Viet Cong fortress of the village of Son My. Company C, led by Second Lieutenant William Calley, would enter My Lai, a small section of Son My, around 8:00am. Calley was told the majority of the villagers would have left by that time since it was market day, so anyone remaining at the site should be expected to be members of the Viet Cong.

Upon landing by helicopter outside of the village, C Company was fired on my handful of Vietnamese militia in the vicinity of My Lai, a minuscule threat which would tragically trigger a devastating response. No evidence was ever found of a connection between the militia members who engaged C Company and the village itself.

The men entered the village, firing at anyone who moved. At first they followed orders, going from hut to hut, searching for ties to “Charlie.” Members of C Company would later report that the soldiers began acting on their accord, and things quickly spiraled out of control. Huts were burned, villagers were beaten, and women were raped then murdered in cold blood. Lt. Calley was reportedly seen dragging dozens of villagers out of their homes and into a ditch, where they were executed with a machine gun.

A soldier looks upon a burning hut. (PHOTO BY MICHAELHARRISON.ORG)

A soldier looks upon a burning hut. (PHOTO BY MICHAELHARRISON.ORG)

Around 10:00am, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr, the pilot of a gunship called in to provide air support for C Company, noticed a large number of bodies of women and children. He flew closer, witnessing U.S. soldiers killing wounded civilians.

Thompson knew something was wrong, and landed to find out what was happening. He approached  a group of soldiers surrounding a bunker full of a dozen civilians, asking an officer if they needed help getting the villagers out.

According to Thompson’s personal account of the event, the officer replied, “Well, we’re gonna get them out with a hand grenade,” prompting the pilot to take matters into his own hands. Thompson went back to his helicopter and radioed the other gunships to land and help evacuate the survivors. He ordered his gunman to fire on C Company if they attempted to harm the civilians, effectively ending the massacure.

When the dust settled, it was concluded that over 400 Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered by U.S. Army soldiers from C Company that day. Hughes was disgusted, and filed an official report on the incident. In a possible attempt to shut him up, Hughes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and his two crew members the Bronze Star, for their actions in helping to suppress the “Viet Cong” threat. Thompson threw his medal away.


Hughes testifies about the atrocity he witnessed at My Lai. (PHOTO BY MRZINE)

The massacre was covered up by the government until it was leaked in November, 1969, when several members of C Company sent letters to the press, recalling the events of March 16th, 1968. The U.S. Army ordered a full scale investigation of the massacre and the attempted cover-up, calling Hughes and other witnesses to Washington D.C. for questioning.

Hughes originally received sharp criticism from members of the army an government, especially Congressmen Mendel Rivers, who wanted to downplay allegations of a massacre committed by American troops. Rivers even accused Thompson of treason, saying he should be punished for turning his weapons on fellow American troops, and unsuccessfully attempted to have him court-martialed.

Lt. William Calley arrives for his court-martial at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1971. (PHOTO BY TIME)

Lt. William Calley arrives for his court-martial at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1971. (PHOTO BY TIME)

14 officers were eventually court-martialed for suppressing information about the massacre, but all charges were acquitted by 1971. Another 26 members of C Company received criminal charges for direct participation in the murder of Vietnamese civilians, however most had already left the army, exempting them from court-martial.

Only Lieutenant Calley, C Company’s platoon leader, was convicted for his actions, receiving life in prison. Many viewed Calley as a scape-goat, and he was only forced to serve three years of house arrest before being let off.

In 1998, Warrant Officer Thompson and his crew were finally properly recognized by the U.S. military for their actions of bravery, with all three men being awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest medal awarded by the U.S. Army for bravery not involving conflict with the enemy.

News of the atrocity committed at My Lai added to the already growing list of reasons for Americans to criticize the war in Vietnam. The American public began to question what was really happening over in Vietnam, and anti-war protests increased. The My Lai massacre was a crucial turning point in public opinion.

Joshua Chamberlain

On July 2, 1863, the inexperienced Joshua Chamberlain, who was just a professor months before, was in charge of the small band of men posted on the extreme left of the Federal line at Little Round Top. The crucial defensive position was assigned to Chamberlain out of desperation. After several hours of fighting back constant Confederate assaults, the 20th Maine was exhausted and almost out of ammunition. Chamberlain ordered his men to fasten bayonets and prepare to charge down the slope, and into the advancing enemy. The bold move turned out to be a huge success, as the Confederates retreated, securing General Meade’s left flank. Congress awarded Chamberlain the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry.”

A map of Union positions on Little Round Top shows how crucial Chamberlain's role was in the Battle of Gettysburg. If the 20th Maine failed to hold their ground, the entire flank would have collapsed, and the Rebels would have rolled through Union lines. (PHOTO BY WIKIPEDIA)

A map of Union positions on Little Round Top shows how crucial Chamberlain’s role was in the Battle of Gettysburg. If the 20th Maine failed to hold their ground, the entire flank would have collapsed, and the Rebels would have rolled through Union lines. (PHOTO BY WIKIPEDIA)

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain was given command of a brigade in the Fifth Corps and held it until the end of the war.  Throughout the war, Chamberlain was wounded six times, and almost mortally at Petersburg in June 1864. As a result, Congress promoted Chamberlain to the rank of Brigadier General. Chamberlain had an unexpected full recovery, and returned to action in time to play a major role in the Appomattox Campaign.  On April 12, 1865, the Brigadier General had the honor of receiving the Confederate surrender of arms.

After the war, Chamberlain returned to Maine, where he eventually served four terms as Governor. Towards the end of his life he served as president of Bowdoin College. Unlike many, Chamberlain spent the rest of his years writing and speaking about the war. His memoir of the Appomattox Campaign, The Passing of the Armies was published after his death in 1914.

Daniel Morgan’s Role in the Battle of Saratoga

Daniel Morgan, frontiersman and well known drunk, formed a militia unit to halt the British advance in the forests of New York. After the Battle of Quebec, Morgan was promoted to colonel in recognition of his actions. After raising the 11th Virginia Regiment that spring, he was assigned to lead the Provisional Rifle Corps, a special 500-man formation of light infantry.

After conducting attacks against General Howe’s forces in New Jersey during the summer, Morgan received orders to take his command north to join Major General Horatio Gates’ army above Albany. Arriving on August 30, he began taking part in operations against Major General John Burgoyne’s army which was advancing from the south. On September 19, Morgan and his men played a key role as the Battle of Saratoga began.

Daniel Morgan's men were specialized snipers and excelled in gorilla warfare. Most of his men learned tactics such as stealth, camouflage and ambush from fighting indians, some even served in the French and Indian War.

Daniel Morgan’s men were specialized snipers and excelled in gorilla warfare. Most of his men learned tactics such as stealth, camouflage and ambush from fighting indians, some even served in the French and Indian War.

On October 7, Morgan commanded the left wing of the American line as the British advanced on Bemis Heights. Helping to defeat this attack, Morgan led his men forward in a counterattack that saw American forces capture two key redoubts near the British camp. Increasingly isolated and lacking supplies, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17. The victory at Saratoga was the turning point of the conflict led to the French signing the Treaty of Alliance (1778).

The Greatest French General Since Napoleon

For most people the name Charles de Gaulle rings a bell, but few know much about him. Some could tell you he was a French general during WWII, and others may know he was the prime minister of France at some point. In AP European history, we learned he was the stubborn Frenchman who kicked the U.S. out of France after the war, refusing to allow our military occupy and help rebuild the country. According to your 10th grade European History textbook, that’s all there is to know about Mr. de Gaulle. However, here’s what didn’t make the cut. De Gaulle graduated from military school in 1912, and helped defend France against the Germans throughout World War I. After the war he quickly gained a reputation for two things: being one of the country’s most promising young generals, and for constantly challenging the ideals of the French military.

Charles De Gaulle With President Lebrun

October, 1939: De Gaulle, at this point a Colonel and commander of a tank regiment in the French 5th Army, discusses plans to ready the country for war with French President, Albert Lebrun. PHOTO BY

Despite de Gaulle’s great potential, his career was actually set back because of his innovative and progressive ideas. His beliefs led to de Gaulle constantly butting-heads with the French high command, which consisted of generals in their sixties and seventies who wanted to center the army around traditional defensive tactics, almost identical to those used during WWI. In 1934, de Gualle published a book on his views of military strategy and tactics. He believed that in order for France to maintain its military supremacy, they desperately needed to keep up with the latest military innovations. He claimed the most crucial of these was the widespread use of tanks and armored vehicles, which later became his specialty. Despite his warnings that France would soon fall behind Germany, who broke the Treaty of Versailles and began to re-build their once powerful army, the high-command chose to implement a defensive strategy. They chose to expend most of their money and efforts on the Maginot Line, a defensive system of hundreds of strategically placed concrete bunkers and machinegun turrets along the German border. The line was extremely intricate and stretched for almost 200 miles.

Many of the defensive structures that made up the Maginot Line were connected by a system of elaborate tunnels.  Photo by

Many of the defensive structures that made up the Maginot Line (shown by the bolded red line) were connected by a system of elaborate tunnels.

I personally toured the Maginot Line a couple years ago and was amazed by the amount of bunkers that still remain in the French fields. The amount of money they must have been spent on the project is almost unimaginable considering what they got out of it, for the German army ended up avoiding most of the line by invading through Belgium. This out-dated defensive strategy proved to be a futile attempt to avoid the inevitable war brewing with Germany. De Gaulle’s book was for the most part unsuccessful, for his superiors ridiculed his beliefs. However, he was able to sell a few copies in another country, where it was actually able to gain a decent amount of popularity. Supposedly, the up and coming German leader, Adolf Hitler, had the entire book read out-loud to himself and his military high command. Interestingly enough, Germany eventually mastered the art of tank warfare, and Hitler centered his entire strategy for invading France, the Blitzkrieg, around the use of armored Panzer tank divisions. Coincidence?

De Gaulle inspects French ceremonial troops while serving as Prime Minister. The general served after France's liberation in 1944 to 1946, and then again from 1958 to 1968.

De Gaulle served as Prime Minister of France after its liberation in August, 1944 until 1946, and then again from 1958 to 1968.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, de Gualle was still yet to be promoted to the rank of general because of his bold beliefs. After Hitler’s invasion of France began in May 1940, he was quickly promoted to Brigadier General as he proved to be the only Frenchmen who could successfully halt the German advance. De Gaulle was even promoted to Secretary of Defense on June 6th, but it was too late and the country fell ten days later on the 16th. Refusing to surrender, unlike most of the French military, he escaped to England to lead the Free French movement. He spent the next several years rounding up French forces that were stationed in other countries, or which had managed to escape France like himself. He broadcasted constant radio messages to the people of France, encouraging them to rise up against the Germans and resist. This resulted in the creation of the famous French Resistance.