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Saturday, May 23, 2015


Steve Cole's thoughts on surprising and little known parts of military history.

1. Just before the atomic bombs fell on Japan, wheels were in motion in Washington, D.C. to promote five-star General of the Army MacArthur to the "six-star" rank of General of the Armies (previously held only by Black Jack Pershing during World War I). The idea was to end the bickering between MacArthur and five-star Fleet Admiral Nimitz over who was going to command the invasion of Japan. It should be noted that George Washington was retroactively promoted to General of the Armies long after his death. There is endless debate over whether the General of the Armies and General of the Army ranks were supposed to be the same thing and somebody just mistyped it.

2. Days before the Operation Torch landings in French North Africa, US Army Major General Mark Clark slipped ashore on a secret mission. While nothing went wrong and some things went right, this could have been a disaster that changed the war. Clark had actually written the plan for Operation Torch, and if the French captured him and wanted to oppose the landings, he might well have been tortured into revealing everything. It gets worse. Clark was one of a tiny number of people who knew that the British had broken the German codes. If the French had captured Clark and handed him over to the German Gestapo, he would no doubt have revealed the secret, changing just about everything in World War II from that day forward.

3. German paratrooper officers used purple parachutes in the first two years of the war so that their men could find them on the landing fields. The German parachute harness made it easy for a soldier to fire his weapon on the way to the ground but gave him no ability to steer the parachute away from a bad landing spot.

4. Hitler's trademark narrow mustache was actually the way most German soldiers wore their mustaches in World War One, so as to better fit their gas masks. After the war, soldiers returning to civilian life let their mustaches grow to traditional width. Hitler kept his narrow to say "I served on the front lines" as he was an actual hero (having won both versions of the Iron Cross). So his trademark mustache was a political trademark.

5. During the bloody campaign in Italy, General Mark Clark ordered that two dozen majors and colonels (officers so good that they would be the generals in the next war) relieved from duty and sent home to training commands so they would not be killed.