America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments

Khalid Elhassan - February 27, 2020

During the Cold War, the two global superpowers often fought each other via proxies. The Soviets bled us with the North Koreans and North Vietnamese, and we returned the favor whenever possible, such as our support for the Afghan Mujahedeen. It was often messy, but it worked. We fought at a remove in other people’s homes, but so long as they refrained from attacking us on US soil, and we refrained from attacking them on Soviet soil, both sides were willing to put up with a lot of from the other. However, there was an exception to the no-direct-attack-on-each-other’s-soil in 1950, when American warplanes attacked a Soviet airfield near Vladivostok. Following are forty things about that and other fascinating but lesser-known events from history.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
F-80Cs in Korea. Pintrest

40. American Airplanes Accidentally Violated Soviet Airspace and Bombed a Soviet Airfield

It was the afternoon of October 8th, 1950, during the Korean War. Two American Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars, flown by pilots Alton Quanbeck and his wingman Al Diefendorf, were flying a mission over North Korea. Their target: Chongjin airfield, in the far northeast of North Korea, 40 miles south of China, and 60 miles southwest of the Soviet border. It was an overcast day, and skimming the top of the clouds at 37,000 feet, they armed their .50 caliber machine guns in preparation for action, and began their descent.

At 10,000 feet, they spotted a small hole through the clouds, and plunging through the opening they found themselves over a broad river valley with mountains to each side. Following the river, they proceeded southwest, in a heading they thought would take them away from Soviet and Chinese borders. Unfortunately, they had strayed into Soviet airspace. That was bad enough, but then things got worse when they bombed a Soviet airfield on Soviet soil.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Thousands of American manufactured P-39 Air Cobras were given to the Soviet Union during WWII under the terms of Lend-Lease. Soviet Hammer

39. “Look at That Airfield – It’s Loaded!”

Targets and resistance had been scarce in the days preceding his mission, so F-80 pilot Alton Quanbeck was surprised to see the flashes of antiaircraft guns from a small town nearby. Soon thereafter, he spotted a truck on a dirt road, and heard his wingman Al Diefendorf urging “Let’s go in and get it!” An instant later, Diefendorf spotted a juicier target, and exclaimed: “Look at that airfield, it’s loaded!

As Quanbeck described it decades later: “It was the kind of target that fighter pilots dream about. Parked in two rows were about 20 aircraft of the P-39 or P-63 type. Thousands of them were built and flown by Americans in World War II, and some were sent to our Soviet ally. Those below us had large red stars surrounded by a narrow white border painted on the side of their dark brown fuselages.”

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
F-80Cs in action in Korea. Squadron

38. Overcoming Doubts

Considering his airspeed, Alton Quanbeck had only a few seconds to decide what to do about the airfield below him. Between his low altitude and low-hanging clouds, he could not see more than a mile or two in any direction. Even if he could have spotted any distinctive terrain features, it was unlikely he could have related them to the crude maps carried on this mission.

Quanbeck was bothered by a few uncertainties. First, no P-39 airplanes had been seen in North Korea. Second, he was not absolutely certain just where he was. Finally, the airfield below did not match the description of the Chongjin airfield he had been sent to attack. However, Intelligence reports had predicted a movement of aircraft into northeast Korea, and the markings on the planes below were nearly identical to those used by North Koreans. According to Quanbeck’s dead reckoning, he had hit the coast well south of the Soviet border, so he overcame his doubts and decided to attack.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
F-80s during the Korean War. Wikimedia

37. Strafing the Airfield

As Alton Quanbeck described the attack: “I positioned our aircraft for a strafing pass on the northern line of aircraft, then made a sharp, banking turn to the left and fired on the southern line. I could see tracers carving through the aircraft and knew we were getting lots of hits, but there were no explosions. On my last pass, I decided to make sure of one clear kill. I concentrated my fire at one plane and saw it start to burn.

Dief followed me closely in each pass. We exhausted our ammunition and were down to minimum fuel — 400 gallons. Time to go home. As I pulled off the target, turning right to our homeward course, I saw an island off the coast. “Oh, oh,” I thought, “there’s no island near Chongjin.” However, after comparing notes, the two pilots assured themselves that while they had not attacked Chongjin, they had struck an unimproved airfield at Rajin, 40 miles north of Chongjin and 20 miles south of the Soviet border.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Sino-Soviet-North Korean border. Wikimedia

36. South of the Border vs North of the Border

As Alton Quanbeck and is wingman Al Diefendorf reported in their debriefing a few hours later, they had destroyed one airplane, and damaged two others. Several months later, an intelligence officer assigned to Far East Air Force HQ told Quanbeck that “the airfield burned for a week“.

Apparently, the planes they left burning must have triggered secondary explosions, which reached other planes. The attack was a great tactical success. Unfortunately, it threatened to turn into a huge disaster.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
General Earle E. Partridge. Wikimedia

35. “You’ll Either Get a Distinguished Service Cross Or a Court Martial Out of This Mission”

Later that evening, Alton Quanbeck and Al Diefendorf were summoned to headquarters by their commanding Major General, Earle E. Partridge. They went over the mission again, then Partridge laid out a large map, pointed to an area within the USSR southwest of Vladivostok, and asked if it was possible that they had attacked there.

There were significant terrain similarities, but while Quanbeck thought it was possible, he did not it think it was probable. He was wrong. As they left, General Partridge told the pilots: “You’ll either get a Distinguished Service Cross or a court-martial out of this mission“.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, center, delivered the Soviet protest of America’s bombing an airfield on Soviet soil. UN

34. “It’s Hit the Fan”

The following day, when Quanbeck returned from a mission, he was met by Diefendorf who informed him: “It’s hit the fan“. Instead of crossing the coast well south of the Soviet border the previous day, the duo had done so well to the north. Rather than attack an airfield on North Korean soil, they ended up attacking Sukhaya Rechka, a Soviet airfield on the outskirts of Vladivostok, nearly 80 miles north of the border with North Korea.

Understandably, the Soviets were quite alarmed, unclear whether the attack was a mistake, or a deliberate provocation that presaged the outbreak of World War III. The following day, October 9th, 1950, the Soviet government presented an official note of protest to the United Nations.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
President Truman was not happy with the accidental bombing of the USSR. KSHB

33. An International Firestorm

Back in Washington, President Truman held Douglas MacArthur responsible. He suspected his troublesome commander in Korea of deliberately attempting to provoke a war with the Soviets. The story became front-page news, but both the Soviet and US governments, each for its own reasons, preferred to deescalate and put the incident behind them.

On October 19th, America’s ambassador to the United Nations admitted the attack, and informed the UN Secretary: “The commander of the Air Force group has been relieved and appropriate steps have been taken with a view toward disciplinary actions against the two pilots concerned“. The pilots were tried before a court-martial, but in a proceeding that was closed to the public, both were found not guilty. The findings were not released by the Air Force, which wanted both the Soviets and Truman to assume that the airmen had been properly punished. However, neither Alton Quanbeck nor Al Diefendorf was permitted to fly any more combat missions.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Alexander H. Johnson. Massachusetts Historical Society

32. The Teenager Who Became the First African American Musician in the Civil War

When the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (depicted in the movie Glory) was formed during the Civil War, fourteen-year-old Alexander H. Johnson of Boston enlisted as a drummer boy. The 54th Massachusetts being one of the Union Army’s first colored regiments, young Alexander was likely the first African American musician to enlist in the Civil War.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The 54th Massachusetts storming Fort Wagner, by Kurz and Allison, 1890. Wikimedia

He saw significant service. He took part in the battles of Honey Hill, Boykins Mill, James Island, Olustee, and the siege of Charleston, was present at the murderous assault on Fort Wagner, and participated in Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. Alexander’s drum was struck by enemy fire six times, and he was wounded in the leg. He stayed with the 54th Massachusetts until war’s end and his discharge in 1865, when he returned home with the drum he had carried at Fort Wagner.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Alexander Johnson after the Civil War. Pintrest

31. A Drummer For Life

After the war, Alexander H. Johnson settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, taught drumming, and founded that town’s first drum corps. Nicknamed “Major”, in reference to his being the drum major of the town’s drum corps, Alexander settled down and raised a family of seventeen children. He was a lifelong active member in the Grand Army of the Republic, as well as a member of the Sons of Union Veterans.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The 54th Massachusetts Memorial in Boston. Pinterest

In 1897, a memorial sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was unveiled in Boston. It honored the 54th Massachusetts and its colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, who died fighting at the regiment’s head during the assault on Fort Wagner. Erected in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, it depicts Colonel Shaw and his regiment leaving Boston for the South. Alexander is depicted with his drum, tapping the beat at the head of a column of his comrades. He lived to the age of 83, and died in 1930.

Read More: 10 American Child Soldiers of the Civil War.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
A Zero shooting down an F4F Wildcat. War Thunder

30. The Fighter That Swept the Japanese From Pacific Skies

American naval aviators began the Pacific War with a rude shock. They were unpleasantly surprised to discover that their standard fighter airplane, the F4F Wildcat, was outclassed in many ways by the faster, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged Japanese Zero.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
A Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter makes condensation rings as it awaits the take-off flag aboard USS Yorktown, November 1943. National Archives

Ameliorative operational procedures and tactics were adopted to counter the Zero’s advantages and play up to the Wildcat’s strengths. However, such measures were a stopgap at best. What was really needed was a new and improved fighter. They got it in 1943 with the arrival of the Grumman F6F Hellcat, which ended up wreaking havoc upon the Japanese.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
F6F Hellcats aboard the USS Yorktown in 1944 – not the folding wings, which allowed the storage of more planes. National Archives

29. Enter the Hellcat

Even before America joined WWII, Grumman had been working on a successor to the F4F. The company sped things up after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and took what became the F6F Hellcat from the experimental stage to operational employment in a mere 18 months. It featured folding wings for easier storage, thus allowing aircraft carriers to carry a greater number of fighters.

The Hellcat was faster, more powerful, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged than its predecessor. It outclassed the enemy’s Zeroes in every way except maneuverability at low speed. It saw its first combat in September of 1943, and proved so successful that, by 1944, it had become the Navy’s standard carrier-based fighter. 12,275 Hellcats were produced during the war, and they were the main platform that the US Navy used to clear the Pacific skies of enemy planes.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
An F6F Hellcat flaming a Japanese Zero. Pintrest

28. “The Ace Maker”

The versatile and rugged Hellcats spearheaded America’s advance across the Pacific. They conducted fighter sweeps over enemy airfields, flew combat air patrols to shield the forces below from aerial attack, and performed ground attacks in support of soldiers and Marines. Standard armament was six .50 caliber machines, but some planes substituted a pair of 20mm canon for two of the machine guns. F6Fs could also carry a pair of 1000-pound bombs. Its most destructive load for ground attacks, however, were half a dozen 5-inch rockets, whose salvoes exceeded a destroyer’s broadside.

Although it did not enter service until the final two years of the conflict, the F6F Hellcat downed 5156 enemy aircraft. Nicknamed “The Ace Maker” for the seeming ease with which its pilots achieved that status, with 307 Hellcat pilots becoming aces during the war, the plane achieved an enviable 19:1 kill ratio, and accounted for 75 percent of the US Navy’s air-to-air victories.

Read More: Most Notable Fighter Aces of WWII.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The British lion and the Russian bear vied for control of Afghanistan and Central Asia during The Great Game. Amazon

27. Britain’s Afghan Debacle

Britain and Russia spent much of the nineteenth century jockeying for influence in Central Asia, in what came to be known as “The Great Game”. The Russians sought to pursue their version of Manifest Destiny by expanding into the region, while the British suspected the Russians of coveting India, and sought to keep Tsarist borders as far away as possible from Britain’s most prized imperial possession. When in the 1830s an Afghan ruler became too friendly with Russia for Britain’s tastes, the British invaded Afghanistan in 1839.

They deposed its Russophile ruler, replaced him in Kabul with a British puppet, and garrisoned the Afghan capital and key cities to keep their new pet ruler in power. Things initially went well, the British made themselves comfortable in Afghanistan, and it seemed only a matter of time before the country was annexed to British India. However, the Afghans proved obstreperous, and Britain’s puppet ruler proved incapable of controlling the country. It ended in catastrophe for the British.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The British Army seizing an Afghan fortress en route to occupying Afghanistan in 1839. Wikimedia

26. Nineteenth Century Afghan Insurgents

By 1841, discontent had flared into open revolt, with Afghan tribes rebelling against the British and their pet ruler. As the countryside was lost and supply lines to India were cut off, British control first shrank to the garrisoned cities, and eventually the British found themselves in control of little more than the grounds of their fortified garrisons. So the British sought a face-saving measure to extricate themselves from what had become an untenable situation.

They deposed their puppet ruler, dusted off the ruler whom they had unseated in 1839, and reinstalled him in power in exchange for a promise to control the Afghan tribes long enough for the British to evacuate Afghanistan and withdraw in peace. Whether the reinstalled ruler deliberately betrayed the British, or simply lacked the influence to control the tribesmen, things went sour.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Afghans cutting down the retreating British in a mountain pass. The Telegraph

25. A Disastrous Retreat

A British column of 16,000 soldiers and civilians set out from Kabul on January 6th, 1842. They were barely a mile beyond the city before they began to take sniper fire from the surrounding hills. By day’s end, emboldened Afghan tribesmen were dashing in and out of the column to loot the supply train and butcher whoever they could lay their hands on. That night, many froze to death as the column camped in the open without tents.

The following day, some Afghan leaders arrived and demanded that the British halt while they tried to ensure the safety of the route ahead. They extorted a large sum of money, negotiated a British agreement to withdraw immediately from all of Afghanistan, and demanded that they be given officers as hostages. The following day, the British resumed the march, by which point many of the soldiers had become too debilitated by the cold to fight. As they entered a narrow pass, the column was fired upon by tribesmen ensconced on the rocks above, losing 3,000 casualties.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The last stand of the 44th Foot at Gandamak, by William Barnes Wollen. Wikimedia

24. Extermination of a British Army

Over the following days, the Afghans shook the British down for more money and more hostages, in exchange for empty promises to rein in the tribesmen. On January 11th, the British commander and his deputy were forced to surrender in exchange for yet another promise of safe passage. Soon thereafter, the British found their path barred, this time for good, by entrenched Afghans who had blocked and fortified a pass. A desperate charge was made to try and break through, but it was beaten back.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The last survivor of the British retreat from Kabul arriving at Jellalabad. British Battles

On January 13th, 1842, a week after setting out from Kabul, the last few survivors formed a tiny square and made a last stand. Later that afternoon, British sentries in Jellalabad, on the lookout for the arrival of the Kabul garrison, saw a single rider approaching. It was Dr. Brydon, the sole survivor of the British retreat from Kabul.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Scythians. Wildfire Games

23. The First Steppe Terrors

For millennia, nomads from the Eurasian Steppe, including the likes of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane, terrorized the settled peoples on their borders. Centuries before those figures became bywords in barbaric destruction, they were preceded by the Scythians, a nomadic confederation of Iranian peoples inhabiting the Steppe between Central China to the east and the Carpathian Mountains to the west.

Controlling an overland trade network that connected the Greeks, Chinese, Persians, and Indians, the Scythians created the first Steppe empire that terrorized its neighbors. Starting in the 7th century BC, the Scythians began raiding into the Middle East. Their first major disruptive role was the taking a leading part in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Jewelry from a 4th century BC Scythian royal burial site. Wikimedia

22. Defying Darius the Great of Persia

In 513 BC, Persia’s King Darius I sought to end Scythian raids on his empire by conquering the Scythians. Assembling a huge army, he launched an invasion along the western Black Sea coast, and into today’s southern Ukraine and Russia. The Scythians simply retreated into the vastness of the Steppe, taking their families and herds with them.

Avoiding the decisive pitched battle Darius sought, the Scythians laid waste the countryside, blocking wells and destroying pastures, while attriting the invaders with skirmishes and hit and run attacks. A frustrated Darius challenged the Scythians’ king, Idanthyrsus, to stop fleeing and fight. Else, he should admit his weakness and submit, recognizing the Persians as his lords. The Scythians did the equivalent of telling Darius to go fly a kite.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Darius crossing the Bosporus at the start of the Scythian Expedition. Wikimedia

21. “Go Weep”

The Scythian king’s response to Darius’ challenge to either stand and fight or submit highlights the difficulty in bringing turbulent nomads to heel by forcing them to fight against their will. As reported by Herodutus, King Idanthyrsus wrote: “This is my way, O Persian. I have never fled in fear from any man and I do not flee from you now … We have neither cities nor cultivated land for which we might be willing to fight with you, fearing that they might be taken or ravaged … As for lords, I recognize only my ancestors Zeus and Hestia … As to you calling yourself my lord, I tell thee to ‘Go weep’“.

Darius had to give up and turn back, his invasion amounting to little more than an expensive and fruitless demonstration. Scythians were still raiding the Persian Empire centuries later until its destruction by Alexander the Great, and continued to raid Persia for centuries after that.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Sicarii waiting to spring into action. Pintrest

20. History’s First Terrorist Group

In 1st century AD Judea, the Sicarii were formed as a militant faction of the Zealots, who were themselves a radical political movement that sought to spark a rebellion against Roman rule. They ended up sparking the Jewish Revolt of 66-73 AD. While the Zealots were radical, their Sicarii splinter went to extremes that made them history’s earliest identifiable terrorists, with methods that meet modern definitions of the term.

The Sicarii, meaning “dagger men” in Latin, earned their name from the knives known as sicae, with which they killed their victims. Their goal was to cleanse the Holy Lands of Romans and their Jewish collaborators. Their standard tactic was to blend into crowds at public gatherings and wait for an opportune moment. When it presented itself, they would suddenly charge their target, stab him, and escape during the resulting confusion and panic by blending into the crowd.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Sicarii in action. Reading Acts

19. Committing Outrages to Provoke a Disproportionate Response Has Long Been a Terrorist Tactic

The Sicarii mainly targeted the pro-Roman Jewish aristocracy for killing, burned their estates, and eventually turned to kidnapping and hostage-taking for ransom. Their prominent victims included a High Priest of the Jewish Temple, after whose killing they went on an assassination spree that terrorized Judea’s upper strata of Jews and Romans.

Their victims, particularly Imperial officials, were frequently targeted in a deliberate attempt to provoke the Romans, who seldom needed much provocation before resorting to massacres and collective punishment. That in turn kept the embers of discontent smoldering, and lit new flames of resentment while providing a steady and steadily growing stream of new recruits and sympathizers from the families and friends of the Roman victims.

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Ambush and destruction of a Roman column early in the Jewish Revolt. Pintrest

18. Sabotage to Worsen Civilians’ Lives, and Keep Them Disgruntled

The Sicarii adopted a strategy common among terrorists today, by committing acts of sabotage to worsen the populace’s living conditions and keep them disgruntled. Faced with an occupier ready to resort to indiscriminate violence, they committed atrocities that all but guaranteed massive Roman retaliation. That forced the hands of many fence-sitters by presenting them with unenviable choices.

They could do nothing, and probably get massacred or enslaved by angry Romans in no mood to distinguish “good” locals from bad, or join the resistance in the hopes of gaining freedom, or at least the dignity of dying while fighting. That strategy was in evidence during the run-up to the Jewish Revolt, which began in 66 AD when the Roman governor responded to tax protests by arresting prominent Jews and looting Jerusalem’s Temple.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans under the command of Titus, by David Roberts, 1850. History is Now

17. Massacring Roman Civilians to Ensure There Could be No Going Back

Jewish protests escalated into a full-blown revolt that forced the Romans and their pet king to flee Judea. Early on, the Sicarii attacked and seized the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea. They then descended upon nearby Roman enclaves to massacre whomever they could find, and slaughtered over 700 Roman women and children. That ensured that there would be no turning back, and thus solidified Sicarii ranks.

It also presented other Judeans with the prospect of massive retaliation and collective punishment of the innocent and guilty alike if the Romans won. The Sicarii then joined the Zealots and other rebels to attack Jerusalem, which they liberated in 66 AD. Once in control of the city, the Sicarii began killing known and suspected collaborators en masse, as well as any opponents, suspected opponents, and those who failed to express the requisite enthusiasm in supporting the Sicarii cause.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Roman siege of the Sicarii at Masada. Listen Notes

16. The Ancient World’s Version of ISIS

The Sicariis’ extremism and psychotic violence in Jerusalem produced a backlash. The population rose against them, and the other rebels turned hostile. It culminated in Sicarii defeat, the capture, torture, and execution of their leader, and the group’s expulsion from Jerusalem. The survivors retreated to the fortress of Masada, and contented themselves with plundering the surrounding countryside.

In the meantime, the Zealots and other radicals managed to crush the popular backlash and retained control of Jerusalem until it was besieged, conquered, and razed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Romans then began mopping up operations, and eventually reached the final holdouts, the Sicarii in Masada, whom they besieged. Realizing that all was lost and that their fate would be unenviable if they were captured, the Sicarii resorted to mass suicide, killing their families and then themselves.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The Cuxhaven Raid. Imgur

15. History’s First Seaborne Air Raid

Navies have used airplanes for reconnaissance and observation since aviation’s earliest days. Then on Christmas Day, 1914, the British Royal Navy used airplanes offensively for the first time. Aircraft were carried by seaplane tenders to within striking distance of Cuxhaven, a German town on the North Sea shore, in order to bomb Zeppelin sheds and German naval facilities. It was the first time that air and sea power were combined to attack land targets, and was the first step towards the creation of aircraft carriers and the projection of force inland by naval aviation.

Zeppelins and their potential to bomb London loomed large in British imagination. That was spurred in no small part by pre-war apocalyptic fiction such as H. G. Wells’ The War in the Air, which envisioned fleets of German dirigibles devastating cities around the world with bombs and reducing them to rubble. So plans were made to preemptively raid Zeppelin facilities, to destroy them before they began bombing Britain.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Photos of the Cuxhaven Raid, published in The Illustrated War News five days later. The Great War Blog

14. The Cuxhaven Raid

The Royal Flying Corps had raided Zeppelin sheds in Cologne, Friedrichshafen, and Dusseldorf. However, the RFC’s airplanes lacked the range to reach Cuxhaven. So a plan was devised for ferries converted into seaplane tenders, escorted by Royal Navy cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, to carry nine seaplanes to the vicinity of Cuxhaven.

The seaplanes were then lowered and launched to reconnoiter the area, and if they spotted Zeppelin sheds, to bomb them. Only seven planes managed to take off and head inland, each armed with three 20-pound bombs. The results were negligible because of antiaircraft fire, low clouds and fog, and the raiders’ minuscule bombload. However, the raid revolutionized warfare by proving the feasibility of attacking land targets with seaborne airplanes.

Related: Golden Age of Zeppelin Flight.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
James J. Andrews. Wikimedia

13. The Civil War’s Most Dramatic Special Operation

In early 1862, Union forces in Tennessee were worried about the possibility of Confederate forces rapidly arriving at Chattanooga from Atlanta via the Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&R). So James J. Andrews, a Union civilian scout, proposed a raid to sever that rail connection by seizing a locomotive in Georgia, then traveling north, destroying two connecting railway lines and their vital bridges. The idea was approved, and resulted in the Civil War’s greatest special operation.

In April of 1862, Andrews recruited Union Army volunteers for his raid. Slipping through Confederate lines in civilian clothes, the men rendezvoused in Marietta, Georgia, where they boarded a train on April 11th. When the train reached a small stop called “Big Shanty”, selected by Andrews because it had no telegraph the Confederates could use to send out an alarm, the raiders sprang into action.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Andrews and his men seized a locomotive named ‘The General’. Library of Congress

12. The Great Locomotive Chase

Seizing the train’s locomotive, Andrews and his raiders uncoupled it from the rest of the train and took off, beginning what came to be known as “The Great Locomotive Chase”. The raiders cut telegraph lines, and stopping along the way, removed some rail tracks. When a hue and cry was raised, the raiders led Confederate pursuers on a 90-mile chase on foot and on locomotives.

In Big Shanty, the conductor whose locomotive they had hijacked, a William Fuller, organized a pursuit. First by foot, then by handcar, until Fuller and posse reached an idle locomotive on a spur line, which they fired up and began the chase in earnest. Switching locomotives along the way, the pursuers steadily closed the distance with the raiders. For some time, Andrews’ men stayed ahead of news of their raid because they had cut telegraph wires. That prevented warnings and orders to block the raiders’ escape route from reaching Confederate forces ahead of the fleeing Union volunteers.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
The raiders burned a railway car in a covered bridge in an attempt to thwart their pursuers. Wikimedia

11. End of the Chase

Things started going wrong for Andrews and his raiders when they tried burning a wooden railroad bridge. Heavy rains had left the structure too waterlogged to catch on fire, so Andrews and his moved on, leaving the bridge intact behind them. That gave their pursuers a clear path to follow them on a stern chase. When the pursuers finally reached an intact telegraph line, they sounded the alarm, and the raiders were blocked. Halting the train on the outskirts of Ringgold, Georgia, Andrews ordered his men to disembark and scatter into the wilderness.

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End of The Great Locomotive Chase, as the raiders abandon The General and scatter. American Civil War Forum

Many were captured over the next few days, then tried by the Confederates for “acts of unlawful belligerency”. Andrews and seven of his men were convicted and hanged in June of 1862. Eight raiders, however, managed to escape, and the rest were released in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Participants were among the first-ever recipients of the newly created Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, Andrews was not among them: as a civilian, he was ineligible.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Gyorgy Dozsa. Wikimedia

10. The Nobleman Who Sided With Downtrodden Peasants Against His Class

In 1514, Transylvanian nobleman and soldier of fortune Gyorgy Dozsa (1470 – 1514) led an unsuccessful uprising of downtrodden Hungarian peasants against their aristocratic overlords. Known as the Hungarian Dozsa Rebellion, the peasant uprising was put down, and Dozsa with it. He went down in history as both a notorious criminal and a Christian martyr.

After earning a reputation for valor in wars against the Ottomans, Dozsa was appointed by Pope Leo X to lead a Crusade against the Turks. An army of about 40,000 volunteers soon assembled under his banner, comprised in the main of peasants, friars, and parish priests – the lowest rungs of society. The nobility however failed to supply the Crusaders, or to offer military leadership. That was particularly off-putting, since military leadership was the main justification for the aristocracy’s high social status.

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The Dozsa Hungarian Peasant Uprising. University of Pittsburgh Library

9. From Grumbling to Rebellion

It was not long before the gathered volunteers began to voice their collective grievances against the oppressive nobles. At harvest time, the peasants refused to return and reap the fields. When the aristocrats tried to seize the peasants by force and compel them to toil, Dozsa’s conscience was stirred. He sided with the downtrodden serfs against his own class, and led the Hungarian peasants in a violent uprising that became a war of extermination against the landlords.

Hundreds of castles and noble manors were ransacked and put to the torch, while thousands of the gentry were killed, often tortured to death or executed in a variety of gruesome ways, such as crucifixion or impalement. The uprising was finally put down, and the peasantry were subjected to a reign of terror and endured a wave of retaliatory vengeance by their noble overlords, in which over 70,000 were tortured to death.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Contemporary woodcut depicting Dozsa’s execution. Wikimedia

8. Dozsa’s Gruesome Martyrdom

Hungary’s peasants were condemned to perpetual servitude, permanently bound to the soil, fined heavily, their taxes raised, and the number of days they had to work for their landlords was increased. Dozsa was captured and condemned to a fiendishly gruesome death by torture. Accused among other things of having sought to become king, he was sentenced to sit on a smoldering hot iron chair, while a red hot iron crown was affixed to his head. Next, chunks of his flesh were torn out, and nine of his leading followers, starved beforehand, were forced to eat his flesh.

The aristocratic backlash backfired, however. Twelve years later, in 1526, the Ottoman Turks invaded Hungary, and swiftly overran what was a still bitterly divided country. As to Dozsa, the revolutionary aspects of his life and its ending were drawn upon during the communist era in Romania, his land of birth, and in Hungary. In the latter, Dozsa is the most popular street name in villages, and a main avenue and metro station in Budapest bear his name.

Related: Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Andrey Vlasov. Russia Beyond

7. The Soviet Union’s Greatest Traitor of WWII

Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov (1900 – 1946) was one of Joseph Stalin’s favorite Red Army generals. However, he was captured by the Germans in 1942, and ended up turning on the Soviet dictator and switching sides. Throwing in his lot with the Nazis, Vlasov turned coat and fought with the Germans against the Soviet Union at the head of the so-called Russian Liberation Army.

Vlasov had been drafted into the Red Army in 1919, and fought in its ranks with distinction during the Russian Civil War. Rising steadily through the officer ranks, he earned a reputation for his ability to whip poor units into shape. In 1930, Vlasov gave his career a boost by joining the Communist Party, and in 1938, he was sent to China as a Soviet military advisor to its generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Soviet troops during the Battle of Moscow. History Images

6. Starting Off As a Hero

When the Nazis invaded in 1941, Andrey Vlasov was a mechanized corps commander in the Ukraine. He was one of the few generals who managed to get his unit to safety, by successfully fighting his corps out of multiple encirclements. His skill and aggressiveness brought him to Stalin’s attention. Valasov was summoned to Moscow in November of 1941, and promoted to command an army in the Soviet capital’s defenses.

Vlasov played a key role in keeping the Germans out of Moscow. In January of 1942, his army spearheaded the counteroffensive that pushed the Germans 100 miles from the Soviet capital. He earned decorations and acclaim, plus Stalin’s admiration, who promoted him to deputy commander of the Volkhov Front, 300 miles northwest of Moscow.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Andrey Vlasov after his capture by the Germans. World War Two in Pics

5. Turning Traitor

Vlasov was put in charge of the 2nd Shock Army after its commander fell ill. However, it got cut off and encircled as it advanced towards Leningrad, and was destroyed in June, 1942. Vlasov escaped temporarily but was captured 10 days later. In captivity, he agreed to switch sides. Taken to Berlin, he and other Soviet traitors began drafting plans for a Russian provisional government and for recruiting a Soviet turncoat army.

In 1943, Vlasov wrote an anticommunist leaflet, millions of copies of which were dropped on Soviet positions. Using Vlasov’s name, the Nazis recruited hundreds of thousands of Soviet defectors, forming them into a “Russian Liberation Army“. Although they were nominally under Vlasov’s command, they were kept strictly under direct German control, with Vlasov exercising little or no authority.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Vlasov, right, and Himmler. Wikimedia

4. A Traitor’s End

Vlasov’s only combat against the Red Army occurred in February, 1945, while in charge of a turncoat division near the Oder River. He was then forced to retreat to German-controlled Czechoslovakia. There, in May of 1945, a few days before war’s end, Vlasov’s division turned coat once again, this time against the Germans and in support of a Czech uprising.

At the war’s end, he tried to escape to the Western Allies’ lines, but was captured by Soviet forces, who discovered him hiding under blankets in a car. Vlasov was flown to Moscow and held in its dreaded Lubyanka prison, where he was tortured for months. He was tried for treason in the summer of 1946 along with 11 of his leading subordinates. All were found guilty and sentenced to death, and on August 1st, 1946, Vlasov and his fellow turncoats were hanged.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Charles Edwin King. Downtown West Chester

3. The Youngest Union Soldier Killed in the Civil War

Charles Edwin King was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1849. After the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861, many locals answered President Lincoln’s call for 90 day volunteers to help defend the Union. Departing with their militia units for what was expected to be a short war, they set off for the training camps at Harrisburg, accompanied by young Charlie as their drummer boy.

However, when the militia were ordered to the front, Charlie’s parents ordered their son back home to the safety of West Chester. That did not sit well with the boy, who moped and pined for the excitement of the military camp. When the militia returned upon the expiry of their three-month enlistment, local volunteers were again sought, this time for three-year terms in the newly formed 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Charlie managed to join, but it ended with him earning the tragic distinction of becoming the youngest Union combat casualty of the Civil War.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
A religious service for the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Pintrest

2. Joining the Action

West Chester’s grocer, Benjamin Sweeney, was elected as captain of Company F of the 49th Pennsylvania. He assured Charlie King’s parents that he would look after and protect their son if they allowed him to enlist. Swayed by Sweeney’s promises and by their son’s pleas, and perhaps fearing that the lad might otherwise simply run away and enlist on his own as other boys were doing at the time, Charlie’s parents relented.

On September 12th, 1861, twelve-year-old Charlie was duly enrolled as a drummer boy in the 49th Pennsylvania. Within a short time, he was promoted from drummer boy of his company to drum major of the entire regiment. In the following months, the 49th Pennsylvania took part in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, during which Charlie saw more death and mayhem than he might have imagined in his boyish fantasies.

America Accidentally Attacked the Soviet Union and Other Lesser Known History Moments
Charles Edwin King’s grave. Civil War RX

1. A Tragic End at Antietam

In September of 1862, the 49th Pennsylvania participated in the Maryland Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Antietam on the 17th. Charlie King’s regiment was deployed near Miller’s Field and the East Woods during the course of that battle, when it came under Confederate artillery fire.

The 49th Pennsylvania’s casualties were relatively light, but Charlie was one of the regiment’s unlucky few: he was struck down and grievously injured by an exploding shell. Taken to a field hospital, Charles Edwin King died three days later of his wounds. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being the youngest military combat fatality of the Civil War.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient Origins – The Sicarii: The Jewish Daggermen With a Thirst For Roman Blood

Black Then – Alexander H. Johnson: Civil War Drummer Boy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

Bonds, Russell S. – Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor (2007)

British Battles – Battle of Kabul and the Retreat to Gandamak

Encyclopedia Britannica – Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov

Encyclopedia Britannica – Dozsa Rebellion

Encyclopedia Britannica – Sicarii: Jewish Sect

Find a Grave – Charles Edwin “Charlie” King (1849 – 1862)

Herodotus – The Histories, Book 4

History Net – Cuxhaven Raid: Britain’s Bold Strike From the Sea

History Net – Goldilocks Fighter: What Made the F6F Hellcat “Just Right”?

Legion Magazine, August 21st, 2014 – The Cuxhaven Raid: A Recollection of the Early Days of Britain’s Fighting Force of the Air

Macrory, Patrick – Retreat From Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan, 1842 (2007)

New York Times, March 5th, 2013 – Colonel Shaw’s Drummer Boy

O’Neil, Charles – Wild Train: The Story of the Andrews Raiders (1956)

University World News, March 11th, 2016 – Calls For Prosecution Over Ph.D. Thesis on Soviet Traitor

Washington Post, March 4th, 1990 – My Brief War With Russia

Wikipedia – Andrey Vlasov

Wikipedia – Grumman F6F Hellcat

Wikipedia – Scythian Campaign of Darius I