Some among us are just naturally more daring than the rest of humanity. The lucky amongst us might go through life without facing a dire situation requiring us to dig deep and find the daring devil within. Many are not so fortunate, however, and end up in serious jams that call for every last ounce of daring that they can muster. Following are thirty six things about daring moves people used throughout history.
36. A Daring Escape
World War II has no shortage of daring moves. However, few feats of daring heroism during that or any other conflict could match the daring escape of US Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant Bruce Ward Carr (1924 – 1998) from the Nazis’ clutches.
Carr holds the distinction of being the only USAAF pilot to leave on a combat mission flying an American plane, and return to base flying a German one. It happened in November of 1944, when Carr flew a strafing mission in P-51 fighter, but was shot down over enemy territory. As seen below, he evaded capture, then stole an Fw190 fighter from a German airfield and flew it back home.
Bruce Carr’s daring streak manifested early on, and he began flying in 1939, when he was just fifteen. In 1942, at age eighteen, he joined the USAAF’s Flying Cadet Training Program. He had the good fortune to get assigned to the same flight instructor who had taught him how to fly in 1939.
Carr’s prior experience in the cockpit got him sent to Spence Airfield in Georgia, for an accelerated pilot training program flying P-40 Warhawk fighters. After 240 hours in the air, he graduated as a flight officer in late August, 1943, and was sent for more specialized training.
After graduating from Spence Airfield, Bruce Carr spent an additional two months on more advanced training. It included qualifying in early models of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and its ground attack and dive-bombing variant, the A-36 Apache.
He was sent to England in early 1944, and was assigned to the 380th Fighter Squadron, 363rd Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force. Until then, Carr had never flown about 10,000 feet. When he took his P-51 to 30,000 feet, he was so impressed by its handling that he named his airplane “Angel’s Playmate“.
Carr notched his squadron’s first kill on March 8th, 1944, when he pursued an Me109 near Berlin, and chased it to near-ground-level while firing his guns. Only a single bullet hit the enemy fighter, but its pilot panicked. Unable to escape in his Me109 from Carr’s P-51, the Luftwaffe airman tried to escape by abandoning his plane and parachuting to the ground. Unfortunately for the German, he jumped too close to the ground for his parachute to fully open.
Unfortunately for Carr, higher ups declined to give him credit for the downed Me109, arguing that it had crashed, rather than been shot down. He argued that it was his daring pursuit and aggressive flying that had caused the crash. As Carr saw it, he had literally scared the enemy pilot to death, and caused him to kill himself.
Bruce Carr was not only denied credit for his first kill, his daring style of flying got him labeled as “overaggressive” by his superiors. So he was transferred to 353rd Squadron, 354th Fighter Group. It was his old squadron’s and fighter group’s loss.
Carr became one of the 354th Fighter Group’s top aces, starting on June 14th, 1944, when he was credited with a probable kill of an Me109 over Normandy, France. Three days later, on the 17th, he shared a kill when he helped another pilot down an Fw190. That August, Carr was commissioned a second lieutenant.
On September 12th, 1944, Second Lieutenant Bruce Carr’s squadron strafed Ju-88 bombers on a German airfield. On the way back, his flight spotted more than 30 Fw 190s two thousand feet below them. The Americans pounced, and in display of daring airmanship, Carr personally shot down three enemy fighters in just a few minutes – an aerial hat trick. He then escorted a fellow American pilot, whose airplane was badly damaged, back to base. His exploits that day earned Carr a Silver Star, America’s third-highest decoration for valor in combat.
He became an ace on October 29th, 1944, when he shot down two more Me109s over Germany. Four days later, while leading his flight on a strafing run over a German airfield in Czechoslovakia, Carr’s P-51, Angel’s Playmate, was hit by antiaircraft fire. He bailed out from his fatally damaged plane, and parachuted safely to earth. Carr had managed to escape death in the air. Now he set out to escape Germans on the ground.
Stranded deep in enemy territory, hundreds of miles from friendly lines, Bruce Carr evaded capture for several days. Eventually, cold, wet, exhausted, and starving, he decided to surrender. Aware that German airmen treated enemy airmen better than other POWs, Carr headed to a Luftwaffe airfield that he had spotted. He made it to the surrounding fence, and decided to hide in adjacent woods that night, and walk up to the front gate and surrender the following morning.
Then Carr saw something that made him change his mind: German ground-crew fueling and performing maintenance on a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 near the edge of the runway, close to his hiding spot. When they were done, the Germans tightened the panels back on the plane and left, leaving it ready for combat the following morning. A plan began to form in Carr’s mind – but it required extraordinary daring to pull off.
29. There is Daring, and There Stealing an Enemy Airplane to Fly Home Daring
That night, Carr worked up the nerve to sneak up to the enemy fighter, and climbed into its cockpit. He fought off sleep until dawn’s early light allowed him to inspect the instruments. Everything was labeled in German, but there were enough similarities between the German and American cockpits for Carr to guesstimate what did what.
Carr found the Fw190’s starter lever, spent half an hour building up his courage, then pulled it. Nothing happened. German starters worked the other way around. He eventually pushed it forward, and the fighter’s BMW motor roared to life. Carr would not risk his escape by wasting any time taxing to and lining up on the runway. Pouring on full throttle, he raced across a corner of the airfield, between two airplane hangars, then over the heads of sleepy and befuddled Germans.
Upon reaching Allied territory, ground troops opened fire on Carr’s Fw190. To avoid friendly fire, he flew just above treetop at 350 mph. After flying about 200 miles, he reached his airfield. Unable to deploy the landing gear, or communicate via radio, Carr made a belly landing before his daring escape was ruined by his own airfield’s defenses blasting him out of the sky.
Military police surrounded the crashed Fw190, and refused to accept Carr’s word that he was an American airman. It was finally sorted out when the group commander arrived, and identified his missing pilot. Carr is the only Allied pilot to fly off on a mission in a P-51, and return to base in an Fw190.
Bruce Carr’s daring escape earned him a well-earned promotion to first lieutenant, as well as a well-deserved leave. However, his wartime exploits were not over. On April 2nd, 1945, First Lieutenant Carr led three other American fighters on a reconnaissance mission, when they spotted 60 German fighters above them. Daring to have a go at the enemy despite the 15:1 odds against his flight, Carr immediately led an attack. Within minutes, he and his companions had downed 15 Germans. Carr personally downed two Fw190s, three Me109s, and damaged a sixth plane. That made Carr the European theater’s last ace-in-a-day (somebody who shot down 5 or more enemy in a day). It also earned him a Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second highest award for valor.
By war’s end, Carr had flown 172 combat missions, scored 15 confirmed air-to-air kills, several more unconfirmed victories, and numerous ground kills. He flew another 57 combat missions during the Korean War, and 286 more in Vietnam, earning a Legion of Merit and Three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1973, died of prostate cancer in 1998, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Modu Chanyu (234 – 174 BC) was a daring Steppe warrior and chieftain who took on the Chinese Empire of his day. A formidable and fearsome figure, he had a habit turning his defeated enemies’ skulls into cups from which he drank blood.
He unified the nomadic tribes of the eastern Steppe, and founded the Xiongnu Empire, spanning the Eastern Steppe from Central Asia to Manchuria. Under Chanyu’s leadership, the Xiongnu menaced the Chinese to their south, and continued to do so for centuries. They forged a complex relationship with China, that alternated between trade and raid, marriage treaties and tribute and war.
In 200 BC, the Chinese Emperor Gaozu, founder of the Han dynasty, tried to bring the Xiongnu to heel, but it ended badly for him. Modu Chanyu was untroubled by the massive Chinese army. He and his daring warriors led the invaders on a merry chase through the Steppe, while harrying their supply lines and keeping them on constant edge with frequent skirmishes. When the Chinese were exhausted, Modu ambushed and trapped them in a disadvantageous locale, cutoff from resupply and reinforcement.
Surrounded, the Chinese emperor bought his life with an appeasement treaty known as the Heqin. It recognized Modu Chanyu and the Xiongnu Empire as equals, and defined The Great Wall of China as the mutual border. Under the treaty, China sent the Xiongnu leaders Chinese princesses as brides, and sought to buy them off with regular tribute payments that were face-savingly referred to as “gifts”.
In 194 BC, after Emperor Gaozu died, Modu Chanyu sent a rude and mocking marriage proposal to his widow, the dowager empress. Incensed, the empress and imperial court were all for declaring war, with generals urging the extermination of the Xiongnu. Eventually, calmer voices reminded everybody of Chanyu’s victory just a few years earlier, and that the Xiongnu army was more powerful than the Chinese. Reconsidering, the empress wrote back, humbly declining the daring rogue’s proposal, and accompanied the letter with a gift of imperial carriages and horses.
So badly had Chanyu beaten the Han emperor, and so memorable was the defeat, that Chinese attempts at a military solution were abandoned altogether. Instead, the Heqin system of buying off the nomads with princesses and tribute became the bedrock of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. The appeasement continued even after the Xiongnu Empire collapsed and the Xiongnu disappeared from the annals of history. Chinese princesses and Chinese “gifts” continued to be sent regularly to Steppe chieftains for over a thousand years, with the last recorded instance of Heqin occurring in 883 AD.
23. The 1980s Air Raids to Keep Saddam From Getting an A-Bomb
Saddam Hussein’s enemies were alarmed when he began construction of the Osirak nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad. The reactor could be used for a weapons program that would furnish the Iraqi dictator with nuclear bombs, so his enemies sought to nip the problem in the bud.
In 1980, early in the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian F-4 Phantoms bombed the Iraqi reactor. However, they inflicted minimal damage, and the attempt did little to derail the Iraqi nuclear program. Israel, also threatened by the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam, made its own plans to take out the Iraqi reactor. The result was Operation Opera, one of the more daring air raids of the post WWII era.
Israeli pilots prepared for the raid by studying the Iraqi nuclear power plant’s plans, paying special attention to the reactor building that housed the nuclear core. The most obvious route would have been a straight line from Israel to Baghdad and the reactor. However, that would have crossed Jordan, whose radar stations would have detected airplanes approaching from the west. Taking a long curved route farther to the south was another possibility, but American AWACS planes operating from Saudi Arabia could have detected unusual aerial activity.
A third and more daring alternative, which was followed, was to fly low, under the radar, while weaving a path between Jordanian and Saudi radar installations. On June 7th, 1981, a flight of Israeli warplanes, comprised of bomb carrying F-16s, escorted by F-15s for fighter protection, took off for the Osirak reactor.
At some point, along the way, the Israeli airplanes were picked up by a Jordanian radar. They were challenged by ground control, but an Israeli pilot, speaking in Arabic, convinced them that they were Jordanian planes on a training mission. After 80 minutes in the air, the raiders approached their target and prepared to strike.
The F-15s peeled off to provide fighter cover if needed, while the F-16s climbed before diving into the attack. The first F-16’s bombs found their mark, as did those of all the following raiders. In less than two minutes, the Osirak reactor was completely destroyed. Israel insists that the pilots dropped simple iron bombs. However, the accuracy with which the reactor was hit has led to speculation that the Israeli airplanes had deployed an early generation of smart bombs. Their daring mission successfully completed, the Israeli airplanes took a direct high speed route back home.
20. A Man of the Cloth’s Daring Words in the Face of Death
Of all the cruel means of execution invented by cruel minds, few can be more cruel – not to mention excruciatingly painful – than getting burned alive at the stake. Faced with the prospect of such a fiery death, few among us would be capable of doing more than shriek, wail, or gibber while soiling our underpants in terror.
Yet in the face of such a horrific end, one man of the cloth, Hugh Latimer (circa 1487 – 1555), was daring enough to swallow his fear. He went beyond that, and had the presence of mind to come up with a turn of phrase that turned his manner of execution, as a human torch, into memorable words that have gone down the centuries. As he told a colleague at the stake when the flames were lit: “… we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.”
Hugh Latimer was an English Protestant bishop burned at the stake by Queen Mary during her campaign to restore England to Roman Catholicism. Mary’s father, King Henry VIII, had taken England out of the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from Mary’s mother. So he bypassed the Pope by taking his kingdom out of Catholicism, and established the Church of England, appointing himself as its head. However, Henry VIII kept many doctrines and practices of Catholicism.
Latimer had graduated from Cambridge University, was elected a fellow of its Clare College in 1510, and became a Catholic priest in 1515. He switched to Protestantism in 1524, and became a zealous advocate and defender of his new faith. He gained renown as a Protestant preacher, and was appointed a bishop in the newly formed Church of England. However, Latimer resigned in protest when the king refused to adopt Protestant reforms. Henry was succeeded by his underage son, Edward VI, a more staunch Protestant. During the son’s reign, England became decidedly more Protestant, and Latimer regained royal favor, was appointed court preacher, and became the young king’s chaplain.
Unfortunately for Hugh Latimer, the staunchly Protestant Edward VI died young and without issue. He was succeeded by his staunchly Catholic sister, Mary. She viewed Protestantism as a heresy, and sought to restore England to Catholicism. Mary ordered that prominent Protestants such as Latimer be imprisoned and tried for heresy. Latimer was tried in Oxford in 1555, along with fellow bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He refused to renounce his faith, so he was convicted of heresy and was sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Latimer was chained to the stake alongside Ridley. When the flames were lit, Ridley cried out in anguish. Although he himself was also being consumed by the fire, Latimer nonetheless tried to comfort his colleague, telling is fellow bishop: “be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” It could be argued that the candle still burns. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism failed. When she died in 1558, she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, and England has been Protestant ever since.
The Raid on the Medway was a daring surprise Dutch attack on England’s Royal Navy, that took place between June 9 – 14, 1667, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1665). Dutch warships brazenly sailed up the Medway River in Kent to fall upon English warships anchored in dockyards at Chatham and Gillingham. The result was one of the most impressive victories in Dutch history.
From the start of the war, things had been going badly for England. First, the country suffered the Great Plague that ravaged London in 1665-1666. Then came the Great Fire of London, in 1666. By 1667, England’s King Charles II was broke, unable to pay sailors, and desperately wanted out of the war. The Dutch, however, smarting from having lost the First Anglo-Dutch War a few years earlier, wanted to first inflict a crushing defeat on the English to even the score. That would then place them in a strong position to impose punitive peace terms on England.
To inflict a crushing and humiliating defeat upon England, the Dutch fleet, daring to challenge the English lion in its den, entered the Thames Estuary. Commanded by one of history’s greatest admirals, Michiel de Ruyter, the Dutch bombarded and captured Sheerness at the mouth of the Medway. The attackers then sailed up that river. En route, they overcame a barrier chain stretched across the Medway, which Dutch engineers overcame with ease. They also overcame fortresses along the way, that were intended to protect the English warships anchored at Chatham and Gillingham.
The Dutch reached the anchored English vessels, that were laid up in their dockyards, virtually unmanned and unarmed. The attackers burned three capital ships and ten smaller warships. They also captured and towed away as prizes two major ships of the line, including HMS Royal Charles, the flagship of the Royal Navy, named after the reigning king. In total, the England’s Royal Navy lost 13 ships, while the Dutch lost none.
The daring Dutch raid on the Medway accomplished all that its planners had hoped for. It inflicted serious material losses upon England’s Royal Navy. It also publicly demonstrated that the English were unable to protect their own coastline, or their own fleet within their own borders. It was one of the greatest humiliations ever suffered by the Royal Navy and England.
So great was the debacle that there were rife speculations about the imminent collapse of the monarchy. It had been restored only seven years earlier, after a decade of rule without a king during the period of the English Commonwealth. The humiliation inflicted by the Dutch did nothing to enhance the restored monarchy’s prestige. Chagrined, broke, and with a monarch seated atop a tottering throne, the English hurried to sign a peace treaty favorable to the Dutch the following month, and exited the war.
It was early 1862, during the American Civil War. Union forces were worried about the possibility of Confederate troops rapidly arriving at Chattanooga from Atlanta, using the Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&R). James J. Andrews, a Union civilian scout, proposed a daring raid to sever that rail connection. He and a select group of volunteers would seize a locomotive in Georgia, then travel north, destroying two connecting railway lines and their vital bridges along the way.
Andrews’ idea was approved, and in early April, 1862, he recruited Union Army volunteers for his raid. Slipping through Confederate lines in civilian clothes, the men rendezvoused in Marietta, Georgia. There, they boarded a train on April 11th. When it reached a small stop called “Big Shanty”, selected by Andrews because it had no telegraph that the Confederates could use to send out an alarm, the raiders leapt into action. Seizing the locomotive, named the General, they uncoupled it from the rest of the train and took off. It was the start of a rollicking chase.
Chugging along in their stolen train, James J. Andrews and his men stopped along the way to cut telegraph lines and remove some railroad tracks. Back in Big Shanty, the conductor whose locomotive they had hijacked, a William Fuller, organized a pursuit. With a hue and cry raised behind them, the Union raiders led the Confederate pursuers on a 90 mile chase on locomotives and on foot.
The Confederates at Big Shanty first set off by foot, then by handcar, until Fuller and his posse reached an idle locomotive on a spur line. They fired it up, and began the chase in earnest. Switching locomotives along the way, Fuller and the pursuers steadily closed the distance with Andrews and his raiders. For some time, Andrews’ men managed to stay ahead of news of their raid because they had cut telegraph wires, thus preventing warnings and orders to block the raiders’ escape route from reaching Confederate forces ahead of the fleeing Union volunteers. For a while, things seemed to be going the daring raiders’ way. However, fortune is a fickle mistress, and she eventually turned her back on them.
Things started going wrong for Andrews and his men when they stopped to burn a wooden railroad bridge. Unfortunately, heavy rains had left the structure too waterlogged to catch on fire, so the daring raiders gave up and 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 sent an alert that reached Confederates ahead of the raiders, who blocked the Union volunteers.
Halting the train on the outskirts of Ringgold, Georgia, Andrews ordered his men to disembark and scatter into the wilderness. They 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 of the raiders however managed to escape, and the remainder were released in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Participants in the raid were among the first ever recipients of the newly created Congressional Medal of Honor, but unfortunately Andrews was not among them, because, as a civilian, he was ineligible.
Zhuge Liang (181-234) was a wily chancellor and military strategist during China’s Three Kingdoms Period. One of his exploits took place in 208 during the buildup to a climactic battle between rival armies that were separated by the Yangtze River. Zhuge Liang’s rivals maneuvered him into committing himself to furnish 100,000 arrows within a few days.
It was a seemingly impossible task, but after mulling it over, Zhuge Liang came up with a daring plan to pull it off. He gathered a flotilla of riverboats, lined them up with bales of wet straw, and instructed the crews what he expected from them.
Zhuge Liang waited for a foggy night on the Yangtze, then quietly rowed his riverboat flotilla across the river to carry out his daring plan. Undetected, he positioned his riverboats in a line close to the enemy camp. Then at a signal, his crews erupted with loud noises to break the night’s silence, shouting, beating drums, clanging gongs, and creating an unholy din.
Startled, the enemy camp awoke in a panic. Convinced that they were facing a surprise night attack, they unleashed a storm of arrows at the boat silhouettes flitting in the murk – arrows that were embedded in the wet bales of straw. Then, his pin-cushioned boats groaning with the weight of more than 100,000 captured arrows, Zhuge Liang departed.
Zhuge Liang as also known for another daring bluff, which became proverbial in China as the “empty fort strategy”. It came about when he was tasked with defending a walled city with a severely undermanned garrison. A vastly superior enemy army approached – one against which Zhuge Liang’s tiny garrison stood no chance.
Rather than barricade the city gates, he threw them open. He then grabbed a musical instrument, and proceeded to nonchalantly play it while seated atop the gates. When scouts informed the enemy commander what they saw, he rode to the gates and saw that they were indeed wide open. He looked up at the walls, and saw that they were unmanned, while Zhuge Liang nonchalantly played music above. Suspecting a trap, the enemy commander turned his army around and left the defenseless city.
In the wee morning hours of July 4th, 1976, Israeli special forces carried out a daring raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda. The goal was to rescue hostages taken from an Air France jetliner. The plane had been commandeered on June 27th, while en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, after a stopover in Athens where it was boarded by four hijackers. Two were from a breakaway faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the other two were from a German Red Army Faction revolutionary cell. Seizing the airplane, the hijackers diverted it to Entebbe airport in Uganda, whose president, Idi Amin, was sympathetic to their cause.
Once landed at Entebbe, the hijackers removed the passengers from the airplane to a disused airport terminal building. There, they were joined by another three accomplices. After sifting through the passengers’ passports, the hostage takers released those who were neither Israeli nor Jewish, and kept as hostages 94 who were, plus 12 members of the Air France aircrew. In exchange for freeing their hostages, the hijackers demanded the release of 40 prisoners held in Israel, plus another 13 held in other countries.
As the days passed and the prisoners were not released, the hijackers grew more strident and incessant, and threatened to kill their hostages if their demands were not met. Fortunately for the Israelis, an Israeli engineer who had worked with Idi Amin in the 1960s furnished them with the blueprints of the Entebbe terminal building where the hostages were being kept. They used those blueprints to plan a rescue mission. On the night of July 3rd, 1976, 100 Israeli special forces boarded C-130 cargo planes and, escorted by F-4 Phantoms, took off on a 2500 mile flight to Uganda.
Within 90 minutes of touching down at Entebbe, the commandos had killed all 7 hostage takers, along with about 45 Ugandan soldiers, and destroyed 30 Ugandan jets at the airport. In exchange, they lost 1 commando killed and 5 wounded, plus 3 dead and 10 wounded hostages. Commandos and hostages then boarded the C-130 transports for a short flight to Nairobi, Kenya. There, the planes refueled and the wounded were taken to an awaiting hospital plane, before flying back to Israel.
In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte conducted the Ulm Campaign, a series of daring maneuvers that culminated in the capture of an entire Austrian army. Austria’s Russian allies had sent an army, but it did not arrive in time to save the trapped Austrians. The Russians retreated to the north bank of the Danube, hoping for breathing space to regroup by putting that river between them and the pursuing French. To that end, all bridges spanning the Danube were either blown up, or rigged with explosives to detonate at a word of command to prevent their capture by Napoleon’s forces.
In the meantime, as the French neared the Austrian capital of Vienna on the Danube, peace negotiations were underway. The Austrians did not immediately blow up Vienna’s bridges, because they did not want to cast a pall over the negotiations. They also figured it might prove unnecessary, if the negotiators succeed in reaching a peaceful settlement. Vienna’s bridges were prepared for detonation if the French tried to seize them. One such was the Tabor Bridge, entrusted to a Count Auersperg. Unfortunately for the Austrians, Count Auersperg ended up falling for a daring ruse that allowed the French to seize the bridge placed under his command.
As the French army advanced upon Vienna, there was a mood of uncertainty in the air. The war was still on, but the hostilities might end at any moment with an armistice and peace treaty. It was against that backdrop that the French vanguard neared the Tabor Bridge on November 13th, 1805, and halted.
Two of Napoleon’s more daring generals, Joachim Murat and Jean Lannes, then casually ambled to the bridge, behaving in a carefree manner. As confused Austrian guards aimed their muskets at their breasts, the French commanders were laughing and expressing their pleasure at the “just concluded” armistice and peace treaty. Once they reached the other side, still seemingly without a care in the world, they asked to see Count Auersperg, wondering if he had already gone to attend the peace signing ceremony.
As a messenger was sent to fetch Count Auersperg, generals Lannes and Murat chatted with the guards to distract them from paying attention to French soldiers who were now casually crossing the bridge. An Austrian sergeant suspected a ruse and lit the fuse to the explosives. However, Lannes extinguished it. The daring French general berated the sergeant for trying to destroy public property, then sat on a cannon as he smoked a pipe. When Count Auersperg arrived, he bought the Frenchmen’s story. When the suspicious Austrian sergeant protested, Murat, just as daring as Lannes, berated Auersperg for his soldiers’ indiscipline, and for allowing an underling to mouth off and jeopardize the armistice.
Auersperg was browbeaten into arresting the sergeant, then turned control of the bridge over to the French. They used it to cross the Danube, and less than a month later crushed the combined Austro-Russian armies at Austerlitz, the masterpiece battle of Napoleon’s career. A court martial convicted the hapless Count Auersperg of incompetence and negligence, stripped him of his rank and honors, and sentenced him to be shot. Luckily for him, the sentence was commuted, and he was eventually pardoned.
There is regular daring, which is exceptional and badass in of itself. Then there is shouting defiance against tyranny and oppression while the oppressive tyrant’s noose is around one’s neck type of daring, which takes things to another level.
Stjepan Filopivic managed to pull off the latter in WWII, when he shouted to a gathered crowd “Death to fascism! Freedom to the people!” with a Nazi noose around his neck. They were his last words on earth, just a split second before his execution.
Stjepan Filipovic was a Croatian, who was born in 1916 in what become Yugoslavia after World War I. He left home at sixteen and became a metalworker. In 1937, he joined the local workers’ movement and became an activist member. Arrested for political activity, Filipovic was sentenced to a year in jail. Imprisonment only served to further radicalize him, and upon his release in 1940, Filipovic joined the Communist Party.
In 1941, Germany invaded and overran Yugoslavia. Filipovic volunteered to join the partisan resistance against the Nazi occupiers, and was posted to a guerrilla unit near Valjevo, in today’s Serbia. Given responsibility for recruitment and for securing arms, he excelled in his duties, showed so much promise, and displayed so much daring, that by year’s end he had risen to command an entire partisan battalion.
Stjepan Filipovic was captured by the Nazis in February, 1942, and was sentenced to be publicly hanged in Valjevo’s town square. At death’s door, Stjepan Filipovic had the courage and presence of mind to seize the moment and defy his captors during his last seconds on earth. Mounting the gallows, and with the hangman’s noose around his neck, he daringly thrust his hands in the air and struck a dramatic pose that was captured on camera.
Urging the gathered crowd to continue the struggle against the Nazi oppressors and their Yugoslav collaborators, he cried out just before he was hanged: “Death to fascism, freedom to the people!” – a preexisting partisan slogan that Filipovic’s martyrdom helped popularize. After the war, Filipovic was designated a national hero of Yugoslavia. A monumental statue was erected in Valjevo in his honor, replicating his Y shaped pose in an artistically classic rendition reminiscent of a Goya painting.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading