Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs

Khalid Elhassan - February 15, 2021

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Saint Nazaire’s railway station. Historic Wings

7. Alan Magee’s Was Not the Highest Fall Without a Parachute Survived During WWII

Alan Magee plummeted for four miles without a parachute. He crashed through the glass roof of Saint-Nazaire’s train station, which shattered and absorbed some of the impact, then slammed into the station’s floor. He was injured, but alive. Magee’s fall left him a bloody mess. In addition to 28 shrapnel wounds that he had taken while still in his B-17, he sustained damage to his lung, kidney, nose, and eye, had several broken bones, plus a nearly severed right arm. Nonetheless, he had miraculously survived.

Magee spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, until he was liberated in 1945. In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of his fall, Saint-Nazaire erected a monument in honor of Magee and the crew of Snap! Crackle! Pop! As seen above, British airman Nicholas Alkemade survived a fall without a parachute from 18,000 feet, and American airman Alan Magee survived one from 22,000 feet. Soviet airman Ivan Mikhailovich Chisov (1916 – 1986) topped both records by surviving a fall without a parachute from 23,000 feet.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Ilyushin Il-4 bomber. Asis Biz

6. The Strange Survival of Ivan Chisov Who Fell 23,000 Feet Without a Parachute, Suffered Serious Injuries, Then Went Back to Fighting the Nazis Three Months Later

In January, 1942, Red Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Chisov was serving as a navigator in an Ilyushin Il-4 bomber, when it was jumped by German fighters. The bomber was wrecked and spun out of control, so Chisov bailed out at a height of 23,000 feet. He had a parachute, but fearing that the nearby German fighters would shoot him, he decided to refrain from opening it until he got close to the ground. However, lack of oxygen in the thin air so high up caused him to blackout. Unconscious, he continued all the way down without deploying his parachute.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Ivan Chisov. Wikimedia

Chisov plummeted 23,000 feet from his stricken Il-4, before hitting the ground at an estimated 120 to 150 miles per hour. Luckily, he hit the edge of a snowy ravine, whose snow absorbed and dissipated enough impact energy to keep him alive. Chisov bounced from the ravine’s edge and slid, rolled, and plowed his way to the bottom. He suffered spinal injuries and a broken pelvis, but lived. Chisov underwent surgery, and spent a month hospitalized in critical care. He was a tough Russian, however, and three months after his dramatic fall, Chisov was back in the air, flying more bombing missions against the Nazis.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
How the Great Panjandrum was supposed to work. Look and Learn

5. The Need to Overcome German Defenses at D-Day Taxed Allied Planners and Weapons Designers

In 1944, as the Western Allies geared up to invade France, the formidable German defenses on the landing beaches and how to overcome them was front and center in the minds of planners and weapons designers. The British came up with an innovative – as it turned out farcically innovative – weapon to clear expected obstacles ahead of the D-Day landings: The Great Panjandrum. The strange device consisted of a large drum stuffed with a ton of explosives, and affixed to rocket-propelled wheels.

The idea was to ignite the rockets from a platform at sea, and the angled rockets affixed to the wheels would cause them to rotate rapidly. That rapid rotation would launch the contraption at targets and obstacles on shore, blowing them up and clearing the way for follow-on troops who would land hot on the Great Panjandrum’s heels. That was how it was supposed to work in theory. In practice, the device turned out to be one of the most cartoonishly farcical weapons ever developed.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
The Great Panjandrum. War History Online

4. The Strange Great Panjandrum

The Great Panjandrum was supposed to be developed in secrecy in order to spring it as a surprise on the Germans. However, testing was conducted on a popular beach, so huge crowds gathered to gawk at the strange device. The design’s flaws emerged at the first trial run in 1943. When the rockets were ignited and the device was launched, it made its way up the beach before rockets on one of the wheels malfunctioned, causing the Great Panjandrum to careen wildly off course. The problem persisted in additional trials: it was impossible to get the rockets on both sides to ignite simultaneously or to keep firing simultaneously.

After weeks of troubleshooting, the developers returned to the beach, this time with a third wheel affixed to the device to increase its stability. That test proved more embarrassing yet, as the device hurtled toward the beach, only to double back and turn back to sea towards the launching craft. In the meantime, some of the rockets had detached from the Great Panjandrum’s wheels to launch themselves at the observers on the beach, whistling over their heads or exploding underwater nearby.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
An out of control Great Panjandrum veering off course and towards the cameramen. Benedante

3. An Innovative Weapon Straight Out of Looney Tunes

The Great Panjandrum’s designers returned to the drawing board to work out the bugs. When they figured that they finally had it under control, they conducted a final demonstration in front of a gathering of admirals and generals. As described in a BBC documentary: “At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge […] Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming.

Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed.” Unsurprisingly, the project was immediately scrapped over safety concerns.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Austrian army during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788 – 1791. Wikimedia

2. The Most Farcical Battle in the History of Warfare?

Among all the strange events in the history of war, few are more strange than the Battle of Karansebes, which took place in 1788. The battle – to the extent that it could be called that – was a farcical debacle in which an army killed up to 10,000 of its own ranks, routed itself, and scattered in panicked flight without an enemy present. It occurred during the Austro-Turkish War of 1787-1791, and was fought between an Austrian army of 100,000, and itself.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Turkish army marching out at the start of the Austro-Turkish War in 1788. History Is Now Magazine

Austria ruled a diverse multiethnic empire, and its army was correspondingly diverse and multiethnic. Units were drawn from various ethnic groups, most of whom could not understand each others’ languages. During the night of September 21-22, 1788, Austrian hussars crossed a river to scout for the enemy. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word hussar stems from the Hungarian huszár, which in turn originates from the medieval Serbian husar, meaning brigand. The found no Turks, but found some Gypsies who sold them schnapps. Soon, the hussars were uproariously drunk. Back in the camp, the Austrian commander grew worried by the hussars taking so long to return. So he sent some infantry across the river to check. It was the start of a farcical chain of events that would end in disaster.

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
Eighteenth century Austrian hussars. Xenophon Group

1. The Strange Battle That Was Fought – and Lost – Without an Enemy in Sight

The infantry found the missing hussars, and demanded a share of their schnapps. The hussars refused, resulting in a brawl that escalated into an exchange of gunfire. During the fight, an infantryman pranked the hussars by shouting “Turci! Turci!” (“Turks! Turks!”). That caused the drunken hussars to flee in terror. However, they were accompanied in their panicked flight by many infantrymen, unaware that the alarm was a trick by a comrade. Across the river, the Austrian camp stirred uneasily at the sounds of distant gunfire and screams. When the panicked hussars and infantry neared the camp, shouting “Turci! Turci!“, they were challenged by sentries who shouted “Halt! Halt!

Offbeat Warfare Facts that Will Confound History Buffs
The Battle of Karansebes. Lock, Stock, and History

That was misheard by non-German speaking soldiers as “Allah! Allah!” In the confusion, an artillery officer thought that the camp was under attack, and ordered his cannons to open fire. As startled and confused soldiers woke up to the sounds of combat, some began firing wildly. Within minutes, the panic and wild firing spread had engulfed the camp. Soon, entire regiments were firing volleys at each other, before the entire army dissolved and scattered in panicked flight. The Turks arrived two days later and captured the Austrian camp, where they found 10,000 dead and wounded.


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

Albuquerque Journal, February 3rd, 2004 – Man Survived 22,000 Foot Fall From Bomber

Bronx Pinstripes – On This Day in History: Yogi Berra Takes Part in D-Day

First News, The – Strangest War in History? Seventy-One Years Ago Today, Poland Declared War on its Old Friend Japan, and it Lasted for 16 Years

Historic Wings – The Miracle of Saint Nazaire

Hogg, Ian V. – German Artillery of World War II (2002)

Imperial War Museum – Life and Death in Bomber Command

Intelligence and National Security Journal, Vol 17, No. 2, Summer 2002 – Pearl Harbor Revisionism: Robert Stinnett’s Day of Deceit

Johnson, Brian – The Secret War (2004)

Jones, Don – Oba, the Last Samurai: Saipan 1944-1945 (1986)

La Brujala Verde – The World War II Airmen Who Survived Falls From Thousands of Feet High

Pearl Harbor History Associates – The Myths of Pearl Harbor

Smoking Gun – Lenny Bruce’s Gay Naval Ruse

Times, The, June 5th, 2009 – Replica of the Great Panjandrum, 1944 Super Weapon, to be Tested

Wanpela – Yamakage Kufuku

Wikipedia – Battle of Karansebes

Wikipedia – Sakae Oba

WW2 Wrecks – The Last Samurai: Sakae Oba and the Largest Banzai Charge of the War in the Pacific