The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events
The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events

The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events

Khalid Elhassan - November 23, 2019

The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events
Charles Carpenter and his L-4 Grasshopper, ‘Rosie the Rocketer’, with bazookas strapped beneath a wing. Wikimedia

4. Strapping Bazookas Under a Plane to Blow Up Tanks

US Army Major Charles Carpenter, AKA “The Mad Major”and “Bazooka Charlie”, was a 4th Armored Division artillery observer during WWII. Flying a military variant of the Piper Cub, the L-4H Grasshopper, Carpenter’s job was to spot German artillery positions in France, then fly back to base – his plane had no radio – and report the position. He wanted more excitement, however, so he decided to take out the enemy himself.

The L-4H carried no weapons, and had a combined pilot and cargo capacity of only 232 pounds. That was enough for Carpenter, who strapped six bazookas to his airplane, three beneath each wing, and went Nazi hunting. Within a few weeks, Bazooka Charlie, flying his modified plane, now nicknamed Rosie the Rocketer, took out four German tanks and an armored car. By war’s end, Carpenter’s toll had risen to six tanks, several more armored cars, and assorted other vehicles.

The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events
‘The Last Day of Pompeii’, by Karl Brullov. Google Art Project

3. The Debt Archaeology Owes to a Disaster

In August of 79 AD, people living in the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius, a few miles east of Naples, Italy, felt some tremors, but they were not unusual. Then, on August 24th, the mountain blew its top with a force 100,000 times greater than that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. The eruption tossed deadly debris, mixed with a cloud of poisonous gasses, over twenty miles up into the air.

As Vesuvius spewed into the air, lava and hot pumice poured out of the volcano’s mouth at a rate of 1.5 million tons per second. The mixture raced down Vesuvius’ side to devastate the surrounding region and destroy nearby towns, of which Pompeii and Herculaneum are the best known. The towns’ fates were tragic, but archaeology and our knowledge of Ancient Rome owes much to that tragedy.

The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events
‘The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by John Martin, 1821. Wikimedia

2. A Dramatic Eruption

Around noon on August 24th, 79 AD, a cloud appeared atop Vesuvius, and about an hour later, the volcano erupted and ash began to fall on Pompeii, six miles away. By 2PM, volcanic debris, begin to fall with the ash, and by 5PM sunlight had been completely blocked and roofs in Pompeii began collapsing under the accumulating weight of pumice and ash. Panicked townspeople rushed to the harbor seeking any ship that would take them away.

Vesuvius’ lava did not reach Pompeii or Herculaneum, but it sent heat waves of more than 550 degrees Fahrenheit into those towns, turning them into ovens and killing any who had not already suffocated from the fine ash.

The Town That Got Away With Murder and Other Largely Forgotten Historic Events
Modern tourists wandering the ruins of Pompeii. Reuters

1. Tragedy Serves Archaeology

About 1500 bodies were found in Pompeii and Herculaneum when they were unearthed centuries later, from just a small area impacted by the volcano’s eruption. Extrapolating to the surrounding regions, total casualties are estimated to have been in the tens of thousands. The towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, whose populations at the time numbered about 20,000, were buried beneath up to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice.

Tragic and terrifying as that was, the ash deposits did a remarkably effective job of preserving those towns. In 1738, laborers digging foundations for a palace rediscovered Herculaneum, and further excavations unearthed Pompeii in 1748. The archaeological finds afforded historians an unrivaled snapshot of 1st century AD Roman architecture, city planning, urban infrastructure, and town life in general.

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

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Varangian Guard

BBC Future, September 11th, 2015 – The Cold War Nuke That Fried Satellites

Conversation, The, February 1st, 2017 – Fornication, Fluids, and Faeces: The Intimate Life of the French Court

Daily Beast, October 23rd, 2016 – The Rhino Who Won an Election by a Landslide

Encyclopedia Britannica – Heinrich Schliemann

First Battalion, 24th Marines – The Case For Thomas Underwood

Governing – Why Are Salt Lake City’s Blocks So Long?

Jacobin, August 28th, 2012 – Lincoln and Marx

KFOR, November 11th, 2013 – Great State: WWII Veteran Recalls Strange Incident During Coral Sea Battle

Live Science – Mount Vesuvius & Pompeii: Facts & History

Livius – Pyrrhus of Epirus

Morbidology – The Town That Got Away With Murder

National Security Archive – Pentagon Estimated 18,500 US Casualties in Cuba Invasion 1962, But if Nukes Launched, “Heavy Losses” Expected

NY Daily News, December 15th, 2015 – Paul Castellano Hit, 30 Years Later

Patch – Who Killed Ken Rex McElroy: Town Keeps Its Secret For 38 Years

Smithsonian Magazine, October 10th, 2018 – Mount Vesuvius Boiled its Victims’ Blood and Caused Their Skulls to Explode

Soldiers of Misfortune – The Varangian Guard: The Vikings in Byzantium

ThoughtCo – Was Abraham Lincoln Really a Wrestler?

War History Online – Once the Greatest Army in Europe: The Black Army of Hungary

Wikipedia – Charles Carpenter (Lieutenant Colonel)

Wikipedia – Flight of the Wild Geese

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