Here’s What Happened To America’s 12 Concrete Ships

H/T War History OnLine.

Concrete ships was not a very good idea.

During WWI German U-boats were wreaking havoc against Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Replacing these ships was becoming harder as steel supplies dwindled, so US President Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of 24 concrete ships. Yes, concrete.

Concrete is a material sometimes used in the construction of ships, although it’s not ideal. The raw materials are cheaper, but the ships require thicker hulls to maintain strength, which either increases its physical size and is harder to push through the water, or reduces the amount of cargo space inside.

Of the planned 24 concrete ships, only 12 were under construction by the time WWI ended, so the rest were canceled. The 12 ships were finished and sold off for various uses. Here is what happened to those 12 strange concrete ships.

SS Atlantus

SS Atlantus Before sinking
Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikipedia

SS Atlantus was the second of the 12 concrete ships and launched on December 5, 1918. The cargo ship missed WWI but was used to transport troops back to the US from Europe.

Atlantus in July 2015 (Photo Credit: Luigi Novi / Wikipedia)
Atlantus in July 2015 (Photo Credit: Luigi Novi / Wikipedia)

She was purchased by Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld in 1926 who planned to use her as a ferry dock in Cape May, New Jersey. While being towed to this location the SS Atlantus broke free during a storm and ran aground 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach. Its close proximity to the beach has led to it becoming a popular tourist attraction over the decades. Today she is in poor shape, but the pieces that remain are still visible.

SS Cape Fear

SS Cape Fear was a cargo steamer and the third concrete ship to be constructed. She was launched in 1919 and would serve as a reminder of why concrete is not a great ship-building material.

In 1920 she collided with the freighter City of Atlanta, a ship that would endure another two collisions over her lifetime. The impact was said to have quite literally shattered SS Cape Fear. The ship sank in just three minutes. 19 of her crew were lost in the event. Today she lies 170 feet below the surface off the coast of Rhode Island.

SS Cuyamaca

An oil tanker, SS Cuyamaca was completed in 1920 and spent much of her career transporting oil in the Gulf of Mexico. She was converted into an oil barge in 1924. The SS Cuyamaca’s fate is unknown, but it is thought that in 1926 the 7,500-ton vessel was either scrapped or sunk as a breakwater.

SS Dinsmore

Another oil tanker, the SS Dinsmore was launched in mid-1920 and was used as an oil storage tanker until 1932. Like the SS Cuyamaca, SS Dinsmore’s final resting place is unknown, but she was likely sunk as a breakwater in the Gulf of Mexico.

SS Latham

SS Latham was an oil tanker launched on May 6, 1920. When returning from her first-ever trip, transporting oil pipes, SS Latham struck a jetty and water entered her cargo hold, nearly sinking her.

In 1926 the SS Latham was converted into a floating oil storage tank in New Orleans. Her fate is unknown.

SS Moffit

Launching of the SS Moffit
Launching of the SS Moffitt (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

Sister ship to the SS Dinsmore, the SS Moffit was launched just after her in September 1920. She was an oil tanker that was struck off the books in 1925. It is not known what happened to the concrete ship after this point.

SS Palo Alto

SS Palo Alto Before
Naval History and Heritage Command – Naval History and Heritage Comand – Catalog No. NH 799 (Photo credit: Public Domain)

The SS Palo Alto is the most well-known ship on this list. This oil tanker was launched on May 29, 1919, but remained moored up in San Francisco Bay for the next decade. She was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Corporation in 1929 and towed to Seacliff State Beach in California. The SS Palo Alto was grounded on the shallow seafloor and a pier was built to span the gap between her and the beach.

SS Palo Alto Modern Day
An aerial view of the wreck Palo Alto in 2013. (Photo Credit: Jw4nvc  / Wikipedia)

She was transformed into an entertainment center that featured a dance hall, dining room, and even a swimming pool. The Great Depression bankrupted the Seacliff Amusement Company two years later. Since then she has been opened and closed due to safety concerns. Today the 420-foot ship still remains in the same location but is now broken into multiple pieces.

SS Peralta

The SS Peralta is the only concrete ship from the WWI fleet still floating. She was the SS Palo Alto’s sister ship and was launched in early 1920. The Peralta was purchased in 1924 and used as a sardine cannery in Alaska.

In 1958 the SS Peralta was transported to the Powell River in British Columbia, Canada, where she would serve as a floating breakwater protecting logging operations. The vessel is still at this location today and is the largest concrete ship afloat in the world.

SS Polias

SS Polias
Photo Credit: Public Domain

This ship was the first of the 12 concrete vessels to be completed. Launched after WWI had ended, the Polias transported coal in New England.

She struck the seabed during a storm in 1920 and was severely damaged. 14 of the ship’s crew died attempted to leave the wreck. Although there were later efforts to save the concrete ship, a hurricane smashed her remains into rubble in 1924. Parts of the ship can still be seen today at low tide.

SS San Pasqual

The SS San Pasqual has perhaps the most eventful history out of all of the concrete ships. Launched in 1920, she was damaged the following year and moored up for three years. After this, she was purchased by a Cuban company and relocated to Santiago de Cuba. Eight years later she was moved to Havana, Cuba, where she was used a depot-ship.

She was run aground off the coast of Cuba in 1933. The SS San Pasqual was outfitted with weapons during WWII and served as a lookout position for German submarines.

The ship was used again in the Cuban Revolution as a prison for enemies captured by Che Guevara. In the 1990s the San Pasqual was converted into a hotel. Today she rests in the same location but is now abandoned.

SS Sapona

(Photo Credit: Compsciscubadive / Wikipedia)
(Photo Credit: Compsciscubadive / Wikipedia)

The sister ship to the SS Cape Fear, the SS Sapona was a cargo steamer launched in January 1920. Her internal fittings were sold off for scrap in the early 1920s and she was used for oil storage. In 1924 the Sapona was sold to a rum runner who used the ship as an off-shore storage location in the Bahamas for his stocks of alcohol.

In 1926 a hurricane battered the ship and it run aground; its alcohol contents were destroyed as a result. The wreck, sitting in around 20 feet of water, was used for target practice in WWII. It remains in the same location today and is a popular diving attraction.

SS Selma

SS Selma
Aerial: Wreck of the S.S. Selma, launched June 28, 1919. (Photo Credit:Jw4nvc / Wikipedia )

The SS Selma was launched in mid-1919 and was the sister ship to the SS Latham. She hit a jetty off the coast of Tampico, Florida in early 1920 and was taken to Galveston, Texas for repairs. As no one there had any experience with concrete ships, it was decided that she would be scrapped.

She was positioned near Pelican Island, Texas, and remains there till this day. A retired newspaper editor purchased the Selma in 1992 and throws her a birthday every year.

The “Bazooka”, and Its Evolution, in Photos

H/T War History OnLine.

In 1942, the use of tanks in World War II was a threat to infantry soldiers mostly because of the tanks’ impenetrable armor and lethal armaments. This required a weapon powerful enough to take out an armored tank, and subsequently led to the development of the shaped charge anti-tank hand grenade, effective against vehicle armor 2.4″ thick.

However, it weighed 3.5 pounds, which is quite heavy to throw by hand. So another idea arose: a device that could deliver such a grenade from a distance, at an adequate velocity to exceed the range of a hand-thrown grenade, also with high accuracy.

An early RPG-40 anti-tank hand grenade at Great Patriotic War museum in Smolensk. By Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC BY-SA 4.0
An early RPG-40 anti-tank hand grenade at Great Patriotic War museum in Smolensk. By Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC BY-SA 4.0

Lieutenant Edward Uhl of the U.S. Army was tasked with creating a delivery system for an M10 shaped charge grenade capable of stopping German tanks. To do this, the Lieutenant created a small rocket, but still needed to find a way to protect an operator from rocket exhaust while aiming the weapon. According to Lieutenant Uhl, he stumbled on a tube that happened to be the same size as the grenade, and that’s when he had the idea for a rocket grenade launcher.

During the testing of the rocket launcher, it performed well in aiming and firing effectively, so that all senior officers present were impressed. Major General Barnes, Chief of Research and Engineering in the U.S. Ordnance Department humorously commented, “It sure looks like Bob Burns’ Bazooka.”

Bazooka soon became the generic name for the grenade launcher. The variants were the M1 and M1A1 Bazookas which were 4.5 feet in length and could penetrate up to 3″ armor, the M9 and M9A1 which were 5 feet long and could penetrate up to 4″ armor, and the M20 and M65 which could penetrate up to 11″ armor.

The M1 Bazooka with M6A1 and M6A3 rocket. By Carl MalamudCC BY 2.0
The M1 Bazooka with M6A1 and M6A3 rocket. By Carl MalamudCC BY 2.0

The premier versions of the M1 launcher and the M6 rocket were first used in November 1942 in North Africa, but did not play a vital role in combat. This was partly because military personnel were not provided with information on how to use the weapon, and mostly because the M6 rocket was highly unreliable.

By May 1943, no report of the weapon actually stopping a tank had been received, so further use was suspended. The M1A1 launcher with the M6A1 rocket was then introduced and used in combat by U.S. forces.

A U.S. soldier fires an M9 bazooka at a German machine gun nest, Lucca 1944.
A U.S. soldier fires an M9 bazooka at a German machine gun nest, Lucca 1944.

The M1A1 stopped four medium German tanks and a Tiger I heavy tank–however, it had a huge backblast which exposed the shooter’s position.

In late 1943, the M9 Bazooka was introduced with an improved M6A3 rocket, but its effect didn’t last long as the Germans improved the armor of their tanks, making penetration a Herculean task.

A German StuG III with “Schürzen” armor skirts By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0
A German StuG III with “Schürzen” armor skirts By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0

The end of World War II saw the Bazooka design changing to be like the German-designed Bazooka, and led to the development of the M20 Super-Bazooka. This Bazooka had a higher range and penetration capability.

It was also operated by two people, and could fire as many as six shots per minute. Budget cuts made the mass production of the M20 impossible, so soldiers in the Korean War were armed only with the M9 and M9A1 Bazookas, which proved to be very effective against Soviet tanks.

German Anti-tank guns; High Fortress, Salzburg, Austria. By Andrew Bossi CC BY-SA 2.5
German Anti-tank guns; High Fortress, Salzburg, Austria. By Andrew Bossi CC BY-SA 2.5

The Vietnam War marked the gradual replacement of the M20 with the more effective M67 Recoilless rifle and M72 LAW rocket.

M67 recoilless rifle
M67 recoilless rifle
M72 demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia in the 1960s
M72 demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia in the 1960s
US soldiers during the Korean War
US soldiers during the Korean War
101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg during Battle of the Bulge
101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg during Battle of the Bulge
A soldier preparing to fire the FGR-17 Viper, an American one-man disposable antitank rocket.
A soldier preparing to fire the FGR-17 Viper, an American one-man disposable antitank rocket.
Person holding a M6 rocket for a bazooka
Person holding a M6 rocket for a bazooka
Indonesian Navy bazooka
Indonesian Navy bazooka
A US soldier holding a Bazooka. Overloon War Museum. By Johan Fredriksson CC BY-SA 3.0
A US soldier holding a Bazooka. Overloon War Museum. By Johan Fredriksson CC BY-SA 3.0
Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon a modern day bazooka
Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon a modern day bazooka
American soldier with Bazooka of 80th Infantry Division near Wiltz
American soldier with Bazooka of 80th Infantry Division near Wiltz
Special Security Forces Bazooka. By Qrmoo3 CC BY-SA 4.0
Special Security Forces Bazooka. By Qrmoo3 CC BY-SA 4.0
Marines with a bazooka and machine gun set up a security post against possible tank counter-attack
Marines with a bazooka and machine gun set up a security post against possible tank counter-attack
Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M.
Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M.
M20 super bazooka. By Tomás Del Coro CC BY-SA 2.0
M20 super bazooka. By Tomás Del Coro CC BY-SA 2.0
“Marine riflemen in background stand by while their 3.5 bazooka man puts a round into a Communist position down the hill. This action took place in mopping-up operations in Korea.
“Marine riflemen in background stand by while their 3.5 bazooka man puts a round into a Communist position down the hill. This action took place in mopping-up operations in Korea.

How A Jazz-Playing Comedian In The Marines Gave Us The Name “Bazooka”

H/T War History OnLine.

We now know where the term Bazooka came from.

The word bazooka is synonymous with shoulder-fired anti-tank weaponry today, but this strange term actually dates all the way back to WWI, when it was used to identify a much more peaceful, yet still-tubular object.

Man-portable anti-tank weapons

Man-portable anti-tank weapons
A US Army sergeant holds up a bazooka shell in front of his men. It is a new type of anti-tank weapon. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

As long as there have been tanks, engineers have come up with ways to destroy them. To begin with, the most effective and available method was with large-caliber guns that were heavy, slow to reload, and difficult to transport.

When troops faced tanks without such weapons, they had essentially no chance of stopping them, aside from relying on tank traps and obstacles. Early attempts to combat tanks saw German troops being armed with K bullets, which were a type of armor-piercing ammunition. When these became ineffective the Germans then introduced the Mauser T-Gewehr, the world’s first anti-tank rifle.

However, as tanks kept improving and their armor became thicker, more capable weapons were needed.

US engineer and professor Dr. Robert H. Goddard designed the early ancestor of the bazooka during WWI, but the development of this promising weapon was canceled when the war ended. The design was revived in the early 1940s under the guidance of Army Colonel Leslie Skinner. He assigned Lieutenant Edward Uhl to the task of delivering the M10 shaped-charge grenade to the target.

“I was walking by this scrap pile, and there was a tube that … happened to be the same size as the grenade that we were turning into a rocket,” Uhl said. “I said ‘That’s the answer!’ Put the tube on a soldier’s shoulder with the rocket inside, and away it goes.”

This resulted in the overall design of the M1 “Bazooka.” A tube that fired a rocket-powered high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) projectile up to a maximum range of about 300 meters. The weapon was able to penetrate between 75 and 100 mm of armor.

Bob Burns’ bazooka

Bob Burns
LOS ANGELES,CA – APRIL 8,1938: Musical comedian Bob Burns Bazooka poses at home in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by William Grimes/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Burns was a musical comedian from America who joined the US Marine Corps during WWI. He was part of the 11th Marine Regiment, which was supposed to be a light artillery regiment but went into action as an infantry unit.

As they were sent into Europe in the final year of WWI, the 11th Marine Regiment did not see any action. This was no problem for Sergeant Burns though, as he was had become the leader of the Marine Corps’ jazz band in Europe.

Before joining the Marines, Burns had been in a band. While practicing one evening, Burns picked up a length of pipe and blew into it, producing a particular sound. He made some additions to the pipe and named it the “bazooka.”

Burns created the name from the word bazoo, meaning mouth, which is suspected to originate from the Dutch word bazuin, meaning trumpet.

With plenty of spare time, Burns was able to recreate his old musical instrument. This time it was constructed from a stovepipe and a whiskey funnel.

Burns would sometimes play his bazooka in the Corps band. In 1919, Burns and his instrument gained popularity when they were featured in a New York Evening Telegram article. In it, he spoke about his activities in the Marine Corps band.

“We play everything from Berlin (Irving) to Mr. Beethoven and will tackle anything except a funeral march,” Burns said. “The outfit consists of two violins, a banjo, piano, drum, and the bazooka.”

The M1 “Bazooka”

Bazooka
Soldiers of the 9th US Inf, Div, show a new-type of rocket-firing bazooka used by th US Army, Germany 1945. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Fast forward to 1942, and Colonel Skinner and Lieutenant Uhl’s rocket launcher was undergoing testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. One of those in attendance described the strange-looking device by saying it “looks like Bob Burns’ bazooka.”

After this, the name stuck, and the M1 “Bazooka” was born.

The weapon gave infantrymen a fighting chance against the newer heavily armored tanks the Allies were starting to face. However, this bazooka quickly fell into Nazi hands, who were able to reverse engineer it. This version was given the fearsome name “Panzerschreck,” and featured a number of modifications compared to the US weapon.

German Raketen Panzerbuchse 43 “Panzerschreck”
Four GIs with a German Raketen Panzerbüchse 43 Panzerschreck (tank terror) taken from the enemy. The soldier on the left is holding the projectile RPzBGr 4322. The 88mm anti-tank rocket launcher nicknamed “stovepipe” seems to be in perfect condition. It was made from an U.S. Bazooka M1 captured in North Africa. Normandy, France. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

The bazooka was continually improved, reaching its peak with the M20 “Super Bazooka,” although this weapon missed WWII. The super bazooka was used in the Vietnam War but was eventually replaced by recoilless rifles and the M72 LAW.

Today, even though the bazooka is no longer in use with the US, its name lives on as a generic term for any shoulder-fired rocket launcher.

Munitionettes: The Women Who Built Munitions During WWI

H/T War  History OnLine.

These women stepped up to help win the war.

As World War I raged on, the British government was running low on soldiers and munitions. While conscription rectified the troop shortage, it only fueled the need for factory workers. This led to the decision to allow women to take up the newly-vacated roles. Known as “Munitionettes,” they kept the United Kingdom from having to drop out of the conflict.

Women are introduced into the workforce

Despite attempts to increase production by promoting overtime and recruiting older males, many munitions factories across the U.K. were experiencing worker shortages. This time period was dubbed the Shell Crisis of 1915 and prompted the government to enact legislation, allowing them more involvement in the industry.

Woman working at a machine
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Munitions of War Act of 1915 introduced regulated wages, hours and working conditions within the country’s munitions factories. However, a stipulation was the mandatory inclusion of women in the workforce to help mitigate the labor shortage caused by male volunteer and conscription within the military.

Munitionettes manufacturing artillery shells
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The primary concern of trade unions was that introducing women would affect men and their pay upon their return. There was also uncertainty over the capability of women to accomplish the job. To qualm these worries, the act declared the introduction of “semi-skilled or female labour shall not affect adversely the rates customarily paid for the job” or reduce a male worker’s expected pay.

Meet the Munitionettes

It’s estimated that approximately one million women were working within the munitions industry by the middle of 1918. While many had previous factory experience, few had built munitions, and the majority took the opportunity to escape domestic work.

A male worker assisting a female worker at a machine
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The women working in munitions factories were known as “Munitionettes.” They were supervised by members of the Women’s Police Volunteers, a national voluntary organization. Conditions differed from factory to factory – some offered canteens and bathrooms, while others did not.

Woman sitting in front of a machine
Photo Credit: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Munitionettes carried out a wide range of jobs, including operating machinery; filling, painting and stacking shells; filling bullets; weighing powder; assembling detonators; lacquering fuses and making shell cases. The work was repetitive, but they couldn’t lose focus, as their work was regularly checked to ensure it met quality standards.

Munitionettes working in a factory
Photo Credit: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Munitionettes were subjected to long working hours. Shifts typically ran 12 hours, six days a week, and could occur anytime, as factories often ran 24/7 in order to meet demand. It was common for them to work overtime, with little-to-no breaks.

Munitionettes working amongst supplies
Photo Credit: Heritage Images / Getty Images

Instead of wearing skirts, Munitionettes wore a uniform pants suit. They were also given dog tags for identification, in case they fell casualty to an explosion while on the job.

A hazardous and low-paying job

Working conditions at munitions factories varied. The majority had strict regulations in place to reduce workplace incidents, primarily around metal-based personal clothing and accessories. Workers were mandated to wear wooden clogs, as opposed to metal shoes, to reduce the risk of explosion-triggering sparks, and metal jewelry and matches were prohibited.

The Duke of Connaught and Lord Petre watching Munitionettes work
The Duke of Connaught and Lord Petre visiting a munitions factory. (Photo Credit: PA Images / Getty Images)

A primary hazard was TNT poisoning. Munitionettes worked with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis, without proper protection or ventilation, and TNT was the worst. Long-term exposure caused liver failure, anemia, digestive issues, and chest infections. The nitric acid also caused workers’ skin to turn yellow, leading to the nickname, the “Canary Girls.” The effects were temporary and could be passed on to newborns if a woman was pregnant.

Two women working with shell cases
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Explosions were another hazard they had to contend with. There were a number of explosions at factories across the U.K. during WWI, the worst of which was at the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell – 134 workers died, while another 250 were injured.

Woman working with a machine at a desk
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Despite attempts to lessen outrage regarding women’s wages, the issue continued to be a hot topic throughout the war. Women workers were paid less than half that of their male counterparts. There was also no standard rate, meaning many lived below the level of a living wage. There was even a rule stating women couldn’t leave for higher-paying jobs without permission from their previous employer, a practice that was ended in August 1917.

Munitionettes football

Women who worked in munitions factories engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities. Social clubs, bands, debate groups, and theatrical societies were popular among Munitionettes, much to the encouragement of factory management, who saw it as a way to keep both morale and productivity up.

Nine female soccer players sitting on wooden bleachers
Women’s football team. (Photo Credit: British Official Photographer / Wikimedia Commons)

The most popular form of entertainment was football. Without men, the introduction of women’s football was met with fanfare from both workers and the general public. There was even a tournament, the Munitionettes’ Cup, that occurred in the northeast between different munitions teams during 1917-1918.

Fueling the women’s suffrage movement

By the end of the war, over 200 women had lost their lives due to their work in munitions factories, and it’s estimated that roughly 80 percent of munitions used by the British Army were being produced by women. Despite this, many lost their positions when soldiers returned home, and many left the workforce having never received equal pay to their male counterparts.

Munitions workers standing outside a factory
Photo Credit: Print Collector / Getty Images

While women were largely relegated back to domestic life, their work in factories and other previously held male positions helped demonstrate their capabilities and worked to further promote the women’s suffrage movement. It also changed the way they were viewed in society, giving them greater freedom and the ability to travel.

A Submarine Made it Home with a Sail Made of Blankets

H/T War History OnLine.

A smart but desperate move.

By today’s standards, a submarine from 1918 is rather basic, but even for a submarine of the time, using sails as a means of propulsion was firmly in the past. Except for the crew of USS R-14, who used bed sheets and blankets as a makeshift sail when their submarine lost power in the ocean over 100 miles from Hawaii.

R-14 was an R-class submarine, a type used by the US Navy from 1918 until the end of WWII. Work on this new type of submarine began soon after the US entered WWI in early 1917. 27 were built in total, but most were completed after WWI had ended, and none of them saw combat.

They replaced the previous O-class of submarines and were the first US type to feature 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, which is still a standard size around the world today. On their decks, a 76 mm gun was used for anti-aircraft defense and as a general-purpose weapon.

The 640 ton, 186 ft long vessels used a diesel-electric propulsion system, as was common for submarines at the time. Two 600 hp diesel engines powered two 470 hp electric motors, which would run on a large bank of batteries while submerged because the diesel engines’ source of air was cut off. While surfaced, an R-class submarine could reach speeds of 13.5 kn (15.5 mph), and when submerged could reach 10.5 kn (12.1 mph).

USS R-14

USS R-14
Underway, probably during trials in late 1919 or early 1920. Note that her deck gun has not yet been installed. (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 102849)

Construction of the USS R-14 started in 1918. She was commissioned before the end of 1919. The submarine missed WWI but would be no less busy in peacetime with the Pacific Fleet, as it was used to develop and perfect submarine and anti-submarine warfare tactics. She also helped in search and rescue operations.

The USS R-14 served into WWII, where the submarine spent much of her time as a training vessel and received an overhaul in 1941. The sub was eventually struck from the Naval Vessel Register in May of 1945 and dismantled for scrap in 1946.

The return to wind power

USSUSS R-14 Under Sail Powerl
Seen here are the jury-rigged sails used to bring R-14 back to port in 1921; the mainsail rigged from the radio mast is the topsail in the photograph, and the mizzen made of eight blankets also is visible. R-14’s acting commanding officer, Lieutenant Alexander Dean Douglas, USN, is at the top left, without a hat. (US Naval Historical Center).

In 1921, the USS R-14 was participating in a search and rescue mission for the USS Conestoga, a US Navy ocean-going tug. Conestoga had disappeared while on her way to the South Pacific Ocean, which prompted a major search for the vessel.

In May of 1921, while surfaced and searching for the Conestoga, R-14 ran out of fuel and lost radio communications. The crew was about 100 nautical miles away from Pearl Harbor when the vessel ran out of fuel, a distance too far for her to reach on battery power alone. On top of this, the USS R-14 only carried enough food to last the crew 5 days.

The submarine was dead in the water, without any power and no way of calling for help.

Fortunately, the submarine’s engineering officer Roy Trent Gallemore came up with an unusual but smart plan. Gallemore suggested going back to the basics, and sailing R-14 to Pearl Harbor under wind power.

To do this, the crew tied together several bunk bed frames and attached them to the torpedo-loading crane in front of the conning tower. They then tied a foresail made out of eight hammocks to the bed frame assembly.

With just this one sail, R-14 began to move at a speed of 1.2 mph and gained rudder control. Gallemore’s plan was clearly working, so the crew added another sail made from six blankets to the radio mast, which increased the submarine’s speed by a further 0.58 mph. A third sail comprised of eight blankets added another 0.58 mph to the R-14’s speed.

The submarine was eventually able to start charging its batteries. R-14 and all of its crew arrived at Hawaii 64 hours later, after a long and slow journey.

R-14’s captain, Lieutenant Alexander Dean Douglas received a commendation for his crew’s clever problem solving from Chester W. Nimitz, his Submarine Division Commander.

The USS Conestoga would never be found in the search, or for another 95 years. The tug boat was discovered in 2009 just off the coast of California, and its identity was confirmed in 2015.

Cats Served As Mascots, Pest Control…Oh, And Gas Detectors

H/T War History OnLine.

I did not know that cats played this big of a role during World War I.

In recent years, cats have been subjected to immense online fame. Users can’t get enough of their adorable faces and their “toe beans” — and don’t get us started on their boop-able noses. What many might not know is that these loveable felines played an integral role during World War I, providing not just pest control, but much-needed morale boosts.

Cats made trench warfare more bearable

It’s estimated some 500,000 cats were dispatched to the trenches of Europe during WWI. They were tasked with killing the rats that came to infest the front, but they also had a secondary job: gas detection.

American soldier pets a cat while a French woman watches
American soldier in France, 1918. (Photo Credit: ADOC-Photos / Getty Images)
Feline sitting on a propellor blade
“Pincher,” the mascot of the HMS Vindex. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The conflict was the first time large-scale chemical warfare was utilized, and the near-odorless and colorless gas was incredibly dangerous. If it didn’t kill a soldier, it left him with permanent ill effects that caused issues later in life.

To ensure the safety of troops on the front, Britain sent 500 cats to serve as their version of a “canary in a coal mine.” The felines succumbed to the effects of the gas faster than their human counterparts, which provided enough warning for soldiers to grab their gas masks and seek shelter.

Two women standing outside a building with a cat in their arms
The Madonnas of Pervyse and their cat stand outside a first aid post, 1917. (Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums)

A rather interesting use for cats during the war was relaying messages between lines. This is most notable during the Christmas Truce of 1914, when Allied and German troops sent messages to each other by tucking notes in their feline friends’ collars.

Unfortunately, the practice caused paranoia, evident in the 1915 death of Felix the cat. A British intelligence report stated that two cats and a dog were seen running along enemy lines, and officials began to fear they were being used for nefarious reasons. A French general decided the risk was too great, so he captured Felix and sentenced him to death for treason.

Canadian soldier holding a cat
Canadian soldier with “Tabby” on Salisbury Plain, September 1914. (Photo Credit: Sport & General Press Agency Photographer / Imperial War Museums)
British soldier standing in a trench with a cat
Lewis gunner with the 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, with the unit’s cat, February 1918. (Photo Credit: Second Lieutenant David McLellan / Imperial War Museums)

When not risking their lives, cats served as morale boosters. Many became honorary regiment mascots, and soldiers often shared their rations with their feline friends. During breaks between battles, they would spend time in their living quarters playing with them.

Pitouchi, the hero cat of the Belgian Army

One of the more famous cats of WWI was Pitouchi, the adopted feline friend of Lieutenant Lekeux. After nursing the orphaned kitten back to health, Lekeux brought him everywhere, including near the German front. It was there Pitouchi saved the lieutenant’s life, according to author Susan Bulanda.

British soldier feeding a cat in the snow
British soldier feeding a cat at Neulette, December 1917. (Photo Credit: Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke / Imperial War Museums)
French soldiers sitting at a table with soldiers, with one holding a feline
French soldiers in the bunkers at Fort Douaumont, 1916. (Photo Credit: Photo 12 / Getty Images)

According to Bulanda, Lekeux was walking along the German line when he saw soldiers digging a new trench. Looking to sketch the layout, he hid himself in a hole. Unfortunately, he became so engrossed in his work that he didn’t notice the approaching enemy soldiers.

By the time he became aware of their positions, he had no choice but to lie still and hope for the best.

Two soldiers sitting on the ground with a cat sitting in one of their laps
Two soldiers with the 9th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, at the Battle of the Somme, 1916. (Photo Credit: Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke / Imperial War Museums)
Two felines sitting on a wicker chair
Cats from the HMAT Euripides. (Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums)

Unfortunately, the soldiers noticed the Belgian lieutenant. One of them yelled, “He’s in the hole,” after which Pitouchi jumped out from their hiding spot and onto a piece of timber. Startled, they shot at him but didn’t manage to hit the tiny feline. Assuming they’d mistaken Pitouchi for a man, they went on their way, after which Lekeux finished his sketch and returned to the Belgian line.

If that’s not a hero cat, we don’t know what is!

Ship cats brought good luck

Having cats aboard a ship is nothing new. They’ve always been a staple of sea life, primarily due to their superb hunting abilities. When you’re out at sea with limited provisions, the last thing you want is for your food to be eaten by rats and mice.

Pair this with the risk vermin pose regarding the spread of disease and the fact they chew through rope, and cats basically ensured the health of everyone on board during WWI.

Cat lying in a small hammock
“Ginger” or “Sandy,” the mascot of the HMS Repulse. (Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums)
Cat walking along a 15-inch-long gun on a ship
Ship cat aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, 1915. (Photo Credit: Lieutenant Ernest Brooks / Imperial War Museums)
Naval Petty Officer standing next to a black feline
Petty Officer and “Paul” on the HMS Vindictive after the Zeebrugge raid, April 1918. (Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums)

In addition to their work in the pest control department, many sailors believed cats were a symbol of good luck. The more superstitious thought they had the ability to protect the ship from hazardous weather, which isn’t exactly all that untrue. Our feline friends are actually able to detect even the slightest change in weather, given the sensitivity of their inner ears.

Naval Officer bending over while a cat jumps away from him
Naval Officer with the feline mascot of the HMS Royal Oak. (Photo Credit: Royal Navy Official Photographer / Imperial War Museums)
Ship's crew standing with a pig, a cat, dogs and a goat
Crew of the merchant ship SMS Mowe with their animal mascots, March 1917. (Photo Credit: German Official Photographer / Imperial War Museums)
Cat sitting in the muzzle of a six-inch gun
Mascot of the HMAS Encounter. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

As with those in the trenches, the majority aboard ships saw cats as companions. Sailors were away from home for months at a time, so they took comfort in playing and spending time with their vessel’s ship cats. In fact, it was common for crews to adopt felines from the places they visited to serve as both souvenirs and pets back home.

The Bantam Battalions: Little Men With A Big Impact

H/T War History OnLine.

An amazing story.

It proves the old adage that goes like this, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of fight in the dog.”

Discrimination was probably not a word you’d hear coming from a commander’s mouth in WWI. In 1914, many of the top brass in the British military were opposed to smaller men joining their ranks, so a height limit was imposed; a minimum of 5’3″ (160cm). If you were shorter than that? Well, you’re out of luck. For a while, at least.

When WWI started in 1914, three-quarters of a million men made their way to recruiting stations all over the UK, which was simply more than the military could process, and a number they didn’t think they’d need. No one expected this honorable skirmish in Europe to turn into a four-year-long slugfest that would need every available man to bring it to its end. Too many men was a problem the British would wish they had later in the war.

WWI minimum height restrictions

Because of the enormous number of surplus men, the British army used minimum height limits that excluded thousands of men from even trying to volunteer; a sneaky way to control the numbers at recruiting stations. They increased the minimum height limit from 5’3″ in August of 1914 to 5’6″ in September of the same year.

recruitment poster for bantam battalions
Photo Credit: © IWM Art.IWM PST 0971

The height limit was in place for more practical reasons as well, as back then, men who were shorter were assumed to be physically weak, too.

As the weeks went by, the number of men volunteering to fight had started dropping, so the authorities reduced the minimum height limit to 5’4″ in October, and then back to 5’3″ in November. By July of 1915, volunteer numbers were still in decline, causing the British to further reduce the limit to 5’2″, lower than it was at the start of the war.

Back in 1914, though, the thousands of men who had been turned away from joining the fight for being too short were angry. The government and recruiting stations felt the wrath of these enraged men. One story details an unknown Durham miner who was turned away for being 5’2″, a single inch too short. Every recruiting station he went to turned him down for the same reason. By the later stations, the man was offering to fight anybody who believed being one inch too short made any difference.

Alfred Bigland, a local MP, came to learn of the man’s struggle, and believed it was ridiculous to turn down men who were shorter, yes, but were certainly not weak or physically unfit to fight. He wrote to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, asking to create a military unit for these capable men that had been turned down by recruiters.

poster reading: "BANTAMS: Little Men have made History. Pluck can make up for inches. Remember Nelson and Roberts. Like them you can serve your Country and help Old England in her Hour of Need. So join the Bantam Battalion. Height 5 ft. to 5 ft. 3 ins. Chest expanded 34 ins. Recruiting Office, The Armoury, Stroud."
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Surprisingly, Bigland’s request was approved. The War Office established battalions for men who were between 5′ and 5’5″ tall. Tens of thousands of smaller men flocked to these units, which were called Bantam battalions. By the war’s end, 29 Bantam battalions had been created, split into three divisions.

Although this allowed thousands of men to join the armed forces, it seems like the easier option would have been simply reducing the height requirements for regular units, instead of creating dedicated battalions for shorter men.

According to Retired Major Andrew Greenwood, it was much simpler, from an administrative standpoint, for the War Office to let towns create their own Bantam battalions rather than incorporating the men into the ranks of the military itself. Additionally, many at the time didn’t foresee the war dragging on and thought the Bantam units would never actually be used.

The Bantam battalions

The men in the Bantam battalions developed a reputation as short, aggressive, and hard men. The War Office had mistakenly assumed that if you were short you were weak. Most of the men in Bantam units had come from a physically tough industry prior to their military service. This made them better than many at dealing with the terrible conditions on the battlefield.

Private Oliver B Capon. Unit: 15th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Cheshire Bantams).
Private Oliver B Capon of the Cheshire Bantams. (Photo Credit: © IWM HU 119582)

The camaraderie between regular units and the Bantam battalions, and how the smaller men were treated, would be considered condescending and sometimes outright offensive today. A soldier from the Guards Division said: “After we finished telling the Bants they had duck’s disease we had to take a lot of very funny insults in turn. Very sharp tongues they have, and we’ve taken to the little chaps right away.”

Some did not take to the Bantam units, though, seeing them as inferior troops. The physical height difference between the Bantams battalions and “regular” troops could cause problems too, especially when occupying the same living spaces.

A sergeant major in the Northumberland Fusiliers said, “Sir, them bloody little dwarfs have built up the fire steps so they could see over. Now when my lads stand up, half their bodies are above the parapet.”

Memorial plaque to the Birkenhead "Bantam Battalions"
Memorial plaque to the Birkenhead Bantam Battalions. (Photo Credit: Rodhullandemu / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Like many others on the front lines of WWI, the Bantam units fought hard. They were involved in many of the war’s most brutal battles and lost a large number of men as a consequence. Some Bantam divisions were created entirely from the decimated remains of other divisions.

As the war dragged on, the army realized there were roles that a man with a shorter stature was particularly suited to, like crewing tanks and digging tunnels. So men who would have previously found themselves in the Bantam battalions were now fighting amongst the ranks of regular troops.

Also, men who were lost from Bantam units weren’t always able to be replaced by shorter men, so taller soldiers began making their way into the Bantam ranks. For these reasons the Bantam battalions slowly transformed into regular units.

5 Prisoners Of War Who Bravely Defied Their Captors

H/T War History OnLine.

 Amazing stories of escape from P.O.W. camps.

An unfortunate consequence of war is that those involved in the fighting will sometimes get captured by enemy forces. Known as prisoners of war (POWs), they’re often held captive until the conflict ends or something bad happens to them. However, there are many who would rather take their chances and attempt a daring escape.

 

Escape from Libby Prison

On February 9, 1864, 109 members of the Union Army staged an escape from Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Led by Colonel Thomas E. Rose and Major Andrew G. Hamilton, the group spent months digging a tunnel with only chisels and a wooden spittoon. They had to contend with the rats that had made a home in the prison’s basement and frequently risked being caught.

After 17 consecutive days of digging, they managed to break through the wall. They made their escape after lights out, following the tunnel to the vacant Kerr’s Warehouse on Canal Street. Libby was considered practically inescapable, so they were able to walk down the streets of Richmond without arousing suspicion.

Artist's rendering of Libby Prison and a portrait of Colonel Thomas E. Rose
Libby Prison and Colonel Thomas E. Rose. (Photo Credit: 1. Popular Graphic Arts / Wikimedia Commons 2. Civil War Glass Negatives / Wikimedia Commons)

By the time the guards noticed they were gone, approximately 12 hours had passed. Despite knowing the local terrain, only 59 soldiers managed to reach safety. Forty-eight were recaptured and subjected to poor treatment and inadequate rations, and another two drowned while crossing the James River.

E.H. Jones and C.W. Hill

Elias Henry Jones and Cedric Waters Hill were soldiers during WWI. Jones was a Welsh officer with the Indian Army and Hill an Australian officer with the Royal Flying Corps. The pair met while incarcerated at Yozgad POW camp in Turkey.

The pair wanted to escape their conditions, so they turned to society’s growing interest in the paranormal. Fashioning a Ouija board out of a polished iron sword and an upside-down jar, they managed to convince the camp’s commanders they were mediums. According to Hill and Jones, the camp’s resident ghost was named “Spook.”

Yozgad's British P.O.W.s in civilian clothes
Photo Credit: Anonymous / ScholarWorks@MSU (Digital Commons)

The con went on for over a year, between February 1917 and the summer of 1918. They eventually convinced the guards they were insane and had themselves transferred to a hospital for the mentally ill. While there, they continued to play up their symptoms until they were able to convince the doctors to repatriate them back home.

Jones and Hill were set free just a few months before the Armistice put an end to the war.

Charles Upham

Charles Upham was a member of New Zealand’s Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) during WWII. He fought in numerous skirmishes against the Axis powers. During an assault against the Germans at Ruweisat Ridge in the Egyptian desert, he was injured twice: taking a bullet to the left arm and shrapnel to the leg.

Charles Upham eating with other members of the New Zealand Division
Charles Upham and the men of the New Zealand Division, 1942. (Photo Credit: Photo 12 / Getty Images)

His leg injury resulted in his capture. He was first transported to a hospital, where it was recommended his leg be amputated. However, not wanting to risk an agonizing death and with a desire to escape his captors, Upham declined.

He attempted numerous escapes during his time as a POW. While on a transport through Italy, he jumped off the truck and managed to make it 400 yards before being recaptured, despite having a broken ankle. Another incident, in 1943, involved him getting tied up in a barbed-wire fence in broad daylight. Despite having a guard point a gun at his head, he played it cool and lit a cigarette.

Military portrait of Charles Upham
Charles Upham, 1941. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

From this point on, he was considered “dangerous” and was forced into solitary confinement. He attempted to escape this predicament once by simply running out the front gates, but was eventually caught. Fed up with his antics, the Germans decided to transport him to Oflag IV-C in Saxony.

Upham waited out his sentence at Colditz, but did try one more escape. During transport in October 1944, he jumped out of a train window while the locomotive was at full speed. He landed on the track and fell unconscious, before waking up and hiding in a nearby orchard. Due to the lack of cover, the Germans eventually found him.

The Davao Escape

Following the battles of Bataan and Corregidor during WWII, thousands of Allied troops were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army. Many were forced to endure the April 1942 Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell and transferred between camps. The poor conditions and the desire to continue fighting led to the Davao Escape. It would be the only large-scale Allied escape from the Japanese during the course of the war.

Portraits of Willam E. Dyess and Samuel Grashio
William E. Dyess and Samuel Grashio. (Photo Credit: 1. Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons 2. Schmidty99206 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Whilst stuck in a labor camp in Mindanao, 11 American servicemen — Melvyn H. McCoy, William Edwin Dyess, Luis Morgan, Stephen M. Mellnik, Samuel C. Grashio, Austin C. Shofner, Jack Hawkins, Leo A. Boelens, Paul Marshall, Michiel Dobervich, and Robert Spielman — and two Filipino men made their escape into the jungle.

They traveled through swamp and thick jungle and eventually came into contact with a band of guerrillas whom they joined for several months. They led raid parties with the directive of attacking Japanese soldiers.

Military portraits of Hawkins and Shofner
Jack Hawkins and Austin C. Shofner. (Photo Credit: 1. U.S. Government / Wikimedia Commons 2. Signal Corps / Wikimedia Commons)

In the fall of 1943, they were rescued by an American submarine and transported to Australia. Two of the American officers stayed behind to fight with the guerrillas and were later reunited with their countrymen.

Cho Chang-ho

Cho Chang-ho was a military officer serving with the Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) Army during the Korean War. After the Battle of Hanseok Mountain in May 1951, he was captured by the Chinese Army and became a POW in North Korea. By the end of the conflict in 1953, he was one of an estimated 60,000 South Korean soldiers to be captured.

Military action at night during the Korean War
155mm Howitzer fire during night action in the Korean War. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

Chang-ho spent the next 43 years of his life in North Korea, the first 13 as a prisoner of war. In October 1994, he successfully escaped the heavily guarded nation. After crossing the Yalu River border into China, he was helped by fellow Koreans and given passage to South Korea’s western coast aboard a Chinese boat used to smuggle goods.

Both the government and Chang-ho’s family were surprised at his return, as they thought him dead. After acclimatizing back to civilian life, he spent his time advocating for the repatriation rights of POWs. In 2006, he traveled to America, where he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

 

How Marie Curie Brought X-Ray Technology To The Front During WWI

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Marie Currie.

Marie Curie is considered one of the most accomplished scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Her discovery of radium and polonium helped win her the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, alongside her husband, Pierre. Just eight years later, she won the prize again, this time in Chemistry.

While her work garnered a lot of praise, it also allowed her to be of use to those who were on the frontlines during WWI.

Looking to join the war effort

When fighting broke out in 1914, Curie was residing in Paris with her daughter, Irène. While wanting to continue her research, she found she only had one gram of radium at her disposal. Knowing it wouldn’t be enough and that she wouldn’t have access to more until after the war, she transported it to Bordeaux — which had been named the temporary capital of France — and locked it in a safety deposit box.

Marie and Irène Curie in 1925
Curie and her daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

As the founding director of France’s Red Cross Radiology Service, Curie set up a laboratory at the Radium Institute. It was around this time that she found herself wanting to be of more use to the war effort. She noticed military doctors on the front were in need of X-ray technology to better help treat soldiers who’d been injured in combat.

While the technology had been around since 1895 when it was discovered by Nobel laureate Wilhelm Röntgen, it was still largely limited to use in city hospitals. Aware of this, Curie decided she would come up with a way to make it mobile.

Mobile units are developed

Despite lecturing about X-rays at Sorbonne University, Curie had never actually worked with them. She took courses to ensure she’d be able to properly man the equipment and read the radiographs. She also learned to drive and perform basic car repairs.

Curie driving a Renault car that was converted into a mobile X-ray unit
Curie driving a Renault car she converted into a mobile X-ray unit. (Photo Credit: Print Collector / Getty Images)

The mobile units featured a hospital bed, an X-ray machine, photographic darkroom equipment, and an electrical generator. Curie used a dynamo generator for the latter, as it allowed the car’s engine to provide the necessary electricity. She petitioned wealthy friends for money and vehicles, persuaded French manufacturers to donate their X-ray technology, and asked local body shops to outfit it all.

Curie then turned her attention to recruiting people to operate the equipment. She and Irène began by training 20 women at the Radium Institute. By the end of the war, 150 had been trained to provide radiological diagnoses to troops.

The vehicles are deployed to the frontlines

Despite their obvious usefulness, Curie had to sell the French Army on the mobile units. In October 1914, she, Irène and a military doctor traveled to the Marne, where troops were waging a battle against the Germans. The battle would end up being a major Allied win, preventing the German invasion of Paris.

After this, 20 mobile units were sent to the frontlines. As word spread, they began to be nicknamed the Petites Curies — or “Little Curies.” Curie also set up 200 stationary X-ray units at more permanent military posts, to ensure aid was evenly distributed across France.

Curie discussing the benefits of radium treatment to nurses and physicians
Curie discussing the benefits of radium treatment with medical staff. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons)

When the war came to an end in November 1918, over one million French soldiers had benefitted from the presence of the Petites Curies on the front.

Many of the women who’d run the fleet suffered burns due to overexposure to radiation. While Curie was aware of some of the associated health risks, she’d had no time to perfect proper safety practices. She worried about this later in life, and it led her to write a book on X-rays and wartime radiography, drawing heavily on her experiences during the war.

Marie Curie’s later life

Curie’s post-war life saw her continue her research. She traveled across the world to raise funds, and eventually joined the League of Nations International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, alongside the likes of Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson.

Marie Curie in her laboratory
Photo Credit: Henri Manuel / Wikimedia Commons

She garnered more recognition during this time. She was awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics by the University of Edinburgh in 1931, and served on the International Atomic Weights Committee until her death. Her daughter, Irène, eventually won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry herself, alongside Curie’s son, Frédéric.

Marie Curie passed away in 1934 at the age of 66. The cause was aplastic anemia, a condition resulting from the body’s inability to produce enough red blood cells. While many attributed it to her contact with radium, Curie quickly countered, saying she’d taken the necessary precautions to ensure she handled the radioisotope safely. She instead attributed her illness to the overexposure she’d received working with the Petites Curies during the war

The Last Official Death of WWI Was a Man Who Sought Redemption

H/T History.com.

R.I.P. Sergeant Henry Gunther.

The six-hour delay between the armistice signing and World War I’s official end cost the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers, including one American in the war’s final minute.
Henry Gunther

Henry Gunther was recorded as the last official American death World War I. Gunther was one of at least 2,738 troops and 320 Americans to die on the Western Front on the war’s final day

Concord/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Shortly after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, German, British and French officials gathered inside a railroad dining car in a dark forest north of Paris and signed an armistice to end World War I. Rejecting German calls to immediately halt hostilities, Allied commander Ferdinand Foch dictated that the guns would fall silent at 11 a.m. in part to allow news of the cease-fire to be transmitted to the front lines.

“There was also the symbolic reason of ending at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” says Jonathan Casey, director of the archives and Edward Jones Research Center at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The quest to bring poetic symmetry to the conclusion of a war that was anything but poetic came at a terrible cost—the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers, including one American private who sought to restore his reputation in the war’s final minute.

The war continued for six hours after the armistice signing.

Although the freshly signed armistice mandated that Germany evacuate France in two weeks, some American commanders refused to call off their attacks to liberate French territory that the Germans already agreed to relinquish. “Commanders were told to keep fighting all the way to 11 a.m. Some did and some didn’t based on their personal appraisals of whether it was really worth it,” Casey says. “From an American point of view there was a mixed reaction, and the Germans were surprised that the Americans were still fighting so vigorously. They thought things would be quiet. The Allies, though, wanted to show the Germans that they were going to press until the final hour so they knew they were serious about the armistice terms.”

Among the American forces told to continue the fight after the armistice signing was the 313th Infantry Regiment of the 79th “Liberty” Division. “There will be absolutely no let-up in the carrying out of the original plans until 11 o’clock,” subordinate brigadier general William Nicholson ordered the regiment known as “Baltimore’s Own” since most of its men came from that city.

On the morning of November 11, the men of the 313th found themselves on the far-right flank of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After experiencing nearly two months of uninterrupted combat, the regiment found no abatement in the hours following the armistice signing, seizing the town of Ville-devant-Chaumont, 10 miles north of Verdun. Enveloped by a thick fog, the Germans might have been obscured from sight but the boys from Baltimore could clearly hear the staccato of enemy machine guns and the howls of shells streaking overhead.

Meuse Argonne Offensive

U.S. soldiers firing at a German position in the Argonne Forest during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

US Army Signal Corps/American Stock/Getty Images

One soldier sought redemption in the war’s final minute.

Among those dodging the geysers of mud and iron erupting from the shells plugging in the mire outside Ville-devant-Chaumont was 23-year-old private Henry Gunther. Before war ripped him away from his new fiancée and comfortable job at a Baltimore bank, life had been good for the handsome, mustachioed grandson of German immigrants. Drafted into service, he shipped out to France in July 1918 as his company’s supply sergeant, but when military censors read a letter Gunther had penned to a friend back home complaining about life in the trenches and urging him to avoid serving his country, the Army demoted him to private. Gunther’s grand-niece, Carol Gunther Aikman, says a further blow came when his fiancée decided to break off their engagement following his demotion.

The soldiers of “Baltimore’s Own” saw a sudden change in their comrade after he lost his stripes. No longer gregarious, Gunther became sullen and withdrawn. Perhaps to regain his reputation and prove his patriotism at a time when German-Americans were viewed with suspicion, he volunteered for dangerous assignments as a runner. “He was injured by shrapnel in his hand and could have been sent back home but he insisted on staying to help his Army brothers,” Aikman says. “I think this alone demonstrates his courage, bravery and dedication to his battalion as well as his love for his country.”

At 10:44 a.m. on November 11, a runner made it to the 313th regiment with orders to stop the fighting in 16 minutes. “Hold the lines at the spot, and neither advance nor give way to the rear,” he panted.

Henry Gunther

The gravesite of Henry Gunther in Baltimore, Maryland.

Concord/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Sixteen minutes. That’s all Gunther might have believed he had left to regain his honor and prove his allegiance to the United States. While two German machine gun squads manning a roadblock counted down the war’s remaining minutes, they saw a shadowy figure materialize out of the fog. As shots rang out, Gunther threw himself on the ground but continued to crawl forward through the mud.

The Germans kept watch on the American soldier who suddenly rose to his feet and charged toward the machine-gun nest with his fixed bayonet. Gunther’s comrades yelled at him to stop as did the bewildered Germans in broken English. Didn’t he know the war was minutes from its end? If he heard the pleas, Gunther ignored them.

A five-round burst from a German gun struck Gunther in the left temple. He died instantly. His body collapsed in the mud. The time was 10:59 a.m.

General John Pershing, chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, officially recorded Gunther as the last American soldier to die in World War I, although the death toll would climb as it took several days for the news to reach remote battlefronts around the globe.

Armistice Day casualties surpassed the daily average on the Western Front.

According to author Joseph Persico, Gunther was one of at least 2,738 troops and 320 Americans to die on the Western Front in the war’s final day, most of them in the six hours between the armistice signing and enactment. Persico wrote in Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour that the death toll surpassed the daily average on the Western Front. “It seems so foolish,” Corporal Harold Pierce wrote of his experience on the war’s final day, “to keep up the killing till the last minute.”

Gunther’s was one last confusing death that epitomized a confusing war. “He probably felt shamed by his demotion to private and felt this somehow dishonored his family. He was trying to redeem himself, and when shots rang out he alone raced forward,” Aikman says. “I believe his final resting place, Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland, is perfectly named for what he was trying to accomplish.”

If Gunther charged the German machine-gun nest to regain his stripes, it worked. In addition to receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, he was posthumously reinstated to sergeant in 1923.