Just a handful of men can change the world. Particularly if those men are highly trained and heavily armed and possess next to no instincts for self-preservation. These are the soldiers whose job is to fling themselves into impossible situations, against ridiculous odds, where failure means a lot of other people will die.
6. Operation Entebbe
In June of 1976, an Air France plane carrying 248 passengers and 12 crew from France to Israel was hijacked and flown to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, home of dictator and certifiable lunatic Idi Amin. The pro-Palestinian hijackers released all the non-Jewish hostages and would have released the plane's crew, but the crew insisted the passengers were their responsibility and stayed behind. In total, 105 hostages remained behind, 2,500 miles away from Israel holed up in Uganda's principal airport, surrounded by an openly pro-hijacker military led by a guy who had declared himself "Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and the Fishes of the Sea."
None of this was a deterrent for Israeli special forces. They knew that a situation like that is all about preparation. So, they rounded up all the contractors who had worked in Uganda, as well as some of the released hostages, and constructed a huge mock-up of the terminal at Entebbe. You know, so they could practice.
Once they were ready, the team of 100 Israeli Defense Forces units flew in four cargo planes, skimming along the treetops at a height no higher than 99 feet. They skimmed over various countries that hated them, carrying only enough fuel for a one-way trip. This fuel thing is kind of important; the Israelis had no escape options if anything went wrong, and their only way back home would be to steal fuel from the Ugandans while they were on the ground (while holding off perhaps thousands of pissed off Ugandan soldiers).
Amin was known to drive luxury vehicles, and to drive at high speeds. The rescue plan was to land at the airport and quickly dispatch some luxury Mercedes and Land Rovers to speed over to the hostage holding area in an attempt to fool the guards into thinking Amin himself was arriving.
The Israelis landed at 11 p.m. with the cargo doors of their aircraft hanging open so they could dispatch the cars quickly. They launched the vehicles, which rapidly made their way to the hostage terminal. However, the guards knew that Amin had recently bought a different car, so they weren't exactly fooled. The Israelis were forced to shoot them, thereby giving away their presence to the whole airport.
While one team rescued the hostages, another group in armored personnel carriers (which they had also been sitting in for the whole flight) secured the perimeter and set about refueling the planes. At this point we should note that refueling a huge plane like that takes an hour. All while surrounded, in a hostile airport.
But they did it. The 200 or so commandos and hostages crammed back into the cargo planes and bolted for the border before any Ugandan MiGs could be scrambled to intercept them (it helped that they had destroyed a dozen or so fighters on the ground while they were there).
The Israelis escaped with 102 out of the 105 hostages and suffered only one Commando casualty when one of the raid's leaders, Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed by a Ugandan sniper. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because that guy's little brother is currently the Prime Minister of Israel.
5. The Great Locomotive Chase
The Confederate-held town of Chattanooga, Tenn., relied on its rail link for more than just jaunty swing music: it was the sole route for supplies and reinforcements from the Confederate stronghold at Atlanta. Union Major General Ormsby Mitchel knew this, so when a Union spy called James J. Andrews approached him with his amazingly insane plan to hijack a train and go on a path of rampant destruction along the length of the track, Mitchel was all like, "Yeah, sure, go for it."
On the morning of April 12, 1862, Andrews and about 20 volunteers from the Union Army, dressed in civilian clothes, boarded a steam train bound for Chattanooga. When the train stopped for breakfast, Andrews and the rest of the men seized the opportunity and hijacked the train, separating the engine, the coal tender and three box cars from the passenger cars. They took off like a bat out of hell, which in the 1860s meant a good 15 or maybe even 20 miles an hour. The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, and two other men gave chase, initially on foot, then in a handcar, and then in another train that had been traveling in the opposite direction. Then on foot again. And then on another train.
Meanwhile, the men on the hijacked train started ruining as much shit as they could. As they barreled along, they tore up track, set shit on fire and cut telegraph cables.
Now here's the really crazy thing: The raiders stuck to the train's timetable, going the predetermined speed and making all the stops (yes, just like Kramer in that Seinfeld episode where he commandeered the bus). There was a solid reason for this: they had to wait for trains going the other way to pass before they could continue their rampage. But this meant they also had to bullshit their way through refueling stops and Confederate train stations.
Remember, no one in the aftermath of the destruction had any means of calling ahead to warn others in their path -- the hijackers had cut the telegraph cables. The Confederates were unaware anything out of the ordinary was going on.
All this time Fuller was only a few miles behind and pursuing them with the resilience of a Terminator. After riding for almost a hundred miles through enemy territory, the raiders' train ran out of fuel a few miles south of Chattanooga, and the men scattered into the woods.
All of them were captured, and eight were hanged as spies, including Andrews. But, 19 of the original 24 men would eventually be awarded the Medal of Honor and have their remains re-interred in hero's graves.
4. The Dambusters Raid
Germans love their dams, more so when those same dams provide the bulk of the electricity for their key industrial region, the Ruhr. During World War II, the Germans weren't so absent-minded as to leave these incredibly important installations undefended -- they surrounded their dams with massed anti-aircraft guns, balloons (which were far more deadly than they sound) and heavy-duty torpedo nets. The Germans had expertly planned and prepared for every form of conventional attack.
Therefore, attacking would require something unconventional.
Here's where physics arrives late to the party, naked and handcuffed to a police officer. The legendary British inventor Barnes Wallis developed a bomb that, if spun backward at 500 rpm, would skim across the surface of the water, hop over the torpedo nets and slam into the wall. It would then screw its way down below the surface of the water (because it was still spinning) and detonate at the base of the wall, blowing a huge hole in the dam.
After some testing, which involved the destruction of a dam in Wales that nobody was using, a crack team of 19 bomber crews assembled in specially modified aircraft to carry out the raid.
It was a pretty good idea to use only the most experienced and evidently insane bomber crews available to the British at the time. They flew the entire way just feet above the waves. How low were they? One plane was lost when it crashed into power cables, and another was forced to turn back before it even reached continental Europe when it was hit by a freaking wave that dislodged its bomb.
When they got to the first dam, the Mohne, they flew even lower, with one bomber actually approaching the target by flying along a firebreak in a nearby forest.
As they approached their targets, the raiders turned on several powerful searchlights located on the belly of each aircraft. Because this was the only way to accurately gauge their height, it also had the effect of lighting their aircraft up like Times Square.
They dropped their bombs, blowing up two of the three target dams. The raiders turned for home, still flying at treetop level to avoid anti-aircraft fire. Of the 19 bombers, only 11 made it back. The raid's leader, Guy Gibson, was awarded a Victoria Cross because while everyone else was bombing targets he was circling above, flipping the bird to the German AA gunners and attracting all their fire.
3. The Doolittle Raid
In the spring of 1942, America wasn't exactly punching within its weight class and was generally getting its ass kicked up and down the Pacific in World War II. Meanwhile, people in Japan were being told by their whack-job government that they were invulnerable to attack. To prove that Uncle Sam could actually hurt Japan, legendary airman Jimmy Doolittle devised a plan to hit the Japanese where they lived (Japan). Thus was born the Doolittle Raid.
Keep in mind that bombers that could just fly from friendly territory to Japan were not a thing at the time. This was 1942, and military aircraft in general were still new enough that it took luck just to get off the runway and back down again without bursting into flame (during the war, aircraft accidents alone destroyed more than 12,000 planes and killed a mind-boggling 13,621 pilots and passengers -- just on the American side). So Doolittle's plan was to load up a carrier with bomber aircraft, sail into Japanese-patrolled waters, then launch the bombers and drop bombs on industrial targets.
Did we mention that nobody had tried to launch a B-25 off an aircraft carrier? It wasn't intended for that purpose. And this is not a minor point -- it's the difference between taking off from a long, roomy, comfortably flat runway versus taking off from the tiny deck of a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean, where one wrong move means sharks are sorting through the wreckage to find the most tasty parts of your body. Also, nobody involved in the mission had ever taken off from an actual carrier -- not even in training.
To top it all off, the aircrafts' limited fuel capacity more or less guaranteed landing either in a part of China that was occupied by Japan (mere hours after bombing their homeland) or in the sea.
Right off the bat, things went horribly wrong. The carrier force that was set to release Doolittle and the other raiders on their suicide mission was spotted by a patrol boat, so everyone said "screw it" and launched the planes, even though they were still around 170 nautical miles from their intended launch point. After flying for six hours (again, at wave-top height), the bombers reached Japan and dropped their payload.
At that point, one bomber headed for Vladivostok in the USSR and the rest went south toward China, hoping to make it to a friendly airfield or just anywhere not crawling with Japanese troops. Due mainly to the early start, there was actually very little chance of the raiders ever making land, never mind Chinese-held airstrips. However, a strong tailwind gave them a little extra push and allowed some of the planes to make land before running out of fuel. Others weren't so lucky.
What survivors there were went two different ways: Some were captured by the Japanese, while the rest, including Doolittle, sneaked through Japanese lines with the help of Chinese guerrillas.
While not a great deal of physical damage was actually done to Japan, the raid caused a great boost in morale in America. It also shook the Japanese people's trust in their government and forced them to spend key strategic resources (including a whole bunch of aircraft carriers) to protect the Japanese Home Islands against raids.
2. The bin Laden Raid
As if you didn't know this was going to be here.
The now world-famous raid was carried out by a unit known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six, and we're not allowed to know their actual names, but of the few things we are allowed to know is that they were founded by a guy known as "The Shark Man of the Delta" and "Demo Dick," plus he's already featured in a Cracked article (so you just know he's cool).
Anyway, 79 of these ghost warriors and an awesome dog named Cairo took four advanced stealth-modified choppers (which we're also not allowed to know about), flew low through the part of Pakistan's airspace where unknown aircraft are automatically shot down, assaulted a compound designed to defend against exactly this sort of attack and then stormed out 38 minutes later with angry Pakistani F-16s in pursuit.
When things go right in a raid, it's easy to lose track of how disastrous even one mistake would have been. Have you seen Black Hawk Down, where the choppers get shot down and the Americans are surrounded by thousands of heavily armed and pissed off Somalis? This raid could have turned out like that, except with the crowd made up of trained Pakistani soldiers, zero chance of overland rescue and the mother of all diplomatic shitstorms preventing any air rescue.
If the SEALs' choppers were to crash or otherwise break down, they would have been beyond screwed. So can you imagine what went through their minds when the first chopper stalled and crashed (albeit very slowly) in bin Laden's backyard?
Probably not much, because they are SEAL Team Six and they don't give a shit. Ditching the original plan to rappel onto the roof, they just blew a hole in the wall and started shooting. After securing the compound (during which some innocents were injured by mistake) and, oh yeah, killing fucking Osama bin Laden, they grabbed everything of value to the intelligence guys (including bin Laden's wank bank), crammed into the three surviving choppers and hauled ass out of there.
In this one action, 79 men and a dog took out the most wanted man on planet Earth and the closest thing real life had to a James Bond supervillain. This was the man responsible not just for 9/11, but for the deaths of thousands of civilians across four continents, the figurehead of an organization that posed the greatest threat to the security of the free world. The raid brought closure to one of the most traumatic events in American history. Oh, and it gave the USA a reason to finally start ending the war in Afghanistan. Not bad for 38 minutes' work.
1. The St. Nazaire Raid
During World War II, the colossal Louis Joubert Lock at St. Nazaire in France was the only dock under Nazi control that could a. bypass the Allies' main naval defense line and b. accommodate the Germans' gigantic primary battleships, the Bismarck and the Tirpitz. If the Germans ever moved those huge ships into that dock, they would be able to wreak havoc in the shipping lanes supplying the U.K. from America, starving the U.K. into submission and therefore more or less winning the war.
Obviously, with their dinners on the line, the British needed to prevent this. A team of 600 British sailors and commandos took an ancient WWI-era American destroyer called the HMS Campbeltown and 18 small motorboats (which were made mostly of wood and burst into flames constantly during the raid) and set out for France in March 1942.
The plan was to sail straight up an estuary lined with heavy coastal gun emplacements and crash the destroyer (which was packed with explosives on a timer) into the dock gate. Then they'd jump out onto the dock (where the commandos would be outnumbered by about eight to one by the German garrison) and do as much damage as possible. With the Campbeltown lodged in the gate (the bomb was set to detonate after the commandos had left) and as much chaos and mayhem created as possible, the commandos would board the surviving motorboats and sail triumphantly back to Blighty.
That was the plan, anyway. Sailing a destroyer packed with explosives into St. Nazaire harbor was very much like trying to disable a running blender by reaching into it holding a live grenade. After a brave but futile attempt at bullshitting the German coastal defenses, the raiders found themselves sailing through walls of coastal battery fire and flak. The British returned fire but were hampered somewhat by the fact that their largest gun was still smaller than the smallest gun being fired on them. But in that British tradition, they soldiered on.
Most of the ships -- including the one with the huge, dock-destroying bomb inside -- made it to their destination. The commandos jumped out and started shooting and blowing up everything they could find.
The small boats that were supposed to transport the raiders home were all destroyed or otherwise put out of action, so the surviving commandos were ordered to run for the Spanish border or fight until they ran out of ammo. As for the floating bomb that was sitting at the dock gate? The Germans just left it. For some reason they never went and defused the explosives, which detonated later in the day and put the dock out of action for the rest of the war.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
Of the 600 men, only 228 of them made it back to England: 169 died and 215 were captured and became prisoners of war. However, the raid killed 360 Germans, which if you're keeping score is significantly higher than 169, and basically saved Britain's ass. After the raid, 38 medals were awarded, including five Victoria Crosses, and today the operation is colloquially known as "the greatest raid of all."
Who are we to argue?
Read more from Tony Pilgram at Bad Metaphors.