Poet Alan Seeger volunteers in French army

Poet Alan Seeger volunteers in French army

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On August 24, 1914, the American poet Alan Seeger volunteers for service in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War.

Born in New York City in 1888, Seeger attended Harvard University, where his illustrious classmates in the Class of 1910 included the poet John Reed and the journalist Walter Lippmann. After living in New York writing poetry and working on the staff of the magazine American, edited by Reed, Seeger moved to Paris in 1912, where he lived on the Left Bank among a set of American expatriates until the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

On August 24 of that year, Seeger volunteered to serve as a private in the Foreign Legion of the French army. After training at Toulouse, his regiment was sent to the trenches of northern France, where to Seeger’s dismay they saw little actual combat. In a letter to the New York Sun written in December 1914, Seeger voices his frustration with life in the trenches: “This style of warfare is extremely modern and for the artillerymen is doubtless very interesting, but for the poor common soldier it is anything but romantic. His role is simply to dig himself a hole in the ground and to keep hidden in it as tightly as possible. Continually under the fire of the opposing batteries, he is yet never allowed to get a glimpse of the enemy. Exposed to all the dangers of war, but with none of its enthusiasms or splendid élan [spirit], he is condemned to sit like an animal in its burrow and hear the shells whistle over his head and take their little daily toll from his comrades.”

Seeger finally got his chance in September 1915, with the launch of a major new Allied offensive in Champagne, France. While awaiting orders to go forward, Seeger wrote home of his uncontainable excitement: “I expect to march right up the Aisne borne on an irresistible élan. It will be the greatest moment of my life.” Although the offensive ultimately failed, Seeger’s dedication to the French army continued. His unit spent much of the rest of 1915 and early 1916 on reserve, and bronchitis kept him out of service for several months. During that period he wrote what would become his most famous poem, “Rendezvous with Death,” with its oft-quoted lines: I have a rendezvous with death/On some scarred slope or battered hill/When Spring comes round again this year/And the first meadow-flowers appear.

On July 4, 1916, Alan Seeger died during the massive Allied attack at the Somme River, after being mortally wounded by a barrage of six German machine guns during his unit’s costly but successful assault on the heavily fortified village of Belloy-en-Santerre, France.

Alan Seeger Volunteers For The French Army

On this day in 1914, the American poet Alan Seeger volunteers for service in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War.

Born in New York City in 1888, Seeger attended Harvard University, where his illustrious classmates in the Class of 1910 included the poet John Reed and the journalist Walter Lippmann. After living in New York writing poetry and working on the staff of the magazine American, edited by Reed, Seeger moved to Paris in 1912, where he lived on the Left Bank among a set of American expatriates until the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

On August 24 of that year, Seeger volunteered to serve as a private in the Foreign Legion of the French army. After training at Toulouse, his regiment was sent to the trenches of northern France, where to Seeger’s dismay they saw little actual combat. In a letter to the New York Sun written in December 1914, Seeger voices his frustration with life in the trenches: “This style of warfare is extremely modern and for the artillerymen is doubtless very interesting, but for the poor common soldier it is anything but romantic. His role is simply to dig himself a hole in the ground and to keep hidden in it as tightly as possible. Continually under the fire of the opposing batteries, he is yet never allowed to get a glimpse of the enemy. Exposed to all the dangers of war, but with none of its enthusiasms or splendid élan [spirit], he is condemned to sit like an animal in its burrow and hear the shells whistle over his head and take their little daily toll from his comrades.”

Seeger finally got his chance in September 1915, with the launch of a major new Allied offensive in Champagne, France. While awaiting orders to go forward, Seeger wrote home of his uncontainable excitement: “I expect to march right up the Aisne borne on an irresistible élan. It will be the greatest moment of my life.” Although the offensive ultimately failed, Seeger’s dedication to the French army continued. His unit spent much of the rest of 1915 and early 1916 on reserve, and bronchitis kept him out of service for several months. During that period he wrote what would become his most famous poem, “Rendezvous with Death,” with its oft-quoted lines: I have a rendezvous with death/On some scarred slope or battered hill/When Spring comes round again this year/And the first meadow-flowers appear.

On July 5, 1916, Alan Seeger died during the massive Allied attack at the Somme River, after being mortally wounded by a barrage of six German machine guns during his unit’s costly but successful assault on the heavily fortified village of Belloy-en-Santerre, France.

The Poet-Soldier Who Went to His Grave With a Romantic Vision of World War I

June 21, 1916. Pvt. Alan Seeger, an American volunteer in the French Foreign Legion, encloses a poem with a letter to his godmother. Nine sentences and 14 lines: an update from a tiny, unidentified village to the rear of the Western Front, and a sonnet. The sentences in the letter are short, stilted, like the ones a parent might hear after asking her child how school was that day. “Fine hot summer weather. The big attacks will come soon now. . . . I am twenty-eight years old tomorrow.”

The letter writer is still young, you might say. Not in age, but in the way you might say “young” in place of “naïve” or “immature.” “Sentimental” comes closer, but it isn’t fair, either. Seeger experienced World War I and its destruction, calculated and comprehensive, a few years before anyone back home in America did. From 1914 to 1916, the poet passed along stories and verse from the front to readers of The New Republic, The New York Sun and other newspapers. The poem he mailed on June 21 had no title. Six months later, when Seeger’s collected poems were published, it bore the title “Sonnet XII.” A more illuminating one would be: “His Last.” Thirteen days after he wrote to his godmother, Seeger was killed in battle.

While he lived, Seeger described a romantic’s war. As if a writer, resting on some cosmic ridge over the lines at Hulluch or Ypres, could lay eyes on any Tommy or poilu (as the French soldiers were called) and transform him into the next Achilles. It’s a myth, you know. Not the type whose foundations give future scholars the approximate location of truths, but a total fiction. The Good War the narrative that crescendos with a single battle, with every piece in its exact position a sense of rightness in who makes it back and who does not — all fictions. The romanticism that colored Seeger’s experience of life extended to the war itself.

The words of “Sonnet XII” belong to a poet-soldier writing in the first half of the Great War. The clouds are “rosy-tinted.” Keep looking up, and you’ll notice the “depths of the azure eastern sky.” The war is mentioned only in passing on the sixth line, and by then it’s a memory. “The cannon’s note,” Seeger prematurely recalls, “has ceased.” That forward glance is a rare concession, a tempting of the Fates most of Seeger’s war poems describe a momentary state of peace — quicker than a gunshot, both part of the war and separate from it — before the battle once again rumbles forward. He didn’t often dare to contemplate the way it would end. In his most widely acclaimed work, “I Have a Rendezvous With Death . . . ,” life on the battlefield and the moment of death characteristically meet.

It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath —

It may be I shall pass him still.

This was President John F. Kennedy’s favorite poem, according to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — though that fact doesn’t seem to be recorded in his published papers. Rather, it was an intimate favorite, his love for it recognized through the look on his face while it was recited. Onassis thought it reminded him of his brother Joe, who died in the Second World War.

You don’t find much Seeger among the poems revered for their chronicling of World War I. Not like those of Wilfred Owen or Robert Graves, two of the most popular poets of a war whose verse defined its cultural legacy. Death in their poems has none of the glimmer Seeger gives it. Owen describes “Knock-kneed” soldiers “coughing like hags” before a gas attack hits. “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin . . ./Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — ” is what’s left of one who doesn’t secure his gas mask quickly enough. The poem ends with its title and war’s enduring lie: “Dulce et Decorum est/Pro patria mori.” It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.

Poets don’t command much attention these days, but you can still hear Owen’s and Graves’s poems on television specials about the war. Their depictions of life in the trenches match up with the images most commonly associated with World War I. It’s no coincidence: Their poems helped form that picture. The war’s cultural history and its actual one have become entwined over time so that the work of these two poets are more memorials — stone scrolls that speak of death by gas and sightless charges over the edge of trenches — than that of writers with whom modern-day readers genuinely engage. Seeger is something still less: not a writer who faded away to acclaim of a ceremonial sort, but one who became unfashionable to even the most hospitable critics of the postwar years. Knowing what they knew, the literary crowd found Seeger’s poems antiquated, if not outright dishonest. They felt that readers should see the depth that European society had sunk to in World War I.

A poet whom many critics found unremarkable, whose efforts ended before his prime, who depicted a war that may not have ever existed in reality — is there any reason to remember his poems from among the tens of thousands written during the war? What is lost along with Seeger when he’s passed over?


It’s not that Seeger was an inadequate craftsman. What his poems lacked was by design. The vision of the war that Graves and Owen presented was secondary to Seeger. He saw what they saw, recognized it and looked elsewhere. He witnessed the truth of the war, sometimes before others who are remembered for their cold honesty. In December 1914, while others still harbored hope they might make it home by Christmas, Seeger wrote to his father that the “war will probably last a long while.” He described being “harried like this by an invisible enemy and standing up against the dangers of battle without any of its exhilaration or enthusiasm.” This knowledge didn’t dent his outlook of the war. To him, it was “the supreme experience,” a part of nature humans were destined to take part in.

The fact that Seeger had this romantic vision of war in 1914, and still held it in 1916, is what gives his work value. Graves and Owen reflect the war as it came to be remembered, but their view did not match many people’s emotions as it continued, or even after it ended. The strongest works against the war — Owen’s cutting verses, Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches,” Graves’s memoir, “Good-bye to All That” — were written after their authors had time to reflect on their experiences. They were written after Seeger had already been buried in the loam of northern France. Their critical devotees, who increased in number with the war’s 50th anniversary in the 1960s, had the benefit of even more hindsight: a second world war’s worth.

The Great War was as these poets described — trenches, gas, suicide, crippling shell shock. But it was also as the soldiers who volunteered to fight, even after the war had been dragging on for years, saw it: essential and just.

Seeger’s poems, with their innocence and their beatific tone, remind us “the war to end all wars” was a story of descent. It began with cavalry charges on horseback, with uniforms topped by plumed helmets, and parades through streets with flags waving and children tripping over themselves alongside soldiers — and it ended with parades of the blind and disfigured, with swaths of land so pocked with unexploded ordnance and so toxic with chemicals that they’re still uninhabited 100 years later. It’s difficult to reckon the distance of a drop just from where the falling object lands. Afterward, you might have a clearer eye when entering a new war, you might avoid phrases as giddily optimistic as “we’ll be home for Christmas,” but that hindsight view lacks something: the sense of gravity you catch from seeing a ball tip over the edge, pick up speed with a weightlessness that feels not so different from launching into the air, only to land in the mud without a bounce. Seeing that first moment at the rim of the fall is just as important for preventing the next war as seeing the mud that’s left at the end.

The ACFT: The Trap Bar Deadlift

Posted On April 29, 2020 15:55:45

The trap bar deadlift is crushing soldiers.

It’s a completely new element of any PT test for the armed forces. Strength hasn’t been tested in a three rep max before, let alone all the other novel elements of the new ACFT.

I’m not so concerned with potential low back injuries like some other critics of the trap bar deadlift have voiced.

I’m a fan. This type of test actually tests something many soldiers do nearly every day.

Picking something heavy up off the ground.

Of course, picking things up should be tested.

Here’s the skinny on the trap bar deadlift and how you can properly train for it so that you can max out the event.

It’s not a true deadlift

The trap bar deadlift isn’t a true deadlift. It’s somewhere between a squat and a deadlift. As a hip hinge stickler. it’s hard to watch just about every video I’ve seen of soldiers conducting this movement. There’s too much knee flexion most of the time.

The trap bar deadlift DOES use more knee flexion than a traditional deadlift. BUT it doesn’t need all the hip flexion you guys are giving it.

The reason there’s more knee flexion is because the handles on the trap bar are closer to your center of gravity than the bar is during a conventional deadlift. This means you don’t need to hip hinge as far forward with a trap bar.

But you still need to hinge.

You should only be bending at your knees, and hips for that matter, as far as you have to in order to reach the ground. If any part of your body is moving, but the bar isn’t, you’re wrong.

It’s a little bit like a squat and a little bit like a deadlift.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

It’s not a true squat

This may seem like a weird statement. It’s called a deadlift, not a squat so obviously, the trap bar deadlift isn’t a true squat. Hear me out though.

Lower body movements are generally broken into two main groups:

The king hip dominant movement is the deadlift. The king knee dominant movement is the squat. The trap bar deadlift isn’t wholly a hip hinge like the conventional deadlift, and it isn’t wholly knee dominant like the back squat.

It’s somewhere in between the two.

Which if we’re being honest is how you should ideally pick something up. The trap bar deadlift assumes that you’re getting the weight as close to your center of gravity as possible, and you’re recruiting the most amount of muscle as possible (quads, hamstrings, and glutes).

Your hips should be lower and your knee angle should be smaller.

SO…It’s a hybrid

This is actually good. It means you can get more quad involved in the movement than a conventional deadlift. It also means you can get more hamstring involved than a traditional squat. This means you can be stronger in the trap bar deadlift…if you train for it properly with correct form.

Proper form: The handcuff hinge

The handcuff hinge is the go-to movement to teach a hip hinge. We are taught by people who don’t know what they’re talking about to fear lifting with our hips, often because lifting with the hips is confused with lifting with the back.

Your hips AKA your hamstrings and glutes can be the strongest muscles in your body if you train them using hip hinge movements like the deadlift or good mornings.

Use the handcuff hinge to help you commit the hip hinge pattern to your neural matrix. Check out the video above for specifics on how to perform it.

This is a really basic way to prep for this test.

How to train: 3 MONTH PLAN

Because the trap bar deadlift is a hybrid between the squat and the deadlift, it’s super easy to train for. You should simply break up your strength days into three main lower-body movements. It can look something like this:

  • Monday: Conventional or Sumo Deadlift 3 sets of 3-10 reps at RPE 8
  • Wednesday: Back Squat 3 sets of 3-10 reps at RPE 8
  • Friday: Trap bar Deadlift 3 sets of 3-10

Your rep scheme should change every 4-6 weeks. Let’s say your ACFT is Jan. 1, I would break up your rep scheme to something like this leading up to the event.

You’re busy don’t waste your time doing Alternate Staggered Squat Jumps or Forward Lunges. They lack the ability to load heavy enough and are unilateral movements that require a balance component that’s completely irrelevant to the trap bar deadlift. If you have a plan that uses these movements, throw it in the garbage.

Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cool.

This article is intended to give you some basic information on the trap bar deadlift. It is by no means exhaustive. Respond in the comments of this article on Facebook or send me a direct message at [email protected] with your sticking points, comments, or concerns on the trap bar deadlift.

I’m also making a push to keep the conversation going over at the Mighty Fit Facebook Group. If you haven’t yet joined the group, do so. It’s where I spend the most time answering questions and helping people get the most out of their training.

If you just want someone to do all the work for you so that you can just get in the gym and train. Here’s the exact plan you need to be doing to get your Trap Bar Deadlift up! It’s fully supported in the Composure Fit app. All the info you need is in that link and this link.

More on We are the Mighty

More links we like


In the Trenches and in the Sky: American Volunteers in World War I

World War marks a turning point in modern U.S. history, the moment it emerged as a global power which would ultimately change the meaning and the direction of the 20 th century. The choice to help France fight for liberty and democracy was not surprising given the key role France had played in the American Revolution. There were most certainly those who simply sought adventure, but underlying their engagement were shared political ideals. Many came from the cosmopolitan elite and well-educated classes. Some like the Rockwell brothers, whose grandfathers fought in the American Civil War, came to repay the debt to Lafayette and Count Rochambeau, instrumental in helping the U.S. win independence in the Revolutionary War. For the poet Alan Seeger, it was “that chance to live life most free from stain and that rare privilege of dying well.”

Many joined the French Foreign Legion while others served in the American Ambulance Field Service or as pilots in the Escadrille américaine, later known as the Lafayette Escadrille, acclaimed for their skill and courage. “When men who have no obligation to fight, who could not possibly be criticized if they did not fight, yet nevertheless decide, upon their own individual initiative, to risk their lives in defense of a cause that they hold to be dear, then we are in the presence of true heroism,” wrote General Gouraud.

The American Field Service: Volunteers in the Service to France

Most American war activities in France preceding the U.S. entry into the war began at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a rallying center near Paris where the American colony became involved in the war effort. A. Piatt Andrew, Inspector General of the hospital’s ambulance section negotiated with the French military to have ambulance units serve closer to the frontline. These units subsequently became known as the American Ambulance Field Service. They went on to participate in every major French battle, and the 2,500 American volunteers of the AFS carried ammunitions and supplies as well as more than 500,000 wounded. Members of Section Eighteen and Section Four received the French Croix de Guerre in recognition of their service at Verdun.

In addition to hundreds of American youths already in France, the service attracted and recruited volunteers through prestigious American colleges and universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell and many other colleges contributed large numbers of men and vehicles. Letters and articles written by volunteers played an important role in influencing public opinion in the U.S. in taking the side of the Allies. A remarkable number of well-known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I, including Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, and Dashiell Hammett. An early appeal of the American Field Service for volunteers began with these words from French General Joffre: “The United States of America has not forgotten that the first page of their history was written with a little of the blood of France.”

The Lafayette Escadrille

Early in World War I, Americans sympathetic to the Allied cause offered their service to France as ambulance drivers, while others fought in the trenches as members of the French Foreign Legion. A handful of these men successfully transferred to the French Aviation Service at the end of 1915 and were later joined by several Americans who enlisted as civilians. Dr. Edmund L. Gros, a medical director of the American Field Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France, led the efforts to send to the front a squadron composed exclusively of American pilots. After months of deliberation by the French government, the Escadrille américaine nº124 was formed, and on April 20, 1916 placed on frontline duty at Luxeuil-les-Bains, near Switzerland. The 38 members of the Escadrille constituted the only all-American squadron of volunteers flying under the French flag. Eventually 269 aviators served France as volunteers in what came to be designated officially by the French government as the Lafayette Flying Corps, which included the Lafayette Escadrille.

Native Americans in the Trenches

As early as 1914, the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France counted amongst its members 4,000 Native Americans. Though a draft was implemented when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Native Americans were not yet generally considered to be citizens. Nevertheless, of the more than 15,000 Native Americans that arrived in France as members of the American Expeditionary Force, a large majority were volunteers. Many saw military service in wartime as an opportunity to continue the warrior traditions of their tribes. Others sought to escape life on reservations at a time when the federal government had stepped up its program of moving land from tribal to individual status in the name of the war effort, and where boredom and disease were rampant.

The rate of death and injury amongst them was extremely high because they were often assigned dangerous scouting assignments. Many received the French Croix de Guerre for their distinguished services, for their “exceptional skills, courage, and coolness under fire.” Though not all Native Americans directly saw combat, they nonetheless fulfilled two highly important functions, both as highly qualified marksmen and as transmitters of messages. Choctaw Indians, later nicknamed Choctaw code talkers, developed a code, impossible for the Germans to decrypt, put to use shortly after the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was underway.

The last Native American veteran, a Blackfoot Indian, was awarded the Legion of Honor on February 27, 1999. He died three weeks later at 110 years of age.

Les Américains in Argonne

Beginning in March 1918 the German armies launched a series of powerful attacks along the Western Front. The last great offensive came in July, and the immediate counter-attack marked the turning point in the war. The colossal Meuse-Argonne Offensive, involving more than 1.2 million American soldiers, was the longest and the bloodiest – 26,000 dead and 95,000 wounded – single battle in U.S history. During the Hundred Days Campaign, the First Army, under General John J. Pershing’s command, with logistics and planning provided by Colonel George C. Marshall, cut off scores of German troops and critical supplies at the railroad hub of Sedan following the clearing of the Saint-Mihiel salient two weeks earlier. In concert with British and French offensives elsewhere on the Western Front, the assault through the Argonne forest was critical in breaking German resistance and bringing World War I to an end.

This article results from a partnership with the French-American Friends of the Mémorial de Verdun , a support committee gathering French and American scholars, entrepreneurs, and personalities in order to call on American donors and raise funds to finance the restoration of the Mémorial de Verdun in Northeastern France. Opened in 1967, and closed for renovation, the memorial is scheduled for reopening on the anniversary date of the Battle of Verdun, February 21, 2016.


  • On November 11, 1915: the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion (RMLE) was created by merging the remaining men of the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment (2 e RM 1 er RE) with the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Regiment, (2 e RM 2 e RE).
  • On November 15, 1920: the RMLE was designated the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (3 e RE).
  • On June 20, 1922: the 3 e RE was designated the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (3 e REI)
  • On December 5, 1942: a Colonial Infantry and Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade, (DBICLE) was created from the components of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment. Ten days later, on December 15, this demi-brigade was designated the 3rd Foreign Marching Infantry Regiment, (3 e REIM).
  • On July 1, 1943: the 3 e REIM was redesignated the RMLE.
  • On July 1, 1945: the regiment was redesignated the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment, (3 e REI).

World War I Edit

Throughout the course of World War I, the merger of the RMLE of 1915, the predecessor of the 4 Marching Regiments (1914–1915) which existed ephemerally, was in combat at the corps of the Moroccan Division supported by:

    (4 e Régiment de Tirailleurs Tunisiens, 4 e RTT) (7 e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens, 4 e RTA) (8 e Régiment de Zouaves, 8 e RZ).

1914 Edit

The marching regiment of the Foreign Legion (RMLE) of 1915 was constituted from at least 4 Marching Regiments formations created at the beginning of the war. With the addition of volunteers, the 1st Foreign Regiment (1 er RE) of Sidi Bel Abbès and the 2nd Foreign Regiment, (2 e RE), of Saïda, Algeria, provided demi-battalions as follows:

Marching Regiments of the 1st Foreign Regiment Edit

The marching regiments of the 1st Foreign Regiment (1 er RE) included:

  • 1st Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment
    • (1 er Régiment de Marche du 1 er Régiment Etranger, 1 er RM 1 er RE) 1913 – 1918.
    Marching Regiments of the 2nd Foreign Regiment Edit

    The marching regiments that formed the 2nd Foreign Regiment, 2 e RE RM included:

    • 1st Marching Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Regiment, (1 er Régiment de Marche du 2 e Régiment Etranger, 1 er RM 2 e RE) 1907 – 1918). , (2 e Régiment de Marche du 2 e Régiment Etranger, 2 e RM 2 e RE) 1914 – 1915).

    Volunteers of 51 nationalities arrived from all over France, from recruiting depots in (Toulouse, Montélimar, Paris, Nîmes, Lyon, Avignon, Bayonne and Orléans). Almost 32,000 foreigners were regrouped in an early initial formation of the marching regiments of the Foreign Legion, between August 1914 and April 1915. The most numerous nationality present, were Italians, who made up an entire regiment (the 4th Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment in addition to forming major contingents within the other formed Marching Regiments. Other nationalities represented in significant numbers included: Russian, Italian, Greek, Swiss, Belgian, Polish, Czech, Spanish, German, Turkish, Luxembourgers, American and British).

    1915 Edit

    The four marching regiments of 1915 were at the front from the end of 1914 to the end of 1915, distinguishing themselves at the

    An entire additional foreign regiment for the French Army was provided by the All-Italian, the very leading first, 4th Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment (French: 4 e régiment de marche du 1 er étranger, 4 e R.M.1 er R.E) under regimental commander Lieutenant-Colonel Peppino Garibaldi. This unit had its baptism by fire at Argonne where the first 40 Italian legionnaires were killed in action.

    On November 11, 1915 a decision was made by the Chief of the Defence Staff (France) Joseph Joffre, to merge the remaining men of the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment with the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Regiment to form the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion (RMLE).

    1916 Edit

    July 1916 - The RMLE was formed of three battalions each with four combat companies which engaged in the Battle of the Somme.

    • Regimental Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Cot
      • 1st battalion: Commandant (Major) Ruelland (killed in action July 9)
      • 2nd battalion: Commandant Waddell
      • 3rd battalion: Commandant Mouchet (killed in action July 6)

      On July 4 during the siege of Belloy-en-Santerre, the 3rd Battalion was completely destroyed and lost their commandant. In this battle American poet Alan Seeger was also killed. He had volunteered for the French Foreign Legion throughout the duration of the World War I and was the author of the poem "I Have A Rendez-vous with Death". On July 7, the 1st battalion launched the attack on Boyau de Chancelier and lost the battalion commandant. Mid-July, the regiment only counted three combat companies per battalion and was pulled back from the front to reconstitute battle formations. From July 4 to the 9, the regiment lost 1368 of 3000 men (14 officers killed and 22 wounded, 431 legionnaires killed or missing and 901 wounded).

      1917 Edit

      • Regimental Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Duriez (killed April 17)
        • 1st battalion: Commandant Famille Husson de Sampigny [fr]
        • 2nd battalion: Commandant James Waddell
        • 3rd battalion: Commandant Deville then Captain Lannurien

        The battle lasted from the April 17 to 21 and put out of commission half of the 1500 legionnaires of the RMLE and they lost their regimental commander, who was replaced by Commandant Deville.

        August 1917 – Battle of Verdun

        • Regimental Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Frédéric Rollet
          • 1st battalion: Commandant Husson de Sampigny
          • 2nd battalion: Commandant Waddell
          • 3rd battalion: Commandant Deville

          On August 20, the regiment was in charge of counterattacking to save the city. [ which? ] Entrenched in front of the regiment were four enemy regiments. On the 21st, the regiment attained all set objectives and pierced the front, spearheading up to 3.5 km into the line. With that, the regiment earned a 6th citation at the orders of the armed forces and was decorated the regimental colors with the Légion d'honneur.

          1918 Edit

          April 1918 – Le bois de Hangard

          The 131st Infantry Division marched against the village of Hangard and cote 99. While not a surprise, an urgent response was present to contain at best. The Moroccan Division launched into battle with no prior preparation. The RMLEo covered the right wing of the Moroccan Division. The objective of the regiment was Le bois de Hangard. The German response was immediate exchange of fire was continuous. The survivors of the 1st battalion lead their progression charging, followed by the 11th combat company of the 3rd battalion. Legion officers were lost first leading assaults and the legionnaires would find themselves often deprived of their lead. Legionnaire Kemmler, a Luxembourgian volunteer, a medic in the Machine gun section, took charge of the lead. Even though wounded, Kemmler took command of injured legionnaires and despite the environment, managed to dress and maintain the atmosphere around the men. Accordingly, the legionnaires found their lead and made front valiantly until the arrival of an adjudant. Consequently, the assault of the regiment was saved. The nights and days that succeeded until 6 May, revolved around maintaining positions and repelling a series of incessant counter-attacks. The siege of "Le bois de Hangard" on April 26 witnessed the destruction of the 1st and 2nd battalions losses for the regiment included 822 men out of which thirteen officers]].

          May–June 1918 – La Montagne de Paris

          On 29 May, the Moroccan Division and the RMLE had to block an advancement towards Villers-Cotterêts while taking position on the "Montagne de Paris". The attack was launched at dawn following a storming incessant rainy series of artillery round batteries. Superior in number forces, opposing forces succeeded in reaching the vicinity of legion positions. Forced to economize their ammunitions, Legionnaires endured 47 killed, 219 wounded and 70 missing in two days of combat. Losses for the legion increased to those of the previous month, almost 1250 men. Nevertheless, the RMLE succeeded in maintaining its positions and blocked the German advance in the Legion's designated combat area sectors.

          Until 31 May, on a 5 km stretch, the RMLE, which included Armenian volunteers, along with the 3e BCP and 10e BCP, held the line during six days and six nights, without rear forces support, heavy artillery, air support, and with only one available short artillery battery the regiment managed to halt all successive attacks.

          July 1918 – Second Battle of the Marne

          The RMLE participated after July 18 in the grand counter-offensive of Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, in the region of Villers-Cotterêts. The 1st Battalion lost their commander, commandant Husson de Sampigny.

          September 1918 – Hindenburg Line

          In August 1918, the regiment recuperated the wounded and filled the ranks with reinforcements from the depot in Lyon and cadres from Morocco counting 48 officers and 2,540 legionnaires):

          • Regimental Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Frédéric Rollet
            • 1st battalion: Captain Jacquesson
            • 2nd battalion: Captain Lannurien then Captain Sanchez-Carrero
            • 3rd battalion: Commandant (Major) Marseille

            On September 2, the regiment launched an assault on the defense line of Hindenburg at the elevation of Terny-Sorny. In two weeks of combat, the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion lost half the men in the regiment (275 killed out of which 10 officers and 1118 wounded of whom 15 were officers).

            Consequently, the regiment endured the loss of its chef de battaillon Captain Lannurien. Nevertheless, on September 14 the RMLE pushed forward and relaunched the attacks while piercing the front at the village of Allemant.

            Interwar period (1918–1939) Edit

            The regiment was, stationed for a short duration in Germany and was then dispatched to take part in campaigns of Morocco. On September 20, 1920, the RMLE was designated the 3rd Foreign Regiment.

            World War II (1939–1945) Edit

            December 1942 – 3 e REIM

            Following the disembarkation of United States Army units in Morocco (Operation Torch of November 8, 1942), the French Foreign Legion was ordered to form units to combat the Germans in Tunisia. Following the brief existence of a Colonial Infantry and Foreign Legion Marching Demi-Brigade (5/12/1942), Général Henri Giraud on December 15, 1942 created the 3rd Foreign Marching Infantry Regiment 3 e REIM, from elements of the I (battalion) / 3 e REI, the III (battalion) / 3 e REI, and a third mixed battalion from the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 3 e REI and 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 2 e REI. Each battalion had four combat companies.

            • Regimental Commander Colonel Lambert
              • I / 3 e REIM: Commandant Laparra
              • II / 3 e REIM: Commandant Boissier
              • III / 3 e REIM: Commandant Langlet

              In January 1943, the 3 e REIM was totally engaged in resisting the German offensive, engaged in separating the communication couloir between the Armies of Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim of Tunisia, and the Armies of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, set back since the Second Battle of El Alamein.

              On the 18th, during the combats of the reservoir of l'Oued Kebir, the II (battalion) / 3 e REIM was completely destroyed and the battalion's Commandant was wounded and taken captive. The next day, to the turn, the I (battalion) / 3 e REIM disappeared. During combats, the regiment had the sad privilege of meeting the first German Tiger I tanks and the regiment endured the loss of 35 officers and 1634 legionnaires.

              Consequently, the regiment had only two battalions capable left, each with two combat companies. Retrieved from the front on February 10 to reform battle formations, the regiment was reinforced on March 30, 1943 by a detachment from Morocco.

              • Regimental Commander, Colonel Lambert
                • I / 3 e REIM: Commandant Laparra
                • II / 3 e REIM : Commandant Gombeaud

                On April 16, the regiment was assigned to the Moroccan Marching Division commanded by General Mathemet.

                Re-formation of the R.M.L.E

                On July 1, 1943, the 3 e REI M was subsequently entirely US American built equipped and was redesignated as the R.M.L.E. The regiment was integrated in the 5th Armored Division.

                • Regimental Commander, Colonel Gentis
                  • I / R.M.L.E: Commandant (Major) Daigny (assigned to CC5)
                  • II / RMLE: Commandant Charton (assigned to CC4)
                  • III / RMLE: A Commandant (assigned to CC6)

                  Belfort – November 1944

                  On September 14 and 20, 1944, the three battalions disembarked near Saint-Raphaël on the beach of Dramont. From November 15 to December 13, the battalions of the RMLE participated with the designated Combat Command of the 5th Armored Division in operations of Trouée de Belfort. The 3rd combat company of the I / RMLE was decimated at Montreux-Château while elements of the 7th combat company (I Battalion / RMLE) illustrated savoir-faire near Delle and halted a German combat company.

                  Colmar Pocket – January 1945

                  • Regimental Commander Colonel Louis-Antoine Gaultier (by interim of Colonel Tristschler)
                    • I / RMLE: Commandant Daigny (assigned to CC5)
                    • II / RMLE: Commandant de Chambost (assigned to CC4)
                    • III / RMLE: Commandant Boulanger (assigned to CC6)

                    The regiment was engaged again with the 5th Armored Division starting January 22, 1945 in the counter-offensive put into motion by Marshal of France (posthumous) Jean de Lattre de Tassigny to relieve Strasbourg. The CC6 including the III (battalion) / RMLE fought alongside the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment (1 er RCP) of the French Air Force transferred to the French Army at Jebsheim northeast of Colmar from January 25 to 30. The CC5 took Urschenheim on February 1, 1945 while the CC4 liberated Colmar on the 2nd.

                    Germany – Austria – March to May 1945

                    On March 11, 1945, Colonel Jean Olié replaced Colonel Tritschler, who had died at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital.

                    On March 15, the CC6 (III (battalion)/ RMLE) was engaged by the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division for the conquest of the Annemarie Line then in the piercing of the Siegfried Line on the 20th. On April 9, the regiment penetrated the Black Forest and captured Stuttgart on the 21st. Continued south, the regiment cleared and made its way to the Danube and then Lake Constance. Subsequently, the regiment penetrated Austria in May 1945 on the eve of the 8th.

                    Regimental Colors Edit

                    At creation, on November 11, 1915, the R.M.L.E had for regimental colors, the Flag of:

                    • On the avers (front, inscribed in French)
                      • French Republic
                      • Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion
                      • Honneur and Patrie
                        (on the regimental colors of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment 3 e R.E.I, this motto was replaced in 1920 with Honneur et Fidélité, the year before the founding of the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment).

                      During World War II, the new R.M.L.E received the regimental colors of the 3rd Foreign Regiment, (3e RE).

                      Decorations Edit

                      The regimental colors of the RMLE are decorated with:

                      • Knight Cross of the Légion d'honneur (September 27, 1917) (August 30, 1919) (September 13, 1915) with:
                        • 9 palms, allowing the double Fourragère in the colours of the Légion d'honneur and Croix de guerre.
                        • 3 palms, allowing the 1939–1945 olive on the fourragère.

                        The RMLE was the first regiment in France to receive the right to display the fourragère with the colors of the Médaille militaire.

                        Honours Edit

                        Battle honours Edit

                        Marching regiments prior to the RMLE 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment

                        • 1914-1914: Colonel Passard
                        • 1914–1915: Colonel Lecomte-Denis
                        • 1915-1915: Colonel de Lavenue de Choulot

                        1915–1920: Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion

                        • 1915–1917: Lieutenant-colonel Cot
                        • 1917-1917: Colonel Duriez
                        • 1917–1920: Lieutenant-colonel Paul-Frédéric Rollet

                        1920–1943: 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment
                        1943–1945: Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion

                        First Americans to die in WWI may have been volunteers in French army

                        On Feb. 15, 1915, a young machine gunner serving with the French Foreign Legion on the western front was mortally wounded by German shellfire.

                        His death two weeks later was unremarkable amid the slaughter of the first months of World War I, except that his name was Edward Mandell Stone, he was the son of a Chicago industrialist and he may have been the first American to die in combat in the “Great War.”

                        If not the first, he was among the first of an often idealistic group of American volunteers who early in the war threw in their lot with France, two years before the United States entered the struggle in 1917.

                        Eugene Jacques Bullard was the first African American military pilot and flew for France during World War I. (U.S. Air Force)

                        They were intellectuals, writers, drifters, a lawyer from New York, a newspaper correspondent from Boston and a black boxer from Alabama, among others.

                        Several had money and fine Ivy League educations.

                        One, the poet Alan Seeger, was the uncle of folk singer Pete Seeger, and penned the poem, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” later a favorite of President John F. Kennedy’s.

                        Another, the playwright Kenneth Weeks, was joined in France by his wealthy mother, Alice, who set up a kind of hostel for the “family” of Americans serving in the legion.

                        Yet another was the boxer Bob Scanlon, from Mobile, whose right was so potent that he once knocked an opponent cold for 30 minutes.

                        There was also Frank Whitmore, a chicken farmer from Richmond Eugene Jacques Bullard, another African American who went on to fame as an aviator and René Phélizot, a big-game hunter and native of Chicago.

                        Many were motivated by notions of the nobility of war and of death in battle, ideas that withered as the bloody struggle went on and seem antique a century later.

                        Alan Seeger was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4, 1916, while serving in the French Foreign Legion.

                        More than 100,000 Americans are believed to have died in World War I.

                        Seeger wrote “Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France” in 1916, a few months before he was killed on the Fourth of July at the Battle of the Somme.

                        . . . And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground

                        Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires . . .

                        They lie — our comrades . . .

                        Clad in the glory of fallen warriors . . .

                        “Seeger belongs to the mentality of the pre-war world,” Eric Homberger wrote in the 1988 anthology, The Lost Voices of World War I. “He welcomed war, [and] he felt redeemed by the chance to die heroically.”

                        Seeger, 26, had been among the 68 American volunteers, including Phélizot and probably Scanlon, who assembled in the Place du Palais Royal, in Paris on the morning of Aug. 25, 1914, to join the legion.

                        Germany had declared war on France a few weeks earlier.

                        Seeger and Phélizot carried American flags as the group marched in civilian clothes through the city to a train depot, according to a 1967 biography of Seeger, “Sound No Trumpet,” by Irving Werstein.

                        Crowds quickly lined the avenues and shouted “Vive les Américains!” and some joined in the march.

                        “Eddie” Stone, 26, was probably there that day, too, according to Werstein. He had gone to Harvard, had traveled widely and was then living in France.

                        Stone had been a child of privilege.

                        His father, Henry Baldwin Stone, had run a railroad and telephone companies in Chicago and helped stage the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, according to a memorial written after his death.

                        But in 1897, the elder Stone had been killed in front of his 9-year-old son when a fireworks display exploded prematurely outside their summer home near New Bedford, Mass., fracturing his skull and mutilating his face.

                        Weeks, the playwright, had also been living in France. He had been born outside Boston and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His father, Andrew, was an entomologist at Harvard and had written a book about butterflies.

                        The younger Weeks, then 24, moved to Paris in 1910 to be a writer, according to a postwar collection of letters compiled by his mother.

                        On Aug. 22, 1914, he wrote her that he had enlisted in the foreign legion “for the duration of the war.”

                        He had grown a beard, he wrote, and donned the early-war French uniform of red trousers, blue coat and a red cap. He hoped to soon win his “galons” — stripes.

                        His mother, Alice Standish Weeks, then about 52, had been in New York but was quickly on her way to France to be near him. They wrote to each other often — he from the front, she from her apartment in Paris.

                        He told her not to worry. “Luck is with me,” he wrote on May 16, 1915.

                        About a month later, he told her that he was headed back to the trenches. “Do not worry if you do not hear from me for several days,” he wrote.

                        It was his last letter to her.

                        On June 17, Kenneth Weeks went missing in battle near Souchez, in northern France. Nine days later, his mother wrote another son, Allen: “No word from Kenneth . . . the suspense is hard to bear.”

                        While she waited, her home became a crowded refuge for Americans in the legion. “I am going to be a kind of headquarters,” she wrote.

                        Soldiers visited, ate, bathed and slept. She had their filthy uniforms boiled. They sat around her stove and talked about the war.

                        One called her “Aunt Alice.” She called them “my boys” and said she felt like the woman who lived in a shoe.

                        She was later dubbed “Maman Legionnaire,” mother of the legion.

                        Weeks went by. She stayed busy and held out hope. Finally, on Nov. 25, Kenneth Weeks’s body was found between the lines. But authorities were not able to get word to her for over a month.

                        On Jan. 2, 1916, she wrote a man who may have been a brother:

                        “I have been notified this morning that Kenneth fell on the Field of Honor June 17. . . . Don’t worry about me. I am surrounded by friends who try and smooth the rough places for me.

                        “I don’t know what the future has in store,” she wrote. “But the boys cling to me and I could not leave them just now.”

                        These were the daring WWII female pilots known as the ‘Night Witches’

                        Posted On April 29, 2020 15:56:08

                        Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.

                        And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.

                        1938 photo of Marina Raskova.

                        Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.

                        As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.

                        As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.

                        When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.

                        Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.

                        German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.

                        With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.

                        Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…

                        For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.

                        If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.

                        A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.

                        Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).

                        Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.

                        As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.

                        So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.

                        A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.

                        This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”

                        The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”

                        Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”

                        On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”

                        In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.

                        As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.

                        Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?

                        Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.

                        Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.

                        Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.

                        They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.

                        Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”

                        Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”

                        Popova with Russian president Medvedev in 2009.

                        Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”

                        Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”

                        A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”

                        Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.

                        Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.

                        This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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