Lewis Burwell Puller is a Marine Corps legend and American hero. Nicknamed “Chesty” for his burly physique, he was one of the most combat-hardened leaders in military history and saw action in Haiti, Nicaragua, WWII, and Korea. The winner of five Navy Crosses and many other medals, he will always be remembered as a fierce warrior and proud patriot.
One area of Chesty’s life that deserves more scholarly research is his southern heritage. He was born in Virginia in 1898 and was raised on stories of the Confederacy. His grandfather, John Puller, was killed while riding under Jeb Stuart at the battle of Kellys Ford in 1863. Local veterans told young Chesty about his grandfather’s bravery, as John had stayed atop his saddle long after having his midsection torn apart by a cannon. After his grandfather’s death, federals burned the Puller home and his grandmother was forced to walk ten miles, through a sleet storm, for help.
Puller was proud of his ancestry, and his southern roots ran much deeper than The War Between the States (his term of choice for the “Civil War”). His family had come to Virginia in the early 1600s and he could trace back relatives to the colony’s House of Burgesses. Chesty noted that he was also a relative of Patrick Henry, George S. Patton, and that he had a great-uncle named Robert Williams, who deserted the south to join the federal army (the Virginia portion of the family stopped speaking to Williams after this, and he later went on to marry the widow of Stephen A. Douglass). Another famous cousin of Puller’s, named Page McCarthy, was a Confederate captain that fought the last legal duel in Virginia and killed his opponent.
The Confederacy and its legacy left a lasting impression on a young Chesty. As a boy, he witnessed Robert E. Lee Jr. bring a buggy by his home weekly to sell eggs and vegetables to support the Lee family. Puller’s favorite Confederate was Willis Eastwood, who rode with his grandfather and became mayor of West Point. In addition, the Puller home was filled with pictures of great Confederates like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
As a southerner, Chesty also learned the importance of land and self sufficiency. After his father’s death in 1908, Chesty began trapping to support his family. He would capture muskrats, sell the hides for fifteen cents each and then sell the carcasses to poorer families for five cents. He also would catch local crabs and sell them for twenty five cents a dozen. By the age of twelve, young Puller had killed his first turkey and also learned how to hunt rabbits. After his military fighting career was over many years later, Chesty noted that he learned more about the art of war by hunting and trapping, than he learned from any school. He insisted that the skills he learned as a kid, living off the land, saved his life many times in combat.
Puller had spent his entire childhood admiring the military leaders of the south. In particular, he loved Stonewall Jackson and he admired the large statue of Jackson that stood at VMI, where Jackson was formerly a professor. One of Puller’s most prized possessions was a copy of George Henderson’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, which Chesty had read repeatedly. He underlined most of the text, wrote Jackson’s famous quote “Never take counsel of your fears.” The book also contained notes on the casualties of Chesty’s men at Guadalcanal and his medals. It was referred to so frequently that it was embedded with dirt and held together with bicycle tape. In many ways, Lewis Puller and Stonewall lived parallel lives. They were both proud Virginians that scored low on VMI’s marks, yet were unmatched in the leadership on the battlefield. Chesty also frequently visited the tomb of Robert E. Lee at Washington and Lee University campus. A documentary, directed by John Ford and narrated by John Wayne, titled “Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend” features scenes of an elderly Chesty visiting the tomb of Lee.
In the tradition of many other famous southerners, Chesty also had an appreciation for the classics. At a young age, he picked up a copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars and even translated it from Latin. All of these experiences (living off the land, being raised on stories of the south, an interest in military leadership early on) would help mold Chesty into an ideal soldier.
Chesty exemplified the southern military tradition by having an unsurpassed sense of duty to his country, and by being a fierce warrior. The military excellence of the south can be traced back to before the American Revolution. George Washington and Francis Marion, for example, both gained their initial combat experience in the French and Indian War. It could be argued that Chesty was a more efficient leader than both of these men. Contrary to popular myth, Washington was not a great tactician or leader and his victory at Yorktown can really be attributed to the French. One of Washington’s most memorable moments is enduring hardship at Valley Forge, which Chesty Puller compared to his experience in Korea by saying:
“Our forefathers at Valley Forge have been mentioned here tonight as the often are. Well, I can tell you that Valley Forge was something like a picnic compared to what your young Americans went through at the Chosin Reservoir, and they came out of it fine. It never was anything like twenty-five below zero at Valley Forge, either.”
Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox,” used guerilla tactics and partisan warfare to fight the British in South Carolina. This type of fighting drove the British out of the Carolinas and into Virginia, where they eventually surrendered. This method of warfare today is referred to as “maneuver warfare” and has been officially adopted as the Marine Corps doctrine. Marine Corps tactics and the history of southern warfare go hand-in-hand; even today, Parris Island, South Carolina is the main training center for the Marines on the east coast and graduates at least 17,000 men and women per year.
The concept of maneuver warfare is defined by the Corps as “warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.” This was exactly how Chesty was operating in Nicaragua, Haiti, Korea, and the Pacific.
Southern men like Francis Marion and Nathan Bedford Forrest also implemented these ideas of hitting the enemy hard and fast, with accurate firepower. All of the great southern military leaders, from Washington and Marion, to Lee, Jackson, and Forrest, and then finally to Chesty, were also beloved by their men. Washington got his men through Valley Forge by making sure they had a cup of rum each day and making himself visible to the troops. Francis Marion’s men were unpaid and soldiered on their own accord. Forrest will always be remembered for his battle philosophy of being “first with the most.” Lee and Jackson were men of unshakeable faith and inspirational leadership.
Chesty is still frequently quoted in the Marine Corps, with men carrying on his quotes like “We’re surrounded? Good, now we can fire at those bastards from every direction.” On another occasion, when testing a flamethrower, Puller asked “Where the hell do you put the bayonet?” so that he could stab the enemy after burning them. Puller will always be remembered for his courage and actual presence among his men. Many leaders from Puller’s day were promoted on the basis of their letter-writing ability, and literally gave orders from station wagons, far from the front lines. Chesty, on the other hand, appealed to his men’s senses and spiked morale by his presence. He made sure his men had good chow, shelter, and preferred taking care of matters hands on.
After the Korean War, Chesty’s popularity soared. This presence, combined with his straightforward honesty, soon made him many enemies in Washington. In his early military days, Chesty was chasing bandits and collecting tributes from other countries. By the Vietnam era, Marines were being used to pay tributes to other countries. Chesty was not afraid to call it like he saw it and comment on the misuse of the military. He was a proud believer in esprit de corps, which is love for one’s military machine above all else. Puller did not believe in using the military to give money to countries, especially in the case of billions we will probably never be paid back. He firmly related this belief to his understanding of southern history in a never-before transcribed 1959 speech where he stated:
“I can remember when our great president, Andrew Jackson, sent a navy ship to Italy and gave its captain orders to fire a few shots over the city, send a detail ashore, and collect what they owe us. He fired a few shots over the town, he didn’t have to send the Marines ashore to go and get it. By God, they brought the money out.”
Puller also commented that the military was fighting to sustain war in Vietnam, not to win. He also openly criticized the devaluation of the American dollar, the move away from the gold standard, and inflation. All of these topics were discussed in his 1959 speech, where Chesty openly lamented the upward-spiraling cost of living, combined with the devaluation of the dollar–things which he argued were causing the production of counterfeit currency. He stated that the military was also increasing its expenditures on unnecessary things like private baths for each soldier. Even with all of his dissatisfaction, he always kept his home open to Marines and continued to volunteer for service into his 60s.
Devastation struck Chesty’s family after his only son, Lewis B. Puller Jr., lost both legs and parts of his hands in Vietnam. This occurred after years of Chesty’s critical comments of United States policy, and resulted in Chesty’s desire to offer his own ideas to make the country stronger. One solution Chesty suggested to improve the United States world-wide presence was to give less money to scientists, and put money towards putting young men in schools around the world. This would integrate young Americans into other cultures, help them truly learn languages, and give the United States an advantage in trade and communications.
When we examine Chesty through the lens of his southern heritage, his life and actions begin to make a lot more sense. His combat skills were second to none and reminiscent of men like Francis Marion, Stonewall, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. His devotion to liberty are reminiscent to men like Washington and Lee. Also like a true southerner, Chesty believed in limited government and low taxation. Puller may not have been the best public speaker or man of letters. But he was and will always be a true son of the south. His own history deserves just as much examination as his military leadership.
War exposes the best and worst humanity has to offer. Armed conflict has been a catalyst for some of the most egregious human behavior. It has also been the engine behind history’s most compelling examples of selflessness and valor.
The heroes that wars create are typically venerated by the societies they protect. We rightfully respect and admire those who were willing to risk everything for a cause or, more commonly, for their friends. Humans are tribal creatures. There is little we would not do for our tribes.
There is something visceral about the last stand. A small forlorn band bereft of support arrayed against insurmountable odds fighting to the last simply strikes a primal chord. Examples are well-documented. The Hot Gates at Thermopylae, Custer’s slaughter, and the Alamo stand out. These many tales of selfless bravery are profound and powerful. One lesser-known example is the siege of Bukit Kepong.
Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia with a current population of around 32 million people. That makes Malaysia the 43rd-most populous nation in the world at present. Today Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy consisting of thirteen states and three federal territories. Malaysia shares land and maritime borders with Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
The Malayan Emergency was a rare example of a sweeping fight by a recognized international superpower against a dedicated guerrilla insurgency that ended fairly well for the superpower. In Vietnam once and Afghanistan twice the insurgents ground the superpowers down over time until they eventually took their toys and went home. In Malaya, the pro-independence Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) communists were arrayed against the military forces of the British Empire and the Commonwealth. The MNLA fought to eject the British and establish a communist regime in Malaya. Commonwealth troops fought to resist communist expansion and preserve British economic and colonial interests. The MNLA called the conflict the Anti-British National Liberation War.
Interestingly, the British referred to this sordid fight as the Malayan Emergency. They used this terminology because had they declared it a war British insurers would have failed to pay damages. Then as now, acts of civil war were not typically covered under insurance policies.
Bukit Kepong is a small village on the Muar River some 59 km from the town of Johor. During the Emergency, MNLA guerrillas enjoyed a great deal of support among rural villagers who long felt themselves to be oppressed by the colonials. To combat the insurgency the government established a series of police stations in these small communities. The police station in Bukit Kepong was a wooden frame structure housing both the local constabulary and their families. On February 23, 1950, there were 25 police officers present.
A group of between 180 and 200 insurgent fighters under the leadership of one Muhammad Indera staged around the quiet station in the predawn darkness. Indera was also widely known as Ahmad as well as Mat Indera. The local police commander was SGT Jamil Mohd. Many of the officers’ wives and children were also present in and around the facility.
The communist attack was ferocious and sudden. Several police officers fell in the early exchanges, but SGT Mohd quickly got organized. Outnumbered 8 to 1 and taken by surprise, the policemen fought back valiantly.
After the initial exchanges the police force was heavily blooded. Muhammad Indera called for a brief ceasefire and demanded the police officers surrender. Mohd categorically refused. In fact, two of the newly-minted widows took up their dead husbands’ arms and continued the fight.
Time was not on the side of the attackers. With each passing hour, the possibility of an official government relief force grew more troublesome. Now desperate to crush the official resistance, Indera grew more ruthless.
The communist forces captured the wife of one of the defenders and threatened her at gunpoint to force a surrender. The surviving policemen responded that they would never surrender no matter the circumstances. Indera then captured Fatimah Yaaba, another policeman’s wife, along with her young daughter. When the defenders still remained resolute the communists executed both the woman and the child.
After an exchange of fire that had by now gone on for several hours only three policemen and a village guard remained alive. By this point, the insurgents had gotten close enough to set the wooden structure alight. The police station and adjoining barracks were soon fully involved. Two women and their children died in the blaze.
Unable to withstand the searing heat any longer, the four surviving policemen charged out of the burning structure, guns a’blazing. They assaulted through the communist positions, killing three insurgents in the process. Now five hours after the initial shots were fired Muhammad Indera and his band of terrorists melted back into the jungle.
It was tough to determine precisely which weapons were used in this fight. Period photographs showed an eclectic mixture of World War 2-era Allied weapons in use by both sides. An alternative, obviously less reliable, source was a 1982 movie produced about the incident titled, appropriately enough, Bukit Kepong.
Surviving photographs of the police officers showed them armed with American M1 carbines as well as Mk V Sten submachine guns and British Lee-Enfield rifles. The Lee-Enfields were both Mk I and Mk IV versions. The movie also included Bren Mk I light machineguns and M1A1 paratrooper carbines.
Per the movie, the policemen all carried Enfield No 2 Mk I revolvers. The communist leader Muhammad Indera is armed with an American M1911 pistol. The final assault involves the use of British-issue Mills bomb hand grenades as well. While the attention to detail in the film appears to be laudable, I have no way to know if the specifics of the weapons were truly spot on or not.
The combined combatant nations produced enough small arms ammunition during WW2 to shoot every man, woman, and child on the planet forty times. In the years following the end of the war, much of the world was covered in a thin patina of surplus small arms. These weapons found their way into countless brushfire war zones like that of the Malay Emergency. Particularly in places like Malaysia where the world’s superpowers were involved, literally countless WW2 surplus rifles, pistols, SMGs, handguns, and machineguns were pumped into the fight.
The noise of the firefight carried for kilometers across the dank jungle valleys, alerting nearby police outposts of the attack. A neighboring village chief named Ali Mustafa led thirteen lightly-armed auxiliary policemen from Kampung Tui to investigate. These auxiliaries were little more than poorly-trained villagers with sporting arms like single barrel shotguns. Mustafa’s modest force was ambushed about 500 meters from the flaming police station by communist guerillas.
Two of the auxiliaries were killed, and Mustafa ordered several of his troops to retreat while the remainder held the line against the communists now threatened from two directions. While they were prevented from relieving the besieged defenders of Bukit Kepong, their presence did help hasten the communists’ retreat.
A second relief force arrived via sampan from nearby Kampung Durian Chondong soon after the communist retreat. They moved to render aid to the survivors and secure the area. Their arrival at around 10 am–nearly six hours after the initial shots were fired–signaled the end of the exchange.
Only four policemen out of the original twenty-five survived the battle. All four were wounded. Nine family members ultimately survived the blaze. Some forty of the attacking communists died during the firefight.
In the aftermath of the guerrilla attack, the British authorities placed a bounty of M$75,000 on his head, a substantial amount for the day. On the evening of October 14, 1952, roughly two and one-half years after the attack, Indera was invited to a meeting of several acquaintances in Kampung Seri Medan. While there he was served tempeh, a traditional Javanese food made from fermented soybeans, and coffee laced with datura. Datura is a genus of poisonous plant in the nightshade family. The psychoactive substance in datura can cause respiratory depression, cardiac arrhythmias, delirium, hallucinations, and even death in sufficient doses. Once unconscious, Indera was given over to the British authorities.
Indera was charged with coordinating the Bukit Kepong assault and convicted. The following January he was hanged at the Taiping Prison. In August of 2011, a controversial Malaysian politician named Mohamad Sabu controversially claimed during a speech in Gelugor, Pelang, that Indera had been a hero for fighting with the communists to throw off British rule.
Sabu’s speech ignited a firestorm of controversy and was rightfully interpreted as an attack on the legacy of the heroic policemen who had died in the assault. The following month unknown assailants splashed Sabu’s home with kerosene and set it alight. In September of 2011, Mohamad Sabu was formally charged with aggravating the image of the police and their families pursuant to Section 500 of the Malaysian penal code. He was released on bail pending legal proceedings. If convicted he was eligible for up to two years imprisonment for his inflammatory statements. I was unable to ascertain the outcome of his trial. By contrast, over on this side of the pond you can be an ill-informed jerk and get your own talk show. Free speech is an amazing engine indeed. It’s a weird old world.
You’ll never really know until you get there. We imagine how we might perform when we’re finally facing that really bright light, but we can’t ever be sure. The fine line between selfless valor and rank cowardice is often a diaphanous, ethereal thing. CW4 Ron Bender, however, was the real deal — a true American hero.
The CH-47D Chinook helicopter was flying from Fort Hood, Texas, back to Fort Sill, Okla., with a load of soldiers on board. It was a routine mission, one I have flown myself many times. A tripped chip detector latch on the Number 2 (right-hand) engine transmission was the first indication something was amiss.
A Chinook sports five transmissions and three hydraulic systems. There is a transmission for each rotor system, another for each engine, and a combining transmission to mix everything together. The chip detector consists of a pair of magnetized electrodes across which flows the circulating transmission fluid. If enough ferrous material builds up on the electrodes, the latch trips to inform the flight engineer the transmission requires urgent inspection.
Helicopters being helicopters, the crew found a handy field and set down. The two crewmembers pulled the chip detector, cleaned it off and reinstalled it. They ran up the aircraft and all was well. In accordance with regulations, they could fly the aircraft legally, but they’d need to take a more detailed look once they got home. As they approached the nearby small town of Chico, Texas, at their cruising altitude, the engine transmission disintegrated.
Something Truly Horrible
The affected engine ingested the pulverized transmission and exploded. Turbine wheels spinning at astronomical speeds broke loose and scythed through the aft end of the aircraft, severing hydraulic and fuel lines along the way. The combination of atomized hydraulic fluid and several thousand pounds of jet fuel created a fearsome blaze. The whole rear end of the aircraft was now on fire.
The airflow in a Chinook is from the tail to the nose. This curious phenomenon is the result of Bernoulli’s Effect and the aerodynamic design of the machine. That means smoke and fumes originating anywhere in the aircraft end up in the cockpit. In short order, the accumulated passengers could no longer breathe. Being human, they unfastened and moved toward the front of the aircraft in search of breathable air and a part of the aircraft not on fire.
The First Sergeant for the Chinook unit was along for the ride. He was fit and an impressive specimen. Realizing nothing good could come from having a dozen or so terrified people crammed up into the cockpit while the pilots struggled to maintain control of the burning aircraft, he posted himself in the small passageway leading to the pilots’ station. The 1SG locked his arms on the sides of the passage and was promptly pushed over onto his back. He ended up on the floor with his head on the center console. From this vantage, he had a clear view of both pilots.
The aircraft was in an emergency descent and on fire, yet he reported that the pilots were calm and professional throughout, maneuvering the aircraft to avoid nearby populated areas. The cockpit filled with thick, acrid smoke as the aircraft neared the ground. At that point, everybody on board was a passenger. The massive aircraft slammed into the ground at an estimated 130 knots. That’s roughly 150 miles per hour.
The aircraft bounced up and sideways and then rolled. The cockpit broke free at the forward transmission, spewing gyrating helicopter components liberally across the countryside. The 1SG was unceremoniously ejected at some point, remaining inexplicably intact as he flew through the disintegrating aircraft parts. In one of those quirky little miracles, the man landed on his hands and knees and bounced his head against the ground hard enough to crack the visor cover on his helmet. He was otherwise unhurt.
The Pilot-in-Command, CW4 Bender, was also ejected from the aircraft. The First Sergeant and a few locals reached the dying man still strapped in his seat. His last words were, “Did I miss the little town?” If ever you wondered what a true hero looked like, that was it.
Eighteen souls were onboard tail number 86-01643 that fateful afternoon outside of Chico, Texas. Ten of them perished. The post-crash accident investigation fully exonerated the flight crew. In the face of literally unimaginable horror, they all performed magnificently.
Many folks expire peacefully in some facility someplace. Others meet eternity in a more chaotic fashion. On February 25, 1988, CW4 Ron Bender and his crew gave their lives to save a small Texas town. I am simply in awe of such men as these.
A 1901 execution at the old Bilibid Prison, Manila, Philippines
I have to put the disclaimer and warning at the beginning of this article. The reason is very simple. Even a Martial Artist operating on an Expert Level of control of hands, elbows, knees and feet can underestimate the destructive power of weapons if they are not intimately used to them.
Weapons multiply force, that is why they are so dangerous to the human body. Even if you are used to choking techniques, a simple leather belt used to hold up your pants, if placed around the neck, can cause severe damage if used with the same force as a choke not using a mechanical device like a belt.
And yes, when you use a belt or a rope, it is a mechanical device used to multiply the force of a choke. It has no moving parts, it is still a mechanical device when attached to your hands.
What I would strongly suggest you do if you wish to train how to defeat these rear attacks is to construct a padded post to practice on.
If you use a live training partner, once the loop goes over the neck, STOP! Any attempt to throw or take down could cause severe injury, the vital structures of the neck are easily damaged, any number of incredibly serious injuries could occur, up to and including paralysis and/or death.
And, keep in mind, with a cutting garrotte, there is absolutely, positively NO WAY WHATSOEVER to practice safely with it so do not even attempt to do so.
I cannot be held responsible for your own negligent attitude, I’m writing this, I’m not doing it with you, you understand… You are strongly advised to seek Professional, safe Instruction in whatever methods you wish to study.
You are on your own, I do not advocate or condone you practicing these things. They are, in a very real way, put up here for historical purposes and for very advanced Martial Arts practitioners, including Marines and Soldiers who might find the history and information useful.
Do NOT practice these things unless you are using an inanimate “Dummy” or a padded post.
Is The Garrotte a Legitimate Self-Defense Tool?
Some people have a heavy opinion on this issue. They have opinions as to the legitimacy of the garrotte as a tool of self-preservation. Others have strong opinions as to the definition of “garrotte.”
[I’m not going to debate the spelling, I’m using Col. Rex Applegate’s spelling of the word and whenever you see me use something different, it’s a typo.]
Some people say, “Well, the garrotte is a…” and then they define it to the exclusion of anything else. The simple fact of the matter is, a “Garrotte” was an execution device that was utilized in Spain up until the mid-1970s. A few other countries used it now and again. And there were many different types of garrottes used as execution devices.
When someone says, “The garrotte is only a killing weapon…” Technically, they are correct, but they are not usually speaking of the execution device that was once used for Capital Punishment, therefore, they are incorrect in reality.
The number one deciding factor is intent. How you use it. You can use some “garrottes” as a Flexible Weapon with no intent whatsoever to kill.
The garrotte had a couple of different forms. One had a metallic collar that was placed around your neck and the collar had a threaded hole that a bolt was inserted through. On the other end of the bolt was a large “T” handle for the executioner.
The condemned was seated in a chair, the collar placed over a wooden post and the head of the prisoner, then, the executioner began to tighten the contraption until your neck was crushed or your vertebrae were dislocated, broken or crushed.
Later versions had a blade that ran through the bolt for what was thought to be a “mercy killing.” The blade was slipped between the vertebrae, severing the spinal cord.
In a pinch, the improvised garrotte could be a seat, wooden post, strong cord and a metal bar. The noose being affixed around the post and neck of the condemned, the bar could be inserted and the cord twisted until death occurred. Much like using a tourniquet and stick.
These are “garrottes.” The important thing to remember is, if someone says, “No, that’s not a garrotte, this is a garrotte…” And they are speaking in absolutes or anything other than an execution device, they’re incorrect. More on that later.
So, if we exclude the execution devices, what is left? If we do exclude the execution devices, any flexible or semi-flexible weapon that cuts the air off by compressing and/or crushing the trachea, severs (up to and including complete decapitation) the trachea and other vital structures (carotid arteries, jugular veins, vagus nerve, etc.) or breaks the neck, we have a list of items that have been used as a “garrotte.”
One Point of View: The Debate
I was once involved in a debate with a person who insisted that a “True Garrotte” would be a “cutter.” Meaning, a piano wire or guitar string garrotte. The wire being so fine that it would cut into the structures rather than compress/crush them.
If we trace the lineage of these hand held devices back to the origin of the word, as I did above, we see the “Original Garrotte” did nothing of the sort. The “Original” killed by compression and/or crushing and sometimes neck fracture.
Yet, I consider the “cutters” a form of garrotte because there is modern history to back that up. However, the “cutter” type of garrotte is not a “true” garrotte. It’s just another type of garrotte.
Back before delicatessens had slicer machines, the cheese was usually cut by a wire. Yes, a “Cheese Cutter” was basically a wire with two handles. As far as I can tell, this is where the “Modern Cutter Garrotte” came from. The source is Melton’s “Clandestine Warfare.”
The British SOE and American OSS used these devices, to what degree I do not know. Some wire garrottes with machined and knurled brass handles (for enhanced grip) were manufactured and issued. They are in the OSS Weapons Catalog, as well as other references…
Gigli bone saws were also used as “Survival Saws” as well as “Cutter” Garrottes during World War Two.
“The Garrotte. Thugs in India have long been known for their method of strangling, called garrotting. It can be executed with a rope, strong cord or a piece of twisted cloth about three feet long with a noose in one end. This is a garrotte. Properly applied, it produces a deadly, silent strangle.
Slip the noose over the forefinger of the right hand so that the loop lies down across the palm toward the little finger. Close the right hand and pick up the free end of the cord with the left hand, so that the thumb and fingers are on the inner side of the cord and the end is even with the little finger.
Approach the victim from the rear and, opening the right hand, throw the loop over his head with the left. Use the left hand to draw the noose through the right hand until it is nearly taut about the neck.
Then close the right hand about the noose at the back of the victim’s neck and twist as you would in applying a tourniquet. With your hand against the back of his neck and your right arm stiff, the victim is held at arm’s length and is unable to free himself from the strangling cord or to reach his attacker.
A hard pull to the rear at this point will make the victim fall backward and cause his chin to fold down over the cord, thus adding his own body weight to the pressure of the strangle.” ~Col. Rex Applegate, Kill or Get Killed
In the illustration above you can see the finishing position of what Applegate describes. The right hand is INSIDE the loop, when the loop is pulled tight around the neck and your hand, a fist is made with the open hand then the fist is cranked counterclockwise.
Much like a stick in a tourniquet. The palm is open and oriented UP, then closed into a fist and oriented DOWN.
What Colonel Applegate was describing was the method and weapon of the ancient Thugee Cult of India. This is where we get our slang word of “thug.” The word “Thug” comes from the Hindi verb, “thaglana,” which means, “to deceive.”
I do not know if the garrotte described above contained a rupee or not. There is another line of thought that there was more than one way to strangle with a scarf [rumal]. And that was, a rupee or rupees [coins] were tied into the end of the scarf to give it weight so it could be thrown around the neck and then the strangle was initiated.
In fact, more than a line of thought, there is proof of this from the period of British Occupation of India when the British suppressed the Thugee Cult and executed and imprisoned thousands of Thugs.
Throwing the Japanese Fighting Chain, which is weighted, in such a way that the chain is propelled around the neck is also throughout Japanese Martial Arts that focus on the Manrikigusari/Kusarifundo.
In “Kill or Get Killed,” Applegate then mentions the “Stick Strangle.” This is a triangular method where the stick is held in reverse grip and inserted under the chin from behind (or from the front)…John Steyers covered this Stick Strangle in his book, “Cold Steel.”
Then, he addresses other methods of strangulation:
“The Cord Strangle. Another type of strangulation, as old as history in the Far East, is accomplished with any light cord or wire of good tensile strength, about 18 inches long. The thinner the cord or wire, the quicker will be the effectiveness.
Tie a loop at each end of the cord, or tie small wooden blocks on the ends, so that a secure grip can be taken. Approaching the man from the rear, throw him off balance, as with the stick [strangle], with your right foot against the inside of his right knee.
With a hand on each end of the cord (the cord held taut), bring the cord over the victim’s head and back against the throat. Cross the hands at the rear of the neck and apply pressure both ways. Strangulation is quick and silent…” ~Applegate
You will notice that Col. Applegate describes the cord/wire as being taut when going over the head. During the approach, the arms would not be crossed. After the garrotte is thrown over the head, the arms would then cross at the wrists/forearms.
Imagine holding your hands out in front of you as if you are preparing to clap your hands together. Then, with your right palm, touch your left elbow and simultaneously, with the left palm, touch your right elbow.
The forearms are parallel to one another. That is the motion you make. This also takes a shorter cord/wire to use effectively. The wrists/forearms are crossed after the loop has been thrown over the head, not before.
This is actually a weaker garrotting method than having the arms crossed on the approach as is currently taught in the U.S. Army’s Combatives Manual, 21-150 where the arms are crossed at the wrists/forearms on the approach.
Then when the loop is thrown over the head of the enemy, the arms are jerked apart. This is much stronger.
There is another, older way of achieving the same position without approaching with the arms already crossed. It was depicted in the U.S. Navy’s World War Two Hand to Hand Combat Manual for Naval Aviators, the famous “V-5” manual. This is shown below.
Notice that as the years passed, not much changed. This is the U.S. Army’s Field Manual 21-150 marked December 1971. Showing the same, basic method.
In this method, your left hand makes a cross-body movement and is positioned at the back of the enemy’s right shoulder.
The right hand holding the other end of the garrotte is then looped over the head of the enemy in a semi-circular, counterclockwise motion and then the arms are pulled apart.
Take downs, Using the Enemy’s Weight
There are four basic ways to take someone to the ground immediately following any of these maneuvers.
#1 Pulling straight downward and back.
#2 Kicking the back of the knee and pulling back and down.
#3 Knee strike to the lower back and a pull backwards and down.
#4 A quick turn of the body where you are back to back with the enemy and the enemy is hoisted off of his feet to complete the crush. This is the movement that can possibly result in decapitation if a “cutter” garrotte is used.
So, is the garrotte a legitimate tool of Self-defense? That was the original question. The answer to the question is, it all depends on what type of garrotte you are going to use really.
I cannot imagine going through the trouble of carrying something with such a single purpose as a “cutting” garrotte. That is a specific type of weapon and the only outcome from the proper use of one is death of the opponent, and that is going to be carried out from behind almost exclusively, as in Sentry Removal.
Any belt, length of rope, cord, a telephone cord, whatever is at hand, can be a garrotte. You can carry a very strong bandana or scarf with that being carried with the intent to be used as a flexible weapon. A jacket or light coat can be used as a garrotte, like the belt, it is a common, every day item. The every day items that are all around us points to flexible weapons being really viable and valuable Self-defense tools.
Anything other than a “cutting” garrotte can be used with lethal or non-lethal intent. So, if you make an improvised garrotte from 550 ParaCord, what you do with it will be the deciding factor.
Now, we can break this down and go to Part Two, “The Flexible Weapon.” Before we do, here is a series of pictures showing just a few methods. Some are not “Classical Garrotte” Techniques. They are still very important. It also shows what can be done totally unrelated to a rear attack, or, a response if the enemy turned to face you. What if someone were trying to Garrotte you from behind? This shows you how the weapon might be used against you if you thwarted the rear attack and you turned to face the attacker.
Always remember, the only way to defend against a weapon and develop real, demonstrable skill, is to know how the weapon is used. It is for that reason I wrote this article.
Rope cannot be banned, and criminals can always find weapons anyway, but could you defend yourself against these methods? That is the question…
In that last series of illustrations, you can substitute a jacket or a belt and you can still see the viability of the techniques. You do not have to tote around a “Garrotte,” and always remember, the criminals don’t have to either.
Stay safe. Train safe.
[Drawings are altered from U.S. Army Combatives Manual, Public Domain]
Operation Overlord. In the overall pantheon of cool military names, Overlord flirts with perfection. The term projects the sort of gravitas demanded of the event.
June 6, 1944, was a Tuesday. From the comfortable vantage of my favorite writing chair, it is tough to comprehend the truly timeless significance of D-Day. Comprising the largest amphibious invasion in human history, on that fateful morning, some 156,000 Allied ground troops supported by another 195,700 sailors seized a foothold on mainland Europe. Never before had there been such a single seminal moment that so starkly reflected the struggle between the forces of good and evil.
Europe was engulfed in darkness. For four long years, mainland Europe had endured under the heel of the Nazi jackboot. In 1940 Hitler’s thugs had waltzed across France and the Low Countries like they owned the place. As D-Day approached Dwight David Eisenhower’s boys now stood poised to give the Germans a healthy dose of perspective.
It cost the Allies more than 10,000 casualties to acquire title to that precious beachfront property in Normandy, all in that single day. Of those thousands of casualties, some 4,414 were confirmed dead. We lost 185 Sherman tanks. Casualties on the German side ran somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000. So many of them were buried underneath untold tons of rubble that the final tally was known only to God.
Around 15,000 Frenchmen died in the pre-invasion bombardment. Roughly the same number perished in the crossfire during the invasion. In aggregate that’s more folks than live in my thriving little Southern town. The French equivalent of every man, woman, and child in Oxford, Mississippi, died to evict the Germans from Western France. Through the lens of history, it is easy to overlook such extraordinary stuff as that.
Those numbers are the purview of the Generals, politicians, and historians. The few men I have known well who were there gave a very different perspective. Their world was much, much smaller. One gentleman, a member of the 5th Ranger Battalion who landed in the first wave, described events as utter chaos. They cared little for strategy. Life is distilled down to resisting death whenever possible and killing the enemy. It was here on that blood-soaked beach that General Norman Cota coined the epic phrase, “Rangers, lead the way!”
In times of such unimaginable madness, a man’s true nature bubbles forth. Many self-described brave men turn out cowards, while some of the more quiet sort show unimaginable resolve. Such combat is the ultimate crucible. It burns away the dross and leaves a man’s core character exposed for all to see.
Of the 83,115 British troops who landed as part of Operation Overlord only one man earned the Victoria Cross. Abbreviated VC, the Victoria Cross is England’s highest award for valor in the face of the enemy. It is the British equivalent of our own Medal of Honor, and it is not easily acquired.
Stanley Hollis was born in Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, in 1912, six years before the end of the First War to End All Wars. As a child, he worked in his parents’ shop selling fish and chips. At age 17 he apprenticed as a ship’s navigator, making regular voyages to the western coast of Africa. He contracted blackwater fever, a particularly vile malarial variant, and was forced to quit the merchant marine.
Hollis came home, married, and started a family. In 1930 he enlisted in the Territorial Army, the British counterpart to our Army National Guard. With the outbreak of WW2, he deployed to Europe with the British Expeditionary Force. He narrowly escaped during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk. Dynamo may be the second coolest military operation name ever contrived.
Hollis fought at El Alamein with Montgomery’s Eighth Army and was subsequently wounded during the invasion of Sicily in 1943. This was but one of multiple combat wounds Hollis received during the war. He was shot or hit with shrapnel so many times his men came to think him unkillable.
On June 6, 1944, Hollis had recovered sufficiently to join the 6th Green Howards as they stormed Gold Beach. Serving as a Company Sergeant Major Hollis moved forward with his troops. In their rush to get off the beach, the British inadvertently overlooked a pair of German fortifications.
Realizing that these active emplacements now threatened the flank of the British invasion force, CSM Hollis charged the first, his Sten gun blazing. Once he reached the pillbox under heavy fire he shoved the muzzle of his Sten through the embrasure and emptied his magazine. Leaping atop the fortification he swapped magazines, threw a Mills bomb through the back door, and emptied his second magazine behind it. In the process, he killed two of the German defenders and captured the rest.
Hollis immediately indexed to a nearby slit trench and supporting fighting position, singlehandedly taking another 26 prisoners. Later that day Hollis led an assault on a heavily fortified position that included a field piece and several MG42 machineguns. Seizing a PIAT gun, Hollis fired upon the German cannon from a range of 50 meters. This attack was ultimately repulsed, but two of his men were pinned down in the aftermath.
Hollis then rushed back into the enemy fire, this time with a Bren gun. He distracted the German defenders long enough for his men to escape. In the process, he threw a Mills bomb but forgot to prime it. The German defenders, however, did not appreciate this. As they scattered in the face of the inert grenade Hollis charged their position and cut them down with his Bren.
The Sten gun was a desperation weapon developed by Reginald Shepherd and Harold Turpin while working at the Enfield Small Arms Factory. The name Sten is a portmanteau combining elements of all three names. Designed in 1940 specifically to be inexpensive and easy to produce, the Sten was intended to help stave off the expected seaborne invasion by the Germans. More than 4 million copies were produced, making the Sten the second most-produced SMG of the war after the Soviet PPSh.
The Sten was manufactured in five different marks during the war. The Mk IIS and the Mk VS were the world’s first operational sound suppressed SMGs. The Sten fed on a ghastly side-mounted double-column, single-feed magazine and cycled at a sedate 500 rounds per minute. At a time when an American M1928A1 Thompson cost $200, the Sten ran about $11. That’s roughly $200 today.
The PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) was technically a spigot mortar. Designed to replace the obsolete Boys antitank rifle, the PIAT was a 32-pound beast of a thing. While the published maximum effective range was 115 yards, in reality, the weapon was only reliable out to about half that. However, it did launch a shaped charge warhead that, when it detonated properly, was quite effective at penetrating German armored vehicles.
The PIAT benefitted from not having any backblast upon firing, but the recoil was said to be murderous. The gun itself contained a massive spring that kicked the 2.5-pound round out. The recoil force from firing would theoretically re-cock the heavy action. 115,000 copies were built.
The Mills bomb was the standard British hand grenade from 1915 into the 1980s. More than 75 million were produced. The Mills bomb was named after William Mills and produced at the Mills Munitions Factory in Birmingham. This patented design was based upon a previous Belgian grenade contrived by a Captain Leon Roland. There actually resulted in a most acrimonious row over patent rights.
The Mills bomb evolved over time. It was eventually configured such that it could be fired from a rifle equipped with a grenade discharger cup. The serrations in the grenade body were included to make the bomb easier to grip, not to enhance fragmentation.
The Mills bomb was a defensive grenade. This means that it produced a large volume of lethal fragments. By contrast, the German stick grenade was an offensive grenade that produced a great deal of blast but not so many fragments. A competent British Tommy was expected to throw a Mills bomb between 15 and 27 meters. The effective range of the grenade’s fragments was on the order of 90 meters.
The Bren gun was developed from the Czech ZB vz.26 light machinegun in the mid-1930s. Chambered for the British standard .303 cartridge and cycling at around 500 rpm, the Bren was one of the most reliable and effective light machineguns of the war. After WW2 the British rechambered the Bren for 7.62x51mm and redesignated it the L4A4. In this configuration modernized Bren guns served all the way through the First Gulf War.
The Rest of the Story
Three months after the D-Day invasion CSM Hollis was wounded once more, this time in the leg. He was subsequently evacuated back to England. He received his Victoria Cross a month later from the hand of King George VI himself. After the war ended, like so many of those great old heroes, Stanley Hollis simply wanted to have a life.
Hollis worked as a sandblaster at a local iron works before opening a motor repair business. He spent five years as a ship’s engineer from 1950 until 1955. Apparently earning your nation’s ultimate award for gallantry in combat trumps a little malaria.
The man needed some stability. Stanley Hollis took over the operation of the “Albion” public house in Market Square, North Ormesby. Under his management, the name of the pub was changed to “The Green Howard” after his wartime combat unit.
Stanley Hollis never fully recovered from his wartime injuries. His children later reported that he carried ample German shrapnel as well as a couple of bullets around in his body for the rest of his life. If he stood too long at the pub his leg and foot wounds would purportedly begin to bleed spontaneously. On February 8, 1972, CSM Stanley Hollis, VC, died. He was fifty-nine years old.
A commemorative plaque followed, as did a bronze statue of Hollis with his Sten gun. A Middlesbrough school was renamed Hollis Academy in his honor in 2016. Stanley Hollis’ Victoria Cross is on display in the Green Howards Museum in Richmond, North Yorkshire, today. We just don’t seem to make guys like that anymore.
Human beings are waterproof, and personal comfort is a state of mind. I actually used to believe tripe like that. Among the big three survival requirements of food, water and shelter, I always kind of felt that shelter was more a desirable luxury than an absolute necessity. That was then. Nowadays, were I to sleep on the ground I wouldn’t be able to walk upright for a week afterwards.
The winter is the primary training time in the arctic reaches of Alaska. Our mission was cold weather combat operations, so that was naturally the best time to train. That unfortunate mantra acquainted me with some of the most ghastly weather.
I’m a skinny guy from Mississippi. A really cold day down where I live was maybe 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, Uncle Sam sent me to Alaska just to give me a little perspective.
Our first winter in Fairbanks it snowed 144 inches. New math tells us that is 12 feet. The coldest it got while I was stationed there was 62 degrees below zero, and we were in the field. If I never see another snowflake, it will be too soon.
Our field training exercises typically lasted three or four weeks. We would load up all of our killer gear and deploy to some remote wasteland to stage our tactical missions day or night. Not that this mattered a whole lot. It’s always dark up there in the wintertime, anyway. I’ve flown night vision goggles above the arctic circle at noon.
It’s tough to get worked up about much more than basic survival at fifty below zero. Aircraft and vehicles become instantly cold-soaked once you shut them down. In a survival situation you have to dig a big hole in the snow for a shelter because crawling into the snow is actually markedly WARMER than being outside.
Each arctic tent nominally housed ten guys and included a Yukon stove that would run on most anything flammable. We most typically used jet fuel. Once you got that stove cooking it made the most mesmerizing sound. We called it “Yuking.” As each drop of fuel hit the burner plate, atomized, and burned it made a pleasant little pop. Just thinking about that sound right now brings a smile.
Even wide open that stove still had a hopeless task. The tents were canvas, after all, and the outside air temperature was fifty below. As a result I would go an entire month without being warm. Under such sordid circumstances I’m living proof that you can indeed survive, but you’ll never be comfortable.
Once we finally got back to garrison we still had to clean and stow absolutely everything. You never knew when you might be called upon to go to war. Before anybody went home it was staged and ready to rock again. I’d come dragging into the house after a month in the field in the arctic as filthy as a feral pig and utterly exhausted. When finally the magical time arrived my precious bride was ready.
If you’ve read this column for long you should have a decent idea as to my personality and comportment. I describe myself as a high-effort, high-payoff sort of guy. However, living with me has got to be a chore most onerous. My wife does so with grace and poise.
We had a routine. I’d dump my filthy killer gear inside the door and strip down to my skivvies for hugs from my wife and kids. As that was the first time I had come out of those clothes in a month I cannot imagine how they could stand it. I then retreated to the shower.
We lived on post at Fort Wainwright. All the inhabited buildings were heated by a central heating facility that pumped hot ethylene glycol through underground pipes to keep the dwellings and facilities habitable. Our house had the neatest heat exchanger in the basement that provided hot water from this central boiler. We literally never ran short of hot water. You could run the hot tap for a week, and it would never cool off. That first shower back in the World typically lasted about an hour and a half. By the time I wrapped up, I was too weak to stand.
I would then dry off as best I was able and wriggle into a bathrobe before slithering downstairs to the dining room. There, my precious bride had a massive pot of her signature steaming hot chili and some ice-cold Coke waiting. I would eat that stuff until I literally thought I might explode. Now swollen up like a toad, I would crawl into bed and sleep the sleep of the dead.
I have no idea what heaven will be like. While details are scant, I have it on reliable information that the company will be great and everything else will be comparably awesome. However, I fear I might be just a wee bit disappointed if off in a corner someplace there’s not an immortal shower and some of my wife’s signature holy chili. That mystical combination sure seemed heavenly to me.