Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities

Khalid Elhassan - January 14, 2018

History is full of the strange, the odd, the weird, and the wonderful. However, the overwhelming majority of such fascinating instances end up falling into obscurity, and wind up largely forgotten. That is understandable, since history is a vast subject, and there is so little time to cover all, or even most of it. As a result, many things get swept aside in favor of bigger stories, like major conflicts such as World War II, or the giants of history such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon, or major transformative events such as the discovery of the New World.

However, that leaves plenty of interesting stuff by the wayside. Take the time the British Army passed out as standard issue to its Redcoats a sword that couldn’t stab or cut. Or the time the ruler of the prosperous and populous Khwarezmian Empire foolishly and needlessly insulted Genghis Khan, then dared and double dared him to do something about it. Or the time the leaders of the Japanese government, faced with the prospect of an overwhelming invasion, thought it was a rational and practical idea to resist the expected onslaught by training little schoolgirls to fight off heavily armed US Marines with pointy sticks. Or the time a celebrated American hero was embarrassed after turning out to be catastrophically wrong, and tried to heal his pride by starting World War III.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Japanese schoolgirls training during WWII to fight off an expected Allied invasion with sticks. Quora

Following is a selection of ten overlooked odd, weird, wonderful or strange moments from history.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Heck cattle, or ‘Nazi super cows’. The Independent (text added by author)

Nazi Super Cows

Adolph Hitler was neither blond nor blue eyed, but that did not stop him from obsessing about producing a race of blond and blue eyed “pure” Aryans. Nazi Germany’s entire social structure and legal framework was geared towards that end, encouraging its people to raise huge Aryan families. They even had a human selective breeding program – the Lebensborn – for SS members and unmarried women with the officially approved racial characteristics, to produce what the Nazis termed “super men”. That obsession with purity did not stop at racially engineered humans – it also extended to specially breeding Nazi engineered cows. Unsurprisingly, the resulting Nazi super cows turned out to be murderously aggressive.

In 2015, Derek Gow, an English farmer from West Devon, had a serious problem with his cows – a rare breed of cattle with massive horns, called “Heck super cows”. Gow had imported them in 2009, but out of a herd of thirteen super cows, he was forced to kill seven, because they were super belligerent and kept trying to murder him and his farm workers. As Gow described it: “We have had to cut our herd down to six because some of them were incredibly aggressive and we just couldn’t handle them … The ones we had to get rid of would just attack you any chance they could. They would try to kill anyone. Dealing with that was not fun at all. They are by far and away the most aggressive animals I have ever worked with“.

As it turns out, the Heck breed was initially produced by German zoologists commissioned by the Nazi party to do so. The Nazis, nostalgic for the days when “pure” Germans wandered Europe’s dark forest, wanted a breed of cattle based on the aurochs – a big wild European bull that had been hunted into extinction by the 17th century. So they used selective breeding to extract wild genes from cattle descended from the aurochs.

The result were the Heck super cows, which had a muscular physique, dangerous horns, and a fierce and aggressive disposition. They had a powerful and menacing look about them, that the Nazis just loved, so they used them in propaganda posters as symbols of the Third Reich’s purity and strength. Most were killed during WWII, but a few survived, carrying their Naziesque aggression and murderousness into the present.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Heraclitus of Ephesus. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Philosopher Immobilized by Bullshit, and Eaten Alive by Dogs

The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) is credited with advancing the concept that the essence of the universe is constant change. To that end, he coined the phrase “no man ever steps into the same river twice“. It was intended to illustrate the notion that everything, like the ever moving droplets of water drifting downstream on a river, is in constant motion and flux, even if the motion is not readily perceptible. He also advanced a theory known as the “unity of opposites”, which held that the universe is a system of balanced exchanges, in which all things are paired in a relationship with those things exhibiting contrary properties.

Heraclitus was a highly introspective man, who did not come by his philosophy through learning at the hands of another philosopher, but was self taught. He was critical of other philosophers, had a dim view of humanity, and hated mobs and democracy. Instead, he preferred a system of rule by a few wise men – such as himself. That concept was later developed by Plato into the notion that the ideal ruler would be a philosopher-king. Deeming wealth a form of punishment, Heraclitus wished upon his fellow Ephesians, whom he hated, that they would be cursed with wealth as punishment for their sins.

In other words, Heraclitus was a pretty unpleasant man, and an out and out misanthrope. His misanthropy led him to avoid contact with other people for long stretches, during which he wandered alone through mountains and wilderness. During those wanderings, he survived on plants and whatever he could scavenge. As Diogenes summed him up: “finally, [Heraclitus] became a hater of his kind, and roamed the mountains, surviving on grass and herbs“.

Heraclitus became afflicted with dropsy, or edema – a painful accumulation of fluids beneath the skin and in the body’s cavities. Physicians could offer neither a cure nor relief, so Heraclitus, the self taught philosopher, applied his self teaching skills to medicine and tried to heal himself. He came up with an innovative cure by covering himself in cow dung, theorizing that the warmth of the manure would dry and draw out of him the “noxious damp humor”, or the fluids accumulated beneath his skin. Heraclitus went and covered himself in cow manure – literal bullshit. He then lay out in the sun to dry. However, as the cow dung dried, it solidified into a body cast. A pack of dogs came by, and started sniffing him. Immobilized in bullshit, Heraclitus was unable to shoo them off, and the dogs ended up eating him alive.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Project 100,000, nicknamed ‘The Moron Corps’ by other soldiers, targeted people like Forrest Gump. Vdare

“The Moron Corps” – When the Pentagon Sent Hundreds of Thousands of Unfit Soldiers to Vietnam

In 1966, the US was getting sucked ever deeper into a bottomless quagmire in Vietnam. When President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed office following JFK’s assassination in 1963, the US had 16,000 troops in Vietnam. The following year, the figure grew slightly to 23,000. In 1965, however, in response to requests from American commanders in Vietnam for ever more US troops, the figure mushroomed to 185,000. It would more than double again in 1966, to 385,000.

That insatiable and growing demand for ever more American troops put the LBJ administration in a bind: where to get them, without risking a public backlash? The way the draft system was set up back then, college students got deferments. Ending student deferments would furnish enough bodies, but college students were predominately the kids of the middle and upper classes. That is, the people whose opinion counted the most with Congress and the media. Without their support, or at least acquiescence, American involvement in Vietnam could not continue.

Such support or acquiescence would not last long if their kids’ student deferments were cancelled, and they were drafted and sent to fight and die in a far off country most Americans could not place on a map. Mobilizing reservists could also furnish enough bodies, but it posed a similar dilemma: the reserves and National Guard were overwhelmingly filled with the children of the well off and connected, and sending them to Vietnam would produce a fierce backlash.

So Defense Secretary Robert McNamara came up with a shameful brainchild: Project 100,000. It was touted as a Great Society program that would take impoverished and disadvantaged youth, and break the cycle of poverty by teaching them valuable skills in the military. In reality, Project 100,000 simply amounted to lowering or abandoning minimal military recruitment standards to sign up those who had previously been rejected by the draft as mentally or physically unfit. Recruiters swept through Southern backwaters and urban ghettoes, signing up almost anybody with a pulse, including at least one recruit with an IQ of 62. In all, 354,000 were recruited.

Needless to say, they were given no special training or skills. Once they signed on the dotted line, “the Moron Corps”, as they were derisively called by other soldiers, were rushed through training, then bundled off to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers. Once in Vietnam, they were sent into combat in disproportionate numbers. In combat, the mental and physical limitations that had caused them to be rejected by the draft ensured that they were wounded and killed in disproportionate numbers. The toll fell particularly heavily on black youths: 41 percent of Project 100,000’s recruits were black, compared to 12 percent in the US military as a whole.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Douglas MacArthur and President Harry S. Truman. Time Magazine

Douglas MacArthur Wanted to Salve His Bruised Ego by Starting World War III

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the North Koreans swiftly routed the South Korean army and American forces in their path, en route to overrunning most of South Korea. Within a few months, all that was left in South Korean and American hands was a small sliver of territory around the port city of Pusan. US general Douglas MacArthur reversed the tide of the war by outflanking the North Koreans with an amphibious landing in September of 1950 at Inchon, near the South Korean capital city of Seoul.

That placed American forces north of the North Korean army trying to take Pusan, and severed their main supply line. That sudden turning of the tables led to the collapse of the North Korean invasion, and a panicked retreat of the invaders that swiftly turned into a rout. MacArthur vigorously pursued the routed enemy northward up the Korean Peninsula. As MacArthur’s forces drew closer the Chinese border, concerns grew about the Chinese reaction if American forces reached China’s borders. Despite mounting evidence that China would directly intervene in the war if his forces approached the Sino-Korean border, MacArthur blithely dismissed all warnings, and insisted that the Chinese would do nothing.

MacArthur turned out to be very, very, wrong. Soon after his forces reached the Yalu river marking the border with China, the Chinese began pouring across in the hundreds of thousands. The did so undetected, and in November of 1950, they struck, surprising MacArthur and catching him completely off guard. Within weeks, MacArthur’s gains had been lost, and his forces had been forced out of North Korea and back into South Korea.

MacArthur’s judgment and estimate of Chinese reaction having been proven catastrophically wrong. His forces had been chased back down the Korean Peninsula by the Chinese even faster than they had raced up the Peninsula in pursuit of the North Koreans. Humiliated, MacArthur reacted with histrionics, and insisted that atomic bombs be dropped on China. His plan was to drop up to 50 atomic bombs in Manchuria on Chinese cities, military concentrations, and communication centers. The result, as he envisioned it, would be to seal off the Korean Peninsula from China by creating a radioactive belt across Manchuria, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea.

President Truman, whom MacArthur had confidently assured only weeks earlier that China would do nothing if his forces marched up to the Chinese border, balked. He declined to put his faith in yet more confident assurances from MacArthur, who now asserted that the Soviets would do nothing if the US dropped dozens of atomic bombs on their Chinese ally. So MacArthur turned prima donna, and publicly contradicted Truman’s position. He was ordered to clear any further statements on the subject with the State Department first. When MacArthur violated those orders, and again challenged Truman publicly on the use of atomic weapons in the Korean war, Truman finally had enough and fired him.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
The prophet Elijah slaying the priests of Ba’al. Wikimedia

The God Ba’al Got an Undeservedly Bad Rap

After God, the most mentioned deity in the Bible is the ancient god Ba’al (“Lord”), who appears many times in the Old Testament’s Book of Judges and the Book of Kings. In the first millennium BC, Ba’al was a popular god in the southern Mediterranean and the Levant, and had a widespread following among the region’s Semitic and non Semitic peoples.

Understandably, that popularity was seen as a threat by early monotheistic Jews, who viewed Ba’al as competition. He is mentioned about 90 times in the Bible, just about all of them negative. E.g.; the story of Jezebel, who incited her husband, king Ahab, to abandon the worship of Yahweh for that of Ba’al. For her blasphemy and encouraging the worship of false gods, Jezebel ends up eaten by dogs. Or the story of the prophet Elijah, who enters a contest with the priests of Ba’al to demonstrate whose deity is more powerful. Yahweh wins, and the losing priests of Ba’al are killed on Elijah’s orders. Ba’al also gets a bad rap in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, which also contains the Elijah story.

Ba’al’s name ends up getting distorted into Beelzebub, one of the Devil’s names which has particularly nefarious and black magic associations in occult circles. However, there was nothing particularly ominous about Ba’al. He was not even a chief god, but just one of many from the pantheon of pagan deities. His specialty was rain and storms, and while storms might be unwelcome at times, rain was quite welcome in the arid Middle East, where its arrival is usually greeted with relief and joy, and its absence could lead to famine.

Thus, far from being a sinister god, Ba’al was actually a benevolent deity, whose followers were nothing like the devil worshipers depicted in the Bible. However, Ba’al’s worship died out, and there were no followers to defend him from the bad rap he got in the Bible and the Quran. So today, to the extent that he is remembered at all, Ba’al is remembered in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths as a demonic false god, and a menacing evil from the ancient past.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Japanese schoolgirls training during WWII to fight with sticks. Quora

Japan Trained Little Girls to Fight US Marines With Pointy Sticks

By the summer of 1945, Japan was reeling from a string of catastrophic defeats. Her once proud navy had been reduced to a shell, and her armies were in retreat across Asia and the Pacific. The merchant shipping fleet upon which the island nation relied to import many of life’s necessities was mostly at the bottom of the sea, and the country was under a blockade that threatened mass starvation. Japanese cities were gradually being reduced to rubble and ashes by armadas of American bombers, whom the Japanese air force could do little to even annoy, let alone halt. By all objective criterion, Japan had lost the war, but Japan’s leaders were too proud and stubborn to admit that and sue for peace.

So the Allies made plans to invade Japan and make that clear. Operation Olympic, scheduled for November of 1945, was to be the first stage of an Allied invasion. It aimed to secure the southern third of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main home islands. The seized territory would provide airbases for land-based aircraft, and serve as the staging area for an even bigger invasion. That was to be Operation Coronet in the spring of 1946, directed at Honshu, the largest and most populous of Japan’s home islands.

The operation was to commence with amphibious landings on three Kyushu beaches. However, as was discovered after the war, the Japanese had accurately predicted US intentions and landing sites. Japanese geography was such that the only viable beaches for large amphibious landings were the ones selected by Allied planners for operations Olympic and Coronet.

The Allies would still have prevailed in the end, as the resources committed to the operation dwarfed those of the D-Day landings in France. They included 42 aircraft carriers, 24 battleships, 400 destroyers and destroyer escorts, tactical air support from the Fifth, Seventh, and Thirteenth US Air Forces, plus 14 divisions for the initial landing. However, casualties would probably have been horrific. Depending on the degree of Japanese civilian resistance – and Japanese authorities were busy training even women and children to fight the invaders with spears and pointy sticks – casualties would have been in the millions.

That, and the irrationality of Japan’s leaders, justified the atomic bombing of that country. The alternative would have been a massive invasion, which the Japanese government was determined to resist via national suicide. Japan’s leaders, morally bankrupt and cowardly, refused to confront the fact that they had led their country into an unwinnable war and lost. Ethical leaders might have shouldered the responsibility for getting their country in such a mess. Japan’s leaders sought to escape their burden via histrionics, and decided to immolate themselves and take their country with them. So they sought to save face by training women to fight off heavily armed invaders with bamboo spears, and training little boys and girls to fight soldiers with pointy sticks. Rather than sacrifice themselves in order to spare their country, Japan’s leaders sought to sacrifice their country in order to spare their egos from the humiliation of surrender.

Such dishonorable notions of honor meant that the estimated cost of an invasion was upwards of a million Allied casualties, and tens of millions of Japanese, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. Compared to that, the 200,000 casualties of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were an acceptable price. Morally speaking, there was nothing exceptional about the innocent victims of the atomic bombings that would have justified sparing them at the cost of the millions of other lives that would have been lost elsewhere had the war continued.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
Christopher Columbus and the lunar eclipse of 1504. Science Source

Somebody Actually Overawed Superstitious Natives by Predicting an Eclipse

Christopher Columbus led a fleet in June of 1503, which was struck by a severe storm. His ships suffered serious damage, and to save them from sinking, the famous navigator was forced to beach the entire fleet in Jamaica, where Columbus and his crew ended up marooned. The island’s native Arawaks were friendly at first, and provided the castaways with food and shelter. However, the new arrivals began wearing out their welcome as the days turned to months, and the Arawaks became less friendly. Finally, after six months of rising tensions and tempers, Columbus’ crews mutinied and attacked their hosts, robbing and murdering some. Understandably, the Arawak stopped bringing them food.

Columbus was faced with starvation, and the risk that angry Arawaks might attack and massacre him and his men at any moment. So he hit upon an ingenious plan as a way out of his dilemma. While reading an almanac that contained astronomical charts covering solar and lunar eclipses from 1475 to 1506, Columbus noticed that a total lunar eclipse was due shortly, on the night of February 29, 1504. So he arranged a meeting with the Arawaks’ chieftain, and told him that the Christian God was angry with the natives for not feeding Columbus and his men.

He informed the natives that his angry God would demonstrate His wrath three nights from now, by turning the moon blood red, then blotting it out. That would be the harbinger of many calamities He was about to unleash upon the Arawaks. The natives laughed it off, until the appointed night, when Columbus’ prediction came true: before the astonished natives’ eyes, the moon turned red, then started disappearing. According to Columbus’ son, the terrified Arawaks “with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions and beseeching the admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf“. The frightened natives promised to go back to helping Columbus, if he would only restore the moon back the way it was.

So yes, that cliche of pulp fiction and Hollywood actually happened in real life. Columbus played it up for all he was worth, and told the locals that he would have to check with his God and see if He was in a forgiving mood. He then went into his cabin, and used an hourglass to time the eclipse. At its peak, Columbus emerged to announce that he had interceded for the Arawaks with God, who had agreed – just this once – to forgive them and allow the moon to gradually return. The moon slowly started reappearing, just as Columbus finished talking. From then on, the Arawaks went out of their way to be helpful, and kept Columbus and his crew supplied and well fed. The castaways spent a leisurely time for the remainder of their stay in Jamaica, until rescue ships arrived to take them off the island a few months later.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
The death of John Sedgwick. Wikimedia

General Killed by Sniper Just After Saying Snipers Could Not Hit an Elephant

John Sedgwick (1813 – 1864) was born into a family of Revolutionary War veterans, including one grandfather who had served as a general alongside George Washington. Sedgwick became a respected and competent Union general and corps commander during the Civil War. His kindliness and paternal affection, combined with concern for his soldiers’ well being, won him the love of his men and the nickname “Uncle John”. Unfortunately, he is more widely remembered for his death and ironic last words, than for any of his life accomplishments or the good service he gave his country during a long military career.

He had graduated from West Point in 1837, and was commissioned as an artillery officer. During the following decades, Sedgwick served ably in the US Army, and was still in uniform when the Civil War broke out in April of 1861. He was given a cavalry regiment, and by August of 1861, was promoted to command his own brigade in the Army of the Potomac. The following February, he was put in charge of his own division. He fought bravely in the Peninsula Campaign, and was twice wounded during the Seven Days Battles.

At the Battle of Antietam, Sedgwick was sent on a poorly planned charge. His division was shot to pieces, losing 2200 men, and he was hit by three bullets. When he recovered and returned to duty, he was promoted to command his own corps. He won early success with his Sixth Corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, but the battle ended in defeat.

During the Overland Campaign in 1864, Sedgwick led his corps in the Battle of the Wilderness. On May 9th, 1864, at the start of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, he was positioning his artillery, when his troops came under sniper fire and started getting jumpy. So the avuncular Sedgwick chided his men for their timidity under single bullets, and wondered how they would react when they confronted massed Confederates on the firing line, and faced full volleys. The men were chagrined, but continued to flinch. So Uncle John Sedgwick continued: “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dista…“, at which point his pep speech was interrupted by a sniper bullet striking him in the face. It hit beneath his left eye, killing him instantly and turning him into the highest ranking Union battlefield death of the Civil War.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
1796 Spadroon. Sword Forum

The British Armed Their Men With Swords That Could Not Stab, Cut, Defend, or be Gripped

The 1796 British Infantry Officers Sword, commonly known as the “1796 Spadroon”, was the British Army’s standard issue line regiment’s officer sidearm during the Napoleonic Wars. It was widely, and deservedly, criticized for its poor design. Its defects were particularly problematic, because in that era, officers’ swords had not yet been relegated to mere decorative accoutrements accompanying dress uniforms as is the case today. Instead, swords were actually used as weapons in combat.

Spadroons are straight bladed, flat backed, single edged light swords of the cut and thrust type, and were not bad weapons in of themselves. Swords had been around for millennia by 1796. Nonetheless, the 1796 Spadroon’s designers managed to take that simple weapon to the drawing board, then come back with a sword that was bad at cutting, thrusting, defense, and to top it all off, was badly manufactured.

The first problem was the hilt. The designers gave the 1796 Spadroon the hilt of a smallsword – a purely thrusting weapon, such as a rapier. That ruined the sword’s ergonomics, and made it ill suited for the hand grip necessary for cutting and slashing. If an officer overcame that problem and managed to get a good grip for cutting, the blade was too light and too flexible to make a telling cut: it often bounced off, even from naked skin. That excessive flexibility also made the sword ill suited for the thrusting its hilt was designed for. The thrusting problem was made worse by the lack of a profile taper – the 1796 Spadroon’s point was not as sharp and pointy as it should have been for piercing.

Another hilt problem was the guard: instead of a solid saucer to protect the user’s sword hand, the guard was a foldable clamshell secured by pins. That made it liable to give way and break off under impact. The poor hand protection was exacerbated by a weak and thin knuckle-bow (the projecting piece on the hilt) that often bent under impact or pressure, and ended up smashing or pinching the user’s hand. As a British general of the era summed it up: “Nothing could be more useless or ridiculous than the old infantry regulation [sword]; it was good for neither cut nor thrust and was a perfect encumberance. In the Foot Artillery, when away from headquarters, we generally wore dirks instead“.

Don’t Miss Nazi Super Cows and Deadly Bulls**t in This List of Top 10 Overlooked Historic Oddities
The assassination of Tsar Alexander II. All Russias

A Russian Tsar Was Killed by a Bomb Just After Thanking God for Escaping a Bomb Blast

In the 19th century, Russian revolutionaries formed a secret organization, Narodnaya Volya, or “People’s Will”. It was an underground network that aimed to overthrow the oppressive Russian tsarist government by acts of violent propaganda calculated to spark a mass revolt. A terrorist organization, in short. People’s Will were the forerunners of bigger and more effective anarchist and socialist organizations in the following decades. What they are best known for, however, was their assassination of the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

The organization emerged from radical student study circles in the 1870s, which tried to spread socialist ideas to peasants and industrial workers. However, they were easily repressed by the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, who swiftly arrested and jailed the agitators. That led the radical students to rethink their strategy and tactics. Eventually, a consensus emerged that the only way to overthrow Tsardom was via revolutionary violence. More clandestine and aggressive tactics were called for – specifically, “propaganda of the deed”, or terrorism.

The result was Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty), a radical organization that preached political assassinations as self defense, and justified revenge against oppressive officials. However, it stopped short of viewing terror as a means of political struggle against the government. In 1879, People’s Will splintered off from Zemlya i Volya after the latter was almost wiped out by the secret police following a failed assassination attempt on the Tsar. People’s Will was far more radical, and saw terrorism as a proactive tool for overthrowing the regime, not simply as a reactive means of retaliation.

People’s Will called for violence, announced an ambitious program of terrorism and assassination to break the government, and issued a proclamation declaring a death sentence against the Tsar, who was to be executed as an enemy of the people. They established clandestine cells in major cities and within the Russian military, and began publishing underground revolutionary newspapers and leaflets targeted at industrial workers.

They tried to kill the Tsar in December of 1879 with explosives on a railway, but missed his train. People’s Will tried again two months later, by planting a bomb in his palace. However, he was not in the room when the explosives went off. A frightened Tsar declared a state of emergency, and set up a commission to repress the terrorists. Within a week, a People’s Will assassin attempted to kill the commission’s head. The repression mounted, and People’s Will activists caught distributing illegal leaflets were hanged. Undaunted, the group doggedly persisted with its relentless efforts to kill the Tsar.

They finally got their chance on March 1st, 1881. A People’s Will assassin waited in ambush along a route taken by the Tsar every week, and threw a bomb under his carriage when it passed by. The explosion killed a guard and wounded others, but the carriage was armored, the Tsar was unhurt, and the bomb thrower was captured. A shaken Tsar emerged from the carriage, and crossed himself as he surveyed the damage. Unbeknownst to him, there was a second assassin concealed in the gathering crowd. Shouting at the Tsar “it is too early to thank God!“, the second assassin threw another bomb, which landed and went off directly beneath the Tsar’s feet. There was a third assassin in the crowd, ready with yet another bomb if the first two failed. However, his explosives proved unnecessary.

The Tsar died of is wounds, and the assassins were arrested and hanged. In the aftermath, intensified repression effectively wrecked People’s Will, as nearly all its members were rounded up and executed or jailed. Terrorism in Russia was kept in check for years afterwards, but the repression created even more enemies for the regime. Lacking legal means for expressing dissent, many opponents were driven into underground clandestine resistance, as the Russian Empire was transformed into a pressure cooker. It finally erupted into revolution in 1905, and into an even greater revolution that finally did away with Tsardom in 1917. Surviving veterans of People’s Will, who began emerging from prisons at the turn of the century as their sentences expired, played important roles in both revolutions.