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Ancient Agents

In the article “Military Secrets Revealed at Last” [Interview, Sept/Oct], Thomas Allen was asked the question, “What are the earliest known instances of military espionage?” Allen references the Bible, Numbers 13, as the first known instance. However, just before the battle of Kadesh, in 1274 BC, Ramses II’s army captures two Hittite spies who tell him the Hittite army is far away, at Aleppo, some 100 miles away. In fact, the Hittite army is about two miles away. These “spies” were almost certainly sent by Muwatallis, the Hittite king, to spread disinformation among the Egyptians. According to Egyptian sources, after torture, “When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, ‘Who are you?’ They replied, ‘We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.’ Then His Majesty said to them, ‘Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of Tunip.’ They replied to His Majesty, ‘Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him. …They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh.”

Ramses is widely believed to have been pharaoh during the Exodus, so the event described in Numbers 13 would likely have occurred significantly later, as the Israelites didn’t reach the area of Canaan until after his death. This, of course, assumes one accepts the account that the Israelites did indeed wander the desert for 40 years.

Brian K. Bilski

Richmond, VA.

Tom Allen responds: You’re certainly right that the Hittites were earlier spies than the ones sent out in the Bible. I suppose, though, that the trail to the first spy of all time leads to the Garden of Eden and the eavesdropper disguised as a serpent.

Wonder Man

Enjoyed your article on Desmond Doss [“Wonder Man of Okinawa,” by Marc Leepson, Valor, Sept/Oct], especially from a personal standpoint.

My brother, Salvatore J., now deceased, was in Co. G, 307th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division. His service record shows he was wounded April 18, 1945, on Ie Shima, Ryukyus. The 307th was involved in the Battle of Bloody Ridge [on Guadalcanal] before the 77th went into Okinawa. Naturally one wonders if Pfc Doss could have treated him.

Point of interest: My brother was wounded the same day Ernie Pyle was killed. He had told me that [while he was] moving up a road, a jeep came by, and someone yelled, ‘That’s Ernie Pyle!” Shortly thereafter, they heard firing from up the road.

B.A. Randazzo

Mays Landing, N.J.


Having trained with the No. 36 grenade in the late ’60s with the Canadian Forces, something about your cutaway sketch [“Mills Bomb,” by Jon Guttman, Hand Tool, Sept/Oct] caught my attention: The diagram you published has the striker lever on the top of the grenade, as on the bouchon-type firing mechanism of the U.S. “pineapple” grenade. This is not accurate, as the striker lever engages a notch cut in the striker to retain the striker in a cocked position.

With respect to fuses, there were two: a four-second for hand throwing and a seven-second for use with a cup discharger. The four-second fuse was identified by a small rubber band around the fuse and was white in color. The seven-second fuse was yellow in color and had no band around it. The grenades were issued unprimed in wood cases of 12 grenades, their igniters packed with them but separately in a metal tin. No. 36 grenades with seven-second fuses were packed similarly but also had gas checks and ballistite cartridges for grenade launching, but these were obsolete in my day.

Your range [90 feet] was a bit optimistic; a good “bomber” could lob accurately to about 20 yards. The downside of this, as you mentioned, was that the thrower was in the burst radius. If I remember correctly, the base plug had a nasty habit of being blown straight back toward the thrower.

William “Bill” Sopiro, CD

Rockland, Ontario, Canada 

In the ’50s my grandfather gave me what I later learned was a practice Mills bomb. It has no threads for a fuse and the bottom/top, depending on perspective, is solid. A few years later I painted it black, mounted it on a piece of maple and have had for many years a very interesting pencil holder. I saw in a book somewhere that a small catapult was developed to fling it from trench to trench.

Christopher King Jr.

Davisburg, Mich.

Cross at Hitler

[Re. “Germany Scraps Iron Cross Redux,” News, July/Aug:] The Iron Cross was a part of German history long before Hitler. Many honorable soldiers (including Jews) won this cross in World War I, and to let Hitler win is to dishonor them. Hitler did enough damage. Do not let him do more.

Richard H. Frese

Stuttgart, Germany

Gun Shy?

I strongly disagree with Stephan Wilkinson’s review of Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel [Reviews, May/June]. Wilkinson says that use of the Gatling “could have made the Civil War far bloodier.” I’m not sure how it could have gotten bloodier. War is not a good thing, but sometimes it is unavoidable. And modern weapons— from machine guns to napalm, missiles and nuclear weapons —are terrible killing machines. But as any soldier from private to general will tell you, the more firepower the better. And think of the psychological effect the Gatling gun would have had in the Civil War.

Tom R. Kovach

Nevis, Minn.

The Few, the Proud

Great Sept/Oct issue. However I must request that you refrain from referring to Marines as “soldiers.” Just as a soldier probably wouldn’t like to be called a Marine, even if they make an amphibious assault, Marines take pride in being Marines. Reference your cover caption: “1st Marine Division soldiers.…” As Colonel Joseph Alexander, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), wrote in his article [“Hit the Beach!”], a more preferred reference would be as on P. 31 where it’s written “Scott’s soldiers and Marines” and “Union sailors and Marines.” If you insist on using the “soldiers” term, at least please use John Lejeune’s phrase “soldiers of the sea.” All branches possess soldierly virtue, but we want to be referred to using our armed force’s unique title.

Major John H. Thompson

U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

Ogden, Utah


Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here