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10 Real-Life Soldiers Straight From An Action Movie
War is hell. For all movies do to depict battle as non-stop heroic action scenes, we know the harsh truth. In real life, no one takes on an entire army single-handed and comes out on top.
At least that’s usually the case. But occasionally, a soldier comes along with the exact right combination of bravery and insanity to make us wonder if real life isn’t being scripted by Hollywood after all.
10Yogendra Singh Yadav Single-Handedly Takes On An Entire Platoon
In 1999, India and Pakistan’s strained relations finally boiled over into the Kargil War, a three-month conflict that nearly escalated into a nuclear exchange. Fought entirely in high-altitude mountainous terrain, it allowed both sides to carry out plenty of surprise attacks, such as the one in which Yogendra Singh Yadav found himself one bitterly cold July night.
Yadav was on a scouting mission halfway up a vertical cliff face. A group of Pakistani soldiers at the top tried to annihilate him with machine gun fire, grenades, and an RPG. Yadav’s platoon was massacred. Yadav himself was riddled with bullets and was left dangling roughly 300 meters (1,000 ft) in the air, a broken arm hanging uselessly at his side.
Strapping his useless arm to his body with a belt, Yadav crawled to the top of the cliff, hurled a grenade, picked up an enemy rifle, and laid waste to the entire enemy platoon. With 15 bullet holes in his body, he killed four Pakistani soldiers, drove the rest away, and secured an Indian victory. Then, just to show off, he crawled back down the mountain to warn others of the danger, as if surviving multiple gunshot wounds was no big deal.
9Emilienne Moreau Takes On Germany And Wins (Twice)
In 1915, 17-year-old Emilienne Moreau had the misfortune to be trapped in the French city of Loos as it was overrun by German soldiers. Or, rather, it was the Germans who were unfortunate, because this teenage girl turned out to be a one-woman killing machine.
Initially, Moreau seemed content to sit out the fight and save lives by converting her house into a field hospital. But when a British soldier was pinned down by enemy fire, she unleashed her inner warrior. Tooling herself up with grenades, she headed out into the thick of the fighting, killed two Germans, and dragged the poor soldier back to safety. When the Germans came for revenge and surrounded her hospital, she grabbed a revolver and blew away the first two to come through the door. At that point, the British took the city, and Moreau left in the resulting evacuation. But her work wasn’t done yet.
Three decades later, the Germans stormed into France for the second time. Almost immediately, Moreau joined the French Resistance as part of the notorious Brutus Network. Tracked by the Gestapo, she passed on messages, relayed information, and generally made life hell for the occupying army. When the network was finally smashed in mid-1944, she fled to England, only to return a month later to help with the liberation of Paris. She eventually died in 1971, to the presumed relief of German soldiers everywhere.
8James Prendergast Charges Headlong Into Cannon Fire
The War of 1812 is today remembered mostly for being a stalemate and inspiring The Star-Spangled Banner. Yet it also contributed its fair share of courageous acts, not least in the form of James Prendergast.
An Irishman who fought for the British, Prendergast combined good soldiering with suicidal insanity. His specialty was taking on enemy units twice the size of his by charging headlong into cannon fire. At the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm in 1813, he headed a kamikaze charge straight at the gun that was mowing down his men. Though everyone but Prendergast and one other soldier died, he managed to take the gun, turn it on the American army, and force them into retreat.
This alone would be enough to get him in the history books, but Prendergast wasn’t done yet. A few months later, he found himself once again under heavy cannon fire. Once again, he ran headlong into it, attacking the gun with nothing more than his bravery and a bayonet. Once again, the American army was forced into retreat.
Prendergast finally died in 1834 of cholera, presumably after God realized no gun on Earth could kill him.
7Los Ninos Die For Their Flag
The Battle of Chapultepec in 1847 was a bitter defeat for the Mexican Army. Faced with superior American firepower, almost 3,000 Mexican soldiers died trying to protect Chapultepec Castle. Realizing that their last line of defense would soon fall, General Nicolas Bravo sounded the retreat. Although most fled the onslaught, six stayed behind and took on the Americans with no help. Their story only gets more heroic when you realize they ranged in age from 13 to 19 years old.
Faced with thousands of American troops pouring into the castle, the Ninos tooled up and prepared to unleash hell on their enemies. In a scene ripped straight from The Wild Bunch, they fought to the death, until only 19-year-old Juan Escutia was left. With the castle overrun and death a certainty, Escutia wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leaped from the ramparts to keep the Americans from capturing it. His final act was so remarkable that President Harry S. Truman came to pay his respects 100 years later. In his words: “Brave men don’t belong to any one country.”
6Maria Bochkareva’s All-Female Death Squad
Born into a Siberian peasant family lorded over by a violent drunk, Maria Bochkareva was tough from the moment of birth. By the age of 15, she was already heading a construction team of 25 hard-drinking Russian men. When World War I broke out a decade later, she instantly volunteered, not as an ambulance driver or battlefield nurse but as a frontline soldier.
Although she was wounded twice and decorated three times for bravery, we’re still not at the craziest part of her story. That came in 1917, following the February Revolution. Under the Second Provisional Government’s rules, men and women were to be treated equally. So Bochkareva set up her own squad called the Women’s Battalion of Death to annihilate the Germans.
Bochkareva’s training methods were so brutal that only 250 out of 2,000 made it into her crew. They then shipped out to the front, where Bochkareva led them repeatedly into situations so dangerous that authorities awarded the battalion over 30 separate medals for courage. If that wasn’t enough, the squad then returned to Moscow to defend the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks in a near-suicidal act of bravery.
Although her squad was subsequently disbanded, Bochkareva wasn’t done yet. She spent the next few years fighting on the White side of the Russian Civil War. She was finally executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1920.
5Antonio Ricaurte Blows Up An Entire Spanish Division
The year 1814 was a turbulent one in Latin America. The rebels under Simon Bolivar were liberating huge swaths of the continent, while the Spanish fought tooth and nail to hang on to their southern prize. Things finally came to a head at the First Battle of San Mateo. As Spanish forces overran the town, it began to look like they had Bolivar beat. They hadn’t counted on Captain Antonio Ricaurte.
A close friend of Bolivar, Ricaurte had been charged with defending the Hacienda San Mateo, a small armory containing enough firepower to level half the continent. As the Spaniards closed in, he found himself encircled, with no way out. At this point, most of us would probably have surrendered or burst into tears. But Ricaurte had other plans. As the battle raged outside, he quietly let the Spanish into the Hacienda. Then he lit the gunpowder stores and blew the whole place sky-high.
The resulting explosion killed dozens of Spanish troops and threw the Royalists into disarray. It also bought Bolivar enough time to launch a counterattack and retake the town. Modern history doesn’t record whether Ricaurte’s last words were some form of taunting one-liner, but we’re betting on it.
4Tupac Amaru II Nearly Conquers The Conquistadors
For a man who would go on to lead a continent-wide rebellion, Tupac Amaru II had a modest start. Born Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, Amaru initially worked as a tribute collector for the Spanish crown. Only after witnessing extensive cruelty and corruption did he decide to turn revolutionary. At that point, imperial Spain got a nasty reality check.
Within one year, Amaru had gone from a wannabe Che Guevara to a full-blown conqueror of nations. Although the Spaniards at that time had perhaps the greatest, cruelest army in the world, Amaru still managed to sweep through them. His rebellion took nearly the whole of modern-day Peru, along with significant chunks of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. When the Spanish realized the full extent of his power, they whispered that the Incan Empire had risen from its grave to reclaim the continent.
For two whole years, Amaru took the fight to the conquistadors with a level of ferocity unmatched in history. Although he was ultimately caught and executed, he nearly managed to conquer the conquerors single-handedly.
3Blas de Lezo Can Survive Nearly Anything
We’ve told you before about the embarrassing British defeat at Cartagena in 1741 at the hands of General Blas de Lezo. Blas was seemingly indestructible. His entire life story is one of surviving hideous injuries against improbable odds.
In 1704, he lost a leg during the Battle of Gibraltar, fighting off the English and Dutch forces. Undeterred, he continued his military career, only to lose an eye a few years later in Toulon. Partially blind and missing a leg, he nonetheless went into the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Barcelona, where he promptly lost an arm.
By the time the British invaded Cartagena, Blas de Lezo was as damaged and as grizzled as they come. He was left in charge of 2,500 badly trained men and was asked to fight 10 times that many. Even the most battle-hardened general would feel his heart sink at those odds, yet Blas just accepted it. Perhaps spurned on by their near-invincible commander, the Spanish wiped the floor with their enemies, although not without consequences. During the last days of the two-month battle, the British successfully shot off Blas de Lezo’s remaining leg.
Equipped with only a single limb and eye, Blas still managed to hold on until the British ran off before finally lying down to die.
2It Takes An Entire Army To Kill Daniel Theron
Daniel Theron was a scout on the losing side of the Second Boer War. Reading his life story, you’d have trouble believing Theron could lose at anything. A school teacher turned lawyer, he was transformed by the war into a real-life Hemingway hero. As head of the TVK unit, he destroyed bridges, dynamited railway tracks, hijacked trains, slaughtered enemy troops, and once sprang over 70 Boers from a British prison. At the height of his attempt to win an entire war single-handedly, the British assigned 5,000 men the job of killing Theron.
On September 4, 1900, Theron was scouting a hill when he ran into an ambush. He killed everyone in sight. Then he fled into the bush, leaving the entire British army to look for him, probably while comically bumping into each other. Finally, they decided fair play could go to hell, unhitched six massive artillery guns, and bombed the hill into oblivion. Theron was finally killed but not before showing the world how a real tough guy dies.
1The 800 Heroes
Even in a war renowned for its cruelty, the actions of the Japanese Imperial army in World War II are hard to stomach. Entering China with the single-minded desire to kill everyone in their path, they committed many acts so utterly horrendous that they’re still difficult to even talk about. So when 20,000 troops swept into Shanghai, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone just dropped what they were doing and ran. Not the 800 Heroes.
Led by Colonel Xie Jinyuan, the Heroes holed themselves up in a warehouse with the simple aim of holding off the advancing army as long as possible. Thanks to conditions on the ground, Jinyuan could only recruit 450 men and had to publicly inflate the number to 800 to try to deter the enemy. Not that this helped. On October 27, 1937, the Imperial Army flooded into Shanghai, bringing with them tanks, rockets, and heavy artillery. The so-called 800 Heroes managed to hold them off for four whole days.
Nearly all of the Heroes died when the Japanese finally overran the warehouse. But while they defended it, 500,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians escaped the city.