The Greatest War Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from Military History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy (The Greatest Stories Never Told) by Rick Beyer

Reviewed by Allen Hott

A really great read! The book is made up of many stories of strange but true happenings during wars. Some of these go back to 371 B.C. and some are as recent as 1991. The stories cover all sorts of happenings, some of which we are all aware of happening but we didn’t know the whole story behind the happening. It is a non-fiction book but reads almost like fiction when the stories are told….some are hard to believe.

In 371 B.C. the Spartans from Greece lost a major battle to Thebes in the battle of Leuctra. As good as the Spartan army was at that time the Thebes army of 300 soldiers really outclassed and outfought the Spartans. Strangely those three hundred soldiers were composed of 150 couples. That is right ….the Thebes had an army of 300 gay folks and this “band of lovers” knew how to fight!

Late in the 1200’s the Chinese built the best weapons in the world and were using them to expand their empire. However the weapons eventually did move to other parts of the world. And that begat problems for the Chinese. Their problem was that their ammunition was not as effective as others began to use. The reason was they had fewer domesticated animals!

The rest of the world had begun using saltpeter from the dung of their animals. This saltpeter mixed with other ingredients provided stronger, more efficient gunpowder! There were more casualties from that newer gunpowder.

Moving further ahead to 1620 Cornelius Drebbel built the world’s first submarine. However the Royal Navy didn’t think much of his craft so they didn’t pursue it but later in the 1700’s and then in 1864 improved versions became quite handy for wartime sea battles.

There are also several stories about famous songs and how they got their beginnings. How Yankee Doodle Dandy surfaced in the United States and then in the Revolutionary War the British soldiers would get all riled up when it was played by the American military bands in battle situations.

Later in 1814 a lawyer was being sailed out in Chesapeake Bay to work a release for a client of his. While there the British began shelling Fort McHenry and that lawyer by the name of Francis Scott Key wrote a poem about the rocket’s red glare. The poem called The Star Spangled Banner was put to music and has lived till this day.

Other stories include tales about Benedict Arnold, who before he became a traitor, was a hero in the Battle of Saratoga. There is one about Pavel Dzhones and his battles as a Russian admiral. Then he moved to the states and was our first naval hero. His name in English was John Paul Jones whose immortal words were supposedly “I have not yet begun to fight”.

The book also contains interesting short stories about how Poinsettia got its name, how Whistler’s mother became the subject of that great painting, how the famous military song, Taps, came into being, and how Arlington Memorial Cemetery came about.

This is one of the most interesting collection of short bits of history that I have ever seen. All readers should look forward to getting it and reading it. They will enjoy it.