Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of November 13-19

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Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of November 13-19

Screen shot from film Alexander Nevsky (1938), directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Prince Alexander Nevsky (center) portrayed by Nikolai Cherkasov
Image courtesy of http://www.filmreference.com/Films-A-An/Alexander-Nevsky.html
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

November 14, 1263 – Grand Duke Alexander Nevski (or Nevsky) of Novgorod; age 43

In December 2008, the Russia-1 state television channel held a poll to allow the public to vote for the greatest Russian personality. After three months of voting by telephone and Internet, the winner was…well, I guess the picture at the top gives it away…Grand Duke Alexander Nevsky. Now, you might ask: why would a historical figure – now dead for over 750 years – have such a strong hold on the collective imagination of the Russian people?

Alexander Nevsky was born in Pereslavl-Zalessky in May of 1221, the second son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich. As a second son, he had almost no chance of assuming the throne of his native Principality of Vladimir. In 1236 Alexander was summoned by the people of Novgorod to become prince of that land, and, as their military leader, to defend their northwest lands from Swedish and German invaders. Not bad for a young man of 15 years old.

Four years later, according to the Novgorod Chronicle – written nearly a century later – that a Swedish army with Norwegian allies invaded Russia. Gathering a small army, Prince Alexander Yaroslavovich attacked the invaders and defeated them. By winning this victory, he acquired his nom de guerre of "Nevsky" (which means "of the Neva" which was the river where this battle occurred). However, no Swedish chronicles of the thirteenth century mention such an invasion or battle. This supposed victory, coming just three years after the disastrous Mongol invasion of the Slav lands in Novgorod's North West, strengthened Alexander's political influence. But at the same time, it worsened his relations with the boyars, the Russian nobles who held most of the power in most of the principalities of Russia. He would soon have to leave Novgorod because of this conflict.

After the nearby principality of Pskov had been invaded by the Germans and Estonians, the Novgorodian authorities sent for Alexander. In the spring of 1241 he returned from his exile, gathered an army, and drove out the invaders. Alexander and his men faced the Livonian heavy cavalry led by the bishop of Dorpat Hermann. Nevsky faced the enemy on the ice of Lake Peipus and defeated the German knights and Estonian infantry during the Battle on the Ice on April 5, 1242. [Readers interested in the details of this fight should consult my BurnPit post from April of 2014: Battle of Lake Peipus: Alexander Nevsky Wins the "Battle on the Ice" .]

Because of his victory at the battle of Lake Peipus, Nevsky strengthened his position among the Russians ruled by the Mongols. He was rewarded by being appointed as the Grand Prince of Vladimir by the khan of the Golden Horde in 1252. Nevsky was instrumental in preventing Russian soldiers from serving in Mongol armies.

In the fall of 1262, Nevsky journeyed to the Golden Horde capital of Sarai to meet with Berke Khan. On his return to Russian territory, Grand Duke Alexander fell ill and died on November 14, 1263. He was buried in the city of Vladimir. He was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. His principal feast day is November 23.

In 1938, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein wrote and directed his epic film Alexander Nevsky. It was made under close supervision of the Stalin regime. Its music was written by Sergei Prokofiev (who wrote the musical symphony for children, "Peter and the Wolf"). Prokofiev reworked the soundtrack from Alexander Nevsky into a large-scale orchestral cantata, that is played by many orchestras worldwide.

Tyrone Power in Captain from Castile (1947); Image courtesy of http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039243
Tyrone Power in Captain from Castile (1947)
Image courtesy of http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039243/

November 15, 1958 – Tyrone Power, actor, 2nd World War veteran; age 44

Tyrone Power was one of Hollywood's most popular matinee idols of the 1930s and 1940s. He was born in Cincinnati, OH into a theatrical family. His father died prior to going on stage, and his son decided he wanted to go into acting as well. After getting a few small roles in stage plays, he struck out for Hollywood in 1936.

Power took a screen test at 20th Century Fox, and was immediately cast in the film Lloyd's of London. He made 13 films afterward through 1939, including his first Technicolor movie Jesse James, cast as the American outlaw. Power was cast in romantic comedies, dramas, and even musicals. His career took a favorable turn in 1940, when he was cast as the hero in The Mark of Zorro. His fencing scenes were even more believable, as Power was a trained swordsman in real life.

Power's film career was interrupted when American entered the Second World War. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 but was sent back to Hollywood to make Crash Dive, a patriotic war movie, before he reported for USMC duty. Power was already an accomplished civilian pilot, so a short, intense stint of flight training earned him his aviator's wings and a promotion to first lieutenant.

The Marines considered him to be too old for combat duty, so Power volunteered to make cargo flights. The highlight of his wartime experiences was probably flying missions carrying cargo in and wounded Marines out during the battles of Iwo Jima (February-March, 1945) and Okinawa (April-June, 1945). Power returned to the United States in November 1945 and was released from active duty in January 1946. He was promoted to the rank of captain in the Marine Corps Reserves on May 8, 1951. He remained in the Reserves the rest of his life and reached the rank of major in 1957.

After his discharge in 1946, Power returned to Hollywood. He made the film Captain from Castile (1947), based on a novel devoted to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. He continued making films, but also made a number of appearance on the stage. Among Power's many roles were as a pirate in The Black Swan (1942), an Italian nobleman in Prince of Foxes (1949), an American naval officer in American Guerilla in the Philippines (1950), a Canadian Mountie in Pony Soldier (1952), and as pianist and bandleader Eddie Duchin in The Eddie Duchin Story (1956).

In 1958, Power flew to Spain to appear in the film Solomon and Sheba. Cast as the Jewish monarch Solomon, Power had filmed about 75 percent of the movie when, during a dueling scene, he suffered a heart attack. Taken to a nearby hospital – still in his costume – the medical staff worked to revive him for an hour before declaring him dead. [As a result, Yul Brynner was cast as Solomon and large amounts of the film had to be re-shoot before it premiered in 1959.]

He was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with full military honors.

Engraving of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden; By Matthäus Merian the Elder; currently located in the Peace Palace Library in The Hague, Netherlands
Engraving of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
By Matthäus Merian the Elder; currently located in the
Peace Palace Library in The Hague, Netherlands

Gustavus Adolphus was born in 1594 in Stockholm as the oldest son of Duke Charles of the House of Vasa. In 1599 the Protestant Duke Charles forced his nephew – Catholic King Sigismund – to abdicate the Swedish throne. Charles first became regent to the throne before assuming the title of Charles IX in 1604. When he died in 1611, Gustavus became King of Sweden at age 16.

From 1611 to 1632, Gustavus transformed Sweden from a nearly-medieval kingdom into a modern European nation. He made Sweden one of the great powers of Europe in part by reforming the administrative structure. For example, he began Parish registration of the population, so that the central government could more efficiently tax and conscript the people.

In addition, Gustavus adopted a number of military reforms that made the Swedish army on of the most feared in Europe. These included: a combined arms approach to battlefield tactics; introduction of lighter muskets; shallower regimental formations which were more flexible in battle; the "Swedish salvo," where all the musketeers in a formation would discharge their weapons simultaneously, rather than by individual ranks; and, probably most importantly, regimental level artillery batteries of lighter cannon, which could be maneuvered on the battlefield to a spot where they were needed.

Gustavus fought four wars during his reign. He fought a war with Denmark (known as the Kalmar War, 1611-1613) to a final conclusion. Sweden lost no land, but agreed to pay the Danes a hefty indemnity. A second conflict, the Ingrian War (1613-1617), involved Russia, which was bogged down in its "Time of Troubles." At the war's end Sweden had acquired territory which blocked Russian access to the Baltic Sea for nearly a century. The third war, the Swedish-Polish War, raged from 1600 through 1629 in four stages. Sweden was the eventual victor, winning control of Estonia and Livonia, making the Baltic a virtual Swedish lake.

With his local Baltic ambitions apparently achieved, Gustavus turned his thoughts southward, where a major War of Religion in Germany was raging. It began in 1618, but rapidly involved most of the major nations of Europe, including Hapsburg Austria, Denmark, Holland, and the Holy Roman Empire. In 1630, Gustavus Adolphus invaded the HRE to become the champion of the Protestant states. Over the next two years of the conflict (which would eventually become known as the Thirty Years' War) the Swedes won victory after victory.

However, in early November of 1632, the Swedish army met an Imperialist force at the town of Lützen. During a critical cavalry charge, made in a particularly heavy fog, Gustavus was separated from his troops, and shot multiple times by enemy musketeers. Despite his death, the Swedish army won the battle. However, because of their monarch's demise, the Swedes lost direction in the war, and became minor players for the next 5 years.

Gustavus Adolphus's remains now rest in Riddarholm Church in Stockholm. He is still known as the "Lion of the North" and "The Golden King." He is also the only Swedish monarch to be styled "the Great." [Gustavus Adolphus Magnus]

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.