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10 Awesome One-Man Armies of WWII

Updated on January 18, 2018

With films such as Dunkirk rocking the theatres and video games like Call of Duty: WWII electrifying gamers, World War II has again resurfaced in popularity today. But no matter how much media portrays the war, their stories would still fall flat to the actual heroes who lived and died during the event. No amount of Hollywood CGI effects, dramatic storytelling, and shot-by-shot historical accuracy can go toe-to-toe with the real-life exploits of these individuals in the name of liberation and survival.

Some of these heroes have been depicted faithfully in media, while others still have their stories untold. These individuals, whether they are Allies or Axis, survived through the most hellish of battlefields even against numerical superiority and dwindling resources. These are the one man armies of WWII who will show anyone that action heroes also exist outside the realm of fiction.

10. Olin Gray

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The scene of a large macho man carrying an equally huge machine gun shredding a whole platoon of bad guys is an iconic image in action films. But one marine raider by the name of Private Olin Gray accomplished a similar feat that would even impress Rambo himself.

During the New Georgia Campaign in the Pacific War, Olin Gray and his platoon were trekking through the jungle when they unwittingly walked into the gunsights of three Japanese machine gun nests. Needless to say the Japanese opened fire on them, killing and seriously wounding almost all but Olin Gray. Instead of running away for his life, Gray grabbed an air-cooled Browning machine gun and took aim. Since his machine gun was missing a tripod, he stood up, put the gun in his arms and fired. He stayed in one spot so he can grab more ammo boxes on the ground, and purposely exposed himself so that the Japanese would end up divulging their positions at him. He also covered the retreat of his wounded comrades and was the last man to fall back, but not before eliminating two machine gun nests filled with many dead Japanese soldiers.

9. Ernest Smith

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At first glance, one might assume that this young, reckless and undisciplined Canadian by the name of Ernest “Smokey” Smith might be the worse soldier in the Canadian Army. The guy had an outstanding record of being demoted to Private nine times during his career, but his stubbornness was probably the reason how he stayed alive and left so many dead German soldiers and tanks in his wake, becoming a legend in the Canadian Military. On the night of October 21-22, 1944 in the River Savio in Northern Italy, Smith was chilling in his ditch when a large 44-ton Panther tank charged and fired its machine guns, wounding one of Smith’s companions. Fearlessly, the Canadian grabbed a PIAT, exposed himself to the tank that was dangerously in front of him at 30 feet, and destroyed it. Ten Germans survived and rushed Smith’s position, but the latter fired his Tommy gun that killed four and sent the rest back in retreat.

It didn’t take long before another Panther tank and 30 Germans charged Smith’s position again, but like before Smith just fired his PIAT and damaged the tank enough to make it fall back. He also sprayed his gun on the attacking soldiers. The Germans again retreated from the face of this one brave Canadian, and it gave Smith time to carry his wounded comrade to safety. When a larger force of tanks, self-propelled guns and now enraged German soldiers tried a third time to take the Canadian line, Smith went back to his ditch together with other inspired Canadian soldiers and fought them at every turn. His Victoria Cross citation credited Smith of winning that battle by holding out long enough to inspire his men to fight, until more forces came in and sealed their victory.

8. Lachhiman Gurung

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While many of the people on this list each have a unique story to tell, Nepalese Gurkha Lachhiman Gurung was the most unique since he accomplished his feat with only one hand.

In the morning of May 13, 1945, Lachhiman Gurung’s trench came under attack from over 200 Japanese soldiers who tossed a few grenades at the Gurkha. Gurung fearlessly threw back two grenades, but one exploded as he was holding it, peeling his hand off like a banana. Now bleeding and his body crippled by the explosion, Gurung hopelessly came face to face with the Japanese who were now confident to charge his position. Gurung however, remained calm and shot every Japanese who came close to him with his rifle. He held off the Japanese for four hours, which considering that his rifle is bolt-action and Gurung was against 200 screaming Japanese, was not an easy thing to do.

When his fellow soldiers finally came to his aid, they found a still living Garung in front of 31 dead Japanese soldiers. Instead of calling for medical assistance, Garung just laughed it off and complained that his stump was being bothered by flies. He remained posted in his trench for another two days before the Japanese finally gave up and walked away, another achievement that was not an easy thing to do since these are the same type of soldiers who needed an atomic bomb to make them surrender.

7. Fritz Christen

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One man armies are not exclusive to the Allied powers only. The Axis too have examples of similar brave soldiers like the almost mythical “Beast of Omaha Beach”. One man however, Fritz Christen of the 3rd Waffen-SS Division, took the cake of being the most dangerous of them all. As one of many AT gunners positioned in the line between the Germans and the Soviets in Novgorod, Russia, his position soon came face to face with the Red Army. The enemy overran much of the area, taking many stations and gun emplacements, except for one Fritz Christen who held his ground. Firing his AT gun at the attacking Soviets, Christen killed 100 enemy soldiers and 13 tanks, before officials finally relieved him off his position.

6. Benjamin Lewis Salomon

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Dentistry might not be an awesome job to some but not when that dentist is Benjamin L. Salomon. During the Battle of Saipan, Salomon was working as a front-line surgeon when his makeshift hospital was attacked by a humongous force of 3,000-5,000 Japanese soldiers. Knowing that his wounded patients and few soldiers were no match against the overwhelmingly number of Japanese rushing the hospital, Salomon single-handedly held the entrance and told the men to evacuate.

He killed every Japanese who entered the hospital with his rifle. At one point four Japanese crawled under the tent walls but Captain Salomon faced them, kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, bayoneted a third, and butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach. Seeing that his rifle wasn’t fast enough to kill all incoming Japanese, Salomon took a machine gun and fired at any Japanese that was in front of him. While his feat during the shootout was akin to that of an 80s action hero, in the end Salomon was still a mortal and he died while holding the line for his fellow Americans. But he took over 98 Japanese soldiers with him during that one single gunfight. Even Rambo in the second First Blood film can only kill up to 75 men, which is not even that close to what Salomon has achieved. Most importantly however, was the fact that he managed to save the lives of many American soldiers during his last stand.

5. Léo Major

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When it comes to being an awesome action hero, one should have the skill and the tenacity to fight off multiple enemies at once, but there is something special about being able to capture or force an enemy to surrender, an accomplishment that is not as simple and easy as shooting said enemy. For French-Canadian soldier Léo Major however, the feat of capturing enemies was nothing more than a cakewalk. Major himself had a number of amazing experiences during the war, like the time he lost his eye due to white phosphorus but shrugged it off, or when he unbelievably captured the city of Zwolle from German occupation by himself. His greatest accomplishment in the war on the other hand, happened during the Battle of Scheldt in Southern Netherlands.

While conducting a lone recon mission, Major spotted two German soldiers strolling in a dike and managed to surprise them. He successfully captured one and killed another when he tried to fire his gun at Major. Without even calling for any reinforcements, Major bravely forced the German to take him to his garrison. There, he stealthily captured the commanding officer at gunpoint, killed three more, and forced the rest of the Germans to surrender, all 93 of them. Now the difficult part of transferring 93 Germans began, and as Major escorted them, SS troops fired at them constantly. Though faced with one group firing at him, and another group that can escape or kill him at any opportunity, Major coolly kept his gun pointed at the Germans during the walk back to Allied lines. His feat earned him numerous awards after the war, which isn’t too shabby for a man with only one eye.

4. Audie Murphy

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Lieutenant Audie Murphy was a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star Awardee and probably the most famous WWII soldier in American history, having starred in movies, one of which was about his military career. This is due to the fact that Murphy’s life during the war was filled with him doing so many astounding things.

He fought the Germans in the Mediterranean and Western Europe, where his feat of being a one man army were dully recorded. Most of them consisted of him fearlessly rushing towards machine gun nests and trenches by himself guns blazing. Like in one incident in Anzio where he destroyed a German tank with only his rifle grenades, and in Ramatuelle where he stormed a house alone, killed six, wounded two and took 11 prisoners. In the Cleurie River Valley, another German machine gun nest ambushed his platoon and like before, Murphy destroyed the gun by himself, killing four and wounding three. In another incident his group was again ambushed, and Murphy personally went up a burning tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to wholesomely destroy an advancing force of German soldiers and tanks, killing 50 in just one hour.

Reading all of his exploits and no wonder Hollywood made a movie about him… starring him.

3. Harrison Summers

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Every aspiring paratrooper in the US Army has heard of the story of Lt. Harrison Summers, a legend in the Airborne Division dubbed the “Sergeant York of WWII”. In one skirmish in Saint-Germain-de-Varreville during the Invasion of Normandy, Harrison and his fellow paratroopers were tasked to take a heavily-fortified German building designated “WXYZ”. The number of Germans inside the building discouraged his unit from attacking, and feeling that he needed to rally up his men, Harrison charged the position alone, unknown that his men were still too scared to follow him in his suicide charge.

Summers went from building to building, spraying his Tommy gun and killing every German inside, many of whom were surprised that a single American soldier was charging the compound alone. Inspired by Summer's courage, two soldiers finally went in to assist him, and after five hours of intense fighting, the position was finally cleared. Harrison Summers himself personally killed over 30 Germans during the gunfight.

2. Simo Häyhä

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Snipers are one of the most dangerous warriors a soldier can face in a war, granted if said face is still intact after they scope you from twice the range you can see them. Of all the snipers in military history, Simo Häyhä is considered to be one of the greatest and most-influential. The Winter War between the Soviets and the Finns was a small conflict during the early stages of WWII, and Simo Häyhä was one of those fighting in the War. The Red Army nicknamed him the "White Death" due to his record of littering the snowy battlefields of Finland with as many as 542 dead soldiers.

Häyhä would hide and blend in the snowy countryside with his white camo, and gun down any enemy unwittingly invading his field of vision. In one just one day he single-handedly sniped 25 soldiers, and he did it all without the need of a sniper scope (since scopes of that time reflected sunlight and gave away the sniper’s position, and not using them also allowed Häyhä to keep a lower profile). The Red Army tried desperately to eliminate Häyhä, even sending their best snipers and trackers to take him out, but Häyhä took them all out instead. Besides his sniper rifle, Häyhä also killed hundreds of soldiers using his trusty submachine gun, making his kill count at an astonishing record of 800 kills. All of this he did in just a span of 100 days.

1. Art Jackson

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Captain Art Jackson is a legend for the Marine Corps as Lt. Harrison Summers is for the Airborne Division, having been nicknamed the “One Man Marine Corps” for good reasons. During the Pacific War, he had extraordinary talent for killing enemy soldiers even as they were positioned cozily in well-fortified pillboxes. Not even the box’s concrete walls, sandy floors and machine gun holes stopped this furious marine from taking out anything that posed a threat to his comrades.

During the Battle of Peleliu, Jackson’s platoon was pinned down by surrounding Japanese pillboxes. With his men getting ripped to shreds, Jackson courageously ran forward with his submachine gun and explosives to the nearest pillbox he can find and killed all 35 soldiers inside. But if that wasn’t enough, he pressed on with the remaining pillboxes. Like a video game character going through each stage levels and headquarters filled with hostile AIs, Jackson busted through every pillbox in the battlefield and rained hot lead before moving forward to the next. He singlehandedly took out 11 pillboxes and killed over 50 enemy soldiers. Jackson succeeded in saving his fellow marines and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. He was a true marine that lived up to the USMC’s standard of “doing more with less”, and “less” meant just one soldier taking on dozens of enemies by himself.

© 2018 Louis Bulaong

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