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How people with disabilities managed to participate in military battles
How people with disabilities managed to participate in military battles

Injuries resulting in loss of limbs or vision did not stop true heroes. On prostheses, crutches or with the help of subordinates, but disabled people went into battle.

In all centuries, war has been something terrible, depriving people of shelter, food and lives. But history preserved the names of people who lived and breathed battles so much that they were again and again drawn to feats of arms, even when they lost their health and limbs.

Death of Magnus the Blind, medieval miniature

There are many ancient legends about warriors who fought and won, despite injuries of varying severity. One of the earliest documented cases of this is the story of the King of Norway Magnus IV the Blind. After this Viking king was dethroned in 1135, he was thrown to be torn apart by slaves.

They gouged out the eyes of the former ruler, emasculated and chopped off his leg. The surviving Magnus was sent to a distant monastery. A year later, he again entered the struggle for the throne. In the next round of the civil war, the blind and one-legged king even commanded the troops himself, although bodyguards had to wear him. Magnus died in 1139, being impaled along with his "carrier" by a spear.

On land, at sea and on prostheses

Another ruler who was not stopped by injuries is Johannes of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia from 1310 to 1346. At the age of forty, he completely lost his sight after a serious illness. The Warrior King was unable to sit at home when his army fought in the Hundred Years War. He went into battle: he ordered himself to be tied to a horse and sent to where the battle was going on. Johann died in the battle.

In 1421, another Czech historical figure was left without eyes. Jan ižka, military leader of the Hussites. Despite his injury, he continued to command the troops. Ižka went to his soldiers in a special carriage to maintain a fighting spirit. He even came up with new tactical moves, such as using chained carts for defense. Jan ižka died not on the battlefield and not from wounds, but during a plague epidemic. It was said that he bequeathed to remove the skin from his body and make a drum out of it, so that even after death the commander could inspire the troops.

Jan ižka leading the troops, medieval engraving

Less serious injuries to the strong-willed warriors sometimes even allowed them to fight fully and for a long time in the forefront. The knight Gottfried von Berlichingen, who lost his wrist in 1504, turned to the best craftsmen in Germany, and they managed to make an iron prosthesis, which is very complex in mechanics.

With his help, Gottfried could hold a shield, control a horse, and even write with a pen. The knight continued his military adventures. He spent almost sixty more years in battle until he died of old age in 1562. Gottfried von Berlichingen wrote an autobiography, on the basis of which in 1773 Goethe created a play named after the main character. And the prostheses and armor of the knight, nicknamed "The Iron Hand", are still kept in the museum.

Gottfried von Berlichingen's prosthesis

The Spanish admiral Blas de Leso y Olovarrieta, who lived and fought at the beginning of the 18th century, did not abandon sea battles, even receiving many terrible injuries. In 1705, in the rank of midshipman, he lost his left leg below the knee. Two years later, de Leso lost his left eye in battle.

Seven years later, already a captain, during the battle, Blas received a severe wound, which led to an almost complete paralysis of his right arm. But even this did not make the Spaniard give up sea travel. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailed across the Pacific, and in 1725 married a local beauty in Peru. Returning to his homeland, Blas de Leso received command of the entire Mediterranean fleet of Spain and successfully chased the Turks and their allies. In battles, he also lost his left hand. Enemies gave the brave warrior the nickname "half a man".

A few years later, Blas received the rank of admiral and command of the garrison of Cartagena.At the head of three thousand soldiers, he was able to repulse the thirty thousandth army of the British, who wanted to seize this strategically important point. The defeat of the British was so strong that King George II forbade it to be mentioned at all at court. Blas de Leso y Olovarrieta died not from injuries, but from malaria in 1741 at the age of 52.

Monument to Admiral Blas de Leso in Madrid

Another disabled naval commander fought under the English flag. Horatio Nelson rose from cabin boy to captain without being seriously injured. However, in 1794, during the siege of the Calvi fortress in Corsica, he was wounded by a shrapnel in the head. They managed to save his life, but his right eye practically ceased to see.

Three years later, during the attack on Tenerife, Rear Admiral Nelson had already lost his right arm. Despite his injuries, Nelson did not leave the naval service. During the Napoleonic Wars, he fought the French off the coast of Egypt, Italy and Denmark. Admiral Nelson died on October 21, 1805, during the Battle of Trafalgar. To this day, he is considered one of Britain's greatest heroes.

Portrait of Nelson by Lemuel Abbott, 1799

It was not only on the seas that people with disabilities fought. When the Caucasian war was raging in Russia, Baysangur Benoevsky fought on the side of Imam Shamil, who lost an arm, a leg and an eye in the battles.

This did not stop the stern highlander, he personally went on raids on the infidels. True, to do this, he had to be tied to a horse. When Shamil surrendered to the tsarist authorities, Benoevsky was genuinely outraged by this, and together with his loyal fighters broke through the encirclement to return to his native village.

Baysangur Benoevsky

In 1860, he raised a new uprising, managed to inflict several defeats on the Caucasian governor. On February 17, 1861, Baysangur and his closest associates were captured. A court-martial sentenced the Chechen to be hanged. According to legend, in order not to be killed by the Russian executioner, the mountaineer himself jumped off the stool. Now Benoevsky is considered a national hero of Chechnya; in Grozny there is a district named after him.

Dentures are not a hindrance to a good pilot

With the advent of the 20th century, new types of troops appeared, among others - aviation. One of her pioneers in Russia was Alexander Prokofiev-Seversky. A hereditary nobleman from a very wealthy family, he dreamed of aeronautics from childhood. On July 2, 1915, the young man graduated from the Sevastopol Military Aviation School and became a naval pilot. On July 6, one of the bombs in the plane detonated, and Alexander barely managed to make it to the landing. The pilot lost his right leg and was transferred to work as an aircraft designer.

Once Nicholas II came to see the aircraft tests personally, Alexander managed to replace one of the pilots. In the sky, he demonstrated aerobatics. When the emperor was informed about the one-legged ace, the monarch, by personal decree, allowed Prokofiev-Seversky to fly. The pilot made several sorties, but in October 1917, due to engine failures, he had to land in the German rear. Alexander burned the plane and on foot, on a prosthesis, got out through the forests to the location of his units.

On the eve of the October Revolution, Prokofiev-Seversky was one of the most famous aces. He did not accept the new government and left for the United States through the Far East. After obtaining American citizenship, he founded a military aircraft company. Things were going so well that he was promoted to a major in the United States Air Force.

In the 1940s, Prokofiev-Seversky published several books about airplanes, where he argued that the one with superiority in the sky would win in future military conflicts. At the same time, he did not stop testing new aircraft himself and was even a member of the US Sports Pilot Association.

Alexander Prokofiev-Seversky

In World War II, millions of soldiers on all fronts were seriously injured. "The Story of a Real Man" by Boris Polevoy tells the story of the pilot Alexei Maresyev (in the book he appears under the name Meresiev). Alexey Petrovich lost both legs in an airplane crash after an air battle, and managed to return to duty.Having learned to walk on prostheses, he made more than a dozen combat missions and shot down seven more German planes.

Maresyev's story is not unique. Hero of the Soviet Union Leonid Belousov also fought without both legs. Douglas Bader, an English pilot who lost his legs in a plane crash before the war, piloted his plane in the same way. During the sortie, he was shot down and was taken prisoner.

The Germans were so impressed by the legless pilot that they asked through parliamentarians to drop new prostheses on his parachute. The British pilots agreed and on the way to the German power plant, which was to be bombed, dropped what was required in the indicated area. Bader escaped from the camps several times, but was caught and held captive until 1945.

Douglas Bader, 1940

There were pilots who flew without an arm. Ivan Leonov lost his left arm in battle in 1943. After being wounded, he built himself a special prosthesis and again ascended into the sky. A similar story, but a year later, happened to the German pilot Viktor Peterman. His prosthesis was made specifically to control the aircraft's levers.

In 1943, during the crossing of the Dnieper, the artillery regiment, where Captain Vasily Petrov served, came under heavy shelling. Most of the soldiers were killed. The captain himself was so wounded that he was mistaken for dead and carried to the shed where the corpses were piled. However, fellow colleagues managed to find Petrov, and, threatening with a pistol, they forced the surgeon to operate on the captain. They managed to save their lives, but both hands had to be amputated.

Petrov was offered a good job in the rear, but he refused, preferring to return to his unit, where he became the commander of an artillery regiment. Petrov ended the war as a major and twice Hero of the Soviet Union. In peacetime, he rose to the rank of lieutenant general.

Perhaps in the future, with the development of cybernetics and medicine, the difference between a prosthesis and a living limb will disappear, but so far this is not the case. One can only marvel at the courage and resilience of the people who, in spite of the injuries, continued to do their duty.

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