latest

Trojan Horse: The World’s First Special Operations Mission

By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2021

“All warfare is based on deception.”

— Sun Tzu, Chinese general, circa 500 B.C.

“Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible.”

Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, 1824-1863.

“If you are unable to beat your enemy at his own game, it is nearly always better to adopt some striking variant.”

—      British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

On December 29, 1955, the 10th Special Forces Group (10th SFG) at Bad Tölz, West Germany, formally adopted a distinctive, silver (.900-coin-grade) emblem to be worn on their dark-green berets, depicting the famous, Trojan Horse on a winged shield, as authorized by the group commander, Colonel William E. Ekman. It was designed by Special Forces Captain Roger M. Pezzelle, a talented, amateur artist, and was produced locally by Eichmann Jewelers.

The badge was never officially approved by the U.S. Army, but it was proudly worn by all 10th SFG members until 1962, when the new, Special Forces Distinctive Unit Insignia replaced it. The Trojan Horse Badge, however, remains an honored tradition within the 10th SFG, specifically chosen to represent modern Special Forces, because the Trojan Horse incident was the world’s very first recorded, special operations mission.

Most of us have heard of the fabled Trojan Horse, a huge, wooden horse left behind by the Greeks at the end of the Trojan War, secretly filled with Greek soldiers who slipped out at night and opened the gates of the city of Troy for their returning army. For thousands of years, this dramatic tale, vividly recounted by Homer in The Odyssey (circa the 7th or 8th century B.C.) and Virgil in the Latin, epic poem, The Aeneid (29 to 19 B.C.), was believed to be nothing more than an entertaining legend.

But in 1868, German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann met English consular official Frank Calvert in Turkey, and together they excavated the historic, Hisarlik mound near the Aegean Sea, discovering the ruins of the real, great city of Troy, together with thousands of fascinating artifacts that included jeweled crowns of woven gold, rings, bracelets, intricate earrings and necklaces, buttons, belts, and brooches, as well as carved figures, bowls, and vessels for perfumed oils.

Since then, a vast array of archeologists, scientists, explorers, engineers, and military historians, as well as the Turkish government, have fully accepted this stunning discovery as the genuine location of Troy, an ancient city that was built, destroyed, and rebuilt several times, but the archeological remains of Troy VIi, formerly known as Troy VIIa, in particular, dating back to the Late Bronze Age, were destroyed by a savage fire in approximately 1184 B.C., corresponding to the classic descriptions of Troy being sacked and burned to the ground by its Greek conquerors.

The ancient kingdom of Troy was located at the western edge of the 4,500-square-mile region of Troas (or Troad), the historical name for the modern, Biga Peninsula of Turkey in northwestern Anatolia. “Troié” meant “well-walled” and “well-towered,” as evidenced by the sturdy, 30-foot-tall, stone walls of Troy, some of which still stand today, and it was clearly a kingdom of great trade and great power at that time. But inside the ruins of Troy VIi, two bronze spear points, three bronze arrowheads, and two partially preserved, bronze knives have been found in the citadel and lower town, well inside the city walls. One of the arrowheads is of a type known only on the Greek mainland in the Late Bronze Age. How did the Greeks gain entry to the heavily-fortified city? These critical artifacts certainly point to a fierce battle involving Greek soldiers, in addition to a raging, catastrophic fire that destroyed the city at the same time.

Blackened wood, layers of sooty ash and dirt, charred bones, and white, calcined (oxidized and crumbling, from intense heat) stone provided grim and glaring evidence of this great fire, and a number of scattered skeletons found in the open indicated a terrible calamity that caused the inhabitants to flee instantly, leaving their unburied dead behind. Factoring in the incriminating, Greek arrowheads, there was only one inescapable conclusion to be drawn. This was, indeed, the real Troy of antiquity.

So, since Troy actually existed, and it truly fell to Greek invaders, was the fabled, Trojan Horse also a genuine aspect of this savage battle? This historic event apparently occurred in 1184 B.C., at the culmination of a 10-year war, and long afterward, there were various, pictorial representations of a wooden horse used in combat in Troy. The earliest was on a bronze clasp dating to 700 B.C., actually showing a wheeled horse with men inside. The Mykonos vase, dated to 675 to 650 B.C., likewise displays a huge, wooden horse in battle, containing armed soldiers. Other representations have been found on several artifacts in Italy, dating back to 540 to 560 B.C., so it would certainly appear that the Trojan Horse was a well-known, accepted fact by that time.

The root cause of the Trojan War of 1194 to 1184 B.C. was a classic, love triangle. Setting aside an overly-complicated plot involving Greek gods and demi-gods, it all came down to Prince Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, sailing to Sparta (now in Greece) on a supposedly-diplomatic mission, where he met and fell in love with young Queen Helen, described as the most beautiful woman in the world, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Helen was also entranced with Paris (no relation to the later, French city), and they willingly left together for his home kingdom of Troy.

Menelaus’ brother, Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, led a huge expedition of Achaean (Greek) troops to Troy, and besieged the impregnable city for 10 years, seeking to bring Helen back to Sparta. She was known since Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 tragic play, Doctor Faustus, as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” because the Greek armada consisted of 1,186 pentekonter (“50-oared”) warships, broken down into 29 separate contingents under 46 captains, and totaling 60,000 men at the very least, and possibly as many as 130,000 men. Menelaus and Agamemnon provided 160 of these rowed ships themselves, and the great fighter, Odysseus (Ulysses, in Roman mythology) of Ithaca, a former suitor of Helen’s, joined them with 12 ships of his own.

This epic war, however, dragged on for 10 long and fruitless years, and it was ultimately impossible to breach the mighty walls of Troy to reach the inhabitants within. They were able to sustain themselves throughout this extended siege due to a natural spring in the earth below Troy, discovered during later excavations, and huge storage jars for stockpiling food in the cool ground beneath the citadel, exactly as Homer had described.

Over the course of the world-famous war, Prince Paris had already killed the young, Greek hero, Achilles, with a poisoned arrow to his heel, and Odysseus was awarded Achilles’ armor, as the next-greatest champion, who recovered Achilles’ body. Paris was later killed by Philoctetes, the son of a Greek king, using the famous bow of Hercules, and Helen, now universally referred to as “Helen of Troy,” was remarried to Paris’ younger brother, Prince Deïphobus, who had killed four famous Greeks in battle by that time.

Finally, in May of 1184 B.C., Odysseus suggested a daring and very unconventional trick to gain entry into the city. He proposed that they construct a large, hollow, wooden horse, the sacred symbol of the city of Troy itself, from the pine and fir timbers (mostly likely Trojan fir, from the southern slopes of Mount Ida [5,820 feet tall], about 80 miles sailing distance toward the south and east, and still in Troas) of their spare, shipbuilding wood, hide some Greek warriors inside it, whom he would personally lead, and leave the horse for the Trojans as a victory trophy.

The Greek fleet would then sail away out of sight, but not too far in the distance, only eight and a half miles away, to the harbor on nearby Tenedos island (now Bozcaada), leaving one man, Sinon, behind as a spy, pretending to be a deserter, to help convince the Trojans to accept the wooden horse as a gift. Once the elated Trojans had wheeled the horse inside the city gates, Sinon would build a bonfire to signal the nearby, Greek fleet to return, while Odysseus and his men would climb down, eliminate any sentries, and open the gates for the huge, Greek force to enter and conquer Troy.

The overall size of the Trojan Horse was very important. It had to be narrow enough to fit through the city’s main gate, which was about 13 feet wide, but tall enough that the Trojans would have to partially disassemble the 25-foot-high archway over the gate, thereby weakening it, to get the horse through, and it had to be large enough to accommodate a sizeable force of warriors inside.

Was its construction beyond the capabilities of common, Greek soldiers in the Late Bronze Age? Actually, it was quite simple to build, designed by Epeius, a master shipbuilder and repair expert, and assembled by many men over the course of only three days. Modern engineering estimates show that the horse was most likely 38 feet long, 10 feet wide, and approximately 28 feet tall, with four wooden wheels, each about three to four feet in diameter, and 16 inches wide. It weighed roughly 9,000 pounds empty, or more than 15,000 pounds fully loaded with troops, requiring 36 horses to draw it up the five-degree grade toward the walled city, which was less than five miles from the beach.

The number of Greek soldiers inside varies from 23 to 40, but one detailed account actually provides 30 names, including Odysseus, their leader, King Menelaus of Sparta, Epeius, the builder, Ajax the Lesser, a great fighter, Philoctetes, and 25 more warriors. Their unusual task required infinite patience, silence, and stealth, since all 30 of them would be inside the cramped horse for as many as five days, with a very high risk of detection if anyone sneezed, snored, or even spoke at all.

On an eerily quiet morning in early May of 1184 B.C., leaders of the anxious, besieged Trojans emerged from their city gates to find Sinon and the Trojan Horse outside, and the enormous, Greek armada now gone from the beaches, having burned their tents as they departed. The horse bore the inscription: “For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena.” Athena was the Greek and Trojan goddess of war. They both practiced the same, pagan religion. Sinon cleverly convinced the Trojans that the gift was genuine, and that it had been intentionally built to be too large for them to take it into the walled city, to gain the favor of Athena for themselves.

The natural, human temptation to fall for this obvious dare was simply too great to resist, so the Trojans dismantled the archway above their main gate, weakening it to bring the prized horse inside, despite the Trojan priest Laocoön warning them, “Trojans, don’t trust this horse. Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks, even those bearing gifts.” King Priam’s own daughter, Cassandra, the soothsayer of Troy, also insisted that the horse would be the downfall of the city and its royal family, but after a fierce debate, their protests were ignored.

Believing the long war to finally be over, and having apparently achieved victory over the relentless Greeks, the Trojans “joyfully dragged the horse inside the city,” as they still debated what to do with it. That night, they held wild, drunken celebrations, while Sinon lit a bright, signal fire soon after nightfall (about 8:30 PM) for the Greek fleet at Tenedos to observe. From there, they sailed for less than two hours under the cover of darkness, beginning at roughly nine PM, back to Troy Beach (now Yeniköy, Turkey), followed by a moonlit, nocturnal march of no more than three hours to reach the fortified city. Even allowing for unforeseen delays, they probably arrived at the city gates no later than two o’clock in the morning, with sunrise in that region anticipated at about 5:30 AM.

By two o’clock, the Trojans were relaxed, complacent, highly intoxicated, and at least half of them were likely asleep by then. Meanwhile, at midnight, with a clear moon rising, Odysseus and his elite, special operations team had silently descended from the Trojan Horse well inside the city, using either ropes (previously invented by the Egyptians about 3500 to 4000 B.C.) or a wooden ladder, although ropes would have been much simpler, quieter, and more efficient. Was this perhaps the ancient origin of modern “fast-roping” from helicopters? It certainly seems plausible.

Odysseus and his stealthy commandos then crept very slowly and quietly toward the front gate, eliminating every Trojan sentry, guard, or soldier that they encountered, until they could secure the main gateway to the walled city. They had no special training, but were simply the handpicked, best warriors of the Greek army, and the poet Virgil would later write that, “They can do all, because they think they can.” Thus, it was their raw confidence and combat experience that made them the world’s first Special Forces team. Once King Agamemnon had returned with the main, Greek force, Odysseus and his men opened the gates of Troy, and the mighty, Greek army poured inside.

This is when the great massacre of Trojans began, with the Greeks looting, pillaging, and sacking the city, killing most of the Trojan men either in battle or in their sleep, raping many of the women, and setting fire to the mostly-wooden structures within the high, city walls. The legend states that, “Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth, as Trojans...died...quelled by bitter death, all up and down the city in their blood.” The Trojans fought back in desperation, but they were disorganized and leaderless.

Neoptolemus, one of the Trojan Horse commandos, and already a great warrior in his own right, was the very young, probably teenaged, son of Achilles, and would kill more Trojans than anyone else on that fateful night. He immediately sought revenge for this father’s death in battle, ruthlessly tracking down King Priam of Troy, and killing him at the altar of Zeus (king of the Greek and Trojan gods), where Priam had taken refuge, which greatly angered the gods, as the story recounts.

Odysseus and King Menelaus remained together after climbing down from the horse, and they located Helen and her new husband, Deïphobus, whom Helen had just double-crossed by hiding his sword as the Greeks approached. Menelaus quickly killed him and mutilated his body, and then he turned to kill his unfaithful wife, Helen. Realizing that the end was near, she exposed her bare breasts to him, as if to say, “Go ahead, stab me here, through the heart.” But, he was so overcome by her beauty that he threw down his sword and spared her life.

The Greeks totally destroyed the city, and took the spoils of war with them. Menelaus brought Helen home to Sparta again, Agamemnon got Cassandra as a prize, Neoptolemus received Andromache, the wife of Hector, a slain, Trojan hero, and Odysseus was given Hecuba, King Priam’s wife, as a reward. But their destruction of the Trojan temples allegedly angered the gods, and very few of them returned home safely.

It took Menelaus and Helen eight years to reach Sparta again, due to storms and other mishaps. Agamemnon took Cassandra to Greece, but both of them were killed soon afterward. It took Odysseus a full 10 years to journey home to Ithaca, after enduring many wild adventures en route, as told in The Odyssey, by Homer. Aeneas, one of the few Trojan men to escape the slaughter, led a group of survivors who eventually settled in Italy, and were considered to be some of the early founders of Rome.

Modern films based upon the Trojan War included Helen of Troy (1956), The Trojan Horse (1961), and Troy (2004), starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, and Diane Kruger as Helen, with British actor Sean Bean as Odysseus.

Even today, more than 3,200 years later, the sheer savagery of the Trojan Horse incident that won the Trojan War has never been forgotten. The Greeks and Turks, although both are currently members of the NATO alliance, still hate each other with a vengeance that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. They even fought an all-out war in support of competing factions in Cyprus in 1974, and Cyprus is still a divided nation, part-ethnic-Greek and part-Turkish.

Both nations fly the American-designed, F-16C/D Fighting Falcon as their frontline, jet fighter, but they are constantly harassing one another. In fact, on October 8, 1996, a Greek Mirage 2000-5 fighter fired a Matra R550 Magic-2 heat-seeking missile over the Aegean Sea, and shot down a Turkish F-16Dfighter.

Then, in May 2006, Greek and Turkish F-16s had a mid-air collision over the southern Aegean Sea, resulting in the Turkish pilot being rescued by a civilian ship, while the Greek pilot was killed. Most recently, Greek and Turkish F-16s engaged each other on August 27, 2020, with video footage from a Turkish fighter showing a close, turning dogfight, and AIM-9X Super Sidewinder missile lock-on tones being activated, only two weeks after a surface collision between Greek and Turkish naval frigates.

The Turkish Air Force was supposed to begin upgrading from F-16Cs to F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters, but the arrangement was cancelled in July 2019 after Turkey insisted upon purchasing SA-21B Growler (S-400 Triumf, in Russian) ultra-long-range, surface-to-air missiles from the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, the Greeks are currently in the process of upgrading 84 of their F-16Cs (more than half of the inventory) to the F-16V Viper Block 70/72 configuration, with the APG-83 Scalable, Agile-Beam radar (SABR), a new mission computer, helmet-mounted sighting system, and other notable improvements.

For the official record, there is no such nation as “Greece.” It’s formally the “Hellenic Republic,” with its own Hellenic (not “Greek”) Armed Forces, including the Hellenic Army, Hellenic Navy, and Hellenic Air Force, with its brand-new, F-16V Vipers. Their national motto is “Freedom or Death,” which is nearly identical to the New Hampshire state motto, since 1809, of “Live Free or Die.”

While the etymology (the study of the origin of words and the historical development of their meanings) of the adjective “Hellenic” and the proper name “Helen” are not necessarily related, their derivation is also not certain or absolute, and is still open to interpretation. “Hellenic” is thus officially “a word of unknown origin,” sometimes attributed to Hellēn, son of Deucalion, who was in turn was the son of Prometheus, the mythological, Greek god of fire.

So, while Hellēn and Prometheus were fictitious characters, it would certainly appear that Helen of Troy was very real. Arguing against a positive connection between the word “Hellenic” and the proper name “Helen” is a lot like insisting that the English words “total” and “totally,” or “final” and “finally,” or “located” and “collocated” are completely unrelated, because one has only one “l”, while the other has two “ls.” See the flawed logic there?

Many scholars connect the words to a common root, σελ-, meaning “bright,” and Eλένη (“Helen”) would carry the meaning of “torch” or “torch-like woman.” After all, what ultimately happened to Troy? It was “put to the torch,” and burned to the ground, because of Helen. What this means is that, depending upon your interpretation of the word roots, and there are certainly many different theories and interpretations, “Helen” and “Hellenic” definitely canbe related to one another. It’s apparently an entire nation named for Queen Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world, “the face that launched a thousand ships,” of whom they were justifiably quite proud, but who was alsothe primary cause of the Trojan War. Well, no one is perfect, after all.

Is it really possible for a nation to honor just onewoman so much? Well, how about the British Commonwealth of Nations, all 54 of whom have Queen Elizabeth II’s image on their currency, and willingly accept her as their monarch? So, yes, it’s not only possible, but highly likely, and makes a great deal of historical sense.

Now, coming back to the famous, Trojan Horse itself, the ancient, pictorial depictions, combined with overwhelming, archeological evidence, and the known, construction capabilities of the Late Bronze Age, all certainly indicate that the world-renowned, wooden horse was quite real, a remarkable, wartime, engineering achievement, in a stunning case where modern science and archeology actually validate the centuries-old legends.

The sturdy, wooden, Trojan Horse indeed heralded the first special operations mission in recorded history, ending a lengthy, major war, and resulting in a decisive, Greek victory. This is why the U.S. Special Forces recognize it as the very beginning of their special operations heritage, using speed, stealth, deception, and surprise to win battles, and even entire wars.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe, Turkey (for two years), and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.

 
You've successfully subscribed to Gunpowder Magazine
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Gunpowder Magazine
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Contact - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy