The Strangest Military Units in History And Why They Existed

Over the course of human history, there have been countless militaries, armies, and units, some of which were formed for peculiar reasons. This article contains a list, in no particular order, of some of the weirdest and most uniquely fascinating military units ever assembled.

The Monuments Men

Monuments Men
Photo Credit: US Military / Public Domain

The Monuments Men, officially the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, was a unit formed as a result of the war raging across Europe during WWII. The unit was established in 1943 and was comprised of scholars, art historians, museum staff, and other experts who could help protect cultural heritage in Europe. Many extremely valuable or important buildings, landmarks, and artifacts had become victims of the war.

The Monuments Men were sent over t0 Europe with the Allies to ensure the war did not claim any more culturally important items. They were actively involved in the planning of Allied missions and drew up maps to mark out important buildings and landmarks that were to be protected. These were given to Allied pilots so they would not attack these marked areas. As the Nazis were pushed back, the Monuments Men were tasked with hunting missing art and artifacts stolen by them. They recovered art from artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. The unit was disbanded in 1946.

The Ghost Army

Dummy Sherman Tank
Photo Credit: United States Army / Public Domain

In 1944 the US established the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a tactical deception unit that had the job of feeding the enemy misinformation. The unit used a number of techniques to do this. The sounds of military movements were recorded back in the US and played over powerful amplifiers. These effects could be heard from up to 15 miles away and imitate the noises created by various types of military movements.

They also used visual deception to trick the enemy from a distance. The Ghost Army could build highly detailed and convincing mock-up military installations, complete with fake inflatable tanks, trucks, and jeeps and even laundry hung out to dry.

Some would dress up in uniforms worn by other units, including their insignia, to confuse enemy scouts or spies. Others would even pretend to be generals and officers. Highly accurate but fake radio traffic was used too, which could replicate the communications of real units. These techniques were able to trick the Germans into thinking there was a substantial military presence in an otherwise undefended area or draw their attention away from real units.

Due to the nature of their work, the Ghost Army often operated near the front lines. After the war, their exploits were classified and remained so until 1996.

The Potsdam Giants

Potsdam Giants
Frederick William I inspecting his giant guards known as The Potsdam Giants, a Prussian infantry regiment No 6, composed of taller-than-average soldiers. Frederick William I of Prussia, 1688 – 1740, aka Soldier King. King in Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg. From Ward and Lock’s Illustrated History of the World, published c.1882. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Potsdam Giants was the prized unit of King Frederick William I of Prussia in the 1700s. When he came to power in 1713, the height-obsessed king expanded an elite unit of exceptionally tall soldiers. They were paid handsomely and lived in some of the best conditions available in the Prussian military. In addition, they were fed high-quality food.

They wore grand uniforms and were topped with a 45 cm Grenadier cap to make them appear even taller. The king’s passion for his tall troops can best be described as an obsession. In fact, he once told a French ambassador “The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers—they are my weakness.”

Filling the Potsdam Giants’ ranks was tall order. The king dispatched a team of scouts to find tall men all over Europe. If they refused to join the regiment they were kidnapped.

Frederick wanted to increase the height of his soldiers, so he placed some of them on a custom-built stretching rack. After a number of deaths, he called off the experiments. He also paired his tall troops with tall women to try and breed more soldiers for his regiment. In 1740 Frederick died, and so did his military unit that contained his beloved Potsdam Giants.

The 10,000 Immortals

10,000 Immortals
Relief of Immortals, the Apadana, Persepolis, Iran. The Immortals were an elite royal guard within the Achaemenid Persian army. Only ethnic Persians or Medeans could be members of the unit which, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, always numbered precisely 10,000 men. The Immortals fought against the Greeks at the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, and were defeated by Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. (Photo by Vivienne Sharp/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This elite heavily armed unit was part of the Achaemenid Empire. Although not much is known about the details of this powerful force, their reputation has not been forgotten. According to Greek writer and historian Herodotus, the unit got its name due to its constant size of 10,000 soldiers. If a single member was wounded, killed, or ill they were immediately replaced. Similarly, the number of troops never exceeded 10,000.

The Persian name for the unit is not known.

This elite group served mostly as the king’s bodyguards and received special privileges, like being able to take concubines and servants with their marches. One of their most notable engagements was at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.


Native officers of the 44th Gurkhas, Indian army, 1896. Adjutant of the 44th Gurkhas, Lieutenant JA Wilson, with the native commissioned officers of the battalion. A print from The Navy and Army Illustrated, 24th July 1896. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The Gurkhas are a Nepalese unit known for their bravery and physical toughness. In the early 1800s, the British East India Company suffered high casualties during the Anglo-Nepalese War. The British recognized the incredible fighting ability of the Gorkhali soldiers and were impressed, so when a peace deal was signed, the British offered Nepalese soldiers the opportunity to join them.

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Known as the Gurkhas, they were eventually integrated into the British Army where they fought with distinction. Today, the selection process to join the Gurkhas is one of the toughest in the world, and they still carry their traditional kukri knife. Their motto “Better to die than be a coward” is befitting of their reputation.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE