When German troops surrounded the Bir Hakeim fort in Libya, Britain-born Susan Travers – the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral – refused to leave with the other female personnel. The only woman in the French Foreign Legion, she held out inside the fort with the other soldiers for 15 days in an attempt to withstand the heavy artillery of the Germans.
When food and supplies ran out, Travers and her lover General Marie-Pierre Kœnig knew that no help was coming, and it was up to them to save those who remained. And so they decided to make a run for it.
With Travers driving the lead truck, the remaining Free French soldiers made a daring escape. The Germans were none the wiser – until one of the trucks struck a landmine and exploded. When Kœnig told Travers “If we go, the rest will follow,” Travers hit the gas and darted their vehicle through the desert under heavy fire.
Her lead vehicle would take 11 bullets in total, but would make it to the border – along with the 2,500 Free French soldiers that she helped save. Travers went on to drive a “self-propelled anti-tank gun” in France, and became an official member of the Legion by leaving her gender off the application.
Travers was the recipient of the Legion d’Honneur, the Medaille Militaire, and the Croix de Guerre, all very high honors in the French Military. Of her desert dash? “My main concern was that the engine would stall,” Travers said. “It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark.”
A Hollywood starlet from the 1930s until the 1950s, Hedy Lamarr was known as “the most beautiful woman in Europe” – but her looks and acting skills were far from the defining aspects of her life.
When not acting, the Austrian immigrant dabbled in tech. During the early stages of WWII, Lamarr and composer George Antheil created a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes.
“She understood that the problem with radio signals was that they could be jammed,” Lamarr’s biographer, Richard Rhodes, wrote. “But if you could make the signal hop around more or less randomly from radio frequency to radio frequency, then the person at the other end trying to jam the signal won’t know where it is.”
Lamarr and Antheil successfully developed a means to prevent the jamming of torpedoes’ frequency hopping – along with spread spectrum technology. The invention — which would lead to the development of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and guided missile systems — was patented in 1941, but the Navy did not put their invention to use until the 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Hedy Lamarr was honored in 1997 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award, a BULBIE (basically the Oscars of inventing) and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.