There are some battlecruisers that might have lasted for a bit, but all too often, battlecruisers had a very short combat career — usually ending in a spectacular fashion.
They had originally been designed to carry a set of big guns to blast apart enemy cruisers, but they also had a very high top speed, so they could outrun anything that could give them a fair fight.
The Royal Navy was familiar with battlecruisers blowing up when hit. They saw it happen at Jutland and the Denmark Strait. But Japan had its own bad experience with battlecruisers. Here are three case studies.
1. HIJMS Akagi
Okay, technically, this is an aircraft carrier, but she was converted from a battle cruiser. Akagi was impressive – ww2db.com notes she displaced 36,500 tons and was over 850 feet long. She carried as many as 90 planes.
She went down because of one bomb. Granted, it was a 1,000-pound bomb, but it was still just one conventional bomb.
According to the book “Shattered Sword” by Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, that bomb (plus the presence of aircraft being armed and fueled) lead to catastrophic fires that eventually forced Isoroku Yamamoto to order his old command to be scuttled.
Akagi had packed a powerful punch in six months of combat – including credit for wrecking the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) and damaging the USS West Virginia (BB 48). But she proved to have a glass jaw.
2. HIJMS Hiei
On paper, the HIJMS Hiei (along with her sister ship HIJMS Kirishima) should have torn through Daniel Callaghan’s force at Guadalcanal like a kid through Christmas presents. They were two of the four Kongo-class battlecruisers, and brought the biggest guns to the fight.
But instead, it was Dan Callaghan who triumphed that night (at the cost of his life). As for Hiei? She took an 8-inch armor-piercing shell in the steering compartment, and was left a cripple. The next morning, planes from Henderson Field finished her off.
Crippled by a cruiser, then sunk by planes from the airfield she was supposed to bombard, makes Hiei a classic loser.
Her sister, Kirishima, didn’t fare much better. She went toe-to-toe with the USS Washington (BB 56) two nights later, and was reduced to a wreck before she was scuttled.
3. HIJMS Kongo
The lead Kongo-class battlecruiser lasted longer, mostly because during World War II, carriers were rightly seen as the more valuable targets. But when the USS Sealion (SS 315), commanded by Lt. Cdr. Eli Thomas Reich, got her in its sights, Kongo ended up as just another battlecruiser statistic.
Here sources disagree on how many hits she took. Anthony Tully notes at CombinedFleet.com that the Kongo took at least two hits, leading to an eventual capsizing and explosion.
Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison said in the “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II” that a single hit lead to the explosive end of Kongo.
So, there you have it. Three more reasons why battlecruisers are losers — provided by the Japanese Navy.
Naval mine countermeasures have not gotten a lot of attention in the press, which is strange considering that the job is crucial. Of the last four US Navy ships damaged by hostile action, three were by mines — the other was an Oct. 2000 terrorist attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67).
In 1988, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) suffered severe damage from an Iranian mine, which put the vessel out of action for over a year. During Operation Desert Storm, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH 10) were both damaged by mines.
So, what keeps today’s Navy safe from deadly mines?
USS Scout (MCM 8), an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, in Los Angeles for Fleet Week.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Harkins)
11 Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
The Navy built 14 of these vessels, starting with USS Avenger (MCM 1), which was commissioned in 1987. Prior to that, the bulk of the Navy’s minesweeper force consisted primarily of World War II-era vessels. The other 13 Avenger-class vessels entered service within the following seven years. Eleven of these ships are still in service. USS Avenger and USS Defender (MCM 2) have been decommissioned, and one vessel, USS Guardian (MCM 5), ran aground and was a total loss.
These vessels have a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 84 officers and enlisted. Their primary systems for mine warfare are remote operated vehicles that can descend hundreds of feet below the ocean to neutralize mines.
A MH-53 Sea Dragon lowers its mine-hunting sonar.
(US Navy photo by MCSN William Carlisle)
30 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters
The Navy operates 30 of these heavy-lift helicopters that were acquired in the 1980s. While they bear a superficial resemblance to the CH-53E Super Stallion, there are some big differences. Most notable is the fact that they have larger sponsons to hold more fuel. They can also carry additional fuel tanks in the cargo compartment.
The MH-53E has a maximum range of 885 miles and a top speed of 172 miles per hour. These helicopters tow a mine-sweeping sled and can operate from any aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship. These helicopters are slated to retire in 2025.
A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter hovers while a technician drops down to handle a mine.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Devin Wray)
256 MH-60S Seahawk multirole helicopters
This helicopter will assume the airborne mine-countermeasures role among the many other missions it carries out when the Sea Dragons retire. This versatile helicopter is responsible for vertical replenishment, combat search-and-rescue missions, anti-surface warfare, medical evacuation, and supporting special operations forces. They can operate from any carrier, amphibious vessel, or surface combatant.
This helicopter has a top speed of 180 knots and a maximum range of 245 nautical miles. While the 256 MH-60S helicopters purchased by the Navy offer a lot of versatility, the range and endurance are a significant step down from the Sea Dragon.
USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, is intended to help replace the Avenger mine countermeasures ships.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Kaleb R. Staples)
12 Littoral Combat Ships
So far, the Navy has commissioned 12 littoral combat ships. These ships were primarily intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, but also being given double duty in also replacing the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessels. Their mine-clearing capability is based on a mission package that is centered around the use of MH-60S helicopters and remote-operated vehicles.
The littoral combat ship has been controversial due to numerous breakdowns and a smattering of other issues, and the production run is being cut short in favor of new guided-missile frigates.
No historical account of World War II would be complete without covering the Battle of Iwo Jima.
At first glance, it seems similar to many other battles that happened late in the Pacific War: American troops fiercely fought their way through booby traps, Banzai charges and surprise attacks while stalwart dug-in Japanese defenders struggled against overwhelming U.S. power in the air, on land and by sea.
For the United States Marine Corps, however, the Battle of Iwo Jima was more than one more island in a string of battles in an island-hopping campaign. The Pacific War was one of the most brutal in the history of mankind, and nowhere was that more apparent than on Iwo Jima in February 1945.
After three years of fighting, U.S. troops didn’t know the end was near for the Japanese Empire. For them, every island was part of the preparation they needed to invade mainland Japan.
The 36-day fight for Iwo Jima led Adm. Chester Nimitz to give the now-immortal praise, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Here are six reasons why the battle is so important to Marines:
1. It was the first invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.
The Japanese Empire controlled many islands in the Pacific area. Saipan, Peleliu and other islands were either sold to Japan after World War I or it was given control of them by the League of Nations. Then, it started invading others.
Iwo Jima was different. Though technically far from the Japanese Home Islands, it is considered to be part of Tokyo and is administered as part of its subprefecture.
After three years of taking control of islands previously captured by the Japanese, the Marines were finally taking part of the Japanese capital.
2. Iwo Jima was strategically necessary for the United States’ war effort.
Taking the island meant more than a symbolic capture of the Japanese homeland. It meant the U.S. could launch bombing runs from Iwo Jima’s strategic airfields, as the tiny island was directly under the flight path of B-29 Superfortresses from Guam, Saipan and the Mariana Islands.
Now, the Army Air Forces would be able to make bombing runs without a Japanese garrison at Iwo Jima warning the mainland about the danger to come. It also meant American bombers could fly over Japan with fighter escorts.
3. It was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the Marine Corps.
Iwo Jima is a small island, covering roughly eight square kilometers. It was defended by 20,000 Japanese soldiers who spent a year digging in, creating miles of tunnels beneath the volcanic rock, and who were ready to fight to the last man.
When the battle was over, 6,800 Americans were dead and a further 26,000 wounded or missing. This means 850 Americans died for every square mile of the island fortress. Only 216 Japanese troops were taken prisoner.
4. More gallantry was on display at Iwo Jima than any other battle before or since.
Iwo Jima saw more Medals of Honor awarded for actions there than any other single battle in American history. A total of 27 were awarded, 22 to Marines and five to Navy Corpsmen. In all of World War II, only 81 Marines and 57 sailors were awarded the medal.
To put it in a statistical perspective, 20% of all WWII Navy and Marine Corps Medals of Honor were earned at Iwo Jima.
5. U.S. Marines were Marines and nothing else on Iwo Jima.
The U.S. has seen significant problems with race relations in its history. And though the armed forces weren’t fully integrated until 1948, the U.S. military has always been on the forefront of racial and gender integration. The Marines at Iwo Jima came from every background.
While African Americans were still not allowed on frontline duty because of segregation, they piloted amphibious trucks full of White and Latino Marines to the beaches at Iwo Jima, moved ammunition and supplies to the front, buried the dead and fought off surprise attacks from Japanese defenders. Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in taking the island. They were all Marines.
6. The iconic flag-raising became the symbol for all Marines who died in service.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi is perhaps one of the best-known war photos ever taken. Raising the American flag at the island’s highest point sent a clear message to both the Marines below and the Japanese defenders. In the years that followed, the image took on a more important role.
It soon became the symbol of the Marine Corps itself. When the Marine Corps Memorial was dedicated in 1954, it was that image that became the symbol of the Corps’ spirit, dedicated to every Marine who gave their life in service to the United States.
At age 25, Monica Rosario was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, a diagnosis that would start her on a personal battle, not only for her future as a Soldier, but for her life.
“When they told me, I felt very numb,” Rosario remembered. She was a first lieutenant serving as a company executive officer in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the time.
It never occurred to Rosario, now a captain at Fort Leonard Wood awaiting her pickup in Engineer Captain’s Career Course, that the reason for her frequent visits to her doctor could be so dire. Doctors kept telling her she was just dehydrated and needed to go home and rest.
During one emergency room visit in January of 2015, however, a doctor inquired about Rosario’s frequent medical issues, and her responses prompted him to recommend a colonoscopy.
Her mother and father, who lived not far away in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, accompanied her to the appointment. That’s when they learned it could be cancer. The diagnosis was confirmed at a follow-up exam.
“It really hit [my mom] harder than it hit me,” Rosario said. “She was more emotional than I was because I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Rosario’s mentor and commanding officer at the time, Capt. Chinyere Asoh, said she understood what Rosario was about to endure.
“I served as a commander and, each day, I heard news of Soldiers going through the worst unimaginable concerns of their lives, but I stayed strong for them and their families,” Asoh said.
When Asoh heard the news her executive officer had cancer, she couldn’t hide the emotion.
“For me, this was different,” Asoh admitted. “My fighter [Capt. Rosario] was going down, and there was nothing I could do. The day I found out, I called my battalion commander as I cried.”
Rosario approached her situation from another perspective — one inspired by former ESPN anchorman, Stuart Scott, who fought a seven-year battle with cancer. Scott lost that battle in 2015 at age 49.
“Whenever you are going through it, you don’t feel like you are doing anything extraordinary because you are only doing what you have to do to survive,” Rosario said.
Rosario confessed that, while she was undergoing treatment, it made her uncomfortable when people called her a hero. There was nothing she was doing that made her special, she believed.
“When you have to be strong and you have to survive, you don’t feel like you are doing anything special,” she said.
The Army provided Rosario with the time and support she needed in order to devote herself to recovery, she said.
“I can say the Army served me when I needed it most, and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I know there were many times I could have quit. I could have settled for someone telling me I should medically retire. But I knew the Army had more in store for me.”
Rosario said it took about two weeks to recover from her surgery before she could start chemotherapy. Following six months of chemo, it took another two months before she was able to resume her physical training.
She fought hard to keep herself ready to return to full-duty so she could continue her career. Her will to fight was an inspiration to her husband.
“My wife is literally the strongest person I know,” said Bernard McGee, a former military police officer. “She has been through it all and has mustered the strength to take on even more challenges. She is a true warrior.”
“Monica is a true fighter, and I am happy to state that she is a survivor,” Asoh said. “Her illness did not define her. Rather, it broadened her view of life.”
Rosario credits positive thinking and the support of her Army family for keeping her in the Army so that she could make it to Fort Leonard Wood to complete the Engineer Captain’s Career Course.
“The Army’s resiliency training has instilled in me the ability to stay strong and stay resilient in all aspects of life,” she said. “Being resilient has helped me and still helps me on a daily basis. Seeking positive thought, and staying away from negative thoughts impact how we feel and how we live every day.”
The US Defense Department is making another multi-million dollar investment in high-energy lasers that have the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide military forces with other portable, less costly options on the battlefield.
US Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and longtime supporter of directed energy research, announced the $17 million investment during a news conference Wednesday inside a Boeing lab where many of the innovations were developed.
The US already has the ability to shoot down enemy rockets and take out other threats with traditional weapons, but Heinrich said it’s expensive.
High-energy lasers and microwave systems represent a shift to weapons with essentially endless ammunition and the ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time, he said.
“This is ready for prime time and getting people to just wrap their head around the fact that you can put a laser on something moving really fast and destroy it … has been the biggest challenge,” said Heinrich, who has an engineering degree.
Boeing has been working on high-energy laser and microwave weapons systems for years. The effort included a billion-dollar project to outfit a 747 with a laser cannon that could shoot down missiles while airborne. The system was complex and filled the entire back half of the massive plane.
With advancements over the past two decades, high-powered laser weapons systems can now fit into a large suitcase for transport across the battlefield or be mounted to a vehicle for targeting something as small as the device that controls the wings of a military drone.
“Laser technology has moved from science fiction to real life,” said Ron Dauk, head of Boeing’s Albuquerque site.
The company’s compact laser system has undergone testing by the military and engineers are working on a higher-powered version for testing next year.
While the technology has matured, Dauk and Heinrich said the exciting part is that it’s on the verge of moving from the lab to the battlefield.
Another $200 million has been requested in this year’s defense appropriations bill that would establish a program within the Pentagon for accelerating the transition of directed-energy research to real applications.
Heinrich said continued investment in such projects will help solidify New Mexico’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research and bring more money and high-tech jobs to the state.
Boeing already contributes about $120 million to the state’s economy through its contracts with vendors.
In the November issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Commander Daniel Thomassen of the Royal Norwegian Navy argued that Russia’s dream to build a blue water, or global, navy remains a “pipe dream.”
Russia’s navy has made headlines recently with high profile cruise missile strikes on Syria, and the deployment of the core of its northern fleet, including the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, to the Mediterranean.
“Russia is capable of being a regional naval power in local theaters of choice. But large-scale efforts to develop an expensive expeditionary navy with aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships only would diminish Russia’s geographically overstretched homeland defense forces,” writes Thomassen.
Thomassen goes on to point out that strong navies have strong allies and healthy fleets. While Russia has been improving its fleet with some particularly good submarines, it lacks a big fleet that can build partnerships with allies around the world through bilateral exercises.
But the state of Russia’s navy now is only part of the picture. Russia has never been a major naval power, Thomassen points out. At times Moscow has established itself as a coastal naval power, but it never had a truly global reach on par with historic powers like England or Spain.
But that doesn’t seem to matter to Russian leadership, which has set “highly ambitious governmental guidelines for developing and using sea power over the next decades.”
In addition to its submarine fleet, Russia wants new frigates, cruisers, and even carriers. These prospects seem especially dubious because Russia’s Kuznetsov isn’t really a strike carrier like the US’s Nimitz-class carriers.
The Kuznetsov has never conducted a combat mission. Mechanical troubles plague the Kuznetsov, so much so that it often sails with a tugboat. Also, the Kuznetsov just isn’t built for the kind of mission it will undertake off Syria’s coast.
The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. | Creative Commons photo
“Since a major confrontation between NATO and Warsaw Pact would most likely take place in Europe, during the later Cold War Soviet planners focused on protecting the heavily defended ‘bastions’ shielding their ballistic missile submarines and not seaborne power projection.
In fact, Russia itself doesn’t have the makings of a global sea power. While it has both Pacific and Atlantic coasts, like the US, the population of Russia’s far east is about as sparse as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
But one powerful reason dictates why Russia’s leadership still marches towards this seemingly unattainable goal — prestige. Being seen as a credible alternative to Western naval power seems important to Russian leadership, and operating a carrier is one way to do that. Additionally, Moscow will spin its carrier deployment as propaganda, or a showcase for its military wares.
So while Russia has capable, credible naval forces to defend its homeland and near interests, it will likely never project power abroad like the US and other naval powers of the past have.
A specialized VA lender, a military-friendly real estate agent and a national homebuilder joined forces to help a disabled veteran use his VA loan benefits with a government grant to build the home he’d dreamed of for almost 2 decades.
John Swanson comes from a long line of military members. He was born at Southern California’s Fort MacArthur. His grandfather was in WWII and retired as a full bird Colonel. His father was an Army Sergeant in the Korean War, and his Uncle was an Army Captain. John was determined to carry on the family tradition. The Vietnam War was in full swing in 1971, and while he was more than ready to join, he was too young. Just before his seventeenth birthday, John enlisted in the U.S. Army Delayed Entry Program (DEP) to ensure an active duty slot when he came of age.
During an infantry training exercise, John fell 50 feet repelling from a helicopter. The medics found nothing broken, so John was ordered to keep training under advisement. He was ordered on a 10-mile compass run in shower shoes, during which John’s ankles collapsed underneath him. This time, the doctors determined he could not continue training. He was released under the discharge category “undesirable conditions. ”
“My whole purpose was to serve my country, but it wasn’t meant to be,” John shares. The Vietnam Era veteran had to fight for his honorable discharge, which he eventually received. Meanwhile, he had darting pain and decreased mobility in his arms and legs. Upon further medical examination, he was diagnosed with a chronic neurological syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Now confined to a wheelchair, John was upgraded from 60 percent to 100 percent disability.
“It was hard not to notice the wheelchair,” says John’s finance Terry Kaut, whom he met at a singles club 13 years ago. “But John was so full of life and joy. Later I found out how much pain he was in, which made his outlook even more amazing,” she added. After 10 years of dating, John and Terry decided to live together in a two-bedroom apartment near Sacramento. The only room suited for John’s disability was the bathroom.
“I’ve bruised my knee caps and broken several toes,” shares John, referring to the narrow halls and doorways in typical rentals. “I chased the American Dream for a long time, but accessible homes just don’t come up that often,” John explains. “So I lived in what was available.”
John’s housing frustrations turned to hope when he heard of a grant administered under the VA Loan Guaranty Division. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities build or modify homes to best suit their needs. He applied for the grant in 2012 and searched for a VA-approved mortgage lender to help him use his VA benefits.
John applied for a loan with iFreedom Direct®, a nationwide lender that specializes in home loans for veterans. Later John was connected to Sherry Dolan, a Sacramento-based Keller Williams® real estate agent familiar with the VA loan process. Sherry says, “I’ve sold a lot of homes to a lot of veterans, but this was the most challenging and most rewarding.”
The first issue was the grant. It had been months and John still hadn’t heard back from the VA. Debbie had a connection at the Department of Veterans Affairs that reported the paperwork had either been lost or never received. Together, Sherry and Debbie helped John reapply. Sherry enlisted the help of Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s office to expedite the second application to make up for lost time. Within just a few months, John was awarded the fully-allotted $67,555.
Meanwhile, Sherry set out with the couple to look for a house. She saw John struggling. “Terry and I lugged a heavy ramp around just so he could get up the front steps,” she explained. “He couldn’t access back rooms or step-down garages.” Sherry also saw that sunken living rooms, common in California, were a problem.
Then another issue surfaced regarding renovation. John’s respiratory problems required that they live in their apartment until any construction dust settled. With John’s fixed disability income and Terri ‘s modest income as a middle school registrar, they could afford rent or a mortgage payment. Not both.
Sherry thought to seek help from a builder. She approached several, but only one took an active interest in helping John. Lennar Homes had a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova with six model homes. The company agreed to adapt a single-story floor plan under SAH guidelines to suit John’s disability. Lennar® also financed the construction phase so John and Terri could keep renting until the home was finished.
The original blueprint was modified with John and Terry in mind. The specially-adapted model resulted in a 1,794 square-foot, three-bedroom home with 42-inch doorways, wheelchair-friendly flooring, an accessible master bathroom with roll-in shower, a ramped garage, flat front and back entrances, left-handed light switches, and many more customized details.
“The home represents a unique situation for us, but the project has definitely increased our awareness and the need for adaptable homes,” says Division President Gordon Jones. “We were honored to be able to serve a veteran in this way.”
Given the venture’s success, the builder welcomes the opportunity to serve other veterans. According to Lennar®, John’s house was the first-ever specially adapted home built by the Northern California division with money from an SAH grant.
“Thanks to this dedicated team of professionals who worked together, Mr. Swanson was finally able to get into a home,” shares iFreedom Direct’s Customer Experience Director Tim Lewis, a Retired U.S. Army Major.
John may have never gotten the opportunity to serve on foreign soil, but, as fiancé Terry relays, he has served for years from his wheelchair. “He counseled GIs and other individuals with RSD and answered a hot line for years,” says Terry. “And, now because of John, the way is paved for other disabled veterans to build a Lennar® home to fit their needs.”
A housewarming party took place shortly after John and Terry moved into their new home. The entire team came together to celebrate, along with many of the couple’s new neighbors and some local veterans. To honor the special occasion, iFreedom Direct had installed a 20′ flagpole in the front yard and Tim Lewis presented John with an American flag during an emotional dedication ceremony.
(Left to Right: In front of the specially-adapted Lennar home after flag raising ceremony are iFreedom Direct loan officer Debbie Losser, Keller Williams real estate agent Sherry Dolan, homeowner John Swanson and fiancé Terry Haut and Dolan’s real estate partner Belinda Mills)
When asked what this house meant to him, John fought his emotions to get these words out, “It means the world. It’s hard holding back the tears when I think how everybody came together to make it happen for us.”
Veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities may be eligible for SAH grants. To apply, submit VA form 26-4555 to your VA Regional Loan Center. For information about VA loans, contact iFreedom Direct®.
iFreedom Direct®, a top VA-approved lender, has served America’s brave men and women by providing quality VA loans since 1996. These zero-to-low down payment mortgages, backed in part by the Department of Veteran Affairs, help eligible borrowers purchase and refinance homes at competitive interest rates. Pre-qualify at www.ifreedomdirect.com or 800-230-2986.
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
In the firearms community, people are either Glock haters or Glock lovers. Whichever camp you belong to, the popularity and reputation of the Glock platform cannot be denied. Since its adoption by the Austrian Army as the P80 in 1982, Glock pistols have been issued to the armed forces, security agencies and law enforcement organizations of over 48 countries, including the FBI and U.S. Navy SEALs. Today, you can now buy a reissue of the Glock that started it all: the P80.
An FBI Special Agent takes aim with a Glock 19M (FBI)
Since WWII, the Austrian Army’s standard-issue sidearm has been the Walther P38. Though it was an important pistol from an engineering standpoint, having introduced technical features that ended up in the Beretta 92/M9, antiquated features like its 8-round magazine led the Austrian Army to solicit a new pistol in 1980. Among the Army’s 17 criteria, they required that the new pistol be self-loading, chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, secure from accidental discharge, and use magazines that did not require any means of assistance for loading.
Engineer and company founder, Gaston Glock, had extensive experience with advanced synthetic polymers, but no experience with firearm design or manufacturing. When he heard about the Army’s planned procurement in 1982, he assembled a team of leading handgun experts including military, police, and civilian shooters from around Europe to develop a revolutionary new handgun. Less than three months later, Glock had a working prototype. Incorporating Glock’s expertise in synthetic polymers, the new pistol made extensive use of synthetic materials and modern manufacturing processes that made it very cost-effective.
Austrian soldiers train with modern Glock pistols (Bundesheer)
Though the pistol held 17 rounds and conformed to the Army’s 17 criteria, it was called the Glock 17 because it was the 17th patent procured by the company. Several samples were submitted to the Austrian Army for testing. After an intense and abusive assessment, Glock was declared to be the winner of the competition, beating out pistols like the Heckler Koch P7, Sig Sauer P226, Beretta 92, and the FN Browning Hi-Power. The Glock 17 would be a new sidearm for both the Austrian military and police. It was designated as the P80 and an initial order of 25,000 pistols was placed.
Today, these initial Glock 17/P80 models are known as Gen 1 Glocks. They are most easily recognized by their pebble finish grips which wrap all the way around. The first Glock 17s were imported into the United States in 1986 and were shipped and sold in plastic boxes which are often referred to as “Tupperware” boxes.
The P80 reissue in the iconic “Tupperware” box (Lipsey’s Guns)
Original Gen 1 Glocks are few and far between on the used market and fetch top dollar; priced more like collectibles than shooter guns. In order to satisfy consumers, companies have released aftermarket P80 kits that allow shooters to build replicas of the original Glock that they can take to the range without fear of ruining their investment. Noticing this demand in the market, firearms distributor Lipsey’s Guns reached out to Glock to do a collaboration and bring the original P80 back to the market.
This reissue of the venerable P80 incorporates both original features and styling along with modern shooting luxuries to provide consumers with an authentic and shootable pistol. Like the original P80, the reissue utilizes a non-railed frame free of finger grooves. It also features the iconic pebble grain texturing that wraps all the way around the grip. Lipsey’s worked with Glock to recreate the Gen 1 single pin frame, smooth trigger, and original flat extractor. Though the reissue incorporates the original P80 markings in the same font from 1982, they were unable to acquire the licensing to apply the Austrian Army markings to the pistol. Also unlike the original P80, the reissue comes with a magazine that drops free from the gun, a feature that makes the reissue more shootable than the original. The pistol also comes in the classic “Tupperware” box which sits in a commemorative overbox along with a certificate of authenticity from Glock.
The commemorative overbox that holds the “Tupperware” box (Lipsey’s Guns)
“I have always wanted to do a retro Glock pistol,” said Lipsey’s Project Development Manager Jason Cloessner. “Glock took painstaking measures to recreate the original frames and packaging to make this P80 edition as close to the original as we could get. Not only is this edition a great shooter, but it also helps tell the amazing story of how Glock came to be.” The P80 reissue carries an MSRP of 9. Compared to the MSRP of 9 for a modern Glock 17 Gen 5, the reissue allows shooters to own a P80 at the cost of a regular Glock. Though production of the first wave of P80 reissues is limited, Lipsey’s has announced that the P80 itself will not be a limited edition and that more waves of stock will follow in the future.
These days, military documentaries are all over TV. Some are feature-length films and others are TV series. They cover everything, from discussing various weapon systems to describing famous, historical battles. But there was one series that kicked this whole genre off — that was Victory at Sea. The 26-episode limited series was a smash hit that won an Emmy and a Peabody Award. But it wasn’t just award-winning, it was groundbreaking.
According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Navy veteran Harry Salomon was working with Samuel Eliot Morison to compile what would eventually become the fifteen-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II when he got the idea to do a TV documentary. In the process, Salomon discovered just how much footage was available — over 11,000 miles of film, shot by all of the warring powers.
Inspired, Salomon talked with his old college roommate, who then worked for NBC. His friend was all for the idea and helped him get the green light for the series in 1951. The United States Navy, coming off the Revolt of the Admirals and fighting the Korean War, agreed to support the venture. NBC offered a $500,000 budget for the series — in 1951 dollars. In today’s money, that’s just under $4.84 million.
The series covered all aspects of the sea battles in the Second World War, including the anti-submarine campaign fought by escort carriers like USS Mission Bay (CVE 59)
Eventually, the 11,000 miles of film was cut down to a grand total 61,000 feet — just over 11.55 miles. Richard Rodgers, best known for his work on Broadway and in Hollywood, composed a stirring score, Leonard Graves signed on to do narration, and the series was underway. All aspects of the conflict were covered, from the chilly Arctic waters to the heated battles in the paradise of the South Pacific.
The stirring soundtrack provided by Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) comes through, especially when covering dramatic moments, like the kamikaze campaign.
The 26-episode series made its premiere in October of 1952. NBC aired the series without commercial interruption. It was a huge hit.
Not only did the naval campaigns of the Second World War get exposed to a wider audience, but an entire new TV genre was launched. Today, the series is under public domain and can be seen on YouTube.
Watch the first episode of the show that gave rise to the military documentary genre below!
Okay, you’ve heard all the complaints about the F-35. It’s super-expensive. It’s got problems getting ready for combat. But in the real world, there’s no other option. And as WATM has already explained, the Marine Corps desperately needs to replace its F/A-18 Hornets.
But suppose, instead of blowing their RD money on the F-35, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines had decided to pull out File A56-7W and instead replicate Airwolf? They’d have gotten a much better deal – and it might even have helped the Army, too.
Airwolf’s specs (click here for another source) reveal this helicopter already took advantage of some stealth technology, had modern ECM systems and sensors, and very heavy armament (four 30mm cannon, two 40mm cannon, and various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles). All in all, it’s very powerful, even if it was the brainchild of one of the big TV showrunners of the 1980s and 1990s.
So, why does it beat the F-35? Here are some of the reasons.
1. It can operate off any ship
With a top speed of over Mach 2, Airwolf may have the performance of a fighter jet, but it takes off and lands like a helicopter – without the need for the complex mechanisms used on the V-22 Osprey.
Think of it this way; with Airwolf in its hanger deck every surface combatant and amphibious ship could carry what amounts to a Generation 4.5 fighter. Even the Littoral Combat Ships could handle Airwolf, giving them a lot more punch in a fight than they currently have.
2. It would replace more airframes than the F-35 would
The F-35 is replacing the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and A-10 Thunderbolt II in U.S. service. Airwolf not only would replace all four of those airframes, but it would also replace all of the AH-1 and AH-64 helicopters in Marine Corps and Army service. The promise of the TFX program as originally envisioned in the 1960s could be fulfilled at last!
3. Better performance
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the F-35 has a top speed of Mach 1.6, a ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a range of 1,350 miles without refueling. Airwolf hits a top speed of Mach 2, a ceiling of 100,000 feet, and a range of 1,450 miles.
In other words, Airwolf would have the F-35 beat in some crucial areas. Now, the F-35 might have an advantage in terms of payload (fixed-wing planes usually have that edge), but the fact remains, Airwolf would have been a very viable candidate for that competition – and might have had the edge, given that the Army would have bought airframes to replace the Apache.
Oh, and here’s the Season 1 opener, just for kicks: