Following the Spanish-American War, the Philippines ceased to be a Spanish colony. Instead, the islands became the largest colonial commonwealth of the United States. Alongside American units from the states, Filipino soldiers formed native units trained and equipped to defend the islands from foreign invasion…mostly.
Despite the economic and strategic importance of the Philippines, military preparedness stagnated following WWI. In fact, despite the widespread use of steel helmets during WWI, the Philippine Constabulary and Commonwealth Army were not issued such protective gear. Rather, their helmets were made of the pressed fibers of coconut husks.
Called the guinit, or Filipino Sun Helmet, the headgear resembled a European pith helmet. The guinit featured a domed center and a broad rim that went all the way around. Its rim narrowed at the sides and extended over the front and back. Although the coconut husk construction offered little to no protection from bullets and shrapnel, the guinit helmet shielded its wearer well from the scorching Filipino sun.
Though historians have not pinpointed the exact origin of the guinit helmet, it was likely developed parallel with the first Philippine Commonwealth Army uniforms in 1935. By the time of the Japanese invasion in 1941, it was standard issue in most Philippine Army units, including the fledgling Army Air Corps and Navy torpedo unit. One exception were the Philippine Scouts. Under the command of U.S. Army officers, the Philippine Scouts were issued more modern gear like steel helmets and even the M1 Garand.
Notably the guinit helmets were part of Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon’s efforts to boost the Filipino economy and make the Army self-reliant with locally produced gear. “That’s why the garrison belts used for training were made of abaca, the blankets came from Ilocos, the guinit hat from Quezon,” said Resty Aguilar, Executive Director of the National Historical Commission. Like British pith helmets, the officer version of the guinit helmet sported a colored puggree. The cloth band denoted the branch of service: blue for Army and red for Constabulary.
On Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched a massive surprise offensive into the Ardennes forest in Belgium which became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.” The battle, launched 70 years ago, would become the largest American engagement of the war — and the bloodiest — resulting in nearly 20,000 U.S. troops killed over five weeks.
[Clifford] VanAuken, then a 19-year-old combat medic, was sleeping on the kitchen floor of a farmhouse near Nancy, France, when he was woken up at 2 a.m. to travel to Belgium.
“We thought the war was about over and then the Germans launched this horrendous attack,” he said. “It was a battle that surprised all ally commanders.”
In a must-see documentary about the members of Easy Co., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the survivors talk at length about the battle, the bitter cold, and the intense artillery fire that they had to endure.
“There was on top of this hill there was a ridge, a treeline,” said one veteran, who was there at Bastogne. “We were dug in on that ridge. The Germans knew right where we were, and they really gave us a shellacking.”
The incredible bravery of American troops, with support to come later by Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, ultimately led to an allied victory. But it came at a heavy price, with the U.S. Army suffering over 100,000 casualties, according to The History Channel.
“When a man was wounded, we felt glad for them. We felt happy for them,” Capt. Richard Winters later recounted. “He had a ticket to get out of there, and maybe a ticket to go home. And when we had a man who was killed, we found that he was at peace and he looked so peaceful. And we’re glad that he found peace.”
Watch some of the men who survived the battle tell their stories:
There has probably never been a more symbiotic relationship than the one between a war-fighter and their alcohol. Roman Centurions and wine. Vikings and mead. Samurai and sake. American troops and whatever is cheapest on non-first and fifteenth weekends.
We have a storied history with our booze.
I like to think that I put my liver through its rounds, but looking through military history — damn. If I went drink for drink with some of the best, I’d get drunk under the table by the greatest minds the world has ever known.
This beer goes out to the badasses who have awesome stories to talk about over one — and who would still probably carry my ass back to the taxi.
5. William the Conqueror
As the last ruler to successfully conquer England in almost a thousand years, William I lived up to the viking heritage of the Normans. For an over-simplification of what William did, think of Robert Baratheon from Game of Thrones.
The story goes, as King of England, William I threw lavish parties for his guests. Because he left his viking lifestyle and worries about consolidating power behind him, he became fat as f*ck.
To the point that his horse would be in great pain.
This diet, surprisingly enough, didn’t lead to his death — unless you attribute him falling face first off his horse because it bucked his rotund rear off it. Then maybe.
4. Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoléon visiting the cellars Moët Chandon in 1807. (Painting via Chateau Loisel)
The man most credited with why we open bottles of Champagne with a sword, Napoleon and his Hussars were famous for drinking the bubbly.
“Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it” was Napoleon’s famous toast.
Napoleon and his men would frequent the hotel of Madame Clicquot, a beautiful business woman who was widowed young. The Emperor of France’s men would always try to woo her but she would just keep making money off their drunk asses.
3. Ulysses S. Grant
The stories of the 18th President of the United States and his drinking were historic when he was still a young officer. As a Captain, his drinking from the night before lead to a forced resignation by then Colonel Robert Buchanan. The two had mutual animosity for many years before then.
“I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals,” remarked Abraham Lincoln on Grant’s alcoholism.
The outbreak of the American Civil War brought him back into the fold where he would then rise to General of the Army with Major General Buchanan underneath him. At the age of 46, Grant won the 1868 election in a landslide and urged for the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and the proper treatment of Native Americans.
2. George S. Patton
The Father of American Armor himself shared his love with his armored divisions with a mixed drink he called “Armored Diesel.” He said it would build camaraderie within the division and pride.
The drink was made with many different bourbons, whiskeys, and scotches, however, the Patton Museum officially lists his drink as being: bourbon, shaved ice, sugar, and lemon juice.
“You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag.” — Patton on swearing.
Patton was also very close with another great WWII leader and alcohol enthusiast, Winston Churchill.
Which brings us to…
1. Winston Churchill
There may be no military leader with a more celebrated and documented history with alcohol than Winston Churchill. Professor Warren Kimball of Rutgers authored several biographies on him saying, “Churchill was not an alcoholic because no alcoholic could drink that much!” He was amused when people said he had a “bottomless capacity” for alcohol.
“I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” —Churchill on drinking in moderation.
He would drink heavily during every meal, including breakfast. In pure amazement, the King of Saudi Arabia said that “his absolute rule of life requires drinking before, during, and after every meal.”
Who would you grab a beer with? Let us know in the comment section.
Every country’s military has their own version of Special Forces. However, none of them are quite like the 14th Intelligence Detachment, ‘The Det,’ which was formed as part of the British Army Special Forces during a time known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Det was tasked with mounting surveillance and intelligence gathering operations against the Irish Republican Army and their allies.
They worked in the shadows. No one knew who they were or what they did. They received no acknowledgement or fanfare. The world will never know who they were. But, this dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes operatives worked to gather the intelligence needed for the British Army and others to maintain their peacekeeping role between the IRA and the unionist paramilitary forces.
The Det was formed after the British Army’s intelligence unit, the Military Reaction Force, was compromised. The MRF was compromised when IRA double-agents were discovered and then interrogated. They spilled details about a covert MRF operation out of Four Squares laundry in Belfast. This led to an IRA ambush of a MRF laundry van, which killed one undercover soldier.
With the MRF compromised, the Det was set up in 1973. The Det was open to all members of the armed services and to both genders. For the first time, women were allowed to be a part of the UK Special Forces. Each candidate had to pass a rigorous selection process. Members of the Det were expected to have excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress, as well as a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance as the majority of surveillance and intelligence gathering operations were solo missions.
The IRA treated the conflict like guerilla warfare for national independence. They used street fighting, sensational bombings and sniper attacks, which led to the British government classifying their aggressions as terrorism. The Det’s main focus during this time was utilizing their unique talents and training to gather information on the members of the IRA so that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could then intervene.
The skills and training of the members of the Det included the disciplines of surveillance, planting bugs and covert video cameras, and close quarters combat. They were also experts in the use of pistols, sub machine guns, carbines and assault rifles. They were also trained in unarmed combat, as well as techniques to disarm and neutralize knife or gun-wielding assailants. It was important for each member to be adept in these skills in order to be able to protect themselves while undercover.
Along with this specialized training, the Det was also equipped with unique equipment much of which could be considered ahead of its time. This included a fleet of ordinary looking saloon cars called ‘Q’ cars. These vehicles were specially equipped with covert radios, video and still cameras, concealed weapons packs, brake lights which could be switched on and off, and engine cut off switches to prevent hijacking. All of these worked to aid in the surveillance missions of the operators. The Det also had their own flight of Army Air Corps Gazelles, which were referred to as ‘The Bat Flight.’ The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear which was uniquely suited to the operations of ‘The Det.’
From the time of its inception until the end of The Troubles the Det performed numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstakingly planned intelligence operations often led to the arrest of the suspected terrorists and/or the discovery of weapons caches. Occasionally the members of the Det would find themselves in a firefight with terrorists, this was usually due to their cover being blown. Unfortunately, several Det operators tragically lost their lives in Northern Ireland.
The highly-trained members of the Det did not do what they did for glory. They didn’t do it for the accolades, as there were none offered. These elite members put themselves in danger because they believed in what they were working for. They wanted to do their part to protect their country and those they loved. They believed in justice. They believed in the greater good. They knew going into it that no one would ever know what they did or the sacrifices they made in the name of Queen and country. But, they went in anyway. They didn’t see themselves as heroic. But, the elite members of the Det can truly be considered the unsung heroes of The Troubles.
The Det has now been absorbed into the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, with a mission to fight the global war on terrorism.
Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drawing the first capsule for the Selective Service draft, Dec 1, 1969. This image was copied from , which credits the photo to "Selective Service System". I'm tentatively assuming that since the photo was created by a federal agency, it cannot by copyrighted. I'm going to post a message on copyvio to get clarification before I link an article to the image. (Wikimedia Commons).
On Sep. 16, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act, requiring all male Americans between the ages of 26 and 35 to register for the military draft.
Though not yet engaged in the fighting of the second World War, the United States wasn’t taking any chances that the fascist regimes of Europe and Asia didn’t have their sights set on the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
Things weren’t looking so hot for England, either, so FDR decided to support the British by selling them military equipment and humanitarian assistance. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before England fell and the Axis powers would be looking for new territories to conquer.
That’s when FDR decided to start building up the American Armed Forces.
Requirements for registration varied over the decades, ranging from eligible age ranges beginning at 21 and eventually lowering to age 18.
The Selective Service Act of 1917 reframed the process, outlawing clauses like purchasing and expanding upon deferments. Military service was something that, voluntary or not, living generations had in common.
While many people in America were hesitant to fight some European war at the time, the draft wasn’t really necessary in the end. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American men were lining up to give the military all the manpower it needed.
During the Vietnam War, however, the draft could mean a death sentence in a conflict America was divided over. Coming of age doesn’t come close to holding the same meaning as it did for the nearly 72 million “baby boomers” born into the Vietnam era draft. In fact, draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.
An incident involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in February now has new context. The dustup involved multiple Russian aircraft making close passes over the Porter that the United States Navy described as “unsafe and unprofessional” at the time. The aircraft involved were Su-24 Fencers and an Il-38 May.
According to a report from Reuters, the Russian defense ministry has declared that any United States Navy patrol in the Black Sea is a potential threat to Russia. The reason, they claim, is that they cannot tell what missiles are loaded aboard the U.S. ships.
How credible is this claim? To start, let’s look at the Porter’s weapons suite. It carries a single five-inch gun, it is equipped with two Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems, two triple Mk 32 launchers for 324mm torpedoes, and two Mk 41 vertical launch systems (one with 29 cells, the other with 61).
It is this last system that warrants a closer look. The Mk 41 can carry RIM-66 Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-174 Standard SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, RUM-139 Vertical-Launched ASROCs, and BGM-109 Tomahawks. The Tomahawks are probably what the Russian defense ministry is citing as their excuse for the close encounter.
The Tomahawk comes in several varieties. Perhaps the most well-known are the TLAM-C and TLAM-D versions, largely because they have been the most used. According to Designation-Systems.net, the Block III version of the Tomahawk has a 750-pound high-explosive warhead and a range of 870 nautical miles.
The new Tactical Tomahawk, known as the BGM-109E, has a range of 900 nautical miles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In other words, from the Black Sea, Tomahawks could reach out and at a minimum, roll back Russian air defenses in time of war. There used to be a nuclear version of the Tomahawk, but according to a 2013 report by the Federation of American Scientists, the BGM-109A TLAM-N was retired after the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.
So, really, a patrol by the United States Navy is not a threat to Russia, in and of itself. And the Navy’s patrols in the Black Sea won’t touch off a nuclear war – unless the Russians launch their nuclear-tipped anti-ship missiles first.
Wikipedia/Team Mighty/”Riese Rzeczka korytarz 344″ by Przykuta
After analyzing mining data, Polish experts say there is no World War II-era Nazi ghost train in southwestern Poland, the BBC reports.
In November Polish mining experts began analyzing data from the site where two amateur treasure hunters said they found “irrefutable proof” of a Nazi ghost train filled with stolen gold in late August.
Professor Janusz Madej from Krakow’s Academy of Mining said the geological survey of the site showed that there was no evidence of a train after using magnetic and gravitation methods.
“There may be a tunnel. There is no train,”Madej said at a news conference in Walbrzych, according to the BBC.
One of the treasure hunters, Piotr Koper, insists that “there is a tunnel and there is a train” and that the results are skewed because of different technology used, the Telegraph reports.
Hunting for the Nazi ghost train
In late August, two amateur treasure hunters said they found “irrefutable proof” of a World War II-era Nazi ghost train in southwestern Poland alongside a railway that stretches between the towns Wroclaw and Walbrzych.
Amid claims that the train’s existence was a hoax, the two men who said they found the train in Poland identified themselves last week as Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper on TVP.INFO, the Associated Press reports.
“As the finders of a World War II armored train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Walbrzych authorities and the police,” Koper said in a prepared statement, according to the Associated Press.
“We have irrefutable proof of its existence,” he added.
According to Koper, he and Richter found the train by using their “own resources, eyewitness testimony, and our own equipment and skills,” the AP notes.
Along with their statement, the men released an image taken with ground-penetrating radar that purportedly showed the armored Nazi train.
Six days later, on September 1o, a second radar image purportedly showing the rumored World War II-era Nazi ghost train was published by the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wroclawska.
The ground-penetrating image appears to show a row of tanks, which supports initial reports that the train was of “military nature.”
In early September, the Polish military began began clearing trees and shrubs alongside the rumored Nazi ghost train site.
“Our goal is to check whether there’s any hazardous material at the site,” Colonel Artur Talik, who is leading the search using ground-penetrating radar, reportedly told Agence France Presse.
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said military chemical-weapons experts inspected the site because of suspicions the train was rigged with explosives.
According to a local myth, the German train is believed to have vanished in 1945 with stolen gold, gems, and weapons while fleeing the Russians.
The only living source of the train legend, retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski, confirmed to the Associated Press that Koper and Richter shared their findings with him before alerting authorities.
Slowikowski, who searched for the train in 2001, believes it is near the 65th kilometer of railway tracks from Wroclaw to Walbrzych.
According to the Telegraph, Koper, one of the treasure hunters, said the only way find out once and for all if there is a train — is to dig.
Virginia’s role in the War of 1812 is largely forgotten unless you’re a military historian. Most of us recall that this conflict was primarily fought on the Canadian border. But the truth is, if it weren’t for a few forward-thinking Freemasons (and eventual presidents), America’s role in the War of 1812 might have been very different.
Way back in 1794, Congress authorized President Washington to build a series of forts along America’s coastlines to protect our harbors. Fort Norfolk was originally built with clay and wood, mainly because those were the building materials available. Of course, clay and wood aren’t the best defenses, so eventually, Fort Norfolk got a facelift. Now the installation is the last remaining fortification initiated by Washington as part of American’s harbor defenses. In light of his forward-thinking, Washington expected to have to defend fledgling America at some point. So in true Freemason fashion, he called on some of his fellow Masons to help out.
Norfolk Lodge No. 1
Norfolk Lodge No. 1 was one of the earliest Masonic Lodges in Virginia. In fact, this Lodge can be directly traced to the development of Fort Norfolk. The Lodge opened in 1732 and within years, some of the most prominent members of Virginia society were members. As a matter of fact, three such members were instrumental in prepping Virginia for war. They were General Thomas Mathews, Major Thomas Newton Jr. and President James Monroe, all of whom were quite close.
These three Freemasons realized long before the War of 1812 the area was a vulnerable spot that needed to be reinforced. First things first, they transferred the Gosport Shipyard from Virginian to US government control. Just like Washington saw that America’s shorelines needed defense, these Freemasons thought the same. The transferring of the shipyard meant that Fort Norfolk could finally get some much-needed updates.
The Masons knew conflict was coming, they just didn’t know when. In 1807, the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair set off alarm bells. War between America and the British was about to pop off. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was a naval conflict involving the British HMS Leopard. HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Norfolk. Of course, the Freemasons were having none of that. So they stepped in and started to prepare for Norfolk’s eventual bombardment. Gone were the clay and mud fortifications from Washington’s original design. For two years, Fort Norfolk underwent serious renovations. Everything was basically torn down and the installation was rebuilt with solid (and safe!) masonry.
After the rebuilding in 1809, Fort Norfolk could house two full companies. Not too bad for what was originally just a bunch of mud and wooden buildings. The Masons in charge of reno took it a step further. They reinforced the defensive sea wall to reach 12 feet high and made it 20 feet thick. In addition, the Masons added a ravelin to the east side in prep for a land assault. Nine 18-pound cannons were at the ready for the war.
VA Citizens Ready to Go
On top of that, 60,000 Virginians took up arms and were ready to defend America. They helped defeat the British and protect Virginia in the Battle of Craney Island, just across the river from Norfolk. Fort Norfolk went from a super basic instllation to super-charged in just a matter of a few years. During the war, it was one of the key defneses to Norfolk’s inner harbor. It was even home to the frigate Constellation.
Of course, as we all know, there were no clear victors in the War of 1812. That’s despite the fact that so many American citizens were up in arms. We’d just been through war a few decades previously and were ready to go again. The Freemason involvement in preparing Fort Norfolk for war might have helped save this important historic landmark for future generations.
After the war, the installation’s value was eclipsed with the building Fort Monroe. That makes it one of the first installations to feel the stress of a BRAC. The Navy took over command in 1849 and established the 19th century equivalent of naval weapon stations. By 1923, the US Army Corps of Engineers called Fort Norfolk home.
Everyone wants to make a big deal of the fact that women now get to serve on the front line in combat units. But women participating in American wars goes all the way back to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. As a matter of fact, women have been pitching in and helping fight for a lot longer than that.
One woman changed the way Americans handle our wounded and missing troops forever.
It was in the Civil War that Clarissa (Clara) Barton paved the way for nurses in the military and provided soldiers care, both behind and on the front lines of battle — for both the North and the South.
Clara was born in North Oxford on Dec. 21, 1821 and started studying to be a nurse at the young age of 11 while helping care for her sick brother. She decided at this young age that her calling was to help others, in any way that she could.
When she was 15, Clara continued to flourish in her humanitarianism by becoming a teacher and opened a free public school in New Jersey. Her passion for helping others extended far beyond herself. She was willing to risk her own life to help those in need of care.
In 1862, Clara provided aid in field hospitals during the Civil War, putting herself in harm’s way on numerous occasions to care for injured soldiers and bring them supplies. Barton garnered the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” because of her remarkable compassion for the soldiers she tended.
Extraordinarily, she recounted an instance where a bullet nearly took her life, stating that she “felt her sleeve move, [as] a bullet had gone through it and killed the man she was tending.” Surprisingly, the near-death experience didn’t shake her convictions or her need to help.
Clara’s work didn’t end with the Civil War. In 1865, she was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to go out and search for missing soldiers on the battlefield. She called this initiative, “Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.” She was able to identify a total of 22,000 soldiers that would have remained lost if not for her efforts.
Impressively, Clara also founded the American Red Cross at the age of 60 in 1881 after her trip to Europe, where she aided in the works of the International Red Cross. Clara’s passion for helping those in disastrous situations made the American Red Cross what it is today. She spearheaded the organization for 23 years until she resigned as president at age 83 in 1904.
Today, Clara Barton’s memory lives on within the good works of The American Red Cross, in not only disaster relief, but in providing our military personnel services overseas and at home, in war and peacetime.
WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.
And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.
On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”
Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.
It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.
This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.
Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.
Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:
Reports that the Jan. 19 special operations intelligence-gathering raid in Yemen that left a Navy SEAL and 30 local civilians dead and six more troops injured was a result of hasty planning are “absolutely incorrect,” the head of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday.
Army Gen. Raymond Thomas briefly addressed reporters after speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference outside Washington, D.C. He declined to go into operational details but emphasized that such raids are common and infrequently reported.
The White House has maintained that the raid, which resulted in the first military casualty of President Donald Trump’s administration, was well-planned and executed, but multiple news outlets have cited military sources complaining that the raid was hastily assembled and poorly planned.
Thomas told Military.com he does not categorize such operations as successes or failures, a hotly debated question surrounding the Yemen operation. He said discussion of the raid lacked the context of the frequency of such U.S. operations around the world.
“I don’t think that there’s awareness in the great American public that we’re a country at war, that ISIL and al-Qaida are in countless countries,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “That an operation like Yemen is what goes on any given night out there. And unfortunately it wasn’t in that context.”
“But in context, I think America needs to know we’re in a tough fight right now,” Thomas said. “We’re making progress, but unless we get governance on the backside of our military efforts, this is going to be a long struggle.”
Thomas, who replaced Army Gen. Joseph Votel as head of SOCOM last March, repeatedly declined to comment on the workings and decision-making of the Trump administration.
But, speaking just hours after news broke late Monday night that retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn had resigned as national security adviser after 24 days in the position, he gave a nod to the tumult at the highest levels of leadership.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope we sort it out soon, because we’re a country at war,” he said.
British commandos conduct close target reconnaissance on the enemy-held villages. (National Army Museum)
Sierra Leone, September 2000.
The West Side Boys, a well-armed but poorly trained gang, has taken hostage 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and is threatening to execute them if London doesn’t meet its demands.
Back in the UK, the British government is dealing with its first significant hostage crisis since the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980. As negotiators bargain for the hostages’ release, the British military is preparing for a rescue operation.
A brutal civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone since 1991. The West Side Boys, never more than a few hundred members strong, took advantage of the power vacuum, operating with impunity and terrorizing locals. Their trademark was amputating victims’ arms with machetes. Men, women, and children all suffered from their wanton violence.
The West Side Boys’ leader was the self-titled “Brigadier” Foday Khalley, with “Colonel Cambodia” serving as his second-in-command.
Both men and their gang used drugsand alcohol heavily and frequently. Their resulting instability pushed the British toward a military response instead of negotiations. (Khalley’s demands varied from a new satellite phone to the formation of a new government.)
A task force centered around D Squadron of the SAS and A Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and augmented by Special Boat Squadron, or SBS, operators and support troops, gradually deployed to Dakar in neighboring Senegal and then outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
D Squadron was chosen because of its familiarity with the region. Its operators had been in East Africa conducting jungle and mountain training when the West Side Boys kidnapped the British soldiers. Once they were notified of a potential operation, they were so eager to return to the UK and begin preparing that two troopers were killed in a car accident as they rushed to the airport. The operation had started on the wrong foot.
The gang held the hostages in the small village of Gberi Bana, adjacent to the Rokel Creek. On the other side of the creek, there was a substantial and heavily armed force of gangsters in an abandoned village.
Throughout the negotiations, the British had eyes on the ground from well-hidden SAS observation posts close to the two villages. Additionally, a special-operations signals team intercepted Khalley’s frequent publicity calls to the BBC and pinpointed his location.
Their combined reports led commanders to rule out a ground or waterborne assault because of the gang’s heavily armed roadblocks in the villages and the treacherous currents of the creek. The rescue force would go in by helicopter.
At one point, the negotiators, which included two SAS operators in disguise, were able to secure the release of six men, leaving five British soldiers captive. The freed troops told horror stories of mock executions and psychological violence. But more releases seemed unlikely. A rescue operation was necessary, and time was of the essence.
At dawn on September 10, the rescue force flew in on three CH-47 Chinook helicopters with two Lynx and one Mi-24 gunships providing close air support. The combined SAS/SBS force would rescue the hostages in Gberi Bana, while members of the Parachute Regiment, known as Paras, would eliminate the gang members on the opposite side of the river.
The British commandos hit Gberi Bana hard. Half the assault force fast-roped into the village while the other half landed in a soccer field. In the first moments, heavy enemy fire pinned down the teams on the soccer field. But the commandos achieved fire superiority and silenced the resistance with machine guns and anti-tank rockets.
Despite some confusion, the SAS and SBS operators swept the village and secured the hostages.
However, on the other side of the river, the Paras were in the thick of it. Because of a lack of Chinooks, the Paras had to be transported in two groups. Alerted by the helicopters’ approach and the firefight on the other bank, the gangster there were better prepared.
The Chinook dropped the first wave of Paras in a chest-deep swamp, which they had to navigate under heavy fire. In the first few moments, they took several casualties, including their commanding and executive officers.
Reinforced by the second wave and displaying their characteristic aggression, the Paras took the initiative and overpowered the gangsters after a fierce firefight that lasted hours.
As the smoke settled, the Chinooks came in to pick up the hostages, rescue force, and some captured vehicles. At the cost of one SAS operator, Bombardier Brad Tinnion, and 12 Paras wounded, the rescue force managed to secure all the hostages and kill scores of gang members.
A wave of change
Operation Barras brought significant changes to British special operations.
The resistance put up by the heavily armed West Side Boys showed the need for a specialized support unit that would assist the SAS and SBS in future large-scale hostage rescues and special operations.
Until that point, the Paras and the Royal Marine Commandos had been called up to complement their elite brethren only when necessary. Even though there were close links between the units — most SAS operators came from the Paras, and the SBS at that time recruited solely from the Royal Marines — they didn’t train together and didn’t use the same procedures.
As a result, the British military created the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) in 2006.
The SFSG is composed of Paras, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force personnel who have passed an additional selection process. Its main task is to be a quick reaction force for SAS and SBS operations, but it can also complement those units in domestic counterterrorism operations.
Moreover, Operation Barras was a much needed confidence boost for British special-operations forces after bad publicity in Northern Ireland, where they fought a politically complicated campaign against the IRA. British policymakers could once more be confident in their commandos.
When it comes to military history, the Guinness Book of World Records – like the rest of the public – only knows what it’s allowed to know. For the longest time the Guinness Book gave the award for the longest continuously submerged patrol to the HMS Warspite – one of the Royal Navy’s storied names.
While there have been longer patrols the mission of the Warspite happened at the height of the Cold War, prowling the waters around the Falkland Islands after the end of the UK’s war with Argentina.
This Warspite was the eighth vessel to carry the name.
The Warspite had a number of innovations that made it perfect for its 1983 submerged mission. It was the first Royal Navy vessel navigated entirely by gyroscope. Its nuclear-powered engines, along with air conditioning, purification systems and electrolytic gills allowed it to be submerged for weeks at a time. The longest time below the waves wasn’t even its first record. During a 6,000-mile journey in the far east, the submarine did the entire run submerged, earning the then-record for longest distance submerged. But breaking records wasn’t the Royal Navy’s mission, it was countering the Soviet Union.
No naval force on Earth was better at penetrating the USSR’s maritime boundaries than the Royal Navy. Warspite was specially suited for spy missions in the cold waters of the Arctic. Its ability to sneak into the areas undetected allowed them to watch the Soviet Navy at work and listen to their uncoded communications. But its record-breaking underwater patrol didn’t come against the USSR, it came while watching Argentina.
The now-decommissioned HMS Warspite.
The ship had just completed a complete, three-year refit after a massive fire nearly caused the captain to scuttle the ship. It was finished just in time for the United Kingdom to go to war with Argentina over the latter country’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. In a rush to get into the action, the crew of the Warspite shrugged off the six-month trial period and dashed for the war.
She didn’t see much action in the war, but its patrol afterward was the stuff of legend at the time. The ship and its crew spent more than 112 days aboard ship and underwater, keeping the Argentine Navy at bay.