The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.
What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.
So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.
When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.
Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.
The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.
Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.
B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe. At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)
As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.
During the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, the countries fought each other with arms purchased from their allies, namely the U.S. and Great Britain. Ultimately, this lead to battle after battle in which Britain’s top tank, the Centurion, mopped the floor with America’s top tank, the M48 Patton.
To understand the war and its odd forces makeup, you have to go back to immediately post-World War II as the British Empire went through a controlled implosion. The longtime colony of India, which, prior to occupation, had been its own large but fractured nation, was granted independence in 1947. But, in an acknowledgement of the fact that India was filled with disparate peoples, the colony was split into two countries: India and Pakistan.
Pakistan was made up of the Muslim-majority areas of the former colony and India was made up of more secular and Hindi peoples, which had a large overlap. The big problem was that the Muslim-majority areas were on either side of the secular/Hindi area, and so Pakistan was split with almost all of northern India in the middle.
Fighting broke out in 1947 over which nation would get control of Kashmir, an area which adjoined both countries. U.N. mediation eventually resulted in splitting the administration of the area with both nations taking control of a section of the disputed area. Neither side was happy with the final line.
Both India and Pakistan were granted access to U.S. and British weapon stockpiles so they could defend themselves against larger neighbors, like China. Consequently, India ended up with a large number of Centurion tanks and Pakistan had a large number of Pattons. In 1965, the re-armed and still-hostile nations fought again over their shared border and India sent forces into Kashmir territory administrated by Pakistan.
There was back-and-forth fighting, but Pakistani counterattacks were making good progress on the southern end of the battlefield. A full third of Pakistan’s entire armored force at the time, composed largely of American-made M4 Sherman tanks and cutting-edge M48 Patton tanks, conducted an armored thrust into the plains of Khem Karn.
Indian defenses in the area were limited. At the village of Assal Uttar, an Indian commander with three tank regiments totaling about 135 tanks faced a Pakistani force of six regiments and about 264 tanks.
And while there is an argument to be made that the Centurion fielded by India was one of the best tanks at the time, India’s Centurions lacked important upgrades and were fielded next to outdated Shermans and weak AMX-13s. Pakistan, meanwhile, had Patton tanks with decent bells and whistles, meaning they had better armor and better armor penetration then their enemies.
But Indian officers had a plan. Pakistani forces parked for the night near a low-lying area surrounded by mature sugarcane fields. Indian forces slowly crept up through the large sugarcane stalks and other troops released stored water into the low-lying areas, turning them into a swamp overnight.
When dawn came on September 10, 1965, the Pakistani tanks continued their advance but quickly sunk into the mud, some of them sinking down to their turrets. The forward tanks were stuck, and the tanks behind them couldn’t maneuver well without abandoning their peers. And then the Indians attacked.
The Indian tanks poured their fire into the valley and were joined by infantry and artillery forces, quickly dismantling the Pakistani column. The destruction was so widespread that historians weren’t able to pinpoint the exact number of Pakistani tanks destroyed, but Pakistan acknowledged that over half of its tank losses in the war came from that battle. It’s estimated at 99 tanks or more were lost on that single day.
India lost 10 tanks, which is tragic for the crews and still expensive, but an outstanding outcome in a battle where the enemy lost approximately 10 times as many.
Hundreds of heroes have emerged through the ranks of all service branches with remarkable stories of courage and selflessness.
And while some stories are well known, the ones we talk about in this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast are seldom told. You’d think these stories are made up, like the tale of airman “Snuffy,” or propaganda ploys to recruit more troops. Either way, every service member should know about these Air Force legends and their badassery.
Here’s a brief description of our heroes for reference:
1. Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the Tuskegee airman who almost shot Muammar Qaddafi. Chappie was already a legend before calling out Qaddafi in 1968, having served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
2. Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith, the original airman Snuffy. Despite being an undisciplined slacker avoided by everyone, Snuffy rose to the challenge in the face of certain death to save his crew.
3. Douglas W. Morrell, the combat cameraman who lived the entire history of the Air Force.
5. Eddie Rickenbacker, the race car driver-turned airman who broke all of the Air Force’s records.
6. Charlie Brown, the B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who was spared by German ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler. These two rivals became close friends after meeting in 1990.
If you thought that air warfare was reserved for a time after airplanes were invented, you thought wrong. During the American Civil War, the Union troops used hot air balloons to spy on Confederate troops.
The idea to use balloons was the brainchild of Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. They suggested that the military should create the balloon corps under the command of Thaddeus Lowe to do some “aerial reconnaissance” for the Union.
On June 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his balloon in front of President Abraham Lincoln. He went up to the lofty height of 500 feet and flew the balloon the short distance between the Washington Mall to where the National Air and Space Museum now stands. Lincoln had doubtless seen hot air balloons do such things at fairs for years; what made this journey special was that the balloon was hooked up to a cable that linked an air bound Lowe to the War Department.
In the first air-to-ground communication in America, Lowe sent the following telegram to Lincoln from his balloon: “The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene…”
Soon after, Lincoln wrote to General Winfield Scott about Lowe’s abilities. However, when Lowe presented himself to the general, he found that Scott was less than impressed. Lincoln ultimately had to personally intervene to get the general to accept Lowe into the ranks.
In August 1861, the first army balloon was constructed and named The Union. The balloon depended on tapping into Washington D.C.’s natural gas lines, so it wasn’t able to go very far. However, the next month Lowe was able to take his balloon up to 1000 feet and spy on the Confederate troops residing at Fall’s Church, VA. With his direction, Union troops were able to accurately aim at enemy troops without actually seeing them. This was a military first, and the success resulted in the establishment of the Balloon Corps.
The first order of business was to hire more aeronauts. Around October 1861, a number of balloons were tethered along the Potomac River. From their vantage point, the people manning the balloons were able to see any Confederate activity up to a day’s march away, giving the Union time to prepare a plan of defence.
After a short period of time, balloon technology advanced. Lowe himself invented a way to make gas portable: a wooden tank lined with copper, set up on a wagon that also carried water, iron, and sulfuric acid. Combined, these wagons produced hydrogen gas which lifted the balloons up. The army had twelve wagons built to aid the balloons in long-distance missions. Each of them weighed 1000 pounds.
Throughout 1862, Lowe continued to go on reconnaissance missions, noting on maps where Confederate troops were located. When he travelled at night, he would count campfires. It wasn’t all good news, though. The Confederate troops quickly caught on to what was happening and started shooting at the balloons with guns and cannons. Luckily for the people in the balloons, it was pretty difficult for soldiers on the ground to actually hit them—and it was easy for the soldiers in the balloon to gun down anyone who took a shot.
When shooting failed, the Confederates learned how to cloak their positions with camouflage and blackouts, making Lowe’s job more difficult. If Confederates made fewer fires, then Lowe’s estimates of their forces would be low, and the Union troops would underestimate the South’s strength. They would also paint fake cannons black and set them up around camp, so that if a balloon happened to fly over while it was still light, the North would think that they had too many resources to chance a fight. These fake cannons were called “Quaker guns” because they were, like the pacifist Quakers, completely harmless in war.
Two of the hydrogen gas generators assigned to each balloon for inflating on the battlefield.
The South did set out to copy the balloons’ success at one point, but they lacked the technology and resources required to make their balloons practical. The first Confederate balloon was difficult to control, as it was made out of varnished cotton and kept aloft with hot air. The balloonist did manage to draw a map of Union positions around Yorktown despite the difficulties, however. A second attempt was less successful. A balloon made of silk (said to have been sewn from the gowns of Southern Belles) was tied to a tugboat and dragged along the James River before the tugboat crashed and Union troops took control of the balloon.
The Union Balloon Corps met its demise before the end of the Civil War. With a switch of command in 1863, funding was cut to the program which meant that the balloonist could no longer continue staying aloft. On top of that, Lowe himself was accused of “financial impropriety” and forced to resign. Lowe had become the driving force behind the entire campaign, and without him to advocate for the corps, it disbanded.
In addition to the technology of balloons, the Civil War saw a significant use of telegraph machines on both sides. The Union sometimes handled upwards of 4500 telegrams a day reporting on Confederate movements. Both sides encrypted their messages with ciphers, and both sides learned how to tap telegraph machines. Sometimes, messages would become unreadable due to mistakes made on behalf of the people sending them. Robert E. Lee hated telegraphs and even ordered his officers not to send anything, lest the Union find out what the messages contained.
Before he was appointed Chief Aeronaut, Lowe was simply an aeronautic scientist. A week after the fall of Fort Sumter, which kicked off the Civil War, Lowe could be found on a nine hour balloon trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Union, South Carolina. When he landed, Confederate troops accused him of spying for the Union. They were eventually convinced of his innocence—something they regretted later—and Lowe returned to the North, where he learned that Mr. Henry wanted to talk to him.
Lowe continued to be passionate about flying. He also made the “railway into the clouds” in California, which took passengers to the summit of Echo Mountain. But one of his biggest legacies is that of his granddaughter, the remarkable Pancho Barnes, who also caught the flying bug.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Air Force has entered the next phase in its development of a new, combat-ready Light Attack aircraft designed to maneuver close to terrain, support ground combat operations, and operate closely with US allies in an irregular warfare scenario.
The service is now entering a proposal phase for its new aircraft, designed to lead to a production contract by 2019.
The Light Attack planes are optimized for counterinsurgency and other types of warfare wherein the US Air Force largely has aerial dominance. Given this mission scope, the planes are not intended to mirror the speed, weaponry or stealth attributes of a 5th generation fighter, but rather offer the service an effective attack option against ground enemies such as insurgents who do not present an air threat.
“We must develop the capacity to combat violent extremism at lower cost,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in an Air Force report. “Today’s Air Force is smaller than the nation needs and the Light Attack Aircraft offers an option to increase the Air Force capacity beyond what we now have in our inventory or budget.”
The combat concept here, should the Air Force engage in a substantial conflict with a major, technically-advanced adversary, would be to utilize stealth attack and advanced 5th-Gen fighters to establish air superiority — before sending light aircraft into a hostile area to support ground maneuvers and potentially fire precision weapons at ground targets from close range.
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II with the U.S. Air Force Weapons School drops an AGM-65 Maverick during a close air support training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sept. 23, 2011, as part of a six-month, graduate-level instructor course held at Nellis Air Force Base.
Following an initial Air Force Light Attack aircraft experiment in 2017, which included assessments of a handful of off-the-shelf options, the Air Force streamlined its approach and entered a 2nd phase of the program. The second phase included “live-fly” assessments of the aircraft in a wide range of combat scenarios. The service chose to continue testing two of the previous competitors from its first phase — Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.
A formal Air Force solicitation specifies that both Textron and Sierra Nevada will now help draft proposal documents for the aircraft.
“The Light Attack Aircraft will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of Irregular Warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years,” the Air Force solicitation says.
The emerging aircraft is envisioned as a low-cost, commercially-built, combat-capable plane able to perform a wide range of missions in a less challenging or more permissive environment.
The idea is to save mission time for more expensive and capable fighter jets, such as an F-15 or F-22, when an alternative can perform needed air-ground attack missions – such as recent attacks on ISIS.
Air Force officials provided these Light Attack assessment parameters to Warrior Maven, during the analysis phase following last summer’s experiment:
Basic Surface Attack – Assess impact accuracy using hit/miss criteria of practice/laser-guided bomb, and unguided/guided rockets
Close Air Support (CAS) – Assess ability to find, fix, track target and engage simulated operational targets while communicating with the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC)
Daytime Ground Assault Force (GAF) – assess aircraft endurance, range, ability to communicate with ground forces through unsecure and secure radio and receive tactical updates
Rescue Escort (RESCORT) – Assess pilot workload to operate with a helicopter, receive area updates and targeting data, employ ballistic, unguided/guided rockets and laser-guided munitions
Night CAS – Assess pilot workload to find, fix, track, target and engage operational targets
A U.S. Super Tucano flying over Moody Air Force Base as part of training program for the Afghan pilots.
A-29 Super Tucano
US-trained pilots with the Afghan Air Force have been attacking the Taliban with A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.
A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.
Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons.
The Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum take-off weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles.
AT-6 Light Attack
The Textron Aviation AT-6 is the other multi-role light attack aircraft being analyzed by the Air Force. It uses a Lockheed A-10C mission computer and a CMC Esterline glass cockpit with flight management systems combined with an L3 Wescam MX-Ha15Di multi-sensor suite which provides color and IR sensors, laser designation technology and a laser rangefinder. The aircraft is built with an F-16 hands on throttle and also uses a SparrowHawk HUD with integrated navigation and weapons delivery, according to Textron Aviation information on the plane.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
A lot happened this week. It’s a good thing healthcare is still healthcare, because now the Juice is loose. So forget the news. It’s time to kick back and chill out with some clever, good-natured comedy.
Since we don’t have any of that, here are the top military memes of the week.
1. Fight senior leadership with words, not swords.
2. Somewhere a trainee got recycled so far back through basic training, they’re wearing BDUs.
3. If you break one soldier, there are literally thousands more.
Practically from the day of his birth, it was clear that Lewis Puller was destined for military greatness. Better known as Chesty Puller, the boy spent his youth listening to veterans discuss their time in the Civil War–perhaps to fill the void that the death of his father created.
Chesty Puller would go on to become a United States Marine officer whose accomplishments remain unmatched to this day. The most decorated marine in United States history, Chesty Puller was a fearless leader who dedicated his entire life to his country and his troops. Known for his sharp wit, resilience, and expertise in combat situations, Puller was truly one of the greatest troops to ever fight for our country.
Puller was born in 1898 to Matthew and Martha Puller in West Point, Virginia. The stories he heard about the Civil War fostered what would become a lifelong adulation of Stonewall Jackson. He attempted to join the army before his 18th birthday, in 1916, but his mother refused consent–Chesty would have to wait just a bit long before beginning his storied career.
In 1917, Puller joined the Virginia Military Institute as a step towards his long-desired army entrance. He quickly realized that staying in school meant staying away from the action, and, only a year later, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps
Hoping to get in on some of the action, Puller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1918 to train and put his skills to the test. Despite his stellar performance in the Marines and being appointed a second lieutenant in the reserves, Puller missed out on World War I. Not to worry though–Chesty would have many opportunities to shine on the battlefield in the following years.
Puller served as a lieutenant in Haiti during the Banana Wars in the early 1920s. Even during his first ever experience on the battlefront, Puller’s extensive training and leadership abilities shone through during the toughest of battles. After a tough but successful campaign, Puller would continue rising through the ranks for the next few decades.
Chesty Puller at age 50.
After fighting through World War II and the Korean War, Puller had finally decided to retire in 1955. Over his astounding 37 years of fighting, Puller was able to snag over 25 military awards, and was one of two people in military history to receive the second-highest U.S. military award six times.
When asked about his nickname, Puller was never really sure how and why “Chesty” came about. Having been called plenty of names before during his time on the battlefield, Puller was always fascinated with how Chesty stuck. Regardless, he embraced the nickname, and went on to become a legend and icon in U.S Marine Corp history, even past his death in 1971. To this day, officers who are training troops will always make mention of Chesty in chants during exercises.
In life, Puller was an American hero like no other. Many of Puller’s exploits, achievements, and snarky quips can be found in Burke Davis’s beloved biography of the soldier, Marine! The New York Times bestselling author goes into riveting detail about Puller’s humble beginnings and gradual rise in the Marines. Filled with exciting war scenes and anecdotes about the accomplished marine, this book is an absolute must-read for veterans and military history buffs alike.
With a tongue just as sharp as his physical skills, Puller is easily one of the most quotable soldiers in our country’s history. Many of the marine’s famous sayings are often delivered with such undeniable American gusto that you can’t help but chuckle at each one. These Chesty Puller quotes paint an incredibly humorous, honorable image of the accomplished marine.
“I want to go where the guns are!”
When Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute during his early years, he was extremely eager to fight on the front lines. Hearing about the battles being fought during World War I, Puller had a quick response when asked why he dropped out of Virginia Military Institute and signed up for the Marines.
Chesty Puller cutting the Marine Corps birthday cake.
“Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!”
During the Korean War, Puller was caught up in Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. This decisive battle proved to be a grueling and deadly conflict that would put Puller and his troops to the test. Working through the harsh conditions, Chesty reminded his soldiers that they would be successful no matter what–if he had anything to do with it, at least.
“Where the hell do you put the bayonet?”
Chesty Puller was always ready for a good fight, and this quote sure proves it. Apparently, when he was being shown how to use a flamethrower for the first time during World War II, Puller asked this. In addition to setting his enemies ablaze, he also wanted to know whether or not a flamethrower could stab them like the old school bayonet on a rifle. Enthusiastic, in this case, is an understatement.
Despite the solemn reminder that over 2,000 individuals perished that day, the instances of self-sacrifice and valor offer a source of inspiration to Americans.
Captain Bennion of the USS West Virginia is one of those men, immortalized forever for his stubborn refusal to give up his ship or abandon his men during one of America’s darkest hours.
Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Utah Territory in May of 1887. He successfully graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, ranked third in his class. His roommate, Earl C. Metz, recalled the Mormon farmer’s sharp mind during his academic years. “He was able to concentrate mentally to a degree I have never seen equalled. He could read over a thing once and he had it. He had a perfectly marvellous brain and mental processes,” Metz recollected.
After graduation, Bennion served aboard the USS North Dakota as a lieutenant during the First World War. He methodically rose in the ranks of the Navy until he received command of the USS Bernadou in 1932. He returned to the Naval War College for a short time, and served as an instructor. On July 2, 1941, Bennion assumed command of the USS West Virginia of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. A little over five months after receiving the command he would be dead.
His brother, Howard Sharp Bennion, published an account of his deeds in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Captain Bennion was casually shaving in his cabin on the morning of December 7 before heading out to church service. This stillness in his cabin was disrupted when one of his sailors burst through the door and alerted him that a wave of Japanese aircraft was headed directly toward the vessel.
Bennion rushed to the deck and issued a series of orders to prepare for the imminent attack. It was not long before a low flying Japanese torpedo bomber dumped three bombs on the West Virginia, causing severe damage and tearing a hole in its side.
On his way to the Flag Bridge a fragment of metal tore through the air and gashed Bennion in the abdomen. The projectile nearly decapitated him, tearing his torso to shreds and damaging his spine and left hip. He was unable to move his legs and his entrails protruded from his stomach.
A pharmacist’s mate came to his aid and placed a makeshift bandage over the mortal wound. Bennion demanded that the man go attend to other wounded sailors and continued to issue orders amid the chaos.
Bennion refused to be moved an inch from his location until the first Japanese attack ended. During the lull before the second wave arrived, he finally permitted himself to be placed on a cot under a sheltered position on the deck.
As he lay protracted and in agony, he resumed issuing commands and receiving reports when the second wave struck an hour later.
Due to the combination of the loss of blood and shock, he began to lose consciousness. A few of his men tied him on a ladder and carried the makeshift stretcher to the navigation bridge out of the way of flames and smoke engulfing the vessel.
Barley coherent and somehow still clinging to life, Bennion again ordered his men to leave him and look after themselves. Roughly 20 minutes later he passed away, one of the thousands of Americans to perish that day.
One officer who remained alongside Bennion to the end proudly proclaimed that “the noble conduct of Capt. Bennion before and after being wounded met the highest traditions of the naval service and justified the high esteem in which he was universally held. I consider it my great good fortune to have served under him.”
Bennion’s body was transported home and buried with honor in Utah. He was afterward awarded the Medal of Honor for his inspirational leadership. His citation read: “For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”
Despite being incapacitated early in the action at Pearl Harbor, Bennion refused to abandon his ship and nobly encouraged his men until the bitter end.
Jeremy A. asks: How did flipping the bird come to mean fu?
While some common gestures, such as the high five, have pretty well known and surprisingly modern origins, it turns out one of the most popular of all has been around for well over two thousand years, including having various similar connotations as it has today.
Unsurprisingly once you stop and think about versions of the expression’s meaning, extending the middle finger simply represents the phallus, with it perhaps natural enough that our forebears chose their longest finger to symbolically represent man’s favorite digit. (Although, there are some cultures that instead chose the thumb, seemingly preferring to have their girth, rather than length, represented here…) It’s also been speculated that perhaps people noticed that the curled fingers (or balled fist in the case of the thumb) made for a good representation of the testicles.
Either way, given the symbolism here, it’s no surprise that the expression has more or less always seemed to have meant something akin to “F*k You” in some form or other, sometimes literally.
For example, in Ancient Greece, beyond being a general insult, in some cases there seems to be a specific implication from the insult that the person the gesture was directed at liked to take it up the bum. In the case of men, despite male on male lovin’ being widely accepted in the culture at the time, there were still potentially negative connotations with regards to one’s manliness when functioning as the bottom in such a rendezvous, particularly the bottom for someone with lower social standing.
Moving on to an early specific example we have Aristphanes’ 423 BC The Clouds. In it, a character known as Strepsiades, tired of Socrates’ pontificating, decides to flip off the famed philosopher.
Socrates: Well, to begin with, they’ll make you elegant in company— and you’ll recognize the different rhythms, the enoplian and the dactylic, which is like a digit. Strepsiades: Like a digit! By god, that’s something I do know! Socrates: Then tell me. Strepsiades: When I was a lad a digit meant this! [Strepsiades sticks his middle finger straight up under Socrates’ nose]
For whatever it’s worth, in the third century AD Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, we also have this reference of a supposed incidence that occurred in the 4th century BC, concerning famed orator Demosthenes and philosopher Diogenes.
[Diogenes] once found Demosthenes the orator lunching at an inn, and, when he retired within, Diogenes said, “All the more you will be inside the tavern.” When some strangers expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, [Diogenes] stretched out his middle finger and said, “There goes the demagogue of Athens.”
(No doubt water was needed to put out the fire created by that wicked burn.)
Moving on to the first century AD, Caligula seems to have enjoyed making powerful people kiss his ring while he extended his middle finger at them. On a no doubt completely unrelated note, the chief organizer of his assassination, and first to stab him, was one Cassius Chaerea who Caligula liked to do this very thing with, as noted by Suetonius:
Gaius used to taunt him, a man already well on in years, with voluptuousness and effeminacy by every form of insult. When he asked for the watchword Gaius would give him “Priapus” or “Venus,” and when Chaerea had occasion to thank him for anything, he would hold out his hand to kiss, forming and moving it in an obscene fashion.
Speaking of the implications of this insulting gesture, it seems to have fallen out of favor during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christianity, or at least records of it diminish. This may mean people actually stopped popularly flipping the bird or may just mean its uncouth nature saw it something not generally written about. That said, we do know thanks to the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville that at least as late as the 6th century people were still extending the finger as an insult, in this reference particularly directed at someone who had done something considered “shameful”.
Moving on to more modern times, the gesture was popularly resurrected in documented history starting around the early 19th century, with early photographic evidence later popping up in the latter half of the 1800s. Most famously, we have a photograph of the gesture flashed by present day Twitter sensation and former 19th century baseball iron man Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn. Radbourn was a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters in 1886 when the team, along with the New York Giants, posed for a group photo. In the photo, Old Hoss can be seen giving the bird to the cameraman. (We’ll have more on Charley “Hoss” and his possible connection to a different expression in a bit.)
Boston Beaneaters and New York Giants, Major League Baseball Opening Day 1886. Charles Radbourn giving the finger to cameraman (back row, far left).
At this point you might be wondering why we call extending the middle finger today — “flipping the bird” or “giving the bird”. The connection is speculated to derive from the centuries old practice of more or less making bird sounds, particularly owl and geese calls, as an equivalent to booing when an audience is dissatisfied by something. This, in turn, gave rise to the popular 19th century expression to “goose” someone and then a little later led to the expression “give the big bird”, as noted in William Earnest Henley’s late 19th century work, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present:
Big Bird: To get or give the big bird — To be hissed on the stage…. When an actor or actress gets the big bird, it may be from two causes; either it is a compliment for successful portrayal of villainy, in which case the Gods simply express their abhorrence of the character and not of the actor; or, the hissing may be directed against the actor, personally for some reason or other. The Big Bird is the goose.
By the mid-20th century, this seems to have extended to “giving the bird” not just referring to insulting sounds, but to describe extending the middle finger as well. One of the earliest examples of this can be found in the 1942 animated film A Tale of Two Kitties. In it, the pair of cats attempt to capture Tweety bird. At a certain point, one of the cats implores the other “Give me the bird!” The other cat then turns to the viewers and exclaims “If the Hays Office would only let me, I’d give him the bird alright.”
Going back to Charley “Hoss” Roadbourn, he is widely speculated to be the inspiration for the expression “Charley Horse”, indicating a random muscle cramp in the leg. The expression popped up in baseball shortly after his historic 1884 season in which he posted a 1.38 ERA with 441 strikeouts in 678 and 2/3 innings, winning 59 games by modern rules (or 60 by the scorers of the day) despite the fact that his team only played 112 games that year. If you’re wondering how he managed to pitch in so many games, this was as a result of a fight between he and the team’s other best pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, that saw Sweeney leave and Old Hoss offer to start every game for the remainder of the season. He nearly did this, starting 40 of the remaining 43 games that year and winning 36 of them. However, at a certain point he reportedly became so sore he couldn’t even raise his arm above his head without significant warmup that required starting by soft tossing from just a few feet and slowly working back as his arm loosened up. It is speculated that his prolific pitching around this time, and presumably frequent cramps from over use of his muscles, may have inspired the expression. For whatever it’s worth, a 1907 issue of the Washington Post indicates that Old Hoss actually once had a severe leg cramp in a game, which directly gave rise to the expression. Whatever the case, one of the earliest known instances of the expression “Charley Horse” occurred in an 1887 edition of The Fort Wayne Gazette where it notes, “Whatever ails a player this year they call it a ‘Charley horse’…”
American seamen captured by the North Koreans in the famous “Pueblo crisis” once used the North Korean’s ignorance of the meaning of extending the middle finger to good use in propaganda photos taken by their captors. When asked, the captured men simply stated that it was a good luck gesture, so were allowed to continue using it in the photographs… at first. When the North Koreans discovered what it actually meant, the seamen were beaten.
As we alluded to in the body of this piece, there are several places on Earth where a thumbs up has a similar meaning to extending the middle finger. Why we bring this up specifically is that when American troops first started being stationed in Iraq, some reported being greeted by civilians offering a thumbs up, with the soldiers (and many in the media) interpreting it as most Westerners would — all the while not realizing the people were more or less flipping them off.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Over the weekend, you may have heard that the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan, and its crew of 44 sailors, has gone missing. This is not unusual. In 1968, the Skipjack-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) went missing – and was declared “overdue and presumed lost.”
Let’s be honest about submariners. They are doing a very dangerous job – even in peacetime. They are taking a ship and deliberately going underwater – where immense forces are acting on the vessel. When submarines sink – either by accident or due to an act of war, the usual outcome is that all hands are lost.
Sometimes, though, the crews beat the odds, like for about half the crew of USS Squalus (SS 192). They survived the sinking of their vessel, and were later rescued. In fact, one device first developed and proven in the rescue of the Squalus survivors, the McCann Rescue Chamber, is still in service today.
According to a release from Southern Command, this chamber can reach a submarine as far as 850 feet below the surface of the ocean. Six sailors can be brought to the surface at a time. While this is a good start, keep in mind, some submarines can have as many as 155 personnel on board.
That said, there are parts of the ocean that are a lot deeper than 850 feet where a submarine could still maintain enough integrity to keep crews alive. For those rescues, the Navy can turn to the Pressurized Rescue Module. This can reach submarines as far down as 2,000 feet, and it can retrieve 16 personnel at a time. These are known as the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System. Both systems have been deployed to render aid to any survivors on the San Juan, assuming the sub can be located in time.
Now, you may be wondering, “Where are the DSRVs?” Well, that’s the bad news. The United States had two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles, named Avalon and Mystic. Those vessels could go as far down as 5,000 feet and could pull up 24 personnel at a time.
The United States sent a NASA P-3 and a Navy P-8 to help look for the San Juan. Hopefully, the sailors can be found and rescued.
Army researchers recently tested ground robots performing military-style exercises, much like soldier counterparts, at a robotics testing site in Pennsylvania recently as part of a 10-year research project designed to push the research boundaries in robotics and autonomy.
RoMan, short for Robotic Manipulator, is a tracked robot that is easily recognized by its robotic arms and hands — necessary appendages to remove heavy objects and other road debris from military vehicles’ paths. What’s harder to detect is the amount of effort that went into programming the robot to manipulate complex environments.
The exercise was one of several recent integration events involving a decade of research led by scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory who teamed with counterparts from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and General Dynamics Land Systems.
As part of ARL’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, the work focused on state-of-the-art basic and applied research related to ground robotics technologies with an overarching goal of developing autonomy in support of manned-unmanned teaming. Research within the RCTA program serves as foundational research in support of future combat ground vehicles.
An Army robot plans what to do to address a debris pile, full of objects.
(U.S. Army photo)
The recent robot exercise was the culmination of research to develop a robot that reasons about unknown objects and their physical properties, and decides how to best interact with different objects to achieve a specific task.
“Given a task like ‘clear a path’, the robot needs to identify potentially relevant objects, figure out how objects can be grasped by determining where and with what hand shape, and decide what type of interaction to use, whether that’s lifting, moving, pushing or pulling to achieve its task,” said CCDC ARL’s Dr. Chad Kessens, Robotic Manipulation researcher.
During the recent exercise, RoMan successfully completed such as multi-object debris clearing, dragging a heavy object (e.g., tree limb), and opening a container to remove a bag.
Kessens said soldier teammates are able to give verbal commands to the robot using natural human language in a scenario.
“Planning and learning and their integration cut across all these problems. The ability of the robot to improve its performance over time and to adapt to new scenarios by building models on-the-fly while incorporating the power of model-based reasoning will be important to achieving the kinds of unstructured tasks we want to be able to do without putting soldiers in harm’s way,” Kessens said.
The United States dropped more than seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1957 and 1975, more than twice what it dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II. That’s a lot of ordnance. This doesn’t take into account the rockets, mortars, tank rounds, etc. used by American and allied infantrymen on the ground in Vietnam. An estimated ten percent or more of that tonnage didn’t explode – which means it’s still there.
It also means someone, now nearly 50 years later, is going to find it – a mother, father, or child. That’s where Chuck Searcy, a U.S. Army veteran, comes in. He’s on a mission to clear those UXOs.
Chuck Searcy is a Georgia-based Army vet on a new mission.
Searcy co-founded Project RENEW in 2001, a million effort to clear unexploded weapons from the former war zone while teaching children about the bombs and helping those affected by them.
Since the war’s official end in 1975 – when North Vietnam invaded and forcibly unified the South – more than 100,000 Vietnamese civilians have been killed by unexploded ordnance in the country. Some of them were farmers or other kinds of laborers, clearing paths through fields as they’ve done time and time again. Others injured by the bombs were metal scrappers, gathering what they could to make extra money.
Ten percent is a lot of explosive still sitting around.
In 2017, Searcy and Project RENEW cleared some 17,000 munitions found in the middle of Vietnam. Over the project’s lifetime, the group has cleared more than a million. Searcy first returned to Vietnam in 1995, the year after the United States formally normalized relations with the still-Communist country. Back then, he was helping kids find orthopedic devices for missing limbs, but he kept reading about the problems with explosives in the countryside.
Now they do. When someone finds a bomb and reports it, the group will send out a team to dispose of it as they always have. But in the last 20 years, they’ve become more proactive, more methodical. They not only interview villagers asking about bomb sightings, they examine U.S. Air Force databases, reviewing every single bombing run of the war.
Chuck Searcy now and in his Vietnam-era years.
While often times, the difference can be difficult to measure, there is one important number to follow, and that is how many people were killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in a given area. In Quang Tri, a province that saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, the number killed or wounded in 2001 (when project RENEW began its education program) was 89. In 2017, the number dwindled to two.
Declaring the group’s destruction its top Middle East priority, the Trump administration on March 22 urged coalition partners to contribute more to forces who are retaking Iraq’s second largest city and readying an assault on the extremists’ self-declared Syrian capital. There was no apparent announcement of a new overall strategy, however.
Addressing top diplomats of the 68-nation coalition, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for new ideas to expand the against IS in the Iraqi city of Mosul and accelerate the campaign to chase from Raqqa, Syria, while preparing for the complex humanitarian and political consequences of both efforts.
Yet Tillerson did not propose, at least in his public remarks, a new approach, beyond noting the increased U.S. role in each country. As the officials were meeting at the State Department in Washington, the Pentagon announced that it provided an airlift for Syrian taking part in an west of Raqqa, in an escalation of U.S. involvement. At least one country participating in the meeting, France, voiced frustration that Tillerson and other U.S. officials had not offered specifics.
“I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating is the United States number one goal in the region,” Tillerson said. “As we’ve said before, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Ababi said victory was finally within reach.
“We are at the stage of completely decimating ,” al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Nothing Tillerson outlined departed significantly from the Obama administration’s strategy, which focused on using local forces to retake territory along with efforts to disrupt IS recruitment and financing, and the blueprint of the multilateral effort seemed unchanged.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was disappointed the U.S. hasn’t outlined a more detailed plan, particularly for Raqqa’s future. He said he understood Trump’s administration was still formulating policy, explaining that he will be more concerned if decisions aren’t made before the end of April.
“We are expecting some further clarity from the U.S.,” he told reporters, citing France’s desire for the city to be run by moderate opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad and not the country’s Russian-backed government. He also wants to hear what America seeks from U.N.-led talks on a broader political settlement to the six-year civil between Assad’s and various groups.
Tactics for the are complicated in Syria, where a partnership with Kurdish has prompted difficult discussions with Turkey, which sees them as a national security threat. The Pentagon made clear that in Wednesday’s near Raqqa, U.S. forces were still in a support role.
Tillerson said the United States would play its part and pay its fair share of the overall operation. But he said other nations, particularly those which have faced IS or IS-inspired , must contribute more militarily or financially.
He said increased intelligence and information sharing could overcome traditional rivalries between different agencies and governments, and advocated an enhanced online effort to halt the spread of extremist views, especially as the group loses ground in Iraq and Syria.
Although Tillerson alluded to the intensified campaign, he said the Trump administration was still refining its strategy. As a candidate, Trump spoke broadly about radical changes to the approach adopted by then-President Barack Obama. As a president, Trump has moved more cautiously.
“A more defined course of action in Syria is still coming together,” Tillerson said. “But I can say that the United States will increase our pressure on and al-Qaida and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through , to allow refugees to return home.”
The reference to “zones of stability” appeared to stop short of “safe zones,” which the U.S. has been extremely reluctant to commit to enforcing in Syria, even as Trump and others have raised the idea at various times.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hungary’s foreign minister said he liked what he heard.
“We are enthusiastic about the new U.S. strategy,” Peter Szijjarto said, adding that he saw Trump’s administration determined “not only to against , but totally eliminate .” He said his country would send 50 more to Iraq, taking its contribution to 200.
As the become more encircled, the mission will change. Officials expect in the coming months to see the dissipation of surviving into underground cells that could plan and mount throughout the Middle East, South and Central Asia, Europe, South America and the United States. Washington has been trying to get NATO, coalition and other partners to take actions to adapt to changing threats.
“As we stabilize areas encompassing ‘s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” Tillerson said. “We must ensure cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world. We must online as aggressively as we would on the ground. A digital caliphate must not flourish in the place of a physical one.”
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.