The fight for Guadalcanal was a brutal first step in driving back the Japanese in the Pacific. The main objective for the campaign was to deny them use of the Solomon Islands. They threatened U.S. supply lines to Australia and the U.S. wanted to use the islands as a starting point for the larger war in the Pacific. The battle was fought on land, at sea, and in the air and involved every branch of the U.S. military. The aerial battle was fought mostly by the “Cactus Air Force” flying out of Henderson Field.
The Cactus Air Force was a conglomeration of Marine, Navy, and Army Air Corps assets operating in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Although the Marines jokingly referred to the campaign as ‘Operation Shoestring’ because of the lack of the supplies, the Cactus Air Force was actually named after the codename for Guadalcanal.
The 1st Marine Division attacked the Solomon Islands on the night of August 6th and morning of August 7, 1942 with the bulk of the division landing unopposed on Guadalcanal. The Marines captured the airfield on August 8th and immediately set to work completing the airstrip. The airfield was ready for use by August 18, and the first two Marine squadrons, one of F4F Hellcats and one of SBD Dauntless dive bombers, arrived on the 20th to begin combat operations the next day.
Two days later the Marine aviators were joined by five U.S. Army Air Force P-39 Airacobras. On August 24, eleven more Dauntless dive bombers landed at Henderson Field after being unable to return to the USS Enterprise due to damage it received during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. By the end of August, another Marine fighter squadron and another dive bomber squadron had also arrived on the island.
This assortment of men and planes were the beginning of the Cactus Air Force, and they were in for a hell of a time.
At the time of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Japanese Empire was at its peak and, aside from being denied at the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, had yet to lose any territory they gained and were loath to do so. As such, the American airfield and its inhabitants were under near constant bombardment and attack. The Imperial Japanese Navy would shell Henderson Field from the sea while the Japanese Air Force sent daily bombing missions against the Americans. The constant bombardment continually damaged the runway, destroyed valuable aircraft, and inflicted numerous casualties.
To make matters worse, the island was not yet secure and the Japanese were continually attacking the perimeter attempting to dislodge the Americans from Guadalcanal. The 1st Marine Division reinforced by the 164th Infantry Regiment of the newly formed Americal Division held the line against Japanese assaults. During the Battle of Henderson Field, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines held out against some of the worst attacks, and it was during this action John Basilone earned the Medal of Honor and Lt. Col. Chesty Puller earned his third Navy Cross.
If the constant attacks on Henderson Field wasn’t bad enough, the living conditions were terrible as well. When the Americans captured the airfield it was far from complete and had no permanent living quarters. The pilots and mechanics were housed in mud-floored tents in a flooded coconut grove they referred to as “Mosquito Grove.” The squalid living conditions led to many diseases, including malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and fungal infections.
The local climate contributed to the misery too. In the heat, black volcanic dust covered everything and when it rained the ground turned into a quagmire. Major Marion Carl, a Marine aviator stationed at Henderson Field, commented that it was “the only place on Earth where you could stand up to your knees in mud and still get dust in your eyes.”
Just surviving at Henderson Field was difficult enough, but the Marines, sailors, and soldiers still had to fly and fight. The dust fouled the engines of the planes, the mud kept them from moving, and the Japanese bombardment destroyed the planes and the runway. The runway was in such poor condition in the early stages of the battle that nearly as many Cactus Air Force planes were damaged just using it as they were in fighting against the Japanese. There were also no facilities for the aircraft: no hangers, no fuel trucks, and no bomb hoists. Damaged aircraft were cannibalized where they stood for their spare parts. Bombs had to be loaded by hand as did the fuel. Without fuel trucks the only way to fuel the planes was to hand pump it out of 55 gallon drums.
Despite all of these challenges, the Cactus Air Force fought tenaciously and was successful in helping the U.S. achieve victory. Six different airmen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions while serving with the Cactus Air Force. An even greater number of pilots became aces during the campaign. Though total victories for the Cactus Air Force cannot be confirmed for the six months they were involved in combat, they claimed over 250 aerial victories. The dive and torpedo bombers from Henderson Field sank seventeen large Japanese naval vessels and damaged another eighteen. Most importantly, they sank transport ships that were attempting to deliver supplies and reinforcements to the Japanese on the island. These victories came at the price of 94 pilots killed or missing and a further 177 wounded or evacuated due to illness plus numerous ground crew killed or wounded. After the Guadalcanal campaign, the Cactus Air Force was consolidated with other allied air units under Aircraft, Solomons (or AirSols) which continued to support Allied operations in the Solomon Islands and Southern Pacific.
Pin this to your refrigerator for summer fun planning, military families.
Summer means baseball action, and many minor league baseball teams across the country are making an effort to honor those who serve the nation. Here’s the WATM list of minor league baseball Military Appreciation games:
*Scroll all the way down to view list of teams with season-long discounts.
Fort Myers Miracle – Free pre-game picnic for veterans and their guests (up to 100 attendees). Pre-game ceremony for veterans. Veterans and active military personnel admitted free of charge for all games.
Lakeland Flying Tiers – Free admission to all veterans and one (1) guest. The event features honoring veterans and local recruits, a JROTC Pass and Review, welcome home soldier ceremonies and much more.
St. Lucie Mets – They will wear custom military appreciation jerseys, which will be auctioned off during the game. The local Vietnam Veterans Chapter 566 will be selling tickets, and a portion of those ticket sales will go to the Health and Welfare fund of the VVA. Military receives a $4 discount for all games.
Hickory Crawdads – Salute to Troops Night offering free parking for military. Two free tickets for military members and one (1) guest for all games.
Salt Lake Bees – Free admission to all military members and ½ price tickets for their families.
South Bend Cubs – May 29th May 30th: Any former or current military member will receive 2 free tickets to either game with proof of service.
Biloxi Shuckers – Discount to all active and retired military personnel and their families in the box level and the reserved level seating locations.
Louisville Bats – Free admission to all active duty, reserve, guard and family members with valid ID. Tickets may be obtained in advance or the day of the game at the Louisville Slugger Field box office. Free admission to all veterans – VFW, DAV, AMVETS, American Legion, Ladies Auxiliary and all other veterans with ID or DD Form 214.
Indianapolis Indians – Ticket Discount: $1 off advanced ticket price, $3 off day-of ticket price. Players will wear specialty camouflage jerseys that will be auctioned off postgame. Auction proceeds to benefit WGU Scholarships Fund for Indiana National Guard members.
Toledo Mud Hens – Military families will receive free tickets to this game.
Bowie Baysox – Fort Meade Appreciation Night. Free tickets to military personnel at Fort Meade. Military discount $2 off general admission and $3 off reserved seat tickets for every home game during the season. Additional Military Appreciation nights: June 22, July 6, August 10, September 3 – show current or past proof of service to receive half price ($8) box seat ticket.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers – Free admission for all military personnel (active and veteran). Pregame performance. First 1,000 fans will receive a Khris Davis bobblehead.
Palm Beach Cardinals $3 discount for family members of active and retired military. Veterans and active military personnel with valid military ID are admitted free of charge for all games.
Tampa Yankees – Free admission for all military personnel. Active and retired military receive a free upper reserved ticket with valid ID on all Saturday home games.
Indianapolis Indians – Ticket Discount: $1 off advanced ticket price, $3 off day-of ticket price. Indians to wear specialty Stars Stripes jerseys that will be auctioned off postgame. Auction proceeds to benefit Indiana National Guard relief fund.
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes – Military personnel honored on the field will receive complimentary box seats for them and their family.
Lowell Spinners – Vietnam Veterans Night. July 28th – Military Night/Camo Jersey Giveaway first 1,000 fans. All active/retired military and their families receive free standing room tickets to any Spinners home game with valid military ID.
Midland RockHounds – Military members can redeem a voucher for a free picnic for 4 people. Military members receive $1 reserved seats on all normal game days.
Princeton Rays – Dedication of Military Honor Seat at H.P. Hunnicutt Field. Free tickets for active duty and retired military and $4 tickets for up to four additional tickets for family/friends.
Durham Bulls – Military Appreciation Night. Active duty military receive free admission for all normal Durham Bulls games.
Missoula Osprey – and July 25th. $5 reserved tickets for all active retired military personnel with valid military ID.
Vermont Lake Monsters – Free tickets for active and retired military and their families along with Digital Camo and $5 Dunkin Donuts gift cards. Free tickets available to first 40 military members at each home game.
New Orleans Zephyrs – $5 ticket with presentation of ID for active or retired military. No cap on tickets purchased.
Rochester Red Wings – Free admission to military personnel with valid ID. Custom game-worn jerseys are auctioned off to benefit Children of Fallen Soldiers Foundation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This op/ed by We Are The Mighty co-founder and CEO David Gale originally appeared on the Hollywood Reporter website on May 22, 2017.
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month in May, I decided to re-watch William Wyler’s 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, which follows three WWII servicemen facing the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. The film won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, and proves that a well-told, honest and authentic story is still the most powerful way to instill empathy and provide some understanding of even the most complex emotions and human experiences.
While our military is still a quintessential part of American culture, today’s Hollywood rarely gets it right, often resorting to stereotypes and common tropes to portray veterans as either dysfunctional misfits or larger-than-life heroes. Perhaps this misconception is an expected result when less than 1 percent of our population is currently in uniform. Those who come home to work in the entertainment industry, are more likely to be offered jobs making coffee and copying scripts, than to encounter an employer who authentically appreciates and values the leadership, skills and responsibilities of military service.
While there is a handful of successful vets in this business, most notably Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCU, in my 30 years in entertainment, I never met an executive who served in the military and who has responsibility for making important creative decisions. This, even though we have been at war for 16 years and millions of veterans have returned home. While some studios and networks have helpful veteran hiring programs, and nonprofits such as Veterans in Film and Television are there to support veterans who work in this industry, there are few clear paths for vets to move into the creative and executive ranks of the business.
On the contrary, the cast and crew of The Best Years of Our Lives had veterans in nearly every major creative position. Wyler, the director, served in the Army National Guard; actor Fredric March served in the Army; the author of the book on which the film was based, MacKinlay Kantor, was a war correspondent who flew on bombing missions over Europe; Robert Sherwood, the screenwriter, fought with the Royal Highlanders of Canada; and Daniel Mandell, the film’s Academy Award winning editor, served in the Marines. Gregg Toland, the film’s acclaimed cinematographer, was a lieutenant in the Navy’s camera department; he also co-directed with John Ford a documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And, of course, Harold Russell, who won the best supporting actor Oscar, was a WWII veteran and double hand amputee.
War and homecoming are undoubtedly part of the American experience, yet according to a study conducted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, 84 percent of post-9/11 veterans believe that the American public has no understanding of the difficulties facing this current generation of veterans and military families. While we cannot expect the average person to comprehend what it is like to serve in the military, we can expect the media to do more to find and empower the storytellers who have served. Making sure veterans have more opportunities to play meaningful roles in entertainment and media is the best way for us all to begin to have some understanding of our military community and the challenges they face. This will allow us to discover the kind of extraordinary talent this next great generation has to offer. Not only is this good for our veterans, it is good for business; The Best Years of Our Lives was a huge financial success. In a time of perpetual conflict, in which so few are asked to do so much for so many, getting veterans right is also good for our country.
Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants are quickly moving to drum up outrage over a sharp spike in civilian casualties said to have been caused by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, posting photos online of a destroyed medical center and homes reduced to rubble. “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants,” the caption reads.
The propaganda points to the risk that rising death tolls and destruction could undermine the American-led campaign against the militants.
During the past two years of fighting to push back the Islamic State group, the U.S.-led coalition has faced little backlash over casualties, in part because civilian deaths have been seen as relatively low and there have been few cases of single strikes killing large numbers of people.
In Iraq — even though sensitivities run deep over past American abuses of civilians — the country’s prime minister and many Iraqis support the U.S. role in fighting the militants.
That has the potential to undercut victories against the militants and stoke resentments that play into their hands.
At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the U.N. human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike late March, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria since Trump took office.
In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.
The U.S. military is investigating what role the U.S. played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.
Among those who lost loved ones, resentment appears to be building toward the U.S.-led coalition and the ground forces it supports.
“How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?” asked Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the neighborhood known as New Mosul, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack. “Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses. They felt safe.”
U.S. officials have said they are investigating other claims of casualties in Syria and Iraq.
Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents, and destroying archaeological sites.
Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.
Now, the group is using the civilian deaths purportedly as a result of U.S.-led airstrikes in its propaganda machine.
Photos recently posted online on militant websites showed the destruction at the Mosul Medical College with a caption describing the Americans as the “Mongols of the modern era” who kill and destroy under the pretext of liberation. A series of pictures showing destroyed homes carried the comment: “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants under the rubble of houses bombed by American warplanes to claim victory. Who would dare say this is a war crime?”
In Syria, IS and other extremist factions have pushed the line that the U.S. and Russia, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime, are equal in their disregard for civilian lives.
U.S. “crimes are clear evidence of the ‘murderous friendship’ that America claims to have with the Syrian people, along with its claimed concern for their future and interests,” said the Levant Liberation Committee, an al-Qaida-led insurgent alliance.
Some Syrian opposition factions allied with the U.S. have also criticized the strikes, describing them as potential war crimes.
An analysis by the Soufan Group consultancy warned that rumors and accusations of coalition atrocities “will certainly help shape popular opinion once Mosul and Raqqa are retaken, thus serving a purpose for the next phase of the Islamic State’s existence.”
Criticism has also come from Russian officials, whose military has been accused of killing civilians on a large scale in its air campaign in Syria, particularly during the offensive that recaptured eastern Aleppo from rebels late last year.
“I’m greatly surprised with such action of the U.S. military, which has all the necessary equipment and yet were unable to figure out for several hours that they weren’t striking the designated targets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at the U.N. Security Council about the March 17 strike.
Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, acknowledged the spike in civilian casualty reports could change the way the coalition is conducting the war. He said it was a “very valid” concern that loss of life and destruction could play into the hands of IS or cause some coalition members to waver.
“But the coalition is not going to back down when (the fight) gets hard or there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “That’s what ISIS wants.”
In Syria, the deadliest recent strike occurred earlier this month in a rebel-held area in the north. Opposition activists said a mosque was hit during evening prayers, killing around 40 people, mostly civilians, and wounding dozens of others. The U.S. said it struck an al-Qaida gathering across the street from the mosque, killing dozens of militants, adding they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.
In Mosul, the scale of destruction wrought by increased artillery and airstrikes is immense in some areas.
Abdullah, the resident of New Mosul, buried 13 members of his family in a single day.
Standing in a field now being used as a graveyard, he said: “This was not a liberation. It was destruction.”
Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.
“Would you like to spend 30 days on an island where the fishing is good, food is excellent, housing quarters are modern and free movies are shown every night?” That was the Air Force’s pitch to attract volunteers to serve aboard the Texas Towers, a series of offshore early warning radar platforms built in the 1950s off the coast of Cape Cod and Long Island. These bizarre-looking structures, named for their resemblance to Texas oil rigs, were built to give our air defenses an additional 30 minutes of warning time in the event of an attack by Soviet bombers.
The call for volunteers, which appeared in The Airman magazine, brought a rush of applications. To further sweeten the deal, Airmen who served aboard the Towers were given two weeks of leave for every six at sea. But the reality of life aboard was nothing like what the Air Force had promised. The Air Force never found a safe way to take men on and off the towers, even in calm seas (which are rare in that part of the Atlantic). Supplying the towers was a logistical nightmare. It wasn’t long before the boarding procedures had cost the lives of two airmen and caused untold injuries.
Emergency plans and procedures were woefully inadequate. The same stability issues that would eventually lead to disaster earned Texas Tower 4 (TT4) the nickname “Old Shakey” among the crew.
Five towers were planned, three were built, one was doomed.
On the night of January 15, 1961, Texas Tower 4 toppled over in heavy seas and was swallowed by the North Atlantic, taking 14 Airmen and 14 civilian contractors to the bottom with it.
This is a story of WTF?!? Cold War engineering.
It’s a story of leaders who had all the warnings and ignored them.
And it’s the all too common story about what happens when service members are put in harm’s way by blatantly flawed technology and lowest-bidder contracts.
Design, Construction, and Good Intentions
The Texas Towers were designed to take anything the North Atlantic could throw at them. Probability studies at the time established a criterion of 125 mile-per-hour winds and 35-foot breaking waves, so they were expressly designed to withstand that.
No such structure had ever been built in the open Atlantic or anywhere in a depth of 185 feet. For reference, TT2’s legs measured only 160 feet long; the first 48 feet settled snugly into the seabed, the middle 55 feet were immersed in water, and the top 60 feet rose above the water’s surface.
The DeLong Corp — an engineering and construction company specializing in the design and construction of docks and similar structures — evaluated all the problems of TT4, installing in 180 feet of water, and formatted a fair estimate for all three towers. Their estimate for TT4 was a million dollars more than TT1 or TT3, given TT4’s greater depth. J. Rich Steers Inc., a competing engineering and construction company, submitted an estimate in the competition of DeLong and outbid them. Steers’ bid for TT4 was less than a quarter-million higher than their bid for TT3. DeLong would later testify that he assumed lack of knowledge on Steers’ part was the reason for this bid–which failed to consider the depth difference between the two towers. (See the table below.)
J. Rich Steers, Inc. and Morrison-Knudsen, Inc.
Raymond Concrete Pile ad DeLong Corp
Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp
“The sea doesn’t get tired…”
In a hearing following the disaster, Delong testified the K-bracing for TT4 was the best-known construction method for the situation. He further explained any bracing generates additional resistance against the structure from the sea. To work properly, bracing needs to be left out of the water motion zone, meaning they had to keep bracing below any wave action. He said the use of pins in the legs of the tower would cause trouble because,
“The sea works on it at all times, causing an impact at the clearance. There is one thing we can all be sure of, the ocean is not going to get tired. You will get tired, or metal, or anything else will tire, before the ocean will get tired.”
According to Mr. DeLong’s testimony, the base of TT4 was not moored deep enough into the seabed. TT2’s bases were sunk 48 feet into the substrate. This was sufficient, based on DeLong’s experience in the Gulf of Mexico. TT4’s base extended just 18 feet into the sand bottom. He would testify, “you are on awful shaky assumptions that 18 or 20 feet is enough.”
J. Rich Steers built TT3 and TT4, and Mr. Rau, as the Vice President and chief engineer of J. Rich Steers, Inc., testified he was fully aware of the construction of TT3 and TT4. In addition, the Navy had a representative present during tower construction and erection. Captain Foster was a U.S. Naval Civil Engineer Corps commander who oversaw many large-scale projects before becoming responsible for Texas Tower 4. The legs, with their bracing, and platform were all constructed in Portland, Maine. The contractor, J. Rich Steers, requested an increase in the space between pins and the holes on the leg braces, originally designed to be 1/64inch. Pin tolerance increases to 1/16-inch for above water pins and expansions to 1/8 inch below water. The request for larger holes underwater was because the water made them difficult to insert. Upon consulting the design engineers, Captain Foster agreed to all of the tolerance increases.
Not the Navy’s Problem
TT4 would be damaged by the sea before it was even in position. After floating the legs into position out at sea, the construction crew had to ride out a storm. The rough weather damaged the legs’ diagonal braces. One brace broke off entirely.
There were only two options:
Sail the legs back to Portland, put the legs in dry dock, and install braces properly.
Or an engineer could rig braces underwater.
The Navy representatives managing the construction decided to upend the legs and design and install permanent underwater braces. The underwater braces were supposed to fit exactly as the originals had. But because only a stub against the leg remained when the brace broke off, the new braces were attached to the leg by two half sleeves, forming a collar which had to be bolted underwater around the joint.
These retrofitted braces didn’t solve the tower’s stability issues. A December 4, 1958 report detailed a series of underwater inspections called “Texas Tower No. 4; Stability and Deficiencies.” It explained that approximately half of the bolts were loose and could be extracted by hand. Immediate details established that the bolts were not of design diameter and length, something Captain Foster approved, and some holes were oversized. Effective July 1, 1959, Commander Foster was detached from his duty associated with TT4, and the Navy was no longer directly involved in any of its problems.
Tower Operations & Life Aboard
By the end of 1955, the first Tower, TT2, began radar operations. Its three radar domes protected an FPS-3A and twin FPS-6 height radars that were programmed to detect “targets of B-47 size, flying about 50,000 feet, up to 200 nautical miles away.”
Unfortunately, It was only after the tower was in place that the Air Force found low-altitude radar gaps in the tower’s range. The same targets flying at low altitudes, around 500 feet, were only noticeable by radar up to 50 nautical miles away. Airborne Early Warning and Control, also known as AEW&C, aircraft needed to patrol the oceans to provide adjunct coverage to the Texas Towers.
TT2 and TT3 stood firmly in waters that were 56 and 80 feet from their installation, respectively. TT4 was different in its design because it had underwater bracing to compensate for the extra stresses of being in 185 feet of water. Despite constant reports of excessive wobbling aboard TT4 and the crewmembers’ nicknaming it “Old Shaky,” in the summer of 1960, the contractor reported the original design strength restored. Each of the towers was different as each had its unusual movement. The crewmembers on TT2 reported the platform had a juggling motion, while TT3 was a twisting motion. TT4, however, weaved, wobbled, and lurched like a living thing.
On September 12, 1960, Hurricane Donna produced winds of 132 miles per hour and breaking waves over 50 feet, forces that exceeded all of the design specifications of up to 125 miles per hour and breaking waves up to 35 feet. These surpassing forces broke part of the below water bracing. The post-storm damage estimates afforded an overall strength of 55% of what it was before the hurricane.
Storm damage after Donna forced the Air Force and its construction contractor to begin renovating TT-4 on February 1, 1961. Donald Slutzky was a technical representative with the Burroughs Corp., who serviced computer data for a year on TT4. After the November hurricane, Slutzky and others aboard the Tower decided to leave, believing that the structure was unsafe.
The tower would shake, and the noise aboard was constant, and then there were the Russians. “Some nights, the lights were so thick you thought you were back at Coney Island,” one airman remembers thinking about the fleets loitering of Russian fishing trawlers swarming the towers.
There were even rumors of infiltration by Soviet frogmen. “A body of legends grew up telling of “damp footprints encountered in passageways and of mysterious strangers furtively sipping coffee in the mess hall at 3 a.m.”
What the towers lacked in comfort, they made up for in food, beer, movies, and calls home
The Airforce spared no expense in making life aboard the towers comfortable. Funds were 70% above their parent squadron, and food allowances were 14% over stateside allowances. The towers had hobby shops, pizza parties, barbeques, daily beer rations, and movies every night, but weeks aboard the platforms was enough to give even the most stable airman “tower fever.”
The isolation, bone-chilling cold, and screaming wind didn’t help, and unbearable noises were built into the tower. Diesel engines roared incessantly while air blowers whined, and radios echoed unnervingly down the steel hallways. In foggy weather, the world’s largest blow horn blasted every twenty-nine seconds. The horn of TT2 once hollered for three weeks straight while hidden in the fog.
Communication was essential for the towers and the shore. Not only was it vital for the radar reports to be transmitted back to the SAGE system, but without this line of communication, the tower would be incapacitated. Unlike so much about the towers, comms actually worked as intended.
Point-to-point tropospheric scatter systems, officially called FRC-56 but known as the troposcatter, transmitted and received messages from shore and were generally unaffected by atmospheric disturbances. They worked well for SAGE communications and the telephone circuits patched in. Voice communications through the troposcatter were reliably maintained, and anyone could call home after duty hours by merely dialing the Otis Operator through the troposcatter.
Supply and Evacuation
The 4604th Texas Support Squadron had its headquarters at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. It provided the Texas towers with staffing and controlled the towers’ activity. In addition, a supply ship, the USNS New Bedford or AKL-17, under Captain Manguel’s supervision, supported the Air Force Islands.
Getting to and from the tower was a significant problem encumbered by New England Weather. Calm days with good visibility are the exception, not the rule, in this corner of the Atlantic.
The escape procedures were limited to methods that were dangerous on a good day. Knotted ropes could be suspended over the side, and crewmembers could climb the ropes to get from the tower’s platform to ships floating in the sea below. Many crewmembers preferred helicopter transport to and from the tower, but Atlantic wind and weather ultimately dictated the service. The mission of flying to the towers was so dangerous that the helicopters only flew in pairs, so if one of them went into the sea, the other could begin rescue operations. Therefore, when one helicopter landed on the platform’s deck, the other had to hover overhead.
The only other way off the tower was referred to by tower members as the “Doughnut.” Nothing in nautical or aeronautical history resembles this device used to transfer personnel between the tower and supply ships, ninety feet below. A colossal aircraft tire innertube was inflated and picked up by the tower’s cargo crane and suspended over the black water. With passengers clinging for dear life, the tube was then lowered or plummeted straight down and onto the pitching and rolling ship. The trip was, in the words of one airman, “enough to make a paratrooper queasy.” Most mariners on the supply ships declined the invitation to come aboard after seeing the doughnut.
Too slow for missiles
Simultaneously, on November 16, 1960, the Airforce ceased the tower’s radar operations and reduced the crewmembers aboard from about 75 to 28, consisting of 14 Air Force and 14 civilian maintenance personnel. By that time, the invention of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) had rendered the towers obsolete, reducing their early warning advantage from 30 minutes to around 30 seconds.
Though their strategic usefulness was behind them, a major reason to keep the towers crewed was to prevent the Soviets from taking claiming them through salvage rights.
The collapse of Texas Tower 4
Captain Gordon Phelan was the Officer in Charge of TT4, and he made a special effort to communicate to the crewmembers onboard the day-to-day structural condition of the tower. His superiors cited his leadership for maintaining the high morale of fellow officers and subordinates aboard the doomed platform. He was recommended for the Legion of Merit when he prevented hysteria aboard the fully staffed tower during Hurricane Donna.
Phelan’s superiors would testify that the captain aboard the tower had the authorization to evacuate if he deemed conditions unsafe effective January 7. However, in a tragic miscommunication, this policy was not relayed to Captain Phelan until hours before the collapse.
Early on the morning of January 14, 1961, TT4’s weather advisory changed, calling for winds from 40 to 60 knots. At about 1330 hrs that afternoon, the AKL-17 completed its loading 202 tons of bulky equipment but no passengers from TT4 and cast off from the tower. Anticipating a North Atlantic Gale, Captain Phelan advised Captain Manguel to stay near the tower for possible evacuation as he would contact the 4604th Support battalion. Captain Manguel replied that if the evacuation was to remain an option, it needed to start while the weather was still good. Soon after, Captain Phelan informed Captain Mangual that the personnel would remain on the tower with the AKL 17 standing by. In other words, if evacuation became necessary, it would be too late to evacuate.
Texas Tower 4, as seen from the supply ship USNS New Bedford (AKL-17) PHOTO/ DOD
Major Stark, the officer in charge at the 4604th Support battalion, who could order an evacuation of the tower at any time, was back on Otis at the time and later testified that he was in a bowling tournament on base from 1300 to 1400. However, he felt confident no telephone call in from Captain Phelan because it would have been reported.
That evening, at 2130 hrs on Otis AFB, Major Stark briefed Major Sheppard that he did not believe the weather forecast was severe enough to warrant the tower’s evacuation. He spoke to Captain Phelan a couple of times during the day and thought there was no reason for alarm or concern of any kind, and that everything was going fine. Major Sheppard was not aware of the worsening forecast of 60-knot winds for TT4. Had he been, he would have directed the evacuation of the tower. Major Sheppard was not particularly concerned because the tower had “just gone through the same situation six days before without any difficulty or motion.” They concluded that Major Sheppard had no need to contact the tower, and he did not communicate until 1600hrs the following day.
On January 15, at 1018 hrs, the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office issued TT4 a wave warning beginning at 1900 hrs, calling for easterly seas 17 to 20 feet. Neither TT4 nor the 4604th support squadron ever acknowledged this receipt. The sea had continued its turbulence and the wind was forecasted for gusts of 60 knots most of the day. At 1000 hrs, Captain Phelan was asked if he was concerned about getting off the tower and he replied, “Well, you know as well as I that we can’t get off now.”
At approximately 1300 hrs, Captain Phelan called his wife, who lived near Otis Airforce Base in Falmouth, MA. They had a long conversation. He told her that the tower was “gyrating,” a word Mrs. Phelan said her husband never used to describe the tower’s behavior. Captain Phelan told her it was rough on board, and she believed he was especially concerned about the wind and waves.
She asked him what would happen if the tower collapsed. He told her that it would not float.
She asked if there were any watertight compartments, and he replied, “absolutely not.”
Captain Phelan thought it was asinine for the AKL-17 to be around because it would be impossible to use the doughnut in such rough seas. If the tower fell, Phelan told his wife, no one would be saved, and the AKL or any other craft would be useless.
She asked if the tower would float for a short time to allow them to use the boat. He said,when it went in, it would go in real fast.
Finally, he called the Skipper of the AKL-17 and told him to go back home or his vessel would soon be swamped.
The Wasp or the bottom of the sea
Around 1530 hrs, Lieutenant Roberts amended the weather forecast to maximum gusts of 75 knots. When Captain Phelan had reported one gust of 72 knots, he said, “Well, now maybe they will do something about it.” Lieutenant Roberts testified that he interpreted this remark to mean that Captain Phelan had been previously trying to contact someone without success.
At approximately 1600, Captain Phelan reported to Major Sheppard that he heard a loud noise, and the tower sway increased. He thought another brace had broken, and there could be trouble if wind direction shifted.
Captain Phelan was concerned with a second storm on its way. When he suggested it would be wise to evacuate during a predicted lull between the two storms, Major Sheppard told him that as Tower OIC, he had discretionary authority to evacuate whenever he felt it was necessary. Captain Phelan then requested helicopters for the evacuation. Some time before 1745 hrs, Mr. Sheppard Called Captain Phelan and told him that the USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier, was being diverted and would arrive sooner than choppers from shore.
At about 1800, Captain Phelan called his wife and told her they were finally sending the USS Wasp and evacuating his crew with choppers. Safes containing classified materials were being thrown overboard. All hands were on deck, clearing the way for the helicopters. He told her the waves were 35 feet, and the wind was blowing 85 knots. The tower was breaking apart, he said. At approximately 1910 hrs, Captain Phelan advised Captain Mangual on the AKL-17 supply ship of their intent to be evacuated by air and that Captain Mangual should proceed to the nearest safe port.
At approximately 1915 hrs, Mr. Schutz called Otis to inform him all hands were still clearing the deck to receive choppers and then stated, “My next call to you will either be on the Wasp, or I will be in the sea. So long.”
At about 1920 hrs, Captain Manguel observed the tower’s signal on his radar screens aboard the AKL-17 when it suddenly disappeared.
He switched to another radar screen and was still unable to locate the structure. Captain Manguel, using the radio he had been in contact with Captain Phelan, called the radar station but received no response.
At 1933 hrs, he transmitted a “Triple X” message to the Coast Guard that “Texas Tower #4 had disappeared from radar contact, and he presumed that it was lost.”
Major search and rescue efforts recovered no survivors. One body was recovered from the radio room of the sunken Tower.
The exact cause of the tower’s collapse is unknown, but the most probable cause is the failure of the leg structure due to the ineffective bracing system between the A and B legs.
TT4’s platform leg design would never pass modern code checks, even for dead load only. Many structural members were loaded beyond yield, explaining the extensive damage TT4 suffered during Donna.
It was nothing short of a miracle that TT4 hadn’t gone down during Donna.
A recent inquiry into the collapse has yielded hindsight calculations that tell a more accurate story of what was going on structurally before and during the collapse. Design engineers had totaled the mass around 7500 tons, but current predictions automatically generate masses and include the hydrodynamic added weight of the water in flooded members. Therefore, design engineers omitted the extra 3,200 tons, and the structure’s predicted mass is a total of about 10,800 tons. Using pin connections over fully welded joints to eliminate secondary bending in joints, an accumulation of wear happened at the pin connections, causing the holes to enlarge.
Another weak point in the tower’s construction was the point where the legs met the seabed. TT4s legs were steel tubes with an outer diameter of 12.5 ft, reinforced with stiffening concrete to 50 feet below the surface. The lower part of the leg was hollow and used as ballast during transportation and installation and as a fuel tank after installation. This section is the weak part of the leg which broke near the footings during the fatal storm. The design engineers likely overlooked the possibility of the legs buckling.
TT 2 and 3
After the collapse of TT4, the remaining towers, TT2 and TT3, were inspected for safety, and their practicality was reassessed. New policies were drafted, but the lingering threat from the Soviet trawlers that loitered around the towers had to be accounted for. From 1961 on, if extreme weather conditions were forecasted, a tower evacuation down to a seven-member standby crew was to be ordered.
The purpose of the standby crew was to guard against the Soviet Sailors attempting to board the platform and claim possession on the grounds of salvage rights.
Considering the towers’ safety issues and their obsolescence, the Air Defense Command decided to phase out TT2 and TT3. A newer system, the Automatic Long Range Input (ALRI), would become fully operational by radars mounted on AEW&Con aircraft based out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts.
These planes already flew constant missions to scan the Texas tower radar web gaps, so they only had to increase their flight time to replace the coverage from the towers. The EC-121 aircraft flew countless radar surveillance missions by their nineteen-member crews in the 1950s and 1960s. The EC-121H Super Constellation, or the “Warning Star,” carried more than six tons of radar and computer communications equipment.
In 1963, ALRI stations became operational, and the towers were no longer needed. On January 15, 1963, TT2 was decommissioned, stripped of its communication and electronic equipment. The next phase would be to dynamite the legs and float the platform to shore. When the legs were dynamited, however, the platform plunged into the ocean and sank to the bottom.
Salvage was not possible. Like TT4, TT2 sits on the bottom of the ocean. TT3 was filled with urethane foam to make it buoyant, floated home, and scrapped.
Fall of the warning stars
On March 2, 1965, the 551st Wing at Otis AFB celebrated “more than 350,000 hours of early warning radar surveillance missions over the North Atlantic without an accident involving personal injury or a fatality.” Thse were the “warning star” early warning aircraft that had supplemented and eventually replaced the Texas Towers.
Less than 19 weeks later, on July 11, 1965, their good safety record was shattered when one of the Super Constellation aircraft developed fire, and the crew ditched the plane in the North Atlantic, approximately 100 miles from Nantucket. Of the 19 crew, there were three survivors, nine bodies were recovered, and the remaining seven were missing and presumed dead.
A similar accident happened the following year on Veterans Day when another Super Constellation crashed in the same general area as the first one. All 19 crew members were killed, and their bodies were never recovered.
Five months later, on April 25, 1967, the 551st AEW’s commander, Colonel James P. Lyle, was piloting another EC-121H when an engine fire broke out. The aircraft went down in the North Atlantic one mile south of Nantucket while attempting an emergency landing. There were fifteen fatalities and one survivor. Only two bodies were recovered. Colonel Lyle had presented folded flags to the next-of-kin of the men under his command from the previous crashes. Now it was his family’s turn to receive one.
The EC-121H aircraft was phased out, and the 551st Wing was deactivated on December 31, 1969. In total, 50 service members died in these three plane crashes, bringing the death toll of the North Atlantic Advanced Early Warning mission to over 78.
Image: U.S Air Force Museum
“You either drown, or you don’t.”
When Captain Phelan and the men of TT4 went down, there was no helm to command, no wheel or tiller to steer, and there was nothing they could have done on the night of January 15, 1961, to save themselves. They died in a structure that was built more like a building than a ship, and it certainly wasn’t watertight. As the captain told his wife on the telephone hours before the tower did this, if it goes in, it will go in real fast.
As he did during Hurricane Donna, Captain Phelan likely maintained command of the military and civilian men on board. There’s no evidence of panic, even though there was nothing to do but panic. The Airmen and civilians fought for each other and their lives to keep the helicopter landing area clear, but the helicopters had not taken off from the Wasp yet when the legs buckled and the tower went down.
We will never know if tower leadership was trying to contact Major Stark between 2 and 3 p.m., while the Major was occupied at a Bowling Tournament on Otis Air Force Base. All we know is that no action was taken by his command until it was too late.
The Texas Towers themselves are relics of the scrapheap of forgotten Cold War technology. But, this sort of preventable catastrophe, where military brass has all the warnings and fails to act, has repeated itself again and again.
Most recently, in July 2020, eight Marines and a sailor drowned when their twenty-six-ton amphibious assault vehicle sank off a California island. The incident resulted from inadequate training, a vehicle in “horrible condition,” and lapsed safety.
Untrained for the situation, in forty-five minutes after water first leaked inside, most service members hadn’t shed their combat gear and body armor. “The key moment in the mishap was when water was at ankle level… and the vehicle commander failed to order the evacuation of embarked troops, as required by the Common Standard Operating Procedures for AAV Operations,” the investigation officer wrote. “Instead, the vehicle commander was more focused on getting back to the ship, vice evacuating the embarked personnel.”
Water flooded the troop compartment, causing the AAV’s nose to rise, and then it quickly sank with eleven men still inside. Only three Marines made it to the surface — and only two of them survived. After the Navy recovered it from a depth of three-hundred and eighty-five feet of water, technical inspections and analyses of the amtrac revealed anomalies, loose or missing parts, and worn seals.
Sebastian Junger writes in The Perfect Storm, “everyone takes their chances, and you either drown or you don’t.”
It is that stark simplicity that makes seafaring professions so alluring and so deadly.
Men and women who earn their living at sea, in the military or as civilians, have long embraced the superstition that some among them are marked and that the sea will reclaim them eventually.
Whether it was nautical providence or just bad luck, the Atlantic had marked many among the original crew of the Texas Towers. After Hurricane Donna, the Air Force had ceased radar operations on TT4 and scaled the crew back from 75 to just 14, supported by an additional 14 civilian support personal. These were the 28 who went down that night in January 1961. Of the 50 fatalities from the subsequent “Warning Star” crashes, many had been survivors of Hurricane Dona, chosen by deep to join their fellow airmen another day.
About the authors:
Joshua Maloney served in the First Cavalry Division as an M1A2 SEP V2 loader and driver and as an HMMWV driver, dismount, and gunner. He has been a part of numerous combat and humanitarian aid missions. He has since gone on to advocate for student veterans as president of the Student Veterans of America Chapter at Cape Cod Community College.
Charles Daly is the co-author of Make Peace or Die: a life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares.
Air Force pilots attached to deployable squadrons have started dropping real bombs off of their F-35s during training missions, according to a report posted at CNN.com.
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said in an Air Force statement.
The inert precision guided bombs were dropped from airplanes based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, could use whatever good publicity it can manage at this point. The test program has been plagued with failures at every turn, from wrestling with the millions of lines of code needed to make the cockpit suite communicate with the $500,000 helmet the pilot is supposed to wear to having to redesign the tailhook so the airplane will actually catch the wire across the flight deck and stop when trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
The program’s original “initial operational capability” or “IOC” date was in 2012, but that goal was missed due to setbacks. The overall program cost is currently at $400 billion, and that’s expected to go up to more than $1 trillion over the life of the airplane.
F-35 supporters marvel at the fighter’s “fifth generation” capability, which includes radar-evading stealth technology and data sharing between airplanes. Critics say the Joint Strike Fighter is a procurement nightmare that can’t match the A-10 as a close air support asset or the F-16 as a dogfighter.
Vice Adm. Robert Burke is the chief of naval personnel. He assumed the role in May and is responsible for the planning and programming of all manpower, personnel, training and education resources for the U.S. Navy. This views expressed in this commentary are his own.
There has been a lot of discussion since we announced the Navy’s rating modernization plan on Sept. 29. I’ve been following the conversation closely, and it’s clear that many were surprised by this announcement.
While there is rarely a right or perfect time to roll out a plan as significant and ambitious as this rating modernization effort, I firmly believe this change needs to occur, and now is the right time to do so. Throughout our rich, 241-year history, the U.S. Navy’s consistent advantage has come from its Sailors. You are our asymmetric advantage in an increasingly complex world — you are our prized possession, our secret weapon. In recognition of that, we continuously work to ensure that we develop and deploy our Sailors in the most modern and effective system possible. This is just our latest effort to modernize our personnel system — one of hundreds we’ve made in the past.
The objectives of this effort are simple: flexibility, flexibility and flexibility. First, we will provide flexibility in what a Sailor can do in our Navy, by enabling career moves between occupations to ensure continued advancement opportunity and upward mobility as the needs of a rapidly adapting Navy change. Second, we will provide flexibility in assignment choice — a Sailor with the right mix of plug-and-play skills will have more choices for ship type, home port, timing, sea/shore rotation, even special and incentive pays! Finally, we will provide you more flexibility after you leave the Navy, by providing civilian credentialing opportunities — in other words, giving you credit in the civilian job market for your Navy education and experience.
This effort will take us several years to complete, and we will include you in the process as we work through it — we’re just getting started and you will be involved as we go. Many questions remain unanswered, and we’ll get to them — together. There will be fleet involvement throughout.
Here’s the rough breakdown of the project, as we see it today:
— Phase 1 (now through September 2017) — redefine career fields and map out cross-occupation opportunities. Identify career groupings to define those rating moves that can be done, and that also translate to civilian occupational certifications.
— Phase 2 (now through September 2018, will run parallel with Phase 1) — examine the best way forward for how we best align our processes for:
Recruiting and initial job classification;
Planning for accessions — the numbers and mix of skills for folks we recruit;
Advancements — how do we define what is required for advancement if you are capable of several skill sets? Do we eliminate advancement exams altogether?
Pay processes — to include things like SRB, Assignment Incentive Pay, etc.; and
— Phase 3 (now through September 2018) — updating underlying policy documents, instructions, things like applicable BUPERSINST, OPNAVINST, and the Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards Manual. This will include changes to how we handle things like Evaluations and Awards.
— Phase 4 (began last year, expect to go through September 2019) — identify and put in place the underlying IT systems. This is probably the most complex and game changing aspect of the project.
— Phase 5 (September 2017 through September 2018) — redesign the Navy rating badges. The idea is to hold off on this until we settle on the right definition of career fields, to better inform the conversation on the way ahead in this area.
— Phase 6 (September 2019 and beyond) — continuous improvement, further integration with all Sailor 2025 initiatives.
I am committed to ensuring you have a voice in the way ahead. Toward that end, I am aggressively expanding the membership and avenues of communication into the Navy-wide working group that has been assembled to tackle this project. As we go forward, your feedback matters and we want to hear from you during each phase of the transformation. You can expect lots of discussion on this as we learn and adapt the plan to make it deliver on the objectives. Have conversations with your Senior Enlisted Leaders, who are armed with how to move those conversations forward. You also have a direct line to me in order to make sure your ideas are heard — send them to NavyRatingMod@gmail.com.
We are proud members of numerous different tribes within the Navy — our occupations, warfare specialties, ships and squadrons — we must always remember that there is one Sailor’s Creed and we are one NAVY TEAM supporting and defending our Nation. This modernization will make us more capable as individuals and a Navy.
Russia is apparently ready to build two terrifying weapons of war: A 100-ton ballistic missile that can destroy countries and a train that can carry and fire six nuclear missiles, according to Pravda, the Communist Party’s outlet in Russia.
The missile and train are “on the level of absolute readiness of the industry for their implementation, should the relevant decision be made to include the projects in the state armament program,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told Pravda.
The 100-ton RS-28 Sarmat nuclear missile, or “Satan 2” as NATO calls it, reportedly holds 10 warheads and is capable of destroying a country the size of France, Newsweek reported. The Satan 2 is an upgraded version of the RS-36M, which NATO called “Satan” in the 70s.
But its production has been put off since 2014. The Russian Defense Ministry also said last week that it wouldn’t test it until late 2017.
The Barguzin trains, on the other hand, will look like passenger trains, be able to travel 1,500 miles a day, and hold up to six 55-ton RS-24 Yars thermonuclear ICBMs. The Barguzin train is also an upgrade of a Soviet design that only carried three nuclear ICBMs.
The US considered putting nukes on trains in the 1980s, but later scrapped the idea. Nuclear trains are beneficial in that they’re mobile and difficult to locate.
However, a 2014 RAND study said that there are shortcomings to nuclear trains. Railways can be blocked by snow, and the enemy simply has to surveil the railways to find the trains. Also, once found, they’re easier to take out.
“Mobile systems that depend on roads or rail lines visible via overhead imagery effectively shrink the target area and could significantly lower the number of missiles required to barrage mobile systems,” RAND said.
Russia currently has about 7,000 nuclear weapons, while the US has about 6,800.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. It houses treasures of American history like Rockwell illustrations, Lincoln’s top hat and even an Apollo 11 moon rock. However, despite the institute’s best efforts, one piece of iconic American history does not reside at the Smithsonian.
Nearly every American schoolchild has seen the painting of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. The image has graced the pages of American history textbooks for generations. The original 9’x12′ canvas is not at the Smithsonian, though. It doesn’t even belong to the Smithsonian. Rather, the painting belongs to the Galena Historical Society in Galena, Illinois and is on display at their Galena & U.S. Grant Museum.
On April 9, 1895, “Peace in Union” (no, it’s not called “Surrender at Appomattox”) was finished and signed by artist Thomas Nast. Nast was commissioned by Chicago newspaperman and former Galena resident Herman Kohlsaat to paint the historical event.
Nast was a German-born caricaturist and editorial cartoonist. He has been called the “Father of the American Cartoon” for creating the modern version of Santa Claus and the political symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party. His work also popularized the images of Uncle Sam, Columbia and the donkey of the Democratic Party.
Upon his commissioning, Nast began two years of intense research on the surrender and the people who were present. He read up on Grant’s generals to portray them as accurately as possible in his painting, and it shows. Some show relief in their tired faces for the end of the long and bloody war. Others show reverence for Grant and his leadership that brought the conflict to a close. Still others show contempt for Lee and his confederacy of rebels and traitors.
Of course, the focus of the painting is the exchange between Lee and Grant. Per his reputation, Lee changed into his best uniform for the surrender at the courthouse. Grant, fittingly, had on a worn jacket and scuffed boots straight from the battlefield. Aside from the significance of the event portrayed, details like these make “Peace in Union” one of the greatest works of art in American history.
Representatives from the Smithsonian have tried at least three times to convince the Galena Historical Society to sell the oil painting to them. Every visit to the small Illinois town has been unsuccessful though. No amount of money will allow the people of Galena to part with “Peace in Union.” Although Grant and his family lived in Galena for only a year before the start of the Civil War, he would consider it home for the remainder of his life and the town of Galena is extremely proud of that fact.
Along with this national treasure, the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum hosts other artifacts of American history. Another article from the Civil War, the museum houses the first Union flag raised over the courthouse of Vicksburg, Mississippi when the siege ended on July 4, 1863. Grant gave the honor of raising the flag to the men of the 45th Illinois who brought the flag home to Galena as a souvenir. Another flag in the museum is said to have been saved from the USS Lawrence at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. It was reportedly given to Hezekiah Gear for his service in the war and brought to Galena when he moved there later in his life. To see these pieces alone, a trip to Galena is well worth your time.
Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.
In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.
Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.
The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.
In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.
Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.
The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.
Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.
Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.
Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.
Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.
Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.
The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.
In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.
An Austrian firm has just debuted a new big-bore, bolt action rifle that could become a player in a new program to outfit U.S. special operations troops with an updated long-range sniper rifle.
A new company in the market, Ritter Stark is making precision modular rifles from the ground up, using an innovative rifling technology and a barrel attachment system that virtually guarantees zero with optics matched to the caliber. Its SX-1 MTR chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum answers Special Operations Command’s original call to provide commandos with a new “Advanced Sniper Rifle” that could be quickly reconfigured to several calibers and be deadly accurate each time.
The Ritter Stark SX-1 MTR is built from the ground up for precision. It’s modular barrel system includes chamberings in .338 Lapua Magnum, .300 WinMag and .308. (Photo from Ritter Stark)
What sets Ritter Stark apart from the competition is the novel way in which its SX-1 changes caliber. Most manufacturers have an interchangeable barrel that slides into the receiver and is attached to the action with a barrel nut or similar method. Ritter Stark built theirs with the barrel attached to the Picatinny-railed upper receiver and it’s secured to the lower through simple hex bolts on the handguard.
“The caliber change takes a maximum of three minutes and you don’t have to take it to a gunsmith to do it, you can just use a hex wrench,” said Ritter Stark Deputy Managing Director Ekaterina Trakham during the 2016 Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C.
The SX-1 can be switched to a .300 WinMag chambering, a .308 chambering and the .338 Lapua Magnum option. Reports indicate, however, that SOCOM has modified its ASR requirement for a .300 Norma Magnum chambering.
Like other high-end military sniper rifles, the SX-1’s bolt locks inside the barrel for increased accuracy. And the company uses a proprietary “electrochemical” process to rifle its barrels, with company officials saying a .338 barrel is good for 5,000 rounds and a .308 can take 10,000 rounds before needing a replacement.
The SX-1 also has a three-position safety that’s optimized for military and police applications, with two standard “fire” and “safe” positions, and a third one that not only blocks the firing pin but locks the bold handle down.
“We have a lot of experience working with security detail snipers who patrol the perimeter, and they’re usually asked to engage the safety when they’re on target,” said Ritter Stark sales director Alexandr Chikin.
The SX-1 trigger also has a flip safety located under the trigger guard to limit movement that could give away a sniper’s position and also blocks it when the rifle needs to be safed.
Company officials say the rifle should be commercially available within the next few months and cost around $6,000 for the .338 variant and $5,000 for the .308 one.
TNT’s “The Last Ship” was a surprise hit last year, earning the loyalty of civilians and service members alike with a mix of great characters, intriguing plots, and technical accuracy. The last element, of course, is the one that always seems to trip up the military crowd because Hollywood is notorious for taking creative license with technical details and plot lines in the pursuit of “entertainment.” And while “The Last Ship” is no “Das Boot,” the series does pride itself on accuracy.
To whatever degree TNT’s “The Last Ship” is able to “get it right” real Navy-wise, veteran actor Eric Dane, who plays Commander Tom Chandler, the commanding officer of the USS Nathan James (DDG 151), credits the close working relationship between the show’s writers and the Navy officials in LA and at the Pentagon who are charged with making sure the sea service is well and accurately represented.
“There is no tension between the two camps,” Dane said from the podium in the Pentagon’s press briefing room. “If the Navy doesn’t like something we change it.”
That sort of cooperation is unusual if not unprecedented. Hollywood is motivated by commercial success, the thing that keeps the lights on around Century City and Burbank. The Department of Defense has other goals in mind.
“We judge the efforts we’ll support by two main criteria,” said Phil Strub, DoD’s director of entertainment media. “Whether they’ll paint the U.S. military in a fair light, and whether they’ll help recruiting.”
The tension between those two motivations historically has been an issue in that Hollywood has a tendency to find technical accuracy superfluous and boring and the Pentagon finds Hollywood’s fictions insulting. However in recent months that tension has seemed to mitigate in the face of commercial success like that of “American Sniper,” a movie that prides itself on accuracy and, more so, presenting military service in a more honest, apolitical, light.
“The goal of ‘The Last Ship’ is to show what the Navy does each and every day,” Dane said. “It’s my honor to go to the set and put on my blue digi-cams and play Commander Tom Chandler.”
Dane also allowed that – even in an era of computer-generated imagery – “The Last Ship” needs the U.S. Navy to succeed. “We need a real destroyer,” he said.
Beyond the hardware there are myriad details to nail down. “I thought the medical world had a lot of acronyms and jargon,” Dane said, referring to his popular role as Dr. Mark ‘McSteamy’ Sloan in the hit TV show ‘Grey’s Anatomy. “The military has a lot more.”
“The Last Ship” has been popular enough to earn a second season, which is scheduled to air on TNT in June.
Dane’s recent visit to the Pentagon was to thank the DoD public affairs officials for their work that has informed the show’s success. He was also there to announce that he is throwing his celebrity weight behind the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the national organization for all of those grieving the loss of a fallen service member.
Dane knows how it feels to lose a family member to military service. When he was seven his father was killed while serving in the Navy.
“I lost my military dad at a very young age,” Dane said. “Dealing with that loss has been a very big part of my life.”
“TAPS has been blessed with an effective network over the years, including the voices of Hollywood,” director and founder Bonnie Carroll said. “We’re very happy to be connected with Eric Dane who takes his role as Commander Tom Chandler very seriously. He portrays the Navy in the absolute best light.”
“Bonnie has been there for over 13 years,” said Rene Carbone Bardorf, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Community and Public Outreach. “When the funerals for the fallen are over and life stands still for the survivors TAPS has been very effective in giving them a sense of purpose and helping them make it though. Eric’s involvement is a great example of that. We are all a part of one military family, that one percent.”
Both Carroll and Dane admitted they haven’t quite figured out what form the actor’s support of TAPS will take, but if his impact with the crowd in the Pentagon’s briefing room was any indication, it will be effective whatever it is.
Three KC-10 Extenders flew from Hawaii and Wake Island Airfield to refuel five C-17 Globemaster IIIs carrying over 300 coalition paratroopers across the Pacific Ocean July 13.
Having received the gas they needed, the C-17s continued to Australia to successfully conduct Exercise Ultimate Reach, a strategic airdrop mission. The airdrop displayed US capabilities throughout the region, reassured allies, and improved combat readiness between joint and coalition personnel.
The aerial refueling also supported Exercise Talisman Saber, a month-long training exercise in Australia between US, Canadian, and Australian forces that began once paratroopers landed Down Under. The training focused on improving interoperability and relations between the three allies.
The KC-10s seamlessly refueled various aircraft over the Pacific Ocean supporting Talisman Saber. Some of those aircraft include Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets and Air Force KC-10s, among others.
“This is the bread and butter of what we do in the KC-10 world,” said Lt. Col. Stew Welch, the 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander and the Ultimate Reach tanker mission commander. “We’re practicing mobility, air refueling, and interoperability. This is practice for how we go to war.”
Though participation in such a large and complex exercise may seem like a unique occurrence for the aircraft and their aircrews, in actuality, this is done every day, all over the world.
For members of the 6th and the 9th ARSs at Travis Air Force Base, California, the global mission of the KC-10 is evident each time they step onto the tanker. For the rest of the world, it was on full display at Talisman Saber.
Ultimate Reach was the most prominent piece of the KC-10’s efforts during Talisman Saber. Despite that demand, the crews continued a full schedule of refueling sorties after landing in Australia, allowing other participating aircraft to complete their missions.
While its primary mission is aerial refueling, the KC-10 can also carry up to 75 passengers and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo. This enables the aircraft to airlift personnel and equipment while refueling supporting aircraft along the way. Though it can go 4,400 miles on its own without refueling, its versatility allows it to mid-air refuel from other KC-10s and extend its range.
“With that endurance ability, we can go up first and come home last and give as much gas as everybody else,” said Maj. Peter Mallow, a 6th ARS pilot. “That’s our role is to go up and bat first and then bat last.”
The tanker’s combined six fuel tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel in-flight, allowing it to complete missions like Ultimate Reach where over 4,000 pounds of fuel was offloaded in a short time to the five waiting C-17s. The amount is almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“KC-10s are critical to delivering fuel to our partners,” said Welch. “Not only can we get gas, but we have a huge cargo compartment capability as well. KC-10’s can bring everything mobility represents to the table.”
“The KC-10 is essential to the Air Force because we can transport any piece of cargo, equipment, and personnel to anywhere in the world… any continent, any country,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Cook, a 6th ARS instructor boom operator. “We’re able to refuel those jets who have to go answer the mission whatever it may be, or (engage in) humanitarian response.”
Additionally, the tanker’s ability to switch between using an advanced aerial refueling boom or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system allows it to refuel a variety of US and allied military aircraft interchangeably, as it demonstrated during Talisman Saber.
“KC-10s were able to provide force-extending air refueling,” said Mallow. “We were able to provide the capability to the C-17s that other platforms can’t. Because we can carry so much gas, we have more flexibility simply because we can provide the same amount of gas over multiple receivers. That inherently is the KC-10’s duty.”
“When we refueled the C-17s, it helped them get to their location and drop those paratroopers so the world can see them flying out of the aircraft and see those angels coming down,” said Cook. “It’s a good feeling, knowing the KC-10 is a part of that.”
Ultimate Reach and Talisman Saber highlighted the KC-10 fleet as a fighting force, demonstrating the aircraft’s unique warfighting capabilities over a wide-array of locations, receivers, and flying patterns.
“Not only does this kind of exercise demonstrate what we can do, it demonstrates how we do it,” said Welch. “Our own interoperability — not just with the Air Force and the Army but with our coalition partners as well — sends a great message to our allies and those who are not our allies that we can get troops on the ground where and when we please.”
The tankers’ performance during the exercise proved its unwavering support to combatant commanders and allies. It showed versatility in meeting unique mission requirements and reassured people around the world that the Air Force will always have a presence in the sky.
“Maybe one of those kids seeing a paratrooper come down will take an interest and maybe become the next Technical Sergeant Cook,” mused Cook.