In World War II, the battleship Yamato dwarfed nearly all others, and many Japanese ships were larger than their American counterparts. But how was Japan, a relatively small country with limited natural resources, able to construct larger ships than America?
First, Japan started early with the knowledge that it wanted a naval force capable of widespread offensive warfare. But it also benefitted from specializing. Since the Imperial Navy wanted to dominate the Pacific, they didn’t need to make their ships capable of transiting the Panama Canal like America did.
Of course, making the world’s greatest battleships came with plenty of engineering challenges.
The designers of the Yamato had to figure out how to keep a floating platform steady when it fired 18-inch guns, each of which fired a shell roughly the same weight as a car. How can such a large ship be made to sail smoothly through the water quickly?
In this video from PBS, interviewers speak with historians and experts, including a Japanese engineer who served during World War II. Watch it below to see how Japanese designers ensured the ship would be battle ready:
In the end, the Yamato was never able to live up to its glorious design. It took some small part in battles in the Pacific but frequently found itself in the wrong spot on the battlefield to bring its weapons to bear.
One of its few claims to fame was inflicting damage on a small number of U.S. ships in the Battle off Samar.
In April 1945, the Japanese Navy decided to beach the Yamato on Okinawa and use it as a fortress and gun platform for as long as possible before U.S. ships and planes destroyed it.
Developed by Lockheed Martin and most famously used for search and research by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Sikorsky S-92 is one of the most versatile and dependable helicopters on the market and can fly through the toughest storms to complete its mission.
With its multi-mission capability, the S-92 is needed all over the world. But transporting the 15,000-pound, four-bladed, twin-engine aircraft can be extremely tricky and very dangerous.
Squeezing the durable aircraft into the narrow cargo bay of a transport plane would prove catastrophic if not handled correctly, as the helicopter’s wingspan stretches to an impressive 56 ft. So it takes a group of well-trained mechanics to properly dismantle the helo’s rotors.
Each pin that connects the rotors must be carefully loosened by hand and the instructions followed to a “T.”
As each rotor is ready for release, the team members must slide out each blade with surgical precision keeping the structures intact.
After the rotors are wrapped and stored for shipping, the greatest task is yet to be accomplished — loading the Sikorsky S-92 into the plane’s cargo bay.
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.
It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.
You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.
Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.
John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.
In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.
Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.
The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.
Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.
However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.
The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.
A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.
Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.
The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.
Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.
They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.
“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.
The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.
The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.
Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.
Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.
Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.
The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.
Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.
This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.
Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”
The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.
Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”
The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.
Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.
Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.
The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.
Military trainers in Germany just wrapped up a four-day competition to determine the best sniper squad in Europe and a Norwegian team took first place at the end of 27 events designed to test key tasks that snipers must complete in combat.
Eleven countries sent squads to the competition, and the U.S. sent five squads including paratroopers and Marines.
The competition, hosted by the U.S. Army Europe and organized by the 7th Army Training Command, took place at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. Participants took part in multiple shooting competitions as well as casualty evacuation, ruck marching, and other general military events.
“The competition challenged the competitors’ physical and mental toughness as well as their marksmanship proficiency,” said U.S. Army Maj. Erick Nyingi, the officer in charge of the competition.
One of the most suspenseful and distinctly sniper-oriented events was the stalking lane, where squads had to proceed as far as possible without being detected by observers.
Some high-octane events included a high-angle shot lane where snipers rode in a Black Hawk helicopter and had to engage two targets in under two minutes using three rounds or less. There was also a water shoot where the snipers engaged targets from a boat.
The sniper squad competition is the 2016 version of the annual Best Squad competition held by U.S. Army Europe. Each year focuses on a different type of squad. Last year, it was infantry squads.
No matter which type of unit is highlighted, the goal is to bring NATO members and other allies together to share tactics and engage in friendly competition so the troops can share new tactics, and training techniques.
“Overall the competition will definitely meet the objective of getting the squads to exchange ideas and [tactics],” Nyingi said. “There was a lot of collaboration after each day’s events, and I believe the greatest dividends will be realized from this exchange of ideas.”
Edwin Forbes' Scene behind the breastworks on Culps Hill, morning of July 3rd 1863 (Library of Congress).
It’s no secret that the Civil War brought on brutal injuries that came in droves. With few available hospitals and treatment methods that were available at the time, this also meant a high death count. However, the war itself wasn’t the only thing creating dangers for the fighting force; it’s estimated that three-quarters of soldiers died of disease rather than war wounds themselves. This is due to poor living conditions, including soldiers living in close proximity to one another without access to showers or clean drinking water, as well as disease that was developed from war injuries. Infections were a common cause of death throughout the war.
In just four years, 750,000 soldiers were killed in the Civil War. That meant 504 deaths a day for a total of 2.5% of the entire American population. It’s not hard to guess that this many burials were difficult to facilitate, especially when they took place on the battlefield. Rather than a proper funeral or individual burial, bodies were lumped together and put into a shallow grave, usually covered with blankets as a form of respect. Remaining soldiers would dig a hole — usually about three feet deep and six feet wide. Overall, more than 40% of Civil War soldiers who passed went unidentified.
One of the biggest mass graves was at the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The July 1863 battle is known as the most deadly of the entire war and is usually considered the turning point of the war after a Union victory.
At the end of the battle on July 3rd, there was a horrific scene. Men who were lost lay splayed out on the battlefield, the aftermath of 7,000 casualties. In a town of just 2,500, there were 20,000 wounded to be cared for. Nearly triple of the population was there lifeless, with pressing medical cases that needed urgent care.
Proper burials simply weren’t feasible; it was considered the Union’s responsibility to bury them, as they’d won the battle. Instead, bodies were drug by rope to a central location. The shallow graves were piled with dirt. Because they were so shallow, rain and wind soon caused erosion, leaving the bodies exposed.
This is said to weigh heavily on living soldiers, knowing they left their fellow comrades in such terrible conditions.
Eventually, many bodies were moved. First, Union soldiers were taken to national cemeteries while the war still carried on, finishing after it ended. However, Confederate soldiers were left at the battlegrounds into the 1870s, while some were never moved. Because it was an expensive and politically controversial process, many were left on-site. Today, there are burial grounds across the former battlefield, including unknown graves.
This is true of most battlegrounds of the Civil War; they remain burial grounds to this day.
Today it’s known that Culp’s Hill, as well as other locations, was used as one of the largest mass graves of the Civil War, if not the largest.
A monument sits at Culp’s Hill to honor the fallen Confederate soldiers. The 2nd Maryland Infantry Monument is noted for being the first Confederate monument at Gettysburg and was dedicated in 1886.
For centuries, many civilizations have tried (for one reason or another) to subdue or kill the Russian Bear.
Most of them failed.
To successfully plant their flag atop the Kremlin, an invader must consider a few things that’ll certainly affect the outcome before mobilizing forces and gassing up the fleet.
1. The Russian Winter.
Pro Tip: Pack your woobie.
In 2014, Vice’s Oscar Rickett askedIHS Jane’s military expert Konrad Muzkya just what it would take to conquer Russia and just how a nation might go about it. His first question is one that sticks in the minds of any student of military history: How does anyone beat the Russian winter?
With Napoleon and Hitler waiting with bated breath in the next world, Muzkya replies with his belief that guided munitions, nuclear weapons, and modern power projection capabilities nullify this historical advantage.
“Any potential conflict with the West would most likely be fought in the air, space, and sea,” he told Vice. “Any use of land forces would be limited to capturing strategically important facilities — bridges, airfields, and the like.”
2. The size of Russia.
To give the failed invaders a little credit, the Russia conquered by the Mongols was a fraction of the size it was during the 19th and 20th centuries. But a little secret to the Mongols success might be preparation. The Khans took 17 years to finish off the Russians.
It wasn’t a lack of manpower, either. At the time of the French Invasion, Napoleon’s Grande Armée numbered 680,000 troops.
To give some perspective, that’s like deploying half of all the active U.S. military troops as riflemen. Which is a terrible idea.
Trying to conquer Russia is the equivalent of invading the U.S. twice, in terms of land mass. Just moving from St. Petersburg to Moscow is 400 miles. It took the Allies more than two months to reach Paris from the Normandy — which is just 167 miles away.
Russia is 6.6 million square miles of cold, cold, cold, nothing. Which presents another problem entirely.
3. There’s nothing there.
Everything after Moscow is flyover country. An invading country can’t just not go into the steppe. Once the Russian people figured out the occupiers won’t go into the wilderness, that’s exactly where the insurgency will take root.
Even getting to all the nothing will take a Herculean effort. The Russian Army mans an estimated 280,000 effective fighting soldiers. When the going gets tough, it has to be assumed they will use the same human wave-style tactics used against the Nazis in WWII.
What was a problem in the past for armies who had to forage for food or move supplies by train is not a problem for a global power like the U.S. military. All the same, after Moscow, there isn’t much in the way of infrastructure for things like tanks or places suitable for airfields — all things insurgent partisans in the area will have a field day targeting.
4. One thing at a time.
Anyone who wants to invade Russia should probably clear their schedule. The Mongols drove through the country because it was on the way to where they were going anyway. The Nazis were still fighting in North Africa and preparing for the invasion of Britain when Hitler launched Barbarossa. Napoleon was fighting an insurgency of his own in Spain.
The United States and NATO, if they were to invade Russia, should probably withdraw from all the other conflicts they have around the world and concentrate on the problem at hand. Once there, keeping a unified front would be of the utmost importance.
An invader shouldn’t expect to actually conquer anything. In almost every invasion of their motherland, the Russian people have resorted to scorched-earth tactics — burning or otherwise destroying everything that might be of use to an enemy. As Muzkya notes in the Vice article, the Russians still move troops using trains. That hasn’t changed since WWII. It’s likely not much else has either.
5. Bring some friends … and an Air Force.
Muzkya cites an estimate of a half-million troops being necessary to properly subdue Afghanistan. He also notes that Russia is 26 times the size of Afghanistan and has a population of 143 million. Afghanistan has just 30 million. Even the Chinese military with its massive available manpower would have a difficult time creating a sustainable drive across Russia.
But a military campaign is more than just people these days. The Russian Navy can’t project power in the same way the U.S. can – or anyone else, really. The country has only one aircraft carrier, and that deploys with a tugboat in case it breaks down.
The Russian air force, however, is still on the relative cutting edge, even if that edge isn’t as sharp as it once was. It has a fighter that can compete with the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. Russia’s bomber force isn’t relevant in a defensive war because it’s more likely they’d use a nuclear attack before a conventional bombing campaign on their own soil.
6. Be prepared to die.
As for the use of nuclear weapons, Muzkya says that Russia has the right to use them to defend itself and any invader needs to be prepared for that.
“Russia possesses second-strike capability,” he says. “And unless you’re ready to take a nuclear hit from Russia — which no one can — you need to embrace the notion of a total annihilation of your country.”
He predicts that Russia – all 6.6 million square miles of it – would be turned into a nuclear wasteland in the event of an invasion from China or the West, so talking about who wins is irrelevant.
Since ISIS exploded onto the scene in Iraq in June 2014, the group has managed to overrun cities garrisoned by contingents of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that were multiple times larger than the attacking militant forces.
In May, ISIS seized control of Ramadi after months of battles against the ISF, Iraqi police, and members of Sunni tribes who opposed ISIS.
Altogether, the ISF had assembled a force of about 2,000 soldiers in Ramadi who were fighting against between 400 and 800 militants. Despite having many more troops, ISIS still managed to take control of the city due to their devastating and insane tactic of using waves of multiton suicide car bombs.
According to The Soufan Group, ISIS used upward of 30 car bombs in its Ramadi offensive. At least some of those bombs were large enough to level an entire city block. In multiple instances, the car bombs were preceded by ISIS-manned construction equipment that could barrel through concrete blast barriers to open the way for the suicide operatives.
“There is little defense against a multi-ton car bomb; there is none against multiple such car bombs. … the Islamic State is able to overwhelm once-thought formidable static defenses through a calculated and concentrated use of suicide bombers,” The Soufan Group notes. “The Islamic State has neither a shortage of such explosives nor a shortage of volunteers eager to partake in suicide attacks.”
ISIS’ penchant for massively powerful suicide bombings has been a hallmark of the group since it first seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014. During that attack, ISIS detonated a water tanker filled with explosives outside of the Mosul Hotel in the center of the city where the ISF were based. The resulting explosion led to mass desertions and the withdrawal of ISF troops from the western portion of the city.
The militant organization’s frequent employment of construction equipment and other large vehicles in suicide operations has led to the US-led aerial coalition to frequently target them in air strikes. However, air strikes are not a panacea against car bombs and can do little to fully mitigate the threat of these weapons in urban environments.
The anti-ISIS coalition would be much better off if ground forces in Iraq were better equipped to deal with suicide vehicles before they are able to break static defenses. This would require, in addition to a larger troop presence, an increased number of antitank weapons in ISF hands that could be used to destroy ISIS-operated construction equipment and car bombs before they reach their targets, The Soufan Group states.
And even then, ISIS could still carry out devastating bombings for the express goal of terrorizing civilians and provoking sectarian strife without the follow-up goal of overrunning a city’s defenses. The recent twin hotel bombings in Baghdad, for instance, served to demoralize residents and members of the ISF even though the blasts were on a significantly smaller scale than those undertaken in Ramadi.
As long as ISIS has room to operate and controls territory within the Middle East, the militant group will be able to coordinate and execute suicide bombings of various sizes throughout the region. Within the past week alone, ISIS has managed to successfully carry out two suicide bombings against Shiites in Saudi Arabia.
Although attacks like that do not foreshadow a full ISIS assault on the country, it does hint at the group’s ominous use of suicide attacks to spread sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the Muslim world.
But in the heart of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the group suffered at least one important setback: losing a substantial portion of its oil-exports income,according to the Iraq Oil Report.
Without the major source of revenue and foreign currency, the group might have a reduced ability to maintain the appearance of state-like services and functions inside the caliphate, potentially harming its ability to hold on to territory as global efforts against the group intensify.
The Iraq Oil Report’s December 28 story is one of the most detailed accounts of the jihadist group’s oil infrastructure that’s publicly available. It’s based on interviews with over a dozen people living in ISIS-controlled areas, including anonymous oil-sector workers. The story also includes descriptions of documents from the nearly 7 terabytes of data seized from the compound of Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS oil chief for Syria killed in a US Special Forces raid in May.
The story provides a mixed picture of ISIS’s oil resources 16 months after the start of a US-led bombing campaign against the group.
The US was slow to understand the strategic value of targeting ISIS’s oil infrastructure, viewing oil platforms, refineries, and vehicles “as a financial target with less battlefield urgency, rather than military targets,” according to Iraq Oil Report.
Even with the loss of nearly all of its oil fields in Iraq, ISIS still controls a single conventional refinery in the country, in Qayyarah, near Mosul.
Less efficient open-pit refining techniques and continued control of oil fields in Syria mean that fuel prices within the Islamic State have stabilized somewhat in parts of the caliphate after fluctuating wildly over the past year and a half.
The report contains one piece of evidence that the Middle East may be well past the heyday of the ISIS oil economy. ISIS’s once formidable oil-export economy, which used to produce $40 million in revenue a month for the group, has all but evaporated.
As the story recounts, ISIS oil exports were once a highly centralized operation, with middlemen like tanker-truck drivers paying about $10 to $20 per barrel at the point of sale.
ISIS would then recuperate the apparent discount on the barrel of oil through a series of tightly imposed transit taxes. The oil would hit the Turkish market through truckers or ISIS officials bribing officials in either Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan.
The caliphate’s oil industry was staffed using 1,600 workers, most of whom were recruited from around the world. Because of global disruptions to the oil industry, even an illicit non-state group like ISIS didn’t have trouble running an international recruiting drive for skilled labor, as workers were “enticed with ‘globally competitive’ salaries at a time when the oil industry was undergoing waves of layoffs.”
Those days are apparently over.
US airstrikes have destroyed hundreds of ISIS-linked tanker trucks and cut into ISIS’s refining capacity. Low global oil prices have made smuggling a losing business proposition as well, especially in light of fuel shortages within the caliphate itself.
“The group can no longer generate enough fuel to comfortably meet demand within its own territory, as evidenced by high and volatile prices: there is virtually nothing left to export,” the article states. “Global crude prices are now so low that, even if smugglers were able to cross international borders, the expense of the trip – measured in fuel, time, and bribes – would likely erase any profits.”
Overall, the export business is “defunct,” the Iraq Oil Report states, and the article pushes back against “press reports” suggesting that ISIS is “financed through smuggling routes that have been largely dormant for more than a year.”
At the same time, ISIS has proven remarkably resilient, keeping control over a large swath of Iraq and Syria despite a handful of battlefield defeats and the loss of its oil exports. And as the Iraq Oil Report article says, ISIS’s control over territory stems from the weakness of the Iraqi state and the alienation of Iraq’s Sunni minority from the government in Baghdad. The loss of ISIS’s oil revenue doesn’t solve the deeper, underlying problems that enable the group’s control over so much of the country.
Still, reduced exports cut off ISIS’s access to foreign currency and reduces its ability to provide social services to people living under the group’s control — something that undermines its claim to ruling over a state-like political entity. It’s highly unlikely that ISIS will ever reconstitute the $1 million-a-day-type revenue streams it was able to establish by mid-2014.
The reported end of large-scale ISIS oil exports also shows that the US-led campaign against ISIS has at least fulfilled one strategic objective, even as the group continues to hold substantial territory and carry out attacks around the world.
The Cold War was the era for defense contractors and fantastical super weapons. While the Americans were building backpack-sized nuclear weapons and nuclear bombers that flew forever, the Soviets were focused on much more practical weapons. One of those was a 1970s-era tank with a laser battery mounted on the chassis.
You might be thinking of a Star Wars-like Imperial Repulsortank or something out of WarHammer 40k but, like all things built by Communists, the reality of this laser weapon is cool in concept, but disappointing in execution.
Though the Szhatie was the final outcome of the USSR’s laser tank project, the idea itself was some 20 years in the making. In the 1970s, the Soviets built a simple armored vehicle with the laser on its roof.
As time went on the laser tank and the laser itself became more sophisticated, with one model reportedly able to disable aircraft in mid-air and others at least able to destroy American optical equipment, such as cameras and scopes.
In the late 1980s, the Soviets developed a self-propelled model based on the 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzer, which itself was a T-80 tank with a T-72 engine. According to the Online Tank Museum, the gun was removed from the vehicle and replaced with 13 high-powered beam emitters, all using lab-grown red ruby cylinders as focusing mirrors.
The emitters had an estimated maximum range of six miles, though exact information about the weapon isn’t known due to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the fact that the weapon’s creator died the following year.
Before all that happened, however, Soviet military leaders and scientists made great advances in combat laser technology. It came to the point where the Red Army could not generate enough electricity to charge the emitters on a Szhatie.
Later experiments focused on downing intercontinental ballistic missiles before they could threaten Soviet territory, using laser energy equal to the explosion from an anti-aircraft missile.
Though the USSR tried to keep the laser tank and associated technology a closely-guarded secret, defectors and spies alike gathered intelligence on tis design and development. The CIA and the Pentagon called the original tank “Stiletto,” and subsequent designs were code-named “Sanguine.”
From the 1980s on the Soviet Union was able to hit and destroy test targets as small as a coin from a range of five miles away. The final design featured a solid-state laser based on yttrium aluminum garnet, an additional power plant, an extra generator, and a specialized targeting system with two sights, one for night and day.
One a few of the prototypes were ever built and after the fall of the Soviet Union, no one knows where the Sanguine laser tanks actually went.
One Stiletto tank was actually found in Kharkov, Ukraine in a tank repair facility. The only surviving, operational model from the late 1980s is currently in a Military-Technical Museum in the village of Ivanovskoye, Russia.
Today, Adam Driver is one of the hottest actors in Hollywood with a career-defining role as Kylo Ren in the revived Star Wars series and a lead in the upcoming Martin Scorsese movie Silence. Plus he’s still playing Hannah’s weird ex-boyfriend Adam on Girls. Back in the summer of 2001, he was an aimless high school graduate wondering what to do next. September 11 inspired him to join the Marines.
In this clip from TED Talks: War Peace(airing Monday, May 30th on PBS stations nationwide) talks about why he joined the military. In his full talk, he shares how the world of theater recreated the camaraderie he missed after the military, and how drama can be used to help returning veterans transition to civilian life.
The complete program includes talks from:
Journalist Sebastian Junger, who believes that the prevalence of PTSD may have more to do with the angry and fractured America that vets come home to than their actual combat experiences.
Jamila Raqib, who promotes effective strategies of non-violent protest to people living under tyranny and shares encouraging examples of successful change around the world.
Humanitarian Samantha Nutt, who has been to some of the most war-torn places on earth and draws parallels between conflict zones in the world’s poorest nations and the proliferation of cheap automatic weapons and small arms; and
Parent Christianne Boudreau, who conveys the emotional story of her son’s conversion to radical Islam and subsequent death while fighting for ISIS in Syria.
The program also features three original short films:
Talk of War, by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, featuring parents and their children talking about the strain that deployment takes on military families;
All Roads Point Home, by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, about Major General Linda Singh, Maryland’s highest-ranking soldier, who served in Afghanistan and Kosovo and was called upon to use her skills in the Baltimore riots of 2015; and
Bionic Soldier, by Anna Bowers, Mark Mannucci and Jonathan Halperin, about new advances in biotechnology that allow severely wounded vets to once again lead active lives.
Finally, there’s a musical performance by singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright.
As with all PBS programs, check with your local station for an exact time and date when they’re airing the program.
On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway ended, turning the tide of the war for the Americans against the Japanese in the Pacific.
It had been six months since the attack on Pearl Harbor and during that time, the Japanese Navy had been nearly invincible. The United States, however, had become an increasing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto decided to strike a blow against the U.S. Navy before the States could become a serious rival.
He set an intricate trap near the strategic island of Midway. Unfortunately for the Japanese, U.S. codebreakers uncovered the plot and responded in force. On June 3, the Japanese fleet was spotted right where the Americans expected them to be. What followed was four days of fighting one of the most decisive battles in the Pacific.
After crippling the Japanese fleet by destroying four of its carriers, the Americans were able to finally defeat Yamamoto and level the playing field in the Pacific theater, but the naval counteroffensive would continue until Japan’s surrender three years later.
The Battle of Midway is arguably one of the greatest moments in the history of the United States Navy. American heroism was put on display during that battle by personnel both in the air and on the sea, but only one man received the Medal of Honor during the multiple-day campaign: Marine Captain Richard E. Fleming. Fleming was assigned to Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 241. Also known as the “Sons of Satan,” the squadron was equipped with 16 Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless and 11 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bombers.
On June 4, the squadron took part in attacks on Japanese carriers, losing a number of planes. During the initial attacks, Fleming dove dangerously low in order to get a better angle of attack on the ships. The next day, Fleming led an attack on a pair of Japanese cruisers that were damaged in a collision caused by the submarine USS Tambor. During this attack, too, Fleming dove, closing in on the enemy ship.
Fleming was shot down while pressing his attack on the heavy cruiser HIJMS Mikuma. His bravery, and the bravery of those around him, helped turn the tide for the Allies at Midway.
Featured Image: USS Yorktown (CV-5) is hit on the port side, amidships, by a Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedo during the mid-afternoon attack by planes from the carrier Hiryu, in the Battle of Midway, on June, 4, 1942. Yorktown is heeling to port and is seen at a different aspect than in other views taken by USS Pensacola (CA-24), indicating that this is the second of the two torpedo hits she received. Note very heavy anti-aircraft fire. (U.S. National Archives image)