The 107-country Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 prohibits nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons from being placed or used from Earth’s orbit. What they didn’t count on was the U.S. Air Force’s most simple weapon ever: a tungsten rod that could hit a city with the explosive power of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. used what they called “Lazy Dog” bombs. These were simply solid steel pieces, less than two inches long, fitted with fins. There was no explosive – they were simply dropped by the hundreds from planes flying above Vietnam.
Lazy Dog projectiles (aka “kinetic bombardment”) could reach speeds of up to 500 mph as they fell to the ground and could penetrate nine inches of concrete after being dropped from as little as 3,000 feet
The idea is like shooting bullets at a target, except instead of losing velocity as it travels, the projectile is gaining velocity and energy that will be expended on impact. They were shotgunning a large swath of jungle, raining bullet-sized death at high speeds.
That’s how Project Thor came to be.
Instead of hundreds of small projectiles from a few thousand feet, Thor used a large projectile from a few thousand miles above the Earth. The “rods from God” idea was a bundle of telephone-pole sized (20 feet long, one foot in diameter) tungsten rods, dropped from orbit, reaching a speed of up to ten times the speed of sound.
The rod itself would penetrate hundreds of feet into the Earth, destroying any potential hardened bunkers or secret underground sites. More than that, when the rod hits, the explosion would be on par with the magnitude of a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon – but with no fallout.
It would take 15 minutes to destroy a target with such a weapon.
One Quora user who works in the defense aerospace industry quoted a cost of no less than $10,000 per pound to fire anything into space. With 20 cubic feet of dense tungsten weighing in at just over 24,000 pounds, the math is easy. Just one of the rods would be prohibitively expensive. The cost of $230 million dollars per rod was unimaginable during the Cold War.
These days, not so much. The Bush Administration even considered revisiting the idea to hit underground nuclear sites in rogue nations in the years following 9/11. Interestingly enough, the cost of a single Minuteman III ICBM was $7 million in 1962, when it was first introduced ($57 million adjusted for inflation).
The trouble with a nuclear payload is that it isn’t designed to penetrate deep into the surface. And the fallout from a nuclear device can be devastating to surrounding, potentially friendly areas.
A core takeaway from the concept of weapons like Project Thor’s is that hypersonic weapons pack a significant punch and might be the future of global warfare.
A Navy SEAL who led a risky assault on a mountain peak to rescue a stranded teammate in Afghanistan in 2002 will receive the Medal of Honor, according to a White House announcement.
Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski will receive the military’s highest honor May 24, 2018, according to the announcement.
According to the White House release, Slabinski is credited with leading a team back to rescue another SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, after he was ejected from an MH-47 Chinook crippled by enemy rocket-propelled grenade fire March 4, 2002 in eastern Afghanistan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
The operation would ultimately be known as “The Battle of Roberts Ridge” in honor of Roberts. The team had originally begun the mission the day before, tasked with establishing an outpost on the top of Takur Ghar mountain as part of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan’s Shah-i-Kot Valley.
“Then-Senior Chief Slabinski boldly rallied his remaining team and organized supporting assets for a daring assault back to the mountain peak in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammate,” the White House announcement reads. “Later, after a second enemy-opposed insertion, then-Senior Chief Slabinski led his six-man joint team up a snow-covered hill, in a frontal assault against two bunkers under withering enemy fire from three directions.”
Slabinski “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire” as he took on al-Qaida forces in the rescue attempt, according to the release.
“Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation became untenable,” the release said.
Moving his team into a safer position, Slabinski directed air strikes through the night and, as daylight approached, led “an arduous trek” through waist-deep snow while still under fire from the enemy. He treated casualties and continued to call in fire on the enemy for 14 hours until an extract finally came.
Slabinski previously received the Navy Cross for leading the rescue and directing continued fire on the enemy throughout the lengthy and brutal fight.
“During this entire sustained engagement, Senior Chief Petty Officer Slabinski exhibited classic grace under fire in steadfastly leading the intrepid rescue operation, saving the lives of his wounded men and setting the conditions for the ultimate vanquishing of the enemy and the seizing of Takur Ghar,” his medal citation reads. “By his heroic display of decisive and tenacious leadership, unyielding courage in the face of constant enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Senior Chief Petty Officer Slabinski reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Slabinski’s actions were highlighted in a moving 2016 New York Times account that emphasized the role of Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman,who was attached to the SEAL team and ultimately died on the mountain.
Task and Purpose reported in late April 2018, that Chapman, credited with saving the entire SEAL team he was attached to during the operation, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. The White House has not confirmed that.
Chapman reportedly directed air strikes from AC-130 gunships after Roberts was ejected from the MH-47. During follow-on attempts to rescue Roberts, Chapman would ultimately be wounded by enemy fire from close range.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)
Reporting surrounding the role of Slabinski and the SEALs in recovering Chapman paints a complex picture. According to the New York Times report, Slabinski believed, and told his men, that Chapman was dead. Air Force officials, however, reportedly contest that Chapman was still alive and fought by himself for more than an hour after the SEALs moved back to a safer position. Predator drone footage reportedly supports this belief.
Slabinski himself told the publication doubt persisted in his mind.
“I’m trying to direct what everybody’s got going on, trying to see what’s going on with John; I’m already 95 percent certain in my mind that he’s been killed,” he said in an interview with the Times. “That’s why I was like, ‘O.K., we’ve got to move.'”
Slabinski will also be the 12th living service member overall to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
According to a biography provided by the White House, Slabinski enlisted in the Navy in 1988 and graduated Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1990. He completed nine overseas deployments and 15 combat deployments over the course of his career, including multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired as director of the Naval Special Warfare Safety Assurance and Analysis Program after more than 25 years of service, according to releases.
In addition to the Navy Cross, Slabinski’s previous awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, five Bronze Stars with combat “V” device, and two Combat Action Ribbons.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
In the eyes of the Islamic Republic of Iran, any troop wearing the U.S. flag might as well be ISIS. In an apparent response to the Trump Administration’s designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the government in Tehran passed legislation declaring the United States a sponsor of terror and U.S. troops as terrorists themselves.
Terrorists from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division distribute food and water to an Iraqi village outside of Baghdad on June 26, 2010.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mary Katzenberger)
Unlike the very specific set of laws and regulations triggered by the United States’ labeling the elite Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist group, the effects of the Iranian legislation aren’t immediately clear. After signing the legislation, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered his country’s military and intelligence apparatus to enforce the law. Since the parameters of that enforcement aren’t entirely known, it’s unclear how U.S. troops on the ground will likely respond. The law specifically referred to the U.S. Central Command.
“These two forces (Guards and CENTCOM) that are designated as terrorist groups reciprocally might confront (each other) in the Persian Gulf or any other region. The United States will surely be responsible for such a situation,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on Tuesday.
Terrorists assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 17th Regiment unload humanitarian aid for distribution to the town of Rajan Kala, Afghanistan Dec. 5, 2009.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II)
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards aren’t just a single unit or branch on their own, they also control religious paramilitary groups, the Iranian missile programs, and the ultra-elite Quds Force, designed to operate outside of Iran’s borders and keep Iranian conflicts away from Iran itself.
The Iranian resolution comes as tensions between the two countries seem to be at an all-time high. After Trump designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group, the United States ended exemptions for importers of Iranian oil, ones implemented after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Agreement.
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.
There’s a running bit in the We Are The Mighty office that if all else fails we could always make porn.
I like to bring it up during dry brainstorming sessions. I was feeling particularly amused by inappropriate humor last week during a meeting and, much to my utter delight, Army vet and WATM writer extraordinaire Logan Nye was too. He started listing off military-related Valentine’s Day articles that we should would never (because we’re classy like that I guess…) publish, and I told him that it was just too selfish to keep his creative genius from the world.
It derailed the meeting, but it was worth it.
So, my patriotic friends, I give you our list of rejected Valentine’s Day articles. Share with your right hand special someone and enjoy.
US intelligence suspects that a mysterious and deadly explosion in early August 2019 was caused by Russia’s efforts to recover its new nuclear-powered cruise missile after another unsuccessful test, CNBC reports, adding another twist in the saga of what exactly happened at the Nyonoksa weapons testing range.
An explosion that killed at least five people and triggered a radiation spike in nearby towns on Aug. 8, 2019, has been linked to Russia’s development of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a new doomsday weapon that NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. While the prevailing theory was that the blast was caused by a failed test, US intelligence has a slightly different explanation.
“This was not a new launch of the weapon, instead it was a recovery mission to salvage a lost missile from a previous test,” a source with direct knowledge of the latest intel reports told CNBC. Russia was reportedly salvaging the weapon from the ocean floor at the time of the incident.
“There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core, which led to the radiation leak,” said another source. This is not the first time Russia has had to go fishing for its nuclear-powered cruise missile, but this appears to be the first time a recovery effort has exploded.
A still image said to show Russia’s Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.
(YouTube/Russian Defence Ministry)
Using nuclear reactors to fuel missiles or airplanes has proven to be a “hazardous” technology that’s probably unnecessary, a leading defense expert told Insider.
Russia has not been particularly forthcoming with the details, sparking concerns of a cover-up.
The death toll has risen from two to five and could potentially be higher. Russia has flip-flopped on acknowledging radiation leaks. Local authorities ordered an evacuation but then mysteriously cancelled it. Nuclear monitoring stations nearby unexpectedly went offline due to technical problems. And the system that triggered the explosion has been described as everything but the nuclear-powered cruise missile Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted would be unstoppable last year.
“This is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems,” Putin said recently, adding that “when it comes to activities of a military nature, there are certain restrictions on access to information.”
Russian data on the brief radiation spike in Severodvinsk, which state authorities finally decided to release, indicated that a nuclear reactor was involved, experts said. Russia, which has a history of covering up nuclear disasters, has yet to acknowledge that this was a nuclear accident despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For the more than 19 million veterans currently living in the United States, where you live can be essential to your access to healthcare, good employment, and a strong quality of life.
WalletHub recently conducted a report of the best US cities for veterans, analyzing 20 key indicators of livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. The study then provided rankings — out of 100 — for each category.
Employment rankings took into account the number of veteran-owned businesses per veteran population and opportunities for job growth, as well as the availability of jobs that utilize military-learned skills. Economy rankings considered factors such as the median veteran income and veteran homelessness rates, while quality of life was determined by analyzing veteran population, restaurants with military discounts, and more.
The study found that Tampa, Florida, triumphed as the best major US city for veterans, earning a total score of 72.44 out of a possible 100. Boston, Massachusetts, despite ranking at No. 68 overall, earned the highest ranking for veteran employment.
Keep reading to find out the top 25 best US cities for veterans.
No, this picture doesn’t show a black and white image of the rebel base on the ice planet Hoth. It’s part of a semi-secret, nuclear-powered U.S. Army base that was built under the Greenland ice cap only 800 miles from the North Pole. The base was officially built to conduct scientific research but the real reason was apparently to test out the feasibility of burying nuclear missiles below the ice under an effort known as Project Iceworm. Remember, Greenland is way closer to Russia than the ICBM fields located in the continental U.S. Rumor has it that the Danish government had no idea that the U.S. was considering installing nuclear missiles on Greenland.
The 200-man base was massive , described by some as an underground city, and consisted of 21 steel-arch covered trenches; the longest of which was 1,100-feet long, 26-feet wide and 26-feet high. These tunnels contained numerous prefabricated buildings that were up to 76-feet long. The base was powered by a portable PM-2A nuclear reactor that produced two megawatts of power for the facility.
In all, the base featured:
Living quarters, a kitchen and mess hall, latrines and showers, a recreation hall and theater, a library and hobby shops, a dispensary, operating room and a ten bed infirmary, a laundry facility, a post exchange, scientific labs, a cold storage warehouse, storage tanks, a communications center, equipment and maintenance shops, supply rooms and storage areas, a nuclear power plant, a standby diesel-electric power plant, administrative buildings, utility buildings, a chapel and a barbershop.
The base operated from 1959 to 1966 when shifting icecap made living there impossible. Today, it’s buried and crushed beneath the Arctic snows.
Click through the jump to see more pictures of the base and to watch a great video on its construction. The last photo shows a map of the base’s location in Greenland.
President Donald Trump will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the family of a fallen U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Combat Controller at a ceremony on Aug. 22, 2018, for his extraordinary heroism in March 2002 while deployed to Afghanistan.
According to the medal nomination, Tech. Sergeant John Chapman distinguished himself on the battlefield through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” sacrificing his life to preserve those of his teammates. Chapman was part of a joint special operations reconnaissance team deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 that came under overwhelming enemy fire during a heroic rescue attempt on Takur Ghar mountain, Afghanistan, March 4, 2002.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America’s best and bravest Airmen.”
During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team flew into an enemy ambush. Intense enemy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire significantly damaged the helicopter, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts into the “hornet’s nest” of enemies below. Following a controlled crash landing a few miles away, the remaining team members elected to fly back to the enemy-infested mountaintop in a heroic attempt to rescue Roberts.
Tech. Sgt. John Chapman
During the rescue attempt, Chapman and his teammates once again received heavy enemy fire from multiple directions. Chapman, despite the enemy fire, charged uphill through thigh-deep snow to directly assault an enemy position. He took the enemy bunker, cleared the position, and killed the enemy fighters occupying the position.
Then, with complete disregard for his own life, Chapman deliberately moved from the bunker’s protective cover to attack a second hostile bunker with an emplaced machine gun firing on the rescue team.
During this bold attack, he was struck and temporarily incapacitated by enemy fire.
Despite his wounds, Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow Soldiers and Sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American Airmen.”
John Chapman holding a child in Afghanistan.
He continued, “I extend my deepest thanks to the members of Tech. Sgt. Chapman’s family, his military family, and the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who were his brothers on the battlefield and who have remained committed to honoring his legacy. He is a true American hero.
“This is a reflection of our commitment to recognizing the heroic actions of our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. “As Chapman’s story reminds us, we have a sacred duty to honor the actions and sacrifices of all our service members. I share our Airmen’s deepest gratitude to the Chapman family, as well as the family members of all those who gave their lives serving our great nation.”
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s most prestigious military decoration. It is awarded by the president, in the name of Congress, to military members who have distinguished themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in action with an enemy of the United States.
Chapman will be the 19th Airman awarded the Medal of Honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947. He will be the first Airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War.
The Arena active protection system is a Russian tanker’s answer to rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles.
Unlike reactive armor which neutralizes impacts with an outward blast of its own, the Arena system aims to avoid impacts altogether by intercepting incoming threats with projectiles. It’s also more technical in that it uses a multi-function Doppler radar and digital computer scans that arc around the tank like an invisible forcefield. Its computer system has a reaction time of 0.05 seconds and protects most of the tank except for the area behind the turret.
Here’s the step-by-step explanation of how the system works:
The Arena active protection system forms an invisible protection barrier around the perimeter of the tank.
Once a weapon crosses its perimeter, the Arena system deploys its projectiles to intercept the threat.
The Arena’s weak spot is the area behind the turret, which could be the front or the back of the tank depending on the gun’s position.
The entire sequence literally takes place in a blink of the eye.
Here’s the same shot from a different angle.
Here is the entire sequence in super slow-motion.
Watch the Arena active protection system test video:
The Army is issuing Soldiers a new small arms 5.56 ammunition magazine designed expressly for the M4/M4A1 carbine and M16 family of weapons.
The 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, was the first unit to receive the new “Enhanced Performance Magazine (EPM), as free issue In July,” said Anthony Cautero, Assistant Product Manager for the M4/M4A1 Carbine.
Other units are acquiring smaller quantities through the standard supply system.
Cautero said the regiment received 6,800 magazines in July.
More than 49,000 of the new magazines will be issued to other units at JBLM before the end of the year, he said.
Army engineers and scientists optimized the EPM to work with the M4/M4A1, M16 rifle, and standard military 5.56mm small arms round, the M855A1.
The M855A1, known also as the Enhanced Performance Round (EPR), has been in use since 2010.
Following the EPR’s release, engineering tests of M4/M16 rifles firing the M855A1 showed that the weapons were sensitive to the EPR’s steel tip.
A Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. engineering team subsequently made a design change to the magazine that corrected this issue.
The EPM eliminates weapon wear caused by the steel-tipped M855A1 at the upper receiver/barrel extension interface, a condition discovered during laboratory testing.
Soldiers insert the EPM into the magazine well of a carbine’s lower receiver that positions rounds for feeding.
The forward moving bolt and bolt carrier assembly strips the rounds from the magazine and feeds them smoothly into the chamber for firing.
Soldiers also can use the new magazine with the previous standard military 5.56mm round, the M855.
The EPM is tan-colored and has a blue-gray follower. The latter is the spring-loaded plastic component that positions each round up into the lower receiver of the weapon. Each magazine holds a maximum of 30 rounds.
Tests show that the EPM increases system reliability and durability.
It also ensures optimal performance in M4/M4A1 and M16 weapons when used with the EPM and EPR, Cautero said.
The Army expects to field more than 1.8 million of the new magazines over the next 12 months.
Center Industries of Wichita, Kansas, is the manufacturer.
Cautero said the Army has received more than 700,000 of the new magazines from the company to date.
In 1918, World War I was in its fourth year. Imperial Russia had succumbed to the Communist Revolution and capitulated to Imperial Germany. In the West, a race against time was on. The Allies of Great Britain and France were watching with mounting concern as German armies from the Eastern Front began reinforcing those on the Western Front. Their armies, having been bled white and wracked by mutiny after three horrific years of trench warfare, were at the breaking point. The last hope for Allied victory was the United States. It had entered the war in April 1917, and its troops began arriving in France later that year.
The American forces were hastily trained for the demands of total warfare in the European model, and for the most part were equipped with a hodge-podge of weapons supplied by their allies. The question on both sides of the trenches was not if the growing number of American units would fight, but rather how well? Only combat would answer that question. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenberg and Gen. Erich Ludendorff of Germany were determined to shatter Allied resolve and achieve victory with an offensive launched before the full weight of the U.S. Army could be felt.
On May 27, 1918, specially trained “shock units” led a three-pronged offensive that smashed into the British and French lines. At Aisne, the French lines bent, then broke. In less than two days, the German army was at the Marne River at Chateau Thierry. Once again, the German army had victory within its grasp, and once again, the road to Paris, about 50 miles away, was wide open. In 1914, France, and the Allied cause, was saved by a sudden influx of troops delivered to the front by Parisian taxis – the “Miracle of the Marne.”
This time France had no miracles of her own remaining. Allied Commander-in-Chief Gen. Ferdinand Foch turned to Gen. John Pershing, commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force. Previously, Pershing had resisted releasing units piecemeal to reinforce depleted British and French divisions. He stated that when Americans fought, they would do so as a unified army.
But Pershing recognized that the present crisis overrode national considerations and temporarily released his five divisions to Foch’s command. The American 2nd Division, containing the 4th, 5th, and 6th Marine Brigades, was assigned to Gen. Joseph Degoutte’s French 6th Army, located along the Marne Front. Not since the Civil War had American troops been involved in a conflict of such magnitude. And it had been more than 100 years, at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans during the War of 1812, since the Marine Corps had faced an armed foe at the professional level as it did now against the 461st Imperial German Infantry regiment.
Though Pershing, an Army general, harbored little love for the Marines, he did not allow service parochialism to blind him to the Marines’ capability. Shortly after Ludendorff’s offensive began, when the 4th Marine Brigade’s commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Doyen, had to return to the States due to a terminal illness, Pershing assigned command of the brigade to his chief of staff, Army Brig. Gen. James Harbord, telling him, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France – if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.”
It was not without some concern that Harbord assumed his new command. He was replacing a respected and loved commander; he was a National Guard cavalry officer, a temporary brigadier general; and his two regimental commanders were Col. Albertus Catlin and Col. Wendell “Whispering Buck” Neville, both recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked hard at his new command and earned the respect of the Marines. Harbord would retire a major general and later write of his experience, “They never failed me. I look back on my service with the Marines Brigade with more pride and satisfaction than on any other equal period in my long Army career.”
The fighting ended, exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on.
(USMC History and Museums Division)
The 4th Marine Brigade was ordered to shore up defenses and assume a blocking position north of the important east-west Paris- Metz highway. They dug into position along a line just above the village of Lucy-Le-Bocage. Immediately in front of the Marine line was a large wheat field, and beyond that was a mile square game preserve. The French called it Bois de Belleau. To the Marines and America, it would be immortalized as Belleau Wood. The Marines had barely gotten into position, digging shallow individual trenches they called “foxholes,” when the German army renewed its offensive on June 2. Demoralized French troops in the forest began falling back. One French officer, as he passed through the Marine lines, advised the Americans to join in the retreat. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The French officer and the other French troops continued on. Soon the Marines were alone.
The rest of the day and the following morning were quiet. The heat of the early June sun parched the throats of the Marines as they waited for the enemy to appear. Finally, in the early afternoon, movement was seen at the southern edge of the forest, and the distinct shapes of German soldiers in their feldgrau began to emerge. Long line after long line of soldiers, slightly crouched and weapons low, began trotting through the ripening wheat. Veteran Marines of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Veracruz Expedition lay side by side with unblooded men whose memories of the profane injunctions of their drill instructors were still fresh. The Germans confidently advanced. What they did not know was that no longer before them was a demoralized French foe. Instead, they were marching toward a fresh enemy with high morale that took pride in training its men in how to shoot. The Germans also did not realize they were already within range of the Marines’ shoulder arm, the .30-06 Springfield M1903 rifle.
The accepted combat range of rifles during World War I was a maximum of 250 yards. The Springfield ’03 was rated with an effective range of 600 yards. In the hands of an expert marksman, it could be deadly at ranges well beyond that. The line of gray-clad troops advancing through an open field presented the Marines with a shooting gallery. At 800 yards, the order was given, and sustained fire commenced. German soldiers spun, collapsed, and fell as bullets from the first volley tore into them. The German advance wavered, then astonished survivors fell to the ground seeking cover. Their officers ran through their ranks, shouting for them to get up and continue the advance. The troops rose and were hit with another volley fired at long range. A third attempt to advance was met by a third deadly volley that was also accompanied by machine gun fire. The stunned survivors retreated into the woods to take up defensive positions and plan their next move.
The commander of the German 28th Division facing opposite the American 2nd Division confidently told his men, “We are not fighting for ground – for this ridge or that hill. It will be decided here whether or not the American Army will be equal to our own troops.” It was a prescient statement. Unfortunately, for him, not in the way he expected.
After receiving news that the German attack had been blunted at Belleau Wood, Degoutte ordered the 2nd Division to counterattack the following day, June 6. The attack began with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines launching a dawn attack on the German-held Hill 142 on the division’s left flank. German machine guns raked the Marine ranks during the half-mile advance. The Marines succeeded in capturing the hill at about noon. But doing so had cost the battalion 410 casualties. It was a foretaste of what was to come.
Meanwhile, two battalions of the 6th Marines and one battalion of the 5th Marines were preparing for the main attack on Belleau Wood. The attack was launched at 5 p.m., and the Marines advanced in a formation and at a fast pace taught by the veteran French officers who had rounded out their training shortly after the Marines arrived in France. It was the same formation that had doomed thousands of French poilus during the disastrous offensives of 1914 and 1915. It achieved the same results on the Marines. As the Marines began crossing the battle-scarred wheat field, it was the German machine gunners’ turn. The lead troops were quickly cut down. Surviving Marines dove for the ground and continued the advance crawling on all fours, pausing and, like pop-up targets, taking aim and quickly firing back before dropping down for cover in the wheat stalks. Even so, the advance slowed dangerously, with the German machine gun fire continuing seemingly unabated. It appeared that the attack would fail just 50 yards before the Marines reached the German lines.
Reporter Floyd Gibbons was with the Marines during the attack and lay terrified among the dead and wounded in the wheat field. Not far from him was Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Daly, a double Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Boxer Rebellion and Haiti. In a report he later filed, Gibbons wrote, “The sergeant swung his bayoneted rifle over his head with a forward sweep, yelling at his men, ‘Come on, you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?'” The Marines with him stood up, and with a roar, charged. By the end of the day, the first line of German defenders was overrun and taken. But the cost of the attack was severe. On that day, the 4th Marine Brigade had suffered 1,087 casualties, making it the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point. More Marines had fallen on June 6, 1918, than in the entire 143-year history of the Marine Corps.
The Battle for Belleau Wood would continue to almost the end of June and was fought in a series of savage actions. It was during this battle that, according to legend, the 461st Imperial German Infantry gave the Marines the nickname “Teufelhunden” – “Devil Dogs.” Finally, on June 26, Maj. Maurice Shearer of the 5th Marines sent to headquarters the message: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”
Convinced that the Marines had saved Paris, the French government renamed the game preserve Bois de la Brigade de Marine. And, more importantly, this action, as well as American success at Cantigny and Ch’teau-Thierry, Pershing later wrote, “… gave an indication of what trained American troops would do.” But the German high command was not finished. A final German offensive was launched on July 15. This time, the 2nd Division and its Marines joined the French XX Corps and repulsed the German attack at Soissons, sustaining another 2,000 casualties. When the German offensive was stopped, the initiative shifted to the Allies. They responded with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
On July 29, 1918, Pershing made Gen. John A. Lejeune commander of the 2nd Division. His first assignment was to reduce the dangerous German salient at St. Mihiel. After four days of fierce fighting by the combined Marine and Army units, the salient was eliminated. The 2nd Division then was assigned offensive operations in support of the French Fourth Army, commanded by Gen. Henri Gourand. But German defenses along the Meuse River succeeded in slowing the French advance until it was stopped before Blanc Mont, or White Mountain, a ridge that dominated the region for miles. The Germans had held Blanc Mont since 1914 and had heavily fortified the ridge. To restart his stalled attack, Gourand wanted Lejeune to break up his division and disperse it into depleted French units. Lejeune’s reaction was quick and hot. Following Pershing’s example, he was not about to have his division broken up, particularly since there was no dire crisis now confronting the Allies. The Marine general told Gourand, “Keep the division intact and let us take [Blanc Mont].”
U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood (1918) by Georges Scott.
Gourand looked at Lejeune skeptically, then nodded his assent. Lejeune’s plan was to assault the German position with lead attacks from both flanks and, when they had closed to pinch out and isolate the center, the rest of his troops would advance and overwhelm the defenders. In what Pershing would later call “a brilliant maneuver against heavy machine gun resistance,” the attack kicked off on Oct. 3 with a short, five-minute artillery barrage of 200 guns. As soon as the cannon fire stopped, the 3rd Infantry Brigade launched its attack on the German right flank. Simultaneously, the 4th Marine Brigade attacked the German left. This was followed by an advance by the 6th Marines. Supporting the overall attack were French tanks. By noon, the 6th Marines had seized the crest and were clearing the heights. Additional troops from the 5th Marines moved up to add overwhelming power to the 2nd Division’s punch. On the left flank was a heavily fortified position known as the Essen Hook that was assigned to French units who were temporarily held in reserve. As the battle progressed, the French troops were released to seize the Essen Hook. When the French proved unable to do so, a company of Marines from the 5th Regiment led by Capt. Leroy P. Hunt was ordered to help. Hunt’s company succeeded in throwing out the Germans, and the Marines then handed over the Essen Hook to the French. The Germans returned and quickly overwhelmed the French defenders at Essen Hook, whereupon the 5th Regiment was forced to drive the Germans out a second time. This time they secured the position for good. When the day was over, Blanc Mont was in the hands of the 2nd Division.
Lejeune followed up the capture of Blanc Mont with an advance on the nearby village of St. Etienne on Oct. 4. The 5th Marines, who were leading the attack, literally ran into the Germans’ counterattack designed to retake Blanc Mont. Unfortunately, the Marines’ advance in the offensive had outpaced the French units beside them, causing them to form a salient that left them exposed to enemy fire from both flanks as well as their front. Despite the murderous fire falling on them, the Marines grimly kept the pressure on. After four days of intense fighting in which the Marines suffered more than 2,500 casualties, including the seemingly indestructible Daly, who was wounded, St. Etienne was liberated and, by Oct. 10, the Germans were in full retreat.
Not long after the battle, the grateful French government awarded the 5th and 6th Marines and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion their third citation of the Croix de Guerre for gallantry. As a result, the members of those outfits were now entitled to wear the scarlet and green fourragère. Field Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of Verdun, would add his own accolade, stating that, “The taking of Blanc Mont Ridge is the greatest single achievement in the 1918 campaign.”
Of the Marine Corps contribution in World War I, Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.) wrote in his book, A Fellowship of Valor, “Less than 32,000 Marines served in France. More than 12,000 of those given the opportunity to fight in France became casualties; 3,284 died. The survivors had given their country and their Corps a legacy of courage, esprit, and ferocity which would remain the standard of combat excellence for the remainder of the violent century.”
This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.