This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets - We Are The Mighty
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This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.


Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.

Not a great record for a weapon named after one of the Army’s greatest sharpshooters from history. (Photo: Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0)

The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.

So the military asked manufacturers to keep to a few reasonable rules. Importantly, as much technology as possible needed to come from existing commercial or military surplus sources to keep the weapon relatively cheap to manufacture and maintain.

The winning design came from the Ford Aerospace Communications Corp. and featured two Swedish-made 40mm cannons mounted in a turret and controlled by the Doppler radar from the F-16. The whole thing rode on an M48 Patton tank chassis.

Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.

An M247 sits behind an M108 105mm self-propelled howitzer at Yuma Proving Grounds,Arizona. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

So the first M247s hit the field and performed horribly in tests. They frequently failed to spot targets. Software changes made it more sensitive, but also caused it to start identifying ground clutter as probable enemies.

Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.

In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.

Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.

And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.

An M247 Sgt. Alvin C. York Division Air Defense gun on display in Camp Robinson, Arkansas. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.

Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.

In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.

After total spending of $1.8 billion, the Army had received 65 unsatisfactory weapons and sent the request to the Secretary of Defense for the funding for $417.5 million for another 117 weapons. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger withheld the funds until an ongoing test was completed.

The York once again failed, and Weinberger canceled the program in August 1985.

Articles

This Naval Academy grad is trying to become one of America’s newest astronauts

On Day 1 of her training as an astronaut, Navy Lt. Kayla Barron walked out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and watched with her new colleagues as the moon partially blotted out the sun.


Eclipse glasses in hand, the Naval Academy graduate said she began to get a sense of her place in at the agency. The astronauts are some of NASA’s highest-profile employees, but Barron said they’re just one part of the team.

“Everybody here is really excited about what they’re doing and doing really interesting things,” Barron said August 22 in an interview. “In a big-picture sense, everybody comes to work for the same reason.”

Barron, 29, was working as an aide at the academy in Annapolis when she was selected earlier in the summer to become an astronaut. She’ll now embark on two years of training with 11 other NASA candidates and two Canadians.

2017 NASA Astronaut Class. (from left) Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Robb Kulin, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, Raji Chari, Loral O’ Hara and Jessica Watkins. NASA photo by Robert Markowitz.

Many of the lessons will focus on the workings of the International Space Station, but there is a chance that members of the 2017 class — the agency’s largest in years — could end up on a mission to Mars.

“There’s a lot for us to learn, a lot of new things to master,” Barron said.

Among them: working from the back seat of a training jet, practicing spacewalks in a pool, and getting to grips with speaking Russian.

Barron was initially interested in pursuing a career as a naval aviator, but couldn’t meet the eyesight requirements. But now NASA will train her on its supersonic T-38 jets, working alongside a pilot and learning about making quick decisions and communicating clearly and getting used to extreme G-forces.

A T-38 Talon. Photo from USAF.

Barron will keep her Navy rank but said NASA’s astronaut office blends military and civilian cultures — a reflection of the varied backgrounds of the trainees.

“It’s an interesting kind of melting pot,” she said.

The trainees are expected to bring their own ideas to the class and learn from one another.

Barron, who has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and served as one of the first female officers on a submarine, said her military experience taught her about working as an engineer under extreme conditions.

An astronaut performing a spacewalk. Photo from NASA.

“I think that gives me a bit of perspective on how you can keep your equipment and team running when you’re in a hostile place with limited resources,” Barron said.

During a question-and-answer session between the trainees and three astronauts on the International Space Station, biochemist Peggy Whitson said being able to fix things is one of the most important parts of the job.

“You can’t be hesitant about taking something apart and putting it back together,” Whitson said.

Barron, who said she’s both excited and nervous about learning Russian, asked the astronauts what advice they had about working with crew members from other nations.

The International Space Station. Photo from NASA.

Col. Jack Fischer said that it was important not just to learn the language but to gain an understanding of the other culture.

“It’s no different from how you would figure out how to get along with anyone in a small-group dynamic,” he said.

Barron is originally from Richland, Wash., but will now be living in Houston near the space center.

“We all live out in town,” she said. “We have a real life outside of work.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why balloons were some of the scariest targets of World War I

For World War I pilots, the most terrifying song that relates to their experience may not be Seven Nation Army but 99 Luftballoons, because going against barrage and observation balloons in the Great War was terrifying.


Barrage balloons over London in World War II.

(Public Domain)

Pilots with the balls and skill to attack these balloons were known as balloon busters, and ones that had shot down more than five of the balloons were known as balloon aces. And yes, shooting down a balloon counted as a “kill,” same as shooting down a piloted enemy plane.

But what made them so hard to shoot down? After all, they were just a bunch of floating bags of air. Pop ’em with a needle and get on with your day, right?

Well, no.

First, military balloons weren’t made of cheap Mylar or latex. Many in World War I were made of tightly woven fabric, though vulcanized rubber and Thiokol rubber were prominent in World War II. All of these materials could take plenty of hits without splitting, meaning bullets that passed through them caused them to leak instead of to pop.

A row of spherical barrage balloons used for suspending aerial nets

(Australian War Memorial)

So they couldn’t simply be popped, and it often took a lot of rounds to bring one down. But if a fighter did manage to slay the beast, he wasn’t out of danger yet. While American balloons in World War II were sometimes filled with helium, none of the early Great War combatants had access to that gas, and hydrogen was the preferred gas for barrage balloons anyway.

Why? Well, for the same reason it was bad for the Hindenburg. Observation balloons had people in them, people who would’ve loved helium instead of hydrogen over their heads. But barrage balloons were empty, and filling them with hydrogen meant that, when destroyed, the balloons had a tendency to go out in massive fireballs. This was a huge threat to the fighters attacking it.

It also meant that fighters had one advantage though: Incendiary rounds were very effective against the balloons. But in World War I, pretty much only the British had incendiary rounds in planes. Everyone else was slinging cold metal. And incendiary rounds didn’t stay hot forever, generally traveling only 300 to 400 yards while still burning. You did not want to be 300 yards from an exploding balloon and still flying towards it as you would have to be to effectively shoot at it.

Barrage balloons and their crews in World War II.

(Royal Air Force)

Fine, fine, fine. The balloons were hard to shoot down and, when shot down, might explode in a big fireball and kill the attacking fighter. Fine. Just fly around them, right? Let the Germans have their balloons over their lines, maybe bring in some air defense artillery to shoot at it. But let the fighters avoid them.

Nope. For two reasons. First, those observation balloons were an enduring threat from the moment they went up until the moment they went down. Artillery observers sat in them and reported troops positions and movements to their friendly artillery for hours, allowing German crews to hit English, French, and U.S. positions all day. They had to be killed.

But the barrage balloons couldn’t be ignored either, because they had thick steel cables or else entire nets hanging from them in order to catch enemy fighters attempting to fly under them. And they flew high enough that few World War I fighters or bombers could come over the top and still be effective. By World War II, the balloons were set lower, but only to steer the enemy aircraft up to over 5,000 feet where anti-aircraft artillery was most effective.

American pilot Frank Luke poses with his 13th confirmed kill.

(Public Domain)

So observation balloons and barrage balloons were lethal, terrifying, and absolutely had to be destroyed, and some of America, England, and France’s top aces proved their mettle by flying at the things, especially in World War I. In fact, some of the top decorated fighter pilots of World War I had few wins against human-piloted planes, but a dozen or more against balloons.

Will Coppens, a Belgian pilot, personally awarded a medal by King Albert I had only shot down two enemy planes in his career, but he had taken down an astounding 35 enemy balloons. The next highest scoring pilot after him was Frenchman Leon Bourjade with 27. So, yeah, Coppens earned that medal from his king.

America’s top balloon buster was Frank Luke, a mouthy pilot who was looked down upon by his peers when he arrived in France. He claimed his first fighter kill in August 1918, but no one else had witnessed the feat, and he was written off as a blowhard. So, after hearing how hard balloons were to take down, he attacked one on September 12 and, after three passes, destroyed it right before it reached the safety of the ground where the observers could clamber out.

German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire, and barrage balloons created persistent threats to enemy fighters.

(State Library of New South Wales)

Luke bagged another two balloons two days later. His wingman that day, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, formed a team with him that specialized in balloon busting and turned the whole thing into a traveling show, sending invitations to VIPs to witness German balloons blowing up at set times and places. But it was too bold to last, and Wehner was shot down on September 18 while taking down his fifth balloon, giving him balloon ace status in death.

Distraught, Luke went off the deep end, taking more and more risks in flight to the point that his superiors grounded the already famous pilot who, by that point, had 11 victories against balloons and four against fighters, making him America’s ace of aces. On September 29, he stole a plane and dropped a note to the ground that told observers to watch German balloons over the Meuse.

Luke flew into the teeth of the enemy, dodging ground fire and eight enemy fighters as he took down one balloon after the others, destroying all three in the area before he was shot down. He survived the wreck and pulled his pistol, fending off a German patrol and killing multiple members of it until a German round drilled him in the chest.

He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his heroics in September 1918, going to his grave as America’s best-ever balloon buster with 14 kills against balloons and four against fighters.

Articles

Soldiers created these hauntingly beautiful paintings during the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was the first American war broadcast on TV, something that profoundly changed the way we see expeditionary warfare. For the first time ever, Americans at home saw young men crawling through dense jungles thousands of miles away. And it wasn’t like the newsreel footage of the ’40s, scrubbed clean and careful to show the good guys fighting the good fight. The news coverage in Vietnam showed young American men out on patrol in a strange, foreign land in what was a bitterly controversial war back at home. But less well-known are the paintings created by dedicated teams of army painters tasked with depicting the war in Vietnam as they saw it, with unlimited creative license and no travel restrictions.


“Swamp Patrol” – Roger Blum, 1966

The Vietnam Combat Art Program was created in 1966 as a way to create a record of the war as seen through soldiers’ eyes (a similar program existed in WWII). Applications were solicited from soldiers through the U.S. Army Arts and Crafts Program, a separate program originally set up to boost morale in the mobilization leading up to WWII. But unlike the Arts and Crafts Program, which decorated barracks, hosted art classes and sought to fill the long periods of downtime of a life at war, this new Combat Art Program dedicated artist teams to observe and depict the war in Vietnam.

“Wounded” – Robert C. Knight, 1966

In a departure from the army’s caginess towards news media coverage of the war, the program sought out artists looking to depict scenes in Vietnam that were both honest and compelling. In the U.S. Army’s announcement of the program, it called for “competent artist-illustrators who have a sound foundation in life drawing, composition and color. They must be able to record military events and experiences pictorially and with strong emotional impact.” The teams were to spend 60 days traveling through Vietnam, following units on patrol while making sketches and doing preliminary research. The teams would later finish their work during a 75-day stay in Hawaii.

“Killed In Action” – Burdell Moody, 1967

The army assembled nine Combat Artist Teams (CATs) from 1966-1970. Each team consisted of about 5 artists who were given the freedom to travel wherever they wished in Vietnam. “We had open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders, which meant we could hitch a ride anywhere in Vietnam. It was a letter-sized sheet of paper with written and signed orders,” explained James Pollack, who was a member of CAT IV, which operated in late 1967. “We usually just walked up to a pilot or someone in charge and flashed the orders. We guarded these papers closely – if we lost them it would have been difficult trying to explain why we were hitchhiking around Vietnam.” Pollack described his experiences in the Vietnam Combat Art Program in an essay published in 2009 in War, Literature the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities.

“Looking Down the Trail” – James Pollack, 1967

“Were we propaganda machines for the army? Absolutely not,” Pollack told The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011. “I was drafted and didn’t even want to be in the army.”

“Unreal Realities” – Ronald A. Wilson, 1967

 

“Last Stand” – Phillip W. Jones, 1967-68

 

“Cobra” – Stephen H. Randall, 1968

 

“The Ladies” – David Fairrington, 1968

 

“Saturday Uptown” – James R. Drake, 1969

 

“Rice Mill, My Tho” – William R. Hoettels, 1969-70

Articles

Coast Guard commandant warns of cruise missile-equipped Russian icebreakers

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has one very clear message: The country needs more icebreakers.


Zukunft reiterated that point time and again during an Aug. 24 speech to members of the Alaska policy nonprofit Commonwealth North in Anchorage.

He recalled a conversation he had with then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice when Rice asked him what President Barack Obama should highlight shortly before the president’s extended trip to Alaska in late August 2015.

“I said (to Rice) we are an Arctic nation. We have not made the right investments and we do not have the strategic assets to be an Arctic nation and that translates to icebreakers and that’s almost exactly what President Obama said when he came up here,” Zukunft said.

US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“Fast forward — it’s Jan. 20, 2017, and I’m sitting next to President Trump and as they’re parading by he says, ‘So, you got everything you need?’ I said, ‘I don’t. The last administration, they made a statement but they didn’t show me the money. I need icebreakers.’ (Trump said) ‘How many?’ ‘Six.’ ‘You got it.’

“You never miss an opportunity,” Zukunft quipped.

It’s well documented in Alaska that the US has “one-and-a-half” operable icebreakers. That is, the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy, which are in the Coast Guard’s fleet. A sister ship to the Polar Star, the Polar Sea remains inactive after an engine failure in 2010.

Zukunft noted Russia’s current fleet of 41 icebreakers to emphasize how far behind he feels the US is in preparing for increased military and commercial activity in the Arctic as sea ice continues to retreat — a message Alaska’s congressional delegation stresses as well.

USCGC Healy. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“We are the only military service that’s truly focused on what’s happening in the Arctic and what happens in the Arctic does not happen in isolation,” Zukunft said.

He added that Russia is on track to deliver two more cruise missile-equipped icebreakers in 2020.

“I’m not real comfortable with them right on our back step coming through the Bering Strait and operating in this domain when we have nothing to counter it with,” he said.

The Coast Guard’s 2017 budget included a $150 million request to fund a new medium icebreaker, which Zukunft characterized as a “down payment” on the vessel expected to cost about $780 million, according to an Aug. 15 Congressional Research Service report on the progress of adding to the country’s icebreaking fleet.

Photo from United Sates European Command.

For years it was estimated that new heavy icebreakers would cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion each, but those estimates have been revised down as the benefits of lessons learned through construction of the initial vessel and ordering multiple icebreakers from the same shipyard are further examined.

The CRS report now estimates the first heavy icebreaker will cost about $980 million to build, but by the fourth that price tag would go down to about $690 million for an average per-vessel cost of about $790 million. That is on par with the cost for a single new medium icebreaker.

Zukunft said the Coast Guard is working with five shipyards on an accelerated timeline to get the first icebreaker by 2023, but how it will be fully funded is still unclear.

“We have great bipartisan support but who is going to write the check?” he said, adding that aside from Russia and China, the United States’ economy is larger than that of the other 18 nations with icebreakers combined.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker homeported in Seattle. USCG photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener.

The Obama administration first proposed a high-level funding plan for new icebreakers in 2013 that has not been advanced outside of small appropriations.

“Our GDP (gross domestic product) is at least five times that of Russia and we’re telling ourselves we can’t afford it,” Zukunft continued. “Now this is just an issue of political will and not having the strategic forbearance to say this is an investment that we must have.”

He also advocated for the US finally signing onto the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, which lays out the broad ground rules for what nations control off their coasts and how they interact in international waters.

Not signing onto the Law of the Sea, which was opened in 1982, leaves the US little say as other nations further study and potentially exploit the Arctic waters that are opening, he said.

“We are in the same club as Yemen; we are in the Star Wars bar of misfits of countries that have not ratified the Law of the Sea convention,” Zukunft said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nope, ‘God & The 3 Mistakes’ is not what happened after Pearl Harbor

I’m known among my friends as a bit of a heartless cynic (#NotPopularAtParties #PleaseStopInvitingMe #HowManyOfTheseDoIHaveToRuinToBeLeftAlone). Maybe that’s why We Are The Mighty’s president and CMO, U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Harper, sent me this heartwarming story about Admiral Nimitz arriving at Pearl Harbor after the attack.

But then, I ruined it.


Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a bold and brave man too busy being optimistic for your “history facts” or his own notes.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The story is entitled God and the 3 Mistakes, and it makes the rounds on the internet every once in a while. Here’s a version of it from armchairgeneral.com:

Tour boats ferry people out to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii every thirty minutes. We just missed a ferry and had to wait thirty minutes. I went into a small gift shop to kill time. In the gift shop, I purchased a small book entitled, “Reflections on Pearl Harbor” by Admiral Chester Nimitz.

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked.

As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?” Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.

I’ve never forgotten what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredricksburg, Texas –he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it–Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism.

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.

There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.

Look, an optimistic photo of a re-floated battleship. Let’s all go get coffee and not read the rest of this.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Stop here to remain happy. No? Alrighty, then.

Was that heartwarming and satisfying for you? Good. Stop reading. Go away. Be happy. Don’t let my factual poison into your soul. Ignore the holes and historical discrepancies and return to the world as a satisfied human being.

Or, let’s go through this together and destroy joy.

(Author’s note: For some of the debunking done here, we’re turning directly to Adm. Nimitz’ notes from December, 1941, compiled in his “gray book,” which the Navy put on the internet in 2014. Citations to that document will be made with a parenthetical hyperlink that will give the PDF page, not the printed page number. So, “(p. 71)” refers to his December 17 “Running Summary of Situation” that is page 71 of the PDF, but has the page numbers 9 and 67 printed on the bottom.)

Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

That phone call on December 7 didn’t happen

First: “Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was … told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Nope. At the time, no one knew exactly what had happened or who to blame, and Adm. Husband E. Kimmel was still very much in charge. How screwed up would it have been if Roosevelt’s first action, while the fuel dumps were still burning and sailors were still choking to death on oil, was to fire the guy in command on the ground rather than shifting supplies and men to the problem or, you know, investigating what happened?

The bulk of the losses at Pearl weren’t even announced until December 15 (p. 51) because no one, even at Pearl, could be sure of the extent of the damage while the attack was ongoing.

In reality, Nimitz wasn’t ordered to Hawaii until December 17, the same day that Kimmel was told he would be relieved (p. 71).

National ensign flies from the USS West Virginia during the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

No, it wouldn’t have been worse if the Japanese had lured the ships to sea

The single most non-sensical claim in this story is that Nimitz was glad Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack.

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

What? Nimitz thought he would’ve lost more men if the Japanese had lured them into a fight near the island? Does anyone believe that he had that little belief in the skills of his men?

If the Japanese had tried to lure the American ships to sea, we would’ve only sent the ones ready to fight, with full ammo loads and readied guns with crews. We would’ve tried to recall the carriers conducting exercises at sea. Yes, losing 38,000 sailors is worse than 3,800, but we’ve never lost 3,800 in a fair fight.

At the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the U.S. took combined losses of about 1,000 killed while inflicting losses against Japan of about 4,000. At the Battle of Savo Island, “the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight,” according to Samuel Morison, the U.S. lost 1,100 sailors.

Meanwhile, at Pearl, the U.S. lost over 2,000 killed while inflicting less than 100 enemy deaths. Who the hell would be glad it was a surprise attack?

In his notes on Samoa dated December 17, Nimitz specifically cites Japan’s use of surprise as to why it had been so successful (p. 64).

The largest fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor did survive the attack, but they weren’t enough.

(U.S. Navy)

Yes, Japan did ravage America’s fuel dumps and hit drydocks

Nimitz, when he got the actual call on December 17, quickly tied up his duties in Washington, D.C., and reported to Pearl Harbor. (He arrived Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.)

There, he found an island still burning and heavily damaged. The Japanese planes absolutely did hit fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor. They hit drydocks as well, heavily damaging three destroyers that were in the docks at the time.

Luckily, Pearl Harbor didn’t have “every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war” in December 1941 as the story says, but the other dumps were under attack as Nimitz was supposedly giving this pep talk. Fuel dumps on the Philippines and Wake Island were destroyed or isolated by the Japanese attack in the days and weeks following December 7.

(Seriously, how would you even run a Pacific fleet if your only gas station was in Hawaii? That would mean ships patrolling around the Philippines and Australia would need to travel 10,000 miles and over three weeks out of their way every time they needed to refuel.)

It is true, though, that Japan failed to hit the largest and most important fuel tank farms on Pearl and didn’t destroy the doors to the drydocks. That was a major strategic error on the part of the Japanese.

But, what damage was done to these facilities was important, changing the strategic calculation for America at every turn.

On December 17, Nimitz wrote a plan to reinforce Samoa that specifically cited the lack of appropriate fuel dumps being ready or filled at Pearl or Samoa (p. 63 and 70). It even mentioned how bad it was to shift a single oiler from replenishing Pearl to getting ships to Samoa. The fuel situation was dire, and Nimitz knew it.

Two heavily damaged U.S. destroyers sit in a flooded drydock. Both destroyers were scrapped and the drydock was damaged, but it did return to service by February 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

The ship repair situation was worse

If the fuel situation was bad, the repair situation was worse. Drydocks were attacked during the battle. Two ships were destroyed in Drydock number one, and Floating Drydock number 2 was sunk after sustaining damage. Both were back in operation by February 1942.

Other drydocks were safe or only lightly damaged and were up and running by the time Nimitz arrived at Pearl. Yes, that’s a big deal logistically. But that still left too few drydocks for the sheer number of ships heavily damaged in the attack.

But the number of drydocks wasn’t the biggest factor in whether a ship could be repaired at Pearl, because there weren’t nearly enough supplies and skilled laborers in and around the harbor, anyways. Capt. Homer N. Wallin, the head of the salvage effort from January 1942 onward, lamented shortages of firefighting equipment, lumber, fastenings, welders, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, and pumps for the duration of salvage.

That’s why three battleships left Pearl Harbor for repairs on the West Coast on December 20, and ships were heading back to the continent for repairs as late as the end of 1942, nearly a year after the attack, because drydocks had insufficient space or supplies to repair them on site.

In fact, in his history written in 1968, Wallin specifically remembers Nimitz touring the wrecks on Dec. 31, 1941, and being pessimistic about repairs, especially the viability of the USS Nevada. The Nevada was back in combat less than a year later, despite Nimitz’ pessimism.

But the worst problem facing Pearl Harbor was invasion

But the most naive claim of this entire story is that Nimitz was optimistic as to the situation in December 1941. His actual notes from the period paint a much grimmer picture of his mind.

In the wee hours of December 17, hours before Nimitz was ordered to replace Kimmel, Nimitz sent Kimmel a message on behalf of himself and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Kimmel was ordered to “reconsider” his beliefs that Pearl Harbor was safe from further attack (p. 74).

Knox and Nimitz wanted Kimmel to keep ships out of the harbor as much as possible, to reinforce defensive positions. Most importantly:

Every possible means should be devised and executed which will contribute to security against aircraft or torpedo or gun attack of ships, aircraft and shore facilities [on Hawaii];

Given that Nimitz was actively cautioning about how vulnerable Pearl Harbor was on December 17, it would be odd for him to feel cocky and optimistic on December 25 (the earliest he could have actually taken this supposed boat tour).

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

But he was still a great leader

The fact is, Nimitz was not some famed optimist. He was a realist. And he was in command of a fleet crippled by a sneak attack but backed by the most industrialized nation in the world in the 1940s. American industrial might was so strong that, by the end of the war, the U.S. was producing half of all industrial goods and weapons in the world. And the Japanese had failed to hit the submarines, something that did give Nimitz hope.

While it took most of 1942 and 1943 to fully ramp up America’s wartime production, the seeds were all in place in 1941 thanks to Roosevelt’s Cash-and-Carry and Lend-Lease policies. Nimitz was no fool. He knew he could win, even though the challenge facing him on Christmas 1941 was still daunting.

We can honor him, the sailors lost at Pearl Harbor, and the stunning achievements of the greatest generation without sharing suspect anecdotes about a Christmas Eve boat ride.

(As an added side note: The book this story supposedly came from wasn’t actually by Nimitz, it’s an “oral history” by William H. Ewing. And it was published five years after Nimitz died. Maybe it is a faithful account of Nimitz’ words at some point, but it doesn’t match his notes or the tactical situation in 1941.)

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Marine MP and MMA champ break down the fighting in ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

How realistic is the combat in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back?” To find out, we went to veteran owned and operated Military Muscle Gym in Davie, Florida, where owner Kelsey De Santis — a Marine Corps MP turned martial arts trainer — and MMA star Anthony “Rumble” Johnson broke down the weapon strategy, positioning and disarmament techniques from the film.


Any object can be a weapon, but you have to “make it count”

Positioning is key to destabilizing an opponent and gaining an advantage

Disarming a gun attacker at close range, according to a U.S. Coast Guard Weapons Specialist

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This could be the next spacesuit American astronauts wear into orbit

Astronauts travelling aboard Elon Musk’s Dragon Capsule will wear form-fitting white-and-black spacesuits that bear little resemblance to their NASA forebears, the SpaceX founder revealed on August 23, a pivotal development in his quest to launch crewed missions to and from the International Space Station and beyond.


Although he offered few details in his sneak-peek Instagram post – “More in the days to follow,” a brief message promises – the tech billionaire, who is also chief executive of automaker Tesla, indicated that his spacesuit is functional and tested to withstand pressure loss while traveling through space. And in a nod to the design, he noted how “incredibly hard” it was to marry aesthetics and survivability.

The unveiling comes as SpaceX and aeronautics giant Boeing each have struggled to meet deadlines for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a cost-savings partnership between the agency and private industry focused on facilitating travel to the space station. It could be 2019 before either is certified to fly astronauts there, although both hope to conduct their first crewed test flights next year.

 

 

Boeing, maker of the Starliner space capsule, unveiled its minimalist “Boeing Blue” spacesuit in January. Like the new SpaceX suit, Boeing’s product is lighter, and more tailored and flexible than the cumbersome gear NASA astronauts have worn since the 1960s.

That’s because they’re built for a distinctive mission. For commercial flights to and from the space station, these suits will be worn during launch and reentry, or if a problem occurs causing the capsule to depressurize. As Thuy Ong notes for the Verge, this gear is specifically not intended for spacewalks, so it doesn’t need to provide the same bulky protection from dust and debris, or temperature fluctuation.

Photos of the SpaceX suit (or an early incarnation) first surfaced many months ago on Reddit, where observers were struck by its futuristic appearance. Like science fiction, some said.

Early photos of the SpaceX suit. Image from @SpaceX_fanz on Instagram, via Reddit.

Musk might disagree. The image he released August 23 is refined, exhibiting the considerable attention he gives not only to his products’ function but to the sophistication and simplicity of their design.

Consider, for instance, some early feedback on his newest electric car, the Tesla Model 3, in which nearly all functions – from the wiper blades to the air conditioning and stereo – are controlled via a small touch display beside the steering wheel. Musk has called the car “a very simple, clean design.” That’s deliberately so, he said in July, an effort to recognize that “in the future – really, the future being now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous.”

Indeed, after a three-minute test ride in the Model 3, The Washington Post’s Peter Holley observed the following: “It’s not so much that Tesla is ushering in the future… I’m more inclined to think that Tesla is single-handedly pulling the automotive industry into the present.”

SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. Image from NASA.

The SpaceX Dragon was built to shuttle cargo into space, which it accomplished for the first time in 2012. It can be configured to carry a crew of seven.

Beyond the space station, Musk has said he wants to launch a human mission to Mars by 2025, a much more ambitious schedule than NASA envisions.

Perfecting the spacesuit technology was seen as a vital benchmark.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Hitler hated red lipstick

Red lipstick is nothing less than a power move. For centuries, women have worn it to express themselves, and the shades are as varied as their meanings: confidence, sensuality, strength, courage, playfulness, and even rebellion. Dita Von Teese once said that heels and red lipstick will put the god into people.

Maybe that’s exactly what Adolf Hitler was afraid of.


In the early 1900s, American Suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman boldly rocked a red lip in order to shock men. Protestors adopted the beauty statement and filled the streets in rebellion.

“There could not be a more perfect symbol of suffragettes than red lipstick, because it’s not just powerful, it’s female,” said Rachel Felder, author of Red Lipstick: An Ode to a Beauty Icon. Red lipstick had a history of being condemned by men as impolite, sinful, and sexually amoral. The trend gained traction throughout the 1920s, here in the United States and across the Atlantic into Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

During World War II, the strength of women was finally welcomed and celebrated. As women replaced men in the workforce, their pride and independence were bolstered. Red lipstick grew in popularity as an expression of their confidence. Even Rosie the Riveter sported a bold lip.

According to Fedler, Adolf Hitler “famously hated red lipstick.” Madeleine Marsh, author of Compacts and Cosmetics explained: “The Aryan ideal was a pure, un-scrubbed face. [Lady] visitors to Hitler’s country retreat were actually given a little list of things they must not do: Avoid excessive cosmetics, avoid red lipstick, and on no account ever [were] they to color their nails.”

Allied women wore red lipstick in defiance of Hitler’s restrictions. Cosmetic companies created lipsticks in shades of “Victory Red” and “Montezuma Red” and red lipstick was even mandatory in the dress and appearance of U.S. Army women during the war.

Today, red lipstick is still worn around the world as a symbol of feminine strength and confidence. According to Rachel Weingarten, beauty historian and author of Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America, ’40s-’60s, “Anyone who’s ever dismissed the idea of beauty and makeup as being frivolous doesn’t realize the cultural and sociological impact.”


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US Air Force Veteran Caught Trying To Join ISIS

An Air Force veteran has been caught and charged with trying to provide support to ISIS.


Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, an American citizen, was a former avionics specialist and Air Force veteran.

“Pugh, an American citizen and former member of our military, allegedly abandoned his allegiance to the United States and sought to provide material support to ISIL,” Assistant Attorney General Carlin said in a press release from the Department of Justice.

“Identifying and bringing to justice individuals who provide or attempt to provide material support to terrorists is a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“As alleged, Pugh, an American citizen, was willing to travel overseas and fight jihad alongside terrorists seeking to do us harm,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez.

“U.S. citizens who offer support to terrorist organizations pose a grave threat to our national security and will face serious consequences for their actions.  We will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism.  This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

Pugh flew from Egypt to Turkey in order to cross the border into Syria; however, Turkish authorities denied him access to the country and he was forced to return to Egypt. He was subsequently deported from Egypt back to the US.

In the US, Joint Terrorism Task Force agents conducted a search of Pugh’s electronic devices on January 14, 2015. On his laptop, the agents found internet searches for information pertaining to how to cross into Syria, parts of the Turkish border controlled by ISIS, and downloaded ISIS propaganda videos.

Pugh was arrested on January 16, 2015 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He has been in custody since his arrest.

The US has been leading a military coalition against ISIS since August 2014. The anti-ISIS coalition has carried out airstrikes against the militant organization in both Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has recorded brutal execution videos of its captives since it conquered vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq in June 2014. In August 2014, ISIS released a video showing the execution of US journalist James Foley. This was the first video the group released of the execution of a western hostage.

SEE ALSO: Lockheed Just Built A New Laser That Can Fry Large Targets From A Mile Off

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.

In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.

1. Trial by combat

Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat 

2. Trial by the cross

Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.

3. Trial by fire

If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.

4. Trial by hot water

Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.

5. Trial by cold water

It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.

6. Trial by… cheese?

One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.

Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.

The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.

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Who would win a dogfight between a Flogger and a Phantom?

Sure, we all know about the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 Flanker, the MiG-29 Fulcrum… all those modern planes.


But in the 1970s and the early 1980s, the mainstays of the tactical air forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the Phantom in the west and the Flogger in the east.

The F-4 Phantom was arguably a “Joint Strike Fighter” before JSFs were cool. The United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, West German Air Force, and numerous other countries bought the F-4.

According to Globalsecurity.org, the F-4 could carry four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the F-4E had an internal cannon. The plane could carry over 12,000 pounds of ordnance.

Photo: Wikimedia

Like the F-4, the MiG-23 was widely exported — and not just to Warsaw Pact militaries. It was also sold to Soviet allies across the world — from Cuba to North Korea. It could carry two AA-7 radar-guided missiles, four AA-8 infra-red guided missiles, and had a twin 23mm cannon.

Globalsecurity.org notes that the Flogger can carry up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance (other sources credit the Flogger with up to 6,600 pounds of ordnance).

Both planes have seen a lot of combat over their careers. That said, the MiG-23’s record has been a bit more spotty.

According to the Air Combat Information Group, at least 33 MiG-23s of the Syrian Air Force were shot down by the Israeli Air Force since the end of 1973. Of that total, 25 took place in the five-day air battle known as the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The total number of confirmed kills for the MiG-23s in service with the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis in that time period is five.

ACIG tallied six air-to-air kills by Israeli F-4s in that same timeframe (Joe Baugher noted 116 total air-to-air kills by the Israelis in the Phantom), with four confirmed air-to-air losses to the Syrians. That said, it should be noted that by the late 1970s, the F-4 had been shifted to ground-attack missions, as Israel had acquired F-15s and F-16s.

An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger-G aircraft with an AA-7 Apex air-to-air missile attached to the outer wing pylon and an AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missile on the inner wing pylon. (From Soviet Military Power 1985)

There is one other measure to judge the relative merits of the F-4 versus the MiG-23. The F-4 beats the MiG-23 in versatility. The MiG-23 primarily specialized in air-to-air combat. They had to create another version — the MiG-23BN and later the MiG-27 — to handle ground-attack missions.

In sharp contrast to the specialization of various Flogger designs, the F-4 handled air-to-air and ground-attack missions – often on the same sortie. To give one example, acepilots.com notes that before  Randy “Duke” Cunningham engaged in the aerial action that resulted in three kills on May 10, 1972 – and for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – he dropped six Rockeye cluster bombs on warehouses near the Hai Dong rail yards.

In short, if the Cold War had turned hot during the 1970s, the F-4 Phantom would have probably proven itself to be the better airplane than the MiG-23 Flogger. If anything shows, it is the fact that hundreds of Phantoms still flew in front-line service in the early 21st Century.

Even though the F-4 had retired in 1996, it still flew unmanned missions until this month.

The MiG-23 just can’t match the Phantom.