This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler - We Are The Mighty
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This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” Gen. Erwin Rommel was a decorated officer who was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his outstanding service on the Italian Front. During World War II, the legendary military leader commanded the 7th Panzer Division as the Nazis invaded France, earning himself a reputation as a brilliant tank commander.


While his fame turned him into a propaganda tool, Rommel had another agenda — to kill Adolf Hitler.

On July 20th, 1944, a bomb was planted and exploded under Hitler’s East Prussia Headquarters — but the Führer survived the blast.

Related: This soldier fought off a German tank with his pistol

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Hitler visits some of the injured survivors of the headquarters explosion in the hospital. (Source: Smithsonian Channel/ YouTube/ Screenshot)

“A very small clique of ambitious, corrupt and at the same time irrational, criminally stupid officers have conspired to do away with me. It is a tiny group of criminal elements, which will now be mercilessly extinguished,” Hitler stated as he vowed revenge.

As Hitler’s Gestapo conducted intense interrogations of bomb plot suspects, one famous name managed to surface — Erwin Rommel.

Then, in Sept. 1944, British intelligence tapped into one of the conversations of captured German General Heinrich Eberbach which revealed: “Rommel said to me that the Führer has to be killed, there is nothing for it … that man has to go.”

Weeks later, two German generals arrived at Rommel’s home and explained his narrow options. He could either be tried in the people’s court which would lead to ultimate disgrace in the Third Reich or drink a small bottle of cyanide which they brought with them.

General Erwin Rommel died that same day, but the German people were told that their famous hero passed in a car wreck. At his funeral, the German people saluted him as his casket carried away.

Also Read: Patton once sent 300 men to rescue his son-in-law from a Nazi prison

Check out the Smithsonian Channel’s video for the failed attempted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SerzqZfqBM
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what the pilot who scored the stunning first kill with the F-15 saw

On June 27, 1979, aviation history was made when the F-15 Eagle scored its first kill in a dogfight between Israeli and Syrian aircraft.


Since then, the F-15 has scored over a hundred kills — with no air-to-air losses. The F-15 is a powerful plane, capable of carrying eight air-to-air missiles, and the M61 Gatling gun.

 

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

That is one hot bird. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Erin Trower)

On that day, four Israeli F-15s were flying top cover for strikes against PLO targets in Lebanon when two flights, each with four Syrian Air Force MiG-21 Fishbed interceptors, flew in to intercept the strike.

The Israeli pilots were given clearance to fire, and they started off with a Sparrow engagement. The first Sparrow shots missed, then the F-15s closed.

Moshe Melnik, in the second of the four F-15s, took on the enemy fighters. He selected his infra-red guided missiles for the attack. It wasn’t an American-made Sidewinder, though. The Israelis had their own dogfight missile, the Python 3. Melnik selected one, and fired.

The missile tracked in, taking out one of the Fishbeds. It was thirty seconds into the engagement.

Melnik had secured a place in history as the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane with the F-15 Eagle. Since then, between small-scale engagements and major conflicts like the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot and Operation Desert Storm, the F-15 has dominated the skies, only yielding as the premiere air-to-air platform when the F-22 Raptor entered service.

 

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Okay, the Raptor is pretty cool, too. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)

Ironically, while Melnik would make history, he would not be considered the hero of the engagement where the F-15 scored its first kill. That honor would go to another Israeli pilot, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu.

Melnik’s kill had been with an air-to-air missile. Ben-Eliyahu, though, used his F-15’s M61 to score his kill. In an interview that aired on History Channel’s “Dogfights,” even Melnik conceded Ben-Eliyahu was the hero.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Israeli F-15Is, the most modern version of the Eagle in the IDF. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

 

You can see Melnik’s view of his history-making kill in the F-15, checkout the video from Smithsonian Channel below.

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This is why the ‘Bouncing Betty’ was absolutely devastating

Developed by German Engineers during the 1930s as a defensive strategy of the Third Reich, the self-contained anti-personnel mine was originally named Schrapnellmine or S-Mine. Considered one of the deadliest tools on the battlefield, the French first encounter this version of bouncing mines in 1939 as it devastated their forces.


Dubbed the “Bouncing Betty” by American infantrymen, these mines were buried just underground, only exposing three prongs on the top which were usually camouflaged by the nearby grass vegetation.

Related: ISIS is digging up Nazi land mines in Egypt to use for IEDs

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Once these prongs were disturbed by a foot or vehicle, the mine would shoot itself upward to around 3 feet or at its victim’s waist level using its black powder propellant. The fuse was designed with a half a second delay to allow its aerial travel.

As it detonated, ball bearings contained inside flew out rapidly and acted as the casualty producing element. The S-mine was lethal at 66 feet, but the American training manuals stated that serious casualties could be taken up to 460 feet.

The landmine had great psychological effects on ground troops as it was known to inflict serious wounds rather than kill.

Although the Schrapnellmine was highly effective and constructed mostly out of metallic parts, detection was quite simple using metal detectors. However, at the time, such heavy and expensive gear wasn’t available to all infantry units as they fought their way through the front lines.

Also Read: The US Navy has minehunting ships that are terrible at finding mines

So allied forces had to probe the soil with their knives and bayonets to search for the dangerous mines. When they were discovered, a soldier could disarm the Bouncing Betty with a sewing needle inserted in place of the mine’s safety pin.

Production of the Bouncing Betty ended in 1945 after Germany had manufactured 2 million of the mines.

(Lightning War 1941, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Not forgotten: ceremonies around the world honor the Battle of Iwo Jima

This past week was a special anniversary for Americans.


We observed the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, and specifically, on Feb. 23, we honored the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag and the immortal photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Around the country, there were special celebrations to honor the men who served in that ferocious and terrible battle. Many politicians, notable figures and average Joe’s took to social media to honor the men who fought and died on Iwo.

With the passage of time, there are fewer and fewer men who fought on the volcanic rock, so events honoring them get more and more special.

Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams was honored at a Washington Capitals game over the weekend. Williams, who earned Medal of Honor as a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, was showered with applause and adulation by the Capitals fans, players and members of the opposing team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Williams is the last recipient living of the 27 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during Iwo Jima.

Watch Williams being honored at the game:

Williams took to Twitter (yes, Medal of Honor Iwo Jima vets have Twitter too) to express his excitement of being at the game.

Williams, aged 96, shows no sign of stopping. He will be giving a TEDx talk this March at Marshall University.

While many other events took place around the country, a very special commemoration took place in California.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Twenty-eight Iwo Jima veterans and members of the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee posae for a picture after an event commemoratiing the 75th annivesary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

ROYCE DORMAN/MARINE CORPS

Camp Pendleton hosted a reunion of over two dozen Iwo Jima veterans last week. Over the course of three days, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee held events on Pendleton to honor the men that fought there. Sadly, the Marine Corps put out a statement saying that this would probably be the last formal event as fewer and fewer veterans are alive and in shape to travel.

But as they say, tell that to the Marines.

“It’s very special to be a part of this ceremony,” said William “Bill” Wayne, an Iwo Jima veteran whose fellow Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. “I get a real kick out of coming and seeing everyone and talking to the young Marines.”
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Here are 7 things NOT to do before a military move

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
(Photo: Amy Bushatz, Military.com)


If you sit down at your computer and search for, “Help with PCS,” you will find dozens of articles telling you what to do. Heck, the military even hands your spouse a list that says, “DO THIS.”

This is not one of those lists.

Instead, this is a list to help you de-crazy your brain in those weeks leading up to the Big Move. This is a list that reminds you that everything that needs to get done will, in fact, get done.

And, if it doesn’t? It probably wasn’t that important to begin with.

1. Do Not expect to de-clutter, organize and label every aspect of your life before the movers come.

We have big plans to separate and label all of the junk we aren’t willing to part with this time around, and we may even purchase the storage bins as a proactive move. But, let’s face it. Moving day comes at lightning speed, and you end up lugging all those loose pictures you planned to consolidate into albums. Try again next PCS.

2. Do Not become too attached to those expected dates for your Household Goods to arrive.

Riiight, 5-10 business days? Try two weeks, or a month. Or, half of it within three days, and the other half in six months after they locate it. The point is, bring enough clothes, enough toys and at least one pot for making macaroni and cheese with you to the new duty station, and you’ll survive until the movers get here. … Whenever that is.

3. Do Not bother doing all your laundry before they pack up the house.

If you plan on driving to the next duty station, toss the laundry basket of dirty clothes in your car and finish it while you sit in temporary lodging. Trust me, you’ll need something to do while you’re waiting for your spouse to out-or in-process. Candy Crush gets boring after a while.

4. Do Not plan too many activities the week of moving day.

You will be stressed out, you will be overloaded, and you will already be racking your brain to think of the million and one things you’re probably already forgetting. Plan your last Girl’s Night Out, or your kiddos last play dates the week before, and reserve those final days for the last-minute-details that always seem to pop up.

5. Do Not assume the movers will know not to pack certain things.

Even obvious things like trash, car keys and cat litter boxes. And, if they don’t have a problem packing cat feces, they’re for sure going to assume your child’s favorite stuffed animal that they tossed on the floor — the one that they have to sleep with or the world falls apart — is fair game. So, if you don’t want them to pack it, my best suggestion would be to take open a safety deposit box at the bank and keep all of the stuff you want to take with you in it. I assume that will prevent them from finding it, but no guarantees.

6. Do Not get hung up on what the movers put in which boxes.

As long as it all generally goes in the same room—or floor—of the house, just call it good. You’ll run yourself ragged trying to micromanage an entire house move, and annoy the movers at the same time. Remember, happy movers mean the potential for less damaged items.

7. Do Not sweat the small stuff.

That first PCS will make you crazy as you balance trying to clean out base housing to the housing office’s satisfaction and feeling helpless watching as the packers touch every single item of your personal effects and pack it away for who-knows how long.

A PCS only comes around … well, to be honest, they come around pretty often, which is why a “don’t” list is something we all need. Do Not fret; you learn something from each move, and by the time you make your final one, you’ll be a pro.

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Kim Jong Un takes weird photo, internet has a field day

A photograph taken in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province last week shows the country’s leader Kim Jong Un giving what appears to be an impromptu ballroom dancing lesson to assorted onlookers. As is their custom, the good people of Reddit’s Photoshop Battles snatched up the image and began working their irreverent magic.


This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
The guy second from the left is just hoping no one notices his hat blew off.

Also Read: Allahu Quackbar: The internet is trolling ISIS by photoshopping them as rubber ducks

Here are some highlights:

Supreme Leader solves energy crisis!

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user davepollotart

Lil Kim (banana for scale).

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user Winston_The_Ogre

That’s some serious hover-hand.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user artunitinc

I don’t think he’s holding that right…

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user akh

Muzzle discipline!

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user juanes3020

Always knew he was full of hot air.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user wee_froggy

He never even shows up to rehearsal!

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user TAOLIK

It’s always awkward when there’s an odd number of people in class.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user WetCoastLife

Bye everybody!

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Reddit user Joal0503

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You need to see this incredible B-1B Bomber crash landing

In a 1989 incident, the Air Force crew of a B1-B bomber found itself unable to lower the front landing gear during a training flight and was forced to execute an emergency landing in the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.


The four-person crew was executing a routine training flight without nuclear weapons onboard on Oct. 4, 1989, and realized three hours into the flight that the front landing gear was malfunctioning. Over the next nine hours, the crew worked to get the gear down.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
(GIF: YouTube/airailimages)

Investigators later blamed a hydraulic failure, but the crew in the air just knew that they had to reach the ground safely. The Air Force routed the plane to a dry lakebed in California that was often used for landing the space shuttle.

The dust of the Rogers Dry Lake bed is more likely than most surfaces to allow for a safe skid, reducing the risk to the crew and plane. The full landing is visible from a few angles in this video from airailimages:

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The Army will soon have fire proof uniforms made out of this retro fabric

U.S. Army researchers want to improve the service’s flame-resistant, protective apparel by developing a U.S.-manufactured, wool-blend uniform.


The Army has developed a wool-blend uniform composed of 50 percent wool, 42 percent Nomex, 5 percent Kevlar and 3 percent P140 antistatic fiber, according to a recent Army press release.

Also read: Army Links M4 Thermal Sights to Night Vision

One goal of textile research and development effort is to create a flame-resistant combat uniform made solely from domestic materials, said Carole Winterhalter, a textile technologist with the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

This research may provide an opportunity to meet this objective.

“We have a lightweight fabric that is inherently flame resistant; no topical treatments are added to provide FR,” Winterhalter said. “We are introducing a very environmentally friendly and sustainable fiber to the combat uniform system. We don’t have other wool-based fabrics in the system right now. This is a brand new material.”

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Pvt. Antwan Williams, an Infantryman serving as a human research volunteer soldier at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, models a wool-blend uniform developed by NSRDEC’s textile technologists. | U.S. Army photo

Three Army researchers traveled to Germany from Aug. 26 to Sept. 15 for Exercise Combined Resolve VII to work with about 100 soldiers in testing and evaluating prototype, wool-blend uniforms composed of this fabric. The scientists joined John Riedener, the field assistance in Science and Technology advisor assigned to 7th Army Training Command. The exercise brings about 3,500 participants from NATO allies to the region.

“We were in the heat of summer here, and it was very warm during the exercise,” Riedener said. “The uniforms were lighter weight and breathed better. Soldiers were very happy with the material.”

FAST advisors are a component of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Soldiers from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division participated in the 21-day testing and completed surveys before and after the exercise, said Brian Scott, NSRDEC equipment specialist, Soldier and Squad Optimization and Integration Team. The RD team selected Hohenfels, Germany, because the previous FR wool undergarment evaluation took place there.

Each soldier received three wool-blend uniform prototypes. Each uniform was made from the same wool-based blend. One was “garment treated” with permethrin, an insecticide, and another “fabric treated” with permethrin. The third was untreated.

Soldiers wore each of the three uniforms for about seven days in a field environment for a total of 21 days. The testing and survey instructions asked soldiers not to compare the prototypes with existing uniforms or camouflage patterns. Participating soldiers came from multiple military occupational specialties.

Their feedback regarding comfort, durability, laundering and shrinkage, insect resistance, and overall performance will help determine whether researchers continue this development effort, Winterhalter said.

Initial results suggest the majority of the soldiers liked the fabric because it was lightweight and breathable; however, analysis of the survey data is not complete, said Shalli Sherman, NSRDEC program manager for the Office of Synchronization and Integration.

Winterhalter is optimistic about the prospect of a wool blend being incorporated into combat uniforms because of its environmental, manufacturing and economic benefits. She said the United States has about 80,000 wool growers, and the Army would like to include this material in the clothing system.

“Wool is 100 percent biodegradable. It’s easy to dye and absorbs moisture,” said Winterhalter, who is also the federal government’s chief technology officer for the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

The Army has spent quite a bit of time and money to reintroduce a manufacturing process in this country called Super Wash that allows us to shrink-resist treat the wool, Winterhalter said.

“When blended with other fibers, the fabric does not shrink excessively when washed,” Winterhalter said. “The Super Wash line at Chargeurs in Jamestown, South Carolina, has exceeded its business estimates. It has revitalized wool manufacturing in this country.”

The new Super Wash process makes wool viable for combat clothing in nearly any application, including jackets, pants, underwear, headwear, gloves and socks, Winterhalter said.

NSRDEC researchers plan a larger field study with more users over a longer time period of possibly 30 days. More data on comfort and durability is needed as the Army moves forward with this RD effort, Winterhalter said.

Articles

A first-hand look at how Army National Guard helicopter crews fight massive forest fires

With the increasing number of forest fires on the West Coast, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has had to ask the California National Guard for help containing the blazes.


Soldiers of the National Guard have been called in to assist both on the ground and in the air. Chinook crews have been flying missions to drop water from nearby lakes onto the wildfires. Here’s what they see while completing their mission.

Helicopter crews pick up water from lakes in Bambi Buckets, large water carriers with remote-operated valves.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

Once they have the water, the crews target areas where the fire is attempting to spread.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

The crews map out nearby water features and plan their flights so they can refill and return to the fire as quickly as possible.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

The pilots’ navigation equipment was designed for war and provides more than enough information for them to navigate on the objective.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

The crew assist the pilots in targeting the fire and aiming the water.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

These images and the below video were taken from the California Rocky Fire which burned for 16 days and consumed over 69,000 acres. 96 buildings were destroyed and 8 damaged before it was contained.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler
Video Still: California National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza

Check out the video below to see the California National Guard crews go through their mission.

NOW: This remarkable video shows what it’s like for Medevac crews to rescue troops under fire

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why World War II veterans are returning captured Japanese flags

It’s not uncommon for troops who overrun an enemy position to take a photo with a captured enemy banner. It’s just as common for them to take that banner home as a souvenir. There are a lot worse things to remove from the battlefield. American troops have been capturing flags since the founding of the republic.

So, why are these World War II veterans returning captured Japanese flags?


The importance of a unit’s standard dates back to antiquity. Roman legions carried standards that took on an almost divine quality, representing the Legion, the Emperor, and even the Gods themselves. They would take extraordinary measures to recover a captured standard, even invading neighboring countries decades after losing the standards just to get them back. The Japanese had a similar tradition with their Yosegaki Hinomaru.
This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

The hinomaru was a blank flag carried by every drafted Japanese soldier. It was signed by everyone in their life; mother, father, sisters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, wives, and children. It was a good luck charm that wished bravery and a safe return home to the carrier. The Japanese troop then marched off to war, the flag folded and tucked somewhere on his person.

These are usually the flags that were captured by American troops in World War II. Because no one enjoys taking photos with the flags of their fallen enemies like U.S. troops.

Read: These 13 photos of US troops with enemy flags show some traditions never die

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

U.S. Marines with a yosegaki hinomaru after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

But American troops had no idea these flags were the personal keepsakes of fallen individuals and not unit flags carried by the Japanese army. Now that the men who captured these battlefield trophies are aging and dying, the flags are being sold off or thrown away altogether, but there’s a better way to handle these pieces of history: giving them back.

And that’s what World War II veterans and their families are doing. Through the international nonprofit Obon Society, families and veterans who still possess a captured yosegaki hinomaru are tracking down the Japanese veterans and families of Japanese veterans of the Pacific War to return the family heirlooms and help the aging veterans heal their decades-old, invisible wounds.

If there’s any doubt about the power of these standards, even to this day, just watch below as a Japanese man reacts to seeing his missing brother’s yosegaki hinomaru.

There are no better frenemies than American and Japanese veterans of WWII. In the years that followed, the U.S. and Japan grew ever closer as allies and as people. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the war, the enduring friendships that developed in the years since have been a testament to the idea that peace is always possible, even in the face of such hard fighting. The only thing that remains is handling the losses incurred along the way – brothers, fathers, sons, and friends.

Groups like the Obon Society and its team of researchers make it easy to start healing the pain that remains between families and friends who lost loved ones in the war. If you or your departed veterans have a flag like the ones seen in the photos above, contact the Obon Society to return the flag to its family and maybe even make contact with them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Russian nuclear warheads provided electricity for the US for 20 years

Even today, people can go on YouTube and watch videos of old military parades from the days of yore, when the Soviet Union was a constant threat to the United States. Part of those old parades included a drive by of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles driven on the back of trucks. If you watched one of those old videos between 2005 and 2013, there’s an excellent chance your computer was being powered by one of the nuclear warheads driving by. 

For two decades, the United States received uranium shipments from the former Soviet Union to use in its electric-generating nuclear power plants. The Russians would take their old warheads, get the weapons-grade nuclear material from them, turn it into fuel and sell it to private companies in the U.S. 

It all started after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the newly-formed Russian government had neither the will nor the funds to secure its nuclear stockpile. 

Philip Sewell was an employee of the Department of Energy in the early 1990s. It was his job to go to Russia’s old Soviet nuclear sites and determine the situation there. What he reported back was unsurprising at best, downright scary at worst. 

He told NPR the military facilities he found were mostly abandoned shells, with very few people around them. Windows were broken, gates and doors were unlocked, and it seemed like anyone could walk right in, take some nuclear material and walk out. 

There were 20,000 warheads’ worth of decommissioned nuclear material in the buildings. He and the U.S. State Department needed to find a means of securing it in a way that the new Russian government would care about. So he pitched the idea of creating an entire industry around it. The Russians were hesitant. 

energy plant fueled by nuclear warheads
Nuclear power produced electricity in the US for decades.

“It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” Sewell told NPR. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.”

But they needed the money. The Russian economy was in ruins after the fall of the Soviet Empire. Millions were out of work and the country had to rebuild a capitalist system in a hurry. Sewell’s solution was a winner for everyone involved. 

The United States was able to secure weapons-grade uranium, nuclear power companies got much-needed material to power their businesses, and the Russians got a $17 billion income stream from the deal. 

But the deal came to an end in 2013 when the last of the agreed-upon uranium was delivered to the United States. Russia was not in as much financial hardship as it was in the early 1990s and now it can find more and better uses for uranium. 

Still, with the weapons decommissioned and the nuclear fuel spent, we can sit comfortably in front of our smartphones knowing 20,000 fewer nukes are pointed at us.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: That time North Dakota almost experienced its own Chernobyl

Grand Forks Air Force Base near Grand Forks, North Dakota began operation in 1957. It was one of the bases that housed B-52s during the Cold War. The most central role of B-52s throughout military history has been as a strategic bomber. Since its creation, it’s been a part of our country’s nuclear arsenal. As the Cold War continued for decades, Grand Forks Air Force Base and its B-52 fleet remained active and alert, always at the ready to protect the US from a potential Soviet attack. Bombers were always kept fueled, armed, and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. 

Fire on a B-52 atomic bomber plane? NBD!

On September 16, 1980, Grand Forks AFB made history when a B-52 bomber caught fire. Its crew was preparing for takeoff, and fortunately the crew managed to exit the plane unharmed. But the fire wasn’t so easy to put out, thanks to all that jet fuel in its wing tank. The blowtorch-like fire ended up taking almost three hours to put out. 

In the meantime, North Dakota officials didn’t know what to do. Air Force policy did not allow the release of information about whether or not nuclear weapons were on board the aircraft. But they couldn’t just ignore the raging fire. They didn’t even know if they were supposed to evacuate, sound the emergency broadcast system, or pretend like nothing was happening. Mums the word when it comes to nukes, of course.

Mums the word

It’s no surprise that it took almost a decade for ND officials and the public to get the read story. Eight years after the fire, congressional testimony revealed that the plane did in fact have nukes onboard. Not just one either. Testimony showed that there were a dozen bombs on the plane. Each one of them was 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped in Hiroshima. That same testimony also revealed even more horrific details. Before that, based on the information that had been released, everyone thought the risk of a nuclear accident had been low.

However, the truth eventually came out. While the fire wouldn’t have caused the bombs to detonate, it would have absolutely exploded the warheads had it reached the fuselage. That would have then caused the plutonium cores of those warheads to explode into microscopic bits and disperse downwind, contaminating around 60 square miles of North Dakota and Minnesota and impacted roughly 75,000 people. 

Had that happened, and it was dangerously close to happening, the end result would have been worse than Chernobyl. Aside from all the death and health issues, the soil would have remained radioactive for 24,000 years. The fact that this massive nuclear accident didn’t occur was thanks to only one thing: the wind.

When fate is up to the weather

The 26-mile-per-hour wind that was blowing at the time happened to be blowing away from the fuselage and therefore away from the missiles. Had that B-52 been in a different parking space where the wind would have blown the fire toward the missiles, a nuclear accident to the likes of Chernobyl would have definitely occurred. As a result, 1990 Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had that particular type of missile removed from US aircraft to prevent the deadly risks it posed in the case of an accident.

Related: These are the punishments for convicted War Criminals

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.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

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.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

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.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

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.

This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

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.

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