What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss - We Are The Mighty
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What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

The Roman loss to Carthage at the Battle of Cannae pretty much broke Rome, spiritually, mentally and physically. The historian Livy mentions Hannibal killing some 200,000 Roman soldiers. If that wasn’t bad enough, Roman citizens went on to do their worst – to themselves.

In some of the worst displays of Roman human sacrifice, Livy says citizens of Rome threw an “oversized baby” into the Adriatic Sea while burying others alive in the Forum in an attempt to appease the gods. Panic struck the citizens of Rome as they wondered when Hannibal would besiege the capital. 

The Battle of Cannae came during the Second Punic War between the Roman Republic and Carthage, the two most powerful entities on the Mediterranean Sea. Rome spent the first half of the war getting their asses handed to them, losing two important battles in as many years. Cannae was Rome’s opportunity to redeem itself. They blew it.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
U.S. Military Academy

Rome came to the field with 86,000 troops, with its heavy infantry massed deeper than usual. Hannibal used his infantry in a much different formation, massing his troops on the wings of his line, instead of the center. 

When the fighting started, the heavy Roman force thinned out the middle of the Carthaginian lines while the Carthaginians’ wings extended and surrounded the advancing Romans. It was a classic double envelopment tactic and the Roman legions walked right into it. An estimated 48,000 legionnaires were slaughtered. 

It’s remembered as the most perfect defeat of an enemy army ever. The resulting loss nearly broke the Roman Republic. Philip V of Macedon declared loyalty to Hannibal, as did King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the provinces of Arpi, Capua, Salapia, Herdonia and Uzentum. 

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
It turns out allowing the enemy to surround you is not a winning strategy (U.S. Military Academy)

There are many reasons for the Roman loss, aside from the army’s major formation. By Roman law, the army had to be co-led by the two Consuls of Rome, in this case, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro swapped command of it day after day. It was Paullus’ turn during the Battle of Cannae, and he died there. Varro was recalled to Rome in a panic. 

The Roman army was completely remodeled following the defeat at Cannae to increase its mobility and make it less susceptible to the double envelopment. There would also never again be two commanders of the same army. Finally, the Roman army would not be made up of hastily formed militia. Rome would pay for a professional force of soldiers in the future. 

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Hannibal was good already. Fighting part-time generals was kind of an unnecessary advantage (Wikimedia Commons)

As for the Roman survivors of the battle, they were formed into two legions and all but exiled to the island of Sicily, forbidden to ever take part in any Roman military operations ever again. The disgraced legions could not participate in the Roman army’s later eviction of Hannibal from the Italian peninsula or the conquest of the Iberian peninsula.

The republic was ashamed of the legionnaires who were so soundly defeated at the hands of Rome’s worst (but most capable) enemy. They were a walking reminder of the failure of Rome’s old ways and how that failure gave Hannibal free reign over the entirety of Southern Italy. 

But their exile wouldn’t last forever. The hero of Rome’s redemption in the Second Punic War, Publius Cornelius Scipio, was a veteran of the Battle of Cannae who managed to fight his way out of the envelopment. Scipio traveled through Sicily on his way to bring the war home to Carthage and he needed men to bolster his numbers.

The surviving veterans of Cannae were ready to give Hannibal what he had coming. When Scipio led the Roman army against Hannibal at Zama, he did it with survivors from Cannae. Hannibal’s defeat at Zama ended the Second Punic War. Scipio returned to Rome in a Triumph and was given the title Scipio Africanus for his performance.

Feature image: “The Death of Aemelius Paulus,” John Trumbull, The Athenaeum / Yale University Art Gallery

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This study of Iraq fighters reveals what makes people prepared to die for a cause

When ISIS launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet they took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.


While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable,” researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups, including ISIS, to be prepared to die, let their family suffer, or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.

“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.

Those factors, he said, are the strength of commitment to a group and to sacred values, the willingness to choose those values over family or other kin, and the perceived strength of fighters’ convictions – so-called “spiritual strength” – over that of their foes.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Kurdish PKK Guerilla. Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle

The findings support the idea, put forward by previous research, that the will to fight lies not in rational action but in the idea of the “devoted actor” – individuals who consider themselves strongly connected to a group, fighting for values considered to be non-negotiable, or “sacred.”

Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Atran and an international team of colleagues describe how they came to their insights by travelling to the frontline in Iraq.

As well as speaking to captured ISIS fighters, the team carried out in-depth interviews with Arab Sunni combatants, as well as Kurdish fighters from the PKK, Peshmerga, and members of the Iraqi army. The frontline approach, the authors note, was crucial to capturing the sacrifices individuals actually make for their values, rather than merely what they claim they might do.

The results revealed that all followed the model of “devoted actors”, but that the level of commitment to making costly sacrifices, such as dying, undertaking suicide attacks, or committing torture varied between groups. With the sample size of fighters small, the team also quizzed more than 6,000 Spanish civilians through online surveys.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
February 15, 2015 – ISIS militant stands with a knife. Photo credit: News Pictures/Polaris

The results revealed that the majority of civilians placed their family above a value they considered sacred. However, in a finding that echoed evidence from the frontline, the team discovered that those who placed their sacred value above their group said they were more willing to make dramatic, costly sacrifices such as dying, going to prison or letting their children suffer.

Surveys of the Spanish population also revealed that they made links between spiritual – but not physical – strength and the willingness to make sacrifices.

But the team stress that decisions made by devoted actors on the frontline were not made without emotional turmoil.

“One particular Peshmerga fighter had to make a decision when the Islamic State guys decided to enter his village – he wasn’t in a position to take his family with him and escape and get in front of the ISIS fighters, and so what he did was he left his family behind,” said Richard Davis, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and Artis International.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle

While being interviewed, the fighter received a phone call from his wife behind ISIS lines, knowing the penalty if caught would be death. “You could see the man getting emotional, and as he gets off the phone, he begins to lament the decision that he had to go through to leave his family behind, but he indicated that fighting for Kurdistan was more important, and that he hoped that God would save his family,” said Davis. “When you hear things like that and you see a broken man – then you recognise how difficult this was for people.”

The team note that understanding the willingness to fight and die among devoted actors could prove valuable in fostering forces against ISIS, including in exploring ways to elicit deeper commitment to, and willingness to sacrifice for, values such as democracy and liberty.

“Instead of just taking volunteers into an army, we might be able to screen who we put into the army based upon the types of values they commit to, and this would create an entirely different fighting force than the one that melted in Mosul in 2014, ” said Davis, adding that the study could also inform efforts attempting to prevent fighters from joining ISIS.

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews welcomed the research, adding that it contributed to the understanding of terrorists as “engaged followers”. “The fundamental finding is that those prepared to kill – and die – for a cause are to be understood not in terms of a distinctive personality but in terms of their immersion in a collective cause and their commitment to the ideology of that cause,” he said.

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The best A-10 memes on the Internet

A while back, Team Mighty posted a story about song lyrics airmen shouldn’t text to each other to avoid punishment from the Air Force. For that list, we created this meme:


What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Airmen did not love seeing Miley riding their beloved A-10 Thunderbolt II. To repay our debt for defiling the most beloved of Close Air Support airframes, we collected the best memes and internet humor with the A-10 and/or the GAU-8 Avenger. Netizens love the A-10 as much as ground combat troops, so A-10 humor isn’t hard to find.

There are motivational posters.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

There are newer jokes.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

 

And old favorites.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

And even Star Wars A-10 Jokes.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

There are digs at ISIS.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

And digs at the Air Force for trying to get rid of the A-10.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

We love the GAU-8 Avenger, the massive 30mm hydraulic-driven gun, around which the plane is built.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Most importantly, we love the BRRRRRRRRRRRT

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

And the A-10 is a great way to show your appreciation on Facebook.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

 

popular

4 unusual military units

From a faith-based U.S. Army unit to an entire “ghost” army, take a look at the four most unusual military units of all time.


What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
An inflatable tank, styled after the M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Ghost Army

Inspired by a trick that the British pulled in North Africa, the summer of 1944 found soldiers of the U.S. Army undertaking a very unusual task – building a phantom army. To achieve this goal, the Army gathered artists, designers and sound effects experts to encourage confusion behind enemy lines. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is better known as the Ghost Army because it used inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps, along with sound effects and subterfuge to deceive Germans during WWII.

The 23rd took part in more than 20 missions, many of which used illusion and artistry that rivals any Hollywood set. Painters and illustrators worked collaboratively to design uniforms and create dummy vehicles. Sound engineers helped by broadcasting phony radio traffic and mimicked the sounds of an army on the move. There were even actors hired to spread misinformation that would hopefully get picked up by Nazi spies.

The Germans fell for it, and the ruse worked. With the Ghost Army in place, Germany had no clear idea of the US forces’ actual size. The Ghost Army was so convincing that they were even plugged a hole in General Patton’s lines for several days without being discovered. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Ghost Army’s contribution became public knowledge, and by then, many of its members had gone on to illustrious careers in art and design.

The Monuments Men

This particular unit was tasked with attempting to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage during WWII. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archies unit included handpicked art historians, museum curators and academics who skirted the front lines of combat to prevent historically essential buildings and art from being destroyed.

Members from the unit created special maps for the Allies to ensure that culturally significant structures weren’t inadvertently destroyed as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe. To do this, the unit drew plans that showed aircraft pilots where to avoid on bombing runs. While the war was in full swing, the Monuments Men even set about restoring landmarks that were already damaged.

As the war wound down, the unit shifted its focus from preservation to rescue. It tracked down and recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Monuments Men found thousands of pieces of art stolen from Jewish families and museums. Most of these pieces of art were placed deep in salt mines and castles to avoid detection. The Monuments Men did their part in finding the pieces, and then after the war, the artwork was returned to its original owners.

The Mormon Battalion

Composed entirely of Latter Day Saints service members, the Mormon Battalion has the unique and unusual honor of being the only faith-based battalion in all of U.S. Army history. When negotiations between Brigham Young’s church leaders and the US military reached an impasse, it was suggested that a battalion be formed made up of all Mormons. The Mormons hoped their unit might pave the way for their planned exodus to the American West by providing training, equipment and pay. But President Polk saw it as a way to make allies of the Latter Day Saints.

The 500-person battalion never saw any combat, but it became one of the most well-traveled units in all of American history. The service members marked the start of their service by making a grueling might from Iowa through indigenous lands all the way to Santa Fe. From there, they marched on through the untamed lands of Arizona and then to southern California. Once in SoCal, the battalion performed garrison duty in both San Diego and Los Angeles.

Just two years after being formed, the battalion was retired in July 1847. Most of its members headed back north to the Utah Territory to join the rest of their religious pioneers.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
King Frederick William I (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Potsdam Giants

Everyone always wants to have the biggest army, but for King Frederick William I of Prussia, the idea of having the strongest soldiers in the world was an obsession. At the start of the 18th Century, the monarch tried to gather the tallest troops he could find in all of Europe and create an elite regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Records indicate that several of the service members were over seven feet tall.

To entice this elite unit, King Willian spent a fortune hiring tall soldiers from other militaries in the world. He even instructed his own covert agents to conscript unusually tall civilians into the unit. At one point, William tried to encourage his tallest soldiers to marry tall women. The unit eventually disbanded, but not before William managed to spend a significant amount of money.

From a ghost army to a unit dedicated to preserving history, these four units prove that there’s a lot more to being part of a military than just standing in formation.

 

Articles

106-year-old Coast Guard veteran throws 1st pitch for Kansas City Royals

On July 2, 2021, the Kansas City Royals had 106-year-old Mabel Johnson throw the first pitch. As America’s oldest Coast Guard veteran, it was a special moment.

She was 28 years old and living in New York City when America entered into World War II. Johnson felt called to serve and walked down to the Armed Forces Recruiting Office. The newly created Coast Guard Women’s Reserves caught her eye, she said in an interview with KCTV from 2019. 

Johnson enlisted in what was known as the SPARS (Semper Paratus – Always Ready) and boarded a train to Florida for boot camp. With the world at war and fighting-able men needed at sea, this was the Coast Guard’s answer to fulfilling the vital positions on land. Over 10,000 women volunteered to enlist and fill these roles. 

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
SPARS training at Manhattan Beach. Photo USCG.

The Coast Guard SPARS were also the first women allowed into a military academy. 

After basic training, Johnson was assigned as a storekeeper with the Coast Guard’s 9th District in Cleveland, Ohio as a Second Class Petty Officer. In March of 1945, she married a Merchant Marine while on approved leave from her Coast Guard duties. Just two months later, victory was declared in Europe. 

In an interview with the Coast Guard Compass, Johnson shared how bells were ringing throughout the day, whistles were blowing and everyone was throwing paper out of windows. “Euclid Avenue was knee deep in paper,” she said. 

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Winston Churchill waving to the crowds from Whitehall on 8 May celebrating the end of the war, showing the V of Victory. Wikimedia Commons.

Following the end of the war, Johnson requested a “mutual” transfer to New York City to be near her husband where she served until 1946 when the SPARS was officially dissolved. Despite its official end, it marked a new beginning for the Coast Guard. Johnson has continually been recognized by modern Coast Guard leadership throughout the years and repeatedly honored for her service.

With Johnson living outside of Kansas City since 1991, throwing the first pitch for the Royals was extra special. The scheduled event was a celebration of the 75th anniversary of World War II ending, which had been delayed a year due to the pandemic. 

Looking back on her time in the Coast Guard during World War II, Johnson told KCTV that she’d serve and do it all over again if she could.

“I am extremely proud of our Coast Guard SPARS. No matter their age, they continue to represent our core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said. “Bravo Zulu Ms. Mabel Johnson, you are a role model for all.”

Featured image: Kansas City Royals

MIGHTY TRENDING

Honoring our fallen isn’t political. It’s American.

That reminder came just days after I returned home. One of my fellow Marines, a friend, was killed by a sniper’s bullet, then, another fell from a roof and died, and yet another lost his legs in an IED attack. I had survived months without a scratch but my friends who were just as well-trained were killed and injured within a week. My brain couldn’t understand the logic of what happened … because there is no logic in war.

You don’t get to pick where the bullet goes, you just have to face it. Since the founding of the United States, thousands of men and women have stared down our enemies. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice and are still buried on the battlefields where they said their last words.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Sunrise in Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)

Today, the living reminder of the fallen remains in places like Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery and Aisne-Marne, France. Over 100 years before I stepped foot into Iraq, thousands of Marines patrolled the forests of Belleau Wood. They were all that stood to protect Paris, and the war effort, from a German assault. Outnumbered, isolated and low on ammunition, they fought and held the line. Their tenacity in battle earned them the name “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” by the Germans. This is a name that Marines proudly still use today.

In battle, words matter. “Covering fire” has a completely different meaning than “take cover.” “Fix” is different from “flank” and so on. In peace, words matter even more. When we think of war in terms of winning and losing, we not only do ourselves the disservice of simplifying the chaos of battle but we negate the reminder that the fallen give us.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
A Sailor assigned to Special Operations Task Force West folds an American flag during a memorial marking the anniversary of the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Trahan was killed in action April 30, 2009 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. U.S. Navy photo/Aaron Burden
 

While war may have a clear victor, there are no winners on the battlefield. The gravestones, memorials and scars – both physical and invisible – that veterans carry are the reminders of that.

We are the land of the free because of the brave. Countless men and women have raised their hand to serve our country with nothing expected in return. As it’s said, “All gave some, some gave all.” The very least we can give those who paid the ultimate price is to honor their memory, acknowledge their unyielding patriotism and cherish their last great act with awe and humility, for they willingly gave their lives in service of our great nation.

Featured photo: The 6th Marine Regiment color guard marches towards the parade field at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery in Belleau, France, May 29, 2016. The ceremony marks the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and continues as a symbol of the everlasting brotherhood between the U.S. Marines and the French military. The cemetery, lined with epitaphs, marks hundreds of plots where military members from all around the world rest after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Photo/Preston McDonald

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Dog paratroopers jumped into combat on D-Day

Brian (military callsign “Bing”) entered service in World War II as a young family dog loaned to the British government; he served for about 18 months, jumping into Normandy and leading his fellow paratroopers across Nazi-held Europe and the Rhine River before returning to his civilian family after Germany’s surrender.


Bing jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the British 13th Parachute Battalion and two other airborne canines, Monty and Ranee. Bing, Montee, and Ranee were specially chosen and trained to jump from planes wearing parachutes designed for bicycles.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Bing the dog joined the British service in 1944 and jumped into Normandy later that year. (Photo: Jack1956 CC BY 3.0)

But Bing actually stumbled on his combat jump. He was supposed to be the “stick pusher,” the last one out of the plane. But he refused to jump into the flak-filled clouds over Normandy and one of the onboard jumpmasters had to throw him from the plane.

The 13th Parachute Battalion later found their dog hanging from a tree with two deep cuts to his face that they estimated were from German mortar fire.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Salvo the U.S. parachuting dog executes a jump during training in 1943. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Worse, Monty suffered severe wounds on D-Day that ended his involvement in the war and Ranee was lost soon after the jump. Bing stayed with the paratroopers and two captured German Shepherds (German by both breed and national service) who replaced Monty and Ranee.

Together, the dogs led the paratroopers during their advance across Europe, sniffing for minefields and other traps and pointing out probable ambushes.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Rob the Paradog was another heroic parachuting dog of World War II awarded the Dickin Medal. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Just like a pointer drawing a hunter’s attention to game, Bing would freeze up and point with his nose when he found a potential batch of Germans expected to make trouble for his paratroopers.

Other British forces, including the SAS (Special Air Service), took dogs on airborne operations — as did a small number of American troops.

After the war, Bing returned to his civilian life as Brian the family dog, but was recognized in 1947 with a Dickin Medal — an award for animal valor — bestowed by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill. He lived to the age of 13 before dying in 1955.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navajo airman is heir to ‘code talker’ legacy

Airman 1st Class Phillip Rock is part of his family’s legacy of military service — a legacy that, in fact, would not have continued if it weren’t for that military service itself.

Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Rock is a B-2 Spirit weapons load crew member in the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. It is his first Air Force assignment and the most recent in his family’s military history.

“I was raised in Kayenta, Arizona, which is an hour away from the four corners,” said Phillip, who is three-quarters Navajo American Indian. “It is really the heart of the reservation.”


Raised by his grandparents, he learned much about his cultural heritage from them. He also learned where his family’s long military lineage began.

This Rock family tradition started with his great grandfather, Joseph Rock — Grandpa Joe — who served in World War II.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron B-2 weapons load crew member, weaves a dream catcher on Nov. 15, 2018, in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“At first, I didn’t know much about what my great grandfather had done,” Phillip said.

Grandpa Joe died in 2004 at age 92 when Phillip was 5 years old. It wasn’t until he was nearly a teen that Phillip realized his great grandfather was a war hero.

One day, when Rock was 12 years old, he was flipping through TV channels with his grandfather, Ernest Rock Sr., in their living room. They stopped to watch a historical documentary about World War II.

Rock recalled asking his grandfather about his great grandfather’s role in the major world conflict which spanned across Europe and the Pacific.

“I said, ‘Isn’t that the war Grandpa Joe fought in? What did he do?'”

His grandfather told Phillip “He was a code talker.”

Western expansion, cultural repression

It was the early 1900s and Joseph Rock was a young boy living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. As the country expanded westward, much of the tribe’s land was taken by the U.S. government. Joseph was sent to school, where his long hair was cut and his name was changed.

“He went up to a chalkboard, pointed at a random configuration of letters, and that’s how he became Joseph Rock,” Phillip said. “Four generations later, we still carry on that last name.”

Grandpa Joe was also punished in school if he spoke his native language — the same language that would later save countless lives.

By 1941, shortly after the U.S. had entered WWII, the Marine Corps began to recruit Navajo tribal members for a top-secret code-communications program that wouldn’t be declassified until two decades later.

At first, fewer than 30 Navajo Indians were recruited as code talkers. In total, only about 400 of the 44,000 American Indians who served in WWII were Navajo code talkers. Joseph Rock was asked to work among them, and he accepted.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, poses for a portrait on Nov. 15, 2018 in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“He was told if he served, the family would get some of their land back and a house,” Phillip Rock said. “None of that happened.”

But those promises weren’t what enticed Grandpa Joe to join the military. He wanted to serve his country, and did so honorably.

“My great grandfather was proud of his service,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s his legacy.”

Military recruitment

This was not the first time American Indians were recruited for U.S. military service, either as combatants or code talkers. During the first World War, American troops relied on messages transmitted in Cherokee and Choctaw tribal languages to pass secret information. However, the languages used were eventually all deciphered by enemy troops.

The Navajo language, though, is considered particularly linguistically difficult. And at that time, it had not been written down. The U.S. government knew it would be nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn.

So, in the early 1940s, Navajo code talkers used their language to create more than 200 new words for military terms and then committed them to memory.

“The enemy never understood it,” a Marine general was quoted as saying after the Navajo code was first used in WWII. “We don’t understand it either, but it works.”

The Navajo code is the only spoken military code that has never been deciphered, and Navajo code talkers are credited with saving thousands of Americans’ and allies’ lives.

Winning the war

Before he knew his Grandpa Joe served as a code talker, Phillip learned about his tribe’s role in WWII as a boy in school.

“We were taught that we should be extremely thankful for what they did,” Phillip said. “Without the code talkers, we wouldn’t have won the war.”

During the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, Navajo code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving thousands of messages. One Marine later stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Joseph Rock was one of those code talkers involved in the critical battle to claim the Pacific island.

During the battle, a grenade landed only feet away from Joseph Rock, who “watched it hit the ground,” Phillip said. Then, Joseph Rock saw one of his fellow Marines dive on top of it, giving his life to save Grandpa Joe.

“He wanted to save the life of a code talker,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s inspiring what people will do to continue with the mission. My Grandpa Joe owed his life to that man.”

Neither Joseph Rock nor the Rock family was ever able to find out who the Marine was, but know future generations of Rocks have their lives thanks to his valor.

“I owe my life to that man, too,” Phillip said.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Traditional native american jewelry is laid out on the couch of Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Each piece of jewelry was gifted to rock throughout his childhood.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Culture and service

Since Grandpa Joe, many members of the Rock family have answered their nation’s call including his grandfather, his father, uncles and an aunt.

For Phillip, his great grandfather’s service as a code talker influenced Philip’s own decision to join the Air Force.

Phillip is the most recent member of his family to serve in the military.

“I feel like it was a prideful thing to carry on that lineage of service,” said Phillip. “It felt like the right calling. My Grandpa Joe was the first to wear this name on a uniform. I am very proud of this name. I knew I wanted to carry that on and wear it on a uniform.”

Meanwhile, Navajo principles have taught him respect, perseverance, and determination.

“My culture really shapes who I am,” Phillip Rock says. “I wear my culture on my sleeve and my name on my chest.”

This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Articles

The 13 Funniest Military Memes Of The Week

After another arduous week of combing the internetz for good lulz, here are our picks for great military memes.


It wouldn’t sting so much if it weren’t true.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
If you poop on the carpet, you’ll change ranks quickly too.

Ah, the beautiful colors of fall.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
‘Playing’ means different things to different people.

If enlisting didn’t teach you not to volunteer, this cleaning detail will.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
When you see what first sergeant has everyone else doing, you’ll wish you volunteered.

The sun was in his eyes …

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
… right before that fist was in his eye.

I’d love to see this guy at the promotion board.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Seeing a panel of sergeants major assess him for proper uniform fit would be amazing.

One way to fix a fat neck? Destroy it.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Throat punch is also a good solution for uppity privates or hovering officers.

Falling asleep at staff duty is a pretty quick ticket to this.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Pilots have so many switches and buttons to worry about.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Just because you’re at war, that’s no reason to be uncivilized.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Marines don’t always understand how airborne works.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Airborne wings are just a uniform thing. You can’t actually fly, Marine.

Hurry up and clean!

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Ok, now wait. Keep waiting. Keep waiting …

A-10s have a one-track mind.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
And on that track, they rain destruction on a Biblical scale.

Yeah, that’ll show those lazy airmen.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
You should take them outside and teach them how to PT.

NOW: 7 Interesting Facts About The Javelin Missile System

And: Soldiers Record Catchy Beatles Cover From A Snowbank 

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the dead bodies after big battles in history

Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?


A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.

With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.

As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.

As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.

The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.

It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.

That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…

Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:

The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.

And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.

Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:

Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.

After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…

It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.

The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.

In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:

Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.

Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:

It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!

The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.

Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.

Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.

As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.

Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Articles

These 6 military hacks won’t work in civilian life

Transitioning from the military can be tough for a lot of reasons. There’s the trip to buy a civilian wardrobe, the lost camaraderie, and the sudden absence of awesome problem-solving tools.


Few things are as frustrating as spending hours with an HR rep talking out something you could’ve solved in uniform in minutes with one of these 6 techniques:

1. Take it to the woodline (or the boiler room, or wherever)

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo: US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Michael Walker

When service members simply can’t find common ground, they dip into a secluded space and duke it out. Win, lose, or draw, the fighters don’t come back until they’ve made peace with each other. But this isn’t exactly an accepted way to settle the temperature setting of the office thermostat.

2. 10 minutes prior to the 10 minutes prior

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo: flickr/Robert Couse-Baker

Padding the timeline allows commanders and planners to know that everyone will be in position on time for a mission … because the troops had to arrive three hours early to inspect gear, practice movements, and just sit around wondering why they’re awake so early. Civilians really don’t go for arriving at 6 a.m. to make a 9 a.m. meeting. Try this at the office and someone is getting a call from the union.

3. Working parties and troop details

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss

Need to get a row of 12 massive connexes unpacked in a single day? Then first sergeant needs four people from each platoon.  Since the military owns all of the time of its members and those members are trained above all else to work together, the military can just throw men at a problem until it’s solved. But imagine a bunch of accountants being sent from their spreadsheets and calculators to put up tents.

That’ll go well . . .

4. Acquired gear

When units need something too quickly for the supply office to take care of it, there’s an ancient military tradition of “acquisition” that will get what you need as long as no one asks questions. The civilian world has too many bean counters and snitches for this to work though. If a copier mysteriously appears in one department, someone will check the serial number to learn where it came from.

5. “Suck it up and drive on.”

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Harry Brexel

Of all the techniques here, this is the one that many civilians most need to learn. Troops know that they don’t go to sleep until the mission is done, their weapon is clean, and someone is on watch. If you’re tired or in pain, suck it up and drive on. It’s also known as, “Ruck up.” Tell your co-workers to ruck-up and your supervisor may be asking why he’s on tap to pay massive amounts of overtime.

6. Call for fire

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo: Crown Copyright/Staff Sgt. Mike Harvey

There’s not a lot of problems that 155mm artillery rounds or a nice BRRRRRT from an A-10 can’t solve. In the civilian world, solving problems head on instead of working the system often results in nothing but more problems.

Articles

7 reasons the ‘Carl Gustav’ is an infantryman’s best friend

The infantry is loaded down with all sorts of weapons and gear, some of it loved and some of it absolutely hated for being unnecessary weight. But while the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle weighs nearly 20 pounds and each round is almost 10 more, the infantry still loves the darned thing.


Why? Because it’s lethal, accurate, has long-range, and is reliable. Check it out:

1. The Carl Gustav has a longer range than many American rifles and gives infantrymen the capability of killing enemies at up to 3,000 feet.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Australian soldiers assigned to 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment fire an 84 mm M3 Carl Gustave rocket launcher at Range 10, Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2014, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Marine photo by Sgt. Matthew Callahan/Released)

2. The accuracy of the weapon comes from its rifled barrel, but Gustav rounds fly relatively slowly. Hitting anything mobile at over 1,500 feet requires skilled firing.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Photo: Defense Imagery Management Operations Center

3. Interchangeable weapon sights allow shooters to choose between iron sights, magnified optics, or low-light aiming devices.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
U.S. Paratroopers assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade fires the M3 Carl Gustav rocket launcher at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army Visual Information Specialist Gerhard Seuffert)

4. Despite the heft of the nearly 10-pound Gustav rounds, the shooters feel little recoil thanks to a large blast that balances the forces (and creates an awesome fireball).

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
A Marine Special Operations Command member fires a Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle system on a range during training in Washer district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 16, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin Tuck/Released)

5. Saab-Bofors produces 10 types of ammunition for the weapon — everything from airburst high-explosive rounds to anti-structure munitions that bring down buildings.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
(Photo: U.S. Army Visual Information Specialist Gerhard Seuffert)

6. The Gustav has been manufactured in four major variants, each lighter than the previous. America mainly fields the M3 which weighs 19 pounds.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
United States Army Spc. Craig Loughry, a 24-year-old native of Kent, Ohio, assigned to Dog Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, has the unenviable task of carrying his squad’s Carl Gustav M2CG recoilless rifle. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. James Avery)

7. The Carl Gustav is relatively simple and easy to use. It’s basically a barrel with grips, weapon sights, and a hinge for loading ammunition. This allows new shooters to quickly train on its use.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
Coalition Forces fire a Gustav during a range day at FOB Shank, Afghanistan, on July 26, 2013. The purpose of the range was for the soldiers to practice using their heavy weapons. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Liam Mulrooney)

Articles

Does the U.S. Navy Need a 21st Century F-14 Tomcat?

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
A US Navy F-14D Tomcat aircraft flies a combat mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom | U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt. Lee O. Tucker


While the requirement for a carrier-based long-range strike capability is a frequent subject of discussion around Washington, the U.S. Navy’s need for improved air superiority capabilities is often neglected.

The service has not had a dedicated air-to-air combat aircraft since it retired the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in 2006. But even the Tomcat was adapted into a strike aircraft during its last years in service after the Soviet threat evaporated.

Now, as new threats to the carrier emerge and adversaries start to field new fighters that can challenge the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, attention is starting to shift back to this oft-neglected Navy mission — especially in the Western Pacific.

“Another type of new aircraft required is an air superiority fighter,” states a recent Hudson Institute report titled Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict, which is written by The National Interest contributors Seth Cropsey, Bryan McGrath and Timothy A. Walton. “Given the projection of the Joint Force’s increased demand for carrier-based fighter support, this capability is critical.”

The report notes that both the Super Hornet and the F-35C are severely challenged by new enemy fifth-generation fighter aircraft such as the Russian-built Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA and Chengdu J-20.

Indeed, certain current adversary aircraft such as the Russian Su-30SM, Su-35S and the Chinese J-11D and J-15 pose a serious threat to the Super Hornet fleet. It’s a view that shared by many industry officials, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and even U.S. Marine Corps aviators.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
US Navy photo

“Both F/A-18E/Fs and F-35Cs will face significant deficiencies against supercruising, long-range, high-altitude, stealthy, large missile capacity adversary aircraft, such as the T-50, J-20, and follow-on aircraft,” the authors note.

“These aircraft will be capable of effectively engaging current and projected U.S. carrier aircraft and penetrating defenses to engage high value units, such as AEW aircraft, ASW aircraft, and tankers. Already, the F/A-18E/F faces a severe speed disadvantage against Chinese J-11 aircraft, which can fire longer range missiles at a higher kinematic advantage outside of the range of U.S. AIM-120 missiles.

Nor does the F-35C—which suffers from severely reduced acceleration compared to even the less than stellar performance of other JSF variants — help matters. “Similarly, the F-35C is optimized as an attack fighter, resulting in a medium-altitude flight profile, and its current ability to only carry two AIM- 120 missiles internally [until Block 3] limits its capability under complex electromagnetic conditions,” the authors wrote.

“As an interim measure, the Navy and Air Force should significantly accelerate the F-35C’s Block 5 upgrade to enable the aircraft to carry six AIM-120 missiles internally.”

The F-35C was never designed to be an air superiority fighter. Indeed, naval planners in the mid-1990s wanted the JSF to be a strike-oriented aircraft with only a 6.5G airframe load limit with very limited air-to-air capability, according to one retired U.S. Navy official. Indeed, some naval planners at the time had discussed retiring the F-14 in favor of keeping the Grumman A-6 Intruder in service.

During this period, many officials believed air combat to be a relic of the past in the post-Cold War era. They anticipated most future conflicts to be air-to-ground oriented in those years immediately following the Soviet collapse. Together with a lack of funding, that’s probably why the Navy never proceeded with its Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter or A/F-Xfollow-on program.

The Navy’s F/A-XX program could be used to fill the service’s air superiority gap — which has essentially been left open since the F-14’s retirement and the demise of the NATF and A/F-X programs. But the problem is that the Navy is pursuing the F/A-XX as a multirole Super Hornet replacement rather than an air superiority-oriented machine.

“The danger in its development is that it suboptimizes the fighter role in the quest for a hybrid fighter/attack jet,” the Hudson Institute report notes. “This would leave the Joint Force without a carrier-based sixth generation air superiority fighter.”

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
US Air Force photo

As the Navy’s current director of air warfare, Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, has stated in the past, the authors also note that such “an aircraft could feature large passive and active sensor arrays, relatively high cruising speed (albeit not necessarily acceleration), could hold a large internal weapons bay capable of launching numerous missiles, and could have space to adopt future technologies, such as HPM [high-powered microwaves] and lasers.”

“This air superiority asset would contribute to Outer Air Battle integrated air and missile defense requirements and would be capable of countering enemy weapons, aircraft, and sensor and targeting nodes at a distance.”

Outer Air Battle, of course, refers to a Navy concept from the 1980s to fend off a concerted attack by hordes of Soviet Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bombers, Oscar-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines and surface action groups lead by warships like the Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruisers — as now deputy defense secretary Bob Work [he was the CEO of the Center for a New American Security at the time] described to me in 2013.

What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
What happened to the soldiers who suffered history’s most infamous wartime loss
These Soviet assets would have launched their arsenals of anti-ship cruise missiles from multiple points of the compass.

As Work described it, the Navy was relatively confident it could sink the Oscarsand surface ships before they could launch their missiles. They were far less confident about their ability to take out the Tu-22Ms before they could get into launch position.

The Tomcats, under Outer Air Battle, would try to “kill the archers” — the Backfires — before they could shoot and attempt to eliminate any cruise missiles that they launched. But, Work notes, no one knows how well it would have worked during a shooting war with the Soviet Union — and it’s a good thing we never got to find out. But with China’s emerging anti-access/area denial strategy, the threat is back.

While the F/A-XX and the Air Force’s F-X are in their infancy, it has become clear that they will be different aircraft designs that will probably share common technologies. The Navy does seem to be focusing on a more defensive F-14 like concept while the Air Force is looking for a more offensively oriented air superiority platform that could replace the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“As you’ll see over the coming years, the differences between the primary mission and the likely threats will drive significant differences between the F/A-XX and F-X programs as well as legacy systems like the F-22 and F-35,” one senior defense official told me.

 

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