When considering music that we’d want to play as we ship out to a combat zone, very few of us would think of choosing a 19th century Australian folk song about a hobo who stole a sheep. And yet, that’s exactly what the Marines of the 1st Marine Division do en masse. It may seem odd that United States Marines choose to deploy using Australia’s unofficial national anthem, but a closer look at the history of the unit (and how the song ends) helps make sense of it all.
During World War II, the Marines of “the Old Breed,” the 1st Marine Division, famously began the first Allied offensive against Japan in the Pacific at Guadalcanal. Armed with old Springfield M1903 rifles and meager stores of food and ammunition, the Marines wrested control of the island from Japan in just over six months, earning them their first of three Presidential Unit Citations in WWII and a well-deserved rest in Australia.
Say “no” to Bull Halsey. See what happens.
After the months of fighting and privation, the Marines were looking worse for wear. Sick from dysentery and weak, the men were just worn out. When they first docked in Brisbane, they were housed in what amounted to a series of shacks in swampland.
When the Marines’ commander, General Alexander Vandegrift, ordered that the entire division be moved, the Navy told him there was no way to spare the number of ships needed — and they had nowhere to go, anyway. That’s where Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and the city of Melbourne came in. Australia’s second-largest city offered to take them with open arms and Halsey would get them there.
Camps of already-pitched tents and bunks were waiting for them as they landed in Melbourne. The sick and wounded were transferred to a newly-finished hospital in nearby Parkville and the rest were given unlimited liberty for the next 90 full days. One account says the citizens of Melbourne opened their homes to the Marines. It was a mutual love affair for the guys who left their homes in the U.S. to fight with and for the Aussies.
On George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, 1943, the Marines marched a parade through Melbourne. During this parade, the 1st Marine Division Band decided to play the Australian folk favorite, Waltzing Matilda. The Australian onlookers loved it and cheered loudly for the procession.
Thus began the love affair between the 1st Marine Division and Australia.
When winter came, the Australians even gave the Marines their winter jackets, which were soon adopted by the USMC uniform board (no small feat). This is also where 1st Marine Division’s now-famous blue diamond patch was designed. Aside from the the red “one” and “Guadalcanal” markings, the patch also features the constellation Southern Cross, which is a symbol of Australia.
Every camp set up by the 1st Marine Division is called “Matilda.”
Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.
The Australians were jubilant for the Marines’ victory on Guadalcanal. It was bad news for the Japanese who had invaded nearby Papua New Guinea, an Australian protectorate. After their rest, the Marines’ next move prevented the Imperial Japanese Navy from invading mainland Australia by taking the war to them yet again, invading New Guinea via Cape Gloucester.
As for the sheep thief in Waltzing Matilda, he was confronted by police for his theft and refused to surrender, instead throwing himself into the nearby body of water, a billabong, to evade capture.
For decades before 9/11, Americans talked about how they hadn’t been attacked at home since Pearl Harbor, but that actually wasn’t true.
The California coast was attacked less than three months later, and two additional attacks were launched in 1942 alone. Here are five times that America was attacked at home in World War II after Pearl Harbor:
1. Japanese submarines shell California oil refinery
In February 1942, Japan landed its first attack on the American mainland. Submarine I-17 surfaced off the coast of California and proceeded to shell oil processing facilities in Ellwood, a city north of Santa Barbara. The Ellwood attack was believed to have been intentionally timed to take place during one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats.
The attack did little real damage. An oil derrick and a pump house were both hit but no personnel were injured or killed and refining operations continued throughout the war.
Luckily for America, the commandos had been recruited from the civilian population and the Nazi party and they were inept. One of the team leaders had slept through much of the 18 days of special training.
The first team was spotted by the Coast Guard while burying their supplies on the New York beach. They got away, but both teams were hunted down by the FBI before they launched any successful operations.
3. A Japanese submarine shells military defenses in Oregon
An I-25 submarine ordered to patrol the American coast surfaced during the night of June 21, 1942, and shelled the coastal defenses at Fort Stevens, Oregon. Most of the rounds buried themselves in the sand on the shore and the damage to the U.S. was mostly on morale.
4. A Japanese plane drops bombs on a logging town
In September 1942, the submarine I-25 tried again, this time with a plane equipped with incendiary bombs. Many submarines at the time carried a single float plane used to search for targets or collect battle damage assessments.
The pilot assigned to I-25, Nobuo Fujita, had proposed that these planes could be used in an offensive capacity.
The Imperial Navy brass agreed to the plan and he was allowed to drop incendiary bombs deep in the forests of southern Oregon. The attack was launched on Sept. 9, 1942, and the early stages were successful. The pilot delivered two incendiary bombs that detonated and spread small fires across hundreds of square yards.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, they had little knowledge of the weather conditions in their target area. The woods had been unseasonably wet from recent rains and thick fogs, so the fires failed to spread.
Still, the FBI and the U.S. Army worried that another attack would be more successful.
The Japanese did indeed try again on Sept. 25, but the fires failed to spread once again.
Only 350 bombs actually made it to the states and spread far and wide, hitting states like Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas. Most failed to start large fires. The only known fatalities from the weapon was when a pregnant woman and her five children came across an unexploded bomb in Oregon.
It exploded while the family was looking at it, killing all six.
In 1989, Joseph Szecsei was charged by three elephants at the same time. He survived, but afterward, he decided the usual weapons for defense against giant animal attacks just weren’t sufficient. Szecsei sought out to make the perfect large-game animal stopper: The Szecsei & Fuchs “Mokume” bolt action double rifle.
Of course, Szecsei had a lot of firearm types and designs to choose from in creating the show-stopper. He could have chosen a larger round to shoot from a regular bolt action rifle. He could have created a semi-automatic rifle. There were a few factors (other than how to kill a large animal running at him at full speed) to consider.
First, he couldn’t create a semi-automatic weapon because they’re actually illegal in many of the places in which one might safari or otherwise hunt. Africa isn’t a completely lawless land of civil wars and corruption, no matter what television and movies would have you believe. Secondly, he needed a weapon that wouldn’t jam up at the crucial moment. Defense is the entire reason for the weapon, after all. So a bolt-action was necessary, but Szecsei still wanted the extra oomph of another shot.
Another shot of a round that could stop a charging elephant, that is. And large-caliber rounds just aren’t something a semi-automatic can do for a civilian. Taking a .50-cal out on safari might be frowned upon by the locals, so Szecsei returned to the idea of a large-caliber double-barrel bolt action rifle. And the Szecsei Fuchs “Mokume” rifle was born out of that idea.
The weapon is made of titanium to keep the weight down, along with titanium for its unique double magazine. The weapon fires anything from a .470-caliber round to the U.S. 30.06 – a rifle you can buy for whatever animal might be ready to gore down on your guts. It has two triggers, one for each barrel. With just one movement of the bolt, both rounds are expelled, and new ones are loaded into the chamber.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the next three elephants to come for Joseph Szecsei are in for a huge surprise. Please don’t hunt the most dangerous game with this rifle.
Since the dawn of humanity, people have been as competitive as hell. We want to be the best. The first. While most of the world has already been explored today, the tallest peaks, darkest caves, and iciest tundras were once undiscovered mysteries, and humans were obsessed with discovering every corner. Before the 1900s, the North Pole was one of those untouched corners. All early attempts failed, upping the allure of the so-called top of the world.
In 1909, that changed. First, US Navy engineer Robert Peary claimed to have reached the pole on April 6th of that year. But shortly after, an American explorer named Frederick Albert Cook declared he had actually reached the pole first, nearly a year prior. So who was right?
The Race for the North Pole Was Cutthroat and Controversial
The North Pole is both barely habitable and intensely difficult to reach. Situated in the moddle of the Arctic Ocean, accessing the pole is impossible without first traversing treacherous, unpredictable sea ice. Every attempt before the 20th century fell flat. William Edward Parry, a British Naval officer, tried but didn’t even get close. An American explorer named Charles Hall tried and failed in 1871. Over two decades later, a pair of Norwegian explorers, Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen and Fridtjof Nansen, got painfully close before having to return home defeated. An Italian explorer got marginally farther before giving up as well.
Then came Peary and Cook. They began as friends, but their differences were pointed. Peary was born in 1856, and he was deadset on achieving fame. His expeditions, like most, relied heavily on the assistance of the locals in each region he explored, but he treated them more like chess pieces than friends. He went as far as to dig up graves to sell to New York’s Museum of Natural History. Cook, born nearly a decade later in 1865, was an ambitious, young doctor with a more modern approach. He was genuinely interest in the lives of indigenous peoples, diving into their culture and learning their languages.
The two traveled together to Greenland once, but Cook turned down a second invitation. Peary wanted him to sign a contract preventing any accounts of the expidition from being published before Peary did it first. Left with a bad taste in his mouth, Cook broke contact with Peary for several years. They were reunited when Peary was lost in the Arctic and Cook was called upon to rescue him. Rescue him he did, treating him for scurvy and several other conditions. On a later expedition to Greenland, Peary badly broke his leg and Cook stepped in once again to treat his injury. Still, the two were very different men. Instead of colleagues, they were competitors.
Peary, one of the last imperialistic explorers, would have died for fame.
In a message to his mother about his longing to conquer the elusive North Pole, he wrote, “My last trip brought my name before the world; my next will give me a standing in the world….I will be foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will….Remember, mother, I must have fame.”
Peary did travel to the Arctic once more, but whether or not he made it all the way to the pole is highly disputed. According to him, he made it to the North Pole on April 6th, 1909, but he straight up refused to share any definitive proof. According to a later review conducted in 1989 by the US National Geographic Society, the photos Peary took suggest that he did make it within eight kilometers of the official North Pole.
Even with this supposed endorsement, the truth of his claims remained controversial. Firstly, no one else on the expedition had the navigational skills to confirm or deny Peary’s reports. They did, however, mention multiple, agonizingly long detours, while Peary claimed to take a direct route. Secondly, even on his own expedition, he may not have been the first to arrive at the pole. He was joined by four Inuit men and his assistant, a black man named Matthew Henson. Henson was a skilled explorer of his own right, adventuring in the Arctic alongside Peary on seven different occasions.
Yet Peary considered himself to be superior to Henson, and was unwilling to share the credit with him. In fact, he intended to abandon Henson to reach the Pole first on his owe. He lost track of the distance, however, and according to Henson, he was livid that five others shared “his” glorious North Pole victory. He later took all the credit, and it wasn’t until Henson published a book in 1947 that he began receiving recognition for his achievements.
Whether they truly made it to the pole or not, their unopposed rule of polar discovery didn’t go unopposed for long.
Cook claimed that he reached the pole nearly a year earlier, but his evidence was unconvincing.
The daring Doctor Cook was just as keen on finding the far north as Peary was. After a Mount Denali expedition that was also shrouded in suspicion, Cook headed straight for the Arctic. He set off from Annoatok, a settlement in Greenland, February, 1908. He claimed to have arrived at the pole on April 21st, yet he didn’t make it back to Annoatok until the next spring, nearly starving along the way.
In total, they were gone for 14 months, and it remains unclear where they ended up. Cook was never able to produce convincing navigational records. According to him, he left the records in a box along with some of his other belongings at Annoatok. There, an American hunter, Harry Whitney, attempted to load the box onto Peary’s ship, the Roosevelt, Peary forbid it. The contents of that box were never seen again.
By December 1909, experts at the University of Copenhagen determined that Cook’s records were insufficient to prove he had reached the pole. Some researchers have noted that Cook’s account of the journey, which he tracked in a diary, describes the landscape with remarkable accuracy. If he didn’t reach the pole, how could he have known what it looked like?
Whoever got there first, both men were intrepid adventurers who paved the way for later, less disputable expeditions.
The true “first man to the North Pole” is nearly impossible to determine, but many have followed in their footsteps. About 60 years later, American Ralph Plaisted, along with three companions, were the first to reach the pole without a shred of controversy…by snowmobile, in 1968! Other adventurers have succeeded as well, by plane, submarine, and on their own two feet. I wonder which murderous wasteland will explorers fight over next.
When German and Italian forces began to collapse in Sicily in World War II, it became clear that they could either fight to the last man or could evacuate the 100,000 men and gear to Italy to man a series of defensive lines that would cost the Allies years to conquer. They launched a massive evacuation as armored generals George Patton and Bernard Montgomery raced for their blood.
The Liberty Ship Robert Rowan explodes after suffering multiple bomb hits during Operation Husky. The ship had been filled with vital ammunition that, when burning, was also volatile.
U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery raced at the head of armored columns toward the port city of Messina on the island of Sicily’s east coast. Messina sat only two miles from the Italian mainland. If Germany had enough time there, it could ferry many of the 100,000 survivors to safety to fight again.
Germany had lost about 250,000 to capture in North Africa. It couldn’t afford six figures again, especially with the growing weakness of Italy as an ally. Mussolini was killed by crowds at home, and it was clear that Italian troops wouldn’t necessarily remain.
German troops and their British prisoners of war wait for the return of a ferry that would take them from Sicily to mainland Italy in August 1943.
The Allies knew by the next day that some sort of evacuation was underway. But just like how the Nazis failed to capitalize on the Dunkirk evacuation, so too did the Allies fail at Messina. Allied leaders remained focused on the ground fight. No ships closed the Strait of Messina, no planes took out the ports in Messina or mainland Italy.
This failure would come under scrutiny at the time and in the decades since.
Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., speaks with Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard near the city of Brolo on Sicily. As the sign in the back indicates, Messina is nearby.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Of course, this made liberating Messina much easier than it otherwise would have been for Patton and Montgomery. But just like the evacuation at Dunkirk meant that Germany would have to face those troops later, the evacuation at Messina allowed Germany to reinforce itself in Italy.
This not only meant there were more German troops to kill in the defensive lines, but there were more German troops to hold Italy in the Tripartite Pact even as regular Italians wanted out.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
In the waning days of World War II, the world of military aviation was at a turning point. By the close of 1944, America’s prop-driven B-29 Superfortress was pushing the limits of extended-duration bombing missions thanks to technological advances like its uniquely pressurized cabin and remote-controlled defensive turrets. On the other side of the fight, the Nazi Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first operational jet aircraft, was proving that the days of propeller driven fighters were numbered. In a very real way, the future of warfare in the skies was so in flux that, in the minds of many, just about anything seemed possible.
Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwable, the world’s first jet fighter. (U.S. Air Force photo)
At the onset of World War II, a number of British Royal Air Force units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of the war, jet fighters were screaming across the sky in massive air battles for the future of Europe.
The famed Supermarine Spitfire so often credited with winning the Battle of Britain, for instance, offered its pilots little more than a floating reticle on the windscreen (advanced technology at the time) and fifteen seconds worth of ammunition if a pilot were so bold as to release it all in just one volley. As technology advanced, many aircraft were fitted with more powerful guns and more efficient engines, but dogfighting remained a close-quarters shoot out — a far cry from the over-the-horizon missile engagements of today.
But it was that powerful belief that air warfare was changing that prompted a number of governments to pursue unique and original air combat ideas that, in hindsight, seem downright crazy. One such program was Northrop’s XP-79, colloquially known as The Flying Ram.
The XP-79 was a design conceived by John K. (Jack) Northrop himself, and was one of a number of platforms developed by Northrop to leverage the flying wing design. Today, Northrop Grumman continues to advance flying wing designs, most notably in the form of the in-service B-2 Spirit and forthcoming B-21 Raider.
Jack Northrop,next to his N-1M “Jeep”, at Muroc fielf (Edwards Air Force Base), circa 1941. In the cockpit of teh flying wing is test pilot Moye Stephens. (USAF Flight Test Center Archives)
The XP-79 was much smaller than its stealthy successors would be, with a fuselage built only large enough for a single pilot to lay down in horizontally, marking this aircraft’s first significant departure from common flying wing designs as we know them today. Northrop and his team believed that pilots would be able to withstand greater G forces if they were oriented in the laying position, and because the XP-79 was being designed to utilize jet propulsion, the shift seemed prudent. Northrop, in fact, had already used this cockpit layout in another experimental aircraft just a few years earlier, the MX-334.
Northrop originally designed the platform to use “rotojet” rocket motors, not unlike the German Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, but issues with propulsion prompted a shift to using twin Westinghouse 19B (J30) turbojets instead. After the shift to these jet motors, the aircraft’s designation shifted as well, to XP-79B.
The Flying Ram
The most unusual thing about the aircraft wasn’t its unique propulsion, nor was it the unusual way the pilot rode — it was the way the aircraft was meant to engage enemy aircraft. The name “Flying Ram” wasn’t just a bit of artistic license. The heavy duty welded magnesium monocoque construction made the aircraft exceptionally strong — and that was by design. Northrop didn’t intend for the XP-79 to shoot enemy bombers down, he wanted it to flyright through them.
(USAF FlightTest Center Archives)
Instead of relying on heavy guns and lots of heavy ammo, the XP-79 would literally collide with other aircraft, using its strong wings to tear through the wings or fuselages of encroaching bombers.
The plan for the XP-79 was fairly straightforward: It was intended to serve as an interceptor aircraft that could engage an incoming fleet of bombers quickly and effectively. Pilots responding to an inbound air raid would rely on the on-board jet engines to power them through a series of high speed passes through bomber formations, downing aircraft as they tore through them.
(USAF FlightTest Center Archives)
The XP-79 was equipped with no other offensive weapons (though there were plans for cannons eventually), and instead would use the specially reinforced trailing edges of each wing to cut through enemy air frames. An armored glass cockpit positioned between the two large jet inlets was meant to protect the pilot during these high speed, mid-air collisions.
The aircraft was believed to have a top speed of 525 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 40,000 feet, but alas, the XP-79 was, to bastardize a Hunter S. Thompson quote, simply too weird to live.
Harry Crosby stands inside the MX-334 (XP-79 predecessor) during a lull in unpowered gliding tests in early 1944. (USAF FlightTest Center Archives)
First and Final Flight
The jet-powered XP-79B only took to the skies once, with test pilot Harry Crosby in the unusual cockpit. Crosby had the plane airborne for just over 14 minutes when he attempted his first banking maneuver at around 10,000 feet. Unfortunately, as the Flying Ram banked, it promptly went into an uncontrolled spin.
Crosby and the aircraft both plummeted to the ground, killing the test pilot. Some believe he may have been unconscious throughout the fall, while others suggest that he may have been struck by the aircraft itself as he bailed out. The prototype aircraft was also a total loss.
With Hitler already dead and the success of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan just a month prior, the need for a jet-powered interceptor that could literally cut through enemy bombers was just not as pressing. No XP-79 would ever fly again.
Anything you’d find in a typical college dorm, you can expect to see in a barracks room.
That’s right, food, porn, liquor, hot plates for cooking — you name it. After all, barracks-confined troops and college kids are the same age. But unlike in college, a trooper doesn’t have as many rights to stuff as a student does.
While we know to make everything disappear before a scheduled barracks inspection, it’s the unexpected ones that land you with extra duty or worse. That’s why you should always have a plan, or prepare yourself for some tough questions like Cpl. Steve Henshaw in this scene from the classic Army comedy Sgt. Bilko.
Which leads us to the whole reason we’re writing about surprise room inspections in the first place.
While eavesdropping on the Marines of Helmand and Al Anbar Facebook page we came across the funniest thread we’ve read in a long time. The post asks followers to list the craziest things they’ve witnessed during a surprise inspection. Here’s our favorite seven responses:
1. The happiest man on earth.
2. Grazing goat.
3. Size matters.
4. The V.I.P. Lounge.
5. The girlfriend in the locker.
6. The 1911 surprise.
What was the craziest surprise barracks inspection you’ve ever witnessed?
Justin Constantine knows all about being challenged. In 2006, he survived an almost fatal gunshot to the head by a sniper in Iraq. It didn’t stop him. Instead, this now retired, Purple Heart recipient and decorated Marine fought through endless surgeries and therapy to become a successful entrepreneur and renowned motivational speaker.
President George W. Bush painted Constantine for his book, “Portraits of Courage,” and Constantine has received multiple awards for his work with veterans and advocacy efforts for those with disabilities. Constantine even gave a TEDx talk on being strong, which has transformed countless lives. Just as COVID-19 started igniting fear and anxiety throughout the world, he received a phone call from a doctor that would challenge his own strength.
Stage 4 cancer.
Constantine was told it was very severe and had spread from his prostate to his bones. Rather than let the currently incurable diagnosis stop him, Constantine is using it to motivate him to become an even better version of himself.
Constantine overhauled his diet completely, cutting out anything that could be harmful or “feed” his cancer. He exercises every day and implemented daily meditation into his routine. He shared that he’s lost 35 pounds since his diagnosis and is the healthiest he’s ever been. “I focus on why today was a good day and why tomorrow will be great too. I look at how I can infuse positivity in my life. It doesn’t mean unicorns and rainbows all the time, it means I make my glass half full,” Constantine shared.
Receiving his diagnosis during a world pandemic has been difficult, but Constantine has decided to continue to utilize his own past and current challenges to help motivate and encourage others. “I’m not saying it’s easy because you have to look at what your challenge is and choose to push past it. It takes effort,” he explained.
Constantine emboldens people to examine their lives and determine how they can have more purpose and happiness. “COVID is going to cast a long shadow over our lives. Things are a lot more complicated than they were a few months ago but with that comes time to think about what’s really important,” he shared.
Reports of increased suicide among veterans during COVID-19 has been present in the media, something that weighs heavily on Constantine. Despite dealing with his own significant medical challenges, he still remains focused on supporting veterans and encouraging them to seek support. “That’s so sad that someone has something that they are going through right now and it means life isn’t worth living. If they could step up and look down, they may see how many people care about them and want them to be here,” he said.
Constantine referenced his own experience of healing from his gunshot wound and then developing post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought counseling without hesitation for his PTSD, despite working for the FBI. He was very open about receiving services and it didn’t impede his continuing career. “I saw my counselor for 18 months for an hour each week. You could tell the difference in me if I missed a session. I encourage veterans to get the help they need and deserve for themselves and for their families,” he said.
Constantine often credits his wife, Dahlia, with being his rock. He shared that he knows how lucky he is to have her as his constant support and partner through life, especially since many people may not have that kind of presence in their own lives. To that he encourages all people and especially veterans who may be struggling to know they aren’t alone. “Together we are stronger; help is just a phone call away. There is always someone waiting to support you,” he said.
Throughout the past five months of the pandemic, Constantine has been consistently recording public motivational videos on his social media. He’s also been reaching out to veterans he identifies that may need support and doing his best to be an encouraging voice for them.
All while facing his own deeply personal challenge.
The effort Constantine exhibits may be born from his own experiences of recovering from his gunshot wound. When asked if he thinks surviving his near fatal wound made him more prepared to receive his current diagnosis, Constantine said yes. He explained that the experience definitely contributed to his commitment to overcoming cancer. “I think it was poignant. I feel that knowing that I overcame such a significant challenge before, makes me very confident that this too shall pass and I will push past this too,” he said.
Although Constantine may be facing the fight of his life, he continues to make the active choice not to fall into despair or spend his days thinking about his diagnosis. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done: motivating others and living with purpose.
For three centuries, the Vikinger (or Vikings) of the countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden aggressively expanded their reach into Europe. The Viking Age started in 793 A.D. with the pillaging of the wealthy yet unprotected monastery in Lindisfarne, England. Christendom was officially under attack by heathen hordes of pagan murderers. These heretics fought with a deliberate recklessness that struck fear into the hearts of men.
Like many warrior cultures, the Norse believed the best seats in the afterlife were reserved for those who fell in battle. But they did not go to heaven — instead, they went to Valhalla, where they dined with the creator, fought to the death daily, and partied harder than a Marine infantry battalion the weekend before a deployment. That is, until it was time to fulfill their true purpose.
Lance Corporal: What is my future, oh wise one?
Mimir: Your leave will be denied and you’ll have duty.
To understand Valhalla, one must first understand its ruler: Odin. Odin is the central figure in Norse mythology. He goes by over 200 different names, but is most famously known as The Allfather.
The world of the Norse was created from two elemental realms: Muspelheim, a realm of fire, and Niflheim, made of icy mist. The intertwining of these primordial ingredients created two beings: Ymir, the giant, and Auðumbla, an equally massive cow. The cow nourished itself with salt from rime-stones in nearby ice. The cow licked until a man named Búri was freed from the ice. Not much is known about Búri other than the fact that he had a son, Bor. Bor married Bestla and, together, they had three sons. The eldest of these sons was Odin.
Odin had two ravens who traveled the world, providing him information as the world took shape. He sought wisdom wherever he could find it and his quest lead him to the World Tree, called Yggdrasil. He hung himself from its branches, stabbed himself with his spear, and fasted for nine days to learn the secrets of powerful runes — but this was not enough to satiate a God’s curiosity.
Odin’s thirst for knowledge turned literal when he heard a giant was protecting the actual well of knowledge. Mimir the giant drank deeply from the well, growing wiser with each passing day. Odin wanted a drink — and, thankfully, he had something Mimir was after. The Allfather was omniscient — he could see all. So, a trade deal was stuck: Mimir would happily trade a drink for an all-seeing eye. Without hesitation, Odin plucked out his eye, gave it the giant, and then drank from the well — because that’s just the kind of guy Odin was.
Legend has it NJP’d Marines are also welcomed in Valhalla.
(William T. Maud)
Valkyries carry the chosen to the afterlife
Valkyries are warrior maidens who assist Odin in transporting his chosen slain to Valhalla. These noble maidens were said to be unbelievably beautiful and have love affairs with brave men. The Valkyrie also had the task of aiding Odin in selecting half of the dead to admit into Valhalla. The others went with the goddess Freyja to enjoy a simple, relaxed afterlife.
It was because of this selection process that the Norse welcomed (and often sought) the chance to die a death worthy of Odin’s recognition.
Some say you can literally feel Chesty Puller’s knife hand cut the sound barrier from here.
Odin’s hall is in Asgard
Valhalla is in Asgard, the land of the Gods, which rests high above the realm of man. It is made from the weapons dawned by warriors: The roof is made of golden shields, the rafters are of spears, and coats of mail hang over the benches where the warriors feast.
Valhalla has a golden tree (called Glasir) planted in front of the hall overlooking a rainbow bridge. The stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún live on top of the roof, chewing on the leaves of the World Tree. The chosen warriors drink their fill of liquor, harvested from the utters of the goat. Meat for the feasts comes from a boar that regenerates its meat daily so it may be slain again and again. Odin sustains himself on wine alone.
Every day, the chosen warriors fight each other, training for the end of days. After their ferocious training, they become whole again and dine in the great hall like old friends.
Odin’s horse doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm.
The true purpose of feasting and fighting in Valhalla
The warriors of Valhalla train tirelessly, day after day, until the time comes to fight by Odin’s side against a massive wolf, named Fenrir, during Ragnarök (the Norse apocalypse). Daniel McCoy, author of The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, writes
Odin will fight Fenrir, and by his side will be the einherjar, the host of his chosen human warriors whom he has kept in Valhalla for just this moment. Odin and the champions of men will fight more valiantly than anyone has ever fought before. But it will not be enough. Fenrir will swallow Odin and his men. Then, one of Odin’s sons, Vidar, burning with rage, will charge the beast to avenge his father. On one of his feet will be the shoe that has been crafted for this very purpose; it has been made from all the scraps of leather that human shoemakers have ever discarded, and with it Vidar will hold open the monster’s mouth. Then he will stab his sword through the wolf’s throat, killing him.
The greatest warriors train in Valhalla to fight alongside their creator in the apocalypse and are destined to die a permanent death.
The Roman Empire had one of the best militaries of ancient times. It steamrolled over the Carthaginians, Greeks, Egyptians, Gauls, more than held their own against many other forces for centuries.
So, how did the world’s most powerful government organize its deadly legions? Well, it started with a group of eight men known as a contubernium – which was a little smaller than a typical infantry squad (usually nine personnel). Ten contuberniums, plus the command staff, formed a century of 85 men.
Six centuries – about 540 men – made up a cohort. This unit was roughly the size of a present-day infantry battalion. Ten cohorts, plus attachments including a force of cavalry, made a legion of about 6,000 men, roughly the size of a brigade.
The legions were the largest force in the Roman military. Only citizens could serve in the legions but the Roman military also had cohorts of auxiliaries which allowed non-citzens to serve in the Roman army.
These auxiliaries were usually slingers, archers, and additional cavalry. Many Roman citizens, who had to provide their own equipment, served as infantry.
After 25 years of service in the Roman army, legionnaires and auxiliaries could look forward to a generous retirement. Those who weren’t citizens gained Roman citizenship and all that meant, plus a plot of land and a generous retirement bonus.
The Vought F4U Corsair was one of the best planes that took to the air during World War II. It also saw action in the Korean War and in the 1969 Soccer War. But while the plane took out a ton of Axis thugs and Commies, it also took out more than a few of its own pilots.
In World War II, the plane also saw action with the Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force, while France bought Corsairs after the Second World War.
Hundreds of pilots did learn to fly the Corsair safely, though. Some even racked up high scores, like Gregory Boyington, who would be the top all-time Marine ace with 28 kills. For every Corsair lost, it shot down 11 enemy planes. That’s not a bad ratio. Eventually, the United States Navy would operate the Corsair off carriers to protect the fleet from kamikazes.
The plane was the “star” of the 1970s TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” in which actor Robert Conrad portrayed Major Boyington in a highly fictionalized VMF-214. The dogfight scenes from the TV movie pilot, and the episodes following, are impressive to watch.
The film below gives would-be Corsair pilots a rundown on how to fly the plane. Handling the plane takes some learning, and some of the procedures are intricate, but as the narrator points out, “There is nothing about the Corsair that good pilot technique can’t handle.”
The Air Force announced Jan. 23, 2019, the details of the fiscal year 2019 Aviation Bonus program.
The fiscal 2019 AvB program is designed to augment continuing aircrew retention efforts across the Air Force, by offering experienced aviators bonuses for signing tier-based contracts, ranging from three to 12 years of continued service.
Congress raised the annual maximum aviation bonus from $25,000 to $35,000 in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and required the Air Force to present aviation bonuses based on a business case analysis. The Air Force evaluates its rated inventory every year to ensure the AvB program is tailored to meet the service’s needs.
For the fiscal 2019 RegAF program, the following bonus amounts and contract lengths are being offered to active duty aviators whose initial undergraduate flying training service commitment expires in fiscal 2019:
Bomber pilots (11B), fighter pilots (11F) and mobility pilots (11M)
Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to 12 years
Lump-sum, up-front payment options of 0,000 exist for seven to nine year contracts and 0,000 for 10-12 year contracts
Lt. Col. Benjamin Bishop completes preflight checks before his first sortie in an F-35A Lightning II.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
Remotely piloted aircraft pilots (18X/11U) and special operations forces pilots (11S)
o Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to twelve years
Command and control/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilots (11R) and combat search and rescue fixed wing pilots (11H)
Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to nine years and ,000 for contract lengths of 10-12 years
A lump-sum, up-front payment option of 0,000 exists for seven to nine year contracts
Combat search and rescue rotary wing pilots (11H)
Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to nine years
Combat systems officers (12X) and air battle managers (13B)
Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to six years and ,000 for contract lengths of seven to nine years
For aviators whose contracts have expired or who have never signed a previous AvB agreement, the following bonus amounts and contract lengths are being offered:
Pilots (11X) and RPA pilots (11U/12U/13U/18X)
Annual payments of ,000 to ,000 based on the three to six year rates of the member’s core community identification as set above for contract lengths ranging from three to nine years
Contracts may not extend the airman beyond 24 years of aviation service
Combat systems officers (12X) and air battle managers (13B)
Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to five years
Eligible airmen must have 19 years or greater of total active federal military Service and contracts may not extend the airman beyond 24 years of aviation service
The application window for airmen interested in applying for the fiscal 2019 AvB program will be open until Aug. 30, 2019. For full eligibility requirements and details about program changes in fiscal 2019, airmen should visit the myPers website at https://mypers.af.mil.