When Europe went to war in 1939, America knew it was only a matter of time before it was dragged into another global conflict. To prepare, the country recruited and drafted hundreds of thousands of men in 1940 and held a series of exercises the next year that helped define how the U.S. would fight the Axis over the next six years.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Regular Army consisted of 190,000 poorly equipped soldiers and 200,000 National Guardsmen who had it even worse. That was simply not enough men to fight the war. So Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited and drafted their way to a 1941 active force of 1.4 million soldiers.
To prepare to face the corrupt Germans abroad, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, ordered a modern workup plan.
After learning individual and small unit skills, large units were sent to “General Headquarters Maneuvers” in Louisiana and the Carolinas.
It’s in Louisiana that the Army tested new combined arms doctrines established in 1940 and 1941. About 472,000 soldiers participated in the Louisiana training exercises across thousands of square miles of maneuver space.
But many of the Army’s new fighting methods weren’t going to work against the Axis powers, with the Army Air Force retaining control of its planes in Air Support Commands that often ignored requests by ground commanders, for example.
Tanks were also controlled by infantry and cavalry units who often squandered the advantage that the modern machines gave them. Instead of using the tanks to conduct vicious thrusts against enemy formations like Germany had famously done in Poland and France, American commanders used tanks as spearheads for infantry and cavalry assaults.
But while the exercises exposed a lot of what was wrong with Army strategy mere months before Pearl Harbor, it also gave careful and attentive leaders a chance to fix problems with new doctrine and strategies.
First, tank warfare advocates met secretly in a Louisiana high school basement on the final day of the maneuvers in that state. Then-Col. George S. Patton spoke with general officers and tank commanders who agreed on a plan for creating a new Army branch dedicated to developing modern armored strategies.
A member of the group, Brig. Gen. Frank Andrews, took the recommendation to Marshall who agreed and created the brand new “Armored” branch. The infantry and cavalry were ordered to release their tanks to this new branch.
In Africa and Europe, these armored units would prove key to victory on many battlefields. Patton put his tank units at the front of the Third Army for much of the march to Berlin.
The cavalry lost much more than just its tanks. It was in the 1941 maneuvers that Army leaders ordered the end of horse units in the cavalry and ordered them to turn in their animals and move into mechanized units instead.
The air units also went through changes, though markedly fewer than ground commanders asked for. Ground units desperately wanted dive bombers that could conduct operations in close proximity to their own forces, breaking up enemy armor and infantry formations like the Luftwaffe did for Germany.
The Army Air Forces did respond to these requests, finally buying new dive bombers developed by the Navy and practicing how to accurately target ground units. But the AAF still focused on strategic bombing and air interdiction to the detriment of the close air support mission which was a distant third priority.
But the greatest lessons learned in the maneuvers may not have been about doctrine and strategy. Marshall and McNair kept a sharp eye out during the war games for top performers in the officer corps who could be promoted to positions of greater leadership.
A number of young officers were slated for promotions and new commands. Colonels Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were scheduled for promotion to brigadier general. Lieutenant Col. Omar Bradley held the temporary rank of brigadier general during the maneuvers and proved his worth in the exercise, allowing him to keep his temporary star. He would hold the temporary rank until Sep. 1943 when it was made permanent.
While the 1941 maneuvers were imperfect and the Army still had many tough lessons to learn in World War II, the identification of top talent and outdated or bad strategies allowed the force to prepare for global conflict without risking thousands of lives, reducing the cost they would pay in blood after war was declared at the end of the year.
The Army wrote a comprehensive history of the Maneuvers which was updated and re-released in 1992. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 is available here.
John Ripley was a Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran who singlehandedly slowed down North Vietnam’s entire Easter Offensive in 1972. And he did it by dangling under a bridge for three hours while an entire armored column tried to kill him. They were unsuccessful. Ripley’s next brush with death would come in 2002, when his liver began to fail him.
And all anyone could do was sit and watch. That’s when the Marines came.
It’s good to have friends.
Everyone in the Corps wanted to save John Ripley. At just 63, the colonel still had a lot of life left in him, save for what his liver was trying to take away. But his life was no longer measured in years, months, or even days. John Ripley had hours to live and, unless a donor liver could be found, he would be headed to Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1972, Ripley earned the Navy Cross for moving hand over hand under the Dong Ha Bridge. The North Vietnamese Army would soon be traversing the bridge to complete its three-pronged Easter Offensive, one that would overwhelm and kill many of his fellow Marines and South Vietnamese allies. Waiting to cross it was 20,000 Communist troops and more armored tanks and vehicles than Ripley had men under his command.
Ripley spent three hours rigging the bridge to blow while the entire Communist Army tried to kill him. He should probably have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
He should 100 percent have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
His life was about to be tragically cut short, but a faint glimmer of hope shone through the gloom of his condition. A teenager in Philadelphia was a perfect match for Ripley – but the liver might not make it in time. There were no helicopters available to get the liver from the hospital in Philadelphia to Ripley’s hospital at Walter Reed in Washington. That is, until the Marine Corps stepped in. The office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, James Jones secured the use of one of the Corps’ elite CH-46 helicopters.
In case you’re not in the know, the Marine Corps’ CH-46 Fleet in Washington, DC is more than a little famous. You might have seen one of them before.
A Marine Corps CH-46 in the DC area is sometimes designated ‘Marine One.’
Ripley’s new liver was about to hitch a ride on a Presidential helicopter because that’s how Marines take care of their heroes. A CH-46 would ferry the transplant team to the University of Pennsylvania hospital to remove the donor’s liver and then take the doctors back to Washington for Ripley.
“Colonel Ripley’s story is part of our folklore – everybody is moved by it,” said Lt. Col. Ward Scott, who helped organize the organ delivery from his post at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, which Ripley has directed for the past three years. “It mattered that it was Colonel Ripley who was in trouble.”
Col. John Ripley after his recovery.
The surgical team landed in Pennsylvania and was given a police escort by the state’s highway patrol. When the donor liver was acquired, they were escorted back to the helicopter, where the Marine pilots were waiting. They knew who the liver was for and they were ready to take off. They landed at Anacostia and boarded a smaller helicopter – also flown by a Marine – which took the doctors to Georgetown University Hospital. Friends of the university’s president secured the permission for the helicopter to land on the school’s football field.
This was a Marine Corps mission, smartly executed by a team of Marines who were given the tools needed to succeed. Ripley always said the effort never surprised him.
“Does it surprise me that the Marine Corps would do this?” Ripley told the Baltimore Sun from his hospital bed. “The answer is absolutely flat no! If any Marine is out there, no matter who he is, and he’s in trouble, then the Marines will say, ‘We’ve got to do what it takes to help him.'”
The year is 1918, and American troops are facing the Germans in deadly trench warfare on the Western Front. That isn’t the only place war has taken hold, the Great War is raging all over the world, and California is no different. There, along the far, far Western front, California state horticulturist George H. Hecke called up California’s most precious natural resource: children.
Their enemy was a pest unlike any other the state had ever seen, and Hecke decided their time had come. The squirrels had to go.
The new children’s crusade called for a seven-day operation whereby California schoolchildren would attack the vicious squirrel army (often depicted wearing the pointed “Hun” helmet worn by the German army at the time). When the students weren’t creating passive killing fields by spreading rodent poisons where squirrels were known to gather food the kiddos were encouraged to form “a company of soldiers in your class or in your school” to go out and meet the enemy head-on, hitting the furry huns where they lived. “Squirrel Week” was on.
“All the killing devices of modern warfare will be used in the effort to annihilate the squirrel army, including gas,” wrote the Lompoc Journal. “Don’t wait to be drafted.”
The U.S. government made every effort to link the anti-squirrel effort to the war effort, referring to the California Ground Squirrel as “the Kaiser’s aides” while showing the squirrels decked out in enemy uniforms, wearing the Iron Cross. The government even distributed recipes for barley coated with the deadly poison strychnine.
The state had a point. OtospermophilusBeecheyi, also known as the California Ground Squirrel, was not only a pest to farms and stored food, but was also known to carry certain diseases, such as bubonic plague. More importantly, the rodent ate nearly 0 million in crops and stored food in California (using today’s dollar values), food which could otherwise go to the doughboys fighting the World War raging in Europe. Children were even asked to bring in squirrel tails to school to show off their confirmed kills.
The schoolchildren did not disappoint. In all, More than 104,000 squirrels met their furry maker during Squirrel Week 1918 – but that was just one battle. The war raged on as long as the War in Europe raged on. California children continued killing the squirrels for a long time after Squirrel Week. The effort did not have lasting consequences for the squirrels at large, however. Today the California Ground Squirrel’s conservation status is the lowest at “least concern.”
Least concern, or lulling us into a false sense of security before counter-attacking? You decide.
In June 1898, Spanish soldiers on duty in Santiago, Cuba were shocked and surprised when the city began exploding around them. No one heard the crack of offshore cannons, but sure enough, there was an American ship out in the water, firing at the town.
In the dark and without warning, the high-explosive shot from the ship was a psychological victory for the Americans. Spanish soldiers in Cuba would have to be on high alert, as the United States could strike without warning.
The ship offshore of Santiago that night was the USS Vesuvius. The stealthy rounds it was able to fire at the city came not from a cannon filed with gunpowder and somehow silenced, but rather it was fired by compressed air.
When we think of a compressed air gun these days, many of us probably think of airsoft players running around the woods somewhere. But at the end of the 19th century, compressed air cannons were a major technological innovation for naval warfare.
Most often known as Dynamite Cannons, the compressed air guns of the Vesuvius and other ships usd multiple tanks of compressed air to fire high explosive rounds. The technological advancement was a necessity due to the new high-explosive rounds used by the Navy and elsewhere.
Early high explosive rounds were notoriously unstable. Though they could be carried aboard ships, firing one of these rounds using a traditional gunpowder charge would cause the shell to explode right as it left the muzzle of the gun. It needed a more gradual acceleration to keep the shell from exploding right away. Enter compressed air.
The compressed air not only had the advantage of not killing the gun crews and tearing a hole in the ship, it allowed for ships like Vesuvius to slip into enemy water undetected and get off a few rounds without the enemy knowing it just fired its deck guns. Another advantage was, like the Spanish soldiers in Santiago experienced, the sheer terror of being shelled from the sea without any advance warning.
On top of all that, the shells were lightweight and the compression could be reloaded aboard the ship at sea. They did have drawbacks, however. The compressed air that allowed the guns to fire off rounds without sound or the explosive death of the men who fired them meant that it had a lower muzzle velocity. As a result, the guns had to fire at a high angle which decreased their accuracy.
The Americans were also able to use field artillery with the same technology. These field guns were also used on Santiago, this time by land-based forces. Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his volunteers fielded a Sims-Dudley Dynamite Gun when capturing the city, but the future president was unimpressed, despite the improved accuracy of the field model.
Other models of Dynamite Gun could be placed on shore batteries, use steam to refill the pneumatic firing charges, or affixed to submarines. Like their seaborne cousins, the land-based models had drawbacks of their own. Some of the steam-driven cannons required 200 tons of equipment to use, fire and reload.
Improvements in the development of high explosives and high explosive rounds led to the quick demise of the Dynamite Guns and their use in land or sea combat. When the Army and Navy could go back to more traditional gunpowder charges, they did so almost immediately and compressed air guns became a footnote in history.
Once, a friend asked if I’d ever heard of Operation Paperclip. This was the secret program started at the end of World War II that allowed German rocket scientists, including some highly placed Nazis, to enter the United States and work for our military. Its name was derived from the secret practice of putting a paperclip on the first page of an individual’s visa as a signal to U.S. immigration officials to let them through, no questions asked. These former adversaries became the foundation of America’s space program and helped NASA put us on the moon.
I’d written about Paperclip in several books, so I was surprised when my friend told me that his grandfather had worked on a similar Army program that was even more secret.
This is how I got to meet Bob Jamison, my friend’s father. He’d just written a family memoir about his father, Jim Jamison, and the extraordinary adventures he had during World War II — and beyond.
Mack Maloney: Without really trying, your father found himself at several pivotal moments in history. For instance, he was the first person to ever fire a bazooka.
Bob Jamison: He worked at the famous Aberdeen Proving Ground, the place where the U.S. Army designs and tests a lot of its weapons even today. He started there in 1941 as a carpenter, but his ability to do just about any job caught the attention of the higher-ups, and he was recruited by the Ordnance Department to do ballistic testing. That’s how he got to fire the first bazooka. He also worked on the proximity fuse, which is still in use.
Then he was drafted into the military?
Yes. It was December 1943, and America needed fresh recruits. He went into the Army and suffered the same snafus as any soldier – for example, they lost his basic training file and made him take basic over again. He also had a very uncomfortable flight to Europe once he deployed. He caught a ride with some paratroopers and the plane was tossed around so badly, even the airborne guys were getting sick.
Then one of the plane’s engines began smoking. The pilot announced that they would probably have to ditch in the North Atlantic, a virtual death sentence. But – and here’s a good example of what kind of a guy my father was – he helped the crew hook up a light so they could look out at the engine and keep an eye on its condition during the long night. Then he took a nap. The plane landed safely and all ended well. But I’ll tell you, my dad was a very cool customer.
He was eventually made a corporal and assigned to a top-secret unit known only as V-2.
Yes. It was a program to surreptitiously seek out German rocket scientists and bring them over to our side without anyone knowing about it, including our closest allies. It was May 1945. The Germans had surrendered and Werner Von Braun, Germany’s top rocket scientist, had already contacted U.S. Army Intelligence. My father’s team was to find the rest of the scientists who’d worked with Von Braun, and do it before the Russians did. Sometimes his unit worked in two-man teams – one officer, one enlisted man – but later on they sent the enlisted men out alone. Army Intelligence would give them the names and locations of key scientists with orders to bring back anyone willing to come to America and work for us.
Your father was carrying orders signed by Eisenhower himself. Extraordinary for a corporal.
His best story about that happened when he was traveling alone. He was close to the Russian sector, hoping to connect with another German scientist, when he stopped at an American outpost to get directions. When he went back outside, he was stopped by a captain who had a colonel standing behind him. The captain told my dad the colonel’s Jeep had broken down and he was going to confiscate my father’s. But my father told the captain he couldn’t have his Jeep. The colonel stepped forward and said, “You better have a damn good reason why, soldier!” My dad pulled out his orders signed by Ike, giving him priority over anything else happening in the war zone. The officers read the orders, knew my father was right, and walked away, grumbling. It was an enlisted man’s dream come true!
One day your dad went out looking for rocket scientists and ran into someone totally unexpected.
My father and a captain were driving through Munich following up on a lead when they came upon a convoy of signal corps troops, the same outfit my father’s brother was serving in. My dad mentioned it to the captain, who told him to pull over. While the captain talked to the officer in charge, my father asked some of the soldiers if they knew Lester “Leck” Jamison. Leck overheard his name being mentioned and came around the truck and, to his amazement, saw my father.
Talk about a chance meeting.
Well, it was two brothers seeing a friendly face in a very unfriendly place. But it was one of a few really amazing situations my dad found himself in.
As you said, even though the war with Germany was over, your father was in a very hostile place.
There were still live land mines buried everywhere, including on the roadways. There were Nazi snipers hiding in outlying villages who didn’t realize Germany had surrendered. Even some German civilians – even children – believed they should fight to the very last. But not the least, the Russians desperately wanted the very same scientists my father and his V-2 team members were looking for. If he’d been caught with one, well – let’s just say the Russians liked to shoot first and seek forgiveness later.
It was the beginning moments of the next war – the Cold War.
Right. We were more or less inviting these scientists to America, and the Russians were forcing them at gunpoint back to Russia. The Russians were technically our allies, but at the same time, some very dangerous people.
Your dad had at least one face-to-face encounter with the Russians, and it led to yet another amazing happenstance.
He was given an assignment to find a German scientist Army Intelligence had heard was being kept against his will by the Russians. My father arrived at his destination, an old rural village that was split in two. The U.S had a small outpost at one end of town and the Russians had one at the other. On seeing my father’s orders, the captain of the American outpost was ready to assist in any way. My father told him he needed an interpreter to explain to the scientist why he was here, since he didn’t speak enough German to get the point across.
The captain sent for his interpreter, and when the man walked into the room, my father couldn’t believe his eyes. He was an old friend of his from back home named Jerome Porkorney. His family had fled Germany and eventually immigrated to America. He could speak Czech, Polish, German, Russian, and English.
Jerome confirmed that the scientist was on the Russian side of town awaiting a detail to transport him back to Russia. But Jerome had a plan. He inconspicuously made his way behind the houses and spoke to the German scientist, explaining that this was his one and only opportunity to escape and go to America. Then Jerome instructed my father to hide his wristwatch and wedding ring, because if the Russians saw any jewelry, they would take it. They would also be very suspicious if they saw my dad’s Tommy gun, so he was going into this unarmed.
While my dad stood casually in front of the American outpost and smoked a cigarette, Jerome took some schnapps to the two armed Russian soldiers at the other end of the street. On a subtle signal from Jerome, my father got in his Jeep and casually drove away. But once out of sight of the Russians, he doubled back and headed for the rear of the scientist’s house.
My dad knew this was a mortally dangerous affair. If he or Jerome were caught, they could be summarily shot. Even worse, if he wasn’t able to destroy his orders in time and the Russians figured out his mission, it would endanger the V-2 operation and, ultimately, America’s position in the coming space race.
He reached the back door of the scientist’s house not knowing what would happen next. But the man quickly jumped into the Jeep and they sped away. They’d pulled it off.
Your father’s unusual life didn’t end after he left the service.
He went back to work at Aberdeen after the war and continued to have a high profile. He worked on many secret cases for which he tested weapons and issued reports. One day in late 1963, two FBI agents arrived at Aberdeen, one with a rifle handcuffed to his wrist. They met with the post commander, who directed them to the branch chief, who sent them to the section chief, who sent them to my father. The agent un-handcuffed the rifle and gave it to my dad for testing but never let it out of his sight. When the tests were completed, the agent re-handcuffed the rifle to his wrist, and he and the other agent left. That rifle was believed to be the one used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.
A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
Throughout the second World War, the United states relied heavily on cryptology — a form of communication where language was hidden or written in code so that it could not be identified by the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy tried their hardest to determine a pattern to the code through difficult math equations or algorithms.
The U.S. wasn’t alone — other countries did the same, while their code was attempted to be broken. In fact, there was an entire field of professionals dedicated to intercepting messages and cracking them: cryptologists. Their efforts were widely successful, too, having regularly cracked the German Enigma machine messages.
However, this important job came with important responsibilities: it was not to be talked about under any circumstances. The punishment for doing so? Death in wartime. Talking in unapproved channels about their work would be an act against the nation.
After all, talking about military secrets was considered treason. And cryptologists worked on some of the most classified projects of the war.
In full form, the Constitution lists treason as being punishable by: “Death, or not less than 5 years’ imprisonment (minimum fine of $10,000, if not sentenced to death). Any person convicted of treason against the United States will lose the right to hold public office in the United States.”
Cryptologists were recruited for the war
In the early 1940s, the Army and Navy began recruiting women to become cryptologists. They searched for females who had college degrees and had studied in areas of a foreign language, math and science. Looking mainly in the Midwest and South, this meant many teachers were recruited heavily and worked for the military in codebreaking. Both branches trained new recruits in the art of cryptology but required certain education levels of their new workers.
With a mindset that women should help war efforts in any capacity, they flocked to the branches in order to lend their services. Thousands were brought in, joining and working as civilians alike.
But here’s the kicker: on their first day, they signed an oath of secrecy. Before their training even began, new cryptologists had to sign their loyalty to their country. Or, if they proved to be untrustworthy, they were reassigned to a new job. Only the most loyal were assigned to the cryptology unit.
The most secretive units were those working at Arlington Hall and the Naval Communications Annex. Military forces downplayed the importance of the cracked messages and how they fit into the war effort. In most cases, workers never learned the true value of what they were doing.
Cryptologists receive recognition
Because of these oaths, it wasn’t until decades after the war that these women began talking about their experience in the military, including the impending death threat, should they have talked. Some 70-some years later, they have given interviews and told about their contribution to WWII. Their first-person stories and interviews are available in the 2017 book, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, book by Liza Mundy.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”
As the sun set on the blood-stained beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to the thousands of Allied troops dispatched to carry out the largest amphibious landing in military history rang true.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune and remembered as D-Day, sent roughly 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops to the Nazi-occupied French coast by air and sea, beginning the multi-month Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe from Hitler’s Wehrmacht. This week, as millions gather in Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, National WWII Museum senior historian Rob Citino emphasized that the impact of the landings came at a tremendous human toll. By the end of the Normandy campaign, hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians had died and been wounded, with those involved in the initial landings suffering disproportionately.
“Certain sectors and certain minutes, casualties were 100 percent,” Citino said.
Citino described the most perilous jobs American troops performed to help make the D-Day landings a World War II turning point. “It was bad enough but would have been worse,” he says.
A paratrooper with a Thompson M1 submachine and heavy equipment.
(The National WWII Museum)
1. The Pathfinders
The earliest paratroopers of the US Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions jumped into enemy territory in the dark, facing unrelenting attacks with little back-up and a lot of pressure to light the way.
Strategy and scope: Upwards of 13,000 American paratroopers would jump in the early days of Operation Neptune, the Allied invasion of well-guarded Normandy.
Minutes after midnight on June 6, around 300 101st Pathfinders, nicknamed “the Screaming Eagles,” went in first. Paratrooping in lean, highly-trained formations, the Pathfinders were not out to engage in combat. They were to quickly set up lights and flares to mark drop zones for paratroopers and landing paths for the gliders preparing to land.
General Eisenhower’s advice to the 101st ahead of D-Day? “The trick is to keep moving.”
Pathfinders with the 82nd Airborne Division jumped from C-47 transports into occupied France under the cover of darkness.
(The National WWII Museum)
The Pathfinders paved the way for waves of paratroopers to follow, but paid a heavy price.
Threats and losses: The equipment they carried — from parachutes and life jackets to lighting systems they were to set up once on the ground — made their packs so heavy that they had to be helped onto the planes.
Then there was the jump.
Amid the bad weather and limited visibility that night, some were blown wildly off course after leaping from the C-47 Skytrains. Even those who managed textbook landings into the intended locations were at risk.
“It’s the loneliness — out there all by yourself with no one riding to your rescue in the next 10 minutes if you get in trouble. You’re against all the elements,” Citino said.
Impact: While the Pathfinders saw heavy losses, they ultimately enabled more accurate, effective landings and ability for Allied troops to withstand counterattacks.
They climbed 100-foot cliffs under fire to take out key German artillery pieces aimed at the beaches.
2. The Ranger Assault Group scaling Pointe du Hoc
Strategy and scope: Once dawn broke on June 6, 1944, a force of 225 US Army Rangers of the 2nd and 5th Ranger battalions began their attempts to seize Pointe du Hoc. Their mission: Scale the 100-foot rock and upon reaching the cliff top, destroy key German gun positions, clearing the way for the mass landings on Omaha and Utah beaches.
The multifaceted naval bombardment sent the highly trained climbers hauling themselves up the cliffs using ropes, hooks, and ladders. Two Allied destroyers would drop bombs onto the Germans in an attempt to limit the enemy’s ability to simply shoot the Rangers off the cliffs.
The sheer cliff walls the Rangers scaled, shown about two days after D-Day when it because a route for supplies.
The Rangers climbed the cliffs in sodden clothes while Germans above them shot at them and tried to cut their ropes.
Threats and losses: Beyond the challenging mountain climbing involved in getting into France via the cliffs along the English Channel, the Rangers faced choppy waters and delayed landings, which increased the formidable enemy opposition.
Nazi artillery fire sprayed at the naval bombardment. Landing crafts sank. Those who made it to the rocks were climbing under enemy fire, their uniforms and gear heavy and slippery from from mud and water. Germans started cutting their ropes. Rangers who reached the cliff top encountered more enemy fire, along with terrain that looked different from the aerial photographs they had studied, much of it reduced to rubble in the aftermath of recent aerial bombings. And they discovered that several of the guns they were out to destroy had been repositioned.
Impact: The Rangers located key German guns and disabled them with grenades. They also took out enemy observation posts and set up strategic roadblocks and communication lines on Pointe du Hoc. The 155mm artillery positions they destroyed could have compromised the forthcoming beach landings.
US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division aproach Omaha Beach in a landing craft.
(The National WWII Museum)
3. The first troops on Omaha Beach
Members of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and the US Army Rangers stormed the beach codenamed “Omaha” in the earliest assaults. These were the bloodiest moments of D-Day.
Strategy and scope: Beyond enemy fire, the Allies were up against physical barricades installed to prevent landings onto the six-mile stretch of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall.”
To break through, infantry divisions, Rangers, and specialist units arrived to carry out a series of coordinated attacks, blowing up and through obstacles in order to secure the five paths from the beach and move inland.
American troops approach Omaha Beach on June 7.
(The National WWII Museum)
A fraction of the first assault troops ever reached the top of the bluff.
Threats and losses: In pre-invasion briefings, troops were told there would be Allied bombing power preceding them and that the Germans would be largely obliterated and washed ashore, Citino said.
While there were aerial bombings, the impact was not as planned. Some of the B-24s and B-17s flying overhead missed their targets. German troops sprayed guns and mortars with clear views of the soldiers, stevedores, porters, and technical support charging the narrow stretch of beach. Men waded through rough, cold water from Allied landing crafts under withering heavy fire. The dangers continued with mines in the sand.
The scene was similarly gruesome for combat engineers moving in with Bangalore torpedoes to blow up obstacles. Meanwhile, amphibious tank operators tried to shield Allied infantry and medics came ashore to try to administer emergency care while facing counterattacks and navigating around the dead and wounded.
Impact: A fraction of those who landed reached the top of the bluff. Some company headcounts went to single digits. But the troops who helped secure Omaha and the five paths off the beach in the coming days cleared the way for massive tanks, fuel, food, and reinforcements important to the rest of the campaign.
Soldiers prepare to deploy a barrage balloon on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion.
(The National WWII Museum)
4. The 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion
These combat troops landed on Utah Beach and set up key lines of defense to prevent Luftwaffe raiders from strafing the incoming army of troops and supplies.
Strategy and scope: The Allies knew that as soon as the landings began, German air attacks would present a major threat to the masses of troops arriving in thousands of landing crafts. To defend against air raids, they turned to defensive weaponry units, including the 621 African-American soldiers in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, to land with 125-pound blimps and work in teams to anchor them to the ground. Each blimp was filled with hydrogen and connected to small bombs that could denote if enemy aircraft made contact with the cables.
Threats and losses: They came ashore on Utah Beach from some 150 landing crafts on the morning of June 6, facing the dangers of fellow infantry and the added threats that came with maneuvering heavy cables and balloon equipment on the beach under fire. They set up barrage balloons, digging trenches to take cover as waves of fellow soldiers landed.
The landings would have been even more deadly without the defensive balloons set up by the 320th.
(Army Signal Corps)
The air cover allowed Allied troops to move inland with less threat of being bombed or strafed by German planes.
Impact: As landing craft after landing craft came ashore on and after D-Day, the 320th’s balloons gave Allied troops and equipment some protection, allowing them to move inland with less threat of being blown into the sand by German fighters.
The hydrogen-filled balloons they deployed along the coast created barriers between the Allied troops and the enemy aircraft out to decimate them. Citino said that their actions setting up the defensive balloons under enemy fire were “as heroic as it gets.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the Bay of Bengal, the United States Navy and the Indian Navy went head-to-head.
According to DefenceLovers.In, the modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) and its air group of MiG-29K Fulcrums took on the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and Air Wing 11, mainly composed of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, in a joint training exercise that should leave Russia, with similar aircraft in its force, indirectly warned.
The Indian Fulcrums and the American Hornets took turns maintaining a combat air patrol over a ship while the other side practiced anti-ship strikes.
“The MiG-29s that were flying off the Vikramaditya and the FA-18 Super Hornets flying off Nimitz made approaches to the opposite flight decks, got up in the air and got to do some dog fighting as well, which was pretty overwhelming,” Rear Admiral William D. Byrne, Jr., the commanding officer of the Nimitz carrier strike group, told the Indian site.
When serving with Russia as the Baku (later re-named Admiral Gorshkov after the fall of the Soviet Union), the Vikramaditya was a modified Kiev-class carrier armed with 12 SS-N-12 “Sandbox” missiles and 24 8-round SA-N-9 “Gauntlet” launchers, along with two 100mm guns, eight AK-630 Gatling guns, and two quintuple 533mm torpedo tube mounts. It carried a dozen Yak-38 Forgers and as many as 20 anti-submarine helicopters.
By comparison, Air Wing 11 on board USS Nimitz included four squadrons of F/A-18C, F/A-18E, or F/A-18F multi-role fighters, along with E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning planes, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes, and MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters.
The Revolutionary War ended long before photography was a refined process, but the gap between the two historic events was still enough to allow some of America’s true patriots – in the literal sense of the word – to sit for a photo. The Revolution was over by 1783, and the earliest surviving photo dates back to 1826, a 43-year difference. Since the average life span of a man at that time was around 40 years, it’s safe to say these guys barely made it.
Except the photographer didn’t get around to doing it until the middle of the Civil War in 1864 – 83 years after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
(Rev. Elias Hillard)
Downing was 102 when Hillard interviewed him. He enlisted in July 1780 in New Hampshire and served under General Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga, saying Arnold was a fighting general, one who treated his soldiers well, and as brave a man as ever lived.
He lamented the fact that generals in the Civil War weren’t as gentlemanly as they were in his time.
(Rev. Elias Hillard)
Rev. Daniel Waldo
Waldo was a Connecticut colonist drafted at age 16 in 1778 and captured by the English in 1779. Confined in a New York prison, he was later released in exchange for captured British soldiers. He also lived to be more than 100 years old.
(Rev. Elias Hillard)
At 105, Cook was the oldest surviving veteran of the war. He joined the Continental Army in 1781, only convincing the recruiter because he volunteered to serve for the duration of the war. Cook was in the Army at Brandywine and at Yorktown, under the command of Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau. He remembered Washington ordered his men not to laugh at the British after the surrender, because surrender was bad enough.
(Rev. Elias Hillard)
Milliner was a Quebec native who not only served as drummer boy at the Battles of White Plains, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Yorktown, he was also on the crew of the USS Constitution back when the ship was the latest technology in naval warfare. He remembered that General Washington once patted him on the head and referred to Milliner as “his boy.”
A native of Maine who enlisted at age 15, Hutchings served in coastal defense batteries along the Maine coast. He was taken prisoner at the Siege of Castine, the only action he saw in the entire war. The British released him because of his young age. He died in 1866, at the home he lived in for almost 100 years.
(Rev. Elias Hillard)
Link was from Hagerstown, Maryland and enlisted in the Pennsylvania militia on three separate occasions. At 16, he was part of a unit whose job was to defend the Western Frontier – back when that frontier was still in Pennsylvania. The hard drinking, hard working farmer lived to the ripe old age of 104, dying shortly after his photo with Hillard.
Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?
The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.
Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.
These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.
Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.
As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.
The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On October 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.
The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.
She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.
One of the reasons Prohibition failed in America is probably because America was founded on and was fueled by booze from the get-go. The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The U.S. Marine Corps was founded in a bar. There just isn’t a lot Americans won’t do to keep the party going a little longer. The best example of this is the legendary Revolutionary War leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.
Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were the first to deliver a crushing defeat to the British during the American Revolution. They captured the guns at Fort Ticonderoga, along with two other forts in the area. Ticonderoga was the key to Lake Champlain, which denied the British entry from that point and became the staging area for patriot incursions into Canada. More importantly, the cannons seized at the fort were moved to Boston, where the British occupied much of the city since April 1775. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the redcoats at places like the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Army needed the help.
In November 1775, Ethan Allen and his Vermonters moved the forts supplies and guns overland to Boston, where General George Washington and his artillery commander Henry Knox used them to force the British to withdraw from Boston after holding it for almost a full year.
What prompts a gaggle of armed good-ol’ boys from Vermont to take on a heavily armed and fortified position of professional soldiers in the world’s largest, best-equipped, and seasoned army of veterans? Alcohol, of course. The night before Allen and the boys seized the fort, they all met at Remington’s Tavern in Castleton, Vermont. There, they sat down with Benedict Arnold who was sent by the Continental Congress to capture the fort and its guns. The Green Mountain Boys were there because they were going to take the fort anyway, sanctioned or not – so Arnold and his regulars might as well join in.
The liquid courage being poured at the tavern was what was common for the area during that time period: hard cider. Colonists planted apples in the new world primarily for the purpose of drinking it. The crop thrived here and kept people healthy, as it was often safer than the drinking water. In fact, cider was pretty much used as currency. But back then, drinking men needed more of a kick, so they added shots of rum to their cider, two shots of it to every pint of cider. They called the drink a “stone fence” because it felt like you were running down a hill into one.
After the ragtag group downed enough bravery, the two commanders led the crossing of Lake Champlain in the early morning hours, with 83 of the Green Mountain Boys. But dawn was coming fast, and Allen and Arnold worried that if they waited for the whole force, they might lose the element of surprise. So with just 83 Vermonters, they stormed Fort Ticonderoga, catching the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the guns for use elsewhere in the Revolution.
If they hadn’t captured them, the rebellion might have died in its cradle by diminishing hopes and expectations for the Continental Army’s chances. So down a few of these spiked ciders for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who might have just saved the future U.S., fueled by liquid courage.
Discipline, self-control, and honor are just some of the defining characteristics of a U.S. Marine who serves as a member of the 24-man silent drill team. Also known as the “Marching Twenty-Four,” the drill team’s function is to demonstrate the outstanding professionalism of the Marine Corps.
In 1948, they first performed at the Sunset Parades at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Their perfectly executed movements received such an amazing response from the crowd, the drill team was born.
Serving on the team requires extensive discipline, so finding new recruits is a challenge.
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their refined movements with hand-polished, 10.5 pounds, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets during the Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Each fall, the drill team prospects are hand-selected from the School of Infantry located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. After a detailed interview process and rifle drill audition conducted by experienced personnel, those Marines who are selected are assigned a position and will serve a two-year ceremonial tour.
In addition to their ceremonial duties, the drill team members train alongside infantry Marines in the field to maintain their skills during the offseason.
When experienced team members request to move up in ranks and become rifle inspectors, they will go through a series of inspections graded by rifle inspectors who served in the previous season.
In 1966, the U.S. Army’s Sgt. 1st Class Bennie Adkins fought the North Vietnamese Army for almost four days, using whatever was at his disposal: mortars, machine guns, small arms, and hand grenades. He killed as many as 175 enemy troops and was wounded 18 times. Over the course of the battle all of the men of his unit were either killed or wounded.
For his gallantry and bravery, the Army presented him with … the Distinguished Service Cross.
The Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second highest military honor, is no small award, but after all was said and done, after all the participants were interviewed and the communications during the fighting were scrutinized, Adkins actions that day in Vietnam called for the highest honor the U.S. can bestow on its armed forces. Why he did not receive the Medal of Honor back then is unclear.
After a lot of lobbying by Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers and then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the award was upgraded in 2014. Adkins, having achieved the rank of Army Command Sergeant Major, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony.
Here’s an excerpt from Adkins’ Medal of Honor citation:
When Adkins’ camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours of March 9, 1966, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.
Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.
When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue.
When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies.
During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.
Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp.
While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.
During the ceremony, Adkins, who used a cane for mobility, stood at attention, unassisted, as the president put the Medal of Honor around his collar. He saluted the crowd and then walked off stage. “This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he said.
Adkins passed away in April 2020 following complications with COVID-19.