4 awesome missions you didn't know were done by the Coast Guard - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard has always been the little agency that could.


It’s the only U.S. military branch that isn’t a permanent member of the Department of Defense, it’s constantly the last in line for the budget (it is one of the agencies with lots of money on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal), and it’s constantly getting made fun of by the other services.

But the Coast Guard steps up and performs when called upon. While many of its finest moments happened when you would most expect — like when it received praise for its actions after Hurricane Katrina or when it rescued sailors trapped on the tankers Pendleton and Fort Mercer — it should also be known for its role in frontline operations against terrorism at home and all enemies deployed.

Yeah, the Coast Guard fights terrorists and deploys, especially when it’s tied up in missions like these:

1. Evacuating and securing key ports during emergencies

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)

Believe it or not, it’s the Coast Guard that is most likely to save American citizens in a sudden attack. After the attacks on 9/11, the Coast Guard led a boatlift in New York that, in numerical terms, was larger than the evacuation at Dunkirk.

The U.S. Coast Guard also fields the Maritime Security Response Team, which responds to terrorist attacks that are imminent or in progress in an American port or waterway. In 2014, they practiced securing ferries with dirty bombs onboard in New York, one of the world’s busiest ports.

2. Respond to chemical, biological, nuclear, and other threats

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers)

Of course, the Coast Guard doesn’t just field the emergency calls for terror attacks. When law enforcement and intelligence agencies get word of possible threats, they can call the Maritime Safety and Security Teams. These guys specialize in securing American and friendly ports that are at heightened risk of attack.

The MSSTs work to prevent the successful completion of an attack, but they can also respond to attacks in progress like they did in Boston in 2013 after the marathon bombings.

3. Capturing and occupying captured oil rigs at sea

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
A Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team works with the FBI to secure a vessel during a training exercise. (Photo: courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

One of the largest special operations in history took place on March 21, 2003, when Navy SEALs and Polish special operators seized Iraq’s oil platforms at the same time that other forces took land-based sections of Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

The often unsung heroes of that operation are the soldiers and Coast Guardsmen who gave the SEALs the ride and provided the gun platforms that supported the operation from the water. The Coast Guard sent eight 25-foot boats to the platforms and provided the defensive positions that allowed the U.S. to hold the platforms after the SEALs captured them.

The 60 Coast Guardsmen held the platforms and 41 prisoners of war for months despite severe storms that damaged boats and tore equipment—  including food and fresh water — from where it was stored. At one point, they had to fire flares to deter an attack by circling Iranian speedboats.

4. Landing U.S. soldiers and Marines at D-Day, Guadalcanal, and hundreds of other places

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Did anyone think it odd that the Coast Guard would be in charge of landing and supporting operators hitting oil rigs in a carefully synchronized operation? It’s a little unusual, but only because they’re used to hitting beaches and rivers.

During World War II, Coast Guardsmen piloted many of the landing craft at key fights like the invasions of Normandy and the Philippines. The only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor conducted his heroic action while rescuing Marines under fire at Guadalcanal.

The U.S. Coast Guard also took part in riverine and coastal warfare in Vietnam. All of this was, of course, before they took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That one time in 1995 when Russia almost nuked the United States

Russia almost blew the United States away with a nuclear strike in 1995 after mistakenly thinking it was under attack. If it weren’t for Russia’s then-president Boris Yeltsin, America as we know it wouldn’t exist. Under the “launch-on-warning” policy used by both nations, Russia had 30 minutes to decide to nuke us but Yeltsin only had five.


Here’s how this monumental mistake almost took place:

NOW: The US nuclear launch code during the Cold War was weaker than your granny’s AOL password

OR: Here’s the entire Cold War by the numbers

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Alaska was so important for an American victory in WWII

It’s often called the “Forgotten Campaign of the Second World War” — and there’s no secret as to why. The campaign lost out on fanfare mostly because it took place in a far off, remote territory that few Americans lived on or cared about. And it didn’t help that it happened at a time when Marines and soldiers were pushing onto the beaches at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

The truth is, however, that the sporadic fighting and eventual American victory on the frozen, barren islands of Alaska proved instrumental to an Allied victory in the the Pacific.


4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

A bit of a fixer-upper, but nothing that can’t be buffed out.

(National Archives)

Just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a two-day attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska. On June 3rd and 4th, 1942, their targets were the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears on Amaknak Island.

The Japanese attack was an attempt to establish a foothold in the Northern Pacific. From there, the Japanese could continue and advance towards either the Alaskan mainland or move toward the northwestern states of the United States. A few days later, on June 6th and 7th, the Japanese invaded and annexed the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu — along with the western-most Aleutian Islands.

It was a tactical victory for the Japanese but the Americans managed to shoot down a Zero during the Battle of Dutch Harbor, and it happened to land in relatively good condition.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Allied troops would move onto Kiska with over 34,000 troops… Just to find the island completely abandoned two weeks prior.

(National Archives)

Meanwhile, Japan was busy moving the bulk of their naval forces toward Midway to aid in recovery from the burgeoning American victory there. Back in North America, the Americans had regrouped and gained the support of the Canadian military.

The bolstered Allied troops moved toward Japanese-occupied territories. They sporadically picked off enemy vessels one by one as they pushed through the island chain. Then, on March 27th, 1943, the American and Japanese fleets squared off at the Battle of Komandorski Islands. The Americans took more damage, but caused enough to make the Japanese abandon their Aleutian garrisons.

On May 11th, U.S. and Canadian soldiers landed on Attu Island to take it back. Japanese dug in and booby-trapped much of the surrounding island. The Americans suffered 3,929 casualties — 580 dead, 1,148 wounded, and over 1,200 cold-weather injuries — but the Japanese were overrun. In a last-ditch effort, the Japanese committed the single largest banzai charge — an attack in which every infantryman first accepted their death before charging charged into battle — in all of the Pacific campaign. The Japanese suffered 2,351 deaths with hundreds of more believed to be lost to the unforgiving weather.

The captured Zero from Dutch Harbor, dubbed the Akutan Zero, was studied and reverse engineered by American technicians. Test pilots were successfully able to determine the weak-points and vulnerabilities of the fighter aircraft, which were quickly relayed to the rest of the Army Air Force. This information proved vital in later battles.

In the end, America would retake the islands and force the Japanese Navy back south to deal with the brunt of the American military. With the Japanese gone, the only route into the continental U.S. was secure again.

To learn more about the Aleutian Campaign, check out the video below!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the real McCoy smuggled rum during prohibition

The phrase ‘it’s the real McCoy’ comes from a time in American history where an unpopular law was openly disobeyed. Prohibition outlasted the Roaring Twenties as a tool of the temperance movement. The unemployed became wealthy gangsters essentially overnight. The most famous smuggler in the states was a gentlemen, not a gangster. In fact, he technically never broke the law at all.

The first enemy of organized crime is the law but how does one subvert it while keeping their hands clean? A down-on-his-luck aristocratic gentleman named Bill McCoy had the answer: Buy it where it is legal and import it. He used Nassau as his early base of operations because it belonged to the British at the time. Since they did not have a prohibition law, he registered his ship as a British vessel and sold his contraband on international waters. There was no law that prohibited him from going from legal port to legal port and selling his booze in between. Smaller ships would assume the risk and go to shore with the cargo. The Coast Guard could arrest the subcontracted fishermen if caught, but Bill McCoy would watch from the safety of the high seas, immune to all danger.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
Rumrunner Captain William S.(Bill) McCoy, c.1921 (Public Domain)

Several months later McCoy purchased more ships, upgraded their engines, and brokered more contracts. He now had a fleet and the Arethusa was the jewel in the crown. He kept distance from his gangster clients and preferred to go the extra step to keep his business legal. The Arethusa was an elegant, upper-class girl – with a machine gun. It wasn’t enough that his fleet appeared to be legitimate, it was legitimate.

McCoy created the first dedicated rum running route

With his fleet of technically clean vessels, he created the first dedicated rum runner route at sea called ‘Rum Row’. He would transport alcohol from the Bahamas to Florida, Georgia, New York, and everywhere in between. Later he expanded his operation to the French island St. Pierre east of Canada’s Atlantic Coast. Soon, there were hundreds of ships following his lead and set up shop on international waters. Any kind of spirit could be found aboard his floating liquor store.

He never cut his product

His nickname came from his hardline stance to deliver the best product. He never cut his alcohol with dangerous chemicals or water. He even refused to transport drugs and illegal immigrants no matter how much they offered him. When a product was ‘the real McCoy’ they knew they were getting quality – and they paid top dollar for it too.

Public perception is reality

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
Rum runners aboard Arithusa. (McCoy Family Papers Collection. J. Henderson Welles Archives and Library CC BY-SA 4.0)

Since McCoy stayed away from mobsters he kept his reputation clean. Even at his trial he said ‘I have no tale of woe to tell you. I was outside the three-mile limit, selling whiskey, and good whiskey, to anyone and everyone who wanted to buy.’ The newspapers present McCoy as Robinhood-like figure.

While floating at sea on Rum Row, boats like McCoy’s would post handwritten signs on the riggings, showing the names of their liquors and prices. McCoy’s customers, up to 15 at a time, drove their contact boats up to his schooner, keeping their motors running while buying cases of his products such as Johnny Walker and Dewer’s. He was popular for his fair prices, offers of free samples and a free case per order to paying customers.

The Mob Museum, Las Vegas

It was easy to see why his client’s and their customers loved doing business with this straight shooter. You knew the prices were good, the liquor was good, and you didn’t have to worry about being robbed or run-ins with the Coast Guard. You could break the law without feeling dirty.

He embarrassed the politicians enough to do their jobs

The evolution of rum running brought about new technologies such as super powered speed boats that left the Coast Guard in the dust. Politicians in Washington felt pressured by their increasingly public failures in the press. The Coast Guard was authorized to enforce the law up to 12 miles off the U.S. coast as opposed to the previous three. A $13 million budget increase allowed the Coast Guard to accomplish their mission against rum runners by expanding the fleet. Additionally, ships violating the law were now ambushed at night. Seized vessels were converted for Coast Guard use against perpetrators on Rum Row. The Coast Guard finally had the backing from Washington it needed.

Eventually McCoy was arrested but only served 9 months in prison. This seafaring, outlaw gentleman is a major reason why we have a well-funded Coast Guard today. The audacity of this man. Exploiting a major weakness in the law to smuggle rum during prohibition. It made him the most wanted man in America.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.


These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:

The Springfield ’03 sniper

 

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
A U.S. soldier holds a camouflaged Springfield 1903 sniper rifle during World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army via Imperial War Museum)

 

The Springfield Model 1903 began its career as a standard infantry rifle, but its accuracy and reliability led to the creation of a sniper variant that was basically the same except the iron sites were gone and permanent mountings for telescopic sights were placed instead. The bolt-action weapon used a five-round internal magazine.

The Mauser 98 sniper

The Mauser ’98 sniper rifle was one of the first to use a long-eye relief scope where the optic — usually a 4x magnification but some models had a piddly 1.5x — sits more than five inches from the shooter’s eye. The weapon as a whole had a revolutionary design that was copied by others across the world. German troops carried it in both world wars, but many other countries have used it.

The Lee-Enfield

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 in 1942. (Photo: British War Office Capt. Horton)

 

Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.

Mosin-Nagant

 

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
The famous Soviet sniper Roza Shanina poses with her Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Soviet version of the Mosin-Nagant was a 1930 update of an enormously successful 1891 weapon. In 1932, the Soviets began modifying new Mosin-Nagants as sniper weapons by reconfiguring the handles to receive telescopic sights and lighter triggers. While the stocks warped in some weather, its accuracy made it a choice of snipers on both sides of the conflict anyway.

Check out the Weaponology video below to learn more about these weapons. The rifle portion begins at 2:47.

Articles

Here’s what inspired the invention of the machine gun

After creating successful inventions like the mouse trap and the curling iron, inventor Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim would construct a device so lethal, every country couldn’t wait to get their hands on it.


In 1883, Maxim was enjoying an afternoon of shooting his rifle with his friends in Savannah, Georgia, when an idea literally hit him. As Maxim was firing, the recoil was continuously jabbing into his shoulder causing him discomfort and fatigue.

Then it suddenly occurred to him, use one problem to fix the another.

Related: 5 countries that tried to shoot down the SR-71 Blackbird (and failed)

Maxim went to his workshop and drew up plans that would allow the force of the rifle’s recoil to reload the weapon automatically. He discovered that when the round his fired, the bolt can be pushed backward by the recoil. When the barrel is then pushed forward by a spring, it will discharge the spent shell and chambering another round without assistance.

Thus the Maxim machine gun was born.

With his latest creation in hand, Maxim found himself in the machine gun business and on his way to London to released his newest invention.

After his arrival and a few widespread publicity stunts, his machine gun made a serious impact around the world with countries preparing to enter World War I.

Although many men were training with bolt action rifles and fixed bayonets, those who were in the company of the Maxim machine gun without a doubt had the upper hand.

Also Read: This Air Force jet landed itself after the pilot ejected

Check out the Largest Dams‘ video below to see how the machine gun changed ground warfare forever.

(Largest Dams, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The President is forbidden from going to the top of a major US monument

In 1967, a 77-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower ascended to the top of the famed St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the West. It wasn’t a planned trip, but the former President decided to go visit it anyway. And he wanted to go to the top, something the Secret Service forbids Presidents, past and present, to do. But Ike was the one who signed off on the construction of the Arch in 1954 and besides – who was going to tell the Supreme Allied Commander “no?”


4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

In case you were wondering about the answer to that question, it’s “no one.”

But he was the only one and even Eisenhower, a former President by the time he ascended to the highest peak of the 630-foot archway, had to do some sneaky work to be able to get to the top over the objections of his contingent of bodyguards. Eisenhower’s visit to the Gateway Arch came after hours, so there were no other tourists around, and it wasn’t a scheduled part of his itinerary, so potential assassins wouldn’t ever have known he would be there. He took the famed tramway up the arch over the objections of the Secret Service.

While Ike isn’t the only President to overrule the objections of the those who protect him, he’s the only one who forced his way up the St. Louis Arch. By the time he came to visit the city on the Mississippi River, two more Presidents had occupied the Oval Office after his tenure. It was a pretty safe bet.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

The view inside the top of the arch.

Getting to the top is actually a pretty cleverly designed tram that is part elevator and part Ferris wheel. But the top of the arch is a very small, cramped space that doesn’t make for a lot of room to maneuver or for a lot of people to spend any significant amount of time. It also keeps people relatively close together, which is a problem for a protective unit trying to keep people out of arms reach of the world’s most powerful person.

Despite the cramped space, some 160 people can fit in the top of the arch, and a complete trip to the top takes about 45 minutes on average. That’s a lot of time, space, and opportunity to give a would-be threat.

But in reality, the Leader of the Free World is actually the one in charge, and they can do whatever they want, but the USSS really doesn’t want the President up in the Arch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Canadian war hero was a one-man army in two wars

Leo Major earned notoriety in World War II by liberating the town Zwolle all by himself. For many amazing heroes of the world’s most destructive and widespread war, that might have been where their story ends. Not so for Leo Major. Major remained in the service of the Canadian Forces and soon found himself in the Korean War.


The Korean War was not just the United States fighting North Korea. It was the first test of the United Nations and the body’s resolve to be a true force on the world stage, unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations. When North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th parallel in 1950, the entire world responded, not just the U.S. Along with American forces came Britain, Ethiopia, Thailand, France, Greece, Turkey, The Netherlands, South Africa, and more. Canada was right there with her North American neighbor.

But North Korea had allies too. The Soviet Union provided help, but it was the Chinese who made the biggest difference in the war. When China intervened on the North’s behalf, UN troops had already pushed their way to the Yalu River border with China. They took the UN forces completely by surprise and pushed them back to the 38th where the front largely stayed for the rest of the war. When 26,000 Canadian Forces arrived in 1951, that’s where the battle lines were drawn.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Hill 355, also known as “Little Gibraltar,” was hotly contested in the Korean War.

(Legion Magazine)

In spring 1951, the Canadian 25th Infantry Brigade moved to relieve the British at the southern bank of the Imjin River. To the East was Hill 355, right on the 38th parallel, manned by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Little did they know, the Chinese were preparing a massive assault on Hill 355 to secure a better bargaining position in the ongoing peace talks. They lit up the night of Nov. 23, 1951, with a huge artillery barrage and an attack from two Chinese divisions. The Americans were pushed off the hill, and a company of Canadians were surrounded by the Chinese.

Leo Major was tasked to relieve them.

Major gathered up a group of Canadians outfitted with Sten guns and sneakers, climbing the snowy hill under the cover of the next night’s darkness. They reached the top of the hill behind the Chinese defenders before opening up on them from behind their line. The Chinese panicked and fled. Hill 355 was theirs again. But the Chinese counterattacked.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

New Zealand gunners attack Hill 355 during the First Battle of Maryang-san in 1951.

(Imperial War Museum)

That didn’t bother Major. He ignored an order to withdraw and took cover in a shell crater, calling for accurate mortar and machine gun fire on to the enemy, very close to his own position. His mortarmen fired until their tubes glowed red. Major ran from position to position, directing the gunners and the mortars, repelling four separate attacks. Major and his men held the hill for three more days, the Corporal fought off attack after repeated attack, holding his position until the line of demarcation was officially drawn in front of his position.

Leo Major’s effort to secure Hill 355 for the Allies earned him another Distinguished Conduct Medal, much like the one he earned capturing Zwolle in the Netherlands during his previous war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 simple reasons the Union won the Civil War

If zeal could be weaponized in wartime, the Confederacy might have had a chance. Not everyone in the South was very confident about the Confederacy’s chances of winning the Civil War. As Rhett Butler pointed out in Gone With The Wind, there were just some things the South lacked that the North had in massive amounts — and it just so happened that all those things were the things you need to fight a war.

Cotton, slaves, and arrogance just wasn’t going to be enough to overcome everything else the Confederates lacked. Rhett Butler wasn’t far off in listing factories, coal mines, and shipyards as essential materials.


The fictional Rhett Butler only echoed statements made by prominent, prescient (and real) Southerners at the time, like Sam Houston.

“If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country —the young men.”

The Confederacy never had a chance. The Civil War was just the death throes of an outmoded way of life that was incompatible with American ideals and the nail in its coffin was manufactured by Northern factories and foundries.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Manufacturing capacity

When it comes to actually fighting, there are some essentials that an army needs to be backed by — chief among them is the weapons of war. Southern historian Shelby Foote noted that the Industrial Revolution in the United States was in full swing at the time of the Civil War and much of that growing industrial strength was firmly in the North. Meanwhile, the South at the war’s onset was still chiefly an agrarian society which relied on material imported from outside the 11 would-be Confederate states.

It’s not that the Southern economy was poorly planned overall, it was just poorly planned for fighting a war.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Cotton awaiting transport in Arkansas.

Economics

Very closely related to industrial output is what the South could trade for those necessary war goods. When all is well, the South’s cotton-based economy was booming due to worldwide demand for the crop. The trouble was that the population density in the South was so low that much of the wealth of the United States (and the banks that go along with that money) were overwhelmingly located in the North.

When it came time to raise the money needed to fight a war, it was especially difficult for the South. Levying taxes on a small population didn’t raise the money necessary to fund the Confederate Army and, for other countries, investing in a country that may not exist in time for that investment to yield a return is a risky venture. And tariffs on imported goods only work if those goods make it to market, which brings us to…

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Civil War sailors were some of the saltiest.

Naval strength

Although the Confederacy saw some success at sea, the Confederate Navy was largely outgunned by the Union Navy. One of the first things the Union did was implement a naval blockade of Southern ports to keep supplies from getting to the Confederate Army while keeping that valuable Southern cotton from making it to foreign ports. The South’s import-export capacity fell by as much as 80 percent during the war.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Ground transport

Earlier I noted the Southern economy was poorly planned for fighting any war. That situation becomes more and more dire when fighting the war on the South’s home turf. The North’s industrialization required means of transport for manufactured goods and that meant a heavy investment in the fastest means of overland commercial transport available at the time: railroads.

Northern states created significant rail networks to connect manufacturing centers in major cities while the South’s cotton-based economy mainly relied on connecting plantations to major ports for export elsewhere. Railroad development was minimal in the South and large shipments were primarily made from inland areas by river to ports like New Orleans and Charleston – rivers that would get patrolled by the Union Navy.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

The port of Charleston in 1860.

Population

People who live in a country are good for more than just paying taxes to fund a functional government and its armies, they also fuel the strength, reach, and capabilities of those armies. In the early battles of the Civil War, the South inflicted a lot more casualties on the North while keeping their numbers relatively low. But the North could handle those kinds of losses, they had more people to replace the multiple thousands killed on the battlefield.

For the South, time was not on their side. At the beginning of the war, the Union outnumbered the Confederates 2-to-1 and no matter how zealous Southerners were to defend the Confederacy, there simply wasn’t enough of them to be able to handle the kinds of losses the Union Army began to dish out by 1863. At Gettysburg, for example, Robert E. Lee’s army numbered as many as 75,000 men – but Lee lost a third of those men in the fighting. Those were hardened combat troops, not easily replaced.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Jefferson Davis was widely criticized by his own government, being called more of an Adams than a Washington.

Politics

Replacing troops was a contentious issue in the Confederate government. The Confederacy was staunchly a decentralized republic, dedicated to the supremacy of the states over the central government in Richmond. Political infighting hamstrung the Confederate war effort at times, most notably in the area of conscription. The Confederate draft was as unpopular in the South as it was in the North, but Southern governors called conscription the “essence of military despotism.”

In the end, the Confederate central government had to contend with the power of its own states along with the invading Union Army. In 1863, Texas’ governor wouldn’t even send Texan troops east for fears that they would be needed to fight Indians or Union troops invading his home state.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 8 rules for rookie combat pilots in World War I

Before the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen was Germany’s air power hero, it was Oscar Boelcke, a German air ace and the mentor to von Richthofen and the “Flying Circus.” Boelcke was one of Germany’s first fighter aces and, when he took command of a group of fighters, he did all that he could to pass on the knowledge that would keep the men alive. He came up with eight rules that would stand for decades, and most still apply today.


There were multiple versions of the rules, all with variations in wording. But they all carried the same eight sentiments:

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Oscar Boelcke was once the world’s top fighter pilot, and he wrote eight rules to help other pilots survive to be like him.

(Public domain)

Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.

This is one of the rules that has shifted over time, but target acquisition in World War I was done almost exclusively through pilots simply scanning the skies. For that reason, Boelcke recommended the pilot keep the sun at their backs when heading into enemy territory or when deciding on an angle of attack against an unwary enemy pilot.

This would blind the adversary to the threat until the German pilot was already letting loose with his first machine gun burst. Nowadays, it does work a little different since targets are generally acquired via radar and other sensors. Still, Boelcke would certainly recommend hiding the approach and only engaging with the advantage.

Always carry through an attack when you have started it.

This one was far from hard and fast, but it was aimed at a particular shortcoming of young pilots. While Boelcke would allow for the occasional need to bug out (more on that in a later rule), he worried for new pilots who would see an enemy and attack, but then would turn and run after the first burst. That allowed the enemy to get a good bead on the fleeing German and shoot them down.

Instead, he recommended, only engage if you’re certain you can succeed and then stick with the fight unless you lose all advantage and have no other options left to fight. In more modern terms, “Finish the fight.”

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

A German pursuit squadron in World War I.

(German military archives)

Fire only at close range, and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.

This was another rule squarely aimed at a common mistake by rookies. Overeager pilots would fire from hundreds of yards away, giving away their position with little chance of a hit. (Aerial marksmanship is famously difficult as, even in World War I, the shooter and the target are moving in different directions at dozens or even hundreds of miles an hour.)

Boelcke insisted that pilots wait until 100 meters or so, about 110 yards, before firing if at all possible. This helped in two ways. First, the attack pilot would only give away their position when there was a chance of success. But two, it hedged against the common problem of aviation guns jamming. So withholding fire until it was most likely to kill the enemy reduced the chances of a jam on a mission because the pilot fired less overall.

Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.

This one may feel obvious: Always keep your eye on your enemy. But American pilots, following their British counterparts, had learned to fake their deaths in the air by seemingly going into an irrecoverable spin during combat when they needed to bug out.

Boelcke wanted to make sure his pilots were ready for this and other tricks, and so he recommended that they always watch their enemy, even if the foe seemed dead or doomed.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Lt. Baldamus, a German ace fighter pilot.

(German military archives)

In any form of attack it is essential to assail your enemy from behind.

Again, rookie pilots would do stupid stuff, like attack an enemy flying from one side to the other, or coming head-on, both attack angles that were extremely challenging for even a veteran pilot to accomplish. So Boelcke directed his younger pilots to always focus on getting behind their enemy and attacking from there. There was one exception featured in the next rule.

If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.

Yup, no need to try to navigate to the enemy’s rear if they’ve already gotten the jump on you. Instead, treat it like an “ambush near” on the ground and immediately turn to face the threat and shoot at it. Then, if at all possible, get to the enemy’s rear.

Rookie pilots had often made the mistake of running from their enemy instead. If they weren’t close to enemy lines, this resulted in them shedding altitude and pointing away from their attacker, allowing the attacker a series of free and easy shots at the fleeing pilot.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

Baron Manfred von Richthofen became the top fighter pilot of World War I, following in the footsteps of his mentor who achieved 40 kills before anyone else.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

When over the enemy’s lines never forget your own line of retreat.

This is the exception to a number of the rules above. Yes, you should always try to finish the fight against an enemy, whether you initiated the fight or were responding after they attacked you. But, you should always know which way to go if you have to run. If the guns jam, if the engine fails, if you’re hit with a potentially mortal wound, you have to know which way help is.

Attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for the same opponent.

This one was aimed at younger squadron leaders. Basically, try to fly in groups whenever possible so that pilots can support each other. But, when fighting one group against another, be sure that you have each enemy plane on the run. If you’re matched man-to-man, but two of your pilots accidentally go after the same target, then there’s an enemy plane free to go after one German after another.

Instead, the pilots should be aware of where each other are, and they should coordinate their attacks as best as possible to keep the enemy on their back foot.

Boelcke would employ these rules and his own skills to achieve 40 aerial victories, rising to the position of the top fighter pilot in the world. But he died in a crash on Oct. 28, 1916. One of his students would, eventually, greatly surpass Boelcke’s number of aerial victories. The “Red Baron” would achieve 80 victories before dying in aerial combat on April 21, 1918, while chasing an enemy pilot over hostile lines.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marine Corps wanted to shoot down Hinds with Cobras

The Hind Mi-24D was an odd but deadly amalgamation of troop helicopter transport and attack helicopter. While it was ostensibly built to transport a squad of infantry and then protect it, American chopper pilots were worried about what would happen if they ran into the attack helicopter and its massive gun and were forced to fight it in the air.


One Marine Corps pilot, Lt. Col. Richard L. Phillips, took a long look at the problem and put together a proposal in 1979 to make his service’s Cobra helicopters a lethal counter to the newest Hinds. Some of his suggestions would go to change the Cobra program forever.

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An AH-1 Super Cobra fires rockets in training.

(U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Dean Verschoor)

The first thing to understand about a Hind D vs. Cobra fight is that neither of the platforms was actually designed for air-to-air combat. Cobras were initially designed for the Army to use in protecting ground troops and Huey utility helicopters from surface threats. Hinds were made to drop off troops like Hueys and then provide close combat attack support from the air like Cobras.

The Marine Corps SeaCobras and later SuperCobras were stronger than their Army counterparts thanks to the addition of a second engine and an improved main gun. The Army would later adopt the Marine’s 20mm main gun on later Cobra models instead of the 7.62mm miniguns and 40mm grenade launchers that they had originally mounted.

But while that 20mm main gun was great for wiping out enemy armored vehicles and light bunkers, its rate of fire was limited to 670 rounds per minute in order to keep it from moving the Cobra too much while it was firing. Meanwhile, the new Hinds had a large, multi-barreled gun that Phillips and others were worried had a higher rate of fire and higher muzzle velocity.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

​The Mi-24 is a great helicopter that, despite a rocky start, rose to be a major threat to U.S. forces in the Cold War.

(Rob Schleiffert via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

It would later turn out that the Soviets were using a Yak-B main gun with 12.7mm rounds that had a muzzle velocity of 810 meters per second, less than the 1,050 m/s of the Cobra’s M195 20mm gun. But the Yak-B on the Mi-24D could fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute while the Cobra was limited to 670.

Worse, the Russian pilots were training for air-to-air combat in the Hind. When Phillips and others started matching Hinds and Cobras in simulators, it became apparent that victory or defeat in a one-on-one fight would be decided by pilot experience and main gun capability. And the Marines thought they were behind in both training and armament.

But Phillips thought it was likely that Cobras and Hinds would meet in future conflict, and that the Marines would need to up-arm their Cobras or else buy more and deploy them in larger teams so they could win through superiority of numbers.

Obviously, the Marines would prefer to win through excellence rather than throwing unsustainable numbers of pilots and helicopters at the problem. So Phillips proposed two fixes for the armament and one fix for training.

First, his simulation experience against the Hind showed that an air-to-air battle between it and a Cobra would be over quickly. Often, the helicopters settled their conflict in a single pass as one or the other shot down the enemy with a burst from the main gun. To make the Cobra more successful, he wanted to give it a higher rate of fire and muzzle velocity with improved ammunition or even a new gun. Also, an improved sighting mechanism would increase Marine chances.

But he also wanted to add an entirely new weapon onto the helicopter: air-to-air missiles. This is one of the adoptions the Marine Corps would later make, deploying Sidewinder missiles on the helicopter in 1983, four years after Phillips’ paper was written and submitted to the U.S. Army War College.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

The AH-1Z Viper has an even better version of the 20mm Gatling guns used on the AH-J SuperCobra.

(Lance Cpl. Christopher O’Quin)

But Phillips also wanted to change training and briefings to address the air-to-air threat. The Russians were training specifically on combat against helicopters, and he wanted the Marines to do the same. And one step further, he wanted transportation helicopters to carry some weapons for self-defense against the Hind, and he wanted those helicopters’ crews to discuss air-to-air procedures before any mission where enemy aircraft could be in play.

All of this combined would have made it to where up-armed Cobras would escort lightly armed transportation helicopters into combat and, if an enemy Hind were spotted, the entire flight would work together to bring down the Russians before the Hind could win the day.

Luckily for everyone involved, the fight never went down. But if it had, those Sidewinder missiles and better training would likely have saved Marines and troops from the other three branches forward as Hinds fell to the snakes in the grass.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Canada’s WWII plan to build an aircraft carrier made of ice

When we think of crazy military schemes, we probably think of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. From nuclear-tipped kamikaze pilots to a base on the moon to secret listening cats, the two superpowers came up with a lot of unconventional ideas for fighting World War III.


4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
If outfitting cats to be radio transmitters is crazy, then I don’t want to be sane.

 

So no one would blame you if you thought the idea of a silly military scheme from Canada was a little far-fetched. The U.S.’ northern neighbors are very rational, logical, and don’t feel the need to project global military power.

During World War II, however, everyone was looking for the edge that could end the war in their favor. And since Canada was such an integral part of the British Empire, she was willing to put some ideas to the test…like, say an aircraft carrier made of ice in the mountains of Alberta.

Only it wasn’t so crazy.

Project Habakkuk was the British effort to make unsinkable, non-melting landing strips made of Pykrete — a slurry of ice and sawdust. Pykrete (named for the inventor, Geoffrey Pyke) floated in water and would help keep the ice from melting during the summer months. Upon hearing about this, one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisors made his way to Churchill’s bath and tossed a piece in.

 

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
You know you’re the boss when you make people meet you in the bathtub. And they show up.

It floated in the bath water and the wheels of invention began to turn. Churchill long had an idea for protecting British shipping but couldn’t spare the steel. Pykrete was an excellent material for his new endeavor.

British fighters patrolling for U-Boats in the North Atlantic were limited in the time they could loiter in the air above shipping lanes. If the Allies could create unsinkable floating refueling stations throughout the area, the planes could land, refuel, and continue the mission. More shipping would undoubtedly get through to England. The idea was first floated on Canada’s Patricia Lake in 1943.

A 1,000-ton, 1:50 scale model was constructed on the Canadian lake to keep the material frozen while keeping the idea away from Nazi spies and saboteurs. The project was dubbed “Habakkuk,” and would be a ship 2000 feet long and 100 feet thick. The actual ship needed 26 electric motors and a 15-story rudder to support its massive 7,000 mile operational range.

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard
An artist’s concept drawing of Habakkuk.

Unfortunately, despite the success of keeping the Pykrete ship frozen throughout the Canadian summer and the material standing the test of being rebuilt, the cost of actually building the size necessary to fit the plan was just too high.

The British abandoned the 60-foot long model, where parts of its construction (the non-ice parts) can be found on the bottom of Patricia Lake to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US President and Soviet Chairman won a Grammy together

The most lasting image of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a U.S. leader will always be his close relationship with Ronald Reagan. In managing a very tense period toward the end of the Cold War, the image of the two leaders together has been enshrined in Cold War history. But the American President he teamed up to win a Grammy Award with would come to power four years after Reagan’s era ended, President Bill Clinton.

These two leaders never squared off in Cold War weapons agreements or faced a standoff between Russian and American forces. What they shared was the interpersonal foundation of a lasting peace.


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Boris Yeltsin was hammered the day they called. And probably every day.

Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s seventh and last President and Communist Party Chairman. He managed the final days of the Cold War as the Iron Curtain came tumbling down. Reagan was gone by then, succeeded by his Vice-President-turned-President, George H.W. Bush, who masterfully handled the U.S. response to the end of the Cold War. Clinton would be the first president to have to deal with the new Russian Federation and its former Soviet client states.

Gorbachev wouldn’t be his Russian counterpart. Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s. But the two men were integral to shaping the post-Cold War relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They were also integral to the 2003 children’s album, Wolf Tracks: Peter and the Wolf.

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Gorbachev with a decadent Western awards statue, likely sad he missed the chance to meet Christina Aguilera.

Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 children’s story, first written by Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It originated as a piece of Soviet propaganda, telling the story of a young boy challenging his grandfather who chided him for going out alone into the world, for fear of being devoured by a wolf. When a wolf does appear, the brave boy gets the best of it and makes sure it ends up in a zoo.

Clinton and Gorbachev performed spoken parts of the story, while actress Sophia Loren performed other sections. The album was an international hit, and was soon translated into multiple languages with more celebrity voices, including Antonio Banderas in the Spanish-language version. But the Grammy went to Gorbachev and Clinton, the first of such awards for a former American President or a former Soviet Premiere.

Just a few years later, Clinton would win another Grammy for the narration of his autobiography, My Life. Following that, other American Presidents would win for spoken-word works of their memoirs, including then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama for his memoirs, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of my Father, and former President Jimmy Carter for his work, A Full Life: Reflections at 90. Carter would win another spoken-word Grammy in 2019 for his personal religious memoir, Faith – A Journey For All.

Carter has nine Grammy nominations, Clinton has four, and Obama has two, though he has won both years he earned a nod.

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