4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor - We Are The Mighty
Articles

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.


For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.

1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The USS Greer as she appeared in 1941, the year the crew engaged in what was likely the first American military action of World War II. The Greer engaged in a 3.5-hour fight with a German sub. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.

Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.

The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.

Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.

2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

On Sept. 12, the USCGC Northland and USCGC North Star, Coast Guard cutters assisting in the defense of Greenland, spotted a suspicious Norwegian vessel, the Buskoe, operating near a cache of German supplies that the Coast Guard had recently seized.

After questioning the men aboard the vessel, the Northland crew learned that the ship had landed two groups of “hunters” on the coast. On Sept. 13, the North Star sent a crew to take over the Buskoe while the Northland crew dispatched a team to search for the Norwegians.

The Norwegians were discovered with German orders and radio equipment on Sept. 14.

Since the U.S. was not technically at war and could not take prisoners, the men were arrested as illegal immigrants. The Buskoe spy ship was the first Axis vessel captured by Americans in World War II.

3. U-568 hits USS Kearny on Oct. 17, 1941.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The USS Kearny suffered extensive damage from a September 1941 German torpedo attack. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Just after midnight on the morning of Oct. 17, 1941, a British freighter of convoy SC-48 was struck by a German torpedo and began burning in the night. The USS Kearny, assigned to a task force guarding the convoy, dropped depth charges and moved to protect the convoy from further attack.

Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.

After the first 14 hours, the USS Greer (yes, from #1 above) rendezvoused with the ship and established an anti-submarine screen.

Bonus: The Navy looks for a fight with the legendary Tirpitz in the Atlantic in October 1941.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The German battleship Tirpitz was massive and the U.S. hoped to fight it in October 1941, but couldn’t draw it out for the fight. (Photo: U.S. Naval Intelligence)

The Navy’s Task Force 14 was launched in October 1941, with the purpose of guarding a British troop convoy headed to Singapore, a violation of the Neutrality Act.

The task force consisted of an aircraft carrier, battleship, two cruisers, and nine destroyers ,and was likely the most powerful U.S. task force assembled up to that point in history.

Atlantic Fleet Commander Adm. Ernest King wrote a memo to President Franklin Roosevelt saying that he hoped to fight an enemy capital ship like the German Tirpitz, one of the strongest battleships of the war.

Unfortunately for King, the Tirpitz didn’t take the bait and Task Force 14 found no enemy ships during its patrol.

4. USS Reuben James is sunk by U-552 on Oct. 31, 1941.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The USS Reuben James, a destroyer and the first U.S. ship lost in World War II, sails the Panama Canal in this undated photo. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The USS Reuben James, a destroyer escorting a British convoy, was struck by at least one German torpedo that inflicted severe damage at approximately 5:30 in the morning on Oct. 31, 1941.

According to Chief Petty Officer William Burgstresser, one of only 44 survivors, the entire front section of the ship was torn off.

It quickly sank, becoming the first U.S. ship lost in the war and killing 115 crew members, including all officers onboard.

Just over a month after the sinking of the Reuben James, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor finally propelled America into the war.

Articles

Inside the new Air Force B-21 stealth bomber

The Air Force’s stealthy long-range bomber will have the endurance and next-generation stealth capability to elude the most advanced existing air defenses and attack anywhere in the world, if needed, senior service officials said.


When the Air Force recently revealed its first artist rendering of what its new Long Range Strike – Bomber looks like, service Secretary Deborah James made reference to plans to engineer a bomber able elude detection from even the best, most cutting-edge enemy air defenses.

“Our 5th generation global precision attack platform will give our country a networked sensor shooter capability enabling us to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world in a way that our adversaries have never seen,” James said when revealing the image.

James added that the new bomber will be able to “play against the real threats.”

The new bomber, called the B-21, will soon be named through a formal naming competition involving members of the Air Force, their families and other participants.

The Air Force has awarded a production contract to Northrop Grumman to engineer and its new bomber. The LRS-B will be a next-generation stealth aircraft designed to introduce new stealth technology and fly alongside – and ultimately replace – the service’s existing B-2 bomber.

“With LRS-B, I can take off from the continental United States and fly for a very long way. I don’t have to worry about getting permission to land at another base and worry about having somebody try to target the aircraft. It will provide a long-reach capability,” Lt. Gen. Bunch, Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The service plans to field the new bomber by the mid-2020s. The Air Force plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane in 2010 dollars, Air Force leaders have said.

Although there is not much publically available information when it comes to stealth technology, industry sources have explained that the LRS-B is being designed to elude the world’s most advanced radar systems.

For instance, lower-frequency surveillance radar allows enemy air defenses to know that an aircraft is in the vicinity, and higher-frequency engagement radar allows integrated air defenses to target a fast-moving aircraft. The concept with the new bomber is to engineer a next-generation stealth configuration able to evade both surveillance and engagement radar technologies.

The idea is to design a bomber able to fly, operate and strike anywhere in the world without an enemy even knowing an aircraft is there.  This was the intention of the original B-2 bomber, which functioned in that capacity for many years, until technological advances in air defense made it harder for it to avoid detection completely.

The new aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses, which now use faster processors, digital networking and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft on a wider range of frequencies at longer ranges.

Stealth Technology

Stealth technology works by engineering an aircraft with external contours and heat signatures designed to elude detection from enemy radar systems.

At the same time, advanced in air defense technologies are also leading developers to look at stealth configurations as merely one arrow in the quiver of techniques which can be employed to elude enemy defenses, particulalry in the case of future fighter aircraft.  New stealthy aircraft will also likely use speed, long-range sensors and manueverability as additional tactics intended to evade enemy air defenses – in addition to stealth because stealth configurations alone will increasingly be more challenged as technology continues to advance.

However, stealth technology is itself advancing – and it is being applied to the B-21 stealth bomber, according to senior Air Force leaders who naturally did not wish to elaborate on the subject.

“As the threat evolves we will be able to evolve the airplane and we will still be able to hold any target at risk” Bunch said.

Although the new image of LRS-B does look somewhat like the existing B-2, Air Force officials maintain the new bomber’s stealth technology will far exceed the capabilities of the B-2.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean. The B-2, from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

At the same time, the B-2 is being upgraded with a new technology called Defensive Management System, a system which better enables the B-2 to know the location of enemy air defenses.

Prior to awarding the contract to Northrop, the Air Force worked closely with a number of defense companies as part of a classified research and technology phase. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber.

“We’ve set the requirements, and we’ve locked them down. We set those requirements (for the LRS-B) so that we could meet them to execute the mission with mature technologies,” Bunch said.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber will be built upon what the Air Force calls an “open systems architecture,” an engineering technique which designs the platform in a way that allows it to quickly integrate new technologies as they emerge.

“We’re building this with an open mission systems architecture. As technology advances and the threat changes, we can build upon the structure.  I can take one component out and put another component in that addresses the threat.  I have the ability to grow the platform,” Bunch explained.

Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned missions as well as manned missions.

The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as nuclear bombs and emerging and future weapons, Air Force officials explained.

“We’re going to have a system that will be able to evolve for the future. It will give national decision authorities a resource that they will be able to use if needed to hold any target that we need to prosecute at risk,” Bunch said.

Articles

Yes, sergeant, actually that new academy cadet does outrank you

As it turns out, West Point cadets *do* outrank Army non-commissioned officers.  Technically.


Even after more than twenty years in uniform, it still surprises me what I don’t know about my own profession, and what I still have to learn from my NCOs.  Let me explain:

It’s summertime, and for many cadets in the Army’s ROTC programs and at West Point, that means “Cadet Troop Leader Training” or CTLT.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Public Domain photo from DoD

This is more or less the Army’s summer intern program, where young future officers get hands-on experience as a kind of “third lieutenant,” under the tutelage of a commissioned officer for three or four weeks.  This gives cadets going into their final years of pre-commissioning training the opportunity to experience life in an active duty unit.  Specifically, it allows them to try their hands at officership, and to get a feel for the kinds of officer/NCO relationships that are essential to the success of our Army.

CTLT happens in all kinds of units, both in the US and OCONUS.  As far as I know, there are no CTLT positions in combat zones.  But short of that, cadets can end up in just about anywhere.  While CTLT is a useful and important mentorship and developmental activity, many units see CTLT as a drag, and dealing with cadets as a hassle.  Sometimes cadets are relegated to less-meaningful duties, or endure some modicum of hazing as part of the experience.

I was recently in a conversation with a senior noncommissioned officer in an elite US Army unit, when the subject of CTLT came up.  I wondered how he, as a senior NCO in a highly specialized unit, felt about having cadets around.  I asked if he gave the cadets in his unit a hard time as part of their CTLT experience.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Freeman

“No, I always salute them and treat them as officers, and I make sure everyone else does too,” he replied in total sincerity.  Somewhat surprised by this, and thinking back to my own experiences in CTLT, I asked why he felt that way.

“Because according to the Army, they outrank me, sir.”

I was floored.  Everyone knows that the lowest Army private outranks the highest cadet… right?  I mean, that certainly seemed to be the case at Airborne School back in the day.

…wrong.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Army photo by Army Staff Sgt. Scott Griffin

The Evidence

The NCO referred me to AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, which makes it pretty clear that West Point cadets do, in fact, outrank Army NCOs.  This regulation shows that cadets rank after commissioned and warrant officers, but before NCOs.  Very interesting.  I learned something that day.  You’re right, Sergeant, a West Point cadet DOES outrank you.  Technically.

OK, fine.  That’s what the reg says, but how does that work in practice?

But having learned this, it made me wonder when this would actually matter in any meaningful way.  Outside of authorized developmental training events such as CTLT, no NCO is going to allow a cadet to swoop in and take charge of his platoon, squad, or section.  So when would a cadet actually “be” in charge?

AR 600-20 again provides the answer:

AR 600-20, Section 2:

2-8. Death, disability, retirement, reassignment, or absence of the commander

a.  Commander  of  Army  element.

(1)  If a commander of an Army element, other than a commander of a headquarters and headquarters element, dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier  will assume command.

(2) If the commander of a headquarters and headquarters element dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier of the particular headquarters and headquarters element who performs duties within the element will assume command. For example, if a division headquarters and headquarters company commander is temporarily absent, the executive officer as the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier who  performs  duties  within  the  headquarters  company  would  assume  command  and  not  the  division  commander.

(3) Senior regularly assigned Army Soldier refers (in order of priority) to officers, WOs, cadets, NCOs, specialists, or privates present for duty unless they are ineligible under paragraphs 2-15 or 2-16. They assume command until relieved by proper authority except as provided in 2-8c. Assumption of command under these conditions is announced per paragraph 2-5. However, the announcement will indicate assumption as acting commander unless designated as permanent by the proper authority. It is not necessary to rescind the announcement designating an acting commander to assume duties of the commander “during the temporary absence of the regularly assigned commander” if the announcement  gives  the  time  element  involved.  A  rescinding  announcement  is  required  if  the  temporary  assumption  of command  is  for  an  indefinite  period.

 

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Photo by Michael Maddox, Cadet Command Public Affairs

The Answer:

Of course, there is another reason to treat West Point and ROTC cadets with respect: they are not going to be cadets forever.  The best way to train cadets to be officers that their soldiers will look up to and their NCOs will respect is to treat them the way you want them to act.  While it might be fun to haze the new “margarine bar” (he hasn’t even worked his way up to “butter bar” yet), is that really the impression you want him taking with you when he gets commissioned and reports to his first unit?

So yes, a West Point cadet DOES outrank a sergeant.  Or a sergeant major for that matter.  But only a complete cadidiot would get his or her cadet rank confused with an NCO’s authority and influence.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The destroyer that took on WWII kamikazes is coming to the big screen

During the Battle of Okinawa, one United States Navy ship went up against unbelievable odds — and survived to tell the incredible tale. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) faced off against a horde of Japanese pilots — some of whom, now known as kamikazes, were willing to crash into American vessels and sacrifice their lives to complete their mission.

Now, the Laffey’s story is coming to the big screen.

Mel Gibson, acclaimed actor and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge, is currently working on Destroyer, a film based on the Wukovits’ book, Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack. The film will be centered around the 90 minutes of chaos experienced by the crew of the Laffey on April 16, 1945. In the span of roughly an hour and a half, the Laffey was hit by four bombs and struck by as many as eight kamikazes.


4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

USS Laffey (DD 724) during World War II, packing six dual-purpose five-inch guns and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Laffey’s story didn’t start and end with those fateful 90 minutes, however. After Okinawa, she was repaired and went on to see action in the Korean War. After Korea, she served until 1975, when she was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels. Unlike many of her sister ships that went directly to the scrapyard, she was preserved as a museum and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

USS Laffey (DD 724, right) next to USS Hank (DD 702), a sister ship named after William Hank, the commanding officer of the first USS Laffey (DD 459).

(U.S. Navy)

Laffey’s commanding officer, Commander Frederick J. Becton, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that April day in 1945. Becton was a well-decorated troop in World War II. He received the Silver Star four times, including once for heroism on D-Day and twice more for actions in the Philippines while commanding the Laffey.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The first USS Laffey (DD 459), a Benson-class destroyer, pulling alongside another ship in 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

A previous USS Laffey, a Benson-class destroyer with the hull number DD 459, saw action in the Battle of Cape Esperance, but became a legend during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. The destroyer closed to within 20 feet of the Japanese battleship Hiei and wounded Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe before being sunk by enemy fire. The sinking of the Laffey cost many US lives, but left the Japanese without command in a pivotal moment.

It seems as though the name ‘Laffey’ is destined to fight the odds.

Check out the video below to see director Mel Gibson’s excitement as he discusses the near-impossible bravery of the USS Laffey at Okinawa.

www.youtube.com

Articles

The 9 dirtiest (and most effective) hand-to-hand combat moves

When the military needs to get down and dirty with the enemy, it usually means a few things have gone wrong. It’s best for the U.S. if fights are conducted at long range where more assets can be brought in to assist.


Still, the enemy gets a vote and if they want to fight hand-to-hand, America is willing to oblige. Using the major “weapons of the body” as well as grappling techniques, troops jockey for position and then strike any soft spots they can find, hurting, crippling, or killing the enemy.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Illustration: US Marine Corps

Here are 8 ways the ground pounders can make sure they come out on top.

1. Eye gouge

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Illustration: US Marine Corps

A perennial favorite, the eye gouge is exactly what it sounds like. Either two fingers are thrust into the eyes sockets or two thumbs. Fingers are aimed to slide in under the eyeballs while thumbs should be aimed for the inner corners of the eye, near the nose. Either way, the goal is to scoop the eyes out or crush them inside the occipital cavity.

For obvious reasons, the military services require that this be practiced against a dummy or a sparring pad rather than a human.

2. Elbow strikes to the back of the neck

Any elbow strike can do some damage. There’s the low-to-high that strikes an enemy beneath the chin, the horizontal that smashes into a soft spot of the body or face, and then there’s striking an enemy in the base of the skull with an elbow strike.

It requires that the target is doubled over to work well, so this is a great way to finish the fight after a Long Knee or a solid strike to the stomach or groin.

3. The Long Knee

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Illustration: US Army

When a fighter wants to knee the enemy but there’s a little too much space to come up directly, they use the long knee and move forward with their strike. It works even better when they can get a hold of the target and pull them towards the knee. Aim for the soft parts of the abdomen or the groin to really do some damage.

4. Up Knee

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Illustration: US Army

If the target tries to move away, feel free to pull harder on their head and transition to the Up Knee, using the knee strike to hit an opponent right in the face. This can also work if the target has bad posture or is leaned over for another reason.

5. Throat punch

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter

The throat punch isn’t just a common internet joke. The Marine Corps lists the throat as a good target for lead hand punches, rear hand punches, and uppercuts. A good punch to the throat can crush the windpipe and even a more modest hit is going to hurt and throw the opponent off balance.

Go straight for the Adam’s apple and remember to follow through.

6. Stomps to the groin or knees

It’s all in the headline. If the enemy falls to the ground, a downward stomp can make sure they stay there. Stomping the groin will cause extreme pain and possibly nausea while a solid hit to the knee can disable the joint and make it impossible to stand.

7. Ax stomp to the wherever

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Monroe F. Seigle

While the standard stomp is straight down, the ax stomp is a backward swing. This allows the power of the strike to be concentrated in the heel. To add more power, slightly bend the knee of the non-striking leg to gain more downward momentum.

An ax stomp to the face while wearing new boots can easily split skin open and crush underlying bone. Not exactly a sparring technique, but it can finish a real fight.

8. Nutcracker choke

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Illustration: US Army

This colorfully-named choke involves grabbing the sides or rear of an opponent’s collar before pulling the hands into the center and crushing the Adam’s apple with the knuckles of the index finger. The tightened collar keeps the opponent from squirming away while the knuckles cut off the target’s airflow.

9. Fish Hook

Fish hooking is simple. When a target is facing away, reach around and slip fingers into the cheeks and pull hard. This allows the attacker to control their opponents head to a degree, can incite panic in the enemy, and hurts. The attacker should be careful to avoid the enemy’s teeth since this can backfire quickly.

Articles

This is what made the F-4 Phantom II the deadliest fighter to fly over Vietnam

Imagine, as a fighter pilot, being able to see your enemy without them knowing you’re even in the area. Sounds like some newfangled stealth capability you’d expect to come stock on a fifth generation fighter, like the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II, right?


But what if I were to tell you that the US Air Force possessed such a capability as far back as the early 1970s, far before the F-22 and concepts of its ilk were even on the minds of engineers who’d eventually design them? Heck, more than half of those engineers and designers were probably still finishing off college or hadn’t yet completed grade school.

Called the APX-80, but more popularly known by its codename, “Combat Tree”, this top secret technology was first equipped on McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs, the US Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber aircraft. Today, we call the system involved “Non-Cooperative Target Recognition”, after having developed it for years. Back then, Combat Tree was a next-generation game-changer which would only be equipped on a select number of F-4Ds, which would fly in hunter/killer packs with other F-4Es (Phantoms built with internal rotary cannons). The precise details of how Combat Tree worked are still classified to this very day, but we do know, to an extent, how Phantom aircrews used it.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

Instead of activating the powerful radar scanner in the nose of the Phantom, weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the rear cockpit of the fighter would use Combat Tree to look around the sky for specialized transponders built into enemy aircraft flown by the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF; North Vietnam’s military aerial element). These transponders were actually designed to prevent friendly-fire incidents, where North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations and surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacements would accidentally target and hit friendly fighters in a bid to shoot down enemy American aircraft. Referred to as “IFF” transponders or (Identification Friend or Foe), these beacons would relay a code to scanners built into SAM and GCI search radar computers, allowing their crews to distinguish between their own fighters and marauding jets of the USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps.

Combat Tree would “challenge” or “interrogate” each transponder it came across, asking in return whether or not the aircraft mated to the transponder was allied or otherwise. As soon as Combat Tree ascertained the allegiance of the aircraft after receiving the automatic response from the VPAF MiG-21’s transponder (completely unbeknownst to the MiG’s pilot, mind you), it would accurately plot its quarry’s location on a display in the rear cockpit of the F-4, and open up the hunt for the pilot flying in the front seat of the Phantom. Conversely, using the Phantom’s radar would have likely tipped off enemy fighters that they were being “painted” or tracked by other aircraft in the sky, thus losing any edge of surprise that the American fighters would have previously owned. Not only did this make MiG interceptions by Phantoms “stealthier”, it also allowed F-4 pilots to engage VPAF MiG-21s at greater distances, beyond visual range (BVR).

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
A U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas EF-4C Phantom II aircraft (s/n 63-7474) of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing over North Vietnam in December 1972. | U.S. Air Force photo

Prior to the existence and fielding of Combat Tree, all US military fighter pilots operating in Vietnamese skies were forced to get closer to VPAF MiG fighters to gain a positive identification on enemy aircraft before attacking them. Since radar only determines whether or not there are other aircraft in the sky ahead of your own, a visual identification is required to figure out whose aircraft those are. While American F-4 Phantom IIs were much more technologically advanced, they were still less maneuverable within the parameters of a close-in dogfight than a MiG-21 or the older MiG-19, also flown by the VPAF. This led to frustratingly high loss rates for American fighters. Combat Tree exponentially enhanced the margin of safety for American pilots by allowing them to gain positive identifications without pushing them into envelopes which greatly favored North Vietnamese MiG drivers.

The North Vietnamese eventually wised up to the presence of such a technology, though, they didn’t quite know what it was or how it functioned. The VPAF’s ranking officers began noticing a sharp increase in attrition rates with their fighter forces, especially those that found themselves tangling with US Air Force fighter jets. Cells of MiG-21s were reportedly being engaged at distances never before seen during the war, and with deadly accuracy. Radio transmissions between pilots, intercepted by picket stations, were able to pinpoint the reason for the suddenly high MiG-loss rate the North Vietnamese were sustaining – their aircraft’s IFF transponders. The VPAF’s pilots were instructed, there on out, to only turn them on when absolutely necessary, but to otherwise fly without any IFF protection, making them vulnerable to their own surface-to-air missiles in addition to the threat posed by American fighters in the area of operations.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

Combat Tree’s effectiveness as a device that allowed American pilots to own the first look/first shot/first kill advantage wasn’t completely diminished by this discovery, however. By the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, Combat Tree had earned assists in a number of US Air Force kills against North Vietnamese aircraft. In fact, Combat Tree was was responsible for helping Air Force legends Richard “Steve” Ritchie and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue reach ace status (achieving five confirmed kills) between May to September, 1972. Since the early 1970s, the APX-80, or at least the lessons learned from Combat tree, has likely been redeveloped and extensively modernized for use with America’s current fighter fleet. Combat Tree, in a way, can be considered the forerunner of the modern sensors you’d find today on an F-35 or the F-22, which allow the aircraft to “see” the enemy before they even enter the playing field.

Originally published on The Tactical Air Network in January 2017.

Articles

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
Articles

This is the all-Jewish force who took it to the Nazis in North Africa

The French military doesn’t get a lot of love these days; their crushing defeat and capitulation in 1940 still colors the way the world sees the armed forces of France. It’s a completely undeserved reputation, however. The French are much better at fighting wars than you might think.


4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The Free French Foreign Legionnaires assault a Nazi position.

One part of this is the French Foreign Legion and its cadre of criminals, strongmen, war junkies, and other badasses who decided to get a clean slate by joining the Legion. In World War II, the Legion was just a capable as it is today — and they capitulated to no one. In 1942, they were joined by a group of Jewish soldiers who decided they had enough of the anti-Semitism in Europe.

And they were going to prove their mettle.

Related: This is why the French are better at war than you think

In 1940, the British created 15 divisions of some 30,0000 Jewish soldiers from the Mandate of Palestine. Within two years, the Jewish troops were sent to fight in North Africa, where the Nazi Afrika Korps routed the Allies time and again.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
The Jewish Brigade in formation. (Imperial War Museum)

At a small oasis in Libya, guarding an old Turkish fort, the Free French Foreign Legion begin to reinforce their position. The fort, called Bir Hakeim, was a sort of last stand for the Allies. If Field Marshal Erwin Rommel could punch his army through the French position, he could take the vital port city of Tobruk. Near the end of the Legionnaires’ lines was a place called Bir-el Hamat.

This is where the Jewish fighters of WWII would make their presence felt.

They were a small group of 400 minelayers sent by the British and led by Maj. Félix Liebmann to reinforce the French position. They had no heavy weapons and were generally poorly armed and equipped. Rommel’s men targeted the Jewish position as the weakest point and sent a truce flag over to demand the Jewish surrender. When they refused, the Nazis hit the Jewish defenders with everything they had.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Jewish Brigade troops in infantry training.

The combined German-Italian force was trying to get around the Free French line to surround and destroy the remaining French, advance on Tobruk, and destroy the British 8th Army.

Unable to radio the French a few miles up the road, the Jewish fighters held their position using molotov cocktails on the tanks that didn’t get destroyed in the minefield. For eight days — low on water, ammunition, and supplies — the Jewish troops withstood relentless, constant bombardment and fought the Afrika Korps to a standstill.

On the last day, the French and Jewish forces got the word to retreat. They held off the Nazis long enough for the British 8th Army to retreat — and they did, in the middle of the night. Three-fourths of the unit were killed or wounded at Bir-el Hamat and they marched 60 some miles all the way to Gasr el-Abid.

When they arrived, they folded up their flag, a gold Star of David on a blue and white striped background — a precursor to the modern-day state of Israel’s flag. Observing the men folding their colors, French Foreign Legion commander General Marie-Pierre Koenig demanded why they stopped flying their flag. Under the British, Maj. Liebmann explained, they were not allowed to fly their own colors.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Flag of the Jewish Brigade Group.

Koenig had the flag attached to his jeep, next to the Free French flag, at equal stature.

The British 8th Army was able to to defeat the Afrika Korps at el-Alamein the very next month, in a pivotal battle that kept the Axis from advancing into Egypt and capturing the Suez Canal. By 1944, the Jewish Brigade (as they came to be called) was formed to take the fight to the Nazis in Italy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.

At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.

The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.


4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.

(National Archives)

A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.

Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.

What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.

Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).

His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.

This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?

(National Archives)

Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.

His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.

Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.

(Library of Congress)

Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.

It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.

He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.

Articles

These two Medal of Honor recipients could be the first American servicemen to become saints

Though “saintly” is a term quite often used to describe the virtuous actions of American troops in combat zones — from providing humanitarian aid and medicine to those in need, to placing themselves between civilians and the line of fire — it could have a very literal meaning in the near future when describing two deceased military chaplains.


Decades after their passing, Catholic priests Fr. Emil Kapaun, and Fr. Vincent Capodanno, are currently undergoing the process for canonization with the Roman Catholic Church, which could see these two Medal of Honor recipients become the first official saints to have served with the US military.

Emil Kapaun was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the US Army in 1944, seeing service as a chaplain in the Burma Theater towards the end of World War II. Briefly leaving the Army at the war’s conclusion to pursue graduate studies, he returned to active duty soon afterwards and was stationed in Japan with a cavalry unit.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Chaplain Emil Kapaun celebrates a Catholic Mass for cavalry soldiers during the Korean War (Photo US Army)

The young priest, respected among his peers and often sought out as a source of advice and friendship by the soldiers he ministered to, was sent back to a combat zone during the onset of the Korean War. Using the hood of a jeep as his altar, Kapaun led prayer services and Catholic Masses in the midst of combat for soldiers who requested it, sometimes even while under withering enemy fire that would see his jeep lit up with machine gun rounds by Chinese and North Korean forces.

The chaplain was taken prisoner, along with a number of others from his unit during the Battle of Unsan, and was force-marched to a Chinese prison camp where he and his fellow prisoners of war would undergo harsh treatment at the hands of their captors. Kapaun developed a quick reputation for stealing food and medicine from Chinese storage sites at the camp to feed the malnourished and aid the sick POWs.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Emil Kapaun’s official portrait (Photo US Army)

He would also go without his meager rations for considerable periods of time, having volunteered them to others who he felt needed it more than he did. Above that, Kapaun incurred the wrath of his Chinese guards for halting the executions of wounded American troops by tackling or shoving the soldiers lined up to commit the dastardly act.

Still ministering to his fellow POWs as best as he could, Kapaun died in captivity. His body was thrown in a mass grave by his Chinese captors along with the remains of many other deceased American POWs. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2013 by former President Barack Obama.

Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno was another military chaplain similarly decorated for bravery like Kapaun, who lost his life in war. After joining the Catholic priesthood and completing his studies in a seminary, the freshly-ordained reverend from New York was commissioned an officer in the Navy upon hearing of a need for chaplains to minister to Marines and sailors.

Though he could have requested to stay away from the front lines, Capodanno felt that he was called to a deployment overseas in Vietnam, ministering to infantry Marines embroiled in a brutal fight against the Communist North Vietnamese forces. In 1966, Capodanno’s request was granted and he was sent to South Vietnam to serve with the 7th Marine Regiment.

Liked unanimously by the Marines he ministered to, Capodanno was affectionately referred to as “The Grunt Padre” for his willingness to go into combat and assist corpsmen in administering aid to casualties sustained in battle. Capodanno extended his tour in Vietnam for another year, this time with 5th Marine Regiment.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Vincent Capodanno’s official Navy portrait (Photo US Navy)

It was during this last tour in 1967, that the Navy chaplain would lose his life. In the onslaught of an outnumbered fight, where small elements of Marines were pitted against an overwhelming force of NVA troops and irregulars, Capodanno ran into battle repeatedly to pull fallen Marines away from danger, sustaining critical wounds himself.

Refusing to be evacuated, the Grunt Padre continued onward, giving Last Rites to the dying while tending to the wounded with combat medical aid. A burst of machine gun fire finally cut down Capodanno as he attempted to shield a fallen Marine from enemy fire with his own body.

The Navy chaplain’s heroism and valor under fire was witnessed by every Marine and corpsman on the field of battle that day, and the following year, Capodanno’s family was notified that he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor as a result.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Chaplain Capodanno celebrating a Catholic Mass for Marines during a lull in fighting in Vietnam (Photo US Marine Corps)

In the years after their passing, Kapaun and Capodanno have generated huge followings, especially among soldiers, Marines and sailors alike, a number of whom devoted time to praying for their spiritual intercession. And interestingly enough, a number of miraculous events have occurred in the time since, apparently attributed to the assistance these two chaplains have supposedly provided from even beyond the grave, still serving faithfully.

According to the Catholic Church, a series of verified miracles attributed to a candidate for sainthood are required before someone can be confirmed through a process called the “cause for canonization.” Currently, the miracles ascribed to Capodanno and Kapaun’s intercession are under procedural investigation by the Church, and should they be approved, these two former servicemen who gave their lives for their brothers in arms could very well find themselves canonized the first American military saints in history.

Articles

‘Artillery mishap’ claims 2 US soldiers in Iraq

Two American soldiers have been killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq, the US military said, adding that the deaths were “not due to enemy contact” but instead were the result of an artillery “mishap.”


Five other soldiers were wounded, the DoD said.

The soldiers killed in the incident were identified as 22-year-old Sgt. Allen L. Stigler Jr. of Arlington, Texas, and 30-year-old Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks of Brooklyn, New York.

Both were artillerymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. The 2nd BCT is based at Camp Swift, Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of US forces battling the Islamic State group in Iraq, said the coalition “sends our deepest condolences to these heroes’ families, friends and teammates.”

More than 5,000 US troops are taking part in the war against IS in Iraq, according the Pentagon. The vast majority operate within heavily guarded bases, collecting and sharing intelligence with Iraqi forces and providing logistical support.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
U.S. Army Paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division secure a helicopter-landing zone during simulated casualty evacuation in a force provider drill at Camp Swift, Makhmour, Iraq, on Jan. 22, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ian Ryan)

But as the fight has evolved over the past three years, more and more US troops are operating close to the front lines. In addition to the two troops killed August 13, five other US troops have been killed in Iraq in the fight against IS, including two in the battle to retake the northern city of Mosul.

More than 1,200 Iraqi forces were killed in the battle for Mosul and more than 6,000 wounded, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier this month.

Iraq’s prime minister declared victory against IS in Mosul in July, and Iraqi forces are now preparing to retake the IS-held town of Tel Afar, to the west.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the helicopters of World War II

Think of a military helicopter. Think of it in combat. Is it a Black Hawk dropping off operators in urban combat? A Chinook picking troops up from a remote ridge or rooftop? Maybe you’re old school and you see a Piasecki H-25 or H-19 Chickasaw from the Korean War. But few people will think all the way back to World War II when German and American helicopters all served on the front lines.


4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was one of America’s only helicopters to see active service in World War II, acting predominantly as a rescue and transportation asset in the China-Burma-India Theater.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

America’s military helicopter program was largely carried by two companies, both prominent helicopter manufacturers today who, oddly enough, are now competing to create the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft. Sikorsky’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian-American immigrant who wanted to help his adopted country fight in World War II.

He received financial backing from friends to start manufacturing aircraft, predominantly fixed-wing planes, for the U.S. military. But, off to the side, he was developing new helicopter designs including the VS-500, an aircraft that used one large rotor blade to generate lift and another, smaller rotor blade mounted on a long boom to generate anti-torque. This is the same blade configuration now used on everything from the UH-60 to the AH-64 Apache.

The VS-300 prototype quickly gave way the R-4, a two-seater helicopter that would serve most predominantly with the U.S. Army but also the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Royal Air Force. It first began rolling off the production line in 1942 and was primarily used for observation and to ferry supplies.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The German-made Flettner 282 helicopter was employed against Allied naval assets near the end of World War II, but was then captured by Allied troops. In this photo, it’s undergoing testing with the U.S. military.

(Public Domain)

But, the helicopter was also employed in two daring rescue missions in the challenging terrain of the China-Burma-India Theater. The helicopters could just barely make it through the high mountain passes that planes could easily fly over, but the rotary aircraft could land in small clearings that were impossible for planes to stop in or take off from.

Other helicopters were in development during the war. The Bell Aircraft Corporation, later known as Bell Helicopters and now Bell Flight, created the Bell Model 30 that would see limited use on the home front, but it would not be deployed overseas.

Meanwhile, Germany’s helicopter program was much more advanced than America’s or the Allies’. They debuted experimental helicopter designs before the war and even flew prototypes in front of adoring crowds for weeks in 1938.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The Focke-Angelis Fa-223 helicopter was a German machine popular during the war. It had a heavy lift capability for the day that allowed it to re-position artillery in forward positions.

(U.S. Air Force)

This pre-war research led to the Fa-223, the “Dragon.” Five types were planned with missions from anti-submarine, to search and rescue, to cargo carrying. But it really predicted future developments when it was used to recover crashed aircraft and to move artillery batteries to inaccessible mountaintops where they would have greater range and better defenses.

Meanwhile, the Flettner-282 Hummingbird was designed to seek out enemy submarines at sea and other threats. It was completed late in the war with early models going through testing in 1943. But the first 24 were completed in time for limited deployments to the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean Sea.

A number of other models were in experimental phases during the closing months of the war, but saw limited or no combat use before war’s end. But the American, German, and other designs that didn’t quite make it into the fight would prove influential for decades to come.

Articles

Russia tells the Western world not to worry about its giant military exercise

In a bid to dispel Western fears about planned war games by Russia and Belarus, the Russian military said Aug. 29 the maneuvers simulating a response to foreign-backed “extremists” won’t threaten anyone.


The maneuvers, to be held Sept. 14-20 in Belarus and western Russia, have raised NATO concerns. Some alliance members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized Moscow for a lack of transparency and questioned its intentions.

Amid spiraling tensions over fighting in Ukraine, Western worries about the planned maneuvers have ranged from allegations that Russia could keep its forces in Belarus after the drills, to fears of a surprise attack on the Baltics.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin, rejected what he described as Western “myths about the so-called Russian threat.”

“The most improbable scenarios have been floated,” he said at a briefing for foreign military attaches. “Some have reached as far as to claim that the Zapad 2017 exercises will serve as a ‘platform for invasion’ and ‘occupation’ of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.”

Fomin said the Russian military will invite foreign observers to the maneuvers, which will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, about 70 aircraft, up to 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems, and 10 navy ships.

Moscow’s assurances, however, have failed to assuage Russia’s neighbors, which expect the drills to be far greater in scope than officially declared.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin (center). Image from Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said last month that Moscow could deploy up to 100,000 troops for the maneuvers. Poland’s Deputy Defense Minister Michal Dworczyk also questioned Russia’s official claims, saying that Warsaw expects many more Russian soldiers and equipment to be deployed.

Speaking Aug. 28 on Polish state Radio 1, Dworczyk expressed hope that the exercise “will not include any aggressive scenarios” and won’t cause any incidents, adding that “operations on this scale always run this risk.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that the alliance will send two observers to the maneuvers, but noted that access offered by Belarus does not constitute real monitoring. He said NATO is seeking “a more thorough way of observing” the drills.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (right) speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left). Photo by USAF Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley

NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and held regular drills in the region — activities that Moscow has criticized as a reflection of its hostile intentions.

The alliance has watched Russian military moves with utmost concern following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Russia had leased a naval base in Crimea prior to its seizure, and used troops deployed there to quickly overtake the Black Sea peninsula.

Speaking in Moscow, Fomin said next month’s exercise will simulate a military response to foreign-backed extremist groups and aren’t directed against anyone in particular.

“Despite the fact that the bulk of it will be held on the territory of Belarus, we had in mind an imaginary adversary unrelated to any specific region,” he said. “According to our estimates, the situation envisaged in the maneuvers’ scenario could develop in any part of the world.”

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Dworczyk, Poland’s deputy defense minister, said Warsaw is particularly worried about the possibility that Russia could keep some of its forces in Belarus after the maneuvers.

“Obviously, this would negatively impact the region,” he said.

Belarus has maintained close political, economic, and military contacts with its giant eastern neighbor. Its authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, has relied on cheap Russian oil and billions of dollars in loans to keep the nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat.

But relations between the two allies often have been mired in disputes, as Lukashenko has accused the Kremlin of trying to strong-arm Belarus into surrendering control over its most-prized industrial assets.

Belarus hosts a Russian military early warning radar and a navy communications facility, but Lukashenko has resisted Kremlin pressure for hosting a Russian air base. Some in Belarus voiced fears that the base could provide a foothold for Moscow if it decides to annex its neighbor, like what happened in Crimea.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

The flamboyant Belarusian leader has hailed bilateral military cooperation and criticized NATO’s moves, but he has refused to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. He also failed to follow suit when Moscow acknowledged Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after a brief 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based independent military analyst, said that while Moscow would certainly like to permanently station its forces in Belarus, Lukashenko will strongly oppose such a move because that could put his nation in cross-fire in case of a conflict between Russia and NATO.

“The possibility of a permanent Russian military deployment in Belarus appears unlikely,” Golts said.

4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent political analyst in Minsk, agreed.

“Lukashenko is involved in a delicate balancing act, trying to show his loyalty to the Kremlin without damaging ties with the West,” he said.

The chief of the Belarusian military’s General Staff, Oleg Belokonev, pledged Aug. 29 that all Russian troops involved in the maneuvers will leave Belarus by the end of September.