5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world - We Are The Mighty
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5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

Before the tank entered the lexicon of military history, there was horse cavalry.


The horse, like the modern day tank, provided support to the infantry and artillery. However, while every kingdom, like every modern nation today, has some sort of mobile land support designed to punch holes through enemy lines, only a handful of nations have the best trained. So here we take a look at 5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world.

1. The Numidians (light cavalry)

The Numidians were from what is now Algeria and were known for their cavalry abilities.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
The Numidian cavalry of the ancient world. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Hannibal used these Numidian cavalrymen during the Second Punic War. So what made the Numidian cavalry so darn good?

The Numidians saw many battles during Hannibal’s campaign in Roman Italy. The Greek historian Polybius, describes the Numidian warriors as light cavalry armed with missile weapons (javelins). The Battle of Cannae 216 BCE, showcased their abilities.

What made the Numidian cavalry so effective at Cannae is that unlike the Spaniard and Celtic cavalries that also accompanied Hannibal, the Spaniard and Celtic horsemen were heavy cavalries that fought en masse, much like the Roman cavalry. The Numidians, being light cavalry, fought in a much looser formation and because of this, they harassed the Roman cavalry with complicated tactics before disengaging.

And while the Celtic and Spaniard cavalries had the Roman cavalry fixed, the Numidians went from harassment to providing shock support once the Roman cavalry turned their back. This caused the Roman cavalry to flee once the Numidians made contact and understood that if they do not make a break for it, they would be enveloped and decimated.

2. The Scythians (light cavalry)

The Scythians may not be the original inventors of asymmetrical warfare, but one could argue that they perfected it.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Scythians were ancient nomadic horse warriors who were first mentioned by the Assyrians during the reign of Sargon II (reigned 722 – 705 BCE). What made these horsemen so powerful was that they were raised in the saddle and were typically armed with a distinctive composite bow.

The Scythian bow is unique and revered throughout the ancient world by kings, historians, and a philosopher. King Esarhaddon of Assyria had a Cimmerian bow, the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus were equipped with their bows and arrows, and even Hercules’ Greek portrait displays him armed with a Scythian bow. The Greek philosopher Plato said,

The customs of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes.

When one examines the Scythian lifestyle, one can easily gain an understanding of the type of warfare necessarily carried on against more sedentary (non-migratory) people, like those in Mesopotamia. The Scythian took a guerilla approach to warfare as their method, using small bands to conduct military operations. Herodotus mentions their method of warfare when King Darius of Persia campaigned against them.

It is thus with me, Persian: I have never fled for fear of any man, nor do I now flee from you; this that I have done is no new thing or other than my practice in peace. But as to the reason why I do not straightway fight with you, this too I will tell you. For we Scythians have no towns or planted lands, that we might meet you the sooner in battle, fearing lest the one be taken or the other wasted. But if nothing will serve you but fighting straightway, we have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you for those graves or no. Till then we will not join battle unless we think it good.

The description indicates that the Scythians against whom Darius was warring had no center of gravity. King Darius’ military campaign into Scythia (modern Ukraine) went for nothing. As he could not catch them, the Scythians burnt their own their fields, destroyed Persian supplies, and harassed his forces with hit and run tactics.

In the end, Darius turned his large army around and headed home before it was annihilated.

3. The Parthians (light cavalry)

The Parthian horsemen are much like the Scythians.

The Parthians also known as the Parni/Aparni, originated from eastern Iran and like the Scythians, wore light attire, carried a composite bow and a sidearm — possibly a sword or a dagger. What made the Parthian horse archers so powerful was their ability to hit and run, and this was demonstrated at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The Roman general Crassus led his Roman legions into the desert wilderness thinking they were going to face a pussycat. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with an equal foe. Once Crassus gave the order to form a square, the Parthian horse archers saw an opportunity. They showered the Romans with raining death.

The average Parthian horse archer, with a quiver of 30 arrows, loosed between eight to ten arrows a minute at Carrhae. It would take almost three minutes to exhaust his arsenal before needing to be resupplied. The amount of Parthian horse archers at the battle is estimated at 10,000. Now, if all 10,000 fired away for 20 minutes, the amount of arrows fired by an individual horse archer would have been between 160-200 arrows. Take 10,000 and the amount of arrows fired upon the Roman soldiers are estimated to have been an astounding 1.6-2 million arrows in a 20-minute timeframe.

The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch describes the devastation brought upon the Roman legions.

In the convulsion and agony of their pain they writhed as the arrows struck them; the men broke them off in their wounds and then lacerated and disfigured their own bodies by trying to tear out by main force the barbed arrow heads that had pierced through their veins and muscles.

Romans could do little, for if they break formation they are dead, if they stand still they are dead but have a chance. Only nightfall saved them. While the Parthian horse archers showered the Romans with death, the Parthian cataphract was the hammer.

4. The Parthian Cataphract (heavy armored cavalry)

When it comes to heavy cavalry in the ancient world, the Parthian cataphract takes the lead.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Parthian heavy armored cataphract. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The word cataphract comes from the Greek Kataphraktos means “completely enclosed.” The origins of the cataphract may not have started with the Parthians but with the Massagetae, who also inhabited portions of Eastern Iran three centuries before the arrival of the Parthians. If you want more info on this, click “here.”

The Parthian cataphract in many ways looked like the medieval knights of Europe. What made them so effective on the field of battle was that the rider and horse were covered in armor. The rider would carry a lance, sword, and presumably a bow.

At the Battle of Carrhae, the cataphract would charge into Roman lines once the legions locked shields to protect themselves from the arrows. According to Plutarch, the cataphracts would hit the lines with such a force that “many (Romans) perished hemmed in by the horsemen. Others were knocked over by the pikes or were carried off transfixed.”

This hit and run attack would go on for some time until the Roman broke and fled.

5. Late Roman Equites Cataphractarii and Sassanid Clibanarii (very heavily armored cavalry)

It may be an understatement to say that Equites cataphractarii were heavy cavalry as they were indeed the heaviest of the bunch.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Equites cataphractarii were Roman. What is known about them is that they were designed to combat the best the east (Sassanid Empire) had to offer, which were the Clibanarii. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus describes the Equites cataphractarii:

among them were the full-armoured cavalry (whom they called clibanarii or cataphracti equites ), all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men. Thin circles of iron plates, fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covered their limbs; so that whichever way they had to move their members, their garment fitted, so skilfully were the joinings made

The Clibanarii were Sassanid. However, the Sassanids also used this term to describe the Equites cataphractarii. The description provided by Ammianus Marcellinus about the Clibanarii goes as follows:

Moreover, all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skilfully fitted to their heads, that, since their entire bodies were plated with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings fitted to the circle of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath. Of these some, who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would think them held fast by clamps of bronze.

The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather.

So who had the best cavalry in the ancient world? Well, the answer to that question is the various nomads who dotted the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, and the Iranian plateau. These various nomads are the ones who not only perfected horse archery and heavy cavalry, they also brought civilization the chariot.

However, horse archers and heavy cavalry — no matter the kingdom — would come to an end once the gunpowder age arrived. Eventually new tactics took the rider off his mount and placed him into a tank.

Articles

DARPA is rolling out a robotic co-pilot

The Pentagon’s research arm is now demonstrating an entirely new level of aircraft autonomy which blends the problem-solving ability of the human mind with computerized robotic functions.


The Defense Advance Research Project Agency, or DARPA, program is called Aircrew Labor in Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS.

A key concept behind ALIAS involves a recognition that while human cognition is uniquely suited to problem-solving and things like rapid reactions to fast-changing circumstances, there are many procedural tasks which can be better performed by computers, developers explained.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
A pilot prepares for flight in an F-22 Raptor. | US Air Force photo

ALIAS uses a software backbone designed with open interfaces along with a pilot-operated touchpad and speech recognition software. Pilots can use a touch screen or voice command to direct the aircraft to perform functions autonomously.

For instance, various check-list procedures and safety protocols such as engine status, altitude gauges, lights, switches and levers, can be more rapidly, safely and efficiently performed autonomously by computers.

“This involves the routine tasks that humans need to do but at times find mundane and boring. The ALIAS system is designed to be able to take out those dull mission requirements such as check lists and monitoring while providing a system status to the pilot. The pilot can concentrate on the broader mission at hand,” Mark Cherry, President and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.

The aircraft is able to perform a wide range of functions, such as activating emergency procedures, pitching, rolling, monitoring engine check lights, flying autonomously to pre-determined locations or “waypoints,” maneuvering and possibly employing sensors – without every move needing human intervention.

Developers explain that ALIAS, which has already been demonstrated by DARPA industry partners Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, can be integrated into a wide range of aircraft such as B-52s or large civilian planes.

Initial configurations of ALIAS include small aircraft such as a Cessna 208 Caravan, Diamond DA42 and Bell UH-1 helicopters, Cherry explained. The ALIAS system is able learn and operate on both single engine and dual-engine aircraft.

Both Lockheed and Aurora Flight Sciences have demonstrated ALIAS; DARPA now plans to conduct a Phase III down-select where one of the vendors will be chosen to continue development of the project.

As algorithms progress to expand into greater “artificial intelligence” functions, computers with increasingly networked and rapid processors are able to organize, gather, distill and present information by themselves. This allows for greater human-machine interface, reducing what is referred to as the “cognitive burden” upon pilots.

There are some existing sensors, navigational systems and so-called “fly-by-wire” technologies which enable an aircraft to perform certain functions by itself. ALIAS, however, takes autonomy and human-machine interface to an entirely new level by substantially advancing levels of independent computer activity.

In fact, human-machine interface is a key element of the Army-led Future Vertical Lift next-generation helicopter program planning to field a much more capable, advanced aircraft sometime in the 2030s.

It is certainly conceivable that a technology such as ALIAS could prove quite pertinent to these efforts; a Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration Army ST program is already underway as a developmental step toward engineering this future helicopter. The intention of the FVL requirement, much like ALIAS, is to lessen the cognitive burden upon pilots, allowing them to focus upon and prioritize high-priority missions.

The human brain therefore functions in the role of command and control, directing the automated system to then perform tasks on its own, Cherry said.

“Help reduce pilot workload and increase safety in future platforms,” Cherry said.

Aircraft throttle, actuation systems and yokes are all among airplane functions able to be automated by ALIAS.

“It uses beyond line of sight communication which is highly autonomous but still flies like a predator or a reaper,” John Langford, CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.

Due to its technological promise and success thus far, ALIAS was given an innovation award recently at the GCN Dig IT awards.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This castaway airman helped map the entire world

A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.


As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.

But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Airman 2nd Class Bob ‘Red’ Cunningham, 1374th Mapping and Charting Squadron, sits near his footlocker and reads a magazine during his six-month assignment on North Danger Island in 1956. The 22-year old radar operator and his three teammates lived in a tent and shared the tiny island in the South China Sea with a six-man Air Force radio relay station team. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.

The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.

It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.

Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.

Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.

“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”

Also Read: Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.

To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.

The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.

“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”

The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.

On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.

“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Cunningham pumps water from an old well on North Danger Island in 1956. The Airmen only used this for laundry and washing. Drinking water was delivered in 55-gallon barrels. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.

A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.

Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.

“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”

Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.

“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”

The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.

Read Also: That time Americans demanded the Coast Guard rescue the cast of Gilligan’s Island

They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.

Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.

That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.

For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.

“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Cunningham points to the camp on ‘North Danger Island’ where he lived and worked as a radar operator for six months in 1956 during an Air Force project mapping the earth. (Air Force photo by Josh Turner)

In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.

Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.

“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”

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This Congressman wants to add “Marine Corps” to the Navy Department’s name

North Carolina Representative Walter Jones wants to elevate the Marines to be included in the name of the Navy Department. For the past 15 years, he has introduced legislation into the annual National Defense Authorization Act to create “the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.” Each year the action gets increased support in both houses of Congress but ultimately is shot down in the Senate. Jones believes not including the Marines in the official name of the department is an offense to Marines who’ve fought and died for the United States.


5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Paul A. Ochoa

“When we die, when mama and dada get that letter of condolence, it would be kind of nice if the Marine Corps was mentioned,” famous Marine Corps alum R. Lee Ermey told the Marine Corps Times in 2010. “Just change the letterhead. What’s the harm in that?”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the harm would come in the form of a cost of about $500,000 per year over a few years’ time. Since the National Security Act of 1947 delineated the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps as separate services, the only change to the Marines’ structure was the addition of the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1979.

Jones was elected in 1995 to North Carolina’s 3rd District, which includes Camp Lejune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. He has been introducing this legislation since 2001.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewart)

In 2010, Jones’ amendment was introduced to the House as a standalone bill, but even then, with 415 cosponsors (there are only 435 Representatives in the House), the Senate still killed it. Jones’ 2010 bill received the most cosponsors of any bill in Congress since the Congressional Record started keeping track. The effort to kill that bill was led by Senator John McCain.

“This isn’t about Walter Jones,” Jones told The Hill. “This isn’t about John McCain. This is about the Marines who serve this country. Haven’t they earned the right to be recognized?”

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is one of the greatest power moves in military history

Pissing contests are nothing new to the military. Anything that can be measured or scored will inevitably be used by a troop to try and one-up another. And when we know we have something over someone, we won’t let them forget it.

Within the aviation community, speed is king. And if you can fly faster than anyone else, then you’re the biggest badass in the air.

This is the story of perhaps the greatest one-upping in aviation history. It’s just one chapter of the fascinating story of Major Brian Shul, a life fully described in his autobiography, Sled Driver: Flying the World’s Fastest Jet.


5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

You know, as humble as you can be when you’re given the reins to the baddest aircraft the U.S. military has ever seen.

(U.S. Air Force)

Just to give you a picture of this badass, back in the Vietnam War, Shul flew an AT-28 and conducted 212 close air support missions. He was shot down near the Cambodian border and was unable to eject from his aircraft. He suffered major burns and other extensive wounds across his body while the enemy was circling around him. It took more than a day for pararescue to safely get him out of there and back to a military hospital stateside, at Fort Sam Houston.

It took two grueling months of intensive care, over 15 major operations over the course of a year, and countless physicians to get right. Doctors told him he was lucky to survive — and that he’d never fly again. He proved them wrong by flying his fighter jet just two days after being released.

Shul would later move on to flying the A-7D, was a part of the first operational A-10 squadron, and went on to be one of the first A-10 instructor pilots — all before finally being given the sticks to fly the SR-71 Blackbird. He went from almost certain death to piloting the fastest and highest-flying jet the world has ever seen.

And he remained humble throughout.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

The F-18 Hornet is cool — but it isn’t SR-71 cool.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John Mcgarity)

Shul and his RSO (or navigator), Maj. Walter Watkins, were on their final training sortie to finish logging the required 100 hours to attain “Mission Ready” status over the skies of Colorado, Arizona, and California. Zooming 80,000 feet above the Earth was a beautiful sight — in his book, Shul recalls being able to see the California coast from the Arizona border. Shul asked Watkins to plug him into the radio. Most of the chatter they heard was from the Los Angeles Center — it was typical radio traffic.

Usually, the Blackbird pilots wouldn’t bother chiming in, but this day was different.

We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: “November Charlie 175, I’m showing you at ninety knots on the ground.”

As a matter of protocol, the Center controllers will always treat everyone with respect, whether they’re a rookie pilot flying a rinky-dink Cessna or they’re arriving in Air Force One. Shul also recalled, however, that the more arrogant pilots would chime in, trying to act tough by requesting a readout of their own ground speed — just to show off to other nearby pilots.

Just moments after the Cessna’s inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. “I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed.” Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then, out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency.

You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. “Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check.” Before Center could reply, I’m thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol’ Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is.

He’s the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: “Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground.”

Keep in mind, there is no air-breathing aircraft on this planet that is faster than the SR-71 Blackbird. The only things faster are space shuttles and experimental, rocket-powered aircraft intended to reach the edges of outer space.

So, they chimed in.

Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: “Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?” There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request.”

Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.” I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling.

But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: “Ah, Center, much thanks, we’re showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money.” For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, “Roger that, Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.”

To put this in perspective, Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound in his Bell X-1 when he went 713.4 knots, or 820.9 miles per hour if it were on land. The Navy F-18 pilot, the one trying to act like Chuck Yeager, was going almost that fast.

Shul was going 1,900 knots, which is the same as 2,186.481 miles per hour. That’s 2.84 times faster than the speed of sound.

It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day’s work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.
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Today’s UCMJ was born out of the summary hanging of 13 American soldiers by the US Army

In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.

The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.

On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.

It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.

The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.

The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.

It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.

Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.

The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.

This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.

To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.

But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.

President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.

Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.

Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.

Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.

Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.

Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This battle in North Africa was Germany’s Dunkirk miracle

When German and Italian forces began to collapse in Sicily in World War II, it became clear that they could either fight to the last man or could evacuate the 100,000 men and gear to Italy to man a series of defensive lines that would cost the Allies years to conquer. They launched a massive evacuation as armored generals George Patton and Bernard Montgomery raced for their blood.


5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

The Liberty Ship Robert Rowan explodes after suffering multiple bomb hits during Operation Husky. The ship had been filled with vital ammunition that, when burning, was also volatile.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was not without its flaws and screw-ups, but the Allied troops tore open a gap on the beaches and then pressed themselves against the Axis lines, driving back German and Italian troops.

U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery raced at the head of armored columns toward the port city of Messina on the island of Sicily’s east coast. Messina sat only two miles from the Italian mainland. If Germany had enough time there, it could ferry many of the 100,000 survivors to safety to fight again.

Germany had lost about 250,000 to capture in North Africa. It couldn’t afford six figures again, especially with the growing weakness of Italy as an ally. Mussolini was killed by crowds at home, and it was clear that Italian troops wouldn’t necessarily remain.

For weeks, German and Italian troops dug into the mountains, fighting delaying actions. On August 8, with the eventual collapse clear, Germany began secretly ferrying 60,000 Italian troops and about 40,000 Germans across to Italy.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

German troops and their British prisoners of war wait for the return of a ferry that would take them from Sicily to mainland Italy in August 1943.

(Bild Bundesarchiv)

The Allies knew by the next day that some sort of evacuation was underway. But just like how the Nazis failed to capitalize on the Dunkirk evacuation, so too did the Allies fail at Messina. Allied leaders remained focused on the ground fight. No ships closed the Strait of Messina, no planes took out the ports in Messina or mainland Italy.

This failure would come under scrutiny at the time and in the decades since.

Germany not only got approximately 100,000 Axis troops across, they were able to recover 2,000 tons of ammunition, 47 tanks, 94 heavy artillery pieces, and almost 10,000 vehicles, a massive success of sealift capability.

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Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., speaks with Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard near the city of Brolo on Sicily. As the sign in the back indicates, Messina is nearby.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Of course, this made liberating Messina much easier than it otherwise would have been for Patton and Montgomery. But just like the evacuation at Dunkirk meant that Germany would have to face those troops later, the evacuation at Messina allowed Germany to reinforce itself in Italy.

This not only meant there were more German troops to kill in the defensive lines, but there were more German troops to hold Italy in the Tripartite Pact even as regular Italians wanted out.

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The first version of the Marine Corps’ Harrier crashed a lot

In the late 1960s the United States Marine Corps fell in love with the idea of an attack airplane that could take-off and land vertically. In theory, that airplane could be based very close to the action on the battlefield because it wouldn’t need a long runway to operate, and that short range would allow for quick close air support response times.


A couple of senior-ranking Marine pilots went to England to take a test flight in the British Harrier, and they were impressed enough to convince the Pentagon budgeteers to buy the service 110 of them. Since DoD had a thing about foreign-built hardware, they came up with a special arrangement where the airplanes were manufactured in England and assembled in America.

Starting in 1971, Marine Corps AV-8A Harrier squadrons were stood up at Yuma and Cherry Point. Because of the unique flight characteristics, only the best pilots were accepted for Harrier training. Unfortunately, in too many cases no amount of stick-and-rudder talent was enough to make up for an airplane that was poorly designed and overly ambitious, performance-wise, for the technology of the day.

Marine Air lost 55 AV-8As between 1971 and 1982. The Harrier had a Class A mishap (over $1 million in damage or aircraft destroyed) rate of 39 per 100,000 flight hours — the worst in modern military aviation history by far. Some of the mishaps were due to the inherently dangerous aspects of the attack mission — like dropping bombs in a steep dive and flying close to the ground in mountainous terrain — but about half of them happened in the vertical flight regime, the thing that made the Harrier unique.

The Harrier’s vectored thrust is what gives it the ability to take-off and land vertically and hover like a helicopter. Unlike the Harrier II that has a computer interface that prevents the pilot from accidently commanding the nozzles in a way that would throw the airplane out of balance, the first version of the jump jet required that the pilot manually adjust each throttle precisely to maintain a hover or to launch or land vertically. The result was an airplane that pilots described as “unforgiving” and that other tactical jet communities labeled as a “widow maker.”

Now watch this awesome documentary about the Harrier:

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US military made an ‘atomic cannon’

As a wise man once said, “They say that the best weapon is the one that you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree! I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.”

Adhering closely to this mantra, the M65 was indeed only fired once and then simply used as a deterrent in the early days of the Cold War. Why was this weapon so special? Well, it helps that it fired 280mm nuclear tipped artillery with blast power approximately that of Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima.


Designed by engineer Robert M. Schwartz in 1949, the shells, in addition to being larger than anything the US military had ever produced before, had to have a case some 4000 times stronger than that of the aforementioned bomb dropped on Hiroshima in order for the nuke to survive the extreme forces it would be subjected to when the weapon was fired. While you might think designing such an round would be insanely difficult, if not wholly impossible, Schwartz reportedly had a working rough design ready in just 15 days. The resulting W9 was essentially an 850 pound, 11 by 55 inch shell with a gun type nuclear tip capable of producing a 15 kiloton blast.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.

Of course, there was also the problem of the U.S. not then having a cannon capable of firing these W9 shells. Schwartz solved this too, drawing inspiration for the ultimate design of the M65 from German WW2-era railway cannons like the Krupp K5. He also designed the M65 such that it could be transported via roads, hugely increasing the weapon’s utility over railway cannons.

That said, to say the M65 was cumbersome is a massive understatement. Weighing around 83 tons tons, it was rather difficult to move, requiring two trucks packing 375 horsepower engines, one truck on each end of the cannon, with the drivers needing to be in constant communication as they drove. The top speed on this setup was a breakneck 35 mph, if the road was straight and reasonably flat.

Its mobility was also limited by the length of the vehicle- about 80 feet- with one soldier, Jim Michalko, recalling that after getting the cannon stuck in a narrow street during transport in Germany, they ended up having to destroy several buildings in order to make necessary turns.

Despite these issues, a well-trained crew of around 5 people could have the cannon ready to fire in around 15 minutes, with the weapon capable of hitting any target within roughly 20 miles with pinpoint accuracy. It likewise only took around 15 minutes to get the cannon back on the road, ready to nuke another target.

As alluded to earlier, the M65 is known to have only been fired once, as part of Operation Upshot–Knothole, a series of nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Nevada National Security Site in 1953.

In the one and only time a nuclear bomb has been shot from a cannon, during the Grable test at Frenchman Flat, the nuke flew 10 kilometres (roughly 7 miles) through the air, where it exploded about 500 feet above the ground.

The resulting explosion incinerated everything within about a mile of desert, excepting of course a lead lined fridge that was thrown free, and released a shockwave of searing hot air that tore apart lightly armoured vehicles positioned at set distances from the target area- all while several thousand soldiers, hundreds of military officials, several members of congress and then Secretary of Defence, Charles Wilson, looked on in awe from a mere 10 miles away.

Footage of this test was quickly circulated by the military as a show of force to the Soviets, and twenty M65 cannons were ordered to be created, all of which were shipped to Europe and South Korea where they spent around a decade being moved to various classified locations.

However, with the combined advent of tactical nuclear missiles and smaller nuclear shells that could fit in more widely used 155mm and 203mm cannons, the M65, which debuted with a bang in 1953, quietly went the way of Dodo by 1963.

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

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7 things ‘Hollywood’ Marines will always remember

There are only two recruit depots where U.S. Marines are made, and one of them has a reputation for being “Hollywood.”


Due to their close proximity to Tinseltown, Marines who graduate from MCRD San Diego are usually called “Hollywood Marines” by their MCRD Parris Island, S.C. counterparts and often ridiculed as having an easier training and lifestyle.

Regardless of who you think has the tougher training, here are some things only ‘Hollywood’ Marines will always remember about their initial training.

1. The Yellow Hell

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: Marine Corps

While standing on the yellow footprints is a tradition at both locations, MCRD San Diego takes it much further. The base is a sprawling 388 acres and every building on base is yellow. The renowned architect Bertram Goodhue designed the buildings in a Spanish colonial revival style, and while there are currently 28 of those buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the only history recruits will remember is that they are in yellow hell.

2. Planes, planes, and more planes!

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: Flickr

No matter how long or short your flight is from your home to MCRD, the drive from the airport to base is a mere five minutes. By checking out this Google satellite view you can see that the base is literally on the opposite side of the runway fence. At first the constant deafening noise of airplanes taking off and landing every few minutes is annoying, but recruits get used to it real quick. In fact, some use it to their advantage, by counting the planes as if they were sheep to go to sleep at night dreaming about their next flight home. Recruits endure the mental kick in the stomach while running along side the runway fence watching planes take off with happy newly graduated Marines and their families.

The planes also provide a symbolic sense of comfort. I went to MCRD in August 2001 and one month later the 9/11 attacks occurred. When first told of the attacks by our drill instructors, we felt it may have been some sort of trick. However, once they pointed out the airport was shut down and no planes were taking off, the sky all of a sudden seemed desolate with an eery silence. When the planes were allowed to fly again days later, a sense of relief was felt by all.

3. Perfect Weather

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Katalynn M. Rodgers

San Diego enjoys gorgeous weather year-round with an average temperature of 70.5 degrees and minimal humidity. However, recruits don’t go there for a vacation, they go to become Marines. Drill instructors are quick to remind recruits of the many beautiful women in bikinis sunbathing at one of the several beaches within a short distance from the base. No matter how difficult things may get, recruits can find comfort in knowing tomorrow will be another beautiful day with clear skies to train.

4. Bus Trips

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Young

Not all recruit training takes place at MCRD San Diego. To complete the second of three phases, they are moved 45 minutes north to Camp Pendleton. The ride takes recruits through San Diego’s beautiful north county and it’s the first time recruits are off base since arrival. They are supposed to keep their heads down but it’s common to sneak a glimpse at the beautiful landscape around them and think about home or what’s in store for them at Camp Pendleton. Similarly, on the way back to MCRD to finish the last phase, it gives recruits a time of reflection on completing the demanding training they just endured during second phase and realize they are that much closer to graduation.

5. Mountains, hills, and ridges

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

 

Second phase recruit training takes place at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton and includes marksmanship, rifle qualification, close combat, field training, and the gas chamber. But ask any recruit and the one memory that first comes to mind are the many hills they had to hike creating many feet blisters. Camp Pendleton is notorious for its mountains, hills, and ridges that are perfect for grueling hikes. The most famous of which is known as ‘The Reaper’, or ‘Grim Reaper’. With full packs on, it is the last and final monumental hill to climb during the 54 hour exercise known as The Crucible in which they have already climbed several with only eight hrs of sleep.

6. Padres Baseball

Although not every platoon or company at MCRD gets this luxury, those who do get a chance to be recognized by the local community for their newly committed service to this great nation. Although the seats are in the highest sections of the stadium and they are strictly guarded by their drill instructors, it’s a welcome change of pace from the intense and stressful daily training.

7. The San Diego Skyline

 

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: Wikipedia

It’s hard to believe that just outside the gates of MCRD sits beautiful downtown San Diego. For three months, recruits have dreamt of exploring all the reasons why San Diego is called “America’s Finest City.” Now that they have graduated, it’s common for the nation’s newest Marines to proudly wear their dress uniforms as they eat and celebrate with friends and family throughout the city.

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The real ‘Batmen’ served during World War II

In 1942 the California State Guard was trying to protect the state from Japanese invasion and organized a unit of “bat-men” paratroopers.


5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Photo: California Military History Facebook

The idea started in an Aug. 1941 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, a now-defunct magazine that ran until 2001. Former Army Maj. Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson wrote an article about all the elements of “Yankee ingenuity” that would allow America to emerge victorious from World War II.

Nicholson correctly identified two of the biggest problems paratroopers face in an assault. First, troops are vulnerable during their descent from hundreds of feet. Second, the soldiers are spread out over a large area by the nature of the drop.

The former cavalry officer suggested that “Bat-Men,” paratroopers fitted with special wingsuits that had become popular at airshows, could safely open their parachutes at lower altitudes, making it harder for ground troops to kill the attacking forces. These Bat-Men would also be able to steer themselves in the air, allowing them to land closer together and form up for their assault more quickly.

While Big Army doesn’t seem to have ever embraced the idea, the California State Guard created a test unit to try out the suits in 1942. They were led by Mickey Morgan, an air show performer who was famous in the 1940s.

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion before a jump. Photo: US Army

But if the unit ever saw any action, it seems to have been lost to history. While California suffered a few Japanese attacks during World War II, mostly firebombings by balloons and submarine-based aircraft, the fires were either put out by local firefighters or the smokejumpers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. No “Bat-Men” appear to have flown outside of training.

Oddly enough, Nicholson has a tenuous connection to the famous DC Comics character Batman. After Nicholson resigned his Army commission due to a series of high-profile squabbles with military leadership, he started National Allied Publications.

NAP became Detective Comics at the end of 1936 and Detective Comics released the first issue with the Batman character in 1939. But Nicholson had no part in creating the Dark Knight. He had left the company in 1937.

(h/t California Military History and i09)

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Quiet professionals’: These are the legendary Vietnam War marksmen every Marine scout sniper trains to be

Marine Corps snipers struck fear in the hearts of their enemies in the jungles of Vietnam. The exploits of three sharpshooters, in particular, are legendary.

Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney, Eric England, and Carlos Hathcock had almost 300 confirmed kills combined and even more unconfirmed. They were masters of their craft, and their skills in battle, as well as their silent professionalism and humility, made these men examples for the Marine snipers that followed.

“The Marines who go forward and work to put 120% into it and let their accolades speak for themselves are the guys that we encourage [Marine snipers] to emulate,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Coulter, a Marine Corps Scout Sniper instructor, recently told Insider.

As skilled marksmen capable of putting precision fire down range at a distance, snipers excel at providing overwatch and gathering intelligence, eliminating enemy officers, and demoralizing opposing forces, among other things.

In many conflicts throughout US history, Marine Corps snipers have proven to be valuable assets on the battlefield. But when the fighting finished, the Corps time and time again failed to build the kind of lasting programs needed to preserve the skills. That finally changed with the Vietnam War.

“Vietnam was the foundation for our modern program,” Coulter said. He explained that the remarkable capabilities demonstrated by Marines like Mawhinney, England, and Hathcock during the conflict highlighted the value of  snipers in a very visible way.

“The only reason there is still a sniper program today is the guys who came before us, the quiet professionals who worked their assess off, went down range, and came home,” Coulter said.

They didn’t try to tack their names into the legends of the Corps, but by giving it their all, these snipers left their mark on history.

Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock:

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Carlos Hathcock 

In Vietnam, Hathcock had 93 confirmed enemy kills and several hundred unconfirmed. He also set the record for the longest combat kill shot in 1967 at 2,500 yards — a distance of about 1.4 miles. The record held until the early 2000s.

The Arkansas native deployed to Vietnam in 1966 as a military policeman, but because he had previously distinguished himself as a marksman, Hathcock was recruited by Edward James Land, another talented Marine sharpshooter who had been tasked with building a sniper program from scratch to counter the enemy’s irregular warfare tactics.

As a sniper, Hathcock inflicted such tremendous pain on enemy forces that the North Vietnamese army placed a $30,000 bounty on his head, putting him in the crosshairs of elite enemy snipers.

One of his most memorable battles in Vietnam was with a notorious sniper nicknamed “Cobra” who was sent to kill him. The enemy sharpshooter had been purposefully killing Marines near Hathcock’s base of operations to draw him out. It worked, but not the way Cobra had intended.

As the two expert snipers stalked one another, Cobra made a mistake. He moved into a position facing the sun, causing his scope to reflect the light and give away his position. Hathcock fired, shooting clean through the enemy’s scope and killing him.

The nature of the shot suggested that had Hathcock not seen the glare or been faster than Cobra on the trigger, his enemy would have shot him instead.

Among Hathcock’s famous kills was also a woman nicknamed “Apache” who tortured captured Marines and a North Vietnamese general. He pulled off the latter on a secret one-man mission deep into enemy territory.

For many years, Hathcock was believed to have the most confirmed kills of any Marine Corps sniper. That never mattered to him though, according to Charles Henderson’s book, “Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills.”

“You can take those numbers and give ’em to someone who gives a damn about ’em,” Hathcock is said to have told a fellow Marine during a discussion about his kills.

“I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody,” he said. “It’s my job. If I don’t get those bastards, then they’re gonna kill a lot of these kids dressed up like Marines. That’s the way I look at it.”

Hathcock left Vietnam in 1969 after suffering severe burns while rescuing Marines from a fiery vehicle that struck a mine.

Although his injuries prevented him from serving as he once had, he remained active in the sniper community, providing instruction even as his health failed later in life.

Hathcock died in 1999 after a long and painful battle with multiple sclerosis, but his memory lives on. Though he does not actually hold the record for the most confirmed kills as previously thought, Hathcock is widely regarded as one of the finest snipers in the history of the Corps.

Master Sgt. Eric R. England:

England is one of two Marine Corps snipers who had more confirmed kills than Hathcock during the Vietnam War, though not a lot is known about his service.

Before the war, he had proven himself to be an excellent marksman in shooting competitions. Once in Vietnam as a sniper with the 3rd Marine Division, he continued to excel. In a period of just seven months before he had to be medically evacuated, he had 98 confirmed kills, with possibly hundreds more unconfirmed.

The Georgia native never really talked about his service or his kills, according to a 2011 report from the Union County Historical Society. His record, as was the case with Hathcock, was relayed by Marine Corps officers familiar with his accomplishments on the field of battle.

England opened up a little about his experiences during an interview with the Marine Corps in 2017, just one year before he died.

“About Vietnam, well, like all wars, it ain’t no good feeling, especially some of the jobs you have,” England said, explaining that shooting at human beings in war is different from shooting at targets in competition, though snipers can’t focus on that.

“When you go to get that one shot off, you have to put yourself in another world,” he said. “You try to put yourself in a little bubble. You cut the world out, and you just concentrate on those things you got to do to get a good shot off because if you don’t, you could be dead.”

He told the Marine Corps that he did not not brag about his kills because he was not seeking glory. He did, however, say that he considered himself better than the average Marine because a good shot makes a better Marine and he could shoot better than most.

Despite his legendary status, England is not very well known outside the US military sniper community, but Hathcock once said that “Eric is a great man, a great shooter, and a great Marine.”

Sgt. Charles “Chuck” B. Mawhinney:

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Charles Mawhinney 

Mawhinney spent almost a year and a half in Vietnam, but when he returned home to Oregon in 1969, he kept the details of his service a secret. No one outside a small circle of Marines he served with knew the truth: he was the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history.

Mawhinney’s story went untold for two decades, but in 1991, friend and former Marine sniper Joseph Ward published a book that credited Mawhinney with 101 confirmed kills, a new record.

Ward’s book triggered an investigation into Marine Corps records, and it was found that the number he reported was incorrect. It turns out that Mawhinney actually had 103 confirmed kills. He also had another 216 “probable” kills.

With the release of Ward’s “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam” and the end of Mawhinney’s quiet life of anonymity, this outstanding sharpshooter came out of the shadows and shared parts of his story publicly.

In one particularly intense engagement, Mawhinney put 16 bullets in 16 enemy troops in just thirty seconds, and he did it in the dark.

“I got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the weapon,” Mawhinney said in an interview for a documentary on Marine scout snipers. “Every one of them were headshots, dead center. I could see the bodies floating down the river.”

Vietnam, as it was for many, was hell for Mawhinney, but he extended his tour of duty because he knew he had the abilities to keep his fellow Marines alive.

One of the things that haunted Mawhinney after Vietnam was an enemy soldier that got away after an armorer had made adjustments to his rifle. He fired off multiple shots. All of them missed.

“It’s one of the few things that bother me about Vietnam,” he previously told The Los Angeles Times. “I can’t help thinking about how many people that he may have killed later, how many of my friends, how many Marines.”

Mawhinney left Vietnam after being diagnosed with combat fatigue. He is still alive, and his M40 rifle is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

The only US military sniper with more confirmed kills than Mawhinney in Vietnam was Army sharpshooter Adelbert Waldron with 109 confirmed kills.

Examples for modern Marine snipers

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31st MEU Scout Snipers during a live-fire exercise 

There is a lot that modern-day Marine scout snipers can learn from legends like Mawhinney, England, and Hathcock. For Staff Sgt. Coulter, who instructs future Marine snipers, what stood out as most impressive was their attention to detail down to the smallest level.

“Their attention to detail was unparalleled,” he said.

“Those guys back in the day were handloading their own rounds,” Coulter continued. “They went to great depths to understand the equipment they used, the ammo they used, the effects of their environment.”

“They understood you are naturally at a disadvantage walking into someone’s backyard,” he said, explaining that they thought carefully about how they camouflaged themselves, the routes they took, the positions they held, and so on.

“They went into such nitty-gritty detail, and that was kind of the definition of success for them,” he told Insider.

As part of their training, Marine Corps scout snipers are required to take time to study their history and the outstanding snipers who came before them. It’s a reminder, Coulter explained, that “the only thing that kept our program alive was performance.”

During the Vietnam War, snipers proved their worth. It is said that for every enemy killed, the average infantryman expended 50,000 bullets. For snipers, with their “one shot, one kill” approach, it was an average of 1.3 rounds per kill.

And snipers continue to make a difference today.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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10 brothers who received the Medal of Honor

How are babies made? Well, a mommy and daddy fall deeply in love, get married, and give birth to national heroes.


Here are five dinner tables from history where any third siblings must have felt really awkward as their brothers wore matching Medals of Honor every Christmas:

1. John and William Black

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photos: Public Domain)

Union Capt. William P. Black received the Medal of Honor for actions on March 7, 1862. His regiment was outnumbered by rebels and his Company I covered the retreat. Fierce fire cut down the Union soldiers and the younger Black was forced to hold the line on his own with a Colt revolving rifle after he was shot in the ribs. He later wrote home about the battle and left out his heroics.

The older brother, Lt. Col. John C. Black, received the Medal of Honor for actions on Dec. 7, 1862. His regiment was sent against Confederate lines that had just repulsed two other charges. Black sent out skirmishers and marched at the head of his men, but a large group of enemy infantry jumped from hiding places in the ground and fired. Despite serious wounds, Black led an organized withdrawal under fire and the regiment continued to protect Union artillery.

2. Charles and Henry Capehart

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photos: Public Domain)

Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.

Doctor and Union officer Henry Capehart was leading a brigade of cavalry in West Virginia in combat on May 22, 1864, when he spotted a drowning soldier in the river. Under fire, he swam into the river and rescued his cavalryman.

3. Harry and Willard Miller

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photos: Public Domain)

Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.

Two small boats went within 100 feet of batteries and rifle pits on the shore as the crews searched out the underwater cables, grappled them with hooks, and raised them to the surface to be cut with hacksaws. At one point, the boats were under pistol, rifle, and artillery fire from the shore and the U.S. naval artillery support was forced to fire just over the boat crew’s heads.

4. Allen and James Thompson

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
(Photos: Public Domain)

During the Battle of White Oaks Road, Virginia, the Confederates carried the first day of fighting on March 31, 1865. The Union was trying to cut through the rebels and severe Gen. Robert E. Lee’s lines of communication with Maj. Gen. George Pickett.

On April 1, the Union was back at it and Privates Allen and James Thompson made a dangerous reconnaissance through the thick wood bordering the road. They found paths large enough for the heavy artillery to make it north and bombard the Confederate positions, assisting the Union’s victory that day. Allen was 17 and James was 15 at the time.

5. Antoine and Julien Gaujot

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world
Army Capt. Julien Gaujot (Photo: Public Domain)

Antoine and Julien Gaujot are the only brothers to receive the Medal of Honor in two different military campaigns.

In December 1899, Cpl. Antoine Gaujot was serving in the Philippines at the Battle of San Mateo. His unit was under heavy fire and needed to cross a river. He twice attempted to find a fording point. When that failed, he swam across the river and stole a canoe from the enemy side.

Twelve years later, Capt. Julien Gaujot was serving on the border with Mexico when a battle between Mexican government troops and rebels spilled over the border. Gaujot crossed to the Mexican side and negotiated a surrender of Mexican forces and helped them evacuate to American lines. He also rescued wounded from each side and took them to the U.S. for medical treatment.