Image courtesy of Cassowary Colorizations, Flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/cassowaryprods/35455478634.
One of the better-known assumptions about combat is that the side with the greater numbers usually wins. Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? Being outnumbered puts you at an automatic disadvantage. Still, other factors, like experience, equipment, tactics and even weather come into play. Here is a list of famous clashes throughout history with unlikely resolutions.
The Evacuation of Dunkirk (1940)
In World War 2, during the height of Hitler’s aggression, British, Canadian, French and Belgian troops had been forced onto the beaches of Dunkirk, France, by the advancing German army. Since most of the escape routes to the English Channel had been severed, a slaughter seemed imminent.
So Winston Churchill came up with a plan. During “Operation Dynamo,” destroyers and transport ships were sent to evacuate the troops from the beaches. They wouldn’t have been enough, but civilians pitched in to help. Roughly 700 civilian-owned vessels joined the rescue mission. Hitler also decided to pause the attack for three days, allowing over 300,000 people to be safely returned to Britain between May 27th and June 4th.
King Henry V’s famous victory over the French was the decisive battle in the Hundred Years’ War. Due to the terrain (a recently-plowed field surrounded by woods), with foot soldiers in the center flanked by wedges of archers wielding longbows, the numerically superior French forces were handicapped. Because they were narrowed at the front of their ranks, they couldn’t mount any maneuvers that could overwhelm the English forces.
When the battle commenced on the morning of October 25th, it was over in a short three hours with an unexpected win for the British. France was crippled and a new period of English superiority began in the war.
Cannae (216 BC)
Everyone knows the name Hannibal. This story might remind you why he was such a legend. The famed Carthaginian general arrived early at the battlefieldvnear Cannae – an ancient village in southeastern Italy. Despite being greatly outnumbered by the Romans, he easily defeated them using his superior skills of strategy.
He sent his 50,000 troops to guard the Aufidus river, depriving his opponents of water in the sweltering August heat. Hannibal further took advantage of the terrain by forcing the Romans to face south, where the heat, wind, and blowing grit ground them down even further. Though Roman Consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro brought nearly twice the men of their opponent, many in the ranks were relatively inexperienced, which further contributed to their loss.
The Battle of Chancellorsville (1863)
This victory of the confederates over a Union force twice its size during the American Civil War “was the contest that put Confederate leader Robert E. Lee into the pantheon of great military generals.” The new young general on the Union side, Joseph Hooker, fell prey to bad luck and poor strategic decisions that gave Lee the advantage. For starters, he sent most of his cavalry ahead to raid in Virginia, depleting his reconnaissance force. Lee’s information about the Union troop positions was much keener, and to top it off Hooker’s German troops defected at a crucial moment. A combination of Lee’s audacity and Hooker’s timidity won the day for the confederates.
The Capture of Belgrade (1941)
The brazenness and ingenious use of deception on the part of German SS Officer Fritz Klingenberg enabled a small force of German troops to capture the Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade during World War 2. Following a long campaign of bombing runs by Lutwaffe planes, Klingenberg first tried to ferry a large force across the Danube river in a motorboat to capture the city, but became stranded with only six troops when the boat sank.
Undeterred, the skeleton crew headed to the heart of the city, capturing Yugoslavian troops and trucks along the way. They replaced the Yugoslavian national flag with the German one, and upon meeting with Belgrade’s mayor, Klingenberg bluffed that they were only a fraction of a much larger invading force, and would resume bombing if necessary. When backup German troops arrived on April 13, 1941, they were shocked to discover that the city had already been taken.
Through this string of shocking victories, we can learn an invaluable lesson that every member of the military likely already knows; don’t give in to defeat until the battle is over. Until then, use every ounce of courage and tact, and you just might live to tell the tale.
German Weather Station Kurt set up in Labrador (Newfoundland, Canada) in 1943 (Bundesarchiv).
Germany didn’t have a lot of luck in the United States during the second world war. Its spy ring was wrapped up and captured before the U.S. entered the war. When the German navy tried to land saboteurs on the U.S. coast, they were caught by the Coast Guard, hunted down by the FBI and eventually executed.
Where the Abwehr failed, however, the navy and army succeeded, but it wasn’t in the United States. The Germans managed to establish a weather station in the very far north of Canada, establishing Weather Station Kurt in northern Newfoundland.
It was incredibly difficult for the Germans to establish reliable weather stations during the war. The Allies were able to build a network of weather forecasting stations all across the northern Atlantic because they effectively controlled most of the coastline between the Western and Eastern hemispheres north of the equator.
Germany, on the other hand, had to build their stations in secret, especially in places like Iceland and Greenland. These remote locations were often found and captured by Allied patrols. They also tried to use aircraft and specially fitted weather ships. The problem with the aircraft is that the data gathered was often incomplete or unreliable. Ships at sea reporting weather patterns were tracked down and captured by Allied ships.
As a result, these stations were the only reliable means of getting accurate, real-time weather reports from the Atlantic Ocean. To facilitate its network, Nazi Germany created automated weather stations that would mitigate the risk of putting men in harm’s way to be captured by Allied patrols. One station in particular would get a special kind of camouflage: garbage.
The German submarine U-357 was dispatched to establish one of these automated stations in September 1943. The vessel made its way from the German homeland on the Baltic Sea coast.
By October, it had arrived in northern Labrador and found a spot that would be far from any accidental discovery.
To protect the site, the Germans not only used a remote location but also used empty packs of American cigarettes to litter the ground around it to deter any potential suspicions that it was a German weather station if anyone should happen upon it. Then, it was completely forgotten.
It took the crew of U-357 just 28 hours to build the weather station and repair their boat (it had been damaged by Allied aircraft on its way to Newfoundland). Once everything was in operational order, the crew and the boat departed.
After a combat patrol off the coast of Canada, where it engaged more aircraft than ships, it returned to France and then made its way to the Caribbean. It was sunny there by the USS Flounder, with all hands lost.
The station itself stopped sending weather reports just one month after it was set up, most likely due to its radio being jammed. There it stood for the next 30-plus years until a Canadian scientist stumbled upon it in 1977. After doing a little research, he learned its true origin and purpose. Once he did, the station was taken to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where it sits today.
It was Nazi Germany’s only successful military or intelligence operation in North America, and it came at a hefty price. Two submarines with the same mission to establish the weather stations we dispatched. One was sunk right away, and the other, though successful, was short-lived.
Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes got a piece of every original signatory to the Axis Pact: Germany, Italy, and Japan. If that wasn’t outstanding enough, it’s how he got an American flag kill mark on his fuselage that earned him a place in military history — and maybe even the Distinguished Service Cross.
It’s not a mistake. The young, 20-something pilot earned every single one of his kill marks. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at the age of 22 to fly planes against the Nazis. By 1943, he was a hotshot lieutenant scoring three kills against Nazi Messerschmidt Bf-109s, the workhorse of the German Luftwaffe, in his P-38 Lighting. That was ten days into his first assignment. Within the next month, he notched up two more kills, earning fighter “ace” status.
In August of that year, he ran into an Italian Macchi C.202 and shot that one down. Unfortunately, that was his last combat kill over Europe. He was shot down by Nazi pilots over Italy and captured by the Italians, resigning himself to spending the rest of the war in a POW camp.
But that didn’t happen. Italy capitulated a few days into Curdes’ internment.
Curdes was then sent to the Philippines and put behind the stick of the new P-51 Mustang fighter, going up against talented Japanese pilots. He was quickly able to shoot down a Japanese recon plane near the island of Formosa. His hat trick was complete, but that’s not where the story ends.
He and his plane, “Bad Angel,” were fighting over Japanese-held Bataan when his wingman was shot down over the Pacific. Soon after, he saw a C-47 transport plane, wheels-down, headed to land on the Japanese island. When he was unable to make radio contact, he tried to physically wave the transport off, but came up empty. So, rather than allow the American plane and its crew to be held prisoner by the Japanese, he used the option left: He shot them down over the ocean.
Curdes skillfully took out one engine and then the other without blowing the entire cargo plane to bits. He was able to bring the C-47 down just yards from his downed wingman. Curdes returned to the site the next morning as an escort to an American “flying boat.” The pilot, crew, and its human cargo were completely intact.
Among the passengers he shot down was a nurse Curdes dated just the night before, a girl named Valorie — whom he later married. The story was rewritten by Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson in his book US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife.
Usually, we imagine American history as, well, history. Surprisingly, Hawaii is probably younger than most grandmas; as a state, at least. Hawaii gained statehood on August 21st, 1959, as the 50th and final US state. Here on the mainland, most of us know Hawaii as the land of hula dancing, beautiful beaches and family vacations, but our 50th state has a rich cultural history that’s still alive and well today. Keep reading for 11 interesting facts about the Aloha state.
Hawaii has an impressive and diverse military presence.
The US Army has the largest presence there, with over 16,000 active duty members. Next comes the Navy with roughly 8,000, the Marine Corps with 7,000, and the Air Force with about 5,000. These forces operate from numerous military bases, which gives Hawaii the largest and most diverse concentration of our military within a metropolitan area.
Veterans love Hawaii.
Because of the strong military presence on the islands, over 120,000 veterans live in Hawaii, making up about 11% of the population. As of late 2018, Hawaii has over 18,000 military retired personnel. Of those individuals, over 17,000 receive monthly pensions.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed life in Hawaii.
When the Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor, over 2000 Americans were killed, but the impact on Hawaii didn’t end there. Tourism and production industries on Oahu ground to a halt. Meanwhile, over 160,000 Japanese people were being held in Hawaii- a setup that the struggling islands could no longer support. If they were removed all at once, however, the economy would crumble.
Martial law was strictly enforced until the end of the war, leaving the US military in direct control of many aspects of life in Hawaii. Over time, the military transformed Hawaii’s culture. Sugar plantations were turned into housing and training sites, more roads were built, and some of the smaller islands were destroyed. At the end of the war, military personnel returned to the mainland, resulting in even more economic challenges for Hawaii. Fortunately, the people there have since worked together to rebuild a thriving, beautiful Oahu.
Hawaii was once a monarchy.
Until 1893, the islands were ruled by the Hawaiian Monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was sin power at the time, when a group from her Committee of Public Safety conducted a military coup. After the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown, President Grover Cleveland believed the monarchy should be restored. When President McKinley took office, however, he saw Hawaii as a chess piece in the game of the Spanish-American War and annexed the region. As mentioned before, it took until 1959 for Hawaii to officially become a US state.
Hawaii still honors its historical royalty.
As a former monarchy, Hawaii has traditions dating back long before it became a state. Hawaiian royalty, or ali’i, is still celebrated today. Kamehameha Day is held on June 11 in honor of King Kamehameha the Great, and Prince Kuhio Day takes place on March 26. Both of these dates are official state holidays, celebrated with annual festivals, traditional foods, and colorful parades.
Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages.
The rest of the states only recognize English as the official language, but Hawaii includes its original Hawaiian tongue. Hawaiian pidgin, a Creole language based on English, is also commonly spoken, but it’s not considered an official state language.
Learning the alphabet in Hawaii is easier.
To tourists, Hawaiian names can look intimidating, but they’re actually pretty simple once you learn how the Hawaiian alphabet works. There are only 12 letters plus two symbols that change pronunciation. Once you learn the basics, it’s actually easier to sound out than English!
There are actually 137 Hawaiian Islands.
Most people have heard of some of the largest Hawaiian islands, like Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and “the Big Island”. In addition to the eight major ones, there are over 100 more smaller islands, each with unique reefs. Across the many islands, the climate varies too, covering 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones! This natural variation is responsible for the vast diversity of flora and fauna in Hawaii, making it a place like none other on Earth.
Hawaii is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano.
Maui’s Mount Haleakala reaches a peak of 10,023 feet above sea level, with a 7.5 by 2.5 mile crater. That said, the bulk of the volcano is actually located under water. Measured from the sea floor, it’s nearly 30,000 feet; similar to the height of Mount Everest! This volcanic giant was responsible for creating the majority of the island of Maui, and it’s likely to grow again in the future. Mount Haleakala isn’t extinct, just dormant, so it may erupt again one day.
Surfing started here!
With white sand, warm water, and epic waves, it’s not shocking that surfing was invented in Hawaii. It originated over a century ago, and it’s believed that stand up paddle boarding began there as well. Surfers at Waikiki started the trend several decades ago, but it wasn’t until a more recent revival by big wave surfers that the sport began to increase in popularity.
There are no snakes in Hawaii.
If you’re scared of things that slither, Hawaii is your ideal destination. The state has a strict ban on snakes and other species that may disturb native species, including hamsters, gerbils, and squirrels. Anyone who does bring a snake in should be prepared for hefty fines and possible jail time! Hawaii also requires a quarantine period for other pets, which has prevented the transmission of rabies completely.
Though they’re often overlooked by military historians – not Native historians, mind you – the Plains Wars of the post-Civil War era saw some of the most brutal fighting between the American government and the native tribes fighting for their way of life. Eventually, the U.S. government was determined to move the native people to reservations. Those who did not sell their land were moved by force.
The fighting on the Plains saw the Battle of Little Bighorn, the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the Sand Creek Massacre, just to name some of the bloodiest moments. The fighting West of the Mississippi claimed countless lives, not to mention the end of the traditional ways for many Native Americans. Still, some fought back, with varying degrees of success.
Kiowa Warriors at Fort Sill, 1872.
An ally of the dreaded Comanche, the Kiowa were usually at war with anyone the Comanche went to war with, including the US Army. For 50 years, the Kiowa moved from the central United States westward to join the Comanche in raiding and trading from the American Southwest into Mexico, killing thousands. Even after most of the Kiowa moved to reservations in 1877, many warrior bands remained loose on the American frontier.
A Cheyenne “Dog Soldier”
As more settlers rushed to the Rocky Mountains area, the area began to fill up with heavily-armed militias who would raid neighboring Arapaho and Cheyenne tribal settlements. In response, the Cheyenne began to fight back, forming different kinds of warrior bands, including the now-famous Dog Soldiers – warriors who would hold their ground, no matter what came at them. The Dog Soldiers rallied Cheyenne and Arapaho tribesmen together to wreak havoc on the Colorado ranching industry.
Sitting Bull, pictured, was one of the Sioux’s most famous leaders.
The Sioux were not the first tribe to fight the U.S. government, and they weren’t the last, but they might be the most famous. The Sioux produced some of the most notable names and places in all the Indian Wars, including Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, to name a few.
When the Army came upon bands of Sioux warriors, they didn’t know if they would just be fighting the handful of warriors they saw or if another 5,000 to 7,000 were waiting somewhere they couldn’t see.
Geronimo and three other Apache warriors.
If there’s one thing the Union and Confederate Armies could agree on, it was fighting the Apache tribes. In the early days of the Civil War, Confederate forces took on Apaches in the West before transferring to the actual Civil War they were needed to fight.
Clans of Apache rarely gathered in great numbers. They only did so in order to gather their forces to hit the U.S. Army in large formations. The US Army hated the Apaches so much, they would fight any sized organization they happened to come across, fearful of them massing numbers to form a war party. It took more than 20 years of concerted effort to end the Apache resistance.
“Manifest Destiny? Never heard of her.”
The Comanches not only stymied the Army’s effort to contain or destroy them, but they also took down other Native tribes, eradicating them or driving them out of their traditional lands. The reason the Spanish Empire stopped expanding northward was because they were stopped by Comanches. The Texan Republic stopped expanding westward because of Comanches. The United States frontier actually receded because of the Comanches.
By the end of the 1860s, the men who won the Civil War for the Union were now running the country and President Grant, Commander of the U.S. Army William Tecumseh Sherman, and Gen. Philip Sheridan were determined to end the Comanche threat, finally subduing them with overwhelming force in 1875.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
Georgia Democratic congressman Carl Vinson supported the Navy and the rest of the armed forces from the House of Representatives from 1914 to 1965. On the road to World War II, he pushed through the legislation that turned the U.S. Navy from a small, neglected force into a behemoth capable of fighting in two oceans at once.
Vinson took office in late 1914 and was named to the House Naval Affairs Committee soon after. He served there throughout World War I and became friendly with then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Rep. Carl Vinson as a young Democrat from Georgia. (Photo: Library of Congress)
After the end of World War I, a number of treaties sought to limit the size of navies maintained by the major powers. The U.S. was a signatory to these agreements and Vinson didn’t seek to outgrow them.
But when American naval might shrank too far below the treaty limits, he fought hard to grow it to its maximum allowed size.
He struggled for years against three presidents — including Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover — before being reunited with Roosevelt. When Roosevelt rose to the presidency, Vinson co-authored the Vinson-Trammell Act which passed in 1934 and allowed the Navy to grow to its fully allotted size.
Vinson spent the next few years continuing to advocate for increased air power, especially in the Navy. When the “war in Europe” showed signs of becoming a second World War, Vinson pushed for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold R. Stark to speak in front of the Naval Affairs Committee.
Stark called for 200 new combatant ships and 20 auxiliaries. The plan had been put together by Vinson and Stark and, luckily for those two, news of France’s surrender to Germany had reached American newspapers that very morning.
Congress, galvanized by the fall of France, pushed the bill through both houses and Roosevelt signed the “Two-Ocean Navy Bill” barely a month after Vinson had put it in front of the committee.
This allowed the U.S. Navy just over a year to prepare for World War II before it was hit at Pearl Harbor. The shipyards that churned out battleships, carriers and other vessels to attack the Japanese and defend against the Germans were stood up and manned before the war with ship orders that Vinson had lobbied for.
After the Axis surrender, Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz was asked what factors allowed America to win World War II. He replied, “I do not know where this country would have been after December 7, 1941, if it had not had the ships and the know-how to build more ships fast, for which one Vinson bill after another was responsible.”
Adm. William D. Leahy wrote in his book, I Was There, “In my opinion, the Georgia representative had, in the past decade, contributed more to the national defense than any other single person in the country except the president himself.”
At Vinson’s 90th birthday party, President Richard Nixon told the crowd, “As you know, we have just begun to develop nuclear carriers. The first one was named the Eisenhower, the second one was named the Nimitz, the great naval commander of World War II. The third is just beginning, and it will be named the Carl Vinson.”
Vinson was also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Special Distinction, awarded by President Lyndon Johnson.
Vinson died in 1981, but the USS Carl Vinson still sails the waves. It is most often called to patrol the Pacific.
The idea of having a force designed for a special purpose dates far back into history and has been used in many wars. However, it is rare, if ever, that these forces meet in combat. Their targets are usually those too difficult to tackle by conventional forces. Or they’re used to exploit weaknesses in conventional forces. In a unique confluence of events though, British SAS and Royal Marine Commandos faced off against Argentine Special Forces during the Falklands War of 1982.
The fighting (neither side actually declared war) started on Apr. 2, 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falkland, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands. Argentina took this bold move due to a longer simmering dispute over the sovereignty of the islands.
The British response was swift and soon a naval task force was steaming towards the Falklands.
They landed in force on May 21, 1982, to retake the islands. The operation, codenamed Operation Corporate, was spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade with paratroopers from 2 Para and 3 Para attached.
The elite 3 Commando Brigade consisted of 40, 42 and 45 Commando, the equivalent of three infantry battalions, along with Royal Marine artillery and engineer support. The British Special Forces contingent consisted of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment as well as cadre from the Mountain and Arctic Warfare school.
Argentina had little in the way of Special Forces – just two companies: 601st National Genderarmie Special Forces Company and the 602nd Commando Company.
The first meeting of Special Operators from both sides occurred on the night of May 29 as both sides sought to stake claim to Mount Kent.
A patrol from 16 Air Troop, D Squadron, 22nd SAS encountered about 40 Argentine Commandos from the Third Assault Section of the 602nd. In a sharp clash, the British finally gained the upper hand and, despite being outnumbered, and drove off the Argentines at the expense of two wounded.
The next day, the 2nd Assault Section, 602nd Commandos, stumbled into Argentina’s 17 Boat Troop’s encampment while attempting to seize Bluff Cove Peak. The surprised Argentine Commandos were quickly overwhelmed. Soon after the battle started, they radioed for help, stating simply: “We are in trouble.” Less than an hour later they sent a second message, “There are English all around us, you better hurry up.” Two Argentine Commandos were killed before the section was able to withdraw.
On May 31, Argentina’s 1st Assault Section had been patrolling the area all day and decided to seek shelter in Top Malo House, an abandoned sheep herder’s house, as temperatures dropped to below freezing. Unbeknownst to the Argentines, they were spotted by an SAS observation post who called up Royal Marines from the Mountain and Arctic Warfare school to attack the house.
Nineteen Royal Marines, led by Capt. Rod Boswell, embarked by helicopter to the area and moved into position to assault the house. Boswell broke his group up into two sections. A fire support section took up positions on nearby high ground while a 12-man assault section prepared to attack the house.
The Argentine commandos, hearing the helicopters, made preparations to leave the house. But the British attack came before they could vacate the area. Boswell’s fire support section hit the house with two 66mm LAW rockets as the assault section stormed forward. When they came under fire from the trapped Argentines, the British assault section unleashed two of their own rockets.
This barrage of rockets killed Argentine Commando Lt. Espinosa who was covering the withdrawal from the second-floor window of the house. A second Argentine commando, Sgt. Mateo Sbert, was shot dead by the British while also attempting to cover the retreat of his comrades.
The LAW rockets set the house on fire and the smoke from the blaze ironically provided effective concealment for the men of the Argentines as the moved to a stream bed 200 meters away and set up a defense.
One Argentine, Lt. Horatio Losito, attempted to charge the British to drive them off. He was hit multiple times but continued fighting until he lost consciousness from blood loss.Eventually, the remaining members of the patrol, many of whom were wounded, ran out of ammunition and were forced to surrender. The British suffered two wounded in the attack.
The Argentine and British Commandos continued to clash as the war progressed.
On June 5, Argentina’s 3rd Assault Section, 602nd Commandos attacked the British 10 Troop, 42 Commando on Mount Wall. After a sharp fight the British were forced to withdraw. The next day the 601st got in the action and drove off two patrols of British paratroopers, capturing much of their equipment as they discarded it as they escaped.
The last engagement between the two sides Special Forces occurred on June 10.
A patrol from the British 19 Mountain Troop, D Squadron, 22nd SAS was ambushed by elements of the 601st Commando Company. The four man group split up and as the commander, Capt. Gavin Hamilton, and his signaler, Cpl. Charlie Fonseca, provided covering fire, the other two men escaped. In their attempt to cover the retreat, Capt. Hamilton was killed and Fonseca was captured.
The war ended just four days later after the Battle of Two Sisters. British Royal Marines of 45 Commando stormed the peaks and drove off the remnants of the Argentine forces, including men from 602nd Commando.
In the end, the Argentine and British Special Forces went toe-to-toe on numerous occasions and the result was often very close and hotly contested.
In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.
That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.
Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.
In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.
“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”
“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.
(National Archives photo)
In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.
Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?
Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.
Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.
Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.
When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.
With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.
The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.
The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.
Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.
To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.
If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.
Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?
Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.
A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.
One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.
Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.
The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.
Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.
But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.
Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.
They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”
Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?
Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.
(U.S. Navy photo)
That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.
The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.
“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.
This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.
Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?
Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.
We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?
Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.
Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.
It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.
But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.
Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?
Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.
For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”
The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.
That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
After the final German surrender on May 7, 1945, the Allied forces began arresting German leaders accused of war crimes, summoning some to headquarters in order to turn themselves in and sending teams to arrest those who would resist or attempt to escape.
Here’s what happened to the enemy leaders after their final surrender:
While it may seem odd to give reporters first crack at questioning the prisoners, it makes a certain kind of sense for democracies, republics, and parliamentary countries that need to reward their people for maintaining the faith through years of bloody, costly warfare.
The newspaper reports and video from the interviews were quickly distributed throughout Europe and America, and summations of the events were broadcasted to Japanese troops to make sure they know that they were all alone in resisting Allied advances.
Military police read news of the Nazi surrender. Military police would later provide the guards for the trials of Nazi leaders.
But, the prisoners wouldn’t get to enjoy themselves in front of cameras for long. By that point, Allied troops had already liberated dozens of concentration camps and captured communications and testimony from prisoners of war showed that the German army had been complicit with the SS in the crimes.
For these and other charges, the arrested military leaders were moved to prisons, stripped of their weapons and papers, and detained.
Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, a high-ranking officer of the Third Reich who was later charged and convicted of war crimes.
(Bundesarchiv Bild, colorized)
For instance, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, one of the top officers at the negotiations for Germany’s surrender, was later charged with a number of crimes, including supporting the use of slave labor in concentration camps and targeting civilian populations in both Russia and Norway.
His boss, Dönitz, would be charged with “planning aggressive war” and Erich Raeder, a career naval officer who led the sea branch for five years during the war, received the same charge in conjunction with his leading of unrestricted submarine warfare.
Nazi defendants during the Nuremberg trials.
The Nuremberg Trials, where 24 of the accused were indicted, were controversial among the Allies, mostly because Stalin and Churchill thought criminal trials were unnecessary and simply proposed summary executions. Stalin was especially ruthless, proposing the execution of 50,000 to 100,000 staff officers.
But in the Nuremberg trials and other court proceedings, an actual system of justice was created based on the traditions of the U.S., Great Britain, France, and Russia. There was no modern history of international justice in 1945, and the western powers had to decide how to do everything, from admitting evidence to questioning witnesses.
When the trials were held, they provided something that summary executions or even trials in one country’s judiciary could: facts. As prosecutors were forced to bring up the mountains of evidence to convict these men, it created a public record of their crimes and the facts surrounding them.
Broadly, the charges at Nuremberg and similar trials were grouped into three categories. The first was crimes against peace, the second was war crimes, and the third was crimes against humanity.
Out of 24 originally indicted, 20 defendants were convicted and received sentences that ranged in severity, from 10 years in prison to death by hanging. For those sentenced to die, 10 of the sentences were conducted in a single 103-minute block by an American master sergeant.
Another defendant had been sentenced to death in absentia, while another prisoner and the former head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, killed himself with a cyanide tablet the night before his execution.
Of course, those given prison sentences or acquitted were eventually able to rejoin the civilian world, often writing memoirs of their experiences during the war and the Nuremberg process.
While they would argue at the time and in the future that the Nuremberg process was flawed, largely because it was a group of victors in a war prosecuting enemy generals for actions that weren’t crimes at the time they were committed, the success of the Nuremberg process created some accountability for World War II and provided the framework for future war crimes trials.
“When they stopped us on the road, they lined us up, they set up machine guns across from us and I thought this is the end,” recalled former U.S. Army Cpl. Raymond Mullin, who served as a medic with Task Force Smith, the first U.S. Army ground maneuver unit to enter combat in the Korean War.
The city of Osan hosted its 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony, July 6, 2018, at the city’s UN Forces First Battle Memorial, to honor the bravery and sacrifices made by the members of the task force. Attendees included: Republic of Korea Lt. Gen. Yoon Seung Kook, who was a captain when he served as ROK liaison officer to TF Smith, former U.S. Army Cpl. William Coe, a radio operator, and Mullin. Among the distinguished guests in attendance were: ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-Jin; U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational chief of staff, Eighth Army; Governor of Gyeonggi Province Lee Jae-myung; and Mayor of Osan City Kwak Sang-wook.
Richard Salazar shares photos of his father, and Task Force Smith member, Sgt. Richard Salazar, Sr., with Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-wook at the 68th TF Smith Memorial ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Mullin spent 37 months as a prisoner of war, one of 82 captured by North Korean forces in the first day of the first battle involving a U.S. unit sent to Korea under a United Nations mandate. Mullin was emblematic of those selected to fill the ranks of TF Smith, young and lacking combat experience. He had been at Camp Wood, Japan, for just 10 days working at a clinical laboratory when he arrived in Korea, July 1, 1950. Like most of the nearly 500 soldiers arriving from Japan, Mullin said he had no combat training since Basic Training.
Political, military and civic leaders, veterans of the Korean War, soldiers and guests, honor the flags of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. during the playing of the two nations’ national anthems at the 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded and occupied the capital city of Seoul. The UN, led by the U.S., mustered a makeshift unit of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Japan-based 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and a battery from the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. The task force, named after its commander, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, left Japan on the morning of July 1, 1950.
The UN Forces First Battle Memorial served as the setting for the 68th anniversary of the first battle of the war involving U.S. Soldiers.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Upon their arrival, TF Smith was given the mission to take up positions to delay the North’s advance as far north as possible. Smith decided two hills overlooking a major north-south highway in Osan, provided an ideal position to carry out their mission. That is where they dug in, July 4.
Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony,
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The following morning, a North Korean force, about 5,000 strong, led by Soviet-made tanks, were soon observed rumbling toward Osan. TF Smith opened fire, initially with artillery, followed by anti-tank rockets. Although they were able to hold their lines for nearly three hours, it soon became apparent TF Smith lacked the necessary firepower to survive against the heavily armed formation in front of them.
Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Outflanked and severely low on ammunition, Smith ordered his men to fall back to a second defensive line at Pyongtaek and Cheonan to join other units of the 24th Inf. Div. Only a little more than fifty percent of the task force safely made it to friendly lines. In what is now known as the Battle of Osan, TF Smith suffered 60 dead, 21 wounded and 82 captured, 32 of whom died in captivity. According to official accounts, the casualty counts for the North Koreans were estimated at 42 dead, 85 wounded. Ultimately, though, the North Koreans were delayed approximately seven hours.
U.S. Army Corporals Raymond Mellin and William Coe, members of Task Force Smith, acknowledge attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
In his remarks to attendees, Juknelis highlighted the bravery of TF Smith against overwhelming odds.
“Outnumbered nearly 10 to 1, and equipped with antiquated weapons left over from World War II, TF Smith valiantly held their position in the face of an overwhelming force,” Juknelis said. “TF Smith’s dedication to duty and country in the face of such overwhelming odds laid the foundation of service and courage that enabled the Republic of Korea-US alliance to ultimately reclaim this side of the peninsula for South Korea.”
Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-Wook places a flower at the Task Force Smith Memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
One U.S. Army unit currently stationed at nearby Suwon Air Base attended the ceremony as a leader development opportunity to learn about the important history of TF Smith and its heroic stand against the invading forces from the North. For one soldier, learning about the Korean War while serving in Korea, is very personal. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Korean War as ROK soldiers.
Cpl. William Coe, a veteran of the Korean War and a member of Task Force Smith, places a flower at the TF Smith memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
“This event means a lot to me,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Yi Jae, a Korean-American who serves as a vehicle mechanic with F Company, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade. “I feel like I am continuing their service, their legacy, their sacrifices.”
Lt. Col. Jeff Slown and Command Sgt. Major Wilfredo Suarez, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade deputy commander and command sergeant major, respectively, approach the Task Force Smith memorial with a flower.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The ceremony concluded with attendees placing white flowers at the base of the UN Forces First Battle Memorial to pay respect to the members of TF Smith for their sacrifices. The City of Osan is preparing to build a Peace Park encompassing the memorial and will serve as a place for visitors to discover the history of the site, as well as quietly reflect on the sacrifices made there. Completion of the park is scheduled for July 2019, and it is part of the city’s firm intention to never forget the soldiers who came to South Korea willing to lay down their lives in its defense.
Lt. Col. Matthew Walker and Command Sgt. Major Gene Harding, commander and command sergeant major, respectively, of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, places flowers at the Task Force Smith Memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
“How could we even imagine the noblest sacrifice of those who came to an unknown land to fight without adequate combat equipment,” said ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-jin. “Without the sacrifice and contributions of the UN Forces, such as Task Force Smith, today’s Republic of Korea, with its miraculous industrialization and remarkable democratization, would never exist. We will never forget their sacrifices.”
Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.
But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.
As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.
The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”
Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”
Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.
And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.
All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.
Narrator: Every year, the United States Postal Service takes and delivers 142 billion mailed items. If it needs to go from point A to point B anywhere in the US, the post office can do it. It survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the upheaval brought by the internet and email.
But it’s currently more than 0 billion in debt, and it’s telling Congress it will run out of cash by September and needs a billion infusion. How did this happen?
The US Postal Service has been delivering mail since before the Declaration of Independence was even signed. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster general, and it was Franklin who handled the distribution of letters from Congress to its armies during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, which authorized Congress to create the US Postal Service. This established routes and made it illegal to open anyone’s mail.
Clip: What matter if it took two weeks to go from New York to Atlanta, over a month to St. Louis? If the letter from Uncle Ben arrived a day or so later, nobody fussed.
Narrator: In 1823, it started using waterways to deliver mail, then began using railroads. 1847 saw the first issued stamps. And then the famed Pony Express debuted in 1860. In 1896, it began delivering to some rural addresses, meaning residents no longer had to go to the town post office to get their mail. By 1923, all houses were required to have a mail slot. And in 1963, zip codes made their debut.
Clip: What a system! As you can plainly see, just five little numbers, quick as can be.
Narrator: But what really transformed the post office into what we know today? That happened a few years later.
Clip: The post office stands to be swamped, overwhelmed, drowned in a sea of mail. Where do we go from here?
Narrator: In 1967, the postmaster general testified before Congress that the post office was in “a race with catastrophe.” There were all sorts of backlogs, and sorting-room floors were bursting with unsorted mail. Combined with a postal worker strike in March of 1970, led to the Postal Reorganization Act and established the United States Postal Service as we know it today.
Clip: The Post Office Department is leading the search for better ways to process and dispatch mail in the shortest time possible.
Narrator: The act eliminated the post office from the president’s cabinet and made the post office its own federal agency. It was set up more like a corporation than a government agency and had an official monopoly on the delivery of letter mail in the US. It also set up the elimination of the post office’s direct government subsidies, which were completely phased out in 1982. The post office has been operating without any taxpayer money since.
Competition from UPS and FedEx made the post office innovate on its offerings, like introducing express mail. But since its most lucrative service was first-class mail, the USPS didn’t have to worry too much about competing with other companies. In fact, the post office has partnered with both companies in the past, like when it signed a deal in 2000 that contracted its air delivery of first-class, priority, and express mail to FedEx.
So, basically, the USPS was fine. First-class mail volume peaked in 2001 at 103.6 billion pieces of mail. It operated at a loss in the first couple years of the 21st century, but by 2003, it was back to operating at a profit. In fact, from 2003 through 2006, USPS recorded a total .3 billion profit. That all changed at the end of 2006.
Clip: HR 6407, a bill to reform the postal laws of the United States.
Narrator: Enter the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Up until this point, the post office added to and removed from its retiree pension and healthcare accounts on an ongoing basis, putting money in as needed, based on its current retirees. This model is similar to the way many other companies and corporations fund their own healthcare pensions. This act changed all that.
It required the post office to calculate all of its retiree pension and healthcare costs for the next 75 years, including for people it hadn’t even hired yet, and put away enough over the next 10 years to cover them. To put this in perspective, that’d be like you only working from age 18 to 28 and then expecting to live on that income until you were 103 years old.
The timing for this was not ideal, either. Email, texting, and online payments had begun to chip away at the post office’s main business, first-class mail, which had slowly been declining since its 2001 peak. But even that decline wouldn’t put the post office in the negative.
If not for the 75-year pension and healthcare obligation, the USPS would have reported operating profits for the last six years. Once the bill was enacted, USPS had to contribute about .6 billion a year for people who had not yet retired, in addition to the normal amount for current retirees. In 2006, prior to the new bill, this was id=”listicle-2646188290″.6 billion for those who were already retired. In 2007, USPS had to put away 625% more, about billion, to cover both current and future retirees. This gave the post office an annual loss of more than billion for the year.
Additionally, the new bill restricted the post office’s ability to set prices. First-class mail, marketing mail, and other products the post office does not have a large competition for were all tied to the consumer price index, meaning it couldn’t increase rates for those products above the rate of inflation. This has caused various problems, like in 2009, when prices couldn’t be raised at all on those products, because there was no inflation.
The rule has created an environment where packages are the post office’s only profitable area. By 2010, the post office’s overall debt, which was just over billion in 2006, had climbed to billion. It sounded the alarm to Congress multiple times and was also the subject of a 2018 Trump administration report saying the pension obligation should be restructured. But nothing changed. In its most recent annual report, the post office said it had incurred almost billion in losses from 2007 to 2019. It couldn’t afford to make any payments into the fund from 2012 to 2016 and now owes about billion related to its future pension and health benefit obligations.
Which brings us to today. As with many other industries, the coronavirus has taken its toll on the post office. First-class and marketing mail have plummeted, and the post office expects a billion decline in revenue. The postmaster general has told Congress she expects the USPS to be completely out of cash by September. This would make it unable to pay its employees and could quickly cause disaster in mail delivery across the country, especially in rural areas not serviced by UPS and FedEx. So, can it be saved?
The post office is now asking Congress for a billion cash infusion along with a billion loan. The initial bailout bill Congress passed in March provided billion for the post office, far less than the billion the organization was seeking in the bill. However, President Trump threatened to veto any bill that bailed out the post office, so the bill was changed before signing to a billion loan, 13% of the billion it had originally asked for and another billion to add to its debt.
And then, in early May, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy the new postmaster general, and he will take the reins of the organization on June 15. Unlike the last three postmaster generals, DeJoy is not a career employee; he is a large GOP donor and the former CEO of a logistics company. Democrats and ethics watchdogs see the appointment as purely political, not just because of Trump’s desire to reshape the post office, but also because millions of Americans may be forced to vote by mail this year, which means the future of the post office is likely to become a political issue this spring and summer, especially if its cash flow starts running dry.
And those at risk? The 497,000 Americans who rely on the USPS for their jobs, and the 329 million Americans who rely on it for paying bills, medication, and everything else the USPS delivers through rain, sleet, snow, and even pandemics.