53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

  • In the final hours of January 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched a massive offensive across South Vietnam.
  • The Tet Offensive failed to hold territory or spark a general uprising, but daily footage of brutal fighting broadcast into homes in the US had a profound effect on how Americans viewed the war.

Shortly after midnight on January 30, 1968, cities in South Vietnam came under simultaneous attack by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers and Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas.

Many of the attacks were beaten back relatively quickly, some within hours, but the following days revealed that the fighting was not isolated.

Over 100 locations, including 36 of South Vietnam’s 44 provincial capitals, six of its largest cities, and dozens of towns, hamlets, and South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) and US bases faced a massive and well-coordinated attack.

The NVA and VC had launched their Tet Offensive, a brutal assault by some 84,000 soldiers and guerrillas across South Vietnam. They were told to “crack the sky” and “shake the earth” and that the offensive would be “the greatest battle ever fought in the history of our country.”

What ensued would change the course of the Vietnam War.

A plan to start an uprising

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
A woman Vietcong soldier with an anti-tank gun during a fighting in southern Cuu Long delta amid the Tet general offensive, spring 1968.

American military advisors had been on the ground in Vietnam for over a decade, but the country saw ever increasing fighting since the US directly intervened in 1965.

By 1968, at least 485,000 US troops were stationed in the country. The fighting on the ground was almost exclusively in the countryside, and bombing operations had expanded into Laos and Cambodia in an effort to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main supply line for communist forces.

Contrary to statements made by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the overall US commander in Vietnam, Army Gen. William Westmoreland, there was no sign of victory in sight.

The war had entered a stalemate, and the leaders of North Vietnam, upset by the lack of progress, devised a plan that they believed would give them the decisive victory necessary to unify Vietnam under communism.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
Viet Cong soldiers charging the enemy in South Vietnam, 1968.

They would take the fight directly to South Vietnam’s centers of power — the cities.

The objective was to take control of the major cities, broadcast messages of revolution, and start a general uprising across the country, overwhelming American and ARVN forces and leaving the US with no choice but to withdraw.

The offensive took place during Tet, a holiday that was traditionally, but unofficially, seen as a ceasefire period, allowing ARVN soldiers to return home.

In the months before the offensive, the NVA and VC smuggled thousands of men, weapons, and tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail and into South Vietnam’s cities.

Diversion at Khe Sanh

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
US Marines in sandbagged trenches watch a B-52 strike on Communist positions only 1,000 yards from the base at Khe Sanh, March 3, 1968.

By December, US and ARVN commanders knew something was coming. They noticed the massive increase in activity along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and captured reports showed plans for attacking cities. They also intercepted a recorded message calling on locals to rise up.

Westmoreland believed these were diversions and that the true target was Khe Sanh, a large military base just a few miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.

Worried that the US could suffer a defeat like France’s disastrous loss at Dien Bien Phu 14 years earlier, Westmoreland ordered reinforcements to Khe Sanh and put its 6,000-strong Marine garrison on alert.

Sure enough, almost 20,000 NVA troops attacked Khe Sanh on January 21, starting a brutal months-long siege.

Believing this to be the main attack, the US threw a massive amount of firepower into the fight, dropping close to 100,000 tons of bombs on NVA positions. Half of the US Army’s mobile reserve was also sent into the area.

But Khe Sanh was the diversion.

Saigon

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
US soldiers seen through a hole in the perimeter wall after the attack on the US Embassy during the Tet Offensive, in Saigon, early 1968.

A little more than a week after the fighting at Khe Sanh started, the true targets came under attack. Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital, was the biggest.

Shortly after midnight, the presidential palace came under assault, as did the airport, the city’s biggest radio station, and multiple bases, including Westmoreland’s own headquarters.

Most shocking, 19 VC commandos breached the US Embassy, engaging US troops in a six-hour long firefight before being killed or captured.

But things fell apart for the VC and NVA in Saigon. US and ARVN forces inflicted massive casualties, and operators at the radio station prevented the call for an uprising from going out.

By early February, the attackers were on the defensive, and the fighting was over by early March.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why ‘Devil Doc’ is the unofficial name of elite Navy Corpsmen

“Leatherneck,” “Jarhead,” and “Devil Dog” are just a few of the names Marines have had labeled with throughout the years. “Leatherneck” came from the first Marine Corps’ uniform that had a high leather collar while “Jarhead” represents the shape of a Marine’s haircut.


But there is one name that stands out all above the rest: “Devil Dogs.” The accepted mythology is that Marines earned the unique nickname”Teufel Hunden” or “Hell Hounds” after bravely fighting the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Wood. This name then became “Devil Dogs.”

But Navy Corpsmen get their own nickname too.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Also Read: 6 things corpsmen should know before going to the ‘Greenside’

For many years Marines and their fellow medical personnel Navy Corpsmen have always fought together.

Although Marines focus on the warfighting, Corpsmen have been right next to them, manning the frontlines. Sometimes they would meet the same fate as their ferocious counterparts. The “docs” who receive their training from Marines can be as deadly as the Marines who trained them.

To earn this unofficial title of “Devil Doc,” a Corpsman must show that he is as dangerous as his fellow warfighters.  There are only two ways for a Corpsman to earn the title.

The first way is passing the Fleet Marine Force test and earning the FMF pin.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
Behold, the almighty FMF pin in all of its glory.

During this test, Navy Corpsmen will meet requirements on Marine Corps history, traditions, weapon systems, employment of said weapon systems, and much more. Many Corpsmen don’t agree with this method. Some older Corpsmen feel that the FMF pin route has washed away in its significance. They feel when the Navy made it mandatory for all Corpsmen to earn this pin, it lost its meaning.

“I never received my FMF pin… it became meaningless chest candy when they made it mandatory,” former Hospital Corpsman HM3 Nathan Tagnipez states.

The second way to earn the title is harder, but it comes with a great level of respect from Marines. A Corpsman must take part in a deployment with Marines and earn a Combat Action Ribbon (CAR). The CAR itself is not what earns the title — the ribbon just communicates to future Marines that the Corpsman has “been there and done that.”

Also Read: Marines avoided killing officers because of this symbol

No, it is the Marines themselves that give the Corpsman the title of “Devil Doc.

“The thing that made me worthy of being a devil doc was the respect of the Marines that I served,” HM3 Nathan Tagnipez says.

Similar to the tradition where Marines earn their Shellback status by crossing the equator — and surviving the hazing fest bonding exercise that follows — Corpsmen earn this unofficial title in a trial by fire.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Marines and Corpsmen will always share a history together. It is a symbiotic relationship. Marines need the Corpsmen for medical aid and the Corpsmen need the Marines to win battles.

When they come together, no one can tell the difference between the two on the battlefield. To be a “Devil Doc,” Corpsmen must prove they have the conviction and determination to be a “Devil Dog.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why George Washington views Thanksgiving as a warrior’s holiday

The founding father at the center of our Nation’s creation myth is also responsible for one of our most cherished traditions. When General Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he would sometimes reward troops with a day of thanks following victories. American folklore of pilgrims celebrating days of thanks for special occasions was not uncommon before the Revolutionary War. Once president, Washington continued to press the issue with the Continental Congress that a national Thanksgiving was something every American should take part in. 

The first Thanksgiving, technically, was in 1941 when Congress made it a legal holiday. However, the reasons for it being ratified are not the same as the vision President Washington had. It was made a legal holiday because President Roosevelt wanted to extend the holiday shopping season by moving Thanksgiving from November 3rd to the last Thursday of the month.

According to Business Insider, “To assuage the fears of retail lobbyists, FDR moved Thanksgiving forward a week that year. The change divided the country, with 16 states refusing to move up the date of the holiday. Thanksgiving remained an issue as hot as a bowl of scalding mashed potatoes until the president admitted defeat in 1941.” 

Now we have Black November, not just a Friday, and we’ve extended the holiday shopping season by an entire month – gross.

President Washington’s vision of Thanksgiving was rooted in giving thanks to God for watching over the country during the revolution and providing us a country of our own. 

According to mountvernon.org, Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government. 

In the eyes of our greatest commander, Thanksgiving is about being grateful that we are able to govern ourselves. That we have a constitution that protects our rights and liberties with checks and balances. 

In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789, President Washington wrote about the things we should offer thanks for, to include, “… that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” 

We’re not a perfect nation but we’re still better than everyone else. 

Thanksgiving, according to President Washington, is also about reflecting on the wrongs we’ve done and work toward fixing them. It’s a day to remember those who fell at the birth of the Nation. Thanksgiving is a warrior tradition giving gratitude to God for our successful revolution. 

In these uncertain times it is important to look back upon our history and listen to words of the founding fathers. May their intent continue to guide our country forward by the hands of Almighty God.

Articles

5 interesting facts about the Marine Corps birthday

For 241 glorious years, the Marine Corps has courageously fought in every clime and place where they could take a rifle. Known for being “the first to fight,” the Corps was born in a small brewery in the city of brotherly love called Tun Tavern on November 10th, 1775.


On that day, two battalions of American Marines were created and would be known as the fiercest fighting force the world has ever seen.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.

The Marine Corps birthday is a prized and celebrated tradition throughout the Corps, regardless of where it’s celebrated. Here’s a few facts about the Marine Corps birthday you may not know about.

1. First to be commissioned

Captain Samuel Nichols was commissioned as the first Marine officer by the Second Continental Congress on November 5th, 1775, but he wasn’t confirmed in writing until November 28th, 1775.  Soon after, Nicholas took office setting up a recruiting station at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Corps.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

The roster.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
History of the United States Marine Corps by Richard Strader Collum

There isn’t an official record of the first enlisted Marine, though. Imagine that.

2. Did somebody say cake?

During the cake cutting ceremony every Marine Corps birthday, the first three pieces are presented to the guest of honor, the oldest living Marine present, and the third is handed to the youngest Marine present — a perfect way to display brotherhood and connection. This tradition is also part of the Marine Corp birthday celebration on the battlefield if possible.

There’s even a formatted script to maintain uniformity.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
Happy Birthday Marine!

3. Marine Corps Order 47

Prior to 1921, the Marine Corps celebrated its birthday on July 11th. It wasn’t changed until after Maj. Edwin North McClellan sent Commandant John A. Lejeune a memorandum requesting the original November 10th date be declared as a Marine Corps holiday.

4. The Corps has two birthdays?

It’s true!

A lesser know fact is the Marine Corps was disbanded in 1783 after the Revolutionary War and didn’t exist for 15 years. It would make its return on July 11th, 1798, and brand its self as the Corps we’ve come to know today.

5. You could take a celeb to the Ball

Let’s face it; it’s your best shot.

Service members have made it a trend and a mission to go on social media to ask their favorite celeb crushes to escort them to the once a year birthday bash. It works for some people.

Why not you? Here’s TMR to tell you a few steps how:


WATM wishes every Marine a happy and safe birthday. SEMPER FI MARINES!

WATM author Tim Kirkpatrick entered the Navy in 2007 as a Hospital Corpsman and deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in the fall of 2010.  Tim now has degrees in both Film Production and Screenwriting. You can reach him at tim0kirkpatrick@gmail.com.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy’s next ship will be named for this Korean War hero

On December 1, the Navy will commission a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for Capt. Thomas Hudner, a pilot who landed his plane in contested territory to save his wingman who was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.


53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

A Corsair fires rockets at Okinawa in World War II.

(U.S. Navy Lt. David D. Duncan)

Hudner would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions, and now an entire destroyer crew will serve on a ship named for him.

Hudner’s wingman was Ens. Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator. They were piloting F4U Corsairs in support of Marines on the ground during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chinese forces had joined the war after the U.S. and democratic Koreans had nearly won it. And so, previously victorious U.S. forces were conducting a fighting withdrawal south.

Aviators had to fight tooth and nail to buy time for the withdrawing ground forces. Corsairs and other planes were sent to drop bombs and fire rockets at enemy armor and formations, then strafe for as long as they could, then re-arm, re-fuel, and re-attack.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator, died after being shot down in December, 1950.

(U.S. Navy)

On December 4, 1950, Hudner, Brown, and four other pilots were searching for camouflaged Chinese troops in the snowy mountains. They finally found them when the snow started blinking with the muzzle flashes of Chinese riflemen firing at them.

With the Corsairs flying so low, the rifles were actually an effective anti-aircraft weapon, and Brown’s Corsair started streaming vapor. It was oil from the damaged engine, and Brown’s plane wasn’t going to make it. The ensign was going down 17 miles behind enemy lines.

The crash was rough, and the pilots in the air were worried that Brown died on impact. That was, until they saw him move. Still, Hudner was worried about Brown on the ground, exposed to the elements, especially when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit.

So, Hudner crash-landed his own plane.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his attempted rescue of Ens. Jesse Brown.

(U.S. Navy)

Hudner rushed to Brown’s Corsair, only to find him trapped inside. He attempted to get him out while taking breaks to pack snow around the engine and prevent a fire. When he was unable to get Brown out, he radioed for a rescue, but even then, they couldn’t save him.

Brown died in the cockpit, and Hudner was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which he would later receive for his efforts.

The new destroyer which will bear his name is of the Arleigh Burke Class. These guided-missile destroyers use the Aegis Combat System, which can fire all sorts of missiles and rockets to target enemies on land, on the sea, under the water, and in the air. They often pop up in the news during ballistic missile tests because they can shoot down missiles in flight and even hit satellites in space.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Members of the 1804 Concord Independent Battery render honors as the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) arrives in Boston, Massachusetts on November 26, 2018..

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond)

But they’re also often used in Tomahawk missile strikes. The USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, fired 23 missiles from the North Arabian Gulf into Syria during that large strike in April.

While the destroyers cost over four times as much as littoral combat ships, smaller vessels with a similar mission set and armament, the destroyers’ eye-watering billion cost per ship is generally considered well worth the price. That’s partially because the Aegis system on the destroyer is so much more capable, but also because the Arleigh Burkes are thought to be much more survivable than the LCS variants.

The USS Thomas Hudner will be the 66th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the U.S. Navy.

Articles

New monument will honor Vietnam helicopter crews

A new monument at Arlington National Cemetery, near the U.S. capital, will honor American helicopter crews who flew during the Vietnam War.


The Military Times reports Congress has approved the monument, which will be near the Tomb of the Unknowns.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
(Photo from Wikimedia)

Spearheading the memorial campaign is retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Hesselbein, who flew AH-1 Cobra gunships in Vietnam. Hesselbein says Arlington has the greatest concentration of helicopter-crew casualties from the war.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin says the monument will create a “teachable moment” for people to understand the story of pilots and crew members. The U.S. relied heavily on helicopters to transport troops and provide support to ground forces near enemy soldiers in Vietnam.

The nonprofit Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association is paying for the monument.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most intense military medical training no one talks about

It’s no secret the military trains the way they fight — which is pretty hardcore. Marines and sailors train in the terrible heat and rough terrain of the Mojave Desert to prepare them to face the enemy in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.


During their pre-deployment workup, troops pretend to get hurt so that nearby medics can practice rendering proper treatment. This training only goes so far, though, as the semi-stressful situations can’t compare to the real vigors of war.

So, to get young medical professionals ready for bloody working conditions overseas, some of the troops are sent to a live-tissue training course stateside where they must keep wounded pigs or goats alive for hours  — or fail the course.

These animals are chosen specifically due to their tissue similarities to humans.

Related: The ‘Prisoner Exchange’ is the coolest Army-Navy tradition no one talks about

Before heading down to the live-tissue training grounds, young troops go through three days’ worth of brutal training missions throughout Camp Pendleton. These missions consist of hunting down mock “high-value targets,” several hours of intense physical training, and miles of foot patrols with little to no sleep. Then, troops board a bus that takes them to an undisclosed location — the live-tissue training grounds.

“The instructors worked us hard all day and night,” one former hospital Corpsman recalls. “We all were completely exhausted before the lab even started.”

Once at the training ground, the troops gear up in full battle rattle, place their highly anesthetized agricultural animal on an Army litter, and carry it up a steep hill where the training begins. After dropping the animal off at the first station, medics seek cover until signaled to retrieved their severely wounded patient.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
These Marines pull their wounded patient from a vehicle during the live-tissue training course.

Once the troops retrieve their patient, the docs make lifesaving interventions.

Three or four battle-themed stations and several massive wounds later, the troops enter a large metal container and load their “patient” on board as if it were a medical evacuation helicopter. After being locked in for several minutes, the container’s door opens to a mock-hospital, where the troops continue to care for their patient.

If the animal dies throughout this process, the student fails.

Also Read: How one vet learned to actually appreciate his deployment to Iraq

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Compared to a computer simulator, the “pig lab,” as many refer to it, puts actual life into the student’s hands, forcing them to think on their toes to keep their patient alive.

Although humans control the stimulator, this lab comes with an extreme level of unpredictability and is considered “great training.”

“It was the best damn training I’ve ever received,” the former hospital Corpsman remembers. “I felt much more confident to take care of one of my Marines if they got hurt.”

Although considered to be “great training,” PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has voiced, on many occasions, that they are entirely against using agricultural animals for military training.

Articles

This is how Harry Truman’s prize swords were stolen from his Presidential Library

Presidential libraries aren’t usually the prime targets for well-executed heists, but in the case of Harry Truman’s located in Independence, Missouri, some of his rare collectibles weren’t well secured.


On the early morning of March 24, 1978, Truman’s library had one security guard stationed at the north end and he noticed a questionable woman walking around across the street — keeping the guard’s concentration (a decoy).

Related: Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Less than 10-minutes after the guard noticed the mysterious lurking female, an additional car pulled up near the south gate of the library and the “break-in” commenced as the thieves broke through a pane of glass to gain entry.

As the alarm sounded, the singular guard dashed at full speed toward the disturbance, 100 yards away from his post to discover that the thieves had padlocked the door from the other side where the thief was about to take place.

As the guard shook the door and yelled at the burglars, he heard the sounds of glass shattering as it fell to the floor.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
A view of the broken glass in the lobby exhibit case where swords and daggers were stolen. (Source: Truman Library)

The thieves took the merchandise they appeared to be after and made their escape all within less than 45-seconds after the initial alert. The rare daggers and swords that were stolen were gold and jewel encrusted art from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
The items were the museum’s most valued items. (Source: History Channel/ Screenshot)

At the time of the robbery, the net worth of the stolen items was valued at 1 million dollars.

According to the Examiner, this case is still under investigation.

Check out the History Channel‘s video reporting on the classic capper.

(History Channel, YouTube)

Also Read: This was the RAF’s insane plan to steal a Nazi plane

Articles

This Spitfire shot down near Dunkirk just flew again

During the famed and perilous evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II, brave pilots, sailors, and citizens fought tooth and nail to rescue soldiers trapped on the French beach from the German Luftwaffe as it attempted to wipe them out.


One of the pilots, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson, was shot down in a Spitfire MK1 N3200 on May 26, 1940, the opening hours of Operation Dynamo. Stephenson spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Germans, eventually staying at the famous Colditz Castle after numerous escape attempts from other prisons.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

But his aircraft, hit through the radiator and with other damage to the body, was left on the beach near Calais, France. The Spitfire plane became a popular photo destination for German soldiers who would often take small parts of the aircraft with them as souvenirs.

By the time the Allies liberated Calais in 1944, no one was too worried about digging what scrap remained out of the beach. And so the plane continued to sit, slowly becoming more and more buried by the mud and sand on the beach.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
The restored Spitfire Mk. 1A taxis to the runway at an air show in England. (Photo: YouTube/Imperial War Museums)

It wasn’t until 1986, over 40 years after the war ended, that the plane was recovered — and it wasn’t until the new millennium that someone decided to actually restore the old bird.

Thomas Kaplan, an American investor and philanthropist, backed the 14-year restoration project and gifted the plane, now back in flying condition, to the Imperial War Museum.

Now the plane is housed at the same hangar on the same base that it flew from that fateful day in 1940, but it has a much different mission. It serves as a flying history exhibit for the museum, soaring over air shows and allowing visitors to hear what the original Spitfires sounded like in combat.

Learn more about the history of the plane and see it in flight in the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

These invincible Russian tanks rolled through Nazi artillery

The KV-1 and KV-2 are recognized as being amongst the most heavily armoured tanks deployed during WW2. At least initially largely impervious to anything less than a direct, point-blank hit from a dedicated anti-tank weapon, the KV series was so formidable that the first time the Wehrmacht encountered them, Soviet soldiers destroyed dozens of anti-tank guns by simply driving towards them in a straight line and running them over.

Introduced in 1939 and named for famed Soviet officer Kliment Voroshilov — a man who once personally tried to attack a German tank division with a pistol — the KV series was designed to replace the T-35 heavy tank, which was somewhat mechanically unreliable and costly to produce. The extremely heavily armoured KV series was first deployed during the Soviet Union’s 1939 war with the Finnish and then subsequently used throughout WW2.


The KV series was effectively designed with a single feature in mind — survivability. Towards this end, it was equipped with exceptionally thick armor. While this thickness varied somewhat based on model, for reference the KV-1 boasted armor that was 90 millimeters thick (3.5 inches) on the front and 70 millimeters (2.8 inches) on the rear and sides.

Of course, there’s always a trade-off in anything, and the thickness and weight of the KV’s armor came at the expense of almost everything else. The tank was slow, had limited maneuverability and firepower relative to what you’d expect from a tank this size, and, to top it all, had exceptionally poor visibility. In fact, it’s noted that Soviet commanders frequently complained about the tank, despite the defensive protection it offered. These sentiments weren’t echoed by the German troops who initially encountered this moving shield.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

A 1939 KV-1 model.

The KV-1 and KV-2 (the two most popular models of the tank) were nearly invincible during initial skirmishes with the Germans, as few anti-tank weapons they possessed could punch a hole through the armor, and even the ones that could required uncomfortably close range to do it.

As noted by an unspecified German solider in a 1949 report compiled by the U.S. Army’s Historical Division,

…there suddenly appeared for the first time a battalion of heavy enemy tanks of previously unknown type. They overran the armored infantry regiment and broke through into the artillery position. The projectiles of all defense weapons (except the 88-mm. Flak) bounced off the thick enemy armor. Our hundred tanks were unable to check the twenty enemy dreadnaughts, and suffered losses. Several Czech-built tanks (T 36’s) that had bogged down in the grain fields because of mechanical trouble were flattened by the enemy monsters. The same fate befell a 150-mm. medium howitzer battery, which kept on firing until the last minute. Despite the fact that it scored direct hit after direct hit from as close a range as two hundred meters, its heavy shells were unable to put even a single tank out of action…

In another account, a German soldier in the 1st Panzer Division noted,

The KV-1 and KV-2, which we first met here, were really something! Our companies opened fire at about 800 yards, but [they] remained ineffective. We moved closer and closer to the enemy, who for his part continued to approach us unconcerned. Very soon we were facing each other at 50 to 100 yards. A fantastic exchange of fire took place without any visible German success. The Russian tanks continued to advance, and all armour-piercing shells simply bounced off them. Thus we were presently faced with the alarming situation of the Russian tanks driving through the ranks of 1st Panzer Regiment towards our own infantry and our hinterland. Our Panzer Regiment therefore about turned and rumbled back with the KV-1s and KV-2s roughly in line with them.

The former report also notes that a lone KV tank (the exact model isn’t clear) simply parked in the middle of the road blocking the main supply route and sat there soaking up anti-tank rounds for several days. “There were practically no means of eliminating the monster. It was impossible to bypass the tank because of the swampy surrounding terrain.”

Among the initial armament brought against the troublesome tank were four 50mm anti-tank guns. One by one the tank took them all out suffering no meaningful damage itself.

Frustrated, the Germans commandeered a nearby 88mm anti-aircraft gun, positioning it a few hundred feet behind the tank (basically pointblank range for a gun design to rip planes in half). While this weapon was capable of piercing the tank’s armor at that range, before they could fire, the KV turned the gun’s crew into a pink smear.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

A KV-1 on fire, knocked out near Voronezh in 1942.

Next up, the Germans decided to send an engineer crew in under cover of darkness to try to take it out up close and personal. While they did manage to get to the KV and attach demolition charges, it turned out they underestimated the needed explosive power and only a few pieces of the tank’s track were destroyed, leaving the tank still fully functional.

As for the tank crew themselves, they initially received needed supplies to continue their barrage on the Germans via cover of night. However, ultimately the Germans were able to cut off supply access to the tank and then sent a whopping 50 of their own tanks in to take it out, or that was seemingly their plan; while the massive number of tanks were approaching and occupying the attention of the KV crew with their limited visibility, the Germans were able to, according to the 1949 account from the unnamed German soldier, “set up and camouflage another 88-ram. Flak to the rear of the tank, so that this time it actually was able to fire. Of the twelve direct hits scored… three pierced the tank and destroyed it.”

Of course, all good things must come to an end and the KV line’s many limitations saw it quickly go from a near impervious mobile fortress to a virtual sitting duck, with German forces reacting to it by developing new explosive anti-tank rounds fully capable of taking the KV’s out.

While still used throughout the war, once this happened, the KV’s were largely replaced by the more well-rounded T-34 tank. Still, it’s impossible to argue that the KV didn’t make one hell of a first impression, even if, ironically enough, it didn’t have staying power.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

HMS Dreadnought underway

(US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.

(US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II

During World War II, 22 Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor, but, due to prejudices that lasted until decades after the fighting, only one received the award during the war: a young infantryman who fought in Italy and France before giving his life to save his comrades by eliminating machine gun nests and then throwing his body on an enemy grenade.


53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

100th Infantry Battalion soldiers receive grenade training in 1943.

(U.S. Army)

Pfc. Sadao Munemori trained in civilian life as a mechanic but, unable to find work, ended up joining the Army instead in February, 1942, just a couple of months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Like most Asian Americans at the time — and nearly all Japanese Americans — he was sent to noncombat units to conduct menial duties.

But patriotic Japanese Americans like Munemori got a new chance in early 1943 when the Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated combat unit for Asian Americans. Munemori was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Europe in April, 1944.

Munemori first saw combat in Italy, but he was then sent to France, where he took part in the historic rescue of the Lost Battalion. The 100th Battalion had already distinguished itself multiple times when the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment, found itself cut off with limited food and water.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

A painting illustrates the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Combat Team, breaking through the German lines to rescue the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment.

(U.S. Army)

The 100th was sent to rescue it, an order that remains controversial as it’s unclear whether the 100th was sent because of its already-impressive combat record or because the Japanese soldiers were considered expendable next to their white counterparts.

Either way, the 100th threw itself to the task, pushing forward for six days in a slow but unstoppable crawl. An apocryphal story claims that Hitler himself ordered that the trapped unit be be blocked off and exterminated. But, on October 30, the Japanese American soldiers breached the Axis perimeter and allowed the 1-141st to escape.

The 141st, who already knew about the 442nd’s combat prowess, was overjoyed to see the Japanese Americans attacking the German troops.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team stands in the snow while their citations for rescuing the “Lost Battalion” are read out.

(U.S. Army)

“To our great pleasure it was members of the 442nd Combat Team,” said Major Claude D. Roscoe of the 141st Regiment. “We were overjoyed to see these people for we knew them as the best fighting men in the ETO.”

Nearly every 442nd soldier involved in the rescue received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, or both, and the 442nd received the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions. They rescued 211 Texans, but suffered 800 killed and wounded while doing so, earning them the name, “Go For Broke Battalion.”

In early 1945, the 442nd was sent back to Italy, where Munemori would make his last heroic sacrifice. On April 5, Munemori was part of an attack on mountain positions near Seravezza, Italy. German machine gun fire from higher altitude pinned down members of his unit and wounded his squad leader.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Pfc. Sadao Munemori was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor whose wartime recommendation for the Medal of Honor was originally approved. An additional 22 Asian Americans would be awarded the top medal in 1995 after a review of their actions.

(U.S. Army)

Munemori took over as squad leader, but twice ran through enemy fire on his own to get close to machine gun nests and destroy them with grenades. While making his way back from the second nest, enemy machine gun fire and grenades rained down around him.

He was still uninjured as he approached the shell crater that he and his men were using as cover, but an enemy grenade bounced off of his helmet and into the hole. Munemori dove onto the grenade and his body absorbed the blast. The other soldiers in the crater were still injured, but survived thanks to Munemori’s sacrifice.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in early 1946, and was the only recipient whose recommendation during the war was approved. During a review of Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross awards in 1995, 22 other Asian Americans medal recipients were recommended for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor for actions in world War II. Three of these upgrades were awarded to members of the 100th Battalion for their role in rescuing the “Lost Battalion” in France.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs just died

It’s not widely known that Marine Corps Raiders trained operatives for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The forerunner to the CIA, the OSS would conduct clandestine resistance, sabotage, and intelligence-gathering operations all over the world. One of those operatives was a member of UDT-10, an underwater demolition team, who would play a critical role in the recapture of the Philippines during the war, then help create the foundation of maritime special operations forces for the U.S. military and the intelligence community.

That operative was a sailor named Hank Weldon and he died on Oct. 5, 2018 in his San Marcos, Calif. home. He was 95 years old.


“My point of view of the war is a little different than a lot of people,” he told the Valley Road Runner in 2013. “I let them [U.S. Marines] in and left. I didn’t see a lot of action on the ground. I went in and cleared the areas for the ships,” says Weldon. “Opened the lanes for them. Took care of mines. Or eliminated markers that the Japanese were using as markers for their artillery.”

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam
Underwater Demolition Teams used surfboards to haul up to 300 pounds of explosives to shore.
(Valley Road Runner)

That was just the beginning of a storied career in service to his country.

Born in 1923 and graduating from high school in 1942, Hank Weldon came of age at the outbreak of World War II. He played football at Villanova for two semester before joining a Navy commissioning program. It was while training for that program that General “Wild Bill” Donovan came looking to recruit strong swimmers for the OSS.

His swimming test involved pulling a manhole cover from the bottom of a pool and putting it in an empty canoe without tipping it. He passed. That’s when he was ordered to Camp Pendleton – but he had no idea what branch of the service he was actually in. The truth was, they were from all branches.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Weldon and his full UDT crew on California’s Catalina Island during their training exercises.

The OSS recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines to come train with a Marine Raider battalion. When their training was complete, the unit was split up. Some were deployed to hit the beaches at Normandy, while Weldon and others prepared to hit the beaches of the occupied Philippine Islands.

Their trial by fire came when they were sent on the first underwater recon mission of World War II, gathering intelligence on the island of Yap. From there, they saw action at Palau and in five missions in the Philippines – but they didn’t lose a single man there. He even saw General MacArthur as he returned to the island nation, as promised.

When the war ended, so did Hank Weldon’s time in the military.

53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

But his career in service didn’t stop. He spent 26 years as a beat cop on the Los Angeles Police Department and served during some of the most dangerous times in the force’s history. He served during the 1965 Watts Riots, a six-day civil disturbance that damaged million worth of property and was the most destructive urban uprising of the entire Civil Rights Era. It took a 45-mile exclusion zone enforced by 13,000 California National Guardsmen to quell the violence – with Hank Weldon riding and holding shotgun through it all.

Some 50 years after leaving the military and the OSS Maritime unit, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Special Forces – with good reason. He helped inaugurate the use of fins in maritime clandestine operations and pioneered tactical technology, including the first rebreathers. The tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques he and other OSS operative learned from the Marine Raiders were passed on to other operatives throughout the war and then handed down to new special operations units thereafter.

Members of the OSS were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 21, 2018, and Hank Weldon was the surviving member of his OSS team, UDT-10. Weldon’s family turned down an invitation for Hank to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead, he will receive a military burial ceremony at home, in the Valley Center Cemetery in California.