Tanks with the 7th, 9th, and 10th Armored Divisions helped the infantry hold the lines as the Germans attacked, and tanks operating under Patton’s Third Army spearheaded to effort to save the 101st Airborne Division. The tank that led that rescue effort survived the war and was rediscovered in 2008.
2. Battle of Norfolk
Fourteen coalition and Iraqi divisions fought each other at the Battle of Norfolk, the last battle of the Persian Gulf War. Four U.S. and British divisions plus elements of two more destroyed Iraqis fighting in eight divisions, including the elite Tawakalna Republican Guard Division.
The battle opened with a massive artillery and rocket bombardment that fired almost 20,000 artillery and rocket rounds, destroying 22 Iraqi battalions and hundreds of artillery pieces. Tanks and Apache helicopters moved forward, slaughtering their way through Iraqi resistance. The Tawakalna Republican Guard Division and ten other Iraqi divisions were destroyed in the fighting. The U.S. lost six men.
3. Battle of Arracourt
The Battle of Arracourt from Sep. 18 to 29, 1944, was the largest tank battle the U.S. had conducted up to that point in history and saw the American forces brilliantly destroy two Panzer Brigades and additional units from two Panzer divisions.
The Battle of Sidi Bou Zid took place within the Battle of Kasserine Pass. German Gen. Heinz Zeigler led over 200 tanks, including two veteran Panzer divisions. Meanwhile, the American forces were a single understrength division with only 7 of its 13 maneuver battalions. Worse, many of the units were still using the technologically inferior M3 General Grant tanks.
The U.S. units were quickly pushed back and then surrounded on a series of hilltops. After days of hard fighting, the U.S. retreated and left the cutoff forces. American units lost over 2,500 men and had 103 tanks destroyed.
5. Battle of Medina Ridge
Over 100 U.S. tanks raced towards about 100 Iraqi tanks that were dug into defensive positions at the Battle of Medina Ridge in Apr. 1991. The fights was one-sided as the Americans had air support and tanks that could fire from nearly twice as far as the Iraqis. After only 40 minutes, most of the Iraqi tanks were burning in their holes while the Americans continued their advance.
6. Battle of 73 Easting
Then-Capt. H.R. McMaster (now a lieutenant general) was leading his troop of nine M1 tanks in an armed reconnaissance when he crested a hill and found himself facing an elite Iraqi division. He decided he was too close to the enemy tanks to withdraw and call in the rest of the armored cavalry regiment, so his tanks attacked their way through it instead.
The Americans cut a five-kilometer-wide swath through the Iraqi division and then their brothers in Ghost, Killer, and Iron Troops joined the fight. By the time the U.S. stopped firing to ask for the Iraqis’ surrender, 1,000 Iraqi soldiers had been killed and 85 tanks, 40 armored vehicles, 30 other vehicles, and two artillery batteries had been destroyed. Most of the Iraqis quickly surrendered.
It was once the most heroic thing a soldier could do. They’d strap themselves up with the barest of combat essentials and jump out of the back of a perfectly good aircraft into uncertain danger — often ending up miles away from their intended drop zone and, sometimes, completely on their own.
Combat jumps led the Allied Forces to victory in WWII. These same tactics were employed during the Korean War and Vietnam War and, eventually, were used by Rangers and Green Berets in Grenada and Panama. When it came time for the Global War on Terrorism, well, let’s just say there are only a handful of combat jumps that come without asterisks attached.
It should be noted that this list cannot be exhaustive, as there are likely some jumps that that have yet to be declassified. Also, there were many airborne insertions done in-theater, but those don’t qualify you for the coveted “mustard stain,” so they don’t make the list.
The following are the only jumps that have happened since September 11, 2001 that satisfy all the requirements to fully classify as combat jumps.
Now it is known as Kandahar Airfield, home to the ISAF command, several NATO nation’s commands, a TGI Fridays, and a pond full of human excrement.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tony Wickman)
Just 38 days after the horrific attacks of September 11th, the 75th Ranger Regiment sent 200 of their most badass Rangers to meet with the 101st Airborne Division 100 miles south of Kandahar, Afghanistan — the last bastion of complete Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Rangers landed on a derelict strip of land and expected heavy resistance. In actuality, they found just one, lone Taliban fighter who presumably sh*t himself as 200 Rangers dropped in on him.
There, they established a sufficient forward operating base, called FOB Rhino, which opened the way to take back Kandahar for the Afghan people.
Fun fact: they technically beat the next entry by a few days, forever solidifying their bragging rights.
The 75th Rangers, who are featured heavily on this list, led the way into Iraq by making combat jumps into Iraq in March, 2003 — the first in Iraq since Desert Storm.
The Rangers landed in the region a few weeks earlier by airborne insertion to capture the lead operational planner of the September 11th attacks. They accomplished this within three days of touching boots to the ground. The next wave of 2nd Battalion 75th Rangers came to secure al-Qa’im and Haditha before making their way into Baghdad.
If you didn’t know about this one… Don’t worry. Literally everyone in the 173rd will remind you of this whenever their personal Airborne-ness is brought into question.
(U.S. Army photo by Specialist Adam Sanders)
Operation Northern Delay
In the early morning of March 26th, 2003, 996 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Division jumped into the relatively empty Bashur Airfield and stopped six entire divisions of Saddam’s army from continuing on to Baghdad.
This marked the first wave of conventional troops in the region and the beginning of the end of Saddam’s regime. This was also the only jump conducted by conventional USAF airmen as the 786th Security Forces Squadron also jumped with them.
Come on, 75th Rangers! You guys are leaving out all the good, juicy details of your classified missions!
Various Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment jumps in Afghanistan
Very little is known about the last two publicly-disclosed combat jumps, as is the case with most JSOC missions, other than the fact that they were both conducted by the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company Teams 3 and 1.
RRC Team 3 jumped into Tillman Drop Zone in southeast Afghanistan on July 3rd, 2004, to deploy tactical equipment in a combat military free-fall parachute drop.
This was the last RRC time made a jump until Team 1 jumped five years later on July 11th, 2009, into an even more remote location of Afghanistan — but this time, scant reports state that the jumps including a tandem passenger to aid in deploying tactical equipment.
We’ll just have to wait for the history books to be written, I guess.
President Donald Trump will award the Medal of Honor to a retired Army medic from Alabama who risked his life several times to provide medical care to his comrades during the Vietnam War, the White House announced Sept. 20.
Trump will award retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose of Huntsville, Alabama, the nation’s highest military honor for his actions in combat. Trump will honor Rose for his conspicuous gallantry during a White House ceremony on Oct. 23.
The White House said Rose, 69, will be recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group during combat operations in Vietnam in September 1970. Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide medical care, and used his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm.
On the final day of the mission, Rose was wounded but put himself in the line of enemy fire while moving wounded personnel to an extraction point, loading them into helicopters and helping to repel an enemy assault on the American position.
As he boarded the final extraction helicopter, the aircraft was hit with intense enemy fire and crashed shortly after takeoff. The White House said Rose ignored his own injuries and pulled the helicopter crew and members of his unit from the burning wreckage and provided medical care until another extraction helicopter arrived.
Rose is a 20-year veteran of the Army. He will be the second person to be awarded the Medal of Honor by Trump. The president honored James McCloughan of South Haven, Michigan, in July for his actions to save wounded soldiers in a Vietnam kill zone.
The U.S. Army has over 240 years of storied history, defending America in war after war. The branch ensures American ideals around the world and has stood strong against fascists, dictators, and kings. These are seven of their finest moments.
1. The Army stops the German’s massive counterattack
The Battle of the Bulge was, ultimately, Hitler’s fever dream. The thought was that the German Army could buildup a massive force, cut apart the western Allies, destroy them, and then turn around and beat back the Soviet Union. It was never possible, but someone had to do the nitty-gritty work of shutting down Hitler’s advance and then resume the march to Berlin.
American Army paratroopers rushed in to hold the line at key crossroads, and soldiers dug in and slowly beat back the 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks of the German Army. Artillery barrages rained down on German armor even as it crawled up to the firing positions. American armor got into legendary slugfests with German Panzer columns and infantrymen traded fire at close range, even as shells rained down.
From December 16, 1944, through January, 1945, the Americans cut apart the German bulge and prepared for the drive into the German heartland.
2. The Army embarrasses the world’s greatest military power at Saratoga
During the American Revolution, the nascent United States needed a large victory to prove to foreign countries that the rebellion was viable and that they should be recognized as a new nation. A great chance came in late 1777 when British forces coming down from Canada prepared for a massive attack against American General Horatio Gates and his men.
British commander Gen. John Burgoyne lacked the troops during the First Battle of Saratoga, which took place on September 19. He attacked and was barely able to take the field by end of day, suffering twice as many casualties as he inflicted. On October 7, they fought again and the Americans looked good in early fighting — but their attack began to falter. Right as it looked like as though a reversal may occur, Brig Gen. Benedict Arnold charged in with a fresh brigade and saved the day.
The Americans captured 23,000 Germans in the first 24 hours and took another 10,000 the following day. American and French forces took ground more slowly than expected, but fairly persistently. The Germans were forced into a general retreat and just kept falling back until the armistice was signed on November 11.
The Korean War was initially a war between the two Koreas, with communist forces invading south on June 25, 1950. America sent troops within days to help protect the democratic South Korea, and Task Force Smith fought its first battle on July 5. Early on, American troops fought with limited equipment and reinforcements, but gave ground only grudgingly.
Still, the tide was unmistakable, and democratic forces were slowly pushed until they barely held a port on the southern coast by September, 1950. The Army landed reinforcements there and sent an Army and a Marine division ashore at Inchon, near the original, pre-war border. The two forces manage to break apart most North Korean units and drive north.
5. The Army peacefully accepts the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House
The Union Army was very effective during the Appomattox campaign, harrying the retreating Confederates and pinning down Lee’s forces to ensure the war didn’t drag on much longer, but that wasn’t the reason that Appomattox Court House represents one of the Army’s finest moments. The real miracle there was that the two forces, both of which would later be accepted as part of Army lineage, were able to negotiate a peaceful end to the hostilities, despite the animosity.
The war had raged for four years, and Gen. Robert E. Lee still had 28,000 men with which he could have drug out the fighting. But when it became clear that his army would be destroyed or descend into broken looting, he contacted Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to surrender at a house near the fighting.
Grant silenced a band that tried to play celebratory songs, declaring,
“The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”
He gave generous surrender terms, allowing those with horses to keep them so that they could use the animals for late planting. For everyone who remained at the field, the Union opened up their rations to ensure all would eat.
6. Allies land at Normandy on D-Day
It’s one of the most storied and iconic moments in U.S. military history. Thousands of boats carried tens of thousands of troops against reinforced, German-held beaches of France. Machine gun fire rained down from concrete bunkers and engineers were forced to blow apart wire, mines, and other obstacles for the men to even get off the beaches, most of which extended 200 yards before offering any real cover.
Rangers climbed steep cliffs to capture enemy artillery and paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines to secure key infrastructure and silence the big guns inland. Engineers constructed new harbors to rapidly land all the materiel needed to push forward against the staunch German defenses in the hedgerows of France.
Operation Desert Storm was a true joint fight with the Navy providing a fake amphibious landing, the Marines conducting operations on the coast and inland, and the Air Force dropping bombs across the country while downing enemy planes.
But the U.S. Army formed the bulk of the maneuver forces, and the huge left hook through the desert was a logistical nightmare that allowed the coalition to absolutely wallop Iraqi forces. Within that left hook, then-Capt. H.R. McMaster led an armored cavalry charge where one troop cut a huge swath through an Iraqi division while suffering zero losses.
The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in 1951 was supposed to be a quick win by U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea. They had just pushed the North Koreans and Chinese off of the nearby “Bloody Ridge,” and they believed the communist forces could be pushed off the ridge quickly as they’d had a limited time to dig in, but it turned into a month-long slugfest that would leave almost 30,000 dead.
Here are six heroes who ensured most of those deaths came from North Korea and China:
Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau
(Military Sealift Command)
Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau
Infantryman Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau’s company was holding a key position at Pia-ri on the ridge when, after repeated attacks, the platoon was nearly out of ammo. They needed to withdraw temporarily, but the near-continuous attacks made that challenging. Pililaau volunteered to stay in position as the men near him withdrew.
Communist forces charged the lines as the rest of the company withdrew, and Pililaau fired through his automatic weapon ammo, threw hand grenades until he ran out, and then fought hand-to-hand with his fists and trench knife until he was overwhelmed. He is thought to have killed more than 40 before dying and later received a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Sgt. 1st Class Tony K. Burris was part of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea.
(Pfc. James Cox, U.S. Army)
Sgt. 1st Class Tony K. Burris
Sgt. 1st Class Tony K. Burris was part of a series of attacks near Mundung-Ri from October 8-9, 1951. They hit an entrenched force and the attack stalled, except for Burris. Burris charged forward and hurled grenade after grenade, killing 15 and creating an opening. The next day, he spearheaded an assault on the next position.
He was hit by machine gun fire, but pressed the attack anyway. He took a second hit, but remained forward, directing a 57mm recoilless rifle team to come up. He drew fire from the enemy machine gun, allowing the team to take it out. Then, he refused medical evacuation and attacked again, taking out more machine gun emplacements before taking a mortal wound. He received a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Corpsmen assist wounded from the 7th Division at the Battle of Triangle Hill in 1952. May was from the 7th Division.
Sgt. Homer I. May
On September 1, 1951, Sgt. Homer May helped lead an assault squad against enemy positions, but the attackers encountered withering machine gun fire. The sergeant sent his men into cover and maneuvered against the guns himself and got eyes on three bunkers, and took one out with grenades.
He doubled back for more grenades and made his way back forward, taking out the other bunkers. The attack was successful, and May received the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. He tragically died the next day while helping fend off an enemy counterattack against the hill.
U.S. infantrymen from the 27th Infantry Regiment defend a position near Heartbreak Ridge in August, 1952.
(National Archives Records Administration)
Cpl. James E. Smith
Army Cpl. James E. Smith was manning a defensive position on September 17 as waves of enemy forces attacked. His company was able to repulse attack after attack, but ammunition dwindled and the attacking waves got closer and closer to the American lines. As it became clear that the unit would need to pull back, Smith stayed in position to cover the withdrawal.
He fired through all of his ammunition and then fought with bayonet and his bare fists until he was killed. He is thought to have downed 35 of the enemy before succumbing, earning him a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
French Sgt. Louis Misseri
French Army Sgt. Louis Misseri was part of an assault on September 29 against a hill that was part of Heartbreak Ridge. The French Battalion came under artillery and mortar attack but kept pressing forward. Misseri split his squad into two sections and led one of them against enemy bunkers on the hill, taking them out.
When the communist forces launched a counterattack, Misseri led the defense and, despite suffering a serious wound, hit 15 enemy soldiers with his rifle fire. He was able to reach the top of Heartbreak Ridge and remained in position until the rest of his force had withdrawn. He would later receive a Distinguished Service Cross from the U.S.
Infantrymen move to the firing line in July 1950 during fighting in Korea.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Sgt. George R. Deemer
On October 10, Company F of the 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, was attacking Hill 800 as mortar and artillery fire rained down. Sgt. George R. Deemer went into the battle carrying a 57mm recoilless rifle. A companion helped him load and he advanced with the skirmish line, knocking out one enemy emplacement after another.
When the company took the Hill, he used the weapon to aid in the defense until he ammunition ran out. Then, he organized two machine gun teams and made three trips under fire to keep them supplied with ammunition. During the third trip, he was mortally wounded by mortar fire. He received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
It always struck me as odd when I read history books as a kid: cannons are pretty much giant shotguns — why didn’t they ever make double-barreled cannon pieces? Well, I wasn’t the only genius with the idea.
A Southerner from Athens, Ga. named Pvt. John Gilleland forged one in 1862. Gilleland’s idea was to connect the two three-inch barrels by firing chain shot connected by two six-pound balls. When fired, the designer’s idea was for the balls to be shot at different angles to allow the ten-foot chain to fully extend.
If you’re not sure what chain shot does to walking bags of meat (soldiers), the guys at MythBusters demonstrated this on a pig carcass – warning: it doesn’t end well for the pig carcass.
So imagine a ten-foot nunchuck weighing in at roughly 50 pounds flying into a massed formation of people at more than a thousand feet per second. That was Pvt. Gilleland’s great idea. Except it didn’t go quite as he would have liked.
His tests showed erratic and often dangerous results. Though the gun was designed for both barrels to be fired simultaneously, they often didn’t, meaning an intense veering in an unintended direction. When they did fire, the chain would sometimes break apart, with two end of chain led by a ball, each veering three degrees away from each other at more than a thousand feet per second.
Gilleland still declared it a success and sent it to be tested with the Confederate Army. The Confederates found the cannon “not usable due to unpredictable rates of powder burn and barrel friction which led to unpredictable performance.”
So the Confederate government sent the cannon back to Gilleland in Athens. The weapons was still used in combat in just one battle. As Union raiders approached Athens on July 27, 1863, the double-barrel cannon was used as a signal gun to rouse the population to arms.
Some 9,000 Union cavalry approached Athens as part of General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Athens would be put to the torch, but not if the Georgia Home Guard Artillery could repel them.
At Barber’s Creek, just south of Athens, the cavalry hopped across the Confederate earthwork defenses. But before they could break the home guard completely, the city’s cannon and howitzers stole the initiative and fired a volley into the oncoming traffic. The yankees broke off the attack and Athens was spared.
Today the cannon is parked on Hancock and College Avenues in Athens.
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.
On Oct. 9, 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill walked into Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s study, got super blitzed on whiskey with the Soviet, and then proceeded to split up Eastern Europe with Stalin by writing a list of countries and percentages next to them. He would later call it his “Naughty Document,” and it’s going on display with other World War II and Cold War Era documents.
Soviet troops march in 1943.
(RIA Novosti Archive, CC BY-SA 3.0)
World War II brought together unlikely allies, and possibly none of the unions was weirder than Soviet Russia teaming up with Great Britain and the United States. The U.S., Britain, and Russia were members of the Allied Powers in World War I, but Russia withdrew as the Bolsheviks rose up against the tsar.
Britain and America—as well as Canada, France, and others—sent troops to back up the tsar, but the intervention failed. So, the Soviet Union began its existence with a grudge against the foreign troops that had tried to prevent the revolution.
Then, Russia’s first foray into World War II was signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler and then following Germany into Poland, capturing sections of that country. Russia didn’t join the Allied effort until after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.
And, in 1944, Soviet forces began to take back Poland, and they were not supporting the Polish Home Army that was part of the Allied forces against Germany. This was a problem for Churchill since the U.K. had joined the war in 1939 largely in response to the invasions of Poland.
The Soviet relationship with the U.S. and Great Britain was fraught, is what we’re saying.
The man in the middle represents Yugoslavia. This will not go well for him.
(W. Averell Harriman Papers)
But the Soviet Union benefited greatly from allying itself with the U.K. and America. Russian troops drove American vehicles, and the British and U.S. navies kept the sea lanes open for Russian ships, submarines, and supplies. And the invasions of Italy and Normandy had greatly reduced the pressure on Soviet troops in the east. And remember, the German invasion of the Soviet Union had made it deep into Russia before being turned back.
So, in October 1944, Allied-Soviet relations were healthy, but it wasn’t clear what would happen after Germany was defeated and peace returned. On the night of the 9th, Churchill and Stalin got blitzed and tried to figure out how they would avoid new conflict in the future.
And so Churchill started writing on a scrap of paper. He wrote a list of countries that would be between the Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Bulgaria made the list.
(Photo by Vints, public domain. Original document by Winston Churchill)
Next to these countries, Churchill listed how much “influence” Russia and Britain should have in the countries after the war. Romania would go 90 percent to Russia, 10 percent to Britain. Greece would go 90 percent to the U.S. and U.K. and 10 percent to Russia. Yugoslavia would get an equal split. And Churchill thought Bulgaria should go 75 percent Russian and 25 percent to the other Allies, but Stalin scratched that out and made it a 90-10 split.
And then Stalin put a big blue check mark on it, and the two men looked at it. Churchill proposed burning it, worried about how posterity would look at that casual splitting up of Europe. Stalin told him to keep the document instead.
For what it’s worth, Churchill credited this late night visit and seemingly cavalier negotiation with protecting Greece from a communist takeover. There was evidence discovered after the war that Stalin had already decided to back off of Greece, but Churchill hadn’t known that at the time.
Indeed, there was plenty of conjecture after the “Percentages Document” came to light in the 1990s that the British prime minister was trying to navigate the upcoming peace that would be unforgiving for Britain. The British Empire was clearly in decline, the Soviet Union was on the rise, and America had announced its plans to leave Europe as soon as possible after the war.
So, for Churchill to secure room for democracy after the war, he would have to do it by negotiating with the Soviet Union, at least in part. And if that sucked for Yugoslavia, well, that sucks for them.
Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, the communist state was so desperate for Pepsi that they traded the American beverage company some 20 warships for a shipment of their sugary elixir; making the Pepsi Navy the sixth-largest in the world at the time.
In 1959, just two years after the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test forced both the U.S. and Soviet Union to reassess their approach to nuclear deterrence, then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev both attended the American National Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park. As the two men exchanged barbs about the efficacy of each nation’s respective economic model, Head of Pepsi International Donald Kendall decided to break the ice with a few small cups of their namesake soda.
As luck would have it, the Soviet Premier was immediately smitten by the sugary, carbonated drink, and a deal was struck for the Soviets to begin receiving shipments of the beverage. Pepsi had secured the first such agreement between a capitalist American company and the communist Soviet Union… but there was one serious problem. Soviet money was effectively useless outside of the nation’s borders.
But while the Soviets may have lacked hard currency, they did have something else to trade: vodka. So Pepsi and Khrushchev made a deal: Pepsi would provide shipments of soft drinks, and in return, the Soviet Union would provide vodka from their state-owned brand Stolichnaya, for resale in the United States.
For a bit less than a decade, the agreement between the Soviet Union and Pepsi stood without any issue, but in 1980, geopolitics soured the deal. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and the American people responded by boycotting Soviet-sourced products, including the Stolichnaya vodka Pepsi was getting in trade for their soda. Within a few years, Stolichnaya sales had dropped enough for Pepsi to no longer consider the deal worthwhile.
But the Soviet Union’s love for America’s second-tier cola was too strong to let the deal lapse, and Soviet officials began looking for other ways to reimburse Pepsi for shipments of soda. By 1989, they had a solution. In exchange for Pepsi’s soft drinks, the Soviets offered them a veritable Navy. Pepsi agreed to the deal, taking possession of a Soviet cruiser, a frigate, a destroyer, 17 submarines, and a handful of oil tankers — instantly making the drink distributor the owner of the sixth-largest navy on the planet.
But despite that significant bragging point, the newly established Pepsi navy was far from battle-ready. The fleet of submarines was in a terrible state of disrepair, with many listing to one side and nearly all of them showing signs of serious rust. The surface ships in Pepsi’s new navy weren’t in much better shape, with perhaps only one that was truly seaworthy and at least one other that required constant pumping to keep it afloat.
Nonetheless, the United States government wasn’t particularly pleased to see a corporation suddenly command enough naval firepower to square off with some entire nations. Pepsi’s CEO, Donald Kendall, who had first introduced Khrushchev to the beverage, responded to America’s complaints with all the aplomb one might expect from the admiral of Pepsi’s navy, reminding the Pentagon that he had just managed to reduce the number of ships at the Soviet’s disposal by a considerable number.
“I’m dismantling the Soviet Union faster than you are.”
-Donald Kendall (PepsiCo CEO)
Of course, his comment may also have had something to do with the Soviet people’s love for his capitalist product. A number of things ultimately led to the downfall of the Soviet Union, including Ronald Reagan’s efforts to spend the communist regime into oblivion and later, Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Glasnost” policy of more open governing… but it’s tough to dispute the effect products like Pepsi had on the Soviet populous.
Shortly after taking possession of the Pepsi navy, the soda brand sold all twenty warships to a Swedish scrap-recycling company in order to recoup the cost of their Pepsi shipment.
Seventy-five years ago, tens of thousands of men were churning their way through the hedgerows of Normandy, fighting tooth and nail to liberate French towns and to ensure the security of the tenuous toehold that the Allies had opened against Germany in Operation Overlord on D-Day. This toehold would grow until it was a massive front that made it all the way to Berlin in less than a year.
Now, 75 years later, the U.S. and Allied militaries are celebrating their forebears’ success with a series of events in the U.K. and France. As part of these celebrations, the U.S. Air Force flew two F-15E Strike Eagles with special, heritage paint jobs over the fields and hedgerows of modern day Normandy on June 9, 2019. Here are 13 photos from an Air Force photographer sent to document the event:
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The special Strike Eagles are part of the 48th Fighter Wing and took off from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England, for the flyover. During the D-Day invasion, U.S. Army Air Corps fighters and bombers took off from English air bases to support the landings on the beaches, pushing back the Luftwaffe screens and reducing the number of bombers and dive bombers that troops on the ground would have to endure.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The Army Air Corps’ bombs softened targets and reduced enemy artillery positions and other defenses, but the fight in the hedgerows was still bloody and vicious. And the German coastal artillery had to be eliminated to keep as many pilots in the sky as possible.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
But the pilots who preceded the modern Air Force began the important preparations for D-Day months ahead of time, sending increased bomber formations against Germany, including Berlin, for five months ahead of D-Day. These bomber formations doomed the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, in two ways.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
First, there’s the obvious. The bombers destroyed German factories and war machines, annihilating German equipment and crippling the country’s ability to rebuild it. But Germany responded by sending up their fighters to stop the bombers, and that’s where new American fighters came into the fray.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The P-47s with drop tanks led the charge in 1943, but other fighters joined the fray at the end of ’43 and start of ’44. The P-51B, along with other fighters including the British Spitfires and Typhoons, slayed the German fighters that rose to counter the bombers. By June 1944, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
Army Air Corps pilots gave their lives to prepare for June 6, 1944, and other pilots would make the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and in the weeks and months that followed. But that perseverance and sacrifice paid dividends, allowing for the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.
The U-2 has wheels aligned like bicycle tires and an 80-ft. wingspan, forcing pilots to carefully guide the plane down the runway just to keep from accidentally banging the tips into the asphalt and ruining the plane.
That’s why it’s so crazy that a group of Air Force and CIA pilots and crew tested the U-2G, a modified version of the spy plane, and certified the Dragon Lady onboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
As part of Operation Tonga, the British airborne component of Operation Neptune (the official name of the D-Day), the 9th Parachute Battalion was tasked with capturing the Merville Gun Battery, whose guns were trained on Sword Beach and the British troops who would be assaulting it on the morning of the invasion.
The gun battery’s defenses were formidable. It had four reinforced concrete casemates housing four guns with a garrison of over 150 men and numerous machine gun emplacements. The battery also had an anti-tank ditch on two sides and two sets of barbed wire fences, with a minefield in between, surrounding the perimeter.
The paratroopers drilled relentlessly for their mission over the preceding months. The plan called for the 9th to land on drop zone ‘V’ along with gliders bringing in heavier equipment for the mission. Once the battalion was formed, they would assault the battery from the rear while three Horsa gliders would land directly on top of the battery bringing in paras and sappers armed with flamethrowers and explosives to clear the casemates and destroy the guns. Should the assault fail, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Arethusa was scheduled to fire on the battery in hopes of destroying it at 5:50 am, ten minutes before the start of the landings.
Unfortunately, as was the case with most airborne units on D-Day, nearly nothing went as planned. Intense anti-aircraft fire, broken Eureka beacons, dust, darkness, and confusion all consorted to scatter the drop of the 9th Parachute Battalion across the French countryside. The Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Terence Otway, landed nearly on top of a German headquarters. He was able to escape only when he threw a brick through the window and the confused Germans hit the ground thinking it was a grenade.
Lt. Col. Otway made his way to the assembly point to find he was nearly alone. The news only got worse from there. The five gliders carrying jeeps, anti-tank guns, and other heavy equipment never arrived. Of the men who did arrive, the heaviest weapon they had was a single Vickers machine gun. Explosives consisted of twenty Bangalore torpedoes and some Gammon bombs. There were no mortars, no anti-tank guns, no sappers, and only the orderlies from the medical team. By this time, the battalion assembled about 150 men. As one para would later put it: “Company C was about three men, which struck me as a rather limited force.” As the time to launch the attack approached, Otway decided he would have to proceed anyway, the men hitting the beach were counting on them.
When Otway and his men reached the objective, they got their first bit of good news, the advanced party scouted the objective and took it upon themselves to begin clearing and marking paths through the barbed wire and minefields, leaving only the inner wire to breach. With such a depleted force, Otway needed a new plan for the assault. With no heavy weapons, his new plan relied on the element of surprise and violence of action.
The British waited for the three gliders that were supposed to land inside the perimeter to make their attack. To their dismay, only one glider came overhead and it missed its mark. The men of the glider disembarked, intent to join their comrades for the attack on the battery but quickly ran into a German patrol and were unable to break contact. With his last hope for reinforcements dashed, Otway ordered the attack.
The Bangalores exploded and several men rushed forward to body breach the remaining wire. The rest of the men, led by Otway, charged through the breach firing from the hip and throwing grenades as they went.
Almost immediately, a murderous crossfire began from the German machine gun emplacements and cut down numerous paratroopers. The British responded with their sole machine gun. Fortunately, it was manned by one Sgt. McKeever, known for his prowess on the MG. He quickly took out three enemy guns while another three were silenced by a diversionary party assaulting the front gate. The rest of the men split into four groups and attacked the casemates.
One hardcore para, a Pvt. Tony Mead who suffered a puncture wound to the stomach when he landed in a tree, was holding his guts in with one hand while dispatching Germans with his Sten Gun in the other. Other paras threw grenades through the openings and began clearing the casemates and tunnels of the battery.
After an intense twenty-minute hand-to-hand battle, the battery was secured. The British paras took over twenty Germans prisoner, killed more than twenty more and drove off the rest. They paid dearly for their victory, however. By the time the battery was seized, only 75 of the original 150 men were still in fighting shape. Fifty men died capturing the battery while almost thirty more were wounded.
Having no sappers or proper explosives, the paratroopers improvised what they could to disable the guns. The signals officer then sent a carrier pigeon back to England with a message that the battery had been captured. He followed that up with a flare to signal the HMS Arethusa to avoid bombarding the now-friendly position.
With the battery secure, Otway rallied his remaining men and moved on to other objectives, picking up stragglers along the way. The 9th Parachute Battalion would continue fighting in Normandy and then into Northern France before being withdrawn back to England in September 1944.
The Star-Spangled Banner” is known from sea to shining sea, but few know the circumstances under which Francis Scott Key wrote America’s national anthem. Oddly enough, it was penned just after the short but bloody Battle of Baltimore.
In September of 1814—two years into the war between the U.K. and the U.S.—the British navy turned its attention towards Baltimore, Maryland. As a busy port, the city would either prove a devastating American loss, or a crucial victory if they managed to thwart the attack on Baltimore Harbor’s Fort McHenry.
As 5,000 British troops marched towards Fort McHenry, they encountered an unexpected setback at the Battle of North Point. There, American troops were lying in wait, prepared to stall the British until Baltimore’s defenses could be finalized. When they were satisfied with their delay, the Americans retreated, then awaited the main attack from within the city.
At dawn the very next day, approximately 4,300 British troops began to advance, forcing the U.S. troops to fall back. Still, the battle wasn’t easy for the British: They were startled to find that the Americans had 100 cannons and over 10,000 troops. Not long after they breached Balitmore’s inner defenses, the British soldiers fled to their ships, wanting to regroup for a less frontal attack.
Meanwhile, at Fort McHenry, 1,000 U.S. troops awaited the British navy, who arrived in a rain of rockets and mortar shells. Harsh fire ensued for 27 hours, though this did not deter the Americans’ from their daily reveille: As the fighting drew to a close on the morning of September 14, an oversized American flag—made by a local woman and her 13-year-old daughter—was raised over Fort McHenry. In response to this sign of American strength, an encampment of British soldiers fired a final taunting round at the sky. With that, the Battle of Baltimore was officially over.
But prior to this, Francis Scott Key stood aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, negotiating the release of Maryland resident Dr. William Beanes. Having succeeded in his mission, Key and the newly-freed Beanes watched the battle unfold from their enemy’s decks. At the sight of the raised American flag, Key was struck by a burst of poetic inspiration. He quickly scribbled a series of verses on a scrap of paper, not knowing these words would become an enduring symbol of American patriotism.
Originally titled “Defence on Fort M’Henry”—and then renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” shortly thereafter—the poem became a sensation after its publication in the Baltimore American. Over 100 years later, Congress made it the national anthem of the United States.
But what exactly was going through Key’s mind as he jotted down the lyrics to the song of our country? In The Dawn’s Early Light, historian Walter Lord describes the Battle of Baltimore in vivid detail, providing intimate insight into the birth of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the man who wrote it.
Click here to read an excerpt of The Dawn’s Early Light, and then download the book.