At the end of World War II, Germany was divided in half, leaving West and East Germany. The West was controlled by NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations controlled the East. The former capital of Berlin was torn in two, split between communists and capitalists.
As you might expect, life under a communist regime is hell and people were looking for a way out. After the Berlin Wall and Inner German border (IGB) were created and heavily guarded, only an estimated 5,000 escapees managed to sneak out and into the freedoms of Western civilization throughout the 28 years of the Wall’s existence.
In the early days of the Cold War, defecting wasn’t that difficult. It was estimated that, before the Berlin Wall and the IGB were erected, nearly 3.5 million East Germans defected to West Germany. Legal loopholes, a lack of physical borders, and little effort to keep East Germans meant that all it took to get away was to hop a train.
All of this changed on August 13th, 1961, when the Berlin Wall went up. By August 24th, the order was given to kill anyone attempting to leave East Germany.
2. Wearing uniforms
One of the most iconic images of the Cold War was captured when an East German Soldier, Conrad Schumann, leaped over concertina wire on August 15th, 1961 as the Wall was being created.
Speaking of black markets, special passports that allowed access past guards were also forged. There were certain citizens that were authorized to cross the border, legally, for various reasons. While actual passport holders were required to come back by nightfall, escapees with a fake passport and little interest in returning to a Soviet sh*thole said, “scheiß drauf” and never returned.
Many options for avoiding the Berlin Wall, such as passage through the Spree or Havel Rivers, were downright dangerous. While the guards would detain or shoot as you tried to sneak across the Wall, you ran the risk of drowning if you opted for a river crossing. In fact, many people drowned in escape attempts, but that wasn’t as dangerous as this option.
There were many tall buildings located near the Wall. Escapees would climb up to the highest floor needed and, boldly, jump. Many survived, some were wounded, but others weren’t as lucky.
As the years went on, the Wall grew, making this passage impossible.
The largest mass escape from East Berlin was when 57 people made their way through a tunnel, aptly named afterwords, “Tunnel 57.”
The tunnel systems were elaborate and ran deeply underground to prevent detection.
6. Hiding in trunks
The final illegal journey from East Germany to the West was done by an American man who smuggled a father and his little girl in his vehicle just days before the Wall fell.
In 1940, following the fall of France, Winston Churchill authorized the establishment of a volunteer fighting force to wage a secret war against Hitler’s armies. This unique force became known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and their main mission was sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. Despite being shrouded in controversy, and being viewed with suspicion by other agencies — the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) didn’t want their information-gathering operations disrupted with blown up bridges and factories — the SOE survived World War II and actually played a big part in winning the war for the Allies.
In a speech after World War II was over, General Eisenhower even stated, “The disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on German security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of Resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.”
For the SOE, sabotage meant blowing up trains, bridges and factories. Subversion was about fostering revolt and/or guerilla warfare in all enemy and enemy-occupied countries. The most unique element of the SOE is the fact that while the senior staff were ex-public school and Oxbridge, the agents were people from all walks of life, for example, former chefs, electricians, and journalists.
The SOE’s first headquarters was set up in November 1940. At the same time, they established mansions from the Highlands to the New Forest for training. At these sprawling estates the potential members of the SOE were trained to kill with their bare hands, disguise themselves, derail trains, and get out of handcuffs with a thin piece of wire and a diary pencil. If they passed this intense training as well as a grueling parachute course, then they were considered fit to be a part of the SOE.
In order to give the agents more of an edge, the SOE also employed budding scientists to invent unique weapons of war. These weapons included single-shot cigarette pistols, the sleeping beauty – a submersible canoe – and carborundum – an abrasive grease when smeared on the right spot could bring a locomotive to an immediate standstill. They also established the Camouflage Section which created fake tree trunks to conceal radio equipment, and fake camel dung that hid a booby trap that could blow the tire off an enemy truck. To top it all off, the SOE, also had a False Documents section where agents collected bogus identities and fashion companies outfitted agents with suits and dresses.
The SOE conducted many successful missions of sabotage and subversion throughout the War. Their first headline success was in June of 1941 when they blew up the Pessac power station in France. This precision mission halted all work at a vital U-boat base in Bordeaux and crippled the all-electric railways in the region. Then in Czechoslovakia in 1942, the SOE assassinated Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, with a grenade. Later that year in Greece they blew up the Gorgopotamos bridge, which carried vital supplies for Rommel’s army in the desert. And in Norway, in 1943, the SOE destroyed the heavy water plant in Vemork, effectively ending the Nazi atomic bomb program.
While other secret agencies shared a mutual dislike for the SOE, their successful missions played a large part in the Allies’ eventual victory. Without the sabotage and subversion of the Special Operations Executive the outcome of World War II could have been very different. The price was high, but the SOE performed their missions to the letter. Finally, with no war left to fight, the SOE was disbanded forever in 1946. The Agents of the SOE were sent back to their normal lives, and most of them carried the secrets of their wartime missions and victories to their graves, never even telling those closest to them what role they played in the Allied victories of World War II.
Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.
Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.
They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.
The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.
No one expected it in June 1944.
Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.
The advance was much faster than expected
German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.
How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them
During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.
The coordination of the Maquis
The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.
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.
How many times can a person come close to death, without actually succumbing to that ill fate? In the case of one British soldier, the number grew until it was almost unbelievably impressive. Adrian Carton de Wiart, lieutenant-general in the Royal Army was uncommonly lucky.
He fought in both World Wars, as well as the second Boer War, survived being shot no less than seven times, lived through two plane crashes, escaped when captured as a prisoner of war and amputated his own fingers when a doctor refused to help the ailing soldier.
And that’s not even all of it — seriously, why is this guy not the star of a movie and a household name?!
Take a deeper look at all that Carton de Wiart went through and how he came to make it to old age, with plenty of stories to tell.
“The unkillable soldier”
Carton de Wiart’s tales were so prolific that he earned the nickname of the “unkillable soldier” in his native Britain. Here is an outline of his most noteworthy — and often unbelievable — accomplishments.
Over six decades, he fought in three major international conflicts, the Boer War (between Britain and South Africa), World War I and World War II.
Carton de Wiart made it to the Boer war in 1899, having left school and using a fake name. Because he was not yet of age, and did not have his father’s consent to fight, he created an alter ego. During this war, he was shot on two occassions — in the stomach and groin — sending him back to Britain.
In WWI alone, he was send on six assignments and wounded eight times. He was shot in the arm and face, which took his left eye and most of the ear. The wound earned him a Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
After the shooting, Carton de Wiart was sent to recover in Park Lane. The infirmary was so used to seeing him that it became a running joke where they kept a personal pair of his pajamas at the ready.
He was also fitted for a glass eye, but citing extreme discomfort, he threw it from a moving taxi and opted to sport an eye patch instead.
Also during WWI, Carton de Wiart’s hand was shattered by German artillery. Supossedly, the doctor refused to amputate his fingers, causing Carton de Wiart himself to tear off two of them. Later that year, his entire hand was taken by a surgeon.
From there, he had to convince a board that he was still fit to fight. Undeterred by his injuries, Carton de Wiart led men into battle during WWII with intensity. He soon became famous for his signature look (black eye patch, thick mustache, empty uniform sleeve) and incredible courage — almost to the point of being reckless. He is said to have calmed the fear of young soldiers, rushing and yelling as he led the pack.
In fact, he was frequently seen pulling grenade pins with his teeth, then tossing the bomb with his remaining arm. These efforts were said to provide him with the Victoria Cross. Not that he took credit for it, he was stated as saying, “every man has done as much as I have.”
During WWII, he flew in a plane that was shot down in the Mediterranean. He swam to shore, where he was taken as a prisoner by Italians. By now, Carton de Wiart was in his 60s and hell-bent on escaping. He attempted many times, even tunneling out of the POW camp and traveling for eight days, before he was recaptured.
Two years later he was released and sent to work in China as a representative, a post that was personally assigned by Winston Churchill.
Throughout his military career Carton de Wiart was also involved in a second plane crash and shot four more times. Carton de Wiart can say his life was anything but boring. He finally passed in 1963 when he was 83 years old. Read more about his tales in his autobiography, “Happy Odyssey.”
It was like trying to hit a needle in a haystack, kill a fly with a sledgehammer, or whatever analogy you prefer for using brute force to apply surgical precision in the middle of a swirling ambush.
By analogy and history, the attack on Dragon’s Jaw is a bizarre mismatch of weapons to mission. It is another hard lesson for U.S. air power in the ’60’s. Several decades of evolving doctrine and aircraft development have led the U.S. Air Force in a different direction from how air wars will actually be fought in the future. Instead of long range strategic nuclear attack, tactical precision anti-insurgent strike is the emerging mission. The U.S. will continue to learn that hard lesson on this day.
By any measure this is an impressive air armada: Sixty-six advanced supersonic fighters and strike aircraft from America’s “Century Series”. The main strike package is 46 Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs with massive bomb loads. The defensive escort is 21 North American F-100 Super Sabres holstering a covey of air-to-air missiles. The strike and escort fighters are supported by an enormous number of tanker, surveillance, rescue and reconnaissance planes. They all have one objective: to kill “The Dragon”.
The Dragon is the Thanh Hóa Bridge, near the geographic center of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese nicknamed the bridge “Hàm Rồng” or “Dragon’s Jaw” since its massive steel and concrete construction seem like a row of sturdy teeth set in the mouth of a deadly dragon. The Dragon itself is made up of one of the most sophisticated integrated air defense networks on earth modeled closely after the most sophisticated, the Soviet Union’s.
Ironically, if this same task force had been attacking the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons their results would have almost certainly been better. That is the mission these aircraft were actually designed for. But the Dragon is a small, critical target, and an elusive one. Even though it’s not an all-out nuclear war with the Red Menace, the Dragon must be slayed in the ongoing proxy war that is Vietnam.
The Thanh Hóa Bridge would be a tough target to hit even without an advanced, integrated network of radar guided anti-aircraft guns, SAMs and MiGs surrounding it. The bridge has only a single one-meter wide railroad track on its deck. It is 540 feet long and 54 feet wide at its widest point. From the attack altitude of about 10,000 feet it is difficult to see well at high-speed.
The flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs break into sections of four aircraft each. Today they are armed with 750 pound “dumb” bombs. The day before a nearly identical strike also failed to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw when the Thunderchiefs attacked with crude AGM-12 Bullpup guided missiles and 750 pound dumb bombs. The AGM-12 missiles, an early attempt at “smart” weapons, failed significantly. Remarkably, even though some of the 750 pounders did hit the bridge, they had little effect. The first attempt at breaking the Dragon’s Jaw on April 3rd failed spectacularly. The bridge proved sturdier than expected, the weapons less precise than hoped.
(US Air Force photo)
Having abandoned the AGM-12 Bullpup missiles from the day before the F-105 Thunderchiefs would strike with only dumb bombs today.
The F-105 was originally designed to carry a nuclear weapon enclosed within its streamlined fuselage using an internal bomb bay. It was supposed to attack a target from low altitude at Mach 2, “toss” the nuclear weapon at the target in a pop-up attack, and escape at twice the speed of sound.
Today the big F-105 “Thuds” lug a junkyard of dumb bombs under their sleek swept wings and below their sinewy Coke-bottle curved fuselage. The yardsale of external bombs and bomb racks creates enormous drag on the needle-nosed “Thud”, slowing it to below supersonic speed and making it vulnerable.
As predictably as a firing line of advancing redcoat soldiers facing off against Native American insurgents in the Revolutionary War, the Thunderchiefs returned the very next day, marching across the aerial battlefield in broad daylight. The North Vietnamese had been ready the day before. Today they were angry, battle hardened and ready.
According to historical accounts ranging from Air Force Magazine to Wikipedia, four of eight lightweight, nimble, subsonic MiG-17s (NATO codename “Fresco”) of the North Vietnamese 921st “Sao Do” (Red Star) Fighter Regiment led by North Vietnamese flight leader Trần Hanh visually acquired an attack formation of four F-105Ds at 10:30 AM.
The Thunderchiefs were just starting to drop their bombs and already committed to their attack run. Flight leader Trần Hanh ordered his wingman, Pham Giay, to cover his attack on the F-105s. Hanh dove in through light cloud cover, achieving complete surprise. He opened fire on the F-105 with his heavy 37mm cannon at extremely close range, only 400 meters. Having attacked from above and behind in a classic ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) scenario, Hanh preserved energy and positioning. The hapless F-105, piloted by USAF Major Frank E. Bennett of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was pummeled by the MiG’s cannon shells. It erupted in a comet of plunging fire and hurtled downward toward the Gulf of Tonkin. Major Bennett did not survive.
A small, nimble, lightweight fighter had just gotten the better of a large, heavily loaded fighter-bomber despite having a substantial escort from F-100 Super Sabres. The Super Sabre fighter escort was out of position to respond to the MiG-17 ambush. A brutally hard lesson in the future of air combat was in session.
The melee continued when another North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot reportedly named “Le Minh Huan” downed a second F-105D, this one piloted by USAF Capt. J. A. Magnusson. Capt. Magnusson reportedly radioed that he was heading for the Gulf of Tonkin after being hit. He struggled to maintain control of his heavily damaged Thunderchief as he tried to escape North Vietnam. Capt. Magnusson was forced to eject twenty miles from the island of Hon Me, and was eventually listed as missing in action, then killed in action after a 48-hour search turned up nothing.
Painfully, the U.S. Air Force confirmed they had lost two F-105s and pilots in the second attack on the Dragon’s Jaw. Even worse, the bridge remained intact, a straight, iron grin at the futile attack of the Americans.
After the failed F-105 strikes and aircraft losses the Americans were desperate to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw bridge. Author Walter J Boyne wrote in Air Force Magazine that the U.S. developed a bizarre, massive pancake-shaped bomb weighing two and a half tons and measuring eight feet in diameter but only thirty inches thick. The gigantic, explosive Frisbee was dropped from the back of a lumbering C-130 Hercules transport and was intended to float down river toward the bridge where it would be detonated by a magnetic fuse. Several of the weapons were actually dropped, one C-130 was lost.
The bridge remained intact.
Early laser guided bombs were also employed against the Dragon’s Jaw with modest success. An attack on May 13, 1972 by a flight of 14 F-4 Phantoms used early “smart” bombs and actually knocked the bridge surface off its pilings, briefly rendering it inoperable and forcing repairs.
But the bridge still stood.
Attacks on the Dragon’s Jaw continued until October 6, 1972. A flight of four Vought A-7 Corsair attack aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) was finally successful in breaking the bridge in half. They used the AGM-62 Walleye guided bomb and 500-pound Mk.84 general purpose “dumb” bombs. The bridge was finally severed at its center piling.
Author Walter Boyne wrote about the final strike, “At long last, after seven years, 871 sorties, tremendous expenditure in lives, 11 lost aircraft, and a bewildering array of expended munitions, the Dragon’s Jaw was finally broken.” The key lesson from the brutal campaign to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw was that tactics and equipment need to be adaptable and precise in the modern battlespace.
(US Air Force photo)
The F-105 Thunderchief was an impressive aircraft, but was forced into a brutal baptism of fire over Vietnam during an era when air combat was in transition. As a result, the F-105 suffered heavy losses. The history of the aircraft went on the include an unusual accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds. On May 9, 1964 Thunderbird Two, an F-105B piloted by USAF Captain Eugene J. Devlin, snapped in half during the pitch-up for landing at the old Hamilton Air Base in California. The Thunderchief only flew in six official flight demonstrations with the Thunderbirds.
Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, the U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II shares a remarkable number of similarities with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief used in the raid on the Dragon’s Jaw in 1965.
According to author Dr. Carlo Kopp, the F-35A dimensions are oddly similar to the F-105. But among several critical differences is the wing surface area, with the F-35A having larger wing surface area and the resultant lower wing loading than the F-105. Other major differences are the F-35A’s low observable technology and greatly advanced avionics, data collecting, processing and sharing capability. Finally, the F-35A is purpose-built for a wide range of mission sets, whereas the F-105 was predominantly a high-speed, low-level nuclear strike aircraft poorly suited for conventional strike.
Lessons learned from the F-105 strike on the Dragon’s Jaw, the success of the nimble, lightweight North Vietnamese MiG-17s and the need for better precision strike capability are now deeply ingrained in U.S. Air Force doctrine. But revisiting this story is a vital part of understanding the evolving mission of the air combat warfighter and the high cost of failing to adapt in the constantly evolving aerial battlespace.
The president greets firefighters, police and rescue personnel, Sept. 14, 2001, while touring the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
When we think about September 11, we picture where we were, what we saw and how it felt. Iconic images and video from the moments before, during and after the attacks sit in our hearts and minds.
So maybe that’s why these lesser-seen photos have so much power. They serve as reminders of both what we lost that day and the resolve we gained.
On September 11 we pause and remember where we were, what we saw and how it felt.
Where were you when the towers fell? When the Pentagon burned? When heroes forced the plane to the ground in Pennsylvania, sacrificing themselves and saving others?
These photos are reminders of those moments and the patriotic fervor that welled inside us in the days that followed.
President George W. Bush turns around to watch television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as he is briefed in a classroom at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
The aftermath in Washington of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan)
An aerial view of the damage at the Pentagon two days after Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, five members of al-Qaida, a group of fundamentalist Islamic Muslims, hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-200, from Dulles International Airport just outside Washington and flew the aircraft and its 64 passengers into the side of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill)
View of a damaged office on the fifth floor of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
President George W. Bush talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other advisors during meetings at the President’s Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (National Archives)
A clock, frozen at the time of impact, inside the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
Vice President Dick Cheney sits with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in the President’s Emergency Operations Center during meetings on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
Smoke rises from the site of the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Burned and melted items sit atop an office desk inside the fifth floor of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
President George W. Bush talks on the telephone Sept. 11, 2001, as senior staff huddle aboard Air Force One. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Secretary of State Colin Powell gets briefed inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (National Archives)
Wearing a gas mask, a New York National Guard soldier from the “Fighting” 69th Infantry Division pauses amid the rubble at ground zero. (New York National Guard)
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meet in the President’s Emergency Operations Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
New York National Guard soldiers from the 69th Infantry Division and New York City firefighters band together to remove rubble from ground zero at the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (New York National Guard)
President George W. Bush grasps the hand of his father, former President George H. W. Bush, after speaking at the service for America’s National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 14, 2001. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
The president greets firefighters, police and rescue personnel, Sept. 14, 2001, while touring the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice look on inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center during meetings on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters and military personnel, Sept. 12, 2001, while surveying damage caused by the previous day’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) render honors as firefighters and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon while rescue and recovery efforts continued following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. The garrison flag, sent from the U.S. Army Band at nearby Fort Myer, Virginia, is the largest authorized flag for the military. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pendergrass)
Sandra Dahl, left, is the widow of Jason Dahl, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in Somerset, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane was believed to have been en route to the White House. Here, she holds an American flag along with Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Low after flying in the back seat of his F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter. (Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Darin Overstreet)
In World War II’s Pacific Theater, the United States had a big problem: the operating area was humongous. In one sense, it’s no surprise — the Pacific is the world’s largest ocean and they needed to get across that ocean in order to defeat Japan. But Japan had also occupied a lot of bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands during the inter-war period (and illegally fortified them). Finally, the Allies needed a way to deal with the fierce Japanese force, but they needed to do so without endangering the “Germany first” grand strategy for defeating the Axis.
This problem proved extremely difficult. The Japanese, at Guadalcanal, in the Philippines, and elsewhere, had proven to be fierce fighters on the ground. It was painfully obvious that fighting island to island on a campaign across the Pacific would take a lot of time and cost many lives. But at the same time, the Japanese bases had to be neutralized.
In 1943, after Guadalcanal had been cleared, Admiral William F. Halsey and General Douglas MacArthur began planning the next phase of the offensive in the massive ocean, with the ultimate objective of taking out Rabaul, Japan’s major base in the south Pacific.
The first plan they came up with would have required additional forces drawn from efforts in Europe. That, of course, didn’t fly with politicians.
Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fly over an atoll in the Pacific during the island-hopping campaign.
Instead, the answer to the Pacific question was to grab a few key bases and then use air power and submarines to cut off the other Japanese installations from resupply and reinforcement. The term for this was “island hopping” or “leapfrogging.”
There were two primary benefits to this strategy: First, it could be accomplished with fewer troops. Second, it meant the cut-off enemy forces couldn’t be pulled back to reinforce important objectives, like the Philippines.
Bases seized by the Allies were used to launch strikes that targeted enemy supply lines. One of the most famous actions was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
The targeted bases in the island-happen campaign were selected for two purposes: First, they were the jumping-off points for the next “hops” towards Japan. Second, they served as bases for forces that had the job of plastering the now-isolated garrisons left behind. This was what John Glenn did while serving in World War II.
While plans originally called for capturing Rabaul, the decision was made to bypass it after successfully seizing some other locations where Allied forces could build airfields.
John Glenn’s World War II service included a combat tour striking bypassed Japanese garrisons in the F4U Corsair.
The island-hopping strategy worked. In less than four years, the United States had forced Japan’s surrender. While much of history focuses on the hotly-debated use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the ability for America to deliver those weapons hinged on some very strategic leapfrogging.
General William Tecumseh Sherman’s military legacy rests on a lot more than just killing the enemy.
Of course, he helped change how the United States would wage war in the next 80 years. His name would also later adorn one of the country’s most iconic symbols of military might.
But the one that probably matters the most for today’s veterans was his influence on how to deal with the invisible wounds of war.
Sherman was a high-profile general and war hero who successfully overcame mental health issues to return to service and play the decisive role he played in the Civil War.
In late 1861, he grew despondent over his command in Kentucky, a secondary theater of the war. Knowing he was not well, he insisted upon his relief in November of 1861. Caught in the depths of what a number of historians believe to have been either bipolar disorder or depression, Sherman even contemplated suicide.
However, he would recover, and Gen. Henry Halleck would return him to light duty. Eventually he would be paired with Ulysses S. Grant in time to win the Battle of Shiloh. In the Western Theater, Grant and Sherman were two high-ranking “battle buddies” who eventually won the Civil War.
For today’s vets, his recovery without the modern understanding of mental health issues points to the important role that supportive friends, family, and superiors can play in treating the invisible wounds of war. In light of the recent suicide of Major General John Rossi, remembering the support that General Halleck and Grant gave to Sherman’s efforts to recover may be his most important legacy.
While his legacy of overcoming the “invisible wounds” of mental health problems is the most important legacy for today, that misses other contributions he made.
Sherman’s most immediate legacy was the introduction of the “total war” strategy to the United States military. The way he burned and pillaged his way through the state of Georgia, first taking Atlanta, then with his March to the Sea that took Savannah (near the present-day Fort Stewart), severed the supply lines for Confederate forces. The resulting logistics problems, combined with the bad news from home, helped force the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April, 1865.
Eighty years later, Germany and Japan both surrendered, thanks to the use of that same doctrine. Whether it was the use of massed bomber formations, or submarines putting merchant vessels on the bottom of the ocean, Sherman’s concept of total war was in play during World War II.
World War II also saw another legacy of William Tecumseh Sherman. This time it was the famous M4 Sherman tank that was named in his honor. Prior to the Civil War, Sherman had warned the South that it was about to pick a fight it could not win – particularly given the North’s industrial might. In World War II, the Sherman was one of the most prominent examples of America’s industrial might – over 49,000 were built. They saw combat in every theater of combat, and were used not only by the Army and Marine Corps, but by the British, Canadians, Soviets, and Chinese. After World War II, they saw action in Korea and the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani Wars.
In an ironic twist, just as General Sherman warned the South prior to the Civil War that provoking a fight with the North was a bad idea, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned his superiors of America’s latent industrial might. Unlike Sherman, who left the South and backed up his moral convictions, Yamamoto implemented the desires of the Japanese war lords, and helped plan the Pearl Harbor attack. While Sherman lived to be reviled through the South, Yamamoto met his end at the hands of Tom Lanphier over Bougainville on April 18, 1943.
It is said that William Tecumseh Sherman was the first so called “modern general.” Given that his legacy to the United States military will continue to reverberate through the United States military and around the world, that seems to be a very fair statement.
In 2002, the U.S. military tapped Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper to lead the red opposing forces of the most expensive, expansive military exercise in history. He was put in command of an inferior Middle Eastern-inspired military force. His mission was to go against the full might of the American armed forces. In the first two days, he sank an entire carrier battle group.
The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002. It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.
The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division.
When the Blue Forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the Red Forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the Blue Forces would be cominfor him. And they did.
But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.
How did 19 ships and some 20,000 U.S. troops end up at the bottom of the Persian Gulf? It started with the OPFOR leadership. Van Riper was the epitome of the salty Marine Corps general officer. He was a 41-year veteran, both enlisted and commissioned, serving everywhere from Vietnam to Desert Storm. Van Riper attended the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, The College of Naval Command and Staff, Army War College, and the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Schools.
In fact, the three-star general had been retired for some five years by the time he led the Red Forces of Millennium Challenge. He was an old-school Marine capable of some old-school tactics and has insisted that technology cannot replace human intuition and study of the basic nature of war, which he called a “terrible, uncertain, chaotic, bloody business.”
When Van Riper told the story of Millennium Challenge to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, he said the Blue Forces were stuck in their own mode of thinking. Their vastly superior technology included advanced intelligence matrices and an Operational Net Assessment that told them where the OPFOR vulnerabilities were and what Van Riper was most likely to do next out of a range of possible scenarios. They relied heavily on that. When the Blue took out Red’s microwave towers and fiber optics, they expected his forces to use satellite and cell phones that could be monitored.
Not a chance. Van Riper instead used motorcycle couriers, messages hidden in prayers, and even coded lighting systems on his airfields — tactics employed during World War II.
“I struck first,” he said in “ Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” written by Gladwell in 2005. “We did all the calculations on how many cruise missiles their ships could handle, so we simply launched more than that.”
In fact, Van Riper hated the kind of analytical decision making the Blue Forces were doing. He believed it took far too long. His resistance plan included ways of getting his people to make good decisions using rapid cognition and analog but reliable communications.
The other commanders involved called foul, complaining that a real OPFOR would never use the tactics Van Riper used — except Van Riper’s flotilla used boats and explosives like those used against the USS Cole in 2000.
“And I said ‘nobody would have thought that anyone would fly an airliner into the World Trade Center,'” Van Riper said in reply. “But nobody [in the exercise] seemed interested.”
In the end, the Blue Forces were all respawned and Van Riper was prevented from making moves to counter the Blue Forces’ landing. He had no radar and wasn’t allowed to shoot down incoming aircraft he would have otherwise accurately targeted. The rest of the exercise was scripted to let the Blue Force land and win. Van Riper walked out when he realized his commands were being ignored by the exercise planners. The fix was in.
The three-star wrote a 21-page critique of the exercise that was immediately classified. Van Riper spoke out against the rigged game anyway.
“Nothing was learned from this,” he told the Guardian in 2002. “A culture not willing to think hard and test itself does not augur well for the future.”
There are many versions of All American’s journey — in some, the crew used “parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses” to keep the B-17 Flying Fortress together. In others, she hobbles home to England from battle in Africa.
The legends circulate but the truth is just as mind-blowing — as the pictures can well attest.
The story begins, as all good war stories do, in the shit…
On Feb. 1, 1943, Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg and his crew from the 414th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group received orders to attack German-controlled seaports at Bizerte and Tunis, Tunisia from Biskra, Algeria. After a successful bombing run in spite of enemy flak, they proceeded to return to base when they were attacked by German Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters.
One of the fighters attacked the lead bomber while the other went for All American.Her crew fought off both attacks, firing at their own Me 109 with their nose turret and supporting the lead bomber with shots from the right side nose gun. The dual attack against the lead fighter took the enemy bird down, while the fighter attacking All American began evasive maneuvers.
According to the crew, they must have killed or incapacitated the pilot before he could complete his movement. The Messerschmitt tore through All American, ripping a jagged gash in the rear fuselage and tearing off the left horizontal stabilizer.
“I rammed the controls forward in a violent attempt to avoid collision… I flinched as the fighter passed inches over my head and then I felt a slight thud like a coughing engine. I checked the engines and controls. The trim tabs were not working. I tried to level All American but she insisted on climbing. It was only by the pressure from knees and hands that I was able to hold her in anything like a straight line,” recalled Bragg.
Miraculously, All American was still airborne.
Her wingmen remained aloft, slowing to escort the injured bird through enemy territory.
“As we neared the field we fired three emergency flares, then we circled at 2000 feet while the other planes in our formation made their landings and cleared the runways… I lowered the landing gear and flaps to test the reaction of All American. They seemed to go reasonably well, considering,” Bragg recounted. “I made a long, careful approach to the strip with partial power until the front wheels touched the leveled earth and I could feel the grating as she dragged without a tail wheel along the desert sands. She came to a stop and I ordered the co-pilot to cut the engines. We were home.”
“Women have served in the defense of this land for years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents, skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to the Persian Gulf and beyond,” said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, chief of staff of the Army, 1991-1995.
1. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
Mary Ludwig McCauley gained the nickname of “Molly Pitcher” in 1778 by carrying water to the men on the Revolutionary battlefield in Monmouth, New Jersey. She replaced her husband, Capt. John Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon. Since then, many women who carried water to men on the battlefield were called “Molly Pitchers.”
2. Clara Barton, Civil War nurse (1861 – 1865)
Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the Civil War battlefield and did much to alleviate it. She was on the scene ministering to those most in need, taking care of the wounded, dead, and dying.
Barton became a “professional angel” after the war. She lectured and worked on humanitarian causes relentlessly, and went on to become the first president of the American Association of the Red Cross. At the age of 77, she was still in the field taking care of Soldiers in military hospitals in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
3. Susie King Taylor, Civil War (1861-1865)
Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker, who later became known as Susie King Taylor, gained her freedom in April 1862. Baker was initially appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, re-organized from the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Due to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write, her responsibilities with the regiment began to multiply. More than a few African-American women may have provided service as the Union Army began forming regiments of all black men. After the war, Taylor helped to organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.
4. Dr. Mary Walker, Union Army contract surgeon (1861-1865)
Dr. Mary Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855 and later earned a second degree in 1862 from Hygeia Therapeutic College in New York. During the Civil War, she worked at first as a volunteer in Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Later she worked as a contract physician for the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment. Walker is the only woman ever granted the Medal of Honor.
5. Mary Catherine O’Rourke, Telephone operator and interpreter (1917-1918)
Mary Catherine O’ Rourke was one of 450 “Hello Girls” who served in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit during World War I. They were bilingual female switchboard operators recruited by Gen. John J. Pershing to improve communications on the Western Front.
The Signal Corps women were given the same status as nurses, and had 10 extra regulations placed on them to preserve their “status as women.” They had the rank of lieutenant, but had to buy their own uniforms.
Mary Catherine O’Rourke was in the fourth group of these women who shipped off to France during World War I. She studied French with instructors from the University of Grenoble. She was assigned to Paris and served as interpreter for Gen. John J. Pershing during months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.
6. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, First WAC director (1942-1945)
Col. Oveta Culp Hobby was called upon to serve as the chief, Women’s Interest Section, Bureau of Public Affairs for the War Department. She served in this position for one year before becoming the first woman sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC in 1942 and appointed as its director. The WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943 and Hobby was appointed to the rank of colonel in the Army of the United States as she continued to serve as director of the WAC.
After setting the stage for the creation of the WAC, Hobby built the corps to the strength of over 100,000 by April 1944. She established procedures and policies for recruitment, training, administration, discipline, assignment, and discharge for the WAC. She surmounted difficulties in arranging for the training, clothing, assignments, recognition, and acceptance of women in the Army. Hobby made it possible for women to serve in over 400 non-combat military jobs at posts throughout the United States, and in every overseas theater.
Hobby was later called upon by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1953-1955.
7. Col. Bettie J. Morden, WAC deputy director, 1971
Bettie J. Morden had a long, distinguished career in the Army that took many turns. She enlisted in the WAAC on Oct. 14, 1942. She receiving basic and administrative training at the First WAAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She served throughout World War II at the Third WAAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, as an administrative noncommissioned officer of the Publications Office. Morden later served as a first sergeant with Headquarters Company on the South Post. After the war ended, Morden was discharged in November 1945.
In September 1949, she entered the WAC, U.S. Army Reserve, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1950. In November 1966, she was assigned as executive officer, Office of the Director, WAC, at the Pentagon and was promoted to full colonel on June 9, 1970. She assumed the position of acting deputy director, WAC, on Feb 1, 1971. She retired on Dec. 31, 1972, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
In July 1973, Morden was elected president of the WAC Foundation, now the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Foundation, a private organization formed initially in 1969 to support the museum. Morden resigned from the presidency in June 2001.
8. Jacqueline Cochran, Pioneer female aviator (Pre-World War II to 1970)
After developing a successful line of cosmetics, Jacqueline Cochran took flying lesson in the 1930s so that she could use her travel and sales time more efficiently. She eventually became a test pilot. She helped design the first oxygen mask and became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one. She set three speed records and a world altitude record of 33,000 feet — all before 1940.
She was the first woman to fly a heavy bomber over the Atlantic. She volunteered for duty as a combat pilot in the European Theater during World War II, but her offer was rejected. She trained American women as transport pilots in England for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force.
Upon return to the United States, she oversaw flight training for women and the merging of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in July 1943. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 for her service in World War II.
After the war, she was commissioned in 1948. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet in 1953 and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964. She retired from the Air Force Reserve as a colonel in 1970.
9. Brig. Gen. Clara L. Adams-Ender, Army Nurse Corps (1961-1993)
In 1967, Brig. Gen. Adams-Ender became the first female in the Army to qualify for and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. She was also the first woman to earn a master’s of military arts and science degree .at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On Sept. 1, 1987, she was promoted to brigadier general and appointed the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1991, she was selected to be commanding general of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and served in this capacity as well as that of deputy commanding general of the U.S. Military District of Washington until her retirement in 1993.
10. Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, First woman command sergeant major (1944-1970)
Yzetta L. Nelson joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. In 1966, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant major. On March 30, 1968, she became the first WAC promoted to the new rank of command sergeant major. She continued to serve in the WAC until her retirement in 1970.
11. Brig. Gen. Sherian G. Cadoria, First African-American female general (1961-1990)
Promoted to brigadier general in 1985, Sherian G. Cadoria was the highest-ranking black woman in the Army until she retired in 1990. She entered the Army in 1961, with a direct commission as a first lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps. In the 1970s, she transferred to the Military Police Corps.
12. Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson, First black female sentinel at Tomb of Unknowns
Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Badge and become a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Jan. 22, 1997.
Born in 1974 in Montgomery, Alabama, Wilson joined the Army in February 1993. She was a military police officer assigned to the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). She completed testing and a rigorous eight-month trial period and became part of the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard.
14. Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, First command sergeant major of Army Reserve
In September 2003, Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones was selected by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, Army Reserve chief, to become the ninth command sergeant major of the Army Reserve. She was the first woman to serve in that position and the first to be chosen as the senior NCO in any of the Army’s components. For some time, she was also the highest-ranking African-American in any of the military services.
Jones entered the Army in 1982. She attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as class president at the United States Sergeants Major Academy.
15. Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Surgeon general of the U.S. Army
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West is the 44th surgeon general of the United States Army and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
West is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. She earned a doctorate of medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine in the District of Columbia.
Her last assignment was as the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon. In that capacity, she served as the chief medical advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and coordinated all health services issues to include operational medicine, force health protection, and readiness.
(Editor’s note: The above 15 are just a sampling of the many women who have contributed to shaping the U.S. Army.)
During the Vietnam War, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief — affectionately known as the “Thud” — was one of the U.S. Air Force’s primary strike aircraft. But amidst mounting losses from North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery, the Thud took on a new role — the Wild Weasel.
The Wild Weasels of the United States Air Force were some of the most courageous pilots in Vietnam. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, they flew fighter jets like the F-100, F-105 and F-4s deep into hostile airspace to coax the enemy into opening fire with their surface-to-air missiles. Once the Weasels located the site, other fighter bombers were called in to destroy the installations. In this episode of Warriors in their Own Words, Jerry Hoblit, Bill Sparks, Mike Gilroy and Tom Wilson tell dramatic stories of their days as Wild Weasels.
A history of the Wild Weasels
The F-105 was originally conceived as a single-seat, tactical nuclear strike-fighter. In the early days of the war, these single-seat variants, F-105D’s, flew strike missions with Combat Air Patrol provided by F-100s to defend against MiG fighters.
However, during Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, North Vietnamese air defenses improved with the addition of Soviet-made SA-2 Guideline missiles.
As American losses mounted from North Vietnamese SAMs and AAA, the decision was made to employ specialized F-100F two-seat fighters in a suppression role code-named “Wild Weasel.”
When the idea of flying directly into enemy air defenses was first briefed to the men flying the mission, an Electronic Warfare Officer gave the Wild Weasels their first motto by exclaiming,
“You gotta be sh*ttin’ me!”
After heavy losses in just seven weeks, it quickly became apparent that the F-100 was an insufficient aircraft to carry out the missions. The first Wild Weasel unit flying F-100’s was declared combat ineffective.
As luck would have it, Republic had produced two-seat trainer variants of the F-105 shortly before the end of the production run in 1964. These were quickly modified as the F-105F and rushed into the Wild Weasel role.
The newest Thud was also equipped to carry the first ever anti-radiation missile, the AGM-45 Shrike. These initial aircraft were designated Wild Weasel II.
Even with the improved F-105F, the tactics often remained the same as with the F-100. Using hunter-killer teams, a Wild Weasel aircraft would guide a flight of Thuds loaded with bombs and rockets to find the SAM sites and destroy them.
The Wild Weasel was essentially the bait.
Using their advanced radars and warning devices — or sometimes good ol’ drawing enemy fire — the Wild Weasels would “ferret out” the SAM sites, which then allowed the Thuds to come in and pulverize the position. This was often accomplished by simply following the missile’s smoke trail back to its launch site.
As the F-105F models were upgraded to G-models, known as Wild Weasel III, the Air Force began to change the tactics employed. The Wild Weasels would fly in ahead of a strike package to clear the area of SAMs, stay over the target during the bombing raid in order to attack any other SAMs or AAA that appeared, and then maintain their position until the bombers left the area, at which time they themselves would head for home as well.
This led to incredibly long, dangerous missions for the Wild Weasel crews–often three to five hours of intense flying in hostile air space. It also led to another motto for the Wild Weasels: “First In, Last Out.”
The Wild Weasel mission was exceedingly dangerous, but there was no shortage of brave, if not slightly crazy, volunteers willing to carry it out. Two Wild Weasel Thud pilots would be awarded the Medal of Honor for their gallantry in the air.
The first was awarded to Maj. Merlyn Dethlefsen for his actions on March 10, 1967.
Dethlefsen was flying number 3 in a Wild Weasel flight codenamed Lincoln assigned to protect a strike package of F-105Ds on a mission to hit the Thai Nguyen steel factory.
As his flight entered the target area, the lead engaged in a duel with a SAM site but was shot down while his wingman, Lincoln 02, was put out of action by flak. This left Dethlefsen and his wingman, Lincoln 04, to deal with the SAMs in the area. As Dethlefsen dove for an attack on the SAM site, he was jumped by two MiG-21 fighters.
Dodging two enemy missiles, he fled for cover in the enemy’s flak zone, betting that his pursuers wouldn’t follow. He again pressed the attack on the SAM and was again driven off by the fighters, his Thud absorbing several 37mm cannon shells.
As the strike package egressed from the area Dethlefsen decided to try one more time to destroy the SAM site. Leading his wingman in, he fired his AGM-45 and destroyed the radar. With the defenses down, the two Thuds pummeled the site with their bomb loads.
For good measure Dethlefsen rolled over and strafed the site with his 20mm cannon.
The second Medal of Honor was awarded to Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness for his actions on April 19, 1967. While leading a Wild Weasel mission of F-105’s, Thorsness and his wingman attacked and destroyed a SAM with missiles. Spotting another SAM, they proceeded to move in and destroy it with their bomb loads.
However, Thorsness’ wingman was shot down in the attack. The two crewmen bailed out and as they descended, Thorsness circled them to provide protection and maintain sight for the inbound rescue crews. As he did this, a MiG-17 approached.
Thorsness quickly responded and blasted the MiG with his 20mm cannon, sending it to the ground. As the rescue crews approached the scene, Thorsness peeled off to refuel; however, hearing of more MiG-17’s in the area, he quickly returned to the fight. Seeing the enemy fighters attempting a wagon wheel maneuver, he drove straight in and raked a MiG as it crossed his path.
Thorsness bugged out on afterburners at low-level to avoid the pursuing fighters. Eventually Thorsness was forced to return to base, almost out of fuel. He put his plane into a “glide” and landed at a forward air base with empty tanks.
Eventually high losses and improving technology would see many F-105’s replaced by the newer F-4 Phantom II in the Wild Weasel and strike roles, though F-105G’s continued to operate as Wild Weasels through the end of the war.