These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The “Flying Tigers” (formally known as the American Volunteer Group or AVG) were famous for being in the fight very early in World War II. They were recruited to fly for the Republic of China — with the quiet approval of the United States government.


Despite the fact many had no flight experience in fighters like the P-40s made famous by the AVG, they were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese — even as they had to fall back due to being badly outnumbered.

So it’s not surprising that some of the Flying Tiger pilots became legends later in the war and beyond.

1. Gregory Boyington

Probably the best-known Flying Tigers alum (due to the TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” or “Black Sheep Squadron”), Boyington claimed six kills while with the Tigers — although CAMCO gave him credit for only 3.5.

Some historians dispute that total, but what is beyond any doubt is the fact that Boyington would later become the top Marine ace of all time with 28 kills. He would also receive the Medal of Honor for his service.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

 

2. James H. Howard

Howard was recruited for the Flying Tigers from the Navy. His kill total with the Flying Tigers was six and a third, per CAMCO bonus records (pilots received a $500 bonus for every confirmed kill).

Not bad, but his real moment of glory came when the son of American missionaries in China was all that stood between 30 German fighters and a group of B-17 Flying Fortresses on Jan. 11, 1944.

At least three of the Nazi fighters were shot down in that incident, and Howard probably put lead in more. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.

He modestly said, “I seen my duty and I done it.”

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
James H. Howard, after returning from combat duty in Europe. (USAAF photo)

 

3. Robert L. Scott

The Georgia native unofficially flew with the Flying Tigers before he took command of their successors, the 23rd Fighter Group, and was known as a “one-man air force.” Scott ultimately scored 13 kills with the 23rd Fighter Group, but was better known for writing the book “God is My Co-Pilot,” which later became a movie.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

 

4. Robert W. Prescott

A 5.5-kill ace with the Flying Tigers, Prescott was best known for being among those who founded the Flying Tigers Line. While that aviation firm is now part of Federal Express, it did gain a measure of immortality in an episode of the 1960s iteration of Dragnet.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
A 747 with the Flying Tigers airline founded by Robert Prescott, an AVG veteran. The airline was later bought by FedEx. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

5. Robert Neale

Neale scored at least 15 kills with the Flying Tigers, per AVG records. Had he accepted a commission from the United States Army Air Force, he could have racked up a much higher total.

Instead, he stayed on, and was the first commander of the 23rd Fighter Group — while still a civilian — until Robert Scott officially took command. Neale then became a civilian ferry pilot for the duration of the war.

6. David “Tex” Hill

Hill was born in Korea — like Howard, the son of missionaries.

Prior to joining the AVG he served in the Navy, where he flew two planes that were notable during the Battle of Midway: The TBD Devastator torpedo bomber (notable for the losses suffered by torpedo squadrons) and the SB2U Vindicator (the plane flown by Richard Fleming, the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway).

Hill scored 10.25 kills with the AVG, then stayed on afterwards with the Air Force.

Hill ended the war with 18.25 kills, and not only commanded the 23rd Fighter Group, but later commanded an Air National Guard fighter group during the Korean War.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

 

7. Charles Older

Older wasn’t only a double ace with the Flying Tigers, he scored eight more later in World War II.

Then he flew a night intruder bomber in the Korean War before graduating from law school and becoming a judge, presiding over the Manson trial.

Manson took a swing at the former Flying Tiger, but bailiffs restrained him. Probably lucky for Manson…with his experience of fighting against long odds, Older probably could have taken the punk down.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
A Flying Tiger in front of Charles Older’s P-40. Older had 10 kills with the Flying Tigers, and added eight more later. (AVG photo via Wikimedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Baseball’s best defensive third baseman also served in the Army National Guard

Most baseball fans recognize the name Brooks Robinson. He played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977 and is widely considered to be the best defensive third baseman ever.

Robinson joined the Arkansas Army National Guard in March 1958. He was activated and assigned to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and later to the Army‘s 78th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas.


He served as an ordnance parts specialist. While on the rifle range for qualification with the M1 Garand rifle in November 1958, Robinson received a commendation for his performance as a squad leader for his unit. It stated, ”He has performed his duties in an excellent and commendable manner. It is recommended he be considered for more rapid promotion than his contemporaries.”

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

Officials with the Arkansas National Guard at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, said he was honorably discharged from Company A, 739 Ordnance Battalion, in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Jan. 2, 1962.

In 1966, Robinson, by then a civilian, visited troops in all four Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. Traveling with him on the morale-boosting tour were Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Torre and Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, and sportscaster Mel Allen.

During the tour, Killebrew was heard telling Robinson that the league champion Orioles played the best ball in the American League that year and that the Orioles deserved to win the pennant.

Robinson helped the Orioles advance to the postseason six times, with Baltimore winning four American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971) and two World Series (1966 and 1970) during his career. In 39 career postseason games, Robinson hit .303 with five homers and 22 runs batted in.

The Orioles retired his No. 5 jersey in 1977. He led all American League third basemen 11 times in fielding percentage and eight times in assists. His 2,870 games at third base rank No. 1 on the all-time list.

Frank Robinson, another baseball great, once said that Brooks was the best defensive player at any position. ”I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this,”’ he said.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

Frank Robinson also played for the Orioles. His time with the team overlapped with that of Brooks Robinson from 1966 to 1971.

​More About Brooks Robinson:

  • As a boy, Robinson operated the scoreboard at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock. The baseball sequence from the 1984 film ”A Soldier’s Story” was filmed there.
  • In 1955, Robinson played baseball in South America; he played in Cuba in 1957.
  • In 2012, a large bronze statue of him was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.


Articles

This American tractor became the world’s first-ever tank

Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.


But it turns out his farming equipment was actually destined to become one of the greatest innovations of war to emerge from that conflict.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
The original Caterpillar Tractor from Holt. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.

Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.

His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
An early Caterpillar Tractor from Holt pulls artillery in World War I. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

So there was little surprise when the British government placed an order for about 1,000 Holt Caterpillar tractors.

But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
(Newspaper: Evening Public Ledger/Library of Congress)

That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.

And that’s how the first-ever tank was born.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
(Photo: Public Domain/British Government)

The British Mark I Tanks, built on the Holt Caterpillar tractor, were custom-made to end the stalemate of trench warfare. Their long bodies and treads allowed them to roll over many trenches and barbed wire obstacles like they weren’t there while their guns wiped out enemy defenses and infantry.

Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.

While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.

British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.

Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 of the ugliest planes that ever flew after World War II

Historically, there have been some beautiful aircraft. Not only have these sophisticated marvels of technology dominated the skies, they’ve looked very elegant doing so. Some aircraft, however, weren’t so lucky. We’re talking about planes that fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

And before you call us shallow, we’re not just talking about looks — ugliness is more than skin-deep. Whether it’s a horrendous aesthetic, poor combat performance, or vastly unmet potential, these six fugly birds never had a chance at beauty.

To be brutally honest, if these planes were people, they’d likely end up being incels for one reason or another. So, let’s get to making some of the ugliest planes to take to the skies since World War II feel very, very bad about themselves.


These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Look at that big radar under the Avro Shackleton. Did the designers draw inspiration from a bullfrog?

(USAF photo by SSgt. Jose Lopez)

Avro Shackleton AEW.2

This was an airborne radar plane — but it doesn’t have the elegance of the E-3 Sentry. No, this is a slow, lumbering plane with a big bubble under its nose that makes it look like a bullfrog. It was supposed to be replaced by a version of the Nimrod maritime patrol plane, but that didn’t work out. Eventually, the Brits dumped this hideous plane in favor of E-3s.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The plane designer who came up with this one certainly had a major mental malfunction.

(US Navy)

De Haviland Vampire

This early British fighter should be a lesson to designers: What once worked with props, aesthetically, may not work with jets. The twin-boom arrangement that worked for the two Allison propeller-driven engines just doesn’t make sense for a single jet engine. This Vampire probably should have lived up to its name and stayed out of the light of day.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

This English Electric Lightning is being hauled away by a Sikorsky HH-53C. When it was flyable, it wasn’t much prettier.

(USAF photo by MSgt. Samual A. Hotton)

English Electric Lightning

First off, the designers at English Electric got the engine arrangement sideways. They put one on top of the other. This beast first flew in 1954 and the RAF kept it around until 1988, but this plane only saw action with the Royal Saudi Air Force in 1970 during a border war with South Yemen. The only thing this plane had going for it was speed.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The prettiest thing about the F-4 Phantom is its combat record. On the looks front, it looks like a flying brick — a brick that needs two engines to get airborne.

(USAF)

McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom

When it comes to performance, this classic plane is hard to beat, but in terms of looks, the nickname “Double Ugly” is very apt. The folks who probably found the Phantom the ugliest were those who had to face it in combat. Many MiGs met their end at the hands of this plane.

But let’s be honest, while this plane’s combat record is a thing of beauty, from the outside, it was an eyesore.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Saab 21

This plane couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a prop plane or a jet plane. It first flew in 1943 and its career ended in 1954. The plane served with Sweden, but never really took off in the export market. If you can’t even decide on the propulsion system, what chance do you have of making the plane look remotely presentable?

What really sucks about this plane is that it had potential — which was wasted completely.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

One of the low-lights of the F7U Cutlass’s career: This ramp strike didn’t just kill the pilot, it killed three other sailors.

(US Navy)

Vought F7U Cutlass

This plane didn’t look very good. The thing is, its looks were the least of its problems. It was very hard to fly — over a quarter of them were lost to accidents. It didn’t even make it eight years from first flight to retirement.

Here’s the ugliest part: 25 pilots died during this flying abomination’s far-too-long career.

Articles

How Green Berets earned the nickname ‘snake eaters’ and how it helped them in Vietnam

The U.S. Army’s Special Forces soldiers are some of the most capable troops in the world. They might even be the most capable people. Putting on the coveted green beret means being able to handle yourself in almost any situation at any time, and coming out on top. 

For those working in Special Forces, it comes with varying degrees of difficulty. Today’s Special Forces soldier works in counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, hostage rescue and other potentially classified operations. But the primary mission of those who wear the green beret is to wage unconventional warfare against a hostile, possibly occupied nation. 

This often means turning a population or oppressed minority against its occupiers. They often find themselves training an undermanned, underequipped fighting force. In Vietnam, where the Green Berets cut their teeth, this often meant surviving in the jungles for long periods of time.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
U.S. Army

In Vietnam, the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint CIA-Army operation used to collect intelligence and fight the covert war happening in the dense jungles of the country. The oppressed minority in this case were the Vietnamese tribes of Montagnards.

The Montagnards’ name comes from the French for “mountaineers” and though they live in Vietnam, they are ethnically and culturally different from the Vietnamese. The 30 tribes of Montagnards live off of the land, growing food and hunting for survival. They were looked down upon by the Vietnamese and didn’t trust either the north or the south. Eventually, they cast their lots with the south – and the reason for that was the Green Berets.

Army Special Forces soldiers worked with the Montagnards (called “Yards” for short) to form a kind of quick reaction force (QRF) that would defend southern villages from attacking bands of Viet Cong (VC). The highland areas occupied by the Yards were prime real estate for moving men and material to the war zones. Isolated villages were easy pickings for the VC. The Green Berets moved in to advise the Yards.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
U.S. Army photo

By the end of 1963, the Yards were organized into a real fighting force of 43,000 men and an 18,000 strong QRF. The Green Berets and the Montagnards gelled instantly. The Yard appreciated the Army’s finest for their help and the green berets appreciated the honest, primal toughness of the Yards – and their resolve to defend what was theirs. 

They were a lot alike in that their ways seemed odd to everyone else. The Montagnards would often find food that seemed unwholesome or unsavory to others. The Special Forces knew what that was like. After displaying their survival skills to President Kennedy, skills where they caught and ate snakes, they were stuck with the moniker “snake eaters.” 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
National Archives

To the rest of Vietnam, the Montagnards were called savages. The similarities didn’t stop there. The U.S. soldiers loved the Yards prowess in combat. They were natural soldiers, brave and trustworthy. They knew they could count on the Montagnards to watch their flanks. 

All good things must come to an end, however. When the United States was forced to leave South Vietnam to its own defense, things didn’t fare so well. The Montagnards fought well, but they couldn’t defend the whole country on their own. When the South Vietnamese government fell, they accepted the result.

But they didn’t fare well. The North Vietnamese did not forget the Montagnards’ work with the U.S. Army Special Forces and the communists made life especially hard for the mountain tribes in the years to come.


Feature image: U.S. Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Jewish assassins targeted former Nazis to avenge the Holocaust

The reprisals against German members of the Nazi party didn’t end after the Nuremberg Trials. It was a well-known fact that many high-ranking members of the party survived World War II, the trials, and the Red Army’s wrath. The Jewish people that were left did their best to seek justice, but none were as dedicated as the Nokmim – “The Avengers.”


Without a doubt, the most famous of the Nazi hunters after World War II was Simon Wiesenthal, who ferreted out some 1,100 Nazi war criminals. Wiesenthal was a survivor at the Mauthausen death camp when it was liberated by American troops in 1945. As soon as his health was restored, he began to work in the War Crimes Section of the United States Army, gathering evidence to convict German war criminals.

The operative words here being evidence, convict, and war criminals.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The Nokmim, as they were called, were not about to let anyone who committed those crimes against their people just walk free for lack of what a court determined was sufficient evidence. Wiesenthal would get the biggest names who escaped justice – those like Adolf Eichmann. The Nokmim would get the SS men, the prison guards, the Gestapo foot soldiers whose names might not be in history books.

As former anti-Nazi partisans who had fought in an underground movement for years before the war’s end, they were no strangers to killing.

“We had seen concentration camps,” Vitka Kovner told the Yad Vashem Magazine of her time fighting Nazis in occupied Lithuania. “And after what we witnessed there, we decided that even though the war was over, we had to take revenge for the spilling of Jewish blood.”

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Vitka Kovner-Kempner (far right) was a resistance fighter in the Vilna ghetto in modern-day Lithuania.
(Jewish Women’s Archive)

With that goal in mind, they acted. Former Nazi SS officers and enlisted men were found hanged by apparent suicides for years after the war’s end. Brakes on cars would suddenly become inoperative, causing deadly accidents. Former Nazis would be found in ditches, victims of apparent hit-and-runs. One was even found in his hospital bed before minor surgery with kerosene in his bloodstream.

One extreme plan even involved killing six million Germans as retribution for the Holocaust using a specially-designed, odorless, colorless poison, but had to settle for poisoning the bread at a prison camp for former SS men using arsenic. That plan may have killed up to 300 of the convicts.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Some of the leaders of the Nakmim movement would later lead brigades in Israel’s 1948 Independence War.

But the group was comprised of more than just partisans. It may have even included British Army volunteers of Jewish descent who could move freely through the postwar world. No one knows who exactly was part of the group, but it was clear that their reach extended worldwide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

In the past few years, dozens of veteran and civilian Americans left the comfort and safety of their homes to tackle what they saw as an unspeakable evil growing from the Middle East — the Islamic State. A new television documentary series from History followed those Americans as they fought with Kurdish fighters in Syria. The show pulls no punches in showing what combat looks like on the front lines of the fight against the world’s most ruthless terrorists.

You can catch Hunting ISIS every Tuesday at 11pm on History but read on and learn about how and why Americans fought the good fight long before their country was ready.”I heard the stories, I knew that ISIS was evil,” says PJ, a Marine Corps vet who served in Iraq. “But you can never understand the brutality that they’re capable of until you see it with your own eyes… Most people in America aren’t able or willing to come over here,” he says. “And for them, I will carry what weight I can.”


The group that came to be dubbed ISIS by Americans came to global recognition in 2014 while capitalizing on power vacuums in Iraq and Syria. The group managed to capture large swaths of both countries. In Iraq, ISIS captured most of Fallujah, took the provincial capital of Mosul, and even approached the outskirts of Baghdad.

 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
The ISIS terror state at the height of power in 2014.

(UnderstandingWar.org)

In Syria, ISIS occupied most of the country’s eastern half, basing out of the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa. At the height of its power in 2014, the would-be terrorist state controlled the lives of some 10 million people. What was most horrifying about life under ISIS control was not only the restrictions on personal freedoms for those 10 million people, but the punishments for breaking ISIS law, executions of political prisoners and POWs, and the genocides committed against “apostate” ethnic groups, especially Yazidis.

Horrified by the ongoing violence, many American veterans of the war in Iraq were inspired by the dogged resistance of the Kurdish Peshmerga as they fought to push back the dark tide of ISIS’ brand of Islamic extremism. The Peshmerga has long been the most effective fighting force in the region and a natural U.S. ally against ISIS.

Long before that alliance was solidified, and long before other regional powers, like Iran and Russia, decided to intervene in the two countries, some American veterans decided to travel to Iraq and join that fight alongside the region’s only remaining stand against terrorist domination. For them, they would be fighting the good fight and doing the right thing against the wishes of the U.S. government and military. They fight unpaid and unsanctioned. Worst of all, they face jail time if they’re caught by Americans — execution if they’re caught by the enemy.

“This battlefield called out to me personally, being that I have blood, sweat, and tears on that sand,” says PJ. “How many of my brothers lost their lives fighting those scumbags in Iraq? And now here they are from Raqqa to Mosul… we can stop this if we stand together.”

But the Islamic State isn’t the only evil Americans fought before their country was ready.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Members of the Lafayette Escadrille pose in front of their Nieuport fighters at the airfield in Verdun, France circa 1917.

1. World War I – Lafayette Escadrille

Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who was instrumental in the success of the American Revolution, the Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American airmen who volunteered to fight for the French against Germany in the first world war in 1916 – almost a full year before the United States entered the war on the side of the Entente.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
American volunteers Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fighting in the Polish Air Force. The Soviets placed a large bounty on Cooper’s head.

 

2. Kosciuszko Squadron – Polish-Soviet War

For three years, Poland fought Soviet Russia for control of parts of Eastern Poland and Ukraine. American volunteers, wary of the spread of Communism to the West, volunteered for the Polish Air Forces against the Soviets with notable successes — the Soviets put half-million ruble bounty on one aviator’s head. One Polish general said of the Americans,

“The American pilots, though exhausted, fight tenaciously. During the last offensive, their commander attacked enemy formations from the rear, raining machine-gun bullets down on their heads. Without the American pilots’ help, we would long ago have been done for.”

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Tom Mooney Company from the Lincoln Battalion. Jarama, Spain circa 1937.

 

3. Lincoln Battalion – Spanish Civil War

Fascism was the true enemy in Spain, where those loyal to the democratic Second Spanish Republic fought Francisco Franco’s nationalism for three years before their defeat in 1939. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were among the countries who officially supported the Nationalists, while the Soviet Union supported the left-leaning Republicans. Meanwhile, Britain and the U.S. officially stayed out of the fighting.

Many, many volunteers poured in from all over the world to fight for the Republican army in the International Brigades. For the Americans, they joined what was known as the Abraham Lincoln brigades, an amalgamation of English-speaking British and American volunteers.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
American pilots of No 71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron rush to their Hawker Hurricanes at Kirton-in-Lindsey, March 1941.

 

4. Eagle Squadrons – The Battle of Britain

The early days of World War II were dark days for the British. The threat of Nazi invasion loomed large over the whole of the island. We know today that they were relatively safe across the English Channel, but they hardly thought so back then. But after the seeds of our “special relationship” with the United Kingdom were sown in World War I, many Americans eschewed American neutrality to join the RAF in giving Jerry a black eye.

Those men would join the RAF’s three Eagle Squadrons. The first was formed in September 1940 and fought with the British until their units were transferred to the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1942.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

5. The Flying Tigers – WWII China

A truly joint operation, the Flying Tigers were formed from a bold group of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps airmen and placed under the command of a retired American general attached to the Chinese Air Force. Three squadrons of 90 aircraft trained in Burma well before the U.S. entry to World War II. So, when their first combat mission came calling just 12 days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, they were more than ready.

When the U.S. came to take them back, they were made part of the U.S. Army’s 14th Air Force – the 23rd Fighter Group. The 23rd still flies planes with shark teeth nose art on their A-10 fleet, an homage to the P-40 Warhawks flown by the Flying Tigers.

Articles

The SR-71 Blackbird was almost the most versatile fighter plane ever

Have you ever looked at the old SR-71 Blackbird and wondered how awesome it would be as a fighter jet? So did the United States Air Force (for the most part). The SR-71 is based on the super-secret CIA’s A-12 reconnaissance plane. When the Air Force got a glimpse of the A-12 and its capabilities, their minds got to work. 

The first idea to come from the A-12 design was the YF-12, a single-seat interceptor aircraft that closely resembled the A-12 but came packing with guns and missiles instead of photographic and signals intelligence monitoring equipment. 

Lockheed’s YF-12 first took off in August 1963 and unlike its predecessor, the A-12, or its successor, the SR-71, there was nothing really secret about it. The President of the United States first revealed its existence but that might have been a strategic move. It covered up the CIA’s super-secret aircraft and provided enemies a window into the advancements Air Force fighters were making.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
“Hey, you guys know that whole strapping some guys to some giant rockets and shooting them into space? What if we did that, but a fighter jet?” (U.S. Air Force photo by Don Popp)

The YF-12 was every bit as great as expected, and every bit as great as both the A-12 and the SR-71. It could fly at supersonic speeds of more than 2,000 miles per hour and at altitudes of more than 80,000 feet. It is still the largest and fastest interceptor aircraft ever built. 

It also had an advanced fire control radar system to operate the AIM-47 missiles that could be mounted under its wings. Unlike other missile systems at the time, the AIM-47 was much more accurate and reliable in air-to-air combat. This would have made the YF-12 the deadliest aircraft in the world at the time. 

The Air Force was understandably excited at the prospect of integrating such a fighter aircraft into its air defense network. After successfully testing the AIM-47 missile integration, the USAF placed an order for more than 90 of these flying behemoths, ready to implement them into the defense of the United States. It was a little war brewing in Vietnam that would be the program’s demise. 

As the intensity of the fighting in Southeast Asia increased, so did the American commitment to South Vietnam. Spending on the war increased along with it. Concerned about the cost of the YF-12 program, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara declined to support the interceptor program and it was ultimately cancelled in 1968. 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Buzzkill…
(Defense Intelligence Agency)

All was not lost for the unique airframe, however. Though there was no need for a supersonic, high-altitude interceptor for airspace defense in the U.S., there was a need for an ultra-fast, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to fly over places other aircraft wouldn’t dare. The SR-71 Blackbird was born from this need. 

The Blackbird looks exactly like its predecessors but outperforms both of them. It has a greater operational range than the YF-12 and is still the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft ever built, a record set in 1976. 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
U.S. Air Force

SR-71s were a brief view of what the YF-12 could have been: a fighter aircraft so accurate, it could hit a target on the ground while flying at three times the speed of sound. If another fighter or a surface-to-air missile came up at it, all the pilots had to do was hit the throttle and outrun it. The A-12s, YF-12s and SR-71s were titanium masterpieces of Cold War technology.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who saved North Carolina from nukes speaks out

Jack ReVelle, an Air Force munitions expert during the Cold War, recently went to a sound booth to record an interview with his daughter where the pair discussed one of the most harrowing moments of Jack’s life: That time he was called to North Carolina to defuse two hydrogen bombs that had plummeted to earth with a combined potential explosive power equivalent to 500 Hiroshima bombs.


These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

A Mark 39 nuclear bomb rests with its nose buried in the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

In 1961, a B-52 bomber was flying over the great state of North Carolina when it began to break apart. Its entire right wing failed and the plane began falling towards earth. The order was given to abandon the plane, and eight crewmembers attempted to escape. Five survived.

But two other objects joined the crew in the air with parachutes. Two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, one with a successfully deployed parachute and one with a failed chute, fell from the sky. The Air Force sent a team out relatively quietly to find and defuse the nukes. Jack ReVelle told his daughter about getting the mission:

“One night, I get a phone call from my squadron commander. And instead of using all the code words that we had rehearsed, he says, ‘Jack, I got a real one for you.’ You don’t often have two hydrogen bombs falling out of aircraft onto U.S. property.”
These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Air Force technicians dig through the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

There was precious little preparation done for such an insane mission, and the airmen found themselves scrambling to get everything they needed to do the mission:

“Ten – we call them the Terrible 10. I knew all of them very well. But nobody was cracking jokes like they usually did. And the first couple of days there, they didn’t even have food for us – nothing. It was snowing. It was raining. It was frozen. That’s why we worked in shifts, sometimes on our hands and knees.”

The first bomb was quickly found hanging from a tree. The parachute had kept its descent reasonable, and it had stuck vertically in the ground, buried only partially in the dirt. The team found that three of its four safeguards had either failed or triggered. Only one safety, the actual safe/arm switch, had prevented a nuclear explosion.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians remove components of a Mark 39 nuclear bomb from the deep hole that the bomb buried itself in.

(U.S. Air Force)

But the second bomb, the one with an improperly deployed parachute, had hit the ground at 700 mph and plunged 18 feet into the ground. It was Jack and his men’s job to dig in, find as many of the 92 detonators as they could, and recover the warhead.

Most of the detonators were found and recovered, one at a time. But the team got a horrendous surprise when they found the safe/arm switch:

“And as we started digging down, trying to find the second bomb, one of my sergeants says, “hey, Lieutenant, I found the arm safe switch.” And I said, “great.” He says, “no, not great. It’s on arm.” But we all knew what we were there for and the hazards that we were facing. So, we pulled it up out of the mud and brought it up over this wooden rickety ladder that we had, to the surface of the ground, in a safe condition.”

Yeah, the switch had been the only thing that prevented the first bomb from detonating. It had failed on the second bomb. As they recovered the rest of it, they found no safeguards that had properly survived. The bomb should’ve exploded. Engineers wrote in a classified report in 1969 that a single electrical jolt could’ve triggered a weapon. The lead on the study, Parker F. Jones, recommended that Mark 39 bombs no longer be used in an airborne role since they almost gave us Goldsboro Bay.

But Jack and his team were able, through painstaking work, to recover most of the bomb, including the nuclear core. If even one of them had gone off, it could have killed approximately 28,000 people. 60,000 live there today and would, obviously, not be able to live there if the bombs had irradiated the whole area in 1961.

Jack ReVelle’s interview is available on StoryCorps and NPR.

(This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2019. The article originally stated that seven of the eight steps needed to detonate a Mark 39 bomb had been taken and cited a Stanford paper from 2018. But the Stanford paper cites a Guardian article for that claim, and the Guardian article only supports that three of the four major safeguards had failed. This post was changed to reflect this more solid information.)

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This Coast Guard reservist saved an Army-Navy convoy in World War II

The Coast Guard’s USS Glendale served in the Pacific in World War II, and it was commanded by a reservist who earned the Bronze Star for his actions during a Japanese sneak attack on Dec. 5, 1944.


Coast Guard Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Harold J. Doebler was commanding the Glendale in a convoy of 35 Army, Navy, and merchant ships on their way to Leyte Gulf the Phillippines. The Glendale was assigned to anti-submarine and anti-air operations for the convoy.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
The USS Glendale (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

On Dec. 5, friendly flights of C-47s began passing over the convoy. At first, this wasn’t of great concern, but Japanese pilots saw the situation and decided to exploit it. They flew their planes into the C-47 formations until they were close to the convoy, and then swooped down to attack the ships.

Doebler maneuvered the Glendale and other ships of the convoy to form a screen that attempted to pick off the Japanese attackers before they could reach the rest of the convoy. But the problems of target identification continued as gunners had to be confident that they weren’t firing at friendly planes before they pulled the trigger.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
The USS South Dakota fired on an incoming Japanese bomber. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

During the battle, multiple torpedo bombers hit the SS Antone Saugrain, and a bomb hit the SS Marcus Daly, but no other ships in the convoy were damaged thanks to the screen led by the Glendale.

In the late afternoon, just after the Marcus Daly was hit, the convoy was joined by four new destroyers. With this greater firepower, the convoy was able to drive off the rest of the Japanese attacks and the rest of the ships were able to continue safely.

The Antone Saugrain later sank from the damage inflicted by the torpedo bombers, but the safe zone established by the destroyer and frigate screen allowed other vessels to rescue 413 crewmembers safely before the ship went down. The Marcus Daly was able to continue with the convoy despite severe damage and the loss of 72 of its crew.

Doebler was later promoted to rear admiral and received the Bronze Star for his actions leading the convoy screen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 4 brothers were heroes of the American Revolution

There were thousands of families that sent sons, fathers, brothers, and—when the families allowed it—daughters and sisters. But one family with five sons sent four of them to war as officers in the Revolution, and they fought at some of America’s crucial battles, eventually earning special honors from Gen. George Washington at Yorktown.


These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Col. Richard Butler, the eldest brother, later served as a general and died fighting Native Americans after the Revolutionary War.

(John Trumbull)

The Butler Family was born to Thomas Butler and his wife Eleanor. Thomas was a gunsmith and a patron of the church as well as an immigrant to America. He moved with his family from County Wicklow, Ireland, to the American Colonies in 1748 and settled in Pennsylvania. The older brothers, William and Richard, emigrated with their parents while Thomas Jr., Percival, and Edward were born in the colonies.

Obviously, this was a fateful time to set up life in the colonies. And, soon enough, the four elder brothers were serving in the Continental Army. Richard was recommended for commission as a major in 1776, and he received it. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to Morgan’s Riflemen, The 11th Virginia Regiment. He received credit for the constant state of readiness in that unit.

More positions and commands followed. He survived Simcoe’s Rangers’ raids near Williamsburg and then was a part of the American victory at Saratoga. He then led troops in the assault on the British positions at Yorktown and, when British Gen. Charles Cornwallis was forced to surrender, Washington selected Richard to plant the first American flag on the former British fortifications. Baron von Steuben ultimately took the honor for himself, though.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The Battle of Monmouth, where three of the Butler brothers fought.

(Emanuel Leutze)

Richard’s younger brother William was commissioned as a captain in 1776 and promoted to major during October of that year. He fought in Canada and, after promotion to lieutenant colonel, at Monmouth. He then fought defensive actions against Native American tribes and took part in the successful Sullivan-Clinton Expedition to break the Iroquois Confederacy and its British allies in 1779.

The third brother, Thomas, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in early 1776 and promoted to captain later that year. His bravery at the Battle of Brandywine allowed him to rally retreating Colonials and stop a British thrust, earning him accolades from Washington. Later, he fought at Monmouth and was cited for defending a draw against severe attack, allowing his older brother Richard to escape as the British forces were tied up.

(Fun fact about Thomas: He was court-martialed in 1803 for multiple charges but defeated all of them except for “wearing his hair.” Basically, he wore a Federalist wig and refused to take it off for the Army.)

The youngest brother to fight in the war was Percival, who was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1777 at the age of 18. He fought at Monmouth with two of his brothers after a winter at Valley Forge.

All of this led to the Butlers being specially praised by senior leaders. Washington gave a toast during a victory banquet, “To the Butlers and their five sons!” And Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, said, “When I wanted a thing done well, I had a Butler do it.”

Thomas, the men’s father, fought in the Revolutionary War as well and the youngest brother, Edward, fought for the U.S. and died in combat in 1791.

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How the election of 1876 was settled with a compromise

After the end of the Civil War, the U.S. was in a state of divide. Tensions lingered between the North and South, yet all remained under jurisdiction of a single force: the federal government. As Ulysses S. Grant chose not to run for a third term, officials began scrambling for presidential candidates to fill his shoes. The result became Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) vs. Samuel J. Tilden (Democrat) in a “corrupt bargain” and controversial election.

Essentially, a true winner of the presidency could not be decided and it was left to a truce in order to determine the next Commander in Chief.

Here’s why:

Three states in the South had an inaccurate vote count. (And possibly some Northern states, due to ongoing debates.) They sent in two totals, with either candidate winning the electoral votes. As either party couldn’t win without the votes being allocated, a special electoral commission was created by President Grant to settle the dispute. Eventually, the votes went to Rutherford B. Hayes, securing his spot as president. Of course, this upset his competition and earned him the nickname RutherFraud. The deal awarded Hayes the win by a single vote — 185 over 184, while Democratic candidate, Tilden, won the popular vote. 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Rutherford B. Hayes (October 4, 1822—January 17, 1893), 19th President of the United States and 29th and 32nd Governor of Ohio. Public Domain.

Compromise of 1877

Known as a controversial, underground deal, the Compromise of 1877 was never listed on paper. Instead, it was an informal arrangement made between Congressmen. The deal listed that Hayes would earn the presidential votes, or rather, the Democrats would not dispute this fact, so long as he would end Reconstruction. (Among other things.) That meant removing federal troops from the remaining states they inhabited: Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina, despite their presence being important in the survival of Republican programs, and the safety of African Americans. 

Essentially, it was an agreement for federal troops to stop interfering in Southern politics. This soon became a race issue, with violence taking place against blacks, and eventually, a series of laws to prevent them from voting through disenfranchisement. Through the deal, Southern states were to protect African Americans against violence, which largely went overlooked. 

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers
Correspondence with Samuel J. Tilden. Public Domain

Additional terms of the deal

In exchange for the following, Democrats would peacefully hand the presidency over to Rutherford B. Hayes. 

At least one Southern Democrat would be named to Hayes’ Cabinet; he made good on this deal when he appointed David M. Key, from Tennessee, as Postmaster General. 

A transcontinental railroad was to be built with the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company, and was to be located within the South. However, the company went bankrupt the following year, as a bad hurricane season flooded their efforts in Louisiana. 

In order to restore the economy, legislation would be put into place to industrialize the South. However, no real legislation was put into place. 

Southern citizens had “the right to deal with black people without northern interference.” Despite reassurances that African Americans would be treated with respect, this widely led to violence and laws that revoked or blocked rights like voting and land ownership. 

Not all politicians (or followers) got the memo and several Democrats were upset about the deal. However, sitting President Grant thwarted any signs of uprising. 

To this day, the Compromise of 1877 is known as one of the most controversial elections in the U.S. The deal also effectively eliminated a Congressional filibuster and allowing the federal government to move forward with regular proceedings. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 languages that could be another kind of ‘Navajo Code’

One of the key reasons the Americans were so dominant over the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of World War II was the security of communications. The U.S. broke the Japanese code early on in the war. While the Japanese could have broken American military cyphers, as they did diplomatic codes before the war, they still wouldn’t have understood the language.

The reason is that those codes were in languages of American Indian tribes, limited to the U.S. and only spoken by members of those tribes. And I don’t know if you’ve ever met American Indians, but they are very, very pro-U.S. military — so good luck getting a code talker to reveal their secrets


The use of American Indian languages in U.S. forces’ communications safeguarded every American move. There aren’t many countries that could use that same style of code. It wasn’t just Navajo, though. Marines used Comanche and Lakota to communicate between units as well.

The United States isn’t the only country to have such obscure languages safeguarded by limited use, however. In the event of another major war outbreak, there are a few others that could be used in place of American Indian languages — in case the Russians and Chinese are wise to that tactic by now.

But the Russians have their own potential code languages, too.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

1. Finnish

There aren’t many languages like Finnish around. As it is, the language is a Uralic language, related only to Estonian and Hungarian — not one of its Scandinavian neighbors. Despite being derived from other languages in the area of the Ural Mountains, it’s unrelated to Russian. An offshoot of Finnish, Mansi, only has some 1,000 speakers left and would be an even better choice.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

2. Chechen

The Russians could implement this language as a basis for their own code, so it would behoove U.S. intelligence to learn it. Chechen is a very isolated language and there aren’t many expatriate populations speaking the language outside of the former Soviet Union. As it is, only 1.3 million people speak Chechen.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

3. Gaelic

While the language of Ireland is an Indo-European language, it is currently only spoken by just over 73,000 native users.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

4. Basque

This lonely language is spoken in a small area in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. As of 2016, there were roughly 750,000 speakers left and has no known language relatives. Marines actually did use this language to great effect during WWII.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

5. Welsh

Though Welsh is an official language in Wales and is widely known as a limited language, Welsh has been proven to be secure for use in combat in both the Falklands War and in Bosnia.

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

6. Shabo

This indigenous language is spoken in parts of Ethiopia and has only 400 speakers — but Ethiopia has long been a dedicated American ally since World War II, volunteering troops for the Korean War, Global War on Terror, and today’s UN Peacekeeping operations.

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