A brief history of US troops playing cards - and a magician's trick honoring veterans - We Are The Mighty
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A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

War can be hell…and war can be absolute boredom. There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards. Anyone who served in the military and made it past basic training probably ended up in a game of cards with their fellow troops.


A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Photo taken by an 82d Airborne paratrooper during WWII. (Portraits of War)

They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag, or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear. Plus, they’re cheap. It just makes sense that the troops and playing cards would pair so well together.

The Bicycle Playing Card Company recounts the history of American troops and playing cards, though many other nations’ militaries also have a tradition of playing cards in their downtime. It just beats sitting around thinking about everything that could go wrong in a battle. As one Civil War soldier said, “Card playing seemed to be as popular a way of killing time as any.”

Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft, and even teach a little about American history. Even in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
These cards are probably well-known by now.

Also Read: This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Playing cards themselves can be traced back to 12th century China. Some scholars think they made their way to Europe through Italian traders. The cards (and maybe even the games) predate the United States. But Americans have their own love affair with cards, and the military is no different.

Early special decks were released depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (John Quincy) Adams as the kings of the deck. By the time of the Civil War, playing cards were in every American camp, Union or Confederate.

Since troops in the Civil War spent a lot of time in camp and had easy access to decks, alcohol, and firearms, a cheater could make the game go very badly for himself. The war actually shaped the way playing cards are printed, so players could hold a tighter hand.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

Another innovation of that era was the design on the backs of cards. Before then, most were made with plain backs, ones that were easy to mark and see through. The new back designs made short work of that problem.

In 1898, the Consolidated Playing Card Company created a cheap deck and poker chips for troops deploying to the Spanish-American War. For World War I, the U.S. Playing Card Company released special decks just for a few specialties of service in the Great War, namely Artillery, Navy, Air Corps, and Tank Corps. The German High Command in WWI considered the game so important to morale, they called the cards kartonnen wapens – cardboard weapons.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
German soldiers playing cards on the Western front in the summer of 1916. (Playing Card Museum)

Many playing card factories converted to war production during World War II, but that certainly didn’t mean no decks were printed. The aforementioned cards used to identify aircraft, known as “spotter cards,” were essential to the war effort.

During the Vietnam War, playing card companies sent deployed soldiers and Marines special decks comprised of just the ace of spades, believing the Viet Cong considered the symbol to be a deadly serious omen.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

As late as 2007, American forces were given decks meant to inform them about important cultural and historical relics in the countries to which they deployed.

Watch below as magician Justin Flom recounts the oft-told story of a Revolutionary War soldier and his deck of cards, which acts as his bible, calendar, and almanac. Be sure to watch til the end for a magician’s tribute to American troops overseas.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Nazi rescued 200,000 Chinese civilians from a massacre

It’s a difficult thing to heap praise on a Nazi, but with German businessman John Rabe, it’s hard not to. Rabe was sent to Nanjing (then called Nanking) to work for the German corporation Siemens AG. There were many foreigners living in Nanking at the time, as it was the capital of Nationalist China.

By the time the Japanese Army was sent to capture Nanking in 1937, the high-ranking Nazi party boss had been in the country for nearly 30 years and was ready to flex that power. As the Japanese rained death on the city, there was one area left untouched by the devastation along with hundreds of thousands of civilians.


Rabe was a die-hard Nazi. He joined the National Socialist movement in its earliest days, but he was not prepared for the massacres and atrocities committed by the German-allied Japanese forces. When it became clear the Japanese were going to capture Nanking, Rabe organized an International Safety Zone inside the city – despite being told to leave by Japanese officials.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

There’s no time for war, John Rabe has sh*t to do.

For his dedication to the Chinese people of the city, the Japanese were humbled. They respected his loyalty to the people he lived alongside for three decades. An angry Japanese mayor, installed after the capture of the city, railed Rabe for staying, wondering why he would ever choose to stay. Rabe replied that he was treated well and respectfully by the Chinese people and he wouldn’t leave their side in an emergency.

He took a step back, mumbled some words about Samurai obligations, and bowed deeply,” Rabe said of the mayor.
A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

In every photo of John Rabe, his face says “take your bullsh*t elsewhere.”

This average-sized, bespectacled, bow-tied man was a force to be reckoned with. He was determined to protect his Chinese workers and keep them safe. More than that, he established a two-and-a-half-mile international safety zone in the embassy area that housed an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilian refugees. For two days, Rabe ushered civilians into his own house and urged them to be quiet. He even sent a telegram to Hitler himself to persuade the Japanese to recognize and protect the Safety Zone.

But even that couldn’t entirely stem the tide of the Japanese atrocities. As the streets and ponds of Nanking filled with corpses, John Rabe decided to do the one thing he could beyond protecting the International Safety Zone: Go out into the streets and personally protect civilians.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

Did you see that coming? I didn’t.

Rabe would chase Japanese soldiers away from women being raped, going so far as to physically remove them from a room. He was completely unarmed, with only his signature Nazi swastika armband to protect him. He was appalled at the Japanese treatment of the Chinese civilians. Homes were burned, women were gang-raped, mutilated, and killed, and businesses were looted.

The Japanese troops feared the Nazis in Nanking, so much so that Rabe was able to chase them away from nearly every situation while protecting the hundreds of thousands of civilians in his Safety Zone. Because of Rabe, scores of Chinese civilians survived what became known as the “Rape of Nanking,” and he is remembered and revered in the city to this day, the city where his remains are buried.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why some Civil War battles have two names

The Battle of Antietam is also known as Sharpsburg. Bull Run is also called Manassas. Shiloh is also Pittsburg Landing. Some of these may be familiar to you, some of them may sound weird. But there is a reason for it, and it’s mainly because of the Soldiers who fought the War Between the States.


History class is difficult enough without having to remember two names for each event. If you grew up around Murfreesboro, chances are good that’s how you (or the older members of your family) refer to the battle. You’d cock your head in bewilderment when someone calls it, “Stone’s River.” Well sorry, Tennessean; there were two American sides to this war and your side lost.

There is a system in place for this duopoly. And it’s not like calling Janet Jackson “Miss Jackson” just because you’re nasty.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Have some respect for the Commander in Chief of Rhythm Nation.

When the battles of the ‘War of Southern Independence” were fought, the troops gave them names after what stood out most. The bulk of Union troops, being city dwellers and townspeople, remarked on the natural features of a battlefield. Confederates, by and large from rural areas, remembered the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area. So, where Northerners saw Bull Run, a tributary to the Occoquan River, Southerners thought about the local railroad station nearby in Manassas, Virginia.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
It was also convenient to their final resting places.

So, now the battle had two names.

Many battles are well-known by just one name, however. And for the ones that do have two names, one is typically more known than the other. The reason for that is simple, too: history is written by the victors, and the War of the Rebellion is no different. With a few notable exceptions, the battles were named by the victor.

The National Park Service is a little more conciliatory in this regard. When memorializing major battles of the War of Secession that were fought in the South, the NPS will sometimes use the Southern name of the battle, regardless of the victor.

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This is how the Swedish air force planned to survive World War III

In the event World War III broke out between the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sweden intended to remain neutral.


After all, they’d managed to sit out World Wars I and II.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
An underside view of a Swedish Saab 37 Viggen fighter aircraft during Exercise BALTOPS ’85. (US Navy photo)

 

But there’s also a growing recognition that their neutrality would not be respected. A 2015 New York Times report noted that a Russian submarine sank in Swedish waters in 1916 after colliding with a Swedish vessel. In the 1980s, there were also a number of incidents, the most notorious being “Whiskey on the Rocks.” According to WarHistoryOnline.com, a Soviet Whiskey-class diesel-electric submarine ran aground off the Swedish coast in 1981, prompting a standoff between Swedish and Soviet forces that included scrambling fighters armed with anti-ship missiles.

The Soviets knew Sweden could threaten their northern flank, and the Swedes knew that they may well have to fight the Soviet Union, even though they were neutral. Should a NATO-Warsaw Pact war break out, the Swedes made contingency plans to be able to deploy their Air Force, and keep fighting in the event the Soviets attacked.

Swedish fighters serving with the Flygvapnet (Swedish air force) in that timeframe were the Saab J 35 Draken and the JA 37 Viggen. The Swedes did draw lessons from how the Israeli Defense Force hit Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the opening hours of the Six Day War, and developed a way to make sure that the Soviets (or anyone else) would not be able to carry out a similar strike.

The new approach was called “Airbase System 90” or “Bas 90” and featured not only dispersal of the aircraft, but the widening of roads to allow them to be used as runways.

Below is a video produced by the Flygvapnet discussing the new system. While the audio is in Swedish, it has English captions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis had a nuclear reactor in World War II

The Germans were the first to propose nuclear science, and some of their top minds advanced the field in the 1800s and early 1900s. That’s why it’s probably a little surprising that America had the first functioning nuclear reactor. And the first bomb. But the Nazis had not just one nuclear program, but three. And one of the teams had an honest-to-god reactor ready to go.


A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Enriched uranium
(Public domain)

The German nuclear program had two major prongs. There was a weapons program that was begun in 1939, but the shortage of scientists quickly short-circuited the effort. Later that year, a new team was re-assembled to study the wartime applications of fission. The possibility of a bomb was foremost, for obvious reasons.

But, despite Germany’s preeminence in the scientific side of nuclear endeavors, it lacked certain necessary materials like heavy water, water with radioactive hydrogen isotopes, to moderate the reaction. WATM has written before about the heroic lengths that Norwegian resistance members and British special operators went to frustrate Germany’s heavy water theft from Norway.

America, meanwhile, started its nuclear effort with about 1,000 tons of uranium, quickly got another 3,000 tons through a deal with the Belgian government, and began uranium production in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The American government would buy millions of tons over the course of the war from the Congo and other places. It also produced its own heavy water and used graphite as a moderator.

But Germany did get some of its own uranium. It actually has large reserves of its own, it’s just tricky to mine and refine.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
American soldiers dismantle a German nuclear reactor after World War II. The reactor never achieved a sustained reaction because the Germans never put enough of their uranium cubes in one spot.
(Public domain)

But when it came to using all these materials to make a proper bomb, Germany made a math error that ended its real efforts. See, British scientists were pretty sure they could make a device work with between 5 and 12 kg of enriched uranium (about 11 to 26 pounds). But Germany thought they needed tons of enriched uranium for a single bomb, thanks to the aforementioned error.

So Germany sidelined its bomb efforts but remained interested in nuclear reactors. Remember, its industry relied on imported or stolen fuel to run its factories, and its primary naval arm was submarines that had to slip under British blockades and patrols with limited fuel stores to do their work after they got into the Atlantic.

Nuclear reactors that gave them virtually unending power in cities or at sea would transform the way they operated in the war, and so they committed their nuclear stockpile to create a reactor.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
A museum exhibit shows the uranium chandelier Germany used for their experimental reactors.
(ArtMechanic, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Germany created three teams and planted one each at Berlin, Gottow and Leipzig. The design that the teams finally came up with centered on uranium chandeliers. Hundreds of small uranium cubes were suspended on wires in close proximity to one another, allowing their combined radiation to sustain a nuclear reaction. When they needed to shut down the reaction, they could lower the chandelier into a pool of heavy water with graphite for additional shielding.

The most advanced team was in Berlin. The reactor there had 664 cubes in its chandelier, and its scientists were actually close in 1944 and 1945 to achieving a sustained reaction, a reaction that could have kept factories humming along until the Allies broke the city.

The only problem: They needed a bit more uranium than they had. They suspected that they needed about 50 percent more cubes, and a 2009 paper says that they were probably right. Funnily enough, the group in Gottow had about 400 cubes, but the two teams weren’t allowed to talk about their work or share resources. So neither group knew that they could pool their resources and succeed in just a few weeks or months of work.

Probably for the best, though. It’s not like the world would be better off if the Nazis had managed to create nuclear power plants for the Allies to bomb as the war ended, and the reactors almost certainly would have come too late to save the Reich, anyway.

Meanwhile, the cubes were largely recovered by American forces and are now passed around as novelties in some classrooms and physicist social circles. Germany did eventually tap into its uranium mines in order to fuel reactors in the post-war world. Germany is getting out of the nuclear business, though, even the power generation part.

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Here’s what embassy guards carry in case things get hot

The upcoming movie “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” highlights the veteran security team who protected the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya during the 2012 attack. Below is a list of weapons the defenders used to valiantly defend the compound:


1. Western assault rifles

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
A US Navy SEAL aims his SCAR during training. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey

 

Private security contractors who are alums of elite US military units often prefer the same weapons they carried in the service such as the SCAR-L or M4 assault rifles that fire 5.56mm rounds. If they want to up the caliber a little, they can go with the SCAR-H or M14, which both use a 7.62mm round.

2. AKs of varying types

Contractors and their companies can’t always get the import/export licenses they need to bring weapons into their area of operations, so companies sometimes source weapons from local vendors.

Obviously, this results in a number of contractors carrying Kalashnikovs. This was especially prevalent in the early 2000s in Iraq when the State Department started hiring private companies for overseas security but hadn’t yet begun issuing them the needed licenses to import weapons.

3. Grenade launchers

 

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
A soldier fires the M320 grenade launcher. The M320 can be slung under an M4 or M16 or carried as a standalone weapon. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Freeman

While private military contractors are generally associated with lighter weapons, they’re sometimes authorized mass-casualty inflicting systems like M203 or M320 grenade launchers. The grenade launcher at Benghazi was one of the defenders’ most effective weapons.

4. Shotguns

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
The Saiga-12 Shotgun. Photo: Wikimedia/SpetsnazAlpha

Shotguns can be loaded with buckshot to cripple all enemies in a confined area or slugs to immediately shutdown a single target. They also allow contractors to quickly “unlock” doors if they need to evacuate their client.

5. Light machine guns

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

Characters in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi carry modified M249s like their real-world counterparts did. Photo: youtube/Paramount Pictures

When their contract and laws allow, contractors like an automatic weapon as much as any uniformed shooter. Triple Canopy guards in Iraq used the RPK which is similar in appearance to the better known AK-47. At Benghazi, contractors carried a modified version of the M249 known as the Mk 46.

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

RSVP here to attend a free screening of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” at ATT Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Jan. 13.

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These hilarious USAF ‘Freestyle Friday’ videos will start your weekend with a laugh

Most outsiders may not know about an Air Force tradition that gives the hard-charging crew chiefs of some of the most high-tech airplanes in the world a chance to show a little personality.


You might have seen some funny videos or gifs here and there featuring Air Force maintainers directing taxiing aircraft with the flair of a funny dance or outrageous outfit, and you might have wondered how they got away with it without their commander coming down on them like a ton of bricks.

YouTube user Kyle Gott 

What you’re seeing is “Freestyle Friday,” a military version of “casual Fridays” where Air Force crew chiefs – the tactical aircraft maintainers who coordinate the maintenance and care of the world’s most expensive airframes — are allowed to have a little fun on the job.

YouTube User alexwannberg
YouTube User alexwannberg
YouTube User alexwannberg 

Crew chiefs have one of the hardest jobs in the Air Force; one that requires a lot of training, long hours, and a lot of responsibility to make sure the planes are in tip-top shape for their dangerous missions. There’s a reason the crew chief often gets his name on the nose of a plane with the pilot’s.

YouTube User AirmanSnuffie 

Some consider Air Force crew chiefs and maintainers the “grunts” of the Air Force, and no one should be surprised when they have a little fun on the flightline during Freestyle Fridays to blow off a little steam.

YouTube user Jeff Wilms 

The ground crews work in extreme heat and cold, depending on their duty station, with little rest between shifts, and sometimes multiple launches and recoveries per day.

YouTube User juukbox 

Crew chiefs have to deal with exhaustion from a high operational tempo, hearing loss from the jet noise on the flightline, and may sometimes feel a little underappreciated by the rest of the maintenance group.

YouTube User Chris Bosley 

Like most enlisted folks with this level of responsibility, they’re known for blunt talk and a no-nonsense attitude. They take care of the planes they’re charged to maintain very seriously. So it’s no surprise they’re known to be hardasses for doing things their way.

YouTube User jw040789 

But while crew chiefs work hard, they play hard too and are often the genesis of some hilarious nicknames for the airmen that work with them.

Happy Freestyle Friday from We Are The Mighty!

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Here’s how WWII’s V-Mail prevented espionage

At the onset of World War II, writing letters was the preferred communication between soldiers and family members. In fact, oftentimes it was the only form of communication. Phone calls were few and far between, and usually, technology like telegrams were reserved for internal military communication. When it came to talking with loved ones, letters were their bread and butter. On average, each soldier wrote six letters per week — almost one every day — with each one taking up to four weeks to make it to their delivery address. If they were lucky, letters would be delivered in a single week. The process was long, tedious and expensive logistically, but also incredibly reassuring for those on the receiving end. 

In June of 1942, the U.S. Government announced a change in the way they delivered mail. Rather than collecting and delivering physical letters, they created Victory Mail. Shortened to V-Mail, it was a technology that took images of letters, then shipped the films — rather than sacks and sacks of paper — then re-printed smaller versions back in the U.S. The service was discontinued on November 1, 1945.

The benefits of V-Mail meant reducing plane cargo space; a film was 1/37th the space and weight of a paper letter. Films recorded up to 40 letters per minute, holding 1,600 on each roll of film. V-Mail letters could also be delivered quickly. As this was considered the number one morale booster to soldiers, there was heavy motivation to make V-Mail a success. 

V-Mail thwarted espionage

However, space wasn’t the only benefit to V-Mail, it also helped eliminate traitor and/or spy efforts against the U.S.

It did so in two ways:

First, all letters that went through V-Mail were censored. Sensitive information was deleted or removed from the correspondence altogether. There were folks whose entire job was to read letters and remove anything offensive or sensitive. Therefore, someone — willingly or not — sharing confidential information would have parts of their message redacted, ensuring nothing classified was transmitted.

Second, because V-Mail took images of letters, many spy tactics were made moot, to include invisible ink, microdots and microprinting. The latter two involved very small writings or codes that could only be deciphered by someone who knew what to look for, usually with a magnifying glass. But as V-Mail re-prints were at a quarter of the size of the original, tiny artifacts could not be identified. (It’s also likely that the image qualities were not clear enough to pick up such details.) 

Original copies of letters were kept by the receiving Post Office, assigning numbers so that “no V-Mail letter could ever be lost.” However, this meant copies with secret ink, etc. would not be seen by its intended recipient. 

Along with the speed of delivery, the ability to fight espionage was marketed as a patriotic way for V-Mail to help the war. In total, more than a billion V-Mail letters were sent until the end of the war in 1945.

Featured image: Left, National Archives; Right, WWII Museum

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Here’s how the US planned to invade Canada

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kasey Peacock


A time-honored tradition in the U.S. military, contingency plans have been drawn up for the defense against, and invasion of, most major military powers. In fact, in response to recent events on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. and South Korea recently signed on to such a plan. One of the most interesting episodes in this rich history of preparing for things that will probably never happen came when Uncle Sam planned to invade Johnny Canuck.

Early Planning

In the years leading up to World War II, beginning in fact in the 1920s, the army began planning for wars with a variety of countries, designating each plan by a different color: Germany (black), Japan (orange), Mexico (green) and England (red); as a dominion of Great Britain, Canada (crimson) was presumed to be loyal to England, and thus was included in the plan against a supposed British invasion (not to be confused with that of the 1960s).

The paranoid U.S. military strategists who devised War Plan Red believed that if the Britain and America were to battle again, it would begin from a trade dispute. Whatever the cause, army planners anticipated that any war with England would be prolonged, not only because of British and Canadian tenacity, but also from the fact that Britain could draw manpower and resources from its empire, including at that time Australia, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa and Sudan.

Canadian Invasion Plan

Different versions of the plan were proposed, and one was first approved in 1930 by the War Department. It was updated in 1934-1935, and, of course, never implemented. Although it was far reaching and addressed some of Britain’s greatest strengths, such as the Royal Navy, one of the chief areas of concern was the U.S.’s long border with Canada. As a result, the plan addressed our northern neighbors with great detail, to wit:

British Columbia

With its vital naval base, military strategists planned a naval attack on Victoria, launched from Port Angeles, Washington, as well as a combined assault on Vancouver and its island. Successful occupation of this area would effectively cut off Canada from the Pacific.

Manitoba

The central hub for the Canadian railway system was located in Manitoba’s capital city, Winnipeg; army strategists felt that a land assault could easily be launched from Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Canada’s rail lines neutralized.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

Military planners apparently hoped to stun the Maritime Provinces with a poison gas attack on Nova Scotia’s capital city, Halifax, then also home to a major naval base. The chemical battle would then be followed by a sea invasion at St. Margaret’s Bay. It that didn’t work, an overland invasion and occupation of New Brunswick would, hopefully, isolate the valuable seaports of Nova Scotia from the remainder of Canada, effectively stopping British resupply of its forces.

Ontario

A three-pronged attack, arising from Buffalo, Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie would gain control of the Great Lakes for the U.S. In addition to causing a crushing blow to British supply lines, it would allow the United States to control most of Canada’s industrial production.

Quebec

An overland attack launching from adjacent New York and Vermont was planned. Control of this French-speaking province would, when combined with control of the Maritime Provinces, stop Britain from having any entry point to the remainder of the country from the Eastern seaboard.

Revelation of the Plan

Although it was declassified in 1974, portions of the plan were inadvertently leaked long before. During what was supposed to be classified testimony by military brass to the House Military Affairs Committee, two generals revealed some of the details of War Plan Red. That testimony was mistakenly published in official reports, which were picked up and printed by the New York Times.

Also revealed in the New York Times was the fact that the United States Congress had assigned $57 million in 1935 (nearly $1 billion today) in order to build three air bases near the U.S./Canadian border in line with War Plan Red’s recommendations, in case the U.S. needed to defend against or attack Canada.  These air bases were supposed to be disguised as civilian airports, but the Government Printing Office accidentally reported the existence of the air bases on May 1 of 1935, blowing their cover.

Interestingly, War Plan Red’s recommendations also proposed that the U.S. not just invade in such a war with Britain and Canada, but take over, adding any conquered regions as states to the United States.

The Sad History of Americans Invading Canada Badly

Americans have a history of underestimating the Canadians:

Revolutionary War

In September 1775, Benedict Arnold (when he was still on our side) led an unsuccessful assault on Quebec City overland through difficult Maine wilderness; over 40% of Arnold’s men were lost making the attempt, and yet, inexplicably, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

War of 1812

During the second war with Britain, Thomas Jefferson opined that to occupy Canada was a “mere matter of marching” for U.S. troops. Yet attacks in the Old Northwest, across the Niagara River, and north from Lake Champlain, all failed.

Proxy “War” for Ireland

Over a period of five years from 1866 to 1872, Irish Catholics from the U.S. engaged in a series of raids on Canadian targets, including forts and customs houses. Known as the Fenian raids, the Fenian Brotherhood had hoped that their actions would force the British to withdraw from Ireland. They were unsuccessful.

Post Cold War

In 1995, Michael Moore created a fictional war between the United States and Canada in the comedy, Canadian Bacon. Like the real-life Americans who went before them, the fictional invasion in this farcical political commentary failed.

What Comes Around Goes Around

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Canadian soldiers storm a beach near Mayport, Florida during an exercise in 2009. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg

Before you get the idea that only Americans are aggressive bastards, you should know that the Canadians had developed a plan to invade the United States before the U.S. ever started on its scheme.

Characterized as a counterattack, the 1921 plan more accurately resembles a preemptive war. The brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Buster Sutherland Brown of the Canadian Army, the plan called for a surprise attack on the U.S. as soon as the Canadians had “evidence” that America was planning an invasion; it was felt that a preemptive strike was required, as it would be the only way Canada could prevail in a battle with its larger, southern neighbor, which benefited from a far greater arsenal and much more manpower.

Other advantages of the quick strike included the fact that the war would be fought on American territory, so losses in civilian life and infrastructure would be borne by the Americans. Finally, the colonel thought this plan would best buy the Canadians time for their allies, the British, to come to their rescue before the Americans could launch an effective counterstrike.

It’s always the quiet ones.

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Another ship attacked off Yemen

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans
Galacia Spirit. (Photo: shipworld.org)


Nearly two weeks after a series of incidents involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87), another ship has come under attack in the Bab el Mandab. This time, the ship targeted was a Spanish-flagged liquefied natural gas tanker passing near Perim Island, which is about 8.7 miles off the coast of the coast of Yemen.

According to a report by the British news agency Reuters, the Galicia Spirit, owned by the Teekay shipping group, came under attack by a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire from a small boat. The RPG missed the LNG tanker, which was escorted by Djibouti naval vessel. The method used in the attack is similar to that used in the October 1 attack on HSV-2 Swift that caused a fire and damaged the former U.S. Navy vessel, which was on a humanitarian mission. HSV-2 Swift was towed away from the scene of the attack, which prompted the deployment of USS Mason, USS Nitze (DDG 94), and USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) to the region.

The Galicia Spirit would have potentially fared a lot worse than HSV-2 Swift did. Even though it is much larger than Swift at about 95,000 gross tons to the Swift’s 955, it is usually carrying a large amount of a highly flammable and volatile cargo (137,814 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas). That would have been a huge explosion.

Yemen has been wracked by a civil war between the government lead by Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The Houthi rebels were responsible for the attacks on Swift and Mason. Nitze fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Houthi coastal radar sites after the attacks on Mason.

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Checkmate: The details on Russia’s new stealth fighter revealed

On Tuesday Morning, Russian aircraft manufacturer UAC unveiled the nation’s newest stealth fighter, the LTA Checkmate, at the MAKS air show at Ramenskoye airfield near Moscow. While information about this new 5th generation platform has steadily made its way to the media in recent months and some images even found their way onto the internet last week, we now have the most complete vision of this budget-friendly entrant into the stealth competition yet.

It’s important to remember that this new jet is not an operational platform, nor is there any strong indication that a flying tech demonstrator even exists. In other words, capabilities, cost, and even the overall design of this new fighter are all liable to change before this jet ever starts afterburning its way through production (if it ever does). Russia’s struggling economy and limited defense budget all but assure that the nation won’t be able to fund continued development, let alone production, of the LTA Checkmate single-handedly, so the future of this fighter program is largely in the hands of the foreign market. Russian officials have claimed that they invited delegations from 65 nations to come to the event and get a closer look at the fighter for this specific purpose.

According to today’s announcement, UAC believes they can start delivering new Checkmate fighters within five and a half years, with the first fighter for testing slated to be complete in 2023. ROSTEC officials predict orders of 300 aircraft, though they did not specify if they meant domestic, foreign, or total.

If Russia wants to make the LTA Checkmate its first successful stealth fighter on the export market (let alone in the sky), they need to make this jet look capable, reliable, and perhaps most importantly of all, affordable. These focal points were all on display on Tuesday, with mentions of the aircraft’s automated supply chain system and streamlined maintenance processes getting top billing alongside the usual fighter-fare.

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And while it’s important to remember that this fighter is actively being marketed (in other words, exaggeration or extreme optimism may well be in play in terms of announced capabilities), it’s also equally as important to remember that Russia has a long and illustrious history of making grandiose claims about new military technology, only for it to fail to meet expectations…or even ever manifest, after the initial headline-grabbing announcements.

So, with a baseball-sized grain of salt, let’s dive into what UAC says their new fighter can do, and why it matters for the future of Russia’s ongoing staring contest with the West.

We’ve already analyzed where the LTA Checkmate fits into Russia’s defense apparatus and what it will take to get the fighter into service in this article. The following will largely pertain to newly announced information.

Related: Here’s what we already know about Russia’s new stealth fighter

The LTA Checkmate aims to be the cheapest stealth fighter on the market

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To be clear, being budget friendly does seem to be the focus, or at least one of the focuses, of the Checkmate. According to UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar, this new jet will ring in at under $30 million per airframe, making it the least expensive stealth fighter anywhere on the planet by a wide margin (assuming that price holds). While projected operating costs were not specified, a press release distributed during the event also emphasized cost savings in that department.

Of course, $30 million isn’t something to scoff at, but when compared to America’s two stealth fighters, the F-35 and F-22, it’s an absolute steal. The F-22 was the world’s first operational stealth fighter, but was canceled with just 183 of 750 ordered jets built. That massive cut in volume dramatically increased the per-unit price of the fighter to more than $200 million. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has consistently lowered its per-unit cost over the years and now rings in at under $80 million per aircraft, but both Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been accused of fudging those numbers by the nonpartisan government watchdog, Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

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Two F-35s (Left) alongside two F-22s (Right) (USAF Photo)

In their analysis of F-35 costs, an F-35A actually costs the taxpayer around $110 million, with the F-35C ringing it at $117 million and the short take off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B breaking the bank at nearly $136 million a piece in 2020.

It isn’t as easy to ascertain costs for China’s Chengdu J-20 or Russia’s existing stealth platform, the Su-57, though experts have weighed in on both. The China Power Project established by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that the per-fighter cost of the J-20 could be as high as $120 million, with the Su-57 likely closer to $100 million.

If these numbers are broadly accurate, then the LTA Checkmate would cost less than a third of its least-expensive competition, making it a viable low observable option for nations that can’t drop nine-digit checks on a single piece of equipment.

Related: Is Russia’s Su-57 the worst stealth fighter on the planet?

Russia claims it uses AI to support pilot operations

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An ongoing concern for fighter pilots in a high-end fight is managing mental load. Traditionally, a fighter pilot has to keep track of multiple gauges and sensor read outs as well as the terrain, friendly nearby aircraft, the target, and any potential threats. Until recently, pilots had to combine all of this information in their heads, but flying supercomputers like the F-35 streamline the process and free up pilots to focus on the task at hand. Not only did UAC claim the Checkmate fighter would leverage onboard supercomputers, but they went a step further and claimed the aircraft would also use artificial intelligence, or AI, to further reduce the mental strain on its pilots.

This idea isn’t unheard of. In fact, it the was basis behind the U.S. Air Force and DARPA’s Alphadog Flight Trials held last year. The event pitted real human fighter pilots against AI in virtual dogfights, but the stated aim has long been to improve the AI while increasing pilot comfort with the idea. Eventually, the plan is to use AI in the cockpit as a co-pilot of sorts, handling monotonous tasks for the pilot, or even responding to inbound missiles faster than humans are capable of.

However, to date, AI hasn’t found a place in any fighter cockpit, and it seems unlikely that Russia will master the craft by 2023, when the first Checkmate is projected to take to the skies.

It is likely that the Checkmate fighter will leverage its onboard computers alongside some degree of sensor fusion to provide an enhanced awareness of the battlefield, like most fighters of its generation.

Related: AI wins flawless victory against human fighter pilot in DARPA dogfight

It won’t be able to match other 5th-generation fighters in a dogfight

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Rostec

All those cost savings have to come from somewhere, and even with the assumption that claims about the Checkmate will be exaggerated for marketing purposes, its claimed capabilities still fall short of the other jets of its class.

While every other 5th-generation fighter on the planet has a claimed structural limit that exceeds 9gs, the Checkmate claims only 8. G forces are measured in relation to the natural weight of gravity on earth; 1 G is what you experience all the time while walking around, so 9 Gs is literally 9 times that. Here’s an explanation from F-35 pilot instructor and Sandboxx News contributor Major Hasard Lee:

“Right now, as you’re reading this, you’re probably at 1G, or one time the force of gravity. Your weight is what you see when you stand on a scale. I weigh approximately 200 pounds, 230 with my gear on. For most people, the peak G-force they’ve experienced is probably on a rollercoaster during a loop—which is about 3-4G’s. It’s enough to push your head down and pin your arms by your side. Modern fighters like the F-16 and F-35 pull 9G’s, which translates to over 2,000 pounds on my body.”

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Hasard Lee experiencing High Gs in training.

You can read all about Hasard’s experiences pushing his F-16 to 9 Gs and just what an incredible toll it takes on your body in his article about it here.

Being limited to 8 Gs means Russia’s new Checkmate won’t be able to perform maneuvers as aggressively as other stealth fighters, or even non-stealth 4th-generation jets. Of course, that’s not necessarily a huge problem though. The Checkmate can bank on its low observability when squaring off against non-stealth fighters like the F-16, and this jet probably wouldn’t be sent out to pick fights with F-22s.

Related: What’s it like to pull 9Gs in an F-16? A fighter pilot weighs in

The Checkmate fighter has a claimed range of 3,000km (1,800+ miles)

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The single-engine Checkmate weighs in at significantly less than the twin-engine Su-57, and in conjunction with its stealthy but high-lift delta-wing design, seems to offer good range. It’s unclear whether its claimed 3,000km range is based on a stripped-down ferry-flight, but that seems likely.

If this range holds true into production, it would give the Checkmate superior range to that of America’s F-35s, the furthest-reaching of which is the carrier-capable F-35C with a maximum range of a bit shy of 1,400 miles in the best of conditions. The F-22 Raptor can beat the Checkmate’s proposed range, but just barely, and with the addition of stealth-killing external fuel tanks.

Russia claims the Su-57 has a combat radius of around 930 miles, which is significant (that suggests a total range of 1,860 miles with a combat load), and it seems the LTA Checkmate is similarly aiming for long-distance operations.

Its claimed service ceiling of better than 50,000 feet is on par with its 5th generation competition, many of which claim operational ceilings of “better than 50,000 feet” without further specifics.

Related: This Russian pilot just flew their stealth fighter like a convertible

It will be able to carry hypersonic air-to-air weapons internally

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According to Tuesday’s announcement, the Checkmate fighter will be capable of carrying three RVV-BD long-range air-to-air missiles internally without compromising its stealth profile. The RVV-BD (also known as the R-37M or by NATO as the AA-13 Arrow) is a hypersonic weapon originally designed to take out tankers, AWACS, and other command and control aircraft from beyond the range of their fighter escorts, or about 124 miles.

Capable of achieving speeds in excess of Mach 6, the missile is believed to leverage an active data link for guidance, supported by the fighter’s onboard computers rather than the pilot, before switching to active radar homing in the final leg of its flight path.

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Simulated cockpit view of the Checkmate fighter

Like the Checkmate itself, the RVV-BD was purpose-built with the export market in mind, and was designed to be easily mated to Russia’s export-iterations of both Su and MiG fighters. It seems logical, then, that the LTA Checkmate would be designed to leverage these weapons, as both stealth fighters and hypersonic weapons are currently considered extremely valuable for national militaries.

That added girth means a lot of added weight too. Depending on the source, the RVV-BD weighs in at between 1,100 and more than 1,300 pounds… meaning a single one of these missiles weighs as much as six Aim-9Xs, or nearly four AIM-120s. The most modern iteration of America’s furthest-reaching air-to-air missile, the AIM-120D, has a reported range of at least 87 miles, though its actual maximum range has never been disclosed. Unlike the RVV-BD, however, the AIM-120 tops out at around Mach 4, well below the hypersonic barrier of Mach 5.

However, storing three of these weapons internally is a pretty tall order. At around 13’9″, the RVV-BD isn’t that much longer than a normal air-to-air weapon, but its 15″ diameter is more than twice that of air-to-air weapons like the AIM-120 carried internally by the F-22 and three times that of smaller, short range weapons like the AIM-9X.

Those RVV-BDs will be housed in the aircraft’s primary weapons bay, with another smaller bay further forward on the fuselage that will likely house smaller defensive air-to-air munitions. Per the display, it seems likely that this new Checkmate fighter will also carry a 30mm cannon, similar to the GSh-30-1 autocannon found in the Su-57. Managing targets and other pertinent information will be accomplished via an all-glass cockpit dominated by one large primary display that’s sure to serve a variety of purposes based on the situation alongside the usual variety of cockpit bells and whistles one might expect of a fighter designed in the 21st century.

This article by Alex Hollings was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

Articles

The Petr Velikiy: One last battlecruiser to rule them all

For a number of centuries, the battleship and its predecessor, the ship of the line, ruled the oceans. They were big, heavily armed, and were able to take a lot of punishment. But battleships haven’t sailed on the high seas for nearly a quarter-century, since the 1992 retirement of USS Missouri (BB 63).


In fact, the only capital ship in active service (outside of aircraft carriers), the Petr Velikiy (Peter the Great), is in the Russian Navy.

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Russian battlecruiser Petr Velikiy in all her glory. (Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

Officially, Russia refers to the Kirov-class battlecruisers as “heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers.” But at 24,500 tons, and with a top speed of 32 knots, these ships are powerful. The Soviets started five of these vessels, and in the 1980s, completed three of them before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Those three were named Kirov, Frunze, and Kalinin. The fourth vessel under construction, Yuri Andropov, and the planned fifth, October Revolution, were placed on hold.

The ships were renamed by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992 to Admiral Ushakov (ex-Kirov), Admiral Lazarev (ex-Frunze), Admiral Nakhimov (ex-Kalinin), Petr Yelikiy (ex-Yuri Andropov), and Admiral Kuznetsov (ex-October Revolution). The Admiral Kuznetsov was cancelled, and the name went to Russia’s troubled carrier. The Petr Velikiy was eventually put into service in 1998. But during that time, the Admiral Ushakov, the Admiral Lazarev, and the Admiral Nakhimov went into “operational reserve.”

So, let’s get to the good stuff: the firepower. Petr Velikiy can handle any threat in the wild blue yonder (that’s the sky, for those of you who don’t sing the Air Force song regularly). She carries 96 SA-N-6 “Grumble” surface-to-air missiles, 20 SS-N-19 “Shipwreck” anti-ship missiles, 16 eight-round launchers for the SA-N-9 “Gauntlet” point-defense surface-to-air missile, six CADS-N-1 point-defense systems (each with eight SA-N-11 “Grison” surface-to-air missiles and two 30mm Gatling guns), a twin 130mm gun mount, and two quintuple 533mm (21-inch) torpedo tube mounts. The ship can also carry two Ka-27 “Helix” helicopters.

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That’s a lotta weapons. (Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

Russia is planning to bring at least one of the non-operational ships back into service. Currently Admiral Nakhimov is being upgraded with plans to return her to service in 2018. The Petr Velikiy would then receive a four-year modernization. Whether the Admiral Ushakov or Admiral Lazarev follow suit remains to be seen, with conflicting reports among those who follow the Russian Navy. Admiral Ushakov reportedly suffered a reactor accident in 1990 that was never repaired. Both ships are said to be in bad condition.

Technically, the United States Navy is required to be able to reactivate two of its Iowa-class battleships. USS Iowa (BB 61 ) and USS Wisconsin (BB 64) were designated as such under Section 1014 of the National Defense Authorization Act 2006. But barring a major national emergency for the United States, it looks as if the Petr Velikiy and the Admiral Nakhimov will remain the last of their kind.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How an Air Force veteran started the Make-A-Wish Foundation

To say Make-A-Wish Foundation founder Frank Shankwitz had a rough childhood is an understatement. Shankwitz was born in Chicago and his mother left him when he was young. His grandparents took him, which he recalled as “happy times,” until one day his mother kidnapped him off a playground and told him they were heading back to Arizona.

They stopped in Michigan for five years.


When he was 10, they finally reached a tiny town in Arizona on Route 66. “We were broke,” Shankwitz said. “We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.”

In the seventh grade, Shankwitz’s mom informed him that she could no longer afford to keep him; she was moving and he needed to find a new place to live.

Juan found him a place to stay in town with a widow and Shankwitz paid the weekly rent by finding a job as a dishwasher that paid per week. “All of a sudden I had an extra a week,” he said. “Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.”

Shankwitz went to the Air Force after high school. “It was the Vietnam era,” he recalled, “but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.”

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

Following his time with the Air Force, Shankwitz went to work for Motorola. He describes himself then as “somewhat of an adrenaline junkie,” so when a friend of his suggested joining the Arizona Highway Patrol, he jumped at the chance. Shankwitz got involved with the Special Olympics in his off time. “I began to think about Juan,” he shared, “and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much.” At work, Shankwitz was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled to schools to teach kids about bike safety and he felt like he was getting closer to where he needed to be in serving others.

In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided him going 80 miles per hour. “I was pronounced dead immediately,” he explained, “and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.”

Not two years later, Shankwitz received a radio call from his dispatcher saying she needed him to find the nearest telephone, which was 40 miles away. She put him through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for him. Shankwitz remembers verbatim: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.”

When the helicopter landed, Shankwitz was surprised that Chris wasn’t super sick looking. “Instead,” he said, “this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.”

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

The troopers rallied around Chris. “We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform,” Shankwitz said. “Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed.”

Chris told Shankwitz, “I’m so happy my wish is coming true.” It was the first time Shankwitz had really ever heard that: “my wish.”

Shankwitz and his team went to pick up the custom-made wings they had commissioned for Chris when he got a radio call: the little boy had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. Shankwitz was devastated.

“We took the wings to his room anyway,” he said, “and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, Chris came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.”

The Arizona Highway Patrol did a full police funeral for Chris. Shankwitz explained, “In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.”

“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with in a bank account. There are now 60 chapters in the United States and Make-A-Wish International has 39 affiliates, serving children in nearly 50 countries on five continents. Over 480,000 wishes have been granted.

Shankwitz said, “Every 26 to 28 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”

More about Frank Shankwitz and the Make-A-Wish Foundation can be found in his memoir, Wish Man, which has also been developed into a movie by the same title, available on Netflix.

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