When armchair historians discuss naval aviation during the Vietnam War, the focus usually turns to the F-4 Phantom. That’s the multi-service plane flown by the Navy’s only aces of the war — Randall “Duke” Cunningham and Willie Driscoll.
One plane, though, probably deserves more attention than it’s earned.
That plane is the A-3 Skywarrior – often called the “Whale” due to its size. It certainly was big – more than 76 feet long, and with a 72-foot wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 82,000 pounds.
The A-3 had a range of 2,100 miles and could carry 12,800 pounds of payload.
While the Skywarrior did some bombing missions early on, it shined in the electronic warfare and tanker missions. The Navy turned 85 planes into KA-3B tankers, and 34 were also given jamming pods to become the EKA-3B.
These planes not only could pass a lot of gas to the planes in a carrier’s air wing, they helped to jam enemy radars, blinding them to an incoming attack until it was too late.
Other Skywarrior variants included the RA-3B reconnaissance plane, the ERA-3B electronic aggressor platform, and the EA-3B electronic intelligence version.
As a tanker, the KA-3B and EKA-3B didn’t just enable planes to strike deeper into North Vietnam. These tankers also gave planes gas to get back home – in some cases after suffering serious damage. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that as many as 700 Navy and Marine Corps planes may have been saved by the Whale’s tanker capabilities.
That statistic might be the most important. When an EB-66E bomber was shot down during the Easter Offensive of 1972, it resulted in a massive rescue effort to retrieve the lone survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, that resulted in the loss of five aircraft, with 11 Americans killed in action and two more captured.
The last A-3 variants, EA-3Bs, managed to see action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 with VQ-2 before they were retired. E-3 airframes, though, flew in private service as RD for avionics until 2011.
U.S. troops and their playing cards have a long history. A large chunk of deployment is spent killing time until the action starts – and card games have long been the weapon of choice for that mission.
After more than a century, the U.S. Playing Card Company, manufacturer of playing card brands like Bee, Aviator, and Hoyle, is still the world’s leading card company. In that time, the company has been very good to U.S. troops. Its original brands were decks of Army and Navy cards, later merged to one “Army Navy” brand, featuring military imagery.
The USPCC even made a cheap deck so soldiers in World War I could easily purchase one for the battlefields.
It was the company’s signature brand, Bicycle, that did the most for troops in the field. During World War II, Bicycle teamed up with British and American intelligence agencies to create a deck of cards that peeled apart when wet. The cards then revealed secret escape maps so downed pilots and captured soldiers could navigate their way back to Allied lines.
Once the map pieces were revealed, all it took was to assemble the cards in the right order to get the full map layout.
The decks were given to POWs in Europe through the Red Cross’ special Christmas parcels, which contained (among other things) a deck of playing cards. Cards were a common occurrence among troops, so they aroused no suspicion from the Nazi camp guards.
Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.
That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.
The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.
In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.
Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.
Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.
Infantrymen train countless hours on immediate action drills, patrolling techniques and room clearing during their pre-deployment work up. The goal for every successful combat pump is to complete the mission and get your a** home safe.
While on a combat deployment, you made some epic memories — some good and some bad.
But one memory you’ll probably never forget is that first time you took enemy contact.
The ‘Rambo’ series didn’t start off with John Rambo as a one-man Army, hell-bent on killing anyone who stood between him and his mission. But that’s what it turned out to be. And now few action movie images are more iconic than Rambo tightening up his trademark red headband.
You know the one.
The series began as a very poignant, yet action-packed treatise on the treatment of Vietnam veterans in the years following the end of their war. In First Blood, there’s only one onscreen kill, a guy who falls out of a helicopter for trying to kill Rambo. Rambo isn’t purposely involved in his death. If you want to know the whole point of the first Rambo movie, you can just watch John Rambo’s speech at the end of the movie.
By First Blood: Part II, the idea that John Rambo was just a simple guy with extraordinary training in extraordinary situations, was long gone. In the second Rambo movie, John Rambo is the perfect man to lead a mission back to Vietnam to rescue POWs still held there. Rambo is twice as ripped and definitely kills people in this movie. By Rambo III, he just lays waste to an entire army.
If you don’t remember any of that, Sylvester Stallone posted a helpful reminder to his Instagram account.
From G.I. Joe-level animation for First Blood, the VCR-level graphics in between the “trailers,” the backyard, action figure quality of the trailer for First Blood: Part II, to the 8-bit Nintendo-style graphics for the Rambo III trailer, everything about this rundown of John Rambo’s life is perfect. And perfectly chock-full of late 1980s to early 1990s nostalgia. Whoever came up with this idea – and it very well could have been Stallone himself – needs an award of some kind. A webby, a grammy, a Pulitzer. Something.
The fun doesn’t stop at the original three Rambo movies. The “trailer” for the fourth installment is a nod to a hilarious “Reading Rambo” meme. This comes in the form of a Rambo IV children’s book, narrated by Sly, describing the most epic and violent Rambo scene in the series’ history.
You know the one.
If you’re interested in watching the entire Rambo series recap, check it out on Stallone’s official Instagram feed. If you’re interested in recapping the entire series in its non-cartoon entirety, you can join me on my couch on Thursday as I attempt to contain my overwhelming excitement for the best action movie series since … ever.
The Royal Marines piled into helicopters and boats and inserted into Estonian territory, hitting positions on the mainland and on an isolated island, doing their best to inflict maximum casualties on the Estonian Volunteer Defence Force during an exercise designed to see whether that countries tiny military can adequately defend itself against a top-tier foe.
And make no mistake about it, the Royal Marines are true commandos and are top-tier. But the local forces defending the island of Saaremaa included many members who had grown up on the island, and they fought the British to what referees called an Estonian victory. The Royal Marines called it a draw, according to an article in the British publication Plymouth Herald.
Also, in the Royal Marines’ defense, the Estonians were backed up by British Apaches and likely would have lost their key position, and maybe the whole ball game, without that crucial air support.
The Marines successfully landed reconnaissance teams unseen, and those teams were able to operate for 24 hours undetected. Then, dummy raids on one side of the island drew off defenders before the Royal Marines launched their main assault on the opposite side, allowing them to reach their main objective with little contact.
So each side did well. The Royal Marines were able to hit their objective almost undetected, and the Estonians were able to defend it anyway, and that’s good for both sides because, realistically, Estonia and Britain would more than likely fight on the same side in a war.
And the people Britain would liberate Saaremaa from would not be Estonian locals, they would be Russian commandos.
Under the surface of all European war games of the last few years sits the certainty that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine only faded because it became too costly. If former Soviet Bloc countries who want to remain democratic and free are to do so, they have to be ready to fend off a Russian “grey-zone” attack at any time.
Grey Zone describes hostilities across cyberspace and physical terrain that fall just short of war. The successful Russian seizure of Crimea and the attacks into the Donbas region were both grey-zone operations.
Just five days before President Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, 10 armed men staged a daring daylight raid on North Korea’s embassy in the Spanish capital of Madrid. They stole documents, computers, and maybe more, making off with the material. The men then handed the material over to the FBI.
In connection with the raid, U.S. authorities have arrested a Marine Corps veteran named Christopher Ahn in Los Angeles, where he is being held pending extradition to Spain.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
The stolen material found its way back to the North Korean embassy some two weeks or so after being stolen in Spain. The arrests only came recently, weeks after the raid itself. Federal authorities say Ahn is a member of “Free Joseon,” a group dedicated to the dismantling of the Kim regime in North Korea. Ahn’s case has been sealed at the request of his lawyer, but federal authorities have also arrested Adrian Hong, the leader of the group.
Now the men who sought to aid the FBI with a trove of stolen North Korean documents and equipment of massive intelligence value are facing extradition back to Spain. Lawyers for the pair are concerned they could end up in the hands of North Korea, though the Justice Department says that scenario is unlikely.
“Extradition treaties generally provide that an individual who has been extradited to another country to face criminal charges cannot thereafter be extradited to a third country without the consent of the original country,” said a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson. The U.S. government has denied any involvement and Free Joseon has sworn that no governments knew of their raid until well after it was over.
According to the group, the assailants were actually invited into the embassy. Once inside, they began to tie up the staff members, cover their heads, and ask them questions. A woman reportedly escaped, which led to a visit from the Spanish police. Someone at the gate told the Spanish Police all was well, but then the thieves drove off, abandoning their vehicles on a side street.
Ahn, the onetime Marine, was formally charged in the raid on April 19, 2019. His fate remains uncertain, but the group’s lawyer had some stern words for the United States government.
“[I am] dismayed that the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to execute warrants against U.S. persons that derive from criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime,” attorney Lee Wolosky said in a statement.
Donald Trump played Kim Jong Un a Hollywood-style video hyping the prospect of peace, which cast Kim as its leading man.
The video, which Trump made public later that day at a press conference, made a dramatic pitch for the benefits of peace between the two nations. You can watch the English version above.
The film, credited to “Destiny Pictures” drew on the “in a world” and “one man, one choice” framing of Hollywood action movies.
It labored the comparison further by including credits for Trump and Kim like Hollywood stars. The dramatic voiceover framed Kim as a potential “hero of his people” with the chance to achieve “prosperity like he has never seen.”
It includes a sweeping orchestral score, epic shots of earth from outer space, and horses galloping along the beach, interspersed with imagery of Kim and Trump.
According to President Trump, Kim “loved” the video, which he played in Korean to the North Korean leader and eight aides on an iPad at their private bilateral meeting.
Here is a transcript of the pivotal part of the video, which offers Kim the chance to “remake history.”
“A new world can begin today. One of friendship, respect and goodwill. Be part of that world, where the doors of opportunity are ready to be open: investment form around the world, where you can have medical breakthroughs, an abundance of resources innovative technology and new discoveries.
“What if? Can history be changed? Will the world embrace this change? And when could this moment in history begin?
“It comes down to a choice. On this day, in this time, in this moment the world will be watching, listening, anticipating, hoping.
“Will this leader choose to advance his country, and be part of a new world? Be the hero of his people? Will he shake the hand of peace and enjoy prosperity like he has never seen?
“A great life, or more isolation? Which path will be chosen?
“Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un… in a meeting to remake history. To shine in the sun. One moment, one choice. What if? The future remains to be written.”
Trump was asked a question about the video at the press conference, during which he said he commissioned the video as a way to sell peace to Kim.
“I showed it to him today, actually, during in meeting, towards the end of the meeting and I think he loved it. We didn’t have a big screen like you have the luxury of having, we didn’t need it because we had it on a cassette, an iPad, and they played it and about eight of their representatives were watching it and I thought they were fascinated by it.
“I thought it was well done, I showed it to you because that’s the future, I mean, that could very well be the future. The other alternative is just not a very good alternative, it’s just not good.
“But I showed it because I really want him to do something.”
He later said that the video showed a vision of “the highest level of future development,” and that North Korea could also opt for “a much smaller version of this.”
“Going to the war zones and visiting the troops . . . and being able to pat them on the back and support them . . . has been a great joy, a great personal reward because you can see that you’re providing a service for somebody who’s providing a service for us, and it’s lifting them us in some way,” Gary Sinise says. “I make my living as an actor and all of this is simply something I do with the resources . . . and time that I have.”
Sinise started working with working with wounded warriors primarily as a function of his portrayal of Lt. Dan in the movie “Forrest Gump,” a vet who lost both legs during the Vietnam War. “That movie came out in ’92,” Sinise explains. “Then we had September 11, that terrible event, and we started responding to that in Iraq and Afghanistan — deploying to those places — and our people started getting hurt. And we had this whole new generation of Lt. Dans coming back from those wars. I wanted to very much get behind them and support them in some way.”
That desire wound up manifesting itself in myriad ways including the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Lt. Dan Band, which got its name from the fact all the troops were calling Sinise “Lt. Dan” when he’d visit them in theater.
Sinise pushes back on the idea that he’s living out some sort of rock n’ roll fantasy at midlife by playing bass guitar in a touring rock band, pointing out that he was a rocker in high school, which is, ironically, the thing that got him into acting. “I was standing in a hallway with the band members and we were looking kind of raggedy, sort of grubby band guys, you know. And the drama teacher walked by, and she told us to audition for ‘West Side Story’ because we looked like gang members. Two of us ended up going, and I got in the play.”
The Sinise family has military heritage, most notably that of his uncle Jack who was a navigator aboard a B-17 in World War II. Sinise arranged for Jack to have a ride in a vintage B-17 almost 70 years after his final war sortie in 1945, and the event was made into a short documentary that premiered at the GI Film Festival a few years ago.
Watch Gary Sinese talk to actor and Navy veteran Jamie Kaler about his support of wounded vets and the Lt. Dan Band:
Don’t miss Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band as they kick off the 10th annual GI Film Festival in Washington DC on May 21. Check out more information and get your tickets here.
While nuclear weapons usually get the big, scary headlines when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, the whole triad is a serious threat. Chemical and biological weapons are easier for rogue states to produce and deploy and any WMD can cause severe damage to American warfighters.
Beyond the immediate threat as the weapons rain down, weapons of mass destruction leave agents that can persist for anywhere from minutes to years, leaving vehicles, buildings, and even the ground lethal for soldiers.
Of course, the U.S. can’t just avoid their equipment or the battlefield for years. Instead, they send specialized troops in to spearhead decontamination efforts.
1. After a chemical attack, the U.S. is left with few good options. Decontaminating takes time and resources, but leaving the chemicals in place could result in dead troops.
2. Typically, specially trained crews will rush with their gear into a staging area and prep for decontamination.
3. Once all gear and personnel are certified ready-to-go, the troops get to work.
4. Teams have to wade into the target area, assessing what areas have been affected by the weapon, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear.
5. Of course, these teams face the chances of follow-on attacks and have to be ready to defend themselves.
6. These teams will report to their headquarters what areas have been affected and specialists will assess how long it will take for the threat to dissipate on its own (if ever).
7. Any equipment in the affected area, whether present at the time of the attack or that entered during combat operations or decontamination efforts, has to be thoroughly decontaminated.
8. Chemical, biological, and nuclear threats are all broken down and removed using different techniques, but soap and water help in nearly all cases.
9. Depending on the type and extent of contamination, the cleaning process may be completed by special teams or by the vehicle’s normal crews.
10. Many biological and chemical agents spread throughout all the nooks and crannies of the vehicles, making them a nightmare to clean.
11. And any mistakes could be lethal. If the wrong biological agent is left behind, it could get into someone’s system and doom them, possibly triggering an epidemic.
12. Some positions, like aircrews, require especially challenging decontamination efforts. Their personal gear includes everything from g-suits to breathing gear.
13. And each crewmember and pilot has to be kept separate until they can be decontaminated, leading to hilarious photos like this one.
14. One of the more common powders used is the specialized resin in M291 Chemical Decontamination Kits. It absorbs many agents and facilitates their destruction.
15. One of the most important things about personnel decontamination is preventing recontamination, so troops are washed in a set process, typically top to bottom.
16. And protective gear has to be switched out at set intervals, so this process has to be repeated multiple times per day.
All in all, WMDs are terrifying at worst and a hassle at best. Let’s hear your MOPP gear stories.
Mae Krier was on Capitol Hill, hoping to get Congress to recognize March 21 as an annual Rosie the Riveter Day of Remembrance.
Rosie the Riveter was an iconic World War II poster showing a female riveter flexing her muscle.
Krier also advocating that lawmakers award the “Rosies” — as women involved in the war effort at home came to call themselves — the Congressional Gold Medal for their work in the defense industry producing tanks, planes, ships and other materiel for the war effort.
During a visit to the Pentagon March 20, 2019, Krier told Air Force airmen that her lifelong mission is to inspire the poster’s “We Can Do It!” attitude among young girls everywhere.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, director of staff, Headquarters Air Force, right, points out a Pentagon display to Mae Krier, center, March 20, 2019. With them is Dawn Goldfein, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.
(DOD photo by David Vergun)
The spry 93-year-old walked around the Pentagon’s Air Force corridors, gazing at pictures and paintings of female airmen who were pioneers, telling every airman she met — both men and women — how proud she is of their service and giving away red polka-dotted Rosie the Riverter bandannas.
Krier said she grew up on a farm near Dawson, North Dakota. “Times were hard for us and for everyone else,” she said, noting that it was the time of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in the 1930s.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Krier said, she and her sister had gone to a matinee. Upon their return home, they found their parents beside the radio with grave expressions. They had just learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
She said she remembers never having heard of Pearl Harbor. “Nobody had,” she said.
Mae Krier, an original Rosie the Riveter, arrives at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., for her first-ever visit March 20, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Adrian Cadiz)
Call to duty
Young men in Dawson and elsewhere were soon streaming away from home to board vessels that would take them to Europe and the Pacific war theaters, she said.
Among them was her brother. After seeing him off at the train station and returning home, she said, she saw her father crying — something he never did. The war “took the heart out of our small town and other towns across the country,” she said. “People everywhere were crying.”
Krier’s brother served in the Navy and survived a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. “Our family was lucky that no one was killed during the war,” she said.
Adventures in Seattle
As a restless teen seeking adventure in 1943, Krier said, she set off by train to Seattle. She recalls the windows of her train being stuck open, with snow flying in.
The big city life was exciting to the farm girl. She said she loved to listen to big-band music. She also loved to go to the dance hall, and was particularly fond of the jitterbug.
Gwendolyn DeFilippi (left) the Headquarters U.S. Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personal and services, and a Rosebud, takes a moment to speak with Ms. Dawn Goldfein, spouse of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Mae Krier an original Rosie the Riveter during Krier’s first-ever visit to the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., March 20, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Adrian Cadiz)
While dancing the Jitterbug one day in 1943, she said, she was charmed by a sailor, whom she would marry in 1944. He, too, was lucky, she said. He participated in the Aleutian Islands campaign in Alaska, where the Japanese had landed on the islands of Attu and Kiska.
They would be married for 70 years. He died recently at 93.
Becoming a Rosie
Krier said she doesn’t remember the exact details of how she ended up as a riveter, but she found work doing just that in a Boeing aircraft factory in Seattle, where she riveted B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress bombers.
“We loved our work. We loved our flag. We all pulled together to win the war,” she said. “It was a good time in America.”
Meeting Air Force leaders
Krier said she enjoyed her visit to the Pentagon and meeting dozens of leaders and enlisted personnel. Among those she met were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and his wife, Dawn.
Lt. Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Headquarters Air Force director of Staff, gives Mae Krier, an original Rosie the Riveter, a tour of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., during her first-ever visit March 20, 2019. Krier was accompanied by Dawn Goldfein, the spouse of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Adrian Cadiz)
Goldfein gave Krier a hug, and she exclaimed that she could now say she hugged a general. Goldfein replied: “Now I can say I hugged a Rosie the Riveter.”
Krier also met Air Force Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, director of staff, Headquarters Air Force, who, along with Dawn Goldfein, led her around to see the various wall exhibits in the corridors. Krier was pleased to hear that Van Ovost was an aviator as are so many other female airmen today.
Through the use of insults, strict discipline, sleep deprivation, and controlled explosions, Army drill sergeants turn recent high school grads and civilians looking for a new job into trained soldiers ready to serve in America’s wars. This transition is, of course, painful — by design.
Here are 11 things trainees will complain about before learning to suck it up as an Army soldier:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
New U.S. Army soldiers are expected to operate on little sleep. While in the barracks, recruits’ sleep is regularly interrupted by drill sergeants conducting inspections, punishing infractions, getting head counts, or waking soldiers for the heck of it. The party continues in the field where soldiers sleep in bags instead of beds.
“This food is terrible.”
Military food is rarely praised, and basic training food is even worse. Eating periods are very short and are supervised by drill sergeants who pounce onto soldiers who reach for fattening or sugary foods.
“You mean I have to pay for this terrible haircut?”
Soldiers get their heads buzzed, run in tennis shoes, and shave every day — but what most people don’t know is the trainees foot these bills. The shoes, haircuts, toothpaste, and other gear and services are all paid for by the trainees through Eagle Cash cards, a sort of military prepaid debit card. Most of these costs are defrayed by a uniform allowance that soldiers receive once a year, but the surprise bills still create complaints.
“There’s ugly, then there’s Army Ugly. We are all Army Ugly.”
No matter how handsome you are, it’s hard to rock the haircuts, glasses, and tan lines the Army gives you. Males have to have their heads buzzed. All soldiers requiring corrective lenses are issued basic training glasses, generally referred to as “birth control glasses.” And, after months in the sun in physical training uniforms, combat uniforms, and berets, graduating soldiers have deep tan lines around their wrists and across their foreheads.
“They yell at us all day, and one keeps calling us crack pipes.”
It doesn’t matter who the recruit is, even if they’re famous or the child of a general, they’re getting yelled at in basic training. (Stephen Colbert didn’t even enlist and he caught the sharp edge of the drill sergeants.) Many recruits find themselves shocked at the sheer amount of verbal abuse as well as the language used. The language might be toned down, but the volume never will be.
“Why do we have to take the mask off? Isn’t the point to learn how to use the mask?”
Though they will brag about these experiences later, all recruits have a training event they’re dreading during basic. Maybe it’s the CS gas chamber where they’re forced to remove their gas masks and breath deeply. Some complain about the night infiltration course where they must crawl across the ground while machine guns are fired over their heads and artillery simulators are thrown nearby. Most complain about the “smokings,” physical training sessions spread throughout the day to help new soldiers quickly build strength and endurance.
“Even on overnight guard, I can’t be alone.”
They march as a group, eat as a group, sleep as a group, shower as a group. They go to the bathroom in, at a minimum, two-man teams. Recruits have no privacy for the nine weeks or more of training. Soldiers who go through one station unit training, a combined basic training and job school mostly used for combat soldiers, will endure this for even longer. This can be a source of a lot of complaints, especially if a soldier is paired with another recruit they don’t like.
“Oh, that guy’s a blue falcon. We couldn’t stand him.”
The other recruits, especially the “blue falcons,” soldiers who screw over their peers by tattling or just being a moron, can be a major source of stress for new soldiers. When one basic trainee screws up, that means the whole platoon or whole company is screwed up, and everyone suffers equally. Bad hospital corners on one bed? Grab some real estate, soldier; you’re doing pushups until sweat fogs the windows. Adding to the atmosphere is that, after the punishments, all the trainees are still stuck in the same bay together, still sleeping four feet away from each other, still crapping in battle buddy pairs. And they remember which ones ratted them out.
“We can’t walk on that grass. That grass is only for the drill sergeant.”
Recruits are issued a handbook with pages and pages of arbitrary rules during reception week, before they even make it to basic training — rules like, “All towels must be folded in thirds, not halves, and the open sides must face towards the south side of the building.”
“We had to run everywhere, even when we were early.”
Soldiers are ordered to sprint between training stations, even if they can see the long line from a hundred feet away. Trainees run to the back of the line, then wait until the line moves. The experience and frustration defines “Hurry up and wait” — a military maxim.
“I wore pants with buttons for so long, zipping my jeans felt weird.”
For nine or more weeks, they’ve worn only what they were told to wear, only sat in chairs if given express permission, ate what they were given when they were given it. After graduation, they find take out menus and weigh the merits of thai versus pizza for dinner. They debate whether to watch a DVD or play a football game after the training day ends. They get their cell phones back and wonder whether they should call their mother or their girlfriend first. (They generally call their significant other first. Sorry, mom.)
After America dropped the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became clear that warfare had changed. America stopped building some conventional weapons of war, including tanks, relying on the new weapons to guarantee peace. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was working on two new, important weapons of war: their own atomic bombs and tanks that can protect a crew through the blast.
The T-54 had a massive gun that surprised its contemporaries in the 1950s, but it predicted the rise of the modern main battle tank.
(ShinePhantom, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Soviet Union didn’t have the resources to compete with America tank for tank and bomb for bomb worldwide, but they did hope to control as much of Eurasia as possible, and they knew this would result in a clash along the borders of the Warsaw Pact and Western Europe.
The Soviet military leadership wanted to know that, even if a tactical nuclear exchange went down, they would be able to fight through the aftermath. That meant that their tank crews needed to be lethal, protected from anti-tank weapons, but also isolated from nuclear fallout.
The T-54B was already an impressive tank, first rolling off the line in 1949. It was simple to operate, relatively cheap for a main battle tank, and well-balanced. The Soviets and the partnered nations that would go on to buy export version of the tank saw it as a successor to the T-34, the most produced tank of World War II.
But the tank was more accurately a descendant of the T-44, a tank with a gun so big that firing it would wear down the transmission. The increased firepower in the T-44 and, later, the T-54, would be necessary in tank-on-tank combat on any Cold War battlefield.
But the early production T-54s still had plenty of faults, and tank designers improved the platform throughout the 1950s. The T-54A and T-54B introduced upgrades like wading snorkels, fume extractors, and an upgraded gun called the D-10TG. The T-55 was designed with all the knowledge and upgrades from the T-54’s development. The T-55 would be lethal right off the starting block. But being a lethal medium tank isn’t enough to survive nuclear war.
A Slovenian M-55, a highly modified T-55 medium tank.
(MORS, CC BY 3.0)
Believe it or not, the primary systems of a tank in the 1950s were about as survivable as they could be from the bomb. Obviously, no tank could survive at ground zero of a nuclear bomb, but it would be possible for a tank to survive the blast near the borders of the area affected. After all, the armor is designed to survive a direct hit from a fast-flying, armor penetrating round at any given point. An atomic bomb’s blast is more powerful, but it’s spread out over the entire hull and turret.
And so the designers figured out how to overpressure the tank, creating higher pressure within the tank so that all of the little leaks in the armor were pushing air out instead of allowing it in. And the crew compartment was covered in an anti-radiation lining that would reduce radiation traveling through the hull. Finally, a filtration system cleared incoming air of debris and then pumped it into the crew cabin, allowing the crew to breathe and making the overpressure system work.
Again, none of this would make the crew immune from the effects of a bomb. The blast wave could still crush the hull and burst blood vessels in the brains of the crew. The heat wave could still ignite fuel and fry the people inside. Worst of all, plenty of radiation could get through and doom the combatants to deaths of cancer.
But the crew would likely survive to keep fighting, and had some chance of a decent life after the war if they made it. For a few years, at least.
The T-54 and T-55 went on to become the most-produced tanks in world history, but luckily the T-55 adaptations were never actually tested in combat. It and the British Centurion would undergo testing for nuclear blasts. They survived, but you really didn’t want to be inside when the blast hit.
The Object 279 heavy tank was designed for nuclear warfare, but it never went into production due to its high weight.
But it wasn’t to be. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev thought it was time to relegate heavy tanks to the dustbin of history, and he won out. Object 279 and most other heavy tank designs were cast out, leaving the path open for the lighter T-55 medium tank.