Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone) - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, has been called “The first computer programmer” for writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s.

Here’s how that program impacts us — and our military — today.

Nicknamed the “Enchantress of Numbers,” Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, on Dec. 10, 1915. Her mother, Annabella Byron, was referred to by Lord Byron as “Princess of Parallelograms,” and she insisted on an education for her daughter that included mathematics and science. Some suggest that Lady Byron hoped to quell the Byron tendency toward imagination and moodiness, but Lady Byron also described their daughter as “chiefly exercised in connection with her mechanical ingenuity.”

On June 5, 1833, at a party, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the famed mathematician and mechanical engineer who originated the concept for the first automatic digital computer. There, he spoke of a “Difference Machine,” an invention of his that served, essentially, as an automated calculator — the first of its kind.


Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2

www.youtube.com

Though the prototype was incomplete at the time, Lovelace went to his home a few days later to see the device in person. The two began a profound correspondence that would last nearly twenty years.

When Babbage began exploring a new design for what he called the “Analytical Engine,” Lovelace contributed her own notes and translations in extensive detail. Her translation of a paper written by Luigi Federico Menabrea on the machine elaborated the original writings from eight thousand words to twenty thousand, which was published in 1843.

Her paper is still considered one of her greatest contributions to computer science, distinguishing it from the science of mathematics. One of her notes within the piece included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Known as “Note G,” it is considered the first computer program in history.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Lovelace’s diagram from ‘Note G’ from Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by Luigi Menabrea with notes by Ada Lovelace

“The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value,” Lovelace wrote.

Biographer James Essinger, author of A Female Genius, said of Lovelace: “Ada is here seeking to do nothing less than invent the science of computing, and separate it from the science of mathematics. What she calls ‘the science of operations’ is indeed in effect computing.”

Computer science has grown exponentially since Babbage and Lovelace first began to imagine complex automated algorithms specifically designed for machine implementation. Her groundwork contributed to the development of advanced computing machines that would change the very face of warfare — and our world today as we know it.


MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Iran’s Special Forces still wear US green berets

When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.

The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.


In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.

It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.

Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.

The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.

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This was how the military reacted after terrorists attacked on Sept. 11

On the day that 19 terrorists from the radical Islamic group al-Qaeda attacked the United States using airliners as cruise missiles, the U.S. military jumped to respond.


And it was a response that began even before the Pentagon was hit.

Some stories of 9/11 are well-known, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld racing to the scene of devastation at the Pentagon to aid victims of the attack, or the pilots plan to ram Flight 93 foiled hadn’t by passengers on the plane.

But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
When Flight 93 hit the Pentagon, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ran to the scene to assist victims rather than remain in relative safety. (PentagonMemorial.org)

According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.

NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.

During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
NORAD Command Center. (Wikimedia Commons)

Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.

The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
Maj. Gen. Marc Sasseville, who was the lead F-16 pilot, and prepared to ram a hijacked airliner. (USAF photo)

It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.

On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This African American Green Beret battled communists and racism in Vietnam

Colonel Paris Davis is one of the first Black officers to earn the coveted Green Beret of U.S. Special Forces. In the 1960s, America underwent the trials of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, both of which Davis took head on. “I said, ‘Look, you can call me Captain Davis, but you can’t call me a n****r,'” he said of his experience as a Black officer. In spite of the discrimination that he faced, Davis was a bonafide hero.

On May 13, 1965, Davis earned the Soldier’s Medal for actions at Bong San. An aviation fuel truck jackknifed and rolled on its side, pinning the driver against the steering wheel. He reacted quickly and ordered his men to stay clear of the truck. With complete disregard for his own safety, Davis ran to free the driver from the now burning truck. Despite the driver’s pleas to abandon him, Davis refused to leave a man behind. His citation reads, “Major Davis worked his comrade loose and then carried him away from the truck just as it exploded.” The award was presented in 1968, by which time Davis had been promoted to Major. Davis is a real-life action hero and his story only get better.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
A special forces team in Vietnam (Billy Waugh)

The month after his heroic rescue of the fuel truck driver, Davis commanded what would become a 19-hour raid and a fight for survival. On June 18, Davis led an A-Team of 90 men to hit what they thought was a Viet Cong camp. However, it turned out to be a group of 4,000 North Vietnam regulars. In 1965, it was rare for U.S. troops to come across conventional soldiers. Still, Davis and his men hit and hit hard. “We were stacking bodies the way you do canned goods in a grocery store,” Davis said of the raid. Absolute badass. However, things soon went wrong for the A-Team.

During the raid, Davis was wounded by enemy gunfire and grenade shrapnel. He wasn’t the only one who got hit. Two of his men, Billy Waugh and Robert Brown were gravely wounded. Waugh was hit in the knee, foot, ankle, and head, and so was Brown. “I could actually see his brain pulsating. It was that big,” Davis recalled of Brown’s wound. “He said, ‘Am I gonna die?’ And I said, ‘Not before me.'” With the raiders under heavy fire, Davis was ordered to withdraw. “Sir, I’m just not gonna leave. I still have an American out there,” was Davis’ reply. Refusing to abandon his men, Davis disobeyed the order. Another Green Beret on the raid, Ron Deis, recalled Davis’ commitment to his men. “Captain Davis refused and said, ‘No, I’m not leaving while I still have men out on the field,'” he emotionally recalled.

During the fighting, Waugh became separated from the team and lost consciousness. He was stripped naked and left for dead by the Vietnamese soldiers. Davis, with the help of a Sgt. First Class John Reinburg, carried Waugh to a hill where they could be extracted by helicopter. As Reinburg crested the hill above Davis and Waugh, he stood up to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he was shot twice and fell. With Reinberg dead, the wounded Davis carried Waugh by himself on his shoulders to the Huey and got him out of there.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
Davis (center) gives a tour of his special forces camp to Gen. Westmoreland (left), commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam (Ron Deis)

For his actions during the raid, Davis was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commander, Billy Cole. However, the paperwork vanished. An army review in 1969 revealed no such file for Davis. The recommendation was resubmitted following the review. However, army records still showed no paperwork for Davis’ Medal of Honor. In an effort to recognize Davis’ heroism, many of the soldiers who served under him lobbied Congress. Waugh, who went on to serve in special forces and the CIA until Operation Enduring Freedom, submitted a statement in 1981. “I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry of this individual,” he wrote.

Davis’ heroism in Vietnam cannot be overstated. His dedication to the mission and his men embodies everything that the army and the Green Berets stand for. “When you’re out there fighting, and things are going on like that, everybody’s your friend, and you’re everybody’s friend,” Davis said of combat. “The bullets have no color, no names.” An expedited review of Davis’ twice-lost Medal of Honor nomination has been submitted. When asked what it would mean to him to receive the medal, Davis said, “It would mean all the things that I haven’t been able to dream about.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Height-waiver Green Beret: Captain James Flaherty was a Special Forces legend

Richard James Flaherty was born on November 28, 1945.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Richard and his mother, Beatrice Rose, shared incompatible blood types (Richard, Rh-Positive; Beatrice, Rh-Negative). This is a dangerous condition that can lead to serious complications for the fetus or even death. Thus, when Richard was born, he was different.

The incompatibilities in the blood caused hormonal imbalances and stunted his growth. When he reached adolescence, Flaherty was small compared to his peers. Flaherty would be considered a dwarf in medical terms, meaning that his height was less than 4’ 10.’’

Short in size he might have been, but short in courage he wasn’t. When the Vietnam War heated up, Flaherty volunteered for the Army. However, he was initially turned down because of his size. It was only after a determined effort, which included the involvement of his local Congressman, that he managed to acquire a waiver.

In 1967, Flaherty attended Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He deployed with the Screaming Eagles to Vietnam and served as a platoon and recon platoon leader.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
Flaherty (middle) after graduating from Officer Candidate School (David Yuzuk).

During that 13-month tour to Vietnam, Flaherty received the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor, respectively, the third and second highest award for bravery under fire, and was wounded three times.

His Silver Star citation offers a brief glimpse to Flaherty, the man. The action took place on April 20, 1968, when Flaherty’s platoon was ambushed and came under withering enemy fire.

“Throughout the battle, he repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire in order to better direct the suppressive fire of his squads. Lieutenant Flaherty immediately called a 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team to his position after having spotted an enemy bunker position to his front, which was delivering automatic weapons fire on his platoon. Lieutenant Flaherty then personally directed and assisted the 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team in an assault of the enemy bunker, braving up the intense hail of hostile fire. Under Lieutenant Flaherty’s astute direction and leadership, the enemy bunker was swiftly destroyed, enabling his platoon to advance and continue its devastating attack against the enemy.”

After his tour of duty was over, he applied for Special Forces training. But it wasn’t easy. To even attempt Special Forces training, Flaherty had to gain six pounds and get another height waiver.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
Flaherty in Vietnam (David Yuzuk)

After successfully graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), also known as Q course, Flaherty was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group. He went back to Southeast Asia with the 46th Special Forces Company as a Special Forces Operational Detachment A (SFODA) commander. His ODA was tasked with training the Royal Thai Army in counterinsurgency operations and prepare them for a deployment to Vietnam.

ODA’s are the tactical arm of the Special Forces Regiment. Comprised of 12 Special Forces soldiers, an ODA can operate independently behind enemy lines for long periods of time without supervision.  

In 1970, Flaherty was reassigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, where he commanded another ODA and then an Operational Detachment Bravo (ODB), a headquarters element. The following year, 1971, he was discharged from active duty and transferred to the Army Reserves, where he served until 1983.

Flaherty was unfazed by the criticism he continued to receive throughout his life.

In a contemporary interview, he had said that “I’ve taken a lot of kidding about my size. I just tell them I’m 35 pounds of muscle, 14 pounds of dynamite and one pound of uranium-238, and it gets a lot of laughs.”

Flaherty was killed during a hit and run attack on May 9, 2015, in Miami. He had spent his last years alive homeless. In his death, however, he found his home next to the woman he had loved, Lisa Anness Davis. 

Former police officer David Yuzuk has written a superb book on Flaherty and his amazing life. You can check it out here.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who set himself on fire to stop Russian tanks

In 1969, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, a student protester set himself on fire and triggered mass protests across the country, slowing Russian consolidation and setting off a slow burn that would eventually consume the occupying forces.


Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia in 1968.

(U.S. National Archives)

Czechoslovakia was firmly democratic for decades before World War II, but German forces partially occupied it during World War II and, in 1948, it was conquered by the Soviets. The Communists had supporters in the working class and a stranglehold of government leadership, but students and academics kept fomenting the seeds of unrest.

Even when most of the Soviet-aligned countries went through soul searching in 1953 after the death of Stalin, Czechoslovakia basically just marched on. But in the 1960s, leadership changes and an economic slowdown led to a series of reforms that softened the worst repressions of the communist regime.

The leader, Antonin Novotny, was eventually ousted in 1968 and replaced by Alexander Dubcek who then ended censorship, encouraging reform and the debate of government policies. By April, 1968, the government released an official plan for further reforms. The Soviet government was not into this, obviously.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Czechoslovaks carry a national flag past a burning soviet tank in Prague.

(CIA.gov)

The biggest problem for the Soviets was the lack of censorship. They were worried that ideas debated in Czechoslovakia would trigger revolutions across the Soviet Bloc. So, in August, 1968, they announced a series of war games and then used the assembled forces to invade Czechoslovakia instead. The tanks crossed the line on August 20, and the capital was captured by the following day.

Initially, the citizens of Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia were angry and energized, but they eventually lost their drive. But one 20-year-old student, Jan Palach, wanted to revitalize the resistance. And so he penned a note calling for an end to censorship, the cessation of a Soviet propaganda newspaper, and new debates. If the demands weren’t met, he said, a series of students would burn themselves to death. He signed the note “Torch Number One.”

The Soviet leadership, of course, ignored it, but on Jan. 19, 1969, he marched up the stairs at the National Museum in central Prague, poured gasoline over his body, and lit his match.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Jan Palach

Bystanders quickly put him out, but he had already suffered burns over 85 percent of his body. He died within days. He was not the first man to burn himself in protest of the Soviet invasion, but his death was widely reported while earlier protests had been successfully suppressed by the Soviets.

Other students began a hunger strike at the location of Palach’s death, and student leaders were able to force the Soviets to hold a large funeral for Palach. Over 40,000 mourners marched past his coffin.

While the Soviets were able to claw back power through deportations and police actions, the whispers of Palach’s sacrifice continued for a generation.

On the 20th anniversary of his protest, mass demonstrations broke out once again in Czechoslovakia, and the weakened Soviet Union could not contain them. By February, 1990, the Soviets were marching out of the country, a process which was completed amicably in June, 1991.

Palach’s protest had taken decades to finally work, but in the end, Czechoslovakia was freed of the tanks Palach and others resented so much.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These strange WWII forts are eerily abandoned today

Naval fortifications aren’t unusual in themselves. Land-based coastal artillery and forts to block enemy landings and bombardments have existed for centuries. In England, dozens still exist from the Napoleonic Wars and before, although they are now put to more peaceful uses. During World War II, British engineer Guy Maunsell gave this old idea a makeover. His forts were designed to destroy incoming enemy aircraft and, contrary to standard practice, they’d be sited out at sea. At a time of limited resources and unprecedented demand, the Maunsell sea forts could have been regarded as expensive white elephants of doubtful military value. They soon proved their worth.


Also read: How Marines get an official history lesson on Iwo Jima

The location of the forts was unusual: the Thames Estuary to protect London and the Mersey Estuary, guarding the vital convoy port of Liverpool. Unusual, perhaps, but entirely sound. Liverpool received countless convoys delivering the goods that Britain needed and that Roosevelt’s “great arsenal of democracy” could provide. Because of its location, Liverpool was quite vulnerable to bombers flying across England, then turning and attacking from the West. The Thames Estuary forts were directly on the Luftwaffe’s flight path to bomb London and industrial centers like the city of Birmingham.

Maunsell designed two types of fort, which would be built on the coast and moved, virtually intact, to carefully chosen spots guaranteed to provide maximum protection. Innovative in concept and design, they were also heavily armed. Searchlights, heavy 3.75-inch quick-firing guns, and Bofors 40mm cannon initially gave Luftwaffe crews a nasty surprise, as they were located in the water, where no guns were expected. The Thames Estuary forts proved particularly effective.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The Thames forts

Granted, the forts couldn’t completely stop mass raids, but by their installation in 1942, raids of that style were increasingly rare. The Germans’ defeat in the Battle of Britain and the worsening situation on the Eastern Front were becoming a sinkhole into which Luftwaffe resources, now increasingly scarce, disappeared. Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering was also falling out of favor with Hitler for failing to defeat the RAF in 1940. Losing the Battle of Britain and then invading the Soviet Union forced Hitler into what he’d most wanted to avoid, fighting on two fronts. He was loath to forgive Goering’s failure and the resulting crisis.

Maunsell’s designs were innovative and came in two forms: Army and Navy. Navy forts were smaller and, as you’d expect, crewed by sailors. The Army forts had a more complicated design, comprising separate platforms linked by catwalks and carrying more guns than their naval counterparts. Most of the Army forts were concentrated off Liverpool while most Navy forts guarded against bombers attempting to use the Thames Estuary as a landmark for attacking London.

More: 5 of the world’s strongest fortifications ever

The forts depended on supplies coming from the sea. Without regular deliveries of food, water, ammunition and rotating crewmen on and off duty, they’d have been useless. The Thames estuary forts also did far more than destroy incoming bombers. At the time, London had one of the largest dock complexes, making the Channel the world’s busiest shipping lane. German aircraft routinely tried to lay minefields in the area, but the Thames Estuary forts were there to hinder them.

Later in the war, Hitler’s Vergeltungswaffen (“vengeance weapons”) often flew over the forts toward London. Their guns could do nothing about the V2, a supersonic rocket and the world’s first ballistic missile. They could, however, pick off the slower, pulsejet-powered V1s nicknamed “buzz bombs” and “doodlebugs”. Efforts to stop V1s raining down on Central London were a top priority and the Thames forts destroyed over 30 of them along with 22 enemy aircraft. One fort’s gunners even destroyed an E-boat, despite not being designed to handle enemy torpedo boats.

With the war over, the forts became redundant. One by one, they were decommissioned and abandoned to crumble into the sea. Many were damaged by under-scouring, time and tide eroding the bedrock and steel legs supporting them. Saltwater steadily corroded the metal. One fort was demolished after a ship collided with it. One by one throughout the 1950s, the Maunsell sea forts were abandoned and mostly destroyed, but their story didn’t quite end there.

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The Red Sands Forts were used as pirate radio bases in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, pirate radio stations used some of the old forts as broadcasting stations. Pirate radio broadcasted their (usually rock) music illegally, without the proper licensing needed. Annoyed though the authorities were, there was nothing they could do as the forts were in international waters. That is, until the British territorial waters were extended – from including three miles offshore to a full 12. With the extension, the pirates lost their advantage and were quickly shut down.

The Liverpool forts were demolished in the 1950s, considered a danger to the shipping they’d once protected. Most of the surviving Thames forts are extremely hazardous to board, as they’re simply too badly damaged by the ravages of time and tide. Only a couple of the forts remain, and one of them, Fort Roughs (just outside British territorial waters) was taken over by pirate radio in the 1960s. It later declared itself an independent nation named Sealand. Granted, no government has ever recognized Sealand as an independent state and probably never will, but technically at least, it remains the world’s smallest independent island state.

Related: This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

In 2005, an artist named Stephen Turner took on a strange project. He decided to live in one of the remaining sea forts, Shivering Sands Fort, for 36 days — the length of a typical tour of duty during World War II. Turner posted updates during his time to a website and later wrote a book about his experience alone on the waters.

Maunsell’s forts are long gone, as are most of the troops who once manned them. But they served their purpose well. They destroyed almost two full squadrons of bombers before they could hit London. Nearly thirty V1’s that would have caused great destruction (and killed countless Londoners) never reached their targets. Today the V2s, bombers, buzz bombs, and most of the Maunsell sea forts reside permanently on the ocean bottom.

All told, they did far more than merely boost morale.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist. 

Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines. 

That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.  

“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’ 

More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I. 

“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’ 

The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.  

The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said. 

The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.  

War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed. 

“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat. 

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’ 

Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.  

“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’ 

A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected. 

While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later. 

“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.  

“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’ 

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the battle of Dunkirk — by the numbers

Everyone knows the basic story about the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” during which trapped British troops were evacuated from the French coastal city. But how much do you really know of this miraculous nine-day operation?


Granted, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Dunkirk” made over $500 million, but it told just a tiny snippet of the tale. What makes the miracle of Dunkirk so impressive are the numbers of people the operation moved out of France.

The evacuation had become necessary because German tanks had attacked through the Ardennes forest – which Allied planners had assumed was impassable terrain for tanks.

There’s a lesson in that, but that is for another time. As a result of the disastrous way the Battle of France unfolded, about 800,000 Nazis had roughly 400,000 British and French troops trapped with their backs to the English Channel, with the safe haven of England being 22 miles away.

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The crew of a fishing boat retrieves British troops off Dunkirk. (US Army image)

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered a maritime evacuation, thinking that perhaps 45,000 troops could be pulled out. However, many British civilians brought their boats, and an armada of over 700 vessels, ranging from warships to rowboats was soon heading for the pocket.

They faced a devastating gauntlet. During the nine-day evacuation, Nazi planes dropped 45,000 bombs. That came down to roughly one bomb every 17.5 seconds. The Royal Air Force sent 16 squadrons of Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes to cover the evacuation. In 2,739 fighter sorties, they shot down as many as 240 Nazi planes.

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The British Army evacuation from Dunkirk (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Nazis managed to kill 68,000 troops who were holding the line, along with nine destroyers (six British, three French) and over 200 of the smaller vessels carrying out the evacuation. But that armada – citizens of a free country rising up to meet the call – managed to evacuate 338,226 troops — a figure far higher than the optimistic hopes of 45,000.

You can see a video about this evacuation below.

YouTube, World War Wings

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient made a life out of fighting fascists

Being born to missionaries in the early 20th Century didn’t change Edward Allen Carter’s mission in life, once he knew what it was. Even though the American-born Carter spent his early years in India, it was in China that he first got a taste of that mission. Fighting the Japanese in Shanghai at just 15 years old gave him a taste of what true freedom meant — and who he needed to fight to preserve it.

He would spend the rest of his life doing just that.

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He actually ran away from home to realize his martial dreams.

World War II started a lot earlier for Nationalist China. In 1932, the Chinese were fighting Japanese invaders on the coast, in the streets of Eastern China. Unfortunately for the Japanese, fascist Spain, and Hitler’s Germany, just a few years prior, a family of American missionaries moved to China from India and their young son was ready for a fight.

Edward Allen Carter was just 15 years old when he joined the Chinese Nationalist Army in their fight against the Japanese. Soon after the street fighting in Shanghai, the Japanese came in full force and Carter was determined to be a part of the force repelling them — no matter the cost.

He was just getting good at the action on the Chinese front when they discovered he was just a teenage boy. They kicked him out of the service. Fortunately for the scrappy young man, there was plenty of fascism to fight — and he soon found himself in Spain.

Related: 6 times American troops fought in foreign militaries

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Japanese mortar companies open up on a building in Shanghai, 1932
(Imperial War Museum)

Fighters from around the world came to fight on either side of the Spanish Civil War, numbering 40,000 from 53 different nations. They came to Spain to defend the elected Republican government from the upstart fascists, led by Francisco Franco and supported by Germany. The American volunteers joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, comprised of some 2,800 volunteers from the United States.

Though he didn’t come from the U.S., Edward Carter was one of 90 African-Americans to join the Republican cause. He brought with him his experience in Chinese street fighting and soon became a fierce opponent to the fascists. And, at age 19, the Republicans couldn’t kick him out of the Army. But the fascists eventually turned the tide in the war and forced an end to the Lincoln Brigades.

Carter and his American battle buddies in Spain were forced to flee the country into France as Franco and the fascists took full control by 1938.

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Some of the Lincoln Brigades fighters.

By this time, world war was looming on the horizon and everyone knew it. It was only a matter of time before Edward Allen Carter would be back on the lines against fascism somewhere. He went back to the United States and, in 1941, enlisted in the United States Army, finally wearing the uniform of his birth country.

With his extensive combat experience, it was clear that Carter was a leader of men. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant within a year. Unfortunately, his race trumped his combat experience and his Chinese language skills at the time. He was relegated to rear echelon duty for much of his time in the Army.

But as soon as General Dwight D. Eisenhower began allowing any rear duty troop to serve as a replacement combat soldier, Carter immediately volunteered. He even accepted a lower rank – private – to make the switch. He was ready to get back into the fight.

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In March, 1945, Carter was riding a tank when it was hit by an enemy anti-tank weapon by Hitler’s infantry. Carter and three others immediately responded in an all-out bum rush for the enemy ambush. The other three men were shot immediately, but Carter pressed on by himself, sustaining five wounds before finally finding cover.

As eight enemy soldiers moved in for the kill, Carter used his eight-round M1 Garand rifle to kill six of them. The other two wisely surrendered. Carter used them as human shields to rejoin the American lines. Those two soldiers were interrogated and divulged a trove of useful intel.

Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, but his fellow troops said his bravery and quick thinking deserved the Medal of Honor. Carter also received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and other awards

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He never saw that the Medal of Honor. By the time it came for him to re-enlist after the war, he was denied and given an honorable discharge. Anti-Communist paranoia was rampant in the U.S. by this time and even though it helped him fight later in World War II, fighting with the Soviet-backed Republican Army in Spain was too much for the U.S. Army to overlook.

The heroic Edward Allen Carter died of lung cancer in 1963 at the young age of 47. It was only in 1992 that Secretary of the Army John Shannon commissioned an independent study to identify unrecognized African-American heroes from World War II. Carter’s case was among the first to be reviewed.

In 1997, President Clinton awarded the posthumous Medal of Honor to Carter’s son, Edward Allen Carter III in Washington, D.C. Carter’s body was exhumed from his grave a reinterred with our nation’s heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Anyone can tell you that in combat, good communications are important. But there was one time that a miscommunication helped the U.S. win a significant naval surface action off Guadalcanal during the Battle of Cape Esperance. 


That bit of lucky confusion happened on the night of Oct. 11, 1942. That was when Japan decided to carry out what was called a “Tokyo Express” run. These runs delivered troops, often dashing in under the cover of darkness. This was necessary because American planes at Henderson Field were very capable of taking down enemy ships in the daylight hours.

 

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Gilbert C. Hoover (US Navy photo)

To take Henderson Field, Japan had to reinforce the troops on Guadalcanal — especially because the Americans had, in the middle of September run a substantial convoy to Guadalcanal at the cost of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). During that month, at the battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines had repelled an attack, inflicting substantial losses on the Japanese ground troops.

According to “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” Volume Five in Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” on Oct. 9, 1942, an American convoy carrying the 164th Infantry Regiment, part of the Americal Division, departed for Guadalcanal. Three United States Navy task forces covered the transports.

One was centered around the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), which had launched the Doolittle raid almost six months prior. The second was around the battleship USS Washington (BB 56). The third was a group of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Norman Scott, who had his flagship on the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).

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USS San Francisco (CA 38), flagship of Admiral Norman Scott during the Battle of Cape Esperance. (US Navy photo)

In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), the light cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Boise (CL 47), and the destroyers USS Laffey (DD 459), USS Farenholt (DD 491), USS Duncan (DD 485), USS McCalla (DD 488) and USS Buchanan (DD 484) were part of Task Force 64, which had the assignment of securing Ironbottom Sound until the transports finished unloading.

At 11:32 that night, the radar on the USS Helena detected a Japanese force of three heavy cruisers (the Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka) and the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki. American radar tracked the Japanese force, which was covering a supply convoy. At 11:45 that night, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover on board the Helena would send a fateful message to Admiral Scott, “Interrogatory Roger.” He was requesting permission to fire. Scott’s response, “Roger,” was intended to acknowledge receipt of the request. But “Roger” was also used for granting permission to fire, according to Morison.

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Rear Admiral Norman Scott (US Navy photo)

Hoover would assume the latter, and at 11:46, the USS Helena opened fire with her fifteen six-inch guns. According to NavWeaps.com, the Mk 16 six-inch guns could fire up to ten rounds a minute. In that first minute, as many as 150 rounds would be fired by that ship. Other American ships also opened fire, and the Aoba, the flagship of the Japanese force, took the brunt of the American fire. The Japanese commander, Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto, was mortally wounded early on.

Thrown into confusion, the Japanese force initially believed they had been fired on by their troop convoy. Eventually, they began to return fire, but the battle’s result was never in doubt. The Aoba would be badly damaged, and the Furutaka and the Fubuki would be sunk by the end of the battle.

The Americans would lose the destroyer USS Duncan, while the Boise and Salt Lake City were damaged and returned to rear bases for repairs, along with the destroyer Farenholt.

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USS Helena (CL 50). This ship’s 15 six-inch guns each could fire ten rounds a minute. (US Navy photo)

Norman Scott had won a tactical victory, thanks to that communications foul-up, but the Japanese landed their reinforcements that night. On the night of October 13, the battleships Kongo and Haruna delivered a devastating bombardment against Henderson Field, but couldn’t prevent American reinforcements from arriving.

Later that month, Japanese forces would fail to take Henderson Field, while a naval offensive would be turned back in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the cost of the Hornet.

The two men involved in that communications foul-up would see action about a month later off Guadalcanal when Japanese battleships tried to again bombard Henderson Field, only to be stopped by Daniel Callaghan.

Rear Adm. Norman Scott would be killed in action in that engagement. Hoover would survive, and be left in command of the surviving ships. As he lead them back, the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Rather than try to rescue survivors, Hoover radioed the position of the survivors to a patrolling B-17, expecting a request to be relayed to the South Pacific.

It never was. Only ten men would survive from the Juneau. According to Morison, Hoover was relieved of his command. An obituary from an unknown newspaper dated June 10, 1980 available at usshelena.org noted that Hoover, a three-time Navy Cross recipient, retired from the Navy in 1947, and served in various capacities until his death.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The largest war at sea fought by the US Navy since WWII was against Iran


The 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf, which saw Iraq and Iran attempt to disrupt each other’s oil shipments as part of the Iran-Iraq war, prompted the U.S. Navy to launch its largest surface action since World War II against Iranian naval targets.

By 1987, with the ground war at a stalemate, both Iran and Iraq ramped up their targeting of each other’s oil infrastructure. Hundreds of ships traversing the Gulf were damaged, and the U.S. Navy stepped up its patrols of the area. On May 17, an Iraqi warplane launched two Exocet missiles at the frigate USS Stark, badly damaging it and killing 37 American sailors. Iraq claimed it had mistaken the Stark for an Iranian tanker, and the United States accepted the apology.

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Iranian Navy ship burns after taking some hits courtesy of American A-6 bombers. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

When Kuwait requested its oil tankers be re-flagged as American vessels for protection against Iranian attacks, the U.S. initiated Operation Earnest Will and started escorting Kuwaiti shipping. The Iranians saw this protection of Iraqi/Kuwaiti oil shipments as a direct intervention by the U.S., and stepped up their sea mine program in the Gulf.

The guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck one of these mines on the April 14, 1988, nearly sinking it. Other mines found in the area confirmed it was Iranian, and the U.S. Navy started planning the reprisal Operation Praying Mantis. Several groups of frigates and destroyers supported by aircraft from the USS Enterprise were tasked for the response.

A U.S. Surface Action Group was ordered to destroy the guns and military facilities on the Sassen oil platform, which was being used to launch speed boat attacks on shipping in the Gulf. After an exchange of gunfire between the Sassen and U.S. ships and Cobra helicopters, the Iranians abandoned the platform and U.S. Marines occupied it before destroying it with explosives. A second SAG destroyed another nearby platform with naval gunfire.

The Iranians retaliated by sending Boghammar speedboats to attack shipping, including a U.S.-flagged ship, damaging several vessels. After American A-6 bombers used cluster munitions to sink one speedboat and damage several others, the conflict swiftly escalated, with Iran despatching several of its larger ships along with aircraft to confront the SAG’s. One Iranian F-4 fighter was damaged by a missile after it strayed too close and barely managed to make it back to base.

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Aircraft carrier-based A-6E Intruder dropping a string on anti-ship mines during Operation Praying Mantis. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Iranian fast-attack ship Joshan was sunk by missiles and gunfire after attacking U.S. ships with Harpoon missiles, which were diverted by chaff. The Iranian frigate Sahand was totally destroyed by laser-guided bombs and Harpoons launched from A-6s after it had fired surface to air missiles at them. A second Iranian frigate, the Sabahan, was left crippled and burning by a laser-guided bomb and had to be towed back to port.

The Iranians launched land-based Silkworm anti-ship missiles against several U.S. ships across the Gulf, but all of them missed their targets. Considering the retaliation a success, the U.S. disengaged their ships with the loss of only one helicopter which crashed that night in an accident, leaving 3 dead. Iranian casualties from their destroyed frigates, speedboats, and platforms were nearly a hundred.

There was to be a tragic aftermath to the mining of the Samuel B. Roberts, which had triggered the action. The cruiser USS Vincennes, which had been dispatched to escort the Roberts home, shot down Iranian Flight 655, killing all 290 crew and passengers, after believing the civilian airliner was an Iranian F-14 fighter on an attack run. The U.S. government did not formally apologize, but in 1996 agreed to pay $61 million in compensation to the families of the victims.

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