This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

When the Cold War was at its peak, America began spying on the Russians from space with the Corona Program. Corona used a system of satellites that flew over Russia, taking photos of sensitive and classified areas.


The problem with the early spy satellites was that digital photography had not been invented yet and digital scanning was in its infancy. The earliest spy satellites had to take their photos with film and then send the film back to earth.

 

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Graphic: National Reconnaissance Office

 

So, the Air Force set up the 6593rd Test Group and then the 6594th Test Squadron at Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii. These units flew under the path of the satellites and caught the film that the satellites dropped to earth. Some of the first objects ever designed to re-enter the atmosphere, the canisters were about the size of a garbage can and carried large parachutes to slow their descent.

When they first entered the atmosphere, the canisters would resemble falling stars as the air around the fast-moving object compressed and began to burn. After the chute deployed, the canister slowed down and 6594th and 6593rd pilots would have to spot the canisters and snag them with a recovery system installed on modified cargo planes. They originally used the C-119 Flying Boxcar but switched over to C-130s.

 

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Photo: US Air Force

The canisters used a Mark 8 parachute with a cone that up from the center of the parachute. The pilots would spot the canisters and crews would then deploy a “loop” made of nylon rope with brass hooks. The loop trailed beneath the aircraft as the pilot flew directly over the chute, hopefully catching the chute. Using a winch, the crew would then pull the chute and canister into the modified C-119 or C-130 aircraft.

“I liked to recover a parachute close up to the belly of the airplane,” said Lt. Col. Harold E. Mitchell, pilot of the first successful midair film recovery, Discoverer 14. “They didn’t like that because you could invert the parachute… Many times when the parachute went through, though, it passed close under the belly of the airplane, and went over the top of the loop and it wouldn’t deflate. It became a drag chute.”

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Photo: US Air Force

 

When the pilot missed the chute or it slipped off the hooks, the canister would fall into the Pacific ocean. For these instances, the units employed rescue swimmers who would deploy off of helicopters to retrieve the capsules.

Each successful recovery provided a treasure trove of imagery. The first successful recovery documented 1,650,000 square miles of the Soviet Union, more than 24 U-2 missions provided.

Over the course of the Cold War, the Corona Program was key in tracking Russian military developments. One of their most important discoveries was showing that the “missile gap” worried over by U.S. planners, a belief that the Soviet Union had drastically more missiles than the U.S., was backward. The U.S. had the larger and more capable stockpile.

The 6593rd deactivated in 1972 and the 6594th followed suit in 1986.

Blake Stilwell contributed to this article.

NOW: That time a US Navy aircraft carrier was shut down by a race riot

OR: Crazy photos from the WWII battle in the Arctic that you’ve never heard of

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most dangerous club for World War II Civil Air Patrol pilots

Americans today would have a hard time recognizing the all-out war effort citizens of the United States made during World War II. The idea of government dictating what and how much big business could produce, restricting the use of civilian products available to the public, and the mobilization of civilians in a war effort are all things that we just haven’t faced in the generations since. During World War II, these civilians were putting their lives on the line to hunt submarines. The Civil Air Patrol was born of that mobilization.


Civilian pilots and their resources were marshaled by the military to support the war effort here at home, even before the war began. Some 200,000 men and women of all races served in CAP in every state during World War II. After Nazi submarines sunk more than 400 ships off the U.S. Atlantic coast in the first six months, these civilian pilots took to the skies in their private planes to help hunt them down.

Civil Air Patrol pilots who were forced to bail out of their planes into the sometimes icy water below joined an exclusive club: the Duck Club.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

The Civil Air Patrol was open to all races and genders from the get-go. All you needed was a radio and a plane you could fly.

(Civil Air Patrol)

The single-engine civilian aircraft flown by CAP volunteers in those days weren’t nearly as reliable as ones they depend on these days. CAP pilots would fly up to 50 miles off the U.S. coast, looking for enemy submarines in planes with engines that could quit at any given moment. Maybe this isn’t so bad for the pilot if their mission takes them into the Gulf of Mexico, but in the North Atlantic, having to bail could be deadly.

Even wearing their rubber “zoot suits,” designed to protect them from frigid northern waters, was no guarantee of survival in case of a bail out. These civilian pilots lost 59 of their own during the course of the war — 26 of whom were simply lost at sea. Maybe they survived the elements, maybe they didn’t. Being adrift in the middle of nowhere in the 1940s was tantamount to a death sentence.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Protection from the elements did these pilots no good if they were never found.
(Civil Air Patrol)

 

For those who bailed out, each CAP station had amphibian planes who would attempt to come to the rescue. But even those were susceptible to being lost at sea – and some were. If a CAP pilot was successfully recovered after a bailout, he became a member of “The Duck Club,” those who were forced to ditch their planes by taking a dip in the ocean.

CAP pilots who joined this elite club earned a special badge: a patch featuring Donald Duck, his eyes crossed by the red propellers that symbolized the Civil Air Patrol. The Congressional Gold Medal the CAP received came much later, signed not by President Roosevelt, but President Obama. Their recognition came decades too late.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
The Civil Air Patrol “Duck Club” Patch.

The history of the Civil Air Patrol is such a big deal because these were volunteers who put their life and property on the line to protect the liberties of their fellow citizens. They would not receive the GI Bill benefits received by veterans who fought overseas, despite finding Nazi subs operating in American water, rescuing airmen adrift at sea, reporting mines, distressed vessels, escorting convoys, and, in some cases, sacrificing their lives.

That’s just the history of the CAP and the tip of the iceberg. Their mission also extended along the southern border, in the wild forests, and elsewhere. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and an underrated, oft-forgotten total force partner in U.S. air defense. More than 60,000 civilian airmen still dedicate their time, energy, expertise, money, and personal property to the defense of the U.S. homeland and supporting aerospace education.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The barely successful inventor who pioneered repeating rifles

Quick! Name the inventor who has had the most impact on the military. Are you thinking of John M. Browning who invented all sorts of weapons including the M2 .50-caliber machine gun? Maybe Oliver Winchester, Benjamin Tyler Henry, or Horace Smith, the creators of Smith & Wesson?

Well, all of those guys owe their weapon success, in part, to the inventiveness of one man that’s largely forgotten by history.


This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Walter Hunt

Walter Hunt and his impressive forehead created a lot of important inventions, including an early repeating rifle that would help propel the arms industry forward.

Walter Hunt created all sorts of life-changing things, but was constantly selling his inventions for a fraction of their worth in order to pay off debts.

One of these inventions was an early repeating rifle that would lead to the Henry Repeating Rifle, a weapon that was decisive in some Civil War battles. He was also the man behind the safety pin, an attachment for icebreaker ships, and an improved fountain pen, in addition to lots of other things that our audience doesn’t care about.

Hunt’s design for repeating rifles was patented in 1849 as the “Volitional Repeater.” His design incorporated earlier patents he filed, like a specific ammunition cartridge, and breakthroughs made by others to create a rifle capable of firing approximately 12 rounds in quick succession without reloading.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Walter Hunt’s 1849 repeating rifle patent calls for ball ammunition to be stored in a tubular magazine. A spring feeds the ammunition into the proper position so it can be breech-loaded by the operator quickly.
(Patent filed 1849 by Walter Hunt)

 

So, basically, it was a rifle with cartridge ammunition that fed from a magazine into the breech for firing. Make the magazine removable and add a gas-operated piston and pistol grip and you have the basic idea of the M16.

But, like the early M16s, Hunt’s design had reliability issues, and he didn’t have the money or the inclination to go through a series of prototypes and redesigns. So, he sold the patent and design to investor George Arrowsmith who got the weapon into production and asked three men to improve the design. Benjamin Tyler Henry, Horace Smith, and Daniel B. Wesson made improvements on the design to create the Henry Repeating Rifle.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
The Henry Repeating Rifle carried up to 16 rounds and was a direct descendant of Hunt’s Volitional Repeating Rifle.
(Hmaag, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

It was one of these Henry Repeating Rifles, direct descendants of Hunt’s design, that President Abraham Lincoln fired on the White House grounds at the request of the manufacturer. The company hoped to get Lincoln to intervene on their behalf with the Ordnance Department in order to get the Union Army to buy much more of them.

The Henry Repeating Rifle and similar designs were unpopular with many generals but mid-level officers who embraced them saw the potential early. One of the first wide-spread deployments of repeating rifles came in 1863 when Union Col. John T. Wilder got a loan from his own bank to outfit his entire mounted infantry brigade with the Spencer Repeating Rifle, similar in design to the Henry.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
General Burnside marches his men through the Cumberland Gap. In mountainous areas, the terrain limits the numbers of troops who can fight each other, making repeating rifles even more advantageous.
(Harper’s Weekly)

 

The plan was to ride to the battle on horses, then dismount and put the new repeating rifles into effect. Wilder’s brigade was sent to secure Hoover’s Gap in Tennessee ahead of a Union attack on Manchester. The Confederates anticipated the maneuver and were working to reinforce the gap before the Union could arrive in force on June 24, 1863.

The Northerners were able to scatter the Confederates deep into the gap and made it six miles ahead of their planned limit of advance. The infantrymen were so far forward, that the corps commander repeatedly ordered them to withdraw because he was sure they would be overwhelmed.

But with their repeating rifles, the single Union infantry brigade and its one artillery battery held its ground against a counterattack by four Confederate infantry brigades and four artillery batteries.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
​At the Battle of Franklin, some of the Union soldiers had repeating rifles, mostly Spencer and Henry models, that allowed them to overwhelm Confederate troops.
(Library of Congress, originally by Kurz and Allison)

 

When the corps finally arrived, its commander credited the repeating rifles with saving a thousand lives and three days of fighting.

Later battles, like the 1864 Battle of Franklin, saw similar results as Union soldiers carrying repeating rifles were able to vastly out fire their Southern opponents. At Franklin, the defending Union troops carrying 16-shot Henry Repeating Rifles could average 10 rounds per minute against the two or three of Confederate attackers. The Union suffered less than 200 soldiers killed while it inflicted over 1,700 losses on the enemy.

And the man who helped lead the repeating rifle revolution, Walter Hunt? Well, he had died four years earlier. He had achieved economic security, at least, before he died, but he never achieved the fame or fortune of the other men who contributed to the changing face of warfare.

But hey, at least he also didn’t have to see the Civil War.

Articles

Nuclear trains may be coming back

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia are dangerously high. Both sides are complaining that the other has ignored military norms in international airspace and at sea, both have accused the other of violating treaties designed to prevent large-scale war, and both are developing systems to counter the other’s strength.


But, while Russia works on new tanks and bombers and the U.S. tries to get its second fifth-generation fighter fully operational, each side is also looking to a nearly forgotten technology from the Cold War, nuclear-armed trains.

The idea is to construct a train that looks normal to satellite feeds, aerial surveillance and, if possible, observers on the ground, but carries one or more intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Concept art of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-armed train, the RS-23 Molodets. (Image: Defenseimagery.mil)

These trains would remain in a fortified depot during normal operations. During periods of nuclear brinksmanship, though, they would be dispersed across the country to provide a credible counterstrike if the enemy fires their nukes first.

The trains, if properly camouflaged, would be nearly impossible to target and could launch their payloads within minutes.

Russia got the missile cars to work first and fielded an operational version in 1991. In the early 1990s, America built prototype rail cars for the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison missile system and tested them, but then the Soviet Union collapsed and the project was cancelled.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
One of Russia’s first nuclear-armed trains on display in the Saint Petersburg railway museum. Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5 Panther

Now, Russia has leaked that it is designing and fielding a new version of the trains. The Barguzin missile trains, named for a fierce wind that comes off of Russia’s Lake Baikal, will carry six RS-24 Yars missiles each. Yars missiles can carry up to six independently-targetable warheads with 100-300 kilotons of explosive power each.

The missile cars and fuel tanks are to be disguised as refrigeration cars and will be indistinguishable from regular trains if the weapons live up to the hype. Each will be able to deploy with its own security force and missile personnel for up to 28 days without resupply.

America has been flirting with restarting its nuclear trains, but it doesn’t seem likely. The Air Force awarded study contracts in 2013 to look at the feasibility of a “nuclear subway” system where missile launching trains would have dedicated tracks underground.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Concept art for the U.S. Peacekeeper Rail Garrison missile system. Image: San Diego Air Space Museum

But, budget problems that were biting at the Pentagon then have continued to hound it, and mobile launchers are expensive. Plus, most Americans don’t like the idea of nuclear trains running under their feet any more than they like the idea of nuclear trucks driving through their local streets.

The feasibility of Russia’s plans is also suspect. After all, the Russian Defense Ministry is running into worse budget problems than the Pentagon. It’s ability to fund a nuclear-armed train while oil prices are low and its economy is in shambles is questionable at best.

Right now, America’s main counter to Russian nuclear trains, and any other intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, appears to be its missile shields in Europe which could intercept many outbound nuclear missiles.

China has also flirted with nuclear trains. In 2013, Chinese media – whether accidentally or on purpose – leaked footage of a train modified to hold DF-31 and DF-31A missiles which can carry a single 1-megaton nuclear warhead. There were some questions at the times about whether or not the system was truly operational.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This country music legend made an epic beer run on a riding lawn mower

Before George Jones made it big in country music with his 1959 hit, “White Lightning,” the Hank Williams-obsessed twentysomething was a United States Marine. Six years later, he was recording a song written by the Big Bopper and writing songs that would be sung by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn.

Jones’ military career was just three years long. Stationed in San Jose, California, he managed to miss the entire Korean War, being discharged in 1953.


Through it all, the legendary singer-songwriter struggled with alcoholism like his daddy before him. Even after he was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, he was already once divorced, singing at the worst honky tonks in Texas. Throughout the 1960s, Jones was known for showing up drunk to things, be it a show, a recording or a friend’s house in the middle of the night.

In 1967, Jones actually had to be forced into a detox facility to help curb his drinking habit. But nothing could actually stop him if he wanted a drink – and his ability to get a drink if he wanted one was as legendary as his songwriting.

One alcohol-related incident is remembered above all others, and is the subject of many stories, murals, and no fewer than three recreations in modern country music videos.

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His then-wife, Shirley Corley, claims she hid the keys to both cars one night while the couple was living outside of Beaumont, Texas. As far as he might go to get a drink, walking eight miles to get to the closest liquor store was a little too far. Jones, according to his autobiography, “I Live to Tell It All,” looked out the window and saw his salvation.

“There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”

Jones drove the eight miles to Beaumont, Texas, to get his drinks, aboard a riding lawn mower. It was a move he would reference over and over in years to come, including in his own music videos.

He wrestled with his drinking habit – and sometimes drug habits – for most of his career. He managed to clean up for most of the 1980s but finally kicked the booze after a 1999 car accident found he was drunk behind the wheel. According to Jones, it “put the fear of God” in him.

Jones died at age 81 in 2013. His funeral produced more musical tributes than a three-day summer country concert, all for the former Marine who embodied an entire generation of country music.


Articles

This Marine Pearl Harbor survivor can crush the pullup bar

CLEMSON, S.C. — Expect to be impressed when you meet a Marine, but when that Marine is a 96 year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who challenges you to a pull-up contest, prepare to be blown away.This is one of many things Clemson University student Will Hines of Spartanburg has learned in conducting the Veterans Project, an ongoing undergraduate research project to collect and preserve the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations can hear those stories directly from the men and women who lived them.


This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert A. Henderson’s story begins in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as a plane with a perplexing paint job thunders overhead “close enough that I could have thrown a rock and hit it” toward a row of U.S. Naval ships docked in the harbor, he said.

He thought it was part of a drill until the plane dipped and released a torpedo. The violent chaos in the two hours that followed would define much of the 20th century.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

Henderson, relaxed in a comfortable chair in his Spartanburg living room, describes in gripping detail the 51 months of combat he experienced, culminating in the Battle of Okinawa.

“I was in the first and last battles of the war,” he said.

Hines videotapes every word. One copy will go to Henderson and his family, and one copy will go to the Library of Congress to be preserved forever.

When asked how he stays so healthy at 96. Henderson takes Hines out to his garage to show off his home gym, where he exercises three times a week. He demonstrates by doing 12 pull-ups without breaking a sweat, and dares Hines to match him.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

Interactions with truly amazing veterans like this are just some of the fringe benefits students who participate in the project enjoy. The Veterans Project is an example of community-engaged learning at Clemson, which has a military history dating back to its founding in 1889.

Hines, a junior business management major from Spartanburg, became involved in the project because of his life-long fascination with history.

“I’ve been interested in veterans since I was little. I met my great uncle when I was about 7 years old. I found out he landed on five islands in the Pacific, and I asked him a ton of questions,” he explained. “I was able to interview him in high school — for fun, not for anything specific — which helped me become closer to him. He was wounded twice — once on Okinawa from a grenade rolled down a mountain. Meeting him really influenced how I became interested in studying the history of America’ s conflicts.”

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time an American battleship flooded itself…on purpose

Unless it’s a submarine, you generally don’t want your ship filling with water. Of course, all ships have some amount of ballast water held in ballast tanks and cargo holds. This provides stability and maneuverability on the sea. In combat though, extreme and unconventional measures are sometimes necessary to accomplish the mission.

Launched on May 18, 1912 and commissioned on March 12, 1914, USS Texas (BB-35) sailed almost immediately into action. In May 1914, she steamed for Mexico in response to the detention of an American gunboat at Tampico. Despite skipping the usual shakedown cruise, Texas remained on station off the coast of Mexico in support of American forces on shore for just over two months.

During WWI, Texas fired the first American shots of the war. On April 19, 1917, while escorting the merchant ship Mongolia, one of Texas’ batteries opened fire on a surfaced German U-boat. Although the enemy vessel wasn’t sunk, the attack on the merchant vessel was deterred. For the remainder of the war, Texas sailed with Britain’s Grand Fleet escorting convoys and minelayers.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Crewman aboard USS Texas pose on one of the ship’s main 14-inch gun batteries (U.S. Navy)

Texas again made history during the inter-war period when she became the first American battleship to launch an airplane on March 10, 1919. She was also overhauled with a new powerplant and given additional guns at the sacrifice of her torpedo tubes. She briefly served as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet before returning to the Atlantic just before the outbreak of WWII.

Before America’s entry into WWII, Texas conducted neutrality patrols and escorted lend-lease convoys across the Atlantic. Additionally, in February 1941, the legendary US 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the Texas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Texas escorted allied convoys to a variety of Atlantic destinations like Panama, Sierra Leone, and the United Kingdom.

During Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Texas broadcasted Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Voice of Freedom” speech imploring the Vichy French not to oppose the allied landings. During the invasion, Texas fired less than 300 shells in supporting fire, a number that would be quickly dwarfed during her next major operation.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, D-Day. Texas sailed with the Western Taskforce for Normandy on June 3, 1944. On June 6, she took up her station off of Pointe du Hoc and began her bombardment of the coast in support of the 29th Infantry Division, 2nd, and 5th Ranger Battalions. In 34 minutes, Texas had fired 255 14-inch shells into Pointe du Hoc. Afterwards, with the help of aerial observers, she shifted her main batteries to fire on German reinforcements, artillery batteries, and other strong points further inland.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
USS Texas fires a salvo from her 14-inch guns (U.S. Navy)

As allied forces pushed off the beach, Texas moved closer to shore to support them. Originally stationed 12,000 yards offshore, she moved to just 3,000 yards from the beach. On June 7 and 8, she continued to bombard German positions. She was forced to return to England to rearm and was on station off of France again on June 11. By June 15 though, allied forces had pushed so far inland that their targets were now out of Texas’ range. In order to fulfill the requested fire missions, Texas’ crew had to get creative.

The ship’s massive 14-inch guns did not have the elevation required to lob their shots as far inland as the invasion forces needed. So, if the guns facing port couldn’t be raised any further, then the starboard side needed to be lowered. The starboard torpedo blister, a sponson on the hull below of the waterline, was flooded with water. This listed Texas two degrees to starboard and gave her main batteries enough elevation to complete the fire mission. Talk about improvise, adapt, overcome. However, the next day, the designated targets were too far for the flooding solution to work and Texas retired to England on June 18.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and combat has proved this time and time again. The next time someone pitches you a solution that sounds crazy, remember that it might be just crazy enough to work.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why names are added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Known simply as “The Wall” to the men and women who can find the name of a loved one inscribed on it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War. The names are arranged first by date, and then alphabetically. There are more than 58,000 names on more than 75 meters of black granite, memorializing those who died in service to that war.


The eligibility dates span Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, though the first date on The Wall during its dedication was from 1959. A service member who died in 1956 was added after The Wall was dedicated – and names have actually been added on multiple occasions.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

(Hu Totya)

When The Wall was completed in 1982, it contained 57,939 names. As of Memorial Day 2017, there were 58,318 names, including eight women. There are veterans still eligible to have their names inscribed with their fellow honored dead. The Department of Defense decides whose name gets to go on The Wall, but those inscribed typically…

  • …died (no matter the cause) within the defined combat zone of Vietnam (varies based on dates).
  • …died while on a combat/combat support mission to/from the defined combat zone of Vietnam.
  • …died within 120 days of wounds, physical injuries, or illnesses incurred or diagnosed in the defined combat zone of Vietnam..

Currently, victims of Agent Orange and PTSD-related suicide are not eligible to have their name inscribed on the memorial wall. You can request to have a name added at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

10 more names were added to The Wall in 2012 and the statuses of 12 others were changed. The 10 servicemen came from the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force, and died between 1966 and 2011. The Department of Defense determined that all deaths were the result of wounds sustained in Vietnam.

As for the status changes, the names are still recorded on The Wall. For those who’ve never seen The Wall in person, each name is also accompanied by a symbol. A diamond means the person was declared dead. A name whose status is unknown is noted by a cross. When a missing person is officially declared dead, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. If a missing person returned alive, the cross would be circumscribed with a circle.

The latter has never happened.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial features more than just The Wall, it also includes the Women’s Memorial and “The Three Soldiers” statue.

Status changes happen all the time, as the remains of those missing in action are found, identified, and returned home.

While the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall doesn’t include the names of service members who died through diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, other state and local memorials may include them. As recently as October, 2018, the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall began to include those who died through such illnesses.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the soldiers of Outpost Harry decimated an entire Chinese Division

By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had raged on for three years. The back and forth maneuvers up and down the peninsula had given way to a stalemate known as the Battle of the Outposts.


All along the 38th Parallel, the belligerents attacked one another’s outposts in the hopes of affecting a breakthrough. Blocking the Communist forces from driving straight on Seoul through the Cheorwon Valley, in an area known as the “Iron Triangle,” were three lonely outposts: Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Outpost Harry was situated on a hilltop in front of the Main Line of Resistance and opposite a Chinese position known as Star Hill. Being so far out in front meant that resupply was difficult and always under enemy observation. Harry’s 1,280-foot elevation did nothing to help matters.

On the night of June 10, 1953, as negotiations to end the war took place just over 50 miles away, elements of the Chinese 74th Division attacked in force. The task of defending the outpost that night fell on K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. Having spent the previous days improving their defenses and sighting in weapons, they were given the order to hold at all costs.

The attack began with a bombardment by mortars, rockets, and artillery. Suddenly the outpost was illuminated by enemy flares. Bugles and whistles sounded and over 3,600 Chinese soldiers rushed toward the outpost. The Americans rained fire down on the advancing Chinese. They exploded 55 gallon drums of Napalm in the midst of the attackers and blasted them with artillery. They were able to repulse two determined waves before the Chinese made it to the trenches and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese were overrunning the outpost.

Lt. Sam Buck, Forward Observer from the 39th Artillery Battalion, was in the Command Post on Harry when it was overrun by the Chinese. As Chinese grenades exploded in the bunker and his comrades were wounded, he continued to resist, dropping any Chinese that came through the door with a burst from his carbine. Eventually wounded and unable to continue firing, he played dead while the Chinese occupied the bunker. The fighting was so intense, one of his last actions before being evacuated later that night was to put the Company Commander’s eyeball back in its socket.

With the defense of the outpost in peril the defenders were rallied by Sgt. Ola Mize. Throughout the attack Mize moved about the outpost tending to wounded, resupplying ammunition, and killing numerous enemies. Three times he was knocked down by explosions and three times he continued his mission. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Eventually artillery strikes called right on top of the outpost, along with reinforcements from C and E Companies, drove the Chinese out of the trenches. A diversionary attack by F Company, 65th Infantry Regiment also helped in clearing the area. The next morning only a handful of the original defenders were still in fighting shape. K Company was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry at the outpost.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
A United States Army artillery crew fires a 105-millimeter howitzer against North Korean Communist positions during a battle in the Republic of Korea. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment relieved K Company and took up the defense of Harry on June 11. Again darkness fell, and the Chinese began bombarding the American positions. Advancing through their own artillery barrage, the Chinese were able to gain the trenches once again. The defenders threw back several attacks before being reinforced by B Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Together the two companies defeated a second Chinese regiment in as many nights. B Company, 15th Infantry was awarded the regiment’s second Presidential Unit Citation.

The next night it was A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team’s turn on the outpost, and once again the Chinese sent a reinforced regiment against the American position. As before, the Chinese advanced through both their own artillery and the Americans’ before entering the trenches where bitter hand-to-hand combat took place. The 15th Infantry Regiment sent L Company to reinforce and drive out the Chinese while another unit of tanks and infantry assaulted through the valley in a diversionary attack. For their actions in the defense, A Company, 5th RCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

The following night, June 13, was relatively quiet. The main action was against a Chinese screening force that attempted to recover their dead from the area around the outpost.

On the night of June 14, a small Chinese force was able to close in on the trenches through their own artillery barrage and attack G Company, 15th Infantry from the rear of the outpost. Reinforcements from E Company, 15th Infantry and a diversionary attack by elements of the 65th Infantry drove the Chinese from the outpost once again.

The next two nights were quiet on the outpost and allowed for some much needed repairs. Men from the Sparta Battalion of the Greek Expeditionary Force were also brought into the area to reinforce the depleted and beleaguered defenders. The Chinese used this time to cobble together what was left of the 74th Division for one more attack on the outpost.

That attack came on the night of June 17. The Chinese threw everything they had left in one last desperate attempt to dislodge the defenders of Outpost Harry. That night the men of P Company, Sparta Battalion, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack. Friendly artillery pounded the slopes around the trenches while the Greeks threw back wave after wave of communist attackers. N Company, Sparta Battalion reinforced their brothers and drove off the Chinese. The 74th Division retreated from the area, combat ineffective after the battle with U.N. Forces. P Company was awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation for holding Outpost Harry the final night.

In total there were five Presidential Unit Citations given for action at Outpost Harry, as well as one Medal of Honor and numerous other personal awards for valor. Just over a month later the armistice was signed, and the defense of Outpost Harry was crucial in ensuring a favorable agreement.

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World War II Combat Cameraman and Hollywood animation legend dies

He is widely known as a Hollywood animation legend who worked at the studios that created Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. But Hal Geer also flew 86 combat missions as a combat cameraman in World War II.


This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
B-24 Liberators over Ploesti on Aug. 1, 1943. (U.S. Army photo)

According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Geer died Jan. 26 at the age of 100. According to IMDB, his credits included the movies “Daffy Duck: Fantastic Island,” “Bugs Bunny: All-American Hero,” and “The Bugs Bunny Mystery Special” as well as over twenty short cartoons.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
Nose art Hal Geer would have loved. Bugs Bunny nose art from an FB-111 with the 380th Bombardment Wing. In World War II, the 380th used B-24 Liberators, and Geer worked on a number of cartoons featuring the wascally wabbit. (USAF photo)

Geer’s World War II service took him over the China-Burma-India Theater, flying in Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and North American B-25 medium bombers assigned to the 14th Air Force under Major General Claire Chennault, who founded the legendary Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group.

According to a 2007 report in the Ventura County Recorder, Geer made the documentary film “China Crisis” while serving. Geer told the Recorder that this World War II film was the one he was the most proud of.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

In a 2005 interview with China Youth Daily, Geer discussed more about his time with the 14th Air Force. “China Crisis” discussed how the United States supported the 14th Air Force, getting supplies over what was called “The Hump.”

Today, it’s better known as the Himalaya Mountains. The film also covered the Japanese Army’s 1944 offensive in China (which doesn’t get as much press when compared to how America advanced in the Pacific that year). Thirteen combat cameramen shot over 300 hours of footage to make a film that was less than an hour long. Five cameramen were killed in action.

“China Crisis” had been slated to be shown along as part of a 1946 War Bonds drive. That drive would not take place, as Japan surrendered in August 1945 after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Perhaps, someday, DOD will find a way to make that film, and many others, available online for Americans to view.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This trek through Iraq was the longest escape and evasion by any soldier ever

In January 1991, a British Special Air Service (SAS) team was helicoptered into Iraq by Chinook helicopter. In just a few days, U.S. and coalition forces would launch Operation Desert Storm’s air war to devastate Saddam Hussein’s army as it occupied Kuwait. 

Eight men from the SAS detachment, code-named Bravo Two Zero, were to insert into Iraq and set up an observation post to monitor Iraq’s main supply route into Kuwait. The men of Bravo Two Zero proceeded on foot 1.2 miles from their landing zone.

Right away, things began to go wrong. To escape capture, torture and an uncertain fate, one of the British special operators would have to walk out of there toward Syria – 190 miles away.

The first thing that went wrong for the SAS was their communications. While their home base was receiving their transmissions, nothing was coming back from the British headquarters. The men pressed on.

But they never made it to the would-be observation post. On the way, the team was discovered by a shepherd and, believing they had been seen, the team ditched much of their gear and hightailed it out of the area. 

As they moved, they began to hear the telltale rumble of treads on the ground. Believing they were encountering an Iraqi tank, the SAS prepared for an ambush. Only it wasn’t a tank, it was an Iraqi construction bulldozer – and the driver was as shocked as the SAS was. 

When the driver left, the British knew the jig was up but the next time they encountered heavy vehicles, it was no construction crew. Iraqi armored vehicles had caught up to them and were in such close pursuit that the British soldiers had to fire at their pursuers to slow them down. 

Iraq troops soon joined the APCs in their pursuit of the British as they humped it back to their original entry point, hoping a helicopter would soon find them. But the helicopter never came. By Jan. 24th, 1991, the group was on its way to the emergency exfiltration route… north to Syria. 

Since the British were looking for the soldiers to be headed south toward Saudi Arabia, the SAS were never going to be seen by coalition aircraft unless it was by accident. Even after the group got split up during a dark night, they pressed onward and northward. 

Chris Ryan

Along the way, the men tried to hijack a vehicle but Iraqi Army checkpoints hampered their progress and the walk continued. Eventually, two of the men would die of exposure in the Iraqi desert. Another was shot and killed by Iraqi civilians. Five were captured, interrogated and tortured before being released to the International Red Cross. One of the men. Colin Armstrong, kept walking. 

He walked through Iraq until he reached the Syrian border, where Syria – then a coalition ally – took him into custody and released him to the United Kingdom. After his long trek through the dry desert, he had lost 36 pounds and suffered radiation poisoning after drinking contaminated water. He was awarded the Military Medal for his escape.

Armstrong would later chronicle his desert journey under the pen name Chris Ryan, along with a number of other books. The story of Bravo Two Zero was later made into a TV movie starring Sean Bean (who survives).

Articles

This aerial dogfight was like a life-sized version of a bee swarm

Israeli Col. Giora Epstein, one of the world’s greatest fighter aces of the jet era, was leading a flight of four planes during the Yom Kippur War when his team spotted two Egyptian MiG-21s. Epstein pursued the pair and quickly shot down the trail plane.


But that’s when the Israelis got a surprise. The pair of MiG-21s were bait. While the four Israeli planes were pursuing the surviving MiG they could see, approximately 20 more MiG-21s suddenly hit them with an ambush.

What followed was one of the most lopsided victories in modern aerial combat. The four Israeli Neshers fought the approximately 21 MiGs, calling out to each other to help them avoid Egyptian MiGs or to chase down vulnerable enemies.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space
The Israeli Air Force’s Nesher was a highly-capable delta-wing fighter based on the French Mirage. (Photo: brewbrooks CC BY-SA 2.0)

During the fight, Epstein’s partner shot down a MiG but got missile exhaust into his own engine, causing a stall. Epstein walked him through a restart and sent him home. Another Israeli pilot chased a MiG out of the battle area, and the third headed home due to a lack of fuel.

Epstein found himself alone with 11 enemy MiGs. What followed was minutes of insane aerial combat as Epstein’s main target pulled off a maneuver thought impossible in a MiG-21: a split S at approximately 3,000 feet. It’s a move that should have caused him to crash into the ground.

But the MiG succeeded, barely. It got so close to the ground that it created a cloud of dust against the desert ground, but then escaped the cloud and flew back toward the sky. Epstein managed to get a burst of machine gun fire out before the MiG could escape, destroying the Egyptian jet. Epstein was left in the fight with 10 MiG-21s out for vengeance for their lost comrades.

The MiGs flew in pairs against Epstein, firing bursts of machine gun fire and missiles at the Israeli ace. Epstein outmaneuvered them, killing two with 30mm cannon fire and forcing the rest to bug out.

The entire battle had taken 10 minutes. See how Epstein did it in the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-IQgubLIWU
MIGHTY HISTORY

This was General Sherman’s real method of clearing minefields

Saying that General William T. Sherman was unforgiving to his enemies is the understatement of the 19th-Century. The man who burned Georgia to the ground was as tough as they come and in the South, he earned a reputation for being particularly evil, even though the truth is much further than the Confederates would have you believe.


There’s no doubt Sherman was as destructive as he could be as he burned Atlanta and then marched to the sea, as history puts it, but some of his methods were much more exaggerated than history remembers it.

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

And some of it wasn’t exaggerated at all.

One such exaggeration is how Sherman used Confederate prisoners of war to clear a confederate minefield near Sandersville, Ga. during his infamous “March to the Sea.” Sherman is remembered to have seen one of his soldiers lose a leg to a land mine. In a rage, he tells a prisoner to deliver a message to Confederate leaders in Georgia: he is going to use POWs to clear every minefield in Georgia as he walked to Savannah, no matter how many it took to clear the mines.

To read this, one would think Sherman is going to send a mass of men into a minefield to clear mines by setting them off, killing and maiming the POWs in the process. After all, this is the man known for saying, “War is cruel. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

This Air Force unit caught spy satellite photos as they fell from space

This context would have you believe Sherman is the Confederacy’s Attila the Hun, relentlessly destroying everything in his path with zero compassion. And while Sherman may have destroyed a lot of what he found in Georgia, he also fed citizens from his army’s stores and allowed emancipated slaves to follow his army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman was very dedicated to the laws of war, even if he was pushing the envelope of those laws. He even challenged his critics to “see the books” of those laws for themselves.

As for the POWs clearing mines, he did use the Confederates to clear minefields. His order was more than rushing them into the middle of the field to be blown up, however. His logic was that those troops had buried those mines near Sandersville and they should be the ones to dig them up. He did the same thing outside of Savannah later in the campaign.

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